All posts by Laura Counsell

I believe I am destined for great things, despite all evidence to the contrary!
Loz wave

A couple of steps to help you on your Body Positivity journey

I had a piece in mind recently, but just couldn’t get it written. It would have been alright but it didn’t inspire me and I’m painfully aware of how infrequently I’m writing or being creative at the moment. Part of it is that my head just feels so full and I don’t know what direction I want to be heading, but part of it is also just not knowing whether I have anything of value to say. But the subject of Body Positivity- put simply, just accepting your body exactly as it is- has been on my mind so much over the last few months, and I feel like I’ve gone too far on that journey to go back now. And with all this Tess Holliday Cosmo controversy, the subject has been right back at the front of my consciousness.

I’m certainly not there yet. I wouldn’t wear a body-con dress- even if it were my style, and who’s to say it isn’t?- and I don’t like anything that clings to my stomach. Which clearly is because I’m paranoid about how prominent it is and that might rightly lead you to ask what I know about Body Positivity if I can’t even wear a tummy-skimming t-shirt. But everything is a process, dear, and these are my thoughts on how to start your own BoPo journey.

Curate your social media

Instagram is not the root of all evil, and there is a lot more on it that dramatically-carved eyebrows, Facetuned photos, and cosmetically-enhanced behinds. There’s cats, for a start. Social media can be horrendous for your self-esteem for three main reasons: approval, comparison, and dopamine. Put briefly, we compare ourselves to others, we crave their approval, and we’re addicted to the dopamine hit that comes from a post that gets more Likes or a positive reaction.  Instagram and Facebook aren’t the enemy but they provide an excellent way for the enemy to get its point across. And in this case the enemy is whatever narrative ties into the things you already (erroneously) believe about yourself and how your worth is connected to your appearance.

This isn’t the time to go into how commercialism- and by extension capitalism and the patriarchy- has taught us these lessons, not least because it’s been said elsewhere by people far cleverer than me. But suffice it to say that it suits clothing and make-up companies, many parts of the media, companies claiming to offer cures for your fatness, and all of the other places that get your buck when you believe you’re less than, for you to carry on thinking that.

So change the narrative. There’s nothing you can do to change what a person walking down the street thinks of you and your face and your shoes and your weight, but you can start to re-programme your own thinking. Curate your Instagram so that when you absent-mindedly tap to open the app, you’re confronted with things that don’t make you feel shitty. Follow Tank’s Good News, pick the animal you like and follow a bunch of them, and most importantly start following Body Positive role models. Megan Jayne Crabbe (aka Body Posi Panda) is an obvious- and wonderful- one to follow,  but there’s plenty of phenomenal people out there with a positive message.  Grace Woodward- she of Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model and former X Factor stylist- is doing fascinating things on  Instagram dealing with body issues. And Jameela Jamil’s I Weigh project celebrates what is wonderful about us that has nothing to do with our physical appearance. Surround yourself with positive things, and those messages will start to seep in. Even if you can’t believe it yet, even if the sight of fat rolls secretly revolts you and you can’t quite believe someone with wobbly fat has confidence, make sure they are the things you’re seeing. There is something to be said for faking it until you make it.

And make sure you follow people of colour and differently-abled Instagrammers, even if you fit into those groups. We are constantly bombarded with messages othering different communities so if you are starting your journey with body positivity and hope to accept yourself and be accepted- or to care less either way- then do your part by seeing people who aren’t always in the spotlight. The Tess Holliday commentary is incredibly important, but she’s also an above-averagely pretty straight CIS white woman.

The point is that filling your feed with images that have been filtered and edited and represent unattainable ideals is not the best way to buoy your self-esteem. By all means follow Kardashians and Jenners if you can appreciate the images as a kind of populist art, but the minute they make you feel bad about yourself: unfollow.

 

loz body pos
This is from a photoshoot we did at work. I hate this picture; it makes me look big and my contour is terrible. So I’m including it!

