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Bullied for Being Skinny
Linda S.

Names have been changed.

Throughout elementary and middle school, I was underweight. I was often teased and harassed, and was quite self-conscious about being thin. The teasing reached its worst point during the 6th grade, when one particular student, Bill, started teasing me relentlessly about my weight.

About a month into the school year, Bill had been admitted to the school and was placed in my class. At first glance, he did not seem much like a bully. He appeared passive and shy. However, once he met the other students and started feeling comfortable around them, everything changed. Bill became my tormentor. I felt like he was out to ruin my life.

A Serious Disease

When I think back on it, Bill never confronted me unless he had an audience to cheer him on. When I was called to the front of the class, he would yell out horrible, degrading things, calling me “stupid,” “skinny,” and “ugly.” He would listen in on all of my conversations and repeat anything out loud that he could poke fun at. He even called me “anorexic.”

I had never watched my weight or worried about how many calories I was consuming. I simply have a fast metabolism. I first learned about anorexia when I was 8 years old, and my sister brought home a pamphlet on eating disorders from her health class at school. After reading it, I learned that anorexics often have distorted perceptions of their physical appearance and fear gaining weight.

Each time that I was called anorexic, I thought of the many people in the world suffering from the disease at that very moment, hurting their bodies because they felt the need to conform to society’s ideal of beauty.

Although I certainly did not take it as a compliment, being called anorexic was not an insult to me. I understood that it was a disease, despite the fact that Bill found pleasure in using it as a derogatory term.

In attempt to educate my peers, I wrote an essay on eating disorders and presented it in my English class. I did not look up for a second during the presentation. I simply read from the words I had written. The room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. My voice echoed, bouncing off of the walls.

Then I sat down, uncomfortably glued to my seat in the middle of the classroom. “Finally,” I thought. “Finally my peers will realize that an eating disorder is a serious disease.” All of the students turned to look at me.

Just then, the bell rang and the students poured out of the classroom. As I was walking to my next class, all I could hear was the word “anorexic” being murmured. Bill and his friends were talking about me again.

I could not believe it. My stomach was in knots. My heart was beating incredibly fast. My face turned red. I was in an absolute fury. I wanted to speak out, but what could I say? What could I do to make it stop? What could I do to make anyone listen to me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I believed that if I spoke out about being bullied, no one would take me seriously. After all, Bill had made me feel worthless from the beginning. After I read my report aloud and found that it had not changed the perspectives of my peers at all, I felt even more discouraged about telling a teacher or administrator in the school how Bill and his followers had been bullying me.

My Voice Didn’t Matter

I had only one close friend in my 6th grade class, Isabel. She and I became friends because we were both bullied. While I was bullied for being underweight, she was bullied for being overweight. I believe that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way, so when I looked at Isabel, I saw a beautiful girl, with dark, exotic eyes and a pretty smile to match her bubbly personality. I wondered why other students did not at least make an effort to get to know Isabel. She was by far the nicest student in class. She was very intelligent to boot. We quickly became the best of friends.

Isabel was bullied far worse than I was. Boys would talk amongst themselves about her, calling her “the fat and confused girl.” When she walked through the hallway, kids would scream at her “You’re ugly!” Isabel never did anything to stop the bullying. Sometimes, she would laugh it off. But I knew more than anyone that she did not find it funny. When she was teased, she would try not to make eye contact with anyone. Sometimes, I thought I saw her blinking back tears.

At times, I think back on this in guilt. Isabel was being terribly bullied and I did not speak up against it. If I could not have spoken up for myself, I should have at least spoken up for her. But at the time, I felt that my voice did not matter. Bill had made me feel worthless and undeserving of respect.

Also, part of me was afraid that Isabel would be mad at me. When Isabel and I were together, we never talked about the bullying. It was somewhat of an unspoken agreement. We both understood the pain it caused to be bullied and neither of us wanted to hurt the other by broaching the subject. However, I now realize that if at least one of us had spoken up to an administrator, we might have been able to make the bullying stop. Maybe Bill and his posse would have been suspended. A school is supposed to facilitate a safe learning environment for all students. Isabel and I did not have that.

My Teachers Didn’t Stop It

As the harassment persisted, my teachers simply stood by to watch. At times, they even seemed amused. My math teacher would encourage the bullies, joining in on calling me “stupid” as well. She once said “Linda, you are almost as stupid as [another student].” I believe it was intended to be a joke, but it really hurt me. Although she did not always blatantly call me stupid, it was always implied in the way she treated me.

image by Percy Tejeda

Then there was my history teacher, who once said, “Even a really stupid person would be able to answer this question.” He then proceeded to ask me the question. When I could not answer it, he, as well as the entire class, laughed at me. My science teacher told me that I was too “passive,” when I once was unable to answer a question. No matter what, it always seemed that I was not good enough.

For one particular project in math class, we all had to measure the circumference of our wrists and necks, and then plot the data on a graph. When it was found that my statistics were not the smallest, my teacher made another student measure my wrist again. She insisted that I had to have the smallest wrist because I was the skinniest. The way the teacher handled the assignment was degrading and embarrassing. My teacher expected my measurements to be outliers simply because I was skinny. It made me feel like a flaw in the data.

