friendship

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.

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‘Watermelon’: A Review

“It’s okay if the love of your life is your best friend”

Last Sunday night I had the absolute pleasure of watching Box Room Theatre’s production of ‘Watermelon’ at the Hen and Chickens Theatre in London, as part of the Camden Fringe. The play was written by Georgia Green and takes a new and exciting look at the role of female friendships in modern life. Quite simply, Watermelon follows two girls named Abbie (Alexandra Proudfoot) and Zoe (Grace Hudson) on a night out, and a boy they bring home named Joe (Henry Taylor). Yet in just 55 minutes, it manages to introduce so many different layers and subtle hints at a wider life I desperately wanted to know. 

In case you hadn’t guessed, I loved Watermelon (and I don’t even like the fruit). The piece was exciting and dynamic, and ultimately showed the immense skill of Box Room Theatre in all aspects, particularly in the writing, and acting that came from Abbie, Zoe and Joe.

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To me, it felt like a case study of sorts on all the different relationships we have. The cast of Watermelon portrayed fantastic chemistry but were equally all able to hold their own in scenes. A relationship between a girl and the stranger trying to sleep with their best friend is one I hadn’t seen before, but thoroughly enjoyed; the sharp dialogue between the two was constant and entertaining. 

One thing I found most interesting was how it showed the friendship between Abbie and Zoe. A lot of things they showed, I had never experienced with my female friends such as taking boys home or discussing sex lives, but then there were so many things I had experienced a hundred times over, like the classic boy talks or even facial hair bleaching… It got me thinking about how no one female friendship is really the same, and how lovely that is.

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Watermelon is a beautifully open piece of theatre that takes the audience’s hand and invites them to share these experiences. Friendships are complex and can involve so much worry, and so to have a piece of theatre normalise that in front of my very eyes was comforting. 

Although very lively and, at times, laugh out loud funny, the piece also enters into some intense scenes, and some equally tranquil ones too. Fear and paranoia come into play when Abbie’s character goes missing in the night, and the relationship between Zoe and Joe develops immensely through the next half an hour of the play. They took a little slice of everyday reality and gave it so much life and depth; the audience is thrown into the drama with no warning, and it allows you to experience a great deal more emotion whichever way it swings.

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In the above photo, you can see one of my favourite scenes of the play. The team at Box Room have a huge imagination but are clever in their delivery. This simple use of fairy lights and music gave such intelligent lightness to the personal drama Zoe’s character was going through. I genuinely thought about the light sequences for the whole week after, I loved it that much.

Watermelon is an excellent example of young new writing that we should be paying attention to in the theatre. A simplistic but secretly challenging piece that is dotted with feminist quandaries most of us face on a regular basis (but perhaps aren’t as brave as Zoe when it comes to resolution). There’s so much to discover and explore that it’s hard not to love.

Four Stars for Watermelon!

 

You can follow Box Room Theatre on social media, and keep up to date with all the lovely events they host (enough to satisfy all your comedy and theatre needs)!

Words by Briony Brake
Images from Box Room Theatre

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Words by Sian Brett

 

My Body Image & I: From Feud to Friendship

Body Image. Seems like quite a self-explanatory phrase doesn’t it; an accurate reflection of your body. But it hasn’t meant that in a long time. Instead it stands for the dislike many young people feel towards their own bodies, how uncomfortable they feel in their own skin, how looking at themselves in a mirror makes them feel like they’re never going to be good enough.

“I’m too fat.”
“My hair’s too frizzy”
“My nose is too big”
“My cheeks are too round”
“I don’t have long legs”

Words you would never think of saying to the people around you. So why do we talk like that about ourselves? Thinking more about your body during puberty is normal. We develop, we grow, we change and all do so differently. And that’s normal. But when I was growing up looking at adverts spread across billboards and magazines all I saw were the perfect bodies of models and celebrities.

I began to see this ‘perfection’ as normal, found myself wanting to achieve beauty standards that are beyond possible without the help of Photoshop or silicone. Looking at myself in the mirror, I was constantly comparing; my waist wasn’t as small as the celebrity’s in the next advert so I was fat, my hair wasn’t as smooth as the model’s in the magazine so I was obviously ugly. This seeped into everyday life. I saw girls in school who seemed to have achieved this amazing image, making me question what I was doing wrong. Why couldn’t I look like that too?

