Pretty Woman: Deconstruction

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You know, had I written my 2011 dissertation with the same bitter knowledge of widespread misogyny (both on and off-screen), I’m sure I would have seen that 2.1 into a first. Poor Garry Marshall, it’s a pity I was still wearing nappies during the debut of his 4.6* million box office hit, Pretty Woman, 1990.

I recently sat through 2.5 excruciating hours of what I can only describe as jaw-clenched fury; being an adult, understanding the media’s intention to mass-manipulate and project sexist ideals. Now that I know myself; the role I play both in and out of society; no amount of cinematic technique will have me fawn over men like Edward Lewis.

Vivian Ward did a great job of that though.

My infuriation rose after making the god awful decision to undergo the ‘Miami Backyard Cinema’ experience – basically a room transformed into “Miami Beach”, using falsified sand and props. It wasn’t awful because it was based on the other side of London, or even because it was overpriced and crammed. It was awful because I’d revisited one of my favourite childhood films and realised I’d been duped.

As I sat there, sinking into an oversized bean bag; feet buried beneath a cold layer of sand and balancing a £12 Pina colada bottle, I promised myself I would watch the film again at home, in an attempt to rip the literary shit out of it.

You’re gonna hate me Marshall.

Consequential timing, considering all the Hollywood sickos who’ve recently been named and shamed. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, John Lasseter, Nick Carter, Ryan Seacrest, Russell Simmons, Sylvester Stallone and Ed Westwick are among the never-ending list of creeps accused of sexual misconduct. You have to give it to them though: these white collared, high-flying, money-driven, ego-centric, sadistic males – so built up by Hollywood they believe they can do whatever they like and to whom. A culture in favor of misogynistic machoism: where women are as seen as inferior sexual objects and treated as such.

Pretty Woman begins with Richard Gere as Edward Lewis, a wealthy entrepeneur undergoing a failed relationship. Finding himself in the centre of Hollywood Boulevard’s red light district, Ed meets sex worker Vivian, played by Julia Roberts. There is a bittersweet contrast of rags meets riches here, with Edward being the epitome of success and Vivian, a struggling prostitute.

After a bizarre first meeting (where Ed lets Viv drive an acquaintance’s car) the pair check into a hotel where they proceed to have a “magical” time. I say magical, in the sense that Ed is the key-holder to extravagance – he offers his guest strawberries and champagne on arrival, which is clearly goosebump-inducing. It is during this scene, that the viewer gains insight to Ed’s pre-formed low opinion: he accuses Viv of taking drugs before realizing she is actually hiding dental floss.

The scene ends with Viv watching a black and white movie, head tilted in delight. It’s clear she has never encountered such worldly opulence – impressed with everything from the room to the refreshments to the company. She then transpires to make a move on Lewis, crawling over to his side & “going down” until fade out. The music and lighting – indicative to romance – is unable to disclose the narratives true seedy undertones.

The next morning, Ed encourages Viv to stay longer. They negotiate from $300 dollars a night to $3000 for six. Vivian is ecstatic – it is clearly the most money she has ever earned in such a short space of time. She feels lucky to suddenly be surrounded by wealth, that “high-quality” people are now paying her attention. The film encourages a belief that wealth marks human value; that people who are “somebodies” should own high-end wardrobes, and know how to use cutlery.

The arrogance which radiates off Ed’s persona becomes quickly tiresome. He is constantly testing, controlling and telling Viv how to behave: warning signs of mental abuse. An example of this is is when he leaves her in the hotel room, calls up and tells her not to answer. Two minutes later, he rings back and states “I told you not to pick up the phone” to which she swoons in delight. I wanted to punch him.

"Stop fidgeting, get rid of your gum".

Ed has the ability to manipulate and control those around him through money and power. Viv, who’s only ever been treated as less-than, is all for it. For instance, the famous shopping scene where she’s rejected based on her attire. The moment Ed realizes his guest has been turned away, he takes her to a new department store and starts flaunting social status, demanding that the clerks  “suck up” to her.

But wait, why has he sent her to Rodeo Drive in the first place? Couldn’t he have asked his driver to collect her things? Aside from what we’d hope to be practicality, it’s no secret that Ed’s embarrassed of Vivian. The moment they initially enter the hotel, he covers her up with his coat.

 

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"Vivian, come back, I am speaking to you". 

Key moments in the film where Viv actually makes an impression, are the ones where she’s “transformed”.  Ed holds little regard for Viv’s inner being, so it’s no surprise that his eyes light up when she’s dressed to perfection. Scenes where he takes her for dinner, or to the opera, where she’s dressed immaculately from head to toe…

…Is the way to a mans heart through a womans wardrobe?

What about the never-ending slew of scenes where Viv dotes on Edward? He comes home and she’s naked with the table set. Viv runs a bath and bathes him with a sponge. He’s in a mood so she bangs him on the piano. I mean, are you sure this isn’t a psychological horror?!

And what about Ed’s creepy lawyer-friend? Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), is a character intended to be a jerk. It’s clear from the get go he’s attracted to Viv, so when Ed discloses his date is actually “a hooker”, Phil has a field day throwing taunts at her. But what’s Ed’s excuse? Was it necessary for him to open his mouth in the first place? Why did he bring Viv to a polo game to ignite humiliation?

"I never had anyone make me feel as cheap as you did today". 

"Somehow I find that hard to believe".

 

Nearing the end of the film, Viv tells Ed she loves him. The following day, he says he’s moving to New York, but offers to keep her finances covered.

Vivian feels hurt because he’s assumed throwing money will offer contentment. She reveals this drippy story, about her dream to be rescued by a knight on a white horse. Despite their first meeting, where Vivian appears bold and independent, here we realize she is actually naive; desperate for a mans validation.

"It's a really good offer for a girl like me".
 
"I never treated you like a prostitute".

"You just did".

