The Female Contortionist

By Ruth Ankers

Women all over the world have experienced it. Heart break. The kind that takes you off the map. The kind that distorts your vision for years after. That takes the air out of your lungs and leaves you gasping for breath.

You take time to recover, you build yourself up again and you feel stronger. Like you “can” for the first time in what feels like forever. Like you “are” again.

So, what do you do when someone new comes along?

I’m suddenly in very dangerous territory.

I know I am, because I’m holding back, wary, which is unlike me. I’m checking myself constantly, measuring out the perfect amount of “me” to give to him. I think about what I say, twice, three times.

I have to make sure, this time, I don’t do anything wrong.

I hand pick the best bits of me and I carefully lay them out to him, like i would at a Saturday garden sale.

If he buys this, we should be fine.

And he does, he likes it. We’re onto date two and now I’m trying really hard not to mess it up.

If I let him see the real me and all the bits that aren’t perfect he will end it, and I will feel rejected, again.

I don’t know if I can take that.

Convincing somebody that you’re perfect is exhausting. Trying to be positive all the time is exhausting. Evading your narly spots requires you to bend and stretch yourself in ways you haven’t before, and I’m telling you now, you will end up tangled. You will find yourself a contortionist and him watching you from the side stage as you manifest yourself into someone you’re not. Ta-da!

Why can’t I just be myself?

Why, when he is opening up to me, telling me things about his family, do I withhold all my secrets. Why do I nod along, a paper cut out of myself. Why can’t I give him anything of myself?

Why is it so much easier to not let him in? I know I can’t sustain this forever. But if I break, I only have myself to blame.

It’s a month in and it’s not changing. If anything it’s getting worse.

The closer I get to him, the higher I build the wall. Although I think I’m doing a pretty good job of making it invisible to him. I’m constantly waiting for him to notice, to say those dreaded words “we need to talk”. And he does.

But here comes the crux.

Despite the fact we worked it out, he told me something which woke me up. He said he felt that “something was missing”.

And he was right, wasn’t he.

The bit that was missing was me.

The real me. The human, fallible me. With a whole lot of history which has made me who I am. The substance, the wholeness, the grit and the bits that have worn away. The backlog of life experience, the grazes and bumps and the skeletons in the wardrobe. The wholeness that comes with being completely human.

So, if your reading this, please take my advice.

BE YOURSELF.

All of you.

Know that it is okay to be vunrable. To be human, to come with bruises and bits that hurt.

It’s okay to open up and tell the truth, it’s okay to not be the version of yourself which came in the original packaging.

You have had a LIFE and that has shaped you. Something you should never apologise for.

Don’t hide yourself, contort yourself or withhold yourself from someone. They too are human, they too have a history and a whole lot of baggage that comes with that. They have been rebuffed as they have moved across the world.

If you can accept someone for who they are why don’t you feel you deserve to be accepted for being you?

In the words of Will Durant:

“We must steel ourselves against utopias and be content with a slightly better state”.

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be ourselves.

About The Author

IMG_20170907_103552_343

Ruth Ankers is a Drama and Applied Theatre Practitioner and Teacher. She favours writing poetry and short plays. Ruth is a firm believer in equality of gender and is really exited to be writing for Gender + the City!

Illustration by Anna Wanda

@annawandagogusey

http://www.wandalovesyou.com

My Vagina Monologue

By Amelia Brown

I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ three years ago today on a coach back to London, laughing and sobbing the entire way. I used to not even be able to say the word “vagina”. It terrified me. It stuck in my throat, liked folded cardboard, choking me. If I did manage I’d say it quietly, coming out more like a splutter than a word, said with hands folded and eyes averted. Eve Ensler (author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’) says that the word ‘vagina’ sounds like a disease, even a “medical instrument”. To me, it sounded stoney and cold and rooted in Latin. It took me a long time to get past that. I had to go back through all the letters in this short word, turning them into my own.

V – smooth on my tongue, buzzing at the back of my throat like a vibrator or a bee, open to an a, ah, a laugh, a song, g, oh that g, the softness of the g, like plunging your fingers into warm clay. ‘In’ came together, inside, centre, then a again, moaning. V.A.G.IN.A.

