It’s no secret that the preteen years are hard. They’re awkward, they’re tumultuous, and they’re full of change. Bodies are changing, minds are changing, and — thanks to hormones — emotions are in overdrive. So it’s no wonder why most middle schoolers are consumed by angst and insecurity. But imagine going through all of this with one extra blow to your confidence. Imagine being a 12-year-old who has to wear a back brace to school each and every day, making you the target of both mockery and ridicule.
Until recently, this was the reality for Florida middle schooler Xavier Holly, who’s been wearing a back brace for years and enduring comments from school bullies who’ve called him out for simply looking “different.” Most parents would get fiercely defensive, and even angry after learning their child was the subject of cruel bullying. But instead, Xavier’s mom Ashley King got clever, taking to Facebook to help her son:
“Xavier is going to have to wear this back brace longer than expected,” King wrote in an August 18 post. “He has scoliosis and Pectus, this is suppose to help him straighten out in his growing years. He’s embarrassed to wear this to school. Last year he wore it under his shirt but it’s very noticeable, and got picked on. I’m looking for a place that can possibly do a airbrush design on this in Orlando. Please share this [and] help him out.”
The good news is, it didn’t take Xavier long to receive the “help” he needed. In fact, shortly after sharing her son’s story, Angel Ruiza — an Orlando tattoo artist, and the owner of Anarchy Tattoos and Art Co. — contacted King and said he’d love to create something special for Xavier. For free.
Ruiza began working with Xavier and designing his brace just days later, and as King told Orlando ABC affiliate station WFTV, “I was excited and amazed at how fast it all happened.”
Now, instead of sporting a cast that caused him sadness and pain, the 12-year-old proudly wears a work of art.
“He’s proud to wear it over his shirt on the outside, instead of layering his clothes,” King tells Babble. “He’s confident and happy. Did this completely stop bullying? NO. BUT it’s better now, it’s standing up for himself now.”
And I’ve got to be honest with you: Hearing this news made me cry. Not only because I found this story so amazing and inspirational (in many ways, Xavier’s strength and Ruiza’s selfless deed restored my faith in humanity); but I also cried because I sympathized. I cried because I could relate, all too well.
You see, when I was 12-years-old I too had to wear a back brace for scoliosis. I was teased and mocked, taunted and ridiculed. But unlike Xavier, I never found my confidence. I never found my voice, and eventually, the bullying got to me.
The bullying broke me down, and I stopped wearing my brace altogether — a decision that would ultimately force me into an O.R. less than one year later.
And even though I no longer wear a brace; even though I left school long ago; I am still self-conscious about my body, my stance, and my figure. I remain hyper aware of my twisted form.
However, much like Xavier and his mom, I turned to a tattooist for “help.” When I was 18, I began a body modification journey which allowed me to find the confidence I lost all those years ago. And while my art adorns my skin and not my back brace, it proves another powerful point: that tattooing — which often gets a bad wrap — can be empowering and transformative.
Tattoos can be bold and beautiful, just like all beings. Just like all bodies. Just like all forms.
As for Xavier, King told WFTV he is doing great. “This has changed my son’s confidence and makes him smile … [and while] it might not seem like a big deal … to my son, it’s everything!”