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Sharon Gaffka

Being Judged

Sharon Gaffka was one of the original girls to enter the Love Island Villa in 2021 but it’s important to stress that she is far from your typical ‘influencer’. Before Love Island, Sharon was a Civil Servant for 6 years, working across many areas of politics.

Since leaving, she’s used her platform to bring about awareness around several key political issues, including her campaign to tackle spiking and victim shaming which has recently taken her to the Palace of Westminster. In this episode of the Talk Twenties Podcast, you can expect an unfiltered and honest conversation about spiking legislation, women’s rights and what it’s like to be judged as a woman, both before and after stepping into the limelight.

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Sharon Gaffka joins us in the Talk Twenties Studio!



00:02:48: Introduction
00:03:45: Sharon’s background
00:06:05: Getting spiked
00:08:58: Boycotting the establishments 
Victim stigma 
Lobbying parliament for change 
Young Women’s Trust
00:16:11: The gender pay gap 
The Love Island experience
00:21:47: All about Hugo
00:26:25: Judging the show clips at face value
00:27:46: Life after Love Island and double standards 
 Dating before and after Love Island
00:32:42: Adulting disasters 
Learning in your twenties 
Advice to yourself at 20
00:36:20: Final thoughts

Interview Transcription

Gaby Mendes: Do you find yourself winging your way through life, hoping you’ll figure it all out on the way?  Hello, it’s me, Gaby Mendes, your twenties wing-woman, and you’re listening to the Talk Twenties podcast.  Here, you’ll find me chatting to influential twenty-somethings on different topics that matter to you in your twenties, and all the things we never got taught in school.  This is your ultimate guide to adult life, so if you’re ready, let’s go!

So, before we get started with today’s episode, we’re going to say a huge, big thank you to our sponsors of this episode, FEMSS.  They are a brand-new fashion brand and for me, they’re changing the game, to be honest.  I’m currently wearing FEMSS, I’ve got a little blazer on and a little nice top.  I absolutely love it.  I was a customer before they sponsored this podcast, so I absolutely believe in this brand.  They’re all about empowering women, and their whole ethos is multifaceted clothes for multifaceted women.  So, you might go from a meeting at work to the gym to out with friends in the evening, and you can wear one outfit and just put a blazer on, put some heels on, and still look the part.

So, Sharon, you’ve got some bits here that you’ve just taken a look at.  What do you think of FEMSS?

Sharon Gaffka: Do you know what, I’m a massive fan of staple items.  I think everyone’s trying to be more conscious about where they spend their money and the clothes they buy and where they buy them from; so for me, having staples just means that I can transform my wardrobe, have amazing outfits all of the time, but without spending as much money, and checking my footprint, basically.

So, massive fan of FEMSS.  I think the quality of the product’s really good as well, and that’s something that I think fast fashion really misses out on.

Gaby Mendes: Yeah, I mean when you get some items, you get them and you can wear them once or twice, or they’re pieces that don’t really go with a lot of other things, so I might wear them once, but they don’t go with the rest of my wardrobe, so I only really end up wearing them a handful of times before they’re given to a charity shop, or sold on eBay, etc.

I think what I really want to add to my wardrobe, just like you, is staple pieces that really are going to last the test of time.  So, FEMSS don’t offer a discount code, guys, so if you want to go and get yourself some FEMSS, they have done us a very, very special one, which is 10% off, if you just use ‘TALKTWENTIES’ in checkout, then you can grab yourself some FEMSS.

Hello and welcome to a brand-new episode of the Talk Twenties podcast.  If you’re not already subscribed or following, make sure you click that button right now, so you never miss an episode of us in the studio.  This week, I’m joined by the one, the only, Sharon Gaffka, who you may recognise from this year’s Love Island.  We’re not just going to be talking about Love Island gossip though, we’ve got some really important issues that we’re going to be discussing today and I’m really, really excited to have her in the studio.  So hi, Sharon, thank you so much for coming in.  I’m excited to chat to you today!

Sharon Gaffka: Hi!  Thank you so much for having me.

Gaby Mendes: You’ve got so much going on at the moment.  You’ve got really exciting projects and really important campaigns that you’re working on at the moment, aren’t you?  Tell us a little bit more though about where this stems from, because it kind of all links back to your life before the villa, before you stepped into Love Island; tell us a little bit more about Sharon pre-Love Island.

