TW: strong language/fat shaming.
Plus-size model, Tess Holliday, was recently on the cover of Cosmopolitan. Being as it’s 2018, you’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it turns out some people are still terrified of fatness.
Even the word FAT - loads of people hate it whether they’re fat or thin. It’s seen as the worst thing you can call a woman, as if her whole existence relies on being slim. Well, that’s what I grew up to believe, that thinness equals beauty. That I’d only be taken seriously and respected if I was thin. That I’d only have friends or get a boyfriend if I was thin.
Tess is just one woman on the front of a magazine. Just one plus-size woman. There are still plenty of skinny models, so chill out Piers Morgan. We’re just adding a bit of variation. We’re not suddenly about to unpick decades of brainwashing that thin equals good and fat equals bad.
I stumbled across this picture on social media, and I made the mistake of stepping into the dark side: the comments section. This right here - “fat c**t” - is hate speech. In the same way that people are called offensive names for being black, gay, disabled…anything that makes you different - different being anything other than a straight white person.
If you’re one of these people who thinks that fat is a terrible thing, listen up. I’m about to tell you something enlightening:
The amount of fat you have on your body has nothing to do with if you’re a good or bad person.
Body shape and size is not an indicator of health. Even if a fat person is unhealthy, what the hell has it got to do with you? It’s none of your business. Their body is their own concern, you just look after yours. How much fat somebody has on their body does not affect your life. It literally has nothing to do with you.
The irony is, many of the trolls who bother fat women on social media are the same people that call others “snowflakes”, yet they’re the ones who are offended by a person with a bit of extra fat on their body. Hmmm.
Let’s talk about the “strain on the NHS” thing. Lots of people like to use this argument against fat people. Well, hello – I’m a fat person and I’m not a strain on the NHS. Maybe later in life, I may need to use NHS services - AS WILL MOST PEOPLE. We’re very lucky to have our NHS, but it’s always under strain. There is simply not enough money and resources. People will always get sick and people will die. To pick one group of people and blame them for all the problems is really not fair, especially when fat doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy. A thin or "normal" person who eats junk food, drinks every day and smokes isn't a problem then? Everyone will probably need the NHS at some point in their lives. There’s never enough money and resources. Stop blaming fat people. Stop blaming anybody, blame does not help.
Being fat is not an indication that the person eats unhealthily and doesn’t exercise. We don’t look at other “normal” people and critique their health. It would seem disrespectful. That’s the difference. We’ve been bought up in a society that tells us that fat people don’t deserve respect, because fat is the worst thing you can be. Let’s stop pretending that this is about concern for the fat person or for the NHS. It’s not. Can we consider that seeing thin people EVERYWHERE for decades has somewhat brainwashed us? That maybe we need to start questioning what we see as “normal” and “good”? Maybe we need to start questioning our own judgement instead of turning blame and hatred on other people. Why exactly is another person's "different" body so offensive to you?
Fat is not the worst thing you can be. Being racist, sexist, homophobic, ignorant, judgmental, dishonest, unkind...(the list could go on) is worse than being fat. Being a bully is a million times worse than having some fat on your body. Discriminating against other people does a lot more damage to our society than fat people do.
Being fat doesn’t make you a c**t - calling someone a “fat c**t” on social media makes you a c**t. Being judgmental and making assumptions about another person because of the way they look is shallow and short-sighted. It’s arrogant and hateful. It's fucking up our world. So please stop.
It’s about time we started valuing people on their kindness, not on what their body looks like.
Check out my body image and self-esteem videos on YouTube!
Bristol Waste are running a “slim my waste” campaign to encourage people to use separate food waste bins. On every wheelie bin, bright yellow stickers read “I’m on a no food diet” and tape measure style “slim my waste” stickers are wrapped around the middle section. A funny play on words? Not for the 1.6 million people affected by eating disorders in the UK. I’m all for food composting, but there must be better ways to do it than supporting toxic diet culture.
In a world where one in four 7-year-old girls have tried to lose weight at least once, it’s imperative that companies promote themselves responsibly. It’s reported that 70% of women have felt pressure from TV and magazines to have the perfect body. And it’s not just girls - 60% of people say they feel ashamed of how they look. Imagine having to walk past a line of wheelie bins, all decorated with tape measures, and having the words “slim my waste” stuck in your mind for the rest of the day.
After spotting a full page Bristol Waste advert on the back of The Spark (now run by Bristol 247) with the slogan “have you slimmed your waste yet?’ I decided to tweet Bristol Waste.
Their reply suggested other people had flagged it up as an issue too, and this was a copy-and-paste response. What they're effectively saying is “that wasn’t what we intended” and dismissing it as a problem because they don't think it affects people. Well, it does. Multiple people are telling them this. It is arrogant, irresponsible and unprofessional to dismiss it.
These bins are yet another thing people have to walk past every day demanding them to be thinner. Britain’s diet industry is worth billions of pounds - they profit off making people feel ashamed of their bodies. They tell us that beauty and health means being thin, which is simply not true. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. The diet industry need us to hate our bodies and aspire to be ‘perfect’ otherwise they wouldn’t make any money.
“Being sold the message of dieting can produce drastic dieting which can lead to eating disorders. Getting rid of dieting could wipe out at least 70% of eating disorders.” Dr Adrienne Key, Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Many people live with guilt and shame around food every day. Many struggle to feel worthy as a person because they’re not thin. They’re bombarded with digitally altered images, Slimming World leaflets through their front doors, adverts for gym memberships and diet pills, the voices of bullies on the street or on the bus. Every time they walk past one of these wheelie bins they’ll be reminded of how they’re not good enough. Bristol Waste is only a tiny part of this bigger cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do something about it. To say these slogans are just a bit of fun is to completely deny somebody else’s struggle.
It’s never just a funny play on words. Slimming world use “syns” to describe treat foods because they know, psychologically, it won’t make any difference how the word is spelled. The word has the same effect in the mind - guilt and shame - the very thing that brings them more money.
I appreciate that Bristol Waste are trying to help us recycle and help save the environment. The funny face stickers for the food waste bins are fun and a great idea. However, the unwillingness to recognize the potential damage of the “slim my waist” stickers shows a complete lack of empathy towards another (large) group of people’s perspective. To deny the problem is to sit in a position of privilege and say “well, it doesn’t affect me”. Positive body image is integral to emotional and mental well-being and it’s crucial that companies and advertisers think carefully and take responsibility for their actions to help make a positive change for the future.
TW: Domestic violence and abuse..
The world is football crazy at the moment. I hate football. The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw this…
Although the study was only conducted in Lancashire, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s a snapshot of a problem throughout the whole country.
“Incidents of domestic abuse rose by 38 per cent in Lancashire when the England team played and lost and increased by 26 per cent when the England national team played and won or drew compared with days when there was no England match. There was also a carry-over effect, with incidents of domestic abuse 11% higher the day after an England match.” – Lancaster University
Here in the UK, we know and accept the actions that come along with football: binge drinking, fighting, chanting, and general obnoxious behaviour. Say “it’s just a game” to someone and you’re in danger of getting your head kicked in.
