Body positivity

Can you love your body and be obese? Well, of course you can. As the body positivity movement gains momentum, this is why you should jump aboard, whatever your size.

There’s a fabulous body positive movement going on. It’s taking Instagram by storm, and it’s kicking into touch those dangerous pre-conceived, factory-generated conceptions of who’s beautiful.

But behind the photos of strong, courageous women (and it is mainly women) there’s a persistent murmur saying ‘but it’s not healthy to be fat’. Find @bodyposipanda’s recent post of an obese woman in a bikini in the foyer of a Vegas hotel, scroll down and read the comments, including, and along the lines of, “How can you love your body when you let it get in that state?”

I’ve been cogitating this for a while. Until quite recently, the two issues of body positivity and physical health were inexorably entwined for me, too. But, what I’ve grown to realise is that while they’re linked, they’re two completely separate issues.

For a start, fat doesn’t equal stupid. People who are overweight know they’re at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer; they know that obesity-related diseases put a huge strain on our health services; they know which foods are ‘bad’ and which are ‘good’.

We then have two awful, exploitative industries with which to contend – the fashion and beauty industry, and the dieting industry. The former sells us a digitally manipulated, unobtainable ideal body, the latter entices us to reach that unobtainable ideal by using its means. Both these industries have one objective: to make money.

Because aspiration sells – make it infinitely desirable, put it just beyond our reach, and we’ll part with any amount of money to have it. Insane, but pretty bloody clever that it makes us spend thousands on buying our own bodies.

And I’ve been there. It started back in the nineties when I was a lithe, slim teen, and heroin-chic was in. I read that models injected between their toes to hide the track marks, but I still wanted to nail the look. Deep down, I probably knew that I didn’t have the bone-structure and that those half-starved girls were miserable, but still, I trotted off to Weight Watchers. I wasn’t overweight.

Of course, Weight Watchers should have said: ‘you’re a fabulous size 10. Drink a bit less, exercise a bit more and learn to love your body.’ But they didn’t; they took my cash. In 2001, I drank spirulina and ate practically nothing. In 2003, it was the GI diet. 2004  took me back to Weight Watchers. In 2008, it was Slimming World, and again in 2013. I’ve done the Body Coach diet, the 5:2, the no-carb, Beach Body, and others.

Funny thing is I can tell you roughly how much I weighed at each of these moments, but I can’t tell you whether or not I was healthy. I’ve fainted through hunger, I’ve thrown up through bingeing, and I’ve done goodness-knows-what damage to my metabolism. But was I healthy at any point? I really don’t know; it wasn’t relevant to me.

The breakthrough in my journey to body positivity has been a shift in my self-perception. Instead of thinking about what I look like, I’ve concentrated on what my body can do. I’ve swum through freezing water. I’ve swum a marathon. I’ve given birth to three babies.

This confidence, this positivity has been a game-changer. I no longer feel like I need to apologise for my body, to make excuses for not being a size ten, to fork out on ridiculous diets that are destined for failure from the beginning. Instead, I have celebrated my body, and in doing so, begun to nourish it better and push my physical capabilities.

I’m lucky. I found an activity and a community that accepts all sizes and shapes. Through it, I’ve been able to gain body confidence and mental health, and better physical health and fitness has followed.

And I’ve come to realise that being ashamed of your body is one of the biggest barriers to becoming healthy.

If you’ve never had an issue with food, the many complicated reasons why people become fat and fail to lose weight can be extremely hard to get your head around. You think, ‘if I were overweight, I’d just eat less and do more exercise.’ But it really isn’t that simple.

Again, fat people aren’t stupid; they know that calorie deficit is the way to lose weight. But feelings of shame, embarrassment and intimidation don’t allow many people to push through. Nothing is more off-putting to joining a gym or exercise class than thinking that fit, thin people will judge you.

But if we celebrate all bodies, if we stop fat-shaming, then those people who hide theirs under baggy clothes and are too afraid to go to the gym will have the confidence to start making the small changes that will benefit their health and wellbeing.

Good mental health leads to good physical health. Positivity, pride, self-love, supportiveness – these are the soft skills with which we can battle obesity. Soft skills, not knowledge. Body positivity is about fostering good mental health.

 

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Follow @glitterandlazers on Instagram

 

Back to our bikini-clad glamour-puss in her Vegas foyer. Look at her picture, and before you judge, hear her words:

“I find it ironic that I’ve taken photos in swimsuits all over the world and the one place I was told to cover up was Las Vegas. Sure, thin girls in thongs and pasties are A-OK but a plus girl in a full coverage suit trying to take an epic editorial shot – now that’s too much… I’m learning as I push myself to do more editorial type concepts, the push back is greater. But that’s why I push. It’s more than a girl in the city of sin in a bikini, it’s a statement. We will be seen. We’re not hiding anymore. And we’re going to wear whatever we want, wherever we want. Change is coming; the question is, are you going to stand in the way or help us push through?”