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, I mean Sharon, I feel like she sounds really boring, but actually when I think back to it, she’s probably not as boring as she sounds.

Gaby Mendes: Definitely not.

Sharon Gaffka: I think when I was growing up, I think people that know me really well know that I have immigrant parents, European and Asian, so for me it was always that ethic that you have to work hard, because my family didn’t give up their old life for nothing.  Seeing injustices, political injustices from where they grew up made me really want to do something that was bigger than myself.

I remember at 14 turning round to my teacher and saying, “I’m going to be an MEP one day”.  Thanks to Brexit, that’s never going to happen, but I remember saying that I wanted to do something that was going to change other people’s lives and that was going to make other people just have an easier life, not have the life that my mum necessarily had growing up.  That’s where things like me getting involved in period poverty came from.  My mum was very candid with me, telling me that when she grew up, she didn’t have access to sanitary items, and things that she had to do to get by, therefore missing out on her education and things like that.  So, I’ve learnt not to take things for granted, just based off their experiences.

I always wanted to be a civil servant, but I kind of fell into it the way I did.  I didn’t go to uni, I didn’t do the traditional route.  My dad was very anti-university, because none of my family ever went, so I was the first one.  But once I was there, there was a bit of a weird moment, I think, the first few years.  I was like, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be.  I’m not going to have any direct impact on anything”.  But as further along my career went, I was just, “This is what I want to do”, and I don’t think it will ever change; I’ll always want to do something like this.

So, I guess I think people would be lying if they didn’t go into the villa for experiences, for exposure, for opportunities, but I just wanted a different type of opportunity.  I’m using it and I’m getting that now, and I want to be able to speak about something.  Spiking’s something that I always felt ashamed of.  I’ve been spiked probably a handful of times, if not more in my adult life, and I’ve always been ashamed, so I’ve always blamed myself.  Now I’m hearing other women talk about it and the more I talk about it, the more other people are coming out.  So for me, that’s the 2022 biggest goal really, to be able to do something massive with that. 

Gaby Mendes: So, going back to your spiking experience, one of the biggest experiences that you have that you talk about quite openly was actually pre-Love Island.  It was in July 2020, when things had just opened up from our very first lockdown that we had in the UK.  Tell us your experience of that night, because it was quite a brutal story, and it’s kind of what has stemmed all of this work that you’re now doing for all the spiking campaigns.

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, definitely.  I think for me, it was definitely the most traumatic experience.  This time, it was somebody who was definitely looking to hurt me.  It goes through your head sometimes when you’re like, “Is this person looking to hurt me sexually, or just physically?”  It was the mistrust I think I got from public services, or the fact that because I was a young woman, I’m irresponsible and I’m the reason to blame.

It wasn’t just public services that had that.  I think my family at the time were, “Well, why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that?” or my partner at the time made it more about him than it was about me.  It just felt like I was alone, and it felt like it was a very single experience.  It was the first time we’d been out for ages, it was the first time I’d seen my friends in six months.  A lot of us are frontline workers, so we’d had a really tough time, and it was my friend’s birthday and it just went downhill, because people thought I couldn’t handle my alcohol.

So for me, it was the only time I’ve ever really been to hospital and I’ve woken up and I don’t know where I am, I don’t have any of my belongings, I don’t know how I got there and I still don’t know.  It’s really horrible to hear that that’s a common story and it’s not just a one-off.

Gaby Mendes: Were you tested for drugs in your system at that point, when you were in the hospital?

Sharon Gaffka: I wasn’t directly tested for drugs.  They said they found something in my bloodstream that turned out to be linked to a date-rape drug, but only my friend knew that because of the industry she worked in that allowed her to know what that was.  

I’d phoned the hospital a couple of days later to get reports on what had happened to me.  I was told by a senior member of staff, a senior clinician, that they don’t test for drugs because they don’t choose to spend their funding there; and if I wanted to be tested for drugs where I believed that I’d been spiked, I should have gone to a police station.  But if I can’t remember my own name, then how am I supposed to know that, and does anybody know that?  So for me, the first point of contact is education, not just educating victims of spiking on what they can do, but also educating people on why spiking’s wrong.

