January 23, 2010

Avatar: A Wake-Up Call For Humanity (Mark)

Last week’s Sunday Times article on the film Avatar was a real eye-opener. Apparently the film is causing all sorts of small-minded, parochial outrage particularly in America.

  • David Brooks, a rightwing New York Times columnist finds the film offensive with the hero “going native” and leading a “righteous crusade against his own rotten civilisation”.
  • There’s talk of blatant anti-Americanism by the Canadian producer, James Cameron…that sounds like a guilt complex to me! They say he’s offering a critique of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…again guilt complex! Apparently we’re being asked to “root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency.”
  • There are also complaints that the film’s racist, because the natives are incapable of doing their own fighting.
  • The Vatican has attacked the film for “trying to replace divinity with nature.”
  • George Monbiot, the British environmentalist is much closer to the mark; he has praised Avatar for “its profound show of resistance to capitalism.”

Wake up people!! The themes in the film are way bigger than these poxy little self-centred whingings. This film is a wake up call for our whole way of life. It points out the flaws in the complete Western system, which is based on consumerism and materialism.

As individuals, we are expected to shop, shop, shop; we end up with wardrobes full of clothes we never wear, cupboards full of toys we never play with and we throw out last years’ model in favour of this years’ new shinier model.

The majority of these “products” that we purchase are made by massive corporations whose sole end game is to look after a very small part of the population. Sod the customers (yes that’s right the people who are buying!), sod the employees, sod the distribution chain…the only ones we care about are the shareholders!

The fundamental flaw in capitalism is that this is the only real mark of a successful company; it looks after one stakeholder who bangs the table for his dividend. So we end up killing innocent, defenceless people, throwing them out of their ancestral homes and devastating the planet.

Avatar represents a fantastic opportunity for the human race to hold a mirror up to itself and to take a good look, because if we don’t, our children’s world will be a very scary place.

All revolutions come from the bottom up and we have to be reaching the “Tipping Point” soon; we’re all fed up with the politicians and the bankers, we all know the Iraq War was wrong, we all know that the planet is dying.

This why the “big knobs” are upset by the film; their cosy, materialistic lives are under threat and they’re scared. Thank you James Cameron; let’s hope the average Joe can see beyond the parochial selfish whinges of the militarists and the moneymen; let’s see it as a rallying point.

There’s a lot of work to do people. Viva la revolucion!!!

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January 18, 2010

Is Curvy the New Skinny? – An Inherently Flawed Question (Natasha)

Yesterday, at stupid-o-clock for a “school night” (11.45pm), I was invited to debate “is curvy the new skinny?” on Eddie Nestor’s late night BBC Radio London show.

Being, as I am, of an Amazonian build, and embodying the notion of genuinely curvy (my bust and hips are 12 inches bigger than my waist), people immediately expect me to be vehemently and unapologetically in the red corner of curviness, a foot soldier for the “curvelution”. In many ways, I am, but not for the reasons you might think. To solely champion curvaceous beauty would contradict my entire stance in the debate: I applaud any image or media message which presents us with something undeniably beautiful, but not in the traditional (and very narrow) sense of the word. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing someone who conveys an unrepentant sense of pride in who they are, “flaws” and all, someone interesting-looking, not bowing to the prevailing Barbie-like beauty aesthetic.

For this very reason, I believe everyone, no matter what their natural body type, should have someone they can realistically aspire to as a style icon and I refuse to be drawn into “skinny bashing” – I have had first hand experience of how it feels to be judged purely on a visual assessment and that would be a disservice to the naturally slender, as well as an oversimplification of the matter at hand.

What fascinated me most about the recent press surrounding the plus size revolution, was not so much the phenomenon itself, which has been highly anticipated and a long time coming, but the public’s reaction to it. A divide became apparent between those who were delighted at the abundance of flesh, the highly sexual images of robustly healthy looking beauties (mainly men, unsurprisingly) and those who associated the images with hedonistic decadence, with the laziness, gluttony and the obesity epidemic which they saw as the downfall of modern society and, as such, were disgusted.

