Feminism

Why I’ve Stopped Using Tampons and Pads

I’ve recently been making a few lifestyle changes in order to reduce my carbon footprint (and also feel a bit better about myself). You know, becoming vegetarian, cutting down on dairy, buying reusable cups and bottles, switching to cruelty-free. That kind of thing. My latest endeavour has led me down the path of the menstrual cup. I hadn’t heard of it either until a few months ago.

Turns out they’ve been around since 1937 when actress Leona Chalmers invented a silicone cup designed as a long-lasting, environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to tampons. You basically have to origami it up into your vagina where it stays in place via suction and catches the blood flow before it leaves your body. You can keep them in all day, and when you do take it out you just empty it and reinsert it for the next 8-12 hours. Sounded great! So I thought I’d give you an insight into my experience learning to use one…

The one I have actually been using is a Mooncup from Boots – but there are other brands available all with slightly different shapes and materials. However, across brands they range in two sizes based on whether or not you’ve had a baby and your age. Mooncup came with a little cotton bag or carry case to keep your cup in – no more worrying about carrying around supplies or running to the bathroom with a tampon stuffed into the waistband of your skirt (you know we’ve all done it).

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So after two weeks of actually looking forward to my period arriving, I was eager to try out the cup. I cut the stem on the bottom to size (better to start longer than shorter as I found mine sits quite high inside me and a longer stem makes it easier to grab onto when you need to remove it). First attempt and I managed to get it in after a few goes. If it’s in properly you can’t feel it. It works by creating a vacuum seal so it stays in place, so in theory, you can’t leak. Trouble is, even if the seal isn’t formed properly, you still can’t feel it. Naively I assumed it was in properly and left for work. First toilet trip of the day and I’ll spare you the detail (but I hadn’t put it in correctly).

Taking it out for the first few times also proved an absolute nightmare. During my first trial with the cup, I was convinced I’d lost it – even though that is literally and physically impossible. Images of turning up at A&E telling them I had a retained menstrual cup flashed in front of my eyes, and I was already mentally preparing the phone call with a trusted friend to come round with forceps and a flashlight to fish it out. I fully panicked. After consulting the girls on the group chat (we’ve spoken about much worse on there) I ended up lying down in the bath, telling my body to relax whilst also using my abdominals to squeeze it down until I managed to extract the cup. Traumatically messy to say the least.

Although that’s the worst experience I had with it and it only happened once so don’t let that put you off! Once I had worked out how to get it in properly I felt safe using it for sports, swimming, throughout the day at work and overnight. The beauty of being able to keep it in for so long means that despite the cramps (which I think lessened using the Mooncup) you almost forget you’re on your period.

One thing I have learnt is that you have to be VERY comfortable with your own body in order to feel it being put in place and to get the hang of it. It takes a few months to get used to but for me its great. I don’t have to worry about carrying stuff around with me, I only have to think about it twice a day when I empty it, I SWEAR my cramps have become less intense (or maybe that’s just psychological) and I feel like I’ve cut down on landfill waste as it’s a much more cost-effective and sustainable option.

It’s pretty easy to clean as well; I bought some sterilisation tablets and you can just soak it in water or boil it in a saucepan for 5 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when I struggle with it, and ending up with blood all over your hands is pretty much inevitable – but then I always change it at home in the bathroom so it’s easy to deal with that. If you can get past the first few months it’s a pretty cool product.

For more information see:
https://www.mooncup.co.uk/
https://www.intimina.com/en/lily_cups
http://divacup.com/

 

Words: Sophy Edmunds
Image: Mooncup/Boots via Stella.ie 

 

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UT-WHY?

Thanks to people like Caitlin Moran, I knew about cystitis long before it turned up to put a dampener (as it were) on my day. She talked about it in public, in columns in The Times. There’s a lengthy passage in How To Build a Girl where the character Johanna locks herself in the bathroom, sits in a hot bath for two days and demands cranberry juice. If it wasn’t for old Caitlin, a whole generation of girls wouldn’t know why, sometimes, it appeared that their urethra was on fire.

For those who might still be unaware, A urinary tract infection (or UTI) is basically an infection in any part of your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra and kidneys.

They began to plague me and my life about a year ago. I once moved the entire set for a play whilst feeling like I needed to piss every other minute and I consider it my greatest achievement.

