Monday, 6 February 2017

The 28 Days of Beauty Challenge: What, Why and How

Using makeup as war paint.
Recently I had a bit of a clear-out. Five huge storage bags of clothes went off the the charity shop, leaving me with a much tidier wardrobe of clothes that actually fit and that I'll actually wear. It's been great. My whole room is benefiting from the lack of clothes exploded all over the place, and is generally less cluttered. That is, until I look in the direction of my dressing table...

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Elena, you're a blogger. Having lots of makeup is an occupational hazard." Well, sure. Except (unless I have a gig or a really special occasion) I barely ever wear makeup. On an average day, I just fill in my brows, give myself a single coat of whatever mascara is closest and that's me done. Call it minimalist, call it lazy, it is what it is.

I always shop with the best intentions. I always think, "Yes, this palette has great everyday colours. I could totally get used to putting on eyeshadow before work" or "This lipstick shade is so me, I'll wear it every day!" Aside from that one time I drunkenly spent £48 on just two items from Estée Lauder because I was day drunk, I don't generally buy makeup on impulse... so how the merry hell did I end up with so much of it!? Not only that but I'm moving towards only replacing stuff with vegan and cruelty-free alternatives, which is all well and good, but I can't really replace used-up stuff if I don't use it up!

It's not even like I can donate it to a charity shop; it's basically a use it or chuck it situation and the idea of wasting so much makeup offends me on so many levels. I really don't want to bin it. The only alternative is to make more of an effort to actually use it.

Additionally, for me, defaulting to a totally-makeup-free face is usually a sign that things are not quite right. Doing at least my brows and my mascara is a sign that I'm observing at least basic self-care, and as a mentally ill person this is quite important. Slicking on a coat of lipstick or a dab of highlight doesn't magically solve all my problems, but it can make me feel a little more prepared to deal with the world. With a tiny splash of colour or definition, I gain a gram of confidence, and sometimes that's crucial.

With that in mind, the 28 Days of Beauty Challenge was born!

For four weeks at a time, I'm going to commit to using (at minimum) one particular type of product, and document it. The rules are these:

1. I should use each of the products I have at least once in the month.
2. I can use the same product more than once, but not two days in a row.
3. I have to take at least one photo a day of the product on my face.
4. I have to wear the designated product but can wear whatever other products I like as well.
5. I have to do this every day, without fail! Even if I'm not going anywhere and/or don't feel like it.
6. I have to document the full 28 days with a blog or video.

So, I'm going to start with.... Lipstick! For the next 28 days I'll be wearing lipstick every day, taking photos, and at the end of the four weeks I'll let you know how I got on. It's an interesting time period because I have a gig with my band and Valentine's weekend in the next month... time to get inventive!

If you want to join me on this little challenge to try new things and make the most of our makeup, let me know and use the hashtag #28DOBC to see what I'm up to.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Small Business Owner Q&A

Custom pieces make my soul sing
My small business SPOOK & SIREN has been live for a few months now, and I get a lot of questions about how I manage my business, where my inspiration and motivation comes from, and how I schedule my time. Now that I've hit a rhythm and started getting more custom work, I figured it was time to answer some of those queries!

So... why flower and seashell crowns?

I used to run a small jewellery business while I was at uni, and my friends used to ask me to help them make bits and pieces for costumes. I also did a little bit of hair/costume/props/makeup work for different productions at uni, and I really loved it, as well as trying some hands-on DIY/upcycling stuff with various items of clothing and furniture. Thanks to my reputation as an artsy-craftsy kind of person I ended up being given lots of odds and ends over time, like fabrics and paints, and someone gave me a massive box of fake flowers, and I started making flower crowns.

My whole mermaid schtick is a story for another time, but long story short I've always related to mermaids and loved the beach. So really it was a natural progression for me to try and incorporate my love of mermaids and the sea with my crafting passion. After a lot of experimentation and product development I ended up with my current method and general aesthetic for creating seashell crowns. Each one is completely unique, and when I'm creating ready-to-wear pieces for the store I let myself get inspired by the shells I'm able to find. If I get a commission I'll take into account the requirements and requests of the customer.

