Mirror Image

A few weeks ago I wrote about body positivity. Since then I have been making a concentrated effort to filter out the negative messages about size, weight, and shape that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to pick clothes to wear based on what I feel like wearing, not on what I think I look like in them, or whether they show parts of me I’ve historically been unhappy with. I  have been making an attempt, when looking in the mirror, to look at *all* of me. To not just look at my stomach or legs, to not just look at parts, but to look at my whole body. To look myself in the eye in the mirror and say “do you feel good? Ok. Let’s leave the house”.

It’s been really hard work. But something weird has been happening. Emboldened by my leotard experience, and after failing to be talked out of the purchase by my friends, who are a bunch of total enablers (that’s what friends are for, right?)  I bought something for an upcoming club night that I wouldn’t even have looked twice at a couple of months ago. Well, ok, I would have looked twice because the material is covered with UNICORNS, but I wouldn’t have even thought *once* about buying it. It’s tight. Really tight. It’s short. Really short. It’s entirely figure revealing. There is no way to hide thighs. No way to hide a stomach. You can see it all in glorious unicorn technicolour.

I tried it on yesterday morning. I looked at myself in the mirror from every angle. I tried some experimental dance moves. I tried a comedy twerk. I tried some Tyra Banks style ridiculous poses. I did that thing where you try to slump and breathe all the way out and then try to stand normally and then try to catch a glance at yourself sideways so you know you aren’t cheating yourself by secretly breathing in. And I found myself confused. Because I was happy with what I saw. 

The same weird phenomenon happened later that same evening, when getting ready to go to a gig at a pub. I put on a top and a skirt I hadn’t worn for ages because they were so tight.  I say ‘a skirt’ so casually. It’s better than a skirt. It’s a fucking BATMAN SKIRT. It’s awesome. I bought it because BATMAN SKIRT. But then felt totally unable to wear it, ever. After my experience of the morning looking in the mirror and not hating every thing I could see, I figured I’d give it a go. And once again, despite them being tight, and my body being there, in the mirror, all of it, I was still happy with what I saw.

How could this be? There are all the parts I’ve spent my whole self-aware lifetime hating, and trying to exercise and diet out of existence. They are all still there. I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, what with the no sugar and the no alcohol and the swimming, sure, but not *that* much. I am still ‘technically’ overweight. But despite all this, I was perfectly happy with what was in the mirror. What was this aberration? Am I delirious because I haven’t had breakfast yet? Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes. Perhaps I am not actually seeing what’s really there. Perhaps my eyes have some weird issue where they are warping my body shape.

Or perhaps that’s what’s happened in the past, and now I am finally able to see what’s really in front of me, now that I have worked really hard on crowding out those voices that are telling me to slim down, take up less space, diet to be a size 10, don’t wear that because you’re too big, you’re not ‘the right shape’. Maybe, now that I’ve stopped looking at the tiny range of body shapes shown to us by the mass media and accepting them as ‘the norm’, and started to deliberately seek out representations of bodies of all sizes and shapes, I am no longer comparing myself to some random idea of the ‘ideal’ body, and just accepting that what is in the mirror is me, and that me is perfectly ok. 

The really crazy thing is, I am not even that fat. I am ‘technically’ overweight, and have a decent about of body fat, but I have to acknowledge that in terms of ‘size privilege‘ I totally pass. I have a slim face, narrow shoulders, a small rib cage and a defined waist. If I wear something flared under the bust, no one would ever even think of me as large. In any conversation about weight, most people are shocked at how much I weigh. At health appointments even the doctors are usually surprised at my weight and rarely make more than a cursory poke at the idea that my BMI makes me obese, because I just don’t look it. Unless I wear something revealing, or tight, and you can see my larger bottom half. But even then, I rarely get abuse in the street for being fat. If I do, it’s usually a guy that has “oi darlinged” me, been rejected, and then said something along the lines of “I am not interested in you anyway you fat bitch.” But in the past in those situations I’ve also been called “frigid cow”, “ugly crack whore”, “dirty slut”; so they are hardly giving me an honest critique.

I am, and have been for most of my life apart from about 6 months where I got lots of compliments but fainted on a nearly daily basis, an ‘in between’ sized person. Slightly too large for your average high street clothing store, slightly too small for plus size places. But I have always accepted the label ‘overweight’ and ‘fat’ and applied it to myself and beat myself up about it. Perhaps more so, being in-betweeny and thus feeling that somehow it would be easy to be thin if only I could just stop eating so much damn cake. It’s kind of screwed up that as someone with what is actually a perfectly average sized body that I should have spent so much of my adult life beating myself up for being ‘fat’ – as if ‘fat’ is some kind of horrific thing that no one in their right mind wants to be.

