Gerren Taylor (pictured) was bullied as a kid because of her towering height and rail-thin body, but when she started modeling at age 12, she quickly became the toast of the fashion industry, walking runways for Betsey Johnson and Tommy Hilfiger, and starring in a Marc Jacobs ad. A year later, though, when her figure had filled out a bit, she was told she was too large to book any jobs. It was a big blow, but Taylor had her head on straight. She has since become a motivational speaker who travels the world to talk to young people about self-esteem — and we sat down with her last week:
I Heart Daily: When did you first encounter bullying?
Gerren Taylor: It was prior to modeling because of my height, slender physique and curly hair. I was called “Olive Oyl,” “stick,” “bean pole,” and anything else that the kids could think of to describe my tall thin body. I remember on the school bus one of the kids yelled out, “Whoever thinks Gerren is a giraffe raise your hand.” All the kids raised their hands. I went home crying quite a bit because of the taunting.
IHD: How did you deal with it?
GT: My mom let me know that my height is a gift from God and one day I would see why it made me special. I realize now what she was saying, and I want to tell everyone, ‘You are a special gift and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.’ I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that says, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ That is so true.
IHD: People think that “the beautiful people,” like you, aren’t bullied. What do you say to that?
GT: First, I truly believe that everyone is beautiful, and it is truly a person’s inner qualities that either enhance their beauty, or diminishes it. That being said, to me bullying is more than just physical abuse. Bullying can be verbal. Bullying is to be ignored like you’re invisible, and treated like you don’t exist. Bullying is to be teased and made fun of relentlessly. There are so many ways that a person can be bullied, made to feel less than, and to feel fearful. The bullies are the ones with low self-esteem.
IHD: What inspired you to focus on self-esteem issues for teens?
GT: I saw girls going to extremes to achieve beauty. It was to the point where it became dangerous with eating disorders, low self-esteem, a negative view regarding their bodies, and depression. They were chasing an idea of beauty that’s impossible to catch and impossible to achieve. This made me want to make a difference — to help people to love and appreciate themselves again.
IHD: What do you think is the best way for people to handle bullying?
GT: Let an adult know, whether it’s your teacher, principal or parents. I remember at school when I was bullied I told my teacher, and she did nothing; I told my principal, she did nothing, so finally I told my mom. She went to the school and had a meeting with the teacher, the principal, and the parents of the kids who were bullying. The problem was fixed, but I think my mom would have gone to the school board next if it wasn’t handled. It is so important to nip bullying in the bud. A lot of the school attacks have been blamed on the culprits being bullied prior to their acts. I think the administrators on the school campuses should take this problem very seriously.
IHD: Last question: What are you hearting right now?
GT: I’m hearting my Twitter. Just getting used to it and really starting to tweet now. I’m hearting TACOS…I could eat them every day! And I’m hearting this interview. Thanks!