You know those memes we’re constantly sending back and forth to our friends? The ones that totally represent how you feel or something you’ve done (ya know, like those ones about guzzling down a bottle of wine mid week…)?
Well, while we’re busy @ing our friends in countless photos a day, some people are suffering a very real pain that stems from these same photos. Because, as we can easily forget, those aren’t just random faces created by a computer, they’re real people.
Those aren’t just random faces created by a computer, they’re real people.
Real people who unfortunately get thrown across the world wide web, without their consent, and into the land of cyberbullying. This is what happened to Ashley Van Pevenage in January 2015.
“A friend of mine who runs a makeup Instagram account asked to do my makeup. I was having an allergic reaction to Benzoyl Peroxide at the time, and knew I needed help covering up my acne.”
Like anyone would after a successful transformation, Ashley’s friend posted the before and after to her makeup IG account. No biggie right? Ashley didn’t think so. Who doesn’t love a good transformation pic (whether it’s fitness or beauty) that they can get a little inspo from? And plus, she was helping out her friend’s business page.
Unfortunately, it became a big deal, and not for the reasons anyone would hope.
“Months later, I was told that there was a meme circulating of me. I almost couldn’t believe it until I was mysteriously tagged in an Facebook post of my meme by British Dj Samm Irssak. At that point, the meme had been shared over 125,000 times. I think at one point Twitter tracked the meme at over 5 million shares. That meme has over 7 million shares across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined,” Ashley said.
We’ve all had a rough picture or two tagged of us by our friends or family, but to have seven million people globally share a picture of you, paired with horrible comments and all, is a whole other story. It’s Ashley’s story.
Self-confidence as a young woman is hard enough to maintain when we’re constantly picked apart for our weight, hair, clothes, careers, the list goes on. So, it’s only natural that Ashley’s self-confidence began to diminish when she saw the shares, and the most popular comment attached with her meme, “This is the reason you have to take a bitch swimming on a first date.”
However, instead of taking it, Ashley decided to stand up for herself and others like her.
“Imagine waking up one day and feeling like the world thinks you’re the ugliest person on the Internet? It was all starting to get to me, so I decided to post a video on YouTube called ‘My Response to My Viral Meme.’ 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. I wanted to use my own experience to help out anyone else who may be a victim of cyberbullying. That video, again, went viral and had over one million shares. There was a lot of support that came from people that had heard my story. I started to gain my confidence back when I started treating my acne and actively researching how I could help other people like me.”
We were given the opportunity to learn more about Ashley and her experiences after her meme went viral, and how she turned this negative experience into a positive.
20something: What happened after the viral fame?
Ashley Van Pevenage: I stopped focusing on social media and focused more on myself. I realized that this unfortunate situation created a new purpose for me. I was still picking up the pieces of my self esteem to face friends and peers at school that I thought saw the meme. As it turns out the thing that ridiculed me eventually led to curing my acne. After my story received press and I was on TV, I started to receive mystery boxes being sent to my home from skincare companies. They were asking me to pose with their products on Instagram to promote using them. They didn’t care if their products worked to clear my skin or not. I didn’t use any of them because I wasn’t sure what ingredients were in them.
Dr. David Lortcher of Curology reached out to me after seeing the BuzzFeed article to help clear my skin. David assured me that Curology in combination with medications would cure my acne. Curology offers customized formulas for each individual based on how severe your acne condition is so there would be no benzo to worry about. Dr. Lortcher also prescribed Aldacton and Solodyn to take everyday in addition to using Curology.
After trying so many products, Curology and David’s suggested medications were the only thing that worked. My skin started to visibly clear in 60 days with limited side effects. I took a photo every week of my progress. I also incorporated some diet changes like staying away from dairy and drinking more water. After my skin cleared, I regained my confidence and wanted to help those with the same experience as me by starting Cure The Hate.
So what is Cure The Hate?
AVP: Cure The Hate is a cause I started to raise awareness on acne shaming and cyberbullying. I researched cyber bullying foundations that I could partner with located in the US. The Tyler Clementi Foundation was the one that I connected with the most.
After reading Tyler’s story, I was impressed by all the work they are doing with their Day 1 campaign. I also found out that TCF is the only cyber bullying foundation that offers free legal services to victims of cyberbullying. I decided to reach out to TCF to see if they might be interested in supporting Cure The Hate and becoming a partner. My goal is to raise TCF’s #upstander pledges to the millions! We also targeted the digital community by creating and working with some of today’s top YouTube influencers for collaborative videos. I worked with Michelle Phan (ipsy), Jordan Cheyenne (Beauty guru), MaxnoSleeves (lifestyle vlogger) and Honey B Eileen (celebrity makeup artist), just to name a few. Creating these videos caught the eye of Cassandra Bankson (Youtube creator) and Kelly Osbourne who tweeted out the #curethehate campaign. Eventually, acne activist, writer and model Cassandra Bankson joined #Curethehate to support our cause.
Do you feel like the Internet ruined your life?
AVP: I’d say that maybe for a short period of time in the beginning it did. I also wouldn’t say that is was the internet as much as social media. This all started with Instagram, then Twitter, Snapchat and finally YouTube. My self esteem was starting to get affected by all the hate comments. It was hard to get out of bed some mornings.
I felt like I had to be super made-up and looking perfect every time I went out. I didn’t want anyone to stop me and possibly recognize me from the meme. I didn’t go on social media for months. I never knew what I was going to see. It went from looking at every comment to not wanting to see any of them at all. I finally started to get desensitized to the negativity and really focused on the positive.
Why did you do what you did through the Internet after what you just went through?
AVP: I think what sets my story apart from others is that I didn’t do this to myself. Someone else posted my photo on their timeline. I didn’t do anything crazy for it to go viral. It all just kind of all happened. It’s really true that this kinda thing can happen to anyone.
Most of the people that end up going viral are putting themselves out there to promote their channel. I don’t vlog. Instead of using my experience to benefit myself, I decided to help others by starting Cure The Hate.
So what do you feel like you learned from it all?
AVP: I learned that there are a LOT of unhappy people out there! Miserable people use the Internet as a punching bag for their own frustrations. I also think it’s a lot easier for someone to say horrible comments when they truly don’t know you.
Some people feel like they can get away with a lot when they know they can hide behind a computer screen or a fake account. That’s why I started Cure The Hate, to empower others to take a stand against cyberbullying. Most of the time, videos, tweets or photos go viral and then disappear. You don’t really get to hear the story behind how it all happened.
The SyFy Show IRML did a segment on my story. I did it because I thought it was important to expose the realities of being digitally famous. The ups and downs that come along with it all. What happened to me could happen to just about anyone if your photo somehow went viral overnight.
What do you want others to take away from your story?
AVP: I want people to really understand that the faces on memes or viral photos are real people. I think it’s important for people to see the good and bad that can come with stories like mine. I want to spread the message that you have the power to Cure The Hate by taking a stand against cyberbullying, and loving yourself just the way you are.
I’d also suggest to ladies that if a guy calls you a bitch, don’t date him or go swimming with him! Love yourself first. People need to stop being so shallow and stop shaming people for a condition as common as acne. Hopefully people can look at stories like mine and see that they can survive situations like this and still come out on top — better than ever!
Thanks to Ashley’s courageous attitude, she was able to break her silence and help other victims of Internet hate. Our hope is that after reading this, you might think twice before sharing that “funny” meme with a person’s face you don’t know on it, because it could be a person just like Ashley.
To hear more about Ashley, and get her family and friends’ perspective, check out her episode Adults Only on The Internet Ruined My Life.