“Are YOU beach body ready?” Oh, do f*ck off

Apparently, if you don’t like this ad, you don’t like being healthy. Well, bollocks, frankly

This blogpost was originally published on The Huffington Post here

I was particularly affronted to be greeted with this monstrosity of an advert on my daily commute this morning. Funny, I thought I was just minding my own business in my usual spot on the Jubilee line platform. But NOPE, actually I should be PERMANENTLY stressing over whether my body is “beach ready”. Duh.

Credit: @Seja75 on Twitter

Luckily, I’m not the only one to be affronted. A Change.org petition against the ads has nearly 30,000 signatures already. Sign it here! Also follow the link to see lots of people’s reasons for signing, including sexism, promotion of eating disorders, constant bombardment of these sorts of images…

But actually, my problem with it isn’t the usual “OMG sexism, skinny women’s bodies on show, bikinis, argh” outrage.

From my point of view, it’s about promoting one kind of body over all others, and suggesting that one magic protein powder will do that.The response of the company, Protein World, is particularly infuriating.

In the inimitable words of the TimeOut London Now Here This website: “Protein World do not appear to give a shit about any of the criticism. They argue that the the adverts are okay because the model has a healthy BMI. They also say: ‘It is a shame that in 2015 there are still a minority who aren’t focusing on celebrating those who aspire to be healthier, fitter and stronger.’“.

That’s suggesting that if you don’t like this ad, you don’t like being healthy. Well, bollocks, frankly.

Because don’t get me wrong. I love being healthy. I even like working out, because of how it makes me feel. I care about my fitness and health, spend time planning my meals and trying to make good choices when I eat and workout, and aspire to a strong, healthy body that looks good.

BUT this ad is promoting ONE type of body – on a rather miserable-looking model, at that – above all others, and making weight loss about looks, and being “beach ready” rather than strength, health and mental positivity, and suggesting that some protein powder rubbish will do that for you. All kinds of wrong.

Body positivity isn’t about shaming or being thin – it’s about feeling good in your skin. It means different things to different people – for me, it’s about being strong and functioning well, as well as being at the best weight for my figure. For others, it’s something else – recovery from an eating disorder, the freedom to eat what they like without worrying, or not conforming to others’ views of how they should look.

Credit: @DoveUK and @MTWTHRL on Twitter

So GTFO of my commute, Protein World, and PLEASE, stop talking to me about beaches when I’m on the way to work, yeah? Ta.

This blogpost was originally published on The Huffington Post here

The New York street harassment video: Your handy myth-busting guide

Confused as to why the New York Street Harassment Video is such a big deal? Read on

Anyone who spends any time on internet news sites is unlikely to have missed this week’s latest street harassment exposé.

Working with agency Rob Bliss Creative, Shoshana Roberts, an actor, walked for ten hours, just behind a hidden camera through the streets of New York, dressed in a tight-but-sedate pair of black jeans and simple black T-shirt, to highlight just how many instances of unsolicited male attention she would receive on any given day.

And lo and behold, the video shows her getting cat-called, randomly propositioned, followed, stared at, told repeatedly (for no apparent reason) that she should have a nice day, that someone was “just acknowledging her beauty”, “god bless her”, “damn”, and that she looks pretty “beautiful”. One guy even asks “why don’t you want to talk to me, is it cause I’m ugly?” For most young women, this wasn’t a surprise.

Predictably however, lots of people seem to have a problem with her even posting the video (not to mention a bunch of other people coming out with the usual “alternative” responses and dissecting it a billion other ways. PLUS, Roberts has already received rape threats because of it). Alas, the internet isn’t known for its sensitivity towards sexism.

In less than 24 hours, Roberts has had to defend her actions, and even in my relatively-open, left-wing, well-educated, understanding and supportive corner of social media, I’ve seen instances of people questioning how “bad” the video is, suggesting that the men in it are just being friendly, and that women who have a problem with such behaviour need to let go and not get so offended.

I get it – if you’ve never experienced street harassment, or you’re a man, or both, you might not quite see what the big damn deal is. And that’s fair enough, if you’ve never felt it yourself.

So here’s a handy myth-busting guide for anyone struggling to understand why this video is so important, and why street harassment isn’t the compliment-strewn cakewalk some think it is.

Myth 1. The men are just being nice, lighten up!

Nope, this isn’t about compliments. These guys aren’t talking to everybody in the same way, or doing it because their hearts are just full to bursting of the world’s wonder, and they’re just genuinely all about sharing the love. Aww.

They are saying it to her because she is a young, attractive woman, who they feel is OBVIOUSLY inviting comments, stares and sexual invitations simply because she has the TEMERITY to walk down the street (sarcasm, yes).

