Social Issues

Unconventional Christmas

I’ve had Twitter since I was 15. It’s my constant companion; the voices of these journalists and comedians that I have followed in many ways for seven years now. I check it when I wake up and I check it when I go to bed. A good tweet is like a good joke – satisfying.

My favourite time on Twitter is Christmas Day, when the connection it gives you to other people makes the day feel bigger than whatever is going on in your own Christmas. In recent years, Sarah Millican has started the hashtag #joinin, so that people can follow this directly and share what they’re doing, as a way to reach out to people who might be having lonely or difficult Christmases. I get to see commentary on Christmas TV, quotes from racist grandparents, and see everyone share their best and worst gifts. The tweet I look out for especially though, is comedian Robert Webb who reminds us that Christmas without a parent or both parents can be tough, shitty and sad, and what’s more, that that’s okay.

Christmas is a particularly tough day if you’ve lost a parent, or don’t have a strong family unit. It can be hard to admit you’re not enjoying yourself on a day with so much pressure on it, when everyone else seems to be having a jolly old family time. The traditions you grew up with change, as they inevitably do with age, but they change because of absence – because no matter how hard you try, on that day it will always feel a bit like something’s missing.

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I miss Christmas with my dad. I don’t have anyone to watch It’s A Wonderful Life with anymore. The responsibility of being the person who’s too drunk by lunch has fallen to me. I once told my dad that I hated Wilkinson’s because he dragged me there every Saturday, so one year he bought things he knew I’d like from there and left the labels on so I knew I was wrong (I was wrong Wilkinson’s is the best shop ever). Fairytale of New York is my mum and dad’s Christmas song. There’s no one to argue with over the 80’s pop Christmas CD (my choice) and the Rat Pack one (Dad’s). We don’t drive to see grandparents in his car, with it’s very specific smell. There was always a moment on Christmas morning where we had to say ‘Dad – please stop checking your emails and come and watch us open stockings for god’s sake you grumpy bastard.’ We’d hand him what he always got – a) a DVD, b) a book, or c) a box of Sports Mix and he’d say ‘A football!’

So for those who find the festive season a bit tough, like me, I’d like to offer some advice, that I’m trying very hard not to make condescending. Instead, you must make your own traditions. Build your own family. Appreciate the new.

My favourite part of Christmas is the flat meal; an important trip to Lewisham Shopping Centre, lucky dip with Poundland gifts, Secret Santa, Frankie’s honey parsnips, the glee with which Rob rearranges the living room, Steve’s Christmas jumpers, and more roast potatoes than anyone can conceivably eat. On Christmas day the group chats light up with everyone’s best presents, wishes we were all together, and tales of whose nan is pissed. We compare potatoes.

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We have a ridiculous new year’s eve party and watch the fireworks from Best Hill in London, Telegraph Hill with the entirety of SE4 (you can take your Primrose Hill and shove it). We spend new year’s day mopping the floor and feeling sorry for ourselves, regretting our dancing and then decamp to the seaside the day after to clear out the cobwebs.

I’ve taken on new present buying responsibilities – I buy my cousin a different sit-com box set every year so I can educate him on these things the way my dad educated me. I am the best at making presents for my sister. Together, we watch all the Christmas TV, and drink wine, and miss our dad. Last year she gave me a framed letter that he’d written me. We always cry.

And it’s okay to miss him on Christmas Day because, to be honest, it’s a bit shit that he’s not here. He was a grumpy old bastard, but that’s what you need at Christmas more than ever. Someone to point out that the whole thing is bloody ridiculous.

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To me, grief is like a bruise that never goes away. At first, it’s the stabbing pain, it’s the injury, and the shock. Slowly that bruise changes colour, and maybe it gets a bit smaller, but I don’t think it ever goes away. And sometimes, you need to poke it. To check it still hurts. To feel that pain again, because when you feel it, you remember the injury, and you remember why it hurts. And it’s the remembering that’s so important.

For more on this see the amazing tweet from Rachael Prior about her dad and M&S Jumpers that recently went viral. The replies are full of people sharing how their Christmases aren’t the same now that they’ve lost someone, but there’s a bittersweet quality to it all.