The most horrific scene in the film shows creepy Philip at Viv’s hotel room, furious at Ed’s change of heart re a business deal. Accurately blaming this change on Viv’s influence, Phil punches her in the face and attempts to rape her. Ed, sticking to his title of hero, catches his friend in time, socks him in the jaw and throws him out the room…

….I guess this is the moment where Ed deserves a crown, right?

Wrong!

Ed comfortably throws his friend out of the room, and then what happens? Why doesn’t he inform the police? Why has Ed allowed a potential rapist to walk free? What’s the message here, that successful business men are condemned to act obscenely and get away with it? That a sock in the jaw is sufficient punishment for a lifetime of emotional trauma?

Fuck. That. Shit.

….And don’t even get me started on Pretty Woman’s narrow representations. Off the top of my head I recall just two black characters during the entire film: Ed’s driver and the hotel concierge. It may have only been the 90’s, but the racial typecasting made my blood boil. The subtext portrayed by Marshall is acutely perverse: where women and black men are inferior to wealthy white business men, and that their place is beneath them, quite literally.

The fact that Vivian is a prostitute gives Marshall freedom to construct his ideal woman. Clever, because he wouldn’t have been slammed for it. It was already her job to appease Ed. That he then falls in love with her, shows the viewer what men really want: a beautiful sex slave, whose emotional needs are secondary.

Once deemed a classic, this light-hearted, rom-com masterpiece is now shown for what it is: a dick flick, and not the stuff from fairytales. No longer a piece I respect or admire; Pretty Woman is a reflection of the ugliness hidden beneath a gabardine suit.  And yes, whilst it may have been released in 1990, the critique for Edward Lewis is more prevalent than ever.

 

 

28 Reasons

Life, a magical field of existence whereby humans try to establish what the hell we’re doing here. Amidst the wins and curveballs, one of the greatest life joys I’ve experienced is having a solid, stable; reliable group of friends. Each one brings something unique and wonderful, however today I’ve decided to dedicate a post just to one…it’s her birthday.

The intention is not to draw comparisons, nor exclude the group I deem close, but as it is her birthday (and let’s face it, bar my mum she is my biggest fan), this piece of writing is in honor of our fully faultless friendship. Over the course of 25 years, she has been what I consider a shelter from the storm; a friend, a sister, a constant…

Three. That’s how old I was when I met her. I don’t remember much about our first meeting, but I do remember spending my first few school years plotting her death. We would fight so much that our mothers would get called in and frequent letters sent home. Understandably, we were advised to stay away from/ignore each other but alas, we could not.

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“You will wear it bitch”.

Joanna: the irritating, blonde-fringed girl with freckles on her face. Invited to each and every one of my birthdays: keep your friends close but enemies closer. Loud, boyish, outspoken and bold – everything about her annoyed me. I used to cry post-haircuts, scared she’d rip the shit out of me, and when she did, I would yell out “BITCH” so loud that all our peers would gasp in shock, labelling me the antichrist.

Had somebody informed me then, that she would prove to be the most consistent, loyal and selfless friend I’d ever have, I probably would have jumped from the climbing frame there and then.

Our relationship changed during high school, because we were dealing with a whole new kettle of bullshit: bullies, boyfriends, rebellion; hormones. Astonishingly, the moment we upgraded uniforms, we upgraded the way we treated each other. Instead, we became each others point of reference, severing not a single fallout. No bitching, no competitiveness, no time for being fickle or hasty – we knew who we were to each other and accepted it – a solid friendship; unquestionably rare.

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My 14th Birthday, hence our great choice of outfits/hairstyles.

If friends were graded, Joanna would sail through every subject from A*, to merit, to distinction. But, as there’s no such thing as a degree in friendship, I’m celebrating her 28th, on the 28th, with 28 reasons as to why she is THE BEST:-

  1. She’s neutral.

I’ve had some nasty fallouts over the years and Joanna’s one friend who’s stayed neutral. Never has she encouraged bad vibes, or involved herself in my battles. Instead, she’s reflected opposing sides without forming any judgement. At times I’ve found this severely frustrating because the ego wants to be “right”. In hindsight, her stance has been most helpful because she’s demonstrated maturity without encouraging childish behaviour.

2. She protects my fragile heart, *violin*.

Six years ago I was crazy in love with a guy who couldn’t spare a flying fuck.  Upon discovering his infidelities with numerous partners, I was so heartbroken I lay in bed sombre and lifeless; unwilling to get up. Joanna was the friend who got me out of bed, treating me to a pedi and reminding me that life goes on. At the time it didn’t mend my broken heart, but it certainly made my toes sparkle.

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Post-pedi, Jo told me I had to wear these paper sandals. As you can see, I believed her.

3. She’s with me for the ride.

Over the past few years I’ve moved house three (almost four) times and she’s been there for every single one. From lifting boxes, to driving, to unpacking. I haven’t even had to ask her – she considers me  a *cough, burden* priority.

4.  She’s a handy-wo-man.

Jo is one of the most practical human beings I’ve ever met – if there’s a problem – she will fix it. From transferring stencils on the wall to unscrewing lightbulbs or climbing shelves –  lets just say I’ve never had to contact one of my exes.

5. I’m her dolly.

Not to be trusted with an eyeliner, Jo does my hair beautifully. French plaits, buns, fishtails – this girl is my personal hairstyle queen.

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6. She’s a comedian.

My. Friend. Is. Hilarious. I can’t recall a single time we haven’t laughed. Even when things have fallen apart around us, when we’ve felt stuck, worried, frustrated – laughter’s prevailed, the best remedy for anything.

7. She’s effortlessly thoughtful.

On my 21st birthday I took some friends to Bournemouth for a messy weekend. Whilst in the shower, Jo decorated our room with banners and balloons, going out of her way to make me feel special. #AwYouShouldntHave

8. She’s always there.

I had a nasty, invasive procedure last year and despite her own commitments, my girl booked the day off and took me to the hospital. She even went as far as to bring me home and spend the day with me, making sure that I felt fine. </3

9. She loves my mum.

This probably sounds like a weird one, but the relationship between two of my leading ladies is 100% sincere. They have their own special unique bond and it warms my heart up. Plus, mama knows best and if she says Jo is gold, she must be.

