On cruelty


I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about cruelty.

It started with a viral video from a YouTube “comedian” named Nicole Arbour. I’m not going to post it here; Google is your friend if you must watch it for yourself. It’s not often I’m utterly blown away by a deliberate act of meanness such as this one. The video, entitled “Dear Fat People,” is a six-minute journey into the unbelievably puerile mind of a pretty young woman seemingly hell-bent on being as vicious as possible, while calling it “satire.”

I’ll give Arbour this: she clearly knows enough about social media to grasp that being really offensive garners more hits, and therefore more followers. This breathtakingly nasty little video has had 1.2 million views in the last four days, and has naturally rallied the Twitter Justice Troops to – in the vernacular of the medium – “drag her ass,” or call her out for, well, kind of failing at that whole empathy thing.

It’s always interesting when this happens. I find myself being secretly thrilled when a dragging takes place, even as I recognize the futility in shouting into the wind, as it were. You can’t really shame someone who isn’t particularly ashamed of herself, as is the case with Arbour, who steadfastly maintains that she doesn’t give a “fuk,” and furthermore has done a unique public service in telling fat people that they’re gross, because now maybe they’ll lose weight. Or something. (This is also known as being a “concern troll.”)

An interesting, if disturbing, thing invariably happens during a dragging. People are outraged over an act of cruelty, and in their outrage tell the person who committed the act a number of rather cruel things. Arbour, for example, has already been told countless times to kill herself. She’s been told she’s a slut. Her own personal appearance has been ridiculed. In the shrieking vortex that is currently Nicole Arbour’s @ mentions, there are very, very few tweets that could be construed as constructive criticism of her “comedy.” And so the cycle of cruelty continues.

I’m not innocent of jumping into these situations, myself, although I can say with certainty that I have never told anyone to kill herself because I didn’t like something she wrote. Likewise, I don’t believe that there are very many situations in which someone deserves to lose his or her job over a lapse of judgment on social media. But I have definitely taken a seat in the Internet Kangaroo Court, and I have definitely appointed myself judge, jury, and executioner. And it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I’ll say that it’s intoxicating to engage in it. And it’s also very easy to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing, or at the very least you’re not doing anything particularly wrong.

So I spent the weekend following the Nicole Arbour thing, reading the thinkpieces and watching the rebuttal videos, and cautiously engaging in dialogue about it: why do people like Nicole Arbour think that cruelty is the most effective means of getting a point across? And generally what I heard back was: SHE’S TELLING IT LIKE IT IS.

In the midst of all of this, I got a notification on Facebook that someone had posted to a group I belong to. The group is named something like “You Know You Grew Up In ____ If…”. There are scores of such groups on Facebook. You know you grew up in your town if you went to such and such and bought this or that. You get the idea. And the post was this:

Does anyone remember “Crazy Mary”?

Crazy Mary used to ride her bike all over town. She usually had various bags tied to the handlebars. Her clothes were dirty, she was dirty, and there were all kinds of rumors as to how she got that way. As kids, we’d sing the little bit of Miss Gulch’s incidental music from The Wizard Of Oz whenever we’d see her go by. I also remember a junior high classmate dressing up as her, complete with broken glasses and dirty raincoat, for Halloween, to great appreciation.

My mother corrected me one afternoon when I declared to have spotted “Crazy Mary” downtown: “Her name is not ‘Crazy Mary,’ it’s Kay. And to YOU, it’s ‘Miss Kearns.’”

Kay Kearns grew up in our town, the youngest child of a prominent businessman. Graduated from the high school in 1954.




Kay went on to get degrees in Biology, and worked as a bacteriologist. Top of her field. But her fiancé was killed, her father died, and Kay simply was not able to cope. She lived in the family home, long after the utilities had been disconnected, cooking for herself on a little Hibachi grill. The house burned down, and her parish chipped in to buy a trailer to put on the property.

I began talking to Kay when I was in high school. I worked in a bakery downtown, and Kay would come in to buy a small blueberry muffin (“heated, with one pat of butter”) and a cup of coffee (“with just enough cream so that it is the precise color of that brown sign behind you”). She was quite adamant about the coffee. If it wasn’t the right color, she’d make you dump it out and start over. For some reason, I was the only one who could get it right the first time, every time, so she’d insist on my waiting on her. She was always polite and well-spoken when I’d take her order, and so long as you were pleasant and polite, she’d have no beef with you.

