I know what it's like to live in fear each day after receiving a serious death threat. I know the confusion and self-doubt you feel when someone tears you apart with insults on a daily basis. I know the terror of seeing another person lose control and attack with hatred and rage. I know what it's like to fall apart crying not understanding how or why it started, and just praying it will end. I know what it means to be bullied and I am determined to make sure it stops.
It isn't ironic, but rather, momentous, that the day I planned to write this article was also the day I received my first "mean" message on a 'Miss Arkansas' social media account. I attended an appearance that had to be cut extremely brief (I performed, and then departed) because of another appearance the same day in a distant city. For this, I was called unapproachable and unwanted. Nina Davuluri, our current Miss America, who is also a close friend of mine, has been called a terrorist by educated individuals, and she believes it is statements like these that prove intolerable. Several contestants received not only negative, but blatantly untrue messages on their social media accounts during Miss America. Teresa Scanlan, Miss America 2011, recently publicized her struggle with depression, anxiety and even contemplating suicide, and this struggle stemmed from the degrading ridicule she received during her year of service as Miss America.
These are the struggles the public sees. These are experiences that as many would say, "come with the job" of being a public figure. However, does that make it right? Does it make it hurt any less? Absolutely not. However, even more disconcerting is the fact that people around the world are receiving similar hurtful, unwarranted comments every day. Should being a teenager or simply existing "come with the job" of being bullied?
As I mentioned earlier, I went through a bullying experience in high school that changed my life forever. I was threatened, taunted, beaten, and eventually decided moving was easier than continuing to fight what seemed like a losing battle. In hindsight, I can see it was not a loss. I removed myself from a toxic situation, and once I was able to comfortably talk about my struggle, I made it a primary goal to help others not experience the same fate.
As Miss Arkansas, I travel the state sharing my story with children who are more than likely experiencing something similar. I share my eagerness for them to be communicative about their experiences- talking about our struggles is the first step to solving them. I also talk about the cyberbullying law that exists in Arkansas as of 2011, encouraging students to utilize the law if they feel their situation has no other resolution. We also talk about investing in our own futures by respecting others and not placing ourselves in situations that could potentially have consequences as serious as criminal records.
I spend my days discussing self-esteem issues stemming from the bullying of my past, but today, I was confronted with how to handle being bullied in the present. Did it hurt any less? No, my heart still sank to my stomach as I read the hurtful words, and I still find myself asking why someone would do this. However, I am also reminded of the great support system I have who carried me through my first bullying experience and would do it again if necessary. Nina Divaluri referenced the immense support she received not only from around the country, but around the world, when she began receiving ridicule as Miss America. Teresa Scanlan is sharing her story publicly to help others who are struggling with similar problems, and the contestants at Miss America rallied around one another when hurtful comments were made about someone. Supporting each other distances negativity and brings quality to the forefront.
If you are being bullied, know there are more people in your corner than you know. I am one of many supporters who are going to continue standing by you. I hope we can all see the necessity to support one another, stand together, and force negativity and bullying to fade into the background.
This post is part of a series produced by The BULLY Project in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month. For more information on The BULLY Project, click here.