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!

On Being “Just” A Beauty Blogger

I hate backhanded compliments. You know the ones.

“You’re so pretty when you make an effort.”
“I wish I could just let it all hang out like you.”
“You’re definitely not as cocky as I thought you were at first.”

Compliments like that suck, because they’re actually insults dressed up to make it seem like the person cares about you. There’s one particular backhanded compliment that I’ve gotten quite a lot since I started blogging. It takes a few different forms but the gist is always basically the same. That someone with a little bit of talent and influence like me should be talking about something with more gravitas than beauty.

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The temptation to just toss my hair and yell “MY CORNER OF THE INTERNET, MY RULES” is pretty strong, but I think there are a couple of important points to be made about this opinion that beauty blogging is somehow “less than”.

First, the smart girl/pretty girl thing is a false dichotomy.

That’s right, I’m dropping the false dichotomy bomb, biatches. This is what happens when you annoy a political philosophy geek.

Basically, writing about beauty doesn’t mean that I’m stooping to the stupid girl level, and being smart doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how I look. I can recommend you an awesome cleanser. I can also give you a potted history of the Middle East. When pushed for time, I can probably do both at once. I can’t believe I’m actually having to type this, but girls can be both smart and beautiful. In fact, most of us are.

I think a lot of the scorn that gets heaped on the beauty blogging community is just pure sexism. A lot of beauty blogs are sweet and fluffy and not particularly deep, but so what? When did it become a crime to do something just for fun because it makes you feel good? I never see the same smirks directed at video game bloggers, music bloggers or food bloggers as I do at beauty bloggers. Beauty is seen as trivial, even shallow in a way that other realms of blogging just aren’t. And I think a lot of it has to do with it being a community created primarily for, and primarily populated by people who present as female.

Sorry, boy bbloggers, I love you all lots, but you are very much the minority group here.

Things that women do are constantly scrutinised and patronised. We’re either saying too much or saying too little. We’re brash and opinionated or we’re boring and weak. We’re ugly or we’re vain. That’s the way it goes. And with this undercurrent running through our culture, maybe it’s not so surprising that women banding together to share pretty-making tips is viewed as a self-obsessed, unimportant trend. But I’m calling shenanigans on that right now. Think lipstick is boring? Cool! Go read about something else! I think cricket is totally boring…you know what I do? I don’t read about cricket. I don’t get in touch with people who are really passionate about cricket to remind them that THERE ARE CHILDREN STARVING IN AFRICA AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE CANCER AND INEQUALITY SUCKS. Because I figure they already know that. Because it’s totally possible to write about cricket and still care about the other stuff that’s happening in the world. Same with beauty.

But the reason that these particular comments really get under my skin is because I think that the things I write about are important. I think that the vast majority of my posts go way beyond what foundation to buy or how best to shape your eyebrows.

Again, I don’t mean this in any way to be disrespectful to people who publish beauty reviews and makeup looks and stuff, I love to read your stuff and think it’s really fun and awesome.

But my idea of beauty is mainly about learning to love yourself and feel fabulous in your own skin. I write about the stuff that goes on inside as much as I do about the stuff that goes on outside. And in a world where being female and having a body, occupying space or generally existing is a political and often offensive act, I think that the stuff I write about is pretty damn important. Women are taught to hate their bodies, to focus on their imperfections, to mask their differences, to look perfect, but without making any effort, to suck in, to shrink down. And if you don’t think that fighting back against that is important, I think we are living in very different worlds. And that you probably weren’t bullied as a kid for looking different.

What I wouldn’t have given when I was fourteen to have someone be like “Hey! Why don’t you wear some purple lipstick? You won’t look like everyone else, but that’s okay, it can be really fun to be different!” To have someone tell me that there was more than one way to be beautiful, and that about 80% of gorgeous is that glow that surrounds you when you feel amazing. To be able to turn away from the cookie cutter women on TV and in the adverts and see a massive range of ladies being sexy and wonderful in their own unique, amazing ways. Because the biggest difference between beauty blogging and beauty features in the mainstream media is that beauty blogging doesn’t try to mould everyone to the same ideal. We control the narrative. We control the ideal.

It’s about being able to go “Hey! I’ve never thought about wearing bright green eyeliner!” and not giving a damn whether boys would find it attractive.
“Does anyone know how I can control my mad curls?”
“I would never have put those colours together but it looks awesome.”
“You are gorgeous.”
“I am gorgeous.”
“We are gorgeous.”

Women supporting other women and helping them to feel like they can take on the world is basically my favourite thing. I’m lucky that I’ve been through a whole lot of appearance-related nonsense and have come out the other side with skin that might look like buttermilk, but that is as thick as a rhino’s ass. I love who I am, and part of who I am is the body that I occupy. I am dedicated to decorating and pampering that body however I see fit. I think I can take on the world, I just feel more prepared for it with a swipe of red lipstick.