But she made me cry, once. I saw her coming in, and went to fetch her muffin and coffee. I pushed it across the counter to her. “Here you are, Miss Kearns,” I chirped, thinking I was being nice to have noticed her coming in, and even nicer still that I remembered what she liked.

She scowled at me. “Do I not warrant the right to order for myself? I didn’t ask you for this.”

I stammered in protest. “B-b-but I thought…”

“Pour that out and put that away. I want you to ask me what I would like.”

I dumped the coffee, put the muffin back in the case, and – shaking – I took her order. Small blueberry muffin heated with one pat of butter, and a coffee with cream, the precise color of the sign behind me. I gave it to her, then went into the back room and cried.

She was right, of course.

Kay died in 1990, when a small fire she’d lit in her trailer for warmth wound up burning it down with her still in it.

I think about Kay now, and I am filled with sorrow for the way so many of us treated her. So much of the cruelty heaped upon her was our doing. No matter that we thought it was “funny.” No matter that we were just pointing out the way it was.

Now, we think we know better. We think that we would have been able to help Kay, somehow, or at the very least not have been so ugly to her. Because it’s not okay to laugh at mental illness, right? Generally speaking. Right?

But it’s still okay to laugh at fat people, especially if we couch our derisive laughter in “concern for their health.” It’s okay to make a six-minute “satirical” video complaining about having a fat person sit next to you on an airplane, and then it’s TOTALLY okay to claim that everyone is “too sensitive” when you’re called out on it. Because you’re TELLING IT LIKE IT IS. Comedy!

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly the most PC person in the world. I laugh long and uproariously at all manner of inappropriate things. But there’s comedy, and there’s just viciousness for the sake of getting attention. I’ve been on the receiving end of that. I spent a good couple of years being bullied by classmates who, on the rare occasion I’d muster the courage to defend myself, would tell me precisely what Nicole Arbour and her fans are saying now: “It’s a JOKE. You’re so SENSITIVE.” Bullied, then gaslighted. Bullied, then gaslighted. Over and over again, until I wound up transferring to a different school. I spent a long time questioning whether or not it was as bad as I’d remembered. It was only fairly recently that all of it was validated for me in a very profound way. It did happen, and it was that bad. So I no longer question myself when it comes to recognizing cruelty for what it is.

Be My (Facebook) Friend.


If you’re not following Mara Wilson on Twitter, you need to be. She gives really good tweet.

She’s a former child actress. I mean – she’s considerably more than that, but a lot of folks remember her as Matilda, or the heartbreaking wee bairn in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

(An aside – just now I tried to find a clip of her in that movie saying “Diarrhea FOREVER?!” If someone could loop that for me, I’d be ever so grateful. It fills me with a lambent happiness that probably makes everyone else question my sanity. Whatever.)

At any rate, yesterday Ms. Wilson tweeted this:


AMEN. I would amend that to include junior high and grade school.

I get friend requests from all sorts of people. People I played in bands with, or acted with back when I was acting, or worked with…and people with whom I went to school, at all levels. Sometimes I’m puzzled by these requests, particularly if I didn’t regularly hang out with the person making the request. But by and large, I’m pretty sanguine about accepting the requests. Why not. Certainly I deal with enough rejection issues myself to know what it’s like when someone declines MY request.

Here’s a story: Years ago, I was on Friendster. Remember Friendster, oldsters? Friendster was what us social networking types used before MySpace and Facebook. (Now that I think about it, I actually preferred it; it had a much cleaner interface than MySpace or Facebook. I digress.)

So – there I was on Friendster, being online friends with my real-life friends and thinking YAY TECHNOLOGY, when I decided to start poking around for people I used to know. Because we all do it, right? And I found this guy from my high school class. I was not real-life friends with this guy. I was not engaged with him in any capacity, really, except that I WANTED to be. He was smart and he was cute and he played in a band. But I knew in my soul of souls that I was just too much of an oddball and not smart enough to hang out with him. And by “not smart enough,” I mean that I lacked the drive and ambition to be in the Smart Kid Classes™. I’m pretty sure I could’ve held my own with him at lunch.

So there he was, on Friendster. And I decided to be bold and request his “friendship.” Because even though we didn’t hang out in high school, SURELY he would remember me. I was quite unforgettable, after all. Surely we would become INSTANT ONLINE PALS, trading barbs and witticisms, and he would see me as the delightful, quirky bon vivant that I was.