So what makes this aggressive behaviour in football so prevalent?
I used to live with some guys who were really into football. It was the first World Cup I’d been involved with, ‘involved’ meaning I didn’t care about the game but I was there for the booze. When England lost, my male friends were fuming. My female friends were disappointed, but my male friends were big balls of rage ready to explode. When we got home, one of them started punching a wall. We dragged him away and calmed him down, and then he started crying. It was like years’ worth of emotion all burst out of once. Looking back now, I see this is so much deeper. I used to question this particular friend a lot when it came to emotion and football. I used to tease him with the whole “it’s just a game” thing but sometimes I was worried he might actually punch me. He said football was the only time he cried. It was the only time it was allowed; it was pathetic for men to cry about anything else. I thought this was the pathetic concept and would take the piss out of him for crying over some guys kicking a ball around. But now I realise, when that’s the only thing you’re allowed to be emotional about, no wonder its important.
Men’s Rights Activists are quick to point out that domestic violence victims can be male too, yet they often use this to derail arguments and take feminists down. They don’t seem to see that patriarchal rules and gender expectations have screwed us all over. Little boys are given toy guns and told to be strong. They see their favourite action film stars looking muscly and buff and quickly learn that being a man is about looking physically strong as well as acting strong. The world teaches boys that being kind and having empathy is weak and girly, and that emotions should be ignored, instead of teaching them how to feel and deal with them. So when a game comes along where all this pent-up emotion is allowed to come out (helped by a lot of beer) it literally will burst out. Little girls have masses of expectations put on them in terms being pretty and growing up to meet the harsh expectations of society, but at least we were allowed to cry.
Domestic violence numbers are hard to quantify as many cases go unreported due to fear of speaking out. Any person of any gender can be a victim of domestic violence, but in the UK generally the majority are women.
“In 2013-15, four times more women than men were killed by their partner/ex-partner” - Office for National Statistics (2016) Compendium – Homicide (average taken over 10 years)
“Women experience domestic violence with much more intensity – 89% of people who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence are women” - Walby and Allen (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey
It’s hard to use the term ‘toxic masculinity’ without seeming like I hate men. I don’t want to place any blame on men, or football. I want to question why, get to the root of the problem, and take steps towards positive solutions. We can’t just blame football and binge drinking, we have to examine our entire culture and the way we expect boys and girls to behave.
We live in a world where people seem to believe gender fits neatly into two boxes and we have dress in a suitable way to prove which box we’re in so other people feel comfortable. People have difficulties understanding non-binary people – they feel the need to assess if they’re ‘really’ a man or a woman underneath. Does having a penis make somebody a man? Does fitting into your stereotypical view of masculinity make them a man? And why do you need to know so badly? It we really treated everybody equally, you wouldn’t need to know what kind of genitalia a person has in order to be able to talk to them like a human being.
Football doesn’t turn somebody into a domestic violence perpetrator, but if they have a tendency to be aggressive, it might push them over the edge. We also have to remember that domestic violence isn’t always physical. There is emotional abuse (manipulation, coercive behaviour etc.), financial abuse and verbal abuse. It’s about control, which is why domestic violence is a feminist issue. The reason why I talk in terms of violent men towards women is because this is the most common, although abusive relationships can be between anyone of any gender. Living in a patriarchal society where men have the most power means we’ve all grown up seeing heterosexuality as the norm and male dominance as acceptable.
In the media, they often depict domestic violence as a man with balled up fists and a woman cowering. It’s similar to how rapists are traditionally thought of as perverts who linger in dark alleys waiting for a young random girl to pounce on. This is not always the case. In both these instances, the man can often be someone the victim knows and loves. This view of the stereotypical ‘bad man’ often results in women being doubted when they come forward about rape, sexual abuse or domestic violence if the perpetrator doesn’t fit that stereotype.
I once saw a couple arguing outside a pub with their three children watching. The man slammed her up against her car and was shouting in her face. The kids seemed surprisingly relaxed, like they’d seen it all before. I rang the police and reported the incident. There was a local shopkeeper who had been standing outside watching it all. I told him the police were coming and he shook his head at me. He told me I shouldn’t have called the police, it was no business of theirs. He said it was a family matter for them to sort out themselves. I was so saddened by his lack of care, but was well aware that his view would be a popular one with many people.
Power dynamics in relationships are very complex. We’re influenced by our own identities, the expectations placed on us by our family and friends, and the pressure in the media to be attractive. Then when we're not happy all the time we’re sold the magic pill to make it happen. Many of us are not taught how to talk about emotions in relationships. Our society tells us a failed marriage is shameful, yet if we have a long-term job and moved on we’d put it on our CV and would be proud of it. “Happily ever after” is a lot of pressure. Relationships are hard and we all need a little help sometimes. Communication problems are the biggest issue I’ve seen working for a relationship counselling organisation for over five years.
On my journey further into the body positivity world, I’ve joined a lot of Facebook groups. Many of the people are women and are married with children. Some of them have posted some appalling things their husbands have said to them: he doesn’t find her attractive anymore since the “baby weight stayed on” and saying she needs to “tone up a bit”. There were examples of men not supporting their wives when somebody else says something unacceptable about their weight. Many women excuse this behaviour by saying things like “he probably didn’t mean it like that”, “he doesn’t say this kind of stuff all the time”, “he was just in a bad mood”, “he was drunk”. In a similar way after a football game there may be the same excuses: “he was just upset because his team didn’t win”, “he was drunk”, “he’s not normally like this” and the saddest one “he’ll change”.
Some people wonder why women stay with men who treat them this badly. I’m guessing many of these people have been lucky; they’ve maybe never been involved in any kind of domestic violence situation themselves and don’t understand the complexity of problems around controlling relationships. This view – of “why doesn’t she just leave?” places the focus on the woman having to do something about it, instead of challenging the behaviour of the man. This is also known as victim blaming.
For me, being overweight meant that I always had to be on a diet because I thought I would only get a man if I was thin. When I didn’t lose weight, I realised I would have to settle for any guy who showed any interest - he would be the best I could get. Nobody else would ever like me, so I’d have to do whatever it takes to keep him. Many women stay with men who treat them badly for this reason – they’re scared they’ll never find anyone else and are terrified of being alone because society has told them they’re not good enough.
Some women are also scared to leave in case their partner physically hurts them. Other women are bribed into staying because the man has control of their bank account. Many women feel it’s their own fault and think they deserve to be treated this way. There are literally millions of cases and reasons, often tied into complex mental health difficulties too. So next time you think about saying “she can do better” or “she should just leave” then please think again. These women don’t need to change, the culture needs to change.
Our relationship ideals are strict and unrealistic, mainly from the impact of fairy tales and more recently, films. The message is: find “the one”, settle down and then be happy forever. The Fifty Shades saga is meant to be a bit of kinky fun but in fact is about a relationship involving two very messed up people - a young naive woman and an older, controlling, privileged, coercive man. These films are released on Valentine’s Day and celebrated as romantic. Everyone swoons over the alpha male, who seems to be a psychotic stalker. These films make light of terrible behaviour. It tells women that putting up with bad behaviour will pay off. This is another reason why women stay in abusive relationships, because they don’t realise it’s abusive – the bad behaviour has been normalised in our society.