‘Stupid,’ ‘Skinny,’ and ‘Ugly’

I never spoke up because I never thought that anyone could possibly help; the teachers certainly hadn’t stepped in to do anything. Although I was primarily targeted by the boys in my class, there were times where I was targeted by some of the girls as well.

One time, my class and I were sitting at our assigned table at lunch. I was sitting beside my friend, Isabel. Leah, the most desirable of all the girls in our class, was chatting up the group of boys clustered around her. Isabel and I both pretended not to hear, but I knew it was inevitable that they would start harassing us.

“If you had to choose between Linda or Isabel, who would you pick?” Leah slyly asked the boys around her. “Ew, Leah, are you serious?!,” they responded in a chorus of disgust. I was not even angry to hear these mean comments. I had come to believe what they said about me, so I simply accepted what I felt was my fate: the stupid, skinny, ugly girl.

For the rest of 6th grade, I just tried to distract myself from the bullying as best as I could. One of my outlets was online gaming. I used online gaming to connect with some other students in my class, who were more respectful and willing to become friends.

All of my journal entries from the 6th grade were about online gaming. It was as if I was able to create a new identity and escape in the online world where everyone was a colorful, chubby penguin. No one could judge me on the basis of appearance because we all looked the same. It was the one place where I truly felt accepted. Even though I knew some of the online people in real life, the fact that all of our avatars looked the same became an equalizer. Online, we could be friends.

I would spend every Friday evening glued to the computer screen for hours. But I eventually grew disgusted and somewhat frightened by online gaming. I saw that the anonymity of the players posed a danger as well. In some games, players felt that they could get away with name-calling. After I realized that I could be bullied on the Internet as well, I decided that it was time to face the real world.

From Helpless to Angry

Luckily, during 7th grade I was bullied much less. Bill had left the school, and I believe that the other students felt powerless without him. It was very strange how the harshest bullying stopped so abruptly. The students acted as if nothing had ever happened. I never received a single apology, though. It was painful to think back to the bullying I experienced in the 6th grade and I did the best I could not to.

Still, I felt bitter about the way I’d been treated. I distrusted people and was constantly suspicious. My journal entries were often fueled by anger. I still felt that I was the outcast. Isabel and I remained best friends, but there were times when I even felt angry with her. Perhaps it was because Isabel and I had both been victims of bullying, but we had both found ourselves powerless to stop it. I felt like we had both allowed Bill to get away scot free despite the damage he had caused.

In the 7th grade, I started to express myself though unique fashions. One day, I wore safety-pins in my ears. Immediately, I was targeted by two of my peers who threatened to report me to the principal. When I wore bands of electrical tape on my arms, I was chased around the classroom by a few girls who threatened to rip them off. When I began donning atypical headbands, many the students and the teachers attacked me.

“What do your parents think of you?” one girl asked in a disgusted tone. “I will not talk to you again until you stop wearing those headbands,” one of my best friends said. “Take it off!” one girl yelled furiously across the room after my science teacher asked me what was on my head. The next day, I stayed home from school because I was so upset. I called Isabel, the one person who had not turned against me and who thought that the headbands “looked cool.” She also told me that my history teacher had made me the laughing stock of class that day, saying that I had “probably gotten a headache from wearing those weird headbands.”

I liked being able to control what I wore, unlike my body type, which was not something I could control. Some of my classmates noticed this and took it upon themselves to try to change me. Many said that it was for my benefit, because my style was so bizarre in their eyes. But the message I received, just like with Bill, was that there was something wrong with me.

Don’t Stay Silent

Fortunately, things have improved a lot since I started high school. While a great deal of emphasis is placed on appearance—perhaps even more so than in middle school—there is also a larger crowd of students. I now have a wider choice of friends than I had in middle school, and I try to befriend the kids that couldn’t care less about what I look like or what I wear. I have been able to let go of a lot of my anger, as many of the students I have met in high school are much more willing to accept my uniqueness.

It is easier to trust people as well because I am no longer in an environment where I feel that I am being constantly judged. Instead, my innovation, intellect, and personality are valued more. My friends and I often talk about our classes and what interests us the most about what we are learning. Other times, we talk about our plans for college, books we have read, music we like, or movies we have seen.

Although my friends do not disparage me, at times I still feel that my appearance is prioritized. My friends sometimes tell me “how great” I would look if I wore a dress or eyeliner or styled my hair differently. However, I am now quick to tell them, “That’s not me. Don’t push it.” In the end I know that, above all, they value my friendship and that they are willing to accept me regardless of what I look like. Now, I am more comfortable in my own skin. As cliché as the saying is, true beauty really does come from within.

What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t help to wait until bullying escalates. Bullies gain satisfaction when they know they can get away with their harassment. Bullying will persist if we do not do our part by speaking up when we witness it. If enough people speak up when someone is being bullied, adults will take it seriously. Everyone is worthy of respect and deserving of a voice.

Read about New York’s anti-bullying legislation, the Dignity for All Students Act.

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