Bombshells Against Bullying is a tumblr blog that posts the stories of strong women paradoxically made stronger by having been bullied, torn down, and/or assaulted. Though it often takes a l-o-n-g time, many of these women eventually find great reserves of grit and cause to go out and effect change in the world.
Bombshells (a term used to describe beautiful women during World War II) are actresses, models, authors – women from all walks of life who refuse to be afraid or ashamed of their bodies and their beauty, even though many were told the abuse and torture they endured was their fault because of their looks. Many are also, like my daughter, involved in the pin-up community as well. Once upon a year, pin-ups were about gratifying a sexual desire, but current pin-ups are women who are self-possessed and no longer willing to hide their light for anybody.
Last week, my daughter Alison – a pinup model and founder of Bombshells United, a trio dedicated to keeping history alive through musical and theatrical performance – joined the ranks of women sharing their stories, going public as a way to take back that part of their life and take a stand against bullying.
Writing about being bullied or abused is hard – I wish it wasn’t, but I know it is. It can make you feel whiney or needy or weak. It can open up the tremendous pain all over again. It can make you furious; it can send you into a dark room. That’s just one reason I couldn’t be more proud of her . . .
[ : THOUGHTS : ]
“I’m not a victim.”
“I don’t want to be a victim.”
“Being a victim gives them all the power.”
“I’m sick of everyone playing the victim card and not taking responsibility for their own lives and actions.”
All of these words run thru my mind as I write this post. They make me not want to write it, but I know I have to. This won’t go away. It is always with me. One that I can’t shake no matter what I do. One that keeps presenting itself in my life everyday, even today. There’s no escaping it. I see it every time I look in the mirror.
As I looked for a “before” picture for this post, I found pictures of a very happy baby and toddler, then a very pained young person and adult. I got angrier and angrier and wanted to say both, “How could you do this to such a happy girl?” and (to myself) “How could you let them do this to you?”. If only it were that easy.
Something else struck me. I’ve always been told that when I was little I would wake up smiling. It’s hard to imagine because as long as I can remember I have woken up sad – for no reason. Some mornings I am paralyzed and can hardly move. Some mornings it’s all I can do to even get out of bed. I have always just chalked it up to a touch of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, maybe just not being a morning person, but more recently I’ve begun to wonder… What if this all goes back to not wanting to go to school, to being afraid of what would happen that day? Is that why I am absolutely terrified of mornings?
[ : THE BULLYING : ]
I was always the brain when I was growing up. I was somewhat of a piano prodigy, having started taking piano when I was 2 years old. In elementary school, I never had homework because I did it while I was at school. I always got A’s except for one B – in fact, I remember being laughed at because I was grounded for a B. There was even a time when Mom came to school to find me out in the hall tutoring other classmates.
I was far from the beauty. I was a very awkward, short, mousy girl – very small for my age and very much the ugly duckling. I had glasses, but wouldn’t wear them because people made fun of me when I did. This, of course, resulted in me squinting most of the time and not being able to see the board. I would also mistake people for others at times.
As long as I can remember, people were making fun. It started out with relatively harmless “nerd” and “ugly” stuff (which, by the way has no reason to be called “harmless” except by comparison), but everything escalated after 5th grade. Today there is a little bit more of a spotlight on bullying because of school shootings. Back then, it was just as prevalent – if not more so -, but not much was done about it.
I guess some amount of bullying and teasing is to be expected with growing up. That’s not the type of bullying I’m talking about. I’m talking about the type when an entire class or group joins together. I’m talking about the type that completely tears a person down, inside and out – the type NO ONE should ever have to face and the type that someone MUST do something about.
Let me give you some examples. These are far from all of them, but will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I will limit myself to 4 in the interest of the length of this post, but there are far more of them.
1. When I was about to enter the 6th grade, my parents decided we should move to a really small town. We began school at a private school that only had one class for each grade. Before long, it started. I was the butt of pranks, called names, set up on false “dates” – you name it. I even remember a boy who said he really wanted to “date” me – whatever that means in 6th grade -, but he was embarrassed to be seen with me. He said he really liked me and would be my boyfriend in secret, but no one could know. He had another girlfriend that was his “public” girlfriend. I’m embarrassed and heartbroken to say I consented. I was just grateful to have one “friend”.
