At 8am this morning (Saturday) I was trending on Twitter. I know that because I woke up at 9.30am having enjoyed a glorious lie-in to find my phone blinking with about 17 text messages from various friends with sentiments which can broadly be summarised as ‘OMG ur trending on Twitter’.
On Tuesday I gave an interview to the Guardian. This morning they published it. I was pleased with the article, generally and thought it reflected the casual nature of the interview itself – Hence my employment of the phrase ‘proper angry’, something I’d usually only say at home. (And by ‘home’ I mean back in Essex at my parents’ house, whilst sitting in the specially-appointed ‘ranting chair’* drinking Ribena and furiously stoking the dog’s head).
The journalist, Decca Aitkenhead, was lovely and incredibly good at her job, in that she made me forget I was being interviewed. I trusted her (good decision) and I trust the Guardian, probably the only daily newspaper our government is still frightened of. Decca and I jawed on and put the world to rights for about 90 minutes (her poor, poor transcriber) and I left thinking I’d probably choose her as a friend.
At the end of the interview, she asked me something which took me by surprise.
“What are you insecure about?”.
It was a brilliant question because most people tend to assume the answer is ‘nothing’, being as I am an advocate for self-esteem, unapologetically a bit fat and prone to ‘telling it like it is’, in what I sincerely hope is a distinctly un-Katie-Hopkins-esque way.
My response didn’t make it into the final piece but I thought I’d reproduce it here, in case you’re interested. I’m insecure about my lack of qualifications.
At A level I studied History, English, Philosophy and Theology. I have a degree in English. After leaving uni, I gained some certificates which mean I could technically practice as a paralegal in Clinical Negligence. I’ve done several psychology courses and most recently became a mental health first aider. I also attend a couple of conferences every month to keep myself abreast of the latest developments in mental health and body image.
None of that makes me an expert in mental health and I’m hyper-aware of that, which is why the Self-Esteem Team have our classes verified by four ‘in-house’ bona fide experts (including a Psychologist who worked in the NHS for 30 years and a Neuroscientist) and are currently conducting some of our own research alongside a team at UCL.
It’s worth noting, here, that my fiancé says my insecurity re my lack of official qualifications is actually a strength (that’s how much he loves me, he thinks my flaws are positives) because it means I’m constantly on a quest to increase my knowledge and understanding and am open to having my mind changed, rather than believing I know everything (which actually no one does).
I’m more than aware of where my real skills lie – I listen and I assimilate. I’m always chatting to teachers, educational psychologists, scientists, researchers and perhaps most importantly actual young people and I store what they tell me to paint an ever-spiralling picture. I’m in 3 schools per week on average, all over the UK and what the lifestyle I’ve chosen for the past almost-decade amounts to is a good overview of the challenges facing the education system, plus a summary of a variety of expert views. There’s value in what I have to offer, but it isn’t a PHD.
As I suspected it might, the Guardian article has provoked an online debate about my expertise and qualifications and therefore my suitability for the role of Mental Health Champion in the first place. Some have even stated that my status as a magazine columnist and tv pundit (about 10% of my ‘portfolio career’**), or the fact that I once posed in my underwear made me actively unsuitable.
….And it’s those comments that have bought me full circle, because they reveal troubling social attitudes. The idea that a woman who writes for magazines read by other women, or occasionally takes part in TV shows which have a lighter, entertainment style format or, most shockingly, like everyone else, is naked under her clothes must automatically be too stupid to take a view on children’s mental health is blatant misogyny, hiding beneath a cloak of intellectual snobbery.
I am, once again, proper angry.
* Every home should have one, although in my flat it’s more of a ‘ranting bean bag’
**sorry Dad if you’re reading this (he says the phrase ‘portfolio career’ makes me sound like a wanker).