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'My 15 minutes of fame': What happened when a cruel photo of me went viral

Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson is the woman seen in a cruel photograph that went viral years ago.
/ Source: TODAY

Years ago a cruel photo of a woman falling out of a cart at Walmart went viral. Now Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson has come forward claiming to be the woman in that photo, and she wants to remind people that everyone, including people featured in Internet jokes and memes, deserves respect. She wrote about her experience in an essay on Quora, also featured here.

This is my 15 minutes of fame. If you browse sites such as People of Walmart or Reddit, maybe you have seen this photo.

The worst thing about this photo is that people think a fat woman tipped over a cart because she was too lazy to get out of the cart to get the case of soda.

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I have a condition in my spine called spondylolisthesis. In spondylolisthesis, one of the bones in your spine — called a vertebra — slips forward and out of place. This may occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine). In some people, this causes no symptoms at all. Others may have back and leg pain that ranges from mild to severe. The most common symptoms in the legs include a feeling of vague weakness associated with prolonged standing or walking. In my case, the longer I stand, the number and weaker my legs become. I have been known to fall because of this condition.

Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson with her two children. She recently responded to a viral photograph taken of her years ago. Courtesy of Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson

I am also very obese, which does not help, and I suffer from mental illnesses. I have major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and avoidant personality disorder.

I use eating as a way to cope. I fight my weight daily and have recently joined a gym. But my weight is still a battle.

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This photo was taken around 2012. I was at Walmart that day grocery shopping for my family, and I was experiencing a lot of pain and weakness, so I used a cart. I went to get a case of soda for my husband — he drinks this stuff by the gallons — and when I turned and tried to grab a case off the shelf, the cart tipped. I thought I saw a flash of light and heard some young girls giggling. I thought nothing of it because I am used to hearing people make fun of me or saying snide remarks. It was nothing new.

Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson with her daughter. The mom sends a message to the world about bullying and respect in her new essay. Courtesy of Jennifer Knapp Wilkinson

A few months later, I saw this photo on a blog making fun of people at Walmart. I was just glad you couldn’t see my face. I pushed it to the back of my mind for years.

The reason I am sharing this today is because people think it is funny to laugh at people with disabilities. You can’t see my disabilities, but they are there and they are real. So the next time you see photos making fun of people, just remember you know nothing about those people or the struggles they face every day. It is never harmless fun to laugh at someone.

I am not asking people to accept or condone obesity. Obesity is a major health problem causing many illnesses and diseases. I also am not asking people to pity me or feel sorry for me. What I want is compassion, understanding and respect. I am a person — please treat me like one!