And I refuse to apologise for that.

What My Body Positivity Looks Like

Body acceptance is awesome. One of my favourite things about the blogosphere and the internet and the selfie trend that people like to write off as narcissism, is that people who are underrepresented in the media can put images of themselves looking and feeling amazing out there for the world to see. And body acceptance isn’t just a matter of community. People who do not fit the preconceived idea of beauty are routinely discriminated against, abused and belittled. If you don’t think this is the case, you’re not listening to enough voices. I think the body acceptance movement is a tremendous force for good, and that’s why I want to see it say the right things.

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I debated a lot over putting up this post. I get a lot of privilege because of my body. I don’t have people snigger at me in the street. I don’t have people tell me what I should and shouldn’t wear. I don’t have people make judgements about my work ethic, professionalism or motivation based on my body shape. When I go to the doctor, it isn’t assumed that I’m causing my own problems. The worst I can expect is hurt feelings every now and then. So I don’t want to wade in and drown out the voices of the people who do go through stuff like this on a daily basis. Nobody wants another #alllivesmatter or #notallmen. So please, feel free to call me out if I overstep the mark here. But there are a couple of messages I’ve seen from the body positive community that I think are unhelpful for everyone.

“This is sexy. This is shit.”

This is a slogan I saw emblazoned across a photograph of Kelly Brook beside a supermodel walking the catwalk. Unfortunately, I feel like describing any body type as “shit” isn’t really what body acceptance is about. I understand the anger that comes from seeing the same woman on every poster, in every advert, on every catwalk. But taking that restrictive ideal and replacing it with another restrictive ideal doesn’t really make anything better. Kelly Brook is gorgeous. There’s no denying that. But that doesn’t mean that being Kelly Brook is the only way to be beautiful. Every time I see a magazine championing “women with curves”, it’s always the same photograph I see. It’s always a white woman. She has long legs, big boobs, big hips and a tiny little waist. It’s always Marilyn Monroe or Dita Von Teese. Body acceptance should be about widening our definition of beauty, not just switching it out. There are so many wonderful ways to be beautiful and it comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. We should be celebrating each other. This isn’t a competition. I contact Hayley from Curves and Curls about three times a week to admire her boobs. She doesn’t fit that Kelly Brook mould, but that doesn’t stop her killing it every single day. And that doesn’t make me feel threatened, or any less like a woman. It makes me proud to be a member of such a thoroughly kick ass, sexy gender.

“Oh God, eat a sandwich or something.”

I get this a lot. And I get that this really isn’t that bad compared with the crap that overweight girls have to deal with. But it’s not the statement itself that bothers me, so much as the implication behind it. That I’m skinny because I don’t eat enough. By that logic, people are fat because they eat too much. And considering how much of the body positive message is about not being able to tell how much someone eats, how active they are or how healthy they are by their body shape, this is a seriously damaging claim to be staking. Just don’t do it. Uncool.

“Bones are for dogs. Men like curves.”

Oh, did you speak to all of them? Damn, I was operating under the impression that my boyfriend finds me and my body attractive. Silly of me, I know.

This statement is offensive to both sexes. Firstly, it assumes that men are cookie cutter, only capable of finding one thing attractive. And they’re not. My boyfriend’s commitment to both me and Christina Hendricks is proof of that.

But more importantly, this bases a woman’s confidence in her body on a man’s approval. What is that about? It’s not exactly a shocking revelation that confidence that is based on validation from other people isn’t the most unshakeable confidence. If we made decisions solely on what “men like”, we wouldn’t have high waisted jeans. Or purple lipstick. Or massive jumpers. And I am not willing to give up on any of those. And don’t even get me started on the assumption that all women are into men.

“Real women…”

Okay, lemme just stop you right there before you embarrass yourself. Being a real woman has absolutely nothing to do with your body. You don’t need boobs to be a real woman. You don’t need curves to be a real woman. You don’t need a thigh gap to be a real woman. You don’t need a vagina to be a real woman. Do you identify as a woman? Congratulations, welcome to the real woman’s club! We’re all real women, and nice women wouldn’t try to shut out their fellow women based on their body type.

Now, I’ve ranted enough. I’d like to hand you over to some awesome ladies who really know what they’re talking about. Here are some women who preach body positivity, look beautiful, and generally exist in a way that makes me want to both shake their hand and snog their faces off. Get them followed. And please, if there are any bloggers/writers that you cannot believe I missed out, give me a shout! I’m always looking for new stuff to read and love.

Rosie Astbury.

