GIRLS JUST WANNA maybe not have to wear their bra all the time…

Sure, sex is great, but have you ever taken your bra off after a really long day?

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Photo by Zun Zun on Pexels.com

Who run the world? Girls do, silly! How many times does Beyonce have to say it?? But, if we run the world, then why does it still feel like we’re still doing things to appease other people?

So I just popped out (ooh er!) the other day for a walk and five minutes down the road, I realised something was wrong. VERY WRONG. I had left the house without my bra! Any other day, I would have crossed my arms over my chest and scuttled back home, but for some reason I just decided, fuck it! Who am I offending? And I carried on with my walk (albeit without the usual bounce in my step) wondering why not wearing a bra is such a big deal.

For a young girl, picking out your first bra is something of a rite of passage. We long to be just like our older sisters and mothers, so getting a bra is a giant leap towards womanhood. But like so many rituals that women undertake, the fairytale ends pretty quickly. Next thing you know, you’re into underwire bras and what can only be described as torture devices if you decide to go strapless or backless. Bras are like painful harnesses that actually inhibit blood flow, but we have to wear them, right? Conventional wisdom states that wearing a bra prevents your breasts from sagging, but what if that’s not the case?

Well, health professionals have been questioning the benefits of wearing bras and a recent study by Professor Jean-Denis Rouillan, of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Besancon in France, revealed that bras are not necessary for women’s breast health –  anatomically, medically, or physiologically.  According to the study, not wearing a bra actually protects your breasts from gravity. This is because it forces women to have better posture. It also forces the body to develop the muscles that lie underneath the breasts, which aid breast support and lift. But it’s probably too late for most of us who have worn bras since puberty. But that’s okay, we’ll just chalk it up to experience, like that time they gave us the wrong medical advice about how to take oral contraceptives, basing it not on science, but on a misguided attempt to appease the Pope. Yep, us ladies love a bit of religion mixed with our reproductive healthcare.

Anyhoo, maybe it’s just our attitudes that need tweaking (sorry!). I mean, the uproar it causes even if a woman’s nipple is visible. I’m still not sure the world has recovered from ‘nipplegate’, i.e. Rachel Green’s out and proud moments on Friends.

21 home truths only girls with small boobs will understand

Viewers were obsessed by this ‘wardrobe malfunction’ because I mean, why else would she FLAUNT her nipples?! Like, cool the jets lads, we all have ’em. THIS IS WHAT BREASTS LOOK LIKE AND ITS NOT SEXUAL OR ATTENTION SEEKING,  THEY’RE JUST THERE. BEING BREASTS. 

But has this sensitivity to breasts always been a thing? A quick glance a Wikipedia shows that, historically, women have tended to bind their breasts one way or another through the ages, but binding them and trussing them up like turkeys at Christmas (I’m looking at you, Wonder Bra!) are two very different things.

 

In Ancient Rome, women playing sport basically wore boob tubes. But my favourites are the Greeks…

 

 

 They wore what was known as a breast band over beautifully draped dresses and the best part is, it doubled as an archery harness, so they could attach a quiver of arrows to the back! Now that’s the kind of bra I want. Weaponised!

Anyway, back to the point. I guess if you’re playing sports, you might want to keep yourself strapped in, or if you have quite large breasts and need the extra support, or you just like bras, but otherwise, is it really necessary? And if not, why are we still wearing these fecking contraptions?? Bras can be pretty expensive and if they only serve aesthetic purposes and adhere to cultural norms, then maybe we need to question their relevance.

Interestingly, when my initial embarrassment wore off, my next immediate thought was FUCK THE PATRIARCHY!! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that phrase popped into my head, because dress codes are extremely sexist. A lot of the time, it feels like we’re doing these things to avoid making other people uncomfortable. It might not be illegal to go out sans bra, but it is deemed highly inappropriate. By whom?? Well, one can only assume the cohort of people who seem to be offended by bouncing breasts walking down the street. Then there is the even darker side – the cohort of men who like to blame their behaviour on women – accusing them of looking for attention; sexual attention. As though our clothing choices are somehow sending out messages to men about our willingness to have sex with them. When in actual fact, we are simply dressing for ourselves and our own comfort. I mean, if we can manage to keep our eyes and more importantly, our hands, off topless men in the summer or in the gym, then surely they can be expected to do the same?

