‘I need to go on an extreme diet so I can look like the other three’: Jesy Nelson is tired of being pitted against other women
In her first interview since leaving Little Mix, Jesy Nelson's comments after almost 10 years in the band are an eye-opening reminder of the constant pressure women face being consistently compared and pitted against each other.
The announcement was everywhere when it came out: On Monday 14th December 2020, Jesy Nelson confirmed speculation she was leaving the band.
“After nine years together Jesy has made the decision to leave Little Mix,” a statement from the remaining three band members read. “This is an incredibly sad time for all of us but we are fully supportive of Jesy.”
Jesy then took to her Instagram account to explain her reasons to more than 7 million followers. “The truth is being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health,” she wrote. “I find the constant pressure of being in a girl group and living up to expectations very hard.”
Nelson was never shy about the pressures of being in the group. When she appeared in her BBC Three documentary Odd One Out which focused on her deteriorating mental health, it was obvious to everyone she was profoundly unhappy.
Both she and her mother are tearful at numerous points, each saying how she would forgo all her fame and success if she could just go back to the Jesy she had been before the X Factor got hold of her. Before her every move, style of clothing and body shape were dissected against her three other bandmates. Former bandmate Perrie Edwards even admits photoshoots and choosing album artwork was always a point of contention because Nelson was constantly fretting over how she looked compared to the other members.
This “constant pressure” began when Nelson was just a teenager and continued for a decade before she decided she could take no more. And it’s only now, in her first interview since leaving the group, she goes into the details of why she had to break free. It wasn’t that she wanted to forgo her career as a singer, rather that she just couldn’t stand the judgment and scrutiny that came with being singled out as part of a foursome. Every choice she made in Little Mix in regards to her appearance was to make herself “look like the other three.”
“Now I’m on my own, I can genuinely wear what I want to wear. Before, I was wearing what I thought I should wear, because I was too frightened to wear certain things in case I looked bigger than the others. I’d wear corsets and sh*t like that to make myself look the size they were. Now, I’m not looking at the screen thinking, “Oh my god, I don’t look as good as them,'” she told Cosmopolitan.
Her life was consumed, plagued with insecurity. She didn’t simply have her own reflection to contend with, but also the reflection of her three other bandmates, who had differing shapes to Jesy. Her constant unhappiness became so normal that Nelson knew of no other way to exist.
“I didn’t know that I could be this happy. I thought when I was in the group that it was just normal to feel that way. And because I’d felt like that for 10 years, I just thought, “This is life.”
“Since I’ve left, I feel free. I don’t wake up with anxiety, thinking, “I’ve got to do a music video today, I need to starve myself.” Or, “I need to go on an extreme diet so I can look like the other three.” That was consuming me.”
She talks of the last music video she shot with the group and how it signalled the beginning of the end.
“I’d been in lockdown, and I’d put on a bit of weight but I didn’t[then] they said, “You’ve got a music video in a couple of weeks,” and I just panicked. I went on this extreme diet, with bloody shakes, and tried to eat as little as possible. On the day of the Sweet Melody video, I had a panic attack on set because I didn’t look how I wanted to look and I found it so hard to just be happy and enjoy myself. I looked at the other three and they were having the time of their life. There’s a scene in Sweet Melody I’m not in, because that’s when I had a panic attack and broke down. I was like,”I just want to go home.” I was sobbing in the dressing room.”
It’s heartwrenching to think of a young woman in the prime of her life suffocating under the pressure of it all for almost a decade – even with how glamourous it all seemed on the surface – but this is what occurred. Comments on social media even now will still say she left because her “heart wasn’t in it” but this is untrue; she left because consistently being pitted against your three female friends for not looking exactly as they do was just too hard – any woman would find such a situation intolerable.
And she’s sick and tired of it.
“I was bigger than the other three, and there’s never really been that in a girl group. I was classed as the obese, fat one.”
“I constantly compared myself to the others. Of course, a lot of that was in my head, but a lot of it was past trauma. Even recently, I was still getting compared to them,” Nelson continued. “It’s horrible when you already don’t like something about yourself to then have thousands of people point it out. Now I feel like me. When I look back [at my time] in the band, I genuinely wasn’t me. I can’t believe how miserable I was.”
Her comments echo that of similar words said by Khloe Kardashian who has for years been unfavourably named in regards to that of her sisters. “It’s almost unbearable trying to live up to the impossible standards the public have set for me.”
Nelson feels free for the first time in her life. What we should be applauding is a woman who finally put her own happiness first.
“For so long, I worried about others and letting people down. The only person I should have been trying to make happy was myself.”