This is not a review but rather an exploration of the themes in the third season of 13 Reasons Why and my reflections, so you don’t necessarily need to have seen the show to read it but do be aware that it contains major spoilers!
I’ve previously written blogs following the first season, second season, and following the news that they removed the suicide scene from the first season.
Trigger warning: open and explorative discussion about rapists and sex offenders which some many find offensive or upsetting
If there’s any show that has an agenda, it’s 13 Reasons Why. I’ve always liked it for that reason. It slaps you round the face with the cold, hard, confronting worst possible outcome. It shows actions and consequences. It may not always be completely realistic, but it shows what living in a culture of rape and bullying can do. Not everyone will try to take their own lives, but some will. 13 Reasons Why has caused controversy every step of the way, but it has undoubtedly opened more of a dialogue around mental health. They said the third season would be less controversial, which in a sense is technically true; there aren’t any suicide scenes that will get people debating on BBC breakfast programmes (yes, I did that). The controversy potentially lies on a more subtle level, with a somewhat forgiving view of rapists.
I never thought I’d find myself feeling sorry for Bryce Walker (for non-viewers of 13RW, he’s the baddie – the rapist). I kept expecting him to go back to his usual self, the seemingly remorseful side just a front. I guess we, as a society, don’t trust rapists for good reason. But we have a strange, hypocritical view of rape in our society; there’s a zero-tolerance approach to anyone labelled as a rapist, yet the US President says things like “grab her by the pussy” and passes it off as “locker room talk”. There’s an almost barbaric response to some rapists, particularly paedophiles, by which some people would watch them have their dicks chopped off in public if they could. Yet the behaviours which cultivate a rape culture, such as objectification of women, sexism, lad culture and masculine ideals ( the “locker room talk”), catcalling and lack of decent sex education in schools (to name just a few) are not seen as anything to do with it. It’s sometimes seen as “boys will be boys”when men harass women, but rapists are seen as a different breed; an inherently dangerous kind of monster, incapable of change. So is it “once a rapist, always a rapist”? Can they actually change?
What makes a sex offender?
Men are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:
Men’s violence is normalised as part of sport culture – we knew that before 13 Reasons Why came to confront us with this truth. But even the “nice guys” struggle to control their anger sometimes. I think this was the point they were trying to make by – big spoiler! - outing Zac and Alex as the killers. We teach boys that it’s more socially acceptable to show their emotions through anger, yet girls are allowed to be somewhat softer and are allowed to cry.
According to Dominic Williams, a Senior Co-ordinator at Circles (a service for convicted sex offenders returning to the community), rapists tend to have one of two, if not both, of the following issues:
What makes somebody an abuser certainly isn’t one size fits all. The roots could be from childhood experiences, family, societal pressures, mental health issues, relationship problems, self-esteem issues… and probably many more factors. So any potential treatment may not fit everyone, but I like to believe that anyone has the ability to change… if they genuinely want to. They may never be forgiven and they may never get their name off a sex offenders list, but they could learn to manage and control their thoughts and behaviour.
So can we really fix rapists?
Can we ever really “fix” anyone? No. The problem with rapists in prison is that being punished with a bunch of other angry men is not very likely to help unpick the anger, aggression, entitlement and sexist attitude that contributed to them committing the sexual offence in the first place. Maybe if therapy is available and the person is willing to change, then it might be possible but this only happens when someone can see what they’ve done wrong and can take responsibility for it.
Bryce Walker is the idealistic example of “what rapists should do”; he listened, took responsibility, apologised and realised he needed to change. This is something it seems many rapists can’t, or won’t, do. Bryce genuinely seemed like he was trying to redeem himself, but he’s a completely idealistic example of what we’d like all rapists in the world to do. It seems unrealistic, but I was pleased that the show took a responsible stance on what should be done to make it right. Many people might disagree with that, certainly many on Twitter seemed annoyed at the focus on redemption of a rapist.
Bryce is an example of a person who was taught rape culture by a succession of angry violent men, by privilege and entitlement, by a society that tells us women are sexual objects. I personally believe that these views can be unlearnt, but only when the man is willing to question himself. This is where we have a problem – privileged men are not taught to question their own behaviour. They’re never taught how to admit that their views or behaviour might be wrong. There are therapeutic programmes that can help sex offenders, but for any kind of therapy, the person has to be ready to fully engage with it. As the old joke goes:
“How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one but the light bulb really has to want to change.”
Monty (the other baddie rapist) is an example, albeit maybe a stereotype, of internalised homophobia causing him to hurt and abuse others. His father’s views on homosexuality clearly were ingrained in Monty so deeply that he simply couldn’t allow himself to be gay. He had a huge internal battle going on, along with the physical violence from his father too, seemingly portrayed as a reason for his motives. I’m all for showing the reasons for people’s bad behaviour, but this almost strayed into a cliche. But it’s true that some abused people do go on to abuse others, and maybe if they had therapy for their own past this may help. Both Monty and Bryce were dead before we could find out if they would or could change. Was this maybe the writers’ way of showing that it won’t matter either way – our society simply won’t allow them the chance?