*If you’re not down with my mum, you’ll never be down with me.

10. She keeps it real.

I don’t have to worry about Jo talking behind my back ’cause if I upset her, she’ll tell me. As difficult as it is telling people how and if they hurt you, there’s something relieving about being able to talk, listen and making the choice to move forward.

11. She’s always on time.

And I don’t mean in terms of “let’s meet for coffee at three”. If something big is happening, negative or positive, I know exactly who’ll be there. Hell, this girl is there for all occasions, helping me to swim through life. #Teamworkmakesthedreamwork

12. She’s got bottle.

During secondary school I was constantly being harassed by older girls – I can’t lie, they were scarily evil! But I remember when the bullies tried to “befriend” her, Jo made it clear with her tone and face that she would never be interested – she never licked ass based on her own principled loyalty. #ByeFelicias

13. She’s kept all my secrets despite having a big mouth.

Much like myself, Jo finds it difficult to contain newsworthy information. I in particular am a renown over-sharer (the proof is in the blog), so when it comes to each other; our pain and our regrets; we keep our lips sealed. #ThanksBoo

14. She’s never left me in a vulnerable state.

Fourteen years old – just discovered vodka. We were on our way to a house party and I chugged it down with no concept of units. To this day, I can’t remember how we got home, I just remember waking up with vomit in my hair and a missing phone. Still, somebody got me back safely – somebody tucked me into bed.

15. She’s charitable.

The charity case being me of course (although she has done frequent runs for cancer). The amount of hairdryers, chargers, phones and clothes Jo has thrown my way over the years is staggering. I mean, she could have easily sold that stuff on ebay but nope, here I am, free-balling.

16. She’s accepting.

Jo doesn’t get mad (albeit surprised) when I “borrow” something of hers and wear it in front of her six years later. To be fair it wouldn’t fit her now anyway, girl’s got the body of a goddess.

17. She listens.

And I mean really listens. It doesn’t matter how trivial the issue, if I need to vent, I know I have a nonjudgmental, equally honest ear on standby.

18. She checks in.

If I’ve had a bad week or day, she’ll make it a point to check in and see what’s up. Bare in mind this is a person who works full time, has a child, a head full of tasks and yet still, spares several thoughts for me. She even feels guilty when she feels she’s been “slacking”. #YouGottaStopDoingThatBoo

19. She acknowledges my inner child.

Back to my 21st: I was secretly eyeing up this massive pink unicorn and Jo did everything she could to win it. At the time I was certain her efforts were to appease her daughter – which they were – only Jo won two which means I got one! #HipHipHooray

20. She’s inspiring and smart.

No really, she’s one of the cleverest girls I know: quick witted, sharp; practical. Aged sixteen, Jo was the first to go out and got a job. She was also the first to pass her driving test and basically, the first in our group to demonstrate initiative.

I am proud of the way she communicates with people – she’s direct, humble and straightforward – the sort of person who inhabits natural leadership. #YesBadGyal

21. She’s supportive.

Jo has read and shared practically every single one of my blogs under zero obligation. I never expect my friends to read OR share my work, but over the past two years she’s emitted constant support and exposure. As a writer, I can’t tell you how invaluable that is  – all we want is for our words to reach people – and without shares that can’t happen.

Her feedback, encouragement and genuine interest are all attributes which make a fucking supportive friend. #ThanksForBelieving

22. She’s inclusive.

I swear I’m her honorary adoptee. I get invited to all the big family dos, even Christmas sometimes! #ThanksBabeButIGotMyOwnFamilyToSpendOn

23. She’s thoughtful.

This girl just kills me with it. I came home after traveling for eighteen hours once and Jo had snuck in beforehand to make sure my fridge wasn’t empty. *FYI she didn’t break in, bitch has a key.

24. She shares the limelight.

This is definitely where we differ. My birthday’s in October – hers September – and I always plan the celebrations wayyyyy in advance. Arguably self-centered, Joanna is regardlessly happy to hear my plans with enthusiasm – even before considering her own.

25. She’s not a hater.

You can really see if someone’s happy for you by looking in their eyes. That stab of jealousy, or even disbelief. Personally, I think it’s normal to have twinges of envy. For instance, if I were £500 into my overdraft and a friend revealed they’d won the lottery, damn right I’d feel that stab. But not Jo. Every success I have is received by her as if she were my mother: full of pride and excitement. Sometimes I downplay victories to others because I don’t want to evoke discomfort; but not with her. With her, I can speak in every little detail about something I feel proud of – and her eyes light up with delight. #SheIsJustSoCute

26. She hates being a burden.

Not that she could ever be one. Still, like chalk and cheese, Joanna is not the kind of person to vent her plight – she is private and a problem solver. Most of all, she hates the idea of people worrying about her – and in that sense she is utterly selfless.

27. Her kindness soothes my soul.

Joanna is the epitome of health, but has never once made me feel bad about my body, nor compared our physical differences. Over the years I’ve had friends discuss whether or not they find me pretty in the morning (I mean, can you name a person who is?), whether I look nice without makeup (better than your mum mate) and multiple jibes about my size.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to worry about all that shit with her. Why? Because she’s comfortable in her own skin, and that makes ME feel comfortable. And if I do ask for advice? Constructive and helpful – never harmful. In my mothers words, “Joanna is a breath of fresh air”.

28. We have snuggle time.

Okay not really, although I totally would if she let me. When we do have sleepovers (yes, these still happen), her partner gets sent to the sofa and guess who bags the double?! Not only is this more comfortable, but it also means I get to hear her sleep-talking. Sleep-talking…possibly her only flaw.

Man that was easy, I should have written this post aged 40.

I realised something extremely important about our friendship over the years. Not only have I taken her friendship completely for granted – the same way you would with your siblings/parents, but her qualities have provided something real and sustainable. I couldn’t fail the test of friendship with Jo because I’ve mirrored her; she brings out the best in me.

