Honest and Real: Lenny Izaguire on Social Media and Mental Health
© Photography via Lenny
A conversation with influencer and queer role model Lenny Izaguire about his experiences with the downsides of his popularity, his experiences with bullying and homophobia, along with what has helped him feel more comfortable with who he is.
Lenny Izaguire is an Instagram and TikTok influencer living in Geneva, Switzerland. The 20-year-old has been working as a model since he was 18 and is dreaming of becoming an actor. Lenny, his boyfriend Thomas Rossier and their friend Martina Vaccaro are currently working on their brand "Thonny Store", with which they want to do something for their community while doing something for themselves.
In our interview, Lenny opens up about times he has suffered under harassment, how he deals with hateful messages and how a DM from Tyler, the Creator has helped him to feel more confident.
Have you had any experiences with bullying before your recognition on social media?
Yes, you know, homophobia is very present in real life, even in Switzerland, a country that is supposed to be "open to the world". People have been mean to me since I was young. Because I'm a rather "effeminate" person, the people at my school constantly bullied me over my sexuality. Although I didn't know what my sexuality was back then, I can tell you that I still don't know even now. I have also been physically assaulted for being who I am.
As your follower base grows, you receive more and more encouragement from your fans. But what is the downside of the publicity?
I can honestly say that I am very happy to have my platform because my "followers" are very nice to me. My community is the same as my boyfriend's, and luckily we don't get a lot of hate. The people who follow us know what kind of content we will post, and if some people try to spread hate on our posts, they are stopped by our loyal "Thonny family", who we love very much!
Unfortunately, our lucky situation is not very common. Many other LGBTQ+ content creators have to deal with so much hate that it makes us sick—something even some of our friends have to experience. Not being able to help them is the worst part of it. Therefore, one of our main goals is to spread love on social media.
© Photography by Lauriane
How does it make you feel when someone is commenting or texting you something hateful?
Two years ago I would have taken it really badly. However, with time...
...I have learned to understand the problem of homophobic people. I now understand that the problem comes from them and only from them. They have not (yet) opened their minds widely enough. They cling to phrases they've been told from a young age and can't think any further.
I feel I could almost forgive them for being ignorant. So now, I simply look the other way when I see hateful statements against me.
Do the hateful comments cause you any insecurities?
It depends on what kind of comments they are. If they are genuinely hateful and negative, I simply smile at them, as there is really no point in bothering about it. However, some comments are against my physical form, and that can sometimes hurt my feelings.
I've thought about doing my teeth hundreds of times because they have an unusual gap, and a lot of people are mean about it. However, my boyfriend has taught me to appreciate them for what they are. The last few months, I've been working on myself to appreciate them. My community also helps me a lot with that. Another thing that helped me a lot was an Instagram DM from Tyler the Creator, who has been really nice to me and told me to appreciate my smile as he has that kind of gap too. It was really comforting to get that kind of comment from a well-known celebrity.
© Video by Lenny
What are the things people comment on negatively the most?
I think it always depends. If someone is annoyed by you, they will do anything to find something to say. Sometimes it's physical or about my style, sometimes it's about my sexuality, ...
Why do you think people are so much more comfortable spreading hate on social media than in real life?
I think that is quite logical. People feel protected in front of a screen, although they wouldn't in front of a real person. Even though sometimes people actually dare to insult us personally. For example, when I hold my boyfriend's hand, we have to expect to receive insults or nasty looks, unfortunately. However, on social media, people with bad intentions can say whatever they want without any consequences. I find it quite sad because these people tend to forget that they are still attacking real people and they would never treat them like that in real life.
What helps you to deal with negative comments and text messages?
When I see hate comments, I usually block the person. I don't try to understand their point of view because it's pointless to talk to haters. But if a comment makes me really sad, I tell my friends about it and they comfort me and we block the haters together. After such things, I try not to look at my phone for a while.
© Photography via Lenny
Do you feel like social media is empowering you, or is it rather harmful to your mental health?
Social media definitely made me stronger. I saw that many people liked me and my personality, which made me feel better about myself. I understood that I was not alone. Now I know that if I want to spread a message, I can reach a lot of people to make something happen. For example, through the LGBTQ+ movement, I can now speak out and hopefully help other people who can't live as peacefully.
Makeup should not be gender-specific. You have recently posted a picture wearing eyeliner. How do you feel about the norms created by the society around makeup on men?
It's amusing to see how people can react when they see me with make-up on. I don't understand how society has tried to make us believe that make-up only belongs on women's faces. It's something that every person chooses to put on their face, but people come to the conclusion that only half the population has the right to put it on. The same goes for so-called "feminine" clothes like skirts or heels. It's as if tomorrow someone told people that rings could only be worn by men. Everyone would find that ridiculous.
© Photography by Lenny
Can you fully express yourself in Switzerland, or do you feel like you need to hold back?
I think I can express myself much more here, than in some other countries, but it's still not enough. Sometimes I really want to express myself with accessories and "feminine" clothes, but I know that if I go out with a very "feminine" outfit, I risk being beaten, harassed or worse. So I hope a lot of things will change in the next few years.
Men are becoming more comfortable wearing makeup, but it is still not accepted in some parts of society. How would you advise these men not to let it get them down?
As more men do it and share it on social media and even wear makeup on the street, people will come to understand that we do exist and do what we want with our bodies.
We must make people understand that their beliefs and thoughts should not influence those of others.
Some countries are already open-minded, but the majority are not. And that has to change as soon as possible.
How would you encourage others to deal with negativity on social media platforms?
If you are dealing with harassment on social media, you need to find people who understand you and are willing to support you in difficult times. Do not hesitate to block malicious people, even if you know them in real life. Sometimes you should take a break from your phone for a week. This will help a lot with bullying as you won't even be thinking about the bad people. Always enjoy time with your friends and family because that is the most important thing in our lives. Moreover, if things go too far, know that you have the right to report it to the police. Just know that you are never alone.
© Photography by Lauriane
"Big Love to all of my followers, friends and family <3."