 

Words by Sian Brett
Tweet from Rachael Prior, ‘@ORachaelO’

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Being

Recently, I read an article that defended Mandi Gosling’s boobs. Her dress at the Oscars meant she looked great, but all anyone could talk about was her breasts – like breasts are something new and unheard of. Sure she looked great, and yeah she’s got boobs, but really? Like is that all we care about now? We’re not even going to pretend we like her dress first?

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There was literally nothing about Mandi that didn’t mention her cleavage. When I did finally find this article in defence of her boobs I was overjoyed, until I got to the end of the piece. The article started to talk about how we should be grateful that Mandi wasn’t like all the other ‘stick’ women on the red carpet that night.

Using the word ‘other’ when talking about women is outrageously problematic. Don’t defend someone by putting someone else down, that’s not how it works. Mandi Gosling isn’t ‘different’ because she has cleavage. I have cleavage for God’s sake, so do half my friends, so do members of my family, and strangers I pass on the street. Cleavage is just boobs. Boobs are just boobs. Get over it. Don’t call people out and say they’re different for having boobs, and don’t call them out for not having boobs.They’re just women, and they’re just people.

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Take a look at this picture of Ashley Tisdale. She looks great. It’s a great dress. She turned up to a charity event wearing it, which was quick to be followed by Twitter users writing that she looked pregnant (and most of them weren’t nice about it). To me, she doesn’t look pregnant, she looks like she usually does. However, when people say female celebrities look pregnant, they mostly just mean it looks like they’ve put weight on. Again I can’t help but think, why the hell do you care?

All these articles always get me a little stressed out because I can never understand why anyone gives a shit about who has a bit of flab, or who had a nip-slip, or who got botox. I do not care. I never have, and if I ever do, I hope you all slap me round the face until I snap out of it. Just because they’re celebrities why should it mean we’re allowed to bully them? Famous men and women are both subjected to this kind of treatment, but it does seem to come part and parcel of being a female celebrity as opposed to some of the male celebrities who we don’t seem to criticise, for example, the wonderful Chris Pratt whom we love on the left, or on the right. But then double standards are also inbuilt with this whole issue.

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At the end of the day, my point is that we shouldn’t be so hard on people for being the way they are. It sounds obvious, and it sounds like something we should already be doing, but it isn’t. We talk about celebrities for being fat, thin, breasty, flat-chested, pregnant-looking, old, flabby, or whatever, but what’s arguably worse is that we even do it to people we know. We talk about people we used to know, or people in our classes, or ou jobs, and talk about them behind their back. I’m not necessarily saying w should all be nice to each other all the time (mostly because it’s impossible), but there’s just no need to criticse people for being the way they are if they can’t help it, or if they’re happy. If Mandi Gosling wants to wear that dress to a televised event, she probably couldn’t care less what you think about her boobs.

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If Mandi Gosling wants to wear that dress to a televised event, she probably couldn’t care less what you think about her boobs. If I wear skinny jeans and a crop top on a night out, I know it doesn’t look that nice when I sit down, because as a human who doesn’t exercise, I have a belly. I’m only 20, but I’ve had plenty of photos taken of me when both my friends and I have laughed about how ‘out’ my boobs are. Let me tell you, I will wear what I want, and what makes me feel comfortable or nice, and if you want to talk about it then go ahead, but frankly there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being comfortable and happy in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with wearing v-necks if you have big boobs, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing things that show off something you’ve worked for, or something you’re proud of. Wear what you want for god’s sake.

You do you xo

 

Words by Briony Brake
Images from Maxim, Romper, GymViral, NY Magazine

Q&A: Oxford Dignity Drive

Hello to the gang at Oxford Dignity Drive! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves; who you are and what you all do?

In March 2015, Dignity Drive was set up by Wadham College students Rachel Besenyei and Niamh McIntyre, to raise awareness and combat period poverty! This took the form of an initial week of fundraising events, and a drive for donations of sanitary products which were then delivered to homeless shelters, and refuges around Oxford. We (Laura, Issy, and Hannah-Lily) took over last summer., and since then we have been raising more funds, and distributing products around Oxford. 