Unfortunately, I don’t see many stories of reformed rapists. Is it because there aren’t many, or is it because we won’t listen and they’re shut down? There’s a TED Talk which had mixed reactions, of a woman and her rapist talking about their reconciliation and forgiveness. It resulted in some people trying to stop them from speaking at events, articles telling us to stop praising men for admitting to being rapists, and criticism of him profiting from the talks. Others praised them for their bravery and empathy. Differing opinions aside, they did what worked for them, but it’s a rare occurrence. There is no right or wrong way to heal from trauma. However, I can’t help but think that for us to see men taking responsibility for their actions and showing positive change could set a good example for other men to do the same. The stigma is society is just so huge that it seems the world isn’t ready to listen to a man who raped somebody. It seems society doesn’t even want to give them the chance and would rather they be locked away for life, or even die. The stigma and shame held internally by a sex offender is likely so strong it pushes them into denial and defence.
Many sex offenders will never take responsibility or change, but for the few that do, if we help them we may just prevent more sexual violence. On a wider scale, when other men hear the stories of reformed abusers, they may recognize potentially dangerous thoughts and behaviour and get help before they even commit a crime. Yes, that’s in a very idealistic world, but I’m trying to be an optimist.
Whatever happens to the perpetrator, victims of sexual violence never owe their abuser forgiveness, which I think was made clear in this season of 13 Reasons Why. How we forgive, or not forgive, is a personal choice and responsibility.
For a show deemed so irresponsible, this season showed us how to react when someone discloses sexual assault and how to be supportive and helpful without pushing the person to do something they’re not ready for. It shows us that people deal with trauma and abuse in different ways. It shows us that whatever our view of the Bryce Walkers’ of the world, we can all help by challenging sexism, bullying and rape culture. If we work to end a culture that objectifies women, blames women for getting themselves into situations where they might be raped, and normalises aggressive lad or “jock” behaviours, then maybe our society won’t create so many rapists.
Help and resources
Rape Crisis: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/
National Freephone Helpline0808 802 999912:00 – 14:30 daily
19:00 – 21:30 daily
SARSAS (Somerset & Avon): https://www.sarsas.org.uk/
NHS IAPT service (for counselling):
Counselling Directory: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/
BACP (therapist listings): https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists
TW: suicide, rape. Contains Season 1 & 2 spoilers.
Back when the Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why, was released, I got a tad obsessed and wrote two blog posts, one following each season (which you can read here and here). The first post was picked up by Radio Five Live and BBC Two for the Victoria Derbyshire show — my exciting TV debut! They were doing a short segment about the “controversial” suicide scene at the end of Season One, with somebody from the Samaritans, a head teacher and me as a “fan of the show”. I didn’t want to disagree with the other guests as I very much support the Samaritans and the work they do, but I believe that the intentions of the writers and producers of 13RW was ultimately to raise awareness of mental health issues, behaviours and their causes. I respect that Netflix has now decided to take the scene out, though it does make me wonder why after two years, when most people have probably seen it anyway.
I found the suicide scene very hard to watch, so much that I looked away, but I understood why it was important to be shown. The impact of following Hannah’s character so closely, only to sit with her for those long few minutes while she took her own life, was devastating. That’s the point. The scene where she was raped was just as disturbing, as was the scene at the end of season two, where Tyler is sexually assaulted. Will these be edited out too? I doubt it. I’m certainly not one of those free speech advocates who calls people snowflakes (those kind of people are normally fighting for their right to say something hateful or abusive), I’m interested in the hypocrisy of how mental health is dealt with on TV and in films.
The Samaritans were keen, from the start, to get the scene taken out, saying that “it’s important this is done in a responsible way.” They were concerned it may spark copycat attempts. I mean, have they seen it? I don’t think the people I spoke to on Radio Five Live or BBC Two had. Nicky Campbell talked about Nicole Kidman — he’d mixed it up with a different show! The scene is not glamourous at all. It’s not something anyone would want to copy, unless they already had very strong suicidal thoughts. In my previous blog posts, I’d likened it to Trainspotting and how people said that “glamorised” heroin. As a person who watched Trainspotting as a teenager, I can tell you it definitely worked better than any anti-drugs info we were given at school. I didn’t not want to take heroin, ever. Following the show, there were reports of research showing both positive and negative online search terms. There was an increased number of searches for “how to kill yourself”, but also increases in search terms such as “suicide hotline”, “teen suicide” and “suicide prevention.” We also won’t know if any of the people searching how to do it actually did it, if they were thinking about it, or were merely questioning how realistic it was, or if they were fiction writers — known for having particularly dodgy search histories. There was a huge amount of support for the show on Twitter, from personal stories from people who could relate, to people painting their nails blue (yes, even I did that) as a tribute to Hannah and those of us that have been in her shoes, but fortunately found a way out of the darkness.
