Bullying sucks. Insecure people putting down other people to feel better about themselves is the easy way out, and moreover, it is only a temporary fix for the bully but can stay with the victim for life. It is certainly not a new problem, but it has definitely changed over time.
When I was in school, I knew I was an odd bird. My interests were by most accounts deemed “weird.” First grade girls were not supposed to talk about Egon Spangler, Super Mario Brothers or Andrew Lloyd Webber. I found it hard to relate to other girls my age and other boys my age automatically rejected me because I was a girl. I was naturally extroverted, so this rejection came hard to me. Imaginary friends & video games got me by.
By the time I had reached high school, I had transferred schools once because of bullying – feeling unsafe on the bus and being shut in lockers will take a toll on you. I had managed to make a few close friends who appreciated my interest in learning to juggle and reading adventure novels, even if they themselves did not share those hobbies.
As high school continued, I was able to find more people with similar interests to mine through extracurricular activities, like drama club, forensics and I even found a gaming club at another high school I was able to join! I will still the butt of many jokes, but I no longer felt completely alone.
College was the first time I really felt like I had found my community. With a larger pool of students to choose from, there was more variety in the types of people there. I was one of many theatre majors, who were just as outgoing and silly as I was! There were other tabletop gamers who met once per week to game. I had plenty of time to play the video games I wanted to play and no one, as far as I could see, looked down on me for it. I was definitely not the cool kid on campus, but I was able to find my people and block out the rest.
During all this time, from grade school through college, the internet went from being something no one had ever heard of to a daily necessity. We used it to connect with other people through a/s/l chatrooms, AIM away messages and e-journals and it was fascinating! People could find other like-minded people and befriend or even cyber-date them. In making this connection possible, people were able to find their community faster, which had led me to believe that bullying had found its greatest nemesis. By empowering the victim, the internet removed the bully’s sting.
Unfortunately, I had yet to realize the negative impact the internet would have on those who felt isolated and alone. While it did indeed give them an opportunity to find other like-minded people, it also gave those who were mean-spirited a megaphone and a much larger forum in which to do their damage. The internet gave power to the victim as I thought, but it also gave power to the bully. In addition, the de-personalization of the whole experience & the anonymity made it possible for more people to come forward in a negative and aggressive way than ever before with less fear of getting caught.
Today, cyberbullying is a big problem. Over 70% of teenagers report seeing cyberbullying online and 90% of them said that they ignore it, which means the victim is taking on the brunt of the force alone. As someone who creates online content for a living, much of which is very personal, I have seen first hand the type of awful things people can say about someone. As someone who has dealt with bullying my entire life, I know I must have a thicker skin than most, and it still gets to me. It’s part of my career to put myself out there, for better AND worse, and that’s the truth of it.
So how do I deal with it? The same way I did prior to the internet. I stay true to me because at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to be happy with myself. I remind myself that people who say nasty things about others are truly unhappy with themselves and then I’m able to feel compassion for them. I sift through the comment section, not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because there are so many out there looking for that positive connection and I owe it to them and myself to find it.
I started the Naked Truth vlog series so that I could really accept who I am with all of my flaws and without any pretense. As that community grows, I see others connecting with each other in a truly positive and honest way. The more we can spread positivity and acceptance, whether it be face to face or online, and the more we can stand up to hate and judgement, the more we can show the world that different isn’t just normal, it’s what makes the world awesome.