“No one will ever love you again like I do.”
The words floated over to me
As I was walking away.
He said it as a warning. A threat.
To me it was reassurance, a relief laced with gratitude.
“Good,” I thought.
I kept on walking.
No one should call that love.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump
Not now please.
Just breathe. Get a grip.
That’s my heart going faster and faster and endlessly faster. I can feel it in my chest, my throat, my hands. Like I’m holding the ghost or an echo of my own heart just pulsing wildly, out of control, that rising feeling. I’m surprised when I look down at my hands and I can’t see my feral heart escaped from behind my ribs, it feels so viscerally like I must be holding it.
Yes, thank you we get it.
My hands are holding my ghost echo heart and they’re shaking and I’m outside but if you looked at my outside, you wouldn’t know a thing was wrong. You might say “Oh look, there’s Abi.”
But I’m not there.
I’m somewhere else in my head and it’s not connecting with outside, like swimming in a dream and then realising there isn’t a pool and you’re not even dreaming, you’re just confused and it’s loud and quiet at the same time. You’re far away but everything surrounds you and you stay still as it moves because you can’t move. So it washes over you like a wave from the dream pool you aren’t in.
Or like being in a mirror world where everything sort of looks the same but isn’t. It jars. Like the really bad half rhyme crowbarred into a poem.
Everything is wrong but when I come to tell you, nothing comes out. All I can say is “I don’t know” and of course that makes it worse because how can I not know what’s going on in me? I can’t make words, usually so reliable, match my feelings. How can nothing tangible feel like the heaviest everything? It fills me from the chest out, spreading like grey tendrils curling around my organs and my limbs and I could scream about it but if I opened my mouth I don’t think anything would come out. Also then my throat would hurt. Screaming is less worth it than you think and terrible for your vocal cords.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump.
You shouldn’t be able to feel your heart beating unless you’ve just sprinted or done something similarly active to elevate its rate. But I can feel it and it hurts and it’s beating so hard in my chest I think I should be gasping for breath but my breathing seems normal until I try to take a deep breath in. It’s not deep enough but I can’t cram any more air into my lungs. They’re filled to bursting and maybe they will burst. They won’t burst. Don’t be ridiculous.
It feels ridiculous though, to have this lung bursting nothing weight on my chest taking over, controlling me from the central point of my body, turning my legs down to lead and my tear ducts up to waterfall. The tendrils are grey so it’s greyness that fills me. It’s not darkness. I don’t mind the dark. The dark can sort of envelope you and hug you but the grey cloys around you. A familiar misty nothing damp panic paralysing fog. Can you sink in fog?
It’s like I’m drowning in it but I know I can’t be. It’s not actually real grey cloud in my lungs and anyway I’m a good swimmer. But you don’t travel through clouds by swimming so it doesn’t matter how well I swim. It all feels like that – like you’ve done all the working out but you’ve come to the wrong answer and you can’t retrace your steps to figure out what doesn’t add up.
It’s so tiresomely dramatic. I’ve got this heaviness between my eyes where my brow is constantly furrowed. My eyebrows hurt. Who knew eyebrow muscles could get tired? Clowns, probably. They know loads of things, hidden behind their sad fixed expressions. Although their eyebrows are painted on so maybe not.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump.
Shh. Just stop it.
If only it were possible to just take a break from my own body and brain. Because it’s hard to see the end point. I’ve always found it hard to imagine life being different to what it is now. And I know academically I don’t always feel like this but the feelings part of my head doesn’t seem to care about maths or logic or science. It’s staged a coup, a hostile takeover and I’ve crumbled instantly. And I’m irritated by that. Why have I unwillingly, unwittingly given over control of my body to this thing? It feels crazy to not be the one in charge of me.
Winter is coming.
And with it comes this swirling void of anxiety. I fall in and it’s endless. It keeps me a prisoner of the worst parts of my brain. I’m doing my best but it makes me close in on myself, folding over and over like a kaleidoscope. I want to know why it hits when it does, why everything turns inwards without reason. I want to know why it’s so unreasonably all-consuming, why even as I’m writing this sitting in a cafe out in the world, it’s the backdrop to my body. There’s the beat of the slowed down French house music the cafe is playing and there’s the pulsing of my anxiety over it. I feel like I could beg someone to switch me off, press “power down” on my mind. If they asked me how I couldn’t tell them.
I don’t have the answers to any of it. I don’t know when it will pass.
I just know it’s here and I’m as afraid of it as the Night’s Watch are of the White Walker King.
Rage to the left of me. Outrage to the right. Here I am.
I rarely comment on the situation in Israel for so many reasons. This post is not about my position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about how I’m more often than not, too scared to voice it. For fear of being shouted down by either and both sides.
