When Nudes Are Stolen: Inside the online ‘nude trade’

Warning: This article contains strong language and a reference to sexual assault.

When former glamour model Jess Davies started modelling at 18 she had no idea her images would be used to con money out of men all over the world.

Jess Davies

Over the years Jess, now 27, has received hundreds, if not thousands, of messages from people telling her they’ve been speaking to someone using her pictures and until now she’s never understood why. 

In a new BBC Three documentary When Nudes Are Stolen Jess traces where and how her pictures are being used – and explains the effect it’s had on her life.

I can barely remember the first time it happened.

I got a message on social media, telling me someone was using photos of me and pretending to be me online.

At first I thought it would be a one-off, but it’s nearly ten years since that first message and I’m still getting them on an almost weekly basis.

Either they rip off my whole identity or use photos of me under a false name, then they use those profiles to try to get money from unsuspecting men. They generally find out who I really am after doing a reverse image search and coming across my real-life social media profiles. 

They can use any photos from my past: me sitting on my sofa at home, me as a baby, me at a baseball game. They’ve even used pictures of me and my dad on a bike ride.

But there’s a common theme: almost all of these fake profiles include pictures from when I was a teenager.

These days I work as a model and influencer but when I was 18 I decided to be a glamour model, modelling for magazines like Nuts, Zoo and FHM – which had a massive following among young men in the UK.

I’ve never posed fully nude, but I did appear topless in these magazines. None of the print versions of the magazines exist anymore, but the photos from that time never seem to go away.

Jess Davies
Jess, 27, is now a model and influencer. When she was 18 she decided to be a glamour model

It’s difficult to describe how it feels, knowing that someone, maybe even lots of people, are using photos of me from what feels like a lifetime ago to con men. It’s like being in an invisible battle and I have no idea who my opponent is.

I manage to get the fake profiles taken down, but more always pop back up. My identity is constantly and repeatedly robbed from me, and over time that does have an impact on how I feel about myself.

I’ve only recently found out why this keeps happening – and where my photos have ended up – with some help from private investigator Laura Lyons.

Laura and I met in a grey office in London where she showed me print outs of where my photos had been found online. It started with the kind of fake profiles I know about, like “Khira” on Tinder, “Andrea” on Instagram and “Jasmine” on Facebook.

But then Laura started to show me accounts I had no idea existed: a French escort website, sex chat and porn sites. There was a sea of photos looking back at me.

There was one profile on a sexting website with a picture of me at 19 years old under the heading: “Who’s down for a massive rape role-play now?”

If someone consents to do sex chat or porn then I don’t see anything wrong with that, but I’ve never done porn and I didn’t consent for my photographs to be used in this way.

Seeing them all in front of me was pretty devastating. The problem is so big, I don’t know if I’ll ever get a handle on it but I need to at least know why it keeps happening to me.

Laura suggested that part of the reason is because I have a mixture of relaxed, at-home pictures on my social media accounts that can be mixed in with the older glamour model pictures, which means it’s easier to build a fully-rounded persona with them.

Fake profiles
Some of the fake profiles that were set up using Jess’ images. “My identity is constantly and repeatedly robbed from me,” she says

“Your pictures are very, very realistic,” Laura told me. “A lot of people like yourself have their profiles open because of their work, but it makes it so much easier for these scammers because they can just go in and take content.”

It feels like those old topless photos literally haunt me. Every situation I go into where I meet new people leaves me wondering whether they’ve seen them. What will they think if they Google me?

When I first made the decision to have topless photos taken when I was a teenager, I had no appreciation of how the internet worked. When a photo of you gets put online then it’s out there forever, and people seem to be able to use it however they want with impunity.

‘My photos are everywhere and it’s happening repeatedly’

In the UK there are laws around how photographs can be shared or used online, but they don’t all fit into one neat set of rules.

There are copyright laws meaning if you took the photo and own the copyright then you can request that it is taken down.

The challenge I have is that a lot of the photos were taken of me but not by me, so I don’t own the copyright.

If someone is using your photos to catfish people then it could be covered by laws around fraud, however this depends on the circumstances.

■ Zara McDermott: ‘Revenge porn still affects me today’

‘Deepfake porn images still give me nightmares’

There are also much newer laws relating to so-called “revenge porn” – also known as image-based sexual abuse.

“Revenge porn” – the sharing of private or sexual images or videos of a person without their consent – became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015. Similar laws were later introduced in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

But for this to be applicable you need to prove that there was intent to cause harm to the person whose photos are being shared and proving someone’s intention can be very difficult.

On top of that, the internet is global and laws only cover one country at a time. My photos are everywhere and it’s happening repeatedly.

‘It felt devastating. How often had my images been used?’

What I’d never understood is who the people using my photos might be and that’s when I came across the term “e-whoring,” which is a more extreme version of catfishing using nude images.

Pictures of people – mostly women – are traded and sold in packs between scammers. Then they impersonate those women to get money out of unsuspecting victims.

Looking at the sites where these images are sold is pretty grim. Peoples’ pictures are being traded and sold like Pokémon cards. There’s also a community built around it in forums and chat rooms where stolen pictures are traded.

Sometimes people in these groups ask for help identifying women so they can find more pictures of her. I decided to post my own picture there to find out if my photos had been used in this way.

Within two minutes, someone said they had a pack of my photos and were willing to sell it to me for a $15 (£11) Amazon Gift Card.

It felt devastating. Just how often have my photos been used for them to recognise me so quickly?

Jess Davies
Jess (pictured taking part in a lingerie photo shoot) discovered where and how images of her were being used online

The community of people who trade pictures like this is an incredibly secretive one, and I only managed to find one person who was willing to talk to me openly.

Aku, whose name we have changed, is now in his 20s and lives in New York. He said he was recruited into it when he was 13 by older teenagers and explained how people involved in it would stalk peoples’ Instagram profiles then take their pictures.

Disturbingly, he told me that photos and pictures of “revenge porn” would be used, although he said he never used them himself.

“[With] e-whoring… you’re scamming people and you’re actually looking to exploit people for your own financial gain,” Aku told me. “And as I got older I saw that these people are actually going through something and I felt bad every single time I was doing it, so I just said ‘you know what, I’m just not doing this anymore’ and I just gave up on it.”

It was clear Aku felt remorse for the people he had exploited but I wondered whether he’d ever thought about the women in the images he used.

“These pictures were [from] cam girls,” he said. “I mean, you put yourself out there.

“Considering we know the risks of the Internet, it’s like, were you not expecting this to happen?”

Although I know there will be many people who agree with Aku, I don’t think I or anyone else should expect photos of themselves to be misused. I don’t think I should accept that my identity is being sold and traded online without my consent.

I hope that something can change in how consent is seen when it comes to photos that are shared online. To me, it’s simple: if you consent to a photo being taken in one context, it doesn’t mean it can be used however and wherever anyone chooses.