On Ensler’s advice, I bought a hand mirror, I set aside an afternoon, I closed all my curtains, and I looked. First thing: the hair. As a child I would spend hours, eyes tight shut, wishing the hair away, hoping that if I wished hard enough it would just disappear. I dreamt of waking up one day and seeing nothing and feeling so happy and not feeling ashamed. For years it was red, barren, and itchy. Now I do not shave. The hair is my comfort, my softness, my safety. I like to twirl it in my fingers at night. I like its darkness after I have showered. Monique Wittig refers to pubic hair as a “pubic fleece”.  I nearly cried when I read that. Yes, I thought, yes. It keeps me warm, holds me soft.

Beneath the hair was red lipped softness that I could fall into like love. I discovered vaginas at the same time as I discovered love. I fell faster and more hopelessly than I ever thought was possible. There were some bruises, but mainly I experienced an overwhelming sense of life and wonder.

My love affair with vaginas will be one for life.

My vagina terrifies me some days. I do not understand it, I cannot control it. But I trust it.  We are a team, my vagina and me, us against the world.

If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

Silver doc martens, my favourite crop top, dungarees, wings in case it ever needs to fly away.

If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?

Be kind.

What does a vagina smell like?

Home.

About the Author

Amelia has always lived in London and finally made the move from the dreaded suburbs to central London. I’m 22 and I a writer and theatre maker, who also pulls pints in an attempt to avoid the 9-5 grind. I love dancing all night long (I’m told enthusiasm is more important than skill), art that changes the world and pizza.

The Pill and Me ♥

A note from the Editor

Dear Friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gender + the City would like to send you a Valentine’s Day card this year…

It’s an amalgamation of our stories and perspectives, pains and pleasures, experiences and insights on the subject of the contraceptive pill. I’d like to thank all our lovely contributors for sharing so candidly.

To start off our hot V-day date with the pill, here’s my own contribution to our contraception collective:

image (6)

Katie Staal

I was on the pill for seven years; from the age I started having sex with my first boyfriend up until last year. I went on it because that’s what every girl did when they started having sex. For seven years I went to the doctors alone and picked up my prescription alone. I was weighed and questioned, the blood pressure armband squeezed tightly around my upper arm. My contraceptive world ticked along, invisible to eyes of my boyfriends who in total peace and serenity, came inside me.

I loved my little sugar-coated dose of Microgynon every day, it made me feel safe and protected. I trusted it. I never missed a day. Taking it became so much a part of my sense of self, that it seemed abnormal when I stopped consuming them (for one week of the month to have my period.)

It was only last year that confusion and concern began to invade my contraceptive bubble. In reality, I knew very little about the long term effects of my daily dose. What happens to your body when you stop taking it? What about if you want to come off, and then go back on again? Was I still too young to think about quitting? All of these questions simmered as I eyed my pill with suspicion. 

There are over one million pill takers. And yes, the pill can have a damaging effect on the long term health of women and girls[1] The pill is a Feminist issue, and men (the very men that fuck women on the pill all the time) are often ignorant of the emotional, mental and physical labour that we go through to avoid unplanned pregnancy. To be truly equal, shouldn’t both sexes share the load? What the hell happened to the infamous male pill?! We’ve been ‘five years’ away from male contraception for fifty years! 

Then I began to get really pissed off. Do all these questions fall on deaf ears because contraception is still deemed a ‘women’s issue’, and therefore irrelevant, unimportant and underrepresented in scientific and medical research?

The pill just didn’t cut it for me anymore. I needed to go cold turkey.

As it turns out, the most useful advice on how to quit the pill came from sharing stories with my girlfriends. In a bar in Soho one night, a friend looked me straight in the eye and said ‘come off it, trust me, The Pill fucks you up, and then you can’t go back’. She continued gravely: ‘The side effects makes it feel like we still don’t really have a choice, it’s a lose/lose situation.’

