Anybody sweat profusely when they log into Facebook and see the red marker next to the people icon? No? Just me. I swear it’s not because I’m afraid of making friends. Facebook has become an interactive collection of my entire life, where my capture the flag years meet my ballet years meet my manic panic years, and the neighbor from my Doorbell Dixie days can now see my 300 photos I post of my dog in various seasons and comment for all to see. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your 3rd cousin and “like” their weekly spaghetti dinner posts. More recently though, I’ve been having to relive some of those teen years that I’d like to bury away with my Nancy Drew books in my parents’ basement. (Actually, I don’t want those books to be buried, I should re-read some of those). I’ve been receiving some unexpected friend requests from “bullies” of my youth, which inevitably conjure up all sorts of feelings.
I was a ballet dancer for about half my life now. I spent the majority of my childhood and teen years in a dance studio, living in theatrical pink tights and perfecting the art of the ballet up-do. At 14 years old my body resembled that of a prepubescent girl and not one that would be going through any sorts of “changes.” This was due to my diet (that’s another story for another post) and the 25 hours I was spending a week perfecting my physically demanding art form. My underweight yet athletic build seemed to be standard in the dance studio, but definitely was not the norm amongst my other 14 year old peers at school. I was pretty comfortable with my body and sexuality at an early age. I contribute my early confidence to growing up on stage and being submersed in an art form that uses the body’s lines to create color to the canvas of the stage. While I felt very comfortable on stage in the studios, I felt very different and out of place at school. Kinda like a marshmallow flavored jelly bean found in the tropical flavored pre packaged Jelly Belly bag.
In fact, I often became the victim of sexual harassment and bullying due to my petite figure and the social ties I had with theater people. In my small suburban community, this meant being friends with the corduroy, bell bottom wearing types and other alternative groups including gay individuals. While I was not ashamed of who I was friends with, I had a harder time sticking up for myself especially when I was confronted by a group of young boys who would inquire about the gap I had between my thighs. Boys would often rub desks comparing the flat surfaces to my chest and girls would watch me undress in the gym locker rooms and ask me where I had gotten my “bras,” which at the time were actually cropped tank tops. I didn’t envy the other girls’ and their full B/C cups. I actually was happy with my body, but felt like I had to build an armor to block the daily harassment I would experience.
My tolerance of this bullying wore me down and I started to lose my confidence and strength. I had a hard time ignoring the comments and eventually sunk into a depression that actually contributed to a severe eating disorder brought on by a number of events occurring simultaneously – one of them being the bullying I experienced.
I opened up Facebook not that long ago and found a friend request from one of those very guys. I thought about how that time of my life caused so much pain, and whether or not I would want to reconnect and bring those memories back to the forefront of my Facebook news feed. I decided to accept and to let go of the past as it really was almost 2 decades ago, and clearly we all change in life. Only within a week of viewing his negative posts and harsh status updates, encompassing hints of sexism and racism, I decided that unfortunately some people don’t change. While literally shaking my head back and forth in complete shock of what this guy was posting publicly, he sent me a message. I wish I would have saved it to post here. I probably should have emailed him back, but instead I just deleted him and blocked him. It was simple. I could ignore him with a click. He was out of my life just like that.
I wish it was that easy for me back then. It seems our teens now not only are exposed to face-to-face slander, but now have the added chance to being exposed to cyber-bullying. While it’s easy for me as a 30-something woman to click block a bully from the past, I can’t help but wonder if they will ever change and evolve into compassionate people with renewed perspectives on humanity. I also can’t help but wonder what programs or social interventions we have in place for our youth today to teach them about anti-vilification towards gender, body image, race and sexual orientation, and the importance of healthy body image attitudes. I tried to stand up for myself as a young girl, but allowed the frequency of harassment to affect my overall health. Today I’m speaking out for my teen self and urging for a change on how we address others. Bullies come in all forms especially now that social media has taken socializing to a whole new level. We deal with trolls and negative comments intermittently showing up on blog posts, snarky tweets and occasionally those past people who feel they need to reinsert themselves back into your social media life. We can block bullies online, and we can also start modeling more positive interactions with others on the Internet as a way to beat the bully cycle.
Natali is a former ballet/modern dancer turned Board Certified Behavior Analyst residing in the NYC area with her writer husband, and dog-child. You can find her stressing out about how to save the world one human at a time or at Twitter or at the Lemonade Stand.
Featured image via Shutterstock