The Book That Made Me…Follow My Heart: Light is the New Black by Rebecca Campbell

Light is the New Black came at exactly the right time. Any sooner, the words would’ve broken me in all the wrong ways. Any later, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that arose when I started reading this.

Right. On. Time.

From the moment I opened the first page, Rebecca met me soul-to-soul, heart-to-heart, and for the first time I felt someone say the words I had no idea how to express. A sensation I had felt my entire life. Let me provide a little backstory as to how I came across this book and why it was so poignant…

Since I was around 15 years old, all I wanted to do for a career was “help people.” That’s all I had. That, in a nutshell, was my career goal. I had no idea what that looked like in practice, or what it even meant. It was simply the feeling I had in my soul. Whenever I shared this with someone, they would always reply “Oh. Like, a social worker?”

Umm…yeah, sure. A social worker.

And so my journey toward social work began, even though it never felt like it fully fit comfortably. Heading toward that goal always felt like wearing a pair of shoes that were a little too loose – slipping off my heels and clomping around. Despite that, the small steps I took toward my goal never felt like the wrong things. Always, in my heart, I knew I had to take these steps. It was just the end goal I wasn’t quite sure about but, when you had a career choice of wanting to “help people”, I really had nothing else to go on.

Cut a long story short, I ended up becoming a family support worker. The ultimate experience that I would need in order to go on and complete my Masters in Social Work. It was such rich experience, I learnt so much, and it was absolutely invaluable in shaping my interests and desires moving forward. I received so much insight into the human experience and understanding people. However, working side by side with social workers allowed me to understand the role and, actually, it soon stopped appealing to me. It didn’t discourage me too much as, by that point, I was actually in a job helping people so it was exactly what I wanted to do. A dream come true, so to speak.

Eventually, however, I fell foul of what I now understand as compassion fatigue. This, probably mixed in with some other personal shit I was going through at the time, made for a horrible recipe. My husband and one of my closest friends encouraged me to take an administrative job – something stripped back, a little less responsibility, and less stress. Something I could leave in work when I left the office at 5pm. I resisted for so long as I had worked so hard to get to where I was in the support work role but, on the other hand, I literally hated who I was becoming and I didn’t recognise myself anymore.

Enough was enough – I had to pack it in and take the advice I was given. (I did try moving to another place of work, wondering if a fresh start somewhere would help. It didn’t. By the second week of the new job, I rang my husband in tears telling him I couldn’t do this anymore.)

It broke my heart. For 12 years, I had been aiming this arrow at my little dream. It guided me through university, powered me through my first job, made me search for training…everything was pinned on “helping people.” Now, at 27 years old, I had no idea what the fuck to do. I had to find a new dream…

…Or did I?

When I quit, I had no job to go to. I was looking for that administrative role but, until I got one, I was unemployed. My husband was paying for everything and I had a small amount of savings to help me stay afloat. I’d had Rebecca’s book in my Amazon Wishlist for ages and, one day, it caught my eye again as I was scrolling. What the hell – I needed something to pick me up.

I went to my local coffee shop, settled in with a Latte, and opened Light is the New Black. I didn’t know what to expect but the first page cut through the bullshit and spoke directly to my soul:

For as long as I can remember, I had this inner knowing that I was here for a reason. I knew I had a purpose, a calling, but the whole thing stressed me out. It was like walking around with this huge weight of responsibility on my shoulders. It felt like I had this urgent thing to do and time was running out.

I could’ve cried. I mean, I didn’t – I was in a public coffee shop having my heart, mind, and soul blown open in the most incredible way and I had to sit there and sip my coffee like everything was OK but inside I was fucking DANCING in a downpour that drenched my parched soul. Someone else!! There was someone else who felt like I did! There it was, summed up on paper, the words I could never find to describe a way I had felt for so, so long…

And so began a pilgrimage into my soul, guided my Rebecca’s words, figuring out what I wanted and what my soul needed.

I didn’t have to give up on my dream. My dream is here – written on these pages of this blog. This is how I do it now. To everyone else, it’s just another blog but, for me, it’s so much more. With the podcast, too, it’s just another step in alignment with what I need to do.

