Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I'm fat 'cause I like to eat.

A fair proportion of my life has been spent having conversations about my appearance. Some were held with well-meaning doctors, teachers and members of my family other 'conversations' were initiated by teenage girls with body issues of their own because. I am, with a BMI of 32 officially, fat. As much as I'd like to tell you that this due to muscle mass, heavy bones or dis-functioning hormones, I suspect that my love for cake and my dislike of physical exercise are at least partly to blame.

If the media are to be believed, I'm not alone and fatties like me are multiplying and that is, of course, a catastrophe, the end of the world as we know it: productivity will be down, and everyone will die of heart disease aged 30 and all because fat people won't stop stuffing themselves with pizza and chips. This is a very short summary of most articles and opinions in the mainstream media. Being fat is wrong, it's unhealthy, it's disgusting.

Fat people, according to this way of reporting, are lazy, depressed and completely lacking in self-discipline. Very popular are extremely fat people (yes, humans on TV tend to be tiny or huge - there is no middle ground) being interviewed whilst tucking into a burger or showing us the inside of their fridge stocked with items that would make the average hobby nutritionist tut.

I don't think I'm the first person to find this kind of reporting unhelpful for women, men, girls and boys of all shapes and sizes. First of all it demonizes a vague group of the population. Vague because 'fat' tends to lie in the eye of the beholder. Perfectly slim girls are being called fat on the message boards of the internet - usually meant as an insult. For a woman to refuse to be physically pleasing in the way mainstream a opinion can be and is often seen as a crime against consensus.

I opened this article by outlining how very frequently I have to apologise for or justify the way I look. A mixture of well-meaning, concerned adults and being a convenient dumping ground for my school mates body anxieties, I grew up convinced I was ugly, unloveable and would be destined to spend the rest of my life alone (Hey, Disney, after a film about a black princess how about a fat princess or one with acne?). As far as the well-meaning adults are concerned, I'd guess they thought they were helping so it almost breaks my heart a little to reveal: while your comments shocked me, frustrated me,annoyed me or made me doubt myself, they never motivated me to loose weight.

I understand that being a certain weight increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Most fat people do being constantly told so by health professionals (who are required to point this out to you at every point of contact). Being fat can have BAAAD  health consequences ( as can the believe that your worth as a human being is linked to your weight, a fragile mental health and  constant dieting ).

Since leaving my home country and being able to look back at my youth with some distance I managed to realise that being the way I am is not something I need to explain and apologise for. In the believe that those realisations could help many unhappy people, I would like to share my insights in how to approach fatness in myself and others (this list talks about weight issues, but a lot of it can apply to other image problems or life in general). This would have helped making me a happy healthier teen:

1) Ideal weight and Body Mass Index  are man-made concepts.

They exist to serve a legitimate purpose, but they are just this concepts to explain how certain conditions apply statistically to a group of people. If you are in the over- or underweight group, you are at an increased risk to suffer from certain diseases just like smokers are more likely to attract lung conditions and alcohol drinkers (yes, that includes 'occasionally') are damaging their liver. These concepts are not only fallible (see the popular muscles are heavier than fat argument) they also imply that some body shapes are more natural, acceptable or ideal than others. And while it's true that you are statistically healthier, if your body is ideal weight, it is perfectly acceptable to be non-ideal.

2) Loosing weight is not a magical problem solver

If you struggle with confidence issues, find it hard to make friends or cannot please your parents (or others close to you) , these issues will only go away, if you work tackle then directly. When I was younger I had no confidence, was unpopular and felt that my failure to look normal was a constant disappointment to my family. I hear fro  other fat people that they have similar problems. They may be caused by fatness, they may have caused the fatness. But now you have them, they are part of you.
Loosing weight has many benefits. It will probably make you healthier and improve your overall health BUT it will not turn you into a more confident, popular and people pleasing version of yourself unless you work on these issues. Ideally, you should do this before you start to diet - you might not even want to loose weight afterwards.

3) Telling people they are fat is not helpful.

I said this before, every fat person on this planet knows they are fat. This has, partly, to do with concerned people making it their business to inform them of their repulsiveness self-destructive behaviour. They have heard it a hundred times and the 101st time will not change them. Most fat people even know how to eat healthily and that they should exercise (some of them even do).If you are concerned about your child, your friend or your patient accept that their weight is their responsibility and let them know that support is available, if they want it.

