Me…. Too? : Why is it so difficult to believe claims of sexual assault?

Dr Christine Ford was forced to take up centre stage last week at the hearing of Superior Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The eyes of the World honing in as they passed judgement on if she was indeed telling the truth, or not. The claim in question was that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford when they were at a high school party in 1982, drunkenly forcing himself on her and trying to remove her clothes: “I believed he was going to rape me,” she said. This week, despite calls for an FBI investigation, an extravagant and emotional testimony and several other sexual assault claims, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The last two years has seen a movement where multiple women, and men, have bravely stepped forward and shared their #metoo stories, all to be accosted with doubts and scrutiny from the public and senior figures.

They were asking for it”, “They didn’t say no”, “They should have reported it sooner”, “They’re lying”.

Ignorant individuals have pushed these stereotypes onto victims, refusing to believe- or choosing not to acknowledge- that their favourite celebrity, friend or politician could be capable of carrying out these heinous acts. Research for the home office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported in the UK are found or suspected to be false. Whilst studies carried out in the US show rates of between 2% and 6%. These figures are no different to the rates attached to other crimes, yet the authenticity of sexual assault reports are often immediately met with counter accusations that they’re not true.

Sexual assault happens. And it happens a lot. There’s an average of 293,066 victims aged 12 and older of rape and sexual assault each year in the US. In simple terms, that is 1 sexual assault every 107 seconds. Many seem to not want to accept that, whilst others seem to simply not care. You make a choice the day you decide to turn a blind eye to the suffering of thousands of women and men, or worse, when you actively mock and encourage the taunting of those who have bravely spoken out. Instead of attacking the accuser, we need public figures to acknowledge and accept that this is happening. It is happening right now, and it was happening 36 years ago. The reaction and responses I have read online, in the papers and to my own social media posts have led me to raise the question: Why is it so hard to believe that sexual assault victims are telling the truth?

I ask this question, because I have been on the receiving end of this hostility. 14 months ago I was a victim of sexual assault. This is my story.

I had been on a night out for a friends birthday. We’d been drinking, we’d been dancing, we’d had a fun night. It was gone 5am when we decided to leave the club, get some food, and head home. We headed down a street nicknamed Chippy lane and darted into the closest open kebab shop. In turns our food was ready and a couple of the girls wandered off to find a taxi. My food was last to come out. “I’ll meet you there”. I knew this street like the back of my hand. It was light outside, and the last of the girls had only headed off 30 seconds before me. As I stepped outside and started walking down the street, two men appeared either side of me. They’d been hanging around the kebab shop, they might have even been inside. I couldn’t remember. They weren’t anyone I had had to pay attention to, until now. They were talking over me, making comments which were gestured at myself. I instantly felt awkward enough to have to hold my food over my chest, hugging myself to try and stop them from taking anymore unwanted notice of me. I was wearing a jumpsuit. Not like it matters, but I know some people will be wondering. Then they started talking directly at me and I laughed along, desperately trying to diffuse any situation. Both of them were on either side of me, invading my personal space from all angles. My food was burning my chest through the wrapping. I couldn’t walk fast enough in my heels. When will this fucking street end. I knew the taxi rank was just on the other side of this street. Then, as we approached the corner, one of them grabbed my arm and aggressively tried to pull it away from my chest. They were in front of me now. As I tried to push them away, one of them grabbed my breast. Half in and half out of my clothing. It was a hard squeeze. It hurt. I called out in pain, in shock, in trying to get them to just fuck off. I pushed them off me and continued scuffling with them. By now I was crying, and trying to walk around them. They called me a slut, a whore, they laughed at my expense. We’d turned onto the next street and I heard someone shout my name, “JESS!” The two guys stepped away and it was like the sea had parted in front of me. I could see my friend hanging out the taxi door, gesturing for me to come in. I shuffled as fast as I could over to the car and jumped in, slamming the door behind me. By now I was hysterical. They followed and were both at the taxi window, knocking on the glass and trying to get in. They were laughing. “DRIVE!” My friend was shouting, and the car sped off. Thank fuck, I was safe.

