A Letter I Wrote To Myself About Getting Fat

A wonderful piece from Daisy Buchanan that I wanted to share:

Put On Your Happy Face

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Shall we talk about your body?

Your body, which used to be thinner. Which you took for granted, because it fitted into cheap, tight dresses. Your body, which took you up and down Brixton Hill, every day, twice a day, never unheralded by catcalls, the stream of men and their “Oh baby hey baby nice tits nice ass hey WHERE YOU GOING?”

Your body was a girl’s body, made from dancing and late nights and skipped dinners, of hopefulness and sleeplessness and sadness. It took care of itself, or rather, you didn’t care that it couldn’t. It wasn’t for you, and so you didn’t mind that you couldn’t always afford to feed and nurture it. The admiration of others was nourishment enough. You often went to bed feeling empty. You thought it was heartbreak. It was probably hunger.

Then your body became plump with love.

Late dinners and later breakfasts…

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How to go on holiday on your own

Redwoods Writes...

I seem to be part of a zeitgeist for solo travel, with more and more people than ever opting to take their vacations on their own, even if they’re in a couple. I’ve been doing it for five years now, and I’m addicted. On my own, I can holiday at my own pace and I can choose to be with other people, or not. I’ve found the freedom exhilarating.

The first holiday, to Thailand, was a huge test for me. I spent the first three days in the hotel, too scared to go outside. But once I did, encouraged by friends texting me, I found the world was waiting for me.

Here are my top tips on solo travel:

Start just outside your comfort zone

The jetty at the Amari Phuket The jetty at the Amari Phuket

Book your first solo holiday in an all-inclusive hotel, or wherever you feel safe. Just flying far away on your…

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Meet the Parents

Another celebratory day dedicated to parenthood, and another chance for me to wallow, if I wanted to, in the double-whammy of not having any living parents and not being a parent. Mercifully for me, the latter was a choice.

I like to think about my dad on Father’s Day, but I’ve decided to change the way I think about these days. I’ve decided to think about what is in my life, rather than what isn’t. What is in my life is a group of friends, some, maybe most of whom are parents.

Some of them doing it on their own because their marriages broke down, some of them doing it on their own not knowing who donated the sperm to make their beautiful baby, some of them are in a family unit, some of them are far away, bringing up children in a different culture, some of them came into parenthood by mistake, some of them were trying for years to make it happen.

Even though I made the choice to be childfree, I am in a state of constant admiration for those who have gone there. I know that I could not go through the assault on my independence and selfhood but many of my friends do and they’ve emerged on the other side. Every time one of these days comes up I think about all of my friends and their transition into parenthood and how they have all done it differently.

Their children are now at the age where they are making their own transitions into secondary school, or preparing for GCSEs, or starting at university and I wonder how it must feel for the parents when their child first goes to school, or leaves the family home for the first time.

I’ll never know how that feels but if they are living their single lives vicariously through me, I’m living my family life vicariously through them. I like having an insight on what parenthood entails, I’ve just chosen not to go there. It does leave me with questions about the idea of being surrounded by a safety net of ‘loved ones’ and what that means for me, but I have made the choice to be a single unit so there it is. Every now and again I get invited into a family fold and I really enjoy it.

So, today I am focusing on who is in my life, not who isn’t.

No dad, but plenty of dads. And they’re really cool.

The ones sharing custody of children, the ones in the close-knit family, the ones who are single parents, the ones who are struggling a little bit with the adjustment to parental life. And of course, the ones who are in partnerships and still trying to be a dad.

One of the hopes I had for my ex-husband was that he would go off and get the chance to be a dad because I always thought he’d make a great one.

I hope he did it because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s great dads.

Thank F*** It’s 2015

A lot of things have been conspiring, lately, to make me remember the nineties, and the experiences I had during those years.

I’ve just watched the return of TFI Friday on Channel 4 and I recently returned to the scene of my nineties ‘heyday’, if you can call it that, when I made a trip to Brighton. I lived there in my mid-to-late twenties, and in many ways it’s the perfect place to experience that period in your life.