13 Reasons Why stood by their decision to leave the scene in despite the backlash, for the last two years. So why now? Maybe it was a condition to get a third season? Maybe it’s to promote their forthcoming third season? Or maybe they had a change of heart. Times change and we change our minds. I doubted myself lots of times since following my TV and Radio debut. I wondered if I really wanted to be the person to go against the Samaritans. I really don’t. I respect their views, but also there are lots of trigger warnings used in the show and some responsibility must sit with the viewer/parents. However, my issue now isn’t exactly with cutting the scene, but rather on a wider scale about what society deems socially responsible.
People who starred in Love Island have taken their own lives, yet the show is still on and people love it more than ever. EastEnders has used suicide plots for years, and of course there are so many films with a suicide, or a “threatening to jump”, scenario. Even family films and our favourite Christmas films (think It’s a Wonderful Life) have what screenwriters call the “save the cat” moment involving an attempted suicide where we think they’re going to do it but someone “saves the cat” at the last minute. It’s a device used by writers to add tension. The character attempting suicide is often talked down just by a regular person, quite quickly and easily. Is this responsible? Sending a message that someone who is suicidal can just be talked round in a few moments? Is it responsible to include suicide as a plot twist? No, it’s not. Our mental health problems should not be reduced to tension-building screenwriting tools. Writer, producers and directors have a social responsibility to help people question the injustices in our society, which is exactly what 13RW did. They used storytelling to help so many people who have experienced some of the trauma Hannah went through, and raise awareness of the severity of some of the behaviours we excuse every day.
13RW made people scared and uncomfortable, which sometimes is necessary. It gave us a wake-up call. The things we watch for “entertainment” and the things we pass off as silly teenage struggles, like being teased at school, can have catastrophic effects. I have been that person who has been bullied. I have been that person who has been subject to sexism. I have had to protect myself from men so many times, like so many other women. 13RW showed us a worst-case scenario, but I’m sure I’m not the only woman who has been through similar emotions and felt so helpless to the point of considering ending it all. Although “suicide contagion” (copycats) is certainly a thing, mental health difficulties are not contagious. People will already have had suicidal thoughts and mental health issues if they’re going to go through with it. Maybe we need to be focussing more on the reasons that cause mental health problems and the barriers to people getting help. This was surely the point of the show, to highlight these “reasons” so we as a society can try to help reduce the sexism, stigma, bullying, rape culture, discrimination and silencing that leads to these problems.
If we’re thinking about copycats, then what about perpetrators? Isn’t there as much chance of a bully getting ideas from the show and taunting a kid at school with a mop handle? The sexual assault on Tyler was such a traumatic scene to go through, then watching his growing anger of not being able to speak out too. This is a demonstration of the toxic masculinity being promoted in our society — a push towards aggression and anger instead of letting men show their softer emotions. People are often quick to point out that male suicide rates are higher than women’s, yet often they’re not keen to tackle the root cause by helping men get support to manage their emotions.
Society allows a huge amount of violence in films and TV, as long as it’s palatable and not too realistic. As a screenwriter myself, I went to a BBC screenwriting talk last year where they showed a man shooting himself in the head to demonstrate a “surprise” plot twist. So we can write about suicide when it’s in an entertaining way? This is potentially more dangerous than a realistic suicide scene as it’s watering down mental health issues and suicide, reducing it to merely a light-hearted plot point. Every day we’re consuming media, online and offline, which tells us to be thin, be sexy, be feminine, be confident but don’t talk too much, be independent but make boys happy, don’t be frigid but don’t be a slut. It goes on.
13RW makes the audience walk in the shoes of a fairly average young woman, going through awful things that many young women, unfortunately, have to go through. These are not just plot twists of American High School movies, this stuff happens in real life and it’s severely affecting the mental health, of both young people and older. The trauma of things that happen at school can stay with you for your entire life and can affect your confidence and mental health. I think 13RW upset people, because it showed some truths that people just do not want to confront. So the scene has gone. Will it make much of a difference now? The point is still lost on people. The Bryce’s of the world will always be the cool guys in films and always be the athletes who get away with assaulting girls in real life. Mental health will always be fixable in films. People will take their own lives, in the real world, and people will console themselves with Love Island. Maybe the world we live in is just one big ironic plot twist.
If you’re struggling, reach out for help:
Samaritans 116 123
Mind 0300 304 7000
Follow Mel on Twitter: @MCiavucco, on IG @MelCiavucco and on Facebook at The Compassionate Feminist
Trigger warning – violence/violence against women and strong language
Conservative MP, Mark Field, recently grabbed a female protester by the neck at a swanky event. The video jarred me, just the sheer look of rage on his face. I knew that was the face so many women had seen before in so many other men.
He said he "instinctively" grabbed her and pushed her as she may have been armed. She was a Greenpeace protester – what was she going to be armed with, a stick of celery? It isn’t “instinctive” to grab a woman in an evening gown. He wasn’t protecting himself – she wasn’t attacking him. The only “instinct” it shows is his mistreatment of women.
The fact that so many men, including other MP’s, have sided with Mark Field on this only proves that it isn’t about protecting themselves, it’s about power and control. It’s about the acceptance of aggression as being a natural part of masculinity, and well… women just shouldn’t rock the boat.
