She’s just standing there, wearing mismatched clothes. She’s wearing pink shorts with grass stains. The left leg’s sock has been stretched way too large for her tiny ankle and hangs over the top of her sneaker. And then, there’s the shirt. She’s wearing a blue t-shirt that’s neck is stretched a bit too, ‘cause she never puts her shirts on carefully. To make matters worse, the shirt has a large – and very noticeable – hole in it.
Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if it was just an average day around the house, but today is Easter. It’s a special day and here’s this little girl dressed as if she was going to spend her day making mud pies and helping her daddy in the yard. But, she doesn’t care. She has dressed herself. She’s proud. She doesn’t want to wear a dress, or anything pretty looking. She wants to wear what she’s comfortable in, and she doesn’t care what anyone says.
I was this little girl. Seven-years-old, and I wanted to dress myself. My mom would spend time getting my best clothes ready so that I could look proper for Easter Sunday and any other special holiday that was being celebrated at our house. I wouldn’t get dressed right away. I would wait until everyone was here. I knew if I got dressed before the family arrived, then my mom would make me go back into my room and change. However, if I waited until all of them were here, then she’d just let me be. After all, it would be too late, as they would have already seen what I looked like in my sloppy clothing that sometimes displayed every color in the rainbow.
My sister hated that. She would get upset that my mom let me dress like that, but my mom has said that she would just explain to her that it was my doing, and not hers. My sister and I are very opposite. She’s a girlie girl and always has been. I know she always wished that she had a girlie kid sister, but she never did get that with me. I was a tomboy inside and out. It just wasn’t in me to dress in pretty clothes, especially when they were dresses. I hated dresses, and still do. Don’t get me wrong, I think others look pretty in dresses, but I just don’t like how I look in them. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. They make me feel more exposed and self-conscious to an anxiety-producing degree. There have been times when I have had no choice but to wear a dress as an adult and all that I can say is that I hate it. It’s such a rare occurrence that my mom must whip out the camera every time she has seen me in one. Yeah, that doesn’t make it feel worse.
The Stare of Shock
My first communion was a beautiful day. It took place on a Saturday morning, complete with blue skies and a bright sun shining over the church. It was a special day. My entire family was there to watch me accept the Body of Christ into my life for the first time. I was seven-years-old, dressed in a pretty white dress, and wearing a veil to match. I looked quite content, and I guess I was for the time being. But, when I got home, that all changed.
My entire family came back to our house for a daylong celebration of the completion of one of my Holy Sacraments. I wanted to change out of the dress, but my mom wouldn’t let me because she said I should wear it longer. It was a special day and I should show that in how I was dressed. A short time later, my mom went outside with a tray of food when she said she looked up and saw me in the backyard with all of my cousins, nieces, and nephews. I was playing football with my beautiful white Communion dress still on. My veil was just flying behind me while still attached to my head. But, she needed not worry about the shoes, as I had replaced my white dress shoes with my once-white sneakers.
She stood there with a stare of shock. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My little Holy girl running around playing football in her very pretty and expensive white dress. And to top it off, you were wearing your dirty old tennis shoes with it.” Well, she did just say to keep the dress on.
My mom loves telling me that story as she says it speaks to the type of little kid that I was back then. I was myself. I did what I wanted and I was just a kid. I wanted to have fun and I did whatever I had to do to have that fun.
Where Did She Go?
I wish I knew where that little girl went. Somehow that little girl changed. I don’t even know when. It just began to slowly happen. Shortly after this age of innocence, the bullying in school began, and as I grew up, it only got worse. I was pushed away by other girls who wanted to exclude me for whatever reasons. I was criticized for the way I looked, and for the fact that I was not as vocal as the other kids. I could put my thoughts and ideas down better in my writing, than in speaking. Speaking in class was a nightmare. And, I would be made fun of in front of teachers, who would many times just ignore it. Thank goodness for having to wear a uniform to school everyday, otherwise that would have been another reason for them to point and criticize.
Free dress days were not fun. Those were days when, for special occasions or picture day, we were allowed to wear regular clothes, and not our uniforms. I remember one time the school was having a special Mass (I went to a Catholic School), and so all of the girls had to wear dresses or skirts. I was not happy, but went to school with a skirt on. It was one that my mom had picked out and bought for me, and one in which she said that I looked so pretty. She was proud of it. But, some of the kids didn’t waste any time pointing at it and laughing. It hurt on multiple levels. They were not only attacking how I looked, but they were also making fun of my mom’s taste. And, that made me angry inside. I think that hurt more than the attack on my looks.
I can still see the faces of those boys. Those four boys in my class always loved to single me out. They would make comments to me saying that I was actually a boy. They would always ask me why I pretended that I was a girl when it’s obvious by the way that I looked that I was really a boy. They, along with some of the other kids, would point out all of the flaws that I already knew that I had, but they’d stick them under a bright magnifying glass and laugh at the helpless ant.
The Holiness of a Day Doesn’t Matter to Bullies
I remember in sixth grade, our class was in charge of putting on the annual performance of the Stations of the Cross. The performance was to take place on Holy Thursday, prior to going home for our Easter break. I was cast in the Eighth Station of the Cross – as one of the three women who cry as Jesus walks by. He stops and tells the women not to worry about Him, but to celebrate His love and message by spreading them to others. Before He walks on, He tells them to take care of their children and to raise them well.
Well, as myself and the other girls were crying in the performance, another few kids were laughing at me. After the performance was over, a girl in my class approached me and said, “We were all laughing at you earlier in the play. We kept saying how funny looking you are.” She said it with such a cruel smile on her face. As usual, I would hold my tears back until I was alone at home. I never gave the bullies the satisfaction of seeing me cry, but it hurt so much.