I tried to tell my friends what had happened through broken cries and catching my breath. In that moment I was a child again, vulnerable and scared. “That wasn’t ok. That wasn’t ok” I kept saying. I was so confused. I knew I was one of the lucky ones. That this was a minor assault. That it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t know how to feel. I had an overwhelming feeling that this encounter was something I had never experienced before. Aggressive, intimidating, being mocked and laughed at. This wasn’t just “banter” or someone playing around. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how I was allowed to feel. Do I call the police? For a boob grab? I couldn’t even remember all the details. But I just kept telling myself that this did not feel right, it wasn’t something I could just ignore. When I got home I reported the incident to 101, the non-emergency helpline.

When I woke, everything was a bit of a blur. I still didn’t know how to feel, how to act. It had happened now, that was that. I didn’t really want to tell my mum, so I dragged it out all day until the evening to call her. When I eventually told her, it was in a passive comment. “It’s nothing, it’s fine.” And I was fine. The incident was fucked up, but thankfully, I was okay. However, what left a lasting feeling of anger inside is how I was treated after the assault.

Soon after I had told my mum, a family member who was in the Police themselves called me, asking what my local force were doing about it. I hadn’t heard anything all day, and I had no reference or number to call. I was prepared to forget about the whole thing and brush it off, but they convinced me to follow it up and told me to make sure I was taken seriously. After calling 101 and asking for an update I was told an officer would be in touch. I woke up to a voicemail left at 2am and after a couple back and fourth’s of missing each other, I finally managed to speak to an officer. I relayed the story and all the information onto them again, the time, the street, anything I could remember. They told me not to wash my jumpsuit as they might be able to lift fingerprints off of it. We arranged a time for an officer to come round my house the next day to take my statement. I offered to go into the station but I was told it wasn’t necessary. They’ll come to me.

The next day came and as 10 am hit, I was waiting for a buzz to let them into the building. I waited, and waited, but nothing. I know how stretched our police force are and appreciate the huge work load they have to do. This wasn’t a priority case, I knew that, so I waited to follow up with a call until it was around 3pm. As I spoke to the officer on the other end, they informed me that it had been noted down that someone had tried to get in contact with me and take my statement but I wasn’t available. That’s impossible, I told her, I’ve been in the house and stuck to my phone all day. She looked over the records again, and as she was relaying the information onto me she noticed that the officer marked down as attempting to contact me wasn’t on shift that day, so it really was impossible. For some reason unbeknownst to the both of us, someone had either lied on my record, or there had been a mishap. She would get the Sergeant to give me a call. I waited and waited, but heard nothing. Then, my phone rang, it was my friend who had been with me on the night of the incident. “Have you heard anything from the Police babe?” I continued to relay the happenings of my day onto her, and explained how I was waiting to hear back.

They’ve just phoned me, asking for more details about the night” she said. What? Why have they phoned my friend, before talking to me? “They asked me what street it was on, as you’ve said one street and they think it’s another.”; “They said you could’ve just been drunk and couldn’t remember”; “They said that as your story matched my story, it seemed believable”; “They said that you’ve been trying to call them all day, so it seems like you could be telling the truth, that most people don’t bother calling and following it up”; “They said that it’s the lowest level of crime, so they probably won’t waste the money on getting the DNA taken off your clothes”; They told me to tell you that they will probably just call you tomorrow now”.

I was lost for words. As soon as I put the phone down I burst into tears. I was angry. I was embarrassed. The passiveness of his words, the throw away comments. I had been counter-accused of lying and told my assault wasn’t serious enough for a full investigation- all via my friend, without even having my statement taken. The officer hadn’t even provided my friend with a name. I called my family member up crying, who immediately insisted on calling the Police force in question themselves to demand answers. The sergeant was in a meeting when they called, and stated he would call back in half an hour. He never did. The next day I spoke with a PCSO (Police community support officer) and arranged to go into the police station to finally give my statement. I remember feeling intimidated. Humiliated. I had to now go and tell my story knowing that it’s authenticity was already in question, that I had already been prejudged. I turned up ten minutes early and the Sergeant came out to meet me. “It was me who spoke to your friend” he stated. Awkward silence. “I understand there’s been some accusations, I never said any of that and I did not accuse you of lying.” I let out a small laugh in a combust of disbelief that both my friend, and myself, have now been accused of dishonesty. Are we the bad guys in all of this? I knew my friend was telling the truth, and every signal he was giving off was of insincerity in a shit attempt to cover his own ass, now that he had been caught. “But the department might not put the funding behind it to try find any DNA, it’s up to them” he added. Ahh, so she was telling the truth about that though, hey. *eyeroll*

