Never Seen Star Wars

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*whispering* There has been an awakening.

Quite a few years ago, there was a television series on the BBC that I remember my dad watching called “I’ve Never Seen Star Wars“. Celebrity guests would go on it with a list of experiences they’d never had, but these would all be things everyone has done. For example, were my friend Laura to go on it, she could put forward never having played Monopoly. The point, really, is that the epitome of these kinds of near-universal cultural experiences was considered to be Star Wars – hence the show’s title. Everybody’s seen a Star War, right?

Well, no. Not me. Or at least not until, at the ripe old age of 23, I finally relented. Anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed recently might find this hard to believe but, well, you know me: when I fall in love, it’s swift, wholehearted and usually with a heavily merchandised episodic narrative of some kind. In many ways, this was inevitable. Classic Jess.

My best friend Hannah and I were both unacquainted with the Star Wars universe, somehow reaching our twenties without ever having been indoctrinated. The two other friends who make up our friendship circle (or “squad”, as the kids are saying – and also us, to be fair, because that’s definitely our thread title) were Star Wars fans. Big ones. They were relentlessly shooting all kinds of alien terminology over our heads in fervent anticipation of The Force Awakens. When I say alien, I mean that literally – do you know what a tauntaun is?! And this was only a microcosm of the wider world. Everyone seemed to speak a language that we hadn’t yet learned. After endless indecipherable texts about The Force in our four-way group text, Hannah and I decided that we had to give it a go for the sake of our sanity.

Now, I can’t overstate how little I knew about Star Wars. You might assume that I went in with some base-level knowledge thanks to its ubiquity within popular culture, but let me review the entirety of my pre-viewing Star Wars knowledge:

  1. Leia’s cinnamon roll hair
  2. Darth Vader, iconic bad guy with voice-changer
  3. Gold bikini Leia (from that episode of Friends)
  4. “I am your father” and Luke’s eventual handlessness (remember the Toy Story parody?)
  5. Anakin hates sand (my friend Emma can’t get through 24 hours without doing her impression of Anakin Skywalker hating sand)
  6. Yoda-speak (because of Michael Scott)

This was the sum total of my Star Wars knowledge. When one of six things you know about a film is that the single female character is enslaved and forced to wear a bikini, I think it’s reasonable not to hold a whole lot of faith in said film. (Yes, in true Star Wars fashion, I had a bad feeling about this.)

As a woman, I struggle to enjoy narratives that don’t provide me with compelling, three-dimensional female characters. I don’t find it true of my world experience; therefore, it creates a barrier between the story and me. I want to feel excited and represented and emotionally invested. That’s why loving Leia was crucial for me. In A New Hope, rather than making doe-eyes at her rescuers, she is far more concerned with leading their escape and giving almost audible eye-rolls. The precise moment I knew she had won me over was, “Into the garbage chute, flyboy.” Leia is a straight-up badass, and yet the popular culture I’ve been exposed to had me imagining some helpless, sexualised damsel with pastry hair. I’m so frustrated and dismayed that the gold bikini was one of so few details I had known about this resilient, funny, resourceful character. Thankfully, I know better now.

I feel compelled to mention that my admiration for the princess-cum-general translates to real life. One of the best things to come out of this sudden Star Wars mania has been discovering the sharp, eccentric, emoji-filled mind of Carrie Fisher and her achingly short memoirs. If nothing else, it was worth discovering this long ago, far away galaxy for Carrie alone.

As for the boys… well, they are similarly delightful. Luke is as far from the antihero as you could likely get, and how refreshing! In an age where antiheroes have become so tediously de rigueur, I find myself desperate to root for any good, pure protagonists I can find. “Gritty” narratives make me weary. My heart leans towards the idealism of The West Wing, not the cynicism of House of Cards. I’m more Snow White than Walter White. And, predictably, a girl living on the light side, not the dark. A male lead with none of the machismo of your archetypal action hero, and possessing qualities more typically aligned with femininity, Luke is breath of fresh air.

And then there’s Han. My friends have admitted to me that they thought I wouldn’t like Han. …Is that possible? Who couldn’t love this hot mess? (Emphasis on the hot.) I mean, really, a total boob. Remember that scene in Jedi where he taps a Stormtrooper on the shoulder and then legs it? I’m in love. Given that, mostly to rankle my mother, I have exclusively referred to Harrison Ford as “Grumpy Curmudgeon Harrison Ford” for the last twenty years, discovering his infinite comedic talents was quite a revelation. I once nicknamed Hannah, my best friend, “Han Solo” and then worried it might be insulting, he might be a bad guy. What a fool I’ve been! Could anything be less insulting than being compared to Han Solo? Aside from the fact that young Harrison Ford is truly the peak of male attractiveness, Han is in every way – how shall I put this? – A MEGA BABE. And now those same friends who thought I’d hate him have to put up with a constant flurry of cute Han pictures in their inbox, making them wish I did. Poetic.

