Rise of the “Selfish” Woman

One dark, winter’s evening, four women sat around a dining table sharing treacherous tales of tragedy. Divulging dark and delicate secrets, the women bonded over commonalities whilst sipping a warm brew (PG Tips, to be exact). Their personal exchange, so real and so raw, was indeed unsurprising: leave a group of women alone in silence and see how quickly the air gets filled. Indeed, there were many similarities, but the most wondrous of all was that each woman harboured a precious wonder between her legs, lo and behold: The Vagina.

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In a couple of months I’ll be turning 28, two years away from the big three-zero. As a child, I earnestly believed that by now, 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 jacuzzi. Basically, I’d be attached, because without a family 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 is spent on Neflix binges and a bag Doritos.

It’s a hard life being effortlessly selfish.

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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, twice. The worst part? I still want to get hitched, I just want to take my time, be selective; get it right.

Having worked for a number 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 prioritised conventional ideals. Driven, intelligent, formidable women, their ambitions aren’t solely to find “the one”. Besides, they’re too fabulous to settle and rightly so; fuelled by determination and vision…I think I’m low-key one of them.

It is assumed that my level of desirability has a shelf-life. 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 as they retort “Aww. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll meet him soon. There’s someone out there for everyone”.

Sure there is. My “person” is actually plural, I don’t have just one. I have a group of four to five friends, who I’ve known since I was three. We don’t have sex, we drink red wine. When I’m ill, one will take me to the Doctor, when I’m sad, the other will listen and so on. They are my surrogate sisters and we love each other. The only thing they don’t do is give me an orgasm but then, neither did any of exes.

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It’s a little strange that a culture I deem so open and progressive is still obsessed with a woman’s biological constraints. As if in order to be a complete, fulfilled female, one should get married and procreate the moment she hits thirty. What if I want to use my time in other ways? Like breed a family of sea monkeys.

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 serve dinner! One of these women, my step-mum, wakes up at 5am each morning and doesn’t hit the sack until 1am. Personally, I couldn’t do it.

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 spilled, toys flew; food burned and I, was exhausted.

How does one find time to think of herself if her life is spent constantly 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: how can I guarantee somebody right today will be right tomorrow? Especially given that we are constantly changing and evolving.

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 and she, nineteen. Her family encouraged her to wed because A) he was “from the West” 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 not to be married. By 23 my mother already had two children; 17 years on my dad had two more, a reminder that men don’t succumb to biological pressures and therefore, can do whatever they like for as long as they like: winners every time.

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My mum, who grew up in India, had plenty to say about the unfair social behaviours cast upon the women who live there:

“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. If she does have those things and IS fulfilled, more power to her!
  3. A woman 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 without a bra on. 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 criticised by all. I grew up hearing everyone slate her choices. Nobody blinked an eye at my dads mishaps because his liberation was given, not earned.

Typical.

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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; ostracised and in some places made to sit at the back of the bus. Sound familiar? And let us not forget about FGM (female genital mutilation) 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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I’m struggling.

There are times I feel unfulfilled, drifting almost. What am I still doing sitting behind a desk at 27? I got that degree, is this what it amounts to? I can hear their condescension, the irony: being patronised by fools.

With a dithering respect for those who can’t pay, we live in a world where “freedom” is bought. Our success, defined by a hierarchal prism; means inequality for all. Want respect? Go in to your place of work and learn the cleaners 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 approval of others? Am I fixated on proving a point just to gain their validation? But how do I feel about myself?

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 the absence of 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 stares awkwardly at my pain, reluctant to offer 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 but instead, I lead myself into a realm of fantasy. Built up with every frivolous interaction, I transferred my romantic illusions onto an empty vessel: let’s make something out of nothing.

“We’re made for each other”, I thought, seeing myself in him because I knew him not at all.

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Dear Self,

You do realise 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 enjoy which means you’re not wasting time at all.

As for worrying what people think of you, have you met a person who isn’t self-conscious? You’re not going to be liked by everyone and you’re not going to like everyone, either. Fuck ’em. 

