Middle school is a level of hell I’d never wish on an enemy. The awkwardness, the insecurity, the constant pressure to be someone else when you’re not so sure of who you are in the first place. The messages girls are told in grade school only snowball into the standards we hear as adults: be thin, be cool, be likable. But one Arizona middle schooler has gone viral after using slam poetry to try and break this cycle.
Last month, Queen Creek Middle School in Queen Creek, Arizona, shared a video on their Facebook page of seventh-grade student Olivia Vella presenting her slam poetry assignment, her class’s final project.
In her six minutes at the front of the class, Vella’s voice shakes and she speaks with fervor as she lists requirements demanded of middle school girls, all in a day’s work—spend hours applying makeup to show your ugly face, walk to class with the cool kids (even if they pick on you), deal with the hateful comments for being good at school and getting your work done, and ask yourself, repeatedly, “Why am I not good enough?”
At the end of her moving performance, Vella shares the truth with her female classmates: everyone looks at everyone else, wishing they were just as pretty, or funny, or smart as the other, wishing they could just be accepted, “but skipping meals and marking up your wrists isn’t going to fix that,” she says.
“You are loved, you are precious, you are beautiful, you are talented, you are capable, you are deserving of respect, you can eat that meal, you are one in 7 billion,” she chants. “You are good enough.”
Uploaded just two weeks ago, video of Vella’s performance has racked up more than 195,000 views, with commenters cheering on Vella and thanking her for sharing a message that all girls and women aren’t reminded of enough.
“I needed her in middle and high school. She is my kid hero right now. Kudos young one. You will help change the world,” one woman commented.
Vella told PBS that she immediately knew she wanted to tell her classmates and other girls her age a message they don’t hear quite enough: they are smart, beautiful, and talented, despite all they’re told otherwise.
“I think that you just go to the store and you see this magazine that says: ‘Look at this new way to lose weight.’ Or you see this perfect selfie of someone,” Vella told PBS. “And this society wants everyone to be perfect and just be like objects.”
And while other students wrote their final projects on divorce, family separation, and other personal topics, no other poem resonated with the class like Vella’s did, Brett Cornelius, Vella’s teacher, told PBS.
“Girls were crying. Boys couldn’t stop looking at Olivia in awe,” Cornelius said. “We watched a lot of slam poetry, and these poets were saying all these things kids think and feel every day but don’t have the outlet to say … And then these poems gave them the courage to say it.”
View Vella’s full slam poetry performance below: