Monday, 27 April 2015

Dear Jamelia & Protein World.....

Dear Jamelia and Protein World

Well, it’s been quite a week for us all, hasn’t it? Last week you each, in your own distinct way, claimed that championing a particular body ideal is good for the health of the nation and were both, in a number of distinct and unequivocal ways, told to fuck off.

Putting aside whether only slim people should be able to buy clothes, or feel comfortable on the beach, or whether the presence of overweight people in mainstream culture can in fact ‘promote’ obesity, I thought I’d take the opportunity to dispel a misapprehension you appear to be labouring under: Let’s be clear - body shaming does not work. In fact, if your goal is to improve wellbeing (as opposed to becoming the next Katie Hopkins/peddling your product respectively) you have probably had the opposite effect to the one you intended.

By the time I was twelve years old, I was already almost six foot tall and a size fourteen. I loved sport and I ate healthily. I was (and continue to be) simply a big girl. In those days, the high street was nowhere near as progressive as it is today. ‘Trendy’ shops, the ones my friends wanted to visit on a Saturday, only catered up to a size 12, if you were lucky. You would have loved it, Jamelia. I started to avoid saying yes to hanging out with the girls, because I knew it would involve endlessly traipsing around the shopping centre, telling my friends they looked lovely whilst ‘guarding’ the bags outside the changing rooms because nothing fit me. I began to understand that fashion wasn’t for big girls like me, that this was a world from which I was excluded.

According to your logic, the misery of not being ‘normal’ should have motivated me to diet. Fortunately, it didn’t, because dieting at that age might have stunted my growth, caused osteoporosis, anaemia, lack of concentration and subsequently poor grades. I did, however, start to develop an ‘us and them’ mentality. I always felt I was orbiting outside society’s parameters. I stopped playing sport because it drew too much attention to my ‘abnormal’ body. I didn’t think physical activity was for ‘people like me’. I started to think that the body rules everyone else was abiding by didn’t really apply to me. The world didn’t want me to be proud of my body, so why shouldn’t I spend Friday night shovelling Maltesars into my mouth? Inevitably, I started to gain weight.

There is an interlude in my story, one in which I was scouted by a model agent, developed a severe eating disorder and dropped a dramatic amount of weight. Even then, because of my broad shoulders, large bust and wide hips the smallest I could attain was a size 10 (despite regularly being hospitalised with dehydration and suffering from malnutrition). High fashion continued to brand me ‘plus size’ and once again I was operating outside what my environment had deemed as ‘normal’.

…But less of that. It took a long time for me to embrace my body type, to rediscover my love of exercise and to realise that I deserved to look after myself. Today, I am right back where I started at a size 14 (16 sometimes – quel horreur!) – The way my body is naturally supposed to be. I am content in the knowledge that should I fall pregnant, be injured or become ill or (god forbid) age, the now diverse high street will still cater to my needs. It is partly this knowledge that lets me be kind to myself, not yoyo diet (and therefore ensure future weight gain) or panic and fall into my old ways.

I am now entirely at home with my body. In fact I love it. So, Protein World, your ‘are you beach ready?’ advert has absolutely no effect on me whatsoever (other than thinking it shows a distinct lack of imagination and probably belongs in 1995). Yet I can see how anyone vulnerable or struggling might feel differently. I know my twelve year old self would have done. Of course, advertising like this has existed pretty-much since capitalism was invented - that’s part of the problem.

No one has ever claimed health is not important. Yet you can’t make broad assumptions about people’s health based on their shape and size. And even if you could, Jamelia, this shouldn’t impact their right to buy clothes. Unless of course you are proposing that smokers, drinkers, drug-takers, people who live in cities and who are excessively stressed shouldn’t be allowed to shop on the high street, either? In which case I think our economy would probably collapse. Mind you, there’s nothing like living in Third World conditions to ensure rapid weight loss…..

Our bodies are not commodities and we should be allowed to embrace fitness, fashion and beauty on our own terms. It is by empowering people of all body types to do this that you truly have a positive impact on their health.

Regards

Natasha Devon

Journalist & Body Image Campaigner who has interviewed dozens of global health experts; or
‘Fat Feminist with a Bee in her Bonnet’ (Protein World Customer).



Saturday, 3 January 2015

Stuff

Dear Blog Readers (and people who have stumbled across this page because of boredom induced by what should, owing to the placement of Christmas Day this year, be a magical uber-holiday but has now become a bit tedious, if social media is to be believed).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

So, I was getting a little frustrated by the constraints placed upon me, having to restrict my musings to sporadic Twitter updates or a specific ‘angle’ for various publications and then I remembered – I have a blog! It’s a blog that has been neglected for a while, admittedly (following the preposterous waste of everyone’s life that was that ‘feminism’ inspired shit-storm during the summer) but I thought there was no better time than now to pour some clarity on a few things, just in case you’re interested:

Here is my news (from the very specific spectrum of my take on reality):


1. Body Gossip

I am no longer a Director at Body Gossip. I resigned my post for a few reasons, many of which are too complicated (and probably tedious) for me to go into here. The main reason, however, was that I felt body image was too narrow a remit to contain the sort of work I wanted to do.

Body Gossip gained official charitable status last year, which means everything the organisation does must be directly related to its mission statement – to increase body confidence. Having worked in more than 200 schools and colleges, now, I’ve been really privileged to meet and speak with thousands of young people. Travelling throughout the UK for the past 8 years has allowed me to connect some dots and to realise that body confidence is inextricably embroiled with so many other huge, meaty issues including self-esteem, mental health and socio-political factors.

I did, however, devise and create Body Gossip’s Education Programme and don’t really trust anyone other than myself or my team to do it justice, at this stage. For that reason, we have agreed with the Trustees at Body Gossip that we will continue to exclusively deliver Body Gossip classes, as subcontractors. Who is ‘we’ I hear you cry? I’m glad you asked….


2. The Self-Esteem Team

Nadia, Grace and I have been working together delivering and evolving the Body Gossip Education Programme for a couple of years, now. Whilst we all share the same ethos and vision, Grace & Nadz each bring something unique and wonderful to the project and are both, in their own way, able to establish a fantastic rapport with young people. I was very lucky to have found them (and ‘stalked’ them until they agreed to work for me, apparently. I still maintain it wasn’t stalking. Just friendly persuasion). Last year, we decided to rebrand as The Self-Esteem Team.

We have attended more conferences and interviewed more experts than I can actually remember or count and are now pleased to offer a range of classes for schools and colleges on mental health, self-harm and eating disorders, as well as body image.

Between the three of us, we have worked with more than 40,000 students, from a huge range of backgrounds, throughout Britain, as well as some of their parents and teachers. We are petitioning the government to recognise how important health and wellbeing is within schools and the direct impact it has upon both academic and personal potential. We were absolutely delighted to be given an award at Parliament in November recognising our services to education.

About once a week, we get an email from someone saying ‘when are you going to do something for adults?’, which is why we’re also working to give our message a broader platform. Since that platform involves media, and they are notoriously secretive about these sorts of things, that’s all I can really say at this point (how infuriatingly cryptic am I? I’ll be posting Facebook statuses that say ‘YOU REALLY HURT ME YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!’ next).

In the meantime, Nadia is busy blitzing social media with online positivity, SET style (which quite often involves the creative use of swearing, I should warn you). We’ve already gained a fantastic online community of like-minded individuals and we’d invite you to come and join us on Facebook (search The Self-Esteem Team), Twitter (@_SelfEsteemTeam) and to check out our website www.selfesteemteam.org.

The extremely talented Grace has also put together this short video, which sums up everything we do, with music and attention-grabbing brightness - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1RStmXbDNo.


3. Cosmopolitan

Exactly a year ago, I was given my own column in Cosmopolitan, at which point I danced around my flat like a tit for about three hours, in celebration. Anyone who has ever met me even a little bit throughout my adult lifetime has probably heard me rave about this magnificent magazine, my passion for and loyalty to it knowing absolutely no bounds, even before they awarded me their Woman of the Year award in 2012.

I write for a number of publications, but I’m proud to call Cosmopolitan my home. For me, it represents a place where feminism is fabulous. It’s a supportive community of women who care about social issues AND shoes. If Cosmo were a person, it would be your best friend, squeezing your hand and whispering ‘you go, lady!’ before you do a boardroom presentation or reassuring you that you look beautiful during a night out.

My column was called The Last Word and was a 500 word rant on the last page of the magazine about pretty-much anything that took my fancy. Over the course of the year I tackled topics including the internet, pubic hair, the word ‘slut’ and….uhm…. Roald Dahl.