I went home from school every day and went straight to my bedroom to crawl into bed and cry. I was miserable. I started to believe everything that I was being told and called. When you hear it enough times, it becomes true. On top of that, the kids started encouraging, even daring, me to commit suicide. The teachers heard it and did nothing. The only thing ever said/done about it was when the school counselor shrugged her shoulders and told me it was to be expected with kids our age.
When Mom and Dad decided enough was enough and moved us back home (largely, I suspect, because of the bullying), the kids in my class had a celebration. By then, it was the entire class against me. They would come up to me and ask me if I was coming back next year. When I said “no”, they would jump up and down and yell “Yes!”, and the whole class would scream and clap. The teacher just sat there silent, watching the whole thing.
2. That summer I went to camp. My best friend from my old school was there and told all of the girls in the cabin (a good 30+ group) what had happened to me at my new school. At first they were sympathetic. Then it started again. I don’t want to go into everything that was said and done, but it resulted in me begging my parents to pick me up early from camp and the camp counselors and staff having to have a meeting with the entire cabin telling them to leave me alone. At least they did something, but it was too little too late. Once again, there were many adults and authority figures who witnessed this and did absolutely nothing.
3. After a year home in my old school, where everything had changed of course, the folks decided my brother and I should attend private school. What an adjustment it was! It was a new beginning – a chance to make new friends and start over. I went directly into honors algebra having never taken pre-algebra. I worked my behind off to get a C, when I had always received A’s in public school. For the first time in my life, I had homework – hours of it.
However, some things didn’t change. The bullying continued, although it did abate a bit. It was certainly more manageable than having the entire class in on it. However, the worst part was that two teachers got in on the act – two teachers in the arts. That’s right – the arts, my world. For those of you who don’t know, I am a professional actress and singer. These were two people who, of all people, should have been encouraging me.
One of these teachers liked to make fun of me in front of the whole class. I remember one time when this person made fun of how I did my hair, and everyone laughed. After that, everyone made fun of my hair. I remember looking over at my brother, who was in the same performing group, and seeing him both seethe and look helpless. There was nothing he could do either. That was one of the worst parts.
The other teacher (again, in the arts) made me cry practically every day and told me I had no talent and I’d never amount to anything. Again, this was in front of EVERYONE, including a lot of parents, and nothing was done. The teacher in question took great delight in doing it, too.
During this time, there were more “Why don’t you just kill yourself? You’re not worth it” remarks. And once again, I started to believe it.
4. Most recently, I was bullied by an adult female who told me and others that because of my job in a theatre (which I founded and ran by the way) that I should not be able to go out locally. I should only be able to drive an hour away where people don’t know me.
I was also told by this person that because I am a busty person I should wear high necklines and turtlenecks at all times because it distracts men. Since when did we, as women, become responsible for protecting men from their own thoughts?!
[ : THE EFFECTS : ]
As I stated earlier, when you’re told something enough, you start to believe it. I never liked what I saw in the mirror. I still focus on every line and fault in my appearance when I look at my reflection. I catch myself tearing myself down, and as much as I try to stop it, it’s just second nature at this point.
While I always loved to learn, I stopped caring about grades and classes midway thru high school. I’ve only recently rekindled that in myself.
I started having – and still have – health issues. Mental issues truly do manifest themselves physically, and I didn’t take good care of myself because I didn’t care or see the point.
I go back and forth between not standing up for myself enough and taking things the wrong way. Seems it’s always the extremes.
I stayed away from family functions because I always felt I had to act like everything was okay, when it was in fact FAR from okay. I didn’t know which was worse – to be myself and bring everyone down or to pretend I was happy. I didn’t want to cause anyone else any pain or concern, but pretending was absolutely exhausting, mentally and physically.
I hated having my picture taken because I thought I was ugly and didn’t want that pain I was feeling immortalized. As much as I tried to hide it, it was always there. It still is. I see pictures of me from school or family events where I should be happy, but at best I have a forced smile. Much of the time I’m just too exhausted and in pain to even try to smile. As much as I love doing pinup work, I am still learning to like having my picture taken. I still hate looking at pictures of myself because there are some where, even to this day, I can still see that deep hurt coming thru.
I used to be a religious person, now I’m not. To be honest, I feel a little cheated by the old Golden Rule and “If you’re a good person, good things will come to you” stuff. I was always a good person, turned the other cheek, was nice, etc. There’s also the “Why would god put me thru this?” factor.