“Well are you weeing after sex?” a friend asked me when I went to meet her on the way to uni, moaning about my urinary tract once more.

“In a way, every wee is a wee after sex now.” I answered.

“You get UTI’s if you don’t wee after sex.”

You… you what? You get them if you don’t… but then…

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS! WHY HAVE I BEEN DOWNING GALLONS OF WATER AND CRYING ON THE TOILET WHEN THE CURE WAS THIS SIMPLE?!

I looked on the NHS website. It’s true. Pee as soon as possible after sex (and also wear loose cotton underwear but that’s for another article about how women’s clothes aren’t really built for women). I’m not a complete idiot. I went to the doctors. I did a urine sample, but then wasn’t really sure of the protocol so had to sit in the waiting room holding a warm cup of my own piss for an uncomfortable amount of time. She gave me antibiotics, I took them, few weeks later, I was UTI-ed up once more. I assumed this would be my life now.

I was never taught about this at school; like I said I gleaned what I could from Caitlin Moran, but not every 15 year old is reading The Times on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t want to exaggerate here but learning that I should wee after sex if I don’t want to piss fire for the next three days was one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt so WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO LEARN IT? My sex education focused so much on me not getting pregnant, and the intricacies of every STI under the sun that keeping my vagina healthy and unhappy went rather neglected. You’d think the sex ed teacher, faced with 27 teenage girls, on the cusp of their sexual adventures and ready to face the world vagina first, might have thought to mention it.

“Pee after sex so you don’t get a UTI.” It takes 2.5 seconds to say. I just checked.

Ways to not get a UTI:

  • WEE AFTER SEX
  • It’s bad to use perfumed bubble bath or soap on your lovely lady garden (your vag has a delicate pH balance)
  • Nylon pants aren’t good
  • If you need to wee, don’t hold it in, FREE THE WEE

 

Words: Sian Brett
For September Sex Education Week 2018 on Anthem

The Body Diaries with Briony

With this project, I’m entering a very messy area in which everyone struggles; some of my favourite feminist outlets still can’t write articles about being fat or big without slamming someone thin. That’s not how it works. If someone discriminates against an actress for being ‘curvy’ or ‘plus size’, you can and should oppose this and say that a person’s weight has nothing to do with their ability or talent, because it doesn’t! But you cannot and should not oppose this by praising her for not being thin or for being different to all those other skinny models on the scene.

Although it encompasses it, body positivity does not just mean fat positivity. It means body positivity... for all bodies. Don’t judge or discriminate based on someone’s weight or skin colour or height or hair colour or cup size, and above all, do not pit women against each other. If you do, and you claim that you are body positive, then I feel I should let you know that actually, you are not. (Did I mention this was a messy area? I mean I’m barely scratching the surface, gang).

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Let’s get into it. Personally, people I know have called me slim, and I probably am. I have also been called curvy, but I’m probably not. I’m not exactly big or small, and although I would like to be smaller in my waist and arms and thighs (look at those ideals go!), my weight is not really my biggest problem. My lovely friends would likely question why I am writing about bodies when I’m totally fine, but believe it or not, that’s also not how this works.

Most of the world is insecure in their looks, and you don’t have to be a genius at this point to know how much the media and advertising and outdated gendered (masculine and feminine) ideals have impacted that. So pretty much everyone I’ve ever met hates something about themselves and as terrible as that is, the one thing most likely to change that is the very knowledge that everyone is insecure and feels bad about their looks in one way or another. If we’re all in the same boat, there’s better odds at compassion and changing attitudes.

Me personally, I hate a lot of things about myself. In the first draft of this article, I listed out everything I hated and upon reading it back, I felt the most ungrateful I’ve ever felt and deleted it. It’s so hard to talk about because you’re often seen as just phishing for compliments or complaining and it’s practically common knowledge at this point that comparison is the devil.

It is near impossible to condemn a beauty ideal when people exist who present that beauty ideal and look the way you ‘should’. It’s a double edged competition between women (and truthfully, the rest of the world) to look better and to look worse; ‘She’s got better eyebrows so I need to improve mine’, opposed by ‘I look like shit’ and ‘No, I look worse, look at my eye bags’. It goes on, and it all sucks.

