I will never forget the first time I was ever really, really put down by another person. I remember the feeling of being alone and scared as I watched all the other kids around me laugh and I sat there while the teacher did nothing. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life and every time I think about it, I shrink back to the same scared eleven year old.
I was in sixth grade and it was just a normal day at school. During class, I vaguely remember having an opinion or saying something that one of the kids didn’t agree with. Now, this kid was the most obnoxious, loudest kid I had ever met, so when he and I got into a small argument about whatever had been said, it didn’t surprise me in the least. I do remember what happened afterward that would affect the way I saw myself for years to come. As I already said, this kid and I were having a small argument, and knowing me, it was probably more meaningless teasing than an actual fight, but it was enough to attract the attention of our teacher. I still don’t remember exactly what he said, but the teacher turned to him and said something to the order of, “You know, you shouldn’t argue with Hannah like that. She could be your wife someday.” As if being the center of attention wasn’t bad enough, she had to say that. I remember dreading his response, I was so worried and it made me so mad. How could she say that about him? At that point in my life, he had been the most irritating person I had ever known to exist…I truly could not stand him and here was my teacher, giving me the worst fate I could’ve possibly dreamed of. I was so scared that kids in the class might actually think that I liked him, I remember being so embarrassed that I wanted to crawl into a hole. I thought that it would end there, but it didn’t; his response was even worse then what I could’ve imagined at that point. After my teacher put the idea of our future in his head, the kid immediately responded, “I would never marry her. She eats too many Twinkies for me.” This was the worst moment of my life; as I sat and watched every single person in the room laugh, even my best friend, I had to pretend that it didn’t faze me and laugh too. I had to sit there and deal with the fact that 1. I was the only person apparently in shock over this, that this was normal for people to treat me this way and 2. The fact that this kid was so remarkably stupid, considering I had never eaten a Twinkie before. I was crushed, after class I went and called my mom from the bathroom and I remember my friend telling me, “I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it now. You didn’t act upset in class, you laughed.” This surprised me too; how could my best friend tell me that? How was this normal? Is this the treatment that I get to look forward to for the rest of my life? My mom called the school and spoke with the teacher, her response? “I’ll tell him to apologize to Hannah. I know he didn’t mean anything by it, he was just joking. They all laughed.” My apology? The kid apologized later that day; well actually, he yelled in a crowded lunch room, “Hey! *Teacher’s name here* said your mom called, sorry I said you ate too many Twinkies and made you cry.” Only he could take an apology and manage to hurt me with it, I just remember wanting that day to end so badly.
As middle school progressed, it didn’t get much better. I remember numerous other occasions in which I was made to feel subhuman and the worst part was, I never said anything because I thought it was normal. I began participating less and less in class discussions and would often sit in the back or in a corner, where no one notice me. I remember spending my days trying to hide, because if no one noticed I was there, they wouldn’t point out how imperfect I was. I began to speak less and less and I became so shy and quiet. I was always ready to watch what I said, too scared that someone would challenge me or say something to bring me down. Even though I did my best to avoid being picked on, it was inevitable. I usually wasn’t doing anything at all. Once I was in the cafeteria lunch, and this guy in my class pointed out my double chin. I mean, if you’ve ever had a double chin you’re already very aware of it, it’s not like I needed a mirror to know. I tried playing it off and all I could think to say was, “Yeah, isn’t it cool?” The kid then said, “No, it’s disgusting” Disgusting. That was what I was to the world? I was just standing in a line, not doing anything and I was disgusting? Now, I was around eleven years old and words like disgusting seemed pretty serious. I would associate the word disgusting with something that makes your skin crawl, your stomach turn, or something that made you physically ill. That was what this kid though of me, that just me in my existence was enough to make him sick. I don’t really know how to explain what it feels like when someone tells you that by just being alive, you make them sick; but it’s not a great feeling. I think the word that comes to mind first is shame. I was so ashamed of my own body, I didn’t want to gross people out, I didn’t want to be disgusting, and I certainly didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by just being.
I began trying everything I could to change myself and my body, and the older I got, the more paranoid I became. By the time I was in high school, I wouldn’t eat in front of people and even at home, I would usually go to my room or somewhere that I could be alone. I would always feel guilty or wrong for eating, because I felt like no matter how hungry I was, that I didn’t deserve to. Even at 20, I sometimes feel a little nervous when eat around certain people; I eat mainly in front of my family and close friends and I often avoid eating around big groups of people or people that I don’t know very well.
I didn’t write this to blame my bullies for what they said to me. it’s not all of their fault; I’m 20 years old and if I’m honest, everyone my age is insecure; however, I do blame them for being bullies and I do blame them for affecting my self worth then. I’ve noticed that bullying has become very taboo, especially in schools and it hurts me for other children who have to endure the same thing. I should not have to mark my childhood by events that wrecked my self-esteem or that made me feel like I was a burden; I should be able to think back to a time where I learned. That’s what being a child is about, you go to school to get an education, not develop an inaccurate view of themselves.
So, for anyone who has experienced something similar and has felt a little jaded because of it, know you’re not alone. You don’t have to punish yourself or your body for not being perfect and you don’t have to blame yourself. For so long, I told myself if I was smarter, thinner, prettier, etc that it would be better, that no one would bother me, but I know that’s not the truth. There will always being something to criticize; today it’s your body, tomorrow your personality. Whatever it may be, know that it’s not a problem. You are you and there’s nothing wrong with that.