“Try being in our shoes”? It’s as if some men don’t know how to talk to women without either grabbing their bums or grabbing them by the neck. I have in fact made a concerted effort to stand in their shoes. I have written at length about Men’s Rights Activists and have tried to understand their views, because in order to help people we have to understand why they behave the way they do. When I stand in their shoes, I see masculinity pressures stacked on them and I can empathise on some levels. After all, they’ve been raised in the same world that told us that women are secondary citizens. It’s just normal.
Part of the solution, in my opinion, is gender equality - something these men usually will not get on board with. For them to allow women to have as much power as them means they’re no longer in charge.
Shortly after Mark Field attacked the woman (let’s call it that cos that’s what it is), I saw this Tweet:
I was simultaneously horrified but so glad she’d shared her experience. It bought up an instance for me when I was 19 when I was at Uni. I was in the queue to get some food after a night out and a guy started leaning on my back with his elbows digging in. I tried to shrug him off ignore it, but he pushed down harder and it was hurting my back. I asked him to stop leaning on me, calmly and politely from what I remember. He started mouthing off and told me he could rob me if he wanted to (meaning he could take the purse I was holding). I was near the front of the queue and could smell the chips, but despite really wanting them, I was starting to feel really scared so I went outside, where my housemates were waiting.
I told them we needed to go quickly as there was a guy who was freaking me out, but he’d followed me outside and was right behind me. He turned to one of my male housemates to ask if I was “with him”, but this all happened so fast that my housemate was completely confused and this guy punched him in the face before he knew it. The guy then turned to another of my male housemates, who started running down the street. The guy caught up with him, pushed him down and started kicking him in the face.
On the way back towards me, he pushed my female friend into the road. She fell and cut her forehead on the kerb but luckily there weren’t any cars passing. I tried to hide in an alley, but he saw me and started punching me in the face, three times I think. I slumped down, holding my nose, expecting there to be blood and teeth and all sorts. The guy walked off to a bunch of people who may have been his friends. They were all laughing. They left and I spent what felt like a long time trying to take my hands away from my face. When I did, I was relieved to find that there wasn’t any blood and my nose felt intact.
We called the police but they said realistically nothing was going to move forward because this kind of thing happens every weekend. It was just another bar fight to them. But I’m a short woman, not even remotely intimidating looking. This was not a fight between two lads after several pints. I just wanted some chips. I did not provoke this guy, though my guilt and shame afterwards made me question my memories, and made me wonder if it was something I said. I ended up with a bruised face and swollen lips – I guess some people (Tory MP’s?) would say I should be thankful that it wasn’t worse. Maybe we should be thanking the guy for not having a knife. Maybe we should thank men every day for managing not to kill women. Well done.
At Uni, the atmosphere in our house changed and I thought all my friends hated me. I hated that fact that they’d been hurt and I thought it was all my fault. The guy who attacked us (that’s the first time I’ve called it that, but that’s what it was) wanted a fight and picked the easiest target – a small 19-year-old blonde girl, alone and waiting for some chips. You could say that it’s cowardly – why didn’t he pick on some guys instead? Well, he did. He hit my male housemates before me. Is that because they were somehow my keepers in his eyes? I, a young woman, had gone rogue, out of the control of men? Whether this guy hit them or me first, it doesn’t matter. He attacked all of us for no reason other than something within him - his uncontrollable anger and urge to exert his power.
In the case of Mark Field, and many perpetrators of domestic violence, there seems to be an element of “look what you made me do.” That the woman has acted out and pushed the man to his limits. She made him angry and so it’s her fault. I’ve been told on other occasions by men that I’m lucky I’m a woman otherwise they’d punch me. These are the “good guys”, the ones that supposedly think it’s never okay to hit a woman. So is hitting a guy fine? Of course not, but it’s particularly jarring for so many women to see the video of Mark Field because it’s a demonstration of power - a raged man putting a woman in her place – which happens all too often.
This is what people mean when they say “toxic masculinity”. This term seems to jar people as they seem to assume it means men are all terrible. Men’s Rights Activists are quick to point out that there can be toxic femininity too and I agree, but women aren’t the ones committing most of the violent crimes, are they? They’re not the school shooters, the terrorists, the ones grabbing men by their throats at dinner parties. Toxic masculinity refers to the behaviour these men – my attacker, Mark Field, Trump – and people who have such high masculinity standards placed on them that they can’t regulate their own emotions. They’ve grown up in a society that’s told them to “man up” and that crying is weak and girly. They’ve seen other men - politicians, family members and characters in films, -demonstrate how masculinity should look, and they’re afraid that being anything less will make them more like women. God forbid them being on the same level as women. Gender inequalities have caused these masculinity expectations and feminism is not just about helping women but helping reduce these standards put on men too. Feminism now, in my view, is taking an exciting turn into breaking down gender altogether, encouraging people to be any gender identity and expression they like. This is the kind of feminism I support, one that encourages people to throw away the rules of gender, get in touch with themselves and their emotions and express themselves the way they want to, as long as it’s with self-awareness and kindness. Toxic masculinity only gives a limited way of being, filled with aggression and rage. There’s only one way for that emotion to come out sometimes – through their fists.