Since I started speaking out on TikTok, it’s been immature young boys coming back with ridiculous comments like, “Not all men”, “Not just women”, and it’s like, we really need to understand first of all what consent is and be really educated on why doing something like that is wrong, which is weird because to me, it’s common sense.  But apparently, it’s not to a lot of people. 

Gaby Mendes: Why do you think also that establishments aren’t checking or taking it as seriously as previous, because obviously we had the big Girls Night In that happened; that was back in October time, wasn’t it?  That was basically a boycott, so girls saying that they’re not going out.  Obviously, it was a positive thing that happened, but do you think that’s the answer, by basically just boycotting and saying you’re not going out; or, do you feel that that’s putting the onus on women to say that they can’t actually live their lives that they want to live, because of other people’s actions?

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, I think for the initial boycott, it was positive to show establishments that this is the impact it’s going to have on your business if we don’t feel safe when we’re going out.  Otherwise, I think boycotting and not going out is just another thing that we’re taking away from ourselves.  It was like things with Sarah Everard, where women were advised not to go out, and it’s like, “Why are our rights being infringed, when we’ve done nothing wrong?”

But I do think that with establishments, it’s hard.  There’s things like costs and stuff like that.  I hear a lot about establishments talking about cost of checking, cost of this, cost of that; but you can put very simple things in place that cost you nothing, that I think would be beneficial to anyone.  I just remember being 18 and being stopped at my local nightclub for having chewing gum in my bag.  So, if you could be so strict on chewing gum, why are people passing with drugs?  It’s not even just drugs anymore, it’s needles.  How are you concealing needles into a nightclub, I just don’t understand?

Gaby Mendes: No, it is crazy.  There’s also this element, and I think you said you’d experienced it, with victim stigma.  So if it is a young, vulnerable girl, it’s the assumption that she’s just drunk too much and she’s drunk beyond her limits, and she shouldn’t be doing that, essentially.  What’s your view on that, because I think it’s just another way that we’re kind of being punished, essentially, for going out and having a good time, and it’s not your fault if you get spiked?

Sharon Gaffka: It’s ridiculous.  For me, it’s the same as when a woman gets sexually assaulted, and they’re like, “Well, what did you wear?  Were you drunk?”  It’s the same, tarnishing people with the same brush.  And for me, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t got to one point in my life where I drank so much that it was my own fault.  

Gaby Mendes: But that wasn’t one of them?

Sharon Gaffka: No, that wasn’t.  And as I’ve got older, I’ve learnt that that was 18-year-old Sharon.  I’m 26 now, and I was 24 at the time, and I understand my limits.  I was a working professional, I knew how to carry myself.  I’m very responsible.  I turn round to my friends all the time; when I’m ready to go home and I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough.  

I’ve never disappeared on a night out, so that’s when my friends knew something was wrong, because I was just nowhere to be found.  I was so unresponsive, my breath was getting low, my eyes were rolling to the back of my head, and that’s not lunchtime, going out for a glass of wine with my salad; that’s something quite severe.  And I think again, victim shaming only comes with lack of education, because you don’t understand, why is it onto the victim, but why are we not educating people on why spiking is wrong?

It’s the same notion that boys will be boys, or not all men; it’s the same thing why people are finding it okay to say that.

Gaby Mendes: Absolutely.  So, you’re currently trying to lobby government and have important conversations.  You’ve got a meeting coming up, haven’t you, hopefully?

Sharon Gaffka: Yes, next week.

Gaby Mendes: Next week.  What are the kinds of things that you’re going to be outlining in that meeting, and what are the changes that you want to see taking place in order to make this situation in the UK, in particular, change; what change do you want to see?

Sharon Gaffka: I think for me, the initial meeting is that I want to get this person onside.  It’s my local MP, I want to get them onside, I want to be able to get their support to write a letter to the Home Office and Department of Education to be able to get them onside as well; the Home Office, for example, just to be able to talk about changes in legislation.  

Legislation, when it comes to spiking, is very much outdated, and I took that inspiration from women like Gina Martin, who’d had the Upskirting Bill pushed through parliament, just because I find that legislation in this country is more reactive rather than proactive, and that needs to change.  Then for me, in terms of the Department of Education, to put something in place to talk about consent.  When you have drug education in school, no one was talking to you about spiking.  It was always about Class As, why you shouldn’t do them, why they’re dangerous; but no one talks to you about spiking and what to do.  For me, I also want blanket advice for victims of spiking, what you can do.  

