Theresa Vail: The New Face of the Miss America Pageant

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theresa vailTheresa Vail is fluent in Chinese, an accomplished archer, a member of the Army Dental Corps, a university graduate with a double-major, and will be competing for the Miss America crown this year.  I was happy to read about her this morning because she has taken it upon herself to empower women through competing (and succeeding) in male-dominated sports.  She is also open to sharing her experiences with bullying during adolescence and to breaking the mold of standard pageant beauty (although she is fit, pretty, blond, and has nice teeth, she will be showing two large tattoos during the swimwear portion of the pageant).  See a local news article about her here, and a magazine article here.  Also, read her blog at missoutdoorgirl.com.

While pageantry makes me cringe on some levels (the whole physical beauty part of it really), I see the positives to it for many women as pageants provide scholarships, leadership experiences, and philanthropic opportunities.  It provides the contestants with the forum for being positive role models.

I appreciate that Theresa is bringing a new face to women who compete in pageants and sharing her unique life story along the way.

 

I Want to Tell You About *Heather

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This Sunday morning, I would like to tell you a true story about a girl named *Heather (real names have been changed).

Heather was someone I got to know in middle school.  She had a friend, *Anne.  Every day at lunch they sat together, alone, at a table in the lunchroom.  Other tables, including the one I sat at, would take extra chairs from other tables and crowd groups of 10-12 around tables meant to seat 8, but there they sat, a table of two.  I remember watching as chairs were asked to be taken from Heather and Anne’s table, sometimes by me, and how the two of them always said yes and kept on with their own conversations.  They were true best friends and everyone treated them terribly.

Heather and Anne were bullied.  Whether it was outright public-shaming or mean words behind their backs, their peers were unkind.  I thank God we didn’t have facebook when I was young.  I can’t imagine what the bullying would have looked like for them.

I remember hearing boys laugh about how they were invited to Heather or Anne’s birthday party or how gross it was that Heather and Anne had crushes on them.  Girls would snicker when the two friends walked by.  The worst thing I recall was when we were taking yearbook photos for student-voted awards; “Best Eyes”, “Class Clown”, etc.  The student body played a trick on Heather which was that they voted her and a boy named *Grant for “Best Couple”.  (The fact that a middle school was even voting people “Best Couple” in the yearbook is beyond ridiculous, but let’s not even go there right now as this is about Heather.)  Heather had no idea it had been a prank orchestrated by Grant and she was elated.  I remember thinking that maybe if she didn’t know it was a joke, it would be a good memory for her and she could actually enjoy one day at school.  I congratulated her when we were walking for photos and she smiled and thanked me.  I noticed that she had dressed up, put a headband in her hair and put on a light shade of pink lipstick.  In fact, she was glowing.  I felt sick inside.  Even though I had not been a part of the trick, I knew about it, and that was enough to make me an accessory.

Grant showed up and came barreling down the outdoor hallway calling after Heather.  He wanted to hold her hand, but first, he held up his finger so she’d wait while he put on latex gloves, then he held her hand.  Others started laughing.  I told those near me to cut it out but didn’t really say enough to make it stop.  The photo was taken – Grant tried to pose in typical cuddling boyfriend positions and I could tell Heather was uncomfortable.  I just wanted this day to be over, and I’m sure she did, too.

Looking back, I should have done something more to save her the humiliation of that day.  It’s sad that out of over 200 students in our class, no one spoke up.

There were a few lunches where my friend *Sarah and I would sit with Heather and Anne.  We felt bad that they were always alone.  They welcomed us and we would talk, but after those lunches, Sarah and I always went back to our group of friends and Heather and Anne went the other way, on their own, again.

The last memory I have of Heather is her singing while her mom played the piano at our 8th grade graduation.  People were saying snide comments to their friends under their breath during the performance – it’s always funny how those who don’t have the guts to stand up and sing can make fun of the others who do.  Heather looked nervous, but I saw her mom give her encouraging glances and she began to sing.  She had a really sweet voice, something I did not know about her.  I can still picture her standing up in front of everyone who put her down and singing a song about friendship and togetherness.  It’s a nice last picture to have of her – she was always kind to everyone, even those who did not reciprocate the sentiment.

That summer, before entering high school, Heather died in her father’s arms in the middle of the night from a brain aneurysm.  My mom got a phone call from another parent at our school.  She asked me if I knew Heather and I said yes.  My stomach was sick.  I cried for her, I cried for her family, and I cried for Anne.

