Category Archives: Social Issues

Turnings on Edges #effyourbeautystandards

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Originally published by the Skin Deep Project May 2014

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Last month I said I’d talk about the ‘turning point’ for me in learning to love and accept my body. But I actually told a bit of a fib. That’s not *exactly* what I’m going to share. I can’t talk about the turning point, because I didn’t win the war with my body.

 

My body is not a static, unchanging experience.

 

My body has grown two children. It has fluctuated in dress size, in fitness, in muscle tone, in appearance. I have new scars, freckles and moles. My dress sense has changed as my life (and confidence) has changed. My hair colour and style is an ongoing party.

 

I didn’t win the war against my body because I am my body. Because my body changes and so do I. Instead, I have (tried to) embraced honesty with myself. I have (tried to) embraced self-reflection and the process of asking myself – why?

 

Why do I find my body lacking?

Why do I measure my body against a narrow and media defined beauty standard?

Why do I tie my body to the sexual desire of others?

Why do I punish my body and soul for failing these arbitrary standards?

Why do I de-value the experience and strength of my body?

Why have I sought aesthetic beauty and in doing so made my body, heart and soul sick on many occasions?

 

Why? Why? Why?

 

And somewhere within exploring these whys, I’ve found a healthy tension between seeking improvement and loving what is – and discovering that I want and need both. And that’s okay. It really is okay. My body is not a static, unchanging experience. My body is a lesson. A lesson in gratitude. A lesson in humility. A lesson in honesty. A lesson in love. There are days when I love my body, it’s shapes and curves and aesthetics. There are days when all I can see is how far I am from the ideal presented to us in the media. There are days when I don’t even really notice my body.

Mummy with Amaya

Image: with Amaya, one day old 2014.

My daughter will be six weeks old this Saturday. She came into the world on Easter Saturday after a very painful but uncomplicated labour. My strong, powerful and healthy body brought both of us safely through that experience. And as I’ve nursed her over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the body messages I want to give her. The way she’ll feel when she looks in the mirror. I have years to figure out what I want to say to her and years to continue shaping how I role model the lessons I hope she learns but here are some early thoughts for her (and for you, reading this):

 

  • You are glorious. Glorious and powerful beyond your believed boundaries.
  • Your body (and your life) belongs to you. Keep exploring and decide which adventures you want to deepen. And which you want to discard. Choose deliberately.
  • Whatever else you do, care for your body, it is the vessel carrying you through your life. Make it last and enjoy what it can do – if you let it – bodies are fun!
  • I cannot give you the answers. I cannot erase the doubts, the fears, the pain you will encounter – but I will be here. To hold you. To listen. To make you cups of tea.

 

 

Turn these corners.

Fold them in to,

New mirrors,

Blank pages,

Deep dreams.

 

What’s your favourite body positive message or piece of advice?

 

 

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Fatty Number Two

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Originally published by the Skin Deep Project April 2014

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Fatty Number Two

*My body did nothing to you.

 

 

Does anyone else remember being weighed in PE class at school? Do they still do that?

 

I’m not sure, but I think this is where one of my high school nicknames began.

 

Fatty Number Two.

 

I still don’t know who Fatty Number One was.

 

Although I don’t remember what I weighed and therefore can’t tell you my BMI or any surface indicator like that – I can tell you that I walked to school every day and I was the second fastest in my class in the 100 and 200 metre sprints. And looking back on photos from that period – I wasn’t fat at all** – I was healthy and beautiful.

 

prom

Image: aged 12, attending a school formal

 

(**And even if I had been, clearly Fatty Number Two was not an appropriate nickname for anyone to be gifted with!!)

 

Yet I believed I was fat, because I’d been labelled fat and therefore fat I was. My relationship with food quickly became an unhealthy dance between eating nothing and shovelling in a chocolate bar where no one could see me. My body was a source of shame, something to be covered, hidden and punished.

 

As I entered the official ‘teen’ years, I hit puberty early and was one of the first girls in my class to have breasts. And even once the other girls joined me, I remained one of the bustier in my age group throughout high school. Cue bra strap pulling and another new nickname ‘socks’. I had a boy in Year 9 date me for a week just because he wanted to confirm that my breasts were real and not a bra full of socks/tissues.

 

Sigh.

 

My body just refused to conform. Refused to let me disappear into the background, however much I wanted it to. I spent less time eating and more time pretending to eat. The secret chocolate bars disappeared. Yet rather than becoming smaller, my body betrayed me and I actually started to gain weight.

 

I felt trapped. Trapped and fat and ugly. Undesirable. Undesirable in a world which told me being desirable was the road to love. My body had become a battleground, though I don’t remember ever signing up for the war.

 

Your name, here.

Ready to stand

Arms raised

Songs spilled

Border to border

With shaking hands.