By: Jess Davies

Necessity or idleness: which one is the mother of inventions?

There’s strong evidence that creative insights need time to percolate – and that the right amount of distraction may be key to innovation.

If the history of creativity teaches us anything, it is that great ideas often come when we’re least expecting them. Consider Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who described how new melodies would arrive while he was eating in a restaurant, walking after a meal or getting ready for sleep at night. “Those that please me, I retain, and even hum; at least, so others have told me,” he wrote. “It seems to me impossible to say whence they come to me and how they arrive; what is certain is that I cannot make them come when I wish.” 

It’s not just Mozart who experienced this phenomenon; the French mathematician Poincare described how his breakthroughs occurred while travelling on the bus or walking by the seaside, while Agatha Christie reported that ideas for her crime stories often came while washing up or having a bath. “I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention,” she wrote in her autobiography. “Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.” 

Psychologists would seem to agree, with strong evidence that creative insights are much more likely to occur after a period of “incubation” – in which you focus on something entirely different from the job at hand, while your brain works away behind the scenes. This could include taking a walk, doing household chores or having a shower. Even our procrastination at work – such as watching funny YouTube videos – may be helpful for our problem solving, provided it is done in moderation. 

Free thinking 

There are many reasons why a period of incubation could lead to new and inventive insights. According to one of the leading theories, it depends on the power of the unconscious mind: when we leave our task, the brain continues to look for solutions below awareness, until a solution pops out.

Prolific crime writer Agatha Christie said ideas came to her as she did everyday tasks (Credit: Alamy)
Prolific crime writer Agatha Christie said ideas came to her as she did everyday tasks (Credit: Alamy)

Just as importantly, a period of incubation allows us to gain some psychological distance from our task. When you spend a long time focusing on one problem, you can become fixated on certain obvious solutions. A period of incubation should help you to widen your mental focus so that you can make connections and come back to the problem with a new perspective. Intriguingly, incubation may work best when your mind is distracted with an engaging but relatively easy task, so that it is given just enough room to wander freely. 

In 2012, the psychologist Benjamin Baird and colleagues put this idea to the test with an ingenious experiment. The participants were first asked to tackle a classic test of creativity called the “Unusual Uses Task”. As the name suggests, the aim is to find as many surprising uses as possible for a common object, such as a brick or a coat hanger. 

After a few minutes of brainstorming, it was time for a period of incubation. Some students were allowed to rest for 12 minutes. Others were given a fairly undemanding test, in which they were shown a string of digits and had to say, intermittently, whether the number was even or odd. That’s akin to doing a household chore like washing the dishes – it requires a bit of focus but still allows plenty of room for mind wandering. 

A third group were given a harder task, in which they had to keep the numbers in working memory for a short while, before giving their answers. In terms of the mental effort that’s required, this activity is closer to the concentrated thinking we normally do at work; it doesn’t leave a lot of mental space for mind wandering. 

After the 12-minute incubation period was over, all these participants then returned to the unusual uses test of creativity – and were scored on the originality of their solutions.

For creativity, what you really need is looser, less focused thinking – and that seems to come with slight engagement in an undemanding task

The benefits of performing the undemanding task during the incubation were striking, with these participants showing a 40% rise in the creativity of their ideas for the questions they had previously considered. Importantly, there were no benefits for the participants who did nothing at all during the incubation, or those whose minds were more fully occupied with the working memory challenge; neither of these groups performed any better than students who had continued with the brainstorming task without an incubation period. 

It may seem surprising that the pure rest period had not provoked greater creativity, but Baird suspects that we need some distraction to provoke the optimum amount of mind wandering. If we have literally nothing to do, our thoughts can become too logically sequential, he says (as you may think through one particular subject in detail). For creativity, what you really need is looser, less focused thinking – and that seems to come with slight engagement in an undemanding task. 

Productive procrastination 

That’s good news for procrastinators, since many of our ‘time-wasting’ activities may offer the optimal level of distraction for greater creativity. The key is to use distraction in moderation, as evidenced by a brand-new study from American management professors Jihae Shin and Adam Grant.

The researchers first asked the participants to brainstorm the best ways a student entrepreneur could spend $10,000 to start a new company, which they then had to write up into a business proposal. To tempt procrastination, the participants were also given links to funny YouTube videos from Jimmy Kimmel Live, which they could easily access during the exercise. The researchers then compared how much they procrastinated with the originality of their proposals. 

The resulting graph looked something like an upside-down ‘U’. The people who took a few short breaks to watch the clips tended to come up with far more creative ideas than both the low- and high-procrastinators – supporting the idea that moderate levels of distraction can unleash innovative thinking. 

Testing the principle in a working environment, Grant and Shin questioned the employees, and their supervisors, of a South Korean design company about their work habits and creative performance. In line with the results of the laboratory experiment, the moderate procrastinators came up with more original ideas than their colleagues who remained tightly focused on the day’s tasks. 

How to waste time creatively 

Whether you are a budding novelist, an advertising creative, a strategist or a teacher hoping to come up with more original lesson plans, these results are worth bearing in mind. Facing an impending deadline, we may fear taking any time away from the task at hand. But this will be counter-productive, and there should be no guilt about spending a few moments of pleasant distraction, or leaving the task altogether as we allow a solution to bubble to the surface.

Apple's new headquarters, in Cupertino, California, have been designed to promote creativity (Credit: Getty Images)
Apple’s new headquarters, in Cupertino, California, have been designed to promote creativity (Credit: Getty Images)

Leaders may also take note. Rather than admonishing employees for taking time out of the working day, they should actively encourage it. 

There are many ways they might do this. For example, Stanford researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz have found that walking boosts divergent thinking, providing fresh perspectives on whatever issues are occupying one’s mind. Interestingly the creativity-inducing effects of walking are similar whether it takes place indoors or outdoors. Leaders could therefore design workplace space that nudges employees to do more walking. 

Apple’s new company headquarters, which opened in May 2017, may be the perfect example of this. Apple Park is circular and has a circumference of a mile and a diameter of 461m; it encompasses a 30-acre landscaped park where employees can wander when they are not walking to the café, the wellness centre or the theatre. As a bonus, this kind of layout promotes serendipitous encounters and conversations with colleagues, which could themselves act as a creative distraction, and which may also lead to exchange of complementary ideas and cross-fertilisation of research projects. Without issuing any explicit orders, the company is encouraging the adoption of behaviours that are known to increase creativity – a goal that was central to Steve Jobs’s vision of the park. And it seems to work: Apple is the most valuable company in the world at US$2 trillion and is regularly cited as the most innovative company in the world. 

Not all companies can afford new office space, of course – and many employees are now working remotely. But managers can promote moderate procrastination in other ways, such as scheduling regular coffee breaks within meetings or even investing in nap pods, as seen in Google’s offices. (There is good evidence that short periods of sleep can also boost creativity when you are pondering a problem in much the same way as waking procrastination.) At the very least they should avoid chastising employees for the odd moment of distraction.

