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Body Positivity with an Ostomy talk

My talk for the Steel Belles WI in Sheffield about body positivity, ostomies, feminism, body hair and being fat.

 

Probably NSFW due to my sweary Northern gob…

 

 

You can buy the t-shirt I am wearing here and £2.50 from every sale goes to Purple Wings Charity.

Every now and then I fall apart…

If you aren’t singing Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler after reading that heading then what are you doing with your life? 

Ok, enough 80s awesomeness. I’m not feeling awesome. And that pisses me off. 

After 3 1/2 years of surgeries, scars and ostomies I have gotten used to this body of mine. More than used to it, I’ve learnt to feel proud and brave and strong. I’ve learnt to love it. 

Yet every now and then I fall apart. It’s a weird one as I do genuinely love this body of mine, fucking hell I talk about it enough. I blog, vlog, Instagram and tweet about it. I get paid to stand in rooms full of other humans and talk about it for fucks sake. But sometimes, just sometimes it catches me off guard and I feel shit. 

I was listening to the Guilty Feminist podcast (you should all go listen to this IMMEDIATELY!) and one of the women was saying that sometimes when she hears people telling her she should love her body she thinks ‘Fuck you! You don’t know my body, it’s a right bitch!’ and along with making me laugh, it made me think about how it’s ok for me to sometimes be thoroughly fucked off with my body. 

It let me down! It got sick. And this stupid kind of sick where it’s hurting itself! Auto immune disease means my body is literally attacking itself. It’s like when your older sibling takes your hand and slaps you with it shouting ‘stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself’ but there’s no old, mean brother or sister. You’re just slapping your own face. Stupid body. 

Then doctors fixed me by taking my bowel out and sewing up my arse hole.  Man, I miss farting.  My ileostomy is the end of my small intestine pulled out through the wall of my abdomen. On good days I say it looks like a rose bud. On bad days, I think of it as a scary leech face. 


I wear this bag 24 hours a day. And it’s literally the butt of every joke about something old, smelly or disgusting. Society thinks of colostomy bags (they’re usually not well informed enough to know about ileostomy bags) are gross, hilarious or downright disgusting. And that hurts. It hurts that most people see my illness as an insult. 

Even in the most well meaning of places I hear negativity. I heard someone saying that if they were about to be sexually attacked, they’d shit themselves. Because that makes you gross, disgusting and definitely not sexy.  As a woman who shits in a bag on my belly I can tell you that one knocked my confidence. 

I mean she’s right, shit isn’t sexy. (I suppose it is if you have a fetish in that!) but it made me think about how someone like me can be seen as sexual when every romantic liaison comes with an ostomy bag thrown in? 

Usually I cope well. Mainly because I’m fucking awesome. But every now and then I fall apart. 

Tonight I got out of the bath and changed my bag. I looked down and it caught me off guard. I cried. A lot. I sat in the bathroom wishing I had a pretty and perfect body. I’m a feminist but… (you’ll get this when you’ve listened to the guilty feminist podcast!) I wished my body looked like a woman from a magazine. 

Worry not, I’ve pulled myself together and reminded myself that even the women in the magazines don’t look like women in magazines in real life. I’ve reminded myself that there’s no point wasting time wishing this away, this is my lot now. I have no bum hole people! It’s not going to change!!! And if I ever get abducted by aliens then at least they won’t be able to probe me… 


I suppose this is why I do what I do. Why I speak openly about my illness and my body. Because though sometimes I fall apart, I have also learnt to live, thrive and kick ass with my body. 

I know how it feels to be let down by your body. How isolating and soul crushing it can be.  The road to self love isn’t all sweetness and light, no Kardashian is going to hand you a can of pop and make your world better. It takes time, work, sharing and looking hard at what you want. But you can get to a place of self worth and celebration. 

You just have to accept that even the most badass of people have times when every now and then they fall apart.

When I hated my body

Before I had kids I was a size 8. After I was anywhere from a 12 to an 18. It was a shock to see my body change so much and I hated it. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be sexy, or beautiful, or attractive. I’d been taught that fat people were disgusting, or shameful, or ugly. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be clever, or professional, or respected. I’d been taught fat people were the butt of the joke, they were the low paid staff in a dirty polo shirt. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be loved, or celebrated, or rejoiced. I’d been taught that fat people were the funny friend, the sad spinster, never, ever the leading lady. 

When I hated my body, I called myself horrible names. I said I was vile, disgusting, wobbly, ugly. I’d been taught that this is how fat women talk about themselves. 