This year, I’m ever more excited (cue more dancing) because I have a new home in the middle of Cosmopolitan, with a monthly section called ‘Natasha Devon’s Confidence Revolution’. Every month I’ll bring the reader investigations, interviews or opinion pieces designed to help them enhance their lives through the savvy use of realising they are amazing.

My first ‘Revolution’ is out now, in the February issue (which has Khloe Kardashian on the front). For Cosmo-related updates follow me at @Cosmo_Tash.


4. My book(s)

Next week my book ‘Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents & Teachers on Mental Health & Self-Esteem’ officially hits the shelves. It will be available in Waterstones, Foils, from independent retailers and on Amazon and is published by John Blake Books.

I co-authored the book with Lynn Crilly, who is a counsellor and mother. We had previously collaborated on her book ‘Hope with Eating Disorders’ which has had an incredibly positive response from people throughout the globe, who commented on her refreshing ‘no judgment’, pragmatic approach to mental health.

Lynn’s sections in Fundamentals are more in the traditional self-help style, looking at a range of mental health and self-esteem issues, what they mean and what can be done to tackle them and she writes for an audience of parents and carers. My sections look at the wider social causes and implications of these issues, from the perspective of my dual experiences in education and media. I’ve written them in my own chatty, empassioned, slightly sweary style, predominantly for teachers and the people who work with them.

Fundamentals is unusual, in that it has two distinct voices – usually books that are co-authored converge into one narrative. Those who have read the book so far, however, say that’s their favourite thing about it. Whilst Lynn reaches out with love and understanding, I rant about how we can make education and society better and fairer for all. The best review I have heard so far says:

“Reading this book is like being given a stroke on the arm and then a slap in the face!”

You can order a signed copy (and find out more about Lynn) at www.lynncrilly.co.uk .

In recognition of the book’s release, we have given a donation to charity Young Minds, currently in danger of having their Parent Helpline closed. Find out more here: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/news/blog/2365_fundamentals_a_new_book_on_nurturing_self-esteem

This summer, the Self-Esteem Team are teaming up with Lynn and John Blake again to release a second book, aimed at young people themselves. Watch this space.


5. Controversy (in the form of Katie Hopkins)

The second instalment of Katie Hopkins’ documentary ‘To Fat and Back’ airs tonight. I have stuck by my promise to Cosmo readers and haven’t watched it, so I can’t say for certain that it was a catastrophe of misinformed awfulness. But it probably was.

In any case, I got the gist – indeed it was almost impossible not to, since Hopkins has been everywhere over the past few months, spouting her nonsensical claptrap. I’ve even faced her myself in a couple of radio interviews on the topic.

Here is what I have learned about body image:

- All bodies are different;
- It’s lifestyle, not looks, that denote ‘health’;
- Despite this, we make great, sweeping, inaccurate assumptions about people’s lifestyles based on how
they look;
- There’s a lot of money to be made in messing up people’s relationship with their bodies;
- If you tune into and trust your body it will tell you what it needs;
- How inclined we are to look after our bodies is often a reflection of our state of mind;
- Leading a healthy lifestyle is a lot harder for some people than it is for others;
- Trying to solve Binge Eating Disorder by giving someone a diet sheet is like giving a drug addict a piece
of paper with ‘DON’T TAKE DRUGS’ written on it;
- Physical health can be improved with more understanding of mental health.

The above represents everything Katie’s body manifesto strives against. In recognition of that, The Self-Esteem Team developed a hastag, which has now gone viral #ThingsIdRatherDoThanWatchHopkins.

Partaking in this hashtag is an opportunity for you to show solidarity with people who recognise the complexity of body image and obesity, to show-off about how witty you are, to make others laugh and to have a chuckle yourself. It’s not an opportunity to bully Ms Hopkins.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.


6. People I’m loving right now

On a brighter note, here as some people and organisations enhancing my life right now:

Deborah Coughlin (@Deb_rahCoughlin) – Former editor of the Feminist Times and now writing all kinds of sense for the Independent.

Vicky Beeching (@vickybeeching)– Songwriter, Social Commentator, Christian, Lesbian, Beacon of Awesomeness. Can often be found on Radio 4.

The Trews (@rustyrockets) – Russell Brand’s daily Youtube videos designed to get us talking about politics, the media, the environment and how we can achieve generalised Global Fairness.

ASOS (@ASOS) – The UK’s most magnificently inclusive fashion emporium, stocking as it does sizes 2 to 28.

Curvy Kate (@curvykate) – It’s bras, but not as you know them…. And their annual Star in a Bra competition invites customers to model their products (Self-Esteem Team are judging this year YAY!).

