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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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How Not to Be a Dick: Blogger Edition

Welcome to the first instalment in my "How Not to Be a Dick" series. I'll be doing a few of these, but today's is about responsible blogging. Enjoy!


Yeah, this picture is pretty much irrelevant. I'm writing in it, what more do you want?
For most of us, blogging is a hobby. We do it because we want to share about products we love and hate, to talk about moments that mean something to us, or to discuss causes close to our hearts. We find our little place in this community which comes with a readership, supporters and, for some of us, detractors.

I try to stay encouraging as far as I can, and I am always open for discussion and debate. However, today I saw a post about veganism that was so terrible that I couldn't find anything positive to say about it. As well as being poorly researched (i.e. barely researched at all) and misleadingly-worded, it was just really badly written. Not only that, but when challenged on this, the original author was defensive and played the victim online, rather than engaging in a discussion or allowing people to educate her on her dangerous levels of ignorance. To add insult to injury, she's deleting comments on the original post by more informed individuals attempting to set the record straight.

I can't sit this girl down and tell her to stop being so wilfully irresponsible, but what I can do is try and turn it into a more general learning opportunity. So, without further ado, here are some tips for being a responsible blogger.

Don't State Opinions as Facts

Having an opinion is fine. After all, putting opinions in writing for mass consumption is basically the definition of blogging, right? However there a world of difference between fact and opinion. I thought this was obvious, but I've seen numerous instances of people making inaccurate statements (i.e. flat-out lying) and defending their bullshit as "a matter of opinion". In case you need a lesson, here's the difference:

Opinion:
I think that the way slaughterhouses operate is acceptable.

Opinion masquerading as a fact: 
I believe that 90% of slaughter houses are killing humanely.

Fact:
According to HSA information, 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption. EU guidelines dictate the minimum measures that should be taken to avoid unnecessary suffering, however whether there is any way to humanely slaughter an animal is a matter of opinion.

If you're unsure whether you're voicing an opinion, stating a fact or spouting shit, take a look and see whether you're making claims that you can substantiate. If there are studies, reports or other reliable resources you can use to back you up, then cite them. If not, make sure it's clear that what you're saying is genuinely an expression of opinion and not a poorly-worded, unreliable pseudo-fact.

Be Discerning

Some bloggers thrive on drama. Some people just like attention. Fine, you crack on with flapping your fingers at the keyboard until someone throws you a cookie. However, if you don't want people thinking you're a moron and a dickhead, then be honest with yourself and have a think about why you want to put out a post before you click the "publish" button. Is it informative? Is it balanced? Is it accurate? If you can't tick all these boxes maybe it's time to look at it again. If you can't find a way to rewrite it that fulfils those rather generous criteria then the delete button is your best buddy.

Ignorance Isn't Bliss, It's Just Ignorance

If you have the wherewithal to set up a blog and social media, we can assume that you're able to read. This means that you are also able to research. With this in mind, I am allowed to call you out if you haven't bothered to look into a topic you're discussing. Unless you're already an expert in the subject, have the decency to read up on the thing. You never know; what you discover might surprise you. 

You can bury your head in the sand if you so choose, but be aware that people who do know a lot about the subject you've chosen to discuss will point out the holes in your argument. 

Be Receptive

When you put a blog out there, you do it to be read. It's completely delusional to believe that everyone who reads it will be congratulatory/complimentary/in agreement. When you create content it is for consumption, and the consumer is just as entitled to hold an opinion as you are. The only way you can hope to avoid the "haters" is by writing well, having popular opinions and crossing your fingers that those who disagree with you don't see it. If however, you write like a toddler, tell bald-faced lies and have shit opinions then you're basically throwing a manure grenade at the internet.

It's all well and good to drop the blogging equivalent of a stink bomb, but you can't then wonder why everything suddenly smells bad. If you throw horseshit at the internet, the internet is going to throw shit right back at you.

If, however, someone approaches you with a metaphorical can of Oust, you should probably let 'em spray you. Even if you don't love the scent they've chosen, it's got to smell better than the hot guano you just littered about the place like an angry hippopotamus.

