Promoting Toxic Relationships and Tearing Women Down: The Harsh Reality We Still Need to Change

Over recent months, multiple high-profile TV shows and films have been at the centre of an ongoing debate: stood accused of glamorising toxic relationships, viewers have been left wondering why, in today’s society, we’re still romanticising inappropriate behaviour. From the renowned ‘After’ series starring Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin to Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’, it seems these boundaries are still being blurred. Controlling tendencies, verbal abuse, jealousy and conflicts are portrayed as signs of ‘passion’, as opposed to the damaging behaviours they are. As a result, viewers are left admiring these relationships, perceiving this treatment as normal and romantic. It most definitely is not. 

Meanwhile, women across the world remain under the proverbial microscope, their decisions and behaviours – including their sexual choices – being scrutinised intensely. Whilst the world has modernised in many ways, outdated stereotypes and judgemental attitudes continue to engulf women. For example, their sexual liberation is typically depicted in a negative way on-screen; whilst women are encouraged to be open and confident sexually, if they actually are freely sexual, they’re frequently faced with belittling and damaging responses. Evidently, toxic relationships are given a free pass by the media, whilst women being sexually explorative, pursuing careers in the adult world (for example using platforms like OnlyFans and AdmireMe VIP) and otherwise detaching themselves from misogynistic expectations are faced with all kinds of demeaning labels. This misogyny is cyclical; one informs the other. Degrading attitudes influence how movies and TV shows are created, whilst the toxic relationships they promote only fuel damaging ideas about women and healthy relationships. This is a cycle that needs to be broken.

Sadly, this reality is not new; for years iconic movies and TV shows have contributed to this toxic cycle, glamorising unhealthy relationships and dynamics on screen. Take Dirty Dancing for example; Baby is treated poorly by Johnny Castle throughout. Similarly, Allie and Noah from The Notebook, a film that’s become the epitome of a popular love story, have a relationship that’s filled with emotional manipulation, conflict, jealousy and pressure. Meanwhile, teen TV series Pretty Little Liars glamorises a teacher-student relationship, as Gossip Girl sensationalises Chuck’s mistreatment of Blair. These relationships give men the upper hand, show women being mistreated and, most concerningly, suggest that this is normal. Something clearly needs to change; for women to feel empowered and feminism to become an unquestionable reality, with women being able to do as they please with their bodies and lives without judgement, we need to address influential factors like the media.

Chelsea Ferguson is the Founder of AdmireMe VIP, an adult platform that allows both men and women to share explicit content online. As an ex-stripper herself, Chelsea’s adult career has been vast and, inevitably and disappointingly, she’s faced criticism along the way. However, Chelsea’s incredibly proud of what she does; her career has empowered her and despite this judgement, she continued to do what made her truly happy – a good thing it turns out, as she now owns a multi-million-pound business. If Chelsea had let degrading judgements and pressure to behave like a ‘socially acceptable’ woman get to her, she wouldn’t be where she is today… in a six-bedroom mansion with a Lamborghini, £60,000 handbag collection and complete financial independence. 

Chelsea’s message to other women is clear: “Don’t let attitudes that have no place in modern society, and attempt to put women in a box, hold you back. If there’s something you want to do, do it. Equally, don’t buy in to the toxic relationships shown on our screens; women aren’t less than and being treated badly is never ok. Jealousy isn’t passion, verbal abuse isn’t a sign of love – if you’re in a toxic relationship, get out of it.”

For Chelsea, this is particularly close to home; previously in a toxic relationship herself, she’s experienced damaging behaviours first hand, including the powerful effects they can have on your sense of self-worth. “When you meet someone, you never think you’re going to be in a toxic relationship” Chelsea says, “we never think it’s going to happen to us and abuse obviously isn’t something we volunteer to be subjected to. In my previous relationship, we were happy and I thought we had it all. Unfortunately, we brought out the worst in each other… It was a very abusive relationship, he controlled my money and I felt I had nowhere to go, no other choice. He was fully accepting of my job at the beginning but, with time, that faded… he put me down, didn’t want me stripping and tried to control my life. He’d also get really jealous; I wasn’t allowed to stay over at my friends’ and would find myself packing my bags every other night in a heated argument. As damaging TV shows would teach us, that’s because he ‘loved’ and ‘wanted the best for me’, right? Wrong. Very wrong. That’s not love, love is supporting and encouraging each other, building one another up and enriching each other’s lives, not dragging someone down. I’ve always adored my job and I should never have been with someone who made me feel less than because of that.

Fortunately, I’m now out the other side. I live in a beautiful house as a proud single mum with my little boy and I, rightfully, don’t answer to anyone. I’m my own boss, I love what I do, I support other women who want to pursue this career and I will not settle. I’ll wait until I meet someone who accepts what I do, doesn’t judge me and respects how much I love it. Working in adult entertainment isn’t something I’ve done out of desperation (like people often assume), I’ve chosen this career because I enjoy it, it makes me feel good and it’s helped me build a stable and happy life for my family. 

I’m also now able to spot the red flags and warning signs, I can see when someone has controlling tendencies and that’s a complete no-go. That’s why I worry so much when I watch movies and TV shows that glamorise toxic relationships; they’re telling young girls that controlling behaviour stems from love, that women need this ‘guidance’ and that they should feel complimented by unhealthy jealousy… that’s dangerous. They’re normalising behaviour that often leads to violence. In reality, relationships should be based on trust and respect. Women also shouldn’t feel pressure to be the stereotypically perfect wife or girlfriend – that doesn’t exist. We should be able to do anything we want, sleep with whoever we want and do so without having to worry about people putting us down. Never be with someone who makes you feel bad about how you choose to live your life. 

Moving forward, we need to stop glamorising toxic behaviours and promote healthy, stable, trusting relationships – that’s what young women should be admiring and looking for. Meanwhile, we need to be teaching boys and men that women’s sexual liberation is to be celebrated and respected – we’re living in the 21st century after all.

That’s why I first set up AdmireMe VIP, I want to support other women and men who share my dreams, giving them encouragement and reassurance that they’re powerful, capable, independent and that that no matter what they choose to do for a living, that choice should be respected.”

Anabel Cooper

Anabel is a graduate of King’s College London and upon graduating, she set out on a journey to inspire and empower women through her words. Besides working as a digital marketing expert, Anabel is a freelance copywriter.