Voices

If I’m honest, I don’t know what direction this blog is going in. I don’t think it has one. I’m only a handful of posts in, so I may yet develop one, but right now this is more of an incoherent and infrequently updated online diary than a dedicated blog.

I am ok with this.

It is probably too incoherent to really attract a readership.

I am also ok with this.

“Why write a blog at all?” I hear the silent voices of my imaginary readership cry. I have no answer. I love notebooks. I love hand writing out diary entries and letters. I have countless, beautiful, empty books I have collected up just crying out to have all their pages filled and yet here I sit, typing away. Perhaps the reason is that I have always written my diaries with an imaginary reader in mind. I never expected any one to read my diaries but I wrote them as if I were speaking to someone. Not a specific someone, I had no one in mind when I wrote, but just someone. I wanted to get my feelings out, to express myself. In an abstract way, I wanted to be heard.

I was not heard, my only reader was myself, but the act itself was cathartic. I felt a relief from the outpouring. In many ways, keeping a blog could enable my fantasy of a reader, a kind listener on whose shoulders my burden is shared, to become more real. It is possible that someone will actually read this, after all.

All the multiple voices of the internet imply that my desire to be heard, even if only in an abstract or imagined way, is not an unusual desire. As our world gets bigger and other people seem to connect with people all over the world with ease and confidence, it can leave those of us with quieter voices feeling smaller and less and less able to be heard. So, rightly or wrongly, we shout louder.

Bodies

I am on a diet.

I am also reading Susie Orbach’s Bodies.

Anyone who has read Bodies will immediately see my dilemma. Anyone who has not read it should, right now. Orbach talks about how we are increasingly encouraged to think of our bodies not as part of ourselves but as a project that we should constantly work on with the goal of reaching some imagined perfection. She also looks at the detrimental effect this has on our physical and mental health. She talks about the dangers of homogenisation – the ideal being a westernized standard of beauty as being white, thin, tall and so on. This is why we see the boom market across Asia for skin whitening creams and plastic surgery to create a western eyelid. This is why Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o prayed to wake up with lighter skin each morning and had to fight against the homogenised images she saw to finally accept herself as beautiful.

In a previous post, I talked about how these homogenised images have even pervaded the fight against a homogenised westernized standard of beauty as being white, thin, tall and so on. Instead of coming together and saying that each body type is wonderful, each body type pits itself against the other. Women rail against thinness and thin women as though they are the reason that they feel dissatisfied with themselves. It is homogenisation that makes us feel ugly and unworthy, because a standard has been set that we do not meet. It is not thinness itself, but the fact that thinness has become one of the beauty standards.

We are not allowed to love ourselves. We are constantly being sold products that will help us to continue to work on the ‘project’ that is our body.

I remember an advert for a deodorant that really annoyed me. I don’t remember the brand and I couldn’t find the advert but it said something like ‘70% of women agree that when they have beautiful underarms they feel more confident’. What kind of world do we live in where we feel bad about whether or not our armpits are beautiful? The advert was claiming to solve a problem that I wasn’t even aware that I had – unattractive armpits.

This website even has a handy armpit care guide!

This picture comes from a website that even has a handy armpit care guide!

When I was searching online for that advert I found one even more disturbing for Dove Whitening deodorant. The advert implies that if you don’t have beautiful, white underarms, you shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops.

Our bodies are amazing. They allow us to experience the world. Our eyes, that we may wish were different colours or shapes, that we may wish were framed differently, enable us to see. Our lips, that we may wish were plumper, allow us to kiss and be kissed and to feel every sensation, physical and emotional, that that act implies. Our skin, that we may hate the shade of, can feel. Have you ever just marvelled at how amazing skin is? How wonderful to brush past a soft fabric or feel the sun on your skin? When you actually think about it, it’s fantastic.

Our bodies give us so much. And yet so many of us hate them and wish they were different.

These campaigns are designed to make us feel ashamed about parts of our body that we previously had no issue with. We add this new shame to all the existing shame we have heaped upon us.

I know all of this, and yet I am on a diet.

I do not want to care that I am not thin and I know that even if I achieve the goal of thinness I will not suddenly love my body, and yet I am on a diet.

