Whatever happened to bullying?

Not having a news story to peg it to, bullying has faded into the recesses again. But it remains a significant problem, especially for the young.

Amanda Palmer, one half of the Dresden Dolls, has been blogging this month about online bullying, trying to put the issue back on a warm burner.

Earlier this month, she wrote this blog post. She got more than a thousand comments when she asked questions about stopping the madness.

Then, a woman, bullied as a teenager, responded:


Story time. I am fat. I’m not a fan of being fat and have, in fact, struggled with it my entire life. I am now 22 and starting cosmetology school later this month. I have to buy all solid black, fancy work clothes because apparently my super hero t-shirts and Converse won’t cut it. Finding things sucks. And that’s just one thing I hate about being fat.

Although these events didn’t occur online, I have been bullied online many times from Xanga to LiveJournal to MySpace to Facebook. All had to do with my weight and my looks, calling me fat and ugly. Some were anonymous, some weren’t. I’ve cried many times over things people have typed to me, and although the below situation was the hardest to deal with for me, I think it is relevant here.

Anyway, I am, and always have been, very realistic about my situation. I was a chubby toddler who turned into a chubbier kid who turned into a fat teenager who turned into a fatter adult. I’m aware of what I look like because mirrors exist; however, people have always felt the need to point it out to me. How kind. It was great when a friend would be pissed at me, and their first insult would be, “well, at least I’m not fat!” Hey, thanks!

The worst was gym class in middle school. We had to change into our uniforms, consisting of shorts and a t-shirt provided by the school. I was always so uncomfortable. I never, ever wore shorts. Not even around my house. I still don’t wear shorts. Ever. And my family didn’t have a lot money, so my gym shoes came from Payless. Those shoes suck so much. They never had any traction on the gym floors, so I would slide all around. And my body would not slide with me. The black girls even made up a little chant just for me.

“Payless shoes ain’t got no grip, I hope that poor fat bitch don’t trip.”

Adorable.

Because there were so many kids in my school, there were four classes combined in the gym at a time with only two teachers. So the supervision was lacking, and not wanting to be a nark, I pretty much just laughed it off and pretended not to notice. At the end of class, the teachers would go into the locker rooms before us, and that’s when one of the boys, Austin, would absolutely terrorize me. I didn’t know Austin until my gym class, and I had never had a conversation with him. He threw insults about my weight, my bad haircut, my make up…everything, although they mostly landed back at my weight.

What was even more fun was that we all had lunch right after gym. At the same time. Even better, Austin’s table was right behind mine. He’d always mock what I had on my tray, calling me a cow. He’d back his chair into me and shove me into my table, sarcastically apologizing to me, saying it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t so fat.

One day, I finally had enough. I told him to shut the f*** up and stop making my life hell. He didn’t. I dropped it. A few weeks later, I was sitting at lunch, and he sat behind me, without bumping into me. “That’s right, bitch,” I thought.

Before the end of the semester, Austin killed himself. I don’t know why or how. I just know that we were all sat down in gym one day and told. I was shocked. This person, who I saw everyday, who said terrible things to me on a daily basis but never had a conversation with me, was gone. Forever. I didn’t say a word. I just went home that day and went to my room and cried all afternoon. I was trying to understand why this happened. That’s when I learned a very important lesson that most of us know very well. Most bullies are the way they are because of how they have been treated. They just don’t know any different. They don’t know how to deal with their emotions, so they lash out.

Austin’s death broke my heart, but it made me open my eyes. What if I had tried to just talk to him? Would it have made any difference? Probably not. But at the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re all broken in a way, and we’re just trying to feel whole. I try to understand where people are coming from, even if they are being horrible to me.

When I would get those mean messages online, I would instantly retaliate with something equally terrible and soul-crushing. After Austin, I didn’t do that. Sure, I can be an a****** at times when I’m caught up in the moment, but that’s most people. When you type something out to someone, you can’t take it back. And they can look back at it for as long as they want. They can delete it and move on immediately, or they can stare at it and dwell on it.

So my only input is to try and realize that when someone is bullying you, online or otherwise, their words mean nothing. They are probably going through some kind of hell you are completely unaware of, and that’s just how they deal. And even though it is upsetting and can really piss you off, think before retaliating. They are probably just as easily hurt as you are.

And honestly, Amanda, people like you–and well, you–are who have helped me grow as much as I have. Sure, I’m still fat and not happy with myself. I’m trying to change that and will keep fighting until I finally lose enough weight to be healthy and content. That’s just who I am and what I want for myself.

But when there are people like you, who are different and weird and awesome and loud and proud, it makes me hopeful. You were brave enough to get past the negativity and become a public figure, a voice for those of us who are still trying to be okay with themselves. It’s people like you who realize that bullying is a huge issue now that social media is so massive and say something that makes a big difference in how people handle these situations.

So, you know, thanks and stuff.

It started Palmer on a mission to change the way we respond to bullies:


as long as we keep talking, as long as we keep listening, as long as we don’t hit back, but remember that everybody is dealing with their own pain, their own suffering….we’re winning.

“This to me is the only way out,” Palmer told the Boston Globe. “You can enact policies and school the teachers and make laws but nothing will fix the problem except people talking to each other and being compassionate.”

  • Disco

    Part of the problem is this. For every person trying to solve bullying, there’s a degenerate regressive conservative who belches forth something about “bullying builds character” and/or “kids today have it too easy, they’re soft.”

  • Kevin Watterson

    Dresden Dolls as in “Coin Operated Boy”?