Ever since their X Factor win in 2011, Little Mix have become synonymous with their unforgiving “girl power” stance.
Take their last album, LM5, for example. From the body positive Strip to the sex positive Love a Girl Right, there’s a sense of feminist empowerment laced through every aspect of Little Mix’s image. And while for most of their careers this angle has been spearheaded by the band’s members, it hasn’t always been such a positive thing.
In a new interview with The Guardian, Jesy Nelson has opened up about how the band’s unrelenting girl power stance led her to feel trapped in her role as a “strong woman” – when, in reality, she was struggling with her mental health after years of vicious trolling.
It all started after Little Mix’s first performance on the X Factor live shows, when Nelson caught sight of the harsh criticism about her looks which was spreading throughout the comments section on YouTube. When a member of the X Factor production team found her crying about the comments late at night, they asked her to speak about it on camera. She didn’t want to do it.
“They told me it wasn’t recorded, and it was,” she tells The Guardian.
From then, Nelson explains, her role within the band was that of the “strong woman,” someone fighting back against all odds to beat the trolls: but while she was providing interviews about being strong and body confident, she was struggling with mental health issues which she then felt pressured to hide.
“Our schedule was so gruelling. I was going to see a therapist at six o’clock in the morning, crying, and then going to a photoshoot,” she explains.
“I felt I had to be this person who was like… ‘I don’t care what people are saying about me, I’m this strong woman.’ That was the role I had to take on in the group, when really I was an absolute mess.”
As her mental health issues worsened under the intense pressure and the continued trolling, Nelson attempted suicide: “I felt that I physically couldn’t tolerate the pain anymore.”
Now, recovering with the help of continued therapy, Nelson is sharing her story in new BBC One documentary Odd One Out, which will detail her struggles behind the scenes as the band rose to fame.
Instead of being forced to hide her problems and feeling too ashamed to seek help, Nelson is redefining her role in the band.
“Six months ago this girl was someone I just wanted to forget,” Nelson wrote beneath a picture of herself from 2011. “I wanted to erase her from my mind and everyone else’s memory. I didn’t see her as Jesy I saw her as ‘the fat one from Little Mix’. Up until now I hated her not because she’d ever done anything bad but because I was made to hate her by endless amounts of trolling.
“Since filming my documentary for BBC and BBC Three I’ve learned so much more than I ever expected to. Thanks to all the inspirational people I’ve met on this emotional journey, I now love the girl in this photo. I’ve made this documentary for 2011 Jesy and for anyone who might be feeling like she did.”
For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch.