Sticks & Stones : Overcoming the Bully

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, But words will never harm me.”

Every once in awhile I feel the need to share aspects of my life that have made me who I am today. There has been much in the news about the epidemic of bullying, and I do believe that, with the social media outlets of today, it can bring great harm to those who are targets of the abuse — from children to adults.

The latest example had a positive outcome, when Whitney Kropp was voted onto the Homecoming Court as a cruel prank. Whitney turned the prank around and decided to use it to make a point, and with the support from friends, family and the local community, walked proudly onto the football field as part of the royal court.

When I think back on it, I think the “bullying” that was done to me through my life, has actually helped me become the strong woman I am today, and hope my daughter will have the same outcome in life.

Growing up, I was painfully shy, having difficulty speaking to adults and dreading being called on in school. I have always had a lean body shape, which didn’t seem to help matters. In middle school, I walked to school with a large group of girls, most of whom I would still consider to be friends. Being the quiet, small one, I also was a target for jokes; today, that would probably be considered bullying. This was around the time of the Hefty trash bag ad campaign with the “wimpy, wimpy, wimpy… hefty hefty, hefty.” Well, for what seemed like weeks, that was turned into “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty…Natalee, Natalee, Natalee.”

Obviously, it struck a chord with me as I remember it 27 years later.

Throughout those middle school days, the shyness never seemed to get much better, but I had better friends at that point, some of which are still my best friends today. Friends who stuck up for me when I was not comfortable doing so for myself, including one friend who knocked a boy into the lockers for calling me names.

When it came to boys, I was unable to speak. I had possibly more crushes throughout my life than any other, yet I could barely say a word to any of those boys. Slowly, I had been gaining more and more confidence as high school approached, yet I was still an undeveloped, stick-thin rail of a girl as I entered 10th grade. This body shape did nothing to help matters. Of course, being the quietly, boy-crazy teen that I was, I loved watching the JV football team as I probably at some point in time crushed on at least half of them. I definitely won’t name names, but I also was the butt of some jokes and name-calling.

When I look back on it, I was this horribly awkward, flat-chested teen with braces and a haircut that was in the midst of growing out. I had definitely NOT grown into myself, with knobby knees and a long nose that I always hated. Wasn’t that punishment enough? No, instead I was called “chicken legs,” “bird beak,” and other names that I do not recall. I HATED the beginning of sophomore year, and still feel nauseous when I think back on that time. So much of it appears as a crystal clear memory. If it weren’t for some of my closest girlfriends, I am not sure I would have turned out as I am today. Friends who stuck up for me, friends who gave me pep talks, and told me that everything will be OK and how, one day, I will be able to look back on those days and laugh. How right they were (thank you to AS, RG & KW, as I remember you being my champions).

Thankfully, over the summer between 10th and 11th grade, I finally developed (more than I expected), got my braces off, and slowly began the ascent to the strong person I am now. I survived the rest of high school, had a couple boyfriends and was actually able to speak to them.

College is where I really gained self-confidence. Surrounding yourself with true friends who love you no matter what and will stand by you through the good and bad really can make a difference. I still today say that joining Kappa Delta at Towson State was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having that sisterhood, that support, is just an amazing environment to flourish in.

Meeting my ever-supportive husband during this time also improved my sense of self, not because I had a boyfriend, but because he was and is to this day full of encouragement for me to be me, no matter what anyone else says.

Many of you who know me today may not believe that I was once meek and quiet. Now, I tend to be outspoken on some occasions and I don’t do much to keep my life private. But that is what I do, and sharing experiences may help someone else through a tough time.

The reason I am doing this is for my own daughter, who opposite of me, developed too early. At 11, she is already a beautiful young woman, and seems to exude confidence that I never had. She has long legs as I did, a crazy mane of hair and already she is picked on for being “too skinny.” I think many tend to focus on heavy kids who get picked on for their weight, but from personal experience I can say that being too skinny can be just as painful.

I feel that I have been honest with my daughter, telling her that she will get made fun of in her life. I hope that she has the great support system that I had to help her through rough times, and to know that her own mother went through and came out a better woman for it. Even as an adult, it doesn’t stop, I just have thicker skin now and see myself for who and what I am.  I now choose to take pride in my long lean legs and the nose and profile that for so long I hated.

I also wanted to put this video up, because even though I am not a huge Taylor Swift fan, this song and video resonate. I had my daughter watch it as well.