On acceptance, bodies and backhanded compliments.

Occasionally, the need to say something vaguely controversial takes hold of me, and I simply cannot rest until I have shouted that ‘No I don’t bloody well like champagne, I can’t stand Holiday by Madonna and I’ve never watched Back to the Future!’

It’s all relative, obviously.

So here we go. In many ways, I like my post-babies body better than I liked my pre-baby body. Yes, even with the teabag boob-thing. (This phenomenon was brilliantly summed-up by my new favourite blogger, Steph at Sisterhood (and all that), which you should all definitely read.) That’s not the general line women are supposed to take. We’re supposed to resent them, these flabbier bodies that have betrayed us. We’re supposed to loathe them so much that we diet our way back into our skinny jeans and flick through the before and after shots of surgical procedures aimed at ‘reclaiming your pre-birth body’.

I’m not saying that I look amazing or anything, although I do actually quite like having less in the boob area than before. I was never entirely happy with my pre-childbearing years slightly Jordan-esque chest. The fact that I could now, if I wanted, wear a polo neck, or a halterneck dress, or that I can buy pretty underwear rather than the firm scaffolding type is liberating. My body has changed and grown, and is not the same, but I don’t resent it at all.

Ultimately, the way that I feel about my post-baby body is not about aesthetics at all. It’s about me relaxing, and letting go of a long-held belief that somehow, I should aspire to the bodies of those girls who were in FHM & Maxim and all over everywhere when I was 16. That accidental aspiration has gone the way of the ones I had when I was younger about being able to do the splits, or a no-handed cartwheel, or finding Narnia.

fhm

I have never, ever looked anything like this. (I do still love S Club though.)

Even though I never wanted to be those girls, and while I could see that there were more interesting things to aspire to than titillating 16 year old boys in a gingham bikini, I must have just absorbed those images and subconsciously held them up as a thin-yet-perky ideal. Luckily, images of Kelly Brook and various Hollyoaks girls no longer haunt my brain, and the relief is astonishing.

It’s like I had never really appreciated how much pressure there is to have this ‘perfect’ body until I had gone beyond the point of feeling that it might be expected of me. Having shrugged off the pressure, I found myself suddenly much more at ease with what I have now, which clearly, is not exactly supermodel standard, but I can honestly say now that I’m OK with that. It just no longer seems to be so important to have a perfectly flat stomach, or a hip bone with only the smallest amount of flesh around it, in fact, I can’t really remember why it seemed so important at the time. There’s more to life than adorable abs and an enviable cleavage, and it is sad to think that it took me having kids to discover the truth of that.

This is a funny and true story though: during an extremely long and insanely painful labour with Polly, a midwife said to me in a disparaging tone ‘you’ve not really got child-bearing hips there,’ and I (off my face on gas and air) considered it the best back-handed compliment of all time. It was clearly meant as a comment on my inability to get a move on with having the damn baby – the labour ward was busy at the time and my little hips were keeping other mothers-to-be waiting, but I was delighted that she had basically called me skinny. In labour. The general ridiculousness of this state of affairs has amused and disgusted me a bit ever since.)

So whenever people sigh, and say that all this fuss about how the media portrays women is not that important in the scheme of things, that magazines in themselves don’t cause eating disorders, or that of course fashion models need to be that thin to show off the clothes; that it doesn’t really make much difference whether Barbie is thin and blonde and busty or not, I think well. I think it does matter, actually, and all of those tiny things added together make this overwhelming sense of a certain body type that even young women determined not to be influenced by all of that just absorb. Just by living, and looking, and reading, and seeing, we are all being told that that is what is expected. That really, this tiny waist and perfectly pert boobs are what you should be aiming for.

Like pretty much everyone else I know with small children, the soundtrack to our summer has been massively influenced by the film Frozen. And every time I hear my girls shouting along to the words of Let it Go – I am proud. I hope that they feel whenever they yell ‘that perfect girl is gone’ that the way ahead is not perfection, but acceptance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to be your hero…

There are some songs that become instant classics, and this is one of them. I heard this for the first time last night, and I already can’t get it out of my head. Right now, we’re surrounded by Lego, building cities and magical creatures, and ignoring the fact that the remains of breakfast are still on the table, uncleared. The kids are in their PJs, I’m pottering about, drinking coffee and writing, and we’re all singing along to this, which is from the soundtrack to Boyhood. I hope that when we play this song in the future, we remember these long summer holiday mornings, which are not always fraught and sweaty, but sometimes peaceful and sweet.

Happy summer holidays!

 

The art of telling people they’re ACE.

Do you have friends who are brilliant?

Do you tell them they are brilliant?

