An open letter to my former high school bullies

Dear you, yes you, the ones who bullied me and made me feel small. The ones who made fun of me for being too skinny, for being too tall, for not having the right clothes. The ones who made me feel nerdy because I liked to read and wasn’t a great dancer. To you, all of you, I say, “Thank you.”

I’ll admit it, middle school was an absolute nightmare. I went to a small performing arts school and there were a whole lot of mean girls and, to be honest, some means boys too. But, being a performing arts school, these mean girls and some boys could also sing and dance really well . . . which made for some very dramatic bullying.

Middle school was a hell for me, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was tall, scrawny, with bad hair, and a penchant for making some very, um, interesting fashion choices. I was a prime target. “Don’t sit here.” “You’re a freak!” “You’re weird.” “You are an ugly girl.” “Why are you so dumb?” “Don’t invite her.” “Your hair looks like a cat peed in it.” Those are the kinds of phrases I heard on a loop.

While it was happening I never really thought of it as “bullying.” Even today when I think of a person being bullied, I imagine someone being picked on for something specific: a handicap, sexual orientation, their religion. Until recently I had a hard time admitting that the experience I faced was bullying too.

But I was bullied, and now I’m admitting it. I was bullied so badly that in seventh grade I stopped going to school because I didn’t want to deal with it. While I stand firmly in the belief that bullying is a horrible thing, and that no one should EVER be bullied, I can look back now on those experiences and say that every single one of them helped shape me into me.

Today I am a successful adult, and I am very sure that my hair does not look or smell like a cat has peed in it. But my experience being bullied left scars. Not physical scars, but the small emotional scars we try so hard to hide. Even now, grown up and happy, a small part of me will always be that 13-year-old girl slumped over instead of walking tall. The girl who worried too much about what other people thought of her. The girl who felt awkward in her own body. The girl who sat alone every day at lunch and at recess. The girl who no matter how hard she tried, just couldn’t quite fit in and didn’t understand why. It makes me sad to think of that girl, it makes me sadder still to know that girl was me—is me. 

But I also know that girl grew up. She went to high school and met friends who had gone through similar experiences. She became strong and resilient and learned to look past appearances. She grew into her lanky frame, and in the process developed a wicked sense of humor and a kind heart. And she made the choice to never ever bully another person.

It is so great that I’ve found my dream job, working every day with kids and young adults from all over the world. It is even better when I get to meet a kid who is going through something similar to what I once did. When I meet a kid who feels left out, or lost, because I am living proof that life gets better. It does get better, it get’s better for every single person.

It’s been said that the reason why some people bully others is because they feel like they have no control or power in their own lives. They try to exert power over others who they think are different, or even in some cases are a reflection of what they wish they could be. The person who is bullied has a choice, they can let these people ruin their lives, or they can choose to stand tall and reject it. Did you hear that? You get to make the choice to be the better person. And while that is easy to say and hard to do the first time, it gets easier and easier, and after awhile you realize the potency of your own power.

An adult is formed slowly, we take the lessons that we learned from childhood, the experiences that we had, and the feelings that we felt, and we gradually turn into the person we want to become. We get to pick and choose the things that we hang on to and the things that we let go of. I made the decision a long time ago that all of the negativity that I experienced as a child wouldn’t have a large place in my adult life. I choose instead to focus on all of the things that make me feel joy, and show me the beauty in the world. All of the things that have made me the strong, funny, and beautiful person I am today.

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