Body image, Life

‘Body Neutrality’ And Escaping The Hate Surrounding Your Body

It’s no secret that experiences in your childhood shape the way you grow up into an adult. There’s one experience I had that’s seared into my brain. It happened when I was 11 years old, at secondary school, where everything was new and frightening. At that time the uniform hadn’t been updated to let girls wear trousers, something that put me on the back foot as a then tomboyish kid. As we were lined up on the stairs one say, waiting to get into our form room, a kid turned around to me and commented ‘You’ve got legs like tree trunks.’

That’s the first time that someone ever openly commented on my body, but it wasn’t the last. My family despaired of me as I hit puberty and was no longer a stick thin kid (thanks to growing nearly a whole head taller than my classmates in a short space of time), and put on weight. I started getting the arseholes who felt the need to beep their horns and wolf whistle at me as I walked home from school, in my school uniform. Suddenly, my body was everyone else’s property, and it wasn’t good enough.

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It’s no wonder then, that I spent my 20’s feeling that my body was too fat and just not good enough. I was never going to look as good as my friends, because I couldn’t lose the weight. I went on holiday and felt self conscious in every picture that was taken of me, because I felt I didn’t look good enough. I was hyper critical of my teeth, my arms, my hair. Nothing looked the way I thought it should.

You know what the stupid thing was? There was nothing wrong with the way I looked at all. When I was moving house I found some old photos from when I used to go clubbing, around the age of 18/19. Looking at those pictures, I was perfectly normal looking. I wasn’t a whale, or disturbingly ugly, as I had been lead to believe. I looked fine.

I did start to realise this around the time I turned 30, and at this time I was watching the body positivity movement blow up. Everywhere, women are being told that they’re beautiful, that they should love themselves. On the surface, that’s a great thing. It’s time for women to start ignoring what the media has been telling them, and embrace the way they look, ‘flaws’ and all.

body image
Image from https://www.sayfc.org/body-image

No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t actually ‘love’ my body. Being a UK size 16 and having a couple of ongoing health issues, I couldn’t get onboard with ‘loving’ my body. At best, I’m pretty much irritated by it. There are parts that don’t work properly and I can’t make it fit into a lot of high street clothes, no matter what size I buy. Am I failing at feminism because I can’t love my body the way it is?

That’s why it’s a huge relief to see people like Sofie Hagen calling out this movement as bullshit recently. She’s written a book, Happy Fat, about why it’s ok to be fat, and why the narrative around women’s bodies is all geared towards making money out of you. It makes sense. If you’re made to feel bad about your body, then you’re going to spend money on fixing it. You’ll buy diet foods, gym memberships, ‘slimming’ items that are never going to work. It’s a fact that diets are almost totally ineffective, but we keep buying into it anyway.

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The same goes for the body positive movement. When you’re looking to ‘love’ your body, you’re going to spend. That could be on new clothes, trying to find a style that lets you love the way you look, or on any other items that are being sold to you through the movement.

Sofie Hagen has been doing interviews, pointing out that ‘fat’ is a neutral term, a descriptor rather than a good or bad thing. It isn’t anything, it just is. What she’s aiming for is ‘body neutrality’, or just being ok with your body. It’s just your body, after all, just the thing that you’re piloting around during your very short time on this earth.

I like this. It’s not asking for me to starve myself to make myself more palatable in skimpy clothing, or to declare love for my own body if I’m not even sure I like it yet. I’m actually going to see Sofie Hagen at the end of the month, doing her Bubble Wrap/Happy Fat tour, where she’ll be reading from her book. I’m very excited to see what she has to say.

Life

What Happened To Manners?

This week I did something very unBritish and unlike me: I got some noisy kids kicked out of the cinema.

Now, I hadn’t meant to get them kicked out. They’d wandered into our showing of Shazam, waving their phone lights around and chatting away as they found their seats. I gave them the benefit of the doubt as they’d come in late, so they couldn’t see the way to their seating. When they wouldn’t shut up, though, I did something I’ve only ever done once before and yelled ‘SHUT UP!’ at them. It died down for a bit, and then they started chittering again. My husband this time yelled at them, but they wouldn’t give in. Again, I yelled ‘SHUT UP, NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT’, but to no avail. In the end, I gave up and found a staff member, who I asked ‘Could you just get them to be quiet please?’

