Bottoms up

It’s been a long time since I wore a bikini. They’re not the most practical of ensembles on a beach (too much sand, and it’s impolite to readjust one’s wedgie in front of a viewing audience) and so I usually stick to a solid one-piece, better for diving and lazing and all manner of things you’d usually do on a sunny shore. But this year, I’m heading to the scorching hot, white-and-blue terraced steppes of the Greek islands, and decided I wanted to go all out. I eat right, I pay my taxes, I ain’t never shot a man in Reno, so I’m pretty sure I get to wear a bikini in climates where it’s so hot you can’t tell where your face ends and the sun begins, even if I’m not of Taylor Swiftian proportions.

If you’re not a woman over size 10 (or about a 38 or for the Europeans), it can be hard to understand the constant see-saw of thoughts that are set in motion when you begin to contemplate showing flesh in public. I’m not an unconfident person; I can attend a party solo, have commandeered the odd set of decks in order to do an interpretive dance to Fleetwood Mac, and I don’t have any huge hang-ups about my arse, but I still can’t shake that niggling feeling of not being sample size when it comes to outdoor outings. Today, to take advantage of sale season, I started looking for some bits of string to cover up the essentials on holiday and found the following pictures:

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.52.06

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.51.43.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.51.31

This is not a post about skinny shaming. It is not a post slagging off women who have prominent hip bones or thigh gaps or six-packs. All women are beautiful, unless they’re total arseholes, in which case they’re not that beautiful, but on a plainly aesthetic level all women are equal. What made me feel so unsettled was that when I saw a woman who was “normal” after all the hundreds of airbrushed, thigh-gapped women, I felt a shock and it made me feel so awful to think that somehow in that brief period of searching for something and finding only objectified perfection, I had lost a sense of diversity and reality in the presentation of the female body. When I saw these bodies, that represent most bodies and most definitely fall into the representation of my body, I felt, well, a little unnerved. Should they be showing that? What will people think if I go on a beach looking like that? Shouldn’t they – and I – cover up a bit more?

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.54.44

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.54.57

I’m a 5′ 10″, size 14, and the sight of a woman in the same realm as me made me immediately feel like I should wrap a sarong around me and duck under the nearest sun lounger. What a crock of shit our concept of fashion campaigns is. This post is only about basic photography, it doesn’t even cover the much murkier depths of higher level advertising, where extreme thinness and unreality are the norm, but I just felt I had to post something for my pals and others who might feel the same way.

We have wobbly bits, several wobbly bits, despite exercise and healthy eating and all the things we’re “supposed” to do, and I’m fully reclaiming all those wobbly bits now. I’m sticking a little flag in them, I’m the Neil Armstrong of my very own Lunar landscape and I’m going to appreciate how fucking flawless those women look in their Curve or Plus-size or whatever other euphemistically named bikinis they’re wearing, and feel fucking thrilled that I have a body that can take me to a beach, that can dive me under the water and bring me back to the surface and roll around in warm sand like the Little fucking Mermaid when she gets her legs, although that wasn’t entirely a picnic for poor Ariel either, let’s be fair.

I hate that it made me second-guess myself, but I love that I went ahead and bought 4 of the things anyway. Thighs: Prepare yourselves. Ass: Your day is nigh. Stomach: Your tour of duty approaches. We’re off to see the world, and a grand old time we’ll have too.

Responsible reporting on domestic violence

I don’t want to be overly critical of an article that highlights domestic abuse, because, after all, it is doing a service by highlighting the abuse in the first place, but the wording involved in so many articles borders on the offensive and dangerous.

I read this article in the Irish Examiner earlier this week, and was so struck by the fact that the leading language in it made it sound like this woman had been horrifically beaten and injured by her partner because she made his dinner wrong. He didn’t assault her because he didn’t like his pork chops; he assaulted her because he is a deeply unwell and unstable person who uses violence to express his emotions. The woman involved had to take the stand in court with the aid of a walking stick. To place a jaunty and clickbait-style headline like “Cork wife assaulted over her cooking” is to fully detract attention away from the fact that domestic violence in this country is underreported and overlooked.

Disappointing dinners don’t result in domestic violence. Small annoyances don’t result in life-threatening injuries. Deeply rooted mental health issues and uncontrolled anger are what are to blame for women getting beaten black and blue. I really wish newspapers would stop belittling such horrific cases for the sake of getting a snappy headline.

The forgotten victim of a domestic dispute.

There was an incident in Ireland last week where a police officer was called to a house to attend a domestic violence incident. When he entered the house with the woman who had made the emergency call, they were both shot by the perpetrator, who was the woman’s partner. The police officer, Tony Golden, died, and the woman, Siobhan Phillips, is critically ill in hospital.