When I hated my body, I thought weight loss was the answer to everything. If only I could be a little slimmer, I’d be happier, smarter, sexier, prettier, more confident. If I could fit in a size 10 then all the shit things in my life would be better. 

When I hated my body, I used it as an excuse for all the things that went wrong. If I were thinner, it would all be fine. 

When I hated my body, I pushed my husband away. How could he possibly fancy me when my thighs touched, my flesh hung down, my boobs flopped. I had learnt that men only fancy thin women, that beauty looked one way and that way was thin, toned, perfect. 

When I hated my body, I hated myself. 

Then I got really ill. Medication couldn’t control my IBD and I went into hospital. I was shitting 30 times a day and had a constant flow of blood pouring from my arse. The options were laid in front of me and surgery was my choice. I was cut open and my colon removed, my ileostomy was formed. I was broken, scarred and had to wear a bag of shit on my stomach at all times. 

More and more surgeries came and more and more scars. My poor battered broken body looked so sad, it was scarred beyond belief and so weak. 

It should have cemented my hatred for my body, but oddly something else happened. I felt pride. I felt that my body had been through so much and I was still standing! Slowly, I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt that I’d hated my fat body for so long and it was entirely unfair and unnecessary. 

I learnt to love my body. 

Now I love my body, I accept it for what it is, I like its solidness, I like my thighs, I think my scars are interesting and oddly beautiful. 

Now I love my body, I realise that anyone shallow enough to dislike me for my size is not someone I want to spend time with. But generally I realised that no one gave a shit!

Now I love my body I know that my size has no relevance to my intelligence, my character, my humour, my awesomeness. 

Now I love my body, I celebrate it. It’s brilliant, look at it dance, look at it swim, look at my belly rolls, they’re super cute. Look at my scars, they show that I’m a fucking badass. Look at my big arse, it is amazing!

Now I love my body, I can trust it to my husband. Who, by the way, it turns out never gave a shit what size it was. 

Now I love my body, I can speak honestly about it. Yes, it’s a bit fat. I’m a size 16-18 and I’m not embarrassed by that. Sometimes I think I should lose a bit of weight, I worry about my hernia and know that if I was a little lighter it would be easier on the repairs they already did. I can say this from a practical and straightforward place, not one of shame. 


Now I love my body, it makes me sad to see people around me hating theirs. I wish I could flick that switch and show them that they are brilliant and awesome and beautiful and their weight and shape has no bearing on who they are. 

Now I love my body. 

And that’s a great sentence to be able to write. 
Love

Sam xxx

He. 

It was 1995.  I was 14. I met him in Meadowhall, he called out to me and said I was beautiful.  I was flattered as he was older. If an older man thought I was attractive, then I must be pretty cool, right?

He caught my hand as I walked past him and his friends, pulling me towards him. I blushed and looked at the floor. He called me gorgeous and said all the things that men in movies say to women.

He asked for my number and I got flustered, I told him I was 14 and he couldn’t call my house as I’d get in bother with my mum and so he gave me his and told me to phone him.

I did phone him. That means I wanted it, doesn’t it? He said he was glad I called as he’d been thinking about me all day. I was flattered.

He asked me to his house, I asked if his mum would be in and he laughed and said he lived alone. He was 20, he said.  I told him again I was 14 and he laughed and said I was really mature. I felt proud.

I got dressed up. I wore a short skirt, a top and my denim jacket. I put on make up. I want to look pretty for my date.

I went to his house alone. I wasn’t dragged or threatened. I’m a stupid girl, aren’t I.  He had a room in a shared house and so we had to go to his bedroom. I thought we were going to talk.

He pushed me back on the bed, I panicked and tried to sit up.  He tells me that I’m gorgeous. He says I came for sex. I’ve never had sex before, I snogged a boy once.  I’m scared.  I try to act like a grown up in a film, I toss my hair over my shoulder and laugh. I say let’s take it slowly. Let’s go out.

He gets angry. He says I’ve led him on. What am I? A dick tease? He thought I was a proper woman, not a stupid little girl.  Why did I come there if it wasn’t for sex?

I’m scared. I start to cry and try to get off the bed but he pins me back. He says I’ll enjoy this. He is on top of me, pulling at his jeans as he pulls up my skirt. I freeze. I don’t fight.

Before anything else can happen, there’s a knock at his door, it opens and his housemate laughs and says he’s sorry to disturb us. I get up and run.

I run out of his room and down the stairs. I run out of the house and down the road. My chest hurts but I don’t stop running till I’m home.

