Friday, December 24, 2010

It was thirty years ago today

30a This year, I've done a great number of things which required significant courage and as a result, my life has completely transformed from where it was a year ago. Today is my thirtieth birthday, so I think I am entitled to one self-congratulatory blog post, which also explains some of what I've been up to whilst not blogging, or hardly ever blogging this year. Things haven't settled down just yet and next year promises to be another kind of adventure, but life is better for me, at thirty years old, than it has been for at least the last decade. Because I was brave.

I have read and talked to others a great deal about courage over the years, especially in relationship to disability. Disabled people are often called brave for simply existing, let alone achieving things or making changes in our lives. We answer this misplaced compliment with the fact that faced with these limitations, you just get on with it. You have very little choice. Mik Scarlet wrote about this most recently in the context of the way disability is represented on television (his two other 'Lectures' on this are well worth a read).

But this year, I have been properly brave and learnt a few new things about bravery. The first is that once you are brave about one thing, further acts of courage become a lot easier. The most difficult thing I had to do, I did in March.

I allowed someone else to read my novel. There has been no occasion in my life so far where I have had to place such profound trust in someone. And honestly, this was the bravest thing I had to do. This may seem rather silly, given that I wrote the novel to be read and it would have been a ridiculous thing not to show it to anyone. But I was so disheartened about it all and I had no evidence that it wasn't a complete pile of pants. As soon as life calms down enough to look into agents and publishers, letting others read it will be a doddle in comparison.

The second lesson is that whilst we have very limited choices about whether to do the brave thing or not, there still is some choice. I have long thought this with disability - we don't deserve medals for carrying on and living our lives, but occasionally you meet someone who did give up. Some people experience loss, whether it comes in the shape of disability, bereavement, divorce or financial disaster and they simply become their own tragedy and get stuck as victims. It almost always requires some courage to get over things and move on. Sometimes, because people and their experiences are complicated, it requires a lot of courage, even where we have everything to gain by it and even though it's still inappropriate to be considered heroic just for making the right choice.

In April, I brought my marriage to an end. On many levels, I had no sensible choice at all and I faced very little temptation to do otherwise. But it was still a choice which required significant courage - hopefully far more than most break-ups require. I also had choices about how I went about things. I went to great lengths to behave honourably and kindly. And that was brave.

The third thing I learnt is that acts of courage require faith. There are some things you have to believe in, in the absence of evidence, especially when it comes to your own capabilities and the intentions of other people. You have to be able to make promises to yourself and others, and to believe the promises of others if you trust them.

At the beginning of this year, I had become very cynical about others and I had no faith whatsoever in my own resilience. I felt I would be flattened under the weight of any further crises, and that I couldn't believe anything another person said, especially about their feelings. But I learnt. I learnt very quickly and realised both my own strength and the strength that others were prepared to lend me. I am an extremely capable person when it comes down to it.

So what else did I do this year?

  • I ran Blogging Against Disablism Day again this May, despite everything that was happening at that point. I was sleeping on a sofa, living in a house with the person I was separated from, dealing with no end of tension whilst trying to organise myself and the few worldly possessions I was keeping in order to move out. But my friend suggested that achieving continuity with BADD would be useful when everything else was in such flux. And it was. So a special thank you to everyone reading this who participated.
  • I repeatedly placed myself upon the hospitality of others. In one context, I was paying rent and utility bills, but neither my friends-cum-landlords nor myself ever shook off the sense that I was a guest there (which was a problem, but one unwittingly created). Beforehand, I had imagined myself enormously burdensome because of my illness and difficult to live with because of ideas about who I was. Yet, since May, I have variously lived with seven different people, five dogs and two cats and I have received no complaints. I have broken two mugs, but I replaced them both with nicer ones. And I have a much better gauge of how much help I actually need against what I am able to contribute.
  • I told a friend I was in love with them. That was brave. And worth it.
  • I moved to another country. Well, almost another country. I moved to a part of Wales where Welsh is spoken more than English, and I knew no Welsh. Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to learn Welsh and make new friends locally. But I planned to and that was brave. And I'm still going to learn Welsh because I think it sounds great.
  • I took on responsibilities, despite my sense of profound incompetence and dependence. There were days when someone relied on me for their oxygen supply. On the same days, I looked after three dogs, despite being totally intimidated by them (Border Collies do look at you funny – even dog people agree with me on this). I have now totally overcome my uneasiness around dogs.
  • I placed myself in a great number of different social situations which involved some social risk. It's been so rare for me to get out of the house and deal with any face-to-face social contact, that this stuff has made me very nervous. I sat down to dinner surrounded by strangers, more than once. I joined a brand new family, very strange and different from my own.
  • I moved to live with my parents, eleven years after I moved out, the second house move within six months. This required a lot of faith, both in my folks and myself, that we could avoid the nightmare I'd always feared it would be. So far, so good.
  • I have tried a great number of new things. Foods I have never eaten before and things I thought I didn't like. I have experimented bravely with clothes. I have made all sorts of decisions which bore no relation to the approval of anyone. I'm not sure I've ever managed that before in my whole life.
  • I have opened up to friends and family more than I ever have before. I have begun to talk about some of the worst experiences of my life, things I have worked very hard to hide from the world. This is brave.
So there we have it. Happy Birthday to me, a very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and an excellent New Year to one and all.

Before I go, more reading for you: Ira provides by far the best festive post this year, God Bless Us Everyone on Tiny Tim and disability. And disabled bloggers in the UK need to know about One Month Before Heartbreak.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ann Widdecombe: Feminist Icon

Ann Widdecombe is wrong about a lot of things. She campaigns against a woman's right to choose and as a politician opposed various anti-disrimination legislation. She does not consider herself a feminist. And yet, I'd argue that Ann Widdecombe is a feminist icon.

Ann Widdecombe proves that, whether or not women can have it all, we certainly don't have to. We might not want it all. We may be completely disinterested in over half of it. A woman can very well not have it all, and still be a tremendous success as a politician, as a public figure and most recently, as a competitive dancer. And she is a success. There is no reason to suspect that Ann Widdecombe is not completely and utterly fulfilled by the career she has had and the bits and pieces she does now, together with a family and social life which doesn't involve romance or children of her own. She is a rare public example of the not uncommon phenomena of the happy spinster.

Although her politics may be totally and utterly wrong (and they are), in many ways she was an exceptional politician. So far as I can see, she always said what she meant and did what she said, in a political climate increasing concerned with spin. She was not - is not - afraid to say something that most sensible people would totally disagree with. Last week, she supported Lord Young's comments that most of us had never had it so good (although in context, she has at least a bit of a point).