So what weird phenomenon has happened to me in the last few weeks? I am pretty sure I haven’t suddenly dropped  four dress sizes. For one thing, my clothes all still fit. For another, I am not fainting all the time. I am eating less cake, it is true, but I do still treat myself. I’ve not been to the gym in months (swimming in ponds, it turns out, is cheaper and significantly  more fun.)

I think what has happened is that the layers built up over the years of messages from every conceivable corner telling me that women should and must be as tiny as possible no longer penetrate my confidence. The concept of ‘fat’ as something bad and wrong has dissolved away, leaving me with a greater appreciation for bodies of all sizes and shapes. I now care more about whether I am healthy, and being kind to my body. The idea that my body is somehow separate to me, and is made up of different parts which are wrong or unacceptable has been firmly rejected in favour of me seeing myself as a composite whole, with beautiful flaws which tell the story of me.

I’ve not changed the skin I am in. I have changed how I think about the skin I am in. I accept the skin I am in. And that one change is more revolutionary than any diet could ever be.

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Assaulted Caramel

I don’t usually do this – but I’ve gone to a place in my past here that might be hard for people to read. So please consider this a trigger warning for sexual assault and violence. 

I am writing this post from my new houseshare. I am mostly unpacked, to the astonishment of my new housemates who didn’t believe that I’d be able to fit my 2 bed flat’s worth and 30+ years accumulation of STUFF into one double bedroom. But I have moved many times in my life and I am skilled at Making Things Fit – and one person’s ‘cluttered’ is another’s ‘cosy’. I am definitely in the ‘cosy’ camp. Having this much STUFF though does mean it takes forever to pack, and by the time I’d reached moving-day-eve I was a total mess. I was curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas in a zombified state crying because I’d told the neighbour (the one who’d let me watch Kung Fu Panda with her son when I got locked out) I was moving and she got upset and hugged me. I needed ice cream.

I really, really REALLY needed ice cream.  Specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew. I operate on a strict IIWIIGGI policy when it comes to this sort of thing – If I wanted It I’d Go Get It. This tends to prevent me from eating ice cream ALL THE TIME, because if I can’t be bothered to walk to the shop to get it, I obviously don’t want it.

The shop was 5 minutes walk away. Just 5 minutes. But it was dark outside, and 15 seconds of that 5 minute walk is a narrow passageway between two streets. If it had been #yessallwomenday time, I would have just chucked shoes on and a sweater over my pyjamas and headed out. But it was dark outside. So I got completely dressed, in clothes as figure-hiding as possible. I got my bike keys and held them so the tines poked out through my fist. I made sure I told a few friends where I was going, and when I’d be back. And I walked to the shop as briskly as possible.

At this point, some women reading are nodding and going  yup. And some men are probably going “what the HELL? it’s only 5 minutes away”. And yet, this is something I feel I have to do – even for a 5 minute walk to the shop. Isn’t that crazy? I am just going to buy ice cream.

The thing is, the really fucked up thing, is that I don’t just do this in case I get attacked. I know that if I *do* get attacked, there’s little I’ll be able to do. I am pretty strong and tough and self-aware, but if some guy decides he’s going to attack me then all the ugly clothes and self awareness in the world are not going to stop him. The reason I do all of this is so that afterwards no one can say that I was “asking for it”. I do it so that there will be nothing anyone can use to “blame me” for my own attack, other than “why was she walking after dark” which is tenuous at best. Does this sound like a hysterical reaction to you? For me to go through a list of things I’d better do before I leave the house? “I’d better get dressed, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it as I was wearing pyjamas and no underwear”. “I’d better wear trainers so I can run, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it because I was wearing slippers”. “I’d better make sure I have my keys in my hand, I don’t want them to say I didn’t put up a fight so must have wanted it”.

I was attacked by a stranger from behind 14 years ago. I was lucky. His first punch  – to the back of my head – didn’t knock me out entirely, so I was able to scream (and you bet I can fucking scream) and the spot he attacked me was right outside a housing block where I knew a lot of people. Once he was on top of me and punching me in the face I lost consciousness, but my early screams had been enough to bring people out to see what was happening. I have a dim recollection of a punk friend of mine legging it after this guy shouting at others to come with him. I was carried into someone’s living room. Someone put tea in my hand but I couldn’t drink it (later I would find out my jaw was fractured).  Someone went to my flat to get me some clothes, as mine were torn where the guy had tried to pull them off. The police arrived. I was still quite out of it at this point due to shock and being repeatedly hit around the head. And thus began the questions, that would be asked repeatedly. By the police on the scene. By the ambulance driver. By the hospital admittance staff. By the triage nurse. By the doctor. In fact, the only person that didn’t ask these questions was the x-ray technician, who had to work around the fact that my face was so swollen my piercings couldn’t be removed.