In the increasingly competitive workplace, we need innovative thinking more than ever before. But that will only be possible if we allow the conscious mind to find diversion and wander freely from time to time. 

David Robson is the is author of The Intelligence Trap: Revolutionise Your Thinking and Make Wiser Decisions (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton). 

Loizos Heracleous is a Professor of Strategy at Warwick Business School and an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Janus Strategy.

By: Loizos Heracleous and David Robson

Tunisian-French rapper Swagg Man jailed for fraud

Tunisian-French rapper Swagg Man has been jailed by a Tunisian court for five years for money laundering and fraud. 

He was arrested in Tunisia in 2019 in connection with suspect money transfers from a Swiss bank account. 

Swagg Man, whose real name is Iteb Zaibet, had posted on Instagram that he was raising funds to build a mosque, an orphanage and a hotel.

But, according to the news site Le Courier de Atlas, he was accused using the charity as a front for his money laundering.

Trump asks wedding party: ‘Do you miss me yet?’

Donald Trump turned up at a wedding at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida over the weekend and railed against Joe Biden, China and Iran.

The former president hopped on the mic at the ceremony and wasted little time in getting political.

He referenced the situation at the border with Mexico and raised yet more questions about November’s presidential election, which he lost.

“Do you miss me yet?” he asked the party, to loud cheers. https://www.youtube.com/embed/zVPqOLuVnpg?feature=oembed

“I get all these splash reports, and they’re telling me about the border, they’re telling me about China, they’re telling me about Iran,” Mr Trump began, in a video released by the entertainment website TMZ.

“We were ready to make a deal, they were ready to do anything, they would have done anything. And this guy [Biden] goes and drops the sanctions and then he says we’d like to negotiate now,” he said. 

President Biden has not dropped sanctions against Iran. 

In February, the Biden White House withdrew a demand from the Trump administration that the United Nations Security Council enforce international sanctions on Iran for violating the nuclear deal.

Mr Trump then took aim at the Biden administration over the situation at the southern border with Mexico. The number of people arriving has grown since Mr Biden took office, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors who are being held in immigration detention facilities.

“The border is not good. It’s the worst that it has ever been,” Mr Trump said. “What’s happening to the kids, they’re living in squalor. They are living like nobody has ever seen. There’s never been anything like this.”

Under the Trump administration, thousands of migrant families were separated from their children from 2017 to 2018. media captionBiden: “My predecessor – oh God I miss him.”

The former president then switched his focus to his recent election loss to President Biden, which Mr Trump has disputed. 

“They said get 66 million votes, sir, and the election is over. I got 75 million votes, and you saw what happened,” he said. 

Mr Biden got more than 80 million votes. 

“At 10.30pm in the evening, all of a sudden, they said that’s a strange thing, why are they closing up certain places. There’s a lot of things happening right now.”

Mr Trump finished by finally toasting the “great and beautiful couple”, John and Megan Arrigo. 

This is not the first time Mr Trump has popped up at weddings of supporters.

In 2019, the then-president made an appearance at a reception at his golf club in New Jersey, prompting the bride, groom and guests to chant, “USA! USA!”

Why ambiverts are better: Success driven

By: Bryan Lufkin

Blending both extrovert and introvert personality types can make you indispensable in the office – and finding that balance is a skill we can all master.

It’s like asking someone if they’re a cat person or a dog person – so basic, almost tribal: are you an extrovert or an introvert?

Each of these identities has its own strengths and weaknesses, yet it seems there’s constant debate about which it is better to be. Some saythe internet has a “love affair” with introverts, and that being an introvert is, at long last, cool, particularly during the pandemic. That’s likely a reaction to a culture that has long seemed to celebrate and reward extroverts, especially in many Western countries and particularly in the workforce, where they’re able to use their natural people skills. Complicating things further, some research has shown that introverts can outshine extroverts as leaders, despite the fact that the confident demeanour of an extrovert fits many people’s image of a typical CEO.

So, which is it? Who has more of an edge, and who’s more successful at work: bubbly, outgoing workers; or reserved, restrained ones? The answer, it turns out, is those who can be both: the chameleon-like ambivert.

Blending the best of both personality types can make you indispensable in the office, experts say. And although acting like both extrovert and introvert might feel tricky at times, it’s a skill we can all master, with a little practice.

Research shows that workers who mix qualities of both introversion and extroversion can perform better on the job in settings like sales (Credit: Alamy)
Research shows that workers who mix qualities of both introversion and extroversion can perform better on the job in settings like sales (Credit: Alamy)

The ‘ambivert advantage’

Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term ‘the ambivert advantage’ in a 2013 study that challenged notions of extroverts being more successful and productive in a sales environment. After studying 340 call-centre employees, Grant found that the workers who made the most sales revenue were those who fell in the middle of the extroversion scale. In fact, the results made a bell curve: the worst performers were the workers who were either extremely introverted, or extremely extroverted.

“Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale,” Grant writes in the study. But ambiverts are also “more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident”.

Karl Moore, an associate professor of management at McGill University and associate fellow at Oxford University, who has studied ambiverts for years, estimates that 40% of top business leaders are extroverts, 40% are introverts and 20% are “true ambiverts”, based on interviews with 350 C-suite executives. But he believes that the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic have forced leaders of all stripes to try and act more like ambiverts.

In his upcoming book, We Are All Ambiverts Now, Moore says that the situation we were all thrust into required more leaders to call upon the strengths of both extroversion and introversion. For example, bosses needed to listen and take feedback in order to provide flexible and empathetic work environments for staff, but they also needed to broadcast clear and demonstrative enthusiasm to rally and guide the team into the unknown.

“What [the pandemic] means is that the CEO needs to listen a lot – a great leader is a great listener,” says Moore. “But [they] also need to be able to give the inspiring ‘guys, I am confident we can make it through this crisis’.”

‘Adapt to what’s necessary’

So, whether it’s sales figures or muddling through a once-in-a-century catastrophe, it’s good to be an ambivert. But how do you become one?Actually, say the experts, it’s very doable. Most of the popular personality testswill place you on a sliding scale of extroversion anyway, so ambiversion is likely within your grasp.

“It’s more about adaptive leadership style” than about thinking you need to re-haul your entire personality, says Alisa Cohn, a start-up and CEO coach based in New York City. “I think it’s less about working on your [perceived] weaknesses than it is about building up your ability to push yourself outside your comfort zone.”

It’s not just CEOs who benefit from ambiversion either, she says. In fact, the earlier in your career you build these skills, the better, since “the benefits will improve over time”. For people who identify as extroverts, this may mean being consciously quieter in meetings; for introverts, it may mean contributing more in meetings.

