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The Day I Met the Internet

Asst. News Editor

Published: Thursday, February 2, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11


Spectrum file photo

Has this changed your opinion of Lisa Khoury's initial column?

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I woke up today and had 938 hate mails, 646 nasty Facebook comments, and dozens of mean-spirited tweets.

I'm a 19-year-old college sophomore, I help run my family's restaurant, I'm a writer and editor at my school's newspaper, and a woman from Australia says I'm "sexist." A professor from the University of Illinois wonders about my mental stability. A man double my age is calling me "ugly."

In the past 48 hours, authors, war veterans, mothers of small children have told me I'm ignorant, worthless, brainwashed, classless, disgusting, hypocritical, and judgmental.

A man from New Zealand called me bigoted, self-righteous, conservative rubbish. Twenty-one emails within the last 24 hours addressed me as a cunt. My inbox was flooded with dozens of men and women who called me a dumb bitch, and one man only sent me two words: "stupid cow."

These people I have never met attacked my family and how I was raised. They accused me of trying to play God, and one woman even told me I reminded her of Hitler during the Holocaust.

My crime?

I wrote an opinion piece about tattoos for Monday's Spectrum. As a female, I took the woman's stance and said I'm beautiful without a tattoo.

My piece served as a counterpoint to my colleague's column about why she loves tattoos.  My piece went viral online.

Blogs devoted to tattoos featured it, tweeted it, posted it and decried it as sexist and everything that is closed-minded about America today.

In 48 hours, my article got 25,000 hits, which is a new Spectrum record. It made it on over 200 Facebook statuses and was all over the Internet, including on tumblr, and

My journalist friends told me not to worry. All readers are good readers, they said. Bad news is good news.

I'm not so sure.

 "Lisa Khoury, you're what's wrong with the world," one site read. And "News editor says tattoos are classless and worthless."

All this hate has shaken me.

I never meant to be vindictive toward an entire subculture. That's why its response was so unexpected to me. Its words were different; it wanted to eviscerate me.

I am sorry to anyone who took my words as a personal attack. I am sorry to anyone who felt disrespected in any way. This column was meant to express my opinion and explain how I live, not to tell you that my way of life is in any way superior to yours.

I was misinterpreted. These strangers have slowly and in the most painful way possible ripped me to shreds within the past 48 hours.

Their hate will be tattooed in me for a long time, but only as a learning lesson.

I'm still learning about journalism, and this was my first-ever opinion column. I wrote the column, entitled, "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?" because my colleague asked if I wanted to counter her column.

Our articles ran side by side. Some of the people who hate me so much attacked me for not showing the other side of the argument about tattoos. That wasn't my job.

Many points, especially about feminism, were taken out of context and turned into something demeaning. My point about my body having "the ability to turn heads" stemmed from the fact that I wasn't the healthiest teenager, so when I learned more about health and fitness after high school, I found meaning in that. Not because I was becoming skinnier (for the record, I in no way find myself slim), but I found that I was setting goals for myself, and, for once, achieving them. I felt happier because I felt healthier. Each day I felt like I would live a longer life, and my future kids wouldn't have to worry about their mom dying from smoking cigarettes or not exercising regularly, the way I worry about my parents.

The whole clothes thing? Well, when I lost weight, yeah, I was actually interested in dressing myself for once. Do I wear tight fitted clothes every day to school for the aesthetic, sexual pleasure of the men around me? Eww. I wore the same jeans for about 17 years and recently discovered there are other styles out there for me to try out, I guess what I was getting at was perceived as something much more shallow to my readers.

My tattoo column, along with its counter point, was supposed to generate a discussion about tattoos. That's what journalism does. It continues the conversation people are having among themselves – at least that is what my instructors say.

But no one was conversing about my points. Instead, they were taking certain lines out of context, and it was no longer a conversation, but an appalling backlash.

This horror of a week has taught me life-long lessons. First, I said hello to the power of the Internet. My column – ripped from its context next to my colleague's – became something entirely different online. And I – a reserved, thoughtful college student – became faceless. That made me an easy target for people's rage.

For the record, not a single mean comment came from readers of the paper. No one wrote hateful messages to The Spectrum. It all came from outside. And it all came directly at me.

That leads me to the second thing this week has taught me, a lesson about the power of words. If my words hurt people enough to generate an entire subculture to attack me personally, then how did I make them feel?

