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Health and weight (young people)

Bullying and weight

"I got to a point where I just wanted to pack all my things away and just run away and never come back"
 
"They never saw me cry, but quite a lot of the time I would go away and cry. It just made me feel like, why have they chosen me? I must be a bad person, I must be really useless."
 
All but one of the young people we interviewed had been bullied about their weight. Most said that bullying ‘got to them’ even if they tried to not let it bother them, and it was very hard to bear. Some had to change schools to avoid the bullying. Bullying usually started with verbal abuse but some people had also been physically assaulted.
 

Sami was bullied verbally by boys at her primary school then physically by girls at her secondary...

Sami was bullied verbally by boys at her primary school then physically by girls at her secondary...

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When I was about four it became quite prominent that I was always being picked on about my weight. And I stayed in that school until I was eight years old, it was a mixed school, then I always used to get picked on by the boys all the time, all the time. It was never the girls, just the boys. Then when I was eight, nine years old, I switched to my first proper school, and it just continued there really. Boys were picking on me all the time, and as we grew to about twelve, thirteen, girls became bitches, really bitchy, and just then that’s when it started getting really bad like, I would get quite a lot of physical abuse as well. Getting kicked and punched, and just taunted really. I always used to spend break times and that on my own, or I used to spend it indoors just studying extra, and that’s when my passion for school came in really. But ever since I’ve always been fluctuating with my weight. I’ve never been a skinny girl ever, ever since I was a little girl, I always used to be quite big boned my Mum used to say. But no, I’ve gradually put on weight through my entire life and no matter how many diets, no matter how many fads.
 

Gemma became a target for bullies and had to be home-schooled.

Gemma became a target for bullies and had to be home-schooled.

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Couldn’t go to my lessons when I got in about year 9, I couldn’t go to like the dining hall or anything like that because I’d always get hit or I had stuff thrown at me, and it got to the stage where I couldn’t go to any of my lessons, I had to stay in this one little room where there was just one teacher and I had to be taken out with, I had to wait for the teacher and then I could go out. I weren’t allowed to go out for breaks. I couldn’t have toilet breaks, I had to wait till the end of the day. Got to the last four month I had to be home-schooled because bullying got that bad.
 
I had an all time low and I really did wish I were gone, basically because I couldn’t really talk to my Mum and Dad ‘cos I felt like they’d just think I were lying, and then when it all came out I just, it felt a lot better, but in a way it didn’t because then everybody knew that they’d got best of me.
 
I started college. First year were very hard. I didn’t really like to go out, got bullied quite a bit, but then this year’s just been, well the start of it’s been a lot better. Going out, I haven’t been bullied, and I couldn’t really care. Yeah.

Why were you being bullied?

I were being bullied because of the weight but also because I were basically an easy target because I had my head down and I were on my own all the time, I didn’t have any friends, so people saw me as an easy target to bully, which everybody does anyway, but that’s when it started and then like it, every year, if they’d seen that I’d put more weight on they’d start again, and if I lost weight they still wouldn’t realise ‘cos they’d just say, “Ah she’s put more weight on, you know, let’s just get her.” And then, it did start like mental bullying for about the first two years, and then it started getting like pencils thrown at me head, glue sticks, and then the physical bit started in year 10, and then that’s when it got really out of control, and that’s when I had to tell people. And, well my weight did go up a lot in about a year. So it’s been really hard, but you have to find a way to overcome it though.
 
And so what kind of things were people saying to you?
 
Oh, anything they could really they’d call… Can you swear? They’d call me “Fat Bastard,” “Mrs Blobby,” start taking the mick out of my Dad ‘cos he used to be a really big bloke. And they’d basically say anything they could, the least sort of thing they could, like if we sat down, they’d start saying, “Oh you smell, don't break the chair, ” I were like the biggest lass in school, so there were nobody to actually fit in with me so, easiest target there, so it’s anything they could really.

How did that used to make you feel?

I just wanted to go. I did, I didn’t want to live anymore, but, I really did come close to it, but then when my nephew were born I had to make that change, and think of him and then that’s when I told everybody. But if it weren’t for him I don’t know what I’d have done really. But now it’s still hard because like you’ve got the scars, because like they say it can’t hurt you for long, but if they haven’t really experienced it they don’t know what it’s like, so it is really hard.