“It might be a specific behaviour: to listen longer or to ask another question and listen to the answer. To be more extroverted, it might be to initiate conversation or make small talk,” says Cohn. “I like the idea of practising the behaviour three, four, five times a day in little micro doses so you can do that a lot more easily without getting exhausted. And then score yourself.” Keep track of how often you do these things each day, and if you met your goal.

She also recommends spotting a role model you admire in your office who has the introvert or extrovert qualities you’re looking to emulate, so you can watch their behaviour and model yours on them.

Being an ambivert is tiring. So experts recommend that while acting like one, introverts take breaks to be alone, and extroverts take breaks to be with others (Credit: Alamy)
Being an ambivert is tiring. So experts recommend that while acting like one, introverts take breaks to be alone, and extroverts take breaks to be with others (Credit: Alamy)

Moore talks about working with an introverted CEO, Claude Mongeau, the former chief executive of Canadian National Railway, for his research. He says Mongeau worked with a leadership coach who gave him a clicker – like the one a bouncer outside a nightclub uses to count patrons – to keep track of every extroverted skill he practised each day. These were small things, like saying hello to someone or commenting on the weather. Moore says he was still very much an introvert, but realised to be an effective CEO, he had to channel his extroverted side.

Moore, an extrovert himself, says that channelling his inner ambivert has helped him in his own career, both as a researcher and for his radio show, in which he interviews CEOs. “On my radio show, 98% of the time I’m quiet, because I’m asking [the guest] a question, ‘Where are you from, what does your family do?’.”

Being an ambivert means being aware of your own natural social style, and knowing when the situation may call for just the opposite: “The most successful leaders are the ones who can recognise a situation and adapt their style as necessary,” says Cohn.

Avoiding the mental toll

The only downside is that this adaptation can wear you down. “You need to act like both. The problem is, it’s exhausting,” says Moore.

But remember, being an extrovert or an introvert comes down to how you are energised – either from the outside world or your internal one. So, when you try to go against natural preferences, it uses more “mental calories”, says Cohn, and it’s important to refill that mental energy tank.

For introverts, that might mean a solitary afternoon at home with a book or if you’re at work, a 15-minute break outside alone on a bench. For extroverts, it might mean surrounding yourself with people. Moore says his preferred ‘extrovert break’ when he’s on business is to find a restaurant and sit at the bar for dinner, so he can talk to other patrons. “It stimulates me. It gets my dopamine levels going, because I’m with people.”

It’s important to reiterate that few people are 100% one or the other. But becoming an ambivert is something more active; it’s deciding which switch to flip, and when. Sharpening that skill could mean all the difference – not just for you, but for the people you work with, too.

Cohn says one of her clients, an introverted manager, worked hard to strengthen his extroverted side by talking more in meetings, and responding more enthusiastically with confirming gestures like nodding. The result? His team “felt like there was more harmony in the meeting”, says Cohn. “It made them feel more important and empowered.”

“It wasn’t about him,” she says. “It was about other people feeling heard, feeling met.”

Covid-19: Foreigners in the UK on lockdown isolation from family – Difficulties

When the country went into its first lockdown in March 2020, it meant many people from abroad who were working or studying in the UK were unable to go home to see their families. What effect have travel restrictions had on people not being able to see their loved ones? 

‘I learnt how to manage myself’

Heema Chauhan
image captionHeema Chauhan moved out of student accommodation in Bedfordshire in September 2020

Heema Chauhan, 22, left her home country of India in September 2019 to begin her master’s degree in management and entrepreneurship at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, and has not seen her family in person since then.

After finishing her studies in September 2020, Heema says she has found it difficult to get a job related to her qualifications, and has mainly been working in warehouses and taking on part-time jobs.

“Given the pandemic, international students have had other barriers and, as I need a sponsorship license for people to hire me, it has really affected my job prospects,” she says.

“I have been looking for jobs in charities, trusts and foundations, but as they haven’t been able to secure funds the way they were able to beforehand, I haven’t been able to get a job in my chosen profession.

“I was really looking forward to getting some experience of working here in UK.”

Miss Chauhan, currently living in a bubble with five friends in Bedford, says: “I decided not to travel, as the chances of contracting the virus if travelling, are high and I felt it was safer to stay.

“My visa expires at the end of March, so unless I get a job, I will have to return.

“I don’t regret it – whatever challenges that come in front of me – I look at them as opportunities to learn from them.

“The pandemic was something no-one anticipated. I learnt how to manage myself, to keep myself calm in certain situations – when I am alone or when things are up and down.”

Heema Chauhan
image captionHeema Chauhan, from India, says she is missing her whole family, especially her mother’s food

A WhatsApp group created by her course director “kept me sane”.

“Every day she used to give us some fun challenges or ask us some questions regarding what kind of activity we did today,” she says.

“That kept us energetic and many more other interesting things.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my family. They are ready to welcome me back.”

‘I missed my nan’s funeral’

Kristin Johnson
image captionKristin says she is “homesick” and tries to find Jamaican food whenever she can

Kristin Johnson, 24, is counting down the days until she can return home to Jamaica to see her family, after leaving them in August 2019 to study for her master’s in forensic science at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. 

She says she came to the UK to get “a first world experience in the lab and to learn new skills”, but once the first lockdown rules came into force a year ago, she was left as the only one on her floor in her accommodation, unable to mix with the other five remaining students in her building.

Despite the changes, she completed her dissertation in October and was awarded her degree in February 2020.

“It’s been really difficult. It wasn’t what I expected at all. Everything changed drastically,” she says. 

She is “devastated” the learning experience she hoped for did not happen even though her university “did the best they could”.

A family photo
image captionKristin talks to her family, who are in Jamaica, regularly via Facetime

Kristin has found it really difficult not being able to visit the Caribbean, as her planned trip home in Easter 2020 never happened.

Due to Jamaica closing its borders going home was never an option.

“My nan, back home, died and I wasn’t able to go home – that was really difficult,” she says.

“Their borders did open for a short while, but I was working.”

She has “no clue” when she will be able to return home and feels “in limbo”.

“My family only wants me to return when it is safe for me, so when the borders do reopen, I will travel home, but only if it is safe.”

‘It’s irresponsible to travel home’ 

Rebecca Zeitlin
image captionRebecca Zeitlin plans to travel back home to the US as soon as she feels it is safe to do so

Rebecca Zeitlin, 31, from the USA, says “it’s the longest I’ve ever gone never being on an airplane”. 

She works for Hybrid Air Vehicles, the company behind Airlander – the world’s longest aircraft which was developed at the giant hangars at Cardington near Bedford.

Ms Zeitlin has been in the UK seven years and her last visit to see her family in Kentucky was over Christmas 2019.

“I would normally see them twice a year, I would go over and they would come here,” she says.

She lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, and says she decided not to travel home.