Is it your full-time job?

I wish! I have a day job working in digital marketing, which is my main source of income. I don't do any sponsored work or ads on my blog because I don't have the time to devote to doing it properly, and I wouldn't feel right accepting work which I couldn't put my whole heart into. While I'm getting more interest in my commission work, it's certainly not enough to sustain myself as a sole source of income.

How do you balance your time?

This is a very good question... the answer is NOT VERY WELL. I work 9-5, Monday-Friday, and as well as SPOOK & SIREN I also run the Blogger Beauty Box, am the lead singer in a band, have pets, write for my blog and I'm also about to start an art foundation course. This is one of the reasons I don't have a lot of ready-to-wear pieces in the shop right now; I only really have time for my commission pieces! If any of you have any advice for organising time when you're a busy human, I'd love to hear from you! 

Does your health make things more difficult? 

In case you don't know, I have kind of a weird cocktail of mental and chronic illnesses which I'm currently coping with. As well as Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, which are currently managed with medication, I have Hashimoto's Disease (an autoimmune disease affecting my thyroid) and am currently dealing with Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (a consequence of having Galndular Fever towards the end of this summer). Between them, these illnesses made me feel physically and mentally exhausted very quickly and can make it difficult to stay focused and motivated. I love creating, so generally my passion carries me through when it comes to encouraging myself to sit down and do some crown work, or to develop new products. I also find getting positive feedback hugely motivational, and it can massively help me to continue making new things. 

What I generally find most difficult is the official stuff, like accurate pricing, paperwork, tax returns and marketing my own work, which I'm sure you can all appreciate is not ideal! All this official stuff needs doing, but if I had my own way there would be some kind of goblin or elf who would do the nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff. Maybe one day I'll be making enough to justify hiring an accountant to do my least favourite part of it all. Oh, and my workshop is a borderline-dangerous mess. Mustering up the physical strength and mental motivation to tidy is almost impossible.

Which other small business owners do you emulate? 

My products, and the way I conduct my business, are a little unusual so it's a little tricky to directly emulate anyone, but there are a handful of people who I find inspiring and whose work ethics are something to look up to, like Jemma from Dorkface, Other businesses I love include Jewellery Box, Awesome Merch, The Wily Fox and Little Doe.

What has been your biggest setback?

While not a setback as such, I am slightly frustrated by the financial side of things. I have no partners or investors, so if I take a gamble on a new product or have to invest in new tools and materials I have to bankroll it myself. I like making my products really affordable, but that means that sometimes my profit margins are pretty small, and I reinvest everything into the business right now. Effectively, if you buy something the profit goes right back into making and testing new products. This means it can take time for me to get the cash together to make new things, and I can get a bit antsy when I have ideas I can't immediately act on.

What's next for SPOOK & SIREN and Blogger Beauty Box?

As you can probably imagine, seashell and flower crowns are more of a spring/summer thing! What's more, Post-Viral Fatigue is a real nightmare and is making my body shut down, so physically I'm not as capable as I'd like to be. What this has done, though, is give me plenty of thinking time and that's meant that I've made some big decisions.

The first one is that I'm going to make the Blogger Beauty Box seasonal. The last box was called "The Summer Box" and at the time that was mostly because we needed time to pass the torch from Vix to myself. However, on reflection, making the box a seasonal thing makes the most sense. There are so many great subscription boxes out there, and I want to bring you something original and exciting every single time. I'm really looking forward to putting out four amazing boxes a year.

For S&S I have some new product due out very, very soon, and if you were at Bloggers' Blog Awards I may have drunkenly gushed about some of them to you! Keep your eyes peeled, all will soon be revealed.

Should I start my own small business?