When you peak success (whatever success looks like to you) remember everyone who uplifted you along the way. Treat every human being the same, irrespective of their job title. Look, if you really want to make your parents proud, be kind. You’re not cut from a cloth intended to besmear. 

I promise you are fine.

You worry so much about death and illness because you love being alive; the thought of goodbyes, terrifies you. That’s understandable. With so much love around, all you can do is be thankful for each waking day. You know the old cliché: unless something happens, what’s the use in worrying? We’ve all got a shelf life, so cherish who and what you have…today. 

Rather than preparing yourself for the worst, visualise 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’ve got this, you know this.

Don’t hold on to feelings of resentment just because he weren’t “the one”. You liked him from a place of innocence which was sweet, albeit naive. Next time be more private, don’t share anything with anyone, it will only make things messy. 

As far as not feeling good enough – whaaat!! You have everything to offer and more. You judged someone based off heights they couldn’t reach so yeah, next! 

I promise you this: I won’t let you settle for anyone other than the best. A person worthy of your time won’t waste it and when a man really likes you, he’ll let you know. This is your future self calling and all I can say is….you nabbed a fine looking man, on the inside too!

Let it go Chels, before you know it you’ll find your hands full.

Love yourself.

Love,

Your Self x

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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 currently 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 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 all the missed protests and countless times I’ve stayed silent before 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 weighs most heavily on my conscience and will I ever have the selflessness 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…Complete and utter bullshit.

I’m trying to emphasise how much time we spend on things which don’t need our attention. A deliberate trap, which we fall in to every single time. Here are some examples of what I believe to be HYPE CULTURE – the nonsensical trends of which we follow like sheep:

1. Trendy hashtags. It doesn’t take more than one minute for me to scroll through Instagram before seeing hashtags such as: #Yaaaaas, #CoupleGoals, #OOTD etc. Yes I know, Twitter created the hashtag, but WHO THE HELL decided to adopt and repost such words and phrases?! 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? It’s very common for two young people to stay together for a couple of years, you know. Do we idolise them based on our obsession with celebrity culture, or do we model our goals on what we see and don’t know.

I’ll tell you who really is #Goals though: My best friend’s parents. Not only have they been together for 30 odd years, they’ve maintained a healthy, loving relationship. They have date nights, go for walks, hold hands and enjoy the fruits of their labor. For me, THAT is real goals and despite actually knowing these people, I would still never retweet their photos. #Weird.

3. Terrible music, like “Swalla” by Jason Derulo. Agh god, shoot me in the face already. Has anyone even listened to the lyrics of this songs? Don’t get me wrong, I love a little two-step to Drake at times, but I draw the line at lyrics that go:

Shimmy shimmy yay, shimmy yay, shimmy ya (drank)
Swalla-la-la (drank)
Swalla-la-la (swalla-la-la)
Swalla-la-la

Seriously, what the fuck is going on?

4. “Woke Veganism”. Okay, before I get hunted down with the spearhead of an asparagus, my mother introduced us to veganism FIFTEEN years ago! It was not cool or common or trendy back then, and we got treated like absolute weirdos. These days, it just seems like everyone has jumped on the preachy plant-based bandwagon, and I’m the last person who needs to hear about it. Initially I thought it was a pretty cool movement, until I realised I was being looking upon by those who, just last week, were stuffing their cheeks with Big Macs and McNuggets. Just because you now eat bags of kale whilst standing on your head, doesn’t mean I have to do the same to feel “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 “Yes Chels! Strong Tee you got there” or “High five Chels! Wicked shirt!”.

My top was fake.

It was fake and nobody realised which made me wonder: if nobody can differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake, what’s all the fuss about, then? Don’t get me wrong, I love Adidas and over the years have built up quite a fine collection, I’m just not sure why it’s so important to be recognised in the recognisable. Maybe we’re all just inadvertent followers, throwing money into the palms of large corporations and then wondering why we can’t deposit a one bed London flat, sigh!

6.  Finally, my BIGGEST critique which I am so riled up 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 and all the rest of it. I know it all seems like a bit of harmless fun, but think about how many of us have changed our profile pictures 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 using reconstructed filters? These filters refine our noses, remove our bags, lighten our skin; enlarge our eyes. It’s disgustingly demeaning, yet we’ve normalised this trend.

