When Everything Is Broken

Everything has gotten a little bit out of hand, hasn’t it? The EU is broken. America is broken. The economy is broken. The Labour party is broken. The Conservatives are miraculously unbroken, which means that everything else in the UK is likely to be broken very soon. It feels like the past month has been a constant cycle of bad news layered on bad news layered on bad news and it’s hard not to feel as though everything is spinning out of control.

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I don’t know how to fix this level of broken. I really don’t. I don’t know how we get back from this, although I’m sure we will, somehow. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling helpless or powerless, and for the most part, I express this by turning into a giant howling ragemonster. But that’s not totally sustainable. And I’m gonna be honest with you guys, I’m tired. I am rage overtired and it’s making me want to melt into a little despondent puddle on my living room floor. Here’s what I’m doing to stop that:

I’m Surrounding Myself With My People

My Twitter is something of an echo chamber, filled with people who broadly share a lot of my beliefs and values. There are good and bad things about this, but right now, it’s exactly what I need. When it feels like the world might be populated exclusively by terrified, hateful people, it’s quite wonderful to be reminded that there are kind, soft, brave, generous people out there too. My entire Twitter community has banded together, some organising action and protest, some sharing sweet, fluffy news stories among all the chaos, some just offering a much needed hand squeeze. I purposefully surround myself with people who inspire me and god knows, I need a bit of inspiration right now.

I’m Doing What I Can

When you’re fighting a mess as big as this one, it’s easy to feel so paralyzed by the enormity of it that you end up doing nothing at all. When the entire world seems to be crumbling around you, where on earth are you supposed to start?

I’d say, start anywhere.

When the Conservatives won the general election last year, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let their brutality turn me cold or cynical. I promised that I would respond to their cruelty with kindness. I’m trying to do the same thing now. I give a tiny amount each month to the Trussell Trust and Centrepoint. I buy the Big Issue whenever I have enough change in my purse. Last week, I took a huge suitcase of supplies to the amazing Sisters Uncut, who are occupying an empty council house in Hackney and running free breakfast clubs for local kids.

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Realistically, not one of these things is going to fix all the things that have been broken. Realistically, I probably haven’t made any difference to the big picture. But maybe, somewhere in the UK, someone is eating a hot meal or sleeping in a warm bed or a child is going to school with a full tummy because of me. And that’s no small thing. Among all the headlines and the statistics and the political turmoil, people are hurting. Change can be slow and while we fight for it, people are hurting. There is nothing insignificant about reaching out a hand to someone who needs it, if you can. I can’t fix this mess. I’m not powerful enough or brave enough or clever enough. But I’m lucky enough to have things to share. So what I can do is be kind. And I intend to keep doing that for as long as I possibly can, hoping that some day, all of our tiny baby steps might add up to something bigger. How do you eat an elephant? One damn forkful at a time. Maybe we can eat the Tories the same way.

I’m Giving Myself a Break

More than once in the last month, I have felt like I was drowning. More than once in the last month, I have lain face down on my living room floor because I didn’t know how else to express the hopelessness I was feeling. It is so, so important that we are all fighting the good fight right now, but my darlings, you are of no use to anyone if you’re completely burnt out. I am giving you permission, right now, no matter how grim things get, to switch off. To turn off the news and binge watch a series of Pretty Little Liars. To do a happy dance in the street because you caught a Pikachu in the local park. To go see Ghostbusters and furiously tweet about how much you fancy Kate McKinnon. Just because there are bigger, more important things to worry about does not mean that you don’t get to be happy. Not allowing yourself to be consumed by all this badness doesn’t make you selfish or ignorant. It looks like we might be fighting this fight for a very long time to come, so we need you strong, my love. Take care of yourself. Feed your soul as well as your anger. Keep that little light inside you burning, whatever it takes. Take my hand, and we’ll fight together.

Making Things

I’m a creative fidget. The drafts folder of my blog is a graveyard of half-baked ideas and half-scribbled rants that I thought better of. My dining table is littered with colouring books, a few pages coloured in each. I have a travel journal with four beautiful entries in it. I have a Youtube channel with a few fuzzy, poorly shot videos. I have a scrapbook that tailed off after my first year of university. I have an ever-growing list of happy things that goes for weeks, months without being updated.

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Recently, I’ve been obsessively bingeing on Emma Gannon’s wonderful Ctrl Alt Delete podcast, where she interviews women who have inspired her creatively.

(If you are not also bingeing this podcast, what is even the point in you having internet access?)

