When I was small, I was really afraid to smile, and to show my smile. I was always hiding my mouth with my hands while I was laughing. I grew up in Ukraine. I lived there for sixteen years, and most of my personality was formed there. I was in elementary and middle school when all of these things happened to me, and made me change my point of view on myself. I had a lot of bullies because of my look. I didn’t look like others kids, I had an “ugly smile” and “ugly face”, according to them, so my classmates started making fun of me. I don’t blame them now because we were just kids. Usually they were bullying me about my teeth. I heard, “You look like a bunny” and “Your teeth are as big as a beaver’s”, and I hated it. So I changed schools a lot because I couldn’t stand it, and because teachers and the other students’ parents didn’t want to do anything about it. I remember one day, the first day of the second semester of sixth grade. I came back from winter break, and I was in a good mood after resting -- that is until my classmates started saying these offensive things again. In that moment my feelings turned topsy-turvy, and my sadness sat inside of me until my mom picked me up from school and asked, “How was your day?”, and all of the criticisms that I got that day turned into water flowing from my eyes to my cheeks. I never came back to that school after that day. When I arrived at my new school, I was very ashamed of my face, even though I started wearing braces. Even as my smile got better, I still felt that I looked bad, and that I wasn’t pretty enough. I felt that all of the people around me were always better than me. At my new school, I met one of my friends. He was the type of guy that I never expected to be friends with. He was tall, handsome, and popular. I... I was a shy girl who moved to that school because everyone hated me at my old school. He always asked me, “Why are you hiding your mouth with your hands when you start laughing?” And when I answered him, “I don’t like my smile; it’s ugly,” he always told me that I looked good, that I have a good smile, and I don’t have to worry about it. And his support helped me a lot. I started getting more and more friends, and it was surprising to me that they didn’t pay attention to my face and my smile. After a few months I came to understand that my friend was right; maybe I really did care too much about it. I changed a lot over the years, not just be- cause I was wearing braces, but because I grew up and I understood more than I did when I was younger. So now I don’t care what others think about my face or my look. It took a lot of time for me to truly understand this. I like when someone gives me constructive criticism, but I don’t care about people who just throw out whatever they want to say. Now I know that if I don’t look like someone else it’s not a reason to be ashamed or not love yourself because we are all different, and we all look different. You never have to bully someone because of how they look, or because they don’t look like you, or have different points of view. Even if people are mean to you, it doesn’t mean that you should be like them. If you cannot stop them from bullying, you can always be a better person.
© Anna Malachynska. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.