Responding With Kindness After An Internet Stranger Said Hateful Words

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What Happened When An Internet Stranger Said I Should ‘Die In A Fire’

Katie Cloyd

I have a friend who doesn’t use social media. No internet at all really. Just a little Google, maybe some quick online shopping. Nothing about Internet culture shapes his life or resonates with him. He doesn’t know memes or Internet terminology. He’s young, but he lives his life totally old school. It’s fascinating to me.

Recently, I told him that an Internet commenter from Melbourne, Australia saw my photo and said, “kill it with fire.” Those of us who write on the Internet and spend time here know that’s nothing new. When I said it, it didn’t even feel especially noteworthy.

But my friend doesn’t spend time here, and when I said those words, I saw actual, visible hurt on his face. His eyes narrowed, and his mouth opened slightly and he said, “That’s terrible.”

And you know what is sad?

It took that moment for me to recognize that it actually is.

It is terrible to say someone should burn because you don’t like their body in a bathing suit.

Cruelty is par for the Internet writing course, and comments like that are terrible.

But that doesn’t mean the commenter is terrible, and I won’t let myself start to believe that.

I believe that if the young man who said “kill it with fire” walked through the doors of my home on a typical Friday evening, he might only see fat at first, but before he left, he would like me.

He’d see fat — and also my husband sneaking up to kiss me or tickle me, and he’d recognize how much love is still in our eyes even after 15 years.

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He’s see fat — but he would watch as one of my boys ran into my arms after a bump to the head, and I kissed his red curls before letting him down to run and play. He would hear my oldest child shouting the words to a preschool song about frogs on a log as he marched through the yard, stick in hand, mud on clothes, smile on face.

He’d see fat — and my kitchen stocked with fresh fruit, raw veggies, lean meats — and yes — also granola bars, gummies, cheese and pasta.

He would see fat, and feel the breeze coming into my kitchen window while I hummed a song that probably topped the charts circa 2001. He would like Brussels sprouts before he left — even if he hated them coming in. I’ve converted a lot of haters into believers.

He would see fat, but he would also smell burgers on the grill, and if he walked outside to take a peek, my husband would make a corny joke about the “Barbie” and then offer him a beer.

The guy from Australia who deemed me worthy of an agonizing death by flame would probably always be very aware of my fat, since it’s a trait he doesn’t seem to enjoy.

But I feel quite sure that he would also see so much more.

He wouldn’t want to torch me.

I’m almost positive he would like me.

Because I believe that guy is a good guy. I know he loves his family and friends. I even think if I was on fire, he would find an extinguisher.

I believe that he didn’t think I’d see his words that day, and I don’t believe he would look in my eyes and say I deserve to die just because he doesn’t like how I look in a swimsuit.

Every day I tell my friends that they are good and kind and beautiful and worthy just because they exist.

I will always believe that about them — and about you. And about the guy from Melbourne.

If cruelty is par for this course, then fine. I accept that.

But I won’t let it change the way my heart feels about the goodness and worthiness of humanity.

The world is full of cruelty but it’s full of kindness, too. I won’t let myself forget that.

Enjoy this photo of my reasons to always stay kind, and never let the world make me angry and hard.