I love Autumn. I love the colours. I love the weak November sunshine. I love the glow of lights coming shining from the interior of a cosy pub. I love the puffed dragon’s breath of exhaled air on a cold, crisp, but sunny morning. As the leaves fall from the trees, it feels like a period of transition, a time when we ourselves are invited shed restrictive patterns and start afresh. The hedonistic fractiousness of the summer seems to fade, replaced by something slower, comforting and calmer. The moreish, punchy sangria that is Summer matures and simplifies to the Autumn/Winter’s rich, full-bodied glass of red wine.
I feel better than I did in Summer. Without wanting to speak/type too soon, in some ways I too, feel that I’m becoming calmer, more balanced. Like the trees, I’m shedding the excess. Shaking off dead leaves. Still growing, but a little more firmly rooted. I’m ever so slightly less frantic, less panicked. I’m fully embracing Autumn’s heralding of a more restful, restorative period.
This Autumn I’ve been trying to think less and do more, whilst at the same time not punishing myself by keeping furiously active. I’ve been trying to obsess over myself less. I’m getting stronger and softer physically. I still worry and feel anxious, as does everyone, but certainly not to the extent I was a few months ago. The weight on my chest has lightened. I can usually escape the whirlpool of worry and anxiety I would’ve been sucked into, drowning, in summer. I am able to breathe a little easier.
This season seems irrefutably reflective (what else is a glass of large red wine for other than to sip, warmed from the inside, musing on life and love and why Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ is playing on an loop inside my head? Just me? Oh well). In any case, I can’t help noticing that I’ve got a hell of a lot to be grateful for. I’ve got an incredible family unit. I’ve got some fantastic friends that my improved attitude has allowed me to have some lovely days (and nights!) out with. I’m being kinder to myself, more flexible, less rigid (most notably with food – I allow myself things I wouldn’t have even dared look at a few months ago – but I like to think I’m now more open to the opportunities life has to offer in general). I’m trying to trust the universe to see me right. I graduate (this week, in fact), with a good degree. I’ve been lucky enough to win some prizes for my work. I’ve made my parents proud. I’ve been welcomed into a new job that I enjoy. I’m trying not to let it’s temporary nature and the uncertainty of my future scare me. I work with some fantastic children and some very kind souls. Every day presents something new and usually gifts me with a genuine laugh and plenty of smiles. Life with an incredibly loving but cheeky puppy has been an utterly new experience, but is slowly settling down! He is pleased to see me everyday, and the love I get from him on a daily basis is a gift worth taking note of. I’m making time for meditation and yoga. I cut my hair off, shedding the old hair like the trees shed the leaves. I feel lighter. I’m trying to be kinder, more relaxed. I’m lucky. I’m making an effort to notice that, and keeping my complaining and irrationality to a minimum.
As Autumn comes to a close and Winter gently yet firmly sidles ever closer, like the crunch of wellies in dusty white snow, I feel cautiously…happy. I’m feeling infinitely more excited about life. I’m lucky. I want to just keep falling more and more in love with life. Life has seasons. For what feels like a long time I’ve felt bare and dark, naked and vulnerable. Fragile. Dull. Dead. At odds with the Autumn/Winter landscape, the stark trees, I’m actually daring to believe I can flourish. I feel (hope!) that I’m getting my spark back (or gaining one!). I’m capable of feeling a fizz of excitement inside me again. I’m growing. I might have previously looked down at the Autumnal leaves, trampled underfoot, and seen a dismal dark sludge. My mind is now clear enough to see the orange, the gold, the vibrant red. The beauty in the shiny brown of a precious conker. As the seasons change, we all have the chance to be born again, to restore. I’m grateful that I’m more grounded than I was. I wish for my roots to spread, to smile and genuinely mean it, for love in all forms. I want to keep looking up at the clear, cold blue sky, admiring the minimal branches of the unadorned trees, hearing birdsong, and feeling my heart to sing response. I am thankful for the happiness I feel and my only firm goal currently is to attract and incite more joy in myself and others.
I am the world’s worst decision maker. Or at least, I’m up there. In the top twenty, for sure. I basically need a flow chart to decide what socks to wear in the morning. I find having multiple options vaguely terrifying. If I were to psychoanalyse myself, I’d say it’s likely rooted in a deep fear of failure, of making the ‘wrong’ choice. The inability to make swift decisions can strike whether the choice is minor or major, life changing or inconsequential. Case and point: I once cried, age six, in The Disney Store, unable to choose between a Tigger watch with a green strap or one sporting Oddball from 102 Dalmatians with a blue strap. It just felt so incredibly vital that I made the right decision. Fifteen years later, this indecisiveness has, unfortunately, remained a resolutely unshifting facet of my character. Incidentally, I chose Oddball. Probably appropriate.
So yes, it’s fair to say that I find decisions difficult. But lately, I’ve been confronted with a hell of a lot of them. I’ve just finished my degree in English Literature, a broad degree that offers no firm direction. Everything is incredibly uncertain, career-wise. I’m unsure what to pursue, and having to decide what the hell I’m actually going to do with my life is, to say the least, pretty f*cking overwhelming.
