March 2, 2010

Why It’s Not Enough to be “In Recovery” (Natasha)

Ever have one of those moments where something comes out of your mouth before you can stop it and then immediately afterwards you think “why did I say that?”. I had one such moment last week whilst being interviewed live on BBC Radio Three Counties. I heard myself say: “I have been in recovery for two years”.

During the course of my research, I must have encountered the phrase “in recovery” a thousand times and that’s the only explanation I can give for my verbal slip.

The truth is, I am not “in recovery” …….. I am cured. This is an absolutely crucial distinction.

I have been “in recovery” many times during my decade long tussle with bulimia nervosa. I used CBT, counseling, psychotherapy and antidepressants and successfully managed to stop myself from bingeing and purging for periods of up to a month at a time. I was encouraged to keep food diaries and record my emotions every time I ate, to put my knife and fork down between each mouthful to slow down my eating and help me register when I was full, to present my food nicely so that it was then “a shame” to throw it up – The emphasis was exclusively on my eating habits.

The ultimate result was the day I missed all my university lectures because I spent five hours of my life sitting in my room in halls staring at a chicken bagel.

On that day, back in 2002, I’d spent ages making myself that sodding bagel. It had light mayo and paprika and carefully arranged salad vegetables. I’d toasted the bagel gently and arranged the chicken in perfectly symmetrical slices, all as per instructions. Then, I put it on the nearest approximation I had to a posh plate back in my student days (using a plate at all was quite novel for me then), with a folded piece of kitchen roll masquerading as a napkin. I’d been told not to do anything else whilst eating which might distract me from the signals of fullness my stomach was giving me (the fact that my stomach had completely lost it’s ability to produce these signals by that point was apparently not taken into consideration). So I put my laptop to one side and placed my chicken bagel on my desk and sat down.

What followed was like a Mexican stand off between two completely different characters, both resident in my poor, overwrought mind. I stared at the chicken bagel, rendered almost totally inanimate by all the turmoil in my brain.

“Natasha 1” wanted to eat the chicken bagel and to savour every mouthful, to chew slowly and taste all the different flavours and then, feeling pleasantly satisfied, to get on with her day. “Natasha 2” was screaming at me to throw the bagel away, or, if I absolutely had to have it, I’d have to vomit afterwards and, since I was going to vomit anyway, I might as well follow my chicken bagel with a packet of biscuits and a tub of icecream. About an hour into the sitting and staring, this third character popped up – I had no idea who she was, we’d never met before. “Natasha 3” was telling me to stand up and turn my back on the chicken bagel. Natasha 3 wanted me to have the willpower to walk away from this insignificant thing which was holding me captive. Natasha 3 didn’t want me to be a prisoner and she wanted me to demonstrate my freedom not by throwing the bagel in the bin but by knowing it was still there, still edible, still delicious and that I could have it any time I wanted and therefore it was ok to turn away from it.

I liked Natasha 3. I could see her argument. Unfortunately she was outnumbered two to one. I stood up and sat straight back down a few times in deference to Natasha 3’s suggestion. And then went back to my staring.

At some stage it got dark and my mind became weary of all this internal struggle. I ate the chicken bagel and then I went to the supermarket and bought some other things and ate them too and then I vomited until I burst a blood vessel in my right eye. I vomited with extra force and vigour, to punish myself for chicken bagel-gate.

When I evoke an image of what it means to be “in recovery”, I picture myself sitting staring at a chicken bagel. For those five hours I didn’t binge and I didn’t purge. Technically, I wasn’t bulimic that day (if you discount what happened in the night time). Yet still there was this huge internal struggle, still food was an all-encompassing obsession and I still hated myself for wanting the bagel and for not being able to eat it in the way I thought I should.

The phrase “in recovery” implies that the issue is still present, that fighting it will be a daily struggle and that it’s an ongoing and lengthy process. It suggests that, whilst the behaviour might change, the emotions will remain. For anyone who suffers from an eating disorder, this is an unspeakably depressing prospect and yet it is a myth which continues to be perpetuated by many traditional eating disorder therapies.

That’s why at Winning Minds we take the focus away from food. We help our clients to rediscover who they are and break free from the shackles of their eating disorder by shedding the identity of their issue.

Whilst writing this blog I became aware of a slight rumbling in my stomach. I went to the fridge and retrieved two plums. I ate those two plums and they were delicious. Now I don’t feel hungry any more and can continue with my day. That is what it means to be cured.

