Too Fat or Too Thin, Stop Body-Shaming Full Stop

Opinion

I can honestly say that Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (or Cole, if you prefer) is not a figure who has ever been of particular interest to me. I have never disliked her, but equally I have never liked her enough to care. Sure, I have found her accent mildly irritating at times and have experienced the occasional hair envy, but until now that’s about as far as it went. Recently however, I have found that I am not indifferent to Cheryl’s extremely high profile media persona any longer. I have found myself standing quite firmly alongside the rest of Team Cheryl, I am even cheering from the sidelines.

What could have possibly brought on this sudden shift in opinion? For that, we need to talk about body-shaming. You’re probably used to hearing the term quite often by now, because we live in a culture obsessed with doing exactly that, body-shaming. Society does it, the media does it, even we as individuals do it – whether we share this outwardly or keep our guilty, intrusive thoughts to ourselves. For some reason, which is utterly lost to me, we live in a society which is obsessed with slagging others off, and our favourite genre is the body, particularly – but not exclusively – the female body.

This is not news of course, it has been happening forever – or at least since the Daily Mail was let loose on society – but I’m bringing it to attention now because of two instances which in my eyes, highlight just how ridiculous this body-shaming thing really is.

Example one: newlywed Jennifer Aniston returns from her honeymoon, positively glowing and presumably still on a high – as you would be if you had just married Justin Theroux and spent the last few weeks at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora – only to be publicly body-shamed, ridiculed and humiliated by everyone’s favourite newspaper tabloid. What did she do to deserve this? Supposedly ‘over-doing the dinners’ and relaxing her diet whilst on honeymoon, heaven forbid. Apparently we live in a world where people, or rather those people over at the Daily Mail who actually consider this to be a work of journalism, are more comfortable criticising someone for their body (what happens to actually be an extremely enviable body, I feel I must add) instead of just being happy for them. Sorry Jen, we can no longer label you the poor, jilted women, we’ll just have to call you fat instead.
  jennifer-aniston

Then at the other end of the scale there’s Cheryl, who has also fallen victim to the body-shaming culture. Her crime? She’s far too thin. Cheryl’s noticeably slim figure has had tongues and tabloids wagging non-stop since the start of the X-Factor, accusing her of being ‘too thin’ a ‘bag of bones’ and even a negative influence on young girls. Even though Cheryl had already spoken out honestly about her weight loss, putting it down to illness and stress caused by a recent personal trauma, the skinny-shaming was so insistent that Simon Cowell jumped to her defence, reassuring us that Cheryl was in fact eating properly.

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As I have also lost weight recently due to illness, I too, have of course found myself at the receiving end of body-shaming comments (whether these are intentional and malicious or not, the end result is the same) you’ll now understand why I am completely resonating with Cheryl on this one. It is equally as hurtful and frustrating to be labelled as “too thin” and constantly told to eat more and gain some weight, as it is to be told the exact opposite. So if no one can win, why can’t we just stop the body-shaming full stop? Public shaming, in the cases of Jen and Cheryl are not just one-off media assaults on individuals, they are attacks on all women, proving to us that no matter what we do or perhaps more importantly, what size we are, we will never be good enough. At least not in the eyes of the Daily Mail anyway.

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Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

If This Girl Can, so can you

Uncategorized

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Sport, a word that instantly fills me with dread and conjures up uncomfortable flash backs of desperate attempts to get out of P.E lessons, which involved disgusting maroon hockey socks, chin pads and the girls changing room. This changing room has made such an impression in my memory that despite not being subjected to it for at least seven years, thinking about it now I can almost smell the sweat and mud as we peeled those hockey socks off our legs. I can practically feel the shame and embarrassment sweep over me as I wrestled to change my shirt in the corner without anyone catching a glimpse of my stomach or my M&S AA-cup. Obviously I know now that these feelings were much exaggerated by puberty and the fact I was a 13 year old girl in a room packed with other 13 year old girls. The shame I felt then was totally unnecessary, but due to my severe lack of self-confidence I spent six years of my school life not just dreading, but going to extreme lengths to avoid sport.

