Young + Beautiful

Rosie. Fierce Feminist and Business Owner. 20.

How confident would you say you were?   

My self-confidence changes minute-by-minute depending on a multitude of factors. When I’m alone in my room, fresh face of perfectly applied make-up, pouting at my mirror, perfect lighting illuminating all the right points of my face, I feel fucking hot. Standing in front of a full length mirror wearing nothing but a matching set of undies, I’m a literal supermodel. Out shopping, catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, oh my God – what’s wrong with my face? Fresh out of a bath hot enough to boil lobster, my stretch mark glowing from the heat, are they always this bright and ugly? I can’t complain though really. On the whole, my body confidence is pretty good and I’m aware of how lucky I am to own a body which doesn’t stray too far from conventional beauty standards, and to never have experienced fat-shaming. My social confidence however, is permanently rock-bottom thanks to anxiety. I can go out thinking I look smokin’, but be too scared to enter a party by myself because my social confidence won’t match my body confidence.

                              

What is your favourite part of your body and why?

My mouth. Can’t eat without a mouth! And my favourite thing to do is eat. My lips are quite a decent thickness and they look pretty good slathered in my favourite liquid lipsticks too.


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

It’s a tie between my right eyebrow and my thighs, I think. Both are hang-ups probably made worse by comments I received when I was younger. I have a scar across my right eyebrow, I got it in an accident I had when I was a little girl and my eyebrow never grows right over it. My eyebrow idol is Cara Delevingne and it’s hard to achieve natural eyebrows like hers when you have a huge gap through one. When I fill them in I can achieve a pretty fleeky look though, so sometimes I’m quite proud of them, I guess. My thighs are quite jiggly and strangely out of proportion with the rest of my body, but they do work in harmony with my waist and boobs to give me that hourglass shape, so that’s kinda cool.


How has your body changed as you’ve entered your twenties?

I grew up being able to eat an entire buffet and never gain a pound. I made the mistake of not paying much attention to my comprehensive school PE teacher when she said our metabolisms will slow down and that old trick won’t work forever. My thighs are a bit bigger and my stomach sort of comes out a bit more than it used to but I can’t complain. It’s all fine really. I have an unnatural amount of stretch marks too.


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

To be able to look in the mirror before I leave the house and know that I would defo fancy myself if I caught my own eye across the club. That doesn’t sound weird at all. Honestly, to feel confident, to look good, maybe turn the heads of a few guys and gals and to have fun! Dressing up and doing my make-up is so fun to me, I might actually prefer the preparation for going out more than the going out itself.


Would you change anything about yourself?

I feel like I’m supposed to be a good body confidence feminist and say no, I’m beautiful how I am. But that would be dishonest. Perhaps I’d leave my body how it is and change the desire to change something about myself? Silly answers aside: physically, I’d probably just want to make my body fitter and more toned, get myself one of those taut tummies and less jiggly thighs and get rid of that damn eyebrow scar. There’s more aspects of my personality I’d rather change but that’s off-topic.


Do you think how we look is important?

I think it is, but I don’t think it should be. It’s clearly important to society, or else people wouldn’t be rewarded for being beautiful and others wouldn’t suffer such horrific body shaming. It’s important to ourselves because of how important it is to society. But for the meantime, before all that changes (if it does), I think it’s important to just do whatever we can to be happy with ourselves so that we are mentally healthy as well as physically.


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

Better than it was in the past but not great. I’m sure they’ll say the same things we say about the past in a hundred years or less after much more progress has been made. “Gosh, I can’t believe in 2017 America had a president who openly bragged about sexual assault! I can’t believe 1 in 4 women were likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime either, and that FGM was still a thing and trans folks were stigmatised so badly that 4 in 10 would attempt suicide!”

           

But looking more specifically at being a twenty-something, the good: young people are at the forefronts of progressive political movements like that which brought Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the opposition and Bernie Sanders to almost become a presidential candidate, so we have hope and the drive to create change. We’re becoming quite aware of the sexism in our society and we’re making moves to eradicate it once and for all. The bad? That we still have to fucking do this anyway.

 


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 vast majority have some kind of body issue. Children are growing up hating their bodies and that hatred just keeps growing as their body changes and strays further from the Photoshopped images that are marketed to us as an impossible ideal. They are looking at models, actresses, musicians, whose magazine cover shoots are picked apart and put back together as the editor sees fit. When I was probably about 12, I developed a bit of an unusual obsession with the freckles in my face and dark circles under my eyes, after flicking through the pages of magazines and seeing perfectly airbrushed faces. Young, naïve me actually thought that it was actually possible to have no freckles, no dark circles, completely flawless and perfect skin, because the women in the photos did. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise those photos had been airbrushed, but I finally did after years of desperately coating my face in foundation to even out the tone. Trying homemade remedies to lighten my under eyes. Even now I apply copious amounts of light concealer to brighten that area, old habits die hard. So yes, the media has fucked up our vision so badly I didn’t even realise that I was aspiring to be a computer-generated image.