In one particularly marvellous episode, she interviews comedian and general creative gal, Stevie Martin and during the episode, Stevie says something genuinely wonderful about creativity. She likens her creative pursuits to when you’re a kid and you’re bored, so you’ll go and make a magazine out of pieces of scrap paper or paint a plate or make a friendship bracelet.

I have this amazing talent for taking something that is really, really fun and making it into hard work. Even now, as I type a blog post about not berating myself, I’m kind of berating myself for only having four entries in my travel journal. If I was a proper travel journaller, I’d have hundreds upon hundreds of entries bursting out of that notebook.

So when I heard Stevie say that about creativity, I genuinely teared up a little. Because it threw all of my little projects into a whole new light. Starting a travel journal doesn’t need to make you a travel journaller. Filming a Youtube video doesn’t need to make you a youtuber. Sometimes, we create just because it’s fun. We create just because we love to make things.

So many people now are lucky enough to make a career from their creativity and that is amazing. But I feel like, for me, that can sometimes push my hobbies into being a chore. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in blog numbers, sponsorship opportunities and the grand, overarching creative genius plan. And that’s absolutely not a bad thing. But isn’t it nice to throw off all of that sometimes and just play? I have a huge family with lots of little kids and one of my favourite things about hanging out with them is that I get to create things without any expectation that they’ll be good or important. We paint pictures. We make up and put on shows. We model things out of plasticine. I’m not good at any of those things but when you’re playing, it doesn’t matter. In fact, there’s something kind of nice about doing something you totally suck at and realising that you’re still having fun.

I think that most creative people have developed the creative itch. It’s what makes me start writing another book in the middle of writing my first. Or what makes me decide to film a YouTube video, even though I have no aspiration to become a YouTuber. Blogging is a great way for me to practice and hone my writing, which I hope to turn into a career some day. But as with all of my creative pursuits, my blog is more and less than that. It’s a space that’s entirely mine, and I don’t owe it to anyone to make it professional or marketable. Because it might be useful play, but it’s still play. Everything that I make, from my blog, to my novels, to my plasticine dinosaurs, to my unfinished, neglected scrapbooks is part of my story: the story that I’m writing for myself, a great big love letter from me to me. Often, creativity is nothing more and nothing less than a way to tell our story. So let’s tell it. Let’s play. Let’s make things.

Beach Body Already

This week, my Twitter exploded for the second time when new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that he would be clamping down on body shaming adverts on the Tube. A lot of you lovely folks first found my blog through my fight with Protein World (if you’re a newbie, welcome to the party! You can read all about it here, here and here!) and I’m thrilled that people are still talking about it.

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I want to talk about privilege for just a second before the celebrations start – and make no mistake, this is a celebration blogpost. Body positive victories like this one are always, always built on the tireless work of brilliant, gorgeous, fat women who get a hundred times the abuse and none of the media attention that I did. I am so, so proud of the stand that I took against PW and continue to be blown away by the support I received but it’s worth asking – would the stunt have been so well received if I was fat? Even between Tara and me, two relatively thin girls, she bore the brunt of the abuse, I got the majority of the press. So please, continue to send your congratulations and I shall continue to bask in them because I’m a big millennial narcissist, but I’ll stick a list of excellent folks at the bottom of my post who fight for body positivity every day and often get nothing but abuse for it. Go show them some love.

At the height of the Beach Body debacle, one of the things I heard over and over (and over and over and over) was that we were wasting our time fighting against something as trivial as an advert. And there’s a grain of truth there. Women, especially fat women, face discrimination in much more overt, dangerous ways than having the beach body brigade shoved down their throats every summer. But I dare you to go speak to someone suffering from an eating disorder and dismiss body image issues as trivial. Anorexia is the deadliest mental illness faced by humans. It carries a higher risk of death than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. This isn’t about an advert that hurts a few people’s delicate feelings. It’s about taking a little bite out of a culture that is actively killing people. So this might be a small victory, but it is absolutely 100% a victory.

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Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I’m not claiming that our protest single-handedly led to all of the changes that are happening, but I can’t remember the last time I saw an article about body shaming that wasn’t illustrated with a photograph of the Protein World advert. The advert, the protests, all of the trolling and argument, they made body image an issue that was suddenly worth talking about, worth writing about for the mainstream media. And that happened because we refused to shut up. We shouted louder and louder, over and over again, “This is not okay and we’re not going to take it anymore”.

