Friday, 30 December 2011

New Year: New You?

I detest Christmas parties in suburbia. I really do. But I have friends and family who live there and so to them I must go. I hate them primarily because I don’t feel I have anything of value to add to the prevailing themes of conversation. This isn’t because I have particularly low self-esteem, before you start conjecturing. It’s because at Christmas parties, everyone talks about their boyfriends, girlfriends, children/babies, plans to redecorate and cars they’re thinking of buying and my life is, fortuitously, bereft of all of these things. I have a bloody interesting career to chat about, but no one wants to talk about anything remotely work-related over a minced pie and mulled wine. They just want to ask me why I’m not married yet and if it's because I’m a secret lesbian.

To avoid a Mr Darcy-esque party demeanour (i.e. standing, mute and sulkishly in a corner somewhere casting aspersions on everyone’s dancing abilities), I’ve honed my ability to seek out the person in the room who looks like they might be interested in discussing body image. See, blog readers, really I’m always at work. Devoted to collecting the nation’s opinions - Some potentially different, new and interesting perspectives on the body confidence issues of the day.

Accept, of course, Christmas isn’t an ideal time to gain any sort of sensible perspective on the subject. From anyone. In winter, absolutely everyone loses their minds and confuses their poor, unsuspecting bodies. People who can usually be relied upon for unrelenting logic and profound sociological commentary become slaves to the whims of the season and start spouting clichéd old crap. December is a month to gorge – To indulge in all the forbidden delights we associate with celebration. Wine is quaffed, meals are four times their usual size and the tin of Quality Street is never far from our eager, grasping fingers.

But that’s ok, because we know our resultant expanding waistlines can be whipped back to their former svelte selves come January – The month of discipline, the month to eschew all pleasure, the month when we become an idealised version of our former, gluttonous selves.

For those of us who have a more long-standing, less Christmas-specific body bugbear, January presents the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Yes, we decide, this will finally be the year we actually use our gym membership, or lose that pesky weight, or save up for a long-hankered-after cosmetic procedure, or learn how to wear pure white without spilling bolognaise sauce down ourselves. We begin to fantasise about a future in which we are a leaner, more poised, cooler, more attractive, more popular version of ourselves.

But it’s all bollocks. And deep down, you know it.

I could wax lyrical at this juncture about how the one thing we’ll never truly escape is ourselves. I could go a little spiritual on your asses. But instead I’ll resort to good old fashioned empiricism. I’ll look at the evidence.

Every single year, millions of people throughout the Western World resolve to mould their bodies into a different, more aesthetically pleasing form, convinced that this will guarantee them the fulfilment and happiness they so desperately crave. And yet, come September, the majority less resemble the idealised version of perfection they believe they should emulate and are considerably more depressed as a result.

We’re trapped on an endless binge/purge carousel, bombarded with conflicting messages telling us to indulge one moment and to deprive ourselves the next. On and on we run, on an endless treadmill to absolutely nowhere, slaves to the billion pound industries that depend on our greed and our consequent guilt.

Well, I’m getting off. I’m tired of running. It’s exhausting, futile and bloody irritating. There are enough tangible and worthwhile things to hope for in this World, without being blinded by the neon lights of an entirely false and synthetic hope being rammed down my throat by the hands of the advertising industry. There are far more productive activities I could be engaged in than calculating the calories in a low fat fromage frais.

This New Year, I’ve pledged to change my attitude, not my body. I’ll resolve not to change a physical thing, and spend the time that saves me doing something I can really be proud of, and that might actually make me a little more happy.

At Body Gossip, we’re hoping you’ll do the same. We’re calling you to arms: This year, change your attitude, not your body. Tell us what you WON’T be changing by tweeting us at @_BodyGossip.

During the evenings of January 2nd and 3rd, I’ll be on Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio London respectively, telling that nation EXACTLY what I think about New Years’ Resolutions. For details on how, when and why to tune in, follow me on Twitter @BodyGossipTash.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Racism and the Beauty Debate

Beyonce. Halle Berry. Leona Lewis. Barack Obama. What do all these people have in common? Answer: They are all mixed race. By which I mean that one of their parents can be broadly termed as ‘Caucasian’ and the other as ‘Black’. Because of course there are many ways to be mixed race and most of would discover that we are to a degree, if we took the trouble to trace our heritage.

Recently, I was in an East London all girls’ school. I asked any students who could name something they didn’t like about their bodies to put their hands up. One young woman raised her hand and said “I don’t like my skin, Miss”. The shock must have registered on my face. At an age where acne reigns, this girl had one of the most beautifully smooth, radiant skin types I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness first hand. “Errr, why?” I asked.

“Well” she said “you would probably look at me and think I’m mixed race”.( I confess I probably would have done.) “But I’m not” she continued “and I wouldn’t want people to think I am”.

However understanding and tolerant you believe you are as a teacher, there are certain statements which will inevitably get your heckles up. I have a complicated racial heritage and I have two younger brothers who are mixed race in the more literal sense of the word (same mother, different father, grew up together, the word ‘half’ doesn’t feature in our vocabulary). I took a deep breath and asked her why it should be so terrible to be confused with a mixed race person.

If I’d met this young lady on a social occasion, her statement would have induced a lengthy rant from me vis a vie her apparent intolerance of mixed race people. However, on this occasion, I’m so glad I took the time to probe further. Turns out she was bullied for being lighter skinned when she first started school (which is comprised mainly of black and Asian students) because of some ill-conceived notion that all mixed race girls are ‘loose’.

It’s relatively simple to figure out how this totally unfounded reputation came about. You very rarely see a dark skinned black woman held up in the mainstream media as being beautiful, and even if she is it’s with certain concessions (she will usually have poker straight hair, for example). As a result, lighter skinned and mixed race women, who happen to conform to our current beauty paradigms, have induced the kind of envy which only a well-placed rumour can quash. It’s the same reason all conventionally beautiful woman have constraints placed upon them by their peers, to some extent. It’s also the same reason why mixed race men are often automatically assessed as “gay” (oh, the stories my brothers could regale you with on this score. It’s ALMOST as if their insane good looks made other men jealous and feel the need to spread hearsay that would put women off and take them out of the competition).

There are two issues here, in my opinion. The first harkens back to, yes, I’m sorry folks, but that thing I’ve been banging on about since I founded Gossip School in 2008- The Spectrum of Beauty. If we saw a greater variety of races in the public eye, everyone could (rightly) feel beautiful, and no one would feel the need to sooth their jealousy by throwing racial slanders about their lighter skinned counterparts into the rumour mill. This really shouldn’t be difficult. I could name you a dozen breathtakingly beautiful dark skinned black women in my immediate circle of friends. Seriously, Vogue, call me – I’ll pass along their details.

The second issue might make me a little unpopular, but I feel strongly that someone needs to say it. Mixed race people need to embrace both sides of their heritage. They are not black. Neither are they white. The “first black woman to win an Oscar” (Halle Berry) was mixed race. The “first black President” is mixed race. The “first black female artist to cross into the mainstream charts” was mixed race (Etta James). We should allow mixed race people to be proud of who they are and the entirety of where they come from. In terms of the beauty debate, mixed race women should be allowed to take their place in the spectrum of beauty, alongside woman who have darker and indeed lighter skins.

Ethnic diversity is given lip service in the world of beauty and fashion as it is, without mixed race women being thrown into the same category as black women and the powers that be thinking “oh, that’s ok, we’ve ticked our racial equality box for this season”. All races, in their natural state, deserve a place in our notion of what beauty means.

Of course, by the year 3,000 we’ll all be mixed race, scientists predict, and this whole debate, thank goodness, will be utterly defunct. Until then, however uncomfortable it might be to address, we need to realise the detrimental affect our narrow ideals of beauty are having on society, and that in the beauty and fashion worlds, racism certainly hasn’t gone away.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)

Vintage movie soundtrack devotees of yesteryear (I’m doing my best to work my way around the phrase ‘people who are a little bit old’) will remember the track which defined the summer of 1997 –Baz Lurhman’s ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’.

For those still relentlessly sipping at the fontain of youth, I’ll elaborate – The track involves a marvellously malefluous, wise-sounding American type addresses the ‘ladies and gentlemen of the class of nine-y-n-dee seyveeen’ at a graduation ceremony. He implores them, most persuasively to wear sunscreen and then goes on to dispense a series of nuggets of advice, which have “no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience’. As you would expect, despite the lack of empirical evidence, the wisdom he imparts is more than a little amazeballs. (And this is all set against the background of Prince’s ‘When Dove’s Cry’ as sung by the soulful young Choirboy character from Romeo & Juliet – Which is just one reason why Lurhman is a bit of a genius).

Two lines stick in my mind, in particular. The first is:

“Do one thing every day that scares you”.

I’m fairly sure he doesn’t mean sticking your head out of a moving car window or setting fire to your own knickers. He is referring, I believe, to bravery – The kind which propels you to take an opportunity, or strike up a conversation, or trust your own instinct.

The second is:

“In years to come, you’ll look back on photos of yourself now and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how fabulous you really looked. You are NOT as fat as you think you are”.

This is a photo of me which was taken when I was at the height of my very short-lived straight-sized modelling career, which happened to coincide with the time that my eating disorder really got it claws into my too-weary-to-protest brain (around 2003):

My boyfriend of the time had insisted on taking the photograph in a fruitless attempt to demonstrate that I was being an utter dick (hence the expression on my face). I had, minutes previously refused to leave the house convinced I was fat, hideous and that everyone was looking at me, owing to aforementioned fat hideousness.

In the, to put it politely, confused place that was my headspace at that time, I was a troll. Utterly gruesome. I punished my body for my perception of its (fairly minimal, I now realise) flaws on a daily basis.

I look at that photo now and think that I can only dream of an equivocal sort of hotness. If only I had realised it at the time.

