Monday, 21 March 2016

Under the bridge


When we were young our parents warned us about trolls under bridges – they were the morals of the stories teaching us about the dangers of trusting or even talking to strangers. But as I’ve grown up I’ve come to realise trolls no longer reside under the bridges. They’ve found new homes behind computer screens and have evolved into the tech savvy assassins we’ve all heard of today.

In the past, I’ve had a tendency to shy away from most forms of social media – despite dabbling in the world of Blogging. Not for the want of being a social hermit but because I was terrified at the thought of being the target of these faceless critics.  They certainly made crossing the bridge to the online world a lot harder than expected. In my eyes putting anything out there meant that you were opening yourself up to criticism. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – if people think I could benefit from not using so many rhetorical questions in my writing - I’m willing to listen. But that wasn’t the problem. There is a very distinct difference between constructive criticism and ‘trolling’.

Being an avid reader of Vogue and follower of supermodel Gigi Hadid, I was ecstatic to discover that this month the two forces had paired up. The images showed a naturally beautiful 20 –year –old model worlds apart from the catwalk fascia.

When looking at these photos it’s easy to see why she’s making such an impression on the modelling world. Yet start reading the article that goes with them and you’ll find a different story. Gigi is a desirable model and the face of a multitude of campaigns including; Chanel, Tom Ford and Versace (merely the pacesetters in the pursuit to book Hadid). It’s safe to say she is far from having a weight problem. I mean, she recently earned her wings with Victoria’s secret – I don’t think she needs to start any cleanses in the New Year. So I’m sure you can understand why the quote; “online trolls… repeating that she was “too fat to model”” boiled my blood. They don’t just stop at us mere mortals they’re also targeting the divine (a little Victoria’s secret pun for those of you who noticed).

Initially, I had always thought that models were notoriously thin because of the media’s influence. Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar – all major publications that practically handed you a bottle of pills and a bin to empty your stomach. Their models were the best form of torture for impressionable girls with body issues and the desire to look ‘skinny’. While I realise this isn’t entirely untrue of today’s issues, my research into ‘the effect the media has on models’ place in society’ in photography found that although there are signs of body shaming in some (cheaper) publications. The real critics were the readers behind the keyboards. Vogue seemed to applaud Hadid’s influence on the catwalk describing her as “filling clothes in an enviable, womanly way”. Ok. So… maybe this hasn’t prompted Vogue to start using models that are any bigger than a size 10 for their covers. And… Gigi is only a tiny size 8 – but taking the publication’s reputation into account it’s a step in the right direction. Albeit a baby step but a step all the same.

So in that case are we the ones to blame? All signs are starting to point to yes.

Of course I don’t mean me and you specifically but ‘we’ as a society. When looking into this subject for photography I found that sadly ‘body shamers’ aren’t a new breed of offenders. There have been pests (with cameras) who have made a profession out of hunting people down and pointing out their flaws since 1955. In case you haven’t guessed I’m talking about the ‘birth of the paparazzi’. Otherwise known as the birth of the cockroaches because let’s face it that’s what they are. They hunt people down to catch them at their most vulnerable moments and rip into their flaws – sound familiar?

So maybe they aren’t completely the same. I mean trolls don’t get paid but surely that makes them worse. They do it for fun! And… I guess the paparazzi at least stop at those who have an army of beauticians at their disposal. So I guess we could argue they are simply setting a level playing field right?  I mean, who hasn’t had an embarrassing photo of them looking a little hung over surface on Facebook. Surely it isn’t wrong to want to find something in common with those we look up to in the public eye. Wrong.

Since when did we decide it was ok to publically shame someone for not having a perfectly flat stomach or flawless skin? Despite Photoshop’s attempts to deceive us – even the vainest elite have their flaws but tearing them down shouldn’t be justified because we feel lied to. Spending hours looking for holes in other people’s lives only to publically humiliate them is inexcusable! Why is one better than the other? They both tear people down. Some simply celebrate their beatings with a title and a pay slip.

But fear not, there is hope.

There are now forums that allow people to post snapshots of their life online without being ridiculed into taking them down. Unfortunately for me I didn’t discover these havens filled with fellow hermits where negative/ troll like comments are actually banned until 3 years ago. But better late I suppose. They allow even the most cautious of us to bypass the bridges and fly over the trolls. Personally, I used these websites as a metaphorical pool to dip my writer’s hand into and through them I found several new fashion bloggers (including my current favourite – Luanna Perez).

A journalist for ‘The Guardian’ once remarked “print is dead”. While this is perhaps an exaggeration most people do tend to get their fix of news from their phones rather than newspapers. It was clear to see that the world of fashion was no exception. They had definitely embraced this platform of writing and exploring different blogs meant that I had more of an understanding of fashion writing – a field I’m now looking into as a degree. After that I realised that in order to improve my writing I would have to commit myself to my ‘real’ blog. The first time in a long time I’d ridden without my stabilisers on.

Maybe I’d been too harsh. Maybe the internet wasn’t actually the scary place I’d convinced myself it was. So far for me it hasn’t been. In fact I’ve now completely embraced my inner internet socialite. Posting, not only on my blog, but on Instagram and going back to Twitter. I know, somebody stop me before I take over the internet! I realised that social media is a great way to get yourself out there. I don’t mean in a middle-aged-get-back-on-the-saddle-after-your-divorce-has-gone-through sort of way. I just mean it's perfect for promoting writing or finding people to collaborate with. I'd had an epiphany. A sudden realisation. I finally understood why so many people used social platforms. Everything made sense.

And then all of a sudden... Everything made sense! I noticed trolls popping up on some of my favourite blogs with their (oh so original) "you're so fat", "you're ugly", "you should die" comments. Even though they weren't aimed at me it still felt like a personal attack. "You didn't forget about us did you?" I could almost see them typing. I was so naive to think I'd managed to avoid them but this time they didn't scare me. This time they looked pathetic. In fact, I realised that the only reason they seemed big before was because I'd built them up to be a higher authority. So I guess our parents were right we shouldn't talk to the trolls. We shouldn't even acknowledge their existence because doing so fuels the fire.

I know, easier said than done right? I guess this post is proof of that but we are heading in the right direction. The trolls are now being prosecuted. Whether you think this is a step too far or not I'm sure we can all agree it's satisfying to know they're starting to sweat. It's inevitable that seeing their species being fined or sent to prison has made them listen. Potentially even scared some of them into leaving the keyboards behind and taking a much needed trip outside (said in the least mum-like voice possible). While there will always be somebody who can't help but share their negative opinion with everyone else -trolls shouldn't be feared. They're nameless, faceless cowards who knock people down for reasons only they know. So let’s leave them where they belong. Alone.