One of the new girls was gorgeous. Slim, blonde and tanned. A surfie chick. She actually looked sublime in her neatly altered mini-uniform. Not only was it short enough to show the length of her slim, tanned legs that went on forever, but it was expertly adjusted in the back so that it fitted her curves perfectly. She only wore it for a week. By the next Monday she had a new uniform. Still perfectly fitting, but long. Just like it should have been. This girl was clearly one of the beautiful people, and she quickly gained her rightful place as one of the 'in crowd'.
The other girl was...um...not gorgeous. She was fat. She had a funny name. She was not very bright. She had greasy hair and pimples. She was not good at games. She was poor. It was clearly obvious to me, even then, that her parents had moved her to our Exclusive Private School because she'd been bullied at her local High School. Plus, she wore her uniform too short.
Probably this girl's parents couldn't afford to buy brand new uniforms for their daughter a week after starting her at one of the 'best schools', but whatever the reason, she sported her above-the-knee dress right to the end of her Sixth Form year. And of course, she continued to be bullied. Worse than ever.
Wanda Petronski was bullied too, and it was easy to see why. She was poor. She had a funny name. She came to school with her shoes caked in mud. She had a shiny round forehead. She came from Boggins Heights. She wore the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda might have got away with it, if only she'd kept her mouth shut. If she'd stayed quiet, nobody would have noticed Wanda. But not only was Wanda poor; Wanda lied. Big, whopping, hilarious lies. About how many dresses she owned. As if. Would she really wear one faded dress every day if she had that huge wardrobe at home? Sure. What a story!
Wanda didn't have any friends, but lots of girls talked to her:
"Wanda," Peggy would say in a most courteous manner as though she were talking to miss Mason or to the principal perhaps. "Wanda," she'd say, giving one of her friends a nudge, "tell us. How many dresses did you say you had hanging up in your closet?"Peggy was the most popular girl in school. She was pretty. She had many pretty clothes. She had curly auburn hair. Maddie was her closest friend.
"A hundred," said Wanda.
"A hundred!" exclaimed all the girls incredulously, and the little girls would stop playing hopscotch and listen.
"Yeah, a hundred, all lined up," said Wanda. Then her thin lips drew together in silence.
"What are they like? All silk, I bet," said Peggy.
"Yeah, all silk, all colours."
"Yeah, velvet, too. A hundred dresses," repeated Wanda stolidly. "All lined up in my closet,"
Then they'd let her go. And then before she'd gone very far, they couldn't help bursting into shrieks and peals of laughter.
Maddie was bothered by the way Peggy teased Wanda Petronski. Sometimes she felt embarrassed and studied the marbles she held in her hand, saying nothing herself. She didn't exactly feel sorry for Wanda, but she did feel something. Maddie was poor too. Maddie usually wore hand-me-down clothes. Thank goodness she didn't live on Boggins Heights. Thank goodness Peggy was her friend. Peggy wasn't really cruel. She protected small children from bullies, and she cried for hours if she saw anyone mistreating an animal. Besides, it was Wanda's fault. She should have more sense than to make up such lies. A hundred dresses? As if.
Only, one day, the girls discover that Wanda has been telling the truth...
This week is Anti-bullying week in the UK, and the Newbery Honor book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes is the ideal book to talk about bullying with your child. Told through the eyes not of the bullied child but of Maddie, one of the tormentors, The Hundred Dresses provides an entree into our own thoughts, attitudes and behaviours toward bullied children and of the bullies themselves. What is a bully? What makes a child a target for bullying? Was Wanda being bullied even before the story of the hundred dresses began to get out of hand? How would she have felt having no friends? Did being poor make her a target for the bullies, or was it something else, like her name, or where she lived? Was Maddie as bad as Peggy?
A bullied child will wear the scars of that experience all their lives. The impact on their emotional development and their self esteem cannot be measured, and yet the insecurity remains for ever. Believe me, I know.
Read my post on bullying and a review of The Book Chook's book, Monster Maddie about a little girl who becomes a bully here. Read the feathery one's post, Say NO to bullying here. And above all, speak to your kids. Read them a book. Ask them their experiences. And never, never assume that it won't happen to them. Or that they won't be a bully themselves. Pop over to The Book Chook's post for more ideas of how to introduce this important topic to your children.
Together we can all say NO to bullying.