Thursday June 14, 2012
Taking on haters
By JOHN LUI
Depending on who you are, Singapore’s Wendy Cheng aka Xiaxue is a feminist avenger or a symbol of everything wrong with young women today.
TO the Internet mob who called her a “Geylang hooker”, “whore” and “underage prostitute” online for supporting the wrong political party, she looked like a female airhead whose life revolves around make-up, clothes and cocktails.
Boy, did they pick on the wrong gal.
She gave as good as she got, in online rants that over the last two weeks have become celebrated as much for their kick-in-the-crotch deadliness as for their foul-mouthed wit.
Depending on who you are, she might be an emasculating female, an Internet grappler who fights dirty, or a symbol of everything that is wrong with young women these days.
To others, she is a feminist avenger slamming down chauvinist pigs, and a spokesman for anyone criticised for being weird and not having the good sense to be ashamed of it.
For most people over 30, 28-year-old Wendy Cheng (better known as Xiaxue, Mandarin for “falling snow”) is known vaguely as “that blogger”, a middling local Internet celebrity and one-time television host, whose main claim to fame was her looks, a combination of Princess Barbie and anime heroine.
That look, deliberately artificial and attention-getting, paired with how she revels in unabashedly shallow pursuits, is why she is a magnet for “haters”, or people who make it their life’s mission to put others down.
“Oh, I love my haters,” she declares, voice rising. She is sitting in front of the mirror in her home getting, almost literally, dolled up for the photography session to follow.
“I love and hate them at the same time,” she clarifies.
“But I don’t get affected. Because, always and without fail, these people turn out to be losers. Complete losers,” she says, while drawing on eyeliner. She will later glue on eyelashes the size of hummingbird’s wings.
“No one should be bothered by a hater because a successful person will not have the time to write nasty things online, they have better things to do.”
The scrap started last month after photos were posted on the Temasek Review Facebook page of Cheng and two friends, taken without permission from their blogs.
The photos were taken at a People’s Action Party (PAP) rally in Aljunied GRC during last May’s general election. Cheng and a friend had PAP logos painted on their faces.
The Facebook page asked readers for caption ideas. A torrent of vitriol, much of it denigrating the trio’s looks, intelligence and morals, followed.
Cheng hit back in two postings on May 24 and last Wednesday. In the first, Face Of The Haters, she published their public Facebook photos, saying that men who look and write as they do have no right to call others ugly or stupid.
In the second, she defended her actions, responding to those who felt they were excessive. She said she was standing up to bullies.
On that pink PC encrusted in pink Swarovski crystals, or that white Blackberry covered in transparent sequins, she is Sherlock Holmes in pursuit. When she finds her target, she becomes Rambo, all the while with her toes nestled in the fur of pet rabbit Igloo, who likes to rest under her pink Ikea workstation.
She feels that the bile poured on her and her friends by the men on Temasek Review’s Facebook page is a male insecurity issue, not a political one. Through her blog, she has become familiar with the breed of men who gets a kick out of denigrating women. They can snipe anonymously online, she says, saying things they would never say to a woman’s face in real life.
“It comes from the fact that I am very confident and opinionated. And vain. I am not saying they are attracted to me, but they must have been humiliated by women like me in the past. They are intimidated,” she says.
“There are girls online who never express any opinion, who just post racy pictures. These guys love those girls. Those girls will never humiliate them.”
None of the online hatred has ever surfaced in real life, she adds. “They are cowards. No one in real life has ever said, ‘I hate your blog.’ The worst thing I ever encountered was when a group of teenagers said loudly to one another, ‘Aiyoh, she’s so short in real life,’ so I could hear it.”
While most of her detractors’ identities are secret, her life is the opposite. Cheng is that breed of online celebrity who makes a living from a life spent in a glass bubble.
When you live as she does, secrecy will backfire, she says. “The flaws are going to come out anyway. On the Internet, people will always try to find things out. It is almost impossible to hide. Someone will dig it out. So I try to be as transparent as possible.”
Her FAQ page, therefore, is breathtakingly frank. She lists her advertising rates (S$4,000 or about RM10,000) for a YouTube video, for example), what she thinks of those who ask for free advertising (“I OWE YOU NOTHING. And I HATE unabashed people. I cannot emphasise that enough.”), how she met and married Texan engineer Mike Sayre (he saw her picture on her blog in 2005 and was instantly smitten), her feuds with other bloggers, her nose jobs, her tiny frame and her weight, her parents’ divorce, being molested by foreign labourers as a child and why she wants to look the way she does.
When she is not updating her blog (which she does single-handedly, usually late at night, without anyone else checking or editing), she fires off posts on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.
Cheng began the blog in 2003, when she was working as a personal assistant in a doctor’s office. In two years, she was making enough money from the blog to become a full-time writer.
Today, she has over 100,000 followers on Twitter and 300,000 unique visitors to her blog a week. Last week’s fracas doubled that figure – maybe she has a point about loving her haters.
According to her blog advertising agency Nuffnang, around 80% of her readers are aged between 13 and 30, and 67% are female.
A celebration of everything bejewelled, frilly, fluffy, cute, girly and, yes, pink, constitutes the bulk of her blog, written in a breathlessly mood-swinging tone.
It is easy to see why detractors, taking her for a lightweight, gathered in an online stone-throwing mob after seeing photos of her friends and her in PAP-themed make-up.
They need not have bothered. Cheng is a harsh self-critic. She knows why some parents would not want their children to read her blog, that she is vain and attention-seeking, and that she was distracted by a quest for popularity in school (River Valley High School and later Singapore Polytechnic). She admits her English grammar needs work and her pursuit of all things cute is trivial.
“I am shallow. Totally,” she says.
She drops the F-bomb frequently on her blog (10 times in her FAQ alone and 11 times in the two posts excoriating the men who verbally abused her). From her blog, one would expect her to be a hellion in two-inch heels, but in real life, she turns out to be low-key and self-deprecating.
Her mother Doris Yip, 53, a property agent, is a regular reader of her blog and follows her on Twitter. She counts herself as a fan. Yip, too, senses the duality of the hyperbolic, sweary persona of Xiaxue and the Wendy she raised.
“When she writes, she can use that word in every sentence, but when you talk to her, she never uses it,” she says.
Yip has tried to ask her daughter to exercise restraint on her blog, but Cheng told her she would rather quit than be a fake. To Cheng, self-expression is all or nothing, says Yip.
That self-expression now provides a comfortable living, not just from blog advertorial contracts from holiday resorts, online stores and app makers, but also from hosting jobs and videos. She makes as much as, if not more than, her cohorts from the media and communications department at Singapore Polytechnic, she guesses.
The pay varies from month to month, depending on ads. She says she has more than enough requests for advertorials now and has had to turn down offers.
Cheng and her husband, 30, will soon be moving out of temporary digs in Bukit Timah to an HDB executive flat in Lorong Ah Soo (lovingly detailed on her blog, complete with shout-outs to renovation sponsors).
Right now, she says she is uncomfortable with being held up as someone who stood up to online abuse.
She has received positive feedback, though, and takes a stab at what kind of person her supporters think she is.
“A lot of them think that I am the person they don’t dare to be. A lot of them would love to fight back, to stand up for themselves. I have had e-mail messages, encouraging ones, from girls who said, ‘I am meek and have never stood up for myself, but after reading your blog, I think I should.’” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network