The questions were:

Have you been drinking? What were you wearing? Did you know him? Had you seen him before? Did you do anything that might have provoked him? Do you usually walk this route alone at night? Where had you been before?

The answers (not that it should matter): No. black trousers and a Cure t-shirt. No. No. No. Yes, because it’s WHERE I LIVE. ) Shopping for a suit for a job interview.

Even after answering these ad infinitum I was treated with suspicion by hospital staff and police alike. I was left waiting in the hospital waiting room for 8 hours. I was discharged alone with no way to get home, and no idea what hospital I was in. Despite trying to follow up with the police after I never received any answers. To this day I don’t know if he was caught by police, if he was never found and attacked again, or if my punk friend and his mates caught up with him and he’s buried in a shallow grave somewhere in East London. In my fantasy revisionist history version of this, where what helps me deal is more important than the truth, it’s the latter.

In the aftermath I was bruised, scared, I had flashbacks and nightmares, concussion and a fractured jaw. But not only that. I was shocked at my treatment by those I had always seen as there to help – the nursing staff and the police – who treated this as nothing more than a girl out late at night (it was 10.30pm) who must have done something to deserve it. Even *friends* who found out about it suggested that I perhaps shouldn’t walk back from the bus stop alone.

14 years later I am still reading articles where women are blamed for their own attack. For wearing tight jeans. For wearing control underwear. For looking older than they really are. Because she was just so pretty, the guy couldn’t resist. There are so many more out there.

And it’s not isolated cases – there is a widespread lack of understanding, despite many campaigns – over who is to blame for rape; when in fact it is very simple. RAPISTS are to blame for rape. A society which is bogged down in rape myths is to blame for this widespread lack of understanding.

A society that doesn’t understand how to deal with rapists comes up with ‘anti-rape underwear’ and ‘anti-rape nail varnish‘. And while on one level it’s great that people are trying to innovate over this it doesn’t make it any more bullshit that the potential victims are meant to take part in the prevention of their own assault. And the danger in such ‘anti-rape’ devices is that when we already exist in a culture that blames victims for their own assault, if a woman *DOESN’T* take these ‘preventative’ steps, will she then be further blamed for not doing enough? Ok, you were conscious, sober, you know self-defence, you were alert, clothed, covered up, wearing sensible shoes, BUT WERE YOU WEARING ANTI-RAPE NAIL VARNISH? No?  Then you didn’t do enough.

When this argument comes up, some (perhaps) well meaning people say but why wouldn’t you take these precautions? You wouldn’t leave your bike unlocked would you? If you do that, you are asking for your bike to be stolen.To which I say, no. I wouldn’t leave my bike unlocked. In fact, I have 4 locks (as you can see from my ‘popping to the shop’ picture). But I know, from bitter experience, that if someone really wants to steal your bike they will. No bike lock is unbreakable. That’s why I have insurance. And the reason I have good locks is so that the insurance company will pay up if/when the bike is stolen. Because if someone is going to steal your bike, they are going to. And with insurance, you can replace it.

And you know what is not a bike? A WOMAN’S BODY. A woman’s body is NOT an object. It’s a person’s body. It’s a living person, who is trying to live their life. To suggest that a woman not taking precautions to prevent rape is like someone not locking up a bike is so offensive, I can’t even envisage what is going on in the minds of people that make that comparison. You can’t ‘insure’ a body against rape. An insurance company can’t replace your unraped body or compensate for sucha  violation done to you. But if you really want to go there, and suggest that in order to prevent our bodies being violated that we need to ‘lock them up’ like a bicycle, how do we go about it? Do we never drink ever? Never go anywhere after dark? Never talk to strangers? Or be in a place with strangers? Never leave the house? Not that the last one will help you as in the UK 90% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. So actually, to ‘prevent’ rape, a women needs to never go anywhere or talk to anyone ever.

Maybe I am being overdramatic and paranoid with my ugly clothes wearing, key carrying, sensible shoe wearing 5 minute after-dark trip to the shop. But with attitudes like this still so prevalent, is it any wonder that so many women still feel that they have to take action like this not just to *prevent* rape, but to make sure we are believed if the worst really happens?




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Body Proof Positive

This weekend I did two things that I haven’t done since I was a child.

1 – went to a fancy dress party without alcohol

2 – went out in public wearing a leotard

I love fancy dress parties. I LOVE them. I love to dress up, do different makeup, hair, be someone else for a few hours. Halloween is hands down my favourite celebration day of the year and has been since my first attempts to trick or treat aged 8 dressed as a bat in a costume made out of my gym kit, a couple of bin bags and a cat mask. Back then Halloween wasn’t really A Thing in England so most of the neighbours were rather bemused, but I insisted on having a Halloween party every year nonetheless.

