I've been thinking about this a lot during the past few months. I've recently entered my thirties, and I'm still struggling with being a stronger, self-confident woman, not ashamed of myself and of what I love. It seems someone has tried to shame me about something for most of my life. For almost thirty years. It's not easy, going through the constant struggle, not only with yourself, your own doubts and fears, but with other people more so.
I remember finding a blog by Nikki Stafford a couple of years ago. She started the Great Buffy Rewatch, and I joined in. I remember reading one of her posts about the early episodes of Buffy. She talked about Willow, how she was bullied in the early episodes, and how she could relate. I can't find the exact post, but I remember her saying something like: "Once a victim of bullying, you'll be sure to experience it again from someone else." I remember reading her words, and thinking to myself: "Wow, I'm not the only one!"
It took me a while to sum up all of the things I felt about such a personal, heartbreaking and painful subject, and I finally decided to write a post about it. Maybe some day a young girl will stumble upon my post, and think what I thought about Nikki's post - I'm not the only one.
I've been bullied by various people for as long as I can remember. By other kids throughout elementary school and high-school, by my boyfriend's friends, by my co-workers, by my boss. The circle never seems to end, and as soon as I leave one stage of bullying, another bully steps in and carries on. I do fight, I constantly think of other ways to deal with it, to deal with the bully. I tried ignoring them, I tried being rude and loud, I tried telling them to go the hell. What seems to work best at making them stop is harshly asking them "why". "Why are you doing this to me?" They usually have no answer. One of my previous co-workers, a man who believed in God passionately , but also made fun of me and bullied me from time to time, replied my question with: "I don't know. You just bring it out in people I guess. It's fun to make fun of you."
You bring it out in people.
Now, here comes a very important part of the whole bullying experience that aims to help the victim, but actually does the opposite.
When you talk to someone about what you're going through, they'll usually try to help by telling you something like: "You have the power to stop it. You have to fight back. They're doing this to you because you let them."
For me, this all started in elementary school, because I refused to do what the popular kids did. I refused to wear the same clothes, put on make up, date a different guy every month (or even week), talk like they did, cut school... Yes, I was a nerdy nerd. I studied hard, got good grades, loved drawing and wanted to be an artist once I grew up. Of course, I sucked at it. But it didn't stop me from trying.
I was bullied mostly by popular girls, and popular guys. The called me flat, ugly, and stupid. I think I talked with my parents about it. They gave me advice similar to the above "you have to fight back". I tried. It didn't help.
It continued in high school. Now, the girls were friendly. The guys were the bullies. They were mostly rich kids from rich families. I wasn't. They called me ugly, weird, a freak, and got really imaginative with the insults. Being a teenager, and having less and less self-asteem, I was really hurt by the insults. When you're 16, and a guy calls you something like "an abortion that went wrong", it gets to you. I didn't talk about it with my parents. I tried ignoring the bullies. They didn't go away. I was no longer a nerd, I acted out, got bad grades, and only started to fix it in my last year of high school.
College was good. No bullies there. I hung out with people with matching interests, people who liked me, respected me, and never made fun of me. I still couldn't shake felling ugly and terrible about myself.
Bullying continued when I started working, almost exclusively from male co-workers. My every job so far (and I changed three during the course of six years) had a different bully type.
One was the previously mentioned co-worker who made fun of what I did. How I talked. How I went to singing classes I liked art.
The other was the group of co-workers that called me fat. Always reminding me about the couple of pounds I gained while working there. Fat, fat, fat.
The third type was the bully that tried to make me feel bad about myself. You're not good enough at your job, you're not good at what you do, you should do different things, why do you volunteer and help animals, why do you paint like that? When I tried fighting it, the bullies would accuse me of taking things too personally, of being to emotional, of PMS-ing.
At the same time, I got the same advice from friends: "They're doing this because you're not harsh enough when talking to them. You have to be tougher, don't let them do this to you."
I only recently realised how and why this advice hurts more than it helps. It works almost the same way as the bully - it tells you you're wrong, and you should change.
I'll have to repeat this to myself for probably another decade, before it starts to sink in:
It's not your fault.
I know it sounds simple. And everyone tells you it's not your fault. But when they tell you "don't let them do this to you", it implies that it IS your fault. They wouldn't do this if you were tougher. They wouldn't hurt you if you could fight back. They would act normal around you if you were different.
The bully is the guilty one. No one is responsible for bullying but the bully.
No, you didn't deserve it because you were flat and the other girls had boobs. No, you didn't deserve being called ugly because you may have had acne. No, you didn't deserve being called a freak because you listened to different music and liked art over sports. No, you didn't deserve being called fat because you had a belly. And you most certainly didn't deserve being told you were PMS-ing because you had an opinion about something.
I don't have a magical solution to this. I'm still working on dealing with it. I'm still fighting, a different battle every day. Usually, I ignore the bullies and try to stay away from them. If I have to work with them, I try not to let them get to me. Unfortunately, most of our companies don't have departments that can help you. We don't have therapy groups, not that I know of.
I came from being a small, scared girl who wanted to be an artist to someone who loves painting, and gets to sell her work. I used to dream about being more successful than the bullies. Now I know I never will be, not in the way I imagined. They'll always have more money, and more power because they crush everyone that stands in their way. But the real power isn't that kind of power. The real power is feeling good about yourself because of something you did. Something no one does quite like you. And they can never take that away from you.
I know they'll try. It always comes in pairs - I get my work accepted to an exhibition, a bully tells me I'm terrible at it, and that I should quit. I can listen to them, and never touch a brush again. Or I can continue painting because it's what makes me feel alive. It's what makes me happier than I could ever imagine. Even when I fail. And no one can take that away from me.
* All of the images but the first one are from the Bloodqueen Gallery, they are all of Willow from Buffy. I do not own any of them.