I was bullied relentlessly during almost my entire school life. I can’t remember when it started but I know it ended when I left school for University in 1979. At first it was only name calling: Bugs Bunny and What’s Up, Doc because of my protruding front teeth; Land of the Giants because I was significantly taller than everyone else in my year; Snob because…because I was different. I had no desire to be like the other kids who ran about in gangs, swearing and fighting and breaking windows. Something inside me knew it was better to pronounce my ts, to pay attention in school and to read. All I ever heard from my peers was how ugly and worthless I was. Why would I want to be anything like them? But I listened and I heard what they said and, sadly, I believed them. I felt ugly for years. I knew that no one would ever want me, love me, marry me… And because of this, I would never have a child.
The only piece of self-respect they didn’t take from me was about what went on between my ears. I knew I was bright; I had the gold stars on my school bookmarks which kept place in a reading book at least two in front of the rest of the class; I was always first in every subject – and this earned me yet another name: Teacher’s Pet. I worked hard and read as much as I could because I knew the only thing I had that was worth anything was my brain.
The bullying progressed from name calling, of course. I was punched and kicked, the back of my head slapped so I wouldn’t see the culprit. In Primary 5 or 6 my coat was removed from its peg, the buttons and faux fur decorating the hood cut off and what was left thrown into the boys’ toilets where it was urinated on and flushed.
Because of this, my coat had to be kept in the staffroom just in case it happened again. As you can imagine, this didn’t help my popularity. I didn’t have many friends at school and the one girl I was closest to, a girl who had just moved to the area, abandoned me too lest she be targeted next. It was a lonely time and I turned to books.
Secondary school was a little better and the bullying decreased a little. There was the time they set fire to my schoolbag, though. While it was over my shoulder. I found some friends there and I joined the school brass band which opened up a new life for me. I was the only kid from my school to join the Glasgow Schools’ Concert Band and I began my reinvention. Here I was a confident, friendly teenager who would introduce herself to strangers and try to be their friend. But I lived in constant fear that my true identity would be discovered and would have nightmares where they would realise what I was really like and shun me the way I had been in school. I still believed I was ugly and unlovable and resigned myself to a life of spinsterhood and cats.
Then, in my mid-twenties and fed up with my protruding teeth, I went to the dentist to ask for another try at braces to fix my overbite. He referred me to Glasgow Dental Hospital where I was told that braces alone would do nothing. I had a congenital problem and they sent me to Canniesburn Hospital for evaluation by the Maxillofacial Surgical Unit. It seems that my jaw hadn’t formed properly in the womb. The top jaw was too long vertically and the bottom jaw was too short from back to front. They proposed trimming off some of the top jaw and lengthening the bottom by cutting it in two places and sliding the bits forward to create length and a proper chin. It was agreed that I would wear fixed braces top and bottom for twelve months or so to realign my teeth so that they would fit together after surgery.
I was in shock for a while. I mean, it was one thing to believe yourself that you were ugly and quite another to be told you were so hideous it would take eight hours of surgery to put right. In these days they didn’t offer any counselling so I was left to get on with the process the best I could.
I rallied and just got on with things but a curious thing happened: I accepted the wisdom of Popeye (I am whats I am) and started to live. I made friends, went out and enjoyed myself and wearing the braces made me realise that the people who seemed to like me liked me, and for the first time I didn’t feel I was being judged on my looks – or lack of them.
I had the surgery, it was hell for several months afterwards but it all went well. It has left me with a numb chin and bottom lip and no feeling in half of my tongue, but I feel normal now. I met the man who was to become my husband and we had our daughter.
And name-calling? That bounces off my Cape of Confidence. Well, most days it does.