A Little Kindness

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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.

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

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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

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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

An Ode To Hermann The German, or How Things Always Turn Out Grand In The End

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Hermann Dunkel was his name, but we called him Hermann The German. He was German, as you would imagine was the case, and for many, many years as a smallie I thought he must be the most Germanic of all the German people and was possibly even the King. Surely nothing could bind you more to your home country than having a name that rhymed with it?

Hermann was a solid and much loved fixture of our youth. He would arrive from Stuttgart with mystical objects that might as well have been carved from moon rock, such was our fascination with them. We still to this day have a Duplo set in the house that consists of a little Duplo cowboy, a horse trailer and a horse to put inside the trailer. I still, at 31 years of age, sit and wheel the trailer around the table every time I’m at my Mam and Dad’s house. I thought of him today when a Cork Facebook page posted this beautiful picture of the Gorch Fock, the boat on which Hermann first visited Cork in the early 1970s.

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The story of Hermann started with a chance meeting between him and my Mam’s younger sister somewhere around 1970, as far as Mam can recall. They met in the Grand Parade hotel in Cork City where Hermann fell wildly in love with her but her interests were leading her elsewhere. When he came back to win her heart a few months later (accompanied by a pal for backup), she had no more interest in him than the man in the moon and he was stranded in Cork; a lone sailor with a useless wingman and a broken heart. Which is where my family comes in.

My parents looked after him and his pal and took them to see the coast and countryside and he fell deeply in love with the people and places of Ireland. My Mam says that he most strongly adored the beauty of West Cork, and Sherkin Island in particular.

Hermann came back to visit many, many times after that first trip. He came back with his children and his wife, and after she died tragically he brought his second wife here. Two happy marriages in one life is a testament to his good nature and wonderful spirit.

Hermann died last year, and we were all heartbroken to lose him. I would love to have seen him back in Ireland again with my parents and spending time in his beloved Cork Harbour. My Mam sent me a copy of the note below that Hermann left with them during his first stay when they rescued him and his broken heart. I just love that this story is a neat and beautiful illustration that a lifetime of joy and a new adopted family can emerge from what initially might seem to be a broken heart in a strange country.

“Dear Kay and Pat, only in case [you] don’t see us in the evening. This as a little souvenir for all you did for me. Before I started in Germany I had never expected that it could be so ‘grand’ here. Thank you very very much.”

And thank you Hermann, and goodnight.

Hermann Note

A Tale of Trams and Mickies

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In all my dreams of swashbuckling overseas adventures, I never imagined a day when I’d have to invoke my newly acquired language skills to describe a hideously uncomfortable close encounter with a public masturbator on a tram. And that’s a sentence that I never thought I’d write. What a lovely day of firsts.

The tone of this post is an odd one for me to balance well. The point I want to make is threefold:
1) Somebody exposing their genitalia to you and masturbating on public transport is not ok. It is illegal and disgusting and fucked up.
2) This, however, does not mean that there are not parts of this story that were extremely funny and full of suppressed giggles because taking your mickey out and having a tug on a tram is also so preposterous that it just creates an air of surreal comedy.
3) No assault of any kind is every too small to be reported. People cannot get away with shit like that. Even if it’s only you shouting it at the universe and your pals after 5 wines, then shout away. But preferably tell a cop or a responsible adult.

