Dear Middlebury community,
Last spring, a friend encouraged me to download the app Yik Yak. “It’s like an anonymous twitter for Midd people, it’s hilarious,” she said.
I hadn’t spent much time reading it, until one day at lunch when I scrolled through the message board and saw:
“If I could bang a hippo for no finals, I would hunt down Jordan Seman.”
My heart was pounding as I looked around the dining hall. A million things crossed my mind: Is someone watching me? Should I have worn this dress? Did someone see me eat that second cookie? Should I put on my jacket?
In that moment, all of my insecurities flooded me. I felt exposed, betrayed and mostly embarrassed. Without telling my friends, I got up from the table and ran back to my room where I hid out for most of the next two days.
Whoever posted that message couldn’t have known that I have struggled with body image issues for most of my life. He/she probably wasn’t aware that I have gone through therapy to combat those issues. He/she likely didn’t think that clicking “submit” would cause me to restart with overanalyzing every outfit choice and every calorie on my plate. The person couldn’t have known these things because he/she clearly doesn’t know me. I guess you don’t have to know someone to say something hurtful about her.
I’m not one to generally care what others think about me. Since going to therapy I have woken up most mornings feeling confident and unconcerned about my weight. And as someone who loves food and exercise, I don’t really think I should have to be concerned. I am more than my physical body. I am NOT my weight, and I know that.
So why is it that one nasty message sends me spiraling into self-doubt?
Why is it that this person — who, by the way, didn’t even spell my name right — felt it was necessary to publicly criticize me?
Is this what we want our social media use to be capable of?
I write this not to make people pity me. I am not the first or the last girl who will be posted about on Yik Yak or other similar pages. I’m sure that other messages directed at other girls will be no less hurtful. But I am not comfortable with the fact that people on this campus are hiding behind anonymous apps to post character-assassinating messages that serve no useful purpose except to bring people down. Even more than that, I am disappointed that someone in our community would think to post something so distasteful about a fellow student.
To whoever “yakked” about me last spring, if you are reading this, I hope you know that contrary to that childhood rhyme, words CAN hurt me. And yours did. But I hope that coming forward — non-anonymously, for that matter — will inspire other social media users out there to rethink what they post.
Mostly, I hope that we can all reflect on what kind of community we want Middlebury to be.
I know I want to be able to sit down at lunchtime and not worry about what other people are saying — or writing — about me. I want to feel comfortable on our campus, and I don’t think I’m alone.
So, to those of you reading this message, I’m asking you to help me make our school a safe space. I’m asking you to think about your words and how they can sting. I’m asking you to encourage positivity through your actions.
Let’s start now.
Class of 2016