Aimee L. Salter is the author of Every Ugly Word, the story of a redhead girl who’s being bullied, and who can talk to her future self whenever she looks in the mirror. The book was inspired by Aimee’s own experiences being bullied in high school, and how as an adult she always wished she could go back and offer her teen self some hope.
“Big red, Beaker, Burning Bush, Carrot-top, Cheetos Crotch, Coppertop, Duracell, Fire-Knickers, Fire-top, Flame-Cranium, Ginge-Minge, Gingernut, Gingermutt… The list goes on and I’ve heard them all,” says Aimee. “I’m old enough to have lived the days when having red hair was the height of fashion un-cool. No one knew what to do with my pale skin and flame-red hair – except mock it. Especially in my teens, when I became the target of bullies.”
Aimee says that it wouldn’t have mattered what color her hair was, the people who targeted her in her teens were just looking for ways to put her down. And her hair was an easy reference point. She continues, “After reading the below, you might think it seems easy for me to say, but trust me, I’ve been in your shoes. There was a time in my life where it felt like I was unlovable, easily overlooked, or that most people would be far happier if I wasn’t around. It’s a dark place to live, and I wish I’d had support through that time from someone who’d experienced it themselves.”
So if you’re dealing with those kinds of people, here are 5 major tips Aimee put together to help turn the tide on bullying, and see yourself for what you really are:
1. Keep your eyes on the prize.
“It’s a sad truth, but subconsciously bullies are looking for weak victims who won’t fight back. Anything you can do to make yourself appear strong will lessen the chances of them choosing you as a target. So, whether it’s walking down the hall, into a classroom, or onto the sports field, keep your head and eyes up. Don’t stare anyone down – in fact, the best thing to do can be to focus on the wall, slightly above everyone’s heads. It’ll change your posture and your appearance to those around you. On a visceral level, you’ll look stronger – and when you look stronger, you feel stronger.”
2. Pursue the things you’re good at.
“Oftentimes bullies want to take the very things you’re proudest of, and drag them through the dirt. That kind of targeting never stops hurting. But, if you have a talent or skill that gives you real joy, don’t let them take that away from you. By pursuing the things that you’re hardwired to enjoy, you’ll give yourself an emotional boost, and have something tangible that you can point to and say ‘That’s what I’m good at,’ when someone tries to tell you you’re worthless. Earning the respect of your peers isn’t easy, but the more you can respect yourself, the more likely it is they’ll respect you.”
3. Learn to shrug off teasing.
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a person who tries to tell me that ‘everyone gets bullied’. It’s a passion of mine to talk to people about the difference between bullying, and social jockeying. Sure, everyone does experience teasing – even humiliation – at the hands of their peers. We’ve all got embarrassing moments and personality conflicts we can look back on and roll our eyes. But bullying is an entirely different beast. Bullying is relentless, ruthless, and ongoing. It’s a relationship that erodes the victim’s sense of self-worth. The problem is, when you’re targeted that way, it can become easy to start believing that every little crack or nickname from any source is a mark of how ugly or unwanted you are. Don’t let them do that to you. Pay attention to those around you, watch how they interact. People often tease each other, or use humor as a weapon. Get to know the difference between someone who’s bantering with you, and someone who’s trying to hurt you. Then, when their intention isn’t hateful, you can just play along, or shrug it off. You’ll gain the respect of those who want to offer it, and be able to see bullies for what they really are.”
4. Surround yourself with positive reinforcements.
“There will be people in your life – parents, teachers, cousins, friends, sports coaches – who have good and decent things to say about you. If you’re the victim of bullying it can be easy to write those people off. ‘They have to love me, they’re family’, or ‘He’s just saying that to make me feel better.’ Don’t let the negative messages in your life override the positive ones. If someone makes you feel good about yourself, seek them out. If a pastime gives you joy, give it your time. Pursue anyone and anything in your life that makes you feel good about yourself – and hold on to the good things people say. You don’t have to give those moments up to the people who want you to feel bad. You just need to remember them for yourself, and remind yourself of them whenever those hurtful words start running a loop in your head. Don’t give in. You are worthwhile, so embrace anyone who affirms that in you.”
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“The sickest thing about bullying is how isolating and insidious it is. When you’re a constant target for negative attention, the words and intentions start to sink into your skin. It can be easy to believe that no one wants you around, that even those who say they care, don’t really. It can be especially easy to think the problem is unsolvable. Don’t let yourself be convinced. Find someone, anyone, who can stand beside you and remind you of how valuable you are. And if you can’t find that kind of person close by, then reach out to some of the many organizations that bring people together who’ve experienced similar problems, offering support and advice. Learn that you aren’t alone. Don’t let yourself be convinced that this world doesn’t need you. Because no one fills their space quite like you do. And this world would have a different shape if you weren’t here.”
RELATED: Redhead Confidence: Self-Esteem Is Not The Answer
If you need help, Aimee recommends approaching Teenline and/or Bullies Keep Out who run an advocacy and support network for people of all ages.