You see, this isn’t an issue of health, it’s an issue of image. It’s about judgement, preconception, acceptance and taking control of how we feel about our bodies. It’s about beating an archaic, oppressive system that’s there to make us spend money.

You don’t have to be healthy to be body positive. You can be obese, disabled, overweight, old, young, thin, athletic, whatever. But people who are positive about their bodies are happier and that makes them healthier, physically and mentally.

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Strong is the new skinny

The prospect of not hearing about desirable thigh-gaps, bikini bodies and waifs is good news, no doubt. But the real progress is a) who’s driving this movement b) who moves up the ratings as an idol and c) what it means for our mental and physical health.

The 90s have my heart. Brit pop, trip hop, jungle, Adidas Gazelles, parkas, Courtney Love and Kate Moss. I emulated Heroin chic: smudged eyeliner, blood-red lips, grimy hair and short skirts. Only I really loved the college canteen’s chips with beans and cheese, and the local pub’s pound-a-pint night could only be cancelled out with cheese pasties.

Fast-forward to now, and Beyonce is up front with her thighs, booty and glossy Amazonian goddessness. This is A Good Thing for us women who choose food over hard drugs. It’s good for anyone who has a naturally athletic figure, who enjoys working out, who isn’t a pubescent white girl.

But where has this come from? As far as I remember, we were complaining about heroin-chic in 1997 while watching Trainspotting, shopping in Miss Selfridge and applying our Rimmel eye-liner. We wondered how it happened, how the curvy 50s figure had been usurped while our friends were pulling us across the floor of the fitting room in New Look by the leg hole of the hot-pants in which we’d got stuck (maybe that was just me).

Back then, Heroin chic was the new 1950s hourglass. And that ubiquitous phrasing favoured by lazy journalists everywhere sums up perfectly the driving force behind all fads and fashions before now. Blah is the new blah: the formula for the consumer market where one fad is replaced by another.

These trends, derived by whoever, pushed on (mainly) women by the world’s media, seep into our conciousness. I’m a savvy consumer: I like what I like. And yet I have four jumpsuits (they’re the new LBD), work the bronzer and highlighter (contouring, Rupaul), and have at least one Hemsley & Hemsley style cookbook (clean eating, not dieting). In other words, I’m as much of a consumer capitalist sucker as the next person.

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Contouring like Rupaul

And yet this strong woman movement seems to have emerged from somewhere else. I may believe this to be the case because at last, 20 years on, I’ve accepted that I’ll never look like Kate Moss, and decided to suck it up, and I got there before it started trending.

But I like to think that social media has allowed women to dictate how we want to look; a trend that has been started by real people and the market has answered our actual needs rather than creating them.

It may also be that, finally, health is taking the top line. That we’ve realised that being strong and fit is so, so much more desirable than looking like we’re injecting between our toes – and it’s better for our mental health, too.

Clearly we haven’t moved on enough to stop analysing the figures of women, like this excellent piece of journalism by the Mirror, but if the media inspires women to go out for a run rather than stop eating, then perhaps it’s progress. Maybe if people from ethnic minority backgrounds or with fuzzy gender boundaries become inspiring idols, then it’s progress. If we’ve, through the power of social media, picked our own idols, then it’s progress.

But the biggest bit of progress is just starting to creep into our collective conciousness. Not just that it’s ok to have big quadriceps that don’t fit into hot pants, but that exercise makes us feel better about ourselves on many levels.

When I started this blog, I wrote about the mindful, almost meditative state I enjoy when I’m swimming. But I could go further and say that I have never in my life felt so good, and so at ease with my body. Now! When there are a thousand baby-stretched, greying, random-pube sprouting reasons not to love my body, I am actually ok about how I look.

Back to Bey, and I do like to draw parallels between myself and Ms Knowles, and her video for her new Ivy Park activewear collection. Yes, it’s beautifully produced, and so is she, but it’s the fact that she talks not about she came to look so amazing, or what she weighs, or how many minutes it takes to run a mile, but the spiritual, emotional benefits of exercise. It’s the focus on how it makes you feel good, not what it does to your body.

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Beyonce launches her new Ivy Park range. Yes, it’s consumerism, but it’s spiritual, yeah?

