Yesterday, the internet blew up with a powerful video called You Look Disgusting by beauty blogger Em Ford from My Pale Skin. I felt a number of different things while watching it, ranging from empathy, to rage, to sadness, to gratitude and all the way down to something I'm almost a little disappointed in myself for... Relief.
5I posted the video on my Facebook page, along with some of my thoughts about how make-up can be truly empowering for some people living with birthmarks or facial scarring, along with a link to an ad campaign I'd discussed roughly this time last year called 'Camo Confessions' for the Dermablend range of cover-up make-up. Now, don't get me wrong here, I know that Dermablend is owned by Loreal, and as a feminist, I understand that cosmetics are problematic in and of themselves, so describing them as "empowering" can seem counter-intuitive.
The conversation thread which followed on from my post made me realise just how unsurprised (let alone shocked) I was by the awful comments made on Em Ford's appearance - whether she was wearing make-up or not. I've been thinking today about how messed up it is that strangers feel entitled to make disgusting comments about girls, and women's physical appearance, and how that seems fairly normal to me.
Something else which came up in the discussion was whether or not things have gotten better or worse over time.
My honest feeling, as someone who grew up looking quite different, and did receive comments in real life, both from people I went to school with, and from strangers, is that people haven't gotten any worse in terms of the things they're willing to say.
What HAS changed, in the time since I was a kid, is almost universal access to the internet.
As someone who often takes and publicly shares make-up free selfies as an exercise in self care, and as a way of growing to feel comfortable in my own skin, I can't help but feel relieved.
I'm relieved that the internet really wasn't accessible when I was 2 years old, and digital cameras - let alone smart phones hadn't yet been invented.
Most of all, I'm relieved that I DON'T look the way I did when I was 2 years old.
Like I said, I don't think that the comments people make have gotten worse. However, when I was little, the only people who saw my face were those who encountered me in real life. This significantly reduced the number of people who saw me at all, and were willing to make nasty comments about my face.
Now, it's possible for the whole world to encounter and pass judgment on an image, and with the added perception of anonymity provided by distance, people are far more willing to say HORRIBLE SHIT without even giving it a second thought.
I'm relieved that I no longer look like I did when I was 2 because I've seen enough examples of hateful online bullying directed at amazing women including Lizzie Velasquez, and Harnaam Kaur (whose stunning bridal photos were published by Rock'n'Roll Bride and then picked up by other major mainstream news outlets during the week), to KNOW that there would most likely be webpages dedicated to how ugly I looked.
While I like to think of myself as being fairly hard-arsed, and that negative comments about my appearance tend to bounce right off me, I'm extremely grateful that I haven't experienced them online - let alone en-masse.
Most of the negative comments I received came and went while I was in primary school, and mostly during the earlier years at that. By the time I hit high school, I literally did not give a fuck if people wanted to pick on me about my face. That doesn't mean that I didn't care about how I looked, or that I didn't want to look and FEEL beautiful. Just that I didn't really base my idea of what that was on other people's negativity.
Something that came up last night during a conversation was the positive impact that boys and men can make, as well as the importance of teaching all children to speak respectfully, to base their opinions of others on their actions and who they are - rather than appearances.
This reminded me of the first time someone else stepped in and stood up for me - and that's the main point of what I want to discuss.
The importance of Up-Standers.
Now, something I've noticed about bullying behaviour, is that bullies will only ever attack if they feel supported by a larger group, or they think they won't get caught.
The first time anyone ever stood up for me happened in Year 8 in the school corridor waiting outside my classroom. This guy (who I ended up becoming mates with again after this happened) was heading into the class next to ours, and admittedly, I was being a total smart arse, in shit stirring him as he walked by.
He responded by turning around. He looked me dead in the eye, and sneered, "At least I don't have a fucked up face."
I'd heard this so many times by this point that I literally laughed at his back and congratulated him on being original, and went back to waiting for our teacher to arrive.
One of the guys in my class had overheard what happened, and asked me if he'd heard right, and I was like, "Yeah... So what? It's not like I care?"
He was not impressed, and after class ended, he and another friend waited for this guy to come out of class and confronted him about what he'd said. Nobody at school dared say anything about it again.
I honestly hadn't realised how much I'd accepted people throwing negative comments at me until someone stepped in and made it absolutely clear how NOT ok it was.
I hadn't realised how much it meant to me that other people didn't care enough to say anything until somebody did.
I wrote both of those guys extremely awkward Year 8 style Thank You cards that Christmas, because I really did appreciate what they did - and I still do.
This brings me to what I see as the positive side of the internet - and the ways in which we can all make a difference - for those who experience bullying, abuse, social isolation, or anxiety.
I think that one of the best things about the existence of the internet, is that it provides a platform for people like Lizzie Velasquez, Em Ford, myself and so many others, to be able to reclaim our voices, speak up and to share OUR experiences.
I love that the internet actually allows everyone to reach out and form new connections with people - and I love that people are brave enough to share their experiences in ways which can hopefully make a difference for others going through something similar.
Being an Up-Stander doesn't need to be grandiose, and it doesn't mean putting yourself into danger.
It can be making sure that you catch up with your friends in the real world and talking things out over a coffee.
It can be stepping in and letting someone know that what they've said has crossed the line.
It can be asking someone who's just been in an argument if they're ok - even if they're a total stranger in a public place. You may be surprised how many people actually appreciate having the opportunity to talk things out - even if they don't know you.
It can be as simple as paying someone a genuine compliment.
It can be diverting attention and avoiding a confrontation.
It can be making sure that girl at the party who's had a little to much to drink makes it home safely.
Something I want to point out, is that openly calling someone out on their shit may not be the best or safest way to show support - especially online - and especially on Facebook.
But that doesn't mean you can't do anything.
Take a screen shot, and report the persons behaviour to whichever social media platform on which it appeared. Post a sincere positive comment, or send the person copping abuse a message letting them know that you support them.
Pick up the phone and call them.
Being an Up-Stander can be as simple and as significant as:
Letting someone feel seen.
Allowing someones voice to be heard.
Ensuring that they feel connected.
And most of all, letting them know that they matter.
So tonight, I want to say thank you to everyone who's brave enough to share their stories.
Thank you to those who step up.
Thank you to those who offer kindness and support.
What we say matters.
How we make others feel matters.
I'm going to close out tonight by quoting Em Ford, because I think she said it perfectly,
"You are beautiful - no matter how flawed you feel, no matter how upset you may about the way you look or how hard you find it to make friends, or be confident. Believe in yourself, and never let anyone tell you're not beautiful - not even yourself."