EXCLUSIVE: The truth behind Jessica Marais' beach 'outing' photos.

You may not have heard the name Shannon Dooley. She’s not a soap star or singer, she’s not a celebrity, or a public figure.

Yet, this week her name has been splashed across tabloid headlines because she happens to be friends with someone who is.

And because she happens to be bald.

A day at the beach with her longtime friend, Wrong Girl actress Jessica Marais, sparked an article in The Daily Mail yesterday with the following headline:

“Jessica Marais’ close friend Shannon Dooley – who suffers from hair loss condition Alopecia – takes off her wig during bikini-clad outing with actress.”

The story featured photos of Shannon and Jessica at the beach. They wore bathing suits, they stood chatting, they danced with Jessica’s little girl.

They’re smiling, They’re relaxed, spending time together like good friends do.

But the article was little more than a vehicle for voyeuristic images of a famous woman in her swimsuit, and her hairless friend. And Shannon is sickened.

“I’ve been used a click-bait, my body has been used as click-bait, my physical appearance and my personal story and struggles, which no one has bothered to directly ask me about,” she told Mamamia.

“It’s a further example of the dehumanisation of people and the objectification of women. I’ve believed for a long time that it’s disgusting and must end.”

shannon dooley jessica marais
Shannon, Jessica Marais and Hugh Sheridan. Image: supplied.

The 32-year-old, who runs Retrosweat dance studio in Sydney, has no shame about her condition, nor any particular aversion to being seen without her wig. She's spoken to the media about it once before, and even shares the odd image to her Instagram account.


But over the past 13 years, Shannon has worked hard to free herself from the male gaze, from what society tells us is normal or acceptable for a female body.

"Only a year a go was I willing myself to go into the water, what got me through, was [telling myself] 'I'm not going to focus on how I look, I'm going to focus on the way the wind feels against my skin, and the way it feels to finally be able to dive under the waves and get salt on my face'."

But by publishing the photographs, by using that headline, by including simplified, bite-sized facts about Alopecia, Shannon feels the article has reduced her body to an illustration of her condition, made her a "pin-up" without her consent.

"It's my choice whether I want to be some sort of poster girl," she said. "I should be able to do things on my terms."

shannon dooley jessica marais
"I should be able to do things on my terms." Image: supplied.

But for Shannon, this is about more than her being exploited for clicks.

It speaks to a much bigger beast, one she's seen Jessica subjected to for over a decade and countless other celebrities before her  - tabloid media's disregard for privacy, or for the feelings of the people that drive their profits.

Just last month Sunrise host Samantha Armytage was photographed getting into her car, prompting a story about her "granny panties showing a visible line".

"This has and continues to be absolutely wrong and a part of humanity - or lack of - that needs to stop," Shannon said.

It was the act of protecting Jessica from precisely that which sparked the other story about the pair this week.

shannon dooley jessica marais
Image: supplied.

Images published in various outlets showed the pair standing closely against one another on the shore at Sydney's Coogee beach, a pose which was somehow interpreted as them being in a lesbian relationship.

"Me having my stance on the media using my friend as a commodity, as a product to make money off, I offered to and did shield her from the man (photographer) on the sand," said Shannon.

"It came out of me basically trying to protect her."

The assumption about their relationship was completely false, of course - and Shannon says neither of them were bothered by it. But the premise itself was dangerous.

"Hypothetically had Jess and I been in a lesbian relationship and had been outed - had it been the truth - the carry on effect also to our family, our friends..." says Shannon. "It's just so wrong."

To get those pictures, taken at two Sydney beaches on separate December days, Dooley believes the photographer must have followed Jessica over the course of a week.

"The illusion that you get the fame and the glory and have to take the heartaches that come along with it is completely unfair," she said.

"Jess should be able to take her daughter for a swim, and Samantha Armytage should be able to go shopping."

Today, Shannon says it's about her and Jessica, tomorrow it will be someone else being preyed on through a telescopic lens.

"It's a two-way street, people need to unsubscribe, they need to not pick up the magazine," she said.

While people are feeding the beast, the beast will continue to provide."

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