Live Through This

An Earnest Attempt to Humanize Bullies, Part 2

I was a teenage bully.

Illustrations by Cynthia

One thing that makes the “national conversation” that’s been happening on the subject of bullying a little unrealistic and unhelpful is that the victims are cast as 100 percent innocent, and the bullies as 100 percent evil monsters, and since no one is ever either of those things as people, it’s hard to relate, hard to see the bully in oneself, hard to change one’s ways, etc. (Go read that post.) Everyone has bullied someone—by harassing, excluding, mocking, spreading rumors about, or physically intimidating them. And so, we present to you first-person accounts by our own lovely, kind, considerate staffers of times when they have been, in fact, teenage bullies. We’re not asking anyone to get too self-reflecty, but having a bunch of stories in the comments would help make this all feel more realistic, too.
 
 

Emma

I used up most of my bullying in middle school, where I forced my friends to call me Heather #1 and my brown-haired best friend Veronica, not realizing that Veronica was the one we were supposed to be rooting for. By the time I was in high school, my only bullying pleasure was in kicking people out of my house. I threw people out for all kinds of reasons—because they were mean to my cat, because they were too pretty and flirting with the boy I liked, because I wanted to. I would do it loudly, always in front of other people, and then burn with wicked delight as they walked out, tails between their legs.
 

Jamie

I was never in the popular crowd, except for in seventh grade. I also never bullied anyone in my life, except for in seventh grade. I’m not going to make any sort of formal connection between the preceding two statements. If you choose to do so on your own, though, I most certainly will not correct you.

When I talk about popularity now as a sort-of adult, my mom always asks me things like, “What does it even mean to be popular?” Cosmically, I’m not so sure, but in seventh grade it was abundantly clear to me that I was in the popular crowd. I knew because:

  • In gym class, my friends and I rolled our uniform shorts really short and got away with it. Other girls did not.
  • At lunch, our table in the cafeteria was “invitation only.”
  • One of my friends had given a blowjob.
  • I had two terry-cloth sweat suits with JUICY written on the butt.
  • I owned a thong.
  • Sometimes after going to a movie on a Friday night, my friends would go behind the Starbucks in the shopping center to “do cigarettes.”

Like they say grapes from certain years make for better wine, 2005 was a great time to be 13 and popular. The notion of technology as a forum for social interaction had just begun to take hold. I had a cell phone (a black-and-white Nokia brick); I had unlimited texting ($9.99 per month); I had a digital camera (3 megapixels; photo quality like a traffic light camera).

Most important, though, I had a Xanga, the primitive precursor to MySpace. Every day after school, I would rush home to the family computer to update my Xanga. I mostly wrote about nothing interesting. Here is a genuine sample post for perspective:

March 8, 2005
Guess what…
Rain fucking turns me on. I love everything about rain…the smell, the feel of your hair stuck to the side of your face, how it makes everyone want to be all crazy. I also love melon propel fitness water. Bring me a propel on a rainy day and i’m yours.
-jamie
p.s. comments if you love rain!!!!!!!!!!!!

Half my life on Xanga was producing drivel about how much I loved precipitation and electrolyte-enhanced fitness water. The other half involved leaving comments on other people’s posts.

Commenting was frequently a social affair. At play dates or sleepovers my friends and I would gather around a single desktop computer and delve into critical analysis of what other girls had posted. Colloquially, we would talk shit.

“I can’t believe Jesse is dating Sam. She is kind of fat.”

“Molly is such a prude. Nobody is ever going to kiss her.”

Middle school was weird for me. Too many afternoons curled up in the elementary school library with Dorling Kindersley books had left me with a vocabulary overqualified for the social scene. In a normal universe this might have made me a friendless loser, but in my school, caused no doubt by some virus in the popular-girl-industrial complex, this aptitude had managed to secure me a position in the in crowd.

On occasions when my friends were feeling bold, we’d up the Xanga ante from shit-talking to commenting. Sometimes we’d post from our own accounts. Mostly, though, we left comments from an anonymous account we’d registered.

Sarah Teeter was in my elementary school class. As far as 13-year-old girls go, nothing about her was particularly abnormal. She was smart enough. She was pretty enough. She had friends. She certainly had never done anything to incite my friends and me. Except have the last name Teeter.

“You guys know what a teat is, right?” All of my friends shook their heads. They had clearly missed the Discovery Channel special on mammals.

“IT’S A NIPPLE,” I revealed. Mean-girl laughter ensued, and the comments started flowing from our anonymous account.

“TEAT-er!”
“Nipple girl!”
“NIPPPPPPPPLES.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, mammary humor penetrated every facet of our lives. As we walked past Sarah in the hallway, we hissed, “Nipppppppplesss.” This went on for a month or so, until seventh grade ended and I moved away to a new school. Once there, the universe righted itself and I assumed my designated place in the social order as a dweeby loner.

