Do You Want To Be That Person?

Published August 21, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I’m upset tonight.  And I need to get it out or it will just fester and make me angry, which will then just move into depression, and I can do without that shit.

Again tonight I’ve been confronted with another piece of ridicule towards a complete stranger on the internet.  I know, I know, it’s not like it’s a rare thing on the internet right?  There are hundreds of websites devoted to posting pictures of complete strangers for the purpose of ridiculing them.  But sometimes it just gets too much for me to just ignore, to just scroll past or click through.

Every day, when I go to Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or various other social networking sites, people who I care about, people who are my friends, share posts of the kind that just rip my heart to pieces.  You know those sites, I’m not going to link to them.  The ones of people at Walmart, or people’s party photos.  There’s one about people’s fashion/clothing choices.  Another about “ugly people”.  There’s one about weddings as well.  All those sites where users can upload pictures they’ve taken on their cell phones, or worse, that they’ve stolen off someone’s Facebook or Flickr, just for the purpose of ridicule.

I don’t go to those sites because I find them offensive.  I also know what it’s like to have been the victim of that sort of bullshit.  I’ve had my photo taken in public and shared around for the purpose of ridicule.  I’ve also had pics stolen off my Facebook (before I locked it down) and my Flickr, that were put on websites where people ridiculed me for being fat, being ugly, not being feminine enough.

But the really heartbreaking thing is that I don’t need to go to those sites.  Because people I know, people who care about me and would NEVER dream of posting a photo of me like that, share pictures of strangers for the purpose of ridicule, right there on their profiles.  I know, I know, “Unfriend” or “Unfollow” you say.  But what do I do when it’s people I care about?  And LOTS of people?  If I unfriended or unfollowed every one who does it, my Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and such would be almost empty.  Because so many people do it.

I saw this post on Tumblr the other day (and reblogged it) because it really struck a chord with me.  Yes, it’s about a fat person.  But the issue is not just about fat people.  It’s about people who dress “weird”.  It’s about people who look “funny”.  It’s about guys who aren’t “masculine enough” and women who aren’t “feminine enough”.  It’s about anyone who is outside of the norm.  All of those people are at risk of having their photo secretly taken or stolen from their own site for the purpose of ridicule.

It makes me think of the Doors song, “People are Strange”:

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone

Because that’s how it is, isn’t it?  When you know someone, you see past the outside shell.  You see their sense of humour, or intelligence, or their kindness.  You see them for who they really are, complex beings that have strengths and weaknesses, and when you know them and/or care for them, you don’t see the things that strangers might notice as first impressions.  But when you’re a stranger, when you don’t know someone, you don’t have that depth of perspective, and there’s that disconnect to their feelings and thoughts.

How many times have you met someone and then as you got to know them, suddenly discovered or grew to realise that they’re wonderful, that they’re beautiful, that they’re awesome?

People who are strangers do look different, foreign, other.  It’s human nature, because we don’t have any emotional or intellectual connect with them.  But just because they are anonymous, doesn’t give anyone the right to ridicule them, not even with the anonymity of the internet.

Now I’m not trying to be holier than thou.  I’ve seen people and thought they looked weird, or dressed odd, or whatever.  In the past, I made the mistake of voicing that – never to them, but to my friends.  But I’ve learnt the hard way, through personal experience, it’s not cool.  It’s not the right thing to do.  I try to ask myself now “Is this person hurting anyone?”  If the answer is no… then it’s none of my damn business how they look.  The second question I ask myself is “How would I feel if I knew someone was judging me like that?”  It forces you to have a good hard think about your attitudes towards other people.

It’s also the problem of the culture of the paparazzi fed media too – because photographers stalk celebrities for candid shots of them, which then get splashed all over magazines and the papers and the internet, there is this mentality that everyday people can just whip out their camera phones and take a shot of someone any time they like too and do what they like with it.  It’s not ok.  Just because someone is in public doesn’t make them public property.

What I ask is that for anyone who shares these kinds of pictures on their Tumblr, their Facebook, their Twitter, or any other website, do you really want to be that person?  How would you feel if you suddenly met the person in that photograph, and saw how seeing their picture up being ridiculed on the internet made them feel?  Would you feel good about your part in that?  What if it was you?  What if it was one of your loved ones?  Would you feel ok about seeing them hurt by the actions of strangers?

I know how I feel.  Strangers might be strange.  But they’re still people.

19 comments on “Do You Want To Be That Person?

  • yeah, you’re right. I guess sometimes we just don’t think before we act. It’s a good message and it has stuck with me. I guess the effectiveness in getting messages across is defined in the delivery of the lesson. It cant be to harsh or it provokes defensiveness and becomes adversarial rather than educational. But it cant be too weak either. A fine line i guess. Making it personal, reflective and thought provoking is a good approach.

    Kudos for a good delivery on a message that escapes many of us. Me included.

    in solidarity


    • One thing I’ve learnt since coming to the social justice movement is that those of us learning lessons, receiving the message, don’t get to choose how it’s delivered. If there is defensiveness, then it is our own issue to deal with, not the person delivering the message, no matter how confrontational or challenging that message is.

      I’ve been writing this post on and off for weeks now. Every time someone posts something to one of the social media sites, I have another go at writing it. It’s not about having a go at any one person in particular, it’s about it reaching a point where I had to express something that has been hurting and bothering me for some time, which is culturally ingrained through lots of people in my life.

