2019, Honestly: That Naked Person From Instagram On Her Failures & Wins

I’m doing that very wanky thing of looking back on the year that’s about to end but bear with me, ok? I’m not gonna be all LOOK HOW AWESOME I AM. After a lot of therapy, it turned out I’m actually really horrible to myself. So in an attempt to follow the advice my therapists gave me, I’m gonna engage in a much needed reality check about 2019, cutting myself some slack instead of listening to the voice in my head that says: “Do more, bitch!” and balancing out wins, losses, successes and failures of this 2019. #notyouraverageendofyearpost (hopefully)

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What To Expect From This Post

This post isn’t an excuse to ask for your pity or praise, but just an exercise in being honest. I firmly believe that seeing other people post the most Insta-genic bits of their lives on social media might lead you to think you are somehow less successful, fit or worthy of love than them. Because I myself have had to do so much work – and still have to do so much work – to believe I am worthy of love, I want to give you a closer look at my 2019 to show you that my life, just like everyone else’s, is complex.

Every year we say: “Next year’s gonna be my year!” and then the year proceeds to be as shite as the previous one. But my 2019, although challenging, smashed all of my expectations.

For my birthday, my dear friend Penny got me this hilarious Perpetual Disappointments Diary by Nick Asbury and that got me thinking about my own disappointments. Whether I’m catching up with my loved ones or with people I haven’t seen in a while, the common feeling seems to be: “You’ve been doing so well!”

And yes, for the first time since I moved to London to go to university in 2011 I feel like I am. But the fact that this year has blown my mind and smashed all my expectations doesn’t mean I consider myself successful, or that I feel like I’ve “arrived”, or that I’m not disappointed by myself or what life throws at me. So I thought in this post I could let you in on why I personally think I’m not there yet, while also engaging in some humble bragging because CBT told me so, and gratitude, yada yada.

2019: Failures

My 2019 didn’t exactly start with rainbows and sparkles. I remember crying at New Year’s Eve – not sure why, but it must have had something to do with being knackered, feeling lonely and emotionally overwhelmed while still pursuing all my dreams and jobs to pay the bills (my PhD, lecturing, researching, freelancing, blah blah). Since mid-November, I’d started on a course of talking therapy where I had to relive all the traumas I had suppressed, like memories from the abusive relationship I was in or other stuff I hadn’t processed but that really tarnished my self-worth. Years on, that was fucking hard and I was a hot mess.

The new year really started in a dark place. More often than not, I was crying on the floor by myself, unable to do much. There was a point where my mum and I went to Rome to visit my grandparents and I spent a day crying and having so many panic attacks that I freaked her right out. She’d never seen me like that, because that side of me was something I would hide. I felt it wasn’t something I could show to others, and as someone with a loving family, a roof over my head and a relatively flexible lifestyle, I had no right to feel like that.

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Hello Instagram, I’ve been trying to keep this “1 post a day” thing up for a while but now that I’m back in Italy for a couple of weeks I’ve decided to take a week’s break or something. I actually really enjoy posting, it’s a different form of content creation, and I’ve got so much stuff to share. But my depression/anxiety/PTSD combo is back with a bang, I had one of my worst crises yesterday and the festive period has been really hard so I can’t actually think of anything useful to say, and I can’t face replying. Having depression while being so lucky and so fucking ambitious really sucks because it feels unjustified and it often goes unnoticed or it’s met with disbelief. I originally thought it was just hormones, and I’ve done really enjoyable things in the past month and year, but I have to face the fact that I either switch off for a while or things will get worse. When I’m struggling I go on this weird social media checking loop, as if answers for my worries and doubts would come through my phone, which turns my stress into a vicious circle. Ultimately, not posting content for a week won’t change my or your life. If you want to get in touch, send me a text or a FB message I’ll probs check those. One of my #newyearresolutions is to look after myself better so this is what I’m doing: enjoying my time here is what matters right now. Can’t let my stupid brain win! 💪🏼

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Eventually things got better (more on that later) but with 2019 coming to an end, I still haven’t reached my definition of success, which is getting a literary agent to help me publish my next novel the traditional way. I know I have achieved a lot this year, and I am proud of it, but I feel like everything I do is targeted towards that: towards being able to publish in a way I can reach more audiences. To have a physical book with my name on it out there.

