How many of us would willingly lose money at work, if by doing so, we could send a clear message to bullies that their behavior is unacceptable? Well, Jennifer McKendrick, a small business owner, put her paycheck on the line to do just that!
Jennifer is a photographer in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, who is employed by many parents to take their children’s senior pictures. She told Channel 4 Action News’ Ashlie Hardway that she was on Facebook one night and discovered a locally-made page promoting bullying of some of the local high school seniors. When she noticed that some of the bullies were girls who she was supposed to photograph, she decided that, not only was she not going to take their senior pictures, but she was not going to take pictures of any “ugly” people anymore.
Jennifer told Hardway, “I don’t want to photograph them, I don’t want them to be a part of my business image and I don’t want them on my blog. It was beyond ‘your clothes are ugly’ or ‘you don’t have any brand clothes’ or ‘you are ugly, your hair is not right.’ It was vicious. It was talking about sexuality.”
The page identified certain students by name and attacked them. (Cyberbullying at its ugliest!)
Jennifer took screen shots of the online comments, sending them to the four girls’ parents with the following message:
“I am writing to cancel your shoot scheduled _________ due to some recent events brought to my attention. After stumbling upon a Facebook page called (name removed), I witnessed mean and cruel behavior coming from _______. I am returning your depositing of $212.00 and I’m afraid will need to find another photographer for your daughters senior photos. I want to protect the image of my business and the mean and hurtful things she has said on there is not the type of client I want to represent my business. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and I hope you understand my reasons for doing so. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this matter any further.”
“I got a couple responses that said ‘thank you for letting them know,’ that they were unaware what was going on and that they would take care of it,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer also blogged about the incident on her website explaining why she did what she did and declaring that she would not photograph anyone who behaves this way to other people. The blog, titled “I Won’t Photograph Ugly People,” explains that after Jennifer saw the Facebook page, she posted the following comment on Facebook:
“If I’m wrong, please speak up. I came across a page on facebook that was created (by someone under a ficticious name) thats purpose is to bully, ridicule and say mean and hurtful things about their class mates. While visiting the page, I found several teenage girls that have scheduled sessions with me for their senior pictures. I am emailing them tomorrow to cancel their shoots. I do not want them to represent my business and I am beside myself at how MEAN and CRUEL they were on that page.” (Clearly Jennifer was upset, as you can tell by her typos, which I will not correct in order to relay information exactly as it appeared.)
She stated in her blog that while she was writing the email she intended to send to the four girls’ parents, hundreds of comments began pouring in, most of them stating their total support and admiration for her decision.
She also stated in her blog that she clearly cannot screen every client to determine whether they are bullies, but that in this situation, “it was right in front of my face. I saw it with my own eyes.” And in order to explain her decision, she stated, “it wasn’t hear say, it was right there..with their smiling face right beside such an ugly statement. I couldn’t forget about it, I mean how I could spend 2 hours with someone during our session trying to take beautiful photos of them knowing they could do such UGLY things. Realistically, I know by canceling their shoots it’s not going to make them “nicer people” but I refuse to let people like that represent my business.”
She went on to say that since she is a small business owner, she has the luxury to make decisions regarding who she will photograph, and she boldly stated, “If you are ugly on the inside, I’m sorry but I won’t take your photos to make you look pretty on the outside!”
While Jennifer has received hundreds of comments supporting her actions, not all of the comments she has received have been supportive. In a follow-up blog on her website, she answered some of the negative questions which were raised regarding her decision.
In some instances, she reported that people had made “very mean, hateful, cruel comments.” In fact, some people, including four of her clients, accused her of being a “Facebook stalker who was using Facebook to prescreen or check out her clients.
Jennifer explained that the bullying Facebook page came to her attention when a former colleague of hers, who is a Facebook friend, posted a comment on her page, which Jennifer, as a parent of a small child herself, clicked on to read further. Here is what her colleague had sent her that tweaked Jennifer’s curiosity and led her to the infamous Facebook page:
“If bullying has ever affected your life in any way, please help in this very small way to reduce bullying in Indiana. Go on the Facebook page (left blank in Jennifer’s blog) and report it as inappropriate. It only takes a couple of minutes. And then say a prayer of compassion for the person who set it up.”
Jennifer explained in her second blog that when she went to the page her friend had posted, she discovered her four clients were involved in the bullying. She felt that taking these girls’ pictures would make her a hypocrite, “when they did such ugly things and it went against everything I am trying to teach my daughter.”
Some even accused her of being a bully themselves because she called these girls “ugly.” She blogged that she was clearly referring to their actions and not their physical appearance when she called them ugly.
She wrote, “People aren’t born mean, it’s something they are taught to do or that they do by CHOICE. They were making a choice to be mean and I was making a choice NOT to be part of it or to be part of my business. For those of you who say I should keep my personal beliefs out of my business because it makes me unprofessional. Then I will be unprofessional until the day my business fizzles. I sleep good at night.”
Additionally, some accused Jennifer of starting this whole thing for publicity. To this, she countered that she was writing, as she has done in the past, about her business and her personal beliefs, not for publicity. She wrote, “My original intent was not to go on an anti-bullying rally, but hey if that is the message that gets out there…is it THAT wrong. At least it got you talking about the subject, it opened up dialog for some people to talk with their children about it….is it really such a bad thing.”
Some criticized her for not releasing the names of the four girls, to which Jennifer responded, “We live in such small towns here in Southwestern PA, don’t you think by releasing those names I would in-turn be releasing the media and internet onto them completely defeating the purpose. I mean, if I’m getting mean and hateful things said about me for STANDING UP for something I believe in, can you even imagine what would happen to these 4 girls? As much as I don’t LIKE what they did, I do have compassion and empathy and I would never do that to ANYONE.”
And some accused her of depriving these four girls of having their senior pictures in their yearbook. Unlike the high school my children attended, where students all had to go to one photographer for their senior picture to be placed in the yearbook, Jennifer explained that she isn’t the contracted school yearbook photographer, in fact, there are many photographers in the area for them to choose from, so these girls can still get their senior pictures taken and placed in the yearbook.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to you, in light of my numerous blogs regarding bullying in our schools, that I not only applaud Jennifer McKendrick, I salute her! The courage it took to choose what is right over padding her own bank account speaks volumes about this woman’s integrity. And if it brought some publicity that helps in both the fight against bullying and her photography business, I’m all for both!
This story makes me wonder what would happen if more of us took a stand against bullying in our own spheres of influence? Educators alone cannot battle bullying. That old saying, “It takes a village…” comes to mind. It takes more individuals of integrity, like Jennifer McKendrick, to stand up proudly and declare that they refuse to buy into or cater to bullying anymore, no matter what the personal cost.
What do you say? Are you willing to be a Jennifer McKendrick in your own community, whether at work or at play? Are you willing to take a personal risk for the greater good?
It will take a village to stomp out bullying! Are you willing to play your part?