Tag Archives: women

Bend me, I won’t break

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Bend me, I won’t break

I think we all have moments when we worry about our physical abilities – after an accident or injury, after too many drinks (!), when pregnant, when especially tired. For the most part, these are well founded fears – our brain’s way of keeping us safe and uninjured. But sometimes, they’re the result of unfounded or exaggerated anxiety and recognising these worries as different to the reasonable, justified ones, can be tricky.

As anyone who has read the blog knows, I’m currently pregnant. 31 weeks pregnant. Pregnancy is a time when you absolutely have to be careful and aware of your body and how you’re feeling (please note this careful disclaimer to avoid a horde of angry midwives at my door). However, I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our anxieties (particularly when we’ve suffered prior complications or losses), that we miss out on opportunities to get stronger, healthier and better prepared for what’s coming.

I’m one of the worriers.

After two previous early miscarriages, and despite a normally good amount of common sense, I was terrified of everything. Eating the wrong thing, lifting too much, sneezing too hard (completely serious), passive smoking, exercising.

Now, all of these things can absolutely be a danger to a pregnant woman and her unborn child (except the sneezing thing, that was just daft) but they also all require a bit of reason.

Food guidance is there for a reason, and it should be observed. But it should also be understood. The risk of getting food poisoning from soft cheese or uncooked meat is the same as it’s always been. You’re not necessarily suddenly more likely to get it. The danger is, that should you be unlucky, the damage will affect more than just you – it can affect your baby too. I followed everything my midwife told me – ensuring that I stuck only to her advice (not the forums online filled with fellow unreasonable worriers, not family, not friends). This served me well and quickly quelled my worries. It also meant I could eat medium rare steak.

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When I was about 18 weeks pregnant, I picked my friend’s little girl up without thinking – she had no shoes on and we were popping out to say hello to my husband, who was waiting in the car. Picking her up was the logical thing to do. As we later drove away (having deposited my little friend back to her mum – we’re not child snatchers), I turned to my husband and said, anxiety stricken, with crazy, manic eyes and a wobbly voice, “I shouldn’t have lifted her, should I?!”. To which he held my hand and sensibly replied, “Mums with more than one child all over the world continue to pick up their toddlers throughout pregnancy. Stop panicking, you’re fine.”

I have very little to say about passive smoking, except that walking behind a smoker on the street once or twice during your pregnancy will not have an impact. Something I had to convince myself of, despite being a normally reasonable person.

And now, exercising. For any Sex and the City fans out there, I had a Charlotte moment. I panicked that any exercise would somehow pull the wrong muscle, causing my comfy, cozy womb to become a dark, dank cave that any self-respecting baby would quite rightly up sticks and leave. So despite recently starting Pilates and enjoying it, I stopped the moment I found out I was pregnant…just in case. It was only upon reaching 24 weeks that I decided I’d be brave and try the antenatal Pilates class instead, something I could have done weeks earlier. I checked with my midwife, who told me any strengthening exercise run by an individual who is trained in supporting pregnant women, would be a great thing to prepare me for birth. 7 sessions later and I absolutely love it.

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So I guess what I’m trying to say is, of course there are times in our lives when we feel more fragile, more vulnerable, less sure of our bodies and their capacity to continue to support us. But you know what? As long as you’re sensible and listen to medical advice; 9 times out of 10, the things we’re most scared of sit within two categories: Utterly ridiculous, or exactly what we need.

And to my fellow pregnant women – it’s OK to be frightened. But you’re not a fragile, delicate crystal, you’re a diamond – tougher than most grown men, and doing something absolutely incredible with your body.

Be brave, try that exercise class, get involved in decorating the nursery, eat that steak. You are so much stronger than you know.

Aspiring to bigger things than a piece of paper

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Aspiring to bigger things than a piece of paper

For those who haven’t spotted it on their Facebook feed or via online news sites, the A4 challenge is a new trend in China which encourages women to slim down until their waist fits within the width of a 21cm-wide piece of A4 paper. So. Weird.

While this doesn’t seem to have taken off outside of Asia yet, I have no doubt that it will. And that’s what makes me sad.

Why are young women’s aspirations no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper (literally)? Aspiring to be 21cm wide is not a goal, it’s a health concern. Our aspirations should be to cure cancer, to design the next architectural masterpiece, to travel the world. It got me thinking about the role models and media onslaught that young girls are exposed to every day. And sadly, helped me to understand why a tiny waist might be considered ‘an achievement’.

