This year I started to touch upon writing about meatier topics under a menu on my blog which I’ve called “The Bigger Picture”. A lot of these posts have been outraged responses to things I feel strongly about such as how contraception is so often seen as a one-sided problem, skinny shaming and how the media’s reports of mental health can be disappointing and damaging.
I’ve always been a firm believer in breaking the stigma of mental health and acting upon the true meaning of the hashtag #bekind. I believe we now need these things more than ever as Covid-19 threw everyone’s worlds upside down. I’ve read so many articles online about how for a lot of people experiencing existing mental health struggles these have worsened whereas for others they suddenly have become no stranger to previously foreign feelings like anxiety.
In recent years I underwent First Aid training which was funded by an employer. I’m squeamish and was very hesitant about the responsibility that came with this and if I’m honest, I was just plain scared. I realised my discomfort about witnessing injuries and ailments came from a paralysing fear of knowing absolutely nothing about what to do and that learning could help overcome this. Sitting through days of training listening to immediate responses for if a person is bleeding heavily or they’ve stopped breathing is sobering information that I feared forgetting and hoped I would never need. This year I witnessed a car hit a cyclist. Those first 3 seconds felt like the longest of my life before an instinct I didn’t realise I had kicked in ticking off checks for danger, calling for help and running through the training I’d been given with the help of a 999 responder. In that moment knowledge really did feel like power and I took some comfort in knowing a few little things I could do to try and stop someone’s condition getting worse. Fortunately the incident wasn’t serious and they were taken to hospital by the paramedics who arrived on the scene.
First Aid, I learnt, is about being the first response to prevent a situation getting worse whilst awaiting trained medicals professionals if the incident requires. As I believe physical and mental health should be taken equally seriously it felt important to me to be able to provide immediate help to someone regardless of if their pain was physical or psychological. I work in an environment that can be very high stress for everyone involved so this qualification has been on my wish list for my CV for some time now. Shortly after completing my First Aid At Work qualification I expressed an interest in becoming a Mental Health First Aider but a training opportunity for this never arose. As the waves of the pandemic rolled in with lockdowns the more I important I felt this knowledge was and the more I wanted to have it. When I saw the opportunity online to enrol in a free, funded course it felt like all the pieces were finally falling into place.
The course requires 4-5 hours of study a week and can be completed within 3 weeks. Finding the time, along with writing blog posts and working full time hasn’t been a walk in the park but as these things are important to me I’ve prioritised to make them happen. As can be imagined the course work is far from light reading but so far I’ve found it fascinating and frankly, information I think we all should have. Upon completion I’ll have a Level 2 qualification in Mental Health First Aid which is the equivalent of a GCSE. This is something I’m going to be really proud to add to my CV as I know that it will help me feel empowered to better aid individuals’ struggles with stresses, particularly in my workplace.
More recently I’ve heartedly written about bigger subjects such as the pressures of being summer body ready and my disappointments with the media’s lack of care when addressing mental health. I’ve previously touched on how upsetting I’ve found unsolicited acne advice over the years but although I have plenty to say on this topic I’ve shied away from it. That was until I put up a poll on my Instagram stories asking anyone of a slimmer build if they’d experienced skinny shaming and whether or not it bothered them. I received an unexpected high number of messages in response with some real horror stories that I really related to. This encouraged me and gave me the confidence to speak up about all the reasons why I hate skinny shaming.
I have some horror stories of my own. In my early twenties I reluctantly, and somewhat self consciously, visited a popular high street chain for a bra fitting. Upon the sales assistant’s arrival into the cubicle I was met with chuckling and inappropriate jokes about how I was so thin she’d need to find a miniature tape measure because hers would mummify me by wrapping around me several times over. I was lightly poked in the ribs to emphasise how bony I was when my band size was being measured. For the record, I wear a band size 32. It was utterly humiliating, I don’t know how I didn’t burst into tears but underneath all of that I was angry because I couldn’t imagine being treated the same way had I been someone with a more curvaceous figure. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I still can’t envision someone being told they’d need an extra large tape measure because it wouldn’t wrap around them, or poked and called doughy which is essentially the higher weight equivalent of what I was told. Either way it’s grossly inappropriate and sadly I have so many stories similar to this from over the years.