The Sergeant had to go, he’ll have to get an officer from another station to come and take my statement as none of his were free. “That’s fine, I can wait.” He picks up the phone and makes a call. I’m told that there’s no cars available, so can I drive myself. “No problem, I can go to them.” He passed the phone onto me and I was asked if I could return to the other station later on that evening instead. “No problem, I’ll see you later.” I was exhausted. Everything and everyone was pushing me in the direction of giving up, and I’m certain that if it wasn’t for my confidence and trust in the Police from growing up around them, then I probably would have. I couldn’t help but think how the situation would’ve been different if the victim in question wasn’t privileged enough to know someone who could phone up and highlight their failures.

We were four days in from the original attack, and I was not going to quit now. I was determined to have my statement taken. To have my story heard. I returned that night to a different station, one that is not open to the public, and knocked on the back door, standing in the torrential rain hoping someone would answer my call. A lady opened the door, I understand she was the Sergeant on duty and she told me if she couldn’t find anyone to take my statement, then she would take it herself. Five minutes later she returned with a young female officer who would finally after 132 hours and 3 different Police stations, listen to my story. I relayed the events of the attack to her, and she listed intensely, noting down as much information as possible. “Those bastards” she quipped. I opened up to the officer about how I was initially embarrassed to ring the report through, that I felt like it wasn’t a big deal, that I thought because I had been drinking and couldn’t remember much that I didn’t have a chance. But I also told her what I did remember. How I remembered it hurting, how scared and intimidated I felt, the what if’s of what could have happened if my friends hadn’t been there, how it had stolen my sense of security, and how I was determined to report it incase a similar incident happened, something worse, so they would have previous reports to back any future claims up. Thankfully I was reassured that I did the right thing.

My clothing was accepted for DNA testing and sent off for examination, but unfortunately there were no matches found. I was told via text message a couple days later that my case was closed. And that was that.

Much like Kavanaugh, if you asked my attackers if they did this, if they were guilty, they would most likely say no. And they would not be lying, in their eyes. Because I doubt that they will even remember. To them, this will be something so small, so insignificant. Nothing bad happened. They weren’t made to feel a certain way. They weren’t punished. No one has ever told them that they were in the wrong. Their brain probably did not process it. But it is engraved in mine forever.

This is not intended to be an exposé of the Police. This is just my story. I understand that mistakes happen, especially in high pressure environments, and I like to think that I was just unfortunate enough this time around to be on the receiving end of them. Although, I hope that my highlighting of how I was dealt with may make someone reconsider the way they react next time they’re faced with a similar situation. I am also willing, in this current climate, to stand up and speak out on how passively I was treated as a victim of sexual assault. And perhaps more worryingly, how willing I was to pass it up myself. I questioned how I was allowed to feel, and sought to seek society’s permission to my emotions and reaction.

The public are too quick to label victims as liars. They use the victims own timeline to attack them; the longer it takes for them to come to terms with their assault and report it, the less likely they are to be believed. They draw on the ‘money grabbing’ or ‘attention seeking’ label, subsequently rendering a get-out-of jail-free card to the rich and famous to use against their victims. But what many fail to grasp is that most individuals do not want the attention, that attention was put upon them when they were attacked. Supporters hang their every word off of the fact that the accused still walk amongst us, smugly declaring that this pleads their innocence, but not giving scope to recent statistics that show out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 of perpetrators will walk free. This does not mean sexual assault does not happen.

