An exercise in saying the wrong thing

I know the man responsible will probably never see this, but I need to write it out anyway for my own processing.

For context: A few weeks ago, someone I hadn’t spoken with for over a year got in touch, and we started chatting. The usual rubbish, how are you, how’s work, what have you been up to (how I detest small talk).  Then, in response to him asking if I need to workout considering all the dancing I do, I said I probably don’t need to, but I love having muscles.

And then he sent this:

Muscle shaming

Translated for the sake of clarity, “not too big muscles, I hope; A pretty woman with a toned body is sexy. A pretty woman with big muscles is not.”

First and foremost, this is creepy. as. hell.  He hopes. He hopes, about my body. He wants my body to remain sexy at all time for his benefit. Scuze me while I try to stop my skin crawling right off me.

But it’s also infuriating, I read it and I was instantly shaking with anger. The suggestion that only ‘pretty’ women can be sexy. Because of course there’s only one definition of pretty and/or sexy.

The suggestion that well-muscled women are not sexy in any way, to anyone.

But most of all, the assumption that any of that would be a motivating factor for me. As if I would immediately sell off all my kettlebells and weights because heaven forbid I not be considered sexy. As if the entire point and purpose of my life is to be attractive.

 

So I called him out. Something along the lines of “nuts to sexy. I love my big muscles and that’s the only opinion in the world that counts”. (Actual quote lost when I deleted everything, just barely resisting the urge to set the phone on fire.)

And he sent me this:

“I wasn’t talking about you, I like the way you look. I meant like this. This isn’t sexy body-builder

Face, meet palm.

Of course he wasn’t talking about me, what with me not being a woman and all.

Of course the fact he wasn’t talking about me makes it perfectly fine for him to say that this woman is womaning wrong because she doesn’t turn him on. Dear lord, I can’t believe I just had to type that sentence.

 

By that point I was rage-shaking so badly I could barely type, and dithering between trying to get him to understand and just blocking him. In my hopeless optimism I went with giving him a chance to stop digging, with roughly the following points:

  1. Comparing me to another woman is not a compliment. Ever.
  2. ‘You meet my definition of the correct way to be a woman’ is not a compliment, or an okay thing to say in general because…
  3. If there were a correct way for me to be a woman, it would be defined by me, always me, and only me. But…
  4. There is no ‘correct’, nor indeed ‘incorrect’, way to be a woman.
  5. I’m not here for your sex drive. Ew.

 

He said I was being over-sensitive.

Then I blocked him.

 

A few people have said he had a point – they don’t find super-muscly women attractive either. But that was not what he said.

“I don’t find muscly women attractive” is a point. One I really couldn’t care any less about when it comes to other people’s thoughts on my body, but a point nonetheless.

“Muscly women are not sexy”  is not a point, it’s a sweeping generalisation that says his worldview is the only true worldview and there is no possible dimension in which anyone could find muscly women attractive.

And “you shouldn’t get too muscly because I don’t find that sexy” is so far from a valid point, that I can’t quite believe I had to type that sentence either.

I’m not angry that he doesn’t think muscles are sexy. Everyone has opinions and they’re entitled to them.  I’m angry that he tried to impose his opinion on me and assumed I seriously care whether he finds me sexy, and then dismissed me as over-sensitive for being creeped out and offended by that assumption.

I wish I had blocked him sooner and saved myself the adrenaline stress.

 

A microscopic part of me is hoping he will have thought about my points and realised his mistake. But the realist in me knows fullwell he probably rolled his eyes, muttered something about my time of the month, and carried on his creepy way.

 

In case anyone is wondering, the right response sounds a bit like this:

“I’m sorry I offended you. Thank you for taking the time to point it out and explain it to me, which you are absolutely not required to do. I’m taking your points on board and I’ll try to do better next time.”

But to be honest just “I’m sorry” would have done, rather than doubling down and mansplaining his sexism to me.

How not to be a feminist (apparently)

Limit #19 feminists shouldn’t pole dance

I was a bit afraid of pole dancing. Afraid that I would be completely useless at it, that it would be too difficult and I would tell myself I hated it so I didn’t have to admit how gutted I was that I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I would be the only fat person in the room, and the most unfit, undignified, un-everything else I could possibly think of.