 

We march, together

Apart, separate

From the skin we live within

The smile lines that coat hands

Faces, familiar spaces.

 

We sing,

Histories into scars

Bodies into boxes

Heroes into holes.

 

We speak,

With lips that shake

Eyes that remake

These models,

To measure by.

 

I intend to write about the turning point in my war with my body next month – but I wanted to ask you all, what has been the turning point for you or someone you know? And if you haven’t found the turning point yet, what do you think would help?

 

For The Mother I Sometimes Meet #effyourbeautystandards

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Originally published by the Skin Deep Project March 2014

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This skin I’m in.

I wallow in its spaces. Fill my glances with sneering faces. I look for them. I seek them. Even when I don’t mean to.

 

For The Mother I Sometimes Meet

 

As long as I can remember, my mother has always been overweight. Hovering usually in an Australian dress size of 22-26, she’s had to shop at plus size stores or generic department stores with their shapeless, blocky and unflattering designs. And it was always clear, without always being spoken, that she hated her body and by extension often herself. There were many times she’d ask ‘How can you love me, when I’m so fat and ugly?’ or “Do you think I’m ugly?’ or just state ‘I look horrible. Horrible and fat.’ Questions and statements that came from a deep and hurting place inside of her.

 

Her relationship with herself and her body was the backdrop to mine. Although I only remember my mother directly criticizing my body a handful of times, her judgment of her own set the tone and I knew without being told that I was also fat. Also ugly.

 

I held the teatowel in my hand. Frozen for that heartbeat of a moment. Looking at her. Seeing her. Feeling so close to knowing who she really was. Her face was red. Her hands sunk deep into the soapy dishwater. Her hair was messy, pulling around the lines in her skin. For that tiny moment I was seeing into something un-nameable. Something beautiful in her that I still have no words for. Even now.

 

I was 11 when I had that moment watching her washing the dishes. It was a moment, I’ve never been able to fully articulate but it’s stayed with me. Because what I felt, was how deeply beautiful and precious my mother was (and is). I looked at her standing there, washing the dishes with messy hair, lines etched into a grumpy face and I saw her as being powerful and glorious and stunning. But I was 11 and I didn’t know how to tell her that.

 

So I just blinked.

 

The moment was gone and I kept drying the dishes.

 

I’ve never told my mum that story. I’ve never directly challenged or asked her about her body image issues. Although I do now try to make a point of telling her that she’s beautiful and of telling her that I’m beautiful and proud of my body.

 

I’ve worked really hard over the last 10 years or so to see myself, really see myself. And to love my body, this skin I’m in, not for a narrow definition of sexual or aesthetic worth but for the all its curves and edges, the shadows and shapes it makes, the powerful, healthy and strong vehicle that it is carrying me through everything I ask it to do.

 

So how do we have these conversations with our nearest, our dearest, our beloveds? How do we cut through the narratives and boxes the media sells us to reach into the deep truths we know and discover about each other? How do you talk with your parents or children or partner about body image? How do you wish they talked with you about body image?

 

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Tough Mama Photo

If I unravel all my years …… #IStandForMercy

 

The nightly news makes gladiator spectators of us all/ we decide from our armchairs who is innocent and who is not// #tinytwitterpoem

 

My facebook feed tonight has been filled again with the news of an execution.

 

My hands have hovered over the keyboard as I’ve read the conflicting opinions of my community, the circle of friends I’ve surrounded myself with.

 

And my thoughts, my words, my opinions, my questions and my comments have tumbled heavily inside my chest. As my hands hovered over every status and thread of comments, wanting to say….something.

 

To push, to nudge, to support, to provoke, to clarify.

To be better.

In my eyes or theirs I’m not sure.

 

And it’s kept tumbling, tumbling. Heavily in my chest.

 

And it keeps coming back just to this one thought in my deepest heart. If I look ten years into the future, who do I hope that I will have been? I hope that I will have always been the person who spoke, who gave, who lived with and in compassion. I don’t ever want to write the words “I have no compassion for….”

 

Ever.

 

I don’t say that to shame anyone who has written those words. I say it to lay claim to who I want to be. To vocalize the choice I want to make to myself and to anyone who is reading this.

 

I want to have compassion.

 

Now. Tomorrow. And each tomorrow that unravels before me. Always compassion.

 

Compassion isn’t easy. Or simple. Compassion doesn’t mean I can’t feel angry or think bad things of people. But it means remembering that we all of us are people, living in the world. Making good choices sometimes and bad choices other times. Hurting each other and ourselves. It means remembering that broken people often come from other broken people. And that even when they don’t it means remembering that suffering breeds more suffering. That revenge is not justice. That punishment is rarely justice. That our lives and our choices sit on a great spectrum of right and wrong rather than falling neatly to either side of some great moral divide.

 

It means remembering always that I want to keep caring.

 

Because that’s the me I want to be.

