GEMMA STYLES PENS OPEN LETTER TO ONLINE BULLIES
"Being cruel is not cool or normal": Gemma Styles's empowering open letter to online trolls will leave you feeling SO inspired
This open letter originally appeared on glamourmagazine.co.uk as part of their #blendoutbullying campaign
Donating bodily fluids probably doesn’t feature in your list of go-to activities to do with friends. Bowling, sure. Brunch, certainly. But if you’re looking for something easy, worthwhile - and free - then I highly recommend giving blood. I recently visited the Blood Donor Centre in Luton with my friend Laura (and a camera crew) for the NHS's #Date2Donate series, to make the case for donation as a social activity.
I’m a regular blood donor, but it was Laura’s first time, so I think going together made the whole thing easier for her. I can totally understand being nervous about it - I used to be petrified of needles myself, and it was actually giving blood that helped get me over the fear. Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t look when the needle goes in, but it really honestly does not hurt and only takes a few minutes. And then they give you snacks. Win-win.
We need more new blood donors like Laura, because the NHS need around 200,000 new donors a year to replace existing donors who stop donating and to ensure a good mixture of blood groups to match the needs of patients. Personally, I’ve had to stop donating for a while in the past as I was anaemic - while I’m back on the case now, other people have to stop long term for a whole host of reasons, so having new donors to fill those gaps is really important.
Reclining in our donation chairs, we got onto the topic of anti-bullying week, which this year is 12-16th November. We both spend a lot of time on social media and agreed that the conversations being had online can often be far too negative. I remember having people make nasty comments at school, but at least back then it was confined to a few people hearing it in a classroom - when horrible comments are being made online, it’s easy to feel like the whole world is seeing it too and laughing at you. Words don’t get said and then fade from the air, they’re right there in pixels for anyone to read over and over again, which of course has a huge effect on the person they’re aimed at.
I’m lucky to have a mostly positive online community around me, but it can still affect me when people decide to get nasty or send personal attacks. People assume that when you have more followers, things they say don’t matter, or that it’s not just a normal person reading the message. Even more so, they expect you to know everything and to be perfect - which I am not. I’ve had more practice than most at dealing with negative assumptions and mean comments, but nobody is immune to feeling hurt by other people’s words - and sadly there are always some people who actively set out to upset others and hurt their feelings. It’s easier said than done to rise above it and not let bullying get to you, but you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are a nicer person and trust me, people will see that.
When you’re being bullied it’s common to feel ashamed or embarrassed - this isn’t right, but it can be hard to admit to people around you that you’re being singled out. My advice would be to find someone, anyone, to confide in. Bullies, for whatever reason, want you to feel different and alone, but you’re not alone.
Whether it’s a friend, parent, sibling or a stranger, there are people who understand and who want to help. I’ve seen the great positive power of social media connecting likeminded people, and how amazing friendships can bloom through shared experiences. There are more kind people out there than bullies. Being cruel is not cool or normal. I don’t judge people for being different - but I do judge them for being spiteful.
If you see someone different from you and your first instinct is to ridicule them or call them names, think about where you have learned this behaviour from - is that the kind of person you want to be? You can unlearn it. Being nice to people costs nothing and can have an incredibly positive impact - just like giving blood. If you’re donating at maximum capacity - that’s once every 12 weeks for men and 16 weeks for women - you’re only giving up 3-4 hours per YEAR. And each donation could save three lives. Take a friend along with you and by the time you’ve calculated the number of lives you could save in a few years between you, the machine will be beeping and you’ll be ready for your chocolate biscuit.