Courtney Stodden just wanted to be heard.
When Framing Britney Spears—a Hulu documentary chronicling the pop superstar’s vilification by the media, the general public, and Justin “Cry Me a River” Timberlake—ignited a broader cultural conversation about the way we mistreat young women in the limelight (particularly those struggling to manage their mental health,) Stodden took to their Instagram in February, writing, “I think the documentary has opened a lot of people’s hearts to what it’s like being in the shoes of a personality in the center of judgment. Major props to queen Brit. She was everyone’s ‘sideshow,’ yet still she stands... she still rises. She is a rock to me.” (Stodden identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.)
The following month, Chrissy Teigen very publicly announced she was taking a break from Twitter due to its toxic, soul-sullying environment. “It’s hard to just exist as a woman on the internet. We’re just nitpicked and torn apart and it’s just brutal,” she told USA Today. Stodden again ventured to Instagram, posting a series of messages (and videos) accusing Teigen of “bullying” while resurfacing a number of disturbing tweets Teigen had sent a teenage Stodden telling them, among other things, to take a “dirt nap” and “go to sleep forever.” (Teigen returned to Twitter three weeks later.)
Stodden’s posts fell on deaf ears.
Then in May, The Daily Beast published my lengthy interview of Stodden where we discussed the myriad indignities they suffered at the hands of an unforgiving media and public—all for being a naïve 16-year-old preyed on by 51-year-old washed-up actor Doug Hutchison back in 2011. Like Britney, Stodden was cast as a media sideshow, and thus a target for mass schadenfreude. Anderson Cooper dedicated several segments to mocking their speech and appearance (so many, in fact, that CNN issued a remix of all the segments, dubbing it a “RidicuList Classic”); The View’s Joy Behar called them “a slut”; Dr. Drew examined a 16-year-old Stodden’s breasts on live television in order to prove they were real; and Funny or Die ran an innuendo-filled comedy sketch wherein Seinfeld star Jason Alexander joked about having his way with the underage teen.
Did any of these famous folks apologize to Stodden for punching down at a teenage victim? No. “You know, one of the biggest surprises is that all of the celebrities who shamed me—other than Perez Hilton, who stood up and was kind—they have not sought to apologize or sent any kind of love my way,” Stodden told me.
And then there was Chrissy Teigen. “She wouldn’t just publicly tweet about wanting me to take ‘a dirt nap’ but would privately DM me and tell me to kill myself. Things like, ‘I can’t wait for you to die,’” shared Stodden.
The torrent of abuse—coupled with familial abandonment—nearly proved too much for Stodden, who experienced suicidal ideations.
“There have probably been five times that I’ve felt like I wanted to kill myself—and made the actions to go ahead and do it,” they told me. “So, there’s been a lot of dark moments in my life. There have been a lot of evenings where I’ve felt—and still feel—alone.”
What Teigen did ten years ago—both publicly and privately telling a teenager to kill themself—is unquestionably odious and worthy of condemnation. And the blowback was swift. Teigen lost pretty much all of her sponsorship deals, was removed from a Netflix series, and branded an “undercover bully” by a phalanx of media outlets. The maelstrom also, of course, lured a number of right-wing trolls out from under their bridges, salivating at the opportunity of kicking an outspoken liberal enemy while they’re down. Piers Morgan, a professional misogynist who’s never seen a powerful woman he didn’t want to knock down a few pegs, tore into Teigen’s character; Fox News pundit Julie Banderas took it as an opportunity to ridicule her looks; and far-right performance artist Candace Owens, who’s derided everyone from Meghan Markle and Kurt Cobain to Anthony Bourdain over suicide, began cosplaying as a mental health advocate so as to cynically exploit the allegations against her lefty nemesis. A former reality-television contestant even appeared to fabricate nasty Instagram DMs from Teigen.
It’s a tidy narrative: famous woman bullies teen, shame on her. But to cast Teigen as the main character of this sordid saga is to miss the point entirely. It allows us to view the proceedings at a remove, assuming the lofty role of cultural arbiter while evading self-reflection. Because this isn’t really about Chrissy Teigen.
The reason why I wanted to help Courtney Stodden tell their story wasn’t to teach Chrissy Teigen a lesson; it was to hold a mirror and make us confront how ugly we all were, and how much a scared teenager suffered because of it. You may not have slid into their DMs, but you probably laughed along—maybe even cracked a joke or two—instead of recognizing the situation for what it so clearly was.
We are hopelessly addicted to villains. Barrels of ink have been spilled over Chrissy Teigen since her horrid behavior came to light. Where are the think pieces about Courtney Stodden, and a society so steeped in misogyny it chose to hurl insults instead of lend a helping hand? Why are we more fixated on closing doors to Chrissy instead of opening ones for Courtney? Where are their opportunities?
We all failed Courtney Stodden. And we should make it up to them.
Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here