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An Interview With Eva O’Flynn

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By Anna Hill

I was really inspired by a speech that Eva made at a no more page 3 protest (the full text of which you can read here), where she talked about how the campaign had given her a voice, and empowered her to act, not just for NMP3 but for other important issues too! In response I thought I would interview some of the voices that are important, honest, hard working and inspiring in current UK Teen Girl activism. Who better to start with than Eva herself?! (more…)

The Skin I’m In

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By Anna Hill

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Trigger Warning – Self Harm

Since I was born I’ve had eczema – a skin condition I still can’t spell, that leaves me with itchy, red, dry patches of skin in various different areas. When I was younger it was much worse, more of my skin was covered in the bumpy patches – behind my knees, my ears, the inside of my elbows and so on. The constant scratching and obvious red areas made me very shy of showing my body in any capacity, and I would hate specifically showing my arms. The skin between my forearm and my upper arm was the worst, particularly in summer. I would often scratch until I bled and the whole cycle made me feel ashamed. The eczema sometimes got so bad that I would have matching bumpy red, bleeding skin behind my knees and my elbows, all at the same time.

It was so obvious my skin was angry, it was writhing with anger, just under the surface. It was so evident inside me, around me, irritating me. I had so much restless energy, which ultimately led to more itching. My itching was never commented on explicitly but it was always present, implicit in the glances and the stares of my teachers, classmates and adults who I came into contact with. The feeling I got after I had itched – namely pain, after some satisfaction at first, forced me to be anchored to my body, and so did the glances at the patches on my skin. Not only is it dull, but it is very tough to be present, only so far as the confines of your body, to the landscape of our physical selves rather than the present where the world exists both internally and externally.

One of the reasons why eczema made me feel so insecure, was that it was not discrete. Whilst I felt my friends were growing up daintily (which in hindsight is not true), and had pretty skin (to me they always looked nice even when it was dotted with spots), I imagined myself as a tomato. The redness of my skin wasn’t helped either by the fact that I too am a blusher. My whole body was red, it was a walking wound sometimes and I felt like my weeping skin took up too much space.

After a while I started to see that my skin became alive with that itching feeling – you know the one, that little tickle starts and once you give in you’re gone – especially when I was stressed. During my G.C.S.Es not only was I very stressed but I also itched a lot, and then I realised that my skin was more raw (because I made it that way – even when I was sleeping) during that time I made the connection.

It went further than just stress being a trigger for it though later on, and although it took a while, I excavated my pain and my pressure in a way that made sense on my skin. It’s difficult when you have a skin condition that actually shows those around you your feelings. My anger and my stress all come through on my skin, and undoubtedly they still will, because I have a diagnosed skin condition. But it is what the stress and the anger are directed at is what I want to change. The further I went into my ruins the more I understood that a lot of the reason I continued to itch was to punish myself. It was to show myself that I was angry, angry at the world that hurt me and told me being queer was wrong, and also at myself for failing to live up to my impossible standards in life and school. I felt guilty for all these things. I felt my anger was not allowed – I was a girl, I was supposed to be pretty, sweet, kind and mostly importantly have soft skin. I wasn’t supposed to be covered in red scars and full of a yearning to burst out of my skin. To peel away all the bad skin and be shiny and new born.

When I itch now I recall all that itching that I did when I was angry and frustrated at life and myself. I recall all those times I did it to inflict pain, or to inflict any type of feeling on myself. The repetitive action of itching is very difficult to get away from and when I look at my body now I often feel like I look like a wound, my body is a visible reminder that I hurt, that I felt pain, that I damaged myself. That my trauma bleeds out of me, visible to everyone that looks at me.

