Tall student bullied over her height reveals how she beat haters after years of hunching to appear more ladylike
Tamara Alireza, 34, used to be terrified of wearing high heels, but now she embraces her lofty physique
By Anthony Harvison
16:44, 31 AUG 2018
UPDATED 16:46, 31 AUG 2018
As a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Tamara Alireza stood head and shoulders above her classmates. At 6ft 1ins, she towered over the teachers, too. But while most teenagers would love to add a few inches to their frame, Tamara found herself the target of school bullies who tormented her for being tall. Despite her sporty stature, she was made to feel small and picked on for being 'different'. Tamara spent her informative years struggling to fit in and doing everything possible to look shorter and more "lady-like". She avoided being photographed and even walked hunched-over to conceal her true height. High heels were a definite no-no. Now aged 34, Tamara stands proud at 6ft 2ins – or a leggy 6ft 7ins in her favourite heels.
Not only has she embraced her enviable physique but has used it to her advantage as an accomplished children's author and anti-bullying campaigner. She looks down her nose at bullies and uses her own experiences to help youngsters nationwide. "They say the worst thing about being different is that you become a moving target for bullies. Unfortunately for me, I was a moving target they literally couldn't miss," Tamara said. "But it wasn't just the bullies who were making my life difficult. Society, generally, made me feel unwelcome. The bullies were a reflection of the times. "Fast-forward a few years and I came to love my body and myself. I realised that everyone is different, and that diversity needs to be cherished, nurtured and celebrated – not ostracised." She added: "We are all different and we are all equal."
Last year, shocking figures published by the Anti-Bullying Alliance revealed that more than half of children aged between eight and 16 worried about being 'different'. Of these, 40 per cent admitted they would "hide" or "change aspects of themselves" to avoid being bullied. Worryingly, more than a third (36 per cent) of those questioned thought that teachers did not do enough to educate pupils about what to do if they became victims. Tamara is among those who experienced bullying first-hand. As a child, she was tall for her age. But a growth spurt in her early teens meant she would tower over her peers – and her family - into adulthood. It left her self-conscious and at the mercy of cruel classmates, whose jibes compounded her lack of confidence. "When my friends all started wearing high-heels and make-up, I wore the flattest-soled shoes I could find so that I would fit in," she said.
Her height also made everyday tasks challenging. She found buying clothes – and especially dresses – "almost impossible". She was also forced to wear men's shoes because women's sizes rarely accommodated her size 10.5 feet. And the prospect of being photographed with pals was "particularly unappealing". Instead, she would sit in the front or stoop over. Dating was, she says, "not at all easy". "I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, it's that simple," she added. But by her mid-20s, Tamara finally came to terms with her height. Today, Tamara has no problems with being one of the tallest students at Royal Imperial College, London, where she has been studying for a PhD in neuroscience specialising in Parkinson's disease. She has used her own experiences to help others – most notably her nephew who was relentlessly bullied at school.
Her latest book, Steiny's Rhapsody , tells the inspirational story of a grand piano in a music store who suffers at the hands of the other instruments.
Steiny, like Tamara, eventually learns to love himself.
Tamara added: "Society is changing and, in time, so will people's attitudes to bullying. In the meantime, we all need to love the skin we're in – and refuse to cower down to the bullies."