“Even if I could, it is the responsible choice not to. How could I live with myself for doing that?” she asks.

“I live alone; in the beginning it was awful.

“I’m an extrovert so being alone is hard, but it’s what we’ve got to do.

“I feel like later this year can’t come fast enough as I hope I will be able to see my family and hug them. 

“I’m 31 years old, but even 31-year-olds want to hug their mom. 

“My parents are vaccinated now which makes me feel better, so I am less worried about them.”

Ampthill Great Park
image captionRebecca Zeitlin has enjoyed getting to know Bedfordshire including lots of walks in Ampthill Great Park

She describes herself as a “pretty tough cookie”, but the three lockdowns have been stressful. 

“I’ve been exercising a lot more, and finally I believe that exercise is good for you and makes you feel better; I actually like it now,” she says.

By Alex Pope & Theo Chikomba
BBC East

Naga Munchetty: BBC Breakfast host sorry for liking flag tweets

TV host Naga Munchetty has apologised for liking “offensive” tweets referencing a flag that appeared in an interview with a government minister.

On Thursday, she and BBC Breakfast co-host Charlie Stayt drew attention to a flag and a picture of the Queen behind Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Ending the interview, Stayt jokingly mentioned the size of his union jack.

Munchetty said she had removed the likes and that they did not “represent the views” of her or the broadcaster.

“I liked tweets today that were offensive in nature about the use of the British flag as a backdrop in a government interview this morning,” Munchetty posted on Twitter. “I have since removed these likes.”

She added: “This do not represent the views of me or the BBC. I apologise for any offence taken.”

The BBC declined to comment. In September, the corporation’s incoming director general Tim Davie warned BBC staff about their use of social media

A cultural history of the ‘nude selfie’

By: Holly Williams

As a new book is released exploring the modern, smartphone-facilitated phenomenon of ‘sending nudes’, Holly Williams reflects on the lineage of naked self-representation it continues.

“Love, lust, pleasure, desire, beauty, anatomical study, self-expression, egotism… The impulses behind sending nudes are many. Creating nudes and sharing them seems to be part of human nature.” So begins Karla Linn Merrifield, in the first contribution to a new anthology entitled Sending Nudes. A collection of poems, stories and memoir on the subject, it takes a long hard look at the contemporary – and seemingly timeless – habit of sharing images of the naked human form.

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The idea came to editor Julianne Ingles after a short story entitled Send Nudes was submitted for a previous anthology she was working on. “I thought [the topic] could be explored, that other people would have stories and poems,” says Ingles.

In Bronzino's 1530 portrait of the admiral Andrea Doria, his subject chose to be depicted in the mostly-naked, muscular form of the sea god Neptune (Credit: Alamy)
In Bronzino’s 1530 portrait of the admiral Andrea Doria, his subject chose to be depicted in the mostly-naked, muscular form of the sea god Neptune (Credit: Alamy)

“Sending nudes” is more of a live topic than ever, chiefly because the ease of taking, replicating and sharing naked images has led to anxieties about everything from revenge porn to celebrity sex tapes, hacked private images to sexting teenagers. But since the advent of smartphones, sending nudes has also become normalised incredibly quickly: any woman who’s been on a dating app in the last decade will likely have been asked to share nude pictures with eyebrow-lifting speed. 

But Ingles reminds me that sending nudes isn’t really new: “When I was in my early twenties, I sent nudes to someone – this was before the internet, so it was Polaroids”. It’s just that it used to be a private, little-spoken-of activity, rather than part and parcel of digital dating and contemporary life.

Its increasing prevalence as a phenomenon is neither a simply “good” or “bad” thing, Ingles – and the writers of Sending Nudes – suggest. While the potential for coercion, abuse and shaming are high, sexting can be a fun, consensual way to develop intimacy. During a pandemic, it’s also become almost a practical necessity for many – a way of keeping sexual fire alive, over enforced distance.

The artworks of our era?

Arguably, there are also positives to having a greater openness and diminished prudishness about real-life, normal human bodies. But then, few people sending nudes traffic in realism. Seductive nude selfies are usually staged and carefully framed, albeit often within the confines of a bedroom or bathroom; dressed up for as well as undressed for. Posed and carefully lit, cropped and filtered to flatter, they are crafted for the imagined appreciation of the viewer. In that way, are nude selfies part of a lineage of naked representation that runs back through art history?

Certainly, you could argue the selfie – including the naked one – is the artwork of our time. It’s estimated that over a million selfies are taken every day: self-portraiture meets self-promotion. We’re more aware than ever not only of our own image, but our presentation of it – how we make ourselves appear to the eyes of the external spectator. And nowhere is that more carefully manipulated, surely, than in the nude snap.

The art world is increasingly taking note of the selfie form. In 2017, Saatchi Gallery in London opened a show, From Selfie to Self-Expression, drawing the line between traditional self-portraits through to the humble camera phone shot, from Rembrandt and Van Gogh through to Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama. “Everything can be art if it’s followed through by the maker with enough conviction and coherence,” commented Nigel Hurst, CEO of Saatchi Gallery. “We’re not saying that the slideshow of a teenager trying out various poses is as significant as a work by Rembrandt, but the art world cannot ignore this phenomenon.”

Egon Schiele was among the artists who in the early 20th Century turned their gaze on their own bodies – though their depictions were rarely flattering (Credit: Alamy)
Egon Schiele was among the artists who in the early 20th Century turned their gaze on their own bodies – though their depictions were rarely flattering (Credit: Alamy)

That same year, the Sexting Art Festival was held at the Littlefield Gallery in Brooklyn. The organisers wanted to redress the lack of conversation, analysis or display of the “wide spectrum of work” that constitutes sexting, by showcasing it in all its forms, visual and otherwise.

Meanwhile in 2016, the National Portrait Gallery had a show called Exposed: The Naked Portrait, which revealed just how acceptable – fashionable, even – it’s become for celebrities to strip off for their own professional “selfies” – “revealing” and “honest” photographic portraits by the likes of Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Norman Parkinson, Mario Testino, and Polly Borland. 

From buxom fertility goddesses through to heroic Greek gods, the unclothed human body has been recreated from the moment we could carve rock

The pervasiveness of the “nude selfie” is just the latest step in our ever-evolving relationship with the naked image. From buxom fertility goddesses through to heroic Greek gods, the unclothed human body has been recreated from the moment we could carve rock.

While it was the muscular, well-proportioned male form that was celebrated in Ancient Greece, once we came to the Renaissance, the focus began to shift to women. Hunky, idealised nude male figures from myth or the Bible still occupied artists’ imaginations (think of Michelangelo’s David, or depictions of Adam) – but a new fondness emerged for the reclining female nude.

Artists rendered the nude “respectable” in various ways: they painted goddesses or biblical figures as anonymous, generalised images of “beauty”, rather than portraits of specific or identifiable women. Painted in supposedly modest poses with hands delicately placed to notionally conceal their genitals, they also trafficked in idealism, not reality: no pubic hair here.

