What I want you to know about being the bullied kid

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Alexandra.

Okay, first things first. If any kid was "asking" to be bullied, it was me. At age twelve, I was big-nosed, small-breasted, and daydreamy, with no knowledge of contemporary fashion or makeup. I wanted to be a Goth, but I had little knowledge of what that entailed, so I simply wore fishnet stockings and a black shiny skirt that was made out of saran-wrap-like material. However, despite my "tough" aspirations, I went as Tinky Winky for Halloween, and I was so tall that my mother had to sew me a custom Tellytubby costume. Despite the Tinky Winky fiasco, I still considered myself a bona-fide bad-ass, which included putting blue paint in my hair as makeshift hair dye and triumphantly changing my name to "Volcanica", insisting everyone refer to me as such.

Middle school kids are mean to begin with, and when a girl who looks like an uglier Howard Stern starts asking you to call her Volcanica, it's pretty hard not to make fun. However, that doesn't mean it's okay. As adults, we see plenty of people we think are ridiculous but we generally don't invite them to parties that don't exist, or tell our opposite-sex friends to ask them out as a joke.

One of the biggest issues with bullying is that kids who are getting bullied are too afraid to tell anybody. It breaks my heart to see how many kids are committing suicide over bullying, when their parents had no idea they were even suffering in the first place. But the bigger issue is that parents of the actual bullies seem completely blind to the idea that their child could do anything wrong.

One of my biggest tormentors, who told me I was so ugly that I had a "one in a million" chance of ever getting married, was given the Compassion Award by her PTA mother at the graduation. And I was only one of this girl's many targets.

When I was in fifth grade, a few girls banded together to tell me that the boy I liked was dating another girl. He wasn't, but I suppose they thought this would be funny. They told me that this fictional girl would be transferring to the same private school I had applied to, that she was beautiful, popular, and far better than me. They even wrote notes "from" this girl to the boy I liked (apparently, he was in on it, so at least they had good teamwork skills). I worried endlessly about having to spend time with her at my new school, until one of the girls finally broke down and admitted they had made the whole thing up to upset me. I was too embarrassed to tell a teacher, and although this scheme must have taken a lot of effort, the parents were none-the-wiser.

Now, I was far from blameless--as I said before, I was a pretty easy target, and I had also done some things that were reprehensible. I was never popular enough to be a bully, but once I accidentally published an entry of my Microsoft Word 95 diary when I was attempting to write a school newsletter. Unfortunately, this entry was about a particular girl I didn't like. But my parents were never quick to deny my culpability. If I did something wrong, they were aware of it, and they punished me. I always told them they were being unfair, but their ability to admit when I was wrong was one reason I never tormented anyone to the point of suicide. I wasn't perfect, but I was never a bully.

The other kids must not have had parents who were so open-minded about their child's possible faults--or perhaps their parents were too busy to notice what their kids were doing. I imagined many of these kids were alone in the house when they prank-called me, asking if I was a lesbian prostitute. And I imagine when a kid wrote, "I hate you, slut" on my locker, there was no way for his or her parents to know about it.

While I'm wary of "playing the victim", incidents like this have followed me into my adulthood. Being referred to as the ugliest girl in school, for five years straight, didn't exactly help me at a time when I was self-conscious to begin with. Sure, I asked for it, but children are often unaware of what they're "asking for". While the other kids thought I was an ugly idiot, I thought they would see me and think, "Oh, look at that Volcanica, her K-Mart leather skirt is rockin'!"

So even now, ten years after all this ended, I feel awkward and anxious when I enter a room of girls, and there's a little part of me that thinks they're making fun of me. When I find a great friend, I consider the possibility that it's all a joke, or that she doesn't actually like me. When my boyfriend first asked me out, I was worried that within days, he would realize I wasn't good enough for him. When he first brought me to meet his high school friends, he said he could sense me tensing up around the girls, afraid that they were judging me (it turns out, they were--but the point is, I shouldn't have cared).

Of course, the older I get, the less all this matters. But I still don't think any kid deserves to feel bad about themselves, or dread going to school. I was lucky enough to have parents who were able to understand when I was at fault, and who were supportive and loving when I was the victim. I understand that not every kid has parents they see all the time, or parents who have the ability to observe their child's behavior--but do the best you can. It's not "girls will be girls" or "boys will be boys". Understand that middle school is a pretty bad time, and your daughter might not be the victim--she might be the mean girl. She'll thank you later.

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