BeReal Campaign (@BeReal_Campaign) – An amalgamation of charities and organisations promoting body confidence in Britain.

Models of Diversity (@ModsOfDiversity)– Model agency using a wide range of shapes, sizes, ages and races to encourage more diversity in fashion.

Educate & Celebrate (@EducateCelebrat) – Okay so I don’t know a great deal about this one, other than it’s a charity that aims to make schools LGBT friendly, but I met founder Elly at an event yesterday and she’s ace.


If you’ve made it this far – Congrats. I wouldn’t read a blog this long.

Hope 2015 is fantastic for you and please do get in touch with The Self-Esteem Team to let us know how we can make it even better.

Natasha




Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dove Patches & A Chinese Proverb (Sort of)

Those of you who read my Cosmo column will know that I am somewhat of a medical mystery. Spleens don’t usually rupture for no reason at all and yet that’s exactly what mine did, a little more than a year ago.

Since then, I’ve been having weird skin freak-outs over my neck, chest and temples – a google search revealed this was very likely to be allergic eczema. I went to my NHS GP and got the same response I always do ‘it’s because you’re overweight’. It really is staggering the vast array of medical conditions which GP’s blithely explain away using your BMI. (I’m assuming thin people never, ever get eczema).

Quite certain my skin was trying to tell me something and unable to accept that something was simply ‘you’re fat’, I looked for second, third and fourth opinions. I tried a private doctor, a reiki healer and finally some Eastern medicine. All unanimously agreed that my immune system is shot to shit. This makes far more sense, what with the spleen being in charge of immunity.

The doctor in my local Chinese Medical Centre suggested I take an allergy test. The results showed I’m pretty much allergic to every fun food (although not white wine - woo hoo!) and I was bemoaning the fact that I might have to live on mung beans and thin air forever.

Then the doctor said something interesting. He said “no, you are allergic right now because your immune system is weak. If we can make your immunity stronger, then you can eat those foods again”.

This struck me as a potent metaphor for my chosen field of body image. There’s a lot that’s potentially toxic in our culture, particularly in the worlds of fashion, beauty and fitness but if we build our immunity, strengthen ourselves and improve our resilience, we can indulge in these things without side-effects.

As coincidence would have it, that’s the exact message behind Dove’s latest viral ad campaign, which was launched yesterday.

‘Dove Patches’ documents a placebo-effect experiment undertaken by ten women who discover that beauty is a state of mind. I recommend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGDMXvdwN5c#aid=P8q3B0EVlVg


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

'Twitter Activism'

I used to love Twitter. The SOCIAL networking site was once something I used for about an hour a week to meet like-minded individuals and engage in a bit of light hearted-inanity to combat the stress of everyday life (like laughing at pictures of people’s cats pulling stupid faces).

That’s what social media should be. Either informative or entertaining. Unfortunately, what it appears to have become is a communal dumping-ground for people’s angers, grievances and issues which they fire at each other like 140 character bullets. I tried to counter-balance all the whining, bitchy, moaning and back stabbing by launching a week-long positivity challenge in association with Cosmopolitan. The idea went down a storm with Twitter users wearily raising their fists and saying “yay”, so worn down were they by the tidal wave of negativity the web exposes them to on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the toxic indignation continues.

This week I wrote an article for the Feminist Times which divided audiences (as I knew it would). The jist was that there are a militant crowd of shouty feminists ‘activists’ who appear to have nothing better to do than sit on Twitter all day picking on people who don’t meet their feminist principles. All this succeeds in doing is alienating a lot of women who, for example, DON’T think dressing up is ‘making yourself acceptable to the patriarchy’ and might not think glamour modelling is the greatest social evil the world has ever seen. Women, just to pluck an example from the ether, like myself. I said we needed in some circumstances ‘compromise’ in order to make progress, which kicked up a storm of blustering huff-puffery from women who read “militant feminist” as “hey you, reading this!” and “compromise” as “rolling over and giving in”. Neither of which is the official definition, I believe.

The Feminist Times is a brilliant online resource with ample opportunity to leave your comments below their articles. My email address is also freely available on the web with the most basic Google search. Yet the abuse I received from offended women (and it was abuse) was all done via Twitter, most of whom bemoaned the fact that my account is private, thus not allowing them to scroll though my tweets and really stick the boot in (it was made private a few months ago because a 'feminist' replied to every single thing I tweeted, firing nonsensical, four-letter expletives at me 20-30 times a day and blocking her meant she could still see my tweets so continued to compulsively check my account and respond, like a dog listlessly barking at a jogger in the park on a foggy day. It was all rather tiresome).