Why are you working for this cause? Do you believe it to be an international issue?

The issue of period poverty is especially prevalent in the UK at the moment because of the current government’s massive cuts to homelessness services, which often hit women harder. There has been a 50% cut in services since 2010, and in that time homelessness in the UK has doubled.

The lack of sanitary products for women is often talked about as the ‘unseen’ side of homelessness, and so even when people donate to food banks, often they just don’t consider it. Periods remain a taboo subject across the world, but we are focusing on Oxford in particular because of the widely acknowledged issue of homelessness in the city.

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So what do the Oxford Dignity Drive do to help?

In 2015 we ran a week of events aimed to raise awareness around the unspoken issue of period poverty, including film screenings, panel events, and an exhibition. Increasing the discussion around menstruation as a means of combatting this taboo is vital, and we hope that by doing so it will become part of every discussion surrounding homelessness.

The other major work we do is raising money, and taking physical donations. Recently we have been raising funds through union motions, and then delivering them as soon as we can to food banks and refuges in Oxfordshire. As necessary as raising awareness is, we know that this is a tangible, urgent issue, and so our aim is to provide resources as quickly as possible.

Tell us about some of these events that you’ve been holding, or plans you have!

Last term we worked on diversifying the places we donate to, and identified that there was a potential issue in that homeless shelters are predominantly used by men. So we contacted a number of women’s refuges, and are now aiming to help them too. We’ve also been continuing to raise awareness through social media, and are planning some more events, as well as a week-long drive in mid-February. You can follow our Facebook page to keep up-to-date, and watch this space!

What would you ask of local residents to do in support?

If you’re thinking about donating to food banks or shelters, make sure you include sanitary products as well as food products (this can include toiletries too, they’re all greatly appreciated!).

Spread the word, confront the taboo, and tell all your friends about Dignity Drive!

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Perhaps on a more national scale, what can everyone do to help?

It’s really the same as above; there is a nationwide campaign called #thehomelessperiod which has a big petition, and takes just 10 seconds to sign. There are also a number of regional campaigns doing the same as us – at universities in particular – so check whether your university has one, and if not you could consider setting one up! We can help, so please get in touch if you would like any advice.

Would you like to say anything else to the lovely Anthem readers?

We would like you to help us in raising awareness around period poverty. Whether it’s sharing an article, telling your friends, or making donations to food banks yourself. We are always looking for more people to help Oxford Dignity Drive as well, so locals to the area can contact us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know how to get involved.

Lastly, we will always continue trying to combat this issue, but ultimately we are picking up the slack of deficient government services. Write to your MP, and be considerate of any party’s policies surrounding homelessness when making personal political choices!

Sanitary products are not a luxury – they are a necessity. 

 

Oxford Dignity Drive do some great work, and you can keep learning about their work, and what you can do via the following:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oxdignitydrive/?fref=ts 
GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/sfdprg

Words by Briony Brake with responses from the team at Oxford Dignity Drive
Images by Oxford Dignity Drive

Blue Monday, Blue Winter, Blue Year.

Blue Monday is not the most depressing day of the year, nor is it any more or less depressing than any other day of the year.

January can be a difficult month as we tend to pile even more pressure onto ourselves with sweeping New Year’s resolutions that often force us to think we should be fitter, stronger, or better than we already are. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to watch more films because I keep watching the same ones over and over .

I do not plan to get smarter, thinner, or better at riding my bike because I have as much control over the year as I do the weather. This year I’m going to try my best to look after myself while I attempt to embrace the mess that is life after uni.

I don’t believe I will be happy all year. I don’t believe I will be healthy and happy for the next New Year because I don’t know what life will bring. My attitude differs to the popular resolve I’m sure, but it seems fair to me.

As such, I know people will think I’m being negative by saying that Blue Monday is as depressing as any other day. I feel I should however remind you that Blue Monday is false, has no scientific backing, and was made up by holiday company Sky Travel in their 2005 press release. Blue Monday is pseudoscience, and an angle for marketers. So all of this (see below) is bullshit.