Well, thanks for correcting everything physically wrong with my face, Snapchat. The pressure to adhere to current beauty standards isn’t hard enough already.

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 and lead. We lose our uniqueness to cultural trends and numb ourselves to things desperate for our attention. 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 so much more to life. I’ve stopped being the girl who ignores her friends at dinner whilst staring into her smartphone; the moment I feel curious about meaningless hype I withhold; afraid to fall in.

Say Hello To Brian

“Will you be coming over tomorrow?”

“Mmm not sure, maybe”.

“But you have to, it’s my birthday!”

“I’m not sure Brian, we’ll see”.

“Okay then.  See you tomorrow”.

Over the weekend I met a girl in her late teens, who seemed pretty anxious about meeting 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 step-mum (a word my family hate but use anyway) and encouraged 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 like her”. The girl was skeptical, but then, I once was too.

Things are rarely as black and white as they seem. Stepmothers aren’t always wicked witches and stepdaughters aren’t always banished to the basement. Being the complex species that we are, acting out in unkind ways doesn’t necessarily mean we are unkind people.

I remember when my step-mum fell pregnant the first time. It was a bizarre experience because I desperately wanted to be happy for her, but just couldn’t. I struggled with the idea of having a new sibling, resistant to change and wanting to remain “the youngest”. Most of all, I didn’t want to share my dad and be forgotten.


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I didn’t know how I would feel about Brian, my then unborn baby brother. Would I love him the same way I loved my older one? Would he accept me as his sister or would I be more like a distant aunt based on our wide age gap? 

I needn’t have worried.

The moment I laid my eyes on him, I was a goner. I remember my step-mum, lying in the hospital bed with a small white bundle in her arms and as I peered closer, my heart. Just. Melted.

Honestly, I remember thinking he was quite a strange shade of greyish-blue (I mean, he’d literally just been born) but still, he was perfect.

It really was love at first sight. In those few moments, I realised that my tiny brother was totally innocent; he held no malice. His birth took away nothing from my life and instead, gave me so much love, happiness and comfort.

And that love only grew stronger and stronger. After Brian learned to walk he would run around the room with his arms spread wide and straight into my arms. He would cry every time I left the house and jump excitedly on my return.

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Even if I had resisted, he would have won me over because he gave his love so freely; throughout his mother’s pregnancy I never considered the joy a baby brings. 

Brian’s arrival brought the whole family together. It’s as if he and Bradley (born 3 years later) were the missing components to our family unit. Shortly after Brian’s birth, my birth mum and dad began speaking again. We began doing things as one (birthdays, holidays, dinners etc), and did so for enjoyment over obligation. We rebuilt our concept of what a family should be, putting aside petty differences and finding our new normal.

 

Valentines D(ism)ay

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

My relationship with self however, was recently disrupted. For the first time in years, I’d developed all the feels for a guy who on paper seemed perfect, or at least, 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 6’1 Adonis, mate.

Reflective, considerate, kind? Hmm…

The last three things should be the most important. Beyond 30, you’d expect one to have the ability to show some maturity; to consider how their behaviour may affect others and not prance around like some pompous peacock.

Clearly, I have a type.

I was shocked to experience all the feelings I hadn’t since my first crush: butterflies, nervousness and a borderline obsessive-infatuation. I couldn’t believe that at the wise old age of 27, I was experiencing bouts of love sickness. It was pathetic.

I became fully in tune with my own biochemistry. Whenever he’d say hello or ask a question, I’d begin heating up and have to switch on the air-con: it was winter. I’d hear my heart beating fast 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? 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 that I’m very much alive; that the right person becomes catalyst to a vast opening of reintroduced, uncontrollable feelings.

The wrong person, too.

Initially I was sure the attraction was mutual because his “gestures” showed that he liked me. He sought a way to connect, he seemed sweet and earnest. Unlucky for me, every effort he put into knowing me better I would close up. It wasn’t a case of “boys love the chase”, I just felt too goddam nervous.

