I get it.
I totally get it.
Aspiring writer writes blog about an unverifiable text from an unidentifiable man. Blog goes viral, receiving the kind of attention that marketing folk throw cash at by the fistful. Then - oh look! - it turns out that she has a book to sell. How convenient.
I totally understand why some called the blog “obvious nonsense” and “zeitgeisty clickbait”. Some offered open admiration at my effective promotion of myself and my writing – I wrote for The Stylist and Standard Issue in the week after the blog went viral (more plugging).
According to one publication, further evidence of the fallacy I created is found in that I am “extremely media savvy” and “know how to handle journalists”. Read: I have the social skills and vocabulary to be able to respond to a direct question without crying, hyperventilating or overuse of the words “like”, “literally” or “basically”.
Of course there is the indisputable fact that “no man would ever write that after just one date”. A friend of mine stumbled upon a Reddit thread about me (she made me promise not to ever search for it, so I haven't). Apparently one helpful MRA (men's rights activist) ran “Simon's” letter through an online “gender guesser” which concluded that – yes! - the writer of the letter is, in fact, female. Dammit. I would have gotten away with it too, if I'd spelt “hun” properly.
As I say, I can understand healthy cynicism. Especially because I can't prove that I really did receive THAT text from a man I went on just one date with. I can't verify that it's true without revealing his identity, and that of this thirteen-year-old daughter – something I'll never, ever do. I know I received that message. A few of my close friends have seen it. My publishers have seen it. And the producers of the national TV show I was on last week have seen it, on the insistence of their lawyers. There's not much more I can offer, I'm afraid. I could print a screen grab, but I could easily have faked one, so I'm not going to bother.
So. Let's assume I'm lying. Let's assume that I am an all-knowing-evil-marketing-genius, who's just been biding her time as a café manager until the right moment to draw attention to a 12-month-old crowdfunding campaign for a book which is entirely unrelated to the blog which she JUST KNEW would be read by 220,000 people worldwide. An evil-marketing genius who has to ask her Instagram followers how to receive direct messages, and who didn't know she'd been given the nod of approval by Zooey Deschannel until three days after the fact. Let's do that. Let's assume that all of the above is more likely than a man sending a woman he barely knows an abusive message.
Because that's what happened. By imposing his views about my body upon me uninvited, that man tried to manipulate me. To control me. To assert power over me using the most effective weapon he had in his arsenal – the power of shame. His message wasn't just about telling me there would be no second date. Sending that meticulously-crafted, 400 word message which twists and turns between such tenderness (“baby....honey...I adore you”) and such stark brutality (“I don't want to be lying there next to you, and you asking me why I'm not hard”) was an act of cruelty. It said “I could love you thiiiiiiiiiiiis much...if only you were slightly different”. It's a widely-used strategy of dominance used by some individuals to corrode the self esteem of their partners until they are utterly, utterly powerless. And this strategy will continue to be used, very effectively, by individuals and by corporations out to profit from our insecurities, until we challenge it, until we stop being ashamed of our bodies because we're too fat, too thin, too short, too scarred, or too different.
“I just felt like folding into myself and never coming out again.”
“He said I looked fat in our wedding photos. He'd say “Just trying to help, babe” I was a size 10 (UK)”
“...during our time together he manipulated me into believing the way he was treating me was my fault. That it was because I was ugly and undesirable. He had me to believe that I was being treated in accordance with my worth and that other boyfriends didn’t do these things to their girlfriends simply because they looked a damn sight better than I did. I tried to change the way I looked so things would stop. At 5 ft 5, I was a healthy 8 ½ stone when I met him. I’ve lost a hell of a lot of weight since then. An unhealthy amount.”
“Have you ever thought about committing suicide? The reason I ask is because I have. I wonder if I just DIE, would I save myself the 'name calling' 'bullying' and other forms of offensive language and action. Am I crazy to think that?”
These are a few extracts from the thousands of messages, comments and emails I've received from women and men from all over the world. Thousands of voices saying “me too”. I've received too many messages from women and men battling anorexia, bulimia, and addiction to overexercise. I've also heard from too many women and men who are so paralysed by shame because they are overweight or obese, that they don't know what to do other than hide themselves away and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat. In both extremes these people discuss learning this behaviour from parents, older siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends. Each of these people cites an occasion where they were bullied and shamed for the way their body looked – sometimes from the ages of 7, 9, 13 - long before their illnesses took hold. I've received messages from too many people who are afraid to go for that job, that date, that holiday, because they're ashamed of their bodies. I've received too many messages from men saying they're afraid to start a relationship with a girl they really like, because she's bigger than them and they're worried what their mates will think. I've heard too many catfishing stories (from both sides, both equally heartbreaking). I've received too many messages from 12 year old girls, expressing displeasure, disgust and concern about what their bodies look like now, and what they may look like in the future.
So. Let's assume I'm lying. But if that's your main concern, you're focussing on the wrong issue. And if you think there IS no issue, after reading these comments and others comments my blog, on my facebook page, on my instagram pictures – you're either very lucky, or very ignorant.
So. Here comes another plug.
We need to have a frank and honest conversation about our bodies – our relationship with our own, and with other people's.
We need prominent, positive examples of all the different ways a healthy body can look.
We need to remove the poison from the statement “I'm overweight” to inspire the one in four of us who are overweight (myself included) to make healthy, lasting changes.
We need to invest in developing positive body image in our young people, so that when they feel vulnerable and insecure, they have the tools to withstand and recover from any underhanded shaming tactics.
We need to do all of the above with integrity, compassion and (Heaven forbid) humour.
I'm launching a campaign to raise awareness of the effects of bodyshaming and to encourage readers to aim for health and happiness, whatever their shape or size. It's an ambitious project, which is why I will be seeking advice from dieticians, nutritionists, psychologists and health and fitness experts, as well talking to gamers, comedians, models, soldiers, triathletes, Mums, Dads and others who are all in different stages in their journeys towards health and happiness.
Speaking of which, the campaign is called Healthy. Happy. Hot. Because if you aim for the first two, the third takes care of itself.
You can support the campaign by pledging for the book at Unbound.