(p.s. There’s a moral to this story. But you’re clever, I’ll allow you to extrapolate it by yourself).

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Plastic Surgery - Another Midnight Debate on Radio 5 Live

So, in a not-at-all weird scenario, tonight I went head-to-head with Body Gossip celebrity ambassador Lizzie Cundy on Radio 5 Live, debating our perceived pros and cons of plastic surgery.

I began my radio appearance (and will begin this blog) with a disclaimer: I do not judge anyone who makes the decision to go under the knife. In my line of work, I’m probably more aware than anyone of the immense social pressure put on individuals to match up to an impossible-to-organically-achieve beauty aesthetic.

However, it’s also my view that all these protestations about ‘personal choice’ by the pro-surgery clan are buying into a myth: That there is any ‘choice’ involved whatsoever.

I will defend the rights of any person to look however they damn well choose. That’s however THEY chose. NOT how our insanely body-conscious culture TELLS them they should look.

Most people would uniformly and unreservedly agree that darker women feeling that they have to bleach their skin in order to emulate Caucasian standards of beauty is morally wrong. At least, one would hope they do. So what is the difference between telling someone that their race or ethnicity is not aesthetically acceptable and telling them that they’re not allowed to have the nose or the breasts nature bestowed them with? (I will concede here that there is a bit of a difference, but hope you will see the point I'm attempting to demonstrate)

Lizzie argued that plastic surgery can make you feel better about yourself. She cited friends who had been bullied for their appearance. I asked: Would it not be better to channel our time and energies into changing attitudes, so people aren’t bullied for their physical appearance in the first place?

Here is what I believe: Life is a gigantic whacking great learning curve. We’re here to grow, emotionally, intellectually spiritually. Part of that is learning self-acceptance. If we opt to have invasive medical procedures as a ‘quick fix’ for our perceived flaws, how are we learning? How are we accepting ourselves?

We have to look beyond the choice of the individual on this subject, too. I have sleepless nights worrying about the effect increasingly accessible cosmetic surgery is having on us as a society. There is more than one way to be beautiful, and more and more people are opting to gamble their health and bank balances, striving to fit a very narrow (and, let’s face it, boring) version of attractive (which, ironically, probably won’t even be en vogue in 20 years time).

Cosmetic surgery is being normalised. Pretty soon it’ll become an expectation. If I wanted to live in a world where having a facelift is as ordinary as wearing foundation I’d move to Hollywood. The vision of a country populated by identikit Barbie and Ken hybrids is hellish enough to rival any horror movie, in my view.

Look at the sex symbols of the 1970s. They all had dodgy teeth, physiques that didn’t belie an age spent in the gym and *whisper it* less than perfectly symmetrical faces. But, they were gorgeous, they were desired and, most crucially, they were UNIQUE.

True gorgeousness comes from working your own unique version of attractive. And that is what I teach as Gossip School. Obviously, I’m not here to tell anyone not to wear makeup, or experiment with hairstyles, or clothing. Hell, do anything that’s easily reversible, or you can wash off with soap and water. You only live once.

But no one should ever be made to apologise for looking like them and that, I fear, is exactly what the cosmetic surgery industry is encouraging us all to do.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fat Talk Free Week

My third year of University was marked by several life-changing events. It was the first time I had my heart broken. It was when my singing ability was noticed by visiting theatre directors (thus beginning my rather ill-advised later foray into the music industry, convinced that it was my destiny). It was also the only time in my life when I have ever been actively thin.

There’s a huge misconception when it comes to bulimia- People put it in the same bracket as anorexia, and assume that the physical symptoms, which include extreme thinness, will be the same.

Bulimia, in the classic sense of the word, doesn’t make you thin. There are certain bulimia sub-types that do, but they’re more closely related to anorexia than anything else. The body is a wise beast, and will hold onto as much food as it possibly can, when it knows it will later be deprived of it. Bulimics may think they’re being clever (I certainly did) by ensuring that they purge everything they have eaten, but the body will, according to Professor Janet Treasure (eating disorder expert) find ways to retain about 60% of what you have eaten.

The reason I became thin at this juncture in my life was because I didn’t have time to be bulimic for a few months – The pressure of my studies meant I was always on the move or in the library and I shrank to a size 8 – miniscule for my 6 foot frame. (The first thing my genuine friends said to me when I returned home from holidays was “my GOD are you alright you look AWFUL!” Harsh but fair.)

So, the time came for me to get my results. Formerly a straight A classic perfectionist/overachiever type during college, my eating disorder had eroded at my ability to study during my first two years of university, where I’d barely scraped passes. In my third year I’d still had enough sense of self to pull my proverbial socks up and give the whole academia thing some elbow grease, meaning I managed to pull off a respectable 2:1. Delighted, I dashed into the kitchen of my family home to break the news to my Mum and brothers.

A family friend had popped over for coffee, as I bounded into the room, waving my results aloft and squealing with barely contained glee this family friend said “Natasha! You must be so PROUD of yourself! You are STICK thin!!”.

The incident took place almost a decade ago, yet I can still remember the all-encompassing feeling of shock and the crushing disappointment. I remember distinctly how the message permeated my every fibre and from then on, for a very long time, I believed that it didn’t matter what you achieved in life, all anyone would ever notice about you would be the size of your thighs.

Of course, this was UTTER BOLLOCKS, as are most of the body beliefs we tell ourselves on a daily basis. And yet, for the next 6 years, I continued to misguidedly live my life by this false premise.

You might believe that a casual discussion about the circumference of your belly, or your diet and exercise routine is part of life. You might reason that it’s an aspect of how we communicate and bond. In fact, this is FAT TALK.

Fat talk is more damaging than we can ever know. It helps perpetuate all the evils of a society ridiculously obsessed with image. By engaging in fat talk, we become complicit in a process which most of us are diametrically opposed to.

Crucially, we don’t know who is privy to our fat talk. A vulnerable person, or a child, might absorb our flippant comment – They might live their lives by a false premise and it might do them a world of damage.

So, blog readers – I challenge you to this:

This week is Fat Talk Free Week. It's a global event being launched in the UK by the Succeed Foundation and culminating in an event with some of the UK's leading body image movers and shakers on Friday and Saturday.

For one week, we at Body Gossip want YOU to give up repeating one derogatory body comment you regularly say. It might be “I need to get to the gym, or I’ll get fat”, it might be telling a friend “look at you! You have lost so much weight!” or it might be “I wish I had his or her bottom”. (At Body Gossip Ruth’s behest, I hereby pledge to give up saying “television makes me look really jowly”).

Follow @BodyGossipSarah on Twitter to join the discussion and tell us what YOU will pledge to stop saying this week.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Educating Britain

Educating Britain
Today, the Nation is debating the examination board’s proposal to give students from less economically privileged schools ‘extra credit’ for getting good grades. Essentially, if over-simplistically - this means that if you are from a less wealthy area, you might get an A where someone from a more economically privileged background might get a B.

It’s a well meaning gesture, meant to give some acknowledgement to students who have had to defy the example of their peers in order to excel academically. I can certainly see where they are coming from.

Michael Gove, however, has branded this ‘social engineering’ in a characteristically verging-on-fascist huffy-puffy style rant in today’s Daily Mail. I won’t bore you with the details thereof.

I’m in a very fortunate position, having taken the Body Gossip education programme to hundreds of schools, both private and state, throughout the UK. I’ve seen first hand that there are incredibly dedicated teachers and talented students in both sectors. That’s why I don’t agree with the exam board’s proposals, (but not for the reasons that Mr Gove wants me not to agree, I hasten to add):

The exam board’s suggestion is based on two inaccurate and potentially dangerous assumptions:

1. Private schools are automatically better than state schools. This simply isn’t the case. It depends entirely on how you define a ‘good school’. Is it facilities? The quality of the students’ lunch in the canteen? The newness of the furniture? Or is it in fact the quality of the teaching and the genuine desire of the staff to allow each student to reach their own personal best?

2. This proposal buys totally into the all-pervading myth that the most high-achieving people in life get good school grades and that by sending someone to university you are guaranteeing that person success.

Not everyone is academic and not everyone is cut out for university. This doesn’t mean they are stupid or destined for a life of poverty. Sir Ken Robinson, a legend in education circles and, if you are me (and I am) the World’s leading authority on all things school-related, says the issue is the system, not the people in it. He points out, quite rightly, that if you followed our education system through to its logical conclusion, you’d be a university lecturer. Essentially, we are training children from the age of 4 to be lecturers. But not everyone is destined, or indeed wants, to be a lecturer....When you look at it like that it seems vaugely absurd.

The entire system is antiquated and teachers and students alike are being constrained by it. It needs to be shaken up – And you can see how by comparison today’s proposed changes to exam grading seems like a tokenistic and futile gesture.

The issue, in my opinion, is that not enough respect is given to less academic, or vocational qualifications. We never acknowledge, as a society, that EVERYONE is brilliant at SOMETHING. We don’t give as much support people who fall outside the traditional, academic subjects. We never take into account that it takes a myriad of varying skill-sets to make the world go round.

You only have to hear some mothers in the school yard boasting to one another about how little Josh can recite the whole of the works of Shakespeare backwards whilst developing a theory to rival quantum whilst his peers are gluing glitter onto egg cartoons to realise what an insanely over-competitive society we live in. And it’s constantly bashing our feelings of self worth from an early age. Making us believe that if we are not the best, we are worth nothing at all.

This isn’t fluffy nonsense, despite what many people may think, because increasingly people are opting for the ‘worth nothing at all’ option. People speak of when schools were ruled with an iron fist and failure was ‘not an option’, reminiscing in a ‘glory days’ style manner, conveniently failing to take into account that these were ALSO the days where you were pretty much guaranteed a job, whatever your academic level, and an average salaried person could also afford a mortgage, car, 2.4 children etc.