Also, when analyzing men I’d fallen for, they’d never been my friends. Drive, money, looks, charm –  shallow attributes – substance barely there. And then I realised – if I sought a partner who had even 3/4 worth of Jo – I’d find a mate for life.

But, who cares about all that when you have a friend like mine. Knight or no knight, I’m counting my blessings in the form of twenty-eight.

 

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Rise of the “Selfish” Woman

Four women sat around a dining table cupping spherical chalices. Over a warm brew they divulged dark and delicate secrets: four estranged women, comforting each other. Amidst the personal exchange there were two main common denominators present: 1. Each woman felt implicitly smug that she was in every way self-sufficient and 2. Each woman also harbored a precious wonder hidden between her legs, lo and behold: The Vagina.

In a couple of months I’ll be turning 28, two years away from the big three-zero. As a child I earnestly believed life would lead me to marriage and a family; that by thirty I’d have a house, a husband, a baby and maybe even a backyard swimming pool. Basically, I’d be attached, because without human attachment females are incomplete, right?

Unashamedly, my aspirations haven’t changed. I still want the house, the spouse, the sticky, pudgy, gap-toothed baby and yes, a hot tub would be nice. It just so happens that these particular dreams have been placed on hold for the long haul and I can’t guarantee they’ll ever manifest. At the semi-wise age of 27, my concentration goes toward the bettering of self – not that marriage and/or children stops ones personal growth/ambition, but it does prevent the freedom to be effortlessly selfish.

I now view marriage as a deliberate social construct: man made, non-attainable. Don’t mind me, I’m just the bitter outcome of a girl who saw the empire of her family collapse; who’s seen love transcend into deep dislike, over and over again.

*Side note: This will never stop me from getting hitched – if anyone loves a big party it’s me and I already have a theme in mind!

Having worked for a variation of prestigious companies, the amount of women I’ve met above thirty without husbands or children, is vast. No, these women haven’t been “shelved”, they just haven’t prioritized conventional ideals. Driven, intelligent, formidable women, their ambitions aren’t solely to find “the one”. Besides, they’re far too selective and rightly so; fueled by determination and vision…I think I’m low-key one of them.

It is assumed that my age has peaked underlying sensitivity. One of the first questions people ask at social gatherings is “Have you met anyone yet?” to which I reply “Nope”. Suddenly their eyes widen with a deep, deep sympathy and they retort “Aww. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll meet him soon. There’s someone out there for everyone”. Mate, did you not just see me back five tequilas and slut drop my way to the main table? I’m living the dream here, your sympathy is inconsequential. Pity me in the morning, when I’m too hungover to walk to the fridge and have half of my face smeared into the pillow.

Joking aside, it’s a little strange that a culture I deem open and progressive is still obsessed with a woman’s biological limitations. As if in order to be a complete, fulfilled female one should get married and procreate before a certain age – otherwise her life will be sentenced to eternal failure and misery.

I’ve lost count of the women I know who literally do it all. They run a home, raise children, work full-time jobs and come home to make dinner. One of these women, my step-mum, wakes up at 5am each morning and doesn’t hit the sack until 1am that night. Personally I couldn’t do it, but kudos where it’s due. The first time I single-handedly looked after my little brothers (they must have been around two and five at the time), I didn’t have a single moment to think about myself. Drinks were spilling, toys were flying; food was burning and I was exhausted.

How does one find time to think of self if her life is spent thinking of others?

My parents have both advised me NOT to get married: an alternative stance to say the least. Still, the lack of pressure is appreciated: I have some figuring out to do – goals to meet – which couldn’t get done if not for time out. On the subject of love, how can I guarantee somebody right today will still be right tomorrow? Especially in this constant phase of self-development and change?

Men are encouraged to be selfish, fact. They are programmed to think independently and thrive – no deadline for when and if they should settle. When I was a child I was given toy kitchens and dolls, my brother: cars and guns. Our parents didn’t intervene when we chose to have a swap session but still, what do you think was the message perceived?

When my dad met my mother he was forty – she was nineteen. Her family encouraged her to wed because A) He was Western and B) He had money. There was nothing unusual for an Indian woman to be married off at her age, nor was it unusual for a British man of his age to not be married. By 23 years old my mother already had two children; seventeen years on and my dad had two more, a reminder that men don’t succumb to biological pressure and based on that, they can do whatever they like for as long as they like: winners every time.

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My mother, who grew up in India and moved back in 2007, had plenty to say about the unfair social behaviors cast upon women:-

“From what I’ve seen, men are encouraged to travel, hang out with friends, have varying hobbies, drink, take drugs as well as numerous sexual partners. Women on the other hand are seen as whores, labeled as “gone cases” or alcoholics should they indulge in anything deviating away from home duties.

Men are trained to earn money, fight wars, lead countries; think politics and sport, while women are encouraged to help their families, cook and clean. You can forget going out after hours with friends, you’re more likely to be married off and forced to breed before you’ve even hit your twenties. 

Decision making in running this planet doesn’t seem to be an option for Indian women. Instead, they are mostly confined to their physiology and identities of mother and wife. These roles are selfless by nature. Men, even while being fathers and husbands, are unlimited in their choices.

If you look at history, most enlightened beings i.e. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, etc are men. Why is it just man who is capable of enlightenment? Surely as a species we are all enlightened or we are all ignorant or we are all both enlightened and ignorant at the same time?

I for one am uninterested in the words of man dictating terms and conditions laid out for women through biased perspective. And let us not forget the ignorance of women’s physical, mental and emotional states, including menstruation, childbirth, postnatal depression, menopause and so on. Unfairness has been cultivated for thousands of years so man can do his thing and women can support man doing his thing. I am pleased it’s changing and whilst I have fought to be selfish, you can be selfish more naturally – thereby being equal to fellow man, if not superior ;-)”

*Mic drop*

Yes mum.

