From the ages of eight to 16 years old, Aija Mayrock was relentlessly bullied by her classmates, both online and in school. From general insults regarding her appearance to more direct suggestions toward suicide, Aija's bullies used both emotional and physical torture methods to destroy her self-esteem and academic performance. After starting therapy at age 15, Aija began her healing process and now works to combat issues regarding bullying and to promote gender equality, among others. Her own words on her website say it best: she is “committed to giving a voice to the voiceless.” Through spoken word, writing, and film, Aija tackles social issues by combining her personal experiences with compassion for both the aggressor and the victim.
Now the #1 bestselling author of The Survival Guide to Bullying: Written by a Teen, Aija has been featured on a number of platforms, including videos for Buzzfeed, American Girl, and a guest appearance on The View. When asked to describe herself, Aija asserted that she is “strong, determined, and vulnerable.” The adjectives bookending her sentence, “strong,” and “vulnerable,” might seem contradictory, but over the course of our conversation, Aija swiftly exhibited her multifaceted personality and explained how she finds courage in her weakest moments. She speaks with such a warm cadence and visible confidence that it might be hard to comprehend that she ever felt unsure of herself. Over the course of her teen years and blossoming career, Aija has successfully twisted her struggles into strength in order to save herself and others.
In the grand scheme of her activist mission, Aija is just getting started. She has recently written a new book and content for television, and will continue to conduct speaking events across the country. She will soon graduate college and expresses her excitement for the future. You can find Aija’s website here, where you can find her social media handles, books, and videos, and join her movement to create a more positive world.
Maddie Rizzo: I recently rewatched the video you did for Buzzfeed, The Truth About Being a Girl. You touched on topics like sexual assault, body image, and misogyny. A lot has happened in 2018 for feminism—from the Time’s Up movement that started in January to the record number of women who were recently elected to the House of Representatives. What do you hope to see in the next year for women?
Aija Mayrock: My response to a lot of what has gone on with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements is that I’m so happy and so glad—this moment of raising awareness for what so many girls and women go through is so important and exciting and way overdue. But I will say that I am hoping for the next year and for the future of women that there will be accountability across the board—whether it’s with the high-profile cases or the cases in everyday life in communities and in schools where we will never hear about it. I think accountability is something that is not talked about enough; it’s something that we really need to focus on and dive into… and I also want this to not be a fad or a trend. I just really hope that the next year and for the future that this is something that is focused on heavily and not looked at as something that is “sexy” to talk about in the moment.
Maddie: You have done a lot of work to stop bullying and to raise awareness of this issue. It’s so prominent in schools, and I think one of the larger parts of it has to do with a lack of mental health resources or lack of knowledge about mental health and the help that kids can seek out. What do you think schools should be doing to provide more information and resources related to mental health?
Aija: A big problem that we have in the educational system in this country is that there is a lot of stigma and shame and silence around the conversation about mental health, and I think that that bleeds into bullying as well as many many other issues. The first thing that could and should be done is that there should be education from a very early age—I’m talking as soon as people are enrolled into schools—to talk about what mental health is and about our feelings and our emotions… Acclimating young people to the idea of emotions and mental well-being is the beginning to taking away the stigma when they get older and encounter more intense mental health struggles.
I also think that listening to young people when they come to you and say that they’re struggling is really crucial on either side, whether they are the bully or the bullied. It’s all a cycle; everyone has problems in each role. Something that I come up against a lot is when I go into schools and educators tell me that kids are exaggerating when they say that they’re depressed or they’re suicidal. The biggest problem is not hearing and not believing young people because they are asking for help and they’re not being listened to. It creates a cycle of young people silencing themselves because they aren’t being heard at any point in the equation, so I think that those conversations are crucial as well as bringing in parents and guardians into the conversation. There are the young people that are not educated on how to get help and how to even acknowledge or begin to explore their emotional life, and then there are also teachers and parents that are bystanders and witnesses to their students’ or their kids’ struggles and don’t know how to deal with it properly. So I think bringing in all elements to the equation would be very useful.
Maddie: I think this age of social media has its pros and cons when it comes to bullying. You can post content that you feel good about, but you can also open it up for others to insult it. With that said, you have been able to use social media very well to combat that and to create a positive platform for people who might be struggling. What advice do you have for young people who may be struggling with the ups and downs of social media?
Aija: When you put yourself online you have to know that there are these pros and cons, and everyone is a critic. I think it’s important to assess your mental health. If you’re not in the best days of your life, maybe monitor yourself and your social media use and the accounts that you follow and expose yourself to. Whether you realize it or not, every Instagram account that we follow or every post that we make and we get enough likes or not enough likes or whatever it might be, it does register in our emotional wellbeing.
Taking into account where you’re at in life is really important. Something that I’ve tried to do is unfollow people who are not good for my mental wellbeing. If someone reaches out and says “Why?” you can be very honest and say that you’re in a phase of your life where you need to be surrounded by some more positivity, and it’s nothing personal. You can also follow accounts that will serve as motivation and inspiration for you everyday—that’s something that I like to do—and make it a habit to look at accounts that do inspire me and make me feel good about myself and help me push forward in my everyday life. So I think it’s important to be very conscious that everything you post and the reception it gets, or everything that you look at on social media, does register some level in your emotional psyche and to just be cautious and cognizant of that.
Maddie: You’ve talked a lot about your experience with bullying. I completely commend you for coming forward and talking about your experiences because to varying degrees, I think everyone can relate to it in some way. If you were to sit down with some of your former bullies, what would you say to them, if anything?
Aija: It’s so hard for me because I have seen some of my bullies face to face in passing in New York. I haven’t gotten messages or heard from anyone specifically since [I was bullied] but I have seen them, and they’ve walked the other way or looked the other way, and so I do think about it often, like what would I say if I got the opportunity. I think I would ask, “Why?” and I would ask if they could go back would they do anything differently? I hope that their answer would be what I want, but at the same time I don’t know that I would get any sort of satisfaction from any answer they have for me. The damage was done, but I would love to hear their side of it and their opinions, and why they say they did what they did—if they thought about me and how it might affect me. I think having those honest dialogues would be amazing at some point in my life. If that opportunity arises I would definitely take it, but I will say that years ago I wasn’t healed enough to have those conversations. I was strong enough, but I wasn’t healed enough. And now I feel like I’m healed enough to let go of a lot of it even though it’s something that I still live with. So I would really welcome that opportunity