Why I’ve never man­aged to shake off the Mean Girls

Think bul­lies are for the play­ground? Think again, says Kitty Dim­bleby – who just can’t seem to leave them be­hind…

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

it’s one of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries: one girl hold­ing my wrist while an­other un­buck­led my beloved Flik Flak watch – a present from my fa­ther – throw­ing it into the loo and flush­ing it with a laugh. I was six.

Josephine* (as this ju­nior ring­leader was called) was my first en­counter with a mean girl: pop­u­lar, sporty, and didn’t like me, so made sure ev­ery­one knew it. I was a sickly child with a limp due to a club foot, and when I’d moved to the school in year one, our well-mean­ing teacher would make the rest of the class walk be­hind me to as­sem­bly, so I wouldn’t come last. But the un­sym­pa­thetic au­di­ence to my shuf­fle-step was ter­ri­ble.

As well as the limp, I also had a stom­ach criss-crossed with surgery scars – some­thing girls took great plea­sure in mock­ing as we changed for PE, taunt­ing in a sing- song voice, ‘ What a pity Kitty’s got scars, no one will ever love her.’ I re­mem­ber feel­ing ashamed, my gut hol­low, my eyes sting­ing, my heart thump­ing. It’s a feel­ing I’ve be­come fa­mil­iar with.

In my teenage years I got off rel­a­tively lightly, de­spite my health is­sues con­tin­u­ing, and even­tu­ally re­quir­ing me to have an ileostomy [sim­i­lar to a colostomy] for a year – un­pleas­ant at any age, but bru­tal at 16. Luck­ily, I’d found my gang – three fel­low ‘mis­fits’, best friends who al­ways had my back. When Josephine mocked my ileostomy bag in front of the whole class, their friend­ship cre­ated a bar­rier against which the cruel words (al­most) bounced off.

I told my­self that when I got older there would be no bul­lies, no mean words. Grown-ups don’t be­have like that, do they? And wouldn’t I have the re­silience and con­fi­dence to brush it off? But of course, life isn’t like that. In my early twen­ties I’d have to re­treat to the loo to cry when a se­nior per­son at work be­lit­tled me, pub­licly tore apart my ef­forts and left me off email in­vites to of­fice so­cial events. I tried to toughen up, but the treat­ment hurt.

Then came the thou­sand small tor­tures that is so­cial me­dia. I re­mem­ber sob­bing when a group of women I con­sid­ered good friends up­loaded pho­tos from a spe­cial night out. They hadn’t in­cluded me. It felt too petty to com­plain, but the snub was clear. My bruised lit­tle soul – still des­per­ate to be­long – was sad.

With moth­er­hood came some new lifeen­hanc­ing friend­ships, but also the re­al­i­sa­tion that those Mean Girls of­ten turn into Mean Mums. Th­ese were women who gos­siped about oth­ers, spread­ing un­true ru­mours, judg­ing par­ent­ing choices, clothes, life­styles. Re­cently, a mum I thought I was friendly with de­cided we def­i­nitely are not. She deleted me from Face­book, ig­nores me when­ever our paths cross – and I don’t un­der­stand why. She has ev­ery right to de­cide she doesn’t want me in her life, but to the in­se­cure six-year- old in­side me, it feels hor­ri­ble.

What’s go­ing on? Is there some­thing about me that pro­vokes this be­hav­iour? And why can’t I just (wo)man up? I’m no wuss; I’ve re­ported from war zones and over­come se­ri­ous ill­ness. I asked ther­a­pist and au­thor Marisa Peer, who ex­plained the driv­ing hu­man need to find con­nec­tion and avoid re­jec­tion. ‘Our an­ces­tors needed this to sur­vive, there­fore we have a pri­mal fear of be­ing ex­cluded. Bul­lies deal with this fear by gang­ing up and ex­clud­ing some­one else, be­cause as long as they’re do­ing the re­ject­ing they aren’t be­ing re­jected.’

She points out that school-kids need to find com­mon ground, so if you are dif­fer­ent in any way, it can be hard to fit in. Most telling was her ex­pla­na­tion of the pat­tern; the most tragic thing about be­ing bul­lied as a child is that you learn that role, so con­tinue to be bul­lied even if you move school, and also later in life. ‘ We play the only part we know and it be­comes our own. If you don’t want to play that part any more

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