A more pleasant decision and immediate decision to be made, as opposed to the foggy realm of my future career path, was going to choose a puppy this weekend. I nonetheless found it ridiculously difficult. I looked down at three beautiful puppies. They all had faces constructed by the angels. Big brown eyes blinked endearingly. Wet noses nuzzles, tiny sandy tongues licked affectionately. I loved them. I loved them all. I wanted them all. I needed them all. It took an age. I ummed and ahhhed, cradling each one, wanting whichever was pup I currently had in my arms. It seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick between them?! But pick I did. I chose a red pup – the one I’d held first. I cradled him like a tiny furry child and as he blinked up at me, I followed my gut instinct and said that this was the doggy for me. Signed, sealed, (and not quite yet) delivered, he’ll become part of the family officially in three weeks. I adore him already. I look at his picture and melt, reduced to a ridiculous, soppy mess – or rather, an even more ridiculous, soppier mess than usual.
In the end, I made a choice. I’m incredibly happy with the one I made. I’m happy with my judgement. Sure, in the case of the four adorable puppies, there’s wasn’t exactly a ‘wrong’ choice. There was no bad outcome, nothing major at stake. I was either going to get an incredibly cute puppy or an incredibly cute puppy. But what I feel I can take from puppygate is this: I was able to make, what felt at the time, like an incredibly hard decision. I was able to make a choice and not regret it. Often we just have to decide, and get on with it. More often than not, we’ll make the right one. Perhaps there aren’t even any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions. Just decisions. Life will constantly present us with choices that have to be made. The trick seems to be not to panic when they do. I’m going to try and view having multiple options in a more positive light, follow my gut and just get on with it. Another positive note: all future life choices will now be made whilst petting a dog. It might also make me more decisive: ‘Right Pup – One Bark for Yes, Two for No – what do you think?’ The new puppy will be lucky enough to hear me rambling on incessantly, and will in all likelihood become the silent, furry, adorable equivalent of a life coach. God help him. He’ll get lots of cuddles, though.
Let’s face it, any film that involves David Bowie, the Jim Henson Company, and lashings of quintessentially 80s cinematic magic was destined to be a cult classic. I will love ‘Labyrinth’ forever (you know, it’s not long at all). It has an incredible soundtrack – I’m fairly certain that synthesizers sound upon entrance to the gates of heaven. It’s undeniably quotable. The Goblin King, and this is the key pull for many of us, is brought to life by the Thin White Diamond Starman, the late, great Mr. David Bowie himself. There are Muppet-esque creatures involved. Jennifer Connelly is sublime and I’m of the firm opinion that her eyebrows should be credited in their own right. The film exudes glitter. What is not to love here? It’s 101 minutes of pure fantasy fun. It’s trippy as hell – particularly the infamous Firey scene. It’s mad and it’s magic in equal measure.
I’d argue that Labyrinth has as much to offer an audience today as it did back in ’86, and this is not even taking the iconic insult; ‘your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark!’ into consideration. It taught young ‘uns everywhere not to graffiti – apparently it really pisses Hobgoblins off. It also likely acted as the sexual awakening for thousands of young teens across the globe – Bowie’s leggings were, to point out the painfully obvious, snug. As important as all of these points unquestionably are (particularly the film’s emphasis upon balls – crystal, that is, get your mind out of the gutter, people) – I’d say that we can take some morals from this bonkers, inherently 80s moviethat are actually pretty integral life lessons. Sarah may have only had thirteen hours to complete the Labyrinth and reclaim her baby brother from the mesmerising, permanently smirk-wearing Goblin King, but she packed a hell of a lot in, and learnt a fair bit on her travels. I think it’s fair to say that the Labyrinth and it’s assortment of oddities can teach us all a thing or two. Here goes…
1) Things aren’t always what they seem. Lavish presents might not always necessarily be something you should welcome with open arms – you never know what may be expected in return. Be wary of Goblin Kings bearing gifts. (Note: this lesson can also be eked out by a little something called the ‘Trojan Horse’, though the perpetrators were, in this case, Greek rather than Goblin). On a more positive note, ‘Labyrinth’ demonstrates that there are likely to be doors where none can immediately be seen. Opportunities can arise when you least expect them, and that’s why it’s so crucial to keep on going, even when things seem pretty bleak.
2) Perseverance is key. Although undeniably rash in wishing away sweet, stripy little Toby, Sarah’s old ‘Come-On-Feet’ attitude is pretty inspirational. I know that Sarah has a minor strop upon embarking on the old baby-brother retrieving quest, but I’d probably waste approximately twelve of the thirteen hours crying, trying to get phone signal or fritter away the time on something equally unproductive. She makes the mess, but she sure as hell gets herself out of it again. Impressive.
3) If a talking worm gives you advice, it’s worth listening to. Good advice can come from unlikely places. So, next time a neighbour says ‘Ello and offers some friendly advice, go on, go inside, go and meet the missus. Perhaps not when you’ve got a thirteen-hour deadline to save a small child from spending eternity as a Goblin, though. If this is the case, you might want to get a move on.
4) Sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and make a choice, even when the right decision isn’t immediately obvious. Up or Down? Left or Right? Become the Goblin Queen or make it back in time for your Finals? Whichever choice you make, it’ll likely all turn out okay in the end, and you’re likely to meet some ‘Helping Hands’ on the way.
