Young + Beautiful

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Gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom? Bloodstains, ballgowns, trashin’ the hotel room? It’s the life Skins sold to us as teens and the life Lorde shot down. What’s it really like being fresh-faced and fancy free? Here’s another look at the life of a 21st Century 20-something navigating all the obstacles that come with having a female body.

Becca. Peace Policer and Student. 21.

How confident would you say you were?


I suppose it depends in what way, I don’t have body confidence in the sense that I’m happy with how my body looks or comfortable with it. However, I am proud of my body for what it has been through and how it’s coped with it and I’m confident it’ll carry on coping and handling whatever is thrown its way.

When you look in the mirror what do you see?


An awful lot of fat and wobbly bits that I wish weren’t there, along with some not so nice stretch marks. Although I also see a rather nice pair of boobs too.

What do you say to yourself?


If I’m feeling pretty for some reason (sometimes I’m wearing makeup, sometimes my skin’s just having a great day) I think damn why can’t I look like this more often and then will be vain and admire myself and probably take some selfies. If I don’t feel pretty, I usually just pull at all the awful bits that I don’t like and feel sorry for myself.

What is your favourite part of your body and why?


Probably my boobs. I think they’re a good size and just look pretty nice for a pair of boobs.

What is your least favourite part of your body? Can you say anything nice about it?


Probably my belly. This is the hardest question so far, the only thing I can think of that’s good about it is the fact the fat keeps me warm and protects what’s inside my body.

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?
Well I’m not tall or slim, I’m the opposite. I am short and fat. My skin is textured, red and spotty.

How do you feel about these differences? Is there a story behind them?
In terms of my height I really don’t mind, I couldn’t care how tall or small I am compared to others. Sometimes it’s a good excuse to not help get things down from high spaces or clean somewhere up high. My weight I’m not so happy about but I suppose it tells a story about how I’ve felt over the years. If you look back on pictures usually when I am a bigger weight I’m not happy with my life and so I comfort eat.

How has your body changed as you’ve entered your twenties?
Dark circles under my eyes! Which makes no sense since I sleep faaaar too much and I thought you got them from not sleeping enough. However, that might be complete bullshit and I just didn’t know.

When you’re getting ready to go out, what is your goal?


To feel comfortable and happy with how I look. It depends on my mood, sometimes I love getting dressed up and playing around with makeup and other times I’m not in the mood for all that and will throw on a pair of jeans and a comfy top and I’m ready to go.

When do you feel good about yourself?


If I eat something healthy! It makes me feel so much better, so I don’t know why I don’t do it more. Also if I accomplish something, so when I got a first in an assessment that made me feel pretty darn good

Would you change anything about yourself?


The way I treat my body. I might indulge my skin in pamper sessions but I really need to learn to look after and love my body better.

Do you feel happy with yourself?
In some ways, I’m happy with how hard I’ve worked and where it’s hopefully going to lead me in life. But I’m not happy with my body, some aspects of my personality and my fight with mental illness.


Do you think how we look is important?


Unfortunately, it impacts someone’s first opinion of you and can decide whether someone wants to talk to you or not. It’s absolutely ridiculous but our society is bloody ridiculous at times.

What is it like being a twenty something woman in 2017? 


Stressful. So much about our society is still stuck in the old ways, the pay gap for example which I still can’t believe is a thing! Being judged on what you wear and other people thinking it’s okay to stare or even try to touch you. Although I am fully aware that I am also very privileged and lucky. I am able to access an education, work, vote, wear what I want and choose not to have children or get married without people looking down on me. Even though we’ve still got a long way to go as a society, we have also come a long way too.

How do you think young people feel about their bodies? Do you believe that the media has fucked us up and distorted our vision?


I think the majority probably don’t like their bodies. The era of photoshop and technology has royally fucked up young people. It’s all about thigh gaps and big pouty lips. When you see all the touched up photo’s of celebrities and models it makes you feel like crap and you start to wonder why your body doesn’t look like that. This is causing so many young people to have eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other mental illnesses, yet the majority of the media couldn’t care less along as they’re making money and headlines.

What is your dream for the future of yourself or the world in general?


I hope I’m better in terms of mental health. I’d rather be healthy mentally than be slim. I do also hope that I can look after my body better and become healthier and not for appearance reasons but for my own physical and mental health.

I hope the world learns to be equal and that we’re all just human beings no matter where we were born, our skin colour, or religion, our gender and our sexual preferences. We’re all just people.

 

Photo credit – Sophie Turner

 

Do We Not Bleed?