 

Learn more, as and when you’re ready

It doesn’t make you a bad feminist not to have read Gloria Steinem, and you don’t have to tackle academic texts on body image and self-esteem in order to understand and internalise Body Positivity. But integrating more media that deals with this subject into your life will help to focus your thoughts, and provide a source of strength when you’re feeling like it’s all too bloody hard.

If you have Amazon Prime- or know someone who will share their log-in-  then I would heartily recommend Dietland. It’s a little surreal, a little unpredictable, and it’s well worth a try. Dietland follows Plum, who is a talented writer and a funny, awesome woman, but is fixated on losing weight and how much better her life will be when she has. Set that against two rival feminist factions, with bodies falling out of the sky, and you have an amazing series that is dark and funny and thought-provoking without ever being preachy. I heartily recommend it but don’t take my word for it, find out what The Guardian thought.

There are more Body Positive books available now than ever, and more coming out all the time as publishers scrabble around for ways to try to make money from online movements in this era of new media. The upside of this is resources and representation; books from fabulous women about their journeys, and fat women selling well on Amazon. I haven’t actually read recent releases like Megan Jane Crabb’s Body Positive Power- often a bargain on the Kindle!-  or Virgie Tovar’s You Have The Right To Remain Fat, although I aim to. But one book I have read is Lindy West‘s phenomenal, hilarious, tear-inducing and life-affirming Shrill. I have loved West’s writing since Jezebel, and this book exceeded all expectations. I couldn’t recommend it enough, and FFS ask your skinny friends to read it too.

My final recommendation is that you follow plus size bloggers. I’ll list a few below whose output I enjoy but the point is to understand that while you are absolutely not defined in value or as a person by the size you are, or your appearance in general, you also absolutely have the right to give a shit about how you look. If a man or woman chooses to wear make-up or not wear make-up, that’s wonderful: but never don’t make the effort because you don’t think you’re worth it. You can find clothes that suit your personality- even if it’s a little harder folks, and rarely in a bricks and mortar store if you’re over a size 18-  and you absolutely should dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable, however bright or muted the colours are. Not every fat woman must wear a nipped-in-at-the-waist 50s style dress and heels to create the silhouette of an ‘ideal woman’. But I also recently wore that style to a wedding and loved it! So you do you.

Recs: Crystal Coons – Sometimes GlamCallie Thorpe, Your Size Your Style, and just search ‘plus size fashion’ on Instagram and find what speaks to you.

 

Full body pic of me- almost never happens! But I loved the dress and had a great night, so why not?
Full length pic of me- almost never happens! But I loved the dress and had a great night, so why not?

 

Take the leap: you’re worth it

It makes no sense that you are less valuable because you weigh more. Think about that for a second. Put aside thinking clothes look better on slimmer people, or fat is unhealthy, or a slimmer waist with a bigger (higher) arse and large, pert boobs is the feminine ideal. Park all that for a second no matter how strongly, truly, deeply you believe it. Think for a second about how you would feel if you just looked at the world through the eyes of someone who didn’t have to fight through a fog of disappointment and self-judgement before they put a t-shirt on, or walk into a pub. Then consider whether you deserve to feel better than you do now. Then remember that everyone does.

The first step to even starting to think about being positive about your body and other people’s is to understand that this is a radical notion, but to give it the oxygen of consideration. What if there was nothing wrong with being skinny, and nothing wrong with being fat? Would you eat differently, dress differently, exercise differently? It can feel huge, and that’s ok. It can also feel like a lie: that voice inside will tell you that you are embracing body positivity because you can’t lose weight so you’re somehow pretending it’s ok to be you because you’ve failed. Your inner mean person will catch sight of yourself in an outfit and ask you who the hell you think you are for standing tall and walking with purpose. How dare you think you have every right to stand on a bus or queue in a shop with that bulk, that height, that fat?