Widdecombe is the closest thing we have in mainland Britain to the Religious Right and yet she is not a hater. She is no egalitarian and converted from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism at the point that the CofE ordained women. She is anti-choice and believes in a very restrictive version of heterosexual marriage to be the only context in which people should take their clothes off - but she disapproves of most of us in equal measure. She has never said anything hateful towards gay people - she insists there is no difference between sexually-active gay folk and straight folk who also fornicate (it's a great word and without people like Ann Widdecombe, it might fall out of use entirely). I think the most enraging thing I ever heard her say were comments about rape, which focussed entirely on women's responsibility to avoid situations in which they might be vulnerable to assault.

But what makes Ann Widdecombe a feminist icon is that she doesn't want to be one. She doesn't feel that because she is a woman, she has to support women's issues, or exercise any gender bias at all. She doesn't feel the need to be any softer or fluffier than any male politician of her creed and generation, even though she was and still is subject to far more ad hominem attacks than most politicians of similar rank. Politicians who happen to be women (Widdy hated to be known as a Woman MP) are particularly vulnerable to criticism for their supposed attractiveness, their romantic and family lives and when they are right-wing and generally, well, harsh, they are attacked with gendered language. So Widdecombe is described by her detractors as lonely, loveless, frustrated and frigid, where there is no evidence that she is any of those things.

What is particularly admirable about Ann Widdecombe is that she apparently hasn't tried to neutralise this effect. Widdecombe is not ugly and has a very sweet face when she smiles, but she deviates from cultural ideals of beauty in almost every way; she's the wrong shape, the wrong weight, the wrong age and has had one of two very unfortunate haircuts. During a period where Blair's Babes were being made over to make relatively attractive politicians more attractive, she was still applying the pudding-basin and sheers method (we've all done it at some point). She has never tried to be other than she is. Unless I'm missing something, this lady is truly authentic.

In Strictly Come Dancing (yes, yes, you've got the point - I'm hooked), the Widdster resists all the reality show narratives that other folks fall into. Not for her talk of the journey, not for her tearful frustrations or life-changing experiences. Her brother died during training, and there was no mournful montage about her soldiering on despite it all. And she comes across as quite a lovely person. Physically awkward and a little shrill, but these are not bad things to be.

Women in late middle age are extremely rare on our television screens and newspaper pages and other than royalty, the only other examples I can think of are glamourous actors with long careers behind them. These women are famous, in part, for their beauty and continually congratulated on its preservation. Widdy proves that women can be valued and respected for more than being nice and being pretty. Even though she is, at least, just a little bit of both.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weight-Loss and Misplaced Congratulations

In the summer, I lost weight due to stress. I felt on edge and sick all the time and lacked motivation to look after myself, so I wasn't eating nearly enough. I am not rendered skinny, not by a long chalk, but I shrunk enough for others to notice.

I can't claim to be unhappy about the aesthetic effect - I was slightly overweight for ages and I'm not any more*. But my relative slimness is a physical indicator of what I have been through, and as such, I have been confused that all but one person who has noticed has congratulated me on this. Even when people know exactly what has happened, even when I've told them that the weight loss is a direct result of a horrible time and an appalling diet, I am told, “Well, that can't be a bad thing.”

Only it was. I guess folk don't realise how little I have to eat in order to lose weight, given my lack of mobility. I was really quite lucky not to have suffered any more serious ill effects than I did. As it was, my diet compounded my physical and mental ill health; I was tired and dizzy, physically frailer, my sleep was all over the place, and I was functioning on adrenalin. I was not experiencing an eating disorder, but it was hard to break the cycle into which I had fallen. Decision-making was even tougher than usual, so it was easier not to have to think about food. I had even less energy than normal and excessive sleep was disrupting my day, so it was easier not to have to get up and prepare something to eat.

And then there was the psychological element. I had been bullied about my weight, so it felt liberating to be able to simply not eat. Having been congratulated so much on the weight-loss, I was half-afraid of putting it back on again. Last month I read an article about eating-disorders in older women which focussed on the risks following divorce or other personal crises;

"The person can lose their job, suffer a bereavement, have a child or see their relationship break down. As a result, their mood deteriorates and they develop a depressive illness. They lose their appetite and then lose weight," said [psychiatrist Sylvia] Dahabra. "They then notice that they feel better when they don't eat, that they look 'better' and might even get compliments, and this then distracts them from what really bothers them and gives them a new focus."

There's no might about it; women who lose weight quickly receive compliments, regardless of circumstances – I have known women who have lost weight through cancer being congratulated on their shrinkage. The belief is that weight-loss is always desired and always healthy.

The healthy thing is a particular mystery, because as well as the decidedly unhealthy way in which I lost weight, I know I have just a little bit more disability privilege out of being slimmer. Not much, because I wasn't very big and haven't shrunk that much. But the slimmer you are, the more legitimately sick you are seen as being. When you are fat and disabled, even though weight-gain is an obvious side-effect of reduced mobility and a less obvious effect of many illnesses and therapies, you are considered lazy and your impairments are seen as less legitimate.

So for disabled women smaller equals both healthier and properly sick at the same time.

I was quite literally tempted back to eating properly with extremely good food. My young man is a true culinary genius - none of this feeding pigs humbugs to make the sausages taste minty. Stephen is an unabashed skinflint, has physical limitations similar to my own and the worst collection of allergies and intolerances I've ever encountered in one person and yet in his company I have the best and most varied diet I have ever had. The man should write cook books and probably will do one day.

Food is such a tremendous source of pleasure and we are so lucky in the West with the choice and quality of produce available to us. This is why emotional or medical conditions which spoil one's appetite are so miserable, and why a culture which loads food and fat with so much emotional baggage impoverishes itself in doing so. And it doesn't make people healthier or even slimmer - most women you speak to are unhappy about their weight and feel guilty about eating, but the average woman is still heavier than our culture says she should be.

Because of the way weight is spoken about and because of the way my own weight has been spoken about, I do feel some pressure not to put on weight once more. It's not happened yet, despite eating until I'm full at every meal and being on new drugs which could encourage weight gain. However, deep down I know it doesn't matter if I do. And that's something I always did know. Only these days, I actually feel it.

* Since I started writing this, Cara posted on the dubious concept of "normal" weight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Big Society and The Charity Model of Disability

The government rhetoric around benefit reforms has a clear message: almost everyone should be in renumerative work. People not in paid work are not contributing. Even people who are in paid work but aren't earning enough to come off means-tested benefits, like housing benefit, are not contributing as much as they should.

On the other hand, all this talk about the Big Society has another message: lots of work that people are currently paid for should not be renumerative. Tuesday morning's headline was that social care was "everyone's responsibility". Which of course it is. Only up until now the general idea has been that everyone exercises this responsibilty by paying the government to provide what care can't be reasonably expected of family and friends.

