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“Influencers are human beings too,” says Chrysan Lee, punctuating her point with a well-placed swear word for emphasis.

The outspoken 27-year-old influencer doesn’t hold back when talking to The Pride about some of the challenges she has faced over the years.

She has been part of YouTube channel Wah!Banana since 2014 but was more recently in the news for being body shamed after she posted a TikTok video of herself.

@chrysanleeI love this top too much♬ world is spinning – 💌

But instead of being shamed, she turned the tables on the haters instead, exposing the toxic trolls in an Instagram post.

 

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Social media baby

Like other millennials, Chrysan grew up with social media.

Having been exposed to the Internet from a young age — she started blogging since primary school — she was often on social media.

Most people on the Internet would not openly admit to entering cyberspace out of loneliness, but Chrysan easily admits that she was very lonely as a teenager.

She lost her mum when she was 15.

Despite being surrounded by people — her father, three older siblings (two sisters and a brother), relatives and even friends — some forms of loneliness cannot be fixed even with physical company.

Social media baby
Chrysan (in green) and her siblings. On the right, her parents in their younger days. Image source: Chrysan Lee

“I desperately wanted to connect with someone,” says Chrysan.

Her father, Richard “Rocker” Lee, 72, is the most supportive person in her life, she says, but when her mum died of cancer, he was grief-stricken.

“He had just lost the love of his life,” says Chrysan, “it wasn’t easy for us.”

 

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An uncomfortable teenhood

Perhaps it was the grief of losing her mum, or the growing pains of a teenager trying to find herself, but Chrysan had a tough time in secondary school.

In fact, most of her 100k plus followers probably wouldn’t know that she dropped out of school when she was in upper secondary.

The influencer sighs and says: “I didn’t fit in. I didn’t find someone I could fit in with. Everyone already figured out what they wanted and I still didn’t.”

She would wake up crying, dreading having to go to school. And even when she did make it to the school gate, she would just stand outside and sob.

In the end, Chrysan dropped out of school. Her teachers tried to help, even to the extent of going to her home to get her to take the exams when she failed to turn up. Chrysan says she knew her teachers had good intentions but they didn’t understand what she was going through.

She was only 16 then, overwhelmed by uncertainty, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

All she wanted was to connect with someone and get some validation in her growing years.

Her only source of comfort then was the Internet.

She played online games, talked to people in chat rooms and ranted on her blogs and social media platforms.

As the youngest child with a busy working father and older siblings who were busy with their own lives, she had the “freedom to do whatever”, in her own words.

An uncomfortable teenhood
Photos from her childhood show a carefree, close-knit family. Image source: Chrysan Lee

Chrysan admits that she didn’t know exactly what was important to her then.

She didn’t get to properly grieve her mother, she says. She was young and picked up a lot of bad habits.

There wasn’t really anyone to guide her, she says, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. To her family, perhaps the Internet was sufficient to keep her company.

After her mother passed, Chrysan was rarely at home. Even when she was, she was glued to the computer.

At that point of time, says Chrysan, she only wanted two things: One, to avoid pain and two, to find love.

Overwhelmed by her emotions as a growing teenager, she admits that she looked for love in the wrong places.

“There were a lot of bad times,” she says.

Yet, dealing with the consequences of her bad decisions and growing up from her choices impacted her. Constantly getting her heart broken made Chrysan realise that she could be strong and sufficient without another person.

Resorting to the Internet

 

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But life online is not without negativity.

Getting hate comments is common on the Internet. Even more so for influencers, who live in the public eye.

Chrysan has become so used to ignoring the haters that she isn’t fazed by them anymore, she says. It has been all too common for her to open her Instagram and see explicit and vulgar direct messages from strangers.

“Just ignore the hate” is the advice we always get when toxic trolls attack.

Yet as nonchalant as Chrysan has become, some comments (from years ago!) still burn in her memory. One went as far as to say: “Why are you so ill-mannered? Maybe because you don’t have a mother to teach you.”

Yes, pause to let that sink in. Some random nameless stranger on the Internet felt that it was appropriate to bring up the death of her mother just to get the last word.

Most comments seldom get so underhanded, however. They tend to fall into the low-key toxicity that we are used to seeing on the Internet. For example, commenting on her figure when she posted her beach bikini on Instagram.

