Friday 16 November 2018

Shamed: Former Miss Universe Ireland Lynn Kelly fights back after being bullied online

Since winning Miss Universe Ireland over a decade ago, model Lynn Kelly has worked at the top of her industry. Recently, she was targeted by Instagram account @bloggersunveiled. Here, she talks exclusively about what it feels like to experience online bullying and the long-term impact it has had on her life, how modelling affected her body confidence, and how the love and support of her long-term boyfriend keeps her sane

Lyn Kelly wears: Blazer; skirt; earrings, all River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Lyn Kelly wears: Blazer; skirt; earrings, all River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Lyn Kelly: Dress, River Island. Earrings, blondethestore.com Photo: Kip Carroll
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

Within minutes of us sitting down to talk, Lynn Kelly's eyes fill with tears and she chokes up, unable to speak. It is not long since the VIP Style Awards. That night, which is one of the biggest of the year for her industry, Lynn became a target of the anonymous Instagram account @bloggersunveiled. Now private (meaning the account holder has to approve any requests to follow it), it has a following of over 160,000, and typically specialises in posts about bloggers who appear to be making false claims in sponsored posts.

The account posted two pictures in a split frame: one was a picture Lynn had put up on her own Instagram account earlier that night before she hit the red carpet, the other was of Lynn posing on the red carpet that same night, presumably taken by a press photographer.

The accompanying caption read: "Beautiful in the first picture, even more beautiful in the second picture. I've been sent this picture of @lynnkelly_ loads of times tonight, and I felt like I had to share it. Lynn is stunning, but the first picture [Lynn's own shot] looks edited. Both pictures show a very beautiful woman, but I really wish we could see more unedited photos up on Instagram. The pressure to look perfect is going too far. Be You."

Lynn was on her way into the after-party when she saw the post. "I was just going into Coppers," she recalls now. "My boyfriend rang me; he was out with workmates. He was like, 'Have you seen it?' and I said, 'What are you talking about?' I'd been texting him to come meet me [in Coppers], and he thought that I was upset.

Lyn Kelly: Dress, River Island. Earrings, blondethestore.com Photo: Kip Carroll
Lyn Kelly: Dress, River Island. Earrings, blondethestore.com Photo: Kip Carroll

"So he said, 'Oh, the post'. I knew straight away what he was talking about. I just knew, because they're [@bloggersunveiled] just horrible. I don't follow them."

She went straight to the page, which was then still public. "I bawled my eyes out, and got in a taxi home with my boyfriend. It was horrible. Usually, I'd never let anything like that affect me. I would be quite headstrong, but I felt really overwhelmed," she stops, unable to keep speaking, eyes full of tears.

The Instagram account @bloggersunveiled is the latest in a string of anonymous accounts that call out those in the public eye, usually bloggers, generally for some sort of perceived deceit while making money from their account. False advertising, essentially. Originally, there was an account, also anonymous, called @bullshitcallerouter. In response to its first onslaught of posts aimed at bloggers, several of its targets decried it as bullying. It was hard to feel that sorry for people who were caught in the act of dissembling while producing paid content, and comparing themselves to schoolchildren being bullied.

Watershed moment

Lynn was not selling anything; she was on a night out with friends and colleagues. She feels what happened to her was different, and it seems to have been a watershed moment. Instagram was awash with comments that weekend, with body-positivity campaigners commenting that this post was disingenuous, and really just another form of shaming a woman for how she looks. Others took a different stance, criticising Lynn. She received hundreds of messages of support, with many saying they had reported the account for bullying.

"Obviously we did a full photo-shoot ourselves outside," Lynn now laughingly recalls of the evening. "And obviously I put up a picture that I felt I looked great in. I was never going to put up a photo that I felt I looked disgusting in."

This is not the first time she has found herself at the centre of online abuse. Several years ago, at a time when she was working out intensely in the gym and watching what she ate in advance of modelling in a lingerie show, she posted a picture of herself in underwear. Online comments raged, accusations of anorexia and promoting an unhealthy body image.

"Then again everybody was just jumping on the bandwagon," she recalls. "Keyboard gangsters. Some of the stuff people were saying was so horrible."

