Friday, 14 December 2012

The Izzard Effect

I am currently reading 'Moranthology'. It's a collection of Caitlin Moran's columns and it's absolutely chuffing hilarious. I have officially become one of those annoying people who laughs to themselves whilst reading on public transport. Heretofore I always thought that these people were showy-offy, intellectually snobby, 'oh-look-at-me-I'm-being-amused-by-a-BOOK' types. Now I realise that they are probably just reading something Caitlin Moran has written.

I've always idolized Moran a bit. She made people like me (unnecessaily verbose, imaginative-to-the-point-of-hyperbole, eternally child-like lefties) cool. You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered an entire chapter devoted to Moran's propensity for making a tit out of herself in front of Eddie Izzard.

This inspired me to dig out a long-forgotten blog I wrote in 2008, detailing a time when I too embarassed myself to the point of cringe in the presence of the fishnet-tight-wearing, marathon-running one.

The blog is below. And Caitlin, in the highly unlikely event that you are reading this, we cannot be the only ones....Perhaps we should set up a support group for people still dealing with enduring feelings of shame at their inability to act cool in Eddie's company? Just a thought.

My Future Husband, from October 2008

Right, let us get one thing clear before we begin - I do not, generally, get star struck. It is not what I do. I have a slight problem when it comes to assuming because I have seen someone on TV a lot or read about them in Cosmo that I know them intimately and we are practically best mates and going in for a bear hug....... but other than that I'm quite au fait with the whole celebrity meeting THING. That is, of course, accept when the celebrity in question is Eddie Izzard. But then we ARE talking about my imaginary boyfriend and future husband, someone whom I adore to the point of worship. These factors, I firmly believe, excuse my behaviour last Thursday:

So the central question is, could I have MADE more of a tit of myself in the presence of my hero resulting in a higher degree cringey ground swallowy type feelings? Answer: probably not.

I waited for an hour and a half in windswept Leicester Square post gig for him to emerge and when he did it all kind of happened in slow motion and I went into emergency adreniline fueled flight-or-fight mode and the only reason I remember what I said and did was because Cyan (my cousin) was witness to the whole thing and told me (with not a small amount of 'ha! You idiot' style glee). You know like when you are really drunk and you don't remember doing something until one of your friends says "do you remember when you....(insert your own hideously embarassing thing here)" and then you go "oh my GOD yeah I did, didn't I?". Yeah, it was like that.

So apparently I bounded up to him in a way that suggested a searingly beautiful love ballad was being played by a symphony of violins in my brain, clasped his hand lovingly in both of mine and nestled it to my bosom, looked into his eyes like I was about to propose and said the following:

"Eddie, I have waited all this time in the wind and rain (*it wasn't raining*) to tell you that I am your greatest fan. Others may tell you that they are your greatest fans but they are in fact LIARS because I am she......"

.......and then did a huge ranting monologue at high speed all about how much I loved him, not letting him get a word in edgeways and in oddly archaic language reminiscent of an Austen novel. I then got all embarassed, turned on my heel and pegged it down the street.

To give Eddie his dues, he did thank me and tell me my words meant a lot to him rather than doing what I would have done in his situation, i.e. get a restraining order. He is, as I have always suspected, a lovely, well brought up polite man in addition to being a hilarious, charming, sexy Genius.

Sitting at the bus stop afterwards I swivelled to my left to see Cyan eyeing me strangely.

"What?" I enquired.

"Tash", she said "do you realise that you have been singing 'Toot Sweets' from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the top of your voice to an entire assembled party of drunkards?"
(
(Our Lord David Bowie only knows why, obviously Toot Sweets is my default song when my brain has left the building, or I'm on an adreneline high. Cyan was impressed that I knew the verses, though, she didn't think anyone knew them).


Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Cosmo Awards, The Body Gossip Book and an Unfortunate Incident Involving Three Inch Heels!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that for every triumph in one’s life the universe will find a way to deal an equal and opposite moment of completely hideous, cringeworthy embarrassment. This is fate’s way of stopping us from becoming too big for our metaphorical boots. Which is a deliberately ironic turn of phrase, since I was quite literally sent crashing back down to earth by my actual knee-high boots.

Last Tuesday, Ruth and I were awarded one of Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Ultimate Women of the Year Awards. As an avid Cosmo fan since my mid-teens, I was reduced to a squealing idiot when I heard the news. You can see my attempt to recreate the high pitched ‘squee’ noise which emanated from my frenzied self about two minutes into this video (may I suggest removing any pet dogs in the vicinity first) :

http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/celebs/entertainment/cosmopolitan-ultimate-women-of-the-year-awards-2012-sponsored-by-vo5-real-women-video?click=main_sr

The award ceremony was one of those nights during which you spend every second desperately trying to commit it firmly to memory because you know you’ll dine out on tales of it for many years to come. Everything was starry, swanky, glossy and glitzy. Ruth and I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Fearne Cotton (who is hilarious), Mark Wright and Katie Piper. We supped champagne. We posed for endless photos and spoke to people wielding large, fluffy microphones. People ‘mwah mwah-ed’ us. I lept on Rylan from X Factor and sucked his cheekbone, intoxicated on a combination of adrenaline and free booze. You know, that sort of thing.

Cosmopolitan is unlike many of its contemporary glossies. Yes, there are the mandatory fashion and beauty pages. But there are also articles on how to get a pay rise, the plight of women in less economically developed countries and the laws relating to rape in the UK. The magazine encapsulates the idea that you can be a free thinking feminist and also get excited by a beautiful pair of shoes. It acknowledges that it’s not an ‘either or’ situation.

As a body confidence campaigner who enjoys wearing makeup, doing ridiculous, attention-seeking things with my hair and even, Lord-forbid, exhibiting cleavage, Cosmopolitan couldn’t be more aligned with my life-philosophy. My self-esteem classes are all about putting fashion and glamour back in its box, relegating them to a place of fun and experimentation, to the 10% of our brain space they deserve. Just as diets that involve completely cutting out all your favourite foods rarely lead to long-term health, completely denying yourself the opportunity to express yourself using your face and body isn’t the solution to the body confidence crisis.

I said some of this in my acceptance speech, much to Deputy Feature Editor Rosie Mullender’s delight. “You get it!” she exclaimed in the bar afterwards. Do I ever. So, I was feeling rather pleased with myself when, a couple of days later, I went to Cambridge to teach in a secondary school. I opened the classroom door with a broad smile, surveyed the little faces turned towards me….and promptly tripped on my three inch heels and fell arse-over-tit.

If you’ve never fallen over in front of a group of teenagers – it’s completely unlike falling in front of adults. Adults would swarm to your aid and ask you if you were okay. Teenagers just laugh. Lots. I fell awkwardly, injuring both my leg and my upper back. Desperately fighting the urge to shout obscenities and/or cry I heaved myself up, took off my boots and proceeded to teach barefoot for the rest of the day. Since then my leg just hasn’t functioned in the way I’m used to. It’s slow. I can’t dash across the road, nipping between London busses as I traverse the street because I’d actually get run over and die. My spacial awareness no longer reflects my body’s ability. I have to go to a crossing and wait for the green man. Stairs have become my enemy. Friends ‘tut’ at me as I hobble down the street at the pace of a slightly punch-drunk turtle.

And suddenly it dawned on me….

Our bodies and their ability to allow us to get from day to day are all too easily taken for granted. It’s only when you malfunction in some way that you remember your health is the most precious commodity you own.

Which brings me nicely onto the Body Gossip book. In September we released an anthology of more than 300 body stories written by real people from throughout the UK. And there’s a whole chapter on illness and injury. Stories just like the one above (accept, you know, more inspiring and less about someone making a gigantic tit out of themselves because of their penchant for precarious footwear). What could be a better Christmas present than making someone realise how lucky they are to have the body they do? Or if you or someone you love has challenges with their body, letting them know they’re not alone?

You can buy the Body Gossip book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Gossip-Book-Ruth-Rogers/dp/0956536840

It also affords the opportunity to play what I have affectionately dubbed ‘dirty Where’s Wally’ and match the photographs of naked body parts to various members of the Body Gossip team. My boobs are there, being all conspicuous. Go on, you know you wanna.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Story about a Wise Man on the Train.....

There are two things you should know about me.

1. I spend an inordinate amount of my life on public transport;
2. I’ll literally chat to anyone.

Thus it was that, last week, I found myself on a train, deep in conversation with a middle-aged, Muslim father of three who I had previously not known from the proverbial Adam.

He was telling me about his children and how brilliant they each are, chest all puffed with pride in a really rather endearing fashion. Two of them are at college, so I told him about Gossip School and the work we do with teenagers.

"Let me tell you a story....." he replied “I used to be really good looking.......”

I laughed, not because I doubted his words, but because it was such a gloriously whimsical thing to come out with.

No, seriously. I was a FOX” he chortled. “And my ex-wife, she was gorgeous too, but she didn’t believe it. She was everything to me, but she had no confidence in herself.”

He then explained the various ways in which his ex’s insecurity affected the dynamics of their relationship.

If we went out and a woman looked at me, she got angry. If a friend of hers commented on me – my looks or the way I was with her as a husband – she got angry. If I went out, she got angry.

I stopped doing things, in the end. It wasn’t worth the hassle. I gave up lots of things I enjoyed like sport because every time I left the house she accused me of cheating on her.

I thought that my love could make her better. I thought the more I loved her and praised her the more she might start to love herself. But what I realised is self-respect has to come from within
”.

I was nodding earnestly, spellbound by his story, as it occurred to me that emotionally abusive relationships don’t just claim women as their victims.

“But” he continued “this is what I want to say to you. Even though I still love her, we’re getting divorced now. And we have three children. So that’s five people whose lives have been ruined, all because she couldn’t accept that to me she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

So, if anyone ever tells you that the work you do in schools isn’t as important as English or Maths, you tell them my story
.”

So that’s what I'm doing.

Monday, 13 August 2012

'This Morning' Debate - Laura Summers -v- Me


Earlier today I once again pootled off to ITV studios to appear on This Morning’s daily debate (and sat my (considerably larger) bottom on the exact spot on the sofa Nicola Roberts had vacated just moments earlier).

I’ve contributed to This Morning debates before without much incident – As a card-carrying feminist with a ‘softly-softly for fear of denting the male ego’ approach I seem to be a palatable sort for the viewing public to observe whilst munching their toast.

That was until….uhm….this morning. I appeared opposite Laura Summers, a young woman who has spent in excess of £60,000 on cosmetic procedures, apparently in response to having been bullied at school.

Here we are:



She argued that she’d rather have surgery than pay her mortgage (because you can't take your house with you into a nightclub) and that her various tweaks had opened a gateway to an ‘amazing’ life, because people respond so much better towards her now. She has also said in the national press that she believes herself to be a good role model for young women.

Owing chiefly to the opinions outlined above, I fully expected to hate her. In the flesh, however, Laura is rather likeable and extremely vulnerable, the combination of which inspires the sort of mentality which makes you want to nestle her to your bosom and stroke her hair. I refrained from doing either, you’ll be pleased to know.

However, none of this changes my opinion on plastic surgery for purely cosmetic purposes. I don’t ‘hate’ or ‘judge’ individuals who chose to go down this route (despite what some Twitter users and the Daily Mail misguidedly seem to believe) but I DO hate and judge a society which makes women (and, increasingly, men) feel that they need to butcher and mutilate themselves in order to be attractive, valued and acceptable.

As anyone who has ever been to the pub with me can testify, I’m forever harping on about the ‘Spectrum of Beauty’ – My vision for a future where everyone is acknowledged in our notion of attractiveness, which includes a huge variety of ages, races, shapes and sizes. After all, any sensible person knows that there is more than one way to be gorgeous.

My issue with cosmetic surgery and its increasing availability is that it’s a way for people to conform to an ever narrower beauty ideal. And the more people choose to conform, the narrower our ideas about attractiveness will become. During my lifetime I have seen beauty paradigms become more and more restrictive and extreme. The result is a generation who think that botox, fake lips, fake bosoms and fake tans are the ticket to all the things they aspire to in life – wealth, popularity, acceptance, success. This isn’t necessarily their fault - A lot of the messages we’re getting from the media, advertising and society generally back up these views – but that doesn’t make it right.

Someone has to take a stand and that person, it seems, shall be me. So often I’ve been told I’m ‘almost beautiful’ – A few ‘tweaks’ would no doubt catapult me to the giddy heights of looking a little bit like a glamour model. It would have been so easy for me to succumb to the ever-present pressure to botox the lines which have suddenly appeared in my 31 year old face or to get a tummy tuck to reverse the aesthetic effect of the operation I had there which has left a scar – but what sort of an example would I be setting?

I was not born confident (or perhaps I was, but my infant confidence was swiftly squished by the world we live in). The road to self-acceptance has been long and it has not been easy. I, too, have battled demons, but I don’t use that as an excuse to sacrifice everything that makes me unique and individual at the alter of capitalism. I am not ‘perfect’ – but perfection is an ever-changing concept in any case. Start moulding yourself to what society tells you is beautiful and you will (quite literally) be on that treadmill forever.

When did fashion and beauty stop being fun? When did it stop being about girly nights giggling in front of the mirror surrounded by lip glosses and glasses of chardonnay and start being about general anaesthetic?

I stand by what I said – In succumbing to plastic surgery Laura let the bullies win. I too was subject to nasty remarks at school (I think we all were, weren’t we?) and take immense pride that my gangly limbed, mixed race, eyes-slightly-too-far-back-in-my-head, size 16 self is now writing books, appearing on television and has her own business. I didn’t need to eradicate the physical ‘flaws’ others saw in me in order to make a success of myself and neither should anyone.

The Olympics have shown us how hard work, dedication and perseverance can reap rewards. The fact that Jessica Ennis also has a magnificent bottom is an unexpected bonus. It’s what her body can DO that’s the primary consideration. Let’s use role models like Jessica, as well as those who have excelled in intellectual endeavours, to give young women something more to aspire to than being sexually attractive to the opposite sex, or looking vaguely like something they’ve seen in a magazine.

I will defend until my dying breath people’s right to do whatever they want with their bodies, but I also reserve the right to question what their chosen modifications say about the society that we live in. I do not have a problem with makeup, hair dye, piercings or tattoos. These things help us to establish our individuality. Neither do I take issue with plastic surgery for genuine medical reasons. I DO have a problem with boob jobs for purely cosmetic purposes, the inexplicable desire to inject poison actually into one’s face in the form of botox and a host of other things which are all about the quest to conform.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – how one looks is the icing on the cake, not the sponge. Exist on a diet of just icing for too long and its saccharine sweetness will make you sick.

Be the best version of you.


Friday, 20 July 2012

Gerard Butler's Body......

….And now I have your attention, here is what I have to say about Gerard Butler’s body, specifically. But there is a preamble. So please bear with me, ladies.

During my Body Gossip self-esteem classes I show this video, by Dove:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U


In my opinion, it’s the best video on the topic of airbrushing out there (and there are many). The reason I like it is that it shows those alterations made at the digital enhancement stage that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. Most people’s understanding of airbrushing is that wrinkles, blemishes and spots are removed, or that they might make the subject slightly thinner. Never in our wildest dreams are we envisioning that necks are lengthened and slimmed, eyes are made larger etc. This video not only demonstrates the type of airbrushing we simply aren’t on the alert for, but also the dramatic effect it has on the appearance of the subject.

But – and this is a big but (excuse the pun) – Gossip School proudly works with students of both genders and I have yet to find an equivocal video for men. We all KNOW the front covers of men’s magazines have had just as much done to them in post-production as their female counterparts but, so far, no one’s thought to make a video about it.

So, imagine my delight when a friend told me that Gerard Butler had spoken out on a chat show about how his famous six pack in the film 300 had, effectively, been painted on. ‘Fantastic’ I though ‘I’ll find the clip to show my male students’.

Off to Google I went and typed “Gerard Butler talks about airbrushing in 300’. Quite a specific search, one would have thought. So, imagine my shock and dismay when I trawled through endless pages to discover that this clip does not appear to be available anywhere on the internet.

Yet more worrying was the content of the pages I had to trawl through. Endless “get abs like Gerard Butler using our protein shakes/diet pills/supplements/exercise regime!” headlines screamed out at me. Articles, promising young men they can achieve a body like Gerard’s if only they follow a very specific set of instruction and, more crucially, part with their hard-earned cash.

…A body which, by Gerard’s own admission, does not exist in reality.

Clearly, aspiring to Gerard’s physical form in a film which relied very heavily on special effects is big business. How many men are aware that Gerard didn’t look like that when he arrived on set? And the bigger question is perhaps why the need was felt to digitally ‘enhance’ him in the first place.

Gerard, I am certain, has a drool-worthy physical form without having extra abs added in post production. Why couldn’t we have seen him in all his natural glory and given young men a (slightly) more realistic body ideal (if the facilities to which most Hollywood stars have access can be termed in any way realistic).

I have become concerned during my time teaching ‘Gossip School’ about the number of young men and teenage boys exercising for purely aesthetic reasons. Where is the fun in slogging away on a treadmill when school is the only time when you get to play competitive sport entirely for free? Powdered protein shakes, pills and steroids are also being sold to these minors illegally, over the internet.

Perhaps it’s time for male celebrities to take Gerard’s lead and be honest and candid about the origins of their muscular physiques.

Monday, 2 July 2012

True Beauty

Yesterday, I adopted full ‘supportive best mate’ regalia and toddled along to Chats Palace in Hackney, where BodyGossipRuth was performing in a play reading.

I’ve never been to a play reading before and wasn’t at all sure what to expect. I thought it might involve a group of actors sitting around wearing half-moon spectacles, looking very earnest and serious in a circle, staring hard at their scripts whilst we craned our necks to see who was speaking, or slowly died inside from ‘supportive best mate’ –induced boredom.

As it turned out, a play reading is very much like a play. It simply has a less elaborate set (and who needs a set anyway?) and the actors have a script in their hand, which they refer to quite minimally, because they are a special breed of person who can remember things almost instantly after reading them.

When you mostly see BodyGossipRuth in her two default modes (either working with gigantic horse-shaped puppets, or frantically galloping through her Body Gossip related to-do list), it’s easy to forget that she is actually an actor. Tis her raison d’etre. Well, that and constant attempts to heap unwanted attention upon her insane beast of a ginger cat.

I felt how I imagine mothers must feel when they see their child performing as a tree in their first nativity play – Like I might spontaneously combust with pride. However, it wasn’t because of hormones whizzing around my body and brain, blinding me with irrational love for a small person I had made in my uterus, it was rather because BodyGossipRuth is really chuffing good.

I remember when we were cast together as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in our Sixth Form’s annual Shakespeare production. I was the former and being as I was gifted in the oratory department but a bit of a shit actress, I went away and studied VHS videos (it was the 90s) of other people playing Macbeth and copied them. (I went on to act in other things but always playing a woman who was, at least in part, like me – I am Ricky Gervais-esque in that regard). Ruth, however, played Lady Macbeth with such utter devotion to her craft, we were all a bit scared of her when she came off stage, assuming that she’d actually gone totally bonkers. I remember thinking then that BodyGossipRuth was destined for an act-y type profession and it was heartening to see that she hasn’t lost her touch, despite all her time and energy going into Body Gossip, which might otherwise be channelled into auditions.

But that isn’t the point of this blog. Oh no.

On my way home from the play reading I nipped into Tescos to possess myself of something for my dinner. I stood with all the other single people, staring aimlessly at the vast wall of ready-meals for one (or ‘die alone pasta’ as my Flatmate calls them) before selecting one and going to the till. The shop was rammed with young men in ‘I’m about to watch the cup final’ mode, wearing shorts and vest tops or football shirts, and balancing a crate of beer in one hand and a packet of Pringles in the other (shopping baskets are for girls, apparently).

I took my place in the queue and reconciled myself to a long wait, but consoled with the thought that at least I was surrounded by blokes in shorts and that was quite sexy if you forced yourself to forget you were in Tescos.

In front of me in the queue was an exasperated looking man with what transpired to be, on close examination, a really rather attractive lady-person. She was tall and slim, with long wavy hair and wearing a lovely sea-green tunic top which gave her a mermaid-like appearance. I was just about to compliment her on her outfit when I noticed that she was frantically scanning the ‘impulse buys’ near the till in desperate manner. She pointed to some cut price wine.

“You must stop me from buying that”. She said. “I’m not drinking for 3 months. Because wine has, like SOOOOOOOOOO many empty calories”.

*pause*

“I stop eating on Thursday” she continued “so that I can fit into my outfit on a Friday night”.
(To go out starving hungry and not drink, presumably, which sounds like a bundle of laughs, I thought to myself).

Her fella just nodded, and continued to gaze out of the window. He might as well have put his fingers in his ears and gone “lalalalalalaaaaaaaa I’m not listening!” and indeed he might have done, had he not been carrying a 12 pack of Fosters.

“OH! LOOK!” she suddenly exclaimed “Maltesars! “The lighter way to enjoy chocolate!” (*hahahahaha –manic, scary laughter*) They’re, like diet chocolate! Can we get some? Or you can get some. Cos if you won’t eat them I’ll feel too guilty. But we could, like, share?”

“Erm, yeah alright” he replied.

“You don’t sound keen. Do you think I should not have them? Because I know I’m on a diet but….”

I tuned out (as the man had very astutely done some moments previously, it seemed).

Then it hit me. The reason I didn’t notice the way that girl looked initially was because her desperation and insecurity actually SHONE through. And it made her, if not ugly exactly, more a figure of pity. Someone you wanted to pat on the head and force feed cheese-on-toast. Certainly not someone you’d want to spend time with. Or even have sex with.

That old adage ‘true beauty comes from within’ works in reverse, too. Constantly bleating on and on in an endless, tedious monologue about diet and weight makes you the personification of Heat Magazine – An object which draws your eye because of the bright colours and ‘BANISH CELLULITE!!” headlines, but which you’re usually done with in about 25 minutes, feeling spiritually unfulfilled and reaching for your copy of The Female Eunarch. It’s Cosmo you want to keep in your handbag for the entire month – Dear old Cosmo filled with confidence tips, sass and ‘you go, girl’-ness – it’s pretty cover being the icing on the proverbial cake.

So, ladies, spend a very small percentage of your time making yourself look how you want to look and then get on with your life, but most crucially SHUT UP about it, or else you may find yourself in a queue in Tescos, stood in front of a woman gnawing on her own fist in an effort to stop herself from standing on a box of Walkers crisps, pointing at you and shouting: “YOU, my dear, have all the appearance on an utter MORON!”

Cheers.

Friday, 22 June 2012

BMI-rony

“Would we all be happier if we threw away our scales?” the BBC radio presenter asked me yesterday morning.

Yes. And we’d be healthier, too.

I threw away my scales in 2008, the same year I recovered from my eating disorder. I knew that my progress towards health would be significantly hampered if I had any concerns whatsoever about what was happening with my weight and I’d just rather not have known.

As I re-explored what it meant to be Natasha Devon- what her body was really like, how she dressed, what she ate, what activities she did, liberated from the constant and oppressive presence of bulimia nervosa, I yo-yoed madly between my a size 12 and a size 20. “This is insane” I thought “I simply cannot afford the clothing bills if I continue like this”.

Fortunately, about a year later I levelled out at a size 16 and there I have stayed ever since. I eat when I am hungry. I stop when I am full. If I overeat for a couple of weeks for whatever reason, I’m aware of, but not freaked out by it and cut out the empty calories until my body feels ‘right’ again. I inject as much variety into my diet as possible and make sure there’s always plenty of fresh fruit and veg to hand. I walk at least two miles every single day. And this is the body I’ve ended up with – a six foot tall “cello on chopsticks” with long, slender arms and legs and a ‘little bit fat in a pleasant way’ torso.

Recently, BodyGossipRuth posted an ancient picture of me on Facebook. She’s been snuffling around like a little truffle pig in her parents’ loft, it transpired and had happened upon some ancient documentation, with pictorial evidence, from days of yore. The picture was taken when I was 17 – a year before I developed my eating disorder. At the time, I remember feeling revoltingly huge. At about 6 inches taller than my class mates and at least 3 dress sizes larger, I always eschewed their invitations to join them on weekend shopping trips to Top Shop, knowing that nothing there would fit me. I had no concept of how to dress for my shape and stuck to a uniform of deeply unflattering baggy jumpers and Marks and Spencers bootleg elasticated slacks.

The Facebook photograph depicts me in one such fashion crime and, despite not being able to see my body shape terribly clearly, I can tell that I am the exact same size I am now. Back then, of course I put no real thought into what I was eating, I just went about my day eating when I was hungry, stopping when I was full and, as BodyGossipRuth recalls “CONSTANTLY marching – You were always stomping about between one engagement and the next”.

I must have a truly inappropriate sense of humour because I laughed – Laughed at the wasted years, the physical and mental torment, the sheer effort I put into trying to conform to a ‘perfect’ size 8 – only to land back at the same size I was as a teenager – and clearly the size nature intended for me.



Me then (Second from right - and that's BodyGossipRuth on the left!)



And now, during my recent lecture on body image at UAE back to my natural size 16 again!


......But the irony continues.

Recently I was poorly for the first time since moving to Our Nation’s Glorious Capital, rendering it necessary for me to register with a London doctor. They’re rather more rigorous than their country counterparts and insisted on conducting the most in-depth health assessment I have ever had the pleasure of being subjected to - part of which, of course, involved my being weighed.

“How much do you think you weigh?”. My Doctor asked.
“No idea”. I said “and neither do I want to know”.
“Why?”
(Explained whole aversion to scales and ceremonial throwing away of my own when conquering my eating disorder scenario.)
“Okay, hop on the scales and don’t look and I won’t tell you”. She said.

I’ve always assumed I’ve put on stones and stones since my recovery. You just do. Weight gain somehow makes itself more apparent than weight loss. I had reconciled myself to the idea that I was probably ‘obese’ by traditional BMI standards (after all, most people are).

“Excellent” my Doctor said “Your BMI is exactly where it should be for your height”.

“Errr. What?” I said, mouth hanging open, agog.

“Look at this chart” the Doctor commanded me. “this is underweight, this is normal, this is overweight, this is obese and this is morbidly obese. You are here”.

Right smack bang in the middle of “normal”.

I still have no idea what I weigh, but I have learned that I was right to trust my body and listen to my instincts.

We’re so caught up in statistics, weights and measurements, we’ve lost the ability to trust our bodies. Give it a try – Throw away your scales – I promise it will be the best decision you ever make.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Of Mice and (Wo)Men

Forgive me, I’m going to divert briefly from the familiar territory of body confidence and use my blog to share with you a terrible and traumatic story. It’s the story of a 31 year old woman who just this minute had a gigantic screaming row….with a mouse.

They say, in London, you are never more than 6 metres away from vermin. When I first moved into our flat in the city, my flatmate assured me that the occasional mouse citing was a normal facet of London living. Like congestion charges, constant sirens and 24 hour Vietnamese food. I put her casual dismissal down, in no small part, to the fact that my flatmate has never actually seen a live mouse in our flat. BodyGossipRuth has a theory that mice only like human women with gigantic boobs (hence their insistence on terrorising me). Or that my flatmate has terrible eyesight. Or that she is suffering from a very specific form of mouse-related denial.

I started to think perhaps the problem was me- Maybe I was suffering from mouse-related delusion. Mouse hallucinations. Or Mousillations, if you will. What people who’ve never had the pleasure of vermin in their house don’t realise, is that they’re fast little fuckers. It isn’t like Tom and Jerry, where a mouse stops every few paces to poke its tongue out cheekily at an assailant feline. You hear the tell-tale pitter patter of tiny mouse feet and see the briefest flash in the corner of your eye. For about 3 seconds it’s terrifying, but then it’s quite easy to convince yourself you imagined it. We continued this way for weeks. With me banging on my flatmate’s bedroom door at 1am, stage whispering “sweetie….. I just saw the mouse!” and her replying “it’s okay, it’ll be gone by now. Go to sleep” – I’d meander off to bed wondering how on earth she could be so calm about what was clearly an apocalyptic, Pied Piper of Hamelin style situation which would somehow herald our untimely deaths.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back (well, it gave me the hump, anyway) was when I was watching the infamous ‘Mr Jengles’ scene in ‘The Green Mile’ one evening. I suddenly noticed a flurry of movement beneath the television. There’s a mouse ON my TV and a mouse UNDER my TV! I fumed. For some reason this struck me as unacceptable. Mice were entirely taking over my world. I would not have it.

“We’re getting a cat.” I told my flatmate.
“Noooooooooo!” she said (she has an aversion to all things furry and four legged – apart from mice which appear, uninvited, it would seem) “remember when you wanted a cat before, and then you changed your mind?”
“Yes, but that was a post-break-up, rebound cat” I said. “That was a cat which would have been purchased to give me unconditional love in the way that only a dog, or highly trained human man ever could. That was selfish and wrong. But THIS time I just want a mouse killing machine”.

The next day, cat dialogue unresolved, BodyGossipSarah came to stay. The mice hadn’t been forwarned of this development. It seems they’d gotten into a routine of waiting until myself and the flatmate had gone to work. Then the crafty little buggers were running riot in our kitchen, having a little party, looking at my Bowie calendar and lapping up my Nando’s sauce (probably). Little did they know that Sarah would come waltzing into the room at an unscheduled time.

I was on my way to a school in Oxford when I got the call. “Tash. Three mice have just…..just JUMPED at me!”

“Erm. Do mice jump? Are you sure they’re not using hoummus pots as tiny trampolines?” was my first question, before I realised how insensitive I was being. I quickly formulated a plan. “Okay, okay. Go downstairs. Knock on the door of the ground floor flat. A fit man will answer. Ask if you can borrow his cat” I instructed.

Two hours later, I was informed that the cat had to be cajoled from my bedroom, where it had inexplicably insisted on going, twice, before entering the kitchen, pouncing on the mouse, and letting it go again.

So much for my cat plan. It’s all a myth, them being good at mouse catching. It was time to call the professionals.

Over the next two weeks, a very nice man by the name of Wayne frequented our house wielding various weapons designed for the mass slaughter of mice. He laid traps and they caught things. Things which subsequently ended up dead. “Wanna see?” he’d ask, waving the offending trap under my horrified nose.

“Yeah, alright” said my flatmate, once. I peered at her quizzically, trying to ascertain if this was all bravado.

“woah! Cool!” she said, peering into the trap “it’s head’s come right clean off!”. A lengthy discussion ensued, in which Wayne the mouse man and my flatmate peered into various small boxes containing various small dead things and discussed the contents thereof, seemingly equally fascinated and neither of them remotely grossed out. I began to wonder whether this might be a match made in heaven, characterised by a mutual love of trapping and murdering small, furry creatures.

One day, Wayne announced he had caught seven of the little blighters to date (SEVEN. Ick), and had cleverly ascertained from whence they were springing. “I’m going to fill in your holes” he announced, in a way which immediately made me wish that it was my flatmate he was addressing, rather than me (I believe she may have rather enjoyed it, she’s definitely crushing on the mouse man).

Wood was hammered, holes were filled, white stuff was sprayed. I mean none of this remotely euphemistically. All entry points were sealed. Phew. The end of all the mouse drama.

Or so I thought.

Over the weekend I saw a familiar flash in the corner of my eye, as I made a cup of tea. “It’s post traumatic mouse syndrome” I told myself. Only it wasn’t. It was a baby mouse. Sighing, I speed dialled Wayne the mouse man, who agreed that perhaps his hole-filling efforts hadn’t quite been up to scratch and he’d return during the working week (tomorrow afternoon).

Which would have all been fine, if it weren’t for the fact that I just went downstairs to take my washing out of the machine and saw a gigantic bloody great mouse run out from behind the recycling.

I screamed.

It, check this, SCREAMED BACK AT ME.

Well, it squeaked in a way that suggested that it was screaming.

A ridiculous mutual screaming scenario ensued. I shrieked at the ruddy, great giant mouse. It shrieked back and thrashed about slightly.

OH GOD MY HOLES ARE FILLED! I’M STUCK IN THE CHUFFING HOUSE WITH IT! I thought, before pegging it to the uncertain refuge of my room on the second floor.

Where I now sit, trembling, waiting for BodyGossipRuth because between us we might have a shot at confronting the beast.

Feminism has bought my gender an awful long way. I can now earn my own wage, cast my own vote. I can change a light bulb and I’ll have a good crack at putting up a shelf. But I’m still incapable of doing anything other than screaming pathetically when confronted with a mouse.

And for that, female race, I apologise.

Yours, defeated by a mouse.

BodyGossipTash

p.s. Since writing the above, BodyGossipRuth has gallantly assailed my kitchen, removed my washing, fetched me a glass of calming water, helped me plug in a mouse deterrent plug-in device and looked out of the window in a menacing fashion when some neighbourhood yob types looked like they might be trying to steal her bike. She is now officially my boyfriend.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Liz Jones -v- Gok Wan

So, it appears that once again Gok Wan has found himself in the firing line, pelted with the word-bullets which are Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones’ self-righteous wrath. One might have thought she would have found someone else to pick on by now. But no. It appears Gok has really got her goat. This is the third time Ms Jones has inflicted a column on the Daily Mail reading world which brands Gok ‘patronising’.

How to Look Good Naked: “Patronising!” says Liz.
Gok’s Fashion Road Show: “Patronising” Liz choruses once more.
And today, Gok’s comments regarding Mums on the school run are….yep, you guessed it….PATRONISING.

In case you’re reading this, Liz, just FYI – “condescending” means the same as “patronising”. You may wish to do a little word swap to introduce some variety into your writing.

I’ve done a rudimentary Google search on the whole Liz-v-Gok debacle and read as much as I could without falling asleep.

It seems that the bulk of Liz’s argument centres around the (somewhat misguided) notion that men would not be subjected to the same language and treatment as part of a TV show branded ‘light entertainment’ and that Gok’s efforts to style the nation are a thinly disguised, yet catastrophic blow to girl power. (Aw, bless. She thinks she’s being all feminist.)

I haven’t been able to find Gok’s comments on the attire of British mothers (rather suggesting that Liz Jones works really hard to find reasons to be suitably column-ready in her rage), but I should imagine they are something along the lines of : If you make the effort to look lovely, even if you’re a busy working Mum, your life will be a little more fabulous.

And he’s right. I don’t have children, granted, so to avoid finding myself being subjected to that most tedious of all arguments “but you are not a mother! You JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND!” (it’s been used on me during countless, less directly relevant debates), I shall use the example of my own mother. I cannot remember my Mum being ever being less than groomed and well-presented, despite having, in addition to myself, two boys born so close together everyone thought they were twins (my brothers are 10 months apart), working within the family business and all the usual demands which many women cite as the reason they’ve been unable to dress themselves sensibly in the morning.

And of course, I would have loved her just as much if she wore a uniform of sagging-at-the-knees leggings and an egg stained cardi. My point is, it’s obviously possible to work, bring children into the world and ultimately avoid this particular wardrobe destiny. It undoubtedly required a considerable amount of effort each day. But I believe my mother would argue that it was worth it: It was about expressing her own self-worth. People who dress to suit their shape and size are giving the message that they respect their bodies, and themselves.

Gok has taught women throughout the UK how to do that exact thing, ON A BUDGET, no less. Wearing clothes that flatter your figure puts a spring in your step, even if they cost £3.99 from Primark, or were fashioned using a sheet of glitter paper and some pritt stick.

As for Gok’s tone and manner which Ms Jones apparently finds particularly objectionable, I can only say this: Liz is obviously lucky enough never to have suffered from cripplingly low self-esteem, or to know anyone who has.

Some women’s egos have been left so utterly dented by endless pressure to aspire to an ever-changing and very narrow idea of beauty, by ‘fat talk’ within their peer groups, or by partners who make them feel worthless, they literally do need to be cajoled into a pretty frock.

A new outfit won’t magically transform you into a different person, but if you have ever seen the look on someone’s face when they’ve been given a makeover and see themselves in the mirror, you’ll know that it can easily be the catalyst someone desperately needs to set them on the path to confidence.

True confidence is about emotion, it’s about ‘feeling it’…… but isn’t it easier to ‘feel it’ when you are beautifully accessorised? When you are celebrating your individuality by showcasing your body shape? When you’re wearing a bra that actually fits?

I think it is and that is why, Gok Wan, I salute you.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Body Confidence Awards

On Thursday 19th April 2012, the Government hosted the first ever national body confidence awards. Body Gossip were nominated in two categories (campaigner and education for Gossip School) and so off I trotted in my 4 inch high, hot pink, suede stilettos to Parliament (if I ever stop maintaining that it’s possible to be an advocate for inner beauty AND wear what Ruth Rogers would term ‘ridiculous shoes’ then you must shoot me, for Tash has already left the metaphorical building that is my soul and to keep me alive would be a cruelty).

There’s still a widely held misconception that body image is a ‘fluffy’ subject, fodder only for badly made, reductive prime time television shows, or the pages of weekly glossies, and not really worthy of attention from people who consider themselves to be remotely intelligent or important. The very fact that this event was taking place was testament to the gradual shift against the tide of this truly antiquated and misguided stance.

Last week, I wrote an article for the Times Educational Supplement in which I cited Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and encouraged anyone dubious about the importance of self-esteem to ‘ave a look and use their noddle’ (as one says in Essex. I may have used slightly more elegant language for the Times, however). Michael Gove (or ‘the Anti-Ken’ as I like to call him, in deference to the genius that is ‘right about everything to do with education’ Ken Robinson) has dramatically slashed PSHE budgets, cut huge swathes of vocational qualifications for teenagers and argued that we need to refocus education to ‘traditional academia’. Fortunately, I was inundated with emails from teachers seconding my opinion which, in a very small, pistachio sized nutshell, amounts to “Gove’s stance is tosh”.

Maslow’s hierarchy states that there are a number of basic human needs which need to be fulfilled before an individual can focus on anything else – in this instance before they can achieve their academic or physical potential. These include all the ones you’d expect (like food and shelter), but also include comfort, security and, crucially, confidence.

The work being undertaken by Gossip School, and other wonderful organisations like Young Body Image and Girl Guiding UK, is an acknowledgment of the fact that, if we can provide young people with a foundation of self-esteem and comfort in their own skins, they will have a much better chance of fulfilling their potential, whatever that might be. There’s nothing fluffy about that. It’s about empowering a generation.

We work with 13-18 year olds at Gossip School. It’s the time during which we take our exams, perhaps go into employment, or go to college/university, have our first romances, start to care about the outside world, form opinions on stuff and are trying to establish ourselves as a young adult. It’s a time when you need a good sense of self and the armour to tackle anything negative which might come your way, as you explore what it means to be a human and a citizen. However, I’m also more than aware that self-esteem issues span all ages.

On Thursday, the speeches given by Chair Jo Swinson focussed heavily on how lack of self-esteem is having a devastating impact on children at a younger and younger age. And of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see the impact that our insane, consumer-driven, image-focussed culture is having on a generation of adults (botox anyone?).

Somewhere along the line, fashion and glamour stopped being fun, frivolous and fabulous, and became sinister, sexist and extreme. Our bodies became a commodity, something to be whipped mercilessly into our desired whims, which aren’t even our own but based on an ever-changing arbitrary beauty ideal, dictated by multi-national corporations who line their pockets with our desperate attempts to combat our feelings of low self-worth.

We’re told we need to be attractive in order to be loved, valued and successful – The fact which stayed with me was that a significant number of young people won’t even go into school at all, if they don’t feel attractive on a given day. How can we expect teenagers to go on to solve future economic deficits, find a cure for cancer, fix the environment and combat poverty if they’re too crippled by lack of body confidence even to get out of bed?

If body image were, as some still persist in believing, a ‘fluffy’ topic, there would not be a multi-billion pound cosmetic surgery industry, people would not stick lumps of plastic under their skin, inject their faces with poison and undergo potentially life-threatening procedures in pursuit of an imagined body ideal. The time, money and energy that an ever-growing army of individuals are prepared to sacrifice in order to look different, believing that they will then feel different, is testament to the magnitude of our problem.

One only had to look around at the assembled guests at last Thursday’s event to see how body image bleeds into so many different areas – disability, racism, sexuality, feminism, education. My own experience as a self-esteem teacher bears this out. Start a conversation with a teenager about how they ‘feel fat’ or ‘no one fancies them’ and within five minutes you’re invariably into broken homes, pending unemployment stress or racial sensitivity territory.

I’m all for makeup. Anything you can wipe off/peel off/unzip or unclip at the end of the day is fine in my book. I also have two tattoos. Because, for me, tattoos are an expression of my desire not to conform, to be a little different, whereas the permanent or semi-permanent procedures I object to are symptomatic of an inexplicable wish to aspire to one, uniform look. It isn’t an anomaly to be an advocate for inner beauty AND condition your hair. It’s the reason I subscribe to Cosmopolitan Magazine: I can care about the pay gap between men and women, and the state of the health service, and what’s happening in the Middle East AND have enough room left in my head to get excited about a handbag.

But only because I have the foundation of self-esteem to realise that the handbag is not my ticket to happiness.

If you think you can spot the feminist, the body confidence campaigner, the flag-waver for inner beauty: Think again. We’re everywhere. And it’s about time you joined the revolution.

Here are some other things which happened on Thursday, in no particular order:

Caitlin Moran winked at me (at least I think she did. It could have been the trademark eyeliner);

Kiss FM DJ AJ King read out my statement about young people and body confidence in a speech, raised his fist in the air and said "amen";

Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, eminent Psychotherapist and arguably the cleverest woman on the Planet, called Ruth and I "ballsy and brave" in her speech;

I got a teeny bit tiddly with the gorgeous and lovely Rosie Mullender, Features Editor at Cosmopolitan and we might have talked about boys a bit. In a room full of feminists. But then again everyone was a teeny bit tiddly by then (apart from Jo Swinson who managed to remain incredibly poised and elegant throughout) so I think we were forgiven.

To read Susie Orbach’s article on Thursday's happenings go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/20/body-confidence-new-line-on-beauty

To read my Times Article go to: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6207168&s_cid=tesmagazinehome

Below are some photographs, for your viewing pleasure:


Ruth and I outside Parliament pre-event (and pre-wine)


With 'How to Look Good Naked's Shona Collins (Body Gossip Ambassador)


With Rosie Mullender of Cosmopolitan and all-round Legend

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Bricking It

Okay, so you forced me.

There was I, thinking that the mildly diverting story of journalist Samantha Brick (some say) deludedly believing that she is the dog’s doo-dahs was going to hold our attention for the thirty seconds it deserved and yet here we are, days later, still rabbiting on about the chuffing thing. This is why Britain is still in a recession, you know. We’d rather point and laugh at people we believe to be physically or psychologically inferior to us than sort out the deficit.

Sigh….Anyway......

So, here is my two penneth. For what it is worth (2p, presumably):

Firstly, the public reaction to Brick says far more than the original story ever will. She believes she is gorgeous beyond sense and,if her anecdotes are to be credited, the people around her have bought into this belief and treated her as such. There is nothing wrong with this. I’m forever telling my Gossip School students “if you believe something is true, your mind will find a way to make your life fit that belief” and Brick’s rather extreme example bears this out (excuse the pun) beautifully.

For what is beauty if not in the eye of the beholder? If Brick believes she is sensationally good looking, and so do the people around her, is that not the definition of attractiveness? Whether or not she measures up to some arbitrary, society-created, ever shifting, plastic beauty paradigm is largely irrelevant.

Secondly, the public backlash epitomises the British “don’t get too big for thy boots, young lady” attitude. We are never allowed to boast. We can’t say “hell yes, I was born to do this task!” we must say “well, I’ll probably be a bit crap but let’s give it a go”.

This is particularly true of women. We self-deprecate all over the gaff. This is apparently the most ‘attractive’ quality in a woman: to sit demurely, ankles crossed, with one’s head cocked slightly to the right and, in hushed, breathy tones, list all your shortcomings and foibles. “She doesn’t know how beautiful/talented/intelligent she is” is the highest accolade we can bestow on a female person.

Accept it’s all bollocks. It’s all just another mechanism by which women are quashed, trampled and kept in check. It’s also bloody annoying. If we spent less time bleating about our fat ankles and more time running the world, that Beyonce song might have an iota of truth in it.

I’m not suggesting for one minute we should be blind to our flaws. But self-acceptance is all about embracing and celebrating the things that make us brilliant, as well as acknowledging the things we’re less good at. Humility has its place, just as the occasional “waaay haaaay! Go me!” moment does.

So, whether Samantha Brick is a few root veg short of a bushall, whether or not she is guilty of ‘narcissism’ or whether or not she is objectively ‘beautiful’ are all utterly beside the point. The point is, if we lived in a society where women were allowed to have a good old gloat every now and then this story would be exactly what it should be: A non-story.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Blame Game

When bad things happen to good people, our first instinct is to look for someone to blame. In doing so, we'll often willfully ignore the facts and eschew all knowledge of the notion that there might be two, or many, sides to a story.

For example, I'm almost irresistibly tempted to blame the tabloids for this very phenomenon. It isn’t actually entirely their fault. But they love a scapegoat, and, partially because of this, so do we.

This is particularly true when it comes to eating disorders. Because eating disorders are baffling. And being able to point the finger at ‘parenting’ or ‘the media’ or 'fashion' or 'bullying' or ‘celebrities’ makes us feel as though we’re making sense of them.

You may be surprised to hear that I like to think of the rise in eating disorders as being a little like the evolution of life on this planet. At the beginning of documented time, conditions were exactly right for Earth and all its living beings to flourish – the temperature, the humidity, the air pressure, the soil, the sea, other things which clever scientist type people understand……..all these things were exactly as they needed to be to give rise to life as we know it today. If the Earth was a few miles further away from the sun, we might all have one eye, located slightly to the left of our belly buttons (may I stress once more that I’m not a scientist and will not, under examination, be able to explain how this causal link would ever arise. But you see my point).

In the same way, conditions are exactly right for low self-esteem to flourish, in the western world. The reasons for the body confidence crisis are manifold, and the only thing you can do, in attempting to tackle it, is to address these contributory factors one at a time.

What you shouldn’t do, though, is claim that contributory factor is solely to blame, or make villains of people, when your beef is, in reality, with an attitude, or an industry, or an ignorance, or a prejudice. This is what is known as “oversimplification” (or “Tash will throw nearest objects to hand at her television and shout the word ‘bollocks!’ repeatedly to the surprise and alarm of her flatmate”). It happens all the time.

“New study finds Mums responsible for body confidence issues in daughters!”

“Angelina Jolie: Frail frame gives damaging message to young girls!”

“Call to ban airbrushing to end body insecurity!”

Sound familiar?

It’s headlines like these which promote the idea that it’s only teenage girls who suffer from eating disorders, that they’ve all had trauma in their childhood (or have terrible mothers), that celebrities want us all to stop eating and that the media is one huge ogre, chasing us around all day bellowing at us relentlessly until we feel like shit about ourselves. They also represent the sort of social attitudes which gave birth to the inexplicable need for Supersize-v-Superskinny to assault our television screens every Tuesday. And I don’t think any of us can forgive them for that. But of course I cannot just blame the headlines, or Dr Christian (however tempting that might be) because that would run counter to my argument.

So, imagine my delight when an article came out in the Daily Mail Online today in which "she of the fabulousness", Body Gossip ambassador Zaraah Abrahams said “I don’t want to be anyone’s thinspiration!” and defended celebrities against our tendency to blame them for promoting anorexia. Hurrah yippee etc. Read it here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2123257/Zaraah-Abrahams-fights-disturbing-trend-spurs-weight-loss.html

Tomorrow my delight will continue, as a new book hits the shelves: ‘Hope with Eating Disorders’ by Lynn Crilly. It’s a guide for friends and family who may be concerned for someone with an eating disorder and want some unbiased advice. If you read it, and I hope you do, you’ll see that Lynn is determined we stop playing 'The Blame Game'. Her message is consistent: Blame makes us bitter and exhausted. We’re all trying our best. Here is some support.

To find out more about Lynn’s book go to: http://www.lynncrilly.co.uk/MyBook/HopewithEatingDisorders.aspx

Monday, 19 March 2012

Gossip School in 'Hurrah, Yippeee' Style News

Last week, I returned to my Essex homeland to teach more than 1,000 (COUNT EM, ONE THOUSAND) local students my ‘Gossip School’ class. For those unfamiliar with Gossip School a) where have you been? and b) it’s a one hour self-esteem class aiming to make 14-18 year olds feel confident, valued and blinking gorgeous.

What is now ‘Gossip School’ actually started off as ‘I-haven’t-yet-been-reunited-with-Ruth-Rogers-of-Body-Gossip-so-my-campaign-doesn’t-have-a-name’ project in early 2008. I remember distinctly telling my boss I wanted to day off to try this loopy idea I had for a body image class, which I was going to trial in my old school (who had kindly indulged me on this one). He looked suitably uncomprehending and just said “well, you’re entitled to holiday” before sauntering off to get a coffee.

Luckily, teachers ‘got it’ straight away. Then came ‘Gok of the Fabulousness’ and now the nation has been enlightened as to the virtues of body confidence education. Four years on, Gossip School is virtually my full time job (I have a ‘portfolio career’ which, I’m told, is a wanky word so if you can think of a better one then please do let me know) and I’m no longer met with blank stares and ‘that’s nice, dear’ style comments when I tell people what I do for a living at parties (which is fortunate because, as discussed at Christmas, I have no boyfriend, babies, or plans for interior design to talk about).

So, back to last week. On Saturday we had to pretend it was Mothers Day (which, for my American Cousins, was actually on Sunday over here in Blighty) owing to the fact that my ickle wickle (now strapping, six foot plus, mixed-race-Johnny-Depp looking) brother decided to go travelling on the actual day (to which me and my other (strapping, six foot plus, mixed race Will Smith looking) brother said “dude! Please by all means Find Yourself but can you not do it on a less emotive occasion?” But apparently the tickets had been booked).

So, there I was on Saturday, cooking for five – Something my mother manages to do without breaking into the merest hint of a sweat, at regular interludes throughout an average week, with the sort of vaguely annoying elegance which can make even a pinnie look stylish. Half an hour in, I had one foot in a pan of mashed sweet potato, which the dog was attempting, messily, to lick from my ankles and I’d overheated the passata, which had proceeded to leap out of the pan and hit me square on the cheek, giving me the sort of ‘interesting’ blusher one wouldn’t usually spy outside the Spring catwalks. I had also discovered that the ability to make a pinnie look stylish is not hereditary (take note, geneticists). I looked a bit like a less attractive version of Miss Tiggywinkle. (I must get onto Pepperberry and beseech them to design a flattering apron for curvaceous people).

It was then that I saw my blackberry twinkling benevolently in my peripheral vision. Purging my clothes and hands of food (much to the dog’s delight) I thought ‘I’ll just take a calming few minutes to have a wee look at my emails before returning to the whole mashed potato/passata debacle’.

There, awaiting me, was an email from very important people who judge the prestigious Mental Healthy Awards, telling me that Gossip School has been shortlisted for an award in the ‘Business Hero’ category.

There is a moral to this story and it is this – If you’re a student, or teacher who wants someone to come into your school and make you feel all fantastic about yourselves them I’m your girl. If, however, you’re in need of someone to make you some mashed potato, then may I suggest Yellow Pages?


Here is a picture of me with some students I taught in North London this morning for no other reason than I really like it and it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling, not unlike when one has recently consumed a bowl of Ready Brek:

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Loving Your Tum

Ask most women which part of their body they least like and invariably they’ll say their stomach. We’re a nation obsessed with flatness, when it comes to our middles (but not when it comes to our mammaries. Then, flatness becomes something to be avoided at all costs). Tummies must be taught, toned, if possible concave. Carbs will be eschewed, sit ups will be struggled through, gym sessions endured, contraptions will be strapped to us and in between times we’ll do an awful lot of sucking-in. When a good looking man walks into a room, there’s almost always an audible intake of breath from any assembled women as they attempt to force their recalcitrant midriffs into compliance with their whims. There’ll be no jiggly-ness here, thank you.

When something doesn’t conform to our arbitrary idea of ‘perfection’, we automatically perceive it as a ‘flaw’. We’re told to ‘embrace’ these flaws, as if a mole, or a wrinkle, or a roll of fat is inherently distasteful, and we’re therefore obliged to acknowledge that they make us an imperfect version of ourselves.

Some people have flat tummies. Some people have round tummies. Some people, like me, inexplicably have quite a flat bit around the rib area but then a great mound of flesh in the lower portion. Look, this clingy dress showcases my inelegant tum to perfection:




I am told I can brand my tummy shape an 'evolutionary thing' – My body still thinks I'm a cavewoman, apparently, and is protecting my womb from the elements. My body doesn’t know that there’s feminism now, you see, and that I’m no longer automatically destined to be a baby making machine. It thinks its doing me a favour. The poor, deluded thing.

At Body Gossip HQ, we’ve been asking ourselves – Who ever said that the flat tummies were the loveliest of them all? Has it always been this way? Greek statues have rounded tums and they are a physical manifestation of the artist’s purely conceptual imagining of beauty (i.e. they could make it look however the heck they wanted, with no reference to reality), so one would assume not.

Our fixation on that little area betwixt chest and pelvis has become so aggressively all-consuming that even BodyGossipRuth - she of the athletic, sporty, healthy, size 10 figure - has had a long-standing issue with her tum. Whereas I, who had pyloric stenosis as a baby and have a whacking great scar in the middle of mine that looks like a zip, have long since reconciled myself to the idea that I’ll always think mine is a little bit lame.

Then, we thought ‘enough! This is ludicrous! We are grown, educated women, with degrees and careers and mortgages! Why are we doing this to ourselves?’ Which just happened to coincide with BodyGossipSarah launching her ‘cyber March’ on Twitter – a challenge to the public to declare to the world that they think a part of their body not traditionally perceived as beautiful is blooming marvellous and they don’t care who knows it.

BodyGossipRuth started posting a picture of her naked midriff on Twitter each day, using the hashtag #lovingmytum. And you’ll never guess what? People only started joining in! Now, everyone’s at it.

So, if you feel so inclined, pick up your phone and point it at your tummy. Now take a picture. Now look at it. That is yours, that is. Own it. Your stomach works very hard every day, processing food, hosting yards and yards of intestine, rumbling to remind you it needs feeding and sucking itself in when good looking people come into the room. Without the scar on mine, I'd be dead. So, say a little thank you. Love your tum. Go on, I dare you.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Black Women Body Confidence - A Mini-Blog

Today the British press have gone gaga over a study which apparently reveals that black women are happy to be a little heavier than white women. Which, in my view, demonstrates exactly how entrenched the idea that one has to be very slim to be beautiful is, amongst the larger white population in this country. That is how this study came to be ‘news’.

“Black women body confident!” the headlines this morning have screamed - Which is a massive logistical leap.

It does not necessarily follow that, simply because curvy black women tend to be happier than curvy women of other races, that the black community have no body confidence issues at all. Body image in all its guises is a minefield, with no room for simplification of this nature.

This morning, I was asked to share my views on Nick Ferrari’s show on LBC 97.3. Having taught my self-esteem class to teenagers of a wide range of different races, and hailing from a mixed race family myself, it has of course not escaped my notice that beauty paradigms often differ according to culture. Whilst a white women, for example, might covet Beyonce’s super flat stomach, a black woman might aspire to her magnificently strong thighs.

The reversal of the more widely acknowledged “thin = beautiful” paradigm within the black community has in fact left many naturally slender black women feeling marginalised. And that’s before we even begin to tackle the twin Goliaths of skin colour and chemical hair straightening within the black community.

But let’s not generalise. For, I fear that is where we are heading, on this one. British born black women might have a foundation of different cultural ideals, but they’re still subject to aggressive pro-slim UK marketing, just like every woman other who lives here.

I’m writing an article for FAB Magazine, detailing my observations on the relationship between race and the beauty debate. In the meantime, this topical mini-blog is designed to give readers pause for thought – Making generalisations about any race or culture is dangerous. Let’s not disregard all the black and mixed race women who are, in fact, in need of a body confidence boost.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Never Injure Yourself in London and Other Life Lessons

Last week, Ruth feel through a roof. She rang to tell me whilst I was having one of my legendary “giant Nandos and a bucket of beer” evenings with my flatmate, Amy. “Roof’s fallen in the Ruth!” I exclaimed, as I replaced the receiver. Then, realising my mistake, I continued to say the words “Roof’s Ruth! Ruth!” in quite a beer-addled way before Amy shoved a spicy chicken wing in my mouth just to shut me up. Turns out “Ruth’s fallen through a roof” is quite difficult to say, even when sober. Go on, try it now. See. I can’t imagine why that sentence didn’t feature during Eliza Doolittle’s vocal training in ‘My Fair Lady’.

A few days later, I was due to meet a bruised and battered Ruth for lunch and it seems, subconsciously, I was determined not to be outdone on the injury front.

In North East London, where I live, the landscape is categorized by a series of gigantic main roads, which have several small roads veering off them, at right angles. For non-Londoners, this can be incredibly confusing during bus journeys. The silky-toned bus voice-over lady will announce the names of the right angled roads, as opposed to the one you are actually on, leading you to momentarily believe that either one street inexplicably changes it’s name at two minute intervals, or that the bus is playing the wrong ‘journey announcer thingmy’, or that you’re lost, or that you are mad, or a combination of all of the above.

The other unexpected side effect of my local infrastructure is what I like to call ‘breezy corners’. In summer, ‘breezy corners’ are, in my humble view, the best thing about London. You can be sweltering in 35 degree heat, hating the world and feeling as though you might spontaneously combust and then you will approach an intersection between the main road and a side road and there will be magical, cooling, glorious wind. Last summer, I was mainly to be found standing around on North London street corners, in the style of a low grade prostitute.

On this particular occasion, however, it being unusually windy even when not in the vicinity of breezy corners, as I traversed the intersection my umbrella broke. We’ve all been there- Your umbrella blows inside out and sensible people with waterproof hoodies laugh at you. I’d thought my suitably huge and sturdy umbrella would be robust enough to tackle the weather conditions but, clearly, I had been wrong.

“Oh, bum”, I thought to myself, as I closed my umbrella and hurtled towards the bus stop to seek shelter.

Later, our bus driver, for no apparent reason, decided he was concluding our journey. This is another eccentricity I associate with London living. You’ll board a bus to Waterloo and mid journey, with no prior warning, the silky-toned lady will say “this bus terminates here, please take your belongings with you” and you’re turfed out onto an unfamiliar street, cursing under your breath and invariably late. You then follow your fellow ex-passengers, assuming they’re walking to the nearest tube station, without knowing that they are equally clueless as to where they are and just picked a direction at random. If you’re lucky they have an I-phone, or are tourists who are not too proud to ask someone where they are (it is an unwritten rule that if you live in London you must never, ever do this, no matter how lost).

As I struggled along the street in the rain, my umbrella refused to open. “How annoying” I thought, shoving it violently with my left hand, in the hope that this might prompt it into a shape that had some hope of protecting my freshly straightened hair from the elements.

“Ouch”. My hand collided with a broken umbrella spike.

I’m always injuring myself. I have a propensity for haphazardness which is legendary amongst my acquaintances. If there’s a step to trip on, broken glass to cut myself on, stupid shoes to stumble in or a hot baking tray upon which to burn myself, the smart money’s on me succumbing to that particular danger. It’s because I’m quite nebulous in my thinking – I’ll be nurturing some sort of embryonic social theory about why posh men love the colour pink and it distracts me from the need for oven gloves. Or, that’s my excuse anyway.

So, even though my tussle with the umbrella hurt, I wasn’t too alarmed. That was until I felt hands around my shoulders. A man had raced up behind me, shouting incoherently (but people shout incoherently all the time, so I’d assumed it wasn’t aimed at me).

“Oh my God are you ok?” he asked.
“Errr, yeh, why?” I replied.
“LOOK!”....

That command unleashed chaos in my brain. Because I did look. And the three or so feet of ground between myself and the bus stop had been painted red by my blood. I looked at my hand. Blood was dripping in great rivulets from my hand, but also squirting in all directions, covering my clothes (including groovy new boots I got for Christmas, I was later gutted about this) and the surrounding architecture.

I released myself (quite rudely, I now realise) from the kindly stranger’s grip and stumbled into the nearest building, which transpired to be a Starbucks. I briefly considered queuing and then decided that, however much of a nuisance I might have been at that present moment, the degree of nuisance-ness would quadruple if I spent any more time than strictly necessary coating the place in blood. As it was a pool was gathering at my feet and the peculiarly-angled sprays were splattering on the glass edifice of the snack counter.

A woman started screaming and threatening to faint. Everyone ignored her. I later reflected how ridiculous it is for any woman to claim to be blood-phobic when we have periods once a month.

“Excuse me. Have you got a first aid kit?” I said to the startled young man behind the counter. He was inanimate for a second, presumably cursing the fact that this wasn’t in his training, before leaping into action, handing me reams of that blue kitchen roll type stuff they seem to use in every single bar and cafe in the UK, in a fruitless attempt to help me stem to flow of blood. I noticed that my voice sounded strange. I realised I was sobbing.

The Starbucks Youth led me into the toilet, sat me on a chair in front of the sink which seemed to have materialised from nowhere and instructed me to hold my hand underneath the cold tap. The sink turned crimson. And that’s when I glanced into the mirror and noticed I had mascara streaming down my face. “How embarrassing” I thought, and promptly spat on my uninjured hand and began wiping at my face, as if it’s common to see someone drenched in their own blood and judge them for having imperfect makeup – But shock knows no logic.

Starbucks Youth was on the phone to NHS Direct, I was thanking him and apologising profusely for making a mess with my stupid innards between sobs and the manager was bellowing at the other staff to get cleaning equipment (clearly worried about the aesthetic effect of blood coated glass counter on fairy cakes). A woman came sauntering up to the bathroom door casually avoiding the puddles of blood as if they were milk, or water (or even wee) and clutching a laptop.

“Excuse me.” She enquired of the Starbucks Youth, forcing him to interrupt his conversation with the NHS about whether or not he thought I might faint....

“Do you have free WiFi?”


Post A & E and feeling sorry for myself


Ruth's Roof Injury

(On the plus side, these shall make cracking Body Gossip stories *)


Post-Script:

As I type this amusing little anecdote about the ridiculousness of modern urban culture, I have one very swollen and severely bruised hand, which makes it look a little bit like I’m at an American baseball game and wearing a giant foam finger (I’m supporting the blue, purple and black team).

Turns out, I’d severed an artery with the umbrella spike (those with any medical knowledge will have guessed that already).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Starbucks Youth, whose First Aid knowledge allowed us to eventually stop the flow of blood and who sat with me until I felt well enough to get a taxi to A & E, my friend Derek, who missed half a day’s work to come and sit with me in A & E and made me laugh with silly rants until my prescription painkillers set in, and the lovely nurse who gave me said prescription painkillers (which are amazing) and a tetanus shot so that, with any luck, my arm won’t drop off.

*Body Gossip does not advocate injuring yourself in the pursuit of a good story.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Body Gossip's Eating Disorder Awareness Week Campaign

Picture the scene: I’d spent the day teaching 300 teenagers in a secondary school in Surrey and now, here I was, in the very same hall which was the scene of my day’s graft, 4 hours later, ready to face their parents.

Something about parents makes me nervous. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s because my Mum has always been a ‘best friend’ type figure in my life, way cooler and funnier than I could ever hope to be in my wildest imagination, and so at odds with other Mums of my generation who seemed to spend their lives either at home baking pies, or chasing corporate, high flying business careers, but were equally terrifying when uttering the word “grounded”.

Or perhaps it’s because my Gossip School class relies so heavily on humour (as Body Gossip Ruth says “it’s basically an hour of stand-up comedy which suddenly becomes incredibly profound and heart wrenching, out of nowhere”), and, when it comes to their children’s education, it’s been my experience that parents have a bit of a sense of humour bypass situation going on.

I feel at ease in a classroom full of teenagers, perhaps because I have mental age of about 16 myself (interestingly, many of the teachers I have spoken to express the same sentiment) and suddenly, when faced with “proper grown-ups”, I was a little terrified.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worried. They laughed in all the right places. They were engaged, intelligent and just the right amount of cheeky. They asked a gazillion questions. By the end, they were suitably galvanized in all issues body image related. In essence, they were my perfect class. I should teach parents more often.

At the end of the session, a long line of, mainly mothers, queued along one side of the hall for a private chat. And that’s when it truly hit me – For every child battling body image and self-esteem issues, there’s at least one parent in utter anguish, fruitlessly hand wringing and wondering where the hell the guidebook is on THIS thorny issue (incidentally, they could do worse than to read Lynn Crilly’s ‘Hope with Eating Disorders’, out in April).

They were also, without exception, labouring under a, mainly media perpetuated misconception – Namely that all eating and body related issues are the result of a dark and unspeakable trauma. That because their children were consumed by body dissatisfaction, or engaging in unhealthy food behaviours, they MUST be being bullied or have suffered abuse in their formative years. And of course this belief magnified the guilt they were feeling for ‘missing’ whatever the cause of their child’s issue happened to be.

Now, it would be remiss of me to suggest that, in a lot of cases, bullying and abuse doesn’t result in eating disorders. They undoubtedly, empirically, unarguably do. But the same causal link doesn’t work in reverse. Sometimes people abuse their mind and body because they’ve read too much Heat Magazine, or want to emulate the airbrushed images they see on the internet, or they feel inadequate compared to their mates.

And those people will probably not weigh five stone. They won’t qualify for immediate, urgent psychological and physical help from their GP. They might, if they are lucky, have been put on an 18 month waiting list for ‘counselling’. However, they’re likely to have been so inundated with ‘real life’ eating disorder stories featuring skeletal teenage girls standing in their bra and pants that they’ll feel they somehow ‘don’t qualify’ to ask for the help they need to battle their own demons.

Susie Orbach said in her address to Parliament last month that behaviours which have been completely normalised now – skipping meals, cutting our food groups, occasional purging, compulsive exercising, consumption of diet pills etc – would have been classified as a serious eating disorder when she first began practising as a Psychiatrist, back in the 1970s.

These behaviours aren’t seen as particularly serious, now, and are even advocated in certain glossy magazines as ‘quick fix, usually pre-holiday “fit into your bikini/skinny jeans” weight loss tools. Yet these behaviours can still lead to osteoporosis, depression, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, suicidal tendencies, impairment of academic performance, bad circulation, hair loss, lack of menstruation, social isolation and general misery – Not things we’d ever wish upon Britain’s teenagers.

So, this Eating Disorder Awareness Week – Which starts tomorrow in the UK (20th February), Body Gossip are challenging the public to speak up about the eating disorders you can’t see, and wouldn’t necessarily expect.

There are a host of bulimics, compulsive eaters, compulsive exercisers, diet pill addicts, anorexics who ‘don’t look too thin’ and borderline body dysmorphics out there who deserve a voice. These people encompass a broad racial and social spectrum, come in all shapes a sizes and both genders. You know them. You might BE them.

Acknowledging these people will help us nip eating disorders in the proverbial bud, to take the relatively time and cost effective measures to get Britain back to physical and psychological health and let its inhabitants enjoy their lives.

Tweet your thoughts to @_BodyGossip or @BodyGossipTash and let’s give a voice to the eating disorders you cannot see.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Oi! Lagerfeld! No!

This week, a reporter asked the immensely talented and resplendently beautiful Adele what she thought of barely-disguised-Nazi and notorious body fascist Karl Lagerfeld and she said “his fashion designs are ok, but, I’ll tell you what: He can’t sing for shit”.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

As we all know, the reality is that Karl Lagerfeld was asked what he thought of Adele at which, in the least surprising statement ever to escape anyone’s lips, he branded the singer “too fat”.

Let’s examine that: He branded the SINGER “too fat”. Too fat for what, precisely? If Pavarotti proves anything, it’s that size isn’t any sort of hindrance when it comes to belting out a good tune.

Simply because one is a fashion designer, does not give one carte blanche to judge those who aren’t models by one’s own incredibly narrow beauty standards. Which brings me to my original point: This turn of events is as ludicrous as if Adele had chosen to comment on Lagerfeld’s singing ability.

Furthermore, as someone who teaches self-esteem classes in schools, it saddens me that Lagerfeld feels it’s appropriate to give the message that no matter how talented, successful, wealthy or, indeed, beautiful a person may be, it is ultimately how fat or thin they are perceived to be upon which they will be judged.

And then we wonder why eating disorders are rife amongst teenagers.

On a less body confidence related, and slightly more political note: Lagerfeld has a documented history of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Why, OH WHY are we publishing this man’s views in any sort of publication, simply because he designs a few nice outfits?

It’s time the fashion industry realised it’s not as arty and important as it thinks it is and that comments which narrow the all-important notion of a spectrum of beauty or persecute a particular race of people will not be tolerated. Boycott Chanel.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

There's More than One Way to be Anorexic

I’m a little baffled by a war which seems to be being waged by certain ‘awareness raising’ campaigners on the subject of the ‘right’ way to have anorexia (a completely counterproductive and time wasting debate to begin with, so I don’t propose on spending too much time on it).

Anorexia, it seems, is a notoriously competitive field. Current and past anorexics battle to have plumbed the most crippling lows and reached the most dangerous BMI, thus claiming the title of ‘most knowledgeable in their field’.

I wouldn’t have dreamed of branding myself as a body image 'expert' before working alongside the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Body Image, speaking to more than 6,000 teenagers on the topic, reading the thousands of stories sent into the Body Gossip campaign, attending conferences where the most breaking research is presented by the world’s leading experts and reading every morsel of information I could get my hand on.

My eating disorder was my own, private, experience and, just as I am unique, so was my experience of first anorexia and then bulimia nervosa.

There are a myriad of different ways to abuse food and people do it for all sorts of reasons.

And I’m sorry to break this to the people who claim to feel patronised by the idea, but sometimes eating disorders ARE simply because of triggering websites, fashion magazines and peer pressure.

All over the country, the parents of my students are tying themselves in knots, reasoning that their children must have suffered abuse or some other horrific childhood incident because that’s the only reason someone gets an eating disorder, right?

Wrong.


Yes, eating disorders are complex. But acknowledging that they are complex also means acknowledging that one’s own experience is a drop in a bucket of 1.1 million in the UK alone. It’s not all inclusive.

The fact is that teenagers all over the country are starving themselves for days at a time, purging by vomiting or taking laxatives and exercising compulsively to achieve an entirely unrealistic beauty ideal. I know because they tell me. You can't get more empirical than that.

The pedantic brigade are spending far too much time hypothesising about why this behaviour isn’t a ‘real’ eating disorder and not enough time acknowledging that our young people are in the grips of a low self-esteem epidemic. Whatever the root causes, the effect is the same: A nation prepared to sacrifice its own health.

Eating disorders can claim anyone as their victim, regardless of age, race, social background, sexuality or gender. And, as a former bulimic, I have to add, regardless of size/the dreaded BMI.

Which is why ‘Gok’s Teens’, screened this week, a programme which DOESN’T present eating disorders and body insecurity as something only suffered by institutionalised five stone teenage girls is a magnificent feat of televisual brilliance. Furthermore, it does not claim to be an expose of eating disorders, it claims to reveal the naked truth about teens. It's right there in the title, people.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it.

(well, maybe I am a bit….)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Gok Delusion

In May last year, my business and non-sexual life partner Ruth Rogers rang me squealing in a most un-Ruth Rogers like manner (she is usually, irritatingly, the epitome of cool).

“We just had a call from Maverick TV! Gok Wan. GOK WAN wants to work with us!!” she said.

“What, THE Gok Wan?” I replied, rather stupidly (I am bereft entirely of anything approaching Ruth’s coolness).

Of course, it was THE Gok Wan, as opposed to the veritable hoards of his fellow British celebrities who share his name.

And so, the day of filming approached. The arrangement was that Maverick would gate-crash a Body Gossip film shoot. Hence, when Gok made his entrance the only people who didn’t get to fling themselves on him in star-struck delight were Ruth and I, who were trapped filming in a room hotter than the surface of the Sun. (Tip: When arranging a film shoot during an unseasonably hot Spring, in a noisy urban side street (meaning windows cannot be opened) ensure the venue has air conditioning.)

Lynsey Tash, our inhumanly capable right hand-gal and Organiser Extrodinaire burst into the sauna-cum- studio. “GOK IS HERE!” she exclaimed, breathlessly. Ruth and I suddenly took on the demeanour of startled meerkats. “But it’s ok. He’s happily chatting to everyone and playing with Danielle’s camera”.

“Oh” we thought. Somehow, we’d imagined Gok might swoop in wearing a cloak-like pashmina and oversized sunnies, demand a room temperature cappuccino with extra foam and sit sullenly and impatiently in the corner until filming commenced. Yes, we knew that on screen he is charismatic, funny, caring and animated, but, we reasoned, surely no one has enough reserves of energy to be like that all the time?

Turns out, the Gok you see is the Gok we got. Which happily confirms that the entire female population of Britain are completely correct in their unwavering loyalty to him. When I shook hands with Gok the first thing he said to me was “Wow! Aren’t you tall? I’m not used to not being the tallest person in the room” at which stage Ruth pointed out that I was wearing utterly ridiculous shoes (as per usual) and he said “power heels! Why not?”.



The entire experience was reminiscent of those situations where you meet someone you really like in a bar, get a bit squiffy and proceed to compliment each other incessantly to convey the part-genuine, part-wine-induced feelings of love growing strong in your bosom. Accept there was no alcohol involved (thank goodness, or I may have humped his leg).

Of course, in my previous incarnations as a model and musician, I met my fair share of ‘slebs’. I’d adopted a rule: The less famous the celebrity, the more likely they are to be a knob-head. Which Gok, as someone who cannot walk down the street without being harassed by scores of screeching girls in a way that immediately conjures the word ‘Beatlemania’ , totally bore out (totes famous, not a trace of knobheaddery).

A couple of days later, Ruth and I met Gok outside Parliament as part of an elite, ninja* team of body confidence experts who would help him teach the country’s largest ever body confidence lesson. (*note, none of us, to my knowledge, were actual ninjas. It just seemed like an appropriate sort of word).

Gok came bounding up to where Ruth was trying to coax me across some cobbles (I was wearing stupid shoes. Again) and greeted us like old friends. Which I suppose we were, if one defines ‘old friends’ as ‘people who have spent a day sweating profusely on one another’. It was only as we were debating that eternal conundrum - ‘does David Bowie have some sort of sock/codpiece stuffed down his leggings in the film Labrynth?’ - that we realised there was a camera about 3 inches away from our respective faces. Only Bowie knows whatever happened to that footage.

Over lunch in the canteen, I had a sudden realisation. I have a crush on Gok Wan. Which is, of course, totally inappropriate considering the professional nature of our relationship and the fact that I have one too many X chromosomes to be his type. Up close, Gok is beautiful. He has eyes which make your soul melt like brie in a microwave and a flawless, caramel complexion which makes you want to lick his face.

“Erm, are you alright, Natasha?” he asked. I realised I was actually staring at him. Mouth slightly ajar, head cocked to one side, chin on palm – Which is what I do when I love someone a little bit. “Yes, yes fine” I replied silently adding “PLEASE DECIDE YOU’RE NOT GAY AFTER ALL AND WANT TO MAKE ME YOUR WIFE!”.

I’m sure I’m not the first girl whose heart and loins have been touched (metaphorically, not literally. This isn’t a kiss and tell) by the fabulous Gok.

What I can categorically say is this: My suspicions that the slightly snooty young man I met in a North London pub about a year ago was a liar and a bit of a twat when he proclaimed that he had “worked with Gok” and that “he was a NIGHTMARE”, were totally founded.

Gok is as sparkly, starry, glittery and exuberant as you’d expect. He is also humble, self-effacing and exudes genuine warmth. To see footage of Ruth and I being seduced by his loveliness, tune into Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth – Tuesday 7th Feb, 8pm, channel 4.