Bullying has been an epidemic for years, but only recently have people started to notice the symptoms.
It can take many forms. Physical violence is a highly visible type, but many people who identify as victims were never touched by their aggressor.
I was repeatedly bullied in junior high school. When I first started at the school, in Grade 7, I felt comfortable with the friends I had. One friend, in particular, I considered my best friend. We were very similar. She was tall, like me. She liked writing, like me. She also, infuriatingly, always scored slightly above me on every test we wrote. I knew this because she always asked how I did when we got our tests back.
She was very funny, and made me laugh a lot. Sometimes I didn’t really know what I was laughing at, but I still laughed.
Grade 7 went well. I made a lot of friends at my new school.
When the class lists for Grade 8 were distributed, I noticed with relief that the girl I considered my best friend was in my homeroom, which meant she was in all my classes. I was glad I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a partner for group projects.
When Grade 8 began, my school implemented a “spirit week”. Activities designed to welcome everyone back to class took place every day. On Thursday was a “welcome dance”, which was mandatory to attend, just like class. I had never been to a school dance, and I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t one of the popular girls, and I didn’t feel comfortable going to a dance, where I had to try to look attractive without looking like I was trying too hard.
I told my friend how I was feeling. She told me to get a life. Everyone was going to the dance, she said, including her new friend Britt.
I felt embarrassed and didn’t say anything else about the dance. When Thursday rolled around, I attended it without complaint. I spent most of the time standing along the wall with other girls, watching the popular girls dance with the popular boys.
My friend started spending more time with Britt, along with all the other friends I’d made last year. When I tried to talk to her sometimes, she acted as though she couldn’t hear me. Britt was like a magnet, drawing all my friends to her as I seemingly repelled them. Eventually, everyone became selectively deaf to my voice.
The group projects I’d counted on having a friend for became much more difficult. After missing one science class, I attended the next one and discovered everyone had chosen their groups, and the body part they would study and present to the class. I went hopefully up to my friend, and asked to join her group, but she told me they had enough members. I went to another group, but they were full too. So was the next one, and the next one. Finally, I went up to my teacher and asked to work by myself, but she told me all the body parts were taken. I must have looked upset, because she pulled out her chart again and tried to find me something. After studying it for several minutes, she found a free body part for me to study — the gall bladder.
After researching the gall bladder, I discovered its sole purpose is to make bile. Somehow, I managed to write four pages on it, and put together a presentation.
I felt nervous as I stood at the front of the class to present my project. I was the only person without a group. My mouth felt dry as I talked. I could hear whispering and giggling coming from somewhere in the back.
Grade 8 was terrible. At best, and most of the time, I was ignored. At worst, I was teased to my face, like when my friend commented on how wide my thighs were, or how bad my acne was, or how I needed to tweeze my eyebrows.
At the time, I never thought of her as a bully. She was my friend. I just wanted her to like me.
I did have a real friend in another class, who sat with me at lunch, but as she was in another class, she couldn’t be there for me when I usually needed it. She still stayed with me, when no one else did, and I still consider her my best friend to this day.
École Fox Run School recently hosted an anti-bullying program called “Get Real”. It aims to build compassion among students and prevent bullying. From what organizers, teachers, and students have told me, the program is great. I wish they’d had something like that at my school.
With more compassion, maybe my friend wouldn’t have continued to put me down. With more awareness, maybe I wouldn’t have kept going back to her.