 

Becca was very badly bullied at school because she looked different and she still feels a bit of an outcast.

Becca was very badly bullied at school because she looked different and she still feels a bit of an outcast.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I mean being in school and there, like so many people just look at you in a different way, you know, just because you’re overweight and it’s like I have had people before say to me, “Oh well what does your mum feed you?” And like, you know, giving my mum, criticising my mum, you know, which I wouldn’t, there’s no need for in my eyes I think. And you know, like even now I’m seventeen years old, I have learnt to deal with people’s comments but some of the time you walk into a room and it may just be paranoia but you think ‘what did I get that look for?’ you know, ‘I’m not different from any one of you in a genetic way’ and you know, even at an age of seventeen it still happens, and yeah it’s not a nice thing at all. No and just to be out casted just because you look a tiny bit different, even from something as stupid as being a bit fatter than that person, you know, it just doesn’t ring true with me at all, so yeah I think that’s probably all I can say.
 
Like, I was bullied years seven, eight and nine in my secondary school, like that wasn’t the only time but it was quite severe bullying, like it went on for three years, it did die out a bit over the year eight and nine but year seven was just.. I would probably guess and say three-quarters of the school were involved in it, like it wasn’t just a group thing, it was walk down the corridor, and I actually counted this one day, counted how many people said something to me, just walking about a hundred yards twenty-three people I think, and you know every day in between every lesson and going, you know, it gets a lot, so then that’s when you begin to think ‘okay well if I was part of this group well, you know, I would either have someone to stop them saying that or, you know, I would not be the only different one’ kind of thing, so if I fitted into a particular clique or group that’s, you know, that’s when I would, maybe it would stop - in my mind that’s how I saw it. But yeah so there was a lot of negative kind of… it wasn’t just about my weight, it was about other things like. But mostly if I had been thinner… and because mostly it was about my hair because I had that afro hair, and that is what most of the bullying was about, but I think if I had been thinner, well at the time I thought this, if I had been thinner I don’t think it would have come up as much you know?
Bullying, for most young people, started at primary school and was at its worst between years 8 and 13 (ages 12-18). Bullying consisted of name-calling, pushing and shoving, being ‘out casted’ or having clothes and belongings spoiled or stolen. Bullying happened during lessons, in corridors, in playgrounds and on journeys to and from school. Bullying sometimes continued outside school and into college. 
 
Reactions to bullying
Some people tried to avoid getting bullied by keeping a low profile and/or trying not to react. A few reacted by fighting back but were then seen as being aggressive. 
 

Naz and Anaan hit back at bullies.

Naz and Anaan hit back at bullies.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Naz' Well actually I beat a boy up for that in school, once though, you know for wearing a wearing a scarf you say, because I was fat and all. I was wearing a head scarf as well. So that boy got on my nerves, he just pulled my scarf off one day whilst I was just like walking past. So I actually turned round and started beating him up, but it made me feel better afterwards because I beat him up myself, and number two all the class was with me, and so was my brother actually, he was all cheering on for me, “Yes go for him. Hit him. Hit him.” So at the end of it, I thought I can actually beat them up, there’s no point in me crying at the end, because there is another way for me to solve it, just by beating them up or saying something back to them which I did.
 
Anann' I think that was why I became aggressive because crying is something, personally for me, crying is always the very last option, it’s kind of like, I don’t know for other people it might be a release for them, but for me, it just makes me feel pathetic. And just..it makes me feel revolting really, I really don’t like crying. I’m not a crying kind of person, and it’s something that for me to cry I look upon in disgust. So for it, it was rather I just beat the hell out of them.
 
And that’s just what I used to do, just beat the hell out of them. And I never used to get into trouble for it, because the teachers always used to understand that they’d pushed me to sort of point where I couldn’t do anything but hit them, for me anyway. And I mean I did used to tell my Mum about it a bit. And Mum used to be like, “Oh tell your teacher.” And I’d tell me teacher, and then they’d still say it, and then right, but I told the teacher and nothing happened, and my Mum would always say, “If you tell the teacher, and nothing happens, and they say it again, then you can hit them. Because you tried, it didn’t work. So just deal with it however you want.” 
 

Huw ignored verbal abuse until it got so bad he challenged the bully.

