By Mia Alexander

When I was in kindergarten, I had the usual baby fat; chubby cheeks, round belly, stout legs, the whole shebang. I didn’t think I was too different than anyone else…until a boy made it seem that way. He was the first to call me “fat.” “Fat?” I remember thinking, my little brain trying to process those three little letters. “What even is fat?” I couldn’t tell; I just thought I was like everyone else.

They were just words.

When I was in sixth grade, insecurity reared its ugly head and wrapped me in a dark, heavy blanket. That boy from kindergarten now had everyone turning their faces to me, muttering “cow” “fatty” and “fat-ass” under their breath, just as they had been doing for years. “There goes the girl with the two butts,” the boy said in reference to my belly and ass. People turned. People stared. People laughed. I began to eat less, began not looking in the mirror, disgusted at what was reflected back. I tried talking to the school. They only said,

“They were just words.”

By eighth grade, I was struggling with the onsets of body dysmorphia. I hid in my room, away from my parents so that they wouldn’t notice my strange eating habits. There was a mirror in my room, a full length mirror, that I would sit in front of from time to time. When I looked in the mirror, imperfections stared back at me. “Your face is too pudgy,” “your cheeks are too full,” “your stomach is too round.” Whenever I ate, voices from that childhood bully would start in my head, asking “you don’t really need that, do you fatty?” “Do you know how many calories are in that?” Anorexia set in. I tried eating in small amounts, and whenever I ate too much, I would starve myself for days. “Fatty” “Fatty!” “FATTY!” His voice would scream.

But, they were just words.

In 10th grade, I was hospitalized for self-harm, suicidal tendencies and an eating disorder. I wanted to give up. I was feeling fatter than ever, my weight a mere 136. The bullying had gotten worse; the gossiping was starting to tear my head apart. I was put on anti-depressants and an anti-anxiety medication. They kept me in a room for 8 hours once. I was hospitalized three times, all for the same issues. Things weren’t getting better, I wasn’t okay. And the whole time, I sit wondering,

“Were they really just words?”

Something in me snapped. There was something wrong. Why didn’t I like myself? Was it because of what he had said my whole life? I tried looking in the mirror, tried finding something positive about me. “I like my eyes,” I told myself. “I like my hair,” I would say, toying with after having bleached and dyed it forty times. But, there’s just some damage that words can’t undo. Each time I would say something I liked, my voice quivered. I knew it was a lie. It was almost like I was programmed to hate myself.

The thing is, they’re never just words. Words have more of a psychological impact on us than we would like to. That old childhood rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a damn lie. Words hurt. Bullying hurts. And if you don’t receive the help you need at the onset of bullying, then you could be in for a rough ride on the road ahead. Nobody should have to endure what I did. I thoroughly encourage everyone to get the help they need. Body dysmorphia is something that makes living each day as yourself, harder.

Remember, they’re never just words.

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