Despite all of the advantages it offers, the internet can sometimes be an incredibly cruel place. Just ask Missouri resident Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson. Because in 2012 a group of young girls snapped and shared a humiliating picture showing her falling off her mobility scooter in Walmart. Several years after the event, however, the mom of two finally gave her side of the story.
Wilkinson was grocery shopping in Walmart that day in 2012 and using a motorized scooter to travel down the various aisles. So when she got to the soda section, she stopped to pick up a box and put it in her basket. But then the situation took an unfortunate turn: as she leaned towards the shelf, Wilkinson fell out of her cart.
A group of young girls then caught sight of Wilkinson’s position and snapped a picture of her. And after being shared on imgur, the photo went viral in 2013. It even appeared on websites such as reddit and Rate My Job, with online users openly mocking the woman.
But after reading jokes at her expense across the internet, Wilkinson finally decided to fire back in January 2017. For this, the mom of two chose Quora, a question-and-answer website that covers a variety of subjects. One day, you see, Wilkinson was asked, “What was your ‘15 minutes of fame?’” And this prompted her to recall the incident at Walmart.
With the infamous image taking lead at the top of the page, Wilkinson opened up about what had happened that day. “This is my 15 minutes of fame,” she wrote on Quora. “If you check sites such as the People of Walmart or Reddit you will most likely find this photo.”
“The worst thing about this photo is that people think a fat woman tipped over a cart because she was too lazy to get out of the cart to get the case of soda,” Wilkinson wrote. On that note, she revealed a bit more about herself, admitting that she suffers from a number of medical conditions.
“I have a condition in my spine called spondylolisthesis,” Wilkinson continued. “In spondylolisthesis, one of the bones in your spine — called a vertebra — slips forward and out of place. In some people, this causes no symptoms at all. Others may have back and leg pain that ranges from mild to severe.”
At that point, Wilkinson revealed that her legs are severely affected by the condition, meaning that she can’t stand up for too long. Her issues don’t end there, though, as she made another candid admission. “I am also very obese which does not help the situation in my back,” the mom wrote.
“I have learned that due to my mental illness, I have used eating as a way to cope,” Wilkinson added. “I fight my weight daily and have recently joined a gym. But my weight is still a battle.” After adding the context to her situation, she then cast her mind back to the moment that changed everything.
Wilkinson wrote that on the day that she had traveled to Walmart, she had been feeling down and suffering with the pain in her back from the spondylolisthesis. But she had arrived in the store and took a cart to start grocery shopping. Then the mom had eventually arrived at the soda aisle and eyed a particular case.
“I went to get a case of soda for my husband (he drinks this stuff by the gallons), and I turn and tried to grab a case off the shelf, and the cart tipped,” Wilkinson wrote on Quora. “I thought I saw a flash of light and heard some young girls giggling. It was nothing new.”
However, that mindset of acceptance had changed after the image had gone viral and brought with it hundreds of hurtful comments. And so, alarmed by what she had read on the different websites, Wilkinson had drawn a line in the sand. She’d then decided to stand up for those who had been ridiculed in a similar fashion to herself.
“The reason I am sharing this is because people think it is funny to laugh at people with disabilities,” Wilkinson wrote. “You cannot see my disabilities, but they are there, and they are real. So next time you see photos making fun of people, just remember you know nothing about these people or the struggles they face every day.”
“It is never just harmless fun to laugh at someone,” Wilkinson added. And whether she realized it or not, Wilkinson had just created another viral post. In fact, her words on Quora earned close to three million views, while several other outlets also picked up on the mom’s post. So her response arguably gained a similar amount of traction to the initial picture itself.
Websites such as Today and the HuffPost even published Wilkinson’s words in full, while The Sun also shared her stand against the online insults. And as the post became more popular, Wilkinson expanded on some sensitive subjects, particularly surrounding her physical and mental health.
“My obesity is caused by my American diet and also by my mental illnesses,” Wilkinson wrote on Quora. “I have major depressive disorder, PTSD and avoidant personality disorder. I have experienced several cases of emotional trauma that lead to [this]. So I ended [up] using food to cope with my mental illnesses.”
With that in mind, Wilkinson then looked back on that day in Walmart one last time. And she decried those who’d made negative assumptions about her since the picture went viral. “My main point in this answer is: I did not choose to be photographed at a low point in my life,” she wrote.
“The fact that people assume I am fat because I am lazy is false,” Wilkinson added. “Or they assume I am fat because I want to be on [disability welfare]. Obese people are treated as less than human and as something to ridicule. I just want people to be aware that fat people are people too.”
Yet while most would agree with that last point, Wilkinson felt the need to clarify one final thing on the subject. “I am not asking people to accept or condone obesity,” she wrote. “Obesity is a major health problem causing many illnesses and diseases. I also am not asking people to pity or feel sorry for me.”
Wilkinson added, “What I want is compassion, understanding and respect as a fellow human being. I am a person; please treat me like one!” Even during a time when internet trolls and anonymous naysayers are more prominent than ever, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.