And it all makes me rather nervous. Disability, benefits and social care are becoming about charity again. The Charity or Tragedy Model of Disability imposes a highly emotional set of value judgements on our lives, our impairments and the help we need and the roles of those around us. Under new benefit reforms, impoverished, unemployed disabled people are to be categorised as deserving or undeserving and the supposedly undeserving - people considered maybe able to work given a perfect and flexible job and a few other miracles - are to be made poorer and stigmatised as workshy. Our Prime Minister acknowledges the need to take care of people who are not able to work because this is part of being a compassionate society. The welfare state is portrayed as a charity, as opposed to the insurance scheme it always was.

Disabled people who need personal care are going to be forced to rely even more heavily on family and friends or volunteering strangers. Bendy Girl has spoken and written a lot about the benefits side of this at her place and Broken of Britain. But I wanted to focus on care.

Care is extremely difficult to define. Most of the help that disabled people need because of our impairments is not unique to disability and only becomes care when it is necessary to pay for that help. For example, my health prevents me driving or using public transport, but lots of people get lifts from friends and family for all sorts of reasons. I have trouble preparing food for myself, but there are lots of households where one person or other does the bulk of the cooking.

Over the years, I have had a number of arrangements with friends and family members where I've had help with the things I can't do in return for some help or other I can give them. Where I need so much help there's no question of reciprocity, I am extremely careful about the people I ask. But for most of my kith and kin, the help I have received has been no greater than the normal exchange of help and support.

But for some people, there is a profound difference between favours once disability is involved. For them, disability has emotional baggage and to help me because I am disabled is an act of nobility, compassion and generosity. They may be no more capable of, say, setting up an e-mail account than I am capable of driving or using public transport to get to where I want to go, but because I am disabled, their giving me a lift becomes an act of heroism my amateur techy skills can't compete with.

Such attitudes are a real problem, because quite apart from having to deal with someone who treats you like they're carrying you on their back up a mountain, they invest you and your impairments with so much emotional baggage. With tragedy, helplessness and dependence which is not your own.

And the current culture encourages this mindset. Placing so much importance on renumerative work or structured volunteering may even discourage people from spending their time and energy just helping out friends and family, which covers most of the help disabled people need - along with elderly people, young families and others who know very well than no man, woman or child is an island.

What I have been very lucky with is not needing very much intimate personal care, and not for very long. What I do know from my experiences with that is that it can be extraordinarily difficult receiving intimate care from people close to you. Sometimes it can work okay, other time it completely queers relationship dynamics and makes disabled people extraordinarily vulnerable to neglect and abuse.

Paying folk doesn't render all carers socially-conscious egalitarians, but it allows disabled people to make choices and maintain some degree of autonomy - to hire and fire people to some extent. This is much more difficult to do with unpaid volunteers, whether they are in your family or not. Sometimes the mere existence of an alternative buys an awful lot of power.

When benefits or any help disabled people get is seen as charity, our progress towards equality flaunders. Disabled people lose choices, and find themselves having to meet the emotional needs of others. As charity cases, we must be deserving, humble and grateful for whatever we get. Others must sympathise. And nobody who feels sorry for you for being who you are will ever see you as an equal.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Coming Home Undefeated

212. Shiney shiney shiney boots of leatherI'm thirty in less than three months time and I am moving back in with my parents. So many truths that I held as dear have been crushed underfoot in the past six months, and here goes another one: Whatever happened, I would never ever live with my folks again.

But as with most of these recent squishings, it is a surprisingly pleasant sensation.

I think it is much harder for adults living with their parents when one party is disabled. I am not capable of living in such a way that home is just a base, somewhere to rest my head and store my stuff and borrow the washing machine once a week, spending most of my time out at work and socialising out of the house. My home is my environment for work and rest and most of my social activities. I cannot live alone and I have to live with people who are willing and able to help me and from whom I am comfortable asking for help.

Pillars of new-found strengthAs a sick teenager, I lived in terror of being stuck at home forever. In my early days as a wheelchair-user, riddled with internalised prejudice, I experienced a special kind of mortification when being pushed around by my mother (not helped by the fact that she initially kept muddling the words wheelchair with pushchair). My parents and I had returned to a practical dynamic we had left behind years earlier and I think, for a short time, our relationship actually regressed; I think my parents forgot how old I now was and I assumed they couldn't possibly adapt. There were real struggles around my desperate need to be both looked after and left alone which I thought could never be resolved. And none of it was resolved before I moved out and in with my ex-husband.

After that, living with my parents remained the big threat. I suppose that between lots of couples, there are arguments that culminate in threats of desertion. But for me, the threat was always that I would be sent back to my parents, like an unruly child who having abused her grown-up privileges, has them taken away again.

For all kinds of reasons, my marriage caused and sustained unnecessary tension between my parents and I and since its end, my relationship with them has dramatically improved. This is mostly about me. I have finally shrugged off my adolescent evasiveness and started to be more honest about my life, my experiences, my health and the help I need. I've also seen my parents through different eyes; my own eyes when no other opinion mattered and the eyes of my open-hearted friends. And thus they frustrate me much less, and I like them much more.

Where the sea meets the shorePlus, of course, life's dramas always allow folk to surprise you, either way. My parents have been brilliant in the last six months. Not that I thought they wouldn't help me, but I underestimated their capacity to know how to help me and when. They stepped back when I needed space, they stepped in when I needed assistance. They moved all my worldly possessions from East Anglia to Wales and this weekend, they are moving everything back again.

And I feel at peace with them. Peace is something I am learning a lot about. Where it can and cannot be found, how and with whom.

But it also helps that I am choosing to live with them now, because it is a sensible and practical thing which I actually want to do, not because I don't have any other options. And it helps a very great deal, that this situation is not permanent. I think it would be a lot harder without plans for the future.

As you can see, I have new boots. Second two photographs (and plans for the future) courtesy of the amazing Stephen.

On a not dissimilar theme, William has been writing a lot about independence and dependence lately, both from hospital and now in bed at home.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seduced by Cats!

In the last few months, I have been learning a great deal about who I am, who I thought I was and who I may yet become. Some of this has been very heavy going – the last few months have been very heavy going, on and off. But here's something fairly light with which to restart blogging (fingers crossed). I am, so it turns out, a cat person.

When I arrived in Wales, I was allergic to the two cats I was moving in with. I knew it was a temporary reaction, just not being used to the things, but I didn't imagine I'd need have much to do with them at all. As I wrote a couple of years ago, I don't like cats. Most of my friends, past and present, are cat people – the friends I am living with are cat people – but I have never been one to confuse cats with people. Cats are animals. Animals are not people.

