Dear Teen Jenny,
You don’t see yourself as the type to get bullied. You think you’re pretty damn tough, and maybe you are, physically, anyway. You hit your growth spurt early (although you’re still waiting for a second round of puberty focused only on your boobs), and you’ll always be one of the taller girls. You’re the youngest of three brawny older brothers and a formidable older sister who could skewer all of them with her steely glare alone, and they didn’t kill you, so I guess they made you stronger.
You’re capable of standing up for yourself. Actually, you’re kind of a scary, violent person. Other kids are wary of messing with you, and if they aren’t, it’s to their detriment. Remember the time your brother teased you, so you hit him in the face with a steel canteen on a strap? How about the time that creepy neighbor kid trapped you in your fort and said he wouldn’t let you out until you kissed him, so the next time you saw him you used a willow tree branch to whip him? Or the time, in eighth grade, when a vicious ninth-grader who looked like Ozzy Osbourne circa 1970 crossed with that chic dancing on the hood of the car in the White Snake video decided to pick on you, resulting in you “talking shit” about her, resulting in her confronting you in the hall between classes and screaming at you, resulting in you seeing red and punching in her in the face, resulting in a fight that got both of you suspended? Or the time you and your friends entered high school and were picked on by a group of older girls who saw you as competition, so you declared war on them by buying literally hundreds of eggs and plastering their cars with them the night before you knew they were supposed to leave early for a ski trip, thereby forcing them to spend the morning trying to clean the eggs off their cars so they wouldn’t eat away the paint, which caused them to miss the ski trip entirely. That plan worked almost too well, you devil.
What a little psychopath you were! And kind of still are, truth be told. Your friends even have an acronym to describe the state of mind you fall into when something makes you angry. WHR for “white hot rage.” Watch out, Jenny has the WHR again. You will become famous for your furious tirades. Anything can set you off. Discussion about robots and your prediction that they will destroy humanity. The lack of integrity in the music industry (damn you, auto-tune!). J-Law’s hacked iPhone photos of her boobs (that’ll make more sense in a couple of decades).
So if you’re such a hard ass, why am I writing to you about bullying? You are not, after all, a true target of bullying.
Because––are you sitting down?––you’re not as tough as you think you are. Yes, physically, you can hold your own. If someone pushes you, you push back. If someone hits you, you hit back.
But maybe a more accurate acronym for your anger management issue is IR for “Impotent Rage.” Because, inside, the things that really terrify you and make you feel helpless and persecuted and picked on are the ones you can’t lash out at with physical force.
The world is filled with bullies, and the true damage they will do to you will be subtle and cumulative. By the time you’re me, a world of hurt will have built up inside you, and it’s not the kind you can punch in the face. It’s the kind that whittles you down year by year, because your backbone and your self-esteem are not as strong as your sturdy Norwegian legs or your sharp knuckles.
It’s the small cruelties (whether hurled at you intentionally or not) that will get to you in the end. It’s the girls whispering about how big your sturdy Norwegian legs are. It’s the teachers who will kick you out of class for being too loud so many times that you will lose all the extroverted tendencies you inherited from your dad and go full introvert. It’s the guys who will pressure you to let them get as far as possible with you, and then spread rumors that you’re a slut. It’s the college boyfriend who cheated on you and whose friends called you fat when you confronted him about it.
It’s hundreds of these small, painful moments building up year after year, until you arrive at me.
Don’t get me wrong. There will be plenty of people who’ll be good to you, who will build you up while others tear you down. But there will come a time when your self-esteem will be so low that you will no longer have the determination to defend yourself, not with your fists and not with your words. You will do the opposite of what Twisted Sister inspired you to do and you will take it.
By the time you’re me, you’ll only just be learning to stand up for yourself again. So I’m going to need you, Little Jenny. I need you to hold tight to your inner strength, not just your fists of fury. Hold on to the good things people say to you, not just the bad. Be good to yourself and guard yourself on the inside, because that’s where you’ll be vulnerable.
You’re a good person. You’re going to make some people very happy, and you are going to write things that matter, but only if you have the strength to use your voice and to speak from the heart.
You are worthy of love. Watch out for that heart of yours. Someday it’s going to be mine.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice
~ Jennifer Bosworth, author of Struck
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