In the past I’ve dressed up as, amongst other things, a  Weeping Angel, Stormer from Jem and the Holograms, Dazzler, The Cheshire Cat, A Thesaurus, I will dress like a pirate at the drop of a fucking tricorn hat.  I have an entire suitcase so big that I can actually get into it and zip it shut with me still inside full to bursting with fancy dress costumes, accessories, wigs and make up. You get the picture. I like to play dress up. I usually pick a character where I can make the costume as flattering to my figure as possible, because for as long as I’ve been self aware, I’ve had issues with my body. Costumes would be carefully constructed so no one would see my round belly, my wobbly arms, my thunderous thighs, and my monstrously disproportionate hips. All of these parts of me must be hidden at all costs, lest people shrink from me in horror and faint at the sight of my vast wobblyness. Where I couldn’t make the costume flattering enough, I just  made sure I was so drunk I didn’t care what the hell I looked like. Of course, that often had the knock on effect that I couldn’t really remember the party.

The thing is, my body parts, while perhaps a bit wobbly, they are *not* disgusting or monstrous. Really, at a UK size 12-16 (depending on area you’re measuring) they aren’t even that big. They are the component parts of my body which comprise *me*. Why do I pick apart myself in this cruel way, in a manner I would never consider doing to anyone else? I look at everyone else around me and see their beauty – see their composite whole, their person, and their completeness. I don’t look at my friends and separate out their body parts into “perfect” and “wrong”. This is of course a rhetorical question – the answer lies all around us  in the every day messages telling women that the most important thing about us is our appearance. Everything else is secondary.

I learned the hard way that, seriously, that’s complete bullshit. And even knowing that it is bullshit, it’s really REALLY hard to get out of your own head when all you can see is that your body is a collection of parts which are ‘Too XXX’. Too small. Too big. Too thin. Too wobbly. Too uneven. Too frizzy.

Too COMPARED TO WHAT? Too compared to a teeny tiny totally unrepresentative sample of women in the media who  are held up as having the ‘right’ shape. And what is the ‘right’ shape? Because this shit isn’t inbuilt you know. We don’t have a hardwired image in all of our brains of the ‘perfect shape’. The ‘right’ shape is entirely socially constructed and perceptions of ‘beauty’ differ massively across cultures.

One project trying to undo some of this ‘too’ damage is Jes M Baker and Liora K‘s awe inspiring ‘Expose‘. I first saw this a couple of weeks ago and have revisited the site many times to gaze at the wonderful bodies. The experience of seeing bodies that *look like yours* presented in such a sensitive and beautiful way is potentially transformative. I’ve since been thinking a great deal about my body and how I can accept it and bring it back into being part of ‘me’ again instead of a lump of muscle and skin and fat that I walk around within, which is somehow a separate entity with which I am in constant battle.

So. When I was invited to a party with the theme of “Rubbish Wrestling Gimmicks” and my friend suggested “crazy cat ladies” and I googled “80s female wrestlers” and realised that they basically wore leotards and tights instead of going OH GOD NO I CAN’T BECAUSE MY BODY IS TOO XXX AND THE DRINKS AND EVERYTHING IS TOO XXX, I decided to go and buy a damn leotard and some leopard print leggings and wear those mofos with a pair of damn cat ears and I WILL FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT because this is MY DAMN BODY and as much as we may fall out over things like headaches and muscle pains and joint issues it is MINE and it is the only one I will ever have and LET’S JUST DO THIS THING. (I suspect I might have said some of this out loud in the shop’s changing room judging by the odd look I got from the lady working there when I left the cubicle.)

I went to the party, in my leotard and leopard print leggings and ears, me and my big thighs and my round tummy and my curvy old hips. I stuck to the soda water (ok, I fess up, I also had a can of Monster Rehab. Don’t judge me – I have to have *something*. And it has TEA in it.) and I had a brilliant time. I felt like Bettie Page. Somehow something ticked over in my brain to turn what I’d aways seen as chub and flub to soft  and delicious curves. I felt sexy and beautiful and surprisingly at ease. I won’t say I felt entirely comfortable *all*night, but considering that I put on a swimming costume for the first time a month ago, I’d say feeling attractive in a leotard while totally sober is a massive step.

It helps that I’ve kept up the swimming twice weekly, that I’ve kept up the cycling to work even though the weather is getting crapper, and that I’ve kept up (mostly) with the massive sugar cull. All of that has combined to helping me to feel that much happier with what I see in the mirror and feeling more comfortable in my own skin. So it wasn’t all down to the Expose project – but it was a final step for me in realising that my body isn’t abnormal. If you think about it, all bodies are ‘abnormal’. Because what *is* normal when we’re all so different? I won’t ever be a size 10 – I am just not built that way. And thanks to the last few weeks I now know that I am comfortable with that. I don’t need to bully myself and berate myself for not fitting into an unrealistic mold. I just need to carry on learning to love my body, and remember that it’s not just my body – it’s me.