PuddingBut I hadn't reckoned with the power of Pudding. Pudding's owner - no, that's not right. Nobody owns Pudding exactly, but my friend L does at least own the house we all occupy and buys his food. Anyway, L had warned me that Pudding's single goal is world domination, to be acquired one person at a time. I was dismissive. Now I have my doubts.

Pudding is a rather special cat. Given my relationships with cat people, I had encountered more than my fair share of cats, but none have been as friendly, none as downright flirtatious as Pudding. Pudding pounces on you, purring before you've even touched him, rubbing himself against you like your clothes and skin are the most delicious texture he has ever encountered. Resistance is futile; place him on the floor and he will return to your lap, refuse to fuss or stroke him and he will force his head under your resting hands.

Pudding sits around most of the day and eats more than he should. He is a big fat cat - I'm currently away with my young man and his two poodles and I'm sure Pudding would flatten both poodles in a fair fight. I'm quite sure he weighs more than the two little dogs put together.

Pudding's PawPudding doesn't scratch; having been born in the US, he had his claws removed (!) as a kitten. So it is not such a bad thing to be kneaded when he wishes to make my lap more comfortable. And being somewhat tubby, he doesn't move too far and doesn't bring me many presents. Thusfar, I have received a single swallow and I have my doubts that it wasn't found dead rather than caught. I have seen a red kite evaded by a flock of swallows, so quite how Pudding could have slain it, I'm not sure.

After I had lived here all of three or four days, Pudding started crying at my door at night. Sometimes at my window. For such a great hulking bulk of a cat, Pudding's meow is rather high-pitched, almost effete. Certainly unignorable. And so he started being allowed in my room at night, and then he'd climb on the bed. Then growing ever bolder, he'd climb under the bed covers. And thus, I found I had been taken in.

Booboo and IMy other feline housemate, Booboo, is a very different character. At first acquaintance, she seemed rather stand-offish. Now I realise she merely pretends to be independent and unsociable in the cast of most domestic cats I have met. She rarely climbs onto one's lap and she does consider both fingers and writing impliments to be legitimate prey. Especially when a person is trying to do something with said fingers or writing impliments.

But she does not wish to be left alone. She keeps her distance but follows me around and if ignored for long enough, she begs for my attention. She also cries at my door at night, although her greatest desire for intimacy is to sleep on the end of the bed beside my feet.

Despite a long acquaintance-by-proxy with cats, I have only begun to really get cats this year. I now recognise their considerable appeal. And their downright spookiness. The cats know things that they ought not to know. The cats turn up whenever I am distressed. The only time they won't sit on the bed is when I am in particularly great pain and they'd be in danger of hurting me - I don't need to shoo them away, they just won't get that close. And they get a little weirder than that. One day Pudding startled at my hallucination. It didn't startle me; these things happen. It was just a vague small thing that I knew wasn't there, moving between two points and then vanishing. But Pudding turned suddenly and watched the point where it disappeared for a moment afterwards.

So cats are spooky in ways I can't fully explain with my rationalist materialist outlook. All I do know is that my clothes are now covered in cat hair.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post in June and who has e-mailed. I am very behind with all correspondences but your support is most appreciated.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Unreliable Narrator

View from my back yardSooner or later I had to write again. I have been out of touch with all of you. I have not been reading blogs. I have been busy leaving my husband and running away to rural Wales.

When I first began to talk to others about my marriage, and it being in the trouble it was in, I was very conscious of the danger of editing the past. If it was going to fall apart, I thought, I don't want to start telling stories about it having always been bad, as if the last ten years of my life – my entire adult life so far – had all been a big mistake. That would be ridiculous.

It's not that it turned out to be a mistake. And it's certainly not that I didn't love the man – I loved him as much as I thought myself capable, which was a very great deal. But it wasn't what I thought it was. When I began to talk to others about our problems, I couldn't pretend for very long that it had just been the last six months or a year. And I couldn't pretend that our problems weren't deep or that they hadn't damaged me.

I don't lie to myself very often. Or if I do, I am bloody good at it. Whenever I've made mistakes in the past, or whenever I've become disillusioned with projects or people or places, I have always understood why I thought the way I thought at the time. Even when I was wrong – even when I was foolish to see otherwise – my mistakes have made a kind of sense to me. Not that it's always easy to forgive myself.

I don't yet understand why I thought as I did about my marriage, why I presented what I presented to the rest of the world. The facts I edited out. The spin I put on what was left. And this blog is the documentary evidence. I haven't blogged properly for a long time and
I thought about abandoning or deleting Diary of a Goldfish, but I like blogging, I want to keep blogging and there is so much of my history here. Only, as every historian knows, eye-witness accounts are not always to be taken at face value.

So here I am. I find I trust myself a little less, but I like myself much better. I am living in the most beautiful place in the world with good friends to whom I am as useful as they are to me. My heart is full of love and hope and is in very safe and capable hands. And
here I am, writing again.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010Welcome to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010!

Thanks very much to everyone who helped to spread the word and to everyone who has posted about disability discrimination.

If you have written a post, please leave a comment including:

1. The full URL of your post
2. Which category you would like your post to go in.

I shall gradually add new posts to the archive below - please be patient, but please let me know if you spot any errors.

Blogging Against Disablism 2010

(Disability discrimination in the workplace, recruitment issues and unemployment).

Andrea's Buzzing About: I need to write a letter to my boss
angelkitten: Voluntary Accommodations
Nicky's Journal: Blogging Against Disablism Day
Red Vinyl Shoes: Full Disclosure
sac_whovian: Blogging Against Disabilities Day
Special Communion: Mental Health and the Priesthood
three rivers blog: I can't count on anybody to understand (cross-posted at FWD/ Forward)

(Attitudes and practical issues effecting disabled people and the discussion of disability in education, from preschool to university and workplace training.)

And God Laughs: More than a Mascot
Black Telephone: Morning of a Successful Communicator
Disability: Active Academics: Looking for Parallel Themes
faithonthefloor: We interrupt your fundraiser to bring you...
Teaching All Students: #BADD2010

Technology and Web Accessibility

Even Grounds: Rosa Parks is not done teaching us
Pendulum Tech: Accessibility & Ubuntu
Special Education Mangomon Blog: How does Technology Help People with Special Needs
STC AccessAbility SIC: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010

Other Access Issues
(Posts about any kind of access issue in the built environment, shops, services and various organisations. By "access issues" I mean anything which enables or disenables a person from doing what everyone else is able to do.)