Last time I wrote anything remotely linked to the Middle East and the conflict that simply won’t end, it was about a small Israeli theatre and dance company show being cancelled in Edinburgh after pro-Palestinian groups protested.
The hypocrisy and singling out of Israel for this kind of boycotting to the point of danger so it meant cancellation (or as I saw it, caving to the threat of violence) was what pushed me to write about it with great sadness sitting in a heavy heart. Sadness for the silencing of artistic voices who did not deserve to bear punishment for actions of their government. Just as Palestinian civilians don’t deserve to bear punishment for their government, who act violently upon clear and self declared terrorist motives.
There is no place for the middle ground in this conflict. There is no time for a moderate opinion, one that sees the treatment of Palestinian people in Gaza and says that both the Israeli government and Hamas should be doing better than this for everyone’s sake. The middle ground sees a shared responsibility. But historically, these two groups of people share nothing but the fight. The centrist view sees that we are too deeply into a decades long conflict to take any individual incident in isolation or to try and unpick the threads that have led to this tangled mess. Every action is a reaction to something and so often it goes all the way back to what is seen as the beginning in 1948. But to ignore the historical context of the forming of the state of Israel is irresponsible and a disservice to the Jews who were systematically slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. The forming of the state of Israel was not the beginning, the extreme antisemitism leading to the highly organised extermination of Jews was. It is the height of hypocrisy to call for human rights action while ignoring what Israel started as – one of the largest havens in history after one of the worst atrocities, so terrible it gained its own word; holocaust.
To ignore the many offers of peace deals that were rejected is to rewrite history. But to ignore the suffering of people who have a governing body that runs on terror and corruption is to deny reality and avoid our own collective moral compass. To fall back on the holocaust as a reason why we cannot do better today is a disservice to ourselves and to the memory of those who perished. But we should not forget either. To forget is to erase and to erase gives way to real danger.
There is no space to find the balance of those huge things. There is no space for squaring past inflicted inhumanity with finding humanity now. There is no space to see that Israel as a country must protect the lives of its people but that the Palestinian civilian lives are just as worthy of protection. A life is a life is a life.
When online expression is one of the most frequently used and public forms of communication, it is hard to imagine that there might not be space for something. But I am too afraid to post about my sadness when there are deaths on both sides. I am nervous to express my frustration at organisations who gloss over Israel’s responsibility to constantly reassess the measure of its response to potential and enacted threats, while simultaneously expressing my frustration with groups who support terrorist activities and deny documented history, while also wanting to express my sadness and frustration that there are people who feel so desperate, living in an environment so toxic that they resort to acts of terror, so immersed in this ideology of hate that they are convinced it is worth sacrificing their own lives in attacks that result in their suicide. There’s more of course. Bigger feelings, sadder statements on both sides and there is no sentence long enough to encompass them all. So uncharacteristically, I shut up.
My thoughts are tangled and sometimes it feels like there is not enough space in my head nor out of it to express a compassionate but uncompromisingly honest middle ground. Certainly not one that anyone who takes a firm one side or the other position will hear. Sometimes I struggle to hear it because it goes round and round and on and on and the thoughts circle but do not land anywhere except they keep trying to do the impossible and be on both sides.
There is no room made for those who want to shine a light onto both sides and bring both sets of agendas and operations out of the shadows and into that light. There is legitimate fear. There is death. But there is no meeting in the middle.
In an extreme situation, only extreme opinions are welcome. You’re either for or against, there is no in between so get off that fence. To show moderation is weakness. I find when I do talk about this, I’m always taking the other side to the person I’m speaking to because if they’re further along the scale in one direction than I am, I feel compelled to point out the other side. There are staunchly pro-Israel people who would describe me as a Palestinian sympathiser and ally. There are fully Palestinian supporters who would describe me as their enemy. I feel I am neither and perhaps I am both. I am not on the fence for there is no fence. I am in no man’s land.
I don’t post my moderation because when I see others bravely try, it only elicits shouting from both sides, incendiary comments and inflammatory statements. Of course there is some support but mostly it descends into heels dug in, insults and a shut down on hearing the other side.
I hear of people with their bags packed waiting to see if they’ll have to leave the UK because they don’t feel safe here. Where will they go? To Israel, where they’ll feel safer and will be accepted. Jews fleeing for safety was the very reason for which the state of Israel was built after all. I see people declaring how no one understands Israel and we should not judge what we do not know. I see all Jews being branded as murderers for believing in the right of the state of Israel to exist because of what happened to their grandparents or Torah or a whole bunch of other reasons. I see this branding from the same people who claim they’re definitely not anti-Semitic, just anti-Israel. For every point one side can make the other side has 7 statements that start with “Yes but what about….” and this goes both ways because the conflict is long and messy and tangled and you cannot untie it. You cannot undo it. It is too late for that, when so much has been done. I see people over simplifying to the point of absurdity. If it were simple would we, the world, not have fixed it by now? We will not and cannot know the full story for it extends backwards and forwards in time, on and on and on and we are not there. We do not know.
