Body-positive activists reveal how they deal with — and rise above — online trolls
As anyone on the internet knows, where good people go, trolls follow. Take the online body-positive community, for instance. On places like Instagram and YouTube, body-positive activists are really only trying to bring love and light and positivity to people who may be doubting themselves and their looks. The people who take the effort to comment or message them on Instagram or YouTube should naturally all be pretty nice, right? All these people are just going on the internet and talking about how you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, and how society’s view of beauty is pretty messed up. What’s to hate?
Well, turns out, plenty of bloggers who are open about their bodies and self-love and appreciation face an onslaught of online trolls who spew hate galore. In reality, while continuously promoting this idea of positivity, these bloggers can face comments and messages filled with negativity.
How do they deal with that? How do they overcome those comments and haters and continue to fight for a world where what you look like comes with no assumptions? In order to answer that question, Mic spoke with 12 body-positive activists on Instagram, from models to bloggers, about how, exactly, they deal with those relentless online trolls.
1. Tess Holliday
“Honestly I’ve reached a point in my life where most days they don’t phase me that much so I just ignore them,” Tess Holliday, a model, activist and author of the book The Not So Subtle Art of Being A Fat Girl: Loving the Skin You’re In, said. “I mean, I know I’m fat — congratulations for having eyes. I do draw the line at hate speech about any group — those people get instantly blocked. At the end of the day, although I’m very grateful for the opportunity to interact with my supporters via social media, it’s not important what other people think of you — how do you feel about yourself? What makes you happy? Turn off your phone and do that.”
2. Kelvin Davis
“I don’t usually respond but when I do, I try to make it positive,” Kelvin Davis, a plus-size male model, said. “It’s really not that serious. I try to preach the message that we’re bigger than Instagram. Instagram doesn’t define us. If [Instagram] went tomorrow, I would still be body confident and find a way to document what I do. Half the time, 90% of those people would never say that to your face. They would never come up to you and say these things.”
3. Charli Howard
“Just the other day, some random girl commented ‘ugly’ on my photos, as though she believed her opinion was that important. FYI — it’s not,” Charli Howard, who helped launch the All Woman Project, which celebrates unaltered images of diverse women, said. “I don’t understand why people think saying mean things is helpful at all. I’m not going to cry if some ‘randomer’ thinks I’m not attractive – I know I have other things to offer other than my looks, and that my personality is more beautiful than hers will ever be!”
“Body positivity is a learning process and won’t happen overnight,” Howard continued. “You don’t read an Instagram quote and instantly feel ‘cured’ from years of low self-esteem. But you really can’t let someone’s opinion of your body get you down. Take it as a compliment that they’re taking time out to comment on your photo — you must be doing something right to make them jealous!”
4. Clémentine Desseaux
“I love trolls. I think they keep you grounded, and you need them to actually appreciate all the lovely comments,” Cleémentine Desseaux, a model who works with Howard on the All Woman Project, said. “Most of the time I ignore it and delete their comments because I don’t think anyone else needs to see their negativity and be affected by it. I remember the first big campaign I did in France, I received huge amounts of trolling, from lots of different people. I didn’t know what to do. My heart wanted to fight them and go after them all. But what I saw was that good people were taking my defense online and were doing it for me so I felt supported and I realized that they don’t matter, and that no one likes them anyways. I am open to hear any ones opinion, good or bad, but I won’t tolerate trolls on my pages.”
5. Katie Knowles
“My new trick is, for every negative comment, visualize a troll. Yes, an actual troll,” Katie Knowles, a disabled curve model, said. “The ones that had the funky, spiky hair that were bare bodied. Do they look scary? No. That is a troll. It makes me giggle.”
“My advice to deal with these bullies would be, first and foremost, ignore them,” Knowles continued, listing a few of her tips:
1. Do not argue back or play to their audience. This is essentially what they want.
2. I always try and use humor to diffuse the situation such as my little troll imaging.
3. If it’s bad, I’d report and block it, then it makes it easier to ignore. It’s frustrating as I don’t think we should have to ignore trolls but getting into a debate with them isn’t going to help our confidence in the slightest.
