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Big Bullies

Big Bullies

Last week I experienced targeted online bullying for the first time in my life.

I first entered the public eye when I was 18 years old. I was a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. I found it very daunting and in hindsight it was something I perhaps wasn’t ready for. During that time, my dad gave me two pieces of advice I’ve taken with me through my life.

1.     When you present work or even an opinion, people will love it and people will hate it. Humans are not all the same and will have subjective opinions on your work based on their personalities, individual taste and their experiences.

2.     If you take to heart all the love, you’ll end up taking to heart all the hate.

The latter serves to keep your ego in check AND helps to develop resilience.

To date I’ve been very blessed with a following that receives me and my work with great encouragement and positivity. I don’t recall any major hate or nasty comments or emails. I thank all you lovely people for that.

Earlier this year I decided to put my passions for writing, photography and travel together in the form of a blog. Whenever it came time to publish it, something kept holding me back. It was fear. I was scared of judgement, of failure, of disappointment and of harsh negative criticism. I realised this fear was not a part of my character that was serving me. Since, I’ve worked to not let fear control me and my life choices. I’ve worked to not make decisions dictated by fear.  Essentially, not hold myself back. So, I launched my blog. You will see in the 'About Me' page “DISCLAIMER: THIS BLOG IS, AND WILL ALWAYS BE IMPERFECT and that is A.OK.”. This was to point out that I'm still learning. Like everyone in this world. 

Last week this modus operandi and my resilience were tested beyond belief.

The plan for my blog is fluid, but at its heart I want it to be a hub where people with common interests can go to find insights into my thoughts on life, while also getting recommendations for different experiences that can bring moments of joy.

When I travel, I contact restaurants and offer to share my experience with my followers in the form of a blog post and photo gallery. I give people an insight into the establishment and staff through the eye of a punter, not a food a critic. Many restaurants are happy to provide a comped meal in exchange for this exposure. I’m always so grateful to those who welcome me into their establishment and invite me to experience or taste whatever it is they specialise in so I can share it with you. 

Some people decline, as this type of one-to-many social media exposure doesn’t form part of their business model. Of course, I have no problem with this provided it's done respectfully. Last week, it wasn't. 

Here’s a synopsis of the events:

1. I send an email to a restaurant. 

2. Without replying, the restaurant manager screenshots my email and posts it to his Instagram with an accompanying insult. He chose not to blur my name or website.

3. This encouraged an onslaught of trolling comments directed at me and my work. 

4. I contacted the restaurant apologising for any offence caused by my email and requested it be taken off the restaurant managers Instagram. 

5. It was taken down. BUT in the meantime, another stranger had posted it (again with no blurring of my name or website) on his Instagram page. This led to even more trolling and negativity directed at my character and my work.

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Some of the things people said were aimed at my work, others at me, ‘bad grammar, bad photography’, ‘Shameless…wanker’, ‘Shite blog’ you get the picture…

Mentally and emotionally this was a low point for me as you can imagine. I was mortified. Waves of anxiety and humiliation washed over me. I felt so small and overwhelmed. My heart was beating out of my chest all day and I was in a state of emotional and mental panic. I was facing all the things that had made me refrain from publishing my website in the first place. Judgement from strangers, public humiliation and a complete disregard for the fact that I am a person. There was a time during that day I felt I should never have published it. I wanted to delete it all, I wanted it to go away. I have also been shocked by the longevity of these feelings. Throughout the last week even after I thought I had processed it all, I’ve still experienced waves of anxiety and worry out of nowhere. Online bullying is an act with a prolonged effect.

I've blurred the names and details of the people and establishments involved as this isn’t about retribution or getting into a he-said-she-said argument.  It’s about calling out hurtful online behaviour and opening a dialogue about that. The people who have caused me hurt and humiliation are adults. They are middle aged men, family men, women in their 30's, artists and "professionals". They are not irresponsible kids who don't know better. Prior to this, I'd only thought internet bullying as a domain dominated by insecure children and teenagers who don't think through the ramifications of their words and actions. Every single person who posted and commented, who decided to go to my website and pick out the flaws are strangers to me. I can honestly say that not once in my life have I commented a nasty remark on someone’s social media. I can also say that my friends and family do not contribute to that kind of hurtful and harmful form of social media bullying. 

Where do we go from here?

As an actress, I try my best to understand people, their actions and their motivations so I can do justice to the characters I play. In this case, I don’t know what these people are going through in their lives that made them feel it’s okay to try to hurt a stranger, or what they felt they would get out of this. All I can say is that I sincerely hope that it was not out of malice and that perhaps they may be regretting their impulsive decisions. I believe in the good in people. I am hopeful they’ll feel regret and perhaps even send me a little message.

If reading this has resonated with you and you feel you may have hurt someone online … it’s never too late to apologise. We ALL make mistakes … as you can see in my email I wrote “photography instead of “photographer”. (whoopsy daisy!)  

If you are a victim of this type of bullying my heart goes out to you. I understand the distress, the feeling of wanting to hide (or run!), the anger, the panic, the anxiety. Be strong. Write about it. And please contact me if you need a friend!     

We are all human. We are all doing our best. We have to stick together.  

Thank you for reading, 

Isabel Xx

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