One reason I’ve always felt uncomfortable in bra fittings is that being slim can go hand in hand with comments about not being feminine enough or being less of a girl due to lack of curves. At school there was horrible taunt that went around that the B of B cup of bra sizing stood for “barely” which I’ve since learnt is nonsense but this negatively stayed with me throughout my most body-conscious teen years. To this day I won’t wear V necked clothing and at present I feel most comfortable with my collarbones firmly hidden behind higher necklines. One response I received via my Instagram stories was that someone’s male partner had been subjected to comments that they weren’t manly or built enough due to their figure so it seems neither gender is immune.
In the last couple of months in my workplace I experienced one comment in particular about my figure which left me lost for words and unsure how to respond. It’s a comment that yet again I think you’d never get away with if addressing someone with a larger build to their face yet I still seem to publicly be on the receiving end of weight comments like the butt of a sour joke. There’s regularly cake available in our staff room. A woman I can’t recall ever speaking to and who I doubt even knows my name took a pop at my weight resulting in me feeling exasperated. She was offered a slice of cake, the same as I was holding, and declined saying all she had to do was look at it for it go straight to her thighs. This was finished off with pointing at me stating how “we can’t all look like that, and have it as easy as her”. Whilst the first half of this statement could be taken as a backhanded compliment it was the latter half that bothered me because this woman knows nothing of my circumstances yet made this flippant comment. It seems I’m not alone with feeling this way about such comments as again via my Instagram inbox I received messages stating frustrations about these assumptions when individuals had struggles of their own such as physical and mental health conditions including IBS and anxiety to name a few examples. Another thing that rubs me up the wrong way about comments like this woman’s is that being slim doesn’t always equate to being healthy or feeling comfortable in your own skin. Equally it isn’t always “easy” to gain weight or as simple as eating more.
Then there’s the food comments that inevitably come which can leave me feeling unsettled. If you don’t eat that’s noted, often with raised eyebrows as if this explains everything, and if you do you can expect quips about where on earth you put it all. I don’t like comments relating to food or weight regardless of people’s size, I think it’s a really sensitive topic with the potential to cause a lot of upset. Growing up as a skinny teenager who had a major growth spurt one summer leaving me all arms and legs until I filled out, I received comments like “you’re so anorexic” as though this was a trivial compliment which I think is horrendously dangerous. Talk about skating on thin ice, what if I had actually been struggling with an eating disorder, how on earth would this have made me feel any better?
My conclusion will come as no surprise. I wish we’d all stick to the same rules, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all and let’s stop making assumptions based on people’s appearances without knowing their stories. If it’s a comment about a person’s appearance that could be taken negatively that they can’t fix in less than 15 seconds I don’t think it should be said. After all, we are all so much more than what we look like so it can’t be that hard to find something nice to say instead.
I walked into town recently and passed 2 signs from holistic shops offering drastic weight loss results in short periods of time. They were spaced 5 minutes apart. Shortly after I entered Tesco and was met with the newspaper stand in front of me. More than one national newspaper had a summer special, with the Daily Mail trumping the lot, with a focused pull out promoting how to lose a stone in a week. I didn’t go looking for any information about weight loss yet found it thrust at me in over 3 places in a less than 20 minute walk. Why? Seemingly because it is summer time.
That in itself, along with the notion of how we must all be summer body ready, seems to be the dangerous reasoning behind this marketing. Whoever, and however, it was decided that simply having a body and it being summertime wasn’t good enough is beyond my understanding. The whole summer body concept is barbaric and I think it has the potential to be seriously damaging. I wish we could all be left alone without these advertising assaults aimed at either creating or heightening insecurities. I can’t imagine that the summer body concept and media barrage that accompanies it makes anyone reading or seeing such advertisements feel good about themselves. Sadly as my walk into town proves, they’re near impossible to bypass.
The bonkers notion of being summer body ready, and how showing up as we are is deemed inconceivable, reminds me of a beauty article I read in the Daily Telegraph’s magazine a few years ago. The double A4 spread focused entirely on contouring tips for women’s arms. Yes, you did read that correctly. There were product recommendations, application tips and “inspirational images” for how women should be applying make up to their arms to look toned and keep up with trends. Let’s put aside how crazy this is for one second and consider how impractical applying shades of concealer, foundation and powders to your arms are. With all the will in the world and setting products I can only see this ending in a hideous mess, like clothing deodorant stains but orange and on steroids. In the heat of the recent British weather, we’d be an absolute melted state.
