Power to the Girls

To the littlest Longmuir,

In the past day, the internet has filled up with letters from women to their daughters, sisters and granddaughters. Many of them have been written by women much wiser and more talented than me (like this one!). This one won’t be much different, except that it’s for you.

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You already know that America has picked a bully for its leader. There are a lot of reasons that this happened but here’s a big one: his opponent was a woman. In more than two centuries of voting, they have never, ever picked a woman. This time, it looked like they really might. The fact that they didn’t is a big loss. It hurts. But here’s the one glimmer of hope: someday, they will. Somewhere out there is a little girl like you who will be president someday.

Here’s something you might already know, and you might not: being a girl is really hard sometimes. A lot of people will think that they know who you are and what you are like, just because you’re a girl. It can get pretty overwhelming sometimes, pretty exhausting. Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up, making yourself smaller or quieter to escape. From my heart to yours, I’m sending you all the courage in the world and saying don’t.

I know that you know all of the words to Matilda by heart, and if she doesn’t mind, I’m going to borrow a few of them. (She’s much cleverer than me anyway!)

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot.
You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.
If you sit around and let them get on top
You might as well be saying you think that it’s okay.

You can do anything that you put your mind to. You can become Prime Minister. You can write a book. You can run away and join the circus. You can be a scientist, who helps cure devastating diseases. You can design incredible buildings or beautiful dresses. You can do anything. And the only thing you have to do to get there is to try. Try, try and keep trying. Put your hand up in class. Read about Violet Baudelaire and Hermione Granger and Mia Thermopolis. Write down your thoughts and trust that they are important. Know that your voice matters. Learn to believe in yourself, even when other people don’t. Watch Mulan and know that you should never learn your place. Watch Legally Blonde and know that in your life, you will come up against countless Warners and Callahans who will underestimate you right up until you take their job and do it better than them. Sing in the shower. Wear pin badges. Google Maya Angelou, Sophia Duleep Singh and Ida B Wells. When you’re old enough, vote.

You are powerful beyond measure. But, to quote a great philosopher (Spider-Man), with great power, comes great responsibility. See, another reason that the bully won is because people are poor and alone and frightened. And when people are frightened, they can become cold and hard and selfish. When you are frightened, it can be easy to see everyone else as the enemy, out to steal what you have. My gorgeous girl, I need you not to do this. The world is a strange, scary place right now and folks like me need the people growing up after us to be better than us. The world needs kindness and warmth and big, open hearts. The world is full of people of wondrous variety: girls, boys, people in between, white people, black people, Muslim people, poor people, disabled people, gay people, young people, old people, and every single one of those people deserves to live a beautiful, happy life, just like we do. We are so lucky to have what we have, and when you are as lucky we are, it is your responsibility to share it.

Don’t let the world make you afraid of people who are different from you. Listening to people different from you is how we learn. Don’t let the world dim that wonderful, generous spirit I know that you have. Take your old toys and clothes to the charity shop, so that someone who needs them can have them. Pack a shoebox with surprises and send it to somebody who doesn’t normally get Christmas presents. Don’t be scared to tell adults that you have ideas. When I was little, I asked the people in my mum’s work to help me pack shoeboxes and ended up with a whole living room full of presents to give people. More than 70 kids got presents that year because I believed in myself. Stand up for what you think is right. Don’t join in when your friends tease that weird kid in your class. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to think – not even me. Be nice to other girls. Help them reach for their dreams and they’ll help you reach for yours. Love as openly and as massively as you can. Never stop believing in the power of kindness. And never, ever give up.

I’m going to finish with one last quote, something that I told your other sister many years ago, and something that I really, truly believe for both of you: kid, you’ll move mountains.

All my love, forever,

Fiona.

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.

take back the beach protein world

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.

 

Peeking Under the Trollbridge

TW: misogyny, racism, sexual violence.

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

stand up to racism

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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Boys Who Hit Girls and Boys Who Don’t

CW: violence against women, sexual harassment, assault.

Let me tell you a story. Today, a friend of mine jostled into a man on a rush hour tube. The man turned around and threatened to punch her in the face. She cried.

Let me tell you another story. Once, when I was walking home in the dark, a man ran towards me and screamed in my face. When I leapt backwards away from him, he laughed hysterically. I went home, turned on all of my lights and sat in the corner of my living room between the sofa and the wall. And I cried.