Domestic violence is a huge cultural problem which we can only hope to start chipping away at by teaching young people that it’s okay to be different. That they’re just as important as everyone else no matter what their shape, size, gender, sexuality or skin colour. It’s okay for people not to fit into the mould of being a boy or girl, it’s okay for boys to cry, and it’s okay to ask for help. We can’t pretend that emotions don’t exist – we’re human, we all have them. We need to be equipped with the tools when we’re younger to know how to deal with our emotions so that it doesn’t get stored up and come bursting out because of a football game.
Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 - Refuge
TIGER (Teaching Individuals Gender Equality and Respect)
For Relationship help: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help
I just bought a new yoga mat. Sounds like a pretty average thing, but not for me. I love my old yoga mat so much, I refused to get a new one for a long time. It has been on such a journey with me – a physical and emotional journey. But it got so worn down it was as if I was just doing yoga on the floor. Bits were coming off and sticking to me. I had to accept it was time for a new mat.
My body positivity path is a long, ongoing one.
I struggled a lot with exercise as a kid. I had asthma which made running hard. I was always ridiculed for coming last in cross-country, even by the teachers. I had a PE teacher who spent more time checking our polo T-shirts were tucked into our gym pants - yes, actual gym pants - basically underwear. Shorts were not allowed. Girls were not allowed to wear bras. Seriously. Then he would check we were sitting up perfectly straight and if we weren’t we had to hang off the climbing frame for about 20 minutes.
All the popular, happy kids were sporty people.
I felt like I would never amount to anything because I wasn’t sporty, because I was fat. All of this made me scared to go to fitness classes as I got older, though I did anyway because I knew I needed to. I always knew I had to be striving to lose weight. All the women I’d known around me growing up were on diets (but the men, not so much). I thought I’d only ever be happy if I was thin. I thought I’d only ever be respected, be loved and be successful if I lost weight.
I realise now that it’s all bullshit.
The more I’ve learnt about body positivity and feminism, the more I’ve realised that we live in a world which profits from us hating our bodies. If we all loved ourselves, a lot of businesses wouldn’t survive. The world is full of hypocrisies. We’re sold junk food at the same time as being sold dieting products and gym memberships. It’s almost like they’re working together to keep us in the cycle of shame – selling us stuff to feed us up, then telling us we’re too fat and selling us the miraculous cure. I decided I was not going to buy into it anymore. Apart from my yoga mat! Granted, I did buy that but I don’t plan on buying another one for a really long time.
I've had my old yoga mat for over six years.
I bought it in India, where I attempted to throw myself into yoga. I’d dabbled in the past, learning from home. I realise now I was probably too scared to go to classes. What if I was the fattest in the class? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if everyone laughed at me? I realised the only way I would find out would be to try it. Sometimes we don’t get anywhere in life unless we push ourselves out of our comfort zones and take that leap into something scary.
I went to a variety of different classes in India, but I struggled because I’d been unwell and I was very weak. It was just too hot and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. But I knew that yoga is not competition, there are no judgements and all that malarkey.
So I did what I knew I had to do – I just kept going.
When I got back to the UK I found a regular class in which I felt comfortable. It was a Hatha class that was beginner friendly. I still had a lot of niggling thoughts telling me that I wasn’t good enough, but I pushed on. I did that class for a couple of years until the teacher left in the class was replaced with a Vinyasa flow class. I’d always been too scared to do Vinyasa or Ashtanga because they are strong practices. Again, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. So I reminded myself…
Comfort Zone. Out. Now.
So I gave it a go and I’ve been doing that Vinyasa class ever since. I’ve now even started Ashtanga too and feel like I’ve conquered my fear!
I’m not very good at stopping and looking at how far I’ve come.
I need to keep trying to appreciate myself and keep practising as part of my body positivity and self-esteem quest. So, buying a new yoga mat and ending my journey with the old one seems like a good opportunity to stop and look at how far I’ve come. When I started doing yoga my arms would shake in downward dog. I was always stuck in my negative thoughts throughout the classes, worried that people were looking at me, judging me, which meant I wasn’t able to let go feel what was going on in my body. It may have taken years to get to the point where I don’t worry so much about what I look like, and where my arms don’t shake so much, but that’s my journey and I should be proud of it.
I’ll still keep my old mat of course.
But part of me is excited to use my new one! I’ll probably slip all over place on it at first until it gets nice and grubby like the old one (that’s what makes a yoga mat really great!). My old mat has followed me on such a journey, but I’m excited for the journey I'm about to go on with the new one.
PS I've been making YouTube body image and self-esteem videos! Check out the intro video here.
I've also recently discovered Funzing talks - interesting talks and workshops about all sorts of topics, including yoga!
I love seeing so many happy, smiling plus size Instagrammers. Really I do. I need my regular body positivity reminders, but sometimes “loving” my body just feels like too much of a big ask. I mean, LOVE. That’s a strong word. Lots of emotion. I LOVE pizza, I LOVE chocolate buttons, and I love RuPaul’s Drag Race (the real genuine kind of love) but loving my body? I find it hard enough to say “it’s okay” on most days, or even “it’ll do”.
I feel like a massive hypocrite because I make body image and self-esteem YouTube videos. I totally support loving your body. We should all love our bodies. But, and I barely want to admit this, every video I make, I cringe as I watch it back. I obsess over how funny my mouth looks when I talk, how my face looks too fat, how I gesticulate too much and how everything wobbles.
But I think… No. I must not spend even a moment lingering on those thoughts. Then starts the battle in my head…
“I’ve got to be body positive. If all those amazing girls on Instagram can do it then I can too.”
“But I’m not them. I don’t even own a bikini.”
“You don’t have to. You just have to love your body.”
“Yeah, I’ll just do that.” *eyeroll*
“You can do it!”
“No, you’re fat and stupid!”
And so on…
When I was a kid I used to wear a T-shirt over my swimsuit when I was on holiday. Even taking that shirt off took years to build up to. I’m so happy for people who can take the leap into being bikini body positive so quickly, but for many of us it may take years to get to that point. We may never even get there, and that’s okay. We need to be kind to ourselves because body positivity should not have a hierarchy. It doesn’t make someone better at body positivity just because they’re wearing a bikini.
Body positivity is about questioning and changing your thoughts, not necessarily changing your body. Changing the negative thoughts about your body can help you feel confident in other aspects of your life. Feeling bad about my appearance made me want to hide from people. I wanted to shrink away until I didn’t exist anymore. I was shy and timid, scared of everyone and the world. Body positivity is a journey. We can’t all love our bodies right now and we all have a different path to take. The important part is knowing that we’re on that path, or at least near the path. You might take a few steps forward and then a few steps back. You might be right at the very start just looking at the path. It’s all okay. Wherever you are, it’s okay.
