It opened her eyes to the toxicity of social media.
Actress Julia Roberts was late to the game when it came to joining social media, so she was blown away when she finally saw first-hand how toxic it could be. She started an Instagram account in June of 2018 and, shortly after, was the target of trolls mocking her appearance in a post by her niece.
Roberts was upset about the negative comments people made about her looks and then was gutted when she considered social media's effect on young women. In a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey for Harper’s Bazaar, Julia recounted the story.
“Although something did happen recently on my niece Emma’s Instagram that I think taught me a lot about what it’s like being a young person in today’s society. One weekend morning Emma slept over, and we got up and were having tea and playing cards and having this beautiful morning, and then a couple of days later, she posted a picture of us,” Roberts recalled.
“And the number of people who felt absolutely required to talk about how terrible I looked in the picture—that I’m not aging well, that I look like a man, why would she even post a picture like this when I look that terrible!” she continued. “And I was amazed at how that made me feel. I’m a 50-year-old woman and I know who I am, and still my feelings got hurt. I was sad that people couldn’t see the point of it, the sweetness of it, the absolute shining joy of that photo. I thought, ‘What if I was 15?’”
Beauty influencer Samantha Marika combined the audio of Julia telling the story, added it to the candid photo of her and Emma, and posted it to Instagram, and it went viral.
Julia’s concerns about teenage mental health aren’t unfounded.
A 2022 report by Pew Research shows that online bullying is pervasive among teenagers and looks are a common target. “Nearly half of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, with physical appearance being seen as a relatively common reason why,” the report said. “Older teen girls are especially likely to report being targeted by online abuse overall and because of their appearance.”
Even though online bullying is common, those who watched Marika’s video were disturbed by what happened to Roberts and her young niece.
“Before I listened to the whole thing I thought to myself how wholesome this photo was that the two of them are playing cards and look so happy! People are really sad and depressed that they wanna judge on how someone should look it’s the saddest thing about humans. We can’t even see joy anymore,” ChantsBoomBoom wrote in the comments.
Even though Roberts was disturbed by the comments she saw on Instagram, she’s glad that it helped her grasp what’s happening to young people online.
“I was so happy that happened because I had this whole new glimpse into a way of living that I didn’t get at all,” she told Winfrey. “You have to go through things to understand them, and this was just a little paper cut of what can really go on with social media.”