Morgan Wietecha is 16 and lives in Shelby Township. Marla Michele Must is 46 and lives in Birmingham. While there are differences in age and geographic communities, they have one thing in common: Both were victims of bullying.
Morgan’s mother, Denise Wietecha, says Morgan was bullied in elementary school after she missed a month of school because of illness.
“When she came back, the kids thought it was funny to ignore her, and it made Morgan extremely anxious,” Denise Wietecha says.
When things went from bad to worse, the Wietechas decided it was best to homeschool their daughter, getting all of Morgan Wietecha’s curriculum from an online site.
Recently, Denise Wietecha saw a segment on Fox2 News (WJBK-TV) that featured Must talking about the free Empowered Portrait sessions she does for victims of bullying. After getting a thumbs up from her daughter’s therapist, she called the Birmingham-based photographer the very same day.
Must opened Enchanted Photography in 2011 to focus on families. Having struggled with self-esteem issues in her youth, she decided to incorporate the empowerment portrait sessions to help boost the self-confidence of bullying or trauma victims.
“Did you know that over 3 million children are victims of bullying every year?” Must says. “When I heard that statistic, it just broke my heart, and I knew I had to figure out a way to step up and help. And that is how my Empowerment Sessions came to be. I believe I have a gift for making my images illuminate both the subjects’ inner and outer beauty, hopefully allowing them to rediscover themselves in a brand new light and helping them to heal.”
Must averages about one empowerment session a month. The youngest child photographed was 8; the oldest, 19.
“For some strange reason, the highest population of the children I have photographed has been between age 12-13,” Must says. “That seems like a prime age.”
Must says she likes to shoot her subjects outdoors because she finds that nature provides a soothing and therapeutic environment. She conducted Morgan Wietecha’s photo session at Quarton Lake in Birmingham.
A few weeks after the photo session, Must invited Morgan Wietecha and her immediate and extended family to her Birmingham photography studio for what Must calls “the reveal”: a slide-show presentation of the photographs.
Once Morgan Wietecha selected her favorite shots, she received a copy of the slide show, a couple of enlargements and some wallet-size photos.
“I loved the reveal,” Morgan says. “I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did, but the photos are all amazing. Now I can see what other people are seeing, and it made me feel very good about myself. It was a good experience.”
Denise Wietecha agrees and sees a difference in her daughter.
“Since the photos were taken, Morgan is feeling better about herself and is starting to pay attention to things like her clothes and her hair,” she says. “Hopefully, these photos will help her to see the special person that she is.”
Judith Harris Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
Impact of bullying
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center has compiled a list of ways bullying can affect a child:
■School avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
■Decrease in grades
■Inability to concentrate
■Loss of interest in academic achievement
■Increase in dropout rates
Physical and mental health problems:
■Headaches and stomach aches
■Increased fear or anxiety
■Post traumatic stress
■Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
■Feeling of alienation at school
■Fear of other students