The whole thing: the photograph, the TV interviews, the worldwide media, the Hyde Park party, the speeches Tara and I have given since, all of it was the product of a funny idea and about 12 seconds of mad courage. Everything hinged on the few moments it took to take a deep breath, steel each other and pull off our dresses in the middle of Charing Cross. Hundreds of thousands of women saw the advert and we just happened to be two of the many who dug our heels in and said no.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t think that you’re too small to make a difference. I took one photograph, had two mad weeks and held a protest party that was only about 100 people strong and the ripples of that are still being felt over a year later. We have the power to change things, if only we are brave enough to let ourselves care, if only we are brave enough to try. To steal a line from my blog’s namesake, even if you’re little, you can do a lot. I believe in you. And even at a time when it feels like the world is falling in on itself, I believe that people can be good. People can be great. And if we let ourselves, people can be powerful enough to change the world. Courage, dear heart. Courage.

 

Brilliant Body Positive People

Tara Catstello: my excellent partner in crime through the beach body furore, runs an amazing feminist blog that talks body issues, feminism and what it means to be a woman.

Bethany Rutter: plus size blogger and asskicker extraordinaire, made a huge batch of body confidence cards to hand out on the tube in response to a fatshaming asshat.

Hayley, Curves & Curls: pin up sasspot babe, runs a gorgeous plus size fashion blog.

Daisy Says: fabulous, opinionated, fierce as hell. Spends her days doling out positive vibes and dispatching trolls with gay abandon.

Lottie L’Amour: award winning blogger and ambassador for the Body Confidence Revolution, a project celebrating bodies in all of their glorious diversity.

Callie Thorpe: gorgeous blogger, Marie Claire columnist and longtime body confidence warrior.

MurderOfGoths: unreasonably talented plus size illustrator, creates the most beautiful, beautiful artwork of other plus size babes.

Danielle Vanier: fantastic plus size fashion blogger who campaigns for body acceptance and delights in breaking ridiculous “fashion rules”.

George Horne: plus size blogger and model who fights relentlessly for better representation of plus size women.

Because of the troll risk, I don’t want to add anyone to this list without their permission, but if you are or know an amazing body positive/fat positive activist, please shout! I’ll keep adding forever.

 

Being Hermione

You know, the greatest thing about having your own blog is that you can totally ignore everyone’s advice about finding a niche and just write whatever you want. This blog is a lot of things to me. Sometimes it’s a megaphone, sometimes it’s a therapy group, sometimes it’s a mirror. Sometimes, it’s just somewhere to work through my ideas, to practice my writing, to say something that I think needs to be said.

So today, I’m going to talk about Harry Potter. And you can all deal with it. I love the Harry Potter books in a way that is very specific to my generation, I think. We grew up along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. People in my town wore tape around their glasses for a while. I sobbed when a friend cracked the spine of my first edition Goblet of Fire. We queued at midnight book releases. A year ago, I applied for the dream job at Pottermore (whoever got it – you have my eternal envy). My dad read the Philosopher’s Stone to me. I slept with my bedroom light on all through Chamber of Secrets. In Prisoner of Azkaban, I had an imaginary hippogriff. I stayed up all night to read Goblet of Fire. I got sunstroke reading Order of the Phoenix. I kept the faith through the Half Blood Prince. I cried and cried and cried at the Deathly Hallows.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

So, I might not be JK Rowling, but I consider myself quite the Harry Potter buff. And amidst all the debate about it, if you were to ask me who the real Hermione Granger is, I could tell you without a moment’s pause.

It’s me.

See? Hermione.

See? Hermione.

The bushy haired bookworm with too much to say. Who cried when people didn’t understand her, but never stopped being fiercely herself. Every time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I felt Hermione taking my hand. It’s okay, she’d whisper, we’re the good guys.

When the films came out, I was, of course, devastated that JK Rowling didn’t show up at my door and cry “Fiona! Where have you been! We’ve been searching for Hermione and I just knew we hadn’t found her because you weren’t there!”

That said, once I got over that devastating blow, my heart soared watching Emma Watson as Hermione. Sure, she was prettier than me and her hair was more manageable than mine, but I still saw myself in her every step of the way. I cheered when she punched Malfoy. I bawled when she descended the steps of the Yule Ball. I cheered when she hit Harry with a book that one time. I bawled when her and Ron shared their first kiss. Even now, show me a gif of Emma Watson crying and I’ll tear up. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is me.

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Now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has opened at the Palace Theatre in London, conversations about the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a black woman, as Hermione have flared up again. While I suspect that a whole lot of people are using this as a very thin veil for their racism, the justification seems to be that Noma Dumezweni just isn’t what Hermione looks like. And you know what? She’s not what my Hermione looked like. But for millions of other young girls, millions of young black Harry Potter fans, she’s exactly what Hermione looked like. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is them.

