Why I’m Rubbish at Being a Girl

girly issues pic

I’ll admit it – I’m a tomboy. I do occasionally wear heels and dresses; I am physically capable of applying mascara and straightening my hair. But I’ll be honest: I would rather talk about football than the latest gossip. I’m much more scared of manicures than creepy crawlies. And don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of ‘Made in Chelsea’…

Now obviously I’ve made some pretty generic statements on gender there and feel I should probably clarify my position on this. Clearly there are ladies out there who like cars and gents who like makeup, and I think that’s great. I don’t buy into the idea that, “girls wear pink, boys wear blue,” and I’m all for male nurses and female plumbers. I believe in equal opportunities and equal pay for people who do the same good job. There are still some things in life that I really don’t see anything wrong with being ‘genderised’ – for example, I don’t think science should ever go down the road of male childbearing. There are lots of things that make us unique as men and women that I think are brilliant and we should recognise and celebrate, not see as divisive and problematic.

Anyway, it’s all become a bit serious. If anything, I like being a tomboy. I get to complain about (but secretly enjoy) dressing up for a wedding / night out on an infrequent enough basis to just about remember how to do it. I can joke around with “the lads” whilst having an inbuilt female filter about what is an acceptable level of banter: I can also see when the target of the mickey-taking is trying to hide the fact that he is actually a bit upset (and possibly about to cry – which is, naturally, fine with me).

Maybe the stuff I don’t get about boys will be a subject for another time. I am quite experienced at being a woman. I feel like I’m in more of a position to pass judgment on myself in relation to other females of the species. So here goes. Apologies to any girls reading who think I need to get over it, but I just don’t get it… why do we ask such silly questions?

“What are you wearing?”

There’s an episode of Friends (‘The One Where No One’s Ready”) where Ross is getting frustrated that ‘the gang’ won’t get dressed ready to attend his big night at the museum. Rachel causes particular problems by failing to even choose an outfit, never mind actually put one on. I am Ross. I don’t get how making this decision can possibly take so much time. Girls are always asking one another what they are going to wear for a night out, which to my mind just unnecessarily prolongs the process of dressing, which is a stressful and time-consuming enough activity for me when jeans and trainers are unacceptably casual. I therefore like to make it as simple as possible by giving myself one, or at most two, outfit options. Presumably girls want to know the answer in order to accurately determine a vaguely unique, yet reasonably similar outfit to the rest of the crowd. I am simply interested in the most comfortable clothing I can find that is of a satisfactory level of smartness. As a post-script to this section, I should also mention that I learnt a painful lesson after an unfortunate incident at Buckingham Palace when I thought my wedges were comfortable when I tried them on at home; If any pair of shoes hurts when I stand up in them to check my outfit in the mirror, I can confirm that it would be a bad choice to wear them.

“Do I need a coat?”  

Yes. If you’ve had to ask the question, the answer is always yes. I’m pretty sure most of the men who are forced to give up their jackets to their cold, underdressed “should-I-bring-a-jacket?-no-I’m-sure-I’ll-be-alright” girlfriends would back me up on this. I’m convinced that the irritation of having to carry a coat or pay a couple of quid to stow it in the cloak room is a better option than freezing to death in a queue to get in, or a taxi rank to get home. Obviously this rule doesn’t apply if you’re a tough Northern bird – I am Southern and therefore wimpy.

“Do you need the loo?”

Apparently when ladies go out of an evening, it suddenly becomes necessary to be accompanied at all times when visiting the toilets. There was a recent (unrelated) news story about a cubicle at one of the venues for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi having two toilets inside it. The reliability of this story has since been questioned, but as far as I’m concerned this isn’t a new thing. At Loughborough University I clearly remember thinking how odd it was that one of the cubicles in the Students Union was a “double”. Since successfully becoming potty-trained, I haven’t required any assistance to get to, use, or exit the ladies’ room. Going into loos in twos doesn’t make queuing more efficient… and to be honest I just think it’s weird.

