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5 Grown-up things we can learn from teen Carleigh O'Connell

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Carleigh O'Connell may just be a teen, but her brave stance on bullying is a lesson to all.

I was spit on in middle school. A big, fat loogie hawked into my hair that lodged right in my in early '90s bangs and splattered across my thick, plastic nerd glasses. They thought I was ugly, called me some names and left me alone wiping snot off my face with the hem of my "Don't Worry Be Happy!" T-shirt.

It was a defining moment for me... because of what I didn't do. As in, I didn't do anything. It set the precedent for the remainder of my years in school: Put your head down, grit your teeth, just get through it.

But Carleigh O'Connell took a different approach. This New Jersey teen recently went viral for taking a photo of herself standing on top of cement sprayed with graffiti that said "Carleigh's Ass," making a loud and profound statement to those who tried to bully her.

According to Carleigh, she is often mocked for her "big" butt and classmates spray painted the phrase on a huge rock to make fun of her. Instead of being angry or upset, Carleigh put on her bikini, stuck her "big" behind out and grinned for the camera. Her mom then posted the image on Facebook where it took off, garnering support in every corner of the internet.

My inner middle schooler cheered for her but the mother in me wanted to cry for her. Her own mom, Daryl O'Connell, wrote on Facebook: "So for me as the mom... I type this with tears in my eyes. Not tears of sadness or anger for I will never give anyone that is mean that much power. Tears of joy knowing that my daughter can face negativity with a smile and sense of humor. This will take her far in life. No perfect report card, high test score, athletic race or award could top the pride I have today."

In this day and age I think Daryl is right; learning to handle criticism and hatred with humor and class is something most of us adults could learn as well. Even though it's too late for me to stand up to my bullies, it isn't too late for me to learn from Carleigh.

If a picture says a thousand words, then this is what Carleigh's picture says to me: 

  1. Be proud of who you are. Their words can only hurt you if you agree with them. Don't let jerks define who you are — you define who you are.
  2. Have a sense of humor. There's nothing more disarming than a laugh and a wink.
  3. Choose not to be offended. To paraphrase the famous quote, he who takes offense where none is intended is a fool, but he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.
  4. Turn to those who love you. Carleigh is blessed to have a mom who will so vocally love and support her daughter. Let your family and friends circle around you and protect you.
  5. Remember you're not the only one. Carleigh's mom quoted her daughter: "She feels complete sympathy for the teenagers across the country who face this everyday. She understands and wants all of them to find strength inside to rise above the nastiness and be empowered by who you are, how you are made and what is in your heart."
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