I don’t tell mine, but I should. I’ve got friends who are completely, show-stoppingly, freaking awesome, not that I’d ever tell them that. So recently I came over all un-British and decided to embark on a campaign of telling people who are ace that I think they are ace. I have done this in the past, but usually after a glass or 4 of wine, which dilutes the sincerity somewhat.

I found myself increasingly involved in conversations where a group of us would mutter in hushed tones that so-and-so was amazing, or that something they were doing was incredible, and do you know what – they just didn’t know how utterly amazing they are.

Funny that – seeing as no one was going to tell them.

Because we’re very good – as a nation of polite and slightly stand-offish people – of indulging in glowing references of our friends, but then in their actual company, just wussing out and talking about what’s going down on Twitter (that might just be my conversations, come to think of it.)

But lately, I have come to the conclusion that there are people who probably don’t know how great I think they are, and hell – I’m just going to tell them. Whether they like it or not.

It’s the drunken ‘I LOVE YOU man!! – I really love you, I DEFINITELY love you!’ outpourings of emotion for people who have given up drinking too much too often.

There is probably a delicate art of telling someone you think they’re amazing, without causing them to shrivel with embarrassment or suffer an attack of pomposity, but frankly, who has the time to learn a whole new art just because your friend just so happens to be particularly ace ? Not me.

Prepare yourselves, friends.

great

Who made your pants?

A clever friend of mine once remarked ‘shopping is political’. And it is.
She also pointed me in the direction of something that has rapidly come to be one of my favourite things.

It’s called the Year of Pants.

And it works like this. You subscribe, then each month, you receive a pair of pants through the post (gift-wrapped in a very pleasing manner.) They are selected for you, and they are THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PANTS.
sea shell pants

But the fact that the pants are so beautiful is not even the most remarkable thing about these pants. These pants are by WhoMadeYourPants?

They are made in a small factory in Southampton by women who are trained in the intricate art of lingerie production. Many of the women who work there are immigrants from places like Somalia and Afghanistan, all of them have had difficult experiences; all of them want to learn new skills and work.

This is what Who Made Your Pants is all about:

“We think that every day should be a good pants day, and that there should be a little bit of gorgeous under everyone’s clothes, something just for them. So we buy fabrics that have been sold on by big underwear companies at the end of season, stop them ending up as waste and turn them into gorgeous new pants that have a great start in life.”

What an astonishingly simple, wonderful idea.

(It’s also, on a practical level, a brilliant way of refreshing your underwear drawer, if like me, you’re getting bored of worn-out M&S multipack offerings.) Each pair of perfectly formed knickers that you buy comes with a little label telling you exactly who made your pants. So you really DO know exactly who made your pants.

By purchasing one pair of pants, you empower women, support sustainable manufacturing and contribute to the revivial of British manufacturing, all at the same time. AND you get a stunningly beautiful pair of pants.

See? Shopping is political.

logo

 

If you want to read more about WMYP, or the way that they are revolutionizing the way that underwear is sold to women, then you could read the interview with Becky, founder of WMYP on The Debrief. 

wmyp

 

Bikini Rage. (Like road rage, but with a higher lycra content)

No one likes to live in a state of constant vigilance. For one thing, it’s pretty dull. So I don’t spend my life scouring the internet for examples of poorly worded advertising copy. It’s nice to think that we’re living in fairly enlightened times, anyway, and that women might be beyond writing things aimed at other women that are, well, quite offensive.

But sometimes, all it takes is a badly-worded tweet to remind you how far we’ve still got to go. Perusing my Twitter feed late at night, I fell upon this little gem of a line.

“We’ve got swimsuits to hide all manner of sins.”

Company

 

Sins?

The body I don’t especially fancy shoving into a bikini- which incidentally, as we’re talking in Old Testament-style overtones, is hardly very forgiving for anyone vaguely normal looking – is a sin?

REALLY?

Company magazine is primarily aimed at (I’m guessing, from their Twitter feed and from reading a few editions recently,) 16-25 year old women. Why are they encouraging these girls to use the language of shame to describe what probably amounts to a slightly curved tummy and some thigh, probably the very same that is airbrushed out of bikini model shots the world over?

Why are we still pretending that it’s OK – in fact it’s probably normal – to teach young women to be ashamed of their bodies? I know ‘it’s only a phrase’ – and that they didn’t mean it like that. But still.

And actually, in terms of magazines aimed at that market, I think Company is pretty great. They feature articles about how to get into interesting careers, good relationship advice, tech articles – in essence, they don’t usually treat women like paranoid mirror-gazing man-magnets.

Wear a swimming costume instead of a bikini if you like – but wear it because you like it, or because it makes you feel more comfortable. Or confident. Or just because if you want to actually swim, it’s a lot more practical in most cases. Just don’t wear one because you are worried that those breasts that will feed your children, if you want them to, are not Playboy-perfect. Or that those thighs which allow you to walk around/run/jump up and down with the sheer joy of being a young woman at the height of your physical powers are something to be ashamed of.

