Better grab some tissues, ’cause you’re about to get schooled (and SUPER emotional) by the fiercest middle school girl you’ve ever met.
Seventh-grader Olivia Vella was recently given an end-of-year writing assignment by her teachers at Queen Creek Middle School, and let’s just say she more than nailed it. In her powerful spoken word poem, which has gone ultra-viral in the last few days, Vella hits upon a topic that most middle school girls are just now becoming acquainted with — and most grown women are still haunted by on a daily basis.
“Why am I not good enough?” Vella asks aloud to a room full of her classmates, who sit in silence as she pours her heart out about the many thoughts that run through her mind from the moment she wakes to the moment she lays her head down at night.
The video of Vella’s performance was shared online May 25, where it has since been viewed more than 21 million times, causing women and girls everywhere to nod their heads along in agreement.
In it, Vella emotionally describes the many steps of getting through a typical school day, in which she encounters and endless barrage of negative thoughts and social pressures while simply trying to fit in. She details the many thoughts that run through her head while trying to wear the right clothes and choose the right makeup and have the right hairstyle — the ones that won’t cause her to stand out in any way, or lead others to make fun of her.
These thoughts come to her in the form of a cruel and controlling internal voice, hammering away at her self-esteem as the minutes tick by on the clock. And it’s a voice that many of us know all too well.
“One: Take a shower. You don’t want to smell,” Vella tells herself aloud. “Two: Pick out an outfit that will fit in with the latest trends and won’t make you the laughing stock of the school, more than you already are. Three: Put on some makeup so you can actually show your face in public and be a little bit pretty. You can’t even recognize yourself and your face tingles with an unbelievable itch you can’t satisfy. Otherwise you will have ruined the hours of meticulous painting you applied to your hideous face.”
As the day wears on, the voice becomes even more berating.
“As you gaze into the bathroom mirror, you see a stranger that somehow stole your reflection and replaced it with a completely different girl,” Vella continues. “Every part of your outfit is uncomfortable, but even though you spent hours trying to look pretty, you will never be as good as those other girls at school.”
Vella goes on to describe the painful realization that the one thing that makes her happy — getting good grades — is the one thing that will torment her, thanks to the teasing and exclusion from other students that will inevitably follow.
It’s a moment her mom Molly remembers all too well. As Molly later shared with the Arizona news station AZFamily:
“She came to me one day and said, ‘Mom, next year I just want to be dumb. Because I want to be like those other girls, I want them to like me.’ And it broke my heart.”
The poem runs just over five minutes long, and if you ask me, every single second is worth a listen. At just 13 years old, Vella eloquently describes so many of the emotional struggles that women face from such a young age — from unfair body pressures to rampant sexism. And in the process, she’s moved millions.
“People I don’t even know would say ‘Hey Olivia I really liked your monologue and I feel the exact same way,'” Vella told AZFamily. “And it was really eye-opening because I for most of the time thought I was the only one that felt this way and I was crazy for feeling it.”
While the poem is sharp in its directness and tender in its vulnerability, the ending is what had me really choked up.
“You are loved, you are precious, you a beautiful, you are talented you are capable, you are deserving of respect,” Vella declares, as she looks out at her fellow classmates, sitting at their desks. “You can eat that meal, you are one in 7 billion. And most of all you are good enough.”
As a woman, Vella’s powerful message — combined with her courageous spirit and incredible gift for words — hit home for me in a deeply personal way. I don’t know a single woman who got through her teen years without feeling the exact same way Vella describes. As a mother of three kids, I worry constantly about how they’ll handle the insane pressures that inevitably await them as they get older. And listening to this beautiful and articulate young woman express her own complicated and frightening insecurities proves just how delicate self-esteem can be at such a young age. But it also proves that we are far from alone in feeling this way. And that in confronting them bravely and boldly, as Vella does, we can take away the power they have over us.
In the end, that might just be the key to it all.