As someone who has weighed on the heavier side for most of my life, I know what it is like to struggle with body image.
Society tells me I'm only beautiful if I'm skinny, but my loved ones tell me that as long as I'm healthy, the size of my belly or my flabby underarms shouldn't matter.
After years of living with these two opposing views, I decided to shed some pounds for the sake of my overall well-being. I loved the attention and compliments I got, and it encouraged me to keep up the progress. I started sharing parts of my weight-loss journey on social media, and it helped a lot.
There's a large online community of people who are ready to offer support and encouragement to those who are working on improving their lifestyle. However, among them are also those who simply exist on a platform to tear people down.
I learned this the hard way, but it wasn't nearly as awful as what weight loss Instagrammer Stephanie Seabrook went through.
Seabrook first rose to viral fame in 2015 after she shared a photo of her stomach inscribed with all the hateful comments she has received about her body. She lost 150 pounds, then underwent a tummy tuck and it was met with lots of support, until people starting turning on her.
People started accusing of photoshopping the images of her body that she shared online.
“At first I tried to just shrug it off, and not think about it, but it started to get progressively worse and more frequent,” Seabrook told People.
Seabrook couldn't understand where these rumors stemmed from, and when she tried to explain that she did not retouch her photos, the situation escalated.
“I got death threats, and people said I should go kill myself because I’m pathetic,” the 30-year-old continued. “They thought that I was a liar and a fraud when I was just trying to be loved and accepted like anyone else.”
So how did the rumor start in the first place?
Seabrook's pictures were really being photoshopped, but she had nothing to do with it. Turns out, a girl she met through Instagram was doing it to turn people against her.
It's unclear why she wanted Seabrook to be subjected to all that hate, but her actions took such as emotional toll on Seabrook. Unable to deal with it all, she started to regain the weight she had lost.
“I was getting really depressed, and I couldn’t admit to everyone that I was gaining weight because I felt that I had a duty to be there for these people who said they could relate to me,” she says. “I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
Ashamed to admit that she was getting bigger again, Seabrook started to retouch her photos, so her followers would stay, but that did not work out in her favor at all.
She decided to shut down her Instagram account, and started going to therapy. Combined with immense support from her family and friends, Seabrook eventually bounced back.
“It made me a much stronger individual and a much stronger woman,” she explained. “In hindsight, it made me comfortable with who I am and regardless of what people think of me, what really matters is what I think of myself.”
She returned to Instagram and wrote an honest post about why she had been away, and how it affected her life.
"I took a break because I got bullied," Seabrook wrote in the caption of her post. "I made some bad choices and people were mean. I took a break. But today is a day to feel empowered. I am no longer going to hide. I am no longer going to try and be a person you want me to be, I am going to be the person I already am."
Now, she's lost 40 pounds of the weight she regained, but instead of doing it for vanity, she's doing it so she be healthy and hopefully soon have a baby with her husband.
She's also using Instagram differently this time around. She's more open, honest, and comfortable sharing tidbits about her weight loss journey and photos of her body.
“Opening up in Instagram helped me open up in real life," Seabrook added. "Having the strength to do that in front of thousands of people I don’t know has given me the strength to do that with the people I do know,” she says. “There’s a sense of freedom and peace when you can show the world who you are without fear of being ridiculed. I’m comfortable with myself."
Seabrook also came to two major realizations after the ordeal: "1. Not all people are who they seem or portray," and "2. Being dishonest will never bring happiness."
I think these are lessons we should all keep in mind as we navigate life, regardless of our size or the shape of our body.
As someone who has been on a similar journey as Seabrook, I can assure you that it is by no means easy, but I can't even begin to fathom having to deal with cyberbullying on top of it all.
Bullying often has devastating consequences, so I'm just glad Seabrook came out on top.