For this reason, I am not at all surprised to hear that there are 2 million fewer women partaking in sport than men in the UK. I am finally free of it, why would I put my self through that again by choice? And for enjoyment?

Although my issues with sport are deeply rooted, most women are familiar with the fear of judgement that comes hand in hand with exercising. Whether it’s when getting changed at the gym, making the walk from the changing rooms to the poolside or your thighs jiggling when you run past someone in the park.

The “fitspiration” that plagues the internet is just as damaging as the “thinspiration” found on Pro-Ana sites and has made exercising about being thin, ripped, tanned and flawless. It might not be perfect, but Sport England have done their research and recognise that something positive needs to be done. The campaign is their attempt to encourage women to get involved with sport – and it works.

Playing sport is about teamwork, friendship, stress-relief and enjoyment, which is why I think the This Girl Can campaign is great. It does exactly what it claims to – watching it made me
want to get active, it made me want to play sport, a feat which I never thought possible. The women in the advert look happy, healthy and they’re doing it because they love their body, not because they hate it. They look like women I know and if they’re doing it, why can’t I?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toH4GcPQXpc

Stoptober – 2/3 Weeks Smoke Free

Features, News, Opinion

Stoptober-Ad-2

Okay, I’m going to be honest here, after the success of my first week smoke free I have somewhat let myself down over the last week and a half. Lets just say I’ve had a few “moments of weakness.” According to my Stoptober app, at this point I should be in control of my cravings rather than being controlled by them and they should be gradually decreasing by the day, in other words I should have almost cracked it. As I write this I realise I am much more disappointed in myself than I thought, I am forced to ask myself the question, was it worth it? The answer of course, is no.

My first slip-up was last Saturday night during a long-overdue night out. I actually bought a packet of cigarettes – which is almost unheard of for me – but honestly, I think I was craving the idea rather than the actual smoke itself. After I spent the first two battling through the truly awful taste, I gave up. I suppose this is the silver lining here, realising that what you’ve been telling yourself is true, smoking is horrid. Sometimes you just need to make sure.

However I still didn’t learn my lesson, one morning last week I woke up severely lacking in motivation. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was as if the part of me which had been telling me not to smoke just didn’t wake up that day. In a moment of madness, I purchased my first packet of tobacco since the beginning of the challenge, fully intending to smoke the whole lot, I smoked two. I am both pleased and relieved to say that this (still full) packet is now lying dormant somewhere on my bedroom floor, and hasn’t been touched since.

As I near to entering the final week, my sense of achievement is severely lacking due to these discrepancies, which I feel are over-shadowing the main positive. I can only console myself with the fact that I haven’t given up all together, in fact it actually shows great willpower to slip up, get over it and get back on track.

Taking On Stoptober…

Features

stoptober1

I like to think of myself as a relatively healthy person. I eat my spinach, I drag myself out for a run a few times a week and of late I’ve even ditched the coffee. I make a conscious effort try to maintain my health as best I can in both the physical and mental aspects of my life, but as I sit here writing my blog, a blog which ultimately stands for the health of the body and mind, I feel a touch hypocritical. There is one thing about me which is not healthy in the slightest, I am (or was – can I say that yet or is it too soon?) a smoker. We all have our bad habits and this one has become mine.

Before I go on, I should set the scene a little. I’m not a packet-a-day smoker, I smoke on average maybe five a day – more if you give me alcohol. I have never really seen my smoking as an issue, I’ve never been one of those people who religiously tries to quit every Monday morning, I’ve always felt that if the time came when I didn’t want to do it anymore I could just, not do it anymore.

That time came the other day as I inhaled on my rather pathetic looking rolled up cigarette on my way home from work, and I thought, as I often do, “I’m not even enjoying this.” Later when I was scrolling down my Facebook timeline the advert for Stoptober popped up, it was decided.

