What is the Proper Way to Respond to Someone Making Fun of Your Looks?

Well, Darling Ones,

Last night’s Oscar ceremony was a trip. If you live under a rock you might not know that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair. She has Alopecia. You can watch video of the incident, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s icky to say the least and triggering if you have a history with this kind of violence. Or if you have a history of your appearance being the butt of many jokes. Or if you’re like me, both.

Last night I was reminded again that nuance is a lost art and it does not exist on the internet and in social media specifically. It’s right or wrong, black or white, us or them, #TeamThis or #TeamThat. My intent in typing today was to rail against the inability to see nuance. I was gonna make a case for “it’s complicated,” which is my response to all sorts of situations. Because, life is fucking complicated it doesn’t even take an appreciation of nuance to see that.

Instead, I realized something new and sadder. You can really tell what traumatized people by their reaction to The Slap. I’m sad to report a lot of people have been slapped around quite a bit, mostly as children. It’s horrifying.

Confession time: In the first few seconds after The Slap my reptilian brain was all, “hell yes, slap that fucker. He deserved it.” Which is a shitty thing to think. I have a lot of guilt about it because rationally I know nobody deserves to ever be hit.

I’ve also been bullied and made fun of for my appearance my entire life.

  • I don’t particularly like to wear green because I was called the Jolly Green Giant all through elementary school.
  • In junior high I was called Go-Go the Gorilla.
  • In high school I was called Harley Mama, often accompanied by a pinch on the butt.
  • From eighth grade through to junior year, two kids named Justin and Sean, would jump onto my back while telling me how fat and ugly I was.
  • As an adult a close friend told me to go on the TV show “The Biggest Loser.”

These are just the greatest hits. I do not have the strength in my fingers or enough tears in my eyes to document every time I was made fun of for being fat or ugly or too tall.

Maybe it’s brain chemistry or sheer quantity, but thinking or writing about the bullying brings me to tears quicker than the physical abuse, which was mostly sporadic but the threat was ever present. At holidays my uncles used to have pissing contests about the draconian ways they would punish their children. Yes, they would brag about who was the best abuser.

And still and still and still. . . it’s the bullying that hurts after all the years. The pain of the hits and slaps faded, but the pain of being made fun of still hurts.

Last night, Will Smith did something I always wanted to do. Slap the shit out of someone for making fun of me. Yes, Will Smith was not the one being made fun of. There is a lot of nuance to this incident I am not qualified to address. I’ll never be Black or famous or married or have to deal with the racist beauty standards imposed on Black women and their hair. All of those things complicate what happened.

So much of the discussion has been focussed on Smith and the slapping, which I understand. Words can also be violent. If you watch the video (and again, I DO NOT RECOMMEND) you can see Jada is not happy about what was said. And Chris Rock defends himself by saying “It was a GI Jane joke.”

“It’s just a joke” and “Can’t you take a joke?” Is often used to defend heinous behavior and words that hurt.

I’m nearly fifty years old and I still don’t know how to respond to people who make fun of my appearance. I never knew how. All I was ever told was to “ignore them and they’ll go away.” So, that’s what I did and guess what? They never went away. Ignoring it never helped at all. Being told to ignore it never addressed the harm.

While I don’t condone Smith’s violence at the same time I can understand it. What are you supposed to do when someone makes fun of your appearance? I know hitting/punching the asshole isn’t right. Even if it would feel so good to go back to 1986 and punch Justin right in the face, I could never do it. I don’t have punching in me.

So, I’m sincerely asking what is the proper response to being made fun of for your appearance, because I don’t know.

Complicatedly yours,

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  1. Pete Thelen 28.Mar.22 at 1:11 pm

    I’m going with “Tell me, why would you say that”? To put the burden on the other party to explain their motivations for hurtful behavior. The intonation is important here.

    1. Jodi Chromey 28.Mar.22 at 1:17 pm

      You are much calmer in the face of insults. Mostly I focus on not crying and trying to find some place to hide so I can cry.

  2. Stasia 28.Mar.22 at 1:19 pm

    I don’t know if this will help, but in high school I had two bullies who continued to harass me in the hallways the year after we had a class together. The turning point came when I laughed at/with them instead of acting scared. They never bothered me again.


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