Last week I spoke to a friend of mine from college and learned that she is in working with the YMCA in her community to inform and offer guidance to kids who have or who are being bullied. I wrote the following and sent it to her in hopes that my story could serve as an example of just how the effects of bullying are something that never really leave those of us who have experienced it.
When I was a young child I wasn't obese but I was chubbier than the neighborhood children and, on occasion, was made fun of for that reason. I still don't "get it," what the payoff is for saying cruel things with the express purpose of hurting someone's feelings. Is there some feeling of success or triumph knowing that you've made another human being feel they are inferior?
I've got to say I thought it was a cruel joke that my name was Patty and it rhymed with fatty. I can still hear: "Fatty Patty two by four, can't get through the kitchen door" ringing in my much older ears even now.
My life at home was very nurturing and loving, but as it concerned the buying clothes ritual was...suffice it to say, not helpful to my already painful neighborhood experience. I was never big enough to fit into a Chubby size dress but too big to fit into a "normal" size. Disheartened and disappointed, mom would counteract my sorrow with a trip to the dime store counter to get a hot fudge sundae.
The ridicule didn't just stop with just the neighborhood children, I felt it every time there was a choosing of teammates for a competitive PE activity as well. At school there were whispers and I was well aware that I was less than. Through all of my grade school years I was a shy child, soft spoken and quiet, feeling inferior to others except a few close friends.
When I got to high school I hid my inferiority complex and decided that this was a brand new start and that I wasn't going to let my weight define me. I made it my business to be friends with a variety of people from the most popular to the nerds. This I did with the express objective to enjoy high school and not it ruin what I knew was a time in my life to become my own person, not like everybody else, genuinely interested in everything and everyone.
I discovered boys and wished like every girl in high school that they would take an interest in me but accepted that I was their good friend, not girl friend material. I threw myself into my two strengths, art and music. I designed posters for special events and was cast in a couple of the school musicals. I was even cast in a lead role. Buttercup, in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta HMS Pinafore. I was thrilled to get the part but had to again struggle with the fact that this character was...chubby, round and fun loving.
In my freshman and sophomore year, dances came and went, and I did the special hairdos for all of my friends who were invited and waved from the window as they went and I didn't. I started singing with the dance band at school. That led to the senior prom committee inviting me to sing with the band at the senior prom. I got to attend and could invite a date. I had one fixed up date with a boy from the pre-seminary high school and invited him and was surprised when...he actually accepted.
My senior year was really a fun year. I decided that I was never going to be one of the skinny girls and got involved in as many activities that a good grade point would allow.
The senior prom was coming and all my friends were asked but not me. I remember having a conversation with one of the religion teachers I had grown close to and he said the sweetest thing to me, something I didn't believe for one minute but he said so sincerely: " You're so well-liked by everybody and such a fun person, the boys don't ask because they're sure you've been asked already. They just expect you'll be there".
About a week before the Senior Prom, convinced that I wouldn't be asked, someone from my home room, a guy I loved to laugh and talk with asked me to go with him. He wasn't anybody that I was attracted to but such a great guy that I said to myself, " It's my senior year. I sure don't want to miss the Senior Prom so I'm going to accept." Since mine was a parochial school and dancing was not allowed on the school premises, the seniors had to plan their own dance, arrange the place, the band, the theme and the refreshments. We didn't have a voting at school for Prom Queen and King and their court. This was done the night of the dance by passing pieces of paper and pencils so everyone could write down their choice. You can imagine my shock when they told me that when all the votes were counted, I had been chosen Prom Queen. I was beyond speechless. I couldn't believe it. The little girl who was bullied on the street corner, Patty Fatty, the girl referred to as pleasingly plump had actually been chosen.
Now you'd think that that was the beginning of a new life, a life of confidence and self-assuredness, but you'd be wrong. Those memories are still there. I'm sixty-seven years old and I still feel like that chubby girl on the street corner listening to those cruel childhood taunts, who had to have her mom make her clothes because nothing store-bought fit, the one who was picked last for teams because she was inferior. For a long time I believed that no matter what I accomplished people would says, "She's done a wonderful job on this. It's too bad she's fat." It's as if everything is less of an accomplishment because I don't look thin enough.
My inequities were primarily body image issues, but many years later my son, at the time a boy of seven came home in tears because he said day after day he was made fun of because instead of being interested in playing baseball at recess he wanted to put on a puppet show. There's nothing worse than seeing your child with his feelings hurt and feeling unwanted. What I told him then was that kids are cruel because they experienced that same cruelty themselves and they relieve some of their own hurt by inflicting it on
someone else. Maybe that's true, I don't know, but it helped him to wipe away his tears and look at the next day with a new level of understanding.
In closing let me say, I can't blame bullying by other kids as the complete source of all my insecurities, but for me it was a big part. Yes, we can blame the media for constantly bombarding us with images that perpetuate the idea that we all have to look emaciated to be accepted, even loved. And I'm not saying that bullying ruined my life. What I am saying is that cruel thoughtless words spoken to or about another person are never forgotten. All the hurt and sadness that those words inflict are "Forever Scars."