Young people today are getting the message that if they’re not top of the class it’s the end of their life – And very rarely is this message actually coming from their teachers.

But really, this is all just speculation and personal opinion. I am no expert. I have, however, found that this proposal and subsequent debate has some bearing on my own findings, as someone who teaches self-esteem and body confidence classes in schools.

You see, if working with students who self-harm suffer from eating disorders and body dysmophia (all a result of crippling low feelings of self worth) has taught me anything, it is this: It is not merely economic background which can be an impediment to someone’s success in school.

What about all the students who have an emotionally unstable home life? Are being physically or emotionally abused? Whose parents are splitting up, or constantly arguing? Who are being bullied? Who have suffered a bereavement? Who have an eating disorder?

I am all for judging each pupil on their own individual circumstances. But I’m also not so naive as to believe that we have the time, money or resources to conduct a thorough analysis of the life of every student in the UK.

Having worked with thousands of teenagers from a variety of social backgrounds since I founded Gossip School in 2008, I can say with some certainty that emotional issues know no class. They affect teenagers from all walks of life.

The young people who are predisposed to do best in school are simply happy: Happy to be in school, happy generally, happy at the prospect of their future, happy that they are enough and they can succeed in whatever their chosen field happens to be. And that is something the examination board are not in a position to assess.

To get Gossip School into your school or college go to

Monday, 19 September 2011

Anticipatory Blog: London Fashion Week Size 0 Debate: Snore Off

If you’ve ever had to endure anything more frustrating than sitting on the top deck of a London bus (captained by an unusually unaggressive driver), whilst gridlocked on the roundabout next to Waterloo station, wedged next to a robust man who smells a bit (and insists, inexplicably, on sitting as though he has a python in his trousers), whilst girls in the seat behind you drone in endless ‘I am achingly cool’ monotone about ‘the modelling world’ without screaming/throwing things/attempting to fling yourself bodily through the bus window, then truly you are a better woman than me.

Yes, it is that time of year again, when all the excitement that heralds the autumn clothing season is celebrated, in what is known as London Fashion Week. Industry insiders will salivate with anticipation as the latest collections are unleashed to the public. Glossy mags will speak of nothing else for at least a fortnight. Londoners will be subjected to a surge of designer and model wannabes descending on our city like a plague of lofty, fragile, identically dressed* locusts. And you just know that someone, somewhere is going to re-ignite the size 0 debate.

*This year it is dirty platinum bobs underneath Charlie Chaplin-style bowler hats, gothic purple lipstick, leopard print ankle boots and a skirt that looks a bit like those worn by the dolls your Nan puts on top of toilet rolls, only made out of transparent material (with what appear to be cycling shorts underneath to protect one’s modesty). You heard it here first, people.

For body confidence campaigners, having to answer endless size-0 related questions is invariably what London fashion week signifies. Having now been at the helm of Body Gossip (along with Ruth ‘The Legend’ Rogers) since 2008 I grow weary of the entire thing, frankly.

It isn’t that I don’t think the size 0 debate is one worth having, I just wish that we could absorb what was extrapolated from last year’s debate and move it up to the next level.

One of the most common criticisms thrown at Body Gossip is that ‘body image is soooooooooooooo 2009’. It seems that anything revolving around body confidence is considered passé. Which is utterly daft when you consider the extent to which it continues to dominate people’s lives.

The reason people think body image is boring, or has been done to death, is that the same tired-old arguments are being churned out on an endlessly tedious conveyor belt of badly reported eating disorder ‘real life stories’, pictures of emaciated models, celeb gains-weight-loses-weight-gains weight-loses-weight (ad infinitum) press articles and programmes until we all want to scream ‘oh, will you just SOD OFF?’.

There are fresh opinions, brand spanking new research, compromises and solutions out there. I hear them every day. The fact that I find body image so endlessly fascinating isn’t because I am a brainless moron or have the memory of a hungover goldfish. It’s because there is a lot to say and to comprehend.

So let’s start saying and comprehending it.

For example – Here are a few thoughts I have had/heard about London Fashion week, in no particular order:

Straight-size models are super slender not always because they are starving themselves but because they are CHILDREN. When people discuss the detrimental effect of catwalk images, no one ever seems to take into account that most high fashion models are about 14 and haven’t had the chance to develop breasts/hips etc yet. The models I saw on the bus looked like 8 year olds, stretched. The idea that any fully grown woman would consider it in any way aspirational to squish themselves into an equivocal size is actually laughable.

Fashion is art. And the artistic ‘movement’ to which it would belong would be 'abstract'. Yes, I have grasped the rudiments of how designers-influence-the-catwalk-influence-celebs-influence-the-high-street (we've all seen Meryl Streep's magnificent rant on the stubject in 'The Devil Wears Prada'), but what we see during London fashion week shouldn’t have any direct bearing on what your average Josephine feels she should look like. Just like an abstract painting, it should be enjoyed for its aesthetic brilliance but not seen as a reflection of reality as we know it.

How about, rather than blame the fashion industry for the low self-esteem epidemic in the Western World, we worked on changing our collective mind-set? Imagine if we felt so great about ourselves that we could glance at Fashion Week’s happenings with moderate interest, perhaps even try a trend if we think it might suit us, but not feel any less worthy because most of us can never hope to emulate totally what we are seeing?

The girls on the bus, as irritating as their drone-some monotones were, were in fact right. There is a ‘modelling world’. There is a ‘fashion world’. It’s their world, but it doesn’t have to be ours.

Body Gossip is working to give a glimpse into the REAL world of bodies and empower the stories of a wide cross-section of people, as an antidote to all this nonsense. Ultimately, we want everyone to feel so marvellous about themselves that outside influence cannot penetrate their veneer of confident fabulousness. For, as Lorlett Hudson, business coach extrordinaire and formidable lady of brilliance once said “someone or something can only have as much power over you as you allow it to”.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Thought of the day.....

There is more than one to be gorgeous. There is more than one way to be confident. There are hundreds of ways to be intelligent and even more ways to be brilliant.

But there's only one way to be YOU and only YOU know how to do it right.

Now go forth and be the best you can be.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A Thought on the Riots...

Since 2008, I’ve worked with approximately 3,000 British teens between the ages of 14 and 18 in schools and colleges throughout the country, as Gossip School (the Body Gossip self-esteem programme).

From observing and speaking with them I understand the issues they face. I don’t envy the teenagers of today. They are invariably shown little respect, but a lot of respect is demanded of them. They are often from difficult family backgrounds. They feel let down and betrayed by various systems of government – the economy, education, employment etc. I’ve been staggered by how well even the reportedly most ‘difficult’ students respond to simply being asked their opinion.

Some young people are angry, others confused, most disillusioned. And it’s understandable.

………..But I’ve always maintained that young people get an unnecessarily bad rep from the press and public. I haven’t yet met a teen I couldn’t find something to like about. The vast majority have been bright, full of humour and have welcomed me into their school and lives.

So over the past 3 days, when thousands of people, mainly in the teenage age bracket, took to the streets of London, my home city, committing arson and assault, looting and vandalising huge areas of the Capital my immediate reaction was this:

“How could you? All those times I’ve defended you in front of wanky middle-class huffer puffers who wanted to tar all teens with the same brush! And then you go and prove them right! You’ve made me look a right knob!”

After further consideration, however, I came to the realisation that it was, of course, me who was being the wanky middle-class huffer puffer.

My initial observations remain true. The people committing mindless acts of criminality represent a tiny minority of all the young people out there. And whilst they might claim that their actions are a socialist protest against the country’s wealthiest and most privileged, this argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny (Hackney and Clapham aren’t famed for housing the affluent).

So, my thought of the day is this : When all this scariness and unrest has come to a conclusion, please let’s not punish all teenagers for the actions of a few. Let’s not use these events as an excuse to perpetuate myths and stereotypes concerning our country’s youth.

In the meantime, my love goes out to all the people affected by the riots. Special mention to the shopkeepers of East London, who bravely defended their businesses and fought off rioters last night: Rock on.

And that is my two penneth.

Monday, 8 August 2011

EXPRESS-ing Myself

So, as I write this, we’re suitably gutted at Body Gossip HQ.

I’ve been a journalist. I know the score. You meet these wonderful, 3 dimensional people and it’s your job to turn them into caricature-esque tabloid fodder.

Yet, even armed with this knowledge, and with significantly lowered expectations, I was shocked and disappointed by today’s article in the Daily Express. Claiming to give an ‘insight’ into how Body Gossip came about from the perspective of its co-Directors (i.e. Ruth and myself), what it in fact does is present us (wrongly) as two girls who suffered from eating disorders who run a campaign aimed at teenage girls.

Ruth and I are very proud of the fact that Body Gossip does not exclude anyone. Regardless of age, gender, race, culture, social background or sexual orientation, everyone has a body so everyone has a story and can contribute to the debate. The stories we receive offer perspectives on a wide range of topics, from adolescence, to ageing, to sexual relationships, to pregnancy, to illness and injury, even tattoos and piercings. Whilst, of course, we are happy to receive stories from past and present eating disorder sufferers and to present their voice into the mix, we are not specifically an eating disorder campaign.

Whilst I did suffer from bulimia, I am now fully recovered and do not think that my former eating disorder is the most interesting thing about Body Gossip (or, indeed, about me). Eating disorders are currently a ‘sexy’ topic in the media, but they have a duty to report on them in a balanced and responsible way. Rather than dwelling on my physical and emotional symptoms, it would have been far more inspiring to hear about what I have achieved, with Ruth of course, since my recovery.

Ruth, conversely, contrary to what the article states, has never suffered from an ED. She was careful to emphasise this several times during the interview. She once went on a strict diet because she thought she’d get more acting work. This, apparently, translates to a ‘debilitating eating disorder’ in newspaper speak, which is, frankly, an insult to anyone who has ever suffered from one. Ruth knows this and would never make claims to have had an ED.

