You’ve probably gained weight and we’re all going to see it when you go outside again.
If your stomach just dropped reading that, you better read to the end of this because we have got some UNPACKING to do!
I meant what I said; yes, it’s likely you’ve put on a few pounds. Why wouldn’t you?
We’ve been trapped inside for months, racked with guilt, fear and increasing anxiety. You’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has had unprecedented ripple effects of tragedy everywhere you look; people have died on a catastrophic scale, jobs have been lost, debt has snowballed, isolation has been forced upon you and you could’ve died that way; alone, frightened and unemployed.
So… in light of that, are a few tubs of excess Ben & Jerry’s really worth beating yourself up for?
If you know me outside of a computer screen, you’ll probably already know that I have become venomously anti-diet and anti-weight loss in the past few years. I say this as someone who was a serial dieter and even when I was very underweight I always felt I had to be shrinking and depleting in order to be achieving.
But what does weight loss actually achieve?
Really, it’s nothing. Seriously. Before you come at me with your Weight Watchers slogans and drive-thru science, let me go into why it’s all bullshit.
Your body is the way it is because it’s trying to protect you at all times. Sometimes it gets it “wrong”; people have allergies, genetic disorders, disabilities, all things that are not “the standard” you’ve been led to believe is “correct”. But your body is functioning. You’re alive, you’re coping and that’s really all your body is getting paid to do.
Actively seeking and trying to manipulate weight loss goes against that and your body is going to see that as a threat. Now this isn’t to say all weight loss is always bad because we know that our weight is going to fluctuate as we wade through life. If you’re going through times of stress or illness, you may find your body is using your back up reserves to keep you going, and in that process you might lose weight because your body has deemed it necessary to do that in order to keep you alive and safe.
But when you’re functioning and alive and you then try to shake up the zen balance your body has going on, you’re letting yourself in for a shit storm.
Cutting out entire food groups when you have no allergenic reason to can actually cause you to be intolerant to those very food groups when you reintroduce them later on. Exercising too much, too vigorously and above your skill level can cause injury both in the short term, but also in the long term years away from now when you’re already old and fragile. Skipping meals or denying yourself food when your hungry can royally fuck up your metabolism, to the point where you can give yourself some pretty severe conditions such as diabetes (That’s right, it’s not just the result of pounding donuts in your mouth) and anaemia. Vitamin deficiencies can result in chronic conditions and death and don’t forget that a lot of organs like your liver and kidneys are really begging for certain kinds of food in order to function properly and again, keep you alive.
So why are we told these measures to lose weight are perfectly fine and healthy?
The diet industry is literally a billion-pound money making industry and wouldn’t you know it, they’re planning on keeping it that way. Ask yourself, if fad diets and wellness trends really did make the dramatic, positive impact their creators claim they do, then why do new ones crop up year after year? If we had the secret to healthy weight loss all along, surely no one would be fat and hospitals would become extinct?
When you ask these questions, you begin to realise how much bullshit we’ve been fed since the very beginning. This is without even going into how ableist and racist the diet industry is; 10,000 steps a day is a bit of a pisstake to ask of someone in a wheelchair, as is demanding somebody shrink themselves who’s already had their hair and body shamed historically.
I can see a bunch of size L lads chomping at the bit to tell me why (*cough* women *cough* they never care about fat men *cough* they’re allowed to live *cough*) being fat is so much worse so don’t panic, don’t PANIC. We’ll get to you in a second…
I said before, not all weight loss is bad weight loss. Diet-fuelled weight loss and cosmetic-fuelled weight loss is and I’d go as far as to say it’s literally poisonous.
But sometimes weight loss can be your body’s way of healing and correcting its mistakes.
You’ll be furious to know that I have actually lost weight during lockdown and maintained it either side of 4lbs. I’m still fat and I still eat bread.
I’ve lost weight because I’m not supposed to be this size. I have a binge-eating disorder and have battled with depressive episodes for years. My self-medication during those depressive spells was food and not the kind my body was asking me for.
When you are depressed, you don’t want a fucking salad.
When you have a binge-eating disorder, food is a way of comforting yourself as well as self-harming. You’re not going to do that with overnight oats.
I’ve been repairing my relationship with food recently and I’m even starting to get friendly with exercise too. That’s led to weight loss, but you aren’t going to be able to tell for years because of the size I’m starting at and how I’m losing it.
Here are some bonafide, science-backed tips on how to lose weight:
Eat lots of different food
Eat food according to what your bloodwork and body tell you it needs
Enjoy whatever movement or exercise you are doing and stop exercise you hate doing
Accept that your genetics have already decided what your “ideal size” is.
And in time, you might lose weight if it is healthy FOR YOU. IT’S HEALTHIER FOR SOME PEOPLE TO BE FAT. THAT’S RIGHT I SAID WHAT I SAID.
So many things OTHER THAN diet and exercise can influence your size and shape; genetics, environment, income, class, gender, medical history, the list goes on. And yet, we have become obsessed with the lie that everyone can and should be skinny, but it’s all a matter of willpower.
Fuck off. You know what, even if you were right, fuck off.
I’ve always been told that if what you’re about to tell someone can’t be fixed in 5 minutes, there’s no point in telling them. What purpose does it serve to sneer and snicker at fat people? What help are you giving somebody having fun with their friends by shouting insults at them? Why do you not have anything better to do in your own life than fixate on the size of other people?
At best, you’re going to make someone feel worthless and they might kill themselves. Yay, one less fatty around amirite?! At worst, you’re going to reveal what a sad, tiny person you really are by how you project your own insecurities onto those who are simply minding their own business.
Let’s make a pact to not accept such foolish, bullying behaviour.
So yeah, you probably have gained weight and you may be nervous about what everyone will think about it when we’re all meeting up again in the Summer.
But I ask you to ask yourself and I mean really really ask yourself; does it matter?
You aren’t going to have more friends if you lose a stone. You aren’t going to get promoted just because you cut out dairy. You aren’t going to have more fun as a skinny bitch with your friends than a fat bitch with their friends.
Despite what the Lynx Africa brigade think, you aren’t necessarily going to be healthier just because you’re lighter either.
So stop telling yourself you will. Focus on the truths; it’s going to be great to laugh outside again. It’s going to be amazing to wear cute outfits again. I can’t wait to wear funky sunglasses and to show off my hairy lockdown legs!
It’s going to be incredible when it hits you that you’ve survived a pandemic and all that happened to you is you got a little softer.
If this was all a bit too much and you’ve found yourself spiralling about weight, food and size, please seek the help of BEAT. You’re not alone and don’t have to put up with shitty thoughts www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk
Trigger Warnings; Suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety symptoms, identity issues, and general awfulness
I haven’t even been diagnosed from a Buzzfeed quiz this time, it’s legit! This is going to be sooooo long but I just have to do this. It’s going to be pouring out like a smoothie you’ve made without the top on. It’s going to ramble and get messy, and I’d forgive you for skipping it or reading it in instalments, but I just have to do it for me.
You probably have questions and curiosities. For example, what actually is Borderline Personality Disorder? What are the symptoms? How did you get diagnosed? What can you do about it? How do you get your eyes so blue?
I’m afraid I get my eyes from my gran and she’s awaiting a restock anyway so you can’t get them mwahaha*
*My gran is not the monster from Jeepers Creepers and does not harvest attractive eyes. Please do not arrest her.
But for all your other questions, I’m here to lend some insider perspective and some very very casual advice. I’m not a doctor, I’m not trained and when I say I’ve just been diagnosed I do mean like inside a month. But I think we can all agree, we are more open and aware of mental health than we ever have been in history; people are researching and admitting every single day, so as part of that, I want to share my experiences and encourage that openness. I also think with that openness comes help for those who are still struggling, so I really want to stress that you are not alone. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.
Now, this news may not come as a surprise to you seeing as I opened a frank and heartfelt discussion about my mental health with a crack about my gran slashing out people’s eyes, but all the same, it was a bit of news to me. To get to the present, we need to start with the past though so you can see this hasn’t been plucked from thin air. This is something I have suffered with for years.
I got diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder around 5 years ago. I had just quit university after narrowly skimming a complete breakdown and was working part-time in Sainsbury’s and living back at home. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but it did not fit with what I wanted or what I needed in my life and so I found myself carrying that black cloud all the way from Leeds Uni to teeny tiny Holmes Chapel.
These things all muddled together and the bearable symptoms I had been able to mask for years suddenly became unbearable. I would skip work, I would binge eat in secret, I would crash diet, I would cry constantly, I had severe panic attacks to the point I got misdiagnosed with epilepsy because of the tremendous trembling and faint feeling that occurred during these attacks. I wanted to die and planned several ways to do it.
I had been self-harming for years, but it had now started to attract attention from friends and relatives. I ran out of space on the top of my thighs and needed to venture to my calves to bleed. My brain was always racing and shouting disgusting abusive things at me. Cutting was the only thing that seemed to shut it up.
Since the age of 13, I had suffered horrific mood swings, liberally self-destructed with drugs and sex, and discreetly cut away at myself each time my brain told me I was quite literally the worst person in the entire world.