Naked Kim and friends

I refuse to reshare that picture of Kim Kardashian. Suffice to say that if that’s what young women perceive as beautiful, it’s no wonder they’re considering crash diets, crazy ‘at home’ lip jobs and pieces of paper as waist width measurements.

While I’m sure a lot of young women are savvy enough to realise that there’s very little that’s natural about Kim K, it’s nonetheless a concern that every time she posts a photo of herself in the buff, it goes global. Whether you admire her or hate her, there’s nothing to kick your self-worth in the teeth when you’re having a bad day like a glance at a stretchmark-less, made-up, teeth-whitened celebrity who looks flawless in the nude.

We’re quite good in the UK at highlighting our talented women (and natural beauties) – Holly Willoughby, Jodi Ann Bickley, Fearne Cotton and Dawn O’Porter to mention a few of my favourites. All three are beautiful women with different body shapes, unafraid to share ‘real’ photographs of themselves and in addition, (and importantly), intelligent, driven, funny, ambitious, creative and principled.

I can’t imagine a single one of them would even consider the A4 challenge. Because it’s ridiculous. But sadly, for a lot of young women, these celebs don’t get a look in when compared with looks-focussed YouTubers and global celebs famous for simply being famous. And with all that personal-trained, photoshopped, made-up -ness to look at; it’s all too easy for bizarre food and fitness crazes to sneak in under the guise of the solution to our body and self confidence problems.

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So here’s my request, think carefully before trying a ridiculous fad diet or unrealistic fitness craze. First and foremost because you should take care of yourself – that means getting fit and eating and living well in the right ways.

Secondly,  bear in mind that for every one of us, there’s a friend, a sister, or someone we don’t even know who might see our content as endorsement that these ridiculous trends are a good idea.

And finally, think carefully about who you follow on social media (famous or otherwise) – if they’re not making you smile, encouraging you to live well, to be kind, and to be healthy; perhaps it’s time for a fan/follower cull. And to be honest that goes for real life too!

Let’s raise the bar – no more silly size challenges, just good old fashioned encouragement, pride and sisterhood.

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Girls aren’t pink and boys aren’t blue #IWD2014

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So yesterday was International Women’s Day (#IWD2014). Part of me doesn’t really understand why we need one special day to celebrate our sheer awesomeness. But the rest of me thinks we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s a whole day to sing our own praises, blow our own trumpets and dance to our own tune.

In honour of that, I asked some good friends to offer their advice for daughters, sisters, nieces, friends etc for getting through life, love and everything in between.

A few titbits (no pun intended) were mildly cliched, some were silly and others were downright beautiful. Here are some of the best:

Have confidence in yourself, love a lot and believe you can achieve your goals.

Be yourself, don’t follow the crowd and follow your gut in every situation.

NOTHING is actually ‘that’ important and be afraid of NOTHING.

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As one door closes another will always open! My mum told me that and it is so true!

For Lydia (her daughter)… Concentrate on being beautiful on the inside.

Always keep an open mind. Try new things and explore new places.

No one has it all figured out, just find something to enjoy amongst the chaos of it all and focus on that!

Don’t be ashamed to say I don’t know.

You will be making mistakes at 6, 16, 36 and still at 60 but the only way we learn is from our mistakes and life is a lesson.

Another! Minor but important! Always take your make up off before bed!!!

Learn to love yourself. It won’t always be easy because us girlies have such unrealistic expectations placed before us – do well at exams, get a good job, marry well, manage a career and a home and be mum, care for the ‘rents, keep up a busy social life, and do all this while looking good in a swimsuit! As a gender we are self-critical, but start with self-acceptance… you can extrapolate from there. And learn to tidy up BEFORE its a mess.

1) tits and teeth (ie smile, chest out and head up)
2) never kiss and tell…. shag and shout – couple of classy ones for you.
Classier few:
1) home is where the hugs are
2) a woman is like a teabag, you never how strong she is until she gets into hot water
3) a friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future and accepts you today the way you are

It is better to look back and smile, laugh, cry or shudder about the things you did, then to look back and regret that you never did them.

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1) if they do not bring you joy then they have no place in your life!!!
2) Religious or not god, the Lord, the universe will never give you more than you can handle. I truly believe if we all believed in that we would be happier people!
3) Believe in yourself, you must be your biggest fan!

Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn!

Invest in your family, your friends and good quality bubbles! (She’s talking champagne, not Radox).

