Once Bullied Singer Bares Face For Kids Help Phone

By Stephanie Deline 4/10/11 | www.samaritanmag.com

In the video for her song “Sunflower,” from her 2009 debut album, Famous, country singer Stacey Zegers presents a poignant anti-bullying message. A victim herself of childhood bullying, the 25-year-old London, Ontario native resident hooked up with the free, anonymous counselling service Kids Help Phone to help others.

Directed by Edward Platero of Red Cat Films and shot in one take, the impactful video begins with a close-up on two hands holding a photo of a little girl wearing eyeglasses. The person puts the photo down to reveal a full shot of herself, a pretty heavily made-up blonde, Zegers, who then lifts a hand-written sign that reads, “When I was growing up I was bullied.”

Throughout the video, as she sings “Sunflower,” she begins removing her hair extensions, make-up and false eyelashes, as well as holding up other signs that tell her story and deliver statistics on bullying from Stats Canada, including “For every suicide completed, bewteen the ages of 15 to 24, 400 more were attempted.”

At the end of the video, Zegers has returned to her just-as-pretty, bare-skinned, natural state, and dons a pair of glasses. She then holds up an eerily similar photo of a young, bullied version of herself (a different pic from the one that started the vid) and closes with one final sign that has Kidshelpphone.ca written on it.

Platero came up with the video concept after seeing Christina Aguilera’s video for “Not Myself Tonight,” in which the pop star was dolled-up in front of a white screen. “He thought it would be interesting to deconstruct that,” Zegers tells Samaritanmag. “I don't wear a ton of make-up in general, and I always say that I wish people wouldn't portray themselves like that, so it was a good time for me to put my money where my mouth is.”

When Zegers sent the video to Kids Help Phone, the folks there were so excited about it that they featured it on Kidshelpphone.ca, and presented Zegers with the title of celebrity ambassador, as well as honorary chair for the 10th annual Walk For Kids Help Phone May 1in London, Ont.

Though a female singer taking her make-up off in a music video is rather unheard of, Zegers also wanted to push the envelope even further by incorporating messages about bullying. The 1:400 suicide to attempted suicide ratio really shocked Zegers.

“That will probably stick with me for the rest of my life and that motivated me even more to get the message out to kids that there is a place to call,” she says.

Stacey Zegers
Stacey Zegers
Zegers' own story is a huge reason that bullying is such an important issue for her. She was born with cataracts, and at age five underwent an operation during which the lenses of her eyes were removed. “I didn't have a choice; I had to wear these thick glasses, so I stood out amongst everyone else,” she recalls. “I really felt alienated and I really felt like an outcast."

Between the ages of eight and 12, while attending St. Mary's Catholic School in West Lorne, Ont., she was teased and bullied. “I started spending more and more time alone; I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to,” she recalls. “I would miss a ton of school just because I didn't want to be there. I would stay home in bed.”

The silver lining was that Zegers picked up guitar and began writing songs during that time. But when Zegers entered West Elgin high school, she also, briefly, took her pent-up and unresolved anger out on others, becoming a bully herself. “I was able to get contacts and I turned around and started teasing other people. That went on for a couple of years, and then something in me sort of clicked. I said, 'What am I doing? I need to move on from this,'” Zegers confesses.

She made the decision to switch schools and start with a clean slate. At Westminster high school, in London, Ont., she adopted a new outlook that everyone was the same. “I hung out with the band people; I hung out with the more poplar girls; whatever group that I was interested in,” she says.

Zegers didn't realize Kids Help Phone existed when she was growing up. “I didn't know anything about it, and back then the issues of bullying and suicide weren't as much in the forefront as they are today. Nobody really talked about it,” she says. “I really felt like I needed to talk to somebody, but I didn't think that anyone would understand.”

Even if one bullied or troubled person sees the "Sunflower" video and decides to call Kids Help Phone, then Zegers feels her mission has been accomplished. “Maybe kids need somebody to talk to, but they don't want their parents or their friends to find out. You tell Kids Help Phone what you want to tell them and it's totally confidential.”

Since February, “Sunflower” has been viewed more than 3400 times, and one of the messages she received about it was through her Facebook page, from a girl who now attends West Elgin, where Zegers once went.  “She said that I really inspired her and that she was going to spread the word about the video. Things like that are really great to hear,” says Zegers.

As for her future plans, Zegers is currently writing songs for her sophomore effort, a double disc, for a tentative summer release. She is also looking at extending the “Sunflower” message by touring schools across Canada as a motivational speaker.

“I'd like to get a presentation together and start going to high schools,” she says. “With my music, I've done it all on my own, and I feel like I could inspire kids to believe in themselves.”

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