An extract from Bully For Them: Outstanding Australians on Hard Lessons Learned at School is now available in The Sydney Morning Herald. Tiff, along with two other successful Australians detail how they learned to overcome the bullies and feelings of worthlessness that dogged their school days. This is a must read, it seems Tiff went through a lot when she was younger. The story has only made us respect her more.
TIFFINY HALL, TELEVISION PERSONALITY, 29
Up until 14, I was paralysed with shyness. I couldn't ask questions in class, and at restaurants I'd get my younger sister, Bridget, to order food for me. I hated conflict. I stressed over everything. The night before sports and swimming carnivals, I'd feel sick. The stress to achieve - to not be the "dumb blonde" - started in year 6 and just got worse and worse.
I went to a very cliquey private girls' school. There was a big fight in year 6, and another in year 9, all the girls just at each other, and I didn't know what to do. At a girls' school you have to choose sides. But I was such a people-pleaser, I would never choose a side. So I wasn't very popular and they decided I was a "dumb blonde". I was very strong in English, but I struggled with maths and science. I worked hard to get good marks to subvert that dumb-blonde stereotype. I still carry it somewhat.
When I was 15, I was in 42nd Street. The lead guy came from another school and was 18 and drove a car. After the show finished, he gave out awards to everyone. He gave me an award for being "The girl most likely to become a porn star". I couldn't breathe. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. He kept calling me to go up on stage and all the girls were laughing.
School stressed me out so much that I got glandular fever, which led to chronic fatigue syndrome, and I had to take six or seven months off. That was year 9, the pivotal time when you make your friends. Socially, I never recovered. I never fitted in. A lot of the girls were really well off and stuck together. The dominant thing was wealth and having the right things. One girl was bullied because her family rented their BMW.
My mum would pick me up in the Tarago - a "ninja" van that was sign-written with "Get Your Kicks Here" and "Fitness for Fun" - wearing her white taekwondo uniform. It was a family business and they'd take me and my sister to shopping centres to do demonstrations to build membership. Kids from school would come by. Being 14 and doing these demos in front of your friends was mortifying. There were so many aerobics girls and ballerinas, and I was into full-contact sports.
Sometimes, if I couldn't deal with something, I'd clean. Mum would always yell at me because I'd just empty a drawer into the bin, which would make me feel better, but she'd have had important stuff in there. So, for my 12th birthday, I asked for cleaning agents and some Ballerina cleaning cloths. When the girls came over for the sleepover, I said, "Let's all clean the house!" Three of them were like, "Seriously?" But one girl helped - she's still my friend today.
At uni, I was dating this boy and desperate to fit in with his social clique - law and commerce students from the south side of Melbourne. I changed the way I dressed, cut my hair, but they kept saying, "Where do you live? Close to the airport? Do you live on the runway?" Sometimes I'd drive two hours to the other side of town and "pop" into a party, as though I'd just driven by. They had mansions, the best cars, and I felt embarrassed about where I'd grown up.
I couldn't surf, but I'd joined the surfing club just so I could go to the beach with his friends. They made me the driver; I'd drive them all the way to Bells Beach in my parents' Tarago and they would go off surfing, then I'd drive them all the way back. This one guy hassled me about being a black belt; he wanted to see "what I could do".
I explained that we don't do taekwondo on friends and he decided I was "full of shit", grabbed my throat, lifted me against the wall, said I was a "fake" and spat in my face. I did nothing. I was trained in the art of self-defence! I just couldn't ever use my voice and say "no", or tell people what I wanted.
When I was 19, I had a party and invited all those uni kids. Mum made big beautiful bowls of fantastic pasta and we'd bought a little bit of alcohol, and I sat there waiting with my parents and they didn't show. I haven't had a party since. Uni, for me, was just a disaster.
The book - which is published by Affirm Press is out now, it is edited by Fiona Scott-Norman.