Carleigh O’Connell had heard the insults about her body before.
So when the 14-year-old from a New Jersey seaside town heard from a friend that the words “carleighs ass” had been spray-painted on a cement block by the ocean, she wasn’t surprised.
What is surprising was the high schooler’s reaction to the slight.
Rather than allowing sadness or anger to overtake her, O’Connell decided to embrace the words in an uncommonly triumphant manner.
The resident of Wall — just a few Thunder Roads south of Bruce Springsteen’s old haunt, Asbury Park — found the cement block in question, hopped atop it, posed with her bikini bottom facing the camera, turned her head around, and offered the world a smile for the ages.
“I wanted to show whoever decided to write that that I was stronger than that,” she told Today. “It didn’t impact me at all. I didn’t put my head down. I didn’t cry about it. I didn’t give the kids the power they wanted.”
Daryl Lynn O’Connell was so struck by her daughter’s bold move that she posted the photo to her Facebook page.
Her hope has been that if Carleigh’s photo is shared far and wide, perhaps it could “help one teenager who is bullied” or victimized:
She decided that she was going to be stronger than hurtful words on the concrete and that she was going to be proud of her figure. She also told me that she feels complete sympathy for the teenagers across the country who face this everyday. She understands and wants all of them to find strength inside to rise above the nastiness and be empowered by who you are, how you are made and what is in your heart. [...]
This will take her far in life. No perfect report card, high test score, athletic race or award could top the pride I have today.
The photo Carleigh’s mom posted to Facebook on July 6 had been shared more than 6,000 times as of Wednesday afternoon.