Our Own Worst Enemies.

20130718-221223.jpg

Last night a Facebook conversation erupted into controversy before my very eyes. I’ve spent the past twenty-four hours deliberating my thoughts on it and I’m going to share them with you here.

It started with this status update, from N:

“People, PLEASE, for the love of all that is holy, dress for the body you HAVE, and not the body you THINK you have”.

Let me ask you: What springs to mind when you read this? For me, it was an image of a “mutton-dressed-as-lamb” type, or perhaps some shorts that are perhaps a little tighter than the wearer realised. It actually made me think of the shorts I was wearing at the time, to be honest, and how unattractive my thighs looked, squished underneath me the sofa.

However, it quickly transpired that not everyone drew the same meaning. S replied with the following:

“Or, you could just not look at people who aren’t dressing according to your exacting standards. Signed, a fatty who doesn’t appreciate having to swelter in long sleeves just because thin people think we should. This sort of thing kept me indoors during summers to avoid being pointed and whispered at by people who think the way you do. We have the right to wear what we like, just like everyone else”.

The original poster, N, took considerable offence to the suggestion elsewhere in the conversation, that she was ‘fat shaming’ and ‘perpetuating a myth that fat people don’t know we’re fat’.

In a conversation which included many women, all defended N. She didn’t intend to cause offence, that’s for sure. I genuinely think that hers was an off-the-cuff comment that was probably devised on the tube with someone’s inadequately covered, sweaty backside in far too close proximity.

But the point is, the comment did cause considerable offence, whether intentional or otherwise.

Almost everyone joining debate caveated their offering with words to the effect of “I’m fat, too and I’m not offended.”

Some of the opinions were as follows:

“I really don’t think N is implying that a larger lady should not dress comfortably for hot weather. More so people who wear short shorts up their bums, hipsters and crop tops which are designed specifically to show off certain parts of the body, more than just keep cool, and not over heat”

“People should learn to dress well. Just because it is fashionable to wear crops tops or hot pants doesn’t give people an automatic right to wear them…it is always good when you’re out and about to people watch and think ‘OMG did you see what he/she was wearing?'”

“Can I just say that as a lady of large proportions, I was not offended in the slightest by your comment…”

“As a fatty myself I also take no offence to what’s been said…and I’m fat because I eat too much and I’m a bit lazy, so if I get judged for that then I probably deserve it!”

“I don’t think N is “body-shaming” anybody at all. I think what she’s trying to say is that people could make themselves look better by dressing in something that better flatters their body shape.”

20130718-220221.jpg</

So many parts of this debate fascinated and disturbed me in equal measure that I'm not sure I even know where to begin. Women feeling deserving of judgement because they're overweight, for a start.

The fact that so many women felt the need to clarify themselves as "fat"; seemingly before anyone else got the chance the say it first was really quite shocking to me. I openly admit that I have a problem with the word "fat". To me it is derogatory, demeaning and offensive. So many of us use it to describe ourselves and others, but not just as an adjective. The connotation is that it's something to be very ashamed of.

So ashamed, in fact that someone above said that large people “do not have the right” to wear certain things.

Do. Not. Have. The. Right. Let that one permeate for a moment. We live in a society where women have died and three feminist movements have taken place. As a result we have freedom of speech and expression and (to a degree) equality. There are many, many cultures where women still don’t have voices. They are literally killed for not conforming to oppressive regimes. Yet we women in the western world are implementing sanctions on ourselves based on what society says we should wear. Based on rules which state you can only wear certain clothes if you fit a precise image. If your BMI is under a certain point. As long as you’re not fat.

I have been the judgey person. I have. I have looked at women over a certain age and sniggered inwardly. I have looked at muffin tops (usually in the mirror, truth be told) and I’ve felt disdain. I’ve wondered what-on-earth is she thinking? whilst looking at a more voluptuous form spilling forth from an outfit. I have. And now I am sorry. I really am. Who has the right to say what a women can wear, whatever her size? It really is only society and the media who perpetuate this ideal. And we get sucked in. We turn this negativity inwards and outwards. We allow it to fester and to tarnish our self-image and our self esteem. Then we pass it on to our children.