The idea that you can make generalized and sweeping judgments concerning someone’s lifestyle according to their dress size is ludicrous to begin with – Plenty of larger people exercise and eat healthily, but are simply genetically destined to be a little heavier. Similarly, I could name you 10 people in my immediate acquaintance right this second who have whippet like metabolisms that enable them to maintain a very slim frame and yet seem to spend most of their time eating carbs and sitting on their bony bottoms.

More importantly, however, this notion that obesity is the biggest strain on the NHS in this country and that Plus Size models are encouraging it must, crucially, be challenged. In fact, 70% of GP visits in this country are as a result of some sort of psychological issue and the one thing that unites anyone with a mental health issue, be it an eating disorder, depression, or anxiety, is low self esteem. By ensuring that everyone is represented in the glamorous fashion and media industries, in a World where celebrities are literally worshipped, we are actively promoting high self esteem. By showing images of women who might not be “perfect” in the prevailing sense of the word, yet still take pride in their appearance, wear beautiful clothes and encapsulate beauty, we are encouraging the public to do the same.

When people feel good about themselves, they start to want to nourish and tend to the needs of their body, they no longer feel like a waste of space, undeserving of attention and care – Yes, I’m going to be controversial and say it: Plus size models are, if anything, the SOLUTION to the obesity crisis.

If putting only very slim people in the public eye was going to make everyone thinner and/or healthier (remembering that these two things are NOT synonymous), it would have happened by now. What it has undeniably done is fuel the terrifying fire of eating disorders and body dysmorphia and lo and behold, obesity still exists. It’s my opinion that obesity (of the type which is the result of compulsive eating) is symptomatic of the same fundamental element that encourages people to starve themselves: Low Self Esteem.

If there is one thing that going into schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK as part of my body confidence campaign and being involved with Body Gossip has taught me, it is that people want a voice. The overwhelming response to the Body Gossip real body stories writing competition proved that people want their body type represented and acknowledged. They are tired of being ignored and ridiculed simply for not fitting a rigid ideal, an ideal which represents less than 1% of the population’s natural body type.

When I ask the students I teach “what is the ultimate aim of the fashion industry?” I get some very peculiar answers. Most of them seem to be under the illusion that it has something to do with art. In reality, the fashion industry is no different to any other – It is there to sell us things and so far it has done so by deliberately instilling in us a sense of shame in who we are, a shame that can only be counteracted by having the latest pair of stilettos, miracle foundation and dieting in a vain attempt to look like Kate Moss. Fashion must work on supply and demand if it is to survive and it seems that right now the public is demanding plus size. Whether or not it is tokenistic remains to be seen but, as far as I am concerned, it is a step in the right direction – To a World in which there is more than one definition of gorgeous and in which we can all feel happy in our own skins.

To hear my interview on BBC Radio London on I-player (available for the next week), click here and go to 1 hour 40 minutes.

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January 15, 2010

Hooked on Happy Pills (Mark)

Hooked on Happy Pills

I’m afraid this is a classic example of modern medicine treating the symptoms and not the causes! There’s been a couple of articles in the Daily Mail this week about anti-depressants and both shake this cornerstone of current British medical treatment in the UK. At last, given that the articles are based around a scientific research study, there may be a crack in the rather complacent way that the medical profession deal with depression.

The rise in anti-depressants being prescribed is frightening: from 9 million to 34 million over the last 15 years. What’s worse is that according to the article “scientists have long been stumped as to why they fail to help half of the people who take them”. In fact, I was under the impression that it is accepted in medical circles that only 30% of people get real benefit from anti-depressants. A research programme published in The Journal of The American Medical Association last week, came to the conclusion that medication has “negligible” impact except in cases of very severe depression.

When you consider the side effects below, it is staggering that these pills can be handed out so willy nilly”!

Firstly, whilst not strictly addictive, people find them very difficult to get off. Many of my clients have been on them for 5+ years, some even over 10. The NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines are that patients should be on them for a maximum of 9 months on the first occasion and a maximum of 2 years for those experiencing further depression. The research by University of Southampton referred to in one of the articles, estimates that 2 million people are taking them for more than 5 years, the largest group being women between 18 and 45.   In fact, it is now commonplace for people to think they will be on them for the rest of their lives, just like medication for epilepsy or diabetes.