I don’t tell anyone. I’m ashamed and blame myself.

I talked to a stranger. I phoned him. I wore a short skirt and lipstick. I went to his house. I went to his room. I didn’t fight.

I never knew I’d been sexually assaulted. Because I was taught that rape was a scary man in a mac who drags women off a street corner.  I always believed that I’d made a huge mistake, I blamed myself entirely.

It was only recently that I could actually accept that this man had deliberately used me as a young girl.  Isn’t that sad. I didn’t know.  I thought it was just a rubbish experience that I had put myself through.

I read about Adam Johnson and that he has been found guilty of sexual activity with a child and hear he will be imprisoned and I sigh, thankful that life is getting better.

Then I read the comments in the news and on social media.  That girl was asking for it. She got in his car because she wanted to. She was loving it. What was she wearing? What sort of girl is she? And I realise that we still live in a world where victims are blamed. Where children are used by adults yet we still look to the actions of the child.

Where thousands of girls in Rotherham were groomed and abused, brainwashed and hurt, yet society didn’t protect them because they weren’t women dragged off the street, screaming and fighting by a man in a dirty mac.

We need to open our eyes, see the many shades of assault, that it’s rarely black and white. That although no always means no, sometimes it’s too scary to utter that word because you’re frightened of what will happen.

For years, I carried this with me and always blamed myself for putting myself in that situation. I didn’t tell anyone as I was sure they’d say I was stupid.

Enough.  I wasn’t to blame. I was a child taken advantage of by an adult.

Let’s speak out and end the cycle.  Teach our children that they aren’t to blame and they can speak out.

No more silence.

 

If you need support, get in touch with The Survivors Trust.

How we look and how we feel

Before 2013, I didn’t have the best body confidence.  I was a size 16 with stretch marks and wobbly bits, I had carried, birthed and fed three big babies (9lb9oz, 8lb1oz, 11lb) with one c-section to boot.  Before I had kids, I was a size 8, after my first I was a size 16 and that weight never really shifted.

I was constantly dieting, I would lose weight but then gain it all back again plus a little more.  I hated my body, I thought it was flabby and ugly, it wibbled and wobbled and definitely didn’t look like the women in magazines.  After years of this, it started to piss me off and I sort to find better role models, I stopped buying crappy women’s weekly mags whose aim in life is to point out the flaws of women, I started to think about the qualities that were important in life, rather than the physical appearance of a person.

But it was hard, and mainly I just felt a bit sad and disappointed in my body.  I have been a size 16 for 15 years now and I have learnt that society views me as fat.   I can’t always buy clothes I want as shops either don’t go up to a 16 or they don’t have them in stock.  I know that on the BMI scale I am in the upper part of overweight and when I go out in town, I see people judging me.  But I carried on, with the ever changing diet and dreams of skinniness.

And then in September 2013, I got so ill with Ulcerative Colitis that I had to have surgery to remove my colon and give me an ileostomy bag and everything changed. All of a sudden my focus wasn’t on the number in the back of my dress, or the size of my backside, it was on survival and recovery, of getting over the surgery and learning to live with a bag of poo on my tummy.  All of a sudden, all those worries over calories and cellulite, fat bits and wobbly arses seemed silly.

I have been looking back at photographs of myself and I realise that the things I look at aren’t how big my thighs are, or my stretch marks but that I am healthy and happy.  Even though these images were taken during the 10 years I had with Ulcerative Colitis, they were also during remission periods.  I look at these now compared to my scarred and stoma’d stomach now and wish I had appreciated my body a little more!

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy

 

The next photos were taken whilst I had my first ostomy, it had been a huge shock to me but I was happy to be feeling well.  I went travelling three months after surgery to Vietnam and Australia, it was hard work but it was so important to me to take control of my life and not let my stoma stop me.

During this time in my life I just felt so happy to be alive! I started to love my body, I celebrated that my body had survived the surgery and began to love myself.  I stopped giving a shit about my cellulite and I wasn’t concerned about my stretch marks, I was just grateful to have a body that worked.

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy

 

The next shots are from after my reversal, I no longer had my ileostomy and had my jpouch, but the jpouch wasn’t working so well.  I started to feel panic about my body failing me again.  Thinking about my body physically stopped being about the parts society tells me are wrong, my weight, my scars, it was about my health.  My concern was that my pouch wasn’t working, that I was having accidents and that I was going to have to have more surgery.