People wait to hear what will happen. The question hangs in the air – will the Jews align to condemn or condone Israel? The feeling I get from outside the community is that we’re all somehow responsible, somehow united. But are we? The expectation is that one Jew with one opinion will speak for us all but how can that ever be true? Have we learned nothing from the division on our own turf with our own politics? Outside the Jewish community it feels as if you can only be accepted as a Jew if you renounce ties to Israel and condemn everything they do. Inside the community it sometimes feels as if you’re branded a traitor or self-hater if you don’t support Israel’s every move. Typically, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. And at the same time as wondering how I could be deemed physically responsible for this, I do feel part of that collective moral responsibility. There is no way to win for the moderate, thinking Jew.
When you stand in the middle of such a conflict and look both ways it is hard to find hope. There is fury and there is fear. Righteous indignation runs through the veins of both groups of people whose lives are lived against the backdrop of a living volcano made from layers of human lava. There are beacons of compassion in some organisations and people who work with people on the ground to build community bridges but it seems to me that this will not be fixed from the bottom up and those at the top are so far removed they can’t hear us. We cannot control what either side does. We cannot control what a country such as America does, when they choose to stoke the fire and feed the flames.
I do not post about this much because I feel like I will never know enough to feel confident putting something out for the world to see. It is too hard to unpack and write coherently all the conflicting feelings I have and try to justify them all. I can turn it over and over and over in my mind but I cannot fix it. My opinions, my feelings do nothing and leave me feeling impotent and ignorant and wrong whichever way I turn because there’s always the other side. I have no impact on a conflict a continent away. My prayers for peace are not heard and no one cares what I think really anyway. It is hubris to suggest otherwise. This is not to say that one should do nothing, rather that I do not know what is to be done.
My younger brother is in the Israeli army and I can’t decide what scares me more – the fact that he will face terrorist groups or the fact that he will hold a gun that he is trained to use while he does it.
I often feel that I am a bit of a grinch when it comes to feminsim. I spend a lot of my time thinking that although things are progressing, they are not progressing well enough or fast enough for my liking. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that these things take time, more time than they should take, that I must be patient, that equality does not serve everyone’s agenda equally (even though I think those agendas are often terrible and don’t deserve to be served at all). So it is with a heavy sigh and a weary feeling that I write this piece.
Buzzfeed reported that Uber had an alarmingly high number of sexual assault and rape complaints registered, in an exposé written about internal data and customer safety. The numbers in the below quote from the article are disturbing and scary and no doubt lead to justified fears for female safety.
“In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.”
So far nothing seems too grinch-like from me right? Buckle up. I’m just getting started.
Michael Pelletz from Boston used to be an Uber driver and was so horrified by the notion that women wouldn’t be safe in Uber that he blew a massive whistle and started a nationwide investigation into each and every claim against drivers for sexual assault and rape.
He didn’t do that at all.
What he has done is created an app called Chariots for Women, a taxi service app that only women and boys under the age of 13 are allowed to use to ensure they get home safely, because all the drivers are female.
“What’s wrong with that?” I hear you wondering.
“I AM SO GLAD YOU ASKED LET ME TELL YOU,” I would reply if I weren’t imagining this exchange.
1 – Segregation is not the answer. If anything it may make the situation worse. What if I want to or have to or choose to use uber after Chariots for Women is available? What happens if I use uber, and I am assaulted or raped? There is suddenly a narrative created where it’s very easy to say “well, you could have used the ladies one where you wouldn’t have been raped.” Doesn’t that sound disturbingly similar to the classic victim blaming “Here are all the things you could do to not get raped” line of thought? By giving women the choice to use “the dangerous rapey Uber” or “the safe and friendly ladies only one” you put the onus on the women to choose and you condone the behaviour of the people who are raping. Because what is their punishment? Also can you just imagine if someone segregated cabs based on race? Or sexuality? How would we all react to that I wonder?
2- Women also commit crimes. Michael Peletz said that an incident where he thought a shady passenger might be about to pull a gun on him made him wonder if he’s this scared how a woman might feel. And in this Dose article, he is thanked. Why are we thanking him for assuming a man will handle a gun being pulled on him better than a woman? If someone pulls a gun on you while you’re driving, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, you’re probably screwed. It is sexist nonsense to think that a) a woman won’t ever carry a gun IN AMERICA WHERE YOUR GUN LAWS ARE LUDICROUS, and b) that a woman would be more afraid than a man finding out that a passenger has pulled out said gun. Sexist. Nonsense.