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My point with this piece isn’t to mock you, or to tell you how foolish you are to buy into all the companies and newspapers telling you to be depressed every January 16th. My point is to tell you that for many people, the entire month, season or year can be so awfully blue, that one day won’t make a difference.

We should not see Blue Monday as a day to feel bad about ourselves unnecessarily, but as a reminder of how much work we need to put into looking after ourselves, as often as we can. Whether it’s a seasonal affective, or year-round depression, it’s important to focus on the good.

Articles from the Daily Mail (*cough* trash) telling us why things are terrible and ‘more depressing than usual’, should be replaced with good news, and things to be happy about. We should not feel bad for being upset, and we should definitely not feel bad on behalf of others when we are sad. It is a human right to feel. It is a part of living to cry and feel down, as much as it is to laugh and feel joy.

This Blue Monday, I ask that you stop reading articles about the bad in the world and to instead watch a film, or have dessert or a hot chocolate. I don’t want you to feel bad because you’ve been told to. I ask that you look after yourself as well as you should every other day of the year, and to do your best to keep it up from now on.

Blue Monday isn’t real, but your health and feelings are. Look after what counts, and be kind to yourself.

 

Words by Briony Brake

The Lions Barber Collective

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 years old in the UK. Let that sink in for a second.
In 2013, over 4,000 of a total 5,140 suicides were male. Nearly 80%.
For every female who commits suicide, there are four males who do, but the numbers aren’t going down…

The ratio of male to female suicide shows a sustained rise over the last 30 years.  In 1981 men accounted for 62 per cent of suicides, this rose to 70 per cent by 1988, 75 per cent by 1995, and 77 per cent in 2012, to 78 per cent last year” (CALM, 2013).

The statistics are worrying, and aren’t even slowing down. So what the hell can be done about it?

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The Lions Barber Collective is a group of professional barbers from England, Ireland and Holland who are trying to help prevent it. How? They want to talk. It’s widely known that people are often likely to confide in bartenders, salon workers and barbers more than their friends or family. It’s not a bad thing, but it does raise the idea that perhaps these guys should know what to do when dealing with vulnerable members of the public.

This particular group has begun working in partnership with #BarberTalk and Papyrus (suicide prevention). Their general work, in conjunction with BarberTalk involves raising awareness, and training. The training aims to have barbers recognising, talking, listening and advising their customers. Here they’ve realised their relationship with the men they work with, and the trust that already exists, and are putting it to good use!

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Through a variety of public projects, demonstrations and merchandising (you might even have seen these badass t-shirts before), the charity is able to spread the training, knowledge, and most importantly, the awareness. It may seem like a little change, but being able to actually tell someone what’s going on in your life, or how you’re feeling can make the world of difference. For men who frequent the barber multiple times a year, it can become a chance either to get a few things off your chest, or simply be distracted from any problems long enough to have a nice chat.

Founded by Tom Chapman, the organisation is still very young, and really deserves the chance to grow and become a household name. Having lost a friend to suicide himself, Chapman felt the need for a safe and open environment where men were free to express themselves, and be listened to if they were feeling depressed or suicidal. The work they have done in such a short space of time has already saved lives, and as Chapman says in the interview below, if they can shave off just 1% of the suicides, it’s still lives being saved.

I emailed Lions Barber Collective and received a joyous reply from Tom Chapman who wanted to pass on the main goals of the collective; “to destroy the stigma around mental health and suicide, and through the BarberTalk program to train barbers to recognise the signs of mental health, the skill of non-judgemental listening, and signposting”.

It seems like a small ask that could save lives.

You can like them on Facebook to keep up to date with their events and partnerships here: https://www.facebook.com/TheLionsBarberCollective

Or check out their website instead for more information and merchandise: http://www.thelionsbarbercollective.com/

All photos courtesy of The Lions Barber Collective
Words by Briony Brake

Statistics from CALM: http://www.thecalmzone.net.gridhosted.co.uk/2014/10/male-suicides-in-england-and-wales-hit-15-year-high/

Maintaining Friendships (How To Lose a Friend in Ten Steps)

The thing about friendships is that you don’t plan for a future in the way that you do with a romantic relationship; there is no natural path to follow, or a map with which you can navigate the success or lack thereof. It’s blindly attaching yourself to someone because at one point in time you shared something. Whether it’s school, a job or an interest, you make a connection with someone, often it is superficial yet other times it is not, and that person becomes someone you can’t imagine not being in your life.

