I never told anyone I was being bullied in school. I was big for my age, I was both tall and overweight but everything about me was targeted, the size of every physical feature and every body part was up for derision, scorn and ridicule, in every way possible, especially the size of my breasts.
In the school I went to, for every lesson we had to change classroom and needed to queue to go in. This was primetime for bullying. My body would be discussed, it was taken apart piece by piece and trashed and decimated. The name calling that went with the autopsy of my body was vicious. The chanting of the word ‘fatty’ was common, but that was the least of all comments, they got very personal and it was up for grabs to comment on how I used my ‘fat’ body to perform bodily functions. The greatest slur of all was the categorical disgust expressed for my body, which was deemed as being the most loathsome object in the world, worse than a sewer.
These boys thought they had the right to comment like this on my body, and even worse, I let them.
I never told anyone because I could never have born the shame of repeating what they said. The shame was the biggest killer, I carried it every day like a heavy coat over me. I thought this was my secret and buried it deep in my body, but of course everyone knew, they heard it as loudly as I did, laughed along with the bully or just said nothing. The laughter was a constant accompaniment and to this day when I hear laughter, there is something in me that cringes, I only recently realised, it was the laughing derision I experienced in school that I am still flinching from.
The shame I felt impacted how I walked, what I thought about myself, how low I thought I was in everyone’s estimation. What’s worse is that, I agreed with them all, every word. I had bullies on the outside and on the inside.
I thought I was loathsome, ugly and dragged my big body around, every night wishing I would wake up thin in the morning. But I didn’t, instead I woke up and ate my feelings. It was a vicious cycle
When I was fifteen, I had a friend who suggested I make fun of my bullies, turn the tables on them, in that moment I ran after the ring-leader and told him I wanted a kiss, I shouted out ‘go on, give us a kiss’ and made kissing noises, he ran very fast with all his friend laughing at him as he went. That was the end of the bullying. It never ever happened again.
It had been so easy to stop it. That shook me to the core. What if I had stopped it four years earlier? I would have had four years free of the massive intensity of bullying. It made me realise just how much I contributed to the bullying going on every day by not taking steps to stop it. Having isolated myself, I wasn’t open for a long time to anyone helping me, and I am not alone in this pattern by any means. The impact on mental health from weight-based bullying is enormous, it can lead to depression, and even suicide. Bullying in childhood can leave you at higher risk of victim and bullying experiences right well into our adult lives. It needs support to get out of the cycle.
What made it easy for me to stop the bullying at fifteen was knowing I was being backed by my friend. That backing was immense to me, it made me look at my whole life in a different way. My friend was telling ‘you’ve got this, go for it.’ To know someone has your back, someone who values you and supports you, has such a huge impact. When the pattern is to isolate, having someone who is on the outside of the experience but has been able to observe how it all played out is invaluable. It cuts through fog that tells you there is no way out.
If a child can stop bullies in their tracks because they know someone has their back, that’s big. So what is our job at home? To make sure we are providing a space at home that does not contain the derision that is so common at school. Children should feel safe to talk to us about what is happening without fear of further shame and hurt.
Weight-based bullying in childhood leaves scars that can last a lifetime unless they are addressed.
Image by Ihtar