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Same, girl, same.

Once done with the Machete Order (IV, V, II, III, VI – I promise it works!), Hannah and I opted to see The Force Awakens the following day. I shan’t indulge in a dissertation-length love letter to The Force Awakens (I promise I could), but we loved it. The kind of love that they write musicals about. We left the cinema that day feeling giddy and energised. The biggest film in the world, by a thousand different measures, is also good. Good in terms of narrative, but also good in the plainest of terms: in the message it sends. The diversity of the new casting feels incredibly powerful given the film’s overwhelming financial success globally. Dare I begin to hope that other film franchises take note?

Though I can’t even begin to cover all of Episode VII’s many virtues (e.g. Finn’s everything; don’t even get me started), I was most profoundly moved by the presence of women, in major and minor roles, throughout the story. The scene between Leia and Rey, in particular, felt so unique, I found myself in shock. Surely a moment of pause to allow two women to embrace each other is unheard of in this genre? I can’t remember ever seeing it. And yet, there it was. A mother’s embrace. I’ve seen bro hugs aplenty in my time but this, this was something entirely new – and special.

In Rey, young girls finally have an action heroine deserving of their worship and it’s her movie. It’s Rey using the Force. It’s Rey’s story. Don’t let anyone convince you that these movies aren’t for girls. They are. Now more than ever.

Thank goodness the Force finally caught up with me.

Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

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Lessons Learned From Leslie Knope

Parks-and-Rec-2This month marks the beginning of the end for Parks and Recreation fans, as the final season starts its brief run. This wonderful show, exploring the trials and tribulations of local government, was the gift that gave generously throughout its seven years. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was its leading lady, Leslie Barbara Knope, an icon to many and the future president of the United States. In Leslie, Parks presented viewers with the warm-hearted, ambitious heroine that they had long deserved.

The fact that Leslie Knope was so impressive while still hugely relatable, a woman pushing forward in a world built for men, meant that it became easy to learn from her mistakes and heed her best advice. Here are some of the gems that Leslie Knope has bestowed unto us humble Padawans.

1. Be ambitious.

“2024. I win. We move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the First Gentleman.”

Despite her modest position as Deputy Parks Director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie had more firepower than everyone else at Pawnee City Hall put together. When the budget cut Grim Reaper came, in the form of Butch Count-sidy and the Sum-dance Kid, Leslie had one hell of a fight on her hands. Forced to go big or go home, she masterminded the Harvest Festival with great success, winning the admiration of her beloved hometown and taking the first step on a road that would eventually lead to the city council election. In the words of Leslie Knope herself, “Winning is every girl’s dream. But it’s my destiny. And my dream.” And it was. Both.

Her campaign to replace Councilman Pillner (aka my beloved Josh Lyman) was a genius move by the writers, creating a perfect season-long timeline that united the entire ensemble in one aim. Her ambition, both in this venture and always, has subverted the archetypal representation of the career-minded woman. There is no edge of coldness about Leslie; as she breaks Ben’s heart as well as her own to avoid a career scandal, the viewer remains steadfastly on her team while tearfully embarking on their own tragically futile attempt at claymation (probably). You want to see all of Leslie’s big ideas find a home. You want to see her be given the respect she deserves by the town that she adores. You want to see her face brimming with pride when she finally wins that long-desired seat on the city council. The necessary sacrifices that she is forced to make along the way do not define her as cold and ruthless, but determined and brave. Her ambition is portrayed as aspirational, not detrimental.

2. Patience pays. Sometimes.

Admirably, while the many public forums that Leslie has hosted have uniformly proved anarchic and unproductive, Leslie’s attitude remains firm: “These people are members of a community that care about where they live. So, what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” Even though that community has really not helped very much at all, it was at one of these public forums that Leslie was first introduced to Ann Perkins. There began the greatest love story of our time. It was also at this very first public forum, way back when, that the saga of the pit was introduced. Whether we ever get to enjoy the fruit of Leslie’s labours at Lot 48 remains to be seen, but without her constant patience and perseverance, it would probably still be a pit – or a fast food restaurant.

3. Don’t let people shame you for your passion.

Leslie Knope is passionate about many, many things – namely, friends, waffles and work. And let’s not forget Joe Biden. In a world where it’s become all too cool not to care, Leslie’s enthusiasm reminds us why passion is far preferable to apathy. The special thing about this show, pushing against the heavy tide of cynical television, was that in Pawnee, passion was celebrated and not mocked. Even April, who began as Parks’ representative of the apathetic youth that Leslie tirelessly seeks to inspire, is moved by the dedication of her friend and boss. As we near the end, it’s clear that over the course of the series, April’s journey has been to learn from a seasoned pro that it’s okay to care. In fact, maybe it’s actually kind of… nice?