Maybe! DO you have a really cool idea, or a wonder ful skill? If you have the time, the passion and the patience then absolutely, why not? Just remember to keep records of everything you spend and everything you earn, and do be sure to be above board. It's better to be overcautious than under prepared!

And finally, what advice do you have for people starting out? 

Dream big, work hard and admit when you need help - usually the people around you are more than happy to lend a helping hand. Don't struggle in silence, and be honest with yourself about what you can achieve, and never let jealous people prevent you from aiming high!

If you want to contact me about commission work, or anything else, you can do so through my Etsy store.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Little Life Update: It's Never Too Late

For a long time I've been less-than-deliriously-happy in my day job.

I'm very lucky to be in a paying job that utilises some skills that I enjoy using. Digital Marketing can be a very exciting and innovative field to be in, and for the first year or so that I was in the job I would get up every day, raring to go, keen to get to my desk and flex my creative muscles. I don't know whether the novelty of it has worn off, or if I've been there too long, or if my role has just mutated to be more administrative and less creative, but as things stand I feel a bit like I'm rotting. I have lovely colleagues and the comfort of a steady paycheck, and those facts alone make it better than lots of jobs I've had before now, but I feel like everyone is too young to feel trapped on a career path they feel so uninspired by. I hate to sound ungrateful, but that's just the facts of it.

You may already know that I have a small creative business called SPOOK & SIREN where I sell handmade flower and seashell crowns, and I have other products in development due out soon (if you were at the Bloggers' Blog Awards I may have gushed at you about it then!) I love having my little sideline and now that it's growing and I'm getting requests for custom work I'm even less keen to head into the office every morning and just itching for the end of the day so I can get into my workshop and start creating.

Now, before we get overexcited, I'm not about to announce that I'm canning my day job to make headgear for a living. I'd love to someday, but I'm not quite there yet. 

I've been racking my brains for a little while, wondering what the best way would be to get myself into a more hands-on creative job. I considered graphic design, but I'm much more at home with a tool in my hand than sat at a keyboard. I even started looking up self-sufficient artists' communes where I could move to and become a free-living spirit, but to be honest that was a little too liberated for me.

One of my biggest insecurities in life is that I failed university. There's no other way to put it, I flat-out failed. I struggled for three miserable years on what I felt from day one was completely the wrong course, after agreeing to go to university for completely the wrong reasons. Looking back on it now it's easier to see that I should have been more stubborn and applied to do something physically creative, but at the time, for long and boring reasons I don't want to get into here, it wasn't an option for me. I took summer courses at Central St Martin's and had never loved anything more. I wanted so desperately to pursue some kind of course that would nurture my love of paint and ink and paper and making something beautiful out of nothing.

Well, now I'm an adult. And one of the benefits of a boring but stable job is that I have a tiny bit of financial wriggle-room. So, with all of this in mind my announcement is...

I'm going to art school!

(Sort of.)

Next month I'm enrolling in a distance-learning art foundation course in drawing, with a view to taking a distance-learning degree in creative arts. I am so excited I have been on edge since I first saw the course description, but I've never been so sure of anything in my life. I've never felt so strongly that something was the right thing to do. I've been sent a pack with the first unit in my course and even just reading the assignments has given me butterflies in the pit of my stomach.

As part of the course I can start a blog as a "learning log" for my tutor to use as a mark of my progress, and I expect I'll let you all know about that closer to the time and once I've got it going, but I am so excited (and nervous) that I needed to tell you all about it or I was going to burst! 

There is a slight chance that with the 8-10 hour weekly commitment of the course, plus running two businesses (did you know I've taken over the Blogger Beauty Box from the amazing Vix Meldrew?), having a day job, my pets and my band, that I might slack even more on the blogging front than I already do. I expect I'll still take to my laptop whenever I'm in need of a rant about social politics or body image, and I'll keep in touch as best I can. But when time is precious you can't do everything. That said, it's not like a have a social life... hopefully my course will only cut into my "aimlessly faffing and watching Gilmore Girls" time!