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February 24, 2010

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010 (Natasha)

To coin a phrase frequently repeated by anyone who works long hours – “It’s only Wednesday and I’m knackered already!”. This week is passing in a blur of radio and press interviews and of discovering yet more people dedicated to promoting change and stamping out the growing trend for eating disorders – Hoorah!

I was delighted to see Sam Thomas’ campaign “Men Get Eating Disorders Too” (http://www.mengetedstoo.co.uk/) receive some well deserved press-coverage, including a feature in the Daily Mirror (go Sam!).

Sam and I were both lucky enough to be interviewed by Jenny “Loveliness Personified” Barnett on LBC on Thursday 25th February about what has been termed by the media as the “Manorexia Epidemic”. (I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this term – It’s like “guyliner” – Surely eyeliner is for men and women so why do men need an entirely different word?)

It’s my observation that young men and women represent two opposite extremes when it comes to addressing the issues of relationships towards food and body image. Girls incessantly overanalyze, constantly scrutinizing their own diet and body shape as well as those of their peers. Whilst these topics tend to come up frequently in conversations amongst females, it often means that the dangerous thought-processes and destructive habits which can lead to eating disorders are normalized and excused. Their male counterparts, conversely, are desperate to maintain a façade of casual disregard for all body-related issues and this constant quest for bravado means that problems fester silently and have to become sufficiently severe before they can be recognized. Sam’s campaign, which aims to ensure that eating disorders amongst men are treated with equal gravitas as those in women, will go some way to redressing this imbalance and that is why we support it at Winning Minds, where we have seen many male clients who feel trapped by their own silent self-loathing and harmful eating habits.

Ilona Burton, ex anorexia and bulimia sufferer and now an ambassador for B-eat, is another person who is passionate about tackling misconceptions and prejudices so often applied in the Eating Disorder sphere. This week, she has been working with the local press, Radio 1’s Newsbeat and Channel M, sending out the vital message that, contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren’t the curse automatically associated with being a white, middle class female. There is no common component uniting sufferers, and no one is genetically or socially more predisposed to an eating disorder – They can strike anyone regardless of race, class or gender. Ilona writes a blog for The Independent, which aims to educate families and friends of eating disorder sufferers.

The official National Eating Disorders Awareness Week site defines this week as “a collective effort of primarily volunteers, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, educators, social workers, and individuals committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment”. With this in mind, Mark and I have been talking ourselves hoarse to anyone who will listen about the causes of eating disorders and how we can actively encourage change, on both a personal and sociological level. We have even recorded a CD called “Understanding Eating Disorders” which features Mark offering various pearls of wisdom during a question-and-answer session and is designed both for sufferers and the people around them who might be struggling to understand their mentality and behaviour. You can find out more about the CD by going to www.winningminds.co.uk/self-help-tools/.

Heart FM, being the wonderful starlets of social awareness they are, interviewed me not once, not twice, but thrice, for their stations in Essex, Gloucester and the West Midlands. I later found out that this also meant clips were featured during the hourly news bulletins on 1017fm, which is listened to by pretty-much all of my Essex based friends, who then proceeded to phone me in various states of hysteria – “babe! You’re, like, famous! And everything!”. Meanwhile, Lorna Milton of BBC Three Counties asked questions which allowed me to remember why I started all this campaigning malarkey in the first place – To make a noise about the often dismissed and overlooked issue of bulimia nervosa, which is neither as ostensibly shocking, nor as glamorous, as the much-hyped anorexia. Dave Monk at BBC Essex then very patiently allowed me to rant maniacally, often to comic effect, about Botox, why designers who find themselves unable to make plus size models look fabulous in their creations are not very good at their job and why the Lynx advert should be banned for its laughably blatant attempts at manipulation of the entire male populous.

ITV West will air their piece on my body confidence campaign (in association with Body Gossip) on Friday – Which features the lovely students of Gloucestershire College giving their verdict on my attempts to make realise there’s more to life than expending all your energy attempting to fit the identikit celebrity aesthetic, and (with any luck) making some equally lovely comments.

With all this frantic awareness-raising, advice-giving, campaign-mongering and general rant-age, one would have thought the message would be clear. However, to my dismay (and when I say dismay, what I actually mean is me stomping into Mark’s office, shoving a newspaper cutting under his nose and saying “I’m livid, I am!”), there have been several pieces in the national press which proffer a ludicrous line of logic, which can be summarized as: “Why are we all focusing on eating disorders so much, when obesity is the real problem in this country?”. You may read my response to one such journalist in my blog (http://realbeautydebate.blogspot.com), but before you do, bear in mind it was written almost solely by my inner bitch. My inner bitch is a flamboyantly camp, flame haired drag queen, who has just been spurned by his boyfriend for a much younger man and wants to take it out on the world. You have been warned.