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Do we not bleed? Shylock asked. Of course Shylock was talking about the fact that, if pricked with a needle or a sword, Jews bleed just as Christians do. I, on the other hand, am talking about women.

 

Do we not bleed? Anyone would think not, considering the lengths we go to to hide our flows. Women take their whole bags to the bathroom just so we don’t have to suffer the shame of carrying a sole tampon. We wait until someone flushes the chain before we remove a sanitary towel, wincing at the ‘rip of shame’. We wear clothes with a different cut and check our VPLs in the mirror. Young girls whisper they’ve started to their mothers with blushes. They’re consequently filled with embarrassment when said mothers see fit to announce their daughter’s coming-of-age to female friends and family. And to top it off as a gender we’ve come up with an absolute smorgasbord of glorious euphemisms for being, to put it bluntly, on the rag.

 

As an over-sharer, and someone with a very poor excuse of a pain threshold, I’ll gladly complain to passing strangers about my cramps. Any such public announcement would also go towards explaining why I might have tripped over five times, knocked over anything and everything that wasn’t screwed down, then walked into a door. Yep, the curse, as it was once so aptly dubbed, not only sets of my pain receptors but also messes with my balance (and I’m clumsy at the best of times).  But blurting out you’re on the blob just isn’t the done thing. Aside from the fact that that particular expression we all used at school is just a little bit gross, I can’t understand why.

Around about 50% of our population menstruates, has menstruated in the past, or will at some point menstruate. According to one article women will probably bleed around  2,250 to 3,000-plus days in their lifetimes. So why the cloak and dagger? There are still so many issues surrounding menstruation and this Victorian-esque prudishness prevents us from speaking out about them.  Leviticus actually says if you touch a woman on her period you are unclean and then lists a whole load of reasons why women and their menses are dirty af. In Western Nepal, menstruating women are still ‘banished to sheds’ and deemed ‘highly infections’ and ‘cursed’. Not that long ago, it was reported that almost 25% of girls in India leave school when they reach puberty as they have no toilet in school. Homeless women don’t have access to proper sanitary care; these items are rarely donated to food banks and because of the so-called tampon tax they are highly expensive. These issues affect women’s lives massively, but they’re rarely ever spoken about.

 

Recently, women have been attempting to break these taboos and speak out about the problems surrounding menstruation. Laura Coryton has protested the tampon tax. Rightly so. The fact that some people think the choice to not bleed all over your clothes is a luxury (one guy even said women on their periods should ‘just hold their bladders’) is  beyond me. Kiran Ghandi highlighted just how uncomfortable we are when it comes to code red when she ran the London Marathon whilst freebleeding in 2015. People were outraged, but her act still went a long way to getting people talking about their periods. Rupi Kaur attempted to remove taboos with her menstruation-inspired instagram photograph, which was removed twice because it was apparently too ‘provocative’.  And last year Chinese Olympic Swimmer Fu Yuanhui made waves when she explained she hadn’t done as well as she’d liked because she’d started her period the day before. We all subsequently fell in love with her.

These women have all gone some way towards breaking the silence but, at the end of the day, it’s 2017. Why should it be shocking or brave for a woman to talk about her period? Why should we be ashamed of what it is that makes us women? Something that ties us to the earth and the moon and the tides in a way that men never will be. I’m proud of how much we put up with. The stomach cramps, the backaches, the shaking legs, the heart palpitations, hot flushes, nausea, mood swings, spontaneous crying, sheer exhaustion and every other ridiculous symptom that comes part and parcel with being on the proverbial rag. Women are bloody tough and on the whole we suffer in silence.

 

We should embrace our periods in all their horror. We should throw parties for the next generation to celebrate their first flows. We should write songs about surfing the crimson tide.  Above all, we should make like these wonderful women, and start complaining about how bloody annoying our periods are – not just for us, but for women all across the world whose periods leave them at risk, shunned, and lacking the opportunities their male peers have. Until periods stop being taboo, women will still have to face these issues that could so easily be avoided.

 

 

On Books

 

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.

Neil Gaiman

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When I was younger I wanted to be Matilda. Maybe I even thought I was Matilda. She was plucky, mischievous and had an insatiable love for books that rivalled my own.

Like my favourite child heroine, I devoured stories. No amount of pocket money would have been enough to keep me stocked in reading material. I read a book a day, sometimes more. Often I had four, five or even six books on the go at the same time. A different setting for every mood. I ended up reading each Harry Potter twelve times over, delving into Great Expectations at nine years old and braving my mother’s Danielle Steels at the tender age of eleven. My nose was hidden in the spines of so many books; I walked into walls, drifted in and out of conversations and spent hours reading by torchlight after lights out.

