17 Nov 2010

Bullies and bullying

When I was in the Forth Form, a two new girls came to our Exclusive Private School. Both stood out as new because of one thing: their uniforms were too short. In our school, girls wore their dresses long. Below the knees long. High School kids wore minis, not College girls. Short dresses were for bogans. Short dresses showed a total lack of social class.

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?"

"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."

"Velvet, too?"

"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.
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.

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.


  1. I wish you would write a children's book yourself! Your writing really has the power to conjure up pictures in my mind. And not just any pictures, but pictures that make me feel and think.

    Thanks for being such a positive force in this world, Jeanne!

  2. Jeanne, if only we could truly stop bullying in a fallen world!

    My own son was at the receiving end of some bullying this year during football season. Although my working-class flesh cried out for him to lash back, to stand up for himself, to throw the first punch, the spirit within me had better plans: to grow our family closer together and closer to Him.

    My son wasn't afraid, and he responded by turning the other cheek to raunchy name-calling and a bit of mud-flinging. We prayed for those boys, who's brokenness was so clearly worn on their sleeves, and we prayed for my son, that his own brokenness would cause him to cling tightly to the One who saves, the One who has already won this battle, bullying and all. We learned a great deal this season.

    IMHO, children cannot be taught to include until they've known true inclusion. There will always be the problem of sin and its resulting idols of worship, but I pray the arrows in our quivers will be well prepared to hit the mark when called to minister to world!

    Bless you!

  3. You always make me want to read, read, read!

    Have you thought about writing book reviews? I was just told at a writers' meeting that is one of the ways published authors begin their writing career and making those connections they need with the publishing community.

    So, I guess I pretty much agree with the Book Chook. You are a good writer!

  4. We read this book several years ago now, and I look forward to reading it again with my younger set.

    This post struck a chord with me today. My husband was reading to me from the internet news this morning as I cooked breakfast, as usual, when he gasped and started shaking his head. Another suicide by a Jr. High child. This time the method was horrific - he poured gasoline over himself and proceeded to light himself on fire in the middle of a public park. This is the third suicide by a Jr. High kid since last week. It is so heartbreaking, and while I don't know why this most recent boy did it, I know that bullying is one of the biggest reasons for suicide in Japan among that age group. It really is practically epidemic.

    Your message here is so important. How might things have been different if only those kids had been able to talk to their parents about their inner turmoil?

  5. Jeanne, thanks for the post, I'm glad I have the book. I feel kind of bad for having said I don't like it.
    I'm going to give it a serious try myself, and then talk about bullying with my girls to create the climate for it, or even wait a bit more until I think they are ready for the story.
    I can look back and remember peers who were the object of constant bullying.
    You made me think about one of my peers who was the antithesis of her beautiful sister, it was like beauty and the beast, I'm not exaggerating, people didn't believe they were related, let alone sisters, and her sister even did not have the same friends. Poor Lola tried to end her life before PE many times, or it was more a desperate call, but it was hard for us to witness the insults and pain inflicted on her just for being short, fat, wearing thick glasses and being bad for gymnastics.
    I didn't suffer as much bullying as sweet Lola, but I'm amazed to remember all the bullying that went on, and I still don't know how I survived it. I'll be very content as a parent if my daughters don't cause or suffer much of that, and if they call that sheltering, I'm for it!

  6. I really second what laura Lou wrote. I honestly do not think bullying will ever stop while there is brokeness but I do believe there is healing from the brokeness. That does not mean we should not teach out children, I certainly talk about it alot with mine as I was bullied myself. xx

  7. Two things:

    1. When I saw that book it took me back many years as I once owned a copy as a child and had completely forgotten about it. I always thought Wanda was such a funny name. Thankyou for the memories.

    2. My son was bullied in year 10 and in the 6 weeks that it lasted, it took 18 months for him to recover enough to function normally. It was devastating to see how much damage can be caused through only a few weeks of bullying and there were times I feared that my son might self-harm. At no stage did the school say sorry for not stopping this bullying (becuase they acted to late) occurring nor did the 2 students who started it were punished. Only the school youth worker apologies to me.

    To make the story even more sad, my son was assaulted (bashed) by a stranger (walking home in the middle of the day) and had his bag stolen. Two days after-wards 2 year 10 students "made up a story" of why my son was assaulted. It was all lies. He was suffering enough from the assault, he didn't need any bullying.

    It broke my heart.

  8. I agree with what Laura Lou said that the only real answer is changed hearts. As we have read through history, my children and I have been struck by how often people torment others, from the enslavement of Africans to the Holocaust. It seems ingrained in our (sinful) nature to want to feel better about ourselves by demeaning others. We will use the pretext of any difference we can find. But if there are no glaring differences, we will find something.

  9. Bethie LOVED this book years ago! Glad others will learn about it from you!


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