“Self-care” – 4. & 5. On sweat, my favourite yoga videos, and eating less pizza

Here’s the third post in my “self-care” series, after I wrote last week that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing and demanding world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I feel like I barely have time to pause. Today, food and exercise (SIGH).

  1. Reducing carb and sugar intake, aka, limiting my Franco Manca visits

(Credit: Pexels.com)

There are more arguments around this than people on the planet, but basically, through trial and error and diets and periods of eating rubbish I’ve found that I feel better and healthier if I generally avoid carbs with my food about 90% of the time. Everyone has to do what works for them.

I’m still fatter than I want to be and I still have a serious sweet tooth (and bread tooth, and cheese and gin) but even leaving behind all the crap about Atkins and paleo and cutting out food groups and ascribing morality to certain foods – top tip, don’t do it – I know that I feel better if I don’t eat pasta, bread, potatoes or rice, or any of their friends.

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GoFund My Abortion? Why I Gave Money to a Total Stranger on Twitter

This post was first published on The Huffington Post here


Terrifying, is the only way I can think of to describe it.

Imagine, if you will, taking a pregnancy test – ripping open the packet, making sure you take it correctly, and waiting for those crucial three minutes – each second thumping into your head as deafeningly as your heartbeat in your chest.

And then, imagine seeing two red lines for a positive result, and knowing, with keen and sincere terror, that now is not the time.

Thankfully this has never happened to me – although, as someone with a fairly overactive imagination, I have been known to take many a test in my time despite being a long-time user of the contraceptive pill. All of my tests – taken solely to quiet the nervous voices in my head – have been negative. And yet, had they not been, I would have known that options were available to me. And that means everything.

But, when Jesse Samson, a 27-year-old theatre professional in Albuquerque, MN, saw two red lines appear on her test, she had no such reassurance. As she was soon to discover with mounting horror, despite paying nearly 10% of her monthly wage to a health insurance company, she has no option except to pay for a private Planned Parenthood termination. And she can’t afford it. To me, this is unimaginable.

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“Bodyshaming on bodyshaming”? Why bashing the Protein World poster isn’t the same as bashing the model in it

This week I wrote a blogpost criticising a poster that’s been cropping up around
London – a now-infamous Protein World advert selling protein powder to help women
get their body ‘ready’ for the beach.

Credit: @Seja75 on Twitter

The poster has been widely mocked for its perceived sexism and suggestion that only
one kind of body – a thin, traditionally-beautiful one – is ‘ready’ for the beach. There has been a petition against it, the Advertising Standards Agency is investigating it, and there is a planned demonstration against it in London’s Hyde Park this Saturday.

However, my main problem with it wasn’t the sexism (although wow, how lazy do you need to be to use a woman in a bikini to sell something?), or the predictability of asking women if their body is ready for the beach in spring. It’s staggeringly unoriginal, but you know,
whatever – that’s not my point.

My point was that it showed only one kind of body – the kind that is ALWAYS shown as
ideal – as the absolute pinnacle of beach-body-ness. However, neither was I especially thrilled with the ad’s use of photography or the expression on the model’s face. Legs apart, her back to the wall, scantily-dressed, an ambiguous and not-particularly-happy look on her face, the model didn’t seem that empowered or happy with her protein powder. Which kind of misses the point, no?

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“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.

I, magazine geek: Why I love magazines, Psychologies, and the “changing of the month” in WHSmith

The kind of thing you get on Google if you type in “print is dead”. SIGH.

Everyone says print is dead. I, for one, seem to bear out that theory, spending nearly all my waking hours online, connected.

Like a lot of my peers, I consume media online, 99% of it for free (The Times subscription excepted), and I get mildly peeved when magazines have rubbish websites or news agencies expect me to get my credit card out just to read a piddly 200 words of copy.

Yes, I am part of the “print is dying” problem. And, as a journalist, surely I should know better. After all, I want to be paid for my work (and I consider myself fairly lucky in this day and age that generally, I am paid for it. FINALLY).

But I also want media to be easy to consume, to be Google-able, share-able, bookmark-able. Not only so that I can procrastinate by reading it when I probably shouldn’t, but also so that I can keep better track of the best articles when I want to. Online often means free. Online means easy-to-use and find, with access from various platforms (laptop, phone, tablet).

That’s the theory, anyway.

So why is my life still punctuated by the thrill of seeing new magazines on the newsstand? Why do I still care about layout, sub-editing, and the feel of paper?

WHSmith – my spiritual newsagent home

As a little kid living in France, I used to get excited when I saw the package my grandmother used to send from England ‒ the Beano for my brother, Mizz magazine or Bliss for me.

That thick, paper package heralded the moving forward of the months, a new selection of pages to rifle, a new book of brightly-coloured missives from a community of girls who were, against all probability, like me.

I still feel that way now, even though new technology means that I would never have to wait for such content ever again. Technically, it’s all at my fingertips. So why do I still care so passionately about the first few days of the month – when all the magazines change?

I wanted to work in magazines from a pretty young age, when I realised that I was quite good at spelling and writing, and when I realised that writing for magazines means that in theory, you get to talk to loads of interesting people about their interesting lives (hopefully making up, I thought, for the fact that I never knew what I personally wanted to focus on). It all started with those new magazines, posted through our door every month.

Psychologies_jennifer lawrenceNow, after dalliances with Glamour, Marie Claire, the now-defunct Easy Living and a few affairs with Red, my favourite magazine is Psychologies.

Largely aimed at older women than me, it is nevertheless bang up my street, focusing on mental health, ways to happiness, how to manage depression and anxiety, and how to “let go” of what diminishes and reduces your life. It isn’t obsessed with celebrities, fashion, “aspirational” materialist bullshit, unhealthy diets, and other things that really get my goat about modern women’s magazines.

