Author: sianbrett

Well hey there! I'm Sian (you say it like 'sharn' please don't make me tell you twice), and as well as films I like British comedy, Radio 4, Slow Club, coffee, Caitlin Moran, Twitter, scrapbooks, feminism, acting and second hand bookshops. And films. I really really like films. Follow me on twitter here: https://twitter.com/sian_brett And instagram here: http://instagram.com/sian_brett

Growing Up

I’ve been having a bit of a freakout. I’m nearing the end of my degree, my time at university is nearly over, and soon I will have to get a real job and be a real person and live my life without an academic structure (I know, woe is me).

I think a lot about ‘real life’ and ‘real jobs’ like I’m some sort of infantilised child, but the thing is, it just seems so unachievable. Aside from the student debt, the rising house prices that mean that really I’m just never going to buy a house, the lack of jobs available in the arts, aside from all that, certain people just seem to have their lives together and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

And the thing is, it’s very easy to beat yourself up about that.

There’s been a shift, among everyone I know recently. They just seem much more… grown up. They’re dedicating time to working hard and looking after themselves and making dinners and sleeping properly. And I’m starting to do it too, a bit. Sleeping proper nights and waking up before 11 am and leaving the house before 9 on some mornings. Noticing when my mood drops, and assessing why, and doing the right things about it. I even went running. For a week. We can’t have everything.

And I think that’s the key thing – you can’t do everything. You can’t be this person who exercises and sleeps and eats healthily and has a buzzing social life and a healthy mental state and gets good grades. And that’s okay. If I learned anything from a combination of CBT and a very good Simon Stephens playwriting talk, it’s that success does not equal happiness. I thought it did, for a long time. I thought that if I did a million things then that was success, because I was running myself ragged and loudly telling everyone how tired I was. That I had to be the best, making the best things, and having other people tell me how good they were. But self-validation is so much better. Letting yourself fail, or get it wrong, or even, to just doing nothing is one of the kindest things you can do to yourself if you’re happy doing it.

It’s particularly easy to not feel good enough when you’re constantly living your life through a screen, constantly comparing your reality to the social media posts of everyone having a nice time, the Instagram stories of what you wish you were doing, those people who are 5 years ahead of you in both career and life-planning and got their play on at the Royal Court aged 21 (I am not bitter, I promise). But comparison is dangerous, because it’s easy to while your days away wishing you were someone else, without fully appreciating who you are, that your hair looks great, and that you are great fun to go to the pub with.

I think that’s being a grown up. Learning to stop constantly punishing yourself about not being grown up. And I’m getting there. I might even start running again.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

 

 

Stop WINE-ing About Women Drinking

 I am fully and wholly aware that alcohol is bad for you. It’s bad for your physical and mental health. It is a drug.

But my god it’s fun, isn’t it? When you’ve had a few, and you dance your way back from the pub, eating some chips that taste like the best chips ever… and it is my god damn right to do that.

In the wake of New Years and Christmas festivities there have been a spate of ‘oh no binge drinking women how awful’ articles in the typically awful right-wing press. The narratives of these stories are often about how terrible it is for us young girls to go out in short skirts, or heels, and to get merry. They depict us as ‘messes’, as out of control, or loose.

If you’re decrying young women going out and acting disgracefully on nights out, you should probably stop putting photos of it in national newspapers.

I am sure that some of this notion of women going and getting drunk being a terrible thing stems from the fact that many of these women probably end up having one night stands, and that many people still have a problem with women being in charge of their own sexuality and sexual freedoms.

I wonder if there’s a rise in young women drinking because the pressure on us to be everything is so intense that we need something after a long day of the patriarchy to take the edge off.

Or if it’s because we are made to feel so constantly self-conscious and aware of our looks -as that is taught to be the only thing that defines us – that having a drink is sometimes the quickest way to feel good about ourselves.

In her article ‘Pictures Of Today’s Young Women That Make Me Weep’ (I’m not going to link you to it or even suggest that you look it up because any more hits on their website is exactly what The Mail wants, and I’m loathed to ever give them what they want, the absolute fucks), Sarah Vine writes “[e]ven more depressing, however, is the fact that these are not the usual suspects – thuggish male louts or football hooligans – we see brawling and barfing their way to destruction; but young women”.