I  think that people who know me, know me as a strong woman, possibly falling slightly on the side of overbearing asshole when I think i’m correct and also as being outspoken on rights issues. I would be the first person (in my imagination) to tear someone to shreds for attempting to make me feel small or scared, and I imagine a lot of others would think that of me too, so I wanted to write this as some very small attempt to show that assault, no matter how minor, is a mind-twisting event. When people question why women don’t shout or fight or create a scene when something happens, even in a very public place, it’s because it’s shocking to the core. Your mind doesn’t normalize it quickly, sometimes not at all, and the first port of call is often self-protection. If I, a loud Leo of a woman, got silenced, freaked out and very fucking grossed out from having a mickey swirled in my face on public transport, imagine how hard it is to speak out in worse circumstances?
I won’t go into the details too much, because they are unnecessary and not of interest to anyone except the police, but I was coming home on a weeknight recently at around 7.30 in the evening and was plopped on my little tram seat in a half empty carriage glued to my phone. Note I say half empty, there were other people around, but sitting up ahead of me. As I was carefully studying a newly changed profile picture or some equally momentous content update, I noticed a movement to my right. I thought it was the man trying to steady himself. I am truly my mother’s daughter; we had a spate of dirty phone calls to the house one year and we realised that they kept happening because my mother thought the shallow breathing and groans were signs of distress and kept asking the fella on the other end of the phone if he needed some help.
Anyway, I glanced to my right to check on the poor lad who was having difficulty with his balance and as quick as a flash, (pun entirely intended), noticed that he was leaning comfortably, dick in hand, hips angled toward me. My first reaction was to squint to make sure it was, in fact, a mickey. I am not sure what else on God’s green earth it could have been but I wasn’t thinking straight. I then stood up like someone had lit a bonfire under me, walked firmly away from him and waited at the doors as he stared me down and continued having the time of his life. How depressing, having a wank on a tram.
That night I walked home, told a pal about it, slept, woke up the next day and increasingly felt like I should tell someone even though part of me felt stupid and childish and like it would be badly received as an overreaction. I grew up with the sense that a flasher or a public masturbator was more of a nuisance, an attention seeker and you’d do well to ignore them because it’s not “real” assault.
But what do these fuckers do when the kick wears off that? When they’ve relieved themselves into the faces of 100 women and girls who have been silenced and forced to move away while they continue to hold power? Do they get bolder and braver and move on to other things? Are they abusers? Would they do that in front of a child?
It sounds apologetic and awful to admit it, but when I finally got the courage up to call the Amsterdam Transport Authority the next day and make a report, I had a list of reasons ready about why I was calling to report it: “I’m concerned he might go on to bigger offenses, I’m afraid he might do it to children.” But the truth is, it was enough for him to do that to me, to take away my feeling of safety and autonomy. And thankfully, the Transport Authority agreed with me and could not have been more helpful.
The most difficult thing about explaining the incident to a non-native English speaker is that I couldn’t resort to any euphemisms or slang words. It was wall-to-wall penis and other straightforwardness. The customer service person and I had a lovely awkward giggle about our agreed terminology before she talked me through the whole incident, reassured me they were fully supportive and were very concerned about similar reported incidents and urged me to contact the police. This also felt difficult at first, but it was a 20-minute interview with a very lovely policeman who then had his female colleague call me first thing the next morning to assure me that they were making sure that they were finding out everything they could about the incident and the man involved.
And even if nothing comes of the investigations? What happened as a reaction is enough for me. Having people listen and be kind and take note and not question why you didn’t just laugh it off and move on is a good feeling after I’d been made to feel so unsteady on my feet for a bit. If it was your sister or daughter or Mum or friend, you’d want them to be able to say it out loud too. That man took advantage of a woman alone, and I’m sure has done it to many other women and girls and I did the only thing I could do with it, which was to put it out into the universe to make sure that it’s recorded somewhere, no matter how hidden away that record is.
If something makes you feel uncomfortable and gross and it’s also actually illegal, no matter how much people try and say it’s only a “minor” thing, follow your gut and report it. Speak up. Speak up for women who can’t. Talking about it lessens the stigma and turns it into a less acceptable behaviour, even if those talks are just with your pals or family or partner.
I’m back braving the tram again, albeit making sure that I sit in slightly busier compartments, and I might add “Learning the Dutch word for ‘mickey'” to my 2015 to-do-list, but I’m very much ok. I just wasn’t for a few hours, and when I reached out, even though it felt weird and tough and silly for what felt like a relatively small issue, there was a support network that I never knew was there, and that’s a very lovely thing to learn. #keepyourmickeyinyourpants

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11 Headlines That Perfectly Illustrate How Much The Daily Mail Hates Women. Haaates Them. Eww. Christ. Imagine Being A Woman. Ugh.

Every day I do something horrible, reprehensible, disgusting and demeaning. I check the Daily Mail website. I tell myself that it’s because they have faster updates on news than any other website, even though their take on said news is usually preposterously skewed, but there are many sad, shitty nights where I’ve sat and browsed the beautifully named “Femail” section of the site, which mainly consists of women vilely slagging off other women and CAPS LOCK HEADLINES ABOUT CELLULITE. I ain’t doing it anymore. No morbid fascination for stunningly vapid journalism will drag me there. The following 11 headlines will be my strength and my shield. The Daily Mail hates many people, but these are just some of the ways in which it has shown that it really fucking hates women.

1)

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The time they made a hilarious comparison between a sex offender and a dude from Anchorman. It’s really a stunning feat as a journalist to receive information that a man has committed a sexual offence and to have “Fuck me, that guy is the IMAGE of that fella from Anchorman!” as your first reaction and then actually turn it into your story angle.

2)

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The time they warned you about your tricksy periodses. Don’t worry though love, you’re just out of your fucking mind on PMS and nothing’s actually happening at all. That’s the good news.

