Originally known mainly as a beauty journalist, Sali Hughes (SH) also writes on other subjects and is a popular Instagram influencer. She also has a large Twitter following. In writing about beauty she has always presented herself as particularly honest.
The SH threads on Tattle were started in November 2018 by a small number of her readers who began to question – particularly as she was now moving into the influencer sphere – whether she still lived up to her ‘honesty’ USP.
In September 2019, contributors to the SH threads became aware that SH or an associate or known friend was ‘stalking’ them across their social media. Feeling intimidated, they made their concerns public. On the evening of the day the concerns became public, SH posted a video describing herself as the victim of bullying and giving a wildly inaccurate account of what was being said here. We consider that this was to justify behaviour which might otherwise have been considered harassment.
Immediately following the video she took to Twitter where she named the source of the ‘bullying’ as Tattle and posted a link to a campaign to close it down. This prompted an outpouring of sympathy for SH – including from a number of high profile women – and unleashed a torrent of abuse on Tattle members.
Some people, however, came to the SH threads on Tattle to see for themselves and, finding it to be very different from the way she had portrayed it, were shocked by the misrepresentation and that she had sought to use her social media clout to try to silence it. A number of new members joined Tattle at this point.
The SH threads continue, with significantly more contributors than before. SH continues to use her social media and public platforms to misrepresent it as ‘lies and conspiracy theories’ and to abuse forum members as ‘weirdos’ and ‘arseholes’.
We give more information about SH in the following section. We then describe, in Section 3, how and why the SH threads started and the type of content up until September 2019. In Section 4 we describe the events leading to and following her 27 September Instagram video. In Section 5 we briefly bring things up to date.
2. About Sali Hughes
SH describes herself on Instagram as ‘Journalist, host, broadcaster, author’. Her agent’s website describes her as ‘specialising in beauty, women’s issues and film’.
She is also a social media influencer and this now appears to account for a large part of her work. Her agent’s website notes:
‘She has worked on commercial projects with Selfridges, John Lewis, Bobbi Brown, Neutrogena, Laura Mercier, Yves Saint Laurent, Lancôme, Clinique, Aveda, Triumph lingerie, Boden, Fit Flop, Babyliss, Clarins, Estée Lauder, Body Shop, Brown Thomas, Beauty Pie, Boots No7, Liberty London, Frederic Malle and many others.’
She posts regularly on Instagram where she currently has 166k followers. Reflecting the client list above, she largely promotes beauty brands and products. She is also a regular Twitter user since 2009 with 137k current followers. She tweets on a wide range of subjects including politics, social issues, television and films.
She has contributed articles to a range of magazines and broadsheet newspapers. These have tended to be opinion pieces on mainly women’s issues. Her writing often describes her own experience – on matters such as parenting, relationships and friendship. Through these articles and her social media output she has put in the public domain a considerable amount of information about herself, her background, her family and private life.
As a journalist, she is best known for contributing a weekly column on beauty to the Guardian. Referring to the column, her agent’s website says:
‘… she is known for her intelligent, straight-talking advice and honest product recommendations that are recognised across the beauty industry as having “the Delia effect” on sales.’
For many years there was the facility for readers to comment on her weekly Guardian column and a community of regular and occasional commenters developed. With readers contributing their own product recommendations and views on that week’s subject, the weekly column became a popular feature, with online readers returning several times to the Guardian website to keep up with the discussion. The facility to comment has been discontinued.
SH has always presented herself as a particularly honest beauty journalist. She says on her website that she will always be fully transparent about any commercial relationship, will not say that she likes a product if she does not and that she will not mention in her editorial work a product in which her commercial involvement has been ‘much more prominent’ (although it is not clear how she would define this).
She is the author of three books, two of which are about beauty and a third which is a collection of photographs of the Queen with ‘captions and commentary’ by SH.
She has a long-established Facebook group titled ‘Sali Hughes: Get the Look’ (GTL) which currently has 7.3k members. She also has a webpage titled ‘Sali Hughes Beauty’ (SHB) although she does not appear to keep it current. SHB includes a discussion forum which now appears to be used by only a handful of people.