Huw ignored verbal abuse until it got so bad he challenged the bully.

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Primary school kids are really harsh when it comes to that sort of thing, it looks really stupid now cos, I mean I don’t I don’t get bullied anymore, I do get cheeky comments remarks, comments around school when I’m walking around school from the younger years, but really you just learn to block them out.‘Cos they don’t, ‘cos they don’t matter. You have to learn that because it just doesn’t matter.
 
I mean bullying is the hardest thing that anyone has to go through, but you just have to remember what, why should you take any notice, they don’t matter. It’s when it comes to people your age group and your friends, that’s when, that’s when it gets really hard, and that’s when you actually have to, you actually have to pull them over and say, “Actually that really is, it hurts my feelings.” ‘Cos otherwise they’ll sort of carrying on doing it and you’ll make, and you’ll feel worse and worse and worse.
 
Has that happened to you?
 
Yeah, ‘cos everyone in my age, well, my age group, we always take the mickey out of everyone else, like saying oh someone’s lanky as anything, and to the other person, and it’s just, it’s almost like a sign of friendship but there is a place where it can become too, over the line, like you cross the line, and but they don’t know that unless you tell them. So it’s no sense in saying “Oh,” or going off and sulking about it, you need to tell them, otherwise they’ll carry on doing it just, if they’re really you’re friends they’ll like, “Oh, we’ll, sorry, I was only joking.” And then they’ll know not to do it, but it’s when you don’t, well, don’t pick them up on it and they carry on doing it, and it gets worse and worse and worse.
 
And so you actually did confront somebody did you? Yeah. And it hasn’t
 
Said, “I actually I actually found that quite offensive, so”, but he apologised quite quickly.
 
Right, and it stopped? Do you want to say what, what he said?
 
He said, I think, well he was taking the piss out of my size and well its, it sounds stupid, but it’s just like saying, “Ah, I think you could fit like five people into one of Huw’s coats,” and, that it’s just the kind of thing where you’re just like, “Oh that’s so immature, but it gets to you after a while. One or two comments is fine, but when it’s like quite regular, that’s when you need to pull it over, otherwise it becomes even more regular and it just like knocks, well chips away at your self-confidence and self-image that you’ve built up.
 
And so I mean that’s something you’ve learned to ignore but, could you always do that?
No, it’s more, to be quite honest it’s a steep learning curve, because it’s kind of, you kind of learn, at first, first couple of all times it really gets to you, and it’s gets to you and gets to you, and then you tell the teacher, and then something happens and then the bullying gets worse in some ways after you’ve told the teacher.

Because the person’s like, “Oh you told Miss.” And I was just like, “Mm.” And so you kind of… it reinforces that you shouldn’t tell anyone, which is obviously what you’re not supposed to do. But then again, compared to some people my bullying hhasn’t been serious. I mean some people you hear about being beaten up quite regularly, and the really vicious verbal abuse, ‘cos mine’s never been really vicious, and so it’s just a different situation really, ‘cos I know ‘cos I I feel that I’ve learnt that you can’t really complain about everything that someone says, you just need to grow a rather thick skin and once, when someone says something vindictive enough to get through that thick skin, that’s when you tell someone. And plus that’s, as well I’ve got all my friends, ‘cos I mean if someone says something to me which I found really, really offensive, and doesn’t take it back, I’ll talk to my friends, and then they’ll talk to him, so, I always use my friends as like a teacher because, teachers have enough going on and although bullying’s hard by the age of, by year 13 you’re just like, “Just grow up.”


Gemma 'felt a lot better' for telling her parents about the bullying but not all parents were helpful. Some were very upset or got angry with the teachers. Telling teachers about bullying helped some people but could also make things worse.
 

Alex enjoys going to school because people always side with the person being bullied. (Animated...

Alex enjoys going to school because people always side with the person being bullied. (Animated...

Age at interview: 14
Sex: Female
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Because there’s like people that are quite big in my school. But our school’s like, it’s right good because like everybody’s friends with everyone. And if one person sees another person being bullied or anything, everyone will just like, we’ll all sort it out, and we’ll all be friends with the person who’s being bullied. And we’ll tell the bullies that it’s wrong and that they shouldn’t do it because everybody’s the same inside and it don’t matter. So it’s really good and I just enjoy going to school.
 