The narrative is finally shifting, or so it feels, from how we look to how we feel; to our health, physical and mental. My weighing scale is currently buried under some decorating sheets, and long may it stay. While I cut through the water I feel stronger and more at peace than ever before. It doesn’t matter how old I am, what colour I am, even that I’m a woman, and to me, that’s a blissful state. Maybe at last, my heart can move on from the 90s.

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Just like Beyonce, see?

Feminism is for men too

International women’s day, and among the social media stories of inspiring, strong women came the plaintive utterances of a few men: “why isn’t there any International Men’s Day?”

For a start, a simple Google search would have answered this question: there is. It’s on November 16th this year. But also, International Women’s Day is not about man-bashing. Just because man is the only other option to woman, it doesn’t a playground game of one-upmanship (or upwomanship) make.

The same can be said of feminism. Men often seem to feel threatened or displaced by feminism, confusing sticking up for women with the putting down of men. Feminists, even among other women, have an image of man-hating, pubic hirsute drinkers of their own menstrual blood. Geri Halliwell, ironically herself a victim of the pressures put on women by an unbalanced society to tragic proportions, once proclaimed that feminism had ‘done its job’.

But it hasn’t done its job. And though the rise of feminism has caused something of a crisis of masculinity as gender roles, even genders, have become blurred, it is triumph for men too, releasing them from restrictive expectations. Just as women can now choose careers, men can choose to stay at home with their children, marry other men, cry at the sad bit in Dumbo and wear skinny jeans.

I go back to my grandparents, who I blogged about here. My dear grandpa died on International Women’s day. The date isn’t without significance. My grandpa was the epitome of the 1950s head of the household: quiet, dignified, well-read, wise, respected. He fought in the war, and suffered huge injuries, including the loss of a leg. He was hero, a rock, a patriarch.

To mention what he wasn’t isn’t to disrespect his memory because he was what society expected from his generation (plus I adored him): not emotionally available, involved, or hands-on with childcare. My granny, as I have said, was a work horse. She was all of those things; and what that entailed in real life is a bigger picture than words can paint.

Now, just as I have had more choice than my granny, my husband has had more choice than my grandpa. He shares household chores, childcare, and an equal relationship with me. For one adverse to washing-up, this may not feel like progress, but when I watch him kick a ball about with our son, or plait our daughter’s hair, or listen to her torture her clarinet, I know that his relationship with his children is progress beyond words. He said that he’d be happy if any of our children were gay. A sentence that would’ve been unthinkable for my grandpa’s generation, and a true indication of how comfortable he feels about them.

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My husband with our boys.

As though better relationships with your children weren’t enough, men have also benefited from freer, better sex; reproductive control; equal relationships; protection from hate and sexual crimes; sexual freedom; more choice at work… the list goes on. True feminism is about gender parity, and that is good for all human kind.

Someone needs to tell the boys. I feel like I have a one-woman mission to make sure my two boys grow up as feminists. I have to confess that when I first looked into the eyes of my eldest, I felt raising a boy was the easier option. But I’ve changed my mind, and aside from teaching him how to bake (he does a mean lemon-drizzle cake), I’ve realised that I need to teach him how to understand that porn doesn’t represent true sex, that girls don’t aspire to look like Barbie, that it’s fine to cry if someone hurts your feelings.

It’s a hard message to teach. You just have to look around the playground to see that gender stereotypes are hard-wired. Still. After all this time and all this talking. The problem is that men talk to men, and a flaw in feminism is that too often us women focus on one another.

Geri Halliwell is wrong on so many levels. Her ginger spice body one minute stacked on Buffalo trainers with a crotch-skimming Union Jack dress, the next minute painfully thin on a beach, has been transformed because what? Because she feels the pressure to sell herself on her sexuality and looks rather than talent. Ok, you could argue that she lacks talent, but she certainly lacks insight and wisdom when she says that feminism has ‘done its job’.

Until there is true parity between the sexes, feminism has a long way to go. Until men stop being jealous of women and girls being in the limelight, and until women like Halliwell stop undermining feminism, there’s still a lot of talking to be done.

Us mothers can make a start by raising our boys in a way our grannies couldn’t raise our fathers and uncles. We can remember our grandfathers with love, and show our sons how much better equality has, and can continue to make the world better for all humanity. I like this blog on raising sons as feminists.

My last word goes to International Women’s Day. It’s about acknowledging, celebrating and respecting women while recognising how far society must come before gender parity truly exists. It’s not about saying women are better than men, it’s about equality.

For the love of skin #guestblog

If you’re anything like me, your skin suffers from all that training. I frequently get that tickling, crawling sensation that comes with swimmer’s itch, and before I consulted my guest blogger, I suffered hard, white pimples under my skin.

