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  Week of 12/19/2013 - Featured Blog Post

When the Bullied Becomes the Bully

A good friend of mine, who's an accomplished university professor, was visiting me a few months ago when she told me an unsettling story. She's been teaching at the university level for about ten years and decided she needed a change about two years ago. She went on a series of interviews and had a bunch of funny and interesting stories to tell about them. However, the most shocking was during one where she was told that she would do well there because she was attractive, but not too attractive.

I remember being really taken aback when she told me about this. After all, aren't academics supposed to be focused on intellectual accomplishments and be completely above judging other people based on their looks? Apparently not. It seems like no matter what microcosm of society we're talking about, there's a certain level of judgment that's based on physical appearance in one way or another. In some ways, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But if a person is systemically weeded out of consideration for a job because they're deemed to be "too attractive" or "not attractive enough" I think that's just plain wrong--and probably discrimination.

So why am I sharing this story? I was reminded of it yesterday after receiving some great comments on the blog I wrote, which made me realize that shaming and bullying can cut across all segments of the population and that it's not just the overweight who can be the victims of this type of shaming. It's often said that the worst bullies are those who were once bullied themselves and I think there's a lot of truth in that. And I think that's something those of us who have been picked on or made to feel bad about ourselves by others need to be mindful of.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was guilty of this variety of shaming at times when I was obese. "Skinny chicks" were fair game in my book and making disparaging remarks about girls who, in my opinion then, looked like "they needed to go to a hamburger party" made me feel better about myself in a certain way--at least that's how I felt at the time. But looking back, I realize that NO ONE, regardless of how they look, deserves to be shamed or made to feel bad about themselves, even if they actually do fit into society's idealized version of beauty. Sure, some skinny chicks may have hurt me back when I was obese, but the truth is that the vast majority didn't, and by making disparaging remarks about them, I was on my way to becoming a bully myself.

This realization makes me feel terrible when I think about the hurt I endured when I was obese. I may have been heavy, but I wasn't blind and I wasn't deaf, and I felt the sting of disgusted stares and comments about how "some people should just learn to put down the potato chips". The very idea that I may have made comments that would have made someone feel as badly as I did then makes me shudder and is something I've become much more mindful of. After all, a person may take a look at me and not realize that I struggle with my weight and hurl a hurtful comment at me. But is it right to make a person feel bad who's worked so very hard to lose and keep off their weight, tackling all of the emotional and behavioral issues that go along with that? No. And that's not because people who've reached their goals are extra special, but because it's not right to do that to anyone. Even in places that we think would be safe, you can see how disagreements about health and fitness goals can turn nasty and confrontational. And some people end up feeling (and often actually being) bullied simply because they don't ascribe to a particular philosophy. So for all our talk about loving ourselves, we need to keep in mind that the way to do that is not by tearing other people down, but by building ourselves up and treating those around us with the same kindness we expect to receive.

Just because some people might display their battle scars more obviously than others, that doesn't mean the "perfect-looking" girl you see at the gym has had a life that's been a walk in the park. So as the saying goes, "Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

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