family

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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Halves, Wholes & Other Emotional Maths

We all grow up differently. Some people are self-conscious about their weight. Some people hate their noses. Some people think no-one is ever going to like them. Whatever it is, everyone has their insecurities, and from my experience, sex ed didn’t really make anyone feel better about them. The teacher was awkward, the students were worse, the curriculum was reeled off and that was pretty much it. The biology was covered, and ‘pastoral care’ mentioned, but what no-one really touched upon was how big a role emotions and self-image play amongst all this growing up.

I spent a lot of my teen years feeling uncomfortable in my body and insecure about how I looked. I was one of – in hindsight -many people that thought no-one would ever want them. I doubted that anyone would ever feel anything for me, yet maintained the hope that should something happen, it would be the answer to everything. I’d be fulfilled, complete and wanted, entirely satisfied with myself and my life.

Looking in the mirror and not only seeing the ‘ugly’ and the negative seemed an insurmountable thought for me. I was stuck in a rut of worthlessness, hopelessly looking to be wanted and reassured. I had the expectation that finding someone who saw more in me than I did would automatically bring happiness, irrespective of how I was feeling. I was not prepared for the emotional experience that thinking would bring about.

21244662_10211805042095761_2026440898_nThere’s that saying; ‘looking for my other half’, that people use when they talk about finding that person who is their soulmate. Whether that’s important to you or not, I think there’s something about this quote to bear in mind. No-one else should ever be your other half because you are already a whole. This is actually quite a new revelation for me, but one that has made all the difference, both to my relationship with others and with myself.

Adopting this perspective is, in essence, very flexible. It can mean that you need to go and be single and find happiness with yourself completely alone, but it doesn’t have to. It can mean constantly surrounding yourself with family and friends to build up morale, but only if you want it to. Whichever suits, my point is that no matter how endearing your environment is, the positive words from people around you cannot fill the sadness of how you see yourself forever. You must give yourself time to learn, to help yourself.

I am a huge advocate of drawing from the people around you. Having hated myself for so long, I have found so many parts of myself that I now love through other people and how they saw me. A few years ago, however, these positive words will have needed to be regular; I was in constant need of recognition that I was of any value. What they were saying wasn’t sinking in, because deep down I still couldn’t see past what I saw.

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When no-one was around to reassure me, I plummeted back into sadness, which took a toll on almost every aspect of my life. As I watched myself let everything slip away, I realised that I was losing myself. I decided that something had to change. I took a deep breath and a step back. I spent a summer with less social media and less communication with friends. It gave me a chance to reflect on myself, the words of others, and how I wanted to see myself. I built up confidence, proving to myself that I was of value rather than needing someone else to tell me this. It was a long process, and how I went about it may not suit you at all, but what matters is making that change.

I finally allowed my friends’ words to change my own mind, and as a result, I’m starting to embrace a happiness which is beyond fulfilling. This happiness comes from within. This is where we come back to that quote because that is what we all deserve. You are – always have and always will be – enough, but we need to take charge of our own self-worth to truly realise that. No-one can permanently plug that self-doubt you have, no-one can fill that space of insecurity forever. Using the people around you and their appreciation for you, you can build up the image you have of yourself into a whole that you become happier with.

While I think that’s important for wider life, it’s also important for the health of your relationship. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t let go for the benefit of yourself or your partner because your entire world depends on how their opinion of you builds you up. Even whilst in a relationship, you are two very different individuals who have their own lives but needn’t depend on the other. Value one another for the love you give but have enough confidence in your self-worth that you don’t need it to be satisfied.

As I said before, everyone is different, and everyone improves themselves differently. Your environment, be that a relationship, friends, or family is a gold mine for learning about what others value in you. The importance of the emotional awareness that sex ed neglects, lies simply in seeing this within yourself. In no time at all, you’ll find yourself taking the world by storm because knowing yourself – the ‘to-be-improved’, the value and the good – is nothing to be afraid of. Rather, take your happiness into your own hands and go for it, in love, ambitions or everyday life, all while knowing just what a good egg you truly are.

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Images from Rubyetc, Picture Quotes and The Online Odyssey.
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Here’s to Michelle

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Donald Trump is becoming the second most powerful man in the world this month (second only to Vladimir Putin), the White House will simultaneously be losing potentially the most inspiring and captivating First Lady it has ever had. Michelle Obama has been the role model that America needs; inspiring women of all backgrounds and ethnicities that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and not to let anyone hold you back.

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 If I’m ever feeling a bit down, or doubting myself,  or (especially) if I’m pulling an all-nighter, and need motivation to finish an essay, I tend to watch a bit of Michelle to get me back on track.  Not only does she have a law degree from Princeton and Harvard Law School, she’s also launched a campaign, ‘Let’s Move!’ in an attempt to combat childhood obesity, and she’s used her position as a way to encourage girls to pursue the careers they are interested in (‘Let Girls Learn’).

Michelle has also been extremely vocal about being a black woman in America, and the challenges those facing discrimination come up against. On top of all that, Michelle has never been afraid to be herself; she’s even been shopping with Ellen DeGeneres and on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. Not to mention she’s also raised two kids…

Here are some of my favourite Michelle quotes that will hopefully get you through those exam/ January/ dissertation/ general blues:

1. “I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls. And I told them that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I told them that they should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them, and that they should make their voices heard in the world”

Talking about meeting young girls in the US and around the world in her New Hampshire Speech Oct 2016.

2.There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish, whether that’s in politics or in other fields.”

Talking about what she tells her daughters in a 2012 speech about the US.

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3. “The women we honour today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all.”

In a speech in 2009 at the Women of Courage Awards.

4. “If had worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn’t be married to the president of the United States today… Compete with the boys…Beat the boys.

During a panel session hosted by Glamour in September 2015.

 

So there’s your inspiration and reminder that you can do this. Go slay x

 

Words by Sophy Edmunds
Photos and videos by NY Times, The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube, and Let Girls Learn/the White House.

 

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

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.