If you can’t see the beauty in a whole new subsection of women having their vision of Hermione recognised and validated, you don’t understand Hermione at all. Hermione is for every little girl who has ever felt odd or out of place or wrong. Hermione is a woman. She’s outspoken, seen as mouthy, even – although I’d be willing to stake my life on Harry having more lines. She’s muggle born, a “mudblood”. She weathers criticism and discrimination on all these fronts, and adding racism to the mix puts in new layers to the discrimination she faces. And this is something that black girls will recognise and experience. Hermione exists to say it’s okay to be smart, it’s okay to be mouthy, it’s okay to be black. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be you.

Hermione is Emma Watson. Hermione is Noma Dumezweni. She’s probably JK Rowling too. She’s me. She might even be you. And if you don’t understand that, if you don’t wholeheartedly celebrate that, then you don’t understand the first thing about her.

Stepping Stones

It’s a funny old thing, isn’t it, this life business?

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In a little under a month, it’ll be three years since I graduated from university. That got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.

The older I get, the faster time seems to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that one. But sometimes the nostalgic question “Where the f*ck did the last three years go?” twists and distorts until it becomes something much more sinister:

“What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?”

This is the question that creeps into my mind right before I fall asleep. It’s the question that guilts me into making plans when staying home would make me happier. It’s the question that sparks the constant desire for “self improvement”, even when I’m exhausted and would be better off pouring a glass of wine, lighting a candle and reading a book.

I don’t think I’m on my own here. Twitter has opened up our inner monologue to each other like never before and the prevailing theme for almost everyone over the age of 20 seems to be “What the hell am I doing and is it what I’m supposed to be doing?”. Having spent the entirety of our teenage lives fighting to get out from under the control of our teachers, our professors, our parents, a lot of us find that we miss the comfort of having someone tell us “This is what success will look like and these are the steps you need to achieve it”.

All through my life, I’ve had stepping stones to hop between. Markers of success to tell me when I’m doing a good job. Things progress logically, one milestone fluidly melting into the next. Pass your exams, move out, graduate university, get a job…as a child, and even as a young adult, the path is laid out. But once you reach the end of that path, once you step off and wander into the unknown, the world is suddenly your oyster. You can do literally whatever you want. And I know I can’t be the only one who sometimes gets vertigo from that realisation.

It’s not so much that I want somebody to tell me what to do. It’s more that I want to be reassured that I’m doing something. Anything. I asked Niall the question quite recently, “What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?” and he pushed me off of my chair. Affectionately, of course. Because I’ve done lots of stuff in that time. I started this blog and gained an amazing band of people who actually enjoy reading my words. I moved to London and survived there. I have raised almost £3000 for Cancer Research. I wrote a book. I have baked countless apple pies. I have made lots of people laugh. I have made a few people cry too. I have taken joy in a thousand tiny moments that no one will ever remember. When I really think about it, I know that I have done a million things in those three years since I graduated. So why does it sometimes feel like I have failed?

I think it’s because as an adult, milestones are few and far between. Maybe you get married, buy a house, have a baby. But I’m not planning on doing any of those things any time soon. So what do we cling to in the vast space between the last milestone and the next? How do we keep from drowning without that reassuring pat on the head, without the checklist to be ticked off?

We’ve all seen the articles on social media:

50 things to do before you turn 30
What your twenties are really for
7 signs that you’re really a grown up
The 5 secrets to getting your shit together

We devour them, pick them apart and swallow them. Turn our lives into bucket lists, a neat little path of experiences with “adulthood” glimmering at the end like a pot of gold. We create fake milestones, which we collect and wear like trophies: the Mulberry bag, the glamorous holiday, the ten thousand Twitter followers. We hoard them like misers, using them to tell ourselves stories about us. The truth is, once you step off the path that’s been laid out for you, there is no next step. There’s no grand scoreboard in this game of life, no quantifiable measure of success or adulthood.

It’s hard, to come to terms with that. To realise that you’re the only one who can assure yourself that you’re doing a good job. That you’re living just as you should. That you are meaningful. It takes real courage to strive for happiness, to stop trying to measure yourself up. What the f*ck have I done for the last three years? I’m not sure. But I’ve lived. I’ve tried.

What Yoga is Teaching Me About Me

So, I’ve been taking a yoga class.

*pauses for gales of laughter to subside*

I know, I know, me and exercise haven’t always been the most natural of bedfellows. I was once pulled in front of the class and used as a bad example in PE. I walk the 5k Race for Life every year. My idea of a hearty workout normally involves walking to the fridge to get another piece of cake.

