Facing Fear

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Anxiety and me go way back. I’ve worn the war wounds, cracked my knuckles and freaked the hell out. These days my anxiety is less of an iron belt cinched tight around my chest and more of a nagging great aunt who comes to visit once in a blue moon. I nod at her, smile and say, ‘yeah, yeah, sure. I’m just going to carry on, okay?’ On the rare occasion it does return full throttle though, those heart palpitations are pretty hard to ignore.

My default remedy is a duvet day, cups of tea and copious amounts of Netflix. It’s understandable to want to hide away from whatever it is that’s making your stomach tie itself in knots, but it’s not necessarily the best approach. I’m a firm believer in the be scared witless and do the thing technique. It might not work for everyone, but for me it’s tried and tested. Switching your phone off and ignoring the world might sound desirable but trust me, you’re going to have to turn it back on one day and the longer you leave it, the harder it’ll be. Ignore those somersaults, let your feet do their own little nervous dance, relax about your heart going ten to the dozen and then keep on going. Grab the bull by the horns and confront it with a shedload of sass.

I know it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, and sometimes you do owe yourself a break, but the more you keep doing things that make you anxious, the easier they become. Try being scared of heights when you’ve climbed a God-knows-how-high wall thirty odd times. The nerves just start to wear thin. Whether it’s applying for a job, sending a text or even leaving the house. Try it. One step at a time. What’s the worst that can happen? Chances are it won’t be anywhere near as bad as you imagined.  

When I was at secondary school I had to make a speech as part of my English coursework. I literally couldn’t even read it out to just my teacher without shaking, blushing like a beacon, and having a full on anxiety attack afterwards. I could have given up there and then but I knew it was something I had to conquer. I started volunteering for any opportunity to practise public speaking. Cut to however many years later and I delivered a talk on employability to a lecture theatre full of freshers without even breaking a sweat.

If you do end up panicking it’s not the end of the world. Just stop, take a minute, breathe deeply and take a look around you. Recognise what is going on. One of my problems was that I didn’t even realise my anxiety was anxiety until years down the line. When you’re having a panic attack it’s easy to just think you’re ill. There were so many occasions when I was at school or college and my stomach hurt, I felt sick and dizzy, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of taking a moment and waiting it out it I panicked myself even more by wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I’ve walked out sick so many times only to feel better the second I’m on the bus home, or in the comfort of my own living room, it’s unreal. Your best bet is to stop and think. Why am I feeling like this? Am I really ill or is it purely anxiety? Am I safe here? Take deep breaths, drink some water, have a quiet word with yourself. Hide in a toilet cubicle if it makes you feel better. Tell yourself everything is going to be okay. Then go back out there and carry on winning at life.

The age old ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ theory is truth. Preach it and reap the benefits

 

 

P.S. It’s not always going to be possible. If you’re anxiety is too bad, don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself room to heal, time to pluck up enough courage to face the big wide world. Everybody works in different ways. Just do your best and the rest will follow.

Young + Beautiful

Kiran. Cake-Maker and Brainy Lady. 24.

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Describe your relationship with your body.

I have a very difficult and often confusing relationship with my body. There are days when I love the figure I see in the mirror and then there are times when I avoid looking in the mirror altogether. There are days when I feel beautiful in everything I wear and days where I feel like nothing in this world fits me right. There are days when I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin and days where I want to bury myself in the ground because of how I look. There are days when I wouldn’t change a thing about myself and times when I wish I could chop and change bits of my body until I was someone else. Like I said, it is confusing. However I am wholly aware that learning to love oneself is one of the world’s hardest tasks, especially when you are living in a world which makes money from individual’s insecurities and often works hard to make sure that people do not love themselves. I am slowly and painfully learning to love myself, every curve, spot and stretch mark and also working hard to remind myself that it is okay to look as I do.

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?

I feel as though my body is the complete opposite of conventional beauty standards. For one I am neither tall nor slim. Nor do I have long silky blonde hair and big blue eyes. I am average-short in height, on the overweight side and have medium length frizzy dark brown hair. My eyes are brown and of different shapes and sizes (making it even harder to get even winged eyeliner). I have scars on my face where I used to pop whatever pimples I used to get, I also have an uneven skin tone. All of this is far from the flawless complexion the world expects of me. I don’t have long skinny legs and neither are they perfectly shaved at all times, in fact they are stumpy, hardly ever shaved and also have ingrown hair. I don’t have a flat tummy (I have three rolls of fat actually) or perfectly long manicured nails (the last time I got a manicure was for my wedding over a year ago).