If you’re still feeling a little unsure regarding the message in this post, I’m going to number the shit out of this conclusion:-

  1. A woman should not be shamed because of her age. We are all getting older and one day we will all die. You + me + your dog + your nan + 150 years = Dead.
  2. A woman does not need to have children, nor a partner to be fulfilled.
  3. A woman also does not need a thriving career, nor a hefty salary to be fulfilled.
  4. A woman does not need to be pressured by her peers, friends, family to settle down and pursue “The One”.
  5. A woman, should be able to live her life however she chooses, the same way men do, with no outside judgement or interference.

I guess I should be more appreciative – I grew up in a country which advocates freedom of speech: nobody is going to kill me for writing this post; nobody cares that I’m writing it wearing a tight-fitting mini-dress. Still, I’m rather tired of witnessing female oppression: whether you see it or not, it’s there.

When my mother left my dad, she was criticized by all. I grew up hearing everyone slate her choices, fight and freedom. Nobody blinked an eye at my dads mishaps because his liberation was given, not earned.

Typical.

We now have access to ongoing projects offering female-support; countless texts and programs encouraging empowerment and it’s about fucking time. Unfortunately, “we” is not enough. There are women all over the world subjected to gender apartheid – everything from the way they dress to the way they walk is dictated. They are bullied, tortured and ostracized and in some places even made to sit at the back of the bus. Sound familiar? And let us not forget about FGM and Death by Stoning. Where’s the humanity? Where’s the fairness? Where’s the equality?

But don’t worry, because change is coming. Rise of the”Selfish” Woman: where a woman does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants and no individual will stop her. I see the rise of this woman every day, because she stares straight back at me; almost fearless.

Dear Self

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Dear Self,

I’m struggling.

There are times I feel unfulfilled, drifting almost. What am I still doing sitting behind a desk, aged 27? I worked for that degree – is this what it amounts to? I feel condescension from others; undermined, unseen. I resent the way the world is: ruled by finance, met consequently with a dithering respect for others. Our success, definitively based on hierarchy;  means equality for all is presently unconceivable. Want respect? Go into your place of work and ask the cleaners for their names – it’s a two-way street, after all.

I should be grateful, right? I’m on a wage that’ll grant me a mortgage within two years; a stress free job means I can focus on writing. I’m comfortable; stable and yet, I have nothing figured out. Thoughts niggle at me to achieve more, be more; one goal met and it’s on to the next…

Am I striving for myself, or the benefit of others? Am I fixated on proving a point in the hope I’ll win accreditation? Ultimately, will such approval enhance the way I feel about myself?

I’m exhausted by this way of thinking.

Struggling.

I’m hearing so much about death and illness that all I can think about is death and  illness. Scared I may die before achieving anything, I fear departing from my loved ones. I try to consider an existence without my mother and I swear, it is the loneliest thought conceivable. In my head, I’ve attended nearly all of their funerals. I’ve said my goodbyes and witnessed caskets being lowered into the ground. Suddenly I’m awake, crying on the train; the man opposite me stares awkwardly at my pain – he’s reluctant to offer me a Kleenex.

I. Am. Struggling.

Is something wrong with me? I built castles around a guy to whom I was invisible. If I had known he wasn’t interested I would have spared myself the embarrassment. I’ve spent years being closed, withholding emotions until finally: I deemed someone worthy. Recognizing myself in him I became interested: his earnestness, seriousness; authenticity. Unfortunately, I was met by a rude awakening. I recognized myself because I knew him not at all.

His rejection made me feel transparent. I felt looked down on and undesirable. Stupid for having even tried…

In a world where transparency is scarce, I was hopefully optimistic. They said that unless we connected physically, all other forms of “connection” were irrelevant; amplified.

I wonder – if we had taken it there – would what could’ve been materialized? Would my feelings be then justified?

***

Dearest Self,

You do realize no-one’s got it completely figured out, right? Plus, how many people set themselves homework and meet their own deadlines? The first piece of work you ever shared was then published yet you’re full of self-doubt – why? Nobody is forcing you to do this – you do it for yourself. You make time for what you love and that’s admirable, thrive. 

Be patient with yourself, you’re not on borrowed time. In the space of two years your writing has climbed; you’re not doing it for nothing. And when you tell people you want to be a writer, they ask “what have you written?” And you provide: An ongoing blog, two (nearly three) publications, countless poetry and work you prefer to hide. You’re on the right track, keep it up, with pride.

As for worrying what people think of you, have you met a person who isn’t self-conscious? Thank god for self-doubt because it keeps you grounded. If you walked around saying and believing how great you were you’d be fathered by Kanye West. Believe in yourself without being arrogant – there’s a line between the two. 

The most important piece of advice I can give is this: fuck everyone. If they doubt you, they don’t know you (you won’t remember them when you’re at the finish line anyway). When you peak success, (which you will, ’cause you’re determined), be graceful. Remember everyone who uplifted you along the way, treat every human being with kindness. Acknowledge others, irrespective of their job title. If you want to make your parents proud, that’s all you need to do. You’re not cut from a cloth intended to strangle people. 

I promise you are fine.

You worry so much about death and illness because you love being alive. You enjoy life so much that the thought of letting go scares you shitless.  Don’t berate yourself for that. You have so much love around you; a loving family, supportive friends – you’re grateful and you should be. You’d be a sociopath if you were fine saying goodbye, regardless, unless something happens, what’s the use in worrying? We’ve all got a shelf life, that’s why it’s so important to cherish who and what you have. 

Rather than preparing yourself for the worst, visualize the best; find comfort in it. Do whatever you need to keep yourself fit and healthy; everything which can’t be controlled needn’t be thought of.

You’ll deal with whatever life throws at you, you know this.

Oh dear, you sensitive, sensitive girl.

Don’t hold on to feelings of resentment or bitterness just because he wanted something different. It’s rare for a person to culminate sincere feelings stemmed from a place of innocence – you did – which was sweet, albeit naive. Our society is desensitized – they hook up and move on – they’re not going to understand your depths. Next time be more private, don’t share anything with anyone – their interference won’t be beneficial. 