Sali Hughes wrote a good piece on the Tess Holliday controversy and it made a point that I have long felt deeply is true: shaming overweight people does not make them lose weight. Making overweight people feel that they are less valuable than thin people results in an obesity epidemic. Because when are you more likely to move your body more and fuel it better than when you think you’re worth that? Let people be themselves and it is far more likely that their bodies will settle where they are supposed to, based on genes and heritage and hormones. If your attitude to food is unhealthy then you’re shit out of luck because you’ve still got to eat to stay alive. It’s really bloody hard! And of course we have corporations creating food in order to make it more addictive, and CIS women’s bodies are evolutionarily programmed to store fat for baby-making. But the concern trolls don’t care about you- there are many ways to be unhealthy and it seems an amazing coincidence that overweight people get whacked with this stick so often. Yes, you should exercise: everyone should. It’s not easy. But being a size 8 does not mean you can run up stairs two at a time. And even if it did, that doesn’t mean the smaller person deserves love and respect more than anyone else. More than you.

You will also have to learn to accept that ‘flattering’ is a problematic concept because while the definition might be “enhancing someone’s appearance”, we as a society have broadly taken this to mean ‘enhancing someone’s appearance to conform to a societal ideal’, and when it comes to weight that means looking slimmer. It is almost impossible to explain how hard it is to not think about ‘flattering’ and conforming if you put something on that looks particularly good or bad to your own eye. If it skims your tummy and you like that are you trying to conform to a patriarchal ideal? Or do you just like the jumper? Or both? I don’t have the answers to this and I’m still trying to wade through the quagmire of my own thinking to try to know who I am if I’m not paranoid about my body all the time.

And some days I still am paranoid about my body. I pull my top self-consciously away from my stomach, and I worry that my clothes aren’t fitting the way I want them to. But just the very fact that I have introduced into my thinking the possibility that ‘fat’ does not equal ‘awful’ is so freeing. And I’ve started going to the gym, which I haven’t done for more than five years, but the effect on my mental health is already demonstrable. And I don’t give a shit that I look bigger than most in the gym because I’m doing something good and positive for myself. And of course sometimes I do care that people might think I look big and that I sweat so damn much when I’m on the treadmill walking at an incline, but I give myself a break. You can’t undo years (and years and years and years) of conditioning instantly, but you can just let your mind wander for a moment and think about how it would feel if you judged yourself on how you behave as a person, rather than the number inside a pair of trousers.

 

Category: Life
relax crop

Just relax!

I am naturally quite a lazy person. I enjoy activities and rushing and getting stuff done, but I definitely need rest, and preferably one day of every weekend would involve not really leaving the sofa and certainly not leaving the house. I need more sleep than I ever, ever get, and I have the constant suspicion hanging over me that I could achieve rather great things should I ever actually feel well-rested and fully functioning.

I just don’t have a Type A personality. I’m not particularly competitive (friends and family never get bored of me saying so), and I have reasonable levels of what you might call ambition in that I want to progress, I want to be well thought of, and I get bored easily. But I’m not willing to work as hard as I need to in order to achieve my ‘dreams’; I value my work-life balance and relationships too highly to reach for the stars, so I just sort of reach a little above me in a way that is achievable but still feels like I’ve made a modicum of effort.

But unlike the classic Type B personality, I do very much let stress get to me. I have found increasingly that I get agitated and tired when I have a lot to think about, and I can’t really work out why: every job I’ve had has been busy and pressurised. My current role gives me plenty of autonomy but I have the support available, for the most part, when I need it. So I don’t understand why I seem to apportion seriousness to occasions that don’t require it; I take pride in doing a good job but I think it goes beyond that.

In September I took two weeks off to catch up on some sleep and generally unwind. We hadn’t had the quiet time at work during the summer that I had hoped for and I was feeling seriously frazzled. I planned a few activities but my main aim was really to rest and recharge, hang out with the Puss and potter about a bit. During my time off however, I felt like I was sitting on an anthill. My mind raced, I struggled to focus, and I was constantly distracted by what I ‘should’ be doing or what ‘needed’ to be done. I was overwhelmed by the small things- washing up, spraying some cleaner around the bathroom, putting a few items of clothing away- and how much there was to do, but I didn’t manage to get any really big projects done because I felt so trapped between trying to relax and being haunted by chores. My fortnight did not feel as enjoyable as I expected it to as I just came back to work feeling that I had forgotten how to relax.