…which brings us to the second issue about side effects: the commonly known short –term side effects, which doctors do by and large make their patients aware of include drowsiness, dizziness and weight gain. Interestingly, I find that virtually none of my clients are aware that a common side effect is the increased likelihood of suicide. The first time I read that when I was looking up a client’s drug in a formulary book, I did a double take: “you mean they’re giving pills that increase the likelihood of suicide to some people who are already contemplating that course of action anyway!!!!!” Well the answer’s yes!

And yet in terms of longer-term side effects, research is now finding that anti-depressants can cause internal bleeding, strokes and birth defects, which has brought some disturbing parallels with “the mother’s little helper” scandal of the 70’s and 80’.

Let’s stand back a minute. Depression is an emotional problem, playing around with the body/mind’s chemistry for the long-term is bound to have some major side effects. Why does medicine have to be all about medication? I was amazed to find out that the most important A level for a prospective medical student is Chemistry…well that says it all! Surely biology is more important?!

To be fair, the NICE guidelines state that “the optimum treatment for depression is a combination of medication and talking therapies. I would argue that only talking therapies are going to help the patient overcome whatever it is that is depressing them. Medication should only be a short-term measure helping the sufferer with “mood”, while they solve the problem psychologically.

Again to be fair, doctors have an average of 7 minutes with a patient, which is completely insufficient for mental health issues, so of course the doctors end up handing over a prescription…what else can they do in 7 minutes? However, we should have realised that the system is selling people short years ago: 70% of doctors’ visits are for mental health issues. It is my humble opinion that science, the medical profession and the politicians (clearly the NHS has to change dramatically…it was set up to handle emergencies and diseases) have been too complacent about the issue of anti-depressants for too long.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ll start having a look at existing practices and wonder if a radical overhaul isn’t required. The real solutions for permanent escape from issues like depression, stress, anxiety, Eating Disorders and Self Harm are Hypnotherapy and NLP…but the medical profession is a million miles from accepting that at the moment. But this is a huge issue and changes aren’t going to come overnight. What is more, this is one change amongst a whole plethora of changes that need to take place if Western Civilisation is to become liveable again. But that’s for another day!

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January 14, 2010

Announcement – Mark Newey Invited to Become Associate of Royal Society of Medicine (Natasha)

I am extremely proud to announce that Mark has been invited to become an Associate of the Royal Society of Medicine.

This not only shows that it’s not just me who thinks his middle name should be “Genius” but also how NLP and hypnosis are becoming more widely recognised as highly effective tools in the medical community.

Congratulations Mark!

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January 13, 2010

The “B” in BMI…..(Natasha)

…..does not stand for “be all and end all”.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of being a woman and living in a culture which constantly demands superficial measures of “perfection”, that we always want what we cannot have. Ladies with lustrous, poker straight, shiny, swinging curtains of blonde hair long for a head full of raven coloured curls. Women with the slim, straight-up-and-down figure that means they can wear pretty much any style of clothing crave the curvaceous shapes of their more voluptuous counterparts, not knowing that their envy is entirely reciprocated.

As such, despite my friends insisting they were in fits of jealousy over my Amazonian frame, long legs and ridiculously proportioned bust, I always wanted the one thing my natural shape couldn’t offer me: A flat stomach. In addition to a tendency to carry excess weight around my middle, I also had invasive surgery for poloric stenosis as a baby, rendering my tummy a strange shape. So fixated became I on the elusive washboard abs, the lack thereof became all I could see when I looked in the mirror. A decade of what amounted to starvation because of excessive purging, abuse of laxatives and compulsive exercise meant my ribs and hip bones protruded aggressively and yet all I seemed to be able to focus on was a 3cm by 3cm pocket of flab, a consequence of my operation and also of all the bingeing I’d done over the years.

As I forced myself to vomit until I was dry-retching, I’d picture the concave middle I so desperately desired and then, red in the face, eyes streaming and sweating, I’d do hundreds of stomach crunches, but to no avail.