3 – Segregation is still not the answer. Taking women away from men wraps us in mystery, like placing us in a tower and calling us princesses. I am not mysterious and I do not want to be held apart from men as some kind of mystifying creature. I do not need to be shut away in a separate room / building / car and protected. I need people to be taught that they must treat women with respect. I need people to have better education on what it means to consent to sex. I need people to stop buying into a narrative where I am, and all women are a temptation that must be removed. I don’t need to be hidden. Women do not need to be removed so a man doesn’t rape us. Men need to control their urges and respect us more and so they don’t rape women. Don’t punish us and call it protection.
We still have such a long way to go with acknowledging women’s rights. In the UK, in Northern Ireland, where a woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion. Still. In 2016. We have a 25% pay gap. Still. In 2016. The latest NHS junior doctor contract has basically just decided to make it harder for women to become doctors or at the very least has ensured that sneaky pay gap won’t be going anywhere any time soon in the medical industry. And don’t even get me started on places like Saudi Arabia – where a woman may not drive, try on clothes in a store or apparently go into an un-segregated Starbucks herself to buy her coffee. Lest she be seen. Lest she be heard. Lest a man cannot control his urges and desires upon knowing a woman is behind a closed, locked door, removing clothes or upon hearing the dulcet tones of a female voice ordering a grande skinny mocha iced latte, extra cream, double blended. They’re right of course. That is just too sexually arousing. I wouldn’t know how to contain myself either.
I am so tired of feeling frustrated with a world that does not want to catch up. I am so tired of hearing stories of women who are pushed to the back, who are concealed, who are separated and segregated and told that we must not be seen because if we are, we’ll be in danger. And we’re supposed to be grateful. I’m supposed to be delighted by the fact that I can be separated from men and have my own special woman car service. Am I grateful? Am I fuck.
Stop punishing us for being women and start punishing the men who are perpetrating these crimes for being criminals. To draw the racial comparison again – if a white person beats the crap out of a black person, is the black person asked to stay indoors? Or hide? Or somehow make themselves look less black? No. Of course not. And yet with women….
There is no such thing as non-consensual sex. That is called rape. There is consensual sex and there is rape. Sexual assault is a crime. Rape is a crime. Stop telling the story that women are to blame by hiding us away. Giving us our own special app is not a gift – it’s a cop out that allows rapists to get away with raping. I am not a temptation that just needs to be removed. So can we just stop pretending that we’re doing something good every time we perpetuate the problem of sexual assault and rape being a socially acceptable crime that we pussy foot around and repeatedly don’t deal with?
Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1973 and there was a discussion in parliament about a number of rapes and sexual crimes occurring. There was a suggestion that a curfew should be enforced for women, that to keep them safe they should be indoors by nightfall. Golda Meir famously replied,
“But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”
Stop punishing women for the crimes that men commit.
I work really hard.
I love some of what I do. I hate some of what I have to do. Every job has perks, every job has pitfalls. That is the nature of working to earn a living to be part of an imperfect world that functions on money.
I never quite earn enough money because nothing pays me very much. It is one of the pitfalls of the lifestyle I choose to live that my money often fluctuates. I concede that it might actually be more of a reflection on me and my total lack of money management. But unless someone wants to start giving me £70k / year to find out what happens when I have more cash, we’ll never know for sure. (Any takers / givers? No? Didn’t think so.)
We live in a society (capitalist, western) that tells us we must be awake at certain times, asleep at others. It is a world angled towards morning people and not great for night owls. We are told we must work in a certain way, at certain places, we must achieve certain things, even like particular foods and styles. We must conform to be acceptable in the eyes of society. And if that doesn’t work for you? You’d better be prepared to work twice as hard going against the grain.
I’m very lucky that I come from a privileged, middle class background. I have been allowed the time to find what it is that I can do to make myself happy. My parents have mostly been incredibly supportive and understanding during the horrendous periods when I’ve been looking for work.
I tried the more socially accepted route. I really did. I worked in an office for a few months as a temp and though some of the people were lovely and a very good friend of mine worked there too, I was miserable. I was unchallenged, I didn’t care about the work I was doing, I felt no connection to the lifestyle and the possibility of that repetitive drudgery stretching endlessly on in front of me became genuinely too much for me to bear. It made me so incredibly unhappy. I was late almost every morning. It didn’t help that it was winter and I was getting up in the dark, eating lunch inside and then leaving again in the dark. There were no windows where I was sitting. Some days I didn’t see daylight. For me, that is a perfect recipe for sinking into situational depression. And that is what happened.
