Growing up, I was not very popular.
But during my time in secondary school, I made a good friend. The previous year we had been inseparable, but when the new school year began, she took a nasty turn.
It all started with an offhand comment. We were ditching school and sat on the bus eating chips. She looked at me and said, “I don’t understand how you’re so fat for someone who doesn’t that eat much.” The comment threw me. I had never really considered my looks. My parents had always told me I was pretty so I never questioned it. That evening I went home, stared in the mirror and finally saw what everyone else had been seeing.
I was chubby, my skin had broken out in acne, and there was the thick, Indian hair that plagued my body. It was the first time I thought that I might not be conventionally attractive.
Around the same time, a few other girls joined our circle of friends. They were friends of this girl and she became the leader of the group. The offhand comments she used to make turned into group jokes, and everybody seemed to take part. I became the butt of every joke, and my self-esteem took a battering. I never dared to say anything back because I feared being further humiliated.
It was during the golden age of MSN that this girl told me that a friend she knew from outside of school had a crush on me. He added me and we got talking. At this point, I was desperate for some kindness, so when he asked me to be his girlfriend, I agreed.
We talked constantly and we shared personal stories. I slowly noticed he was never online at the same time as my “friend.” As time passed I realized that she had made him up and I had been talking to her all along. It was pretty mortifying, to say the least.
Another time, I walked past the group of girls and they were using the school phone to call someone and laughing. I had a really bad feeling so I went to my form teacher and used her phone to call home. My parents confirmed that someone had been calling, being rude and hanging up.
I kept giving her the benefit of the doubt because she was my friend. We had been really good friends when it was just us. I thought she would get tired of it and we would go back to how it was. I didn’t understand that her behavior was the opposite of what a friend should have been.
The bullying never resulted in physical violence. Although sometimes conversations got aggressive, it mainly consisted of demeaning conversations, being treated as unworthy, and cruel taunts. The incidents and comments escalated and I remember feeling entirely alone and pathetic.
I stopped going to school and plain refused to leave the house. My parents got concerned and contacted the school who changed some of my classes. My formal tutor allowed me to come and sit with her during lunches where I didn’t want to be out there with other students.
I was constantly scared, lonely, and exhausted.
Things changed for me when one day I was seated next to a girl who was pretty popular.
Shirin and I got along very well and became good friends. She saw what was happening to me and talked to the girl making my life hell. The school year had come to an end but this girl who I had just become friends with convinced me to spend the summer with her. I was extremely shy, so I tried to refuse. But this thunderstorm of a human being didn’t give me the choice. I spent the summer meeting new people, who were nice to me. It never failed to surprise me when a joke was made without a venomous undertone.
On the first day, we went back to school. Out of habit, I went and met the girls who had been awful to me during lunch. About 5 minutes into the conversation, someone made a dig at my weight. I remember realizing that this wasn’t normal and I could walk away.
So I did, I turned around and found my new friends. I never looked back. I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my school experience. No-one was cruel to me because my new friends were fairly well-known. I’m still friends with most of these people, and I have never stopped being grateful for having them.
A lot of self-esteem issues I have today exist because of the bullying that took place.
I believed a lot that was said about me in those days and a strong belief takes time to get rid of. I’m working on it, I can say that I’m better at standing up for myself now. It took me some time but I don’t hold on to any bad feelings towards the people who took part in the bullying. I’m sure a few would read this and think I was over-reacting. The truth is you don’t know how your behavior can affect someone. You can’t choose when something you do hurts someone.
I have learned to spot the signs of toxic friendships and bullying early on and walk away. I refuse to put myself in a position where I will be made to feel pathetic. And if anyone else around me is put in that place, I no longer stay silent.
I just can’t anymore.