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http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/aug/24/robyn-lawley-supermodel

Carrying on from mine and Charlotte’s previous blog post about body image, here is a lovely article from the Guardian about model Robyn Lawley… Her comments on variety in the fashion industry are particularly interesting – she’s basically summed up what both myself and Charlotte were trying to say perfectly in a couple of sentences, as follows:

Lawley finds the “real women have curves” brigade patronising and unhelpful. “People use me as a figurehead, and to me that misses the point and is blatantly offensive to thin women – my sister, for one. Curves don’t epitomise a woman. Saying, ‘Skinny is ugly’ should be no more acceptable than saying fat is. I find all this stuff a very controlling and effective way of making women obsess over their weight, instead of exploiting their more important attributes, such as intellect, strength and power.

The issue is not that models are too thin, she says: the problem is one of variety. “Look at fashion shows. We need a range of ages and ethnicities. There are just very thin, white, 16-year-old girls on the catwalk and that has to change.”

Don’t hate on people just because they’re not a perfect 10.  Variety is what makes the world interesting – embrace it.
I promise I’ll stop going on about it now.

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Body shape: Is anyone a winner?

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At the risk of annoying lots of people, I’ve decided to write about an issue that has been bugging me for years now: weight discrimination.

I’m aware this might be a contentious subject, so I’ve invited my friend Charlotte to write a counter-argument which is published alongside my own, to get a more balanced view.

I am in the fortunate position of being naturally slim. Some would even say skinny [negative imagery, anyone?]. To clarify: I wear a size 6 top and size 8 trousers. I haven’t worked to be the shape that I am (yes, I’m aware that to many of you this makes me even more obnoxious). I’m fortunate to have a fast metabolism inherited from my parents, and a fairly small appetite. I eat my share of junk food – pizza is a staple in my diet – and I don’t go out of my way to exercise, although I walk places when I can.  Many people assume I must eat healthily and exercise a lot, when in fact, knowing that I don’t gain weight (and being lazy) means that I tend not to take as much notice of my diet and fitness as I should. No doubt my body hates me for it, and one day will take it’s revenge.

But whilst to many this is perceived to be the ‘ideal’ in terms of body shape, to me it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. For one thing, I really hate clothes shopping. There are not a lot of places that stock clothes that fit me. Admittedly, my cause is not helped by the fact that I am taller than average at 5′ 8″ and am somewhat under-endowed in the cleavage department [although that’s a whole other society-induced body image issue].  M&S, Next, Debenhams, Monsoon, White Stuff – none of them do clothes in my size, unless I want to shop in the children’s section.  Some shops, upon my asking if they do smaller sizes, suggest I go to the petite section. But there’s no way that clothing made for women who are 5’3″ and under is going to even nearly fit me. It’s particularly frustrating when shopping for workwear, as a lot of the ‘standard’ places seem only to cater for larger sizes. For example, in Primark –  their workwear range only starts at a size 10.  Do skinny people not work? Clearly they think we’re all too busy over-exercising and throwing up our lunch. And then there are companies such as Marisota who stock lovely clothes only for sizes 12-32. What with the current ‘obesity epidemic’ it seems bizarre to me that it’s OK for companies like this to advertise on prime-time television. I’m not sure that making size 32 an acceptable norm and size 10 seem unusually thin is really the best way to tackle obesity.

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I long for the days when people used to get their clothes tailor made – when society accepted that everyone was different. While this ‘standard sizing’ approach, might be economical, is completely nonsensical. People are not homogenous, and shouldn’t be treated as such. I want to be able to go shopping and not feel like I have the ‘wrong’ body shape because clothes are too big, or too loose around my boobs, or too tight on the hips. We should revel in our differences, not feel self-conscious because we do not fit the ‘perfect’ shape that clothing manufacturers prescribe to us. There are days when I consider getting plastic surgery or doing some serious binge eating just to make it easier to go shopping. But then I remember that it’s a problem with society, not me, and I refuse to let them win. I simply go shoe shopping instead.