  • This is a very important reminder of judgement we pass on to people that we don’t know. I have to admit that a few times in my life that I have met someone and thought something along the lines of “Woah that girl looks weird.” or “What is up with that guy’s unibrow.” I would never say those things to the people, but I thought them. But then I will get to know them and find them to be amazing people that I want to keep in my life forever, and I will recall my thoughts of when I first met them and realize how mean it was. It makes you remember to think twice before you judge. I know that is a little different than ridicule on the internet, and you are totally right about there being a disconnect when it’s someone you don’t know. Again, it makes you want to think twice.

    • We all do it Ashley. People are strange, when you’re a stranger, as the song goes. The difference is whether or not we voice it, and when we do think it, we’re conscious of our attitudes towards people. The thinking twice is a good thing. We’re all a work in progress, that’s what makes us amazing, because we learn and grow.

  • Thank you so much for writing this post. Yes, it’s almost impossible to escape these things. I don’t have many Facebook friends and fortunately most of them have better things to do with their time, but somehow I still catch sight of the occasional “hilarious” video or picture. They permeate everything.

    Sometimes it takes me quite some time to locate the reason why the video or pictures was even posted. All I see is, like … a person standing around or something. I don’t understand people who automatically find them funny. When you complain about a picture of yourself being ridiculed, you get “advised” to “laugh at yourself” – but what if there is technically nothing to laugh at, I ask? Laughing at ourself is what we do when we admit to a guilty pleasure or something, not when we’re just standing around looking like a human being.

    Yes, I find this behaviour offensive – but even if I didn’t, I still wouldn’t get it. I’d still have to play “spot the supposedly funny aspect” for two minutes every time.

  • I haven’t had this happen to me directly (as far as photos and such), but when someone posts something on FB and I don’t care for it I speak up. A very good friend of mine posted about the anti-rape condom being used in Africa. She thought it was so funny, her friends did, too. So I simply commented that it is a terrible world we live in for the simple fact that this specialized condom needed to be invented. And what about the gang-rape issue? Sure the 1st guy gets wrecked by the anti-rape condom, but the other guys are going to make matters much worse for the poor woman. My friend’s FB friends saw my comments and quickly changed their minds about the whole thing. My friend never mentioned this to me, but I’m not going to bite my tongue just because someone I love (and have known for 20 years) doesn’t realize that something’s not funny at all.

    • I’ve spoken up directly quite a few times notblueatall, but it usually brings the whole “lighten up!” response. Or “I didn’t mean it that way.” Besides it gets tiring being seen as the “killjoy” when it’s just everywhere. Plus when it’s people you care about, it’s hard to be confrontational about something that is so commonly done. But when I can get through to someone, and when I have the energy to do so, trust me, I do. I guess it’s about picking my battles.

      I saw a lot about the South African anti-rape condom too – it got so bad I just had to tune it out for my own sanity levels.

      • Since the killjoy “it’s not funny” stuff doesn’t get taken seriously, maybe you should try asking them to put your picture on there. Then see if they think it’s still a funny site when they have to picture their own friends being mocked on there.

        Or you could suggest one of their unattractive relatives or friends.

  • I’ve also found the opposite to be true. There are also people who look very good, very put together, with publicly approved body types and such, who turn out to be dregs of humankind if you are unlucky enough to get to know them.

    New technologies are very frequently double-edged swords. The same ubiquity of cameras that lets us capture shots of criminals in the act also lets people take unflattering candid shots and post them all over the place. I don’t know how to solve this any more than I know how to get Biggest Loser off the air. One can best hope that people will get bored of these things as quickly as last week’s posts become “so last week”.

  • Thank you so much. I have loathed so many of these sites – there are too many to mention. You’re giving great voice to some of the reasons I’m not interested in participating and I eschew their humor. Thanks.

  • I got home last night and saw that my friends partner had posted a status saying ‘is watching a programme on the reality channel called CAN FAT TEENS HUNT soooooo funny’ In my slightly drunken state i was so pissed of I almost made a comment saying how about they do a programme called CAN COMMITMENT PHOBES PROPOSE thatd be funny (it made me giggle to myself in a you had to be in my head kind of way!) but anyway i didnt as i have to spend time with this person and dont feel I can say anything. So now I have to seethe to myself, but he obviously doesnt give a crap that i might find it offensive but i feel its more ignorance than bigotry on his part.

    Sorry if this makes not much sense but im not feeling too fabulous today!! Darn those martinis

  • Well, you know the internet equation: one normal person + anonymity + audience = fuckwad. Thanks for reminding everybody that there are live people with feelings on the other side of those cameras.

    One funny I could get beind: a thread where somebody said that it would be fun to ride by fat people and throw beer cans at them. Another responded: If you tried it, I would run you down and grind your testicles into pate. Good times.

  • When I started teaching 20+ years ago, I promised myself that (in the classroom)I would not “judge a book by its cover” but by its character and have made a practice of doing so….

    I am a person of size– and students do leave things written about me (anon of course) that are rude. I just think to myself that I wish I could be around in 40 years and see what they look like.

    My heart goes out to the fat teens as other teens at school can be the most cruel. They hear their parents going on and on and bring the prejudices back to school. Our school is very strict about NO Harassment and that helps a bit.

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