Ucantwearthat.

Fuller Figure Fuller Bust.

Naomi Griffiths.

Marie Denee.

Danie Vanier.

A Wheelbarrow Full of Style.

Frocks and Frou Frou.

Georgina Grogan.

Inspiring Women with GAP and Glamour

It was a grey and rainy Tuesday. One of those mornings where I’d picked an extra ten minutes in bed over putting a single scrap of makeup on my face. The dress I was wearing was at least three years old. But folks, when your friend texts you asking if you want to go to a woman empowering event hosted by GAP and Glamour Magazine, there’s nothing to do but say yes.

A sneaky lunchtime trip to Boots and a quick swipe of lipstick in the work bathrooms, and off we set. I shouldn’t really have worried about having no makeup on because the freezing, blustery walk ensured that I arrived with that nice “frozen snotter” look that’s so hot on the catwalks right now.

I feel like real beauty bloggers don’t use phrases like “frozen snotter”.

Fortunately, GAP was filled with waiters carrying around trays of cocktails, mini hotdogs, burgers and cupcakes that had me warmed up in no time. I think I ate about 17 hot dogs. You can take the girl out of Glasgow…

The event saw Glamour editor and general badass Jo Elvin chat to some seriously inspiring women about what keeps them going, what makes them successful and what advice they would give to other women. The panel included journalist and TV presenter Jane Moore, director of GAP’s P.A.C.E. education programme Dotti Hatcher, DJ Annie Mac and founder of the charity Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh. That her name contains the word “Batman” goes a little way towards describing how excellent she is.

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Photos by the wonderful Suzie Jay Photography.

Camila founded Kids Company in 1996, to help provide practical, emotional and educational support to children and young people throughout the UK. Love and compassion shine out of every single pore in her body, and when she speaks, she can’t hide her passion for helping young people to achieve their potential. She didn’t patronise or victimise, she inspired, and I could well believe that she could help these young people, who have often been through multiple horrifying traumas, to see the chink of light in their lives and to stand tall and seize it with both hands.

I’ve lived an incredibly charmed life, with every bump along the way serving only to make me who I am today (yes, yes, I know, but cliches are sometimes cliches for a reason). I can’t imagine what some of these children have gone through, but what wouldn’t I have done for a Camila in my life when I was 14. When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, she responded “To be mad sooner. It’s such fun.”

I genuinely sleep better at night knowing that there is a multicoloured superhero of a woman telling kids that they don’t need to live up or down to anyone’s expectations of them.

Dotti was equally amazing, exuding absolute warmth and gentleness. She is a woman who has dedicated her life to improving the situations of other women who were born with less resources and luck than the rest of us. She opened the presentation with a video showing a young woman’s journey through the PACE programme, from working in one of GAP’s garment factories to dreaming of starting her own headscarf business. I broke out in goosebumps as she uttered those awful words:

“I didn’t realise women had the right to have rights”.

In a world where women are still silenced and stepped on, often violently, we need Dottis to shake us up and say that no, you don’t have to accept your lot. You can be so much more than what you are supposed to be.

Self confidence was a running theme throughout the night, with both Jane and Annie also touching on self belief as one of the most valuable qualities that a woman can have. But this was tempered with a great big dose of perspective. When asked how they manage to do everything that they’ve done, and how they keep going in the face of adversity, the answer was simple:

They just get on with it.

They never underestimate the power that they hold (that sounds a bit more magical than intended), but they are aware that they are not the biggest or most important person in the world. That might sound a bit depressing, but actually, it’s the most freeing thing. If you make a mistake, who cares? It’s really not the end of the world. Realising that you’re small takes away the fear of messing everything up, and ironically, ends up pushing you to do something much bigger than you ever would have if you thought you were the centre of the universe.

Jane was an absolute woman of steel, and I mean that as the utmost compliment, not in a scary Maggie Thatcher kind of way. Everything she said was steeped in the biting humour that has seen her become such a successful journalist. She was the perfect example of how being strong doesn’t necessarily mean being cold, or hard, citing her children as her greatest achievement and saying that all that life really comes down to is the people who love you. So maybe steel wasn’t a good metaphor. Pat on the head for someone who can name me a substance that is strong, but not cold or hard.

Listening to Annie speak was like talking to an old friend, which is of course why she has made such a brilliant DJ. She blew the idea that successful women have to fit a certain mould straight out of the water, confessing to a lot of bumps along the way, including a tragically shortened acting career, a very dramatic haircut and more recently, overwhelmed tears in a meeting. I was lucky enough to get chatting to her after the presentation ended, and I think I might have gushed at her a bit. Must learn how to be cool and aloof.

