Editor’s Letter: Beach, PleaseBy Angelica Malin
“When I have kids, I don’t think I want to have a girl” I told my boyfriend over drinks.
He looked up at me, surprised, as if I’d just told him that I no longer like brunch.
He asked why, and I wanted to put into words what I’d felt for the last few months, that the struggle was so much harder as a girl, that the constant pressure to look good, dress right, feel right, do enough yoga, not do too much yoga (to make other women feel bad), be kind, positive, but not too proud, self-assured, not too confident, but enough to be taken seriously (but not a serious threat), and all at once whilst chasing this almost mythical concept of ‘femininity’.
I wanted to tell him that all these slogans, these concepts, thought up by trendy Shoreditch marketing agencies, like ‘slim for summer’ and ‘drop a dress size’, and all these pseudo-empowering Instagram concepts like ‘get the glow’ and ‘eat clean’ were all ultimately making us feel a hell of a lot worse, because we weren’t waking up every day with an acid-fresh glow, like someone just turned a lightbulb on inside our organs. I wanted to tell him on every time I’ve stood, paralysed by indecision, in the yogurt aisle of Waitrose, torn between the delicious one I really wanted and the fat-free, virtually tasteless one with some stupid French name because it might make me look a little bit more like the woman in the advert. I wanted to tell him that I was told about a ‘brand new sparkling drink for women’ and when I asked why it was designed for women, I was told, blank-faced, that it’s because it was low in calories and had pretty packaging, like we’re all anorexic magpies.
I wanted to tell him of all the times I’ve left the house with a change of tops in my bag, fearful, always, of being caught in the wrong situation in the wrong outfit – one that wouldn’t match who I needed to be that day. I wanted to tell him how much I respected the way in which he shrugged off the realisation that he was a bit out of shape at the moment. That I respect it, but a part of me, for just a moment, was a bit jealous, that it was that easy for him, because for him it was just something he had to put on a to-do list, but for me it meant a week of feeling like I should be having cereal for dinner.
Of course, I didn’t tell him any of these things.
Because one of the biggest struggles of being a woman is keeping everything under the surface. We keep quiet about how we feel – because otherwise, we might well end up in the neurotic, over emotional, hyper-sensitive bin, and no-one wants to be there. We label ourselves as ‘crazy’ for feeling this way. So we get on with – we put on our war paint to show the world we’re strong, we try to ignore how feel we shit when our jeans feel a little bit tight, or we’re pretty sure we spotted a stretch mark in the mirror – and we put on a brave, foundation-covered face to the world. In the end, all I said was, “because it’s hard”. It’s the best I could do.
And then everything with Protein World happened, and if there was single image to summarise how I felt about these conflicting pressures, that would be it. An image of a clearly underweight, not particularly ‘fit’, toned or strong woman, telling us how we should look on the beach. Like some kind of sparrow, desperate for a feed, her genitals all lit up yellow, the rest of her a dull afterthought.
And it got worse, with time, the debate turned from whether or not someone who looks like that should be the face of the ‘bikini body’, to a feminist backlash. Suddenly we were ‘feminazis’ for not liking the poster (a phrase that as both a jew and a feminist I find particularly hard to deal with), that our agenda was aggressive, and – the worst part – that the dislike for the image was rooted in the fact that we, women, ourselves were not in shape. That you’d only dislike the poster because you’re overweight, out of shape, and lazy. Well, I’m a size 8, and I still hate it. The fact that their sales tripled after the advert makes me sick to my core.
It would have been an easier pill to swallow if Protein World themselves had not had added fuel to the flames with their encouragement of anti-feminist views on social media. Retweeting misogynist statements about female bodies does incredibly harmful things not just to women, but to all. A less image-focused, more equal world, is better for everyone, not just women.
So what we do about it? We can rant and rave. We can protest, and we will. But, eventually, we have to get on with life, struggles and all. And in my case, that means researching pudding. We’ve been convinced by everyone from PRs to content agencies that we should be running ‘summer ready’ features – diets, healthy dishes, smoothies – and, at About Time, we’re not comfortable with it. Embrace Spring, but don’t make yourself feel that you have to shrink yourself just to enjoy it. Summer’s a season, not a dress size.
So in the spirit of each body being ready, this week on About Time, we’re doing a special Pudding Week – everything from cracking peanut butter desserts to salted caramel treats, and London’s most weird and wonderful puddings, we’ve decided that we can show the world that we’re very happy to have our cake and eat it – bikini body or not. This, dear readers, is #BeachPlease. Enjoy!