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Paris Lees

You Need to Learn to Handle the Truth

A few years ago, I asked a pregnant friend what she'd do if her baby was born fugly. "I'd want people to lie," she said. "I'd want people to tell me she's the most beautiful baby in the world." Isn't that rather meaningless?
Collage by Sam Taylor. Photo by Alex de Mora. Make up by Rhea Le Riche using MAC.

You have daddy issues. You probably got felt up by your uncle as a kid. You're just saying it for attention. You're a man, really.

These are just some of the speculative comments left on the column I wrote last week about how much I love fucking around. I warned my mom not to read it but she never listens. "It's OK," she said, "I know how these things work. You take a measure of truth, a pint of imagination, and a little sparkle and, hey presto, you've got yourself some controversy." I can understand my mom not wanting to believe that I had a fivesome but why did so many other people struggle to accept my story at face value? I couldn't give a shit if you believe what I write about my sex life; the reality is far more exciting than anything I'd reveal in this column. But why the automatic distrust?


It's weird that we can't discuss our experiences honestly without others rushing to question our motives. There are various reasons I wrote the article. Some of it was attention seeking, yes. (Though no one's forcing you to read my column and if you do, well, I'm just going to assume that you enjoy it.) Also, I wanted to get paid, I'm contracted to write one column a week, and I was doing a speech at the Oxford Union on the same subject. Not to mention the reasons I explicitly set out: Sometimes I find promiscuity fun and think other people should be able to enjoy it too without having to feel ashamed. Is that really so unbelievable?

People can be so incredibly hostile toward the truth. Let's say you tell your buddy that you think you're really clever. Or that you think you're very, very stupid. Tell people either of these things and they might think that you're joking, or mocking them, or just really insecure.

But if we accept that some people genuinely are clever, and that some people really are very stupid, what is wrong with people referring to themselves as clever or stupid? Why shouldn't we describe the world as it is? Why do we always suspect that there's a hidden agenda?

A few years ago, I asked a pregnant friend what she'd do if her baby was born fugly. "I'd want people to lie," she said. "I'd want people to tell me she's the most beautiful baby in the world." Isn't that rather meaningless? It's kinda like when I've been getting ready for a night out with the girls and one of them, a fat one, asks if she looks fat. Of course someone who is fat looks fat. There's nothing wrong with being fat. And you can be fat and hot. But you cannot be fat and not-fat. You don't have to go round telling those people that they're fat – but if they ask you if they're fat, you don't have to shriek theatrically and then, wearing your most sincere face, tell them: "Don't say that. Don't even think that about yourself. Not for a goddamn minute. You're not fat. Curvy, maybe. But definitely not fat."


I've been guilty of this myself because I didn't want to hurt people's feelings. As one of my friends pointed out recently, honesty without love can be cruel. But dishonesty with love can be just as unkind. Who wants to be patronised? "When I call myself fat, people either make a face and say, 'Oh stop!' or they say, 'Uh, you're not fat!' Please. Don't tell me I'm not fat. I'm not delusional," writes Teri, by email. Eddie agrees: "The words, 'But you're not fat!' are annoying. It's a lie. I would much prefer to be told, 'Yeah, but it doesn't matter.'" I haven't spoken to all of the self-identified fat people in the world but clearly some would prefer to not have their intelligence insulted.

A true friend will tell you the truth every time. If I look like a pile of shit and we're about the leave the house, I'd rather you tell me while I've still got time to fix myself up. A jealous bitch will let you go out with your bob tucked behind your ears even though it makes you look like a mouse—a fucking ugly baby mouse—just so you don't outshine her. Yeah, I know what you did there, babe.

I don't blame us for becoming a nation of skeptics, though. Whole industries are devoted to warping our perceptions or, worse, second-guessing why we do what we do. Psychiatry tries to tell us why we do things and, in the process, creates disorders out of normal human behavior. Advertising sells us lies; PR bends the truth. Instagram helps us rose tint our own little worlds. It's easier, isn't it, to put a filter on our lives and pretend the world is how we'd like it to be? Truth is not an objective or valueless thing and none of us can deal with life without inventing stories and motives for ourselves.

Honesty is scary but, like everything that threatens us, it can also be deeply rewarding. Take this guy, who came out as bisexual to his wife. Now their marriage is "stronger than ever" and they both get to explore something that might otherwise have destroyed their relationship, or caused him to waste years feeling frightened and ashamed and her to be deceived.. We can't have important discussions without the truth. As Salon points out, the douchebag whose opinion piece was recently published by TIME on why he'll "never apologize" for his white privilege was only admitting something that millions of Americans think anyway. We're outraged with him for saying it when really we should applaud him for being so obnoxiously candid.

"Telling it like it is" currently has some pretty shitty ambassadors: Katie Hopkins, Richard Littlejohn, and the Jeremies Kyle and Clarkson, for example. But even though I'm convinced they barely mean a word they say, they haven't done too badly for themselves, and I suspect this is because even if we despise their views, we're thirsty for what we at least wish to believe is sincerity. In an age where we've lost trust in the press, the police, and the 24-hour news channels—not to mention our depressing lack of faith in the political class—a little honesty would go a long way. Trust me.

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