How do you feel about these differences?

I get frustrated and angry at these differences at times, especially if I am having one of those days where I hate myself. Having said that I also have the clarity to realise that I will never be able to fit into the conventional beauty standards because it is physically impossible for me and that is okay. I am a real working woman. My height is dependent on my genes along with the rest of my physique, therefore my hair, my length, the colour of my eyes even my weight to some degree is dependent on something which cannot be altered. I used to work in a locked rehabilitation centre which required that I had short nails and no polish. I am now a mother, therefore I do not have the time or the luxury to do my nails as I am constantly having to wash bottles and change nappies. My lifestyle along with my genes makes it virtually impossible to rise to the conventional beauty standards. I feel this is true for most, if not all, women, therefore it seems ridiculous to me that we even have a standard of beauty let alone one which seems so impossible to attain to most.

Do you feel the media has distorted our vision?

I feel the media has definitely distorted our vision. It has screwed up the way we view ourselves and others as well as distorting what our goals and priorities in life should be. I have seen young impressionable teenage girls more concerned about their looks and how many likes their selfies get on Facebook and Instagram instead of having goals and ambitions of what they want to achieve with their lives. This is such a tragedy to me.

Even for myself, while pregnant and even after I gave birth I have been concerned about my weight gain and how I will lose the baby weight, now three months postpartum it is still a concern to me. I often have to be reminded by those close to me that I should not worry about my weight as I am a nursing mother and to focus on my baby and that there is no rush to try to be slim. That I need to focus on being healthy. I feel as though the media has put so much pressure on us women that even after having given birth we cannot relax and give ourselves time to heal, we have to get back to trying to look good for the approval of others. This is especially true for women in the spotlight where every single thing they do, every single thing they wear and the way they look is scrutinised by the world. Such a shame.

 

What is your dream for the future

My dream for the future is that people will stop being judgemental of others, especially on the basis of their appearance. I want people to be able to live their lives loving themselves and not comparing themselves to others and other people’s opinions on what beauty should look like. I want the world to embrace everyone’s individuality and to focus on being healthy and kind and loving each other. God knows that is what the world needs the most right now. Frankly it shocks me that it is 2017 and that this is still considered a dream and is not already the way the world is.

Young + Beautiful

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Quit the tabloids. Halt the glossies. Here’s another look into the really real realities of being a woman with a body and all of the issues that come with it. Told from the point of view of today’s twenty-somethings.

KATHERINE. VINTAGE VENDOR AND WORD QUEEN. 23.

How confident would you say you were?

It can totally change from day to day, if not minute to minute. It also depends on the situation. When I am with the right combination of people, I am happy in my own skin. I don’t like to be in a large group of people, especially if I don’t know anyone, or they all know each other better – that makes me very anxious and awkward.

 

When you look in the mirror what do you see?

I see someone who is changing every day.

                   

What do you say to yourself?

When I’m struggling, I have to give myself a pep talk and say, ‘Come on, Katherine, you’ve got this’. When I’m feeling confident, I generally sing or do a little dance.

 

What is your favourite part of your body and why?

I have great cheekbones that I inherited from my paternal grandma. It’s all pretty exceptional though.

 

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

My legs – they are very scarred from eczema and playing hockey. They are pretty shapely though.

 

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?

I probably have more belly than the mythical perfect woman. I definitely don’t have the perfect smooth skin either and I never will have.

 

How do you feel about these differences? Is there a story behind them?

There’s a lot of work that goes into maintaining this figure – constant dedication to cinnamon swirls, pick and mix and chocolate. My belly’s story is simply that I love to eat. My skin is dry and sensitive. I can’t use most products because they make my skin worse, but it’s already scarred and a bit destroyed from years of abuse!

 

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

To turn a few heads. To spend time with my friends and dance until I am a sweaty mess.

 

When do you feel good about yourself?

I feel at my sexiest when I’ve just washed my hair, or in matching underwear and a slick of red lipstick. But I also feel good when I make other people feel good. I like to be connected to people and to put lots of effort into my relationships.

 

Do you feel happy with yourself?

I am happy that I am not complacent in myself – I think if you don’t find yourself really annoying sometimes, you’re a bit weird.

