Saturday, 29 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 4: The perfect body

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

 I have the perfect body. My body is perfect. Why? Because it's mine. Because it functions. Because it contains a heart and two lungs and a liver and kidneys and a ribcage and muscles and ligaments and tendons and nerves and a brain. It gives me the ability to see and hear and taste and smell and touch. I can feel things from my toes to my head. I can walk. I can run. I can laugh. I, when the situation demands it, can even swim. I eat fairly well and take medication to fix my only chronic health problem. My body is perfect, because it is me.

Unfortunately, I am aware not everyone agrees with me.

Previous readers of my blog (hi, YOU EXIST?!) may remember the time I wrote about body diversity in advertising, and concluded that I ought to buy a bikini.

So... I bought a bikini. To follow is a picture of me wearing my bikini. But, to make it easier for you, I've listed 10 things wrong with me. Don't worry, you're welcome to add more.

1. My hair. For a start, it's not very evenly dyed, and bits of pink are poking through the brown. For another thing, it's short. And if the media has taught us anything, it's that Real Girls have long hair. Anne Hathaway even postponed her wedding after cutting off all her hair for Les Mis. So, hair makes the girl - and I don't have much of it.

2. My make-up. Admittedly, you can't see my face in this picture, but let me elaborate. I have a few blackheads and a few spots. My skin is not flawlessly clear. Additionally, I wasn't wearing any make-up, and that is a cardinal sin. But wait! I was wearing eyeliner! Oh, actually, that's a sin too - if the make-up doesn't look natural, it's fake and tacky.

3. My arms. I don't have neatly defined triceps and biceps. I can't fit my hand around my upper arm, and it's not rock-hard and toned. I have low-level bingo wings. If I jiggle my arm, it wobbles.

4. My tits. They are not pert tits. In fact, they are beholden to the force of gravity. Luckily, a decent bikini top helps out with this, but that leads me on to another problem: I am above a D cup. This apparently means that I am either a) fine with having minimal choice in most high street shops, or b) affluent enough to be able to spend £30 or more each time I need a new bra.

5. My... I don't even know what to call this. But, in short, I bulge out slightly under my bikini top. Yes, it is squishy. Yes, it is probably fat. Yes, I have never seen a girl in real life without this, even a little bit, no matter how skinny they are. But everyone knows models and celebrities don't have underbra handles.

6. My waist. It is both too small for my hips according to standard clothing size measurements, but also too thick for me to be attractively curvy. Apparently, the ideal waist-to-hip ratio is 0.6: mine is more like 0.75.

7. My stomach. I have a bit of a Buddha belly, and child-bearing hips, so despite my large breasts I think of myself as being pearshaped. Pearshaped girls with tummies don't wear bikinis, lest they frighten onlookers and drive the public into a state of shock. If you have a chubby tummy, the magazines kindly advise you, in the way of a condescending but well-meaning aunt, to wear a tummy-sucking swimsuit and sarong. That way, nobody - not even you - will have to think about the horrors of a convex abdomen.

8. My bikini line. I don't shave it.

9. My thighs. Again, they are wobbly, which is repulsive because it is a sign I do not dedicate my copious spare time to doing squats and leg lifts. They touch, which is repulsive because it is a sign I have not taken the tumblr thinspiration posts seriously enough. There are numerous white stretchmarks along the top of them, which are repulsive because they are a sign my body has changed and may even change again.

10. My calves. I haven't shaved those either. Plus, sometimes, I have trouble zipping up boots over them. This is not a sign that the boots are too small, but rather that I am fat and nobody will ever love me.

What else is wrong with me? Come on. Tell me. Shout it at me in the street. Because your opinion does not change anything. My body does not exist for you to scrutinise and mark out of 10. My body does not exist for a mysterious other being to find attractive or hideous. My worth is not dependent upon my sexiness, which in turn is held up to standards that are perpetuated by media with a vested interest in lowering body confidence.

I do not have to prove myself to some ethereal arbiter to be deemed thin enough to wear a bikini. I will wear one, whether you like it or not.

My body is perfect. And yours is, too.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Anecdotally... 2: The manwhore

"There's one thing I should make clear," he said. "I am a total manwhore."