OKAY. LET’S DELVE IN. Vine seems to be suggesting here that if it were ‘the usual suspsects’ that would somehow be okay, and that the fact that it’s not makes it worse. She even calls it ‘depressing’.  

I wonder why, Sarah Vine, wife of Michael Gove, young women would feel the need to go out and get rat-arsed these days. No idea? Me neither, Sarah Vine, wife of Michael Gove.

I’m not okaying binge drinking. It’s silly, and foolish, and is a strain on public services. People put themselves in dangerous positions and many die or are hurt. I’m just saying that being a woman doing it is not any worse than being a man doing it.

Also, being drunk is a right laugh. There is something intensely powerful about a group of girls on a night out. It is one of my favourite places to be. When you give up with glasses and swig from the bottle, and do each other’s eyeliner and cackle. When you hold back your mate’s hair as they’re sick in a bin. My two best friends from school and me would take it in turns to be the most drunk on a night out so no one was always the one doing the looking after. That’s not being a ‘mess’ that’s being considerate. Rae Earl put it best on Twitter when she said this:

Vine’s article also says this: “These girls have grown up in a post-feminist society that tells them anything a man can do, they can do better. And that includes getting monumentally, catastrophically bladdered.”

You know what?

Yeah. It does. Today’s young women can do whatever they bloody like. Have a drink mate. Mine’s a pint.

Words by Sian Brett (@sian_brett)
Tweet by Rae Earl (@RaeEarl)

Caring About Self-Care

I’ve been learning a lot recently. I’ve been at a school, for the mind.

I’ve had a bit of a revelation about life, the universe, and everything.

Ok, are you ready? Listening? Ears tuned to Sian frequency? Eyes ready to be widened in shock?

Here we go:

It’s important to look after yourself.

I KNOW. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure.

It turns out, that it’s quite important for your mental and physical wellbeing to care about yourself, and your body and your mind. It’s makes a difference if you shower, and change your bed sheets, and give yourself evenings in to watch Netflix. Eating proper meals makes you feel better!

And not just in the obvious ways. It turns out that doing nice things for yourself means that you start to believe that you’re worth those nice things (or not even nice things just normal looking after yourself things) and then you feel better and give yourself more of those nice things and then you feel better and then-

Wait… you guys don’t look as surprised as I was hoping. Oh you… you already knew? Who told you? You just knew? How did you just know? Oh. Okay yeah, fair enough. Common sense. Yeah.

For me, this is pretty big news.

Here are some things I have done since I learnt about self care:

  • Got a job
  • Bought myself fresh flowers
  • Did my washing more regularly
  • Bought nice shampoo
  • Wore clothes that made me happy

I thought that self-care was just showering and sleeping. But, it turns out, it’s so much more than that. It turns out that if you make yourself feel nice, then you’ll feel nice. And that if you look after yourself properly and dedicate time to thinking about the way you feel, you’ll actually feel better.

I’m in about week 6 of therapy. I’m trying so fucking hard to undo negative thoughts, and feelings, and relearn what happy is. No, not even what happy is, just what okay is. And that alone, that act of making myself go and talk to a lovely doctor every week about why I feel the way I do, is a kind of self-care. Because I’m learning to value myself, and what I need. And that’s so important

I can’t believe I didn’t know it was important! Why did no one tell me it was so important! Why aren’t we taught it in schools – why don’t we have sex education, and drug education, and then mental health education about how the world is big and scary but you are valid, and real, and how we are all just blobs of being and we are what we make ourselves and we should look after ourselves because it’s so self-validating?

I wish I had been taught that I am worth looking after. I wish everyone got taught that, because you are, you so so are.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

Angry

I’m writing this piece because I’m angry. I’m so angry and tired and sad, and I don’t know what to do about it.

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I’m angry that my university decided to raise their fees, because a rule changed, so they could. Because they love to paint themselves as a liberal arts university, and boast the artists who come from the environment they create, but don’t love those artists enough to allow their next generation to flourish. Because the government want to perpetuate an elitist university output.