But is this thinking helpful to me now? My skin will always be bumpy and itchy, so is it helpful to talk about it in the context of self-harm? Does the way I talk about it reinforce the pain, and the cycle of tearing at my skin? Leslie Jamison, in The Empathy Exams, wrote that “[her] feelings were also made of the way [she] spoke them”. It is a constant balance between the “state of submission” to feelings and thoughts and the “process of constructing” them.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to approach not only my eczema but my whole body with more compassion, with more understanding. I could completely accept my interpretation of my actions – that they stem from a place of hatred, but then it would be too easy for me to continue to hate, to continue to despair at myself, and thus punish myself when I fail all the more. Instead I want to make a home for myself in my self. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing my body is, it is mine. It is the only constant home I will ever have and it will be with me my whole life. It’s presence facilitates a lot of what I do – my fingers typing these words for example – and so my goal is not to be perfect in treating my body, it is to be kinder to it. My body is not just made of scars and it is easier to remember that when I attempt to be kind, in little ways and big ways. I aim to be less angry at myself and at my red bumps, to be less frustrated when I fail to reach an academic goal, to be kinder when I do mess up. I aim to accept the skin I’m in rather than revolt against it.

 

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If you are interested in hearing more about self harm from a young person, go here.

If you want to know more about self-harm, go here.

Queer Kids

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I’ve been having a hard time recently – a mix of deadlines and stress, and bad anniversaries all happening in the past few weeks. I tell you this because something that has helped me get through things is the wonderful and inspiring friendships that I have made.

This time last year, when I was dealing with similar if not almost exactly the same things – exams and pressure, and grief and mourning – I was so alone. I was so tied up in myself and in my issues and I also just hadn’t found “my” people yet. Thinking back to last year is really difficult because I had such a difficult time with everything and I tried to pretend I was fine and I piled on yet more pressure. I couldn’t sleep and was having panic attacks regularly and my counselling was not helping. I was stuck on an idea of myself which I could not reach and thus punished myself for it. I punished and punished and punished. It was a cycle of do more, feel bad for not being able to do it, so more anxiety, more stress and repeat. Something really clicked when someone said to me “sleep deprivation is a form of torture.” I tortured myself. I did, and the bruised bags under my eyes have never been so deep. I hurt so badly but I didn’t let up. I kept pushing and pushing and hurting and hurting and rock bottom doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’ve never been very good at finding people who love and accept me. When I was younger I felt very alienated from my classmates and I don’t think I ever really found a group of people that saw me. (Excluding two wonderful old friends) I think that’s why it’s been so different now – now I know what it’s like to have full open people love me, I realised what I was missing.

Luckily for me, my family helped to support me and various other things happened that helped me get back onto my feet a little last year. But it’s a process, it’s constant recovery, constant motion in one direction or another. I don’t want to slimpify the process, but the friendships that I formed in August and September of this year have been utterly beautiful and they have made me feel seriously loved and understood. Without my new friends I would not be as happy as I am now, and I would not be able to get through these awful things.

One of the things this process is teaching me is that with understanding of yourself comes self-love and with self-love comes a better comprehension of others which makes it so much easier to love them. I am (constantly) working on being kind to myself and this makes it easier to be nice to others. My friendships can be deeper and fuller and more profound because I am more aware of how imperfect we all are, and how crucially, that. Is. okay.

Loving yourself opens you up to love, in both directions.

If you’re looking for friends who help you lift yourself out of the dirt, then I suggest that you:

  • Be honest with yourself and with your friends, even if it makes you scared and vulnerable. Friends that you make when you are vulnerable are strong because you are deep in your wounds with them and that means they are present with you.
  • Find out what you are passionate about and go for it!! Apply for stuff, I found many ace friends through applying to be a Powered By Girl Blogger, but we are also in similar facebook groups for No More Page Three and the like. So do things! The internet is vastly helpful for this, so I would definitely recommend it.
  • Work on feeling your feelings and moving through them in a way that allows you to feel bad/good/sad/etc whenever you like. It’s so much easier to talk to people if you yourself know where you are.
  • Get some therapy, if you can. This is particularly helpful if, like me and the majority of my new friends, you are in Recovery from some thing. Although I understand it’s a privilege to have time and money for therapy and in some cases it can just be terrible because of bigoted and prejudiced therapists, it is also very useful. However, if someone tells you that Queerness is not okay, or that your gender is the one you were assigned and not the one you chose, then leave and don’t go back.
  • Practice self-care – if you are going out and doing things to find people then that’s great! Just make sure to keep some time for yourself, so that you can always keep in touch with what you want, how you feel and enjoy time by yourself. As much as I want to live in a Queer Feminist Commune with all my Queer Kids, we will all need time alone, to recharge. Have fun, masturbate, or read a book, light candles and have a bath, dance to Beyoncé (<3), bake cookies, watch a film, go on adventures, do art, the possibilities are endless.
  • If you are Queer (like many of us at PBG are), or non conforming in anyway, then I would recommend seeking out people who are like you – who have the same sexuality as your or the same world view or the same difficulty with gender (for example if you are Non-Binary). The fact that the majority of my new friends are Queer has helped me accept who I am and also means I feel like I have people to turn to and who immediately accept/understand me rather than constantly having to explain myself.