One of my housemates at Uni punched a wall after watching football. It's been shown that domestic violence rates rise around the World Cup. Football seems to be the one thing some men think they can be emotional about, so it's as if they're storing it all up for an emotional outburst after every game. But we see this most Friday and Saturday nights in cities, with or without football. A lifetime of being told not to show your emotions will seep out (or burst out) when mixed with alcohol. When anger is the more socially acceptable form of emotion for men, it's no wonder there are fights in clubs, in the street and in kebab shops. Emotions are running so high after a busy week of work and pretending to be fine, it won’t take much to trigger an outburst on a Friday night.
Men need to stop hurting themselves and each other with violent acts. Male suicide rates are at an all-time high. We’re going through a mental health crisis. Women are more likely to access counselling services than men. Men need to know that there are ways to help manage their anger without using violence or abuse. They need to start questioning their own behaviour and start to understand the root of their anger. They need to unpack where that comes from, and therapy is a good way to do that. For them to access this, society needs to help make it okay for men to ask for help. Our politicians are not good role models, so we - the general public - have to call them out. Social media, blogs and petitions give us the means to do this. Social media has given us all a platform and a voice and it’s important that we use that in a socially responsible way. When we all say “this is not okay” together, we can start to make a change.
I hope there's a new generation of boys that aren't afraid to cry, that can ask for help when they feel emotional. It's not weak to ask for help, it's a necessity in a stressful world going through a mental health crisis. Violence should not be an “instinct”. Men – you’re better than that. Come on now.
If you’re struggling, reach out for help:
Samaritans 116 123
Mind 0300 304 7000
If you haven’t seen the beautifully painted bodies of the Naked Beach hosts, get yourself on All 4 and catch up now. The show follows three new contestants each week, all with different body image difficulties, as they go and hang out with a bunch of gorgeously diverse, naked body positive heroes. This, my friends, is how you bring body image issues to the forefront, and I couldn’t be happier!
Naked Beach was devised by body image and mental health advocate Natasha Devon and Dr Keon West of Goldsmiths University of London. It’s based on research which shows that seeing diverse naked bodies can have a positive effect on your body image. This is certainly something that I’ve noticed in my personal body positive journey - when I filled my Instagram feed full of body positive people, I started to feel a lot more positive about my body. We see a lot of “perfect” bodies in films, TV, in magazines and on social media, and although we know it’s not real, we still see slim, young flawless bodies as the ideal. Thankfully, body positivity is growing fast and there’s an opportunity to see more diversity on social media now. But with these platforms giving everyone a voice, it’s just as easy to fall into the opposite - a bubble of unhealthy influences. Those pesky social media algorithms are just a little too good, showing you more of what it thinks you like. This can be a dangerous journey. I’ve experienced how easy it is to get bombarded with dieting adverts by simply visiting the Slimming World website once for research. Instagram knows I’m into yoga and so shows me adverts for leggings to make my bum look sexy. We can’t even exercise without having body standards thrust on us.
At the time of writing, I’d just watched the second episode of Naked Beach. Not only is the show created by people who understand the nuances and difficulties of body image, they’ve also selected hosts who represent a wide range of bodies and are kind, enthusiastic, compassionate, and most importantly, understanding. The hosts have clearly been on their own body positive journeys and are keen to help others grow to accept their bodies too.
The contestants watch the hosts jiggling about playing tennis, they draw their naked bodies and have one-on-one conversations, all to help encourage them out of their comfort zones. The hosts have such infectious, positive energies that it creates a safe space for them to take risks they might never have taken before, like wearing a swimsuit or exposing their stomach. It takes a lot of courage to show a part of your body you’ve thought of as disgusting for so long, that’s for sure.
The show is described as a “controversial experiment” but why is it so controversial?
In this article by Natasha Devon, she explains the backlash sparked due to it being shown before the watershed at 8pm. Natasha talks about how this is important because it’s intended to be a family show. It’s crucially important for young people to watch it if we want to help them grow up to be body confident, non-judgmental people. The beautiful body paint by Emma Cammack is an amazing way to allow these people to show their different body shapes and sizes while still keeping it modest for early evening TV. We British do have a tradition of being quite prudish on the surface but the truth is, pornography and sexualised images of women especially are everywhere – we’re just not talking about it. Millions of people seem to love Game of Thrones, which I’ve never watched but I hear it’s a pure cock and tits fest. When naked, glossy, “perfect” people are naked on TV it’s fine - but real people, “different” people, are seen as a bad influence. Beautiful, sexy bodies are acceptable because we’ve seen so much of them we now think it’s “normal”. This is why we need Naked Beach. We need to see differences so that we can see a wider perspective and stop trying to fit into a prescribed way of being. So to the parents worried about their kids watching Naked Beach - please let them. I would’ve loved to have seen this show as a child. This is a healthy way for them to see naked bodies because… and sorry to break it to you, but your kid is going to learn about nudity and sex from porn otherwise. Eeek.
