“This is a lovely place. The little River Esk runs through a deep valley which broadens out as it comes near the harbour… The houses of the old town are all red-roofed and seem piled up one after the other anyhow…Right over the town is the ruin of the Abbey, a noble ruin of immense size. Between it and the town is another church, the Parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.”
Today, whether you like her music or not there is no denying that Taylor Swift is a strong, intelligent individual and a proud feminist. Evident in songs like “The Man” or her documentary on Netflix, she sets out to make it clear where she stands of female equality.
Now, I’m not drawing on Taylor Swift as a front runner in the fight for equality, heaven knows there are many lesser known activists working just as hard, I do so because if we flash back to 2012 Taylor had a distinctly different public opinion on the feminist movement.
When asked if she was a feminist by The Daily Beast, she reacted: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I was… brought up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
But she wasn’t the only high profile celebrity to see feminism as unnecessarily antagonistic or divisive, Lady Gaga basically equated feminism to man hating when she said “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture — beer, bars, and muscle cars.” In an age which some have defined as the “I am not a feminist” era countless other women in the public eye denounced feminism for a milder, more digestible, and less threatening form of equality, and in doing so undermined the true meaning of the movement and themselves in the process. But I’m not here to judge, who could blame them, they were trying to fit and grow a successful music career in a world that hated feminists and women with a voice.
Conforming to the male gaze
As a 15 year old girl still figuring out what I thought and who I wanted to be this shaped my perception of what it meant to be feminist and what it meant to define yourself and your opinions in relation to those around. Instead of really understanding what feminism meant, aka the equality of men and women and the increased agency and freedom of women and by proxy men, I came to tone down my ideas of equality and injustice in order to appease those around me.
In my defence, I was a shy teenage girl (though nonetheless ambitious) tied down by what the world thought of me and with a need to fit in that defines the teenage years. While I was never that desperate to hang out with those at the top of the high school social ladder, I did look for peer approval. Whether in front of a bunch of Neanderthal secondary school boys who worshipped the girls that could run “almost” as fast as them, or in front of my female peers, I didn’t want to come off as too difficult or as a buzzkill. I laughed along with the sexist remarks with a nauseous feeling in my stomach, joined in with the ridiculous slut shaming of girls at my school, and when asked if I was a feminist, replied politely “not really, it’s too strong of a word, but I believe in equality” aware that I should not rock the boat and instead stay cool… “boys don’t like feminists”.
Be the cool girl
First the tomboy and then the cool girl trope appeared as the eras substitutes for empowerment, encouraging women to behave like men in the absence of true equality. After all being too feminine or a girly girl meant being superficial, dumb or the designated “bitch” (see every teen movie made between 1995-2015). Of course caring too much about gender equality, school or anything (apart from getting the guy) made you undesirable, pushy and probably gay (casual homophobia was also a big issue of the 2000-2010s). No, the middle ground and the best way to fit in with the guys was to be the cool girl, (think Jennifer Lawrence, or Mila Kunis in most of her movies), cool girls were easy going, probably good at sport, beautiful in a natural way and just had something about them…
That something was passivity! Cool girls were not feminists, they didn’t challenge the status quo, they certainly were not threatening and they distained of other women and female friendships.
Though a stepping-stone to defining women as something other than an object of male desire and more of an equal partner and mind, the cool girl or tomboy trope still defined positive aspects of character such as bravery, sporting success or uniqueness as male characteristics. Feminism never came into the question because these girls were already “equal” but were more importantly also attractive to men…what BS.
Let’s cut the crap
So what changed? Well society in part. Movements like #Metoo, body positivity or the Gen Z kids with their desire to change the world and their readiness to embrace diversity and equality have changed the way we see feminists and the way we see activism. Once upon a time, it was uncool to care too much or be truly passionate about something. In fact, the only thing that you needed to care about was how you looked to the opposite sex, now bigger things are at hand. Films like Greta Gerwing’s adaptation of Little Women, or the movie Booksmart provide the protagonist with meaning, agency and fulfilment outside of their relationships to men. Female friendship have begun to dominate on-screen stories, and we all learnt to give less of a shit of what other people and the patriarchy might think of us.
My personal perception of feminism changed the day I went to university and the day I met a group of women who were not afraid to discuss the ins and outs of gender inequality, usually with a glass of wine in hand. Thanks to the friend who was never afraid to voice her opinion even in the face of 10 man strong group of guys, or the friend who screamed at and scolded a car full of boys who were catcalling her, I learnt that having a voice is far better than sitting pretty.
Finding a group of women ready to challenge the people around them, helped me to see that feminism and standing up for yourself and for the equality of others is the coolest trend yet, let’s hope it’s here to stay!
