We hear a lot how the Internet has made the problem of bullying worse. But not for one Lake Forest teenager. Jonah Mowry used YouTube to not only stop the constant bullying he faced, but also to become a national advocate.
Mowry made the video that has been seen by over 10 million people at 4 a.m. more than a year and a half ago. It was the night before he came out to his parents.
In the video, the-then eighth grader didn’t say a word. He stared directly into his webcam, crying, as the Sia song "Breathe Me" played.
One by one, he held up index cards revealing the horrible things he’d experienced, including being bullied since first grade for being fat and then for being gay. Plus, he admitted to cutting himself since second grade, and repeatedly contemplating suicide.
“I was literally shaking as I pressed that button, but I had gotten to the point where I didn’t care what anyone else thought,” Mowry said recently, sitting in his Lake Forest home.
The teenager had no reason to think his video would get anything other than the normal YouTube response – a couple dozen clicks if you’re lucky.
But the video went viral, getting mentions from celebrities like Perez Hilton, Nick Jonas and the most followed woman on Twitter, Lady Gaga.
Appearances on shows like Good Morning America followed.
“And now we turn to the bullied teen who stood up for himself in an online video and has become a national hero,” anchor Lara Spencer announced before interviewing Mowry’s family.
The YouTube backlash
While Mowry was being lionized on national TV, he was mocked online for his voice, for being a whimp, and for being too whiny.
He read every single comment.
“I would look past the people who were saying the nice things and look at the comment of some girl saying she wanted to slit my throat,” said Mowry.
For him, the worst part came when dozens of YouTube users made their own videos, calling Mowry’s video a hoax.
“You swayed people from the ages of 11 and 12 to fully grown adults, so if that was your intention to fool everyone, then great job,” said a user identifying himself as "kama".
Mowry’s skeptics seized on the fact that in a follow-up video, he didn’t seem to be suffering. He was loudly chewing gum and laughing with a friend.
“I would just like to say to the people who say that nobody likes me, almost the entire school loves me,” Mowry said in the video.
He now concedes his second video was rude and cocky, but he says many people forget he’s only 15.
“I love going and speaking and giving people advice," Mowry said. "But on the other hand it does give some people the idea that I’m a perfect teenager.”
The teenager says he’s far from perfect, though he is happier now. He enjoys painting, he runs cross-country and since starting high school last fall he’s made many new friends.
“I’m actually kind of popular,” said Mowry. “I’ve learned that as long as I’m happy with myself, I shouldn’t care about anyone else’s opinion.”
Mowry's life still a struggle
Mowry says he still reads every negative comment and his mother, Peggy Sue Mowry, says her son hasn’t stopped cutting.
“We’re in still in therapy twice a week,” the mother said. “It’s a struggle for him.”
She says she still struggles with the fact that she didn’t find out about the bullying, the cutting, or her son’s suicidal thoughts until she saw his video.
“This is the hardest part for me, because you think I would know,” said Mowry. “I knew he was being teased because he was chubby and that his brother teased him, but he held his own. He has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.”
Mowry’s four and a half-minute video finally alerted his parents to what he’d been struggling with for years.
It also brought an issue out into the open that is usually hidden, says OC Human Relations Deputy Director Alison Edwards.
The organization works in local schools to try to stop bullying, and will be presenting Mowry with one of its Community Leader Awards.
“Most young people don’t report incidents of bullying or harassment to adults,” Edwards said. “When it comes to bullying most people are bystanders. I think Jonah shows you can move into the role of advocate.”
Edwards says most of all, Mowry’s video shows other gay and bullied teens they aren’t alone.