Emma Bell’s Painfully Powerful True Body Image War Story
March 12, 2013 by Robyn Hussa Farrell
Filed under Body Image, Empowerment, Featured, Finding Your Voice, Guys, Healthy Communication, Loving Your Body, Moms & Sisters, Role Models, Self Esteem, Self-Acceptance, Self-Care, Self-Compassion, Talking To Kids
The talented and generous Emma Bell shares with Real Deal her painful story of being bullied …
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.
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 @Emmabell17facebook fanpage Emma Bellwebsite- www.emmabell.org