That book shaped the contents of my blog as I got more in tune with my heart again, listening more to my soul, and hearing my deepest desires. I had always wanted to be an actor since I was very young but it was more “in an alternative universe” kinda thing – reading Light is the New Black made me realise that following what lights me up and getting lost in doing it was a sure sign that maybe it’s what I was supposed to be doing all along. I auditioned for a role, and got the part…which only served to highlight where I still needed to grow!

The book is beautifully structured into small, digestible, thought provoking, chapters. You can read it chapter by chapter until you’re so full you need to take a break to process everything that’s been said (I fall into this camp), or you can read a chapter a day, or you can Russian roulette it and flick to a random page for a burst of inspiration. Each chapter ends with a small question which act as great journal prompts, or a mantra, or a simple sentence you can chew on throughout the day. It truly is such a wonderful book that will wake up your soul.

Overall, this book made me realise that if you follow what truly lights you up, what makes you feel the sun from the inside, then you’d do well to follow it. Feel the nagging feeling, listen to what it’s telling you to do, and do it. Watch the doors open for you and leave your comfort zone – the world is waiting.

You can purchase Light is the New Black on Amazon

The Books That Made Me…

When I find a good book, there’s something about it that’s always unforgettable in some way. Whether it’s the way it made me feel as I read it, or the little wisdoms I picked out in the chapters…There’s always something about a decent book that stays with you long after the final chapter. (If you want to check out my favourite books, you can click here.)

As this period of lockdown seems to be ever extending, I’ve been able to read a lot more than usual. In need of inspiration for my bookshelf, I’ve been seeking Amazon recommendations, browsing Good Reads, and trying to find more words to nourish my soul on Instagram.

If anyone else is in a similar position, I’ve decided a launch a new feature on my blog called ‘The Books That Made Me…’ Each Sunday, I’ll be featuring a book that impacted my life, my thoughts, or my feelings in hopes to inspire you to replenish your own book shelf, or to pick up that classic you’ve been meaning to read again.

If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

See you Sunday!

Books That Changed My Life

You know when you read those books that just have you stopping at every other sentence, sighing, and just leaving you in awe at how beautiful they are?
Is it really just me?
Well, I’m sure I’ll be in good company once you sink deep into the literary heaven listed below…

‘East of Eden’ – John Steinbeck

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.

Having read Of Mice and Men in High School as part of the GCSE curriculum, it was a number of years before John and I met again. I cannot remember what persuaded me to buy this book as all I can remember is someone, somewhere, quoting it as one of the best books ever written. Of course, with such great a claim, I had to see what the fuss was all about and thus began my adoration for Steinbeck. If you read any of his work, please do not overlook this literary genius. It’s slow to begin but, once you get used to the pace, you begin to fall in love with every character as if they were friends of your own. I remember feeling sad when I turned the last page as these characters had been with me for months and I would miss them such is the talent that Steinbeck possessed. He writes with true compassion for humanity, with such a beautiful empathy for human struggle, no matter how small or large. He is one of the wisest, most modest writers I have ever come across and, for that, East of Eden will always have a special place in my heart. (If you enjoy this book, I would also highly recommend Travels With Charley by the same author.)


The Beautiful and The Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

…for both of them looked forward to a time when love, springing forth like the phoenix from its own ashes, should be born again in its mysterious and unfathomable haunts.

Overlooking the Seine, Paris, in the mid-afternoon sun is the Latin Quarter. The remnants of bohemian Paris, the historically intellectual hub where philosophical minds and poetic souls would collide. Tucked away in one of the corners is the Shakespeare and Company bookshop which has a long-standing literary reputation and, I believe, still offers poets and writers a place to sleep in exchange for work within the store. It was here that I bought my copy of The Beautiful and The Damned and, perhaps with this whimsical backdrop of beloved Paris imprinted on my heart, it has remained a firm favourite. Matching the bohémien vibe of this beautiful city is Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical account of two young libertines. Documenting their highs and lows, struggles with moderation and hedonism, it echoes the all too-tragic existence of Scott and Zelda themselves. Rumour has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald once took a taxi ride around New York one evening, during one of his more joyful times, and wept for he knew that he would never be so happy again in his life. How could you not be curious to read this book after reading something so bittersweet?