Except un-feminist. Because, aside from actively adding to the oppression of women and minorities, I don’t believe that’s a Thing.

So I threw myself into it. Literally, for some moves. And it really shouldn’t surprise me by now that trying something scary ended up with me loving it.

Somehow pole class has the same effect as Thai boxing does; it makes me feel dangerous. In a world where I’m 3 to 4 times more likely  to be a victim of some form of assault, there’s a potency to feeling dangerous.  I wear it like armour.

That starts with the bruises.

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They call them pole kisses, but this is not how I kiss.  These are battle scars and medals of honour in one. I fought gravity and friction and the doubting voices in my head, and I won. These stripes were earned.

When I get a move right I am pure muscle. I am light and stardust. I hold galaxies in my skin.

SAM_3853

I collect skills like a trainer hunting pokemon; I love the new and unusual ones, but any and all are welcome.

I can write, I can bake, I can crochet, sing, salsa, play flute, run, calculate the volume of a cylinder, swing kettlebells, paint faces, sew, give a massage, doodle, audit a personnel file, belly dance, set up a pivot table in Excel, and on and on. And now I can move my body on a pole, in ways I never believed I was capable of.

We all know how gaining a new skill feels. It feels like this:

sit hand off
My first hand-off pole sit

It feels like joy and power and victory and strength in every way it’s possible to be strong.

I’m used to fitness skills that grow like plants; you can never see the change happening, but after a while you find you have a fully grown flower. But pole is like watching a time-lapse video. Three weeks ago I completely failed to do one pole deadlift, and this week I did five each side as a warm up.

I expected to walk, and found that I could fly. Give me a month and I still couldn’t explain how powerful and empowering that is.

Every class pushes my belief of what I can do.  I watch the demonstration of a move and silently scoff at the idea that my body could do such a thing, then I get on the pole and nine times out of ten I do the move. Maybe not well or as gracefully as I’d like, but I do it. If it doesn’t work the first time, I manage on my second try, or my third, or even my twentieth. I know I can keep trying.

I can’t wait for the day when I see a move and think “I can do that. Let me at it.”

So yes, I am a feminist and I will continue to learn how to pole dance.

My feminism allows and encourages anything and everything that adds to the freedom and empowerment of women. We’re free to wear make up or not, to be ‘girly’ or not, to wear heels or not, to deadlift our own body weight or not.

My feminism knows that I don’t exist in a vacuum, and everything I do is an action or reaction to the socialising I’ve received since the day I was born. I can see why some people would think feminists shouldn’t pole dance, I can see how it would be problematic. But after centuries of patriarchy and oppression and conditioning there’s really very little, if anything, that isn’t problematic.

So I choose to do it anyway. I didn’t reject society telling me what a woman should and should not do, just to let feminism tell me what a feminist should and should not do.

In doing so I’m proving that I am mighty; not to any man, or even to any woman except myself.

Just like running 10km, just like snatching 20kg kettlebells, just like studying STEM when I’ve only ever known arts, every time I go to pole class I prove to myself that I can do and be anything if I’m willing to put the work in. I’m not held back by my gender, or my size, or my introversion, or anything else that people might try to limit me with.

And that fits my feminism just fine.

Sweaty pole grin
My I-just-nailed-a-new-move face

One

It’s kind of hard to believe a whole year has passed since I started this blog. So much has changed since then, most noticeably my self-confidence:

I’ve gone from being afraid of crop tops, to wearing them as just another part of my wardrobe.

I’m on the list of life models for a regular life drawing event.

I have far more good body days than bad, and have developed tactics to deal with the bad ones.

I’ve cut from my life any people who (deliberately or not) push the wrong buttons, and I’ve made my introvert time non-negotiable.

I’ve learned to answer back and argue my point instead of being a good, quiet little lady and letting people walk all over me.

And so much more.

Honestly, I kind of expected all that to happen. Maybe not quite so well or so quickly, but I was ready for ‘fake it til you make it’ to work out as it has in the past.

I was not expecting my eyes and ideology to be thrown wide open.