When our attempts as victims to speak up are met with such hostility, please don’t ask us why we did not report it straight away. When the pre-judgement and accusations of lying feel like another attack, please don’t ask us why we haven’t spoke out sooner. When our fight-or flight mode kicks in and we decide to save ourselves instead of every detail of the assault, please don’t ask us why we can’t remember everything. When you’re deciding if you care enough to believe, Please don’t ask us If we’re sure.

Tits up: The Rise (and Fall) of How I became a Glamour model.

Surprisingly, I hadn’t always wanted to be a Glamour model. For a good chunk of my childhood I wanted to be a pop star. God I loved singing. Problem was, I’m bloody awful. I could do a whole blog post on the embarrassing mishaps my cursed voice has brought upon me. Getting laughed off stage at my 10th birthday party when I attempted an Sclub 7 classic on the Karaoke. Being ordered to mime in the school choir. And my personal favourite, being told by my teacher at 9 years old that “If I was a good friend”, I would let my best mate (who could actually sing) duet with someone else at the Eisteddfod. HEARTBREAKING. Anyway, it soon became apparent after constantly (honestly, could people not just lie to protect my feelings?) being told that I couldn’t sing, that I needed to find another way to “make it”.

Then it came to me. I was going to be a model. God bless my teenage confidence, I don’t know where it came from, I didn’t exactly look like Cindy Crawford at 13 years old. But I was pretty damn certain I could do it. I was scouted” at the Clothes Show in Birmingham for one of those Teen Queen competitions when I was about 14. I was seriously excited at the time, but it soon turned out to be one of those happenings where you pay £500 for the photos (chrz Dad) to then be told “you didn’t get through this time”. But nonetheless, having my first real photoshoot only stimulated my desire to be a model even more. THIS WAS MY PATH. There was only three things standing in my way. My height (obvious). And these two huge things that had grown on my chest (even more obvious).

One of the self-timer images I sent off to agencies

I applied to agency after agency, and even took part in some beauty pageants (come through Miss Wales Finalist 2010), but I kept getting the same response:

You should try Glamour modelling”.

They all enthusiastically pushed my eager, just-turned 18years old self towards the world of Glamour. And I wasn’t mad about it. I loved Jordan in her Peter Andre, braided hair days. Maybe they were right, maybe this was my calling. I sent a few amateur pictures off that I’d taken on self-timer to a Glamour model agency in London, and after getting a call back I dragged my friend down on the train and I met who was soon to become my agent. The wheels were finally rolling.

Serving up beauty queen realness at a Teen Pageant

My first real breakthrough in Glamour modelling came a few weeks later when I was on the train from Cardiff to London for a casting with Nuts magazine. I hadn’t even reached London yet when my agent called “Nuts want to shoot you today!” What! I couldn’t believe it. “They’re not going to bother casting you, they want to shoot you right now for their Next Top Model feature. There’s going to be a car waiting for you at the station to take you to the location. Have fun!”. Fuck. This was it. It’s happening! I’d never had a driver pick me up before. I don’t even think they have those kind of services in West Wales. I was so excited. I had a boyfriend at the time. He was less excited. In fact, he was fuming. He thought I’d lied and that I knew I had a shoot all along. I hadn’t of course, but I didn’t even care, I’d wanted to be a model for so long and it was finally coming true.

I spotted the driver in Paddington station holding up a sign with my name on it- (SO cool) – and he drove me to a huge townhouse in London. “We’re here, Miss!”. Erm, yeah thank you. Did I have to pay this guy? I couldn’t afford too. I just shuffled off quickly and hoped he didn’t follow. I remember what seemed to be a hidden garage doorway opening, and being greeted by a few guys who worked for Nuts. “Come in! We’re just having pizza.” I will never forget the site that I was met with that day when I walked in- all bushy tailed and bright-eyed. There in the kitchen were three, maybe four, beautiful models eating pizza in just a thong. This was every teen boys fantasy. I COULD SEE NIPPLES. I don’t think I’d ever seen another woman’s nipples. I didn’t know where to look. Am I supposed to make eye contact? God, keep cool Jess. It was like being the new kid at school, but luckily everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I barely said a word. I think there was a mutter of how I’d come all the way from Wales. Welsh girls very rarely leave the valleys you see. I was sent straight upstairs into hair and make-up. I’d never had my make-up done before. I felt like Béyonce. This world was so new to me. It was all so g l a m o r o u s. The house was spread across three floors and everything was painted white. How very minimalistic. These Londoners knew how to decorate. The photographer was a woman, phew, that eased my nerves a bit. I was decked out by the stylist (honestly, it just gets fancier) in black lingerie- suspenders n’ all, and thrust, quite literally, into the spotlight.