Anyway, that's my announcement! I'd love all the support, love and advice you all can give, and if you want to help me while I'm studying you can buy something from my store - all the profits are either reinvested into the business for new products or will go towards my school fees and materials! 


Friday, 23 September 2016

Fight, Flight or Freeze: Surviving Assault

(TW: This post is all about unwanted touching, sexual violence, consent, misogyny and feminism.)

If headlines in mainstream news are to be believed, Gigi Hadid is an ungrateful, unladylike miscreant who violently attacked a fan.

Fortunately there’s a video of the incident, in which “prankster” Vitalii Sediuk grabs the supermodel from behind only for her to defend herself by elbowing him in the nose. He puts her back down and she, understandably, shouts “Who the fuck are you, you piece of shit?”

Discourse about the event has varied. While some people are completely on Gigi’s side, and say she has every right to retaliate when her personal space is invaded, others have said that her reaction was disproportionate.

What many people may not understand is that when someone is touched without warning or consent, it’s not just a case of feeling that our “personal space” has been invaded. Particularly when someone from a minority group (whether on basis of gender, race, sexuality etc.) is unexpectedly touched, we feel that our safety is at risk. It’s beyond being annoyed or inconvenienced, we feel endangered.
Being lifted off the ground, touched intimately, surprised, grabbed or otherwise interfered with is startling. It’s alarming. It’s frightening.

At a young age we’re taught that fear causes a rush of adrenaline, and we’re told that this hormone elicits one of two actions: fight or flight. When I was bullied at school, my mum used to tell me to ignore it and walk away, whereas my dad always told me to “punch ‘em on the nose”. My parents often remind me of a time when my youngest brother had just been born, and having watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang I was worried that the Child Catcher would come for my new baby brother. My dad went to the loo in the middle of the night, and opening the door to go back to his bedroom he was confronted four-year-old me, brandishing a baseball bat as long as I was, ready to fight the “intruder”. One of my defining characteristics throughout my life has been my bravery.

Now, evidently Gigi Hadid is a fighter, and that is to be applauded. But it’s not fully accurate to say that fighting or running away are the only two responses to fear. For many people who have been assaulted there’s secret option number three: freeze.

While Gigi’s assault (and that’s what it was) occurred in broad daylight and was observed by numerous people, including press with cameras and her own sister, the situation could have gone very, very differently if it was dark, or somewhere secluded, or if the victim didn’t go for regular boxfit sessions. There are times when fighting an attacker would put the victim in more danger, and where running away simply isn’t possible. In these situations, the victim enters a kind of self-preservation where they comply with their attacker to prevent further harm. While I whole-heartedly defend Gigi’s reaction (I may have fist-pumped when I saw her in the video) I think it’s really, really important that we stop saying “fight or flight” and start talking about “fight, flight or freeze”, and I’m going to tell you why.

The “freeze” reaction is very common, especially in cases of sexual assault. The fact that we only learn that adrenaline causes “fight or flight” means that victims are scared to come forward because they question whether it "counts" if there wasn't a struggle, or screaming, or an escape attempt. I’m going to use myself as an example and talk about four occasions where I’ve been the subject of unwanted touching and sexual assault from strangers, and how I’ve reacted quite differently to each one.

Me on the outward journey to Weymouth (on the right)
The first time was when I was 16, at around 5 in the afternoon. I’d been to the beach as an end-of-exams trip with a group of friends, and we were heading back form Weymouth on the train. A man in his early 20s came and sat next to me and started talking to me. I was polite, and responded to his questions. Then, out of nowhere, he slid his hand across my thigh and into my crotch. I leaped up out of my seat and silently walked to the back of the carriage, and my friends followed. I was shaken and uncomfortable for the rest of the train journey, and I still jump when strangers accidentally brush against me on crowded trains. For weeks afterwards I wished I’d followed my dad’s advice and punched him on the nose. I felt a responsibility to teach the stranger a lesson. I wondered if he’d do the same to other girls because my reaction hadn’t been strong enough. I felt guilty.

