How “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” helped me overcome high school bullying

For a small, golden group of chosen ones, high school is an enjoyable experience. Sports events and prom, cheerleading and catching up with friends in the cafeteria over cheese fries. There’s a group in every school, it seems, who float through those four years with nary a problem and actually have fun in between studying and taking tests.

I was not one of those people.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wasn’t alone. High school can be an isolating, anxiety-ridden place for a lot of kids, and when you’re an artsy-fartsy chick with a penchant for sarcasm and all-black clothing in a small rural town, things can get really hairy. I was constantly called “witch” and ridiculed for my appearance, my figure (ample even at the tender age of 13, when I started ninth grade), and the fact that I didn’t say much unless I was required to by a teacher. People assumed I was weird, stuck-up, or both, and in a small school dominated by athletes and farmers, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

By the time I discovered Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I was flailing in a serious depression and loathe to tell anyone that anything was wrong for fear of being ridiculed even further. I had friends, but the kids who made my life hell at school kept me in a constant state of anxiety that left me unhappy, unable to concentrate, and drowning in schoolwork I didn’t have the energy to do. I was so much more than the way I was being perceived, but after spending every day with those kids for months at a time, it was too late to convince them that I was worth knowing.

I began to realize that everyone in high school is grouped into cliques, whether they like it or not. If you dress a certain way, you are lumped in with the goths, the jocks, or the preppies. If you listen to a particular type of music, you are called “basic,” and it doesn’t matter if you are a bilingual violinist who aspires to be a veterinarian one day; as far as everyone else is concerned, you’re not allowed to be multi-faceted.

Music and art helped exorcise some of that negativity, but I was elated to discover Buffy. Not only had I loved the campy movie it was based on, I fell in love immediately with the show’s dark sense of humor and Buffy’s ability to kick ass while staying true to her girly, cheerleading self. She was beautiful, smart, capable, strong, and saved the world on a daily basis (yet she was still ridiculed at school for being a “weirdo,” which I thought was a smart decision on the part of the show’s writers), but she still had love-life drama and was passionate about her nail polish; she was a fully-realized character who wasn’t pinned down to just one or two personality traits.

Somewhere in between the heartbreak of Angel, the drama of Faith, the evolution of Buffy’s relationship with Willow and Spike, and the college years, I took comfort in seeing such a strong character face dire challenges and get right back up. I saw little bits of myself in each episode, and little bits of the kids I went to school with, as well. For me, the series was a mirror reflecting feelings I didn’t know how to deal with or name. And while I didn’t confront every single demon I lived with during those days, I learned how to feel like less of a freak, less of a loner, less of a mess. I also learned not to allow others to place a value on my head.

Bullying has gotten a lot more complicated since I was in school; the prevalence of social media and smartphones has ensured that making someone feel bad about themselves can be done both anonymously and on a global scale. But the same rules apply, and sometimes the same comforts do, too. We can all take a little from strong women…even if they are fictional.