A Weight of One’s Own

I’ve already written a lot about body image, about embracing my own shape, eschewing dieting, and women’s relationships with food. Before a female-only dinner I went to recently, I joked on Twitter that there should be a Bechdel test for women’s dinners where at least two women talk about something else other than food while eating. It never happened. Someone turned up and promptly announced how many calories they’d burnt off at the gym and it was all over.

This policing of food intake, both by ourselves and by the media, drives me mad. It’s taken me forty-eight years to realise I don’t have to be thin to live a happy life, that I haven’t fallen into oblivion by stopping dieting. I have gained around 20lbs since my decade of dieting in my 30s, and have gone back up to the size I was before the dieting kicked in.

I honestly went into a panic as the scales showed a significant increase earlier this year. And yet every time I looked in the mirror, naked, I saw a body I liked. How can this be? I panicked myself into another low-carb diet. It didn’t work. The panic subsided and the body I liked was still there. Rounder around the tummy, thighs and upper arms, but it actually looked like the shape it was meant to be. Some clothes didn’t fit, some clothes fitted better. I filled out the bits that were meant to be filled out. This made me laugh with joy a few times, getting ready to go out.

I think my body is lovely. Am I allowed to say that? Damn right. For years I thought it was bloody disgusting and thank god that’s over. There are men (and women) who’ve only known me as post-dieting Lisa and they say such nice things about my body. I’ve had them call me things like ‘full-on woman’. They’ve commented on my shape, and called it ‘beautiful’, ‘sexy’ and ‘lovely’. I bask in it, because my Inner Voice is saying, ‘Really? At this size?’ and then just when I’m about to say it out loud, I tell IV to shut the hell up and say nothing.

I must have my ‘fat radar’ set to high frequency because I was rewatching Love Actually the other day as part of my annual Christmas TV viewing and suddenly realised how fat-shamey it was.

From the start, Bill Nighy constantly refers to his ‘fat manager’, Nathalie gets called ‘plumpy’ by her parents, Emma Thompson bemoans her ‘Pavarotti’ clothing, Aurelia chides Jamie for getting ‘chubby’ and her ‘Miss Dunkin’ Donuts’ sister calls her a ‘skinny moron’. The movie even ends with Hugh Grant saying ‘God, you weigh a lot’ to his new girlfriend, the aforementioned ‘Plumpy’.

Someone making this film had some issues, I’d say.

Why is flesh so fearsome? Why do the Overweight Haters think it’s ok to distribute Fat Cards to women on the London Underground? Why is the worst insult a rejected man on Tinder can throw at a woman is ‘ur fat and ugly anyway’? They know it strikes at the fear in the very centre of our being. Even now, if someone shouted ‘fat’ at me, even though I know I’m not, I’d carry around the curse of that for days, weeks after. I know I would.

And then… And then that bloody women’s health report. Even though it rightly acknowledges that obesity is a nationwide, non-gendered problem, and has a significant effect on women’s health, the media has grabbed the chance to say “Women: You Are Responsible For a National Crisis By Eating Too Much.” Here’s what the Department of Health’s Sally Davies actually says in her summary of the report:

Tackling obesity in the population as a whole has to be a national priority, in order to reduce the impact of related, non-communicable diseases on healthy life expectancy and health services.

But guess what? The Daily Fail lays all the responsibility of a national crisis, just before Xmas, on women’s eating. Not the Cumbrian floods, not the terrorist threat – women’s eating:

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And rather effectively, it’s sandwiched (no pun intended) between an advert for ‘lady petrol’ and two feminine ideals (one of whom has been told to lose weight in the past). It’s a classic, ‘enjoy this, but don’t actually imbibe it if you want to look like this’ schematic.

I’ve returned again and again to the great feminist work Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach, first published in 1978, and been amazed at how relevant it still is today:

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As Orbach goes on to say, “selling body insecurity to women (and increasingly to men too) is a vicious phenomenon. It relies on the social practices that shape a girl’s growing up to make her receptive … they are discouraged from using their body strength to explore the world.”

I have made it a life principle to take up space in the world, to increase my body strength, and to explore as far and wide as I can. On my own. I know that my anti-diet approach to life comes from a response to being body-policed from a young age, and from hearing female friends and relatives comment on their weight and others’ all my life.

I am happy to know a number of younger women who’ve taken a similar ‘This Girl Can’ attitude to life. But I know a hell of a lot more who’ll be monitoring their food intake and not have the strength to climb a wall or run a 10k. But it’s ok, because they’re skinny.

I will say again and again, and if I had a daughter I’d say it every day, that it’s our right (I see it as a duty) to be in the world, to take up space, to be sexual, to get into all its corners. Shrinking ourselves, Alice-like, is not the way to do it.

If only I’d realised this thirty years ago.

Happy Christmas, ladies – eat, drink and be merry.

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A Year of Blogging

It’s a year to the day that I started this blog, and nearly seventy posts later, I’ve learned quite a lot. One the main things I’ve learned is how much I enjoy writing, and that is something I never knew about myself a year ago. I started the blog because some good friends gave me the confidence to do it, and I’m very grateful to them for that.

So here are the Things I’ve Learned:

I write quickly

I write fast and post quickly. It’s part of my character to want to do things in the moment, not wait for a more perfect time. I often write first thing in the morning, having woken up with an idea I want to write about, or the news might prompt something, as it did when 4chan released those pictures of Jennifer Lawrence. It takes me about half an hour to get everything down and I often edit material after I’ve posted it. I usually have to abridge a post to 750 words for Huffington Post.

Personal is good 

My blog is really honest and people seem to enjoy that. My most-viewed posts are the ones where I share something really personal from my life. I was surprised at the reaction to The Silence last year, in which I confessed to once having had depression. I think it’s something that should be talked about, not hidden away and that is part of the purpose of my blog.

People message me privately

Quite a lot of what I write about seems to resonate with people to the point where they have to tell me the same thing has happened, or is happening, to them. I don’t get a huge amount of public comments on the blog, but I do get a lot of direct messages from people telling me about their experiences. A surprising amount of men and women messaged me about Ping Pong, in which I talked about being child-free by choice.

I publish myself

I do try and make my posts timely and topical, tying in to current trends, ideas and news stories. By hashtagging my posts appropriately it can make a huge difference to the number of views. For instance, I republished my Epiphany ‘body image’ post on Huffington Post using the #everybodyisready tag, from the protest against Protein World adverts.

I work to a set of ‘brand values’ for Because I Can and my keywords are: clarity, honesty, openness, authenticity, myth-busting, revelation and debunking.

Dating is the hottest topic

My most-viewed post by far is Sixth Date Syndrome, and the myriad ways it is searched for on Google tell me that I’ve discovered a Thing that isn’t just happening to me. Every day (including today) people search for it, view it and hopefully learn that it’s not just them. I’ve also enjoyed debunking myths about female sexuality and the ‘cougar’ trope.

Men enjoy my posts

I have a posse of Secret Male Admirers for my blog. They come up to me at parties and tell me how much they like the insight into the female psyche. I am mainly writing for women like me but my main responders on Twitter and WordPress appear to be men. Surprisingly, women seem to have more of a problem with my feminist leanings than men.

People disagree with me but don’t say it

Recently a few people have revealed in person that they don’t agree with everything I write. I’d never expect them to as these posts are just my opinion, but they only tell me face-to-face, rather than on social media. I’m always surprised I don’t get more open disagreement in my comments, especially as they are inherently feminist.

I naturally ‘cluster’ things

I do this all the time at work and in life – see patterns of behaviour or trends and then cluster them together to make a Thing. This is what I’ve tapped into to write the blog. Noticing that women shove other women has been one of the more surprising moments in the past year, as has observing men leaping out of my way when I run.

