Even though the bullying I endured felt awful, at the end of the journey, I grew from it. I kept going, but that’s not true for everyone.
COTSWOLDS, England ꟷ At 13 years old, I walked the corridors of my new school on my first day. A group of girls one year older than me started shouting disgusting names. They called me a slag – the U.K. word for slut – among other things. Over the summer holiday, a popular boy from their grade had messaged me. I figured they must be annoyed because they fancied him.
Soon, other girls joined in, and they ganged up on me. I felt shocked when I recognized one of the girls. Though we hadn’t seen each other in years, we went to nursery together and our moms had been friends.
Throughout the day, I saw the girls many more times. People heard their comments and laughed as my embarrassment grew. It felt like everyone was pointing at me.
That year, rumors about me circulated at the school. Each day during break, I ducked into the bathroom to avoid seeing anyone. I began shaking and getting migraines, always feeling uncomfortable. One day, the girl I had known as a child shared personal information about me. It was the last straw and I lashed out. I got in a fight with five or six older girls; I could not believe what I had done.
Earlier, I had told the teachers about my circumstances. I told them how it affected my work and how I was beginning to hate school, but they did nothing. No one cared. After the fight, they summoned me to a meeting with the teachers and the “heads of years.” I felt panicked.
I opened the door and asked if I needed to go in, then I remained silent. Before long, the girl and her friends came banging on the reception door. They shouted, “I’m gonna fucking kill you. You’re a fucking stag.”
After that, the school officials put me in an isolation room. At lunch, I sat alone. It felt like punishment but also helped me avoid people. Occasionally, some other student came to the room, like a boy who had detention.
I went to my lessons but never did my work. Teachers told me off. The rules in certain English schools can be extreme. At this school, you could get detention for simply forgetting a pen. Furthermore, under the UK’s “Offset” rating system of schools, this one ranked under “special measures” – the worst possible grade. Reports like someone getting bullied could close them down. So, nobody helped me. Students feared being punished and school employees feared being penalized.
One day, I had my blazer off and a teacher followed me. He instructed me to put it back on. A group of girls started shouting at me. The teacher heard it all and did nothing, so I ran away. At my next lesson, he asked, “Why did you run away when I was talking to you,” as if nothing had happened.
From then on, I ended up in more and more trouble. I lost all respect for teachers. At 13 years old, I carried an immense amount of stress in my stomach. I always wanted to cry, and I wished the whole ground would just swallow me up.
I landed in isolation often, sometimes for a week at a time. At the week’s end, when it was time to go home to my family, they would release me.
From 8:00 a.m. to 3:05 p.m., I stayed in that room. I could leave to go to the restroom with supervision. If I did not bring my lunch, I did not eat. I felt trapped and frustrated. Many days I wished I could be in a new school with friends and feel normal.
The meetings with the headmaster, the head of year, and the school governor were frequent. Sometimes my mum attended. For months and months, I kept saying what happened and talking about the girls, but it seemed to backfire. People just lost respect for me, and even younger kids joined in. It helped them feel more powerful and gain popularity. Eventually, school officials wanted to expel me.
I thought back to when I Googled the school before I started there. I remembered reading some sort of petition about bullying and seeing that a few students had killed themselves. My mum didn’t want me there anymore. After being expelled, I couldn’t attend another school nor afford a private one.
My mum spoke to a Danish friend who told us about an affordable school in Denmark. We looked it up and when my mum asked what I wanted, I said I wanted a completely new start. We completed the enrollment, participated in a Skype call, and I moved there.
At 14, many of my peers at the new school were older than me, and I grew up quickly. I saw a quote that said life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you deal with it. Being around more mature people, I decided to use the experience in a positive way. I became stronger; I learned that people often say things that are not true. Now, when people talk about others or start rumors, I never participate.
At the age of 16, I got into modeling. After a few shoots, I signed up with an agency and transitioned my schooling to online. When I went to my first professional shoot, nervousness filled me. I had no idea what to do.
The photographer gave me instructions and, though I had little confidence, I enjoyed it. After about five shoots, I found my rhythm and began to like wearing different clothes and meeting new people.
Modeling helped me a lot because I rarely get shy anymore. Hobbies can help clear your mind and modeling made me realize I’m not this horrible thing they said I was. Now, at 19 years old, I model for a popular brand called Holland Cooper.
Kids I went to school with back then follow their Instagram page, but I’m not big-headed about it. It feels good to be confident now; to have a career, hobbies, and friends around the world. Recently I went on a ski trip for the first time. I got to go for a two-week exchange to Vietnam.
Even though the bullying I endured felt awful, at the end of the journey, I grew from it. I kept going, but that’s not true for everyone. When someone gets bullied, it can wreck their entire life and stunt their education. They may never do what they want to, out of fear. That, to me, is a crime.
I tell my story so other kids can talk about bullying and so schools can run campaigns. Had I not gone to Denmark, my life would likely have been ruined. Schools need to do more to support victims.
People say nasty things because they are unhappy themselves. They see other people happy and want to ruin it. Now, when people say horrible things, I just laugh. I never changed who I am and I’m thankful for that.
When I got bullied and isolated by my school, I felt anxious, unmotivated, and extremely shy. Though I can still be quiet and introverted, I am a confident person today. I used to find it nearly impossible to make eye contact with people, talk to people in public, and I’d speak in a whisper. Six years later, I have hope.
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