There’s been a disturbing amount of unrest in horror circles over the past few months, as fans seem to be turning on one another for a variety of reasons (most of which I won’t get into here). But amid all this controversy lies an all-too-often overlooked issue that tragically continues to rot away at the heart of genre fandom: I’m talking about the “culture of shame” that on the surface seems counter-intuitive in a group normally praised for its tolerance and diversity, but exists nevertheless — and appears to be intensifying with each passing day.

As a straight male, I feel awkward discussing a systemic problem that is predominantly targeting women in the horror world. Am I part of the problem? Am I talking out of school here? Hopefully not… but in any case, I can’t ignore the unsettling pattern I’m seeing among horror fans.

Just this week I was reminded of the severity of this issue after reading a haunting blog post from the popular cosplayer, reporter and web-celeb best known to horror fans as “Darcy the Mail Girl,” a.k.a. Diana Prince, on Shudder’s hit series The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs.

Image: AMC/Shudder

The entry, titled “Fake Parts, Real Heart,” lays bare a deep-seated prejudice that plagues so many fan communities: the emotionally abusive trend of body-shaming, which is almost entirely directed toward women and mostly perpetrated by men. Darcy addresses her long history with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), which she has experienced since childhood, and explains how her physical appearance was scrutinized and criticized by her own parents. Her own sense of self-worth was constantly sabotaged by her classmates, who went to elaborate lengths to humiliate her — especially after realizing no adults would come to her aid.

That last part is what tore into me the most: being a scrawny, nerdy, naïve kid raised by ultra-conservative, over-protective parents, I spent the better part of my adolescent years in a never-ending hell of physical, emotional and even sexual abuse by classmates, often with the tacit approval of teachers and other adults. I still bear the scars, both inside and out, and I fear if I hadn’t gone through a major sophomore growth spurt and taken up martial arts, I might not even be alive to write these words.

But regardless of my own history, this is where I have to acknowledge my own privilege: after all, my own bullying stopped virtually overnight, but Darcy’s personal hell continued into adulthood, and is still going on today — mostly thanks to the double-edged sword that is social media.

“The first time I realized online bullying was a thing was in 2006,” Darcy writes, describing an incident that year when she was a reporter for Music+ TV and found herself kicked out of the E3 convention — and reported to the police — for wearing a slightly revealing Wonder Woman costume.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it… not by a long shot.

Image: AMC/Shudder

After Darcy posted a video disputing the E3 rejection and arguing for equal and fair treatment among fellow cosplayers, the avalanche of online insults began… and they never stopped. When she began her career in the adult industry (under the name Diana Prince), she soon realized how petty, hostile and hateful people — mostly men — could be when confronted with a body type they found less than “perfect.”

Leaving that phase of her career behind didn’t seem to change much in the way of vitriol being spat by so-called “fans” — and it nearly drove her away from her awesome new gig as Joe Bob’s wisecracking sidekick and social media guru after production on the series’ first marathon of Last Drive-In episodes.

“I cried to [Joe Bob] that I couldn’t handle being looked at and judged any more,” Darcy writes. “I literally came out of my house for the first time in about a year and half without being completely covered up… Before that I’d gone into a very long depression and didn’t talk to anyone or go anywhere unless it was absolutely mandatory.”

Nevertheless, Joe Bob continued to champion her importance to the show, and insisted she continue. “I told [Joe Bob] I never wanted to do that again but he, being the stubborn/supportive ol’ Dad-like figure he is, talked me into giving it another try when the series got picked up.” Thankfully, she stayed the course and is still a regular part of the show… but her fears continue to be well-founded, as viewers still savagely attack her for her appearance.

Darcy also points out the double-standard among genre fans (or just about any fan group… remember Gamergate?) who seldom ridicule or criticize male media figures — Joe Bob included — for their looks, driving home the point that women are still regularly objectified in the media, and a woman’s worth is still being measured on the basis of her physical appearance and little else.

Image: AMC/Shudder

In the face of this adversity, Darcy has rallied the strength to confront her own fears, and has officially turned her back on them — an act she compares (as many a dedicated horror fan would) to Nancy’s rebuke of Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. “I take back every bit of energy I ever gave you,” Darcy declares in the face of the all-too-real monsters attacking her online. “I refuse to waste one more second crying over people who want to insult my (or anyone else’s) appearance.”

Quoting Nancy one last time, she sums up her justifiable opinion of these losers: “You’re nothing. You’re shit. And I won’t be afraid of you anymore.”

Remember that when you think about criticizing anyone for their appearance — not to mention their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, personal beliefs, or anything else you consider “other.” If horror is going to be a refuge of the imagination to help us deal with the real-life nightmares we see on the news every day, it’s time we take back that energy and reclaim our beloved genre from those who hate.

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