When Siobhan was shot by her partner, she was already black and blue from sustained abuse and attacks.

This case has become about the death of a police officer and the salacious details of the killer’s IRA past. The perpetrator was facing charges of paramilitary activities and was out on bail at the time of the incident, the Guardian ran the story with the headline: “ State funeral held for Irish garda shot dead by republican dissident”. The angle is all wrong here. It’s misleading and you’re capitalising on buzzwords and ignoring the fact that this was a murder committed by a man who was violent and angry and basically got away with it for his whole life until he nearly beat his partner to death, shot her and killed a man. 

It’s horrific, and so, so sad for the policeman’s family, but at the heart of this is domestic violence. I read an excellent comment earlier from a woman in another forum about how the police in Ireland (and lots of places) are not trained how to respond to domestic violence, and in this case it resulted in the death of an innocent man and near-death of an innocent woman.

The word “domestic” waters it down, makes it seem like it’s a man giving a woman a slap or shouting a bit too loudly every now and again, and gives the impression that a peacemaker can just walk in and help sort things out. It also makes it seem like it’s only the problem of the people in the household. It isn’t. It’s my problem and your problem, not only because we should care for other humans who are in trouble but also because it might be us one day or it was us at some time in the past.

1 in 5 women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner.

In 2014, there were 16,464 incidents of domestic violence against women disclosed during 13,655 contacts with Women’s Aid Direct Services.

There were 10,653 incidents of emotional abuse, 2,470 incidents of physical abuse and 1,746 incidents of financial abuse disclosed.

In the same year, 595 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed to the Women’s Aid helpline, including 176 rapes. 

I’m not for one second saying that the police officer shouldn’t be mourned or that we shouldn’t be outraged, but this is about domestic violence, not terrorism or cop-killing. RIP Tony Golden and I pray for the recovery of Siobhan Phillips. 

Kray’s Last Tape

Reggie-Kray

Liveline, an Irish talk-radio show, played a blinder this week with a segment about the Krays. There was a discussion about how Tom Hardy had only had access to a very short recording of their voices and how no other recording exists, and then this lad from South Circular Road in Dublin rings in with a story about how his brother was put in a coma after getting beaten up in England, and Reggie Kray heard about him on the news and sent him a recording of his voice to try and help him wake up. It’s really rather terrifying and hypnotic to listen to. Fascinating stuff. Listen to it here, with Reggie’s voice starting at 7.24.

A Little Kindness

11644-hospital-sticker

I had an appointment a few weeks ago with a doctor that went spectacularly badly. The doctor was impatient and awful, I was nervous and the whole thing turned into a shambles resulting in me walking out. I was mortified after, doubting whether my actions had been correct, but today I had an appointment with a different doctor for the same thing (nothing serious, I’ll be around for a while yet), and they were so incredible; patient, understanding, open to listening and willing to explain everything that I was worried about. We chatted for 40 minutes, shook hands and I left calm and confident that walking out on the last appointment was the right thing to do.
I spoke to my Dad about this, as he’s had his fair share of appointments of late, and he told me that he’d had a run of rough appointments too; impatient doctors treating him like his questions were silly. Then a few weeks ago, he went to a doctor in Cork, and was nervous about attending due to the previous bad ones. This doctor, though, patiently chatted to him about his life, put him at complete ease, and then when the examination was finished, put on my Dad’s socks and shoes before he left the surgery. My Dad was genuinely emotional at this, that the doctor treated him as an equal and took time to make sure he was comfortable.
I just wanted to share it in case anyone else is in a situation where they feel like they’re making a fuss over something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Speak out if you don’t feel ok, and if someone goes out of their way to put you at ease then tell them and thank them. We’re all human, we all get afraid, and health is a difficult thing to talk about sometimes, but never be afraid to ask for more care if you feel like you’re not getting enough. For me, thankfully, it’s not life or death, it’s just about being comfortable in an awkward situation, but for someone who’s really ill it could affect the course of their treatment. For my Dad, that really positive experience has relaxed him enormously about all future treatments and generally improved his way of coping with hospital visits.

I’m sure all doctors start off with a positive approach to patients, and I totally understand how the pressure of working in medicine could wear you down, but I just think that it’s also our duty to remain aware that if we’re not comfortable with something, we can try to go elsewhere. This post is coming from a place of positivity following on from today, and I’m now actually looking forward to future visits and getting stuff sorted, but it blows my mind that for my Dad, a doctor bending down to help him with his socks was such a rare act of kindness that it actually made him emotional. I’ll be sending a thank you card to him first thing tomorrow.

