Sammy Nickalls
October 09, 2015 11:21 am

Memes are so commonplace that it’s easy to forget that many of them depict a real, live person. . . and that in many cases, they are just a publicly-accepted form of mass online bullying. That’s what 20-year-old Ashely VanPevenage has taught us in an important and beautiful YouTube video.

Earlier this year, Ashley was having skin issues. She was having an allergic reaction that was creating blemishes and pimples on her face. “I was having this allergic reaction to benzoyl,” Ashley told BuzzFeed News. “I knew I needed help to cover my acne.”

So Ashley decided to go to her friend, who runs makeup Instagram account @makeupbydreigh, for help. Her friend posted the before-and-after transformation on her account. But neither of them had any idea that this would be the start of a cruel Internet meme.

In February of this year, a Twitter user saw the picture and tweeted it with the caption “I don’t understand how people can do this and I can’t figure out how to conceal a single pimple on my face.” Soon, the tweet was picked up by much larger accounts, and in total, the photograph of Ashley—with that caption—was retweeted over 14,000 times.

Though the original meme was the one that really stuck, other versions cropped up on the Internet, with deeply offensive and sexist captions.

Eventually, in what Ashley believes was the most viral posting, DJ Samm Irssak — who has almost a million likes on Facebook — shared the picture on his Facebook with the caption “and this is why [I] have trust [issues.]” It was shared over 125,000 times.

Seeing her own face all over the Internet with cruel comments, anger, and hate plastered all over, Ashley struggled with going out in public, especially without makeup. After months and months of harassment online and seeing how far her picture traveled, she decided to take a stand and express her side of the story via a YouTube video this week.

“I’ll be the first one to say that I used to be entertained by many memes,” she says in the video. “But when it’s actually you, and you’re dealing with all the harsh comments, it’s a whole different story.”

The meme dealt a major blow to her self-confidence, Ashley explained. “I have never been one to be uncomfortable with going out in public in my natural skin, my natural hair, until this picture was posted,” she says in the video.

However, although reading nasty comments and hate online really affected her at first, it won’t stop her from being her own true self or loving who she is. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get people to stop using the image, but it’s taught her a major lesson that she’s now teaching others: about loving their own skin.

“My advice for people who may have to deal with this in the future is it doesn’t matter what people say about you or what they think about you,” she said. “Everyone is beautiful inside and out.”

You go, Ashley. We think you’re absolutely amazing and beautiful, makeup or no makeup, inside AND out. It’s amazing that you’re taking a negative issue and using it as an opportunity to teach the world. Check out Ashley’s full video below.

(Image via Instagram)

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