Mine wasn’t the usual trajectory, though. When I moved there I was still a naive Welsh girl, even though I’d lived in London from 1989. I have more in common with Kelly McDonald in Trainspotting (1996)  now, then I ever did as an Actual Young Person. I watched films like that in a state of disbelief. I’d never been near a drug, or a one-night-stand in my life. I’d been to a Catholic school, done a pretty much female-only degree (Dance and English) and worked at Liberty for three years, in which I’d discovered the delights of drinking, but still dressed like a nun on her holidays.

I now think that there’s something about places like Brighton and San Francisco that call people like me to them. I had a sexual epiphany in each of them, and my life changed as a result of experiencing them. I arrived in Brighton ostensibly to do an MA in Post-Modern English Literature but I gave it up after eight weeks, because I now think I’d moved there for an entirely different purpose. I met people who shook me out of my buttoned-up life, taught me how to live a little and put it out there. I wore mini-skirts and tight tops and realised I looked good in them.

But never quite good enough.

I met my ex and his group of friends a year into living in Brighton. We met while clubbing and we went out a lot – mainly to pubs with dance floors, that played Oasis, The Prodigy and The Charlatans on a loop. Hilariously I’d met my ex on my very first one-night-stand, but I ended up marrying him. Typical.

It was the era of the ladette – there we were, drinking and being lairy like the lads, joining in the ‘banter’, watching sport, Baywatch, and laughing along with Loaded. I’ve written about my struggles with the pressure to be a ‘cool girl’ before, and the fact that I maintained it so long. All of us seemed to be being marked against a parade of professional girl-next-door’s who were ‘up for it’: Denise Van Outen, Gail Porter and Louise Redknapp, to name but a few. I knew I’d never be able to match their ‘hotness’ (little knowing that most of it was photoshopped) and it really did upset me. I’d see my ex poring over their pictures in Loaded and grab his copy afterwards to examine them more closely. Was there a way I could be more like that?

There was never any way. Even though I hit my lowest-ever weight at that point in my life, I was still a pale-skinned curvy woman with hips and a muscalature that would always be concealed by a layer of fat. I’d never be an All Saint or a Spice Girl, and I certainly wasn’t cool enough to be a Louise from Sleeper or a Gwen Stefani. And heaven forfend, I’d never be a Pamela Anderson.

Even though I’d shed my ‘ugly duckling’ huge clothes, I still felt pretty awful most of the time. While my ex continued to wax lyrically about his love for Denise V O, I’d cross the road if I saw a bunch of men coming along so they couldn’t see my face too closely, with all its flaws. There was only one gaze back then, and it was definitely male on female. I squirmed under it.

Some women would say that they felt empowered during this time – ‘one of the lads’. It was an extremely liberating time, and very much so for me, but I unwrapped myself just at that moment where in order to be one of the lads, you had to be a ridiculously attractive girl who only had to pull on a vest top and denim shorts to qualify. I remember seeing that outfit described as the ‘girlfriend uniform’ in Loaded and knew I’d never get into it (I did in my 40s though, when I was single…)

Watching old clips of TFI I can see the female guests adopting that wide-mouthed YEAH expression that meant they were ‘up for it’. They fooled me at the time, but they don’t now. What strikes me about that time is just how many of the guys who propagated this lads ‘n’ ladettes lifestyle were deeply unattractive. Chris Evans could have been their poster-boy. The guys commenting on women in Loaded could look like a wedge of cheese, but every girl had to be an image of gleaming perfection. It was perhaps the biggest act of ‘look over there!’ transference we’ve ever witnessed.

If the ladette wasn’t a bad enough role model, then along came Sex and the City in 1998 just to cement the idea that you had to be impossibly thin, unattainably groomed and attached to a man to be a valid person. I love the series, I really do (not the movies), but it did offer a very narrow set of options for women, whilst purporting to be about a new breed of independent females.

I know for a fact that I staggered by default into marrying my one-night-stand because I didn’t question the cultural signals that were all around me. All I knew was I needed to be thin, attractive, cool and attached to a man to be a valid person. Bridget Jones (1996) knew that too, and while she offered an alternative to the first three of these things, she was the chardonnay-swigging ladette who managed to get her man by being cute and bumbling. Falling off gym equipment has never been my schtick.