A few more anomalies which need correction:

• The presentations I do in schools and colleges throughout the UK are aimed at teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 and whilst, yes, I do share my story, it’s infinitely more about them – It is NOT in any way shape or form “sharing my story with children in workshops”.

• I’ve been involved with Body Gossip for 3 years, not 2.

• The point I made about Marylin Monroe is that in the 1950s plastic surgery wasn’t available to the public in the way it is now, so most people knew they couldn’t totally emulate a celebrity. The point was a lot more complex than the small part that was quoted, which makes me look like a moron.

• At no point in the interview did Ruth suggest that advertising, airbrushing and the media do not contribute to people's body insecurities. The quote printed was taken out of context - she was referring to a specific part of the campaign, aimed at tackling people's self perception, and not Body Gossip as a whole.

In fact, almost all of Ruth's 'story' was either entirely fabricated or exaggerated - She can set you straight on the truth of the matter and I am sure will take the opportunity to do so.

Most disappointingly, our two most exciting projects, the 5 new films we have in the pipeline and the book we are publishing in September, were not mentioned at all.

Ruth and myself work tirelessly to make Body Gossip one of the forerunning body image campaigns in the UK and the Express article does not do us, or our beloved campaign, justice.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

New Developments in the Airbrushing Debate

If her Twitter feed is anything to go by, today MP Jo Swinson has been dashing around madly like the proverbial headless chicken between various radio and television appearances, justifying her decision to ban two ridiculously airbrushed adverts.

The ads feature Julia Roberts (43) and Christy Turlington (42) looking like 12 year old cartoons. The photographs (if they can technically still be termed as such) were used to promote some sort of pseudo-scientific cosmetic guff which promised to emulate a similarly ‘youthful glow’. Which is a lie, obviously. Because real people aren’t animated.

More outrageous than the disturbing lack of truth used by the advertisers in this case, is the more general philosophy that attractiveness necessitates youthfulness. That, in fact, Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington, both utterly gorgeous as their real life, 3 dimensional selves, required any airbrushing to begin with.

The message being given to women throughout the World is, to paraphrase, this:

“Over 16? Then you are TOO OLD to be considered attractive by ANYONE. Look! Even one of the World’s highest paid film stars Julia Roberts has to be airbrushed in order for us to deign to look at her face.

Her fame, wealth and talent don’t make her successful. Oh no, it’s her lack of pores and ‘youthful glow’ which really set her ahead of the pack. Why don’t you try and turn back the clock too? You won’t look like this picture, but you should at least try to sort your self out YOU OLD TROUT”.

Today, James O’Brien of LBC fame suggested that the public are too shrewd, too aware of the issues at stake, just generally ‘too intelligent’ to be affected by airbrushing. He even went so far as to brand Jo’s campaign ‘patronising’ and claimed that ‘real people’ have no interest in banning unrealistic advertising.

Where were all the people who email me every day to talk about how advertising bashes their self-esteem? Where were all the body confidence campaigners? Where were all the thousands of people who have written their Body Gossip stories? Not listening to LBC, presumably.

To suggest that the effect of unrealistic beauty paradigms has anything whatsoever to do with intelligence is so reductive it would be laughable, were it not for the fact that so many LBC listeners appeared to be so flattered by the idea that their lack of interest in the subject gave them super human cleverness, they phoned-in to tell London all about it.

Pictures speak to us on a level which isn’t logical. They provoke an emotional reaction, deep in the recesses of our subconscious mind. You can tell yourself as much as you like that what you’re witnessing is the work of technology, but, somewhere buried within the confines of your brain there is a tiny person screeching “Waaaaaah! Why don’t I look like that?”. You could be Albert frickin’ Einstein and this would, I am afraid, still be the case.

James argued that images which bear no resemblance to the original subject are nothing new: The Mona Lisa, he reasoned, was probably exaggerated to look more attractive than she was in real life. Photographs of Marylin Monroe were carefully vetted so that she was only ever presented at her most aesthetically pleasing. Well, yes. But throughout history there has never been a time when the public have so much access to plastic surgery – In the 1950s the average person knew they could never look like Marylin, so they didn’t try.

And why shouldn’t we all be undergoing life-threatening cosmetic procedures, injecting poison into out foreheads, weaving other people's (or, more often horses’) hair onto our heads in our never-ending quest to approximate a photo of someone who doesn’t look like that in real life anyway?

………..Because it’s a waste of time. Imagine if you just looked like the best version of YOU. A lick of paint on the old fizzog, maybe. An outfit that flattered your frame (or even just reflected how you were feeling that day)……Imagine if this was all it took for you to feel fantastic about yourself. Imagine all the other things you’d get done.

And I rest my case.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Can you be Fat and Happy?

Tonight, I shall be featuring on the Radio 5 Live Midnight debate, tackling this very question, on behalf of my campaign Body Gossip.

I’m fairly certain that, in the eyes of the dear old Beeb, I’m fighting the fat corner. As a ‘plus size model’, the expectation of the media is invariably that I’ll launch into any weight related debate enthusiastically denying any potential benefits to being thin and maintaining that curviness is the way forward.

I’m sorry to disappoint in this regard. I have never, ever in my lifetime been heard to utter the phrase “real woman”, in relation to myself or, indeed, anyone else. After all, last time I checked, slender women weren’t a figment of my imagination.

I’m a little bit chubby (and not afraid to say it). Not fat, but definitely not thin either. I’m fortunate enough to be an hourglass shape and a couple of excess pounds therefore flatter my frame. I’m under no illusions that by BMI standards (and what a load of bollocks that is, incidentally) I am overweight. But the pace of my hectic life and my propensity towards walking absolutely everywhere, dancing vigorously and often and….erm….other physically strenuous activities means that I’m in tip top condition.

This wasn’t always the case, as we know. I don’t wish to harp on incessantly about my eating disorder a) because it’s been firmly relegated to my past and b) because it’s boring and self-indulgent but, lest we forget, I have been considerably thinner and momentously more miserable.

Neither am I going to attempt to pretend that settling into my natural and healthy body shape required no effort whatsoever. The path to self-acceptance was paved with obstacles. But, eventually, I concluded that endless analysis of perceived flaws was a ginormic waste of my time. After all, there is Body Gossip to run and life to be lived. And, all things considered, I haven’t done too badly in the lottery of looks. Perhaps in an ideal world I’d have a slightly flatter stomach, slightly slimmer thighs and fuller, more lustrous locks (like in a shampoo advert….where the effect is created using hair extension….oh, wait), but I could look like Les Dawson in a bad wig so I’d rather count my numerous physical blessings instead.

Frankly, I applaud anyone who is content with their body in today’s madly over-critical social climate. The question, in reality, should be “Can you be happy at any size?”. Plastic surgery is readily available and socially acceptable. Gym memberships are practically mandatory. Billion dollar industries subsist entirely on our body dissatisfaction and desire to sculpt our physical selves to some imagined will.

And how do we define happiness in the first place? After months of the tiredness, lack of concentration, constant hunger pangs and feelings of misery/vague obsessiveness which invariably accompany a strict diet, we might claim to be ‘happy’ that we’ve dropped a dress size – but at what cost to our more general happiness?

The issue has made headlines because of the reported stories of Pauline Quirk and Body Gossip ambassador Natalie Cassidy, both of whom have lost weight recently and are claiming to be happier as a result.

I do not know Pauline. All I will say in regard to her is that I have lain awake at night imagining all her loose skin.

Natalie, however, has worked with Body Gossip since it’s inception in 2006. I have spent time with her at a size 10,a size 16 and at every size in between and I can honestly say it makes very little difference to the overall impression one has of her as a person. Natalie is ferociously bright, infectiously bubbly, immediately warm and likeable and extremely pretty. The existence or not of a stone here or there is of no consequence whatsoever to these attributes.

However, I’m prepared to concede that she may be happier. And that’s wonderful. For her. But why is this news? Why do we think that Natalie’s weight loss journey has any bearing on our own lives and bodies?

Everyone has a natural weight at which they feel and look ‘right’. It took me ages to work out that mine was somewhere between a size 14 and 16. Surely, that couldn’t be the case, I told myself, when every magazine, billboard, television programme, advertisement and, crucially, OTHER WOMAN I encountered was telling me I should strive for the elusive size 8?

Of course, size 8, healthy people do exist. My Body Gossip Co-Captain Ruth Rogers is one of them. She eats when she is hungry. She stops when she is full. She exercises, in moderation, every day. And she looks bloody gorgeous.

So, yep, you guessed it, I’m going to whop out that persistently used phrase ‘spectrum of beauty' AGAIN Make it your mantra, blog devotees.

Is it possible to be fat and happy? Yes, of course it is, if that is your natural body shape and you have accepted that to be the case. Is it possible to be thin and happy? Ditto.

One thing is for certain – Being healthy in body and mind is the most stress-free path to genuine happiness.

Tune in to Radio 5 Live tonight at Midnight to hear me talking about these issues, using my mouth.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy Winehouse - The Legacy

Yesterday, the country was rocked by the sad news of Amy Winehouse’s death, aged just 27.

I should preface this blog by saying that I loved her. Even in her most obviously drug-addled of states in public appearances I found her witty and charming. Her music spawned an entirely new genre and a generation of copycats. And she somehow represented the spirit of North London in a way I can’t quite define and which had nothing to do with her addiction to narcotics.

Having said that, I’m finding the public reaction to her death concerning, for a number of reasons:

In the blue corner are people trying to attach some sort of spiritual significance to her passing by pointing out that Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Kurt Kobain also died aged 27.

A lot of people die aged 27 and the danger here is that, just like the others mentioned in that list, the death of Amy, rather than serving as a chilling reminder of the dangers of drug addiction, is somehow going to promote the idea that drugs are ‘cool’.

