Why I feel sympathy for Samantha Brick

Samantha Brick’s story has gone viral this week, following an article she wrote in Tuesday’s Daily Mail entitled ‘Why women hate me for being beautiful‘. Now, we have to understand that Ms Brick is a writer, and has in the past written features for the Daily Mail and other popular magazines and newspapers, many of them of a confessional nature – trying for a child aged 40, for instance. She also blogs about her life as a housewife in France. There is nothing particularly wrong with all of this; she makes a living, and generally (not always, but mostly) ensures that she rather than anyone else is the focus of any deprecating remarks. Indeed, her article on Tuesday, while not entirely interpreted as such, is focused on herself rather than on others.

What caused the storm was a perceived arrogance about her looks, and many thousands of people have seen it as an invitation to comment negatively – often cruelly – on how they perceive Samantha Brick’s appearance. Complete strangers felt they were given permission to judge her harshly and to condemn her, to the extent that (unsurprisingly), as she explained in a follow-on article in the next day’s Daily Mail, she spent most of Tuesday in tears. Online communication is a real double-edged sword; it can connect people and their ideas swiftly and almost in real time, but it can also – through utter thoughtlessness and the narcissism and selfishness of commentators who do not think about the effect of their written words on their subjects – be extraordinarily harmful. We have yet to develop, it seems, appropriate strong guidelines to online interaction which would enable safer, more affirming communication with one another.

In many ways, Samantha Brick is a victim. Yes, she will have been paid for her article, and the publicity she has received over the past few days will have helped her profile and her selling power as a writer tremendously. But she clearly did not really anticipate the vitriolic nature of the reactions to her piece, and she will have been wounded as a result. Her bosses at the Daily Mail, however, will have hoped for such a reaction, and will no doubt be absolutely delighted about the worldwide interest her story has sparked; they appear sadly lacking in their responsibility to her wellbeing. Shades, here, of manipulation. To her credit, Ms Brick has come out fighting, with appearances on numerous chat shows, and I detect a shift in public perception towards her. Probably our society was not quite ready for the message she was giving, and maybe she could have phrased it more carefully; but the shameful reactions of many have at least given us deep food for thought in how we deal with others.

Two good things could emerge from this for Samantha Brick. One – she will probably increase her earnings, and I suspect that a book deal is just around the corner. I hope she uses this opportunity wisely, and with a view to the responsibility she now has a public figure. Two – and I really hope that this happens – she could and should use her new-found platform to speak more forcefully and politically about how we need to move away from the obsession we have with superficiality and appearance, and how we – women as well as men – need to value people for who they are, not what they look like. The final words in her original article can be her call to action: ‘Perhaps … the sisterhood will finally stop judging me so harshly on what I look like, and instead accept me for who I am.’

Out of every storm comes an opportunity for change for the better for us all. Let this be Samantha Brick’s moment.

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