4) Do what you want

I spent my youth and childhood fighting against baggy jumpers as prescribed by my mum. The consensus seems to be that, if you have to be fat, the least you can do is cover up and feel terribly sorry for being a different shape than everybody else. Wearing nice, properly fitting clothes that work with your natural shape will do wonders for your confidence. Doing what I want; stopping to live, eat and dress for other people issues is the most liberating thing I have ever done. This is by no means limited to clothing. Eat what you want: fancy a triple cheeseburger with bacon and chips and a family bottle of coke? Have it, eat it. Don't order the salad with fat free dressing because you are with your friends and worried about what they might think. Book that beach holiday and wear that bikini. Diet or don't - but make sure you diet because it's what you want to do.

5) People who take issue at your appearance are likely to have body issues themselves

Everyone has body issues and a very popular coping mechanism is comparison with people who are doing even worse.  When visiting my family I hear a lot of remarks along the lines of 'Urgh, that top shows off your belly fat' and 'Full fat milk? Are you sure?' - miraculously 99.9 % of these comments come from my lovely but insecure mum whom I very much take after. My very (conventionally) beautiful, athletic sister hardly ever sees the need to comment on my outfit or milk preferences.

5) You are amazing, beautiful and loveable

Despite what the media and some people will tell you, being fat doesn't make you a bad person. It's hard to latch on to the 'Love-Yourself'-mantra, if you start to believe that your body makes you unworthy of love but they these words to yourself often and you will start to believe it - and then start saying them to other people.
Being fat doesn't have to stop you from having a good live, being beautiful and loved ( yes, as in happily ever after) and fancied.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

All men are evil rapists

Here is a fun experiment - try using the words "I am a feminist" in a few conversations today. I predict that in at least one of these conversations you'll have to defend yourself or are expected to laugh at a sexist joke to prove you have a sense of humour.The f-word is definitely not uncontroversial and there seems to be almost no grey area: Feminism is either infallible or intend upon enslaving anyone with a y-chromosome.

I will be using this entry for a shock revelation: I am broadly speaking in favour of equality. I think that it's a great development that I can work without having to ask permission from a husband, father, brother or uncle, I quite enjoy the fact that I wasn't married off aged 12 and I also think it's basically a good thing that I can vote/ run for political office. I think we could fairly blame these achievements on feminism. I would also like to point out that I agree with many modern day feminist demands like equal pay and opportunities for women and men. So, feminism has supported and is supporting good and important causes but somehow the brand is damaged these days.

Feminists, I'm afraid, are partly to blame for this development. There is an argumentation that runs along the lines of: Men have subjugated women for centuries, they should apologise ad infinitum/ make up for this/ be subjugated in turn. It's probably the same feminists that suggest that women are the better sex and should be put in charge of everything or turn issues like domestic violence and sex work into simple narratives with goodies and baddies.

There seems to be a perceived imbalance of power in some areas where women allegedly "win" more often than men.Women tend to "win" more easily in court when it comes to child custody and (accusations of) rape. Having said that, there are equally popular areas where according to popular perception men "win". The obvious example here being equal pay (it's one of my favourite examples and we will be using it throughout this post) or the fact that in most companies and institutions the top management is made up mostly of men. It's not my intention to verify either injustice, but you may employ Google yourself, if you wish. I find it worth noting that the system as it currently is unfair to both genders in different aspects of life. While the sensible thing to do as humanists would be to work together to make the system fairer overall, the system remains largely untouched providing both radical feminists and radical masculinist (if radmascs is not a word, it should be one) with claims to support their petty little agendas.

Personally, I am reluctant to refer to myself as a feminists.

Firstly, I find parts of humanity that organise themselves in groups highly suspicious. I realise that campaigning for a greater good (or evil) is easier, if you team up with a lot of other people who have roughly the same goal. Sadly well intentioned-groups will at some point be run-over by members who are so excited about the common goal that they turn into radicals. If I think about religions or political movements, I can't think of one movement that hasn't got a radical wing. It gets absurd when it comes to Liberalism, but of course there are plenty of radical Liberals out there who all write for The Guardian and of course radicalism is a massive PR problem for Feminism as we discovered above.

Group mentality, and therefore Feminism, place very little emphasis on personal responsibility. History is seen as a fight between MEN who have oppressed WOMEN out of collective meanness. As much as I like a great drama, this narrative doesn't help a lot when it comes to finding consensus. It is MEN who take away equal pay (...) rather than WOMEN who, to employ a sweeping generalisation, should be educated better about their own self-worth and negation skills. It might also be worth to start with the realisation that believing in yourself and negotiating for what you're worth doesn't have an impact on your femininity.