In the red corner we have the somewhat spurious moral outrage of a group of people who inexplicably think it’s inappropriate to mourn Amy’s death, because of the recent tragedies in Norway. I can’t quite fathom the logic of attempting to establish a connection between these two completely unrelated incidents. It is possible to be concerned about two things at once, for most humans. It’s not like one detracts from the other.

Apparently, according to some, Amy ‘chose’ to die. This completely misunderstands the nature of addiction. In a sense, our more general perception of Amy, as fuelled by the media, is to blame. Because every time we saw her falling out of a club at 3am we made a joke of it and assumed she was having a lovely time. We didn’t see someone who was desperately in need of intervention.

The attitudes of the red corner brigade shows a disturbing lack of compassion. And the blue corner brigade show a wilful misinterpretation of the facts.

Let’s remember Amy as a remarkable songstress and let her death be a reminder that even the young, rich, famous and talented are not invincible.

Antidepressants - My Two Penneth

Disordered eating makes you depressed. This is an unfortunate fact.

The brain is a muscle just like any other and malnutrition has a detrimental effect on the chemical balance within it. Couple this with the relentless, nagging internal critic which is an eating disorder and it’s enough to make anyone plunge into a state of depression.

It’s chicken and egg, for many. (Incidentally, and completely unrelated-ly - I was watching an Attenborough documentary the other day and apparently scientist boffins have discovered that the egg, did, in fact, come first. It naturally evolved, from a stone or something (I got distracted at this point, so the scientific validity of stone part is highly questionable). Anyway. The point is, it’s not longer appropriate to use the phrase ‘chicken and egg’. Shouldn’t have done that. Sorry. Won’t do it again).

When I was bulimic, I genuinely couldn’t work out if I was depressed because I had an eating disorder, or if I had an eating disorder because I was depressed. This was because, at the time, I didn’t understand the true nature of depression. Yes, in retrospect, the binge-purge cycle was a poignant symbolic exercise - a way for me to deal with difficult emotions. But there’s a huge difference between feeling sad and being medically depressed.

Depression isn’t a direct response to an event – In fact, often depressed people have to try and make the landscape of their life fit their feelings. We live in a society where it’s not really acceptable to admit that you’re desperately blue for no real reason at all, so we pick an incident from our past at random, and blame that for how we’re feeling.

The act of making myself sick, many times a day, every day, for several years, rendered me in a constant state of depression. Of that I am in little doubt. But depression wasn’t the causal factor and what I really needed to do was to conquer my eating disorder.

So, when my doctor offered me anti-depressants before my recovery back in 2006, they had exactly the effect you might expect – None whatsoever.

GPs have an average of 6 minutes per patient. Which is fine if you have a broken leg. For mental health issues, however, it’s woefully inadequate. It’s not fair to place the blame at the door of the nation’s doctors. They have deadlines to meet and boxes to tick and are constrained by the structure and red tape and general bureaucracy of the NHS.

However, it’s given rise to the dangerous temptation for doctors to throw antidepressants at any problem. Patients are being prescribed antidepressants for anything from hot flushes to insomnia. It’s regarded as a ‘quick fix’. Well, ‘quick’ it may be, but it doesn’t appear to be ‘fixing’ anything.

Here are a few facts about antidepressants:

• They only work in 30% of cases.

• They are not designed for long-term use but have also been shown not to have a long-term effect (i.e. when you stop taking them you’ll be just as depressed as you were before).

• They have been shown to increase the chances of suicide. Yes, that’s right. Suicidal people are being given drugs which increase the chance of them killing themselves.

That’s why I was delighted to be approached by a journalist who asked me about my experiences of having taken antidepressants for an article she was writing. I told her in no uncertain terms – What I needed was active intervention and some form of intensive mind-based therapy. What I got was 2 weeks off work, a prescription for antidepressants and an 18 month wait for (what transpired to be) a laughably inept counsellor.

I was then contacted again and told that the journalist had chosen to print a story from someone who was in favour of antidepressants, but not mine. Why? We can only conjecture. But this blog is my antidote to that little piece of injustice.

Eating disorders are, by their very nature, shrouded in secrecy. The culture of prescribing antidepressants is only serving to further silence sufferers and to sweep their issues under the proverbial carpet.

Monday, 11 July 2011

What Is Beauty?

I’ve subscribed to Cosmopolitan since I was 16. Throughout the years, we’ve evolved together, nurturing a similar ‘you go, girl’ style mentality when it comes to love, careers, sex and fashion. Cosmo broadly reflects my personality. I was never cool enough for Vogue, or vacuous enough for [*insert your generic monthly glossy here*], or quite sensible and brooding enough for Psychologies. But I am fun-loving, and vivacious and, to quote my Body Gossip co-Captain Ruth ‘formidable’.

Over the years, Cosmo has provided me with valuable life advice. Probably the choicest nugget of wisdom was “remember your eyebrows are sisters, not twins” (which saved me from the misery and shame of plucking my brows into obscurity trying to match them exactly). I also distinctly remember inviting a red faced and flustered male university lecturer I quite fancied to stroke my fake fur bolero (not a euphemism), which I’d worn to class aged 18 after Cosmo instructed me that men are suckers for tactile fabrics.

The article which will always stay with me, though, was one which I read aged 21. It said that women can always be categorized in one of three ways – pretty, sexy and beautiful.

I immediately allied myself in the sexy camp. With my Amazonian frame, red hair, ridiculous bosom and mixed race heritage, I’ve never been quite conventional, dainty and symmetrical enough to be ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’ I’d always assumed was something to be reserved for the Kate Mosses of this World. I therefore reasoned that I must be sexy by default.

Recently, though, I thought about this in more depth. Pretty is easy enough to identify (Gwenyth Paltrow, Thandie Newton, Katherine Heigl). Sexy is also glaringly obvious (Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, Beyonce). Yet all of the women I’ve just named are also indisputably beautiful. Well, I say indisputably, if the old adage ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is to be believed, then even that’s not a foregone conclusion.

This led me to further musing about the nature of beauty and how very complex it is. Paradigms of beauty are constantly changing, hence the journey from Marylin Monroe to Size 0. Yet the fact that Marylin Monroe still remains an icon of eternal beauty proves that some beauty paradigms are timeless. Then there’s the veritable myriad which is inner beauty. And I don’t mean this in some kitsch, new age philosophy style way either. When someone has inner beauty you can literally see it in their face. They might not be conventionally attractive but they just look lovely in a way that’s impossible to define and yet totally apparent to everyone that encounters them.

I started to think about my closest female friends:

Belma – 6 foot tall. Size 10-12. Annoyingly model-like physique. High cheekbones. Big Green eyes. Glossy hair she attributes to a love of raw foods (she genuinely loves raw food. It doesn’t make her gag or anything). Looks good in anything from skinny jeans to maxi dresses.

But here is the thing about Belma. She’s undoubtedly classically beautiful. But she’s most beautiful when she laughs. Real, teeth and gums bared, head-thrown-back, no control over her limb-muscles cackling.

Ruth (co-Captain of Body Gossip) – Slender, pale, elfin, cropped hair, funky. Sort of woman that can throw on a man’s shirt and pull it off with utter aplomb. Rarely seen in skirts, never seen in heels.

Now, here’s the thing about Ruth – She shouldn’t be attractive. Everything about the modern beauty paradigm (long hair, fake bosoms, tan, short skirt, sky high heels) tells us that she shouldn’t. But she bloody is. She’s beautiful. And not just because she’s a legend – It’s not even a personality thing. She just works it with her unique, funky self (and I’ve seen men reduced to quivering wrecks as a result thereof).

Karla (my Radio Wife) – Statuesque, almost regal. Black. Muscular without having to try. Amazing legs, epic arse. Unique style (once she wore black and white brogues with pop-socks, a corduroy knee length skirt and a velvet jacket. On me this would like idiotic. On her it looked magnificent).

Again, Karla’s definitely beautiful. She’s the sort of girl who has the confidence to wear odd earrings (one stud one dangly sometimes). She’s also got a marvellously expressive face (for someone with no wrinkles at all) – being able to convey derision, delight, contempt, boredom or joy with the single flick of an eyebrow or the merest of movements in her large, sparkling eyes.

So, here’s what I conclude. Some women are pretty. Some women are sexy. But (sorry Cosmo) they’re all beautiful, and they’re beautiful for the reasons they least expect.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Heroes and Villians

Regular readers of my blog will know that I often rant extensively about advertising and what I perceive to be wilful attempts to bash the public’s self-esteem, in a bid to flog products. I’d been left rather with the impression that I was ‘on my own’ with this one - Generally, people acknowledged that advertising has a detrimental effect on people’s self-perception, but were unwilling to concede that there might be any kind of malign will behind the whole sorry process.

I’ve come to the conclusion that children’s films and, most specifically, Santa Claus the Movie, are in no small part responsible for this line of thinking. Why? I hear you cry! It’s a lovely wee film with elves and Dudley Moore and sparkly things and flying reindeer. Well, yes. But it also features a stereotypical fat cat villain in a big leather armchair, plotting on how he can bring further evil into the film for his own financial gain. And when we think of the World and all its nasties, we want someone specific to blame. It’s partially because we want to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for the state of affairs and partially because it’s just easier than trying to digest the actual complexity of the matter.

That’s how Cheryl Cole ends up being blamed for our desire to be thin. Logically we know it’s not her fault, but she’s an icon of everything we wish we could be and can never realistically attain, so we impose a conscious will onto her slender frame, make ourselves feel a bit better by deciding she’s a nasty cow, and go about our business.

In a similar way, there is no Advertising Exec sitting in a squishy leather throne, smoking a cigar and cackling maniacally to himself, while he thinks of all the people frantically scooping up beauty products in the vain hope they’ll soothe their constant feelings of inadequacy. Life is, unfortunately, not that simple.

