Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dove Patches & A Chinese Proverb (Sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

'Twitter Activism'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My personal favourites were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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