There were times where I almost thought it was gonna happen. I’ve had a few agents ask me for the full manuscript – you normally send the first three chapters, then get an answer like three months later which is usually: “No thanks, bye” and getting asked to send the full thing is pretty big. BUT no agent yet – not in 2019, it seems.

I feel like I’m somehow on the right track because my rejection letters are getting more personal, which means my pitches are improving. And I do feel like, because of the attention surrounding other stuff that I do, hopefully, at SOME POINT, someone will take me on. But for now it’s all no no no, and it’s frustrating.

The book wasn’t my only 2019 disappointment. Some of the academic papers I’ve written were rejected this year, I was turned down from a conference in Canada I really wanted to go to and, once again, I didn’t make it into Dance Filthy, the competition I really want to do at least once in my life.

Plus, after years of not being able to open up with someone, I really fell for a guy who didn’t fall for me. He could have been more considerate, but I guess our wires got crossed, and it’s not really his fault but I expected things could have developed in a way he didn’t really see them developing. And that really sucked, because it was someone I really admired.

So, yes, I am thriving, maybe. But what you see on Instagram isn’t always the whole truth, and I don’t bombard you with sad shiz because OMG life is depressing enough without me videoing myself while having a panic attack. Which I probably couldn’t do anyway because my focus is elsewhere. #hyperventilating

2019: Wins

But let’s ditch the doom and gloom, shall we? Now that I look back, 2019 was blooming marvelous. I mean, the girl who cried at New Year’s Eve couldn’t even imagine her year would have ended up being this cool. Which is a lesson in itself: there’s so much pressure on that one day, that one party, but a year can start like crap and end up quite ok.

I am so glad I went into therapy – both talking therapy and, subsequently, CBT. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle the increasing number of things thrown at me during the year. I wouldn’t have handled work anxiety, uncertainty, and the pile of things accumulating on my plate. So I’m giving myself a pat on the back for making the uncomfortable and challenging decision of investing in myself that way.

One thing that really emerged especially from talking therapy is that I wouldn’t treat the people I loved the way I treat myself, I wouldn’t judge them and push them the same way. So the second half of 2019 was all about self-love, trying to convince myself that I’m a nice person and act accordingly.

I noticed things started turning early in Spring. I got into two pole competitions – Floorplay in the Semi-Pro category and Exotic Generation 1.0 in the New Face category – and I performed at two showcases, the PD Filthy Friday one and the Exotica Pole Dance one.

In this tiring but rewarding 2019, I was one of the academics selected to present their papers at a huge tech conference… which resulted in a fully-sponsored trip to Iceland and the publication of one of my papers.