And so we move into the realms of blaming a concept, an attitude, prevailing social standards, rather than some elusive Simon Cowell type figure we’ve never met. It’s difficult to get your head around and even harder to explain.

Which is why I was so delighted to be invited to a screening of Jean Kilbourne’s ‘Killing us Softly’ last Monday, as a representative for Body Gossip at the All Party Parliamentary Group (and then to a Q & A with the great lady herself, no less).If you’ve never heard of Jean Kilbourne, stop reading and Google her now. This instant. She’s a lady whose devoted her entire professional life to observing and commentating on the effect advertising has on society and, much like a conversation with your Mum about boys, you initially want to argue before deciding that she’s right about everything.

One phrase in particular stuck in my mind, if only because I’m now going to whip it out in any situation where someone suggests to me that people must start taking responsibility for themselves and stop blaming the advertising industry and media for all their woes.

The effect of advertising is cumulative and unconscious.

It’s brilliant. Cumulative because, of course, it would be daft to suggest that one advertising campaign could ever be blamed for our collective body confidence dilemmas. Unconscious because when we think about it, we know the messages we’re being given are wrong, but it doesn’t stop us, to some extent, buying into them anyway.

Killing us Softly grapples extensively with body image but the apex of the film changes tack slightly and makes an unique and valid point about violence towards women. In a sphere where women’s bodies are compartmentalised and scrutinized and where women are literally objectified (often they are transformed into the objects they are being used to advertise), we’re also promoting lack of respect towards them. “The first step towards violence is in dehumanising your subject” says Jean “it happens with racism…….and it happens with women”.

And so we get a glimpse into how far reaching and multifaceted the beauty debate really is. It permeates every area of our lives. Fat is indeed, as the legend that is Susie Orbach has been insisting since 1973, a feminist issue.

Monday, 30 May 2011


A short addendum to the last blog…..

Recently, I was extolling the virtues of the American television programme 'Mad Men' to my Mother. “It’s brilliant” I said “there’s this character in it called Joan whose at least a size 14 and sexy as hell”.

“What’s it about?” my Mum, not unreasonably, asked, after I’d exhausted the ‘Christina Hendrix is a goddess’ angle. “An ad agency in the 50s” I replied. “All they do is drink, smoke and shag. Like I said. Brilliant”.

I then commented on how weird it is, in these smoking ban times, to see people lighting up in the office. “Oh, I remember that” said Mum. “You used to be able to smoke EVERYWHERE. On trains, even on aeroplanes. You’d quite often go and see your GP and they’d be sitting there smoking”.

To which I collapsed into fits of giggles.

I hope, sincerely, when I am old and wrinkly (much older than my still annoyingly youthful Mother) to be able to say to some enraptured young thing (much younger than myself, who is old enough to have grown out of being told stories by my parents, even I they are smoking related): “You know, when I was young, models were only one size”.

“No way!” the wee young thing will reply, in shock and disbelief.

“Oh yes”. I will reply. “And we used to feel rubbish if we didn’t look that way and none of the high fashion clothes fitted normal people”.

And it will seem so far removed from what she knows, she will collapse into fits of giggles.......

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Goodbye Size 0 - Hello Diversity?

Whoever is responsible for perpetuating the idea that ‘clothes look good on skinny people’ has obviously never seen a size 0 model in a corset or a wrap dress.

The truth is, of course, that some clothes DO look better on the more slender amongst us. Some, however, require curves.

If I have to use the phrase ‘spectrum of beauty’ one more time on radio/television/at events/in conversations down the pub with my mates I will actually scream. I’m not sure why people seem incapable of understanding that THEIR idea of beautiful is not EVERYONE’S idea of beautiful and that there is more than one way to be gorgeous.

Kate Moss is beautiful. So is Dawn French. So is Queen Latifa. So is Lucy Lui. So is Adele. So is Paloma Faith. Equally. In different ways. It’s not a difficult concept, really.

Today, the Independent reported on an initiative being spearheaded by the amazing Caryn Franklin and Erin O’Connor, whereby fashion students will have to work on size 16/18 mannequins

It’s based on the idea that a size 16 is the average size of a woman in this country, particularly as they get older (and middle aged women have more disposable income, so are therefore buying the clothes).

Bravo, All Walks – It’s a brilliant endeavour and will certainly provoke a few changes in the fashion industry. After all, clothes are designed to fit on people’s bodies, not the other way around (Iogically, I mean. No doubt certain fashion industry insiders may disagree with me).

I cannot help but hope though that this heralds a time when fashion students have a variety of mannequins, not only in different sizes but shapes too (pear shape, apple shape etc) and can pick and choose according to what would best suit their design?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Body Gossip and Gok Wan: Storming Parliament!

Last week, Gok Wan stormed Parliament petitioning for one hour of body confidence lessons per year to be mandatory for all secondary school students.

Ruth and myself were lucky enough to be part of the group that accompanied Gok - We marched behind him into the inner bowels of the Parliament building, where we were faced with a group of the country's leading MPs and Gok delivered a, frankly, brilliant speech.

I'm not allowed to reveal any more of the particulars of that day, sadly, since highlights will be aired as part of Gok's forthcoming documentary, due out this summer. I will however say this: If you are going to march to Parliament, on camera, wear sensible shoes! My ridiculous (but fabulous) burnt orange patent platforms threatened to topple me into the Land of Perpetual Embarrassment and Constant Cringing on several occasions throughout the day.

What, I hear you screech, on Earth is the point of this blog if not to dish the dirt on Gok (or 'Lovely Gok' as he shall henceforth be known by everyone at Body Gossip) et al? Well, it's to tell you why the campaign is so crucial and why Body Gossip wholeheartedly supports it.

Body Confidence might not be considered as crucial to the education of our young people as English and Maths by some. During my the past 3 years, as I have travelled the country speaking with and teaching students, I am confident in my opinion that this view is not only completely wrong, but a downright dangerous misconception.

The misery which accompanies a lack of self esteem can permeate every area of a young person's life, rendering them incapable of achieving their potential, or from enjoying their existence. In today's aesthetic obsessed society, increasingly teenagers are sacrificing their potential at the alter of superficiality. They might be labouring under the illusion that thinness, buff-ness or conforming to a set beauty paradigm is the shortcut to popularity, wealth and success. Or they might not even be able to formulate the thought that precisely. A lot of teenagers don't know why they hate their bodies and they don't know why hating their bodies makes them hate themselves.

One hour a year is not enough time to solve every student's body image issues, but it will at least introduce the issue and start them thinking, perhaps talking and even seeking any help they might need.

Body Gossip's 'Gossip School' has helped hundreds of teenagers throughout the UK and this year we hoping to be invited to even more schools and colleges to tackle this thorny subject. Look out for us on 'Gok's Teens' and lobby your local MP to recognize how crucial something which has such a profound effect on the mental health of the country's young people really is.

For more information on Gossip School go to

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Numbers Game

Unusually for an unapologetically right-brained person such as myself, recently I’ve been using numbers to fuel my ponderings on body image.

A recently published poll revealed that an overwhelming majority of women would give up a year of their lives in return for the ‘perfect’ body. A slightly pointless hypothetical conundrum, if you want my opinion, since most women must sacrifice at least that taking dangerous risks with diet and exercise, and probably a further decade indulging in generalised body anxiety (an enormous waste of life, even if you are still technically breathing).

The statistic was, no doubt, supposed to shock us but to most modern women it would have come as no surprise at all. It reminded me of my somewhat futile attempt to persuade militantly pro-Barbie TV Presenter Terri Dwyer to think outside the box on a BBC 5 Live Midnight debate. I asked her to provide an argument so compelling as to Barbie’s magnificence, it would cancel out a speculated 1% chance that it might give a child body insecurity. No such argument was forthcoming.

Last night, over drinks with a friend, I turned this into a game. “What would you still do if there was a 1% chance it would kill you?” I asked. “Eat chicken” he replied immediately (and not unreasonably, his love for chicken is almost indecent). “And what about if there was a 10% chance? What then?” I probed. There was a slight hesitation before he confirmed that, yes, he’d still eat chicken. (I suspect if I’d pushed him further I’d have discovered he’d be unable to resist a plate of spicy wings even if there was only a 10% chance he’d live).

My own 10% list reveals a not altogether astonishing set of priorities, with music, sex and cheese ranking highest (although not necessarily in that order. Actually……Yes. In that order). However, maintenance of my physique (which is minimal anyway. See list) didn’t rank at all. I must therefore conclude that I’d rather be ‘ugly’ and alive than beautiful and dead.

For anyone who is familiar with my history, that wasn’t always the case and for many men and women in Britain today, tragically, it continues not to be.

I am sure you can see where I am going with this – Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with an estimated 60% of sufferers eluding survival. But there are many other things which carry the risk of death – Cosmetic surgery, extreme dieting, bulimia, smoking, sunbeds, I could continue – And yet are deemed to be worth that sacrifice.

I could (and will) argue that, in fact, we flirt with death on a frighteningly regular basis and yet do we ever stop and ask ourselves if the body, the tan, or the lifestyle we crave is worth the risk of not being around to enjoy them?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Supersize -v- Responsibility

This evening, three women suffering from eating disorders described their conditions in an admirably articulate and empathetic manner on national television. What might have been a massive step forward in educating the British public about their hugely complex psychological illnesses was then spectacularly undone by a resident television ‘expert’ who attempted to ‘educate’ the three ladies on the nutritional merits of their respective diets.

Yes, blog devotees, Supersize-v-Superskinny is back, which inevitably means an increased degree of rant-age from yours truly.

Newsflash Channel 4: One does not starve oneself or stuff oneself to bursting and then purge by forcing oneself to be sick because one believes it to be a nutritionally sound way to conduct oneself. .