I really wish I could visit that 13-year-old girl now and hold her close. I want to tell her that she has so much power within herself and that she is worth taking up space in this world. I want to put bandages on her cuts and tell her she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. I want to tell her if she doesn’t like how something makes her feel, she shouldn’t do it again. I want to stroke her hair and softly tell her she is more than enough, and she is loved.
In all honesty, I still want somebody to tell me these things. This is how I knew that initial mental illness diagnosis was only partially correct.
When I got diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, it felt revolutionary and enlightening at the time. I got diagnosed by a private psychologist. My mum sensed something was running deeper after years of telling me to get a grip were genuinely, really, solidly not working. She generously paid for me to see this psychologist but even in doing that I felt a sense that a decision was being made for me not with me. It’s an incredibly privileged stance to have and I know that; but denying how I feel is not going to cure deliberate deprivation and poverty in this country. I need to say this because there have been points in my life where I have felt directly responsible for at least a third of the world’s problems and it has taken years for me to finally let that idea go.
So, while it felt great to be seen and listened to about such terrifying feelings and actions, the focus of those appointments were typically on my mum’s terms. She didn’t come in with me and of course the psychologist didn’t share what we discussed; but after these appointments, my mum’s first question was always “Feeling better?”. There was another end goal she had set for me without my consent and it was one that was near impossible to complete.
There are some mental illnesses that can be temporary; I’ve spoken before about grief in one of my previous posts which is a good example of temporary depression. Some people are totally overwhelmed by grief and unfortunately won’t outlast such intense sadness, so please don’t feel I’m saying “Grief is easy, just get over it!”. But being depressed and having Depression are different things and one has a stronger possibility of being reasoned with than the other.
It’s very similar with Anxiety. Everybody can feel anxious and get anxiety, it’s a natural thing our body does to protect us. However, somebody who has Anxiety will find their brain and body are no longer trying to protect them from specific danger and what they’re trying to ‘protect’ them from is the rhythm and flows of their ordinary, daily life.
So when I went to these appointments, that impractical end goal was embedded in my psyche and reflected in what I talked to the psychologist about. For therapy to work, you need to be honest and you need to be open. I wasn’t and I found myself being treated for my symptoms rather than the underlying issue (through no fault of the psychologist’s; she was great and gave me valuable information I still use today).
Most therapies are client-led, and you’ll find there isn’t that much of a Good Will Hunting moment where the therapist really sees you for what you didn’t even know you were. I’m sure this has happened somewhere in the world, but typically speaking you shouldn’t expect it to definitely happen for you.
Which brings it to the present day.
Like I said, that diagnosis was around 5 years ago. I have found symptoms to get worse, better, and everything in between. I was given medication for this diagnosis, one being Propranolol to ease the physical symptoms I was having, such as trembling and heart palpitations and one being the antidepressant Sertraline.
There is a trend at the moment of holistic therapies being pushed over prescribed medications and that accepting medications somehow means you have ‘failed’ at your mental illness. Let me say right now, that if pills, oils, creams, injections, whatever the fuck it is that your doctor has told you will help, if they prevent you from killing yourself, please fucking take them. I will not be interested in what yoga and lavender did for you if I’m learning about it at your funeral.
I was given Propranolol during university when I went to the doctor about constant sweating, tightness in my chest and trembling. It was years later when I first moved out of my family home that my doctor suggested trying antidepressants.
I was at this point still only diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and it’s important to note that Anxiety and Depression can bleed into each other. I fell into deep holes of depression when my Anxiety symptoms made life unbearable or caused me to act in ways I didn’t really want to. I was fired for the first time and after the depression nearly drowned me, my doctor prescribed a short course of the antidepressant Citalopram.
That first day on Citalopram was exuberant. My brain finally shut up. I could go to the shop simply when I needed to, without overthinking and overplanning for four hours and eventually being too scared to go. I went to sleep that night when I wanted to, undisturbed by the constant bullying and whirring of my brain.
But that was pretty much it. I stopped taking the pills before they ran out and didn’t go back for any more. But eventually I needed to go back for help.
Just shy of a year later, I had just escaped a terrible relationship. He was a textbook gaslighter and my already diminished self-esteem was torn to shreds by his selfish tendencies. As far as I can recall, I don’t have any ex-boyfriends that I would dread running into when out and about; but I hate him. I hate him irrationally and rationally and I fantasise about his life being utterly awful from time to time.
But that hatred didn’t have anywhere to go but back inside me. My sleep pattern, something I had struggled with since my teens, was non-existent. I didn’t leave my bed for days and didn’t eat for days at a time. When I did eat, it was a calorie-laden binge and I would medicate myself with awful food until I was physically sick.
I could not live like this.
I went to my GP (At that time) and I really hope she realises how important her interception was. She thanked me and fussed over me for having the courage to come in. I hadn’t washed for weeks and probably smelled like my overflowing bins, but she treated me with respect and took me seriously. She armed me with pamphlets and wrote down several numbers to call and instructions to follow if I felt I was going to kill myself. She also prescribed me Sertraline.
Sertraline has quite possibly saved my life. After watching my dad fall prey to medication addiction, I have always been wary and sometimes scared of becoming addicted to pills myself. But she told me the figures of addiction were low and it was my decision as to how long I’d take them for.
I was also told to change my contraception methods, which at that point were the pill (Microgynon) and condoms (Cherry flavoured if they have it thanks, sex should smell like Calpol if you ask me). I will also say this made a massive difference to me and even though I was so put off by the grossness of the implant, I am eternally grateful to have it chilling out in my arm.
If you use contraception or suffer badly with periods, please please PLEASE do not think you have to just take what’s given to you. It’s tough to go by recommendations because each person reacts different to birth control methods. I know some people who had an awful time with the implant, but just try what you think makes sense to you and remember you can get it reversed if it’s not working.
So there I was; armed with new baby-blockers and Sertraline. And yet I still didn’t feel quite right.
Life certainly got better; I met a really great guy, got less convinced I needed to die, and was generally okay.
Then my mum died.
I had still been having issues with self-identity, self-esteem and these relentless mood swings that at this point I assumed were part of my personality. They initially got exacerbated in my grief and I didn’t like how I was behaving.
My mum’s passing upset me greatly and I miss her all the time. If I could bring back one person from the afterlife, it wouldn’t be Bowie or Hendrix; I’d choose my mum and I’d hug her tightly even while she inevitably laid into me about not choosing Bowie. But after her passing, even while dealing with grief and starting up some bad coping strategies initially; I started to feel better.
I felt a stillness and a passing. Not a passing of a life although of course I felt that sudden absence too, but like a baton passing. I felt like I had a say and I had control. I felt how I used to feel when I was a ballsy, opinionated smart alec toddler, invincible in the world and only worried about what I would do if cheese became illegal.
This came in ebbs and flows and a lot of symptoms came back strongly but infrequently. I’d fly off the handle at the stupidest things and make impulsive decisions convinced they would change my life. I still looked in the mirror and mentally beat myself up, while at the same time not fully knowing who the hell I was. Like I know my name, I know I’m Sophie and I’m an Aquarius; but I didn’t know what I enjoyed, what I wanted to be or even what clothes I liked myself in.
I pondered and kept track of these things and after months of searching around in mental health groups, the NHS website (We stan), and mental health activists on Twitter, I began to realise I had every single symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Now, I’m someone who self-diagnoses a lot without taking it seriously; I’m currently awaiting the definite thumbs-up for a PCOS diagnosis, but I’ve decided I already definitely have it. It’s always within reason, I don’t just look up rare diseases and pick one to make me interesting and I don’t really announce it or bother to work around it (lol really clever).
But the Borderline Personality Disorder was spookily fitting. Things I thought were part of my personality were suddenly laid out as a symptom to me. Private thoughts I’d had in my head were written around the internet for everyone to see.
I needed to know for sure with this one. I didn’t want to fuck around.
I found an online psychiatry service and paid a handsome amount to speak to a professional about my symptoms and how I was feeling. Again, this is privilege at its finest and indicative of the serious revamp the mental health services of the NHS need. I would have had to wait three years to see somebody who could diagnose me for free if my GP (Not the previous one I had, she was an angel, these ones are twats) wasn’t immediately convinced or confident in a diagnosis. That is not acceptable. There are people internalising that hopelessness as we speak and weighing up whether they can stand to feel how they feel for any longer. It needs to change and soon.
For my initial appointment, I opted for the cheaper package which resulted in a shorter appointment and I would get a longer form to fill out before said appointment. It was actually on this basis I chose this option, as I find it so much easier to write down feelings and sensations and can make a conscious effort to check I’ve included every symptom and every detail of my life.
Speaking of which, you will notice I’ve mentioned my mum and dad while talking about this diagnosis. There is a reason for this.
The form asked me to almost write a mini biography of my family life and my relationship with all of my family members (Even my socket-scrubbing gran oh deaaaar**). When asked to describe how I felt about my childhood I said it was a happy one and I can’t remember wanting for anything. I also mentioned that it wasn’t until many years later that my mum had revealed how close that childhood was to being obviously difficult on one of our many gal-pal lunches out.
