Among my very many new year’s resolutions (sorry Tory), the one I predicted would be a big old cinch was giving up the Mail Online showbiz section - unaffectionately known as the Sidebar of Shame (henceforth known as SoS).
I mean, it’s 15 minutes a day, over a Be Good to Yourself ready-meal at my desk, how hard could it be? As it turns out, very. So why give it up at all?
It’s substandard, even by showbiz ‘news’ standards.Look, I was there in the early days of Perez Hilton, back when it was still PageSixSixSix.com, and I’m still Facebook friends with Trent from Pink Is the New Blog from back when I read his site on a daily basis.
I was once voted ‘Most likely to be editor of Heat magazine’, and in 2004 I bought, and non-ironically, wore a ‘Save Mary Kate’ t-shirt.
My point is, I have been known to enjoy a bathe in the murky waters of showbiz gossip. I have hotly defended my right as an intelligent person to switch my brain off for an hour or two a week and read this crap. But the SoS is not even a half-decent or witty example of the genre.
It posts eight almost identical ‘stories’ about Kim Kardashian every day and uses every picture of Jennifer Aniston looking anything less than beatific to suggest that she’s suffering unimaginable inner turmoil. It’s lazy.
Everyone has to fit in with its narrow ideas on feminity, AKA ‘Mail Hacks in Frocks’Say no more…
Even hate-reading adds to ad revenueLook, Martin Clarke doesn’t care whether you hate-read the website as a lefty feminist or as someone who is likely to register their user name as ‘BritishJobs4BritishPpl’ and call Lena Dunham fat. The DM just care about their hits, which often exceed 100m a month.
There was very briefly a mirror site which enabled you to immerse yourself in ire/wardrobe malfunctions without adding to those hits, but it’s since disappeared. I’d hate to think my idle lunchtime wandering is lining the pockets of journalism’s most venal.
But the primary, this-could-change-2013-for-me reason is…
It hates women and I’m trying to rescue my sanity and good sense…I hate-read the SoS. Who doesn’t love a good eye-roll and a ‘ugh, who have the DM crucified today?’ I revel in the fact that it makes me blood pressure shoot through the roof on a daily basis, and I love sending the links to friends with a vitriolic explanation of why this is the ABSOLUTE WORST.
I like knowing which story Grace Dent, Sali Hughes and Caitlin Moran are on about when they lacerate it on Twitter.
But here’s the thing. I also passionately care and worry about the media’s increasingly damaging effect on women. Very young women especially. I care about its damaging effect on me.
The battle for self-esteem has been painful, long-fought and takes place on a daily basis. But every time I pore over pictures of Mischa Barton’s tiny bit of cellulite, I know that laser ray of judgement is inevitably going to turn on me.
I’m trying to absorb that I’m not perfect and that’s OK, so why should poor beautiful Mischa have to play by another set of rules? I’m hoping that by not giving a shit when Britney gains 5lbs I’ll give less of a shit when I do. I’ll somehow be re-routing my own neural pathways and making my own life more pleasant.
Yes friends, I’m treating it with that much gravitas. I’m trying to be the change I want to see, so it’s out with the sidebar, in with the Susie Orbach…
So why is it so hard?That’s what I’ve been asking myself. Surely this should have been a doddle? Why do I miss knowing what latest insult Brandi Glanville has thrown at LeAnn Rimes? I don’t even know who Brandi Glanville is.
Maybe it’s just the little rubber-necking nosy part that many of us have. Maybe it’s just too easy to refresh the website and see two more stories on Kim and how much weight she’s gained/lost since this morning. Maybe I just enjoy being a fully paid-up member of Generation Y complete with encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture references and up-to-the-second Intel on break-ups, make-ups and showmances.
Or maybe I still have a way to go until I can rein in the part of my brain that absorbs the New Year diets, revolutionary wrinkle treatments and what Jennifer Aniston puts in her breakfast smoothie, and teach it that no-one is perfect…
Has it made a difference?It’s been three weeks now and I’ve not cheated once. Sure, like any detox there were tough times in the first few days, eating my BGTY mushroom fettuccine felt somehow wrong without a side of showbiz bile.
I experimented briefly with replacing it with other, marginally less misogynistic gossip sites. And then I realised that if I’m really going to do this, if I am really going to retrain my brain to not focus so much on bingo wings, hints of double chins or the amount of junk in a stranger’s trunk, then I need to do this right.
I am pretty impressionable when it comes to this issue – far more impressionable than I’d like. I could blame it on being a product of my generation; it’s not our fault, we’re the first generation to have been told that we can change EVERYTHING about ourselves, that NOTHING is right. But honestly, I’ve been a pretty willing participant in this shit-show.
I’ve nodded my head enthusiastically and listened wide-eyed to what exercises will give you Michelle Obama arms or Frankie-off-of-The-Saturdays abs. And you know what? It’s made me miserable.
So in order to undo some of this damage and be more mindful of what I consume, I am going cold turkey and in many ways, going back to absolute basics and re-learning how to have a healthier attitude to this craziness.
I’m replacing my lunchtime Sidebar browse with awesomely cool sites like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, a site aimed at insecure 10-year-olds but with wise takeaways for slightly, uh, more mature people with fucked-up ideas about body image, self-esteem and confidence.
I already feel much more at ease, lighter and more positive for spending the 90 seconds I would have previously used to squint at Kim K’s bikini body listening to some positive reinforcement and straight- up good sense from this woman:
10-year-olds, schmen-year-olds, some of this stuff makes me cry (and not just because it reminds me of the end of Mrs Doubtfire).
The world is full of negative messages that seem so much easier to listen to than the positive ones, and the Sidebar of Shame was my delivery method of choice.
The positive messages sometimes get drowned out by the sheer weight of noise telling you that you aren’t good enough, for any of a million stupid reasons, and when you do come across them they seem much harder to absorb.
So maybe I’m blaming the Sidebar for more than it deserves, but cutting it out has made me feel a lot happier, and encouraged me to seek out those positive messages and try to absorb them, even if it doesn’t always come naturally.
Bethan is tweeting about everything except Jennifer Aniston's love life and Kim Kardashian's ass @bethevs.