Because everybody’s journey is different, I can’t tell you what will work for you but I’ll share with you the main ways that helped me on my body positive path:
In my mid 20s I went to Australia. You can’t wear a t-shirt over a swimsuit in Australia – you’d look like a right dingo (I never heard a single Australian person say that, I just really wanted to use it). I needed a proper tan to prove I’d actually been away and not just hiding in my room at my parents’ house. I bought a cool tankini – a top and shorts – which I still felt uncomfortable in but I just kept wearing it until I started to get used to it. It was a big deal for me. It’s important to stop and appreciate how far we’ve come. For some people it wouldn’t be much, but for me that was a giant hurdle.
When I was younger it literally never crossed my mind why every woman I knew was on a diet yet every man wasn’t. It was just normal for me. I never remembered a time when I liked my body, it simply wasn’t allowed. Women had to be in constant dissatisfaction, always striving to change themselves, usually for the attention of men. From a very young age I knew I would have to make myself thin and beautiful if I expected to get anywhere in life. I had to lose weight if I wanted to find a man. My worth was judged on a scale held up by men.
Men have a whole different set of body images expectations on them. They’re expected to be muscly and manly, whereas women are expected to be slender and petite. More recently, women are allowed to be ‘curvy’ as long as the curves are in the right places. Arse and boobs = fine. Arms, stomach, face = oh hell no. As long as it looks sexy, that’s what matters. As long as you’re still deemed attractive by men.
For people who don’t want to conform to a gender, it’s even harder: trying to navigate both of these sets of gender expectations. The difficulty people have with trans and non-binary people only proves to demonstrate that gender imbalances still exist in our society – when people demand to know if someone is male or female, what they’re actually doing is figuring out how to treat them. If we truly treated people equally, it wouldn’t matter.
Following positive people on social media can really help. I love Instagrammers such as Body Posi Panda and plus size yogi Jessamyn Stanley. When social media first became popular I didn’t really know what to do so I just followed everyone and everything. Once I realised that I could tailor it to what I liked, I got rid of anything negative and filled my feed full of inspiring, positive stuff.
Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel good. The unfollow and block buttons are your friends.
I was bullied a lot as a child. The things we learn as kids can take a long time to unpick. Those nasty voices from the past can stay with you all of your life. Seeing a counsellor/therapist can help you process your past and help you gain a new perspective on your life. It’s not a quick fix but it can help get to the root of problem. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be a good option in terms of building self-esteem as it involves challenging and changing your thoughts and behaviour. It can help you feel a lot more self-assured and confident.
However, therapy can be expensive. Mental health services are underfunded and often have long waiting lists. Having worked for a counselling service for a long time, my advice would be – don’t leave it until crisis point to make the call. If you’re in the UK, go to your doctor as there may be CBT courses and counselling services available on the NHS. For a private counsellor you could look at the BACP for counsellors in your area.
Yoga, Meditation and Holistic Therapies
Meditation is hard. I’ve never been good at just sitting and meditating silently, so yoga is more my thing. It helps me to focus, feel more balanced and it helps regulate my emotions. It helps quieten down the monkey mind (that battle in my head of what I should be thinking vs what I am thinking). I’ve tried all sorts of holistic therapies to help with stomach problems and anxiety issues. There are lots of different therapies out there, many of which can help with confidence and self-esteem. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) was particularly helpful for me. It involves tapping on different meridian (energy) points in your body which can help clear emotional blockages.
A Creative Outlet
Writing is my outlet. It can be a great form of therapy as it’s a way to process emotions. It may involve writing in a journal or writing fiction. Writing fictional characters can sometimes be very helpful to process the way you’re feeling, even without knowing it. Creativity can be a wonderful channel, whether it’s writing, art or music. Find your creative outlet.
I want to thank all those beautiful people on social media for showing off their diverse bodies of all shapes and sizes, colours and abilities. You’re an inspiration. I hope to help bridge the gap so the jump is not so big for people who want to join you guys in bikinis. For everyone else, it doesn’t matter where you are on your path. Just keep reading, learning and questioning. Learning about yourself is the best way to start accepting yourself. Question everything you’ve ever learnt. Know that you don’t have to do it alone – when you’re having a bad day, reach out for help. Trust your path and know that there are always other people there with you. We’ll get there together.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this, check out my body image and self-esteem videos on YouTube!
If you're feeling down, reach out and speak to someone now:
Samaritans: 116 123
Mind info line: 0300 123 3393
NHS Moodzone - self-esteem info
For UK counsellor listings - BACP
My most favourite Ted Talk ever:
"To this day"...for the bullied and the beautiful (by Shane Koyczan)
Interesting talks in Bristol, London and beyond.
I recently went to 'The Science of Self-Esteem' by the wonderful Dr David Hamilton - highly recommended!
Following season one of 13 Reasons Why, I wrote a blog post which you can read here (if you’re interested but it’s not necessary). As the show deals with triggering subjects, this post will too, plus there are spoilers. It’s not a review as such, but rather a breakdown of all the important points the show makes.
I still think 13 Reasons Why is one of the most important shows ever made. Shows like these are essential in an age where people insist women are equal, yet a sexist rich man called Donald Trump – an overgrown wannabe jock in my view – is the US president. There are still many Bryce Walker’s in this world, and whilst there still is, we need shows like 13 Reasons Why.
So here are 13 points made by 13 Reasons Why which we all need to pay attention to:
1. It’s hard for girls to come forward about rape and sexual assault, but it’s even harder for boys
Jessica’s pain of hiding her story haunts the whole of season two. She is not the perfect victim so how can she possibly win against the popular, rich athlete? 13 Reasons Why (both seasons) made me simultaneously angry and sad whilst admiring how it mirrors real-life to make its points. Rape cases against athletes, for instance Brock Turner, who are let off with short sentences, happen all too often. There is a documentary on Netflix called Audrie and Daisy which follows three teenage girls through rape cases. It’s an infuriating insight into how often the rapist is protected, not the victim.
The expectations on boys in our society are as a big as the expectations on women, just in very different ways. A patriarchal system has screwed everyone over. What Bryce and the other jocks do is now known as “locker room talk” as so aptly put by Donald Trump. It’s a rhetoric used by men who have grown-up learning that they are the powerful ones. To be a ‘real man’ often means to be physically strong. Showing emotion is more acceptable in the form of anger, but not being upset and certainly never crying. Unless it was about a sport. Some guys I went to university with would only ever show emotion over football, they said anything else was pathetic and girly.
2. Victim blaming
When Bryce Walker was on trial the judge said it was a “tragedy all round” which was simply not the case. This would imply that Bryce was not deserving of his situation when he was, in fact, the only one that did anything wrong. Jessica was in no way at fault, not for being drunk or for any other reason. This is known as victim blaming and was used in the case of both Hannah and Jessica, implying that because they’d slept with other guys, drank alcohol and had occasionally taken drugs, that it was fully or partly their own fault.