4. Finally stay classy, which they clearly aren’t being, trolling people. Be polite and breathe, do not rise to it. IGNORE THEM and slay baby!!
6. Troy Solomon
“There’s two routes,” Troy Solomon, a model and body-positive activist, said. “There’s the block, ignore and remove route. Then there’s the route of leaving those comments there and letting these people who are part of this community teach them to have a conversation. I’m always trying to push that side of it. It’s getting into that conversation without trying to be combative. It’s trying to figure out how they feel this way. Then if it’s like, ‘OK, this isn’t going anywhere,’ then it’s like, ‘OK, then if you don’t like what you’re seeing then you can leave my page.’”
7. Shay Neary
“If it’s Facebook or Twitter, where I can often post imagery, I usually go with the classic Michael Jackson gif of him eating popcorn, then continue randomly as people comment with memes of people checking in or related to Michael Jackson eating popcorn,” Shay Neary, who made history as the first transgender plus-size model to land a major fashion campaign, said. “If it’s on Instagram, I usually screenshot the text, and then block them from seeing my page. Sometimes I even choose to go educational, but that route only works for the ones willing to listen.”
8. Sonny Turner
“Everyone always asks me how I deal with trolls and honestly I find it funny,” Sonny Turner, a curve model, said. “Like, people actually taking the time to make someone who they’ve never met feel bad about themselves! Well that won’t work with me. The opinion of complete strangers doesn’t bother me at all and random nasty comments can’t affect or change my mood. I think it’s because I’ve grown to become so sure of myself and my worth, I know that I am better than the things they call or say to me. We’re all fab in our own way.”
9. Christine Cho
“Some days, I try to have a dialogue with them, like, ‘Why would you say this to me? I’m a person. I’m not hurting you. What’s the point in being so cruel?’” Christine Cho, a body-positive blogger, said. “It’s actually happened a few times where people responded saying, ‘I’m sorry. I was just trying to be funny to my friends.’ ... Sometimes it really seems like they don’t associate the person in the picture with being a real human being until they get a comment or message back and it clicks inside their minds that they’re being awful for no reason. More often than not, though, I just delete and block. Yes, people are welcome to their opinion, but it’s still my account and I don’t need to deal with people’s ignorance and cruelty.”
10. Loey Lane
“My advice is this: Ignore is more. I do not see you, so poof! You do not exist,” Loey Lane, a YouTuber, model and blogger, said. “It’s simple, yet effective. I also want to make sure everyone really takes that first part home. Honestly, it’s not your reality or a truth about you when someone bullies you online — it’s the bully’s truth. I fight bullying with kind words. When you return a troll’s words with kindness, nothing irks them more!”
11. Gia Narvaez
“I get hate comments all the time, and for a while I would just delete them whether it was on my YouTube videos or my Instagram, but as of recently I have been leaving them there so that everyone can see that transphobia and fat phobia exist, amongst many other forms of discrimination,” Gia Narvaez, a plus-size transgender blogger and YouTuber, said. “I constantly remind myself that I am kind and that I am worthy and valid in my experience as a fat, trans woman of color. ... I take breaks from social media sometimes. Sometimes I block the people who leave a negative comment. Sometimes I try to educate them if I feel like there is a chance of educating someone.”
12. Callie Thorpe
“It completely varies on the situation and severity of the things that are said to me,” Callie Thorpe, a blogger and model, said. “If it is so ridiculous and I’m feeling sassy, sometimes I will reply to shut them down. Use your block and report buttons and encourage others to do the same. When I’ve been subjected to more than just a standard troll comment and they are severely abusive, my best advice is to step away from the internet and take some time out. Spend time with loved ones doing things you enjoy. The internet is a great place but it is OK to take a break and create a safe space for yourself away from it.”