But rarefied and legitimised as they might be, such nudes also – inevitably – carry an erotic charge. These supine naked women invite the eyes of the – imagined male – viewer to travel all over their curves. Many entrenched ideas of what feminine sexuality looks like – a certain languorous passivity, simultaneously coy and come-hither – are codified here.

The first "nude selfie" by a female artist is thought to be Paula Modersohn-Becker's Self-Portrait Nude with Amber necklace (1906) (Credit: Alamy)

The first “nude selfie” by a female artist is thought to be Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait Nude with Amber necklace (1906) (Credit: Alamy)

Of course, the erotic intent of nudes before the 20th Century was almost always that conjured by male painters catering to wealthy male buyers. In the art critic John Berger’s hugely influential 1972 essay Ways of Seeing, he argued that, historically, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at… The surveyor of woman is herself male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” He proves this via examination of the frontal female nude in European art: the female subject, painted by a male artist, offering themselves up and out as an object, to be looked at by heterosexual men. For hundreds of years, women were only able to see external representations of their gender filtered through a male gaze, and therefore internalised that way of looking at themselves too. 

Nudes with agency 

I asked Frances Borzello, art historian and author of The Naked Nude, if there are any examples of pre-20th Century nudes expressing women’s agency – for example, portraits commissioned by a wife or mistress of themselves in order to please or tantalise a partner or lover? “I don’t know,” she says. “They would hardly advertise this though one assumes it must have happened – occasionally!”

She brings up Goya’s La Maja desnuda: a famously frank nude, who unabashedly eyeballs the viewer. Not that the model commissioned or owned her own image – it’s thought the painting was made for a man’s private collection of nudes – but art historians have speculated that it is at least an explicit, realistic portrait of one specific and willing female subject, who might have been Goya’s lover. “The striking features are the opposite of the bland and often hazy features of the ideal nude,” Borzello says. 

Artists turned their gaze on their own bodies, though they rarely recreated them in flattering or well-mannered images

In terms of self-promotion, commissioned portraits of the wealthy and powerful were usually, for reasons of respectability, fully clothed – both men and women – but there are rare exceptions. These include a wonderfully eccentric 1530 portrait of the admiral Andrea Doria, painted by Agnolo Bronzino as Neptune, complete with trident and naked torso; and a 1670 painting of Nell Gwyn, an actress and also King Charles II’s mistress, in which she is posing topless.

But it is at the start of the 20th Century when the naked self-portrait exploded in popularity. In this period of great artistic and intellectual change, artists turned their gaze on their own bodies, though they rarely recreated them in flattering or well-mannered images. Anguished mental states seem to thrum off the canvases, as in the harsh, blue-toned naked self-portraits of Richard Gerstl, the scowling, disturbing contortions of Egon Schiele, or when Edvard Munch painted himself “in Hell”, his haunted face surrounded by flames.

Tschabalala Self's erotic mixed-media collages bear a selfie-like aesthetic (Credit: Tschabalala Self, courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

Tschabalala Self’s erotic mixed-media collages bear a selfie-like aesthetic (Credit: Tschabalala Self, courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

All these naked self-portraits were painted within the first decade of the 20th Century – and rather set the tone for the rest of it. Such paintings were possible, writes Borzello in The Naked Nude, because these artists had “no-one to answer to but themselves… These naked portraits follow no tradition. They are new. They make the private public. And they left a legacy.”

Modernism continued to effectively kill off the idealised reclining nude, as messier, more complicated images of naked bodies proliferated. Both in artists’ naked self-portraits and in nude portraits of others, a concern with the body’s less-than-picturesque aspects remained ascendant – from Picasso’s shattered forms to Lucian Freud’s lumpy flesh. 

How women reclaimed their image

But the story of the 20th Century nude is also the story of women, finally able to paint themselves. The first “nude selfie” by a female artist is thought to be Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait Nude with Amber necklace, in 1906, where she paints herself pregnant, despite not being so. It’s an imaginative take that’s about female identity – not the male gaze.

For many female artists, creating their own take on the nude becomes a way to reclaim the stereotyped image of woman from the masculine traditions of Western art history. Florine Stettheimer’s 1915 A Model (Nude Self-Portrait) cocks a snook at the traditional reclining nude: Stettheimer paints herself with a knowing smile, proffering her own colourful bunch of flowers like a magician’s trick – an active riposte to Edouard Manet’s infamous, unimpressed-looking 1863 nude, Olympia, which features a white sex worker being brought flowers from a suitor by a black servant. 

Whether in advertising, pop culture, or pornography, the naked body has become defined by its attractiveness as a monetisable object.

For women, as much as for men – perhaps even more so, given they were actively trying to counter hundreds of years of artistic airbrushing of their bodies – naked self-portraits became concerned with conveying uncomfortable truths about what it is to have a body. From Frida Kahlo’s symbol-laden portrait of her own miscarriage to Jenny Saville’s close-up rolls of flesh and Tracey Emin’s scratchy masturbation paintings, the “nude selfie” became truly unfiltered.

But if the pendulum swung away from the notion of the idealised nude in Western culture, it eventually swung back, albeit in a new form. Whether in advertising, pop culture, or pornography, the naked body has become defined by its attractiveness as a monetisable object. And that’s a paradigm that has been picked apart by Pop Art, post modernism, and beyond. In general, contemporary art is more likely to use an idealised naked body to critique attitudes towards sex, pornography and consumption than it is to plainly ape them – although viewers of, say, Jeff Koons’ super-glossy soft-core staged photographs with his then wife, adult film star Ilona Staller (aka La Cicciolina), might be forgiven for feeling otherwise.

Erin M. Riley's tapestries explicitly recreate nude selfies, based on real images she finds online (Credit: Courtesy of Erin M. Riley and P·P·O·W, New York)
Erin M. Riley’s tapestries explicitly recreate nude selfies, based on real images she finds online (Credit: Courtesy of Erin M. Riley and P·P·O·W, New York)

However some nude images channelled eroticism in a way that was truly radical. Consider Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs of naked gay men, including himself, engaged in BDSM and sex acts, which caused such a furore that Washington DC’s Corcoran Gallery cancelled a show of them in 1989. Then, bringing such kink into the light was shocking; today, the controversy has dimmed, and Mapplethorpe is subject to major, respectable retrospectives.

The language of the smartphone nude

When it comes to the advent of the smartphone-facilitated nude selfie, meanwhile, the question is: how have we absorbed this language and grammar of nakedness? It’s something that artists are certainly exploring, recreating the camera angles, the up-close poses and pouts, the partially-pulled-down underwear on gallery walls.