Lockdown, quarantine, self-distancing…Covid-19, all words that hadn’t been part of our regular vocabulary four months ago and yet today it seems like not an hour goes by without hearing these phrases. What’s worse is that it’s so hard to look forward to the end of this whole mess because the truth is no one knows when the end will come, perhaps with a vaccine next year, or perhaps in a couple of months with an anti-body test? Who can really say? Not me that’s for sure! But, to make myself feel better I decided to search for those infamous silver-linings because this cloud like the many clouds before it must have one too…
While I am not suggesting this lockdown should go on after the end of the coronavirus crisis, the extreme and emergency measures taken by governments across the world – travel bans, and economic packages – do demonstrate what leaders are prepared to do in a crisis which threatens lives. When we emerge from this I can only hope that it will become harder for governments to argue against strict climate laws given the ongoing climate emergency threatening to put many more lives at risk.
Maybe this is the year humans realise that we are not invincible and begin to understand our fragility in the face of climate change. If one virus can cause this much damage what can global warming do?
Our Unsung-Heroes Finally Get Recognition
Doctors, nurses, carers, shop keepers, cleaners, farmers, these are the people that keep the country going, these are the key workers who are trying to protect us from disaster. From doctors and nurses putting their lives at risk, to the critical workers stacking shelves at the supermarket, this crisis has certainly made me stop and think about how society treats those most vital to its survival. From underpaid nurses, to social snobbery surrounding cleaners and shop workers it is time that we stop valuing celebrities, influences or football players, who contribute rather little to society, and start respecting and appreciating the ‘little’ people who live among you and me, the people that save lives and keep society moving in tough times and at all times.
The Age of the Influencer Is Over
As people come to realise the sacrifice, hard work and contribution of key workers, we might also start to see how little influencers and celebrities really contribute to society. Arwa Mahdawi‘s article on the guardian website sheds light on how the coronavirus has exposed the truth behind celebrity culture and capitalism, which is that the rich and famous are rather out of touch with the likes of you and me. While they scramble to stay relevant with their selfies from their pool front mansions the general public is becoming bored and pissed off…After all who needs celebs when you have videos of Italians singing from their balconies or videos of whole nations coming together in solidarity for health workers – it is this content that makes us feel like part of something bigger…not some (however well-meaning) patronising video of celebrities singing imagine to their followers some of whom might be facing unemployment, have little or no access to testing and are in lockdown in apartments and flats smaller than the size of Kim Kardashian’s closet.
What the crisis and lockdown has revealed is that celebrities are no better or smarter than the rest of us and without their red carpet they might even start to lose their shine. I don’t want to criticise the whole of the entertainment industry, because I do think the arts are so important in lifting people up, but I can only hope that it will be the influencers and celebrities with substance, meaningful content, genuine talent and creativity that come out of this more popular, after all who gives a dam about the Love Island hottie posting a pick of her back with the caption “we’re all in this together”…thanks hun I feel so much better now.
Talking is Back in Style
Despite my tyrannous rant against celebrity culture, I do want to end the post with a positive thought. If being in lockdown has limited our physical contact with people it certainly hasn’t limited our emotional contact with individuals. I think it is fair to say that skype calls, zoom catch ups and houseparty chats have opened us up to talking to one and other more often and more honestly. Whether it means getting touch with people you haven’t spoken to in a while or being honest about anxieties and fears I have found that virtual life doesn’t have to mean closing yourself off to human interaction.
Of course I don’t want it to be like this forever, but perhaps when we get out of this small talk might find itself replaced with more open and frank conversation prompted by our few months in isolation.
Following Tegan Francis’ exploration of what Feminism means to her, I thought I’d lay bare my own take on Feminism because while great mind do think alike, every perspective is a little different and here’s mine.
Let’s Focus on the Basics
Like any social movement in history Feminism came into existence with a specific mission or focus. While the Abolitionists focused on abolishing the slave trade, and the Chartists focused on the universal male suffrage, Feminism grew from the focus on women’s rights, whether it was the fight for women’s vote, equal pay, or the right to own property and to divorce. And, like other social movements in history, whether the civil rights movement or those that fought and continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights, Feminism has come to represent the pursuit of freedom, equality and liberation of men and women.
At its core Feminism represents a challenge to the unfair and biased status quo of society.
Still feminists have suffered from particularly negative stereotypes, they have been branded as radical bra burners, hysterical spinsters, and distinctly anti-men throughout the 20th century and even in this the 21st century. But to me Feminism should be seen as a decidedly rational and reasonable movement; it should be seen as unashamedly pro-women, distinctly pro-men, and increasingly pro trans- people. I say this because at its core feminism serves to challenge traditional gender roles, roles that have placed women in one box and men in another; stereotypes linked to biology, which ignore individuality and play into the intense and often subconscious social constraints placed on men and women.
The Feminist perspective allows us to challenge what a woman and a man should be according to our past and present patriarchal societies. It serves to level up the playing field and encourage men and women to look beyond how they believe they should act, who they believe they are, and the opportunities they feel they can peruse.
