Florence Pugh takes to Instagram to protest cyberbullying

Actress defends Instagram as a place for positivity

There can be few people left in the world who don’t stan Florence Pugh. A phenomenally talented actress, she first appeared in cult hit The Falling, and was most recently seen in Little Women. She brought a pragmatism and charm to her portrayal of Amy that won many people over to the oft-disliked character. With a starring role in the next Marvel movie, Black Widow, we will hopefully see plenty more performances from her in the coming years. Now, she has taken to IGTV to defend the positivity of her Instagram page against an onslaught of negative comments, and given us yet another reason to love her.

Pugh’s Instagram page is a thing of real beauty (and not just hers). Since the start of coronavirus lockdowns she has been hosting detailed cook-alongs in her stories, bringing dry humour and charm to simple but tasty recipes like butternut squash soup. Before this her page was already imbued with a sense of honesty and authenticity that most ‘celebrities’ try hard yet fail to propagate. Excited captions about the spectacular clothes she gets to wear sit alongside pictures of her dog walks and goofy photos with hilarious captions. I don’t tend to follow that many celebrities, but there is something about Pugh’s ‘realness’ that makes her hard to resist. Her journey as a cactus-mother alone is worth the follow.

But things took a sadly negative turn when she posted a photo of her boyfriend, Zach Braff, with a joyful caption, in celebration of his birthday. The two have been dating since early 2019, and have been dogged by criticism on account of their age gap. Pugh is 24 and Braff is (now) 45. Essentially and absolutely this is none of our business. They are both consenting adults, and who they choose to date is nothing to do with us. I can understand that some people feel emotionally involved in the relationship, feeling a false sense of closeness to the individuals in it. I also cannot claim to always have felt comfortable with large age gaps. You can’t help but feel that, say, a 20 year old probably shouldn’t be going out with someone in their mid-thirties. However, a motto I live by is this: ‘other people’s relationships are a mystery’. No matter how well we think we know the people and the world we live in, none of us can ever truly know the relationship between two people. We can guess, but we’ll never experience that relationship, and therefore cannot know what they are bringing each other. It is certainly not our place to judge, in our own lives, or in the lives of people we see in the media. Other people’s relationships are, and should remain, a mystery.

Other people’s relationships are, and should remain, a mystery.

Pugh’s post was met with a slew of negative comments, so many that she disabled commenting for the first time. She then took to IGTV to make an impassioned defence, not of her relationship, but of her Instagram page as a place of positivity and respect. She emphasised that she has never done anything to encourage negativity, and that particularly in times such as these when we should be coming together it was disappointing to see people engaging in what she rightly characterised as cyber-bullying. She ended by stating that she is, of course, a grown woman – a tacit acknowledgement and dismissal of the nature of the comments she was receiving.

It is really sad that Pugh was forced to make such a statement, but in some ways I’m glad she did. The much talked-of ‘distance’ that social media provides makes people all too happy to make mean remarks or share harsh opinions on Instagram. When your comment is one of thousands posted on someone’s image you might think you have some kind of anonymity. But Pugh’s post is a timely reminder that your comment, however mean, is likely to be read by a real person, with real feelings. People are inclined to believe that individuals in the public eye are immune to criticism, different types of creature at one remove from the ‘real’ world. But they are just as much a part of it as the rest of us. As she put it, if that is the kind of content you want to put out into the world, please kindly unfollow.

Pugh’s post is a timely reminder that your comment, however mean, is read by a real person

But beyond the specific message about cyber-bullying, it is great to see someone standing up for Instagram as a place of positivity. Instagram, like all social media, can encourage toxic patterns of behaviour, and it has been shown to be the platform most damaging to mental health. However, it can be a real force for good. If used carefully, it can offer happiness and comfort, especially at present when we need small joys and simple pleasures more than ever. Pugh’s assertion that her Instagram page will be a source of positivity and strength is a welcome one.

In more ways than one, we need to be more like Pugh. We need to use our social media mindfully and positively. There is nothing to be gained, and plenty to be lost, by treating it as a well into which our negative thoughts can be thrown. Let’s remember the person on the other end of the post, staring back into their smartphone as you type into yours. You could say that we need to ‘be the Instagram we want to see in the world’. We could all have a much nicer time online if we did.

How would you characterise your relationships with Instagram? Do you find it a positive place or do you see a lot of the negativity that is associated with it? And, of course, just how lovely is Florence Pugh? As the kids say, ‘we have no choice but to stan’.

You can check out my Instagram below: in the spirit of this post I’ve included one of my favourite and most cheerful images!

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