April explains: “Where I live, there are a lot of apathetic people, people who don’t care at all about what they do or how they do it. They let the world wash over them and barely notice anyone else is even there. Leslie Knope is not one of these people. She cares about everything and everyone in our town. I don’t know how she does it. People come to her with the pettiest, stupidest problems and she cares, like really actually cares what happens to them. And if you’re lucky enough to be her friend, your life gets better every day. She spends every waking moment thinking of new ways to make her friends happy.”

4. Don’t let the haters keep you down. Bounce back.

Of course, with great passion comes great disappointment. Leslie’s taken more than a few knocks in her time in the parks department: government cuts, relationship scandals and the recall vote, to name but a few. While she’s had to deal with her professional setbacks, she has also faced a series of personal ones, with the second season charting Leslie’s often-disastrous attempts at dating. With Ann on hand to console her, it’s never long before Leslie is back on fighting form, though. Her irrepressible positivity has afforded her the dream job and the dream husband, so it seems that bouncing back has done pretty well for Leslie Knope.

The key, with Amy Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope, has been maintaining the balance between her theatrical side and her competence. ‘The Comeback Kid’ is the perfect example of one of Leslie’s turbulent attempts to bounce back. She is finally getting back on her feet but is faced with the reality that, in a town like Pawnee, the ground will always be shaky – or rather, slippery. Even when the entire cast are sliding around on the ice, the belief that Leslie can and should win the election is absolute. The viewer knows that no one should ever bet against Leslie Knope.

5. Love yourself. (Also: love Leslie Knope.)

vlcsnap-2015-01-05-23h57m00s241“I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself,” Leslie says unapologetically as Ben notices the framed picture of his girlfriend that she displays on her “wall of inspirational women”. I adore her total lack of false modesty, particularly within the context of her relationship with Ben. Women should never feel inclined to reduce themselves for the ego of a man. Despite her small stature, Leslie is a powerhouse. She should not and, delightfully, does not pretend otherwise for Ben’s benefit. Leslie’s self-assurance only makes all of her friends love her more, so it’s win-win. Leslie’s relationship with Ben works because he is not intimidated by who she is, and she allows it to flourish by not moderating herself for his benefit.

6. Love your friends. Love them a lot.

Leslie Knope loves her friends. Like, reeeeally loves them. Especially beautiful Ann. No matter how swept up she might get in her relationship with Ben (her brilliant, sexy little hummingbird), Ann always comes first: “You know my code: hoes before bros, uteruses before duderuses, ovaries before brovaries.” When we are first introduced to the colourful world of Pawnee, it is Leslie and Ann’s relationship that provides the opening chapter of our story, and their bond holds firm from that point on. To celebrate the ladies in her life, Leslie even created Galentines Day, a day of “ladies celebrating ladies”. If we take one thing away from this show, it should be that February 13th is henceforth set aside for ladies celebrating ladies.

tumblr_mc3n7kzhsR1qe9t4zo2_1280 If there’s one thing I find most relatable about Leslie Knope, it is her unabiding love for Ann. I have my own Ann, named Hannah. Her name even contains “Ann”, so it’s kismet. As Leslie declares, “Less man time, more Ann time,” I will proudly do the same (with an ‘H’ in front).

As well as her love of Ann, Leslie maintains numerous other firm friendships. Her growth, from everyone’s pain in the backside to their respected leader, has allowed every one of her friends to realise the value of having Leslie in their life. To show their gratitude for Leslie’s unwavering loyalty, they frequently team up with interventions of support and motivation. There’s nothing that that team of people wouldn’t do for her, and I promise that I’m only paraphrasing The West Wing there by accident. Remember, “one person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.”

7. Love your hometown. Hate Eagleton.

Eagleton sucks. Pawnee forever.

Falling Swiftly: Get Excited For 1989-Era Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989Does anyone else feel a little like the Taylor tide is turning? Mama gonna ride that wave.

Taylor Swift has always been a curiously divisive public figure. Flawed but seemingly a fundamentally nice (and, crucially, cat-loving) person, the backlash against Swift seems to have endured throughout all of her success. I would never have referred to myself as a fan (though we all celebrated turning 22 with a loud sing-along of the track of the same name, right?), but I always felt a little bemused by the ferocity of her critics. It’s long been apparent to me that Swift possesses a rare gift for damn catchy songwriting, with hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” ubiquitous on international radio and eternally trapped inside my head. On the eve of Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989, I’ve been feeling a very new and fervent affection for the young singer-songwriter, though. And it’s not just because of the cats. (It’s at least 50% because of the cats.)

Criticism of Swift has been extensive, to say the least. My personal issues with her have been with problematic lyrics of early hits, the boy-centric psychology that has permeated her previous albums and her pretty firm attempt to dissociate with feminism (asked if she would consider herself a feminist, Swift answered: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”). In the past few months, though, I would argue that Swift has adequately addressed all of those issues. Regarding one of her early songs, “Better Than Revenge” (a song about a girl who “stole” Swift’s ex-boyfriend from her), she has since commented: “I was 17 when I wrote that. That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up and realise no one takes someone from you if they don’t want to leave.” I think it is, as Swift herself points out, crucial to remember the age that she was when she was penning her early hits. No one has the world figured out at 17 and being immersed in the catfight-loving media, it’s hardly surprising that this naïve attitude emerged from a young Swift.