That figure of speech got away from me a bit there... Basically, if you blog then people have a right to respond. Listen to what they have to say, be respectful and be kind. Don't be an arsehole, or people will tell you that you're an arsehole, and nobody likes to be told that they're an arsehole.

Have Grace In Defeat

Believe it or not, I haven't always been a particularly well-rounded or open-minded human. I would even go so far as to say in my younger days I was actually a racist bigot. I wasn't a nice person. 

I have a long way to go, and I know damn well I don't get it right 100% of the time, but one of the most important steps to becoming a better person was to learn how to admit when I'm wrong, and to grow from it. You can't do that if  you respond to criticism or discussion by being a petulant child. If someone has an opposing view to you, you should have a listen and ask questions (politely!) You might still disagree with them at the end of it, but at least nobody can accuse you of being an immature ignoramus. 

Be Honest

Integrity is pretty crucial to blogging, and forgetting about it can alienate your readers. Whether it's "forgetting" to declare a sponsorship, endorsing an irrelevant product just for the cash or just making shit up, you will piss people off. We're all guilty of stretching the truth a tad to make a story more interesting or impressive, or maybe omitting unflattering details. What's a different matter is full-on lying.

Only make claims you can back up if challenged, and don't resort to name calling and aggression if you get caught in a lie. Don't contradict yourself on your own blog/social media just to attract attention. Don't be the Donald Trump of blogging.

Ultimately...

If you don't want anyone to ever criticise, argue or find fault in your blog then make it private. If, however, you want to make a worthwhile and responsible contribution to this ever-growing pool of content then try not to be a twat. 
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Monday, 9 May 2016

What Is Spook & Siren? GIVEAWAY



All my life, I've been happiest while making things. Whether it was sandcastles, stories or something sewn, I was always up to my elbows creating something.

Very recently I rediscovered my love for creation, and blended it with my tastes for all things goth, magical and aquatic. Ultimately, Spook & Siren was born.

In order to get things off with a bang, I've launched not one, not two, but three giveaways! One each for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Visit the links to see how to enter each one.

The collection bridges a gap between fantasy and reality, allowing you to wear something a little bit magical. You could wear the flower crowns for festivals, weddings or parties, and the seashell crowns are great for any landlocked mermaids.

I'd love for one of my readers to win something, and you've got to enter to be in with a chance! More importantly, this venture means an awful lot to me and I really value any support you can give, whether it's a retweet, a comment or mentioning me to a friend. Here are a few of the pieces available on my Etsy store!

Alfreda

Alvarie

Aelfwine

Arethusa

Brucie

Ella

Elfie
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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

What to Do If You’re Concerned for a Stranger’s Safety



This weekend I went to a wedding in the midlands (Maid of Honour swag, yo) which meant three hours on public transport. I’ve been taking long train journeys on my own for around a decade now, so I’m pretty confident travelling alone. However, this journey was a little different.

On the first leg of my trip, I squeezed myself into the last available seat in the carriage, which happened to be at a table, with three strangers. On my left was a roughly 25-year-old woman with headphones in, and opposite me was an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged Asian lady. The train had barely started moving when the elderly man started singing and talking to himself. This was sort of annoying but bearable, and I initially just passed it off as an eccentricity. Then he started howling like a wolf.

The English are known for their stoic, stiff-upper-lip approach so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that nobody did or said anything. The issue was that I became increasingly concerned for this stranger’s welfare. He appeared to be alone and “out of it”. Did he have dementia? Did he know where he was and where he was going? How would I feel if my grandfather was alone on a train, singing and chatting to himself? I realised that I really didn’t know what to do in this situation. So, I’ve done a bit of research, and here is what you can/should do if you are concerned for a stranger’s safety.

On Public Transport

One of my best friends works for London Underground, so I asked him what I should do if I’m worried about someone’s behaviour on a train. He said,

“You can anonymously text the BTP [British Transport Police on 61016] or tweet the train company. Or just be straight and ask if [he/she] is ok.”

I know that not everyone had the confidence to just talk to a stranger, particularly one who is acting strangely and if you are travelling alone, so the first two options might be the most practical if anxiety/nerves/fear prevent you from directly interacting with the person in question. Try and stay within eye/earshot of the person you’re worried about so you can keep the authorities informed should the situation deteriorate and get more urgent.