Another example of this in real life is the way people say women are ‘asking for it’ if they wear revealing clothes. It’s no surprise women are scared of speaking out when they know there’s a good chance that they’ll be slut-shamed instead of believed. However, the ambiguous and blurred lines around rape have finally started to become more apparent. It used to just be that rapists were seen as inherently bad men that lurked in alleyways; a stranger jumping out on a girl in the middle of the night. But most cases don’t have that clear distinction.
“Approximately 66% of rape victims know their assailant.” - SARSSM
In Beyond the Reasons (at the end of season two), it was explained that the writers were torn in blaming the school or not. This seemed to come through in the way they portrayed it; although the school was found not guilty, it left room for opinion. I personally feel the school is not solely responsible, there are things they could have done better but then there was always more that everyone could do. However, when there’s a suicide there is often no fault, and in fact it’s not helping placing the blame anywhere. The person had complex mental health issues and decided to take their own life. There are things we can all do to help people with mental health problems who might be feeling suicidal, and talking about it is one.
13 Reasons Why has been criticised for being contrived and a little over the top, and it did seem a little too self-referential at times in season two. But it’s a TV show created to make important points. It shows the worst-case scenarios to demonstrate this. Not all kids who are bullied feel suicidal, but many do.
“Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University. A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.” – bullyingstatistics.org
4. Silencing and censorship
Liberty High’s way of dealing with suicide was to shut it down completely by banning everyone from talking about it. I wondered if this was dealing with criticism following season one of 13 Reasons Why and the possible risk of suicide contagion, meaning the worry that seeing or talking about suicide can promote copycats. But how would not talking about it help? It only worsens the problem by building the stigma around it. Following my first blog post, I was asked to speak on the radio/TV opposite suicide prevention professionals. I get the impression I was expected to counter their arguments, but I wouldn’t ever want to disagree with them, they’re the experts after all. However, I got the sense that most of them hadn’t even watched 13 Reasons Why.
5. Taking responsibility
The truth is, I had to look away during the rape scenes, the suicide scene and especially the horrendous Tyler scene at the end of season two, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they should show them. 13 Reasons Why definitely stepped up their trigger warnings for the second season, but we all know the trigger warnings don’t really mean much now. It’s just a selling point for most people. Those who are likely to be triggered by it are likely to be intrigued by it too. If you’re told not to watch something, you instantly want to.
Those scenes were meant to be hard to watch. Tyler’s scene is particularly tough because of the shame and stigma around it. People don’t want to be confronted with these problems but, I hate to tell you, the real life story is even worse...
“The average age of a rape victim was just over 13… and sodomy victims were younger, with an average age of 12 1/2.” – The Associated Press
Shows like 13 Reasons Why are needed to break down these barriers and get us to start talking about it. Discussion helps to take the stigma away.
6. The weight of masculinity
I already mentioned the demands imposed on boys to be “manly”. Tyler’s terrible experience could be seen as one of the most emasculating acts, which will make it near impossible for him to come forward. The anger that some men display when they don’t get what they want is terrifying. Bryce and the other jocks represent all those guys who've grown-up to believe that they are deserving of power and that they should always get what they want. A woman is just another object that they feel entitled to.
7. Anger vs emotion
Women are allowed to feel emotional, right? So how do men channel their difficulties? The Bryce types of this world take what they want, but then there are the Tyler types; angry because they don’t have the same power. So after Tyler’s ordeal, it makes sense that he would channel it into anger. It was clearly a ‘final straw’ for him as throughout the season he was showing all the signs of potentially doing something big…like a school shooting.
Just as I started watching this season, there was the Santa Fe shooting. Whenever there’s a shooting like this, I want my assumptions to be proved wrong. I don’t want to presume the shooter was another angry misogynist. But when I saw that he (when is it ever a ‘she’?) had been rejected by a girl he’d been hassling a girl at school for months, it didn’t surprise me. She was the first person he shot. Coincidence? These shootings are not done by bad guys who just have a taste for murder; he knew exactly what he was doing.
I tried to find a statistic to see how many female vs male mass shooters there have been. There are almost no female mass shooters - not even enough to base a study on. Why are we not questioning this? There’s clearly something in this that we can explore and learn from.
Not long before, there was the Toronto van attack where a man drove a van into a group of people, mainly women. He was a self-proclaimed incel, which means ‘involuntary celibate’. Incels believe they’re entitled to sex and they’re very angry when they don’t get it. For more information, I’ve written a post about incels here.
8. The importance of community and friendship
Another issue which added to Tyler’s outburst at the end with his lack of friends. The support network Clay, Jessica and the others create is quite beautiful, especially in the dance scene at the end. Tyler briefly makes friends but ultimately ends up with no support. With no friends, and not being able to talk to his parents or the school, Tyler is alone with his pain. In real life, many men like this find themselves in online forums (this is often the way for incels) to find that sense of community. It’s a way of reaching out for help, but it doesn’t necessarily lead them to the healthiest of places. Many of the recent school shooters have been linked to Men’s Rights Activist, Incel or Red Pill communities. It’s important that we start taking these communities seriously. How many more shootings, attacks or suicides is it going to take to show that men's mental health is in crisis?
These men seem to be reaching out for help but instead, are having their bad behaviour validated by other angry men online. If we could talk about men’s mental health more openly and de-stigmatise talking about emotions, might avoid them turning to a toxic online community but instead seek out a professional therapist.
9. Setting a good example
The 13 Reasons Why style is usually to confront the problem, mirroring real life. However, in the second season there were also demonstrations of how people can change, showing how it maybe should be done in the case of school counsellor, Mr Porter. He took full responsibility for his actions, and was trying his best to do the right thing, despite taking it a little too far because of how much he blamed himself.
I found Zach and Hannah’s relationship to be particularly beautiful. It’s so powerful to see a teenage girl exploring her sexual side and enjoying herself. The communication they have is great; the consent and respect is another one of the ‘how it should be done’ examples.
Clay’s reaction, when he says “I feel like I don’t know her” is excellently turned on it’s head by Justin who points out that he’s slept with lots of women; it’s back to the old cliché about guys being ‘studs’ for having sex with lots of women, but if a girl sleeps with lots of guys she’s a ‘slut’.
10. The same backlash is happening again, proving the point is still being missed
The backlash to season two is literally the same as the first one. You’d think that if people didn’t like the first one they wouldn’t watch the second. Plus there’s less an excuse for complaints - you’re aware of the nature of the show and know that it can be a difficult watch. Some people have asked for it to be cancelled, saying that it’s gone too far and it’s just brutal for the sake of being brutal. There are many violent films and TV shows out there that are gratuitously violent for entertainment. For me, this is more damaging. 13 Reasons Why is there to make its audience confront issues in society: bullying, rape and sexual assault, and gender expectations and inequalities.
11. We need TV shows and films that challenge and confront these issues
We need to start admitting that gender and power imbalances are causing major issues in our society. There are hardly any female shooters and terrorists and we can’t keep ignoring this. I’m not saying we should be blaming men - we should be helping them. Men’s Rights Activists often see feminists as being anti-men, but in fact most probably want to help alleviate the issues that the patriarchy created for everyone. Teaching girls that it’s okay to be emotional but not men can be dangerous. We have to show boys (and everyone!) that being emotional and empathic is not a sign of weakness.
