This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Linda S.
Names have been changed.
Throughout elementary and middle school, I was underweight. I was often teased and harassed, and was quite self-conscious about being thin. The teasing reached its worst point during the sixth grade, when one particular student, Bill, started teasing me relentlessly about my weight.
About a month into the school year, Bill had been admitted to the school and was placed in my class. At first glance, he did not seem much like a bully. He appeared passive and shy. However, once he met the other students and started feeling comfortable around them, everything changed. Bill became my tormentor. I felt like he was out to ruin my life.
A Serious Disease
When I think back on it, Bill never confronted me unless he had an audience to cheer him on. When I was called to the front of the class, he would yell out horrible, degrading things, calling me “stupid,” “skinny,” and “ugly.” He would listen in on all of my conversations and repeat anything out loud that he could poke fun at. He even called me “anorexic.”
I had never watched my weight or worried about how many calories I was consuming. I simply have a fast metabolism. I first learned about anorexia when I was 8 years old, and my sister brought home a pamphlet on eating disorders from her health class at school. After reading it, I learned that anorexics often have distorted perceptions of their physical appearance and fear gaining weight.
Each time that I was called anorexic, I thought of the many people in the world suffering from the disease at that very moment, hurting their bodies because they felt the need to conform to society’s ideal of beauty.
Although I certainly did not take it as a compliment, being called anorexic was not an insult to me. I understood that it was a disease, despite the fact that Bill found pleasure in using it as a derogatory term.
In attempt to educate my peers, I wrote an essay on eating disorders and presented it in my English class. I did not look up for a second during the presentation. I simply read from the words I had written. The room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. My voice echoed, bouncing off of the walls.
Then I sat down, uncomfortably glued to my seat in the middle of the classroom. “Finally,” I thought. “Finally my peers will realize that an eating disorder is a serious disease.” All of the students turned to look at me.
Just then, the bell rang and the students poured out of the classroom. As I was walking to my next class, all I could hear was the word “anorexic” being murmured. Bill and his friends were talking about me again.
I could not believe it. My stomach was in knots. My heart was beating incredibly fast. My face turned red. I was in an absolute fury. I wanted to speak out, but what could I say? What could I do to make it stop? What could I do to make anyone listen to me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I believed that if I spoke out about being bullied, no one would take me seriously. After all, Bill had made me feel worthless from the beginning. After I read my report aloud and found that it had not changed the perspectives of my peers at all, I felt even more discouraged about telling a teacher or administrator in the school how Bill and his followers had been bullying me.
My Voice Didn’t Matter
I had only one close friend in my 6th grade class, Isabel. She and I became friends because we were both bullied. While I was bullied for being underweight, she was bullied for being overweight. I believe that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way, so when I looked at Isabel, I saw a beautiful girl, with dark, exotic eyes and a pretty smile to match her bubbly personality. I wondered why other students did not at least make an effort to get to know Isabel. She was by far the nicest student in class. She was very intelligent to boot. We quickly became the best of friends.
Isabel was bullied far worse than I was. Boys would talk amongst themselves about her, calling her “the fat and confused girl.” When she walked through the hallway, kids would scream at her “You’re ugly!” Isabel never did anything to stop the bullying. Sometimes, she would laugh it off. But I knew more than anyone that she did not find it funny. When she was teased, she would try not to make eye contact with anyone. Sometimes, I thought I saw her blinking back tears.
At times, I think back on this in guilt. Isabel was being terribly bullied and I did not speak up against it. If I could not have spoken up for myself, I should have at least spoken up for her. But at the time, I felt that my voice did not matter. Bill had made me feel worthless and undeserving of respect.
Also, part of me was afraid that Isabel would be mad at me. When Isabel and I were together, we never talked about the bullying. It was somewhat of an unspoken agreement. We both understood the pain it caused to be bullied and neither of us wanted to hurt the other by broaching the subject. However, I now realize that if at least one of us had spoken up to an administrator, we might have been able to make the bullying stop. Maybe Bill and his posse would have been suspended. A school is supposed to facilitate a safe learning environment for all students. Isabel and I did not have that.
My Teachers Didn’t Stop It
As the harassment persisted, my teachers simply stood by to watch. At times, they even seemed amused. My math teacher would encourage the bullies, joining in on calling me “stupid” as well. She once said “Linda, you are almost as stupid as [another student].” I believe it was intended to be a joke, but it really hurt me. Although she did not always blatantly call me stupid, it was always implied in the way she treated me.
Then there was my history teacher, who once said, “Even a really stupid person would be able to answer this question.” He then proceeded to ask me the question. When I could not answer it, he, as well as the entire class, laughed at me. My science teacher told me that I was too “passive,” when I once was unable to answer a question. No matter what, it always seemed that I was not good enough.
For one particular project in math class, we all had to measure the circumference of our wrists and necks, and then plot the data on a graph. When it was found that my statistics were not the smallest, my teacher made another student measure my wrist again. She insisted that I had to have the smallest wrist because I was the skinniest. The way the teacher handled the assignment was degrading and embarrassing. My teacher expected my measurements to be outliers simply because I was skinny. It made me feel like a flaw in the data.
‘Stupid,’ ‘Skinny,’ and ‘Ugly’
I never spoke up because I never thought that anyone could possibly help; the teachers certainly hadn’t stepped in to do anything. Although I was primarily targeted by the boys in my class, there were times where I was targeted by some of the girls as well.
One time, my class and I were sitting at our assigned table at lunch. I was sitting beside my friend, Isabel. Leah, the most desirable of all the girls in our class, was chatting up the group of boys clustered around her. Isabel and I both pretended not to hear, but I knew it was inevitable that they would start harassing us.
“If you had to choose between Linda or Isabel, who would you pick?” Leah slyly asked the boys around her. “Ew, Leah, are you serious?!,” they responded in a chorus of disgust. I was not even angry to hear these mean comments. I had come to believe what they said about me, so I simply accepted what I felt was my fate: the stupid, skinny, ugly girl.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.