New Year’s Aspirations

DCIM105GOPRO

So, 2015 is upon us. Now you’ve finished unwrapping presents, bickering with relatives and eating your own body weight in Quality Streets, perhaps you’ve begun to think about a few New Year’s Resolutions. 

I’ve made New Year’s resolutions before, but it isn’t something I do every year. I’ve kept some, broken some and forgotten most of them either way. I understand the reason for making them, but to me a resolution often ends up being an objective that is measured in a very black and white way: Have I run a mile every day? Have I gone to bed earlier? Have I lost x-amount of weight by the end of March? Have I overhauled my diet, raised a million pounds for charity and travelled to twenty five new countries (…and have I achieved all this in the inordinately small amount of time I predicted it would take me when I was chatting at a dinner party during the festive season)? Some people manage to stick to their resolutions. The vast majority don’t. The problem with most resolutions is that one slip, one mistake, one bad day and it usually makes us feel like we have failed, so we give up completely. 

Maybe it’s all just semantics. I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago and she asked me what my aspirations are for the year ahead. I was struck by the idea of ‘aspirations’ – it makes me think of hope, positivity and striving for something. It doesn’t necessarily follow that aspirations are something you succeed or fail at, as long as you are trying to make something happen. I think that’s a good way to think about what you want to try and do, change or achieve. I may not complete my list, but if I have backed up my intentions with effort and some kind of action in the right direction, I won’t have failed. 

The list below is very much made up of personal aspirations that will (if I stick to them) impact on my own life. You might read them and think I am being selfish – there isn’t anything about volunteering to help others or charitable donations. I don’t want to publicly state my intentions on those things. I have a pretty good idea of the people I would like to be better at supporting and helping. You’ll just have to trust me that I’ll be trying to do just that as well as trying to challenge and enjoy myself.

My Aspirations For 2015 and a little bit about why I have come up with them:

1. ‘To get something published’
I got the ball rolling on this last year… I started this blog, I embarked on a Masters in English Language and Creative Writing, I entered two writing competitions (I didn’t win in case you were wondering) and I have tried to be braver about asking people other than my immediate family to read things I write. The next stage is finding the courage to submit my writing to publications. And to write something I think is actually good enough to submit… obviously!

2. ‘To get 20,000 blog hits by the end of January 2016’
It’s been just over 11 months since I started the blog and I’m almost halfway there. The next phase of this aspiration is partly down to me – write more blog entries, write better blog entries… and partly down to you – read the blog, share the blog! The one thing I have learnt so far in my brief writing career is that you have to swallow your pride and put yourself out there. So this is a shameless plug. If you enjoy reading something I’ve written, please tell someone else to read it too!

3. ‘To have fun at hockey’
I have spent a lot of hours of my life on hockey. The last few years have been pretty mixed as far as the ratio of good:bad hours is concerned. I know it is just chasing a little white ball around a field… but it is important to me. When I enjoy hockey and when I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to my team, this generally has a reasonably big impact on my overall happiness and wellbeing. The last few months have taught me that my hockey performance and experiences are generally summed up by a simple formula: having fun = playing well. And for good measure: playing well = having fun.
This season, my team is trying to defend a national championship and going on a European adventure at Easter. I intend to enjoy this experience as much as possible.

4. ‘To undertake at least five new / physical challenges’
Last year, I completed my first Tough Mudder and bike sportive, I jumped out of a plane in New Zealand, I hiked up a mountain in St Lucia, I started a Masters and a blog. All of these experiences – some of which were scary, some of which hurt, some of which were tiring, some of which just made me smile (and not necessarily in the order you’d assume) – made 2014 very memorable. It’s probably really self-important to quote from my own writing, but I’m going to do it anyway: “Suck it up and breathe it in… Not every moment in life is perfect, but every moment is unique.” I’m going to try and remember that.

If you’ve made it this far, you now know my aspirations for 2015. My question to you… what are yours?

Awkward Social Situations… Or is it just me?

