Bullying targets can help stand against bullying

At age 17, Lizzie Velasquez stumbled across a YouTube video calling her “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” She was born with Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that caused unusual features. It was complicated by lipodystrophy, which means that it’s hard for her to gain weight. She’s never weighed more than 64 pounds.

Every year, she’d have to face a new round of bullying, but her parents encouraged her to go back, be herself and she would show others that she was just like them. Since she was fun and funny she made friends, and they became her “bodyguards.” She would gain her confidence back by the end of the year. In high school, she was a cheerleader and joined many activities. She was happy until she found that eight-second video with over 4 million hits.

She looked for one positive comment to the YouTube video. There wasn’t one. She kept thinking, “How do I build myself back up? Do I want to build myself back up?” In high school she was asked to share her story at an assembly, and the desire to become a motivational speaker was born.

She began speaking at other schools and was slowly building her career when she was asked to give a TED Talk for women and then one for youth. It has been viewed on YouTube millions of times.

She’s written three books called, “Lizzie Beautiful,” “Be Beautiful, Be You,” and “Choosing Happiness.” Her latest project is a documentary called “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.” It tells her story, and how she campaigned to get anti-bullying legislation passed by Congress.

Whenever she needed motivation to keep going, she went back to the hurtful comments that people left after her “Ugliest Woman” video. They fired her up to prove them wrong. She more than overcame bullying. She’s taken millions with her.

Another person who overcame the effects of bullying is Monica Lewinsky. For the newer generations: Monica Lewinsky was a young intern at the White House who fell in love with and had an affair with then President Bill Clinton. At 22, she made a mistake that she has deeply regretted all her life. She was the international victim of cruel jokes, rap songs and public shunning, which affected her personal and professional life.

She is now one of the many spokespeople for Bystander Revolution. Bystander Revolution was created by author and mother MacKenzie Bezos “to create a source of direct, peer-to-peer advice about practical things individuals can do to help defuse bullying (bystanderrevolution.org). Keep that website link. There are many one- to two-minute video clips of celebrities, social psychologists and youth offering practical advice for kids dealing with bullying, and they’re sorted in various categories, some of which I’ve listed including, solutions for bullies, afraid to ask for help, being the new kid and feeling unpopular.

The ones that I watched were so thoughtful and helpful. One of the Bystander Revolution goals is to create “Upstanders.” These are people who will step forward to help when bullying is occurring. Even just saying “stop” has proven to be helpful. Treat yourself to some human goodness and go to this site.

Something that I learned that I will use is the use of the word “target” instead of victim of a bullying incident. It always bothered me to use the word victim, because although one may be a target of an incident, being a victim is how one perceives oneself. While both Lizzie and Monica above once perceived themselves as victims, they overcame that, and it’s healthy.

Another thing I learned is that the larger the crowd of an incident, the less likely are bystanders willing to help, thinking that someone else will do it. However, once one person steps up, then others tend to follow. Think of how three people joined a fourth to stop the recent Paris train terrorist attack.

I also discovered another “target turned master of his fate”: Nicholas Carlisle. He was bullied all throughout high school in England, but is now a human rights attorney, psychotherapist and the Executive Director of No Bully. It’s an innovative “Best Practices” (means it’s been proven to work well) program facilitating change inside schools.

In researching more about Mr. Carlisle and No Bully, I discovered a Ted Talk that he made on how adults and enablers often help maintain bullying by:

1. Denial — Often helpers don’t seem to believe, or cannot fathom the level of pain that a person is feeling due to bullying, and dismiss the situation. However, the rash of student suicides is changing that perception.

2. They don’t talk about why kids are being bullied. But three groups show up over and over: immigrants and minority groups, students with mental or physical disabilities, children with different sexual orientations, such as lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender and questioning. It’s hard sometimes for the adults because they have to address their own prejudices and blindspots.

3. Punishment and removal of bullies is used to try to stop it, but it is ineffective. Bullies punish and shun their targets. So actually, they’re doing the same thing. Also, sometimes bullying to the target increases as a result.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

What does seem to work is creating “solution teams.” After the entire school staff [maybe the entire student body] has been alerted that they are to prevent and interrupt all student harassment and bullying, they refer the case to a solution coach, who creates the solution team. These teams consist of the bully and a few of his group, the target and a few of his friends, and then some others who the others might look up to. They state the target’s case, and how he or she is feeling, creating empathy for the target. They then ask the two groups “action questions.” “What can you do to make this situation better for ___?” The suggestions are agreed upon and there is follow up by the solution coach.

This is very similar to mediation, which also works, and is in some of our schools already. Let’s keep it going. But if you’re bullied and not getting relief in your school, become a Lizzie or a Nicholas. Research the sources above, or other sites. You can and will make a difference if you try.

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Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kauai, go to www.haleopio.org

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