But society has always placed a more onerous dress requirement on women and things are very slow to change. It was only in 2016 that a woman in the UK was sent home from her job in Pricewaterhouse Coopers for not wearing heels!! Imagine if she showed up without a bra? Would she be fired outright? Even as we speak, women in Japan are campaigning to change the dress code that requires them to wear high heels at work (#KuToo). Japan’s labour minister has (incredulously) defended the practice, saying: “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate”. Imagine being told you couldn’t do your job unless you wear heels? I mean, who needs dystopian novels! Women are often accused of being hysterical when it comes to seeking equal rights, but you would be too if you were consistently  discriminated against. We’ve only just celebrated having the vote for 100 years and it’s not very long ago that we were not permitted to study at university or even keep our jobs after marriage. This is about more than just a bra, it’s about exercising our personal freedoms.

So, will I be freeing the nipple (#FreeTheNipple is totally a thing with the influencers on Insta by the way!) from here on in? I’m not sure, but I’d like to give it a go. After years of being made to feel weirdly ashamed and wrong to be seen in public without a bra, it will probably take a bit of rewiring (haha!). Maybe I’ll start by ditching the t-shirt bra and trying something less structured. Sometimes, clothes just look better with a bra and you’re willing to put up with the discomfort for a while, but I still can’t for the life of me figure out how they haven’t yet been able to invent a comfortable bra that fits properly. And gives you compliments a la Gemma Correll…

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Apparently the first bra (invented by a woman) was made up of two hankies and a piece of ribbon, which actually sounds quite pleasant, until Howard Hughes got involved and tried to make them look like the fuselage of a plane! So what do we think, is the world ready for boobs sans bras? Remarkably, it was only this year that most of us discovered what the anatomy of a woman’s breast looks like!

Illustration of human milk ducts

It definitely feels much more natural and a welcome relief not to have to wear a bra all the time. Let’s be honest, it’s the first thing most women do when they get home – take their bra off. Just as the #GreyHairDontCare movement (which I wrote about here) is liberating women from conventional standards of beauty and worse, propriety, #FreeTheNipple is telling women that they do have a choice and this collective shame we feel about our naturalness is not ours, but something that is projected on us. So what about you readers? Are you already way ahead of me and letting the girls loose?

 

 

 

Shades of Grey

Girl, Hairstyle, Illustration, Fashion, Bella, BeautyIt’s official, my hair is going grey. I mean, it’s not all grey, but the grey strands are there, lurking in the background. And with each passing year there are more of them, demanding action, or something. So I colour them away and normality is restored for a few weeks until they reappear – ruining everything! It’s not exactly an existential crisis or anything, but it still begs the question, what am I supposed to do with them?

I think the feelings that grey hair induce are pretty much the same for men and women, but how we’re supposed to deal with them really varies. For men, grey hair is more culturally acceptable. It’s considered a distinguished look, they get tagged #silverfox and even salt and pepper hair is seen as sexy on men. Not so for women. It’s seen as careless – as though you’ve let yourself go.

But grey is having a bit of a revolution at the moment, and that is in no small part thanks to women like Sarah Harris, deputy editor of British Vogue. I was sure she must be having it coloured to make it look that even and soft, but she insists it’s all natural. She started going grey at 16, which is not so uncommon, and I guess if you are all over grey, you could consider making this kind of transition. But if you’re just starting to grey like me, you would have to dye the not-grey parts, which probably takes as much maintenance as dying the whole thing another colour. Still, it’s great to see someone in their 30’s not just embrace the aging process, but making it fashionable.

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The beauty industry is built on giving us solutions to hide the stuff we are told is ugly. Our cultural definition of beauty is changing and becoming more diverse, but not quickly enough. And regardless of these changes, womens’ bodies are still policed and monitored in such a way that deviating from the norm is almost unthinkable. Remember when Julia Roberts was photographed showing underarm hair and everybody lost their shit? Not to mention the week-in, week-out magazine features that compare women in bikinis or how quickly a celeb loses their baby weight. But what if we just, didn’t? What if we gave these beauty standards the two fingers? Yes, grey hair can be dull and coarse and (God forbid) aging, but as you get older, the maintenance involved in keeping everything looking acceptable makes you wonder, who made these rules? And what will happen if I break them?