5) Friendship is crucial. What Donkey sang in ‘Shrek’ is so very true – you gotta have friends. Even though Sarah eventually confronts the Goblin King alone (that’s the way it’s done, after all), there’s not a chance she could’ve gotten as far as the castle without a little help from her friends. A wide variety of friends means having a great range of skill sets to rely on. It’s important in life to have friends that you know you can turn to, should you need them. Sarah, Hoggle, Ludo, Didymus and Ambrosius are unquestionably #squadgoals. Take that, Taylor Swift.
6) We needlessly cling on to a lot of junk, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I am a self-confessed hoarder and am guilty of hanging on to things in the vague hope that they might one day prove ‘useful.’ I am also liable to lug a lot of emotional baggage around with me daily. Like Sarah, it’s worth acknowledging every now and again what’s junk and what isn’t, and recognising that sometimes we need to let go of what’s holding us back for our sanity’s sake.
7) The only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves. I often find myself telling myself I can’t do something before I’ve actually tried to do it. Next time I’m bogged down in the marshy Swamp Of Eternal Self-Doubt I’m going to take some inspiration from Miss. Williams and take the (sometimes terrifying) leap of faith in the Escher Room of life.
8) A less inspirational, but nonetheless practical piece of advice: Don’t take food (or drink) when you’re not sure where it’s been. Might have a worm in it. Not the talking kind, either. Could also be spiked with a hallucinogenic. In the realms of the mythological pantheon, it hasn’t seemed to do many young heroines much good – (I’m looking at you, Persephone). Don’t risk it, kids.
9) Stand up to bullies. I ADORE Jareth as a character, but he’s unquestionably an arrogant, scheming, downright nasty piece of work. Also, ‘Labyrinth’ is a strong indicator that the old adage of bullies only being bullies because they’re damn miserable themselves generally has a lot of truth behind it, as unsatisfactory as this saying is if you’re the unfortunate victim of an caustic, sparkly tyrant. Think about it, wouldn’t you be pretty miserable whiling away your days in a filthy throne room surrounded by drunken goblins and a more than healthy amount of chickens? As the Goblin King croons…the lost and the lonely, that’s Underground. Aw. But still. Drugged peaches are never an acceptable seduction method, and using ‘Cleaners’ as an intimidation technique was a low-blow. Not cool, Jareth.
10) The way forward is sometimes the way back. Although Hoggle scoffs at this particular piece of advice, I think there’s something pretty valuable to take from the Wiseman’s words. That’s not to say that we should obsess over the past – it’s over after all, and pretty damn impossible to change. I’d argue that a little introspection, however, can result in both a happier future and a lot of personal growth. Note: I’m talking about contemplative, non-judgemental self-reflection on past-behaviour here; I’m not a proponent of torturing yourself by mentally replaying the moment you said/did that one really stupid thing yesterday/last month/in your third year of highschool on an infinite loop. This will only cause you to spiral into a hellish circle of embarrassment and self-hatred. Like Elsa The Snow Queen (different movie) – You need to let that sh*t go.
11) But remember, words have power, and you can’t take back things said in anger. Also, smugness tends to not pay off. Try not to employ the phrase ‘It’s a piece of cake!’ with too much regularity. The universe will reprimand you for your complacency. Good things rarely follow.
12) You’re braver than you think, and no matter what you’ve done, redemption is possible if you want it enough. Hoggle is convinced that cowardice is an inherent part of his nature, and feels no choice but to play delivery-boy in Jareth’s dastardly scheme to wear a magnificently spangled jacket, get blue highlights, and dance with Sarah. Although Hoggle understandably crumbles under Jareth’s threat that should he refuse, he’ll be relegated to the Bog Of Stench, he redeems himself by aiding Sarah, Didymus, Ambrosius and Ludo in storming the Goblin City, saving their lives through his courageous actions.
13) Families are tricky. You love yours. No matter how much your family annoy you or how dysfunctional your home-life is, you know damn well you’d cross the Goblin City to rescue your fam if the need arose. So, next time you’re wishing your whiny little brother away to the realm of the goblins, perhaps reconsider.
14) Don’t let anyone own you. Not even really sexy Fae Royalty. You’re not something to be bought. Not for all the empty promises and crystals in the world. And remember – the kind of love that demands submission as a prerequisite and brands fear a necessity is no kind of love at all. Despite what anyone tries to tell you; they have no power over you. The only person in charge of you is you. You’re a strong, independent human being that don’t need no Goblin King, girlfriend.
15) Scrabble is always a rousing choice at house parties. Don’t try and play against Sir. Didymus, he will thwart you in the most valiant way possible (V-A-L-I-A-N-T, 7 letters, 12 points). Another lesson learnt from Sarah’s victory celebration bash: build bridges with your enemies. One thing I would point out here, however, is that the sight of Jareth in owl form, peering into the festivities wistfully from the outside, breaks my sentimental little heart every time. Poor little Goblin King. Come on Sarah, you know you want a game of Scrabble with the King of the castle. It’d have been nice if she’d have been magnanimous enough to let him win, that time. Pick your battles, and all that.