I ask the teenagers I work with to think of their Twitters, Facebooks, Instagrams etc as a very exclusive private members club of which they are the bouncer. If someone is causing trouble and upsetting you, it’s perfectly reasonable to eject them from your club in the form of blocking or making your account private. Healthy, even. After all, it’s our online world and we should be in charge of who populates it. And life is too short to spend our leisure time locking horns with someone who’s never going to see our point of view.

I’m actually very open to constructive criticism. What I’m not open to are tweets coming from an account using a fake name and avatar spewing out deeply personal insults. That is called bullying. So far this week ‘feminist’ accounts (who have all been screenshot but shalln’t be named because I’m classy like that) have directed the following at me:

“I’m going to tear you apart you piece of sh*t”
(Since this came from a picture of a pink cartoon pony I’m not quaking in my boots)

“F*cking brainless bimbo”
(Such a sisterly response)

“No wonder you support page 3 you are more t*ts than brain”
(Just a flavour of the kind of comments page 3 girls get every day FROM OTHER WOMEN. Nice)

“Another white woman telling us all to calm down”
(Strange this, firstly because I’m not white and secondly because, call me old fashioned, but I didn’t think one’s ethnicity should be a factor when judging the validity of one’s opinion).

“You have the maturity of a 13 year old girl”
(Got about a gazillion tweets from this person. This was my favourite, though. Insulting me by comparing my mentality to that of a young woman is obviously INCREDIBLY feminist).

“I guess being a champion Oxford Union Debater is why you’re so good at talking out both sides of your mouth”
(This user researched me enough to know details of what I got up to at uni but not enough to find my email address, identify herself and provide a reasoned response to the article that upset her so much).

My personal favourites were:

“How many feminists have an entertainment agent, really? Feminism is just a USB for your telly work”; and

“It’s a JOKE you work with teenagers and write for Cosmopolitan”

(Clearly, because I’m on telly and write for Cosmo that excludes me from either feminism or campaigning. Pardon me for saying the feminist movement can be exclusionary).

Now, I understand this anger isn't all about me. That would be incredibly egotistical. It's a culmulative rage born out of perceived or very real injustices. And yes, it’s hard to be a woman in today’s culture. It’s also fucking hard to be a man, particularly a young man in 2014. It’s hard to be gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered or non-binary. It’s a struggle to be a human, sometimes. And calling each other ‘pieces of sh*t” on the web, assuming we must be right because we’re offended, doesn’t help anyone.

As well as this there was the woman who tweeted everyone from Caitlin Moran to Everyday Sexism inciting them to join in with the bullying using tweets like “meet the feminist who has an even worse opinion of women than the men who abuse us” – something she had (wrongly)deduced from my article and written her own lengthy blog about. Fortunately I know Laura Bates (she’s a fellow Cosmo award winner) and am therefore quite sure she has better things to do with her time- I’m fairly certain Caitlin does as well.

The same woman wrote at length about how I was being disrespectful to the female audience of This Morning by saying I ‘dumbed down’ my body image message for my appearances (it’s just the format of the show. It’s frothy morning telly not Newsnight) then said she herself refused to write for The Sun and The Daily Mail because of their ‘women bashing’. Assuming they’ve actually asked her to write for them (unlikely) she appeared to be saying “The Sun and Daily Mail readership don’t DESERVE my brilliant, feminist thoughts”. Since they’re the two biggest selling newspapers in the UK journalists like her refusing to contribute would simply mean there weren’t a range of viewpoints displayed in these publications. Luckily, there are women who have overlooked their personal preferences to offer alternative views in these tabloids, like the brilliant Sonia Poulton and Kris Hallenga.

What I HAVE discovered and would like to add as a kind of disclaimer to my original article, is that my main critics already know each other, at least online. I was unaware of this and thought therefore that they were representative of a certain feminist factor. I was wrong and for that I apologise. It's actually a twitter clique have regular little conversations about me and what a terrible, awful human being I am *snigger snigger* like they do in poorly crafted US films about the challenges of High School. It’s flattering, really.