His response? “I’m sorry – who ARE you?”*

Devastation. Yes, Lord.

And so I am very careful about making these sorts of requests now. I learned a hard, yet necessary, lesson from the Would-be Friendster Friend: I am not nearly as memorable as I think I am. I’ll even take it a step further and posit that not everyone thinks I am as charming as I think I am. My rule of thumb is: if I am reasonably certain that I had positive interactions with someone from my past, I make the request. Otherwise, I am to sit on my hands and remember that I am not a special snowflake lady.

Now, on the FLIP side, if I get a friend request from a former classmate, I apply much the same thought process. Did I like this person? Was this person friendly? If I didn’t know this person particularly well, is it to my advantage to be “friends” with him or her now? Is this person interesting? In most cases, I accept these requests. If they turn out to be psycho hosebeasts I can always UN-friend.

I will say that I am at my MOST guarded when it comes to friend requests from people with whom I went to grade school (which was actually a private, K-8 Catholic school). It’s no secret to those who know me or read this blog regularly that I had a terrible go of it in that school, during the last two years or so that I was there. The bullying got so out of hand, and the school’s administration so apathetic regarding the bullying, that I left in the middle of 7th grade.

But I tend to accept friend requests from those classmates, unless they were perpetrators who flat-out don’t acknowledge what happened. Maybe this is wrong. Maybe this shows a lack of forgiveness on my part, or an inability to “get over it,” some thirty years after the fact. But ultimately my thinking is – if you can’t remember or acknowledge how bad this was, then we probably don’t need to be friends. Or “friends,” even.

It’s a complicated thing, being “friends” with someone. Maybe I should go live in a yurt.

* – Actually, I’m pretty sure he accepted my request once I explained, but probably thought I was absolutely batshit Fruit Loops crazy.  Also, I looked and he’s on Facebook, but I am totally not putting myself through that again.



When I was around 12, I began to betray myself.

A bit about me (if you’re new around these parts and haven’t heard this before):  I was bullied.  By girls.  Girls who really went to impressive, creative lengths to let me know just how much I would never, ever fit in with them.

For a while, I was able to let it roll off.  They were not, by and large, girls that I related to, and so I didn’t particularly care that they didn’t like me.

But you can only be pelted with acidic disapproval for so long before your sense of self, your comfort within yourself, erodes and you are left completely unprotected.  I kept my head down, and hoped that it would stop, but it didn’t, and so in the middle of 7th grade, I switched schools.

I went from a private school where I’d been with the same couple of dozen kids from kindergarten on, to a public junior high school with complete strangers.  Here, at last, was a chance at reinvention.

So I started collecting stickers.

Understand that prior to this, I collected stamps.  I was all about the VALUE of a thing as it aged.  I was deeply interested in anything old, and in anything recent that had the potential of becoming old, and thus, valuable.  Stickers did not compute.  And yet I observed the girls in my neighborhood furiously stockpiling scratch-n-sniff, Mouthless Kitty™, and the deeply-coveted “puffy” stickers, as though their very lives depended on it.  And I remembered an afternoon where I actually lectured one or two of them about the OBVIOUS superiority of postage stamps, which weren’t at all “cute” and didn’t have googly-eyes.

It occurred to me, then, that in order to have, and keep, any friends that I could make in this new environment, I would have to fake things about myself.  And so I obtained a spiral-bound photo album, and began dutifully filling it with stickers.

I found that sticking, if you will, to this relatively simple process of obtaining things, and then trading them for “cuter” things, enabled me to interact with other girls without revealing my “real” personality.  I was starved for companionship, and willing to settle for the superficial as I navigated this new environment.  Understand, at this point, that I had more or less been mentally and emotionally beaten down into believing that my true self was not anything to be proud of or sought after.  And so I sold out my stamp collecting soul in favor of stickers that smelled like watermelon. 

And that’s exhausting – the act of suppressing your own needs in favor of being thought of, as evidenced by the signatures on my 8th grade yearbook, “a really good kid.”  Don’t make waves.  Don’t wear the wrong sweater.  Carry the little Jordache purse with the right lipgloss and pretendpretendpretend.  This went on for a good couple of years, until 10th grade, when I gave myself over to Thespis, joined the Drama Club, and finally felt safe again.