The Pill was introduced in 1961 and yet in 2017, my friend echoed the same sentiment expressed by the first wave of Feminism. Their fight has become ours, and it’s clearly not over yet. Even worse, there’s a superpower cheeto out there who at the flick of a pen, seeks to reinforce the oppression female bodily autonomy.

I’ll admit, I’ve been off the pill for over a year now and I’m still a little confused about what’s going on in my body. Many of my original suspicions have continued to simmer, taking on new shapes and forms. Alarmingly, I lost a lot of weight in a pretty short amount of time and experienced painful period cramps and other weird PMS symptoms that I’d never had before. The worst was something I affectionately named ‘fart brain’, where for the first couple of days of my period, I basically feel like I’m on another planet! I can’t think straight and struggle to concentrate.

Through all of my frustrations and anxieties, my friends provided a listening ear. Talking to them helped me check in with myself, and eventually, realise how I really felt about the changes I was going through. I hope the stories to follow in this article are equally valuable, and can help you to find comfort in solidarity with our pill taking sisters.

[1] Side effects of the pill include: heart disease and stroke, depression, DVT, blood clots, migraines and an increased risk of cervical cancer to name a few.

Please like GATC on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter. You can also follow Katie on InstagramSpotify and Goodreads.

image-14

Anonymous 

The Contraceptive Saga: A Series of Limericks

There once was a young girl at school
with pills as her protective tool.
She didn’t know others,
but came to discover
an IUD was not as cruel.

Once she missed the pill and got stressed.
Plus side effects made her depressed.
A nurse gave advice:
“This copper device
will have all your problems addressed!”

Though she met the change with intrigue,
the coil gave her cramps and fatigue.
She squirted much blood,
proclaimed “It’s a dud!
A method for men is in need.”

But she hadn’t quite lost her will:
protection without getting ill.
She spoke to her doctor.
His answer did shock her:
“Not condoms nor coil? Try the pill!”

Tried condoms, an NFP app,
but these were refused by her chap.
Why should she feel sick
for the sake of his dick?!
She gave up and told him to fap.

image (3)

Angelique Jones

My experience with the pill is by no means unique: the doctor told me so.

When I was 15 I went to the GP with my mum, because I had a few pimples on my chin, and (something called) period pains; but, I didn’t really have a period: I had an extremely long one once for a week when I was 13, I had to sit on towels, couldn’t go to school. What I hadn’t mentioned was that I heard at school, that it makes your boobs bigger, too, but that so-and-so got fat. It was a risk; but I was 15, and so foresight – what’s that?

The doctor said Microgynon would clear up my skin and give me regular, painless, bleeds. Sweet, whatever that means. So, I took the tiny pill for 3 weeks, stopped and had a bleed. But, most of the time I chose when I would have a period, sometimes I took it every day; periods are annoying, especially when you have to wear shorts for P.E, and you have to buy tampons because it’s “ew, gross” to wear pads.

After two and a half years of playing around with the pill, I was getting pretty depressed, and a bit fat – but I was also binging on sugar, and skipping meals because I didn’t know how to express myself: girl, age 17-18 years. I would just cry, and then eat a loaf of bread and 5 KitKat Chunkies.

The doctor’s told me to take Citalopram 20 (anti-depressants) and keep taking the pill to regulate my hormones. I didn’t feel good.

I stopped taking the pill after 3 years, and the anti-depressants after 5 days. I bled for 10 days. I haven’t bled since. I’m now 26.

The doctors keep telling me to take the pill, so that I can have a “normal” period.

Angelique is Film Editor for both The Rational, and On the Beat. You can follow her on Instagram @Angeliquejones_

image (2)

Ariane Laurent-Smith

I am 22 years old, I’ve tried four different types of contraception, and fingers crossed, I think I found my perfect match. I was put on Loestrin 20 at the age of fifteen because my periods hurt so badly that I was near to fainting. When I became sexually active, it made sense for me to go on Loestrin 30, deemed a ‘proper’ contraceptive pill. I took it for two years, but never trusted it enough not to use condoms at the same time. Really, it was more of a back-up. It’s funny that I took something with awful side-effects as a ‘back-up’.

