The Things Your Bullies Taught You

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People ask me all the time if 32 CANDLES is based on my life. The short answer is no. My mom wasn’t abusive, and other than being dark-skinned, Davie and I have very little in common. Though, like Davie, I did learn a few lessons courtesy of my main bully.

Soooo many people made fun of me all the way until I went into college, but funnily enough, I only remember the name of my first one, who I’ll just call Bully Zero. Bully Zero wasn’t a physical bully. She never hit me, but she was an emotional bully. She often said mean things to me in front of the rest of the class, then would turn around and be my friend when no one was looking. I worried myself silly, trying to figure out how to make her stop teasing me in public and how to make her my friend all the time, as opposed to when she just wanted a piece of my candy bar or didn’t have anyone else to talk to. Also, she had everything I lacked: huge popularity, huge personality, and huge good looks — even her mom was prettier and more popular than my mom. It was like that.

For a long time after I switched schools, I held Bully Zero up as my bogeyman. From the age of like 12, I had visions of becoming a successful writer and then rubbing it in her face somehow. But sometime in my early twenties, during my most starving of starving artist days, it occurred to me: we were just kids. I didn’t forgive her — it wasn’t even a situation that demanded forgiveness, because we were children. I just let it go.

Actually I’m a little grateful for Bully Zero. She taught me how to get through life without being well-liked. She taught me to avoid people (especially boys) who run hot and cold. I now value not being popular in school, because it forced me to read a lot instead (these were before the days of 24/7 Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network).

But enough, about me. Let me know what your bully taught you in the comments. One comment will be chosen and featured next week, and its writer will receive a 32 CANDLES tote bag.

Speaking of which, last weeks comment were off the hook. It was SO hard to pick just one. But kim from the West Coast, you have a 32 CANDLES tote bag headed your way, because of your answer to the question, “What did you used to not like about yourself but now rock with pride?”

My lips and my arms!

I always thought my top lip was much bigger than my bottom lip and it drove me nuts. Plus freshman year in high school the one brutha that shared social studies class with me and sat in the next row across from me happened to ask me one day “why is your top lip darker than your bottom lip”. Now what was I supposed to say to that kind of inquiry? When I told my mom about it she said I should have asked him why he was paying so much close attention to them.

Thank god I actually grew into my lips and I finally felt somewhat pretty by college. It also helped that my freshman year in college I took an Ancient Egyptian art class and I saw a slide of what was left of an Egyptian bust of Nefertiti. It just showed the bottom half of her face with just her lovely smooth lips. They looked like mine and I thought they were beautiful.

As a big girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s finding clothing was always a hassle. But nothing made me more self conscience than baring my upper arms. I thought they were big, ugly and I could swear you could see the stretch marks from outer space.

Making peace with my arms came much later in life (around age 25). I was going to the mall with a friend and was taking too long getting out of the car for her. Basically I was trying to dig out my sweater to cover myself up in the middle of July instead of rocking my tank top like the rest of the folks in California were doing. She demanded that I leave the sweater in the car. I seriously hesitated because I felt like I was walking in the mall completely naked and exposed. On our way in a group a guys started flirting with me and my friend said “See! I told you didn’t need that stupid sweater”.

I realized I was so busy being worried about people looking at me for the wrong reasons I was actually hiding one of the best parts of myself. After being liberated from my sweaters I have received lots of compliments about how soft my skin is from friends who have hugged me while sleeveless. I have also been randomly stroked by men in bars who apparently couldn’t resist the allure of my silky milk chocolate biceps.

I am happy and loving myself now. I just wish it hadn’t taken such a long journey to get there.


Cat Photo Credit: Kevin Steele