This advice doesn’t just apply to elderly or other vulnerable people; if someone on a train is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is making you feel uncomfortable, you can use these options to alert the proper authorities. The only difference being that, if someone is behaving dangerously or in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you should attempt to remove yourself from the vicinity if it is safe for you to do so.

You can, of course, ask a train guard or ticket inspector for assistance if you’re able to leave the carriage and find one.

If you’re on a bus, try and discreetly speak to the driver when the bus next makes a stop; generally bus companies ask that you don’t distract the driver when the bus is in motion. You can also call/tweet the individual bus company for guidance.

In Shopping Centres/Public Buildings

If you see an elderly/vulnerable person in public who seems confused, distressed or disorientated then you can approach them and ask them if they are ok, if you feel safe to do so. If you’re not comfortable doing this then there are a few things you can do, depending on where you are.

If you’re in a shop, shopping centre or other sort of public facility like a library or leisure centre, engage the assistance of the people working there. Shopping centres generally have security teams; if you don’t know how to contact them directly speak to an assistant in any of the shops, as they will have a contact number.

On the Street

If you’re on the street then the time of day might change how comfortable you are when it comes to approaching a stranger, especially if they are behaving out of sorts. If this is the case, use the maps app on your phone to get an accurate location and call the police. The individual situation will determine whether you should contact the emergency services (by calling 999 from your mobile or a payphone) or the non-emergency police number (101). Use your judgement here. Again, if you feel safe to do so, try and keep an eye on the person so you can give the best guidance to the emergency services.

If the person appears to be homeless then beware of outdated advice. There is a post making the rounds on social media advising the public to email St Mungos if you see someone sleeping rough; this is no longer what you should do. If you see someone sleeping rough, get the most accurate reading of your location you can (try using the GPS on your smartphone and taking a screenshot) and either call StreetLink on 03005 000914, download their StreetLink app on your smartphone or use their online form.


It’s always important to keep yourself safe, especially if you are alone, in a secluded place and/or in the dark. If you’re concerned about your own wellbeing then call 101 for police advice!
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Friday, 22 April 2016

Victoria Wood Killed the Ghost of my Relationship

I tried to do a drawing of Victoria but it was offensively bad.
I was bullied growing up. I needn't go into detail at this point, but I had a rough time in childhood. I got given lots of advice on how to cope, but the one I latched onto is, "If they start to laugh, then you should laugh too. Then they're not laughing at you, they're laughing with you." It wasn't always easy, or indeed possible, but I learned to laugh loud enough to drown out their spite. I started to make self-deprecating jokes before they could do it. I became complicit.

When I was in my late teens I had a boyfriend who did stand-up comedy. Throughout our relationship I went with him to numerous gigs and sat dutifully in the audience making sure to laugh at his jokes, whether or not I found them funny (though, to his credit, most of them were). I even forced a giggle at the jokes that were at his own expense and actually made me slightly uncomfortable, like an anecdote which claimed his ex had compared sex with him to being “repeatedly slapped with a pillowcase full of jelly”. I’ll respectfully decline to corroborate this comparison.

Like most people who go to enough amateur stand-up nights, I started to think “maybe I can do this”. My boyfriend thought I was funny, my friends thought I was funny. In fact it was in my first year of uni that I discovered that my no-filter, off-kilter way of talking was actually interesting, or at least amusing, to the people around me. After  a childhood of feeling like an irreversible freak, I realised that I could make people laugh, and that was empowering. Rather than using my flippant self-criticism as a form of defence from my enemies, it became a way to entertain, and sometimes shock, my friends. The more I watched aspiring comedians bumble their clumsy ways through their first gigs, the more I thought that I could give it a go myself some time.

Eventually I broached the subject with my then-boyfriend, suggesting that I wanted to try a mix of stand-up and comedy songs, hoping for some pearls of wisdom, or at least a pep talk. I can’t remember exactly what he said word-for-word but it more or less amounted to “people won’t laugh as much because you’re a girl, and that’ll distract them from the jokes, you’ll need to be twice as funny just to catch up.”

