My daughter gets bullied because of her size. A photo shoot boosted her confidence, and now she advocates for others.
Rachael Massey's daughter was the victim of a cruel bullying incident on the school bus.
A photographer heard about it and offered a free photo shoot to cheer up the 7-year-old.
This is Massey's story, as told to Allison Kenien.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Rachael Massey. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My daughter was getting teased on the school bus. She tried to ignore it; she tried to keep smiling. But then the chanting started.
"If you think she's fat, clap your hands," two first-grade girls yelled.
The chant grabbed the attention of other children. Soon, cruel clapping spread throughout the bus.
With no adult monitor because of labor shortages, there was no help available for my 7-year-old girl. My daughter suffered through it, and she came home in tears at the end of the day.
I shared what happened on Facebook
I called the school, and it began to intervene, but I was still upset. How could first-grade girls be so cruel?
I wanted parents to know that even little kids could bully, so I posted on a local Facebook group. I shared the details of what happened, including that it happened two days in a row by girls younger than her. I pleaded with parents to teach their kids not to be bullies.
"My heart broke so bad that I cried for her," I said on my Facebook post. "I teach her to be strong, but words sure do leave some marks over time and I am hoping these don't."
I was surprised to see responses pop up immediately. Some parents empathized with their own stories of bullying, and others gave words of encouragement.
"If you think these girls need to be taught a lesson, clap your hands," one parent said.
As I read through the comments, one stood out to me. A local photographer offered my daughter a free photo shoot.
I decided to accept, and my daughter was thrilled. Photography is a side gig for me, so I constantly take photos of my kids, but my daughter has never had a dedicated shoot with another photographer. This would be a big event for her.
The photo shoot gave her confidence
The teasing incident left her uncomfortable about her weight and the fit of her clothes. We went shopping and found the perfect outfit — a flowy cheetah skirt and a loose top that made her feel confident.
On the day of the shoot, we met the photographer — she was waiting for us with a gift. She had created a flower on a wood plaque for my daughter using reclaimed materials.
"People throw away materials every day because they don't see the beauty and value in them," she said. "You have beauty and value, even if others can't see it."
On the plaque, she inscribed the word "joyful" to remind my daughter not to let other people steal her happiness.
The photographer began shooting as my daughter posed, laughed, and danced. I stood on the sidelines cheering. It was an incredible day. The photographer will never know what this little gesture — 15 minutes of her time — did for my daughter.
My daughter now advocates for other kids
My daughter is still bullied at school, but this experience revealed her allies.
Her two best friends have supported her through everything. One friend had tried to stop the teasing on the bus by yelling at the kids to stop chanting. Her other friend heard about the bus incident and said, "I'm sorry. I wish I had been there to help."
Now my daughter tries to advocate for other kids. If she sees a child getting teased, she'll step up and say, "Hey, don't make fun of them."
With this strength, she has scars. She never worried about her weight before the teasing, but now she constantly thinks about it. She wants to wear only baggy clothing and feels uncomfortable in her own skin.
I miss the days when she didn't think about her appearance. Seven-year-old girls should feel happy and carefree. But for my daughter, that innocence is gone.
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