Her classmates used to call her “Forty foot gorilla,” after the cartoon character Grape Ape. And when she wasn’t being called a caricature she was just plain “fat girl.” She always was the tallest girl in class, even taller than most of the boys. So she was an easy target for bullies. Elementary school was tough.
Although she considers her 5’11’’ stature as an attribute today, she considered her above average height – and her big feet – a curse then. She used to stare at her naked body in the mirror at home searching for the “fat girl” her classmates ridiculed because she cared about their opinion of her more than hers of herself.
That was decades ago when bullies had to face the people they victimized. Now bullies have taken it to the next level hiding behind social networks and even web cams to belittle their classmates. It’s the same problem, just with different devices that magnify a victim’s embarrassment.
Some people are calling for local school boards and colleges nationwide to develop mandates against bullying. Bullying should be taken more seriously considering its sometimes deadly results, but just as dogs bark and babies cry, bullies are a fact of life and a rite of passage for most children. No amount of legislation can change that. Unfortunately some children don’t make it through the process.
People who ridicule others do so to hide their own inadequacies and to deflect attention from them. And that should be the focus. Self-worth is the most important asset to instill in a child and it takes a villiage worth of effort from parents, teachers and other adults to get the job done. From self-worth comes the confidence to be ourselves. Sure negative peer pressure always will be there. But a strong sense of self-worth will decrease the likelihood that a bully’s behavior and opinion will mean more than it should.
As emotionally painful as it was to live through, being bullied taught her to speak up for herself and for people who don’t speak up for themselves. She also learned her own version of the rope-a-dope! Sure she was involved in more fist fights for self-defense sake, but also it taught her to respect others as individuals and most of all to love herself from the top of her naturally curly hair to the bottom of her big feet.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at www.youtube.com/steffanierivers.
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