My university lectures were my only sanctuary from the insistent body insecurity that demanded my constant attention, because if there was one thing that was more important to me than being thin, it was learning. When I tried to read, I found it difficult to concentrate and the words would swim in front of my eyes because of the poor physical condition I was in, but listening to someone else expressing their passion for literature and the arts, imparting their knowledge, drawing me into their World and the World of the author or playwright and their characters (any World but mine, at that stage) was a real treat. One day, after class, a couple of my fellow students (not friends exactly but with whom I got on well enough) asked me to stay behind until everyone else had left the lecture hall.

After an age of meaningful looks being exchanged between them, one of them seemed to have been silently appointed The Spokesperson.

“We’re just checking to see if you’re ok”.

“Yes” (lie) “Why?”

“You’re so thin”.

(bizarrely pleased) “Really?”

“This isn’t a joke, Natasha. You look awful. Like you’re about to keel over. Please, please eat something”.

“ok. Thanks”.

I walked back to my halls of residence turning their words over and over in my head, vainly trying to find an excuse to continue my denial of having a problem, but I couldn’t. I booked myself in to see my GP.

During that doctor’s appointment, it was the first time I had ever admitted to anyone, aloud and directly, that I was suffering from bulimia nervosa and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. My word came out in a whisper, disjointed as I stuttered that I had been making myself sick and that I’d been doing it for years. Without looking up from his notes, the GP asked me to get on the scales and after weighing me, concluded that I did not qualify for treatment because I was “not underweight” and sent me on my way.

Since working for Winning Minds, I have realised that I am not alone in this. Anorexics who weigh little over 6 or 7 stone have been told that until they reach the magic “anorexic weight” (which seems, for some reason, to be 5 stone) they are not considered to require urgent attention. Any sensible person who looked at them with their eyes could see that this was not the case – they require it, they desperately need it, their lives depend upon it. Similarly, several perfectly healthy and slim friends of mine have returned from a routine check-up in tears having been told that they are “obese”.

That is why I am very pleased that yesterday the Daily Mail Online published an article entitled “He wears medium T-shirts, walks two miles a day and lifts weights in his tea break. So why is this man officially ‘obese’?” To read the article click here.

I do not know what BMI is based upon, but I strongly suspect that it was entirely fabricated by one person (who was probably very short and had very small bones and virtually no muscle) a long time ago and has been taken as gospel by the medical profession ever since. The fact that entirely healthy people are being told they must lose weight as a consequence is bad enough, but it should definitely not be a contributory factor when assessing eating disorders, and in particular bulimia nervosa.

I am, of course, aware that doctors must have some means to determine the severity of an eating disorder. May I suggest the patient’s weight before their ED began as opposed to now, how quickly they have lost weight, how long they have been indulging in dangerous behaviours and to what extent it is affecting their lives? May I also suggest looking at them, with their eyes? Just a thought.

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January 12, 2010

I like Big Butts & I Cannot Lie……(Natasha)

Happy New Year! And the beauty debate has kicked off once more, even more ferociously and controversially in a new decade.

Today BBC Cambridge invited me on their Drive Time show to discuss two pertinent stories emerging today.

The first is news that UK health experts have confirmed that having large hips or bottom in fact makes you healthier than your less curvaceous counterparts, with hip fat being proven to “mop up” harmful cells which can cause metabolic diseases.

The second is a summary of the recent “Curvelution” which has been happening in the fashion industry, what with British designer Mark Fast controversially using size 12 and 14 women to model his new line (which subsequently sold out in record time) during Fashion Week, American style magazine V devoting an issue to plus size glamour and the surge in popularity of Crystal Renn (whose book I am currently reading and can confirm without hyperbole that since she is incredibly intelligent, articulate and witty in addition to being undeniably gorgeous and is therefore a Goddess).

So, what conclusions did you arrive at, I hear you eagerly enquire (silently)?

The BBC article (you know, the one about bottoms) has brought into the public sphere the important issue of proportion. Ok, so they are looking at it from a physical health point of view but it’s also important psychologically. When I bring my body confidence campaign to schools and colleges, I tell the students that the most pointless thing they can do is compare their bodies with those of their peers. Yet we do it all the time, usually taking into account only weight and dress size, not making allowances for the hugely influential factors of shape, bone structure, height and proportion. We  are a unique combination of an infinite number of physical variants and should therefore set our own, personalised standard for beauty.

