"I've Been Bullied" photo campaign draws viral awareness
Imagine going to school everyday and being called "fat" or a "beluga whale." Or being told to keep your head down during lunch, only speaking on command. Being bullied through high school by peers was never easy for Catherine Oshanek, 29, but she never let the abuse shape the woman she has become today.
The SAIT valedictorian and owner of Calgary's White Cedar Photography, has received an overwhelming response from a recent viral photo project, an awareness campaign launched in late December. "I've Been Bullied" was born when Oshanek posted a self-photo on the White Cedar Photography page, holding up a ripped piece of paper that read "fat." It was then that others caught onto what she was doing and wanted to jump on board with the project.
"One of the reasons I started my campaign is that I am a plus-sized girl," Oshanek said. "I've struggled with weight issues my whole life growing up always being made fun of."
After attending a friend's launch party for the show "Big Sexy" on TLC, Oshanek recalls being "inspired and humbled" at the same time.
"Never in my life did I think I'd see bigger girls on television in a positive light," she said, recalling the launch in the middle of New York's Times Square.
"To be there is like 'Wow there is a bunch of women that all grew up the same as me, but still decided to become big people and celebrate their weight,'" she said.
Inspired, Oshanek flew back to Canada and became determined to jump on an existing anti-bullying project. However, Oshanek said, there were too many campaigns focusing purely on the victim.
"The majority of the people doing the bullying have been bullied too," she said. "Someone that sits there and makes fun of you might have to go home and be called 'stupid' by their family everyday.
"There are two sides to every story."
Taking a personal stand
"'I've Been Bullied' focuses not only on the "two sides," she said, but on the idea that it is time to start recognizing our own "personal responsibilities" when dealing with the matter of bullying as well.
"I am not calling it an anti-bullying campaign," Oshanek said. "I want it to be an awareness project because I think that to a certain extent bullying is healthy.
"If everyone was super nice to each other, we wouldn't learn to be stronger people."
When Oshanek talks with kids about bullying "everybody is busy talking about being the victim. People have no problem dissing the bully."
"Two negatives don't make a positive," she said. Oshanek recalled a recent White Cedar youth talk session where the kids' "bully words" were worse than the adults'.
"When I go and talk to youth groups, I'll say to them, 'I want every single one of you to say the worst word you've ever been called, and the worst word you've ever called somebody else.' And it is the exact same words on either side," she said. "It kind of opens their eyes."
After those conversations, Oshanek sets up a small area to take photos of the children attending. Obtaining parental permission, Oshanek photographs the children with their accompanying bully word. Retard. Freak. Fat Ass. She-man. They were all there, candidly displayed for the world to see.
Not defined by your past
Among its many intentions, "I've Been Bullied" also highlights chosen professionals who "have taken being bullied and created a positive out of it," Oshanek said.
One of them is Nathan Phelps, an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community in Calgary. Phelps, a speaker and author on religion and child abuse, is also the estranged son to Fred Phelps, an anti-gay extremist and head of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
"One of the things I learned early on from my father is that we were inherently evil," says Phelps, in explanation to his contributing bully word, evil.
"I was told I was put on this Earth as a vessel of God's wrath because I was inherently and completely evil. "That is probably the biggest issue I've had to struggle with my whole life — the question if I am that person that my father defined me as," Phelps said.
"One of the things I do as an advocate of the LGBT community is look for programs and activities that are out there that will touch people's hearts," Phelps said. "I am convinced that is the way to affect change in society: that is to touch their hearts, and that will cause them to change their minds."
We are who we say we are
Danny Kid, 27, another contributor to the "I've Been Bullied" campaign, grew up in a small rural town in Nova Scotia where everyone knew your business. He had a dream of hosting his own radio station one day, but battled many non-believers in his pursuit.
"I failed my Grade 10 public speaking class," Kid said, "so when I told my teachers I wanted to be on the radio – they literally laughed in my face." "It kind of screams 'You're a loser, Kid.'"
Regardless of what his past detractors had said, Kid pursued his dream and became a radio personality. For the last eight years he has risen to being a top DJ on countless radio stations across Canada. He recently won a Calgary Choice award for media personality of the year for his show on 98.5 FM Virgin Radio. "I want to show people what I am, and what I think I am – regardless of their words," Kid said.
- By Sharday L. Isaac