There was a time when I would check Perez Hilton before I checked my email in the morning. After Perez, there was The Mail Online, then TMZ, then tabloids like The Mirror and The Sun, then skinnyvscurvy.com (celebrities on the scale). That’s before I’d even picked up the weekly gossip magazines.
I was completely anesthetized to the trashy, bombastic, cliched language of showbiz rags: “baby weight,” “piled on the pounds,” “putting on a leggy display,” “celebrating her curves,” “cracks showing,” “an insider says.” I clicked on the bait. I knew the names, diets and half-baked business ventures of every reality television star in Britain and America.
And then one day I just…stopped. I deleted my internet history so “P” didn’t immediately predict Perez and “D” The Daily Mail. I started getting my news from, well, news outlets.
My reasoning was twofold. First, I didn’t like what my habit was doing to my brain. This daily dose of aesthetic dissection was altering the way I looked at other women’s physicality as well as my own. It is a commonly held theory that women internalize misogyny because it is impossible not to when it is so omnipresent in our culture. Some of that internalization can’t be helped. It sinks into our unconscious mind, nagging us to believe we are lesser. A bit stupid, a bit silly; worthy of time or love but only depending on how we look.
There are certain choices we can make to reduce that noise, such as not reading magazines that draw a red circle around a woman’s dimpled thigh or not looking at photographs taken up the skirt of a woman who is just trying to get out of a car. I’ll never be able to fully shake off patriarchal indoctrination, but I can definitely deprogram habits like looking at a new mother in a bikini and guessing how much weight she put on during pregnancy. Or studying the lines on a middle-aged woman’s face and asking myself if they’ve “aged well.”
Gossip sobriety does have its downsides. I am a hopeless nostalgist by nature and the bulk of the music I listen to, the literature I read and the movies I watch are from the dusty shelves of the 20th century. Showbiz websites and magazines were my return ticket to the zeitgeist. Every morning when I visited The Mail Online, I briefly wandered around an exhibition of cultural relevance, picking up on all the names and faces and places people talk about. Without it, I am now your friend’s embarrassing dad when you were 14 — rewinding Paul Simon songs and insisting everyone listen to a particular lyric or sitting in an armchair with tea in my “special mug” reading Beat memoirs. This isn’t great when you’re a journalist, particularly one who hosts a pop-culture podcast. Recording the first episode, my co-host Pandora Sykes mentioned a story concerning Gigi, as in Hadid. I thought she was talking about the 1958 musical starring Leslie Caron. I had never heard of the Hadids. I still can only name two of the Kardashian franchise and one of those is Robert (I’ve viewed the O.J. Simpson documentary).
But the second, and main, upside is I’ve claimed a bit of space — in my day and my brain — back. The writer Arnold Bennett wrote a book called How To Live on 24 Hours A Day, in which he observed that if we sleep for eight hours a day and are at work for eight hours a day, we still have eight free hours every day to fill however we want. For years, mean-spirited, badly written gossip about people I don’t know or care about monopolized these precious eight hours in between sleep and work. Think of all the other amazing things I could be doing in that time! Training for a marathon, reading every section of the paper, watching every episode of Seinfeld twice. Of course I’ll never do any of that (other than maybe the last one), of course I still procrastinate, browse and ingest futile, fluffy content. I still love The Food Network channel and velvet sofas on Pinterest and hippie mommy bloggers on Instagram. I still love nonsense. But at least it’s not nonsense that’s hurting people. Or me, for that matter.