This blog started off for me. I was going to do things I was afraid of so I could change. But over the last year I’ve realised that there’s a good deal more in the world needs changing, and if I can help, in even the tiniest way, I just have to.

My first year has been a learning year. My next year will be one of action. Watch this space.

Stand up speak up fight back

 

Once you pop, you just can’t stop.

There once was a woman who lived in a bubble.

The bubble had always been there, from the moment she was born, and everyone around her had one too.

It filtered everything she saw, and made the world look just fine, but it also made the woman feel bad. Her reflection through the bubble was distorted, so all the things she didn’t like about herself looked much bigger than they were, and she could hardly see any good parts.

One day she saw some people who looked strange, although she couldn’t work out why. They were loud and confident, and moved through the world with power, leaving it changed behind them.  She tiptoed closer to them and realised why they looked so different; they had no bubble!

She ran away as fast as she could, afraid of these strange people who were not living the way they were supposed to.

But she couldn’t forget about them, and eventually she started to wonder what it was like to live without a bubble. The thought terrified her, and yet the non-bubbles had seemed so… alive.

She searched for them and found them again. For a while she only watched them, learning how they moved and talked to and about each other. Sometimes they waved at her and she waved back, but didn’t dare get any closer.

Then she overheard one of the non-bubbles explaining that she had been born with a bubble as well, but she had burst it herself. Set herself free.

The woman decided to try it. She stood in front of her mirror and pushed at the bubble, but it was so thick and strong that she could only open a tiny hole in it. She pressed her eye to the hole and looked in the mirror. She couldn’t believe how different she looked! It was too strange so she looked away, but she left the tiny hole there.

She tried looking through it every day, and every day it grew a little wider, until one day with a pop her bubble disappeared completely.

She spent a long time looking at herself. Without the bubble blocking her view she saw there were so many wonderful parts of herself she had never been able to see before.

Then finally she looked around at the world, and realised that the bubble had been distorting things there as well. Everywhere she looked were things the bubble had been hiding from her.

 

Why did that advert for washing powder only contain women’s voices?

Why did that poster have only white people on it?

How could people say that trans women aren’t real women because they can’t have children? If she needed a hysterectomy, would she no longer be a real woman? So… did that guy actually believe he was complimenting her by saying she ‘looks fertile’?

Why did this clothes shop only stock 3 different sizes? All of which are well below the national average?

Did that song always have such rapey lyrics?

 

The people still in their bubbles couldn’t see the problems. Some of the non-bubbles tried to explain, and a few people burst out to join them, but most of them just got angry. They liked their bubble and the way it made the world look.

The bubble-free world was sometimes hard and frightening and painfully unfair, but the woman loved the feeling of being free to see it and try to change it.

She realised she could never force people to leave their bubbles. She wasn’t even very good at persuading them to try, but she decided to do her best anyway. Even if her trying only yielded the smallest results, it would be worth it.

It was the only bubble-free way to live, and she vowed never to let her vision be bubble-clouded again.

 

Iron smile

#‎BodyLoveChallenge2016‬ ‪#‎SmileChallenge

You get an actual smile photo today! Exciting times. Although it’s more of a happily gasping for breath photo, really.

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I’m smiling because I was feeling kinda sad, but decided to get my kettlebells out anyway. Now I feel like a hot, sweaty, iron-wielding goddess.

31 things I love (part 2)

And suddenly we’re a whole month into 2016. Time flies when…stuff happens.

Anyway here’s the round up of body love for the second half of January:

Day 17: I love that my body can dance, and that I can see myself getting better at it.
I’ve tried to write about salsa and how it makes me feel, but it’s not the kind of thing that can be pinned down by words.If the music is right and the leader is good, for a few minutes I know what joy is.

Day 18: I looooove swinging my kettlebells around. It’s so much fun and makes me feel super strong that my arms and legs can swing 20kg of iron around. Can’t wait til I can afford some 15kg bells!

Day 19: I love my ears.
I love that I can wear earrings in them. I love that through them I can hear music and songs. I specially love the dinky little elf point on my right ear.

elf

Day 20: I love my one double-jointed thumb. Because it’s a little bit weird.

thumb

Day 21: Today I love my tongue (I’ll spare you the photo) and my sense of taste. I love that it can adapt and change and learn to love things I thought I didn’t like. Except tomatoes. They’re just nasty.