Action Replay Girl aka Dee Ramona: When things are going well
alumiere: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010
BiblebyLincoln: Almost Accommodated!! Public transport and disability in Melbourne
Diceytillerman: Blogging Against Disableism Day
Hoyden About Town: A Thousand Words (cross-posted as FWD/ Forward, Feminists with disabilities)
Knitting Clio: Belated Blogging Against Disablism Day
Linguanaut: Planes, trains and automobiles... and a visual impairment
Lisy Babe's Blog: Discrimination by ignorance and the myth of the DDA
Normal is Overrated: Of privilege and auditory processing
Oh Wheely: Blogging against disablism day
Smiffy's Place: Gay Dogs Not Allowed
SpeEdChange: to be fully human

Definition and Analysis of Disablism/ Ableism

The F-Word: What is Disablism

The Language of Disablism
(Posts about the language which surrounds disability and the way that it may empower or disempower us.)

The Alternative Lexicon: we've got such important things to do
Embracing Chaos: On Assuming Impairment
Feministe: Addressing abelist language
Finding My Way: Journey of an Uppity Intellectual Crip: It's all about Intentionality - Hurtful Words Part 2 (see part 1 here)
Franklyfeminist: Inspiring Women
Same Difference: The Concept of Normality

Disablism Interacting with Other 'Isms'
(Posts about the way in which various discriminations interact; the way that the prejudice experienced as a disabled person may be compounded by race, gender, age, sexuality etc..)

Chartreuse Flamethrower: Blogging Against Disablism Day
Conversation@Intersections: Otherly Oriented Ought to Mean that We're Aware & Inclusive of Each Other
fatfu: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability
Here be Dragons: An Obituary
If these scars could speak: "Choose & Move" - though only if you're 'able-bodied'
Switchin' to glide: "Independent Women" : Privileged Feminist Ideologies and Ableism

Disablism in Literature, Culture and the Media

Butterfly Dreams: Harry Potter and the Disability Invisibility Cloak
Disability Studies, Temple U: "It will be Interesting"
an ex-classicist wonders what she thinks she's doing: Dear Author; please, don't heal me (cross-posted here and here)
FWD/ Forward: A Screenshot's Worth a Thousand Words
Life Decanted: Are We There Yet?
Never That Easy: BADD 2010
Notes, Notings and Common Refrains: "The Gravity of the Situation" or Whence the Morbid Fixation on Cure?
Screw Bronze!: The life no one wants and the war on the disabled
Wheelchair Dancer: Movement is radical


Women's History Network Blog: Blogging Against Disablism Day

Relationships, Love and Sex

Feminists with FSD: BADD 2k10 sexual dysfunction as disability
People aren't broken: Is there disablism in dating?
tgstonebutch: a story from IMsL
This is My Blog: It's not Bridezilla to want access
Until the dolphin flies and thparrot lives at sea: Marriage & Penalties
The Weary World: I went to your city and I didn't feel anything: why I'm leaving Portland

Non-English Language Blogs

le pays des humains volants: Le Pays des Humains Volants
Blogger: Diary of a Goldfish - Edit Post "Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010"


The Curvature: Ableism and Abuse
Daughter of the Ring of Fire: Fear & Othering
green: Into the Light of Day
The F-Word: On being a disabled blogger
General Thoughts on Disablism

And The Wheels Keep Turning: Intelligence: It's not Just Academic
Ballastexistenz: If only, oh if only
Barriers, Bridges and Books: It's Everywhere
Benefit Scrounging Scum: What's the point in making vows you're not going to keep?
Dog's Eye View: Blogging Against Disablism
For a Fairer Today: Submissiveness
Fumbling About in the Dark: Imagine That. Kid O For a Day
FWD/ Forward - Feminists with Disabilities: How can I support Blogging Against Disablism Day?
Intersectionality Dreaming: Malaysiana: Three Stories on Disability for BADD
LeftyByDefault: The relentless fight
Love That Max: My child has special needs, but please don't treat him special
Midlife and Treachery: Assumption as Discrimination
The mouse: Please just ask, listen and try to understand
Multi-Genre Fan: Assumptions
Putting on the Feminist Lens: Why You Gotta Be Like That?
POP: A Philosophy of Pain: Of isms and igns and ints
The Rettdevil's Rants: The little things, othey add up, Stoppit.
Sneak Peek: Full Speed Ahead
Sunny Dreamer: Patronization: A Plea For Help
Wheelchair Pride: Is the Disabled Community Partly to Blame for Disablism?
Witkowski Family Happenings: Keep Your Damn Pity To Yourself.

Parenting Issues
(whether disabled parents or the parents of a disabled child.)

The Beauty Offensive: Building Bridges
elf: My Kid? Is Disabled?
Rolling Around in My Head: Baby Tio - Blogging Against Disablism and Disphobia Day

Healthcare Issues
(For example, the provision of healthcare, institutionalistaion of disbaled people, reproductive ethics and euthanasia)

Almost Normal: Hands off my codeine (cross-posted at ǽgflota)
Nightengale of Samarkand: Really, truly, not dead yet, again
R.A.R.E blog: Blogging Against Disablism Day, a global effort on May 1, 2010

Impairment-Specific Prejudice

After Gadget: Q&A on Being an Assistance Dog Partner
Chained To Innocence: It's not You, It's Me
Finding My Way: Journey of an Uppity Intellectual Crip: Hurtful Words Part 1
(see part 2 here)
My Own Last Words: BADD for the not so fluent
sophy: Visible vs. Invisible
What If : Secret Disabilities

Personal Journeys

Posts about learning experiences and realisations authors have had about the nature of disability discrimination and the impact on their lives.

?!: My heart and disability
All the Colours of Me: If only I'd *try*
Anna Caro: Why I didn't believe I could be a writer
Astrid's Journal: I Am Whole: Ableism and Identity
Cat in a Dog's World: To Tell or Not To Tell
A Crippled Carnival: "My Own Disablism" or "The Self-Hating Crip"
Dorianisms: Holding Back
Gimpstoriesvt: A Twisted Foot in Each World
ham blog: "Exhibition"
Kaz's Scribblings: The self-pity model
killing_rose: When my spoons are gone, so is my tact
Life in a so-called Strap of Steel: It's a BADD Day! You heard it right, Blogging Against Disable-ism Day 2010
Life is But a Dream: What I Wish They Could See
Multifaceted Abnormal/ blog: Blogging Against Disablism Day
Single Lens Reflections: Flying the Red Flag of Understanding
Standing Tall Through Everything : Things You just Don't Think About
Tracy Churchman Shares: Blogging Against Disablism Day
Ty's Adventures: Blogging Against Disablism Day
Wheelie Catholic: I know a person in a wheelchair who...
Writer in a Wheelchair: You've Come A Long Way, Baby
The View from Room 7609: Not visible doesn't mean not there

Disablism and Politics

(For example, the political currency of disability, anti-discrimination legislation, etc.)