Possibly most widespread of all Taylor Swift’s criticism has been the condemnation she’s received for her openness regarding her relationships with Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal and other people whose names don’t begin with ‘J’. This is perhaps the preposterous argument of all time, and I’ll waste as little time as possible addressing it. Do you know how many songs are written about break-ups? Most. Do you like Ed Sheeran? Do you like Adele? Do you like Maroon 5? Do you like ABBA? Do you like Justin Timberlake? None of these artists have provoked the toxic, aggressive backlash that Swift has faced. If you want to argue that Adele was let off the hook owing to the private identity of her subject, then look at the Justin Timberlake example. He wrote a breakup anthem about Britney Spears, and yet “Cry Me a River” is never blasted for its autobiographical nature (likewise Ed Sheeran). My personal frustration with some of Swift’s music, that it is a tad boy-centric for my taste, has been curbed lately, with “Shake It Off” providing an encouraging introduction to an album that has been teased as a move away from the relationship post-mortems of her previous hits. Swift herself says, “It’s definitely much more about the last two years of my life which have been about moving to New York, surrounding myself with my friends, figuring out who I am, independence, freedom, all of those things. When I am reflecting back on a romantic relationship, it’s mostly just looking back on the things I learned from it.” Is it weird to feel proud of a person who is two years older than you? Because I feel it.

She also told Esquire: “I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing.” My heart soars.

The final slice of beef that I have had in the past with the “Love Story” hitmaker is perhaps a little more complicated, though once again comes down to age and growth, I think. Swift’s previous comments about feminism seem to illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is and does, a result, no doubt, of the prevalent derogative rhetoric surrounding the term. In more recent interviews, though, a very different attitude seems to have emerged from Swift, who told The Guardian: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”

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Swift recently extended support to Emma Watson following the actress’s speech at the UN.

This statement underlines the significance of Emma Watson’s recent UN speech (which directly addressed this misunderstanding), which Swift herself noted in an interview with Tout Le Monde En Parle. She explained: “I wish when I was younger I had been able to watch a video of my favourite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism. Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life, I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means.”

While Emma Watson and Taylor Swift’s comments on feminism might be criticised as overly simplistic, they provide a much-needed introduction to the concept of feminism for their young fans. Certainly, Swift’s enlightenment regarding gender issues is something that has me won over. While I was always optimistic that she never opposed equality of the genders, endorsement of the term “feminism” itself is a significant move forward. I think it’s important to note that her earlier comments had come when she was still exceptionally young. She’s still young now, in fact, but her recent statements seem to be considerably more informed. She’s not alone in her transformation, I feel inclined to point out. Queen Bey herself, now celebrated for her notable use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism in “Flawless”, sang lead on the Destiny’s Child track “Nasty Girl” (a lesson in slut-shaming, with lyrics like: “These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl”). The media in general seems to have forgiven and forgotten in Beyoncé’s case (she’s instead attacked for a multitude of other sins, stemming from the media’s blatant and continued sexism and racism), and yet Swift still seems to be persecuted for the problematic lyrics of her youth. I think in both instances, these women have become more informed and mature since the release of these early records.

One decision by Swift that I think is particularly brilliant is that for her covers of both “Just a Dream” by Nelly and “Riptide” by Vance Joy, she opts out of changing the pronouns. This heteronormative habit of the pop industry is pretty prevalent when it comes to covers, but it’s so good to see Swift bucking that trend. It allows queer female fans to identify with the music in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to had the pronouns been changed. Added to that, her latest track, “Welcome To New York”, includes the line, “Everyone else here was someone else before. You can want who you want; boys and boys and girls and girls.”

Untitled-3To me, whether or not Swift’s virtues outweigh her flaws isn’t even a question. From “no, it’s becky”, to her considerable generosity with fans, to her philanthropic efforts, Swift seems like just the kind of person I’d want to sit down and marathon Parks and Rec with while consuming a big ol’ batch of her homemade cookies. If you take one look at her cute-ass Tumblr page, you can’t ignore the wonderfully down-to-earth person that Swift proves to be. Legit, if I was a famous person, I would aspire to be everything that Taylor is (we’re on first name terms now). Everything on that page reads in perfect keeping with Tumblr’s slightly odd, totally brilliant sense of humour. The fact that Taylor gets it and actively seeks to be on the same level as her fans speaks volumes if you ask me. Even at her ridiculous level of fame, she manages to become an involved member of her own fan community. Stories of Swift’s efforts for her fans have included her surprising a bride-to-be, visiting and singing to a sick fan in hospital, inviting fans to hang with her and listen to 1989 ahead of the release, giving a fan she ran into $90 because it was her birthday, inviting a fan who was hit by a car on the way to her concert backstage at another tour date, sending love on Instagram to a fan being bullied, and reportedly donating thousands of dollars to a homeless fan. I’ll buy her record because it’s catchy as hell, and damn those hooks, but I write this blog because girl deserves a break from all those who won’t.

