What TV can teach us: Bullying

As it’s Spirit Day tomorrow, our attention turns to an issue that always needs to be addressed openly: bullying. It’s a tough subject that often gets swept under the rug because of the pain and awkwardness that comes with it. TV and films have taken up the conversation to portray both the bullies and the bullied. As teen dramas, comedies, thrillers – and every other genre in between – have gotten savvier, we’ve seen more in-depth portrayals of the suffering and damage that can result from bullying. Here are a few examples of popular shows and movies that deal with bullying.

Trigger warning: references to bullying, sexual harassment, depression, and eating disorders

13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is all about bullying’s destructive nature and how desperate being bullied can make a person. Hannah Baker is caught in a nightmare as she endures name-calling, sexual harassment, and rumors that wound her to her core. Hannah’s response to her abuse is to isolate herself and shut off, sinking deeper into despair. Bullying leads to more issues, such as anxiety and depression, which can seem impossible to overcome. But not all stories end like Hannah’s. Reaching out when life is overwhelming can mean someone reaches out a hand to stop you from drowning. Hannah doesn’t reach out; she doesn’t give Clay the chance to help her even when he’s ready to offer his hand

Mean Girls

Bullying isn’t always as clear cut as the popular kids picking on the awkward loners. Good people can become bullies too. Cady from mean girls found out bullying is about more about the bully than the victim. Bullies lash out because of their insecurities. Cady begins to bully people and spread rumors because she wants to fit with the Plastics. She spreads lies about Miss Norbury because she wants to seem cooler and less like a math nerd; she looks down on Janis and Damian because they don’t fit in like she didn’t when she first came to school; and she sabotages Regina because she betrayed Cady. However, Cady realizes, in the end, bullying doesn’t solve your insecurities, and she thinks, “Calling someone else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone else stupid won’t make you any smarter.”


Angelica Pickles is an early bloomer when it comes to being a bully. Angelica terrorizes the babies, manipulating them into doing her bidding and yelling her trademark, “You dumb babies!” whenever life doesn’t go her way. Angelica picks on the babies because she’s older and has more power than them as she’s able to talk and play outside the playpen. However, not all of the rugrats are intimidated by Angelica. Her cousin Tommy even stands up to Angelica once in a while to put her in her place. When Angelica’s lies make Chuckie climb a tree and get stuck, Tommy faces up to Angelica and demands she take responsibility for her actions. Even though Tommy is just a baby, he knows better than Angelica, and he stands up to her to protect Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and Dil.


Sometimes a bully can pretend to be a friend. Maya and Anna discover the pitfalls of a toxic relationship through Becca, a middle school mean girl. Becca acts like she’s doing Maya a favor when she tells her the boys call her UGIS (ugliest girl in school) though she does nothing to stop them. Becca also tries to out Anna and Maya when they steal Heather’s thong and even ends up pantsing Anna. The worst, though, is when Becca and the other popular girls discriminate against Maya because she’s Japanese. Anna and Maya respond to Becca’s bullying by supporting each other and standing up to defend their best friend – even if Anna’s misguided actions lead to an unintended hate crime. If you want to find out just how different Becca is from the actress that plays her, be sure to check out our interview with PEN15 star Sami Rappoport here.


A bully is often someone covering up a lot of pain. Santana Lopez is the last person you’d think would be in any pain, however. Her biting quips and devastating dress-downs leave her victims a puddle of self-loathing. But Santana knows what that self-loathing feels like – that’s exactly why she bullies. Santana has to deal with being bullied herself by Coach Sylvester about her weight, appearance, and talent. Santana also knows what it’s like to hide who she is as she’s terrified to come out of the closet. She reveals the most about herself when she bullies, how insecure, frightened, and alone she really is. Preventing people from being bullied also means preventing people from becoming bullies.


Sex Education

Bullying targets a person’s strange or unconventional characteristics. But those are what make the person unique. Adam bullies Eric because Eric is what Adam wants to be, but he’s too afraid. Instead of finding a healthy outlet, Adam tries to squash Eric’s outgoing personality and savage fashion sense by ridiculing and threatening him. Eric goes through a dark period, and by allowing Adam’s abuse to overcome him, his usually sparkly self is dulled. It isn’t until Eric learns what makes him unique also makes him strong that his confidence returns – and when it does, he shines brighter than ever. It’s often what the world tells you should change that are really the best parts about yourself.

It’s a tough subject that often gets swept under the rug because of the pain and awkwardness that comes with it.

Pretty Little Liars

Overcoming threats from a bully is easier said than done. The pain inflicted by their taunts can make us paralyzed, unable to help ourselves. In Pretty Little Liars, Hanna was hurt in the worst way possible when A forces her to eat the pig cupcakes, knowing full well Hanna struggles with an eating disorder. When Aria finds Hanna after the binge, Hanna opens up about her eating disorder and her situation with A. It’s difficult to come forward about bad things in our lives – things we’d rather forget. But forgetting doesn’t make the bad go away, and pretending to be strong doesn’t make us any more able to push away the darkness. True strength is admitting when we need help and working through the pain to find something better on the other side.  


If you or someone you know is dealing with bullying please reach out and ask for help or go to the websites below to find resources on dealing with your situation. If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.