This doesn’t mean everybody needs to hate rich white men. We just need to be aware that they are only one group of people in the world (and in fact a minority) and see that giving power to other groups does not take it away from them. Being accepting of all people from all walks of life is not too ‘liberal’ or ‘soft’ – it’s called being a decent human being.
One of the problems highlighted in season two is Bryce’s friends, the jocks, being compliant. You get a sense of how trapped they feel, too scared to be able to stand up to him. In Justin’s case, Bryce looked after him and needed him. Bryce has this immense power over everybody. It comes back to the sense of community again, and being part of a sports team validates their masculinity and tell them that ‘the boys have got your back’.
Some men may never question their own privilege, but there are other men around them who can. Zach and Justin are great examples of this. Even if guys don’t join in with the ‘locker room talk’, they’re still contributing to rape culture by allowing it to happen. It’s a shame that Zach had to leave the team to stand against it, and it took bravery to make that kind of stand. We need a cultural change so the boys still feel like they can be in sports teams without having to buy into this locker room culture that is so damaging to everybody. We need to re-frame the way we do masculinity; it will help everybody in the future.
13. It’s bold and brave shows like 13 Reasons Why that can really make a difference
Our hope lies in the teenagers watching the show. They may be more willing to learn and to create a kinder world. Movements like #metoo are wonderful. It proves we’re listening as a society and making positive change. Social media, for all its downsides, can also be used to make an amazing impact.
For help, resources or further info visit https://13reasonswhy.info/
On Monday 23 April, a man drove a van into a group of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 13 more. It later arose that this man was a self-proclaimed ‘incel’ having posted on social media just before the attack:
‘Chads’ and ‘Stacys’ refer to sexually active men and women. The attacker explained his angst in a video he made before the attack where he talked about still being a virgin and vowed to kill women for rejecting him.
What is an incel?
‘Incel’ is short for ‘involuntary celibate’ - they’re part of the Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movement. The ‘manosphere’ is another name for the huge dark corner of the web filled with different factions of these misogynistic men. Although I’ve spent longer than I should’ve in the manosphere, even I don’t understand the crazy hierarchy of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, incels and numerous other groups and divisions within the movement. It’s a scary part of the internet to venture, full of hatred and bitterness.
Incels are predominantly straight white men who believe they’re entitled to sex. These men have little to no sex, unsuprisingly. They embrace their own helplessness at not being able to attract women and blame it on not being as attractive as the ‘chads’. They embody being the victim and become incredibly bitter towards the men who can get women, and the women who sleep with them.
Why are incels like this?
There are a lot of people on Twitter at the moment talking about how incels are terrible people, which is fair. However, I’m interested in why they act the way they do because this might help us learn something so we can help. Also, I’m aware that these men are very angry. Directing more anger and hate at them will only prove them right: they’re the victims and everyone is against them. They’re already angry because women won’t have sex with them, because other men are more attractive than them and because other people in society are gaining more power than them. All their actions are fear driven. Despite them playing the part of strong men, they’re often lonely and vulnerable.
Dating is hard. There are lots of men who can’t get dates easily, but it’s not down to their appearance. It’s likely the bitter attitude of most incels that repels women. They’re in a vicious circle: not able to get women because of their attitude, but the rejection/fear of trying in the first place/having been hurt in the past, perpetuates that bitter attitude.
Women are taking control of their own sex lives and patriarchal traditions are being dismantled. We are trying to give power to people who have never had it before - trying to give people a voice. These men have grown up thinking the straight white man is at the top – they rule the world. They are scared that giving power to another group means taking it from them. Again, it’s all rooted in fear.
So incels are lonely men, sitting behind their computers complaining about how they’re not attractive enough to get women. When I think about this I see low self-esteem, low confidence and low self-worth. Many of these men may hang out online because they have social anxiety problems. Ultimately, anybody who goes around telling everyone they can’t get laid, is asking for help. They’re just asking for help in the wrong places.
If many of these men have social anxieties or mental health issues it might be a daunting prospect to ask for help offline. They may not even have many friends. It makes sense that online forums are the ideal place to meet people in these circumstances. Unfortunately, these can be full of like-minded incels or MRAs encouraging each other’s hatred and anger. What these men are really looking for is a community, a support network and ultimately some help.
How can we help incels?
You may be thinking “no way, I don’t want to help these guys” but how can we try to make a difference if we simply throw hate back at them? We could create a future that helps bring young boys into a world where they can ask for help without being sucked into a potentially dangerous community. It’s not the old school MRA’s or incels that will drive vans into people or pick up a gun and storm into a school, it’ll be the younger ones or the more vulnerable men that do. Forums are a world where suddenly people understand them. I wrote a short story about this a few years ago called Manosphere, about a teenager - bitter about his ex-girlfriend - who turns to violence. I wrote it to demonstrate how easy it would be for someone desperate for help to get led down the wrong path. It was fiction but it this kind of thing now keeps happening in real life.
Some incels are clearly experiencing anxieties they don’t know how to cope with alone, and violence - to themselves or others - is their only way out. What if they were able to ask for help in “real life” not online? What if men weren’t taught that women are sexual objects? What if they weren’t told to “man up” and they weren’t given toy guns to play with as kids? Children are constantly learning and all these things all have an impact. When men are taught from a young age that women are there just for their sexual gratification, and that they rightfully own the power, it’s no surprise that these expectations are not going to be reached.
The irony behind the MRA movement is their major concerns over the high male suicide rates and lack of support for men’s mental health. MRAs are arch rivals of feminists, yet ironically they often want the same thing. If incels felt they were able to access support from a healthy, safe place, there could be a chance they could get the help they need. Difficulty forming relationships can be because of many problems in the past: they might’ve been hurt by girlfriend, or women in their family, or maybe they’ve been bullied because of their appearance at school. The way to unpick all of this is with a good therapist. It could be that some of these men have tried to access therapeutic services but they’re too expensive or the waiting lists are too long. This is why mental health needs to be a priority. It’s just as important as physical health.
We need to be teaching young boys not to channel their emotions as anger, but rather that it’s okay to show emotion and empathy - it’s not a sign of weakness. Gender equality is about not teaching girls to be princesses and not teaching boys that crying is weak – it ultimately helps everyone.
Thanks for reading. Sending love to all affected by the Toronto tragedy. Let’s try to make the world a kinder place.
Click here to read my short story, Manosphere.
One of my favourite podcasts is The Guilty Feminist. Deborah Francis White is such a hero and I really admire her attitude and assertiveness. I never understood what assertiveness was when I was younger but Deborah Francis White is a pure vision of it. In The Guilty Feminist podcast episode about strengths and weaknesses, her challenge was to do one minute of automatic writing (also called freewriting) about strengths and weaknesses. I decided to give it a go but fully expected to mostly write about the pizza I was making for dinner. I did just the strengths as I often put too much emphasis on my weaknesses. I struggle with my inner critic and I think it would be counter-productive to fuel that right now.