This is all just a roundabout way of explaining that women are terrifying to me, even now.  I never cease to be amazed at how ruthlessly efficient we can be at tearing one another down.  This week’s Internet Kerfuffle™ — Sinead writing to Miley, Miley snarking at Sinead, Amanda writing to Sinead about writing to Miley, and the accompanying maelstrom of slut-shaming and mental-illness-bashing that pierces a place in my heart where I am trying to keep that 12-year-old me safe. 

The internet is, quite often, just no place for me to be.  So I carve out my little corner and stay here with my stamp collection and hope that the girls here will be kind.

Homecoming’s over…now what?

The latest rounds of bullying stories are all over my Facebook wall, these ones involving kids who think they’re being funny by nominating less popular students for “homecoming court.”

There is legitimate outrage, as well as heartwarming shows of support, as communities rally around the bullied kids, providing manicures, makeovers, and standing ovations in the bleachers.

On the one hand, it’s good that it’s making national news.  On the other (because I’m jaded and naturally predisposed to skepticism), I wonder what – if anything – the bullies learn from this.  The idea of the ugly duckling in the pretty formal gown crossing the field while everyone slow claps is a nice one.  We’d like to think that the kids behind the prank watch this happen and feel suitably ashamed and chastened.

I’m sorry.  I just don’t think that they do.

I write this with a heavy heart today.  My 8-year-old nephew is being bullied.  He is a sweet, sensitive kid who loves to lob “Star Wars” trivia at me.  With all the media attention, with all the Facebook groups dedicated to “bullying awareness,” this shit is still going on.  And it still goes on because “kids will be kids.”  It still goes on because school administrators don’t want to admit there’s a problem.  Officials don’t want to make waves, they don’t want it “getting out” that their schools are unsafe, they don’t want to run the risk of litigious parents who don’t want to be told that their children are bullies. And that in turn propagates the climate of apathy and fear in which bullies thrive.

Every time I read one of these stories, every time I hear that a kid that I love is struggling, I go to a bad place, and my initial reaction is one of anger.  I can’t stress enough that there are long, LONG-term ramifications from bullying. People who haven’t experienced it tend to wonder why we don’t just “get over it,” when the fact of the matter is that daily mental and verbal abuse (and let’s not mince words here – even if it is coming from kids who “don’t know any better” – it’s ABUSE) in adolescence absolutely affects you both emotionally and physiologically. In my case, it’s manifested as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which I’ve been addressing through a combination of therapy and medication for the last several years, because I spent too many years prior “dealing” with my GAD by drinking, and getting myself in a whole lot of trouble because of it.

And I write this knowing full well that there are people I know who will think I’m whining, or malingering, or waxing hyperbolic.  I no longer care what they think.  Because a kid that I love woke up this morning too scared to go to school.  I know that feeling.  Nearly 30 years after the fact I still remember what that feels like.  It’s fucking awful, and NO kid should have to feel that way.

What’s the lesson here?  Buy a bullied girl a dress.  That’s a lovely gesture, but what happens next?

Friendship Pins


I spent most of yesterday at a family barbeque. Eight of my twelve nieces were there. They range in age from four to twenty. They all seem to like me. I’m not really sure why.

I was thinking about how a lot of my longest, most enduring, most quality friendships are with guys. I mention Michael and Jon a lot in these blogs, because they’re the ones that have put up with me the longest (going on 27 years now). Even as a kid, I didn’t surround myself with gaggles of girlfriends. I always preferred hanging out with boys. They were, in general, more accepting of my quirks and ideas of what was funny. (Of course, that eventually worked against me when I began to be “interested” in them, and I learned that the girl who will listen to Rush albums and talk movie monsters is not the girl to make out with at the back of the bus on field trips.)

Obviously, a lot of my inability to be completely open with other women (in person, anyway) stems from having been bullied — exclusively by girls — in my adolescent years. I’ll say it again: you carry this shit with you long after the events have transpired. It has been almost 30 years since the bullying stopped, but I still have very serious trust issues where other women are concerned. Forgive me, ladies, if I keep a whole lot of you at arm’s length until I know you won’t turn on me.

A couple of months ago, I wrote this:

Remember friendship pins? They were beaded safety pins that you’d give to each other and wear on the laces of your sneakers. Being fairly unpopular at 11 and 12 years old, I ended up making some for myself, not aware that I had a predilection for certain patterns and colors. I fooled no one. ‘NOBODY gave you those pins,’ one popular girl sneered at me, ‘Nobody likes you, and those pins are UGLY.’ From that point on, I kept my head down and prayed for the day I wouldn’t have to manufacture friends.