16) Glitter improves everything. If there’s one thing that the Goblin King taught me, (aside from how to make outrageously tight leggings a credible style choice, that is), it’s that glitter is akin to Oxygen. Glitter makes everything better. Want to make a dramatic entrance? Arrive in a shower of glitter! Got a dungeon? Make sure it’s full o’ them sparkles. Want to wear lipgloss? That’s cool, as long as it’s Xtra Glitz. Jareth exudes glitter. I like to think that the Oubliette in the Labyrinth encapsulates my entire aesthetic – y’know, a mess but…a glittery mess.
17) Time is short. As Jareth reminds Sarah, time is a tricky mistress, particularly when you have a mercurial Goblin King able to manipulate the clock seemingly upon any minor whim. Make the most of every second – you never know when the clock will strike thirteen.
So remember, life might not always be fair, but baby, that’s the way it is. Get on with it, do the best you can, and when in doubt, Dance Magic Dance. Try to live every day with Sarah’s strong-will, Ludo’s kindness, Didymus’ valour, Jareth’s sass, and a dash of the general Goblin populous’ enviable ‘live for today, drink lots of Ale, have a fight with a few chickens on the way’ mentality. You are all Babes With The Power, and deserve to shine as bright as Jareth’s wardrobe. Keep calm, and like the Firey’s advise…’don’t lose your head!’
Yesterday, on a whim, I bought a book called ‘Reasons To Stay Alive.’ I only picked it up because it was in the reduced pile. I’d never heard of the author, Matt Haig, but I’d seen the book before. It had been well-publicised. I vaguely remembered seeing it smattered across every prominent surface in every other bookshop I entered a year or so ago. As I took it to the counter, the elderly, irresistibly chipper bookseller peered down at the book quizzically. “Do you need reasons to stay alive?” he asked unexpectedly, piercing blue eyes twinkling at me behind his glasses. “Well…” I replied, probably sounding a little cowed, “I mean, hopefully I’ve already got a few.” He laughed.
You do not have to suffer from depression to appreciate and learn from this book. There are times when we all need reminding that things are not as bleak as they can sometimes seem, need to be told that the sun always breaks through eventually, even in the cloudiest of skies. Something that Haig does beautifully within this narrative is gently remind us, all of us, that though there may be times that the world seems to be filled with darkness more than with light, and though we may experience situations that can feel more than a little bit hopeless, there are always reasons to pull through. There are infinite reasons to keep going. You’ve definitely got more than a few. This book will remind you of some you might’ve forgotten.
It’s an unflinchingly honest, warm, wry, witty book. I read it in one-sitting. It is, however, so wise that I feel that one reading isn’t enough to sponge up all of Haig’s special brand of non-preachy wisdom, and so I am sure I will read it again and take more from it still. It’s a candid and easily accessible exploration of what it’s like to live a life at war with your own mind. It’s more than that though. It’s also a guide that advises you, as the blurb puts it, to “make the most of your time on Earth.” Time, it is all too easy to forget, that is limited. One part of the books magic lies in its emphasis that feelings of depression and anxiety are not forever. “This book is impossible,” proclaims the opening page. “Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die you see. Or go mad…the fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies.” Echoes of those feelings of hopelessness and fears of what we might perceive as an inevitably bleak future, Haig reminds us, might come-and-go for a very, very long time. Life is not linear. It’s filled with ups-and-downs and laughs and smiles and crying and arguing. There’ll be bumps in the road but there’ll also be fair bit of plain sailing thrown in for good measure. The darkness doesn’t last forever, this book emphasizes. When feelings of inadequacy and anxiety start to dig their claws into our psyches, there are ways to loosen their seemingly iron grip. The central message is this: Things will get better. You will get better. Things will be brighter. But you have to fight, and you have to stick around to see it.
‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ defies reduction to any one genre. Part memoir, part self-help book, Haig’s narrative is inspiring, and not in that gooey, sickly-sweet, ‘that’s-nice-but-I-just-threw-up-a-little-bit-in-my-mouth’ kind of way. This is not a sentimental or self-congratulatory story of personal triumph. This is not 253 pages of vague rambling about the importance of reconnecting with our authentic selves or inner child, however one goes about doing that, precisely. It’s a book about survival, and more specifically, about surviving against what are frankly some pretty f**cking terrifying odds. “Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US,” reminds Haig, “a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities…as people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.” It was an eerily appropriate read for Mental Health Month. Stigma haunts the topic of depression like a stubborn bad smell, particularly, I feel, for males, who often find it hardest to admit that they’re suffering. It’s only through time, and the continuance of dialogue generated by eloquent, honest, and downright brave voices like Haig’s that the taboos around mental health are going to eroded. For depression suffers, this book could prove a lifebuoy, something to cling to when the storm hits and the waves are crashing and it feels like you might not be able to keep your head above the water, this time. “Be brave,” Haig implores. “Be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later.”
By the end of this book, I really, really, cared about Matt Haig. I fully intend to read his other, fictional novels. If ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ is any indicator, they’ll be filled to the brim with wit and warmth and encouragement, and packed with instances of the endurance and perseverance of the human spirit. I feel genuinely happy that Haig is capable of feeling good again, and that he’s scaled a mountain that must have seemed insurmountable. He’s a living lesson, his book proof of the vital need to just keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. Even when it seems as though we aren’t making progress or achieving anything, we are. We’re alive, and that’s one hell of a miracle, when you stop and think about it. Stop and think about it.