Everyone Else Has a Blog: I live in a marginal constituency
think on this: Blogging Against Disablism Day

Mocha Fumes: Monsters in your Closet
Reconcile: What do you need?
Romham A. Bear: If Yer Gonna Grill Me, At Least Do Both Sides
this ain't livin': Do you need assistance?
(cross-posted at FWD/ Forward)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day will be on 1st May, 2010

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010Blogging Against Disablism day will be on Saturday, 1st May. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we've made.

How to take part.

1. Post a commentbelow to say you intend to join in. I will then add you to the list of participants on the sidebar of this blog. Everyone is welcome.

2. Spread the word by linking to this site, displaying our banner and/ or telling everyone about it. The entire success of Blogging Against Disablism Day depends entirely on bloggers telling other bloggers and readers in advance.

3. Write a post on the subject of disability discrimination, disablism or ableism and publish it on May 1st - or as close as you are able. Podcasts, videocasts and on-line art are also welcome. You can cover any subject, specific or general, personal, social or political. In the previous three BADD, folks have written about all manner of subjects, from discrimination in education and employment, through health care, parenting, family life and relationships, as well as the interaction of disablism with racism and sexism. Every year I have been asked, so it's worth saying; the discrimination experienced by people with mental ill health is disablism, so naturally such posts are welcome too.

You can see the archives for previous years here: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

Blogging Against Disablism Day is not a carnival of previously published material. The point about doing this around one day is that it is a communal effort and all the posts connect to one another. You can of course use your own post to promote other things you've written as you wish.

4. Come back here to Diary of a Goldfish on the day to let everyone know that you've posted and to check out what other people have written. I shall post links to everyone's posts (slowly) throughout the day, creating an archive. However, I do need you to comment and leave the URL of your post or else I shan't find your post and won't be able to link to it.


Naturally, Blogging Against Disablism Day invites contributions from people with all variety of impairments and none at all. You are welcome to contribute with podcasts, video-blogging or anything else that allows you to take part. And whilst May 1st is when this all takes place, nobody who happens to have a bad day that Saturday is going to be left out of the archive.

If anyone has any questions about web accessibility,Irecommend the Accessify Forum. I am not an expert on web accessibility myself, so if there are any suggestions about how I can make this day more accessible, please e-mail me at diaryofagoldfish at

The Linguistic Amnesty

Whilst discussions about language and the way it can be used to oppress or empower us are more than welcome, please respect the language that people use, particularly to describe themselves in their own contributions. We all have personal preferences, there are cultural variations and different political positions which affect the language we use. Meanwhile, non-disabled contributors can become nervous about using the most appropriate language to use, so please cut everyone as much slack as possible on the day.

At the same time, do not feel you have to use the same language that I do, even to talk about "disablism". If you prefer to blog against disability discrimination, ableism or blog for disability equality, then feel free to do so.

In 2008 I wrote a basic guide to the Language of Disability which I hope might explain some of the thinking behind the different language disabled people prefer to use about themselves.

Links & Banners

To link back to this post, simply copy and paste the following code:

These banners have seemed popular over the last couple of years and I am yet to think of anything better. If anyone fancies editing these images or coming up with something new, then please do so. You are free to use and mess with these as you like, so long as you use them in support of Blogging Against Disablism Day. If you already have the banner, you just need to change the URL that it links to from last year's BADD. Otherwise, you simply need to copy the contents of one of these boxes and paste it on your blog, in a post or on the sidebar as you like. The banners come in two colour combinations and two sizes. The sizes are a 206 pixels square or 150 x 200 pixels.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010This is the black and white banner which reads "Blogging Against Disablism". Here's the code for the square one:

And here's the code for the narrower one (which can be seen here):

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010This is the colourful banner which reads "Blogging Against Disablism". This is the code for the square one:

And here's the code for the narrower one (which can be seen here):

Please leave a (comment including the URL of your blog) to let everyone know you are joining in and I shall add a link to you on the sidebar. Also, if you have any questions, please ask.

Monday, February 08, 2010

On Not Being Beautiful #2 – On Beauty & Sexual Attraction

I continue my rambling and disjointed treatise... (it started here)

Beautiful vs. Sexy

La Femme au Mirroir by PicassoContrary to what our culture tells us, beautiful and sexy are two very different things. Most people who have spent any time interacting on-line will have had the experience of becoming sexually-attracted to someone whose picture you've never seen. Most people who have spent any time interacting off-line will have met people who are truly beautiful but not in the least bit sexually attractive. You could stare at them for hours - several hours longer if they were naked - but they'd have as much chance of turning you on as a sunset or a rosebush. (And please no, if there is such thing as rosebush porn, I don't want to know).

For some people who are sexually attracted to women, sexy is entirely disconnected from what someone looks like. I think there are very few people for whom the quality is entirely and exclusively visual. For me, looks seem to be quite important, but I've fancied women I've not seen, and I've fancied women who I don't think are even slightly beautiful. Among the sexiest women I've ever met, the cultural standards of beauty don't apply at all - they've tended not to be especially young, they've varied a great deal in height, girth, colouring and disability status and their physical attractions have lain as much in the way they move about, smile and laugh and in their presentation, as in the underlying construction.

The aesthetic rules change anyway. A straight or wonky nose might make the difference between a beautiful face and an ordinary face, but it is almost impossible to remember the shape of a nose on a sexy person because you spend all your time looking at their eyes and lips. Sexy people's wrists, hands and the shape of their fingers can become a source of constant distraction, whereas on merely beautiful people they can be completely overlooked. Whatever colour and texture their skin, you want to paint your bedroom walls to match. Body parts which might be considered too big or too small assume their own integral perfection - people's own bodies generally suit them and make some kind of sense in terms of visually balance. Women's bodies especially so.

Asymmetries, scars, birthmarks, odd hair distribution, strange little folds of flesh, visible physical impairments and other oddities can themselves become sources of erotic delight because they're evidence of the desired person's uniqueness, their organic nature, their reality in flesh. The made-up lovers of our fantasies may be flawless, but they're always inferior to real fleshy sexy people in all their glorious fleshy sexy weirdness. Which isn't necessarily beauty. I am ghostly pale and was once complimented on the “sexy” blue veins visible under my skin - there's nothing beautiful about a giant odourless lump of Gorgonzola.

And we are still on sex here, not love. Romantic love adds layers and layers on top of all this, but even base sexual attraction forgives – and celebrates - very much of what an appraisal of physical beauty would not. And this is all visual stuff of course. As I said, for some people sexy isn't a visual thing at all, and in this respect, sexiness seems to be far more evenly distributed than beauty; most of us are not beautiful, but most of us meet someone's criteria for sexy.