Well, that sounds like a really nice school, doesn’t it? So that, so bullying does sometimes happen at your school?
 
Yes.
 
It gets sorted out, does it?
 
Yes. And most of the time we don’t have to get teachers involved and things like that. And it’s just really good and no one like leaves anybody out, and it’s just really nice.
 

Bella was bullied in year 8. She told her teacher who helped stop it.

Bella was bullied in year 8. She told her teacher who helped stop it.

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I started getting bullied when I were in high school, when I first started. I used to get called all names and I had boys slapping my backside and laughing at me and calling me ‘Sexy’ and ‘Fat’. And I’ve had things thrown at me. And since high school it’s just carried on. My team leader helped me a lot through a lot of stuff. And I’ve had to join different programmes that really helped me and gained my confidence a lot. And since then the more confident you are the more high self-esteem you get. And well, you just try and find an interest in something.
 
And it’s best if you’re to ignore bullies and that. Because really it’s what you, whatever I want to do, I just ignore the bullies, and whatever I want to do, well, I just do it, just concentrate on something, just blank people out. But sometimes when you get stuff thrown at you it’s best to go to the teacher, because the teacher always sorts it out. But if they don’t, then you could always go to team leaders and that and write statements of what happened and how it’s done. Because like when I were in Year 8 I’ve had, I had two girls battering me, fighting with me and that. Because I told them to shut up about calling me names and I were... it just really, really annoyed me.
Some people said they were coping OK with the bullying but most said that bullying had made them feel less confident. Some dreaded school so much because of bullying that they stayed at home to “hide themselves away from the world”.  Some got depressed especially when other things went wrong at the same time, and several said they had self-harmed and/or cut themselves. Food provided comfort ‘like getting cuddled and getting loved’ and was something to do when they were bored at home.
 

Olivia started self-harming in year 8. She was being of bullied at school and had problems at home.

Olivia started self-harming in year 8. She was being of bullied at school and had problems at home.

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I mean I started self-harming in the, right at the beginning because of friendships and because this was back in year eight or something when it kind of all started and it was because of kind of bullying at school and because when you’re that age because you’re always falling out with friends and just having little petty arguments and things and. But I mean at the time none of that seemed like it was the cause and because now I’m a lot older and I’ve had chance to look back on things I realise that it’s. I think it had a lot to do with my biological dad because I’ve, my mum’s married to my step-dad. But he’s kind of brought me up, but my real dad left when I was really young, so from having the chance to really think things over I think it’s because of that, because of his leaving and I have this fear of rejection. And so I think all of it kind of stems from that.
 

Bella used to comfort-eat when she was being bullied. She feels happier now she'’s interested in drama.

Bella used to comfort-eat when she was being bullied. She feels happier now she'’s interested in drama.

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And I moved to a new school because my school were joining up, and it was like meeting new people. But the bullying still came on. And the more you got bullied, the more upsetting you’ve done and the more depressed. And you find that eating food and that really does comfort you. And it’s like when you’re bored and nothing to do in your house, you just go to your refrigerator and just pick up snacks and eat them. I’ve been told that I eat out of boredom and eat out of comfort. And I knew I should lose weight and that, but sometimes it gets harder when people are calling you names. And it really got to me when I were told that I’m borderline diabetic. And that there might be a chance that I get heart disease or illnesses or die young of a heart attack. And it really does scare you. But sometimes eating food is like, like if you’re getting, like if you’re just getting cuddled and getting loved. And it’s just something that you can, something that you can just do straight away. But I find it easy if I find an interest in something. Such as I like drama, and since I started drama and that I just enjoy myself and I switch off and I feel like a new person. And its best if you have something like you really like and you’re really interested in.  
 
 
Things that helped
Being able to talk about bullying with a teacher or team leader at school worked for some people but only when that person actually did something to help. Having some really good friends at school was the most helpful thing.
 
Watch It! (a community programme for young people) helped one girl. Others found SHINE (Self-Help, Independence, Nutrition and Exercise) helpful. The school nurse helped one girl.
 
Looking back on their schooldays some older people said that being bullied and excluded from friendship groups had been horrible but had meant they'd worked harder and done well in exams.

See also Low moods & depression

Last reviewed July 2017.
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