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Teen Health and Safety

From Bullied Teen to YouTube Star

Photos: Courtesy of Andrew Mcpherson

YouTube personality Bethany Mota has turned her experience of being bullied into inspiration for body positivity and community engagement.

What motivated you to start your YouTube channel?

When I was 12, I experienced bullying for the first time. People from school had made a page about me online that was very degrading and picked apart my physical appearance. Already being shy and insecure, I started looking at my body differently and criticizing myself in ways that I never had before. I felt insecure and unmotivated. It took me a couple months to figure out if I wanted to start my channel or not. I thought, ‘I could put myself out there and get even more criticism.’ But I was in such a bad place, and realized that I had to do something. I didn’t want to let these people control what my life was. When I posted the first video, I didn’t plan on doing it long-term. I didn’t think I’d do it for eight years. But after the second and third video, I slowly started gaining confidence again. I felt like I had a voice. When I’m going through something difficult now, I look back on that situation and say to myself, ‘Remember when you went through this? It was so dark and painful, but it shaped you into the person that you are.’ And it led me to YouTube, which completely changed my life. It really changed my perspective. I could’ve been a bitter, negative person. I could’ve been a bully. But instead, I chose to do something that made me feel good and separated myself from the negativity.

Tell us about your relationship with your fans.

I think what is amazing is that there are so many different people all over the world who watch my videos, but there are so many similarities. There are girls who live on the other side of the world, and they have the same problems that girls here have. I find that to be very inspiring and very comforting. Being on social media, I have to face a lot of criticism from people I don’t even know who have opinions on how I look. My advice to girls is to not allow yourself to feel the pressure to be who society says you should be. That’s where I was for a couple of years. I would go out of my way to look a certain way, to get approval from someone other than myself. When I would get that approval, it would only give me temporary happiness. I’d be alone and wonder, ‘Why am I not actually happy?’ Now I realize that my life is a gift. My body is a gift, and I find it disrespectful to myself to compare my gift to another person’s gift.

What advice do you have for teens and their parents on navigating cyberbullying?

It’s never personal. If someone is trying to bring you down or spread negativity, it’s likely that it’s because they are battling something that’s causing them to lash out. There was a person who used to leave negative comments on everything I’d post. One day I reached out and sent her a kind message. She apologized and told me she was going through something really difficult and taking it out on random people on the internet because it was easy and felt anonymous. It’s almost like bullying can be a cry for help. Now when someone is negative, the last thing I want to do is make them feel more upset. I don’t believe in fighting fire with fire. Focus is really important as well. There’s a lot of negativity online, but there’s also a lot of positivity. Sometimes I’ll have three hate comments and thousands that are positive, and somedays I choose to focus on the negative. But then I realize I’m in control of what I focus on. Whatever we focus on is what we feel, whether it’s true or not.

Why is it important to take breaks from social media?

I like to ask myself, ‘Why am I posting this?’ I don’t think there’s an issue with posting what you do on social media. I think it’s toxic when you get too caught up in trying to appear a certain way or to get approval. I know because I’ve been there. You start to feel like a slave. Suddenly you’re doing things for the sake of how it makes you look online, and you’re not really enjoying the moment. You could go to the beach, but if you didn’t get a good photo, it’s like it didn’t even happen. You might not get a beautiful moment on camera, but you experienced it. Let that be enough.

How can fans incorporate positivity into their own lives?

Every morning when I wake up, I play really loud, happy music and dance around. Habit is so powerful. You can change your negative thoughts into positive thoughts. It’s hard at first, but once you get yourself into a habit and train your mind to think more positively,  it becomes a routine. You are in control of yourself. You cannot control what goes on around you, but you can control how you define things — what they mean to you and how you let them affect you. You don’t have to be the victim of someone’s words. You can change what words mean to you to make yourself happier. 

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