I’m angry that women in Poland had to protest so hard to maintain control over their own fucking bodies. That women in places like Ireland have to travel to other countries on their own, for a procedure. That in this day and this age, we still have to shout, not even ask, for control. Other people have more right and dominion over what they do not own, than we do.

I’m angry that women are still being determined by their appearance. That the Girlguiding association ran a survey and found that a third of girls between 7 and 10 had been made to think by people that their appearance was the most important thing about them. Because they’re made to feel that whatever goes on in their head just doesn’t matter.

I’m angry that clothes for young children are so gendered that we present women as princesses or socialites, and dress them solely in pink, whilst boys clothes are covered in slogans that encourage them to be troublemakers and messy.

I’m angry that Kim Kardashian was attacked, and because she’s a woman who makes money from her appearance, people reacted with scorn, and cynicism. Whatever you might think about Kim Kardashian as a pop culture figure, she is a human being, and to blame her is abhorrent.

I’m angry that Brock Turner was in jail for half of his six-month sentence, and that the media portrayed him as the victim, whose swimming career was ruined.

I’m angry that Theresa May wants to chuck out foreign doctors, but only once we’ve found English replacements. I’m angry that these people who have made homes and careers, and worked hard as doctors and nurses and in the NHS, to look after everyone without discrimination, are being made to feel unwanted by the Tory government.

I’m angry that Donald Trump can do whatever he likes and people will still vote for him. And I’m angry that because Hilary Clinton is a woman, he can continue to do whatever he likes, and will still seem like a better choice to people who have a problem with that.

I’m angry that police in America can shoot and kill black people, and get away with it.

I’m angry that I still get men mansplaining. I’m angry that when they ask a question, they ask the other men, not me.

I’m angry that I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how we can keep fighting, and shouting, and making a mess, before it stops making a difference. How long can you keep protesting before it’s not a protest anymore? It’s important to talk about these things, but I’ve had enough of blog posts, they don’t make a difference. I want to shout and scream and rage, and make people understand that it’s not okay. But I don’t know how.

I don’t know what we can do. And that makes me the angriest of all.

 

 

Words by Sian Brett.
Images courtesy of Eva Crossan Jory, The Independent, The Daily Beast and The Guardian.

 

Don’t Let the Bra-sterds Grind You Down

I don’t remember buying my first bra. I remember everyone else slowly getting bras, and me decrying them, and refusing, partly because I was an incredibly contrary child, and partly because I was scared of growing up and my body changing. A bra suggested shame. You must hide away these markers of womanhood – no one should see them.

I remember seeing an older girls boobs and wondering when mine would start to look like one unit – when will they get big enough to make the t-shirt stretch? Rather than two strange little lumps sitting on my chest.

I remember my mum coming home from work and joyously removing her bra. I remember it being an occasion of great joy, being able to free your breasts from the pockets they were confined in all day.

I remember the girls I would get changed in beach huts with, us all desperately trying to hide our bodies, putting bikini tops on over bras and fiddling about undoing various things, so that bare skin was never exposed.

I don’t remember when I stopped wearing a bra. I think I saw a video on Facebook about the damage it can actually cause. Shoulders and back problems and badly fitting bras. I saw a series of photos of the imprint that clothing leaves on us after we take it off, and marvelled at the fact that we put these tight-fitting things on our bodies to the point where they leave a mark. I bought some bralets, which are lacy and sexy and make me feel great. Sometimes I wear them, if my boobs hurt or my top’s a bit see through. Most of the time I don’t. Most of the time I don’t wear anything under my top. It is so comfy. I love my boobs a lot more, now I see their normal shape on a regular basis. I love it when they’re a weird shape and pointy and wonky. It feels real. Like they’re real parts of me. I’m not scared of them anymore.

I get changed in front of my friends and care a whole lot less about my body. When my friend MJ asked me to take part in a topless photo shoot, I did it. I think I did it because I’d stopped wearing a bra. I feel a lot more comfortable with my boobs, and in turn, my whole body.