I am lucky enough to have met the editor, and know a couple of people who write for it. I am always humbled by its content and find it to be that “real magazine thing” – something with which you want to sit down, with a biscuit and a coffee, and get stuck into.

There are no open-mouthed, dead-eyed, under-nourished models in ridiculous outfits here. The relatively-small beauty section focuses on how to maintain your skin/hair/nails health rather than fashion, and the only column on clothes generally talks about the psychological links between dressing and your personality.

It does have celebrity interviews but asks them about their thoughts and feelings, rather than the sensationalist elements of their love life, or how great their cleavage looks in a dress. Features are about the benefits of getting a dog (I recently met the amazing woman who wrote that piece – more on that another day), how to feel happy, the benefits of therapy, how to let go, how to feel calm, how to be confident, how not to hold a grudge.

Its adverts are about health supplements, wellbeing holidays, useful beauty products and slow-food breaks.

For the past five years or so, my ultimate dream has been to launch a magazine just like it, but for women my age. (Despite the fact that by the time I theoretically get to that point, I’ll probably be the right age for the current offering anyway. Such is life.)

Of course, Psychologies has a website, which has recently been relaunched, but it’s not at all like reading the magazine. Good or bad, it still operates on a fairly traditional set-up, in that the website is just an addition to the mag, rather than the main platform, and the magazine the slowly-dying counterpart. I for one, hope that never happens.

Because, despite my online addiction, I love buying the physical magazine. That “change over” time in the shops is still magical for me.

Right now, it’s near the beginning of the month, and I know that one lunchtime soon, I’ll wander through the crowds of the station near my work to the newsagent’s, and spend a happy half an hour poring over all the new issues – considering the thinking behind that cover star, wondering what they’ve got inside this month, sneakily reading the best pieces in the magazines I probably won’t buy (BAD JOURNALIST).

I’ll consider a new purchase, if one particularly catches my eye – such as this month’s Red, or the latest interview in Glamour, which is still a bit of a nostalgic, guilty pleasure. I’ll marvel at the Women’s Fitness issue, or the Yoga World import from the US, and consider the merits of Vogue and wonder why people love it so much.

I’ll look at the newer titles, and hope that they survive, and mentally applaud the people brave enough to launch new paper magazines in this day and age. I’ll rejoice at new ones, and lament the holes that I still see despite their being long gone – the recently-closed Zest (which I used to buy), and the now-online-only Easy Living. I’ll have a triumphant peek at the magazine I work for, have a quick leaf through our main competitor, and still feel a little bit surreal about the fact that these days, I write for, and know people who write for, titles that sit on these very shelves.

I’ll look at the foreign titles in the languages I speak – French and Spanish and smattering of Italian – and wonder if I should buy them to improve my skills. I’ll feel simultaneously happy at the massive selection, and overwhelmed by the choice, and the number of titles I could potentially write for if I was a better, more persistent, more creative, better-at-pitching journalist, with 48 hours in the day.

But I always keep Psychologies until last, appreciating its use of cover stars who aren’t half-naked or dressed in some Dolce & Gabbana contraption, and wondering at its near-perfect ability to align its headlines and focus to what’s going on in my own life. If the best magazines know their readers the best, then Psychologies is up there with the greats.

My love for the magazine has become a bit of a running joke among my friends, who tease me about its supposedly-“boring” focus, it’s middle-aged-woman audience and its earnestness.

I laugh with them because I can totally see what they mean – it’s not as glamorous as the magazines peppered with A-listers and glossy handbags. But when all is said and done, it’s in that magazine that I find my people. My motivation. My feeling that I’m not alone.

It’s that magazine that spurs me on to believe that magazines are not dead. That print still has purpose.

Despite being addicted to the Internet, I still don’t subscribe to Psychologies – despite buying every single copy for the past 4 or 5 years – because I still savour that feeling of going into the newsagents, seeing it on the shelf, and buying a physical copy of it.

It is quite literally an extension of that package my grandma used to send, except now I have my own freedom and money to go out and buy it myself. That means a lot.

Somehow, downloading it on to my phone or tablet, or even getting it through the door, just isn’t the same. That lunchtime trip to WHSmith is like a little escape to my own world, where, despite still being surrounded by people, I remember why I loved magazines in the first place, and how there are people out there, writing, speaking, organising events, on things that I love and that matter to me.

It’s a strange thing that in today’s hyper-connected, “free” world, I still feel the need to pay nearly £4 per month for a collection of dead tree leaves. But there it is.

Print might be dying in many areas and forms, but as long as people like me still relish that physical, expensive copy of their favourite magazine, I harbour a small hope that they will continue to survive.

Not least for the security of my own job – which is, as a trade magazine, still largely focused on the print side of things despite the constantly-updated website and digital issue ‒ but also for my own entertainment and love of intelligent, consumer magazine communities like Psychologies.

Yes, magazines are expensive, take up loads of space, aren’t email-able, and are non-interactive. But they are still small packages of sense – missives of solid, tangible conversations.

And although I can’t bookmark their pages or save them to Instapaper (a site that allows you to “pin” online pages to look at later), every now and again, I find a quiet afternoon to go through my old copies (which are invariably taking up too much space in my bedroom) and clip out my favourite pieces, and stick them in a scrapbook.

It’s a nostalgic, old-fashioned process, reminiscent of school fun with Pritt Stick, and entirely non-computer based. It’s like being a kid again – like those Grandma-sent packages.

Good magazines are like tangible anchors in a frenetic, drifting, ever-more digital world.

I’m not a technophobe: I love the Internet for its many advantages and its ability to open doors to worlds and people you would otherwise never see or meet.

But, against all odds, I also love the “changing of the month” in WHSmith.

Long may it exist.