“Should I buy it?” and “Does my bum look big in this?”

I know not all girls like shopping and to be fair I would say I probably vary a bit in this area myself. However as a general rule, I make my own mind up on whether or not to buy something pretty quickly and I certainly try not to project this question onto the unlucky soul navigating Westfield with me. This is obviously harsh on my part – I’m sure it is a reasonable and normal thing to ask for advice from a friend, but let’s be honest here: if you like it, you will almost definitely buy it anyway. Meanwhile, usually even the very best of friends will disguise an honest, “Yes, your bum looks massive in that” with a gentler, more kindly, completely unrelated, “I’m just not sure they’re the right colour for you”. Why do we ask that question if we don’t ever give (or want to receive) the ‘real’ answer?

“OMG, do you think she has got fatter?”

I was going to write a section about female gossip magazines, but it started making me feel really angry. This article is supposed to be reasonably lighthearted so I’ve decided to write a whole entry about that at a later date (probably soon, I must get these feelings out). Watch this space.

Well on that jolly note, that’s probably about as many girly questions as I can handle in one day. Sorry about all the moaning. Having read this back, it’s actually turned out to just be a reflection on my own inadequacies as a “proper” girl. Anyway, must go… there’s Spanish Football on the telly tonight and I need to catch a spider.

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Is life better when you’re vertically-challenged? Some short musings.

So, there I am, stood on a packed Tube train during rush hour. Being 5-and-a-bit feet tall is not ideal at this moment in time. I am, quite literally, faced with a pack of armpits. I’ve had to risk it for a biscuit and estimate the position of a waist-level safety banister somewhere nearby (because obviously I can’t reach the overhead handrail). I’m slightly worried that I may have accidentally grazed a body part of the woman next to me during my blind rail-grab. Awkward. I can’t really see, but more pressingly, I can’t really breathe. To distract me from the sea of armpits, I start wondering if there are any situations in life where being short is actually an advantage.

In the circumstances, it’s hard to feel much positivity. My immediate thoughts are more related to other times I’ve regretted my stunted growth: every time I’m in the standing section at a concert when the tallest person in the building inevitably stands directly in front of me, leaving me with an obstructed view of half a drummer and in constant fear of a lanky stray elbow knocking me out as part of a dance move. And of course the regular helplessness in the supermarket / kitchen / aeroplane when despite my best efforts, things are just that little bit out of reach and I reluctantly have to ask a fully-grown adult for help.

Us shorties also get a rough deal in the world of words. All that patronising stuff about the best things coming in small packages definitely seems to be shot down (there’s one to start us off) by the connotations of “falling short” and having “short-comings”. We are told to “think big” and that, “bigger is always better”. Or am I being short-sighted? I do realise that some things in life are for practical or safety purposes, but I would be genuinely devastated if I didn’t meet the minimum height requirements for a theme park ride. Sometimes choices just seem to be made for me – even if I wanted something bigger, frankly I would look and feel ridiculous driving anything larger than a hatchback. There’s a chance I’m pushing the boundaries as it is and should actually be in a Smart car.

That thought brings me back to the theme of transportation. Let’s talk aeroplanes: finally, a bonus area for the midget. To be honest, even I feel a bit cramped in an aeroplane, so I honestly pity any 6-footer trying to squeeze a very long pair of legs into an economy seat. It’s also that bit easier to sneak over any sleeping passengers who are in your path to the shoebox-sized bathroom. If you really can’t reach the overhead locker, there’s usually a helpful BFG or high-heeled air hostess on hand, so overall I would say I tick some boxes for air travel suitability.

Obviously if you are lucky enough to be able to afford to go upstairs as you board a jumbo jet, foot room probably won’t be much of a problem. Separate issue, but my dream of getting to sleep in an actual bed on a long-haul flight is yet to be achieved. Speaking of beds, this is another aspect of life where shortness can make things a bit easier. With my head on the pillow, there’s never much danger of my feet hanging off the end of a bed. In winter, I’ve clearly been shortchanged on my share of duvet allocation if I get cold toes during the night.

