I wrote an article on this site not long ago about an incident where I was deeply shamed on the subway.
I was proud of the article, proud that I took a risk in writing it, and proud that the piece, in its own little way, spoke to people who needed to hear it, other people just like me.
I knew when the story was published that there would be people who thought fat shame was in my head.
I knew people were going to try to convince me that this stranger commenting on my food choices on the subway was just small talk.
I was ready for these kinds of comments. I was even excited to have the opportunity to talk to people about the lean franchise. I knew it was going to be tough (and maybe bruising my ego), but I was prepared.
But I wasn’t prepared for my article to piss someone off so much that they threatened to take my life.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The day after I posted my story on the site, Facebook notified me that they had deactivated my account either due to bullying, inappropriate content, or pretending to be someone else. I’m still trying to access the account I’ve had for over a decade. There are countless photos out there, and a big part of my job is based on interacting with the community of thousands I’ve created on Facebook.
I thought it was weird, but I thought it was a misunderstanding.
Then the emails started.
At first, I thought someone with a name similar to mine was confusing, which is why I was receiving email confirmations to join single parent support groups, apply for new jobs, get advice about nose plastic surgery, and confirmations. Put on the mailing list of five different funeral homes.
That’s when I started to realize that maybe things weren’t happening so casually. Maybe someone was out there to hurt me and hurt my reputation, or at least to make me feel like garbage. It’s not like online harassment is new. Especially for women (and many other groups of marginalized people).
After just one day, my worst fears were confirmed.
I woke up to see that my Twitter notifications were twice as high as they usually are. This was exciting, without Facebook I was in dire need of a social media fix.
What I found sent my stomach quivering on the floor.
There were the usual comments from strangers about my weight that I learned to ignore. A guy said the reason my ex dumped me was because I was ugly and had a bad personality, and it hurt. So did another time where I was told to “stop and have another packet of cookies”, but I’ve been writing online for a long time. I know a troll online when I see one.
But this comment kept me from chilling:
It was one in a series of accounts that have since been deactivated. You know, because he threatened to kill me.
I’ve taken a lot of shit for my writing before, but I handle it really well because I believe in what I’m doing. There is, believe it or not, a method to my madness. When I write about doing something to my vagina, or about my issues with food, I know I make people feel uncomfortable.
This is because we live in a society where women’s bodies are still taboo. We’re supposed to keep them like dirty little secrets but at the same time, the human race relies on the amazing things women’s bodies can do.
If I had to define my mission as an internet writer, I would say it is to demystify and demystify women’s bodies, not just for men, but for ourselves. I’m ashamed of my body too. I’m insecure too. I’m fond of food too. I’m just as hard as anyone else, and I’m not going to shut up about any of it, because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is not saying anything at all.
Then I got the second tweet two hours later:
It’s not easy to live up to my beliefs on a good day, but on days when someone is actively trying to dismantle my online life and threaten to end my real life, it can feel downright impossible.
It’s awful if your friend reads through comments calling you fat, ugly, and crazy trying to distinguish the horrible people from the potentially harmful ones. It’s awful having to tell your best friend what’s going on because you’re going to be home alone tonight and you want someone to know, just in case.
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It’s awful to explain to your mom, no, you didn’t block her on Facebook, a guy got mad because you talked about being fat and decided you didn’t deserve friends, you didn’t deserve to live.
Raise your hand if you got a text from your mom today that said, “Alive?” Because I did.
I know chances are high that this is just one, perpetual, horrible, tech-savvy person on the job. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get so intimidated by these online harassments that I canceled plans to leave my house today.
I have no intention of living my life in fear, but I will have to change my email addresses, all my passwords, look over my shoulder more than I want to, and perhaps hardest of all, get a real Facebook person to reactivate my account.
When I moved to New York ten years ago, I was slated to pursue a fine arts degree in playwriting. This “Internet Writing” topic was just supposed to cover my bills.
But now who am I. Here I speak to you all, I have found my voice, and that voice will not be silenced by anyone.
Rebecca Jane Stokes He is a writer and former editor-in-chief of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.