From my experience, I went onto websites, like Talk to Frank, NHS England, all of that stuff, and there was just no blanket advice; everything was different like, “You could cover your drink [or] don’t leave your drink unattended”.  That’s not advice.  Where can I go to; who can I speak to?

Gaby Mendes: And that’s more preventative as well, isn’t it?  That’s stopping it from happening, but when it does happen, what are the steps you should be taking?  I don’t know that information myself, I’m 26, I should probably know that, kids should know that, it should be taught in schools and we’re not getting taught it, which is one of the biggest things that we talk about on the podcast, “Is our education system outdated in areas?”  This is definitely one of the places where change needs to happen.

I think it’s brilliant that you are using your platform that you have now to change such an important part of society as well.  So, I mean, I think you’re doing a fabulous job with that as well.  But it’s not your only mission.  We talked about being a multifaceted woman and having lots of different identities and lots of things, projects that you have going on.  You are a Women’s Trust Ambassador as well; tell us a little bit more about your role with Women’s Trust.

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, so I actually became a Young Women’s Trust Ambassador in 2018.  I’d just come back from a five-week trip in Japan.  While I was in Japan, I became an ambassador for stopping violence against women in Japan.  I actually used to donate to the charity.  I used to be one of their sponsors, and I think their social media team went through their sponsors, because they were looking for brand ambassadors, and they just came across my social media.

I wouldn’t call myself a micro influencer, but I had 15,000 followers.  Obviously, they’d looked at my LinkedIn and they’d seen that I’d been working in government and that I was talking about equal pay for women a lot on social media, and things like that.  So for me, it was just another way to get involved with a smaller organisation, because I feel with smaller organisations, they have more impact.

For me, obviously pre-COVID, I was being able to go to events with them, events they were running, talk about their CV workshops they do.  So, they have a Work it Out programme, where women that want to get back into work can send them their CVs and they’ve got really good relationships with recruiters, agencies, and things like that, to get proper, professional advice on your CV and how to get back into work.

Being a career woman, that is something no one will ever be able to take away from me, and I think that’s the suitability that a lot of women don’t have; and that’s one thing that I really wanted to work with them on, to be able to give women, especially women like me coming from the ethnic minority background, to have the same access, the same opportunities to jobs, that their male counterparts have.

Gaby Mendes: Absolutely.  When we were chatting about this episode as well, we talked about how the pandemic has had a huge impact on women in particular.  The gender pay gap has not got better; in fact, it has worsened in this time.  What would be the changes that you would like to see?  I mean, it’s hard to pinpoint a few different things, but what do you think that we can do as a society to educate ourselves on this a little bit more?

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, I think actually, there’s that old-fashioned belief that you shouldn’t talk about your salary, because it’s rude to ask somebody how much money they earn.  Well actually, I think that’s a load of rubbish.  I think the more open we are talking about salary and money, then you can challenge your employers.  I think I remember seeing loads of TikToks, or I was on LinkedIn, and this one woman said that she’d gone for a really senior tech job.  She asked for £100,000.  It’s a good salary, really good!

Gaby Mendes: It’s nice!

Sharon Gaffka: They offered her £120,000, and then she started her job and realised that her male counterparts were on £150,000.  So, if people were open about salary and what you should earn in your industry, what people around you earn, what people from demographics earn, you can all be on an equal playing field.  But also, I think it’s on employers to put your salary on job adverts.

Gaby Mendes: Yeah, 100% couldn’t agree more.

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, I think it’s wrong.  I’ve applied for jobs in the past and gone for things, and then I’ve gone through the process and actually, “You’re not offering me what I want, and you could have saved both our time, effort and energy by just putting it in the beginning, or telling me in the beginning”.  Then there’s that old-fashion notion where my dad was like, “Well, you don’t ask about salary until towards the end”.  I was like, “No, I’m not wasting my time”, and I think that’s why I’ve done so well in my career, because I’ve been so cut-throat and been, “I’m not doing this job for less than I’m worth”.

I think other women need to have that confidence, and I think just as a society, to be able to talk more about money and salary is definitely beneficial.

