By Carleigh O’Connell, Guest Blogger
How does a 14-year-old girl stand up on a graffiti-covered rock that makes fun of her body, take a picture, and then have the picture go viral on the internet reaching over 4 million people? Well, it happened, and it happened to me.
I am not really sure what made me step up on the rock that day. I do know that I didn't hesitate to do it. I knew it my heart it was right, and looking back, I would make the same decision if I had it to do over again. This entire experience has been a whirlwind, and I have learned so much. One of the most valuable lessons I've learn is that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself when no one else will, and do what people don't expect you to do.
The way I saw it, I had a choice. I could have just walked away, cried in my room or tried to ignore it altogether, but that wasn't an option for me. I knew the moment I saw the graffiti that I had to respond, and that's exactly what I did. I responded back to someone's hurtful behavior instead of becoming the victim and letting them get away with it.
Some call this bullying; I just call it "mean." Whoever wrote this wanted to bring attention to themselves. I can only assume that they were trying to be funny or cool around their friends at my expense. So, I turned the tables and highlighted the fact that it wasn't about them, it was about me, and I am not okay with being someone's target or springboard for popularity.
I am not perfect. I know that. I'm only 14 years old, and I am sure my body will change in many ways as I grow older. But I do accept how I am made, what is in my heart, and how much I have to learn as my life goes on.
I've been so incredibly moved and humbled from all of the positive feedback I've received, and I feel so proud to have been just a small part of the fight against body shaming and bullying. I'm honored to serve as a glimmer of hope for girls going through similar difficulties.
One message I received was from a 19 year old girl from Chile. She told me she experienced this type of body shaming when she was my age. She also told me she got through it, is now in college and loves her life. She told me the negative experience made her strong growing up and that she was proud of me for how I handled my own experience. Her words brought me to tears. And after reading her message, I realized that I stepped up on that rock for more than just myself. I stepped up there for the kids who just can't.
It's not an easy thing standing up to bullies or aggressors, but by creating awareness of this issue and actually talking about it will help kids step up in their own way. Whether it's through art, writing, or sports, encouraging kids, teens and adults not to bottle up their emotions, but to talk about them and express their feelings will help immensely. I am lucky enough to have an incredible built-in support system in my family, and amazing friends who have stood by me. I fully recognize that this may not be the case for everyone. However, through websites like www.amightygirl.com or www.reachout.com anyone who is struggling can realize that they're not alone and use these avenues to vent, seek advice, or just get information.
What I now know…
I have realized that so many people, kids and adults, have faced and can relate to this type of negativity.
I have realized that sometimes you have to stare cruelty in the face and not drop your head.
I have realized that owning who you are and how you are made is much better than feeling ashamed or bad about yourself.
I have realized that is okay to not have everyone agree with you and your actions, because sometimes negativity can bring bigger and better things.
I am beyond thankful for the positive words of encouragement and love. I still cannot comprehend the amount of support that I have received. I hope my story continues to inspire kids and adults to stand up on their own rock, in their own way, whatever that may mean. I would like to thank A Mighty Girl for having me as their guest!
Reading Resources for Youth & Their Parents
- Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way (ages 7 to 12)
- A Smart Girl's Guide to Liking Herself -- Even On the Bad Days (ages 9 to 12)
- lol...OMG!: What Every Student Needs To Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship And Cyberbullying (ages 12 and up)
- The Bullying Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying (ages 13 and up)
- Real Beauty: 101 Ways to Feel Great about You (ages 8 to 12)
- Picture Perfect: What You Need to Feel Better About Your Body (ages 11 and up)
- Coping with Cliques: A Workbook to Help Girls Deal with Gossip, Put-Downs, Bullying, and Other Mean Behavior (ages 9 to 14)
- The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals (ages 13 and up)
- Bully (a film for ages 13 and up)
Resource Organizations for Youth
- Teen Health: A website that strives to be "a safe, private place for teens who need honest, accurate information and advice about health, emotions, and life." The site has information on a diverse array of topics, from food to diseases to drugs and alcohol.
- Kids Help Phone: A Canada-based, anonymous phone counseling, web counseling and referral service for children and youth.
- StopBullying.gov: A website created by the U.S. Federal government to provide information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.
- ReachOut: A website seeking to "help teens and young adults who are facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues." The site has articles on a variety of mental-health topics as well as professionally-moderated forums where teens and young adults can ask peers or mental-health experts questions or just hang out