Men and Women Unite
Feminism involves both men and women with the backbone of the movement championing equality, and while some women might not always want to admit it, we need men in order to achieve this equality. In fact, a key milestones of the movement, that is the equality of the sexes, came about in the 1972 court case of Moritz v. Commissioner. Moritz, an unmarried man had been denied a tax deduction for the cost of being a caregiver for his mother simply because he as a man was not considered a caregiver. The Internal Revenue Service argued that the law stipulated a tax deduction could only be given to women or formerly married men. Ruth Bader Ginsburg a specialist on gender law and now a Supreme Court Judge argued that it was unfair to discriminate on the basis of Moritz’s sex and that he should be allowed the caregiver deduction whether he was a woman or man. The judge ruled in his favour and in doing so opened the door to challenges other laws which discriminated on the basis of sex, it also served to challenge the notion that only women could be caregivers.
So while women need men in order to further the cause for equality, men (although some might not realise it yet) need the Feminist movement to liberate them from biased social demands, toxic masculinity and outdated ideas of what it means to be a “real man”. By pushing for women’s rights, Feminism has allowed men to examine their own positions in society.
I would argue that a shift in femininity has increasingly allowed men to understand how media and culture have shaped ideas of masculinity.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that in challenging gender roles and femininity, Feminism along with the LGBTQ+ movement, has challenged traditional masculinity. In doing so the fight for equality has fostered discussions on men’s mental health issues, as well as the social pressures that men have and continued to face. For example, by asserting that a woman’s role is not just in the home, in other words that she should have the opportunity to go out and become a wage earner with a successful career, we begin to question why a man must hold the pressure of being the main provider or breadwinner: we have begun to acknowledge that ideas of what it means to be a good husband and a strong man can create huge stress for men from all walks of society.
So while feminism has opened women up to opportunity, allowing them to be more aggressive, career driven and outwardly ambitions, something which would previously have been seen as unfeminine and vulgar, perhaps the movement has the potential to open men up to new ideas of masculinity and reset the intense gender roles in society.
The Path to Equality Never Did Run Smooth
Its’s clear that challenging gender roles is the key to unlocking the path to more women in boardrooms and the key to easing aspects of toxic masculinity in our society; it is the key to affording men and women opportunities to take on different roles in society. But changing the way we understand what it means to be a man and a women is easier said than done.
Change has to start in the way we raise and educate children, because it’s the small subtle gender differences and subsequently limitations we instil in our children that go on to foster and fire up the negative and limiting gender roles of our society.
For example, while dressing your daughter up exclusively in pink princess dresses, and your son exclusively in a fireman’s uniform might seem harmless at first, the issue is much bigger with far wider implications. Why must girls aspire to be princesses, play with dolls, fairies and soap making kits when boys are encouraged to play with Lego, toy cars, and science kits? Of course boys also play in the realm of make-believe but the last time I checked Batman and Iron man were also businessmen and billionaires by day.
While the way children play is far less black and white than just Barbie vs Action man etc., the subtleties of how toys and the differing roles within play are marketed to parents and children filters into how men and women are defined in our society. Some might tell me “you shouldn’t always take things so seriously” “boys will be boys and girls just love pink”…But however harmless they might seem, many children’s toys embody the everyday sexism: Whether it’s the objectification of women in society or this idea of masculinity equalling strength and sometimes violence, such representations come back to archaic ideas of gender and identity.
Feminism and the move to a more gender neutral society has the ability to redefine and reshape how we teach children to identify with their genders, that being a girl is much more than playing house and that being a boy is more than playfighting and action man.
Nature vs Nurture
Of course many will disagree with me, arguing that blurring of gender roles has led to a crisis of masculinity, a crisis of marriages, maternal neglect and so on and so forth. Many dispute claims that societal conventions shape gender identity, these people would argue that you can’t fight biology – gender roles simply reflect the different biological makeup of men and women.
In part I agree – the experiences of men and women are and will in part continue to be different! Whether due to our society’s traditional and patriarchal ways or because of biological differences which feed into how men and women are perceived and how we perceive ourselves. And while I think it would be unreasonable to strip men and women from their gendered identities completely, heck where would I be if I couldn’t call myself a strong independent woman and revel in the best aspects of womanhood, our gender identities should be less polarised, more individual, and for heaven’s sake far more balanced.
This does not mean men must stay at home all day with the kids and work part time, it means that they should be able to do so if they so choose without judgement. Shifting gender roles does not mean men should feel threatened as women move up the career ladder, they should welcome change and a female perspective at the top. In the same way equality should, though admittedly does not always, mean that women have access to any path they choose whether that’s staying at home, perusing a full time career, travelling around the world, being a CEO or whatever career they end up persuing.
Feminism means understanding women not by their capabilities to reproduce or their value based on their appearance but by their true human worth.