There are endless reasons to give up smoking aside from the three choices the Stoptober App gives you, those being health, money and family. Of course I want to look after my health, save money and make all my Mum’s Christmases come at once, but I also wanted to set myself a challenge.

If I’m being totally honest, I suppose I wanted to see how easy it would actually be for me to stop, and at the end of day one I can tell you that the answer is not very, not very easy at all. It’s been an emotional day, I’ve gone from super positive and motivated, to pure self-hatred, to pretty much mourning the loss of cigarettes. It’s okay though, my app tells me that the first day is the hardest.

Running for Colour – Color Run UK

Fitness

A Color Run had been on my bucket list since they first hit the UK, and exploded all over my social media sites, last year. I had wanted to sign up to a fun run/race to keep me motivated in my running, so when I saw the Color Run was coming to Sunderland this July, I rallied some friends together and signed up. As it happened, I shortly after disappeared travelling for four months and returned home just a couple of weeks before the run took place and I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I wanted to be. Even though the run is only 5K, I was anxious about my lack of practice but the only person who was bothered about my performance not being good enough, was myself.

Arriving in Sunderland and seeing the swarms of ‘Color Runners’ heading to the start line in their temporarily white T-Shirts I felt the buzz of excitement and any unnecessary anxiety was diminished. Aside from the gallons of coloured powder thrown over you at each Kilometre, the most refreshing thing about the event was that it encouraged everyone to take part. All ages, all sizes and all abilities can revel in the truly unique experience without worrying about how fit you are or the pressure of winning. The race isn’t timed, and no one is judging whether you run, walk or dance your way to the finish line but you still get that sense of achievement and rush of endorphins as you cross the finish line. It’s the ‘happiest 5K on the planet!’

Until next year, here’s a taster of the day’s colour!

IMG_0122 IMG_0123 IMG_0136 IMG_0145 IMG_0160 IMG_0162 IMG_0163 IMG_0178 IMG_0184 IMG_0187 IMG_0188 IMG_0158 Photography by Same Page Arts – www.samepagearts.wordpress.com @samepagearts

“There Are No Good or Bad foods, Only Good and Bad Attitudes”

Food, Opinion

I first heard this statement from a dietician and it has stuck with me ever since. It is perhaps, the sentence which has allowed me to have a healthy lifestyle and a better relationship with food.

Every day we are told by the media what we should and shouldn’t eat, and every week there is a new diet craze, instructing us that if we eat anything other then cabbage for the week then we will remain fat, forever. We are endlessly being warned about the foods that give you cancer, make you obese and only end in diabetes. Then, there is the other end of the spectrum. The “super foods”, the “I’ll make you skinny foods”, the foods we must be consuming every day in order to live to a ripe old age. Yes, it is important know what is good for you and what isn’t so good, and it is important to pass this on to our children, but what actually needs to change in most cases, is the attitude, not the food.

It’s simple, people who have a good attitude when it comes to food are fitter and healthier, both mentally and physically. We don’t need a complex study to determine this, it is an obvious fact of life. Whatever food someone may be eating, whether it be ”bad” or “good”, if their attitude is distorted and unhealthy, they are always going to struggle with themselves, it could be by binge eating, obsessive dieting or in extreme cases, eating disorders.

Society doesn’t need to separate foods off into “good” and “bad” groups, so that one group is forced  upon us and the other is forbidden fruit (although not so much fruit, in this case) and it is clearly not working as a way of getting Britain healthy – we all know how the human brain works, when we tell it it can’t have something, it only makes us want it more. It shouldn’t be a case of having to eat something you don’t like just because it is “good for you” or being miserable because you are constantly denying yourself food, and we shouldn’t be overcome with guilt if we have dessert. I hate the phrase “everything in moderation” but it definitely applies here.