I was offered another 6 months at the place in a different role. I accepted out of fear and desperation. In the new team, no one spoke to me on my first day. When I arrived, my desk was covered in fluff, dust and some human hair. There was still no daylight anywhere near me.
Unsurprisingly, I left in my first week of that position.
It was the best decision I could have made. I haven’t looked back.
Every so often I get tempted to look at office jobs. Jobs that offer me more money and stability than I have now. Jobs that have more career progression options than I have now. But really, “career progression” is just another way of saying “even more potential money and stability”. And those are actually not things I crave.
I’ve noticed a trend among the more conventional of my friends. Caveat: it is well meaning and I know it comes from a good and kind and thoughtful place in their hearts, but I find it incredibly frustrating. They’ll send me a job that has something vaguely related to something I maybe once did, or there might not even be that connection. Without fail it is low paid, or even unpaid internship level. Very, very occasionally it is something that I might legitimately be interested in. But usually it is something completely irrelevant to anything I’ve ever done.
It makes me feel like they see me and think I don’t work hard or don’t work at all.
It makes me feel like they don’t take me seriously, that they look at my life and think it’s a joke or something that needs fixing and that the obvious repair is a stable office job.
It makes me feel like they think childcare and writing and working at a theatre and part time teaching are not legitimate or valuable jobs at all, but are fillers “until she gets a proper job”. It makes me feel like they don’t care or don’t understand that I’ve found a way to balance happiness with the necessity of working. It feels like they want to take that away.
I’ve often thought about looking up completely random, low paid jobs to send back to them with the same accompanying message of “I saw this and thought you might be interested!”
Because their response would then be the same as mine: Why?
When you saw that job, what made you think that I, who have clearly made this choice to live my life in this way, would want to go back to a thing that made me so miserable? Why, when I have not one but FOUR JOBS would you think I’d want one that paid me even less than what I currently earn? Why at 26 years old do you think I’m going to intern for a company I don’t care about doing something I find meaningless? Why on earth do you think I’m worth so little? Do you really think I’m only capable of doing this? Do you know how insulting it is to receive a job suggestion that shows how little you think of me? Why do you see that thing and think of me?
I wonder if these are the same people who see two single human beings and think “Aha! A match!” And try to set them up with literally no regard for either person’s partner requirements. The virtue of being single is enough. Because no one could be happy being single. And no one could be happy outside of the 9am-6pm office life.
There are so many ways to choose to live. I’m not motivated by money. I don’t care about it. I use it because I have to. I earn it because I have to. There is value to it beyond the literal number on the note or coin – financial independence is a huge milestone in a person’s life. But it does not fuel or excite me. It does not make me feel like I’ve achieved something when I’ve earned money. I do not feel like my worth is measured by my bank balance. Far, far from it. I am still finding my way in this choice but in terms of how I choose to live, the thing that’s important to me is my happiness. It’s not as selfish as it sounds – I often achieve that happiness by doing things for other people, looking after them, doing worthy and good things with my time and money.
Sitting in an office strikes me as not worthy, not good and not worth my time or the pittance money I’d be paid. It doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t give me time to follow my passion of writing. It doesn’t allow me even basic things like the privilege of lots of daylight. I love the freedom I have. I manage my own time. And I’m not that far away from saving up a bit of cash, buying a ticket somewhere and going to see the world. I think the life I choose to live means I’m a few steps closer to being able to do that than if I worked in an office, if only because of the attitude that I have when it comes to my freedom. I have nothing tying me down. And I love it.
I often feel that my lifestyle is judged harshly by the more conventional people I know.
To those people I say this: I work incredibly hard. I work long days doing some things you could do and some things you couldn’t. I work with passion and enthusiasm and it is sometimes only bearable and other times downright joyful. I relish the difference and lack of routine between my days. I am never bored. A good friend of mine says “stay busy, stay happy” – I am busy. I am so very happy.
Yours is not the only way to live a life. Nor is mine. You might love your security or money or routine. That’s great for you. I love my life. I don’t judge you based on your motivation.
So please. Don’t judge me on mine.
I’m a serial monogamist.
I’m a one at a time kind of girl and I always have been. Sometimes I go through them quite quickly and you’ll think I’m fickle because my current favourite changes like seasonal ice cream flavours, but then I suppose that’s the nature of flitting from one to the next so frequently. But there are constants. The ones I always come back to, like the tide returning to the shore. Those are the real favourites. Comfort flavours.
I rarely, if ever, cheat.
I won’t say I’ve never cheated. That’s not true and I don’t like to lie.
But I haven’t done it often. I tried it though, like so many people do.
