It’s the first day of kindergarten and my mom is ready to take a photo of me standing outside Cedar Island Elementary in Maple Grove.
I’m wearing my best pink dress, a pink headband in my shoulder-length blonde hair, and of course, a nice big smile. Even though I can feel the knots and bubbles in my stomach, I’m ecstatic about starting school and making new friends.
Except the smile in that photo didn’t last long.
Imagine being five years old and bursting with excitement about school, only to realize that other kids don’t enjoy your company because you’re “the fat kid.” No matter how much I tried to be their friend, I couldn’t escape their dirty looks, snotty remarks and rude gestures.
One day, while sitting at a table during snack time, my teacher handed me a cookie. Another kid across the room yelled, “She no need any cookies. She eat enough” so everyone could hear. The entire class started laughing. I felt completely destroyed.
An easy target
Growing up, I was always the overweight kid who had very few friends. The friends I did have matured slowly while I was growing a rather noticeable chest in third grade.
When I looked at my body, I saw physical changes that my peers hadn’t experienced yet. Because I was so different from everyone, it was hard to feel proud of my body. While my friends were flat-chested and skinny, I was always chubby.
So I’d eat my problems whenever I was upset at the world or myself. When I overate, I was rapturous, never once seeing a problem with it.
But my body did.
I’d gain five pounds. Then ten pounds. By the time I was in 4th grade, I was about 40 or 50 pounds bigger than the average kid my age.
That made me an easy target, of course. Students would tell me to “go eat a cake” as a favorite putdown. Or when someone was absent from school, they’d joke that I must have “eaten them.”
It never relented. On the bus, a group of three boys would regularly mock me. One even went to the extreme of throwing an apple at me while I waited to get off at my bus stop. They’d come to my house just to laugh, and if I was outside, they’d throw sticks.
Because of the constant harassment, I eventually stopped eating lunch in front of them at school. Then, feeling bad about myself, I’d go home and binge.
Assuming an alter ego
As I entered Maple Grove Junior High, I thought that things would get better. New school, new people, right? But I was only lying to myself so I would feel more confident.
All the kids who used to mock, tease and harass me now went to the same junior high, so I couldn’t be anyone other than the same chubby five-year-old. I’d see girls having fun at recess while I sat alone at a table, dreaming about one day being “normal” like them.
That’s when my identity changed. Because I never felt welcome, I hung out with the first group that would accept me. Instead of wearing pink and dresses, I converted to black and skinny jeans.
I thought that by dressing more dark and masculine, I’d divert all the nasty comments about my weight to my clothing. But that only led to more hurtful names: “emo,” “poser,” “wannabe,” and of course, “fatty.” That one never went away.
Worse yet, I didn’t enjoy who I had become. Everything I tried to change in style, attitude and mindset was just an alter ego. It wasn’t the real me.
No matter where I turned, I didn’t belong. School became so unbearable, I’d walk down a side hall just to get away from the kids who picked on me, or I’d skip class altogether and sit in the nurse’s office so I didn’t have to see anyone.
Every time they’d call me names, I’d stir quietly in class, biting my lip while sketching on a piece of paper. If I said anything back, I’d just hear more laughter and harassment, so why bother?
Coping with pain
As the bullying struck deeper, my personal problems grew worse. I began cutting my arms and leaving burn marks from erasers. Once, I cut myself so deep, to this day, I still have a scar.
I felt like I was free when I left painful marks on my arms and calves. A few times, I thought about how I’d kill myself, even going so far as to write a note about how I should shoot or hang myself to escape everything. But I threw it away so my mom wouldn’t find it.
I thought inflicting pain would alleviate my depression, but I was wrong about that, too. Every time I’d go back to school, I’d be right back at square one.
As I’ve gotten older, things have improved somewhat. But only because I’m trying my hardest on focus on the things I love.
I’ve found a group of high school friends who support me and focus on my personality. Their words of encouragement mean the world. I’ve also worked with a school counselor on coping methods, and I write in a book every time I feel depressed.
In fact, I feel happiest when I’m writing about topics I truly care about. It’s the one thing bullies can’t take away from me.
Changing for ‘me’
Still, I’m a junior and the bad feelings persist. I’ve never been able to understand it.
Because of my extra weight, society strikes me and other “abnormal” people down because we’re not Barbie or Ken dolls. Society wants everyone to be the same.
When I look in the mirror today, I see a person who’s willing to help anyone in need. I see someone who’s always ready for something new. I see a young woman who’d like to hold her head high.
But I always see my weight.
Every day, I have to live with a body that I’m not proud of. My goal is to change that.
Not because my tormentors want me to. But because I want to.