Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that can happen at any age or in any environment. When this behavior is repeated over time it can create serious, lasting problems. I fell victim to this trend at an early age, but because of my negative experiences I learned to believe in myself and value my worth.
Elementary school proved to be a difficult time for me. I hit a growth spurt early, and by the time I was in the 4th grade I was 5'4". I had an athletic build and was taller than most of the boys, so naturally, this made me stand out. I was placed in the back center for all the group pictures at school, sandwiched between all the rude boys. I was still young and didn’t fully comprehend the start of a vicious cycle. I was part of a close-knit family and had two close friends, so I let the comments slide.
My situation grew even worse in middle school. Attending a small, private, catholic school meant that one “popular” person set the status quo for the rest of us. I was one of the school’s better volleyball players in the 6th grade; which meant that because of my obvious differences and skills, I was deemed a “freak.” I was told girls weren’t supposed to look strong and muscular. The constant name calling took its toll on me, and I began to feel self-conscious. It became increasingly difficult to go to school, because I was forced to be around my bullies.
The boys in my grade picked me apart from head to toe, even commenting they should check to make sure I wasn’t a man. I tried to ignore the taunts and focus on sports, but I could never fully shake the feelings of inadequacy I now had. Having to wear a skirt as part of my daily uniform just gave the boys more ammunition to be cruel. I grew thick skin, and most days I could handle it, but other days, it was all I could do to not cry in the bathroom.
The group of self-proclaimed “popular” girls were no better than the boys. They loved attention and would do just about anything so the boys would notice them. Unfortunately for me, this meant more teasing and cruel pranks. One of the girls told me if I wanted to be accepted into the group, I would have to cut off all my hair. I actually considered the notion, just so they would leave me alone, but quickly realized it wouldn’t help.
In 7th grade I joined a traveling, national volleyball team that gave me a positive channel to focus my time and energy. It helped me make friends outside of school, which made my time at school more bearable. As I grew older, my athletic abilities turned into an asset rather than a downfall, or something to be embarrassed of. I embraced this side of myself and began to appreciate my differences.
Even though I suffered an injury during high school, I managed to push through and pursue a collegiate sports career. Attending LeTourneau gave me the opportunity to continue playing volleyball and later tennis. College athletes came in many builds and even though I was overweight my first two years, I was never bullied about it. After a summer of hard work and dedication, I lost the weight I had been wanting to, for myself.
My junior and senior year of college, I flourished and began to really gain confidence in myself. I began dating my best friend of three years and life didn’t seem like it could be any more perfect. Soon after, we got engaged and couldn’t wait to get married and begin our lives together. Not long after our engagement, the dynamics of our relationship began to change. I didn’t recognize the man I had fallen so in love with. My tormented middle school years came flooding back to me; I was being hurt by the person whom I loved the most. The next few months were incredibly painful, but in the spring of my senior year, I called off the engagement.
Ending things with him was a relief, but also terrifying. After graduation, I was planning to move in with him, and maybe work part time. When I discovered I was going to be on my own, I slightly panicked. But, I came to the realization that being on my own without the security I was expecting was far better than staying in an abusive relationship. Learning to truly appreciate my value as a person was a difficult lesson, but it reminded me that no one else has the power to determine how I feel about myself.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. You have no control over what happens to you, so you can either let it destroy you or you can use it as inspiration. Our response to a situation has the power to change the situation itself. I can honestly say that I do not let the opinions of others affect me. I know my worth, and because of my struggles, today, I am beautiful and strong.