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It all started because I did an interview. What I said was completely taken out of context, and I got attacked terribly through social media. It actually really shocked me, because I didn’t expect it and I didn’t think it was as big of a deal as people made it out to be... But sometimes people don’t really even need a reason to hate you, or twist your words and try to make them seem like they’re something that they’re truly not.
I was on tour when it happened, and that made it even worse because I was away from home. It was a really hard time. Being on the road, having to do meet-and-greets, having to do shows, pretending like nothing was wrong when it was such a devastating time for me. It was really toxic for me. I would literally go online and see racial comments about myself, and images of me being edited [to show people] trying to harm me and hurt me in terrible ways. It was really ugly.
I had to step away for a good two months just to remain sane. Even though I was stepping away from the people that I know love me and the fans that are inspired by me, I had to do it for myself in order to be okay. And I just had to cope with it. It’s one of those things where there’s nothing you can really say or do to feel any better. You kind of just have to experience it, which I did for myself.
I’d be lying if I said that that [leaving the tour] didn’t run through my mind. Not necessarily quitting the group, but I wanted to go home. All I wanted to do was feel safe, go crawl in my bed and be in my house with people that genuinely know my heart. Where I really got my strength truly during that time was my family. My best friend came out on the road, because she knew everything I was going through and that I needed her. My mom was on the road. Me and my dad, we would be on FaceTime, and it was really hard for him to see me as sad and depressed as I was. He would start crying just seeing me hurting. It was very devastating. I'm very grateful for my family — they were my crutch during that time.
Social media has such a significance in today’s generation. It’s influenced the way that we think and the way that we speak to each other. And I think that it takes away from us being sensitive as human beings with one another... People don’t understand that words are just as harmful as being physical with somebody. It just creates an awful space for hate — which sucks, because [social media] can also be used for good.
My advice to young women is keep yourself surrounded by amazing people that you genuinely feel confident and comfortable with, and people that help remind you who it is that you are truly. Try to silence everybody else’s voice and listen to your own. And if it takes you stepping away [from social media] and putting yourself first, then do just that. That’s what I had to do, and it was the best decision that I made. Don’t start believing what people are telling you. It took me a while [to learn how to do that]. Ultimately, I came out even stronger. I’m sad it had to happen that way in order for me to be as strong as I am now.
People that hate so much and make it a point to hurt other people are genuinely unhappy with themselves. For every action, there is a reaction. So in the beginning, whether it’s been their childhood or them getting bullied, they take it out on other people. [I would tell them to] find security with yourself, love yourself. There’s just no need to hate — you’re only hurting yourself. There’s too much going on in the world, especially now, to focus on that.
Look at yourself in the mirror and say, are you truly happy with who you are? What do you have to offer to the world? Put your energy toward something else. We have such an incredible tool, social media, to educate our youth, to keep up with worldly issue or politics, or whatever is special to you, or whatever makes you happy. Use that for good, as opposed to abusing it and taking it for granted — making it an ugly thing, an ugly experience for everybody.
— As told to Carolyn Todd