20130718-220422.jpg

I did some research in to the “F Word”. I wondered if large women openly calling themselves fat was a way of appropriating the word again. Here’s a quote from one of my readers:

“Those of us who are involved in the Fat Acceptance/Health At Every Size movement describe ourselves as fat partly because yes, we’re reclaiming it, but mostly because the only reason it’s seen as an insult is because of societal attitudes. It’s not an insult in and of itself and nor should it be. To perceive it as an insult is to accept that there’s something wrong with being fat.
I often encounter people who, when they hear me describe myself as fat, go “Oh don’t put yourself down!” and I have to explain I’m not; I say I’m fat because I am, and to me it carries no negative connotation. “I am fat” is a neutral and accurate statement of fact just the same as “I have brown hair” or “my eyes are grey”. It is always best to be cautious because there’s no way of knowing how someone fat is comfortable describing themselves or being described without asking, or unless you see/hear them first, but my personal opinion (and that of many other body-positivity people I know) is that other terms are at best euphemistic and at worst, insulting.”

This whole conversation has opened my eyes in many way and is something I’ll be researching a lot more in to.

Again, I want to say that I don’t believe that N intended to cause such offence. That in itself has really made me think about some of the things I post online which are intended to be witty observations but in actual fact could perhaps be very upsetting to some. I recently posted something about poor grammar and the incorrect usage of your/you’re/there/they’re and their. Someone rightly commented that, actually, some people don’t find reading and writing to be straight-forward. I realised I had been judging and I felt dreadful.

On the other hand, I do think we can go too far in censoring ourselves. We should be able to make jokes and engage in banter. But at the same time, we need to be more mindful of who may be reading and what harm our words could cause. I clearly remember a close colleague of mine having to avoid Facebook whilst trying at length for a baby. Not, as you may assume, because she couldn’t bear to see birth announcements and baby pictures. It was because she couldn’t stand to read any more updates from mums complaining about how hard their job as a mother was. It was all she wanted in life and others seemed so ungrateful to her.

Sometimes in life, whether we intend to or not, we upset people. It takes a strong and self-aware woman to let the dust settle, step back and apologise. It’s even harder if you feel the issue lies in the eye (or interpretation) of the offended.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts: Can you envisage being confident enough in your own skin not to take offence in ill-though out Facebook messages?

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you genuinely didn’t care about your weight or your image? If you really loved yourself and saw your flaws as beautiful. If you didn’t judge or feel judged? If you saw beauty in everyone you looked at? Can you imagine giving this gift to your children?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are all on the same team, sisters. We really are. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and to each other. Beautiful inside and out, no matter what anyone says.

20130718-220512.jpg

I’d love your thoughts on this. Please remember that this article was written with love so please do comment with love, too. No bashing of anyone, please.

All pictures credited to We Heart It.

Advertisements

Make Sure They Know.

(Sorry, Mum. Best get the tissues now).

I’d like to tell you about my mother’s brother, my Uncle Stephen. He was born on the fifteenth of July 1953; sixty years ago today. When Stephen was about seven years old an optician discovered a tumour behind one of his eyes. There began a long, but thankfully successful battle with cancer. It left him partially sighted and hard of hearing which obviously affected his life quite considerably but he survived against the odds.

Growing up, I was aware of what Stephen had been through as a child, but it was one of those facts from the past that I just accepted. It was the reason why he was a little bit different. I can’t say that I dwelled on it regularly.

One thing I’ve learned during the past four years is how much your perspective changes when you become a parent.

The horrors of serious childhood illness are never more than a headline away and often, sadly, far closer to home. In my life pre-children my heart would break for sick children. I remember organising a charity parachute jump in aid of a local meningitis sufferer when I was twenty. I just felt like I HAD to do something to help her.

But I never really gave thought to the parents of sick children, not in the same way that I do now; It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I really considered what Stephen’s parents (my grandparents) must have endured, seeing their child go through such a dreadful ordeal. My mum would have been about four when her older brother was taken ill. The same age as my son is now. How terrifying it must have been for her. I can’t bear to ask or even to think about it.

