25 Famous Women on Bullying

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Getting teased or mocked mercilessly for simply existing used to be confined to schoolyards and real life — something we could often escape at the end of the day. But the internet and social media have made bullying even more insidious and pervasive. Famous women especially have been targeted by trolls who seem to delight in sending threats; too often, attacked women have received little to no support from social-media sites. Last summer, the internet dragged Olympian Gabby Douglas through the mud for not smiling in Rio. To her rescue was none other than Leslie Jones, after she faced a scathing cyberbullying assault by disgraced alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos, which finally led to his permanent ban from Twitter.

Below, 25 women share their experiences of being the bully or being the victim of bullies. Read on for advice from Viola Davis, Hillary Clinton, Laverne Cox, and more on how they learned to rise above their haters, stand up for others, and be resilient.

Leslie Jones

After Milo Yiannopoulos lost his book deal: “You guys are giving him to [sic] much energy. I was done the day I blocked him & got his ass banned. Been done and moved on. He has no space here!” – her Twitter, February 2017

Viola Davis

“Whenever I knew school was coming, I had to prepare ‘cuz you know, I had to run from the bullies! … I had bullies … There’s some of them on Facebook and I look at them. They’re taller now, though. They all want to be my friend. You know, I just become their Facebook friends and then I stalk their pages to see if they’ve become just complete failures in life.” – Jimmy Kimmel Live, September 2016

Tyra Banks

“People bully because they want their power back. People bully because they feel powerless, and to get that power, you have to take it from somebody else. And you have to take it from the easy target. I started as a bully at … 7 to 10 years old I was a bully. And the reason why I was a bully is because my brother used to say I was stupid — it was like that sibling rivalry at home — you’re stupid, you’re dumb, you’re this, you’re that. So here I am at home getting bullied, so what do I at school? I got my power back. That flipped on me between 10 and 11 years old when I grew three inches and lost 30 pounds. And then I was bullied. I was the weirdo, I was the freak with the big, huge eyes and the huge forehead that weighed 90 pounds and was five-nine. There’s nothing I could do to gain weight, I’d go home every day crying … The whole thing flipped for me. I think being on both sides made me sensitive to young girls and the issues they have with bullying.” – CNN, October 2010

Gabourey Sidibe

“It’s sort of unfortunate but it’s a part of being a public figure. People will make fun of you, and I get made fun of a lot. Sometimes I sort of cringe while watching TV and hope I’m not made fun of. I am a sensitive girl, and that is one form of bullying. I grew up in tougher neighborhoods, and I was bullied, but there have been times when I was a bully in order to defend myself. I might have been a little overzealous sometimes, and I’ve been a bully. I think those two people — the bullied and the bully — live in all of us.” – Essence, December 2012

Kristin Chenoweth

“I was bullied by this one girl who said, ‘I just want to punch you in the mouth because you’re happy.’ Now of course I can laugh at that, but back then I was so hurt. I think a lot of people understand having been bullied. I don’t care who you are, someone has given you a hard time in your life. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything because all of us have been bullied at one time and hopefully if we can overcome it, it makes us stronger.” – Parade, March 2012

Naomie Harris

“The biggest moment when I’m watching [Moonlight] was the middle section where Chiron is being bullied at school because I was bullied at school as well. And I find that really difficult to watch because it brings back so many memories and it was such an incredibly traumatic, really, really sad and very lonely time as well in my childhood. But I think that was one of the most formative times for me because it meant that I had to escape to somewhere else, and I escaped to my imagination, to fantasy world, and to pretending I was someone else, and pretending I was living in an imaginary world, and that’s how I got through it. And that’s, I think, where my real passion and my skill as an actress really developed.” – The Toronto Star, December 2016

Priyanka Chopra

On forgiving her high-school bully: “I think it was just — girls are mean in school. Everyone has had that one girl who makes your life miserable when you’re in high school, especially. Maybe middle school, too. So, I think she just found what would affect me and what would hurt me to wind me up and just said what would hurt me. And when you’re 15, it breaks your spirit. But looking back right now, I don’t think that it came from maliciousness, I think it came from envy, jealousy, whatever it might have been … So I look back at it right now, and I’m like, thank you for doing that to me because my life became what it did. I’m quite forgiving about it, and I really don’t see this as payback because that was that one girl. I can’t hold a nation responsible for that.” – The Wrap, July 2016

Janelle Monáe

“I have definitely been bullied and I’ve also stood up for myself, too. I used to fight a lot growing up but I don’t think that’s the way to do it because you can have an accident, get hurt or someone can shoot or stab you, then you’re dead in hospital. When I was young, I was a real firecracker. Now I just stand up for others through art.” – Toronto Metro, June 2014

