Shawn Mendes, Lady Gaga & More Stars Who've Open Up About the Bullying They Faced as Kids
Celebs share their painful experiences — and what they learned from them
The pop star, who underwent gender-confirmation surgery when she was 16, talked to Glamour U.K. about how bullies affected her young years. "Just being transgender and going to school is tough. [I learned] people will not like you or people will like you, that's just a reality of life," she said. "You cannot please everybody, and a lot of people bully people because they're jealous or because they have their own personal issue that they project on you. Sometimes it doesn't even have to do with you, sometimes people are just bored."
Petras later told PEOPLE that she relied on music to be a respite during her most troubling times. "[Pop music] means everything to me. When I was a kid, I used to not really have friends in school. I hated going to school — I got bullied pretty bad," she said. "I used to run home from school and watch Gwen Stefani music videos, and I felt like I could escape my problems with that."
During his adolescence, the Frozen 2 star found a unique way to handle his haters. "I realized early on [that] I was the absolute poster boy for bullying because I struggled with being overweight from a very early age, but I also discovered that comedy was a weapon that I was able to employ," he said on Off Camera with Sam Jones. "I remember one time a kid calling me fat in front of, like, a group of people. And, instead of kowtowing and giving him the opportunity to sort of, you know, leave, I started recited that monologue from My Cousin Vinny, where he walks in the bar and he sees the guy in the arm sling. And I just literally started reciting to the point that the guy's like, 'What the f--- is happening right now?' And everybody is laughing at him."
Now a dad of two, Gad is passing on all the lessons he's learned about what motivated detractors and how they should be dealt with. "There have been instances where I've watched my own kid get bullied, and it's painful, it's really painful," he said. "It's an honest conversation that you have to have, especially if you're a father or a mother, where you sit down and you let them know that it's on the other person. Which isn't just words — it really is the truth. If someone feels the need to come up to you and call you weird, or call you whatever name, it's because they don't like themselves."
In a June 2019 Instagram post, the singer opened up about teasing he experienced after posting one of his earlier videos to YouTube. At the time, he was in 9th grade and a group of older bullies at school had gotten word, teasing him about it the next day.
"[They were] yelling out 'sing for me Shawn sing for me!' in a way that made me feel absolutely horrible… made me feel like a joke, like what I was doing was just stupid and wrong," Mendes recalled.
"It's not joke to me," he said. "To make someone feel bad about doing what they love… every single person deserves to do what makes them feel alive."
"I'm writing this not only to the 15-year-old kid who's scared to follow their heart because of what people might say, but also to the 50 year old who may be doing the exact same thing," Mendes explained.
Horan didn't go into detail of his own experiences, but commented on Mendes' June 2019 post alluding to bullying in his past, too.
"Couldn't relate or agree with something more If I tried…" Horan wrote. "We had the last laugh."
Priyanka Chopra Jonas
In an interview with Glamour, the actress revealed she was bullied in high school — a traumatic experience that prompted her move back to India from the U.S.
"There was this girl who was a major bully. I think she didn't like me because her boyfriend liked me, or some high school dynamic," Chopra shared. "She made my life hell. She used to call me names and would push me against the locker."
"Maybe I, being on the platform that I am, can say this louder than the kid who has to get on the subway and go to school: You don't need to be afraid of who you are," she said. "I don't want any kid to feel the way I felt in school. I was afraid of my bully. It made me feel like I'm less — in my skin, in my identity, in my culture."
In May 2019, she opened up again about her experiences in American high schools, telling the AP, "I was treated differently because I'm brown. I had, you know, really racist behavior when I was in high school in 10th grade. I was called 'Brownie,' 'Curry,' [told to] 'go back on the elephant you came on,' and that really affected me when I was a kid and affected my self-esteem."
Gaga told PEOPLE that her memories of being bullied helped her connect with her insecure A Star is Born character, Ally.