It means seeing men are more than a provider or protector, but as complex human beings with just as many life stresses and even limitations as women. Feminism means valuing all forms of work, career, and life choices that women and men want to pursue, it means that specific jobs, roles, and characteristic should not be ascribed to a specific gender.
Feminism means opportunity and it means choice, and the sooner we understand the human similarities between men and women, that we all suffer from the social and emotional, physical and financial stresses of life, the closer we might come to seeing each other as equals in the home, at work, and in politics.
Step Four: Make a tonne of lifelong friends and get a good degree☒ ☒
Step Five: Leave university get a great grad job, become financially independent, and lead a fabulous life full of brunches, bars, first dates, new friends, and complete with hip apartment fit for only the coolest young professional… ☐
As the years of university flew by this idea of the perfect
post uni life remained the same. Shaped by images of shabby chic flats in up
and coming London boroughs, or by TV shows featuring a groups of twenty
something friends living in a Manhattan loft, the general idea of post-uni life
was hopeful to say the least. But as the final months of university passed by,
images of the perfect grad job, spacious apartments and chilled after work
drinks with pals began to fade into the reality of cramped London flats, nights
in with your mum and dad, and an unsatisfying work life balance. In the end the
excitement of leaving university can end up leaving you feeling lonely and
According to a recent study 49% of graduates felt that their mental health had declined since leaving university. And it’s no surprise, for the first time ever you are left to make your own choices and find your own plan. For years it had been pretty simple, you go to school, get into a good uni, and after that you had some vague visions of what life would be like. But now you’ve graduated and the life you might have pictured is not just vague it’s completely uncertain. Of course this uncertainty is not always bad, it can be exciting too, with the possibility of travel, seeing new places and meeting new people, but what I’ve found is the excitement comes in waves, followed by a tsunami of anxiety and worry about the endless yet paradoxically limited possibilities of post-uni life.
Welcome to Casa Mum and Dad
For many graduates, including myself, leaving university
means moving back in with your mum and dad for a little while. At first it can
be nice coming back to the reassurance of your childhood home; your room is
mostly how you left it, and your favourite home cooked meals are now a regular
occurrence again. In fact, the comfort of home after living in a messy student
house can be refreshing, and having your mum and dad around can be soothing…
until it’s not.
Let’s just say Sherlock Holmes has nothing on my mum when
she wants to know who I am texting and what the latest gossip is, and sharing a
TV remote with my Dad is frustrating to say the least. And although I’ve only
been back at home for two months even a couple of months can be a couple too
It’s not that I don’t like some aspects of being at home or that I won’t missed my parents when I’m gone, it’s just that right now I miss my independence and even my privacy. I miss being a total slob without my mum and dad asking me what’s on my agenda for the day. I miss going food shopping and making my own meal plans for the week.
I miss coming home from a night out at 3 am with my housemates in tow and spending the next couple of hours eating a grimy take-away as we debrief on the night’s events.
But perhaps most of all I miss being in a town, a city, because although Durham (my university town) might be tiny in comparison to London, it’s a hell of a lot bigger than the small village where my parents live and where the bus into the nearest city leaves once an hour… until 7pm when escaping the village is impossible without a car.
Long-Distance is Never Easy
One of the biggest challenges about leaving university is
having to say goodbye to your friends who may also happen to be your
housemates. Although I know we’ll see each other again it’s been hard knowing I
won’t see them every day and that we’ll have make it through long distance.
But perhaps the hardest part about long distance friendships post-uni is that there will always be a group within your group of friends who end up living close, with many graduates congregating in London. And while it’s great for when you need a place stay, if you choose to go against the grain and move to Manchester, Leeds, or maybe to a new country, it can be hard knowing that life goes on without you.
Whether its Instagram stories or tales from nights out, watching your friends make new memories without you can leave you feeling left out, especially when you realise that making new friends in the real world is a little harder than it was in fresher’s week.
For many there is a real pressure to leave university and
find that perfect job in the perfect location (usually defined as the London
metropolis), but this fantasy is often met with unexpected financial, as well
as social challenges.
Films like the Devil Wears Prada might have us believe that it’s possible to land a job as assistant to the Editor of Vogue without any prior experience or even interest in fashion, but the reality of endless application forms, the emphasis on previous internships, and the sheer number of graduates all applying for the same job would have us believe otherwise.
Experience truly reigns supreme, even trumping your actual degree classification. After all what’s a 2:1 without the sixth month (unpaid) internship on top?
The catch 22 of getting a job without any experience in order to get some experience so that you can get a job can be exhausting.
Eventually you might land a job, but that doesn’t mean it’s
the perfect job. I know some friends are struggling to find excitement in their
job while those in their dream jobs might be struggling to cope with the
workload and pressure that comes with working in certain industries. And even if
you land a job you’re excited about, it doesn’t mean it will impress everyone,
nor fit the high flying aims you might have previously had.