 

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An ABC of Women #feminism #mop15

 

* a first draft, inspired by #mop15 weekly prompt

 

An ABC of Women

Always
Braved and
Coloured in with skin,
Depths circled and given in.
Entered,
Fully with
Grace, poise,
Head held just so,
In the light melted to your eyes.
Joined in silence.
Kindness welded in,
Left to dream, to weep.
Made
Noiseless
Only,
Paperthin and
Quickened,
Ready,
Softly
To
Undress
Violently.
Women, made
‘Xeno-’ by
Your hands, in their hair, their faces, their words, their lives. Now,
Zombies. Left. Discarded. Ruined.

 

IMG_4733.JPG

No one can alone my loves, no one can alone. x

Another Deck #writeme30

 

Layers too vague/ too sunk in history stink/ too heavy with rant/ go flag wave in some other window/ we don’t want it//

 

The Photo:

 

American Flag photo from Ben Duggan                              Photo supplied by Ben Duggan

 

The Response:

 

I’ve started and changed this response three times. Because there are many things this particular photo stirs in me.

 

I started thinking about the American education system, which got me thinking about the Australian education system and the many complex feelings and interactions I’m having with our system. I’m not in the right head space to share some of that, and also because of how it reflects on my son’s experience, I’m wary of both how I represent him and respect his privacy. I need to percolate more to find the right time and way to share some insights on that one.

 

The other big thing that sprang to mind in response to a photo of the American flag is #blacklivesmatter, which hopefully you’ve already seen and read about all over the internet. (If not, some places to start here and here and here). This is an important movement and conversation and I think the backlash against it speaks volumes.

 

Then I realized I was over thinking it all and trying to come up with something intelligent to add to the conversation and actually I’ve got nothing to add. Except my support that #blacklivesmatter.

 

So then what else could I write about for this #writeme30 post? My last few posts have all been quite personal and heavily poetic/creative writing. I wanted to step away a little this week and do some a bit more non-fiction.

 

So flags huh? Oh yeah flags.

 

Flags are a powerful symbol. We use them to show our allegiance, our pride, our sense of connection to a place and associated ideas of that place. How unfortunate that the Australian flag represents such a narrow experience of what it means to be Australian. And how unfortunate that it is most often flown by ‘everyday’ people in a show of racism dressed up as patriotism.

 

“In representing only Australia’s British heritage, the flag is anachronistic, and does not reflect the change to a multicultural, pluralist society. In particular, the flag makes no mention of indigenous Australians, many of whom regard the Union Jack as a symbol of colonial oppression and dispossession.”

– Source unknown

 

When the flag was decided on (by voting on competition entries) it was 1901. Aboriginal people still had murky voting rights and certainly considering how racist we still are – who do you think ‘decided’ on our flag and who and how it would represent us? #justsaying

 

Symbols can and do change over time. And so they should. Words come to mean new things. New information and sophistication in our thinking changes how we view events and ideas from the past. And so it should. So it should.

 

Our flag is frozen in time. It doesn’t represent who we even were then, let alone who we are now. Nor does our national anthem. So why do people want to hold on so tightly to a symbol that’s past it’s use by date? To hold onto a symbol that discounts the history and feelings of our first peoples (not to mention our new peoples)? Why does the mere suggestion of changing our flag create such anger and hostility?

 

Why, indeed?

 

And then after all of this stopping and starting and digging for something to say for this post – I realized that actually that’s all I really want to say about flags too.

 

“Sheldon Cooper: Why are you waving a white flag?

Amy Farrah Fowler: I’m surrendering… to fun!”

– Big Bang Theory

 

The Contributor:

 

Ben Duggan, founder of Raising Hope and another of the YSP tribe. Bless his cotton socks. Ben is embarking on a new adventure next year with Teach For Australia. He is pretty much a rockstar in a well tailored suit. I’m a fan.

 

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Get a REAL job #artslife

 

This life. These creative pursuits.

They are not my hobbies.

They are not something I enjoy doing and so choose to ‘find’ time for in my life.

 

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This is my life.

My career.

My journey.

Sometimes, my obsession.

And absolutely my ‘real’ job.

 

And it’s evolving all the time.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to articulate what and why I do. Trying to pin the words to paper. Trying to find words that make sense and ring true. For me and for everyone else.

 

The other YSPers and I have given time at every residency trying to articulate our missions over the last 12months. The ‘why’ driving what we each do. We’ve brainstormed together and solo. We’ve written and spoken draft after draft after draft. And I’ve struggled. Really struggled to pin to paper what it is I do and why.

 

For anyone who lives a creative life or a life that’s ‘offbeat’ in any other way, you know why you do it and what it is. And you know how hard it is to explain to everyone else what it is and why you do it. It’s something that has no words because it needs no words for you. It just makes sense (you think). It’s what you do and who you are. So when someone asks you to put it into words, it’s pretty darn difficult.

