One of the topics I address most often when it comes to girls and women is the bullying phenomenon that’s not only the root of mean-girl syndrome, but one of the most rampant issues facing our youth in schools today. That being said, more often than not, we’d like to believe that we “grow up” out of our catty middle school days. Unfortunately, I’m finding that to be less and less the case.
I had the opportunity to interview Vernice FlyGirl Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot and a former Marine. She admitted she was affected by some harsh bullying and, in retrospect, really wished she had done something about it at the time. It breaks my heart every time I revisit the painful memories because I wish I wouldn't have given in, I wish I would have said something, that I would have stood up for myself. Now obviously it didn't prevent the real G.I. Jane from some truly amazing accomplishments, but it did leave this 39-year-old woman with a bruised heart.
On the other hand, out in La Crosse, Wis., anchor/reporter Jennifer Livingston received a critical e-mail regarding her weight and strong implications that she was a bad role model due to her obesity. The brave and outspoken mother of three girls didn’t stay silent like young Vernice, but went on air and rebuked the nasty, personal attack in a heartfelt message, not to the person behind the mean e-mail, but to the community at large. She made an incredible distinction about the inappropriateness of a man’s wild assumption that her weight is commensurate with her ability to be a role model. She spoke to the rampant bullying that has increased exponentially due to technology, the Internet, and the anonymity it affords people. But more importantly, she discussed how her physical attributes have zero impact on who she is as a person, the kind of role model she is, and the kind of impact she has on girls.
Interestingly, this shock heard around the world has opened up conversations about bullying, about the cruelty of cowards that hide behind computer screens as well as the lack of compassion and kindness that our society, our world for that matter, is so desperately lacking. My heart went out to Jennifer because I look back on my Survivor days with bittersweet memories. While there were incredibly kind things whispered on the walls of Facebook and chirped by Twitter, there was always one ugly comment for every 100 nice ones and for some reason, the mean ones haunted me. Whether it was a personal attack on my character or a slanderous critique about my body, I was shocked at the intentionality of people’s ugly opinions. While my instinct was to ignore them (yeah, right!), I have to admit that like Vernice and Jennifer, I still came out of that experience with a sore heart.
We all handle bullying differently. Some absorb the shock silently and internally, some are outspoken and fiery, while others fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless, the challenge here is to be more aware of the current lack of compassion threatening our society. Only when we have the selflessness, tolerance, and courage to love people as they are will we see bullies retract those claws and replace insensitivity, aggression, and insecurity with unconditional love. In the meantime, may we all be a little nicer today in the hopes that, over time, we're collectively able to leave this world better than we found it.
Images courtesy of Laphemmephoodie.com, Forcechange.com