52 Books, Week 1: How To Be A Woman

It’s only taken a week for me to realise two things. Firstly, I have such a short attention span, I cannot focus on just one book at a time without the promise of something else to read simultaneously. Secondly, I read bloody quickly. Who knew? So what I’m doing is keeping a record of everything I read in my lovely little book journal, while blogging about just one of them each week. I’ll be interested to see quite how quickly I hit the magic number 52, seeing as I’ve read three books in this first week of 2016 (though, granted, two of them were rereads).

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

Start date: Sunday, 3rd January

End date: Tuesday, 5th January

Reread/New: Reread

This book came out in 2011, though I didn’t read it until roughly a year after it was published. I’m not a massive fan of biographies, and to me, that’s what this seemed to be. I picked it up on a three for two deal when I was visiting my mum, thinking it would at least be something vaguely amusing to read on the train home.

A few hours later, as I choked back an actual scream of laughter at the sentence comparing pornographic closes-ups to “one of the Mitchell brothers, with no eyes, eating a very large, fidgety sausage”, my fellow passengers on the TransPennine Express perhaps wondering if I was going through some kind of mental anguish, I had to admit I had been very wrong about this book.

Before reading How To Be A Woman, I had always called myself a feminist. I didn’t really know why. I knew that I supported gender equality, and that having been raised by a strong, independent single mother had had a lot to do with that.  But it had no focus; it had no definition to me. I had already been trying to keep back tears of laughter at Caitlin Moran’s depiction of her childhood and adolescence before I stumbled upon this particular paragraph:

“Put your hands in your pants. A) Do you have a vagina? and B) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

A simplistic summary, perhaps, but it was my thoughts in one succinct nutshell. I wanted to jump up on my seat, as suggested in the book, and start proclaiming “I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST” for all to hear (though I’d have probably been forcibly removed from the TransPennine Express and would still be languishing in a ditch somewhere south of York).

Rereading this book several years on, despite reading a lot further into feminist canon and making up my own mind about quite a few things, I still identify with much of what Caitlin Moran says. Comparing ‘beautiful’ designer handbags to “Tom Jones’s knackers, with handles” – yes! Exactly! The mental image of Marilyn Manson weeping over bootees in JoJo Maman Bébé – a thought that brings tears of hilarity to my own eyes!

A lot of self-proclaimed feminist texts are hard-hitting and hard to read, and with that comes quite a degree of humourless expression. How To Be A Woman manages to cover meaningful issues from adolescence to abortion, while still making you laugh so hard you snort pasta through your nose. What could be better?

Would I recommend this book? Yes. To anyone, male or female. It’s part autobiography, yes, which I don’t usually enjoy, but it’s also part manifesto, a hilarious and honest call to arms for anyone who wants to just be one of ‘The Guys’. In fact, she has a new book coming out later this year, Moranifesto – I have high hopes that this will carry on in a similar vein and I will most certainly be buying it, in hardback, the day it comes out.

By the way, please do go and follow Caitlin Moran on Twitter, it will be very worth your time.

image My stack from the week – cunningly angled to hide the giant crack in my Kindle

Other Books from Week 1

Trying to Conceive – Genevieve Morton (new read)

Feeding into my current obsession, obviously.

Atonement – Ian McEwan (reread)

A book I read as a teenager, didn’t massively understand but loved it; then studied it for A Level and loved it even more.

 

 

Fat

I am fat.

I know I am fat.

The entire world knows I’m fat – well, they would if they caught a glimpse of my Facebook page.

The thing is? I’m not massively bothered.

I’m getting married in less than two months, and my dress is coming in at somewhere between a size 16 and a size 18. Oh, the horror! Yet, unlike most women I know who are getting married this year, I’ve not gone on a diet, I’ve not upped my exercise, I’m not shunning sweets with panicked squeals of “Ooooh no, I shouldn’t!”. I’m not going to start being someone I’m not.

I’m fat. And I’m reclaiming the word. Like Catilin Moran says in How To Be A Woman (my feminist bible) “…when the word ‘fat’ appears, it often alarms people, like a siren going off and prompts a supportive, scared flurry of dismissal – ‘You’re not fat! Of course you’re not fat! Babe, you’re NOT FAT!’ – when the person is, clearly and undeniably, fat, and just wants to discuss it.”

I’m fat, and happily so, and I’m not scared to admit it. Sure, I have a stomach that could probably take out a grown man if I decided to swing it. But I’m strong: I can lift things, I can jump up and down at a gig for hours, and I get the feeling these hips are going to be damn useful when I have a baby. I can get eyes watering with my cleavage. I don’t try to hide myself: I’m confident.

But in the eyes of the media, I’m a monster.

My current favourite feminist blog, The Vagenda, focused its recent book on the media and its dire representation of women. A key part of this is fat-shaming: though, of course, the women it shames are anything but fat. And this issue is making me so angry at the moment. It seems like everywhere I turn, I’m being told to lose weight. Not for health reasons, which would actually make some sense, if I was particularly unhealthy, but to look ‘good’.

But what’s ‘good’? In the eyes of the world’s modern media, that would be stick-thin, with hardly a curve beyond an artifical boob or two. I’m not even starting on the expectation to be practically hairless and plastered with make-up. I’m just focusing on the twig-like thing. Just look at this.

ImageWomen are being scrutinised for every fluctuation in their weight, sometimes from one week to the next. You see it all the time: “Blardiblar embraces her new curves!” followed by “Blardiblar looking dangerously thin” in the next issue. For the love of god, magazines, make up your minds.