This time though, it felt worse. "This thing definitely affected me a lot more than that," she admits, again unable to speak for the tears.

"It was so condescending," she says fiercely. "'She looks good in this picture, but she looks better in the other picture.' Who are you to tell me which picture I look better in? Somebody that's hiding behind a mask, on social media.

"I was upset, I was angry, and I just felt helpless," Lynn recalls. "It was quite shocking to see grown women attack another woman so badly. I read a couple of the comments when I went home, but [my boyfriend] Robert took my phone off me. He said, 'Just leave it, don't even look at it'."

"I started to think about cyberbullying as a whole," she reflects. "This happens every day, and there's no monitoring. I would be a very headstrong 30-year-old woman, confident, independent, and it affected me so badly. I can only imagine how the 13, 14, and 15-year-olds feel when they get that every day. It doesn't make it OK, but I'm used to having my body judged every day for the past 10 years. It's part of my job. But I never felt like I was bullied. Never in my life, up until [the @bloggersunveiled post]."

It was the feeling of disempowerment that really got her, she says. "You just feel really weak as a person. And then that makes you angry and frustrated. And it can make you go really into yourself. Well that's how I felt, anyhow."

The awards were on a Friday night; Lynne stayed in bed for the rest of the weekend. "I literally didn't get out of bed, I was so down," she says.

So what did she actually do to the picture, before posting it online?

"I'm never going to sit here and say, 'I didn't filter that picture'. Of course [I did]; I filter every single picture that goes up on my Instagram. I'm not making myself a couple of dress sizes smaller, but I am definitely putting up a picture that I think is [showing] my best angle. I'm going to filter my skin to make it look more glowy, or bring up the lights, or whatever I feel I need to do. It depends. Sometimes I might just run it through VSCO [a photography app]. Or Facetune [a selfie-editing app]; if you have a pimple, and you want to remove it. But it depends, every picture's different. But Instagram, that's not real life."

On this picture specifically, she used the functions in the edit section of Instagram. "What I did do with that picture is I angled it. So on Instagram, you can turn it; so you slightly turn it left or right or downwards or upwards," Lynn explains.

Role model

"To me, I was putting my best foot forward. And what was annoying me was everyone saying, 'Oh, she has Photoshopped it'. I hadn't Photoshopped it. Photoshopping, to me, is making yourself four dress sizes smaller. I hadn't done that. I don't even have the Photoshop app on my phone; I wouldn't even know how to do it. Filters, to me, are fine.

"I wasn't trying to sell anyone anything. It would be different if I was. This is my personal Instagram page, and it was a photo that I wanted to put up, in a way that I wanted to be portrayed," she says emphatically. "That's such a drop in the ocean in comparison to what followed it.

"I know some people were saying, 'She has a certain level of responsibility, she's a role model'," she continues. "I do get that to a certain extent. But I never signed on to be a role model. It's not my responsibility to educate people's children to understand that social media is not real life. That's the parents' responsibility. Social media is what I describe as if you had a magazine of your life. That's what my Instagram is. And I think to put that level of responsibility on me, or anyone, is just outlandish."

Lynn's reaction was to eventually post a picture of herself sitting in bed on the Sunday evening, hair scraped back, a burger in hand, smiling softly at the camera. "Some will say it's Photoshop," read the caption, with a winking emoji.

"I didn't know what to do for a while. I was so upset, I was literally just sleeping. My boyfriend said, 'You're going to have to eat something'. So he ordered burgers, and I said, 'Just take a picture of this, actually'. I was sitting there in his vest, no make-up. I just put it up on Instagram."

The @bloggersunveiled account seemed to be temporarily deactivated that weekend, causing even more online speculation, before then being reinstated, now private, and with the post about Lynn removed. Instead, a statement was posted saying, "I'm not here to make friends. I'm not here to be liked and if you think I'm creating a nasty environment here then that's your opinion and your opinion is none of my business".

Since this happened, Lynn has received messages from bloggers who had been targeted by this kind of thing, telling her they have received death wishes, or messages saying they hoped there would be something wrong with their children when they were born.

