Bullying: ‘I thought it was just part of being a child’
Being bullied as a child contributed to how strong I am as an adult
I was an easy target, a bully’s dream. Image: iStock
I was bullied as a child. When I say bullied, I mean I was constantly insulted, pushed and kicked. At the time, I didn’t realise the extent of what was happening, for me that was normality. It’s not that it didn’t upset me, I had some very tough days, but, overall, I put some of it down to boys being rough and girls being mean.
I thought it was just part of being a child.
I was an easy target, a bully’s dream; a very petite red head with lots of freckles and glasses. If there was something to make fun of, I had it. I was called every variation of name you can think of, the mildest of which were squirt, four eyes and circus freak (because of my red hair), I was told I should wash my face because my freckles looked like dirt; I was picked up and thrown down because I was light and small; I was kicked under the table at school; my bag was knocked off my back; it was endless.
There were days when I cried, shouted and acted out. There were days when all I wanted was to skip school and get hugs from my mother. It was a frustrating time for me because it seemed that no matter what I said or did, nothing would deter them. There were days when it rolled off my back because I had decided it wasn’t going to affect me.
I realised that being the bully felt so much worse because I had the power to stop it and I didn’t
I remember the worst day so clearly, I was sitting with three boys in my class (the main perpetrators) when they started making fun of my friend. Then I did something unforgivable, I joined in. They seemed to accept me in that moment and told me if I made fun of her to her face, they would leave me alone. Needless to say, that wasn’t true.
What actually happened was I hurt my friend, I got into trouble with teachers for bullying and things continued as before. It was such a low point for me, it was when I realised that being the bully felt so much worse because I had the power to stop it and I didn’t.
The worst part was the look of disappointment on my mother’s face but from something so negative came the best piece of advice I ever got – “You can let them destroy who you are or you can rise above it and let them make you stronger” – so that’s what I decided to do, rise above it every time. I decided I wasn’t meek and mild, I was small and strong and anyone who knows me now knows that to be true.
I am still small, red haired (most of the time), freckly and short sighted, still underestimated because of my size and sometimes need to be louder to make my voice heard or be taken seriously but my features and my size no longer matter to me (except when I am trying to find a pair of jeans that fit).
The turning point for me was at a hairdresser one day when I was about 14 or 15. I was sitting in the chair having my hair trimmed and begging my mother yet again to let me dye my hair brown so I would blend in with everyone else. There was a girl, not much older than me, maybe about 18, sitting in the chair beside me flicking through hair colour samples, deciding what to put in her hair.
I was shocked when she looked in my direction and asked for my hair colour, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to have anything I had. I thought about that moment for weeks afterwards and though it may seem like nothing, it gave me a different view of myself.
I made a conscious effort to start being kinder to myself, to be more accepting of who I am and how I look. That’s not always easy, I can still be quite hard on myself but it’s a work in progress and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
While bullying is never okay, we shouldn’t underestimate the resilience of children
While being bullied was difficult and traumatic at the time, I truly feel that it helped me build coping skills and contributed to how strong I am as an adult. I feel it made me work harder for things I deserve, it has taught me to see the fact that people who do bad things are not necessarily bad people. I am more aware of my own shortcomings than I may otherwise have been.
From a parent’s point of view, I try to protect my children but only where I think they need me to. I know they have courage and strength to fight some of their own battles and they know I have their back when they need me. We have a responsibility to fight on behalf of our children, but we have an equal responsibility to let our children figure out how to cope with and learn from difficult experiences. While bullying is never okay, we shouldn’t underestimate the resilience of children.
Being bullied is never a sign of weakness, it can show us how much strength we actually have.