I think it started at the end of 2nd grade.
My best friend lived across the street from me and on weekends, we were inseparable. We spent every waking moment together, running back and forth between our houses. But during the week she wasn’t my friend. She was a silent partner to bullies at school, feeding them secrets about me, secrets that only a best friend would know.
Every morning I would get to school and head to the jungle gym until the first bell rang. Even though I knew my best friend wouldn’t talk to me, I tried anyway. It was then, when I stood hoping she, or anyone really, would play on the monkey bars with me, that the bullying began for the day. The taunts were always different, but the point was always the same: I was fat.
All the teachers knew what was going on. My mom was a teacher at my school and she repeatedly spoke with the principal and the other teachers and parents. Nothing ever changed. No one ever got in trouble. Everyone just turned a blind eye and let it go on and on and on.
Over time things got worse. By 4th grade, I only had a handful of friends and it just took a series of rumors to make that handful not want to play with me anymore either. As I recall the most effective rumor was that I had AIDS, which was because I was fat with short hair, which meant I was gay, which meant I had AIDS. 4th grade logic is always sound. After that terrible, lonely year my mom moved me to the other elementary school in our district.
After only a year away, I started middle school with all the same kids who had tormented me in the years before. But this time, I had enough friends that I wasn’t the easiest target anymore. I had enough friends that the bullies forgot about me, some of them even befriended me. I did a science fair project with the same kid who started that awful rumor in 4th grade.
The teasing ended in 5th grade, but the effects of it didn’t.
A few years ago I looked at some pictures from elementary school for the first time. I was astounded. That 3rd grader staring back at me wasn’t fat, she wasn’t a “tub of lard.” She was normal. She was a cute little girl who was bullied for not being perfect.
The more time that passes, the more I realize that bullying turned me into a doubter. It made me doubt the compliments that people gave me. It made me doubt when boys, even my (now) husband told me I was beautiful. It made me doubt that the image in the mirror was good enough.
But time has given me some of my trust back. I will probably always think I’m bigger than I am and I will probably always doubt compliments. But unlike that girl in elementary school, I know that I am loved. I know that I have friends who care about me because of who I am, not because of what I look like or what size my pants are.
Time has given me a chance to learn to love myself. My curves and my flat parts. My scars and dimples. My love handles and collar bones. All of me. Because who I am and what I’m worth is so much more than what is on the outside, more than what society says is beautiful.
More than what those kids on that playground ever saw.
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.