It’s been an interesting few days attempting to engage with people who think sending snarky tweets all day is genuine activism. Now, though, it’s time to return to the real world. A world in which I visit 3-4 schools a week giving teenagers advice on how to exist day to day in our culture (one of their biggest problems being bullying on the web) and help them to work out what THEIR opinions and life rules are, because I have no interest in shoving my own down their throats. A world in which I write articles for the Sun on things like how to create a positive relationship with food in your young child and articles for Cosmo contributing to their long-standing tradition of what I fervently believe IS empowering for women. That’s MY brand of activism. I probably won't go down in history as an important feminist but I know I'm helping people (because they tell me) and that's all that matters to me, ultimately.

P.S. Thank you to the equal volume of Feminist Times readers who have contacted me this week to say they either wholeheartedly agreed my article, or didn’t agree with it all but thought it was a refreshing take, or explained in a reasonable manner, without resorting to expletives, why they thought I was wrong. Tweet on, sistas!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

An Ode to Recovery

It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week next week (24th Feb – 2nd March) and at Body Gossip we’re encouraging our community to share the bit that is so often missed from eating disorder stories shared in the media – RECOVERY.

So, to kick-start our discussion on what recovery and being recovered means to you – Here’s my experience:

I’ve been recovered from my eating disorder for six years this summer. That is almost as long as I was in the grips of my illness.

Just as eating disorders begin and end in the mind, so does recovery. For me, recovering was the process of rediscovering who I was and learning to like, trust and listen to that person. Today, it feels instinctual to do these things.

When I speak about what it was like to have an eating disorder, it’s as though it happened to a close friend I don’t speak to anymore. I can’t accurately evoke the feelings I’m describing – The anxiety, obsession and crippling inadequacy – because I just don’t feel them anymore.

That’s what recovery represents to me – Letting go. If I had to paint a picture of what recovery looks like, it would be a ball of destructive energy, floating away from your body and mind and up into the sky, where it dissipates.

When I was sick I used to think recovering would mean having something or someone concrete to blame, or being able to track the genesis of my eating disorder to one solitary moment that would make everything fall into place. But I’ve realised it’s so much more complicated than that and I could spend my life asking myself those questions.

My eating disorder was ugly in so many ways – It rotted me from the inside out as I harboured bitterness and resentment and the feeling of being misunderstood. I was angry – At the world and at myself. That frustration reared its head in all of my personal relationships – With family, friends and the boyfriends I had at the time. Recovery felt like a release for all those feelings. It had been so long since I felt it was okay simply to be me. It was both simple and wonderful.

Now, when I wake up in the morning I’m not engulfed by guilt for simply being alive. I don’t begin the day with a headache and weary bones, my body still in shock from all the things I had subjected it to the day before. I don’t walk around the world in a fug, unable to see anything or anyone clearly. I don’t desperately seek validation with one hand and push it away with the other. I’m not constantly playing out an emotionally exhausting drama in my head in which I battle with myself. Recovery has meant mental clarity and having the physical energy to do the things I want to do with my life.

Recovering has meant being truly able to give compassion, kindness and love to others and embracing the love I receive because I know I deserve it. It has allowed me to stop painting myself as a victim and to really take control of my existence, knowing that the behaviours I indulged in whilst sick only gave the illusion of control and that life is both precious and short. I now really understand what confidence is – It’s a subtle yet solid feeling at your very core.

I used to believe the path to beauty lay in punishing my body until I moulded it into some arbitrary and completely unattainable shape – Something that would finally make me socially acceptable. I now know that having enough self-esteem to want to be healthy and accepting yourself, perceived ‘flaws’ and all, are the most beautiful things things of all.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A Christmas Rant

I should be writing a piece for the Independent right now. That’s what I should be doing. But I had to stop what I was doing because I’ve had an epiphany. And as you all know, epiphanies should always be paid attention to and, preferably, blogged about.

On those days when I’m working from home I like to enjoy the audio-company of a rather remarkable radio broadcaster called James O’Brien. For those unfamiliar with his work, James presents the mid-morning show on LBC 97.3. Far from the usual blatant political agenda-pushing, passive aggressive huffer-puffery and people ringing in to say there are too many immigrants with plasma TVs, James’ show represents his genuine desire to gain a greater understanding of a social issue, using the thoughts and experiences of callers with something valuable to contribute. I love him a bit.

Anyway, today in response to the news that 40% of 13 year old girls are worried about becoming fat, James asked parents to call in and answer honestly this simple question:

Would you rather have a teenage daughter who was fat, or one who was obsessed with not putting on weight?

