Isn’t that a question that we all ask ourselves at some point in our adult life? Some, like me, will extrapolate and write a song about it. Yes, I am a songwriter.
I wrote a song called Take Me Away, an upbeat track that kids from all ages can love and respond to. It is a very personal song about my uneasiness growing up different and consequently suffering from bullying and low self-esteem. I am often asked if what I write in my songs is always true. I answer no, but Take Me Away is the one song in which every word is true.
It is a conversation with my teenage self. “One day / you will see / I’ll be the person you’d want to be / but for now I can’t look in the mirror…” But also a testimony of what I believe to be true today: hold on and it will just get better because there is hope.
I grew up in the town of Nice in France, recently made more famous by the horrific terrorist attack on its Promenade last July. And when I say I grew up, I really grew and grew. At 13 years old, I was already 6ft tall, despite the unsuccessful efforts of my doctor who put me on a hormone therapy to stop my ascendance. After 4-5 months on that treatment, I stopped it as the side effects (back then) sucked! Luckily, my elementary school teachers thought it wise to have me jump Kindergarten because of my height.
That didn’t stop the fact that I was still the tallest and now the youngest in class, in a country where people are short-ish, olive-skinned with dark hair. I was a very blond, blue-eyed tomboy uncomfortable with my body.
The bullying I talk about in Take Me Away started in 7th grade. The girls became vicious and I had no idea how to defend myself, seek help or how to behave. It was a devastating year that crushed my self-esteem for many years to come. Throughout my schooling, the nasty girls would throw ink at me. I was an easy target. Was it because I let them see I was a target? I so wanted to be like everyone else, I was longing for inclusion and affirmation. And boys? Forget that, I was a head taller!
It’s hard to believe that was whom I was when you look at me today. Although it has taken me years to own my body, I have learned to use it to my advantage and went on to be a model and actress.
Do I wear high heels on the regular? Not much. But that’s ok, why would I? Don’t think that the air is better up there or that you have a better view. It’s just hard to hear anyone in a crowded place if you’re towering above. The contortion that needs to happen in order for me to actually hear what my girlfriends are saying is not worth the elevation.
So, here are the main things I would tell my teenage self:
– Concentrate on valuable relationships, like a true friendship. The other kind of friendship is fluff. It doesn’t mean it’s not important to have friends, but finding a like-minded person who understands you is everything. And if that means you need to find that person outside of school, so be it.
– Find something you are passionate about. It is not given to everyone to be passionate about something. It is a gift of life to know very early on what one likes or wants to do. I didn’t have that.
I realize today that I simply don’t care about what people think. I would have avoided a lot of despair in my earlier years had I been passionate about something or just busier with the right things like work, volunteering or singing in a band.
– Seek help. Not with my mother, bless her. But with the school and other help organizations. It is vital to know that one isn’t alone in this hardship. I find that in this country, talking about bullying is a thing, it doesn’t seem to be taboo anymore. I wish I had those resources back then.
– Give it time. I always found it corny to hear grown-ups say that. What does it mean? How much time? But it’s true! Now I’m the one preaching. Time will heal you and give you space to understand your feelings without the drama. How much time is up to you and how much effort you put into the healing process.
My heart breaks when too often in the news I hear that another teenager takes his or her life because of shaming, bullying. I want to reach out to them and tell them to just hold on a little while longer. You will find your peers, you will overcome the hardships and become a worthy person.
I only knew bullying at school, but outside of that physical space, I was drowning in a happy life. Now, kids are faced with 24/7 connection and potential bullying in their cyber world. It’s too much to bear.
What those crushed kids need is hope. Hope that they will grow out of their despair, hope that things won’t affect them so much with time, hope that they can fight back and that they’re not alone, hope that they can become the person they are meant to be.
To quote Beyoncé in her Formation song, she says “Stay gracious, your best revenge is your paper”. Revenge can be positive. It can be an endless motivator to be the best person you can be, with effort and grace. And if paper comes along too, well, good for you.
As a mother to young children, I am conscious every day how to teach them to be strong individuals. As an artist, I hope my story and my song Take Me Away will inspire youngsters out there to hold on just a little while longer. Because help and change are always available and they are not alone.