This is Shira’s story:
I was nine years old and chubby, with short frizzy hair, buck teeth, and very little confidence. Today I know what confidence is, but then, anyone could have walked all over me. And that’s exactly what happened.
At the start of fourth grade, I had friends. I actually had two friends I was close with, but they were friends with everyone; one might say they were a little cooler than I was. But that didn’t faze me.
There was another “cool” girl in my class, who was friends with everyone, boys and girls, and always wore a bra strap headband, which she claimed her mother invented.
To be honest I can’t remember the first instance of her bullying me. All I can recall is the amount of crying I did after repeated episodes of bullying.
She made fun of my hair, my weight, my looks, my style (or lack thereof – I was nine!); she zeroed in on me for just about anything. She turned classmates against me and I felt worthless. When she picked on me none of the other kids ever stood up for me, and I remember feeling so lonely.
I have a vivid memory of coming home one day, running down the very steep hill of our driveway, bursting into the house, and crying in my mother’s arms on the stairs. I remember her holding me as I cried uncontrollably while recounting the day, and her telling me, “It will be OK.”
This particular day stands out to me, as I feel that after this day, something changed.
Soon afterwards, my mom came with me to school to meet with the headmaster. When you walked into the lobby of my school, on the right were the main office secretary and assistant principal’s desks, and on the left was the headmaster’s office. Outside of his office was a small waiting room. Since it was the beginning of the day, lots of kids were inside the waiting room with me and my mom. Everyone asked why my mom was there with me. I didn’t respond.
It wasn’t until all the students went upstairs that my mom turned to me and gave me a silver ring, which had a tiny pearl with two gold ball accents. My mom said, “Shiri, this ring will give you courage when you need it and I can’t be there. When you need me, just rub the ring and I’m sending you courage.”
After that moment the headmaster invited us into his office.
It seemed that after this visit to the headmaster, the bullying I experienced escalated. My mother’s main concern was that the teachers were not handling it properly. Of course the teachers couldn’t watch every move and every action.
In the spring, my mother asked me if I wanted to switch to another school. I said yes. I remember visiting the new school.
It was a unique situation since it was the end of the school year and they weren’t accepting new students, but due to extreme measures, they made an exception.
I don’t remember my last interaction with the girl who bullied me. To be honest, when I switched schools, I forgot about the Shira from fourth grade – that extremely fragile, lonely girl. I was so focused on making new friends and not looking back. And that’s what I did for over 20 years: I never looked back.
While I still had my courage ring, I felt like I had shoved all those painful memories of being bullied into a box and hid it in the back of the closet. But two years ago, those painful memories came rushing back when I came across the story of a young girl who had been bullied when she was nine, just like me. She had taken that negative experience and turned it into an empowering message for other girls. I said to myself, “If she can do it at nine, I can do it at 29!”
In 2018 I decided to create an anti-bullying campaign called Hat Not Hate. While my passion about preventing bullying is clearly personal, it’s unfortunately a universal problem: bullying has become an epidemic that seems to have no antidote. Around one in four kids in the US is bullied, and recurring bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior.
And so, the idea for Hat Not Hate was born. Lion Brand Yarn Company, where I’ve been serving as the Brand Ambassador for the last five years, helped launch the Hat Not Hate initiative. The concept of Hat Not Hate is to get knitters and crocheters to knit and crochet blue hats (blue represents awareness and solidarity, and is the color to wear in support of bullying prevention) and donate them to the cause. We would then give these hats to schools across the country for students to wear in October, National Bullying Prevention Month, empowering them to be strong and stand up to bullying, and to feel encouraged with all the love imbued in these handmade hats.