When I was 18, I went to Venice alone. I stayed with a host, and I attended language school in the afternoons. I was preparing to study Italian at uni, and I was keen to learn as much as I could, so I took down the email addresses of a couple of people who advertised on the school’s notice board, asking for tandem conversation classes. I got a response from a man called Gregorio, who wanted to meet up with me and practice his English while I practised my Italian. We met at a bar I’d been to a few times and he was perfectly charming. He confessed that he’d found my blog because the URL matched my email address, and that he liked my writing. He insisted on walking me home, all the way across the island, and kissed me goodbye on both cheeks. Several days later he sent me a text saying he was walking past my apartment, asking if he could come in for a cup of coffee. I didn’t see an issue with that, so I invited him up. Within minutes he had me by the hair and was telling me that 
if I didn’t give him oral sex he was going to rape me.

I complied because I was frightened. I couldn’t run, and I was scared that fighting him would make the situation worse. He’d already threatened to rape me, so who knew what else he was capable of. I mentally checked out until it was over. Once he’d left I numbly showered, feeling dirty and angry, and upset. But above all I felt weak and guilty. My dad’s voice was in my head. I should have punched him on the nose. I should have bitten down when he forced himself into my mouth. I should have poked him in the eye like you do with sharks. I promised myself that if anyone so much as looked at me in a way I didn’t like, ever again, I’d fight them. I should have done more. I should have done something. I felt like I’d let it happen. I felt like it was all my fault. I felt guilty.

Me in Venice
That night I took myself for an evening walk in the rain. I walked to the bar, hoping to bump into friends from school. As it was I met a couple of men I’d met there in my first week and we got chatting. One, named Stefano, spoke very good English and was smiley and chatty, while the other, Evin, only spoke Albanian and broken English. I was soaked through from the rain, my shoes were sodden, but I wasn’t cold. As I prepared to take myself back to my apartment, one of the boys offered to lend me some of his sister’s shoes. We were apparently about the same size, and he said that his mama would be ashamed of him if he let a lady walk home in wet shoes. His flat was a couple of minutes away. I figured any young man with such a sense of chivalry was safe. In truth, I naively thought “Well, I’m not going to get attacked twice in one day.” I walked to the flat with the two young men, wondering if his sister would be in, so I could thank her for the shoes.

When we got to the flat, Stefano went straight to bed, then Evin locked me in. My stomach dropped into the soles of my feet and my gaze went straight to the floor. The last solid thought I remember having was, “There are no girls’ shoes here.” Evin, who hadn’t spoken a word of English all night, said “You scream, I kill you.” He forced me onto the bed, and took out a condom. When I started crying and saying no, he pinned my arms above my head and muttered in my ear, “Why no fuck? Is it because I Albanian?” For the second time in 12 hours I was forced to give a man oral sex to prevent him from raping me. When it was over I asked to leave. He wrapped his arms around me tightly and told me to go to sleep. I tried. I wanted morning to come. I wanted to get out of there and hide in my apartment until my flight the next week. I was beyond feeling damaged, I felt broken. I felt stupid and sick to my stomach. I didn’t understand how mere hours before I’d sworn to myself that I would fight harder. I felt filthy. I felt guilty.