A bigger issue for me in the last few years has become the fact that people seem to think that they can comment on my weight freely, frequently, and often in public. Last year whilst working in a boarding school, I found my colleagues commenting on the contents of my dinner plate. One said “I’m going to sit here and watch you eat all of that. I don’t believe you eat.” The same colleague thought it OK to comment on my weight in front of students and imply that I didn’t eat.  Aside from the terrible impression this might leave on the young (all female) students, what rankles is that it seems to only be acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people [see HERE]. Due to publicity campaigns to use less excessively thin models and more ‘real’ women in fashion images, it is no longer socially acceptable to criticise somebody for being overweight. You wouldn’t dream of telling somebody to ‘eat less’ over lunch, or comment on their few extra pounds in the workplace, so why is it ok to comment about my body? I am very much in support of positive body image campaigns and not using size zero models, but I think that part of this means realising that people come in ALL different shapes and sizes, not just size 12 and above. There is nothing unhealthy or wrong with my being slim, and just because my BMI says I’m underweight doesn’t mean I’m starving myself.

I also noticed recently that a friend of mine had joined a Facebook group called “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls”. Now, I’m all for curves. In fact I often wish I had more of them. But to state that someone is “better” than someone else due to their body shape seems to me, well, a bit – dare I say it – fascist [gasp!]. In my opinion, it’s equally as bad as high fashion’s known preference for Size 0 models. And what’s more, I couldn’t find an equivalent group supporting slim women, because that would be deemed massively offensive and be taken down due to fears that young girls would become anorexic.

So, here’s the bottom line: I am thin. I have never had an eating disorder. And please stop thinking it’s OK to comment on my body in public. You’re giving me a complex!

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Charlotte says:

Like a growing number of people, I am in the opposite situation to Ruth; I struggle with being overweight. At 5’9”, I currently wear clothes from sizes 18-22 (UK), and have been on the ‘larger’ side of average since secondary school.

Some may refer to my stature as ‘curvy’, ‘voluptuous’, ‘curvaceous’ or ‘shapely’, and each of these terms makes me cringe more than the last. Such rhetoric has been coined to excuse the expanding waistlines of women in this country, and yet those such as Ruth who are thin, are resentfully described as ‘skinny’, ‘rake’, ‘waif-like’ or ‘lanky’.

I will freely admit that I have a problem with overeating, which has obviously led to this weight gain over the years. The transition from skint student to graduate worker with an extremely long commute has not helped. Sweets to alleviate boredom and tiredness on my way home; a well-deserved ice cream and glass of wine at the end of a long day; takeaways when I get in from work at 9pm… I could go on! Being a child of the internet generation and a self-confessed know it all, I am not starved (excuse the pun) of information on how I should feed myself. From being a young teenager, I have spent hours in front of the computer reading up on the latest weight loss research, diets and miracle cures. However, as I hope fatties up and down the land will agree, it’s not that simple. Losing the weight and keeping it off requires total reprogramming of habits and lifestyle. It also requires a harsh dose of reality and tenacity to fend off that well-meaning diet saboteur who persuades the dieter that ‘one chocolate éclair won’t hurt’. I have sat in many a diet group meeting only to listen to excuse after excuse; ‘well, it was my auntie’s best friend’s dog’s birthday party – to turn down the banoffee pie would have been rude’; ‘I simply COULDN’T go to the seaside and not have fish and chips, ice cream AND candy floss’. You get the gist. I do not make excuses for myself – I know why I am overweight.

Clothes shopping can be a torturous task, as for Ruth; although a growth in online shopping has vastly increased choices available to us who are overweight.  Ironically, Ruth is my favourite person to go clothes shopping with. We could both try on the same item of clothing (at opposite ends of the sizing spectrum of course!) and both hate how we look in it. While the material might strain over my ample bosom, I realise that wishing for a small chest might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I do still envy her flat stomach though!

While plus size (ahem, size 12) models and mannequins are making headway in the world of fashion, the campaigns to see real women do not take into account stretch marks, not-so-pert breasts, and saggy stomachs. They are still airbrushed – an unobtainable vision of ‘reality’.

