The sass-bomb editor at city guide YAMU, co-star of its viral videos, and passionate advocate for women’s rights, is no stranger to being in the public eye. But last summer, she found herself at the centre of a trolling attack when one of those videos was horribly misunderstood. After the initial shock, she didn’t just survive. She thrived.
The digital media landscape is filled with opportunity—viral content grows brands and creates personalities; businesses are no longer bound by geographical barriers; and social media platforms have turned into information-sharing super machines. There’s, of course, the murkier side—one that thrives off cutting people down, the sharing of nude photographs and sex tapes, and generally slanderous actions. Kinita has seen both sides. Responsible for some of YAMU’s most highly shared pieces of content, she was also the recipient of countless death and rape threats, thanks to a video in which she shares her experiences of the bathrooms at Bandaranaiyake International Airport. (Yes, actually.)
Over lunch, she talks candidly about when sh%t hit the fan. “It escalated very quickly from people being a$$h0les to making very vulgar, descriptive threats that felt real—like they actually wanted to do all those horrible things to me. People started tracking my movements, and commenting on which restaurant they saw me, who I was with, and what I was wearing. It’s the weirdest thing to think of people watching you and graphically wanting to destroy your body. That’s how bad it was. I have clarity on it now, but when it first happened, I was horrified. I didn’t go out for a couple of months.”
“A lot of people I hadn’t seen or heard of in my life suddenly claimed to have known me through institutions I never attended. Most comments had the word ‘b***h’ or ‘sl*t’ in them and centered around themes of ‘She’s so ugly’. I never got used to it, but the constant repetitions of the same words did get tedious.”
If that’s jarring to read, then imagine reading them about you over a piece of content that threw no one under the bus (even then…) and that wasn’t a reflection on everyone’s loo experiences at BIA, but was an accurate retelling of hers. How could anyone deem a personal experience to be wrong? Kinita grappled with this, too. But being at the centre of a trolling storm doesn’t often include reasoning. The best way to get over the witch-hunt, as she learned, was by quietly pushing through.
“At the time it was overwhelming,” she says in her direct, concise manner, undiminished and clear-sighted. “It felt like it was never going to end. Then, I realized I needed to grit my teeth and wear it out. In such situations, you just have a couple of drinks and surround yourself with people who contribute to your life. The situation will pass and the haters will move on, you know? Some core part of you just goes, Hang on dude, and so you do.”
Typically, we all have negative biases in that it’s easier for us to remember all the things that went wrong or all the harsh things people say, instead of the good. Kinita and I chat about why we tend to annoyingly value hateful words higher than loving ones. After being constantly called a b***h or a sl*t, I asked her if there was ever a part of her that believed it; after all, even the strongest of us are prone to self-doubt.
“I was forced to do a lot of introspection. I think, a lot of the time, we take our sense of self for granted. But when people keep calling you a b***h, you really have to take the time to think about who you are. Certainly not that, but who? I came away from it with a deeper understanding of myself, and a lot of self-love. I learned to be kind to myself, to recognize when I was having a crap day, but to also pat myself on the back when I did good. As with many of us, I used to rely on other people for affirmation. Now, I only need to look to myself.”
“As annoying and irritating as it was, I never gave into the name-calling. Taking the time to look inward, made me understand that I was actually very comfortable with who I am, and I decided that I wouldn’t let the shaming make me doubt that. I realized with cold clarity that I wasn’t what they were calling me, and that I wouldn’t let a bunch of people on the internet change my self-perception.”
With her trademark smirk, Kinita continues, “I’ve come to the conclusion that people who comment in a hateful manner are usually very uncomfortable with their lives. Hateful comments always come from a place of cowardice. Nobody who’s whole and happy and successful would ever do that. It’s never even crossed my mind to watch a video and decide to comment, ‘You f*****g bitch. Or ‘You’re really annoying.’ I mean, who even….”
“I stopped feeling angry and started to feel sorry for the commentators. After a while, I started to disassociate myself from it. While it seemed like a personal vendetta against me, it actually wasn’t. It was simply a manifestation of that person’s inner ugliness, and that shouldn’t be my problem. So, why was I making it?”
That’s not to say every single comment was a hateful one. There were people vouching for Kinita, calling out the pervs and standing up on her behalf. “In the midst of this hate storm, people would still come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but I love your videos, and I’m so sorry you have to deal with all these hateful comments.’ It really meant a lot to me, because it taught me to not just remember the worst bits, and that there were still really good people out there who weren’t a representation of what I was reading onscreen.”
The incident was, no doubt, one of the hardest things she’s had to go through, but given the clarity and perception she experienced, would she go through it again? She interrupts me almost before I can finish, so sure is she of her answer. No. “I could have attained self-love in other, gentler ways…like listening to Oprah! No one needs to be abused to attain it.”
Okay, but given that she can’t forget, can she forgive? “I don’t think it’s my business to forgive anybody. I’m not that egotistical. They can take their guilt, cruelty and ugliness and deal with it themselves. It’s really none of my business.”
If I think back to particularly tough times in my life, there’s always something that changes inside—you lose some of your naïveté or you cut out habits and people. Whatever it is, there’s a detectable shift. I wanted to know what changed with her.
“The whole experience was draining—you just feel so meh. At the time, I was sobbing and upset, and now I just couldn’t give a sh!t. I’ve learned to stop internalizing everything. I’m a lot more positive now, but also a lot colder, detached and sterile. It’s a state of disengaged compassion that allows me to move on.”
“I’m also more direct with how I’m feeling, and there are certain things I won’t compromise on. Through being kind to myself, I’ve gained much more confidence. I’m a lot more certain of who I am and what I stand for. And it feels great to say, This is who I am. I’m kind of flawed and a little insecure, but this is me. And when someone looks at all that and forms a connection with you, it feels great, because you know they like you for you, and not someone you’re pretending to be. You feel like your core is strengthened.”
With that, she’s off, back to the office and back to slay, her trademark blue-ish green hair glinting in the sun.
This article was originally published as ‘Finding Resilience When The Tide Turns Against You’ in the August 2017 Confidence issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more stories of inspiring women, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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