A Thought on Bristol Palin

Bristol Palin won this week.

Oh, I know that Jennifer Grey got the DWTS Mirrorball Trophy, and deservedly so. I know that Kyle Massey came in second place — also, I think, deservedly so. I am happy for them both; I do not mean to diminish their accomplishments. But Bristol’s was the greatest victory.

Ever since she was pulled into the national spotlight two and a half years ago, she has had to endure thousands of people saying horrible things about her. They call her a slut, a tramp, an idiot. They call her fat and stupid. They use her ex-boyfriend, a young man apparently wholly without scruples, in an attempt to smear her and her family. They call her a hypocrite for daring to talk to other young women about how she made a mistake and how others ought not follow in her footsteps. When she started on Dancing With the Stars, they went into overdrive, seeming to grow more enraged and deranged with every week that they saw that their opinions were not in the majority — but rather than conceding that perhaps they did not have a monopoly on truth, they lashed out, screaming about a vast right-wing conspiracy. One man shot his television and then threatened to shoot his wife over the matter. Others decided to take a more direct approach and sent death threats to Bristol and Mark — and even then I saw commenters who refused to believe that perhaps the whole thing had gone too far, but rather insisted that news of death threats was nothing more than a publicity stunt.

My husband thought I was ridiculous for following the controversy as closely as I did; perhaps he’s right. But it was rather like watching a car wreck — I found myself continually stunned by the level of vitriol aimed at this young woman and, by proxy, to her mother. I held to a vain hope that people would see sense and realize that no one is worth that kind of frothing hate, let alone a 20-year-old young woman whose main offense had been to be the unapologetic daughter of a larger target of that same frothing hate.

Bristol did not win the Mirrorball Trophy. Her victory was a much more substantial one. She endured the screaming mob with her head held high. She refused to cower, to surrender her happiness, but instead redoubled her efforts in rehearsal. She won the hearts and earned the applause of vast swaths of her audience, and on the last night of the show, we all saw her let go of the last vestiges of  her inhibiting shyness and just be herself out on the dance floor. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

There are those who have crowed about Bristol coming in third place, hoping that this last arrow in their quiver will take her down. But no: the smile on her face when her name was announced speaks volumes. She was content with the standings, pleased with her own efforts, and happy for her competitors. Bristol was poised and gracious in her “defeat.” But more importantly, she had retained self when so many sought to destroy her. And she had not merely held her ground, but gained more as she won over her skeptical (but sane) viewers. Carrie Ann Inaba had said, over the course of the competition, something to the effect that there’s nothing more beautiful than to see someone recognize and claim their own inner power. The comment was not directed at Bristol, but it certainly applies, because that is what we all have had the privilege of watching these last several weeks. She could have surrendered to the madding crowd, but she did not.

And that is why Bristol Palin won.

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