As Liora K puts so beautifully:

…their bodies deserved to be seen, that what they perceive as faults are simply THEM, and are neither right nor wrong.  That showing their bodies won’t innately cause them harm.  That their breasts won’t cause damage to those around them, or their bellies or thighs either.  That their nudity, while making them vulnerable, does not make them at fault.  And that lastly, their bodies are their vehicles through life, and to treat them with kindness.

I kind of want to get “your body is your vehicle through life, treat it with kindness” tattooed somewhere on me, as a constant reminder to keep hold of my new-found body positivity, because feeling good about myself as I am feels a million times better than feeling bad because of something I’m not.

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The Shouter – a poem

“Nice bum” he shouts. He can’t be older than 10.

I cycle on, to ignore as usual, but then

I stop. I turn. “What did you shout at me for?”

No reply, shifting eyes, shifting feet, mumbling, looking at the floor

a group shrug. The answer comes “dunno”

Another replies, bolder than the shouter “you know

girls like it when you shout at them innit.”

“I’m a girl, and I don’t like it.”

Surprise on their faces, disbelief,

I turn to go, to their visible relief

but the exchange follows me home in my head;

the sense of shame, concern, dread.

Who taught them that a women grown

knows less of her own

mind than they? I pay my rent, have a degree,

a group of kids barely three

feet high telling me “but you like it really”

after I’ve said that I don’t very clearly.

What are we teaching the boys of our world?

That it’s ok to shout at women and girls

because “they like it” even if they say they don’t

they say no but they mean yes even if they won’t

say it aloud.

Are we proud

of this nation of youths with a twisted and bent

understanding of the meaning of ‘consent’?

I want to ask these future men -

who shout at women and then

say it’s ok we want it that way -

Who taught them this was the way things are?

who told them that women are things?

Who told him that girls say no and mean yes

that girls are different, that a short dress

says more about her than the words

that she says?

In what ways

are our kids are learning  ‘facts of life’

in which women are sister, mother, wife

before they are people deserving respect

for who they are? Shouldn’t we expect

and want better?









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When you can’t sink another drink to give you time to think

Copyright Jeff Krouwel 2014It’s been a difficult week this week for the Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate. Difficult conversations have been had, and there are many changes ahead. There is no longer a Mr RDP. Well, there is, but he’s not Mr RDP any more. While this blog was always by definition very personal, being about my year of giving up alcohol and trying to change my life, it was never meant to bare to all the private lives of those close to me, so we’ll just leave it with this; that it is sad, that we are sad about it, but that it is the right decision for both of us.

I’ve done all the usual things one does when one goes through a breakup. I’ve updated my relationship status on Facebook and made a heartfelt public statement to all of our friends. I’ve had a bit of a cry. I’ve scoured gumtree for places to live and rightmove for places to buy and despaired over the cost of property in London. I’ve broken the news to my disappointed family. I’ve deconstructed all the problems with my little sister and with my best friend. I’ve eaten my entire bodyweight in ice cream and ordered takeaway for myself. I’ve made a break up playlist on Spotify and starting seeing hidden meanings in unlikely songs. I’ve listened to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” on repeat. I’ve poured my heart out to the cat. The one standard break up thing I haven’t done is go out and get shitfaced.

It feels strange to be facing upheaval and change without being able to resort to getting drunk in order to have a few hours of oblivion, away from the reality of the situation. I don’t think I’ve ever been through a break up which hasn’t led to several bottles of wine and large numbers of cocktails and shots. Often all on the same night. Such importance is alcohol in our relationships that the pirate formerly known as Mr RDP has received huge numbers of offers to get him drunk in consolation, whereas I have received many commiserating that I can’t get hammered. A few even asked if I would abandon  my alcohol free pledge, or have suggested that if I were to go out and get trolleyed that it would be ok because it ‘wouldn’t count’ on this occasion.

I actually feel like facing this alcohol free is more of a blessing than a curse. I won’t have any mornings where I wake up with not only a skull crushing hangover but also the knowledge that I am a lonely single loser with no one to make me tea or stroke my head. I won’t have the horrible mind bending mood swings of a night out on the piss when one isn’t entirely emotionally stable. A night out drinking when you’re in a fragile state is not a reliable way to cheer you, or anyone else for that matter, up. You *might* get into a giggly state were everything is funny. You *might* dance like a complete banana to Generation X’s Dancing With Myself and feel pumped for the future. You *might* start dancing to Robyn’s Dancing On My Own and end up in  hysterical tears in the middle of the dancefloor. You *might* end up totally maudlin, crying all over your friends and ruining everyone’s night. That’s the thing with alcohol, it’s not a predictable panacea for your emotional ills. It’s ultimately a depressant; and while it enhances your mood in small doses if your mood is low to changeable in the first place all it’s going to do is make you feel lower and more unstable. You then either face a hangover of apocalyptic proportions or you just keep drinking.