Part of growing up is that you lose friends. Maybe it’s the girl you used to walk home with, or the person from work who you’d always catch up on all the gossip with, but sometimes they’re more important, they’re the people you grew up with, the people who helped you navigate your torturous teenage years, the ones who calmed you down after blowouts with your parents, and sometimes those friends disappear from your life and you’re not really sure why.

Moving away from home and going to university mean that people change, circumstances change, and opportunities change. Rather than being in the same place at the same time, friendships start to require upkeep; you need to plan visits to make sure that you keep in touch. Although our generation has it easy with the invention of social media (meaning keeping contact with people is at our finger tips), there is still the dreaded moment of sending a message after not speaking to one another for a while. What do you say? Do you say anything? That’s how most friendships die, not because of massive fall outs but because no-one is prepared to put themselves out there for fear of rejection.

There are many people in my life who I wish I could ask how their day was, or what they’ve been up to, but I don’t due to the fear that they want nothing to do with me, or that we don’t talk anymore not because of a series of inaction but rather because their life is better without me in it. I should hazard a guess that this is rarely the case, and on every occasion where I have reached out to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, they seem as happy to have reignited a lost friendship as I am. Sure there will be people out there who are lost to you, but you’ll never know if you never try. This means reaching out to someone you haven’t spoke to in a while and hoping that they want to grab a cup of coffee, and then it’s hoping that you still have things in common with each other and that you’re not sat in uncomfortable silence until someone calls it quits. It’s not always easy. People have different schedules and will want to do different things, so it’s about compromise. It’s deciding that despite your differences it’s worth being in each others lives.

Getting over a lost friendship can be more difficult on the occasions where someone has unforeseeably cut you out of their life. You’ll wonder why, or what you did that could make someone not want to spend time with you anymore. The most important thing in this circumstance is to put yourself first, and that does not mean desperately trying to understand why, or what you could have done differently, or trying to change their mind. You have to accept that they have made a decision and attempt to move past it in your own way. Let go of any hostility you hold towards that person.

There will be times when you have to cut people out of your life, because their friendship is toxic. Part of being younger is believing you have to be friends with everyone but this is not the case. If someone only brings negative energy with them, or the best side of you isn’t brought out when you’re around them, then say goodbye. You’ll realise it’s better to have a handful of great friends who you trust, than a load of people you keep around because it’s what’s expected of you.

At the end of the day you’ll experience a lot of things growing older, and although it’s rough at the time, letting go of people and resentments can be liberating, and so can throwing caution to the wind and getting back in contact with someone only to rediscover a friendship you thought was lost.

I Don’t Need Two Halves To Be Whole

Singing birds in the morning sun,
or do they quiver at what you’ve done?

Echoes of laughter bounce off walls
just like the therapy balls
that weren’t good enough either.

Love is learnt in pairs
But then surely I am half empty.
Or am I half full, with her brown eyes,
much deeper than cuts and
much brighter than cigarette butts.
Pay attention:
Thick skin sentry. 

Every new pair he’ll slip through,
in between cracks, which can be filled into.

And she has already outgrown you.

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I have always thought that I’d be half empty because I didn’t want to inherit any resemblance of my father. Thinking about it now though, if he were to be anything in my life, he would be the sickness.

Like with sickness, sometimes the less you know the better. I never had a great relationship with my father. I think this answers a lot of questions about my teenage relationships: the over-attachment, the insecurity, only being able to understand love and kindness from guys when it came in the form of degradation.

This poem says that I am complete without my father. I am whole without him because my mother was enough, as a parent, as a friend, and most importantly, as a woman. She did not allow him to be the making of her and only now do I realise how empowering that has been for me.

The absence of my father has meant more room for my mother and has come with a profound understanding that I do not need a man to validate me.

I no longer worry about searching for my other half. I am already full.

 

 

Words by Jasmine York
Illustration for ANTHEM by Ellen Forbes