Ragging on Stacey Dooley means criticising our own Instagram bragging, writes Amanda Cassidy.
She meant well. It couldn’t have been easy for the broadcaster and Strictly Come Dancing winner, Stacey Dooley to travel to Africa to spend time with underprivileged children for Comic Relief. But the backlash to what appears to be innocent humanitarian moments captured on her Instagram page have been pretty savage.
First, MP David Lammy got into a twitter spat with Stacey telling her that “the world does not need any more white saviours,” accusing her of perpetuating the narrative of the black community depending on white westerners.
Then, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, presenter Trisha Goddard was asked her opinion on Lammy’s comments said “I broadly agree with David Lammy. It’s quite a complex issue like to do my research, it’s not about Stacey. I don’t think it’s fair to just talk about Stacey. I went on her Instagram and I had a look at the picture. What jumped out at me is what’s underneath it, it said ‘obsessed’ - and I found that disturbing. I’m not saying that she should know any different or anything else because she’s been spearheading some great things. She’s done some great work".
The image Goddard is referring to is a selfie which Dooley took of her holding a child on her hip with the caption: “OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED” and a breaking heart emoji.
Stacy has hit back at those on social media criticising her for ‘exploiting’ poor black children for social media 'likes'. She replied to a fan who asked her if she would ‘pick up random white children in Europe and force them to be in selfies’ by saying ‘I've had numerous photos with children from Europe. Last year I was with Roma kids in Hungary and no one had any issues with these photos."
Stacey also pointed out that she gets permission from any child’s guardian and consults with the locals and NGO’s about how she should behave. In addition, Comic Relief released a statement defending the documentary-maker: "We are really grateful that Stacey Dooley, an award-winning and internationally acclaimed documentary-maker, agreed to go to Uganda to discover more about projects the British people have funded there and make no apologies for this. She has filmed and reported on challenging issues all over the world, helping to put a much-needed spotlight on issues that affect people's lives daily."
But maybe the criticisms of Stacey posing prettily alongside a disinterested little boy with dark skin isn’t just about race or privilege. It seems as if most of those who are put out by the images are upset by the apparent 'showing off' or 'attention' seeking' by the presenter for likes.
But that's what social media has become - a 'look-at-me' platform thinly-disguised as an online community.
It’s ok, though. We all do it. I’m as guilty as anyone else for posting pictures of my holidays or the fact that I’ve run 5k. The truth is that we all thrive on feedback from our peers. It is a form of social hierarchy and validation – and is part of being human, especially these days. The big issue is when it becomes only about that - when we become OB.SESSED with bragging on social media to the detriment of all other positive messages we might be trying to send or connections we may be trying to form.
This week, model Christine McGuinness posted a selfie in a hospital bed with her eyes closed and oxygen mask on her face. She assured fans that she was ok; “Please hear me when I say “I am very well so please don’t worry” I just had a little snooze, honestly it wasn’t long enough. But whilst I'm laying here, I’ll take a selfie and send a little reminder to stay strong, live, laugh and love every day. Be kind always, you never know what people are dealing with behind their smile.”
Cryptic, yes. Attention seeking, probably yes. So what is the point? Is she educating the masses, soothing insecurity or offering an important social message?
Either way, there is something quite unsettling about the way we are being conditioned to rate ourselves based on how many people ‘liked’ a post. Our own daily lives are always going to look pretty grey in comparison to those filtered shots of models posing on a beach. And while it is undeniably fun to scroll through social networks admiring style and interiors and handbags - when you start to feel resentful that your life isn’t like that or that you don’t measure up, it can start to chip away at self-esteem. And when someone's level of self-worth is low, it can spark outrage. This might explain why poor Stacey got such flack.
'Isn't life fantastic'
Last year, TV personality Claudia Winkleman unplugged Instagram for good. She wrote about it in her column in The Times with her usual amusing, common-sense approach. She says she believes people have lost the run of themselves.
“People were doing star jumps on pristine beaches; others were out with friends smiling happily for the phone camera. There were also posts that showed what people were about to eat for lunch. All was good in the world. And then I had an odd feeling, a bit like I’d spied on people. Like I was outside, staring at what they were doing. Instead of, well, doing something myself. But instead of living, I was watching other people living. And worse (here’s where you’re going to hate me), they were stopping what they were doing and capturing and sharing instead of living it, too."
“Am I anti photos? Nope." writes Winkleman. "If you think the fish stew needs to be captured, then do it. But just don’t share it, eh? I’ll be frank, I’ll think less of you if you do. And that’s because Instagram is simply showing off.
It’s, “Look at me!”; it’s, “Isn’t life fantastic?”; it’s, “I can’t believe how great I look!”; it’s, “Wow, look at my thigh gap”; it’s “We’re still in love!” — and it’s bizarre.”
Sharing our lives and our experiences has always been an important and positive part of social interaction. That’s how communities grew and flourished (those berries are poisonous, mate. Try the next bush). But online social networks have created a very unnatural way of interacting with our peers – nothing is in context, the messages are over-engineered, and all nuances lost. This can also breed a level extreme hostility – you only have to go on Twitter for five seconds to see the negative comments that people wouldn’t dare to say to each other's faces.
Instagram was billed as the pretty image-sharing app – a fluffy, vacuous, rabbit-down-the-hole-chewing-gum-for-your-brain way to kill ten minutes. It was fun to know that Amy now skis, that Jake is living it up in Dubai and that Emma is an accountant and has the best outfits. But it is also becoming the perfect breeding ground for those who like to get a rub in.
“Freshly squeezed orange juice in bed again this morning” is Instagram speak for ‘wow look at the guy I bagged, lucky me”. “Champagne lunch!’ images translates as ‘isn’t my life fantastic’. We live in an age obsessed with being perfect but then anyone else who dares portray themselves as too perfect is going down.
Stacey Dooley is human – she was simply sharing her experiences in Africa. Yes, we are sure the selfie she posted wasn't her first attempt and her use of prose under the caption was a little 'Kardashian,' but the message undeniably got out (which was presumably the aim for Comic Relief).
To share our lives is to put it out there for judgement. And that means there will always be elements of hyperbole to hide that vulnerability.
But as long as we balance our bragging on Instagram with some seriously good information and positive messages, we can enjoy it for what it is - a way to connect and to entertain and, in Stacey's case, to educate.