A shot from my first Nuts magazine shoot

God, I loved it. I felt so sexy, so confident, so beautiful. That feeling that comes over you when you’ve had your hair and make-up done, outfits chosen for you and been pampered and primped to an inch of your life whilst being told how great you look by a whole team of people is indescribable.

At that moment, you really believe your hype, and it shows through the lens. I guess that’s how they get great pictures. But then all of a sudden the hype came crashing down. “Okay, can you take the bra off now please?” What? Fuck. I hadn’t agreed to go topless. I hadn’t really discussed anything, it was such a whirlwind morning of excitement that I hadn’t even asked what the shoot would entail. Naive as it may have been, I was only eighteen and new to this whole world and didn’t know what to expect. I’d told my agent when I first signed with the agency that I wasn’t going to do topless, and I naively assumed that they would have relayed this slightly important detail onto the client.

“Um, erm, I, um don’t do topless sorry” I mumbled. Awkward silence. I continued to tell them how I couldn’t do topless as I was scheduled to take part in another beauty pageant in a couple months, and they had banned anyone who had posed nude or topless. Power to all females, right? *eyeroll*. The team let me take a break to call my agent who assured me that this was a huge opportunity for me, that they’d booked me without even seeing me, that I should just do it. But I stood my ground- Rule #1.

I learnt very early on that if you were going to survive in this industry, you needed to be strong and assertive when it came to marking out your line of what you will and won’t do. I think this is where some girls went wrong and ended up having bad experiences. I know of a few who were too shy or embarrassed to say that they were uncomfortable doing a certain shot or pose on set, and then would contact the photographer or client afterwards asking them not to use those shots of them. This would piss the client off because they’ve just wasted their time getting pictures they can’t use, and have to sift through thousands of shots picking out the ones you don’t approve. It was much easier, however awkward it may feel at the time (and it really does feel awkward standing their practically naked trying to explain yourself to a group of strangers), for you to just to say “Sorry, I’m not comfortable doing that” and then you could all move on and find a different solution together. This is what me and the team at Nuts did. We met at a compromise of implied topless, so bra off, nipples covered. This reluctancy to show everything right away actually proved to be a positive and became my main selling point in the industry, leading to me being offered lucrative deals from mags for my “first big reveal”.

I have to point out that the level of mutual respect between everyone on set, not just of this particular shoot, but every professional lads mag shoot I’ve worked on, was unquestionable. This is one of the reasons why I think the loss of Nuts and Zoo is such a shame and a danger to aspiring models who don’t have that support network or safety net around them. I still shoot with this same female photographer six years on, which is testament enough to how comfortable and respected I felt on that day.

Another shot from my first Nuts shoot.

So that’s it. I was now a fully fledged Glamour model. I was so pleased with how my images came out, although there was one issue. The main pull quote on the article read “GETTING MY CLOTHES OFF IS NOTHING NEW TO ME” WHAT. I hadn’t said that. This is where I learnt Rule #2 of the Glamour modelling world. Never say anything in your post-shoot interview that could be twisted into something suggestive. What I’d actually said was that I had done a swimwear round in a pageant before, but of course that wasn’t juicy enough for the male readers. From that day on my interviews were as boring as I could make them. I remember Zoo mag once asking me what I wore to bed. “Pyjamas”, “Well what kind of pyjamas?, “Fluffy ones”. I wasn’t giving anything away.

