by Victoria Contreras
My mom has always told me “Mija (Daughter), you can do anything – be anything if you put your mind to it because you are the most powerful person in your life.”
But I didn’t believe it until I recognized the power within myself.
I remember being the shy middle-schooler, who always seemed to be the target of petty torment, usually about my adorable chubby frame.
Most kids, though, didn’t see me as adorably chubby.
I remember being turned away from a table, classmates telling me that I wouldn’t fit in the empty seat. I remember being met with stares and whispers when I would change into my shorts for gym class. Soon, I replaced my shorts with baggy sweatpants that would hide my legs. Heck, I remember they even found a way to make fun of me when I was running, calling me ‘torpedo.’
Nothing I did was right.
I had my friends. I loved them, and they loved me as I was. My problem is that I have always believed that everyone is special. I have always been the type to want to befriend everyone – or at the very least be kind. I reached out to the ‘popular’ crowd, and I reached out to the kid who ate a bug in first grade and was forever deemed a creep.
I couldn’t understand how kids could meet my genuine compassion with disdain.
My self-esteem was low, and I began to put myself down. If not for the strong women in my life lifting me up, I don’t know how I would’ve made it.
At one point, I thought enough was enough. I considered being just as mean as the others. But meeting hate with hate wouldn’t make me feel any better. That wasn’t me. I no longer wanted classmates to hold power over me.
[bctt tweet=”Despite their constant harassment, they would not break me.” username=”womenoftheelca”]
What did I do to get back at ‘my haters’? I sang to them.
Moment of empowerment
I decided to perform Adele’s Chasing Pavements at my seventh-grade talent show. ‘What did that do?’ you may ask. Performing was my way of showing them, that despite their constant harassment, they would not break me.
I didn’t need to stand up to them or prove I was good enough. I needed to recognize that I was the most powerful person in my life. So, I walked onto that stage, in my rainbow-colored top & skinny jeans, and sang my little heart out. It was a moment of empowerment.
My performance was the start of change within myself. My confidence began to grow. Once I recognized the power within, nothing could stop me.
To say that the bullying that I endured doesn’t affect me now would be a lie. I still remember the names of my bullies (yes, I remember you – every one of you). And I remember where I was and even what I was wearing when I was made to feel like nothing.
Even now, there are moments that trigger an anxiety about my self-image.
If you were to ask me if I would change anything about my experience, I would say no. I was blessed enough to learn at a young age that confidence is not acquired by putting others down, but by lifting yourself up. The only person who can limit you – the only person who can define you – is you.
It is this experience that will forever stay with me because it is what has shaped me into the confident woman I am today.
Victoria Contreras is a senior at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., studying psychology, legal studies and gender studies. She worked with Women of the ELCA this summer.