What’s with the embarrassment? You wanted to bring another person happiness, you needn’t be embarrassed for that. 

The way he handled the situation was insensitive – he could have been gentler, kinder. Still, he’s human – far from the immortal you’d built up in your head.  Plus, no point welcoming someone who didn’t ask to be invited. You don’t want to host a disinterested visitor, do you?

Look at it this way, you’ve lost nothing. He didn’t manipulate you into bed or promise you the world. Sure, you harbored feelings which weren’t reciprocated but then, what kind of writer would you be if not romanticized?

As far as not feeling good enough – stop there. You have everything to offer and more. You judged someone based on your own standards and they couldn’t reach them – next!

I promise you this: I won’t let you settle for anyone or anything other than the best. A person worthy of your time won’t waste it. So let go and before you know it you’ll find your hands full. 

Love yourself.

Love,

Your Self ❤ x

Hype Culture

Last week I lay in bed, unable to sleep, when I scrolled past Kylie Jenner posing with some bright blue bear-shaped hair supplements in her mouth. Now, the last thing I need is hair supplements – having the Indian gene leaves one with no shortage of hair (I’m actually undergoing hair laser to avoid continuous maintenance). Still, whilst I didn’t buy the bottle, I did lay there feeling curious. I thought about ordering some, simply for taste. To put a few on my tongue and take a full-faced,  triple-filtered selfie and show everyone my deliciously bright blue gummy bears. Luckily, with the knowing that spending £25 on Kardashian branded vitamins would be a complete waste of time and money, I set my phone to flight mode and let myself drift…

I wish I could bury my brain in the sand so that I didn’t spend sleepless nights worrying about the world; beating myself up for not having even tried. I couldn’t call myself an activist due to the missed protests and countless times I’ve stayed silent baring witness to ignorance; a belief that monthly donations will be a sufficient way to “play my part”. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not knowing where to start: which cause is weighing heavily on my heart and do I have the emotional capacity to tackle it?

HYPE CULTURE. I’m a born and bred Londoner who understands that whilst our country has seen brighter days, we are by far one of the most privileged. The fact that we mostly feel safe enough to live here enables us to neglect widespread contextual issues; most of which we view through manipulated images, scattered along the pages of a third-party source. We understand things as if they aren’t really happening; are we being accurately informed or simply brainwashed? Is the aim to make us fear or keep us grossly entertained? Whatever truth is out there, there’s one thing for certain: our culture permits us to focus on whatever we want…Bullshit.

I’m trying to emphasize how much time we spend giving to those who don’t need our attention, closing our eyes to the ones who do. It’s a deliberate trap which we fall for every single time. Here are some first hand examples on what I’ve labeled as HYPE CULTURE – the nonsensical trends some can’t help but follow:-

1. Trendy hashtags. It doesn’t take more than five minutes for me to scroll through Instagram before finding images of acquaintances using hashtags such as: #Yaaaaas, #Slay, “#Lit, #OnFleek etc. WHO THE HELL made this a linguistic trend? I’m guessing Kylie Jenner but still, can we try to be a little bit more innovative? The majority of these words aren’t even words! Meh, #HatersGonHate.

2. Maya Jama & Stormy’s relationship. Okay so before my entire social circle disown and deny my existence, yes I find this couple cute and yes – they seem to be nice people. But still – COME ON! What’s with all the “Relationship Goal” retweets? You do realize that it’s very common for two young people to stay together for a couple of years, right? Perhaps we idolize them based on our own obsession with celebrity culture; buying into ideals which may or may not be a true reflection of life.

I’ll tell you who really is #Goals though – My best mate’s parents. Not only have they been together for 30+ years (raising three children, three dogs, one cat and invested in properties), they’ve maintained a healthy relationship. They have date nights, go for walks, hold hands….communicate. The goal to achieve a marriage which can withstand the test of time whilst remaining in love, for me, is real goals. And whilst I actually know these people, I would still never retweet their couple photos. #Weird.

3. Ridiculous chart music i.e. “Strawberry Champagne” & “Swalla”. Agh god, can somebody shoot me in the face already? Has anyone even listened to the lyrics of these songs? Looking at my library on Spotify anyone would mistake me for a 70 year old because I just can’t handle what’s in the charts. I get that I’m sounding very much like a stereotypical bitter grandmother but it’s as if these songs have been created to annoy me. And everybody’s singing them. Stop. The. Madness.

4. Veganism/Spiritualism. Please don’t commit murder and later serve me up as steak: the first vegan I ever met was my mother. 15 years ago my brother and I were the only vegans in town and everyone treated us like aliens ’til we caved and started eating meat again. Let’s be honest though, it does seem like everyone has jumped on the spiritualist bandwagon i.e. “I’m spiritual because I do yoga and I’m vegan”. I was kinda feeling it until I realized I was being looking down on by those who were “conscious”. Consciously annoying more like. Just because you eat bags of kale whilst standing on your head doesn’t mean everybody has to do the same to be “enlightened”. Live and let live brothers and sisters. Or write a self-righteous blog. Namaste.

5. Branded Clothing. I stepped out in an Adidas T-shirt recently and EVERYONE went bananas like “Wow Chelsea! That’s a strong T you got there” or “Oh my god babe! Wicked shirt!”.

The top was fake.

It was fake and nobody realized which made me wonder: if nobody can differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake, why are we pouring money into high brand labels? Aside from stating the obvious (they’re trendy, we like them blah blah), what’s all the fuss about? Are we suckers for advertising? Mainstream media? Fashion? We don’t like to admit it but we’re inadvertent followers, throwing money into the palms of large corporations; getting frustrated when we can’t deposit a 1 bed London flat. Sigh!

