Long before she was a Oscar-winning, internationally renowned actress, she was a schoolgirl in England whose classmates maliciously dubbed her "Blubber." But, in giving an inspiring speech at a London charity event Wednesday, Kate Winslet said that childhood bullying is an obstacle to be overcome and encouraged kids to "believe that you are worth it." For Winslet, learning to love herself meant one day starring in one of the most epic films of all time, Titanic, but her message to youngsters was clear: The bullies are ultimately inconsequential, while you can be a star at whatever it is you want to do in life.
Addressing an audience that included children at We Day UK, the 41-year-old actress recalled how her classmates had teased her for wanting to be an actress and how they even locked her in a cupboard, according to E! News. She described herself as "not the prettiest" and remembered how she learned from others that it was "the fat girl parts" that would be most suitable for her.
But, she eventually realized, that wasn't true at all.
"I didn't lock myself away and give up on my dream. I fought back," she said of the epiphany, according to the Evening Standard. "I had to ignore the negative comments. I had to believe in myself. I had to choose to rise above it all, and I had to work hard. You have to be indestructible to do what you love, and believe that you are worth it. And sometimes that's the hardest part."
It's advice that, sadly, many students in the United States need to hear. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education found that more than 20 percent of 12- through 18-year-olds reported experiencing of some form of bullying during the 2014-15 school year. This type of harmful, demoralizing treatment at the hands of peers ran the gamut from name-calling to exclusion to actual physical harm like pushing and tripping.
And this can have serious long- and short-term effects on victims: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullied children may be more prone to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties; The trauma could also manifest in violent behaviors when they're older.
At the end of the day, it makes kids feel just plain bad — a feeling Winslet said Wednesday they have to consciously reject in favor of recognizing what's awesome about themselves, as said she did, according to Vanity Fair:
I learned to embrace my flaws, to make no apology for who I am. I dug deep and I decided that I simply wouldn’t listen when they said my body didn't fit. This is who I am, the real me, Kate from Reading.
Of course, embracing self-love won't solve all the problems associated with bullying, but it's certainly an important step in the right direction. In order to help a kid who may be struggling get there, learn the signs a kid is being bullied, from withdrawal from school activities to reluctance to talk about their day. From there, start an open discussion about possible solutions, with an emphasis on promoting Winslet's brand of self-worth.