Gaby Mendes: 100%.  You talk there about being a career woman, and I’d be mad to not ask you a question about Love Island.  A lot of what was said on Love Island was all about you being career-driven and an independent woman.  And to be honest, watching it myself, I saw myself in you and I thought it was really great the way you came across.  But a lot of people had a lot to say on the matter about being a career-driven woman.

Looking back on that time in the villa now, do you have any thoughts, any regrets, any things that happened that you think have really impacted you since coming out?

Sharon Gaffka: I think it’s catch-22.  There always are.  I think a lot of people didn’t like how I came across, or didn’t like how I handled certain situations, and that’s perfectly okay to have their opinion.  But actually, when I hear from other women, or other people, that they saw bits of themselves in me, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be on the show.  It’s massive representation.  I rarely see people like me on TV, in social media, or anything like that and I think, “How many other women are there like me that don’t see themselves at all represented?”  So, that was a massive part for me and it makes me feel a lot better. 

But do you know what, that’s normal life for me in dating.  I’m thinking about one particular brunch moment, when I had the conversation about how many kids people should have and I was like, “Oh, no, fuck that!”  I’m thinking, “How many dates have I been on where I’ve had that actual conversation in real life?”  So many, I’ve probably lost count.  And, do you know what, I shouldn’t give what I believe up for the sake of having a man in my life.

People have this thing where apparently, I hate kids, or I don’t want them.  I never said that, I just said, “I’m not doing 100% of the work and I’m not giving up my career”, and why should I?  If I have to give up cheese, wine and sushi for nine months, why should I give up the rest of it, do you know what I mean?  I’ve done the hard graft here!  

But I don’t think I would have done anything differently, I don’t think I have any regrets from that conversation.  If anything, I wish I’d stood up for myself more.  And the one thing that — this is why I’ve not gone back to watch all the episodes, because it can ruin you mentally.  Watching that particular episode back and hearing about how the men in the villa spoke about me as a career woman made me so angry, so angry.  

I remember in the first episode hearing Hugo say I’m not the type of woman you can take home to your mum, and that really irritated me.  I was like, “Okay, I’ve got what TikTok calls ‘a disrespectful mouth’, because I’m opinionated”.  So I was like, “Yeah, okay, if you want a quiet woman, then fair enough”.  And then hearing, “Well, she said that she only dates X, Y and Z”, I mean, that’s not what I said, but I can’t change what was heard.  

But why should I not want somebody who is on my level, who has the same goals and ambitions as me; why is that wrong?  Why is it okay for a man to be, “Well, I want a woman who earns her own salary”, but I can’t say, “Well, I want a man who earns his own salary”?  I don’t want anyone to depend on me, as much as I don’t want to depend on anyone else.  That goes the same through my entire relationship, everything is 50/50.  In fact, even people I’ve dated recently, I would never be like, “Oh, yeah, you can just pay for everything, because you’re a man”, no.

So, hearing that conversation in particular back made me so angry.  My trolling has come from, “Nobody wanted you in the villa”.  Actually, why is that a piece of trolling?  What if I didn’t want anyone; why is that not taken into consideration?  And I didn’t, because of conversations like that.  But because I’m a woman, it’s all about whether people want me and whether or not I want them.

Gaby Mendes: It’s really interesting that you share that story.  You mention Hugo there and obviously now, you guys are really close friends, and I think that’s really important to mention.  But in the villa, I think it was made out to be bigger than it actually was, the conversation that had happened with him.  But he said a comment, something along the lines of, “I don’t date fake girls”, and another comment that he’d apparently said, and it sparked a lot of conversation on social media, a lot of people saying a lot of different things.

Has there been backlash from that conversation, and I know you’ve experienced a lot of trolling and I, for one, think it’s absolutely ridiculous; but that was a difficult part to watch, but I think something that we really, really needed to see on television, because I think there is a lot of judgement and shaming for people who care about their appearance, or who potentially make the decision to have cosmetic surgery and things like that?  What’s your view on it now, looking back?

Sharon Gaffka: I think actually, now I’ve watched bits back, I can see why there was backlash, because there were so many conversations I had that were cut.  For example, when I had conversations with the boys about what it’s like to date as a biracial woman in modern dating, what it’s like to be bisexual in modern dating.  Because all of these conversations were cut, none of what I said made sense, and it made me look like I was picking on poor Hugo.