**Seriously she doesn’t butcher eyes, and extended family didn’t factor into my diagnosis at all in the end.
We were broke a lot of the time apparently. I didn’t even realise there was a reason we were going to car boot sales to get essentials, I just thought they were magical places were some rotten McDonald’s toy could be bought for 5p and I could cherish it forever.
My mum and dad were close to divorce multiple times. Anyone who knows our family well knows that their relationship was… tempestuous at the best of times, so this wasn’t really a revelation to me. However, when the psychiatrist said that wasn’t exactly ‘pleasant’ from the sounds of things, especially for a child to ‘sense’ and not have the clarification of. He then said my symptoms and my background were highly matched with the profile of somebody with Borderline Personality Disorder.
He zeroed in on the relationship I had with my mum. I found myself telling him things I had never dared to say out loud especially while the rose-tinted coating of grief is still rife throughout the mourners (If you ask my dad about their relationship for example, you’d get the impression they were a deadringer for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor rather than Sid Viscious and Nancy Spundgen).
I told him I loved them, which I do, and I would readily defend any of my family members with my life. I also told him how I basically didn’t have a dad from the ages of 14-25 and spent multiple incidences in my teens trying to handle situations of reactions and overdoses completely on my own while the rest of the family were away without me. I remember a close family friend privately remarked to my mum that I was eerily calm and unphased when she collected me from the hospital I had to deliver my strung-out dad to. Mum celebrated that ‘strength’ and we laughed it off. I even considered it boring because it was just another time out of hundreds and was more annoyed it had interrupted my profile revamping on MySpace.
That’s not normal and shouldn’t be applauded. I told the psychiatrist this. I also told him I was angry with my mum for so many things and the anger felt like a constant hot vomit that I was trying to swallow down. I was angry and jealous of the mum I got, compared to the mum my brothers got. I was angry at the expectations she gave to me without any assistance or clues as to how to achieve it. I was angry at the interests she convinced me to give up because they were not becoming or profitable. I was angry at the interests she forced me to claim I had, only to then attack me emotionally when I ‘lost’ the interest I never had in them. I was angry that she belittled me so often and connected minor mistakes to larger consequences.
I was angry I couldn’t remember her telling me “It’s okay and I believe in you” at any point. I was angry I couldn’t place what she felt like to hug or hold hands with because of how infrequent those times were. I was angry she took choice away from me for so many things.
I was angry we never got the chance to talk and she never got to apologise.
At this point I was sobbing and in fact I’m covered in tears even as I write this. I feel like the most ungrateful, spoiled, horrible daughter that’s ever existed. This is a woman who flew me to Thailand just because she wanted to go and couldn’t think of better company to go with than her own kids. My mum paid for my deposit and took me furniture shopping for my first flat. She gave me the gift of Scottish heritage and a romance for Scotland, something I absolutely milk the shit out of even to this day.
The psychiatrist asked me if I felt her actions were deliberate. “Absolutely not” I said, almost offended. How dare he?! DID HE NOT HEAR THE THAILAND STORY?! DOES HE NOT HAVE SOMEBODY IN HIS LIFE WHO GAVE HIM HIS FIRST IRN BRU?!
He slam-dunked that psychiatry training by retorting, “If her actions were not deliberate, why do you feel your reaction and feelings towards it are?”
I didn’t choose to feel this way. She didn’t choose to make that happen. Even dad arguably didn’t ‘choose’ drugs over me but for the longest time, I felt attacked by their human flaws.
I do not understand how anybody becomes a good parent. There are parents I admire and children who grow up to be well-rounded adults, but Jesus Christ it’s not like kids come with a warranty is it? Parents fuck up their kids; kids fuck up their parents. Some parents don’t deserve their children and some children are spoiled with their parents.
This is a fact I have to work though. I have to accept and forgive. I want to forgive. It’s really gross to hope you see a ghost only to wish it’s a parent so you can go “FUCK YOU” before closing that Ouija board without another word. If I see a ghost, I want it to be Paul Newman because he was so freakin’ fit.
The psychiatrist told me to stick with the Sertraline for as long as I felt it was helpful. He has recommended something called Dialectal Behavioural Therapy as treatment. He has given me hope that although Borderline Personality Disorder is an ongoing condition, that means there’s room for it to improve and symptoms to eventually disappear.
When my symptoms improve, I will be more stable in every aspect of my life. I will have more energy and interest in life and its possibilities. I will give friends and family more trust and space even if they don’t realise I didn’t give it to them before. I will accept they are all human and will make mistakes but it’s not something to always take so personally. I will feel definite about my identity and be able to say ‘No’ to the things I know I don’t like. I will give Andrew the grace of more predictability and stability in my mood. I will love my body for carrying me this far in life and not letting me give up. I will heal my body from the inside-out to say thank you for everything its ever done for me (Apart from that one time I ate mussels from Aldi and thought I was going to die). I will love my mind for being weird and for trying to translate something it wasn’t born to experience even if it got it wrong. I will feel overjoyed in almost every minute of my life and in the slight times I don’t, I will give myself the time, space and resources to find joy again. I am going to be strong and decide who I am and how my life should work for me.
I am ready.
RESOURCES:The service I usedwas psymplicity.combut they are private so you will need to pay upwards of £200 for an appointment after the free, initial consultation. It’s via Skype/Zoom and not in person, which I prefer but others won’t.
If you are struggling with your mental health in any aspect at all, please visit any or all of the lifelines recommended by the NHSand please let somebody around you know what you are going through. Tell me if you like, just tell somebody.
A lot of people are finding themselves in a strange predicament during this COVID-19 quarantine; they are having to cook for themselves.
The broke and the self-sufficient among us will be annoyed to see a number of people looking for advice on just what to cook with these bare bones ingredients now that lavish restaurant meals and delivered goods are off the menu.
But despite my judgement against these people, I’m here to help. Not to mention that these are meals that help when you’re depressed, meals that help after a breakup, and food that makes you feel good emotionally, regardless of a global pandemic or not.
I’ve tried to include meals that are easy, cheap, and quick to make while being wholly comforting and good. Recipes are NOT included as you might want to zhuzh up or scale back as you see fit, and if you have allergies and the like, you can figure out some substitutions better than I can.
Gnocchi, pesto, parmesan
Gnocchi is amazing. It can be vegan, gluten free, dairy free, ALL the frees depending on what you do with it, and it can be frozen or cooked straight from scratch. You can have it with some cheese and a bit of oil, some veg, some sauce, whatever your little isolated heart desires! The ultimate staple is the combo above, but seriously, gnocchi goes with pretty much everything. It’s cheap to buy or you can make your own if you have potatoes, eggs and some form of flour. Gnocchi should be the president. Gnocchi, for your consideration.
Fish Finger Butty
Now, bread might be scarce but I’ve been told it’s possible to make your own without a breadmaker and using realtively common ingredients. But if you have a loaf stowed in the freezer or manage to get your hands on some, make sure you get a pack of fish fingers to go with it. Doorstop white bread and cheap, cheerful fingers are the ideal stock, but do what you like if you fancy being a hipster or a health nut about it. Vegan options do apparently exist as well as vegan sauce alternatives, but as long you have the fingers, the bread, the spread and some sauce (Salad cream or liberally peppered mayonnaise is my pick), you have a winning teatime meal on your hands.
Potato smileys, beans, turkey shapes
While we’re in the realm of school dinners, you cannot feel more taken care of than when you’ve just finished a plate of the above. Potato shapes and breadcrumbed shapes come in all sorts of entertaining forms and can be frozen for eons and should be in your freezer regardless of an epidemic. Baked beans may be in sort supply, but if you can’t find a dusty tin at the back of your cupboards, any saucy tinned pasta will do the trick. Healthier options do exist if you want it, but my pick would be the standard McCain’s Potato Smileys, Heinz Baked Beans, and Bernard Matthews Golden Drummers or Turkey Dinosaurs.
In the iconic words of Christopher Duncan Turk in Scrubs (2001), “It’s kind of hard to beat brinner”. For those of you unfamiliar, ‘Brinner’ is simply breakfast for dinner. And who wouldn’t want to explore that world of possibilities? A fry up, toast, cereal, fruit and yogurt, the world truly is your oyster when it comes to brinner. If there’s a few of you in quarantine together, why not make a brinner banquet? My only rule would be you have to bring eggs. Speaking of which…
Huevos rancheros, shakshouka, menemen, whatever you call it, baking a few eggs in some tinned tomatoes has never felt more upmarket. You can customise this to feature additional veg of course and I personally like to get plenty of balsamic vinegar in the tomatoes, but it’s really up to you what you want to do here. Ideal with some crusty bread to dip straight into the pan, it’s a great dish to share with your isolation pals as well, and for all its impressive presentation warrants, it’s mega easy to make.