If I had the column to write over again, would I do it differently? Sure. I'd keep my argument, but I'd be more careful about phrasing. I'd try not to sound judgmental or sound as though I'm sitting on my high horse. I know now how effective words can be and how artfully they should be chosen.

I also know how much pain words can cause. People often say journalists are callous. Not me. Never me. Not after this.

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Fri Feb 3 2012 23:38
"the woman's stance"

OH REALLY? You do not represent anyone but yourself.

Fri Feb 3 2012 23:00
i found your previous tattoo article to be personally hurtful. it peeked my interest on a popular tattoo blog. after reading what little i could through the posted thumbnail, i was curious. i did not enter into your article with the intention of leaving slightly hurt. nor did i have the intention of even leaving a comment.

the phase, "I get it. It's the 21st century. You're cool, you're rebellious, you're cutting edge, you have a point to prove, and you're a woman. Awesome." alone was enough to irritate me and intrigue me at the same time to finish your article. i am not writing to you to say anything of poor choice toward you or defend feminism or anything else. i am just simply trying to reply to you as a reader of an article that expressed an opinion against the person who read it.

i am a heavily tattooed 26 year old woman. with that said, i am sure an image has instantly popped into your mind's eye. please, take that image and completely throw it away. i live my life, every day, answering questions, to anyone who feels bold enough to open their mouth, about my choice of tattoos. i commonly hear things like, " you will never get married," or " no one will ever love you, " or " your children will be embarrassed of you." one time i even had a lady offer to pay for my lunch because she assumed i had no money becausse i "obviously cant hold down a job looking like that, now can you?" to which i had to respond that i was actually self employed, and honestly, most likely made more per year than she did.

i was raised in the church. i went to church twice a week. i went to a private christian school. my grandmother is the chairman of the board at her church, in which she also supports and fights for the food pantry she started. i grew up in a dry home .my mother volunteers at the homeless shelter, and i helped her prepare the meals she brought with her. before i moved out, we ate family dinners together. i spent every weekend with my grandmother, my aunt, my cousins. we are a very close, very tightly knit family.

in the event that one day i do have children, i would like to instill in them the love of God and how we need to love each other. i find that tattoos would be a much smaller distraction than that of someone who is dressed to be " drooled over." the outward reflection isnt always a mirror to one's insides. i completely understand that there are people who have tattoos and act classless. the tattoo didnt make them classless. the person made themselves classless.

you cant blame the tattooed community for making you "faceless." the same was done to us in your article. to use a cliche, " we are all individual snowflakes." the only seeming difference is that we, the chosen tattooed, make it very obvious, daily, that we stand by what we feel and say by wearing it on our skin. you dont have to apologize to us. yes, it was a very poorly written and very misinformed article, and without giving you the excuse that youre young, it was your opinion.

my feelings were hurt, sure, but its this article was just another notch on the wall to the things people will think to say to me because of the colour of my skin.

