Friday, 28 November 2014

Sidebar of Shame & Compare Stare

I have a confession to make. I have the Daily Mail app on my phone.

This is a truly dirty secret and one I am rightly ashamed of. Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm overly idealistic and optimistic about the world, what we're capable of, and power of collective majority. It stands to reason then that I would be against the very existence of the Daily Mail and everything it stands for in relation to media and humanity.

And I am, I really am. They're over-zealous "everything will give you cancer/all immigrants are terrorists/recipient of social welfare are lazy scroungers/if you're not a size zero you're a gluttonous failure" idea of "news" disgusts me on a regular basis.

And yet, I have the app. And it's for the very worst possible reason - the sidebar of shame.


                                                                 Photo: TheDailyMail


If you're not familiar with the notorious sidebar, let me give you a crash course. Housed in their Showbiz section, this element has become feared by celebrities, those in the public eye, and any body else the Mail considers "fair game" for humiliation or accolades, depending on their mood.

At over 10 million views a month, it can do either on a monumental scale. On any given day, a click into the section will throw you into a world of neon pink, red circles of shame, tabloid gossip and rumors and unauthorized photos and information. Today's offering includes bikini shots of Lucy Mecklenburgh, an "exhausted" looking Katie Price, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini looking "stunning" in a dress, Tara Reid's "worryingly thin" frame and the question of whether 9-years-old is too young to be a supermodel.

On the scale of evil, the Daily Mail is the axis. So why do I have the app? I could make a number of defenses here. I rarely check it (true), I work in the media which validates me having the app (semi-true), it's a form of killing time when I'm bored (true).

But there are lots of ways for me to kill a few minutes on the bus or at the tail-end of a work break. I could refresh my French, I could read a few more pages of my book, I could call a friend - all of which I do. But I also check out the Daily Mail sidebar of shame 1-2 times a week. Which is not the worst frequency in the world but given that I'm fully aware of the negativity such entities add to the world, it's two too many.

This is not me being judgmental against showbiz reporting. We live in a vapid world obsessed with celebrities and use such things as a form of entertainment. I think we can all concur we could be doing something more productive with our time when watching a video of J-Law demonstrating her ability to sing, but I digress. Our psychology demands pointless entertainment on occasion and consumed in a healthy manner, there's nothing wrong with it. But consuming the Daily Mail is not healthy - it's the digital equivalent of drinking anti-freeze and wondering an hour later why you're spewing blood.

It's because the raison d'ĂȘtre of the sidebar of shame is to make you feel crappy about yourself. In particular, but not limited to, women. Of course the Daily Mail would dispute this; it's providing coverage of things of interest to the public. Which in fairness, we all feed it in to. But it's not just what they do, it's the way the sidebar does it.

It tells you, in not so subtle ways, that you are a failure. You're fat. You're ugly. You're limited. You're never going to be as amazing as the people it gloriously features. You're life is beyond boring and "basic". It's an endless source of ways to make you feel horrible about yourself and your existence.

I don't think there's anybody immune from the "compare stare" as I like to call it. What the Daily Mail shines in, is getting a varied assortment of pictures of celebrities. The less clothes/invasive they are, they better. They will then caption them as either hopelessly beautiful and "flawless" or "exhausted", "rundown", or "curvy" as a synonymous for "fat". It's a human blood sport where everyone is game and all of us a participant.

But I've been there, narrow-eyed, the iridescent glow of my phone-screen lighting my face, as I critique and examine the thighs/stomach/legs/take your pic of whatever flawless celeb is featured at the time. I've run my eyes the breadth of their body and face, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, comparing it against my own.

To call this entertainment is a lie. There is no joy in this. At best, my internal verdict will be "You're doing alright in comparison". At worst, I begin to immediately feel guilty for whatever carb I've ingested in the last week. While I know that I'm probably more susceptible to feelings of inadequacy over my physical appearance (thanks to my battle with anorexia, it's not something I'll ever exactly take pride in), I know that my vulnerabilities aren't exclusive. You don't need to have had an eating disorder to experience the cycle of the compare stare.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I'm grateful that such an action doesn't send me into the self-loathing spiral of destruction it would've have in the days of my illness, but it has on occasion made me feel pretty crappy about myself. A few years ago, I reconciled myself to the notion that I will never consider myself beautiful and still have to stifle laughter and disbelief when people compliment me as so. But I also reconciled myself to the fact that achieving physical perfection, which is impossible anyway, is not a goal to devote ones life to.

Knowing that I'm not alone in doing this, the question remains, why do we do this to ourselves? We know that humans aren't perfect - and yet we look for visual reminders of the imperfection of others and our own in comparison. We engage in a game of Russian roulette with our self-esteem... for what? Any momentary smugness that we experience is fleeting, while the damage to our self-worth is more lasting.

Perhaps we all need a bit of perspective. Perhaps we all need to be more acutely aware of the wonders of Photoshop. Perhaps we all need to be a little kinder to ourselves - and delete The Daily Mail app while we're at it.

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo
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