She is the co-founder of, and appears to be a key figure in the running of, a charity – Beauty Banks – which supports ‘those living in poverty in the UK…with personal care and hygiene essentials’.
3. Why the SH threads on Tattle exist
Instagram influencers put content online – their image, opinions, personal details – with the purpose of engaging with members of the public so as to influence them to buy products. They also curate the response to their content by deleting unwanted comments and/or by creating a hostile environment for negative comments. This has had the effect of driving any scrutiny or criticism away from Instagram to sites such as Tattle.
The SH threads were started by readers of her Guardian column and followers on social media who began to have doubts as to whether she lived up to the honesty that she had made her USP.
One of the ways in which there appeared to be a lack of honesty was as regards her own face – photos and videos of which are central to her promotion of beauty products on Instagram. Although it did not appear to be acknowledged, it became apparent from her appearance that she was getting regular Botox injections and possibly other cosmetic procedures. It was seen as dishonest to use her own face to promote beauty products without acknowledging the part played by cosmetic procedures. That her own face is a key part of her ‘Delia effect’ on sales, was illustrated recently when a podcast interviewee was asked what beauty products she used. The interviewee said ‘I buy things because Sali Hughes tells me to buy them on Instagram…because her skin’s incredible’.
Another way in which there appeared to be a lack of honesty was the way she tagged items pictured on her social media. For example she would use the tag ‘#presstreatment’ when posting pictures of her regular hair and nail appointments at her regular salon. These personal treatments – which would normally cost several hundred pounds – appeared therefore to have been given free in return for a namecheck. It has also been noted that the same salon is mentioned in her editorial writing.
The first SH thread was started in November 2018. This was the first post:
‘She said she’d never do an #ad and that anything she ever recommended was a ‘true’ recommendation. But, without explanation she’s suddenly started selling shit - in the last month she’s done at least six #ad on her stories and posts, plus a swipe up for Selfridges beauty.
So I guess that means she’s now a bread and butter influencer - what a shame. (Also: Botox)’
This has been a central theme of the SH threads – that a once trusted voice in beauty writing now appeared to be cashing in on the reputation and following she had built up through her Guardian column and was now part of the shady world of online influencing. It is probably fair to say that if SH had not initially made such a feature of being honest, readers and followers would not have felt so strongly when evidence that suggested the contrary began to appear.
Contributors to the SH threads discussed various concerns and niggles about her online content:
appearing to be doing favours for friends (‘Charlotte T gets her makeup pushed in the guardian and SH gets a forward from CT for her book. Win win.’)
appearing to be over-promoting certain brands such as Beauty Pie (‘To date she has plugged BP in the guardian, Instagram, her website and fashion magazine. Would she do this for free?’)
tagging the clothes worn in Instagram pictures (‘I don't understand the need to tag everything you wear in a post if you're a beauty blogger. Either you're advertising or letting the brand know you will promote them if they feel inclined to send you a free Gucci belt or Bella Freud jumper.’)
having public conversations with her ‘girl gang’ friends on Twitter (‘…her and her mates choose to have full blown convos on their open twitter accounts rather than say text or message each other privately like most folks.’)
responding aggressively on Twitter (‘I've seen her Twitter spats. Basically Sali can't debate and immediately goes straight into attack mode if anyone has the audacity to not agree with her.’)
tweeting that an article by another female journalist was ‘offensive bullshit’ (‘Sali Hughes spends her time being virtuous about trolling and appointing herself the Master of the Art of Female Friendship. Then she sets her dogs on EC. She is such a bloody bitch when she wants to be.’)
her Guardian column becoming boring / irrelevant / lazy (‘Guardian readers got treated to her selling glitter this week. What are we 10! Time for a new beauty columnist.’ ‘Her guardian column last week involved her pushing £40 scrunchies!’ ‘The latest Guardian column is basically just a Clinique press release.’)