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It’s no secret that low self confidence is key to the beauty industry; if we feel good about ourselves, we’re not going to buy things to ‘fix’ ourselves. What would they sell to me if I felt happy with the way I looked? So how do you feel better about yourself when magazines and an entire retail trade industry is willing you to think otherwise? Honestly, I don’t know. If I added up all the time I spent looking at my face in the mirror and closely examining my pores and spots and freckles in my lifetime, it would probably be enough time to have mastered a new skill or language. Just think, I’d be able to say more than ‘Hello, I have bread’ in German. Amazing.

I don’t think there is a secret. I don’t think it’s helpful to tell people that it’s a state of mind. When 1/4 of people in the UK suffer from poor mental health which is frequently linked to body dysmorphia and appetite problems and a general self loathing, how is it at all useful to tell people that happiness and self confidence is a state of mind? I like to think that I’m pretty blasé about my weight and appearance but of course I care, and now that I’m experiencing problems with my skin (shout-out to my stress eczema pals!), I really really care.

I saw a photo of myself the other day that I absolutely hated. I zoomed in on my face – naturally – and looked at my eyes and mouth and just zoomed back out and resolved not to look at the picture again because I hated it so much. ‘Is that really what I look like?’ I thought. I immediately thought about taking up exercise again to get rid of what is realistically a pretty small amount of fat. I considered never wearing that outfit ever again. It’s a natural photo where everyone looks genuinely happy but I absolutely hate it and I shouldn’t.

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Earlier this year I started to suffer from very dry skin which turned into me trying every moisturiser and steroid cream and wash and soap you can feasibly buy. It started in March when it was freezing but I seem to have maintained it through my thoroughly poor handle on day to day stress. In April I stopped wearing makeup because washing my face hurt too much. I haven’t worn makeup in over 4 months and I sit at my desk rubbing a weird white cream into my hands every time I wash my hands and I have red marks on my hands that have only managed to make me cry in the work loos once – so take that, eczema! I’m getting patch tested in November and have yet another new product and new prescription to try in the meantime.

It’s all shit and there’s no other way of talking about it. It sucks. Let me tell you, getting stressed about a stress created illness not going away and then making it worse because you’re stressed… it ain’t fun. So I’m not one of the wonderful humans who actually feel wonderful in who they are look-wise. I wish I was and maybe I will be many years down the line, but for now I’m trying to navigate my body and make it work for me.

 

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What can we do to make us appreciate how excellent it is to even have a body, despite anything we might consider to be ‘wrong with it’? Because comparison isn’t a consideration here. Really, it isn’t. None of this ‘I should be grateful I have legs that work and both my arms’ or some shit, because of course you should be but number one – people who don’t have those things are still valid and might even be more confident in their own body than you are(!) and number two – you need to be more than just grateful that you have a body that’s doing it’s best to look after you.

I know I can’t tell you all to just start forgetting everything you’ve ever been told by everyone because you’ll want to hit me. We do, however, need to start paying more attention to ourselves. It’s not selfish, it’s vital. Pay attention to who you are, and dress accordingly. This doesn’t mean don’t wear v-necks if you’re flat chested or crop tops if you’re bigger than a certain size, it means wear bright colours if you’re a bold and bright person, wear trousers if you hate skirts, cut your hair off if you hate it. All that ‘your body is a canvas’ may seem like rubbish but there’s truth to it. If you want to feel at home in your body, then turn your body into that home.

The key to it all is how you feel about it. If something makes you feel good and you like how you look then keep going. If you feel uncomfortable and you feel like you’re not representing yourself then try something else. I’m immensely open to people choosing things for me, because they have a less biased view of me. Some of my favourite items of clothing were gifts I had no part in choosing. Equally, talking to people really helps. 9/10 times I’ve told someone ‘my skin is really bad’ or ‘I look really tired’ or whatever stupid thing it is, they’ve said that they didn’t notice. They never notice. They aren’t trying to look for the bad in you.

Another thing you can do is to curate your social feeds. If you are following people promoting diet culture or who offer false confidence then maybe consider replacing them with more friends, body positive creators or a miniature dachshund account. That last one always works wonders for me. Your social media absolutely should not make you feel bad. You are in control of it and can make it feel like a safe and welcoming space for you when you need it.