Ah, little baby feminist, Elena. You should have left him there and then. Instead I let his sexist, horseshit statement put me off even attempting stand up for at least a year after he said it.
In that year, he and I broke up anyway. His pre-graduation crisis and my depression became more than our fledgling relationship could handle and by the summer I was single again. My heart was quite badly bruised and it messed with me for months afterwards. Like many post-breakup-humans I felt haunted by the ghost of my failed relationship.

What didn’t remotely help is that shortly after the relationship was officially dead, I almost died too. My lungs were evidently jealous of all the attention my broken heart was getting, so they decided to break too. Not content with having one thing wrong with them at a time, I had suspected blood clots on both (which meant self-injecting with blood thinners, which sucked) as well as pleurisy (where your lung lining is inflamed, causing laboured, painful breathing when your lungs rub on the lining), pleural effusions (where the lung cavity fills with fluid, which is also bloody painful and affects your breathing) and, long term, pleural adhesions on my left lung (where the lung tissue sticks together and gets scarred.) In the diagnosing process the doctors also mentioned scary diagnoses like pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. It was a very bad time.

Once I was out of the hospital, whacked out on two types of heavy painkillers, I was pretty much just a human beanbag for a few weeks while I recovered. While I was propped up in the living room I did weeks of channel surfing, tiring quickly of the constant repeats on E4 and endless episodes of Friends. This was a pre-Netflix era for me, and I got sick of my usual channels really quickly. One day, too tired to change the channel, and vaguely recognising the name from videos my parents had, I struck up re-runs of Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. 

It didn't take long before I was hooked. Here were some of the great actresses like Julie Walters and Celia Imrie who I recognised from Harry Potter and Bridget Jones, starring gamely alongside this warm, hilarious woman who could make me laugh while she pulled at my heartstrings. Her astute, observant, bittersweet brand of comedy was not only something that made me laugh, it was also reflective of the kind of jokes I wanted to write and had been assured wouldn't be funny. I watched as Victoria Wood put live audiences in stitches with musical comedy, which I had been told wouldn't be accepted. My body was all bent out of shape and I still felt betrayed and heartbroken, but suddenly my faith in my ability to overcome adversity with humour was restored.

There are, of course, other comedians of all genders who have gladdened and inspired me along the way. I quote Shappi Khorsandi on a near-daily basis, and I still have a huge crush on Mae Martin after I saw her at a gig the comedian boyfriend did a slot at. Probably my earliest and most enduring experience with comedy was cassette tapes of Rowan Atkinson, Live in Belfast which I can recite word-for-word.

By my third year of uni I'd been gigging regularly as a singer/guitarist for almost two and a half years, and when a gig at one of the student bar started going terribly due to technical issues, I took the opportunity to joke away the awkwardness. When the microphone stand continually collapsed I quipped, "See, I've been single so long that even inanimate object don't want to be that close to my mouth." People laughed. They laughed quite a lot. At the end of the gig someone asked if they could book me to do a stand-up slot at a benefit for Amnesty International. I seized the moment and agreed, and when I got home that night I wrote my set, including four new songs, in about two hours. I was pumped.

I can't remember my first gig too clearly. I was nervous as all hell and I'd been to enough amateur comedy nights to have an acute fear of the pin-drop silence that follows every bombed punchline. I downed a few whiskeys and took to the stage with my trusty uke, and sang songs about bisexuality, hangovers, self-doubt and the inevitability of drunkenly snogging a bellend on SU nights. To my relief, people laughed. They laughed hard. In fact the girl who had booked me cried with laughter. I was flying.

I did a few gigs, all fairly successful, but once uni was over I lost steam. I was too poor to travel to venues to continue on my streak and eventually depression took over again and I lost motivation for simple things like eating and other basic self-care, let alone schlepping into London for gigs. But that almost wasn't important any more.