There’s only so much pain a person can bear. I don’t want to go into details, but there was rape and there were suicide attempts. With the rape, I actually thought I deserved it. I put my family thru pure hell, and I feel extremely guilty about that. It’s the only pain that’s greater than the memories. It’s heartbreaking when you look on a shelf, see something pretty, and think, “That’s the Valentine’s Day gift my parents gave me the day they almost lost me. That’s the morning I pretended to be asleep when my father was sitting next to my bed, stroking my hair and crying. And all of this was on my mother’s birthday. How could I do that to them?” It’s a tremendous amount of guilt and self anger to carry.
I’ve been extremely unsuccessful in relationships. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I have huge issues with connecting and emotional intimacy. I put up walls no one can take down and sometimes unconsciously run people off.
I know the bullying is why I have more male friends instead of female friends, and that in itself creates more problems. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “She’s only hanging out with the guys because she’s trying to pick one up or get attention”. Unfortunately, there are also other accusations that I won’t repeat here, none of which are true.
I hate to say it, but I hear it from men and women. It’s mostly women, but I do hear it from the occasional man. What’s wrong with saying “She’s friends with men because they don’t stab her in the back” or “She’s friends with men because they call it like it is and don’t play games”?
And that brings up another question… Why do women treat each other like this? That’s one thing I will never understand either. I don’t think we all need to sit around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya”, but just show enough respect to your gender to not cut each other down, ladies!
I wonder if the bullies even know what they’ve done or even care. Most of them have mutual Facebook friends with me, so an occasional picture will surface of them and their happy family. Most have children in school now. Do their children have to deal with bullying? Do they have any concept of the pain they have brought upon my family and me?
[ : THE UP-SIDE : ]
Having said all of these negative things, I do want to stress that I have had incredibly positive people in my life as well. We have a tendency to focus on the negative and indeed there are many choices for me on this subject, but I did have many positive teachers in my life. I even remember 2 fellow high school students who stood up for me. It took a lot of courage, but they did and I will never forget it.
I was given more love and support from my family than anyone I’ve ever known. I am so extremely blessed by who I have in my life. I can’t imagine how much pain I’ve put them thru, and I will never forgive myself or the bullies for that. That’s the part that makes me the angriest.
I started a community theatre to give younger folks opportunities and did my best to create a supportive and open environment. I did everything I could to discourage cliques, and I had a “zero tolerance policy” when it came to bullying. At times I think I was too tough perhaps, and unfortunately I think it made me seem mean and distant from folks. I guess everything has a consequence.
The pinup community has been so extremely supportive, and I can’t thank them enough. Because of them, for the first time last year I looked at a picture of myself and didn’t even recognize the beautiful woman staring back at me. I cried and cried when that same beautiful woman was published twice last year. I just wish I had found this lifestyle and community years ago.
I am able to play emotional and dark roles on stage with great honesty because I am able to channel what I’ve been through. Frankly, it’s wonderful therapy, and it’s an honor to bring some of these people to life from a very real and genuine place.
I continue to struggle, and I continue to heal. I’ve closed the theatre to concentrate on myself and my life, and it feels great. I sing, play the piano, get on stage, and get in front of a camera every chance I get. I also tour the country portraying Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Nancy Sinatra, Jean Harlow, and other starlets for air shows and veterans’ events. Nothing gives me greater joy than getting to hug and kiss a veteran and say “thank you”. I’m holding a “welcome home” event for Vietnam veterans on September 28 of this year – standing up for some men and women who should NOT have been mistreated the way they were and who were victims of bullying themselves.
It’s not easy. I wish I had an answer as to “why”. It would help me immensely. And I wish there was something that I could do to help others going thru the same thing. Just saying “I made it, and you can, too” doesn’t seem like enough. If anyone has any ideas of what would actually work and make a difference, I’d love to hear them. And anyone out there who needs to talk to someone, please feel free to reach out to me. I probably won’t know the answers, but I can listen, give support, and tell you that you’re not the only one who’s been thru these things.
A great big THANK YOU to B. Sinclair and Bombshells Against Bullying for letting me tell my story. It’s helping me take a much-needed moment to grieve and ultimately allowing me to move forward.