Fashion trends and styles come ago as do ideal body types. Whilst it makes me uncomfortable to think that we live in a time where our natural bodies, on the whole, are far from accepted I believe there is some hope. On a smaller level we have wonderful individuals, like Isabella from Spotty Little Thing on Instagram rejecting the horrible “hot girl summer” concept. Instead she’s spreading the hashtag “spotty girl summer” along with advocating real skin and bodies much like many of the other incredible accounts I’ve chosen to follow over your average air brushed influencers. I’ve chosen to curate my social feeds like this as it feels like fighting back against the Daily Mail adverts, shop signs and more that I encountered on that walk into town alone. It not only eases the pressure and makes me feel infinitely better about myself but it means I see inspiritional posts instead of demotivating ones.
I saw last night through curating my Instagram feed around real skin that Jules Von Hep, founder of the tanning brand Isle Of Paradise, recently pitched a pop up screen at Kings Cross in London displaying images of real, unedited bodies challenging this summer body concept. Isabella’s face along with other wonderful accounts I follow like Yours Sincerely Bekki, Joanna J Kenny and more were shown off in their natural form as Jules believes “every body deserves to be seen”.
On a larger platform level of protecting us from idealised perfection I saw that Pinterest announced a ban on all weight loss advertising in a bid to make their site a safe place for all. Seeing this July announcement felt refreshing. I was happy to see that my concerns about the unavoidable advertising were being validated and recognised. I think Pinterest have sent a positive message amongst the weight loss schemes which serve to make large profits out of preying on our insecurities. It made me want to engage more with the site than I ever had and I began doing so feeling more welcome and comfortable.
I’ve struggled this year with body image in ways which struck me by surprise. I’ve felt uncomfortable in trusted old clothes which always made feel like I’d received a confidence injection. I’ve shied away from skinny jeans I’ve worn for 5+ years and discovered relief in looser fitting mom jeans. As these became the wardrobe equivalent of a comfort blanket that soothed me when I felt that dreaded “I can’t wear that” feeling I decided to buy the exact same pair in black as a treat. I bought the same style, waist measurement and leg measurement from the same shop but when I got them home I felt betrayed. The waist was over 1 whole inch smaller than my blue safety-net pair. Considering these have been worn on repeat for less than 5 months and I never felt let down by them it threw me that such a difference could happen from the same store. I’m familiar with women’s clothes sizes being warped from one store to another with size 10s being the same as size 14s in others but I’ve never come across an absurd difference from the same company. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around how buying a duplicate pair can have gone so wrong. Whilst to some it may sound trivial, to me it felt like I’d been let down by something I’d trusted to help me when I needed it. It put me off clothes purchases for a while.
The Final Word
Beauty trends come and go. One minute our eyebrows are expected to be plucked within an inch of their lives and the next they’re to be laminated and bushy. It’s my hope for the future that content like Isabella’s and all the other wonderful real skin-fluencers that I follow blows up until it is that which is unavoidable as opposed to the posts, adverts and articles which often shame us for being exactly as we are. Until then I’ll be doing the best I can with what feels comfortable and right for me. My body won’t always be faultlessly smooth because sometimes I’m too lazy for hair removal, I won’t be wearing foundation on hot days to cover active spots – I’m more likely to be wearing pimple patches, like so many others I’ll have scars, veins and bruises on display. Some hot days I won’t be baring all in shorts, strappy tops or swimwear and as I’m a novice fake tanner there’s a high chance I’ll have some blotchy patches too but thanks to the individuals fighting back against the “Summer Body” concept I really don’t care. We all have flaws and insecurities but these people have made me realise we are not alone in feeling this way and it’s ok to cut yourself some slack, we’re only human after all.
Earlier this week I saw a tweet from a largely unpopular British journalist regarding the Olympic athlete Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of events in a bid to protect her mental health. She was criticised for letting her teammates, country and fans down along with being called a quitter. Her actions were described by that same journalist with a large following as anything but brave and heroic.
I’m not a fan of sport, I haven’t followed the Olympics and whilst I’m aware of Simone Biles as a medalled gymnast that’s as far as my knowledge of her goes. But for me, the point I wish to make, is that this both is and isn’t about her. If she’d withdrawn from the competition because she was experiencing a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right physically, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I wouldn’t be writing this post. She highly likely wouldn’t be slated for an injury. I can’t imagine headlines would blame her reading that it was her fault and that she’d let people down all for being someone who can, like all of us, get hurt. She removed herself from further Olympic events after experiencing a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right mentally and by some was thrown under a bus.
I go through phases of being angry, disappointed and upset regarding the media’s response to some mental health stories but mostly I’m exhausted by it all. In the world of fame if people speak up whilst in a difficult place they’re making themselves vulnerable to these concerning, and in my opinion, morally wrong headlines which can be dangerous. By invalidating those who stand up for their mental health and calling them “quitters” it sends the wrong message that we shouldn’t prioritise ourselves and instead keep going with a stiff upper lip, until what we hit breaking point?
