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The Manley Guide To Female Authors: Body Positivity

Body image is something which has plagued women for as long as our worth has been associated with how we looked, so forever basically, but in an age of social media where we count the likes we get on pictures of ourselves, our feeds are full of people’s ‘perfect’ lives and ‘perfect’ bodies, and all angles are exploited in order for someone’s waist to look as small as possible whilst also somehow making their bum look like Beyonce’s or Kim Kardashians. It’s no wonder that we’re all lacking a little bit in the way of body positivity, so for September Sex Education Week this year I have had a hunt through my bookshelves to find women who are, like all of us, lacking in confidence and over analysing every little thing, and also women who celebrate, or who are learning to celebrate, every part of them.

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Girl Up
, Laura Bates

Within the first few pages, Girl Up simultaneously made me cry and want to shout hell yeah! Throughout this book, Laura Bates is pressing a giant bullshit button (or sexist bullshit klaxon), calling time on the old adages; “worrying about our bodies is a trap. It’s a great big, ugly trick that keeps girls quiet and under-confident”. Everything she talks about I agree with but also know I am guilty of feeling the way the adverts want me to feel, I am guilty of wanting to lose weight and look different, I am guilty of feeling inadequate in my body, but I am also agreeing with her that I shouldn’t feel that way. I think this book more than any other shows the trap that I and many other women are in. We’re constantly trying to be more body positive and embrace every aspect but that doesn’t mean that we suddenly become invincible to the pressures from the outside world and our own minds.


Irie in White Teeth, Zadie Smith

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, is not about bodies, or indeed teeth. The story follows three families over the course of the 20th century and how their lives become intertwined with each other and the paths they follow as a result of various events.

One of the characters, Irie, is a 15-year-old girl growing up in the 90s in North London, trying to find her place in the world. She struggles with her weight, her identity as a mixed race woman, and with unrequited love. Much of Irie’s focus, during her chapter, is on how she can gain the attention of Millat; lose weight, relax her hair, subsequently burn it all off. As we get to know Irie more we realise that a lot of this has very little to do with Millat but with her own insecurities. She hates her curly hair, she wants “straight straight long black sleek flickable tossable shakeable touchable finger-through-able wind-blowable hair. With a fringe”. She sees weight loss adverts on the way home from school and fantasises over ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures, waiting “for her transformation from Jamaican hourglass heavy…to English Rose… a slender delicate thing”.

Irie’s chapter is both devastating and hugely relatable, I know that I have stood in front of a mirror or seen a photo and hated what was staring back at me. I know I have, as Irie does, placed my hand on my stomach reminding myself not to be bloated after lunch or whilst on my period; remember to suck in – this dress wasn’t made for big meals, thank goodness I wore a baggy top etc. I also know that since reading White Teeth, Irie has crept into my subconscious in a positive way. I saw my internal monologue written down and cried, and now when I remember, I try to fight back, I try to relax a little after lunch or dinner, and remind myself that it’s fine to be human.


Phenomenal Woman
, Maya Angelou

This poem exudes confidence, it is a celebration of her and her body. Phenomenal Woman is a confident, sassy celebration of self that we should all try to embrace as much as we can. All I can say now is to listen to the woman herself and take a little bit of Angelou away with you today.


Is It Just Me?
, Miranda Hart

Miranda Hart is best known for her sitcom Miranda but since then she has spoken out about a lot of personal issues on Instagram and in her book Is it Just Me?, an apt and relatable title that we’ve definitely all thought at some point or another. The fabulous thing about this book is, firstly, it’s not just you, we really are all in this together *cue music* but also the way she gets straight to the point, whilst also making you laugh; “most of us wouldn’t mind looking a bit more like him or her from Men’s Health or Grazia magazine, and a little bit less like, well, a sackful of ham”. The book is written as if in conversation with her younger self, and particularly for the chapter on bodies, it’s a good way of calling out the insecurities our younger selves have that as we get older we will hopefully move past.

She also calls out the fact that the idea of being “taken seriously as a woman” is to have glamorous hair, a designer handbag and a full face of makeup, and lists the pros and cons of being a tall woman (something I will never experience, being vertically challenged myself) including occasionally being mistaken for a man (pro: skip the long queue for the ladies, con: you’re more likely to have to help people lift heavy things).