Me at 21, working in the opticians
When I was 21, I worked in an optician’s. It was generally pretty quiet, and often people from local businesses would pop in and talk to us about their offers. It helped pass the time. Mo was one of those. He came in on several occasions, waiting until my manager had gone on lunch before coming in to talk to me, and only ever me, about the discount he could get me on gym membership. He was persistent. He was sort of sweet in a sort of overly-friendly way, showing me his muscular arms and once flashing me his abs. After a couple of weeks, I finally gave in and booked an induction. I went to the gym after work and he got me to sign all the paperwork, including a comprehensive membership contract which said I couldn’t cancel within 12 months, unless I had a doctor’s note saying I was incapable of using a gym, or if I moved out of the area. He showed me the ladies-only area of the gym, the changing rooms and the pool. Then he took me into the studio where yoga lessons happened, which was empty and dark. While we stood in the abandoned, dim room he asked if I had any injuries and I mentioned that I had plantar fasciitis and tight calf muscles. He demonstrated a calf stretch, placing his hands on the barre, extending one leg behind himself and asking me to do the same. When I did, he them moved behind me, pressing his unignorably erect penis into my bum. He held my body firmly against his, and when I tried to move away he held me tighter. We stood motionless for a long time, and I said and did nothing. After what felt like hours, the light suddenly turned on and Mo sprang away from me as a gym instructor entered the room. Nobody said anything. I completed the induction then went home. I cried myself to sleep feeling passive. Weak. Guilty, again.

When I finally told people about any of these assaults, one of the most common responses was, “Why didn’t you fight them?” The simple answer is that I was terrified, and it didn’t feel safe to fight back. As horrible as it is for a stranger to non-consensually jam his erection against you in a dark room, or to force you into sex acts and threaten to rape you, there is something inside you that says, “Being raped is better than being dead, and those may be my options.” I know now that I am far from alone in going boneless in the face of an assault and just doing the bare minimum to survive with the least possible damage. Freezing is sometimes all we can do.

Even brave girls can’t fight the world. There is always someone stronger, with home field advantage, with scarier threats and more power.

I wish someone had told me sooner that compliance under coercion isn’t consent. I hadn’t “allowed” or “encouraged” these men’s actions with my own inaction. It wasn’t my fault.

Gigi Hadid is a great example of a woman who took control of a frightening situation and fought back. But please know that if you’ve ever been attacked in the same way and been unable to react as Gigi did, you are not weak and you are not alone. Sometimes self-preservation isn’t about fist fights or elbows to the nose, it’s just about making it through any way you can. You are no less worthy of help, empathy or support regardless of how you survive, and you shouldn't feel guilty or weak for not physically retaliating.

Fight, flight or freeze. You are a survivor. We are survivors.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

“She Might Be” Might Be the Online Magazine We’ve Been Waiting For

It seems that barely a week goes by without some mainstream magazine or fashion brand putting their foot in their mouth. Whether it’s O magazine saying that you should only wear crop tops if you’ve got a flat stomach, or BOB by DOP creating prints with images of plus people on clothes that only go up to a size 16, it seems almost impossible to find inoffensive media.

One section of society where I’ve always been able to find a spiritual home is among fat-positive bloggers. So you can only imagine my delight when I heard that Georgina Grogan was launching an online magazine called She Might Be, by fats, for fats.

But wait, I hear you cry, shouldn’t inclusive media be for everyone? To that I say, “Shush. Let us have this.”

Fat people are constantly told, directly or indirectly, that beauty, fashion and popular media are not for us. Despite the average dress size of women in the UK being a size 16, clothing ranges in mainstream stores typically go from a 6-18, meaning that people up to five sizes smaller than average are accommodated but generally only one size above average is catered to. She Might Be will be written by contributors representing a wide age range, and a huge range of body types from size 18 upwards.

Personally I’m really excited to have an online magazine to turn to when I don’t feel like being bombarded with body shaming imagery and writing. She Might Be promises fashion and beauty features, lifestyle guides and interviews with industry professionals, and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to having a site that won’t leave me feeling like an unwelcome outsider, as I often do when I try to buy magazines off the rack.

I’ve been fat for all of my adult life, and its only in the last few years I’ve been exposed to the fat-positive and body-positive movements that tell me that I am free to be my own beautiful, unique, wobbly self. These wonderful women of Twitter and the blogosphere taught me that it’s ok to be thin, fat, average, tall, short, freckly, stretchmarked, scarred, to wear tight clothes or baggy jumpers, or to be whatever gender I feel I am along an infinite spectrum. My body is my own and my sense of style shouldn’t be dictated by my size. Despite men who tell me I should be ashamed of my body, family who see fatness as a flaw, I rely on fat-positive friends and content creators to remind me that I am pretty great, however I choose to be.