The name itself -feminism- might be the problem at the root. "Feminism" can, in the age were equality has been mostly achieved in our society, can very easily be read as promoting female oppression over men. Even though  this is probably not the declared aim of the overwhelming majority of feminists, I have come across people who suggested that it would be "fair" to launch into a few centuries of matriarchy.One could, of course, call it something else.But what? Humanism would be an obvious choice although this already is a movement - that hasn't necessarily always fought at the forefront for equal rights of men and women. Equalitism? Egalitarianism? Maybe, but then again feminism is a strong barnd - not a quite unproblematic one but it's established and has achieved a lot of 'good' under that banner.

So considering all that is wrong with Feminism (and most "Isms" in general), why do I still think it's a shame that many women and men (me included) are reluctant to call themselves feminists? I feel it is like most successfull Isms a movement with admirable intentions whose integrity has been compromised by some of the more eager followers.There are probably  "feminists" out there who would subscribe to my shamelessly atttention-grabbing title. Judging Feminism on the basis of the Loud Feminists is about as fair judging all of Christianity on the attitude of the Westboro Baptist Church.

I firmly believe that feminists are mostly sensible people who genuinely believe in making the world a fairer place. Why do we never hear anything from them?

Ask yourself, if you would have bothered opening an article entitled: Feminists are only human, men are only human, let's all get on.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

How much is your love?

Happy Valentine's Day, people in love and happy Thursday, everyone else.

When I was single I didn't mind Valentine's Day very much. It was a day when people in love headed to the 99p shop to decorate their houses with heart shaped tat paper stuff while I got to raise an intellectually detached eyebrow and skip along my merry singleton ways.

My first Valentine's day in England came as a bit of a culture shock. Where I'm from I never experienced Valentine's Day to be a big deal. I don't remember my parents ever exchanging gifts or dressing in pink and the only Valentine's gift I ever got was from my then best friend at nursery. It was a chocolate bar and I remember it only because it was the day I learnt of the existence of Valentine's day and got completely unexpected chocolate.

I certainly never felt inadequate for not getting the best Valentine's gift because I don't remember people around me exchanging them openly and turning it into a weird competition of love. Are the  Germans more subtle than the English or (judging purely on what I know from their TV shows) Americans? No but competition in good old Germany tends to be about car size and garden neatness. You may judge for yourself which one you find more pathetic.

So, now as a resident in a Valentine's mad nation in a new..ish relationship (first Valentine's Day) I get the feeling other people get around Christmas (which, for the record, is the best thing the gift card industry ever invented). Plus the added anxiety that, if I choose to spend this Valentine's Day with my usual sense of intellectual detachment and a good helping of sneering, it would be read as not caring.

The problem I have with Valentine's Day is not the scramble for tables in crowded restaurants or the fact that pink somehow has become an acceptable colour to wear; not even the fact that it's allotting couples 24 hours to exhaust themselves romantically for the next 364 days. It is the very specific expectations that come attached to the day itself. Chocolate, cards, flowers and a bonus present (jewellery or perfume- delete as appropriate) probably make it the gift-giving "holiday" with the least amount of thought required. Te reason I prefer Christmas and (to a decreasing extend) birthdays is that the process of gift-buying to think about the giftee's likes and personality (in most cases) whereas for Valentine's Day comes down to how much you spent on token gifts which in many ways is equal to simply shredding a £50 note.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dear Online Newspapers/ Blogs....,

I like you. A lot.
I like reading different views on the same news stories without having to leave the house, like pretty colourful moving pictures and graphics ( I am a 90s child after all) and I like the fact that I can annoy my friends, relations and acquaintances with what I'm reading via Facebook & co.

I am also not against paying for your content. Actually, I think it would probably improve your quality, make you more independent and therefore would bring your actual customer (the reader) back into focus.* I completely get that until the day come when everyone happily pays for online content you need to sell space on your site to advertisers. I know you have bills to pay and children to feed.

What I don't get; what, in fact, really gets to me when you, online media, take the necessity to make money from us punters as an excuse to make our reading experience as awful as possible. I am, of course, referring to adverts/ alerts that pop up in front of the article you are trying to read/ media product you are trying to consume.

