Bullying has been a thing since human history began. I’m sure one of these days we’re going to find cave paintings in France of mean cave teenagers making fun of the outcast cave teenagers and then we’ll have physical proof that bullying has existed as long as human beings have been petty and insecure. But what if the victim refuses to leave it at that? What if she reclaims the bullying, what if she owns what happened, what if she transforms the incident into a tool of empowerment? That’s a magic trick worthy of Glinda the Good Witch. It’s also exactly how New Jersey teenager Carleigh O’Connell rocked her situation when she found herself the bullseye target of bullying.
Carleigh’s mom Daryl Lynn O’Connell shared the story on Facebook, with Carleigh’s encouragement, of course. (Memo to moms everywhere: You are ONLY allowed to share your daughter’s bullying story on social media if your daughter says it’s cool, otherwise doooooon’t dooooooo it.) Carleigh discovered that some peers with apparently nothing better to do with their time than be SUPER mean, had graffiti’d a rock at the local beach with the words “Carleigh’s ass.” Rather than just quietly feel bad about this nastiness, Carly decided to own the situation, and took the following super-cute picture next to the graffiti.
Carleigh then shared the image on her Instagram and encouraged her mother to share on her Facebook page. The image and its story have since gone viral, and that was the point entirely. As Carleigh’s mom explained:
“We talked about it. And while she was upset, she told me she was going to make something good out of it. . . she decided that she was going to be stronger than hurtful words on the concrete and that she was going to be proud of her figure. She also told me that she feels complete sympathy for the teenagers across the country who face this everyday [sic]. She understands and wants all of them to find strength inside to rise above the nastiness and be empowered by who you are, how you are made and what is in your heart.”
I am crossing my fingers and toes hard that this becomes a social media trend. I would love to see people take cute pictures with their tormentors’ cruel words and by doing so take all the power away from their bullies and give that power back to themselves tenfold. Whether or not “photographic evidence that you can rise above your bullies” becomes the new selfie (and let’s be real, it’s going to be hard for any kind of photo to become the new selfie, that queen is mighty), I hope Carleigh serves as proof that you always have permission to reclaim your power. You always have permission to change the conversation and transform what could have been a story of your victimhood into a story of your own heroism.