When Celebs Get Bullied: Ashley Judd, Claudia Boerner and the Legion of Trolls

The consequences of our culture of criticism are sometimes not so pretty

Recently, Ashley Judd faced a torrent of criticism for appearing with a slightly swollen face from being treated with steroids for an illness. In a response letter to the Daily Beast, she said, in part, “That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient… Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate… We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers… It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism.”

On the same day that Judd’s letter came out, news of German model Claudia Boerner’s suicide also made rounds on the internet. Her death came shortly after an “internet mob” criticized her for her purported plastic surgery and recent appearance on a reality cooking show. There is no certainty as to how (or if) the flood of hatred contributed to her suicide, but she would certainly not be the first person to commit suicide after online bullying.

Rather than learning from this, people seem to want to shift responsibility: She went on national television to parade her cooking skills… Of course she will be criticized… It's called human nature to judge people on TV… If you can't take the heat then don't put yourself under public scrutiny.

I'm a fat woman in the public eye, as both a dancer and a blogger, and I talk about putting the focus on healthy habits rather than weight loss. I also get hundreds of hate comments and a couple death threats each week, and I don’t think you can understand it until it happens to you. I recently spoke at the University of Florida, just an hour after receiving an e-mail that said: “I’m going to be outside Reitz Hall and I will do the world a favor and shoot you in the head you f-ing fat bitch.”

I think it’s an unfortunate commentary that we think that bullying someone for their appearance is “human nature” and a natural response to watching someone cook. I think it’s downright over the line to threaten to shoot someone in the head for saying something with which you disagree. And, I think it’s difficult to logically defend the argument that if you want to do what you love then you should expect and accept that you’ll receive thousands of bullying emails.

It’s interesting to me how, as women, we set people up to knock them down. We could raise our voices to expand the concept of beauty -- demand to see realistic portrayals of a wide variety of women. But we don’t. We demand an impossible photoshop standard of beauty from our celebrities and when they don’t give it to us we viciously attack them. When that doesn’t make us feel better we turn around and attack each other for not meeting the impossible standard of beauty that we ourselves have created. This culture of body hatred runs on our money, time and energy and we can make it stop.

I imagine a world without articles about which celebrities have had plastic surgery or have the worst bikini bodies -- a world where we can appreciate people for their talents, celebrate a diversity of bodies and faces, stop minding other people’s bodies and faces… and start minding our own business.

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