Honestly, it was a sad time and I think you can see that in these photos.  I had accepted my body for it’s physical appearance but my health worries were a very difficult and heartbreaking time.  I regretted my decision to have the jpouch and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy jpouch

nude beach stone balancing so bad ass sam cleasby

 

And we come to now… I am 6 weeks post op and I now have a permanent ileostomy, I have a bag for life!  How do I feel now? To be honest, I think it is just too early to say, I am relieved to not have pouchitis any more, I am happy that I don’t shit myself, but the bag is something I still need to get used to.

ileostomy bag stoma ostomy permanent ostomy after jpouch removal

I am being careful not to put my stress and unhappiness onto my stoma.

The past few months have been the hardest of my whole life, I had rejection over my book, I am moving house and have had 6 months of stress regarding this move, my grandfather passed away in January, I am feeling insecure in my writing and work and then I had major surgery!!!

I have so much on right now and life is very overwhelming, I take on so much and I think I need to step back from some things that aren’t vital.  I am a parent governor, I run the South Yorkshire Crohns and Colitis group, I work for lots of different people as a freelance writer and life is hectic.  My family is going through everything I am and my kids are stressed out, I am a swan, I am calm on the surface but paddling like fuck under the water.

So with all of this going on, I don’t want to put my emotional state solely on my stoma.  I am struggling, I feel anxious, overwhelmed and ever so sad, but with so much going on, I think I need to give myself a break.

What I refuse to do now though is to berate my body, to feel bad about it. I refuse to diet, I refuse to conform to how society wants me to look.  Everything I do regarding my body is going to be what I want, fuck everyone else.  This is MY body and it has gone through a lot, I am going to celebrate the fact that despite 4 surgeries in 3 years, I am still standing.

So #effyourbeautystandards and rejoice that we are here, we are unique, we are beautiful.  And I don’t need to be a white, size 6, able bodied 20 year old to be fucking awesome.

sam cleasby body positive plus size ostomy ileostomy colostomy

 

Wonder Woman Wednesday

Each week I celebrate wonderful women that have rocked my week.  I’m going for groups and collaborations this week as I really think that together, women make an unstoppable force!

This week is all about these bad ass ladies…

 

Girl Gang Sheffield


Girl Gang is a Sheffield based, female centric events company run by Vanessa and Ellie, two amazing women who are spreading a bit of naughty fun through the city!

From film nights to music events the brain children of Girl Gang are kicking ass. By day they are the owners at Creepstore and Handmade Cinema and I for one want to be in their gang!

 

Seven Hills Women’s Institute

 

Seven Hills WI is Sheffield’s largest WI and has hosted both myself and my husband as guest speakers over the last couple of years.

As they say themselves, they are more belly dancing and bellinis that Jam and Jerusalem!  Interested in joining? They are full this year, though you can go along as a guest, but you can put your name down for next year here.

 

Get Your Belly Out

 

Get Your Belly Out is a campaign aiming to raise awareness of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, more commonly known as IBD.  Founded by 4 campaigners, they have raised awareness and a shed load of a cash for Crohns and Colitis UK! 

They also just got a Pride of Britain award!!! Ladies, I salute you!

 

Everyday Sexism

 

The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis.  These guys are making a huge difference and getting the world to speak out about the unacceptable, yet often overlooked sexism that women face every day.

 

Go take a look at some of these wonderful women and celebrate the women in your life who bring you joy and to quote Girl Gang “Do rad stuff and change the world!”

 

Sam x

Excuse me! I am here!

I am well aware of the Everyday Sexism project and applaud it’s work in giving an outlet for every woman to share instances of sexism in their lives.

“The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.”

I identify loudly and proudly as a feminist and I see the issues around inequality on a social scale; the pay gap, victim blaming and many other issues.  It worries me for my daughter and future generations, but on a personal scale I can say that I rarely have instances of sexism in my day to day life.  Perhaps that is because I work from home in an office with my husband, perhaps it is because I am confident and strong willed and others would see that I would call them out on it? Or perhaps I just don’t notice.

So it was a shock to me when I had an experience where my gender became an issue.  This year I have been working for a few different clients, sometimes alone and sometimes with a colleague.  On some occasions I was working with a male colleague in a situation where I was leading the project and he was learning on the job from me and this is where it all got a bit odd…

We entered the workplace and found the person we needed to see, I introduced us both and the company and put my hand out to greet them.  This person turned away from me to my male colleague and said hello, she then addressed all her questions towards him.  He told her that I was “the boss” and he was there as an extra pair of hands.  She seemingly ignored this and continued to address him over me for the entire day.