As an ambassador for the national campaign Body Gossip and a plus size model myself, I wholeheartedly applaud the use of larger models in high fashion and it was therefore difficult for me to comprehend the backlash. Plus size models were said to encourage our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, promote obesity and encourage gluttony. The comments made online by the public revealed two distinct and dangerous misconceptions. The first is that thin is automatically synonymous with a healthy lifestyle – Thin people exercise and watch what they eat and fat people sit on the sofa all day scoffing cake. As the BBC article clearly evidences, thinner does not necessarily equal healthier. We should also take heed of the difference in people’s metabolic rates and body types. It is simply not possible to make sweeping judgments about people’s lifestyle and diet simply from making a visual assessment.

The second misconception is that there are two choices – skinny or obese, without taking into account that there is a huge spectrum of beauty in the middle. Crystal Renn is a size 16, yes. She is also nearly 6 foot tall, toned, with an hourglass shape and very little body fat and yet she is put under the “plus size” umbrella. “Plus Size” is actually anything over a UK size 8 and merely refers to someone trying to present an alternative to the frankly emaciated frames of your average catwalk model (who represent less than 1% of the global population, as a natural body shape).

It is not a question of choosing a camp or allying yourself with a “side”. The war is not a question of “thin people” vs “fat people” but of a community dedicated to promoting health and happiness against one fixed notion of beauty which induces low self esteem in anyone who falls outside it. All people of all shapes and sizes should be given the gift of having a role model they can realistically aspire to, without jeopardizing their health.

You can catch my interview on I player for the next week by clicking here and going to approx 1 hour 5 minutes.

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December 21, 2009

Natasha -v- A Few Very Narrow Minded Daily Mail Readers – Another Beauty Debate

Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Eating Disorder deprive you of your ability to eat in response to hunger and being able to register when you’re full. When I came to Mark Newey 18 months ago, with a hole in the roof of my mouth, suffering from life crippling depression and having alienated most of my friends after a decade long history of bulimia nervosa, it wasn’t just the bingeing and purging that we needed to address. I needed to conquer my all-consuming fear of weight gain (ironic, considering bulimia doesn’t really make you lose weight anyway) and start paying attention to my “reptilian brain” – The one responsible for instinct – when it came to food, rather than my “mammalian brain” – The one responsible for emotions.

Now, I’m happy to say that for the first time since I was 10 years old, my relationship with my old friend Food is pretty healthy. Food and I have learned to love each other once more, after years of bitterness, resentment and arguing. Like any couple, we hit the occasional rocky patch. I occasionally overindulge and berate Food for being so attractive and enticing, but then I remember that I’m the one in control and with the responsibility for my own well being. Food and I have been coasting along nicely for about a year now and have even introduced a Third Party to spice things up – Exercise. I took the time to sit down and ask Exercise what it was all about. I’d heard rumours that it meant hours toiling on the treadmill, grunting and profusely sweating in an enclosed, windowless cell with pose-y people on steroids. Exercise assured me that was all hearsay. Turns out exercise has quite a relaxed attitude to relationships and said I could define the parameters. I asked her if she’s be happy with me walking the 2 miles each way to the train station every day, taking the occasional swim and quite often boogying around my living room to my new Beyonce CD- That was all the commitment I was capable of at this stage in my life (I’d become too close to Exercise in the past, had my heart broken and my emotions were still raw).

For the first time in my life, I can tell you how my body is, naturally, when nourished and treated with a bit of TLC. I’m 5 ft 11, with long slender limbs and tend to carry excess weight around my middle and….shock horror…..I’m a size 16. 2 years ago, the prospect of being a size 16 would have induced suicidal thoughts. I’d taken on board the narrow definitions of beauty flung at me by the media and fashion industry from every direction to the extent that I equated size 16 with “fat” without any regard whatsoever for height, shape or bone structure. Turns out, size 16 isn’t such a bad place to be at all, and more importantly, I am there as a result of a natural and healthy life path (much more so than when I momentarily achieved the oh-so-elusive size 10 by making myself sick 8 times a day, taking hundreds of laxatives, exercising for 4 hours per day and sleeping for hours to avoid having to eat), so I was rather dismayed to see the reader comments posted on a Mail Online article today. The article concerned how Selfridges have withdrawn their “plus size” range and now do not stock above a size 14. Some readers took the rather spurious introduction of the topic of weight to express some very worrying and narrow minded views, amongst which were the following, ludicrous assertions:

  • Anyone above a size 14 is “obese” and a “drain on the NHS”.
  • “Fat” people do not deserve to wear nice clothes. If they wanted to “look nice” they would go on a diet.
  • It is “normal” to eat one boiled potato for dinner. If people eat more than this, they will become “obese”.