Sali Hughes wrote a great piece for The Pool about the effect her smartphone was having on her life, and how stressed it made her. I have really been thinking about whether this could be a factor for me and while the reference to the small hits of dopamine we get as a result of an interaction on social media really resonated, I don’t feel that it is my phone that’s causing me to be so frazzled. I don’t rely on it as a tool for my work so I can keep it separate (I think!) and just enjoy downloaded episodes of The Bold Type on the Amazon Video app. Smartphones definitely don’t help us to wind down and I think there are strong arguments for not keeping them in the room in which you sleep; I also think that they’re always there to give that little hit of stimulation during a boring moment. I just can’t help but feel that my iPhone isn’t the problem, or it’s only part of the story.

This I do know: I recharge around people so I need my quiet time at home with my significant other, and I also need to hang out with friends and family, and to get out of the house. I need dumb TV to offset being busy at work, but that often doesn’t leave me room to feel intellectually nourished so on top of the podcasts I listen to- which are generally reasonably intelligent- I’ve signed up for a course through edx, which is a provider of online courses from universities all around the world. You can choose from hundreds of courses in the sciences, arts, law, technology, and it’s free so wonderfully democratic and inclusive. I paid £40 so that I get a certificate at the end, and it helps to support the programme, which is truly phenomenal. Predictably I haven’t got very far with my women’s history course yet but I know I’ll feel so much better when I pick it up again.

So the plan from here is to be sociable but not to the point that I’m exhausted; make sure that I’m continuing to learn challenging things; get some exercise in (I’m starting to walk more again but I need to be more consistent); and make sure I get a few more nights when I haven’t used wine to unwind. I still feel at this moment that I will struggle when I next have some time off from work to refresh, and at the moment I’m just not sure that the Headspace app is going to cut it. I do know that this intense woman will need to have a plan in place to get just the right level of activity and rest, a flexible plan that provides structure but not too much structure. I know I can’t be the only one, but I’m also not sure where to start. It definitely begins with taking my supplements on a regular basis, and finding a way to quiet that busy mind of mine, but beyond that relaxation for me seems to be a project all of its own.

 

Picture credit: relax by Saeful Muslim from the Noun Project

Category: Life
Seriously Strong cheddar spread colour2

We’re in October and here are some Things I Like Right Now!

I just wrote a truly horrendously depressing intro and then deleted it (well, cut it; I’m very indecisive) because we all know that the world is a terrible place full of guns and I don’t need to retread that ground here. I’m in the sweet spot between the bonkers beginning of term and the stress-spending of Christmas and I have a mini-break to Yorkshire with my girls coming up. Let’s breathe deeply, get more sleep, and reflect on some of the absolute rubbish that’s been propping me up in the last couple of months.

1. RuPaul’s Drag Race

For the longest time I may have thought that RuPaul’s Drag Race was actually about cars. It’s the sort of stupid assumption that hadn’t made it into a fully-formed thought and there’s really no excuse. I’m not sure what prompted me to start watching but there it was on Netflix and I needed an easy-going download, so we met and now I’m in love.

Source: http://www.sportsbettingexperts.com/
Source: http://www.sportsbettingexperts.com/

Once I decided to start watching, I realised that while it is outrageous and OTT, it’s not as painfully camp as I thought it would be and RuPaul has this incredible charismatic way with her; it’s not schlocky, it’s insanely well judged. The character that RuPaul has created in his drag persona is gorgeous and the show has all the classics of reality TV: arbitrary judgement, editing that creates villains, a lower tier destined to leave early on in the competition. But what it also does is make the viewer really think about drag as an artform, and as a musing on gender. At least two contestants have come out as transgender, which prompts a closer look at gender and identity politics: for some Drag Queens the artform reflects the feminine side of their personality, for others it is more driven by the love of performance. For some Drag Queens, is it a stop on the way to fully realising and reflecting their true gender? And as cultural and societal norms shift, there will be an interesting conversation to be had around the relation of body and genitals to a person’s sex and gender.

