I wrote a post on this site a little while ago about an incident in which I gained weight in the subway.
I was proud of the piece, proud of the risk I took in my writing, and proud because in its own small way it spoke to people who needed to hear it, other people like me.
When the story went live, I knew there would be people who thought the fat shaming was on my mind.
I knew people would try to convince me that this stranger commenting on my food choices on the subway was just making small talk.
I was ready for such comments. Even the opportunity to talk to people about subtle privileges excited me. I knew it would be difficult (and potentially selfish), but I was ready for it.
But I wasn’t ready for my article to anger someone and threaten to take my life.
And that’s exactly what happened.
A day after my story was published on the site, Facebook informed me that it had disabled my account due to abuse, inappropriate content or impersonation. I’m still trying to log into my account after over a decade. There are countless photos out there, and a large part of my work depends on interacting with the thousands of communities I’ve created on Facebook.
I thought it was strange, but I thought it was all a misunderstanding.
Then the emails started.
At first I thought someone with a similar name to me was confused, so I was getting email confirmations to join single parent support groups, apply for new jobs, get advice and endorsements for my nose job. put on the mailing list of five different funeral homes.
That’s when I realized that maybe things didn’t happen by chance. Maybe someone wanted to hurt me and my reputation, or at least make me feel like trash. It’s not like online harassment is new. Especially for women (and many other groups of marginalized people).
Just one day later, my worst fears were confirmed.
I woke up to double the amount of Twitter notifications I usually have. It was interesting, without Facebook I really needed my social media fix.
What I found made my stomach drop.
There were the usual comments from strangers about my weight that I learned to ignore. A man said that the reason my ex dumped me was because I was ugly and bad-tempered, and it stung him. I did another one where I was told to “eff off and eat another box of cookies” but I’ve been posting on the internet for a long time. I know an online troll when I see one.
But this comment left me cold:
It was one of a series on the account that has since been deactivated. You know, BECAUSE HE THREATENED TO KILL ME.
I’ve gotten a lot of flak for my posts in the past, but I take it seriously because I believe in what I do. There is a method to my madness, believe it or not. I know I make people uncomfortable when I write about my problems with doing things or eating in my vagina.
This is because we live in a society where women’s bodies are still taboo. We should keep them as dirty little secrets, but at the same time, the human race depends on the amazing things the female body can do.
If I had to define my mission as a writer on the Internet, I would say it is to demystify and destigmatize women’s bodies, and not just for men, but for ourselves. I am also ashamed of my body. I don’t trust myself either. I’m tired of eating too. I have a lot of struggles like everyone else and I’m not going to shut up about any of them because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is not saying anything at all.
Two hours later, I received a second tweet:
On a good day, it’s not easy to stand by my beliefs, but on days when someone is actively trying to destroy my online life and threatening to end my real life, it can seem downright impossible.
It’s horrible when your boyfriend reads comments calling you fat, ugly, and crazy trying to separate the horrible people from the potentially harmful ones. Telling your closest friends what’s going on is terrifying because you’ll be home alone tonight and you’ll want someone to know just in case.
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It’s horrible to have to explain to your mom, no, you didn’t block him on Facebook, a man got mad because you talk about fatness and decide you don’t deserve friends, you don’t deserve to live.
“Alive?” from your mother today. raise your hand if there is a message that says Because I did.
I know there’s a good chance there’s only one, persistent, horrible, tech-savvy troll at work. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t so scared of this online harassment that I canceled plans to leave my house today.
I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I have to change my e-mail addresses and all my passwords, look over my shoulder more than I’d like, and perhaps most difficult of all, I have to hire a real person. Facebook to reactivate my account.
When I moved to New York ten years ago, it was to continue my MFA in drama. All this “internet writing” was just supposed to pay my bills.
But who am I now? I’m telling you everything I find my voice here, and no one will silence that voice.
Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer and former Editor-in-Chief of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, live news and true crime.