Last week in Sunday school, we were talking about the crucifixion, mob mentality and how easy it is to get swept up in that. That led to thoughts about peer pressure and bullying. Several of us shared experiences with bullying, though for some reason we were mostly female, so it was not the classic type as seen on the school bus video that has been in the news lately. By that I mean pushing, shoving, tripping, snatching of backpacks and the like, which are often the way our men remember bullying, though it is unfortunately still quite common.
The female version is more often about social exclusion, which I guess is also the message of the physical form, but subtler. Our leader was a tall woman, and she has observed before that she was teased for being taller than most of her classmates. But this time she wasn’t talking about that. She said she grew up in Pennsylvania, literally on the wrong side of the tracks, for the school she attended. So of course her clothes were never just right. In fact, her family could not afford tights, which many girls wore for warmth and style alike under their skirts. I know this dates us, but we literally were not allowed to wear pants in the 60s, so you younger folks can be thankful that we got that changed! The other option was knee socks, but of course they sometimes fell down. Well, in her case, she had dry skin, sometimes to the point of cracking, which was exposed when the socks fell down. Then she was treated like a leper, even though there was nothing contagious about it!
Boy could I relate to that! I was in a similar position, in a class with a lot of kids whose families had a lot more money than mine. I didn’t have tights either, or if I did, they were reserved for church. I once begged my mom to buy me a furry acrylic coat, so I could fit in. I found one at JC Penney, I think, that wasn’t too expensive and it was machine washable. My mom bought it, then would not let me wear it to school, because in her mind, it was too nice for school and it would just get dirty! Instead, I had an exceedingly ugly jacket that was a hand me down from my brother. Needless to say, I was not allowed to join the in crowd, even if the leader was someone I had known since kindergarten. In fact, if I got to the classroom door ahead of them, they would ask to “borrow” my glasses and cover them with fingerprints, so I had to run to the bathroom to wash them off in order to see. I fell for that more than once, though I think I eventually wised up and started to just say no. But I suspect that those sort of things are rarely noticed by the teachers, in any case.
Now that experience changed my expectations. I went to Junior High mostly with other people, but did not expect to be accepted, though on some level I was. At least I don’t recall being excluded in my Junior High class. I think though, that in some way it drove me to Jesus, because there I found acceptance. I also became a rugged individualist, who wore hiking boots to school for much of my freshman year and pretty much shrugged off any criticism. It’s kind of amazing, that if you ignore that sort of thing and do what you like, after a while it seems that the critics lose interest.
I can only wish that that was the end of the story. In fact, that insecurity returned in Junior college when I found myself wishing for some male attention. I was, at that point, treated like a leper myself, simply because my acne had not yet cleared up. To be more accurate, it would nearly clear up then break out again due to hormones. That came back to me because somehow this week the topic of makeup came up. One woman said she decided very young that she would not be the type who had to put on her “face” in order to be comfortable in public. I never wore makeup until I was in my twenties because my mother disapproved of it. But I do think that those late teen years would have been less stressful perhaps, if I had covered it up to some extent. I still use foundation as a cover for my overly reddish complexion, and sometimes a bit more for adult acne that has reappeared in my 50s.
So where is this going? Have you been bullied or excluded? How did you deal with it? Did it ruin your life or make you a better person? I think for many of us, the way we were treated when we are young has been one of those areas where God has to break through from time to time and tell us that yes, He does love us just the way we are. He has certainly done that for me.