To put this in context, I’ll need to explain something that happened today. I’ve been having EFT sessions, that stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s like a mixture of acupuncture and counselling (sounds weird, I know). You talk through a problem to find a statement and then you tap on points on your body whilst repeating that statement. For example, even though I’m worried about shitting myself on public transport, I trust that I will be fine (that was an actual one I used, no joke!) In today’s session, we focused on a statement about self-worth which brought out a very emotional response in me. When I’ve had counselling in the past I’ve even struggled to say statements like “I’m okay” because of how ingrained my self-esteem issues are. This is why I wanted to do the freewriting exercise just on strengths, to try and bring forward some of that self-love and confidence.
I typed this in the same way I wrote it – trying to hardly let my pen leave the paper! So apologies for the sporadic punctuation but I wanted to avoid changing it at all. I’ll admit I got carried away and went slightly over one minute, but I didn’t want to disrupt the flow.
So I’m doing my free writing so it’s going to be messy with no punctuation it’s about strengths my strengths are my ability to cook pizza dammit I said I wouldn’t mention pizza but sure it’s a strength it’s the Italian side of me wanting to feed people and make people happy. Other strengths I have are kindness which is important in a world really lacking in empathy and also I’m genuine and honest there’s too much bullshit in the world with people doing stuff because they think they have to fit in. My differences set me apart from everybody else trying to conform, another strength is my willingness to tackle things I’m afraid of for example escalators and boats despite the anxiety it causes also another strength is being able to cope as I’m more resilient than I think I always think I won’t cope but I always do.
I’m glad I tried this exercise. I agree with what I wrote, but it’s always hard to say these things about myself because I’ve always been so worried about coming across as arrogant. Do as many men worry about this? I'm not so sure. Sometimes I find much harder to believe the positive thoughts than the critical ones. With practice I hope I’ll continue to try and appreciate my strengths, but it takes a long time to unlearn all these ideas about myself. However, there’s no point in wasting my life giving myself a hard time, I've got a life to fill with wonderful experiences!
I don’t want to come across as a narcissist by sharing all these thoughts, I just hope that my experiences might resonate with people. I know what it’s like to find it easier to hate yourself rather than love yourself, and I hope that by supporting each other we can change this. I recommend trying this exercise, so grab a piece of paper and a pen and write for one minute, but if you get in the flow just keep going! You might learn something about yourself, or worst case it might just end up being funny. Win win.
The Guilty Feminist had been a huge influence on me. It has helped me realise that other people have been through some of the same experiences as me and that it’s okay to speak up. I will no longer apologise all the time just because of my gender.
Thank you to The Guilty Feminist podcast and to Deborah Francis White for being a source of inspiration, confidence, solidarity and wisdom.
Are you on the I-hate-myself-for-having-fun-at-Christmas diet?
It’s that time of year again when the gym and Slimming World adverts start popping up and the pressure to undo all the fun we had over Christmas piles on our shoulders. Did you eat your own body weight in mince pies? Good effort. It can be hard to stay body positive at this time of year, but I’m not going to let the media and diet industry make me feel ashamed for having a good time over Christmas. You don’t need to change yourself in the new year because society tells you to.
Magazines are full of pictures of toned bodies and bold slogans on the cover like ‘eat up, slim down’ giving an unrealistic view of health. People seem to be searching for some kind of super-power so they can eat five Big Macs and still have a celebrity body. Those bodies don’t really exist - they’re the product of expensive personal trainers, make-up artists and clever lighting, not to mention a generous wave of the magical airbrush. We can’t aspire to look like people in magazines because they are not real. The sad thing is, most people know that, yet this perfection is still held up as the ideal. Our society has normalized ‘perfect’ naked women on the front of magazines, on billboards, on the side of buses – everywhere in fact. Sex sells they say, and sexy has been sold to us in the form of a very thin, fair skinned woman. All the people who don’t look like that (which is a lot of people) are targeted by the diet and beauty industry. Of course they’re going to hold up an unattainable standard of beauty – they wouldn’t make any money from us otherwise!
Tabloids and magazines regularly feature stories about women in bikinis - whether they’ve put on or lost weight, how soon they get their figure back after having a baby, how many wrinkly bits they’ve got. Their worth is scored on the basis of how many other women are jealous of them and how many men want to fuck them. Even women with ‘perfect’ bodies are scrutinised. Mentions of ‘she’s too skinny’, or ‘get over yourself’ litter the comments sections. If a celebrity puts on weight, she’s let herself go and is glorifying obesity. The general public suddenly knows more about her health than she does. Bigger is automatically seen as unhealthy, when in fact she may have been less healthy before due to restricting her diet to remain thinner than she naturally would be. Either way, it’s none of our business. Fat or thin, tall or short, we don’t need to voice our opinions on it.
Let’s face it, new year’s resolutions are bollocks. People make them because everyone else does. Everyone else does because they’re led astray by a million-pound industry which relies on making people feel like shit. For me, it started in school. The first day back after Christmas, we had to recite our New Year’s Resolutions. I was scared of what to say, I always thought I’d give the wrong answer. I knew I didn’t really have a choice, one of them had to be to lose weight. It was expected of me as the fat girl in the class, although even the thin girls in the class often said the same thing.
The ironic thing is, when I went on a I-hate-myself-for-having-fun-at-Christmas diet back then, I’d eat snacks from the Go Ahead range – the overpriced, processed fruity-cardboard crap I thought was healthy. Diets are often not healthy. They mean restricting your food, sometimes to an unreasonable or unsustainable amount, which is why so many diets fail. The diet industry loves that. They literally feed off our guilt and shame.
This is what happens every year, we over-indulge a bit in December and by the 2nd January there’s a pile of Slimming World flyers through the letterbox. The I-hate-myself-for-having-fun-at-Christmas diet is bad for your health, bank balance and mental wellbeing.
If you want to change something in your life, do it at a time with less pressure. Even the words New Year’s Resolutions has an impending sense of doom for me, and a complete lack of sincerity. I’m not going to try to impress anyone who believes in putting pressure on themselves just because the date has changed. I’d rather make my own positive affirmations on my own terms and in my own time. My new intention is to first sit back and take a good look at what I’ve achieved in the previous year. Instead of feeling like I’ve not been good enough, I’ll try to appreciate what I have done, and then think about what I’d like to do in the coming year. We can only set positive intentions for the future when we try to have respect and compassion for ourselves. That way the intentions end up being about bettering ourselves, not changing to live up to other people’s standards or funding a toxic diet industry which exploits our shame.
Now, I’m off to enjoy the last of the mince pies. I wish you all a wonderful 2018 full of confidence, fun and smiles!
There’s a new Netflix controversy, a film called To The Bone about a young woman with anorexia. Following my love for 13 Reasons Why (which scored me a spot on national radio and TV from this blog post) I thought I’d better watch it. Netflix is sparking conversations (sometimes arguments) about big topics through it’s original TV shows and movies, but anorexia seems a particularly tricky thing to make a film about. That’s probably why there are hardly any films about it.
Obligatory spoiler warning, and of course trigger warning - discussion of eating disorders and mental health.