For some unknown reason, I reverted back to a childlike state. I would end up being rude, asking what he wants, doing that whole school girl thing where you hit the guy you like because you haven’t quite mastered maturity. I once called my mum crying, insisting that I’d ruined my chances by uttering the dreaded words: “Good morning”.

So, what was up with me? Had my previous encounters of love left me so cold I’d become an ice-cream? Were  these familiar feelings of longing and desire making my head melt; turning my body to jelly?

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

All’s well and ends well, for he proved to be what I feared he would be: a bog-standard human being. My so-called Adonis; unfairly placed on a golden pedestal for fairytales and disillusion, crashing down before me into a sea of mere mortals.

He managed to belittle me on two occasions, the first being fair game because 1. I had successfully sabotaged every effort to reveal my true feelings and 2. Had also accidentally compared him to Lieutenant Worf in Star Trek (yeah, long story).

As a result, I was told that I would be looked down on and ignored at every future opportunity, to which I held my head high right before bursting into tears.

Later that week, I was in a bar with some friends 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, so safe to say I was on my way. He didn’t acknowledge me, nor I him, as usual. Twenty minutes later, now a little tipsy and therefore brave enough to say “Hey, how you doing?” he asked why I was “speaking to him like a retard” and that it wasn’t his fault I had “social anxiety”. Which for the record, I don’t.

If ever there was a quicker way to make my vagina dry out like the Sahara Desert, I guess that would be it.

There were two things Adonis said which made his fall from grace a mighty one:

Firstly, 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.

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, is something only a douchebag would say. I guess I did have social anxiety around him in a way, but only cause I fancied him so much. I’m not sure why in hindsight.

Anyway, it’s not right to expect Adonis to straddle up on his horse and ride me off into the sunset; he belongs to Greek Mythology. Besides, do we ever really know what’s in another persons mind? We only really know our own intentions, feelings and desires. For all you know, I could have totally overthought the whole thing. Maybe he was just trying to be funny. Maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe.

As cynical as it sounds, I’ve learned it’s wiser to keep love interests 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…

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

Weight Off My Mind

The other day I stumbled across an article which read: “18 Amazing Untouched Photographs of Marilyn Monroe” and – from a place of minimum interest – clicked an image which showed Marilyn laying in bed with her arms up. “Holy shit”, I thought. “That’s what my arms look like – only she looks amazing!”

I’ve always had a complex about my arms, even at my skinniest I felt they could be thinner. I developed this mindset aged 15, when I overheard some friends at a party discussing how big my arms were. Despite dismantling my then friendship group, I still, 12 years on, hold negative physical attitudes about myself.

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As I foolishly went on to read the comments, I was reminded that any body adhering to a rounder shape would face stigma. “OMG, look how swollen her arms are!” and  “Jesus, somebody needs to photoshop that shit!” were left in response. I’ll admit, I did contemplate for about 2 seconds whether I should just live off air and water for the rest of my life but then thought, fuck it, life’s too short – I’m finishing this doughnut.

I blame the media for feeding us limited standards of beauty. For instance, even when the exception is made i.e. Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian or Nikki Minaj – all celebrated for being curvaceous – their curves are only desirable if in the “right place”. There’s been a so-called shift in mainstream attitudes given that it’s okay to have a round ass, however, if your waist isn’t small and your stomach isn’t flat, don’t expect an invitation to the hot bodies club.

The pressure bestowed upon women to physically conform is astounding. Mass control; where the only females we see on billboards, in film and in advertisements are below a certain size; thus setting unfair limitations regarding what we should class as normal or even worse, superior. Our vision can’t adjust to seeing rolls of flesh on screen; when a fuller size 12-14 makes an appearance, we label them as “heavy” or “big”, isolating them from their dainty peers.

Our society is such that unless a certain shape, women are ostracised and sneered at for dressing in attire “unsuitable” for their figure. Where people think it’s perfectly acceptable to say “OMG, did you see what that girl was wearing? Her thighs are chafing together in those shorts!” or, “She’s hot but she’d be even hotter if she lost a few pounds”. 

