On October 3rd, my social media was flooded with images of the famous scene in “Mean Girls.” You know, the one where Aaron Samuels asks Cady Heron what day it is? Well, it was October 3.
For a lot of people, October 3 probably reminds them of the greatness that was “Mean Girls.” The quotes we insert into our daily lives, wearing pink on Wednesdays, and telling people they don’t even go here when they overstep their boundaries.
But for me, it reminds me of the sad memory of being a real-life mean girl.
There was this chubby kid in my elementary school named Allan. Every time he wore a yellow shirt, my entire eighth grade class called him “school bus.” I cringe at the memory of this for two reasons. The first being the sheer disgust in myself for partaking in a classroom attack chant, the second for being a bully after I had spent years being bullied myself.
I had bad skin and even worse teeth. In any school you go to, that’s enough to put a target on your back. I was followed home, prank called, threatened, made fun of at recess, the target of vicious rumors, amongst other things that I have been successful in pushing into an unopened reservoir in my mind.
So it’s ironic that even after knowing what it felt like, I still targeted someone else. Or is it?
As time went on, I realized that bullying is a cycle. The phrase “Go pick on someone your own size,” as cliché as it sounds, rings very true. It speaks to the fact that people that bully are often the victim of someone they can’t stand up to. At least not on their own.
It makes even more sense that when I think back, there weren’t many other occurrences where I was that young, predatory bully. And that’s because as a victim of bullying, there weren’t many other students on the schoolyard food chain that I was higher than.
When I look back on the day that brought all of Allan’s bullying to a boil, I remember him lashing out and punching a wall. We all laughed at him for becoming so upset, and wondering why he couldn’t take a joke.
Now that I’m older I realize that one of the biggest problems with bullying is that it’s often the perpetrators that dictate what the effect of their words and actions should be on others. It’s a constant cycle of victim-shaming that preys on people’s weakness while simultaneously having the expectation that they be invincible and continue to put up with it.
I still think about Allan sometimes. I look him up on social media to see if he’s OK. It’s hard to tell, but by the looks of the pictures of him, his girlfriend, and his really nice car, he seems to have turned out fine. But who knows what the effect of being tormented in elementary school had on him underneath it all?
For a lot of bullying victims, we don’t find out until it’s too late.
How many times have we heard the age-old tale about victims of bullying, whether cyber or in person, committing suicide? Killing students? Coworkers? It’s truly a wonder why people take the risk that they do every time they call someone a name, trip them in the hallway, or do one of the many things that constitute being a bully.
I imagine any bully’s reasons are similar to what mine were. There was finally a target that had nothing on me—or at least that’s what I thought. He wasn’t in a position to bully me, so I could bully him. Again, at least that’s what I thought.
So how does the cycle end?
My cycle ended with me. Since being a bully, I’ve participated in workshops, student alliances with community police officers, and intervened every opportunity I had. While these efforts certainly may not have reversed any of the damage that I caused to Allan, it did put me on the path I should have been on a long time ago.
Luckily, I’ve learned my lesson. But there are tons of people out there who haven’t, and unfortunately, it’s hard to measure the consequences of being bullied until it’s too late.
With October being Bullying Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to pay attention to the relationships not only in our schools, but our home and workplaces. More importantly, it’s our individual responsibility to take a stand against the ill treatment that we see, and provide a voice for those too afraid to speak up.