For now that’s all I have for you. This is such a difficult topic to tip toe around because the way we’ve been socialised to see the world means we think things we don’t always realise are exclusionary or rude. Everyone matters and everyone’s body is just fine as it is. So stop thinking about everyone else for a minute, and look out for yourself. I’ll see you all back here for another Body Diaries entry in a month or so, but for now please enjoy the rest of September Sex Education Week and take care.

 

Words: Briony Brake
Images: Briony Brake
Written for September Sex Education Week 2018 on Anthem Online

September Sex Education Week 2018: Welcome Back

For some reason, a proper sex education is something I’ve become very passionate about in past years. I did a short speech about it while at university, and ever since researching it and learning all the terrible statistics, I’ve become fixed on the subject.

It seems to be that the more you think about your own sex education and you talk to others about theirs, you realise you’ve learned almost everything the hard way – or haven’t even learned it yet! To be quite frank, that’s a load of rubbish.

I appreciate that it’s 2018; there’s a lot we’d like to be on the curriculum that currently isn’t, from issues of race and gender to politics and how to get a mortgage. A proper sex education deserves a spot on this list because, as I said last year when I began this project, a proper education allows people to make their own informed choices and to be safe and healthy and (god forbid!) to even have fun.

The project came to Anthem because we are all equally angry about the lack of knowledge we left school with about our own bodies, and I’m so excited to be introducing September Sex Education Week 2018. This is our second year, and as always, we want you to be involved and to feedback what you want to learn about and hear about. What do you wish you had learned?

With that thought in your mind, let’s begin. The first article will be going up tomorrow all about body image and we’ll have a series of fantastic articles coming up this week from the team here at Anthem. Make sure you’re following us on social here, here and here so you don’t miss an article! We can’t wait to share this years project with you.

Thank you for reading! We’ll be seeing you tomorrow…

Love, Briony!

 

Words: Briony Brake
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

‘Congratulations You B@$T@*D!’: Edinburgh Fringe Review

Showing from 20th – 25th Aug 2018 at Venue 36, The Perth Theatre @ theSpace on North Bridge Hilton Edinburgh Carlton Hotel, 19 North Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE.

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Whether you’re a die-hard fringe goer, or you’ve just popped up for a weekend to see what it’s all about, there’s no doubt you’ll find something that’s up your street.
An explosion of veteran stand up comics, first time performers, scripted, unscripted, spoken word, silent movie; you name it, it’s probably at Fringe.

And whilst it can be great to immerse ourselves in the kind of shows we know and love, a lot of the beauty of Fringe comes from the unexpected. It comes from experiencing the unknown and choosing to see something you might not usually go for. So when I got the chance to see Congratulations You B@$T@*D, I decided to do exactly that.

A theatre piece created by South East London based Ghosted Ink, the up-and-coming art collective’s debut show sees Mia and Nick, two down on their luck writers, wondering if they should give up on their ambition. However, after one drunken night of creativity, they find they might just have cracked it.

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Congratulations You B@$T@*D delights the audience with its humour and witty dialogue from the outset. Brought expertly to life by both performers, creating recognisable characters we all know (or are) in our lives.

We meet the wonderful whirlwind of nuanced expletives that is Mia (Georgia Crowther) and the seemingly more logical and tempered Nick (Laurence Platt) just as their newest script has been rejected again. Their carefully crafted characters are instantly brought to life in a relationship familiar to us all. Two friends who in equal parts love, and are infuriated by, each other.

The first half of the performance builds the dynamic between the two friends wonderfully. Despite the piece only lasting 45 minutes, I felt as though these were people I was so familiar with; people who had struggled together but also experienced joy and hilarity with one another. I laughed with them, got angry when they did, was sad when they were.

The comic timing of Crowther is spectacular and the way both actors seem to effortlessly bounce off one another is incredibly enjoyable to watch. The intimate space, and minimal but carefully thought out set design works perfectly to set the atmosphere. As soon as I saw all the crumpled-up-uncrumpled-and-then-crumpled-again pieces of work discarded everywhere and the random array of ideas and inspiration pinned up on stage, I thought “yep, been there.”