Let me tell you another story. A while ago, there was a post circling around the internet about a man who noticed that the woman walking in front of him had sped up to get away from him. He walked faster and so did she. Eventually, she broke into a run. When she tripped and fell, he ran past her and screamed “Who are we running from?!”. A lot of people shared this post. A lot of nice male friends of mine shared this post with notes on how funny it was. They laughed. I bet the woman cried.

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In at least two of those stories, the men involved thought they were kidding around. Not having been there for the first, I can’t say for sure whether the threat was a thoughtless, idiotic, off the cuff remark or a genuine threat. But here’s something I am sure about: being able to frighten women and think that you are joking or that we shouldn’t take it so seriously is an act of supreme, huge, massive privilege.

When you say or do something like the guys above did, you know that you don’t really mean it. Here’s the thing: we don’t.
We don’t know until we’ve ignored your shouts of “Hey beautiful!” whether you’re going to throw a bottle at us or not.
We don’t know until we’ve awkwardly returned your smile at the bar whether you are going to shove us against a wall and assault us or not.
We don’t know until we’ve refused to laugh at your inappropriate sexual joke whether you’re going to tell your friends that we were throwing ourselves at you or not.
We don’t know until we’ve pulled you up on sexist language whether you’ll send us photographs of mutilated women or not.
We don’t know when we sit next to you on the bus whether you’re going to start masturbating at us or not.

None of those examples are hypothetical.

I don’t presume to speak for all women here because I can’t. So I’m just going to speak for me. I live my whole life in the knowledge that pretty much every single man I come into contact with is stronger than me. In every interaction, I carry that thought in the back of my head: that you could hurt me if you wanted to. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m confident and not one of those things would stop you killing me if you decided to.

I am afraid of you. And the numbers back me up in being afraid of you. The numbers say that actually, it’s quite likely that I’ll be seriously hurt by a man in my lifetime. It’s only a matter of time. It’s only a matter of who. It’s basically a miracle that women get out the door in the morning with that knowledge hanging over them. The only thing that stops me living in fear all the time is sheer, indefatigable stubbornness.

We have no idea whether your “joke” is a joke until it’s too late. When you make jokes like that and I give you the hilarious, terrified reaction that you’re looking for, I’m doing that because I’m afraid that you’re going to hurt me. I’m afraid that you’re going to kill me. So I’ll let you choose. You can be funny, or you can be frightening. Because trust me, you can’t be both. Violence isn’t always committed with a fist. Just because we’re not bleeding doesn’t mean you haven’t hurt us. Weigh your damn words, boys. They’re heavy.

The Body Monologue

Family, you might want to skip this one. 
Some musings on the ways that ownership of my body has been taken from me. Best read aloud.
TW: Sexual assault.

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When I was fourteen, a boy in my class took hold of my wrists and kissed my neck.
No one had touched that part of me before.
I felt his mouth hot on my skin, my tiny wrists fluttering like birds under his fingers.
It reminded me of a game Dad and I used to play.
Except I knew my Dad would never hurt me.
In seconds, it was over. And he broke away. And laughed.
I laughed too. But I didn’t feel like laughing.

When I was fifteen, the girls in the high school changing room
With their women’s bodies and their sharp, sullen tongues
Would pull at my bra straps and tug at the buttons on my shirt
Exposing my chest to the laughter of the room.
I’d turn away to hid my shame
Hot tears falling on my traitorous child’s body.

When I was sixteen, the weight of my age and all that it meant felt heavy.
I let a boy feed me chocolates. I’d pose and preen and twist my body.
Flicking my frizzy teenage fringe.
Squirming to escape the echoes of
“You’re such a good friend”
And
“No wonder the guys don’t look twice”
The message was clear:
Your body is a show for them
And you’re doing it wrong.

When I was seventeen, I met a boy.
A boy who would show me what my body could do.
A boy who would touch and kiss and love, but never presume to possess.
Who held my hands instead of my wrists.

When I was eighteen, I was walking home one night. It was Hallowe’en.
I was dressed as Cinderella.
A homeless man, crushed against a dark shop front, grabbed hold of me and pulled me to the ground.
As I felt the bite of the pavement on my knees
And his fingers circle my wrists,
I wondered, why do people touch me like this?

When I was nineteen, a boy pinned me to the wall
And tugged up my skirt
The music in the club pounded in my head as I felt his fingers climb.
I was drunk.
My skirt barely skimmed my thighs.
I was alone,
Waiting for my boyfriend to return from the bathroom.

When I was twenty, I felt tears sting my eyes
As a stranger spat that I probably spent my life in the gym
For a body that no man would ever want to touch.
Over and over
Your body is not for you to enjoy.
You’re doing it wrong.