 

Describe your relationship with your body…

I’m quite attached to it. Most of the time, I love my body and I like to see the scars and bits I’ve added. When I have felt suicidal, I hate the thought of losing my body and being disconnected from it. I think it’s important to look after your body in little ways; enjoy the feeling of brushing your hair, stretch when you wake up. It helps me feel more alive.

 

Would you change anything about yourself?

The only thing I would change about my body is my skin because I was born with eczema and it is really draining. My skin is very high-maintenance. It can be painful – sometimes I scratch so hard I bruise myself. I like my body shape, but I’d love skin that wanted to stay attached to me! Personality-wise, I’d be kinder to myself and more spontaneous. I can be quite fearful and rigid.

 

Do you think how we look is important?

For better or for worse, first impressions often stick and I think appearance is a big part of that. I think you can tell quite a lot about people from what they wear, for example. I like to use clothes to make a statement about who I am, projecting how I feel comfortable.

 

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

It’s scary how young people and even children look at their own bodies. I’ve worked with kids that have been dieting since they were 10, that self-harm because they think they are fat and ugly, that get bullied for being small. It’s awful to see the hurt and hatred that the media has bred into our culture. It’s disgusting that it affects adults, but it infiltrates early on and is ingrained so deeply that our attitude to bodies, especially female bodies, is totally warped. Everything is focussed on the negative, never on positive attributes of the person, or the beauty in difference.

 

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

Tolerance and people being driven by love rather than by fear.

 

Young + Beautiful

We all hate our bodies. We all want to be longer, thinner, bonier, better.The media ruined us and we’re all on a diet. That’s what we’re told anyhow.

I’ve decided to search out all the young women in my life and quiz them on how they really feel about their bodies. Here is the first interview in a series of what will, hopefully, be many. 

Hollie. Blogger, Baker, Art-maker. 20.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

H: Normally my naked body before I go to bed pretending not to not be cold while I try to look sexy.

What do you think or say to yourself when you look in the mirror? Or do you say nothing?

H: I’m not really a deep person…

What is your favourite part of your body and why? 

H: My hands or eyes. Because I’d  be lost without them. Because I can’t make art without them. Because I can’t paint without my hands because I’m not skilled enough and I like to see things, I like to see the world. And you know [having no hands] would make wanking incredibly difficult.

How is your body different to what the media wants from you?

I feel a lot of the time like the media want me to hate my body, and I guess that’s what makes it different, because I don’t. I’m not saying I don’t wish I had a flatter stomach or a bigger bum sometimes, but I don’t hate how I look. I don’t have a strong desire to change. I love the little flaws, the wrinkles on my belly button, the scars from eczema and accidents.

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

I want to look good, don’t we all? Maybe I’ll pick a skirt that’s a bit shorter and tighter than I’d normally wear, or a top with a bit more cleavage. Alcohol makes me feel braver, so I’ll wear something brave.

How would you rate your confidence out of 10?

Seven. I’m not unconfident with my body, but I don’t by any means see it as perfect. I don’t walk around flashing it off but I don’t feel I have to hide it, cover it.

Do you feel happy with yourself?

Some days.

Describe your relationship with your body…

When I first started using my body within my art, I began to get confident with my body. I became familiar with the shapes, the curve of my hip and the size of my boobs. I know and understand my body.

Do you think how we look is important?

I feel like as a feminist I should say it doesn’t matter. But here I am with beauty products coming out of my ears, doing sit ups every night before I shower. I don’t think it should matter to other people how we look, but if you care about your appearance, no one should undermine that.

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

Of course the media has fucked us up. We all wish we were thinner or curvier or had bigger muscles or a smaller bum. We want our skin to be as flawless as they tell us everyone else’s is. We shouldn’t let the media tell us how they  we should feel about our bodies.

I feel like we should all be happy about our bodies, because they’re ours. It doesn’t matter whether you have wrinkly skin, scars, fat, hair you don’t like, whatever it is. Because you’re beautiful and you should be happy about that.

Things a feminist might say, actually (because we’re not perfect)

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No woman is ever going to be perfect. Repeat after me. No woman is perfect.

We all have our flaws, our weaknesses, our blind spots. Feminism isn’t about creating a super race of perfect women who all reiterate the same personality-less mantra. It’s not about manipulating everybody into behaving in the same way. It’s about recognising and representing minority groups for who they are, whoever they are, with a focus on women as human beings. It’s about giving them the same rights as the other human beings – straight, white, cis men. And it’s about freedom.