Another egg-based dish, an omelette is ideal for using up fresh ingredients about to perish or maybe a little worse for wear already. Do you remember those adverts for BEIC? The ‘Red Lion Eggs’ and how versatile they could be when it looked like you had nothing in? The adverts (Directed by Tom Hooper in case you’re interested) showed families looking in near empty fridges but managing to cook up something wonderful with eggs and a couple of other ingredients. They were basically always omelettes, but it is still something that rings true to this day that even if it looks like there’s nothing in, you can probably make an omelette.
Vegans and non-vegans, unite! I don’t need to tell you how many varieties of soup there are. Fresh, tinned, homemade, you can make anything into a decent bowl of soup if you blend and season enough. In fact there are so many different flavours and forms of soup that I didn’t want to put a picture on this entry, but instead chose one of my favourite adverts from the king of soup, Heinz, that perfectly encapsulates how a hot bowl of soup puts everything in its place after a crummy day.
I don’t know exactly why they call it crimble crumble on Friday Night Dinner (2011) but it’s now the only name I shall accept for the low-maintenance dessert. If you have flour, sugar and fruit (fresh or tinned), you can make some sort of crumble. Hopefully you can make or have some custard, cream or ice cream to go with it, but even the most basic recipe and presentation will hit your sweet-tooth appropriately, and wrap around you like a hug.
If you want to be fancy you can call it a casserole, but a stew is a stew because that’s what your ingredients are doing. I love a stew because you can use anything. All you need is a big pot or a slow cooker, some dry ingredients, seasoning and liquid, and you’re good to go. This can be meaty, veggie, or vegan, and there is no limit on what weird and wonderful combinations you can come up with for stew. My only advice is that this is a leisurely dinner that should be cooked low and slow, so you’re best not leaving it until you actually need to eat. Leave it in the slow cooker all day or start the cooking as early as you can for maximum flavour and tenderisation.
Pasta, bacon, cheese
Like gnocchi, pasta can be used in a million and one combinations but I think the above is the best for a quick meal you won’t judge yourself for. If you’re Italian, look away now, because I fully expect you to come for my head if you read what I’m about to say; you do not have to respect pasta! One of my old favourite pasta dishes was penne, barbecue sauce, and cheddar cheese. Done in about 10 minutes, and very filling. You can go down this route of sacrilege, or you can keep it authentic with old Italian recipes that make use of ingredients lying around the house. Either way, there’s a reason pasta is in demand right now and I hope you can grab some for tough times ahead.
A superior comfort food if you have a toastie maker or sandwich press, but also acceptable by cooking on the stovetop. You can put whatever you want on a toastie and it will make you feel good. I require cheese on mine but I’m not fussy about what it’s paired with because in my opinion cheese goes with everything. I have seen people use brevilles to make desserts and pies out of chilled pastry as well, so it’s worth keeping that in mind during your self-isolation.
Ramen should not be disrespected. What is known as ‘ramen’ in the US and UK is not ‘ramen’. They are instant noodles okay? Even in Japan, they call it ‘instant ramen’. INSTANT. But anyway, instant noodles are a godsend and you can jazz them up with liberal seasoning, sriracha, and a boiled egg sitting on top. Just don’t call it ramen though.
I do not like that shepard’s pies and cottage pies are called pies because they are not pies. But regardless of this, they are a great way to use up ingredients and fill your stomach. These are basically less liquidy stews with potato on top, and who wouldn’t love that?
Mince and Tatties
If you know what you’re doing here, this meal is bound to snap you out of your funk. You should always look to the Scots and other cold countries when it comes to comfort meals with minimal ingredients, because they will without a doubt have the best recipes with the smallest fuss. It’s all about the seasoning with this dish, so don’t be shy with your salt and pepper and whack some soy or Worcestershire sauce in there for extra purchase.
Cereal and flavoured milk
I’ll be the first to say I’m actually not a cereal fan. It’s my least favourite breakfast and I never understood Jerry’s obsession in Seinfeld (1989) until I tried Nesquik with chocolate almond milk. Shit! It was amazing! Since then I’m queen of the cereal combos. Some of my favourites include Lucky Charms with strawberry milk, peanut butter Crunchy Nut Clusters with banana milk, and Golden Nuggets with white chocolate milk (it does exist!). Experiment and change your life! The crazier the better!
Like a lot of these meals, the best thing about a stir fry is that anything goes. If you are frying it on a high heat in a big pan and stirring as you fry, you are making a stir fry. Keeping it Chinese in flavour is my recommendation, with rice or noodles, vegetables, some sort of protein, seasoning and sweet chili sauce. Quick, easy, and super filling, I do not know how people survive without stir frys.
Cheese on Toast
The first. The last. Our everything. Cheese on toast might seem like a snack rather than a meal, but you’re not thinking outside the box. Even basic cheddar cheese on toast is great. Then add a bit of worcestershire sauce. Ooh? Little bit interesting? Then maybe put a little dijon mustard and ham underneath the cheese before grilling. Croque monsieur por moi? Ooh la la. Get really fancy and make Welsh rarebit! OH YES CHEESE ON TOAST, DO IT TO ME AGAIN! Never underestimate cheese on toast because it will never underestimate you. It’s a dish that’s truly what you want to make of it and it’s another great meal that lifts your spirits just when you need it
What do you reckon? Are these decent comfort foods or am I just a terrible cook? Let me know if I missed any or you’ve had these and they made you even more depressed!
If you are fortunate enough to have the resources to quarantine during this pandemic, one thing you will agree is that quarantine and isolation is pretty damn boring. You’ve watched all the films, read all your books, and did the chores you’ve been putting off for months. So now, it’s the noughties’ turn to cheer you up.
Ahh the noughties. It’s the decade I carved an identity for myself in and the decade’s culture that I absorbed the most. It was a combination of a hangover from the 90s, the years of the chav (the official Year of the Chav was 2004 if you’re interested), and the infancy of emo. It’s easy to forget that My Chemical Romance and Paris Hilton were a thing happening at the same time and even easier to forget some of the best jams we’ve been blessed with in music history.
I know the internet is kind of a 00s thing as well. It may have been invented in the 80s, but in my opinion it only truly started taking the shape of what it is now in the 00s. The result of that is the tidal wave of millennial nostalgia talking about culture and music of our childhoods, repeating the same songs every time that we never really stopped listening to anyway.
So I’m going to try and be a bit different. Look, you already know that ‘Mr Brightside’ is timeless and Justin Timberlake was the Justin Bieber of our era. But maybe you’ve forgotten a track or two and maybe they need dusting off and appreciating now we’re all grown up.
Stick the playlist on below, and read on for a list that’ll take you right back to a moment in the past where you’re patiently waiting until your 16th birthday to buy a branded packet of Lambert & Butler for under a fiver. Your ratty Ugg boots that you wore in the rain again are making their way to the park to drink WKDs with your friends and you can’t wait to show off your new Motorola Razr. You’re especially grateful you’re out because your mum bollocked you for spending an obscene amount of money on a polyphonic ringtone and wallpaper advertised in your favourite magazine. You flung your Jane Norman bag in the corner as soon as you got in from school, applied a 47th coat of mascara and white-pink lipstick, and wondered if the boy with the large dyed fringe and skinny jeans would be out tonight.
1. ‘Dilemma’ – Nelly ft. Kelly Rowland
To me, this song is always going to be peak 00s. There’s durags, Nokia phones with keypads and the iconic 00s choice of lip makeup on Kelly Rowland consisting of dark brown lip liner and light pink lip gloss. Will we ever find out if you can actually use Microsoft Excel to text as well?
2. ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ – Jennifer Lopez
I know nobody has forgotten about Jennifer Lopez, I mean with her recent SuperBowl Halftime Show performance and saucy gig in Hustlers (2019), I don’t think we will ever see the last of her and I am absolutely fine with that. But while ‘Jenny from the Block’ gets a shout-out at every house party, ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ is so underrated it’s criminal, and it deserves more hype.
3. ‘Leave (Get Out)’ – Jojo
Jojo made me obsessed with big hoop earrings and dresses over jeans for a very long and ill-informed time. Let’s also not forget that Jojo was 13 YEARS OLDwhen this hit reached number one in the charts. 13! I was navigating mood swings and falling “in love” every ten minutes at 13, not breaking records and travelling the world. Geez Jojo…
4. ‘God is a DJ’- P!nk
It’s by P!nk. It’s got overly distressed jeans in the video. It’s featured on the Mean Girls (2004) soundtrack. How can you not call this noughties? P!nk has developed as an artist over the years but this is a often forgotten jam of hers that deserves more respect. Never forget your roots, P!nk, they rocked.
5. ‘”The Take Over, The Breaks Over”‘ – Fall Out Boy
When people talk about culture in the 00s, they always forget that the contemporary R&B scene, Wigan Pier scene and emo were all happening simultaneously. Fall Out Boy were one of the more widely accepted emo groups and while there’s hits that charted higher than this one, it is so goddamn catchy and fun you’ll find it hard to not see feet tapping when you play it.