P.S. There is no such thing as ‘not depressed enough’ to seek help. If you’re suffering, reach out. Even though it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to admit, even to yourself, that you need help, it’s worth it. Happiness is your birthright. Do anything that works for you, to keep you going. You are loved and loved in return. Stay.
Helplines for those suffering (UK)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
SlimFast. Weight Watchers. Tea-toxes. We are bombarded each day with adverts informing us of the multiple sins our bodies are committing, and what exactly we should be doing to rectify these ‘problem areas.’ I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with diets, or with any of the methods I have listed above (the exception to this, in my opinion, is the ‘detox tea’ – as well marketed as these are, they are essentially laxatives in tea form, and are incredibly easy to abuse). If calorie counting, monitoring ‘syns’, or tracking macros enables you to feel happy and healthy, and helps you stay at a body weight right for you, then that is commendable. It just hasn’t worked out for me.
I fell into the trap of obsessively calorie counting. I gained weight at university, as many of us do. I drank far too much and comfort ate out of boredom and loneliness. A very understandable, human thing to do. I was still the same clothing size as when I arrived, but was certainly much fluffier and wider than I had been. There was fat where there had been no fat before. I took to pinching it whenever I showered or looked in the mirror, disgusted, feeling like a stranger in my own body. I was revolted and uncomfortable that there suddenly seemed to be ‘more’ of me. I’d always been insecure, with my body image and how I felt about myself varying from day to day. However,
things were becoming increasingly worse. The more I stared in the mirror, the larger I felt. I analysed my reflection, panicked, my heart thudding. Irrational thoughts would creep insidiously into my brain, spreading and taking root like poison ivy. What if I just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger? I imagined myself blowing up to gargantuan proportions, ballooning in Harry Potter Aunt Marge style. I felt that Something Drastic must be done. And quickly. I would gain back control of my rebelling body.
So I turned to the unfailingly reliable source of information (ha!) Google, and started scrutinising Instagram ‘fitspiration’ accounts for tips. Most advised a strict diet of no more that 1,200 calories (what I now know to be the recommended intake for a six to eight year old child). I gleaned that I must exercise intensely as much as possible in order to achieve maximum fat loss. I must record everything I consumed on a calorie-counting app, so as to keep myself ‘accountable.’
I went about it with a vengeance. I lost my tiny little mind. I had dreams about vanilla cheesecake. The low-calorie aisle in the supermarket was my kingdom. Everything I ate was now low calorie, low fat, low flavour. This new ‘healthy’ lifestyle resulted in making me the most mentally and physically unhealthy I have ever been. I became fearful and stressed around food, and was undoubtedly a nightmare to live with. I can only give a sincere apology to my parents. It must be unnerving to watch your child, once not adverse to following an entire takeaway pizza with generous scoops of Ben & Jerry’s, almost cry when necessity dictated I must eat white bread instead of brown. Today, I still hear the tension in my own voice when I am faced with a food choice I am uncomfortable with. I anger and frustrate myself. I hate that I seem unable to just enjoy delicious food without worrying about the impact it will have upon my body. It’s irritating, and representative of everything I do not want to be as a person. I sincerely hope that the day will come soon when I can truly feel free in my food choices.
So, following this new punitive regime, the weight fell off. Sure, I was miserable, exhausting myself with hours of exercise and for a particularly dark weekend subsisting on unseasoned salad and reduced Sodium Covent Garden soup, but I was getting skinnier! I was also really f**cking miserable. I isolated myself on the off-chance that this sick regime might be noticed and challenged. I had panic attacks alone in my room. Even to the very few friends I eventually confided in, I found it difficult to be honest about how much I was struggling. I continued getting smaller. I was losing the love handles I’d loathed, the ample chest I’d been embarrassed by. I was hooked. My previously large chest was flatter, so looking down at my body, I only saw more fat that I felt needed to be erased. I couldn’t see how thin I was getting. I whittled myself down to a clothing size that wouldn’t have fit me at thirteen years old. I certainly didn’t feel any more attractive than I had previously. On days that I had a clear perception of what I truly looked like, I just got a sick sense of achievement from noting that the fragility I was feeling on the inside was finally being reflected in the mirror. I felt lost, and so my food intake became something I could control at a time I felt increasingly powerless.
Fat is not a four letter word. As much as our culture demonises being overweight under the self-righteous and dubious campaign of concern that ‘it’s just so unhealthy!’, the underweight body is just as unable to function optimally. My current lack of body fat ensures that I am permanently freezing, when others are shrugging off their jackets. I am embarrassed to shake hands with strangers because my hands are always icy. The health risks of being at a weight too low for your body’s comfortable ‘range’ are numerous and vastly frightening. Skinny is not always glamorous.
As a society, we need to work to stop the labelling of food as ‘good,’ or ‘bad’, and to stop proclaiming that we are so ‘naughty’ for eating that biscuit and that we must ‘work off’ that slice of birthday cake. I am trying to re-learn that food is just that – food. Calories are not insidious shadow demons. They are units of energy, designed to keep us alive. I deserve to eat whether I do a ten mile run or sit in bed all day, and you do too.