I didn’t have this perspective in my early twenties. I was busy with my career, my friends and trying to be a good daughter, sister and grand-daughter. But truth-be-told, a good niece I was not.

Stephen was a doting Uncle. I remember him collecting encyclopaedias for my brother and me when we were still at school. Bringing them round for us each week. I can’t remember, however, showing him a great deal of gratitude for that. He would call us often, and liked to talk to us at length about what was going on in the world. In my teens and early twenties I didn’t register the fact that he lived alone and was lonely.

I simply didn’t make enough time for him. I suppose I thought there would always be tomorrow.

I can clearly recall one of the worst arguments I’ve ever had with my mum. It was eight years ago today, on Stephen’s birthday and I hadn’t called him. My mum told me that I needed to make more time for my uncle and implied that I was selfish. I was devastated an affronted. But my mum was right. Of course I pointed out (at considerable volume outside Southwark Station) what a dutiful daughter and granddaughter I am. How much I did for others. How I rarely put myself first.

Looking back now, and knowing myself better than I did back then, I realise the words that sting the most usually have some truth in them. That’s why they hurt. I didn’t make enough time for Stephen. I didn’t and I should have.

Nine months later I received a phone call at work. Stephen had been hit by a car. He’d been taken by air-ambulance to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.

Every day Uncle Stephen walked from his flat to his favourite coffee shop, usually to meet his father (my Poppa) for lunch. Each day he literally went out of his way to cross where he knew it was safe, waiting for the green man and the beep to signify that it was safe to step out. The crossing was in the opposite direction to where he was headed, but was the safest option for him.

That day a ninety-three year old man was driving back back from visiting his wife’s grave. His son was in the car and they were arguing. He didn’t see the red light. He didn’t see my uncle, already in the middle of the road. He thought he’d hit a bird and didn’t even stop immediately.

I remember running down a very long flight of stairs from my office as I couldn’t wait for the lift to arrive. I remember phoning my future husband in hysterics. I don’t remember the tube journey, but I do recall running to the hospital from the station. I remember Stephen laying in the A&E bay. I remember my mum calling me much later that night, after she and my Poppa had made the devastating decision to turn off his life support machine. Stephen was fifty-three.

I thought there would be a tomorrow. There wasn’t.
There was no tomorrow for Stephen and it was too late to let him know how sorry I am. For not making time for him. For sometimes rushing him off the phone. For being young and self-absorbed. Sorry for assuming there would be another birthday phone-call or visit.

I now have nieces and nephews. The huge love I have for them overwhelms me.
To think that Stephen probably felt that love for me makes my heart hurt and my eyes water. I just hope that wherever he is now, on his sixtieth birthday, he looks down at his great-nieces and nephew and knows how we miss him. How my son is named after him and how I write, now. Like he did. I hope he knows I think of him every day and sometimes dream about him.

This heartbreakingly sad story has taught me such a valuable lesson. I’m not going to pretend that I seize every day as if it were my last, as I don’t think that’s realistic. But if I love someone, I try to tell them. I need them to know. I need my family to realise how much they mean to me because I know that there is no guarantee of a tomorrow.

I can’t change the past but I hope I’ll keep learning.
So in honour of Stephen today, please tell someone special that you love them. Please make sure they know.

20130711-220021.jpg

Strength in the Small Things

20130704-215625.jpg

“Everything has it’s beauty, but not everyone can see it” – Confucius.

Ideas for blog posts usually arrive in my head during the middle of the night. I sometimes have to actively ignore them as they’re prone to buzzing around like mosquitoes, robbing me of sleep. During the day they sap my concentration and I often glaze over, mid-conversation as words and phrases write themselves in my subconscious, waiting for that elusive quiet moment when they can spew forth on to my computer screen. I sit and I write and I cut and paste and edit. I reach the end of a post and I read it back, and usually I feel proud of it. Excited to share it. Surprised that the words on screen came from my addled brain.

Not this time, though. This time I’ve been staring at the screen with no big idea. I’m feeling decidedly ordinary.

