This is an excerpt of my book “Shattered Image”. Shattered Image is the story of my struggle with, and recovery from, a compulsive behavior clinically known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). That struggle has included recovery from bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, and addiction to cocaine and steroids. I also suffer from clinical depression. For decades, I engaged in self-destructive behavior with the single goal of correcting a terribly distorted sense of self-image, a self-image rooted in early life experiences. Release date is August 2013 See what people are saying about Shattered Image!
When I was thirteen years old, I was “pantsed” by kids I thought were my friends. Or should I say, I was pantsed by kids who I was pretending were my friends in a vain attempt to feel accepted. It was the most humiliating experience of my young life. In reality, it was a physical assault.
While I was walking home from junior high with these classmates, they started making fun of my shiny gold pants my brother Mark had given me, commenting on how tight they were on my fat body. They started pulling at them. One kid yanked them down over my underwear and tore them off me. The rest joined in ripping them into rags that they threw into the street. I was laughed at and taunted about having to walk the mile home on a busy street in my underwear. Many drivers passed and gawked but no one stopped. I gathered up the remaining shreds that were lying on the pavement and tried cover myself up for the walk home—a cross country trek of shame. The message from my “friends” was loud and clear. I was not one of them. The last thing I remember hearing as I stood there in my underwear letting them build some distance from me was, “Hey Cuban, when you get some new pants, get a bra while you’re at it.”
What happened that day was not posted onto YouTube. No Facebook page was created. No one tweeted about it. There was no Facebook. There was no Internet. There was no such thing as cyber-bullying in 1974. It never went beyond the group involved and whomever they told to boast of their deeds. If bullying went “viral” it spread through the lunchroom and classroom. After the incident, kids would come up to me in the lunch line and ask me how I liked walking home in my underwear. I could feel the derisive looks and smirks. How did I handle it? I did not fight back as I had done in summer camp. Instead, I used my tried and true technique of self-deprecating humor and self-degradation. A coping skill I would take with me into adulthood. Ha, they really got me good didn’t they . . . Instead of fighting back or getting angry, it seemed easier to make fun of myself and try to be everyone’s friend, even if they continued to bully me.
I never stood up for myself so nothing happened. I could have fought back. I could have gone to my parents. I could have gone to the school. I did none of those things. Thinking back, the reasons that resonate over forty years later is that I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my body. I agreed with the kids who were humiliating me. I felt I should be humiliated by my inability to control my body. To “fix it.” What I saw in the mirror was a mass of grotesque imperfection, and the bullies had done me the favor of confirming that my thoughts about myself were accurate.
For some kids, the Episode of the Gold Pants might seem like a typical rite of passage, an act of mortification that they might even laugh about as adults. But for me the walk of shame and the public gossip that followed it altered the way I thought about myself for many long years. How is that possible? Why did this one act of bullying have such an outsized impact on my psyche? Bullying is a hot topic in the media now, with new book releases every season about the deleterious effects of bullying culture in the country. We all read reports in the news about children pushed to acts of self-harm by elaborately orchestrated bullying campaigns. The subject has been covered so extensively lately, that there’s even a sort of backlash: a few writers point out that some of what we label “bullying” is an inevitable part of the fabric of childhood and that over-diagnosing the problem is counterproductive.
What some of these conversations miss, however, is that all bullies and their victims are individuals with rich and complex personalities, not just generic social actors. To every experience, we all bring unique innate tendencies along with a network of past experiences. In my case, I already had an innate tendency toward obsessive behavior and shyness, a growing sense of social isolation in a new school environment, and—perhaps as significant as anything—a home life increasingly characterized by discord and verbal abuse from my mom. At school, I badly wanted to fit in, and I lived in constant fear that I’d hear from my peers words that echoed those I’d hear from my mother at home: We don’t accept fat pigs and dumb bunnies into our group.