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I asked fellow Anthem writer Sophy to look into the history of women’s underwear for me. This is what she got:

Throughout history, some form of garment has always been used to mould, shape and support women’s breasts. In Ancient Greece and Rome, large breasts were seen as unattractive, comical even, so women wore bands of cloth that flattened their chests. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the corset was used to push up the breasts and create cleavage, which was desired as it was seen as a symbol of wealth and elitism. We can thank the Victorian feminists and doctors that ousted the corset due to health concerns over constraining women’s bodies.

The growth of flappers in the 1920s saw androgynous styles of bras that aimed to minimise curves. On the other hand the 1930s created a complete reversal of this, with the invention of cup sizes and the underwired bra (that created a curvier look) meant that women were categorised in terms of the size of their breasts. 

The metal shortages of WW2 ended the popularity of the corset (thank god) and the 1940s and 50s cubist movements inspired the pointed bosom and “bullet bras” that are so iconic of the post WW2 era. The feminist movements of the 1960s introduced comfy bralets/crop tops. Sports bras weren’t invented until the 1970s and the 1990s created the wonder bra and cleavage enhancing bras. The shape of bras and how they mould breasts have changed with the political and social trends of the time.

Bras are a commodity. An optional commodity. The growth of consumerism throughout the 19th Century (and especially so since after WW2 with booming economies and the growth of young people with disposable income) meant that the purpose of bras shifted even more so from functionality to fashion. And how do you sell something? Make people feel bad about themselves.

Your boobs are too small. “Look we’ve invented a two size up bra”

Your boobs aren’t perky enough. “Look, we’ve developed a cleavage enhancing bra”

Your body isn’t sexy enough on its own. “Look we’ve got a pretty lacy sexy bra set that will fix that”

Since ancient times, boobs have been manipulated, squashed and shaped to suit certain types of fashion trends. Like Sian, although I haven’t stopped wearing a bra (who knows maybe one day I’ll convert), I have started to wear bralets a lot more and my god it’s so much comfier. My boobs can take pretty much the shape they want – not the shape that current fashion trends have dictated.

Recently American high school student Kaitlyn Juvik got sent home from school because teachers were concerned that her not wearing a bra under her black t-shirt was distracting, and inappropriate. Yup. A girl turned away from education, because she wasn’t wearing something under her clothes.

Kaitlyn Juvik consequently set up No Bra No Problem, an online community fighting against this institutionalised sexism, which has garnered support around the world. And good on her, because how dare anyone decide what we should wear under our clothes.

Boobs are boobs. They’re fatty lumps on our fronts, that we’ve evolved in order to feed children. Isn’t that great? Isn’t that amazing, that our bodies have developed in this way so that we can feed newborn babies? And isn’t it mind-boggling that what we do with them, even under our clothes, is questioned and put in the media?

I got 99 problems but a bra ain’t one anymore.

 

 

Words by Sian Brett and Sophy Edmunds

Images Courtesy of Walt Disney, Ellamae Cieslik and MJ Ashton, Retro You, and Kaitlyn Juvik via Metro.co.uk

What Going to An All Girl’s School Taught Me About Womanhood

When I tell people that I went to an all girl’s secondary school, their response, more often than not, is “How was that?”  

Either that or: “Was it full of lesbians?”

Secondary school is a funny old time – you have the pressure of exams and your impending future, but you’re also trying to grow up and go through puberty and become a person. It’s probably the time when you have your first sexual experiences, start getting drunk, socialising, doing teenage things. Getting to do all of that with 900 other hormone ridden girls sounds like it should be absolute hell on earth (and sometimes it was). But I don’t think any other experience of my life has shaped me quite as much as those 7 years surrounded by girls.

The girls I spent those years with were some of the most ballsy, ridiculous, hilarious, silly women I will ever meet. They took no shit, not from teachers, not from the boys on the field at lunchtime, and not from each other.

Studies show that girls in single sex schools perform better than girls in mixed schools, whilst for boys, it makes little to no difference. I love that. Girls make each other better simply by being around each other. Because they feed off and find worth in each other.

