Nicola Coughlan’s polite Instagram post is more than the body shamers deserve

Last Sunday, Bridgerton star, the iconic “wee lesbian” from Derry Girls and all-round legend, Nicola Coughlan posted on Instagram, asking people to stop sending her their unsolicited opinions on her body.

he wrote: “Hello! So just a thing – if you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me. Most people are being nice and not trying to be offensive but I am just one real life human being and it’s really hard to take the weight of thousands of opinions on how you look being sent directly to you every day.

“If you have an opinion about me that’s ok, I understand I’m on TV and that people will have things to think and say but I beg you not to send it to me directly.”

Something that struck me about Coughlan’s post was how polite it sounds. Her repeated use of the word “please” and the way she gives most senders of these unwanted comments the benefit of the doubt – they’re “not trying to be offensive” – reads as a kind request, rather than the howl of fury that’s, in my opinion, entirely warranted in this situation.

Even when calling out unacceptable behaviour and setting really basic boundaries, as Coughlan is doing here, women often feel pressure to “be nice”. We don’t want to make things worse or upset anyone or rock the boat – even if the boat very much deserves a good rocking.

I recognise this in myself and in the women around me, too – we apologise to people who are rude to us, agonise endlessly over saying a simple “no”, and drop multiple “sorrys” when asking for basic consideration and courtesy from others.

It’s not because we’re “pushovers” and it’s not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s a product of being taught from a young that being polite and self-effacing and making other people feel comfortable is the correct code of behaviour for girls.

While boys are rewarded for being confident, forthright and assertive, girls who mirror the same behaviours are “bossy” or “little madams”. Of course, this socialisation follows women into adulthood – how could it not? And for women who are marginalised in additional ways (because of their skin colour or sexuality or weight, for example), there’s even more pressure to remain polite and non-confrontational in the face of provocation.

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It’s infuriating that Coughlan needed to write this Instagram post in the first place. It’s never okay to make uninvited comments about someone else’s body – even if they are famous and even if you think you’re “being nice”.

Yes, Coughlan is an actor and her image is on our screens from time to time, but this doesn’t make her body public property.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where toxic diet culture and fatphobia still reign supreme.

For celebrities like Coughlan, who dare to do their jobs while having bodies that don’t quite match the ultra-slim Hollywood standard, body shaming, concern trolling and outright abuse are a daily reality.

Last weekend, Yellowjackets star Melanie Lynskey tweeted about receiving body shaming messages from people claiming to care about her health.

Imagine watching the fabulously dark and addictive Showtime hit Yellowjackets and your takeaway from it being: “I must let one of the actors know that I don’t like her body and I think it should be different.”

It’s saddening that successful and highly-regarded actors like Coughlan and Lynskey are on the receiving end of this trash behaviour, and both women deserve respect for calling it out.

Coughlan’s extremely courteous and measured approach to what can only be a deeply distressing situation – where she is forced to deal with a daily avalanche of judgemental and intrusive comments for no other reason than having a body slightly different to the mainstream “norm” for actors – is perhaps indicative of how many women still feel pressure to remain “nice” even in the face of wholly unacceptable behaviour.

Her polite post is far more than the people harassing her with their irrelevant and uninvited opinions deserve.

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