There’s been a lot of talk about bullying recently. For many of us, maybe because of our appearance, bullying was part of growing up.
But the fact there has always been some form of bullying doesn't make it justifiable. And in today’s world, with the prevalence of social media and technology bullying is amplified and intensified.
Speaking personally, bullying never gave me a thick skin. What gave me a thick skin was my mother explaining why people would use a tactic such as bullying and her patiently healing my broken heart when I used to come home crying for being called fat.
It took years for me to finally accept my body type and realising that no matter how many diets I would go on I would never be skinny. It later took a medical diagnosis for me to understand that losing weight will always be an issue and that the best thing I could do was eat healthy and exercise without giving a lot of thought to what the weighing scales say.
Growing up, to mask the shame years of bullying had piled on, I used my fatness as a joke or punchline until I decided enough was enough, and that I would stop harming myself in such a way and instead start loving my body and the things it can do.
You would think now that I'm an adult the bullying would have stopped, but it hasn't! Whenever I write a blog or take part in some debate online I still get quite a few messages in my Facebook inbox calling me all sort of names to do with the way I look. The worst thing is that these comments are coming from other adults.
Personally, I'm done feeling shame over the way I look. My body has taken me to some amazing places and I've had many amazing experiences. It has healed incredibly quick after a major operation and it has given me a beautiful, healthy child. For that I am thankful. But as a mother, now I find myself worrying about the kind of childhood my daughter will have.
We now live in a world of bullying on steroids. Social media has made it easier than ever to target, shame and harass people.
Not seeing the hurt caused to someone when you speak certain words takes any of the shame a bully might feel. Not seeing the repercussions may lead bullies to believe there are none. Those bullied, keep quiet and suffer in silence or pretend the words do not hurt them. But those words do hurt.
When a picture of myself, six months pregnant, was posted on a blog run by a now Member of Parliament, all the comments underneath hurt me deeply
When a picture of myself, six months pregnant, was posted on a blog run by a now Member of Parliament, all the comments underneath hurt me deeply. All the bullying I suffered growing up, came back to me and it took a lot for me to quieten those voices telling me I'm less of a person because I am fat.
I always believed in the good of social media, but at that point I felt betrayed. I consciously took the decision to have my Facebook privacy option as open because I always wanted to share my thoughts and experiences and I believed in dialogue. However, after the incident, I revisited my privacy settings and removed a lot of “friends.” It was the first time my social profiles felt like a threat.
Words hurt. As a writer I know that so I am careful with them. Through my writing career I was always made it a point to discuss the topic at hand rather than the person and I even wrote a blog about this a few months ago.
As a country, we definitely have a problem with bullying and while there is really great work being done by agencies such as Appoġġ and the cyberbullying arm of the police, it is obvious these entities need more funding and support. Then we need to tackle other things around us.
Start with the proliferation of political party hate groups which are sending the message that bullying is OK. Having government officials, official party members and Members of Parliament in these groups is not only infantile but also highly unethical.
If you do not want your children to be bullied or be bullies, make sure you lead by example. I have not only been on the receiving end of childish bullying by adults but the rate of name-calling and such behaviour is growing at an alarming rate on local Facebook groups. Simply put, if you’re not mature enough to make your point without calling people names, you should step away from your phone or keyboard.
If your children are at the receiving end of bullies, do not make the situation worse by intervening on social media. While I understand a mother who is at her wit’s ends trying to solve the bullying problem of one of her children, taking to social media to outline this problem will definitely not help and will probably lead to even more bullying.
Finally, I have to say that I am pleased Michelle Muscat spoke up about this. Bullying is a huge problem we are facing and to tackle it we need to first accept its existence. Yes, bullying has always been around, but social media hasn't, and we need to bring ourselves up to speed with the damage this is causing. It is not only hurting our children but spreading and intensifying the hate.
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