Published: 05:00, 23 January 2022
In her first column for KentOnline, Broadstairs writer Melissa Todd reveals how she has handled the reaction to her new book on life as a dominatrix...
So, I wrote this book and got a PR person to help me flog it. Turns out that’s essential. In the UK 188,000 books are released each year; if you want anyone to care, you need to find a loud-voiced bod prepared to shout on your behalf. I ordered a six-week campaign for £2,000.
She warned me I might get trolled, and death threats, and I thought, gosh, for what I’m paying you, that better be a promise. I like the way you can buy privilege now, like paperbacks or potatoes.
But as the weeks rolled by I didn’t get any death threats, and no one has been unkind to me on any of my social media platforms, which has been a huge relief, actually, for I’m a fragile cove.
I’ve had lots of private messages of support, most often featuring the words courageous, inspirational and awesome, which has been absolutely flipping brilliant: each one has made me sing with joy.
More than half have been from women, which surprised me: I’d imagined women would be my most furious detractors. Far from it.
Lots wanted advice as to how they could become elderly models too, and I told them to buy my book, which is packed with useful advice. Like God, PR helps them that help themselves.
With newspaper articles, it’s been a different kettle of filth.
I was told never to read the comments. I had no intention of looking, but Mr Todd, bless him, cannot resist reading them out to me in tones of frenzied outrage, no matter how earnestly I beg him to desist.
I’ve been accused of lying (which I’m not), being privileged (which I am); but mainly it’s my looks that have been dissected to shreds. One chap accused me of looking like Jimmy Carr in drag, and in fairness, I can see what he means. I do have rather a wide grin. So would you, in my place.
It’s an odd phenomenon, picking on a stranger’s appearance. You could probably argue I’ve slightly brought it on myself, seeking publicity for my story, particularly given the nature of the story, but, say, Boris Johnson?
Back when I was a newsreader I recall the Star running a front page of Boris looking chubby on holiday, as if that were the worst thing he’d ever done.
Men and women face online abuse, old and fat, young and thin, so it’s important to remember not to take it personally, however hard that feels.
The design of social media platforms triggers the brain’s reward centres with punishment and shaming; it brings with it a sense of community and belonging, that sense of safety we all seek.
Making fun of people’s looks is really easy, and enjoyable, and bolsters the ego with a swift click. But judging people on their appearance demeans all of us, and contributes to a world where eating disorders, body dysmorphia and self-hatred are allowed to flourish.
Here’s my handy guide to help you past the haters.
When insulted, ask yourself, is it true? For instance, a Daily Mail journalist once wrote that I had a spotty chin, which, while irrelevant, is definitely true. Well, how can I be offended by the truth?
Only the mad take umbrage at facts. Pointing out my pustules might not be polite, but taking offence at something so self-evidently accurate is daft, like taking offence at being told I live in Broadstairs. I might not like it, but I can’t argue with it.
If you’re not sure whether the insult is true or not (“I’ve never seen anyone as monstrously ugly as you”, I recall being one such example: that’s the kind of remark that tends to linger through the small dark hours), consider whether you value the speaker’s opinion.
If they’re a random whose chief hobby seems to be sending abuse to strangers, rather than, say, an internationally renowned aesthetician, it’s possible what they’re saying is motivated by something other than truth: boredom or spite, perhaps.
Then the correct response is pity rather than rage. That’s easy to say and hard to believe, but it gets easier with practise. Promise.
Meanwhile, the book keeps selling, and verily I regret nothing. “They’re just jealous, and that’s splendid”, my gran would say; “it’s when they’re not jealous you need to worry.”
And my gran was never wrong.
*Melissa Todd’s book, My Body is My Business, a fictionalised account of her 25 years in the sex industry, is available now, priced £8.99.