The clothing I buy to stay warm can also be affected in a good way. When you’re child-sized, you can fit into VAT free clothes. You can pack your smaller clothes into a smaller suitcase, ready to fly more comfortably on a plane. Other lifestyle advantages include being able to live in a low-ceilinged cottage without banging your head and a higher success ratio at games of hide-and-seek. There is no way I could manage to walk in heels big enough to make me taller than my boyfriend. Occasionally, I can still get away with a cheaper child’s entry fee – although I fear the time is getting closer when my diminutive stature will no longer draw attention away from my increasing laughter lines (i.e. wrinkles). There are a couple of bonuses in planning for disasters: If I were to have the misfortune of being involved in a hostage situation or earthquake, I do have the ability to wedge myself into a smaller hiding place / corner / cupboard than most. Also, taller people would probably intercept lightning strikes or falling trees before they reach me.

At primary school, I was known as “Titch,” but I kept holding out for the day that I’d grow. No such luck. My housemate included “I wish [I was a little bit taller]” on a birthday CD in my mid-twenties. You know who you are. Thankfully, the slightly more endearing, “Little One” seems to have stuck as a nickname now. During my research for this article, I discovered that a Dutch scientist has found that dwarf mice, whose growth has been deliberately stunted (seems harsh), live up to 75 percent longer than their normal-sized neighbours. Like many scientific studies, this is probably flawed and there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true. However, presumably it’s important to consider science as part of your pension plans, and it looks like I could reach my 200th birthday if things go well. I hope retirement isn’t too boring though, as by the time I’m a ‘granny’ I’ll probably have to factor in shrinking too, so I might not be big enough to hold a pencil and I’ll have to stop blogging.

All things considered, it’s not so bad being small. I may not be able to reach things on high shelves and I may take three steps to your two. But there’s room out there for the big people and the little people, and being a bit short for my height does have its advantages. Having reached my Tube stop, (which I had to listen out for as I couldn’t see the signs past anybody’s shoulders) I wiggled between the crowds easily enough via the small gap available. Please mind the midget.

p.s. As if all the troubles listed above weren’t enough, I’m also a bit short of followers. If you would like to read more of my random thoughts, just click ‘follow’ at the bottom right of your screen and sign up your email address to stay up to date with new posts. Thanks!

Winning versus Winning In Style: When Sport Meets Art

After reading an article entitled ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan: Da Vinci of the Baize,” on the BBC website yesterday, I’ve finally been inspired to try writing a blog. As much as anything, it’s just a few thoughts… I’m not trying to come to any perfect conclusions. In my eyes, too often we try to answer impossible questions about “who is the greatest” based on distorted criteria and unfair comparisons. Does it really matter whether Messi is better than Ronaldo? Why can’t we just see them both as great without needing to judge who is greater? You might disagree with me, you might not… but hopefully it might get you thinking.

“In the hands of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, a tennis racquet is a rock hammer and a tennis court a quarry. In the hands of Roger Federer, a tennis racquet is a paint brush and a tennis court a canvas.” (Ben Dirs, 2014)

For me, the quotation above summarises almost perfectly the difference between the greatest sportsmen and the greatest performers. The quartet above, undoubtedly four of the best tennis players ever to have graced a court, are all phenomenally difficult to beat and at times unbelievable to watch. A 54-shot rally between Djokovic and Nadal in the 2013 US Open Final had me standing up, oohing, aahing, roaring and eventually settling back into my chair chattering in disbelief; the sheer athleticism, determination, speed, power and skill was astonishing. The tennis these men can play is verging on superhuman at times. In a different way, Serena Williams can make her opponent look like a cowering schoolgirl at times with a terrifying mix of pace and accuracy; she is a strong and powerful woman but simultaneously has the footwork of a ballerina and balance of a gymnast. But despite all of this, Roger Federer is the only player amongst these greats who can silence me with one perfectly executed backhand. His is the only stroke with the elegance of a bird, the fluidity of water, the ability to seemingly slow time as you see it happening. It looks completely natural. What’s my favourite thing about Federer though? He can do the hot dog.