We desperately need shows like Naked Beach to show us how to respect people that aren’t “normal”. How to appreciate beauty in something without it having to be sexy. You can be beautiful no matter what you look like. It’s about changing the way you think, not trying to change your body, and it’s about questioning and calling out ugly behaviour.
What we think of as “normal” has been steered by many years of seeing a certain version of beauty that’s been sold to us, mainly by companies who want to make money off our self-hatred. The ideal body is never going to be an easy one to attain because if it was, they wouldn’t make any money out of it. Diets are never going to work because if they did everybody would just be doing the one that worked and everyone would be thin. Naked Beach, without even saying these things, shows us different bodies and helps us experience the journey through the eyes of the contestants, to help us unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught about being attractive.
I’ve worked on my body image issues a lot and I’m more accepting of the way I look, but I still have difficulties. During the first episode of Naked Beach I was thinking “there’s no way that I’d be getting naked on that beach” but by the end I was totally with them. I’d like to think if I was on the show I’d be easily throwing off that robe! The contestants have to stand in front of a mirror for twenty minutes every night – it’s a form of exposure therapy. Twenty minutes! That’s a long time. So I decided to give it a go, and it was okay but I got bored after about ten minutes and decided to make a video…still naked though!
I still don’t wear a bikini when I go to the beach, but I realise that’s not a failure. Compared to how I was – wearing a baggy t-shirt over my swimming costume and refusing to take it off – I’m doing okay. It’s a big jump to go from hating your body to being in a bikini so it’s still a big achievement just to say “my body is okay.” And if you’re not ready to say that, then just know that you’re still on the right track. Just keep reading and watching body positive stuff.
I’d love a “Naked Beach after dark” (no, not to see if anyone gets jiggy…well, okay maybe) but to hear the conversations they have in the evenings. I bet the hosts have some amazing stories to tell. Hearing somebody else’s body positive journey can be so empowering: what they did, what they learnt, how they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone. I think what we see in the show is just the tip of the iceberg, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were conversations late into the night about the nature of the beauty industry, the media and the companies that make money off us hating ourselves. How rigid gender roles have caused various body image issues for people of all genders, as well as causing major mental health problems for not looking “normal” and fitting into the bullshit rules of what it means to be a "man" or a "woman".
People wanting to help their body positive outlook will be drawn to this show, but it’s important for people who don’t have body image issues to watch it too. As much as it’s a necessity to help people struggling with their own body image problems, we need to address the underlying issues - discrimination and judgmentalism. I believe that you can transform the way that you think, but you need to be willing and able to give it a go. The reason why it becomes difficult to live in a body that is “different” is because of judgementalism from people in our society who are not willing to see beyond their own perspectives. I grew up thinking fat was ugly and unhealthy but I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning and I now know that’s not true. My values and options have changed and they will continue to change. Major mental health problems are caused by judgemental attitudes towards people who are “different” (which is a lot of people!) and we need to start taking responsibility for this as a society.
There can be a lack of empathy from people who don’t experience body image issues – they’ve not had to experience what we’ve been through. Naked Beach could help them see the world from the eyes of somebody who has always been judged for how they look. It may change some judgemental attitudes, or it may not, but it’s worth a shot. I really hope that people will give it a chance and be open-minded enough without saying any of the usual crap like “they’re glorifying obesity”. They’re really not. In fact, two of the contestants so far were inspired to start working out again since they felt better about their bodies! Body positivity does not glorify obesity, it’s in fact the antidote to it. When people start to respect their bodies, they are more likely to treat them well.
So Naked Beach as an “experiment” isn’t necessarily on the contestants, they already know from research that this kind of exposure to diverse naked people works. The real experiment is on us, the viewers. Can we finally start to create a kind of society where we challenge our preconceptions and start to accept people’s differences?
Watch Naked Beach on All 4 here.
Watch my naked video about Naked Beach here.
Follow the hosts here:
Ayesha Perry-Iqbal: @ayeshapi
Ben Whit: @benrwhit
Charlotte Hole: @ch32
Dan Richards: @theonearmedwonder
Felicity Hayward: @felicityhayward
Lala Love: @lalaloveofficial
Molly Forbes: @mollyjforbes
I have a body image and self-esteem YouTube channel
- check it out and subscribe here!
It's not all to do with food...but it's mostly to do with food.
They’re awesome, aren’t they? With some extra thick double cream. Oooohh, I’m salivating at the thought. I once had a mince pie eating competition at a place I used to work. We had mini mince pies, so they were about half the size of normal ones, but that just meant we could fit them in our mouths quicker. I think I got to about 15 but the guy who won got to 26. I’ve had more practice now, maybe I could beat him.
Unfortunately, eating 15 mince pies is not something I do every day. In fact, it’s something I’ve only done once in my life. Usually just one mince pie per day for the duration of December is my average, which to me, is a sign of some good moderation practice.
I’m going to enjoy as many mince pies as I want with zero guilt in the new year. Holding back is pointless and no fun. I’m fat anyway so a few less mince pies isn’t going to make any difference.