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Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies
, Scarlett Curtis

Feminist Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies (FDWP) is a collection of essays by women on what feminism means to them, curated by Scarlett Curtis. It is a fantastic read and one I recommend to all of you (duh, that’s why it’s in this list). I love the variety of topics covered in this anthology, it is educational, eye-opening and extremely relatable. Body positivity isn’t really spoken about explicitly in the book, at least not in the way we imagine it. Dolly Alderton lists it in her essay ‘Dismantling and Destroying Internalised Misogyny: To-Do List’; “Remember that when you stand in front of the mirror naked and examine every opalescent stretchmark and knobbly toe and undulation of flesh of your body (every night) and feel a deep, sour hum of self-hatred, it’s probably not because you’re hideous”.

I think that body positivity is spoken about in broader terms, whether it is in the power of our bodies during childbirth, claiming ownership over our bodies as a result of the #MeToo movement, buying empowering pants or seeing representation in the media of people who look like you, FDWP offers up a whole variety of body positivity for you to enjoy and hopefully find at least one essay that speaks to you.


Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my favourite books and quite possibly my favourite film. It is both incredibly poignant and funny. The story charts the lives of Idgie and Ruth and deals with issues such as racism, domestic violence, female friendship, grief and love. Set across two different timelines, we learn about Idgie and Ruth via the stories told by Ninny to Evelyn during Evelyn’s trips to the local nursing home. Whilst I could talk endlessly about Idgie and Ruth and the many other fantastic characters in this book, it is Evelyn’s journey that I want to focus on for this piece (but please do go and read/watch this, you won’t regret it).

Evelyn is a 1980s housewife struggling with the idea of growing older; her weight, the menopause, and her stale marriage. Every time we meet Evelyn she is trying a new crash diet, skipping meals or wrapping herself in clingfilm, however, over time as she learns more about Idgie and Ruth’s lives we begin to see changes in Evelyn. She becomes empowered by the tales she’s told, and is more confident and sure of herself and even creates an alter ego by the name of Towanda. Towanda gives her that extra boost when she needs it, for example, if someone steals her space and she needs to ram their car out the way to make room for her own – we’ve all been there. By the end of the book, she embraces herself for all that she is and starts making choices that benefit her and make her feel good about herself whilst still carrying Idgie, Ruth and Ninny with her.


Words and Images by Eleanor Manley for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

TV, Film & Sex Education

TV & Film have always been part of our sex education, and now in 2018 some writers are realising their responsibility and the power they have to change the narrative.

On the rare occasion that society discusses sex education, and the papers are full of opinion pieces, the word that always gets thrown around is ‘pornography’; specifically the dangers of its accessibility. The government, teachers and parents are so terrified of what their children are seeing online, that a debate on sex education in parliament will usually turn into a debate on pornography. While this is an important debate to be had, and we are in a unique time when people are using the internet for everything from banking to dating, in all these debates and articles I can’t help but think that society is missing a big part of the puzzle.

To access porn, you have to know where to look, you have to google and browse and be an active user, you are alone in a room. On the other hand, media within the entertainment industry will always be a communal event. You sit down with family to watch the new Sunday night drama or go with friends to see the latest film release. What always follows is conversation between family, friends, and the wider audience, which thanks to social media is more expansive and immediate.

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Porn is not where people go to find great plot devices, the end goal is very simple, and sex is viewed in the abstract. Whereas TV and film in its nature use sex as a plot device and even when a sex scene is clearly put in for titillation (take Game of Thrones for example), the writers will still argue its relevance. In the last seven years or so I have seen a shift in the stories being told; from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, there is a need for the narrative around sex to change and for women to control the story.

Pheobe Waller-Bridge has said in many interviews that she wrote the original play Fleabag because she wanted to talk about sex. In 2012 when Lena Dunham’s new show Girls aired in the US and the UK, all people could talk about was the awkward sex scenes. Many journalists described them as explicit and awkward, however, there had been more explicit scenes depicted on TV before Girls appeared on our screens. Game of Thrones was being commissioned for its third season, a show in which it was normal to see at least four sex scenes in one episode and seemingly, an actress couldn’t get through an episode without at least once walking into a room of men, having forgotten to have got dressed. The sex scenes in Girls were new and interesting because Lena Dunham was showing her own experiences of sex and many women responded to this with glee because it allowed them to have the conversations that society deemed taboo.

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Caitlin Moran says in her book How To Be a Woman, “the sexual imagery of teenage years is the most potent you’ll ever have. It dictates desires for the rest of your life. One flash of a belly being kissed now is worth a thousand hard-core fisting scenes in your thirties”. Up to a certain age, and I am aware that age is getting younger, parents can control what their children see on the internet and to a certain extent what they see on their TV screens thanks to the 9pm watershed, however, we can’t control everything.

