Last week I attended a screening of the documentary, Bullied, which chronicles how school officials failed to stop physical and verbal attacks endured by Jamie Nabozny for many years as a student in his northern Wisconsin grammar and high schools.  I found the movie profound and triggered the replay of my experiences of being bullied over and over again in my mind.  Watching the film and remembering those days made my heart begin to race, made me start to perspire, and finally, got me angry.

The emotional and physical responses I was having to this movie were reminders of how important it is to keep sharing experiences and be a voice to help put an end to bullying.

It’s true that a lot of attention has been paid to kids bullying other kids because of their sexual orientation.  Jamie Nabozny and I have that experience in common.  Yet everyone who experiences bullying experiences it differently.  As I watched his movie and thought of the childhood memories I wish could be forgotten, I rewound those mental movie tapes and realized how the teasing experiences began way, way back and increased in intensity and led to outright bullying.

As far back as age 6, I remember being in Miss Maxon’s first grade classroom with the curliest blond hair.  So many classmates teased me about my very curly hair that I remember Miss Maxon telling me how many women pay a lot of money to have their hair made to look like mine.  To this day, I remember having to remind Miss Maxon, “But I’m a boy!”  That was the first time I can recall having my physicality feminized, and it was by a teacher, no less.

My parents knew about my constant “bad hair days.”  They absolutely loved me, and my curly blond locks.  I really did have great parents.  Though beyond unconditional love, it seems no one had knowledge to pass on to help me build character as a six-year old.

What began as heavy teasing for the curly blond hair, led to being tormented for being Jewish, for being left-handed, for being short, for wearing eyeglasses, for being ugly, for being a nerd, for being smart, for not wanting to fight, and ultimately for being every gay slur you can possibly think of.  Sharing these experiences makes the point that being bullied doesn’t just happen because a person is LGBT.  In fact, though anti-gay bullying does happen to straight students perceived as gay, according to a 2009 GLSEN survey, LGBT students are harassed three times more than the general student population, and are twice as likely to be depressed and think about or attempt suicide.

Still, what left me yearning for more discussion with other viewers of the documentary was how to create a shift in the social consciousness of kids who would be bullied.  That’s right.  So much attention is paid to creating more rules and laws to control the bullies that we’re forgetting how important it is empower the softer kids with self-esteem building tools so they aren’t bullied and develop more successful relationships at earlier ages.

I know hindsight is 20/20, but if we can use my past experiences as a way to learn from what went wrong, can you imagine what more could have gone right in my life had my first grade teacher given me a self-esteem building tool to help me learn how to better interact with my classmates so that my curly hair was neither feminized [by her or by them] nor a negative subject.

On the other hand, those “bad hair days” likely led me toward image consulting, and you get to reap the rewards today.

I’m going to keep talking about how to change the behavior of bullying because we need to change the conversation.  If I only knew as a kid what I now know I’d never have been a victim.

What pledge can you make to create better self-esteem in the lives of children?


Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.