Sticks and Stones and All That Stuff

a comment on Instagram I have body image and self-esteem problems. This is not news. This is something I’ve talked about on here, with family/friends, and with therapists until I’m pretty sure that every person who knows me is ready to bop me over the head. Years of abuse, bullying, and various other crap can make a person start to think that they are the ugliest, most worthless creature in the universe.

I’ve always been that annoying person who would look at herself in a picture and say, no matter what the picture looked like, that I was ugly. I do not view myself as beautiful, pretty, hot, etc. Anyone who tells me otherwise is deemed, by my brain, to be lying or setting me up to be the butt of a joke. I’ve realized that this is my personal problem over the years, that most people are not trying to make me feel worse about myself.

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Instagram told me that I was hot. The comment ended up disappearing a few minutes later, and I started thinking I had imagined it or it had been a mistake. I made a comment on Twitter and Ashley basically told me that she thought it was genuine. I believed her. This was kind of a breakthrough for me. This was the first time that I had ever been told by a guy that I was hot. In almost 30 years, I’ve had some people say that I was pretty or beautiful or “cute” or other words like that, but never attractive or hot. As much as I want to be a person who doesn’t need to hear that kind of comment, at the end of the day, I am. I needed it. Not because being hot or being attractive is a necessary part of daily living for most people. No, I needed it to heal the part of me that has been broken for so long. That is the part of me that contributes to the depression, the anxiety, and the shutting people out. It is also the part of me that, whenever I get afraid of being perceived as unattractive or attractive stuffs her face with food.

Yesterday, after therapy, I felt less assured and more prone to the negative feelings. I had a few tearful outbursts through the evening and last night. I disguised it by reading books, but sometimes that actually makes it worse. (I have a tendency to read books where the protagonist has some confidence issues, so that can actually trigger some negative thoughts.)

Today, though, I needed to feel better about myself. I ended up taking a selfie through Instagram and a few minutes after I posted it, I got the comment:

jaye98: @4ndy_oc by far the best

I’m not stupid. I know that when 15-16 year old guys make comments like that that they mean that they are making fun of a person. And part of me wanted to break down when it was posted, but then I realized some things:

  1. I don’t know them and they don’t know me, so what they think of me really doesn’t matter to me.
  2. If they think I’m less important because of the way I look, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me. It does mean that there are obviously some issues with how their parents raised them.
  3. This kind of behavior by them is absolutely unacceptable and could be potentially dangerous for some people they might ridicule.

I know that they are teenagers and that teenagers can be twats, but that is no excuse for doing this. Bullying someone because you’re young and stupid doesn’t make the behavior okay and it doesn’t make your actions any less painful for the person that you are harassing. I know that knowing that the guys who would tease me in elementary and middle school were my age or a year or two older didn’t make their words any less painful. Even when the much younger sister of one of my childhood best friends made a comment when I was at my friend’s 12th birthday party (a sleepover), her age and lack of understanding of how harmful what she said was didn’t negate the pain that I felt after she made the comment.

The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is bullshit. The words can hurt. The words do hurt.1  The looks hurt. Being on the receiving end of bullying/harassment/abuse hurts.2 Even silly little comments that might not impact some people can cause another person to feel like shit for days, weeks, months, even years.3

And the pain that is inflicted can be bad enough that others notice. A person in group yesterday told me that, in the 2 times (including yesterday’s session) we’ve seen each other, she’s realized that I’m a very sensitive person and that that might be why I have trouble maintaining friendships. She said that friends could probably tell how sensitive I am and that that might make them have trouble interacting with me. That made me realize that if relative strangers can read me so well, then people who act shitty can probably tell, too. And if they can tell that it’s easy to bring me down, then being the shitty people they are, they probably know that I am an easy mark for abusive and harassing attitudes.

If it is so easy to see that a person is vulnerable and that vulnerability makes them a worthy target of some type of mistreatment, then that makes this sort of behavior even worse. There are stories all the time about people hurting themselves or others because they’ve been brutalized in some fashion by others. If harming others is something that you do to derive pleasure, then you need serious help. If your idea of kicks is dehumanizing someone that you think is too ugly or too fat or too religious or not religious enough or too black or too whatever, then there is something wrong with you…not the other person. And you should feel responsible if anything negative happens to that person you’re mocking because your abuse is to blame.

It’s not a bad picture. My eyebrows are a little thick. My face is fat. My neck is short. My hair is wet. I have a place on my lip where I picked at the skin when I got nervous. My chickenpox scar on my eyebrow is barely visible. But it isn’t a bad picture.

It certainly isn’t bad enough to mock. It isn’t bad enough to be a part of some game. It’s just a picture. It’s just me. And if you think I’m less worthy of being treated with respect because of how I look in that picture, then don’t look at it. Simple, right?

  1. “The results in a study of 5,749 Canadian youngsters echo data from British research and follow a U.S. study published last year in which obese children rated their quality of life as low as young cancer patients’ because of teasing and weight-related health problems.” 

  2. “As Ke$ha heals at a treatment facility for an ongoing battle with anorexia and bulimia, her mother, Pebe Sebert, sheds more light on just how bad the singer’s struggle had gotten…

    “I’ve watched my beautiful, self-confident, brilliant daughter be berated and ridiculed for her looks and weight to the point that she almost died,” Sebert says. “ 

  3. “The target of bullying suffers injury to health and their diet is affected. Most targets lose their appetite and thus lose weight. A few people react by overeating and thus gain weight. For most people the weight loss or weight gain is temporary, but for a few, the loss or gain is permanent. I have dealt with some distressing cases of overweight adults – some grossly overweight – emanating directly, I believe, from extended periods of bullying as a child from which they have not recovered. The trauma from those years of childhood bullying remains to blight their adult life.” 

About Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.