readers’ comments on the Guardian column being heavily moderated to remove critical comments (‘It's amazing how thin-skinned Sali acts behind the scenes re: moderation of btl comments on her article, given she likes to mouth off to others so aggressively on Twitter.’)
inconsistency (‘She is so full of bull-shit. She’s wanging on about having used Squalane for decades. Someone has pointed out in the Guardian comments that they’ve never heard her mention Squalane up until now, and it’s true, she hasn’t ever mentioned it.’)
the image she presents of herself online (‘…likes to present herself as a fearless maverick with very unusual and slightly 'mad' ideas… And yes if she bangs on about being a homeless teen anymore.’)
The examples above are typical of the content up to September 2019. This was a small group of people – possibly around 20 – talking between themselves, responding to the content she put online, noting what they saw as a lack of transparency, poking fun at what they saw as ridiculous and complaining about a deterioration in her Guardian column. It was clearly not something a person would enjoy reading about themselves but a) the type of comment and criticism was no different from that posted below-the-line on newspaper articles on a daily basis, b) it was a tiny counter-balance to the hundreds of admiring, grateful comments posted daily on Instagram, and c) it was taking place away from the mainstream media and social media.
There was also self-awareness. One member posted:
‘I think it’s a fair point to ask ourselves if we’re just bitching needlessly. Yesterday it occurred to me that things had come to such a head that if Sali (or CH, or any of the others) had single-handedly saved the lives of 6 kittens right in front of me, I’d have found a way to have a problem with the way she did it. This is true.
HOWEVER: I do think that these people are not yet subject to rigorous enough scrutiny in how they earn their living and how they gain their freebies. It has been eye-opening to many of us here that since the law changed earlier this year, we’ve started to see quite how much shit they got away with for years. In many cases they did this while claiming to be consumer champions, whose opinions weren’t for sale - simply couldn’t be bought.
The law has not yet caught up with many of these people. I hope that in time it will. I hope that they are told that if they accept a free haircut a year (or 8 or 9 of them), they’ll need to declare it as a gift (not a PR experience), put it in their tax return and pay any tax due on it.
They have been absolutely getting away with murder on this front for too long, and what really galls me is that while they’ve been doing this, they’ve pretended to be our friend, our neighbour, our mum, our Everywoman. They have played on “relatable” posts about their kids and their marriages, their skincare concerns, to monetise our own fears for their personal gain. So to return to my first paragraph, I don’t think this is needless bitchery. I think we’re sore because we feel we’ve been lied to.'
We have described this stage in detail to provide the context for what happened next.
4. The events of September 2019
From around September 2019 SH has attempted to put a stop to the discussion here.
Her initial strategy seemed to be to try to intimidate people individually. It was in September 2019 – around the middle of thread #3 – that people here started noticing that she or her assistant or a known high profile friend were 'stalking' them around their social media – leaving evidence that they had engaged with or viewed their social media.
At the time, the website Estee Laundry had been posting information about alleged bullying at the brand Charlotte Tilbury. This led to comments both on Tattle and on SH’s Instagram suggesting that SH – who appeared to have been a friend of CT and a promoter of the CT brand – should be adding her voice in support of the alleged victims. This appears to have been the prompt for this first attempt to silence the discussion here.
A number of contributors to the SH threads said that they felt intimidated by the ‘stalking’. One said she was leaving Tattle because of it. This is what she posted on the SH thread on Thursday 26 September 2019:
'Yesterday I decided to delete my tattle.life account because I was feeling unnerved. Today after reading other comments on SH I have decided to make a final post. Yesterday morning I received a notification that SH had liked a FB post of my children. This seemed very odd. It was one of a few photos that I had mistakenly left on a public setting. My feed would have had to be scrolled down quite far to find this photo. Later that morning I realised that I had been blocked from the FB GTL group and her Instagram. I didn't make many comments on her FB and Instagram and I was always very polite. Therefore she had read my posts here and had done some detective work to discover my identity. I feel really creeped out, particularly as she had involved my children. I have enjoyed my time on tattle.life but I am leaving now as I feel very uneasy.'
