Don’t do it…

It’s been a shitty couple of weeks and my patience is stretched pretty thin. Paper thin. So, when some random man started emailing pleading with me to get to know him there was no give left.

Variations of this happen all the time. To be a woman remotely online is to be seen as fair game. Wow, am I tired of it. Contrary to popular male belief the entire internet is not in fact a dating site. Men, I beseech you, please stop it. If you see an attractive woman online you don’t have to tell her. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we didn’t post that picture to lure strange men into our dms. Women do not exist to give you an opportunity to shoot your shot. We don’t want to know what you think of our bodies or what you’d like to do them. For the love of god, don’t tell us about your kinks.

Women do not owe you anything. You are not entitled to a chance, a reply or a second of our time. Listen to me, do not send that message. Don’t call us babe. Don’t type a bunch of kiss emojis and absolutely do not send a dick pic. No one wants to see any of it. What’s actually going to happen is immediate BLOCK. I mean this sincerely, take your creepy messages & fuck off.

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Supercut of me…

Last year was tough. Long covid/Pots really did a number on my already subpar health. It was hard to keep on top of even basic daily tasks. All aspects of my life suffered. In an effort to shake that not quite enough feeling I’ve raided the brain for my 2022 highlights.

I contributed to the book Rebel Bodies by Sarah Graham. It’s an incredible piece of work about the gender gap in healthcare. Sarah covers the intersections of gender, weight, age & disability whilst deconstructing the barriers women & non binary people face when trying to access appropriate medical care. I am so proud to share my story of medical weight stigma and be part of this book.

In April we took my Mum on a birthday trip to Salzburg. She had a big birthday at the end of 2021 & we wanted to do something special. Mum loves The Sound of Music & has always talked about going to Salzburg. This year, she finally got there and it was magical. We stayed at Schloss Leopoldskron, where the movie was filmed, took a private Sound of Music tour and had a generally amazing time. Salzburg is incredibly beautiful and taking Mum on her dream holiday was wonderful.

At the very beginning of ‘22 I was a guest on the Anti Diet Club podcast. The pod creators Gillian Wilson and Tamsin Broster are dedicated to helping others divest from diet culture. I love the work they do and was honoured that they considered my voice worth hearing. It is such a pleasure to connect with others who are committed to fighting fat phobia.

This summer I got to revive a love from my youth. I thought festivals were a thing of the past for me, but thank to TRNSMT’s comprehensive accessibility accommodations I was back in the game. Watching bands, whilst sipping cider in the sun with my bestie & sister made me feel 22 again. Screaming along with The Strokes as the the sun went down was such a highlight.

This one might seem small, but felt significant to me. The Guardian journalist Martin Belam recommended me in his Friday Reads. Having a writer I respect enjoy my work enough to share it felt good. Especially in a year when my health has interfered with my creative output.

Last, but never least is of course being an Auntie. It is my biggest joy. I am so excited to watch all of my niblings grow. Last year they continued to surprise & impress. I am endlessly grateful to be part of their lives.

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Every inch of you is perfect…

Yup, you guessed it, it’s my obligatory ‘you’re body is ok’ post. With diet ads hounding every platform & the industry hacks espousing all the usual lies & misinformation. Just in case you don’t hear it anywhere else, I want to say it loud and clear; YOU DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT.

You don’t have to work off any festive indulgence. Your liver & kidneys do all the detoxing your body requires. You can move your body in ways that you enjoy with no reference to size reduction. You don’t need an app, course or gym bro to monitor what you eat or how you live. You are wonderful and capable. Your body is incredible.

If the yearly onslaught is inducing a wobble or you are new to body acceptance here are a few basic, but effective tips.

STOP

Stop consuming anything that makes you feel bad. No, I do not mean food. You eat whatever your body needs. What you must cut is magazines, social media, films etc that give you the idea that you’re not enough. A little trickier, but important is to include people in this step. Create boundaries around weight loss/body critical talk. Enforce them. I cannot articulate how big a difference this made to my self esteem. When you are constantly bombarded with the message that there is something wrong with your size, it sinks in.

SWAP

Replace all that negative chatter with joyful body positive content. Fill your feeds with happy fat people living their lives to the max. Educate yourself on fat politics. Learning how wrong the things we’re taught about fat bodies is a revelation. As is witnessing people with bodies like yours succeeding.