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I signed up sort of on a whim. My dad had wired me some pocket money and I wanted to spend it trying something new, something that I’d never normally spend it on. I’d read a post by one of my favourite bloggers not too long before about how she had discovered yoga and had fallen in love with it. So I googled “Dalston Yoga” and booked myself a block of six beginners classes at the first school that popped up. I am beyond, beyond thrilled that by sheer chance, I picked one of the best exercise classes I’ve ever been to. Dalston Yoga classes take place in a tiny loft studio, sunlight streaming through an open skylight, the air warm and spiced with soft incense. A black and white cat pads around the space, curiously observing. The teacher, Paulene, guides classes gently in a thick, soothing Aussie accent (this is probably where I find out that it’s not an Aussie accent and get in trouble), liberally peppered with swearwords.

I first walked through her door about six months ago and I honestly don’t know how I lived without it. It’s become a hard, occasionally weird, but always brilliant part of my life. It’s constantly teaching me things about myself, and I don’t just mean that in the typical “yoga has brought me to a moment of clarity and reflection” (although there are shades of that sometimes). It’s teaching me things about myself in the same way that trying anything that you’re not immediately good at does. Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned:

It’s a damn good thing that I’m smart.

I’ve always been a rather appalling goody two shoes. A teacher’s pet. A kiss ass of the highest order. So imagine my surprise on learning that when I’m not immediately good at something, I have an almost irrepressible instinct to play class clown. As soon as I start to struggle, when my legs start to shake or I can’t bend as far as I want to, I feel compelled to comically fall over or make a smart comment about my lack of fitness. Because at least then, people would be laughing with me, right? There it is, one of my biggest insecurities and defense mechanisms, laid utterly naked by nothing more and nothing less than a forward bend. There is nothing scarier than trying really hard and still not being very good. It has taken real strength to battle past that. To accept that actually, nobody is going to laugh at my poses quite simply because no one is looking at me. Which brings us neatly into surprise number two…

“Poses” is a grossly misleading word.

When I hear the word “yoga”, the image that comes to mind is pretty specific and also, as it turns out, utter bollocks. I imagine a thin, white, pretty woman pretzelled up on a sandy beach. The sun is probably rising. She’s probably drinking from a coconut. She has great hair. Her name is probably Tiffany. Regardless, her poses are just that: still, serene, beautiful. When I go to yoga, I am anything but. This took a long while for me to come to terms with. I had a very definite idea of what I should look like when I was doing yoga and for the first couple of classes, I verged on upset, face flushing bright red as my legs juddered and twitched beneath me, or my wrist cracked, or my breath became ragged. Then, as I got out of my own damn head for a second – helped infinitely by the incredible teacher, Paulene – I realised that yoga isn’t supposed to be pretty. It’s a process of discovery and discovery is almost never neat or Instagrammable.

Now, I set my mat up at the front of every single class. I have never ever done that in an exercise class before. My yoga isn’t any prettier but I don’t care, because I’m discovering my body, piece by tiny piece. Sometimes, it does super weird things. When they get tired, my limbs start to shudder. My movements aren’t smooth and practised. A lot of the time, I jerk stiffly from one position to the next. Sometimes, for no reason at all, one of my muscles will decide that it’s going no further and cling on for dear life. I grunt and groan and sweat my way through the classes. And it feels incredible.

It’s not about that.

We all tend to think of ourselves as big heads on sticks. Our mind does all of the living for us and our body runs after, trying to keep up. As somebody who has devastatingly physical symptoms whenever my mind gets out of balance, I can definitely attest to that. More than being about getting bendy or skinny or even fit, for me, yoga is about actually taking some time to hang out in my body. As touched on in point one, I’m a bit of an Overachiever. It has been really, really difficult for me not to get caught up going “Well, by this time next month, I want to be able to bend this far, or hold this pose for this long”. That works for some people but is really destructive and distracting for me. I spent my first couple of classes physically pulling myself into uncomfortable stretches and poses before being utterly called out on it by Paulene.

Once I got past that, it became less about nailing each pose and more about going Oh, so that’s how my body moves in that direction.
So that’s how far I can go this way.
That’s what it feels like when I twist like that.

Your body has no moral value. There is no right or wrong way to have a body (despite what some people adamantly insist). The class isn’t a place for me to criticise or improve my body. It’s a place for me to observe. Because how are you supposed to love something that you don’t even know? So I watch my body. I learn what it can do. I learn Oh, that feels good.
That feels weird.
That’s interesting.
I think I can go further.
My body is great.
I am great.

