I’m writing a story, and in it, bullying is a central plot point. It’s YA, and my main character is overweight and the target of a few girls. My critique partner (a young man) said that he thinks my characters are meaner than what would happen in real life, and that when he was in high school, bullying wasn’t that prevalent.
It started to make me wonder if the world has gotten nicer. I see a lot of encouraging things out there, like the Dove commercials which encourage us to love our bodies the way they are. On Humans of New York, people rally around anyone who says they were bullied, encouraging them.
And then I saw this article. It’s about a woman who was picked on by two adult women while she was buying coffee and donuts. They said disparaging things about her weight and her hair. It reminded me of the time I was at a buffet, and a friend and I were bickering in a friendly way about my vegetarianism, when a woman said “all the vegetarians I know are fat anyway.”
When I saw that article this morning, I realized that these things are still happening. They don’t happen to everyone. They don’t happen all the time. But they do happen, and for people who are bullied, those incidents matter. In the same way that every kindness matters, so does every incident of meanness.
It brought something else into focus for me. I have a few friends who are people of color, and talk about racism. I have one in particular who’s adamantly on the side that racism happens and that we need to talk about it. And I have another who’s adamantly on the other side, that the people who’ve been “victims” of racism were doing something wrong. I’m not here to argue either side, but what it made me realize that just because it didn’t happen to one person doesn’t mean it’s still not happening. If it happened to one person, we still have a problem. If it happened to one person who spoke up, how many people did it happen to who stayed silent?
I don’t know what the solution to racism, sexism, body shaming (because it’s not just about being fat… thin people are shamed too!), etc. is. I just know that we need to keep talking about it. And the next time someone says that it’s happening, don’t automatically assume that just because you’ve never seen it happen, it’s not true.
We all live in our own little world, but the world is a much bigger and more complicated place than our little piece of it. If we expect to have any understanding of it, we need to listen to and support one another. Don’t be silent, and don’t expect others to be silent. Only by talking about things in the shadows can we shed light on them.