My first reaction when I heard the recent story of the bullying of a 16-year-old high school girl from a small town in Michigan was thank-goodness-I’m-too-old-for-this-kind-of-thing. But then, on second thought, I realized that bullying, though many times associated with middle and high school years, can go on way into adulthood, with actions like sexual harassment, manipulation, shaming, verbal abuse and domination, to name just a few.
Were you bullied as a kid? I wasn’t (not exactly – more on this below), but I can’t help but feel drawn in by the story of Whitney Kropp, who was the target of mean girls (and boys).
The “popular” crowd – you remember the type – kids who pride themselves on meanness and belittling anyone who dares to fall outside the lines of what they deem as “cool” – played a cruel joke on Whitney by electing her to the homecoming court. Here’s an excerpt of the story from the Detroit News:
Her happy surprise turned to humiliation when she learned the reason. The students thought it would be funny if the popularity contest was won by someone who was unpopular.
Kids pointed at her in the hallways and laughed. The boy who was picked with her withdrew.
Students told her that, in case she was wondering why the boy had dropped out, he was uncomfortable being linked with her.
But kindness, rather than meanness, prevailed: after news of this cruel joke spread, people rallied. A facebook support page was created. At last glance, it had upwards of 50,000 “likes.” When Whitney decided to stand up to the bullies and attend the homecoming anyway (yay, her!) a bank account (which ultimately wasn’t needed) was opened to cover her expenses. Local businesses joined in with their support by donating salon treatments, a dress, shoes and tiara, dinner and professional photographs to mark her special night, when she will turn the tables on the bullies and embrace her new role.
And the crowds will be there to cheer her on, armed with posters and t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Team Whitney.”
I wasn’t bullied in high school; but I do remember being the recipient of comments like “How’s the air up there?” (because I was so tall) and the nickname “spider legs” when I ran track (because of my long skinny legs). The fact that I can still remember that, though, all these years later, is proof that the rather “mild” teasing had a profound effect on me. While it was all rather good-natured and certainly not mean-spirited, it did stick.
It’s not hard to imagine the mental anguish of those who are truly bullied, and hardly surprising to know that it can lead to deep depression, anxiety and a general and lasting feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness.
And though bullying can bring out the worst in some people it can also bring out the best. The number of people rallying around this girl is heartwarming. It is my biggest hope that the support will erase any harm created by this cruel joke and shame these, and all future bullies, into feeling guilty, embarrassed and humiliated.
This past summer I attended my 40th high school reunion. I hadn’t been to any of the prior reunions, turning my back on that part of my life. But this time after so many years, I vacillated; my feelings ping-ponging from “No way I’m going!” to “I really want to go.” Though not anxious to revisit some old bad memories, part of me was itching with curiosity to see the grown-up version of the kids I once knew. What I learned was interesting, surprising, satisfying, uplifting and heartening. I plan on posting about my experience in the coming weeks. I’ll just offer a hint of my experience with this thought for now: Age is a great equalizer.
And, oh, one more thing. I do think that if I was in high school now, I’d be one of the many in the stands holding up a sign, cheering for Whitney when she stands up to these cruel bullies. And 40 years from now, it is my fondest hope that she attends her high school reunion, made better, stronger and more successful and resilient by the experience.
And may the bullies all be…big, fat, ugly losers.
(Okay, that was mean. And just a bit immature. Sorry. I couldn’t resist).