I should point out that many, more sensible people did log on to rebut – pointing out that if you are 6 foot tall, a size 18 is perfectly healthy and that actually eating a boiled potato for dinner and exercising compulsively is really not that healthy at all (you don’t say). However, I felt compelled to add my own thoughts (I was especially offended by the “drain on the NHS” point):

Unless you are teetotal, do not smoke, avoid ALL stressful situations, get just the right small amount of direct sunshine, do not live in an urban area and get exactly 7-8 hours sleep per night, you have the potential to be a “drain on the NHS”. Unless you live your life within these incredibly strict parameters, you have no right to judge people with regard to what they may, or indeed may not, eat.

The NHS is there for everyone. We all pay taxes, we all fund it, we all have the right to use it, regardless of lifestyle.

When people listen to ridiculous, bigoted comments like those displayed and take them to heart it can trigger eating disorders and surely that is a “drain on the NHS”, by their definition?

To be a size 14 and “morbidly obsese” you would have to be about 3 feet tall. One cannot make sweeping statements about what size people “should” be without any regard for their body type.

I also, whilst working myself up into a frenzy of outrage as I read more of the ridiculous comments, developed the embryo of a theory:

A lot of the people who commented were supposedly “outraged” because they spend a lot of time going to the gym and focussing on not eating to maintain a size 6 or 8 figure and they argue that they do this in order to be “healthier” and “feel better about themselves”. BUT, would they be so enraged if they were really doing it for themselves, to feel better on the inside and “healthier”? Isn’t it the truth that actually, they are doing it as a result of the prevailing social view that thin = beautiful and expect to enjoy privileges and popularity and attention that larger people don’t, for their efforts? And is their anger in fact, as I suspect, motivated by the fact that the tide is turning, that thinness is not so automatically associated with beauty as it once was, and therefore they think that all their effort has gone to waste? Isn’t it that truth that these people accuse larger people of being “weak willed” for not eschewing all food over 50 calories when it is in fact THEY who are weak willed for not being able to stand up to peer pressure?

I would hate for this blog to be perceived in any way as “skinny bashing”. As I tell the students I teach in my Body Confidence Campaign, I really don’t care what size they are as long as they are healthy and happy. There is a whole spectrum of beauty out there ranging from slender to curvaceous and it all needs to be represented and respected. I would never comment detrimentally on a thinner person’s body shape and would only offer someone advice on their health and lifestyle if they asked for it. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return, please, Daily Mail readers!

Please visit my Body Confidence Campaign page and also learn about Body Gossip to join the revolution!

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December 17, 2009

Today’s News- Teens and Alcohol – Mark’s Views

Teenage Alcohol: Under lock and Key?

So the politicians are waking up to the problem of teenage alcohol abuse. But as usual their solution is to interfere and sensationalise!

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has been in the news saying how parents must stick to the law and not allow their children to drink alcohol at home before they are 15, or preferably 18. In theory of course, he’s right: it’s the law!

However, he’s not showing any understanding of the status of alcohol in this group or the social ramifications of clamping down and demonising the evil liquor any more than it is already. I wonder if he’s got or had teenagers himself?

Alcohol is the new cigarette at school today: it’s cool…it’s grown-up…it’s the 2 fingers (or perhaps 1 finger these days!) to authority. It already has a rebellious and aspirational status. The attitude today is that young people go out at night with the specific objective of getting “slammed”! This has changed since their parents’ day…where we went to meet our mates and may well have got drunk on the way. We didn’t step out of our front door saying ”I’m going to get absolutely pi**ed tonight”

Getting parents to abide by the letter of the law, not allowing their kids to drink at home until that magic date of their 18th birthday has 2 problems:

  • Firstly, it’s shutting the gate after the horse has bolted: they’re doing it with their mates anyway
  • Secondly, it’s making elusive, forbidden alcohol even cooler.

