Every once in a while, I receive a particularly heartwarming email from a reader. I thought the one I received yesterday was particularly nice, so I got permission to share part of it:

You really, really helped. Sometimes, you get hatemail, and sometimes people say cruel things aimed at hurting you, but you don’t just lock yourself in a room and cry about it, which I have to admit was my worst habit. Or at least, if you do, you at least do it with the glare of a computer screen, so that you can eventually dissect these criticisms and usually end up laughing them off. This is something I am trying to learn to do – I don’t want to blog, but I am learning new ways of coping with negativity in others. You also always do your best to remain measured and fair in all of your posts and I think your recent editing of the ‘dogmatic Jen’ post demonstrates that. More importantly, you helped me think about some things that I never even knew were important to me. Since my ex left me in the debt that he did, I have been single. Three years on Christmas day, in fact. Once upon a time, I told myself that if I was single at Christmas when i was 21 I would kill myself. I don’t think I really meant it, but to look back at myself then is really scary. I needed more confidence, clearly, and some of this has come from things you have helped me to think about. For example, I can now identify as an atheist, humanist and a feminist. I’ve never been especially religious, and I remember even at primary school I got upset that we had to sing hymns to a God I didn’t believe in, but I never had any real way to express this frustration. At my school, the Muslim children had to sit out of assembly because they couldn’t sing the hymns. Really inclusive, right?

The atheist identification means I no longer feel vague and confused when filling out forms that require me to indicate my religious leanings. The humanist identification reminds me that atheism isn’t selfish, because I love people and I want the best for humanity. The feminism means that I no longer measure my success by having a boyfriend, and I am now happy that I live alone, because it means I haven’t settled for someone that only wanted me for my apartment, or for someone that makes jokes about my weight. Also, I’m half-way through losing that extra weight and I now know I’m doing it for myself, not for anyone else. When you wrote briefly about losing weight a few months ago that helped me relate even more to the blog too. I think it is hugely important to have female voices like you and Greta Christina in the atheist movement, and I’m pretty sure you know why because you’ve blogged about it before. Not even just female voices; reading about JT’s struggles with anorexia has really helped to put my problems in perspective; I think it’s massively important that bloggers don’t just write about atheism, or feminism, or any other ism — it’s the personality that makes the argument persuasive; it’s the people that make the blogs what they are.

It’s touching to know that I’ve helped someone in this way.

I then clicked to see my next unread email, and found the following comment on an old post, “Stephen Colbert called me “smoking hot“”:

But you’re ugly

And I laughed. Hard. The comedic timing was perfect.

A couple of years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been my reaction. I had low enough self esteem and enough body image issues that I probably would have locked myself in my room and cried about it. But dissecting criticism through blogging has helped me grow a thick skin, and the sweet emails I get mean so much to me that they keep me motivated even with dealing with assorted drama or insults.

So now, I just laugh. I mean, really? “You’re ugly?” What’s next, that I’m a poopyhead? The fact that someone wasted their time making such a dumb comment makes me feel so much better about myself.