Day 22: I love my grey hairs (which apparently don’t show up very well on camera), simply because not everyone lives long enough to GET grey hairs. If I’m lucky, I shall live until I go completely grey.

Day 23: While we’re up here, I love my Thorley hairline.
We have this wee triangle either side of our forehead, just to make sure we know which clan we are

hairline

Day 24: Today I love my shoulders. Just because.

Day 25: I love my lips. I can speak and play flute and eat and hold things when my hands are full.

Day 26: I love my super fast reading skills. There are SO many books in the world, I need to get through them asap!

books

Day 27: I love that I can use my body to help other people.
Plus I still find it completely amazing that I can lose a bag of blood and my body will just make more of it.

SAM_3557

Day 28: I love that my body is so vocal, although I still need to work on listening to it. It tells me when I need sleep, food, alone time, exercise, whatever I need to function well. Right now it’s shouting “humans were not meant to run on pizza and noodles!”.
Message received, body.

Day 29: I love my confidence. It takes pretty much constant work, but it’s growing all the time.

RFL

Day 30: I love my honesty. And honestly, today I’m struggling.
But never mind. Lemsip, early night, and I’ll be right back to full tilt self-love tomorrow.

And finally Day 31: I love my lovely dark eyelashes.

eyelashes

Easy peasy

“Well it’s easy for you to be confident when you look like that.”

I’ve heard variations of this sentence from several different people recently. Mostly from friends, so it’s probably meant as a compliment. But if you look closer there are some not so good things about it.

Firstly, I want to look at what these people didn’t actually say out loud. The unspoken second sentence, which sounds a little like “But what hope have I got?”.

Of course I used to do this. I used to hand out compliments like “your hair is so much better than mine” and “I wish I had your legs” all the time. Every possible variation of ‘you are worthy and I am not’.

I was so entrenched in society’s belief that I was not good enough, so afraid of being seen as cocky or arrogant, that I could even repurpose compliments as fuel for my own self-loathing. This is what we are trained to do, from so early an age that I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

Until I did.

And then I stopped. Because there are more than enough things in the world trying to tell me how unworthy I am; they really don’t need my help. Because there is nothing arrogant about not hating your own body. But mostly because what’s the point of making one person feel good just to bring another person down?

If you’re going to compliment me, thanks! We should absolutely build each other up every chance we get! But only if it builds you up as well, or at the very least doesn’t attack you. If I had to choose between a compliment that put somebody else down and no compliment at all, I would choose no compliment. Every time. You deserve so much better.

 

Secondly, the suggestion that body confidence is easy for anybody, especially women, in our culture is quite frankly ridiculous.

Billions and billions of pounds are spent on telling us that those with straight hair must want it to curl and the curly-haired must want it straight. Dark skin must want to be lighter, and lighter skin darker. Fat must strive to be thin, and thin must do everything in their power to stay that way. Every woman must aspire to walk that line, as thin as a razor blade, of being both slim and curvy. No matter what we do our bodies will never, never be enough.

All so that we will buy things. Products to control our hair, plastic surgery, diet books, gym membership, pills, weird vibrating belt things, ANYTHING that could possibly help us become what we are not. It’s a lucrative, well-honed business, and it’s everywhere.

So no, it was not easy to become this confident. It’s taken years and years of fighting the unceasing negative thoughts about myself, learning to walk away from harmful body image conversations, ignoring adverts telling me how I could be ‘better’, telling myself that I’m worthy and enough even when it seemed the least believable thing in the world.

I’ve worn tight or revealing clothes that I loved, while believing it would make people explode through sheer disgust. I’ve shouted that my body is beautiful while crying because I can’t stand the sight of it. I’ve spent hours smacking down snipey comments about my appearance, trying to ignore the voice in my head that whispers “they’re right”.

How dare you tell me it was easy.

In this society, just deciding to not hate your body (especially if it’s fat) is a radical, divisive, and difficult decision. But it is so entirely worth it.

