Photo: Jj Photography
TV presenter Paulette Gafa', better known as Pawla ta' Liquorish, opens up about her battle with bullying throughout her life. She wasn't always this cheeky and confident, and now she's using her platform to speak out and help those whose situation she knows all too well.
From a very young age, I was bullied at school.
Kids my age and older used to call me names and make fun of me. I was also no stranger to beatings, while other kids looked at me and laughed. When I was at primary school, I was afraid to speak up and tell my parents about what was going on. I was afraid that if my parents spoke to my teachers, the situation would only get worse.
"I was scared. I used to lie to my mother when I went home with a bruise, scratches or with messy hair."
I have a vivid memory of seeing these bullies at the birthday party for a boy in my class. Instead of having fun at the party like any other child would, I felt like I was in hell. I couldn't take it, and ran away from the party. Eventually, one of the boy’s relatives came looking for me in the streets.
Most of the bullying I suffered was simply because I was fat. But despite everything they picked on, I loved myself and I did not want to change for anybody.
"One day it all became too much. I remember waking up, and deciding I didn't want to go to school anymore."
Photo: Jj Photography
When I started secondary school, I thought everyone would be more grown up, and the bullying would finally be over. But I was completely wrong, and found myself surrounded by bullies there too.
On some days I felt so miserable, I wished that school didn't exist. I was lucky enough to have a group of friends that loved me, but despite their support, the bullies' malicious taunts were too much.
One day it all became too much. I remember waking up, and deciding there and then that I didn't want to go to school anymore. My mother phoned my school and asked for an urgent meeting with the headmistress.
She agreed to meet my mother that same morning, and was very helpful throughout. To the headmistress and the teachers, the news that I was being so badly bullied surprised them, because they always knew me as a very outgoing girl, always bubbly and loud. Ms. Joan Micallef, who was my headmistress at the time, handled the situation professionally and with very little fuss.
From that day forward, the bullying stopped, and you'd be hard pressed to find a student returning to school happier than me. Ms. Micallef's help will be something that stays with me forever.
"The physical marks of scratches and bruises will vanish, but I will never forget the cruel words said to me."
The cycle of bullying continued. When I left secondary school and started attending college I was sure that people wouldn't be immature enough to go back to picking on people for the way they look. But again, I was wrong.
As everyone can imagine, being bullied as a teenager is one of the worst feelings. Everyone's confidence is at an all-time low, and the last thing you need is people teasing you about your insecurities.
But I'd already been through so much, and over the years, despite how many people tried to convince me otherwise, I had learnt to love myself. There was no way I was going to change who I am for anyone.
It was at this moment that I knew I had two options. I could either I let the bullies win, or I could fight through it all, and win over them. In the end I chose the second option, and it was the best decision of my life.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. The physical marks of scratches and bruises will vanish, but I will never forget the cruel words and the insults that were said to me.
"Most of the bullying I suffered was simply because I was fat."
As I've grown up I've learnt to value the incredible support of my parents, family and true friends even more, and looking back on my darkest days it's easy to see what an immeasurable help my support-network was.
In time I've come to realise that, despite everything, I'm stronger because of what I experienced. Looking back on my adventures on Liquorish, it's funny to observe the number of people who, once eager to tear me down, show up and try to act as though we were best friends at school.
As a final note to those being bullied, I'd just like to say this: I understand what you're going through and you are not alone.
The first step is to try your very hardest to love yourself.
It'll be hard at first, but you are worth so much more than they make you feel.
Secondly, never be afraid to speak up.
Seek help, and get some advice - there are so many people out there who will do everything they can to help you.
And finally, do not change who you are for anybody.
You are special, and talented and beautiful, and nobody should ever force you to change.
Nowadays, I'm so proud to say I won over my bullies, and you can too.