The Case For Yes: Don’t Create A New Generation Of Irish Outsiders

assisted-emigration1

Start spreading the news, I’m off to New York for a little jaunt in a week or so. It’s my first time there and I am weak at the thought of it. I’m a substantial lover of Irish history, not an expert now mind you, expert would suggest I could discuss it after 4 sherries at a dinner party, when all I’d do in reality is sing Raglan Road and fall asleep under a coffee table, but I love reading about it and carry it dear to my heart as an expat abroad.
I was booking some New York stuff this week, and realised that on the 22nd of May, I’ll be taking a tour of an old tenement that housed immigrants from all over the world, but this particular tour explores the world of Irish immigrants to New York and is called “Irish Outsiders”, referencing the fact that the Irish were outsiders in the US even amongst other immigrant communities.
The 22nd of May also happens to be the date of the referendum concerning the 34th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, also known as the Marriage Equality Referendum. As the name suggests, this is a chance for Ireland to state whether are not it fully accepts its gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mammies, daddies and everyone else as an equal citizen in the eyes of the constitution. It will be a day that many of my friends and family go to vote, and I’ll watch from NY with crossed fingers and a wish on my lips that a Yes vote comes through (I cannot vote as an irish expat of over 3 years.)
I started having a little think about what would happen if the No vote does win out. What will it be like to be an LGBT person in Ireland, knowing that a majority has voted against you? This is not just a vote on marriage, it is a vote on whether Ireland is ok with LGBT people being deemed equal to those who identify differently to them. It’s about acceptance and fairness. You don’t have to even be ok with homosexuality, nobody will ask you to be the Grand Marshal in next year’s Pride Parade, you just have to say Yes to agreeing that nobody on this island is worth less than anybody else.

Haven’t we had enough Irish Outsiders? Whether or not people realize it, a No vote in this referendum will turn LGBT people into outsiders in their own communities. We hear stories all too often of people who felt they had to move away to come out and realize their sexuality. How wonderful it would be for Ireland to establish itself as a country where all of its citizens had the potential to be as comfortable and open as possible in their own skin.

I don’t have any more words to explain it any better, so I asked a few lovely people to tell me their own thoughts on what a No vote would mean for their relationship with Ireland. I’ll leave it to them:

Eimear: “if the No Vote goes ahead I will leave Ireland permanently. I always thought that if I ever had a family of my own I would stay in Ireland as I’m very passionate about my heritage but if No wins, I’ll cut all ties. I would have to for my own self respect and the rights of my (hopefully) future family. It’s been very difficult to listen to people talk about “people like me” like we’re a circus freak show and if the majority of the country feels that way I wouldn’t be able to bear living here. I’d be very much lying if I didn’t tell you that being gay in England made me feel normal and that’s a massive pull, as opposed to here where its still ‘not the normal thing'”

Senan: “I think what worries me most is that there are a lot of people who don’t think that this affects them. I overheard a woman I work with today saying she didn’t mind which side won as it didn’t really effect her. She’s in her 20s, I know she has gay friends and she knows I am a gay colleague so I was surprised that she didn’t connect the impact of this referendum with people she knows. I find it hard to visualise an Ireland after a No vote. I try to think that I would carry on as normal but I know in my heart that it would hurt and I would find it very hard to feel the same about Ireland. I love Ireland and I don’t want Ireland to decide it doesn’t love me. I don’t know if I would leave but it would definitely push me in that direction and make it a lot easier to not look back. I have never felt different to my straight friends and colleagues before to a major extent but if the No side wins I feel the Ireland will have branded me as different and less than them.”

Aoife: “I absolutely visualise my future differently should a No vote happen in the referendum. It is honestly unbearable a thought. It will be a hammering blow to people if it is No, and it will have much broader consequences than halting the campaign for marriage equality.
If the country votes no, it will first and foremost be a horrible message to LGBT people and their families that their fellow citizens do not view them as equal, or view their relationships as equal, or view their families as equal. This is an awful message to have reinforced. Behind these debates about marriage are real people, living their lives, having families, and trying to get by. A no vote will tell all those people that their relationships and their families are just not as good as their heterosexual counterparts, and they will be getting a strong message that their families do not deserve constitutional protection.”
I am currently in a little family of two with the most wonderful partner in the whole world. We cannot wait to have children, and to have our little family grow, and this is something that is incredibly important to us both. We were both relieved when the Children and Families Relationship Act passed because we now know that when our children are born we will both be recognised as their parents. This is good for them, and it is good for us. No longer will our children be denied the security of a legal relationship to their non-biological parent. These children have been denied this for so long. Our children will have two loving parents, who jumped through hoops and went through physical, financial and emotional hardships to bring them into the world. And they will be so loved. And now the law will recognise those bonds, and will protect the children’s rights to us both.
Despite this, if the referendum fails, our family will not be afforded the constitutional protection afforded to ‘The Family’ in Ireland. Families outside of marriage are simply not recognised as a family under Irish law. The constitutional family excludes us. It excludes us because it is based on marriage, and it excludes us because it is for heterosexual couples and any children they chose to have.
Our family will always be ‘less than’ if this fails.
Of course this will impact on the future we see here in Ireland. My family deserve better than this, our children deserve better than this. It upsets me so much to think they would grow up in a country where they were not seen as equal and where their family was seen as  ‘less’.
We have spoken already about what we will do if this fails. I can’t see my future in Ireland if it is a No.”