I couldn't see why he couldn't have just said whore. The gendering of it seemed frivolous, surplus to requirements. The effect would have been the same.

"What else?" he asked. I looked at him blankly. I didn't know what else. It must have been a rhetorical question, because he continued without waiting for me to answer. "Oh yes. I'll try anything one. Or anyone."

That was definitely more than one thing. That was three things which he had clarified. He couldn't count. That said, if a pretty girl was lying in my bed making very clear she wanted to kiss me, I'm not sure I'd be able to count either.

Our protracted make-out session lasted several hours, but there was surprisingly little kissing involved. They tended to happen in short bursts, interspersed with long lingering eye-fucking, and bizarre fragments of conversations. We discussed his scars. He had one in the back of his leg from an air rifle. The result of growing up in the countryside, he said. He told me about the girl he'd met on a night bus in London while out of his skull on champagne, and the holodeck he was building at work. I offered stories about my parents' education and why straight vodka was always a bad idea. We had an argument over the ambiguities of the English language which ended in stalemate.

He was a self-described universal pervert. I was an unspoiled flower. It was something he would "bear in mind". It must be strange, the inequity in sexual experience. I wasn't bothered, but I wondered if it made him uncomfortable.

"You are a universal pervert," I said, quoting his own words back at him

"I resent and resemble that remark."

"If you're a manwhore, I suppose there is hope for the least of us yet."

"I'm not sure how to take that. Are you calling me easy?"

I wasn't sure how I'd meant it either. It was more an observation. He was not the epitome of attractiveness, coventionally speaking - and yet, he was rolling in women. It could be lies, but I doubted it. There was no air of boasting or arrogance to his words. They were just words. Really, I had meant it as something of a comparison. If he managed to have lots of sex, then I figured my prospects were also fairly good. If I felt that way inclined.

We were awake most of the night, but he never tried anything untoward. He didn't push or make me uncomfortable. He dozed off with his hand on my thigh. Later, he turned over, and I spent a long time with my face buried in his bare back, breathing in his scent.

I had problems with trying to be sexy. Make out sessions inevitably involve me dissolving into a fit of the giggles (though whether out of amusement or nerves, I could not say), no matter who my partner is. Often, he would stop, and look at me.

"What?" he asked, and I would laugh and tell him the random, inane thing which had triggered my giggling. Sometimes they were to do with him. Sometimes they weren't.

At one point, he had broken away trying not to laugh.

"What?" I asked, a parrot, reflecting his inflection of the syllable.

"The things parents say," he said. "About not getting into strange men's beds."

He's right, I suppose. He could be a murderer for all I know. He could have chainsaws in the oven and an axe stowed under his bed. I said as much to him. Why else would he have two sheds, unless one was for storing corpses? But I also know that he drives a vintage MG, which doesn't have the boot space for the discrete transport of dead bodies.

"Hasn't done me any harm so far," I said.

I wondered if he was upset by my lack of reaction to his promiscuity. Whether he had thought it would phase me. If anything, I felt reassured: he was a safe pair of hands. He knew what he was doing. I supposed I trusted him, at least a little, or I wouldn't have been prepared to share his bed.

In the morning he woke up for work and had a shower. I lay in bed a little longer and wondered if I would do this again. I drove home, dropping him off outside his work on the way, and he pecked me goodbye in the traffic jam.

I wondered if I would see him again.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Anecdotally... 1: Smiling at strangers on trains

Welcome to Anecdotally..., another semi-regular column. But rather than calling bullshit, this is just going to be me telling you stories. Anecdotes, if you will. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we shall begin...

It had been a long, mostly enjoyable day. I had wandered around Hyde Park and drunk chai lattes in a coffee shop, crossed to the East End of London via the Central line and DLR, watched a band I love play a show, and then sat in a pub with an old friend drinking and laughing. By the time I got on the train home, at just past midnight, I was starting to fall asleep.

Instead, I got out the book I was reading, which went by the unwieldly title of This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. It was a collection of short stories which I had taken from the Bloomsbury marketing room on my last day, and after slogging through a 500-page novel alongside my exams, I fancied reading something a bit lighter. Everything was ready for a normal train journey home: I sat down in a window seat facing backwards with my iPod in my ears, a book under my nose, and the rest of the world blocked out. Someone sat down opposite me, but I didn't pay them much attention.