(from dailyedge.ie)

(from dailyedge.ie)

When I was a kid, it’s fair to say that my tomboy clothes and short hair contributed to a few “Excuse me, do you know this is actually the girls’ toilets?” moments. As a 10 year old, my response usually turned the awkwardness around on whoever had asked pretty quickly, so it never bothered me too much. Having said that, I grew my hair out not long afterwards, partly because I suppose I didn’t really like the situations my ‘boy hair’ created. My hair continues to cause trouble though. My hairdresser is lovely, but a number of slightly awkward social situations tend to arise whenever I get a haircut.

It all begins with the hair washing. They normally ask you if the water temperature is okay. I don’t know what’s so difficult about being honest here, but I would only admit the water was too hot if there was a genuine risk that my scalp could set on fire. It’s probably partly because my mind is on something else: the head massage (easily my favourite bit of the whole appointment). Is it weird to have my eyes open for the shampoo and conditioner but to close them for the massage? It really is relaxing, but I don’t want to unwind so much I let out a sigh of contentment. You are then led to your chair and asked if you would like a magazine to read. As I have discussed previously, I don’t like women’s magazines. However, having said no, I have little to do but stare at myself in the mirror for half an hour, which is not an attractive alternative. I also struggle when my lovely hairdresser decides that a good time to strike up conversation is whilst blowdrying my hair. You can only make so many educated guesses and requests to repeat the question without sounding like an idiot.

There are of course other situations where it’s difficult to hold a conversation. I’ve spent enough hours lying face down on a physio bed to know it is physically impossible to converse normally whilst being sporadically prodded in the back and winded. A back massage should only be accompanied by questions that are viably answered by a grunt. The dentist should also know better than to expect you to be able to enunciate properly with your mouth open abnormally wide and whilst attempting to avoid dribbling everywhere. The dentist makes me feel quite pathetic in general really. I usually cry when the hygienist starts poking around in my gums with a dagger (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what she is using) and you’re always made to feel inadequate about your toothbrushing skills however hard you’ve tried. I don’t even think they trust me to answer truthfully about whether I’ve been using floss. It’s all very demoralising.

Although I wouldn’t say I am bezzie mates with the hairdresser or the dentist, I do at least know them a bit. Social situations with ‘real’ strangers can also be a bit awkward. For example, the social conventions around meeting new people can be quite confusing. Is a handshake or a kiss on the cheek more appropriate? This is even more puzzling in Holland, where there can be up to three kisses involved in a greeting. With people you know, sometimes they will confuse things still further by only kissing twice. You don’t want to be caught going in for that third kiss if the other party is pulling away: it’s hard to back out of an unreturned pout with your dignity still intact.

Then there are people we just share a fleeting awkward moment with. There is no widely accepted method of passing somebody on a pavement when your paths are about to clash. This means we are faced with the left-right-left-right shimmy. Obviously in Britain this is followed by repeated, embarrassed apologies by both parties. Playing a team sport for most of my life means I’m pretty used to getting changed in the presence of others. I’m not an exhibitionist – but I’m not one of those people who attempts to put my entire outfit on under a towel. But it can still be a bit awkward when you make eye contact with someone at the same time as undoing your bra.

Much as I like to think I don’t waste much time worrying about what others think of me, I suppose most of the awkwardness in the scenarios described above ultimately comes from minor concerns about social acceptance and wanting to be seen as normal. Luckily though, most of the time these situations don’t linger long in the memory… and presumably (by which I mean hopefully) I’m not the only person out there who dribbles at the dentist or occasionally shakes hands with a bemused new acquaintance who was expecting a peck on the cheek.

No, I do not think it is “OK”! A rant about celebrity magazines.

Magazines on a stand in a newsagents. Image shot 09/2009. Exact date unknown.

Every now and then, I do have a serious problem with a serious topic. If you’re looking for something lighthearted, maybe wait for my next entry, or search for “funny cats” on YouTube.