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Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from place we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.

Well, bloody hell, Arthur. You blew this one out of the water. What is truly remarkable about this book is that a Western male had to get inside the mind of a woman (which is no mean feat.) And, not only an adult woman, but also a girl, a teenager, and a young woman. And, not only a woman, but a Geisha. And, not only a Geisha, but a Geisha growing up in particular period and facing life’s challenges such as death, heartbreak, passion, and desire. I have no words, just utter admiration for which Arthur Golden invites the reader on a beautiful life journey with Sayuri. It is written at such a wonderful pace; a pace some may consider slow but to write it any quicker would do a dishonour to the character. Stick with it and you will not be disappointed.

De Profundis – Oscar Wilde

To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less a denial of the soul.

Oscar Wilde is my man. I am fascinated by his life, his beliefs, and his philosophy. If half of my favourite quotes come from John Steinbeck, then the other half come from Oscar Wilde. The first piece I read by him was his poem Panthea and, since then, he has continuously thrilled my heart with his words. De Profundis, however, is one of the most powerful pieces of work I have ever written. It is a letter to his alledged lover written whilst he was in prison. It contains raw humanity, sheer vulnerability, and his wrestling with regret, pain, love, and loss. It moved me to tears at certain points and it only solidifies the great philosophical, self-aware, and poetic prowess this man holds.

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Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

When I get lonely these days, I think: so be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.

This book is inspiring, to say the least. It will encourage you during the most difficult times of your life to take the lemons and make lemonade. Elizabeth proves that resilience is built through embracing pain, taking responsibility for your actions, and moving through the challenges to create something truly beautiful. It will also make you want to travel the world in search of new experiences and, at the very least, visit Italy and eat a whole lot of pizza. An easy read but still packed full of wisdom; the kind of wisdom that is born out of sorrow but is bursting with hope.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7 – Paul, the Prophet.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

And, finally, a holy text. The Bible itself but, more in particular, 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7. This is probably the most practical guide on love; what it looks like and how it is an array of subtle elements that combine together to create a whole. When someone is patient with you, they are showing you love. When you rejoice in other people’s accomplishments, you are showing them love. Someone once said to me “try replacing ‘love’ with your own name. That is how you know whether you are loving and, if you find you’re not…well, now you know what to do.” It only serves to highlight, away from the Hollywood stereotypes and over-acting we view in the media everyday, how the daily acts of living and forgiving are threads weaving themselves together to create a wonderful tapestry that makes the world a better place to live in. When I need to remember what love is, I come back to this every time.

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The Gender Agenda

There has been a marked rise in the publicity of Gender Neutrality, Transgender, identification as Cis-Male/Cis-Female, to name only a few variations of the discomfort some experience with gender labels in modern society. Unfortunately, I have been privy to throwaway comments and ridicule overheard from others about how ridiculous it is, and how ‘they’ are only ‘attention seeking.’ On the contrary, if “they” are doing anything at all it is with respect to the fact that these individuals are drawing attention to the complications of the labels ‘Female’ and ‘Male.’

These different ways of self-expression in the world are beginning to start a conversation we must have as we embark onwards in our process of civilisation. Furthermore, it is desperately sought antidote to the sexist, bi-gender divide we still endure in 2017. “[T]here is no reason to assume that genders ought to…remain as two.” (Butler, 1990: 9) The fact that we so unflinchingly accept this bi-gender divide as the norm is concerning in a world which is founded upon questioning the status quo. The individuals who forgo traditional gender roles, or even those who identify as cis-gender, highlight the need of an overhaul in the traditionally accepted means of gender expression and a thorough analysis of what it actually means to be male and female in modern society.


Explaining ‘Gender’

A basic dictionary definition states “either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.”[1]

At present, we have two gender established based on social and cultural construction and relating to sex and/or biological difference.

“Can we refer to a ‘given’ sex or a ‘given’ gender without first enquiring into how sex and/or gender is given, through what means? And what is sex, anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such ‘facts’ for us? Does sex have a history? Does each sex have a different history, or histories?”