Her newest tracks have slayed. “Shake It Off” is one of my favourite songs that Taylor has yet delivered. It’s fun, fast and freeing; it’s an invitation to have a good time, to let loose. In message, it seems an updated “22”, with an even fresher sound. It is also the best track in my iTunes for pushing me through the end of a 5k run. “Out of the Woods” is just as impressive, a near-perfect pop song that shows the vast potential of Taylor Swift. At 25, she’s producing some of the best pop around. It’s hard to imagine how good she’ll be in the future, but I’m hella excited about it.

I really hope the momentum of public opinion is beginning to shift in Taylor Swift’s favour. It’s about time we all just dance like it’s 1989.

Sunglasses

I obviously went from chilled vibes to judging you during the course of this little selfie sesh.

I obviously went from chilled vibes to judging you during the course of this little selfie sesh.

In the last month, I’ve bought two new pairs of sunglasses. People seem confused about this. “You have sunglasses already, why do you need two new pairs?” I don’t, is the answer. I don’t need new sunglasses at all. But as I go into shops with a view to picking out some new items for summer, it becomes clear that there’s a problem. Sunglasses don’t make me feel fat. And they’re the only thing.

Recently my friends and I booked our July holiday (huzzah!). Of course, I’ve got ages before I need to worry about preparing for it but I fancied a little shopping, I thought, and the excuse presented itself! The most practical item on the list was swimwear. Having not had need for it for a long time, I have none and we’re going to be swimming a lot. I thought I’d just search ASOS to see if anything caught my eye. When the search results came up, it was no real surprise to see washboard stomachs and teenie weenie bikinis across the board, but I still felt frustrated by it. I’m a pretty standard size – a “perfect” size, in fact (Beautiful South, 1998) – and I’ve never been someone who gets too hung up on their body issues. I have them, sure, but they’ve never been dangerous. As I browsed through the endless two-pieces thinking of the judgmental looks I’d get if I ever wore any of them (possibly resembling mine in the top right picture), those body issues did start to feel potentially dangerous.

I’d innocently and excitedly gone to shop for swimwear, thinking I’d pick out a patterned tankini with no worries. Of the 775 “styles found”, 26 were tankinis and nine of those were maternity. By the time I was looking at my options for swimming costumes, morale was pretty low. I was making calculations about which body issue I could surrender to; would it be worse to have my belly out or my stretch marks on display?

Every sign that I’m not a pre-pubescent child had to be covered up. God forbid anyone confuse me for a grown woman. It’s not like I was intending to impress anyone. I shan’t be parading around in my swimwear; it’s purely practical. I just want to be able to go for a swim with my buddies. Why do I care? Why can’t I talk myself out of this hole? I stayed resolute about wanting to cover up more, and began to look at other retailers. It’s Next and BHS before I see anything resembling the coverage I want, shops that are targeting a demographic twenty years older than me. The items that I show an interest in are given names like “Tummy Tuck Swim Shorts” or they’re only available in bigger sizes, like anyone needed to draw further attention to the motivation behind picking the items. It’s not long before I’m calculating how many more runs I can get in a week, and wondering if my mum would notice if I snuck a look at her diet books. In retrospect, I’m saddened that my brain so quickly took that path. Unlike when I took up running last year, motivated by the desire to feel fitter and healthier, this move was entirely motivated by unhappiness and a dislike of myself.

After a little while of searching through the bikinis, I began to become self-conscious of my thought process. I felt a profound sadness over the effect it had had on me. It took so little for me to get into that mindset and I hate to think of the effect experiences like that can have over people like me, and younger.

I moved my cursor to the sunglasses search. There I find a happier place, somewhere between the meadows of joy and the valley of contentment. “Ooh, heart-shaped ones!”

ccc

My Mad Perfect Diary

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I feel like My Mad Fat Diary explores a previously-untapped point of view. All told through the female protagonist’s diary entries, it explores deeply personal – sometimes taboo – issues. These are quite often things that I have never before seen approached on TV. But I’m glad it’s happening now. Last night’s episode took this to new heights, dizzying heights, look-at-the-beautiful-scenery-up-here heights. It was PERFECT. Here’s why:

Sex was a hot topic in the season premiere. But unlike most (read: all) times that I’ve seen sex referenced on TV, MMFD focused on female pleasure. Women liking sex? Who’d have thunk it?! How many times have you read headlines like, “How to Keep Your Man Happy in the Bedroom” on the covers of women’s mags? Too many, anyhow. Note that vice versa doesn’t pepper the covers of men’s magazines. Evan Rachel Wood was recently even talking about her frustrations with the way the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) censor female sexuality, commenting that “The scene [in her movie] where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable”, but the scenes in which people are being murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.” She further suggested that this was symptomatic of a society that punishes women for enjoying sex. While MMFD didn’t go as far as to show male-to-female oral sex, it was certainly addressed as Rae expressed her desire for Finn to “go down on me for so long that he has to evolve gills.” It was both hilarious and a delightfully positive acknowledgement of female sexuality, as was Rae’s later comment that she “was so turned on, we were gonna need a canoe and life jackets.”