Our school was divided into 6 houses, and once you were sorted (not by a hat), you wore the snowdrop badge with the colour of your house as the background. It all sounds very jolly, but let me tell you, the Olympics got nothing on year 8 Gym & Dance. There’s something about being divided into houses, and being forced to perform gymnastic and dance routines for house points that turns teenage girls animalistic. I have never seen such anger and fury, such commitment, and such hairspray.

There’s also that end of term madness that drives school children to Beatlemania style screaming. This madness was perpetuated only by the teachers panto which happened every other year. Watching your Religious Studies teacher parody Edward Cullen in ‘Twiglet’ is matched only by watching your Maths teacher rush into the audience to confiscate a giant inflatable naked man that was being thrown around like a volleyball.

These were the girls that always had tampons to give out, make-up to share, and plans to bully teachers. These were the girls that spent their last day of year 11 dressed as Gordon Brown (yes I was one of them) because it just seemed like a really funny thing to do. The girls who were the kind of friends that let you plank on them, or spent entire Saturdays making music videos for McFly songs.

It was a grammar school too – high pressure, hard-working, smart, serious. The best example I have of this is a lunchtime viewing of Cheaters by the entire sixth form being interrupted by the headteacher giving some important guests a tour. They were ushered out of the common room fairly sharpish.

When you’re in a house named after an important woman, it infiltrates your blood. Austen, Franklin, Curie, Parks, Rossetti and Shelley were ingrained in our brains, and held up as names to live up to. Founders Day was, and I’m sure continues to be, the most boring award ceremony in the world, but having ex-students come back and give speeches about the waves they were making in the world, couldn’t help but inspire you (Sophie Rundle was my fave). By going to that school, you become part of a long line of women. Women who have gone before you, attended that school, and gone onto greatness. That’s pretty darn cool.

It’s only now, in hindsight, that I can truly appreciate the magnitude of what my female teachers did for me. The strong, intelligent, funny, independent women who guided me through History, English and Drama were some of the most influential people I’ll ever know. When my Dad died in my final year, they were beacons of hope, and strength, and kind words. I would never have got my A-Levels and gone to university without them, and without the network of girls I had around me in that year.

I feel like I say it a lot but it’s true; gender is a social construct. I don’t know if I still think that gendered schools are a good thing – it feels outdated, to define young people by their gender. Some people don’t have a gender. Some people don’t identify with the gender they’re assigned at birth. But going to an all girl’s school taught me a lot about being a woman. It taught me about the power of young girls together.

And it got me 11 GCSE’s and 4 A-Levels. So everyone’s a winner.

 

Words by Sian Brett

 

Playlist: Sian’s Anthems – Power Women

“Sometimes it really does feel like there’s no hope. Women are stomped on from all angles, there’s so many horrible things happening in the world and gender inequality is still a very real thing.

But the women on this playlist overcame that, and other kinds, of adversity and discrimination. They’re power women and they absolutely kill it.”

sian's playlist

Click on the image, or here to listen: Sian’s Anthems

Not For Girls: Why Gendered Marketing Is Ridiculous

I was eating poached eggs and watching Sunday brunch. I know. What am I like. In the break there was a new advert for Maltesers. I took particular notice because it had Beattie Edmondson in, who was very good in the sitcom Josh. It was quite a good advert. Well done Maltesers.

But it got me thinking – why are there always women in the Maltesers advert? Fair enough, they quite often get female comedians, who tend to look relatively like real women. But why are Maltesers synonymous with a ‘naughty’ but ‘light’ treat? Hardly any calories, dainty little chocolate to pop in to your dainty little mouth so you don’t look too greedy! But still buy our product please! It’s aimed at you after all – we’ve gone to all this effort, so you better buy our product. Whereas chocolate that’s aimed more towards men – Snickers for example – is promoted like it’s an imperative, a must have, a necessity. ‘Get some nuts’ or ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry’ push absolutely no guilt whatsoever on men for eating chocolate. For them, it’s encouraged as a staple, not a naughty little treat.