Remember the time when you were younger, on the brink of adolescence, and woke up past your bed to go to the toilet? On your way back to bed you heard the noise of the TV and the chatter of adults, and intrigue led you down the stairs. You poked your head over the bannister and saw your parents and their friends glued to the telly, then you looked up to the screen to see an image that you knew not to be looking at. Laying in bed, your mind boggles and so many questions arise, but you don’t know who to ask. It feels like being on the last word of a crossword puzzle and knowing on seeing the answer it will make sense, but at that moment you feel lost. Instead of talking to your parents and friends out of embarrassment, you seek out the same image in books and films. It takes you years to finally have those conversations with friends and eventually partners when sex has become a reality. Only then do you start to question the scenes you watched and the depictions of sex in your favourite films.

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Now, in 2018, we are having those conversations, whether that be the writers of The Affair making sure every sex scene pushes the narrative along, or Rachel Weisz discussing the importance of the sex between the two female protagonists in her new film Disobedience. I truly think that one of the many reasons famous actresses who have the money and the platform are turning to producing is so they can control the narratives they are telling about female sexuality. Sex is still a taboo subject, and we still cut off conversations with the excuse of being British, but we can’t shut down conversation and then worry about the lack of sex education children are receiving, or what they are seeing when they turn on the TV.

In the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the industry is trying to be more inclusive and give everyone a voice. People are asking for the narrative to change and the choice of stories to grow. The conversations about sex in the last year have revolved around power and abuse and what we want the next generation of women to know and experience. If we want to carry on making change for the better, and the film and TV industry wants to take responsibility, it needs to take sex seriously.

Just as we need diversity in the stories we tell, we need diversity in sex scenes and the relationships we see. Teenage girls and boys should see LGBTQ+ stories more than just once a year, and be shown different relationships and the multiple reasons people choose to have sex with each other. Our government, parents, teachers and most importantly our storytellers can’t be scared of answering questions and giving children the power of information and choice.  

 

Words: Lara Scott
Images: BBC/Two Brothers Ltd, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Sky Atlantic

 

The Manley guide to female authors

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I am definitely a bookworm. There is nothing I love more than curling up with a good book, a blanket and a cup of tea – it’s my happy place. At the last count, I had just over 400 books in my bedroom alone. I also love talking about and recommending books to others so it only seemed natural to spread this to the internet. Enjoy!


‘Spectacles’ – Sue Perkins

When I read this book I couldn’t put it down, and when I finished it I still couldn’t (I sat and hugged it for a while). I first came across Sue Perkins on Bake Off in 2010 and, along with most of the nation, fell in love with her and her friendship with Mel Giedroyc. However ‘Spectacles’ offers us something different to the cake pocketing Sue we see on TV, whilst retaining the humour that we all know and love.

Throughout this book, we learn about all the trials and tribulations of her life and get to see her come out the other side, and she talks about her dogs a lot which is a definite bonus! I truly loved this book and how human it was. Upon finishing (once I had stopped hugging it) I proceeded to tell almost everyone I met to read it, and here I am doing the same.


‘Wuthering Heights’ – Emily Brontë

‘Wuthering Heights’ is the only novel written by Emily Brontë. It is a classic gothic novel filled with drama, complex characters and the Yorkshire Moors. It’s a great book to read with someone or find someone who has already read it as it’s a great book to discuss – you can find out where each of you falls on the Heathcliff debate. If for no other reason, you should read this so that you can channel Kate Bush and dance wildly around your living room in a red dress.

‘Hot Milk’ – Deborah Levy

‘Hot Milk’ is the story of a mother and daughter travelling to Spain in search of a miracle cure. I have to confess, I actually found this book a little strange, and struggled to get my head around it to begin with. Despite the slight oddities, Levy takes us on a journey about mental health, mother and daughter relationships and the toll caring for someone can take  – no matter how much you love them – and also the guilt and anxiety the cared-for can feel. I had been sceptical at the start but by the end, I felt like I had read something really powerful.


‘Love Sick’ – Jessie Cave

‘Love Sick’ by Jessie Cave is not so much a book you read (although it does have words) but a book of satirical, and in her own words, “neurotic doodles” about life, friendships, love and what that person on the bus really thought about you.

I first discovered Cave on Twitter and then followed her on Instagram (@jessiecave) to see more of her doodles, so when I found out she was releasing this book I was really excited. It’s a great book to look at whilst snuggled up with a cup of tea or to share and laugh at with friends. Well worth a read, and a follow on Instagram as well if you like her stuff.