"Well, what's different between Ally and [myself] is that when I decided I was going to go for it as a singer and songwriter, I just hit the ground running," she said. "I really believed in myself. Ally is not this way. My character in this film, she doesn't believe in herself at all. She's very jaded by the music industry and she's given up on herself."
"What I had to do was go back further into my childhood, into my high school years, when I was bullied and made fun of for having big dreams," she continued. "That's where I went."
The Pretty Little Liars alum opened up about her younger years as a student as part of an anti-bullying PSA for Disney/ABC's #ChooseKindness campaign with her Perfectionists costar Sasha Pieterse for National Bullying Prevention Month.
"I have had experiences being bullied. For me, it was definitely high school. I was not the popular girl at all," Parrish said in a PEOPLE exclusive video. "Being a very theatrical girl who always wanted to do musical theatre after school instead of hang out with the cool kids and go to the mall. And that made me different so I definitely got made fun of a lot, called names."
"Being called names, having people make you feel like you are less than in any way is so demeaning and it just makes you feel so self-conscious all the time," the To All The Boys I've Loved Before star recalled.
"But ultimately, end of the day, I think what made me different is what makes me special. I embraced it and I'm really glad that I did," she said.
The actor, who plays young Randall on This Is Us, posted a video on Instagram to slam the "trolls" who made fun of the gap in his teeth. "To all the trolls who have been trolling in my comments, talking about my gap, I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?" Chavis asked in the video.
The young star pointed out that bullying can have dire consequences. "There are kids out there killing themselves just because of y'all hating and trolling and doing just crazy stuff. I mean, it's stupid," he said. "Is it fun? No. It hurts people. People kill themselves, and you're the one who's making them do it. Fix your heart, though. For real."
The long-legged blonde beauty revealed during an appearance on Sesame Street that she was bullied for exactly those features growing up. "Kids used to make fun of me in elementary school by calling me Big Bird (because I was 'too tall' and had 'yellow' hair). Here's to making best buddies with the things that once hurt you," she captioned an Instagram post of her posing beside the real Big Bird.
The model typically ignores social media haters, but some comments are too unfair and painful to let slide. "At the end of the day I don't want to mean, and I don't want to 'clap back.' We're all just human beings and it wasn't even about what they said about our faces, it was just that — don't attack my personality because you don't know me. That's what deeply hurts me," she said of her reaction.
Her response was sparked when someone commented on a fan account's split photo of Hadid and close friend Kendall Jenner, accusing them of getting plastic surgery and writing, "money can get you a new face but not a nicer personality which these two girls need."
"I wish you would know either of our personalities. And not only that, I wish you would only grasp a heart of your own," she wrote. "Blessings to you sweetheart. Jealousy is a cry for help that I wish I could help you with."
Hadid still posts things that matter to her, but has decided to keep some things more private. "I learned that protecting myself and my heart is more important to me right now."
Blunt discovered early on how to work around her childhood stutter, which still flares up from time to time. "It runs in my family," the A Quiet Place actress explained. "I had an uncle, cousin, grandfather who stuttered. It's nothing to do with anxiety."
While she's learned to manage it, she admitted to PEOPLE that the hardest part was "having it at 12, 13 — you're like, come on, man. And so I used to do a lot of funny voices and funny accents, because I could speak more fluently if I didn't sound like me."
Eager to use her platform to inspire others who are afflicted with a stutter, Blunt now works with the American Institute of Stuttering, which she says "is amazing. They offer people a real community."
Gaines may be the picture of a confident wife, mom, business owner and television star now, but the Fixer Upper favorite used to see herself in a very different light. In an interview with Darling magazine, the designer revealed that her insecurities stemmed from experiences she had in school.