The truth is, I really do just prefer having one at a time. There’s such pleasure in losing yourself entirely in just one – the experience is sweet and to be savoured, only this, right now, entirely, fleeting, soon to be over. But while you’re here nothing is better and there is nothing I want more than this one. Just this one. Nothing else.
I’m talking about books.
I’m talking about the particular, delicious, sensual and sometimes erotic pleasure in losing yourself in one single world. And when it’s a world you so want to explore, that’s where true magic lies. If you’re lucky it will be a trilogy or a series and you’ll have more time. But it will end. It always does. You can’t go on with it forever. They always end, as they must.
I become envious of people who are making their discoveries for the first time. There isn’t anything like it. The element of surprise, the sheer joy of reading a book for the first time, one you’re really enjoying, is almost too much to bear. I think that’s part of the conflict while I read them. There’s one voice in my head telling me to slow down, while another (far more frequently victorious) is already planning how I’m going to irresponsibly stay up all night to get to the end.
I become giddy with the joy of it. It bubbles up inside me at this beautiful, fictional place and the fact that I’ve got permission to be there. Me? Yes, me! I’m invited to indulge in the delights in these pages and I want them all now please but I don’t want it to end. I must know what happened. But I really don’t want it to end. I can’t not know. But then it will be over and I’ll have no more left but I’ll wish so hard that I did. And I always feel bereft when I do, inevitably, reach the final page.
There’s a kind of superiority borne from this virgin-envy. I find myself becoming snooty. Consoling myself with placatory platitudes: “she won’t love it as much as I do”, “don’t worry, he won’t understand the full implications of the ending”, “it’s ok, it won’t speak to any of them as much as it did to me.”
I hate book groups. I can’t stand them. Reading, for me, is so intensely personal. I don’t want you to tell me what to read this week or next week or any other week. I’m selfish with my reading. It’s for me. We can recommend books to each other, but I’ll never expect you to read something because I don’t read when expected to. I read because I want to. I don’t want you to take away what I’ve seen here in this book that I love, in this world that I’ve found, by discussing it to death with pre-prepared questions that are so annoyingly inane, a child would be insulted by them. I find it unbearable to plan to dissect something that is so beautiful.
It’s my reading. Don’t force me share it. Don’t make me cheat on it with you or with another book that you’ve said I must read because the group voted and democracy rules, or because it’s Sally’s turn to choose but Sally has terrible taste and we all know it but everyone gets a turn. Let me instead open up a bit of myself and choose to give it to you as a gift. It will be a shy offering, and as I open that door and let myself back into that world, this time with you holding my hand, you’ll see my eyes look somewhere past you and my face light up and it’s like the sun is shining or like I’m visiting an old friend…because that’s what is happening. I’m visiting a friend. More than a friend. A lover – one I think of and remember fondly.
I love to read. It’s one of my life’s greatest pleasures. To sit and take in a world of words from somebody else’s beautiful mind.
I love to read books one at a time. To know that I’m giving myself totally to them for the time that I’m discovering them. To give them the respect that they deserve. To be only in that world, entirely immersed and surrounded by new sights, new voices, a small universe captured in words on pages…that is something that I feel is a privilege and it fills me with joy, excitement and a visceral pleasure.
I’m a serial monogamist. But only with books.
” *gasp* What’s wrong with your face?”
“Did you just go for a run? Your face is really red.”
“What’s that on your face?”
“What happened!? Your face…it’s so red!”
I have a mark on my face. It’s red and kind of blotchy and it’s been there for as long as I can remember. It might be a birth mark. It might not. I don’t know. I haven’t studied pictures of me as a baby that carefully. But I know it’s there. And that’s partly because when I don’t wear makeup to cover it, people don’t let me forget it.
It’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s certainly not a disfigurement, à la that character from Mike Leigh’s film Secrets and Lies. But it is something that really affects me and that, for some reason unknown to me, elicits repeated comments from a wide variety of people. I don’t think it’s that weird – it looks sort of like the x you see in maths – the one that’s curved. You know, the one you always need to find. Handy hint: it’s on my face.
One kind soul (who had just uttered the words “what’s that on your face?” and was desperately trying to back-pedal) told me it’s like the Chanel symbol (pictured above). Well if I’m going to be branded, at least it’s by an iconic power house female of fashion, right? If you’re going to do it, do it in style.
Coco and her style aside, I would say one in every three times I don’t wear makeup someone comments negatively on my face.
For the record, this is my makeup-free face, at the end of today, June 12th 2014:
The first two were about 5 minutes after the girl at the checkout decided it was her place to comment on the face of a complete stranger.
In that last one where I appear to be holding myself for moral support (and to stop the camera wiggling) I’ve done a fade filter thing for emphasis. I actually don’t think it made any difference to the red, it just made the rest of my face paler.