In the meantime, there are fabulous gowns, terrible wigs- if I’ve learnt anything watching RDR, it’s that you need to spend on hairpieces, queen- and some very funny ladies. Get you some (on Netflix).

2. Into The Gloss

I had heard of Into the Gloss, a US-based beauty blog, but mainly in relation to the brand Glossier, which has just started shipping to the UK (and doesn’t the beauty press know it). Glossier is famed for its cool products which are marketed with hot young people who don’t hide their freckles when putting on their make-up and just dab on a spot of concealer where they need it.  I cannot relate.  But ITG is actually quite a fun, accessible site; yes it still showcases those Beautiful Freckle Girls, but there’s also lots of features about fillers and hair products and self-tanning, and they’re mainly quite compact and easy to read when you only have a couple of minutes.

I’ve been binging on their Top Shelf feature which interviews all sorts of people about their skin care and cosmetics; chefs, writers, actors, Creative Directors of fancy brands. It’s in the subject’s own voice and of course some of the pieces are 300 words on products that cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds, but I still find the articles quite interesting and soothing. Along with the podcast Fat Mascara, it’s just a fun but well-written beauty diversion for the end of my lunchbreak.

3. Spreadable cheese

Modern thinking states that there are no guilty pleasures, that if you enjoy something then just accept it: there is no shame in enjoying Michael Bolton. But I feel like a cheese spread flavoured with Brie might be the exception. President Creme De Brie has been an absolute favourite of mine for a number of months; it’s cheap, tasty (arguable, but I like it), lower in calories than real cheese (about 300 cal for the whole 125g pot) and lasts ages in the fridge with a Use By of 2-3 months’ time.

President Creme de Brie
You broke my freaking heart, man!

Unfortunately- and I say that through stifled sobs- I have just found out that the President spready Brie is not vegetarian. NOT VEGETARIAN. I have been eating it with not an inkling! I’ve googled all the ingredients and most of them are not only vegetarian but vegan, so it must be the rennet used in the Brie. Which is weird because the normal President Brie is suitable for vegetarians.  It doesn’t say anything about its animal derivatives on the pack or on the President website, but Asda, Ocado, and Waitrose all state the fact clearly. I must accept it.

Anyway luckily the Seriously Strong Cheddar Cheese Spread is suitable for me. It makes me feel nowhere near as continental as the brie, but at least it’s a tasty spreadable treat that can stay in your fridge for months until you’re too lazy or full of red wine to cook anything, at which point you just open a pack of crackers and dig in. I’ll do my mourning in private.

Category: Life
LG Baked Balance & Glow colour crop

Things I Like Right Now (well, in June)

Well, the General Election didn’t turn out as disastrously as I feared it might when it was first announced. And some lovely people read my piece on Domestic Violence and said some very nice things so that was awesome and a huge relief. So clearly it’s time for some more frivolous things that I am currently enjoying!

1.Sanex Advanced AtopiCare Bath & Shower Oil 

Ooooh, just savour that name. Let it roll around in your mouth like the name of a French designer or a beautiful Lebanese dish. SanexSo exotic.

Picture credit: Tomas Knopp at the Noun Project

There is obviously nothing particularly sexy about the name ‘Sanex’  or the word ‘AtopiCare’, and while I find 500ml of almost anything alluring for four quid, this is really not a product that screams luxury. It is made specifically for people with Atopic Dermatitis (or Atopic Eczema) so it’s very gentle, hypoallergenic, full of emollients, and just very non-drying. I’m lucky enough to have escaped the family curse of eczema but I still really enjoy using a product that feels oily and comforting and never gives me the itchy shoulders I get with even quite expensive shower gels. I dare say someone less obsessed with body lotion might find this moisturising enough not to follow up with cream and while I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, it definitely makes my lotion last longer and my skin feel softer the next day. It’s got no fragrance so as to avoid irritation but even without, it still feels quite luxurious and comforting on the skin.