DISCOVER

Explore your body. Look at yourself. Discover how you look in different clothes, in your undies, naked. Let yourself see what you like. Question what bothers you about the parts that you don’t. Practise being kind to yourself. Appreciate the magic of all that your body allows you to do. Touch yourself. Get comfortable with your softness. You will be amazed at how many aspects of your body you already already value.

Of course unlearning a lifetime of conditioning will take time & work, but these are tried & tested first steps. You are more than enough. Go forth & love yourself.

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Indie Xmas 2.0…

If you’re still on the look out for original gifts read on. I have more glorious independent businesses & creators for you to explore.

Flamingosaurus Rex is a gorgeous gallery in Edinburgh. They showcases talented artists & always have the most covetable art. You can buy digital prints & funky stationary on their site or drop into the gallery if you’re local.

Topple and Burn make radical, left wing apparel & jewellery. I have so many pieces already and I will undoubtedly buy more. Their ‘Fuck the Tories’ Xmas jumper is an absolute dream. Topple & Burn practise what they preach by supporting excellent causes. You can’t go wrong with a purchase form here.

Juniper & Friends is an animal rescue & rehab. The women behind the store does incredible work with foxes, possums, skunks & more. She rehabilitates injured wildlife & gives a home to animal that cannot be released into the wild. I have been following all the amazing wee creatures in her life on Instagram forever. Watching these animals grow & thrive is wonderful. You can support this incredible work & get yourself some adorable items at the same time. Juniper & Friends have merch ranging from tees to art work created by the animals. These would make the perfect gift for any animal lover.

I will never stop singing the praises of Wilde Mode. Their pieces are size inclusive, gender free and zero waste. All staff are paid a living wage and materials are ethically sourced. They have the most diverse ad campaigns and of course their products are amazing. Their knickers are the comfiest I have ever worn. With an extending product range, there is something for everyone. Go shop!

Finally we have Fugly Plates , recycling old crockery into sweary works of art. I love eveything they do. Re using old things that no one wants is always a good thing. Even better when the final product is so cool. If you have a foul mouthed friend this the place to shop.

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In the name of the Father, the Skeptic & Son…

I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to mass every Sunday, made confessions, took communion. I attended catholic schools. My primary school was flanked by a chapel, a missionary monastery & a convent. By virtue of attending those schools most of my friends were also catholic. We all prayed before lunchtime, sang hymns in assembly and had regular R.E. Classes. What I mean is I understand how organised religion works. I was immersed in dogma throughout my childhood.

That’s not to say I always liked it. Even early on I remember having the distinct feeling that some it was icky. I didn’t like the bullying ways of my school chaplains. Some of the things my teachers hammered home did not fit with the whole peace & love vibe. Mass was never anything other than a thing to be endured. Catholicism always felt too rigid.

It wasn’t until I hit secondary school that I really started to call bullshit. I didn’t believe much of what I was being taught. More importantly I hated the intolerance. Catholic views on sex, sexuality, gender roles, abortion and so much more simply did not align with my own. Neither did they fit with what I had learned at home. I couldn’t bite my tongue in the face of bigotry dressed up as god’s word. Nor could I bring myself to do the cherry picking that many religious folks do. The catholic faith felt like a straight jacket & I would not be restrained.

Thus, I drifted away. I stopped going to mass. I let myself question everything I had absorbed. I dug into the history of the church and its current practices. The more informed I became the less respect I had for any of it. It’s all steeped in atrocities & injustice. Organised religion it seemed was just a way to control the masses. What better way to impose your will than to tell people it was in fact, god’s will. By the time I finished school I no longer considered or described myself catholic at all. I had & have no use for any organised religion. I believe there is a higher power of some description, but not some patriarchal judge in the sky.

Most of my family still belong to the church. I have friends of various faiths & none. I’m very much a live & let live type of person. As long as no one is trying to impose their beliefs upon me or actively do harm in the name of religion; I don’t consider it my business. I do however retain a distrust & distaste for the institutions. I want no part of it.

I tell you all this in order for you to understand how I felt when I received this comment on something I wrote on the anniversary of my baby’s due date.

Anger was my main reaction. I removed the comment & blocked the (blank) account. I hated the thought of someone more vulnerable than myself receiving such a comment. I felt angry that this so called church elder was trawling for people they thought they could manipulate. However, I didn’t want to give it anymore time or energy. They were blocked; end of story.

