I used to think that I was picked on or bullied because I was not pretty. I used to tell myself through thick and heavy tears that if I were pretty this would not be happening to me. I wouldn’t be the class joke. I wouldn’t get pushed around both figuratively and literally. I would be respected. If I were pretty to them, then I would be adored. If I were pretty to the bullies in my life, then I would be treated like a porcelain doll, and I would be untouchable. They would be careful around me. They would worship the floor that I would walk on.
Why did I think that? Perhaps, it was because one of them denied my femininity by calling me a boy. He stripped me of my femininity and pointed out my failure to be pretty. Maybe, it was my subconscious responding to the media’s standards of beauty. In looking back, I know that I wanted to be like the actresses on film. Movies were my escape when reality was so despicable and hurtful. When I was alone in my room, I felt close to the idea of beauty that was portrayed on screen. As I played dress up and posed in front of the mirror, I felt I could be like them…like the girls everyone admired.
However, as soon as I heard a joke at my expense, or was shoved out of the lunch line at school, I no longer felt pretty. I felt like the ugliest girl in the world. During my teen years, the consequences of this type of incessant bullying damaged my self-esteem as well as my ability to trust anyone. Because of the bullying, I soon gave up even dreaming about being pretty. I felt that being pretty was not for me. I stopped trying to reach a level of beauty that I felt was unattainable to me. I accepted my ugliness and closed myself off from the world. I dove into a deep depression that lasted for years.
Thankfully, I had my parents who loved me, accepted me, and stood by me when others might have given up. Slowly, I began to put the pain aside and chose to live. I found my passion for reading and writing, which led me to pursue a degree in English Literature. I discovered something that filled the void that I had from not living up to the expectations of others. As the years passed and I grew away from that part of my adolescence, I learned to accept myself and look in the mirror without shame or severe scrutiny.
Some girls are not so fortunate to have the family support needed to survive and find a reason for living. Research shows that young girls are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide than young men. Compared to other children, those who are bullied are even more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts. Although bullying can be considered a childhood problem, likely to fade in time, it is actually very serious and the consequences of bullying can be fatal.
In remembering this part of my past, I can’t help thinking about what it would be like to be a teenager in today’s world that is driven by social media. We receive an overwhelming number of images in our news feed of what is considered beautiful or sexy. Many girls appear to be competing for who has the best selfie or the most likes. Girls are agonizing over the right filter that will disguise their “impurities” or what they consider to being their worst flaws. “Flaws” that others might have pointed out or “flaws” that we do not see in social media and pop culture. Sometimes we present a false image of ourselves and we accept the so-called ‘love’ that is transmitted as a result of denying our true self.
Let us focus more on what a person has to offer in kindness, knowledge, and creativity. External beauty is ephemeral, but our gifts and talents are long lasting.
Photograph by Fade Qu