I’m also overjoyed to confirm that Sanex’s website states that “absolutely no animal testing is carried out” on their products, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and will be writing about soon.

I haven’t got an image because the packaging has changed recently and I can’t find a current photo that doesn’t go weird when I try to upload it: and taking a picture of the bottle that has resided in my shower for a month wouldn’t be very cute. But I’d definitely recommend it and you can get buy this fab, oily stuff at Boots or Superdrug or off the shelf in Asda like I did.

2. Laura Geller Baked Balance & Glow

This product has been an utter, utter lifesaver this month. I’d never tried Laura Geller make-up before because I was such a loyal bareMinerals fan and didn’t really see the point in trying a different powder foundation. Me Mam had said many times that she enjoys Laura Geller’s iconic Baked Balance & Brighten but it was only when QVC featured the new Balance & Glow that I decided to give it a whirl. With such hot weather and what seemed like a dive headlong from winter into summer, I thought a nice bronzed, glow-y sort of foundation would be very handy on days where the liquid foundation and all of its attendant layers were running down my face and pooling into my lap.

Thanks for the image, QVC! Laura Geller Baked Balance & Glow, £34.50 for a supersize
Thanks for the image, QVC! Laura Geller Baked Balance & Glow, £34.50 for a supersize

So I purchased and it stayed boxed for a week or so until I was having a lazy make-up day; took a while to build up and you have to be very careful not to be too heavy-handed, but it was a nice result. When this baby came into its own, however, was when I managed to sit outside for four hours in that hot hot hot sun the other weekend and I burned like an absolute bastard. SPF50 did nada. On a weekend, if I didn’t have plans, maybe I’d just brazen it out, but this was not the sort of burn that was going away immediately and I had work, including a v formal Trustee meeting.

So sad, so burnt, so sore.
So sad, so burnt, so sore.
burnt
Scabby nose, scabbing head.

Old Laura G came right to the rescue! I had to pack it on because the different areas of my face were so varying in colour- thanks five-year-old Burberry sunglasses, you’re very effective!- so I did look a little overly tanned. But seriously, the job this did evening me out and not caking or catching on my skin, was incredible.

The lighting is really harsh in both of these photos but I think that just shows what I had to work with
The lighting is really harsh in both of these photos but I think that just shows what I had to work with
I enjoy that Jeffree Star is on my monitor...
I enjoy that Jeffree Star is on my monitor…

Make-up like this really puts the emphasis on the glow, and the rest of the look can be quite minimal. I’d never go without blusher with a look like this though; even with a nice marbled foundation like this one, you need that colour to add light and shade back into your face. While I dealt with the agony of burnt shoulders, it was at least a relief to have a low-maintenance make-up regime to fall back on. I didn’t even need concealer! Happy Loz.

Better lighting, miserable face.
Better lighting, miserable face.

I chose the shade ‘Medium’, and while I don’t think I could have gone for the next one down- Fair- if I was made of money I’d probably have them both and use the Fair as an initial layer. Building up the Medium too much could see me into Al Jolson territory… I have tried a very thin layer of bareMinerals underneath and that works quite nicely thank you. Now it’s warming up again I’m really looking forward to shoving some of this on my face with a bit of gold eyeshadow and glowing for days.

Now it’s warming up again I’m really looking forward to shoving some of this on my face with a bit of gold eyeshadow and glowing for days.

3. The Longform podcast

I feel kind of guilty adding this podcast to a list because it deserves more fanfare, but I also think that describing it in too much detail would be very dull. If I over-explain what the podcast is about, it’s likely not to have the desired effect: i.e., to encourage you to listen to it,

Put simply, the Longform podcast is an interview- or perhaps ‘conversation’ is a better descriptor- between one of the three hosts of the pod, and a journalist. Those journalists are those who write longform pieces, that’s to say articles of between 1,000 and 20,000 words. This sort of length allows the exploration of topics, and incredible reporting, without the commitment of an entire book. The Longform podcast has introduced me to, or helped me get to know better, the most incredible writers - Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ariel Levy, Katie JM Baker, David Remnick, Pamela Colloff- and you really get to hear about the stories they’ve written, their approach, what they take away from their work. If that sounds dull, I promise you it’s not. It’s fascinating, human, challenging, comforting, and just my absolute favourite podcast of all time.

