Ten years ago this month, I wrote the piece that changed my life. It still takes my breath away that by the end of 2012, my name had been Googled more times that year than the Duchess of Cambridge.
I still find it hard to believe that a piece of reflective and — I’d hoped — thought-provoking confessional writing could have caused a global furore.
But that’s what happened. Long before anyone understood the term ‘internet trolling’, I became one of the first women to experience what is now known as a public ‘pile on’. It is not an honour I’d bestow on my worst enemy.
Samantha Brick writes: ‘I still find it hard to believe that a piece of reflective and — I’d hoped — thought-provoking confessional writing could have caused a global furore’
And the article? I’d written that I thought I was beautiful, which in turn meant other women often disliked me for my confidence.
The response was unprecedented. Millions of people — including many celebrities — took against me, subjecting me to horrific abuse.
My article went viral (I had to explain to my then 60-something father what that meant).
This newspaper’s Facebook page received 1.5 million comments in 24 hours. Twitter went berserk.
‘I am sorry to be the one to burst your arrogant and conceited bubble but I don’t find you attractive at all. You look a fool,’ was one of the more polite messages I received. Another suggested I should be ‘bricked to death’.
Perhaps, with hindsight, I should have known better. In our modern world, and certainly in Britain, any article headlined ‘Why Do Women Hate Me For Being Beautiful?’ will bring out the bile in those who don’t feel great about themselves.
But do I regret writing it? No. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Before I wrote this piece today, I looked at the picture of me that was used with that article back then. Granted, I don’t look as if I’ve stepped off the catwalk.
I have a bit of a tummy from the (ultimately unsuccessful) fertility treatment I was undergoing. The dress (purple!) wasn’t mine and my hair was styled in a very un-me way.
But I still contend that I looked fabulous. Tummy, dress, hair and all, I loved the 41-year-old me.
Yet we don’t live in a world where we are publicly allowed to say we feel good about ourselves, do we? Any show of female self-confidence was — and still is — verboten.
And it’s far, far worse today. Trolling of women and Twitter pile-ons against us are ten a penny. Woe betide any woman who appears to be ‘up herself’.
Ms Brick, pictured ten years ago, says: ‘I was invited on shows from Australia to the U.S. I was a question on quiz shows such as Have I Got News for You and Pointless’
Or too successful. Or even just happy. There is never any shortage of people, in real life and online, who are only too pleased to take her down.
So yes, I’m slightly bracing myself as I write this. But I am also resolute because a decade on — now 51 and perimenopausal, no longer blonde but brunette, and still a proud size 10 to 12 — I still think I’m beautiful.
In fact, I’d even say I’m more beautiful than ten years ago. I see confidence, resilience and inner peace in the 51-year-old me. And I like to think I’m more than prepared for saying so.
Trolls on Twitter will doubtless still enjoy pointing out any wrinkles I have. But I say, go ahead!
A decade ago, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t told family or friends in advance that I’d written the article, but those who knew me were entirely unsurprised by it because they knew I was proud to say I looked good.
So while celebrities and rent-a-mouths such as self-declared feminist and DJ Lauren Laverne, magician Derren Brown and TV presenter Sue Perkins tweeted nasty jibes about me — and as a result, encouraged their fans to ‘pile on’ and do the same — I called my family, explaining that they might want to avoid social media for a day until the storm had passed.
I didn’t know that the Samantha Brick ‘beautiful’ juggernaut had already departed.
Ten years on, Ms Brick writes: ‘Trolls on Twitter will doubtless still enjoy pointing out any wrinkles I have. But I say, go ahead!’
Rather than hiding at home, I decided to face the furore head-on. I wasn’t afraid. And I was proud of what I had written.
An interview I gave to This Morning, defending myself to Eamonn Holmes and an extremely catty Ruth Langsford, has now been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube.
A woman who ran a model agency called the show to tell me I’d never make it onto her books — not only confirming the thesis of my piece, that women hate other women showing confidence, but missing my point entirely: I knew perfectly well I wasn’t model material but I still felt beautiful.
Within days, thousands of tabloid, broadsheet and online pieces were written about me around the world.
I was invited on shows from Australia to the U.S. I was a question on quiz shows such as Have I Got News for You and Pointless.
Parody characters were based on me in sketch shows (I get it, the Birmingham accent I’ve never lost is ripe for sending up).
My dad got used to being asked about his ‘famous’ daughter. And as he was coming round from a knee replacement op, the nurse asked him if we were related.
On flights, I was recognised by cabin crew. I was accosted in airport loos for a selfie and filmed waiting for my baggage at the carousel.
More than once, I’ve been amused to read a book in which I appear as a case study — like the psychology manual that used me to discuss how one woman’s beauty ‘brought out the beast in others’. Public relations pundits apparently refer to me in the courses they flog, too.
That summer, when I got together with friends for barbecues or soirees, they would introduce me as ‘that Samantha Brick…but she isn’t like that really’. I was never sure quite what that meant.
