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Andreea Popovici - (Un)guilty jokes

Author: Andreea Popovici

I'm 11 years old and in middle school. Fifth and seventh grades are a kid's worst nightmare going through puberty. The notion of ,,bullying" back then was non-existent, but the phenomenon itself always persisted in the classroom. As a child I had big red cheeks - a good reason to make fun of me. The boys had no limits, and the smiles of my classmates at jokes whispered from behind became too loud in my head. I blush.

I'm on my big break. My mom puts a banana and a croissant in my bag. I've barely opened my lunch when the "boss" of the gang decides to say, "Enjoy your lunch. The gesture itself didn't seem to carry any offense, if it weren't for the tone of the sarcastic voice and the giggles of my colleagues. I was the second plumpest girl in the class and I knew the allusion was to "I dare to eat". The food had stopped in my throat. I didn't know what to do. The offended look must have given me away, because a piece of chalk was then thrown directly at my head. They started laughing loudly, and I ran off to the bathroom. This is the first time I've ever cried in a school bathroom.

For all of us the age of 13 comes with a number of complexes towards our own bodies. I'm no exception. I was 13 and starting to hate my body. I decided to take up dancing. I loved it, it was the place where I could use my creativity and expressiveness of my body to the fullest. But my fascination with dance came along with my obsession with how my body looked. I was starting to eat much less often than I used to. Breakfast didn't exist for me. I lost a lot of weight. The bullying stopped, and people praised me for losing weight. To my surprise, no matter how much I lost, I didn't feel fulfilled or happy, I just felt more lonely. Perhaps I was in a teenage phase where the November fog was overwhelming my thoughts too much, the cold was too oppressive and the darkness, which set in far too early against my will, created a depressing state. I no longer knew who I was, I was afraid of myself, of myself through my own prism.

I was 14 and the questions were getting too many, too confusing, too hard. The insecurities created by bullying in middle school were becoming more pressing than ever. I imagined what it would be like if in a parallel world we could erase what we didn't like about our appearance with an eraser. Maybe then we wouldn't find our cheeks too red, our noses too misshapen, or our whole silhouette far from perfect. Maybe there we look at ourselves differently - with more self-love than in the real world.

When I was 15, the pandemic had a huge impact on me. I gave up dancing, I became much more introverted than I actually wanted to be, and I learned about social anxiety and panic attacks for the first time. During an interview for a volunteer position, I failed when I heard the question: "Would you like to be friends with yourself?". For some reason this question stuck with me, a thousand answers ran through my head and the only thing I said was a very incredulous "I think so". I obviously didn't pass the interview. I simply had no confidence. That's when I decided to stop and spend more time with myself, healing and getting to know myself.


Bullying is not a new phenomenon in our society, and unfortunately, it is not discussed as much as it should be. Bullying involves an imbalance of power between two people, most often teenagers. The victim is perceived as vulnerable and usually has trouble defending herself, even if they have not done anything specific to "provoke" the bullying. Bullying is not just an isolated incident or an innocent prank between children. It is a form of violence that can have serious consequences for the mental and emotional health of victims. This phenomenon is growing out of all proportion, especially in Romania, and the cases are becoming increasingly serious.

In December 2023, the case of two 15-year-old friends, victims of bullying at school, who committed suicide together, went viral. They left a suicide note - "THE WORLD IS REAL".

Or the case of the 10-year-old boy in New York who committed suicide after months of being bullied at school. He had convinced his family to stop going to school and stay home.

These are just a few examples, but the reality is much harsher than we might imagine. And yet, I tend to believe that each story hides a thin thread of hope.

 I was 16 when I began to accept and love myself for who I am. I learned to come to terms with not being invited, included, or even taken notice of by others.

By 17 I was becoming more outgoing, more adventurous, more extroverted. I was meeting new people, people who boosted my self-confidence, people from whom I learned something new every day and who set an example for me to follow. My second attempt to join a voluntary organisation was successful. At 18 I ended up in the executive office of the organisation. I was finally proud of myself, the person I had become at 18. I started to look at my reflection more and more often without feeling disgusted, on the contrary I even started to like it more and more, and comments involving my imperfect body no longer affected me. My journey doesn't stop here, I'm sure, I still have many mistakes, I still have a lot to learn, but I'm better than I've ever been.  Today, in light of the present, I find myself in a place of understanding and acceptance of my own being. I choose to face my fears, insecurities and painful memories. I chose not to be a prisoner of my past, because my world didn't stop when I was 13.

I wish my and their story wasn't just "one of the cases", I wish these stories could be heard and vindicated, because every story counts! We often get carried away by the tide of ignorance, and every silent voice, every eye turned away, deepens the chasm between us and the victims of bullying. And for those who have been through similar experiences - don't hide your pain, be the voice of those who suffer in silence because together, we can open doors to a realm of understanding and compassion, where every story of pain becomes a step towards healing. In this way, bullying can become just a bitter lesson from the books of the past, and each individual will learn to heal their wounds, find themselves and love themselves again. Because their suffering wasn't just caused by innocent pranks.

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