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

For me to love myself 100%, all the time. For beauty ideals to cease existence and for the media to stop force-feeding us with fake interpretations of those ideals. This will only end when we are presented with media featuring authentic images. Images of plus-size women, women of colour, masculine women, trans women, disabled women, women with eyebrow scars and lots and lots of freckles!

 

 

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.

Reappropriating Reappropriation

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Reclaiming words is officially a thing. From queer, to slut and even n*gga marginalised groups are taking back the words so often used against them and wearing them with pride.

To an extent it seems like a radical move. Reappropriation allows people to own their identities and stick two fingers up at haters in the process. When I first discovered Queer Theory was a thing I enjoyed its stubborn and subversive nature. The first ever SlutWalk in 2011 felt so brilliantly revolutionary and brought women together in a way I’d personally never seen before. It felt like a beginning and got the ball rolling for the mainstream revival of feminism that we’ve enjoyed in recent years. In the same vein calling myself a slut feels liberating; I feel lucky that I live in a society that allows me my sexual freedom.

But there’s another part of me that feels uneasy about using these words. Should we not just put them to bed and banish them completely? It’s safer than leaving them out in the open where they can still be used against us. As someone who loves words, and the wonderful rolling wave-esque way that language continually evolves I’m not entirely keen on this idea of some words being of limits. Words (and a desire to shock) are my thing and some of my favourite words are those that a lot of people tend to avoid. At the end of the day though, it makes sense to call a ceasefire on a culture where there are rules over who can say what and when. It blurs the lines between what’s okay and what’s not and makes the divide between them and us even more intense. Makes us even more apart, separate and opposite. I can call my friend a whore, but if you say it you’ll be on the receiving end of hell. This is not my kind equality; this is a some people are more equal than others kind of equality and it’s bound to end in tears.

Having been on the receiving end of sexism, homophobia and classism myself I can tell you it’s not pretty. The kind of people who hate on minorities definitely don’t need any more fuel for their vitriolic fires. Let’s not give them a get out clause, or be accused of hypocrisy for preventing them from using words we ourselves bandy around like there’s no tomorrow.

On top of this, there’s the fact that the only words feminists have reclaimed are those that continue to define women by their sexualities. Surely this just perpetuates the patriarchal idea that women are purely here for enjoyment of men. That, as an entire gender, we are split up into virgins and whores. There’s a whole litany of other words used against women that have never been reclaimed; words that are part of an unequal his and her pair. Spinster for example, is not something I’ve ever heard anyone call themselves with pride.

 

For myself, and most of the other young feminists I know, calling yourself a slut is no hard feat. It’s a joke, a term of endearment and for some of us a home truth we revel in. The word slips off my tongue on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. And perhaps the reason why I find it so easy to use this word is because it’s not one hundred percent a compliment.

The words that don’t come as easily for me are those that praise myself. While I’ll never have the confidence to call myself intelligent or even kind, and I’ll physically squirm if anyone tells me I look okay I’m totally up for recounting how rubbish I am with directions. How I still struggle with left and right. How one time I couldn’t remember whether the past tense of split was ‘splat’ or ‘splitted’. Pulling yourself down is just easier, funnier and doesn’t run the risk of being perceived as arrogant. And this isn’t just a personal problem. In recent years girl’s self-esteem has been dramatically lower than boy’s. The Girl Guides’ 2015 Girls Attitudes Survey found that 37% of the girls and young women surveyed said that they had personally needed help with their mental health.

The media and the misogynists have long since been blamed for this pandemic of low self-esteem and the mental health problems that come with it. For the fact that women don’t respect themselves and their bodies. For making us feel unworthy, unattractive and immoral. In the same survey mentioned above, 52% of young girls and women had felt uncomfortable about images that sexualised women in newspapers and magazines in the past week alone. It was also the media who first coined the term ‘suffragette’ and used it as an insult against the women fighting for their right to vote. Should we take inspiration from the suffragettes and own ‘cankles’ and ‘cellulite’? Should we draw red circles around our own flaws and wear them as a fashion accessory? Does this take back power or does it just play right into their hands?

I grew up with girls who starved themselves, harmed themselves and tore themselves down in the blink of an eye. I don’t think we need any more words that the world can use against us when we’re already our own worst enemies. We need words that make us feel good about ourselves. Words that everyone can use without causing offence. In a world that continually divides and attacks and pits one group against another, only bringing people together is truly subversive.

I have some fabulous friends who are so brilliant at complimenting themselves and I love them for it. They can literally look themselves up and down in a shop window or a bedroom mirror and say out loud, ‘yeah I look hot.’ They can read an essay or a poem they wrote and celebrate how clever they are. They make me want every woman in the world to be able to do the same.