Unfortunately not. A couple of weeks later, on my birthday, I received an email. This time from a church elder named Liam McIntosh. It was more of the same. Insulting & ignorant comments about my life, offers of ‘support’ and that suspicious claim of referral from a concerned friend. There is not a single person in my life who if concerned would ask the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to help me. This contact enraged me. I have an excellent support system, a sense of purpose and lots of joy in my life. However, I am aware that many people do not. I remember how little it took to overwhelm me when I was in the depths of mental illness & grief. I am also cognisant of how easily some people who feel desperate may be manipulated. Both messages utilised abuse tactics; belittle, claim to be doing so for the victim’s benefit and then purport to have all the answers. A church setting out to prey on vulnerable people in this manner sickens me.

This kind of behaviour is exactly why I do not like organised religion. It is predatory. This organisation is clearly seeking out people they believe to be vulnerable in order to manipulate them. I am not that person. I share my experiences in order to dispel stigma. I find the ‘concerned friend’ tactic particularly disturbing as it purposely exploits the guilt & shame that many people in difficult circumstances already feel.

After receiving that email I felt sufficiently angry & concerned to act. I tried to track down both men who contacted me. I could find no trace of either on official church websites etc nor could I find any record of professional training that would qualify them to offer such advice. The only COFLDS that I could find in Hamilton has disbanded. I called Edinburgh & Glasgow branches, but neither wanted to comment. Nor would they provide details of anyone in a senior role to discuss these communications. Some elders though are obviously reading this blog, perhaps they would like explain themselves?

I’m not finished with this. I am worried about the harm these unethical strategies could cause. As a result I am working on a more in depth piece for publication. If you or someone you know has been contacted in this way, I would like to hear from you.

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More than embarrassing…

We’re all familiar with the reminder letters and campaigns urging us not to miss our cervical smear test. We are rightly told how important they are in detecting cancers early. I’m glad these tests are available. I am also happy that we are educated on why these tests are so necessary. However, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the messaging.

Gloved hand holding a clear speculum

So often when a person or organisation wants to encourage people to attend cervical screenings they focus on how easy it is. We’re told it is silly to be embarrassed and it will be over in a flash. Don’t risk your life over 5 mins of feeling awkward is repeated. Smear tests are confidently declared to be not painful. Just a little discomfort, nothing to worry about. While that might be true for lots, it is not full the picture. The patronising assumption that people miss smear tests because they’re self-conscious is harmful. Many people have valid reasons for their reticence. Addressing those issues would be a more effective way of increasing uptake numbers.

Research from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Rape crisis revealed that 72% of women who have experienced sexual violence have skipped or delayed a smear test. When you consider that at least 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted you can begin to understand the scale of the issue.

Birth trauma & pregnancy loss also impact a significant portion of those who require smear tests. Gynae exams & cervical screening require being in vulnerable positions that can trigger a trauma response. Recent research is finding that baby loss & birth trauma often results in PTSD. So, it’s easy to see why a smear test would be not a easy exam for those who are affected.

There are also medical conditions/physicalitys that can make a smear test very difficult. Conditions like ,vaginisimus, endometriosis, cervical ectropion and more can make smear tests painful or difficult. Cervical position, vaginal dryness, menopausal changes and FGM can also impact how a smear test feels.

Trans men may find smear tests hard for all obvious reason. Dysphoria, stigma, discrimination and more. I’m sure everyone can understand how having to deal with any or all of those things is a frightening prospect. It can also be difficult to access information; trans men may not be invited for cervical screening, there is confusion about who requires the test etc. Of course this may be combined with any of the other issues on this list.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I just want to be clear that there are many real reason for a person to avoid cervical screening. That being said, how can we make it easier? Well, there are actually a lot of accommodations you can ask for. I don’t see this talked about enough, so I wanted to share that information.

Before I get into the details, I want to be clear that you do not have to disclose anything you are not ready to discuss. You can ask for accommodations without revealing your trauma.

Before the Test

You can ask you GP to take your name off the automatic reminder list if those letters are distressing.

Ask for the test to be performed by a person of your preferred gender.

If you have an established relationship with a Dr/Nurse you can ask to have them do your smear test.