Whenever I look back over my old personal blog, particularly during the days when I was at my most mentally unwell, I am often struck by how important alcohol was to me, and how little insight I had into how it was trapping me in a cycle. So many posts about getting drunk and being hungover, interspersed with posts about my ongoing struggle with depression. I wonder now whether if I’d been able to escape the drunken high/hungover low cycle back then I would have faced my mental health demons sooner. I suspect not. I may have used alcohol as an escape from the relentless grind of my clinical depression, but my recovery was more down to a lot of therapy (most successfully CBT and then a few years later CAT) and several rounds of anti-depressants. Maybe some of my depressive episodes would have been less severe without the drinking, but my agoraphobia would have been worse as sometimes it was only the alcohol allowing me to leave the house. And yet it is pretty clear that on many occasions I dealt with hard times by trying to drown them. Breakups, fall outs, unhappy work situations and bereavements – all were propped up with drink. Whether that made them harder to deal with in the long run, or meant that I just avoided dealing with them at all, is a moot point. Drinking the problems away is not an option I have now.

To be in a position where even if I wanted to I couldn’t go out and drink until I fall on my face is actually very freeing. It means I have to face up to my situation fully present, fully mindful. Yes it means I have to face all of the difficult feelings this is going to bring up head on, but surely that can only  be a good thing in the long run.

I no longer need alcohol to leave the house, or to have a good time. I’ve learned how to have fun without it. Now I need to learn to weather the hard times without it. I suspect that this will prove much easier.


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all by my selfie

Actual result of a google search 10/8/2014

Actual result of a google search 10/8/2014

I have been taking ‘selfies’ since before there was a word for it. Well, there was a word for it. Well, two. It was called a ‘self-portrait’.


I think my first very own camera was a 9th birthday present. It was clunky, and simple, and it took square photos. Back then ‘digital’ described watches, and the only way to know what you were photographing was to peer through a tiny viewfinder. You had to take the pictures in to a shop to have them developed, and both film and developing was expensive, so I was usually careful about what photos I took. But in every roll of film developed you could guarantee that there would be at least one of my own face – either reflected in a mirror or carefully angled to try to catch my own face. A selfie. Decades before the ‘selfie’ became the ‘new trend’ that is destroying the very fabric of our society, I was taking them.

Even if you don’t buy into the idea that a self portrait is in any way the same thing as a selfie, you can’t really argue that a ‘selfie’ – as in a photograph you took of yourself – is new. People have been taking ‘selfies’ since at least the mid 19th century. Buzz Aldrin took one whilst in space in 1966.

People take selfies for all sorts of reasons. Like Buzz Aldrin, to demonstrate they were in a particular place at a particular time when something particularly awesome was happening. Maybe because they look ridiculous after a caught-in-the-rain incident. Maybe they just want a picture of their face on that day because they feel good about themselves. Sometimes  you want a picture of all of your friends, and you want all of you to be in it, and there’s no one around to take the picture. Wanting to record a moment in time is no more narcissistic now than it ever was – it’s just much more accessible, and easier to share. There’s no expensive film to carefully conserve, no processing fees. The only thing that’s ‘new’ is the ease with which we can record and share these moments.  To blame all of cultural ills on the recording and sharing those moments is ludicrous to say the least.

But that’s what the media would have us believe. Selfies are causing black cat homelessness. They are ruining your mental health – or are a sign of poor mental health. They are destroying your relationships. OH DEAR GOD they are TEARING APART OUR ENTIRE SOCIETY. PLEASE won’t someone think of the children??

That last link, with the disingenuous headline “Selfies ‘can fuel’ body image worries says Childline” caught my eye particularly. If you read the article, it’s very clear that the headline doesn’t remotely reflect what Childline say. What Childline say is that there is a clear and concerning rise in young children with serious body image concerns, and that this increases in warmer weather. It doesn’t specifically mention selfies at all other than sending lots of selfies in an attempt to seek validation could be seen as a symptom of low self-esteem. This is a COMPLETELY different thing to ‘fuelling’ low self-esteem.

A quick google reveals hundreds of articles across all sorts of media linking self-esteem and selfies and accusing this ‘new craze’ of having a direct relationship with poor self-image.