Alerts, specifically, that ask you to sign up for a newsletter/ alert etc. before I had a chance to assess, if the outlet is worth my future attention by reading the brothermocking article ( I am looking at you, Huffington Post) or putting up a "voluntary pay wall" (I'm looking at you, Taz).

Please don't do this. If you keep it up, I will have to stop using you sites (I'm to young for an anger-induced coronary.) and I will miss your excellent content. Put your offers, requests and like buttons at the bottom of the article and I will consider, share or even pay, if I liked what I read.

Many thanks,

Slightly Disgruntled

* I would like to take this opportunity to introduce readers to Flattr. A great way to donate to bloggers, artists and musicians you'd like to support on the web.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Changing the world without changing my lifestyle

How the right kind of selfishness can improve your life and the lives of others.

Hello reader, did you know that you can change the world? Ok, you won't be able to impose a new world order or make everyone believe in your brand of religion but with a few (mostly) mental adjustments you and I can make a practical impact on the world. (I'm an idealist, please don't judge me.)

Below is a list of things absolutely everyone can incorporate into their lives and change the world a little bit at a time.

I should point out that while I think I SHOULD be doing all those things, I am very far from implementing them all. This article is my way of challenging myself and anyone who would like to join me to become a better person.

I will (try to)...

1) ....be aware of others around me
Is there anything more annoying than people who use public spaces with enthusiastic disregard for the rest of the world. This includes people shouting into their mobiles or carrying large, bulky objects during rush hour (including push chairs) on public transport, groups of people taking up complete pavements or supermarket aisles and people talking through films.
I have come to the conclusion that these people don't do it on purpose to drive the rest of humanity insane; they seem to have simply forgotten that they are sharing the public space with, well, the public and that in the grand scheme of things their errant is no more importsant than mine or yours.
It is very easy by the way to become the object of people's annoyance and chances are that on many occasions you have held people up with your petty little errands. I know I have.
Why should I care?
Whenever you irritate someone, you make their day a little bit worse. Yes, I know chances are that you may be having a crap day, too, but passing on your irritation with humanity on to others makes things worse. If you share your relationship problems or sing Happy Birthday to your auntie on a crowded train carriage via the medium of mobile phone, you potentially sour 20 to 50 people's day. Maybe they are all sensible individuals who will deal with the anger in a grown up way, chances are they'll let it out on their colleagues, families or just people who have the misfortune to be close by (who will then also be sharing their irritation with the world).
I am convinced that happy people are better people, especially when put in a position of power. And don't you sometimes need a happy police man, bouncer or boss?

2)... not use other people's behaviour as an excuse for my own behaviour
Can 1 million idiots be wrong?
A home truth staple of my mum's was and is: "...and if your friends jumps into a well, would you jump after them." So far, so familiar. This little gem of mother's wisdom, however, uncovers what I think is probably the lamest excuse in general life: "But EVERYONE blocks the fire escape with their luggage", they moan until there is a fire.
Why should I care?
Behaving with courtesy and forethought could, like in the example of the fire escape, potentially save your life. It also has the magic power of making everyday life more efficient and less frustrating.

3)...demand perspective of myself and others.
This point is inspired by the media. It seems to me that news tend to differentiate sharply between villains and victims. This makes great narratives and may even sell more papers but it makes humanity uglier. Criminals vs people, politicians vs, public, Tory vs. Labour, benefit cheats vs the public purse UK vs. EU... (sorry I had to make that point ;) ). It seems to be all about differences and who is winning, rather than middle ground and how to solve a problem. Personally, I don't care who wins the financial crisis but feel we as humanity would achieve a lot more if left and right pooled their resources and, you know, worked towards the common goal of solving the "mess".
Why should I care?
As much as I like being entertained by conflict humanity would probably be served a lot better by compromises that make everyone sorta happy instead of victories that makes the biggest minority happy and everybody else angry. This can be achieved by applying perspective to things you  create and things you consume. Journalists should realise that good and evil are extremes and usually EVERYONE is a mixture of both. Readers/ viewers/ listeners should also realise this and boycott news outlets that pretend otherwise for commercial effect.

4)...realise that I could be wrong
Not only could I be wrong but my opponent could be right. The most likely scenario is that my opponent and I are probably a little bit wrong and a little bit right and the best possible outcome would be for both of us to realise this amazing truth and work out a solution that pleases us both. And skip along a peaceful meadow with chirpy birds and pretty flowers.
Why should I care?
I prefer a 100% chance to get a little bit of what I want to a 50% or lower chance of getting nothing. What about you?