 

This year I’ve played with and explored various mission and vision statement iterations, including:

 

  • I want to be the kind of person that offers something meaningful to the world. The kind of person who experiences life as frightening, confusing and painful but as deeply, deeply precious and worth my effort.

 

  • Our mission is to create systematic change in how people think about failure. For us that means making quiet trouble with everyone we meet by interrogating and responding to rage inducing situations through an artistic lens.

 

  • My personal mission is to continue striving for opportunities for myself and others to claim our sorrows as a journey to joy and to create space in our lives to sing our heartsongs with passion, hope and courage.

 

  • We empower and enable regional communities to reshape and claim personal and civic narratives using an artistic lens.

 

  • We challenge communities and individuals to reclaim failure as a crucial ingredient in resilience and joy.

 

  • Our mission is to challenge and inspire young people in regional communities to use to arts as a mechanism for social change and empowerment. As part of this mission we also support regional communities to support and foster the skills and aspirations of their young people.

 

  • My mission is to use the arts to be an agent of change – to inspire, support and provoke individuals and communities to actively shape the world around them for the better.

 

  • I bring together professional artists, doers, thinkers and change makers to work with young people as mentors and provocateurs on community arts projects to unlock their possibility.

 

All of these things are partly or wholly true, but still none of them quite sit right. They feel too full of jargon or they rest on old ideas about myself (and how I work) so don’t capture the space I’m really in RIGHT NOW.

 

At ATF last year OK Radio asked why Theatre?

“Theatre people are all very nice people […] And I wonder if that is our problem,” asked Liska. “We choose an art form where we can sit next to each other and touch each other and we’re very good people.”

“Revolutions are not often caused by polite people, or good people,” said Cooper. “Sometimes we wonder if we have to stop making art to get something done. I really like art but I have a lot of questions about what it’s good for and if it’s needed.”

–        Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska (OK Radio, Nature Theater of Oklahoma)

 

Last month during Future Present, surrounded by a bunch of socially aware artists, again this idea. Why art? Is that the best use of your time, does it actually achieve your mission? Or would you be better off using your time as an activist, a social worker, a teacher, a farmer?

 

And going deeper throughout YSP, talking about ‘impact’ – how do you measure it? What impact does your work actually have (and is it the impact you want to have)? How can you have the greatest impact with the limited hours in your life?

 

I care about many things. I believe in changing the world. As more than just rhetoric. I believe I have a responsibility to leave the world better than I found it. To use whatever small skills and talents I have to help. I love teaching and advocating and activating and making and creating. I am driven to do many things. I am also a parent, a lover, a daughter, a sister, a friend. My time is limited and precious.

 

And so, I toss these questions around. Over and over. In my head. In my mouth. On paper. I spin myself around in circles. The questioning is hard, partly because there is no one answer. And there is no clear answer. And mostly because no one can answer for me, what it means for ME, only I can discover that.

 

Last night I stumbled across a free ebook titled “Making Your Life As An Artist” and though I didn’t relate to every single word, the book as a whole REALLY resonated with me.

 

There were moments when I read a paragraph and realised I was holding my breath, caught in these words someone else had pinned to paper and how they so neatly echo words I’ve circled around and around and come back to in my own heart.

 

“Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don’t know.

We go into our studio and research that question.

(…)

Just as in science, a negative result is as important as a positive result.

Finding that a certain drug does not cure cancer is a crucial discovery. And an artistic experiment that fails produces important information.

When you are working beyond what is known, when you are questioning assumptions that haven’t been questioned, you generate a lot of useful failure.

Failure in science and art is a sign that the process is working.

(….)

diverse ecosystems
 are more resilient, more able to respond to disturbance. The same is true of culture. Diversity of thought and imagination makes us more culturally resilient, more able to thrive in times of great change.

– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)

 

Many things that had me nodding along. Catching my breath. Gripping the edge of the computer. But perhaps most of all this:

 

Artists have a lot of effects on the world: our work impacts education, citizenship, multiculturalism, urban renewal. But those are effects of our role; they are not the role.

Our role is to ask rigorous and reckless cultural questions, do our research, and share the results. When we do our role well, all kinds of other things happen.

– Andrew Simonet (Making Life As an Artist, ebook)

 

And so last night I sat and I wrote exactly in the moment who I am and what I’m doing (or trying to do). The last seven or so years of thinking, dreaming and doing coalescing and coming together to pin some words to paper.

 

It’s not finished, because it’ll never be finished. I’m evolving and growing all the time. And that’s okay. It’s G.E. for right now.

 

Transparency and sharing the journey publicly (to be of benefit to others) is important to me. So, you can read the words I finally pinned to paper last night where they’ve become my new ‘about’ section here.

 

I’m feeling good. It’s nice.