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They came in just after I got back to my seat, and they somehow got the group to actually quietly leave. There was a tense moment where I could see them peering up, clearly trying to see who’d grassed them up, but then they left. Victory!

To me though, I spent the rest of the film seething. I like to think I’m quite a polite person. I was brought up to say please and thank you, to hold doors open, to stay quiet when I needed to be quiet. When I see bad manners in others, it makes me see red. Why wander into a film screening to just talk all the way over of it? What’s the point? You can do that outside the cinema for free, and that way you won’t bother anybody.

If I’d been yelled at to shut up in a cinema, I’d have died of shame. It’s unthinkable to me that I’d have to be yelled at three times, and I could still ignore it. How can people be so inconsiderate to others, when it’s so easy to be polite?

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I wonder whether I was brought up to be too polite. I admit, I have spent nights lying awake, terrified that I’d been accidentally rude to someone. I’ve apologised to people for the accidental slight I’d made against them, only to hear, ‘Oh, what, that? I’d forgotten all about it.’ I worry so much about upsetting others that it actually affects my own everyday life. Are rude people actually just people that are getting on with their everyday lives?

In some cases I think that’s true, but in others it’s clear that they’ve never learned basic manners. You see it every time you leave the house, whether it’s people queue jumping because they can’t imagine not being the most important person in the store, to standing in the way because they haven’t even thought about how they’re affecting others around them. They just don’t give a single thought to anyone other than themselves.

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I’m not sure whether this has always been a problem, but it’s certainly got worse in the last few years. We’ve all encountered people who can’t conceive of going out of their way to be kind or helpful to others. I remember reading a Charlie Brooker column, where he blamed this outlook on the media and advertising that we’re bombarded with now. The ‘Because you’re worth it’ school of thought that’s used to sell us everything from shampoo to luxury spa treatments.

There’s something to that, but advertising isn’t everything. In a world where it’s so hard to get help when you need it, it’s no wonder that you eventually believe you can only look out for number 1. Why bother going out of your way for someone else? They won’t do it for you. The problem is that leads to horrible manners that leave everyone around that person feeling worse off.

There’s no real cure for this mindset, although I truly believe calling out crappy behaviour when you see it goes a long way. When I was younger, I would ‘keep my head down’ because it was best not to make a fuss. Now, though, I see that allowed people to step all over me, because I wouldn’t fight back. Now, I’ll give out if I, or anyone else, is treated badly.

People don’t like it, as you’d expect. I’ve been called a bitch by a group of school kids who I told to stop being idiots and stop blocking the entrance to a shop. When a guy tried to touch me on my hen do and I yelled at him, I was told, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were a feminist’, in an incredibly sneering tone. It sucks. But the more we let bad behaviour carry on, the worse it gets.

Hopefully, those kids at the cinema learned a lesson. If you can’t be decent human beings, you’re gonna get kicked out of the film that you’d paid to see.

Home, Life

When Does ‘Collecting’ Tip Into ‘Hoarding’?

As I’ve chronicled extensively through the last month or two, I’ve just moved house. Now in my new house, I’m still putting together the last few bits to make the house actually feel like a home. That means lugging my glass cabinets upstairs to the spare room, and starting to redisplay the collections that I’ve been curating over at least the last decade.

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I didn’t think I’d collected that much until I had to pack it all up. It was some of the first things I packed up, as anything decor could easily be thrown in a box and left, without affecting day to day life. (Try packing up a kitchen. You can’t. You need everything still. It is a nightmare). As I packed, I realised just how much stuff I do collect. Here’s a non exhaustive list of the items I collect over time:

 

  • My Little Pony toys
  • Fashion dolls (Barbie, Monster High, Disney dolls, etc.)
  • Terrible fridge magnets (the more ugly and hideous, the better)
  • Enamel pins
  • Artwork
  • Theme park ride photos
  • Empty notebooks (that I will fill one day, I swear)

 

This isn’t even all of it. That’s not including the things my husband collects, such as DVDs and Hatsune Miku figures. There’s a lot of stuff in the house, is what I’m saying.