I have two points to make on the warped reasoning of these articles:

  • Compulsive overeating, to which a large proportion of severe obesity can be attributed, IS an eating disorder and has the same common root as anorexia or bulimia – Low Self Esteem.
  • Shockingly, a viable solution to the so-called obesity crisis in this country would NOT be anorexia.

As for the majority of people in Great Britain, who are a little above their ideal BMI and are perpetually being told so by health professionals, the media and the generally self-righteous: How anyone could believe that torturing oneself relentlessly both mentally and physically is in any way preferable to having a muffin top, is beyond my comprehension. Whatever the general state of the majority population, eating disorders are an increasing and terrifying problem and will continue to be so unless there is a fundamental change in attitudes – Including, but not restricted to, ceasing to deflect the issue by talking about the obesity crisis whenever our attention is drawn to the uncomfortable realm of EDs.

These are exactly the views I expressed on Talk Sport, in the wee small hours of Monday morning. The sleep deprivation was worth it to be welcomed into the bosom of the UK’s no1 commercial radio station. I was commenting on the story of 5 year old Lucy Jones, who was sent home from school with a note from her PCT, stating that she is overweight and therefore at increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Closer investigation revealed she was just 1% over her “ideal” BMI, although such investigation was unnecessary as anyone who took a few miliseconds to glance at her with their eyes would realise that she is far from overweight and perfectly healthy. Let’s hope she continues to be so, despite the damage that this incident has no doubt inflicted upon her fragile, infant self esteem. If people are searching for the reason behind the steady incline in eating disorders over the past decade, and why they are affecting increasingly young people, I think we need look no further.

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February 22, 2010

Is the Tide beginning to turn? (Mark)

A recent article in the Daily Mail quoted research from the annual British Social Attitudes Survey, which shows that women in 2010 want a husband who’ll be the main breadwinner.

There’s a striking change in values in the decade since New Labour came to power: The number of mothers with children under 4 who that family life would suffer if women worked full-time fell in the years before Mr Blair came to power, dropping from 43% in 1990 to 21% in 1998. However by 2002 it was rising and in 2006 has doared to 37%.

The pressure for women to have careers and be Mum’s came from 2 sources: feminism and the general national cultural programming of the need to build wealth in order to consume.

Feminism has had a wonderful effect on society and rightly brought wome equal status with men. The problem is that men and women are build differently and want different things and so, whilst an overall equality is definitely desirable, exactly how and where that equality is achieved, should be different.

Unfortunately, with our national fixation of needing as much money as possible to buy all the “necessary” fashions and toys, what seems to have actually happened, is that women have been told to desire what men have: the big career and pay packet. The trouble is at the same time, they have to be the best Mum’s, the best mate, the carer for aging parents and goodness knows how many other roles.

Scarily, this need to beat the boys at their own game, seems to play out in the teenage years. I live in a quiet little market town and at closing time, it’s not the boys falling over and vomiting on the pavement: it’s the girls! The girls have been trying to keep up with the boys on the drinking front and there’s an interesting role reversal as the boys, pick the girls up off the floor and take them home.

So, there’s hope for us all yet. We do seem to be realising that this headlong rush for wealth, causes us all sorts of other problems…and doesn’t make us happy.

People aren’t stupid; it just takes us time to realise that we’ve taken the wrong path.

A couple of other crucial social trends that have grown massively over the last 3 years are people owning allotments and going on camping holidays. Both of these movements are in the hundreds of thoudands and represent a shift in values towards nature, nurturing and health and a turning of the back on the madcap materialism of the past decade.

Perhaps the tide is turning and we are starting to bring a better balance…and therefore, happiness back into our lives.

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February 19, 2010

A Torrent of Unadulterated Rage (Natasha)

I must preface this blog by letting anyone reading know that I currently have PMS. As such, my propensity for rage knows no bounds. Every poor soul I’ve encountered has been on the receiving end of it this morning, even inanimate objects (I startled an innocent bystander as I walked out of my flat, shouting “t*sser!!” at my I-pod for daring to run out of battery 4 seconds into Bowie’s “Slow Burn”).