I spent most of the beginning half of the piece belly laughing at Nick and Mia hurling raucous insults, drinking copious amounts of ‘Pan Juice’ and spouting sparks of creative genius as they try to invent the next best thing. Punctuated with music from the likes of Bowie and Kate Bush as they take turns to type the masterpiece, the phrase that immediately came to mind was the popular mantra of ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. Yet as the play progressed it became clear it was much more like ‘Write drunk, edit drunker’, and whilst this was fabulously funny to witness, the script is very much flipped as we come into the second half of the play.

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A poignant scene arises as the two characters disagree on what the next step should be. Nick laments that he’s sick of being an “artist” and is sick of how they live, scrabbling to make ends meet and waiting for it all to get better when it never seems to. A far cry from the drunken hilarity witnessed moments ago, it suddenly hits home the reality of trying to make it, of struggling to pay rent, of doubting your own ability. It’s here that I really appreciated the thoughtful writing. Platt conjures a well-observed depiction of young friends and creative relationships in today’s competitive world those of us in the arts can relate to all too well.

For a group’s first Fringe run, its a credit to them how well they take the audience on a hidden rollercoaster of unexpected emotion, and it’s far more than just a play about getting wasted (even though they get very wasted.)

Congratulations You B@$T@*D explores artistic integrity, success and what ‘making it’ can actually mean. Moreover, we see the ever poignant themes of friendship throughout; we see two people pushing and pulling to hold onto a changing relationship as the both of them try to find their footing in the creative world, without sacrificing their own morals.

Ghosted Ink’s first show is a very worthwhile watch that I’d highly recommend checking out if you’re at Fringe this year, where it’s running from the 20th -25th August. If not, you can keep up to date with all their creative ventures by following @ghostedink on Instagram, @Ghostedink_AC on Twitter or Ghosted Ink Arts Collective on Facebook as well as with #CYBFringe.

A well deserved FOUR STARS for Congratulations You B@$T@*D!

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images courtesy of Ghosted Ink.

How Can We Be Better Allies To The LGBTQ+ Community?

As a straight, white feminist, it can be really easy to just focus on your own problems and disadvantages, but it’s common knowledge that we can’t all move forward when half of us are being held back. Equality can’t ever be achieved if we don’t work together to boost everyone up so we ought to start closing that gap. 

As it’s Pride month in the UK, I wanted to focus on some of the injustices faced by women within the LGBTQ+ community. Someone I know pointed out just how frustrating gay clubs can be, especially when taken over by straight women trying to escape the sometimes literal clutches of straight men in straight clubs. When it’s pointed out, you realise how unhelpful you’re being in what should be a safe place for a community you’re not a part of. It was also pointed out to me that even gay clubs weren’t particularly welcoming to lesbians or bi women. It was pretty disconcerting to hear that they can’t even enjoy clubs intended for their use and it got me thinking. I decided I would try to learn a little more.

I reached out to friends and to colleagues,one of whom actually teased me, knowingly asking why I had chosen to question her instead of others I worked with. I wanted to know how a straight person could make a good – or just a better – ally. We need to band together properly, so I asked for the community’s opinions and tips, and here’s what I got back…

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LILY ANN PROCELLA 

“A  couple of simple things are calling out homophobia/transphobia if you see it. Often it is left up to the victims to call this behaviour out which is not a position everyone can accept for a whole host of reasons. Solidarity feels good because (from my experience) when you are lgbt/closeted etc it is incredibly isolating and there aren’t too many examples of people standing up to this discrimination in popular culture, straight or otherwise so it feels like you against the world. If your workplace or colleagues don’t respect other people’s identities or insufficient training is provided try suggesting training is provided. If someone tells you their pronoun, refer to them with that pronoun and treat them with respect. It can feel uncomfortable at first but it is way better to suffer slight discomfort than to invalidate someone else’s whole identity.

Others are; donating to or volunteering at local homeless shelters as not everyone is accepted by their family and there are a lot of homeless lgbtq+ people in the UK at the moment and not too many specialised services. Donating time or money to organisations or even just sharing news articles and petitions that are related to the community would be awesome. Try to respect that there may be lgbtq+ spaces where it is purely for the community not allies. These spaces can be vital in giving people who suffer discrimination and misunderstanding on a daily basis some much needed breathing room, in a similar way to how we have women/nb only spaces it comes down to celebrating yourself and connecting with others in a safe space. It’s not personal, and getting offended thinking you are being excluded can be very invalidating to people within the community. Also taking some time to research art, film, books by lgbtq artists and supporting them is a rewarding way to be an ally. I think a lot of lgbtq+ people feel like straight allies get involved for the big events like pride and that’s great but we need support in the small scale everyday stuff too so try to be a year-round ally not just a seasonal one. Pick just one thing you’re going to try to do for the next year/month etc that will help the community and try to do it”


LARA SCOTT

“My only note in terms of being an ally would be not to ask about labels straight away. Especially if your friend is having a new experience. I sometimes think the worst question to ask a queer person is: so what are you? It put a lot of pressure on that person. I think the best way to be an ally is just to listen to your friends story & their experience.”