I could actually write a book

I’m currently in the early stages of writing a novel based on my experiences. Writing the blog regularly has made me realise how I can write 1000 words really easily. I decided against a memoir because I wanted to shape my story and fictionalise some of the elements. I’m finding it quite difficult because my blog ‘voice’ is the one that comes most naturally to me.

A big thanks

To everyone who’s followed me, tweeted me, retweeted me and Facebook-shared me. It means a lot every time it happens.

To mark my anniversary, I’m going to be ‘live-blogging’ a solo walk around the entire coastline of the Isle of Wight next week, so stay tuned.

The top ten most-viewed posts on Because I Can (in descending order):

1. Sixth Date Syndrome

2. In Support of J-Law

3. The Silence

4. Things I’d Tell My Daughter

5. The One Where I’m Absolutely Not a Yummy Mummy

6. Toxic People

7. Bare-Faced Cheek

8. Ice-Breaker

9. In Praise of Younger Men

10. Epiphany

 

Things I’d Tell My Daughter

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m childfree-by-choice, but as my life fills with young female friends, I find myself thinking about what I want to pass on to them – in a wise-woman way. I so enjoy their company and I love talking to them about how they navigate the world of work, relationships and, well, just being a young woman.

If I’d had a daughter when I was thirty, she would be eighteen now. So these are the things I’d like to say to her, and weirdly, lots of them are things my mother said to me, but I didn’t quite understand them at the time.

Be yourself

It sounds like a hackneyed phrase that all (good) mothers say to daughters as they walk into the world, but I mean just that. Be your own self. Your life doesn’t have to be defined by being a partner, a mother, or even having a stellar career. Just know that you have a choice in all of this. Define yourself by the life you choose to live, and by the people you choose to experience it with.

If in doubt, don’t

My mum used to say this all the time. But oh how true. If you have any doubts about a relationship you’re in, any at all, leave it. Don’t wait for ‘the day’ to come. It won’t and you’ll have lost valuable time. Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right or compromise your own sense of what is right to please a partner. Your gut will tell you that something is wrong – listen to it and take action.

Love your body

People started commenting on your body from a young age and it will be monitored by those around you (male and female) as you grow older. Look in the mirror and look into your own, makeup-free eyes before you monitor your own body. Make an agreement with yourself to see someone beautiful, strong and taking up space in the world. Never starve your body – eating properly makes you all of these things.

Look out for toxic people

Some of the people you choose to surround yourself with will make you feel good about yourself, others will do their damnedest to try and bring you down. These people are usually insecure and jealous of beautiful, strong, young women who are confident in the world. Surround yourself with the good ones, ditch the toxics. Don’t try and hold on to foul friendships – they will just bring you down. It’s ok to let friends – and family – go.

Be in the space

Take up space in the world. If you’re out walking, running or doing yoga in the park – take up the space. If you’re in the office in a meeting, let your voice take up the space. If you’re online and you feel strongly about something, let your words take up the space. Never flinch if people question why you are there, and they will – make your presence felt and your voice heard.

Be confident in your sexuality

Whatever your sexuality is, people will try and make you feel as though you have to hide it, that it is shameful, that you should not seek sexual pleasure just for its own sake. Do everything you want to do, safely and confidently. Do it and never wake up with regrets. The only regret you’ll have is that you never did it.

Compliment other women

Tell other women that they’re good at things. Things that don’t involve hair, makeup, losing weight or wearing a fab outfit. It will change their lives.

Don’t dread getting older

Don’t. Good things happen and they are unexpected. Your body and brain will have a way of coping with the transition that means you will discover each milestone isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Older women are smart, beautiful and supportive of younger women. Don’t believe the myth that they’re not any of those things – it’s a lie constructed by society because older women are immensely powerful people.

Don’t lead a tick box life

Question everything. Never do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Feel the peer pressure and question it anyway. You can construct your own set of tick boxes that are different to other people’s. Don’t believe what others tell you about people, places or other cultures – find out for yourself.

Do things on your own

Even when you’re young, it’s important to commune with yourself, not just your friends. Do things on your own, such as going to the cinema, walking, going for coffee, even on holiday. You’ll never regret it.

