How to be scared and do it anyway, from the woman who ended Page 3
For Jo Cheetham, helping to bring an end to this long-running feature of the tabloid press represented not just a triumph for women against a macho media empire, but a personal victory too.
Jo Cheetham was a long way from home, studying and working as a nanny in London, when she saw news of an upcoming protest against Page 3 (The Sun's inclusion of topless female models in its daily paper) and to the surprise of everyone, including herself, joined the No More Page 3 campaign. Here, she tells us how she, someone 'riddled with anxieties', faced her fears and used her voice to help do something extraordinary – and how we can do the same.
I have been riddled with anxieties for my entire life. I was born scared. After my mum pushed me into the world, the midwife apparently said, ‘The baby looks petrified, poor thing,’ and handed me to my dad, at which point I screamed in his face and pooed in his hand. As I stumbled into childhood, my anxieties became bigger and more specific. I was scared of ants, nail clippers, high winds, other children, footballs, boiled sweets, prawns, the sea. At school, I would slouch so low in my seat that only my eyes were visible above the desk. I never spoke in class and at break times I would lick the buttons on the school vending machine, hoping to catch a virus that would render me too ill to take part in P.E.
The anxiety followed me into adulthood. Sometimes, I freak out walking up steep hills, and have to go back down on all fours. I can’t have breakfast in front of strangers in case I eat an egg weirdly. I am so scared of butterflies that when a load of them suddenly started appearing in my living room, I bought a full beekeeping suit to wear around the house. My boyfriend would come home from work and nearly die of heart failure when he saw a shadowy figure in a long white veil, silently perched on the edge of the settee.
All this to say, it was a big surprise for everyone when, out of the blue, just before my thirty-second birthday, I joined the No More Page 3 campaign. I was thrown into a world of protests and media scrutiny, and was expected to use my voice, very loudly, in public. My teammates and I had no experience of activism, no money and no idea what we were doing, but still we spoke to journalists and reporters from around the world, appeared on TV, gave talks and took part in debates, performed flash mobs and danced on a West End stage. Throughout all of it – the highs, lows and adventures, I was absolutely petrified. I’m still afraid but, along the way, I’ve learned a few things about fear.
If you avoid what you’re scared of, your life becomes small and a bit rubbish
For a while, my biggest fears included being sick on a ferry, giving a Powerpoint presentation and moths. I managed these fears by not going to France, not talking and never turning on a light after 8pm. But not going on holiday and being silent in the dark gets very boring, very quickly. Which leads on to. . .
Comfort zones aren’t always comfortable
Before I joined No More Page 3, I spent a lot of time wallowing in my comfort zone, because it was familiar, and felt safe. But it was a zone nobody would want to live in, populated by routine and working and drinking and boredom and clothes I’d bought fifteen years ago that I no longer liked, that were covered in red wine and biro stains. The campaign brought me out of hiding and introduced me to a terrifying, exciting new world. Because, the truth is. . .
It’s probably more interesting to do the scary thing, than to not do the scary thing
Getting out of my uncomfortable comfort zone allowed me to meet wonderful people and see new places, gain a degree and a PhD and, ultimately, be part of the team that brought down Page 3. And when I finally faced my fear and got on a ferry, an elderly soap star from Luxembourg handed me a lime green velvet scrunchie, to keep my hair out of my face while I vomited into the English Channel. I still have it, and wear it with pride.
You don’t have to face all your fears
Despite what the Instagram quotes say, you don’t have to face all your fears to be a fully functioning adult. I’m not planning on touching a crocodile anytime soon, or speaking over a Tannoy, or going caving in a disused mine. Try one small scary thing: go to the gym, apologise to someone you’ve upset or catch a spider in a jar, and release it a long way from the house. And remember. . .
Everybody is scared of something
My ex had a phobia of stickers and could only eat an apple if I hid it behind my back, peeled off the tiny label, threw it in the bin, and then took the bin outside. I once met a police officer who was terrified of ladders. I have seen a grown man weep at the sight of a tortoise which, let’s face it, must be the easiest animal to run away from.
Everybody’s scared of stuff. We’re all weirdos. You’re not alone.