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Body Pride

Loving every inch

Author:
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By Issy McConville

We all know the feeling. It’s that sigh when catching a glimpse of our reflection in a passing window; it’s the hasty jerk between towel and T-shirt in the communal changing area; it’s the quiet relief that the one-piece has returned to fashion, with it’s forgiving lycra compression. Our stomachs are the centre of our bodies, but so often, they are so hard to love.

We are so quick to punish ourselves for failing to be visually perfect. How many of us have looked down at ourselves and felt disappointed, or have been filled with dread at the prospect of fumbling around in a hot changing room and trying on a series of unflattering bikinis? Recently, our fixation on the flat when it comes to our stomachs is not only an aesthetic pursuit, but has been infused with a sense of morality. ‘Wellness eating’ has seen a staggering rise, with sugar and processed carbohydrates dethroning calories as the ultimate sins. Instead we are encouraged to nourish our bodies with healthy alternatives – threading vegetables into noodles, or mashing avocado into cake. Everything we know about food turns out to be wrong – comfort food is out, white pasta is criminal, and gluten is a food source forged in the fiery furnaces of hell. But who are we listening to when we refuse the dessert menu, or sidestep the potato aisle at the supermarket? Is it our own body? Or are we behaving as we think we ‘should’?

I, for one, am tired of punishing myself for the inches. I will no longer look at my belly as a symbol of weakness, of a lack of a self control – but as an expression of my joy in life. It is the pastries I ate fresh from the bakery in France; the beers I drank in a sunny beer garden with friends; it’s when my boyfriend drove all around the city to find the best place for me to try my first cinnamon roll. He and I often joke that all we ever do on holiday is eat – but this is our discovery – our experience of life through all of our senses. One of my happiest memories is when we were in Berlin, and it was so cold and we were so tired, but we took a walk from our hostel and came across a tiny Italian restaurant where they served giant bowls of pasta on checkered tablecloths. It’s a special human trait that we eat for pleasure, not just for survival. Food is at the heart of family, of culture, of friendship. And too often we deny ourselves the simple pleasure of eating what we want when we want it. Sometimes, it really is best to just sit down with a giant plate of carbs with someone you love, and eat.

In the final rays of summer, let’s see the inches of our stomach not as an end goal, but as an expression of our life. Put on a bikini and show your belly with pride. Let every bit of your skin feel the Vitamin D. Say, today I am here on the earth and I am going to savour it – every inch.

The Skin I’m In

Author:

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.

Building This Girl

Author:

By Becky Dudley

How many times have you been surrounded by people stood on chairs, proudly proclaiming the words ‘I AM A FEMINIST’? Personally, that would be once – last Thursday, myself and over 1500 people did just that. Why? Two words: Caitlin Moran.

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Unfamiliar? Caitlin Moran is described on Wikipedia as a broadcaster, TV critic and columnist, as well as being a very vocal feminist. She’s also one of my heroes. This time last year, I was an angry teenage feminist who felt like the last one of her kind. It was through reading How To Be A Woman (Moran’s second book) that I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. It was that that gave me the courage and direction to be louder about how I felt – it was that book that set me off on the direction to Powered By Girl. In many ways, I feel I cannot thank her enough.

Admittedly, there is not all praise. There have been complaints of Moran being homophobic, racist and transphobic. For every person who sees her as an inspiration, there will be another who sees her as a damage. I’m not going to defend her against any of these complaints or allegations, because it is not my place to. What I will say, however, is that Moran has done a huge, huge amount for publicising the idea of feminism, and for getting people to talk about it and see it as a more positive thing. From my experiences, I would say that her intentions are good.

Caitlin Moran’s latest venture is her novel, How To Build A Girl. To promote this – and feminism in general – she’s touring, reading excerpts from her book, making people laugh, doing book signings and selling merchandise to raise money for women’s charity Refuge. The Bristol show sold out fairly quickly; I was thrilled to be able to get a ticket!

It began unassumingly enough- a big stage that rather dwarfed the table and chair placed in the middle. However, as soon as Moran entered I began to wonder if the stage was big enough for her massive personality. Within ten minutes of Moran’s entrance (to rapturous applause), she read out the section of How To Be A Woman instructing the reader to stand on their chairs and declare themselves a feminist – resulting in the experience detailed in the opening paragraph. However, it didn’t stop there. Proving how quick modern technology is, Moran had photographed and tweeted the picture within seconds, before continuing with the show.

For those who have read her books or heard of her elsewhere, you will know that Moran prides herself on the more unmentionable subjects, and her show was no different – it contained all sorts of details about periods, masturbation, sex and poo, punctuated with frequent swearing. Though not to everyone’s taste, I revelled in it. There are so many seemingly taboo subjects that women are frowned upon for speaking about, whilst men are given free rein – having overheard far too many conversations about males and their masturbatory habits, it was refreshing to hear a woman discuss all the things we aren’t ‘meant’ to.

Another thing I took from the evening was Caitlin Moran’s comments about confidence. Seeing her up there, seemingly at ease on stage with an audience of over 1800, I would never have thought that she could have been anything but confident. However, she described how, when she was younger, she almost didn’t go to an important meeting because she didn’t think she could do it. How did she overcome it? She pretended she was Courtney Love, and ‘faked it till she made it’. As she said, it’s what everyone else is doing.

Near the end of the show, Moran pulled up her top and got her stomach out to demonstrate what she calls ‘a feminist smile’. Remember that this is a woman approaching her 40s, with two kids. She is not the stereotypical size 6 that the media wants us to believe has the monopoly on showing skin. She is human, with all the imperfections that come from life. And yet, over 1800 people applauded her stomach. When surrounded by body-shaming and depreciation, that was a hugely empowering moment.

After doing her whole show standing (despite the chair and table placed strategically on stage), Moran left to a well-earned standing ovation. Meanwhile, the audience were left to rush out to the queue for the book signing, which snaked right around the venue. I was stood two people behind a woman wearing a No More Page 3 top. Bearing the words ‘fake it till you make it’ in my head, I told myself I had Caitlin Moran’s confidence, tapped the woman on the shoulder and asked for a high five. Five minutes later, the two of us and another passing woman were ranting aboutPage 3 together. I stuck with the first woman and her friends for the rest of the queue, and had several more conversations with people triggered by our tops. By the time we reached Caitlin Moran, we decided that a group photo was a must, and Moran was more than happy to oblige- after all, it was she who said, during her show, that she loves how the book signing queues help to form the revolution.

As for my personal encounter with Caitlin, I cannot speak more highly. When faced with a very overwhelmed crying 17-year old who kept thanking her, her reaction was to hug me a lot, and to tell me how ‘f*cking awesome’ my clothes and smile were. I asked her advice about a decision I’ve recently been agonising over, and she was more than happy to talk to me about it and to give me advice that I know I will follow. I couldn’t believe how much energy she had, nor the way she genuinely cared about each and every fan that she spoke to.

Overall, it was a truly amazing night, and I came away feeling just like I did when I first read How To Be A Woman: empowered, inspired, and very much part of the feminist revolution.

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