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Overcoming my own memories of childhood bullying as an adult by drawing strength from them in order to help others become empowered…
The power to empower is a powerful thing. Just think for a minute what this concept really means by looking at these definitions:
Power (n.) – ability to produce an outcome
Empower (v.) – to give someone power; to promote self-actualization
Conclusion? The power to empower is the ability to help a person to recognize and achieve his or her full potential. Powerful, right? And you know what? We are all powerful enough to do it…even those of us who have been ridiculed, bullied and broken down. I know because I have been there.
’80s Glasses & Name-Calling
As you may know from reading my post about my ’80s kids, I grew up wearing glasses. And not just any glasses, but ones with big frames and thick lenses. I first started wearing glasses at age 5 and wasn’t able to switch over to contact lenses until I was 14. Throughout these long nine years, the teasing and childhood bullying I experienced surrounding my glasses was horrendous. I was called all the usual names – you know: nerd, geek, four eyes, etc.
But, those were not the words that hit me the hardest. Instead, what was worse was:
- Being called ugly by the kids at school and having a family member confirm this as true by reciting the story of “The Ugly Duckling” and assuring me that ONE DAY, I would become a beautiful swan.
- Not being allowed to wear my glasses in my dance recital while performing on a stage where I couldn’t see the person in front of me to save my life.
- Being told I had to marry the other of the only two glasses-wearers in our class because I could never find a husband who didn’t wear glasses.
- Always being chosen second to last for gym with only the other glasses-wearing child to be picked after me.
- Being told in middle school, while putting on my eyeliner, that I shouldn’t bother because I’ll never have a boyfriend anyway since I’m so ugly with my glasses.
- And after finally getting contacts, being told by a classmate, “Wow, you have green eyes! I never noticed before when you had your glasses because I never looked at you like that.”
To say I was scarred for life would be an understatement. I joke about it now, but I tend to use humor to mask my pain. I didn’t realize it still bothered me until recently when I had an issue with my contacts…
It felt like little sand crystals were in my eyes. I kept washing out my eyes, tried using eye drops, changed my contacts multiple times, but nothing worked. So, I figured it was time to make an appointment with the eye doctor. After flipping my eyelids back (ew), she said I had an allergy–to my contacts! Gasp! What does that mean??
Well, it meant having to wear my glasses for a few weeks! NO CONTACTS! However, there was one tiny problem. I didn’t have any glasses that I could actually wear as a functioning citizen. My glasses were at least 10 years old and the completely incorrect prescription. How would I drive a car? Go to work? I only wore them to walk from the bathroom to the bedroom after taking out my contacts and to watch TV in bed. That’s it! NO ONE outside of my family was allowed to see me with my glasses. I wouldn’t even answer the door with them on.
So, I had to buy new glasses.. Unfortunately, there were no retail stores in our immediate area that carried my prescription. Someone even laughed at me on the phone when I told her the strength I needed. Gee, thanks people! Anyway, I had to order them and wait for them to come in while continuing to wear my old contacts that I was now allergic to. I also had some prescription eye drops to ease the discomfort.
A week later, I picked up my new glasses. After putting them on, they took some getting used to. I couldn’t see out of the corners of my eyes or when I looked up or down. Everything seemed blurry. I even put my contacts back in to be sure the prescription was right. They hurt so badly, I quickly took them out. When I got out of the car, it was like stepping off of the Tilt-A-Whirl. I was so dizzy. It was going to be a long couple of weeks.
Simple things like shaving my legs in the shower and putting on eye make-up became a huge hassle. I had to get so close to the bathroom mirror to see what I was doing, I pretty much sat in the sink! I wondered how I ever did anything before my fairy godmother granted me my wish for contacts.
Then my old enemy, self-consciousness, came a knocking. What were people thinking when they saw me? “Ew, look at that ugly, nerdy, glasses girl! Hahaha!” Yup, I was paranoid! It was seventh grade all over again.
Speaking of which, here is my seventh grade chorus picture–glasses and all.
Oh, Those Memories
All the memories of childhood bullying started flooding my mind–how that eighth grade girl knocked all my books out of my arms on the first day of seventh grade, how I didn’t go to cheerleading tryouts because I was afraid of being made fun of and how I decided not to rejoin the math team in eighth grade because it was too “nerdy” and I was ashamed.
It was like I was back in school. And like Dan Fogelberg sang in “Same Old Lang Syne,” I started to feel that old familiar pain.
That song always makes me cry. I feel sad for him not having been able to be with the person he loved and for the woman’s husband who doesn’t know she’s not in love with him. But I am also sad for the innocence of the past that is lost when the pure snow turns into gloomy rain. Unfortunately, the reality is that not every nostalgic thought is a happy one. Enter that old familiar pain…
Time for Re-evaluation
After the treatment period ended, I was able to return to wearing contacts, but had to switch to a new brand. I was so happy! I felt like me again!
It was then that I started to wonder, who am I really? Do my contacts define me? They do seem to provide better depth perception and I swear I can chop onions like a champ with them in! But what about inside? Am I a different person when I wear my glasses versus my contacts? Of course not! I have been letting these bullies from my childhood continue to get to me into adulthood. And it was time to STOP!
As a prevention instructor, teaching our youth positive strategies to be assertive in a variety of situations – including bullying – I should know better, right? Well sometimes, we all need to take a step back and reflect on ourselves. We need to take our struggles, rise above them and use our strength to empower others. I believe it is especially important to empower our children and give them the tools they need to thrive in life.
That’s why I feel I am truly blessed to work for Camp Fire NJ, an organization where children’s differences and “sparks” are celebrated. Each day I go to work, I go knowing that I have the power to empower children to overcome challenges and strive to achieve their personal best.
So, in the style of that old cheer I never got to perform, my girls would like to remind us all to be proud of who we are and “Be Assertive, B-E Assertive!”
Believing in and asserting ourselves is the first step to empowerment, and that’s a beautiful thing, even with glasses. 😉