Why I’ve promised myself to ensure girls never feel weak

One of the greatest women in my life passed away during the summer before I started 10th grade. She lost her battle to cancer on August 13, 2004. I remember her as an honest family member, a loving friend and a strong backbone. She was feisty and fierce, she loved life and even though her illness was terminal, she fought. She fought so hard that she even blew her doctors away by being tougher than even the most aggressive chemotherapy treatment. One of her philosophies that has stayed with me since the day she said it is to smile and stay positive when in company of others, even when it seems like it’s impossible.

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Having experienced the short life of this 56-year-old woman, I learned to stand up for what I believe in, to never let the word, “No,” scare me and to face challenges with an open mind and do my very best to beat them.

When I was in elementary school, I was teased and bullied by so many kids. I remember being on the bus in grade one, when a grade eight was sitting behind me and started pulling my hair. When I asked him to stop, he laughed. When I told the bus driver, the grade eight denied his unacceptable behaviour and nothing was ever done.

I remember walking outside for recess and while talking to my friend in grade seven, my clumsy child self (I am still clumsy) basically walked into a small support beam that was placed between a set of doors. This boy I had a crush on happened to be in front of me and he turned, arms outstretched wide, with his cheeks puffed out and told me that I was too fat to walk through the door. He ran outside and got his group of friends to follow his actions. I stood there, forgetting the fact that I had just hit my face on a door frame, and watched eight or 10 of the coolest boys in my class walk around like gorillas, pretending to be me.

I remember dropping my lunch bag in grade six and all my snacks flew out. This other boy kicked my raisins across the hallway and said, “You don’t need to eat those, fat ass.” I remember getting ready to perform in the talent show and upon leaving my classroom to rehearse, a different boy turned to me and said, “No fat chicks allowed in the talent show.” This same child, who told me I wasn’t allowed to have fun and perform in an annual school event because he thought I was larger than I needed to be, was my “friend” the next year, after I lost almost 30 pounds in one summer. That boy I had a crush on – he paid attention to me too after having lost weight, but tried to convince me to allow him into my home when my parents weren’t around. It took everything in me to say, “No.” If I hadn’t, I would be a very different person today.

I remember walking around the soccer field in grade eight when a group of the popular (almost wrote poopular, possibly on purpose) kids approached me. One of the boys in the group, known to be the biggest trouble maker, said to me, while holding a girl’s hand, “We’re swingers and we need another p***y. Do you want to join?” Then when I said, “No,” with tones of pure fright and confusion, they turned around and laughed at me. And then, when I told my teacher what they had said to me and the whole group got in trouble, I was labeled as the awful one, the tattle tale, the loser.

Throughout the last two years of elementary school, I would lay awake in my bed nightly, unable to catch my breath, as anxiety creeped through my bloodstream forcing thoughts of a never ending inability to fit in and a never ending inability to do well. At the time, I just thought I couldn’t sleep. My parents asked me nightly if something bad was happening at school. I just thought what was happening at school was normal. Now, I understand it wasn’t.

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I have several of these stories etched in my memory, not just about me but about the other children who were tormented all throughout elementary school and later accepted only after having changed a part of themselves, or perhaps never having been accepted at all.

The following video, by the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors run by the charity The Diana Award, bearing the name of the late Princess of Wales, looks at a program that trains young people all over the United Kingdom to be anti-bullying ambassadors in their schools and committees. Since 1999, The Diana Award has recognized over 40,000 socially involved youth.

To see all these young people, women included, coming together to make a change in their schools so everyone can feel safe leaves me hopeful for a positive future. A future where no one will have to eat lunch by themselves for fear of being tormented because of an ethnic meal, where no one will develop insomnia at such a young age as a result of anxiety and where no one will take advantage of someone else because of varying confidence levels.

Yesterday was Saturday, March 8, 2014. Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day to recognize the confidence, strength, development, intelligence, bravery, pride and right to choose in every woman. An event that dates back to the early 1900s, with conferences held in Chicago, New York, Denmark and Saint Petersburg, International Women’s Day was first observed as something “popular” after 1977, when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to claim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

At the time of my bullying experiences, I never knew International Women’s Day existed. I never knew it was okay for a female to be accepted for themselves. I never knew it was okay for a girl who didn’t have the coolest friends to feel happy.

Bullying Canada says:

Approximately one in 10 children have bullied others and as many as 25% of children in grades four to six have been bullied. A 2004 study published in the medical Journal of Pediatrics found that about one in seven Canadian children aged 11 to 16 are victims of bullying. Studies have found bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom. In the majority of cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds when peers intervene, or do not support the bullying behaviour.

Now that I know girls have every right to feel happy, do well and have equal opportunity as boys and other genders, I have made it my personal obligation to ensure all young females I encounter know how smart and strong-willed they are. I can’t imagine having a daughter or son one day and watching her or him come off the school bus without knowing she or he was being tormented by her or his peers. Yes, kids will always pick on one another. Yes, kids need to learn how to deal with negative feedback. And yes, kids need to develop confidence and self-esteem. However, I didn’t develop a positive self-image until probably second year university when I started to realize how meaningless the people who made me repress majority of my elementary school years were. Until I realized it didn’t matter what people said because I could still be happy regardless.

Just like my inspiration that started off this post, I finally realized that with a strong smile and a positive attitude to make an impact on groups of people, large or small, even when it seems too tough, I can do anything. I can face my fears. I can be a woman who will make this world proud. I can admit that it’s not okay to be ridiculed for my size, shape, colour or hair style. I’m not the only person who can do this, though. You all can, too, regardless of your gender.

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The purpose of International Women’s Day isn’t to recognize that women are better than men. It’s to emphasize that women are equal to men. In fact, it’s to reinforce that all genders are equal and that we all have the right to choose. Women make up more than 50 per cent of the human population. Whether hour glass, triangle, rectangle, diamond or round shaped, we are the leaders for future women. We lead the way to a world with equal rights and acceptance. Together, all genders can create this inclusive world.

At this point, I leave you with this last thought to consider and sing along to:

What inspires you to be who you are?

xo

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