3)

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The time they said that maybe your periodses weren’t so tricksy after all, and that you shouldn’t dare ask your boss for anything without consulting your “menstrual diary”. I love my menstrual diary. It’s made from the womb lining I shed every month and is decorated with pubic hair.

4)

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The time they completely changed their fucking mind again. Obviously this was written by a woman off her face on her period.

5)

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The time they announced that women are manipulative, bleeding liars.

6)

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The time they told you that in order to be admirably thin, you should wear a suit that makes you “clench your entire body while waiting for the pain to subside.”

7)

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The time that their “EXCLUSIVE” story revealed the shocking fact that fat people are capable of having a good ride despite their hideous fleshiness getting in the way.

8)

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The time that the headline was missing a word and yet still managed to be completely fucking condescending. Also, I love that they used a banana muffin as the control.

9) 

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BECAUSE YOU FUCKING BULLY US INTO MADNESS ON OCCASION.

10) 

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LOL.

11)

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The time that they said that big jobs were too much for our little fanny brains to cope with and that with great power comes a higher risk of dementia.

And with that, i’m out. I love the world and its womanliness too much to be contributing clicks to articles like this that just beget even worse pieces of shit.

Old Shit Revisited: A Poor Assessment of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum Inspired By Awful Women’s Magazines And With Particular Reference To ’90s Pop Pioneers TLC

I’ve just arrived back from visiting the magnificent city of Istanbul and while there, I tried to figure out how my personally treasured but rather pedestrian photos could be made interesting to a public of some sort. Most shots were binned, but the entire time I was walking around the Archaeological Museum I had the bitchy voice of a Cosmopolitan writer in my head, criticizing the fashion choices of the women and men of the Greek, Roman and various other empires. I say men and women but I clearly mean women because Cosmopolitan hates us just slightly more than we’re even supposed to hate ourselves, according to them. Roll up your leg hair, suck in that gut and welcome to a women’s magazine’s take on some old shit (liberally dotted with references to ’90s girl band TLC).

Coronation Street called and it wants its wig back. Girl, that hair is doing you zero favours. You’ve sent us letters in your thousands about your desperation at finding a man. This hair is why you’re at home on your own eating cheese slices straight out of the packet. Careful of that cellulite…

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I said fix your fucking hair.

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These stunners are straight-up TLC: Crazy, sexy and oh-so cool. Pink mantel? Check! Draped layers? Check! But where are their men? Probably out catching food for the whole gang for a cosy fireside picnic. #paleo

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This deconstructed man just screams modern art genie Damian Hirst: Bold and brave. But there’s also a stunning fragility about his floating limbs as they’d lift you up and away from the sorrow of debating exactly how long your pubic hair should be to remain acceptable. Throw that rock away mister and wrap those guns around me any time!

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Folds of luscious fabrics here to cover those sinful days when you forgot to shave! There’s no excuse girls so make sure next time you’ve got those legs ready to rock that mini-skirt. Shave or be single; the decision is yours…

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A little extra room around the waist on this one for gassy, bloated menstrual days. Just make sure you clog it all up with expensive feminine hygiene products, then take all the painkillers God has graced the earth with and turn that frown upside down. Nobody gives a shit about your body being a wondrous reproductive machine, they just get grossed out by your blood and back pain so sort it out dummy!

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We all know this one, am I right? You wake up on a Saturday morning after Friday drinks at the new job and all of a sudden: “Dude, where’s my arm?!” Don’t fret, your boss will more than likely respond to mild flirting and even suggestions of inappropriate behaviour so go right ahead and use those feminine wiles. #noshameinbeingawoman

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Double denim? What WERE you thinking? Or is that a slashed denim jumpsuit… Whatever, you shouldn’t be fussy. He’s a man and he might want you so get those glad rags on and shimmy on over.

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Stop the lights and call the Mayor, we have a winner! Cross body elegance from our headless friend shows you never have an excuse for saggy boobs. Had children? Who cares?! Get those girls pointing to the North Pole with this genius wrap. Also, has somebody asked Diane Von Furstenburg where she got her inspiration from? Seems suspicious to me… #notcallingyoualiar

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Hand on hip: Ladies, he’s not afraid of his feelings. What a total #joy.

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Partridge penis and bull saliva are the only things you need to give your man a VERY happy Christmas! #tesco

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And finally ladies, the dream. Your robed man, handing you a declaration of his love despite your hairy, covered-up legs. Note the midriff action (can we all thank TLC one more time?).

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