I myself applied for a graduate scheme in Germany with a
pretty big sports apparel company. In the end they didn’t give me the job but
they offered me a 6 months paid internship, something I am really excited
about. It’s an opportunity to learn and gain experience to take forward to a
potential grad scheme next year. But despite my pride, a friend seemed to pity
me when I was venting how nervous about my first day. Trying to make me feel
better, they explained that there was no need to worry, ‘’it’s not a real job, it’s
just an internship’’…
This one hit me pretty hard as the days I had spent working on my application video, weeks waiting to hear back from the hiring manager, and the hours I spent preparing for the assessment centre all came flooding back. To me this internship was something I couldn’t be more proud of, to them it was not even a real job, and certainly not worth getting nervous about.
Social Media Strikes Again
Not only do we want to fulfil our own expectations, we want to meet the expectations of others, whether that’s society’s expectations, peer pressure, or the need to make you parents and family proud.
But when we come up short, or even come up trumps, the reality rarely meets those earlier visions of what post-university life would be like.
Of course feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and anxiety are not helped by social media post from those seemingly high achievers with their perfect life, perfect flat and maybe even perfect relationship. But the chances are even those insta achievers might be struggling with post-uni life (why else would they seek reassurance on social media).
So maybe it’s time we all opened up to each other a little more, instead of making things a competition about who made the best post-uni career leap, let’ just take a step back, congratulate each other on getting through the roller-coaster of university and be sure to give each other a helping hand when it comes to post-uni struggles and fears.
Concentrate on making your own way in the world and stop comparing yourself to others.
When you’re in your 20s there’s a lot of pressure to be living life a certain way and being on track to achieve particular goals. As we’re all aware, there’s a spotlight put on the younger generation that creates an immense sense of pressure to be constantly thriving and paving the way for success. While it’s all well and good to have these long-term goals, it’s important to consider the smaller things in life that help to foster a positive environment and mindset. I’ve compiled a list of a few mentalities, though somewhat cheesy, which will help you live your #bestlife.
1. You Do You
Not to be dramatic, but there is nothing worse than constantly living as though you have to meet someone else’s expectations or act a certain way. It is so much more fun, and just generally nicer, to be yourself and embrace your passions and quirks and do what makes you happy. If you see someone successful it can be incredibly easy to think you have to mould yourself into a clone of them in order to have any chance of achieving the same goals. Now, while fake it till you make it may be true in some cases, you can’t live your life pretending to be someone else. Do what truly makes you happy and live the way you want to. (Unless that involves being a being a violent criminal, exploiting others and stealing…you get my point) In the end, what will make you stand out is the “something different” that only you can bring. Obviously, this can be hard at times. It’s so easy to want to remain another face in the crowd and not do anything different for fear of standing out but someone has to set those trends, so why not you?
2. Who Actually Cares?
Maybe you’re feeling self-conscious about a certain outfit, or you’re not sure whether you should post that photo on Instagram. I don’t want to invalidate your choices and make you feel insignificant, but it’s honestly not that deep. If you feel comfortable and happy in something, then that will give off a much stronger impression than anything your outfit itself could. When it comes to posting content, people will scroll past and forget about it far too quickly for it to have any lasting (negative) impression. Besides, it’s your page and you should post whatever you want your account to represent – the unfollow button is right there for anyone who wishes to use it. Almost all of these little things you do will play a much more all-encompassing and significant part in your own life than in anyone else’s. Just remember that everyone is dealing with their own stuff and won’t be overanalysing your actions as much as you might think (if at all).
3. Snip Snip
I am such a massive advocate of “snip snipping”. There is so much stress in our everyday lives that you should have no business hanging around people who don’t enrich your daily life. If someone is being constantly negative or making you feel bad about yourself when you are with them, I have some great advice – don’t listen to them! Of course, you shouldn’t just start ignoring people and being rude, but make a conscious effort to surround yourself with people who you enjoy spending time with. Until you really consider it, you may not even notice the negative impact someone may be having on you. As easy as it can be to make excuses or justify their behaviour, you are the most important person in your life, and you can’t be waiting around all day hoping that someone will change. You need people who constantly inspire and motivate you to be the absolute best version of yourself that you can be.
SIDENOTE: It can be hard if your friend is struggling with a mental health issue that makes them prone to negative thinking, but make sure you tackle the issue with sensitivity and remember that you are not there to be their therapist, nor do you have to share their mindset. Though you should always aim to be a supportive friend, it’s not healthy for anyone involved if this starts taking a toll on your own mental health too.
4. Just Do It
It’s cliché, but it’s true. It’s much better to have lived a life full of “oh well, there we go” than “what if”. If you want to do something, then you should absolutely do it. It can be so easy to second guess yourself and question whether you should do something you want to. By regularly stepping out of your comfort zone you are constantly expanding it and allowing yourself to grow. Of course, it never seems so simple, but with spontaneity comes limited time for overthinking. Not to be crass, but the best thing you can say to yourself is just “fuck it”.