(Butler, 1990: 9)

The concept of gender is not so straight forward as first suspected. If anything, however, gender is very much a performative expectation embedded in social values and cultural expectations. From birth we are socialised into the ‘correct’ gender roles. Pink blankets for girls, blue for boys. It’s present throughout their childhood as they learn their place in the world and how they fit in. We encourage our boys to be adventurous, courageous, bold, and fast. We enrol them into Rugby, Boxing, and Football. We encourage them to be competitive and to win. We teach them to fight and wield toy weapons. We tell them to be strong and “big boys don’t cry.” There is little emphasis placed on encouraging them to declare love for their Fathers; the ability to be emotionally vulnerable is not stereotypically male.

On the other hand, girls are encouraged to be safe and responsible. We enrol them into Ballet and, if we’re reckless, Horse Riding, at most. We worry when they climb trees, when they wrestle, and when they fight. We buy them small make-up sets and Princess dresses. We allow them to cry, to show a deep emotional vulnerability. We encourage their compassion and concern, but dissuade their frustration and anger. We tell them to be caring, considerate, and think of other’s needs. We let them look after Tiny Tears baby dolls, be the housekeeper of Barbie’s bright pink apartment. Girls are sugar, spice, and all things nice.

This is not just happening in Primary Socialisation but onward into Secondary Socialisation where these values are established as the norm. Wider society readily accepts these boxes called ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ and subtly manage the two categories. For example, look at the Argos catalogue or any modern Toy Store; a strictly divided space where boys and girls toys are separated by Navy Blues and Baby Pinks. They are informing and reinforcing gender expectations through obvious segregation of activities that girls and boys are ‘allowed’ to play with. This, of course, serves a double purpose in ascribing the roles we are to eventually adopt as Male and Female adults.

Little girls are given plastic babies to look after, complete with ‘real’ urinating mechanisms and are programmed to sound distressed in their false hunger. Imitation kitchens with their plastic foods to prepare. Vulnerable animals to look after and take responsibility for.
On the other hand, little boys are offered Lego to construct things with and allow their imaginations to run riot with possibility. Superhero Marvel characters with their fighting actions. Dress up Iron Man with his metal abs. “Boys are encouraged to individuality. They are trained to be independent in thought and action, while girls are taught obedience, dependence, and deference.” (Rosenberg, 1982: 79)

This means of subtle guidance into acceptable gender boundaries that adheres to cultural expectations is not without victims. At some point, we have all been one. We may have been the girl who was discouraged from shouting, play fighting, and being wild because it’s not ‘ladylike.’ Perhaps we were the little boy who was met with anger when he cried from falling over in the playground. Maybe we have been the married women of ‘child-bearing age’ who was turned down for a job or promotion because her fertility meant the threat of maternity leave and less profit. Or, more close to the heart, we know of the men who commit suicide because displaying emotion is a masculine sin.


Our Men

On some level I believe that these gender roles are contributing to the uphold of patriarchal standards that are harmful to all of us. It is wifely known that men have a longstanding apathy toward freely expressing emotion and the ostracization from others in such situations is a very real threat. Being unable to weep from the heart or discuss their problems openly with other men is damaging. The Office of National Statistics reveal that three out of four suicides are male and is the biggest cause of death in men under 35. Moreover, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women and this is followed by the fact that men are 50% more likely to be compulsorily treated as psychiatric patients. And, contrary to popular belief, 73% of adults who go missing are male.

Women are encouraged to be emotionally vulnerable and, as a result, it produces a protective factor in that it is likely many women would experience a stronger social bond with friends and relatives. However, one of the best ways to insult a group of men having an open and honest conversation is to liken them to a “Mother’s meeting.”