My moment, my lips, my lifetime, my hips.
Anyone who tries to gives me a hard time about eating what I want can f**k off and eat sprouts.
If wine is made of fruit, it must be one of your five a day (or is it now meant to be seven? Does this mean we get to eat seven meals a day?) If it has orange juice in it, that’s two. And if it has slices of orange that’s three…and oh wait, WHO CARES?
Food has nutritional value, some more than others. It’s Christmas, forget about it.
Plus, alcohol is the only way to get through Strictly and the EastEnders Christmas special.
Pigs in Blankets
Sorry veggie/vegan friends, but I love pig wrapped around more pig. That’s protein on protein, right? A Christmas dinner is a pretty well balanced meal when you think about it, probably more so than many other meals I eat. But again, who cares anyway, it’s Christmas.
Crispy at the edges. Maybe even slightly burnt. Yes! Being as potatoes are vegetables, I feel it’s very important to stress that I am indeed very happy to eat seven per day. Not just at Christmas. Roast potatoes are for life, not just for Christmas.
Cake with fruit and booze? Yes please! It’s one of those things you see and think “I could eat a whole one of them” but then you have three spoons and you’re ready for a nap.
I refuse to “be good” in the new year to undo all the fun. “Being good” is code for “you should feel guilty about everything you ate over Christmas, you lard arse.” I refuse to label food as “good” or “bad” (unless it’s got mould growing on it, in which case it probably is bad). Good and bad should be used to describe people’s behaviours and actions instead – “good” is treating people with respect no matter what they look like, “bad” is being a judgmental dick.
Food doesn’t have a moral value, it’s just food.
I’m going to destroy all the Slimming World and gym adverts posted through my letter box in January (I’ll recycle them but “destroy” sounds more dramatic).
I’ll keep going to yoga, will eat some vegetables (not likely seven a day - i'm a normal person, not a rabbit) and probably some Cadbury Crème Eggs shortly after the mince pies are gone. I’ll continue to remind myself that my body is my own responsibility and that my health is none of anyone else's business. Fatness is not the only strain on the NHS. Obesity isn’t going to kill us all. Don’t believe the media hype.You're responsible for your own health. Simple.
Labelling and limiting your food will only make you want to eat even more. Dieting keeps you in a cycle of failure and shame which keeps these companies in big business. We live in a society that exploits a fun time of year to make money out of us. They don’t care about your weight, they just want you to hate yourself so they can profit from it. I refuse to play this shame game. Diets don’t work and being thin won’t make you happy. Challenging everything you were taught about beauty unpicking all the rules places upon us might.
What’s the best new years resolution you could make for yourself? Change the way you think. Not your body or the way you eat or exercise. Change your mind. Body positivity starts in your brain.
Need help? Check out my Body image and Self-esteem YouTube videos!
I made a body positive video in my underwear and then freaked out.
I call myself body positive, but I feel like a total fraud. I make videos and write stuff about body image and self-esteem, but I’ve just spent 20 minutes crying because of my stomach fat. This isn’t a new thing - I know my stomach is fat. It’s always been that way. I’ve never been thin so seeing my stomach in a video shouldn’t be shocking, but it still is.
My video involved me having some “fun” with some “suck-it-all-in” pants. A well-known brand is Spanx, but mine were a cheap version. There was no way I was going to spend more than a fiver on potentially the most uncomfortable pair of pants I’ve ever worn. So I bought them on eBay and instantly regretted it. I told myself I didn’t have to wear them, I could just have some silly fun with them instead, which might make for a good video.
I hated having pictures taken of me when I was younger, back in the day when you had to get pictures developed and you wouldn’t know what they were going to come out like. There was always a weird mix of excitement and dread when going to collect them. On seeing the photos, it was as if I was being shown the “real” me, the version that everyone else in the world sees. I always hoped I wouldn’t look as fat as I expected. I was usually disappointed.
I used to justify my fatness by telling myself “I’m not that fat” and that it was okay because I was doing something about it. I was doing what was expected of me – everything I could to not be fat. Seeing a photo of myself would act as proof that I was seen as too fat by the world. Even if other people said the picture was nice, all I saw was fat. I was looking for validation in a simple photographic representation of me. But what’s more real - a small projected snapshot of your body, or how you feel in the flesh? If I’d listened to my body, I’d have found that I was relatively fit and healthy. But it was so ingrained in my mind that you couldn’t be healthy unless you were thin. That fat is repulsive. That I’d never get a boyfriend if I was fat.
I was explaining this thing of seeing the “real” me to my boyfriend (proving my own theories wrong, see?) and I asked if he’d ever experienced a similar thing. I asked him if he’d ever seen a picture or a video where he didn’t recognise himself, or he looked bigger or smaller than he thought he was. He said no. Not at all. Never. I can’t imagine what it must be like to grow up in a world where you’re not scared of seeing yourself in a picture or video. Where you don’t get scrutinised, or don’t scrutinise other people for their appearance. Where you’re allowed to take up space without constantly having to try and change yourself to feel like you have a place in the world.
