RIP Sally Brampton: Who could see joy in the ordinary

On my bathroom wall there’s a page torn from the back of my favourite magazine, Psychologies. It’s a column by Sally Brampton, who killed herself last month, after a long and much-documented struggle with terrible, colour-sapping, joy-slaughtering depression.

As I never knew her personally, Brampton’s death came as a shock. I discovered it, as I do most things, by faffing around on Twitter, and it took only a cursory Google to confirm it was true.

That Brampton apparently walked into the sea seems a heartbreaking yet curiously apt method for a woman who had often written of her love of the seaside, the happiness of meeting friends on the beach, and finding meaning in the tranquil ‘boredom’ of her life since moving from London.

Although she was much heralded as a brilliant editor, razor-sharp yet kind commissioner, and the architect of a new style of women’s magazine, I only discovered Brampton through her writing on depression and life in Psychologies.

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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

pregnancy_test_result

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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“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

To my dreams, nightmares and ex-boyfriends: Please can you leave now?

One of my all-time favourite bloggers, Laura, once wrote a post about bumping into her ex-boyfriend. Although that in itself is a fairly awful situation  (which she dealt with with consummate class, of course) she also spoke about how she’d spent six months dreaming of her ex after he left.

And how she managed to get him (and his new fiancée she’d found out existed within weeks of their breakup, which sounds utterly soul-crushing) out of her repeated dreams about them by quietly telling them, mid-dream, that they couldn’t be there anymore. And it worked.

Apparently, this idea is mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s cheesy-but-truthful ode to heartbreak, Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve read the book many times but I don’t specifically remember that bit. Maybe because last time I read it I didn’t need to.

Well, this time, world, I do need to. It may be undignified to admit it, but I do.

I’ve dreamt about previous boyfriends repetitively, too. In every situation.

I dream that we’re back together; that we’re about to get back together; that he’s there but we’re just friends (and I’m laughing along with the group, being the cool girl, but dying inside).

I’ve dreamt that I’m with someone else, and he appears, ambiguously. I’ve dreamt that he comes back and says sorry and all is forgiven. Then there’s the one where he’s somewhere in a tent at a festival (?!) and all I have to do is find him and it will all be OK (except I always just keep missing him by a minute).

I’ve dreamt he’s in my bed and then he’s not. Particularly lovely, that one.

I’ve dreamt that I’m standing on a podium giving an inspirational TED talk about everything he and the breakup taught me and why I’m a better, more whole person now. I dreamt that we bump into each other, and I behave in a dignified, totally-over-everything fashion.

I’ve dreamt that my mother, family, friends, and everyone else tell me that I really should be over it by now, and that it wasn’t that big a deal in the first place. Not like you were engaged, for god’s sake. Aren’t you finished with all this needy shit already?

I’ve dreamt that I’m being laughed at, and pointed at, and mocked, by everyone in the room – thousands of people, including his friends and other people I know ‒ for believing that I ever meant anything to him, for thinking that he would ever stay, and for being too utterly stupid (or wilfully blind) to notice the signs that he wouldn’t.

I’ve dreamt about him (them?) and woken up feeling broken all over again; I’ve dreamt about him and felt utterly furious that he’d barged in to my brain uninvited, and wondered why he couldn’t just leave me the fuck alone.

When I’m awake, I often try to practice mindfulness, and see my thoughts for the random, but not necessarily-defining, whims that they are. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you’re asleep, it’s even more difficult. After all, how can you control your dreams? But I can only try, right?

So next time he appears, behind the rose-tinted, totally-twisted, stomach-wrenching spectacles you always wear in dreams, I’m going to try Laura (and Elizabeth’s?) thing.

I’m going to try and say, politely and calmly: Please can you leave now?

I don’t want you here anymore.

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.

My painting: To earrings, with hope – and sunflowers

As usual, I had an urge to paint something bright, with a powerful-looking woman centre-stage (with a perhaps inscrutable look on her face. I do enjoy a painting where the facial expressions are open to interpretation).

Then I watched Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) on Netflix, starring the beautiful Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell – I recommend the film, by the way! It’s set in Tuscany and is a very intriguing meditation on relationships – and the poster really struck me. I loved the colour and the position of Binoche on the front, and somehow related to her slightly ambiguous expression.

Juliette Binoche in the pose that inspired my painting...

Juliette Binoche in the pose that inspired my painting…

The “putting on earrings” action is also meaningful for me, as when I was doing my final exams at university, a group of friends and I had a saying: “Always wear fabulous earrings to an exam. That way, even if it all goes wrong, at least you’re still wearing fabulous earrings.” It’s always stuck with me, and I still use that philosophy today – hence why I’ve named the painting “To Earrings, With Hope”…

It’s a powerful mix of positive yet slightly fatalistic thinking, which can give me strength when I feel anything but. ALSO: I love painting flowers (and I added in a butterfly in there too, to play with colours and blending, for the heck of it). Once I’d decided I would use the film poster as inspiration, the flower-mirror setting just jumped into my mind.

Some of this is more successful than the rest – I’m really happy with the way the sunflowers have turned out, and I like the overall effect of the cartoonish style. The neck shading is all wrong, however, and no matter what I did I seemed to make it worse (argh!). However, I’m also just about happy with the mirror effect, and I like the silver pen finish on the earring (silver pen obsession alert!)…

There’s also, as ever, an element of self-portraiture going on here. Despite what you might see as narcissistic overtones (who, me?!) it’s really not 100% intentional – I don’t try to make the women in my painting look like me, as such, but I do always add in elements of things I like, which usually happen to be things that I have too – a nose piercing, for example, or an earring/ring I myself own.

She’s also wearing bright pink lipstick, which, as anyone who’s ever tried Mac in Candy Yum Yum matte knows to be a good idea, whatever the circumstance :P.

I’m never 100% happy with my paintings, ever, but overall, this does just about give the bright and colourful, yet contemplative atmosphere I was going for, and it’s also a bit of a break-away from my usual Mucha style, which was interesting, if a little challenging.

I think maybe I’ll frame it in red or pink, or perhaps more silver, to really make it pop? One thing’s for sure – I bloody love sunflowers.

main painting earrings

To earrings, with hope – and sunflowers (c) Hannah Thompson, acrylic with silver pen