I've been back in Cambridge for just over a month now. There are many things I…
I wrote this post after watching Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out on BBC Three. Jesy talks of her experiences being bullied online and the effect of social media in our image-obsessed world. As someone who could relate to Jesy, I decided it would be beneficial to share my insight.
I was born with my upper left limb missing below the elbow so, growing up, I literally was the odd one out. Although I knew I was different, I never felt ‘abnormal’ or out of place until other people started saying so. My family always made me feel included and I had my own ‘special way’ of doing things – this was normal to me. Mostly, at school, other kids accepted my way and I had some great friends growing up. There were a few remarks made by people at school over the years and I remember one girl really hated me for being a ‘one-armed freak’ but social media wasn’t as prominent back then so I hadn’t dealt with any online instances. Facebook was founded in 2004. I was 10. Back then, you weren’t allowed a Facebook account until you had reached the age of 13 (I’m not sure what it is now). I remember turning 13 and being so excited that I could finally get an account on Facebook. Soon after I signed up, I was cyber bullied.
Two of my “friends” made a page on Facebook titled something nasty with my name in and a really unflattering picture of me as the page photo. At first I was actually unaware of the culprits; cyber bullying is the most cowardice form of bullying as it allows you to hide behind complete anonymity, but soon became aware as I clicked onto the page and saw some of the pictures that were posted were from a sleepover I had had with two of, who I thought at the time, my best friends. I scrolled through more unflattering pictures and awful comments. I felt completely betrayed and confused – these girls were supposed to be my friends. I told my mum straight away and managed to get the page taken down. Thank god. I stopped hanging out with the perpetrators and I believe they eventually apologised although I forgave them I knew they weren’t to be trusted again. This was just one experience I had. The whole thing made me feel incredibly vulnerable and naturally, it really affected my self-esteem.
I actually went on to bully people myself online. I remember writing comments on peoples pictures calling them ugly, etc. I don’t know what possessed me to do so but now I can see that maybe I was trying to gain back what I had lost through my experience of being cyber-bullied – my confidence. Having been the victim and the perpetrator, I can now – confidently – say: the reason people bully others is because they are incredibly unhappy within themselves and haven’t learnt to deal with it in a healthy way. It’s a lose-lose situation for both parties. However, this still doesn’t make it any easier and it certainly doesn’t make it right.
As I mentioned before, I was born with one hand so if anyone is going to feel the pressure to look perfect on social media, it’s bound to be me, right? And I did. I still do, sometimes. I could filter out my spots but I couldn’t filter on an arm. I grew up as all of these social media websites started blooming so of course, it was an overwhelming, yet exciting time. And because I knew I had quite a significant difference to a lot of other people, I desperately tried to over-compensate – social media gave me that platform to do so. I didn’t have an arm but I was pretty, the quote ‘don’t worry at least you’re still pretty’ is something I have had said to me more times than you’ve taken a shit. I am not shitting you. And so, the start of my selfie obsession began. I just loved taking pictures of myself. I was definitely bashing out more selfies than Kim K. I thought I was the bee’s knees. I could do all different poses, get the perfect lighting, the pout, the eyes, everything. I was a selfie pro. I actually became so obsessed with my image and my online life, I developed incredible anxiety. I would dress up as if I was going on a night out just to sit in and take pictures of myself. Was this all I was good at?
I knew that I had more to offer, more to give the world than 50 pictures of myself; every single one me doing the same damn pose with slightly different makeup/hair. I had to go bigger. Make myself look drastically different instead of just slightly. I had a lot of different looks. All of this was exhausting. Taking pictures of yourself all the time does get tiring. And of course it was the whole lifestyle that came with online validation, I would scroll through endless pictures of other girls all doing the same thing as me. We all know that’s a breeding ground for unhealthy comparisons. I was fed up with how I looked and there really are only so many looks one person can pull off. The thing with trying to look a certain way for social media is that it never ends. There will always be more styles and more people to compare to.
In her documentary Jesy is encouraged to get in touch with her younger self. Who she was before social media and the person she is now but behind the hair and makeup. I’ve always felt pretty grounded in myself – my true self – but through watching her documentary I know there have been certain different people I have disguised myself as being online. One thing I learnt through my time of desperately seeking gratification online and one thing I have always known deep down is that you have to accept who you are. I know that I will never be able to grow an arm. That is always going to be there. In the same way I used to filter out my spots, they were still always there when I looked in the mirror. I have always known this truth so why have I tried to hide it? For other people? Fuck that.
I no longer live for online validation, although sometimes it is nice and I still take selfies, although nowhere near as many as I used to. I use social media a lot less than I used to and try to always be as authentic as one can be online.
To end this post I’ve included a picture of me, exactly as I am right now. Messy hair, only wearing mascara and a bit of eyebrow powder, spotty neck and all – theres one on my head too. This was the first picture I took. No messing with lighting, stupid pouty face or a billion layers of makeup. I am happy in this picture.
Let’s celebrate unpolished selfies. More importantly let’s celebrate things beyond the picture; real life human things like emotions, intellect, achievements, failures, telling stories, our goals/ambitions, what we ate for breakfast, our loved ones. Ourselves.
– peace and love, Em xo