I remember the first time I read that I was “fat” on the internet. I was sitting at my kitchen table, eagerly reading each viewer comment on YouTube as it came in. It was episode 5 of "Awkward Black Girl" -- the one where my character, Nina, kisses J’s office crush, Fred, at his birthday party.
Nina is the most hated character on ABG, so naturally I was expecting some backlash from this episode. But I guess I was silently hoping the fans of the show wouldn’t go there. But they did. Several times.
The first time was the hardest one. The first time I saw the word “fat” in reference to me, I stared at it for a full minute in complete silence. It really stung. I was immediately self-conscious and embarrassed that these comments were out there in a public forum for other people to see.
I dealt with it in the way that I always do when something “traumatic” happens. I called a friend. In this case, the friend was my older sister, Megan. I speed dialed Megan’s cell six times back to back because I had to speak to her immediately. In my family, the only time you do something so obnoxious as calling someone back to back is if it’s a serious emergency.
So on the sixth ring, Megan finally picked up and said with a voice full of panic, “What happened?!”
“People on the Internet are calling me fat!” I wailed.
There was a brief pause, then my sister said, “Oh thank God. I thought someone died. You blew up my phone for that?”
Was my reaction a little dramatic? Yes. Had the thought of being “fat” ever occurred to me before? Of course. I have eyes and a full-length mirror.
It’s not that I was in total denial about my weight before this infamous YouTube scandal. I’ve never been a twig past the age of four (thanks to my bootylicious mom and college football playing dad). I LOVE food and I always have. And unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those people who can love food, indulge in it, and not gain a single pound. With my genes, maintaining a certain weight is like a full-time job. I gotta put in serious WORK to look good. And sometimes I do. And other times, I fail miserably.
Just like a lot of other girls (and guys), I’ve seen a Facebook pic or two (or dozens) over the years that have been less than flattering. The ones you stare at soberly and wonder, “Is that really what my thighs look like? Why do my arms look like tree trunks?”
These are the photos that I immediately untag, in fear of other people seeing the same physical imperfections that I see. These are the pictures that have made me sign up for Barry’s Bootcamp the next day, vowing to exercise at least five days a week and eat perfectly every single meal.
Despite this vicious cycle, the reason my self-esteem is still relatively intact is because I’ve got a great family and great friends who lie to me and/or point out their own flaws to make me feel better. My girl friends never fail to gush, “Are you kidding? You look HOT in that picture. You should see the cellulite on my thighs.” And my boyfriend, bless his heart, always reminds me that “Beyonce’s not a size 0 and she’s hot.”
Even though I’m smart enough to know I’m a far cry from Beyonce and there’s a lot of words to describe those photos of me in Brazil (hot, not being one of them), I appreciate my friends for building me up.
But people on the Internet are not your friends. They don’t know you. They don’t care about you. They don’t owe you a compliment to brighten up your day. Frankly, the anonymity of the Internet relieves them of the social and moral obligations they have in real life to be nice, to be politically correct, to be supportive of what you do in any way.
To them, that girl in a web series is not a person. She does not have feelings. Her physicality is totally up for discussion.
And technically, they’re right. The whole purpose of the comments section is to spark a dialogue, a conversation. It’s a forum for viewers and readers to share their honest opinions. And truthfully, the comments section isn’t all bad. In fact, more often than not, I’ve found some very insightful people whose critiques I’ve learned from and applied to my writing. There are good comments.
Like when, ABG viewers helped us learn that many people found Fred’s character “underdeveloped” and his personality “boring and stale” in season one. These comments forced us to re-route and explore Fred’s character in more depth in the latter half of the season. I specifically wrote the guitar scene in episode 8 to beef up his personality and it worked. Fred developed a much stronger fan base after that episode, which ultimately helped build conflict for the love triangle between him and White Jay.
So despite the viewers who just give negative feedback or write nasty comments about my physical appearance, I still find the comments section helpful. I don’t believe in censorship and I wouldn’t want to get rid of it.
Over time, I’ve just come to realize that when you release content on the web, everyone isn’t going to like what you do, who you are, or how you look. And the people on the Internet won’t sugarcoat it for you like your friends.
But eventually you learn to be okay with that -- by telling yourself (and believing) you’re fabulous no matter what the people on the Internet have to say, knowing that many of these people aren’t invested in you becoming better at your craft, and realizing it takes courage to put your work out there for judgment in the first place.
And for that alone, you should be proud.