I logged onto my Facebook one morning to find a message from a girlfriend. “You’re internet famous!” it read. She sent a link to a very public page whose sole purpose was posting images that mock people’s appearances.
There I was in full glory — a picture of me dressed as my hero Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for Halloween — but written over the image were the words “Fridge Raider.”
Funny enough, I wasn’t even angry at first. I was actually kind of amused. Who doesn’t laugh at unfortunate shots of poorly dressed strangers? I’ve certainly done it before; the Internet runs on this kind of anonymous scorn. There are entire websites dedicated to the poor fashion choices of random people. And just like me, most of those people are fat.
I don’t generally view my body size as positive or negative — it simply is. I eat right (most of the time) and I exercise (an inordinate amount), but it does little, thanks to a struggle with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a failing thyroid gland. I’m strong, I’m flexible and my doctor assures me my health is good, but the fact remains: I’m larger than someone my height should be.
None of this played into my decision to dress up as Lara Croft, one of the most kick-ass female video game characters ever. Croft is feminine but dangerous, well-educated but athletic, and she’s also easily recognizable, which makes a Halloween costume fairly easy.
That picture was taken late in the evening — I was red-faced from the heat, my makeup was sweating off and I was lacking proper boob support (a problem the pixelated Croft has never confronted). But I was having fun, and seeing the image again on that website, I still thought it showed.
So I laughed it all off at first — but then, I read the comments.
“What a waste of space,” read one. Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.” Yet another said I should just kill myself “and spare everyone’s eyes.” Hundreds of hateful messages, most of them saying that I was a worthless human being and shaming me for having the audacity to go in public dressed as a sexy video game character. How dare I dress up and have a good time!
We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.
I called my friend Terri Jean, a photographer. She reminded me that I was beautiful, and told me I would get through this. And then, like any kick-ass heroines, we came up with a plan.
The first thing I needed to do was figure out where the picture came from. That wasn’t hard — it came from me. I’d posted the image on Facebook, but like so many before me, I’d failed to pay attention to my privacy settings when I uploaded it. Instead of restricting access to my friend network, I’d inadvertently given access to the whole world.
But Facebook made it easy to find people who had commented on the images. By now, the picture had metastasized through reposts on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, 9Gag, FailBlog. But looking through the Facebook “like” function, I could track down the most offensive commenters.
Most of them were women. Shocked? I wasn’t. Anyone who’s survived high school can tell you how women slice each other up to make ourselves feel better. I sent several of those women a message.
”You’re being an asshole,” the note said. “Why don’t you just do the right thing and delete the post and stop sharing it?”
The most common response was not remorse or defensiveness but surprise. They were startled that I could hear what they’d been saying. Their Facebook pages were set to private, after all. Most didn’t realize that when you post to a public page through your Facebook account, it doesn’t matter that your own content is restricted: The whole world can read your words anyway.
And of course, they hadn’t really thought of me as a person. Why should they? These images are throwaways, little bursts of amusement to get through a long workday. You look, you chuckle, you get some ridicule off your chest and move on to the next source of distraction.
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