Another wonderful moment in the episode was the acknowledge that pubic hair exists. These might seem like easy bonus points but seriously, it might be the first time I’ve ever seen pubic hair mentioned on TV. After her visit to the beauticians, Rae eloquently states: “My lady clam no longer looks like a barber’s bin.”  I believe the world would be a better place, an easier place for teenage girls at least, if we stopped pretending girls aren’t naturally hairless.

And yes, BRAS SUCK. And My Mad Fat Diary proved that rather brilliantly last night as Rae, who has given up comfort in favour of more aesthetically pleasing lingerie, is given some boob support from “stereotype gay best friend” Archie. Too often femininity comes at the cost of comfort.

Hello, Finn’s butt. Daaayummmm boy.

Then there’s Rae’s heartbreakingly relatable insecurity. The show, at its best, superbly taps into a near-universal human neuroses that manifests in all of us differently. Personally, I’ve found a worrying amount of solace in Rae Earl quotes from the show: “It’s easier to like yourself when someone else likes you”, “The worst thing was that a lot of the stuff was so nice … It just wasn’t made for someone whose body wasn’t pretty, wasn’t delicate”. I feel like Rae is representative of a personality that we don’t see on TV enough, at least not depicted in such a positive and enlightened way. Mental illness is a sensitive issue to explore and MMFD does it beautifully, clearly informed by the autobiographical source material.

Finally, the episode beautifully addressed the mindfuck chaos that comes from the pressure to lose your virginity in your teens. Please can we stop hurling the word “virgin” around? Girl will get the D when she so wishes.

Ladies I Look Up To

I decided to talk a little about my role models. I’ll admit, my choices are a little varied. They range from fellow bloggers to First Lady, from actress to activists, from fictional to fashionista. The one constant, though, is feminist.

In no particular order:

Tavi Gevinson

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Yes, Tavi Gevinson is four years younger than me. I don’t like to limit my role models to my elders. Blogger, feminist and teenius (new word), Tavi is everything I’ve wanted to be since I had vaguely any grasp on my identity. I mean, I didn’t always know it was her specifically but she’s many of the ideal characteristics in one human: incredibly intelligent, politically-minded, fun and funny. She can also rock the block fringe.

Tavi started off, at the age of 11, as a fashion blogger, but has more recently commented: “I even think that fashion can be a tool of feminism and of self-expression and individuality and empowerment. But clearly there are flaws with the industry that still really grind my gears.” Fuck, yes. Early on, people thought that Tavi’s writing style was too mature to legitimately be a young girl (= she’s really, really good, you guys).

The reason I’ve taken such a liking to talented Tavi, though, is her attitude regarding the media and the many pressures it puts on teenage girls. She decided that the best thing that a fifteen-year-old could do to improve the media that she consumes was to be involved in creating it. So, she founded Rookie. “On Rookie, everything is through a feminist lens and we’re a feminist site.” Hurrah! I like you.

In summary: this lady has to balance school and being editor-in-chief for an online magazine. I can’t even balance school and my freaking diet (shit, when was the last time I ate a vegetable?). Also, one time she said, “my brain is farting” and it was beautiful.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

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One of the primary qualities I respect about Hillary Clinton is her ability to handle criticism. For any person in the political arena, this is vital. One of my favourite quotes of hers is: “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” I think that’s a really valuable lesson to learn. I’m not particularly thick-skinned and probably pay too much attention to criticism, but I think it’s so important to differentiate between constructive criticism and hatin’.

As First Lady of the United States, her focus was universal healthcare. That’s a pretty good policy from where I’m sitting – which is the UK, where we have the NHS (would recommend to friend). She’s been First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States (the main First Lady of all the First Ladies), a New York Senator and Secretary of State. Sometime in the midst of all that she tried running for President. Maybe she’ll do it again sometime. Maybe.

Joe Biden actually said once: “Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me.” I actually had a better job in mind for Hillary, Joe (but I do love you).

How she hasn’t lost her mind over the running commentary on her hairstyles alone is a mystery to me. She hasn’t had the easiest time from the right wing media but she’s still standing. Fingers crossed that soon she starts running.

Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai might perhaps be the most courageous person on earth. Malala is the youngest person on this list, in fact, but may well be the most impressive of all. Malala started off blogging for BBC Urdu about the Taliban banning girls from receiving an education. Thus began her fight for a privilege that we all take for granted. I love to write more than anything, but I’ve so often wished I didn’t have to go to school or take an exam. Here is a person fighting to be able to do just that. It’s a lesson in appreciating what you have and recognising the privilege that you have.

Malala had to blog under a pseudonym for her own safety. However, after the truth of her identity came to light, she became a target for the Taliban. In October 2012, as she was travelling home from an exam, a Taliban gunman shot her. Thankfully, she survived the assassination attempt, but she and her father both remain targets of the Taliban.

Hillary Clinton has commented on Malala’s bravery “standing up for the rights of girls” against those who threaten “that kind of empowerment”. In response to the shooting, aforementioned Tavi Gevinson organised a Get Well Soon card for Malala.

Malala was also nominated for the Nobel Piece Prize. Let me just remind you: she’s fifteen years old.

Amy Poehler

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Amy Poehler is one of my favourite people on the planet, just simply because of how happy she makes me. Her comedic talents are, quite frankly, unparalleled. She is, at the core, a badass feminist. She created Smart Girls at the Party, the motto of which is “change the world by being yourself”. On SNL, Amy was the co-anchor on Weekend Update with Tina Fey – the only time two women have anchored. She also played Hillary Clinton opposite Tina’s Sarah Palin, as well as playing Regina’s colourful mother in Mean Girls. Currently, she stars in the truly brilliant Parks and Recreation as the show’s only lead (and is overdue an Emmy). It’s also great to have someone on this list who didn’t achieve all of their awesome by the age of, like, ten. I DON’T NEED THE PRESSURE.

So, remember that time Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes? Yeah, me too. It was awesome. Highlight: when Bill Clinton appeared, I tweeted “OMG, it’s Hillary Clinton’s husband” and then she made the same joke. When I say highlight, I mean of life, not just that night.

Amy Poehler is fearless. I think it’s such an important quality for a comedic actor to have. She pays no attention to the boxes she might be put in, always performing with the bold confidence that is so irrepressibly Amy Poehler. There’s no one else like her. Her co-stars unanimously adore her. She kind of has a free pass to lightly insult anyone in Hollywood, so long as she’s doing it with a cheeky grin on her face and that perfect cackle. She just exudes sunshine. You know who else does that? Leslie Knope (and Donna Moss but we’ll get to that in a minute).

Amy plays Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec. She’s the tireless, optimistic government worker of her beloved Parks and Recreation department in fictional Pawnee. To express my love, I will simply share an anecdote from watching a recent episode. There was a storyline about Leslie being obsessed with gift-giving and my best friend just turned to me and said, “She is you.” Greatest moment of my life.

Other reasons to love Leslie Knope:

  • “My ideal man needs to have the brains of George Clooney, with the body of Joe Biden.”
  • In response to, “I believe one problem with hiring women is that they’re frail and breakable.” she said: “Is it possible you’re thinking about lightbulbs? Or your hip?”
  • “Barack Obama said yes we can and now he’s president. Ben says no we shouldn’t and now he’s working for his girlfriend.”
  • “I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.”
  • “You know my code. Hoes before bros. Uteruses before duderuses. Ovaries before brovaries.”

Donna Moss

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Donna Moss is my favourite fictional character of all time. Let’s start with that. She’s often overlooked because of the brilliance of Allison Janney, as is everyone else on The West Wing (and in the world), but there’s room enough for more than one complex, talented, smart woman in this White House. It can sometimes feel like she is viewed as an appendage to Josh, or that her character is analysed only as a direct comparison to Amy. Why? We don’t pit male characters against each other in the same way. So, I propose an end to this. And a beginning. The beginning of the midnight train to Donna appreciation. Hop on board.

She is deeply compassionate, patient and kind. These qualities are displayed time and again: from realising when Josh had PTSD and her reaction to finding out the president had MS, to standing up for the people – not names – on the list of potential pardons. And, remember Molly Morello?

Donna’s funny, too – let’s about talk about the funny. Every bit of banter she and Josh share is quick-witted and brilliant. There was also the thoroughly enjoyable, “Knock, knock! Who’s there? Sam and his prostitute friend.” and that time Donna found out she was Canadian. She’s so great (*gush*).

The real reason she’s on this list is her character development. She’s shown to be Josh’s much-depended-upon assistant for the first five seasons, always wanting to do more. She proves her competence endlessly and it becomes clear that she’s too good for the job. Eventually, she puts aside her personal feelings for Josh and quits, gets hired on the Russell campaign, gets promoted to spokesperson and White House point person and later lands a job on the Santos campaign after he gets the candidacy. When Santos wins the election, a very proud me gets to watch my baby girl Donnatella get hired as FLOTUS chief of staff and walk into her beautiful, big office. Congrats, show, on the one good thing you did post-Sork. Appreciated.

So, who would make your list of ladies you look up to? Share, share.