Let me introduce Gilded Magpie, an experimenter, an expert, a nurse and a beautiful woman herself. She tries all manner of skincare products from high end to budget. She really gets into what goes into products, and how the ingredients work. And, like any good nurse, she knows exactly what’s good for you…

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As a skincare enthusiast and sometime beauty blogger I have been asked to recommend a few products to keep in your kit bags/bathroom shelves to keep your skin all lovely looking despite exposing it to the ravages of chlorine, or (for open water lovers) the elements.

Honestly I could go on forever about skin care/beauty gubbins but I have tried to keep in mind the practicalities of limited bag space, suitable packaging and cost. I will be around in the comments to answer your questions…

(Apart from those marked with a *, all are equally good for men and women.)

First up: kit bag essentials.

Boots does a really broad range of travel minis so you should be able to easily find a shampoo/conditioner combination and shower gel to suit there. Post washing I think your skin would thank you if you added in a body conditioner. I know there is some controversy around these in shower moisturisers but I find them easy to use and genuinely effective. I think the people who argue that any benefit is washed away simply haven’t tried them! Nivea in shower Body Moisturiser Dry is an absolute bargain at £3.69 (Boots). I use the lighter version but if you are swimming regularly then this more meaty version is just what you need.

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More luxurious and much more hydrating and oily (and appropriate given the name of this blog’s owner) is Lush’s Ro’s Argan body conditioner*, from £16.50. It smells gorgeous, a tangy rather than overly floral rose, and leaves a heavenly soft oily feeling behind on the skin. A little goes a very long way but I love to slather it on and let it sit for a bit before rinsing. The packaging is not completely kit-bag-friendly but it would be worth decanting this and keeping some at home too: you’ll want to use it all the time!

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Your face is the first place that any dryness or dehydration as a result of exposure to swimming pool chemicals or extreme temperatures will show. There is very little that you can do during your swim to limit exposure (though decent waterproof sunblock is an absolute must) but you can really treat your skin once you are back on dry land.

I think a lovely luxurious oil based facial cleanser is a must to remove any chemicals and to start your skin rehabilitation. If money were no object, and you had infinite space in your bag for enormous glass bottles then I would go with Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser* which is delicious and rinses really well so no need for a wash cloth. More realistically Una Brennan does similar oil cleansers which rinse well and are much more practically packaged and priced. My top pick would be the Vitamin C Skin Renew Cleansing Oil (£10.99 from Boots) for its mild resurfacing properties but the Rose Miracle Makeover Facial Oil* (£14.99 also from Boots) has better packaging for toting around pools and plages. The Rose Oil also doubles as a decent night oil (more on which later) but is much more expensive than the Vitamin C, which could always be decanted.

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In order to restore the moisture to your newly soft-from-oil cleansed skin I think a decent hydrating serum is a must. For pure hydration with no bells or whistles Vichy Aqualia Thermal Dynamic Hydration Serum (£22.50, Boots) cannot be beaten. It feels lovely on the skin and is absorbed quickly and really really works. Patchy dryness and those very fine lines that get worse with dehydration will be a thing of the past. For slightly more cash and with slightly more age defying ingredients Hylamide SubQ Anti-Age Advanced Serum (£30, Boots) is also super hydrating but contains a plethora of peptides and collagen boosting gubbins to minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and “surface irregularities”. I know, I know, we’ve heard it all before, but I really rate this serum and the brand behind it. They use their science well and their products do seem to deliver.

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To seal in all that goodness a decent moisturiser is an essential finishing touch. I know it isn’t the absolute cheapest but I cannot speak highly enough of Skyn Iceland’s Arctic Hydrating Balm (£25, M and S). It is a beautiful product, deeply hydrating and an amazing base for make up. Even though I use it pretty much every day I remain surprised at the longevity of its moisturisation. It is also a brilliant carrier for oils/moisturiser boosters and I often add a couple of drops of jojoba oil, or even a night oil, if my skin is feeling undernourished.

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You should now be ready to sally forth all clean and conditioned! A word of caution before I leave you: talc is an absolute no no. Having worked in swimming pools for years I know it is completely revolting when wet and no one likes to step in or clean up the grey slime left behind. If that were not reason enough to NEVER use it Johnson and Johnson have recently been ordered to pay out $72million to the family of a deceased woman who’s ovarian cancer was linked to talcum powder use. Just say no folks.

I’ll be back next week with some home based product recommendations to maintain that lovely skin. In the meantime, like I said, I will stalk the comments section below for any questions. May your skin always be glowing and your swims always swift…

XOXO Gilded Magpie.