Dear Pols…

Life has been interesting lately. Actually, that’s an understatement. Life has been a roller coaster lately. Highs, higher highs, lows, long slow climbs that you just know have an enormous drop on the other side but aren’t quite sure how far the drop is, and a whole plethora of emotions. I haven’t blogged about any of it because, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I ever want to be able to revisit most of those places in the future. I do know from conversations with lots of people, though, that I’m not the first to be where I was, and I’m certainly not the only one to be in that place right now.

As you all know, I’m partial to the odd trite saying. I love a cheesy cliché, I do, and recent times have been no exception to that. Naturally, my corny catchphrase of choice of late has been “this too shall pass”. It got me thinking… It WILL pass. Of course it will. Everything does. But where will I be when events of the last few months are filed under D for Distant Memory? I guess the answer to that is that I don’t know (who does?) but I’m thinking best case scenario here, and having a word with the me who emerges from this in twelve months’ time…

Dear Pols (aged 34 and just-over-a-half),

How are you? With any luck you’ll be reading this in the same place I wrote it: at your desk in the office at home, looking out at the children playing in the garden. They’ll be bigger than they are now but I don’t expect they’ll have changed much otherwise. This past year will have been tough on them at first, but I suspect the children you see in front of you now will have adapted nicely; they’re tough little cookies and they have your (our? This whole writing-to-yourself thing is kind of weird) strength of character. It’s that thing Dad used to say, isn’t it? Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. It has been tough. Horrendously tough. Unexpectedly and unpredictable tough. But we’re tough too, and so are those children, and that’s why I can write this knowing we all got there in the end.

You’ll have learned a lot in this past year, I expect. One of the lessons I’ve already learned is that sometimes there is just no right way to handle a situation.Or, if there is, it usually comes with the benefit of hindsight. I guess everyone in life is just muddling through as best they can. Maybe other people would have chosen different ways or different paths, but I did the best I could and I hope the road I chose for us has brought you to a destination where you’re happy. I’m pretty certain it has. When I look around me now, I see the green shoots of a promising future. The clouds have been many, but the silver linings have been plentiful too and I hope they’ve long outlasted the clouds.

I’ve been working harder on being kind to myself, so hopefully I’ve made that job easier for you. I’ve learned recently to take the lessons from the times I could have handled things better, and let the rest go; chuck them in that proverbial fuck-it bucket and move on. I’ve also learned to stop taking responsibility for the way other people deal with situations. I hope that’s worked out well for you. People react to stuff in their own way; it’s not your job to work through that for them or to accept responsibility for how they feel. Nor is it your job to guide them to the truth, or to explain yourself.

You have some really wonderful friends, Pols. People whose support and love has been unending and unconditional. I hope you have the opportunity to repay that to them one day. Meantime, they know how much they mean to you because I’ve told them. You should know who your friends are by now, because I’ve pretty much figured out who’s in it for the long haul, and who isn’t.

I know this will find you in a house full of happiness and love, because that’s what I’ve been building for you. A wonderful, crazy home with laughter and fun and a never ending source of strength. You’re loved, you’re wanted and most of all you’re utterly fabulous. I know that last bit because someone we know told me. Your future is bright, and anything else will pass.

Be happy, Pauline. Let me know how it goes.

Love,

Pols (aged 33 and just-over-a-half)

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Remember to see the beauty in the everyday things around you, and find joy in the little things. Always look for the best in people, but offer your trust wisely. Trust your own judgement; your gut instinct is rarely wrong. Don’t engage in gossip, and remember that when people gossip about you it says more about their character than yours. While small minds indulge in idle gossip, great minds ask questions in search of the truth.

Be true to yourself, because when you’re alone with your thoughts there is no hiding from the truth. When others doubt you, you will find comfort in your clear conscience. Before you judge others remember that you only see them where they are now, and you were not there to witness the winding path of their journey. Be tolerant and compassionate, and challenge your own views. Never allow a cry for help to go unanswered, and never be afraid to be the one in need. There is no shame in weakness, and there is strength in vulnerability. Value those around you. Money is the currency of the world, but love and friendship is the currency of life: spend time, save memories. Cherish those precious moments, commit them to memory. When times are tough, these memories will wrap you in the comfort of better days.

