We see them everyday on the internet: Funny pics and videos of strangers doing something seemingly ridiculous. Maybe it's the video of the Star Wars kid, who was caught on camera reenacting a scene from his favorite film. Maybe it's the Obsessed Girlfriend meme and her "crazy eyes." Or maybe it's a photo of an overweight woman sitting on the treadmill where she watches television instead of exercising. All of these are familiar internet memes, but they have more in common than just that - they're also photos or videos of people who, though not known by name to most of the world, are very real. That's exactly what the woman in the treadmill photo is talking about in her personal essay on The Daily Dot (originally featured on the Story Club): she's not just someone to laugh at on the internet.
Amy Salloway had no idea that she was the subject of internet ridicule until her friends started sending her the offending treadmill photo, asking if the person in the photo really was Amy. Amy was, obviously, embarrassed. It didn't matter to any of the mean internet commenters that Amy had put in over an hour on the treadmill before the photo was taken, or that she tuned into a TV marathon because she couldn't watch that channel in her apartment. To the people on the internet, she was just a fat person too lazy to work out:
It's not just the fat-bashing that hurts. Or the humiliation, the shaming, this last safe societal prejudice. All that is bad, of course. What really hurts, though, is how much the boys who took that photo of me "doing it wrong"- and the thousands of people who see it - will never know... The people who laugh at this picture won't know that every jeer, every "mooooo," and every "sorry, no fatties" made me more and more successful at being bodiless.
The essay goes on to discuss the shame that Amy felt that led her to want to separate herself from her body, which she felt for so long betrayed her. But as she recognizes in the essay, it's not possible - we are our bodies, even if certain body types become the subject of ridicule.
It's so easy to separate people on the internet from the people we see in real life, and even more so from the people we care about. It's easy to laugh at someone online, someone we've never met and probably will never meet. Commenting on someone's appearance on a meme may not seem as harmful as making a nasty comment to someone's face, but the truth is, laughing at one person online isn't much better than doing it to someone's face. We're still perpetuating the same ugly stereotypes - that people need to look and act a certain way in order to be accepted, in order to be considered "people."
It's something we need to consider every time we write something on the internet, particularly when it comes to criticizing another's body in any way. It's easy to be anonymously cruel, but perhaps if we can start to recognize that there is a person somewhere in the world that could be hurt by our words, we can bring back a little bit of our own humanity.