Just like she knew when my mind was pushing me too hard, Paulene knows when my mind is blocking me. She knows when it’s my mind saying no, when my body could actually go a little further. Bit by bit, I’m building up. I’m starting to notice which poses make me feel happy, which poses make me feel strong, which poses make me feel grounded. Because I started at the ugly, ungainly beginning.

Once, talking about another yoga class she had attended, Paulene snorted, “They’ve got all these poor people trying to stand on their heads and they haven’t even learned to stand on their f*cking feet”.

That’s what yoga is about for me. It’s not about the money shot, the headstand, the scorpion pose, the perfect, beachy Pinterest pin. It’s about spending time with me. It’s about not pretending to love my body when actually, I’m just ignoring it. It’s about being present. It’s about learning to stand on my f*cking feet.

Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

My favourite thing about the internet is having the ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

My Twitter timeline is constantly full of amazing, inspiring women; women with stories to tell and brilliant, brave voices to tell them in. Women who are grabbing life with two hands and making it work for them. Women who have overcome unbelievable, devastating things. Women who really, really give a shit.

I’ve written before about Laura Jane Williams, one of the best and most beautiful writers I’ve encountered. I’ve followed her blog for a while now and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Debrief event a couple of months ago. So when she and fellow fabulous person Emma Gannon decided to throw a real life get together for these great Twitter women, I basically fell over myself in my hurry to get a ticket.

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Fittingly, the theme of the evening was friendship, so I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and decided to go along on my ownsome and make as many friends as I could. I had chatted with a lot of the folks who were going on Twitter, but I suffer from that eternal writers’ conviction that I am infinitely funnier and more charming on the page than I could ever hope to be in person, so I was pretty nervous.

I headed into the room, made a beeline for the prosecco and spun around to introduce myself to the nearest person before my confidence had the chance to desert me. Reader, the Universe sent me an angel. Halfway through our introductions, I realised I had met the woman I was speaking to before but hadn’t recognised her, due to my vision being impaired upon our first meeting by a knight’s helmet. We were taking part in a non-sexy pants photoshoot. No, really, we actually were:

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Me being unsexy in some pants.

She was the excellent Daisy Buchanan, whose writing you will probably have read if you have picked up literally any newspaper or magazine this year. Spurred on by this realisation, I introduced myself to another bunch of ladies standing nearby and spent the next half hour pouring prosecco for people and enthusing about how great Daisy’s writing is.

The panel of speakers took to the stage and I quickly scurried to an empty seat. I smiled shyly at the girls beside me, only to have one of them ask “Sorry, are you Fiona?”

Turns out that curly red hair and a big Scottish accent are good identifiers. My favourite thing about events like this is that everyone introduces themselves with their Twitter handle.

“Oh hey! Aren’t you @EscapologistGl? I’m @flo_robson!”
“SHUT UP, it’s so nice to meet you!”

The panel was made up of Nadin Hadi, Lucy Sheridan, Jade Coles and Emma and Laura themselves. The five women were strikingly different but equally excellent as they picked their way through the thorny topic of friendship.

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
A good friendship is one where you don’t both fall out of love at the same time.
You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited friendship.

But the wisdom was cut through with fast-paced, biting hilarity: Lucy recalling how her husband falls in friend-love at first sight, Nadin outing herself as Helen from Bridesmaids, Laura exclaiming Oh god, I’m Kristen Wiig and I HATE YOU.

I frantically tapped half nonsensical, typo ridden notes into my phone and nodded furiously at every word spoken. The truth is, these women could have been talking about anything in the world and I would have listened. There is something so uniquely wonderful about a group of women who are absolutely owning it. I wanted to stand up and high five everyone in the room when Nadin followed up her Bridesmaids comment by saying “People are intimidated by me and that’s fine. I am intimidating.”

In no time at all, the panel was over and people started to mill around the room. Self-consciousness soothed by prosecco and shared experience, we poured out our stories of love and loss, of friendship breakups, finding your tribe and whether or not you always want to sleep with your friends just a little bit. Scrolling the hashtag on Twitter, I found that a couple of my favourite bloggers were in the room and went around squinting at people’s faces until I found them. Once I met them, I tried to be cool, but ended up snuggling them instead. Such is life.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

There’s always something a bit magical about meeting people you admire and this night was absolutely no exception. If you didn’t get a ticket for this one, make sure you come along to the next. But be warned, I’ll probably snuggle you.

Sister Act: High Five

It’s that time of year again, when a familiar message whispers through the trees, dancing on the air, pulling us in.

