from the desk of The Weekly’s Nicole Byers
You wouldn’t know it from looking at my photo here, but I’m tall. Really tall. The kind of tall that provokes strangers to pass comment. Sometimes it comes in the form of an overheard whisper: “Gosh, look how big that girl is!”. Other times it is the more direct “Oh wow, how tall are you?” (186cm, if you must know), or my personal favourite: “Your husband must be a giant” (actually, he’s a petite, not-quite 180cm). As strange as I find it that people feel the need to comment on my physical appearance in this way, I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me. It could be that I’ve simply grown used it, or the fact that with age comes self-acceptance.
However, at 13 and already 182cm tall, it was a different story. As anyone who’s ever been an awkward teen knows, being different isn’t always a good thing. Being different and introverted as I was made me the perfect target for bullies.
So, I had a rough couple of years at school.
I was heckled in the halls and harassed during lunch. Girls on the bus would chant “big bird” and block my way. I hated it. I would wake up in the morning feeling sick. At breaks I would try and make myself invisible, hiding in corners of the library or, at my lowest points, in a toilet cubicle. I stopped taking the bus. On the days I couldn’t face it, I skipped school completely. I got depressed. I know my mum worried about me, especially when she found an angst-filled note I’d written about my situation. But mostly, when I was home, I was happy. I could close the door on the bullies and lose myself in a book, or just enjoy spending time with my family, who loved me.
Sadly, that comfort is something young victims of bullying are denied in today’s digital age. Their tormentors follow them home. They’re in their bedrooms with them, on their phones. They’re bombarding them with hateful messages via social media and filling the inboxes on computers they should be using to do their homework. The bullies are emboldened by anonymity to say crueller and more explicitly hateful things. They even goad victims into suicidal thoughts. This is why the case of young Amy “Dolly” Everett, who at just 14 took her own life after a vicious online bullying campaign, and those like her, are so disturbing. When I look at my young daughter, not yet three and full of wide-eyed innocence and joy for life, I am filled with fear for her future, and an acute feeling that something needs to be done. In the wake of her death, Dolly’s friends and family have set up the Dolly’s Dream Foundation charity group to help fight bullying (visit gofundme.com/dollys-dream-foundation for details).
One young woman who is helping make a positive change in the way teens interact and treat each other is Paralympian Jessica Smith.
Her powerful story about reaching the depths of despair and rebuilding her life is truly inspirational (see page 36). Even more so as she now dedicates herself to helping change children’s attitudes, urging them to practise acceptance of each other’s differences as well as their own. A philosophy that is worth living by, whatever our age may be.
LEFT: The Weekly team with Fiona Falkiner (centre) at Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, Sydney. BELOW, LEFT: Wendy Whiteley (centre) with The
Weekly’s Juliet Rieden, and Jane Cramer. BELOW: We caught up with cooking icon Rick Stein (centre) and wife Sarah (right) at their home in Mollymook , NSW.