On the eve of one of the biggest tournaments in golfer Paige Spiranac’s career, she was sobbing on the floor of a hotel room after dealing with cyberbullying.
Spiranac, then 22, had been called the “hottest golfer on the planet,” and because she got an invite to the tournament to bring recognition to the event, not based on her skill, people said she wasn’t good enough to play, and that she was only sexualizing the game.
“It really affected me,” Spiranac told Sports Illustrated. “I was sitting in the bathroom just balling and was like ‘I don’t want to go through this pain, this feel of helplessness. Being alone. Scared.’ And I said I never wanted anyone to feel the way I felt in that moment. How scared I was. How helpless I felt in that I was bullied so bad to the point that I didn’t want to live anymore.”
And this wasn’t the first time she experienced bullying. As a child, Spiranac had a condition that made her hair fall out, and classmates said she looked like a boy.
“I had a lot of health issues growing up,” she said. “On top of the hair condition, I had asthma and bad social anxiety. I was one weird little kid. So I know how it feels to be an outsider, how it feels to be bullied, to have no friends, to be that person no one wanted around.”
Now 24 and in the 2018 SI Swim issue, Spiranac hopes to use this stage to spread awareness about cyberbullying, and her work with the non-profit Cybersmile.
“People of all walks of life are cyberbullied every single day and that’s not okay,” she said. “It’s time we start supporting the victims instead of telling them to delete social media or ignore the hate. It’s time we made a difference, so I’ve dedicated a significant portion of my time to helping others.”
Spiranac knows, though, that posing in just a Wonder Woman-inspired chest plate could open her up to more criticism. But she’s ready for it.
“Even though being in the SI Swimsuit Issue has always been a dream of mine it would be a lie to say that I didn’t think about what the response might be,” she said. “I mean I wear leggings and people say that the way I’m dressed is inappropriate! But in the end, it’s not the opinions of other people that matter — it’s if you’re doing things that make you feel happy, fulfilled, and empowered. You can’t let negativity hold you back from living your life!”
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