The #Unshamed project and working on Shame the play has opened some really interesting conversations about shame. People have told me about accidental flashings, bodily malfunctions and foot-in-mouth episodes. We’ve talked about the different manifestations of shame: personal and public, imposed and self created. The term “over share” has come up several times…
In a way, the #Unshamed Project an experiment. Allie, Neil and I did in real life, what I had invented as a plot device. I always believed, because of campaigns like the no make up selfie and the ice bucket challenge, the #Unshamed challenge wasn’t too far-fetched an idea. If people use social media to share photos of themselves sweaty and exhausted after running marathons for charity, then it’s not too far a leap to imagine that they might share their most embarrassing stories to comfort a victim of non-consensual porn. That’s what several characters in the play do. But to actually do it ourselves in real life and with no specific victim in mind was a bit of a challenge. Why would you do that to yourself? Empathy, basically. The law has begun to catch up with the way that abuse has moved into the online world but that doesn’t necessarily mean the problems are going away. Allie, Neil and I shared our stories of shame in the hope that someone out there who’s struggling with being “shamed” might come across them and gain some comfort from them.
Public shaming can sometimes be wholly appropriate: the calling out of corruption or corporate manslaughter for example, but malicious shaming of individuals seems far more commonplace. We might have evolved since putting people in the docks and throwing rotten fruit at them but it’s easy to see parallels with the abuse that gets hurled around on Twitter.
I am fortunate enough not to have been trolled so far. Of course that’s subject to change and trolling is a potential by-product of this experiment. I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it. Talking about my most shameful experiences and sharing them online to be seen by anyone and everyone does leave me vulnerable; but realistically, posting anything personal online leaves you vulnerable and most of us do that all the time. It’s easy to type something as a status update that you wouldn’t ever actually say out loud.
Filming my #Unshamed video and talking about the shame that caused me the most pain felt like a perilous and exposing experience for me. I could’ve told any of my favourite #Unshamed stories (five of which are listed below) but to start the project with integrity it felt important for me to really go there. The story I settled on to talk about in my video wasn’t funny but that doesn’t mean I don’t have hilarious #Unshamed stories too. I wanted to highlight the fact that this was the most shameful thing that ever happened in my life but I got through it and the people who really matter are still in my life nearly ten years later.
However, there’s just as much value in sharing stories which made me cringe to the core of my soul at the time but that I can look back and laugh at now. The #Unshamed Project is ultimately about trying to make people feel better by collective unshaming. Perhaps you could call it over-sharing, but I’ve committed to it now so here are five of my top #Unshamed stories to provide some light relief.
- Age eleven lying to the girls in my primary class that I was “boyfriend and girlfriend” with a boy who had just moved up to high school. The girls went and asked to the boy and when he denied all knowledge of this relationship (because I had made it up) they persuaded him to come to the primary school gates at lunch time and presented him to me saying “Isn’t this your boyfriend Belle?”
- Sunbathing in the communal garden of the close and the handsome man from the second floor bringing his rubbish out and saying to me “I hope you’ve got sun cream on?” and me replying “I’m all creamed up!”
- Getting up for work at 5am and singing You Are My Sunshine to the dog several times before hearing the neighbour knocking on the wall and angrily reminding me of the time (I had just moved into the flat and hadn’t realised how thin the walls were).
- Falling off my bike on the way to an important audition, turning up to make my first impression late, with ripped leggings and bleeding from the head.
- Staying at my friend’s house, getting far too drunk, sleeping in the same bed as her and wetting the bed. It took me a week to call her and apologise. We’re still friends but she has moved to the other side of the world…