When I see news stories about some person who was cyber-shamed by someone, it upsets me. I’ve been there. I’ve been the victim of bullying and shaming and I know that feeling of despair and humiliation when I realize I’m simply the butt of someone’s joke. I remember being so excited to finally have a screenname and to be able to log onto the Internet. But after just a few weeks, I avoided it altogether because the minute I logged on, I would be bombarded with taunts. I thank God I didn’t have a phone back then because I can’t imagine what people would have done if they had access to my phone number.
But it also upsets me because I know a few years down the line, these people won’t even remember what they did. In college, I dated one of the people that bullied me (don’t laugh!). During one conversation about how he was in the past, I brought up that he had been one of the people that bullied me. In fact, he had been one of the main instigators. He just gave me a blank stare and said, “I did? But I didn’t even know you back then.” And it was true. We didn’t know each other or talk to each other back then. We just knew of each other, but to me, he was just some name in my class.
Still, it was traumatizing to realize that I had held those words and taunts deep inside and yet the people who said those words couldn’t even remember it. Maybe he did remember and he was simply lying to save face, but even then, if he had asked me out knowing that he had bullied me in the past, that would have been equally heart-breaking.
So when I see people bullied on the internet, it stings close to home because I remember it. And it’s quite nice to see so many people rallying up behind the victim. Lewinsky is right: empathy is essential to surviving shaming.
However. There is always a “however”. I can never write a happy, agreeable post.
I can’t understand the comments that seem to cross the line of logic.
Sometimes, I read the “outpouring of support” and I get irritated. How does commenter 387 know that this girl in the photo is beautiful “inside and out”? How does he or she know she’s a sweet girl who has a lovely soul? Perhaps this will sound mean, but some of these people that get cyber-shamed are not beautiful in their photos.
I read another article, a response to “virtual” fat-shaming, and I liked what she said about herself: “Who doesn’t laugh at unfortunate shots of poorly dressed strangers?”. It IS funny. She admits that the way she was dressed that day was not at all flattering when the photo was taken. She was hot, her boobs were inadequately supported, but who cares, she was having fun. Even SHE laughed it off. Until she started reading the comments.
The photos of these people who get shamed are generally not taken in the best light or setting. They’re wearing clothes that are too tight or too baggy. They haven’t been made up and glamour-fied by a plethora of makeup artists and hair stylists. They are not beautiful. They are not meant to be beautiful. And honestly, I think these people know it. I know I do.
I have plenty of those kinds of photos. Being a student, I’m lucky if I can chapstick on my lips, much less pull together a sensible outfit. There were weeks where I didn’t shower for 3 days. I was just too tired to care. For the first half of my program, I rolled out of bed, rolled into some kind of sweats or yoga pants, rolled my hair into a ponytail or bun, rolled into my car, rolled into school, rolled into my seat and drooled into my books. I’m sure there is nothing attractive about how I looked.
And I’m not sitting there expecting to look at me with my dark bags under my eyes and my pimple-encrusted face and tell me I’m even remotely pretty. If someone said, “Oh you look so beautiful”, I’d laugh it off and know it’s a joke. But if someone told me I looked like utter shit and what kind of gross girl doesn’t even shower every day, it would hurt. Of course it would sting. Of course if I got bombarded with that by a billion people worldwide, I would want to curl up in my shame and pray to God that if He could make all this stop, I would promise to shower three times a day with purified water and all-organic shampoo.
But I find it presumptuous for people to tell us that we look beautiful in these photos. I find it presumptuous that people assume we are beautiful people, both inside and out. No one, especially not a stranger, can know that. No one can look at me and say with certainty that I am a good person.
I find it a problem that THIS is how we are choosing to deal with cyber-bullying. Instead of cracking down on bullying itself, we are simply elevating the victim onto a podium of greatness that we don’t even know exists. We’re telling them they are the sweetest, kindest, most wonderful person ever and don’t listen to those big mean bullies. Because they are wrong. And the victims are beautiful. Because all 500,000 people said so.
Why is no one going after the bullies? Why isn’t anyone teaching the bullies that bullying is not the thing to do? When have we gone from ignoring the problem and to covering and soothing the wounds? It’s like telling telling someone with a bullet wound to the chest that everything is mind. Don’t worry that he’s probably bleeding internally. He looks fine on the outside. He looks wonderful. He looks great. Go eat a sandwich. Run a mile. Save the world! Because you look perfectly fine.
I’m not saying that we should not support the victims. It’s nice that so many people are willing to rally behind those who are bullied. I wish I had more of that support during my bullied years. But if there’s an terribly unflattering photo of me, I can’t (no one should) expect people to look at that photo and nominate me for best-dressed. When I was bullied, I was a weird kid. I dressed in hand-me-downs from my older, more fashionable cousin, except by the time I got them, the fashion was out of style. And I was a late bloomer. When the girls my age were starting to gossip about boys, clothes, makeup and pop stars, I was still playing with my stuffed animals, reading chapter books and watching Disney movies.
The way I was, the way the victims look in the photos or the limelight – they’re not flattering. I wouldn’t expect any positive comments. But that doesn’t mean I should be bullied. That doesn’t allow the floor to be opened up to the bullies.
The problem is, as I see it, that we are becoming too accepting with general acceptance of everything. We’re too afraid to go after the real problem because it’s just easier to cover up the wounds. The comments I read on these pages are mostly wonderfully warm and supportive of the victim – but rarely say anything about the bully.
I’m all for being supportive of our bully victims. I wish I had had that when I was younger. But I think it’d be nice to see the bullies get called out as well.
Or at least get lectured.