I didn’t connect the dots until much later, but every time I stopped taking my pill, whether it was to have my period or I forgot (we’ve all been there!) I would feel extremely emotionally fragile for following week or so. I felt like I could cry at the drop of a hat. After this, I tried the contraceptive injection. Also, a no! The emotional side-effects were even worse than the pill, and I refused to accept the idea that I should stick with it for another three months because the side-effects ‘should’ tail off. It’s just not worth the risk.

Enter my knight in shining armour. I’m not talking about a man. In fact, men don’t even have an option for hormonal contraception, since development of the male injection was cut short. No, my knight is the IUS. Otherwise known as intra-uterine system, the hormonal coil, the Mirena, heaven in a contraceptive. That is, unless you’re unlucky to be on the receiving end of one of the major side-effects. Although these are rare, in some cases it can pierce your womb (I love being a woman!) Even my dream contraception hurts to get inserted – the cramps and contractions I experienced, I can only compare to what I imagine the pain of labour is (oh the irony).

My boyfriend at the time rubbed circles on my back with one hand and called a taxi to go home with the other. The pain lasted a few hours but since then, I’ve felt like I’m floating, with a peace of mind I never knew was possible.

Hear more from Ariane on Oxide News Radio.

image (5)

Ellis Taylor

After 8 years, I made the decision. My life was good; I’d overcome some really tough experiences and gone through plenty of counselling. But I still didn’t feel right.

I was 18 when I went on the combined pill and 24 when I came off it. I was 18 when I started to feel anxious and low. When I was 21 I was prescribed antidepressants. Was this a coincidence? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it was.

Before making my decision, I spoke to friends and researched the effects of the combined pill on mental health. Finally, I decided that it was time to stop taking it. I thought it would fix my mood swings – hell, I thought it might even ‘cure’ my depression.

When I first came off the pill it was wonderful. I felt like I was meeting my body and my natural rhythm for the first time! My body was doing what it was meant to be doing – not what it had been instructed to do by a little pill. My antidepressants reduced, I was getting closer and closer to being totally medication free for the first time in years.

It’s now been a year. My natural monthly rhythm lasted a couple of months, but now that my body has had time to adjust, problems that I never knew existed have revealed themselves.

When I came off the pill it was because thought it would ‘fix’ my mental health issues. It has helped, but coming off has also revealed a new knowledge of my body, an awareness that uncovered potential problems, problems otherwise discovered.

Follow Ellis on Instagram.

image (1)

Freya Turner

Drug in Greek is Pharmakon. This word refuses to define whether it means to cure or to poison. ‘Kon’, as if to cheat us of meaning.

Granting me my last resort for acne treatment in a little windowless office, some doctor put me on Yasmin. It was a flippant decision for him, and a hesitant one for me. I was living in Amsterdam at the time; my first time living abroad. Just outside the clinic, one of the beautiful and unsure canal rings was winding away and away, coiling together a paper cut-out city. It made me lose my way home.

Washed down somewhere, into my blood, silently. It’s an intoxicating idea. It is tiny and slight and light, barely detected by the tongue. Is this dangerous slightness the feeling of a womanhood?

I took it for the time it takes to grow a baby. At least that’s what I remember. Having ‘moderate’ acne, it felt as if I had a clinical diagnosis warning me of my constant uncertainty and wavering.

Is this a numbness? // Maybe it is hyper awareness. // How am I to ever know when I am feeling drug mood or my mood? // Then what is mine? // Is medically constructed good skin a contract; all moods suddenly mine? // What is more possible: absence or unusual movement of emotion? // And who is to say which out of frequency or size of spot, is the most destructive?

I couldn’t answer the questions. This medical exchange became a project, I realised, in a woman’s capability of tolerating what she thought and her own and others’ politics of health and superficiality.

Like many projects, this one ended. I now let the acne thrive, and I use nothing for it.

Freya is a regular contributor to GATC, you can read more of her recent writing here and here

image

Polly Hember

Discussions on birth control are deeply political, revolving around reproductive rights, female autonomy, body politics and so on. Second-wave feminists in the 1960’s and 70’s argued that control over a woman’s own fertility was, in no uncertain terms, power. This was a power that gave women access to more control over if and when they wanted to have children. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) stated in 1920 that a woman who relies on men for birth control, is a woman ‘exploited, driven and enslaved to his desires.’