Lately, I have improved vastly, and am eating so many foods I would have deeemed ‘forbidden’ this time last year. I am attempting to regain to a healthy body weight. I will find it uncomfortable. I have become used to the protruding bones, the angled shoulders, the stick-like thighs, the lack of padding when I sit down. But I must, and I will. I am slowly learning to silence warped thoughts that whisper lies into my ear: that I must be small to be worthy of love, that I must control every aspect of my food and exercise regime or else I am a failure. They are not true. I would not hold anyone else to such an evil, f**cked up standard, so why do I punish myself with such unforgiving thoughts?
I want to be healthy, in its true, balanced sense. I want to get my period back, be more fun, more spontaneous, and live life to its fullest. I want to stop uncomfortable toe cramps from constantly numb feet. I want to stop feeling the chill that comes from the inside. I write this post not out of any desire for pity, but rather as a form of therapy. I must drill it into my psyche that I am more than a number on a scale or clothing tag. I deserve to be defined by more than my gravitational pull towards the Earth. As the end of my university degree will hopefully herald a new era of descreased stress levels, the easier I imagine it will be to gain, and to build a life and mentality that does not revolve around worries about the way I look. My new motto: Healthy = Happy. Happy is the new skinny.
In conclusion: I’d rather have a life over a thigh gap, and happiness over dizziness and fatigue and irritability and heartburn and lack of menstruation and all the other delightful things that come part and parcel of being at an unhealthily low body weight. If you’re reading this and struggling: please know that people don’t love you on the condition that you’re skinny, or that you can do ‘x’ number of minutes on a treadmill. They love you for you. For your laugh, for your kindness, for the light in your eyes that may have been duller, lately. Your life is for living now, not when you’re down a clothing size. Food is not something you earn, it’s a requirement to function. Love yourself now, as you are, and do what makes you happy. You deserve to. For the first time in a long while, I feel that I may be able to start following my own advice and live a life that reflects my beliefs. Life is precious, and we must make the most of it.
Be they rockers or be they rappers, we can all learn a life lesson or two from these female singer-songwriters.
All of the women that will feature in this post have this in common: they are all beautiful (in different ways). They are all slightly odd. They are all rule-breakers. They are unapologetically different, and that is why they are diamonds. They shine, radiating an aura of self-assured magic that we can all aspire to. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it includes are fair few of the ladies that, in my humble opinion, are the ultimate babes with the power.
Debbie Harry: I have to start this post with a love letter to Debbie Harry. My love, my darling. The face of an angel, she’s hotter than hell with a bad-ass attitude to match. She could punch me in the face and I would thank her. 43 years on from the formation of Blondie in 1974 and seven albums later, she’s still one of the coolest women in the music industry today and continues to make credible music. I am as guilty as anyone for waxing lyrical about Harry’s obvious level of goddess like beauty. However, she is so, so much more than a pretty face. Her amused acceptance that her own face has become a world wide cultural icon is evidence of a talented woman acknowledging that she is stunning, and then saying; ‘Great. So what, though?’ She’s played the industry since day one, defying any reductive stereotypes that try to cast her as a pouty, singstar Barbie with matching mini-microphone. She’s been a Playboy Bunny, she’s been a go-go dancer. She’s been blonde, she’s been a brunette, she’s been a redhead. She refuses to conform to any ideal of what a woman should be. Whatever comes for Harry in the future, I have no doubts that she will continue to live life on her own terms. She’ll forever be an emalgamation of the best bits of rockstar, punk queen and pop princess. She will doubtless remain a timeless inspiration for musicians and music fans alike, and will certainly forever be a personal hero of mine. Atomic.
Top Quotes from everyone’s favorite X-offender:
‘How can one be a woman and not be a feminist? That’s my question.’
‘The only person I really believe in is me.’
‘My face seems to sell. I can’t help that.’
‘I do know the effect that music still has on me – I’m completely vulnerable to it. I’m seduced by it.’
‘I could be a housewife… I guess I’ve vacuumed a couple of times.’
‘I have a lot of regrets, but I’m not going to think of them as regrets.’
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of BLONDIE; Debbie Harry – ‘Heart Of Glass’ video shoot (Photo by Roberta Bayley/Redferns)
Kate Bush: KATE BUSH. She’s mad and she’s magic. Unlike some of the other women I admire, Kate is notoriously shy. She’s a pardox in that she’s reserved in terms of courting the media and yet also simultaneously an incredible performer. She has a subtle but intense power. Kate shows us shy girls that being quiet and having an amazingly hard-hitting stage presence and impact is possible. Kate doesn’t shout to be heard. We just listen with baited breath. She has a quiet strength and a dreamy quality to her work that’s completely irresistible to me. Full disclosure: When I first heard ‘Wuthering Heights’, I was aged around eleven. I loathed it. I thought it was shrieky and annoying and frankly just downright painful to listen to. I am able to reflect, nine years later, that Kate’s voice is indeed pretty high on the octave scale.It’s also incredibly expressive, tonally rich and her lyricism is just absolute poetry. No-one can prance around in a red dress better than she can, and I can’t think of another performer who could enunciate the word ‘Wow’ for 3:41 seconds and turn it into art. Long live the enigma that is Cathy.
Top Quotes from the Queen of the Mountain:
‘I think quotes are very dangerous things.’
‘I was spending a great deal of my time alone and for me that was vital because there’s an awful lot you learn about yourself when you’re alone.’
I’m a very strong person and I think that’s why actually I find it really infuriating when I read, ‘She had a nervous breakdown’ or ‘She’s not very mentally stable, just a weak, frail little creature.’