With that in mind, I can’t wait to dig right into She Might Be, and wish everyone involved the best of luck, the most happiness and every success. 


Monday, 29 August 2016

Man on Online Dating: An Open Letter

Dear Man on Online Dating,
Thank you for your interest. I'm sorry to have initially concerned you with my glaring lack of a full-body photo. While I generally find it slightly creepy when a complete stranger asks to see a top-to-toe photo of me, I get it. People have a type. That's why I uploaded a photo for you to scrutinise. I figured that was a helpful thing to do.

Imagine my surprise when you say to me, "that's not you... it's obvious you're probably a bigger girl. You don't have to be embarrassed you know."

First things first, it is a photo of me. 
Second things second, yes, I am a "bigger girl".
Third things third, I'm not embarrassed, but clearly you think that I am, or that I should be.
The funny thing is, when I took that photo and uploaded it to Instagram, I captioned it with the words: 
"I would wear this outfit every day of the week. Seems a silly thing to post, but I so rarely feel comfortable in my clothes and this get-up made me feel great. So... Yeah. There's that."

I'm annoyed. I'm not annoyed because you say I'm "obviously a bigger girl" - I know I am, I live in my body, I'm fully aware what it looks like, besides which my profile mentions it under "body type". 
I'm not annoyed that you don't believe that I could look the way I do in the photo in question - wearing all-black, tight jeans and high heels makes me look slimmer than I would in something loose-fitting or knitted. 
Nor am I annoyed that you then told me that I'm "the perfect size for you". It's always just swell to hear that someone finds my body shape attractive. Fab. Marvellous. My body clearly isn't too bootylicious for you, babe.
What annoys me is that you believe that I would be so ashamed of my "bigger" body that I would steal photos to portray as my own because god forbid I am happy to show someone my actual body. I'm annoyed that you think, by fetishising my body type you can counteract this fictional embarrassment. You're an internet stranger with poor grammar, you have nothing to offer me that would in any way affect my self esteem. It annoys me a little that you believe that you could.
Anyway, Man on Online Dating, best of luck in your endeavours to find an "obviously bigger" girl whose self worth is so damaged that she finds your ham-fisted approach in any way effective. Unfortunately that girl is not me.
Me and my fat arse.


Friday, 17 June 2016

I Was a Teenage Racist: A Plea

This week has really shown some of the best and worst of humans in the country I call home. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen a series of threads (here, here and here) where I talked about the murder of Jo Cox, and I don’t think I need to talk about that specific event any further right now (though I highly recommend this piece on the media’s portrayal of the murder as the work of a “mentally ill loner” rather than a hate crime by a far-right extremist). 

My Twitter rant kind of took a turn when I admitted something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while.
It took me a long time to say it in these words, I gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em. Teenage Elena, I see you.

I could skirt around the issue and say that I was ‘confused’ or ‘ignorant’. I could blame my middle-class background and my private, boarding school education. I could ignore that phase of my life altogether. But, the more I talk about politics, culture, feminism and race the more I feel at odds with my history. Whenever someone on Twitter retweets or praises me for discussing these issues, the more I feel pressed to say, “I’m shit. I have been so shit. I’m so sorry.” I feel terrified that I’ll be ‘found out’. With Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature I live in fear of being provided with archived digital proof of my crappy former views. I feel a bit haunted by it. Am I judging myself too harshly?

It’s always my aim to be honest, open and balanced in my writing. Integrity is one of my core values. I feel like if I get this off my chest, if I document it and make it freely available to read, that I might feel less like a fraud. If I say the words “I was racist”, does that absolve me?

It’s not like I’m a reformed neo-Nazi. I never confronted a Muslim in the street to question them about acts of terrorism. I never excluded someone from an event based on the colour of their skin. I never wished violence or misfortune on other races. I never laid a finger on anyone. Does that make it better?