She included a screenshot of SH ‘liking’ a picture on her Facebook page.
To bring attention to this behaviour, the above post was sent to Estee Laundry who posted it on their website with the comment: ‘Multiple people claiming to be unnerved by the way @salihughes and her assistant are stalking them on FB.’
Estee Laundry also posted the following from someone who had contacted them:
‘Hey, I’m using my anon account but please keep me anon as I am freaked out. Four days ago I liked a comment under Sali Hughes IGTV foundations post. It was a comment calling out Tilbury and her bullying. I got the attached message from a random person telling me Sali was ‘stalking’ ppl who criticised her. I didn’t really pay much attention, but blocked Sali cos I don’t want the hassle. Fast forward three days and Sali sent me a friend request from her personal account so what’s that about? Out of 140k followers she noted a person who had liked a negative comment, realised I’d blocked her so sent me an invite…for what purpose…to intimidate me? I dunno, but it’s made me go [quizzical face emoji].’
The ‘attached message’ read: ‘Sali Hughes has been stalking and intimidating anyone who questions why she deleted comments on her Insta mentioning bullying of staff at Charlotte Tilbury. She’s stalked Facebook accounts.’
In posting this, Estee Laundry added the comment: 'So many DMs about British beauty columnist @salihughes intimidating anyone who’s been asking about @ctilburymakeup bullying allegations by stalking them on social media. This is very bizarre.’
These posts appeared on the Estee Laundry website on 26/27 September 2019. On the evening of Friday 27 September, SH posted a video on her Instagram account describing herself as ‘the victim of bullying’.
In the video, she described how she had become aware of an online group of people, mostly women, ‘who wanted me to lose my job because they hated me’. She said the site contained ‘lie upon lie upon lie’ and that it had caused distress to her family and friends as well as herself. She said that she had tracked down the ‘internet trolls and bullies’ via their social media so as to ‘let them know that I had seen them’ and to block them.
She gave such a distorted account of the content of the SH threads that contributors to the threads didn’t recognise it and assumed she was referring to another, unknown, site. As one contributor commented ‘She made it sound as if we were hiding in the bushes taking photographs of her children on their way to school’ when the only mention of her children had been comments expressing surprise that she had posted a photo of them.
From both the timing and the content of the video, it appeared that she had posted it in response to her ‘stalking’ of Tattle members having become public. The approach she appeared to take was to wildly exaggerate the harm being done (especially to her family and friends) in order to justify behaviour that might otherwise have been considered harassment. In effect, to use attack as a form of defence.
SH took to Twitter that same evening where she named Tattle as the site she had been referring to and gave a link to a website campaigning for it to be closed down.
She received an enormous amount of sympathy for the ‘ordeal’ she and her family had suffered, and admiration for her ‘bravery’ in confronting the ‘bullies’. In addition to support from her thousands of followers she received public support from well-known figures who themselves have huge social media followings.
As well as offering support, a number of followers piled on with abuse of Tattle members. Sunday Times journalist, and known SH friend, India Knight was one of the most prominent.
In one tweet that evening, India Knight wrote: ‘E: “Does she know where they live?”(I would slightly like to know this too in fact)’. It was known that ‘E’ referred to India Knight’s partner, former MP Eric Joyce who was known to have been convicted for assault. That he was enquiring as to where forum members lived appeared threatening. SH’s tweeted reply – ‘Literally yes’ – suggested that she had pried into Tattle members’ lives to the extent that she knew where they lived.
Although the overwhelming response to the video was support for SH, some who had seen the video came to the SH threads on Tattle to see for themselves what this ‘bullying’ was about. Finding it to be very different from the video’s description led some to view SH in a new light and, in some instances, to join Tattle. One commented:
‘Up till then I'd found SH a bit irritating and perhaps not quite living up to her 'honesty' USP but hadn't thought about it much. I was now outraged by her attempt to use the power and influence of her hundreds of thousands of followers to close this down, a small discussion forum with – at the time – maybe 30 members. It seemed as if, having pretty well shut down criticism and dissent in her own social media, she was now seeking to shut it down across the entire internet. Part of my reason for joining here was to show solidarity with this oppressed minority!’