Picture the scene. A woman who has been suffering from anorexia nervosa for three years is sitting next to Supersize’s resident ‘expert’ in front of a visual approximation of her daily food intake. For breakfast, she consumes a black coffee, which is helpfully displayed in a transparent mug (in case we find ourselves unable to imagine what a black coffee might look like).

“Breakfast stands for break-fast” (our expert helpfully explains) “you cannot break an overnight fast using just black coffee”.

Our anorexic displays the expression one might expect- it conveys smugness at her ability to sustain herself on so little, incredulity that this is where her road to recovery has been deigned to begin with a distinct air of “yes, I know”.

I appreciate of course that the majority of the British public might require eating disorders to be stripped down to the bare and most easily comprehensible components in order to glean a basic understanding of them. However, perpetuating an idea that an ED can be cured by educating the subject about the deficiencies in their diet is just downright dangerous.

The eating disordered mind is not a logical place. It cannot be reasoned with and it doesn’t respond to the same persuasions as a healthy person’s might. In the mind of an anorexic or bulimic, damage to one’s health is the price one pays as a servant to one’s condition and, more crucially, one comes to believe that this condition will inevitably result in death.

Those who claim to be ‘experts’ in the field must first acknowledge that they are dealing with people for whom their illness is an all-consuming obsession and premature death is not only an inevitability, but positively welcomed as marking the end of the torment to which they have subjected themselves.

Eating disorder awareness is a delicate and controversial arena. Whilst television has jumped on the bandwagon of this hugely popular social topic, it must also acknowledge its duty to do so responsibility.

Until such time, expect many more rant-y rage fuelled blogs.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Life in Plastic

If I had to design a symbol or an icon of everything I abhor about society and everything that concerns me about young people, it would look uncannily like Barbie.

Barbie is unnaturally slender with disproportionately large breasts (it is estimated that 1 in 100,000 women naturally has a figure that even remotely resembles hers). Her wardrobe largely consists of Disney-esque floor length ball-gowns and The Only Way is Essex-esque bottom-skimmingly short skirts (all accessorized with eye wateringly high stilettos). Her activities are limited to traditionally female orientated jobs (such as ‘ballet teacher’) and to maintaining her distinctly WAG-like lifestyle (complete with pink jeep, natch). Essentially, Barbie is Jordan in miniature form. Accept Barbie remains mercifully mute.

When Barbie was designed, 50 years ago (by a team of sex obsessed men if a soon-to-be released Matel-expose is to be believed), this might all perhaps have seemed like a bit of harmless (although still distinctly misogynistic under scrutiny) fun. (This might perhaps be because back in 1960 people had the awareness to enjoy Barbie ironically, although that's obviously just conjecture. I wasn't alive.). In today’s climate, however, Barbie provides a worrying commentary on a society in which children as young as 7 are suffering from eating disorders, 15 year old girls are expressing a desire for breast surgery and 70% of female primary school pupils want to be a glamour model.

It is of course unrealistic and irresponsible to blame Barbie entirely for this and there is no conclusive evidence that she even so much as fuels the fire of today’s aesthetic obsessed, quick fix culture. But one must concede that there is a possibility that she might.

Which is why I found it hard to entertain Terri Dwyer’s insistent (and somewhat repetitive) argument when we locked horns on BBC 5 Live last night, which went: “Oh COME ON, Natasha, it’s only a doll”.

Branding Barbie “only a doll” is tantamount to applying the same description to Chuckie. Whilst technically true, the statement collapses under examination. Barbie comes with a great deal of cultural and psychological baggage and, as such, has been the subject of consistent controversy. Some find her objectionable and insulting, whilst others idolise her to the point of moulding their own human bodies to match hers (yes I’m referring to you, Sarah Burge).

Which leads me to my point. Matel are a commercial organisation and there’s no reason why they should have to relinquish the no doubt astronomical profits Barbie provides them with. Not even the most idealistic person would suggest that. But perhaps they could TRY making Barbie more realistically proportioned, they could TRY giving her a less stereotypical lifestyle and an alternative wardrobe……and they could see what happens (they can certainly afford to conduct the experiment). And by try, I mean REALLY try (i.e. not make her waist 3mm bigger and introduce a pair of 'sneakers' into the Barbie footwear collection). It might be that Terri Dwyer is right and that this would have no effect on young women’s self-esteem whatsoever. But it might. And isn’t it Matel’s duty to try?

I’d also, incidentally, suggest that Matel cease with the whole ‘giving Barbie professions’ thing. Whilst I applaud the fact that this was an attempt to ‘empower’ Barbie, what Matel have in fact done is appointed themselves the responsibility of accurately representing a cross section of all the potential jobs out there for today's young women. Of nurturing girls’ dreams whilst encouraging them to be realistic and of inspiring them towards a successful future. The wonderful thing about children is their magnificent propensity for imagination. When Barbie didn’t have a job, I doubt very much that this hindered those that played with her from imagining her in one anyway. A doll which hasn’t been consigned to a specific profession can be absolutely anything to a 3 year old, from Astronaut to Zoo Keeper. He or she can explore and project upon an unlabelled Barbie their own dreams and aspirations. Barbie should not be harnessing and restricting children’s fantasies and potential.

........After all, she is just a doll. - Hear my rants to this effect on the 'best bits' of the BBC website by clicking this link.

Conversation Piece

The ‘Handbook for all those Intent on Perpetuating Body Insecurity and other Evil Things’ (otherwise known as the ‘Daily Mail’) hit an all-time low, when it today dubbed David Bowie ‘overweight’.

Here is a recent picture of David Bowie:

On what planet could this man be described as even remotely ‘overweight’? The ‘Planet of Lazy, Derivative and Sensationalist Journalism’ perhaps? Whatever it might be called, it’s the same planet where, apparently, it is considered acceptable to utter the words “politically correct mixed race marriage”.

Yes, that’s right, of all Bowie’s antics and adventures over the years, apparently it’s the seemingly blissful 20 year union with his impossibly beautiful wife Iman which Daily Mail reading huffer-puffers are most likely to believe is a publicity stunt.

Ironically, the article also focussed extensively on Bowie’s brief obsession with the Third Reich, and yet proved itself to be far more Nazi than David could ever have possibly been, even at his most illogical and cocaine-addled.

As a self-confessed Bowie worshipper (no, really, on my Census I wrote ‘Church of Bowie’) his forays into drug addiction, interest in the occult and sexual misdemeanours are mildly interesting but largely irrelevant. His resulting body of work; artistic genius spanning four decades, seminal, genre-creating, diverse and intelligent, speaks for itself.

I suggest The Daily Mail refrains from reporting on issues it is incapable of understanding and gets back to recycling tedious gossip about *insert cookie cutter female pop singer of your choice here* getting out of a taxi with no knickers on.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

How to Live with Women

Tomorrow at 9pm I will feature in BBC3's 'How to Live with Women'.

The four part show focusses on one couple each week, whose relationship is in jepardy because of the male partner's attitude towards women. Invariably there is some degree of chauvinism or an unwillingness to partake in what are perceived to be 'women's chores' around the house.

This week's subject, Terry, displays both of these qualities, as well as an inherent and unshakable belief that he is 'lush' and therefore his fiance, Tanya, should think herself lucky to have him. He is sent to live with three female mentors over the course of a fortnight, who are tasked with helping him see the error of his ways.

As a representative for Body Gossip, it's my job to make Terry see that true confidence doesn't actually consist of the constant desire to tell people how 'lush' you are all the time. Also, in my capacity as a journalist, I have to use my investigative skills to get to the bottom of what is actually a lack of self esteem, thinly masked in arrogance.

But will I succeed? Well, you will have to tune in tomorrow (March 7th) to find out. The show will also abe repeated later on in the evening on BBC3 and be available on I-player for one week after the original showing.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mmmm Bop. Fashion.

(*I should begin by saying that throughout this blog I am referring to high fashion modelling. I fully support the work of campaigns like All Walks, who want to encourage more diversity in the ages, races and body shapes we are used to seeing in modelling more generally.)

Fashion is notoriously elitist. This we know and accept this, and arguably it's part of its appeal.

It may surprise some people to learn that I am the product of a veritable fashion dynasty. It’s in my genes, quite simply (or jeans, if you like). My mother is a former catwalk model who met my father because he was one of the few heterosexual fashion buyers operating in the West End at the time. My now deceased legend of a Great Uncle was a Master Tailor for Jaegar and my Aunt is a big-effing-deal at Frank Usher.(I was, as you can imagine, the very best dressed baby you could have ever wished to encounter.)

You might assume then that I, dazzled by frequent reminiscing about the glamorous World of couture and celebrity, became enchanted by the idea of becoming a model myself, hence my foray into this industry in my early 20s. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I was scouted literally by accident, when I walked into the wrong casting at what I had thought was a singing audition. My Mum, who was always attracted to and disenchanted by fashion in equal measure, regularly drummed into me the notion that modelling was something you did when you were too stupid to do anything else.

Whilst I’m not even sure that she truly believes this (modelling does require some unique skills and credentials), I was never under any illusion that fashion modelling was anything else than JUST ANOTHER JOB. Some people are cut out for it, but, just like any other job, they are in a minority.

Why did I feel the need to give you this glimpse into my family history? Well, it all arises from a conversation I had with a fashion industry insider over the weekend, who seemed to believe that my ethics as a body confidence campaigner and hers as a lover of fashion and all who sail in it, were unable to comfortably co-exist.

She seemed stunned when I was able to list some designers I admire and reveal some passion for couture as an art-form. She paused, mid-breath through what was clearly a well-rehearsed lecture extolling the virtues of heroin chic to look at me with a new-found respect (or at least that is what I interpreted it to be). I suspect that her expectation was that I would blame the fashion industry for poisoning our perceptions of beauty and for being the root of all low self esteem.