Yesterday I sat in a backyard somewhere in Andover, Massachusetts, surrounded by girls — my nieces — making these very same friendship pins. They completely accepted that I was there, and didn’t shut me out of their conversations. They told me about their favorite ice cream, which songs their neighborhood ice cream trucks played, why the ocean is sometimes better than the pool, and what they were doing at camp this summer. I reached into one of their bowls of beads and made myself a pin, and none of them stopped me. “Pretty!” “Ohhhh, those are the colors in the Irish flag!” “Cool!”

I wanted to tell them how much it meant for me to just sit there, doing these things that I was told I couldn’t do all those years ago.

The Skinny.


There are some things on the internet I wish I could UN-see.

I’m not talking about “two girls, one cup,” or just about anything else that comes with that NSFW warning.

I’m talking about Skinny Gossip.

If you follow Reddit, or Jezebel, you already know about this. If you don’t, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what’s been going on over the past week or so: Skinny Gossip purports to be a community of like-minded women who are doing the internet an enormous favor by providing a much-needed “snarky counter-view to a culture that glorifies excess consumption.”

How do they do this, pray? By attacking other women who are happy with themselves. By posting their pictures and eviscerating them without their knowledge or permission.

Take, for example, their feelings about Kate Upton:

Huge thighs, NO waist, big fat floppy boobs, terrible body definition – she looks like a squishy brick.

and Lindsay Lohan:

Gross! – her boobs are big and porny, her stomach bulges in all the shots, her thighs, hips, and butt are chunky, and she has zero body definition. Even her back looks fat!!

…and this about a “plus size” model:

I’m really glad I can’t read the number on that measuring tape.. eww…can we say fat rolls!? Do you have any idea how much someone has to eat to look like this?

I sat there reading all of this vile, bilious nonsense until I was literally shaking and crying. It brought me back to every afternoon at the playground, or on the bus, hearing the girls in my class tell me how disgusting I was. It brought me back to an afternoon in seventh grade – before I had to switch schools because of the ceaseless bullying – as I stood in line for kickball. A group of girls were staring and snickering at me as one of them asked me when my baby was due, because my stomach stuck out so much (this same girl sent me a “friend request” on Facebook years later, which I politely declined).

Aren’t we supposed to be PAST this kind of middle-school bullshit?

The creator of the site has been frantically trying to defend herself and her “community” since the rest of the internet caught on:

I was a shy person growing up, so it seemed like fun to have an alter-ego where I could say things I’d thought but never said.

Well, this just explains EVERYTHING. “I’m shy! The internet lets me say what I want!” Listen, sweetheart, a lot of us bloggers are shy and/or have social anxiety issues; it’s why we choose blogging to express ourselves. But there’s a difference between expressing your beliefs (Americans eat too much, we need to be healthier) and attacking people who didn’t ask for it (OMG that model gained 10-15 pounds…what a fatass!).

As a thin person, I was also annoyed by our double-standards around weight. For example, people think nothing of telling a thin woman – to their face, in front of an entire group of people – how skinny they are and even to suggest what they should eat.

On this point, I actually agree. Body-shaming is something I try to be conscious of at all times. Telling a thin woman to “eat a brownie” is every bit as insulting as calling a heavier woman “a cow” (which you have done, as recently as last week).

But I’ve never seen the reverse happen to an overweight woman.

Really? You’ve NEVER seen that happen? This is so patently absurd I don’t even know where to begin. You’ve never seen it happen, so you’ve taken it upon yourself to make sure that it does. Bravo. Your parents must be so proud.

I have had my own issues around food and eating, both personally and in my family…

Then WHY – for fuck’s sake – are you writing this stuff?

But again there is a terrible double-standard: “big beautiful women” sites on which people exchange recipes for 4,000-calorie cheesecakes don’t seem to unnerve the social critics the same way we do.

Perhaps it’s because BBW and other body-positivity sites (at least the ones I frequent) aren’t bashing other women for loving themselves as-is. Just a guess.

We have never supported illness or self-harm.

Guess what, cupcake? When you call other women “disgusting,” when you have tags like “thunder thighs,” “fatties,” “thick,” “vulgar” – all in reference to other women – YOU ARE SUPPORTING ILLNESS AND SELF-HARM. And don’t tell me I misunderstand your intentions or am taking your words “out of context.” You are a bully. Period.