He’s a big boy, he can stand up for himself, he knew what I meant wasn’t an attack on him, and I said to him, “This was cut in the conversation.  I’m saying this to you as a friend, because I care about you.  I don’t want you to come across as someone who’s really vain and insensitive, because you’ve never once asked me –” I’ve had very open conversations with him about his disability and I was like, “How come you never talk to me about your cricket; that’s really amazing?”  That was cut as well.

But he never once asked me, and I was like, “You’ve never once asked me about my opinion, why I’ve had things done; you’ve just sat here and made comments about other people”.  And one of the reasons why I got upset, and it’s not because of the trolling because, “I’ve had loads of work done”, which is also factually inaccurate, it’s not because of that that I was upset; it’s the fact that boys that make those comments also want the girls that look like they’ve had cosmetic surgery, without having cosmetic surgery.

Gaby Mendes: I know, it’s madness.

Sharon Gaffka: That’s why I was so irritated.  One of the reasons why I felt so self-conscious about my boobs was because a boy wanted me to have certain boobs, but didn’t want them to be unnatural.  I was like, “Well, I can’t have both, you need to pick one”.  And when Hugo sits there and tells me what his type was, I was like, “Hang on, all of these girls –” even now, when I see him outside in the real world, on social media, the girls he’s dated and girls’ photos he likes, they’ve had work done!

Gaby Mendes: Yeah!

Sharon Gaffka: I’m sorry, I love him to bits, he is so close to me, and I care about him so much, but there’s a level of hypocrisy I can take.  There were other conversations that I would have liked to have had in that time, with the arm hair, but there are obviously certain restrictions which means I can’t have certain conversations.  But that’s why I got annoyed; it was the judgement and hypocrisy.

I even said in that conversation, “I don’t want any he, she, they, them to think that because they’ve had work done to make themselves feel better, they’re now undesirable in your eyes.  That’s not okay.  If that’s your type, that’s your type.  There’s a way to phrase it”.  “Fake” is not the right word, because I’ve had lip filler and a boob job, but that doesn’t mean I’m fake; that’s just the two things I’ve had enhanced.  And because I said, “I would never not date someone based on their race”, because race conversations were cut from the show, that didn’t make sense, so people thought I was comparing race to lip filler.  

I’m a biracial woman, I’m not stupid, I would never say something like that.  But I think people take what they see on the show as gospel and don’t understand.

Gaby Mendes: I think they forget that it’s massively edited down. 

Sharon Gaffka: 100%.

Gaby Mendes: This is 24 hours a day that you are being filmed for, and they have to fit it into an hour, plus ads, which probably means it’s about 40 minutes long, because there’s a lot of ads!

Sharon Gaffka: Literally!

Gaby Mendes: So, how on earth can they get every single conversation into that period of time?  And they have to make it entertaining at the same time.  So, there’s a lot going on, and obviously so much more happens in that and they have to just take a snapshot.  I think it’s really hard when people take a lot of what’s going on at face value.  I think a lot was said about Faye as well, from all of the drama. Obviously, they need to make it entertaining.  If you or she’s kicking off, they’re going to give her the time, but then that assumes that she’s kicking off all of the time, and she’s like that all — and she’s not.  I know, from chatting to you, that she’s really sweet, really down to earth as well.  

So, I think we forget what Love Island does, essentially, and we think that is everything that has happened in a day and we take it at face value; would you agree?

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, definitely.  I think people forget there are characters, you are given a character.  That’s why there’s certain things that they want you to do before you’ve gone in the show.  I remember having a haircut before meeting producers face-to-face, and they were like, “You’re not going to do that, are you?” because they’ve already had in their head what you’re going to be on that show, “Don’t do that, because that’s changing your image”.  I was like, “Okay”, I just didn’t think anything of it at the time.

But thinking back to it, it’s not scripted, conversations are guided; but I remember thinking back to certain things that I was advised or guided to say, and I was thinking, “Do you know what, there’s a reason why they wanted me to say that, and it’s because this is the character they wanted to portray me as”, which was so inaccurate of my normal life and behaviour.  And my family, even my dad, who has zero to say on anything, he was like, “I was mortified, because none of this was you”.  He’s been in my life all of my life.

