The Ottumwa Courier

May 8, 2013

An artistic defense against hurtful names and bullying

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Mean names, teasing and hurtful lies can begin to lose their power when we refuse to let them bother us. A creative group from Dubuque wants to make it easier for local residents to leave that pain behind.

"I do not want others to deal with what I did," said Ashley Mechert of Dubuque, a college student and a founder of the Piece of Me campaign. "I want to show the world that hate and bullying are horrible things that have horrible effects on people."

So far, she and her not-for-profit team have concentrated their efforts in Dubuque. Each participant gets to write a "label" on a blindfold. They can put the blindfold over their own eyes, or just hold the blindfold. Photos appear on the organizations web page to share with others.

"It's more powerful than just having people sign a pledge not to bully," she said. "The blindfold labels are words that describe the person in the photo, or maybe it describes why they were bullied or what they were called."

After suffering bullying that left her in tears daily, Mechert said she felt empowered against the bullies who teased her for being a bigger girl.

"I wrote 'Size 10' on mine," she said.

The teasing ceased having complete power over her. She can take the label off and dump it. She has the power to reject or accept any label. And those who put a label on someone else may be blinding themselves to what is right in front of them.

"If you're blinded by labels, you're missing out on good people. [This visual method symbolizes] that just because someone may be something, or look some way, doesn't mean they're a bad person," or even a good person, Mechert agreed, adding that for each individual, you would have to get to know them as a person.

"Our differences are what make us human; we should all be allowed to have our differences and we need to accept everyone for who they are," Mechert said.

Not all labels are bad, she said. But good or bad, human beings seem to love putting each other in categories: fat, autistic, weirdo.

"You're going to have labels whether you want them are not. People are going to [assign you] a label. This is a way to show that you are empowered, that your label doesn't bother you, that you are not that person, you can remove that blindfold. It's a way of holding it and removing it."

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 15, there will be an open photo shoot held in a meeting room at the Hotel Ottumwa. Anybody can come, she said, choose their label and get their picture taken. Mechert says there is no charge to participate, but anyone under 18 must get a parent to sign the consent form.

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark. To see the anti-bully website, visit www.pieceofmecampaign.org.