After a couple of shoots and losing out on one of Zoo mags’ new girl contracts because I wouldn’t go topless, I soon realised if I wanted to try and make a career in this industry, that I would have to free the nipples. By now my relationship had fell apart and I was being promised big bucks and opportunities if I would just throw caution to the wind and bare all. Everything came to a head when an uncensored aka nipples out image of me in a pink mesh swimsuit was published in a Nuts Summer Special Issue. I had been promised by my agent that my nipples would be photoshopped out- and I again, naively assumed this would happen. I remember seeing the image circulate online and I cried for hours. What have I done. But my family and friends were hugely supportive. To this day it’s actually my mums favourite picture of me (she’s not a regular mom, she’s a cool mom). So instead of wallowing in my own titty-pity party, I decided to take control and own my title as a topless model. I signed an exclusive retainer contract with Zoo magazine for my “big reveal” and claimed it as a big F U to any comments or judgements that I’d been on the other end of.

One from the Zoo magazine archives

Obviously it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, the professionalism and fond memories I talk about are directly in reference to the main lad mags that I shot with. Outside of that, I’ve had some dodgy experiences, bad advice and done things that I regret. But I’ll delve into that another time.

Of course, the big bucks never came and all the amazing opportunities I’d been promised never materialised. Truth is, I started my journey at a time when the industry had already started to decline. Protests had began against Page 3 and a new-wave of feminists began speaking out about how Glamour models were bad role models for women. I was angry. They were wrong. This wasn’t my industry, my peers, my employers that they were describing. I could think of nothing that encapsulated feminism less than telling me what I can and couldn’t do, how I should and shouldn’t feel. These individuals were taking away our dreams because how they thought we felt, instead of actually engaging in conversation and celebrating our sexuality alongside us.

Attending a Nuts’ Magazine Birthday Party

Fast forward six years from where it all began, and all the lad mags have died. Big Brothers been cancelled. Donald Trump is President. Boris Johnson fucked us over. Toblerone’s have bigger gaps. Oh, and we’re now living through a movement where women are being encouraged to be more open, embrace and own their sexuality, and to free the nipple. I’m all for it, anyone that follows me will know that. However, I wish it wasn’t such a selective celebration of womanhood; but a unity of women supporting women in finding empowerment through which ever form they see fit. Whether that is in the pages of a glossy magazine, or at a political protest.

Image by Haris Nukem

My relationship with Social Media: Make up, or Break up?

I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome, Then she finally got to Rome, And all she did was post pictures for people at home, Cause all that mattered was impressin‘ everybody she’s known”

The power of Social media as a tool for business growth is unquestionable. But somewhere on this path I confused myself with a business and got lost along the way. See, I don’t make any money from my social media, but I happen to have a lot of followers. I’m not an influencer, but I’m expected to post “interesting” content. Of course, I’ve put that expectation on myself; putting currency into follower count is probably where it started to go wrong. I would force myself to post daily updates to stay “current”- I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this, but I just remember reading articles that said you should post at least once a day- so I did, I’d post anything. Uploading throwback after throwback of my travels, selfies of me with a full face of makeup on, and generally making my life look pretty damn great. And it is great, but not for the reasons my pages would lead you to believe.

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My relationship with social media grew at the same time as it’s popularity. { Just as an FYI, I use Twitter and Instagram the most, and Facebook privately. } My following grew organically thanks to S/O’s from Lads mags *RIP TittyTuesday* and I was enjoying reaching so many people on different platforms, through my new found *fame* (insert extremely big finger brackets here, I use the word fame in as loose of a term as possible). Due to my job and my environment at the time, my feed was pretty much full of scantily clad females, plus a few standard celeb accounts thrown in. You would think seeing beautiful women retweeted on my timeline constantly would have set me on my way to an early social media meltdown, but ironically, this “era” was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt online. Of course, there’s a wonderful irony in this- with the argument that glamour models are bad role models for women; but seeing the bodies of my fellow peers and strangers so freely shared on my timeline with such blasé and no editing or filters, well, it was empowering. And so fucking n o r m a l. I guess you could say these were my influencers. And I sure as hell was not worrying about how even my eyebrows looked or if my lips were plump in my selfies- and trust me, I know there is some dodgy photo’s out there to back these claims up! These platforms were a fun space where we all came together on a Wednesday afternoon to tweet #Humpday pictures, swap lighthearted comments and just have fun. I remember getting messages from up and coming brands – “Hey! We’d love to send you a tshirt in exchange for a post?”‘ FREE SHIT. This was mental. At one point I was paid £50 to upload a post holding a tub of protein powder. FIFTY QUID FOR A POST. This was the best job ever, or so I thought. Of course, now I know I was hugely undervaluing my “posting charge”, do you know how much these fuckers are being paid these days? TO POST AN INSTAGRAM PIC? It’s mind boggling. Anyway, Twitter and Instagram were an exciting place; they were fresh and they were new and I was growing with them.