However, I am fairly confident that, even in my more usual, significantly less hormonal state, I’d still be outraged this morning, greeted, as I was by the story that a perfectly healthy looking 5 year old girl came home from school with a note stating she was overweight, prompting her to ask her mother “I’m not fat, am I Mummy?”.

I’m unable to register any other emotion than abject despair.

The online version of the article features similar stories from parents, who have been sent letters from people who have, incidently, never met their children, containing all sorts of scaremongering language about increased risk of cancer, heart disease etc. Upon closer investigation, it has transpired that their child is just 1 lb over the “recommended BMI” (whatever that may mean), yet still they are sent this standard letter, designed to terrify them into….what exactly? Putting their child on a diet? (Because we all know how well they work don’t we?)

Anyone who hasn’t taken heed of the constant, condescending advertisements and media messaging about getting your “5 a day” and cutting out “bad fats” that have been chucked at us in every conceivable form over the past decade is either living under a rock or, frankly, aint gonna change now.

It seems the government would rather see our kids paranoid, isolated and miserable, yo-yoing between strict diet regimes and the inevitable binge-eating these ultimately provoke, than with a little bit of puppy fat.

Anyone who regularly reads my blogs will be now be all-too familiar with my feelings to the dreaded BMI. If I was in charge of everything (*pauses typing momentarily to pursue that train of thought*), I’d ban people from using the phrase “BMI”.  You might as well have doctors, the media, and misguided, gym-going members of the public saying “air whipped sausage statue” or “three headed green pig-dog liver” over and over again, for all the meaning “BMI” actually has.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever is responsible for implementing these nationwide health and education policies is either a) constantly hungover b) has a severe form of attention deficit disorder or c) has employed an extremely smelly person to sit on their desk all day poking them on the shoulder repeatedly whilst chanting “what are you going to do about obesity? What are you going to do about obesity?”. Or possibly all three. They’re the only explanations I can fathom for the haste and lack of thought that’s gone into this latest venture.

When I was 13, I was about 5 ft 6 and weighed about 10 stone. I was much taller and a little chunkier than many of my peers, but not overweight by a long stretch. I ate every nutritionists’ dream – demi-vegetarian (I ate fish only, no meat), lots of wholegrain bread, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables etc. I played netball 3 times a week, did comprehensive two-hour dance training sessions at least twice a week, swam and walked everywhere. I was the healthiest I have ever been in my life, in the days before alcohol, late-night TV and PMS (speaking of which, will someone please pass me some chocolate before I scream?!!).

I was, at the time, friends with this very slight, sickly sort of creature, whose name I shall spare for the sake of her blushes. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah was significantly shorter and thinner than me, was one of those sorts of people who said they “didn’t like” most foods before even sampling and seemed to have an aversion to daylight, preferring instead to sit in a darkened corner somewhere and read books. With the layers of fantasy my imagination and hindsight have imposed, I always picture her as a hybrid of a mouse and a vampire shortly before being forced into daylight and exploding into dust. It’ll be useful for the purposes of this anecdote, if you picture her in the same way.

One evening, we were sat in the back of her Mum’s Range Rover chatting idly about life, the universe and everything, as you do when you’re 13. I can’t remember the context (and that, in itself is significant), but her mother suddenly interjected with “well, yes, but Natasha is larger than most”.

She wasn’t to know that this particular throw-away statement proceeded to fall on top of a myriad of existing insecurities, jibes from people at school and feelings of unworthiness and to well and truly break the camel’s back. I proceeded to remain silent for the rest of the journey, cry for a protracted amount of time once safely ensconced in my bedroom and resolve to put myself on a diet the very next day. For the next 4 months I survived on an apple, a plain boiled potato and sometimes, if I was good, one weetabix with water every single day. My weight plummeted to just over 7 stone. My hair fell out, I developed Raynard’s disease, my school grades inevitably suffered, I no longer had the energy for sports and the upshot of the entire thing was in the summer of 1995 when my doctor threatened to hospitalize me and have me put on a drip unless I ate something.

During my bulimic decade, so indoctrinated was I by the culture of “thinness = health (however it is obtained), success and happiness”, that I yearned desperately for those early teenage years, when I had what I perceived to be the resolve to starve myself. So you might say that one comment – “Natasha is larger than most” – went on to have a knock-on affect for the next 15 years of my life.

Now, I am not, of course, suggesting that Sarah’s Mum is entirely responsible for my history of eating disorders. That would be hideously unfair and overly simplistic. How could she have possibly known she was touching on a sore point? But therein lies the point. People who have, and I stress this again, never seen or met our children are telling them that they are overweight. And who knows how much damage that could do – The increasing trends of self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and body dysmorphia in teenagers, in addition to the ever-present threat of eating disorders, all have one common origin – Low self esteem.