However, a trend I have noticed with young women in their twenties now is a deep sense of resentment about their pill. Why should women have to risk blood clots, weight gain, mood swings, acne, loss of libido and more in order to enjoy sex and avoid pregnancy, when men get all the benefits without the side effects?

At 19, I experienced inconsolable mood swings due to the brand of my contraceptive pill. At 23, I was nearly hospitalised because of an infection caused by the copper coil. At these times I have to admit that I have felt it unfair that women shoulder the burden, the risk and the sole accountability of pregnancy-free sex.

Contraception is always going to be a multifaceted, emotive and complex discussion. President Trump is attempting to enable US employers to deny women insurance coverage that pays for their birth control. Whether you feel empowered or resentful, the issue is freedom of choice. The support, education and the availability of birth control one decides on more critical than ever before.

Polly Hember is Art Editor for The Rational and found of On the Beat.

image

Izabella Karasinska-Stanley

When I got a boyfriend, I knew it was time for me to get the pill. Oddly, I never considered any other option. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was using the coil, or the implant. For me, it was this, or condoms, and condoms break, or we might run out. The pill was entirely up to me. That’s what I wanted.

I was slightly nervous when I waited in the Sexual Health clinic, but mostly I wasn’t. It seemed so easy. You just ask the doctor to prescribe you a contraceptive, as if ordering a pizza in a restaurant. You say what you want, they ask follow-up questions, like if you want added parmesan, or if you have multiple sexual partners, and then you wait a bit, and then they give it you. It’s very easy.

It’s been just as easy ever since. I know I’m lucky. I have plenty of friends who reacted badly to it, or who keep forgetting to take it. But for me, it works fine. I don’t forget it. And most importantly, it hasn’t completely fucked me up. I’m really lucky. I can have sex all the time, whenever I want. I’m never scared. I’m always protected.

And yet, I think I might stop taking it soon. Switch to something else.

That’s the thing about the contraceptive pill. It’s like social media stealing your data, or your GPS tracking your every move. Those sites are convenient, but something about them seems wrong. It’s the same feeling. You don’t get real periods. Your hormones aren’t working right. So many things about the running of your female body line up with your menstrual cycle. What about all of that?

It’s the same feeling Miss Clavel has in Madeline, you know?

“Something is not right”.

Follow Izabela’s film photography Tumblr and find her on Instagram @izabela_ks.


Illustrations by Anna Sudit
@annasudit
http://www.annasudit.com

A New Perspective on Bodies

By Ruth Ankers

‘You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection. Like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you’[1]

Stacy London’s got it right.

There have been countless articles, books and ideas created around discussions of body image and body shaming. They often conclude that we should love our bodies no matter what.

Don’t lose interest yet, this is not another one of those articles.

I’m not here to tell you to feel better by eating a bag of kale, nor am I going to assure you that “big is better”.

In fact, I think on the whole that both these types of expressions miss the point.

So what is the point?

If you ask me, addressing our bodies shouldn’t be limited to “celebrating” our different sizes and shapes. The conversation has the potential to extend in focus to consider our obsessions with the body.

I’m sure you’re ready and armed with your “healthy body healthy mind” shotgun, and yes, that would be a valid shot. But, I’m not suggesting that eating well doesn’t have a positive impact on your state of mind. However, an obsessive mind is not a healthy mind, and we need to be careful where we draw the lines.

This is a particularly pressing conversation, as millennial women are labelled by their seniors as the most ‘self-obsessed’ of any generations that have come before.

It would be pointless to open up a debate about the types of food which are right and wrong to eat. I’m not a nutritionist, although I am a good cook. I cook healthy food, I eat healthy food … and I eat cheese, bread and pasta and all the things which make my mouth water.

This article isn’t about food, exercise or diet plans. It’s about perspective.