Tina Fey

“Marlene is my best girlfriend. She was Prom Queen at high school, based on the fact that she is so incredibly likeable — very pretty, but never the Mean Girl. I was [the Mean Girl], I admit it openly. That was a disease that had to be conquered. It’s another coping mechanism — it’s a bad coping mechanism — but when you feel less than (in high school, everyone feels less than everyone else for different reasons), in your mind it’s a way of leveling the playing field. Though of course it’s not. Saying something terrible about someone else does not actually level the playing field. If I meet a girl of 14 or 15 today who is that kind of girl, I am secretly, in my body, afraid. Even though I’m 45.” – The Edit, December 2015

Lady Gaga

“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point. I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high-school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was … To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.” – The New York Times, March 2012

Monica Lewinsky

“In dealing with trolls, or any form of cyberbullying or online harassment, the only rule I abide by is that there is no rule of thumb. (Except, I only allow myself to yell ‘you a-hole!’ at the computer and not send it on the computer as a response.) Not every tactic works for every target or perpetrator of this behavior. Some people like to say, ‘You must stand up to a bully.’ That’s not true for every target. Nor is that always what will work best. Clever humor that isn’t shaming the other person seems to work best for me. But then again, my brother likes to remind me I’m not as funny or clever as I think I am. I also sometimes ask people if they want to reconsider the comment they posted — it works over 50 percent of the time.” – Refinery29, March 2017

Jenna Lyons

“It’s amazing how cruel kids can be and super judgmental and really just downright mean. I searched for ways to make things more beautiful and surrounded myself with beautiful things because I didn’t feel that in myself … I felt a huge drive to make clothes that everybody could have because I felt ostracized by that world of beauty and fashion. I never thought I would have a part in it. Never in a million years.” – Fast Company, May 2013

Laverne Cox

“It’s sort of embarrassing to say, but as a bullied kid, [I said], ‘Well, you’re bullying me, but I’m making all As and I’m better than you!’ It’s a childish thing to say, and I was a child, but that was my mentality. ‘You’re bullying me, but I’m going to be rich and famous some day.’ [Laughs] I’m not rich yet.” – The Advocate, July 2014

Leighton Meester

“I think a really important thing to remember is that whatever side you’re on, you can never be a bystander. You should always speak up for someone who is being bullied. I also think that it’s a part of growing up — kids can be super mean. Girls can be especially mean and pick on each other for things we can’t really help, like our looks, which is so silly. We should learn to be buddies, and … hold your sister up! I have girlfriends who I would literally do anything for no matter what. I remember in high school, people weren’t always nice to me — both boys and girls, especially the boys I liked. They would always be so mean to me! Now they’re like, ‘Oh, remember when we were friends in high school?’ And I’m thinking, No … I don’t remember it that way at all! I think it’s immaturity, and you have to just go against the grain, go above what they all say.” – Teen Vogue, March 2011

Tavi Gevinson

“The reality is that bullies are me and you and everyone we know. Not in an X-Files way — I’m not saying we should all live in fear of the 7-Eleven guy insulting us at random while we’re paying for our Slurpees. But humans can be really stupid and cruel, and pretty much everyone has bullied another person at some point. Out of insecurity, out of pressure, for so many reasons. I have. You have. If you deny it, you are either lying or an infant. Of course, just because I think bullying is human doesn’t mean that I don’t also think humans can control their actions, or that when they know they’re being a bully, they should let themselves off with, ‘I’m JUST a human being!’ But I don’t really see this reality I’m talking about represented in pop music or in the most news coverage on the gay teen suicides of last year. And I’d like to.” – Rookie, September 2011

Anne Hathaway

On discovering an article titled “Why Does Everyone Hate Anne Hathaway?”: “Well, I listened [to the bullies] at first. I couldn’t help it. You try to shut it off, and I couldn’t, and then I realized why I couldn’t. I hadn’t learned to love myself yet. I hadn’t gotten there. And if you don’t love yourself, when someone else says horrible things to you, a part of you is always going to believe them. So then I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t want to believe these people. I don’t want to agree with them on any level. I’m going to figure out who I am. I’m going to learn who I am and I don’t want to feel like I’m fragile every time I leave the house because I’m so dependent on what other people think about me.’ So I just took a step back, and as Matthew [McConaughey] would say, I just kept living. And it’s been a really cool journey. I feel like I’ve arrived in a place where, you know, maybe not every minute of every day, but way more than I used to, I have a tremendous amount of love and compassion for everyone else, and best of all, I have it for myself, which I never enjoyed before. ” – The Ellen DeGeneres Show, November 2014

Kate Winslet

“I had been bullied at school. They called me Blubber. Teased me for wanting to act. Locked me in the cupboard. Laughed at me. I was even told that I might be lucky with my acting, if I was happy to settle for the fat-girl parts. I felt that I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t look right … and all because I didn’t fit into someone else’s idea of ‘perfect.’ I didn’t have the perfect body … You can be from anywhere, and you can do anything. Believe it.” – WE Day, March 2017

