The power of accepting one’s name-calling

January 30, 2017 — by Ryan Kim

How name-calling shaped a junior's life for the better

“Monkey! Do the monkey dance! Come on, Monkey, do the Dance!” “Where’s my favorite elephant? Show me those ears!” “Come on, Smiley, smile! Where’s that smile, Smiley?”

I suppose the last name wasn’t so bad — judging by how it shaped me into quite an optimistic individual during fifth grade — but for years I endured name-calling in all forms: from a monkey to an elephant to even a bat. I suffered a lot of verbal teasing as a child for my abnormally large ears.

I’m not sure how I resembled a bat, but needless to say, I was not a fan of being called demeaning names, however light and trivial the teasing was. Throughout elementary school and half of middle school, I was labeled “Monkey,” belittled and teased for my large ears. At times, I grew very depressed and started fretting over my self-image, constantly trying to push back my extended ears with my hands to make them seem smaller.

At first I tried laughing along with everyone else, but it was clear that my laugh rang hollow. I then tried to ignore the remarks, but shrugging them off was tough, especially when my fourth grade friends constantly asked, “Hey Monkey! Why so serious? It’s just a joke!”

Understandably, as a young child, I suffered from my physical insecurity; I began scuttling from class to class, trying to hide my large ears. I also started drifting away from friends who, albeit jokingly, called me such names.

My only sanctuary was family; every time I visited my grandparents in South Korea, they would look at my ears and remark, “Now those are the ears of an intelligent leader! So outstanding and proud!”

Of course, I was quite embarrassed and somewhat annoyed by my grandparents’ strange obsession over what I deemed as my worst physical characteristic. I began thinking about what it would be like if I were normal like everyone else: I wouldn’t have such outrageously huge ears, I would fit in more and I wouldn’t have to withstand all of this teasing.

One day, as my friends and I were playing soccer in a nearby field, my closest friend yelled, “Hey Monkey, pass!” And I did. Whereas the Ryan a day before would have hid and curled up into a metaphorical shell, I gladly passed the ball to my teammate, who scored the winning goal.

As we were walking back to our goalposts, he said, “Nice pass, Monkey!” And, strangely enough, I was not upset with my friend for calling me that; I had somehow accepted the name. I replied, “Thanks! Nice play,” leaving my friend stunned that I had not been embarrassed or blushed as I would have done in the past. The power of the name-calling died instantly.

That night, I decided to test my newfound indifference to the name-calling, so I looked into the mirror and said to myself, “Take a long, objective look at yourself. Don’t consider your insecurities or what other people call you. Look only at yourself.”

Once I did that, I found that, except for some acne, I was fine; my body had grown so that my ears seemed adequate, proportionate even, to myself. I realized that by ignoring the names I had been called, I had lost my insecurity over them and had accepted myself for how I was and what I looked like.

I began embracing my ears as part of myself, taking on the most difficult step of dealing with verbal abuse. I found that, when I truly accepted my physical image, the weight behind the teasing and name-calling became nullified. For my situation, focusing on self-confidence and acceptance worked as the best remedies.

My self-esteem has drastically improved since. Now, at the Korean school where I volunteer, I laugh along with my students as we discuss the abnormalities of my large ears. Among my closest friends, I sometimes brush off being called a “monkey” by showing off my “Buddha” ears.

I have accepted who I am: my own characteristics, personality and actions. The names I was once called are past pains, ones that I now use on myself to entertain my students and younger guests at parties. I’ve found that the key to fighting verbal bullying, no matter its severity, is accepting it as irrelevant and learning to move on.