‘The abuse and bullying that nearly killed me’
Is fame a curse? In a candid BBC documentary, Jesy Nelson reveals how cyberbullying ruined her life after she won The X Factor. Her mother wishes the singer was still a barmaid in Dagenham.
“I wasn’t known as one of the singers in Little Mix. I was known as the fat, ugly one,” Jesy Nelson says in her new documentary. “It literally consumed every part of me.”
Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out painfully details the relentless cyberbullying and trolling that drove Nelson to attempt suicide after her rapid ascent to fame.
In 2011, Jesy Nelson was a barmaid from Dagenham who longed to be a singer. She applied for The X Factor, never dreaming that she would become part of the first girl group to win the show. By December, fame and fortune beckoned.
But while her dream was coming true, a nightmare was unfolding. When producers on the show told the group to join social media, Nelson discovered a dark underworld of hatred and abuse. She saw hundreds of comments a day mocking her appearance, each more vicious than the last.
“My brain started to believe everything I was reading,” Nelson admits. Eight years later, she still struggles to watch footage from the time.
Now aged 28, Nelson says that the documentary let her begin to heal, although the scars will never go away.
“If I could have my Jesy back from before, and not have any of it,” sobs the star’s mother Jan in the film. “I’ve lost Jes.”
After the show aired on Thursday, social media was overflowing with praise and admiration for Nelson.
“Show it in schools, tell your mates, watch it,” tweeted actress Emily Atack. “You have just done so much for so many,” wrote former Love Island contestant Olivia Buckland.
It has also sparked a conversation about the potentially colossal price of fame.
“Fame is a horrible business for most who cross its path, and it would be hard to watch this documentary and come away with the illusion that it is anything else,” wrote Rebecca Nicholson in her review for The Guardian.
Long before the age of social media, some of the greatest female stars of the 20th century struggled to cope with the attention of fame.
Working in Hollywood from the age of two, Judy Garland was tormented with self-doubt during her short, tumultuous life after Hollywood producers told her she wasn’t attractive.
Garland’s contemporary Marilyn Monroe, who wrestled with agonising insecurity about her acting ability, was open about her contradictory desires for fame and anonymity.
“Dreaming about being an actress is more exciting than being one,” she said.
A fickle friend?
Is fame a curse? Of course, say some. By its nature, it measures the value of a person by the opinions of others. It is almost always fleeting, which condemns those who gain it to anxiety and torment. Now, social media is amplifying nasty comments that public figures would never have known about before. Fame is more toxic than ever.
Or does that just apply to hollow, fickle, looks-based fame pursued by reality stars for its own sake? Surely, there is value in the fame that arises organically as a by-product of rare talent, as seen with great writers and artists. Or the deserved recognition of the likes of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yusafzai, who wield their fame for good and are sustained by an iron sense of purpose.
- Would you like to be famous?
- Has social media done more harm than good in the world?
- Not including physical features, write down five things you like about yourself.
- Write a poem or song with a positive message about body image.
Some People Say...
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Little Mix was formed on the 2011 series of The X Factor. The group comprises Jesy Nelson, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall. With four platinum albums, Little Mix is one of the most successful girl groups in British history. Their most recent album, released in 2016, became the longest reigning number one in the UK for a girl group since the Spice Girls in 1997.
- What do we not know?
- If the show will have a wider impact in the fight against cyberbullying. In the documentary, Nelson speaks to a number of teenage girls whose mental health was damaged due to cruel comments they received online. A 2017 study found that half of all UK girls aged between 11 and 18 are bullied on social media.
- Someone who repeatedly posts offensive comments on the internet with the intention of causing upset.
- On Thursday
- It is available on BBC iPlayer, where it is currently the most popular programme.
- Love Island
- The show is the subject of an inquiry by MPs into the exploitation of reality TV contestants, after two former contestants took their own lives.
- Judy Garland
- An actress and singer who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
- Short, tumultuous life
- She died aged 47, after many years of substance abuse.
- Marilyn Monroe
- An actress who died of a prescription drug overdose in 1962, aged 36.
- Being unknown.
- The unintended consequence of a process.
- Greta Thunberg and Malala Yusafzai
- The former campaigns for the environment; the latter for women’s education.