Now, there are lots of articles knocking around that don’t quite agree with this.  They claim quite emphatically that there are some things a true feminist just wouldn’t say. I’m thinking about one in particular but naming no names.

To be honest, I agree with most of the things on the list. Like, I’d never judge a woman for sleeping around, and I wouldn’t chose to not vote for someone because they’re a woman but I am totally guilty of referring to myself as a slut, or calling it my friends affectionately. Doesn’t make me any less of a feminist though. I’d also say ‘not all men’, simply because people are often intimidated by feminism and I don’t want anyone to feel marginalised by my views. The best way to stop a guy feeling attacked or isolated is by saying, ‘yeah I totally understand that not all men do this stuff, but some do and I don’t think we should put up with it.’ And it’s true, thankfully not all men are misogynists . In fact I’d like to think it’s just a minority. For me, saying ‘not all men’ is just an easy way of making things much less hostile and usually whoever I’m talking to comes around to the idea of feminism once they know I don’t think they’re a massive dickhead just because of their gender.

I HATE the whole ‘no feminist would ever say this’ thing. Surely that’s just another form of oppression? Surely that’s just another way of making people not feel good enough. It alienates people from a movement that aims to accept everybody. I don’t want anyone to think they can’t be a feminist because of a slip of the tongue.

For me it’s probably just a matter of word choice; if they’d change the title to something a bit less dictatorial then it wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps, ‘Fourteen things a feminist probably shouldn’t say but might do by accident’, or ‘Ten things no super-human saint would ever say but a real person might if they’re angry or drunk or tired and we should forgive them for it because we’re all just people trying to live our lives.’ Or something along those lines anyway…

Show me a woman, or a man, who hasn’t said something stupid and regretted it and I’ll bet they’re a two dimensional ‘Angel of the House’ from Victorian Lit. Sometimes we just say stuff and know it’s stupid. Sometimes we’re in a controversial mood, or want to show off. Sometimes we’re hammered, or angry or hurt and just say whatever comes into our heads first because (I’ll say it again and again and again) WE’RE NOT PERFECT! No one is. Ever.

 

Dear Diary…

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I used to have a book with 365 bedtime stories in it. One for every day of the year, in case you couldn’t figure that out for yourself. I can only remember a few of them now; the story for my birthday, my sister’s birthday and the story for January the First. It was only short, and the plot centred around a bear family, who all got new diaries for Christmas and swore to write in them every day of the year. I also had a diary bought for me that year, and decided to take a leaf out of the bears’ book. Needless to say I was unsuccessful and my diary was soon lost in the back of a junk drawer somewhere.

But as I got older diary writing became more important to me. The diaries themselves were always tiny little things with three or four days on each page and what I wrote was so inane. Today I asked mum if we can move to Italy. She said no. P.S. I really need to pluck my eyebrows. And when I was feeling particularly verbose of a weekend I once wrote, ‘I just had my hair trimmed. I  went shopping and I bought some leggings, jeans and a bra. 34B!!’ Like I said, it was thrilling stuff.

And then just before I turned thirteen, things got way more intense. Teenage angst had really set in. My entries got longer and longer and longer. It stopped being writing for writing’s sake, and became something much more important. It was a form of therapy, as cheesy as that may sound. I didn’t limit myself, or set targets and rules. I just let myself write when I felt like it, and not write when I didn’t.

At my lowest points I carried my journal everywhere. I’ve wrote entries on the bus, in lessons, lectures, in cafe corners and in the toilets at work. When I was at college I used to ‘wag’ lessons and catch the bus back to my suburb and instead of going straight home I’d sit on a park bench and scribble away for an hour or two. It felt good to have space and fresh air for the first time.

There were times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night, tight chested and alight with panic. Unable to sleep, unable to breathe, unable even to cry. I’d haul my duvet off my bed, cocoon it around myself and sit like that for hours, writing, until I felt calm again. My handwriting huge and looped because I was too tired for anything else. Too distant and distracted. Not fully in this world but not fully out of it either.  It was at those low points when I’d do the worst drawings too, of nothing in particular with lazy lines, just because I wanted to be doing something other than sat in the dark thinking.