Who asked for a fucking running commentary on the shape of another person’s body, or how they choose to dress it?!

Unless somebody asks for your opinion, mind your business I say. If you’re lost for words stick to safe subjects such as the weather or your dog. It’s not rocket science, I’m sure most people are aware of what they need to do if they want to look a certain way. Did you ever stop to think that maybe they’re happy as they are? I know I certainly was until people started filling my head with their own unkind hang ups.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to work out seven days a week and feel better for it then please do, just remember the same freedom applies for those preferring to stay at home and bake. Let’s focus on what’s going on inside our bodies for a change.

I’ve had stretch marks for as long as I can remember and though they may slightly fade over time, I’ll probably have them forever. They’ve been a way bigger deal in my life than they should have been. Stretch marks occur because the skin has stretched during weight loss or weight gain, it’s no biggie. They are as much a part of my body as anything else, so why have I found them so hard to accept?

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The few articles I’ve read normalising stretch marks only do so if the women have had children. I’ve found this super frustrating. ANYONE can have stretch marks: men, women and children alike. Again, it has everything to do with skin type and weight fluctuation. They are the bodies way of adapting to physical changes; no need to be rejected.

Our culture spends SO much damn time focusing on the outer shell, idolising celebrities who do little to promote body positivity. Why is that?

Imagine meeting your best loved celebrity: standing before you, airbrushed and contoured. How would you feel if in reality, behind their pearly-white smile, they were an asshole? Would you still like them if they treated you like garbage? 

I ask because I’ve met so many people like this, who think they’re better than others because they fit this patriarchal standard of beauty.  I stopped going to pretentious London nightclubs because the vibe was off, folks posing around with their noses in the air; revealing little white stains of cocaine dust. For me, these types of people are very dull and boring. I always ended up in McDonalds afterwards. 

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A word of advice: idolise those who actually bring something to the world: place more focus into your loved ones. Try to go deeper by sorting out your nature – no amount of bronzer is going to fix your soul. The most beautiful people I know are the ones who are authentic; so long as you have a heart to match – the way you look will always be perfect!

 

The Power of NO

A friend of mine recently shared several incidents where a certain type of man has found it appropriate to cop a feel of her (peculiarly, always on some mode of public transport). At the time of conversation we were having a laugh about it because a) Smile through the pain and b) My friend punched every single man in the face who put his hands on her. Not all heroes wear capes, they say. 

I  began to recall moments where I’ve also been subjected to unwanted physical contact; how powerless I felt. At 16, I remember getting off a bus and this guy with trousers hanging below knees and a icky smile grabbed my bum as he hopped off the vehicle. I remember screaming “don’t touch me!” followed by the lame retort: “Well don’t wear a skirt that short then”. In those days, I thought very little about reacting to reactions and would easily tell someone to fuck off. Truth is, that guy was physically bigger and stronger than me and I was “lucky” things didn’t escalate. 

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

Another friend found herself on the tube in broad daylight and a man sitting opposite (what is it with men being gross on public transport?) decided to have an explicit penis fondle! These types of men are sexual predators, desperate to exert control through sexual harassment. They carry delusions which permit them to do whatever they like, whenever they like, to whomever they like. It’s sickening.

My friend then witnessed a man rubbing himself onto a girl and mouthed “Is he trying to touch you?” The girl replied “I think so”, so she began to video him, making sure the harasser was called out and shamed.

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

It’s deeply concerning that the victim of assault felt too scared to confront her attacker. Even on a packed train, she was frozen in fear (which of course is not her fault and a natural response). 

Maybe if self-defence classes were compulsory across schools and even working environments, women would feel more confident in defending themselves.  

Over the years, I’ve found myself in situations where relatives, friends and even coworkers have exhibited predator-like behaviour; from massaging my shoulders, to leering at my breasts and so on. Instead of plucking up the courage to say “You’re making me feel uncomfortable”, I’ve simply shrugged them away, or acted nonchalant. I’m so tired of “towing the line”, believing that I have to accept behaviour which makes me uncomfortable, to avoid making the other person feel uncomfortable. Why is that even a thing?