What we should be doing is trying to change our attitudes. Recognising if we have an unhealthy relationship with food, and trying to change it for the better. This won’t happen over night, and it is up to the individual as much as it is up to the media, but eventually we would all be healthier and happier, for longer.

The Tracking Debate

Fitness

In an age of ever expanding technology, are fitness trackers and Apps a motivational tool for monitoring our progress or an express ticket to obsession?

 

 

This is a question which is difficult to answer and a great cause for debate. Like anyone, I have found myself filled with excitement when downloading calorie counting Apps to my iPhone and I can’t leave the house for my run without setting my Nike Running App first – it is a great motivator! However I feel that, as with everything, it may have been taken too far.

UP by Jawbone, is a new health monitoring bracelet which is with you literally 24 hours a day. Finally! A 24/7 personal trainer! You might think, but as well as motivating you with high fives and encouraging “Amazing”’s and providing you with great accuracy on how long you’ve slept, how long it took you to fall asleep, whether you’ve reached your step goals, to name just a few, UP also has the potential to torment you with guilt, obsession and quite possibly make you lose your mind.

It is quite simple, all you have to do is sync the bracelet with your iPhone a few times a day and you    can see your sleep patterns and step count compared with what you have ate and drank and if you like the thrill of the game, you can even monitor your UP friends progress on a Facebook-like feed.

The primary aim of trackers and Apps like this is simple, to improve health and fitness, which I believe is of the upmost importance. Is this healthy though? Where it might have an – at least short term – impact on physical health (anyone being tracked 24 hours a day will surely make a conscious effort to be the best they can be), I seriously doubt it can have any positive impact on mental health, in fact, I’m pretty sure any impact it has on the mind, will be quite the opposite. 

UP isn’t the only one of kind by a long way, with $800 million sales of wearable sensors in the US last year, and for the many who aren’t willing or simply can’t afford the prices that bracelets like these cost, there is an ever growing collection of mobile Apps to download which do more or less the same thing, just less accurate and intensified. 

 

Nike Running+ App

Nike Running+ App

Argus App

Argus App

 

Argus App, water reminder

Argus App, water reminder

Constantly checking what you have eaten, excessive exercise in order to meet goals, comparing your fitness progress with other people’s. These are all things which in the real world are considered unhealthy, obsessive and disordered eating behaviour. Like it or not, the trackers are here to stay and the boundaries or self-tracking are only ever expanding, but if you want my advice, I would tread carefully.

 

Fit Not Thin

Fitness

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This summer, The Sunday Times gave a hashtag to what many women out there already knew. Being thin is no longer sexy, being fit is. The campaign ‘#fitnotthin’ for which Daisy Lowe is an ambassador, encouraged women to tweet photographs of themselves in their workout clothes, in order to show their support. Although I, personally, can’t see how sending in Instagram photos of your Nike’s is helpful in any way, to a fitness regime, it is great to see that the message is finally being acknowledged. Society is finally beginning to glamourise something other than starvation and size zero, the women we aspire to be a strong, healthy and confident. What is even better is that we aren’t suddenly grabbing our running shoes because Vogue told us to, we’re doing it because it makes us feel good.

Although plenty of people will believe that this is just another body image pandemic, and  ‘#fitnotthin’ has even been labelled ‘as bad as thinspiration’ but as far as I’m concerned, there is one major difference. Food restriction isn’t healthy, exercise is.

Exercise doesn’t just improve physical health, it is also a key factor for having a healthy mind. Running, in particular has been proven to help combat symptoms of depression, releasing endorphins and making you feel happier in other aspects of life. Running can be a focus, a release and a personal challenge and once you overcome the initial hurdles it is – actually – really good fun.

As well as all of the obvious positives, exercise helps to curb a healthier attitude towards food, and some women who have recovered from eating disorders even find that running is a good way to become fit again, and means they can eat a healthy balanced diet, without feeling guilty.

While the physical changes will be come, the most important change will be to your confidence. Feeling fit feels a lot better than feeling thin, so what are you waiting for? Get running!