Can we take the heat off ourselves, please? Can we eat and be healthy and well without having to plaster it all over the internet. Social media can be more dangerous than we often notice. When we jump on the public body bandwagon, we push our obsession with bodies to the forefront, keeping them in the spotlight. A spotlight which could be shifted and distributed to different issues.

I’m not suggesting you should abandon your relationship with your body. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t love and enjoy your partner’s body. After all, we are all beautiful, and deserve to be admired. But is it possible to have a time out?

Is all the chatter around bodies getting a bit much?

Stacy London thinks we should spend more time looking into the eyes of the people we love, instead of at our reflection. I agree. We need to make sure, going forward, that we save looking at our own bodies (or other bodies on the internet) and use this time to look more into the eyes of people we care about.

That’s how we find “body confidence”, no matter what shape or size you are. We can always find beauty by looking at someone we love, and recognising that they see you – your soul, your views, your experiences and your kindness. Not your jean size.

[1] http://www.thehumangathering.com/stacylondon/

About The Author

IMG_20170907_103552_343

Ruth Ankers is a Drama and Applied Theatre Practitioner and Teacher. She favours writing poetry and short plays. Ruth is a firm believer in equality of gender and is really exited to be writing for Gender + the City!

Illustration by Laura Callaghan
http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/
@lauracallaghanillustration

Taking up Space: How a Year of Roller Derby Changed My Experience of being a Woman

By Carolyn Farnsworth

For my sixth birthday, my mom rented out the local roller rink in our hometown of Santa Cruz, California. I was an inline skater at the time, and I loved to skate because it made me feel like I was flying. I spent the day playing tag with my friends and racing my dad, who let me win because it was my birthday. At the time, I didn’t know that there were actual sports that involved roller skating, let alone a sport dominated by powerful women who wore quad skates and hit each other. (I suspect I would have been a huge fan.)

Fast forward about two decades to the summer of 2016, when I went with a group of friends to watch the Gotham Girls Roller Derby annual double header in Coney Island. I had never actually seen a derby bout before, and it was nothing like what I’d expected. In derby, you have two teams with five players each on the track at one time. Two of the players are called “jammers”—their job is to get past all the girls in the pack. When a jammer passes a player from the opposing team, she gets a point. The girls who are not jammers are called “blockers”—they try to “block” the jammers from getting past them and scoring points.

It is an incredibly physical sport; you have to learn to manipulate your body weight to slam an opponent out of the way, how to stand so firmly on your skates that you can stay upright when a jammer throws her entire body weight into you. From that first day in Coney Island, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to be repeatedly slammed to the ground on roller skates, right?

Less than a week after the Coney Island bout, I joined Basic Training Level 1 with Gotham Girls Roller Derby in Brooklyn. There I was—a tall, clutzy, newly minted New Yorker—skating (read: falling) with derby legends like Suzy Hotrod, Bonnie Thunders, Bonita Applebomb, Shortstop, and Miss Tea Maven. I cannot express in words the sheer volume of bad assery I have witnessed. Holy shit. Many of these women can spin in the air and land on a toe stop, all while avoiding being knocked off the track by their opponents.

At first I was mega-intimidated. My inner monologue at practice went something like, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I could barely skate around the track, and here were all these women skating sideways, backwards, backwards on one foot, backwards on no feet (OK, not really). But then I started getting better. I spent hours and hours on my own, practicing transitions, stops, crossovers—I would skate until my legs were shaking so much I physically couldn’t skate anymore. I went through three months of physical therapy after a bout of tendonitis in my right ankle, and I started lifting weights and doing conditioning on the side. Gradually, I moved up to the intermediate class, then (finally!) advanced.

As the months went by, my entire thought world began to transform. I used to have all these self-conscious thoughts at the gym: Do I look stupid doing this exercise? Why is my sports bra giving me armpit fat? How many mansplainers does it take to keep a woman out of the weight room? As I kept getting more skilled at derby, getting stronger became a matter of necessity. Gone were the days of working out to “look good.” I strengthened my core because I needed to get better at taking hits. I did plyometrics to amp up my cardio and agility. I didn’t have the time for self-conscious nincompoopery; I was on a mission to one day become a fully-fledged Gotham Girl.

