It’s too easy to dismiss Samantha Brick as an idiot. The woman notorious for her 2012 article ‘There are downsides to looking this pretty’: Why women hate me for being beautiful’ has again ignited a wave of online vitriol, this time for a piece proclaiming, ‘Any woman who wants to stay beautiful (like me!) needs to diet every day of her life’. But why, if this woman is so clearly – as one commenter puts it – a “delusional egotist”, does anyone bother getting worked up over her in the first place?
The article, written as an online article for British tabloid the Daily Mail, encourages women to be on a permanent diet (as Brick is) – because, in her words, “any self-respecting woman wants to be thin”. She cites Joan Collins, the 79-year-old British actress who credits life-long dieting for her slim figure, as a ‘laudable’ example to follow. Brick says: “I don’t believe overweight is ever attractive. Whether we like it or not, we live in an age and a part of the world where men and women regard thin as beautiful.”
Brick’s piece is so absurd that it at times borders on parody. She details pouring coffee over expensive boxes of chocolate, describes her once strict adherence to the ‘Polo diet’ – “a pack of mints for breakfast and another for lunch” – before finally declaring that nothing in life “signifies failure better than fat”. From condoning extreme dieting to the point of fainting, to celebrating a husband who’ll divorce her if she gets fat (great motivation, she argues), you could assume it’s the sort of thing you might have
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a chortle over and disregard.
Yet aside from the usual twit-wit – peatreebojangle wrote “I like to tell myself Samantha Brick is an ingenious comedian. Otherwise I’d have to kill myself” – people, mostly women, were getting genuinely angry. Writing for The Sydney Morning Herald, Sally Berry called Brick “deeply sad and shallow”. Lucy Uprichard of The Huffington Post said she was a “mouthpiece of sexist and demeaning notions of beauty”. Days after the article was posted, Brick appeared on the British daytime TV show This Morning and was eviscerated by hosts and positive body image campaigner Natasha Devon. They argued that the article encouraged vulnerable young women to equate their worth with thinness, a false and damaging message. Ninety-four per cent of the program’s viewers agreed with them.
Brick’s appearance on This Morning did nothing to affirm her as somebody worth listening to. She looked uncomfortable as she clumsily made her case and seemed incapable of defending herself. She sidestepped the issue by arguing that “the really important message is the problem of obesity”. It’s a fair point; unfortunately, her article didn’t mention it once. Instead, by championing obsessive dieting, it simply promoted an equally unhealthy lifestyle. On TV, Brick appeared unaware of the underlying message she was sending to herself and other women; ignorant of the wider implications of her argument.
Yet, while she may not be clever enough to explore the emotionally charged topic of female bodies with clarity and insight, she is savvy enough to find another way of making people listen. The art of controversy, if you could call it that, has come to dominate journalism in recent times. The Daily Mail, Brick’s own publisher and the champion of British shock-journalism, is now the most widely read newspaper in the world. One increasingly has to shout to be heard, and that’s exactly what Samantha Brick is doing.
Her views are controversial and designed to get rise, but they have another power. Brick’s ‘art’, whether she knows it or not, is in stating uncomfortable, ugly truths. The truth is, we are ashamed of being fat. Posting the article to Facebook generated a predictable barrage of disgusted comments, but one sentiment was repeated again and again: “I know so many women and girls who would take this really seriously.”
Whether women want to admit it or not, many of us think about food and weight in exactly the way Brick does. We feel ugly when we gain weight; we carefully monitor our food in order to prevent it. Brick represents a part of ourselves so dark and shameful that, when she stands in stark daylight, we recoil in disgust. Her lack of remorse is all the more painful: for many women, what she celebrates is a source of much anguish and self-loathing.
What we hate about Brick is not the fact that she’s ‘delusional’, but something quite the opposite. She’s the cheery spokesperson for things we don’t want to admit about ourselves or our society. When she wrote about how hard it is being pretty, the underlying reality portrayed was that attractive women incite jealousy. When she wrote in 2011 that she “used her sex appeal to get ahead at work” and that other women should too, she hit a similar nerve – this time, through her suggestion that attractive women gain more favours in life than unattractive ones. These are unpopular truths, portraying a society that values female looks well above merit and rewards women who take advantage of this.
As the saying goes, nothing hurts quite like the truth. And that is the power of Samantha Brick: her articles are strangely compelling because, as ‘disgusting’ as the assertions may appear, we often see our own lives reflected in them. We claim that thinness doesn’t matter, but maybe it’s we, and not Brick, who need a dose of reality. After all, if there’s one thing her articles make clear, it’s that everything Samantha Brick has learned she has learned through experience.
She may well be foolish, ignorant, and recklessly unaware of the damage she might cause to susceptible women; but it’s the harsh truths Brick exposes, in her irritatingly flippant sort of way, that serve the real sting.