The sexual advantages of beauty are all about getting noticed. Beautiful women get more initial sexual attention. In some contexts, this can be very significant and thus very demoralising for ordinary-looking women (or indeed beautiful women who happen to be not white, fat, trans or disabled*). But there's no evidence that, when all is said and done, conventionally beautiful women get more sex or better sex, let alone better and happier relationships. The only other connection I can think of between being beautiful and being sexy is that in getting more attention, beautiful people often have more confidence. Confidence is quite sexy.

Which puts me in mind of a rather winning compliment I once received from a very beautiful person;

“You're not exactly beautiful,” they said, “but you're very sexy and that's far more important. If I wanted something beautiful to look at, I'd get a full-length mirror.”

It was a fair point.

Beauty and the Male Gaze

I've been lucky with this stuff - I didn't anticipate having a male lover until suddenly I did, and before that point the male bit of the Male Gaze went over my head somewhat; I grew up seeing that my face and body did not match the images of beautiful women I saw all around me, but it didn't occur to me that my failure to be beautiful was a failure to be beautiful for men. But I understand that for many androphile women, anxiety around beauty has a lot to do with men and many of the conversations women have about their self-image are around what they perceive men want to expect from us.

So here's my theory about all this, as an in-betweeny kind of person. And in case any chaps are reading and feeling sensitive, this isn't what straight men are like, this is what messages women receive about men's attitude to feminine beauty. Clearly, what straight men are like is demonstrated by the fact that most of them appear quite happy to pair off with either ordinary-looking women or non-standard beauties.

Verticordia by RossettiIn evolutionary terms, sex is very important, but to social animals, peer-bonding is more so. If you don't make meaningful connections with others, you die. In a society which is often informally gender-segregated, most of us are highly invested in our standing with members of our own gender - thus things like my own status anxiety I wrote about the other day. We prefer sexual explanations because sex is more exciting and of course, our particular culture revels in the idea that men are motivated by sex and very little else.

Now, if you want to press someone's sexual buttons, you have to be either lucky or fairly specific. People's sexualities are extremely diverse and unpredictable. If you want to press someone's status buttons, all you need are easily recognisable symbols of high status – like logos. Some people would buy any piece of crap that had a particular logo which they associate with a certain social standing. If you're going to use the image of a woman as a status symbol, you need that woman to look as much like every other woman ever used as a status symbol. Thus the ubiquity of the tall very thin young white cis woman with the straight narrow nose and so on. She's not an idealised version of womanhood as envisaged by all heterosexual men. She's the Nike tick.

So when she's draped over the bonnet of a shiny new car, you're not supposed to think, “Hmm, beautiful women love shiny new cars; if I buy the car I shall have sex with a woman like that.” You're supposed to think, “Hmm, there's Status draped over the bonnet of this car; if I buy the car I shall be admired by other men.” We know this because the same woman is used to advertise things to women and we're not expected to want to have sex with her. Nor, by the way, does your average British woman, middle-aged 5'4" slightly plump brunette, imagine that she could ever look like her. But it still works because we've all registered the symbol.

So many of the images of beautiful women we see around us have nothing to do with male lust. And even the most sexualised images of women are often more about homosocial bonding that heterosexual sex. Like the Page 3 Girl – it's soft porn, but nobody buys The Sun as a masturbatory stimulus. The role of the topless model is as a topic of light-hearted conversation among groups of men; “You don't get many of those to the pound!” etc.. Having discussed the days' news, each man in the group asserts his masculinity by giving his aesthetic critique of the model, suggesting sexual activities he would like to engage in with her, and comparing her to other women of the group's shared acquaintance.

We know this because these conversations often occur in public and similar conversations take place on-line. Men who go to lap-dancing clubs and the like often insist that this is social rather than a sexual activity. And in the absence of a volunteer on the podium or in a photograph, some men turn to the women around them. It's small comfort when strangers are loudly and publicly discussing the merits of your breasts, that it's really one man's way of telling another man "I love you."

The Three Graces by RubensCommunal lechery as a bonding behaviour is by no means exclusive to straight men - nor are other versions always benign - but the straight masculine version is much more pressured, more prevalent and more acceptable within our culture. And as well as a shared approval of long legs, big breasts etc., it includes the shared disapproval of the ways ordinary-looking women deviate from cultural standards of beauty. Most of this is done through humour; all those fat bird jokes, jokes about having sex with older or trans women, plus the endless derogatory jokes about the looks of famous beautiful women. The more insecure and status-anxious men become, the noisier they become about their normal heterosexual tastes and the more critical they become of any ordinary-looking woman who strays into their field of vision. And this is largely unchallenged. This is a world where a journalist can complain about the visual appeal of female members of the Her Majesty's Government and get a job as editor for a national left-leaning newspaper.

I think the saddest manifestion of this nonsense is when men who buy into it all inevitably fall in love with ordinary-looking women, and you hear strange defensive explanations along the lines of, "I know she's not very pretty, she's plump and she has sticky-out teeth, but she has this weird thing where she walks into a room and the whole place lights up!"

Now, none of this tells us what men want and I'm not naive about the possibility that this stuff actually impacts on people's sexual behaviour - it probably does. Except, as I observed before, most men have sex with and pair off with ordinary-looking women, and we have no reason to assume that they are made miserable by this. Androphile women need to know that most of these cultural messages are not relevant to considering our own attractiveness.

We also need to identify the bullshit for what it is. Short of their having a Swatzika tattooed on their forehead, nobody should be offended or upset by the appearance of another person. No man is made sick by the sight of a flabby thigh or a hairy calf and if he were, it would be his own problem entirely. Women are not here to give men something nice to look at. Whoever you are, whatever you look like, you have just as much a right to be and be seen as anyone else.

This is not to say that the men we fancy will always fancy us, or that their disinterest won't be based on some aspect of our appearance – that's life and it's nobody's fault. But the same goes for all human relationships; you win some, you lose some and no matter how gorgeous you are, you haven't a hope of winning them all.

Well done to anyone who got down this far - it went on a bit, didn't it? Sorry. Just getting it out of my system.

* Kia Matthews recently performed a social experiment in which she submitted two identical profiles to the same dating website, one with a photo of her own round pretty black self and one with a photo of her thin pretty white friend. Worth a gander.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

On Not Being Beautiful #1 - Beauty & Nonsense

I've been thinking about feminine beauty recently and wanted to blog my thoughts, but I had too many of them for one post. So it'll be a few posts, and it might hop about a bit and no promises on how quickly I'll get round to the next one.

