The other day, for the at least second, or possibly 3rd time, I had a particular guy from junior high pop on my Facebook feed. Not by mutual junior high friends, but by people that I don’t think know him personally. He is the significant other of some social media personality that I don’t follow, and whom I am not interested in. And this woman sometimes tags this guy, and waxes poetic about how wonderful he is. But this guy stands out in my mind as the fat shaming bully of my junior high years.
So, when I was seeing friends of mine reacting with thumbs ups and hearts to some woman going on about this guy being the hero who changed her life, I wanted to write to my friends privately, tell them my story, stop them from liking and loving, and fawning over someone who humiliated and shamed me. I wanted to tell the world, or at least my small corner of it, that I hate that guy. That he is a bully and an arrogant jerk.
What? Am I twelve?
Well, actually, yes. The girl who wants to do that is absolutely twelve. And fat, and awkward, and bad at navigating the world. And she wants to shame and humiliate a forty-year-old man that she has had absolutely nothing to do with for the past 27+ years, just like he shamed and humiliated her.
I decided to take a step back and look at my part, my mess. Acknowledge my own dust and debris, and sweep around my own front door, before I go sweeping around this guy’s. (A shout out to the friend who posted that song this week.)
When I try to think back to specific incidents where this guy shamed and humiliated me, I can only think of one. And the truth is, in retrospect, it was not earth shattering. And it was not directed at my weight, but at my weirdness. Which is something I can’t deny. And which, at 12, in the company of other 12-year-olds in the homogenous south suburbs of Chicago, was not the cute, quirky asset that it would come to be in my adult years. Being a non-conformist didn’t make adolescence any easier, I’ll tell you that.
There is that quote that is attributed to many people, but as far as I can find was by a guy named Carl W. Buehner.
“They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Did this guy make me feel ashamed of myself and my body? Absolutely. I still very clearly remember those feelings. Enough so that I wanted to rant about him at people who don’t even know the guy. Do I really think he was a jerk? I sure do. But he could not have affected me the way he had, if I had not already hated myself so much and been so ashamed of myself. Perhaps I projected my own fat shaming of myself onto him. I don’t believe so, but it’s a possibility. Or perhaps I remember the experience of his meanness clearly, and I have blocked out the more painful and humiliating particulars and incidents. (I have discovered over the years that I have blocked out many of the more traumatic parts of my childhood.) But either way, the only reason I was having such a strong emotional reaction was because I was not complete with myself, or him, in my own heart and mind. And I don’t need him to hear me or see me or acknowledge me in any way, in order to get complete. This is between me and me, and it always was. Especially since I have had zero to do with this guy at all for nearly 3 decades.
But it’s still hard. Because it still hurts a lot. So much that it has made me cry more than once in the past days. Less when I think about his cruelty, and more when I think about how scared and alone I felt those two years that I was in junior high. I think that those two years were the very worst, most miserable of my entire life. I would say that they were even worse than the years just before I got my eating under control, when I was in the throes of my most destructive eating disorders. Ok, maybe it’s a tie…
So I expect that my problem is not really this guy as a person at all. It’s what he represents in my memory about those years: the loneliness, and fear, the feeling that nothing would ever work out, or be right. The fear that I was forever going to be shameful and ashamed. And that there would always be someone, like him, who was eager to point it out.
And I don’t know. Maybe he’s changed. I certainly did. I changed myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Maybe he really is an amazing partner and father. Maybe he is a good, kind man with a heart filled with love and honor. Or maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s still a jerk and a bully and this woman doesn’t know the difference. Maybe he’s just better than her last one. Maybe she posts only the good and never the bad. She’s a social media personality, after all. I already know not to compare my insides with other people’s outsides. I, too, made sure I looked like I had my shit together when I definitely did not.
In the movie, Labyrinth, there is a line from a book that the heroine can never seem to remember. It’s a declaration, the kind of thing that most of us forget, conveniently or inconveniently, all the time when we are dealing with difficult people or situations. It’s a line I also forget, yet would do well to remember.
You have no power over me.