Stay very still. Listen carefully. You’ll be able to hear it.

“…ssssserrrr…fffuu…answer…pphhhh…kanser…ffffuuuuuuuck canceeeeeeer”

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That’s right folks, it’s Race for Life season. If you have followed our journey from the start, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs – you probably know the story better than me at this stage.

For those just joining us…welcome to the party.

This is a story all about how
my life got flipped and turned upside down.
So why don’t you take a moment, just sit right there
and I’ll tell you how cancer tried to kill my mum and ruin my life.

*dance break*

When I was sixteen, my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer. My sister Sophie was twelve. I had never been so afraid in my entire life. I don’t think any of us had. Luckily for all of us, advances funded by Cancer Research in early detection and treatment meant that my mum made a full recovery and celebrated her five years clear a few years ago. She now spends her time drinking cocktails, compulsively booking cruises and throwing dance parties in her kitchen.

My mum is the bravest, strongest person that I know. I talk a lot about her kicking cancer’s ass. But the truth is, cancer doesn’t give a toss how brave or strong you are. Bravery and strength isn’t what saved my mum – although her bravery and strength saved the rest of us a million times over.

Twenty-four years ago, my dad lost a mother who was just as brave and as strong as mine. The leaps forward that Cancer Research have made meant that I didn’t lose mine.

Every year, I think this story will get easier to tell, but it doesn’t. I will never forget that it is because of Cancer Research that my mum was around to do my makeup for my prom, and for my sister’s. She drove us both to University and cheered at my graduation. We got to walk her down the aisle, and maybe someday, she’ll return the favour. I will always and forever be indebted to Cancer Research, to everyone who has donated, to the amazing scientists, nurses and carers who meant that my mum stuck around and stayed the amazing, sparkly, wonderful person that she is.

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So I figured, I’d better work off some of that debt. This will be our FIFTH year of Race for Life, which I think definitely deserves another dance break.

*dance break*

It’s been a crazy, amazing journey, featuring bucketloads of tears, a lot of seriously bad dancing, me in the papers dressed as Hit Girl, support from actual superhero Mark Millar, doughnuts with “fxxk cancer” printed on them and a dog in a t-shirt. We have raised a total of £3700 over the last four years. That’s pretty damn amazing.

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But cancer still isn’t getting the message. It continues to steal away people that we love. There is so much more to be done. And I won’t stop until no mother ever has to sit down her children and tell them that she has cancer.

We’ll be having loads of fun here on the blog over the next month, keeping you updated on fundraising progress, super-strict training regimes and all the ridiculous things that I’ll do to get your money.

Seriously, I’ll do whatever. I’ll write you a poem, I’ll hand illustrate you a postcard, I’ll record a song for you and put it on Youtube, I’ll bake you a cake, I’ll draw you a (dreadful) portrait. Name it. Whatever it takes for you to click that lovely donate button, it’s yours.

Cancer messed with the wrong family. It’s going down.

Support us here! Or, if internet pages ain’t your thang, you can text your donation by texting “SOFI57 £5” to 70070. 

Tiny Acts of Self Care for When You Just Can’t

I write about self care a lot. I started this blog to chart my decision to choose happiness, at a time when I didn’t feel like anything could ever make me feel happy again. I write to remind myself why I made that decision, and how I continue to make that decision. And sometimes I think maybe I’m helping other people to choose it too.

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A lot of people seem to be struggling right now. I think that happens a lot in the springtime. Things start to change and for better or for worse, change always dredges up the dirt that’s lying under the surface. And when you’re struggling, every single step you take feels heavy and impossible and pointless – even the ones that you know might help. How are you supposed to summon the energy to start an inspiration journal when you can’t even face taking a shower or cooking a proper dinner? I’ve been there, and I promise it gets better. But until then, here are a few teeny tiny little acts of self care for when you’re genuinely not up to joining a yoga class, starting a healthy eating plan or taking up knitting.

Put On Some Clean Socks

I’m not even joking, I feel like a new woman when I’m wearing clean socks. If I’ve been travelling or if I’ve had a really rubbish day at work, I come home and put on a pair of clean, comfy cotton socks. Boom. Ready to face the world again. I told you they’d be teeny tiny. But it helps.

Breathe

Go somewhere warm. Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing. Don’t try to alter your breath – you don’t have to be doing deep, mystic, yogic breathing, just let your body do its thing. Cry if you feel like you have to. Let your thoughts come and go and try to be gentle with them. If you feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, stop. Being still works for some people, being active works for others.

