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A Status Update And A Fight Against Bullying

Maisie Miller was bullied for wearing pigtails to school. (Emily Zendt for WBUR)

Maisie Miller was bullied for wearing pigtails to school. (Emily Zendt for WBUR)

BOSTON, Mass. — At first glance, Maisie Kate Miller seems like any other 16-year-old. She goes to Marblehead High School. She’s full of energy, and sometimes angst. And, like most 16-year-olds, Facebook is a big part of her reality.

But so is bullying.

After a recent bullying incident, Maisie decided to write about it online. What happened next is pretty remarkable. A fellow student had ridiculed Maisie about her hair, which she’d been wearing in pigtails that day. The girl said, “Who wears pigtails still? Are we in kindergarten?”

Maisie tried to confront the student. But the girl scoffed, and told her to “keep walking.”

That lead to Maisie’s first Facebook update.

A screenshot from Maisie’s Facebook page

A screenshot from Maisie’s Facebook page

Someone was taunting Maisie because she was wearing pigtails in her hair for a day? Teens should be expected to shrug off hurtful comments. But in Maisie’s case, the same girl had been taunting her for much of the school year: about her weight, her friends, about the clothes she wore and the activities she loved. The pigtails comment was one too many.

She texted her friends. They were supportive. Some even offered to “beat up” the girl, an offer Maisie quickly refused. She texted her mom, Joanne Miller. The response from mom: “Maisie, just don’t give this any energy.”

That sounds like pretty good advice. But Maisie just couldn’t let it go. She’s vivacious, radiant and radiating energy. And just a really hopeful teenager. She took action. She went to Facebook. But she didn’t just rant. Here’s the rest of her status update.

A screenshot from Maisie’s Facebook page

A screenshot from Maisie’s Facebook page

In a conversation, Maisie and her mother, Joanne, shared what happened next:

Meghna Chakrabarti: So you put out this call for people to wear pigtails as a demonstration of anti-bullying. Who showed up with pigtails at school?

Maisie: Oh my gosh, everyone. I was standing in front of the entrance way and I was crying because there were just so many people, people I didn’t know, people I had always looked up to, the most popular seniors, the most popular juniors. I just knew that a lot of them weren’t just wearing them for me but because, you know, everyone’s had hurtful things said to them. All the girls understood, even boys came in wearing them, adults came in wearing them.

The Washington Post said “a teacher and even a dog” [wore pigtails].

Maisie: Yes, even a dog.

The first thing that struck my mind when I thought about this was, wouldn’t a lot of people say, “Whoa, actually Facebook is the wrong place for you to talk about this at all because so much bullying does happen on Facebook”?

Maisie: Right, but I think it’s a good tool, you know, if they’re going to use it to bully, why don’t I use it to send a message of support for other people and kind of get support for myself with the bullying incident? You should use [social media] not only against people, but to your advantage.

Joanne: I think social media is the voice for teenagers. I think they use it so powerfully as their voice and to use it positively. I just think it’s a great utility.

And when you found out there was the ripple effect beyond social media and into the school, what did that make you think, Joanne?

Joanne: Maisie called me. I was at work, and she told me that she was getting this response from her classmates and I was stunned and I was awed. We live in a really close-knit community and we are really fortunate to live there and have so many friends. To find out that our community is greater than our friends and the people we know.

Did you ever worry that inadvertently this might have led to, sort of, the young woman who had started all of this feeling that she was being bullied?

Joanne: Actually that evening, Maisie and her friend Wesley were fielding all of the responses on Facebook and it occurred to me, this young woman probably said something she regrets. So I ran downstairs and just reminded them we all say things we regret, so just make sure you are really careful because you can’t harm someone else through this response that you’re getting.

Did you worry about that, Maisie?

Maisie: Yeah, I did, and actually when my mom pointed that out I really started to just really think about that and I put myself in her shoes. People were saying, like, “Do you want me to beat her up?” and stuff like that and I was like, “No, this is not what this is about,” and so I actually posted a status about it, not really knowing what people would say and I got a lot of response about it.

So did people get the message?

“She needs love, just like everyone who’s been bullied; even the bully needs compassion and love and hugs.”
– Maisie Kate Miller

Maisie: Yes, they did. It really got through; I don’t think she was bothered that much that day.

Have you talked to her since then?

Maisie: I’ve tried to talk to her; she hasn’t really responded. But she has sent — her friends have come up to me and kind of like apologized for her and kind of told me that she has been going through a lot of rough stuff lately, kind of giving an explanation toward her behavior.

And so what does that make you think?

Maisie: I kind of have empathy for her, you know, because when everyone is going through a rough time you are a very angry, angry person and you may take it out on other people. Some people choose not to but some people choose that is the only way they can let go of their emotions. And I think it definitely impacted me when people told me she had been going through a rough time because I know what it feels like to, you know, be an angry person.

When you say you know what it feels like to be an angry person, what does that mean?

Maisie: Well, when I was 6, my father died, he died from a brain tumor and it was really hard for me. I did not know how to deal with it at such a young age. I think I was angry. I think it was really difficult for me to not understand why I was the only girl in the class who didn’t have their dad. So I was angry but I wouldn’t take it out on other people, but I definitely saw the want to. I felt like the want to, you know, make people feel bad for me, you know, or make people feel like they owed me something, or make other people feel the pain that I was feeling.

And I definitely have empathy for her because what she has been going through sounds very difficult and I hope that the message that people are receiving is not to be mean to her but to be loving to her because that’s what she needs. She needs love just like everyone who’s been bullied; even the bully needs compassion and love and hugs.

Joanne, hearing this, you have to be beaming.

Joanne: I’m beaming. She’s a really terrific kid. Maisie, she’s just got a really big heart and a lot of warmth an she’s sincerely, genuinely compassionate and caring.

I have to say, hearing you talk about your Dad, it made me feel quite a lot, because to hear that losing him actually gave you — and the unfairness of that, the unfairness of losing a parent when you’re so young — has actually given you the power to deal with unfairness now with such empathy is amazing to me.

Maisie: Yeah, I definitely think that, you know, through sadness there is definitely something you can learn from that and just knowing that he’s watching down on this and I hope he’s proud, you know, of what’s been going on.

Joanne: I think you could bet [on it].

Do you think the environment at Marblehead High has changed beyond just that one day?

Maisie: Definitely, it definitely has, people are smiling more I think. I just feel like even for just myself, I feel so much love. And so many people feel like it wasn’t just me standing up for myself it was me standing up for them and them standing up for me. There has just been a lot of solidarity and unity with different groups of friends, different group of people just all coming together and it was just really, really amazing.

Maisie this is my last question for you: You seem to have this natural ability to do the right thing, but what would you tell your friends and your classmates about next time? “Here’s how to find the strength to do the right thing…”

Maisie: Well I think something you always just need to keep in mind is that everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has those times where you just can’t really be the best that they are. And everyone needs love and compassion and support and when you’re not receiving that you should say no, that’s not OK, this needs to stop. And when you do get an outpouring of love you just need to carry that with you… marinate in it. Marinate in that happiness and love.

Marinate in love.

Joanne: Words to live by.


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