I sometimes feel like I’ve already broken a few rules, as a woman, by not getting married or having kids. And you know what? It feels great! There’s a real sense of freedom and dare I say rebellion in daring to be different. Which also makes me realise that happiness comes in all sorts of packages. No matter our individual choices, we all face challenges and have our equal share of joy and pain, so there really shouldn’t be any judgement. Live and let live is the only way we can all appreciate the rich tapestry of life. So if a woman chooses not to shave her legs or dye her hair or wear a bra, so what? More power to her! Defying convention gives other people permission to question their own beliefs and in these modern times, when do we even get the time to think about how we feel about things? Instead, we are just bombarded with images of beauty and sanctioned aging from companies who just want to turn a profit.

I loathe going to the hairdresser, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this new reality. I’m thinking the badger look won’t become a trend, so I’ll have to come up with something a little more creative! But I am so inspired by hashtags like #greyhairdontcare on Instagram (of all places!) and the women who are embracing their grey hair. Maybe I’ll chop it all off and go for the Christine Lagarde look, or Helen Mirren.

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How awesome does she look? And there’s a tint of pink in there, if I’m not mistaken – my favourite colour! And it’s not just hair, every time I find a new wrinkle or age spot or hairs growing where they shouldn’t be, my first reaction is FUCK! But maybe that’s because we’ve been conditioned (especially as women) to see these things as ugly. Maybe there is beauty to be found there too. I mean, looking at that picture, how powerful does she look? Self-possessed and wise. Maybe grey hair is like a graduation to something much more profound. I’ll leave the last words to David Bowie – someone who never let convention get in the way of having a little fun with his image.

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Writing Women

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I will never forget that Christmas. My parents had to send to England for my present and it didn’t arrive until the very last minute, but it was worth it. My Wonder Woman costume! Wonder Woman was my idol as a child – she just burst onto the screen, taking on the bad guys and making the world a safer place. As the youngest in my family, with this outfit, I now held the balance of power! I tied my siblings up with my golden lasso and used my cuffs to ward off any stray bullets.

There were very few examples of female superheroes when I was growing up (apart from my mother, obvs). Or just regular women with agency, whose role didn’t revolve around supporting the men in their lives. Apart from Jessica Fletcher, that is, who kept the scum off the street in Cabot Cove, AND she was a writer! But I think women of my generation have been hungry for new female characters we can really get behind and right now we seem to have, well, maybe not an embarrassment of riches, but certainly a good crop.

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Killing Eve, in which an MI5 agent pursues a Russian assassin (who’s also a bit of a psychopath) is the most compelling show I’ve watched in a while. Described as ‘a feminist retort to a traditionally macho genre’, it has been an instant hit – as though the world was waiting for it. It features highly professional, intelligent women who are funny, normal, obsessive, strong and vulnerable and a million other things. Based on the novella series, Codename Villanelle, it’s a fresh perspective on women that never resorts to stereotypes.

 

Image result for good behaviourGood Behaviour is another show I became completely addicted to, featuring actor Michelle Dockery who took on a role that could not be further from her prudish character of Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. Also based on a novella series, the Letty Dobesh Chronicles, it features an antihero protagonist who is a thief and a con artist with a serious drink problem. Letty is clever, spontaneous, volatile, destructive, hilarious, creative and loving. And she enjoys the most amazing sex! And it’s not all about the man’s pleasure. Again, the stereotypes have been pushed aside for a warts and all version of a woman trying to survive in a world that likes things in black and white. Bad women are cast as ‘fallen women’ or ‘whores’, while good women are cast as ‘virginal madonnas’. For some reason, the world has a hard time seeing women as both. Or neither.

Image result for the girl with the dragon tattoo bookWhile it has also been made into a movie, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo first came into my life on another snowy Christmas. I was stuck in bed with a cold and read the trilogy back-to-back. I was riveted by this strong, fiercely capable young woman who refused to play by society’s rules. Lisbeth Salander is no role-model and that is where, I believe, her popularity lies. She doesn’t seek approval and simply does as she pleases. She’s not afraid and exacts her revenge with a cold ruthlessness. She seeks justice, for her own past and for the lives of those who have been harmed by violent men.

 

Another show I became obsessed with a while back was Revenge – a story about a young girl whose father was wrongly accused of a crime and as a consequence, she spent her youth in care homes. Loosely based on The Count of Monte Christo, Emily Thorne plots her revenge and comes back to the wealthy community in the Hamptons that wronged her father with a new identity and lots of money. It’s all very glamorous and overly-dramatic, but the theme is the same – strong women with powerful voices. Women who refuse to be silenced. Women who do not fit the traditional roles in a patriarchal society. And we’re hungry for more.

