Many of us are guilty of liking or tagging our friends in silly online memes that make us laugh. However, one cruel meme trend recently exposed the darker side of the internet. So when Lizzie Velasquez found herself a victim of one of the posts, she shot down her cyber bullies in the best possible way.
It was in late 2016, in fact, when a number of mean memes began to emerge on social media. These typically started out as a picture of someone asking users to “tag a friend” who they claimed might be looking for them. However, while that may sound innocent enough by itself, the images in fact demonstrated cyberbullying in one of its cruellest forms.
That’s because the individuals featured in the memes didn’t usually conform to conventional beauty standards. In fact, the whole premise of the trend was to mock these people for the way they looked. And, worse still, the vicious posts proved immensely popular.
Indeed, some of the body-shaming memes, which tend to feature people who are perhaps overweight or have deformities, have amassed thousands of likes, comments and shares. Even more cruelly, the images are often used without the victims’ permission. But it seemed as if many of the people reacting to them only saw the funny side without considering the human cost.
One person who found themselves a victim of one of the vile memes was Lizzie Velasquez. The post the 27-year-old was featured in used a picture of the motivational speaker smiling brightly as she leaned against a tree. “Michael said he would meet me behind this tree for a bit of fun,” read the accompanying caption. “He’s running late, would someone please tag him and tell him I’m still waiting?”
And, sadly, this was not the first time that Velasquez has fallen victim to cyberbullying. The Austin, Texas, native was born with a rare disorder that prevents her body from storing fat. On top of this, she also suffers from Marfan syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissue and causes issues with body growth and development. The genetic disorder can also affect the heart and lungs.
And in 2006, while aged just 17, Velasquez was branded the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in a video that emerged on YouTube. Understandably, the awful experience had a deep impact on the teen at the time. When speaking out about the ordeal on a September 2016 episode of Australian TV show Sunrise, in fact, Velasquez said, “It made me feel awful.”
“I think if anyone were to put themselves in my shoes the moment I found that video, and reading all the comments, I think you’d instantly [know] how I felt,” she continued. “It was horrible, I was upset, I was angry, and I didn’t know how I was going to pick myself back up from it.”
But Velasquez did manage to pick herself up. In addition, she has since forged a career for herself as a motivational speaker. Today, then, Velasquez travels the world as an anti-bullying advocate in a bid to inspire and encourage other people who are facing challenges in their lives.
Given her career path and fighting spirit, then, it may come as no surprise that Velasquez wasn’t going to take such a nasty meme lying down. Instead, she decided to use her influence to spread awareness of cyberbullying. And on December 11, 2016, she took her trolls down using her Facebook page.
Addressing her 151,405 followers, Velasquez said, “I’ve seen a ton of memes like this all over Facebook recently. I’m writing this post not as someone who is a victim but as someone who is using their voice.”
“Yes, it’s very late at night as I type this, but I do so as a reminder that the innocent people that are being put in these memes are probably up just as late scrolling through Facebook and feeling something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” she continued. “No matter what we look like or what size we are – at the end of the day, we are all human.”
“I ask that you keep that in mind the next time you see a viral meme of a random stranger,” Velasquez pleaded. “At the time you might find it hilarious, but the human in the photo is probably feeling the exact opposite. Spread love, not hurtful words, via a screen.”
Velasquez’s powerful post has since been shared over 100,000 times and has garnered just as many reactions. Furthermore, the motivational speaker has since been inundated with hundreds of kind comments. And among the commenters were her proud parents.
“As Lizzie’s mom, this hurts beyond words. But I stand with you to say spread love,” wrote Rita Velasquez. Meanwhile, dad Guadalupe Velasquez added, “Lizzie, thank you for being you! I couldn’t have addressed it any better. You have so much courage. You are loved!”
And it seemed that some people had never stopped to think about the impact that liking or tagging someone in a heartless meme could have. “I’m sorry, Lizzie. I’m not innocent on these memes,” one honest commenter wrote. “I will no longer participate in these memes,” he added.
What’s more, Velasquez’s emotional message may have had a wider positive impact. Indeed, according to the BBC, Facebook closed down one of the pages responsible for sharing the troubling posts.
So many people complained about the unacceptable posts, moreover, that the social media site was forced to do something about it. And after hearing this amazing news, Velasquez beamed, “I’m over the moon with gratitude!!!!! Positive change is possible when we all work together.”
It’s safe to say, then, that Velasquez has been overwhelmed by the reaction to her post. And perhaps as a result, she later returned to Facebook to thank people for their kind comments and support. “Today has been awesome, I cannot tell you how loved I feel,” she said in a video posted to the social networking site. “It’s been so incredible to read all of the comments, and it just means the world to me.”
So next time you see one of these controversial memes, think before you click, as the person on the other side of that post probably won’t see the funny side. And a moment’s laughter at someone else’s expense could mean a world of pain for those in the firing line.