I usually write about beauty and non-toxic, green products, and I love writing about these topics, as they are very important to me. Today, I want to write about something personal. In light of Pink Shirt Day to stand against bullying, I’m going to publicly open up for the first time about my devastating experience with being bullied.
I’ve never been someone who buys into trends or fads. I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. Combine that with my red hair and freckles, and what you’ve got is someone who stands out and is different. I’ve learned to see that as uniquely beautiful, and now embrace it as something that makes me special, but when I was in elementary school, I experienced such hatred and incessant teasing that I eventually refused to get out of bed.
Back then, bullying wasn’t as widely watched or talked about as it is now. It just sort of happened. There were no campaigns against it, and teachers, at least in my school, never said much or did much of anything to intervene.
You’ll have to excuse me if this gets a little shaky…the tears are starting to fall.
I remember the most popular girl in school, the beautiful, albeit plain brunette girl in her stupid Calvin Klein shirt, turning around in her chair to face me one day. I’ll never forget this, because she looked me in the eyes and said: “Why are you so ugly?”
Astounded, I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to disappear. But I held my head up high and looked her straight in the eyes right back. I said; “I’m not ugly. But what you just said is very, very ugly.” This was in grade seven. I was shaking as she laughed and watched as she turned to her group of mean girls. “Did you hear that? Stephanie thinks she’s not ugly! Can you believe it?”, she roared. The Queen Bee’s dutiful servants joined in and taunted me for the rest of the afternoon.
This was just one incident among many. My Father actually had to go into the school and pick the bullies out of an assembly to tear a strip out of them and tell them to leave his daughter alone. They did, but the isolation and freeze-outs that followed were as bad as the bullying. I was alone. I was terrified. I walked the hallways in fear of who was going to torment me next.
I’m not sure whether my depression and self-harm came before the bullying or vice-versa, but I sank into a deep depression and began to cut myself in order to cope. A lot. I ended up hospitalized and medicated, out of my mind. I became so far gone that I spent my grade 8 year in a hospital. There were many times that I seriously considered ending my life, but every time I did, something inside of me would tell me to hang on, that change was coming. That one day, and maybe a day far from now, things would be okay. That I would never be a sheep or a follower, that I would stay true to my red hair, that I would stay true to my individuality, and that I would become something special.
I dyed my hair for many years, because the girls would bully me about it and tell me how ugly and horrible it was and that no guy would ever look at me if I kept it red. When I got to high school, I was praised for my hair, for my unique look, for my original attitude and my creativity. I couldn’t believe that I actually fit in somewhere. I still didn’t connect with people my age, but I hung out with kids a couple of years older than me, and embraced music and drama. When my natural colour had almost fully grown out, I panicked. The whispering words of the brutal bullies came back to me. I remembered the time that someone put a pair of scissors covered in red paint on my desk, with a note that read: “Go back to the hospital, freak”. I wanted to hide, so I disguised myself and my not-healed pain by covering my freckles and colouring my hair again.
Only in the past few years have I allowed my hair colour to come through. And I love it. But this isn’t just about hair. This is about abuse. Bullying is abuse, and it has to stop. Not everyone listens to that voice telling them to keep pushing, and even if you do hear that voice, it can seem impossible. I nearly gave up, I really did. But today, I am stronger for what I went through, and stronger in my insistence to always be me.
I have a beautiful little girl, a redhead, and I pray that she never experiences what I did. But if she does, I can only hope she comes to me and my partner and opens up the discussion about it. Because the discussion is so important. If you’re being bullied, say something. This is an unbearable load to take on by yourself, and adults who care need to be involved. I sank into depression and I hurt myself, but I never remained silent. I spoke up for myself, to my parents, to my teachers. I may have been beaten down, but I always found my voice, which can be the hardest thing to do.
At the risk of sounding old and condescending, I want to say something here. It DOES get better. It DOES stop. I know that at the time, it seems like it will go on forever. And I also know that today, bullying is a different, and much more complicated story. There needs to be a discussion, a zero-tolerance plan, and some serious education in schools about this. There are way too many lives lost to bullying, and it’s horrifying and unnecessary. I was almost one of those lives. But I’m now a successful writer living with the man of my dreams and the most perfect little girl, in a home I love and in the city I love most in this world. I have a career that enables me to use my unique gifts and what is beautiful about me, to my advantage. I have created a life that I love. I wonder if those who bullied me can say the same.
I hope they can. Because I do not wish them ill will. I only hope they learned from what they did, and that in the eyes of their children, they see a vulnerable little being who should be taught how to treat others, and to tolerate the differences that make us all special and should be celebrated.
Stand up against bullying. Enough is enough, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my daughter go through what I went through. Let’s learn from each other instead of spreading hatred and bullying. Let’s make a change, for the sake of our children, and for the child that still lives inside us all.
Purely and truly,
p.s. I want to thank the brands that have embraced what they see as my beauty. Celtic Complexion, Delizioso Skincare, Red Apple Lipstick, LUVU Beauty, Sappho Organic Cosmetics, Deep Steep, Synergy Organic Clothing, Pure Fusion Cosmetics, Earth Lab Cosmetics, Carina organics, Everyday Minerals, Nardo’s Naturals, Ecco Bella, Brija Cosmetics, Simple Beauty Minerals, Borne Cosmetics, Just Pure Minerals, and there are so many more, but I can’t write anymore, I’m sorry, I’m too drained. Please let me know if I’ve missed you and I will add you to this post at a later date.
By the way, for an ugly girl, I sure have a lot of beauty brands behind me, don’t I?
If you’re being bullied, take heart: What they’re telling you is all lies. If I can make my way out of the hell they put me through, and into a life where I am loved, appreciated and celebrated, and if I can learn to love myself and my own beauty, so can you. Love wins. Self-acceptance wins. Always.
Bad Barbie eyeshadow by Pure Fusion Cosmetics. Filed of Roses blush by Everyday Minerals. Lipstick in Pink Rose by Ecco Bella.