A Grotesque Old Woman by Quinten MassysHuman beings are beautiful. Our faces are beautiful and our bodies are beautiful. The faces and bodies of the people we love are the most appealing visual stimuli we will ever encounter. You're beautiful. Everyone is beautiful. Even this lady, who I've mentioned before, is beautiful in this sense.

But feminine beauty in most social and cultural senses is an elite quality possessed by a minority of women. And I recognise that too. Most people are nice to look at, some people are fantastic to look at, regardless of their personal charms or our relationship with them. We undoubtedly vary in our visual appeal. In this sense, we are not all beautiful. Most of us are ordinary looking. You're still beautiful, of course, but the rest of us are not.

This is also absolutely fine. It is fine to be ordinary looking.

Beauty in Culture.

Cultural standards of beauty are messed up. This is not news. Pictorially, feminine beauty is represented as something extraordinarily narrow; white, young, smooth-skinned, very thin, taller than average, cisgendered with a straight narrow nose, high cheekbones, large eyes, fullish lips and without visible impairments.

Women with such qualities, rare as they may be in the general population, make up the vast majority of images of women we see around us on the front of magazines and newspapers, on billboards and on television, in movies and in popular music. I am perfectly okay to look at, but it is possible to read a magazine or tabloid newspaper, watch a movie or several hours of television without catching sight of a single woman who is as lacking in beauty as I am.

Media representation of women, from fairytales to news stories, feature beautiful princesses and heroines on the one hand and warty witches, ugly sisters and assorted hags on the other. In advertising for clothes, cosmetics and diet products, we are told that our hair, faces, bodies are unsightly, embarrassing and shameful right now but when we buy Product X, we will become beautiful. Women who are successful or notorious for for any reason will have their looks appraised in the media and it will always come out at one extreme or the other. World leader or murder suspect, if you are a woman, you're eye-candy or you're emetic.

Even if you are found to be beautiful, there is no security in your status. Magazines and newspapers constantly criticise the appearance of indisputably beautiful women. If Helen of Troy were alive today, there would be endless articles about her weight gain and loss, her cellulite or blotchy skin, her spots and wrinkles, her ugly feet, her lacklustre hair and so on. If any aspect of a woman's appearance is not perfect, then she is a subject to shame and ridicule.

This is a problem. These are the messages which can make ordinary-looking women feel that our absence of beauty is a problem.

Beautiful = Tolerable

If the absence of beauty is ugliness, then beauty itself becomes the base line for what is tolerable. We must be beautiful, or else we must not be seen at all. An example of this is the use of the oft-repeated tenet that Big is Beautiful.

Not Big can be Beautiful or my preferred slogan, The Size of My Arse is Morally-Neutral. This tenet is so often accompanied by rhetoric and images which suggest that overweight women deviate from the cultural standards of beauty in just one respect - examples of big beauties are predominantly white, young, taller that average and so on. And it's not just big women; occasionally there are fashion programmes or articles, even beauty pageants which magnanimously feature disabled women, but again, these are dominated by conventionally attractive women who are simply sat down. Not so much these women are beautiful too, more a minority of these women almost count as beautiful.
Venus with Organist by Titian
But a failure to be revered as beautiful is the least of the problems faced by women with marginalised bodies. Our bodies are considered offensive, embarrassing, a source of pity, disgust and sometimes even anger*. We are not allowed just to be ordinary-looking, to be of little to no visual interest and thus to be left alone. Our deviation from cultural standards of beauty is, in itself, a point of interest and concern. In the case of big women, this is seen as a willing deviation.

But is the solution to prejudice to argue for our integral beauty? And is the cure for our low self-image to convince ourselves that rather than being ugly, we are in fact completely gorgeous?

If someone of average maths ability feels their maths skills are shamefully inadequate, even if they live in a world which confirms this belief, is it ever helpful to declare them a genius?

Beauty and Status Anxiety

It is difficult to talk about negative things women to do one another, for fear of blaming women for their own oppression. Oh well, let's make it all about me!

Forgive me, Sisters, for I have sinned. It has been a while since my last confession. This is mostly retrospective; I haven't behaved this way for a long time and few of the women in my life behave this way towards me. Even so, I've done it.

Danae by KlimtI have engaged in self-deprecation like it was a virtue and concealed self-confidence like it was a vice. I have colluded in other women's self-loathing. I have sat with very over-weight women and lamented my own relatively modest girth. I have complained of petty imperfections which may have sewn the seeds of similar anxieties in the minds of others. I have tried to comfort women about their trivial flaws by arguing that mine are worse.

I have given compliments which I couldn't have possibly meant (you know the type – you tell them, “Your nose isn't big at all!” when you absent-mindedly hung your coat off it a moment earlier). I have complimented women on their appearance instead of complimenting them on those qualities I value higher; their kindness, bravery or wisdom. I have complimented women on their appearance instead of telling them that I loved them. And I have received compliments from other women with thanks but without considering for a moment that they might be sincere.

I have feared the scrutiny of other women. I've never much cared what men thought about my appearance, but I have feared the judgment of women I don't even like. Perhaps I even cared about the judgement of women I didn't like more than those I liked - this is about status, after all, the fear of not being good enough. I have spent shameful amounts of time, money and energy on beauty rituals in the hope of looking acceptable. Other times, I have pretended to in order to be seen to have made the effort.

I have received unsolicited criticism and advice about fixing or concealing my cosmetic flaws – even things which I never considered a problem - and failed to tell these women to bugger off. Sometimes I have taken their advice.

I have quite enjoyed those programmes where magnanimous upper-middle class women shame and humiliate working class women in order to reform them, by reforming their appearance. I bought a women's magazine once on a train journey, actually paid money for it, and I have leafed through many others. Most discussions of fashion and beauty in the media are based on status anxiety, about fitting in and the fear of not fitting in. Don't be a frump, don't be a tart, conceal this, reveal that, wear colours and shapes dictated by people with more power but much less good taste than you do. Fashion as something that changes with the seasons is all about status anxiety driven by commercial interest. Alas, we in the West are by far the least exploited in that chain.

I have smiled and nodded and sympathised when I should have argued with women who were being made miserable, poor and exhausted by their pursuit of beauty. I have stood by and let adult women program girls with the same anxieties.

I don't believe I should have ever been angry with other women for hating their own appearance. If vanity is a vice, it is its own punishment. And some women who spend a large proportion of their time unhappily engaged in beauty regimes, calorie-counting and general angst about their looks are understandably upset when they see other ordinary-looking women who don't bother and get away with it.

Yet we do this stuff to one another and we engage in this hopeless pursuit for one another. At least, it's a huge part. And through our relationships with one another, we can maybe sort this stuff out.

* I say our bodies although I acknowlegde I carry a lot of privilege here. My body is marginalised but I am still young, white, cis and not enormous.