 

swimming costume

It’s funny and it’s sad…

I’ve just watched the best film I’ve seen in a very long time. I saw it featured ages ago in the best magazine I have ever found - Oh Comely.

Frances Ha. “A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles.” (IMDb) How could I possibly not fall in love with this?

The next time you have one hour and twenty two minutes, you should watch it too.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – that’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

Frances Ha

 

Frances is tall, and slightly awkward, and surrounded by people who know what they are doing while she feels like she hasn’t got a clue. She’s funny and she’s kind and she’s loyal, and silly and uncomfortable. She’s joyful. She eats a lot and she laughs a lot. It’s a film about friends, about growing up, growing apart from the things you know and finding new things, trying stuff out and failing, stumbling across things you turn out to be good at. It’s a film about being in your twenties and trying to fit in, before realising that fitting in is not the point.

It’s the story of us. Of us awkward, funny girls trying and failing to grow up, and kind of growing up anyway.

“Oh yeah, I like things that look like mistakes.”

The ‘how post is post’ question.

I’ve always wanted to write about a sort of post-natal depression that seems to catch me sometimes, quite unaware, like wincing in pain years after an injury has healed. Firstly, I’m not sure it even qualifies as being post-natal, and indeed it is the label that I think is the problem sometimes. I had a nagging suspicion when my youngest was about two, that I had a kind of post-natal depression, but as I remarked to someone in a similar boat, ‘how post is still post-natal? When do you drop the natal? And does that mean that just having kids is making me depressed?’

My reluctance to write about it is semantic, really, I don’t think it matters. Depression is depression – but the issue of post-natal depression has been highlighted brilliantly in recent years, and there has been so much written about it that is far more useful and more eloquent than anything I can say, but then to not write about it comes from the same fear that drives all of the need to talk about the issue: the fear that talking about it somehow makes you a bad parent.

To be clear – I never had the kind of severe, clinical post-natal depression that is so devastating. Nor did I have the grinding, day-to-day bleakness of ‘proper’ PND. There was never a definite moment of blackness. It’s more a lingering cycle of occasional anxiety and then melancholy that are at odds with my otherwise more laid-back and contented personality. Any decisive action hurts. Any effort to clear the fog is like that dream where you can’t quite run fast enough to catch whatever it is that you are chasing. And then I’m tired and I’m sinking and I can’t stop.

The only reason that I would add the post-natal tag is that it has been since I have had children that it has thickened, and sometimes when I am unnecessarily anxious I stop to think about why, and it’s because there seems to be no end of things to worry about – so many things are out of my control, and the odds are so high. After a few weeks of intensive boring fretting over health issues, potential environmental disasters of the future, educational pitfalls, accidental emotional trauma that will scar their adulthood, I conclude that there is so much scope for concern that I am exhausted, and instead I can’t think clearly about anything.

It doesn’t happen often – life is busy, and I am usually too caught up in the excitement of things to be dragged under, but there are times where it taps me on the shoulder, the edges of things darken a little and I feel it sidling in.

There is little time for introspection in busy family life, and sometimes I think that’s a blessing. At the same time, the lack of time to breathe makes everything feel more intense. It’s perfectly possible to hardly stop and think during those first crazy (and joyful) years of sleep deprivation, teething, endless snotty colds, smiles and first words; and then to suddenly realise a few years later that your life has irrevocably changed, and your sense of self has shifted. Shell-shocked at this new reality, it’s hard, I think, not to wobble at this (often very post-natal) point. As you re-assemble the parts of your old identity that no longer quite fit, maybe it’s pertinent to pause and think. I think I panicked because I’ve always thought of myself as relatively happy and enthusiastic, that was how I defined myself, so this feeling of something other than that undermined my sense of who I am. What, I thought, is the point of me if I am not happy?

I wish, in a way, that we were more flexible with our definition of post-natal depression. I’m so pleased that it’s an easier issue to talk about – and in fact I had very good experiences with health visitors where you were positively encouraged to talk about it – but that was all very early on, and I was fine, and then perhaps less so, but unable to articulate quite what I was feeling. Whatever I was feeling did not fit the criteria on the questionnaire I filled in, six weeks or so after the birth of each of my children. Years later, it seems somewhat irrelevant to mention it, but no less important.

I wanted to write about it because it is hard, despite everything, to talk about depression in any form, and in many ways I think there is a responsibility to be as honest about it as you can, especially when a bit of distance and perspective have made it easier to articulate. It’s easy to see it as a very black and white issue – to see happy parents and unhappy parents, people with PND, people without PND. The reality, of course, is far more subtle.