Shaming it was it is called now but the practice has been going on for ages. It was called “dissing” or “belittling” or “humiliating” or “embarrassing”. No matter what it is called, it is a horrible practice and it is so much worse today due to social media. The end results are definitely the same tough.
This is a personal issue for me and it is the subject of my next book as it has defined every part of me. As I mentioned in my Day 27 blog, there were moments where this happened to me while growing up that have so negatively impacted who I am today.
First, as I spoke on this before, I did not grow up in the normal and traditional household. We did not have money, we did not have nice things and we did not have the best clothes. My mom raised me and my brother as a single parent. My dad was around on the typical weekends and some extended time in the summers. He never paid child support and we did suffer due to that. Looking back on what he was going through as an alcoholic and as someone living the 70’s lifestyle, I can now understand how responsibility was not a strong suit.
Being from a single parent household and not having much money, we did not eat, what we call today, a nutritious diet. My mom worked the night shift at low paying jobs. We lived in a house owned by one of my aunts and she would watch us while my mom was at work. We ate typical Mexican family foods, lots of beans and beans and beans. Needless to say I was a chubby kid. I went to an elementary school in the upper middle class area of Irving, which was just outside of where we lived. I should have went to another school but my mom wanted me and my brother to stay at that school since we started there. I spoke about it before but there were 3 other Mexican kids in my grade and we were segregated a lot. I was on the government assisted lunch card program since we were low income. Being that kid in an upper middle class school as not the best place to be. It was bad enough that we had to stand in the back of the line and get cold sack lunches if they ran out of food, but we were made fun of… a lot. I remember being called “fat poor kid” and “ugly” and many other things. Kids back then were cruel too. I did not understand it.
I remember field trips and how much I dreaded them if they were all day trips. All day trips required either bringing a sack lunch from home or money for them to pay for your lunch. If you brought money you would be able to buy like a McDonald’s meals or something like that. I remember one trip so vividly. I told my mom that we needed either money or a sack lunch to take so she made me a sandwich. Well we didn’t have turkey or ham and Wonder Bread, so she made a meat patty with cheese on regular bread. We didn’t have hamburger buns. She packed some chips in a sandwich bag and put it all in a paper sack. By the time I got to school, the grease soaked the bag. Some of the kids made fun of it and laughed at my expense. It was honestly the first time I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed. As lunch approached, almost everyone had money so they could buy a burger meal. I sat out of sight as much as I could and I honestly hid my lunch out of embarrassment. I was a damn 3rd grader… sitting out of sight… fighting tears… trying to figure out why I was so weird… trying to figure out why everyone was making fun of me. That was the first time I felt shame.
Later during the lunch time was the one few moments where I felt saved from the shame. There was this kid from another class who came and sat by me and asked “did you bring money or did you bring a sack lunch?” I pulled out my greasy bag and showed it to him. He asked what I had and I told him it was like a hamburger but on regular bread and that I had some chips too. He looked at me and said, “Wow, that looks good, want to trade?” (tears in my eyes right now because I am remembering this moment so vividly). I said sure. So he gave me his burger bag and I gave him mine. He opened it up and started eating. He kept saying how it was so much better than the stupid burgers everyone else had. When he finished he got up and left. I never saw him again. No one made fun of me the rest of that day from what I remember, or I just didn’t care. In my time of shame, someone came in and snatched it away.
Later on in my early life I would spend my summers with my dad. Some days I stayed at his apartment with my brother. My dad would leave us money and would tell us to walk to the 7-11 to get food. The first time we went there and had real money we bought candy and cokes because we never got much of that. We did that every day. I would get tired of it and want real food but my brother was in charge of the money so we got candy and cokes most days. My dad would call later in the day to check on us and I would tell him I was hungry. He would tell me that I should have eaten already and would tell me how fat I was already. Many days he would stumble home from a day of drinking at work and post work happy hours and he would either have fast food for us or would take us to get fast food. That was my diet. I would eat as often and as much as I could because I was not eating regularly. I was a fat and unhealthy kid. It seemed to be a joke. Like “look at his fat little kid!” Like I mentioned in the Day 27 post, my dad’s company had a softball team and I was the Batboy. They had jerseys made up and I had one that had “fat boy” on the back. People would laugh at me all the time. Once again… I was a third grade kid… Who does that to a kid that age?
