I can’t recall how many times I’ve been called ‘fat’ and/or ‘ugly.’ By schoolmates, strangers, even by some people who were close to me. Back when I was a teenager, I was in the crosshairs of the school bully. He would approach me and just brush his palm across my forehead or grab my ID and exclaim in Tagalog, “you’re so ugly you look like a horse in your ID!” As Fate would have it, I was to be bullied again. This time in another language. Yesterday, a girl saw my photo on Instagram, reposted it without permission, poked fun at my lack of skill in reading Russian (see photo), and tagged it ‘fat’ and ‘ugly,’ among others.
I didn’t lose what my mom calls my ‘baby fat’ until my second year in college. So when I was a freshman, one time a group of guys called me ‘pogi‘ (handsome) because I wore baggy shirts and shorts and had a short haircut. I wasn’t doing anything to catch their attention but apparently, boyish-looking girls annoyed them. As a sophomore, right after I shed the extra weight, I beefed up because I took up Taekwondo and swimming. A common day, a usual routine, I was waiting for the photocopyist to finish making copies of our readings. Suddenly, these fratmen kept hollering (at me, I was sure of it) “Wow, macho!” I was wearing a sleeveless top so my toned biceps were exposed. It made waiting for my readings seemed like eternity. I mean, what can you do in that situation? When I finally looked like a girl and started wearing girly clothes (spaghetti straps and all that jazz), I became an easy target for catcallers. When I pass by construction workers, they’ll be whistling and ogling. Once, when I paid my fare to a tricycle boy, he didn’t let go of my hand. I had to pry myself away from him; good thing it was in a public place already. I almost shouted for help…
Many individuals silently suffer from bullying. We hear stories of kids not wanting to go to school anymore, and recently, of good persons being driven to depression (eg, the case of Christopher Lao) or getting physically abused all because of cyberbullying (a number of them even committed suicide; catch this news on CNN). It’s sad that people judge others severely or engage in mass mentality without knowing the psychological and emotional effects they have on those being bullied. In my case, it doesn’t matter how I look — fat, buff, slim, inverted — if others found me worth bullying, they will bully me. And they come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of persistence!
I was class valedictorian in grade school and high school. I graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Diliman. I’m an Intermediate 2 pole student. And yet I am bullied. You can say I’m used to it by now. When my pole buddy alerted me of the bullying of my pole picture, my initial reaction was that of numbness. Do you know that sensation, when your heart blocks yourself from feeling anything? Like it’s protecting you from potential harm. So I thought, I have been here before. This girl — who isn’t even pretty, mind you (and I’m saying this objectively) — was laughing at what she perceives as fat and ugly. Just because I looked different or abnormal (from her POV), she thought she earned the right to bring me down. I could easily ignore her since she is of no significance to me but this incident says a lot about society in general. (Watch this TED talk of a model who has great insight on the power of image.)
She also made me realize that even I myself have been guilty of bias. I was called a mean girl too, a couple of times or so in my life. I say things in jest or as innocent comments but we know that there’s always more color in words than we can see. Even when nothing is uttered, you can feel what the others are thinking. There’s this story I heard from someone in class; she went to another studio to try out a class there but she was received rather coldly. She was eyed from head to toe, looked down upon because she was heavy. If only they knew how good she is on the pole, they’ll be ashamed!
One of the reasons I love being a student at Polecats Manila is that they promote body acceptance and self respect. Add to that the environment that is very conducive to learning and of course the teachers and students who are very warm, friendly and supportive. Quoting from Polecats founder, Mommacat Christina Dy, “don’t let anyone dictate how you see yourself, ever.” Read her blog about her weight loss; it’s really nice and inspiring.
Pole dancing is not only an art, a sport, or a fitness regimen — it is a way of life. A kind that everyone is welcome to experience. To quote the man I look up to, John Lennon, “It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what colour my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man.” Peace and love.