It might not seem important how chocolate advertises itself. It might not seem important that food is gendered, when there’s so many other problems going on in the world. It’s how advertising works, you might say, looking at specific groups of people as a target audience, and selling to them.

But it’s just tiring. I am tired of being made to feel a certain way because I am a woman. I am tired of feeling guilty for doing things that a man is encouraged to do, of my gender seemingly dictating what I should eat, what I should drink, what I should buy.

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Diet coke is not a drink for women. It is a carbonated cola drink. It is genderless. (Secret I got told by Briony – while coke zero and diet coke are both caffeine and sugar free, they are marketed and packaged differently because apparently men wouldn’t buy diet coke.)

Women can eat Yorkie bars. Women can do whatever they choose, thank you very fucking much.

Yoghurt is not a female food. It is not a male food. Food doesn’t have a gender so help me god. why would it even be a female food? Because it’s… runny? Pink when it’s strawberry flavoured? Has the whole world gone mad and I am the only one who has noticed?

While we’re on the topic of packaging and marketing dear friends, let’s discuss the fact that female razors are more expensive than male razors. Women are told by society that we should be hairless. That we should literally alter the way our bodies work to conform to a societal norm. Now, if you want to shave your legs, because you prefer the way it looks and feels, then very good, absolutely fine. But you shouldn’t have to pay more than a man for that privilege.

Men also make the decision whether to shave their faces. But for some reason we’re paying more for something which is, across society and culture, impressed upon us as not our own choice, but the way it should be. Plus, making them pink is a very bizarre choice. Do you know what a razor is? It is blades. Which will cut you. Every time I shave my legs I cut them, somewhere, at least once. It does not help me that the razor is pink.

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On the plus side, there is hope on the horizon. Bodyform’s new advert is rather wonderful. It shows women running, fighting, falling, getting back up again. They get cut, and scraped, and bruised, and all of this shows just how alive they are. Isn’t that wonderful? Bodyform make the point that blood should not stop our ability to do anything. When we’re on our periods we’re not skipping around in white jeans with perfect hair. We’re probably, like a lot of the times during the rest of the month, sweaty, trying, working, doing.

A woman’s ability is in no way impeded by her gender. We can eat Maltesers and drink beer and go nowhere near yoghurt because it is disgusting.

And none of it has to be sodding pink.

 

 

Words by Sian Brett
Images/Videos courtesy of Maltesers, Snickers, Diet Coke, Yorkie, Gillette, Bic & Bodyform

20 Pieces of Advice I’d Like to Give After Being a Woman for 20 Years On This Planet We Call Earth

Look for other great women. Around you, near you, in the media. Don’t copy them, but learn how they do it, and then you do it too.
Caitlin Moran made a snap decision one day to stop sitting around and do something. Bridget Christie thought, fuck it, a comedy show about feminism, why not, got nothing to lose. My mum keeps on going, keeps plowing through, and she’s the bravest woman I know. Every day on Women’s Hour there are more and more examples of incredible women doing amazing things. There’s always someone to look up to and there’s always someone that they learnt from too. You’re part of something. You’re part of a line, so look back at it.  

You won’t get anything if you don’t ask.
Want to do stand up? Ask someone how. Want to go to university? Ask to. Want to have a job? A career in a certain area? If you don’t ask, no one’s going to offer it to you. You’re already at a disadvantage, the world views you as something less. You’ve got to ask, because it’s not going to be handed to you. You make your own luck.

Take every opportunity you have.
Women couldn’t always vote but you can, so go and vote, because you’re very very lucky. Malala Yousafzai was shot for trying to get an education as a girl. If you live in a western country, you have the chance for free education. Use it. I simply can’t say this enough. We certainly don’t live in a post-feminist society, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have opportunities or that we’re not lucky that some things are the way they are.

There is no one way to be a woman, and it’s not dictated by feminism.
Do you like wearing dresses? And make up? Or don’t? THAT’S TOTALLY FINE. The point of feminism is that you have the choice to do all those things, or not do those things. Do you want to shave your legs? That’s fine. Don’t want to? Also fine. Gender is not binary, gender is not fixed and gender should not dictate your actions.

