New Schools Suck
Starting in 5th grade, I was bullied. I was at a new school with no friends and was just starting puberty. I was awkward and shy and quiet, but I wasn’t really self-conscious. At my old school, I’d had lots of friends and it seemed everyone got along well together. But at my new school there were different cliques, and I didn’t automatically fall into any of them. Not even the Nerds. I had such a dearth of friends that whenever we’d do an activity that involved one kid handing off something (a ball, a high-five, the opportunity to answer, whatever) to another kid, I always had to wait for someone to hand the thing off to my teacher (Mrs. Stine, god bless her), because she would be the only one to ever pass it forward to me.
When kids weren’t straight-up ignoring me, they were teasing me. Like I said, I was starting puberty. In addition to engorged nipples, unpredictable periods, and hair everywhere, my body also betrayed me by ramping up its production of oil. Most of it seemed to seep out the pores on my forehead, which would be bad enough for anyone, but it was especially lousy for me because I have what’s commonly referred to as a “fivehead.” Both my parents have high foreheads, but instead of just choosing one or the other to pass down to me, my genetics were like, “Screw it, why choose? Just stack one on top of the other.” I’d never given my forehead a single thought up until the age of 10, but apparently that was all the rest of my 5th grade class could see when they looked at me.
Being Bullied Sucks
This was the post-Karate Kid era, so I got tons of “Wax on/Wax off” jokes. Lots of, “Kate, move your forehead. The light’s bouncing off it and blinding me” jokes. My nickname was “Boulder,” and there were three or four kids who took every opportunity they could for the next four years to hurl that name in my face. Walking down the hall – Wa-BAM! Coming out of a bathroom stall – Wa-BAM! “Hey Boulder!” “What’s up, Boulder?”
(Oh, real quick – I also have a cowlick which makes it physically impossible to have bangs. I’ve tried so hard on numerous occasions over the years. It doesn’t work. 🙃 Ok, back to the story.)
How did I handle the relentless, disparaging remarks about a physical trait over which I had no control and the ostracism from my classmates? Lemme tell ya: I did nothing. I sat quietly all throughout the day and tried to bring as little attention to myself as possible. At my old school I was goofy, outgoing, and friendly. I participated in talent shows and dance-offs on the playground. I had no experience dealing with people deliberately trying to hurt me. I was confused and bewildered by these new, mean kids.
I asked my parents what I should do. Their advice to me was “Ignore it.” They told me that if I gave no reaction, the kids would get tired of it and stop. Their words didn’t matter anyway.
Bad Advice Sucks
Now that I’m decades removed from this situation, I get why they said that. Of course they didn’t give any credence to what some 10 year olds were saying, so why should I? And they were probably thinking that if I gave a reaction and got mad, the kids would find it funny and would keep taunting me. And if I got really mad, school officials would have to get involved and my parents have never been the march-up-to-school-and-give-those-teachers-a-piece-of-my-mind type.
So for four years, I did nothing. I stayed quiet. Never told the kids to stop. Never asked why they were saying those things. Some of my tormentors went to a different middle school. Some moved away. One, I’m happy to say, fell from grace when he started puberty and finished high school on the bottom rung of the popularity ladder (I don’t care if you judge me for my happiness. He deserved every bit of snubbing he received, though I will note that I never stooped to his level and rubbed his weak-chinned, acne-covered face in it.)
Eventually I made friends and became more involved in school activities and while I would never even get close to saying I enjoyed high school, I will say things got better for me.
Low Self-Esteem Sucks
But when you are told at a very young age that you’re ugly, that you are unworthy of kindness and friendship, that you are less than – that sticks with you. Being bullied changed who I was. There’s myriad examples that I may go into in another post sometime, but I wanted to focus on just one thing for this post, and that is my struggle to stick up for myself.
Being told to “just ignore” my bullies taught me that I was not worth defending. And that lesson melded with my core. I wasn’t worth explaining to the cashier that she’d short changed me. I wasn’t worth explaining to my manager that I’d already asked for that day off. I wasn’t worth telling my boyfriend’s friend he was making me uncomfortable. Just ignore it and it’ll go away.
I have allowed things to happen that I am too ashamed to write about. Just because I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to make other people uncomfortable. I didn’t want a confrontation.
Growing Older Doesn’t Suck That Much
But you know what one of the best parts of getting older is? You. Stop. Giving. A. Fuck.
No wonder so many old people are crabby. They have lived 70+ years on this planet and they are tired of all our shit. And they’re finally going to do something about it. Good for them, to be honest.
With every confrontation I weigh the consequences. If I keep quiet and go with the flow, what will happen? Will things be okay? Do I just need to have a little grace and patience? Or is this a situation where I need to stand up for myself? Will there be physical or financial consequences if I say nothing? Or emotional? Will I be mad at myself and continue to suffer if I stay quiet now?
When I pay for something and it arrives broken, I will not just say Oh well, and hot glue it back together (this is both a metaphor and not, people.) I will explain what happened and ask for a refund. Does that seem simple to you? It should, right? But this is HUGE for me. To NOT accept something broken. To ask for what I deserve as a human being.
Standing Up For Yourself Doesn’t Suck At All
I’m not talking cussing out a barista about the foam on my chai latte. I’m talking about when my son has a teacher who deliberately makes appointments at times I cannot attend, I will speak to her supervisor. When my friend breaks off get togethers with me to go hang out with her new boyfriend, I will call her out on her behavior. And when the bartender puts salt in my cocktail instead of sugar I will request a new one. All of these examples happened to me in this past week and they are situations where I had to think about whether or not I should say something. I felt compelled to write about this subject because standing up for myself three times in one week is a LOT for me, and I’m proud of myself. It feels good and I wanted to share.
So what would have happened if I had just told one kid to go fuck off? Would things have been worse for me? I don’t think so. I think those kids bullied me for so long because they knew they could. They saw me as weak, easy prey. They could be as mean as they wanted to be and I wouldn’t do a single thing about it. What if I had proved them wrong?
With every confrontation, it is a struggle to stand up for myself. But I know I’m worth it. And I insist that my kids know that they’re worth it. And the only way they’ll know that is if I demonstrate it. They will learn from me when and how to defend themselves, or request the world treat as worthy.
The more I stand up for myself and embrace confrontation, the easier it becomes and the better I feel. All those thoughts of “Why didn’t I do something” become fewer and far between as the years go by, and are being replaced with “Hell yeah. I did something.”
3 responses to “On Having to be Confrontational”
When my boss told me to stop doing my ﬂamingo impression. I had to put my foot down. ☺ Jokes apart I loved your post and could relate to it.
Wow this hit home for me! I just want to run back and protect little ten year old you
Aw, thank you! But if I hadn’t gone through it then, I wouldn’t be the person I am today (which is a good thing.) 🙂