They Decided I Was Different (A Reflection) By Rachel Cohen

I am now 22 years old, but back when I entered Middle School, I presumed I was like everyone else. Only, some of the very girls in my school decided that no matter what I looked like, I was different.  I am writing to share my difficult experience when I was a teenage girl.  Now in my early twenties, I am graduating college and already have a wonderful job I am looking forward to soon.  But back then, my day-to-day experiences felt anything but bright and positive.

When I was in 6th grade, I fell repeatedly victim to internet-bullying by girls in my class.  Looking back on it, I am not sure why they decided to pick on me.  They just decided I was a vulnerable target and because I didn’t have any type of blatant superficial difference, they figured they could get away with it.  It is surprisingly hard to decipher the incidents and which ones hurt me the most. A lot of why I was so hurt by the pernicious comments, texts, messages, whispers, and sneers was because they came from girls who had been nice to me in the past—girls who I thought were my friends. But they were not, even if some days they seemed “not so mean.”  I continually made excuses for them and for why I tried so desperately to be their friend.

As a result, each day, I was pounded with instant messages from unknown screen names that made fun of me and the way I looked, such as “you’re ugly and have caterpillar eyebrows,” “you have no friends,” “you’re dumb,” and “everyone hates you and your ugly curly hair.” If I responded to these messages, they became more vicious and they only seemed to be having more and more fun at my expense.

During school,  the bullying continued, but now in person. For instance, several girls put spit balls in my hair during class and giggled until I noticed the collection of white, crumpled scraps, which often didn’t happen for hours. They made me feel stupid by ganging up on anything I said—that is, if they acknowledged my presence. At lunch one day, the same girls physically voted me from the lunch table (they used scraps of paper to vote “fairly” about who should leave the table, even though there were plenty of seats. I was, after years of being friends with these girls, unanimously unwanted). At sleep away camp that summer, when I was twelve, some of those same girls teamed up with others and stole my food. They put an unknown substance in my shampoo and laughed about it. At one point, they twisted my picky-eating habits into an eating disorder, and had the entire cafeteria laughing and chanting vigorously with two-hands pounding on the tables: “Anorexic! Anorexic! Anorexic!” I did not have an eating disorder, but I ran out crying from humiliation.

None of those were easy to deal with. They were scarring, or so I thought.  Fortunately,  I found my salvation—not in their acknowledgement, approval, or acceptance—but outside of school. I joined an out-of-town soccer team and spent my time with those girls. They laughed at my jokes and told me that I was funny and nice. Eventually, that gave me the confidence to ignore the school bullies and be friends with other girls in school who I had never met before. It was incredibly hard for me to let go of the girls I had been friends with since elementary school. Considering how severely they bullied and ignored me in Middle School, it shouldn’t have been that difficult, but I was so afraid to be alone that I kept trying to change myself to get them to like me again. I didn’t want to believe that they could desert me.

Rachel Cohen photoI was lucky enough to have a supportive family who always told me not to let their mean words and looks bother me. My parents told me not to show the bullies that they hurt me because that was what they were looking for: a reason to feel powerful. In some cases, it was because they were being bullied themselves, and in some cases it was for no reason at all. But when I had the confidence to look elsewhere for friends, I made them easily just by being kind and being myself. And that’s my advice: Learn how to accept yourself, even if you happen to not fit in with the popular crowd. Don’t try to “be cool” or change yourself to try and convince others to like you.  If they mistreat you because they have decided you that are different from them, then find other friends and be grateful in the end that you are different.  You’ll never look back, and if you do, it will only be to give advice to girls who can newly relate.



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