How things have changed now, where all around me are young women questioning everything, not settling for anything and making their own decisions about their lives despite cultural pressures. They have men in their lives that they see casually, who are no doubt hoping for some relationship pay-off, which is clearly never going to happen. These women would rather use online porn than have casual sex and they are makeup free and happily hanging out in public in yoga leggings, loose t-shirts and their specs.

I like the new cool girls. They’re not trying to join the Lad Gang, or any gang. I think we’re in a new era of independence where we’re less likely to be defined by the recruitment of a life partner, and more about what we did before, during and after we met them. If indeed we do meet them.

So, I did love you, TFI, but you remind me of a time when I was never good enough. And I look at Chris Evans interviewing a gushing Helen Mirren now, and think, ‘WTF?’ Thank f*** it’s 2015.

All By Myself

I’ve recently started using Periscope – a new app that allows you to broadcast live from your phone. Your followers are notified when you begin broadcasting and you can see them join you as you hold your phone camera at whatever it is you want to show them. They can comment and ‘heart’ your footage.

Today I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath and decided to broadcast from there, once I could get a good enough signal. I was taken aback by one follower, who asked me if I was really walking ‘all by myself’ and why did I not have friends with me for ‘talks’. Quite apart from the strange phrasing, I was surprised that this was even an issue. To me, doing things on my own is just a way of life – a freedom, rather than a sadness. I know I can call friends to join me but I choose to be alone sometimes, thinking my own thoughts, just taking things in on my own, without anyone else’s viewpoint to skew it.

Their comments reminded me of how far I’ve come. There was a time when, like lots of people, I would hardly do anything on my own. I wouldn’t dream of going to the cinema, to a lecture, or even a gallery on my own, let alone a pub or club, or a foreign country. Now I do all of them, all the time, and I feel liberated. I can do exactly what I want, when I want, without having to rely on someone else being available, or wanting to do the same thing. I love spending time with my friends, but they don’t have to always be there. Plus I always have social media if I fancy some ‘talks’.

Thinking about it, though, I’ve always gone on solo walks. As one could in the seventies, I roamed around on my own in the Welsh countryside from about the age of eleven. No one thought anything of it, then. I used to walk through field after field to get to the local church (St David’s in Pantasaph), roam around there for a bit, and walk back. I definitely met a few ‘wanderers’ on the way but we would just pass each other and not blink an eye. I’d play solo in a disused lime quarry which would probably be surrounded by a ‘keep out’ fence now. If another kid was around, fine, but I made my own entertainment.

As a teenager, I roamed the moors near our house with our Jack Russell terrier and pretended I was Cathy about to meet my Heathcliff. I had, and still have, a very romantic imagination and it is possible that other people would’ve reminded me that I was still in the real world. I used to love looking at a field disappearing over the horizon and wondering what was over the top. In a way, I didn’t want to know that there was just a hedge and another field. My mind filled in the blanks.

It’s only recently that I’ve started walking again, solo, building in walks in and out of London, depending on where I’m working. I even walked to a party in Soho last Friday, taking my nice shoes in my bag. Until today, I’d forgotten that this was what I used to do all the time in my youth. Walk, walk and walk.

Just me. No ‘talks’.

Sometimes I have a whole day, which I refer to as a ‘Wandering the Earth Day’, where I just walk and commune with myself, and look around me at everything that’s going on, often recording it on Instagram, Twitter, and now, Periscope. I see lots of couples, families, groups of friends, enjoying each other’s company, or not. I pick up snippets of conversation, and I observe all-but-hidden behaviour. For instance on Friday night, I noticed a lesbian couple dropping hands as they passed by a busy pub and I felt sad that they felt the need to do that. I’m not sure I’d notice that if I was with someone else.

There really is something special about just being on your own in the world. It can feel lonely sometimes, but that really is just a state of mind and I can always call someone if I don’t fancy a good wallow in it. I look at people that can’t do anything without someone else being by their side and think they’re the ones that are missing out. Again and again, I think of the therapist who once told me that freedom was the most important thing for me.

And again and again, he’s absolutely right.