My short-lived comedy career was fun. It was empowering. And, ultimately, it proved my ex wrong. I couldn't stop him falling out of love with me, or writing about me on his blog. But I could make a room full of strangers laugh. And that felt way, way better.
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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Style Rules EVERYONE Should Follow

The other day on Twitter I flippantly shared some of my all-time greatest style tips, and a number of people suggested I write a blog! Let it never be said I do nothing for you guys. Without further ado, here are my super-important, very serious style tips.

Ripped up denim, plaid and black t shirts are my casual staples.


1. If you like the thing, wear it. Put the thing on.
This seems like hideously obvious advice, but if an item of clothing makes you feel something positive, then you should wear it! I’m not suggesting you should wear your banging new bikini to the office, or a tee shirt with lewd sketches on it to your niece’s nativity play, but if it’s location/occasion appropriate, let your sartorial desires run riot. Glitter roots? Ugly sweaters? Bonkers shoes? Do it. Do the thing.

2. If you’re worried the thing isn’t “flattering” remember that you look fucking great. You don’t need to hide/compress/disguise your body.
As far as I am concerned, “flattering” is a filthy word. It’s a toxic concept that attempts to restrict the choices of people whose appearance doesn’t fit the narrow standards of beauty, creating a set of rules to de-emphasise perceived flaws. I still wonder if my aversion to colour is a direct result of being brought up with the “advice” that dark colours are “flattering”. Fuck “flattering”, and refer to rule one.

3. Fashion should be a fun challenge, not a frustrating and limiting set of rules.
Fashion trends come and go, and if you enjoy fluttering merrily along with the new ideas, revivals and silhouettes of each fashion week then that’s cool! For some it’s a way to stretch your boundaries, change up your wardrobe and introduce something new into your life. What is probably less healthy is feeling forced to adhere to these changing trends at the expense of your own identity. Again, look to rule one.

4. You don’t have to pigeonhole your “aesthetic”.
Having a strong style niche, or being part of a subculture, is fine! I’ve been a goth, a emo and a grunger in the past, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If nothing else, being part of one of these groups, or having a very specific idea of your sense of style, can make it a lot easier to have an Instagram theme! However, it’s also ok to step outside of your usual aesthetic if you find something that speaks to you. For instance, I do not wear pink. I never wear pink. But last week I bought myself a pink t-shirt covered in sequinned unicorn emoji. I have yet to wear it out of the house, but as soon as it happens I’ll let you all know. Rule one, people. Rule one.

5. One person’s “flaw” is another person’s “fabulous”.
Just because you’re not a fan of one of your features doesn’t mean the sentiment is universal. While I totally encourage flaunting your favourite parts of yourself, compliments and appreciation might come from unexpected places, and completely change the way you view a part of yourself that you previously weren’t so keen on. At the very least you might soften your opinion of that feature.

6. Your style should play with your own boundaries and comfort levels, not be limited by other people’s.
Following on from rule five, I know how important it is to feel at ease in what you’re wearing, but challenging yourself to wear something out of your usual range could have surprising results. If all that's stopping you is fear of what other people will think, then try and put that to bed. Your appearance should be a state of play for yourself to enjoy, and enjoyment comes in a whole spectrum of emotions from squashy and comfortable to adrenaline-inducingly risqué. What you shouldn't feel is anxiety or terror, especially if that's just because of other people. 

7. Imitation really is a sincere form of flattery, but interpretation is better.
There are a number of people, particularly in the blogging community, whose style makes me various shades of green with envy. Whether it's gothy/grungey/alt girls whose sense of style is within my wheelhouse (I'm talking Sarah, Kimberley and Jessica) or my favourite Balamory-resident-meets-Elmer-and-Alexa-Chung, Belphoebe, I find myself in a community of people whose wardrobes I would happily steal, wholesale. I would let them dress me every day. Blogging makes it even easier to "steal the style" of people you admire, as people are more than happy to share the stores they shop in. However generous they are, it's probably more polite, and more fun, to reinterpret someone else's outfit choices and adapt them to yourself, rather than taking it literally. Nobody likes a copycat, and most people would rather be seen as an inspiration than a personal shopper.

