Once upon a time, my older sister—who shares my penchant for anything Lindsay Lohan—sent me a link to her latest career low. No, not another DUI or doing community service at a morgue. The headline screamed the bare, terrible facts of Lindsay’s latest demise, an “utterly ridiculous trip to design her own milkshake.”
Despite the fact that designing a milkshake would be the absolute peak of any career of mine, I read the article with incredulous delight. It was accompanied with a series of photos of Lindsay making her feted milkshake—replete with blotchy orange fake tan and smudged eyeliner. It ended on an utter high, with a very clearly un-posed, and angry Lindsay glaring into the camera. The article crowed over her “side-boob” and the “tens” of fans that showed up. It was totally exaggerated, snarky, and cruel.
And I was hooked.
Over the next year of my life, every spare second I had was spent frantically refreshing the Daily Mail website—the tabloid famously parodied by JK Rowling. It didn’t matter that I had no idea who the British pop stars were or that I didn’t know what a Kardashian was—if there was a photo of them looking disheveled in public, I was there. I jeered at celebrities daring to run errands without a full face of makeup, cooed over the first illicit snaps of newborns, and kept up with the latest DUIs, rehab visits and bar brawls.
The ironic side to this story is that at the time, I was making a living as a privacy expert. I would swan into work during the day and wax lyrical about the importance of respecting people’s right to keep information to themselves, and by night, I had a front-row seat into all the daily minutiae of the lives of complete and utter strangers.
But I didn’t think about the ethical consequences of my new habit too deeply. It was just a bit of a fun—a harmless hobby. I saw it as something I could talk about by the water cooler if I wanted to veer tedious small-talk about the weather onto something more interesting.
And then my Daily Mail habit began to leak into my daily life. I would sit on the bus and mentally tell people exactly what was wrong with their appearance. “No one that ugly can pull off a centre part,” I would sagely tell myself, “and her chin has tripled since I saw her last.”
My inner Daily Mail makeover didn’t go unnoticed by those close to me—I remember vividly the time I was callously declaring that an acquaintance would never get a boyfriend if she insisted on leaving the house without makeup to cover up her ruddy red cheeks. “Becka,” my sister piped up, “when did you get so mean?”
I shrugged it off, quashing any sense of disquiet by haughtily telling myself that my sister just didn’t understand my newly sharpened sarcastic wit.
So the months went by. Celebrities got new roles, got beaten up by their boyfriends. They went to the gym, drank too much, and gave the finger to the paparazzi behind the cameras. They had babies, split up with their partners, got slammed in worst dressed lists, they divorced. And I was there, every step of the way.
And then one day, I was standing at the supermarket checkout waiting for my items to be scanned through, looking at the person behind me in the queue. “Plump,” I was telling myself “needs to pluck her eyebrows.”
And then I did a double-take and realised that I was sitting there and getting all judgey-judgerson over a child’s appearance. This was no schleppy adult that I was looking up and down and dismantling in my head—this was someone whose main priority in life should be to read “Harry Potter” and watch cartoons.
I was a monster. Sure, I may never have crossed my invisible line and joined the mobs in the comments, but I had been been so desensitised to the jeers, snipes and bitching that I was a walking, talking troll.
By looking at photos of celebrities’ kids, I was saying that it’s OK for children to be dogged by strange men with cameras on their way to school. I was endorsing the view that women who dare to leave the house without looking impeccably beautiful deserve to be taken down a notch. I was sanctioning the idea that if you have a job that involves doing anything in public, you deserve to have every private moment of your off-screen life recorded for all to see.
And that’s why I had to give up the tabloids.
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