Now, I suppose there could have been other reasons behind this, but it very much felt that she assumed as he was male, he was in charge.  I let her know that I was leading the project and any questions she had, she should let me know and I would address them.  I am a friendly and open person, so I can’t imagine that she had taken a dislike to me.  It was all very odd.  We laughed it off and the day continued.

Only the following day, it happened again! Are we really so ingrained in a male dominated culture that we can’t imagine an event where between a male and a female, the woman is in charge?

Another time, we were staying at some accommodation.  I was driving (my male colleague can’t drive), and also towing a trailer.  As we arrived at the hotel, the owner came out to greet us, he went straight to my male colleague and spoke directly to him, despite the fact that I had booked directly with him and all correspondence came from me.  He then showed us where to park addressing my friend, he was told that I was in charge and I was the driver.  It was at this point that he asked me if I would like him to reverse the car and trailer into place for me!

HahahHAHAhahAHaaaa!! (That’s a manic laugh…)

 

laughing mum and son

Charlie and I think your sexism is hilarious…

 

What is funny (odd, not haha) is that I actually feel uncomfortable sharing these events, I feel that others will think I am making something out of nothing, that I am imagining the worst and assuming sexism.  Perhaps these people were “traditional” or “courteous”.

Or perhaps we are so deep into a culture where it is assumed that women aren’t the boss and can’t drive that it is seen as acceptable to act like this?

Don’t get me wrong, I know these events are so minor in the grand scheme of things, they were a tiny irksome point in my day, nothing compared to the huge scale inequality going on in other parts of the world.  Nothing compared to women who are verbally abused in the street, sexually attacked, nothing compared to those fighting for justice for women.

But it is these little things that make up the day to day sexism that we live through.  There are stories today about female only carriages on trains, an idea based on making women safer as they travel.  This kind of act puts the responsibility to deal with harassment or assault onto the victim instead of the perpetrator where it belongs.  It is another aspect of a victim-blaming culture of ‘why didn’t she keep herself safe’ rather than ‘why did he harass/assault her’.  I really don’t think we should be “shaming women into limiting their environments, but focus instead on teaching men not to degrade them.” (Via everyday sexism Twitter)

I am aware that the remarks by Jeremy Corbyn were based on him saying he would like to open a dialogue about safety on public transport and came from comments from women to him (I am actually a big Corbyn fan!) and also that this idea is one about immediate safety whilst the issues of public attacks on women is addressed, but what a sad world we live in where women can’t feel safe just getting the tube home from work.

Often the response to women who point out inequality is that men are just trying to help, the old ‘we can’t even hold a door open any more’.  That’s just silly, please do hold the door open for me if you see me coming, but not because I am a woman, just because it is a nice and polite thing to do, I hope you do it for everyone.  I am happy to ask for help if I need it, I am not ashamed if I can’t do something and will ask for assistance, but please don’t assume that I need help because I have a vagina. Don’t assume I’m not the boss because I have a vagina. Or that I can’t drive.

In fact, that is probably a good rule of thumb…

Don’t assume anything about me because I have a vagina.

 

 

Sam x

 

 

Why I don't want my daughter to pledge her virginity

Over in America there are these frankly bizarre things called Purity Balls, no, it’s not a cleanser for testicles but an event in which young girls pledge to their fathers that they won’t have sex before marriage.  Within the conservative christian movement, these purity balls are spreading and now happen in 48 states across the USA with daughters committing to “live pure lives before God” to their fathers.

The images of these balls show young girls dressed in white, like mini brides, standing by their fathers, wearing suits akin to a groom.  The ceremonies have a similar structure to a traditional wedding with vows, dinners and speeches with the average age of the girls being 12 – 13, the kind of age where puberty is becoming more apparent.

The Christian Centre, which holds purity balls in Illinois states on their website; “We hope you will join us as we encourage young women to commit to moral purity” claiming it “holds high the banner of purity in the midst of a culture that destroys it.”

I have issues with this.  LOTS OF ISSUES.

Where are the purity balls for young boys to pledge their virginities to their mothers?  Or is it just the thought of women as sexual beings that appalls society?  Why is it not as important to these folk that their sons stay ‘pure’ till marriage?

Let’s think about that word ‘pure’, the opposite being what? Purity with regards to sexuality assumes that sex is an impure act.  That being in a sexual relationship before marriage means you are not perfect.  What a load of shit! Sex is not dirty or wrong, sex is sometimes a beautiful act between people who love and trust one another, it is sometimes a physical act of pleasure and nothing more, and yes, sometimes it can be about violence, power or ignorance.