Another different response came from Times journalist Giles Coren who posted an angry video explaining that he wasn’t one of the large number of ‘blue tickers’ expressing support for SH because she herself had started a Twitter pile on of his wife, Esther Walker, criticising her parenting.
5. Since September 2019
Following SH’s accusations of bullying, the SH threads focused more on her own track record of bullying and/or unkind behaviour. They commented on:
SH’s campaign to replace the previous Guardian beauty columnist. SH has herself described how she had ‘innocently’ tweeted criticism of the column and publicly discussed its shortcomings with her media friends – leading to her being invited to take over
a sustained public attack by SH and a group of others on Twitter – calling themselves ‘the coven’ – on a successful woman writer and broadcaster
the attack, referred to above, on Esther Walker which led her to put her Twitter account on a private setting for a while.
Another change since the video is that we now try to steer clear of mentioning her family and friends (apart from those who independently have a high profile and/or post false or abusive comments about us). Even though we had only been responding to information SH had herself put in the public domain - including via articles and opinion pieces about her relationship and family - and it had only ever been a very small part of the content here, she made it clear in the video that it was mentions of her family and friends that had been particularly upsetting. Despite her having misrepresented the way family and friends were mentioned here, we took this on board and have been aware of the need to avoid further mentions.
There has continued to be criticism of her weekly Guardian column – on which readers’ comments were disabled following SH’s September 2019 video.
Since her attack, there has been more comment on her ableist language. For example referring to contributors to the SH threads as ‘mental’ or to a person having a ‘nervo’.
In general, however, the SH threads continue much as before. In pursuit of her career as a influencer, she puts content online and we comment on it between ourselves. Sometimes our comment is about something important, sometimes about something completely trivial. Often, however, although discussion might be prompted by something directly related to SH it will broaden out to a more general discussion. There is also a significant amount of discussion about beauty and other issues unrelated to SH’s online content.
SH continues to campaign against Tattle, continuing to give a wholly misleading account of the content of the SH threads – usually describing it as ‘lies and conspiracy theories’. We find that baffling. We simply do not know to what she is referring. At worst, there has occasionally been a mistaken assumption here that she had been given something free or had been paid to promote a brand. We find that hardly surprising given the grey area in which influencers operate and particularly in SH’s case where she works both as influencer and journalist.
She appears to shoehorn critical mentions of Tattle into Twitter conversations and when she has a public platform. Although her close associates may join in a Twitter discussion on the subject, in general her comments appear to gain little traction. She tends not to name it but refers instead to the ‘hate site’ or ‘internet weirdos’.
One peculiar feature of SH’s relationship with Tattle is that, despite her public criticism of it, she claims not to read it herself but to be informed as to its content by others. She also, though, claims to have 'pages and pages' of printouts of the comments here. Some of us consider it unlikely that she does not read here. Others do believe that she doesn't read her and consider that that may account for her descriptions of its content being so wide of the mark. We have wondered whether whoever is reporting back to her on the content may believe it kinder to describe it as ‘lies and conspiracy theories’ rather than report its real content, such as criticism that her weekly column is ‘lazy’ these days.
As noted above, this is a discussion taking place between a small number of people away from the mainstream media and social media. It was never the intention to bring the discussion to a wider audience. If there were the option to make it invisible to the general Googling public, we would broadly welcome it - although we are aware that showing up in Google searches does direct people here to see for themselves. We would welcome even more, however, the opportunity to comment freely, with criticism and dissent existing alongside appreciation and agreement.
Relating to Dawn O'Porter: https://tattle.life/threads/sali-hughes-4-the-keats-of-foundation.3132/page-7#lg=post-517352&slide=0