8. “Seasonal dressing” should keep you temperate, not prevent self-expression.
In the words of Miranda Priestly, "Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking." We have all been taught some basic "rules" of seasonal dressing. Certain fabrics and textures are even referred to by the seasons - winter knits, spring florals, summer gauzes, autumn browns... It's tried, it's tested and it's... well, it's a bit boring. so what if you want to wear a bright, busy floral print int he depths of November, or black all through summer? It's obviously sensible to wear clothes that keep you warm when it's cold out, and vice versa, but that should be the only limit you feel pressed into observing. Rule one still applies. Just don't get sunburn/frostbite/extremely soggy and then blame me, ok?

9. Gender norms can get fucked.
I could be very lazy and just scream "RULE ONE" until my eyes bleed, but I'm not good at being concise. If you can physically get the clothes onto your body and you feel good in them, then it shouldn't matter what section of the shop it came from. Similarly you shouldn't feel like you need to stick to one "gender" for even the confines of a single outfit, let alone your wardrobe as a whole. Wear "men's" jeans with a "ladies'" lace crop top if it makes you happy. Whether you wish to express yourself in a masculine, feminine, a-gender or gender-fluid way is absolutely your prerogative. If someone gives you the stink-eye for rifling through the racks in the "wrong" section, remind yourself that the only thing "wrong" with the situation is their bigotry. 

10. It is your body, your wardrobe, your happiness, your identity, your life.
Depending on your religious beliefs, we get one life to live. I imagine very few people reach their final days worrying about what they did or didn't wear, but self-expression is so important to your overall happiness. Your identity is more than just the way other people see you, it's how you see yourself. I know that sounds a bit trite, but I know from experience that making your outside match your inside is a tricky thing to do, and it can be daunting, but when you strike that balance it's borderline euphoric. No cruel criticism, arbitrary rules or outdated beauty standards should prevent you from being a perfect version of exactly what you are. You're a brilliant, unique, original little weirdo, and that's an awesome thing to be.

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Cruel to be Cruel: Body Police are Horrible

This weekend I went out clubbing for maybe the second time this year. I'm not a big drinker, and I don't really go out much unless it's a gig or something to do with the band, but I've made some really close friends at work and we went out with a small group. We got dressed together, did hair and makeup at one of the other girls' houses, helped each other choose outfits... it's something I haven't done since uni, and it felt really nice to be surrounded by girls, doing unabashedly girly things. It was such an open, supportive atmosphere, and I didn't really realise how much I'd missed this girl-group dynamic since I moved home. Don't get me wrong, I love my Trash Panda bros and my guy time, but it was just really nice to be part of a girl gang. We all left the house feeling like nines.

Eyebrow game is strong
 I took a number of selfies and felt actually pretty. My much slimmer, much fitter friend pointed out that our legs are a similar shape and I was hugely, enormously flattered. Instead of disagreeing with the compliment out of habit, I actually took a look and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't hot air. I looked at myself in the mirror before we went out and thought, "Well, sure, I have a belly. And yes, I have some squidge. And from certain angles my ass looks weird, and I know I have a moon face and more than one chin. But none of those things is inherently bad or unattractive, in this day and age. My boobs look cracking, my hair looks great and these heels are actually relatively comfortable. I feel like a Vampire queen. I'm ready to go out." After years of bulimia, binge-starve cycles, hair-pulling, self-loathing and dissociative visual disturbances all based on my body, this is kind of a big deal for me. 

Tipsy duckface
Of course there were points in the night where I caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought, "Jesus, as a size 16 with a sizeable spare tyre, should I really have worn such a tight skirt? Or a lacy top?" But for a change I put those feelings to rest. Gone are the days of "hide your fatness under something baggy so as not to offend the thin people". We live in a world of Ashley Graham, Kardashians, Tess Holliday, Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy, all big(gish), beautiful, proud women.

Myspace mirror selfie
I'm fat, but I get a certain level of "fat privilege" by being an hourglass - which many argue is the only fat shape generally thought to be acceptable by mainstream media. I saw these "flaws" in myself, I acknowledged them, and I rationalised them away until I felt good about myself again. And I did feel good about myself. I was surrounded by my friends, beautiful girls, and I didn't feel like the "fat friend" or "the ugly one" as I've so often felt before in a group of beautiful girls. I felt like a legitimate part of the "squad".