About five minutes into the journey, I heard the drumming of fingers on the train wall. I saw a hand just beneath the window, on top of the "no feet on the seats" sign. I glanced up. I checked my feet weren't on the seat.

The boy opposite me raised his eyebrows. He was too old to be called a "boy", really: in his early 20s, I thought, with dark hair and thick stubble. He wasn't quite attractive in the conventional sense, but there was something interesting in the way his face was arranged. I smiled slightly, shyly, the way you smile at a stranger who is encroaching your personal space when you want them to stop.

I looked back at my book, and he drummed again. He motioned with his hands, and I realised he wanted to see what I was reading. I showed him the cover wordlessly, but my attention had been diverted from the paragraph I was staring at.

"That's in my pile of books to read," he said, and I was taken aback by how nice his voice was. "Though, the pile is about this big," he added, and held up his hands about two feet apart. Before I could stop myself, I laughed.

"I have exactly that problem," I said. "I just picked this because it was the smallest book on my list."

"That's the smallest? Then what's the longest?"

"Probably A Dance With Dragons," I said.

I couldn't help it. I'd been sucked in. We started talking about Game of Thrones, and science fiction authors, and how trains were better than buses. After a couple of minutes, I took out my earphones. After ten, I closed my book and put it in my bag.

I could remember two other times in my life when I had engaged in long conversations with strangers on public transport. The first was when I had been 15, on the day of the General Election, when a handsome bartender had spoken to the guy next to me and swapped seats on the crowded tube, purely because he wanted to speak to me. He'd mentioned his job. He said that talking to strangers was how he amused himself on his commutes. I thought him incredibly brave. He'd asked who I voted for, and I lied and said Lib Dem, flattered he thought me old enough to be able to vote. I was sad to get off at Chalk Farm, because I had to leave this interesting conversationalist behind. His name had been Robert, or Richard. He had smelt of cinnamon.

The other time had been on the train home, wedged in a table seat opposite two American Football fans who'd seen a game that day in London, and next to a Canadian on his way to the airport. Once the football fans had left, I'd talked to the stranger next to me: he had been from the Yukon. He was catching a flight to Portugal, where he intended to pick fruit and then catch buses across the country. He had lived on his own since 13 and had hitch-hiked from Germany to India (or possibly the other way round). He features, occasionally, in conversations: I contribute his existence whenever the subject of hitch-hiking comes up. I don't remember his name. Perhaps he didn't tell me.

"I'm V, by the way," I said, feeling emboldened by my drinks through the day. I'd had three in the last few hours, which - on an empty stomach - had the effect of making me giggly and confident.

"Oliver," he said, but I heard it as Holiver. We had a long conversation about this, our hands still clasped. "Oliver," he said again, "like Twist, the little street urchin. All-singing, all-dancing crooks. That's me."
"Yes, I know," I told him, "I just misheard you, added an imaginary H. Very cockney."

He had moved to the same town as me - counting on his fingers - four days ago, as the office for his job had moved. I let slip I was 18, and though he claimed he'd had me sussed, I was pretty sure he'd assumed I was older. People always do. I guessed he was 23; he was 25. His favourite band was The Eagles and he worked in 3D modelling, which sounded terribly interesting but had little to do with what his degree was in.

"About a year and a half ago, when all the stuff about Blackfriars 1 was on the news - that was our company."
"I don't remember that," I told him.
"It's a weird building. A skyscraper. Looks a bit like a thumb."
"A thumb?"
He demonstrated what he meant by half-bending his thumb. "Yeah, it goes up, and then it's got a kink in it."
"My thumb kinks the other way," I said, because I quite like showing off my weird hands. I have a thumb that, when straightened, bends back at about fifty degrees. Everything about my hands is weird: the tips of my index and middle fingers bend off at angles too. My peace signs have a definite tilt to them. He laughed, and pressed the ends of my index fingers together, the way I always challenge people to do, and laughed more as they sprang back and I told him that no, it didn't hurt at all.

