High school was difficult for me. You probably see my posts, or know me even, and think that I am a strong personality that surely was never bullied in school. That I was in with the “cool kids” that all the boys chased. Truth be told my first boyfriend was in Yr 12, and I think that only happened because after 12 years (prep-yr11) I was at the same school and when I changed they didn’t know what I used to look like. I wasn’t an ugly duckling when I was younger…. I looked like The Gruffalo, but with really bad acne and braces, same amount of hair. My mother somehow felt that because she didn’t get to shave her legs (she grew up in a village in Greece and her first kiss was to my dad, who she ended up marrying as soon as she finished high school) that it wasn’t going to be damaging for me to go through my adolescent days looking like a French lesbian with hair everywhere. Lucky the school I went too had such strict dress code or I would have easily been mistaken for a boy, especially the year my moustache sprouted (grade 4).
Primary school was ok, I liked all my teachers and I got good grades, literally anything less than an A+ wasn’t acceptable for my parents. I wasn’t allowed to go to many parties, actually, I think the whole way through primary school I went to about 5 parties, after so much begging, I think they just let me go just to shut me up for another 3 years. I was also lucky that my brother, who was almost 6 years older than me, was the coolest kid in his year and this meant I was well looked after, especially when lunchtime was shared with the high schoolers, so people knew not to mess with me. Some of the girls in my class had already had “boyfriends”, which included hand holding… my hand was yet to be held *tear*.
As I entered into high school, I entered with B-Cup boobs, thighs that chaffed (I had to wear bike shorts everyday under my skirt), a forehead so full of little pimples I looked like and extra from a Star Trek set, crooked teeth and hairy legs. That summer however, my parents bought a newsagent in Glen Huntly and I was loving life! I was allowed to work at the shop every single day. Now some may see this as boring but I was happy to be out of the house. I struck up a friendship quickly with the Cypriot girls whose parents owned the fish and chip shop and the boys whose parents owned the fruit shop (The Oranginos. That’s not their real surname but it was named after a similar fruit which i thought was hilarious).
One night, as we had packed up and were heading home, we drove past the front of the shop my mum noticed we had left one of the flags hanging out the front. My dad stopped the car in the middle of the road, as there was a train passing and the booms were down, so that I could quickly run across, grab it and then hop back in the car. After I had retrieved the flag I started running back through the stopped traffic to jump back in the car but my dad was driving off. I could still hear the booms but some smart cookie hadn’t waited for the booms to go the whole way up and BOOM she took me out. I went flying and all I remember is thinking “get off the road Zoe, before you get run over” and then hearing my mum running towards me screaming. Relax, I was fine, but I had managed to scrape both knees, both palms of my hands, huge dint in my hip, but the worst…. my face! I had grazed it from under my nose all the way down and under my chin, which resulted in a huge scab that resembled a goatee. I was mortified!!
I got some time off and in that time the fruit shop boy, Mr. Orangino, who was much older than me and just got his first hotted up Commodore, started sending me notes via his little brother, asking me out. Scab face won over a guy! Mind you a few months earlier at Year 8 camp I was asked out, then dumped the next day, because I wouldn’t tongue kiss. I was petrified… and completely devastated! So when I returned to school, so excited to talk about my new “boyfriend”, I found that all of my friends weren’t talking to me and no-one would tell me why. Was it the scab face? I became friends with a few girls from the year below us and a few of the “geeks”. I found out years later it was because they thought I had made up Mr. Orangino, and that there was no way such an older guy would be interested in me. Truth only came out when a new girl came to our school the following year and told them all that she knew the girl he dumped for me. If you’re wondering, we didn’t last long… He kept asking me to meet him at Lygon St. for pizza. Pfft, Lygon, I was lucky enough to make it to the letter box alone. I have kept all the notes he sent me but we are still friends and he would kill me if I posted any, but boy are they funny.
Girls can be so cruel to each other. As a high school teacher now I see that things have changed a lot since my day but there are other issues that are prevalent, which I’ll touch on later. In year 10, as my ugliness peaked, so did the bullying. I was spat at, pushed against the lockers many a time, I was told I was fat and that I should make my skirt longer because no-one wants to see my fat legs, I was left out of teams during P.E and lastly I was set up to be beat up by a pack of girls behind Oakleigh train station. Sorry to get so sombre but it was actually the most terrifying memory I have of high school. Luckily a stranger saw us as she was driving and pulled over to tell them she was calling the police and they ran off. These girls weren’t from my school and I hardly knew them but there was one girl who was in my class that coordinated the whole thing. I still don’t know why she hated me so much. She had an illness too, which resulted in her hair falling out and as much as I knew one comment about her hair would shut her up, I never mentioned it. 16 was not an age I have to many fun memories of. It was also the year I got my braces put on to top things off.
In Year 12 I changed schools, due to subject choices and I went to a public school. WOW what an eye opener. I went from a school that would confiscate anything that wasn’t a sleeper in your ear and make your remove clear nail polish to a school that people wore pretty much what they wanted, as long as the school jumper was over it and smoking cigarettes (not me) behind the common room. I was one of two virgins in the year level and boy was I out of my depth. I cut my hair and my braces came off and met my first real boyfriend on the bus on the way home. The boys still pushed me over when I was at my locker and butt dragged me down the corridor, but it came from a place of “love”….apart from the one guy that went to the effort of making business cards for me that said “Zoe’s fat ass fun factory” and handed them out around school but don’t worry I got him back.
Kids in my day had to come to your face to tease you. They had to look you in the eye and say what they thought, not sit in the comfort of their home and type the words on a keyboard from anonymous profiles, saying the most hurtful things they can think of and sending it off without any repercussions. I didn’t have the internet in my home until I was 24years old, nor did I have a smart phone or anything like that, and I’m so grateful for it. It did mean that when I finally got it, I was a little naive and may or may not have been “catfished” but that’s a story for another time. As parents, we need to be vigilant with our childrens’ social media accounts. If you don’t have the passwords, then they don’t have the account. If you check their phone and they have an account, you report it or take away the wi-fi code and their privileges. I have seen so many of my students with open profiles on Instagram and the things that they post make my head spin! If I can see it (because I don’t follow them) then any old creep can see it. They get so caught up in the likes and follows and being popular that they don’t realise the damage they are doing to their own reputation and what goes out into cyberspace that may come back to haunt them one day when an employer is Googling them.
Teach your kids to be kind to one another. If we all look after our own kids then we are doing our bit for society. It seems as though some of the bullying that used to be physical or verbal has made its way online and let’s get this straight, neither is easier to deal with and neither should be happening. Online bullying may be less visible to parents and peers but that is where we need to build communication with our kids so that they feel more comfortable opening up to us about what’s happening. Schools can only do so much for cyber safety, we need to be the ones to teach them to include everyone and to often be the voice of reason if a friend is beginning to exclude someone. I have seen it happen too many times where an Alpha in the group decides that someone should be excluded, often due to their own jealousy or insecurities, more kids need to learn that they can and should speak up.
Thanks for reading. -Zoe xoxo