 

Some children had comfort blankets and favourite teddy bears. I had dog-eared novels. I never went anywhere without one tucked inside my bag or clutched tightly in my greedy-for-words fists. I read A Little Princess outside matron’s office while I waited for my mum to pick me up from school, Pride and Prejudice on a Petrol Station wall while I waited for my friends and Crime and Punishment on the bus to college. Thanks to books I’ve been to places that don’t even exist, walked the streets in ages already gone and put myself inside the shoes of innumerable weird and wonderful people.

 

Then, after finishing university, my reading slowed to a stop. I was all read out. My brain needed a break so I returned to my childhood favourites. They were a palate cleanser of sorts for my mind, which had been buzzing with so many difficult words for so long.

 

These days I’m picking up the pace again, but it’s nowhere near what it once was. Where I would once have read sixty, seventy books a year, these days I’m lucky if I make it to twenty five. This is partly because some of the books I read now are much longer and more intense than they used to be, but also, it comes part and parcel with the fact that adulthood and full time employment places much higher demand on your time than childhood ever did.

 

But even though I’m not reading half as much, books still hold a huge importance in my life. If I’m stressed out I’ll reorganise my bookshelves alphabetically, or by genre or even by the colours of their spines. Now I’m earning I also buy books at an alarming rate. Nothing makes me happier than an afternoon perusing second hand bookshops, unearthing hidden treasures, even if I know they’ll just be joining my ever-increasing to-get-round-to-reading-one-day list. I don’t just buy books to read any more, I buy them as a collector. I curate my shelves carefully.

 

And embedded most deeply with my love of books is the fact that it’s no longer just the story inside the book that’s important, but also the story of the book. Books bought from charity shops with birthday notes scrawled on the inside page, or letters buried within their yellowed pages. Books borrowed from friends with post-it notes and marginalia. The books passed down to me from my maternal Granddad still smell of his pipe smoke seven years on. The bits of paper pushed inside the pages and asterisks spidered next to his favourite quotes are more important to me than any of the printed text inside. 

A Brave New World?

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Sunrise with Sea Monsters, J.M.W.Turner

New year, new you – or so the saying goes anyway.

I’ve never really been a massive fan of New Year, and I rarely make resolutions. I’m an absolute Christmas fanatic, but as far as I’m concerned NYE is just any other day. No better, no worse. For me, September has always seemed more of a fresh start. A time for new pens and pencils, the clean white pages of brand new exercise books and promises to work harder than ever. It marked the start of a new school year, my transition to College, then University and later a Masters that I quickly dropped out of. Instead I took a job in a school so September still holds all the significance it did when I was just a child myself.

This year is different though. 2016 has been quite the annus horribilis for all concerned. Frankly, I’m looking forward to seeing the back of it. From Brexit, to Trump, Aleppo, the refugee crisis, Jo Cox and the litany of celebrity deaths, 2016 has been, on the whole, pretty naff. Don’t get me wrong there have been some wonderful, wonderful moments that have made me glow with happiness but if I’m honest, at times, it’s broken my heart. This coming from the woman who wears rose-tinted glasses 24/7.

But 2017 is a new start. We have a chance to make things right. Anything can happen and we can do anything we want, as long as we work hard enough, together. Grab this opportunity with both hands and make the most of our chance to reflect on what wasn’t working out for us this year, and how we can resolve that for the next. How we can be kinder, better, more socially conscious humans for the year ahead, both in our personal lives and on a wider scale.

In response to the doom and gloom of 2016 my resolution is to be a kinder person. I’m not expecting to make a massive difference, but if just enough people show kindness to those around them it’s enough to make a dent in the whole insular, self-serving thing it seems like the world’s got going on right now. It’s the little things that matter. Even if you just make one person smile, it’s something. Buy flowers, cook a nice meal, donate to charity, speak up for black rights, help old ladies struggling with their shopping, object to casual homophobia, let people know you’re there if they need you.

Fighting hate with hate never works. Instead we have to be good. It seems so cheesy and naive but when a small majority is dead set on pitting itself against everyone, love is powerful. Smiles are powerful. Saying hello to strangers on the street is powerful. Being the bigger person. As Dumbledore said:

            ‘‘We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord                Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing bonds of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Can we just make J.K.Rowling queen of the world? Please?)

Have a fantastic new year and remember, be brave, be kind and most importantly, be happy.

Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunrise_with_Sea_Monsters

Chick Lit #2

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Following on from last week, here are a few more of my favourite brain-friendly wonderful-women laden books. Add them to your reading lists or gift them to the feminists in your lives and above all enjoy them!  

