When Jesy Nelson rose to fame with pop band Little Mix, she was abused online for being ‘the fat one’. Now, for the first time, she opens up about the heartbreaking effects cyberbullies have had on her life. In this intimate, personal documentary, Jesy exclusively reveals the impact online trolls had on her mental health as she goes on a journey of rehabilitation. Allowing cameras a behind-the-scenes look at her personal and professional life, Jesy begins to understand the layers of protection she has built in order to cope with the bullies. To help her heal, she meets other victims of cyber abuse, sharing devastating stories of online trolling. Little Mix members Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jade discuss how Jesy’s torment affected the dynamics within the band and how it impacted the group’s ability to perform. Jesy’s boyfriend, Love Island star Chris Hughes, offers a comforting support system to the pop star. He recounts falling in love with someone who was clearly damaged by the barrage of negativity she experienced on social media. And members of Jesy’s family help her confront deep personal issues she’s kept hidden for years.
The 2011 X-Factor pop music contest concluded with UK pop group Little Mix winning the coveted crown of that year. At the same time, social media accessibility via smartphones had been growing, and more and more people using Twitter for live “Tweet-alongs” with shows such as Eurovision. And the X-Factor was no different.
Mere minutes after winning the televised competition, notifications started pinging in, especially on band member Jesy Nelson’s phone. But instead of congratulatory messages, all fully deserved; slurs and hate – primarily based upon her perceived appearance – started to relentlessly roll in. No matter how famous you are, you cannot escape other people’s cruelty in life – and even more so via the Internet.
This situation is more akin to a horror film scenario than something that happened in one woman’s real life, which makes Jesy Nelson’s documentary a heartbreaking watch, whether you follow the songs and lives of the members of all-women UK pop phenomenon, Little Mix, or not. We pretty much all use the internet now, but it is probably a fair assumption that not many of us have experience the extreme lows it can bring into our living rooms, every hour of each day.
The documentary has been viewable via iPlayer for a few months now, and yes, it is still worth viewing, especially with younger family members and friends to open up important discussion about harassment. It would be ideal for this to be shown in every school, but what was a bit puzzling is that the documentary did not have much clarity about online survival.
Throughout the time after the X-Factor win and recent years, Jesy had deleted social media accounts as well as seeing a therapist, dating a supportive celebrity-partner from TV show TOWIE, and received continual love and support of her super family. There did not seem to be any acknowledgement of any cruel comments being made in childhood. Who is privileged enough to receive such a blessed youth! So there is no wonder the horrific comments received after Little Mix’s X-Factor win cut so deeply for Jesy, which manifested in years and years of mental health strain. She even avoided a number of TV appearances across the globe.
The best advice given in the documentary, was, if you see a cruel comment, to use your account to post something nice and supportive – great point. Kindness is punk! Jesy also opens up about seeing a therapist and that change was happening after after a number of sessions; that some social media is good, that being able to talk to others, and having empathy, is a godsend. It is also nice to see her embracing her naturally curly hair and later on, on Instagram; to see Jesy post an image of her younger self, followed with a pic of having no makeup on either. In the documentary, pictures of herself were unviewable to Jesy. Posting this act must have felt excruciating for her, but the comments posted below on Instagram are so (rightfully) overwhelmingly positive. Social media reactions have also changed a bit since 2007.
Surprisingly, the documentary did not discuss anything about sociopathic behaviour. Trolls will always post dreadful things to laugh at, in this case clearly the reaction and destruction of the target. There was lots of mentions of “don’t post, don’t bully”, but in reality it is *crucial* to remember that some people will honestly be laughing at the tearful faces of broken people. Sociopaths just thrive on that power. That cannot be stopped.
There is also a pathetically small amount of recompense when executing online harassment. Trolls know that so don’t and won’t stop. Kindness is seen as weakness. So avoidance and reduction to exposure is often the only things you can do if you are a target. We have all seen some atrocious things people have written just to get a rise out of their target; when making videos for free, comments such as “if she lost 20 pounds I’d f—k her”; this is an average type of comment to receive for a woman. When nationally known bully figures are joining in on the pile-on, it is not just an embarrassment but a disgrace there are not more rules to help tackle this in the 21st century.
After hard work, gross video comments can be deleted. It is important to laugh at how ridiculous these comments are. Whenever something awful happens, these days we can post about it and good friends will support your reaction, they can talk it out with you. It is *so important* for younger users to learn to be able to separate a comment aimed at an image of them, remove it from their actual selves. That appropriate action is to not respond, to screengrab abuse, to view that as a power move. Imagine if you were a media star, to get someone else to handle your accounts, to practice how you would react if someone said that to you, that sort of thing I feel would be beneficial role play for younger social media users.
These points were not developed upon as this was a documentary about Jesy, not a public information service video. Regardless, this documentary is very beneficial for today’s audiences, especially if the documentary is used as a springboard by support networks to help develop resilience points in young people. Social media is not going away, and neither will trolls – and until laws change to protect users, for now, all we can do is resist, and help each other to do so.
Laura Watton (PinkAppleJam)
For information and support for issues raised in the programme to go https://bbc.in/2lMTtNV