Text by Kitchie Ohh, Copyright 2022
Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2022
Creative Direction: KVaughn
Hair & Makeup: Michael Connor
Photography Assistant: Anthony Colagreco
BEYOND THE PLAYGROUND
Most often, when we think of a bully, we think about the bigger kid on the playground picking on the smaller ones; pushing them around or beating them up for their lunch money. The problem is so much more complex and, I can assure you from experience, it goes well beyond the schoolyard; running rampant in office settings, social groups, and in families around the world.
I have already shared at a very surface level that I suffered years of verbal abuse from my peers growing up. The daily reminders of everything that was wrong with me lead me to believe that they must be right. I just wasn’t good enough, and it hurt like hell. I did my best to avoid anything that made me a target. I faded into the background, withdrew into myself, and watched with a mixture of relief and extreme Catholic guilt as the bullseyes were drawn on other kids’ backs. I coasted, invisible, right on through high school graduation. Paralyzed with fear that I would encounter a new crop of bullies with new things to hate about me, I opted out of college. I did explore my independence by moving out of my parents home.
Entering the workforce, full-time as a teenager, I was kind of a novelty in the office. I was, and still am, incredibly responsible, dedicated and hard-working. Only now, I’m nowhere near as naive. I often found myself responsible for my workload, plus the things that coworkers didn’t want to do. Experience told me that speaking up would make me a target, so I just did the work and kept my mouth shut. Soon, I was doing the work and taking the blame for nearly everything that went wrong or didn’t get finished, even if I had nothing to do with it. I had countless meetings about performance-related problems that weren’t actually mine. Someone needed to be reprimanded, might as well be me. They knew I wouldn’t fight back. Next, I was pushed into covering extra hours, holidays, all the shifts no one else wanted. “You’re not dating anyone, you don’t have kids, no reason you can’t do this. You don’t have anything to do.” Ouch. If I ever was lucky enough to have a day off, the very next time in the office I was berated with how inconvenient my absence was for everyone. I did eventually reach my limit and left.
Having learned a little bit about office dynamics and politics, the next job was a vast improvement. Not perfect, but I gained some respect – and learned how to set some professional boundaries. This angered the office bully. They came for me, personally. I declined a happy hour invitation. They told everyone I wasn’t coming because I thought I was “too good” for them. I ate salad for lunch and it was clearly and directly a statement about the unhealthy choices they made for their midday meal. Leaving the office for the gym every evening was an equally heinous rebellion against them. A prominent member of the community left one of our events saying “see you later, hon.” The minute we were back at the office, I was accused of having an affair with this married man. Everything I did was wrong, but I wasn’t doing anything!
Things that happened at that job were the final straw. I was working in that position at the time I had my revelation that not one of the names I was called, not a single thing I was accused of, or made to do, had a damn thing to do with me. That realization gave me back all of my power and my voice. I didn’t – and don’t – need to shrink myself down, make myself invisible or watered down for the benefit of another. I can say no, I can refuse to take on more than I’m able, I can defend myself against insults and allegations. Professionally, personally, socially, in relationships. I am worthy of respect and should not accept less.
It’s an ongoing process of undoing all of the damage; I don’t think it will ever be finished. There will always be people who just can’t hold their tongues. Their obligation to point out flaws, try to exploit them, and put others down is a force they just cannot resist. I could write a whole book of very scathing stories, with damning details from various people who have entered and thankfully exited my life over the years. But like I said, their behavior has got nothing at all to do with me. Neither forgiven or forgotten, I’ve accepted, let go and moved on. And I am so much better for it.
About The Author:
Kitchie Ohh is a full-time professional fundraiser who has worked with a number of health and human services nonprofits for over the last 20 years, currently with a food-related Philadelphia nonprofit. She found her passion for modeling after a pinup-style photoshoot in 2013. Since then she’s worked with many talented photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists in a variety of styles. She has been featured in -and on the covers of- multiple print and digital publications. Over the years she has branched out from pinup studio modeling to serve as a figure model for live sketching, walked a runway, and was part of two campaigns for local Philadelphia designer K. Vaughn.
In addition to her food insecurity-related work, she has also volunteered with art, historical, and community organizations, and even on the events team of a local brewery, pre-pandemic.
You’re just as likely to find her whipping up something deliciously plant-based in her kitchen or knitting a sweater as you are to find her on a photography set. Her motto is “be both.” The model and the homemaker, sultry and sweet, serious and silly. All the things, all at once.