I grew up never knowing I had value. I was ashamed of who I was because I was conditioned to be that way by the people who would shame me in school and in life. From family to classmates to older people who thought it was funny to make fun of a friend’s fatboy. I never gave myself credit.
I was always the chubby kid as I went through school. When I played football in junior high and high school, I was always a lineman. I remember in high school they wanted us to bulk up so we would be the biggest team. They would tell to eat all day and often. The summer of my junior year I was 5 foot 6 and 181 pounds. Back then if you were a lineman in high school and weighed over 200 pounds, you were considered huge. In comparison, there are 300 to 350 pound linemen in high schools now. I was a dumpy 181 though. I was soft. Everyone was calling me fat all the time. I would go to family things and there would always be “there goes Richard to get food!” It was non-stop. It was like I was an embarrassment… and that was family. In school, it was the same in many ways. I always felt like I was fat and ugly. That is what I was called growing up so why would I believe different?
Funny thing is I am 5 foot 7 now and if I weighed 181 pounds now people would call me skinny. Amazing how that is.
My weight was always an issue because food was my comfort. When people treated me like crap, I would eat. When someone would call me “ugly” or “fat” or any other derogatory name, I would eat. I became the funny fat guy. Ask anyone, I am the guy at the party or happy hour that is making people laugh. People tell me all the time that I should do stand up. Being shamed my entire life pushed me to defense mechanisms. Either being funny or being the guy who would eat anything or whatever. All of my health issues were caused by that lifestyle. My heart attack, my stomach issues I had last year. Everything negative health wise was due to me needing comfort from the pains that names caused.
But there are other things that are damaged by the shame game and the biggest and hardest to get over is what it did to me mentally.
There is a Catch-22 with this side of it because it starts a cycle that you cannot escape from. Trying to get over one shame has led to another. Trying to be the funny guy leads to people not taking me serious. And when I get serious, I get called “mental” or “dramatic”. I try too hard and I try too fast. When I meet people I just try too hard to be their friend and it seems to end badly because when I stop being the crazy, funny, let’s do something exciting guy, and try to be real, people don’t seem to like it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard “dude, stop being so serious” or “you are being too dramatic” and my favorite “can’t you just be funny?” I get defensive because I am a real person with real feelings and real problems. In my “trying too hard” style, I do so much for others. If someone calls and needs something, I jump right on it. If someone needs to vent, I am there to listen and give advice. But I never seem to get it back. If I don’t reach out to people first, then there is never contact. Now I have lifelong friends who are always there for me. It is a small circle and I will talk about the whole friendship deal in my Day 30 blog to come.
The biggest issue out there now is shaming. Kids are shamed behind the scenes like never before. They are cyber bullied by people hiding behind keyboards. If you came up and got in my face and called me “fat” or “ugly” now, I would destroy you physically. But now kids are called everything and anything and treated horribly. It is an epidemic that many times starts right at home. Children are so valuable. No matter their look or economic background, every single kid is valuable and should be treated as such and that should start at home. Shaming in any way should not be tolerated. Every single day a child takes his or her life over it. Is that not a clear and present sign that there are problems? Back when I was in high school in the 80’s I remember that there was one kid who attempted suicide and thankfully failed. Today I doubt there is one kid in high that has not been touched by suicide in one way or another. Many kids don’t even reach out anymore because even that is shamed or not believed… well until it is too late.
I have a friend and her daughter reached out to her and told her that she felt like she had no friends and was having issues in school. My friend loves her daughter. She posted on Facebook and asked her friends to help her with a project. She asked us to write her daughter a letter/email and share our experiences when we were in school. So many of us took to our laptops and shared our stories so we could help boost her and show her that she was not alone and that she had people who cared for her. Who does that? A good parent who listens when her child reaches out.
So if I could rid the world of one thing, it would be shaming. Why? Because it is something that call ruin lives. It is something that can hamper emotional growth and it is something that will take a life.
If someone reaches out to you… someone of any age… listen and try to help. Don’t patronize and start the cycle over again. Once again, listen and try to help.