Fat girl: A history of bullying – Life stories – Salon.com

I just read the article Fat girl: A history of bullying – Life stories – Salon.com.  It’s a touching story, and also cringe-worthy.  Many of us (perhaps most of us) experienced bullying in school.  For me, it was my dorky glasses and latent thumb-sucking.  In later years, it was my long hyphened last name (which incidentally is something I love and am incredibly proud of – I even kept the hyphen after marriage).

The bullying by itself wasn’t what made me cringe in this article.  We all know that kids bully.  There are those who bully because they are from families of bullies.  Those who are bullied are likely to bully out of fear of being bullied.  Bullying is terrible.  But the most terrible thing in this article is the teachers.

While teachers cannot be everywhere at once, their role is to provide support.  While they can’t always protect students, they have the ability to stop something when they see it, especially when it happens under their noses.

But teachers joining in seems a sick and sad state of affairs.  I can barely contain my anger at the teachers mentioned in this article:

“Not you!” she shouted, taking the paperback book out of my hands. She’d instructed the class to read silently. I opened a book, relieved at the chance to go someplace else for a while. She threw the book across the room. I remember her angry face, the flecks of foamy spit at the corners of her mouth, how deep wrinkles framed her nose. Her dentures didn’t fit properly, and her mouth never closed all the way. She called me “butterball” and pointed out the shiny smear of blood the day I got my period in class. She crowed at the discovery while my classmates shrieked with laughter. When I talk about these things, I marvel at the absurdity and the shocking level of cruelty. It seems like something that would happen to a stranger, something that would happen in a book. All I know is that this was my life. I was 12 years old, and school wasn’t safe. I went home and thought about how I would kill myself.

The teachers I had in school, especially in high school, have nothing in common with the warped caricature of a real teacher described above.  The teachers I had were supportive, and while occasionally hard, they always kept the best interest of the students at heart.

“I bet she bleeds gravy,” he said, jabbing my bare arm. I bled. I cried. I trembled. I know I should’ve screamed, or done something else to attract the attention of the wrestling coach in charge of the class, sitting at his desk and prying bits of black scum out from under his fingernails with a pocketknife, but I couldn’t actually believe this was happening until it was over. Even then, I couldn’t make a sound. I didn’t move until long after the bell rang and the classroom had emptied completely.

The author, Rebecca Golden, says that she should have screamed or tried to attract attention in some way, but I am not convinced.  Fear can be paralyzing, and surely action or vocalization would have changed the situation – but why was the wrestling coach sitting back and not paying attention to the class around him?

My advanced-placement European history teacher, a self-proclaimed feminist who wore a pro-choice coat hanger on a necklace but never called on girls in class, called me stupid in front of the students. When I asked her for help preparing for a test, she told me to get out of her sight. I think looking at me actually made her sick.

These are true failures.  Failures on the part of the teachers to be supportive role models, which in my opinion is an important part of the job.  Teaching is not just imparting knowledge about your subject, but it is also about teaching about life.  Like Rebecca, I believe that she did have a right to courtesy and an education – no matter what:

Despite my classmates’ best efforts, despite my teachers’ utter failure to look out for me, despite the callousness of principals and the great distress I caused my own family, I had this crazy idea that I had a right to courtesy and an education no matter what I weighed. This idea made me defiant — and defiance was the only thing I had going for me for a long, long time.

And like Rebecca, I have hope.

I have hope because one time as a kid I called another kid a bad name – and I got in trouble.  At the time, I was angry, because I didn’t understand the implications of what I had said.  I thought it wasn’t a big deal (though deep down I knew that it was).   Part of growing up is being called out on things by a teacher or parent and being asked to think about what you did and how the kid you singled out might feel.  You know how that kid feels because you have been there; we have all been bullied at one time or another.  In those moments you have a choice to make, and that choice helps define your path.  A few years down the road, I had grown into myself.  By high school, I never ever bullied.  I think I would have gotten there on my own, but I do thank that teacher for pushing me in the right direction, not to mention the fact that my parents always taught me to treat others with respect.  These positive role models are vitally important.  Yeah, kids can be cruel, but as adults and educators we know better and have the responsibility to lead by example.

Fortunately, hope abounds.

Like Rebecca, I have a lot of hope from the recent It Gets Better Project and the outcry against the cyber-bullying of gay teens.  I hope that if there are still teachers like the ones Rebecca describes that they take a long hard look at themselves.  Rebecca went home and wanted to die, but she didn’t kill herself.  What about the kids who tried to die?

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