I hope these suggestions help you all find the beautiful, interesting, exciting and creative people that will love to have you as a friends!

I shall leave you with some lovely, if banal anecdotes:

  • One time when Becky and I met up we wrote our speeches together and then she proceeded to try to take a photo of a squirrel and put her palm flat out as a way of asking to stop a jogger from keeping jogging (it didn’t work).
  • Cora and I went to see First Aid Kit in concert and before hand we covered ourselves in glitter (I had golden eyebrows!!) and talked about how to commemorate bad anniversaries.
  • Becky, Cora, Sophia and I had a sleepover that included an amazing blue ombre cake and Feminist Cards Against Humanity.
  • I went with Becky, Cora, Sophia and Yas to the Houses of Parliament dressed in a tie dyed tablecloth (I tie dyed it myself) because I had slept over. We all agreed I looked fab.
  • Sometimes when I think of them all my heart gets too big and I feel like im in a swimming pool of love and it’s the cheesiest thing but it is the best thing ever too and I want to stay in that pool forever until I wrinkle up like an old prune and they have to drag me out (even then I’d want to go back in).
  • The first time Becky, Sophia, Cora and I met in person, we all started talking about our therapy. We were open with each other about ourselves and that has meant that our friendship is some of the purest I have ever experienced.
  • We went to the Southbank Centre and into the Tunnel of Love and Yas and I took photos in those head hole carboard things. It was silly and fun.
  • On my mirror at the moment I have collected some quotes from my friends to help me get through. One is something that Cora said to me: “You are brilliant and there is no measure for that”, and I’ve also written some wisdom from Sophia which encapsulates this time right now: “Whatever it is, it’s not what it was and that matters. That’s a big deal because it proves that things can and will improve with time”.

The Emily Tree!

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On Saturday 27th September, Anna, Becky and Cora went along to The Emily Tree‘s march and picnic. They had an amazing time, and wanted to share it all with PBG!

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What is the Emily Tree and why is it a good group?

Becky – The Emily Tree is a group based in London that’s working to get more young women involved with politics.

Cora – I think what’s great about the Emily Tree is how open and accessible it is – it’s easy for young people to feel really removed from feminism for any number of reasons and the Emily Tree smashes them all!

Anna – Definitely, it’s non-academic, teenage girl based. It’s fun and exciting and creative and was created by two really inspiring funny women.

Becky – Yeah, it’s really, really inclusive as well, which is amazing – it’s feminism for everyone, not just for the privileged.

Anna – Which is SO NICE, because lots of organisations for teens can be patronising, or just don’t listen to us.

Becky – And the people who run it are two of the best people in the world ever.

Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 16.06.14What happened during the day, and what were the best parts? 

Becky – It started off with a march, which we didn’t get to.

Anna – Very sad about that! But Cora got to go!! And she brought us sashes!!

Cora – The march was brilliant! We sang, laughed, and definitely caught the attention of quite a few passers-by. We even got a car horn beep!!

Becky – Oh wow! It sounds amazing, gutted to have missed it. But it was really cool to see you all walking towards us in the park, this sea of purple/green/white with signs! After we’d eaten, there were a ton of speakers, who were all very amazing and inspirational.