When I was twenty-one, a man requested that I wrap my legs around his head
As I walked for a train at eleven-thirty in the morning.
When I politely declined, he suggested that
If I didn’t want to be treated like a whore,
I shouldn’t dress like one.
I should hide away my body
To keep it safe.

When I was twenty-two, I moved to London
With its cloudy, bustling streets
And the dusty tube
I stood in rush hour with the other commuters,
Pumping like blood through the veins of the city,
When someone pressed against me.
Everyone was pressed against me, but not like this.
I stood frozen with fear and shame,
Feeling his flesh against my flesh
Back and forth
Until my stop.

At twenty-three, I took a photograph in my bikini
In front of an advert that once again screamed
YOUR BODY IS NOT FOR YOU
YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
A silly, wild, empowering stunt.
People asked, what does your boyfriend have to say?
Do you think guys find stick insects sexy?
Are you so desperate for validation that you need to get your tits out?
You have to hide your body away
To keep it safe.
It’s not for you.
You’re doing it wrong.

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.

bare reality book launch

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.

bare reality book launch

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.

bare reality book launch

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.

bare reality book launch

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.

Stuff I’d Start Movements About

IMG_6081Since I decided to take a stand against Protein World, I’ve had a whole lotta insults hurled at me.

(You can see some of them here)

A lot of people have termed me a Social Justice Warrior, as if fighting for social justice is the worst thing ever. But more commonly, people have accused me of picking an unimportant cause to champion.

First, I’d like to say, anyone who thinks this is a small cause has obviously never watched their gorgeous, perfect best friend starve herself almost to death because she can’t shake the idea that her body is fundamentally flawed. Women’s perception of their bodies is not a small issue. This idea that our bodies are public property, to be commented on and criticised and improved is killing people. We are not overreacting. This is not just an advert. This is a deep running, cancerous societal problem that is ruining lives every single day. I am too light to legally give blood, and yet the Telegraph thought it was appropriate to run an article today calling me “chubby”. These standards that women are being held to have to be smashed and they have to be smashed hard.

But the other string of this argument is that in standing up for women’s right to be proud of their bodies, I’ve somehow chosen my issue. As if this is the only thing I’ve ever cared about or gotten angry with. So to clear up any confusion, here are a list of things that make me so cross I would start a protest movement against them:

  • Women being held responsible for men objectifying them. Whether this is in girls being sent home from school for dressing “provocatively” or in asking how much a rape victim had to drink that night, this sucks and has to be challenged every single time.
  • Sex education that focuses on mechanics and moralising, rather than emotions and consent.
  • The lack of access to sexual health services for women across the world. From women in developing countries using filthy rags to stem their periods, to women seeking abortions being shamed and abused, this is not okay.
  • Kitten heels.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Raisins that look like chocolate chips.
  • The belief that there are less women in senior positions because women are just not that good at stuff. This argument is rarely said so bluntly, but this is what it boils down to.
  • That I don’t know a single woman over the age of 20 who hasn’t experienced some kind of sexual violence.
  • People who swing their legs round on buses to let you out, instead of standing up like a normal person.
  • The decimation of mental health services in the UK.
  • The fact that half of all births in the developing world are to adolescent girls, who are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women over 20.
  • The lack of fathers’ rights.
  • Cersei Lannister.
  • Grown men on skateboards. Or anyone over the age of 12 on a microscooter.
  • The fact that women are still seen as walking incubators, and the lives of foetuses are placed above the lives of mothers.
  • Gender binaries.
  • People being blamed for their own poverty, while millionaires reap the rewards of a deeply skewed society.
  • The ostracisation and mockery of people who are perceived as different, whether that be on the basis of race, sexuality, non-binary gender, disability, age, appearance.
  • The idea that you can only be a feminist if you are wearing exactly the right amount of clothing.
  • Police brutality against the black community in America.

And a million more. See, people are wonderfully complicated and filled with infinite potential and possibility. Injustice makes me angry, and I like to channel my anger into actions. This week, I took action against the restrictive ideals placed on women’s bodies. It might take me my whole life, but I’ll work my way through that list up there, and I’ll take the flack for it every single time. And if that makes me a social justice warrior, then I’ll be over here, sharpening my sword. Maybe next time, instead of slamming me for standing up for something I believe in, you could get off Twitter and join the fight.

Oh, and next weekend, I’ll be hitting a different park, smearing myself in body paint again and yelling about something else that makes me angry. Except this time, it’s cancer’s turn to get a kick in the ass.

We Took Back The Beach

So, this has probably been the craziest week of my entire life. Beginning with this photograph:

How to get a beach body-Take your bodyAnd culminating in a big assed party in Hyde Park, with a quick stop at Sky News, the BBC and Troll Bridge along the way.

When Tara and I took this photograph, I wanted to provide an alternative idea of what beach body means. To say “Sure, Renee is gorgeous, but you don’t have to look like her if you don’t want to. You can have a body like mine and be gorgeous. You can have a body like yours and be gorgeous.”

When I uploaded the photo to Twitter, I was conscious that Tara and I only represent two body types, so I thought, why not throw it open? Why not give people the chance to be part of a photograph with all different shapes, sizes, races and genders? So we decided to throw a bit of a party in Hyde Park. And despite my fears that I’d turn up alone in my bikini in front of the world’s media, it was totally awesome.

take back the beach protein world

Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I arrived just before 3, for a quick interview with Stephanie from the New Statesman, and shared with her my nerves that no one else would come. Our very deep discussion about why trolls feel the need to troll was interrupted by me yelling “OMG BANANA” in her face, as I spotted a group of women heading towards us carrying an impressive array of inflatables.We headed over onto the grass, and I suddenly panicked about how I was supposed to entertain everyone and make everyone feel comfortable enough to start stripping off. My worry, as it turned out was completely unnecessary. People didn’t even wait for me to catch up before getting down to their swimming costumes, cracking out picnics and starting games of “toss the inflatable stuff at each other”. Total respect to the guy who just stretched out in front of the cameras and read his book like it wasn’t no thing.

DSCF1205I met a mother who had travelled down with her two daughters for the event, and was quickly introduced to dad, who was preoccupied with blowing up a giant rubber ring, like a hero.

DSCF1200This, to me, was incredible. How inspiring, to have a mother who is that determined to teach her daughters that their bodies are perfect and wonderful and capable of miraculous things, and a dad who understands and supports that. Seriously, you guys are amazing. I was so pleased to have teenage girls at the protest, because I remember being a teenage girl. It sucks. Your body changes in a lot of weird and frequently alarming ways, and all anyone wants to tell you, from the ads on TV to the boys in your school, is how your body is wrong. And yesterday was about stomping on that idea and grinding it into the ground. Your body is perfect. No caveats. No “it would be perfect if you toned it up/got a tan/lost some weight/put on some weight”. It is perfect right now. If you want to do any of the things in that list, that’s great, go ahead and do them. It’s your body. You can do whatever you want to it, if that will make you feel amazing. For some people, that means losing weight. For some people, it means a quick swish of red lipstick. For some people, it means wearing a fabulous dress, For some people, it means covering your body in tattoos and body art. And all these things are great, if they make you feel great. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to love your own body, because you’re the one who has to live in it.

I worry that nobody is telling young girls this, so I was beyond delighted when an enormous troupe of 13 year old mini-feminists appeared.

take back the beach protein world

DSCF1181This is unspeakably fantastic. To have a group of young women so confident and so intelligent that they can be part of a terrifying, complicated conversation like the one surrounding body image is amazing. I am so, so proud that this is the future of feminism. Seriously, if you guys ever read this, you inspire me. And sadly, I know that they’ve got a hell of a fight ahead of them. They’re going to take a whole lot of nasty coming from a never-ending parade of stupid, just like I have this week, for daring to stand up and say “We deserve better than this”. (Ladies, I’m always here if you need me. My email address is in my Contact Me page, please, please use it.) But to hear a thirteen year old girl stand among a group of adults and wax lyrical about what feminism means to her made me want to happy cry.

I actually did manage to hold it together and not cry. For most of the day. Until I spotted these guys:

take back the beach protein worldBoth of these women are in recovery from eating disorders. And speaking to them, seeing their absolute strength and seeing the love and support they held for each other, even as strangers, I couldn’t help bursting into tears. Just bawling, in my swimming costume, in the middle of Hyde Park. We had one guy come along solely to pick fights with us, and he stood and ranted at this woman about why being fat is unhealthy. Now, I have been extremely proud of how I’ve handled our critics. I believe it’s nice to be nice, even to the person who has just called you a fat, jealous attention seeker. But if I ever see someone make a comment as triggering as that, I will track you down and gouge out your eyes. Comments like this can kill.

A lot of people have contacted me since yesterday and tried to embarrass me or make me say that the event was a failure. To them, I have but one thing to say.

Have you lost your damn minds?

Over one hundred men and women gathered together yesterday to feel amazing about their bodies, display their confidence and demand better from our adverts. I’ve spoken before about how daring to have a body as a woman is a political act in itself, one which seems to invite comment and criticism. A woman feeling great in her own skin is not a small thing. It’s huge. It’s life changing. There were picnics, there were bubbles, there were inflatable dolphins, there was body paint, there were hugs and laughter and tears galore, and you’re asking me if I’m embarrassed by the turnout? To put it politely: have a word with yourself. I’ve never been prouder in my life. I am heart burstingly, mind blowingly proud of us, and I will not try to hide that because yesterday didn’t meet somebody else’s completely arbitrary expectations.

I met so many incredible, inspiring people yesterday, and I will never be able to express the love and gratitude I feel for all of you who came to support me. Did we take back the beach? You bet your ass we did.

This is what class looks like.

This is what class looks like.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That's what you get for making good signs.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That’s what you get for making good signs.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Take Back The Beach

So, on my lunch hour this Wednesday, fellow blogger Tara and I did this:

How to get a beach body-Take your body

If you would like to read about us doing that, head on over to my last post here!

Basically, the response that we’ve had has completely knocked me off my feet. Seriously, you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back. I have been so, so bowled over by the love and support and strength that we’ve been shown.

Well, for the most part.

Protein World’s response has left…well, a little something to be desired. After we tweeted our photo, I saw some pretty heinous responses to docu-comedian Juliette Burton’s tweets (you can find Juliette on Twitter here, and you should definitely follow her. She’s ace).

protein world twitter

 

I was pretty shocked. As someone who spent a year working in social media, I nearly fell off my chair that this was the brand’s official response. The tweets got increasingly horrendous, telling women to “grow up” and branding them “crazy”, and then last night, I stumbled on a response to some women saying:

Surely as feminists, you understand no one takes you seriously?

And it hit me. They’re trolls. They’re literally just trolls. And I don’t know about you guys, but this totally takes their power away for me. I’m now imagining Protein World as being a group of guys polishing their muscles and reassuring themselves that feminism is the reason they’re not getting laid. Maybe with a smattering of girls insisting that they don’t see why the ad is offensive, probably because they’re not hysterical like all those other girls, babe. I’m kind of embarrassed for them.

After this paradigm shifting revelation, I realised that this isn’t a protest anymore. This is a party. This is a celebration of the million and one different ways that a woman (and a man, you gorgeous men, you) can be beautiful.

So let’s celebrate. Tara, Juliette and I are organising a massive version of the photo above at 3pm on Saturday 2nd May. Do you look like the model on the poster? Awesome, step this way, gorgeous! Are you a size 24? Come on down, beautiful! Are you a guy? Get those swimming shorts looked out! Don’t want to bare all in a bikini? Come in whatever you feel great in! Beach ready means different things for everyone, and we want to see all of them.

This was never about suggesting that people shouldn’t try to get fit if they want to. If having rippling abs is your thing, more power to you. I bet you rock them. But I’m so tired of it being an expectation. The idea that your body should be covered up and hidden away if it doesn’t meet these bizarrely specific requirements…I’m over it, you guys. And judging by the response we’ve gotten on Twitter, it looks like you are too.

Bring your friends. Bring your beachballs and buckets and spades. Bring those awesome beach bodies.

We’ll be meeting on the grass by Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park (by the Marble Arch entrance), and I’ll be there from a bit before 3. If you’re coming in your bikini, we’d maybe suggest wearing a dress over it that’s easy to whip on and off, to fend off hypothermia.

The more people we have, the more amazing this picture is going to be, so rope in as many people as you can. Saturday the 2nd. 3pm. It’s happening. And it’s going to be sexy.

If you’re coming, feel free to give us a wave down in the comments or on Twitter! You can definitely just show up on the day, but it would be cool to have some idea of how many people we have. We also have a sexy Facebook event here if you’re on Facebook!

Addendum

So, as expected, all of us have been on the receiving end of some genuinely sickening comments after speaking out like this. Of the two of us in the photo though, it’s depressingly unsurprising that Tara and her beautiful, perfect body have been the target of the most vitriol. I’d just like to thank Tara for having the bravery to hold my hand through this, even though she probably knew in advance that she would bear the brunt of the abuse. And to every single person who has posted nasty comments, I’m sorry that your life is so unfulfilling that you feel like you have to tear down a strong, gorgeous woman who is celebrating her body.

On this note, if actually coming to our event would make you feel unsafe, please feel free to support us with tweets, messages and happy thoughts. Let’s keep each other safe. Let’s keep each other strong.

Getting Naked In A Train Station

I reeeaaally like the summer you guys. I love hot weather, and pretty dresses, and basking in the sunshine like a lizard instead of doing productive things.

And in the summer, when the weather gets warm, parts of my body start to emerge from my clothes. Since I’m talking about my legs and chest and occasionally, if I’m feeling really wild, my midriff, as opposed to an extra head or some tentacles, I generally view this as no big deal. It wouldn’t really occur to me that I might have to somehow alter myself to be acceptable in public when the weather is nice. I mean, sorry if my jiggly thighs offend you, but…actually, I lied. I’m not sorry. They’re legs. You also have them. Avert your eyes if you must. But I’m not going to change myself, and I think most women are probably in the same boat.

So why, in the name of all that is holy, can I not walk 5 metres in this city without seeing the words “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” emblazoned across the wall?

Am I beach body ready? I mean, I think so? Does anyone look nice at the beach? I’m generally covered in sand with mental hair, shiny skin, not a scrap of makeup and boasting a sexy salmon pink colour. Am I supposed to look like this?

CDIVa35WMAEiYY_Middle finger kindly provided by my recent partner in crime, Tara (Catstello) from Zusterschap.

I’d seen this advert around, and something about it really grinds my gears. I know that there are a billion adverts like this around, but this was the one that pushed me over the edge. Sorry, Protein World, you were the unlucky straw that broke the feminist’s back. I don’t like the suggestion that I have to be “ready” for the beach. In my mind, getting beach body ready would involve slathering myself in suncream. I am so tired of the message that women have to make some kind of effort in order to be socially acceptable. Is this kind of guilt tripping and body shaming really the best way to shift your products? Why not run with a tagline about women feeling amazing on the beach? Or better yet, women being so confident that they don’t even give their body a second thought? Even a photo of a woman having a freaking awesome time on the beach, instead of this stony-faced statue, would have made it slightly better. But as is, I basically hate everything about this poster.

So when Catstello posted the picture above, I innocently dropped her a tweet and we started to hatch a plan.

Less than 24 hours later, I was standing in the middle of a crowded Charing Cross station, getting ready to take off most of my clothes.

How to get a beach body-Take your bodyWe agreed that we would pose in our bikinis next to the poster, just to let everyone know that we considered ourselves very much beach ready, and gorgeous to boot. I’ve had a lot of people compliment me on my confidence since posting this photo on Twitter, but to be honest, in those few seconds before I took off my dress, I felt like bursting into tears and having a heart attack simultaneously. But we cheered each other on. Despite having met literally the day before, we supported each other straight away, giggling through the awkwardness and even sending morning bikini selfies. And once those dresses came off, we were unstoppable. An awesome lady stopped to take our photos for us (if you ever see this, give us a wave!) and she congratulated us on what we were doing and told us we looked great. I felt great. The adrenaline fuelled giggles bubbled so close to the surface that it was hard to keep a straight face long enough to look annoyed for the photo. The bemused people walking past only served to make me giddier.

I don’t look like that model when I’m dolled up to the nines, never mind when I’m on the beach. My chest is flat enough that you could build an airport on it. My lifelong dedication to cakes and a digestive system that disagrees with everything mean that my stomach will probably never be concave. I have silvery stretchmarks webbing my hips and thighs, without the hourglass figure to go with them. But right there, in that moment, I felt sexy as hell.

CDNs1lkWYAAUBHISince coming home and posting the photo on Twitter, I have been absolutely bowled over by the reaction. We have had just one negative response, and that was from a guy who suggested we come fight in Afghanistan if we really want to advance feminism, so…ya know…not too fussed about that.

Protein World did favourite his tweet though, which was a bold move.

Every single other response (and incredibly, there have been hundreds), has been from people telling us that we’re brave, funny, smart and gorgeous. And you know what? I kinda think we are.

Am I beach body ready? You can bet your ass I am. And I don’t need meal replacements to get there. And neither do you. We’re already perfect.

 

Update! After receiving an absolutely mindblowing response to this from the general internet, and an absolutely appalling response from Protein World, Tara and I have teamed up with comedian Juliette Burton to organise an enormous beach body photo next weekend. Bring your friends, bring your bikinis and bring your sexy beach bodies. More details to follow in a separate post!