)... think about the wider consequences of my actions.
I'm one of these crazy people who thinks that the stuff I'm using should throughout its production have damaged the planet as little as possible and been kind to any person or animal who was involved in the making of this product while also wanting the food I'm eating to be as tasty and nutritious as possible and non-food items I'm buying to last as long as possible. I therefore find myself buying stuff with colourful labels entitled 'organic', 'fairtrade' or 'free range' and paying a premium price. I do this not only to have material for arguments with cynics and because I'm mindblowingly rich; I find they taste better, come without that ugly label 'I condone modern slavery' and I genuinely think that if there is a market for ethically products, producers will provide ( Alternative names for this sections were 'I will vote with my wallet' and I will value value over price').
Then again, it's not only about buying stuff with a clear...ish conscience. I realise it is a bit of a life style change and would either make your shopping more expensive or require a lot of shopping around. But what about completely free and easy stuff like turning off the light when you don't need it, not waste things or simply trying to be a pleasant human being?
Why should I care?
I feel this point is actually a bit of a summary. Actions usually have reactions and they can always come back to haunt us.Some people call it Karma, I call it the bigger picture.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

What has the EU ever done for ME

Today’s rant is aimed at people who think the EU is a work of the devil; it is specifically aimed at my neighbours on a rainy island – Britain. In fact the EU was founded by people with mostly good intentions but incompetence issues (like most things in life).

Before I start my rant I should point out that although I will be concentrating on the good aspects of EU membership, I am aware that the EU is in many ways flawed and should undergo reforms to make it more democratic for everyone involved.

So, here it is: my handy cut-out-and-keep-guide why being in the EU is largely to your advantage.

1. You can travel and relocate easily within Europe.
 This is, or should be,a no-brainer, fancy working in Paris for a while? Or Rome? Well, you can now,     thanks to the EU without having to apply for visas. If you are annoyed at/ scared by all the Eastern Europeans “flocking to the UK” (to loosely quote someone who most definitely is not a bigot) just try to how many Brits have flocked to the continent stealing jobs from hard-working Europeans.
      So, you may not want to relocate to mainland Europe but, admit it, isn’t travelling within Europe not so much easier, friendlier and more efficient since all we need to do nowadays is flash our passports to the friendly man or woman at the airport or in some cases just walk across the border.
      Personally, I would be sold to the idea of a united Europe at this point; for the more hard-core sceptics, however, points 2 and 3:

      2. You live in a peaceful country.
If, like most people currently alive, you were born after 1945, chances are that you never had to hide out in underground bunkers hiding from bombs dropped by your friendly neighbour country Germany or the UK (delete as appropriate), wave your (in extreme cases) 14 year old son off to war, leave your home over night and be separated from your family, be raped/killed/ raped and then killed by the declared enemy. Granted, we are still doing it to other countries but they are further away and tend not to fight back on your home soil. The EU has helped keep the peace between European neighbours partly by getting representatives of each country round a table and talk things through (talking is always preferable to shooting IMO) and partly because the EU makes travelling easier for average Joe. If you wonder how that works try imagining believing the war propaganda of dirty French, merciless Germans and shop keeping but otherwise harmless and simple Britons today when you have probably met some Germans, Frenchmen or Brits.

3.You pay low(er) food prices
Rumour has it that in Britain and the rest of Europe people like to buy cheap food. Seeing that the customer is always right supermarkets try to pay farmers as little as possible. When it comes to milk farmers receive an average of 25p per litre while it costs them an average of 30p to produce.  So, dairy farmers tend to operate making a loss. To offset that loss (and to survive) lots of farmers turn to help from the EU. In 2008 the UK received € 3,755 million (or roughly £3,110 million) worth of farming subsidies, which works out as an average of €12,517 per farm (roughly £ 10,400).
While I’m not saying that the status quo is in any way fair or sensible let’s employ a quick thought experiment as to what would happen, if Britain was to leave the EU.
a)      Farmers continue having to sell milk at a loss without EU subsidies, farms go out of business, there will be food shortages, supermarkets would have to import more and whilst upping their contribution to carbon emission food prices would rise. 
b)      Supermarkets begrudgingly will pay farmers more and need to recover their losses from, you, the consumer, by putting up food prices. 
c)       Supermarkets refuse to pay farmers more, but the government thankfully steps in and food prices don’t rise any more than usual. But your taxes will.