How do you get bullied? Let me count the ways. One, you get bullied because you speak English. Two, you get bullied because you are not part of a major religion. Three, you get bullied because you are not reed thin.
In high school, three classmates of mine took it upon themselves to ‘chastise’ me for speaking in English. One of them was this boy who was not academically astute that I accidentally bumped into in an empty classroom. I was hoping to sit inside an empty classroom to get away from the din of the school. I entered one unaware he was inside. Out of nowhere, he walked towards me unsteadily – he seemed to have had a tipple somewhere – and remarked, “Why do you speak in English?! What is wrong with you, huh?!” Although he slurred throughout his utterance, his menacing visage and the fact that he towered over me sent my heart pounding loudly that it almost drowned out his voice. Bully number two was a pair of popular and pretty girls in my batch. Yes, pretty, but dumber than a box of rocks. Similarly, they cornered me but in the lockers area and ridiculed me for speaking in English.
“A Cartoon Thug” image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Religion was another reason for me to be bullied. This time it was by my elementary teacher who was prejudiced towards a child whose parents gave her the choice of faith. She gave off a vibe to the entire class that I was an oddity which my classmates internalized by ostracizing me. It got to a point that none of my classmates would even look at me and would blatantly shield their eyes whenever they saw me. I was alone most of the time, sitting by myself during recess or avoided like a plague in class. The library was my refuge – I lost myself in the books and momentarily forgot about the bullies in my midst.
Last, being fat. We are not talking about being obese, but I wasn’t predisposed to the thin look and certainly no thigh gap. Body shaming was not considered inappropriate – people teased me to my face or behind my back. At gatherings, family members never talked about my scholastic achievements like being a constant dean’s lister or the fact that I made it to the university soccer varsity team. The first line uttered would always be, “Uy, ang taba mo!” (“You’re fat!”) and then the endless comparisons to the thinner cousins.
“Overweight” image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
How does one deal with such bullies? Admittedly, I was and am still scarred, but I became more tenacious in not being affected by them through the years. I weathered the bullies by parrying their snide remarks. For example, with the language bullies, I had witty retorts along the lines of, say, “It is not my problem if you can’t speak English” and then walking away with a Jedi’s placidity. Alternatively, I simply ignored them. The social stigma of being an agnostic in a secular school has stayed with me to this day, putting me on the defensive mode every time talk centers on religion. Back then, I had wanted to transfer school but my father dissuaded me, saying that it could be worst outside of JASMS. In high school, religion didn’t figure much in the syllabus so I lowered my defenses. There were still the occasional wide-eyed looks thrown my way whenever classmates, teachers, or colleagues would hear about my case, but I remained composed. Like a mantra, I repeated to myself, “Walk away. Faith is a personal issue.” If they dared proselytize, I would cheekily remark, “I am still developing my own religion.” This is still my modus operandi for sanctimonious colleagues and acquaintances who feel the need to preach to me.
For the body shamers, I have learnt to channel their taunts into my workout sessions, using them as the reasons not to miss a session especially when I am feeling lazy to head to the gym. In my youth, I worked out to stop the barbs but not anymore. My workout sessions are for myself to be healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Bullies will never vanish and will always be relentless in their insults. Stooping to their level shouldn’t be an option. One should rise above their derisions because that is the only way to deal with bullies and to stop being a victim.