I started getting bullied in the sixth grade. I had just moved from a private school to a public school where I only knew one person. I was going through what my mother called “my awkward years” when my body was changing (just not as quickly as the other girls). I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, I didn’t know a thing about fashion, I had braces, wore my hair in a messy bun and wasn’t allowed to shave or pluck a single hair on my body.
Girls would make fun of me because I had thick, bushy eyebrows that connected in the middle of my face. I had a dark patch of hair above my upper lip and hairy legs. Not only did they call me gross and ugly and tell me to wax my facial hair, they also made fun of my last name. Apparently, Fleming sounds so much like phlegm, that they thought it would be cute to call me Flemmer, or Flem-wad. Most times they just cleared their throat making a really gross sound before spitting at me.
I can remember looking at all the other girls thinking, “how come I can’t be that pretty?” Girls teased me and boys wouldn’t dare ask me out. I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t “pretty”.
One day, one of the “popular” girls was gushing over this boy. I smiled, trying to make conversation, trying to make a friendship, and said “Omigosh, yeah, he’s soooo cute!!” She told me that they were good friends and she would tell him I liked him and see if he wanted to go out with me.
Me? Me! I never had a boyfriend before. Yes! Of course, I wanted her to ask him. Maybe I could be part of the popular crowd. Maybe people would stop teasing me all the time. People would know my REAL name, not just this horrible nickname.
So she very casually walked over to the boy and told him (what I thought was) that I liked him. They both giggled and nodded at each other. He had this terrible smirk on his face when he walked up to me. And he said, “So I hear you like me, huh?” I shook my head yes. I was so nervous I couldn’t talk. “Well, I’m sorry; I’m only interested in real women, not some hairy, immature, brace-faced, Flem-wad like you”. He coughed up a horrible collection of spit and aimed it right at me – right in my face.
I was humiliated. I stood there crying, looking around me for someone to stick up for me. But all I could see was hallway after hallway of kids pointing and laughing.
Those girls (and boys) that picked on me – calling me names, pulling my hair, stepping on the back of my shoes and making me fall, throwing things at me and spitting on me – they had no idea what they were doing. I’d go home and cry myself to sleep. I’d stare in the mirror and just think to myself “why did God make me so ugly?” I hated who I was and at one point thought that no one would really miss me if I was gone.
I never told anyone what was going on. I’d ask my mom if I could go to the salon and get my facial hair waxed and when she said no, I just went back to my room and cried. She had no idea why I kept asking. If she did, she probably would have let me do it. But I was ashamed to admit that people were bullying me. I was afraid to call any attention to it because I figured if teachers got involved, then more and more kids would just tease me. Now, instead of just being “ugly” I would be a rat.
That was the worst thing I could have done. I should have said something. Maybe if I told my mom what was going on she’d help me – or if anything, console me. But because I just accepted the situation, I made it so much harder on myself. I settled for boyfriends who were no good. I constantly worried about what I looked like or what people thought of me. I couldn’t just be me; I always tried to be better. It took me a long time to get over those middle school years. But it made me stronger.
Today, I love myself more than I ever have. I found friends that accept me for who I truly am – with or without makeup and fancy clothes. I found my own love story and moved past those darker days. But every once in a while, when I’m meeting new people, I get that insecure feeling again. Will they like me? Will they talk about me behind my back? And then I stop and think, “who cares.” Because the truth is, as long as you love yourself, it doesn’t matter what other people think of you.
So here’s my advice. Don’t suffer alone. Tell someone! Tell anyone that will listen. And don’t stop telling people until someone DOES listen. Start with your parents, then your teachers, then anyone else that you can – because being bullied isn’t something to feel ashamed about. If anything, it’s the opposite. Those girls that bully other girls, they should be ashamed of their behavior.
Things DO get better too. Even though it doesn’t seem like it now, I promise they do. Just don’t give up on yourself. Love yourself no matter what names people call you or what actions they take against you.
And lastly, remember these three words: You. Are. Beautiful.
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