Gaby Mendes: He knows you best!

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah.  He knows that I’m that type of — I will fight anything against him just to annoy him.  So he was just like, “None of this makes sense to me”.  And if my parents can sit there and say that, it says a lot, I think.

Gaby Mendes: We’re talking a lot on this episode about essentially being judged, being judged for being spiked, being judged as a woman, being judged for going on Love Island.  Have there been any impacts to you being judged, and obviously people taking what they saw on Love Island at face value?  How has that affected your life since leaving the villa? 

Sharon Gaffka: Really weirdly, obviously because my previous career background is in politics and I’m very politically outspoken, I wrote a tweet once and I just remember, it was against something the Prime Minister had said I didn’t like.  Who agrees with everything anyone says anyway?  And I remember getting a tweet saying, “Shut up, you got famous for wearing a bikini on TV”, but no one talks about the fact he’s famous because his family has money, and he has multiple children with multiple different women, because he has multiple affairs.

But for example, Theresa May was judged for not having children.  Why is it always on women for that judgement?  Dr Alex went on Love Island.  He wore a swimsuit on TV, but now we talk about him being an amazing doctor.  Whereas, hopefully in time, people will talk about me being a spokesperson, a lawyer, as opposed to being a girl in a bikini.  But why did he not have that, when he went back to medicine, “Oh, shut up, you got famous for wearing a pair of shorts on TV”, because he did?  It’s so different though, because I was wearing a bikini, that I’ve got more stigma.

Gaby Mendes: I see it, I think, the moves that you’re making right now, and it’s so clear because it’s the first thing you’ve done since coming out of the villa.  You have clearly said, “These are the campaigns I feel really passionate about, and these are the things that I’m going to now work on.  Yes, I’ve got 300,000 followers on Instagram and they’re going to be coming along for the journey, and all of that, but I’m going to be posting pictures of me modelling, but I’m also going to be talking about the gender pay gap and spiking and politics, and the things that are really important to me”.  I think that’s really great, because not everyone who comes off Love Island has that goal or that ambition, so I think it’s really, really great to see that.

In terms of dating before and after Love Island, has anything changed at all?!

Sharon Gaffka: It’s weird.  So, dating, I’d be lying if I said Love Island didn’t bring opportunities in terms of dating.  More people know who you are, more people have seen bits about you.  So, yeah, I’ve had some people in DMs and all these things, and I have been on dates with a couple of people.  But do you know what, I think if anything, it’s made it a little bit harder, because even if someone hasn’t watched the show and has no idea what’s happened, they have this notion in their head that I am something that I’m not.  And do you know what, it was more obvious to me recently. 

So, I was seeing someone recently, I wrote about it in my blog, and they’d ended things really abruptly and it hit me quite hard.  I still think about it now, the things that they said to me, and I was thinking, “That’s a really shallow thing to say, because I would never behave like that”.  I remember someone making a comment to me being like, “Yeah, okay, it’s hard, but you don’t want to go to the cinema with the person you’re dating and be stared at the whole time”.  But that person knew that that would come with the territory.  I’d made it very clear from day dot that that’s going to happen, and I’ve said that, “I will do my hardest to protect you from things like that on social media”, and I had done.

Very few people know about it, so clearly I did it quite well, but turning around to me and being like, “Well, we’re just too different, because you own a pair of Balenciaga trainers” and I was like, “Hang on, did I ask you to pay for them?  Did you contribute in any way, shape or form”, and I was like, “Well, why are you judging me on what I wear?  I wouldn’t judge you if you wore Primark, so why are you judging me just because I’ve spent a bit more money on something, and judging me because apparently, I live this lifestyle that I don’t?”  

That’s what it looks like sometimes on social media, because that’s what social media is; you show a highlight reel of your life.  But the people that know me know me as the girl that walks around in hoodies and tracksuit bottoms 95% of the time with no makeup on.  But I think I do get judged for liking certain things or having certain things, but I’m still the same person, I still go and eat McDonald’s in my car with my friends at 3.00am in the morning in a car park!

So, yeah, I think that’s a judgement you get as a woman, as opposed to a judgement you get as a man, because I’ve never ever said something like that to a man when I’m ending something, it’s usually there’s a reason.  So for me, I was like, “Okay, that’s a really shallow thing to say”.  But do you know what, it’s like, again, with all previous conversations in the villa, I’m not going to let that stop me, I’m not going to change myself to fit into a man’s small box.