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Just spoke here in #Reykjavík, where I’m being hosted by the lovely conference team, bringing you bad teacher realness with these fantastic pants @julietherrera_ made for me & #gifted me. It’s quite ironic to find myself here, talking about #socialmedia regulation for Twitter abuse, when I – like many #poledancers, sex positive advocates or sex workers – am often being shadowbanned by Instagram. 🍑 I find myself at the intersection of #creativewriting, #academia, #blogging & #dancing, and I feel like this gives me a unique insight on the issue of Internet censorship. In the past 2 years of my #criminology #PhD on cyber-hate speech on high profile criminal cases, I have witnessed & read some awful things online. So let me draw a parallel between things that happen online & that aren’t being dealt with, and with the censorship we face. 🤬 Online hate speech harms its targets; public debate in general, because if you think you can SAY anything about anyone, the steps to thinking you can DO anything to them aren’t that many (as seen by extremist violence fueled by some online content); the right to a fair trial, because chances are that jury members that see negative posts about people will make their mind up against them in court.✖️✖️✖️Yet, sex workers advertising themselves via Instagram, pole dancers posting a new trick or choreography, lingerie models showing some skin etc are way less dangerous than hate. As @exotic.cancer brilliantly argued during my interview with her, why not add NSFW filters to Insta so that people can still use it for the discovery-based social network it used to be? One has to wonder why, in 2019, we are still uncomfortable with our bodies and with sex. Why would we rather our kids didn’t know about them at all rather than talk about them? 👯‍♀️ My skin isn’t inappropriate. My pole moves are hard work. My writing needs more readers if I’m ever gonna start properly making money with it. So what’s more inappropriate, people going online with the intention to hurt others, or some pole dancer shaking her ass? I’ll leave you to decide. If you liked this post pls help me break the shadowban, share, tag & like. #notinappropriate

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Another one of the academic papers originating from my PhD was published in a major academic journal. Another one of my papers – a super geek thing looking at a Facebook group blending memes from Drag Race and Twin Peaks – is out now in a collection on RuPaul’s Drag Race and philosophy. I presented at a massive criminology conference in Ghent, Belgium (another fully paid trip, thanks uni!) and I’ve just learnt I’ll be speaking at a conference on algorithm bias next term.

In the summer, my blog started doing really well in terms of views and engagement, and I started getting asked to comment on everything pole dancing related – even on J.Lo’s performance in Hustlers! WTF! I am not worthy. My post about the shitshow that was the first Exotic Generation went viral (in small, pole dance blogging terms lol), and my work on the shadowban of pole dancers and sex workers – which started in March 2019, when the first news of the shadowban first broke – started getting noticed.

This shadowban stuff is where I felt something really click. For the first time, Academic Carolina and Carolina the pole dancer were in the same room. I started to decompartmentalise – my partner’s word, not mine – so to join different aspects of my life together. It was thanks to my past in PR and to my research on online abuse and content moderation that I got really into algorithm bias and Instagram’s sexist moderation policies.

After joining a team made of people who got almost 20,000 signatures on Change.org for IG to stop censoring pole dancers, we obtained an official apology from Instagram through this blog – which, we can all agree, is just damage control and PR spiel on their side, but still pretty huge. Instagram have been ghosting me since then – lol – but as a result we were covered in everything from the Canadian News to the Huffington Post.

After making all that noise, and after arguing the shadowban doesn’t affect just pole dancers but many other groups and marginalised communities, we created EveryBODYVisible, a team I’m incredibly proud to be part of. As a result of that, we were covered in everything from the BBC to the Daily Mail, and even my idol and the reason I started performing, Dita Von Teese, joined our protest on International Internet Day 2019. Yup, I ugly cried when that happened.

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Today is the day! Today – #internationalinternetday – I stand with @everybodyvisible – a coalition of #poledancers, educators, sex workers, models, artists, athletes, #LGBTQ accounts and more – to protest against censorship of #women, LGBTQ people and other minorities at the hands of Facebook & @instagram. As an internet #academic, a #blogger, a #writer, a #poledance performer and an abuse survivor, Instagram has been crucial to my self-promotion, education and my healing. Yet, instead of answering experts’ calls to implement #humanrights into its platform, IG and FB are restricting freedom of expression and censoring bodies. It should NOT be up to private businesses and companies with a monopoly to police people’s freedom of speech. We’d like the FB/IG team (@mosseri @sherylsandberg @maxinepwilliams @schrep @guyro @davisantigone in particular) to 1) clarify how their algorithms work 2) Work with women and minorities to retarget them 3) Share info about their algorithm-making teams to know how many women, LGBTQIA+ people and minorities work in them 4) Be consistent – why are only celebs allowed to show their bodies on IG? (We know why, but we’d like platforms to be consistent and allow everybody to be visible on the platform) 5) Share insights on how and why they block the promotion process for certain accounts 6) Acknowledge the sociological and psychological effects of shadow banning. If you’re wondering why all of this is important, check my bio for an academic analysis of what the shadowban is doing to social media and go to everybodyvisible [dot] com. Glad to be part of this coalition and proud of having worked with the team to spread the word and create our demands to improve freedom of speech on IG. Swipe right to learn how to take part in our protest today – basically share a pic of your or of our logo by @dope_minds and @el_bulldog_ingles, tag the people I mentioned above, share your story with the #everybodyvisible hashtag and tag your friends 🙂 1st📸: @theblacklightsydney