"If you haven't heard my story, my mom is full Korean and my dad is Caucasian," she said. "Kids in kindergarten would make fun of me for being Asian and when you're that age you don't know really how to process that; the way you take that is, 'Who I am isn't good enough.' "
Her discomfort reached its peak, though, after moving to a town in Texas and joining a new, much larger, school. "In the lunchroom everyone was a blur and I was thinking, 'How do people do this? How do you find that one person to sit with?' " she said. "So I literally walked in the lunchroom and walked out and went into the bathroom. My fear and my insecurities just took over and I felt like I'd way rather sit in the stall than get rejected."
The experience has stuck with the Fixer Upper star, who continues to teach her kids to make friends with those who seem to need it. "I always tell my kids to look for that kid on the playground who's not playing with anybody, to go reach out, ask them their name, to look for the kid in the lunchroom who isn't sitting by anybody, be their friend," she said. "That experience grounded me in that I want to look for the lonely, the sad, the people who aren't confident, because that's not where they're supposed to stay."
Beer, a singer who made a name for herself with her YouTube videos, said that she experiences cyberbullying on a daily basis. "I wake up and have been told to kill myself like 30 times already; it's crazy!" she told Elvis Duran on the Z100 Morning Show. "It's definitely what comes with it, and a lot of people say, 'Yeah, but this is what you signed up for.' " Beer, however, disagrees with that assessment: "I think that's such a shame to say. It shouldn't come along with me making music and following my dreams. It's upsetting those two go hand-in-hand now because of social media."
Before landing his buzzed-about role as the crime-fighting webslinger in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Holland faced his fair share of adversaries. "I had my rough patches," Holland told PEOPLE.
As a talented young dancer (he played the title role in a London run of Billy Elliot the Musical at age 12), Holland fielded harassment from peers throughout his younger years. "There was times when I was bullied about dancing and stuff," he said. "But you couldn't hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it."
Growing up having to go back and forth between India and New York, the Top Chef host found it difficult to fit in. "I can even remember their names — when I was in seventh grade it was Sylvia, when I was in eighth grade it was Patty," she recalled of girls who bullied her. "One time somebody crushed an egg on my head and punched [me] in the face — it was horrible. I used to be called giraffe and it just makes you feel so, so alone and so scared."
The Texas native, who played the iconic Tracy Turnblad in NBC's Hairspray Live!, opened up about being bullied as a child. "When I was younger, I was bullied a lot and I let that stop me from doing the things that I wanted to do. And Tracy, she never lets anything stop her and she's bullied constantly," Baillio told PEOPLE. "Because she doesn't let anything stop her, she gets the guy and she gets to be on the show and she takes the world!"
Before he was a successful fashion designer and film director, Ford was just a kid growing up in Texas. He told PEOPLE that his peers would make fun of him over his interest in fashion — and his disinterest in sports. "As a kid in the '60s, I wasn't great at football, I was not great at team sports, I wasn't great with my BB gun, which in Texas soon turns into a .410 shotgun and then turns into something else," he said. "I wasn't interested in those things and so I was teased a lot." Decades later, he remains affected by the bullying of his past. "Still to this day if I walk past a group of kids, they can be 8 years old playing soccer, and that ball comes towards me, I panic because, 'My God, I have to kick that ball and they're all going to laugh because I'm not great at soccer.' It's a sort of instant panic." Luckily, he had a supportive family to help him though the tough times — and the good ones later on.
Growing up, no part of Winslet was off-limits to bullies – not even her feet. "I was chubby, always had big feet, the wrong shoes, bad hair," she told Bear Grylls on his show, Running Wild. "When I grew up, I never heard positive reinforcement about body image from any female in my life." Now that Winslet is a mother to three, she's instilling her kids with a strong sense of self-worth to help them fight back against others' inevitable scrutiny. "I stand in front of the mirror and say to Mia, 'We are so lucky we have a shape. We're so lucky we're curvy. We're so lucky that we've got good bums,'" Winslet said of encouraging her teen daughter to love every inch of herself.