The natural instinct is to say “I’d rather she was fat” of course, but then as James pointed out what most parents want is for their children to be happy and so the real question is which of these paths is more likely to lead to genuine happiness and the answer is probably neither. Why we seem hell bent as a society on making fat people feel as miserable and apologetic as possible is a question for another blog.

By 12.55, five minutes before the show’s conclusion, James had (rightly, in my humble) identified that the problem is there are less and less opportunities for children to be physically active, both in and outside of school. As a result they are becoming larger and more sedentary. Rather than ask why the government has removed funding for huge swathes of community sports centres throughout the UK and refused to raise the minimum requirement for physical education lessons beyond a paltry average of one hour a week in state schools, our reaction has been to have school nurses weighing and measuring children as young as five, giving nutrition lessons to primary school children and having ‘experts’ write for the Daily Fail advising parents to tell their kids they are fat.

Cue seven year olds, who have not yet developed cerebral critical facility and therefore do not really understand what they are being told, coming home and ticking off their parents for giving them a cereal bar and speaking in dark, portentous undertones about how ‘bad food makes you die’ and ‘being fat is wrong’. Then we wonder why, by the time they are thirteen, young people are not only unduly concerned about their weight but also intent on judging each other bodies and subjecting each other to body image related bullying in the playground.

We have, in essence, made our children overweight, blamed them for it then robbed them of a carefree childhood by bombarding them with unnecessary information, in an action that might as well have been designed to give them life-long self-esteem and body image issues. Bravo, society. Well done.

Anyway, none of that is the point. Anyone who has ever seen me on TV or read anything I have ever written knows my feelings on this issue (it’s always good to reiterate, though. As my Mum says – “I’m not nagging I’m reiterating”).

So, back to James’ show. At 12.55pm the inevitable ‘obesity statistic quoting person’ rang in to inform us all, Katie Hopkins style, that we had been pussy-footing around the issue and that if we allow children to be fat they are going to DIE immediately if not sooner and therefore it’s our DUTY to intervene by whatever means possible and tell them in no uncertain terms that fatness is NOT OKAY. I can’t remember her name, but since she was talking absolute arse I think it’s probably irrelevant.

That’s when I realised something.

….Because whilst it is true to say there are some health risks associated with being morbidly obese, there are none to suggest you WILL get type two diabetes, have a heart attack and snuff it if you’re a little bit chubby. And since the term ‘obese’ is applied to anyone with a BMI over 23 (which is slightly chubby/a tad curvy in most cases) the statistics aren’t accurate.

When we think of an ‘obese’ person we think of someone in an American documentary who’s confined to their bed. Yet I could show you hundreds of pictures of women as small as a size eight or ten whom YOU wouldn’t term obese but the medical community WOULD. This has to do with BMI not taking into account bone and muscle density (I refer you to my blog ‘the B in BMI stands for Bollocks’ for further info).

So what the Hopkinses and Brickses and people who are ironically raising their own blood pressure and making it more likely they will die of stress (the REAL number one killer in the UK) are doing is this:

Taking the statistics about the health risks associated with being morbidly obese, applying it to anyone who has ever been termed ‘obese’ and concluding that 1/3 of the country are going to die.

It’s fine for them to work themselves up into a frenzy pontificating about such nonsense (as long as we treat it with the contempt it deserves) but please, let’s not pass this burden down to our kids. They were healthier when we just let them be.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Imagine....

Imagine a world where your friend says
“I can’t eat that, I’ll get fat”

and you’re natural response was not

“no, you won’t”

But

“so what?”…………………………

Imagine if we acknowledged that there are worse things than being fat. That being crippled by self-loathing, depriving yourself of the nutrients you need to survive, spending time and energy that could be better expended on living your life counting calories or locking yourself in a germ ridden, windowless cell to huff and puff on a running machine to nowhere for hours of your week in the vain hope of looking like some arbitrary, socially constructed beauty ideal is in fact a lot worse than being ‘fat’.

Imagine if you gave yourself permission to eat whatever you liked.

Imagine if you understood that a big part of the reason we overeat is because we’ve spent so long restricting ourselves and reading about the latest ‘celeb craze’ for cutting out food groups according to colour or carb content or listening to the advice of other equally confused people that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies, which have always known, innately, what we need.