‘What’s important to me is to be a human being who has a soul, and who hopefully has a sense of who they are, not who everybody else thinks you are.’
Stevie Nicks:Stevie Nicks sings heartbreak like no other can. She weaves stories through her songs, and I think you’d be hard pushed to find a songwriter that creates more relatable and simultaneously dreamy songs. Personal favourites of mine and highlights of Nicks’ lyricism include ‘Dreams’, ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Landslide’, ‘Sara’, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, and the vastly underrated ‘Planets Of The Universe’. The original Gold Dust woman, Stevie Nicks is unquestionably a cultural icon. Her life has been unapologetically messy, as the most interesting ones tend to be. Complicated relationships with fellow Fleetwood Mac stars Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood have vastly impacted Nicks’ songwriting, and Stevie makes sense of the dysfunction through her art, creating perhaps one of the most relatable break-up albums in history in the shape of Rumours. Like Debbie Harry, Nicks has been open with her struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse, along with her conscious decision not to go down the route of motherhood. This woman has lived it all, and I privately like to think of her as a kind incredibly wise, beautiful, witchy aunt. Throw on a tasseled shawl, grab a tambourine, put on a crescent moon necklace, and get ready to hear some words of wisdom from the Gypsy queen.
‘When you grow up as a girl, the world tells you the things that you are supposed to be: emotional, loving, beautiful, wanted. And then when you are those things, the world tells you they are inferior: illogical, weak, vain, empty.’
‘Do you want to be an artist and a writer, or a wife and a lover? With kids, your focus changes. I don’t want to go to PTA meetings.’
‘I have my own life. And I am stronger than you know.’ – Landslide
‘I said,’Instead of going in the direction that a lot of the women singers are going in [revealing], I’ll be very, very sexy under 18 pounds of chiffon and lace and velvet…I will have mystique.’
‘There is always magic to be summoned at any point…we all really basically have a lot of magic… It’s only those of us who choose to accept it, that really understand it. It’s there for everyone.’
Nicki Minaj: A controversial one.All of her music may not be to my taste, but when she proclaims “a hundred motherf****s can’t tell me nothin'” in ‘Beez In The Trap’ damn, you believe her. I find this level of IDGAF highly inspirational. Every interview in which I’ve come across Minaj I’ve also been impressed with her eloquence on issues of gender inequality and the racism within pervading the music industry. Her brains are as large as her enviable booty, and she is highly undeserving of the ‘bimbo’ stereotype perpetuated in the media. In fact, I would go as far as saying Minaj openly uses and owns the bimbo look. She’s a woman confident in her own sexuality, and that she is demonised within the media for that self-assurance is blatant indication that there is something deeply problematic about the representation of female artists. Female artists must be sexy, but not too sexy. There’s a complete paradox in the ‘marketing’ of female artists. So, she may take inspiration from Troll Dolls in the creation of her aesthetic, but in my eyes there ain’t nothing wrong with that. As Dolly Parton once so fabulously said; “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Nicki has worked hard for success, is the Queen of her own empire, and ultimately rocks her look with a ballsy attitude.
‘Your victory is right around the corner. Never give up.’
‘Maybe your weird is my normal. Who’s to say?’
‘My advice to women in general: Even if you’re doing a nine-to-five job, treat yourself like a boss. Not arrogant, but be sure of what you want – and don’t allow people to run anything for you without your knowledge.’
‘When you’re a girl you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super-sweet. And you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that, and you have to be nice. It’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’
Cher:Music legend or not, Cher is deserving of inclusion on this list for her Twitter account alone. Her use of emoji’s deserves awards. She’s a style icon, an actually pretty excellent actress, and for decades she’s been a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community. Suffice it to say that Cher has done everything, can do anything, and is in my eyes immortal. I will sing along to ‘Believe’ at the top of my voice for as long as I draw breath. I feel that the only person that can explain Cher is herself, and so without further ado, I present you my favourite quotes from the most glamorous matriarch of pop.
‘Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.’
‘I only answer to two people, myself and God.’
‘If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life.’
‘Some guy said to me: Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock n’ roll? I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger.’
‘My mom said to me, “One day, you should settle down and marry a rich man.” I said, “Mom, I am a rich man.”‘
Björk: An alien. A poet. A seemingly very, very strange lady. I can’t help feeling that those who hail David Bowie’s oddity and unapologetic weirdness as genius (which it undoubtedly is), are often quick to deride Björk as a freaky woman-child. I had to include Björk in this list purely because I do not think there is another female artist comparable to her in terms of fearless creativity. The image of Björk as a kind of crazy forest nymph is deeply misogynistic, and just plain old unfair to Björk and her exceptional artistic potency. Björk herself appears to hold some very iffy views on feminism, but I am a firm proponent of the idea that you absolutely do not have to agree with everything a person says in order to admire some aspects of their outlook. The ideals of the Icelandic venus that I’ve distilled from her interviews over the years range from the insightful to the odd, but are all equally fascinating. Below are some of the musings I found most striking.
‘Find your own voice.’
‘Singing is like a celebration of oxygen.’
‘People think that I’m too eccentric…my record company thought that Debut wasn’t going to sell. I said: I don’t care. I really have to do this or I’ll go insane. You’ve just got to do what you do.’