I ran into Sarah a few years later at an orientation session for volunteers at our local hospital. She seemed normal, happy, and well adjusted. We chatted briefly. I remember apologizing to her for being such an asshole when I was 13. I can’t remember what she said back, but it seemed clear that the nipple incident was a non-event in her life.

In hindsight, by bullying someone when I was 13, I mostly just embarrassed my future self by ensuring there would be a time when I’d have to remember that I was once insecure and catty and hung out with losers. I’m not trying to get on some sort of soapbox here, but before you bully someone, it will definitely serve you well to consider the fact that someday you might have to tell someone, “I bullied someone because they had a nipple-related last name.” This is embarrassing. Trust me.

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22 Comments

  • moonchild October 25th, 2011 3:25 PM

    I love this so much. Thank you.

    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

  • MickeyMickeranno October 25th, 2011 3:57 PM

    When I was a kid, me and my friends would bully my little sister by not letting her play with us or making her angry, I remember feeling pretty bad, but I thouht it made me cool or something. In the fifth grade I started in a new school and my bestfriend and I would constantly bother this “weird” boy in my class. Later in highschool some girls would go on msn and call me bitch and other things. I have never suffered from heavy bullying, neither have I bullied anyone a lot, but in the end, everyone will be a bully or the bullied at some point, it’s awful when it gets so heavy it affects a kid’s life to the point of suicide. It’s a difficult issue.

  • I.ila October 25th, 2011 4:01 PM

    Wonderful. true to life and insightful.
    I love Rookie so much.

  • Mustachefan October 25th, 2011 4:16 PM

    My story is exactly like Jamie’s but circa MySpace. I’m so embarrassed about middle school I want to go back and apologize to everyone I ever spoke to.

  • Emma S. October 25th, 2011 4:24 PM

    CYNTHIA. I need that illustration on my wall. Seriously. Let’s talk. OMG.

  • Anaheed October 25th, 2011 4:52 PM

    I was that kind of Lindsay Weir figure in grade school — I was friends with the nerds and the “cool” kids. But that didn’t stop me from, in moments of sadness and insecurity, joining in when the whole class laughed at one particular girl, who was quiet and fat and cried a lot. Yeah, we must have looked really tough picking on her. I didn’t say anything to her directly (and in fact sometimes hung out with her? wtf, I am the worst person) but I helped two other kids make up a song parody about her. Which they then sang AT her. Ugh. This was probably 4th grade.

    A few years ago she emailed me to say hi and included a link to her website, which was full of “erotic” pictures of her…and I got really freaked out and didn’t write back. So, basically, I am still the worst.

  • Maddy October 25th, 2011 5:52 PM

    I liked the second page a lot, was that all one person? The beginning of the second page I felt bad for her, the middle I was disgusted, and finally I feel some sympathy. Also Anaheed: I would totally be freaked out if someone I once knew (or yeah, anyone) sent me erotic pictures of them…

    • Anaheed October 25th, 2011 6:25 PM

      Yup, that’s all Jenny.

    • Anaheed October 25th, 2011 6:42 PM

      And I should clarify…she didn’t directly send me erotic pictures as, like, an attachment. She sent me a regular email and in the signature line there was a link to her blog and her blog had all these soft-focus suggestive photos of her and … I just get really grossed out by anything, like, “sensual.” LKJASDOFJWOI even typing the word just now squicked me out! Still not an excuse not to just be like “Nice to hear from you!”

  • stellar October 25th, 2011 6:14 PM

    what is amazing is that often bullies just need to know they have friends…
    my older sister (who was a bully) startled everyone at the dinner table by telling the family how many kids had bullied her when she was younger.

  • Whatsername October 25th, 2011 10:00 PM

    In 6th grade this girl, I’ll call her R., would come up to me daily and criticize my outfit, usually using the words “why” and “weird”. She cornered me every day asking what my AIM was, and knowing she would just use it to cyberbully I took a long time to give her it. Surprisingly, once she got it, she didn’t bully me at all. She became one of my best friends.
    At first she tried to convert me to popularity. She said I was pretty and if I wore tons of makeup and tight clothing with moose logos on them I could be just like her. I never bought into it, though; once we got older and more mature I began to tell her how awesome my friends were and she began to realize how much her “popular” friends sucked. She realized that she hated her friends and admitted to struggling with bulimia and suicidal thoughts, something she could never tell to her “friends”. She meant to convert me in the beginning, but I ended up converting her. She’s still afraid to sit with me during lunch, still stuck with her “friends”, but she still has me to turn to via IM after school.
    Bullies aren’t bad people. They’re just ignorant and usually trapped in their own low self esteem, thinking if they aren’t “popular” no one would like them.
    I apologize for the long wall of text; I just thought the story was relevant.

