By all accounts, it's a high school nightmare. Years of bullying came to a head in Combs' freshman year at Harker Heights in September when she was assaulted by another student in the hallway. Yet despite the fact that she needed to go to the doctor when her scalp started to burn, and despite the fact that her hair had to be lopped off in uneven patches, the boy who bullied her received only an in-school suspension.
It was devastating for the high schooler. The bullying and attack were awful enough on their own, but it was the loss of her hair that most troubled her. “I realized I lost my favorite thing about me. I loved my hair... My hair was the only thing I liked about myself, honestly. I lost it for no reason."
Those words are heartbreaking. When someone is bullied for years, like Combs was, they can easily lose sight of all the things that make them lovable — even likable — and the fact that it had gotten so bad for Combs that her self-worth was wrapped up in her beautiful hair speaks volumes about what she'd been suffering prior to the incident. Her reaction in the aftermath of that awful moment, though, is proof positive that while her hair is lovely, it isn't what makes her the beautiful person she is on the inside.
While the details of this incident are shocking, the biggest surprise in all of this is actually a pleasant one: Of all the reactions that Combs could have rightfully had to this nightmare, she chose to dust herself off and be a voice for other bullying victims. The support she has gotten in her own community and from around the world has been nothing short of overwhelming.
A local salon heard about Combs' struggle and stepped in to clean up the damage her classmate had done, giving back Combs her sense of pride with an awesome haircut and some much-needed support.
Her parents started a Facebook page, Justice For Hannah, to which people are flocking to voice their disgust at the injustice of her ordeal and to drown out the negative feelings in this case with positive affirmations. People are sharing their stories, sending virtual hugs and lauding Combs for not succumbing to misery but choosing to speak up instead.
Combs isn't feeling sorry for herself. This never should have happened, but it did, and she is using it as a springboard for helping others:
It's tough to know what to do as a parent when you find out your child is being bullied. It's natural to be angry and to want to step in and fight their battles for them or to whisk them away to where others can't harm them anymore. But that's neither practical nor necessarily helpful.
We have to advocate for our kids, yes, but perhaps more important, we need to teach them to advocate for themselves. "Stand up for yourself" doesn't have to mean "punch them in the face" or "stop being sad" or "don't let this bother you." Violence sucks — it's normal to be sad when someone hurts you, and of course you'll be bothered. That's a human reaction.
But it is worth it to say to our kids, "You're bigger than this." To empower them to be vocal and unapologetic about what they think is right, to teach them that no one has the right to make them feel insignificant and worthless and that certainly no one has the right to assault someone.
More than that, we have to teach our kids to stand up for one another too. To be unsatisfied with being a bystander or an enabler. Most kids know bullying is wrong but feel afraid to say something, which would put them squarely at odds with their peers. It's our responsibility to make sure that if enough of them stand up, they'll be in the majority, and that this kind of behavior doesn't need to be an inevitability, but a rarity.
So here's to the girl who refuses to let her bully's attack define her, which her bully would have loved. It takes bravery to stand up, not just for yourself but for the people who need an ally, and we hope her peers will be inspired to stand up with her.
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