The Weight of the Bully’s Words . . . Decades Later


This post is part of “Bully No More,” an editorial series hosted by the Fort Worth Moms Blog.

Bully no more

Do we all have a period of childhood or that one grade in school we just sweep under the rug? Do you cringe when you drift back to a moment (or perhaps many moments) in school and think, Can we just pretend this wasn’t part of my life? I hope for your sake it’s just me, but as childhood bullies tend to go, I’m afraid I’m not alone.

I feel a virtual hug is in order.

“Highlights of that year take a backseat to how extremely low my bully made me feel.”

Fourth grade is the year I pretend I’ve risen above. I act like the tears aren’t waiting in the wings as I realize I’ve never told my husband, my personabout fourth grade being my introduction to the word fat. It was the scene of the crime for tears shed over the scale and Slim Fast cans.

I may have had a host of friends that year, but one classmate stood out. Ethan was a neighborhood pal. It was pretty common to see the two of us cruising the streets on our 10-speed bikes. For a girl who enjoyed playing outside with the dudes, Ethan* was the perfect sidekick. The trees in my backyard were made for climbing, and his lawn was ideal for kickball. We assembled our pack of neighbor kids every afternoon and rode bikes down to the community pool to cool off. Life was sweet.

The school year began and was uneventful enough. A few months in, I found myself in a lovely denim and rhinestone dress, courtesy of Mom, on picture day. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the outfit, but I made the best of it. I reminded myself that it was only one day of suffering. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A few weeks later, student pictures arrived and we eagerly grabbed our envelopes. As we slid out our class picture in excited anticipation, I heard Ethan’s voice.

“Where is the rest of the class? Ashley’s fat belly is blocking everyone else! That ugly dress is all we can see!”

Immediately, cackles filled the room and heads turned in my direction. The need to throw up came without warning. A sob sat trapped in my throat and tears blurred the jeering faces surrounding me. What was happening? Where had this horrible version of Ethan come from? Why wasn’t my teacher putting a stop to this betrayal? The rest of that school day falls into the dark, forgotten corners of my mind. There are snippets of my return home. Tears as I relayed the whole horrible incident to my mother, begging her to buy me Slim Fast shakes for lunch, and a rush into the bathroom to read the verdict on the scale all flash through my brain. The following weeks and months proved no better. Ethan found every opportunity to drag my tender school-aged dignity through the mud. There were jokes when I was picked last for a kickball game and silent treatments during our carpool. Field Day rolled around. Ethan followed me for the entire day with a pocket-sized notebook. He watched my every move, and his pencil would fly across the paper.

“I’m making notes of every bad thing you do today. I’m taking the list to your mom.”

Ethan’s turn from faithful neighborhood pal to self-mandated class torturer was inexplicable. Like many kids being bullied, I was consumed with questions about the whole painful situation. Why was I being treated so hatefully? What could I do to make it stop?

I know there were good times as a nine year old. My parents took me skiing for the first time, and I joined the community swim team. Unfortunately, the highlights of that year take a backseat to how extremely low my bully made me feel. What I recall is a disdain for clothes shopping and tears in front of the hallway mirror. I remember wrapping my towel tightly around my bathing suit until I could hop into the pool and avoid showing my body.

Twenty-five years later, it dawns on me. The words my once-trusted friend spoke that pivotal year have been a slow poison to my self-confidence ever since. The scale has been either something to avoid completely or to obsess over. My self-talk often sounds a lot like Ethan’s voice when I enter a room full of people in a new outfit. It’s sick.

How very scary it is to admit that children hold the power to destroy the way future, seemingly put-together adults view themselves. And these broken adults must then convince their own children that the words their classmates say can’t truly touch them. Sticks and stones and all that.

Girl looking into cameraIt is time we save this generation from becoming bullies or being bullied themselves. We must be willing to admit where we were careless with our words as kids. We have to open our eyes to the possibility that there are hurt people out there because of us. Let’s take responsibility! And it’s probably time to tell your story of being hurt to someone who loves you and can cry with you. As moms and dads, we owe it to our kids to face the ugly truths of our past and finally heal. We can appreciate the weight of our words and begin to see children who are far more reverent with their own voices.

*Names changed.

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Ashley is from Hurst, and though she’s flown the nest a few times now, she always seems to boomerang right back to her hometown. Her latest stint took her family to Chicago for the last four years. While Ashley, her husband of almost 16 years, her son and daughter loved life as honorary Midwesterners, Texas called, and it was time to answer. Though her children are in upper elementary school, Ashley found her groove as a stay-at-home mom and is not eager to give up the title quite yet. You can find her putting in the miles all over town with her “doggy clients” as a Rover walker and caregiver. (Dogs talk back less than children.) Ashley is often the loudest mom at the ball fields but comes in peace with the best snacks. She recharges with a run around Hurst, a ride on that stationary bike everyone’s talking about, or on a patio with a margarita and her very funny husband. Ashley has written for local mom groups, church and is a returning writer for Fort Worth Moms. Her husband hopes she will stick to more pieces on motherhood and less on disappointing stays at grimy hotels.


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