You’re hurting right now, and not just emotionally, but physically, too. What kind of person jerks back your chair in language lab, just as you’re sitting down? There isn’t enough room in the cubicle for you to completely clear the seat, so before your butt can hit the floor, the edge of the hard plastic scrapes your back from tailbone to shoulder blades, deep enough to draw blood and leave a scar. But what wounds you even worse is the name she calls you—Eleanor the Cow. Then she laughs and laughs, and her friends do, too.
It isn’t the first time a bully has drawn your blood. You’ve been pushed off swings and dropped off teeter-totters. You’ve been bumped into walls and tripped to the pavement. You’ve had balls thrown into your face. But always, it’s the name that hurts more. The slur first popped up in third grade when, admittedly, you carried a few extra pounds. Like, maybe five extra. But this is eighth grade, and you lost the excess weight, and more, over your sixth grade summer. Remember how your school uniforms had to be altered so they wouldn’t slide right off over your hips? Remember how that cute new boy in school smiled at you in that special way, though you couldn’t believe he meant that smile for you? He did, just so you know.
It was, in fact, that smile that made her want to injure you. Jealousy makes people behave in ugly ways. But you don’t know that right now, and won’t for quite a while. Not until you’ve lived long enough to develop this thing called hindsight. Right now, life is all about discovery, and what you’re discovering at the moment how mean your classmates can be.
The problem with vicious comments, especially when they’re aimed at a child, is they carve into self-esteem, marring the psyche. Scratch into the brain deeply enough, the damage is tough to mitigate. The child begins to believe there’s truth in the insults and, over time, starts to view herself as fat or ugly or stupid, and not worthy of love. And that, dearest Ellen, has happened to you.
You walk by the mirror and see Eleanor the Cow. The danger might not be obvious now. But it will affect the choices you make throughout adolescence and all the way into adulthood. You’ll choose partners who won’t be good for you because you believe you don’t deserve better. You’ll allow yourself to be abused, and stay far too long with your abuser, because you can’t picture yourself with someone who’ll treat you with respect.
Eventually, however, you’ll find that person and spend many happy decades together. You’ll look into the mirror and see the beautiful woman you’ve always been. You’ll also discover, through your not insignificant talents, self-worth and the ability to help others manipulate adolescence in positive ways. And you’ll learn a lot about bullying—what it is, what it accomplishes, and how some young people end their lives because of it. That’s something you won’t consider, not because you’re strong right now, but because your brain isn’t wired for depression, and that’s the unifying thread among victims of bullycide.
How I wish I could shortcut the years in between for you. If I could time travel back and spend a few encouraging hours with you, this is what I’d say. Those mean girls? Odds are, they’re hurting, too. One has an alcoholic mother who too often beats her. Another’s father whips her with words, and she will succumb to that brain chemistry thing. You can’t see their personal scars, and though they might explain the awful pay-it-forward, don’t make it any less painful now.
But deep inside yourself is the power to rise above insults and injury and become the woman you’re destined to be. You are beautiful, exactly as you are. You’re smart and talented and worthy of joy. Tap into that well of inner energy, the source of self—self-respect, self-esteem and self-love. You have to love yourself before you can truly love others, and allow them to love you. And you deserve it.
Ellen Hopkins is the author of eleven NY Times bestselling young adult novels in verse, and two adult novels. Her latest YA, Rumble, explores bullycide, survivor guilt, forgiveness and the power of love.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice