When I was a little girl my family did not have the superfluous income to ‘waste’ on fashion name brands and accessories. I never had the colorful stationery that was so popular amongst my peers so much as the plain yellow pencils and solid color binders that served their intended function and nothing further. Because my belongings tended to be more mundane or not as fashionable, I slowly became an outcast. It was a time when both boys and girls were showing off what they had buying matching items to ‘match their friendship’.
I begged my parents for things that looked similar to all the popular trends in my class so that I could gain the approval of my peers. My parents simply didn’t have the expendable income to meet those desires and told me that I had what I needed, and sometimes that’s more important than what you want. I was too little to understand then. I was just a little girl that wasn’t spoken to because of my lack of similarity.
It soon became a very clear divide in our classroom between those who could afford to be cool and those who could not. Myself and a few other ‘rejects’ became friends. We bonded over our inability to ‘fit in’. One of my friends Beth suffered from asthma, and the medications she took caused her to put on weight. Added in to her weight gain, the asthma itself made it hard for her to participate with peers and she was often left out. Another of my friends, Ansley, was in the same financial situation as I and we often accidentally wore the same clothing to school. As for me, I had long, auburn, out of control and frizzy hair with a smattering of freckles across my face. I was glow in the dark pale, and had a gap between my front teeth you could slide a penny in sideways through (I know because I had done it).
My new friends and I were a tight group who didn’t think designs and brands were important and we often played quieter games on the floor for Beth’s sake rather than run around. We were mostly happy that way, until one day a little boy in my class egged on by his friends, decided to pull a prank on us. I was the main target.
He was a handsome and very popular little boy who made good grades, wore all the right brands, and carried all the right accessories. When he came over to our group and announced to me that he liked me, I blushed and felt excited. He asked me if I would be his girlfriend right then and there! I was so happy I began to nod when I heard the laughter. What began as snickers evolved into finger pointing, thigh slapping hysterics. He said, “Yeah right! Like I’d ever be your boyfriend, that’s just gross.” I got a hall pass and cried my eyes out in the bathroom stall. My friends kept comforting me, but it soon became a great ruse and more than one boy tried the same prank. I never tried to nod after the first time. One boy even went as far as to say he really meant it, and that it wasn’t a joke! I had been too hurt by then to consider the possibility that it could be anything else, so I said, “no”.
My friends began being picked on and bullied too. For Beth, things were placed higher than she could reach, or they would run away from her with her things knowing she couldn’t chase them. My other friend Ansley had boys and girls pulling her long hair and making fun of her british-heritage teeth. My belongings were constantly scribbled on and had mean things written on them.
I didn’t tell my parents of my troubles, because I often overheard the troubles they were having on their own. I did not ask my parents to help me fit in anymore by buying me similar things, because I no longer wanted to be like everybody else. I was happy with my friends, and we started sticking up for each other and ignoring everyone else. Although my teacher once said that she was beginning to see a divide in our room, she never interfered.
I survived and learned a lesson. I had what I needed, even if it wasn’t what I thought I wanted. I had close friends to love me no matter my looks or belongings. I had grown strong from all of the bullying, and so did they. We played together separate from the class with our backs turned toward them, and seldom looked back.
Towards the end of the year, something dreadful happened. A girl who had always been in the popular crowd suffered a devastating situation: her house burnt down. She lost everything. While compassion for her was rampant, I couldn’t forget those times where she pointed at our ‘knock offs’ and laughed with her friends, knowing we could hear and see her.
When she found herself being forced to wear the same “offending knock offs”, when her family had to live in an apartment, when she was no longer able to afford to have her hair professionally cut and colored, when she was unable to continue getting her nails manicured…every materialistic aspect of her appearance changed. Her belongings were no longer things she could hide behind. Now, she was often stung by the rejection she felt from some of her peers. She even sat at our lunch table one day and apologized to us. She said something I’ll never forget:
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand before. I’m sorry I was mean to you. I get it now, that you have what you need. It’s not the names on the clothes that make them pretty, but the pretty person who feels good wearing them. I’ve always liked your hair bows Beth, they always match your pretty eyes. I’ve always liked your long pretty blonde hair Ansley, that’s why I would tug it. And Crystal I’m sorry I colored on your notebooks and scribbled on your art. I just thought they were cool and couldn’t do that.”
It took a lot for her to apologize. From that point on, we often spoke to her and even got a few of her friends to understand. The divide in the classroom wasn’t as sharp any longer. I still felt a sting of distrust towards kind words, sometimes I have that problem even today. Looking back however, I am glad these things happened. I am glad that myself and the others involved could learn from the pain we experienced. It helped us grow into people who look past frivolities, aren’t afraid to be ourselves, and accept others, regardless of what others see as flaws.