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REBECCA [surname removed for anonymity]

“Education of what LGBTQA+ is and all the differences etc. It’s still not massively talked about in secondary school, and why is labelling so important. Respect each other as fellow humans and not see differences. Most of the shit I have is from people from a different generation that don’t see it’s okay to be gay.”

AMBER BERRY

“One huge thing I want to emphasise is for people to be inclusive of bi* and pan* people. Despite us being a huge part of why pride even came about in the first place, and despite us being a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ population, so often we are missed out of conversations. This includes things like not assuming that two people who are together and masc presenting or femme presenting are always gay.

Another thing I’d say is that straight and cis folks should do their reading. Educating yourself is a great way to become a better ally. Sometimes I’m more than willing to help folks understand the bi/queer experience but other times I don’t want to because it’s exhausting and because I struggle with mental illness. Straight people can’t always rely on LGBT folks to educate them. A really good way of integrating LGBTQ+ content into your life could be watching YouTube creators, podcasters and by following/supporting people on Instagram. Not necessarily just reading books or articles!

Lastly to be aware that there are people who are LGBTQ+ and also POC or disabled or other far more marginalised identities than the average white gay man, and their voices should be amplified and supported.”

I am hugely grateful to all of the women who were kind enough to explain things to me and to share their own experiences and advice. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have to. To everyone in the UK enjoying pride, don’t forget to take note of the above advice, and to support the community all year round, through times of struggles as well as in celebration. Happy Pride everyone.

Words by Briony Brake with interviews from Lily Ann Procella, Lara Scott, Rebecca and Amber Berry for Anthem Online.
Images from Briony Brake and Lara Scott.

 

Likeability: An experiment into being more “popular”

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I have always been interested in Psychology, investigating why we do what we do and what influences our behaviour and thoughts. One of the most recent books I read because of this was Popular by Mitch Prinstein. It was an eye-opening analysis of popularity and how our early childhood and adolescent experiences with ‘popularity’ can have power over how we act today.

I use ‘popularity’ with inverted commas because the first thing I was surprised to learn was that there are actually two types of popularity that can be discerned from research. One is status based, and one is based on likability. A very brief overview is that whilst the popular crowd at school who we all longed to be in with had very high status, they were usually not very likeable. And whilst many of us become obsessed with striving for status, especially in the age of social media, it can be more rewarding to improve how likeable we are. This will not only affect how others perceive us but also how we feel about ourselves.

As a kid at school, I always felt as though I was on the sidelines, and from reading Popular it’s clear from my point of view that I would have fitted into the ‘Neglected’ social category. This means that I’m a textbook introvert, and as a teenager and for most of my adult life, I’ve dealt with social anxiety, so reading this book was extremely interesting when it came to describing ways we can change how we’re perceived by others and also how we think about ourselves.

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One of the book’s anecdotes I particularly appreciated involved the author having telephone conversations with various members of call centre staff to try and fix his internet. He informally conducted an experiment, deliberately making an effort to be polite and warm and interested to some call operators, whilst being curter with others. He then tested out being more positive in his day-to-day life. I was impressed by how different the author said he felt after making such changes and wanted to try it out for myself.

For the first few days, I did not make any deliberate changes to the way I behaved or acted. I did, however, jot down notes on who I had conversations with, and how often. After a few days, I started to change how I acted. Here are the small changes I made an effort to consciously adapt over the next week:

  • Be polite/positive in interactions with people. Whether it be family and friends, or someone over the phone, or a complete stranger who moves to let you past on the pavement.
  • Be interested in what the other person is saying.
  • Smile more.