Fri Feb 3 2012 22:45
Lisa, I'm sorry you were attacked, the Internet is full of people not afraid to voice their feelings. That said, what you wrote insulted a lot of people and while I'm sure you're a fine young woman, you really have to be careful what you say and you should rethink how you might be poorly judging people.
Fri Feb 3 2012 22:23
You're not faceless, Lisa. Go to tumblr and type in your name; you're a meme now. People knew who they were reacting to. I'm sorry that folks were so personal with their attacks, but heck... maybe you're taking their words out of context? (see what I did there?)
Fri Feb 3 2012 21:42
Dumb bitch.
Fri Feb 3 2012 21:36
Tattoos are personal, trying to argue that is rediculous. If its not your thing, its not your thing. Whats said to do instead of getting tattooed, is equally arguable to fitting into a trend...doing things for yourself is personnal! What you decide to do is on you, saying/implying it shows no class, is an insult. Nice of you to try and apologize
Emily Stallings
Fri Feb 3 2012 20:14
I hope you genuinely mean everything you've written in this column, and I feel very sorry that you were so personally attacked because no one deserves that. (Although many people felt attacked by your article, attacking back is extremely counterproductive and hypocritical.) Yes, I think your words were taken out of context, and that you probably didn't intend to sound harsh or judgmental. God, I remember being 19. I was SO shy and felt so out of place, yet I felt so in charge of my life and certain of myself. It's been nearly 10 years since then, and let me tell you, those 10 years were the most emotional growing I have done in my life. I look basically the same, but inside I am so different. I suspect you have the same kind of growing to go through. I don't mean that in a mean way, but that I think you are still naïve and unaware of the kind of impact you have. And that's okay! You're 19! I hope that you've learned something from this experience, and, don't worry, it'll die down in about a week after the Internet finds something else to be pissed about. I hope that I'm right in taking your apology as genuine. Don't give up writing, and don't give up your opinions, just, maybe, be a little more mindful of how you say things.
A woman, and tattooer of women
Fri Feb 3 2012 19:53
Your apology doesn't say you regret what you did, it says you regret having the women you were writing about see it. As a tattooed woman, and tattooer of women, (this article was also passed around in a female tattooist facebook group I follow) I won't berate you with the shameful stance of your first article any more than necessary. I'm sure you've already heard all about that. But saying your article wasn't sexist is hugely insulting. There are many female artists out there (and male artists too) who work very hard to do quality work and stand up for the truth that tattooing is not any more or less acceptable for women than it is for men. Women aren't an exception to tattooing because their bodies aren't especially meant for others to enjoy any more than men's are. A huge amount of this backlash is because degradation of any type of woman (like a third of women in your age group who have tattoos) sets us all back. You don't sound sorry for setting womenkind back, you sound sorry for getting caught and getting yelled at for it.
Fri Feb 3 2012 18:26
The original column that you wrote was just as filled with judgment as the responses you received. You state that your remarks were taken out of context, however, I read the entire article and found nothing but uninformed ideas about women who are tattooed. Your piece was an opinion, which is fine However, if you post something like that and it hits a public forum, you will most definitely receive other people's opinions in return. If you plan on being a journalist, you will need to develop a thicker skin because people will always disagree with you. If you plan on casting judgment about people's lifestyles, people will judge you in return. That being said, your original article is coming from a place of ignorance and supercilious "morality" and not from any sort of actual knowledge. You discussed nothing about the downsides of tattoos other than not fitting YOUR mold of conventional attractiveness. Because of this, I feel you ended up receiving some well-earned vitriol from the masses whom you have decided to pigeonhole as having some sort of morality issue because they choose to express themselves in a way that is different than what you choose for yourself.
Fri Feb 3 2012 18:22
"And I - a reserved, thoughtful college student - became faceless."

How exactly were you "faceless" in this scenario? Your picture and name are plastered at the top of the article for all to see. You're acting like such a victim, when you're the one who victimized the masses with your horrible writing and sexist ideas. And I don't think anyone who is truly thoughtful would write such a narrow minded, hateful piece of trash. The fact that it was in response to another article has nothing to do with your article being awful and upsetting.

Fri Feb 3 2012 17:57
Ok. Here it is without a novel.

Attacking your looks, your family, things that don't have to do with the article? That's childish nonsense. Ride a train, Drive a major road, go to a grocery store in any city in America... People are childish idiots.

Now as far your article.... Your uninformed 19 year old opinion was laughable. I myself read the article and sent it around because i thought it would be good for a laugh. I didn't send hate mail...

Also this is a half-assed apology where you play the victim card for paragraph after paragraph.
Journalism isn't for everyone. If you open your mouth in a public forum you had better be sure about what you are saying.

Your apology read about like this:

I'm sad people are mean on the internet....but I'm still uninformed and small minded. It's tough to be me.

Journalism just may not be for you......

M. Russell
Fri Feb 3 2012 16:44
I appreciate that Ms. Khoury did not expect such an overwhelming response, and I do not feel she deserved the level of vitriol she got, even if I was one of the people writing her a stern email. People should have been kinder, more understanding, since she is young and has a lot to learn about the world. Clearly she has already learned an important lesson this week. Still, this apology leaves something to be desired; her article did demonstrate sexist, body-shaming themes and her tone was judgmental. I don't think that's taking anything "out of context". I do hope that this has taught her to grow as a person and as a journalist and that she will do better in the future. Best of luck to you, Ms. Khoury.
Fri Feb 3 2012 16:28
This apology is as ignorant and half hearted as the original article. I can't believe that as a journalist she would present only her half of anything she writes. Half truths are just as good as lies as most people know. Ontop of everything she is 19, her oppinion hs the same undertone of someone twice her age who grew up in a different society where the values she's presenting are commonplace.

I however still think this is a back handed apology and a half hearted attempt at saving face....pathetic.

