Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Emma Bell’s Painfully Powerful True Body Image War Story

The talented and generous Emma Bell shares with Real Deal her painful story of being bullied …

courtesy of Emma Bell

courtesy of Emma Bell

When I was 6 years old I got in trouble for kissing my ‘boyfriend’ in preschool during reading. We thought we’d get married.  When I was in 1st grade I serenaded the boy I liked with a rousing rendition of “A bushel and a peck” on the morning commute to school. He turned bright red but forgot about it by the afternoon commute. When I was in 4th grade I understood what a broken heart felt  like as I gave my crush a red rose symbolizing love,  and he gave me a yellow one, the ubiquitous color of friendship.

But 5th grade marked a heart break of an entirely different kind. Needless to say, I was a strong willed lady, even that young. I was brought up with several empowering mottos: ‘You can be anything you want.’, ‘If you want something, go get it,’ and my favorite at the time, ‘One day you’ll find your Prince.’ Well I took all of them to heart, resulting in an aggressive and confident attitude towards letting my feelings about something or someone be known.

What’s the worst that could happen? In my case, it was 4 years of complete and utter hell.

A simple word can have so much impact. For me it was ‘cow’. For the boy who first called me that, it was ‘like’.  I “developed” early on — earlier than most of my peers — mostly in my bra size and my height, and I suppose this was too intimidating to the male population of my middle school.  My declaration of ‘like’ aroused snickers of embarrassment, and deemed the poor kid uncool in his friend’s eyes. What could he do about it? Pass the heat to me.

For the rest of my middle school career I would be known as ‘cow’,’farm animal’, ‘fatty’. First it started with the boy I crushed on and his guy friends, but slowly it spread like wildfire. Being picked on is almost like the flu; No one wants it, and it’s incredibly infectious.  The greatest antibody for my fellow students was to join in the bullying. There was never a moment when I didn’t hear mooing as I walked down the halls, or have a barrage of cow pictures fall out at my face when I opened my locker.

I tried my best, through tear stained eyes, to force the torment out of my head.

My mother and friends would constantly soothe my sensitive self with affirmations of my strong character, my bright personality, my sharp wit. But I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to be beautiful.

While my girlfriends all grew up to have their first boyfriends, their first hand holding, their first kisses, I watched on supportively but alone. I was tainted. In my dramatic mind, I envisioned being alone forever, never finding that Prince I so dreamed of. How could a boy ever like me back?

The eyes of my peers gradually became mine — I learned that in order to defend myself against the onslaught, I had to laugh at myself, too.  I didn’t fight them anymore, only laughed and agreed. Whenever they pointed through the school windows and told me not to eat the squirrels, or made pretend fart noises at me in gym class, at least laughing got me a pat on the back. I found most young boys are not really compassionate towards tears. Tears make them feel bad so they make you feel worse. But laughter, laughter makes them laugh and move on.

I became so deft at deflection I started truly believing it.

When I looked in the mirror I no longer saw myself, I saw a fat cow. Period.  I was too thick, my face too round, my stomach too jiggly. In a nutshell, I was unlovable. The question changed from how to why would a boy ever like me? Suddenly, my self worth was only as good as I looked.

I worked my butt off to try to get rid of whatever it was that made me unattractive. I went on my first diet when I was 11. No bread, no sugar, no dairy. I danced, I cheerlead, and I ran track, but I never really changed. Looking back now, I realize I was a growing girl in a very awkward stage and I was ahead of everyone else. That was it. But in the moment, I was worthless and unattractive but determined not to be that way anymore.

For the next 4 years, I worked hard to be something other than the school ‘cow’ and cool kid punching bag. I got into acting. You might question my parents for allowing their already self-image fragile daughter to get into that terribly self conscious profession; It’s rejection 98% of the time. To me, though, it was my way out. In my mind I couldn’t loose anymore than I already had. I walked into an environment where I was rejected every day by the boys I liked and the girls I wanted to be.  A few stiffs in a casting room rejecting me wasn’t going to hurt. Plus, I knew that one day they wouldn’t reject me and it would prove to those bullies that I was something.

The summer between my 8th grade and freshman year at high school I dropped about 18 pounds. It was unintentional. Meaning, I didn’t change anything to make it happen, it was just time for my body to change. I walked into high school, concerned the stench of bullying was still on me. Still lingered in my hair, on my clothes. To my great surprise, no one said a thing!  In this new school, I wasn’t haunted by mooing, I was no longer a cow.