Not that any of you will listen to me about what’s counterproductive, but calling every skinny person anorexic doesn’t do sick people any favors.

Fair enough, as I’ve said. Now apply this sound reasoning to what you’re currently doing by ripping apart women who don’t fit your standard of beauty. Not all thin women are anorectics. Conversely, not all women who are carrying extra weight are lazy, vulgar, or unhealthy. Got it?

She goes on to detail changes she will be making to the site, effective immediately, such as removing the “Starving Tips” section, adding links for support with depression and eating disorders, and explicitly prohibiting the promotion of “self-harm.” Good. That’s a start.

I do not intend to visit this site again. I have my doubts as to whether or not the fat-shaming will cease altogether, and I don’t need to trigger all of those horrible memories again. I don’t need to sit in front of my computer crying because I cannot believe this is still going on. It has taken me decades to come to some kind of understanding and acceptance of my body. I have starved, taken laxatives, over-exercised, and engaged in the same kind of bashing (of myself) that I found so incredibly repulsive on that site. I don’t need to go there and see women comparing other women to barnyard animals. I prefer to surround myself with women who accept me exactly as I am, who are doing amazing and creative things without worrying if their upper arms are drooping. I prefer to visit sites where healthy lifestyles are promoted without bashing others. I prefer to see young women taking a stand against unrealistic standards of beauty. This site does none of those things.

I was once a size 2/4. I was miserable. When I decided to stop being miserable, when I decided to stop obsessing over every single thing I ate, I was no longer a size 2/4. And you know what? I’m okay with that. My blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels are exactly the same now as they were when I was a size 2/4. So kindly don’t tell me I’m promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle” by saying IT’S OKAY IF YOU’RE NOT A SIZE 2.

Here’s what I’m promoting: I love myself. I am beautiful even if my teeth are crooked and my thighs rub together. If you don’t like the way I look, fine. If you want to post my picture on your “thinspo” website and pick me apart, that’s fine, too. I don’t care what you think about me. But don’t eviscerate other women and claim it’s social commentary. Have the balls to call it what it is – bullying.

“The reason you’re so upset, I’m guessing, is because you are fat…”


The above quote is from a comment I received several years ago, in response to something I’d written on my old blog regarding the glut of pro-anorexia (also known as “pro-ana,” or “thinspo”) sites. I took issue with these sites, and expressed my belief that they were dangerous, detrimental, and for the most part quite mean-spirited, despite what they all seemed to say about being a supportive community of like-minded people. I got responses ranging from polite assertions that I “didn’t understand them very well” (absurd, considering my own well-documented struggles with addiction AND body image) to insults like the aforementioned, which only served to further prove my point.

These sites are still around. Twitter and Pinterest have only increased their visibility. I’m not going to link to any of them, because they don’t need the traffic, or the attention.

Understand, here, that I have no problem with people who want to be healthier, and track their progress online. Many of these sites are undeniably inspiring, such as my friend Sheryl’s. Sheryl lost weight gradually, healthily, and along the way learned very valuable life lessons, which she has been brave and generous enough to share. The difference between Sheryl’s blog, and the many pro-ana sites that I’ve come across over the years, is a true spirit of self-acceptance, and JOY in discovering what the human body is capable of when treated well, and respectfully. Starvation is not respect. Depriving your body, brain, and spirit of the sustenance they need in order to function, in favor of some arbitrary number, is not admirable, nor is it emblematic of some superhuman display of “willpower.”

Years ago, I read an article by Mimi Nguyen. This quote has stuck with me ever since:

Who has the luxury…to go hungry…and for whom is hunger not a strategy but a normative condition, the way they exist from day to day?

Nguyen was questioning the validity of hunger strikes as a form of protest, but I do think it’s applicable in this case as well. For the pro-ana set, food’s only interest lies in how little of it they need. It’s only interesting if it’s been refused, or studiously ignored.

Here’s the thing: they have the luxury not only of having ten dollars in the first place, but also of getting to choose whether or not they’ll spend it on food that day. The homeless woman panhandling in front of the 7-11 does not have that choice. I think that once you come to understand the “politics of hunger,” as Mimi put it, you realize how hypocritical it is to starve yourself to prove a point.

