The internet is getting a much needed makeover.
In January 2015, Ashley VanPevenage had her makeup done. Months later, the before-and-after photos would become a viral sensation in the name of cyberbullying.
VanPevenage, a 21-year-old college student, had been struggling with acne and was experiencing an allergic reaction to benzoyl peroxide at the time of the makeover, making her transformation photos a dramatic addition to the makeup artist’s Instagram page. The photos began circulating and were soon turned into a malicious meme, receiving at least 7 million shares across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube more than a year later.
It all began with a tweet from Twitter user virtuallyvivi, who captioned the side-by-side photos with “I don’t understand how people can do this and I can’t figure out how to conceal a single pimple on my face.”
The tweet quickly traveled across a number of social media accounts, mostly in support of VanPevenage’s transformation. However, less than a week after the photo’s original appearance on the web, it was appropriated by internet trolls for their own hateful messaging.
The original meme and its subsequent versions established an overwhelming presence across the internet, ultimately identifying VanPevenage as a victim of cyberbullying. In response to the cyberbullying, she posted a video to YouTube called “My Response to My Viral Meme,” about which she says, “I wanted to get the message out there and show that there is a real person behind those memes that everyone laughs at. I wanted people to know that I wasn’t going to let the horrible comments or negativity get to me.”
In the year since her experience with cyberbullying, VanPevenage paired up with Dr. David Lortscher of Curology to find a solution to her acne and her her regain her self-esteem. As part of her personal mission to take a stand against online bullying and hate-based comments, VanPevenage launched a campaign called #CureTheHate in partnership with The Tyler Clementi Foundation and Curology.
GOOD Magazine recently had the opportunity to ask VanPevenage questions about life since her cyberbullying experience and learn more about #CureTheHate. (Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
How has life changed for you since launching #CureTheHate?
I think #CureTheHate has given me a new purpose. Even though what I went through was bad, I now know that I can help others through my experience. Some pretty amazing opportunities came to me: I re-established my self-confidence once my acne began to clear. I was also approached by the SyFy channel for the show “The Internet Ruined My Life.” SyFy gave me a new platform to share my story with others who may relate to being [bullied online]. Not many people get those types of opportunities through struggle and public humiliation — I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I am now devoted to breaking the cycle of cyberbullying to further prevent this type of experience happening to others. The new “Roast Me” trend proves that cyberbullying has many faces and is not biased against age, color, race or gender.
When you were at your lowest point, what helped pull you out of it?
My lowest point was when I saw the first tag on Facebook. I couldn’t believe people could be so cruel. These people didn’t even know me. I didn’t do this to myself or to promote my YouTube or whatever people do to make headlines with these types of stories. I was really just wanting to cover my acne and wanted a makeup artist to show me how to cover my acne. … Then, all this happened to me. Sitting on my bed not wanting to get out of bed, crying looking in the mirror because, for a minute, I doubted my self-confidence … where do I start? How many people wake up with millions of hate comments, making you feel like the ugly duckling of planet Earth? There are no words to describe that type of experience. I only want to prevent what happened to me [from happening] to others. It was that bad. It’s so important to me to become an advocate for cyberbullying. It really can happen to anyone. The internet can be a very dangerous place. If you aren’t looking for that type of attention, it’s more of a weapon that can cut to your soul. Something like this and the attention that it brings could break you if you aren’t strong enough or if you don’t have a proper support system.
What do you think prompts bullies to attack their victims online?
Misery loves company. Unhappy people will target whomever they can to make them feel just as awful as they do, every day. The fact that people leave horrible comments and then log off and go to the security of their homes is real. The internet is too easy in that sense. I doubt the very people [who] ridiculed me could endure what I went through. Trolls, lurkers, haters, whatever you want to call them, they are everywhere for anyone [who] may be getting more attention them. I pity them, honestly. Everyone has an opinion; however, most are not merited. You have to remind yourself of that. These people don’t know me or you. Who is anyone to judge? You never know someone's personal struggle so just be nice — bottom line. Acne is the number one condition in dermatology. Who doesn’t have it at one point of their life? We live in an age where people can be so superficial. It’s literally like hating your brother, sister, neighbor, or best friend. Acne is that common. I think that’s why most can identify with my story. It can really happen to anyone. People need to get past the superficial and #CureTheHate.
How does #CureTheHate actively help victims of bullying on a daily basis?
#CureTheHate is partnered with the Tyler Clementi Foundation. TCF is the only cyberbullying foundation that offers free legal services to victims of cyberbullying. My goal is to raise TCF’s #Upstander pledges to the millions so that college, high school, and grade school students are taking a pledge to stop it before it happens. If you can empower students and peers with [the knowledge of] how cyberbullying can ruin someone, it can make a difference. After researching many cyberbullying foundations, the Tyler Clementi Foundation is the one that I felt the most connected to. I’d never want what happened to Tyler to happen to anyone else. His story is proof how far cyberbullying can go. It can end everything for some. It’s horrible. We also targeted the digital community by creating and working with some of today’s top YouTube influencers for collaborative videos, such as Michelle Phan (Ipsy), Jordan Cheyenne (Beauty Guru), MaxNoSleeves (Lifestyle Vlogger), and Honey B Eileen (Celebrity Makeup Artist). Getting our message to the cyber community is key.
If a person is being victimized online or in-person by a bully, how should they handle it?
Honestly, ignore them. If they repeat comments or have the ability to spread hate comments on other pages, report it to the platform. If the bullying gets so vindictive that it reaches the level that it did with me, then stand up for yourself. Post a public comment or video. When I did that for myself, the level of support was not only surprising but also touching. For every hater, there are three people who have something positive to say. It takes a thick skin. That’s why foundations like The Tyler Clementi Foundation are so important. TCF works tirelessly to make this type of behavior illegal, or implement legal ramifications, where the guilty party has a fine, community service, or jail time to serve. There needs to be legal consequences.
What message would you deliver to your bullies if you had the chance to speak to them face-to-face?
Love you first. #CureTheHate and start with yourself. ... Every person on Earth is precious and has a purpose. If you are too ignorant to understand just how amazing human life is, you’ll never live past your social media account.