I wish everyone could experience that amazing moment when I realised I am enough. I wish everyone could know how it feels to look in the mirror and not start listing the things they would change if only they could. To actually like what they see. To feel self-love, which is a love like nothing else I’ve ever felt.

It’s a long, hard process, but you could begin right now by deciding to pay positive-only compliments.

Replace “your hair is better than mine” with “I love your hair today”. Say “your legs are so toned” instead of “I wish I had your legs”.  See what a difference it makes just removing some negativity from your life.

Or you could jump straight to the master level and try to positive-only compliment people on anything other than their physical appearance. Because we are all so much more than just the way we look.

It’s not easy, but you won’t be disappointed. Give it a try : )

Excuses, excuses

So this little nugget has started making the rounds again

e01d440671c7ec49d3f760fb71f8b512

and somebody asked me to give my response to it. Check me out, I do requests now!

Here follows my response:

 

I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. What’s my excuse for what?

For not having three children under 5?  Well I’m a bit too busy with Voicebeat and Salsa4Water and Madrigirls and Shapenote and spontaneously staying out til 3 o’clock on a Saturday morning and all the creative hobbies I’ve picked up and running and kettlebells and…you get the point.

Plus I’ve not found anyone worth reproducing yet.

For not being a fitness professional? My brain runs naturally toward admin. I don’t take admin jobs just because they’re all I can get; I enjoy this stuff. Shuffling a bunch of random information into a coherent report, or slotting the final piece of paperwork into a personnel file so it’s ready for audit is really satisfying to me.

There’s also the fact that I’m an introvert. Just the thought of my entire job consisting of one-on-one sessions with people I don’t know very well or standing in front of a whole class of people, is exhausting.

Or are you actually, seriously asking what’s my excuse for not looking like you?

Really?

Let’s start with the fact that we don’t have the same parents. Or grandparents. Or any familial link whatsoever. My genes are not your genes, your body is not my body, we process and distribute fat in different ways, we have different metabolisms and gut bacteria, and muscles. Basically, we’re different people.

You do understand that different people are…different? Right? You don’t actually think the shelf of identically-shaped Barbie dolls is a realistic goal for society, do you?

Has it even occurred to you that maybe some people don’t need an excuse because they wouldn’t want to look like you?

Yeah you fit the shape that the media tells us everyone must fit into (even though only about 5% of people can achieve it) but, honestly, I like my shape better. You’re kinda straight up and down, and I like curves.

But even if none of this were true; if there actually were a ‘healthy size’ or a ‘correct shape’ for people to be; if it were physically possible for everyone to become exactly the same size and shape as you if they just tried hard enough, do you really think shame is the way to get people to do that?

People have been fat-shaming at least as long as I have been alive. That’s 27 years – more than enough time for everyone to ‘move more and eat less’ their way into your body shape. But there are still fat people in the world (hi there!) and not everybody looks like you. It’s time to consider the possibility that fat-shaming is no use as a weight loss tool.

And why would it be? Why on earth would we spend time and money looking after something we hate? There’s a botanical analogy I quite like:

If a flower is a weed, you kill it.

If you like a flower, you pick it.

If you love a flower, you nurture it.

When you fat shame me (and yes, that photo is fat-shaming), you’re trying to tell me that my body is a weed. It doesn’t matter that you believe this weed can be transformed into a lovely flower; you’re telling me that my body, as it is right now, is bad.

That’s reeeeeally not going to make me take care of it. At all. I’m actually more likely to go eat a double cheeseburger with fries because my weed-body doesn’t deserve good food, while telling myself repeatedly what a sack of wasted oxygen I am. Yah, that’ll get me losing weight in no time.

Thankfully, I no longer derive my self-confidence from my outward appearance. You can try to fat shame me but I am just not listening.

But, for the sake of people still stuck in the trap of the diet industry, please stop. They are amazing, beautiful people just as they are but because they believe people like you, they can’t see that. You’re destroying them.

What’s my excuse?

My excuse is I don’t care how you think I should look. My excuse is I don’t need to alter my body to fit your ideal, because it’s perfect just the way it is. My excuse is I don’t need an excuse.

If you want to do whatever it takes to look the way you do then fine, do you.

