Novelist Nikita Singh tackles her online haters.
Picture this: You wake up after a good night’s sleep, quickly go through your morning routine and step out of your home. You’re walking down the street, on your way to work, planning your day in your head, when, “OMG!!” a stranger stops in his tracks and exclaims, adding, “U r luking lyk a pregnant woman.” He then LOLs, winks and disappears. You keep strolling, when a second stranger comments, “U are getting fat,” and laughs, tears of joy escaping his eyes. “Agree with you,” says a third stranger, joining him.
When a friend of yours who’s just passing by tells these strangers that their behaviour is embarrassing, the second stranger stands by his statement, announcing that, “truth is truth, bro she needs to work out” and for good measure, adds, “Even though she gets fat we will love her as we do now.” A fourth stranger–a woman, this time–stands up for sisterhood and says, “You are beautiful no matter what,” which, in a way, asserts that you are indeed looking pregnant/fat, and those are apparently bad things to be.
Of course, none of this actually happened to me. Because no one speaks to strangers like that – in real life, at least. This sort of behaviour is actually very widely accepted on the internet, hidden behind screens. Yay, social media!
All of those things were said to me, and I hadn’t even stepped out of my house. I had just woken up, dropped a bag of earl grey into a large mug full of hot water and as I waited for my tea to steep, went through my morning motions of checking notifications. I had posted a picture on Instagram the night before, and while I was asleep, since it was daytime in India (where most of my “followers” are from) the likes and comments accumulated. When I opened the picture, I was immediately told all of these things about my body. Even before my morning tea.
But you know what the saddest part is? That the comments didn’t affect me at all.
Over the years, growing up in the public eye, I’ve also grown a thicker skin. It started with trying to ignore trolls and haters, but reached a point where any sort of comment, including positive, does not affect me.
What did affect me was my friend’s reaction to said comments. He couldn’t believe that people were talking to me like that, and strongly believed that it was not okay. And that’s what made me pause and rethink my own reaction (or the lack of it): if you are what you allow, and I’m allowing random people to speak to me the way they are, am I not in a way actively encouraging their behaviour? I’m allowing them to speak with me the way I wouldn’t let anyone speak with any of my family or friends.
Of course, the simplest solution is: block. I used to think that it’s too harsh, that we live in a democracy and people should be able to speak their minds. But not if it brings unpleasantness. Not if when a 16-year-old girl comes to my Instagram and sees that I’m being called pregnant or fat, she believes the comments and thinks that she needs to lose weight.
Social media creates a situation where people behave in a manner that is unacceptable everywhere else. Even with the LOL and the winky face, would saying “OMG! You’re looking like a pregnant woman,” to a person you do not know at all be okay? Would you say that to a classmate at school, a colleague at work, a stranger on the street? I honestly do not believe that any of the people who commented on that post had malicious intentions. I’m pretty sure they just thought it was funny.
All I’m saying is that no, it wasn’t funny to the person whose body you’re commenting on. My profile is public, but that doesn’t make my body a public property. Think, just for a second, if what you’re thinking needs to be said. Apply filters. The next time you comment anywhere about anything, don’t just assume that the person on the receiving end of it is a robot. There are screens separating us, but behind each screen is a human. So treat humans like humans.
By Nikita Singh