And what could be more perfectly designed to lower children’s self esteem than an official letter from the powers that be which might as well say “you are not normal, you are a greedy pig”?

Stop. The. Madness.

To read the article, click here

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February 17, 2010

Labelmania!(Mark)

According to an article in Mail Online, Psychologists are updating their bible, The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM, and apparently the new version, the fourth,  is going to be 7 times larger than the original of 1952 and there’s a bit of a hoohah going on!

Well I’m not surprised! Do you hoard things and not throw them away? Well hoarding is being added to the DSM as a mental illness. That’s half of my friends and family heading for a padded cell for a start!

Do you get angry suddenly sometimes? Careful…you’d be admitting to a mental illness under the new Psychiatrist’s bible! And this new mental illness (anger!) has got a name: Intermittent Explosive Disorder!!

There’s another one: General Anxiety Disorder or GAD; how’s that any different to just plain and simple anxiety? Why does it need a special label?

One of the issues there’s a lot of reservation amongst Psychiatrists as to whether it should be included or not is binge eating disorder. How can they even think of not including that one? Binging or Compulsive Eating isn’t about food; it’s about the underlying negative emotions that cause people to use food as a coping mechanism.

Fortunately there is a sane voice out there: somebody who recognises the huge danger of giving doctors the power to pigeon-hole every single little item of eccentric and out of the ordinary human behaviour.

Apparently the logic in increasing the number of mental illnesses included in the DSM, is to catch early signs of mental disorders in children. Dr Michael First, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University points out: “…there’s a huge potential for many unusual kids to fall under this umbrella and carry this label for the rest of their lives. The more disorders you put in the DSM, the more people get labels and the higher the risk that they will get inappropriate treatment.”

It’s interesting how the wind has changed over the last 10-15 years; some people have had a huge battle to get things like ADHD, Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia accepted as a legitimate illness, rather than being fobbed off with “yuppy flu”.

And now psychiatrists are going the opposite end of the scale and creating their own special syndrome: Labelmania!

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Fat-Scapegoating: The New Trend for the Teenies (Natasha)

When I was at college doing A level History, my rather brilliant teacher, Mr Biggins, devoted an entire lesson to educating us about how propaganda didn’t suddenly cease with the collapse of the Third Reich. We might have scoffed at how anyone could be so easily influenced as to be taken in by a cartoon of a Jew/rat hybrid creature, but in fact, we learned, we were being just as manipulated, each and every day.

Every society needs its scapegoats. In the 80s, I remember one of my friend’s Mums (blithely unaware that my brothers are mixed race), telling me how this country was “going to pot” because black people were responsible for all crime. Yes, that’s right. All of it. In the noughties, acquaintances of mine who I had always considered rather sensible and open-minded, categorically told me that Polish people had “come over here and taken their jobs”. Even though they were employed at the time.

In the teenies, it seems it’s the “obesity epidemic” which is being blamed for absolutely everything which is wrong with our culture. Yes, folks, overweight people are infiltrating our homes with poisonous messages promoting sloth and gluttony, using up all the resources of the NHS and probably committing all the crimes and taking your job as well. Even though they never get off their fat arses, apparently.

Seemingly sound statistics are thrown at us – Currently a third of all adults have an unhealthily high BMI and by 2020 this will rise to 80%. “Stop! Stop the terrifying slide into obesity!” The headlines scream, as if this is the miracle quick-fix we need in order to mend our broken society.

There are a couple of reasons why this is all self-righteous tosh. Firstly, it is actually impossible to measure whether or not someone is overweight simply by comparing their height and weight, which is the technique currently employed by British GPs. That’s why the 1/3 of people with an “unhealthy BMI” in this country include Olympic athletes and body builders. In the U.S, BMI is measured by comparing muscle and bone density as well as measurements, in addition to height and weight, the upshot being that technically there is a higher percentage of “obese” people in the UK than in the U.S (take a moment to think about that).

I have now lost count of the number of people I know who are a size 10, 12 or 14, slim, eat healthily, exercise regularly and have been induced into a state of utter panic and tearfulness by their doctors, after being told that they are officially “obese”. Equally, Winning Minds clients who are painfully thin to the eye have been told by their GPs that they do not qualify for emergency eating disorder treatment because they have a “healthy” BMI.