People who actively starve themselves continually decry the rampant gluttony of Americans as a whole, and while it’s arguably a valid observation, I find it hard to take coming from someone for whom starvation is just as self-gratifying as buying and eating a bag of potato chips is for someone else.

I question the motives of a group of women who claim to be supportive of one another, but turn around and mock other women who are comfortable with themselves exactly as they are. Because in addition to the photos of thin women they post as “inspiration,” there are an appalling number of photos of “plus-size” models, or – worse still – candid shots of regular women they use as (cleverly enough) “reverse thinspo.” Basically, they are saying: “Oh my God – look at how disgusting she is.” And while I have innumerable issues with pro-ana websites, this is probably the thing I find the most abhorrent, demeaning, and downright evil.

When I first talked about this years ago, I honestly did not expect the vitriol I got from the pro-ana camp. Now? Bring it. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me I “don’t understand” you, tell me I’m fat. I’m not wrong, I understand you better than you think I do, and I frankly don’t give a shit if you think I’m fat or not.

You want to starve yourself, fine. But don’t you dare bring other women into it without their knowledge or consent, particularly if your intention is to berate them. That’s not being supportive, that’s bullying. And it is far uglier than any body type you’re trying to avoid.

The Culture of Meanness.

How many more times are we going to have to read about kids pushed to the point where they don’t see any other way out?

This little girl was ten years old.  TEN.

Each time I write about this, I get the same reactions (either in my email or my comments or in conversation).  Many of these reactions are positive.  However, I am also told that I should have gotten “over it” years ago.  I am told that what happened to me “wasn’t THAT bad.”  I am told that I shouldn’t express any compassion at all for the bullies.  I am told that I should stop writing about how there needs to be accountability for teachers, administrators, parents and any other ADULTS who see this sort of thing happening yet do nothing about it.  I am told that because I have decided NOT to have children, that I don’t have a say in how children are to be treated in the schools that I help support.  If you’re tired of reading about it, then just don’t read it.  I am tired of hearing that kids need to get a tougher skin, or that this is a “rite of passage” that’s just to be expected. You know what – NO. I’ve been there; the scars never fully go away.

It’s been almost 30 years, but I remember, with alarming clarity, what it was like to wake up every morning full of dread.  I remember what it was like to have my every move ridiculed.  I remember what it was like to look to the few kids that could have said something, only to have them turn away, because they didn’t want to become victims themselves.  I remember taking no joy or solace in any of the things that used to make me happy, because I had learned to stop expressing myself.

I am fortunate in that my parents listened to me.  They didn’t tell me to “try harder” to fit in.  They saw that their kid was in pain.  They pulled me out of a school where learning had become less important to me than did just getting through the day, where a handful of desperately unhappy (and therefore mean-spirited) girls dictated the climate of the classroom and where the adults who had a RESPONSIBILITY to ensure that we all felt safe refused, in my case, to intervene.  My parents got me professional help at a time when a) they could scarcely afford to do so, and b) “therapy” for a 12-year-old was not something that was looked upon favorably. I had resources, but even still – I didn’t come away from it totally unscathed.  Nobody who has been bullied does.

Get over it?  I’ll “get over it” when everybody stops acting like this is NORMAL and ACCEPTABLE.

People are expressing bewilderment that these children are even aware of suicide, that taking their own lives seems to be a viable option.  They think nothing could be that bad.  I understand these kids.  When you’re a child in the eye of a hurricane of incessant, daily, mental and verbal abuse, you have NO concept of it getting better in a year, or two years. You just want to stop hurting.  Fact:  kids are learning this kind of despair at an earlier and earlier age.

I really believe that we’re inundated with meanness right now.   We’re in a culture that rewards boorish, bullying behavior.  Just tune in to any one of those “Real Wives…” shows (or most any “reality show”) and you’ll see what I mean. The nastier you are, the more you backstab, the more airtime you’ll see, the more people will tune in. People don’t seem to make that connection. I’m not saying BAN that kind of programming, but see it as a part of the larger picture, because it all plays a part in how we interact with one another.

It’s everywhere, from what gets shown on television to the current state of “political discourse,” where anyone who disagrees with my opinion is an “idiot,” a “moron,” a “dumbass,” or a “Nazi,” and there’s no room for rational debate or compromise.  If we as adults can’t get out of the middle school cafeteria, mentally, how can we expect kids to act any different?  We can all watch those “It Gets Better” videos, we can all express sadness over the latest child suicide on our Facebook walls, but then we turn around and watch young men and women gleefully eviscerate one another on “Jersey Shore,” we openly mock those who have differing views on public policy, we call each other names because it’s easier than attempting to understand all sides of a story.  Perhaps I’m overreaching, but I don’t think so. These are angry times we live in, people are frightened and fed up, and children are soaking in this negativity.