As the train approached our stop, he stood up and I realised how tall he was. I also decided that I wanted to keep talking to him, this stranger who had started a conversation with a girl with pink hair based purely on the book she was reading.

"I kind of want to have lunch with you sometime," I said, and his wallet was out. He pulled out a business card, with his number on it, and a QR code underneath, in case I was "that kind of geek".
"Consider it done," he said.

My dad was waiting in the car for me outside the station. I texted Oliver once I got home, with one kiss on the end, and he said he'd "been about 15 seconds" from asking me out too.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's not often you end up organising dates with strange men you meet on the train. He doesn't seem like a potential murderer, but then again they never do. Still, I'm intrigued, but mostly amused. And if nothing else, I have a vaguely interesting anecdote to tell my friends.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 3: Everyday sexism

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

If you don't know about the Everyday Sexism project, then you've clearly not been paying attention to the internet for the past few months (in which case, how did you find this blog? Go follow them! Go read through some of their tweets! It's okay, I'll wait, I'll still be here when you get back.)

It's such a simple idea, just collecting stories of the shit women have to deal with on a daily basis. Some of it seems relatively harmless - people shouting from across the street or honking as you walk down the road, or bosses just assuming a male colleague will do a better job. Some of it is genuinely horrifying - girls and women getting groped or masturbated over in public, for no reason other than their gender, and nobody stepping in to help out. All these actions, be they acts of violence or just microaggressions, add up to create a culture where women are taught we are to blame. That it was our fault for dressing like that. That it was our fault for being there at that time. That it was our fault for going into a sector where we are a minority. That our bodies are not ours.

Yup, you've got it. This is bullshit.

I was thinking about it today, trying to work out some of the things that have happened to me. At first I thought "I don't have any stories". Then I realised, "actually, I have a lot of stories", but I didn't realise at first. Because they just seemed so... normal. Like they were my fault, or else like they were too trivial to complain about.

1. Age 15. Camped out with a friend outside a venue so we could be first in line for a gig. A drunk guy came over to talk to us. I wanted him to leave, but my friend was busy being nice and polite. He ended up lying between us, his arms in our sleeping bags. He groped my stomach and my thighs, and undid my friend's belt. I told him to stop, and he went back to his hotel room. When we went to the police station, the officer told us we should have gone to the nearest CCTV camera and waved for attention. Since then, whenever I've been on my own late at night, I've always stood directly in front of a CCTV camera.

2. Age 15. Walked into the village to buy some bread for my mum. It was a hot day, so I was wearing shorts. A bloke honked at me from out a convertible and made blowjob motions as he drove past.

3. Age 14. Walking down the hill from school to my grandparents' house. Some construction workers yelled at me to "get your tits out, love". I was in school uniform.

4. Age 17. Sat on the platform at St Pancras waiting for a train home with my friend. A guy, maybe 50, sat next to me and asked if the next train went to Luton airport, so I said yes. He decided to ask my another question. To attact my attention, he stroked my thigh.

5. Age 16. Walking about two miles to get to a hotel with two friends. I lost count of the number of times we were honked at. My friend said she "took it as a compliment."

6. Age 18. Was groped in a club trying to find my friend. When I asked the guy what the fuck he thought he was doing, he told me to "chill out".

7. Age 17. Walking through Cambridge town centre at about 5pm in October, when it was still light. A drunk man yelled at me to take my top off, and called me a frigid bitch when I ignored him.

8. Age 17. On work experience, where I went along with my boss to interview a moderately-famous musician. He commented his phone in his pocket had unlocked itself in his pocket, and it must have rubbed against his leg. I suggested he take it out of his pocket for the rest of the interview, and he responded by asking me I wanted to come over there and rub it for him. Nobody else commented. I blushed very hard but didn't say anything. When I told the story to my friends back at school, they unanimously told me that I was "lucky".

So, there you have it. Everyday sexism is bullshit. Together though, maybe we can do something about it.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bullshit Bell 2: I don't want kids

Welcome to Bullshit Bell, the new semi-regular series of posts in which I call bullshit on various ridiculous things. How semi-regular, you ask? Whenever I feel like it. Whatever, schedules are bullshit.