Secondly, let’s put aside the healthy people being put into an obese category for a moment and focus on the overweight people who do in fact significantly overeat. People do not compulsively overeat because they are greedy or selfish or evil. People overeat because they are lonely, bored, depressed, disillusioned or because when everything else in life fails you there is always chocolate. Obesity is a symptom, not a cause. By persecuting fat people, all we are doing is once again failing to acknowledge that, as a society, our priorities are all wrong.

Whenever my Granddad was criticized for being a smoker, he used to say “you can see my bad habit, what’s yours?”.  Think about the people you know. I’d be willing to bet my last Rolo that each one of them is using some sort of coping mechanism. It might be smoking, it might be drinking, it might even be going to the gym. In a world where we are constantly being pushed to fit a perfect aesthetic and make the most money and to never be content with, or take the time to enjoy what we have, it’s the norm for us to be stressed-out, mildly depressed or anxious. So who can blame us if, caught up in the chaos, the mixed messages and the brutal rat race, the thing we most look forward to at the end of a hard day is a cigarette, a glass of wine or, dare I say it, a great big slice of cake?

Only when we finally absorb the message that raising self-esteem and re-prioritizing is the key to a happier, healthier population, will we see a decline in the rates of genuine obesity. It won’t happen with threats to cut medical care for obese people or to weigh and measure our children at school (horrific). In fact, all that will do is serve to increase our growing sense of despair, and probably make us reach for another slice of cake.

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January 27, 2010

Sun in the Sky You Know How I Fee-eeel (Natasha)

As I made my way into the Winning Minds office today, the icy winds pounded furiously against my shivering skin and the depressing gun-metal grey winter sky loomed menacingly over the frosty earth beneath. However, despite Mother Nature doing her utmost to dampen my spirits, I positively skipped through the streets of Stortford, smiling at bemused strangers whilst providing my own imaginary world of pathetic fallacy in my mind– a smiling sunshine wearing sunglasses like in the Vitalite advert, friendly blue skies, birds twittering contentedly in the branches overhead etc.

Why? It’s all because of a refreshingly enlightened journalist called Jane Warren who yesterday (26th January) published a two page spread in the Daily Express which finally gave a balanced and honest view on the rising popularity of plus size models in fashion and a valuable contribution to the beauty debate.

The article began:

“They’re not overweight, they’re normal – the models who want to put curves back into clothes.”

It is centered around Crystal Renn (she of the Goddess stature) and other gorgeous “plus size” (which should be used within the confines of inverted commas, really, considering the article’s central thesis, above) models such as Kate Smith (size 16 AND in her 30s! Certainly gave me some hope of longevity in the modeling industry) and Lizzie Miller (remember her? Size 12 posing naked with a small roll of fat around her abdomen/womb area – like women are supposed to have – and it caused a general palarva last year?).

The feature made a point of including some of things which might seem obvious, but appear to have been mysteriously overlooked – How the inclusion of plus size models in the elitist sphere of high fashion after years of “heroin chic” and “working the anorexic look” (horrifying concept, but apparently actually said to Crystal Renn) was a massive achievement and the result of more than just a flash-in-the-pan change in trends for 2010. Plus size isn’t like “nautical stripes for spring” (please PLEASE can we have something different next Spring, fashion designer people? I am utterly bored of every shop on the high street looking like Popeye’s closet come March) – It represents a significant revolution in attitudes.

Warren was also insightful enough to point out that the ultimate aim was getting VARIETY into fashion. Hurrah! I heard me, Mark, the entire council and cast of Body Gossip and anyone else with a bit of foresight cry! The Daily Express have recognized that it’s not a case of “skinny –v- curvy” or of “curvy being the new skinny” – Just of “healthy being the new unhealthy” and equal representation for the entire beauty spectrum.

Yesterday evening, as I went to alight the train on which I’d been sitting, reading the article, I had a realisation: My posture had changed, I was smiling, sitting a little straighter, a little prouder. Even for someone like me, who teaches body confidence and occasionally models, seeing other women my shape and size being celebrated in the media gave me that warm inner glow that can only come from a sense of self-esteem. Today, thinking of all the other women who must have given a similar boost, and how this piece represented another victory in the beauty battle, was what put an extra spring in my step (and lessened my urge to emigrate to the tropics to escape those bone-chilling winter winds). Thank you Jane Warren.

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January 26, 2010

Lost Generation (Mark)

Lost Generation

We, the baby boomers have done the damage…to society, to the earth…and our children have to pick up the pieces.