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The campaign is ongoing and we are determined to give a voice to people that Instagram has decided to silence. Through this blog and through my academic work too, the fight is still ongoing. Quite surprisingly, as a result of my activism, I also won the Sexual Freedom Awards 2019 in the Activist of The Year category, winning a stunning flying penis trophy and with the knowledge that my former media law lecturer was one of the judges. That really felt like coming full circle.

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Yeah so… not always a dick fan but I’ll definitely treasure this beautiful trophy! Still can’t quite believe it bit it turns out I’m the winner of the 25th edition of the @sexualfreedomawards 2019! I’m incredibly grateful of having received this award on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As an abusive relationship and sexual assault survivor who was able to love herself again through #poledancing and excessive nakedness, this award means everything. It also means we have so much more work to do. I am nothing without my @everybodyvisible team who have been tirelessly campaigning against the Instagram censorship which would have prevented me from finding self-love like I have now. And also, as we saw during the ceremony, we need to work so much harder to make sure that consent and correct expression and gendering of minorities are upheld in our society. This beautiful flying penis trophy, made in one of my favourite places – Bali – will be a reminder of the beautiful sex posi community and all the work we still have to do. Keep slaying – we are all winners and congrats to all the nomineees and winners! Thanks @frankicookney @ethicalstripper for the support tonight – and congrats to the gorgeous @sashadiamond_pole too 😍😍😍😍 picture by: @danmckc from my amaze team of film-makers including @misez_baby and @monikwi

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Partly because of this blog growth, throughout 2019 I was approached by a variety of brands and pitched for a few successful partnerships that are helping me break even. I became a brand ambassador for Tats & Tissels and started writing about all sorts of things I never thought I’d write about. From pole shoes to sex toys, from tourism boards to slinky outfits, from pole bibles to Christmas Gift Guides including lingerie and tights, from brand new pole competitions to sparkling wine, from yoga classes to CBD Oil this year I really feel like you’re getting to hear about bloggeronpole.com even outside of the pole dance community.

Last but not least, in 2019 a dream I never thought would come true this early actually did come true: I became a pole instructor. When I started my PhD, I decided I was going to use the flexibility given to me by the academic life to really push pole and get better at it. But pole certifications are expensive, and there aren’t many places to teach in London. Luckily, with a lot of support and tough love, Veronica from Exotica Pole Dance in Hackney Wick trained me and turned me into a tricks and exotic instructor. I never thought this could be a thing, but I’m loving it. And I can feel myself improving day by day, both in my dancing and my teaching.

