Being a woman with a public voice makes you a target to trolls — especially when you’re criticizing powerful men and even more when you live with a disability. Case in point: Melissa Blake. The freelance journalist published a critical piece about President Donald Trump on CNN last week, and instead of commenting on the content of her article, people — mostly men — on the Internet bullied the writer for her appearance.
Blake has the genetic bone and muscle disorder called Freeman-Sheldon.
Syndromes affect the mouth, face, hands, and feet and recently she was inundated with tweets from people calling her “ugly” and “fat,” referring to her as “it” and comparing her to a potato and a blobfish.
One cruel commenter even suggested she should be banned from posting pictures of herself online because of her appearance. For Blake, that remark was the last straw — and an invitation for defiance.
“I thought, well, I’m going to do the opposite and show them that they’re not going to get the better of me,” Blake, 38, told BBC.
In response to the bullying, the DeKalb, Illinois-based woman posted three selfies, grinning at all her haters.
“During the last round of trollgate, people said that I should be banned from posting photos of myself because I’m too ugly. So I’d just like to commemorate the occasion with these 3 selfies,” she tweeted Sunday alongside the photos.
The inspiring message has gone viral, with nearly 26 thousand retweets and more than 273 thousand likes at the time of writing. People all over the Internet have been celebrating Blake’s retort. Some have called her a “goddess” and a “bad bitch.”
Latinas are also among her fans. Melissa Aguilera showered Blake with compliments, saying, “from one Melissa to another. You’re beautiful.” While Mila Gonzalez offered a bit of advice: “Fuck the haters! You look happy in the selfies. I love that!”
Blake told the Chicago Tribune that the massive support was “beyond anything I could have imagined — and quite overwhelming.”
“I posted the tweet on Saturday night and didn’t expect this huge response at all,” she said. “But I’m so glad that it’s resonating with people and to have something so positive come out of those nasty, negative comments is such a joy!”
The extreme torment followed by international support resembles the story of Lizzie Velásquez. In 2006, the Austin, Texas-based motivational speaker and author was dubbed the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in a video posted on YouTube. Velásquez, who was just 17 years old at the time, lives with a non-terminal rare condition called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome, which, among other symptoms, prevents her from accumulating body fat and gaining weight. Inspired to speak out against bullying and share her story, she co-authored “Lizzie Beautiful: The Lizzie Velásquez Story” with her mother in 2010.
Like Velásquez, Blake is also refusing to stay silent and allow bullies to win. The writer, who later posted screenshots of some of the mean things Internet users have told her in the past, took the moment to highlight that vile criticism of her looks isn’t new. By now, she says, being judged on her appearance during her 14-year-career as a journalist is something she’s “come to expect.”
“I find this is something a lot of women who put themselves out there face — they are subject to visual attacks,” she told the newspaper.
In addition to the loving community that has come from her response to cyberbullying, her cheerful defiance might also have a positive impact on her career.
Since her viral tweet, she’s been interviewed by mainstream national and international news outlets and even received an email from a book publisher.
The writer, who graduated from Northern Illinois University with a journalism degree in 2005, has published articles about disability, relationships and pop culture in the New York Times, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. Additionally, she runs a blog called So About What I Said, which has a tagline that reads: “Smart is the new sexy, awkward is the new cool, flawed is the new beautiful.”
Despite all the attention, Blake shares that not much has changed in her life. Ultimately, she wants to highlight the abuse women who dare to have a voice on the Internet experience.
“I’m getting so tired of people (read: men) thinking it’s OK to insult a woman’s appearance. Yes, my disability makes me look different. Trust me, I know that. I’ve known that my entire life,” she said in a blog post.
Blake continued: “And people wonder why I’ve struggled so much with self-acceptance when it comes to how I look and our society’s notion of what “beautiful” is. It’s because of comments like these — comments that dismiss me and deem me unworthy.”
Read: Get a Box of Tissues Before You Read This Woman’s Brave Fight Against Bullying