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.