Sometimes you have to shout a bit louder.
It’s ingrained in society, from a historical standing, that women should be seen and not heard, and that they’re objects, accessories, possessions. We’re slowly moving away from this mindset, but you might still need to remind people of this. Argue your point. Tell them they’re wrong. prove you have a voice, and an opinion, and that it matters, because it does.

Your body belongs to you and no one else.
As long as you’re happy with it, and happy inside your own skin, then what else matters? It’s your body and you’re the one who has to live with it forever, so look after it and treat it right. Fill it with yummy food, and laughter and fruit and veg, and air from the seaside, and excellent alcohol that warms you up and makes you dance. Love your body; all its flaws and all its brilliant bits. Love your boobs and your vagina, and your thighs and your toes. Please, please, please look after your body. You only get one and it’s so important and beautiful.

Your soul is yours, but lend it out.
I’m not talking divine spirit things here. What I mean is that feeling when you see your very best friend dancing their arse off. I’m talking about when all your family are around you and they’re all absorbed in each other. You can only get these feelings if you let people in, and give them that little piece of yourself to hold on to.

You make your own happiness.
It’s important to give away these little pieces of yourself to the people you love, but you’ve also got to learn to be happy on your own, being on your own, being by yourself, doing things for yourself. This is one of the most important life skills you can learn.

Surround yourself with good, kind, intelligent, funny, women.
You’ll learn more about yourself by spending time with them, as well having a jolly good laugh.

Surround yourself with good, kind, intelligent, funny, men.
Ditto.

Always take free furniture from the sides of roads.
Painting chests of drawers is like a kind of meditation. Plus, free furniture.  

Walk, don’t get the bus.
You’ll feel insanely better for it, even if you are slightly sweatier.

Your bodily functions are FINE.
We all fart and poo and sweat and that. It would be weird if you didn’t, why are you pretending that you don’t?

Look after your mind.
If you don’t feel okay, tell someone. If you feel sad, or confused, or lost, tell someone how you’re feeling. Meditate. Read books and watch films and let your mind act like a sponge soaking it all up. Your mental health is so so so important, please look after it.

Sometimes, you do just have to adult.
You have to do your washing and ring the doctors and cook food for yourself. It will make you feel like a proper grown up, and that’s well fun.

When your friends tell you that that person is no good for you, they’re probably right.
They know you pretty well, and they only want the best for you, so they probably know what they’re on about.

Ring your mum.
She’s done it all before and she will always know what to say. She’s the best advice you’ll ever get.

Listen to music by women.
Read books by women. Watch films made by women, about women. Watch comedy by women. Let them inspire you and course through your veins.

Not everyone is learning these things as quick as you, be patient.
Learn for yourself, and don’t get angry when other people aren’t getting it right. They need more time.

Don’t beat yourself up for getting things wrong.
You’re learning too, remember – it’s okay to fail, and try, and fail and try again. As long as you’re trying.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

Why I Got My Boobs Out For Feminism

“Alright. Tops off then.”

It’s a Monday afternoon and I’m stood in a church in Sidcup wearing only my black skinny jeans and favourite pair of shoes. The ones that make me feel powerful. I’m staring down the lens of a camera, thinking of all the times I ever felt like I couldn’t do something because I was a woman, or got spoken over, or made to feel like I wasn’t pretty enough, or skinny enough, or that any of those things even mattered. My boobs are out for the stained glass windows to see, but in this moment they’re completely desexualised. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as okay with my body as I do in this moment.

The other girls having their photos taken (and MJ, directing the photos, who has got her boobs out too) have different body types to me, and it strikes me that I don’t know the last time I saw a normal girls body; that wasn’t stick thin, or model level hairless. We’re all just feminine bodies, together, in this space. And it feels fantastic.

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When MJ asked me to be a part of her exhibition, Stuck Up Cunts, which she devised with Ellamae after female sanitary products were labelled as a luxury under the Tampon Tax, I said yes in an instant. When she asked how I felt about nudity, my answer took a bit more thinking about.

