- Posted October 14, 2013 by
Salt Lake City, Utah
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Bullying awareness: Your story
Lifelong repercussions: When the bullied becomes the bully
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
But that’s not necessarily bad news.
I hope that my story serves as the inspiration for people who may be going through what I went through- and as a cautionary tale for some who might be on the verge of making the same mistakes as me. Bullying isn’t a clear-cut epidemic between the bully and the victim. As my story shows, the line can become blurred. It’s my hope that this essay will speak to those on both sides of the line.
Society seems to think that bullying is an epidemic that affects only children and teenagers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, bullying in adulthood can be seen everyday, especially on the Internet- from Claire Crawford, the female sports blogger who called a cheerleader “too chunky” to the anonymous comments on this website.
My first experience with bullying occurred the day I moved to the United States. I was eight years old, sitting in front of my third grade class in Michigan, trying to whisper so that I wouldn’t be mocked for my speech impediment or accent, which ended up being a fruitless endeavor as the kids found plenty of other things to mock me about.
“Where did you get your hair cut? Did your mom put a bowl over it?”
I spent my formative years as the brunt of other children’s cruel jokes. Nothing was off-limits: my hair, clothes, speech. I faked sick so that I could go to the nurse’s office as to avoid getting mocked at recess.
By the time I started high school, things had marginally improved for me until the one day when a boy who was “out of my league” offered me a ride home. I accepted, not knowing the consequences that it would have on my life. By the next day, I was a slut (despite never even kissing this boy, or any other). I was called fat, lazy, a whore. One girl called my house and left a threatening message on my parent’s machine (this was before Facebook).
I recall crying and feeling hopeless, helpless, and depressed. There were days when I wished I wouldn’t wake up. At times the only thing that kept me from contemplating suicide was knowing that I had a goal. For me, it was writing. I’d write blogs for my friends, stories that I dreamed would one day get published.
Although college was somewhat better, bullying was still prevalent. By the time I was accepted into the allegedly “Tier Two” sorority, I had been torn apart as a person by women who didn’t even know me. Suddenly, I was no longer Zoe, but “the obese rushee with a unibrow.”
By the time I graduated, I had lost the weight and unibrow, but had acquired a huge chip on my shoulder. I felt that I had so much to prove that it became an obsession. I figured since the majority of people that I knew growing up only hurt and mocked me, then everyone must feel that way. I became bitter, antagonistic, and hateful. While I had learned to stand up for myself, I had crossed the line. Every interaction with people was a power struggle. I mercilessly mocked those who I perceived even maligned me in just the slightest. I went from retaliatory anger to complete passive-aggressive bullying. I used my gift of language to craft razor-sharp insults that cut to the core of people. I felt that the world was against me so why shouldn’t I be against it?
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what people saw when they looked at me. They saw not a victim, but a girl who enjoyed hurting people for her personal pleasure. Their perception was their reality, and in reality, I was a horrible bully.
The catalyst for change didn’t come until about two months ago when I wrote this piece for CNN as part of their feature on people who didn’t have children.
Within a few hours of publication, I was called selfish, immature, materialistic, and many names that can’t be repeated in polite company.
People asked if I regret writing the article.
Honestly, no. I know that any attempt to fight these anonymous cyber-bullies and their comments is be futile. Bullying isn’t a 21st century phenomenon of bored millenials with too much time and too many gadgets. It’s been going on since the beginning of mankind. If social scientists define bullying as repeated physical abuse or verbal intimidation by a bigger or stronger person towards a smaller or weaker one, then Cain slaying Abel was the first example of bullying in Biblical literature. The women of the Salem witch trials were all victims of bullies, as were the countless civil and human rights activists of the next century. On a smaller scale, most of us can recall our mothers and grandmothers gossiping about other women and struggling to exist within a power imbalance that unfortunately, often defines the feminine experience.
As for the article, the comments on the article were nothing new- they were just an electronic manifestation of what I, like many others, have dealt with my entire life.
Some people are always going to need to belittle others to feel superior. Bullying doesn’t stop once one turns 18. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the schoolyard, in the locker room, or an anonymous Internet forum.
People assume that my article was just about not wanting children. That was just half of it. The article was also about drawing a line in the sand. Everyday, people are criticized for their weight, physical appearance, marital status, income bracket, gender, race, and lifestyle choices. People have bought into the idea that if we don’t live up to some abstract standard of perfection that we are failures. Unfortunately, some of my peers have been pushed to the ultimate brink and decided that it was better to take their own lives than to continue on as a “failure.”
I’ll never forget those first few hours as my article gained momentum and moved from the Lifestyle section to the front page of CNN. As I watched my childhood dream of writing for a major media outlet unfold before my eyes, I also relived the barbs, insults, and stings of the last 20 years. However, I received hundreds of messages from supporters.
One memorable one read:
“Thank you for giving us a voice. You said exactly what I feel. I can relate. I thought I was alone, but I’m not.”
Mark Twain said, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
On that day, I found out why. I had been given this amazing opportunity to influence millions with my words.
I was able to blow off the more negative comments, but I’d be lying if I said that some didn’t sting. However, on the flip side, the truth of the matter was that I’d said things way worse to people in my life, and I didn’t even hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.
As I said previously, bullying isn’t going to ever completely end. The government and schools can throw all of the money at it that they want. We can’t ever control the actions of others. The only things that we can control are our own actions.
If I could end this article on a positive note, it would be to send messages of hope to the bullied and the bullies.
To those going through hard times, I won’t lie and say that it gets better when you graduate. It is this: you have to have something to live for- a goal. Focus on that and don’t ever let the words of others come between you and your goal.
As for those who know that they are guilty of hurting others, think twice before using words or force against others. That person that you’re bullying? You don’t know their story. It could be your words that push someone over the edge. Ask yourself: Is temporarily gratifying your own self-indulgent mini power trip is worth the life of another human being?
Everyone has a gift. Find yours and use it for good.