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

My best friend doesn’t like hugging strangers and avoids the whole “London greeting” thing, where we stand up and kiss strangers on either side of their cheek. Whilst this is a notion I’m personally comfortable with; nobody should prioritise “political correctness” over what makes them feel comfortable. Perhaps if we encouraged authenticity, it would become second nature saying “no” to things we don’t like.

I live in London, which means that as a woman, I do in fact have rights, if someone gropes me on the train, I could have them done for sexual assault.

In other parts of the world, with too many countries to name, women undergo forced marriage, forced intercourse, FGM (female-genital mutilation); death-by-stoning and more. Basic rights such as learning to drive, roaming the streets independently or even applying for a passport is forbidden. When I think about it, I become insane (which of course doesn’t change the reality). 

If women in the UK haven’t yet mastered the power of no, where we have our freedom and our rights, how will we ever overcome the global issue of oppression? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to start displaying extreme behaviours by spitting into your palm to avoid shaking a persons hand, or getting the sledgehammer out to avoid a casual hug. What I am encouraging, is for you to decline those areas which make you feel uncomfortable.

And nobody should dictate to you what those areas are. 

Queen of My Castle

Last week I spent my first Saturday in a very long time, housebound and alone. I had intentionally declined all social offers in a bid to go through cupboards, sort out paperwork and relax somehow. I wanted something quiet, with plenty of food and lots of rest. Despite everything going to plan, I felt tremendously lonely and restless.

Usually I would fill my weekend gaps with the pleasure of outside company, so on this particular day I found myself struggling to just be. Why am I not enjoying my OWN company? Do I not feel good enough to be with myself? Why do I feel like I’m missing out by staying in? These were the questions asked myself based on the unshakeable boredom of ‘being with self’.

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It had never been a plan of mine to live alone; the thought seemed unimaginable due to a constant desire to “self-surround”. As someone who is generally anxious, I’ve found much comfort in having somebody – anybody – by my side. I grew up in an open home where our front door was – literally – kept open. Friends were constantly in and out, sharing our food, time and space. My mum longed for privacy, which was impossible as my dad worked from home and welcomed an influx of visitors. Needless to say when my parents divorced (by this time we’d moved into an even bigger house), there was no holding back from a slew of open invites.

I became much like my dad in nature, developing into a person who was rarely alone. This was wonderful as my interaction was constant and my moments never dull. I didn’t have time to think or dwell, I could just live in the moment. Entertained by characters (the quirkier the better), I enjoyed the buzz of having a variety of peers distracting me; the feeling of a full house left me with a full heart. It was an unconventional upbringing, in the sense that my family rarely had much privacy.

I had a more “normal” living experience with my mum: eating ’round the table as a family, keeping sleepovers to weekends, adhering to parental boundaries, having someone overlook my homework etc. It didn’t matter though, by the time I turned 17 she caved and we would host around 6-7 girls within her tiny apartment; a quaint escape for a rebellious girls.

From 23 onwards I lived with different friends, which seemed like the most sensible thing to do. Movie nights, afterwork drinks and house gatherings were few of the wonderful things to come. When I eventually did make the decision to live alone, my intuition screamed fear. How on earth would I cope without having someone around? More importantly, would I be able to make a friend out of myself? Would I be able to fill a void I didn’t even know was there?

The first thing I did when I moved into my private little space, was make the place MINE. Having complete control over the decor, colour theme and even pictures on the wall enabled me to mark my own territory. I no longer had to keep things neutral by sharing a space. Surprisingly, unlike any other place I’ve ever lived, I felt right at home from the very first night. This was because I was in a space which felt familiar and personal. It was mine.

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The second wonderful thing I became aware of living alone, was having complete freedom. It didn’t matter if it was 1am or 6am, I could have whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted, over! That in itself was essential to my personal growth; I needed to be the dictator of my own private space.

That rare Saturday, upon reflection, I realised how unappreciative I was. Having a place of my own, a safe haven, was the ultimate privilege. In the end, I watched a couple films, slapped on a face-mask and finally revelled in my own company!