At the age of 9 I was into My Little Pony, Sylvainian Families and Jem and the Holograms. Makeup was something grown ups put on and sex was something animals did on nature programs and was to giggle at. I had no notion of being ‘too fat’, or unattractive, or needing particular clothes or shoes. I didn’t worry about crawling through brambles and getting twigs in my hair or mud on my shorts. Of course, back then we didn’t have the internet. And there weren’t magazines aimed at my age group full of pop heart throbs or sexy celebrities. We had Smash Hits but that was hardly a magazine aimed at the ‘pre-tween’ market (now, tween. THERE’s a word for something that didn’t exist when I was 9). I don’t recall starting to feel seriously bad about myself, my shape, my face or my weight until my teens when I started reading magazines such as Just Seventeen and More.

At the age of 29 (years before ‘selfie’ became a real word and at a time when people with LiveJournals were going ‘so what’s this ‘Facebook’ malarkey all about then?) I was working with young girls aged 7-10 as part of Girl Guiding UK. It was eye-opening how different it is to be 9 now than it was being 9 twenty years previously. One girl regularly cried and didn’t want to take part in fancy dress activities because she was ‘too fat’. Another confided to me that she was bullied because she ‘wasn’t pretty enough’. One spent an entire day on our first day at Brownie camp sulking with her hood up because we didn’t allow makeup or hair straighteners and saying she “couldn’t be seen without her makeup”. She was 8 years old. Another, a petite 9-year-old with dreams of stardom, regularly picked at her food and ate virtually nothing because “she needed to stay small to succeed in the business”. A girl guiding report carried out last year supported what I myself witnessed in my years as a Brownie leader. This report concluded that the girls were being influenced – not by selfies – but by media and advertising.

Any woman reading this will hardly be surprised to hear that girls are being affected adversely by media and advertising. To be a female human in our culture you cannot escape the messages that tell us daily that we’re too fat, too thin, our boobs are too small, our hair too short and not shiny enough, some of our hair grows  naturally where hair shouldn’t be and so on. But even if you aren’t surprised, you can’t help but be shocked to hear an 8 year old asking “does this make me look fat?”

Is it any wonder that the media will seize any opportunity to deflect the blame for the increasing crisis of self-confidence that is affecting young girls and boys? The media has a vested interest in keeping our attention as far away as possible from the true cause – a powerful and relentless series of messages designed to keep us consuming. We must keep buying these products as otherwise we’ll be fat/ugly/hairy/smelly and no one will love us. And while you’re buying those, look at these celebrities in these unattractive (unphotoshopped) poses? Doesn’t it make you feel so much better that these celebrities look fat and unattractive just like you? But look at this beautiful (photoshopped) celebrity! You should totally buy the same products because then you won’t be fat/ugly/hairy/smelly any more.

Maybe we accept this status quo – these relentless messages – as something that is just there. Part of our society. As adults, we know these images are photoshopped and we know that the media rhetoric is harmful – even if we’ve internalised it and struggle with our own self-esteem we still KNOW that those photos aren’t real. Children don’t have that understanding. They tend to believe what reality they are sold. They don’t know the difference between a photoshopped picture and a real one. We do. And even knowing that the fantasies we are sold by the media aren’t true, we still beat ourselves up about not being thin/pretty/hairless/scented enough. And if even we can’t escape that, knowing that it’s not true, then how will the children?

Not only are selfies not remotely ‘new’, they are not to blame for the increasingly poor self-esteem of children. What they are is a useful scapegoat for a media complicit in the manipulation of our self-image and our self-esteem.

I for one love a good selfie. I take one when I have a good hair day. Or when I’ve done my makeup particularly well. I take them when I feel good about  myself, and end up with a  record of a time I felt good about myself. This doesn’t damage my self-esteem; it’s quite the opposite. What can damage my self-esteem somewhat is articles telling me that my liking for having a nice picture of myself looking nice is narcissistic and vain. Because GOD FORBID I think anything good about myself.

People that feel good about themselves aren’t going to buy products to make themselves feel better, are they?

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

baring body, baring soul

One of the things I have had to face up to over the months of sobriety is how much crap I am carrying around in my head. I suspect a large amount of the alcohol consumed pre-party was to drown out the voices telling me

  • You are too fat for this outfit
  • You’re not funny and have nothing interesting to say
  • You will say and/or do something irredeemably stupid and everyone will laugh at you

Much of the alcohol consumed at a party would then be used to cover up any stupid things I might be saying or doing.

  • Fell on my face? OMG I AM SO DRUNK.
  • Interpretative dance to ridiculous song, HAH MY GOD I WAS SO WASTED.
  • Got two people I know perfectly well mixed up or forget their names? FUCK DUDE I AM SO HAMMERED I CAN’T EVEN

When you haven’t got those I AM SO… excuses to fall back on, you have to learn to accept that the person who falls on their face, engages in interpretative dance with a pinecone to Total Eclipse of The Heart, mixes up the names of people you’ve known for years and makes an accent mimicry faux pas is JUST YOU. Not drunk  you, not someone so wasted they can’t Do Normal, but you. You are that scatty clumsy nerdy person on the dancefloor. Alcohol never made you do any of those things, alcohol merely gave you an excuse to absolve yourself of accepting responsibility to the daft/stupid/borderline potentially offensive things you’ve done or said.