Last selfie before I fell asleep
Even this morning, with yesterday's makeup still clinging to the creases around my eyes, and my hair extensions matted up from a short, restless sleep I looked in the mirror and thought "You look better than usual today, kudos." I looked at photos of us from the night before and didn't cringe at the sight of myself, even in the photos where I have VBO (that's Visible Belly Outline to the uninitiated.)

The morning after
I looked more dressed up than usual, more made up, preened, polished and yes, the photos were taken at a flattering, double-chin-concealing angle. But for the first time in a long time I was looking at photos of me taken by somebody else and not wanting to screech "Oh, Jesus, delete it! Please don't put that on Facebook." I felt cute, in the most and least "attractive" photos (like the Instax photos we took where my face looks like a white planet in a wig). I felt closer to my friends. I was tired, slightly hungover, and my feet still hurt now, but I was happy. Genuinely happy.

Hungover, in my pjs
Then I got home.

I showed my mum some of the photos from the evening, buoyed up from the confidence boost the evening had given me. She sort of nodded and grimaced while she looked at them and then she said, "But it's not the real you, is it. You can't see your double chin." I tried not to let that comment take any of the wind out of my sails, and I mentioned what my friend had said about my legs. "Your friend must have big legs, then," she said. When I replied that I thought that my legs were proportionally slimmer than my upper body she just declared outright, "You don't have slim legs. You look nice in PICTURES but when we look at you all we see is your double chin." I pointed out that I know I'm photogenic, and that I know I look better in photos than in real life. She said, "I don't want you to have body dysmorphia and think that you look good when you know you need to lose weight." This was the point at which I left the room.

Later she came upstairs and said to me, "I'm sorry... but you don't have slim legs." I told her that apologising by repeating the things she was apologising for was a pretty poor excuse for an apology. She left the room in a strop.

I am too goddamn old to be blogging about hating the way my mother speaks to me.

I know what I look like. I'm very, very aware of how my body looks both in and out of clothes. I know I have stretchmarks in a colour range from angry purple to almost-imperceptible silver across my tummy, thighs, hips and boobs. I know that I have crappy skin on my arms and legs thanks to keratosis pilaris. I could draw you an unsettlingly accurate sketch, from memory alone, of the way my stomach folds at the top of my thighs or the sides of my back, at my waist, which my brothers dubbed "flub lines" when they saw me in a bikini as a teenager. I know I have "thighbrows" when I kneel and a crease in my neck from my double chin. I know I have a flat ass for a fat girl. I know I have a bump in my nose, scars in my eyebrows and on my thighs. And my wrists. And the back of one hand.

My rational, twenty-first century brain tells me that none of those things are something I should be ashamed of or feel forced to change. My liberal, body-positive, accepting, tolerant heart would see any one, all or combination of these things in another person and not judge them. I know that your body size doesn't accurately reflect your health and that BMI is trash. "Fat" is just an adjective.

The fact of the matter is, if someone stabs you with a kitchen knife, you wouldn't call it cooking. If someone uses words as weapons, they hurt. It doesn't matter that I already know when I look like; if someone tells me that they hate or are disgusted by something about my appearance it's still going to sting, regardless of how I initially felt about it.

My relationship with my body is chequered, complicated and incredibly dark in places. I have hated myself and felt such deep despair that I've wanted to hurt and punish myself, and times I've sincerely wanted to disappear or die. There are still things I want to change, and am working on changing. But I have learned from bitter experience that progress that comes from a place of self-love is so much better than progress from self-loathing.

I know I'm fat. I know I disgust and disappoint my mother.

I also know that I can sing pretty well, and write lyrics that people can relate to. I am good at my job, I'm compassionate, and I can make loads of different things, even if it does mean the occasional hot glue gun burn. I also know I can do squats with a 71kg woman sitting on my shoulders. And as someone reminded me on Twitter, if I can lift up an entire human woman, I can lift myself up too.

I don't really know how to end this post. I don't have a punchline or anything revelatory to say. I guess all I can add is that we get one chance at life, and one shot at being remembered. And I'd much rather be remembered as "squishy, but kind".

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