Can we beat the bullies? Yes we can

29th March 2013 at 00:00
All staff have a role to play in confronting the ugly side of school, says Jodie Marsh

My name is Jodie Marsh. I was bullied at school. I'm 34 years old and I only recovered from my bullying at the age of 30. A combination of growing up, wising up and, cheesy as it sounds, "finding myself" helped me to overcome the emotional scars. Until then, I lacked confidence, self- respect and self-esteem.

The bullying I experienced was mostly verbal, with my bullies telling me for six years that I was ugly. My parents tried to help me and regularly talked with my teachers about the problem, but as is the case with many verbal bullying incidents, I was mostly told to "ignore" the bullies or to "rise above it".

This advice didn't help. At 15, I contemplated suicide. Like so many teenagers, I didn't realise that there was more to life than school. I thought I'd never fit in or have friends. I hated my appearance and cried myself to sleep every night. I stopped eating lunch and hid in the library at lunchtimes as the bullies would throw food at me. I don't have any good memories of school.

Somehow, through all this, I was a straight-A student and I wanted to be a lawyer or a vet. However, when I was about 16 years old, I decided I wanted to be a famous model to prove to myself and my bullies that I wasn't ugly. It's amazing how the teenage mind works. Gone were the university plans, dreams and ambitions; in their place, a girl who thought the only way to beat these people was to get paid to take off her clothes.

I don't regret the path I took. I've always seen myself as a fighter and I've always had an inner strength that got me through the toughest of times. Even when I was crying in my bedroom, thinking about ending my life, there was still a part of me that knew I didn't want that for myself. I now consider myself one of the lucky ones. I've met dozens of parents of young people who have committed suicide because of bullying.

We all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and to stop what is wrong. Too often we turn a blind eye. We're "too busy" or it's "not our problem". And of course there is my pet hate: the age-old attitude of "they've brought it on themselves". No one ever deserves to be bullied, nor do they bring it on themselves. I had this very argument recently with a teacher who told me that a 13-year-old girl was being incessantly bullied but that she "deserves" it as she is "socially awkward".

Currently, 16,000 students in the UK are refusing to go to school because of bullying. Together we can change this. All it takes is enough people to actually care.

One thing I've learned through the work I do is that often all a bullied person wants is to feel as though someone cares about them. Every single staff member in schools can play a part. Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. In fact, usually the children who take their own lives are the ones who have fallen through the cracks by being ignored. I met a teacher in the US who had been shot by a student who walked into his own school and opened fire, shooting four people before taking his own life. The shooter had been bullied for years.

One of the main problems when it comes to bullying is that often the people in charge haven't been bullied themselves so they can't begin to imagine how bad it really feels. This is exactly why there is a tendency to say "rise above it" or "ignore them", which of course doesn't help the victim in any way.

In my new television shows, I investigate bullying from every angle. I see the worst cases (from children who have committed suicide to a young boy left paralysed by his school bully) and I visit some of the best schools in the US to see how they have eradicated bullying. I then bring the techniques back to the UK and implement them in a school with a known bullying problem. The results are amazing. My aim is to get every parent and teacher to watch these shows and copy the techniques.

Until recently, I didn't think there was a solution to bullying. Now I know differently. I used to think bullies were evil and twisted. Now I know differently. I used to think bullies needed to be punished. Now I know differently. I used to think I was ugly and worthless, now I know differently. I'm not ugly; bullying is.

Jodie Marsh is taking part in a TES webchat on 3 April at 3.30pm (www.tesconnect.comwebchat). Jodie Marsh: Bullied will be broadcast on Channel 5 on 4 and 11 April at 10pm.

Photo credit: Getty

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