My Perfect Imperfection

The first thing I ever posted on this blog was a coming out story, of sorts. A literal moment of truth. I guess this whole blog has been a coming out story…a story about who I am and how I’m learning not to live up or down to people’s expectations of me. My adventures. My stories, my scars, my pretty things, just like it says up there in my header.

That header represents a promise to you guys, and to myself, that I won’t just show you the pretty things. I’ll show you the scars, and tell you the stories behind them. Writing that first post was one of the most terrifying, painful, cathartic things I’ve ever done. But so many people reached out to me afterwards and told me that they’d been going through the exact same thing. The post-graduation slump. That reading it written out like that had made them feel less alone. What I had seen as imperfection, other people saw as strength and beauty.

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I went to see a comedy show this week by the fantastic Juliette Burton. Look at Me follows Juliette’s struggles with eating disorders, lorded over by Tanya, the super-slim, effortlessly beautiful girl who peers out of every magazine, telling Juliette that she isn’t good enough. I have a Tanya of my own, but she’s more insidious. She’s the hardworking blogger who juggles a burgeoning digital marketing career with insightful think-pieces and glamorous events. She has thick, swishy hair, a grown up girl blazer, a capsule wardrobe and beautiful handwriting. Her world is made of Pinterest-white-walls, Instagrammable brunch meetings and pretty print notebooks. She’s beautiful and funny, and of course she has flaws, but they’re endearing ones. Like in Sandra Bullock movies where they’re worried she’s too perfect, so they make her clumsy, or ditzy, or make her snort when she laughs.

And the scariest thing about my Tanya? I could conceivably pretend to be her. Online, at least. I could pitch myself as glamorous and sweet and unfluffable and relentlessly positive. But that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is my little corner of the internet in which to tell my truth. And that’s what I’ll do, forever.

My Tanyas fill my social media streams every minute of every day, each perfect cappuccino and flawless white apartment a tiny reminder that everyone seems to be moving faster than me. And I’m not gonna contribute to that. I have an amazing, wonderful life, and I am so, so grateful for it. But it, and I are both so far from perfect. I want you, my lovely readers, to share in my joys and celebrate my successes. But to pretend that they’re not balanced out by flaws and tough moments is dishonest to you and to myself. I won’t be somebody else’s Tanya.

This weekend, I was invited to speak to a lovely bunch of aspiring beauty bloggers and thinking about what to say really forced me to think about what kind of blog this is, what kind of girl I am. And the truth is, I am imperfect. Wonderfully, outrageously imperfect. I know in my heart that my strength lies in my difference, but that doesn’t stop me walking into rooms and wondering whether everyone in them is staring at me. I procrastinate endlessly because sometimes that’s easier than trying my hardest and failing anyway. I self-sabotage because sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the amazing things that I have. Sometimes I am so afraid of my own potential that I want to run away. Sometimes I wonder whether my life has really changed since I graduated. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m letting everyone down. Sometimes, something knocks my confidence and I cry myself to sleep.

Tanya wouldn’t do any of that.

But Tanya also wouldn’t spend an evening with her family attempting to fit a party popper on her nose.

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She wouldn’t write an obscure semi-paranormal young adult novel just because she suddenly felt inspired. She probably doesn’t know the cha cha slide, or the entire script to Fried Green Tomatoes. She doesn’t make the world’s most delicious, but ugliest cakes. She definitely doesn’t have a weird obsession with German cinema or true crime stories. She does not love Cluedo. Or eat meatballs straight from the pan with a hunk of bread. She doesn’t throw open her windows in the middle of storms because she loves the smell of the rain, or shiver at the sound of church bells. She doesn’t have a huge, mad, sprawling family. She never played a pregnant dominatrix in a show that her father watched from the third row.

387980_10150515779825809_1150577696_nShe can’t make balloon animals. She has never danced so enthusiastically that she fractured her auntie’s cheekbone and gave her a black eye. She doesn’t dream of owning a frog called Oliver. She probably would never have been broken enough, and brave enough to start this blog.

And if that’s what I would have to trade, I’m sorry folks, no deal. I don’t want to be Tanya. If you’ll have me, I’d love to keep having a go at being Fiona.

Baring Our Breasts, Baring Our Souls

This week, I was invited to the launch party for Laura Dodsworth’s amazing book Bare Reality. I was pretty excited, having never been to a book launch before, so I donned my finest “I’m-totally-a-sophisticate-who-goes-to-book-launches” dress and headed for Brick Lane.

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Me, failing to look even a little bit cool and nonchalant.

