‘If I could have my old Jess back, as she was before, I’d change it like that. Not have The X Factor, not have any of that. Because I miss her.
I just feel like I’ve lost Jess to social media’.
Jesy Nelson, one quarter of the hit girl band Little Mix, was only 20 when she found fame on reality show The X Factor.
Working as a barmaid in Dagenham, east London, Jesy could only dream of stardom and fame. That was until 2011, when those dreams became reality.
But, for Jesy, the reality was far from the modern fairy tale she envisioned.
In a world where social media plays such a central part in our daily lives, it’s hard to imagine that any secrets at all can remain hidden. Yet, before the release of Jesy Nelson’s documentary last month, it was unknown to fans that the band member had attempted suicide.
However, it was common knowledge that Jesy was often the victim of online abuse. In the candid documentary for BBC Three, Jesy explains that she was often referred to as ‘the fat one from Little Mix’ as online trolls found fault with her weight and appearance which, as Jesy explains, swiftly led to an eating disorder. Reflecting on their comeback performance on The X Factor live shows in 2013, Jesy recalls:
“All I cared about what people to say ‘oh my god she’s lost weight’ when they saw the performance. And I literally just starved myself for a week, I didn’t eat anything because I thought if I eat anything I’m going to put on weight and people are going to call me fat.”
But, despite her attempts to lose weight, Jesy still faced abuse after the performance. The most hard-hitting came in the form of a tweet from controversial media commentor Katie Hopkins who wrote:
“Packet Mix have still got a chubber in their ranks.
Less Little Mix. More Pick n Mix.”
Packet Mix have still got a chubber in their ranks. Less Little Mix. More Pick n Mix.
— Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) November 3, 2013
It comes as no surprise then that the targeted pop star shortly attempted suicide.
The focus of the documentary is not, however, the vicious online trolling which typically comes hand-in-hand with modern-day fame. Rather, the documentary’s objective is to underline how trolling can victimise anyone with a social media account.
In one rather heart-rending scene, Jesy visits the home of the late Sian Waterhouse, who was only 16 when she took her life after being targeted by online trolling. Sian’s bedroom remains untouched, remaining in the exact same way she left it the day she died. Photos of the teenager surrounded by friends are pinned to the bedroom wall. As a viewer, it is hard to imagine that the same girl whose smile beams in every photo was so deeply unhappy that she felt driven to end her own life.
“I think people say things and they don’t realise the effect it is going to have on someone”, Jesy comments.
Later in the programme, Jesy visits a group of young people all of whom have been targeted by online trolls, several whom had been encouraged by the perpetrators to kill themselves. Jesy reflects,
‘I find it really sad that society is so fixated and obsessed with the way that people look. It’s not about people’s talents anymore or intelligence. It’s all about the way you look, there’s nothing else.’
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6 months ago this girl was someone I just wanted to forget. I wanted to erase her from my mind and everyone else’s memory. I didn’t see her as Jesy I saw her as “the fat one from Little Mix”. Up until now I hated her not because she’d ever done anything bad but because I was made to hate her by endless amounts of trolling. Since filming my documentary for @bbcone and @bbcthree I’ve learned so much more than I ever expected to. Thanks to all the inspirational people I’ve met on this emotional journey, I now love the girl in this photo. I’ve made this documentary for 2011 Jesy and for anyone who might be feeling like she did. I refused to speak about how I was feeling for so long. I was embarrassed and scared to. But I was so wrong to feel that way. Please if you are feeling how I did, SPEAK ABOUT IT. Talk to your family, speak to your friends, there’s always help out there. If you’d have told that girl one day you won’t feel sad anymore, I’d never have believed you….and here I am. Now when I look in the mirror, I don’t see Jesy the fat one, I see Jesy the happy one!
Yet, it is interesting that Jesy, after seeing and experiencing first-hand the harm the platform can bring, continues to use social media. But, she does acknowledge that her obsession with Instagram has made her ‘a completely different person’ and adds ‘I can’t deny that I post pictures for other people’s approval and I don’t know why.’
Jesy’s self-confessed inability to remove herself from the social media sphere is truly indicative of modern society. Millenials in particular are well-known to suffer from the fear of missing out (FOMO) and, for most, to be ‘cut off’ from the likes of Facebook and Instagram – the source of social comparison – would be completely inconceivable.
This documentary isn’t another self-indulgent celebrity ‘story of my life’ type, but rather it is an eye-opener to society’s ability to turn a blind eye to the harmful and sinister side of social media.
Featured image: BBC
images: Instagram @_jesynelson