I was sitting with the other students in my class with "H" last names - there were only three of us. One was a boy named Ross, who I had an enormous crush on at the time, and the other was a boy named Bret.
Being the "new kid" at WCMS, I didn't know much about either of them, or really anyone, with the exception of the few friends I'd made in the flute section during band. I awkwardly (because let's face it, I'm an awkward person), and nervously (hello, middle school crush) attempted to start a conversation with the two of them. I have no idea what was said. There is only one part of that lunch period that remember, but I remember it vividly.
It was warm that day, very warm. I waved my hand in front of my face a few times to get some air moving, and said "Wow, I'm hot."
Bret tipped back in his chair, ran his hand through his blonde hair and said "No you're not, you're ugly." He laughed with Ross for a few seconds, and then went on to talk about all the "hot girls" in our class.
I'd never really had self esteem issues before. I was bullied a lot at my previous school, HLV, but that was mainly because I was also the "new kid" there (in a town where nothing even remotely exciting ever happened), and because I had no interest in sports outside of swimming. Kids will find a reason to bully. That was theirs. It hurt that I didn't have many friends and that the kids were so mean, but I never felt that I specifically had something wrong with me.
That all changed the day that Bret pointed out my lack of physical appeal. Especially when he told all of his friends about the hilarious comment he made at lunch. I put on a tough exterior when I was teased about the way I looked. I made sassy comebacks, and pretended their commentary on my face and weight didn't bother me. But it did. A lot.
I've struggled with my opinion of myself for 13 years now. I wish I could say that I'm at a point in my life where I really don't care what I look like and what people think about that, but I'm not. Every time someone makes a comment about my oversized forehead, big nose, masculine jaw, broad shoulders, large bust, huge belly, massive thighs, or whatever else they find wrong with me, I'm that 11-year-old girl at the lunch table, being called ugly.
And that poor self image has crept in to other areas of my life. I've been told that I exude confidence when I perform on the stage. While I'm glad that that is apparently the image being projected to the audience, and I should consider that proof that I have at least some acting ability, it doesn't change the fact that I see myself as a fat, ugly, talent-less waste of space 99.9% of the time.
I don't like myself very much, and the fact that I allow what people think of me to mold my own self image makes me have even more issues with my self image. I hate that I allow the opinions of others to shape my attitude, and I hate that the fear of what other people will say/think/do has kept me from being successful, or even attempting to be successful.
I don't know if I will ever be able to change the way I see myself. I hope that someday I can. In the mean time, I want to ask everyone, myself included, to try to prevent someone else from going through this, as best we can. Think about the way we speak to each other, and consider the example that we set for our children when they witness us speaking to others. Bret probably doesn't even know who I am anymore, and he certainly wouldn't remember calling me ugly in the sixth grade. Why would he? He was being a kid, and I highly doubt that he even considered that his one little comment would be the first shot in a lifelong battle of self deprecation for his awkward sixth grade classmate.
However, what if we all stopped, even for just a moment, before we said anything, and thought about the possible effects our words could have on the person we speak them to? What if we encouraged this same behavior and habit of self-evaluation in our children? What would our world look like?
Words matter. Words are powerful. And words can hurt. They can hurt for a long, long time.