6. ‘Fat Lip’ – Sum 41
Another classic from the emo/pop-punk genre that even the most mainstream of townies can’t resist. Sum 41 remind me of a time where skateboards were a status symbol and everyone wanted to marry someone from Jackass. Lead singer, Deryck Whibley, married Avril Lavigne in 2006 and that was the last time the world made sense to me.
7. ‘Heaven is a Halfpipe (If I Die)’ – OPM
Speaking of skateboards, this tune is legendary. You remember the chorus for sure, but the riffs and beats make it a chilled and catchy number that spreads happy vibes whenever it’s played.
8. ‘Gotta Get Thru This (D’n’D Remix)’ – Daniel Bedingfield
Garage is having a bit of a resurgence, especially the granddaddy of garage, Craig David. In fact I had to force myself to not put Craig David on the playlist, because as much as he was king of the 00s garage sound, we don’t forget about him like we forget about this epic remix.
9. ‘Pure & Simple’ – Hear’Say
Crafted through the reality series Popstars (2001), Hear’Say were one of the thousands of manufactured pop bands driving hipsters mad in the noughties. Maybe not the most popular band or chart-topping song, but listen once and I guarantee it will be in your head all day.
10. ‘Hole in the Head’ – Sugababes
Without a doubt one of the most underrated girlbands of all time. Sugababes formed you in ways you didn’t even realise, that’s how good they were. Sugababes are on the Love Actually (2003) soundtrack and Sugababes told us exactly how to respect ourselves as preteens when it came to boys.
11. ‘No Tomorrow’ – Orson
This is one of those songs that you have no recollection of by name, but when it starts playing, you are totally into it. I also believed that the lead singer, Jason Pebworth, was the lead singer in New Radicals of ‘You Get What You Give’ fame. This apparently is not true, but all I’ll say on the matter is that I’ve never seen Jason Pebworth and Gregg Alexander in the same room at the same time…
12. ‘Last Resort’ – Papa Roach
I know you might be thinking, “Sophie! This is Nu-Metal! This a divisive genre and I won’t have you saying it’s accepted by everybody!”. But I defy anybodyto not retort after hearing “CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES” with “THIS IS MY LAST RESORT”. Whether you believe you like it or not, you fucking like it. Everybody likes this song. Why? I don’t know. Papa Roach never set out to be accessible, but for some reason, this song rocks and we all love it.
13. ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ – Ms. Dynamite
I implore you to listen to this track as a grown-up, because when I did I found that it actually slaps. The entire composition comes together so well and it’s a song that can be played at a house party and a chilled gathering and still garner the same response; respect and the questioning “Why was this not appreciated more when it came out?!”.
14. ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ – Color Me Badd
This is a song I slept on for years, and I don’t mean in a sexual way. I heard it for the first time in a call center I worked at that tried to make a fun, Google HQ-esque environment including a 90s/00s dance track playlist and from the first few harmonising vocal bars, I was hooked. I guarantee, if you didn’t hear it in the day, you’ll love hearing it now.
15. ‘Heaven’ – DJ Sammy ft. Do
Ahhhhh I bet you forgot that we all indulged in a chavvy phase in the noughties DIDN’T YOU?! This was one of the songs we all transferred over bluetooth more than we were transferring STIs, and for good reason. It’s catchy and gets you in the mood for a Lambrini or two. A must at any decent predrinks.
16. ‘Put a Donk On It’ – Blackout Crew
Very much a pioneer of the Wigan Pier sound going on in the 2000s, ‘Put a Donk On It’ was a meme before memes were a thing. If you heard the hilarious track, you loved it instantly, and when you were drunk the bassline etc. really did genuinely rock.
17. ‘Sticks ‘N’ Stones’ – Jamie T
The hot flavour of the month, Jamie T was very much a staple at any 00s house party that involved girls in skinny jeans, sailor stripe tops and backcombed hair. It’s a song that takes you back and the rhythm remains catchy after all these years.
18. ‘Romeo’ – Basement Jaxx
Spoiler alert; there is more than one Basement Jaxx song on this list. They are timeless songs that tend to be “Oh shit I’ve heard this but never knew who it was!” type tracks. ‘Romeo’ is great for predrinks and downtime sessions in your party playlist (if you schedule tracks in your playlist dependent on how drunk your guests are… which I do… and recommend) and is just generally an awesome song to get down to.
19. ‘Bingo Bango’ – Basement Jaxx
I told you I had more than one Basement Jaxx song! This song makes me think of Bend it Like Beckham (2002) and Vinnie Jones, so I reckon that’s enough of a qualifier to be considered a 00s staple as there needs to be. But seriously, this song is infectious and motivates you to really put a swing into any activity you’re currently doing when the tune comes on.
20. ‘Take a Look Around’ – Limp Bizkit
This was a genius marketing move; targeting the ever increasing Nu-Metal wave of the noughties and capitalising on a bunch of greasy, baggy-clothed teens that were looking for media that fit their identity. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) did that by employing the likes of Limp Bizkit and Metallica for their soundtrack, and ‘Take a Look Around’ still manages to kick ass.
21. ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ – Eamon
The opening track to one of the best music urban legends of all time. The story goes that Eamon recorded this song about non-starter Frankee, but didn’t secure the copyrights to the song which enabled Frankee to record her own retort to the song supposedly setting the record straight about their relationship. Speaking of which…
22. ‘F.U.R.B. (F U Right Back)’ – Frankee
Okay, so if you want to keep the idea that Frankee recorded this song in response to Eamon, skip the rest of this and go to entry 23. The real tea is that Eamon has never met Frankee, and in fact her representatives made a great deal for her to use his tunes that Eamon accepted. The rest is history. Even so, it’s a fantastic song to send a dude you’ve just broken up with and until the day I die, whether it was real or not, I will always be on Frankee’s team.
23. ‘Super Duper Love’ – Joss Stone
I defy anybody to not admit this is one of the happiest, chillest songs of all time. From various gossipy resources, it’s been said that Joss Stone didn’t make it into the mainstream for too long because she was ‘difficult’ to work with, which in 2020, makes me ask “Okay, but in reality, which producer etc is it that she didn’t want to sleep with who trashed her career?”.
24. ‘Our Bovine Public’ – The Cribs
The Cribs were the epitome of the drainpipe, backcombed indie scene that was happening in the early 2000s, complete with fans such as Alexa Chung and Agyness Deyn. Kate Nash was also partnered with the lead singer for quite a while, making all the indie girls jealous in the process.
25. ‘Duality’ – Slipknot
I know what you’re thinking. But no matter who your crowd consists of, when the party is well underway and they want to just let everything go, Slipknot should come on. It’s the most popular song of theirs and I believe it’s because there’s something about it that taps into you as a human being, and you end up doing some primal dancing if you just let the drums get to you. Try it out at your next party, I’m not lying when I say I’ve seen middle class boomers dance to this.
I lost my mum in August. It was very sudden, very unexpected and very traumatic. Eight months on and we still haven’t had the inquest or any legal asset thingamajigs finalised which should give you an inkling into how unusual the circumstances were and how miserable a time it’s been.
It’s Mother’s Day on the 22nd of March. Like all holidays, companies and advertisements are being promoted well in advance but this year there has been a noticeable twist; they are letting you know they know your mum might be dead.
It started with Thortful, a greeting card company you may have seen on Facebook that I purchased cards (Jeremy Corbyn cards as well, now that is a loss I’m definitely still mourning) from once. The quality, delivery and price were great at Thortful but be aware that once you order from them, you are bombarded with emails. Every day, “Hey order a card!” “Yo, here’s a funny joke to make you order a card!” “Hiya, did you like that card you ordered and do you want to order more cards?”, it’s constant. Thanks to that whole GDPR debacle, we can unsubscribe and be free of such harassment within a couple of weeks, but you probably know as well as I do that even a little click of a hyperlink in an email you don’t want to be opening in the first place is a mammoth task right there in the moment. So, like the lazy self-saboteur I am, I just deleted the emails or marked as read for months as soon as they came in, telling myself that eventually I would unsubscribe.
And then came the final nail in the coffin. No pun intended.
I freaked the fuck out. A total stranger was trying to relate to how I would feel in the very new wake of my mother’s death. Christmas, New Year’s Day and Eve, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Burns Night, they all happened before Mother’s Day but I didn’t hear a peep. Why so direct on this one occasion?
How did they know? How do I shake off this ‘Girl-With-Dead-Mum’ title hanging over my head once and for all? Was I supposed to be dreading the day? Was I a bad daughter for not shrouding around in black in preparation for one day I’d forgotten about?
It took a minute and a couple of screenshots from other people to realise it was most likely a blanket email and not targeted to any group of people in particular. Some people in my same predicament actually praised Thortful’s sentiment, and in the coming weeks more companies offered to ease my future suffering by generously allowing me to opt-out of those violently triggering emails if my little heart desired it. As I say, for some people, that was a nice gesture.
I thought it was fucking disgusting.
