Today marks the National Day of Action Against Bullying and SheBrisbane had a chat with Neighbours actress, and Queenslander Lilly Van der Meer who is fronting the Supré Foundation and headspace anti-bullying campaign Bullying. So Not Ok.
Why is bullying such an important issue for you?
At school you’re told to stand up for yourself. That’s hard when you don’t even know who you are yet. We are expected to define ourselves during school. Groups are formed, talents are admired and kids begin to form their opinions. If we didn’t know who we were, other kids would choose for us. The nerd, shorty, fatty, ugly, pimply, freckly, poor, weird, quiet, embarrassing… To a student these typecasts feel like your whole world. It’s so easy to let these words define and affect you throughout your schooling years.
If there’s one thing you take out of this campaign, I want you to know that those typecasts do not and will NEVER define you.
Your character on Neighbours was bullied, how did she deal with it?
When I first read the bullying storyline for my character ‘Xanthe’ on Neighbours, I realised that not only was she experiencing schoolyard bullying but there was a vast online aspect too. My first step was to understand and research more about cyber bullying.
After sifting through numerous YouTube videos and blogs I understood to an extent that no two cases are the same. I had to discover my own way of dealing with such a horrible form of harassment, and hope that the thousands of people watching our show could relate to the pain my character was going through.
I also felt an extreme weight on my shoulders to prove to not only our viewers but also everyone suffering from cyber bullying, that there can always be a positive outcome, and YOU always have the ability to rise above the bullies.
Have you ever had a personal bullying experience? Can you tell us about it?
I personally began to understand the capacity of bullying at quite an interesting stage in my life. It was year seven and like most kids, we were getting ready to venture off into our exciting new high school lives. I was part of a group of seven girls. To my knowledge we all meshed really well together; we all sat together in class; we did everything together’ we were happy.
But one day something changed. I was being pushed out of the group – slowly they stopped inviting me to their sleepovers, I stopped getting picked for their sport teams. I didn’t understand why it was all happening and tried so hard to reason with them. They denied it all. Told me I was over exaggerating.
Sadly, I believed them.
At lunchtimes I would still hang out with the group, desperate to hold onto any friendship I may have had left. They would sit in a tight circle with me sitting alone just behind them.
We played games where I would somehow always manage to be ‘it’ and would count with my eyes closed while they ran away from me. They would talk about their group sleepovers to me, and describe in detail to me all my flaws. From a distance, all the teachers and other students could see was a “group of wonderful, lovely girls.” They were so sneaky, describing my imperfections to me quietly in a way that would make me feel so horrible I was unable to breathe.
The part that affected me the most was not the awful words they said, but the beaming smile that formed on their lips as they said them. I endured all their bullying because somehow, I thought it was better than sitting alone at lunchtime. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On my thirteenth birthday I decided to confront them about how awful they made me feel. I begged them to stop. I begged them for my friendship back. Again, they denied everything. I walked back into the classroom and found my desk all alone in the back corner of our room. I went up to the group and apologised for confronting them. I just wanted everything to go back to the way it was. I didn’t care about the pain they caused me I just wanted my friendship back. They never stopped.
Five years later and I still cannot explain the pain I felt that year. I remember hysterically crying every night, asking my mum what was wrong with me. I thought the pain would last forever. (It didn’t).
I remember the gut wrenching feeling I had as I walked into school everyday knowing I was completely isolated. I remember having an argument with a teacher when I told her I was being bullied. I pleaded for her help and she didn’t believe me. No one at school did. I honestly can’t remember how I survived that year. The support from my mum was the only thing that kept me walking through that classroom door.
What is your message to young girls experiencing bullying?
To any girls that are reading this now, I want you to know, you are not alone. You never have to go through this alone. No matter what extremity of bullying you are fighting there is ALWAYS help available. I understand that sometimes confiding in a friend or teacher isn’t always an option. For me I was lucky to have my family’s support.
If there isn’t any support around you, please know there is absolutely no embarrassment in going to see a counselor.. I did! There are also so many incredible lines of support available – from March 27 you can walk into a Supré store and grab a free copy of the Bullying So Not Ok booklet, take it home and read it! There is also the option to reach out to organisations such as headspace. But whatever you do, don’t suffer alone.
If I could see my bullies again today, I’d say thank you. Thank you for making me the strongest, most positive and passionate individual I could ever be. I took
Why are you involved in the initiative?
I want girls to know understand that being bullied is never ok and no matter what your situation, there is support available to you.
The Supré Foundation is such an incredible platform and I feel so honoured to be their ambassador. I began working with Supré on some fashion shoots and realised very quickly how passionate the team is about supporting girls and creating some serious girl power! If we can help even one girl believe she can achieve anything, I know we’re doing something right. I wish I had a campaign like this when I was in school, and I’m determined, as a team to spread some serious self-love and positive thoughts to all you lil’ ladies out there in the world!
Why is it important to empower young girls?
WHY IS IT IMPORANT TO EMPOWER YOUNG GIRLS YOU ASK?!
BECAUSE GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING! No seriously, we can. We have, and oh baby, believe me, we will.
Here’s how YOU can help stop bullying.
Whilst I was researching, I googled the synonyms for ‘Bully.’
The third word on the list was Tough. There’s the first mistake.
Bullies are NOT tough. It is not tough to bring someone down, to point out their flaws and make them feel less worthy than you. We were all put on this earth for a reason, and I think it’s a beautiful privilege for each of us to discover why we are here. Encourage people, embrace your individual qualities, inspire, create self-love groups, be YOURSELF!
Now I know it’s quite possibly the most overused phrase in the history of the universe, but hey that’s for a reason right? Be yourself! Do what you love and what inspires you, because at the end of the day, you are the only one that can make YOU happy.