Longform

I rush to listen to the true crime podcasts I’m subscribed to the minute they’re available, but I always come back to Longform. The people interviewed and the subjects covered are just so varied, and it’s intellectual without feeling inaccessible or snobbish. I always feel cleverer and more informed once I’ve finished an episode but also like I’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket. It’s honestly just a joy. I’ve now listened to about 200 episodes and it’s my absolute desert island podcast. Thanks Max Linsky!

Category: Style
abuse

Three years later, I’m still not sure what to say about Domestic Violence

Statistically, you know someone experiencing domestic violence.

I wrote almost three years ago about a friend, H, going through a truly fucking awful time. We chatted online about her partner, the destruction, what it did to her. H sent me photos of things that had been broken. We talked about the woman she saw at the school gates who H knew in her gut was experiencing something similar, and I received long messages about where H’s abusive partner’s problems started, where the anger, frustration, and violence came from. His difficult start, how he’d been let down.

Scrolling back through our messages and seeing a screenshot of a text conversation between H and her now-ex, including a glimpse of an injury; it’s very dark and very sobering. H very generously thought of me to tell her story and thought I could do it justice, and for a while I thought I could too. It’s a feminist issue- as well as a human one- and I like those a lot, so why wouldn’t I write about domestic violence? It’s so blunt and cruel and often so nuanced and complicated. It’s not like I haven’t been around manipulative people and I definitely know what a twisted relationship looks like. That sick feeling I get seeing a huge imbalance of power between two people. The subtle abuse, the not-quite violence: these are things I recognise. But I soon realised that I didn’t have anything original to say about spousal abuse. It’s something I care so deeply about but beyond my own feelings and paranoia, I didn’t feel the words come. It simply felt like a story that wasn’t mine to tell.

I offered to proof-read H’s words, edit and present them, but I found myself unable to write anything myself, even when she asked me to. We talked about this but the discussion petered out until H got in touch again in April.  The media hysteria surrounding the breakdown of Mel B’s marriage was peaking and the Mail Online was having a jolly good time with it.

Check out the comments, that right there is every last one of the reasons why it took me 15 years to leave.” 

They were obviously hideous.

The notion that if a woman doesn’t leave then whatever she suffers is her fault belongs in the last century, but let nobody accuse Mail Online commenters of subtlety or human empathy. It’s a website that sexualises children and then judges young people for dressing sexily. Of course it’s massively, stonkingly popular. It’s really easy for me to laugh at the online cesspit but the reality is so grim.

Because ultimately the biggest fear in breaking silence is that no one will believe you……… it’s what the abuser grooms you to believe and this sort of comment and debate reinforces that… [it's] just awful. “

All that your abuser has done, all the hope kicked out of you and the amount of self-worth lost, beautifully topped with the cherry of a society that can’t look at a woman being controlled or beaten by their partner and feel anything but disdain. And yes, obviously not everyone feels that way but we see and hear these messages so often that one has to actually question one’s own thinking on the subject. Still, at least the government is on our side, eh Philip Davies MP? H found these comments so depressing and angering that again she asked me to write something and again I was hit by the feeling that I couldn’t say anything important or new and therefore should probably not say anything at all. Understandably, H found this a shitty response. So then she sent me her story in her own words and it was brilliant. But man, I felt bad.