You don’t have to be a good writer. It’s not about producing great work. I’m never going to be an Anne Frank, Bridget Jones or Cassandra Mortmain. It’s not even about preserving the self you once were. It’s purely to do with distracting yourself, clearing your mind and getting your shit together, which is often much more difficult than we can ever imagine. Starting a diary is always the first thing I advise my friends to do if they’re having a hard time. It’s what we advised our kids to do at the last place I worked.

For the last couple of years I stopped. I didn’t even open my diary; I didn’t need to. I started a ridiculously thick A4 scrapbook that would weigh me down if I ever tried to take it out of the house. Cutting out articles about gender, sexuality, and images of happy, confident, smiling women. I am now happy, confident and smiling too. But whenever that feeling creeps up on me again, and I feel like shrinking back, away from the rest of the world, the best thing I can do is to pick up a pen and write.

 

Photo taken by myself of one of my many, many journals. 

The Perfect Feminist

Not long after I graduated I was chatting about feminism. So far not that unusual. I was getting into it, like I always do. Seriously passionate, all hand gestures, smiles and adrenaline. The words were fast rolling off my tongue. It was all, ‘you know Hadley Freeman says feminism is to gender equality what global warming is to climate change’ when out of nowhere she said – ‘God, you’re  going to be the next Germaine Greer, aren’t you ! But pretty.’

I was still in my ‘oh my God feminism is so totally awesome and I can’t stop telling you about how fantastic it is’ so it took me a while to come back down to earth.

She said ‘I bet you’d say that’s sexist too wouldn’t you.’

I admit it, yes, I would. But it wasn’t the first thing that came into my mind. It also never really occurred to me that I might judge her for it. It was just something you say; a thought, voiced.

There were a ton of other things that crossed my mind. My first thought was, ‘I bloody wish I was as clever and engaging and as flaming fantastic as Germaine Greer.’ I also wanted to say, ‘I’m not pretty’ whilst at the same time I was thinking, ‘yay someone thinks I’m pretty’ and ‘oh no, I’m a feminist I shouldn’t care if someone thinks I’m pretty.’ And there was also my automatic defence of Greer, ‘she’s beautiful too. And in anyway, she wouldn’t give a toss whether you think she’s hot or not.’

If I really was going to be the perfect (that is stereotypical) feminist, that probably wasn’t the correct reaction. I shouldn’t doubt my own abilities, compare myself to other women, and care about my appearance. Occasionally I will make an offhand comment about my appearance, or smile at a song with suspect lyrics and people will be shocked. I’m surprised you think like that, they say, you know with you being a feminist and everything. But the truth is, no one is ever going to be the perfect feminist. Not even Germaine Greer. No matter how many books and essays you write on the subject you’re always going to be a human being. And I’m not saying that human being = sexist, but I am saying that human being will always = complex and emotional and very, very, very flawed. So my thought processes don’t make me anti-feminist or a terrible person, just the same as yours don’t. They just make us three dimensional people whose brains move pretty quickly – sometimes too quickly for our mouths to keep up.

Feminism is difficult. Even while writing this, I’m struggling because feminism rolls so fast it’s difficult to get on top of it. It’s like chasing a Frisbee in the wind and you’re just about to catch it when another gust comes. Or trying to find that word at the tip of your tongue; you can feel its presence, you know that the answer’s just around the corner, but you can never quite grasp it. ‘What I’m trying to say…’ will always need to be followed up by another ‘what I’m trying to say…’ but I’m going to attempt to say it anyway.

Don’t let anyone, feminist or otherwise, ever make you feel inadequate. Don’t let them make you feel alienated. Don’t let the complexity of feminism and the differing intensities of the followers put you off. Don’t allow yourself to feel judged. Loving men and wearing lipstick doesn’t make you any less a feminist than if you read de Beauvoir and burn your bra. It just makes you you.

I want to escape this mould, this idea that people have of feminists that quite simply isn’t true. I want people to know that you can be a feminist whilst wearing dungarees, midi skirts and even body con minis. You can read Heat (although I wouldn’t advise it if you want to maintain some form of self-esteem), have lots of sex, have no sex at all, eat cake, or even call your sister a whore as a term of endearment. None of it really matters that much as long as you respect yourself and your relationships are founded on mutual respect.  Because that’s all it’s about really.The aim is pretty simple.

We want to gain equality, gain respect and liberate us all. Women and men.