But what of our little boys living in this emotionless world and an environment that expects outgoing behaviours, loudness, physical aggression through play fighting, and a general uninhibitedness? When they are afraid or hurting, we tell them they must be brave and ignore the pain. After all, big boys don’t cry. However, we then have the audacity worry when our boys turn violent, displaying levels of emotional dysregulation, fail to express their emotions in a means that we can understand, act impulsively, have little awareness of danger, and are seemingly out of control.
Instead of reflecting upon the wider influences, we believe that there is something wrong with them and, thus, the term ‘ADHD’ becomes part of our conversations. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is mostly diagnosed in boys and, though symptoms can vary, it generally presents as hyperactive and aggressive. In look at statistics, what causes curiosity is that in Austria for every sixteen males diagnosed with ADHD only one female is which is a high comparison compared to other Western European countries. Whilst I am uncertain of the reasons why, it is interesting to note that further research into Austrian culture reveals that the concept of traditional gender roles, influenced by Roman Catholicism, still pervades to a certain extent. This naturally inclined my mind to consider the role of religion in upholding gender roles. (What I am trying to emphasise is that I do not believe there is a link between Roman Catholicism and ADHD…)

It is of no secret that Christianity upholds a sense of traditional gender roles; females are ascribed roles justified as part of “God’s” natural order. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5 v. 24) That is to say, women are “made” to be naturally submissive, mild, empathetic, compassionate, non-violent, quiet, and have a general bias toward children.

“The Rites are archaic and primitive so that part of the core of female consciousness can be kept archaic and primitive. […] By instilling in women an internal police force, the new religion often does better than the older ones at keeping women in order.”

(Wolf, 1990: 87 & 90)

Men, on the other hand, are forced to take control, to lead, to be submitted to, and are the “head” of the family. “Now I want you to realize the head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is man.” (1 Corinthians 11 v. 3) Such ingrained is this as the expectation within churches and excused as part of “God’s” intended way, it becomes the key to holiness.


Gender Dysphoria: A Mental Health Problem?

If we consider what we have thought about so far, it should come as no surprise that when the gender boundaries are disrupted, society has cause for concern. Should we be concerned when our boys desire to wear dresses? Should we be outraged when our girls want to get into wrestling instead of Barbie dolls? Or, more importantly, should they be concerned? Whatever our opinions may be, what becomes of gender boundary invasion is summarized as a mental health condition. The DSM-5 states that Gender Dysphoria is:

‘a marked incongruence between  one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months’ duration, as manifested by at least 6 of the following:

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender
  2. In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing…’ […]

‘in boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities.’

As opposed to a disruption in the individuals healthy mental state, it would not be unwise to consider it may be, and speaking frankly, everyone else’s problem. Would it be so reckless to allow our children to consider how they want to present long before we begin to carve a path for them? Perhaps in doing so we would reduce the amount of children, teenagers, and adults who feel misaligned within themselves with their assigned gender. Thousands upon thousands of individual’s lives have been ruined by their perceived internal flaw in not feeling comfortable with their gender when, really, we ought  consider the problem being external.

Erving Goffman spoke a lot about the social individual in The Performance of the Everyday Self. He argues that everyone is performing as they would like their audience to perceive them. Likewise, gender can be summed as a set of performative values embedded in a cultural script. We offer our children this script long before they are born; a script passed down from generation to generation.

“The view that gender is performative [seeks] to show that what we take to be an internal essence of gender is manufactured through a sustained set of acts, posited through the gendered stylisation of the body. In this way, it [reveals] that what we take to be an ‘internal’ feature of ourselves is one that we anticipate and produce through certain bodily acts […] [and] an hallucinatory effect of naturalised gestures.”

(Butler, 1990: xv)

Unfortunately, when we forego our expected performance and dare venture into the incorrect gender role, we are punished, ridiculed, and socially excluded to some extent. We find that there are certain jobs reserved for Males (Electrician, Doctor, Tradesman, CEOs, etc.) and others for Females (Teacher, Nurse, Babysitter, Care Worker, etc.) We reject the man who dares to wear dresses as ‘a bit weird.’ The woman who cuts her hair short and wears strong suits are ‘butch.’ Female CEOs are untrustworthy bitches. Male Beauty Technitions must be homosexual. In rejecting the gender status quo the individual highlights the external, macro opinion of a society clearly disturbed by those who invade gender boundaries, usurp expectations, and carve an unknown path. “In such a case, not biology, but culture, becomes destiny.” (ibid.: 11)

Surely, in modern Western society, there is no doubt that gender roles are limited, create unnecessary boundaries and, additionally, a whole host of unnecessary problems. Gender can be empowering or soul destroying, it can be helpful or debilitating, it can save or ensnare. Those who choose their own expression of gender, in whatever form it may take, are bringing to the forefront the reality that gender is a spectrum and that it is not binary. The gender choices made by individuals today will fuel the conversations tomorrow. Perhaps there is hope yet.

