With poise, beauty and a cause that matters, MacKenzie Haarlow appears to be anything but the target of bullies. She was, though. And she hasn’t forgotten it.
The Lake Stevens teen is a dancer and model, a high school student with her eye on New York University, and the winner of pageant crowns. At 17, she is Miss King County Teen USA.
A blue flag flying outside the Snohomish County Courthouse Monday, along with the U.S., state and POW-MIA flags, was there because of Haarlow. The flag’s messages, #WeighItBeforeYouSayIt and Let’s End Bullying, have been her mottos since she was 14.
Haarlow spoke to the Snohomish County Council a week ago to explain her cause. She asked that Oct. 1 be recognized as “Weigh It Before You Say It Day.”
“I was only in the sixth grade,” she told the council Sept. 26. “And I really don’t want anyone to ever have to go through that, and face the devastating effects of bullying that I had to deal with every day.”
Her family lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Haarlow said she was singled out by other kids.
“I was the new kid, and kind of an easy target,” Haarlow said Monday. “I had always been totally OK with being myself, dressing my own way. In middle school, that is not what is considered cool. I was physically bullied, cyber bullied, and my grades were pretty horrific that year.”
The cruelty began, she said, when she dressed up as Miss USA, with a tiara and sash, for a Halloween party. “I thought the costume was fabulous, but social media was harsh,” she said.
She now thinks she was bullied for a reason — “to be a voice,” said Haarlow, who studies through International Connections Academy, an online private school.
Her #WeighItBeforeYouSayIt social media push is her platform in the pageant world, but there’s more to it. “I go and speak at schools,” said Haarlow, who on Monday talked with kids at Star Lake Elementary School in Kent.
Through Barnes & Noble bookstores, she has helped with children’s story times, reading Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat.”
In June, she visited the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine to spread the word about her #WeighItBeforeYouSayIt campaign and the Oct. 1 awareness day.
Haarlow survived bullying. Others may not. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and violence-prevention partners have researched links between bullying and suicide.
“We don’t know if bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior,” says the CDC’s website. “It is correct to say that involvement in bullying, along with other risk factors, increases the chance that a young person will engage in suicide-related behaviors.”
“Bullying has obviously been around a very long time,” Haarlow said. “Now the internet is such a big part of everyday life, people will say things behind a keyboard they wouldn’t say face to face.”
In reaching kids, parents and teachers, she hopes to bring attention to the harm that bullying causes.
She challenges people to share #WeighItBeforeYouSayIt online. On Monday, some posted pictures of bracelets with that message. She’d like to include celebrities she admires — talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Seattle Seahawk Doug Baldwin, and Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News — in her anti-bullying campaign.
Haarlow still remembers the harsh words from sixth grade, but life has taken her far.
She has studied dance, modeled clothing for Zulily, and last year went to New York’s Fashion Week. She hopes to major in film at NYU, UCLA or the University of Southern California. A big dream is to join the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Is she funny? “My family thinks I am,” she said.
With Weigh It Before You Say It Day getting attention this year in Snohomish and King counties, Haarlow plans to push statewide recognition for Oct. 1, 2019.
What would she tell a bully — someone who doesn’t “weigh it” before letting loose with a hurtful barb? “Think how you would feel if someone were doing that to you,” Haarlow said. And to a bullying victim? “Don’t let it bother you. Look past it.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.