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🎉 Really exciting announcement ahead 🎉 🇬🇧 From next Friday onwards my dream of becoming a #poledance #instructor will finally come true! I’ll be teaching 3 weekly classes every Friday at @exoticapoledance in Hackney Wick – Beginner/Never tried (6-7pm), Exotic (7.15-8.15) and Beginner/Intermediate (8.15-9.15) – so if you’ve ever DM’d me/ asked me if I teach pole now you know where to go 🙂 When I decided to start my #PhD I knew I wanted to take advantage of a more flexible lifestyle to work my ass off (literally) and become a better #poledancer, perform more and hopefully teach. After only three years of #poledancing and only two of PhDing, I honestly feel so blessed to see this dream come true. Pole has been so crucial to my healing, mental health and to giving me confidence that I hope I will be able to share at least a bit of that power with my students ✨ Special thanks go to Veronica, owner of Exotica Pole Dance, for taking me under her wing and training me 🙂 this pic was taken by @black_hooded_rat and this is the move I couldn’t do yesterday at EG because my shoulder was hurting lol / 🇮🇹: Bella ragà sono ufficialmente un’istruttrice di pole dance ditelo alle vostre amiche, mamme, nonne e anche agli amici che gli uomini coi tacchi sono i miei preferiti 😘 diventare un’istruttrice di pole e fare più esibizioni erano alcuni dei miei obiettivi principali quando ho iniziato la vita più flessibile e impegnativa da dottoranda in criminologia. La padrona di questo studio di pole mi ha addestrata e non mi sembra vero di poter iniziare a insegnare e realizzare questo sogno! Fare pole mi ha aiutato tantissimo a combattere l’ansia e la depressione e a trovare fiducia in me stessa, e spero di poter condividere il potere di questo sport coi miei studenti 💕💪🏼

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It all became apparent on the day of the studio showcase, where my friends and one of the directors of a documentary about me that’s in the works came to see me. They all said: “I’ve never see you enjoy yourself so much on stage.” And that was the truth. I had stopped worrying about whether I was good enough. I just had fun. And it showed.

And last but not least, I found someone I love and who loves me back. We’re good for each other, and I’m no longer afraid of opening up. So thank you, 2019.

What I Want From 2020

In 2019, the losses really burned and the wins really got me high; the low points were really, depressingly low. I hope this post gave you an idea of the human behind this blog and connected social media accounts.

I am not going to give myself any ridiculous goals for 2020. I just want to be more in tune with my body and with my mind, so that when I’m physically and mentally exhausted, I don’t go injure myself like I did this year or flip so much I scare the people around me.

So towards that, here are my goals.

  • I am going to go for a sports massage each month and train my bad side a lot more, so that my body isn’t too imbalanced towards the left.
  • I’m gonna go on journalling with the lovely journals I got for my birthday to keep track of my feelings and remind myself I’m an ok person who achieves some stuff, and that I am enough.
  • I am going to cut myself some slack and be honest with friends when I need to stop being people’s therapist.
  • On that, I will start accepting that no matter what I achieve or do not achieve, I am worthy of love and that I’m an ok person who deserves what she has.
  • I am only going to take in stuff that makes me proud, gives me money or an orgasm. I’m going to increase my rate without feeling ashamed of it, whether that’s for a performance or at work.
  • Pole wise, I’m going to try to perform more in stage / cabaret settings where I can put on a show and have fun without tiring myself out with the pressure of a competition… but I am going to apply for Eden Pole Competition and for Dance Filthy again. Lol.
  • Ideally, I’d like to finish my PhD so I can go all Doctor Carolina on you. But seriously, finishing my PhD would mean being able to apply for more stable academic jobs, and the Goddess knowns I need stability. Badly. Plus, I’m at 90,000 words by now and I’ve done all my data collection, so hopefully it’s just a matter of fine-tuning it.
  • And finally, CAN LITERARY AGENTS PLEASE STAND UP? I really wanna find an agent this year and get my detective stories out there for realz. I’ve written one and a half already, for fuck’s sake.

Happy holidays and NY people xxx

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3 thoughts on “2019, Honestly: That Naked Person From Instagram On Her Failures & Wins

  1. You know, it was part of your failures section, but I consider rejection letters a sign of success (you kind of touched on that, too, so I’m sure you feel at least somewhat the same). Any time you put yourself out there, it shows bravery, perseverance, and dedication to your craft, and I consider those all very big wins, especially as someone surrounded by way too many people who just refuse to try. So keep rocking it, because you are definitely somebody who inspires me to keep pushing and do better.

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