5. Judging Someone Doesn’t Make You Cool
With the increasing prominence of social media, everyone is much more hyperaware of themselves and what people think of them. Don’t add fuel to the fire by (outwardly) judging someone and criticising them for their choices. If you want to be able to live your life the way you want, give others the same courtesy. Though knocking somebody else down may seem like a sure-fire way to feel better about yourself, you will feel so much happier when you bring someone up. When you compliment someone else and build them up, you foster that positivity within yourself. Unless a person’s actions are inherently wrong or having a negative effect on someone, it is not up to you to condemn or comment.
At their core, these ideas are pretty basic but sometimes it helps to be reminded of little ways in which you can reinforce a positive approach to the little things in life that all contribute to the greater picture. Essentially, despite the era of likes and follower counts that we live in, make sure you are living life for yourself and not for the validation or approval of others. You’ll never be able to please everyone and trying to is a futile exercise that will only leave you feeling miserable. These things are always easier said than done, but every little helps.
First published in the Palatinate November 15th 2018
Over the past few years, extreme weather has become a regular feature across the globe and as fear mounts for the future of our planet, companies are beginning to realise that there is some opportunity in climate change. Decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources, for example, protects us from oil price shocks while also reducing our impact on the planet.In emerging countries the move to a green economy offers a wealth of opportunity.
Across the globe, innovation in green technologies has helped to drive economic growth – and not just for developed nations. In emerging countries, green technologies and the move to a green economy offer a wealth of opportunity.
As research and greater investment into new technologies increases, so too has affordability and accessibility. With this, tech start-ups in ‘developing’ nations are taking on the opportunity to combine economic possibility and entrepreneurial genius with green sustainability.
First and foremost, I would like to preface this post with one disclaimer: mental health, like physical health is something we all have, but the degree to which it is “optimally-functioning” is something different altogether. So how then do we approach discussing mental health conditions, which are intrinsically personal and private conditions, in the open in order to achieve a balanced, comprehensive and compassionate understanding and awareness?
Let’s Open Up
When it comes to the presence of mental health issues in the media, I am very torn between two ends. On the one hand, greater discussion about mental health and mental health issues is undoubtedly a great thing for everyone. With more discussion come increased diagnoses and, hopefully, increased support and recoveries. If people understand what is going on in their brains, and they feel more comfortable opening up about it, how can anyone complain? There has been a greater focus on the very real presence that these issues have in our society, with many celebrities even contributing to the dialogue. This increased openness can help “sufferers” to feel less alone in what can often be very isolating and lonely times.
Needless to say, there has been a spike in the number of people suffering as a result of their poor mental health, and this isn’t a passing trend we should be adhering to; it represents a fundamental issue in society which we should be investigating
What’s in a Word?
However, what if having certain “buzz” words constantly circulating in society is causing an opposite, negative effect? Though, of course, many people suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression, these words have made their way into our everyday vernacular in the same way that we use “morning” and “night”. Far too often the statement “urgh I feel depressed” is thrown around as though it means nothing, when in fact to feel depressed is a very serious issue. With the traction these words are gaining, more and more people are becoming desensitised to the full weight of these words. The word “nervous” is being replaced by “anxious”; a very normal mood swing can lead someone to label themselves “bipolar”. As we become more comfortable using these previously ostracised terms, we may be getting too casual with them. IS there such a thing as too much awareness?
Striking the Right Balance
I’m partial to a good meme here and there (who isn’t?), and I am definitely one for using humour as a defence mechanism. The thing is, how do you know when a joke carries a deeper meaning? When does a coping mechanism become a cry for help? It becomes much harder to distinguish between what is real and what is just “joking”. The onslaught of #relatable content is somewhat bittersweet in its ability to provide comfort and respite, yet aid the normalisation, and perhaps trivialisation, of serious issues.
Many TV shows, such as Skins and 13 Reasons Why, have been accused of glorifying, and even promoting, mental illnesses. So where do we draw the line? We want greater awareness, but not too much. If depictions of those struggling are “too real”, then they are considered a danger to and harmful for viewers. Conversely, if an issue is glossed over in order to limit the need for viewer discretion, are we then not undermining the experiences of those suffering from mental health conditions? It seems to be near impossible to strike the right balance and decide on which stance to take, though I suppose this is not surprising for such a complex and inherently personal issue.