So human beings are designed to do various things. We eat, we sleep, we have sex, repeat. On a basic level, that is what our lives consist of. And, as we are animals, we are also designed to have kids to ensure the progression of the human race as a whole. Therefore, I believe this to be bullshit. Not the act of having kids, per se - but the expectation that I will, that it is inevitable, and that my life will be incomplete without popping out a couple of sprogs.

It's kind of not even that I'm making a political point. Though these days I've taken to analysing all of my actions through a pseudo-political scope, trying to answer the question of "if I saw a girl do this in a TV show, would it provide a feminist message to the audience?". It's reached the point where I question my choice of drinks. Two glasses of white wine with dinner? Are you a person or a stereotype? Drink a beer or something!

But I digress. No, my not-wanting to have children actually has remarkably little to do with the discrimination mothers face in the workplace and attempting to be employed, or the notion women "can't have it all", or the ludicrous cost of childcare, or the stigma still attached to same-sex couples who want to raise kids and the idea one of them must be an equivalent of the opposite-gender parent. It also has nothing to do with fears about my ability to raise a kid and whether I'd be a horribly negligent mother or else just fuck them up for life. No. I mean, all that stuff sucks, but it's not particularly relevant.

The reason I don't want kids is because I hate the little fuckers. They're noisy and stinky and don't follow the cause and effect of logical thinking. They don't do anything you ask them to, and they ask ridiculous questions, and - while occasionally I will concede that they are interesting or insightful or cute - mostly they just annoy the hell out of me. I don't want to see a 6-year-old mangling Call Your Girlfriend on YouTube. I want to watch Robyn sing it, complete with her flowing dance moves and bizarre blonde bowlcut. Don't do something when a professional can do it better, kid.

I don't consider childbirth a miracle any more than I consider the sun rising in the morning a miracle: it's just a think that happens which is part of life. You are welcome to squeeze all the babies you want out of your vagina, but I am perfectly happy not to have my body invaded by a parasitic life form for nine months.

The real kicker though is what happens when you say to people you don't want kids. Because some form of these words will almost certainly escape their lips: "You'll change your mind."

You don't say that to men, do you? Nobody would go up to an 18-year-old boy and ask him if he wants to get married and have kids, hear the answer "no", and immediately respond with "ah, but just wait until you're older and your biological clock starts ticking!". And even if you do, it's not a particularly fair comparison. Biologically, men can create a child in 30 seconds and then fuck off out of its life forever. Back in the old days before abortion, women had to wait nearly a whole year before they could abandon this mistake - you made one wrong move and you paid for it forever...

Who knows. Maybe I will reach 35 and look around at my life as a semi-decent novellist/sub-par journalist/very professional waitress, and think "OH MY GOD I HAVE WASTED MY YOUTH QUICK SOMEONE APPLY A BABY TO MY FACE BEFORE MY BODY CLOCK STOPS TICKING AND I SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST", but that seems highly unlikely. And even if it does happen, it won't be from social pressure - it'll be a personal decision.

I do not intend to change my mind. And it's such bullshit to assume that I will, that every woman wants kids and by denying this fact, I am lying or not listening to my biological destiny. I'll tell you what is my biological destiny: to die. I can also explain to you how my body was adapted to be good at surviving the conditions that cavemen had to deal with, so my body is also decent at long-distance running and keeping me warm in freezing cold conditions. My body might be designed to bear children, but it was also designed to survive sleeping in a cave in -20oC conditions with no such thing as radiators or duvets. I'm not going to start camping out under the stars every night just because it's what I am theoretically able to physically cope with.

The fact I was born with a uterus, though, does not automatically mean I have to fill it in order to become a fulfilled person. What kind of message does that send to women who can't have children, or to transwomen, or even to girls like me who just don't want them? We are not defined by other people, be they parents or partners or babies: we are defined by our own actions and our own choices.

Not wanting children does not make me any more or less of a woman. It just makes me a girl who doesn't want children. So I will thank you not to tell me I'll change my mind, in the same way I'm not going to start listing all the shitty things about kids when you tell me how you want five children who you will train to sing in pentatonic harmony. Contribute to the overpopulated world all you want. But expecting me to do the same on the mere virtue of my gender? Bull. Shit.