I know a girl that saves pictures from places she’s flown, To post later and make it look like she still on the go, Look at the way we live”

So what went wrong? I fell down the rabbit hole. The search for validation from strangers online, constantly checking my “likes” hoping my next post will be the most popular yet. And if it didn’t do well? Fuck. That sinking feeling. The confidence I felt five minutes ago when I posted it had turned into despair. Do I look shit? Do I look fat? My boobs are saggy. Should I delete it? Maybe I’ll wait ten minutes. No I’ll just delete it, it must be shit if I’ve not hit 1000 likes. I’ll just try again and upload it later .Yes, this really was my thought process. On every post. Every day. Then came the dawn of the influencers and you might as well have pitted me next to Naomi Fucking Campbell because from now on I wasn’t as good as anyone. “Why don’t I live in a house like that?”, “Why am I not in Bali?”, “Why don’t I have abs like that? A bum like that, teeth like that”, “Why don’t I enjoy eating bowls of kale?”. The list goes on. I even started posting about my “weight loss journey”, when I was a Size 10- max.

Comparison became the thief of my happiness online.

Not only am I having to Keep up with the Jones’s- I’m trying to keep up with the whole World. Which of course, you can’t. Fuck, these girls can’t even keep up with themselves. I put so much value into the opinions of strangers, that I stopped taking notice of how social media was making me feel. I felt like I couldn’t share the everyday parts of my life, the parts that made me, me- because they weren’t exciting enough, or glamorous enough, or worthy enough. This might all sound a little excessive, but I truly don’t think I’m alone in thinking like this.

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My “progress” pictures from my weight loss journey. This is what influencers do, right?

Oh God, It goes on. Having a bad day? Then I’d post, and the mere validation via the form of likes from people I’ve never met, would give me an instant feeling of gratification. This is a fact by the way. The instant “hit” from seeing a like roll in releases the same amount of dopamine as sex or a line of cocaine. So rock’ n roll.

I cannot go ten minutes without checking my accounts. I automatically reach for my phone when I’m working, and have to force myself to put it back down. Endless scrolling fills my days with mindless tweets and Instagram models that I will never look like, who live lives I will never lead. I post selfie after selfie, engaging in this constant cycle of comparison and validation, liking and posting, like I’m wired up to some automatic millennial mode. Some may even call it narcissism. Is it? I don’t think it is. I think it’s probably the opposite. A strange need to be liked by others. But I can’t stop. And do I even want to? We need to call out our social media usage for what it is, an addiction.

This light-hearted confession of my “addiction” to others is what made me take a long hard look at my relationship with social media. Instagram and Twitter have no real effect on my life, I know that, but I put so much value upon them anyway. Why do I care about what others think? Why can’t I just be happy being me? But actually, I am happy being me. My comfortable-ness with who I am right now has allowed me to be so brazen and open about my feelings for the first time in a while. So perhaps the question is, Why can’t I just be happy being me, online? I’m not sure if I’m pitching this as a rhetorical question, or an open-ended one. The answer could be obvious, but I can’t seem to grasp it.

I think in time, or that I hope, that this idolisation of others online will come crashing down, and social media will become a collection of friendly, fun and lighthearted platforms again. We’re all aware of the exaggeration of reality across the gram’, yet we feed into it nonetheless, desperate to be a part of this new-age movement of status and belonging that faces our generation. But how about we go against the current; We are so much more than our follower count, our likes and our selfies. Let’s make that our millennial revolution.