The French don’t have this problem; for them a glass of wine is a normal part of life! They start drinking a glass of watered down wine at an early age at a special family gathering…it’s normal!

We need to take the same approach. It’s not something to be heavy-handedly controlled, but gently introduced as part of growing up. In fact, this isn’t just about alcohol abuse, we need to give our teenagers more respect and (within reason) treat them as adults.

We’ve never made a big thing out of alcohol in our house and my girls have seen their Mum and Dad occasionally worse for wear! But they can genuinely happily go out and not have a drink, if they’re driving …and still enjoy themselves. Yes, my oldest is at Uni and does have a bit much occasionally but I remember doing the same myself at that age. It just wasn’t a big deal!

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December 16, 2009

Twiggy -v- My Mum! (Natasha)

I will remember 2009 for two reasons.

It was the year that an email I sent really quite casually, in retrospect, turned out to completely shape the course of my life. I emailed Mark Newey, who’d freed me of a life life-crippling decade long battle with bulimia nervosa about a year earlier and I’d now come to think of as a friend, with a general life update, complaining that I had been made redundant from my job in the City. He said “why don’t you come and work for me?”……..

It was also the year I launched my Body Confidence Campaign in schools. When you consider that, in August, the campaign was merely an embryo of an idea, based on my desire to prevent younger people following the same path as me and developing a potentially life threatening eating disorder, it is astounding how quickly it has gained momentum.

The campaign has given me the chance to speak to hundreds of people aged between 11 and 18 and get their vital perspective on the beauty debate. The controversial subject of airbrushing was, therefore, something that I’d always considered from a teenage perspective, my point being that airbrushing is so prevalent and normalized now that, in fact, anyone under the age of 18 cannot differentiate between an airbrushed image and a real one and conclude, understandably, that if they do not match up to this impossible standard there must be something fundamentally wrong with them.

However, today’s headlines included a story which made me consider airbrushing from a fresh angle: An ad campaign for eye cream featuring Twiggy has been retracted because it was airbrushed to the extent that it constituted false advertising. The pictures would have appeared in publications aimed at a more mature demographic – So, what with the rise of airbrushing occurring very obviously during their adult lifetime, shouldn’t older women know better than to compare themselves to a digitally enhanced image? And if they immediately dismiss the image as unattainable and ridiculous, does it follow that they are immune to any detrimental affect on their self esteem?

There was only one thing for it, I was going to have to ask my Mum.

The thing about my Mum is that she is stunning. I know everyone thinks their Mum is beautiful, but I’ve had my opinion verified by a plethora of independent adjudicators in the form of friends, boys I fancied at school and randoms whose jaw hits the floor when she passes them in the street. As a woman who is often defined as being “the beautiful one” it’s therefore so refreshing that Mum doesn’t feel it’s necessary to embark on a quest for never ending youth, like many of her peers. She has never had botox, fillers or any kind of invasive surgery (she just believes in a decent night cream and touché eclait) and she manages to dress in a way that I often describe as “the right side of funky”. So I was intrigued to hear her thoughts on the whole Twiggy related debacle……

Mum conceded that, yes, there was a part of her mind that looked at airbrushed images of older women and immediately recognised that they in no way pertained to reality, BUT, even in a woman such as herself, they did induce a niggling insecurity. The fact is that, however illogical, older women DO still feel an obligation to try and match up to their celebrity counterparts and what with the increasing availability and affordability of surgical procedures, many are opting to inject their faces with poison rather than give into age gracefully.

The issue is also that the young people to whom I referred earlier and who aren’t so tuned in to the subtleties of airbrushing expect middle aged women to look like airbrushed Twiggy. And hearing from your teenage son or daughter that “you’re looking a bit ropey today, Mum” isn’t going to do anything for a woman’s self esteem.

Also, what of future generations of older women? What kind of attitudes are we shaping in them? Ok, the 50 year olds of today might be able to laugh in the face of digital re-touching, but are we not creating a culture of people for whom age is the enemy of beauty and who will go to any, potentially dangerous, lengths to preserve their youth?