I bumped in to an old friend recently in the supermarket. After our short conversation I came away lamenting the fact that I had very little to talk about that didn’t involve children and family life. I felt ordinary. Boring. Once we’d finished assessing who was still in touch with whom from our college days, our conversation quickly dried up. He had no children to discuss and I was all out of material. We carried on our shopping and I silently hoped we didn’t bump in to each other again at the checkout. Awkward.

Yes, there’s stuff I can write about today. Birthday parties and baking and mounds of washing and ironing. Cooking and cleaning and running perpetually late. A new gym membership and feeling like the fattest girl in the step-class and trying to remember my own advice on embracing who you are, in order to teach children positive body image. A car that look like a rolling rubbish bin, a child with an aversion to eating anything but crisps and playdoh. Did I mention the laundry? Endless, incessant laundry.

Do you ever feel like your main role in life is simply to move mounds of clothing from one place to the other? Or is that just me? From the floor, to the basket, to the machine. Where it remains for too long. Wash it again. Put it in the dryer. Forget about it. Still damp and smelly. Wash it again. Repeat. Dry it. Iron it (sometimes), put it in drawers and on hangers. Chase moving targets to wrap them in it. Find items on floor. Move them to basket. Repeat, repeat, repeat ad infinitum.

Believe it or not, there is a point behind today’s mundane ramblings about domestic chores;

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies”
Mother Theresa

Now, I am not suggesting that my (or your) only strength lies in laundry management. Neither am I implying that laundry is a small thing, for that matter. But what I am saying, is this;

It matters. It all matters.

The small things. The chores. The wiping and the chasing and the cajoling and the finding of things. The comforting and the playing and the rushing and the constant busy. It is all part of a very important picture. It may seem ordinary. Mundane even. Sometimes banal. But it is part of the tapestry of family life. The chaos and the odd socks and the furry apple cores in the footwell (just my car, then?!). We manage all of that, us mums. We are the captains of our (sometimes leaky) ships. We somehow keep the family afloat.

Sometimes it won’t feel like you’re doing a good job. Sometimes you might feel under-appreciated or overlooked. Often you might get the the end of a hectic day and berate yourself for everything you haven’t done.

But try, lovely friend, and I will too, to remember all that you have done today.

20130704-215110.jpg

The stay-at-home mums and the working mums alike. We are all doing our best, we really are. We show-up every day, we keep trying and trying when the odds seem stacked against us. When it feels like we’ll never be enough, we need to remember; Who else knows that the Hulk costume is in the green toy box under the table in the spare room? Who else knows that your son doesn’t like Calpol but will take the supermarket’s own brand equivalent? Who else knows that sometimes, breaking into a spontaneous moo is the only way to head-off a public meltdown from your two year old?

Yes, you might forget anniversaries and relatives’ birthdays. You may feel like you’ll never wear matching socks again (just me, again?!) Yes, you may threaten your offspring with staying home from the park, knowing full-well that if you don’t get out of the house within five minutes you’re going to combust. Often it will feel like one, enormous uphill struggle that no other mother is enduring, surely?

But it matters. You matter. No-one knows your child as well as you do. Strength in the small things.

When you look at Facebook and see only immaculate children and perfect homes, think on, and whatever you do, don’t compare. Behind the camera is a mama bribing her child with chocolate buttons to JUST SMILE FOR THE CAMERA.

One of my favourite writers, Timber Hawkeye says in Buddhist Boot Camp:
“A flower doesn’t stop being beautiful just because somebody walks by without noticing it, nor does it cease to be fragrant if its scent is taken for granted. The flower just continues to be its glorious self: elegant, graceful and magnificent”.

Now, there’s not much elegant or graceful about me, I can tell you. But I love this idea. Doing our best to keep going, no matter what. Whether our children (or anyone else) show gratitude or otherwise.

This post isn’t ground-breaking, revolutionary or even particularly note-worthy. It hasn’t sat in my head for days or probably even told you anything that you don’t already know. But let it be a reminder. Sometimes there is beauty to be found in the ordinary. Keep shining, beautiful mama. The world needs your light.

20130704-215357.jpg

I’d be so grateful if you’d please “Like” my Facebook page. You can find it here.

Picture credit: Brave Girl’s Club