Gaby Mendes: Definitely.  We’re going to chat to you a little bit more about your twenties in general.  We always ask this question to every single guest that comes on the podcast, and we always ask them if they’ve ever had an absolute adulting disaster, fail, a big error that they’ve made that they think, “I can’t even call myself an adult.  That’s so embarrassing”, or cringy, or anything like that?

Sharon Gaffka: Oh, my good grief!  I’ve done so many weird things.  Oh no, now I’m really going to out myself!  What have I done?  Do you know what, I have an accumulation of loads of really small things, and then I sit there and I’m like, “How have I managed to live?” because I’ve not lived with my parents since I was 18.

So, I do weird things like I sit in the car park for 30 minutes outside Tesco, because I don’t know what I’ve gone for, and then I’ll leave with everything but that.  Or, I think one time, I’ve accidentally set my blinds on fire with my straighteners, or put metal in the microwave.

Gaby Mendes: Easily done!

Sharon Gaffka: I’ve blown my microwave up and I’m thinking, “How am I still alive?  How have I managed to make it to 26 without any physical injuries?”  I don’t have anything massive, I don’t think, but I’ve done loads and loads of stupid, stupid things.

Gaby Mendes: We’re all human, right, and we’re all learning!  Talking about that, our podcast is all about all the things that we’re learning in our twenties, and nobody is perfect, right?  So, everyone is still working through something.  Is there something in particular that you’re trying to work on at the minute, getting a bit better about, something in yourself?  Maybe you’ve realised something that you’d like to improve on, or something that you’re working through getting better at, at the moment?

Sharon Gaffka: Yeah, I think I’m not very forthcoming with my emotions.  I am one of those people that keeps my cards very close to my chest, and I think sometimes that’s good, but sometimes that’s a real hindrance, especially when you’re trying to build long-lasting relationships, regardless of whether they’re friendships or family or actual intimate, loving relationships.

But I’m not ashamed to say I’m having CBD, I’m having therapy off the back of Love Island, but I’m not having it because of the show, and I said this to the therapist.  I said, “I am aware I’m very closed and I can be very direct and cut off.  And I think I overthink things a lot”, and I think that’s something that I’m learning to deal with.  I think for me, that’s the biggest learning curve in terms of anything, that I need people around me that are going to be patient, because I take a long time to warm up to be able to do these kinds of things.  And I’m aware that I think I know best with everything.  I know best and I can do everything by myself, even if I can’t.  I’m that type of person.  So, yeah, for me, that is my biggest learning curve in my twenties.

Gaby Mendes: I think that’s fair to say.  I think a lot of people will agree with that and will see themselves in that as well, because I think we like to think we’ve all got it all figured out and, “Yeah, don’t tell me I’m wrong”!  I can totally agree with that.  

We always end the podcast with one question, and it’s to look back at your 20-year-old self, so write at the beginning of your twenties.  If you could look back at 20-year-old Sharon in the eye and you could just give out one piece of advice, what would you say to her?

Sharon Gaffka: Oh, my God!  Maybe, “Don’t overpluck your eyebrows”!  No.  If I could go back and see 20-year-old Sharon again, my piece of advice to her is just to do what makes you happy at that present moment in time, because everything’s going to work out okay.  I think it’s so cliché when people say something like that but genuinely for me, I didn’t trust myself when I was younger.  At the time, I was always second-guessing what I was doing; but actually for me, that was the right thing at the time.  And if it made me happy at the time, that’s enough.  So, that is what I would tell 20-year-old Sharon.

Gaby Mendes: Great advice.  Thank you so much for coming into the studio today, I’ve absolutely loved chatting to you.  I think you are making really important moves and I love everything that you’re doing and we’re fully behind everything that you’re doing at the minute.  So, thank you so much for coming in and telling us all about what you’re up to.

Sharon Gaffka: Thank you so much for having me, I’ve really enjoyed it.

Gaby Mendes: Thank you so much.  If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please make sure that you head over and click, subscribe or follow, so that you never miss a future episode of us in the studio.  

Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of the Talk Twenties podcast.  I hope it inspired you in some way, and popped a little pep in your step for this week.

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