This woman hasn’t spoken to those people in any way, or shown that she is interested in speaking to them, or even has time to do so. There is no reason for them to talk to her at all – most of the men aren’t talking to anyone else. If they were genuinely asking her a question, such as asking for directions, that would be different.

The men here aren’t speaking to her because they genuinely want to get to know her or legitimately flirt with her – this isn’t an appropriate space for that (a bar, or a date, for example).

These men are invading her personal space and making it clear that they believe she SHOULD respond to them, simply because they have decided that THEY want to speak to her. She has no choice in the matter – some of them chide her, telling her that she SHOULD acknowledge them, if she doesn’t respond. Even though she never wanted to speak to them in the first place.

Roberts herself has said that if people have a reason to say “hi”, and she’s showing outward signs that she’s up for conversation, she’s totally happy to chat back.

But we’re not just talking about people saying “hi” or being friendly over buying coffee, or apologising in a polite manner when they accidentally bump into her turning a corner.

Nope. One guy just randomly walked next to her for 5 minutes. Weird. Also, creepy.

And while many of these guys probably ARE harmless, she doesn’t know that.

Some of these guys seem friendly. But what happens if they turn nasty, or follow her? (As Roberts said in this follow up video: “It can escalate so quickly.”) It is a potentially threatening situation; at the very least it’s unpleasant, and she has done nothing to attract it in any way.

I know from personal experience that having someone walk or drive past you, yelling or laughing something about your looks, completely out of the blue, without invitation and perhaps even in an angry or threatening manner, is a disorienting experience.

Couple that with alcohol and a dark night, and it can turn from something mildly annoying to downright terrifying.

Even someone telling you to “smile” is an invasion, to be honest. I mean, who the hell asked you? I might have been deep in thought (Roberts herself said that it “disrupts her train of thought”), but you felt the need to let me know that I forgot to ensure my face looks attractive to you? Ha, fuck off. Do I tell you how to arrange your face? No.

Just because men (or whoever) think they’re being nice, and have historically behaved in this way for generations, doesn’t mean that their comments will be received in that way, especially by someone who is just going about their business, and doesn’t know that guy from Adam.

Imagine if someone randomly just came at you in the street when you were minding your own business, and called out something about your body, facial expression or supposed sexual abilities, or worse, whispered it, out of nowhere, in your ear. Seriously, imagine it.

You wouldn’t be very happy, would you?

Myth 2. She shouldn’t expect privacy, she’s in a public space.  

I do think that often people (and it is mainly men, sorry, but it is) don’t appreciate how their comments can make a space seem threatening. A girl shouldn’t have to think about attracting sexual comments and attention simply because she’s walking in the street.

Just because it’s a public space, it shouldn’t become a problem. If we said that everything was permitted, just because it’s a “public space”, we’d soon get a situation where women were afraid to go outside, because they can “only expect respect and non-objectification in a “private” space. We don’t want that (it often already happens – who has ever decided not to walk home from an evening out because they’re afraid?).

This video is highlighting how many women cannot just walk down a road – even in broad daylight – without attracting comment on their appearance. Why should I, or any woman, have to feel objectified, reminded of my apparent “sexual attractiveness” and even maybe threatened or followed, by random guys in the street, just because they feel like it?

Often, people use the analogy that if you leave your door unlocked, you can expect to have your laptop stolen. But this woman isn’t inviting this behaviour in any way – how is walking down the street an invitation, please? AND, even if she WAS wearing a short skirt, or whatever, the unlocked door analogy isn’t the same, because she is A PERSON with feelings, not an inanimate object ready to be taken at any point.

And anyway, this particular woman is totally sober, and almost completely covered. Her clothing and mindset isn’t the issue. it makes no difference.

That’s why someone’s behaviour, drunken state or clothing isn’t a serious factor when it comes to gendered violence. It happens anyway. It originates with the attacker/cat-caller. Not the other way round.

Similarly, there is more to a woman walking down the street than her attractiveness to random men ‒ but catcalling reduces her to that, and nothing more. It’s objectifying, reductive, and unoriginal.

What’s more, it makes the man look like a leering creep who can only see women as sex objects and little else. I expect more from my men, and I’d like to think they expect more from themselves.

shoshanaMyth 3. Street harassment and comments happen to men too.

Ok, so this isn’t a myth – it DOES happen to men too (I’m reliably informed, although I’ve never seen it happen myself).

A major reason highlighted for why such behaviour isn’t acceptable is because the men speaking to her wouldn’t do the same thing if she was a man. That’s generally because they don’t feel that men are “trying” to be sexually attractive to them, and they don’t feel that they have “a right” to demand attention from a man.

BUT, if and when the same thing does happen to men, it would be equally wrong.

And yet, it’s undeniable that it happens far less. On top of this, there isn’t the historical and social context of seeing men as vulnerable, in comparison to the context of men-on-women violence and harassment that does exist.