I regularly and totally unthinkingly don’t wear makeup and I don’t think it’s a big deal. I have good skin and only ever feel the need to cover it because of the way people thoughtlessly react to the mark on my face. A couple of close friends have suggested it is the wearing of makeup that makes the mark more noticeable when I am face-paint-free. But given that on 1/3 of the days I choose not to cover the mark, people from my grandma, to friends, to the girls at the checkouts in any number of shops or tills at cafés (so, total strangers) apparently think it’s ok to stare at and question my visage, I think it doesn’t make that much difference either way. All I know is that when I wear makeup, no one says anything about my face. It has also been suggested that I look into laser treatments if it bothers me that much (I’ve tried all the moisturisers under the sun and they make precisely zero difference) but that’s pretty expensive and I don’t think the NHS covers that sort of thing. It’s cosmetic and truth be told, I don’t really believe in it. To be honest, I’m kind of angry that I even wear makeup to cover it in the first place. I wish it didn’t upset me when people say things. I wish I had grown tougher and more immune to it. I wish I was braver and didn’t care as much. I wish I didn’t mind the questions. But I do mind, I do care and it hurts. It makes me smaller every time.
I don’t know when it became OK to say to someone “what happened to your face?” but I really do get it a lot.
Please stop it. Please think before you open your mouth. Because I don’t stare at you and ask about your big nose, or wonky teeth, or bad BO problems, or birth marks, or dandruff, or weird gait, or terrible fashion sense (that’s something you can help by the way, you should look into changing that. If I can manage Chanel embedded into my actual skin, you can do better than those horrendous trousers. Seriously.) I don’t pick on your big glaring insecurity and shine a spotlight onto it.
I shouldn’t have to tell you – stranger, friend, relative – that a comment about my face is extremely personal. I shouldn’t have to launch into a short and much-repeated lecture about how I could have been smacked really hard by someone abusive and, you don’t know, and it’s none of your business and wouldn’t you feel bad if that’s what I told you it was, and what would you do then? I shouldn’t be silently mortified by the 13 year old dickhead on the tube shouting about my red face or reduced to tears by the girl behind the counter because I was buying salad and she assumed I was sunburnt. I’m not sunburnt. Nothing has happened. I haven’t been hit. I haven’t been running, I’m not too cold or hot. It’s my face, as it has been for as long as I can remember and it’s the only one I have.
So please, just shut up and leave it alone.
I’m a foodie. I always have been. I love food. I love cooking, talking about, watching programmes on and eating, wait for it…food.
I am proud of my love of food. I’m proud that I can go to a restaurant and order something and enjoy every bite. I’m proud of my discerning palate and my guilty food pleasures (a banana with peanut butter and chocolate chips is an excellent snack.)
I’ve noticed two things about being 25 and a food lover. The first is that I actively enjoy eating healthier foods. This, combined with a total adoration of BBC Radio 4, has convinced me that I must be somewhere along the way to being a grown up. I’ll happily get a lighter vegetable option rather than chips but that’s not through weight consciousness, it’s because I genuinely like vegetables now. I hope my parents are proud.
The second is that my metabolism has definitely slowed down. I gain weight more easily than I used to, and, to me at least, it seems noticeable. I find it harder to just lose those few pounds again than I did at, say, age 22. This is despite eating more healthily and exercising more frequently (though in all honesty, still fairly sporadically).
These two observations have led me to the conclusion that being healthy and maintaining what I’ve arbitrarily decided in my head is the ideal weight for myself are not the same thing.
Every so often I look at my body and I think about the things that bother me. And then I look again and think about why they bother me. Is it because I’m inherently unhappy with how I look? Do I have a severe case of body dysmorphia? No. Neither of these things are true. I would say I have a fairly average view of myself with things I like, things I dislike and things I am indifferent to. But the language we use to talk about food and our bodies is engendering what I feel is an unhealthy approach to ourselves, both physically – how we actually are – and mentally – how we see ourselves and what we value.
Let’s look at the image I’ve chosen to put at the top of this post. (I added the caption, so we’ll disregard that.)
Here’s what it says to me:
1- If you eat a burger and a massive packet of chips, you will be fat. If you eat an apple, you will be skinny.
2 – Only fat people eat burgers and massive packets of chips.
3 – Healthy food is equated with being skinny.
4 – Healthy foods and small portions lead to the same outcome: being skinny.
5 – If you’re skinny you get to read books.
6- Fat people don’t read books because they don’t have room in their hands due to all the chips and burgers they’re eating.
6a – Fat people are stupid because they don’t read books. Skinny people are intelligent because they’ve left themselves a free hand for a book.