  1. Wild Nights – Kim Addonizio

Kim just knows what it is to be a woman. She’s living it and her poetry is full of that rawness. It’s gritty, it’s clever, thought-provoking and more importantly, it’s incredibly beautiful, linguistically. Her words make me burst at the seams with their stunningness, their rebelliousness and how much of my own female experience I recognise in them. I’m so in love with the line, ‘‘watching this slut of a river smear kisses all over/ east Manhattan, letting ferries slide under her dress’ from ‘Invisible Signals’. Addonizio is an absolute winner. Some of my other personal favourites from this collection are ‘Scrapbook’, ‘Muse’ and the overwhelmingly wonderful ‘What do women want?’.

  1. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Everyone knows the toughest women wield crossbows, Merida, Hanna, Susan Pevensie and, above all, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss spends her time in both the YA books and films kicking ass. In a complete turnaround, it is her who is the resilient, skilled hunter and fighter, whereas Peeta, her romantic interest, is the more emotional, artistic peace-oriented character. But it’s not just her skills with a bow and arrow that make Katniss strong, but also certain elements of her femininity; first and foremost the sisterhood and maternal protection she provides for both Prim and Rue. The Hunger Games is also great in that it doesn’t fall into the trap of creating just one perfect female character. Instead it boasts a whole array of women, whose power and strength manifest in different ways.

  1. The Roaring Girl – Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton

I wouldn’t normally recommend Jacobean plays plucked off reading lists from my university days, but this one is an absolute hidden gem. The main character, Moll Cutpurse is a cross dressing, sword-wielding, canting, pickpocket who refuses to fit inside the box Jacobean England has carved out from her. Moll is apparently based on real life roaring girl Mary Frith who would definitely be on my dream dinner guest list. In one of my favourite lines Moll admits that she likes to lie ‘o’both sides o’th’bed myself’ and then fabulously adds ‘a wife you know ought to be obedient, but I fear me I am too headstrong to obey.’.

  1. Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

Oh, Ali Smith. She is one of those rare gems whose writing is clever, acclaimed and at the same time an absolute page-turner. I drink Smith’s books like they’re a large glass of red. All at once, with pure pleasure. Smith’s take on the traditional ‘girl meets boy’ narrative is thoroughly modern with mass corporations, lesbian love and a spate of important feminist messages that get spray painted around town.

  1.  I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

This weeks list has been full of a lot of strong, fictional ladies, but Malala is important in the fact that she a real life superwoman. Aged just fifteen years old Malala was shot at point blank range by the Taliban, simply because she was an advocate for women’s education in her . Despite almost dying, to this date Malala still fights for women’s education, she made a speech at the UN aged just 16 and remains the youngest winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala details her history, her fight for women and girls to be educated in her home country, Pakistan, and her almost miraculous recovery. Malala is still only nineteen years old, yet she has achieved more than most, and never given up. Her words should inspire us all.

     

      

Chick Lit #1

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t read enough feminist classics to be a proper feminist. I’ve dipped in and out of The Second Sex, and had a go at The Female Eunuch. They’re interesting enough and thought-provoking, but they’re not exactly light reading. I fall in love with a book much quicker if it’s kind to me. If I can read it in one sitting, or read it with my heart racing wanting to find out more, devastated when I finally have to put it down. I love a book with characters I can relate to and language that’s a dream.

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books, which also happen to be full of wonderful women. Books that make me feel like a good feminist, without having a side-order of brain-ache. There’ll hopefully be a mix of poetry, prose, old and new; a bit of something for every last one of you literary ladies, gentlemen and those who identify as non-binary, too. Snuggling up with a brew, a blanket and one of these books is the perfect way to spend a Wintery evening.

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         1.  We should All be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After watching Adichie’s wonderful TEDTalk of the same name, I was eager to read this essay. I was over the moon to receive it as a Christmas present last year and devoured it in one sitting. The second I had finished, I turned straight back to the first page and read it again; this time more slowly, making notes as I went along. In the essay Adichie defines feminism and sums up why the movement is still as relevant and necessary as ever in the same engaging, and accessible voice she uses in her fiction. ‘The problem with gender’ she says, ‘is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are.’ Wonderful women like Adichie are everything that is right with this world.

2. Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

  Milk and Honey is not simply poetry. Described on her website as a ‘recipe book for healing’, it’s exactly that. I took so much away from it and go back to it for advice and wisdom all the time. It just feels so honest and so relevant. Reading Kaur’s wise words on abuse, relationships and recovery you can tell she is just a young women like any other, trying to make her way in the world. I’ve only had my copy for a couple of months and it’s already dog-eared with post-it notes sticking out of all my favourite pages. It’s a collection to live your life by.