Let’s teach our children about the joy of sex and what a wonderfully, deliciously perfect thing it can be in the right circumstances.  I don’t want my daughter to pledge us her virginity, I want her to pledge to us that she will come to us if she needs advice or support.  I want her to pledge that she will accept education around pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  I want her to pledge to us that she understands that sex within a relationship of trust, care and love is bloody wonderful.  I want her to pledge to us that she enjoys her sexuality and knows that any choices about her body belong soley to her and that she should never let others shame her.

We talk a lot in our home, we openly discuss things that in my youth would never have been spoken about. We tell our children that even if something feels embarrassing, that we will answer their questions and always tell the truth.  The idea of forcing them to swear to us that they won’t have sex before marriage seems crazy!

I can’t help but think that a child that pledges this at 12 has no idea of how she will feel at 16, 17 or into her 30’s and 40’s! Many women now choose either to marry later in life or not at all.  For this generation of women, marriage is not the be all and end all it was in the past and the idea that women must ‘save themselves’ is outdated, sexist and upsetting.  ‘Must’ being the operative word there, if women CHOOSE not to have sex before marriage then that is up to them, but it should be their choice and theirs alone.

I can’t help but think that girls who are pushed into making this pledge will face problems as they get older and have the natural sexual urges that we all do.  Sex then becomes a thing of guilt, shame and fear.  If at 16 or older (the legal age limit in the UK) they choose to have sex, they could feel a sense of guilt, an inability to speak to their parents, a fear of accessing sexual health clinics.  I fear it will result in a higher rate of teenage pregnancies and STD’s as well as a disconnect from their families.

It also completely denies the idea that these girls may be gay, trans or any form of sexual identity other than heterosexual

Sexual education is key to raising children into happy, well rounded and confident adults.  My education doesn’t differ that much between my sons and daughter.  They all get the same advice, we talk about the physical act of sex, the biology of it all.  But far more importantly, we talk about the emotional and social aspects of sex, about respect, trust, pleasure and love.

I was raised in a Catholic family and so shame and guilt were par the course! But I want my children to be raised knowing the joy of sex, the pleasure gained from sharing a deeply personal act of love.  I want them to know it is special, but that they have to make their own choices once they are 16, (and I do stress the age thing, not just because of the legal side, but because of the emotional maturity needed to deal with a sexual relationship).

I want my daughter to know that any slut shaming she faces is not ok.  That her body belongs to her, that I hope she makes good, healthy decisions and looks after her body, and any negativity she faces for expressing her sexuality is not ok, but unfortunately ingrained into some sectors of society and says more about them than her.

I want my boys to know the same values, but I feel I have to push harder against the shitty parts of life where women are taken for granted and so I hope they will grow into men who know that every relationship should be nurtured, that sex is about trust, pleasure and joy not power or violence.  That their gender doesn’t allow them a carte blanche to treat others badly.

I want them all to know that whatever their sexual orientation, that we will love and accept them and though I sometimes casually use the word ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’, what I mean is ‘partner’ and as long as they are happy, then we will be happy.

Above all, I want them all to know that they can speak to me or their dad and that we will try our best to accept, guide and support them in any questions or difficulties they face.  I don’t want a pledge of virginity, I want a mutual respect and love between us that means they can come to me if they need me.

These purity balls seem an outdated and irresponsible idea, let’s stop shaming our young adults into an inability to express their sexuality and help guide them through the minefield of emotions surrounding sex, feelings and relationships.

 

Sam x

 

Image by David Magnusson

"Feminist" underwear

I saw this post last week about ‘feminist underwear’ and was immediately intrigued.  “Feminist lingerie is the body positive underwear we’ve been waiting for” screamed the headline, now as you know I am both a proud feminist and also a big champion of women being body positive and so I clicked on the link, unsure as to what I was about to see.  Neon Moon is a kickstarter fund to create a feminist lingerie brand that does not sexualise or objectify girls.  All good so far, right?

“By taking the time to support Neon Moon’s campaign you are making a statement to the world that you want change, and your voice will be heard!” – Hayat Rachi, CEO and Founder of Neon Moon… Ok, fab, tell me more!

Using ‘real’ models these bra and knickers are supposedly promoted with an ethos of empowerment, body confidence and the non-objectification of women.  Models were asked not to shave and were chosen for their average sizing and there is no photoshopping in the adverts.

Neon Moon lingerie feminist underwear

Photograph – Via Pinterest Neon Moon

The premise of the bras sounds great, yet I have a few issues with the actual products.  They have no underwires and use soft cup bamboo fabrics and disturbingly the size Large is just a UK 12-14.