Anna – Definitely! And Becky and I were lucky enough to speak! Becky was amazing!!! And listening to all the other campaign leaders and young women was just fab!

Becky- Thank you so much Anna! You were super fab too. You made us very proud.

Anna – One of my fave moments was when Cora was walking towards Becky and I and we just ran and hugged her/squished her! I also enjoyed the fact that people came up and told me they found my speech good, because public speaking is a fear of mine and so I was really proud I did it! And then also just feeling incredibly inspired and happy about all the young women there!

Cora – I think for me the best part was the two of you speaking! I swelled up with pride honestly because I know it took a lot. You two are amazing.

Becky – Yeah, it was so good to see you both!! I really enjoyed getting to meet so many amazing people, and to hear some really powerful speeches. And I agree with you Anna, getting to speak was such a huge thing, I felt really proud to have had a chance to share my thoughts with the group. It also meant a lot that people told me they thought it was good and inspiring, as I was so inspired by everyone else. Anna and I agreed at the end it was like a circle of inspiration!!

Cora – There were so many incredible people- speakers and attendees generally, I left feeling super inspired!!

Anna – Yeah!! I also loved being INSIDE the Emily Tree. It was like I was a Dryad.

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Becky – Firstly, in a general way, because it was getting young women talking about feminism, and getting them to speak to people who are campaigning around important issues.

Cora – It really brought the issues to the public too, we did attract a lot of attention!

Becky – Yeah, the march was such a good idea.

Anna – I also think it was just so important to have a safe fun space to help rejuvenate everyone so we can go out and CHANGE THE WORLD.

Becky – Definitely!! Personally, I found it really moving and empowering- I have to admit that I was very near tears at points. It’s really easy to feel alone as a feminist (as I spoke about in my speech) and the whole day was a reminder that we are not alone at all.

Cora – It was a real reminder of both how much and how little has changed- so many of the suffragette values are still very relevant.

Becky – Completely agree with you Cora – everyone thinks that the suffragettes have come and gone, but yesterday was such a huge reminder that they haven’t – their legacy stays, and we are continuing their work. Emily matters!!

Anna – Yes!!!!

What would you say to other people who might have a chance to do a similar thing?

Becky – I would say definitely, definitely do it!! Even if it’s a three hour coach journey, it is so unbelievably worth it. Honestly.

Anna – Definitely agree!! And there is no pressure to speak or anything it’s just about celebrating girls as they are, and even if you are scared of people (like me!) I would recommend it! Maybe bring a friend though!

Cora – I think any chance to get involved in campaigning should be pursued – the sense of community and cohesion was great! It’s such a valuable experience to have had, we’re very lucky!

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Are you planning to do anything as a result of it, either now or in the future?

Becky – Well, I’ve already contacted the 50:50 parliament campaign youth group, so I’m getting involved with that! And hopefully the No More Page 3 group as well. Would be great to link in with #emilymatters too.

Anna – Yeah! I just want to do all of the things!

Becky – Same here!!

Cora – For sure, keep on keeping on! This year’s been incredible so far, and every event like this I go to seems to offer another tonne of opportunities. It’s overwhelming really, in the best possible way.

Anna – I’m already so excited for next year!

Becky – Yeah, there’s loads planned, and it’s all very exciting.

Anna – I want to get more involved in the NMP3 stuff and just keep going strong as a PBG writer.

Becky – That’s great Anna!! It just generally helped empower me more, and kind of gave me a space to rejuvenate a bit, so I’m even more determined than ever. And yes!!!!! Totally agree with you there Anna, it’s made me want to do more of the talking stuff!!! As well as that I was really interested in what Jane Ellison, the MP, said about getting involved. I might write to my local MP and see if I can get an internship or opportunity of some kind.

Anna – Yeah! Talking to MPs is great and I didn’t realise it’s actually quite easy.

Cora – Definitely want to pursue that! It sounds much simpler to get in touch with MPs than I’d imagined, and it’s got the potential to be both useful and game-changing! Girls inside Parliament is brilliant as a statement in itself.

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