The following week, Lynn felt disinclined to go out to work events. "I knew when I saw people that this was going to be the first thing that they'd talk about. After a couple of days, I thought, 'I'm not going to let this define me, or change me'. So I just got straight back up on the horse." People did come up to her, to offer messages of support. But it was draining, all this emotion, and anxiety.

"I was exhausted every single night. I couldn't even train most days, and I love training, that's my outlet. It took a toll on me; this whole dark cloud over my life for a week or so."

Lynn has been in the public eye for over 10 years now. It doesn't get easier. In fact, she says, it gets harder. "I've always been very confident in myself. I was 19 when I started modelling. I think it is good I was that little bit older. People ask me if this is a job I would ever let my child do, and I don't know. Because I don't know if it is all that good for you in the long run."

Most of us gain confidence professionally over the years. Not so with modelling, Lynn says. "I think over time it does chip away at you. Chip, chip, chip, until one day, your confidence is not where it used to be. Or you look at yourself differently."

Social media was in its infancy when Lynn won Miss Universe Ireland at the age of 19, and then started modelling full time. Now, it is a part of every job; often you are booked only for social media, she explains.

"I've a bit of a love-hate relationship with it," Lynn reflects. "I find it very intrusive at times."

Fitness

Fitness is a big part of Lynn's life. Mostly, it's an outlet for her, and an added string to her bow in work; fitness models are now in big demand. But at times, it has become more than that. "Fitness for me was something I developed a relationship with through my job. Because obviously there are certain pressures to look a certain way. There was definitely a time when I was way too into it. I would have made a lot of sacrifices - like, I wouldn't have gone out for dinner with my friends. Now, I definitely have a healthier balance, I'm like, 'It's a job'."

In her book, Flourishing, in which she examines resilience and happiness, psychologist Maureen Gaffney writes that evidence proves that how good-looking you are is not an influence on how happy you are; rather, it's how good-looking you think you are. Being a model is not the shield from insecurities over appearance it is sometimes imagined to be. Often, it is the opposite.

"You feel crap. You can't help it, because you're at castings every single day where you're competing with every single girl in the room," Lynn reveals. "You can't help but stand beside somebody and judge how you look next to them, and you never think you're amazing. You're always picking at things and thinking 'Oh my god, I wish I had her legs, or her stomach'. You're constantly comparing yourself to other women.

"For me, it took a long time to accept my body," she continues. "I was always training to be a certain way. Nobody ever made me do it. I did it myself."

This struggle for self-acceptance was 100pc exacerbated by modelling, she says. "I'd no issues when I was younger. I was never sat down and told, 'You need to lose weight'. It was more that I started to look a certain way, and the better I looked, in that sense, the more jobs came in. So that fuelled it."

As a model, Lynn comes under the sort of scrutiny most of us only have to endure when examining our own reflections in private. Bodily self-esteem is that much more daunting a task when your figure is up for examination as part of your job.

"You're under a microscope. At castings, you're standing in your underwear beside the next girl. Bringing it back to the time I was doing that lingerie show, when I was being branded anorexic, and people were saying, 'I don't know why you would be so intense about it?' You look at any woman, who is going on holidays, or has a wedding coming up, they are on a mission. So imagine that [pressure is in] your everyday life."

Wisdom with age

Age has helped in terms of self-acceptance. "It's taken me time to evolve out of that. I'm in a much better headspace now. When you're in it, you don't see it. Everything goes great, because you're looking like that. That's just the industry we're in. But I definitely think in the last couple of years, it's changed. There was plus-size and there were fashion models. Whereas now, there's diversity. There's everything in between."

She turned 30 earlier this year, not a prospect she originally relished. "In the lead-up to it, my friends were asking if I was having a party. I didn't want anyone to know I was 30 because I thought I wouldn't get booked again. Sometimes this industry can be quite ageist. And then a couple of days beforehand, I thought, 'You know what? I am 30, so why hide it? That shouldn't define who I am'."

On the first of May, Instagram announced a new bullying filter, in a press release titled 'Protecting our community from bullying comments'. This new filter, part of their no-tolerance policy of bullying, wrote co-founder Kevin Systrom, would hide comments containing attacks on a person's appearance or character, as well as threats to a person's well-being or health.

Photography by Kip Carroll

Styling by Liadan Hynes

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