Appearance Cyberbullying Digital Mental Health

Interview With Our New Ambassador, Jessica Megan

Tell us a bit about yourself 

‘I’m a model and body acceptance activist. I first began using my Instagram in 2017 as a platform to talk about the human body and body acceptance. From this, I was noticed by Leyah Shanks from The Body Confidence Revolution, as well as numerous other influential charities and public figures. I have been working closely with organisations that focus on getting to know the body and understanding its importance, rather than its limitations.

Modelling is a huge passion of mine, but working with women is my purpose. Supplying them with the tools they need to be happy and healthy in their bodies, as well as knowing when to speak up and ask for what they deserve, is very important to me.’

So you’ve always spoken about body acceptance? 

‘Since I was about twenty, I’ve been passionate about the human body. Our bodies are incredible. It’s appalling that we are in 2019 and people are still spending so much time and effort thinking about their bodies, wishing they could change this or that. It’s a scandal perpetuated by a greedy industry. So many strong and powerful women are beating themselves up every day about how they look.

I grew up hating myself and learning other people’s hate for my body, so it has been a long journey, but it had been one of the most powerful experiences. It has set me free.’

How did you grow your confidence in your body? 

‘Strangely, one of the most influential forces came from my dog. The shelter that I rescued him from was closing down and so I decided to run a race to raise money for it. I went from couch to half marathon in 10 weeks. It was through that that I really began to realise the power of my body and what it could do. 

I have recently signed up to run the Vitality 10k in London in May, which I am really excited about, because I get to run in my undies past Big Ben and no one can stop me.’

What do you love about the body positive movement? 

‘I actually use ‘body acceptance’ more than the term ‘body positivity,’ because for me it is coming more from a place of accepting who you are. Body positivity is a movement made by and for fat women, so it’s important to differentiate between the two. Body acceptance is about being happy and learning to love your body. For example, I’m working with women who have breast cancer and finding out how they perform self love and body acceptance even when they feel like their bodies have turned against them.

I love the body acceptance movement because I am part of this amazing group of wonderful, powerful, amazingly supportive women who look out for each other. That’s amazing. They’re amazing.’

You’ve also spoken a lot about online sexual harassment – what have been your experiences? 

‘Online sexual harassment is a form of online bullying, but no one sees it that way. Comments and DMs, unsolicited dick pics, links to porn videos – I receive them all and it is every single day without fail. Sadly, it is so often met with “well you’re asking for it if you post that kind of content.” My stance is this: How I present my body to the world is my choice, and people have no right to force their sexual desires onto me without my consent. It is harassment and it is bullying. 

I tend to decline this kind of stuff straight away. The intention of these messages is to reduce me to a sexual fantasy. It takes me back to when I was a teenager and would get leered at and catcalled in the street by men or the moments in my life where I have been groped and touched without my consent. I find it can be quite triggering, particularly on a bad day.’ 

What do you do to combat this kind of harassment? 

‘There is a lot of deleting and blocking. If someone is following me just to objectify me, I don’t want them on my page. Instagram also doesn’t tend to be very effective at getting rid of cyberbullies. I also get a lot of (guys especially) saying things like “Why do you feel the need to put your body on the internet?” This is frustrating because I can tell they’re trying to psychoanalyse me and get me to admit I have some darker issues that I’m working through. I don’t. I’m very proud of my body and I have no shame in it. We need to normalise nudity because sexualising it has gotten women into a lot of trouble. It’s made us into objects and fantasies, rather than people.

A lot of people would say that I should just ignore them and not let it get to me, but that’s not the point. The point is that calling them out on this kind of thing in a public space could teach them something about respecting women. But perhaps also, a young girl or woman on my page will see me standing up for myself and know that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and that it’s okay to use their voices against bullies who try to diminish them.’

Do you have advice on dealing with online harassment for young girls? 

‘There is always the option to block and ignore it. But I think the focus needs to be on giving them the tools and knowledge in understanding that their bodies are not sexual assets and these things that are being said to them aren’t anything to do with them. Online sexual harassment is a result of how women have been presented to the world, and how that has been absorbed by some of the men in our society. These fantasies and illusions that are projected on you are not your fault. You are allowed to be sexual and enjoy your body without being punished for it. You don’t deserve to be treated badly. Men treat me badly online everyday, I can’t stop them from doing that. But I can arm myself with the understanding that it is not my fault. 

In some cases unfortunately, this won’t work, and it can escalate. Like for me, I have regularly experienced rape and death threats on my page and in my DMs.  There was one occasion when a guy started out with a really harmless message and it escalated really quickly into messages about wanting to kill me, about knowing where I lived and that he was going to kidnap and murder me. When things start to escalate like this, the only thing you can do is call the police, just to be on the safe side.

I would say to anyone experiencing any kind of online harassment is that it is important to find your ‘sisterhood’ or ‘brotherhood’, because they will support you. Whether that means your friends or family or an online community of people – it is important to find those who give you strength. Bullying can make you feel so isolated, so find your army.’

Finally, why did you want to work with us here at Ditch the Label? 

‘Ditch the Label and me work wonderfully as a team because I help highlight all of the root causes of harassment like toxic masculinity, transphobia, homophobia etc. and Ditch the Label helps the victims of those affected by these issues. We can’t solve one without the other. Education is first and foremost. Whilst we have to teach some how to be better people and identify the root causes of their ignorance, we also have to give strength and support to those affected by online bullying. We can do this. We will fight for each other.’

To keep up with Jessica and all of her awesome activism, follow her Instagram @jess_megan_

For hilarious memes, cute pics and inspirational quotes every day, follow us on Instagram @ditchthelabel