My first assignment for just dance! magazine this year was to interview a 13-year-old phenom, Vivian Hicks. This young woman has accomplished a lot: Not only is she a Mini-Pop, something I so wanted to be when I was a kid, but she’s modelled, placed extremely well in dance competitions, and is a rising social media star.
However, one aspect of her story particularly grabbed me: her response to online bullying.
A Growing Social Media Star
She’s reached over 1 million followers on musical.ly, has 416,000 on Instagram, and although her YouTube channel has “only” 32,000 subscribers, her video to the song “#DISS,” which she wrote herself, has well over 300,000 views in six months.
It all started when she was three, and her mother, Alley Hicks, began posting videos of Vivian singing. Here’s her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with her mother coaching in the background. Vivian’s 4 in this one.
Cute, in my books. Alley kept posting, and Vivian kept training: first in Georgetown, and then in Oakville, cities just outside of Toronto, Canada. Vivian trained in singing, dancing, and acting, and her career has just flown.
“But with the followers comes a lot of hate, and jealousy, and crazy people. It truly does. I do tell Vivian, if she gets a message, to not look at it if she doesn’t know who it is,” says Alley.
The Dark Side of Social Media Stardom
Here’s just a tiny sample: A short hip-hop video with another dancer has comments like these:
- “I hate white ppl”
- “Wtf is she trying to hit the folks?I’m weak bruh”
- “She’s can’t dance you can check that off your Resume”
If I had seen those words when I was 13, I would have buried my head under my pillow and watched copious episodes of whatever show I was into back then. Of course, social media wasn’t around in my youth, but if I’d read those words anywhere, I would’ve been devastated. The closest I can come to that was when I played the title role in Der Besuch der alten Dame (English adaptation: The Visit) in my mid-20s. It was a university production I had co-produced, co-directed, and starred in. I was playing a woman in her 70s out for revenge on her ex-boyfriend from her youth. She bet that someone in the town would kill him if the price was high enough. (Whether she succeeds depends on which version you see: the Swiss original or the American adaptation.)
I saw one review, and they said I didn’t play “old” well enough.
Well, wasn’t I just embarrassed; I thought my world had gone under, because I wasn’t perfect. (They were right, though.) And here’s Vivian, easily ten years younger than I was at that time, dealing with comments like those further above.
Sadly, though, those weren’t the worst comments she’d ever dealt with.
In our interview for the magazine, Alley told me about a disturbing incident where someone threatened to kill her daughter. Unsure what to do, Vivian showed the message to her mom, of course, and Alley advised her not to respond, because people take photos of those exchanges and then exploit them.
So what’s Vivian supposed to do in the face of all of this? Quick perusals through the comments of many posts show that the overwhelming majority love her. I had even found a few fan pages in my research for the article.
Bullying: Don’t Let It Stop Your Dreams
“There’s better things to worry about than about some person hiding behind their phone and saying mean things to you,” Vivian said to me. She advises kids to not worry about. “And be yourself, because that’s the best you can be, to be honest.”
In the end, if she had shied away from what she loved to do, I suppose you could say the bullies would have won and the light she is clearly shining on her part of the world would’ve been extinguished.
But she doesn’t shy away from it. Instead, she’s just continuing to fly.
Did Kirk Cameron’s parents worry about his growing stardom at such a young age? Jody Foster’s? Emmanuel Lewis’s? Shirley Temple’s? Elijah Wood’s? Keisha Knight Pulliam’s? Probably. What would have happened, though, if they had held their children back because of it?
I just looked at the label on my tea bag: “He who wants a rose must respect the thorn.” It’s apparently a Persian proverb. I guess if any of us are looking for fame, we have to accept that others out there will find their own, mean way of having fun with us.
But Vivian doesn’t just ignore it; she fights it with power. For example, she performs for Bullies Foundation, an American foundation created by some reality TV stars. I don’t follow reality TV myself, so I don’t recognize any of them, but they’re getting the word out there that bullying is not okay. Here’s a short news clip of some stars from Big Brother and Vivian at a rally.
For a young woman seeking stardom, these comments are unfortunately part of the playing field. But to me, it looks like she’s striking every one of them out.
If you’re being bullied:
The RCMP has an excellent site on bullying.
If you’re a child or teen in Canada and need to talk to someone now (or your friend does), then call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.
If you’re in the US, there’s the Crisis Call Center. You can call (775) 784-8090 or text “ANSWER” to 839863. Or you can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Whatever’s happening to you, get help.