That brings me onto my next topic: Flair; creativity; the very essence of sport as ‘art’. A coach once directed me to read a chapter in a book by a highly successful Australian hockey coach, who describes flair as, “superior practised skill,” and believes that we should not actively seek it out in sports performance. I would disagree with this sentiment. Although I agree with his assertion that a highly skilled player such as Federer may able to achieve a greater percentage of success at shots like the hot dog owing to more and better practice, and whilst of course I wouldn’t advocate using it mindlessly in each and every situation, I would never discourage a player from attempting such a shot. Winning is important, making good decisions is important, not overcomplicating things at the wrong time is important… but I also believe fun, enjoyment, and the ‘spectacle’ are crucial parts of sport. There’s a reason we all deify Messi, Ronaldo, and historically Maradona and Pele… of course they are (or were) all extremely capable at the basics of football. They also have the skills but more importantly the courage to try something far more creative. The risk is getting it wrong. The opportunity is getting it right – and greatness comes from getting it right in spectacular style. There’s also a reason that players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Matthew Le Tissier and Paolo di Canio became cult heroes at their clubs – despite their relative lack of success as a team. They brought something new, different, unexpected. They gave their fans – and, I’d suggest, their teammates – something to get excited about. The idea of flair scares some coaches. They don’t like players doing things that they can’t control or predict from the sidelines. I absolutely believe top level sport is about winning, but I also think it is about entertaining. As a coach, if you encourage creativity and imagination in your players, there is one vital ingredient: you have to be prepared that it could go wrong. But if I was coaching, I’d much rather lose and have tried to have some fun along the way than lose and be boring. As I said earlier, you might disagree with me on some of this stuff… but as I’m not just talking about winning, I’m talking about great performances, the question I would ask is which goals or victories do you truly remember? The unforgettable ones are those with the drama, the skill, and the audacity to try something out of the ordinary. Of course most sporting ‘artists’ don’t do these skills out of the blue; they aren’t flukes. They are the result of practice, determination and understanding. Essentially though, they are also partly motivated by an enjoyment of trying to become extraordinary. “You could be good if you took it seriously.” I think you could be great if you took it less seriously. That doesn’t mean practise less, or try less hard. It just means enjoy the creative process of doing it.

Finally, what about those sports that actually base themselves around art? In figure skating, freestyle skiing and synchronised swimming, your success is actually measured in terms of your ability to perform skills with aesthetic precision. There is of course considerable physical and mental prowess required to complete moves and routines in these sports, and the perceived difficulty has a big impact on how you are scored. However, the results or assessment of performers in these types of activities is ultimately based on a visual interpretation of events. Pioneers or world leaders are those who invent new, more difficult dives or make a seemingly impossible physical action come to life in front of our eyes. I would suggest that a ballerina is a ‘physical artist’. Ballet may not elicit discussion in the same way as football or cricket, but many of the characteristics – balance, grace, and dare I say it, flair – held by the world’s greatest ballerinas can certainly be seen in performers like Lionel Messi and Sachin Tendulkar. The Winter Olympics has in some ways become increasingly competitive and ‘serious’ as time has gone by, but I still believe there is often a greater emphasis on pushing the limits of performance on the basis of art rather than the quicker times and better scores sought in many Summer Olympic sports. The sight of a snowboarder midair, blue sky behind them, white snow beneath them – that’s art. Competitors want the crowd standing on the side of a mountain watching them to see things that defy gravity and belief simultaneously. There is still that desire to win – but these are people who want to look good doing it.

I’m not trying to make a judgment about whether the results or the performance are more important. The thing I do know though, is that as a spectator, I cherish those who take my breath away not just in winning, but in the manner they perform. As a sportsperson, I know I might not ever achieve what I set out to when I was a kid… but I’ll make damn sure I don’t get bored trying.