This is where the double standard kicks in. If they don’t speak up, are pushed over the edge and we lose them the internet blows up with stories questioning why they didn’t seek help, branding it a national tragedy with attempts at positivity and support encouraging anyone struggling to say something which can feel like insincere hot air. Take the Olympics out of the equation all together for a second and I think it shows immense strength of character to stand up and say that something isn’t ok whilst feeling far from 100% knowing there’s an high chance of receiving media backlash. Remove celebrity status and the media altogether and I firmly believe that anyone opening up about mental health concerns is showing bravery.
With every couple of years that go by as headlines like this pop up I can’t help but wonder when the lesson will finally be learnt. In 2020 the world lost Caroline Flack and the media was noted as playing a part and being responsible for the decline of her mental health. Much like my lack of interest in sport, I don’t follow reality television and didn’t watch any programmes she was involved with but I still felt upset by her loss. I am still upset by what is happening all these months later. Shortly after her passing the hashtag #bekind gained momentum. It was originally created by a mother who lost her son to suicide and wanted to stand up to online trolling. Whilst the hashtag has reached millions of individuals over social media platforms and I whole heartedly agree with it’s message I think this week’s online treatment of Simone Biles goes to show that over a year later on the whole that we still aren’t being kind. The words are out there but it feels like the message isn’t being understood despite being as clear as one of the last posts Caroline Flack ever shared.
The situation is bad enough but when you add the global pandemic we’ve all been faced with in the last 18 months to me it just feels even worse. The pandemic has caused loses for us all whether they be small or large and I think we’ll be seeing the effects of this for many years to come. We’ve lost normal routines, social interaction, physical contact, loved ones, a sense of security, jobs, homes and in some cases a complete sense of purpose. Covid made me realise why solitary confinement is used in prisons as the ultimate punishment as the repercussions of being sat in the same 4 walls and living alone without work to show up for gradually crept up on me often leaving me feeling not myself. I’ve seen and heard a lot more people expressing anxious tendencies about the world reopening after us being shut away for so long and low feelings from what became our new normal. As Covid has affected each and every one of us for many this means we understandably aren’t as tough and resilient as we perhaps were prior to the outbreak. Within my social circle I’ve noticed people seem more open to these conversations now than ever before. I think that’s because there’s been a sense of united struggling and it often got too tiresome saying everything was fine when we all knew nothing was normal.
In light of this I think we need the message of #bekind more than ever before.
I am a firm believer in gender equality but have never preached about feminism on my blog or how unfair it can be to be a woman. That is until it comes to contraception and being someone incredibly acne prone I feel doubly entitled to rant. I find it insanely unfair how one sided the business of contraception can be despite, as the old saying goes, that it takes two to tango. Most of the options’ side effects bother me enough as it is but at the start of last year I became increasingly frustrated given that I was also really struggling with frequent regular breakouts and didn’t want to chance anything which could worsen the situation.
Acne + Contraception
I’m not currently in a position where I want to risk getting pregnant, nor was I when I first began compiling this post early last year but chickened out of publishing. After seeing Izzie Rogers‘ highly relatable stories about contraception and acne I decided to rethink this and be brave because it’s a topic that drives me up the wall and I certainly have plenty to say.
If I’d never struggled with painful acne that caused me great discomfort, stress and upset in my early 20s leading to a long journey to accept my skin I definitely wouldn’t be complaining as passionately as I’m about to. I once spent hours trawling through Google searching for the best contraception for acne, which pill was best, comparing the side effects of those mentioned, weighing up which hormone combinations were likely to be most successful and so much more. The reason for this being many methods of contraception, if you’re naturally acne prone, are typically ruled out as the hormone cocktails found in the contraceptive implant, injection, IUD and mini progesterone-only pill all, according to the NHS website and various GPs I’ve seen, have a high risk of worsening acne. If I set aside the acne factor for a second and think about having a small piece of plastic inserted into my arm and cut out to remove that’s enough to give me the shivers let alone the prospect of worsening skin. This doesn’t come from a point of vanity, this is from the perspective of someone who years ago lost nights of sleep due to being unable to rest on sides of her face thanks to sore jawline cysts. Equally the idea of a T shaped piece of metal being inserted without pain relief that can cause heavier more painful periods is just foul.