I disagree with Ruth that it is ‘only acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people’. I was horrified when a ‘friend’ posted on Facebook recently about a cinema trip, ‘well, the film wasn’t great, funniest thing was a fat man trying to find his seat in the dark’. There are also several groups dedicated to fat jokes on said social network. However, I do absolutely agree that there is an underrepresentation of those who are naturally slim. It is rare that one can pass by a magazine stand without seeing straplines targeting the skinny celebrity, who has cellulite ‘just like us’, or is berated for becoming ‘too thin’.

However, I am coming to realise that this is the body that I have been dealt and to make the most of it. On a recent group holiday in Italy, I consciously made the decision that my size was not going to hold me back. Not in a ‘screw you I’m so sexy’ ugly aggressive type of way, but grateful for the fact that I have working arms and legs and am able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Conversations on that holiday between women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes around the swimming pool and dining table at times revolved around weight, and I realised that it is a rare lucky soul that has never suffered from any form of anxiety around their appearance. I still want to shed this excess six stone or so, but for now I will smile and make the best of the body I have in this moment now. The weight loss will take me a while, so I’m not going to put life on hold until it happens.

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Daily Prompt: Far from Home

Daily Prompt: Far from Home

Tell us about the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home.
The farthest I’ve ever been from home [I’m going to go literal with this one. It’s too late at night after a long day to go all meta and talk about how distance isn’t always measured in geographical miles] is Australia. Or maybe New Zealand – I’m not sure which one is furthest away. In any case, I visited both on the same trip so I’ll talk about them as a ‘whole’.

It was great. Eight weeks of sunshine (and the occasional torrential downpour). I saw kangaroos, koalas, and bugs bigger than my foot. I shared a dorm with this weird girl who kept getting naked. I learnt to surf; visited glaciers and rainforests; climbed a mountain – I even went to Hobbiton. I travelled by horse, bike, train, jeep, mini-motorcycle, and only fell off two of them. I had a go at herding goats in the outback, and watched Shakespeare at the Sydney Opera House. And, possibly most impressively, I managed to end the trip on speaking terms with my travel companion – no easy feat when you’ve sat next to someone for the entirety of 20 hour bus ride only to then get lost trying to find your hostel.

And yet, predictably, my Dad’s first reaction when I got home after two months away was: “You had your nose pierced? Oh dear. Still, I suppose I should be glad it wasn’t a tattoo.”

Missed you too, Dad…

Priceless.

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New Primary Education Curriculum: Too much, too young?

I haven’t posted anything about education for a while, but what with the almost daily announcements about reforms coming from government, I thought it was about time I stepped back into the fray.

This article from the BBC, despite its slightly inflammatory title, presents an interesting comparison of Michael Gove’s new primary curriculum with those of Finland and Singapore, which have the most high-achieving education systems of any country.

The comparison can essentially be summed up as follows:

Prof Wrigley said: “The curriculum documents for Finland and Singapore make no demands for eight-year-olds to count in sevens and nines, or for the learning of long lists of spellings which exceed the range of children’s active vocabulary.”

In Singapore children do not begin science before they reach the age of England’s Year 4 children. By this time English children are expected to cover 20 densely-packed pages listing scientific knowledge. In Finland science starts at age seven, and until age 11 is taught within a child-friendly environmental and natural studies curriculum.

So when Michael Gove last week claimed that ‘the changes to the curriculum were necessary to keep pace with the achievement of pupils in other countries.’ and then ‘cited Hong Kong, Massachusetts, Singapore and Finland as “the world’s most successful school systems”‘ I think he was getting his research a bit mixed up. Yes, there may be seven year olds in some countries who can calculate complex fractions, but not in the countries he cites. Their education systems are successful whilst not piling too much academic pressure on very young children, and still encouraging thinking skills and creativity.

In my opinion, Gove’s whole plan to gear the curriculum towards more rote learning and a knowledge based curriculum is skewed. In a world of Google and Wikipedia, what use is rote learning? What we need is to teach our students skills that they can apply in the real world. And this doesn’t come about from our seven year olds trying to learn 20 pages of scientific knowledge.

Don’t even get me started on how this new curriculum will affect those children who aren’t necessarily the most academic.

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Daily Prompt: Your Life, the Book.

From a famous writer or celebrity, to a WordPress.com blogger or someone close to you — who would you like to be your biographer?

