Catch the runaway butterflies

Two months ago, we were shocked, or even dismayed, by a report about the soon-to-be-graduate who took her own life. Heavy criticism ensued. Some even said she deserved to die for being stupid enough to take her life just because her cosmetic surgery had gone wrong.

Some went as far as insulting her university (well, my university, too) for producing short-sighted, shallow graduates. Some comments were too disgusting to mention here.

Of course, people can say whatever they want. They are free to insult anyone and forget about it the next day. But for those at whom insults are directed, these harsh words are not going to go away easily.

The reports said this girl killed herself because she had been disappointed with her post-surgery nose and chin. A lot of my Facebook friends shared the news, with some harshly criticising her action. Admittedly, I would have jumped to the same conclusion that the news reports were trustworthy and accurate, and that whatever they said was true. There was one tiny problem with believing it.

The girl was my sister's friend.

I'd actually heard of her death even before it went viral. My sister and her friends, who were her classmates, insisted that just a few days before the incident, at the graduation rehearsal, she appeared fine, and certainly did not look like a victim of disastrous plastic surgery. My sister said she actually did not notice anything unusual about the girl's face at all, nor did her other friends.

Not that such a personal account matters once placed against reports from so-called professional media. People around me gave the journalists the benefit of the doubt and believed the story even when I tried to give them alternative information.

"But the news said they had asked the girl's brother and he'd said his sister had killed herself because she hated her face after the surgery," they would argue.

Not many people believed me, naturally. I'm only the victim's friend's sister. Who am I to contradict the journalists reporting from the scene? I wasn't there. Of course what I know is just word of mouth. Not reliable at all, compared to news reports by influential newspapers and television channels.

The day after the suicide, news reports in mainstream media revolved around comments, opinions and public censure. Academics and experts came out to say girls these days are shallow and beauty-crazy. Lots of statistics about cosmetic surgery were revealed, interpreted as the fall of our nation. Parents panicked. Teachers lectured their students on the dangers of surgery. Even a few mornings ago, a popular women's chat show still talked about the dramatic rise in demand for plastic surgery and warned about how it could go awfully wrong.

By the third day _ the day after the "Comments Day" _ everything returned to normal, and other incidents made the headlines. In little frames tucked inside some newspapers were reports of the deceased girl's parents' disappointment about the way the story had been horrendously twisted, insisting the cause of their daughter's suicide wasn't a plastic surgery faux pas. Added also was the fact that they had not said anything that had been quoted in the news.

The news turned out that way because of rushed assumptions and the hurried spreading of rumours, perhaps by the police officers on site, or by journalists, or both. Some newspapers and news programmes did not bother to correct their reports at all.

It doesn't sell as much as making the subject appear "stupid" enough to kill herself for something "so trivial".

It is easy to forget what we've said. After all, we say a lot of things each day, in person, on the phone, on social media and on web boards. The more anonymous the comment is, the harsher we tend to be. It's not like we're going to get caught, right? And everyone else is saying the same thing. It's totally justified when we are not on the receiving end of these comments.

Imagine the feelings of this girl's family and friends, who have been traumatised enough by the loss, and further kicked to the ground by false accusations and unfair criticism. The dead girl is not here to defend herself.

Her family and friends aren't given the chance to voice the truth, because without the media's cooperation, it is hard to get wide coverage. While the media are busy bullying someone else, there certainly is not much space left for correcting the wrong assumptions that have been publicly made.

I did not know the girl personally. Even her close friends don't know for sure why this happened. I am not going to be the judge and say what her reasons were, and I don't think it is necessary at this point, when most people's memory of this girl's death is permanently associated with their first impression _ that it was caused by bad surgery.

Words are like butterflies and they fly away. It would be great if those who set them free in the first place would show responsibility.

It might not be time-relevant to still talk about this matter now that it's been two months after the incident, but let it be a reminder for whenever you read something or hear about something.

It might not be true, and hold the harsh criticisms before you are sure you know the truth.

Napamon Roongwitoo is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post

About the author

Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Writer