Women are socially raised to be afraid of random men in the street – taught by their mothers to cross over the road if they’re walking home and someone approaches you on the street; told to carry attack alarms; told to not get too drunk; told to “wait” to have sex; told to generally behave like attack or violence might be imminent at any time. Women are “supposed” to be deferential to men’s ever-present superior force and/or judgement.

But this is victim-blaming, and it puts all the onus on the victim to not be attacked, rather than the attacker NOT to attack. The same is true of street harassment – it’s the harasser’s responsibility not to threaten, not the victim’s responsibility to avoid (or shrug off) the threat.

This isn’t a difficult concept. Without the harassment, there would be no issue.

Similarly, women are far, far more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men are (that’s not to discount men’s experience), and far more likely to be afraid of men, as they tend to be taller, stronger and louder than they are. It’s an inescapable fact, and any man worth his salt should realise this and act accordingly – i.e. NOT like a dick.

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how a cat-call could get physical, and when we’re talking about completely random people in the street, it’s easy to see how even one comment could feel like a potential threat.

Would you like to feel threatened just walking down the road in your jeans? Thought not.

Myth 4. Street sellers and other people on the street speak to you in public too, and that’s not harassment, so why is this?

Minor point: street vendors and similar are selling something – they have a legitimate reason to talk to people who they think could be potential clients. They aren’t making a judgement on your sexual proclivity, even if they are thinking that you might be a potential customer because you look young/rich/poor/busy/educated/interested. People who have a genuine reason to talk to you aren’t threatening, or choosing you simply because they’re objectifying you based on your supposedly attractive looks. It isn’t the same.

Myth 5. This happens to me too, and I just ignore it, so what’s your problem?

Good for you. But behaviour like this is symptomatic of a society that still disproportionately judges women on their looks, compared to men, and makes women feel threatened when they have no reason to feel that way.

Ignoring the behaviour doesn’t fight the root cause, and still suggests that men “can’t help themselves”. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think I can respect men, and see them as rational human beings capable of changing their behaviour to their surrounding circumstances.

Just because one person doesn’t feel affected by something, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. If you don’t get harassed, then you’re lucky. But for those of us who do, it’s unsettling, and just downright fucking creepy.

A certain kind of bloke – one who thinks it’s totally OK to yell at women in the street ‒ is ruining it for the rest of them (note – SOME of the men in the video manage to walk past the woman WITHOUT saying anything! IT CAN BE DONE, PEOPLE!). And, just because something’s been OK or acceptable for years, doesn’t make it OK now, or forever.

It’s videos like this that highlight the problem, and, as we all know, only with acceptance of a problem, can we finally figure out how to finally make it stop.

It’s my party, and I’ll post song lyrics if I want to

Despite its many foibles, I generally love Twitter. It may be the place where productivity goes to die, but I also find it supportive, funny, friendly and intelligent. I guess it’s who you follow, right?! Twitter is what you make it.

But the other day, I saw this image being widely retweeted, which made me want to switch off. Call me over-sensitive (as many have and will), but I found it pretty patronising.

Because I love song lyrics, find them meaningful and inspirational, and sometimes the only thing that can keep me going when my mental health is having another wobble.

If I sometimes post them, or use them as inspiration for art, then I don’t see why I should expect false concern in return. We don’t mock people for writing poetry, or speaking plainly about how they feel.

So why this?

Granted, social media should never take the place of a psychologist, and those of us who started using Facebook as teenagers have learned the hard – and maybe bloody embarrassing – way that online updates aren’t the place for your inner turmoil.

So yeah, if your own timeline is more emo nostalgia than interesting or funny, then
maybe log off and go outside for a bit. Everyone wins.

And yet. Personally, I love the fact that sometimes, you can post something
indirect, and connect with other people over it. Song lyrics, for example.

For so many people, myself included, song lyrics are the expression of emotions that
sometimes feel too hard to write. It’s a truism that you can often sing far simpler,
far more direct things than you can say. I’ve always been someone who can fall in
love with a song simply because it said something – however deep or however
frivolous – that I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to articulate.

And if that speaks – or more accurately – sings to me at a particular time, then I
don’t want to feel like I have to apologise for it. Or think that someone will post a sarcastic response if it’s not representative of their experience. It’s very “I’m all right Jack, my life’s going great right now, so please refrain from posting song lyrics that I find uncool, you’re bringing down my timeline, yeah?”

I mean, personally, I don’t even POST song lyrics, as such. But I do listen to music
every single day, and experience lyrics profoundly. A single line can genuinely
bring me to tears, laughter, contentment or total serenity, and that means so much.

Also, some of my most expressive painting ideas come from song lyrics, or feelings
that songs create. Why are lyrics seen as something to be mocked, but poetry or lines from literature are fine?