I was suddenly the skinny one!  Yet I still didn’t feel beautiful and I felt I had a lot to prove.

The years went on, I began working solidly in NYC; Commercials, Soaps, TV shows, and even movies.  I was a bonfide actress, yet when I looked at that mirror all I saw was the fat cow. Men started hitting on me, calling me beautiful, wanting to date me and I didn’t believe them. I just didn’t believe them. The girl who used to chase boys around the playground to get a hug, could barely look into a grown man’s eyes and accept a compliment.

My first boyfriend was my first love. We were inseparable. He was the romantic type and would woo me constantly. In his eyes I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. After the delirium of our new romance washed away, being with him starting making me self- conscious. I had to go to the gym every day to stay in shape, and try every diet in the book.  I wanted to keep him. I didn’t want to give him a reason to leave me. In my mind that reason was a few extra pounds.

I couldn’t understand myself. Here I was, 21, healthy, successful, living my dream, dating a prince and I hated what I was.  Why was I so stupid? Why was I so blind? Why wasn’t I a size 0 yet?!

Then I realized: I was the bully. I was bullying me.

Even though I told everyone I was better than the bullying, that I would never fall prey to the pitfalls of low self-esteem, silently I mocked and criticized and mooed at myself . I spewed hatred at any inch of my skin that I deemed ‘unlovable’ to others. When really I was unlovable to myself. Princes don’t matter if you make yourself the wicked witch.

butterfly5“You can be anything you want”

That motto took on a whole new meaning to me that day. I could be an 11 year old victim who wasn’t lovable or I could be the new Emma, the strong, capable, and yes, beautiful Emma.

We are our own Champions. All we really have is ourselves. Sure we have friends and family, but in our hearts and in our minds it’s us. If we can’t love who we are, the bodies we live in, we’re no better than those that put us down. The good news about being our own bully is… We have the power to stop it.  We don’t have to worry about someone else’s feelings about us because those  can’t be changed anyway. We can, though, work on our own. That’s what I’m doing.

Everyday I work on not being a bully to myself.  It’s not always easy, sometimes I still see imperfection when I look in the mirror, but I have to remind that part of myself that she’s stuck in middle school, and I’m not there anymore.

Emma Bell has worked in film and TV for over 10 years. Starting as a recurring character on the short lived WB series, Bedford Diaries in NYC. After many Law and Orders, Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural and CSI Miami guest spots, Emma landed the role of ‘Amy’ in AMC’s hit show, The Walking Dead. Now she stars as ‘Emma Brown Ryland’ on TNT’s hit reboot, Dallas.
She’s also starred in many films over the years, from independent to big budget studio. Playing ‘The Girl’ in Death in Love, and ‘Parker’ in Frozen, both of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and ‘Molly’ in Final Destination 5.
twitter @Emmabell17
facebook fanpage Emma Bell
website- www.emmabell.org
photo courtesy of Emma Bell

photo courtesy of Emma Bell


6 Responses to “Emma Bell’s Painfully Powerful True Body Image War Story”
  1. Jax says:

    Wow. Emma…

    This just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, how nice, how funny. Kids will be kids.

    I was bullied for most of my school years, something to this day I have never told anyone. I remember sitting on the school bus, surrounded by the “cool” kids, who put the little kids up to hitting me in the back of the head, slapping me on the face, kicking me and tripping me whenever I walked down the aisle. I put up with being called “fat,” “smelly” and “weird” in junior high. In high school, the bullying lessened, but it was too late for me. I was a loner, a suppressed personality pushed to the side because I figured these kids, my tormentors, didn’t care to know me, so why bother? The truth is, they had changed, I had not.

    Now, I look at my twin nieces, who are 9, and worry for them as they grow. I worry the skinny one will be a bully, and her sister, the round one (like her aunt) will be the bullied. I wish I could protect them, but all I can do is raise them up and hopefully make them see their worthiness, so one doesn’t bully and the other isn’t bullied.

    Thank you, Emma, for sharing your story. You are an inspiration, and I’m proud to be a fan.

    • Emma Bell says:

      That sounds like a pretty traumatic experience in school. Thank you for being so brave to share it with me.

