A courageous target turned upstander

By Anne Collier

Read Caitlin Seida’s story for a great example of resilience and how to be an upstander online. Caitlin had publicly posted an unflattering Halloween photo of herself, forgetting to make it private, and the photo – along with plenty of nasty comments – went viral. What started out to be a fun Halloween became a nightmare.

“I don’t generally view my body size as positive or negative – it simply is,” she writes at Salon.com. I eat right (most of the time) and I exercise (an inordinate amount), but it does little, thanks to a struggle with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a failing thyroid gland. I’m strong, I’m flexible and my doctor assures me my health is good, but the fact remains: I’m larger than someone my height should be.”

I’ll let you read the rest of her story as she wrote it but, as you do, note that Caitlin had someone she could talk to who really heard her, understood and gave her support. Everybody deserves that. It’s what children who are bullied say helps most. Being a good listener is another way to be what bullying prevention experts call an upstander. If someone’s shy and doesn’t want to be public about his or her support, that person can make a huge difference with quiet, open-hearted support. Here are my other two favorite takeaways:

  • There was kindness amid the cruelty from people who found the cruelty intolerable and said so. “In my journey to control something that was ultimately uncontrollable, I encountered something that cut right through the haze of shock and depression,” Caitline wrote: “People were actually defending me. Perfect strangers pointed out that there was nothing wrong with a woman of large size dressing up to have a good time…. For every three negative and hateful comments, there was at least one positive one.”
  • She’s now defending others. “Each one of those people is a real human being, a real person whose world imploded the day they found themselves to be a punch line on a giant stage. I speak up whenever a friend gets a cheap laugh from one of these sites. I ask one simple question: ‘Why do you think this is funny?’ Very few have a good answer. Mostly they just say, ‘I don’t know.’ Reminding people of our shared humanity hasn’t exactly made me popular, but it feels like the right thing to do.”

That’s what we need to remind ourselves and our children: Those are “real human beings” with feelings and struggles just like us behind the text messages, comments, avatars and photos, and we need to be there for each other online and on phones just like in person. In fact, online is in person too.