My friend Shev. We lived together for three years during university, and she knows me pretty well. But the main reason I’d like her to write my biography is because of the conversation below, which makes me laugh every time I read it… Whilst I can’t promise it would be the most exciting of biographies, it would certainly be accurate [don’t judge me!]. Failing that, I’d like Louis De Bernieres or Nick Hornby to write it. They have a great mix of absurdity, witticism, and character-led writing. 

This does feel like a slightly lazy blog post, but that’s because the answer came to me virtually instantaneously.

Over and out. 

Ruth: Too comfy… Can’t move…
 
Shev: This status summarises you better than anything I’ve ever seen. Also I think it should be the title of your second autobiography (after Where Are All the Teaspoons?)
 
Ruth: I really need to stop looking at comments whilst on the train.. I’m becoming the weird girl who laughs on the train…
 
Shev: Chapter 1-25 of Where Are All the Teaspoons? will consist mostly of tales regarding Ruth’s constant struggle to escape her duvet in order to start writing.
 
Shev: I love the idea of 25 chapters of just Ruth trying to get out of bed. The next 25 will just be Ruth trying to get someone to make her a cup of tea.
 
Ruth: I’d think of a witty come back… but it’s all true. “As i lay there wrapped in my duvet cocoon and too comfy to move, i thought to myself, ‘is there anything better in the world than a duvet?’ Then a new thought came to me, ‘A cup of tea AND a duvet, that’s what! Now… who can i text?’
 
Ruth: It would clearly be a best seller.
 
Shev: Coming soon: 2013’s most action-packed thriller.
 
Ruth: i’m still in bed typing this. just thought you should know.
 
Shev: I assume you are in bed 100% of the time unless I’m told otherwise.
 
Ruth: Lol. I love the thought of teaching from my bed…
 
Shev: May be perhaps a little inappropriate. But if someone is ever going to work out a way to do it, it will be you.
 
Ruth: Guys… Bad news… I’m going to have to GET OUT OF BED AND LEAVE THE FLAT in order to go buy food… THE HORROR!!!!!!!! hope i don’t get altitude sickness from standing up.
 
Shev: Let us know you survive the ordeal.

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Daily Prompt: Fandom

Are you a sports fan? Tell us about fandom. If you’re not, tell us why not.

This is an easy one for me. It’s a topic I’ve had many discussions with people about, and it’s something that I have a fairly strong view on.

The answer is no. I am not a sports fan, and ‘fandom’ is one of the reasons why.

I’ll admit, I don’t find sport particularly fascinating. A shame, as the rest of my family are big sport lovers – whether it’s watching Airbus UK vs Wrexham, the German Grand Prix, or the Ashes – and my lack of interest has meant a lot of family dinners spent staring out of windows over the years. There are some I enjoy more than others – I can just about watch F1 and Rugby without falling asleep, for example, but I can’t bear football or tennis (sorry all you Murray fans out there!).

And before you suggest it, it’s not down to a lack of understanding. With two sports-mad elder brothers, I have had the offside rule explained to me more times than I can remember. Admittedly, I’m a little shaky on my knowledge of tennis, but I could happily explain the LBW rule to you over a Pimms at Lords sometime.

I think part of it is the element of competition. I’m not naturally a very competitive person [unless it comes to Scrabble], and I really hate that someone has to lose after they’ve put in all that hard work. It makes me genuinely sad for them. I’d probably still be sad even if it was the EDL playing the BNP in the Questionable Politics World Cup. After all, they tried their best. And we’re always told as children that as long as we try our best, that’s ok. But it’s not ok, because even though they tried their best they’ve still lost, and they’re upset. How is that fair?

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It also baffles me how emotional people get about sport. I can sort of understand it at a National Level – I love any excuse to wave a flag, see my posts about Eurovision – but beyond that I just don’t get what the big deal is. This is a phenomena that particularly seems to occur in the word of football. From Match of the Day, to the 5 Live Football Phone-in, to post-game violence, it all just seems a bit of an over-reaction to what is, essentially, a game. Just like Chess. Or Badminton. Or Tiddlywinks. But do you see people stabbing each other over a bad result at tiddlywinks? No. It’s all about perspective.