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‘We Should All Be Feminists’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘We Should All Be Feminists’ is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay on, as the title suggests, why we should all be feminists. It’s a powerful, insightful and thought-provoking read and a book you end up nodding along to a lot. If that’s not enough to convince you, she was also featured in Beyonce’s ‘***Flawless’ (2013), reciting her work.


‘In My Hands’ – Irene Gut Opdyke

‘In My Hands’ is the incredible true story of Irene Gut Opdyke’s life during wartime Poland and her personal mission to save as many Jews from the concentration and labour camps as possible, by hiding them in the house of the Nazi Army Major she worked for. Through her efforts, she was able to save twelve Jewish people from certain death. It’s a wonderful, moving, compelling and important book that remains with you, and is a clear reminder of our past.


‘My Life on the Road’ – Gloria Steinem

I have to be honest, I knew very little about Gloria Steinem when I bought this book, but it was recommended by Hermione Granger so really I had no choice, but by George it’s fantastic! Gloria Steinem has had an incredible life; fighting for women’s rights, travelling the world, campaigning for various presidents and presidential candidates, having some of the most amazing friends, and witnessing Martin Luther King in action amongst many more unbelievable things. I don’t think I’ve ever said wow so many times in one go.

 

Words by Eleanor Manley for Anthem.
Video and image courtesy of Comic Relief and Jessie Cave.

ANTHEM: Origins

All my life I’ve written, and I’ve loved writing. When I was little I wanted to be an author, and I remember nearly peeing myself when a cherished author at the time, Jean Ure, responded to my email and gave me tips on how to be like her; how to become an author. Since that day, I’ve never finished a book, a screenplay, or anything that would remotely classify me as an author.

Something that’s also happened since those childlike, utopian days is the rise of writers like Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Roxane Gay, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Jenny Lawson, Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates and the wonderful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These are largely, but not all, feminist writers and big believers in essays and articles and pieces of feminist writings. The rise of these women has in some ways allowed for feminism to be cool, to be relaxed and funny, and easy to digest.

Feminism is massive, and no two people see eye to eye on every single matter under the umbrella of its gender equality beliefs. People are still very much scared of the F word; while Justin Trudeau believes it should be as normal as declaring a religion or political belief, David Cameron struggles to use the term without clarifying that he prefers equality between people rather than a dirty word like feminism.

At its heart, feminism is equality between genders. Simple as.

These women that I talk about, I don’t call them authors, but writers. I’ve been writing on my own film blog since 2012 but lack motivation, and I have written for a young women’s blog not dissimilar to this one about mental health and women in the movies. I was always looking for somewhere new to write and only recently realised I could just make a new home for my writing on my own, or better yet, I could create a new platform for girls like myself, and join the expanding voice for young women online.

I had a very movie-like moment in November last year, where I realised I wanted to be a writer, and on that same bus ride into city centre, I came up with Anthem, and I knew a few great women who could help me out.

I went to an all-girls school, and growing up surrounded by 1000 other girls I soon learned to rely on the support of other girls. By sixth form, most of us had stopped trying to impress boys by being ‘gamer-girls’ or those kind of girls ‘who just got on better with guys’. By sixth form, we had learned that feminism was actually pretty cool, and that if Beyoncé could pull it off, so could we. Girl power was it. Two years in that little old common room and I’ve seen girls pierce their friends ears, girls wash their friends hair, girls give out tampons and pads like they have unlimited supplies. I’ve seen girls cry endlessly, girls making their sad or poorly friends’ cups of coffee or tea and letting them sleep on their lap, and I’ve seen girls gorge themselves on Domino’s more times than I have legitimately had roast dinners. I can only speak for the girls I knew then, but the support system within that sixth form common room was immense, and powerful.

Feminism is about equality of the sexes, I know, yet on a smaller level, this site is for the lesser known, less frequently heard voice of young women and what they care about. Feminism is something that will appear frequently on this site (it being something these women care about and are concerned with on a daily basis), but it is not here to push you away, it is here to invite you in for a cup of tea and a chat. We’re here to make feminism accessible, that’s the goal.

So welcome to ANTHEM, the voice of young women you know (or wish you knew). If you want to find out more about the beautiful people I’ve got helping me out, please look at the About page to meet me, Jess, Sian, Sophy and Maxene (the original five!). I’m excited to show you just how talented they are, and I hope you love it just as much as I do.

 

Words by Briony Brake