I hate my sloping shoulders. I hate the shape of my breasts. I hate the long, thin fingers I have often been teased about. I hate the scoliosis that causes my rib cage to stick out at awkward angles and my hips to be misaligned. I hate the permanent dark circles under my eyes. I hate my neck. I hate my natural hair colour. I hate my dark leg and underarm hair. I hate the way that anything I do to remove this offending hair causes my skin to go red and blotchy. In short, I do not feel beautiful.

Sometimes, I feel that I am closer. When I dress up for a special occasion, like a wedding or party, and I go all out and spend hours preparing myself and submitting to being uncomfortable in the name of beauty, I feel a little closer. Sometimes, I feel like the painful waxing, the bleaching, the make-up, hair style, control underwear, uncomfortable clothes and punishing high heels have come together to produce an admirable result. Not perfect, but better at least. I am pleased with the effect I have been able to produce, but not for long. I cannot do this every day. But for that special evening, I am pleased. And because I am pleased and have proven to myself that with effort I can get closer to beauty I continue to buy the anti-aging creams, to try out the next cellulite busting miracle product, to continue my search for a hair removal product that will solve my hair ‘problem’ without hurting my skin, I continue to diet, I continue to work on the ‘project’ that my body has become.

I know that the real solution is to learn to love my body, to make friends with it again and enjoy it and all that it offers me, but I cannot. I am an intelligent women and I know I am being tricked – the creams, the diets, they are all a con – but I want to believe. I want to believe that if I work hard enough, if I make my body a project to be worked on, perhaps I too can be the type of beautiful that is so revered.

The sad truth is, I am not self-confident enough to be comfortable in my own skin, especially when the women who publicly don’t conform to the beauty standard expected of them are so lambasted for daring to be their natural self. I still vividly remember the media coverage of Julia Roberts armpit hair in 1999. Something the Metro described as “cringe-worthy” and a “mistake” when it was repeated by singer Pixie Lott.

So is it any wonder that we worry?

Fear of Failure

[N.B. This post was written sometime in January, not long after the post preceding it, it’s just taken me a while to get around to putting it up here.]

Following on from Real Women and Creative Writing, I wanted to talk about another thing that struck me in the experimental writing I did based on Magrs’ exercise. It is nothing new to me and I have known for a long time that it holds me back, but I was surprised by just how much it holds me back.

I have an almost debilitating fear of failure.

When writing on the topic The Earth’s Core I found myself hesitant. There were things that I thought I knew about the Earth’s core but without looking it up I wasn’t 100% sure that I was not misremembering. You would think that this wouldn’t matter. I was writing in a private notebook that no one else needs to see if I don’t want them to. It doesn’t matter if my science is bad. If it turned out that I actually knew very little about the centre of the Earth and ended up just making stuff up no one ever needed to know.

Instead of following the brief and just randomly firing out everything and anything that popped into my head on the subject for five minutes straight I slowly danced around the topic. I tried to bury my ignorance into the folds of flowery language that meant very little and said absolutely nothing. The resulting vague attempts at being poetic should, frankly, be more embarrassing to read than stating an incorrect assumption as though it were fact would have been (as such, I will not reproduce them here!).

I thought the core was solid iron, but I would not write this down. The only reason I am writing it now is because I have looked it up. It turns out it is actually a iron-nickel alloy, possibly with some gold, platinum and other siderophile elements thrown in.

Now that I know that I was very close to the truth I can admit that I thought it was iron. I haven’t studied sciences since my GCSEs so I think it’s ok that I was close, but didn’t quite have all the finer details. Without that confirmation that I wasn’t just completely wrong and woefully ignorant I couldn’t bring myself to write about that lump of iron that I thought was there. I was unwilling to risk looking stupid IN A BOOK NO ONE ELSE WILL READ!

I was so busy dancing around my fear of my potential lack of knowledge that it didn’t even occur to me that, not only was it ok to write something not quite factually sound, it was also ok to just completely make stuff up. In his description of the point of the exercise Magrs says that it is completely ok to drift off topic or even to make very little sense, the important thing is to just write. I could write anything. I could ignore the truth all together and write just plain fantastical things if I want to. Like the Tibetan tunnelers in Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens there could be anything down there.

 

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It is a little known truth that the Earth’s core is, in actual fact, a perfectly spherical Malteser and between the magma and the malty, crunchy, sort-of-biscuit-but-not-really-a-biscuit core is a layer of unstable, semi-melted chocolate. And that, my friends, is what causes mud volcanoes.