Look out for controlling partners

Beware of signs that your partner is trying to control you. It can be oh so subtle, and before you know it, your life is completely in the control of another. If they make negative comments about your weight, what you’re wearing, or stop you seeing certain friends, the red flag is waving. Get out.

There are wonderful people out there

You’ll know the signs. They will be kind to you, your friends, their friends and their family. They will celebrate your successes and be there when things go wrong, without a sly smile on their faces. They will offer to connect you to people they know to help you in your career, and notably, women will help other women.

Say sorry

There will be times when you regret your behaviour, or saying something that has hurt someone else. Tell them you’re sorry and they will forgive you. If you don’t, the guilty feelings will just build inside of you and make you more likely to hurt someone again. We’re all flawed – think of apologising as a flaw release valve.

Have fun when you’re young

Don’t hide away from fun times. Work hard, play hard – get into all the corners that life is offering you. Make mistakes. If not, you will spend the rest of your life trying to make up for missed opportunities.

Ignore all of this and find out for yourself

Because I did when my mum told me.

Over-baring

Since I’ve got back from the Middle East, I’ve been struggling a bit over what to say about the current slew of female celebrities getting their kit off, Because They Can, in various publications. I rather enjoyed being in a culture where both men and women cover up out of respect for each other, and started to think a lot about why we are so hellbent in the west on getting so much of our flesh out in public.

I’ve already said what I think about ‘The Fappening’, and 4Chan’s privacy violation against female celebrities, in my blog post In Support of J-Law. Everyone has the right to take nude pictures of themselves and a right to keep them private. But in the last fortnight, we’ve had two women (weirdly both of them with the initials KK), both at massively opposing ends of the bodily spectrum, determined to bare all in the name of womanhood and freedom of self-expression.

Why?

Firstly Keira Knightley appeared in Interview magazine, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, in a series of images in which her body remains unmanipulated by the media. No photoshop, no cleavage enhancement, just as she is. Then Kim Kardashian appeared in Paper magazine, in a series of oiled-up nekkid shots that were intended to ‘break the internet’. Which they almost did, especially with the ensuing parody versions.

I happen to think that both of these women are remarkably beautiful in remarkably opposing ways. I think it’s a shame that Kim has clearly decided to enhance her best-known feature with surgery, but as someone with a pair of womanly hips and a small waist, I feel like this is a world where I can finally get them out with pride. And then Keira – seemingly no work done there, but she is campaigning against the ‘digital surgery’ that often makes her more acceptably womanly on film posters or in fashion features. One woman is flaunting her curves in extreme public displays, the other campaigning against the faking of curves whenever she is put on public display.

Interesting, isn’t it?

It’s also made me think about Lena Dunham, and her ‘I’ve got my body out and I don’t care if you don’t approve of it’ scenes in the TV series Girls. Her physically and digitally unenhanced body, seen in a number of nude scenes in the show, has attracted a raft of criticism from men and women alike, but that’s her point. Why should she look like Kim or Keira when she is really Lena? And who is dictating these rules?

In many ways I applaud all of these women for putting it out there – Kim looks gloriously (and uncharacteristically) happy in her images; Keira is poutingly defiant, and Lena acts care-free and unconscious of society’s disapproving gaze. Well done, you, I think, but then wondering why the hell they had to go that far to make their points. I’ve often laughed with guy-friends about their tick-box lists of female celebrity tits and ass – how the urge to see every hot woman naked in order to ‘tick them off the list’ became a thing that they did, consciously or unconsciously. It’s the infantile thing that Seth Macfarlane’s ill-advised Oscars song, We Saw Your Boobs, seemed to sum up perfectly, to the horror of the women in the audience.

Did these women bare all just to finally get the guys, and the media, off their backs? Once they’ve bared everything, does it mean they’ll be hounded less by the 4chans of this world, who’ve already moved on to the next starlet? What is it about the forced uncovering of women that makes female celebrities decide to do it themselves, so that they can control the outcome? Is it empowering or is it the ultimate sacrificial gift to the media that is hounding them already?

