Everyone always asks me how I respond to online bullying. I get this question from my followers and in interviews, too. Maybe you’ve seen some ugly things in the comments section or maybe you’ve heard me talk about it in the past.
The truth is, I’ve dealt with bullies my whole life, even before social media became a thing. I got bullied a lot in school, so this is nothing new to me. Through it all, my answer has been and always will be – “I don’t respond.”
Growing up, I was always underweight, wore a back brace, had terrible skin, and had a head of hair I didn’t know how to manage. People thought of me as an easy target and boys at school would always make fun of my weight. I once left a party crying because a boy called me an “anorexic bitch” in front of everyone. It was hurtful and a moment I will never forget, but I learned a lot from the experience.
One thing I always had going for me was a love for fashion. No matter what I was going through, I loved changing my outfits 3 times a day and dressing up even when I was going absolutely nowhere. It’s what I chose to focus on instead of what people said about me. Fashion made me happy. I was lucky that from a young age I had an outlet in fashion, something that made me feel good about myself. Looking back now, learning to focus on things I do care about has definitely helped prepare me for dealing with the online bullying I see now.
Once social media launched, I continuously got made fun of because of my weight and many other things. Putting myself out there, I knew I’d have to expect to get some hate, which I’m totally cool with, but sometimes it gets very out of hand. When it does, I rely on a strong sense of self to get perspective. Now that I’m in my 30s, I still don’t believe I know EXACTLY who I am, but I have a good idea, and I really like her. Once I decided to like myself for who I am, negative comments and feedback stopped phasing me like they once did.
Understanding why online bullies do what they do has also helped me come to terms with the negativity as well. Bullies usually put other people down when they’re really unhappy with themselves and need to find a way to make themselves feel better. At the end of the day, for someone to put something out there with the intentions to put another person down, says more about the bully than it does about the person he or she intended to hurt.
I think we can all admit that we’ve said something bad about someone at some point in our lives. We’re all human after all! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that saying bad things about someone doesn’t really do anything for you, and you wind up feeling bad and/or stupid for doing so.
Bullying always comes from an ugly place, and it’s easy for other people to see. Social media is tough though because people can say overly critical, mean things without putting a face to it. It’s a crazy concept, being able to make comments from anonymous accounts without any accountability for your words. This adds to the toxic culture of online bullying we all deal with one way or another, whether we see it in the comments or are victims ourselves.
Instead of focusing on the hate, I choose to understand that it comes from an ugly place and that it’s rarely personal. Remember that at the end of the day, negative comments said ABOUT you have nothing to do with the REAL you.
Illustration by: Molly Keene