I want to make a couple of disclaimers here (though I don’t know why I bother making disclaimers anymore. Despite constantly tip-toeing and making sure I say on every tweet, status, post and spoken sentence that “It’s only my opinion and I’m not an expert and there’s other people out there and I’m not telling you what to do and oirfoijesrifjapsomfcskfjap…” a man will find me and tell me how silly and short-sighted I have been and demand I justify my answers and opinions right there and then. I thought it was pretty obvious these posts are OPINION pieces and I am entitled and equally qualified to make observations about culture and society as any man with a keyboard that thinks I need critiquing is. But they come through anyway, striking up “debate” without any foundation to even make small talk with me on, and not offering balance which you do need in a civil discussion; what you’re doing is actually just loudly disagreeing. That’s fine, but why do you think I want to hear it? I don’t. Stamping your opinion all over me when you disagree with me is not helpful to my writing. There is no feedback to be had from that. You don’t like my ideas. That’s fine. Bitch about it, share my links and ridicule them, comment on the blog as a visiting reader, block and delete me. But do you really have to find me personally and be all “Well ACTUALLY…” if you disagree with what I’m saying? Make your own blog sweetheart. Tell me about factual errors, if I’m endangering people, or if I’ve spelled something wrong. Otherwise fuck off).
First disclaimer is, I don’t know if that rant is grammatically appropriate for brackets.
Second disclaimer is that grief is not linear and there is not a universal one-fits-all way of showing it. How I deal with grief could be incredibly damaging and saddening to another person. Society loves rules and it loves expected behaviors. It’s how we separate the good from the bad and the safe from the unsafe. But grief and psychological response to traumatic events defies any rule or schedule you can try to give it, and what I’m about to say is only what my brain thinks is the best response to Thortful’s email and dealing with grief in general.
Something I have really struggled with throughout this process is how much it feels like everybody is waiting for you to break down. People don’t seem to grasp that you can be hurting whilst being functional, that any instance where I can go about my day normally doesn’t mean I’m ignoring my grief or trying to forget my mum. I want to process my feelings on my terms. But people want you to talk and talk and taaaaaalk about the death constantly and it feels like they’re waiting for the “GOTCHA!” moment where they can reveal that ha HA, you thought you were coping but I wore you down, I know you better than you do, after my interrogation and forcing you to recount traumatic events you CRIED, HA, I KNEW YOU WEREN’T REALLY OKAY! It’s not that I don’t want to ever talk about my mum or how I’m coping, it’s that I don’t want to talk about that stuff with you.
When you have an anxiety disorder like me, you spend a lot of time analysing your behaviour and how your thoughts and emotions work and connect to each other. Stepping outside myself to do emotional damage control and being introspective enough to pick apart why I do certain things comes pretty easily to me now. I don’t deny anymore. I know my triggers and my slippery slopes. I’ve worked with psychologists, counselors and doctors over the years to fully understand how my mind works and why I react to things the way I do. I have my support system in place and know when I need to reach out. I give myself a break but ensure I have routines in place. So honestly, as nice as people intend to be when they bring up how they feel sorry for me because my mum’s dead and then corner me to force me to share my private thoughts and feelings; I can handle it by myself.
I don’t want to talk to you about my mum’s death because even if you’ve been through the same thing, you don’t understand how I feel. Any attempt to pluck a breakthrough Good Will Hunting therapy moment with me feels insincere. You can’t give me what I need by callously prodding at me in public. My sadness is done behind closed doors, without distraction and without judgement. I am private about my sadness because I’m more comfortable that way, but I am not in denial over the loss of my mum and the tears that I will always cry over that.
I don’t think I will forget that my mum died for as long as I live. I live in pain from it every day. There are parts of my mind and memories I can’t even visit and may perhaps never be able to because it is too painful. Every time I re-realise I’m never speaking to her again, my stomach squeezes itself and I feel my eyes starting to look sad. When you love someone so deeply and sincerely, everything in the world reminds you of them and everything you ever experience is connected to them in some shape or form.
And yet Thortful thought I’d forget that unless I saw their oh-so special email promoting Mother’s Day.
Society is run by corporations. Social media affects our supposedly democratic elections for Christ’s sake. So I’m not surprised when companies inflate their worth in their customer’s lives in their robotic, money-making minds at all, but it still pisses me right off.
I wanted to email back saying, “How dare you. If I’m so horrifically affected by a fucking greeting card company mentioning that Mother’s Day is indeed still a thing that didn’t cease to exist when my mum died, I’d make fucking sure I’d done all I can ALREADY to mute any correspondence associated with it. Thanks for assuming I am both selfish and stupid. Cheers love, yours sincerely, Girl-With-Dead-Mum xoxoxox”, but it’s not Thortful Sophie’s fault.
That is how it feels though. Mother’s Day might make me sad. Like I said before, grief is not linear. It makes it a fun little game because you could be absolutely fine one day and crumbling down the next. You can’t even prepare yourself for triggers; I was reasonably okay at my mum’s funeral, the day when you think I’d be most upset. But then not long after, I went to my GP for a medication review and started sobbing uncontrollably when she said the word ‘Tablet’ because it reminded me of how my mum was crazy for tablet, the Scottish delicacy.
That doesn’t mean I spend every day in anticipation of being devastated on certain days though. In all honesty, I’d forgotten about Mother’s Day. I usually do until a week before. And yet an email that was made to spare feelings that I didn’t even have yet, conjured up more worries and panic in that moment than what I (now) am expecting to feel on the actual day.
Corporations are getting way too encroaching. They’re like a new being sharing the space of the planet. There’s humans, plants, animals, and corporations. The trouble with this is, corporations are trying to act like pally humans more each day, and humans are starting to act more like corporations every day.
As I said before, what works for my grief will not necessarily work for everyone. If you want to support a friend, colleague or family member while they’re grieving, you need to unfortunately listen to them and know them well enough to recognise the unique signs that mean they’re not doing so well. Unlike Thortful, you don’t have a wholly sincere and incredibly personal email you can send that will erase all feeling of loss and improve their lives in an instant. You and your person are humans, not corporations.
Some corporation-minded people have done the wrong thing for me while I’ve been grieving, that I will say, and I do think some of it can actually be applied to anyone going through grief. Here are some of the few things you shouldn’t do to anyone while they’re grieving:
Don’t apologise for not going to the funeral. The day is a total blur and they have enough to focus on. You will know if you should be there, so if you’re not there, odds are the grieving party weren’t looking for you or refusing to start proceedings until they saw your face. To be blunt, someone has just died; they don’t care where you are.
Don’t encourage any life-altering or big decisions to be made in the immediate aftermath. When you are grieving, your head is all over the place and you are in no position to be making permanent arrangements while you’re essentially in shock. Yes, moving home or going inter-railing might help, but don’t chance it while you’re scrambled in the head. Tell your person to breathe, sleep on it, and revisit in a few months.
Don’t reassure someone that they don’t have to be ‘brave’ in front of you. If someone is being solemn and reserved, odds are it is not for your benefit. For some people, that is a way they can comfortably cope with overwhelming situations. For others, they get hysterical in private and simply have already used up their mourning energy earlier that day before you saw them. For a lot of people, playing the part of normalcy makes them feel good about themselves. When you reveal that you think they’re acting brave, regardless of whether it’s true or not, all you do is make that person feel that they’re not convincing you. Their safety net has been rumbled and now they feel awkward, shitty and like everyone is judging them, all because you wanted to come across as the little holier-than-thou guardian angel you think you are.
That’s about it though.
It’s also tough for the surrounding people in a grieving person’s life for that reason. You’re having to navigate this process of loss yourself in how you respond to someone’s grief and what you do to make that person feel safe and loved. It is really tricky, but all you can do is listen to what they tell you, let them know you are there for them, and make sure they know there is no pressure for them to behave any particular way or do any particular thing. You’ll know the little personal touches like their favourite foods or if they would appreciate getting out of the house, but that comes with ‘knowing the person well’ territory and can’t be applied in a blanket way across society.
Whatever you do though, if I’m your grieving friend, don’t send me a fucking email about it.
These past couple of weeks during a bout of insomnia, I decided to watch all three Netflix features of the pop giants pictured above. Lady Gaga’s film Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017) shows the soft underbelly of the events coinciding with the star’s fifth album Joanne and her performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana (2020) is a little mini biopic and behind-the-scenes feature focusing on Swift’s public image and personal struggles over the years of her success. Beyoncé finishes the lineup with a bang in Homecoming (2019) which intertwines footage of her Coachella 2018 headlining performance alongside the months of production that went into the show.
I’m going to go through each one, let you know my oh-so important opinion about them all and give you my final thoughts a la Jeffree Star after we’ve gone through the pros and cons together. These are three deities of pop music and pop culture each in their own completely unique ways. Right off the bat, I want to say before I watched these, I liked Lady Gaga the most, Taylor Swift next, then Beyoncé the least. I actively disliked Beyoncé actually, mostly due to the Jonestown style following she has amassed online that compels me to admit she is superior to all no matter what my own taste is. I also don’t really like R&B or hip-hop, so would this show be enough to change my views? Read on to find out…
Gaga: Five Foot Two, Lady Gaga
As I have said before, I love Gaga. Not so much to the point I would call myself a Little Monster, the name her fandom has bestowed upon themselves, but I enjoy her tunes, what she stands for, and how she comes across. This documentary offers a stripped down Lady Gaga rather than the avant-garde rock star we tend to see gracing the red carpets.
