The following was written by a prominent Australian celebrity. She is a household name but has chosen to remain anonymous here for reasons which will become apparent when you read what she has to say. Minor identifying details have been changed.
The first time it happened, I didn’t even realise. It was a few years ago now. I was sitting in a nail salon flicking through one of those gossip mags and suddenly I saw photos of myself. I felt immediately sick.
I wasn’t doing anything particularly secretive or newsworthy in the photos, just walking down the street with a friend but the shots had been taken from across the street without me realising it about three weeks earlier. The headline made some snide comment about my weight or how tired I looked, I can’t remember. It’s happened so many times since, it tends to blur.
But the way it works – I have since learned – is like this: papparazzi photographers stalk famous women, literally stalk us, hiding behind trees, waiting outside our house, following us in their cars and on foot as we try to take our kids to school and go about our lives. Literally nothing is sacred.
I’ve been following when I’ve gone to doctor’s appointments or medical procedures with sick, distressed kids. Then they approach the magazines and websites and newspapers who pay for these photos. And the media organisation will then just make up a story to go with the photos. Literally make it up.
Stories about our weight or photos of us without make-up or with our children sell for more money. If we’re someone else that they can speculate about, those photos are extra valuable and god help you if you’re pregnant. You notice a massive increase in the number of days you’re followed when you’re pregnant – and at a time when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable and at times unwell.
I know now how it works because when it started happening regularly, I reached out to a couple of mates I have who also have public profiles and asked for their advice.
The blokes I know who are famous were just baffled about it. They’re never followed. Nobody cares about them. They can’t get clicks or sell magazines and nobody can make money out of their photos so they get to have a private life with their families. Nobody follows them to the park or the beach or the shops or to their child’s soccer game.
But famous women are like prey and we are hunted constantly. There are about a dozen or two of us who get it really badly. There are times when it's worse than others - when you're pregnant is absolutely the worst and then in the weeks and months afterwards where they want photos of you looking fat so they can write stories about how unhappy you are that you haven't shed the baby weight.
If you have children, they like to get shots of you out and about with your family.
Once, when I was pregnant and out with my partner, I heard from a friend who worked at a magazine that a photographer had been trying to sell photos claiming I had bruises on my arms and that my partner was bashing me. I had no bruises. It must have been a shadow but the photographers know that if they can sell in an angle to go with their shots, they'll get more money.
Another time, I was out with my brother and a story came out online about me cheating on my partner. It was my brother for god's sake.
Another shot the paparazzi love to get is of you eating, especially if you're not a size six. Then they can make a story about your weight because those stories always go well, I'm told.
I know I sound kind of calm about it but it's actually just defeat. I don't know what I can do to make it stop. It's incredibly distressing and often frightening to be followed by strange men. When you're with your children, it's horrifying. All parents teach their kids to be wary of strangers, especially ones that hide behind trees and follow you around. When you see a papp photo of a celebrity with their child, try to think about what it looks like from the child's point of view, or the celebrity.
These strange men pointing these big menacing lenses at you, sometimes quite close and other times from more of a distance. You never feel comfortable to just live any kind of private life or even have any kind of private moment when you're in public.
Even just if your child starts crying or has a tantrum or you have a cross word with your partner or you pull a face because you just saw something silly on your phone.....it all gets captured and packaged and sold. All these bits of your private life, stolen and sold off to the highest bidder for strangers to look at and analyse along words that are often lies.
And of course it's not just your privacy, it's the privacy of anyone you're with - kids, friends, parents, partners, co-workers. Nobody wants to get pulled into some bullshit story that claims you're having an affair or a fight or having a lesbian fling......these rubbish items online and in mags have real world consequences in the lives of actual people. I've been out with my child and one of their friends and been papped and what am I meant to say to that child's mother?
Or I'm followed to my child's sports game on the weekend or to the park and other parents I might be talking to - and their kids - end up in shots that are published online and they're horrified. I would be too. I am horrified. Ever famous woman I know feels a bit sick and nervous every time she leaves her house. But what can we do?
Sometimes, when friends see what it's like and they see how upset I am or how distressed my children are, they say, "you should speak up and say what it's like" but nobody does that because we're all too scared. It's hard not to come across as being spoiled or privileged or a princess when there are people with real problems like not being able to get a job or feed their family or dealing with cancer.
I know in the scheme of things nobody is ever going to feel sorry for a celebrity. And I don't ever want to seem ungrateful so I can't say anything. There's also the fear that if you do speak out and criticise the media, they'll start writing bad stories about you which again, can affect your family and your ability to do your job. If public opinion turns against you, you can even lose your job.
How Paparazzi photos work. (Post continues below.)
So those of us who get stalked shut up about it. But I wonder if it's finally time to speak up? I'm nervous about even saying anything here because what if someone knows it's me? The editors of those magazines and websites can tell their photographers to follow me more, get worse photos of me, try harder to humiliate me and follow me at night and on weekends.
Some of us now have started posting photos of our kids on Instagram to try and take away the news value and stop the stalking. It's helped a little bit but I hate having to put my kids out there when all I want to do is protect them from the glare of publicity. You're always weighing up - what's worse? Controlling the images that are out there and sacrificing the privacy of your family or taking the risk of being followed and having it happen anyway?
Here's what upsets me. My image - and the images of other famous women - clearly makes money for these websites and magazines and newspapers because it sells copies and gets clicks. The editors would just be saying they're giving people what they want but would they really want it if they knew the truth about how bad it is for women? Would women really want another woman to be stalked by strangers and have her children terrorised?
I decided to speak out to Mamamia because I've always been grateful for the fact that you don't publish papp photos and make money from women being stalked. And I just wanted to say for any woman reading this - or any man - please think before you click on those images or pick up a magazine that is profiting from exploiting the privacy and personal feelings of safety of other women.