Me being not at all cool and aloof. Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Me being not at all cool and aloof. Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

So what did I take from the event? Well, really rather a lot. Let’s do a rundown. Love a rundown.

  1. You don’t have to be anything but yourself. Your “imperfections” are your greatest strength, because they set you apart from everyone else. If people can’t see how wonderful you are, that’s on them. Ignore them, and get on with being excellent.
  2. You are not the most important person in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do great things. It means you have to. When you don’t have laurels to rest on, you need to get off your ass and create something.
  3. Don’t overestimate yourself, but don’t underestimate yourself either. You have the power to really shake things up. Sometimes changing the world isn’t about fanfare and applause and massive progress. Taking a scared little hand in yours. Telling a woman you believe in her. Being an inspiration to others. Don’t tell me that these things don’t change the world.
  4. Don’t let anyone else define what your success is. I learned this one the hard way. I allowed myself to be miserable, because I thought that as long as no one knew that I was hurting, I would still be A Success. Success is happiness. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. No one gets to judge your happiness and you don’t get to judge anyone else’s. Do what makes you happy. Create a great career, if that’s what you want. Work nine to five and build and amazing life outside of that. Do both. Do neither. Happiness is all that matters in the end, everything else is just filler.

I feel so very grateful to have seen these women speak, GAP and Glamour – thank you so much for having me!

Me and the fabulous Kelly...you'll be seeing more of her! Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Me and the fabulous Kelly…you’ll be seeing more of her!
Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Click to donate to Kids Company and P.A.C.E.

Let’s Talk About Porn

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Don’t look at me like that, the government started it. Besides, it’s in all the papers. The Telegraph has a complete list and analysis, so I’m definitely allowed. Needless to say, this post is going to contain a number of unsavoury topics, so read on at your leisure.

The UK government announced this week that UK produced porn was not allowed to portray certain sexual acts and practices. While the official line is that they are promoting safer sex, there is a depressingly familiar theme running through a lot of the new rules.

Female ejaculation is banned. Male ejaculation, and its consumption is not.

Facesitting is banned, on the grounds that it might obstruct airways. Deepthroating, and gagging, is not.

The idea that women experiencing sexual pleasure is somehow extreme or radical, or even dangerous, is so old hat that it’s actually just boring. Besides, these guys need to be careful, the first time society attempted to clamp down on us crazy women and our crazy impulses, they accidentally invented the vibrator. So beware.

And it’s not just women who are getting a hard time. Spanking, full body bondage and verbal or physical abuse (whether consensual or not) are also banned. Mainstream porn already consistently shows one type of sex over and over and over. So obviously, what we really needed from the porn industry was for it to become even more heteronormative, male centric and vanilla than it already was. It plays into the idea that some types of sex are wrong, or weird, or disgusting. And you know what? Some people might think that they are. But the amazing thing about sex between two consenting adults is that it is nobody else’s goddamn business what you get up to within the confines of your own bedroom. Restricting porn like this is going to encourage people to be ashamed of their kinks and desires, and god knows, we really don’t need any more of that in Britain. From fairly softcore things like female pleasure, to more out there things like consensual abuse, this is sending the message loud and clear that some acts are simply not the done thing, darling. This conversation has become about what is and is not acceptable to do in the sack, what is and isn’t “normal” according to the Grand High Council of Sexual Normalcy (bet they’re all straight guys), when in fact it should be about consent, communication and talking to your damn partner to find out what they do and do not like in bed. I know, talking is gross. Better just ban everything instead.

I could write massive essays on why shaming people for being sexual is a rubbish idea, as well as hugely conflicting posts on my opinions of the porn industry in general, but that actually isn’t even what I wanted to talk about.

What most annoyed me about the announcement is that it was accompanied by the bog standard “BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN” justification. We can’t risk teenagers seeing these acts portrayed in porn, going home, giving it a go and hurting themselves. Guys, I want you to listen to me very carefully, because this is important. Are you listening? Okay. Porn should not be the primary point of sex education for teenagers.

We need to stop pretending that you can just throw abstinence at teenagers, tell them not to Google naughty words and hope for the best. Time for a horrible truth: kids are going to have sex. They are. One of my high school friends lost her virginity when she was 13 years old. Whether they do it because it’s expected of them, because it’s not expected of them, because they’re madly in love or because they’re just curious, they are going to do it. And even if they’re not having sex, they’ll be doing even worse…thinking about it.

*Shudder*

When you’re a teenager – or if you’re a girl, from when you’re about 9 – your body starts to do some pretty crazy things. What would be really super awesome is if we stopped telling adolescents that their bodies and feelings are icky and dirty, and if we started telling them that their bodies are amazing and normal and loads of fun. We need people teaching sex education who aren’t embarrassed to say the word clitoris to a group of sniggering 13 year olds. We need someone to teach girls that they’re allowed to take pleasure from sexual activity, rather than splitting the boys off to talk about masturbation and the girls to talk about periods. This is an actual thing that happened in my school. I didn’t hear a woman talk about masturbating until I stumbled on Vagenda magazine aged 18. 18! I had to ask my mum what orgasm was, after seeing it written on a billboard for Lipton’s Iced Tea, years after getting sex ed in school.

THIS IS ALSO A TRUE ACTUAL THING THAT HAPPENED.

We basically need Laci Green to go around every school in the world and tell teenagers how to have great, consensual sex, when they feel like they’re ready for it. Teenagers are sexual, because people are sexual, and that means that some of them are going to be into some pretty kinky stuff. What would be great is if instead of telling them not to do those things because they’re wrong and weird, we taught them how to do them safely and respectfully. A lot of hardcore BDSM relationships are actually the most respectful, because safety and consent are emphasised all the time, and are never, ever assumed. If you’re afraid a teenager is going to watch porn and then go home and hurt their girlfriend by trying to fit their entire hand inside her, put it in the curriculum. I’m not even kidding. If you’re worried about it, talk about it. It probably doesn’t even need that level of detail if you’re feeling squeamish (and let’s be honest, wouldn’t we all). Just a simple “Hey, if you’re having crazy sex, be sure to check in with your partner that they’re enjoying it as much as you are”.

Oh, and just to set a pernicious little myth to rest. It’s not the nineties anymore. The internet has evolved. If your kid has “stumbled upon” porn, it’s because they were looking for it.

Kids don’t need to be protected from sex, they need to be educated about it. And if we are leaving it to porn to educate them, we are doing a damn shoddy job.

The Broke Folks’ Guide to London: Disobedient Objects

Today, I decided it was time to get a bit of culture, what with living in a city entirely filled with art, music, fashion and theatre. So I headed to the V&A to check out their Disobedient Objects exhibition, an exhibition of everyday objects that have been used in protests across the world. Suck it, man who assumed I was there to see the wedding dresses.

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This is what a feminist looks like.

In Scotland, September basically might as well be January, so I foolishly wore the world’s biggest cardigan, only to take it off 10 seconds after leaving the house and cart it around all day. My life is so hard sometimes.

Anyway.

The exhibition is amazing. Genuinely breathtaking. My advice would be to shut down your computer right now and go see it yourself. But if you’re too far away, or can’t be bothered, or just want a little sneak preview, you cheeky thing, you, read on.

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The exhibition takes place in a small barred room, accessed underneath a security gate – a little nod to the use of barricades in protest since whenever barricades were invented. A soundtrack composed of music, chants and speeches from various protests is broadcast via a revamped Bike Bloc – an old discarded bike, with speakers welded into it, used to breach the security cordon at the COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009. I fully regret not taking a photograph of it, it’s quite a contraption. Banners in every colour and language stripe across the ceiling, messages of hope and anger strewn through them in equal measure. And then, there are the Disobedient Objects themselves. I couldn’t take photos of all of them, so here are just a few of my favourites.

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After Hurricane Sandy hit, independent movements were set up to provide aid and assistance to those who needed it, as well as to criticise the lack of national response. When the National Guard did arrive on the scene, the immediately reported to the volunteers for training.

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Text reads “This season’s well dressed blockader may choose to carry -“. Because who says fashion and protest can’t mix?

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Legal advice for gay people in case of arrest, including the credit-card sized bust card advising them of their rights. Also, an excellently intimidating gay rights banner and a somewhat fabulous blockader’s guide.

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One of my favourite installations at the exhibition, this video showed a newsreel detailing the escapades of the Barbie Liberation Organisation. In 1993, the BLO switched the voiceboxes of around 500 talking Barbie dolls and GI Joes, before returning them to the shelves to be sold as normal. Serious props to the little girl who, when asked by a newsreader if she was disappointed when her Barbie started making explosion noises, said “I thought it was hilarious, so I just started laughing”.

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These are arpilleras, artworks made by women using appliquéd textiles. The practice originated in Chile, where the pieces were sold through solidarity networks, providing income for the women and their families. As powerful men are wont to do when it comes to poor women, the leaders of the country dismissed the pieces as simple “folk art”, blind to the frequently subversive messages they were disseminating.

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Oh, my mistake. How did a perfectly ordinary photograph of the Sun get in here?

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A museum sign which definitely was not in any way encouraging you to commit acts of protest against seriously fucking unfair income growth in the UK.

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Placards, stickers and billboards supporting causes still going on throughout the world. There was even a little hint of home…

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This is a seriously amazing collection, and I feel thoroughly honoured that I got to see these objects, and thoroughly grateful to the people who used them to improve the lives of myself and those like me. Stay disobedient, folks, it’s how things get done.

#YesAllWomen: Yes, All Men Should Read It

Today, in response to yet another horrifying act of violence against women, women all over the world took to Twitter to tell their stories of misogyny and inequality. Their tweets range from the genuinely tragic to the depressingly everyday, and I struggled to find a single one that I didn’t identify with on some level. It often takes extreme events like today to start real conversations about gender based violence and discrimination, but the trend #YesAllWomen showed just how much women’s everyday lives are steeped in it. Yes, all women.

The Women Who Spoke Out

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Those Who Missed The Point

Depressingly, some of these are women.

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Those Who Proved The Point

Even more depressingly, so are some of these.

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(Seriously, what even is this one? How about “You can’t hit me, I’m a person, and that’s illegal)

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What a catch.

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Super original. Did you come up with that yourself?

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The Men Who Nailed It

Just in case all that has left you despairing for humanity, let’s hear it for the guys who got it.

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This guy is my new personal hero.

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A Big Sister’s Duty: The Stuff No One Else Will Tell You

Today, I watched the Miss Representation documentary. If you haven’t seen it yet, please go watch it. It is so awesome, despite a really spacey, strange occasional voiceover.

Within nine minutes of pressing play, I was bawling my eyes out. Listening to a high schooler’s voice crack in pain as she described how her little sister cuts herself because she hates her body resonated all too clearly. As far as I know, neither of my sisters has ever hurt themselves, thank goodness. But the thought of the bullshit they’re going to have to endure just by virtue of being female is genuinely painful. With one getting ready to go to uni next year, and high school not too far away for the other, I know that they’re going to have to go through some pretty hard times, and that, being girls, they’re going to be told to think and feel and be certain ways, or face punishment.

So I’ve got a few messages for my two incredible, inspiring, strong baby sisters, based on my experiences of being a laydee, which I hope will help get them through the hard times.

Warning to family members: there will be discussions of S-E-X and other such girly things in this post.

fskLet’s start with your body, because honestly, that’s what lots of people are going to do. People will judge you because of your body, they will assume that they know things about you because of how your body looks, they’ll tell you that your body is wrong, they’ll use it as a weapon against you, they’ll assume that your body is theirs to touch and comment on.

Here’s what to do with your body in response to that: don’t change a damn thing. You are not your body. This is really tough to remember sometimes, because we girls have it constantly shoved down our throats that the only way to be worth something is to have a body that confines to somebody else’s conception of what sexy is. But honestly, your body does not define who you are. It’s just a vessel that carries your beautiful heart and brilliant mind around from one place to the next, and as long as you are keeping it healthy and strong (whatever that looks like!), then it’s perfect. Everyone always tells you to learn to love your body. I’d like to take that a step further and tell you to learn to love the whole of you. Love how your eyes crease up when you tell an awesome joke. Love how your wobbly bits shake when you dance like a crazy person. Love how you throw your hands around when you’re talking about something you love. You are so wonderful, and you have way too much to do in this world to sit in front of a mirror worrying that your legs are too fat.

This doesn’t mean I’m telling you to burn your dresses and snap your eyeliner pencils. Wanting to look good is awesome, as long as you are doing it on your terms. Don’t let anyone else define your beautiful, ever. Look however you want to look. Wear plum lipstick at 11am. Go out barefaced in your raggiest old jumper. Buy that teeny tiny little dress you love. Wearing lipstick doesn’t make you an attention seeker. Wearing a leather miniskirt doesn’t make you a slut.

On that note, it’s time to get super serious. I really don’t want to talk about sexual assault, because I wish that it wasn’t a problem. But 1 in 5 women in this country have experienced some kind of sexual violence since they turned 16, myself among them, so we have to talk about it. Like I said above, some people think that your body is theirs to touch. It isn’t. Unless you want them to, of course (more on that later). No matter how you are dressed, how drunk you are, how many people you’ve had sex with before, what you’ve done with the person before, NOBODY is allowed to touch your body without your consent. Don’t think that you’ve led anyone on, or feel pressured to act a certain way because of how you’ve acted in the past, or because you’ve already said you would do something. You have the right to refuse, every single time, and if someone goes against that, it’s sexual assault. I don’t care if you’re blind drunk, wearing nothing but a tinsel bikini. This does not give anyone the right to sexually assault you. This line of reasoning is such total bollocks that I can’t believe it still exists, but it really does, so let me just throw a stat out for you: only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by a stranger. You are 9 times more likely to be attacked by someone you know in a situation that you thought was safe. So don’t ever be embarrassed to set limits, know that anything to do with your body is your choice, and if something does happen to you, don’t you dare ever for a second believe that it was your fault.

Okay, onto (gulp) consensual sex. I’m not going to tell you not to have sex, because let’s face it, sex is fun, and it’s totally normal, and it’s a natural part of growing up, but I would like to offer one teeny bit of advice. Wait and do it with a man or woman that you feel really comfortable with. Not because it has to be special or because losing your virginity to a random person means you don’t respect yourself. Shockingly, I think that a woman’s sexual experiences are nobody else’s fucking business, and anyone who thinks that they are in any way relevant is a flaming idiot. Have as much sex as you want, with as many people as you want – whatever you are happy and comfortable with. But the reason I’d say you should wait for someone excellent, and this is something that no one will ever tell you, is that the first time is so very fucking awkward. It hurts a lot, and your body does loads of weird stuff, and so does your partner’s, and you really want to be with someone you can laugh with when your bodies press together and make that weird farting sound, rather than wanting to immediately die. Oh, also, always pee afterwards. This is another thing that no one ever tells you until you’re laid up in your GP with a horrifying urine infection. But that’s more mechanics that actual advice. And as Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I have to say about that.

Alright, that’s enough sex talk for one blog, let’s get back to you. Society tells people that women shouldn’t have a voice, and both men and women internalise that message. You will find that men interrupt you, talk over you, don’t take you seriously and use the mere fact that you are a woman to discredit you. And a lot of women buy into this too: they take men more seriously, think negatively about ambitious women and say things like, “Oh, I just get on better with men. There’s less drama”. Every one of these things is designed to make women shut up, and keep us in our place. To hell with that. You have a voice, so don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward because some stupid societal structure tells you your opinion isn’t worth anything. I hate these structures, so I try to use my voice to change them. And if that makes some chauvinistic asshole think less of me, so be it. I speak up, so that the world will get better for you girls coming through. Pay it forward and speak up for the next generation. Don’t you ever listen to someone else’s idea of what you should be. Don’t try to be anything except yourself. When you write goals and wishes, focus on doing things, rather than being things.

One last thing and then I promise, I’ll shut up for a while. Be kind to other women. Don’t buy into that rubbish that tells you that ambitious women are manly, or successful women are bitchy, or pretty women are stupid and slutty. This is tough, because these stereotypes are pushed hard, every day, by a £71bn per year business. But we can be smarter than them. Just remember, we’re all complicated people, who are trying our best. Let’s be excellent to each other. I love you. You’re going to move mountains.

Great Storybook Role Models For Little Girls

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Dolly Dowsie. Reposting today in honour of National Libraries Day.

When I was a little girl, I could usually be found curled up in a corner with my nose in a book. I could disappear for hours on end, only emerging once yet another story had been devoured. The courageous, feisty heroines within their pages were my best friends, and from a very young age, they taught me what kind of girl I wanted to grow up to be. Long gone are the days where girls in storybooks are passive damsels in distress. Now, girls can turn to books for aspirational, strong female role models. I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite childhood books and the characters in them that helped make me the woman I am today.

1. Matilda, from Matilda by Roald Dahl

As a slightly strange, extremely bookish girl, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Matilda. Matilda tells the story of a little girl who uses her intelligence and special powers to outsmart her bullying headmistress and apathetic parents. She is wildly imaginative and a little bit mischievous. Although she plays tricks on the grown-ups in her life, she is very fair, and only punishes people who really, truly deserve it. Those who treat her well, such as her friend Lavender and her teacher Miss Honey, are met with respect, love and loyalty from. As with most Roald Dahl characters, Matilda encourages children to see learning as an amazing journey that should continue outside school. Once I had begrudgingly accepted that I didn’t have telekinetic powers, I focused on attaining Matilda’s second and even more important weapon, her brilliant mind. Matilda shows little girls that reading voraciously and learning just for the love of it can be just as powerful as having a magical superpower.

2. Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte is a spider living in the dark corner of a farmer’s barn. She befriends Wilbur, a young pig who is horrified to learn that he might some day end up on the farmer’s breakfast plate. With the help of the other farm animals, Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur from this terrible fate. Charlotte is intelligent and well spoken – it’s thanks to her that I can greet someone with “salutations”, or aspire to create my “magnum opus”. She is kind to all the animals in the barn, despite their apprehension towards her because she is a spider. She is firm, but gentle towards the naïve Wilbur, and never lets him give up hope. She often puts the needs of her friends before her own. Charlotte taught me that it doesn’t matter how people perceive you, as long as you have a kind heart and a quick wit, you will always be loved.

3. Henrietta Hickathrift, from The Stray by Dick King Smith

This one isn’t a very well known book, but it is one of my absolute favourites. I first read it as a little girl, and now, as I pass it on to my littlest sister, I’m finding that it hasn’t lost a single bit of its charm. Henrietta is an old woman who decides to run away from her nursing home and go to the seaside. She is plucky and compassionate, earning the admiration and friendship of everyone she meets. Although she hits a few speed bumps along the way, the book eventually sees Henrietta’s kindness and generosity returned on her tenfold. She faces her fears with great panache, inspiring me to live life to the full, and taught me that no dream was too big or too small.

4. Sophie, from the series Sophie by Dick King Smith

Sophie is a stubborn but loveable four-year-old girl, who detests frilly dresses and dreams of becoming a lady farmer. The series follows her between the ages of four and eight, passing milestones such as beginning school, starring in the class play, taking riding lessons and informing the farmer’s son next door that they’re going to get married some day. She is steadfast and loyal, and a great lover of all animals. She is incredibly proud of her impressive vocabulary, and frequently uses very long, complicated words, albeit with a few endearing mistakes. Most of all though, Sophie works conscientiously to achieve her goals. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does, which frequently causes accidental chaos, but usually also ends in success. She taught me not to sit around and wait for things to happen to me. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I could achieve anything.

5. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

I know, I know, this one’s a big cliché, but I just couldn’t exclude Hermione. I have a special soft spot for her because we were almost the same age when the first book came out, and with each passing year, we grew up together. The Harry Potter series could more accurately be titled “Harry Potter gets confused, Hermione fixes everything”. She is intelligent, meticulous and motivated, leaving the boys in the dust both in and out of the classroom. She isn’t afraid to be herself, despite taking pretty much constant stick for being clever. As she matures throughout the series, she becomes increasingly considerate and understanding, acting as mother, teacher and friend to a great number. In the final couple of books, she has her heart repeatedly broken, but instead of sulking, simply continues to rid the wizarding world of evil until the object of her affections realises what a colossal mistake he has made and comes back. Hermione is beautiful, but this is completely outshone by a stunning personality, a keen intellect and a willingness to do anything that is necessary to protect her friends. She is a true leading lady: so, so much more than just a pretty face.

A 30 Year Political Career: About As Good As The Perfect Fruit Crumble

Those of you who have been frequently subjected to my rantings will know that I consider myself a feminist. As a result of this, seemingly innocuous activities can quickly turn into lectures (rants) on the injustices of being a woman in modern society. To paraphrase the great Francis Begbie:

“I’m no’ the kinda girl that goes lookin’ for a fight, but at the end of the day, I’m the one wi’ the liberal feminist agenda and he can get the fat end a’ it in his puss any time he wanted, like.”

Seemingly innocuous activities such as reading the paper.

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At first glance, all seemed well with this story. A woman rising to a position of political prominence, a headline focusing on her achievements, a photo byline that doesn’t mention what she’s wearing: tick, tick, tick! And then my eyes wandered up to the top left hand corner of the page, and a dark cloud descended…Life & Style?

I have a number of issues with this, but let’s start with the most obvious one. That being why, in the name of all that is holy, is this categorised as Life & Style? An article about the future of the UN, nestled in there between an article about the perfect fruit crumble and a piece on what the checkout girl is really thinking. As if, when women do it, politics is sort of an adorable hobby. A lifestyle choice, like a juice diet, or taking up crochet. Seriously, Guardian, get it together and stick this article in the Politics section along with all the big men.

Also, can we just talk about the fact that newspapers still have a women’s section? I mean I know I have a degree in politics, but thank you, newspapers, for creating a special section for me where I can read about whether teff is the new hot super grain and how to get a body that won’t send people running for the hills when I put on a bikini, without being bothered by all that horrible, boring news. Sorry for the absurdly long sentence, I just have a lot of feelings.

Now, to give credit where credit is due, the Guardian’s “Women” section does focus on women’s issues that I actually care about, like unequal pay, and the prevalence of rape culture. But, and I cannot ever say this enough times, there isn’t really any such thing as a “women’s issue”. There are issues which women are more qualified to talk about, but when we do talk about them, they shouldn’t be tucked away in a special section of the paper where only other women will see them. Binary gender roles are bad for literally everyone. It is in everyone’s interest to get rid of unfair, outdated, stupid standards of behaviour for both men and women. By qualifying feminism as a women’s issue, we’re giving men permission to ignore it. After all, it has nothing to do with them.

Women in Spain beating the recession by setting up a record number of businesses isn’t just of interest to women. Women in Afghanistan having more freedom in jail than they do outside of it isn’t just of interest to women. And the next leader of the UN certainly isn’t just of interest to women.

Sort it out Guardian, you’re totally harshing my mellow.