Today, Just Take A Little Minute

be-kind

Last month I sat and chatted with my Mam about her friend’s daughter who took her own life after a month-long stay in a mental health facility. Yesterday, I got a text from a friend about a pal of hers taking his own life ahead of what should have been a joyous occasion in his life. This morning I opened the paper to read a story about this young man, Martin Strain, who took his own life half-way through a self-help course he was put on by the NHS. The distance and coldness of how his depression was dealt with was what finally pushed me to sit down and type out these thoughts.
The last man I mentioned above, Martin, had spent the last 2 years of his life “bounced from professional to professional” during a round of “telephone assessments and failed telephone contacts” and “rarely seen in person” [by a healthcare professional], said his father. He attempted suicide in 2007, had been on and off anti-depressants and despite telling health workers that he had considered suicide 6 times in 2 weeks, was judged “not to be at immediate risk of killing himself”.
One quote in particular from this article broke my heart: “[Martin] said in the call, he did not want to let down his wife and four younger siblings. He wanted to “break the cycle” of how he felt.”
The thought of how frustrated and lost he must have felt, and yet still somewhere he had the presence of mind and absolute strength of character to consciously want to climb out of the depression that threatened to overwhelm him – and eventually did – makes his story all the more tragic. He wanted to help himself. He tried for 2 years to help himself, and yet he was given a questionnaire and a few tick-the-box services and left to his own devices.
It’s not enough. I know that our health services are struggling to the point of snapping, and I appreciate endlessly the work that doctors and nurses have done for my family and friends in the past, but when mental health diagnoses and care become neglected, that’s something that we can all start opening our eyes to and helping out with. If you get sick with cancer or diabetes, chances are I won’t be the one to spot it, but if someone close to me is struggling with depression or anxiety or an overwhelming mental health challenge of any kind, I can ask questions, spot signs and offer support where the health service can’t. I can be there every day. I can pick up a phone or send a text. I can be the missing link of humanity in that split-second where somebody has a wave of feeling that nothing is worth it anymore.
I’m not trivialising depression of any kind, or saying that it can be helped without medical intervention. I’m just saying that kindness, awareness, support, love and openness are all key treatments in helping those who are carrying a weight in their heart and soul, and we all have those treatments at hand at any time.
If you’ve been out drinking with mates this weekend, don’t just leave it at that. Think about any of them who might be having a tough time at the moment: job issues or relationship issues or perhaps a less noticeable change in circumstances. Just because they were out having a rake of pints with you last night doesn’t mean they’re not wracked with worry the rest of the time. Send them a message. Plan a dinner. Arrange a midweek viewing of Jurassic Park (yes I know that’s my solution to everything, but whatever…)
Love each other. Someone’s annoyance or irritability might be coming from a place of anxiety and stress and worry. Don’t ignore it. Ask people about themselves and give people a safe, calm place where they can openly lose their inhibitions and cry and wail and release all the messed up shit that’s currently going on in their life. As Martin’s story tells us, not everyone gets that space in a professional mental health environment, so maybe we can make more of an effort to be each other’s sounding boards in times of woe.
We all have low moments. We don’t all emerge back out of them. Let’s keep an eye on each other today. You never know who you might be helping, or who might be helping you.
And if you’re feeling weighed down today, or most days, know that there are friends you can talk to. There are people who will listen openly. Not everyone, some people are not good at that stuff and that’s ok too. But you are loved and you are treasured and there are ears that will open and hearts that will open and good people who will just listen and help you to get the support that you need. I am glad you are still here to read this and that you have another day on the Earth, and will hopefully have many more.

“If you believe suicide will bring you peace, or at the very least just an end to everything you hate- you are displaying self-caring behavior. You are still able to actively seek solutions to your problems. You are willing to go to great lengths to provide what you believe will be soothing to yourself.
This strikes me as optimistic.” – Augusten Burroughs