Prompt: Write the letter to the bully, to the cheater, to the aggressor that you always wanted to but couldn’t quite. Now tell them why they can’t affect you anymore.
“People hate you. You’re ugly.”
Awkward started early for me. I was a chubby, braces mouth fifth grader. But I was a nice girl. Kind to her friends. A caring classmate. Good student.
I didn’t think I was ugly. Until that group of girls told me I was.
And I believed them.
After that painful realization in fifth grade, I felt different from the rest of the girls. Puberty hadn’t cursed them yet, so they were all beautiful and slender, nary a greasy hair or pimple on their flawless faces.
It didn’t get better in middle school. I knew I was “the fat one” among my friends. They didn’t have to try hard to be pretty. But I spent bathroom breaks in between classes covering up zits and wondering if I’d ever be as pretty as those skinny girls who walked the halls in their matching jeans from The Limited, a place my mom deemed too expensive.
Individually, the girls were nice to me. I think they saw that beneath my discount store clothing was a nice girl with a kind heart. Who also knew all the answers to the Civics homework. But they also knew I wasn’t cool. So when I’d see the girls walking down the hallway and start to smile and wave, my heart bursts when they’d turn their heads and pretend not to notice me.
One day on the sweaty middle school bus waiting to head home, I sat with my thighs plastered the the sticky seat. A group of cool kids hung out in the back. They were loud and carrying own, I suppose to highlight their coolness. And then I heard what sounded like my name. My maiden name is Gatsos, and that awful hot day those cool kids were loudly whispering Sarah Fat-sos, Sarah Fat-sos.
Instead of feeling mad, I felt confused. I was a nice girl. Why are they making fun of me? I’d never teased any of them. Or anyone. Ever. The idea of purposely hurting anyone’s feelings hurts my heart.
But empathy for others is not a skill most middle schoolers embody.
Puberty cut out it’s angry wrath on me by the time I entered my freshman year of high school. My metabolism evened out. I got my pimples under control. Babysat so I could earn my own money to buy the clothes I wanted. Grew strong from sports and jogging.
I wish I could say I never had a run in with a mean girls group after those terrible preteen years. But I have. There are mean grown girls, too.
Even though now I’m healthy, happy, in the best physical shape I’ve ever been, with mostly under control skin, when I meet a mean girl, I’m back to feeling like Sarah Fat-sos on that bus.
I don’t know why people are mean. I used to think it was because of something I did or who I was. It was my fault they were mean.
But now when I run into one of those mean kids all grown up into a mean adult, I know it’s all about them. It has nothing to do with what I look like or who I am. It has everything to do with their own hatefulness.
I don’t feel remorse because I choose to be a nice girl. I don’t worry about hurt feelings because I think carefully before I speak. I don’t burn bridges because I care more about keeping connections. So maybe I’m not cool or popular. But I care about others, treat people kindly, and don’t need other’s affirmations because being a nice girl is its own reward.