Ghada Amer embroiders works that, beneath their fine surfaces, recreate the codified poses – the hand on the stuck-out bum, the coyly pulled-down bra strap, the over the-shoulder inviting look – of the nude selfie. Tschabalala Self’s mixed-media collages stitch together exaggerated images of black female bodies that speak to the way they can be both sexually empowered, and crudely sexualised, in contemporary visual culture. “The fantasies and attitudes surrounding the black female body are both accepted and rejected within my practice,” she has said. Erin M Riley’s work explicitly recreates nude selfies – but immortalises them within tapestries. Based on real images she finds online, she includes details like a mobile phone reflected in a mirror or the familiar hand-held camera angle, looking down the body.

Some artists have gone further, literally using other people’s Instagram posts. David Trullo turned Instagram posts of men photographing themselves nearly-nude in bathroom mirrors into bathroom tiles. Meanwhile, for his New Portraits series, controversial painter/photographer Richard Prince left suggestive replies below people’s Instagram selfies, often those of young women and sexily posed (if not fully-naked), then blew up and printed out the posts. But if the series was intended as some kind of satirical comment on how we’re all obsessed with crafting our own attractive self-images – and giving them away for free to anyone who cares to look – then that was mostly obscured by his co-opting and profiteering from women’s images without their consent.

One subject, Zoë Ligon, told ArtNet that she thought the work “resembles revenge porn and harassment more than anything else”; explaining that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and her “sexy selfies” were a way of reclaiming her sexualised image, she said she felt “violated” by Prince’s use of one.  The issue of his appropriating women’s pictures was brought into wider consciousness when model Emily Ratajkowski wrote about buying one of Prince’s works using a post from her Instagram, within a potent, widely-shared piece about not having control over her own image last year.

Absolutely, I think the nude selfie can be an art form. It’s nice to see that thought and reflection. It shows the person respects themselves – Julianne Ingles

While Prince’s work inadvertently highlights very serious questions about how the selfie can be appropriated unethically, it is also clear that it is a medium which deserves artistic interrogation. Here is a striking, thorny new form of communication and self-presentation – and one that is, after all, purely visual. Nonetheless, in transposing that visual language into a new medium or context, artists are both reflecting on and actively removing the primary function of the private nude: they are not seeking to turn the viewer on. “I honestly don’t know of artists who would admit to intentionally titillating,” says Borzello.

In his work, David Trullo has turned Instagram posts of men photographing themselves nearly-nude in bathroom mirrors into bathroom tiles (Credit: David Trullo)
In his work, David Trullo has turned Instagram posts of men photographing themselves nearly-nude in bathroom mirrors into bathroom tiles (Credit: David Trullo)

But does the nude selfie, in its purest state, have the potential to be a new art form? Ingles thinks so. “Absolutely, I think that it can be an art form,” she says. “It’s nice to see that thought and reflection, not just snapping a photo – people taking time to do the lighting, your hair and make-up. It shows the person respects themselves.”

Which brings us back to Berger’s formulation of how, when a woman imagines themselves through the eyes of the external, male viewer, she “turns herself into an object… of vision: a sight.” Fifty years on, women are still more judged on how they look than men, and the tyranny of that internalised male gaze persists. But it also seems that anyone engaged with visual digital culture – anyone posting selfies and in particular anyone sending nudes – is today actively participating in turning themselves into an object of vision

The irony is, perhaps, that the filtered, posed, explicit images we now so easily recognise as a smartphone nude might have come full circle – bringing us back to the aesthetic of the traditional respectable art historical nude: codified, safe and strangely conventional. Designed to be gazed upon. Designed to please the viewer. Designed to turn our complicated and messy bodies into the ideal object. 

Online indecency, secrecy & abuse: ‘How it is affecting relationships’

People are being urged to spot signs that members of their families are viewing indecent images online.

laptop keyboard

Calls to a confidential helpline to prevent online abuse in the UK have increased by nearly 50% during the pandemic, say reports.

Stop it Now! said spending more time together in lockdown may have revealed signs in some households.

Sarah – not her real name – from Wales has shared her story in the hope it will help others.

Her husband of 25 years was arrested nearly five years ago for possessing indecent images of children.

“I had no idea what he was doing until the police raided our house early one morning as I was upstairs getting ready for work,” she said.

“He must have realised the implications, but he kept on saying to me, ‘I’m not a paedophile’.”

Man on computer

Police took her husband for questioning and removed all electronic devices from the house.

Later that day, Sarah was able to speak to him alone at the police station, which was when he confessed to viewing pornography for 10 years, including illegal material for the last two years. 

“I was completely shocked and numbed,” Sarah added.

“When I learned what my husband had done, it immediately meant the end of our marriage. 

“Many women choose to stick with their partners, but I knew our marriage could never be the same again.”

Man on phone
image captionSarah thought her husband was just reading about interests such as sport

Sarah initiated divorce proceedings as she felt she could not trust him any more.

It also put her in an awkward position with her career as a teacher, while she had to break the news to their teenage daughters, who were studying at university.

“It was horrible telling my daughters, which I had to do by phone because they were both away studying,” she said.

“I was afraid that, if I didn’t act quickly, they might hear through social media.

“The police had arrived in marked cars and had also been to my husband’s place of work to remove his computer, so I didn’t know what was known in the local community.”

Both daughters have managed to rebuild their relationship with their father, however Sarah, who has since remarried, said he is now “depressed” and living “a pretty impoverished” life.

Man on computer
image captionSarah thought something was wrong, with a number of warning signs

She said it is important people are able to recognise the signs.

Her husband had a long history of depression and low self-esteem, he struggled at work and was always worried he might be forced out of his job. 

Sarah had a niggling suspicion something was not right and, a few weeks before his arrest, had called his line manager to express her concerns.

She mistakenly thought his late nights on the computer and struggles with sleeping were because he was reading about his interests, such as sport. 

“I wish now that I’d been less naïve and trusting, and more suspicious,” Sarah said.

“The abused children are the real victims of these crimes.”

She said it is really important people act on any suspicion and praised the support she received from the Stop it Now! charity. 

‘Spotting signs’

It is the UK’s first confidential and anonymous helpline dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse by supporting adults concerned about their own sexual thoughts and behaviours.

Helpline director Donald Findlater urged anyone who suspects a loved one of viewing sexual images of an under-18 online to call.

“Due to Covid and people working and living more closely, I think that’s part of the reason we’ve had an increase to the helpline. People are either more self-consciously aware or a loved one has noticed,” he said. 

In 2020, 114 people from Wales contacted the helpline about their own or someone else’s behaviour, with 2,750 viewing the self-help website.

Mr Findlater added: “Due to the pandemic, feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the last year in particular, are often what leads to our callers’ escalating pornography habits, and in turn, illegal online behaviour. 

“It can be really tricky to spot the signs but they can include, becoming much more secretive with online devices, using them at odd times – such as early in the morning and feeling guilty or uneasy the next day.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: “Anyone who is having inappropriate thoughts about children, or anyone who believes a family member may be, should seek help from Stop It Now!, otherwise they should expect a visit from police officers.”