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6.  Finally, my biggest critique which I am so compelled by I MUST ADDRESS: Snapchat Filters. Ah yes, the best way to ruin a girls self-esteem. I am sick of countless filters adding halos, garlands, red lips, pink lips; all that jazz.  I know it all seems like a bit of harmless fun, but think about how many of us have changed our profiles using generic benchmark filters. You reckon we’re doing so because yellow floating leaves above our heads is a good look? Or is it because we believe we look better once reconstructed by a filter? These filters refine your nose, remove your bags, lighten your skin; enlarge your eyes. It’s disgustingly demeaning. Strange world though, look how fast we are to jump on the hype and normalize this trend. Thanks for correcting everything physically wrong with my face, Snapchat. The pressure to adhere to current beauty standards isn’t hard enough already.

 

I know I probably sound really negative and moany right now, it’s just that I’m constantly having to remind myself that there is more to life. I’ve stopped being the girl who ignores her friends at dinner whilst staring into her smartphone; I start to feel curious about meaningless hype and resist ’cause I’m scared to fall in.  Maybe I’m stating the obvious but it feels we develop habits without questioning why we’re doing what we’re doing; we allow ourselves to be swayed; to follow. We lose our uniqueness to cultural trends and numb ourselves to things desperate for our attention. Obviously, we are all free to live how we wish, but having that freedom can be taken for granted. This is ultimately the reason why I’m touching on this, because I want to stay substantially present. I want to feel alive rather than numb and so, whilst I may never be a leader, my days of following are far long gone.

Welcoming Brian

“Will you be coming over tomorrow?”

“Mmm not sure, maybe”.

“But you have to – it’s my birthday”.

“I’m not sure Bri, we’ll see”

“Okay then.  See you tomorrow”.

Over the weekend I met a girl in her late teens, who mentioned having to meet her dad and his new girlfriend. I asked if she liked the girlfriend, to which she replied “not really”. I asked why not and she said “I don’t know, just don’t”.

I laughed. I remember feeling similarly towards my own stepmother (stepmother: a word my family hate but use to socially appease) and advised the girl to give her dad’s new girlfriend a chance. “You might be surprised how things develop over time, you may even grow to care for this person”, I encouraged. The girl looked skeptical, but then, I once did too.

Things are rarely as black and white as they seem. Stepmothers aren’t always wicked and conniving and stepdaughters aren’t always wholesome and innocent. Humans are complex; sometimes we act out in unkind ways but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are unkind people.

I remember when my stepmother fell pregnant for the first time. It was a bizarre experience because I desperately wanted to be happy for her, I just couldn’t. I struggled with the concept of having a new sibling, despite having grown up with the woman who carried him. Despite the fact that I loved her. I was resistant to change, clinging onto ideals of “being the youngest” and “only girl”. I didn’t want to share my parents or be forgotten.

Suffice to say, I didn’t know how I would feel about Brian, my unborn baby brother. Would I love him the same way I loved my older brother? Would he accept me as his sister or would I be like a distant relative with a broad age gap? Could I be a constant figure in his life? Or would we drift apart, like other siblings do?

I needn’t have worried.

The moment I laid my eyes my baby brother, I was a goner. I remember my stepmom, Grace, laying in the hospital bed with a small white bundle in her arms. Peering closer, I saw this tiny little being with little round head and my heart. Just. Melted. Quite honestly, I remember thinking he looked like a little white mole (obviously he’d only just been born and had to share oxygen for 9 months). Still, he was perfect.

It was love at first sight. In those few moments I realized that my small brother was totally innocent; he held no malice. His birth subtracted nothing from my life and quite pleasingly, added the elements of love, happiness and comfort.

And the love grew stronger. After Brian learned to walk he would run around the room with his arms held out and then straight into my arms. He would cry if it were time to leave the house and jump excitedly on my return.

Even if I’d tried to resist, I would have been won over because he gave his love so freely: a love which hadn’t been invited but just pushed itself in, (these include all the times he would hide in my cupboard and barge in at 6am). I was not ready for how much joy he’d bring to my life but based on his existence, I’m constantly reminded.

Brian’s arrival bought the whole family together. It’s as if he and Bradley (our youngest sibling) were the missing components to find our families resolve. Shortly after Brian’s birth, my mum and dad found peace with each other. We began doing things as a whole (birthdays, holidays, lunches etc) and did so for enjoyment over obligation. Our conception of family ideals were rebuilt: when you’re able to put aside petty differences; when you let go of hindering grudges; you are met with a new found stability.

Speaking of wholes, I’m really uncomfortable referring to my younger brothers as “half”. When outsiders try to distinguish between being “half” and “full” i.e. “They’re your brothers?! They don’t look like you!” followed by “Ohhh they’re your half-brothers, so that’s why”. I find it extremely unsettling.

Perhaps calling someone your half-brother or sister should be scrapped as “a thing”. So what, because my brothers and I share the same dad should I love them half as much? We may not share a biological mother, but they’re my blood and I claim them fully. Measuring in halves need not apply when it comes to relations, it encourages uncertainty and confusion.

Whilst I believe my youngest siblings sparked a new era, it took a lot of patience and understanding for my family to get here. I used to worry about how they would cope during celebratory functions; baring guilt if I made one parent feel more important than the other. Needless to say, we’ve reached a place I never dreamed we could be and whilst don’t conform to religion, I prayed for it.

 

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Valentines D(ism)ay

I’ve been seeing myself for a little over two years now and I have to say, things are going pretty well.

My relationship with self however, was recently disrupted. How dare this person interrupt the euphoric equilibrium I’ve worked so hard to create. For the first time in years, I’d developed all the feels for a guy who on paper seemed perfect, or rather, based on the mental ideals I was projecting on to him.

I went through my mental – and, regrettably superficial – checklist and there wasn’t a single box he didn’t tick. Intellectual? Check. Good job? Check. Confident? Check. Handsome? A chiseled beauty mate.

Reflective, considerate, kind? Err…

The last three things are the most important. You know, the ability one should have being able to reflect internally and externally, to consider how their behaviour may affect others; to have a wider understanding of our planet and not be solely confined by restrictions of first world capitalism.

Well, it was too soon to tell and I was optimistic.