We are the teachers, all of us.  All of us have a responsibility to teach – by example – empathy and compassion, whether we are parents, teachers, or have children in our lives that look up to us.

My heart breaks for this little girl and her family.  No child should have to be driven to that point, and no child should have to bully another child because it’s the only thing that makes him or her feel validated or secure.

On Friendship and Forgetting


There were two articles in the Boston Globe this morning that I read with interest. One was about the changing definition of “friendship” in the world of social networking. The other was about the ongoing Phoebe Prince case.

For the most part, I benefit from social networking, as much as I tend to grumble about it. There have been many people from my past that have reached out, and I have been more than happy to hear from them. I accept their offer of virtual “friendship” in most cases. But how many people on this list of “friends” really fit the pre-Facebook definition? How many of them could I call when I’m feeling down? How many of them are on my Christmas card list? How many of them know anything about me other than what I vomit up onto my wall?

Lately, I’ve been turning down requests. If someone can’t be bothered to include a few words about how he or she knows me, then I’m simply not inclined to accept the offer. My own list of “friends” numbers close to 600. Sometimes, I have to go through the list to see if I actually KNOW most of these people. Because of my Irish Catholic heritage, a good deal of them are related to me. Others I know from having played in a band for several years. And many more are people with whom I went to school: grad school, college, high school. Finally, there is a small handful of people from my elementary school.

I am very, very guarded when it comes to encountering people from that particular time of my life. I’ve certainly made it no secret here that I was bullied, pretty relentlessly, during the last two years of my time at that school. I have spent years hashing this over, wondering what I did to deserve it. I was a wise-ass and a loudmouth. I made my feelings known. Only fairly recently have I been able to really say: “No. No one deserves that. I did not deserve that.”

I was bullied because I was weird, fat, not rich. The barrage of mental and verbal cruelty did not cease outside of the school, either. I was prank-called at home, on weekends. When I transferred to another school, there were girls waiting to pick up where the others had left off, having been appraised of the situation (which was that I was a loser and deserving of absolutely no peace). The turmoil died down once I got into high school, at which point I’d found an outlet for my pain, and the friends who’ve remained my friends to this day.

Phoebe Prince didn’t have the chance that I got. Seeing no end to it, she did the only thing she believed would take away that pain. In today’s article, two of her accused tormenters faced Mrs. Prince and heard, from her own mouth, what it was like to hold her daughter’s cold body. They were put on probation, required to perform community service. But more importantly, they were shown that actions have consequences. They will always remember having to stand trial. They will not forget what happened.

While I struggle with the idea of legislating classroom behavior, the fact that these kids will not escape the memory of this ugliness, and what that ugliness wrought, is a good thing. Because I have certainly found that people – by and large – don’t remember having been truly, genuinely ugly to others. And you know what? I get it. The years go by, you put away “childish things,” you get married and divorced, you raise children of your own, you rotate through a series of jobs and offices. How can you be expected to remember what you did when you were 12?

The burden, the ramifications, of that behavior almost always is carried by the recipient.

Several months ago, I got a Facebook “friend” request from someone from that school. And she DID introduce herself, she did remind me how I knew her. And she excitedly informed me that there were many others from that school with Facebook profiles. She told me that I should definitely add them all. She didn’t mention that she had called me fat, that she had asked me – in front of everyone – when my pregnancy was going to come to term. Because I’m sure she didn’t remember this. She didn’t remember that I left that school in the middle of seventh grade. She didn’t remember harrassing my younger sister – still a student there – demanding the details of why I had left.

I declined her offer. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. Pillar of her community and all that. I am, despite what you may be reading into all of this, at peace with what happened. I have, to the best of my ability, “gotten over it.” I try to be aware of the marks that bullying has made on me. With the help of others, I have come to understand my “role” in it. I have become aware that my responses to the world around me have been informed by my past experiences. I have learned much about my reactions to people and situations, and I have come to understand that when these reactions are inappropriate, I need to apologize for them. And to some extent, I have learned to forgive myself, as well as the people who bullied me.

But I don’t need their “friendship.” I’ve got plenty of friends.