Then we have the combined pill. I’ve tried several as well as having breaks as I’ve been through periods of time feeling uncomfortable about the lengthy list of side effects and wondering what they’re really doing to my body. Don’t get me wrong, in my early teens the pill saved me from months of agonising pain so I am not wholly against it’s existence. However; recent headlines about the rate of Covid vaccines causing blood clots VS the amount caused by the pill which blew it out of the water certainly was food for thought.
In January 2020 I was desperate to address my acne to improve it and upon telling GPs I didn’t want to take a 9 month length course of antibiotics for a second time many pushed me straight towards the pill. The ones typically considered to be good for acne prone skin, however; seem to come with even scarier risks than the norm which are bad enough. I was twice nonchalantly offered Dianette but told I could only take it for 6 months due to higher than average blood clot risk and negative side effects to mental health. This particular pill is actually banned in several countries as a result of this. One GP told me the NHS no longer prescribe it as general contraception but as short term treatment for acne or PCOS symptoms. Online research led to discovering it comes with the warning that it can cause “depression leading to suicidal thoughts” as opposed to most which simply say “mood swings”. The first GP didn’t make me aware of this, I declined at the idea of taking the stronger-than-average male hormones and after doing some online research I’m so glad I did. It’s advised against prescribing for those with personal or family history of mental health issues. My mental or physical health is not something I’m willing to experiment with simply because I don’t want acne or to be pregnant which I think is completely justified.
Other forays into contraceptive cover didn’t end well despite declining Dianette. Being prescribed Lucette resulted in me spending 2 weeks with black spots in my vision, extreme dizziness, nausea and the worst period pain I’ve felt leaving me to crawl around my house in fear of fainting. This happened 3 weeks in and took me 2 months to fully get over. Within 2 weeks Brevinor caused my cheeks, forehead and neck to gain deep, large painful spots under the surface and a huge amount of stress as a result. These experiences were frightening, even more so given how quickly the side effects hit me and took to recover from.
I took 3 varieties of anti biotics back in 2016 to clear my skin as I was the most desperate I’ve ever been with it during that time. 3 months of Lymecycline followed by 9 months of Oxytetracycline and within 6 months of stopping the tablets I began breaking out again so this wasn’t a long term solution. Anti biotics are another really commonly prescribed medication for acne treatment. They also lessen the effect of the pill leaving you at risk of pregnancy unless taking other precautions.
The Unfairness Of Contraception
This is where my feminist streak kicks in. Men don’t have to make decisions about their bodies quite like this or weigh up which nasty side effect they’d rather have because they don’t want to be a parent at present. It’s like a sick version of the silly game “would you rather?”. The potential of poorer mental health with possibly clearer skin that no one can guarantee or likely heavier periods with no chance of worsening your skin but at least you’ll dodge conception?! I realised just how much I hated the one sidedness of this when I first made the decision to break up with my pill after doing some reading about their potential side effects, controversy surrounding acne and after hearing so many friends say they simply felt better without it. Upon explaining all of the above to a partner at the time I was met with the 4 word response “I don’t like condoms”.
I mean who does? But it made me want to scream and that was well before I became fully aware of how many things I was advised against taking as a result of my skin. Contraception should be a joint, equal responsibility yet male led options are painfully lacking. The worst men have to go through in terms of contraceptive side effects as far as I’m aware is temporary minor discomfort caused by basic condoms whereas we are faced with multiple complex options from coils with unpleasant applications causing heavier periods to injections that can damage bone density to implants and pills potentially wrecking havoc. Acne, depression, higher cancer risks, blot clots, lack of sex-drive… the list of side effects goes on. I’ve read rumours of a male pill or injection being tested as safe for human use but dismissed due to potential side effects involving weight gain, acne, erectile dysfunction or loss of libido. If it’s deemed not good enough for them then why are these options deemed good enough for us? On a personal level in 2020 I started to wonder if it was really too much to ask for contraceptive cover that wouldn’t cause my acne to worsen without experiencing almost black outs or risking suicidal thoughts?!
Female pleasure is largely not discussed and our orgasms, despite often being more elusive, are 100% safe with none causing pregnancy. In comparison, 100% of their male counterparts pose a high risk of causing conception in the vast majority of cases. With this being the case why, oh why, is it virtually all left to women often with such hideous compromises to make?!
I drafted this post early 2020 and out of desperation was close to taking up my GP’s offer of Dianette. I’d actually ended the post asking for readers to share their experiences with this pill which I don’t think I should have ever been offered. I’m increasingly glad I decided against playing the horrible game of “would you rather” or putting anything in my body which the idea of scared me. That’s the note I wish to end this post on.