Here’s an edited extract (taking out some very complimentary stuff that I definitely don’t deserve):

“The top two searches on my browser history right now are ‘pity party’ and ‘Mel B’. Random combination I know, a little-known hobby blogger and a former spice girl! Pity Party is a collaboration written by my oldest friend and her sister. A friend who has always been in the background, always been the one, stable, non-judgemental voice of wisdom in my life. The person who has known what is right for me often years before I was inclined to agree, a friend that is younger than me but who I never managed to quite achieve peer status with as she was always that bit further evolved than I was…… until now. Until tonight as I write this post. If you’re reading this blog then I’ve finished it and convinced Laura to share it in one of the.. places that house her [writing]. In her writing, Laura is the perfect combination of empathy and logic, of straight talking and compassion that would make her the perfect person to give life to my thoughts. When Laura writes…… I listen and I want people to listen. I have stalked Laura’s blog daily, I asked her to make a comment on the storm that is surrounding Mel B right now, I asked her to put words to the absolute devastation that is invoked when as a survivor of domestic violence you are faced with everything that a google search of Mel B on the internet gives birth to.”

Yeah. I felt like a total fucker. The rest of the writing was so great, and H has said that she’s not ready for it to be out there yet but I hope she will be soon. But holy shit, I really, really felt that I’d let H down. I’m very aware of not making this about me as it truly isn’t; ultimately though, I’d been asked for help and not responded. Which is shitty. It was still another month before I could put any of this into words though, despite starting this draft immediately. I didn’t want to write just because I felt bad or guilty, but I did want to comment somehow.

Last week Refuge shared an incredible piece from The Guardian: ‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister. Terrible stories of heart-rending abuse are not that hard to find; one of the most moving accounts I’ve heard was Jahmene Douglas’ Woman’s Hour appearance with his mother. What that woman- and her children endured- is beyond my comprehension. The brilliance of the Guardian article is that there wasn’t physical violence in Luke and Ryan Hart’s childhood, but their father Lance was an emotionally abusive, controlling, and manipulative father and husband who turned to violence when he finally lost control of those he had sought to have it over. These behaviours- and the excuses we make for them- can have terrible effects.

From the piece:

Lance was not physically abusive – largely, the brothers believe, because they all worked hard to orchestrate a calm atmosphere at home, and because they gave in to his emotional demands. They didn’t think of his behaviour as domestic violence, because they had only ever considered domestic violence to be a man hitting a woman. Lance didn’t consider his actions to be abusive, either. “Yes, we bickered, but it wasn’t serious,” he wrote in his suicide note. “It was normal marriage stuff. No violence.” For some months, Claire had been keeping a diary of everything Lance said and did, but didn’t feel she could take it to the police because there had been no physical harm.”

If you’ve ever known a person who dictates the atmosphere and outcome of a situation according to their own feelings, this will resonate. It’s real behind-closed-doors stuff, it doesn’t leave a physical mark, but it’s devastating whether it ends in violence or not. And finally, I felt like I had something to say about spousal abuse and domestic violence; I couldn’t put into words anyone else’s experiences but I kept thinking about how these behaviours are so easily excused. How we allow people to be ‘grumpy’ or ‘sensitive’ or excuse their behaviour as being a foible of their personality when actually they are acting as a dictator, taking more than their share. Since I read the piece in The Guardian, I have thought about it a lot. I’ve thought about it in terms of behaviours I’ve witnessed, and in terms of how I act as a very emotional person. In terms of my own life, and in terms of seeing an interaction between a couple and having that gut feeling that something isn’t right. It’s reminded me that abusive behaviour can lead to violence but it is destructive in and of itself. I haven’t directly experienced domestic violence but there is a lot in the Harts’ story to recognise.

I’m still not sure what to say on this huge subject, but I know I want to remain vigilant.  I’ve taken some of H’s writing and used it here and I hope she doesn’t mind. I just couldn’t para-phrase what she had said and not include the actual power of it. One thing I can rely on is that she’ll tell me if she’s pissed off, but it’s my sincere hope that she will see this as my effort to say something. I’m sorry it’s a bit late.

I know H has incredible words and I hope one day I can help her to shout them.

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: Jessica Lock at the Noun Project.

Category: Life