7 – There is no context given to this picture. Are we comparing like for like? What if that’s all they both eat all day? Suddenly the skinny one holding the apple looks a whole lot less healthy.
All of that makes up a fairly horrible set of messages in a randomly selected picture from Google images. But I do think it’s actually quite an accurate microcosm of the message that is broadcast daily from most magazines, fashion houses and retail stores. There are a few campaigns focusing on real women such as Dove and Aerie (whose latest campaign is that there will be “no more retouching our girls and no more supermodels”. The tagline: The real you is sexy) and those brands are to be commended for the work they’re doing in favour of healthy body images. But for the most part we deplore fat, we glorify being thin and almost insist upon it, so much so that we can’t even let the fat cartoon girl have a book with her delicious looking burger and chips!
I was told something by a friend and it was this: You can eat whatever you want in as high a quantity as you want and you will get fat and be pretty unhealthy to boot. You can eat in moderation, be a bit careful but still enjoy treats and you can be quite average. Maybe a bit cuddly, maybe not – depends on your body type. Or you can deprive yourself of all the yummy things that you like to eat and you can be thin. You can fit into tiny clothes but the cost is all the nice food. But it isn’t even that healthy! Maybe I’ve gone to crazy town but I’m pretty sure starvation and none of the calories are not a good way to live!
Food makes me happy. I’m a full on monster bitch when I get really hungry. If I decided to embark on a nutjob mission to get super skinny I genuinely believe I would lose friends because I’d become horrible. And you know what? I love my friends…plus I’m pretty sure being skinny isn’t worth it if you can’t show off that tiny body to all your envious mates. It’s no fun if it’s just you alone with a celery stick sitting in your UK size 6 jeans.
I’ve grown up with anorexia rife in my family. I have a relative who cannot weigh more than 85lbs…that’s about 6 stone, and I’m being generous. She’s ill. She always has been as long as I’ve known her. There’s been a huge controversy over the TV programme The Biggest Loser because the winner Rachel Frederickson lost so much weight so fast and looked, undeniably, too thin. Being thin is not the same as being healthy. But we talk about it as if it is the ultimate goal. This supposedly ideal body shape of the flat stomach and slimline legs with not an inch of flab anywhere to be seen is frankly impossible for some. And that, more than anything is the indicator – if your body cannot achieve that shape, maybe your body should not be forced into trying to achieve it. It has become more important to be thin than healthy, and weight/size is now so often the barometer of happiness. Maybe instead of working so hard to make our bodies do what our heads want, we should work on making our heads accept what our bodies need.
Here is a fundamental difference between losing weight for health and losing weight for image: being healthy is for you. It’s all about looking after yourself and being the best version of yourself on your terms. Being skinny is largely about other people. It’s about you letting others dictate to you what constitutes looking nice and being attractive. It is about how you are seen, not how you are. Being healthy is all about how you take care of yourself. I’ll concede that sometimes it takes other people to tell you that your weight is unhealthy, but that works for both being too large and being too skinny.
We’re told that the fundamentals of happy relationships are honesty, good communication, compromise, being open and accepting people. I’m not saying you should talk to your food (though I do, and I can tell you right now in my not even slightly biased opinion that it is hilarious) but I am saying it’s time to change the way we talk about food. I hate this business of “having a relationship” with food, but if we must use this horrendous terminology, let’s apply the fundamentals of relationships to it. Let’s stop using fat as negative and thin as positive and instead move the goalposts, to make our parameters about healthy and unhealthy. Our relationships with people are not all about looks so let’s apply that to food and remember the important stuff isn’t happening on the surface – it’s about what is going on inside.
Let’s make our food healthy and balanced, nutritious with the occasional pleasure (Note – not guilty pleasure) and treat thrown in for good measure. Let’s stop bragging to our friends about weight loss and how little we’ve eaten in a day, stop saying “I’ve been bad today” when we mean “I’ve eaten normally today”, and instead get up and do some exercise and then feel excellent about eating whatever the hell we want after. Let’s do away with the values that tell us that being thin is good and will make us happy. Let’s tell the word “thinspiration” to fuck off because it’s AWFUL. Let’s be honest with ourselves, as we would want to be honest with a partner, and encourage the understanding that when we are healthy we feel better and when we feel good, we look good by the virtue of our confidence. And let’s stop being so damn hard on ourselves. Let’s cut ourselves a bit of slack and instead of worrying about the bits we don’t like, let’s remember to say to our reflections
“You know what, you mostly quite healthy human? You look pretty fine today. Just as you are. Inside and out.”
Then let’s leave the house in whatever we damn well choose, heads held high, proudly placed above whatever body shape we naturally are.