Maybe these words are the words that we should be reclaiming. The words that make us love ourselves. Those are the words that make us feel powerful.

Miracle

 

There’s a cobalt pulse shivering beneath my skin.

A Y of rivers and rivulets.

 

A reservoir of worlds behind my eyes

and the paths on my palms await pursuit.

The lilac shells of my cut short nails cling

to my fingertips like limpets on the shore

and a row of pearls reveal either the sincerity

or the sham in each smile.

 

It turns out that I, too, just like the rest,

am alive.

Artistic License

Is it vanity that spurs me on –

or pure curiosity? I make the most

of all my flaws. Boast my awful upturned

nose like Kahlo did her brows. Proud.

I usually paint old men with tinted skin, all creased

like linen hanging out to dry. I paint myself

the same, with wrinkles I can barely see. I daub on

parti-coloured skin and stain my wrists with blue.

Otherwise my palette tires of all the cream

on cream.

I paint the woman I’d like to be. A woman

with eyes that reek of knowing and gun-metal

gleam. Her mind – it ticks sharp as a clock and

she sips whisky like a goddamn queen.

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Poem written in 2013 when I felt free, photograph taken in 2010 whilst feeling trapped. 

Your Body Matters

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We’re faced with images and ideologies twenty-four seven and more often than not they tell us that the only thing that matters is how we look. As an entire gender we spend our lives plucking and preening, pinching and purging. We’re pulled from one side of the spectrum to the other. When we’re slim we’re accused of not being ‘real women’ and when we’re curvy we’re accused of being fat. We aim for a healthy glow and suddenly heroin chic stumbles around the corner, unsteady on its feet but still sharp enough to stab us in the back.

Like a hell of a lot of teenage girls I was facing these images in the pages of Heat and HELLO before I had the strength of character to realise I didn’t have to accept them.  As a result I went through my fair share of self-loathing. I perused pro-ana sites and devoted an entire notebook to my desire to be thin. In it I glued cut outs of my size zero idols who all had hip bones sharper than my elbows. I was at the peak of my teens in the late noughties so there were plenty of Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe pictures for me to get my fifteen year old hands on.

Looking back, it scares me to think that even though I never actually had an eating disorder, I would have sold my soul to have developed one. I felt like if I found some way of measuring up to society’s idea of a perfect woman, my life would have been be so much easier. At such a young age it was startlingly clear to me that for some reason thin people were valued far more than those who were larger.

And then I became an adult, and a feminist and I got my shit together. Really together. Every time someone comments on how smiley or level-headed I am, I’m like –shit, I am! How the hell did that happen? I don’t know at what point something changed. I don’t know how it happened, or how to encourage this change in other people. Maybe it was when I upgraded Grazia to The Guardian, or when I stopped spending five days a week with more than a thousand other messed up teens at secondary school. But whatever, I started being happy about how I look. I’m short and I’ve got way more meat on my bones than fifteen year old me would have wanted but I really don’t care.

These days, when I see pictures of bone thin girls, read articles about young women starving themselves or hear fully-fledged adults calling themselves fat it still bothers me, but it’s not because they make me feel inadequate any more. It’s because I’m so desperately sad that these women can’t see that they’re good enough already.

I’ve seen through the shallowness, the unhealthiness, the unattainableness that the media shoves down our throats. I’ve accepted my body. It might not be perfect. I don’t have washboard abs or perfect pins but those are just buzzwords magazines churn out over and over because they’re too lazy to come up with anything new.  It’s these shadows and the little quirks that make my body mine and stop it being a copy and pasted dream-girl body. And usually I feel like a whole woman. The few bits that did get chipped off are pretty much fully healed over.

Who cares if I have scars, my thighs wobble, and my hips aren’t a seamless curve? I don’t look at you and think, well she’s nice enough but she doesn’t have a thigh gap. If your friend tells you he or she feels ugly you don’t pick them to pieces like you would yourself. You find the beauty, the way her eyes light up, or his perfect skin. Their intelligence, kindness and conscientiousness. Their sense of humour.

Unless it’s someone we seriously hate, we always, always find the best in other people. So why do we think we deserve less ourselves?

The simple answer is, we don’t.

Next time you look in a mirror look don’t go ready to tear yourself down. Heat magazine is far too willing to do that for us. Don’t let society continue to shrink us. We don’t have to be small, silent woman (or men) standing in corners and fainting when our corset straits are pulled too tight.

We can stride and shout. Laugh with such abandon it hurts, and cry at the joy of it. We can spread wide. Fuck and flirt and flounce. The world is whatever we want it to be so don’t hold back! Rebel. Go and find the goodness in yourself and get into the habit of doing it. Because we’re all far too fucking fabulous for this shit.

I took this image a few years ago for a 6th Form art project about stereotypes surrounding body image and the way they constrain us. I thought I’d unearth it for this.