I live in Utah, a very conservative bastion of religious conservatives. A few weeks ago, a girl named Gabi made national headlines because some chaperons at a Lone Peak High School dance determined that she was dressed immodestly (she was showing too much shoulder) and she could either wear a coat or go home. (Gabi is pictured to the right wearing the dress and shoes in question. Seriously, I want that dress!!! But I digress.) Feeling humiliated in front of her date and not wanting to go home, she went out to her car and wore a winter coat throughout the entire dance, finally covered enough to satisfy the gatekeepers. Someone at the dance took a photo and posted it on a social media site and it went viral.
The next thing you know, Gabi was on local news programs, and then many national news outlets, including People magazine. In this heavily religious community, many defended the chaperons’ decisions, noting that school rules required that straps be at least two inches in width and where was a ruler showing that those straps truly were two inches wide? And rules are rules, thank goodness for modesty because there needs to be standards and immodest girls tempt boys and lead to all the problems in the world. Others pointed out that Gabi looked beautiful and it was outrageous that a dress like this one would get anyone barred from a school activity.
A week later, my boyfriend and I went to that same high school for a basketball game. I wasn’t even thinking about “dance-gate.” About 30-minutes into the game, I noticed several girls who were dressed in 1950’s-style dresses showing lots of shoulders and back. I started laughing and pointed it out, “Look, protestors for that girl who got kicked out of the dance.” We laughed and thought it bold, awesome and creative.
And then I realized that those girls weren’t protestors. They were the dance team of Lone Peak High School wearing school-approved attire that was far more “immodest” than Abby’s dress. Wow. If there is one thing that gets under my skin like no other, it’s hypocrisy– especially on the heels of “the great Lone Peak High School controversy.” And one in which its principal, Rhonda Bromley, defended that decision. (Honestly, I think the dancers’ dresses are fine, and I think Gabi’s dress is beautiful, demure and beyond ok for a high school dance, too.)
I took to Facebook and posted the photos I took at the basketball game. Most of my friends and followers thought the entire episode nuts. Yet some thought that the dancers were ok (it was a “sporting event”) and Gabi a rule-breaker and her mother ought to be blamed for allowing her daughter to wear a dress like that.
I eventually started private messaging Gabi’s mother, who I did not know prior to this first contact. She shared with me that Gabi was being bullied from some students. Gabi was called her a media-whore who just wanted attention, to get famous, and get on TV and in magazines. Gabi felt shamed and awful about the whole thing and so did her mom.
Lovely. I love religious piety (not).
Which got me to thinking about bullying. Growing up, there were students who were bullied. Some kids, for whatever reason, were picked on, beat up and teased. Oftentimes, there was no apparent reason behind it other than, well, “luck.” And during seventh grade, I felt a little of that, too. I somehow lost almost all of my friends (I don’t even know why) and spent a very lonely year almost alone, trying to hide in the bathrooms at lunch because my only friend, Virginia, might not have been at school that day. It was awful. But at least back then, in order to bully someone, you had to do it in person, usually with an audience watching. These days, thanks to social media, it’s easy to anonymously bully. Plus, it’s easy to say things in the cyber-world that one might never have the guts to say in person. I think bullying is intense and getting worse.
My then 13-year old daughter was the target of bullying last summer. I allowed her to get a second ear piercing and that, apparently, was not ok in these parts. She got anonymous messages on AskFM accusing her of being bad and not loving Jesus. Some told her no boy would ever like her and she was ugly and stupid because of that piercing. It was disturbing and disgusting.
“How do you feel about that?” I asked. I really had to talk myself off a proverbial cliff because I was almost positive I knew who the girls were and I wanted to call some parents and go public with this utter stupidity. Bummer I couldn’t prove it.
My daughter shrugged her shoulders. “I really don’t care. I have lots of friends. Whatever.” I looked at her and I think she meant it. Where did this confidence come from? I wondered. Or maybe it really bothered her and she didn’t want to let on.
I went to the school and our bishop (local religious leader) to report the bullying. Without names to attach the messages to, there was nothing to be done. I knew that but felt I had to say something to someone. I watched my daughter’s behavior carefully over the next many months for signs of depression. I saw none. Wow– she was amazing, those bullies were powerless over her. Irrelevant. Big nothings.
As a blogger who is very opinionated and public about my story and experiences, I have received all kinds of hateful messages. 90-percent are positive the rest, not so much. Something tells me that most of those who make comments wouldn’t have the nerve to say those things to my face. And even if they did, how would I handle it? I’d probably laugh. Whatever.
The reality is, no one can bully us or our children if we don’t allow it. Easier said than done. But at least if we “pretend” we don’t care, the bully moves on to a victim that will care. The trick when it comes to raising our children is to drive this concept home to them. Ignore the bullies. Our children are stronger and better than that. Teach them not to believe what a bully tells them. They aren’t stupid, ugly and worthless. Laugh at them. Pretend to be happy if you are really dying inside. Save the sadness for a therapist. But don’t let the bully see you sweat. Fuck them. And then the bully will become utterly powerless.
I know a few parents who have taken their children out of a school and allowed online school instead, just to get them away from an unhealthy environment. I would absolutely make that same decision, too. We moms need to do what we must in order to protect our children. And we must also do our best to teach them internal strength, resilience and confidence. The younger we can begin teaching this, and showing them that we live by that same motto, the better.
Because at the end of the day, bullies are cowards. And especially bullies who do it anonymously. And we are stronger and better. Yes, fuck them.