People treat sport like a religion. In fact, I’ve come to wonder whether the absence of religion in what is increasingly a secular culture means that people have had to transfer that passion, that dogged loyalty, that hope, onto something else. And it has manifested itself in people coming home early from the pub so they don’t miss Match of the Day, or ranting about a questionable yellow card on national radio. In fact, if you think about it, going to a football/rugby/cricket match is a lot like going to Church. If the Stadium is the Church, then the chants are the hymns, the match programme is the service sheet, and the players are the idols, who you are wishing (read: praying) upon for a good result.

That last paragraph might have gone a bit far. But you get the idea. Sport is not life or death. It’s sport. Take a step back, sports fans, and realise that yes it’s compelling viewing (for some!) but that doesn’t mean you should name your child ‘Hotspur’ and spend your entire salary on going to watch Aston Villa play football in Dubai.

I’m anticipating a lot of people won’t agree with me on this one – my brothers for starters – so feel free to comment with your own views.I’d love to hear them!

An Ode to Wolverhampton. Yes, you heard correctly.

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Of all the things I didn’t expect to come out of my time at university, a blossoming relationship with Wolverhampton was certainly one of the more unanticipated. But as several of my close friends are residents, I’ve had to spend my fair share of time there of late.

I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with this town. Sorry, city. According to the Telegraph, Wolverhampton became a city in 2000 as part of the millennium honours (no cathedral – controversial!).  It’s a city with a lot of character. After living in a small city on the other side of the Midlands with the personality of a teaspoon (apologies to friends who know which city it is I’m bashing. I love you all, I just dislike the city) this is a trait I’ve grown to really appreciate in a place. Of course, the city has it’s down sides. The cabbies are all a bit mad, there are areas my friends won’t let me walk through alone, and I have been winked at by more creepy old men than I wish to remember. But every town has it’s faults. Sure, many people there have slightly questionable views on certain issues,** but at least they actually talk to each other on the bus. And what’s more, the buses themselves talk to you in a Wolverhampton accent. Haven’t you got to love a place whose transport system pronounces the word road  as ‘rowd’?

So, here are a few facts about Wolverhampton. Because knowledge is power. You’re welcome!

  • The UK branch of MENSA is based in Wolverhampton
  • Natives of Wolverhampton are called ‘Wulfrunians’. This is because the city is named after Lady Wulfruna, who founded the town in 985AD and was the granddaughter of Ethelred I
  • Wolverhampton was the first town in Britain to introduce automated traffic lights, in 1927 in Princes Square at the junction of Lichfield Street and Princess Street
  • The Sunbeam motor car, built in Wolverhampton, became the first vehicle to hit 200mph when it broke the land speed record in 1927
  • Trolleybuses appeared in England in 1923 and in 1930 for a brief period, and Wolverhampton was the world’s largest trolleybus system
  • Josef Stawinoga, who lived in a tent on the ring road for 30 years prior to his death in 2007, was a local celebrity. When he had to have his tent replaced in 2003, it made the national news. It is thought he was a Second World War veteran, whose status as a POW had left him with claustrophobia and unable to live in sheltered accommodation, but the council’s ‘meals on wheels’ service visited him regularly whilst he was living on the roundabout. There is talk of a statue being erected on the roundabout in his honour.

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  • Wolverhampton Grammar School was founded in 1512, making it one of the oldest active schools in the UK. Old boys include Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England since July 2003, and Sir David Wright, former British Ambassador to Japan
  • Wolverhampton’s most famous sporting son, footballer Billy Wright, was the first player in the world to earn 100 caps playing for his country. Wright spent his entire 20-year career at Wolves, and played 105 times for England between 1946 and 1959, captaining the national side on 90 occasions
  • The city’s newspaper, the Wolverhampton Express and Star, recorded daily circulation figures in early 2009 of 128,836, making it the biggest selling regional daily paper in the UK

** See the anecdote / transcribed conversation at the end of my previous post which was given to me by a friend from Wolverhampton.

This post was written with some help from:

http://www.wolverhamptonhistory.org.uk

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6911571/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-Wolverhampton.html