To The Bone is somehow listed as a 'comedy drama' on IMDB. It's certainly not a comedy. It’s not as hard hitting as 13 Reasons Why, but it’s about a very important, complex issue. Writer/director Marti Noxon was apparently influenced by her own eating disorder experiences and wanted to help raise awareness of the illness. Whether it does this in the right way is up for debate, and I’m still not entirely sure myself. As much as I’ve had a very weird relationship with food and a rather negative relationship with my body in general, I’ve not had anorexia so it’s not fair for me to question if the film portrays it well. Though of course it’s also subjective, so To The Bone may have been Noxon’s experience of anorexia but other people may have a very different reality of it.
Writing about mental health is tricky, especially for films. From my own experience of learning to write screenplays, it’s all about the three act structure and there’s an expectation to resolve all issues in the final act. This might be something relatively easy to do in a blockbuster action film (there's usually just a big fight and then the guy gets the hot girl) but when there are characters with complex mental health issues it’s hard to realistically resolve these in such a short time. In real life, unpicking trauma can take years. This, for me, was where To The Bone went wrong. There was a lot of focus on the illness and the recovery seemed to be done by way of a rather strange, quite rushed, epiphany sequence. And of course there was a boy involved too…uh oh….
There are only two notable male characters in this film and they hardly speak to each other. Technically you could say it passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. The Bechdel test asks if two women talk to each other about something other than a man, and although this was originally a useful test, it doesn’t stop women being overruled by men in films. In To The Bone, both men talk to her like crap, and their behaviour is never justified as such. It’s a particular gripe of mine when women are saved by men in films, but especially when it involves a mental illness. Often there just is no cure, another reason why it’s so hard to make a film which tells these stories in a satisfying, believable, responsible way. My first screenplay, Paper Cuts, is about a young woman with depression and anxiety, and I’ve spent so long working on the ending to find that balance of it being hopeful but realistic. There are many ways people cope with having a mental illness but meeting someone and falling in love is often not the solution. This only puts pressure on another person to have to ‘fix’ them. Strength comes from inside yourself, not from Prince Charming. This is obviously why I don't write romance!
Lilly Collins, who plays Ellen in To The Bone, apparently had an eating disorder herself. It’s no surprise then that she was brilliant in the role, but she did lose weight for it. We can’t say this was a bad choice on her part, because she’s a grown women and is responsible for her own body, but there’s no denying it was a risky move which might have potentially triggered her ED (eating disorder) again.
Whilst we’re on the topic of triggers, the film does have calorie counting, weight loss tricks, disordered eating etc, and there are triggering images. We can’t tell people with ED not to watch this film, it’s their choice and many of them will choose to because it’s relevant to them. As with 13 Reasons Why, all Netflix can do is make sure their audience is warned about the content, otherwise the responsibility lies with the audience. We also can’t say these kinds of films and TV shows shouldn’t be made, because otherwise how would we start a dialogue around them? If this film was banned, where would the line be drawn when it comes to other films?
On the other hand, there are dangerous images of thin women everywhere. For someone to play an anorexic woman in a film, she needs to be noticeably thinner than other women in films, and the ‘normal’ level is pretty bloody thin. It’s not hard to find ‘thinspiration’ in this world.
Some people with anorexia might want to be triggered. You only need to step into the world of ‘pro-ana’ (pro anorexia) websites and thinspiration (sometimes called ‘thinspo’, or even ‘bonespo’) to see that being triggered can be a good thing for them. Ultimately there might be a horrible irony to Lilly Collin’s choice to lose weight for the role in that she may become an unintentional thinspo idol.
In short, maybe this film is made for people who don’t know very much about eating disorders. There could be many benefits to parents or teachers, for instance, watching this to help recognise some things that people with anorexia may do. In this sense of raising awareness, maybe it works.
But let’s talk about Keanu Reeves. Keanu fucking Reeves. Personally, I think he has the screen presence of a lamppost. Apart from in the Bill and Ted films of course. (#NotAllKeanuReevesFilms)
But maybe it’s not all his fault in To The Bone. It’s a mix of:
a) the annoyingly privileged setting (they clearly got her into that residence ‘cos they’re loaded)
b) patriarchal bullshit
c) therapists always* being shit in films
*Okay, so therapists in films are not all shit (#NotAllTherapists) but they need to be recognised in the script as being shit if they are. Take, for example, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. He’s not set up to automatically be the one we should trust because he’s working through his own issues. This works. What doesn’t work is when you get a weird, creepy therapist like Keanu Reeve’s character in To The Bone, who is treated like some kind of cult leader. His behaviour is then validated at the end when she returns to the house, and we’re supposed to believe that it’s a positive outcome for her. It’s great that she chooses to take steps towards her recovery, but to go back to a place run by such a weird creepy bloke is simply bonkers.
Keanu/doctor/therapist/perv/cult leader is seen as radical because he says the word ‘fuck’ a few times. ‘Tell those negative thoughts to fuck off’ he says. So insightful and professional. Then he basically tells her to grow up and get over it, she goes away and has her little epiphany and then realises he’s right. The guy who thinks he can cure eating disorders by taking them to dance in some fake rain, is ‘right’ all along. She should’ve reported him, or at least gone to another clinic.
But then, the boy was there. Prince Charming. The pompous British twat who came on to her but then instantly body shamed her when she said no. The one who tried to force-feed her chocolate. The one who sat on a tree branch in her epiphany dream – the bit where she was dressed up like some kind of born again Christian angel virgin and he made everything all better by telling her she was pretty. Couldn’t the stepsister have been sitting on that branch with her, Ellen wearing her usual clothes? Can she not take steps to recovery without there being a man there to help, and without having to wear less eyeliner?
Then there was the mother and the moon. That strange, inappropriate feeding bit where her mother cradled her like a baby. I can see the theory behind that and it was nice to have a slight resolution to their seemingly turbulent relationship, but…really? And the moon…God knows. For a character who didn’t seem remotely spiritual, this ending was a little bit of a stretch for me. But the point is, she reaches the stage where she decides to follow the path to recovery. The intentions are good overall, and above all it’s a dialogue opener.
The strength of the film was certainly in it’s strong female characters and family dynamic, showing how eating disorders effect the whole family. I hope this movie helps people learn a little more about an under-represented topic in film and will open conversations about eating disorders and how we can help people and families affected.
If you or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, here are some recommended websites:
A note about triggering
BEING TRIGGERED IS NOT A WEAKNESS. If you’re the sort of person who mocks people for being triggered by things they watch or read, or uses the term ‘snowflakes’, you need to take a serious look at what kind of person you are. You wouldn’t laugh if that person was a relapsed drug addict, or if somebody had an injury which flared up. It proves how we don’t take mental health seriously enough as a society. Many people have mental health problems or are sensitive because of bad experiences in their lives. If you’re lucky enough not to have this problem then please recognise that not everyone is the same. It is not cool to laugh at somebody who is upset about something. It shows a lack of empathy, and that frankly you’re just a dick.
Be excellent to each other!