When I started out writing this blog and then for media publications, I vowed never to touch a tabloid publication. I view many of them as grubby and sensational, and often reducing or inflating tales of disability to pity or heroism.
And then I told/sold my story to a UK publication, an Australian gossip magazine, and a UK tabloid picked up the Reddit story without my permission (surprisingly it was very fairly told and the vast majority of the comments were amazingly positive). Most recently I was asked to give a blog post to the Australian version of that UK tabloid. They wouldn’t pay me for my work and so I said no. And the journo, who I know, convinced me to do an interview.
I did a rushed interview between day job commitments and speaking commitments, no time to choose flattering and recent photos for the article. They published a photo of me in my pyjamas – among many – when they could have chosen many other flattering ones. The article was ok, fair and factual and quoted me well, though the commenters completely missed my point and took the side that I should be pitied or that my views on scary face at Halloween were outrageous. I am the fun police. People who know me in person and online spoke of my courage for going in to battle the trolls on that site (see here and here. Parents of kids with Ichthyosis thanked me for speaking up, four talked about their child being questioned for wearing Halloween makeup before 7.30 am that day – and that is why I continue to speak up. And I got a few hits to my blog – so they could see the real me.
This latest tabloid experience wasn’t too abrasive though it’s been an exercise in rationalising (only to myself) why I used that media outlet to tell my story when in my heart I don’t believe in it.
I will always try to write for a publication I respect and read above ones I don’t. But the lure of telling my story to an audience that I’m not already reaching. The history of comments received on all types of articles on tabloid news sites suggest these are the people that need educating about diversity and acceptance. Even if the commenters who missed the point of my opinion read the headline or skimmed the article or saw the pictures of me, I’ve made a small difference. It’s those who don’t comment but have had their thoughts about facial difference and Ichthyosis challenged who I’ve really helped. And above all, it’s me telling my story for those who can’t.
I remember talking to a good friend about my experience with an Aussie magazine. They were offered to write for a similar magazine and wanted advice. I told my friend that overall, it had been really positive. I had a lot of say in how my story was told – even allowed to write it once. The feedback from readers was wonderful – many related to my life with Ichthyosis or said they were unaware of the condition until they read the story. I encouraged my friend to consider this new audience they were offered – it might be one they weren’t already reaching, one that didn’t have access to the Internet, one that needed their advice.
The pressure I place on myself means that I worry about the perception of integrity that I hold. Does tabloid storytelling make me less of a person? I don’t think so, especially when I’ve not been paid for most of the stories.
So about these commenters, parasites lurking on tabloid sites… I dare them to tell their story too, to quit hiding behind a pseudonym and blog like I do. Because while they’re judging my opinion and experiences, and pitying my appearance, I’m living life well.
Writing these words about my conflict in where I tell my story helps me rationalise my actions. Writing elsewhere helps others. And where I choose to write doesn’t make me any less intelligent of committed to raising awareness, or hypocritical for telling my story to places I don’t read.
I know who I am. I still have my integrity. And I’m ok with that.