When I made this video with the suck-it-all-in pants, I had a feeling I might not post it. I thought I’d make it anyway, push myself out of my comfort zone and all that. But it takes a huge push to post it. When I watched my video back, all I could see was a big, wobbly, obese woman who looked as if she had never exercised in her life. I know I’m not that person, I guess that’s why it’s annoying.
I started to notice some of the old thoughts creep back in. “If I just stopped eating bread then my stomach might shrink” and “maybe I can just get used to the hunger”. All I saw was stomach. My automatic thought was that it was repulsive. That’s when I started feeling like a fraud. Then I go onto doubt all the thoughts I have about being “healthy”. I started to fat shame myself based on the voices of other people. But then I remind myself that my health this my own responsibility and even if I’m not being healthy, it doesn’t mean I deserve less respect, from myself or other people. When you’re not feeling healthy, that’s when you need even more self-compassion and respect to get yourself through.
I’ve been working hard on having body positive thoughts for years. It’s a long process. I try to catch my negative thoughts about my body and replace them with positive ones. I’ve learnt about the diet industry, and the media and society’s expectations. I’ve started to question the things I was taught about thinness and beauty growing up. I’ve been doing yoga and connecting to how my body feels instead of how it looks. I started to have a different experience of my body. But… I’m not immune to a meltdown. It’s like I “remember” that I’m a fat person and that means I’m “bad”.
Being a good, kind person is way more important than my body shape. Weight is nothing to do with acting like a decent human being, yet we’re taught that being fat is a terrible thing. We associate it with being lazy, slobbish and disgusting. The irony is, many fat people are taught they’re bad people for being fat but it’s the people telling them this that have the real problem. They’re the ones who are discriminating against people. They’re the ones who are boosting their own ego by putting someone else down. They’re the ones knowingly hurting another human being. Fat people are not the problem – people who are judgemental and discriminatory are the problem.
The whole world recently flipped out about Tess Holliday on the front page of Cosmopolitan. I noticed that people tend to fall into three categories in these situations:
1. The trolls - there to be as mean as possible, to provoke some kind of reaction or just to be hateful for the sake of it. They’re the equivalent of the hard bullies at school who beat people up.
2. The “Concern Trollers” - the equivalent of the two-faced popular girls in school. They pretend they act out of kindness by “pointing out” that being fat is not healthy. It’s like they think fat people have forgotten they’re fat and need reminding.
3. The millions of people all over the world struggling with body image issues. The people in this category are the reason why Tess Holliday needed to be on the front cover of Cosmopolitan. They’re the reason I write and make videos. They’re the people who are reaching out for help and inspiration. They’re the ones who will form a new generation of body positive people. They’re the teenage girls who could have grown up to obsess over and scrutinise every part of their bodies but instead, they’ll learn that they don’t need to be thin to be respected. They’ll grow up to respect their own bodies and are more likely to be kind to them. When people aren’t distracted with negative thoughts over their bodies they can focus on more important stuff such as school, college, work, careers, travel and generally just having a bloody enjoyable life. Why be worrying about your waist size when you could be travelling the world?
There are so many people like me that want to pass on the experiences we’ve had to help others, but we never stop learning and growing ourselves whilst we do that. Saying I’m body positive doesn’t make all the negativity go away. There are triggers, such as this silly video I made in my underwear. I still can’t bring myself to post it, yet I am disappointed in myself for not posting it. Body positivity is meant to relieve appearance-based pressures, but sometimes I just feel the pressure to be really good at body positivity.
If you’re reading this in the future, then hope I finally posted the video, but please – no judgement if I didn’t. Body positivity is a long journey after all, and it’s a big jump from not wanting to be on camera at all to making a video in my underwear. I realise I’m telling you all of this more for myself than for you. This post is in fact just a massive “just post the bloody video” letter to myself.
I’ve had lots of moments in my life where I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone - wearing a swimming costume in public, wearing a sleeveless top, wearing shorts. These were all terrifying at the time, but I just kept doing it. I kept wearing them and then it became less of a big deal. That’s literally it - desensitize yourself to yourself, as it were. In the same way that seeing more pictures of videos of myself made me more accepting. It’s just how I look, and instead of worrying about double-chins, I’m more concerned with the words coming out of my mouth. I keep pushing myself to make videos and I keep countering the negative thoughts. I’m rewiring my brain.
So maybe what I need to do is make a video in my underwear single day and it’ll become so normal I’ll want to live in my underwear. No, I live in the UK - it’s way too cold for that.
I realise now that body positivity is about being able to look at the picture or video and think, yes I have fat on my body but that’s not my defining feature. It doesn’t make me good or bad, it’s just a fact. What really matters is if the video means something. The content of the video is what’s important – and I think it’s vital to show people just quite how ridiculous suck-it-all-in pants are. I’m done trying to pretend my fat isn’t there. So those suck-it-all-in pants got what they deserved.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop banging on about it and post the video soon. I realise now I must do this for humanity, for a better world without stupid uncomfortable pants.
Go to my YouTube Channel!
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!