The crazy thing is, it wasn’t just at the gym that I started feeling differently about myself; it was everywhere. I started to walk differently. I stood taller, I didn’t automatically move out of the way for people, I stopped saying “I’m sorry” every two minutes. I stood up for myself at work. I ended a toxic relationship. I started to see my body as an instrument of speed and power, a tool that was given to me to accomplish my goals. My newfound respect for my body translated into a newfound respect for myself as an individual. This relationship between physical fitness and self-confidence was nothing new to me, though, since I had a similar experience (with an opposite effect) years before.

In my second semester at college, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. At 5’11, I weighed only 120 pounds and had a BMI of around 16.7 (a normal BMI is from about 18.5 to 24.9). I was cold all the time. Little lines formed on either side of my mouth, my hair thinned, my eyes were dull in pictures, and I didn’t have my period for almost two years. I struggled with this demon all through college—counting calories down to every last piece of broccoli, exercising five or more hours a day, substituting meals with coffee and red apples.

As I got thinner and thinner, I noticed how differently people treated me. Men opened doors for me all the time, women I didn’t even know would come up to me and ask about my diet—my own mom openly made comments about “hating me” when I was a size four. People were in awe of me in this totally bizarre way—I say it was bizarre because I was essentially committing protracted suicide, and all these people were jealous of me.

I dug deep into myself, and I eventually regained a normal weight, but the whole experience left me disillusioned. I realized that, as women, we are encouraged to diminish ourselves, and we are fed this insidious lie that self-restraint is the key to earning respect. This notion had been hammered into me my whole life—from being told it was better to be called “pretty” than “adventurous,” to having to dress in a particular way so I didn’t overtax a man’s apparently negligible power over his own sexual behavior, to being told by a professor in grad school that someone who looked like me didn’t need an advanced degree.

It’s hard to have a normal relationship with food when you grow up with a mom who drinks Diet Coke and a dad who eats Oreos, and your family worships a god who condemned all women to suffer in childbirth because the first woman alive ate something she wasn’t supposed to. It’s hard to love your body when you commute on a train plastered with advertisements for breast augmentation and slimming underwear. It’s hard to feel powerful when you can’t even go on a simple lunchtime run in New York City without being catcalled.

So it was a sickening moment for me when, a few months into my roller derby training, I realized how many of these messages I had internalized. I realized I was living my life in the same self-conscious way I had been going to the gym. It was like I was standing two feet outside myself, watching, imagining how I appeared to others, and adjusting my actions accordingly.

On the derby track, every play requires absolute focus. The game moves so fast that the only way to be successful is to be completely present. You are your body, and your body is an instrument of power. You are encouraged to move, to get in the way—to take up space. On the track, you hear messages like: “Don’t apologize!” “Get in front of her!” “Hips together, be strong!” Every second of the game, you are a thing of action. When you get off the track, you’re covered in sweat, your teammates are patting you on the back, you all show off your bruises and say stuff like: “Man! That was a fall! Is your ass OK?” or “Way to fight!”

55bfc9741d00002f00143aee

Riikka Hyvönen

When you hear something enough times, it becomes real. When you feel something over and over, that feeling gets ingrained inside you. When you hang out with people who are supportive and empowering, you take on those same qualities. Before I started playing roller derby last year, I had never been around so many mentally and physically strong women in my whole life. And I had never been praised for aggressively taking up space.

It seems like such a subtle thing but, as a woman, demanding space often feels like a foreign concept. I used to feel like, if I put myself out there, then I deserved any pushback or criticism I got—if I chose to make myself vulnerable, then it was my fault if I was disliked or belittled. And I think this is really pronounced in eating disorders.

As women and girls, we often feel like we don’t have control, and so we internalize all the messages designed to control our bodies—the photoshopped magazines, the sexualization of female athletes and superheroes, all the skin-tight pants without any fucking pockets, the appalling state of birth control, the unending barrage of catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment. It seems obvious to me that a woman who wanted to feel a shred of control over her life might wind up with an eating disorder, because she is constantly told that being thin will solve all her problems.