As a size 16 myself I am upset and to be honest, appalled, that this ‘feminist brand’ is not including women who are at the UK average size.  I think part of the issue with body issues and fashion is feeling that you are not catered for.  This brand can’t profess to be about body confidence whilst telling their audience that being a size 12 is large and if you are a 16 or over that you cannot buy this product.

The collection “does not incorporate any padding, push-up, or wired attributes, the Bamboo fabric and shape is designed to work around the body, instead of the other way around.”

I have a huge issue with the idea that underwired and more supportive underwear is in some way against feminism? I have massive boobs, these puppies need support.  Not to make me attractive to other people, not to present my breasts in a certain way, but because the flesh in my breasts feels better when it is in a supportive, underwired bra.

When we come to the idea of advertising in a way that doesn’t sexualise women, I feel a little confused.  Who is decided what is sexualised these days? If you are showing items of clothes that fit around genitals and breasts then you are probably going to get someone who finds any image a bit sexy.  Asking the models not to shave seems a bit patronising to me, as if hairy pits are the epitome of what a feminist is.  I am a huge fan of using models of all different sizes and shapes but it feels awkward for this company to have used women who aren’t a typical model 6 but then not cater to the larger women out there.

My other issue is that I feel the brand is suggesting that if you wear lacy or silky undies, that you are in some way not a feminist.  I can assure you that the style of my knickers does not affect my beliefs that men and women should be treated equally.  Women’s rights are about choice, and if I choose to wear a black satin bra or a ruffled lace knickers and stockings, it is not because I want to perform sexually for men.  I wear them because I want to, because they make me feel beautiful.  The idea that I have to wear bamboo, ugly, ill fitted underwear to be a strong woman is laughable!

This feels like a company using the idea of feminism to sell a product and that kind of sucks.  The company have reached their goal on the kickstarted page and so perhaps they will develop their ideas and sizing further, but I am afraid currently Neon Moon is not for me, not only because I can’t fit my ass in their pants and that I would knock out small children if I attempted to wear their bras but because I just don’t like the product.

I am ALL about the body confidence, but that means choice.  I can choose to wear the sexiest underwear out there, it is not a reason for others to make a judgement on me.

Size wise, all companies need to realise that they can’t refuse to cater for a large section of society without pissing those people off!

What do you think?

 

Sam xx

 

Bloody hell! Why don't we talk more about periods?

Tennis player Heather Watson has sparked a debate on menstruation recently when she explained in a post match interview that her performance wasn’t up to her normal standard because she was on her period.  Though she actually said “I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things.”

Girl things, Aunt Flo, monthlies, having the painters in, the crimson wave, falling to the communists and the one that I hate the most, on the blob!  There are so many sayings for menstruation and I wonder why we don’t feel comfortable using the M word.

The media are all talking about periods this week, my friend Chella Quint runs a project called Period Positive and was on Radio 4’s Womans Hour talking about menstruation.  She is a menstruation education researcher and her project encourages open dialogue without shame, she has some really interesting and entertaining views on tradition menstrual product advertising.  You can listen again here

ibd blogger office loo toilet ulcerative colitis

I think it is brilliant that we are talking about something that women deal with every month but it’s actually surprised me in seeing these articles and hearing the radio show as it pointed out to me that it isn’t the norm.  We don’t usually talk about periods in mainstream media, something that is totally normal sign of a healthy body.  Why are we so embarrassed?

My daughter is almost 12 and so our ‘period talks’ started a couple of years ago.  We are a very open home and always aim to talk honestly and without embarrassment about anything the kids need to know.  And so we have talked about cycles and ovulation, uterus’ and vaginas, but also how it feels to have a period, the concerns she has (she worries that she will start and look down to be covered in blood) and the options she has in menstrual protection. (Tampons, sanitary towels, moon cups).  I also speak to the boys about it and my husband talks to all the kids as much as he can.

I found it interesting to discover that professional sportswomen track their menstruation cycle as much as they do their water intake, their training and muscle/fat ratio in regards to their performance.  They even email the coaches the first day of their cycles so everyone is in the loop!  It makes sense, it isn’t about excuses, it is about accepting that this part of female physiology has an effect on our lives, and not necessarily negative effects, some studies show that people are more creative during ovulation.