Today, my circle of friends is smaller. Some were appalled by what I wrote and dropped me. Did I care? It stung a bit.
But on reflection, I found out who my real friends were. I adore them today and know the feeling is mutual.
Interestingly, while online commentators were usually nasty, if people approached me in private it was always to agree with me.
One woman said she had been driven out of her workplace by her older, heftier female boss. Another, in the Armed Forces, said she ended up leaving because of the vitriol she received about her appearance.
And many thousands sent me private messages about how awful women can be to one another. I have saved the emails from them all. A decade on, they still arrive.
Indeed, I have been asked by numerous publications to reflect on the anniversary of my controversial article. Am I embarrassed, they wonder? Apologetic?
Surely, they say, my life was made utterly miserable by being the subject of so much online disdain. They can’t conceive that my reply could possibly be: not a bit of it!
Ms Brick says that living in France ‘and being around French women’ had ‘supercharged’ her confidence
And have I turned into a crone whose bloom has faded? Sorry, no. When I look in the mirror, I still really rather adore what I see.
My husband Pascal, 61, a retired carpenter, finds me as attractive as ever, too. And apparently, so do other men.
I live in the middle of nowhere in south-west France and hike most days on the lanes and in the forests near me. One male driver always stops on a Monday morning to tell me that whenever he spots me, I raise his spirits.
The same goes for the school bus driver: according to him, my smile lights up his day.
Who am I to argue?
Because I have definitely not let myself go. I haven’t run to fat like so many women my age, thanks to daily yoga and meditation.
I dress appropriately, too. I don’t wear flesh-baring clothes and have stopped dyeing my hair blonde. Frankly, very few women suit blonde in midlife.
I eat a mostly organic, plant-based diet, cooking from scratch using fruit and vegetables grown in our garden. We use our produce either fresh in summer or frozen in winter.
I pick nettles, dandelions and lime blossom to make herbal tea. I drink delicious French rosé wine — but in small glasses, not vast British-sized goblets. It’s a simple life but I have reaped its benefits, physically and mentally.
How many women my age can say the same? This, I believe, is undoubtedly a big part of why I still look good for my age and feel so happy.
Have I got the face I deserve? You can be the judge of that. Certainly, I am not fighting time with nips and tucks or those injectables most of the women I know use, but fib about.
I have laughter lines, my cheeks are sagging and there are fine lines on my decolletage. Of course there are! They are a sign of a life well-lived.
Do other women notice me ageing? I don’t know because it isn’t something I preoccupy myself with any more.
I don’t care what others think of me — the reaction to my article taught me, in brutal fashion, not to. It’s their problem.
Because the past decade has confirmed something else for me: when you are beautiful on the inside, you are far more likely to appear beautiful on the outside.
I always make a point of being nice to other women — but my unwavering self-belief and positivity will always eclipse anyone else’s opinion of me. Perhaps if my critics turned their rage to such optimistic thoughts, they also would feel and look more beautiful, too.
Take last week, when I went with my husband to a local brocante (flea market) to pick up some furniture. My husband was out of the van first to say hello. I waited until the rain stopped, then got out.
The brocante owner looked me up and down and declared I was ‘un rayon du soleil’ (a ray of sunshine). He was falling over himself, complimenting my husband on what a catch he had.
Two younger women were waiting to collect their furniture, too. They drew zero compliments.
So what did I possess that he noticed in me? Well, for starters, you get back what you give out and a smile truly costs nothing.
I may be 51, but I still have charisma. I am physically beautiful — but above all else, I acknowledge people whether they are important in the eyes of society or not. I make eye contact, I smile, I am interested in who they are.
That’s far more seductive than having a Love Island-style face full of filler, spending hours in a salon to walk out with bizarrely painted fingernails or drop a small fortune on those awful hair extensions.
Men don’t care about those things. It’s why one of the male stallholders at our weekly local market, after I have exchanged pleasantries and paid him for my veggies, will always slip a couple of extra lemons into my basket.
Thankfully, I don’t get recognised nowadays. Around here, I am just plain Madame Rubinat.
After 14 years together, I’m proud to say I have a happy marriage. A friend recently asked, ‘Will I ever meet a man who loves me the way Pascal loves you?’
Her words made me recognise how lucky I am. Other women would love a man as wonderful as mine.
We never had children of our own, but as we have been to the funerals of numerous family and friends over the past decade, I prefer to count my blessings and celebrate what I do have than brood on what never happened for me.
Living in France, as I have done for so long, and being around French women, supercharged my confidence. It’s why I am firmly focused on ageing like a very precious fine wine.
I can see how far there is to go in raising young women who believe in themselves and are proud of who they are physically, mentally and emotionally.
Trolling women because they feel good about themselves is never acceptable. That’s why today I practise what I preach and bolster the self-belief, confidence and beauty of every woman I meet whenever I can.
Why don’t you try to do the same? After all, it might help you become as beautiful as me.