When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Childhood Teasing

I am in no way advocating teasing, which has become a form of bullying in today's works. When I was a kid, teasing was name-calling, rude comments, verbal abuse meant to diminish a kid's self-esteem and help the teaser feel superior. It was mean, but it was also easy to ignore if you had social support from friends and/or family.

Bullying, on the other hand, was more than picking on someone verbally. It involved physical harassment, beatings, threats. You or your property had to be touched in some way in order for the behavior to be considered bullying.

We don't condone violence any more, so we have had to elevate the verbal teasing to "bullying" because that's all that's left to uninformed children to assert their dominance and increase their self-esteem without actually improving themselves. I wonder if "dirty" looks will become the next generation's form of bullying now that we (society) are combating teasing. Every story has at least two sides.

But I digress. This post is supposed to highlight the positive outcomes that a childhood of teasing can bring, if one is willing to stetch their optimism muscles. Again, I am not condoning maltreatment of any kind toward anyone. I wish the world saw all people treating each other with mutual respect. I also wish we could truly learn to judge behviors separately from the person. That said, let me share what I have finally chosen to accept from the teasing I received as a kid.

I was picked on mercilessly by my two brothers--one older & one younger. Their favorite target was my weight. They came up with hurtful names for me and frequently enjoyed turning them into little songs to be sung ad nauseam. I could have taken the predictable route and become anorexic. That would have saved me from a lifetime of scorn that almost all overweight individuals experience. I did not, though, and I am still overweight and all too conscious about it. What the teasing did do, however, was to create an extreme level of self-consciousness or self-awareness. I decided that I didn't want to give anyone any reason other than my girth to ridicule me. I made sure that every bit if my body was always clean. I always chew gum after my meals to make sure that no food sticks around. I am conscientious in my bathing & restroom habits so that I do not produce an offensive odor. I keep my face as clean as possible to keep acne at bay. Even my ears are squeaky clean so that I rarely have any wax or dirt in or around them.

Because I am overly sensitive to the stereotypes surrounding fat people (yeah, I actually used the "f" word!), I am also very self-conscious of my eating habits. I don't like to eat in front of others. The last this I want is to bring back the memories of school kids (and my brothers) calling me a pig (or various other appellations) because I dared to eat. Now, when I am compelled to eat in front of others, I try to limit my portions to the minutest amount and I am all-too-aware of table manners. I try to do everything I can to divert attention from myself.

Speaking of diverting attention, that's the other conditioning I received from the non-weight related teasing. My family wasn't rich. We never had more than we needed. Kids at school loved to pick on others whose clothes or backpacks, etc. showed that they weren't from upper middle class. Looking back, I find this incredibly ironic as I went to the cheapest Catholic school in El Paso and the median income of the city itself was just above the poverty line. My parents gave up a lot for our education, but that didn't matter to kids who only knew how to bring others down in order to lift up themselves. So, after a while, I learned to be as inconspicuous as possible. I also learned that working hard to achieve something (grades, creative endeavors) has greater rewards than recognition.

Today I try my best to work from the background. I would rather be thanked by 1 person out of hundreds than be noticed by everyone. In fact, any recognition for my work, although much appreciated, is also very embarrassing because I don't want to be recognized. I don't want to be noticed. I don't want the limelight. Too much happens to those whom everyone is watching. And while they appreciate your greatness, people are also quicker to point out the flaws of those in the spotlight. If you don't beleive me, then just look at any newspaper or magazine or biography that mentions a famous person. No one is untouchable in the forefront.

In all, I have experienced a lot of psychological and emotional hang-ups. I took a lot of blows to my self-esteem and I continue to have many days that I don't want to be around myself. And yet, I did learn the value (and the potential power) of being in the background. I probably would not have figured that out if I hadn't been teased so much as a kid.

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