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Moving house has brought me to realise just how much I collect. Some things don’t take up a lot of room, such as the magnets and pins. Magnets, obviously, live on the fridge, and I display my pins on cork boards so they’re just hanging out on the wall. Other things do take up room though, and it’s a fine balance between things that ‘spark joy’ and just straight up clutter.

There is a small voice in my head that’s screaming about becoming a hoarder, that I’m wasting my time and money on these things as they’re just ‘things’, after all. What are they really? Am I just filling up my house with useless junk?

That’s the question. I do try and keep on top of my collecting, though. I know many people who want to collect full sets of things, such as My Little Pony toys and playsets. As cute as the playsets are, I’ve already made peace with the fact I’ll never have the room for them. I also don’t pick up full sets of the toys, unless I like each one. It’s better for me to have less toys that I love equally, rather than packing the spare room full of every plastic filly Hasbro ever made.

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I also regularly go through and clear out my collections. Sometimes you realise you just don’t like something as much anymore. That doll was great when I bought it, but now I just feel rather ‘eh’ about it. These things go on eBay and I send them on to someone who would appreciate them much more than I would.

At the end of the day, collecting is something that makes me happy. I’m not big on makeup, I don’t own a lot of shoes, and I’m not into expensive bling. Instead, I spend my money on plastic toys and little shiny trinkets. As long as I’m not creating hallways in my home from discarded toys and plastic junk, then I think I’m going to be ok.

Life, Shopping

The Rules Of Shopping (As Decided By Me)

Like a lot of millennials, I hate shopping in real life. It’s annoying, busy, and time consuming. Nothing is better than sitting at your laptop and placing orders at a click of a button, and having the parcels sent to you. It’s even better when you shop on places like Wish, that take about a hundred years to get to you. By the time it comes, you’ve forgotten about the order and it’ll like a surprise present, from you to you.

However, sometimes you need to just get out the house, or you need something from a specific store that doesn’t sell online (Yes, they still exist!). Today I had to go out to Birmingham city centre to get some photo frames from Tiger, and so I had to interact with the general public and people at large. It was… not great. Here are some general rules for shopping I came up with while trying to battle my way through Primark.

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Identify If You Are A Slow Walker

Some people power walk as if they are a transplant doctor and they have less than 30 seconds to reach their patient and implant that new heart. Others walk as though they have all the time in the world. Both are fine. You do you.

HOWEVER.

If you are a slow walker, please think about your surroundings. I have a plan when shopping, I want to hit all the right stores and then leave. The amount of times I got stuck behind slow walkers today was, frankly, unacceptable. If you’re a slow walker, MOVE TO THE SIDE. That’s all you have to do. That way you’re not blocking walkways and causing widespread frustration.

Don’t Stop At The End Of An Escalator

I’ve had this happen to me more than once, and it’s beyond baffling. People ride the escalator, get to the end, and then stop dead. They’re stood there rifling through their bag while people are piling up behind them.

Here’s the thing my dude. The idea of an escalator is that it doesn’t stop. That’s how it works. If you stop, no one else behind you can do anything about it. You are a lawsuit waiting to happen. GET OUT OF THE WAY.

Work Out Where The Queue Is

I’m kind of astounded at how many times I’ve been the victim of queue jumping while shopping. I’m stood there waiting my turn, and some ignoramus has waltzed in, taking my place in line and getting served before me. I’ve never had a cashier point out their wrong doing to them, and I can sympathize. It’s a hard job and you spend at least 75% of the day getting yelled at as it is. You’re not sticking your neck out for more punishment.

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve run out of fucks to give, so I’ll just loudly exclaim ‘What, you can’t see me?!’ That’s usually enough to shame them into getting back into the queue. If you do this, know that you are being judged, and everyone in the shop thinks you’re an arsehole.

