Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Bullied in Delaware," who was critical of an article she had read about how to prevent bullying, I had to write.

I am a 17-year-old girl who was teased and tormented from first grade on. Because of it, I became depressed and began eating my problems away, which led to the nickname "Big Red" and other undignified labels. When I reached the summer of my sophomore year, I was at an all-time low. A good friend offered me some advice that changed my life:

"If you hear something long enough, you begin to believe it. You've been told all about your outward 'flaws' for so many years, your perception of yourself has become blurred. Every day you look in the mirror and see what the bullies have told you. Stop seeing illusions. See yourself for who you truly are."

From that day on, each time I looked in the mirror, I told myself OUT LOUD that I was beautiful and a special human being. Once I began to feel respect for myself, others did too.

Abby, please print this to help other girls and boys avoid the hell of living with no self-esteem because of the destructive words of others. This letter comes from someone who has been caught in the worst of it, and who has come out happier. -- PROUD TO BE ME IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR PROUD TO BE ME: Your friend gave you terrific advice. However, you deserve the credit for carrying it a step further with your daily affirmations. I'm told that many successful people -- athletes in particular -- use visualization techniques to improve their performance. Not only did you do that, but you added audio. I wish you continued success.

DEAR ABBY: I know you are an animal lover. I hope you will consider this wonderful item I received from a friend worthy of space in your column. -- GERARD IN BLOOMFIELD, N.J.

DEAR GERARD: It certainly is, as I'm sure my pet-loving readers will agree. With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, please read on:

"If you can start the day without caffeine,

"If you can get along without pep pills,

"If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,

"If you can resist complaining to and boring people with your troubles,

"If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,

"If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,

"If you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you when, through no fault of your own, something goes wrong,

"If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,

"If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her,

"If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor one,

"If you can face the world without lies and deceit,

"If you can conquer tension without medical help,

"If you can relax without liquor,

"If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

"If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, sex, color, religion, national origin, gender preference or politics,

"THEN you have ALMOST reached the same level of development as your dog or cat."

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600