The sad reality was that seeing the girl sitting in front of me in class with a figure like Kate Moss, my first thoughts weren’t “she looks lovely like that and I look lovely as I am” or “everyone is built differently, I shouldn’t compare myself”. Instead thoughts of “why don’t I have that figure?”, “I need to lose weight”, “she looks amazing and I look horrible in comparison” led me to continuously beat myself up about the way I looked. Influenced by the media, my self-esteem was pushed down to a point of sadness and self-loathing, never feeling like I was perfect.

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I looked at myself in the mirror and cried. Got angry. Was I fat? No. I was overweight for my age by a few kilograms, but I was also 12, loved the Sugababes and covered my Facebook profile pictures in stickers. I was a normal child, with a bit of puppy fat that would disappear in a few years’ time. I had nothing to worry about. But everything made me feel like I did. I was sure that I’d never be thin or pretty and therefore never good enough.

Honestly, I had this mind-set for most of my teenage life, until I came to what I thought was the solution. Of everything I saw when I looked in the mirror my weight bothered me the most. So I decided that action needed to be taken. I monitored my diet, measured portions, made sure I covered all food groups, didn’t eat sweets and followed a strict exercise plan. Did I lose weight? Yep. Did I feel amazing? Nope. But to me this was the logical solution. Alter my body until I looked like I thought I should.

I’m 5”3, let’s be real I was never going to look like a model, but that didn’t even cross my mind. I was determined to carry this through until I felt happy with myself. Until I came to uni, struggled with my course and fell into this pit of sadness. I would look at myself in the mirror, and see my round 12-year-old self. No matter what weight I had lost, it still hadn’t given me the confidence or the happiness I so desperately wanted.

Throughout first year, with the help of some fab people, I did a lot of thinking, learning about myself and appreciating who I am to get myself out of the rut I had become stuck in. And this led me to a realisation. My body image had far less to do with how I actually looked, and far more to do with how I thought of myself. I didn’t see a confident and happy person because I wasn’t. I was broken and frail and that made me feel worse and worse about myself.

I realised that it felt so much better having positivity shine through your body, than having my positivity rely on my body.

Appearance is never something to rely on. Everyone who looks at you will perceive you differently, and most likely won’t be half as critical as you are of yourself. Any physical change you make, should be to aid your mental well-being, something you want to do, not something you feel like you have to do. I wear make-up, because I enjoy it and I honestly find it relaxing, but I don’t feel any less pretty not wearing it. I just feel normal. Like me. Which is why it’s so important that you learn to understand yourself as a person, not just a shell.

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Study your personality in as much detail as you would otherwise look at your face for spots. Know your ins and outs, the things you love, the things you want to improve and familiarise yourself. They’re yours. And next time you go out wearing that crop top you doubted would suit you, think about yourself. Not your appearance. But you – your great sense of humour or your open-minded attitude. The satisfaction you feel with yourself will emanate from you like a confidence you’ve never experienced before.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to go to the gym 5 times a week and tone up, you do that! But do it because you’ll feel good showing off your hard work or it’s your hour to get away from everything, not because you won’t go to the beach this summer without a “bikini body”.

Now, someone out there will have read this and thought “but there’s nothing good about my personality either”. I know this, because a few months ago, I would have thought the same. Learning to love yourself is a journey that everyone has to go on themselves, at their own pace, with their own ups and downs. But I do have a word of advice, something a friend told me recently which has really stuck with me: go out, and do something good.

Don’t think about whether you’ll be good at it, don’t even think about it too long. Just do something good. Be it buying a homeless man a meal, or baking muffins for a bake sale. Something that you can walk away from, knowing that deed benefitted someone besides you. And from that point forward, every time you doubt yourself, or think there’s nothing to have a positive attitude about, remember that thing. Remember the good you did and it’ll help remind you that you are, and always will be a valuable human, an amazing person, someone you can always be proud of.

There are days where I wake up, take one look at myself and feel so sad. My mood reflects in my appearance and I just feel worse and worse. So instead, I for example, remind myself that I’m vegan [oooo controversial] and that through that I’m doing so much good for the planet, which in turn makes me very happy. So yes on that day I might think my thighs are too big, or my eyes are too small, but that’s okay, because I know that I’m more than that, in fact I’m great, so I smile and carry on with my day, and I hope that after this, you lovely ladies and gentlemen do too.

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Photos courtesy of Maxene Sommer