The Ugly Truth About Being a Woman on the Internet

Zahra Barri
5 min readDec 23, 2022

I’ve always feared posting on social media. I just find it downright embarrassing. But every so often you have to tell the world what you’re up to and that you’re living your best life otherwise people will forget you exist which I think is actually worse than getting cancelled. So, even though I’m aware of the quote that says, “if you have to show people, you’re ok, then you’re not ok”, every so often I post a picture of me ‘smashing’ a gig (I’m a comedian if you haven’t already guessed by this punchy and acerbic opening). Either that or I do Instagram post of the dog in the green room accompanied by a pithy caption such as, ‘tough crowd tonight’. And I’ll be very grateful if there is even one person on the very last page of my IG story that is not my mum or my reply guy.

My posts were perfunctory. Vapid. Vacuous. Forgettable. But like stand up, social media takes a while to discover your voice. And I realised after one of the most spiritually transforming years of my life that I finally had something more to say than, ‘look, I go places and do stuff’ or in the case of getting the comedy industry attention, ‘I get booked at this club’!

My year has been an epic year of intense spirituality. By this I mean I read The Secret and started burning incense. But also, because I started a PhD which is focussing on the western perceived stereotype of the oppressed Muslim Woman. (I am a woman of Muslim heritage but am not a practicing Muslim). As I say I’m more spiritual than religious so use the word ‘universe’ instead of ‘God’ and the word ‘crystals’ instead of ‘angels’ and ‘Jesus fucking Christ’ instead of, well, ‘Jesus Christ’.

Geeking out over my PhD I found out about all these Muslim boss bitches that the west has never heard of, and I realised I could use social media as a vehicle to transmit my PhD research ideas to show the west just how naïve they are about the so called ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman.

So I started doing it and all of a sudden, my posts had purpose.

It was scary at first doing pieces to camera, but with each video I felt more and more confident UNTIL I made a rookie mistake. I LOOKED AT THE COMMENTS.

It seems that to look ugly in a film you get an Oscar, but to look ugly on TikTok you get abusive comments.

I wouldn’t have minded so much but then I started getting comments that I wasn’t just ugly, but I was, and I still can barely say it, I WAS OLD!!! CUE Scream face emoji five million times to all my boss bitch brunch WhatsApp groups. It was quite ironic it seems the large consensus of the comments for my Muslim Feminist videos was that I should cover my face. Even my western girlfriends agreed, they were like, “babe just put a Valencia filter on your face and you won’t get the abuse”. Another boss bitch brunch WhatsApp member pointed out that, particularly on TikTok which was where I was getting most of the abuse from, people aren’t used to seeing real faces.

The body positivity movement it seems are all about real bodies but what about real faces on the internet?

Social media is just a plethora of perfect dolphin skin faces complete with bat wings foreyelashes, bunny rabbit ears and Disney Bambi eyes. I think its really damaging. I’ve started to meet people in real life after first meeting them on social media and its disconcerting AS THEY LOOK COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. What are these unrealistic beauty standards online doing to our mental health?

We’re all about authenticity on the internet but not with our faces…

When I told one of my bezzies that some of the videos I wasn’t even wearing make up and not using an elevated angle to film myself she just shook her head solemnly and said, ‘oh you ver stood a chance with these Muslim feminism videos weren’t you? You were a lamb to the slaughter.’ No Abrahamic pun intended.

But what I found the saddest thing was how much these comments effected my mood. I found myself depressed and desperately googling non-surgical procedures and ordering collogen on amazon. The comments on social media had not just taken my mind but my money too. Because that’s it isn’t it:

The trolls online just perpetuate Consumerism, Capitalism and Cuntism.

The amount my girlfriends are now talking about Botox and fillers is depressing however they are all performers and put their faces on the internet. I get it. In the words of Lily Allen, “its hard out there for a bitch” (online).

And then I look at my male counterparts, their looks are rarely scrutinised. A good friend of mine, a comic called Graham Francis (check him out he’s great) had a TikTok video go viral and he posted to say thank you and that he has read ALL the comments and had enjoyed reading them all. If a woman read all her comments she’d have to check into rehab.

All this has not only made me deeply sad but very angry, why should I have to put a filter on my face so as to not upset men? Why should I even have to put make up on? Its like Florence Given said, “women don’t owe you pretty”. So instead of perpetuating the problem of unrealistic beauty standards I will continue to post filter and quite possibly make up free, hell I might not even brush my hair, and I’ll use a low angle shot to make it look like I have about seven chins (when I only have three) and I’ll stick two hands up to both western and middle eastern patriarchy. Because it might not be fair but all this has proved my point. We have more in common with Muslim women than we do differences. We’re damned if we do or damned if we don’t cover our faces.

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Zahra Barri

Egyptian/Irish Writer/Comic/PhD Student Unbound Firsts 2024 WINNER Pre-Order my novel,Daughters of the Nile https://unbound.com/books/daughters-of-the-nile/