By Gemma Dunstan
BBC Wales News

Why we procrastinate on tiny tasks

By: Mark Johanson

When we put off small jobs, they balloon from tiny checklist items into major irritants. Why do we keep doing this?

It could be a quick email to a colleague you dislike. Perhaps it’s some menial paperwork; a small tweak to a spreadsheet or an invoice that has to be filed. It could even be a short phone call to your boss – something that will only take a minute and yet, somehow, for some reason, you keep on putting it off. 

If it only takes five minutes, you end up asking yourself, then why on earth haven’t you done it? You waste time thinking about how annoying it is; unsurprisingly, that does not make it go away. Instead, the task lingers, ballooning from a tiny checklist item into an ongoing irritant completely out of proportion with the resources needed to actually polish it off. 

Tiny tasks have a way of taking up an abnormally large amount of space in our minds. Yet, there are simple ways we can bring them back down to size, something that begins with understanding how exactly we allow them to loom so large. Then, by reframing our approach to the tasks, switching our emotional response and practicing some self-compassion we can work towards conquering the small to-do list items that trip us up. 

Why tiny tasks become big monsters 

At its core, procrastination involves the voluntary delay of an intended task, despite expecting to be worse off for doing so, explains Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England. “You get all kinds of people saying [procrastination is] good for this or good for that, but embedded within the definition is that no form of procrastination is ever good for you.” 

People who chronically procrastinate tend to have higher levels of stresspoor sleep patterns and worse job prospects, particularly when it comes to advancing into roles where autonomy and decision making are required. On the mental health front, procrastination is also linked to depression and anxiety. It can similarly undermine relationships, because when we procrastinate, we end up breaking commitments with others. 

It’s easy to understand why we procrastinate on big tasks; they can be daunting or mentally draining and require loads of time, energy and commitment. On the other hand, small tasks can lead to a particularly pesky form of procrastination. Sirois says we don’t procrastinate on them because they slip our mind; rather, we make a conscious and intentional choice to put off something that might arouse doubt, insecurity, fear or feelings of incompetence.

It just becomes this monstrous thing – a molehill that’s now a mountain – Fuschia Sirois

This could be something as simple as filing unfamiliar paperwork or changing an ink cartridge when you don’t know how to, or something a bit more loaded, such as writing a short email to a colleague when you’re dreading their response. And although many believe that procrastinating on tasks like this has to do with poor time management, Sirois says it’s actually about mood management. 

“Procrastinators are not these happy-go-lucky lazy people that just kind of go ‘what the heck, I don’t really care’,” she says. “They’re actually really self-critical and they worry a lot about their procrastination.” 

That worry sits in their minds and drains their cognitive resources, reducing their ability to problem-solve. It makes them think: what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get on with doing this little thing? And then they begin to ruminate on the task, increasing their negative feelings about it and hampering their ability to view it rationally for what it is. 

“So, you’ve got this little thing, where you had a bit of uncertainty, and now it’s growing into this big thing with all this fear and uncertainty and dread,” says Sirois. “It just becomes this monstrous thing – a molehill that’s now a mountain.”

If a task is small, rather than adding it to your to-do list, you should just get on and do it straight away, experts say (Credit: Alamy)
If a task is small, rather than adding it to your to-do list, you should just get on and do it straight away, experts say (Credit: Alamy)

Another reason small tasks can pile up is that they often lack the same kinds of hard deadlines and structures that bigger tasks entail; you figure you can just slip them in somewhere during the day. So, it’s easier to have an avoidance reaction because, unlike the big tasks, which we set aside a chunk of time to tackle, there’s nothing driving you to do small tasks right away. 

How to tackle the tiny tasks

So, how do we motivate ourselves to tackle a task we’re dreading? Timothy Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, says motivation often follows action. So, if you just do something right away, without first stopping to think about why you don’t want to do it, you may be better off in the long run. 

“Next time you feel that your whole body is screaming, ‘I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it’, ask yourself: what’s the next action I need to take on this little task if I was going to do it,” he explains. “What happens then is that you’re moving your attention off your emotions and on to your action.” 

American productivity consultant David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, calls this the two-minute rule, where if a task will take fewer than two minutes, then the time spent adding it to your to-do list will exceed the time it takes to actually complete the task right away. So instead of programming it, just dive in.

We have a negative reaction the moment we think of the task, and that has a tendency to feed on itself – Timothy Pychyl

This proactive mentality can help you bypass unnecessary rumination. A study Pychyl conducted on university students showed that, once they actually began a task, they rated it as far less difficult and stressful than they had when they were procrastinating about it. “It’s about recognising that things are being coloured by your emotional state,” he explains.

Pychyl says working to reduce your emotional response will help you better manage small tasks.“We put off a lot of little things and they become big in our minds because we experience the amygdala hijack,” he explains, referring to an immediate emotional response that’s out of measure with the actual thing that triggered it. “We have a negative reaction the moment we think of the task, and that has a tendency to feed on itself.” 

Another trick for tackling smaller tasks is to nest them within larger ones. “Try and find a place where the task fits into your normal routine,” Pychyl suggests, noting that he vacuums his house during the 15 minutes it takes his oatmeal to cook each morning. Not only will this help with avoiding any feelings of lost time over the task, but you’ll be using the external stimulus of the bigger task to mask any negative reactions you might have to the smaller one. 

Practicing self-compassion

Sirois says we have memories of the emotional responses that triggered past procrastination. “If you’re remembering a negative emotion, one way to diffuse it and get in the reality-check mode is to start thinking about how you can reframe the task,” she says. 

You might, for example, look at the task as an opportunity to learn a new skill. “If you can short circuit this right at the beginning by reframing it – perhaps into something that might be fun or enjoyable – that is very critical,” she notes. Another trick when something is simply boring or dull is to “switch the lens you put on when you’re viewing the task” to help dial down negative feelings by changing your emotional perspective from the outset. “It sounds a bit silly,” she adds, “but it’s actually quite powerful.”

Both Pychyl and Sirois says it’s important not to beat ourselves up too much, especially given the added stresses of the pandemic. After all, although all procrastination is delay, not all delay is procrastination. “Delay is part of life,” Pychyl notes. “I can put things off and it’s not some sort of moral failure; it’s part of my practical reasoning” to prioritise one thing over another. 

If you do find yourself procrastinating, both say that a little bit of self-compassion might be the key to getting back on track. Pychyl authored a study that showed people who self-forgave procrastinated less in the future on the same task that they forgave themselves on, while Sirois authored a study on how increasing self-compassion may be particularly beneficial for reducing the stress associated with delaying tasks. 

“Once we stop beating ourselves up,” says Sirois, “it can be easier to get back to a proper reality check.”