I realise I’m asking lots of questions here and not really answering them. I do think that there is great power in remaining clothed, in holding something back from the world (but only when that holding back is unenforced). I’m clearly part of a zeitgeist for women who are ‘baring all’ in terms of their experience (including Lena Dunham) but is that really the best thing to do? I have already said that part of the reason I am putting it all out there is because no one will be able to use anything against me in the future. There are no secrets for them to pounce on. Isn’t that what Kim, Keira and Lena are doing? All of us are owning our bodies and our lives but in the process we are letting everyone else have a piece of them too. It appears to be the domain of the modern woman. I’m all for having a voice that is heard, but are we saying too much?

It’s interesting that in the same period as the double KK bare-all, Nick Jonas, the erstwhile virginal member of the pop group the Jonas Brothers, did a Wahlberg-alike photoshoot for Flaunt magazine in his pants. The story registered as a medium-sized blip on the radar of various gay and women’s interest websites, and yeah, I had a look. He’s hot. But he’s one guy in a sea of a bajillion women doing this sort of shoot every day, for lads’ mags, for Page 3, for the latest ‘it’ magazine that promises them not to enhance their boobs and make nudity ‘arty’. We’ve moved on from Jonas already. Who cares if a guy takes his top off?

For women, holding back and wearing more might be the ultimate empowering thing to do with just a glimpse of a bared shoulder or ankle, but would you do that if you knew that your private bare-all photos made for your partner were likely to be posted online the very next day, rendering your peekaboo clothed pictures ridiculous? If you knew that the latest celeb magazine was going to show a range of high-definition images of you in a bikini on your holiday on its front page, and a close-up of your face without makeup, would you grin and bear it or rush out a series of naked, no makeup shots taken by a top photographer for a cool magazine?

I think I’d want to own my own images if I knew that these were the rules of the game, so I can’t blame the two KKs for doing what they’re doing. Kim K knows that her greatest social currency is her body and she is setting the bar higher and higher for how much she’ll show us, and how far she’ll go to enhance it. Many will say that they’re not interested in her antics, but I bet they have a good look before dismissing them.

As I write this piece, Gemma Collins, ‘star’ of reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, leaves the I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here jungle to a tidal wave of fat-shaming tweets. When the ‘bikini shower scene’ becomes a woman’s main social currency on TV, and she’s pitted against ex-model and lads’ mag favourite Melanie Sykes, I’d be out of there too.

 

Because I Can: the story so far

Having been the lucky recipient of a ‘Freshly Pressed’ feature with my post ‘Bare-Faced Cheek’, I thought I’d round up the top ten posts from my archive for all my new WordPress followers. So far, most of my viewers have been outside the blogosphere, coming to this site from Twitter or Facebook, but now I feel part of a community of bloggers with similar interests and views.

I started the blog because I found that I had quite a lot to say about my situation, leaving a marriage at the age of 43 and spending the last four years being constantly surprised by the twists and turns of life outside conventional coupledom. Some of them have made me laugh or whoop with joy, some have made me cry and floored me with unexpected cruelty.

Anyway – here are the posts that tell my story so far – I hope you enjoy them:

1. Where it all began:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/20/consciously-uncoupling/

2. On being childfree-by-choice:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/25/ping-pong/

3. On body image and the ridiculousness of dieting:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/

4. On suicide:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/12/the-silence/

5. On not being a yummy mummy:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/17/the-one-where-im-absolutely-not-a-yummy-mummy/

6. On dating younger men:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/23/in-praise-of-younger-men/

7. On Toxic People:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/09/10/toxic-people/

8. On dating men my own age:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/09/19/sixth-date-syndrome/

9. On not being a Cool Girl:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/09/my-former-life-as-a-cool-girl/

10. On keeping my name:

https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/16/my-name-is/

Thank you for reading.

Lisa.