Life

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
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
Chilling with the homies

Being a mummy on a budget

This post seems like it should be unnecessary. Afterall, don’t nearly all mums have a budget of some description? Having children is next oldest thing in the world next to the existence of humans so it’s not like it’s a new concept.

Ahh, but yes it is, because – KLAXON! – there wasn’t social media back then (try not to roll your eyes, I do appreciate it is the most overused phrase in modern times). Yes, you might see the local squire’s wife tooling around in glad rags, and in recent times you would have read about the fineries enjoyed by royal babies. But there wasn’t that reach-out-and-touch, ‘if you’d just saved better/married better/worked harder’, element to some of the things that some new mums, prospective mums, and mums-in-waiting think go with parenthood. Big name-brand pram, designer baby clothes, endless supply of cash for coffees with mummy friends…. The list could be endless because this is a competitive market, not least because being a parent is bloody hard work, so if you have the material goods to fit in then at least that’s one base covered. And who doesn’t want every beautiful, gorgeous, magical thing going for their kid?

All images from Pinterest
All images from Pinterest

For a distinctly working class but touching the edges of middle classdom mummy with friends of varying fiscal means and a wedding, two big holidays abroad and buying our first property within the past five years, this is how I did it to my satisfaction on a budget. [Note: I did toy with titling this post ‘How to be a carer on a budget’ because there are people with the same responsibilities who aren’t caring for a child. However, having no experience of caring for a non-dependent child or adult, I didn’t feel that that would be appropriate. Hopefully though, if you are a carer (inevitably) on a budget, hopefully some bits will be useful for you.]

Buy second hand

Goodness me, this is so obvious but lots of people don’t because they a) think that their child deserves better, b) they think second hand items won’t be good quality or safe, c) they want the experience of buying new shiny things, d) they just don’t want to, or e) all or some of the above.

My first comment here is that there is such a flood of second hand children’s goods available it borders on the ridiculous. Big ticket items such as cots, prams and gizmos like the Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo (if you have a baby and you haven’t heard of this, you soon will!) are usually expensive and people are keen to make their money back. For these items, what’s for sale will either be used to an expected extent so will be older, potentially slightly more raggedy, but usually more bargainous, or will be barely used so in really good condition but therefore more a reduced price rather than being truly bargainous.

Set your budget here: research what you want, how much you’re willing to pay for it and how much you want it before looking at market availability. If you’re dead-set on an UPPAbaby pram, you’re going to pay something more akin to the original price than if you want a decent second hand pram of any description, from any manufacturer. My absolute best bargain was my pram which is a Mothercare Xpedior travel system (now discontinued but still available second hand), purchased for the princely sum of £31. This is an exceptional bargain by anyone’s standards but it was used, and Mothercare isn’t necessarily a brand everyone wants. I decided early on that if I won the lottery, I’d be marching into John Lewis and getting the pram of dreams. Until then, it is more important that I buy food and keep my child entertained, so Mothercare was more than good enough for me.*

The pram in action

FYI, there are more places to look for second hand goods than eBay. Gumtree has lots of listings and is far easier to refine by location. Facebook also seems to have lots of sales pages specific to location, and I have bought some unopened baby formula and a baby support for very low prices. Worth having a look. Plus, NCT sales, local nearly-new sales and even car boot sales are excellent places to get good quality used baby wear, which, considering how quickly they grow out of stuff, is one of the easiest ways to save cash.

Learn to balance

With most of my disposable income (ha!) now going on my son, obviously my own wants have taken a back seat. So I have learned the art of balance. With more time away from work, I now shop around for basics and regular groceries, using a mix of supermarkets, discount stores and my local market to then afford the nicer bits such as decent veg for me and my boys and the occasional fakeaway (I might splash out on spices to make a curry but at least I’ll have leftovers and it’s still cheaper than ordering one in).

Not a curry but was yummy-yummy nonetheless

I now also scrutinise my wardrobe on a near daily basis because the days of only being able to wear that top with those trousers or having to have that particular bra under that frock are well and truly behind me. I am dressing against the clock every day so each item in my wardrobe has to work. That means that every time I refine, I sell the bits I don’t need (the mobile eBay app is a real timesaver here) and can then reinvest in one thing I really want. Most recently I got the Selfish Mother ‘Mother’ sweatshirt and I love it.

me

Scout out the free activities

This is going to be quite baby-centric because my son is only 1, but this applies across all ages. Essentially, you need to find out what’s available in your area for free. Why? Because it will give you a reason to leave the house, you might learn something, your baby/child will socialise, and it’s a great way to meet other mums if that’s what you want to do.

My local children’s centres have been absolutely invaluable to me. Run by 4Children, they provide free drop-in play sessions, breastfeeding support groups, and bookable sessions and courses on things such as baby massage, baby sensory, First Aid and weaning. I have learned so much from these courses and have made some wonderful friends. My son is now of an age where he really enjoys visiting the centre and playing with the huge array of toys on offer, which keeps things interesting for him and allows him to play with other children. Plus, the baby massage course I attended was vital in coping with his colic, and I felt a real sense of support from the centre staff.

Also, never underestimate the power of a park. It’s a great place to meet up with other mums (I took lunch and snacks in plastic containers to save cash) and having a roll around on a blanket in the sun is a lovely way to play and bond. Once the kiddies are older, swings are just a godsend. As long as it’s not raining, there’s never a day you can’t squeeze in a park visit.

Chilling with the homies
Chilling with the homies

Decide where to splash your cash

Having a baby is expensive. It just is. They need a lot of sh*t. And while you can buy second hand as much as possible and make use of free local resources, there will be times when you have to pay out. Here are the areas we spent money on:

Baby formula. My son had to be combination fed when he was born because of low blood sugar, and we carried on the practice once home. We used the same brand of formula as they had at hospital which wasn’t the cheapest but at least meant we were less likely to waste it because he knew he would drink it. We then had to invest in a particular kind because of his colic. Pricey but totally worth it.

  • Osteopathy. Again, this was to address the dreaded colic but was absolutely worth it. I don’t know what my son would have been like without this treatment but I believe his colic would have been worse. At the very least we knew that we were doing everything we could to help him, which is worth a lot.
  • Swimming. I invested in two classes, and while our baby sensory class was fun, I found it a very competitive environment parent-to-parent, not to mention quite cliquey. My son enjoyed it, and it did tire him out, but overall swimming was the winner. Being in the water together is such a lovely experience and our school focuses on water safety as well. Plus, this tires him out like nothing else. It doesn’t necessarily make bathtime that relaxing but he does conk out like a good ‘un afterwards. RESULT.
  • Socialising. We didn’t go out every day to meet people, but when I did make plans to meet mummy friends, I went to a nice baby-friendly place which felt like a treat. We will still pop into a nice place when out shopping because it’s a bit of a treat for me and him to sit with a drink, being part of the world, looking all cute (him) and smug (me). Getting out and treating myself in this way is worth every single penny because I feel like a normal human being and so much more like myself. I got to see friends and my son got to see other bubs. I loved it and, as most mums will attest, getting up, dressed, and into your local town centre is time-consuming enough as to take up half the day, so throw in a lunch and a mooch and you’re day is done. Perfick.

I do hope you found some pearls of wisdom in there somewhere. Do let me know if you’d like to know more about my mumma experiences or if you never want to hear anything about them ever again! Have a good week everyone!

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*In buying my second hand travel system, I researched buying used baby seats beforehand to ensure my son would be safe. If you’re ever unsure then buy your pram second hand but pair with a new car seat.

Category: Life