We met 17-year-old singer and bully prevention activist Lizzie Sider at Planet Hollywood recently.
How old were you when you started to get bullied?
I was in kindergarten when I started to get teased and it went through about 4th grade. And the thing was, I loved my school. I’ve noticed that bullying happens in every school and so I was the one that happened to be in the middle of all of it.
Where do you come up with ideas for your songs?
I draw my songs from both personal experiences and experiences from others. Maybe my friend is going through something, or something that I’m thinking about. I love songwriting because it’s really fun, it’s a great way for me to express myself, it’s a great way to kind of use it as an avenue to go through life to put music and lyrics together.
How did it feel to win the Peter Yarrow HateBraker Hero Award in May 2014?
Let me just tell you a little bit about this. There was a folk music group in the ’60s: Peter, Paul and Mary. They were really famous. They did songs both their own and they also covered songs. Like they did “This Land Is Your Land,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which was a famous Bob Dylan song. Peter Yarrow does a lot of philanthropic work and he was honored by an organization out of St. Louis called HateBrakers. They gave him an award for all of his work with charity, anti-bullying and all of that. A couple of years ago they named that award officially the Peter Yarrow HateBraker Award and so I was given that for my anti-bullying efforts and it was an absolute honor to receive that. To be recognized not only alongside Peter but also to be recognized for something that I’m just impassioned about doing.
How do you influence kids to stand up for themselves when they’re getting bullied?
I think that in any situation where somebody’s being bullied there are three people, right? There’s the victim, there’s the bully and then there’s the bystander. I think that all those people kind of work together to create that scenario. For a victim who’s being bullied, I think one of the strongest things — and it may not sound like it — but I think one of the strongest things that we can do is just to walk away from the situation. One of the things I noticed is that when I did just that, when I walked away and when I showed the bullies that they couldn’t waste their energy on me anymore because it wasn’t going to work, that helped them stop and realize that this is not going anywhere, I’m not doing this anymore. And something that’s also really important is if we see someone being bullied and if we’re that bystander, it’s important to step up and take that person out of that situation or just be there and do what’s right.
What inspired you to start your bully prevention project?
When I was in elementary school, as we were talking about, I was teased and I was bullied. It’s always been something that has been in my heart because of my personal experiences, but through the years I’ve really been all about self-confidence and I’ve been about self-respect and about respecting others. And so I decided that with my career in the place that it was, I wanted to get out and use that and to talk about something I was passionate about. We went out there, I sent a mass email out to California schools because that was the first state that we started in and we wanted to go to. And we got hundreds of replies back. At this point I’ve gone to 350 schools around the country, and I’ve seen 150,000 kids. It turned into something really great.
When did you figure out you wanted to pursue music?
I have always loved music ever since I knew what it was. I’ve always been a very theatrical child. So I would put on like a poodle skirt when I was young and I was 4 years old and danced on the coffee table and I’d always be singing around the house, but when I was 6 years old I was in my first play. It was in a small town, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I actually go every summer. But I discovered my love for singing and dancing there and so my first show I was like, “This is what I want to do. I love it.” And as the years went on I kept doing that. I started taking voice lessons, I started playing piano. So it’s kind of been a big snowball effect and I love it so much right now.
Where do you think your bully prevention program has impacted the others the most?
The way my bully prevention program works is so far it’s been a live program. I think something that has really been different about my program versus others is that I’m 17 and if I would come to your school, right? And be talking to you guys, it’s different than having somebody’s who’s maybe 35 to talk to you guys because I was just your age. I think the fact that I am so young is good because we’re able to relate to each other. Also I really love what I do because I get to combine music and my message. It’s very important and it’s really a great way to kind of get everybody united and to get everybody just onboard the same train. We’re all in this together, we have each other’s backs and so if we stand together as a community — even if I tell you and you tell them — it’s a chain reaction and I think knowing that you’re not alone and we’re all together is something that has really been great.
Why did you choose the song “Butterfly” as the center of attention in the bullying program?
“Butterfly” is a song that I wrote a couple of years ago initially about those experiences I had in elementary school, but it became a song for anybody, anybody who’s going through anything in life at any age. It’s just about coming out of your shell and realizing that you are beautiful and you’re unique and strong and confident. Trust yourself and you just need to believe in that and nobody else can touch that. It became my anthem right when I wrote it. I wanted to make “Butterfly” the theme of the tour because I think that it wraps everything up and everybody has a great time singing it and it’s catchy and it’s fun.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Something that immediately comes to mind is when I was in my elementary school years and when I was struggling with the teasing and the bullying to help me get over that. Looking back, if I could pick a turning point where that really changed for me was I was walking out the door to go to school and my dad came by and he said, “I want you to remember that nobody has the power to ruin your day.” At first I looked at him and I said it doesn’t make sense to me because here I am coming from crying and they’re making me feel less about myself and it’s really putting a weight on my shoulders and after a while we were talking about it and I realize that the power lies within myself to decide how I feel and how I’m going to take actions or words. And you know what? I think that’s super important. That was key for my life at the time when I was in fourth grade and my current situation but we will get knocked down and we will be bullied in ways and we will be discouraged like all through life and in school and in work and in sports. It happens and I think that’s really important to carry through our lives and our journeys to remember that no matter what — again like with “Butterfly” — we’re our own person and if we could just put up that brick wall to things that are going to be thrown at us, we just go about how we believe in ourselves and how we see ourselves. Then nobody has that power other than ourselves. I think that’s a really powerful message and that’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. I carry it around with me all the time.
Is there anything else you would like to accomplish in your career?
I would absolutely love to be the kind of influencer of the world. The kind of role model that you look back in 50 years and you say, “Wow, Lizzie Sider was somebody who impacted the world and she wasn’t just a singer, she wasn’t just an actress, she wasn’t just a bully prevention activist. She stood up for what she believed in and she created a wave in the community.” Like some of my biggest role models in my life are Audrey Hepburn, and Julie Andrews. They’re actresses. That’s what I would really love to accomplish. Just to keep doing what I’m doing and make myself happy and make people happy and just have fun with it.
How has your family supported you through all this?
I love my family so much. I live with my parents at home and they have always encouraged me in everything I do. Everything, in school, my extracurricular activities, just to be myself and be true to myself and nothing else matters. I’m so thankful for them because they’re supportive of my dreams and how I see myself, and they’re awesome.
For more about Lizzie’s program and how you can get her to visit your school, visit nobodyhasthepowertoruinyourday.org