But I don’t. The problem is not the fashion industry. The issue is the perception of it as something which is not only aspirational above all other potential professions but also attainable by Every Person.

You wouldn’t harbour a lifelong ambition to be an Accountant if you were rubbish at maths. Similarly, if you are naturally short, curvaceous or over 25 years of age you aren’t designed for the traditional catwalk. This doesn’t make you any less of a worthy person. It just means you have a slightly different skillset to Naomi Campbell.

Last week, we were shocked by the story of 20 year old Claudia Aderotimi, who died after receiving the illegal buttock implants she believed would propel her into a life of hip-hop stardom. I’d apply the same logic here. Whilst the beauty industry insider I interviewed on my Colourful Radio show last week argued that it was Claudia’s right to pursue her dream by whatever means possible, I’d maintain that she should find another profession to excel in (one with less emphasis on the gluteous muscles perhaps) and not think anything less of herself for it. We can (mostly) agree that eating disorders are a terrible thing – As is anything which arises out of a desire to fit a certain aesthetic and carries the risk of death.

So, next time you are pouring over the fashion pages of your favourite glossy, see the models for what they are – human coat hangers physically designed to showcase the work of designers who are creating a piece of art not destined to flatter a normal, healthy human body. Enjoy it like you would a surrealist’s painting, but don’t make it part of your reality.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

My Newest Outrage: The Statue of Liberty is on a Diet

As a dedicated Body Confidence Campaigner for almost three (count ‘em!) years now, few things shock me. I may be saddened, disheartened, surprised or disappointed, but gone are the days when I am incandescent with burning hot rage on an almost daily basis. This is good news for my blood pressure. It’s difficult to live life with that degree of anger circulating in your system and harbouring a constant suspicion that the World is unjust. That doesn’t, of course, signify that I am any less devoted to stamping out the causes of body insecurity and narrow beauty ideals, it’s simply an indication that I’m less likely to rant at high volumes for hours on end to anyone who will listen (which is a blessed relief to all my friends and family, who were collectively getting an awfully big earache circa December 2009).

However, my current calm equilibrium was shattered three days ago as I casually flipped through one of the weekly celeb glossies (ostensibly for “research”, I do PR you know darling, but actually just because, well, you know). An advertisement for a slimming aid showed the Statue of Liberty with a tape measure around her newly svelte waist. I would estimate the oh-so-familiar proportions of one of the World’s most iconic landmarks had been reduced by a total of one third.

The implications of this moronic and highly offensive advert are myriad. It suggests that paradigms of beauty are now so fixedly and utterly changed that we must go back throughout history and “correct” those who do not fit today’s super slender standards. What’s next? Will we shave a few inches from Monroe’s ample hips? Shall we decide that the Mona Lisa has too much puppy fat in her enigmatic face? Will Reuben’s paintings be eliminated from art history altogether?

Yet far more offensive than that is the idea that Libertas, the Roman Goddess of Freedom, an icon of hope in a new and exciting World should be at all concerned with the circumference of her waist. Even a mythical emblem carved in stone, it seems, cannot escape the scathing criticism of a body image obsessed civilisation.

Susie Orbach once conjectured that (to paraphrase) any woman who takes up too much space in a man’s world, who stands too rigid and proud and refuses to apologise for herself, will be put in her place by overt reference to her physical shortcomings. It seems that even the Statue of Liberty is, sadly, no exception.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Very Short Blog about a Very Tedious Debacle

Well, let's all feign surprise shall we for, after offending just about every sensible person in the Western World, Kenneth Tong has today made probably the least shocking revelation of the year so far - His entire size 0 promoting Twitter campaign was, apparently a "hoax".

Throughout the entire debacle, myself and other Eating Disorder and Body Confidence activists were urging the World at large to stop getting their collective knickers into such a ginomic twist. However, something about Kenneth Tong's suggestion that one could "manage" anorexia sparked such universal outrage and indignation that the public succeeded in giving the little nincompoop exactly what he wanted, i.e. fame.

I hope we are all happy with ourselves.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Is Fake the New Chic?

Last weekend, I was invited to a "Super Hero" themed party. Never one to shy away from the opportunity to be the centre of attention, I immediately set about scouring e-bay for a costume that would transform me into my childhood hero, She-Ra (see pic).

In retrospect, my She-Ra obsession has become a template for my self perception in later years. She-Ra is from Amazonia, a land in which glamorous warrior women kicked-ass in an unapologetically feminine fashion. Strength and the hourglass were unanimous and their biceps were almost as large as their bosoms. "When I grow up" I said to myself "I shall exude aggressive and abundant womanliness and I shall smite anyone who attempts to make apologies for that. Hear me roar". (Or my child alterego equivalent, which was more likely "oooh, I love her a bit").

So, decked out in a beautiful whale boned pure white corset (purchased at ridiculously good value from Camden Market), a blonde wig and a plethora of white and gold accessories, I hit the town (accompanied by my sidekick Dangermouse aka BGF Jake).

As I did a passable impression of an unconcerned and casual type person on the escalator at Leicester Square Station, I began to realise that there were two things drawing particular attention. I expected people to stare - It's not exactly usual to see She-Ra on your average commute - But the corset had elevated my already frankly gigantic breasts by about 4 inches (I later used them as a chin rest in a sleepy drunken stupor). The corset was also a 26 inch waisted affair, meaning that, whilst my head was She-Ra, my body was more in the Jessica Rabbit style territory (I also couldn't breathe, I have a new found respect for Victorian women).

The club was filled with the sort of girls who could have found full time work as extras in "The Only Way is Essex". Thoroughly exuberant and rather charming, in their own distinct way, they were engaged in a silent but vigorous competition to see who could model the least fabric whilst technically being "dressed". Acres of tanned flesh, whitened teeth and surgical enhanced breasts bore down on me, as they all demanded to have their photos taken with me. All very fun, and handy practice should I ever find myself a fully fledged celebrity, but I was slightly bemused. Up until that point all I had heard was "oh my god! Oh my God" repeated ad infinitum in high pitched squeals. They were, surely, too young to remember She-Ra, so why the fascination? I channelled my former model self, smiled for the cameras and didn't question it. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and being draped in hot young totty made me the envy of every bloke in the room.

Later, in the loo, I had my answer. "Can I feel them?" one of the Hot Young Things enquired. Without waiting for a response herself and her tribe (she was clearly the Leader) bore down upon me and began an investigation of my 34Hs. "Who did them?" they demanded "how much were they?". "Erm, I hate to break this to you, ladies.....", I responded, "....but the rest of me is sucked in, the boobs haven't been pumped out".

"Oh my God they are AMAZING! They feel AND look fake" said The Leader. She seemed delighted with herself, as if she had just bestowed upon me the most prestigious of compliments. Which left me wondering - When did this baffling reversal of the collective mindset occur? When did "your real breasts looks fake" qualify as a compliment? I remember when "your fake breasts look real" was the observation everyone was chasing.

Worryingly, it seems that unnatural (fake) beauty is the new gold standard. This is a trend I and, I'm informed, a lot of men, would like to see reversed. It's a shame that the Hot Young Things were unable to see what I could - Girls brimming with warmth, friendliness, smiles, giggles and energy that was utterly captivating and had nothing to do with the inches of makeup they were also sporting. That was what made them attractive and it's a quality they can retain throughout their lives, without the assistance of botox.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


2011 is upon us, oh so suddenly and unapologetically. 2011 happens to be the year in which I shall “celebrate” (if that is the right word) my (whisper it)……….30th birthday.

30 isn’t old. 30 is the new 20. Which should deliver some vestige of comfort. However, 30 is only the new 20 because of the unstoppable surge in the fad of botoxing. 25 year old women are inexplicably submitting themselves to having poison injected into their faces by non-medical professionals in the quest for youth. It’s become so normalised that I, Body Confidence Campaigner Natasha Devon, looked in the mirror recently and convinced myself that my “result of philosophical brooding and quite cute” frown lines were Gordon Ramsey-esque and required surgical intervention (don’t worry, I saw sense).

So, everyone looks 10 years younger than they are and before we know it we’ll be painting our faces to look like foetuses because there simply won’t be any younger to look. Gross, yet, not outside the realms of possibility.

30 is a strange age. I’m no longer competing with (nor have any desire to) the self conscious, constantly-preening, shiny skinned early twenty somethings, giraffe-thigh-ed and luminous in some ludicrously fashion-conscious creation. I have been there, I have done that. I have been the size 8 early 20-something, hair-extension sporting, fake tanned knobhead who nattered loudly into her mobile phone on public transport about my general fabulousness and invincibility. It was utterly exhausting and spiritually empty.

Neither are 30-somethings old enough to qualify as MILFs. Oh, how I envy the MILFs. Free from the body-obsessions and crippling low self esteem that blighted their yesteryears, they can flaunt their unique older-woman sexuality with wanton abandon, exuding experience, elegance and raw appeal. But I’m not there yet. I am cast adrift in a no-man’s land of uncertainty.

As I hurtle into my third decade I am told I will enjoy added confidence and charisma, whilst still retaining my youthful demeanour. I am told this by 40, 50 and 60-something women who I positively ache to emulate, who exude self-assurance and gorgeousness from every pore. And yet still, I remain a sceptic.

Single 30-something women are a conundrum to the opposite sex and even more of a mystery to themselves, seemingly having to choose a path of insane bunny-boiler style marital yearning or staunch, cat addled, career obsessed spinsterhood. (It aint a popular opinion, but then I've never shied away from controversy). And for the 30 something lady, the body confidence debate looms, more terrifying and omnipresent than ever.

Between youthful sex kitten and matriarchal sex goddess lies the purgatory of my forthcoming years. Yes, it’s morbid and yes, I should by rights be spouting some empowerment bollocks right now. But the truth is, I’ll be savouring my last 4 months of 20-something-dom before plunging into the unknown territory of my 30s. Stay tuned.