We Need To Talk About Pubic Hair

To have it, or not to have it? As a teenager I didn’t know what to do with mine. Do I shave it? Do I wax it? Do I braid it? I feel like adolescence should come with a manual, a How To on everything from pubes to periods to kissing with tongue.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with a full muff, a half muff, a no muff or some pubic topiary. If you want to vajazzle your downstairs, I’ve got no beef. It seems like a bit of a palaver but to each their own. I’ve talked to a number of friends and fellow bloggers on this particular topic, all of whom agree that whatever women choose to do is fine. The trouble is, wider society doesn’t agree – there is enormous pressure on the shoulders of those who opt to keep their pubic hair. The overriding message from the media is that it is unsightly and unsexy. (Not all media. Teletubbies has no clear position.)

I was watching an episode of The Graham Norton Show a few months ago, with guests Cameron Diaz, Rod Stewart and Sarah Millican. Cameron Diaz began sharing an anecdote about her friend “who is obsessed with having a 70s bush”. Upon learning that this friend of Diaz was married, Rod Stewart expressed surprise. Obviously what a woman chooses to do with a few square inches of hair between her legs is more important than every other facet of her being put together, amirite, Rod?

Cameron Diaz goes on to tell the story of how she and a couple of friends pinned this woman down to remove her pubic hair – her pubic hair that she was comfortable with, but which her “friends” were so horrified by that they decided they needed to intervene. There is so much wrong with this, not the least of which is that this story was being told as a humorous talk show anecdote.

Then there’s my most recently binged TV series, Game of Thrones. Having watched all 22 episodes so far, I noticed something pretty striking about the nude scenes in Game of Thrones: a consistent lack of pubic hair. That’s not all that odd when you’re talking about 21st century lady gardens, but considering that the setting for Game of Thrones is a medieval fantasy land, when did they get time to Veet? As much as they may have had access to some methods of hair removal, some of these characters are wildlings. Wildlings live up to the name. Natalia Tena’s Osha looks like she may never have combed the hair on her head and yet I’m supposed to believe that she had time to get her pubes removed?

Natalia Tena herself has commented on this aspect of the show:

 “I’m a bit annoyed because I asked them whether they were gonna go lower [than the waist], not that I have a problem with that – showing my minge, but my character would definitely have a lot of muff. I asked them, ‘Give me a month in advance, I’ll grow it.’ And I remember, on the day I was like, ‘Do you want me to wear a merkin?’ Like, they’ve got some… I think it’s a bit unrealistic that she’s shaved.”

 It seems that even when having pubic hair would be more believable for the character, producers opt against it. Even with the actress fighting for the historical accuracy of it, they reject the suggestion. What’s most worrying is that while watching Game of Thrones, I’ve seen many characters come to gory, nasty ends. The show isn’t afraid to turn viewers off their dinner. So why is something that is perfectly natural, that everyone knows exists, considered too unsightly for even this show? Is it that important that all the women conform to 21st century standards of beauty to such an extent that accuracy is betrayed? It implies that having pubic hair is so unattractive that we should all be pretending it doesn’t grow at all. But it does. It’s yet another way in which the media perpetuates messages of body hating. It doesn’t even allow for the possibility that a woman might wish to keep it through personal preference before word reaches them that, nope, society does not approve the full bush.

At what point did pubic hair removal go from being a rarity to base level expectation? Can’t we feel the same way about vaginas as we do about cats: the standard editions come with a full coat of fur and there’s occasionally some novelty bald ones. If I’m going to wax it all off, I at least want that to be impressive.

I find the idea of minimal pubic hair as more sexual to be a little troubling, myself. Being that only pre-pubescent girls are naturally hairless down there, is it not a little weird that men want my vagina to resemble that of a child? I understand that for oral sex it might be more comfortable for the partner, but in terms of overall comfort, is it really more comfortable to be hairless? It keeps me warm, for a start. The process of hair removal in that particular area is more physically uncomfortable than simply leaving it. It seems to me that pubic hair removal is more about what men have been conditioned to find aesthetically pleasing, over and above anybody’s comfort.

As I’ve grown older, I think I’ve begun to recognise the importance of self. I think pubic hair is fine if you want it, fine if you don’t. It’s important that all choices are recognised and accepted. That said, there is enormous pressure on women from society to remove at least some pubic hair, and it seems unlikely that if that pressure were taken away a woman would choose to spend her precious pounds having hair ripped from intimate parts of her body. I wish I had known as a very stressy teen that not every woman is Brazilian waxing and that I have every right to style my vagina however I so wish. If I want to dreadlock my lady mane, that is my business. If only that had been communicated to me sooner. We need to talk about this more. So, what up Game of Thrones, how about some variety? How about a little open-mindedness?

Ladies, young and old, be proud of your vagina – no matter which choice you make. But, please, make sure it’s the choice you are comfortable with. If that means leaving it alone, so be it, and to hell with societal pressure.