Young people today do indeed feel disillusioned by the world they’ve been brought into. Difficult to blame them really: family breakdown, depression, disrespect, greed, selfishness, environmental degradation are the norm. And yet we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been. There can be no doubt that humanity has taken a hugely wrong turn.

So it’s the adults’ responsibility to put their hands up, own the guilt and work on inspiring the younger generation to help them repair the damage NOW.

It’s no good relying on the bankers and the politicians to bring about a new world economic order at Davos 2010; their selfish, greedy interest is best served by the status quo. Bankers with their outrageous mansion-sized bonuses and politicians with their illegal “jail sentence” expenses, have shown their true colours over the last 12 months and we don’t trust them.

It’s up to us!

I’ve just come across the most amazing video on You Tube; you’ll find the link at the bottom of this blog. Do have a look: it’s simple, but very moving and lasts less than 2 minutes.

We’ve got to reverse everything

  • Money doesn’t make us happy; happiness comes from within
  • Family is so much more important than work, but look at the attention balance
  • Divorce is now the norm for kids in primary school with all of the heartache it brings
  • Everyone knows that climate change is real and yet could governments find any more reasons not to take action?
  • The younger generation need inspiration, because they feel helpless and therefore apathetic and lethargic.

It’s up to us, to provide the inspiration: we…and they can change the world.

Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42E2fAWM6rA

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January 25, 2010

An Own Goal in the Beauty Battle (Natasha)

Having worked myself up into a veritable frenzy of excitement at the prospect of reading the Times Style Magazine piece on the “curvelution”, I disappointingly found it to be the editorial equivalent of eating a penguin biscuit bar when you’re hankering after a Dairy Milk – It simply didn’t hit the spot.

The tantalizing image on the front cover of two voluptuous vixens promised an article about “how the curvy girl is trying to break into high fashion”. I expected an expose, detailing these women’s struggles and the reactions to them in a world devoted to worshipping a twiglet-like physique. Instead we were told that “men like a woman with a bit of meat on her bones” (no kidding) and where to buy a correctly fitting bra (yawn, Cosmo taught us that ten years ago).

In a similarly predictable and tedium-inducing way, it is hinted that this plus size revolution is merely a flash-in-the-pan and that larger ladies should get out and strut their stuff whilst it remains fashionable, which runs completely counter to the writer’s earlier argument that, whilst rail-thin has always been hailed as the epitome of beauty in high fashion, in the real world it’s curves that get you noticed.

This is all ultimately crowd-pleasing, platitude-filled tosh. In the real world, it’s confidence that gets you noticed, whatever look you happen to be working. In a typical oversimplification, the writer completely disregards the fact that these women even being allowed into the notoriously elitist sphere of high fashion represents a huge breakthrough and revolution in attitudes. It didn’t happen merely because Mark Fast got bored one day and thought “hey, why don’t I put some curves on the catwalk for a change?” – It is the result of endless campaigning, soul searching, public outrage and personal heartache (for the models involved at least) and is the first step towards getting some variety into the portrayal of beauty.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: What plus size models represent is pride and self esteem. One of the pictures shows a (guessing) size 18 girl wearing a sliver of a silver Gucci swimsuit. She has sturdy-looking thighs, a bit of a tummy and rolls of back fat. It is not a flattering photo (but then I’d defy anyone to pull off a cutaway shiny silver strapless swimsuit whilst adopting a Matrix-style motionless back-flip pose) but there is something defiant and undeniably beautiful about it. The pose conveys strength and rebelliousness and has a shock factor – It says “get ready world, for I am me, I am here and I will not apologise for my body”. That is an attitude we could all do with a little bit more of, wrongly-fitting bra or not.

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Memoires of a Glamour Puss (Natasha)

On the days when I have the time and inclination, I like to create a look for myself inspired by the sirens of the 50s – Strong of brow, long of lash, and pout-y of lip. I like to tease my hair into soft curls and pop on something which speaks of both strength and femininity, enhances my hourglass frame and hints at sexuality, without being overt. Yes, when I can be bothered, this is my “look” (and if I happen to dash out the door, hair still damp, fresh of face, wearing odd socks, furiously typing last minute emails, sending text messages, flinging the curtains back, looking with dismay at last night’s washing up and muttering “b*gger, b*gger, b*gger” under my breath, which is often the case, that doesn’t matter either, because in my mind I’m still 50s siren lady).

