Most of you have probably heard about the Dancing Man from London that was bullied on Twitter for his weight and daring to dance in public. It sheds light once again on the topic of bullying, fat shaming, but also what our boundaries of tolerance are for teasing. What is innocent teasing and what is malevolent bullying? Is it a spectrum on a pendulum or two disparate concepts that differ based on consent and intent?
I grew up in a family that took joy in eviscerating each other verbally. High points were given by the volume, length, and number of individuals laughing at your expense. Your kitten got left outside overnight on accident and it froze to death? Hilarious. Let’s all make jokes while you sit in your room and cry.
Your father sells away your swingset in secret and your mother complicitly takes you out to eat during this process but brings you home just in time to see it being towed away? Hysterical. Let’s all bring it up at every holiday dinner for the rest of your life to shame you in front of people outside of the family for chasing down the street after your “horsey”.
The refrain I’ve heard for years, “Oh, Barb, we’re just teasing,” never soothed the hurt or explained away the intent to shame me; because, the goal of bullying is to shame the other person in to feeling as toxic as the deliverer of the torment. Teasing is banter between friends, loved ones, where everyone is in on the joke. Not clear as to what that looks like? It’s pretty simple, if everyone is spontaneously laughing in unison then it’s teasing. If you’re the only one laughing at your joke then, not only is it not that funny, it’s most likely bullying.
Take for instance the common theme of taking photos of random strangers, posting them online, and then you and your friends commence in ripping them apart. I admit, there are moments that I laugh despite myself at shows like Tosh.0 or sites like The People of Walmart but it still begs the question of should I be laughing at them? I used to assume that people were in on the joke and consented to these videos and photos of themselves being shared but how do we know that to be the case? I find it hard to believe that these shows and sites track people down for them to sign a waiver.
So when I came upon a photo of strangers with unusually long hair being shared on Facebook by an acquaintance of mine it took me aback. Was she really doing this? Posting a random photo of a group of strangers’ hairdo fails for her friends and her to join in on bashing together? Have I done this myself? I stopped to consider this and realized I had, in the past, and I was deeply ashamed of myself. I’m no better than the assholes fat-shaming that poor man for dancing. So I did the unpopular thing, the action I hope my kids take someday if they’re facing the same situation, I said something. I’d rather be the willing target for their abuse then allow these poor women to be unsuspestedly trashed online. Would you do the same?