By Sonya Rehman
We were best friends. Both chubby, bold, with high pony-tails, we’d bust into empty classrooms during recess and wrench open lunch boxes to stuff our faces with goodies and snacks that weren’t our own. We were in Class 4. Little thugs. Badassed bullies. Ruthless Queens of the Munchies. Not that we didn’t get fed enough at home, the act was just so plain exciting for two bored little girls sick of swings, monkey bars and hopscotch. We got caught after a week. I’m not sure how we were punished, but I’m certain it included detention, extra homework and being spanked by our teachers and parents alike.
Many, many years later, when I came across an article about bullying, I remembered how funny and exhilarating it was for my friend and I when we’d watch the kids come back into class and find their lunch boxes empty. They’d often burst into tears, wailing the classroom down. We’d be hysterical. We were bullies. Not the kind that would beat up kids half our size, however, we took from what wasn’t ours and rejoiced in it. And that too, is a form of bullying.
Bullying is a strange thing. I don’t think many of us understand it quite so well; teachers, children, adults, parents, we don’t understand how damaging bullying can be in the long-run. Plus, the funny thing about bullying is this: each one of us are victims of it – even bullies themselves. It all starts from somewhere. That dark shadow of pain, where something is lacking, it is sinister, yet innocent. Unaware. Powerful.
In my teens, I was ridiculed for my weight. I wore massive wire-rimmed glasses (at a time when hipster glasses weren’t cool) and was a good 20-30 pounds overweight. I was docile, lived in my head and made doodles and wrote silly poetry on my notebooks all throughout Physics, Islamiyat, Pakistan Studies, etc. The person who I was then, was a far cry from that self-assured bully back in 4th grade. But in my teens, in school, I was labeled a ‘loser,’ a nothing, a nobody. The word was oft spat in my face, or behind my back, and for a while, I let it shape my personality, I let it define me. Yes, I had thought back then, I am a loser. I’ll never, ever be good enough. So what did I do? At 16 I became anorexic. I dropped close to forty pounds in less than two months. I may’ve looked slim on the outside, but inside I was insecure and damaged. The ‘loser’ would look back at me when I’d look her straight in the eye in the mirror. ‘Loser,’ I’d mouth to myself, ‘loser.’
It took me years of trial and error, years of self-loathing and years of self-discovery to gain some amount of self-acceptance, to gain some amount of trust in myself. I’m still working at it. And the comforting thing is this: I know plenty of girls, boys, men and women, like myself, who struggle with self-acceptance on a daily basis. We’re all in it together. A mass not-so-secret society.
According to a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the affects of bullying bleed well into adulthood. Imagine what a toll bullying can leave on the perpetrators and the victims – from psychological problems, health issues, etc. It’s astounding.
This year, a dear friend, Zainab Chughtai, a Lahore-based Lawyer, has spear-headed a much-needed initiative – ‘BullyProof.’ Along with her team, Chughtai plans on targeting schools in Lahore (for now) to speak about bullying, to make children, parents and teachers aware of the repercussions of bullying – the abuse, the shame and the grief that comes with it.
It is time we spoke up about bullying to help our children deal with the shadow in the dark – the bullies within, and those lurking the school corridors waiting for its next victims.
Paperazzi, Pakistan Today