A 13-year old girl named Olivia Vella has become an overnight sensation after her powerful slam poetry assignment went viral on the internet. Reflecting the daily struggles to fit in, be beautiful, and be respected that plague middle school girls, her words have resonated with so many that the video has been viewed over 27 million times.
Her poem, “Why Am I Not Good Enough?”, includes a series of steps girls must take in the hopes of finding acceptance among their peers. “Pick out an outfit that fits in with the latest trends and won’t make you the laughing stock of the school (more than you already are)… Put on some makeup so you can actually show your face in public and be a little bit pretty… Shove your fat feet into those toe-pinching, blood-blistering Converse that everyone at school is wearing and you cannot be the odd one out” are all included on the list.
Also in the poem are gut-wrenching lines like, “You take each comment, each judgment, each assumption, each opinion, each strange look, each remark, each criticism, each review, each report, each assignment and with it your self-esteem plummets like a sinking ship.”
Perhaps the most powerful section is when Olivia says, “As you gaze into the bathroom mirror you’ll see a stranger who somehow stole your reflection and replaced it with a completely different girl. Every part of your outfit is uncomfortable and even though you spent hours trying to be pretty, you will never be as good as those other girls at school. You are actually holding back a few tears but you feel like you are holding back a tsunami of emotion. You can’t let anyone else know how you feel otherwise they will never respect you the same way they used to. Or did they ever?”
And not only are her words impactful, but also her delivery is full of raw emotion. You can feel her pain and sadness as she recites her poem.
As a parent and former teacher, I wanted to reach into my computer and put my arms around her. I wanted to tell her how amazing she is and anyone who thinks differently isn’t worth it. But I know no one can do that for her—not even her own mom or teacher. We’ve all been through the perils of adolescence, and we hope that our kids will come out on the other side like we did, realizing that they were pretty awesome all along. But they have to walk through that minefield themselves.
Luckily, Olivia does have a supportive teacher who sees her talent. Her 7th grade English teacher, Brett Cornelius, says, “Here I was looking at the greatest student I’ve ever come into contact with. And I’m reading about her being so insecure and so unhappy with who she is, and sadness is the first word I could feel.” However, he makes sure Olivia knows just how proud he is of her, calling the impact her poetry has had a “worldwide rippling effect.” He also told ABC News that Olivia is “steering this ship of self-love, and I’m proud to call her my captain and hero.”
Her mother, Molly, is also there to help Olivia navigate the pain of middle school. “It hurts my heart listening to these thoughts I can’t take away from her,” Molly says. “I think it’s harder now because everything they do is photographed and put on Instagram,” she added. “And they edit their pictures, and if they don’t look perfect, they feel less about themselves.”
Despite the pain reflected in Olivia’s slam poetry assignment, she also speaks some beautiful truth. “You look at other girls wishing you were them, but other girls are looking at you, wishing they were you,” she recited. “…You are loved. You are precious. You are beautiful. You are talented. You are capable. You are deserving of respect. And most of all, you are good enough.”
Thank you, Olivia Vella, for your beauty and grace and honesty. Girls around the world have heard your words and feel less alone. They feel like someone else out there knows how it feels to try and try and never be good enough. But you just told them that they are. And I’ll bet many of them feel beautiful and capable and loved because of you.
To see Olivia reciting her poem, check out the video below: