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.