Oregon Middle School English teacher Pernille Ripp sat next to her daughter, Thea, on the living room couch inside their Fitchburg home as they reflected on Thea’s time as a third grader – and their recent meeting with Pink.
Now age 10 and a fourth grader, Thea had been bullied the previous school year.
She told the Observer, with her mother close at her side, that she was slapped, kicked, tripped, called names like “stupid bitch,” and taunted the list seemed to go on.
Thea sported a camouflage T-shirt, which read “Pink” at the top and in bold font underneath “Beautiful Trauma.” On the word “Beautiful” was handwriting that read “To Thea.” The shirt had been signed by pop musician when Pernille and her daughter attended her Beautiful Trauma World Tour 2019 concert earlier this spring in Milwaukee.
But the musician didn’t sign Thea’s shirt under the usual circumstances, where concert-goers buy VIP tickets to meet the artist backstage. Rather, when the two arrived to the Fiserv Forum on the evening of May 2, they were met with a surprise when Pink’s assistant came up as they sat in their assigned seats, asking if they could come with her.
The musician wanted to meet them.
And it was all because of a tweet Pernille posted about her daughter overcoming her struggles with bullying, which Pink saw and eventually responded to by pulling the mother-daughter duo backstage. “When Thea was viciously bullied last year – kicked, punched, shoved and repeatedly told how ugly she was and that no one would ever love her, we played @pink song Fing Perfect over and over to drown out the bullies,” Pernille’s tweet read. “Tonight she gets to see @pink in concert and we will celebrate that the bullies did not win. Fight on, Thea.”
Pernille said the meeting “was a blur.” After winding hallways and security guard after security guard, the two were finally at Pink’s dressing room. They walked inside, and Pink gave Thea a hug.
Pernille recalled tearing up during that moment. Pink told Pernille’s daughter that she is beautiful no matter what and that her bullies are wrong for being mean to her. The artist also talked with Thea about how she had been bullied as a child, also dealing with some family trauma – a lot of her song lyrics reflecting that, Pernille said.
Later that night after the performance, Pink tweeted a photo of her and Thea with a response. Pernille said the musician had also given a shout out to Thea during the concert.
“If I got to choose to eradicate one thing in this world – it would be bullying,” Pink’s tweet read. “Bullies are cowards. Period.”
The tweet went on to read that Pink’s own kid said bullies “just need hugs themselves” and that “parents should teach their children to be kind.”
Pernille said Thea was bullied for no reason other than she was the “new kid” after the family moved from Sun Prairie to Fitchburg in 2017, when she started attending Leopold Elementary School in Madison.
Soon, Pernille said she and the rest of the family saw Thea turn from a joyful little girl into someone angry and scared to go to school, who couldn’t sleep at night wondering what might happen the next day.
“(The bullies) would hurt me … and make me feel like a mistake and tell me I wasn’t good enough,” Thea said. “I felt really alone.”
“She shouldn’t have had that many months of incidents,” Pernille added, stroking her daughter’s head. “We were sending her into an environment where we couldn’t protect her.”
But the Ripp family never wavered, Pernille said. She wasn’t going to let her daughter succumb to the pain her bullies caused her.
After the Ripp family worked tirelessly with the school’s administration and the Madison School District, Thea didn’t have to deal with being mistreated anymore. She still attends the school.
“We had to really step up our parenting game,” Pernille said. “You have to be really forceful.”
Thea, as painful as her experiences were for her, had some words to share about what she has learned about bullies. She even invited one of her bullies to her most recent birthday party – because she “maybe she needed a friend.”
Pernille recalled not liking this decision, but she was proud of her daughter for being so compassionate. She said kids have something to teach adults about having empathy for others, even when they inflict pain.
“If someone says you’re a mistake, you’re not … you’re good just the way you are,” Thea said. “If someone calls you ugly, you’re really beautiful on the inside.”