POSTED: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 1:04pm
UPDATED: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 1:06pm
(HLNtv.com) — When it comes to nasty comments from strangers, Carly Findlay has heard them all -- but that didn't stop her from showing a thread full of Reddit users that ugly words couldn't do a thing to her.
Findlay, a 32-year-old Melbourne, Australia, woman born with a rare skin condition that gives the skin a swollen, red appearance, woke up to an unpleasant surprise Thursday morning when she found tons of traffic coming to her blog. The reason was that her photo had been posted to a Reddit subreddit, or channel, titled "WTF," which pokes fun of photographs. And as it often goes on the Internet, the comments were downright ugly.
"She looks like a glazed donut," "Rock lobster" and "Looks like something that was partially digested by my dog" were a few of the comments posted about Findlay's photo.
She could have responded in many ways, but instead she read the rest of the post, which also revealed many people supporting her and offering kind words. And then she penned a thoughtful, anger-free reply.
"I knew the day would come that someone would create a Reddit thread about me, using my photo, having a laugh at my appearance," she wrote. "For years, that fear was why I didn't share photos of me online. But now, after gaining confidence and support through years of blogging, I couldn't care whether they call me a lobster or silly putty. The love I have around me and success I have had through telling my own story to break down stigma like these Reddit threads is stronger than any of those words."
With that self-confident statement, the Reddit thread turned around, going from words of ugliness to words of support. Even the person who originally posted the photo sent Findlay an apology.
When HLN spoke to Findlay, she said that cruel things people say to her are words -- and that's all.
"The more I write, the more I find a sense of identity," Findlay said. "It's helped to clarify my thoughts about living with this illness."
Findlay has ichthyosis, a skin condition that has 28 variations. She has a mix of two: Netherton's syndrome and erythroderma. The disease typically causes dry, thick or flaky skin, although Findlay's variation is what causes the chronic skin inflammation she has now. But she says, thanks to being able to discover what it was and by learning to manage it herself, it has gotten better over time.
Findlay used to avoid posting photos of herself online. But one day in 2009, after she had been blogging for a bit about her condition, she decided it was time to stop hiding.
"I got a letter from another ichthyosis sufferer that told me that after seeing my blog, they felt hope and had gone to get help. And that was the best feeling. If (readers) are seeing authenticity from me, and it helps them, then I need to keep going," she told HLN.
Findlay has spent her career writing about her illness and about appearance diversity, and she said that because of it, she has formed a community that allows her to connect and grow stronger with others who suffer from ichthyosis. She now writes for outlets such as The Guardian.
When we asked Findlay why she decided to wade into a thread of Internet commenters just to say her piece, her take was simple.
"I just wanted a voice," she said.