So, there I was one Sunday lunchtime, in my parents’ local pub, looking pretty hot, it has to be said. My parents introduced me to an acquaintance of theirs, a jolly, robust looking man in his 60s – Tall, booming and baritone and excessively articulate. He asked if I’d had a good weekend and I told him I’d been lucky enough to see Sir Ian McKellen’s beyond fantastic performance in Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal the previous day. “Ah” he said and then he lent into me conspiratorially before asking in a tone that might as well have been accompanied by a pat on the head “and did you understand it?”

I discussed this in fits of hysterics later with my Mum (apparently I’d given him a look that could sour milk before monologuing at great length (and to everyone else’s great tedium) about the various interpretations of the play and which one I gave the most credence to, using quotes from the text. Well, he wasn’t to know I studied it for A level).

You know when someone says something to you that they think is totally obvious (and therefore have never bothered to mention before) but is a massive, life changing revelation for you? Well, this is the conversation my Mum and I had (and, you must bear in mind, I was simultaneously trying to speak and have an epiphany):

Mum: He only asked you because your look doesn’t fit your brain.

Me: What do you mean my look doesn’t fit my brain? What are you talking about?

Mum: Well, I think people might assume you’re not as clever as you are…..

Me: Hang on hang on. Are you saying I look stupid?

Mum: (panicking slightly) Well, no, not exactly. It’s just you have big boobs and long hair and….you know….. that look doesn’t really make you think of a brainy person.

Me: *raises eyebrow, sits back in chair, folds arms and looks back at Mum expectantly*

Mum: (digging herself out of hole) On the plus side, however, you have the element of surprise. Which is brilliant, because no one expects you to be able to talk about clever things, and then you can……. You do it all the time, surprise people. I just don’t think you realise it.

What struck me most was this innate assumption that if you are in any way glamorous it is to compensate for a lack of intelligence (or perhaps that women do not have enough brain space to simultaneously store the ability to apply makeup and information about the wider world). Do we, in the post-feminist era, truly still believe that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive?

It’s a minefield of an area, which even I cannot form a definitive opinion about – Where is the line between glaming up because it’s a way of expressing oneself and objectifying oneself before anyone else has even had the opportunity to? Like my new hero, Crystal Renn (I will not stop campaigning until her book is made compulsory reading for all teenage girls), I have always loved fashion, makeup, unashamed girly-ness, but it has never completely dominated my life. The confusion, I believe, somewhat arises out of the “Spice Girls” era, closely followed by the era of the WAG/Glamour Model, who somewhat spuriously claimed to embody “Girl Power” which was then placed under the umbrella of feminism (having very little to do with the genuine concept, as I believe Germaine Greer pointed out). Making a career out of turning oneself into an object of desire, be it by posing for a shoot for a lad’s mag or marrying a wealthy footballer, became suddenly something to aspire to.

Today, the Daily Mail Online published an article entitled “Land of the living dolls: Feminism aimed to liberate women. Instead, it’s spawned a promiscuous generation who believe that their bodies are the only passport to success”, which touches on this very issue.  Click here to read the article.

The women the article describes are desperate to win a shoot with Nuts Magazine by sprawling virtually naked on a bed in a nightclub. This has zilch to do with feminism, very little to do with sex and everything to do with the old chestnut: Low Self Esteem.

In my last blog I talked about young people feeling disillusioned what with unemployment, the breakdown of families and the recession and being desperate for some attention, which they might mistakenly equate with the love and respect that are so evidently missing from most of their lives. It’s my opinion that the girls the Daily Mail article describes symbolize a symptom of the very same phenomenon. Women degrade themselves simply because they crave attention and misguidedly believe that this is the only way to get it. Who knows, beneath the 3 inches of makeup, fake tan and false eyelashes there may be a highly intelligent girl, but with glamour modeling, wagging and it-girl-ing touted as the fast track to wealth, success and adoration, who can blame them for relenting, buying themselves a boob job and stripping off?

This all feeds in marvelously to the Body Gossip ethos, because ultimately, discussing real bodies and the value there can be in their spectacular and beautiful variety is empowering for women and men alike. In fact, in bringing bodies to the public attention, the ultimate aim is for us all to think about them less. This seems paradoxical – but once we all sincerely believe that we are uniquely gorgeous, it eliminates the need for validation from, in this particular instance, a hoard of drooling, drunken revelers in a nightclub. In the end, it is about creating a reality where women dress in whatever way makes them feel good about themselves, without it being a reflection on their character or intellect and where I can commune with my inner Marylin Monroe and still be expected to understand Beckett.

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