The Social Media Menace
Perhaps the significance of our own online presence is also to blame. While we are constantly reminded that “social media is not an accurate portrayal of someone’s life” (after all most of us will admit to sharing only our highlight reel) we still often forget that a social media persona is rarely a reliable representation. Consequently, we want celebrities to be frank and honest, to show us that their seemingly perfect lives are neither attainable nor realistic. However, when these more personal and candid insights are divulged, these celebrities’ struggles are oftentimes invalidated as those with affluence have “no reason” to be suffering. We encourage celebrities to be open and exposed, only to allow us to tear them apart more easily. We crave integrity and realism yet fault human imperfection. Is it then any surprise that so many celebrities too fall victim to mental health struggles? (Regardless of previous predispositions.)
It is as if a certain criterion has been set by society for who can and cannot qualify for having a mental illness. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, though; we have been force-fed a belief that money and success come with a heightened state of happiness, rather than at its expense (which can often be the case). With an increased societal pressure to work the hardest and longest, along with employers’ higher expectations of what being a good employee entails, is (job) success really the antidote to sadness?
Where do we go from here? With everyone’s differing experiences with mental health issues – from severity to complexity to proximity -, how can we ever hope to have the correct kind of dialogue? Then again, maybe any publicity really is good publicity; as long as we are talking about it, we are doing something right.
Living on the edge, and daring to test your physical limits — some have made a career pushing themselves to explore the extremes of sport. From Hannah Teter (Olympic snowboarding champion, halfpipe), to Stephanie Gilmore (six time world champion in surfing), or Danny MacAskill (expert trails cyclist), these adrenaline junkies are anything but tame! In our everyday lives, we spend on average nine hours in front of a screen each day, maybe it’s time to wake ourselves up, and got that blood pumping…and I’m not talking about going for little jog around the block. Here are five extreme sports you should try at least once before you die.
Skiing/Snowboarding (off piste)
Classic extreme sports, alpine skiing and snowboarding are all about speed, technique, and style. For a lot of people out there, especially those living up a mountain these sports might not seem so extreme, but to those not accustomed to the world of winter-sport, the idea of bombing down a mountain on two wooden planks might seem at a least a little daunting. From the Apres-ski aspect of the sport, to the high that comes from gliding across a mountain, the wind rushing past your face, skiing and snowboarding are sports that everyone should have a little taste of.
Fair warning: be prepared for the bruises! While I have been skiing since the age of 4, I gave snowboarding a shot for the first time just a couple of years ago, and there was a lot of crashing out, bruised legs and bums, and hard work just to master the basics (let’s just say, I am not a natural born snowboarder.)
For a more extreme take on the sport, give off piste skiing, free style snowboarding (and skiing), or ski jumping, a try. One thing is for sure, once you’ve mastered any one of these forms of winter sport you will be the coolest kid on the slopes. If you think winter-sports might be for you click here for more info.
If you have a fear of heights, maybe avoid this one…but if you love being up high with a view as far as the eye can see, this sport may just be for you. This one requires a lot of concentration, endurance, and core body strength!
The great thing about rock climbing is that indoor walls provide a in a low risk environment where you can really give the sport a try, get to grips with the basics, until you’re ready, and qualified to take on a real rock face. There are of course many different forms of climbing, some carrying more risk than others. Take free solo climbing, which basically involves no ropes, protective gear or harnesses…its highly dangerous and really only reserved for the hyper-adrenaline junkies (and the highly experienced rock climbers out there). Other forms of rock climbing (less likely to result in sudden death) include mountaineering, top rope climbing, or sports climbing! This BBC article covers everything you need to know about getting started.
Be at one with the waves…or something along those lines. Surfing has to be one of the coolest sports around. With your board you are literally treading water, floating above the sea, just you and the ocean. It’s one of the sports I have always wanted to try, and someday I’ll get there.
Of course this one is not as easy as the professionals make it look. Balance is key and pure muscle strength is 100% necessary if you want to look like a seasoned expert on a board. With the help of wave machines surfing can be accessible in locations all over the world (not just the surfing paradises of Hawaii, Australia or Portugal). Take the Eisbach Welle in the middle of Munich city center, a man-made wave on the river that runs through the park. Everyday surfers gather to take it in turns on the wave, practice their moves, and get down with their surfing skills. For more information on how to get started with surfing have a peak at this guide by Degree 33 Surfboards.
Ok, so this one gets more extreme the better you get. Slacklining involves balancing on a slack-line, which can be hung, well anywhere you choose. Between two trees, just above the ground in a quiet park (for all those beginners out there), or between a wide canyon, 100ft above the ground — take your pick!
This extreme sport is all about persistence, practice and pushing your body’s senses. From bringing new tricks to the table, to going beyond what people though could be possible. One thing is for sure, you have to be pretty fearless to take this challenge on, and for all those starting out, patience is a virtue, and it’s a lot harder than you might at first think! Check out this article on tips for slacking-greatness from Redbull, the masters of extreme sports.
It’s time to hit the trails, get back to nature and work with your bike. Mountain biking takes a lot of skill and quick thinking. A popular sport across world, it requires a lot of nerve. Moving, swerving and jumping over rough terrain, why not take on the challenge?