 

References and Further Reading

1 Oxford Dictionaries (2017) Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gender [Accessed 26 April 2017]

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Butler, J (1990) Gender Trouble, NY & London: Routledge.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, London: Penguin Group.

Rosenberg, R. (1982) Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism, United States of America: Halliday Lithograph.

Weeks, J. (1989) Sex, Politics & Society, Essex, England: Longman Group LTD.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

The Average Girl on Instagram

Most people nowadays are familiar with the perfectly square image on the social media app Instagram. Who knew that such a simple concept would erupt into a worldwide phenomenon? On a personal level, I love it – mainly because I have easy access to numerous cat memes and shit. On top of keeping up with friends…but, first, cat memes.

One thing about Instagram is the celebrity accessibility. There was a time when celebrities were the untouchable gods and goddesses that graced the covers of urban bibles (magazines to us peasants.) They’d offer us their image, bestow their gracious wisdom on how to achieve their physique that even Venus would envy, and perhaps give a hint toward their latest high-profile relationship. “Why do [we] care so much what the magazines say and show? [We] care because, though the magazines are trivialised, they represent something very important: women’s mass culture.” (Wolf, 1990: 70) However, times have changed. Now Kylie Jenner snaps straight to our phones while we’re waiting in the pissing rain for the next bus to go to work and she’s flashing us her impossible figure. Suddenly, it’s as though she’s like us…human, or something. I mean, she’s a real human instead of an inaccessible goddess…

Essentially, she is the celebrity Jesus.

Due to this phenomenon, celebrity has become less mysterious. Quite literally anyone with a bangin’ face or rockin’ bod’ can gain followers and become a blue ticked celeb on Insta. Instafame. Or, for the sake of metaphor, the holy celebrity spirit has the potential to embody us all. In effect, instead of celebrity becoming the #bodygoals of our generation, the average girl on Instagram has. Which is bad fucking news for our guilt levels – more than ever – because if Sarah from Ediburgh can have killer abs and a body that would make even Hercules cry, why can’t we?

Flesh: A Brief History

The earliest I can remember of becoming aware of my body was when aged around three or four years old. These are happy memories; with my grandparents in their house. Like any other family, my Grandparents were very much on hand to support throughout my earliest, most fundamental, years of development. During these years, a child learns of their place in the world, a sense of identity, and how the life around them works. They learn whether they can trust adults, or need to be self-sufficient. They establish whether this world is a chaotic place full of fear and loathing, or a joyful place where mistakes are corrected and forgiven.

During these formative years were also my first impressions, gained from other people’s reactions, of how others perceived me at a surface level.  I would gain comments from the close individuals in my life like “Lovely legs. Lovely long legs you’ve got there, Laura.” The way they said it – tone of voice, facial expression, and the overall warmth of affection by which they reinforced what they were saying, made me realise that this was good. I would smile; I did not fully comprehend what ‘lovely long legs’ meant and, frankly, my childish mind did not care whether my legs were long, medium, or short. I was still concerned that these legs were not able to run fast enough to get away from the other kids playing ‘tag’ on the school yard. (I am now a half-marathon runner and would like to say a big fuck you to all the children who laughed at me and saw me as an easy target.) Nevertheless, it made an impression.

Likewise, I am not certain how but I also knew that when I was four years old I weighed four stone. This, I learnt from the responses of the adults around me, was good. An object of shame and fear, as well as obsession, in the female adult world is the weighing scales. Even in my young, early formed mind, I understood that weighing scales were very much a feminine piece of equipment for the reactions that were gauged from using it were more or less women gushing or groaning whilst looking at that glowing red number between their feet.

My four stone frame was also adorned with comments like “So skinny! Look at her, Skinny Minny!” This, I learned, was good. They said it smiling. They said it with envy and pride. Being four stone at four years old, being a ‘skinny minny’ with ‘lovely long legs’ was all very good, indeed.