Directed by Chris Moukarbel, the technical work has been generally well received by critics. Leslie Felperin (The Hollywood Reporter) said the feature “is assembled with competence and style, with graceful editing by Greg Arata” and I do agree; the camera work is crisp, and the editing keeps you interested without getting too gimicky. Is that enough to save the lacking content though?
That’s right Little Monsters, I said it! As much as I loved seeing Gaga in my personal clothes goals and garnered a new found respect for her, the journey and desired message of the film was all over the place. One minute it was about Joanne. Then it was about her health problems. Then it was about the Super Bowl. Then it was about her personal life. Each of these topics were explored quite well and I did remain entertained for the whole 100 minutes, but I did frequently find myself asking “What’s the point in this film?”. Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, is a relatively transparent celebrity. There was no big reveal about what she’s really like because I think we all know the score by now, we know what we can expect from her even underneath the dramatic costumes. The film also had the chance to thoroughly document the production process and aftermath of Joanne, or show some extensive preparation and exclusive footage of the Super Bowl show, but hopes of these were dashed the further into the film I got.
What I will say is the horrific scenes of Gaga’s fibromyalgia flare ups are eye-opening, both towards her as a person and the condition itself. On at least two occasions the camera documents Gaga bedridden with pain, sobbing as health professionals try to calm her furious muscles. A visit to her doctor also gives a glimpse into the cocktail of medications needed to try and tame the condition, and as Lady Gaga herself says, you really wonder how normal, everyday people can crack on with this horrible syndrome.
But as educational as some parts were, it didn’t save the whole film. Overall it was fine. It didn’t give me the narrative and production value of Homecoming, but it did offer a little more edge and substance than Miss Americana for my liking. Speaking of which…
Miss Americana, Taylor Swift
The documentary starts with what feels like is going to be a classic Netflix Set-Up-Mic/Drop-Mic intro; you know the ones on the true crime documentaries where some local’s voice-over sets up with, “Thang with Backwatertown is that nuttin’ ever happens here… errbody knows errbody…” – a drone camera is panning over Backwatertown, then BOOM -“Never wudda guessed we’d have a serial killuh here,” mic drop. Taylor sets up with an intimate and relatable monologue about how she has made her life choices dependent on pleasing people. She confesses the compulsive need to be liked and to be seen as a good person. She sets up even further by detailing her early success in her career which made her feel she had achieved her goals.
The mic doesn’t drop though. It makes the start of the film feel very much like a humblebrag from Taylor Swift, and it did take me about a third of the 86 minutes to realise this wouldn’t be a documentary where Swift rubs in being adored and successful to us peasants in the audience.
Produced by Tremolo Productions and directed by Lana Wilson, it’s another Netflix movie that is stylistically efficient. But like Gaga: Five Foot Two, the actual story is all over the place. What is this film actually about? The only answer I can really offer is ‘Taylor Swift’.
There is no definitive project, moment or message until the very last minute and it’s a pretty naive ‘purpose’ of making this documentary in my opinion. Taylor discusses a range of personal issues including her frequently discussed love life, her sexual assault legal battle, that Kanye West drama and body image issues she reveals she still battles with. But by far the most time-consuming issue discussed is Swift’s political voice. We see her muster the courage to approach and begin tearfully pleading with her father and a member of her management team to be allowed to… say stuff about politics.
That’s it. It’s well intentioned and I understand this is a young woman with no requirement to be politically informed, but it is just quite embarrassing to watch. She’s about 28-years-old when she sobs, “I need to be on the right side of history. … Dad, I need you to forgive me for doing it, because I’m doing it,” in regards to her decision to vocally disagree with Republican Senator, Marsha Blackburn.
It makes me physically cringe when grown women allow their daddies to still buy into this ‘My Little Girl Princess’ trope, and even aside from this, it feels like a reveal of a very white, privileged lifestyle, that Taylor has just discovered that oh em gee, did you like, know politics like, effects people?! It might be harsh to say because like I’ve stated, she is ambitious to make genuine, positive change and that is always a good thing; it just came off as a little naive and patronising to the viewer. I also couldn’t help but note that Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga only have 3 years between their ages, and yet from the get-go, Gaga has been outspoken politically and vocalised her opinions and allegiances whenever she liked. I guess Taylor didn’t get the memo.
On the flipside, this documentary does show how hands-on and astoundingly hardworking Taylor Swift is. We get to be a fly-on-the-wall in multiple recording sessions and I was truly blown away by the level of professionalism and production prowess the pop star demonstrates. If I’m honest, I would have loved a documentary solely dedicated to showing her creative process.
All in all, I thought this was a bit dull and self-involved. Taylor Swift comes across as sweet, hopeful, incredibly talented and just beginning to find her feet in terms of her independence. I can relate to her doubts and fears a hell of a lot, but like Lady Gaga’s feature, I found myself shrugging at the end, as though to say “Ehhhh” in that way Gru’s mother does in Despicable Me.
Here’s the big one, freaks and geeks. Is Homecoming good enough to turn I, a well-known Beyoncé ‘hater’, a person who has ridiculed the obsession, a woman who has staunchly stood against the infatuation, into a disciple of the songstress?
Absolutely fucking yes.
Homecoming is so good. It’s beyond good. I went in with no loyalty or high hopes as well, so I can only imagine what a treat this must have been for lifelong members of the Beyhive (Beyoncé’s fandom, like of Gaga’s Little Monsters).
Where the other films failed, this one delivered; the topic is clear from the start, this is a feature about Beyoncé headlining Coachella and all the work that went into preparing for that show. We are treated to some personal snippets of her life, such as Beyoncé’s grueling regime to get back to performance-level fitness as well as what life is like for her as a mother and wife. There is a repeating motif of black pride throughout the documentary with beautifully inserted Maya Angelou voice-overs and a vast ensemble nodding to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs as she states throughout the performance) in their performance and attire. I’m white and feel white people have had far too much of a voice when it comes to the discussion of race and pride throughout history, so all I will say is that those concepts I just mentioned among others make this performance feel historic and important. Find a POC writer if you want a more in depth analysis and explanation, and be sure to share and support their work.
Back to the gig. The performance side of the film is just sheer joy. It’s like you’ve stumbled upon the coolest, happiest party by accident, and the host is handing you a beer before bringing you in to dance.
In keeping with the homecoming theme, throughout the performance we’ve got bleachers, marching bands, baton twirlers, breakdancing, pom-pom boots, and of course the homecoming queen herself.
Considering this is her comeback after dipping out of music to raise her family, Beyoncé is on fire in this movie. She dances alongside her troupe like she never had the break. Her vocals are incredible as she demonstrates both range and technique flawlessly. The crowd is going absolutely mental each time the camera pans to them as Beyoncé sings fan favourites, medleys of her hits, and even brings Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams to the stage for a mini Destiny’s Child reunion.
Speaking of the camera, as if a powerful message and incredible performance wasn’t enough; Beyoncé wrote, produced and directed the movie as well! Ed Burke assists as co-director to achieve a genuinely interesting and beautiful piece of cinematography with this project and I must say if Beyoncé truly had as much of a hand in directing this as is implied, I can’t wait to see what she’ll do with that talent next.
Hands down, this was the best of the lot. It’s also the longest, clocking in at 137 minutes, but the flits between performance and preparation mean it doesn’t actually feel that long. I never thought I would rescind my views on Beyoncé, and though her music is still not necessarily to my taste, I have a new-found, well overdue respect for her and I can’t get Drunk in Love out of my head.
So I did basically just mash three reviews into one! But what I want to make clear as I’m wrapping up is that I will not be comparing these artists against each other as women; I am comparing the quality, the artistry, and the content of these films. In the past I have been all too eager to jump on a keyboard and say how I think total strangers “seem like a bitch”, or how “I read somewhere that they were fake and rude”. Enough is enough. Tabloid culture has made it normal to slag off human beings for qualities we as the slagger-offer don’t even know are truthful. I have no idea what these women are like as people. I know I liked Beyoncé’s film the best and I liked Miss Americana the least. I know I disagreed with some of the personal admissions of these starlets, but it doesn’t mean they should be ridiculed for it. I know it’s unrealistic to say you will support and love every single thing any person ever does, but I think if someone’s message isn’t actively damaging or harmful, shouldn’t you just agree to disagree?
I agree to disagree with Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. I agree to agree with Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Watch the documentaries for yourself, and let me know if you agree or disagree with me.
This year’s NME Awards garnered more attention and more controversy than usual. Everyone and their dog has put their two cents into what they felt went down that night, but it also raised a larger question about accountability in incidences of sexism and what The Perfect Victim actually is.