I had always assumed that everyone has issues with their body, and that absolutely no one was okay with how they looked. I thought that this was a given; that it was just something unspoken across all women. It took quite a long time for me to realise that this is utter bullshit, and that even if this was the case – it didn’t make it okay. It’s not okay to not like how you look, it’s not okay to be uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s not okay to not want to wear a swimming costume, to be seen looking anything less than perfect, to not want to look in the mirror.

So when everyone started taking their tops off in a free the nipple frenzy of feminism, and I found myself joining in without much of a second thought, I was the most surprised of all. But I did it, and you know what? It felt fucking excellent. I posed and stretched and looked straight down that camera, and truly felt like I was living inside my own skin, like it was mine, and like I was proud of it.

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Myself and my experience aside, the shoot did something bigger – it made all the women who saw it feel like they weren’t alone.

“A lot of people have said they also found it quite liberating, that we’ve done this, that we’ve put it on. They said that they needed this kind of radical input, because they’d never seen anything like it” Ellamae told me on the penultimate day of the exhibition at Rose Bruford College, where her and MJ are just finishing their degrees in American Theatre Arts. “A girl came in here and said ‘I don’t think I would have liked this exhibit if it was just one person modelling, I don’t think it would have made a difference to me, because I’d still feel really insecure about myself. But the fact I’ve seen so many diverse women as a collective, working together on this; I feel like it’s made an impact on me.’”  And as other students came in and out of that room, and disappeared behind a curtain to print their vaginas with paint for the vagina wall, it did feel like a very diverse collection of women coming together for something special. Everyone who came in and looked at the photos seemed to be revelling in one thing –bodies, just being bodies.

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The images that have sparked the most attention so far, including an article in an Icelandic magazine, are the ones that are inspired by the tampon tax. When I asked MJ about where the idea for these came from she told me “It’s the irony of it being taxed as luxury – I was like ‘we should just totally get loads of massive dresses and wear tampons as earrings and all that kinda stuff, just to highlight the sheer fucking ridiculousness of luxury products. Like, no, no it’s not, I’m not shoving a Ferrero Rocher up my vagina.”

And so a shoot was born. Born out of a rage at things still not changing, at still having to put up with the system being forever stacked against women.  

MJ told me “I like shouting about it. It just excites me. But I think that’s just me because I’m a bit naughty and I like having fun like that, getting into trouble. I want to do stuff that in no way is quiet, because I think we can’t be quiet anymore; we’ve been quiet for so long.”

For me in particular, this struck a chord. I’ve always been privy to a bit of a discussion, an angry tweet now and then. But that’s not enough is it? It’s time to shout. And taking part in these photos, exposing my body, for me, felt like shouting. And I was shouting at myself just as much as at anyone else.

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For someone who has lived a life uncomfortable with how they look, it’s important to realise that it took a grand acceptance, to make me love it. I spoke to Ellamae and MJ about being a teenage girl, and asked what they would tell their 14-year-old selves about Stuck Up Cunts.

Ellame: “It’s really difficult because at that age I was getting into the age of trying to sexualise myself and flirt with boys. Those are the ages where you’re like ‘oh my god my boobs are growing, and I’m starting to look like a woman’”

MJ: “I mean I never experienced that – I did experience five padded bras”

Ellamae: “Your body shape changes though, you would have had a very straight figure, then your hips come in-”

MJ: “-and you’re like what the fuck is going on?”

“What we do now, I don’t think I could have done if I’d grown up in this perfect feminist world.” MJ went on to say. “All of this is reaction, and I think that this is my reaction to how I felt when I was 14 and what I think about it now. This whole thing is ‘why the fuck did you ever think like that?’”

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And what next? Where now? “I don’t think I’m finished fighting” MJ told me.
And as for me? I’ve only just started.

Stuck Up Cunts is going to the Edinburgh Fringe, and Ellamae and MJ have asked me to help develop a piece of theatre to go with it that will be headed to Summerhall at the beginning of August. Stay tuned for more information!

 

Words by Sian Brett.

Photos for Stuck up Cunts, by Ellamae Cieslik and MJ Ashton.