Guilt

It’s not a new thing to say that women are constantly at war with their bodies due to the dissemination of media bullshit aimed toward females. We are made to feel guilty for our natural state – fat, cellulite, aging, wrinkles. It’s all a pile of crap but, nevertheless, it is a powerful pile of crap. Don’t deny it. No matter how hard you fight against it, it gets in your fucking veins. Literally.

Foucault stated that power is not held by one particular person but is the result of an interconnected system based on visibility; power ‘coerces by means of observation.’ (Foucault, 1984: 189) We are observed and we observe. Feminism back in the day would’ve recognised this as the ‘Male Gaze’; and women are just as susceptible to gaze at other women. ‘The modern arsenal of the [beauty] myth is a dissemination of millions of images of the current ideal…’ (Wolf, 1990: 16) The norm is created and a ’micropeniality of time…of activity…of behaviour…of speech…of the body…[and] of sexuality…’ (Foucault, 1984: 194) is simultaneously created to reinforce this norm. Basically, if we deviate from this norm subtle procedures are used to ensure that we understand our crime, mainly humiliation and an exclusion from the female luxuries of society (ibid.)

In layman’s terms; we see the fit bodies, the abs, the glutes, the thighs, the hair, the skin colour, etc, and these are presented as the female norm. The moment we see a hint of fat rolls, cellulite, or age, we are humiliated and punished by exclusion; goodbye body con dresses, crop tops, skinny jeans…you get the gist. As such, this essence of visibility has an effect on every woman – we are aware that we are being analysed from every angle and, thus, we aim to adopt the ‘normal’ body types expected of us…

With me so far?

The Average Women Aint So Average

‘The qualities that a given period calls beautiful in women are merely symbols of the female behaviour that that period considers desirable. […] Competition between women has been made part of the myth so that women will be divided from one another.’ (Wolf, 1990:13 – 14) No more obvious than the norm being perpetrated over social media. Nowadays, my feed is blowing up with images of half naked women in gym attire, flexing their abs, and talking about fucking gains; all the while the hash tag #strongnotskinny pervades as a means of rebellion. This bullshit hash tag just further covers up the fact that we have become an Instagram nation of desperates who spend hours in the gym to – yes – match up to the norm we’ve all come to loathe and love. We want to be #strongandskinny…Let’s just be honest about it, yeah?

We have been told time and time again that women’s currency is the body; that we are first female, second flesh, and third a human. The more we are able to prove our worth through the body, the more culturally rich we are, and the more cultural influence we have. People will listen to us. People take notice of us. People praise us. Don’t believe me? Look at the amount of followers on a woman who frequently shows her body; if it’s under 10k I will eat salmon. (I fucking hate sea food and I follow a vegan diet so I am so serious right now.) People notice.

In the back of our minds, back in the days of magazines having the monopoly of media, we understood that celebrities paid good money to have these bodies, that they had personal trainers, countless surgeries, and all because their body was their job. Before we blamed Kate Moss for bringing a brand of heroin chic to our society and, with it, an assumed influence over young girls and a rise in Anorexia Nervosa. Now, through the perpetuation of gym-honed bodies over Instagram, it seems that anyone is capable of influencing women to have some kind of eating disorder; so much so there is a newly christened one recently popularized by raw diets and ‘clean eating’ – Orthorexia. Relating to eating disorders, ‘[t]he Health and Care Information Centre published figures in February 2014 showed an 8% rise in the number of inpatient hospital admissions in the 12 months previous to October 2013. The Costs of Eating Disorders report found that this is indicative of the trend in increasing prevalence over time: a 34% increase in admissions since 2005-06 – approximately 7% each year.’1 I would hazard a guess and state that this is more or less the pressure social media has created amongst our generation; pressure from the girl, literally, next door as opposed to the next new celeb…But, even then, with the familiarity Instagram gives us, even Kylie Jenner seems to be our friend.

