After being bullied for years for her red hair and freckles, Ali Roebuck found it hard to love the features that made her stand out.
But the 12-year-old’s self-esteem has skyrocketed since she took part in an empowering project led by a far north Queensland photographer.
How to tackle cyberbullying:
- Take responsibility for staying safe online. Engage positively and choose consciously and make sure you pause before posting
- Learn about and apply privacy controls. Keep passwords safe and do not share them. Set privacy settings and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing
- Ignore and resist the temptation to retaliate. Do not respond directly to the bully and do not forward them messages
- Block the person who is bullying
- Seek help from friends, family, Kid’s Helpline on 1800 55 1800, eHeadspace or Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kate Stoter started the ‘It’s cool to be kind’ project after being bullied herself as a child and seeing her children’s friends going through the same traumatic experience.
The photographer takes powerful, positive images of bullying victims like Ali and shares them online.
“I have strawberry blonde hair and freckles and [bullies would] call me freckle face or ‘ranga’ ever since I started schooling,” Ali said.
“In primary school, I was very insecure about my freckles and my looks and in high school I got bullied about them but the photoshoot made me more confident and made me love my freckles.
“I think it’s good to see something positive on Facebook.”
Ali’s mum Kathy O’Sullivan described the experience as “fantastic” for her daughter.
“Ali is a beautiful child, she’s absolutely beautiful and her resilience astounds me,” she said.
“She’s had days where [bullying has] really gotten her down but she bounces back. I’ve definitely seen a change in her since the photoshoot.”
Teens see themselves in different light
Ali was the catalyst for the anti-bullying campaign, which is gaining momentum on social media.
“I wanted to do portraits of teenagers [being bullied] to make them feel better about themselves,” Ms Stoter said.
“It’s been so great for Ali. A lot of women have [commented on her photo] saying that it reminds them of when they were bullied because of their freckles.”
One young teenager has even taken up modelling since the shoot.
“The girl is 14 in the photos. She was very shy with low self-esteem,” Ms Stoter said.
“I posted them on Facebook and everyone was commenting how beautiful she was.
“Her mum said she was feeling so much better about herself and she has [since] been on the catwalk so I think she will go far.”
The far north Queensland photographer keeps the images as natural as possible.
They are all shot outdoors and she doesn’t go near photoshop.
“This is a young girl from Yarrabah,” she said.
“This girl is incredible, she wants all the other young girls [in the small Aboriginal community] to get out there.
“She is a really good role model for the other young girls there.”
Battling bulling with technology and social media
Bullying expert Dr Margaret Carter from James Cook University said bringing positivity to the online sphere with projects like photographer Kate Stoter’s was important.
“The rise in use of digital communications has increased the potential damage that can be done to an individual’s reputation, career prospects and sense of self-worth,” she said.
“For all the damage a negative digital reputation can do, it is equally true that positive, respectful posts, pictures and participation can enhance reputation.”
She said it was difficult to know whether social media and developing technology was worsening the problem of harassment in schools.
“The seriousness of cyberbullying cannot be underestimated,” she said.
“The literature reports grave consequences in some cases including victims experiencing a sense of fear, self-blame, hopelessness, sadness, anger, embarrassment, and humiliation.
“When the identity of the cyberbully is unknown, as is often the case in online contexts, the sense of vulnerability and bleakness associated with the bullying event is often escalated.”
It’s cool to be kind, to everyone
Ms Stoter suffered trauma from being bullied herself as a child and it was one moment that sparked her interest in helping young people as an adult.
“I was in Year 8 at school and a girl in Year 11 wanted to beat me up outside the tuckshop,” she said.
“I was terrified and I still remember it to this day.
“I was in a pub recently and this [same] girl came up to me and asked how I was and was really friendly.
“I asked her not to talk to me and she started crying. She apologised and apologised and said she was going through a tough time with abuse when we were kids.”
The mother of three said that’s why she wants to reach both victims and perpetrators of bullying with her images.
“I think teaching kids to be kind to those getting bullied and the bullies [is important],” she said.
“It goes deeper. Usually those bullies have something horrible going on at home so that’s what I teach my kids — to feel sorry for them because they are probably going through something tough.”
Topics: bullying, education, social-media, internet-culture, photography, human-interest, cairns-4870