July is Disability Pride Month, and it’s all about recognizing and celebrating what a disability means. Actress Melissa Johns has revealed that she regained control of her body when her worst fears happened and her intimate photos were stolen.
“Growing up, I absolutely hated my body,” the former Coronation Street actress told the BBC Access All podcast.
Melissa was born without her right arm below the elbow, and she did her best to hide it. “I’ll date early so I can plan which side I’ll be sitting on and I’ll schedule the sex.
“I really became this manipulative master and it was very exhausting.” For Melissa, best known for her roles on BBC One’s TV series, Life and ITV’s Grantchester, Watch 1990s Family The video was the beginning of her acceptance of her body. “My grandfather bought his first video camera in 1990, the year I was born. We were watching some childhood footage and I just saw this little girl on screen, she was dancing, she was free.
“I remember sitting there looking at her thinking, ‘I’m not giving you the life you deserve’. That was a huge turning point.”
Melissa was just beginning to come to terms with her disability – dancing at parties instead of sitting where she wouldn’t be noticed – when her “worst fears” were realized.
In 2018, Melissa had just finished her role as Imogen Pascoe on Coronation Street when she checked her phone. She has 21 missed calls from her agent.
She thought it might be about her next job, “Maybe Spielberg called?”. She excitedly called her agent.
“That’s when she told me,” Melissa said. “The worst thing that could have happened to me was that my iCloud was hacked and my private, explicit photos were posted online.
“That’s exactly what happened.”
A newspaper was contacted to say that Melissa’s nude photos had been leaked online and quickly spread to porn sites – including those with fetishes.
“It felt like my life was coming to an end.”
Not only was she worried about her career and working with disabled young people, but the body she struggled to accept was being scrutinized by the world and she had no time to prepare.
“Suddenly, I had to accept that my body was essentially considered public property,” she said.
Melissa turned to the internet to see for herself. She noticed she was also stolen in the photo next to Jennifer Lawrence. Melissa quipped on the Access All podcast that she thought for a moment, “Wow, I did it” before “achieving the crash.”
“If it wasn’t for this blonde actress, I don’t think it would have been so popular.”
There is often an unwelcome and unfounded curiosity about sex and disability that fuels these corners of the internet, she said.
But Melissa said the situation is more nuanced than most realize. She had wanted to take the pictures and did so in good faith to keep them secret. She doesn’t want people to stop this because of other people’s actions.
“If you want to send someone a picture, send someone a picture. Do what’s good for you. I send a body picture that actually makes me feel good in that moment. So I’m not The culprit here.
“Get angry when your privacy is violated, but what we don’t need is shame about our bodies.”
Melissa was angry. Then she got creative. Then she got funny.
Always good at telling stories and fooling around, she slowly began to realize that there was a story here that could help her recover from her injury and her body. “It has to come from an authorized place,” she said.
Just before the pandemic, Melissa won a spot on Bafta Elevate, a program designed to support people from underrepresented backgrounds in their careers.