Many song lyrics may not be necessarily comparable, linguistically, to literature –
but as Mary Beard recently said (in the Evening Standard magazine, if I remember
correctly) studying “low art” as well as “high art” doesn’t mean that you’re saying
one is the same as the other, or better. Just different. And if Mary Beard said it,
that’s good enough for me.

If lyricists can put into song what I sometimes can’t write, then fantastic. Finding
a song that says exactly what you were thinking is cathartic, eye-opening, and makes
you feel part of something. Music is incredible, and lyrics are part of it. What
could be wrong with that?

Online arenas shouldn’t be a replacement for therapy, or somewhere to
vent your frustrations, within reason. But if some songwriter, somewhere – whether
legendary, respected, teenage, or just-in-the-charts – manages to express something
better than you yourself can, then why not?

Post it. Write that tweet. Paint that painting. Quote that quotation. And don’t
mock, or chide anyone else who does, too. If it’s not for you, unfollow, unfriend, mute, and move on.

As more and more of us see online spaces as an extension of ourselves, they
shouldn’t become yet another “cool table”, at which you can only sit if your humour,
feelings and music choice are deemed sophisticated enough for a chosen few. It’s the same reason that I find the widespread mocking of the phrase “u ok hun” pretty insulting too.

I mean, I get it: a lot of people are annoying online. But sometimes, all people need is to feel noticed, to feel that someone cares if they’re OKYes, there’s a balance – no-one likes those constantly, dreary-for-no-reason, purposefully attention-seeking statuses. But a song lyric can bridge that gap between being whiny, and saying something that is really meaningful to you.

In today’s society, where poll after poll shows that loneliness in young people is rife, if posting song lyrics – or even a painting of them – DOES elicit a friendly response from someone, and brightens up that person’s day for a bit, then what the heck is wrong with that?

I refuse to subscribe to this idea that unless you’re being unremittingly negative or dark, then you’re being “annoying”.

Don’t reduce people’s feelings – or their braveness in revealing them – to a mocking, pretend-concern, sneering greetings card. Because the only thing more insincere and cynical than someone seeking sympathy online, is someone mocking that in response.

And never mind song lyrics, it was one indisputably great writer who said it
best: If music be the food of love, play on.

Only then can we fully express the feelings we have, until they might no longer trouble us. And we can feel all the better for it.

My painting: An homage to Mucha (and good old gin and tonic)

I finally finished another painting – this time, an homage to both Mucha and gin! As someone who has only recently discovered how great a cold, refreshing gin and tonic at the end of a long day can feel, I wanted to honour this fabulous pairing.


[The Love of Gin, in homage to Mucha (c) Hannah Thompson, acrylic with metallic silver pen]

I’m not actually that happy with a lot of this, however.

Obviously, I’m happy enough to post it here (frankly I’m just satisfied that it’s bloody finished, it’s taken a while!), but I am genuinely surprised that it’s turned out OK, because at the beginning (throughout the whole thing, actually) I came within a hair’s breadth of scrapping it – many, many times.

The skin and the shape of the arms didn’t really turn out how I wanted, and the face looks a shade too cartoon-y for my liking. There are other bits of it that I struggled with, such as the waistline of the dress and getting a uniform covering throughout (my new paints are definitely thinner than the old ones I used, not to mention more unpredictable colours compared to the shade on the tube!).

The hair is OK, but not my best. I did enjoy doing the “botanicals” bit at the bottom, though – using shades of yellow and brown and white for the lemon, browns and fawns for the nuts and spices, and attacking the lavender and juniper berries with a million shades of purple and blue. It was definitely fun, if nothing else, but for a lot of it, I only kept going because I didn’t want to quit (story of my life! haha).

close-up lemonsAs with a lot of my art, I often knew what I was working on wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I didn’t know quite how to change it. I guess that’s what happens when you’re completely “self-taught” – which is, in my case,  a nice way of saying I HAVE NO BLOODY IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. And YET, considering how much I doubted it, I think it’s turned out OK.

And it’s about gin. Enough said.

ps. I realise the lemon is a political point. Entirely intentional. No lime in my G&Ts please, even if we’re only drinking Hendricks 😛

Onions: It’s WAR


Yeah, even you, you (DECEPTIVELY) cute little arty onion print

Can anyone tell me what the actual heck is up with onions?

As I understand it, they are in absolutely everything. Sauces, salsas, gravies, curries, salads…all this, despite being the reincarnation of culinary evil in small, unassuming, gently-wrapped bulb-like form.

In my defence, I’ve managed to get over their presence in Bolognese sauce, having learnt as a small child that trying to pick them out from a plateful of mince merely earned you an earache off your mother and sauce in your hair (and it STILL had onions in. The BASTARDS).

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