There were a series of pictures all rolled into one post. Some of me, laughing. Others had friends staring into the camera. A few snaps were even of my nieces, all under four years old.
The post had been made out of love for those who are in my life. A standard set of photos — no different to any other camera roll dump you'd see on the app.
It hadn't got much traction outside of my small bubble on Instagram. There were a few dozen likes from loved ones and at least 25 comments from friends, plus one more.
From someone else, whose username I didn't recognise.
Watch: How to improve your daughter's body image. Post continues after video.
The comment had been hidden, because of the words she had used. That's why I had missed it.
She had detailed critiques of my body and the clothes I wore. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was the type of girl who didn't wear things that flattered my "fat" body. There were other things too, but I won't mention them.
When I read it, I'd been lying down with my best friend in bed. I'd let out a shocked, airy laugh and told him what I'd just read.
A moment of disbelief washed over our faces before it was replaced with a fury.
Who could say such a thing? What was the point? Who did this woman think she was?
According to Jocelyn Brewer — psychologist and founder of Digital Nutrition, a site dedicated to healthy technology habits — the research into cyber abuse shows the perpetrator can have high levels of dark personality traits like narcissism and sociopathy.
"It's hard to say what motivates people to comment specifically on looks, their body shape or choice of clothing. Sometimes it’s about sexist attitudes towards women and people feeling they have the right to comment on a woman's appearance," Brewer tells Mamamia. "People having autonomy over things like self-expression and gender-expression can be very challenging for some people who feel they need to police people’s skirt lengths or clothing choices."
I've wondered where the desire to send abuse on social media comes from. In my conversation with Brewer, she clarified that bullying behaviours online sometimes come from experiencing the online disinhibition effect.
"We 'forget' there is a real human on the other side of the screen who can hurt of feel embarrassed by comments and opinions," Brewer tells Mamamia. "The online disinhibition effect means sometimes people can respond in harsher ways that they would if communicating face to face."
The user had blocked me, but I had other means of finding out exactly who she was.
Because no one, no matter how hard we might try, is anonymous on Instagram.
After a simple Google search, I was able to find dozens of other comments she had left on people's pages. I wasn't her only victim and my size wasn't the only thing that offended her.
On one celebrity's page, the woman had left a cutting remark about how she dressed too young for her "older age", with a series of vomiting emojis. Another influencer was allegedly a "sellout".
Some other, undeserving woman was told her body was weirdly shaped.
Were any of these things true? Of course not. Because these types of comments don't come from people who feel happy within themselves.
Only a few minutes was all it took for me to unravel the web she had been laying out for years.
But it was a comment left in 2020 that stuck out to me.
She had tagged a friend of hers in a post from three years ago. Through a random giveaway on a business page that no longer existed, I finally had my connection.
In all honesty, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to get out of this. I work in media. Comments about my size and appearance are a lot more common than one might think.
It's not unusual for someone who disagrees with a story or opinion piece I write to succumb to denigrating how I look.
But something was different about this girl. We'd had no connections, it seemed. Her friend was a total stranger to me. She'd commented on a photo that wasn't particularly 'saucy' or controversial and it had been months old.
Why this photo? What was it about my smiling face and beautiful friends and unabashed joy that had made her furious enough to leave such hateful, unwarranted criticism?
Listen to this episode of Help! I Have A Teenager. Post continues after audio.
I did end up messaging the friend of my 'hater', who had probably come across one of my photos on her Instagram Explore page, or perhaps had stumbled upon a body-positive article I had written. Maybe she'd found me hidden beneath a comment in someone else's post online.
I desperately wanted to know who she was, so I crafted a message. It was carefully worded. I inquired about the woman who had shamed me. I asked if I could chat with her friend about this. Maybe she knew something more —perhaps I was missing something?
It's been over a month since I sent that message and I've yet to receive a response. In all honesty, I doubt I ever will and now; I think that's probably for the best.
Initially, I'd fantasised about confronting her on the street, of shaming her appearance; of making her feel the way she had desperately hoped to make me feel.
I then thought maybe I could find out her name, and perhaps where she worked, and then send a scathing email to her employer about just the type of person she was.
Maybe I could get her fired? Perhaps everyone would finally learn about who she truly is when she is alone and no one is watching her.
It's been a month since I was body-shamed online.
To be frank, some big part of me still wants to do all the things I mentioned — to confront her, to force her to see the mess she's made, to make her reckon with herself.
Read more: A GP explains why fat shaming is NEVER okay.
If I let her get away with this, who is to say she won't do it again? What if, next time, she body shames or 'hates' on someone who takes it worse than I did?
I'm not sure if I'll find what I'm looking for. There are other ways to find out who she is. I know the initials of her name, and exactly what she looks like — so much so that I could point out the beauty spots on her face if someone asked me to. I could probably find her if I tried hard enough.
For now though, I'm not going to.
Maybe if her friend messages me back, my mind will change just as it has so many times over the duration of these past few weeks.
But I'm not sure if it hurts enough anymore. Her comments don't sting like they did, initially. Now, it's mostly just a specific type of rage and disappointment I feel knowing that people are capable of such a dislike for someone they don't know.
It's that exact specific type of rage and disappointment that has led me to write this story, because of all the things I feel, shame is not one of them.
I'm not embarrassed that I am fat, or that people know this about me. I'm not ashamed that I love loudly on social media, or that I wear clothes I love and feel confident in.
I'm not, and never will be, ashamed I exist.
And if I do ever get to meet the woman who told me I should be, then I'll be sure to let her know that too.
For support with eating disorders and body image concerns, call Butterfly’s National Helpline on 1800 EDHOPE (1800 33 4673), chat online or email email@example.com.
Feature Image: Supplied.
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