To start, these simple things were the only 3 items I included. They sound basic and obvious (because they are) but they are things that sometimes slip or I don’t always pay attention to. Practising these three ways of approaching interactions with others, and life in general, had some interesting results…and a few situations stood out.

The first instance I recall was at a job interview. I’m not someone who naturally smiles a lot, and I have a severe case of ‘Resting Bitch Face’: not a great thing for a prospective employer to see. “Right,” I thought, as I went to introduce myself, “start smiling.” As the saying goes, smiles are contagious, and I definitely felt more at ease as the receptionist returned my smile. I paid attention to each interaction, even tiny stuff like being offered a drink. And not in the way of being obsessive or over analytical, just paying attention to how I conducted myself. It was very surprising how being attentive made me feel more present and actually took away some of my nerves, because I wasn’t allowing myself to overthink about where I was, and was instead focusing on who I was with.

I was surprised overall at the effect that these changes had in making me feel more grounded and present, and building up little likeable acts created a bigger picture that boosted my self-esteem.

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Before starting this, I was initiating 1 or 2 conversations a day, i.e. with a shop assistant, or other mandatory transactions when out and about (this is excluding conversations with people at home). Including these, the conversations themselves tended to be short. By the time I’d finished the next week, I made deliberate changes to the way I interacted – I was averaging about 6 conversations a day, including one I struck up with a randomer who sat on the same bench as me (which I would never have done in a million years).

As the number of conversations I participated in increased, I found that consciously being more aware of the way I interact lead to a number of discoveries:

  • Very quickly I was beginning to see interactions with others as opportunities rather than as chores. To start with I initiated conversations to observe what happened, but in the end, I just enjoyed having a chat and was more willing to learn about people I chatted to. Like the guy who runs our local convenience store or people I see walking their dogs in the morning. (The perks of living in a little town where it is customary to say ‘morning’ every five seconds came in handy here.)

  • I was less analytical of myself. If a social interaction got ‘fluffed up’ i.e. I got flustered and said something that didn’t come out right (which I do a lot), I made an effort to not be as hard on myself and laugh it off.
  • I found the more I try to maintain these ideals the more they become second nature. Instead of setting time aside to be conscious of these likeable factors, they started crossing over into work too. I found it less of a challenge to speak in meetings and was less nervous to ask questions and make suggestions. I was less hung up on being right and more concerned with attending to what was happening and being involved.
  • Making an effort to be more interested in what another person was telling me ended up in me being more interested in others generally. Asking questions, being present and discussing details with other people; whether it be chatting about family, work or some other topic like the latest Avengers movie ended up in providing the chance to strengthen my interpersonal relationships both professional & personal.

The more I strived to put effort into my day-to-day interactions, the more positive I felt. The littlest instances of finding out details of someone’s day or taking the time to thank someone where perhaps I usually wouldn’t have felt good and made me less socially anxious when initiating conversations.

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I am not saying that we could all do this, all of the time; or even that we should do. Obviously, there are still days when I’m not in a great mood or don’t feel like talking to anyone when I’ve gone out to run errands. However, being more mindful of how I present myself and how I listen to other people has surprisingly made it less daunting to be sociable. Which is interesting as this isn’t what I was intending to use it for, and was rather approaching it as a way of learning how to come across well. What I enjoyed the most about doing this is that it taught me how to listen more effectively. Now I make a better effort to really listen to what someone is saying to me and be present when I talk to them.

I’m also not saying for a minute that I’ve turned into a completely different person. There were still a couple of days throughout this week where I was exhausted from socialising. There are still times where I get pissed off by something or someone and the last thing I want to do is be interested and present so instead shut myself in my room and watch Netflix. What it has done however is make me more open to interactions with others. I still get anxious chatting to people, but I’ve seen some positive changes.

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Who knows if my efforts during this time have really made me more likeable? I definitely feel better about myself as a result, and I’ve noted changes in my own behaviours. Of course, I could just be coming off as a complete stalker who has an unhealthy interest in other people(!) but I hope that’s not the case.

After this experience I hope to continue my effort not to improve how ‘likeable’ I am but rather, to improve how confident and content I feel within myself.

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If anyone wants to read more here is a bad quality pic of the book ft. my thumb.

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Nathaniel Russel/Mitch Prinstein/NY Times, Explorying Your Mind, Robert Rolih, Salt 10.65 and Lauren Barnard.