  • Lilly October 25th, 2011 10:21 PM

    Ha, this has dredged up a lot of memories for me! I remember being teased primary school, mainly for being ghostly pale and having tons of freckles. There’s also the name-calling, oh my god, I remember being called Willy and then in grade 6 I was called Billy because I cut my hair really short. Plus I was a bit of nerd and a bookworm, so apparently that called for a good mocking too.
    I also remember disliking myself so much I began to idolise the ‘popular girls’ (who, unsurprisingly, were bullies themselves). I became a bit of a bully myself, always joining in.
    I remember finding it really fun actually, despite the little voice in my head constantly telling me it was wrong. But then grade 7 came around and with no one to bully I finally realised that it’s not something anyone should want to do. I met a couple of girls who were so terrible to this one small bespectacled girl, and even though I didn’t know her I yelled at them across the classroom to shut up and leave her alone.
    Kids can be so terrible.

  • back2thepast October 25th, 2011 10:32 PM

    I was actually just about to send an email to Rookie if they’d talk about cyberbullying, so i’m really glad you wrote this, and, as usual, turned out very nicely :)

  • littleDani October 25th, 2011 10:34 PM

    I had a shitty time in middle school, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame it on bullying. I’ll admit, I’ve talked shit on plenty of girls throughout middle school and high school. I can’t really think of an incident that sticks out like all these, but I’m embarrassed about some of the things I’ve said.

    And is it bad that I find calling it “bullying” makes it sound less serious?

    • Jamie October 26th, 2011 1:20 AM

      i’m totally with you on this one. bullying sounds like some kind of buzzword that they would use to get like, 11 o clock news viewership up.

      also it reminds me of a bull

  • MichyMich October 25th, 2011 11:18 PM

    I have to admit that I had a hard time in elementary and middle school since I was a people pleaser desperately trying to be popular.

    My first taste of trying to be popular was back in 4th grade. I was really mean to a girl who tried to befriend me and honestly, being a bully just made me feel like a loser in the end. It led me to a point when this one guy told me that I was a “mean girl”. He made me realize that my actions can permanently impact people’s lives.

    But that didn’t end there. As I started middle school, I even tried to get into the “popular clique” by simply copying what they wear (e.g. Adidas striped sneakers and long pants). I even thought that people would like me if I were like them, but really….Nobody likes people pleasers. Even worse, I was friends with one of the “popular” girls who enjoyed being mean to people outside her clique and say REALLY mean things behind my back. When our friendship became chaotic, I confronted and ignored her since I couldn’t take her mean ways.

    To Emma, Jamie and Jenny: I thank you for writing this amazing article.

    • Jamie October 26th, 2011 1:22 AM

      i was bullied like, 800x more than i was a bully, so i feel you on this stuff so hard

  • Juniper October 26th, 2011 7:14 PM

    This might sound weird…but i’m kind of glad i got bullied during middle school. I’m a lot more compassionate now.l

  • allydoubleyou October 27th, 2011 10:04 AM

    In my middle school friend group, we decided that one of the girls in it was a bit less charismatic/popular/pretty than the rest of us. We tolerated her presence among us, but we also teased her quite a bit. I remember writing a song about her that wasn’t particularly nice.

    ***

    There was a boy in my 6th grade class who was picked on by everyone else. We got a lecture about bullying and everyone pretended not to be a bully, but we knew what and whom the lecture was about. I don’t think I ever said anything to or about this boy that was mean, but I never stuck up for him.

    ***

    Twice in middle school and once in high school, boys who were unpopular but on whom I had MAJOR crushes asked me out, and I rejected them because of their popularity.

    ***

    I was never a popular kid, and sure, I was bullied, but I was never starved for friends, either. I don’t know why I was so unnecessarily mean.

  • Elizabeth October 31st, 2011 1:16 AM

    The one instance of bullying that I’ve done that I’m sure I’ll never forget happened in elementary school. One of the girls in my class was really quiet and meek and wore really weird clothes. There were many rumors about her wearing diapers still and having accidents and such. I’m pretty sure that she had no friends, and her family was just as strange. I probably made fun of her many times, but one day in art class, another girl and I decided to mess up her picture and put some paint spots on it. I still feel just as guilty to this day as I did afterwards. The worst part was that she never said anything about it. And then the pictures were shown in our gallery and we had to go to the showing and I dreaded having to look at her defaced picture, which I was sure was awful, and she would have to show this to her parents, and it was awfulawfulawful.

  • naivebones November 1st, 2011 2:02 AM

    This has also brought up so many memories for me, there was this really fat boy who would tease me as i was physically a lot smaller than the rest of the kids in the grade. I can remember sitting in the principles office writing pages and pages of all the mean things he would tease me with (and others) I remember being physically hit with rulers by him also. I also remember taking this socialisation as normality and started a very mean rumour about this boy and girl in an older grade about how they had sex and I saw (I don’t even know if I knew what sex was at that age) Oh by the way all this took place below the age of 9.
    I had always been the weird kid in primary, always into my own thing, and later on in the further years of primary I suffered from low self esteem and had suicidal thoughts by the age of 12. This all changed when i moved schools however, I’m 16 now and I still feel pretty bothered by my experiences of primary school.