1) Love yourself
2) Keep smiling. Everyone loves someone who smiles so you’ll make lots of friends
3) It’s ok to cry, you cant be strong all the time
4) People you care about will come and go and that’s ok. Deep down you will know who will be there for you
5) People will let you down but that’s life. You will grow to have your own family – focus on them and what’s best for you as a family.

Suck it up! Life’s hard, it’s not about what happens but how you deal with it.

Don’t have regrets – at the time, it was what you wanted.

Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen. Don’t worry about those who talk behind your back, they’re behind you for a reason! Enjoy the little things in life.

When you are in a relationship, as long as it still feels fun and fresh you can go on forever.

When life gives you lemons make a G&T.

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Grudges are a waste of perfect happiness. Laugh when you can, apologise when you should and let go of what you can’t change

And my favourites, fittingly on #IWD2014, are from my mum:

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1) Be yourself and ignore what anyone else thinks
2) Live life to the full every single day – you never know which day will be your last so make sure when it comes you can say – that was a bloody good day
3) Love like you have never been hurt, dance like no one is watching
4) The only limit to your dreams is you
5) Your Mum will love and accept you whatever happens, however much you think you have failed – you haven’t. However much pride you have over something she has 10 times more and will tell everyone.

And finally, here’s my advice, for Tamara, Georgia and Delan:

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1) Wear nice knickers for you, not for someone else
2) Always be silly – impressions, stupid voices and David Brent dances might not be cool but they’re fun
3) Money is a necessary evil, but don’t let it rule your life choices
4) Perfect shmerfect. There’s no such thing as universal beauty. You have to believe in your own beauty, and it won’t appear in the form of a size 10 waist and flawless skin.
5) Girls aren’t pink and boys aren’t blue. If you want to play pirates and cars, I’ll be the one behind you waving a sword and shouting

“Ahoy me hearties!”.

Equally, if you want to wear a princess dress and host tea parties, mine’s white no sugar.

Feel free to add your snippets of wisdom below!

I enjoy ironing…and other confessions

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Yep it’s out there, I genuinely love ironing. And tidying, and baking. Doesn’t mean I always have time to get them done, but when I do, I don’t mind at all.

This in itself does not a blog make. But I promise I have a point. In the last month or so, I’ve had a couple of conversations about what it means to be a feminist. Or more to the point, what it means to be a woman living her life her own way, respecting the rights and beliefs of other women (and men) and breaking down barriers between the sexes as she goes. And there are a lot of assumptions out there.

Doing nice things for ‘him’
My friends find it hilarious that each evening, I get my fiancé’s shirt, tie and underwear out and put them out ready for the next day. They think it’s pathetic, a bit too ‘wifey’, and demeaning. But here’s what they don’t know….I also get my own outfit ready for the next day, and getting his clothes out is part of the same “hoorah I’m home and I can begin my evening” ritual. Also, he has never, not once, asked me to get them out (leave it) for him. I choose to do it. And the reason I like doing it is the same reason I like sending silly postcards to friends, or buying a present for one of my siblings – it’s good to do nice things for other people sometimes.

Even so, I’d understand if you were still cynical. So you should know that it’s not just me doing nice things. My fiancé makes me dinner almost every night. He also keeps an eye on our Sky+ and let’s me know when my favourite programmes return or when a much-awaited chick flick is due. He remembers my favourite musicals and emails me links to stories about touring versions or ticket deals. Pre-wedding saving, he’d have bought me tickets just because. All in all he’s a good egg.

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So back to my point – I fulfill every point of my description of a feminist above…but I also like doing nice things for my other half.

Recognising weakness
Weird heading huh?! Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to know what your strengths are and use them as a force for good. But it’s just as useful to know what you’re not so great at, and accept help where it’s needed.

For example, I’m not great at techy stuff. Love social media, hate the hardware it needs to work. So, when our computer goes a bit nuts, or my phone refuses to do what I’m asking, I ask for help – from my broadband/mobile provider, my techy brother, or the IT team in my office. I go to them because I’m perfectly fine acknowledging that they are better at IT than me.

Is it so very different to acknowledge that sometimes my fiancé is a better candidate for, say, lifting the heavier shopping bags, than I am? Biology says he’s physically stronger than I am. Therefore it makes sense that he lifts the spuds. In the same way, he asks me for help writing his CV or wording an official email, because my strength is (definitely) not in my muscles, it’s in my language.

