Internet Anonymity and Cowardice a Weighty Issue

By Jason Menard

Internet anonymity is normally a wonderful thing: it allows whistle blowers to expose corporate evils and it enables people to share their true feelings without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, that anonymity also affords cowards a set of cojones they wouldn’t otherwise have.

On the Internet that anonymity also seems to exponentially amplify the cruelty and insensitivity that people have. It’s not a new phenomenon, but recent on-line comments and having a nine-year-old daughter have combined to make me more aware of the impact of this behaviour.

My daughter loves her Disney kids. She’s progressed from the early Hannah Montana days to current shows like Wizards of Waverly Place and Good Luck Charlie. Along the way, she’s grown attached to the multi-talented stars that the Disney talent factory cranks out, such as Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

We watch with her, discuss her viewing habits, and do our best to keep her grounded in reality. We’ve discussed the off-set issues that some of these Disney Kids (including Britney) have had and she understands that image isn’t everything. She’ll say things like, “She seems like a nice person, but you really can’t know unless you meet them. They’re only acting nice.”

I’m proud to say my daughter has a solid head on her shoulders and doesn’t swallow everything that the Disney Marketing Machine is trying to feed her, but she’s still a little girl and will looks up to the image that these stars are trying to project.

So what happens when she’s exposed to thousands of insensitive louts expressing, in no uncertain terms, that what she finds beautiful is, in these people’s minds, wrong.

Lovato has taken to Twitter to lash out, rightly, against on-line commenters who have criticized her weight following an appearance at the MTV awards this past weekend. Let’s progress by overlooking the insensitivity of people publicly criticizing a young woman who has admitted to an eating disorder.

There’s humour, there’s criticism, and then there’s mean. But beyond just being mean, these people can actually be causing some serious harm.

After all, I watched a bit of the awards with my daughter (Gomez WAS hosting, so it was must-see TV) and my first thought about Lovato was, “Wow, she looks fantastic.” And then it was a quick mental calculation to see if I could be arrested for thinking that way.

The kinder reports have suggested she was “curvaceous.” I didn’t see that. I saw pushed-up-to-the-max cleavage, and a generally healthy looking body. And so did my daughter. In fact, she turned to me and said, “Wow, Demi looks really pretty, don’t you think Daddy?”

I’ll admit that I frequently lament how skinny certain people look. I’ve often found myself saying, “Wow, she was much prettier before she lost all that weight – she looks gaunt.” And we make a point of praising our daughter – who has a fantastic, toned body appropriate for her age. She’s in ballet and jazz, she’s got good muscle tone, and
would never be considered heavy at all.

She’s of average weight – so what is she to think when so many are suggesting that average is fat? Heck, Disney’s guilty of that too. One later episode of Hannah Montana showcased the star suggesting that her friend (Emily Osment – who, by the way, was by far the more attractive of the duo) had large thighs. Seriously? What message are they sending?

I’m just glad my daughter has a lot of confidence in herself and her appearance. She too finds the bone-skinny look unappealing. But what happens when she’s old enough to log on and read these comments for herself? What if she stumbles upon Lovato defending herself on TV? Will she wonder why Demi should have to?

Will she wonder if something’s wrong with her?

I’m not completely innocent here. I frequent a couple of blogs that sometimes cross that line from humourous to hurtful. While it’s entertaining at times to read their efforts to deflate some of the entertainment world’s biggest egos, when they start calling perfectly healthy people overweight, it’s going too far.

My wife and I work hard to set realistic perceptions of beauty in our kids. And so far, we’ve been successful in our efforts. But the Internet can be a dangerous place — not just because of predators, but also due to the presence of cowardly armchair critics who take delight in tearing others down for no reason other than their own pleasure.

It’s not a perfect world, but when what should be considered perfect is instead a source of mockery, then our own societal imperfections comes shining through — and it illuminates a potentially dangerous aspect of our culture.

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