Sometimes when I’m alone, I get out “The Family Box”: a box I keep stashed full of old pictures and letters. These are the moments I truly reflect. I become nostalgic and reconnect with my past, mind-blown by how much things have changed (though the love I feel is constant).

I intentionally waited a year to write this piece, because I wanted to see if there would be a transition from the time I moved in until now. I think due to constantly being surrounded by people as a child, I never felt secure in my own company. I would put people’s demands before my own; too scared to offend or seem demanding.

Living alone has allowed me to be selfish, to make my own rules and dominate my own space. One day, when the time comes and I choose to live with others, I’ll be able to communicate self-assuredly, considering others without forgetting myself. Until that time, I’ll be basking in the gift of self, meeting my own needs and feeling not an ounce of guilt for it.

Travel Therapy

Three weeks ago I found myself staring at the walls, feeling trapped and overwhelmed.

Waking up for an early work shift, to be met with black skies and concrete, creates a pretty dreary pattern. The London rat race:  holding out for pay day, spending the majority of earnings on bills and transport; drawing comparisons on who is earning or doing more, is a far cry from real quality of life. London has plenty to offer sure, but it’s fast-paced, crowded and expensive. Not many people my age can afford to solely rent a place, let alone buy, which is just one of my common generational problems. Throw some family disputes, heartaches and health scares into the mix, and you’re in for a pretty shit time.

I have this constant need to control everything so that my life feels orderly. When a curve ball is thrown, I find myself wanting to hold on and solve the problem, even if I know I can’t. Thinking too much about the past and future is typically a waste of thought; I was struggling just to stay present.

Two weeks ago I went on the adventure of a lifetime. My cousin and I (and a couple of friends) visited Rio De Janeiro, a HUGE tick off the bucket list. Before the trip,  I’d been contemplating whether to go for therapy: ten days under the sun will have you feeling like a whole new woman.

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Black and white swirl-designed pavements, blue skies; sandy beaches and tall trees introduced themselves to us as Copacabana. The vibrant locals, sitting outside our apartment playing indigenous music, welcomed us with vibrancy the moment we left our taxi. That feeling of aliveness – despite politically corrupt and tense undercurrents – followed wherever we went. I was jolted back into the present moment.

Just imagine a built up, spacious, wondrous city, thriving in the middle of the mountains. Everything about it captured me. From the industrialised buildings on the ground floor to the rawness of the favelas, colourfully layering their way up toward the sky. Everywhere I looked I saw a different world, with its own beauty and its own struggles. My inner turmoil was finally gagged, as I observed my new surroundings like a curious guest.

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Being amidst nature was like a homecoming: traipsing across soil typically hidden beneath concrete slabs and foreign objects, hiking through forests; swimming the ocean and laying beneath a blazing sun brought me right back to myself: a person of great privilege.

I don’t want to bore you too much with my holiday tales, I just want to share one, inexpensive moment. It was our last night in Rio and we’d rented bikes to ride up and down the posts of Copacabana. I had music in my ears, the wide streets were lit up with trees on either side; the sky and ocean followed as we rode. It was this moment, where nothing else mattered. I remembered myself as a six year old, when I’d learned to ride a bike for the first time and realised if I didn’t want to fall, I’d need to remain balanced. And that’s just life isn’t it? We can endure the highs and lows so long as there is balance. We can’t control things around us but we can control our own speed and choose our own routes and I suppose that’s good enough.

Returning to London, the first thing I did after fifteen hours of traveling was rearrange my bedroom. It sounds crazy but I needed the shift in energy. It was a new chapter. This post will resonate with anyone who loves to travel ’cause the truth is, we’re humans, not robots. We need time out to reflect, to learn and reset. Despite living in a chaotic world there is so much beauty to behold and once exposed to it…I guess that bitterness of life becomes that tiny bit sweeter.

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Why we shouldn’t kill our friend…ships

Growing up there were 3 interweaving families who spent much time together; the adults would bask in heavy discussion whilst the children would play and make a mess. Seeds of friendship were sewn: tend to those roots correctly and you just might grow a tall standing tree.

Or a pair of bimbos, whatever works!