Use Headphones, For God’s Sake

There is something about shopping centres, and the public transport that gets you there, that brings out the worst in people. Normally, if you want to listen to loud rap music, you’ll put in headphones to enjoy it on your own terms. Instead, people decide that what they should do is belt up the volume on their phone’s crappy speakers and blast whatever godwaful Soundcloud rapper that they’re into right now.

No. Just no. If you do this, you need to stop. You’re not hard, you’re not special, and no one wants to hear it. Plus, your taste in music is absolute shit.

Stop Blocking The Aisles

To be honest, this last one works in supermarkets and the like, too, but it’s very relevant. There’s only so much space in a shop. Even the largest stores pack merchandise in, to entice you to buy. This leaves you very little room to actually walk around.

The problem with this is that some shoppers feel the need to stand in the middle of the aisle, umming and ahing about whether to buy something. Yes, you should consider an item before you purchase it. Can you not do that while blocking everyone’s way, though? It honestly scares me how many people seem to have no awareness of the world around them.

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Ah, that’s better. I’m never going back out again (until the situation demands in person shopping). Back to eBay I go.

Family, Life

Mother’s Day With No Mother: What To Do If You Aren’t Celebrating Mother’s Day

So Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and you’re bombarded on all sides by advertising for the special day. There’s pink flowers everywhere, messages about how your mum is an inspiration or the best person in your life. That’s all very well and good, if your mum is still in your life. However, for some of us, we won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day this March 31st. Maybe your mum passed away, or maybe for a variety of reasons, you don’t stay in contact with her. Here’s what you can do to make this Mother’s Day a little bit easier on yourself.

Avoid social media

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Firstly, don’t give in to the urge to check your social media feeds on Sunday. It’s so tempting, especially when it’s part of your daily routine. If you’re like me, you wake up and you flick through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before you even get out of bed.

That’s all well and good usually, but today your feed is going to be packed full of messages about your friends’ mums, and how much they love them. For them, this is sweet and a good way of showing the world how much they appreciate their mums. For you, this is going to be yet another reminder that your mum isn’t in your life. It hurts, and for me in particular, it almost feels personal. Why do they get to have their mums in their life, when I can’t?

The answer is to just stay away for the day. Don’t open any apps, don’t log on, don’t engage. You know it’s going to be there, but you also know it’ll only hurt you. Think of it like the hot stove. You really want to touch it, but you know you shouldn’t. Do go looking for things that will cause you pain this day.

Talk to someone who cares

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This Mother’s Day is going to be difficult no matter what. It’s even harder if it’s the first Mother’s Day without your mother, or it falls on a day with difficult associations for you. Some find it easy to breeze through the day without giving it a second thought, but others will find it much harder. That’s why it’s a great idea to look for someone who you can talk to about it.

If you have a friend or loved one that you can trust, open up to them about how today makes you feel. Remember, your feelings are valid, even if they love Mother’s Day. Just the act of talking about it really helps get you through the day.

If you don’t want to do that, you can talk to a service designed to let you vent. If you’re in the UK, the Samaritans are the best choice. They’re there to listen without judgment, so talk to them if it’s all getting too much for you. Their freephone number is 116 123, and it’s open 24 hours.

Plan a day to yourself

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As you won’t be seeing your mum this Mother’s Day, then you can plan a day that’s all about you. The term ‘self care’ is quite tricky, as it usually feeds into the idea that you need to buy things to ‘take care’ of yourself. However, if there’s any day you need to take care of yourself, it’s today.

The way you spend Mother’s Day will very much depend on you. As an example, let me tell you what I’m planning to do. As my husband will be going out to see his mum, I’m taking over the sofa and the living room for the day. I’ve just bought a video game I’ve been wanting to play for ages, and I’ve downloaded it, ready to start on Sunday. I’m going to buy myself some chocolate and treats, and I’m going to chill on the sofa in my PJs, eating nice things and playing my game.