Bare Reality is an intimate and fond study of our complicated and often fraught relationship with our breasts. The book consists of photographs of 100 pairs of breasts, with 100 women’s stories underneath, ranging from age 19 to age 101, from burlesque dancers to nuns. What really struck me looking at these pictures and listening to the excerpts read was how different each woman’s body was, and how different each story was. Even as the owner of a pair of them myself, my exposure to boobs throughout my life has probably been pretty narrow. I see mine. I see my mum’s. I sometimes see my friends’. I see the ones in the adverts. And somehow, this had added up to the idea that all breasts look pretty much the same. Except mine, which are obviously weird and wrong. But seeing these 100 photographs made me wonder how we ever arrived at such a small ideal of female beauty. Every single one of the photographs was stunning. Their bodies were beautiful and strong and most had survived incredible things.

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For most of the women interviewed, their breasts were not just the lumps of sexualised flesh that we’re so used to seeing them portrayed as. They were what they used to feed their children. They were the stepping stone to sexuality – but these stories focused on the pleasure women got from their breasts, not the pleasure they gave to men. They were just body parts to lots of women, and those women couldn’t give a damn how aesthetically pleasing you found them. They had undergone surgery, changes, insults, huge life events like motherhood, cancer and menopause. In Bare Reality, women’s bodies became the subject, a canvas on which our stories are painted, rather than the object.

bare reality book launchOne excerpt read “when I bare my breasts, I am trying to bare my soul”, casting the idea of nakedness in a beautiful light. The act of being naked not as a sexual experience, but as a literal stripping back of the layers, a search for the you that lives underneath.

One woman talked about being tall, and how tall women, especially those with big boobs tend to hunch over, to make themselves small and inconspicuous. I glanced round the room at this point. Every single woman straightened up and stood a little taller.

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Laura, looking justifiably delighted with her book.

Laura described the book as “100 acts of feminism”, and I think she’s spot on. I’ve said this before, but we exist in a world where having autonomy over your body, taking up space and generally existing as a female is seen as offensive, as a demand for attention, as an attack. Our physical existence is a political act, whether we like it or not. And with that in mind, to stand up and say “Here is my body, and I think it’s great” is an incredibly brave thing to do. And I absolutely applaud every single one of these 100 women for their courage.

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Lots of boob love on The Canvas’s body positive wall!

Okay, to the event itself! The launch took place in the Canvas, an adorable-yet-edgy cafe and exhibition space a stone’s throw from Brick Lane. The white walls are peppered with questions, ranging from “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” to “Where do you want to be in ten years?”. People have scrawled and sketched their answers beneath in pencil and thick black marker. It’s gorgeous. I spent most of the evening wandering around, reading the little snippets of their lives people had left behind.

Having never been to a book launch before, I was completely nervous about going on my own. I had reruns of old school discos playing in my head, although it being a book about body positivity, I hoped at least to avoid the question of why I was wearing a bra when I had nae tits to put in it. Fortunately, as soon as I arrived, I was adopted for the evening by Becky, founder of Who Made Your Pants, and her friend Clare.

bare reality book launchThey were both hilarious and gorgeous and world endingly fantastic, so I hope we bump into each other again. We went through a few glasses of Prosecco, more than a few chocolate truffles and chatted about everything from teenage feminists to religious mythology. No, really. They were great.

Laura was waiting at the door to greet us, and I shuffled a bit shyly when she asked my name, convinced that she would have no idea who I was. When I introduced myself and explained that I had been invited after the whole Protein World thing, my fears were immediately put to rest.

“FUCKING YES,” she shouted, giving me a high five, and then a kiss for good measure. She then proceeded to introduce me to everyone she spoke to. Basically she is warm, radiant and excellent in every way.

The event was a huge feminist love in, and I felt so absolutely honoured to be in a room with some of these men and women. I met Lucy-Anne Holmes, who founded the No More Page Three campaign. I met Caroline Criado Perez, who I chatted to for five solid minutes before suddenly realising who she was. Instead of playing it cool and acting like I’d known the whole time, I fully went “Oh my god! Caroline! You’re Caroline! Like, Caroline Caroline!”. Facepalm. I am the worst at being a sophisticate.

DSCF1252 DSCF1246Somewhat crazily, I spoke to at least three people who, when I introduced myself, responded with “Oh my god! That’s where I recognise you from!”

People recognised me you guys. I don’t even know how to deal with that. Again, I was super uncool about it. I’m basically a 23 year old feminist fangirl.

I left the event feeling ready to kick the patriarchy right in the face, despite the fact that my sexy-sophisticated Kate Middleton shoes had given me a bit of a limp by this stage. I felt so buoyed by the passion and confidence and sheer power of the women in that room. These women remind me what I’m fighting for, what I’m aspiring to, what I’m strong enough to withstand.