Anny and I bonded over being the rejects of the group. Our siblings weren’t interested and made us sit at the “baby-table” which was basically one table with a highchair and a baby. We soon realised we had much more fun without them (after all, we now had our own small person to bully) and alas, it was the start of a new era.

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I was 4 or 5 when I met Anny. Our friendship was unique because she was 2 years above me in school and unlike my other friends, we were rarely ever apart. By 11 we were inseparable, spending all our weekends, holidays and free time together. When we weren’t together physically, we would call each other just to sit in silence.

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We became each others point of reference and loved each other completely. Constantly in trouble for being loud, we would laugh until we cried and make up wild stories. We argued a lot too. I think I dominated the friendship with my boldness, whilst Anny was more shy and reserved. I had no qualms revealing my anger and quite often my outbursts would cause her pain. We developed a pattern which followed us into adulthood; we never quite learnt how to hear each other or get to the root of what was bothering us.

 

Anny went through every “first” with me: a grunge-phase, an urban-phase, first kiss, first beer, first joint, first fight, first boyfriend, first breakup, first holiday, first rave and first adult movie (when we accidentally-on-purpose strolled into a screening of Ali G and missed Russell Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind).

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Over the years we’ve collected so many hand-made cards, filled with private childhood jokes. We went from from kids, to teens, to adults and I honestly can’t think of a single person who knows my history better than she does. And that’s because she is my history. There was even a time when our parents felt we should spend less time together, so we pretended we had other friends to visit (yeah right) and spent the night on the train. 14 years of age, I remember being so tired that when when we reached the last stop my shoe came off and almost left with it.

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At 23, Anny found me a job at her workplace and we were practically running the office. To say we took the piss is an absolute understatement. We would bring in so much food into work (having buffet breakfasts and lunches every day) and then spend all our money on dinner and drinks because we still wanted to be together. Some days one of us would keep guard whilst the other went shopping, but mostly we would just watch movies, eat popcorn and plan what we’d be doing at the weekend.

Within a few months of working together we saved for a deposit and moved in to our first flat in Leytonstone. It was initially a magical time, we felt liberated and free, young and independent. Apparently our families placed bets on how long it was going to last, nice! But I guess they were right in having reservations, 9 months later things were tense. We were upsetting each other so much and not communicating without shouting or bitching. We didn’t want to be nice or considerate or even share with each other any more.

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There were a several factors which made our house-share unsuccessful: splitting finances, too many visitors, not enough space and even a rodent infestation! It became a living nightmare. Our friendship felt like it’d reached a point of no return. We behaved  so petty towards one another, showing that we could be two-faced and selfish. To be fair it was a brave face to show – one that could only be provoked by significantly deep rooted pain and care.

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When Anny and I went our separate ways, we didn’t speak for a year. It was the closest thing I have experienced to a divorce, with people forming their own opinions and naturally picking a side. I guess it makes sense, when you hear one version of an account and feel pain on their behalf. I’m grateful for the people who stayed neutral during that time because whilst everyone was trying to show support, sometimes the best thing to do is take a non-judgemental stance.

Things became awkward, any time our mutual friends were in town we’d see them separately – things were too raw and fragile to be swept under the carpet. Weddings, birthdays and more were missed, based on a dispute between two girls who were once friends. Needless to say, with the right amount of space and time, our ill-feelings subsided and we started to move on.

In 2015 I visited Amsterdam knowing Anny’s sister would be there. I didn’t reach out because I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable situation. To my surprise, it was her who reached out to me and we had drinks near Westerpark, at a gin and seafood restaurant. The gesture alone was healing for me; I was so grateful and even now, I’m pretty sure it’s thanks to her that Anny and I were able to rebuild.

I know that things can’t be the way they were, Anny and I can’t be attached at the hip because we’re adults on separate journeys. Sometimes people ask how we’re still friends and I just think, how could we not be friends? If something happened to Anny and she left the world believing I held a grudge, I could never forgive myself. I would much rather have her in my life and shower her with love. Whilst it’s true that we may be responsible for tainting the perceptions others have of each other, one thing can’t be untouched: the permanent place I have for Anny and an everlasting love for our friendship.

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