The last few weeks made my head (and heart, sigh) spin; I was shocked to experience all the feelings I hadn’t felt since my first love. I couldn’t believe that at the wise old age of 27, I was suffering from a case of love sickness. It scared the shit out of me.

For starters, I became fully in tune with my bodies chemistry. Each time he would say hello or ask a question, I’d blush so hard I’d have to turn the air-con on: it’s still winter. I’d hear my heart beating in my ears as if I’d done a treadmill marathon and hopped off; you know, that feeling where you try to walk properly after a run and it feels like you’re walking on the moon or something? I lost like half a stone in two weeks because the butterflies in my stomach were so ferocious I was scared I might throw up. Despite my panic, it was a reminder of an aliveness one provokes; that the right person will be the catalyst to a vast opening of reintroduced, uncontrollable feelings.

The right person.

Initially I was sure the attraction was mutual because his gestures showed that he liked me. He sought a way to connect, his interactions seemed sincere and earnest; it was refreshing. But it was hard. Every effort he put into knowing me better I would close up. It wasn’t a case of “well if he likes me, let him chase”. No, I just felt too goddam nervous.

Generally I’ve been good at communicating. I’m not particularly shy; on first meetings I’ll always give warmth, make effort; I’m open to those who connect. But with him, I reverted back to my adolescent self. I would end up being rude, asking what he wants, reenacting that whole school girl thing when you diss the guy you like because you don’t feel in control. I didn’t know what was up with me…Well actually, I knew exactly what was up with me.

Like many areas in life, I’d been unconcerned. Uninvolved in choosing the guy and letting him find me. After one too many lessons, I delved into self-protective mode. I didn’t want to open the door and not be taken seriously; fun and games aside, life is real.

When I commit someone, I commit fully. I go into love wholeheartedly with the intention to support and build, hence why I’m initially slow and observant. I don’t have patience nor desire for male frivolity or flakiness. If my time isn’t pursued with sincerity, the guy gets a pat on the head and friendzoned, byeee!

It’s an intense revelation, I get it. I’ve been left so cold in the past by love that I questioned whether I’d turned into an ice-cream. Like what the fuck?! I have feelings? Oh no, not those wretched feelings again, making my head melt down the sides of my body; filling up my cone with a sweet and gushy sentiment.

I could certainly do with a tub of Haagen Dazs right now.

There’s too much to the story to mention, which is a better move anyway because discretion in courtship is key. For instance, I could mention the time I attempted flirting and ended up insulting his attire (wtf, who does that?!) Or the time I called my mum in tears and said “Mum, he said hi and I’ve fucked it all up”. “Why, what did you say?” “I said…oh god it’s just awful… I said…good morning!”

Seriously, couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

Anyway, all’s well and good in the losing game of love because he proved to be what I feared he would be: a disappointment. The guy who showed such promise; unfairly placed on top of a pedestal for fairytales and expectation, crashed down into a sea of mere mortals. Who would have known that this smooth and suave guy would end up being just another inconsistent and flawed human being? Fucking ridiculous I tell you.

There were two occasions where he belittled me. The first was fair game because 1) I had successfully sabotaged every intention to reciprocate his efforts and 2) I unintentionally compared him to an alien because I thought the alien was a scientific symbol (yeah – long story). As a result, I was told (with others present), that I would be looked down on and ignored at every future opportunity. As you can imagine, like most strong, independent and savvy ladies, I retaliated with a phenomenal defense of “O..kay” and then burst into tears. Fortunately, the storm in the teacup settled and I managed to return back to my semi-normal awkward behaviour.

The second time was less redeemable.

I was in the pub before meeting a friend when suddenly, the god of all gods walked in: clouds of smoke and lightning bolts. At this point I’d already had two glasses of wine; safe to say I was on my way. He didn’t acknowledge me, nor I him. Twenty minutes later it was hometime; I needed the loo and had to walk past.  Don’t be rude, don’t be a dork; polite and cool, you got this. “Hey! How’s your night going?” I asked, met by the response: “Why are you talking to me like I’m a retard?”

Eh?

I began to nervously babble about him being rude and myself, needing a piss, to which he replied “that’s not very ladylike is it?” and “It’s not my problem you have social anxiety”.

Okay, somebody contact rehab ’cause this dude’s been smoking crack yo!

There were two things playa did which made his fall from grace a mighty one:

1. How can somebody remotely educated slam a word like “retard”? If used to expel or suggest indignity, the word is extremely upsetting. It’s possible I was slurring due to being a little tipsy but still, he wanted to shut me down and I hadn’t even tried to provoke him yet.

Secondly, what was the social anxiety remark about? To tell someone who you suspect might have social anxiety, that their social anxiety isn’t your problem, shows a lack of empathetic concern. Comments like that are what give people social anxiety in the first place, idiot.

Had I actually suffered with social anxiety (which for a brief while I did), this comment would have kept me housebound. And don’t even get me started on the whole “ladylike” thing. As if having a vagina makes it socially unacceptable for me to pass urine, yet guys will get their penises out and have a field day urinating willy nilly. That shit pissed me off, literally.

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As a child I was brainwashed to seek out partnership and romance – not my parents doing but courtesy of the media and school. Compare a film like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty  (1959) to Moana (2001) and you’ll witness progression regarding a woman’s life ambition.

It’s not right to expect Prince Charming to straddle up and sweep me off my feet; he doesn’t exist; I’ll be waiting for life. Plus, do we ever really know what’s in another persons mind? We only really know our own intentions, feelings, desires etc. For all you know, I could be totally overthinking the whole thing. Maybe he was just trying to be funny. Maybe I’m being a complete and utter drama queen. Maybe.

As cynical as it sounds, I’m more comfortable keeping everyone at arms length until they prove themselves worthy. The good news is, my prince-not-so-charming woke a writers block spell just in time for Valentines. As a thank you gesture, I’ve decided to send him a giant bunch of thorny roses; leftover fragments from my tired, aching heart…

…Perhaps not, but the sentiment’s still there in Land of Make Believe.