Ghaid, 18, Ontario
If someone asked me to describe my childhood in one word, the first word that I would think of would be “bullied”. Sure, there were great things that happened in my childhood, but that does not mean it was perfect. Not even close. I got bullied by family members, teachers, and so-called “friends”. Try to imagine being bullied by the people that were supposed to love you unconditionally, those who were supposed to be your mentors, and those who were supposed to be there for you, by your side all the time.
Although I was never physically bullied, the scars from the verbal and social bullying that I went through have not healed yet. I can barely remember what I had for lunch last week, but I can vividly remember countless incidents that happened to me years ago. I remember being the most insecure girl someone could ever meet back in grade 7. I was very self-conscious about my super skinny body and how I did not meet any of the beauty standards that society had imposed on me. One day my aunt had come over and we were all sitting in the guest room. A while later, someone mentioned how I looked like my aunt’s sister (my other aunt) and how we had similar features. Of course, the woman they were comparing me to was one that was considered “below average” in terms of beauty, and everybody knew that. It was a no-brainer. She wasn’t blond, didn’t have beautiful blue eyes, and her skin complexion was just not “white enough”. That was the rule of thumb. Now to me, that comparison wasn’t a surprise, I had always known that. What hurts me to this day though is that right after that comparison was made, my aunt laughed and said, “oh come on, my sister is way prettier.”
I know what you’re thinking, maybe it was a joke. Sadly, it wasn’t. I thought to myself, “So apparently, I am even uglier than the least beautiful person in the family, wow! What a compliment to say to an insecure 12 year old!”
I still remember that incident to this day. I also remember how insignificant I had always felt in the presence of my half-Ukrainian cousin, who topped the list of beauties in the family since the day she was born. I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of her. Her beauty was unparalleled. She caught everybody’s attention, at events, gatherings, even in pictures. I remember back in grade 8 when I heard that if you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and try to point out something beautiful you see, your self-esteem will improve. I decided to give it a try. I spent 10 minutes every day staring at my boring reflection in the mirror before going to school. I even had a list of motivational quotes that I would read out loud every morning as a form of positive self-talk. Surprisingly, a few days later, it was working! I began to notice that I had beautiful, long eyelashes.
I went to school feeling great, only to have my self-esteem shattered once again by my two closest friends. When I told them about my eyelashes, both of them looked at each other and laughed. They started making comments like “where I don’t see them?” and “I think I need a magnifying glass”. Slowly putting my glasses back on, I realized that maybe they were right. Maybe I was just imagining. Plus, even if I did have long eyelashes, so what? That’s nothing compared to my cousin’s big blue eyes or to my aunt’s fair blond hair.
My grandma always made remarks about my weight. She’d tell me to eat more and move less to try to conserve the calories and gain some weight, because you know, who wants to marry a skeleton? I remember seeing many extremely accomplished young ladies who weren’t married despite of their beautiful personalities, their impressive list of accolades, and their promising careers just because they weren’t beautiful enough. I saw my future self in them. I was scared of never being loved or wanted by anyone other than my mom. I was bombarded by those inconsiderate comments every day of every year my entire childhood. The worst part was that I wasn’t aware that I was going through bullying.
In fact, in Arabic, there is no equivalent word to bullying in English. No being able to even describe my experience at the time was very frustrating. I thought it was just an inevitable part of growing up. It took me very long to pick myself up and rebuild my shattered self-esteem and self-worth. The key was to understand that my self-worth isn’t dictated by my physical appearance. I was much more than that. Today, 4 years later, I feel more fabulous than ever. I decided to focus on the things I can change instead of spending my life fretting about things that are beyond my control. I am a passionate university student with big aspirations and a long list of impressive accomplishments. I have grown up to be a role model for young girls, especially those who are now going through I what I experienced. Did I get beautiful over the years? Perhaps, but I’m not concerned about that anymore! I’ve got more important thing to worry about like eradicating Ebola, advocating for gender equity and alleviating world hunger!