Names have been changed.
In 7th grade, I was bullied by a few of my female classmates. They made fun of me for being a hijabi (meaning I wore a headscarf) and said I was ugly. I had social anxiety. They talked about me behind my back and made fun of me to my face. Sometimes they even got physical.
One day, one of them came up behind me and tugged at my scarf, almost pulling it off. Fortunately, I had quick reflexes and moved away. I had no idea what to say or do. It was hard for me to use my words to stand up for myself. Instead, I looked down as tears formed in my eyes and thought, How long am I going to be hated for who I am?
So, on the first day of 8th grade, I was terrified. We traveled through all three years with the same group of kids. I knew I was going to see the same faces that made 7th grade hell. To my surprise, though, those girls treated me normally. It was strange, really. I thought maybe they had matured, or maybe, in their eyes, I was prettier.
Suddenly, me and my two friends, Mina and Amey, had more than just each other to talk with. We even became friends with a group of boys and introduced them to a few card games. Soon after, it became our thing. We played with them during lunch, during our advisory class, and any other chance we got. “You got your card deck, Ava?” Luke, one of the taller boys, would say. I’d whip out the deck and wave it around as the rest of the guys came over.
In December, our usual group was pulling their chairs up; Luke was shuffling the cards when his friend, Alex, came over and looked over his shoulder. “Oh, hey dude. We’re just about to start playing, want to join?” Luke said.
I Lose More Than a Card Game
My heart sped up; I was hoping he would say yes. I’d had a little thing for Alex since 4th grade. No one knew except Mina and Amey, and they teased me about it. I felt Mina’s burning glance as she nudged my rib. “Ow!” I whispered, as she giggled quietly.
Alex bent down and whispered something to Luke who looked around, then at me, and stuffed back a laugh. I didn’t know what they were up to, but I considered them my friends. Amey and I exchanged confused glances.
“Yeah, I’ll play,” Alex said, sitting down and shooting a cocky grin at the others. Luke began to give one card out to the other players. As our game progressed, I kept catching Alex staring at me; I was becoming more and more flustered. As the end of the game approached, Alex put his final card down. He had won. I grinned at him, clapping.
“In honor of my victory, I’d like to confess something! Ava,” he said, looking right at me with his eyes slightly narrowed. My heart was beating straight out of my chest. Was this moment really happening? He stood up, putting his hands over his chest. “I’ve had a crush on you since the beginning of 7th grade. Will you go out with me?”
What? What, what, what? My brain had stopped working. I didn’t speak. I could only stare at him. A nudge from Mina brought me back to reality: As I looked around the classroom, all the girls were laughing at me. I turned to look at Luke as he dropped his head on his desk, nonstop laughter coming from him, too. I knew it. It was too good to be true. I didn’t dare make eye contact with Alex.
“Just forget about them, they’re a-holes dude,” I heard Amey say, as she tugged my arm. Mina’s hand was on my shoulder. I picked up my bag and ran out of the classroom as tears stung my eyes. The last thing I heard was Alex’s voice.
“Why would I ever like someone who has hairier arms than me?”
I locked myself in the bathroom stall and cried my eyes out. I texted my sister in-law to come pick me up. Later, in the car, it was quiet. I knew my sister-in-law saw my puffy eyes and stained cheeks. “Ava…is, um, is everything all right with you?” she asked.
I wanted to respond. But my throat was swelling up and words weren’t even making sense in my head. How much worse would it be if I did speak? Thankfully, she dropped it.
I Hated Being a Brown Girl
When I got home, I locked myself in the bathroom. I stared at my arms, as Alex’s words echoed in my head. I hated being a brown girl. I hated having pigmentation on the top of my upper lip. I hated how my face was full of acne and my body was covered in hair. I stared at the razor, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. In the spur of the moment, I picked it up, brushing it against my skin.
Making that cut felt like it gave power to someone like me, who held nothing over people like Alex and Luke. Someone like me, who never could do anything when her friends were being picked on. Someone like me, who could never let out more than just a squeak when she was being laughed at by her classmates.
I left the bathroom, feeling worse than when I entered. Mina and Amey kept calling, but I didn’t answer. I knew if they found out, they would be upset with what I had done to myself.
My head had begun to pound, so I lay down. As I stared up, I began to get lost in my thoughts. I was disappointed in myself, but I noticed that itching feeling in my throat had disappeared. I wanted to do anything in my power to keep it gone.
The Butterfly Effect
After that, the card games stopped. I spent the rest of that year avoiding everyone except Mina and Amey. Occasionally, I heard snickering, but I kept my mouth shut. I thought speaking would just make it worse.
Every day after school, I locked myself in the bathroom and relieved stress the only way I knew how. No one ever found out.
