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‘Totally uncalled for’: The treatment of Cheryl Cole is proof that, in 2018, we still have long way to go

by Jennifer McShane
20th Nov 2018

Those in the public eye absolutely know what they’re signing up for. With a life of fame, money and privilege comes the dark side of that coin which, particularly if you’re a woman, amounts to a shameful amount of criticising. Cheryl, of Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Tweedy fame, was subjected to so much harrowing online abuse following her recent performance on the X-Factor that she felt compelled to make an emotional statement on social media.

“I wanted to start by saying thank you all so much for your lovely comments and support for my performance on Sunday. You may not have read about them but I definitely saw and felt them!” she wrote. Indeed, we couldn’t read about them, the lovely comments, because almost every single media outlet latched onto the barrage of negativity.

She accepted that she as a performer, and just being the person she was would always divide opinion. “I have always been accepting of people’s opinions. Me personally, my music and performances are never going to be for everyone. And that’s okay.”

“I let a lot of things lie but the sheer level of unbalanced negativity towards me in the tabloid press these past few days had been quite frankly shocking and I need to address it. This level of relentless abuse should not be tolerated in any walk of life”

The amount of backlash that woman has been subjected to over the past few days is, quite frankly, disgusting. I’m not even going to post any of the comments here, lest the trolls need further ammunition, but they were appaling. Criticising everything about her, from the way the 35-year-old looked to her body shape, hair and facial expressions. It may not have been her best-ever performance, depending on if you’re partial to her pop music, but the woman is a pro; she knows what she’s doing after 16 years in the public eye.

She also acknowledged that those who criticise were able to turn such scenarios around, almost lamenting the fact that online bullying is as potent as ever, yet still target her in a similar manner.

“What’s even more surprising to me is that some of these people are the first to write that we should be being more socially aware and conscious of online bullying and mental health awareness.”

“Is this any different?”

A familiar narrative  

The crux of the issue is that, in 2018, it remains no different. If you’re a woman in the public eye, the message is this: that you must accept and live with the consequences – no matter how severe, no matter how they might rip your fragile self-esteem – or your sanity – into shreds.  It’s a familiar narrative that we see time and time again; that of idolising female performers only to tear them down as soon as the cracks start to show. And growing up, I idolised these teen performers: Britney, Christina, even a more mature Mariah Carey.

I can see now how problematic it was that they, as teenage girls, were blatantly packaged and sexualised by men to essentially appeal to men. As if it were entirely normal to see a 17-year-old girl in a school uniform, wearing pigtails and a push-up bra wielding the kind of sexual power I ever wondered if I would possess. Or indeed, at 15, wondering why I had none of what she had.

And yet what most of us remember about Britney is her very public breakdown. The MTV performance that even Rihanna sniggered at from the audience.  She was forced to grow up too fast, into the woman we demanded her to be (because we all wanted a piece of her) and then we infantilised her – her 65-year-old father still has the legal power to make any major decision in her life and she’s in her mid-thirties. But we blamed her for that breakdown.

We still do.


“Bring back old Britney!” the YouTube comments scream in 2018. The Britney that was shaped and moulded to appeal to a fantasy. But the trolls don’t hesitate in conveying their disgust at her ‘change’, at spouting the, ‘this would never have happened if she didn’t shave her head’ comments underneath every single music video clip.

The same happened to Mariah Carey. We all remember the bizarre interview with the pink radio following her breakdown in 2001. It was on the back of when her much-hyped film Glitter and its soundtrack was panned. She’s had the last laugh; this week under #JusticeForGlitter, the album re-entered the US charts after 16 years, but she has admitted, that much-like Britney, she hadn’t a support system around her when she needed it most. “I didn’t have the right support system around me at the time,” said Carey. But yet, her narrative was defined by her mental-state, under a microscope by the media.

And we never see this of men. When Ben Affleck was hospitalised this year, the emphatic ‘Poor Ben’ headlines were rife; he the Hollywood star who fell off the wagon. Johnny Depp’s recent GQ cover story saw the same thing, while his ex-wife Amber Heard is still seen as the one to blame for his “fall from grace.”


View this post on Instagram


Walking away from negativity like .. ?

A post shared by Cheryl (@cherylofficial) on

Cheryl has fallen victim to that same narrative. There was a time, she was considered the darling of British TV – everyone adored her, including the press.

Until they didn’t.

“Is this any different?” Cheryl asks of her treatment on social media.

In 2018, it still isn’t really any different.

Despite #MeToo and the fact that we are rousing together and vying for change.

If anything, it’s merely a painful reminder that we are a long way from where we need to be.

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