For you, you may want to do something similar with a show you’ve been meaning to get around to on Netflix. Maybe you’d rather go do a hike in the woods instead. Perhaps you really love creating things, so you’ll want to spend the day working on that novel, or a craft that you’ve really wanted to try. It’s very much up to you. Pick something that you’d love to do for the whole day, uninterrupted. It’s your time.

Allow yourself to feel bad

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Finally, you may do all of this and you’ll still feel sad or low about Mother’s Day. It’s hard when in the back of your head, you’re thinking about the relationship with your mum that you no longer have. It’s saddening and depressing to think about everyone else out there, spending time with their mums when you can’t.

If you feel low, allow yourself to feel that way. Many people reading this may have grown up in households where they weren’t allowed to express their feelings, so even now they try to repress them. If that sounds familiar, remember you’re an adult now and it’s very much ok to express the fact that Mother’s Day gets you down. Cry into a pillow if you want to, or scream about it until you’re hoarse. Allow yourself to feel those feelings.

Everyone is different, so everyone will cope with Mother’s Day in a different way. Remember that you’re not alone, not by a long shot. The media wants you to believe that everyone is spending time with their mums, but there’s plenty of us that will be at a loose end on March 31st.

Life, Work

The Curse Of The Baby Face

Last week I needed some utility knives, and the closest place that sold them was Poundland. I wandered down and picked up a pack, and went to the till. The lady at the till asked me for some ID. This happens to me a lot, so I reached into my pocket for my drivers’ license… and then remembered I’d sent it back to the DVLA as I’d requested an address change on it.

The woman slid the knives away from me and told me I couldn’t have them.

I am 33.

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Like I said, this happens to me a lot. I have been cursed with the baby face, making me look a lot younger than my actual age. Normally I keep my ID on me, as I can get ID’d at any time. When I used to drink, I’d make sure I had my ID with me when I went to bars as I was bound to be asked to prove my age sooner rather than later. If I ever needed knives, glue, anything that was vaguely ‘adult’, I’d have to show my ID. Every time I pick up painkillers (again in poundland, it’s 3 packs for a pound in there and they’re just as good as other branded stuff) I’d need to prove I was old enough to buy them.

This in itself is not a problem. Taking my ID out with me isn’t a struggle, and it takes two seconds to hand over my license and prove my age. Staff in bars and stores have to do this, they can face serious repercussions if not. (By the by, if you’re the kind of person who kicks off when you’re asked for ID, you’re either underaged or just a git. Pack it in, it doesn’t make anyone like you).

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Me, recently

The problem is that the baby face changes the way I am perceived. In the past, I was told ‘You’ll be so grateful for it when you’re older!’ and I believed that. At my current rate, I’ll look in my early 50’s when I hit 60, and I thought that was cool. I thought it was brilliant that I looked younger than I was. As I’ve grown older though, it’s brought a lot of new problems with it.

As I hit my 30’s, I found that people generally do treat you differently if they think you’re younger. I’ve had people talk down to me and assume that I don’t know things, because they’ve assumed I’m in my early 20’s. Let’s admit it, it’s very satisfying proving them wrong. It’s still wrong that they make these assumptions, though. It shouldn’t be up to me to tell them ‘I’m in my 30’s, stop talking down to me’. They shouldn’t talk down to anyone, period.

I even had a blazing row, in public, because someone treated me like dirt because of my perceived age. I was so needled I screamed ‘I’M 32, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!’ at him. Then he got on his high horse because I’d sworn at him.

You can’t win.

This has happened in my working life, too. Co workers have treated me like a small child that needs to be kept out of the ‘adult’ dealings of the business, or just plain ignored me as I clearly was too young and not worth dealing with. I’ve had plenty of job interviews where I’ve clearly looked younger than what they were expecting.

Of course, my looks aren’t all that was wrong with my dealings with these workplaces, not by a long shot. It compounded the problems though, and certainly didn’t help in any way.

