“Jodie, look at this...”, I turned around to look at a drawing of a stick person falling off a cliff and landing onto jagged rocks. “That’s you dying”.
When I think back to my school days, memories often come in the form of mixed emotions which I never know how to handle. The main feeling is a tight sensation in my chest, the kind that comes right before breaking down and crying. It was that drawing that set it all off – a hastily drawn whiteboard sketch - that began seven years of bullying, making me feel scared, trapped and confused every single day.
Everything had been fine up until that point. I’d been happy and sociable, and I really liked the friendship group I’d made. But then, aged nine, two girls joined from another school and were quickly embraced as the Queen Bees. They were the leaders of the pack, and they wanted everyone to know it. After that day, no matter what I did they would not leave me alone. At school they’d call me “flat-chested” and make fun of my weight. Every day they’d be whispering and giggling at me, and they took any chance they could get to humiliate me – like at the roller disco when they said loudly, in front of everyone, “Jodie shouldn’t you be wearing a bra?” There was no escape. I’d go to the art room and they’d come and find me. When I got home I’d find they had scrawled my name and abuse across the estate I lived on, including right next to my house. It was like they wanted me in their group just to verbally abuse me.
Everyone else in the group either went along with what was happening to me or simply ignored it. I guess it was the ‘better her than me’ mentality for most of them and it was easier to just stay out of it. I skived off school a lot during these years — sorry mum — as there were too many times where I just couldn’t handle getting through the day feeling anxious and terrified. For someone who had previously enjoyed meeting new people and going to school, it broke me. It made me paranoid, insecure and I hardly spoke to anyone. I began to think this is what female friendship looked like – that is was inherently toxic. I wondered what I was doing to make them treat me this way.
There was one girl, though, who was different from the others. She didn’t join in, or ignore what was going on. She fought back and stood up for herself: Kendal. She was funny, outspoken and didn’t care what other people thought. She often did her own thing and they left her alone after a while, I guess there’s no fun in bullying when your victim doesn’t care. We began to hang out a weekends, having sleepovers and playing with the other kids on the estate.
It made life bearable, having her around. But then we turned fourteen. At fourteen, you could apply for another secondary school. It was my opportunity. I was just one entry exam away from escaping the daily torment. I eagerly awaited results day –but learned that I didn’t get in. Worse still, Kendal did. I was distraught. How could I get through another two years of this without her? But, once my tears had dried, it lit a fire beneath me: I would get my head down, make the grades and get into that school for A Levels.
I was worried that Kendal would get to the new school, make new friends and abandon me. But she didn’t. She brought me into the gang she made there – Catherine, Jess and Izzy were the first group of girls I had ever met who never put each other down. There were no bitchy comments, just fun. We would all hang out on the weekends, go to one another's houses, have BBQs and, of course, partake in underage drinking. I eventually joined them for A Levels after achieving the GCSE grades I needed to get in. Hallelujah.
After what I went through, I never thought I would have a group of close friends who would like me for me. They are some of the most genuine people I have ever met in my life and they saved me. I was shown another, healthier side of friendship where you can be yourself, confide in friends and know you are heard without fear of judgement. I became a different person – I was confident, jokey and chatty. Previously I’d only revealed that side of myself when I was at home with my family, but my friends made me see I could be myself all the time.
Thirteen years later, I still love them all. They are my core group always - we’ve been through so much together since those heady days drinking cheap wine in the park, laughing til our sides hurt. At the moment, we’re spread throughout the UK which is hard after growing up in a town where everything is a 10 minute drive away. But when we do meet up, it’s as if nothing has changed and we’re teenagers again — although the drinking is now legal… and thankfully mostly indoors.
When I think back on those gruelling school years, the bullying was horrible but it made me stronger and the friendships I found after helped to make me the person I am today. Getting my head down, smashing through exams has led me to the career I love, and solid friendships. Having all of that now feels like the perfect screw you to those two girls. They tried to put me down for so many years, but they didn’t succeed.
Every day this week, to celebrate International Women's Day, we're sharing another story of the power of female friendship. See below for more.
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