In the late 70’s and even early 80’s bullying was not in the headlines. It was just part of life, a right of passage, a moment to suck it up or stand up for yourself.
I was raised deep in the heart of Texas where tiny body size and Barbie doll cuteness, call it cheerleaderabilty, was every girl’s number one goal. When I grew up, obesity just wasn’t all that common in children or adults. So as a very overweight child, the fat girl in school, well you can imagine what I went through. Or maybe not.
I moved to a new school in 2nd grade. That’s where this story begins.
I was the biggest kid in my class and considered somewhat of an Amazon child. I was just abnormally large in both height and weight. At least that’s how I felt and perceived myself. And what I was reminded of by my classmates daily.
One boy caught on to my insecurity and began his torture sessions (bullying) for next 7 years. Everyday, from the moment I got on the bus, throughout class, at lunch, on the bus ride home, it was the same story:
“Heather, Heather, not light as a feather”
“Hold on everyone the bus is going down! Heather’s getting on.”
“You’re just a fat-ass. No one likes you. You will never have anything.”
“Fatty fatty 2 by 4, can’t fit through the bathroom door.”
“Haven’t you had enough to eat? You could skip lunch everyday and still be fat.”
“Go home to the 3 little pigs house, you big fat pig.”
(Oh yeah – side note – my mom and dad were both overweight too.)
It goes on and on and on and on.
I had enough. One day this boy called me a whale in line. I decided that moment to take matters in my own hands. I threw him against the lockers and started beating him as hard and as long as I could.
We both found ourselves in the principle’s office. This was back in Texas when you got “swats” for bad behavior. (For those who don’t know this term, a “swat” is a spanking with a large wooden paddle.) Thank God the Dean of the school had a teenage daughter, who just happened to be my nanny. The Dean stood up for me and my tormentor got 5 swats and a call home. I went back to class.
I thought that this would end it. No! It just added fuel to the fire. He came back to school and told everyone that his dad said, “It was worth the swats, because after all, she is a fat-ass.”
Every day, every year he reminded me that I was worthless.
I made it through school and would be happy to come home. A place that was safe, loving, and supportive. In moments, right before bed, my mother would notice a shift in my energy. She would notice a sadness come over me.
She would come to my room before bed and lay on my bed to “talk”. I didn’t want to talk about my sadness because I was embarrassed and ashamed. She would look at me in the eyes and say, “I know something is wrong, how can I help?”
I confessed my secret. I told her, “I am worthless, I will never have a boyfriend and I will never be anything because I am fat!”
My mom in her wisdom said one sentence, the sentence that changed my life:
“It’s not true.”
At the time I argued with her. I told her it was true. Why would everyone say it and laugh if it wasn’t true?
“You are here on purpose, this I know for sure. I was not supposed to be able to have children. Ever. I had cervical cancer and part of my cervix was removed. The doctors told me that even if, by chance, I did get pregnant, I would never carry a child to full term. So your father and I decided to buy a semi-truck and be truckers across America. Shortly after we decided to hit the road, I found out I was pregnant. The doctors said I would never carry to full term and to be prepared to lose the baby. You decided to hang out in my belly for a long time. You were born 2 weeks late, 10 pounds 4 ounces. You proved them wrong. “
“You are a miracle. You are here on purpose and have special unique gifts to offer this world that NO ONE else has. The boy is wrong. “
The best conversation my mom could have offered!
She reminded me of my greatness. She reminded me that I was a miracle. She reminded me that I matter, regardless of anyone’s opinion.
She instinctively knew to confirm and re-affirm my greatness.
She instinctively knew that confronting the bully would not solve the situation, it would likely just embarrass and humiliate me even more. She knew she had to stand by me and be the voice of courage, reason and hope. She couldn’t solve this one for me. She had to inspire me to do it myself.
That boy never stopped bullying me. But every day I would replay that conversation with my mother in my head. I reminded myself, “I am a miracle, worthy, and important. I know he is wrong. I believe my mom.”
A few weeks ago, I happened to run across that boy’s Facebook picture. Guess what? He happened to marry a beautiful, blonde, overweight woman.
I guess he actually liked me after all!
How can you remind your child of their greatness today? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
See the next post in this series: What can a father say to his overweight, bullied daughter?