I love Chella‘s work, take the time to go look through her brilliant projects, she brings the subjects of periods (as well as feminism, science, comedy) to the forefront with funny, innovative and clever projects.  I have learnt so much from her (including this week the discussion that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate identify as women, something I have just never thought about before).  I have talked about her before and it is awesome to hear her in the mainstream press! Woop!

When I think back to my menstrual education, I think it was rather limited.  I don’t remember my mum ever having a conversation with me about it, and though I lived in a house with her and two much older sisters, we didn’t talk about it at all.  We had a talk at our Catholic Primary school delivered with much embarrassment and I was too afraid to put my hand up and ask an questions.  We just came away with the little blue tampon holder that I used to keep in my bag at secondary school because it gave the silent idea that I had ‘started’.

I was about 14 when I did start my periods, quite late compared to most of my friends and I remember coming home and going to the loo, when I looked at the tissue I saw blood.  I called my mum at work and said “ermmm there’s blood when I have been to the toilet”, she asked if it was from my bum (?!!!) which is quite ironic considering that in years to come the answer would have been yes!  I told her that it wasn’t and that I had started my periods.  She muttered something about bringing pads home and I told her I already had supplies and was fine.  We never mentioned it again.

stains menstruation periods chella quint

I can see me going the other way with my daughter, I might throw her a ridiculously over the top ‘Welcome to Womanhood’ or ‘first moon’ party, with streamers and cake… Not really, but I will definitely continue to talk to her about her body, her feelings and the changes she is going through both physically and emotionally as I want her to know that she can talk about these things without any embarrassment or shame.

Shame is something that Chella talks about in her work, Stains, how advertisers use shame and embarrassment as a tool to sell sanitary products to women.  Playing on a fear of women leaking through to their clothes, marketers have pushed their products on us by making the idea of a leak the most humiliating experience anyone could ever have.  Then there is the blue liquid… and the roller blading.

Advertising does seem to be getting a little better, with more adverts aimed at younger women and better language and comedy being used.  I loved this advert… The smiles, the positivity, “the red badge of courage” – just brilliant!

 

Menstrual education will only get better the more we all talk about it, answering questions honestly and without embarrassment.  Don’t rely on schools doing the talk for you!  Talking about periods should be an ongoing thing, it can’t be all taught in a one hour lesson in the school hall, we need to keep talking about the physical and emotional aspects of menstruation with our children, boys and girls.

There are some great books on the market that work well as both information for children and as a talking point for parents and kids together.  We have Lets Talk About Sex which is a great overview of puberty in general, and I just bought What’s Happening to my Body for girls, as we have the boys version and it was a helpful book.  There is so much great advice online too, but as a parent you should check it out before sharing with your kids.

I think as a society we need to be more open to talking about normal bodily functions, as you may know, my motto on this site is #stoppoobeingtaboo – I say this as the more easy it is for people to talk about poo, the better it is for issues around health, self esteem, mental health and isolation.  The same can be said for menstruation – the more comfortable we are in talking about our own bodies without using baby names or hushed voices, the better our health will be and the easier we will find it to pass on to the next generation.

Chella believes that menstruation education should be:

  • Free, unbranded, objective, and inclusive of reusables like menstrual cups and cloth pads
  • Consistent, accurate, up-to-date and peer-reviewed
  • Supported more comprehensively by the National Curriculum, particularly in Science and PSHE
  • Aimed at different age groups, starting before puberty, and revisited regularly
  • Inclusive of different genders, cultures, abilities and sexualities

I would add to that using the correct words for genitals.  People are definitely more comfortable in using the word ‘penis’ more than the word ‘vagina’ but it is really important to me that in our house we use the proper terms.  When I had my son at 19 I was so embarrassed when the midwife asked me during labour where the pain was, I replied “In my tutu”

TUTU people!!!!

Nowadays I am happy to say that I have no shame in talking about vaginas and because it is just something we do, all three of my kids do too.  We were in the car recently with the kids and a friends child and the conversation got onto vaginas (don’t ask, the topics my kids talk about are often surprising!), the friends child (who is male with a male brother) said something about babies coming out with wee.  My son told him that women have “two holes down there AND a bum hole!”  The lads mother found it all hilarious and when I was telling her about it in her kitchen, the lad came running down with a puberty book open at the vagina diagram and asked me to point out the holes!

It is a funny story, but how bloody great that our kids feel confident and safe enough to ask these questions and have these discussions out loud! As a woman who used the word tutu till my twenties, it is a whole new world! And I am loving it!

So let’s all make a stand and talk more about Aunt Flo, having the painters in, shark week or any of the other sayings for the good old period!

 

Sam x

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