We all grew up with them. The mean, spiteful scribblings on toilet doors and walls at schools. Name calling, rude drawings and cruel slurs.
But while bullies have always been around, there’s no doubt the world of the internet has changed everything.
Now, horrible scrawls seen by a few dozen people are instead seen by potentially millions… with others then joining in the abuse.
Katie Piper knows this more than many after putting up with vile comments online since she was left badly injured in an acid attack.
The TV presenter and campaigner says: “As soon as I had an internet presence I was trolled all the time. It’s the modern version of the toilet wall at school. I always say, ‘hurt people, hurt people’. I’m really glad I don’t come from that place of anger and hurt.”
Dave Benett/Getty Images)
It’s typical of the 38-year-old, who is known for her calm courage – and as a powerful advocate for body positivity and those living with facial differences.
She does not just let the abuse slide however. Last year she took the brave step of answering back – addressing an anonymous poster who made vile comments about her directly, following a TV appearance.
Katie reveals she felt it was important to stand up to the cruelty, for herself and others who are vulnerable.
She adds: “I get something every day and sometimes it is good to challenge people’s views. It’s really disappointing.”
That is not to say there are not other answers.
Katie says: “If social media had a policy where you use your passport to sign up and you get verified and you can’t be an egg and abuse people, then we might see some change.”
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The star, honoured with an OBE in February for the charity work she does through the Katie Piper Foundation, adds: “I dread doing mainstream stuff like the news. Who is anybody to comment on someone’s appearance? It’s not up to you to do that.”
Katie was speaking as part of an intimate but upbeat chat with Carol Vorderman, host of an exciting new podcast launching tomorrow.
Extraordinary People – the Pride of Britain aims to inspire and uplift listeners, bringing together winners from the Mirror’s Pride of Britain awards, experts and celebrities to talk about the moments that made them, and their attitudes to life.
Katie opens up about everything from coping with serious injury, being a mum and her early days as a mobile beautician, where she enjoyed an encounter with fame – massaging TV medic Dr Hillary Jones.
She tells Carol using her platform to help others has been central to her incredible life journey – and one of the reasons she hit back at the trolls.
Katie adds: “That one person is having a ripple effect on thousands of people.
“When you go on telly and that’s the reaction, you’re just showing people, who aren’t at your stage that’s what can happen. In the beginning it was crushing, my self-esteem was really low but I’m not in that place any more and I can cope with it.”
Thankfully, attitudes towards people who look different or live with a disability are changing – and Katie has played a part in that, although her own recovery is ongoing.
She adds: “I’ve had surgery this year, it’s never really stopped. Rather than learning to live with it, a turning point comes when the injury has to live with you, you get back out there and it doesn’t get in your way.
“For the first few years you have to surrender to the injury and let that lead for a bit. On the whole, the world has changed for the better, we are seeing more diversity, more representation.”
When she suffered an acid attack in 2008, aged 24, things felt very different.
An aspiring TV presenter, living in London she spent months in hospital being cared for by a dedicated medical team and her family, including parents David and Diane.
She says: “I had lost my eyesight, had burns, I’d lost parts of my oesophagus and had internal damage.
“When you see the words written on paper that you’re disabled, you must apply for disability benefit, that feels quite final.
“And when you’re in your 20s disease, disability, sickness, it’s so sudden. You kind of have to go on a spiritual journey. So when you look at what disability is in society, 15 years ago, it’s placing very limited expectations on people.
“They don’t say that disabled people are attractive or sexy, we don’t say they’re CEOs or trailblazers or ambitious. I’m in the very privileged position, I’m from a very stable family… up until it happened to me I’d never experienced any real pain or trauma.
“So when it did happen they were there straight away and they literally, physically, never left my side. When your world’s turned upside down, it’s stability and consistency that will help you rebuild it.
“When it’s something visual, like a facial disfigurement, going out in public’s really hard. There were some lovely ways people reacted, the small smiles, a nod of the head.
“That feeling that as a whole we’re pretty decent people and that’s really reassuring. That helps your mental recovery as well as the physical.
“Massive credit to the general public, they really got behind me.
“You guys at the Mirror, Pride of Britain got behind me.”
Katie, who appeared on Strictly with dance partner Gorka Marquez in 2018, won a Pride of Britain Award in 2012 for her remarkable courage and honesty and the work she does with her foundation.
She says: “I still have the award on the shelf, it’s still part of my life. It was fantastic for the charity, it was a really helpful platform. I felt a bit worried and scared.
That was the first time I wore red lipstick. It to make me feel comfortable. I thought, ‘People are gonna stare, so let’s give them something to look at’.”
Now a mum of two, Katie’s hard-won positivity is something she strives to share with others.
She says: “I started to work on that belief that resilience is something we all have. The pedestal of being inspirational is a bit of a facade.
“We’ve all got that in our core, we just usually don’t tap into it until it’s the only choice we have left. The outside is absolutely changed on me, the inside is being quite battered and challenged but I am still me. You always have your soul intact.”
Family life has always been important to Katie. She lives with husband James and daughters Belle, eight, and four-year-old Penelope.
In typical Katie style, her next venture is about supporting others – a children’s book, aimed at boosting self-esteem for pre-schoolers.
She explains: “It’s called All You Need, about the qualities that a child needs to be happy and confident.”
*Extraordinary People – the Pride of Britain podcast is launched today, available weekly on the Global platform, Apple, Spotify and Amazon.