Sometimes, your love and friendship will be misplaced. Betrayal may hurt, but don’t allow it to break you. Accept that you can never change the past. Park it, take the lessons you need from it, and continue your journey free from the burden of things which have gone before. Turn and face the sunshine, so the shadows are always behind you. Dream big, and don’t be afraid to make those dreams a reality.

Live fearlessly.

Laugh freely.

Love completely.

Love. Love transcends everything. Tell people that you love them, because sometimes it will the the one thing they really need to hear. Offer your love without conditions. Allow your love for others to consume you. Bask in the warmth of being loved. Show people that you love them, because your actions will speak more than your words will ever be able to say. Love is more than a single emotion; love is an experience. Share it.

Carpe Diem. Seize the flipping day.

And so it begins…

Hello, lovely readers.

It’s been six weeks now since I angrily bashed out an open letter to the editor of Now! magazine after their infamous “21 Shocking Bodies” cover appeared on my Twitter timeline. I was typing on my iPad with one hand, and using the other to vacuum the lounge (I make a point of doing it at LEAST once a year), thinking a few people might read it and someone might even comment. You know the rest… lots of people read it, many of them took the time to tweet, email and comment their agreement, and the editor of Now! magazine invited me to meet with her to discuss my thoughts.

Tomorrow, I’ll do just that. Sally Eyden and her staff have been helpful, friendly and engaging in their various communications. Jess Spiring, Assistant Lifestyle Editor, has arranged an interesting afternoon and a diverse group of guests to take part in the discussion. I’m looking forward to it, and no doubt I’ll be made very welcome. Reading back, my letter was angry and confrontational… And I stand by every word I said about that cover.

The representation of body image in the media is an issue for all of us. It’s not just about equal rights for us plus-sized hotties (though we deserve that, too). In fact, last year Now! ran a “Oh no! Rise of the extreme skinnies!” cover, so the body shaming isnt limited to bigger women. It’s not even about the right of the women splashed across those covers to be left alone. It’s about the widespread and damaging effects that this culture of reducing women’s worth to their body size and shape, has on women and girls.

I asked today on Facebook and Twitter what message people would like to send to Now! on this subject. The responses were a resounding “leave our bodies out of it; we’re so much more than a dress size and wobble factor”. Mums told me stories of their slender eleven year old daughters refusing to wear certain clothes because they look “fat”, and of primary aged girls posting “hot or not?” photos of themselves and their classmates on social media. Worse still, I heard about parents encouraging this behaviour. Women asked why their dress size is considered the pinnacle of their achievements, and why the media equivalent of pointing and laughing is not only acceptable but lauded as great entertainment. Other women want to ask the Now! team what exactly it is they’re trying to achieve, and if they feel this relentless bitching about women’s appearances represents a positive role model.

We all love a great cliché, and the one that springs to mind here is “With great power comes great responsibility”. Now! magazine has a circulation of roughly 208,000. Add to that the circulations of similar magazine, the buyers of which will doubtlessly see the Now! cover when making their selection. Now consider the women and girls who’ll see these covers on shop shelves, hairdresser’s coffee tables and waiting room shelves. You can choose not to buy magazine which splash these irresponsible and belittling headlines across their pages, but you can’t avoid them completely. More to the point, the girls growing up in our society can’t avoid them.

I was really thrilled to see, among the list of panel members for tomorrow, the name of a prolific and successful campaigner for positive body image. As the founder and CEO of a charity which raises awareness of body disorders and celebrates individuality, I look forward to hearing her explain just how far-reaching the consequences of this sensationalist media can be.

There is no question that Now! magazine isn’t alone in this type of misogynistic, anti-women behaviour, but change has to start somewhere. Sally Eyden and her team have an opportunity to blaze the trail of change; to step up to the responsibility that their position in the media brings and to entertain, empower and celebrate all women for who they are.

