Bullying has always been a big problem in schools around the world but it’s grown especially large in the digital age. Now, through the anonymity of the internet, people not normally brave enough to torment others have the tools to harass classmates from anywhere at any time.
Fortunately, the internet also allows students with a noble cause to make their voices heard far louder: something that Lynelle Cantwell of Torbay, Newfoundland, took great advantage of.
One morning, the 12th grader was speaking to a friend in math class when she was informed that her name was featured in a post on the site ask.fm, a popular site where users could ask questions either openly or anonymously.
The post in question was a poll posted anonymously asking people to vote for the ugliest girl at Holy Trinity High School.
She found that over 100 people had voted in the poll, including 12 for Cantwell, making her #4 on the list.
Rather than standing idly by, Cantwell took to social media, calling out those who had participated in the poll and defending both herself and the other girls listed. You can read the post right here (warning: some profanity):
To the person that made the "ugliest girls in grade 12 at hth" ask.FM straw poll. I'm sorry that your life is so…
Her message was blunt, self aware, and powerful. She admitted that she wears XL clothes and that she doesn’t have a “perfect smile” but says it’s the bullies she feels sorry for, not herself.
“I’m sorry that you’ll never get the chance to know the kind of person I am,” she wrote.
“I may not look okay on the outside. But I’m funny, nice, kind, down to earth, not judgmental, accepting, helpful, and I’m super easy to talk to. That’s the same for every other girl on that list that you all put down.”
Within two days, her message had received 75 supportive comments and over 3,000 shares. Some of these messages came from classmates, others from family and friends, but they all proved to Cantwell that she was not the ugly person the bullies made her out to be.
“I’m not going to lie; learning about the poll really tore me up inside,” Cantwell said in an interview with TODAY.com. “But, after saw all of the support I got after I posted that message on Facebook, my confidence was boosted more than before. I’m overwhelmed with the response. I don’t even have words for it.
“I’m trying to show people to combat negativity with positivity and I hope people are getting the message. “
Yet, even with all the words of encouragement, Cantwell wanted to ensure that people weren’t just patting her on the back and moving on with their days. Aspiring to inspire real social change, she took to Facebook once more.
I want everyone to know i appreciate all of the gifts and the attention i have received. However, what we are fighting…
Her school must have been listening as they’ve now taken steps to prevent bullying before it has a chance to rear its ugly head.
“As a school staff we have addressed this matter with the student population and provided information to parents and guardians,” Holy Trinity High principal Andrew Hickey assured TODAY, adding that staff had been discussing the topic with students on a class-by-class basis.
While the incident occurred back in 2015, Cantwell has remained an active force against cyber-bullying ever since.
She’s been working with an anti-bullying site called Telus Wise to teach others how to act and protect themselves online.
She also starred in a 2017 documentary called Rising Above: Stories of Courage and Hope. This documentary was unique in that it provided perspective from not just the bullied but the bullies as well, something which Cantwell found very important.
“You need to hear both sides,” she said in an interview with CBC News. “Every documentary that I’ve seen about bullying so far is only about the victim. It’s the victims’ stories, how the victim dealt with it, and this one’s unique because it brings the bully into it.”
Upon seeing the film, Cantwell felt it was so positive she wanted to cry.
“When I spoke out, I didn’t think it was going to go as big as it did,” she continued. “I thought I was just going to speak out and in a week it would be forgotten about.”
Yet her story is still remembered over two years down the line and it was all because she spoke with honesty and passion.