I know others felt guilty for bullying her, but they would never admit it.  It was like this thick, heavy air hung over people whenever she was spoken about after that.  No one said mean things anymore.  People didn’t know what to say because inside all they could think about was the way she was mistreated.  No one had the chance to apologize to Heather or to try to make things right with her.  She is immortalized in the yearbook under “Best Couple” in a photo that brings back the awful trickery of that day, but I remember her on stage, singing.  Thank God for that.

The first day of high school I found Anne, sitting alone at a table, and I sat with her.  I told her how sorry I was and if she was ok.  She seemed so sad.  I imagine Heather and Anne had stayed up late during sleep overs, predicting how high school would change their lives.  There would be new people and new groups to fit in to.  The boys would be cuter, the grass would be greener.  Anne must have felt that hope for a better future at school died with Heather.

I am no saint.  I sat with Anne the first day, but not after that.  I would say hi in the halls, but what was I really doing to help her?  Anne made new friends and I think she had fun in high school, but I don’t know for sure because I never asked her.  I keep up with her on facebook and she has definitely found her stride in adulthood.  A good job, good friends, supportive family.  She recently posted that she’s pregnant with her baby’s due date, and I noticed a comment from a man I am assuming is Heather’s dad.  It said, “That’s Heather’s birthday.”  Isn’t that how it should be?  Anne will always have Heather with her, and I hope that her baby is born exactly on its due date and will share a birthday with Anne’s best friend.

I hope that what people learn from this is to always treat others with kindness.  It’s not fair to Heather or her family that she had a hard 14 years of life.  Be kind.  Speak up when others are not.  We are all capable of kindness.

I love Katy Perry’s “Firework” and I think it fits this especially.  For Heather.

More misogyny in the USA

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Caroline Pla is being told she has to stop playing in a league she’s been a part of for two years because she is a girl.  Is it possible that those behind this are threatened that a female is as good as a male at a traditionally male sport?

Watch this clip from ABC news and decide for yourself.

“It’s a Girl’s World”

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I just watched the documentary “It’s a Girl’s World” for the first time.  It follows two separate stories–one of a group if girls in Montreal and the other in British Columbia.

The documentary made by The National Film Board of Canada, touches on social bullying and the emotional/mental abuse that girls inflict on each other.  Fear, power, and contempt for another person play such a huge role in this.

Have you ever wondered why if Girl A doesn’t like Girl B, why she can’t simply not be friends with Girl B?  Too often Girl A will not just ignore Girl B, whom she doesn’t like, but she will bring Girl B down so that others will also not like Girl B.  This is done through lies, psychological games, mental torment, and emotional pain.

One thing that impressed me about the documentary was that the parents of a group of 10 year old girls were getting together to try to solve the bullying problems that their own children were creating and experiencing.  No parent likes to hear that their child is not perfect, so there were a few disagreements among parental opinions on who the queen bees were and who the bullied were.  I found that placing blame was a big part of getting to the root of the problem, but few parents wanted to accept responsibility or blame.  However, the mother and father of one girl who was showing bully behavior, recognized their daughter’s behavior and attempted to correct it.  This was so good to see because often times parents will blindly believe that their child cannot do wrong which results in behavioral problems not being addressed and therefore worsening/escalating.  In order to be part of the solution, you can’t sit idly by.  If my child were being bullied I would want the parents of the bully to be a part of the solution and work on correcting their child’s poor choices.  As the parent of the bullied child there is only so much one can do to build their child’s self-esteem–it is up to the parent of the bully to also be working on that end of the problem if the issue is to really be resolved.  If my child were a bully, I hope that I could have the clarity of mind to recognize it and take action like some of the parents that I saw in the documentary.  It can’t be easy, so I commend them.  It bothers me to see many people come to a parent of a bully and explain what the bully is doing to others when the parent is not around.  Then the bully’s parent will talk with their child and when the child denies bullying the parent simply believes it and moves on.  Blind faith in their child, even though multiple sources are expressing concern.  I understand being in your child’s corner, but be there for them by correcting their behaviors so that they will function well in society for life.  Ask constructive questions of others to figure out why so many people have expressed concern about your child’s behavior.

Rachel Simmons, author of “Odd Girl Out,” sat and talked with the young girls and learned about the different ways they hurt each other.  The girls talked about being “spies” and two-timing their friends in order to help another get dirt on the unsuspecting friend.  They spoke of making up rumors or pretending to whisper about someone who was close to them in proximity.  Ms. Simmons made an important discovery which is that most girls will not stand up to bullies for themselves or for their friend, and that bullies exist all because young girls are not taught conflict resolution.

