It was an epiphany that turned into a theme for me at the annual conference of the US’s premier bullying convention conference this week. It was a theme by the third day, when I heard keynote speaker Carlotta Walls-Laprier say, “I knew who I was.” She, one of the Little Rock Nine (the African American students who made history in 1957 as the first to attend then-all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.), was responding to an audience member who asked how she dealt with the racism and kept from “hating the haters.” She gave credit to her parents for raising her to know that “I couldn’t hate another person.”
“I knew who I was.” That powerful statement was very similar to the insight – more like floodlight – that came from hearing Emily Lindin, director of the new documentary Unslut, respond to almost the same question from the audience at the film’s screening on the first night of IBPA. Lindin, a survivor of sexual bullying in high school, started The Unslut Project to create a support community for targets of sexual shaming and raise awareness of its impacts.
Now in the final stages of a PhD program and speaking at school screenings around the country, having been featured on ABC with Katie Couric, CNN with Brooke Baldwin, NPR, Al Jazeera America, and many other news outlets, Lindin told the audience member that what got her through that time was learning how to define herself rather than let other people’s opinions define her. She elaborated on this in an email to me:
Healing from ‘slut’ shaming
At the time, I didn’t know how to think about the steps I was taking to overcome sexual bullying. I’m not even sure I understood that was what I was doing – I was just trying to cope however I could. But what worked for me was identifying what I liked to do, what I was already somewhat good at doing, and throwing my energy into getting better at it. For me, it was singing. In that way, I was able to redefine myself rather than letting my peers define me, as I had been doing throughout middle school. Instead of ‘the school slut,’ I became a singer, someone who was pretty good at musical theater, an academic, and – most importantly – a KIND person. I practiced kindness. Over the course of about a year, I redefined myself according to what I wanted to be. And eventually, other people caught on and stopped defining me as a ‘slut,’ as well.
And this is crucial: She continued, “But even if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered that much, because I had redefined myself in my own mind. I had stopped internalizing and depending upon their opinion of me.”
How we can help
That, parents and educators, is true safety and well-being in all contexts, digital and physical, right? We can help our children grow resilience and emotional health by helping them… Read more