 

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Some comments try to be funny, while others are spiteful just for the sake of being mean.

And Chrysan’s done with such trolls. “To a normal person, they would get upset (reading these comments). I look at it and it’s just another day,” she says.

Then there are the anonymous social media accounts that post pictures of her and get people to mock her, just for the views.

Chrysan recalls one account that posted an image of her with the caption “Best comment wins an iPhone”. Within hours, the post received thousands of comments — all about her body.

As far as she knows, says Chrysan, no iPhone was given out.

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It isn’t clever or funny or entertaining to body shame anyone, regardless of who they are, influencer or not. Just because someone is used to dealing with toxic comments, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still affect them.

It’s cyberbullying, plain and simple.

Chrysan was with friends when she found out about that post and ended up breaking down in tears, she says.

That was when she found out that she isn’t the only victim on such malicious accounts — other young women were also being targeted by these social media trolls, all in the name of popularity.

Such cyberbullying must not be condoned and Chrysan believes that she can play a role in shifting the conversation in that direction.

She says that she feels responsible for young girls who are victims of cyberbullying.

Chrysan tells The Pride: “I don’t want them (young girls) to feel this way. I regret not speaking up at that point of time. It’s not okay to do that.”

The kind of influence she wants

 

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But she does help in her own way.

Some of Chrysan’s followers would chat with her about their day. Some would rant and let their feelings out, while others might tell her how happy they are.

She realises that there isn’t much an influencer can do from afar, especially if her interaction is only on social media. But talking with her followers has made her realise that each person’s voice has its own significance.

Chrysan wants people to feel part of a real community. That’s why she wants to create a safe space for her followers on social media to speak up and create content that focuses on topics like mental health, body image and effects of social media.

That’s also part of the reason why Chrysan, who works full-time at Wah!Banana as a human resource and talent manager, is pursuing a degree in psychology at Murdoch University.

She completed her O-levels as a private candidate and went on to do a diploma in psychology before her current degree course.

It’s one thing to advocate for mental health, but to study it as a profession is a huge step for Chrysan.

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She says that she has learnt so much in class that she can share with youths on the Internet — like how to feel more confident or simply having the courage to speak up.

In fact, she shares that her course has made her realise that people often suffer from low self-esteem after seeing an influencer’s post.

Being on the Internet for so many years, Chrysan has seen her fair share of people struggling to find themselves. They should know that they’re not alone, she says.

Family support

Family support
Chrysan and her dad celebrating his 70th birthday with the rest of the family. Image source: Chrysan Lee

For Chrysan, her father is the best person in the world.

Her father, Richard “Rocker” Lee is the best listener and the most supportive, she gushes.

Even when she dropped out of school, her dad (who everyone calls “Rocker”) reassured her instead of reprimanding her. He calmly asked her what she wanted to do instead. He didn’t even ask why, he simply just wanted the best for her, she recalls.

Being in the public eye, influencers need a strong support system to survive in the harsh spotlight, which can be overwhelming at times.

 

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A post shared by Chrysan Lee (@chrysanlee)

For Chrysan, her father and her siblings are her safety net.

Her older brother Jiang Yao is a rock, silently comforting her when she needs it.

Sometimes, there is no need to speak; she just sits in his room and his presence is comforting enough.

Sometimes, that’s all a lonely person needs: Acknowledgement that they matter and that people care enough to be there.

But it’s not just family support that keeps Chrysan going. Teased about her love life, she shyly mentions that she has a partner she is really happy with and that her home is almost complete.

Advice to youths

 

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A post shared by Chrysan Lee (@chrysanlee)

When asked what she would say to youths, especially those who want to be influencers, she tells The Pride it’s a three-step process.

First, enjoy yourself. You should do what you like; create content that you enjoy. Use the platform to grow and explore what you want to be but don’t lose sight of your goals.

Second, protect yourself, especially your mental well-being. Be exceptionally careful with sensitive information like your home address and personal phone number.

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Third, re-invest your time and resources into something that you can pay forward to help others. For Chrysan, it is mental health.

Most importantly, remember, something Chrysan wishes she can go back and tell her younger 16-year old self: “Everything is going to be okay. You will be okay.”

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