But if that woman can move past it, if she can turn all the diminutive rhetoric around, then she will see those messages for what they really are: fear. People hurt people who threaten them. The reason that there are a seemingly endless number of messages that put women down is because women do not go down easy. We are smart, we are strong, and we make bad ass skaters.

***

About the author

Carolyn Farnsworth is a copy editor, writer, and amateur roller derby player based in New York City. Her previous work has appeared on the Tin House Open Bar and Nature Microbiology Community blog. Her current plans involve dipping her toe stops into the world of skate dancing, and continuing to engage in feminist dialogue through her writing.

Editor

Lucy Wheeler

Image

Riikka Hyvönen

The Walk of (Skinny) Shame: Victoria’s Secret, Body Shape and Policing Bodies

By Nadia Patel

So, it’s that time of year again, pictures from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are floating around the internet and as per usual social media is having a field day. Now, I am not going to lie, sitting down and watching the show is one of my favourite things to do every year. I love looking at the pictures on Instagram and Twitter and admiring all the glamour and work that goes into a show of that scale.

There are, however, a few things I notice every year all over social media and in everyday conversation that just doesn’t sit right with me and one of those things is skinny shaming.  Every year the Victoria’s Secret show opens the flood gates for an onslaught of body shaming comments. I read all sorts of posts where women and men alike pass judgements on the way the models look, using words like “anorexic” dismissively. We live in a day and age where models supposedly represent today’s “ideal” beauty standards, but the majority of us women do not look like that. This does not however mean that it is ok for us to pass comments over another woman’s weight. I have been in many situations where women have made comments about the sizes of some of my slimmer friends saying things like “doesn’t your mother feed you?” or “you’re all skin and bones”. This is not ok. Now if we flip this and put a curvier girl on the receiving end of that, everyone will jump to her defence and quite rightly so, because we recognise that it is wrong. So why do we not see it this way when it is a skinnier girl we are talking about? How is it ok to draw attention to one girl’s weight in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable when aimed at another girl?

I was having a conversation with someone the other day about a model and this person flippantly made a comment about how “she’s probably anorexic anyway”. We need to recognise that there is a big difference between being slim and being anorexic. Anorexia is a serious problem and if we think someone we know may be anorexic, it is not to be taken lightly, we can’t just throw the word around however we see fit. We also need to recognise that someone being slim does not inherently mean that they are anorexic. It is important to understand that there are a lot of different factors that affect any individual’s weight. There are many reasons for why a person may be unable to lose weight and similarly there are many reasons as to why a person might not be able to put on weight, for example, illness and medication. We are not entitled to make these judgements of other people. Just recently actress Sarah Hyland opened up about her own body struggles. She talked about how people were leaving comments on her Instagram posts telling her to “eat a burger” and saying things like “your head is bigger than your body”. Hyland went on to explain that her weight loss was a result of health problems that she was tackling.

I do however understand peoples’ frustrations when it comes to shows like Victoria’s Secret. They only portray one beauty standard and it becomes difficult for the average woman to relate. The brand could definitely do a lot more for inclusivity and diversity. Only one body type is presented whilst the product is supposedly marketed towards every woman. Some brands have adopted a far more realistic approach in their campaigns through the use of plus size models and by not photoshopping models with stretch marks and it is definitely a step in the right direction. Brands like Victoria’s Secret should take a leaf out of their books, but this still does not mean that it is justified to skinny shame the models that walk their runway.

Women should not tear down other women in an age where feminism is at such a peak. Many of us  like to think of ourselves as open-minded people but then fall in to these little traps of shaming each other. We should be each other’s biggest fans, weight and looks aside. If we can’t respect each other then how can we expect anyone else to respect us? We should celebrate every woman’s beauty.

***

About the author

Nadia is currently in her third year of studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. Gender equality has interested her from a young age, specifically focusing on her Indian heritage and the politics that come with being a girl of Indian descent in the 21st century. It is a very important issue for her and she wants to use her writing to do her part in making the women of today feel heard. In her free time she enjoys travelling and photography.

Image credit

Marylou Faure (maryloufaure.com, @maryloufaure)

Editor

Lucy Wheeler