That was the same girl that would always do hurtful things to me. I’ll call her Al for the sake of this post. Al was one of the popular girls and never liked me. I don’t know why. I never did anything to her, but she saw something in me that she could exploit. One day in my elementary school’s afterschool daycare, she came up to me and said, “Come on, let’s go hangout and walk around.” I was surprised that she was asking me this. I thought she hated me, but I was so desperate to be accepted that I went with her. She kept telling me to keep up with her as she quickly walked ahead. I was trying to match my pace with hers, until she got to another girl on the playground. As soon as she reached the other girl (another popular girl), Al loudly said, “Stop following me!” She then turned to the other girl, telling her that I was so annoying and pathetic, and they both just laughed. She planned it all along to make me follow her over to the girl, only to do that to me. And, she enjoyed it.
To make it clear, I did have friends in school, but unfortunately, they weren’t around me every single moment on campus. And, so once I was away from them, the bullies would take advantage and make my life miserable. They would humiliate me in any way that they could. I remember being in the girls’ restroom in fifth grade. I was sitting there when one of the popular girls came in and jumped up on the toilet in the stall next to mine. She looked over the top and wouldn’t leave. She kept just watching me and told me that I had to answer her questions if I wanted her to go away. They were embarrassing questions, on top of the already humiliating experience of her invading my privacy. Finally, she left when the bell rang. I was never so happy to have recess be over, as I was that day.
It Takes a Toll
The way we’re treated as children really makes an impact on us in adulthood. It’s impossible to forget many of those horrible memories. And, they do take a toll on a person’s self-esteem. I went from a young child who didn’t care what others’ thought, to slowly becoming a child who hated everything about who she was. As the years in elementary school progressed to the eighth grade, so did the number of bullies. They seemed to have flocked to one another. The mob mentality I guess. Once one saw that I was an easy target, the rest – not all of the kids, but those who had it in them – decided to join in.
I had my defenders, though. My friends who appreciated me for the person I was, defended and stuck up for me when they caught someone messing with me. I am thankful for those friends, and I will never forget them. They saw the real me and loved me for it. I loved them too and still do. I can’t lose my love for someone who was so good to me in the past, especially when I needed him or her most.
The Tomboy Still Lives
I’m still not a girlie girl, and I never will be. It’s not who I am. I like to sweat, when it’s from working hard or doing something productive. Sure, I wear other type of clothing, but I like to wear jeans and t-shirts most, and do whatever I have to do to get something done. As long as I have access to soap and water, I will be happy to get down and dirty if need be. I don’t like wearing dresses, and I don’t like being told that what I wear isn’t good enough. I’m not saying that I’ll show up at a wedding in blue jeans and a t-shirt – I mean I do have common sense and class – but on the average day, I will wear whatever I want. I don’t always feel great about it, though.
Unlike when I was a seven-year-old girl and didn’t care what anyone thought about how I looked, I now do care. I know that some people must look at me when I pass by them at my therapist’s office building. I’m sure some even think or say nasty things, since some people just don’t grow out of that kind of behavior. After having some random guy – a complete stranger – on the sidewalk outside of my work make fun of my hair several years ago, I know that some people don’t grow out of it. I actually had wished my older brothers had been there to hear him so they could have kicked his lame butt. But, I guess it was for the best that didn’t happen. But, I was able to leave that spot. I didn’t have to stand there and take it. I wasn’t in school anymore. I wasn’t being forced to deal with this immature man who wanted to act like some stupid and cruel boy. Yes, it hurt me, but I didn’t have to stay there and allow him to continue to hurt me. I admit, though, that’s not an easy thing from which to walk away.
Did I Learn Anything?
I’ll say this, though. My years of being treated like crap in school taught me something. It taught me not to judge people by their looks, let alone attack them for those looks. It taught me that respect for my fellow human being is important. Two wonderful parents raised me, and it’s because of their love, that I managed to make it through those years. They taught me right from wrong and that it wasn’t right to make fun of others for their differences. That – compounded with my own personal bullying experiences growing up – has taught me to appreciate others’ differences, rather than exclude people for them. I don’t care how you look. I don’t care how you dress. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is. I don’t care if anything about you is different from myself. If you treat me with respect and dignity, then I will reciprocate those values back at you. Every human being deserves that.
I’m not changing my tomboyish ways either, because it’s who I am and always will be. I’ll never be that girlie little sister. My sister will always be the pretty one and I’ll always be the plain one. I’ll never be that person who’s asked by others for fashion or make-up advice. However, those people are missing out on some good information on where to buy some rockin’ t-shirts. But, what I will be is someone who is no longer forced to be around bullies. I’m no longer that little ant under the magnifying glass. God made me who I am. Therefore, I am who I am.
So, although it’s rare when this tomboy will wear a dress, one thing will always be certain. If I’m asked to play football while wearing that dress, then look out, ‘cause I’m not turning down the offer.
To all of the kids out there who are still being bullied in school, please know that eventually there will be a day when you can get away from those bullies. You can overcome their ridicule and painful attacks, and someday choose if you want to let certain people into your life. You’re strong. And, most of all, you’re loved! Those of us in the world who have been bullied have a great deal of respect for each and every one of you. We understand the pain, and want you to know that you’re not alone. Just know that it will get better. Please know that is not just some slogan. It’s the truth. It will get better.
Write about it. Draw about it. Dance about it. Talk about it. Sing about it. Make your voices be heard, and it will show you – and others being bullied – just how much you’re loved and understood.
You’re a person of worth, and you’re not alone!