I often speak about a “spectrum of beauty” and how every shape and size should be represented in the media to widen our narrow ideals of attractiveness. I’d like to expand that to include a spectrum of ages. It is possible to be older and attractive – not “for your age” and not by attempting to look 20 years younger than you are – but just gorgeous in your own right. Look at Helen Mirren. Look at Joanna Lumley. They make no attempt to hide their wrinkles and yet they are resplendently fabulous and, most importantly, realistically aspirational.

With age comes wisdom, maturity, experience, humility….and wrinkles and, it’s my view that they should all be considered equally sexy.

I will be speaking about this issue at 9.10am tomorrow on BBC Radio Essex. Click here to listen live.

Click here to read the BBC’s article on Twiggy’s ad campaign.

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December 14, 2009

The Holly and the Anxiety! (Mark)

Mark was interviewed recently by BBC Radio Essex to give advice to their listeners on getting the most out of their Xmas break and avoiding the stress and depression that often occurs over this “special” time! The following is a summary and contains some gems of advice.

It’s all supposed to be idyllic isn’t it, Christmas? In reality…well not quite so!

There are 5 basic reasons why Christmas is actually a very stressful time:

Problem: The first problem is our expectations: we’re supposed to have this warm cosy glow surrounded by our family. Well this is what it looks like in the glittering TV ads and so we assume that that’s what everybody else is experiencing. The trouble is we’re so geographically mobile in the UK, most of us don’t see our family from one month to the next and so to expect us all to get on like a house on fire is asking an awful lot. Little Freddie will knock of the Christmas tree and Grandpa will be grumpy! But then everybody else will be the same.

Solution: Adjust your expectations and expect things to be difficult; this way you can make plans for when the arguments do come!

Problem: The second problem is that because we don’t see each other often, we don’t communicate very well or take into account others feelings or viewpoints.

Solution: The first thing to do is find out what everybody is expecting. The best way is for everybody to do the following quick exercise: take a blank piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle. Then on the left hand heading write “Things I love about Xmas” and on the right hand side “Things I hate about Xmas”. Then compare notes and let everybody see everybody else’s preferences. It’s essential everybody’s honest. You’d be surprised what a difference this little bit of knowledge makes to our behaviour.

Also Mum should ask for help and be prepared to delegate: we don’t mind peeling the veggies if everyone’s in the kitchen talking anyway.

Problem: The third reason for stress is that we assume that because Xmas is about relaxing with the family that we shouldn’t need to take care of ourselves. Actually with all of the eating and drinking we need to take care of ourselves even more than usual.

Solution: A good brisk walk after a big Xmas lunch is invaluable, as is plenty of me time…reading a book for example. Getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water is equally crucial.

Problem: The fourth reason Xmas is often more stressful than we’re expecting is that with the busy lifestyles we all lead, we don’t get enough time to plan, so we end up doing the shopping at the last minute…along with the rest of our local populace! We also fail to set a budget and end up getting depressed over the January credit card bills.

Solution: Plan, plan, plan! Budget, Budget, Budget! And there’ll be no nasty surprises. Do the pressie shopping by mid-December at the latest and agree budgets with everybody, so that we don’t end up trying to outdo each other! Do the food shopping a week before Xmas; if you really need to, then leave the fresh stuff, so you can nip in and out with a basket, while everybody else is doing “trolley wars”!

Also if you have young kids, try and stick to their routine or schedule; if your kids are happy, then you’re happy too!

Problem: Lastly Christmas can be a very lonely time if you’re on your own, especially if you’ve just lost a loved one.

Solution: Firstly make sure you stay busy…plan things to do. Go to any of the local community events: for example, the local carol service. You won’t be the only one on your own. Also you can still keep in touch with people by phone or even e-mail; the key is not to shut yourself off. Also know that the media hype Xmas terribly; everybody else isn’t having the most amazing family time, so you don’t need to feel envious or left out. Lastly, even if you’re on your own, it’s still worth making an effort with the Xmas lunch.

Christmas can mean a well-earned rest, but being realistic and planning is essential and make the difference between the family threatening not to speak to each other ever again and actually enjoying each other’s company.

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