Northampton based rapper Slowthai (nope, me neither) came under fire for acting like your average drunk dickhead at the event despite winning the coveted Hero of the Year award. He spouted nonsense into the mic, tried to physically kick off on an audience member, but most noticeably got a little fresh and a little creepy with one of the award show’s hosts, Katherine Ryan.
“Babygirl, I don’t want to have to do this to you right now, but everybody – she needs to understand the levels right now,” the 25-year-old slurred to the 36-year-old comedian, adding “If you want to do something, see me later,” before staggering off stage.
In this age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the leery, culturally accepted actions of men that (mainly) women have long put up with have been starting to get questioned. If you behave like a twat, you should expect to have backlash for it. But what I am struggling to come to terms with is that people were indeed handing out backlash in the wake of the 67th NME Awards… but to Katherine Ryan?
Personally, I adore Katherine Ryan. I’ve seen her live, I’m familiar with her work and I even quote her on a regular basis like a proper geek. The panel show prom queen is fierce, quick and absolutely takes no prisoners, so I was not surprised when she came out on Twitter to say that she really didn’t feel like a victim at all.
“He didn’t make me uncomfortable. This is why we need women in positions of power. I knew he had lost from the moment he opened his mouth like any heckler coming up against a COMIC – not a woman – a COMIC. I was operating 2/10. What a sweet boy. I defused it.”, she tweeted after the incident.
If Katherine Ryan does not feel the need to call herself a victim that is a good thing. It takes any power out of what Slowthai did, it makes him the loser, it bounces off her skin like raindrops on a rock. He also didn’t commit a crime, such as sexually assaulting or raping her, and from what I can find out about the ordeal, he wasn’t pursuant or relentless after Katherine shut him down. If you vomit in the pub, you’ll get barred, you might have to pay for refurb, and the locals are absolutely going to judge and hate you… but you don’t get sent to prison.
Slowthai’s actions were shitty. Not so shitty as, say, Prince Andrew having legitimate ties and suspected custom with a sex trafficker and convicted sex offender (which as far as I am aware, nobody in the royal family has publicly commented on or condemned). Not as gross as Joe Exotic preying on vulnerable young men and forcing them to reject their true sexuality. Also not so shitty as the literal President of the United States having a real recording credited to him where he literally says “just start kissing them … I don’t even wait” and “grab ’em by the pussy” (which Donald Trump has claimed was merely ‘locker-room talk’ and faced zero consequences or investigation into this jarring advice that he himself gave on tape).
But Slowthai’s the one that everybody is talking about. Slowthai is still shitty, I don’t deny that. So why did everyone start saying Katherine was the one at fault?
After Katherine Ryan tweeted about how unfazed she was at the rapper’s creepiness, a lot of people vocalised their disappointment with her. Many responders believed that while Katherine may not have felt uncomfortable, another person could have, and she therefore had a responsibility to call out Slowthai’s behavior. Other people felt that Katherine was essentially giving a free pass to any men behaving similarly in the future, as the comedian had unwittingly approved that for the rest of time, this leeriness and all the escalations that can potentially come with it, are absolutely fine and nobody has any business to ever be upset about it.
What. The Fuck.
Katherine Ryan is a comedian. She is not a police officer. She is not a law maker. She is a ballsy entertainer who responded to an incident that happened to her as she saw fit. This situation happened to her, it is up to her to decide how she personally feels about it and up to her to decide how she wants to respond to it.
Slowthai was the one was behaved abhorrently. Not Katherine. That is all that should come into it when you decide who you should be gunning for. If you need a specific reaction in order to condemn an objectively shitty action, you are pretty much part of the problem.
The whole incident got me thinking about victimisation and what society believes a true victim consists of.
I believe Katherine Ryan got so much flack because she did not behave how a victim ‘should’. Society is unconsciously built like a script for a pantomime; everybody has their roles, and everybody is expected to behave in an almost formulaic manner, and if you don’t play your part correctly then you specifically deserve all the bad press that should be shared among the cast. Slowthai behaved like a perfect villain and nobody panicked. Katherine Ryan didn’t behave like a perfect female victim and everybody grabbed their pitchforks. And, scene!
Victims are not supposed to look or behave a certain way. Countless psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals can confirm that. However, through constant affirmation and subconscious indoctrination in media, law enforcement and cultural behavior, people do genuinely believe there is a ‘right’ way to behave like a victim and a ‘wrong’ way.
The Perfect Victim is typically female or a child. This is even tenuously used as an excuse in the victim selection process in torture-porn horror flick Martyrs (2008). Women and children are weaker, dumber and co-dependent. It’s why they get to flee the Titanic first and why their tragic stories sell better in those magazines you only lower yourself to read at a hair salon. Children are so little and fragile, and us ladies constantly need rescuing. Please help us, we are so useless without you big, burly men.
Women are also very delicate and emotional, so when we inevitably become a victim of some awful affair, the expected responses and attributes of the victim are –
Good-looking but in an accessible way so as not to cause jealousy
White. Ethnic minorities bring it on themselves and steal everybody’s jobs
Middle-class. Poor people also bring it on themselves but we all get a bit ‘French Revolution’ and gleeful when something bad happens to one of the elite. Striking a balance is ideal
Humble and afflicted presence to gather mass pity, but without looking like you want it
Co-operative and automatically trusting of anybody who wants to help
Domestic but also a little bit professional. If you don’t have a family you must be selfish, if you don’t have a job you must be lazy, if your husband is the one who stays at home with the kids you are stripping away his manhood which is mean
Straight and cisgender. If you are a transwoman then you’re weird already and if you’re not a heterosexual woman then you are selfishly robbing the world of your sole, true purpose which is to let straight men put a baby in you
Bonus points if you are disabled, but only visibly disabled and you have to be really upset about it all the time
This is what makes The Perfect Victim. And this, of course, is all total bollocks.
Anyone can be a victim and therefore anyone who is telling you something awful has happened to them and they don’t like or agree with it should be treated with sympathy and respect. Likewise, if you believe something that happened to someone else is awful, it’s not up to you to decide if they are a victim or not.
There is no right way for a victim to act because every person is an individual. Where one person might cry, another person would get angry. One person might be stoic about their plight, whereas another would be dramatic and intense about it. This is a point that especially needs to be hammered home when it comes to how we treat women who have been a victim, because for some reason, the general rule of thumb in treating women seems to be ‘Find one woman who wants to be treated ‘x’ way and apply rule to every woman you ever meet regardless of what they tell you’.
We are not all the fucking same. This is a very boring point to keep having to reiterate, and I believe most of us would let it slide if it wasn’t dangerous, but believing there is a correct and incorrect way for all women to act in a crisis is very very dangerous.
I think about the case of Angelika Graswald as an example of this. There is an episode dedicated to her on Netflix‘s The Confession Tapes (2019, Season 2, Episode 3 ‘Deep Down’) that examines how after a kayaking accident resulting in her husband’s death, personal bias, straw-clutching ‘evidence’ and an 11-hour police interrogation led to a coerced confession and guilty plea bargain from Ms Graswald despite more credible theories into her husband’s death being offered and Angelika’s maintaining of her innocence.
In the documentary, the people interviewed about Angelika’s case are rife with biased views. Where I was being sarcastic with my little rant above about what The Perfect Victim should look like, these are professionals and law enforcers who genuinely believe that if a woman has gone through something, she should be crying hysterically from the get-go. She should exhibit “normal victim behaviour”.
She didn’t confirm to the societal script of the grieving widow and victim. Just like Katherine Ryan, she was hounded for reacting to something horrible in her own individual way and in Angelika’s case she was actually imprisoned for essentially ‘not behaving normally’ in the eyes of law enforcement.
This is just one of many examples of how having the idea of The Perfect Victim in our heads is incredibly damaging. Another Netflix production called Unbelievable (2019) is an 8-episode drama series in which a victim of rape is doubted, essentially for not behaving or appearing like a “normal victim”. It’s definitely worth a watch but would caution that it can be pretty intense and upsetting to some. I’d argue the pros outweigh the cons in terms of shaking up your own subconscious biases though and think you’ll find it shocking how easy it is for those personal biases to actually ruin a person’s life as you watch the main character Marie’s life slowly unravel in front of your eyes.
And that’s what it all comes down to really. Like I say, I think if certain trains of thought were not damaging and couldn’t impact people’s lives, nobody would complain about it. If you think brown sauce is better than red sauce (it isn’t), it doesn’t change my life or how I’m received as a person, so I’m not going to fight you about it. Well I might, but only if there’s a bacon butty at stake.
But this idea of what The Perfect Victim should look and behave like, it’s already damaging lives. Male victims of sexual crimes are laughed out of reporting the incident. Female victims are not taken seriously when they don’t behave as expected. Ethnic victims are ignored as it’s expected that they’ll be a victim. Disabled people are even touted out as victims regardless of whether they themselves feel like they are or not. Even bigger a point, criminals can get away with their actions because they know how to play The Perfect Victim role! Everything needs to be treated with context and people need to be treated as individuals. Let’s start that now and get rid of this culture of bias that’s seeping into everything we know and deciding conclusions ahead of the facts.