And so it begins…

(Also joining the discussion tomorrow will be blogger Kate Taylor who, after reading my letter, was inspired to write this)

“Dear Pols…” A reply from Now magazine

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Lots of you read the letter I wrote to Now Magazine this week about their recent cover. In fact, more of you read it than I could ever have imagined… so far it’s had 35,127 views! You lot really are incredible, and I’ve been astounded by the response I’ve had. Thank you all. This is quite clearly an issue that many of you feel strongly about, and rightly so. In an unexpected turn of events, Sally Eyden (Editor of Now Magazine) replied. Below is a copy of that reply, followed by my own comments (because you didn’t REALLY think I’d have nothing else to say, did you…?)

“Dear Pols,

Thank you so much for getting in touch. I have read your blog and was moved to email you. I have also written a response to Kate Taylor, who wrote an incredibly frank and emotional open letter to me.

I am so sorry our cover offended and upset you. It absolutely wasn’t our intention. When we put together our 24 December Shocking Bodies cover it was actually with our readers’ feelings in mind. We wanted to say: ‘It’s normal to have lumps and bumps and wobbly bits’. Because, let’s face it, we all have.

At this time of year it’s usually customary for magazines to feature models with unattainable bodies on the cover telling you how you can look just like them. The fact of the matter is it’s impossible; as we all know, only a small percentage of the world’s population is blessed with a perfect body, and I certainly don’t want to make my readers feel bad about the fact they haven’t got one!

I, along with my heads of departments (women of all sizes), thought long and hard about using the word ‘normal’ on the cover but, after a LOT of debate (and believe me – there was a LOT), we felt our readers, many of whom look up to celebrities, would rather see pictures of stars looking less than perfect, therefore reassuring them about their own perfectly ‘normal’ bodies.

I don’t know about you, but after spending the Christmas holiday on the sofa eating roast potatoes and chocolate, the last thing I want to see in a magazine is pictures of perfectly toned women in bikinis making me feel bad about my cellulite and stretchmarks – of which I have myriad by the way!

The Now team comes in all shapes and sizes, from size 8 to size 18. We are normal women, with the same insecurities as everyone else. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. We battle with our self-confidence and feel a trickle of dread each time we have to break out the bikini – and we know we shouldn’t eat the office biscuits, but do anyway! I completely understand your concerns as a mother. Which is why at Now we are proud of the fact we don’t airbrush our cover stars to make them look thinner and are one of the very few magazines to use plus-size models in our fashion shoots.

The same week we sent our Shocking Bodies issue to press, we also signed off the magazine that’s on the shelves right now, featuring reality stars Gemma Collins (a size 20) and Chanelle Hayes (a size 14), with the headline “Screw the diet”.

Their interviews are empowering, uplifting and send a strong message to our readers that sexy absolutely does NOT equal skinny. I know many people on Twitter have perceived this as a backtrack for the previous cover, but I can promise you they actually went to press at the same time because of our Christmas holiday deadlines.

As a magazine editor I am acutely aware of the responsibility I have when it comes to the messages we send our readers – and promoting a positive and realistic body image is something I believe in very strongly.

Your blog is passionate, well-written and oozes the sort of empowering attitude we always aspire to have in Now; I would love to invite you to our office to meet the team and share your thoughts. As mentioned, I have also invited Kate Taylor too.

If we’re getting it wrong or not representing our readers, I want to know. While I understand this cover has upset you, I hope that something positive can come out of the important conversation your blog has started this week.

Yours sincerely,

Sally”

So, the explanation from Now magazine is that they were keen to reassure their readers about their own perfectly ‘normal’ bodies. Surely that’s to be applauded? Maybe, but not if other women are shamed in the process. And shamed they were.

As Sally says in her letter, the latest Now cover proclaims  “Screw the diet!” and features celebrities of various sizes posing cheerfully for the camera, having apparently spent a fair whack of their visit to Now in hair and make up. In stark contrast, the photos featured on the cover in question mainly features seemingly oblivious women were snapped as they did their own thing on the beach. If they’re anything like me, their biggest concerns were how to unwedge their bikini bottoms from their bum or dust the sand from their cleavage without drawing the attention of everyone on the beach. These pictures weren’t of women who’d rocked up at the Now studios to feature in a piece about how comfortable they are with their size. There was no trip to hair and make up for these ladies, just a paparazzi-type shot of them relaxing by the sea oblivious to the judgement about to be unleashed upon them.

