Bullying Victims Can Forgive, But They Never Forget

Mom Moment 4

Anti-bullyingBefore bullying was an emotional hot button, a Google searchable word and an incendiary issue, it was nonchalantly considered just good ol’ fashioned, red-blooded American teasing. I grew up on the wrong side of it. No one—including parents or teachers—really took that kind of thing seriously back then, aside from the occasional fist fight in retaliation. (I alas didn’t even do that.) It was the 80s, and kids were just being kids. In the jungles of the inner city and the public school system, I was plucked off by wild packs of beasts feeding off my many flaws for their own self-esteem building and social standing. Yeah, I was that kid.

I got it from all sides. I was chunky and wore glasses. In the fifth grade, some boys in my class got wind of how much I weighed and invested their creative energy into composing an entire song in honor of my chubbiness, which they sang all year, every single time that number came up.

I had an overbite that was likened regularly to horse teeth, and eventually got fitted with braces, which didn’t make matters much better. I went through a terrible bout of acne that lasted what seemed like a lifetime through high school, eased up in college but still stretched unceremoniously into my adult years. I had dark knees and elbows, which starkly contrasted my light-brown complexion and made for convenient joke-making, and I had the nerve to be in gifted classes and talk proper, so there was the whole “acting white” thing.

And, God bless my ancestors, who passed down a set of soup coolers that made me the involuntary target of every big-lipped joke ever crafted this side of creation, especially when Jamie Foxx introduced his character Wanda on In Living Color. All good golly hell broke loose because the kids who had up until then generated their own creative quips about my looks—their favorite was calling me “Flipper”—finally had a familiar point of reference. I can’t even watch the reruns of that show today. I remember it being funny, but me and Wanda can’t run into each other.

I can laugh about the teasing at least half-heartedly, because that was then and this is now. I’m grown up with a daughter of my own. I pay bills and taxes. I can eat ice cream for breakfast if I want to. I’m getting ready to buy my first home. But all the accoutrements of grown-up-ness aside, I’ve never stopped being fat Janelle with the glasses and the big ol’ lips. As a result, I’ve never looked in a mirror and been happy with what I saw there. Never. Growing up under the firestorm of other kids’ incessant meanness has mentally blocked me from seeing anything pretty about my physical self, even some 20 years after the jokes have stopped. 

My experience has, however, honed a deep affinity for underdogs (yay underdogs!) and made me empathetic to the similar struggles of other people. My heart aches whenever I hear a story like Amanda Todd's or any other young person who has been verbally or physically pulverized. Sometimes they act out. Maybe they pull a gun and go ballistic at their school, maybe they internalize their pain and end their own life. A victim of bullying is twice as likely to commit suicide as a non-victim. They also have high drop-out rates and alcohol and drug dependence. Even still, there are plenty more who aren’t outwardly reacting, but will just cart around the baggage from these years and be conditioned to think less of themselves. That they’re ugly. Dumb. Different. Weird. Awkward. That the only way they can fit in or find love is to compromise themselves sexually or cheapen themselves socially. It’s bigger than just a few torturous years in school.

I don’t have a revelation about how to stop bullying. I sure wish I did. But I do implore parents to keep an eye on their kids, not just to prevent them from being bullied but to prevent them from becoming a bully, too. Everybody wants to think highly of their children—I know because I do, too—but I would put my daughter in a WWE chokehold if I ever found out that she was making it her business to rock some other child’s self-worth and force them to wake up every morning wondering what misadventure in misery awaited them that day. Peer pressure can make otherwise nice, home-trained children act like they don’t have the good sense their mamas and daddies instilled in them. And that, spoken from firsthand experience, can affect somebody for a lifetime.  

Does an experience with bullying as a child now haunt you as an adult?


Image via Delaina Haslam/Flickr 

bullies, behavior, elementary school, girls, boys, high school, in the news, internet, middle school, safety, tweens, teens

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daisy... daisysrdeadly

My biggest problem with the whole conversation happening about bullying is ... that the bullies and bullies parents are almost totally ignored. I am not saying just as a tool for punishment but learning why it is happening. We cannot solve the problem with only one sided conversations, we have to be looking at both sides and figuring out how we can change the problems our kids are facing.


I was bullied and sadly somewhat of a bully myself. When we picked on another kid we thought it was all fun. As I got older I was able to see how we were hurting other people (middle School/ junior high). By high school we never targeted people but I did stick up for myself. I was sick of being pushed around and picked on so by 9th grade I was ready to stick up for myself. Sometimes we got carried away and get into fights but I must say by 10/11th grade no one bothered me or my friends and we actually got respect and eventually became friends with a lot of our bullies. Not sure if it was maturity or just sticking up for ourselves.


I now am trying to give my daughters the self-esteem that keeps them from feeling they need to tear others down to feel good about themselves. Teaching them that being happy for another person's achievements and that jealousy and envy can turn even the nicest person into monsters.

Kate Cooley

UGH! A MILLION TIMES UGH! Thank you so much for this. As someone who was bullied for five years straight (including ALL of middle school), this is something I still struggle with daily. My self esteem took a pounding like a snitch in a prison yard. And there's really no remedy for it. I have an awesome husband who adores me and I can tell he gets frustrated with my view of myself. But I can't see myself in a positive way. The worst part - the bullies will never EVER own up. By and large, they can put it behind them. Double worse than that - the adults who watched it happen. Every teacher and counselor in school who ignores this stuff happening (and in my case, they did it IN class, so it wasn't like it was a secret) needs to be fired and made to muck out zoo cages for a living.

mommy... mommy_2_be_2010

I was bullied all through out school it sucked because I only wanted friends but instead stayed in the library because I was tormented so much yes it haunts me I have very low self esteem because of it

nonmember avatar teri

I was bullied after my parents moved in the middle of the school year to another city across town in third grade and lasted until I graduated. I was bullied for being different, for being nieve , sheltered, and ignorant. I took a beating not only from fellow students but from teachers too. I just didn't know things because my parents were old fashioned farm people, who were strict, living in a city with city jobs. If you don't know you can't fix it. It got worse as we moved up in grade. I was humiliated by my teachers in front of my peers. I lost confidence in myself. I lost my self worth. I joined the military and was assaulted and harrassed because victim was written on my forehead. I had an abusive husband, although working he ruined our finances three times. I kept saying I loved him and the abuse kept going. Then I divorced him, had a double mastectomy, and promptly had a complete and total breakdown, losing my career too. It all starts in childhood because others can see the weak and go after them. I have been in therapy for ten years now and I expect it will last until the day I die.

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