BoPo

“It is very little to me,” said the suffragist Lucy Stone, “to have the right to vote, to own property, etcetera, if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.” (Wolf, 1990: 11)

The words that have been praised by Lucy Stone are a double edged sword. We show our liberty hard won by our historical sisters in a number of ways in modern society – I shan’t list them all – but revealing our bodies is definitely one of them. We have thrown off our cloaks of oppression and revel in our right to undress our flesh freely. Ariel Levy explores this notion further in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs and states that the development of this way of life for women marks an achievement for feminism – elsewhere she declares ‘we skipped over the part where we just accept and respect that some women like to seem exhibitionistic and lickerish, and decided instead that everyone who is sexually liberated ought to be imitating strippers and porn stars.’ (Levy, 2005: 27)

Fortunately, there is a movement of women who are aiming to transform this way of thinking and respecting all women regardless of culture, religion and, most significantly, body size. Where there was once competition, these women are appealing for acceptance. This movement is growing in momentum and falls under the title Body Positivity (BoPo).

By searching Instagram for #BoPo you will find thousands of images of women who are waging war against popular ideals and expectations for female body image by revealing what a woman’s body looks like without the photoshop. Cellulite, fat rolls, acne, dry skin, lumps, bumps, hair, and all things that we have been taught to feel ashamed of through clever advertising. The BoPo movement aims to call bullshit on ‘the $33-billion-a-year diet industry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300-million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7-billion pornography industry’ and reveal them as ‘the capital made out of unconscious anxieities [and] their influence on mass culture to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucination’ (Wolf, 1990: 17) that women need to reduce, enhance, and realise their “imperfections” ought to be “fixed” to match the norm. BoPo warriors, as is their rightful title, aim to project the ideal that all bodies are hot bodies; all bodies deserve to be loved and honoured. Girls, regardless of your abs or lack thereof, you are fucking goddesses.

However, whilst I can appreciate the efforts of the BoPo movement in terms of raising visibility of the natural female body in all forms, there is something about it that has always sat uncomfortably with me. Likewise, by searching #BoPo, numerous images of women in their underwear inundate my screen. Some are more natural shots but I would hardly call them candid. This is where my discomfort with the BoPo movement comes in as ‘for women, and only women, hotness requires a projecting a kind of eagerness, offering a promise that any attention you receive for your physicality is welcome. […] Proving you are hot, worthy of lust, is still exclusively women’s work.’ (Levy, 2005: 33)

The message is trying to be different but the framework remains the same: get naked to get noticed. How does this differ from what we have seen already in the media of naked women with the highly celebrated bodies? Yes, obviously, the image is different and more ‘natural’ in terms of the lack of photoshop but, overall, you’re still in your underwear at the end of the day trying to say something. Because the framework remains the same, we can’t expect different results and we run the risk of becoming another expression of the same thing; female body commodification. ‘Why can’t we be sexy and frisky and in control without being commodified?’ (Levy, 2005: 43) Whilst the BoPo warriors who do reveal their bodies on Instagram do post liberating messages alongside their pictures, when the caption is taken away, what are you left with?

Moreover, this movement has gained momentum on Instagram and other social media outlets but there is another risk associated with this; the fact that it is simply that…social media. It is not the houses of parliament, it is not a female speaker in the house of commons, it is not a localised event over the weekend like Mardi Gras, and it is not a march through the streets of London declaring that all bodies are good bodies. ‘Revolutionary movements tend to be co-opted – swallowed up by the mainstream and turned into pop culture. It’s a way of neutralising it, when you think about it…it makes it all safe and palatable, it shuts up the radicals. Once that happens, the real power is pretty much dissipated.’ (Levy, 2005: 196)

Despite this, the movement is a refreshing change and a showcase of reality against the picture perfect world of Instagram and the threat of photoshopped images becoming the unrealistic ‘real’ woman. Flaws and all, the BoPo reminds us all that, indeed, all bodies are beautiful bodies simply because YOU inhabit them. Fuck the number on the scale. Fuck the measuring tape. Fuck it all – be effortlessly, wonderfully, and loudly you. The movement preaches, simply, love; love for oneself and love for one’s sisters. And, quite frankly, I cannot argue with that.

 

 

References

Levy, A. (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

Orbach, S. (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue…, Aylesbury, Bucks: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd.

Rabinow, P. (1984) The Foucault Reader, England: Clays Ltd, St Ives plc.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth, Reading, Berkshire: Cox & Wyman Ltd.

1 B-Eat (2017) ‘Eating Disorder Statistics’ Available at: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders [Accessed 3 January 2017]