Imagine if we didn’t wheel out the body extremes – the sixty three stone man whose confined to his bed or woman so thin she is incapable of reproducing or the deformed genitals or the cosmetic surgery gone-wrong and recreate the Victorian freak show on the small screens of our nation every single night so that we can laugh and point and ridicule the vulnerable and disillusioned, being neither educated nor encouraged to show compassion but instead sending silent thanks to the heavens that we aren’t them.

Imagine if society hadn’t made the naturally curvaceous feel so apologetic for the fact that they take up space that they feel compelled to lambast and bully the naturally slender, endlessly using the term ‘real women’ to spitefully imply an imaged sexual advantage.

Imagine if advertisers admitted that they deal in fantasy, that they’ve hijacked the ‘real woman’ label and used it to describe women who have spent seven hours in hair and makeup, had their clothes chosen by a stylist and placed under lighting strategically designed to make them look effortlessly gorgeous in a bid to persuade us that they ‘aren’t airbrushed’ and therefore we are represented.

Imagine if we didn’t spend hours of our lives pouring over pictures of famous people devoid of their slap, delighting that they too have a blemish, or scrutinising bikini pictures to search for that inch of cellulite in a bid to reassure ourselves that it is, in fact, okay to be a human being whilst at the same time being told in no uncertain terms that to be in the outside world without makeup on or wear a bikini if not anatomically ‘perfect’ will expose us to ridicule.

Imagine if the muscle wasn’t a motif of manliness. Imagine if boys were allowed to be boys and take joy in simply playing sports for the fun of it, rather than being sold lurid powders and shakes by the’ personal trainer’ they don’t need who is earning commission out of their desire to look like the digitally beefed-up images on the front of so-called ‘health’ magazines.

Imagine if we were able to grasp that teenagers today have grown up in a world where the internet invades their consciousness and bombards them with ever more-explicit information every minute of their waking life. Imagine if we spoke honestly about pornography and rather than hiding our concerns under a veneer of faux-respectability left-over from a long-gone Victorian-style sense of repression we simply said “not every woman is a size six with pneumatic implants and delights in anal sex in just the same way that not every man has a ten inch dick”.

Imagine if we were able to grasp that different races are predisposed to different body types and that if we continue to endlessly criticise men and women for not conforming to an increasingly polar and unrealistic blu-print we are, by default, racists.

Imagine if we didn’t use the term ‘disabled’ – if body difference was seen as simply that and we could comprehend the notion that someone might move, think or live in a different way and using different means to us but that does not render them inferior.

Imagine if we didn’t fear ageing. Imagine if we celebrated the wrinkle as a sign of wisdom, maturity and experience. Imagine if we didn’t pour our disposable income into injecting poison into our faces to freeze the muscles so that we can visually reclaim a time when we knew less than we did now. Imagine what it might be like for a whole generation of middle-aged women if they didn’t feel suddenly invisible and if we valued their thoughts, opinions and physical forms in the same way we did their male counterparts.

Imagine if young girls weren’t terrified into starvation at the point of entering womanhood because their stretch marks, hips and breasts were a sign of becoming a grown up and that was actually perceived as a positive thing.

Imagine if we didn’t constantly tell young girls they were ‘princesses’, thus romanticising the idea of a life spent anaesthetised against the realities of life so that they spend years fantasising about the one day they’ll spend money they can’t afford to be trussed up like a Disney character in a room full of fairy lights being told how wonderful they look all day when in fact they are making the most important legal commitment of their lives. Imagine if on that day they were actually allowed to look like the person whoever they’re committing to fell in love with, rather than the ‘princess’ they were always told they were.

Imagine if we stopped muddying the waters of conversations about body image rights with misguided notions about 'health'. Imagine if we stopped saying things like 'you shouldn't be allowed to buy a size 24 dress because you aren't healthy!' and realised that we have no idea how 'healthy' someone is based on a perfunctory visual assessment and even if we did, this would have no relevance to and therefore no impact on their right to wear stylish clothes.

Imagine if we starved of metaphorical oxygen the public figures who have made a lucrative living out of trolling the nation with their vile, elitist opinions on the sole and right way to live. Imagine if we didn’t watch them on our TV screens or tweet about our outrage and simply treated them with the contemptuous silence they deserved.

Imagine if we celebrated everyone for their uniqueness and individuality.

Imagine if we gave everyone the right to inhabit their body.

Imagine how much more we’d get done.

Imagine how liberated we’d feel.

Imagine how many of the issues which blight the lives and curtail the potential of millions of British people would magically disappear.

Yeah, I think I’d like to live in a world like that.