Then there was the language. If anyone said to me “Yikes! You’ve PILED on 8 stone. Look at your shocking body” then I wouldn’t be thanking them for their support and solidarity. I’d be pretty flipping gutted, if I’m honest. None of that language screams “Sisterly solidarity” to me, it screams “Ha! Look at the state of you, fatso!” Nor does it support Sally’s message that we’re all fine as we are, post-Christmas bodies and all. As a result, the “This will make you feel normal” comment reads as a snide and sarcastic dig.

If this really was an attempt to reassure women about their bodies, then it fell as flat as one of my sponge cakes. If it wasn’t, then I hope Sally and her team have taken on board what you’ve all told them about the effect of this kind of message on women and girls.

The prospect of a visit to the Now offices gives me some idea how Daniel felt when he was heading for the lions’ den. If I’m honest, having my bikini plucked with tweezers in the middle of Sainsbury’s seems a more appealing option, but visit them I will. I’m going to take my shocking body down there and tell them what you’ve all told me. I bloody hope they have cake…

Dear Now Magazine…

I haven’t blogged in a while. I was hoping to kick back off with something wonderfully witty or deeply interesting, but Now Magazine changed all that when I saw a Tweet containing an image of the vile bodyshaming cover from their 10th December issue. And so this was born…

Dear Now Magazine,

I’m writing to you for some advice. I’ve seen your 10th December cover, so I’m pretty sure you’ll feel qualified to offer some guidance here.

I have this daughter, you see. She’s 21 months old, and she’s quite possibly the most wonderful little girl I’ve ever met. She has enormous brown eyes and a wild mane of curly hair. She has a wicked sense of humour and a huge, loving heart. She has a squidgy little bum and an adorable little dimple in each thigh. And therein lies my problem.

I wondered if you could please advise me when would be a good time to stop telling her she is a beautiful human being, and start encouraging her to feel shame and worthlessness over the squidginess of her bottom and those adorable dimples in her thighs? Perhaps I should start now? Or maybe I should hang on until she starts school so she can benefit from your tried and tested method of measuring her self worth against the shape of her peers’ bodies? Or maybe I’m being silly. Maybe none of this is necessary until it’s time for her to bag herself a boy who’ll love her despite these hideous body flaws… I do hope she’ll be suitably grateful.

I’ve taken on board the message of the cover in question, but I’m still a little bit confused. Am I supposed to look at these women and feel smug that my body is nowhere NEAR as hideous as theirs? I hope not, because mine is worse. Perhaps I’m just supposed to look at it and be reassured that other women have such hideously normal bodies too? Phew. It’s so helpful of you to show me some other women whose achievements in life are also null and void because they have a wobble, dimple or love handle.

Here’s the thing. I’m carrying a few extra pounds. Curvy, cuddly, voluptuous… Whatever your choice of slightly condescending adjective is, I’m it.  You’d probably describe me in one of your horribly patronising articles as a “real woman”. Well, I identify as a woman so I guess that does make me a real woman. Yep, I’m all of those things and yet somehow, astonishingly, I’m actually not worthless. I made three actual human beings. Grew them, I did, inside my wobbly tummy. I’m surrounded by people who love me and whom I love. Can you believe that? I have cellulite and people actually love me?! Wow. Who’d have thought? I have a great job, nice hair and I’m happy. Is that even allowed?

Sure, I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds. In the meantime though, I’m going to take myself off to the kitchen for another slice of the better-than-sex cake I baked, and leave you to obsess over other people’s bodies whilst they just enjoy being in them.

Love,

Pols

P.S. Don’t bother answering the question about my daughter. I figure it’s just easier to love her and teach her to love herself. It’s not a wobbly bottom or dimply thighs that stop you being beautiful, it’s making yourself feel good by publicly shaming other people’s bodies that’s truly ugly