Like the Stars song says, "I'm not a film star beauty." While I was an exceptionally adorable child, my cuteness soon gave way to awkward tweenhood once puberty hit. I was gawky and cursed with the unholy trifecta of greasy hair, a big nose and a severe case of acne. Add my inability to pick out clothes that resembled anything remotely fashionable and an affinity for obscure British bands and it was the perfect formula for an adolescence of intense bullying.
It started in sixth grade. The teasing wasn't terrible at that point -- most of my peers were going through the same awkward phase. My childhood friends stuck by me and despite the fact that I looked like a mutant, I was considered cool enough to be on the cheer leading squad.
Seventh grade was when the bullying took a turn for the worse. While the rest of my elementary school friends went to the local public middle school, I was sent to a private school where I knew no one. I'll never forget that terrifying first day on the bus. I tried to stay under the radar with my Discman as my only friend.
It didn't take long for my new classmates to start berating my looks. Due to some sort of scheduling error, I had every single class with a group of boys that had made it their personal mission to tear me down. Sometimes I think they genuinely believed that they were being funny but most of what they did was cruel. They called me "The Nose" and made jokes about me sniffing Miracle-Gro. It's the last thing that an ungainly 12 year-old wants to hear. I'm still haunted by a field trip bus ride where a classmate dubbed me the "ugliest girl in seventh grade." It still makes me sick when I think of the teachers that sat and quietly condoned my peers' taunting.
By eighth grade I had made some friends that didn't care about my unappealing appearance. Though I'd tried to defend myself, things really only got better when there were others to aid in my defense. I spent high school doing my own thing -- playing in bands, making friends outside of school and generally just not caring about what my classmates thought of me. I dreamed of the day that I would finally graduate and move far away for college.
That day finally came. While I remained close to my few high school friends, I went off to Boston to become someone else. No one at Emerson College knew that I had been teased mercilessly for my large nose. During my freshman year, I became involved with WERS and WECB radio and even dated a cute indie rock boy. Slowly but surely, I came into myself. I started dying my hair red and developed my own mod/Britpop style.
It would be a lie to say that I'm not still haunted by the years I spent being tortured by my peers. I still look in the mirror and wonder if I should take my dad up on his offer to pay for a nose job. I spent an entire relationship in my very early twenties wondering if everyone was talking behind my back: "What is she doing here with him?" I spend more money on clothes than I care to admit hoping that if I'm wearing a cute Fred Perry dress and vintage shoes, the attention will be taken away from my nose. Dating is a nightmare. "Did he stop calling me because I'm ugly?" Again in my very early twenties, I clung to some bad relationships because I thought no one else could possibly want me.
Numerous people have told me to just get over it. Middle school was many years ago. I have accomplished so much since then and I should be proud of myself. Still, all of the accolades can't make up for the fact that when I was at my most fragile I was called ugly on a daily basis. Sure I grew a thick skin on the outside but on the inside, I developed the insecurities that plague me to this day.
While I doubt I'll ever be able to fully forgive my tormentors, I realize now that they were just 12-and-13-year-old boys dealing with their own issues needing to feel superior. I was an easy target. The ringleader of my tormentors left our school after eighth grade but oddly attended our high school graduation. Someone told me that he wanted to seek me out and apologize but he never did. Coward.
The ones that I will forever hold in contempt are the teachers that stood by and never said a word. They were supposed to be authority figures and yet when their students were clearly acting out and ripping apart some poor 12-year-old's self worth, they chose not to react. Their silence condoned the actions of my bullies.
In a perfect world, children would grow up learning to accept their peers' flaws. Unfortunately this is just a fantasy. The rise of social media has amplified bullying tenfold. I thank my lucky stars that MySpace was not popular until my late high school years. There will always be insecure kids that want to assert power over others. I later learned things about my main middle school tormenter's home life that did not excuse his behavior but gave me insight into his actions.
There is no easy solution for the bullying problem. My personal bullying could have been less severe if my teachers had simply spoken up and let my tormenters know that their actions would not be tolerated. It's not a solution but it's a start.