‘I have this utopian view that the common person – like your gran, or the guy who works in the sandwich shop – actually wants an adventure, to hear something they’ve never heard before. I might seem left-field, but I’m really not trying to be weird, you know.’
Florence Welch: Yet another ethereal queen to grace this list, Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine seems to be permanently captured looking as though she’s just wandered from the frame of a pre-Raphealite Waterhouse painting. I had the pleasure of seeing Florence & The Machine live back in 2014 on the Ceremonials Tour. She was magnificent. She twirled in a stunning cape like a demented ballerina, whipping her red hair manically. She was a force of nature, and we were captivated. It’s somewhat unnerving to hear such a powerful, rich voice being projected from such a tiny, bird-like vessel, and I think it’s party this apparent paradox of vulnerability and power that makes Welch so unforgettable. Open about the difficulties of grappling depression whilst in the generally unforgiving public eye, Welch reminds us that there is no shame in struggle. Highly interested in culture, literature and other creative pursuits, Welch currently runs a ‘Between Two Books’ club through her Twitter account, giving fans all over the world recommendations for books ranging from the poetry of Ted Hughes to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch.’ This engagement with her fans is incredibly refreshing, and it’s admittedly a breath of fresh air to see celebs advocating something other than diet teas and multi-vitamins. Dropping out of Camberwell College of Art mid-degree in order to focus on her music, the red-haired lion-heart is living proof that if you have a passion, it’s worth pursuing, even if following your heart sometimes takes so much more courage than continuing down the path you feel you ‘should’ be on.
‘If you do something with your whole heart and it’s a mistake, you can live with that.’
‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ – Shake It Out.
‘I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming, to remain sane.’
‘When you’re heartbroken, you’re at your most creative – you have to channel all your energies into something else to not think about it.’
‘Excitable, easily distracted, sometimes vacant, prone to gloominess and also extreme euphoria; I can’t be generous with time, but I try to be generous with affection.’
Amy MacDonald: I will forever have a place in my heart for this Scottish songstress. I have seen Amy live on multiple occasions, and from the age of about eleven, was of the pretty firm opinion that MacDonald was just about the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. And she was so cool. She played guitar. And had the most powerful, rich voice. And she had a Scottish accent. To this day, I am still the proud owner of a flattering red and black striped Denace The Menace style t-shirt purchased at one of Amy’s ‘This Is The Life’ era gigs. On it is s slogan that optimistically proclaims my status as ‘rock chick of the century.’ While that’s still a work in progress and said t-shirt may be currently crumpled at the bottom of my wardrobe, I am still a huge fan of MacDonald. I feel that I’ve grown up with her, in a sense. I feel genuinely happy when I read of her successes. Just through following her interviews, I can see she’s changed a lot in terms of personal aesthetic and grown in life experience, despite staying pretty much the same in terms of her musical output. Although her last couple of albums have been, for me, a tad samey, she’s an excellent singer with solid songwriting skills. You can’t say much fairer than that. She is one of those rare musicians that is incredibly talented without being arrogant, assured without being boorish. She comes across as a down-to-earth gal that you could easily sink a pint with, and it’s nice to have a musical hero that you feel you might not be too frightened to approach on the street. Paradoxically, she also collects sports cars. From reading interviews, you get the sense that Amy isn’t afraid to voice her opinions, and whether or not you agree with all of them, I think it’s fantastic to have a young female artist in the industry who is unafraid to make her voice heard. I also admire her decision to resolutely make a point of distancing herself from the trappings of celebrity lifestyle.
‘I’m very happy to be able to blend in with the crowd. I never got into this business to be famous; for me it’s always been about the music.’
‘I’m so sensible about so many things…I’ve put my money into property and I’ve bought homes for my family. My aim is to pay off all my friends’ mortgages because if you are lucky enough to earn it, the best thing you can do is share it with the people who are closest to you. But I do love cars. To me, a car is an absolute luxury. I love driving a great car, listening to music – that to me is heaven.’
‘We are the youth of today. Change your hair in every way. And we are the youth of today. We’ll say what we wanna say. And we are the youth of today. Don’t care what you have to say at all.’ – Youth Of Today.
‘I’m always told to be the dreamer kind; wake up one morning and your dreams are life. Never let them bring you down. Never let them tear me down.’ – L.A.
‘If you are anxious, if you doubt yourself, if you stress over everything, it ultimately means you really care about what you do.’
This list is by no means all encompassing – there is so much female talent present in the music industry today, and the artists out there are showing us clearly that there is no right way to be a woman and to be a human being.
A common theme in the advice that I’ve noticed from compiling this ode to my singing sisters is this:
Be yourself, please yourself, do no harm but take no sh*t. If you’re shy, own it. If you arrived fresh out of the womb tap dancing and wearing a feather boa, own that too. You do you. There is a magic in your uniqueness. Never let anybody tell you who you are or what you are capable of. In this life we are responsible for creating ourselves, and the only limits we have are the limits we place upon ourselves. Pain can serve you, and something wonderful can sometimes be created from difficult times. I feel that Debbie, Stevie, Kate, Nicki, Cher, Björk and Amy are, in different ways, each telling us that we must let go of the fear of being judged and do what makes us happy. And that is where the magic begins. Rock on.