Make an appointment to talk about the smear test. Discuss anything you need to talk about. Be that how the test is done, why is it done, your fears, worries etc.

Request a double appointment to allow time breaks, extra time.

Plan what you will do after the test. You may not feel up to returning to work or you might not want to be alone.

The Test

Take an emotional support person to the appointment.

Request a chaperone be present for the test.

Ask to talk through the ‘mechanics’ of the test before you start. Have the Dr/Nurse show you the instruments used.

Tell the person performing the test any words or phrases that could be triggering for you. If there are words of comfort that are helpful for you ask them to use those.

Explain how heavy/light a touch you are comfortable. If there are areas you would like them to avoid touching if possible, tell the Dr/Nurse.

Ask to insert the speculum yourself.

If you are concerned about specific trauma/pain response discuss that with the Dr/Nurse. For example tell them this part of the exam is usually painful for me or I might be unable to chat/answer questions.

Agree a plan of action beforehand; what would you like to happen if you are triggered/pain is too much. You can decide on a word or sign to use if you are in distress.

Combatting Pain/Distress

Mindfulness Techniques – Exercises like naming three things you can see, smell, hear can help route you in the now.

Distraction – Play music, make small talk with Dr/Nurse, your support person.

Squared Breathing – This sometimes helps me get through acute pain/the onset of panic. Breath in for 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat.

Take a comforting object. Fidget object. Scent that invokes calming feeling. Hold support person’s hand.

Discuss having medication prescribed. Things like benzodiazepines can help with anxiety, allow your body to be less tense. Maybe you need a stronger pain medication to deal with the test/after effects.

Know Your Limits

It is ok to stop at any point. If any part of the process becomes too much, stop. You can reschedule the appointment. It is ok to try as many times as you need. This test is for you. You are not obligated to fit into anyone else’s timeline or expectations.

Smear test are an important part of early cancer detection, but your whole health & well being are equally important. Shaming people or dismissing the reason for their reluctance does not help. If we are to increase the uptake rates we need to acknowledge what is actually preventing people from attending. We also need to facilitate ways to address those concerns.

If you require more support you can contact :

My Body Back Project

Rape Crisis (Helpline – 08088 01 03 02)

Action For Trans Health

Jo’s Trust

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I’m not sorry…

I believe the ‘May you live in interesting times’ debate is well and truly settled. These times are no blessing. Life has become that dog in the burning house meme. We’re all expected to carry on, but hey, I don’t think any of us are fine.

Dog in a burning room with a speech bubble saying this is fine

In recent years we’ve had the rise of the right. Politicians who have zero interest in the common good, civic responsibility or even telling the fucking truth. Police are still murdering POC without consequence, whilst they simultaneously neglect to intervene when a maniac massacres small children. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer. Footballers have to intervene to feed hungry children because our leaders have absolutely no interest in people who aren’t just like them. A global pandemic is killing millions and spawned a new kind of selfish. The same people who won’t wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect other will happily force a ten year old child to give birth to a rapist’s child. A new, extra virulent type of anti vaxxer has infected our society. Marginalised groups are more at threat than ever; hate crimes soar. The American right to a gun cannot be challenged, but abortion, gay marriage, trans rights, basic medical care and voting rights are always on the table. The tories lie, cheat and steal right under our noses. They rape and harass to no one’s surprise and the party doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed. Parliamentary goal posts are moved at will, Mp’s get a raise and workers whose wages don’t even keep up with inflation are shamed for striking. Covid, corruption, inequality and of course inflation rage. The PM has gold wallpaper and blow jobs in Westminster. The rest of us dread the electric bill and can’t afford butter. While he’s paying his various flings with public money disabled people can’t even co habit without losing meagre government assistance. The earth we stand on is crumbling beneath our feet and I haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s a whole world of cruelty out there, it never ends.

Did you think that paragraph never end? Where you begging for full stop followed by nothing? Join the club. This isn’t burnout. I don’t need a bit self care and neither do you. We need a revolution. Watching the scummiest humans on the planet make everything worse day after day, year after will destroy any decent person.

If you feel like you’re losing it, I think that’s perfectly reasonable. If you’re angry and sad and feel utterly helpless, I’m right there with you. I am sorry that you’re expected to carry on regardless. I’m sorry that you must live in these intolerable times without any grace. I don’t know what will make any of this any easier, but if you do, please give that to yourself. Don’t apologise for what you need or your reaction to our atrocious world. Nothing is ok, we don’t have to waste energy pretending it is.