Everywhere you look, women are being encouraged to think of their bodies, to think of fat contents, to think of calories. I see the effects of this all the time. Our society has such an obsession with weight, with diets, with body image… and working in a café in a fairly high-end shopping centre, I get to see the rake-thin women poring miserably over their salads, and I get to hear the full works.

“Let’s just share a biscuit, shall we?”

“Go on, I’ll be naughty – I’ll have a piece of fudge!”

“Just a skinny latte please. MAKE SURE IT’S SKINNY.”

…on that note, just an FYI. Skinny lattes aren’t worth it – you’re skimming off all the useful fat-soluble vitamins that help you to absorb sugars. Therefore you’re actually giving yourself more of a chance of putting on weight. Semi-skimmed or full fat is far healthier. I’m no nutritionist, but I do have a vague fuzzy knowledge of this kind of crap.

In my opinion, it’s a control issue. By perpetrating these insecurities, the media is leaving women confused and self-loathing… and therefore more open to go for crazy, money-making diet schemes. Or even, if we’re going to go full-on conspiracy theory here, to keep them so worried about their own physical appearance, they’re less likely to speak up for themselves when it comes to things that really matter. Overreaction? Potentially. But I’m on a rant here: I’m pissed off.

I’m fed up of being told how to look.

The thing is, I could go to the gym every day, I could follow weight-loss plans with religious fervour, I could cut carbs, or fat, or sugar, or the lot. But it wouldn’t make a difference. I’ve always been a fan of food, eating what I wanted, when I wanted, and sod the calories. I was lucky enough to have a decent metabolism, and I stayed a size 10-12 no matter how little I got off my arse and bothered with exercise. The closest thing to exercise I probably actually got was drunkenly weaving my way home at the end of a night out, after drinking more calories in two hours than most people manage to eat in a day.

Then I got a tumour the size of a cricket ball on my thyroid gland, and it was bye-bye metabolism.

I could still try and get some of the weight off, I suppose. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And I admit, I used to try. It used to bother me that I wasn’t the ‘ideal’ woman, that my flesh goes out where it’s supposed to go in, and Victoria’s Secret doesn’t make bras big enough for me. Then I realised: I had a choice to make between embracing who I am, or trying to fit in with an image of ‘attractiveness’ I’m not massively keen on.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Well, Kate Moss, I’m calling bullshit. Instead of that rubbish, I’m going to base my philosophy on this poem by the late, great Maya Angelou.

 Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

When my Twitter feed was loaded with fat-shaming media today, my response was to go and make a chocolate fudge cake the size of a small child.

ImageI’m not being ‘naughty’. It’s not a ‘treat’. We need to stop infantilisng ourselves and treating food like it’s something bad, or something that you only eat to survive. We need to enjoy food, savour it. Nobody goes to their grave sighing “I wish I’d eaten more Ryvita.”

And you know what? I look bloody awesome in my wedding dress, fat and all.

A Bit About Me

It seems to be traditional that every time you start a new blog, you have a little chat about who you are, where you come from, all that kind of babbling. Like you’re being auditioned for some kind of really in-depth dating website, which requires the equivalent of an Oscars speech before you can talk to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it 92 times before because you’ve started 92 blogs before (39 of which were linked to on the same Twitter you’re using now), but there you go.

This is me.

Image

Rather obviously me, as this picture is probably currently both in my sidebar and on my Twitter profile.

I’m Jess, and I’m 24. I grew up in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, with my mum. I now live in Manchester with my lovely fiancé, Kev, and our somewhat dimwitted cat, Sandor Clegane. I went to university in Durham and just about scraped a degree in Modern Languages. By day, I’m a barista in a coffee/sandwich shop, but I call myself a writer. My first novel will be coming out with December House whenever I get round to finishing it, and I’ve got some flash fiction in a collection on Amazon.

That’s the facts, when it’s all laid out in bare-bones form.

If you want to know the real me – well, I suppose that’s a bit more difficult to put down on paper. I’m a metalhead, having once been a bit of a metal groupie, and I love bands like Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Within Temptation, Amoral and Amaranthe – but I also obsess about the Eurovision Song Contest every year and I can often be found dancing like a maniac to Lady Gaga in Poptastic. I freely call myself a literary nerd, and I’m still obsessed with Harry Potter: to the point that I have a Deathly Hallows tattoo and the words “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home” can still bring me to tears. The ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, and of course the Game of Thrones TV series, are currently taking over a lot of my life. I play a lot of The Sims 3, probably more than is healthy.

I consider myself an ardent feminist, to the point I regularly have to be dragged out of the kitchen at work where I’ve been ranting to my coworkers about something I’ve read. I still quite happily call myself a feminist even though my dream in life is to sit on my arse all day, writing books and occasionally popping out children. I’m counting down the days until me and Kev’s wedding (August 10th!) and I’m broody to the point of eyeing up prams when they’re pushed into my shop and wondering where I could get one.

Me and Kev, HP Studios

Me and Kev, indulging my Harry Potter obsession

I suffer from misophonia and a ridiculous phobia of balloons, and couldn’t live without ASMR videos. If you were to cut me open, I’d probably bleed espresso – and if you pronounce it eXpresso, I’m likely to knee you in the privates. I will pounce on a rogue apostrophe like my cat on a loose piece of wallpaper, something my fiancé and I delight in having in common (the grammar-fiendism, not the wallpaper-attacking).

Sandor climbing

Sandor Clegane the cat, demonstrating his wallpaper-attacking skill while trying to reach the ceiling.

That’s me in a nutshell, and in this blog you’ll probably find me rattling on about all of the above at some point. I like to think I’m not quite as rambly and disjointed as I used to be last time I was a ‘blogger’, but we’ll probably find it’s the exact opposite.