There are obviously exceptions (I salute you, athletes, bodybuilders and wrestlers), and I am by no means suggesting that my fiancé’s only strength is physical. He’s also more logical than me, and better at taking a step away from a situation. He’s a great sofa therapist! What I’m trying to say is, sometimes men are better suited to activities than women, and that’s ok because there are lots of things women are better at. Accepting help and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive.

Sketch of a feminist
I think perhaps the problem lies in the word ‘feminist’. It is linguistically similar to racist, misogynist or terrorist and therefore perhaps suggests similar negative attributes. But it shouldn’t.

A feminist does not have to be a ball-busting singleton with a buzzcut and an attitude. Nor does it matter where she comes from, what colour her skin is, or who she chooses to love. In fact, a feminist doesn’t even have to be a ‘she’, as Russell Brand’s recent declaration proves (though that in itself provokes a whole other debate – doesn’t he always?).

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the queen of feminism. I don’t go out on the picket lines, I’m not singlehandedly lobbying government like Caroline Criado-Perez, (who’s been horrifically abused for standing up for her beliefs) but I do support my fellow women, keep an eye out for and challenge negative attitudes at home and at work, and push myself to make the most of the opportunities open to me. If everyone did that, I reckon the world would be a fairer, more respectful and more interesting place. What do you reckon?

Labels are for jars

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week (or, you know, just busy or away or something), you’ll have read the story about Olivia Knight and her ‘feminist’ necklace.. Assuming you did read it, and given the title of this blog, you might be surprised to find out I was sort of torn when I read it.

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On the one hand, I believe that whoever you are, and whatever you believe, you have the right to express that belief however you prefer (unless that verges on forcing those beliefs on others, in which case we’ll need to have words).

But on the other hand, I don’t believe in labels. Obviously we need words to describe things but must we safety pin them to each other like giant label-toting pin cushions?!

What’s in a label?
For instance, I consider myself a feminist, I’m heterosexual, I’m a woman, I’m blonde, I’m right-handed, I’m a boyband fan, and any number of other things. Not one of those labels defines me. I’m Hilary, I’m a mish-mash of all these things and more. And therein lies the root of my discomfort at Olivia and her colleagues wearing their necklaces. It pigeonholes them and makes people blind to anything else they might be/believe/achieve.

Does the team’s necklace-wearing make part of me do a virtual high five across the internet? Yes. Do I completely understand the girl power and sisterhood of proudly wearing the necklaces every day? Absolutely. And does the reaction of investors and Board that the brand’s association with feminism is ‘damaging’ make me wanna she-hulk it out? Big time. I just think the necklaces become labels rather than statements – like Olivia and her team are jars of pickles rather than a group of ambitious, high-performing, witty and intelligent women. And aren’t labels for women exactly what feminism seeks to expunge?

Proud
In related news, this week I attended the Women in Housing Awards. The Oscars they ain’t, but the evening was an uplifting and entertaining evening of inspiration. Housing is home (see what I did there) to thousands of hard working and passionate women who support people up and down the country with getting a roof over their heads, employment and training, financial advice, social work support and more.

I was there because my line manager and friend Carli was nominated for ‘Best Marketer/Communications’…and she won! Diane Modahl announced her name, she collected her accolade from none other than Karren Brady (believe me we’re not hearing the end of that meeting any time soon) and our table erupted into screams, cheers, tears and huge, cheesy grins.

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That, and the reaction of the other winners, for me is the epitome of feminism. Celebrating your fellow woman’s achievement with pride that feels like it’s going to burst out of your chest (just realised I’m grinning while I type and it was three days ago); but most importantly, without a hint of jealousy or malice.

Long term I hope that there’s no need for the ‘women’ part of the awards programme, and that we’re recognised equally at industry events. In many cases we already are – I’m proud to say that affordable housing is a pretty gender-neutral sector. But for now, these awards programmes are a form of lobbying – our way of standing on a chair and waving

“Helloooooo, over here! We can do that too, and do it well!”

So to Olivia Knight and her team – love what you’re doing, but maybe mix it up with some different necklaces once in a while. You’re awesome feminists and we salute you – you don’t need to label yourselves.

And Carli – me and the team couldn’t be prouder. Jokes aside, (and totally unrelated to the fact that you manage our appraisals!), huge, massive, gigantic, humongous congrats. I know you’re still in shock but you won, deservedly and rightly so. Also, you met Karren flipping Brady!!

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