This week is Anti Bullying Week in the UK. An excellent proposition, which few sane people would disagree with. However, what is more contentious is the notion of what ‘bullying’ actually constitutes.
Ask anyone over the age of 40, and they’ll tell you that general name calling, the odd isolated physical bashing and occasionally teacher imposed corporal punishment were not only an accepted part of their lives but also “character forming”. Similarly, ask anyone under the age of 40 whether they were ‘bullied’ at school and the answer is invariably ‘yes’, yet when probed it usually amounted to someone at school claiming they were gay, or commenting on the supposed untrendiness of their footwear. So where is the line between an individual’s sensitivity and a bullying perpetrator’s desire to inflict harm? What is bullying?
During my school days the following things occurred (in no particular order, as Dermot O’Leary would say): I was punched in the stomach for supposedly being a “lezzer”; I was sent a note saying that I was fat; a girl (whose name began with C) held me by the throat up against the lockers and told me if I ever spoke to her again she would ‘kill’ me; an incredibly racist snooty little cow (whose name began with L) chanted “your mother’s a n*gger lover” to me (in deference to my black step father) throughout the entire one hour and ten minutes of our lunch break. Also during those seven years: I got so frustrated with racist L and her ongoing taunts, I hit her over the head with a hairbrush; I grabbed C’s back pack as she was walking to assembly and told her to lay off or I’d punch her effing head in and I told another girl (whose name also began with L) that her clothes were “totally 1996” (in 1999).
Why am I recounting these trivial incidents? To prove a point. By modern standards I have both been bullied and, in fact, am a bully. Yet I would never lay claim to either of the above. Or in any way suggest that the eating disorder I suffered from for more than a decade was a result of any of these incidents. Am I being naive?
I wouldn’t wish to belittle anyone’s experience of bullying or the potentially devastating affect it can have on their lives. I fully support Bully UK and their ongoing endeavours to stamp out the presence of bullying
There is, however, one factor, something which affects all of our lives, which I can confidently claim bullies us all. I speak of the advertising industry and their insistence that one simply MUST fit a pre-decided and totally unattainable aesthetic in order to be happy. A message which is consistent, insistent and unyielding. In fact, surely this can only be described as consistent bullying inflicted on the British public. Imagine the billboards, the televisual messaging, certain glossy mags were a person. They’d be an incredibly clever sort of bully.
That’s why, once again, I’d urge anyone who reads this to go to www.bodygossip.org and learn how to take a stand in keeping with Anti Bullying Week.