From The Straits Times    |

“She looks 10 years older than her age.” “But locals don’t want her right?” “I’m not liking the current trend of muscle chicks with big behinds and thunder thighs.”

Online forums have long been recognised as breeding grounds for cyberbullying, but I never truly understood its insidious nature until I became a target. I was the subject of cyberbullying when an article featuring my fitness journey became the subject of an online forum. Expecting positive feedback, I was blindsided by the cruelty and negativity.

I had witnessed friends, acquaintances, and even strangers recount their experiences with cyberbullying. I sympathised with their pain, offered support, and advocated for awareness and prevention measures. However, I remained somewhat detached, shielded by the naive belief that it couldn’t happen to me.

The hurtful comments and derogatory messages left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. The anonymity afforded by the Internet emboldened my attackers, enabling them to unleash their cruelty with impunity.

As a teenager, I battled body dysmorphia, constantly worrying about how I looked and struggling with self-esteem. Even in my 20s, hitting the gym didn’t erase these feelings; I still felt like I didn’t measure up. When those hurtful comments surfaced, I tried to shrug them off, but they cut deep, bringing tears and self-doubt. It took a while, but with the support of my friends and family, I began to see that these comments came from others’ insecurities, and not my shortcomings. I realised I couldn’t change how people saw me, but I could control how I responded. It was a journey, but eventually, I found my centre again, understanding that my worth isn’t defined by others’ opinions.

If you are facing similar struggles, know that you are not alone. Before you internalise the negativity, here are lessons from online haters that helped me reclaim my confidence.

Ask yourself if it’s worth it

Indulging the urge to respond to online detractors only adds fuel to the flame, and gratifies their desire for attention. It’s crucial to recognise that these hurtful comments stem from their own insecurities. Even if you are on the opposite end and not personally experiencing cyberbullying, it’s essential to be mindful of how you interact with others online. If you don’t have anything nice to say, save it.

Don’t suffer in silence

In our increasingly digital lives, cyberbullying leaves a lasting imprint, with hurtful comments archived and accessible at any time. It’s crucial to emphasise the importance of seeking support from friends or family. Dwelling on these toxic sentiments can significantly affect your emotional and mental well-being, and the situation may be exacerbated if left unaddressed. Remember, there are also hotlines and other resources, including Samaritans of Singapore (sos. org.sg), available to assist you.

Focus on yourself

Despite years dedicated to improving my body image and mental well-being, I tend to scrutinise every imperfection when online critics persistently find fault, perpetuating a belief that something within me always needs fixing, and that I am inherently flawed.

When someone, whether a stranger or even a friend, hurls hurtful words like “You look fat, old, and unlovable”, it stings. But here’s one thing you should always remember – their words don’t define you. You know yourself better than anyone else. You have worked so hard to come this far, and you shouldn’t let a few nasty comments bring you down.

While these negative thoughts creep in every now and then, it’s important that you don’t let them control you. We’re all evolving, continuously striving to better ourselves, and it’s essential not to let these negative thoughts hinder our pursuit of happiness.

This article was first published in Her World’s April 2024 issue.