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I have noticed a difference in my interactions with others now I work from home. I deal with everyone either via instant message or email. As I’m never face to face with anyone, they don’t know how old I am. I’m definitely spoken to like an equal, rather than a child. It’s worked the other way around, too. Because they’re not able to form any opinion on me based on my looks, I’m more comfortable in sticking up for myself when I need to. It’s working out much better for me.

The moral is you shouldn’t assume that someone doesn’t know something, because you think they’re too young. You don’t know that person. They could be 18 but be super worldly, or in their 50’s but still very naive in some respects. You just don’t know. You shouldn’t withhold respect just because of a person’s age. Get to know them first, and see who they are as a person.

And just sell me my knives, man. I’ve got stuff to cut.

Life, My Little Pony, Nerd Culture

Don’t Let The Lemons Get You Down: Love What You Want Without Shame

At the moment, I’m about halfway through Sunny Side Up: A Story Of Kindness And Joy by Susan Calman. I’d read her previous book Cheer Up Love: Adventures In Depression With The Crab Of Hate before, and loved it. I’m really enjoying this book too, as Calman looks at what it is to be kind in a world that actively tries to stifle kindness.

I came across a chapter last night where she talks about the people who try and stomp on the joy that other people feel. She calls them ‘lemons’, as they come and inject bitterness into something that should otherwise be sweet. When put like that, you can see why it’s so ridiculous that someone would want to do such a thing, but these Lemons are everywhere.

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Everyone’s encountered one at some stage of their life. A lot of the time, it seems teenage girls cop a lot of flack for the music they enjoy. There’s nothing more pure and joyous than the fandom you feel for a certain boy band. You love them. Their music speaks to you. You fancy the absolute arse off one or several of them. It’s wonderful, there’s nothing else quite like it. However, you mention your favourite boy band and people will fall over themselves to tell you how stupid, worthless or crap they are. Why?!

Lord knows I’ve had enough Lemons in my life trying to tell me the things I like are rubbish. For example, I collect toys, My Little Pony in particular. I’ve been collecting them for over a decade now. I have around 130 of them, they live in glass cabinets in my spare room and are full of colour and joy that they can’t fail to make me happy. I’ve attended conventions dedicated to them and made close friends with others with similar interests. They’re brilliant, and I love them.

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If I tell people I collect them though? You’d think I was an irredeemable child that needs to grow up, yesterday. ‘Why waste your money on it?’ ‘They’re just for kids!’ ‘That’s so stupid!’ These days I know that is someone says these things to me, then they’re not somebody that I want to be associating with. That person just wants to crap all over something that makes me happy, so why would I care what they think? In the past though, I kept my collecting a secret. I’d never tell anyone what I spent my money on, in case they’d look down on me.

Isn’t that just so sad? I wonder how many more friends I could have made if I’d just talked about what made me happy, without giving a damn about what others thought about it? That’s what Lemons do. If you’re not like them, then they’ll do you down, trample you until you fit in with everyone else.

Sounds overdramatic, but it’s true. Everyone has encountered Lemons that just want to make everyone else fit in with their own narrow worldview. They value their own tastes above everyone else’s, and will make you feel bad until you conform. There’s nothing to say that their tastes are better, either. A Lemon may sniff at you for reading Jilly Cooper rather than James Joyce, but they’ll also look down on you for liking one cartoon over another. It’s all arbitrary and basically pointless.

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It must be quite sad, being a Lemon. You’re so convinced that you’re ‘right’ that you can’t enjoy anything that doesn’t fit in your worldview. You can’t even make friends with other fans of what you like, as you don’t even believe them. This has lead to the rise of ‘gatekeeping’, where fans will interrogate other fans, asking them to ‘prove’ their loyalty. ‘You like this band? Name five of their albums.’ LoadingReadyRun lampooned this perfectly in their ‘The Gatekeeper’ sketch a few years ago.

It’s all just very unnecessary. If you have a Lemon in your life, don’t let them get you down. Don’t listen to them if they start doing down what makes you happy. If you’ve only been watching Doctor Who since the Eccleston years, or if you love delving into trashy novels of an evening rather than classic literature, don’t sweat it. You do you, and don’t give these Lemons any power.