I dislike women’s magazines in general but that’s largely down to a disinterest in and lack of ability at fashion, hairstyling and make up (see “Why I’m Rubbish at Being a Girl”). I’m genuinely not passing judgment on anyone who is interested in those topics. I have blithely used the phrase “brain pollution” to describe my feelings on this type of publication but I know it’s really rather unfair of me and I should without a doubt stop judging people for liking things that I don’t.

The issue that worries me here is celebrity magazines, with page upon page devoted to captioned photographs telling us how we should “see” these people. Their primary focus seems to be to highlight, comment on and generally criticise the shape, size, weight and looks of high profile men and women. Most of the comments tend towards consolidating widespread social beliefs about the perfect figure and what we are apparently supposed to aspire to look like. I’m not stating anything new here, but this has a potentially massive impact on social and psychological issues like body image, eating disorders and bullying. ‘Lads mags’ (which I do think are a genuine waste of paper) are often vilified for objectifying and demeaning women. Unfortunately I think a lot of the content in the magazines mainly marketed to young women effectively serves the same purpose in that it places so much emphasis and attention on appearances and superficial characteristics which ultimately have very little, if any, bearing on our value as people. I’m oversimplifying things, but if you’re prepared to look at a picture of a celebrity on a beach and pass comment about his or her weight or appearance, is this any better than buying a copy of “Nuts” magazine and staring at half-naked women?

In sport, it is a well-known fact that there is a huge gender bias in terms of media coverage. It is estimated that women’s sport receives only about 5% of total sports media coverage. Even in the last few months, highly successful sportswomen such as Olympic gold medalist Becky Addlington and Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli have been the victims of highly publicised instances of what is essentially sexist abuse in the media. Very recently, there was a disturbing incident involving Beth Tweddle, the multi-Olympian British gymnast. Sky Sports ran a well-intentioned Twitter Q&A session with Tweddle, which descended into a disgusting farce… a large number of the questions sent in were simple vulgar inferences about her appearance and personality. Essentially this is a high profile example of the same thing as I’ve been talking about. Tweddle was being judged on factors that had absolutely no bearing on or relevance to her brilliant achievements as an athlete or as a person. The social media aspect is similar in a way to reading a magazine and passing comment. You can hide behind the fact that you’re not saying these things to somebody’s face. This particular instance was probably worse because, well, put yourself in Beth Tweddle’s shoes in this scenario. But if we say it about someone famous in a magazine, we aren’t really doing something a world away from it.

There are also undoubtedly many other very significant factors that contribute to the psychosocial issues I referred to earlier. There are many other areas of the media and society at large that contribute to imbalanced and biased perspectives on other people, whether or not we know them. I realise it’s human nature to analyse, to judge, to communicate these feelings to others. I know that an awful lot of the things we analyse, judge and talk about are ultimately irrelevant. I also know that to some degree I’m being hypocritical here; I myself undoubtedly pass judgments and comment on people, when watching TV or even sometimes in real life. Ultimately though, I believe in the little changes that we can make. In my opinion, this issue being reinforced in magazines genuinely contributes to some big problems in society and this really is something we can try to stop. By not buying these magazines, by doing my best to avoid discussing whether so-and-so has lost/gained weight or looks ugly/terrible/worse than ever, I feel like it’s a tiny little bit less of a problem in the world. I have similar feelings about recycling and not leaving the tap running when I brush my teeth. It all helps a tiny bit, and if we all help a tiny bit…

I know I’ve gone into some contentious areas here. You may disagree with me or have a monthly subscription to one of these magazines. You may think I need to stop taking it so seriously and that we will probably never meet celebrities X, Y and Z anyway, so it doesn’t really matter whether we spend two minutes slagging off their ‘awful choice of swimwear’, or whatever it is. It’s probably bad that I’ve written this without actually reading (ha, loose term I would imagine) one of these magazines as part of my research. Essentially I am judging a magazine by what I am 99.9% sure is under the cover (based on what I can actually see on the cover). However, in case you haven’t guessed by now, I have no desire to waste my time or money on these publications. Hopefully, you may feel strongly enough not to either.

Thanks for sticking with me. I’m off to make a cup of tea, calm myself down and think of something trivial and fun to write about next time.