I did think that hijabs, niqabs and burkas were a ‘security risk’ that shouldn’t be allowed in public places, and certainly not in schools. I thought that asylum seekers should have to ‘assimilate’ if they wanted to live in the UK. Of course, by ‘assimilate’ I meant they should act like middle class, secular white people. I’d argue that ‘I’d have to learn to fit in and play by the rules if I moved to Saudi Arabia’, despite also trying to argue that I shouldn’t have to adhere to ‘oppressive values’. I was scared of Brixton, because pop culture references and comedic anecdotes has created a vision in my mind of any ‘black areas’ of London as a living embodiment of Jay Z’s Run This Town video. That video also scared me. I thought casual racism was ‘just a bit of fun’ and that anyone who took offence was being ‘oversensitive’. I was fearful. I was ignorant. I was narrow-minded. Was I the worst of people? No. Was I racist? Absolutely.

It took a few years and very, very good friends to change all of this. When a group of uni friends had a discussion about politics (particularly about burqas if I remember rightly) which made me feel increasingly uncomfortable I was faced with a question that all bigots must be faced with in one way or another. A simple, three-word question that pops up in your brain when you find your views and beliefs being challenged by passionate, intelligent, well-rounded people:

Am I wrong? 

I was lucky. I was surrounded by people who were patient, calm, gentle and, most of all, who I admired. I’ll be honest, part of the reason I listened while they opposed me is that I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want them to stop interacting with me because of my politics. That sounds cowardly, and maybe it is. But when people you like, people whose company you cherish and who otherwise seem to be on your level look horrified when you voice your opinions, it’s inevitable that your resolve will start to weaken a little, even if you’re incredibly stubborn. When you realise that your views make you unlikeable, you start to look at them differently.

I am so grateful to my friends from uni, I’m so glad they didn’t give up on me the first time they heard me say something stupid and racist. I’m also extremely thankful to people on Twitter who are there to pull me up when I unintentionally tweet something harmful and who are kind enough to actually explain what was wrong with what I said, rather than just descending into name-calling. I love the feminists I’ve met in real life and online who have taught me the meaning of intersectionality and White Feminism, and the bloggers and journos who helped me to recognise my own privilege and how to live without letting my past blinker me.

Everyday racism isn’t lynching or pipe bombs or hate crimes. Everyday racism is a middle aged woman muttering about halal stickers on meat in the supermarket. Everyday racism is someone saying that immigrants should have to do jobs that “hardworking British people are too good for”. Everyday racism is complaining when Beyoncé releases a racially-charged song or when Rihanna sings in Patois. Everyday racism is panels of white people discussing race issues in the media without consulting a single POC. Everyday racism is excusing anti-Islamic behaviour by saying “I don’t want my grandchildren being forced to wear headscarves to school”. Everyday racism is believing that certain traits are inherent to people based on their race. Everyday racism is denying POCs safe spaces because you feel left out. Everyday racism is being complicit in the othering of other races to your own advantage.

Everyday racism is subtle. It’s quiet. It’s worryingly socially acceptable. It’s insidious, viral, dangerous. It’s also reversible.

My old mindset makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel guilty. But most of all it makes me hopeful. If you’d told 18-year-old Elena that she’d turn into a 24-year-old intersectional feminist, blogging about white privilege, voting Labour, condemning my own past racism and tweeting angry satire she’d have thought you were nuts. Yet, here I stand.

Everyday racists aren’t the ones killing people, not directly. But their existence, their proud stance and vocal bigotry stretch the boundaries of what we consider to be acceptable, and it’s those greyed-out limits that let Britain First fundamentalists go by unchecked. Everyday racists didn’t kill Jo Cox, but everyday racism almost certainly played a part in allowing her killer to become who he was.

Please learn from this. Learn from my guilty past. Make it mean something.
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