Life in the KarJenner world isn't as picture-perfect as it seems, according to the family's youngest star. Jenner took to Snapchat to reveal that she had been bullied since she was 9 years old. "I think that I've done a really great job at handling all of this. But there's bullies everywhere," she said, before ending on a positive note. "This isn't a pity party though ... This is so that others with bullies out there know that you're not alone."
Bullies do not always take the form of a classmate or insecure friend — in the case of Willis, her tormenters were tabloids, who would compare her to her "masculine father" Bruce Willis and cruelly scrutinize her face and body, causing her to consider plastic surgery as a young teen. "I thought … 'If I change my face or get really skinny, that will be it. That will be the answer.' And it's not," Willis said, wiping away tears, on an episode of Dancing with the Stars.
High school was "terrible" for the Good Girls star, whose film The DUFF aimed to give a voice to teens struggling with body image issues. "I was bullied all through school. It was awful. I was a tomboy and nerdy," she told PEOPLE. Though she grew up in the spotlight (she filmed her first movie at 6) and is finding even more fame these days, Whitman admits Hollywood isn't always welcoming to her, either. "There's labeling and typecasting," she added. "I get, 'Oh, you're not ugly enough or not fat enough.' But I'm like, 'Who is?'"
The beautiful former Bachelorette had her pick of adoring men on the hit show, but she says bullying when she was younger and being called "hot dog nose" caused her to alter her physical appearance. "Yes this happened, and yes I got a nose job because of it," she admitted in a blog post on her website. "Some people are mean. I've found the best way to cope with this is to just feel sorry for them." She added that it's better to "choose the route of empathy instead of anger."
She's one of our favorite red carpet beauties, but the Golden Globe winner says she wasn't always the center attention for the right reasons. "I was told every day at school that I was ugly," she revealed to Glamour. "And that no one wanted to be my friend. The most cruel things. If I can do anything to help young girls and to be a cheerleader for people who sometimes have low self-esteem, I want to do that."
Sure he played Superman, with flawless abs and a chiseled jaw, but the Man of Steel star had a different nickname growing up: "I was Fat Cavill," he told Details. "I bawled on the phone to my mom four times a day." On the bright side, the childhood trauma helped him understand his role – and land the part. "My version of Superman is essentially of a guy who has spent his whole life alone."
Her unique looks were an asset when she became a model, but until then, they just drew unwanted attention. "The kids at school would totally pick on me," Ritter told Ocean Drive magazine. "You have to rise above it," the actress, who starred in Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 and appeared in Breaking Bad, explained. "Burn bright."
While the star lists "fearlessness and confidence" as two of her traits nowadays, that wasn't always the case. "I was bullied so badly my dad used to have to walk me into school so I didn't get attacked," she told the Mirror. "I'd eat my lunch in the nurse's office so I didn't have to sit with the other girls. Apart from my being mixed race, my parents didn't have money so I never had the cute clothes or the cool backpack."
The actress who played a pot-stirring prep-school bad girl on Gossip Girl drew inspiration for the role from the bullying she endured during her real-life high school years. "This one girl threw me down a flight of stairs, fractured my ribs, punched and fractured my nose," she told Complex magazine.
Distance and time have given the bombshell actress perspective on what motivated the girls who made her life difficult in her tween years: "I was a gawky, skinny girl with big teeth and that made me an easy target," Mendes told The Daily Mail. "I had two bullies and they tortured me all through junior high school. At the time I couldn't understand why they kept taunting me. Only later could I see that I was showing them my fear and that's what they were pouncing on."
Lovato's own experience with being bullied prompted her to begin a crusade against the painful phenomenon. "People would write 'hate petitions' [about me] and send them around to be signed. They'd have CD-bashing parties of my demos," she told PEOPLE. "They'd come to my house, stand across the street and yell things. It was a very emotional time for me, and all I wanted to do was get away." Since then she's worked with PACER's Teens Against Bullying organization, appeared in an anti-bullying video and became an ambassador for Secret's "Mean Stinks" campaign.