And guess what? All of these incredible female characters were written by men (although Killing Eve has a female script-writer). How heartening it is to see men writing women who are just as deserving of the starring role as men. After decades of watching the idealised version of womanhood on screen, filtered through the male gaze, we are now seeing women represented in a new way. We want to see all the facets of ourselves, we want to see ourselves overcoming the system but still coming home and putting on a pair of comfy sweat pants. And while powerful female characters are important for girls/women to see, they are important for boys/men too. Men need to see women on the page or on screen, being people first, women second. They need to see women whose lives do not revolve around relationships with men, or having children or looking beautiful.

In a time when we still have Barbie (yes! Barbie) ads with a blonde stick insect enjoying her new plastic kitchen, making a sandwich and fries (who for Barbie? it’s not like you’re going to eat them) and telling young girls in a sickly, saccharine voice, ‘you can be anything you want to be!‘ swiftly followed by an ad for a Batman toy that lets you capture all the baddies and be a hero – WE NEED THIS! If she can see it, she can be it. If we put women in the starring role, we teach our kids that they can claim that role in their own lives.

 

Why Can’t We Leave Women Alone?

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Morning telly; the land that time forgot.  I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of how I ended up watching it the other day, but let’s just say I was feeling a bit ‘delicate’.    Anyway, there I am, second bowl of cheerios in hand when a victim woman is herded out, wearing a brown towel on her head and something resembling a monk’s robe to save her modesty.  Stood between two well-dressed (and probably well-meaning) women – one, the presenter and the other a stylist, the grilling begins.  It turns out they are all discussing the state of her wardrobe since having kids.  They ask her when was the last time she ‘spoiled’ herself with a shopping trip?  How often she changes her hairstyle and if she’d like to wear more make up.  They show a still of her in her ‘normal gear’, which, to the woman’s shame, is a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.  (No makeup – for shame!).

As I’m sitting there, wondering if my cheerios have been laced with some sort of time-travel agent and I’m now in the 50’s, they go on to chat about the woman’s job as a paramedic – which is good because she can wear a uniform to work.  I’m not sure they’d trust her to pick out her own work clothes.  The stylist kindly fibs that the woman’s wardrobe isn’t THAT bad, it’s just lacking in colour.  Why so many darks?  We can only wonder – but it’s clearly not a good thing.  The stylist goes on to tell the frumpy saddo  woman that she would ‘feel better in herself’ if she wore more yellows and reds.  ‘More people will gravitate towards you,’ she promised.  *Note to self: never wear red or yellow.

As the piece wore on, I found myself asking my empty living room, ‘Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing?’  The silence was deafening, but my inner thoughts were loud – IMAGINE IF THIS WAS A MAN.  Imagine a man standing there, apologetic for his lack of sartorial genius and handing himself over to these ‘experts’ to make him beautiful again and more acceptable to the world at large.  Because, you know, Dads can really let themselves go when all their focus is on their kids and their busy lives.  Do men even have time to try out the latest make-up styles?  Although by now they should have mastered the feline flick, because that never goes out of fashion and always looks sexy.

Obviously, I’m poking a bit of fun.  There are men and women out there who do feel good in new clothes or getting a different hairdo – makeovers are harmless fun.  But why is it overwhelmingly women who are the targets  candidates?  It’s only when you imagine a man in her place that the whole thing becomes preposterous – so why are we still putting the focus on how a woman looks?  To be honest, when the segment started, my cheerio-addled mind didn’t bat an eyelid.  It’s normal for me to see a woman being talked through her shortcomings in the beauty stakes.  And that’s worrying.

For centuries, women have been the object of the ‘male gaze’.  This term, first coined by Laura Mulvey (feminist film theorist), encompasses the idea that, in art and the media, women are constantly being viewed and represented through a masculine, heterosexual lens, as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.  And considering the fact that a lot of our learned behaviour and beliefs come from what we read and see on our screens, it follows that women have been taught to identify their worth with their physical appearance.  Women are consistently scrutinised and shamed for their body shape, size and age.  And what this segment showed is that even the idea of self-care is being sabotaged by companies who want to sell you something and are using it as another stick to beat you with.  Have a spa day, a massage or a facial, you’ll feel better.  More pressure to be happy, compliant and pretty.

