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.

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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

 

Seeing red

Limit #18 fat women shouldn’t wear red lipstick.

Because, despite our size, we’re supposed to make ourselves as invisible as possible. Wear black, be quiet, don’t take up space, don’t draw attention; nobody wants to see that.

Well… tough chocolate.

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See this.

I wear red lipstick because it makes me feel fabulous.

Because it’s one of the quickest and easiest entries on my bad body day rescue list.

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Things what make me feel better

Because I deserve to put beautiful things on my beautiful face.

Because I’m not allowed to wear an actual mask to work, but red lipstick sometimes works as a substitute.

Black mask

Because I refuse to make myself less for people too small to handle me.

Because I can. Because it’s my body and I’ll paint it whatever colour I damn well please.

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See?

If anyone doesn’t want to see that, there are always three other cardinal directions in which to point their eyes. They can choose one. And then go take a running jump.

This isn’t for them anyway; it’s entirely for me.

Pouty face red lips
And also to make Mum tut at me.

Hair, hair everywhere.

Limit #17: Women shouldn’t have body hair

Oh man, have I got this one covered. Or rather this one has got me covered.

You know that trick in high school when someone said, “the first sign of insanity is hairy palms,” and then laughed at you for checking, because it’s insane to think there would be hair on your palms?

Of course I checked. I still sometimes check. My body excels at producing hair and I would not be the slightest bit surprised to find it on my palms. Which used to be yet another reason I believed I ‘failed’ at being a woman. Because everyone knows the perfect woman is bald below the eyebrows.

Embarrassing secret of the day: I used to shave my arms. Not just armpits; my whole arms. I bought into that idea entirely.

But then I got into this whole body pos/feminism/fat acceptance world, and read a whole lot of articles like this one. The main part that stood out to me:

Patriarchy and capitalism worked (and continue to work) together in order to foster insecurities in women and thus encourage them to buy more products. And because the idealised image of a hairless woman is impossible to maintain, women are encouraged not only to perpetually spend money on depilatory practices but also to participate in a never-ending, time-consuming cycle of hair removal.

So we should all kick the patriarchy where it hurts and just let out hair grow wild and free! We could even dye it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m just that good). ‘But Hannah, I prefer non-hairy legs. They just look better!’. Or whichever body part you’re particularly narky about keeping hair-free.

To which I shall answer; I know.

I absolutely expect people to take me just as I am if they want to stay in my life. I am a feminist. I do know that the whole hairless thing is yet another form of oppression, and I probably only think hairless is better because ‘everyone knows’ it is. But yes, I do shave my legs. Even in the depths of winter when nobody is going to see them. And on some particularly bad body days I even cover up my hairy arms.

Turns out I’m only human, and a work-in-progress too. I stopped shaving my arms years ago, when I realised that if someone is going to stop associating with me because I have hair on my arms, like pretty much every human being EVER, then they are not worth one second of my time. But I’m just not there yet with my legs.

Which is pretty darn weird considering that at least 10 people see my arms every day but I can’t remember the last time someone saw my legs. But that’s a different matter.

So, I think you’ll find I can have body hair. Check out these arms.

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But sometimes I still wish I didn’t.

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.

 

Sometimes it’s hard

I leave my flat to walk to work. On the way some builders wolf-whistle me, then call me a bitch and a whore when I don’t respond.

I stop to buy coffee and a man steps in front of me in the queue, talking loudly into his phone. He doesn’t even acknowledge me.

I get to work and head to my desk past the guy who thinks he’s being nice, but only ever compliments me on my outfit, and only ever when I’m wearing a dress.

A man tries to explain a report to me that I have been running longer than he has been with the company. After telling him three times that I know what I’m doing I end up snapping at him, and he jokes to a colleague that it must be that time of the month.

There is training out on site; I step from the car and the first man I see asks if I’m a secretary. The training takes twice as long as planned, because they interrupt constantly to ask questions that would be answered if they would just listen until I finish speaking.

Back to the office and I take out my afternoon snack. A manager leans over and loudly asks, “are you still eating??” When I refuse to dignify that with an answer, he also mutters about my time of the month.

Finally time to go home. On the way, a randomer stops me and tells me to smile, I would look so pretty if I smiled. When I answer “you bloody smile” and walk off, he calls me names, screaming them down the street until I turn the corner out of his line of sight. If I’m lucky. If he doesn’t grab me, hit me, stab me, shoot me, rape me for not doing as I’m told.

A group of teenage boys are hanging round at the end of my street. They spread out across the pavement when they see me, thinking they can stop me. I have had more than enough so I just keep walking, banging against their shoulders, pushing through. They call me a whore, slut, cunt. They follow me home.  Tomorrow I’ll have to come home a different way.

I barely even noticed the billboards and adverts I saw all day long, using skinny, half-naked women to sell anything and everything from beer to clothes to holidays to burgers.

 

No, I am not imagining it. No, I am not making it up. No, I am not being over-sensitive.

If I had actually been on my period every time my feelings have been dismissed as PMS, I would have bled to death years ago.

If I had a pound for every time a man has assumed the right to command my facial expression, I would no longer have to work.

If I added up all the extra distance I have walked in my life to avoid males who make me feel unsafe, it would reach to Crewe and back. Several times.

Yes, you’re damn right I’m a feminist. Yes, we still need feminism. Because yes, we still have such a long, long way to go.

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 : )

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.

Cover yourself up, woman!

Limit #15: Women shouldn’t wear trousers.

Which leads to the first entry on my list entitled ‘Stuff I Can’t Believe I Actually Have To Say’:

  1. Of course women can wear trousers.

Women can wear whatever the hell we want. Trousers, skirts, shorts, dresses, onesies, dungarees, leggings, bikinis, wetsuits, g-strings and pasties. Whatever we want.

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I can wear what I want AND eat ice cream in Winter. Such a rebel.

While struggling to find some logic behind this limit (a lost cause if ever there was one) I came across the following theory:

In certain religions, women must cover their legs for modesty’s sake. So a long dress/skirt = good, and trousers = bad.

Ignoring the fact that there is nothing immodest about my body just because it’s female so I shouldn’t be forced to cover it up, this argument is totally logical. I mean, it’s not like the definition of trousers is an item of clothing that ENTIRELY COVERS YOUR LEGS.

Yep. This is the most revealing outfit I own.

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I couldn’t possibly show my face in such an immodest outfit.

Looking outside of religion, I really can’t see any ‘logic’ in the idea at all.

There’s the theory that women are less attractive in trousers so we should stop wearing them. Because everyone knows women only exist to embody the male idea of attractiveness, so any man who feels like looking at us will be pleased by what he sees.

But even if that were true, I’m really struggling to see how trousers v skirt have any effect whatsoever on my attractiveness. I’m either attractive to someone or not, why would that change according to what style of cloth I cover my body with? Unless I put the cloth over my face. But then I would still be attractive underneath it…

Oh wait, I get it. I’m only attractive if a male says so, and how can he say so if he can’t see properly? Heaven forbid he have to use his imagination.

In the past I’ve had men tell me they prefer ‘girly girls’ who wear skirts and dresses. And that’s the only definition they have ever been able to give me: skirts and dresses.

So covering the space from one leg to the other is automatically girly? I dare you to say that to a Scotsman wearing a kilt. I dare you.

I honestly don’t know what else to say about this. I find it incredible that I have to say anything.

Just stop being so ridiculous, of course women can wear trousers. Welcome to the 21st century…