Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Gillian Graham email@example.com
SCARBOROUGH - When the online taunts started, Amanda Tyson ate to dull the pain.
Amanda Tyson of Scarborough, who has struggled with the effects of bullying since she was a sixth-grader in Scarborough, shows off her Facebook page where she spreads her “Be Kind” anti-bullying message. Her page now has more than 56,000 fans. “I never, ever in a million years imagined myself as a role model,” she said.
Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
After posting a photo of herself in a bikini on Facebook, Amanda Tyson got so many negative comments she deleted it. Later reposted with the message “Confidence is Beauty,” the photo has close to a half-million “likes.”
As classmates at Scarborough Middle School continued to lob hateful comments her way and checked the tags of her shirts to see what size she wore, Tyson ate even more.
Previously only a little heavier than her classmates, she weighed 205 pounds by time she was 13 and the number only crept higher from there.
She had so little self-confidence she couldn't motivate herself to lose weight and nearly gave up on her dream of visiting California.
"It tore me down to a place no one should ever be," Tyson said. "The bullying that happened in sixth grade has affected me for my whole life. Even when I wasn't bullied, I'd think 'these people hate me.'"
Today, more than 10 years later, Tyson is fighting back against the lasting effects of being bullied by finding self-confidence, losing weight and spreading her own message to "be kind." She got an unexpected boost last month when nearly a half-million strangers "liked" a photo of herself in a bathing suit she posted on Facebook.
For the better part of a year, Tyson has documented her weight-loss journey online and spoken out against cyberbullying through her Facebook fan page. She also raises money for the nonprofit Kind Campaign, a movement, documentary and school program dedicated to addressing female bullying.
Tyson, 23, has been busy in the past 18 months: She graduated from college with a degree in exercise science, was almost cast on the NBC show "The Biggest Loser," and lost more than 70 pounds.
Just as important, she said, she has learned to stand up for herself and other bullying victims.
According to a 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 20 percent of students surveyed reported they were bullied by peers. Another 20 percent of students admitted to bullying others. Adolescent girls are nearly twice as likely as boys to experience cyberbullying.
There is much more attention paid to cyberbullying now than when Tyson was in middle school, something she sees as progress. October is National Anti-Cyberbullying Awareness Month and schools across the country now host anti-bullying presentations like the ones done by the Kind Campaign.
Bullying again grabbed national headlines last week when Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston responded on-air to an email from a viewer that called her a bad role model because she is overweight. During an Oct. 2 broadcast on WKBT-TV in La Crosse, she responded to the viewer by drawing attention to bullying.
"I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now," Livingston said. "Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience -- that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."
When Tyson saw Livingston's video, which quickly went viral online, she immediately thought of the awful comments she got when she posted a photo of herself on Facebook a few months ago.
"She got it one time, I was getting it thousands of times," Tyson said. "I could definitely relate to her and her feelings about being called fat. It's something no one should say to another person."
This summer, Tyson, for the first time in her life, put on the bikini that hung in the back of her closet. When she "didn't hate" the way she looked in the mirror, she decided to share the photo with the 3,000 or so fans of her Facebook page.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Amanda Tyson works on her Facebook page. Tyson says she has learned to stand up for herself and fight bullying; she has lost weight that she gained by overeating in reaction to bullying, and felt brave enough to audition for the television program “The Biggest Loser.”