Edited with Dust.
I often find myself being just the quiet girl with the camera and last night I didn’t mind a bit.
I may be known for my photography and my blog but at my core I am still just a 22 year old girl from a small town, no better than anyone else. No amount of exposure has made me any less sensitive or any less capable of making mistakes. I’ll never be good enough but that is what growing as a person is all about.
I was a teenager when I started my blog. It felt like a digital home that I could fill with all that I loved. The things I saw and felt that set sparks off inside me. Back then I didn’t know the ways in which it would shape me, the ways it would change my life. In so many extraordinary ways but in a few darker ways too.
My first taste of the dark side of blogging was a phone call late one night. It was a woman on the other end and she told me my boyfriend would leave me, people only liked my pictures because I was young, I was ugly and I deserved to die. I couldn’t sleep that night, I could only cry. I couldn’t hate anyone, not the men who’d abused me or the girls who’d teased me cruelly at school. Yet here was a total stranger whose voice dripped with hatred for me, and I was caught wondering if I deserved it.
The more I blogged the worse it became. I received hate-mail thousands of words long. Then websites filled with anonymous haters. In those first years I took it all to heart, labelling people’s issues with me as my ‘flaws’. I thought if I was good enough no one would hate me and so I needed to fix myself. I even felt guilty that who I was had caused people to feel so negatively. So I wasn’t quite as cheery or loving, I toned down my writing and confidence and I didn’t share as openly. It didn’t matter if I had good intentions or genuinely wanted to make the world a better place. Every time I shared anything my head filled with countless judgemental voices, picking it all apart.
I knew reading all the hatred was making me depressed but it was so littered with lies and assumptions I was afraid if I didn’t clear them up people would believe them. Words have influence, even when they aren’t true. When I became a young Mother the judgement grew uglier. People said I should have Alba away taken from me. Girls became my friends to try to get ‘gossip’ out of me and it became harder to trust people. When they contacted my friends and my family with rumours it was bleeding into real life and that frightened me.
I was embarrassed that I let it get to me, I am embarrassed even sharing this. It feels like I am looking for pity but I am not. I always felt like I was being weak. After all, didn’t I know deep down that all I had was the present and it only had to affect me as much as I let it? Didn’t I know that every single person could be torn to pieces, that not one of us is perfect? Didn’t I feel how much support and love surrounded me? It is a sad thing that if we don’t fight it, darkness can be heavier than light even when the light is so much greater.
I decided to stop reading the hate. I thought, let the lies and the gossip be. The people I want in my life will be able to see through it, and will give me a chance. I am not my past and I embrace my failures, they have taught me even more than my successes. If I am secure in who I am and the decisions I make, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. I do my best and be my best and that is as much as I can do. Have trust in me.
One day I was staying with my friend Zelda in LA. Her Father is Robin Williams and all her life she has had to deal with negative attention and gossip. She said to me “You don’t need to post about your life Nirrimi. You’re a photographer. You have a choice to not make it personal.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years. It made me think about why I did blog the way I do. Why I choose vulnerability.
When I stopped posting solely about my photography and started sharing my thoughts an interesting thing happened. The emails I received were no longer short messages from people saying they loved my work and asking what camera I used. I began getting intense, deep letters from people who told me my honesty and perspective have had a lasting impact on their lives. That my words had gifted them courage to follow their dreams or that I had showed them the beauty in the world they had overlooked. My life lessons became theirs too. They are my reason.
I don’t feel angry at anyone who has set out to bring me pain. I know it sounds very ‘hippie’ but I feel like I do love everyone, because I know we’re all the same. We’re all making decisions based on the experiences we’ve had, all wanting to be loved and understood. I like to think that the people who do and say cruel things anonymously online aren’t fully realising the hurt they are causing the people they attack. As though they think we’re not as real as they are. There are many ways to justify hate but at the end of the day it is still hate. I feel that if you wouldn’t say it in the real world, don’t say it online.
Strangely sometimes I am grateful for it. It toughened my skin and helped me to let go of a lot of my ego. I remember reading the hate one day and thinking “if I didn’t know myself, I might not like myself after this” and that realisation made me question the way I felt about everyone. It made me think twice before I spoke badly about another person.
Though I have almost quit a few times, I have kept on. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I will always want to use the skills and time I have to do good for other people. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change, but it is something. I can give more and I will. This world (both real and online) is filled with too much darkness and it needs more light.
I have written this post as a call to action. Whenever you see unnecessary negativity or hate online or in real life, speak up against the hate with loving intention. Let’s make the world a kinder place.
Thank you for reading. I’m grateful that I get the chance to share my side. Here is a silly little video I recorded, filled with ‘ums’ and not at all eloquent (seriously, I can barely watch this without hiding behind my hands). But, hey it is me!
Stylist: Claire Hart