* Obviously let’s all organise, protest, donate, vote and support each other as much as we are able. Change won’t happen if we don’t force it, but please also take care of yourself.

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Charity of the Month

Given the leak from the Supreme Court regarding overturning Roe Vs Wade turned out to be accurate, choosing a cause to support this month was easy. I am horrified at the implications this decision will have.

Telling half the population they have no right over their own body is barbaric. This is a death sentence for so many people. As with most of these hard right agendas, it will disproportionately impact poor people. Those with money will always find ways to access abortion services. It isn’t possible to ban abortion, removing legal access only makes the procedure unsafe. Make no mistake, this will kill people. Be clear also, that the right will not stop with abortion. This is the start of an erosion of the rights of women & those with ovaries.

You can’t ban abortion. You can only ban safe abortion on rainbow background

If you are in the states I urge you to contact your representatives and let them know how ardently you oppose this move. Where ever you are in the world, if you have means please consider donating to organisations who help people access abortion care.

National Network of Abortion Funds

Fund Texas Choice

Planned Parenthood

Naral Pro Choice America

Abortion Rights

Alliance for Choice

Abortion Support Network

You’re toxic…

If you are at all interested in dismantling diet culture you will be aware that new government legislation regarding calories on menus has now come into force. The legislation is part of the government’s plan to tackle ‘obesity’. Whilst I have a lot to say on that larger topic, I’ll stick to the calorie information for now. It will come as no surprise that I am not in favour of this development.

As a fat woman who spent years of my life embroiled in yo-yo dieting I know how dangerous constant calorie counting can be. In the depths of my disordered eating I was obsessed with calories. They were my enemy and required constant monitoring. I had calorie based rules for everything. Limits for every meal and limits for the entire day. If I was going to drink alcohol I wasn’t allowed any food. I counted the calories burned during exercise in an attempt to cancel out what I had consumed. I knew & counted the calorie content of everything; a smint, a grape, a sip of wine. Calories were omnipresent. It was an exhausting battle against my body’s basic needs and I was miserable. My quest to be thin damaged me, physically & mentally.

I’m not the only one nor am I the most severely impacted. We live in a world that is constantly reinforcing the message that smaller is better. Putting the calorie content of every item in every menu only compounds that. It won’t encourage ‘healthy eating’, everyone already knows what foods are full of saturated fat. What it will encourage is distorted view of what a healthy lifestyle is. It will support the diet culture narrative; fewer calories are better. Looking at the numbers every time we go out to eat will reinforce an unhealthy relationship with food. People will feel guilty for ordering the dish they want. It’ll trigger obsessive thoughts and behaviours in those who are dealing with or have experienced disordered eating. It will cement the connection in the collective mind between health and calorie control.

I posted about this legislation on my Instagram stories today and have already received multiple messages from people who have been distressed by seeing these menu additions. These are people trying to claw back control of their eating. People who have worked hard at ignoring that voice in their head telling them what they can and cannot have. They’re scared. Genuinely frightened of how they feel when they see signs telling them how many calories an adult shout eat in a day. Worried about the thoughts the calorie count on their coffee provokes. This isn’t a surge towards a healthier society, it’s a huge step backwards.

The problem with this move is the thinking from which it stems. Our government is telling us that being fat is a problem. That fat people are a burden we must shift. That isn’t true. There is no proven way to permanently make a fat person thin. Diets do not work; within 5 years 95% of those who intentionally lose weight will regain all they have lost and more. Calorie restriction is not sustainable. More over, it is not good for you. It ignores the intersections between weight and poverty & disabilities. Not to mention the impact of medical weight stigma on the health of fat patients. There are many lifestyle changes a person can explore if they want to improve their health. Focusing entirely on calories and weight loss is not one them. Health and weight are not intrinsically linked. Adding the calorie content to menus is dangerous. It sidesteps the issue of public health and props up stale old diet culture tropes.

I am not a doctor or an expert. I am merely an informed former victim of the diet industry. I am a fat activist and as such I can see that many people may dismiss me as having an agenda. With that in mind I point you towards the following resources.

Dr Asher Larmie

Marquisele Mercedes

Dr Joshua Wolrich

Gillian McCollum

Alishia McCullough

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