The following year, when I started high school, it began to get worse. I used to harm myself on my thighs, so people couldn’t see it; they only noticed when I winced if something brushed against me. But now, I was unable to do things I used to love like swimming. Showers stung.
So I made the difficult decision to tell my two friends. I was so afraid to be vulnerable because I grew up in an environment where affection or getting emotional wasn’t welcomed. But taking that one step, confiding in my friends, was like the butterfly effect: In theory, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, it can start a tornado in Texas. Similarly, confiding in my best friends led me to find the courage to acknowledge the problem, and figure out how to deal with my emotions in a less destructive way.
The Most Confident Version of Myself
My friends were supportive; they asked me to talk to them before I resorted to self-harm and this did help me some of the time. But I think what helped me the most was learning about rejection therapy via a TED Talk. The speaker shared his experience doing 100 days of rejection, where he would do things that he was bound to get rejected for, such as asking for $100 from a stranger.
His story, although different from mine, resonated with me because in some ways he was just like me: he was afraid of rejection, which ultimately led to internal and external problems from lack of confidence. What inspired me was knowing he was able to get past it. If he could do it, what was stopping me?
I decided to do one thing every day that scared me, no matter how small it was. I participated more in class; even if I didn’t know the answer, I’d give it my best guess. Getting laughed at helped toughen me up. I started talking to fast food employees, and once I mastered that I would force myself to make slight small talk with other strangers: Saying hi to the bus driver, talking about the weather with a random elderly woman. Not everyone was welcoming. But once I got used to being rejected, I wasn’t scared anymore. Once I wasn’t scared anymore, I could do what I wanted without the judgment of others. Things became easier for me.
Things like believing I was pretty. Because I was able to get myself used to rejection, I stopped caring how people viewed my looks. Then I felt pretty. And other people thought so, too. Just last month in school, I was walking down the hall with my head held high, when a girl stopped me to say how much she loved my outfit. It felt nice to have people view me as the random girl in the hallways who dresses nice rather than the weird girl.
I accepted how my body looked. I accepted that my face wasn’t perfectly proportioned or shaped. I accepted the hyperpigmentation that made me look more masculine. I accepted that I was introverted and that I didn’t like being around other people as much as others did. I started dressing the way I wanted. I had always dressed in plain jeans and t-shirts because I was afraid to wear anything too bold. Now, I began to wear clothes I thought were pretty without feeling embarrassed or caring about what others think.
It helped a lot to stay away from my Instagram account, where everyone is perfect. I didn’t give it up completely but I knew it had a negative impact on me so I put limitations on myself. For instance, I stopped going on before bed and gave myself various time limits.
Still, when you grow up believing nothing about you is worth loving, it’s hard to let that belief go. In a way, staying in a corner where I was able to hate myself and continue to punish myself with self-harm was comforting. Hating myself was familiar and all I knew. But in order to stop punishing myself, to appreciate the little girl in me who had struggled all those years, I had to step out of my tiny bubble of sadness.
“With Hardship Comes Ease”
It was, and continues to be, a zig-zag-like process. When I transferred high schools, I lost my confidence again and I almost relapsed. But I got through it. When I felt the urge to cut, I called my two friends instead, or journaled to get my feelings out. I learned and accepted that there are good days and bad days.
Four years have passed since that day. But now, I have even more coping mechanisms that I rely on. I go on walks, listen to music, and continue to journal my feelings. Mina, who is an artist, recently introduced me to drawing, and teaches me certain techniques. Drawing in particular takes me away from reality. I feel like I am also becoming more talented, which leads to deeper self-love. Not only do other people look at my art in awe, but I do too. My art consists of beautiful sceneries. I also enjoy drawing people that I admire. I love being able to capture their beauty, the human delicacy, in a drawing.
There is a quote from the Quran that keeps me going. “With hardship comes ease.” Just as all good things end, so do bad things. A promise for tomorrow. The tomorrow that only I can make for myself.
Now that I’m more confident, I don’t let boys like Luke and Alex or girls like the ones in my old class have that kind of control over me. Gaining confidence led to more self-love, and helped me wake up to realize I was worth more than how I was treating myself.
- How did others’ opinions on the writer’s identity impact how she saw herself?
- At first the writer doesn’t feel comfortable letting any one know about her self-harm. What makes the writer come to the decision to tell her friends? How does confiding in her friends begin her healing process?
- As the writer states, “Hating myself was familiar and all I knew. But in order to stop punishing myself, to appreciate the little girl in me who had struggled all those years, I had to step out of my tiny bubble of sadness.” When learning how to care for yourself, why is it important to step out of your comfort zone? In order to prioritize the writer’s happiness, what does she have to learn how to do?