At this point, I am still trying to make sense of what I witnessed in the film.  I have a jumble of opinions and thoughts after seeing it and I hope to develop them into clear points eventually.  Right now, I just wanted to bring up the topic of bullying once again, because it is so prevalent and such a problem.  And if you think bullying stops once you leave the school yard and enter into adulthood, think again.  Where do you think children are learning how to bully?

In Closing for Bullying Awareness Week…

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Thank you to everyone who read about bullying this week on If I Had A Little Sister.  Maintaining our education on bullying and staying up to date with current stories is one way that we can combat this kind of treatment.  I hope that everyone was able to get something out of the posts this week and maybe even change a bullied person’s life.  Remember that together we can create change.  Evil wins when we stand idly by–don’t be an observer, stand up for someone in need.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  -Mahatma Ghandi

Teachers Bullied This Student

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Cheyanne, a girl with special needs in school, was bullied by her teacher and teacher’s aid.  Comments such as, “You are so damn dumb,” and belittling remarks about her weight and family, and unfair criticisms about her lifestyle were made.  Cheyanne was starting to harm herself to not have to go to school and face these teachers that she’d had since fifth grade (for four years).  Her parents received no help from the Principal or Superintendent when trying to investigate the matter.  Finally, they wired Cheyanne with a tape recorder and had proof of her being bullied and tormented by two people whom she was supposed to be able to trust.  Please watch this video to educate yourself of her story so that if you know a special needs student, you can be more aware and help prevent this kind of disgusting treatment.

Side note:  I love that Ann Curry did this story and I thank her for her compassion during the interview with Cheyanne and her father.  However, I would have liked to see more questions from Ms. Curry directed to Cheyanne.  I also feel that her excessive touching of Cheyanne’s arm combined with her slightly slowed down speech and simple vocabulary came off as a bit condescending to people with disabilities.  I am sure this was not Ms. Curry’s intent, I just wanted to make you all, as readers of this blog, aware that it is not necessary to act any differently around someone with special needs.

Hate Crime Bullying

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The worst kinds of bullying involve violence and hate crimes.  Let’s discuss the latter.  According to CBC News Canada, “The Criminal Code of Canada says a hate crime is committed to intimidate, harm or terrify not only a person, but an entire group of people to which the victim belongs. The victims are targeted for who they are, not because of anything they have done.”  It is ILLEGAL to commit a hate crime in person, over the telephone, or on the internet in Canada.  I consider calling someone a derogatory name a means of intimidating a person by targeting her/him for who she/he is a hate crime.

In the US, hate crime is defined as: “A hate crime is usually defined by state law as one that involves threats, harassment, or physical harm and is motivated by prejudice against someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability” (uslegal.com).  Laws on punishment for the offense of a hate crime vary by state, but are very harsh in states with hate crime statutes.  Again, I see the words “harassment by prejudice against someone’s sexual orientation”.  Therefore, bullying a gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered person is a hate crime.

What I am getting at is that calling someone a derogatory name based on their sexual orientation (this means if they are gay, straight, bi-sexual, or transgendered, or GLBT) is punishable by law.  North American governments recognize hate crimes as an offense, and I believe that harassing and intimidating someone because of their sexual orientation is a hate crime.  I think that more bullied GLBT teens should press charges based on being a victim of a hate crime.  Let’s use our courts, our JUSTICE SYSTEM, to bring JUSTICE to people who are bullied because of who they love.  We cannot stand idly by anymore and allow this to continue happening.  Children and teens have committed suicide because of being bullied for their sexual orientation!  This should outrage you!  It is absolutely ridiculous that all youth cannot feel safe at their schools because of hate crime bullying.  School officials should be ashamed if a student or group of students at their school has committed a hate crime against another student.   Intolerant behavior is unacceptable and apparently that message hasn’t been sent loudly or clearly enough because we are having too many incidences of hate crime bullying today.

How can you help?  Join an acceptance or tolerance club at your school.  Join a gay-straight alliance at your school.  If your school does not have clubs like this, gather some friends and start one.  Ignorance will continue to spread without education.  If you don’t “agree” with anything other than a heterosexual lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t support your fellow human beings who don’t find themselves in that category.  I find that one of our best strengths as females is our innate ability to show compassion and empathy for all people.  Be kind to all whom you encounter.  It is the only way this world will ever see peace.

Go to www.stopbullying.gov for more information and resources.