Make Your Bed

Okay, this can be a hard one, I know. I wrote an entire post shortly after starting this blog about how the hardest thing about feeling like the world is falling apart is dealing with the fact that it actually isn’t. You still need to wash your clothes and pay your bills and do your dishes. Pick just one thing. Decide to go and make your bed right now. Or empty your bins. Or wash your dishes. Let yourself take pride in having done it. Self care isn’t always a bubble bath or a trashy movie. Sometimes, it’s doing the thing that has to be done, even when it makes you hurt. You’ve got this. I promise, you’ve got this.

Cuddle Something

I’m a very tactile person and I sometimes feel like I get an actual high from a good hug. Hey, if people are allowed exercise highs, I’m allowed hug highs. But if you’re not into touchy feely people, it doens’t need to be a person. Cuddle your dog. Dogs are great, and they always know when you’re sad. Wrap your arms around a big pillow, or around your duvet and give it a big squeeze. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Wash Your Face

This is similar to the clean socks in that it makes me feel like a brand new person. I’ve obviously internalised the idea of a clean, fresh start very literally. Grab a facecloth, run it under a very hot tap and place it over your face. Breathe in that steamy goodness. Enjoy the feeling of something warm and soft on your skin. Now wash your face in gentle little circles. No vicious scrubbing, we’re loving ourselves, remember?

Come take my hand, my darling. It’s okay not to be okay. Recovering from depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to be a gigantic hose of positivity and hope all the time. It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. It’s okay to just survive, if that’s all you have the strength to do. Look after yourself, survive, give yourself the chance to fight again tomorrow.

Peeking Under the Trollbridge

TW: misogyny, racism, sexual violence.

Just like last time, it started with a poster and a picture.

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Bones aching after a day at a Stand Up to Racism march, buoyed by the incredible, passionate voices that rung out throughout the day, thoughts very much focused on the vodka and lemonade awaiting me in the pub and my (erroneous) hopes that Scotland might beat Ireland in the rugby, I tweeted a photograph of me holding a Refugees Welcome placard.

My Twitter had been a relentlessly lovely place for a good few months, so I didn’t think much of it when my phone buzzed. And then it buzzed again. And again. And again. Not only were Scotland getting absolutely gubbed in the rugby, my mentions were suddenly gushing with racist, misogynist, violent abuse.

I was told that I was a repulsive person because I haven’t personally invited any refugees to live with me.
I was told that I must want to be raped.
My photograph was retweeted with an invitation for white men to rape and impregnate me, so I could continue the white race.
I was asked to post my address so that men would know where to come when they wanted to rape me.
I was sent photographs of beaten and bloodied women.
I was told that there was blood on my hands because I sleep in a warm bed while others freeze to death.
I was told there was blood on my hands because of the explosions in Brussels.
I was called precious. I was called naive. I was called a hypocrite. I was called a bitch.

The trolls, ladies and gentlemen, had descended.

As somebody who’s pretty vocal on the internet, particularly about the fact that I think women are people and should have rights, I get trolled a lot. Sometimes, for a few hours, I think the trolls have ruined my day. Sometimes, they make me cry. Sometimes, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of the sea, wave after caustic wave of hatred battering over me. Sometimes I feel as though I’m drowning.

Sometimes, I feel like Dorothy, peeking behind the curtain in the Emerald City. I remember that this huge mass of rage and venom isn’t born of some unfathomable, mysterious monster. There is no Wizard. And when I peek under the troll bridge, I find only people.

When I really think about it, I wonder what kind of lives these people must be living, to make them hate like that. I think of the little boys, high on the illicit thrill of saying the forbidden. I think of the young men baffled and frustrated that I would present my face and my body to the world and not invite their comment. I think of how society teaches our young men to express themselves through violence and anger. I think of the poor, terrified, lost boys, who don’t know how else to feel powerful. I think of the girls, so broken and battered by this messed up little world of ours that they step on other women as they reach for the approval of the lost boys. I think of the dinosaurs, the relics, clinging with their fingernails to a world that no longer exists, stubbornly refusing to see that history will not remember them fondly. I think of the panic that lashes out and escalates, rather than admitting it was wrong. It is easier to hate than to understand.

These voices, so huge, so loud online…how small they become in the real world. How small in comparison to wrapping myself in my boyfriends arms at the end of the day. How small in comparison with closing down my laptop in favour of drinking ginger beer in the sunshine or losing myself in a book. How tiny compared with the texts from my sister that say “I’m really proud of you”. How insignificant in the face of my full, beautiful, silly little life.

Their hate might be an ocean, but my love lets me float. And I hope that someday, they find that too.

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