Its up to you how far you go with it, from recreational mountain biking, to competitive racing, this sport is worth a shot, and a great way to get outdoors and active! Find out more here…
If you ask anyone who regularly scrolls through their Insta feed, if they have ever felt insecure or inadequate after looking at a photo posted by a fellow user (celebrity or not), they will doubtlessly say yes! And if they say no, well, they’re lying.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a massive hypocrite, I’m only human after all. While I don’t have a personal Instagram account (I deleted it one summer after becoming fed up of endless bikini beach shots), I do regularly scroll though Facebook, mindlessly reading subpar memes (ok some are actually quite funny) or catching a glimpse of a photo of someone who is virtually a stranger to me. And for what?
I tell myself I need Facebook to stay up to date with events going around me, maybe I’m scared my friends won’t include me in any plans if I’m no longer in our group chats. Is it because I have this constant need to stay relevant and in the loop, a need for likes and attention? Or because I am too involved in a reality, which fails to acknowledge the need for privacy, for alone time, and for genuine friendship?
Why, Why, Why?
In the end it comes down to the fact that social media is addictive. It plays on human traits and characteristics, on our need for approval, social competitiveness, jealousy, and on our insecurities. Every time we post a photo or a status, and every time we get a ‘like’ (a virtual, if disconnected, compliment), endorphins are released in our brains. We feel happy, successful, at least in that moment when we see the notification icon light up with a little red dot. We keep coming back for more, seeking approval, equating likes to popularity, to success and to friendship, mistaking appearance for substance. The worst part of all? Most of the time we don’t have the faintest idea of the kind effect our own photos or posts are having on our followers, or the influence others, such as companies, media outlets or even our friends are having on us.
The Good Ol’ Days
Before the web and social media, in the good old days, showing off and sharing photos, equated to gathering on a sofa looking through some prints from your cousins’, friends’, or even grandparents’ holiday, maybe you would be treated to a slide show if they were feeling a particularly impressed with themselves. The need for approval echoed the same motives behind our obsession with Facebook or Instagram, but with one key difference — context.
Looking through photos together, hearing stories, and anecdotes, which were often both good, bad and hilarious, is something we don’t really see on social media. No one, or rarely anyone, writes a huge caption about the fact that they had food poising just 24 hours before that perfect beach photo was taken, that they were oozing grossness from both ends of their body, that life is not picture perfect! That couple, always posting selfies together, don’t explain that they were fighting just ten minutes before that adorable photo was posted. That seemingly perfect girl, who always looks flawless in her pictures won’t share that it took her 500 shots and 300 different poses to get the right one. Hey, even that girl power pop queen won’t let you know it took 3 hours of makeup and a fair amount of photo shopping to look like a plastic Barbie doll.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
It seems like we have to look effortlessly perfect 24/7, appear cool and interesting. But what’s cool and interesting about being the same as everyone else? About sharing that holiday snap with a caption of a sun emoji? What does that tell me about you? In a world of fake news, and fake boobs, why can’t we just be honest with each other? In my perfect world social media as we know it today would not exist. But since this is an unrealistic expectation, I simply crave the day when someone posts a great selfie and captions it ‘I was feeling a bit bored and down today so wanted some likes to boost my ego’ (Hey, we’ve all been there). Or ‘Yeah I do have an amazing body, but it takes me a hell of a lot of work, and sacrifice, and there are days when I don’t think it’s worth it’.
Better yet would be if people began posting messages of substance. Images that reflect their intellectual achievements, talents, or skills. Why is our focus always on appearance and never of how we feel or what we think? Why do we never look to those achieving amazing feats, but instead worship the surface beauty of a handful of rich celebrities? And even when someone posts about an experience or even a hard time in their life, they simply get branded as attention seeking, while that vapid selfie get 100 likes!
‘Hello, it’s the Real World Calling, We Want Society Back’
Maybe it’s time we put the phones down and stepped away. It’s time to go outdoors, meet up with friends, try out that new sport, and visit that art gallery we thought looked interesting. Even just for an afternoon, or a Saturday, what if we left our phone behind us just for a few hours!
All this is not to diminish the positive aspects of social media — that is one thing I should make clear. In many ways social media has worked to improve society, helping groups, who may otherwise not had the chance to find their voice, get their message heard. When it comes to women and this idea of the perfect body it’s true that platforms such as Instagram have helped to widen this definition, to make clear that we do come in all shapes and sizes.
Yet there remains this fixation with appearance over what’s inside (as cheesy as that might sound). And while a good friend pointed out to me the other day that in many ways an Insta profile is a form of art for the modern age, — it is a representation on how we wish to be seen, not the reality — I only ask that people take a look at themselves and think about who they want to be and what they think society should look like… Maybe it’s time we added some meaning to those smiling group shots and pouting selfies, at least once in a while?