My conversations with some of my classmates confirmed that many of the girls who appeared to have their lives together ― and even be thriving ― struggled just like the rest of us.
“I always felt like an outcast, like a little brown mouse,” said one woman who I thought was one of the prettiest, most athletic and well-liked in our class. “I’ll never forget the 7th grade dance. I was really excited about my outfit,” she told me. “I remember walking in and seeing this group of girls looking me up and down and giggling. It seemed like the whole dance stopped and I realised how mismatched I was. I thought, I am really out of touch; I am really uncool. I went to the bathroom and cried. Then I called my mother and she came and picked me up. To this day, I still feel like I can’t put clothes together.”
It was challenging to locate some of the women who were the victims of the most severe bullying. I assumed many didn’t want to be found and had chosen to leave their childhoods and adolescences far behind and never look back. However, I did manage to track down a few.
One woman told me, “I hated my school experience and experienced intense bullying … It wasn’t until I reached high school that I located a community of people, and it was my perception that we were considered the ‘hippies’ and we carried a sort of stigma related to that.”
Another woman recalled being bullied at various times throughout elementary and middle school. “My mother told me to ‘turn the other cheek,’ but that didn’t work,” she said. “I had no way to stand up for myself, and at that age, kids don’t stand up for each other.” In 9th grade, she dropped out of school and ran away, eventually ending up in a private school where the bullying was even worse. In a third school, she said, the “kids had issues. I became a bully and I would kick them with my clogs. I got suspended and I remember thinking, Now I’m the strong one.”