3. Good Bones – Margaret Atwood

Atwood is one of my absolute favourite writers and this collection of short stories and essays showcases just how much she can do with a pen. In ‘Gertrude Talks Back’ Hamlet’s mother is given a witty and humorous voice, and adds a sinister twist to the play we all know. In ‘Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women’ she thanks all the stereotypes of women that litter the history of literature and in her fantastic essay ‘The Female Body’ she tackles very real issues in her typically surreal and satirical fashion. This is one of those books that I insist on lending out to people constantly because it’s just so brilliant. 

 

4. Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates

This book is a hard one to swallow. Like Bates’ hugely popular website of the same name, this book details the cold, harsh realities of being a woman in a world that still has a long way to go. I cried my way through parts of it, particularly the chapter ‘Young Women Learning’. Condensed, it is quite overwhelming just how many experiences of Everyday Sexism are packed into this book, so it’s important that you remember whilst reading, that amongst all of this rubbish we have to deal with there is ten times as much good stuff going on in the world. But… this book is a very important one to read. Divided up into chapters such as ‘Women in Politics’ and ‘Motherhood’ Bates details how gender inequality affects us all and reminds us just how much work we have to do.  

5. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This book tugs on your heartstrings like nothing before. I’ve read it twice, several years apart, and both times I’ve actually sobbed. Not just a couple of stray tears, but actually heaving sobs. The novel focuses on Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from different generations who find themselves living under the same roof. Spanning from the Soviet-Afghan war right through to Taliban rule A Thousand Splendid Suns touches upon so many themes. Along the way we encounter illegitimate children, forced marriages, domestic violence, motherhood, female friendship and above all the pure strength of women. 

 

Next week I’ll be writing about five more of my favourite books. If you have any recommendations, comment below!

 

 

Feminazis and Nasty Women

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There are lots of bad words. Words that have always been bad, words that have turned bad over time and bad words that are part of our everyday vernacular. And then there are the words used solely against women. Words like ‘Feminazi’.

I can’t even begin to imagine what went through the mind of the man who coined that term, or the minds of the people who throw the word around like it’s nothing. 

I think we can all agree that the holocaust was the single, worst thing that has ever happened. During that period six million Jews were killed by the Nazis simply because they had been brought up with a different belief system. Intersectional feminism, on the other hand, aims to embrace all cultures, religions and races and put an end to discrimination. Feminists believe in an equal society. They strive for a world where men and women, whether gay, straight, black, white or any other variation of other, have the same opportunities. The two words are the epitome of oxymoronic, yet somehow they’ve been married together in yet another attempt to denigrate women.

People might argue that a ‘Feminazi’ only defines a certain kind of feminist. One who believes only in the progress of women, regardless of the impact on men, and in effect has gone full-circle and ended up in misandry. That’s not how the word is used though. It’s bandied about left right and centre and thrown haphazardly toward any woman who dare so much as demand respect. A quick google image search would have you believe the difference is simply that a feminist is someone who is still on a man’s sexual radar. ‘Feminazis’ by comparison are depicted as too old to be sexy, too masculine or else too stereotypically lesbian.

This week, a white, male Facebook friend posted a status complaining about the ‘Feminazis’ making Trump’s election all about women. Forgive us for being concerned that the next President of the United States is an alleged sex offender. Excuse us for wondering what his win will mean for millions of women across America in terms of Planned Parenthood. I’m so sorry that I’m angry about the fact that a man who boasts that he can ‘grab them [unconsenting women] by the pussy’ is now the US president-elect.

I’m sure any woman who posted a status along these lines is well aware of the impacts Trump’s presidency will have on LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and (ahem) straight white males too, but didn’t feel they had to mention every single thought process in their internet rantings. I’m doubly sure that they didn’t think their Facebook posts would be considered tantamount to mass genocide.

Words like ‘Feminazi’ are used to undermine women. A simple way of silencing us. Making us feel like nags, harridans, bitter, twisted, unreasonable man-haters. Nasty women, to quote Donald himself. But seriously, there’s nothing unreasonable about asking for respect. Nothing bitter about speaking out about an issue. Nothing nasty about being a strong woman, especially one who cares for the welfare of other strong women. And in case you were wondering, one hundred percent nothing comparable to the unspeakable actions of the Nazis.

You know what, I’ll happily be a nasty woman or that angry feminist girl, but please quit it with the ‘Feminazi’ thing. It really is one step too far.