All of the above examples happened yesterday. Blindsided by the lack of an excuse I had to just accept that I’d made a prat of myself. Standing there and taking that and going god, I am sorry, I am such a dork (mixing up of names) or I don’t care this is hilarious I am having a great time (pine cone interpretive dance) is actually incredibly difficult.You have to accept that you are at best an extemely silly person,  at worst thoughtless and not being mindful enough of the people around you. I am not surprised that more than half of my life I have found it easier to blame the booze. How many times in my past have I pleaded the percentage proof when actually I  haven’t really been that drunk at all? When did it get to the point that I would start drinking in advance, before I’d even done anything ridiculous, just so that if/when I did do something ridiculous I would have an excuse?

I also start to wonder – how many other things in my life do I avoid because tackling them head on is just too hard? Things that getting drunk can’t ‘resolve’ or excuse?  As discussed last week I am a terribly avoidant person who will go to extraordinary lengths to Not Do things I need to do. Even things I actually WANT to do get put off for all sorts of reasons. For all of the things that couldn’t be resolved by getting really drunk and doing them, well I just didn’t do them at all, and occasionally came up with vague excuses as to why. Wanted to learn BSL for years? Mumble mumble can’t afford it mumble. Want to learn to sew? Mumble mumble what if the needle goes through my thumb mumble. Want to get back into singing? Mumble not really that good at singing can’t read music mumble.

For years I have avoided swimming – not because I can’t swim, but because I have long term insecurities over my body and being seen in public in a swimming costume. Instead of, you know, just getting the hell over this and going swimming, I mumble mumble don’t have a swimming costume mumble. And never bought one on purpose so I could keep using this excuse. And yet – almost entirely down to a growing awareness that most of the things holding me back are my own excuses in case I make a pillock of myself – I found myself earlier this week standing on the edge of a pond, in public, in a brand new swimming costume, preparing to jump into water of an unspecified depth containing god knows what, in order to Do Swimming.

It doesn’t sound like a huge achievement: “This week I went swimming”. But for someone who found regular school swimming lessons like some sort of teacher sanctioned water torture and who only ever felt comfortable doing doggy paddle; who has such a curvy figure that a swimming costume which fits at the top cuts off all circulation below the waist (and conversely if it fits below the waist is dangerously indecently impractical at the top) and who tends to spend beach holidays almost entirely covered up sitting under an umbrella with a book, who until recently has refused to wear shorts because her legs ‘aren’t good enough’? This was HUGE.

My swimming strokes were tentative at first, but the water was temperate, the surroundings beautiful and serene, the other swimmers considerate and friendly. There was no sense of voyeurism or body shaming. There were birds drifting around peacefully, unconcerned by my damp flailing, and there were even flocks of parakeets swooping around the trees thar bordered the pond. I didn’t swim a huge distance – around 400 meters – but for someone who hasn’t swum for quite possibly longer than they’ve been getting drunk (and let’s face it, in the Definitive List Of Things You Can Do While Drunk Because Alcohol Gives You Confidence,”swimming in a pond” didn’t even make the shortlist for very good reasons) it felt like an enormous achievement. No one laughed at my body or was offended by the sight of if. I was in public, in a swimming costume, and nothing bad happened. I didn’t fail at anything. No excuses even needed to be made. And it was fun.

Until the start of this year when this big booze and blog experiment began much of my life was a list of “I want to X but I can’t because Y” where Y wasn’t so much a reason not to do X as a way to absolve myself of responsibility for doing X because I was just too scared of failing, or of not having an excuse for failing. I don’t know what I was expecting at the start of this journey in January, but I wasn’t expecting to be confronting so many aspects of my life – including my own issues with my body.

I am not sure if I would have been able to get into a swimming costume and into that pond were it not for my growing ability to just be me, in the present, in the moment, without a shield of false confidence, an alcoholic aura or handy excuse ready – and that has all come from my (so far) 7 months of sobriety and weekly blog based soul baring. The feeling of walking out of a changing room into a public space wearing just a swimming costume, baring myself and my flaws was terrifying; but wasn’t actually any worse than bearing my innermost thoughts on a weekly basis to the entire internet, or standing completely sober in a room with people crying with laughter at my name-confusion faux pas and having no excuse for it other than my own ridiculousness.  And just as I am starting to be OK with my body, I am starting to be ok with my own ridicousness.

Posted in Drinking, i am a disaster area, Me Me Me, The List | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment