Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

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

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

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

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

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

who made your pants

Me being unsexy in some pants.

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

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

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

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

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

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.