Sticks and stones- how words hurt me.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’.

I remember when I was a child my mum told me to say that to bullies in the playground.

Words did end up hurting me though.

A year ago I had an article published about me, and I did the one thing that I was told not to do. Read the comments.

If that day has taught me anything, it’s to never read the comments.

The article was written on the back of an Instagram post, a transformation post of sorts where I posted two pictures  of myself- one when I was underweight with an eating disorder, and one of me now- a proud size 16.

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I’ve been sitting on this photo for some time now. Mainly because finding this photo and my old modelling portfolio incl. measurements was confronting for me. But then I reminded myself of how far I’ve come. The girl on the left wasn’t healthy. She might look ‘healthy’ to those who judge health by size. But she did no exercise, she counted calories, and then would purge the ones she did eat. Her food consumption was an obsession, her view of herself was so negative, and she thought she was too big still. Flash forward to 2017, after finding this photo; I was shocked at how my mind had played tricks on me. Now, I have a different view of how I should look- like myself. I’ve accepted my body, my shape, and the little things I used to think were flaws (especially my cellulite). I am now happier, healthier, and more confident than I was then. It is possible to love your body. No body is the same, and everyone’s bopo journey is different. Just know that whatever stage of your journey that you’re on, you’re all beautiful as you are and worthy of so so much ❤️ #bodypositive . #celebratemysize #psfashion #bodyconfidence #beautybeyondsize #effyourbeautystandards #loveyourbody #loveyourself #curves #loveyourcurves

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I’ve always thought I have a thick skin- you need one in the fashion industry, but if I’m being honest with you these comments broke me.

Only a few examples of the comments have been put in my most recent Instagram post. The others are just too vile to even reshare.

The comments broke me so much I took two weeks off social media, and when I returned I wasn’t the same.

My thick skin had been worn away, and the human being behind the Instagram account had never felt so vulnerable, and questioning if the comments were in fact truthful.

The other day one of my friends told me I should start sharing more about my experiences as a mixed race plus size model, self love and body positivity, and I had to tell her about my apprehensions about posting this kind of content again.

She had no idea. Nobody really knows how terrible the experience was because I didn’t tell anyone. Nobody shares these kinds of experiences on Instagram.

She said that she thought a lot of people want to hear what I’ve got to say, and I’m sure they do- but there’s also part of me that is scared of the vitriol that could come my way.

What I will share though is my experience.

Mental health is real.

We need to be speaking more about it. While we’re on the topic one of my friends has an Instagram page you should all follow, aimed at destigmatising mental illness.

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We live in a world where there is so much pressure to be strong and independent. As great as this is, it is also important to not deny yourself help if you need it. Reaching out and asking for help will not strip you of your success- it will in turn only make you stronger. So many of us fear that we will be viewed as weak, unstable, crazy, or unsuccessful. We need to let go of these fears, because they are wrong.Please, if you are feeling you need help- ask. There are so many confidential helplines in your area that are great for guiding you through a tough time. These helplines are also great for those around you who are on your recovery journey with you. You are strong, and it’s okay to reach out! ❤️❤️ #effthestigma #itsok #mentalillness #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthrecovery #mentalillnessawareness #stigmafighter #stigmafree #letstalk

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I haven’t experienced any comments similar to those I received last year but I’ve now got a strategy in place- block and delete trolls (and don’t read comments), and also take time away from social media if I need to.

However I know I’m not the only model, or on-line presence to have received hateful comments and messages.

I’m reminded of Charlotte Dawson, an Australian television presenter and former model, who committed suicide in 2014 after being bullied by trolls on Twitter.

People say things online they would never say in real life. It’s a lot easier to stand up to bullies in real life versus on the internet.

It’s not just agressive and hate speech that is posted online either, there’s also the grotesquely perverse sexual advances made through Instagram DMs.

You wouldn’t randomly show your genitals to someone walking down the street, you’d literally get arrested or have restraining orders placed against you- so why do it online? The same goes with hate speech, why say it at all?

While I’m all for free speech, there is a line between free speech and hate speech. It has no place in any free society, as bigotry is anti-freedom in its very nature.

So how do we stop it?

Sadly this is where Facebook and Instagram’s policies and ‘policing’ of trolls are failing, if I’m being honest.

I’ve reported and/or blocked accounts many a time, only to have a generic message come back to me saying that they don’t violate any of their posting guidelines, or violate any community standards. And then I see that the account has posted similar things on another model’s page.

But we shouldn’t stay silent.

That’s why I’ve written this. If you’ve been the victim of online harassment or abuse, just know you’re not alone.

What to do if you’ve been trolled or have been the victim of online abuse:

– Stop engaging. You know that saying ‘don’t feed the trolls’? Literally don’t. Don’t reply. Trust me.
– Report the account immediately. Even if Instagram or Facebook don’t do anything, you’ve taken that first step.
– Block them. Block them. Block them.
– Speak up. Talk to your friends, or even talk about it on your account. We need to speak up to set a precedent that this kind of behaviour is not ok.
– Speak to someone. If it’s really affecting you, there are amazing support lines! It’s totally normal to seek help!

United Kingdom

www.bullying.co.uk
www.supportline.org.uk
Samaritans 11 61 23

Australia

esafety.gov.au/reportcyberbullying
Lifeline 13 11 14

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