Fri Feb 3 2012 15:32
She apologizes for being taken out of context and having an opinion, not because her argument was fallacious, self-pious, and sexist. Her apology rings hollow because she's not really apologizing, just whining about how poorly she was treated by the internet mobs. I agree, attacks on her appearance, gender, etc are off topic and do not add to the argument while threats to her are beyond inexcusable. Attacks on her ability to write a cogent argument (even as a fledgling writer) are valid.
Fri Feb 3 2012 15:26
You're a 19 year old and you wore the same jeans for 17 years? You were a HUGE 2 year old.

Learn how to proofread.

Fri Feb 3 2012 13:30
there is very little i can add to the thoughtful reactions and responses you've received here, other than my support of their statements. your piece should never have been published as it stood, whether it was a response to another piece or not. as it is is written, it sounds judgemental and sexist, buying into the contrived "ideal" woman image and suggesting that explaining to one's grandchildren what your tattoos really mean is evidence of no morals or values... you are young, and hopefully this experience has taught you something of value not just for your writing, but for your life and how you conduct yourself, particularly with individuals so clearly of a different "culture" than yourself.
Fri Feb 3 2012 12:37
Lisa, it's too bad you are dealing with a subculture that apparently is too hypersensitive to tolerate any disagreement with tattooing. People may disagree on any fashion trend or personal statement, whether it be sporting a mullet or a mohawk, a deep tan or black lipstick, ripped jeans or multiple piercings, business attire or high-waisted pants. In the end, why isn't it enough to just shrug and say, "Sorry you don't like it, but that's me"? The name-calling and personal attacks due to a difference in opinion are unwarranted and immoral. Lisa, you didn't deserve any of that.

To the extent that people are critical of the substance of the opinion itself, the reasoning or the writing, that is a different matter. Kudos to everyone who can express disagreement and keep it civil.

Jess Mastri
Fri Feb 3 2012 11:22
I read your article because it was posted on a friend's site. I pointed out to all in that thread that your article was a co-op piece with Bratek's article and you were obviously each supposed to represent a side of a debate. That being said, I read them both and your articles were poorly constructed debate pieces. This is a valuable, but painful lesson to learn as a young writer. I'm sorry you were attacked personally, but I think you must take some the thoughtful responses into consideration and give careful thought to what you are writing in the future. I don't think there's anything worse in journalism than writing to convey a message and missing your point entirely. I believe you were an easy target because you didn't see how outrageously sexist and close-minded your article sounded, even if that isn't how you meant to sound. No one knows what you mean to say unless you clearly say it.
Let's be clear: it seems the backlash wasn't about tattoos (it wasn't for me.) It was about the ugly portrait you painted of what a woman is and should strive to be. It doesn't matter if your view is different- the view your words conveyed is what people were so offended by. That's your greatest responsibility as a journalist: make your point clear. Whether it's an opinion piece or a news piece.
Your rebuttal sounded like a pity-party to me. You don't need to explain your personal life and try to get these people to like you or feel bad about calling you names. Ignore the stupid hate mail and focus on the lessons- it can only help you grow as a writer, right? Write the piece you meant to write the first time, and you won't have to follow-up trying to explain what you really meant in another article. I still don't even think you understand why your words were offensive...
Fri Feb 3 2012 11:01
Sorry, not hiding. forgot to enter it in my post below.
Fri Feb 3 2012 11:00
As I have stated in previous comments, I believe you are entitled to your opinion of people with tattoos, that's not and never has been my issue. My issue was your argument for your point. I don't care what you are against, tattoos, piercings, what kind of car people drive, what people eat for lunch, etc, those are your opinions, and you are entitled to them.
BUT, your statements on buying clothes at the mall, going to the gym, and getting your haircut as the correct alternative prove that the American media is doing it's job properly by making young women feel that the way they look on the outside is the only thing that is important. That's great that you lost weight, the amount of overweight and obese people in America is another huge problem. However, did you do it to be healthy? Or did you do it so you could fit into designer clothes and fit in with other girls?
After all that, you dare question the morality of people with tattoos. Again, I point out it's not about the tattoos. I am saying it because it's the point you used.
I understand now how young you really are and that you don't have a lot of experience out in the real world yet, but I hope that SOME of the reactions you got open your eyes to a certain mindset that can be very damaging if taken beyond the confined walls of college. It is shallow minded to the person that holds the view, and it can be extremely damaging to those not strong enough with who they are to see how shallow it is. My case in point, pre teen and teenage girls (and boys) who are struggling with their identity.

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