Ruby Rose

“[In] my teens, I tried to be quite feminine. My mum was pushing me to do some modeling — everyone said I was a very pretty girl. And then one day it just got too much. I shaved my head and just went ‘Fuck you’ to everyone who thought I need to look a certain way. And I got bullied after that. I found myself in really dangerous situations, where, if a guy said something to me like, ‘What are you? You’re a girl but you’re trying to be a boy,’ or ‘Look at you, you’re disgusting’ … if I talked back, a few times I got hit by guys. They’d say, ‘I would never hit a girl, but you’re not a girl.’ Eventually I went, ‘That’s it! I’ll grow my hair again, and try and be a girl.’ Because I was pretty determined to get into entertainment, because I was bullied so much. I always said, ‘You watch! One day, I will do something, it will be great!’ So I kind of did the more feminine thing again, did MTV, and after a little bit chopped everything off and am kind of back where it started.” – The Guardian, July 2014

Rihanna

“I got teased my entire school life. What they were picking on I don’t even understand. It was my skin color. Then when I got older, it was about my breasts. But I’m not victimized — I’m grateful. I think those experiences were strategically put together by God for the preparation of being in the music industry. It’s so easy for me to deal with the bulls—t now.” – Glamour, November 2013

Amy Poehler

On how to deal with a bully: “My advice to you is this: I think just pull her aside after she does it and in a very kind of nondramatic way, you can just say, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you know this, but when you do that it really hurts my feelings and I wish you would stop.’ Just that simple. Sometimes telling someone that what they do hurts your feelings is a good way to communicate to them without blaming them or getting defensive, you know. See if that works, just the simple thing of like, ‘Can you not do that anymore? It hurts my feelings.’ She’ll do a couple things. She’ll either stop and apologize and she won’t quite have known what she was doing or she’ll make you feel like you’re acting a little crazy and overreacting and she may do that because she feels nervous and you can just kind of shrug that off because that’s not what you’re doing. It’s never overreacting to ask what you want or need. Or she may keep doing it and if that’s the case, then you can go to someone like a teacher … someone who can kind of help you out navigating. A little bit of third-party can sometimes put a stop to that.” – Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, May 2013

Margaret Cho

“I was bullied pretty badly when I was a kid, the worst period falling between the ages of 10 and 14, I think. People tell me to get over it, and that I am an adult now, privileged and famous and constantly applauded not only in my primary field, stand-up comedy, but also in practically every endeavor I have chosen to devote myself to, from acting to burlesque bump-and-grind to songwriting. I am told I have no right to complain, and that may be true to some extent, the good in my life flowing in from all directions, satisfaction pulsing through me every second of the day, but I will never stop complaining until I am dead in the ground or even afterward, probably, if I can find a way back out of the light to complain about the afterlife. I will never stop complaining. It’s kind of fun to me now, and looking back, I was treated so terribly that I don’t feel I have the capacity to forgive. F*ck forgiveness and all that. I think that even Jesus would say, ‘Yeah I guess you do have a point …’” – The Huffington Post, February 2012

Thandie Newton

“I teach my girls not to give all their power to the thing hurting them. I also want to raise kind girls. You don’t want your kid hating the other person. I remind my girls that mean kids at school might have a hard home life. I’ll say, ‘Maybe they’re not being treated well by their mom.’ That makes kids think.” – Hollywood Life, November 2010

Jill Soloway

“I don’t think anybody is ‘questioning their gender identity because it’s cool.’ What’s happening right now with the trans civil-rights movement is that there are all kinds of people who were dealing with being other-ized because of their gender identity … But the truth is that nonbinary people, trans people, intersex people, gender nonconforming people have been around since the beginning of time. There are now just frameworks and ways of thinking about ourselves that are being offered by the culture. These were the people in the past who were bullied. These are the people who killed themselves. These are the people who looked different, walked different, acted different but didn’t have the information for their parents, for example, to help get them the right kind of health care … It’s not getting cool and trendy now. It’s always been around. It’s just now there’s a way for people to find each other and have culture and have community and have safety, so these people can thrive and live.” – Time, March 2017

Gisele Bundchen

“Even before I got into the business, I was used to being bullied because I was always tall and skinny and stuck out. I got really red all the time from playing volleyball, red like a pepper. So I thought bullying was just the way life is … In the beginning, you know, everyone told me, ‘Your eyes are too small, the nose is too big, you can never be on a magazine cover.’ But, you know what? The big nose is coming with a big personality.” – The New York Times, May 2016

Hillary Clinton

“Believe me, every strong woman you admire who has worked to make our world a fairer place has faced opposition along the way. It’s usually a sign that you’re doing something right. But — and this is a big but — when that disagreement crosses over into bullying or harassment, it’s never OK. If it makes you feel scared or uncomfortable or unsafe, I hope you’ll consider telling them directly to stop or asking someone you trust to step in. You should be able to go to school or use the internet or just live your life without fear of being bullied … Don’t let the haters get you down.” – Rookie, November 2016

25 Famous Women on Bullying