This is actually a post I wrote a couple of years ago on an old Tumblr. I’m pleased to say the nice man I mention along the way is now my husband. Hoorah for happy endings!
Today I’m wearing hot pink jeans. They are bright, tight and unapologetic. Paired with my canary yellow bag I look a little like something that tumbled out of a sweet shop. It’s sunny, why not? Though I know when this delightful Indian summer we’re enjoying inevitably gets rained off, I can slip into my lime green mac, spin my powder blue umbrella and dance through the puddles.
This may seem a rather pointless revelation, but all of this colour is a revelation to me. This is the first time I’ve worn the clothes that I’ve actually wanted to since I was a child; the first time that I’ve felt I can wear an outfit that grabs attention rather than shies away from it. And that’s because I’m happy.
I was bullied at school from the age of about eight, through my teens by horrible boys and nasty girls and a general hoard of people that were apparently better than me. They were trendy, they had their first drink as they fell out of the womb and their first sexual experience when they were 13 with their fit neighbour who we had never met because he was way cooler and way older and no you won’t know him actually because he doesn’t go to school around here because he’s way rich and super smart. Well. I can’t compete with that.
School bullying is something most people have experienced. Mine was fairly mild compared to some of the stuff I’ve heard about. Name calling, rumour spreading, the occasional physical encounter. My earliest memory of it was at seven or eight when I had a royal blue duffle coat with batwing-style sleeves (so very ahead of my time), which I naturally enjoyed flapping around the playground in whilst pretending to be a bird. I loved it until one afternoon two girls launched out of their hiding places in the cloakroom to start yanking my arms up and down, spinning me into walls and chanting the very inventive “Blue chicken! Blue chicken!”, until I slipped out of the coat and away.
On another memorable occasion, a couple of years later, my clothes and towel were taken from me when I was trying to change after swimming class. That was humiliating. And cold. I was ten. Once my “scraggy” hair was pulled (and hard) moments before I was pushed down some stairs by a girl who seemed desperate to make my life a misery for several years. I sometimes see things on Facebook about her. Nothing about falling under a bus yet, but I remain hopeful.
The thing is when I remember being bullied, what springs to mind are the times my clothes and hair were the subject of ridicule. This might seem shallow but at that age it was the very shell I lived in. So my reaction was to shed it, and change it for something that my tormentors would approve of. Everything got shorter and lower cut. The colours got darker. I blended in.
It worked. New friends approved, boys began to notice me in a positive way, my parents were horrified – success! It may not have been me, but I was accepted, and wasn’t that enough?
This all backfired a few years later when I met a man who was also horrified. He didn’t care what my friends thought and he certainly didn’t want me to be noticed by boys. If something was low cut I was deemed a slut and an embarrassment. If something was bright I was told that I didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. Dresses weren’t appropriate for work. Weight gain would get me dumped. I also couldn’t wear heels as he couldn’t bear to look shorter than me. There was a consistent stream of negativity and screwed up faces about the way I looked.
My clothes became a cloak of invisibility. I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t want to be seen. I felt sick if I got wolf whistled or cat called and whatever I’d been wearing would be banished to the back of the wardrobe. Donning a new item of clothing was terrifying, and it was a dread that grew until it took more and more confidence just to leave the house. I would cancel on appointments giving random excuses, when it was often just a wardrobe crisis on a severe scale. Everything I tried on made me feel anxious and ugly until panic took hold and I knew I couldn’t go out. People stopped inviting me to things, thinking me flaky. And fair enough.
Bullying on any level (even if it is “only” about your clothes) is unacceptable. If you are in a relationship, whether it’s with a partner, a friend, or family member and you are being held back from being who you are or made to feel small or sad or scared, you need to act. You stand up to them if it’s safe to, or you get help. When someone you trust asks you how you are, you actually tell them. Please don’t hide away. You are allowing yourself to be swallowed whole by another person and this is your life and your right to be happy. So please, please be happy.
Speaking of which, let’s get on to the pink-jeaned happy ending shall we?
I was strong one day and I left. And I made nice friends. Friends that liked me for me, who were there for me and drank to the demise of bad people and toasted the health of good people. Plenty of drinking went on.
And I met a boy. A nice boy. A nice man, really. Since being with him my confidence levels have rocketed and it’s no coincidence.
It didn’t happen overnight. The poor man was left rather flustered at times when an innocent comment about my outfit would reduce me to a wretched heap at the bottom of my freshly emptied wardrobe. But he is built of love and patience, and he has allowed me to become happy in myself. Now I just want to become someone he deserves. I’m still working on that.
So, to cut a long story short, now I wear bright things because they make me feel good and last weekend, for a change, I went blonde. When I told my mother she said, “Goodness Jennifer, are you having some sort of identity crisis?” and I had a little wobble about what other people might think.
And then I decided no, actually, I’m not having an identity crisis. I’m having a bloody identity parade.