      The thing I learned about my bullying experience is that in a way, it was one of the best things to happen to me. I took it and used it to push myself to rise above it. I honestly think if I had been one of the ‘cool’ kids I wouldn’t have realized my love for acting at such a young age. And I see other kids do that too. It’s sort of cliche, I suppose things become cliche for a reason, but when I run into people in my adult life who truly inspire me, they were usually victims of some sort of bullying. They were tormented or made the butt of the joke, and after the pain of it all, they strove for something better. Being bullied puts the bullied in an interesting situation; they don’t have the approval of their peers, so they don’t need to upkeep it. That’s kind of liberating. Not to say I think kids should be bullied or have to be bullied in order to make something of themselves, but I am saying, when a kid is bullied they have a choice on how to deal with it. It can make them stronger if they want it to.

      Your nieces are definitely entering into that stage of life. And they may have to pick sides in order to keep up appearances, make friends, impress boys etc. I’d say, tell them about your experience. Let them in on the pain it caused you and how stunted you felt by it. I’m sure you’ve allowed you personality to flourish now, but tell them how you felt you missed out on an important stage in life because you were afraid to back then. Let them know that they may be put in similar positions themselves, or may find themselves given the choice to be on the otherside, to be the bully. Remind them it is a choice, and they don’t have to choose it.

      I think kids want to communicate with us, and look up to adults to help guide them. Sure they also definitely want a hands on experience, but somewhere deep inside, your voice will resonate. If they start to become bullied, let them know that it has nothing NOTHING to do with them or their self-worth and everything to do with the other bully’s lack of self worth. Tell them they can choose to rise above it, and make themselves strong.

      I’m sorry, I realize you didn’t ask my advice. But for all it’s worth here it is. :o) Thank you for you kind words of support and my heart goes out to you.

  2. Sally says:

    Dear Emma,
    Thanks for sharing your story with others. I still find it hard to share my story even with closest family. A comment by a group of “popular” boys in Jr. High changed my life forever. That comment has affected my life every day since…and not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I am now 42! In Jr. High and High School, the comment and its effects seemed so insurmountable and I still cry when I see pics from that time. I agree with your comment to “Jax” that we can choose to grow from the experience. It is impossible for me to forget. But after time, I’ve learned to carry “it” with me in a positive way. I now work with children and teens and we grow strong together. My heart breaks at some of their daily struggles in school or at home. It is a wonderful feeling to see them grow and move through some of the grunge. To see a glimmer of self worth they can build on and it gives me hope. THANK YOU AGAIN

    • Emma Bell says:

      Sally, Thank you for commenting and for all that you do for young kids today. You are clearly a positive role model for them. That is the most important thing. Thank you!

      • Sally says:

        Challenging and rewarding – I have been lucky for sure! My interest and love of the environment and animals has proven good to working with kids. I tend to try and get kids outside as well as use “misfit” and “undesirable” and “rescued” animals available to help heal and show all has worth and deserves respect. Find the beauty in all. I think the most reaction comes to my bearded dragon, hedgehog, tarantula and giant cockroaches! The connection is instant- either fear, curiousity, love or hate….emotions we can grow from. Peace out!

  3. AmeliaM says:

    Hi there Emma

    Your story touched me so much. Your Are so beautiful, that I can’t believe you were bullied.

    I actually came as a ‘shock’, when I read your story.

    I was also bullied at school. It started in grade6. Then it stopped a bit, then in grade 9 it started again.

    I was never the brightest or the pretiest, and there were rude girls. Bigger then me. They used to call me names, like ‘Liewe Heksie’. (it is a cartoon chacacter here in South-Africa.) She was a witch. A good witch.But is hurt so so so much!!!

    Every afthernoon afther school, I would go to the bathroom ,look in the mirror and try to see the ‘resemblence’.

    In grade 11 and 12, it got worse. When I walked home, the bullies walked right behind me, and sing the title-song. Very loud!!!

    It was terrible!!! Horrible!!! I had no friends. (who want to be friends with a ‘witch’?)

    Every break at school, I hide in the library. There they left me alone.

    Up untill today, (Im am 44), I still hate my looks!!!

    I only have one friend, and will never got married, because one the bullies was a boy!!!

    I appologise for my spellling and grammer. English is my 2nd language, and never was my strongpoint.

    Hope you have an awesome week.

    Amelia (South-Africa)

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