Why can’t we be treated the same as men?  Just allowed to exist without this constant pressure to be pleasing on the eye?  I saw a tweet recently about a daughter asking her mother why her pants didn’t have pockets like daddy’s and her mother replied, ‘Welcome to the patriarchy!’  It’s funny but it’s also true.  Why do men get to have comfortable, functional clothes and yet, as a woman, if you’re not suffering for your beauty, are you even a woman?  Who sets these standards and will we ever stop perpetuating the myth that an attractive woman is happier, more successful and just better.

Our idea of female beauty has been so restricted by the male gaze and the patriarchal constructs which have, down through the centuries, prevented women from being celebrated as anything other than purely ornamental.  Did you know that the great composer Felix Mendelssohn had a sister who also composed?  Nope, probably not, because Fanny Mendelssohn was not allowed to pursue her talent (a letter from her father warned her that music could merely be an ‘ornament’ for a woman).  There is an entire army of women – artists, scientists, politicians, who have been erased from the history books (check out author Joanne Harris’ #CelebratingWomen for starters), because the writers of history (men) made sure they were kept out of them.  So even as women ourselves, we have limited examples to gauge what being a woman is from a feminine perspective, because historically, our opinion of ourselves just wasn’t as important.  I really wished the TV show could have celebrated that woman’s intelligence – the training she must have undertaken to become a paramedic.  Her dedication, to her job and her family.  The beauty in her confidence, her playfulness when answering dumb-ass questions and frankly her bravery to go on a TV show and have people call out her dark clothes fetish, just so she could get a free makeover!

I hope that men and women can start seeing this for what it is and demanding better from the media.  There was an article recently in a woman’s magazine, written by women, asking if Meghan’s style was making Kate look like a frump and thankfully people were quick to call the publication out on pitching women against each other like that.  One wore a shirt and trousers, the other wore a dress.  END OF DISCUSSION!  Again, imagine an article questioning if Harry’s facial hair was making William feel inadequate?  It just wouldn’t happen, but we’ve become so used to seeing this kind of crap about women that sometimes we don’t even notice.

I read a great quote from Caitlin Moran that puts this whole thing into context.

“I have a rule of thumb that allows me to judge,  whether or not some sexist bullshit is afoot. Obviously, it’s not 100% infallible but by and large it definitely points you in the right direction and it’s asking this question; are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this, as it’s letting the side down?

Almost always the answer is no. The boys are not being told they have to be a certain way, they are just getting on with stuff.”

― Caitlin MoranHow to Be a Woman

We have the opportunity now to write a new story with a new narrative.  Let’s use it!  Let’s celebrate women for their passion, their talent, their creativity.  Women who, despite pressure from society, don’t look for approval; clever women, funny women, women who stand up for injustice, like the woman who stood up on a plane recently in order to save a man’s life.  Women who campaigned for reproductive rights in Ireland, who fight climate change, women who challenge the status quo, women who (as our former president Mary Robinson once remarked) instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.  Even women who stay at home and eat cheerios and write blogs.  We are all worth celebrating, regardless of how we look.

The Cinderella Complex

 

The Cinderella Complex is defined as an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others.  And let’s face it, we all have times in our lives when we feel like that, which is perfectly okay.  But pinning all of your hopes on being rescued by someone or something outside of yourself won’t really get you very far in life (unless you are in fact Cinderella).  For the rest of us though, we have to become our own champion and make our own dreams come true.  The following article, in which I compare waiting for Mr. Right in our personal lives to waiting for Mr. Write in our professional writing career, features on Books By Women.

 

The Cinderella Complex – Waiting For Mr. Write

March 6, 2016 | By | Reply

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Go on, admit it. We’ve all day-dreamed about being the writing world’s equivalent to Kate Moss and being spotted in an airport (although, I’m not sure how likely it is that an author would be spotted in an airport).  But let’s face it, unlike Kate Moss, most of us have to work at being discovered and believing anything else is, well, a fairy tale.

The Cinderella Complex, a term first coined by Colette Dowling in her ground-breaking book of the same name, describes women’s hidden fear of independence. However, I don’t agree that this is purely a ‘woman’s issue’. Men are equally guilty of hoping someone else will swoop in and give them their happy ending.  (Ahem.) For years however, it was women who were encouraged to place all of their hopes and dreams on the arrival of Mr. Right, who would magically make all said dreams come true.

Read the full article on Books By Women here.