You no longer have to ask for people’s opinion – thanks to the Internet, they’re just volunteered, and thanks to the virtual promise of impunity, they’re often none too kind. As if the digital age hasn’t given us reason enough to be self-conscious about our appearances, one woman found that a before and after photograph of her face launched a cruel online tirade with thousands of social media users making her, a complete stranger, the butt of their jokes. But now, 20-year-old Ashley VanPevenage, a student at Washington College, is speaking out and fighting back, and very importantly, reminding Internet users everywhere that there is often a real person on the other side of the screen.
It all started in January when a friend of VanPevenage’s, a makeup artist, posted a photograph of the 20-year-old to her Instagram account. On the left side is VanPevenage sans makeup with an allergic reaction to benzoyl. As she explained to BuzzFeed news, “I knew I needed help to cover my acne.” She went to her talented friend, who not only covered her acne, but gave her a stunning makeup session to boot. And while the photo was clearly intended to simply highlight the artist’s talents, it was quickly repurposed in a much less flattering manner.
A few days after the photo was first posted to Instagram, a Twitter user tweeted the photo with the caption, “I don’t understand how people can do this and I can’t figure out how to conceal a single pimple on my face.” And from there, things really got out of hand.
I don't understand how people can do this and I can't figure out how to conceal a single pimple on my face pic.twitter.com/UiIvvagAvL
— Virginia (@virtuallyvivi) February 9, 2015
Retweeted thousands upon thousands of times, VanPevenage and the once innocuous photograph became the butt of “women you need to take swimming on the first date” jokes. Someone wrote, “I’ll spend time with her, as long as I never see her before 10am,” and another suggested that her photo was a porn star’s before and after.
Finally, on Tuesday, the college student put her face behind the face, and took to YouTube to address the hurtful comments she’s received over the last several months. The video, entitled, “My Response to My Viral Meme,” has received over 750,000 views.
“Some days I will read through the comments and just see how cruel people can be,” VanPevenage said. “Luckily, my family hasn’t had to deal with any harassment, it has just been me.” Hopeful that her own story will serve as an inspiration or at least provide a sense of camaraderie for others who have experienced or are experiencing cyberbullying, she continued, “My advice for people who may have to deal with this in the future is it doesn’t matter what people say about you or what they think about you,” she said. “Everyone is beautiful inside and out.”