But don’t you dare try to manipulate me and steal my happiness by making me feel like my body is made of excuses. Like the one and only reason I look the way I do is because I’m too busy ‘making excuses’ to take care of my body.

There’s enough rubbish in the world without people sticking narrow-minded bullying like that up on the internet. It’s time to stop it.

Return to sender

Dear 25-year-old me,

I’m sorry.

I’m so, so sorry. I know what you’re going through, I know how you feel, and I’m sorry.

I wish I could hug you, because I know how desperately you need it. But at least you have your new friend. Didn’t see him coming, did you! I know he will hug you so tightly that all your broken pieces will start to fit back together again.

You don’t have to be wary; he’s not trying to fix you. He’s just showing you that you’ve always been strong enough to fix yourself.

And you will.

You’re relieved to be free of that boyfriend, I know, and I’m proud of you for letting go of that toxic waste so quickly. But you don’t understand yet just how lucky you are. I wish you would be kinder to the new girlfriend. You know it’s not her fault, and it turns out you need each other.

Right now it feels like your world is ending, and that there’s no point trying with anything or anyone because you’ll just lose that as well. But it’s not true. I promise you it’s not true, and you know I don’t make promises lightly.

With all my heart I wish I could tell you the hole in your chest will go away. But I can’t tell you that. So far it’s proving to be just as stubborn as we are.

But I can tell you that that’s okay. You’ll discover that you can build something strong around weakness. That it’s entirely possible to feel like you’re not whole and still achieve incredible things.

And you will.

You are going to do things you believed you never could. You’re going to do things that frighten you, things you think you shouldn’t, things other people tell you you shouldn’t. And you’re going to love it.

But even better than that, you will inspire other people to try things they never thought they could. You will make people think about issues in ways that have never occurred to them before. You will teach them to have more confidence than they ever believed possible.

That woman you have idolised since your very first salsa class is going to sit down next to you in a club and tell you that she loves your blog. And you won’t even run off in a squee-ing fangirl mess; you’ll talk to her about it, about feminism, and books, and how much you’ve changed.

You will love yourself and your body so much you won’t be able to stop trying to spread that love to other people. Instead of grasping at compliments, you will pay them out freely. It will become your new life goal to help every person you interact with to see just how wonderful they are.

Sounds ridiculous, right? It’s hard to believe things can change so much in just 2 years, especially starting from where you are. Sometimes I still can’t believe it. But the fact is it will change. Things will get better. You will be okay again.

So here’s my advice, dear 25-year-old me: have patience and don’t wait.

Have patience with yourself. You’ve lost something in pretty much every area of your life; of course it hurts and of course that’s going to change you. You’ve been through hell (just wait til you see the look on therapists faces when you tell them what’s happened) and that takes time to get over. You don’t have to be better right now. You don’t have to force yourself better at all.

But don’t wait. Don’t wait until you feel ‘good enough’ to audition for Madrigirls. Don’t wait until you’re thinner to wear whatever you want. Don’t wait for that guy to ask you out. Don’t wait for confidence to come to you.

Just go for it, wear it, ask him first, do everything you have ever wanted to, act bravely and the confidence will come flooding in. Live. You can do it, you can do anything, and you will be okay.

I promise.

 

All my love,

27-year-old you.

Five Joys of Feminism.

It does suck sometimes. But these are just some of the reasons I loves being a feminist.

Paula vs Patriarchy

Being a feminist is the worst.

Every day, feminists face skepticism, disrespect, threats and abuse. As a result, being a feminist is pretty horrible 90% of the time.

So why are feminists so ardently committed to being feminists? Well, besides it being kind of a CRUCIAL HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT, there are also a few magical aspects that might just make it worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

Here are five joys of feminism:

1) Finding a fabulous feminist soul mate.

stepbro

When you find that special human, of any gender, who sees the world the same way you do, it’s fantastic.

You sit together on floor cushions, surrounded by mountains of food (how else do people socialize?) and revel in your shared frustrations, revelations and opinions. You shake your head at the same offensive comments, cyber-stalk your favourite human rights leaders, and bounce questions off one another about civil rights.

You two…

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