Words that I write

Words that I write...

Monday, 30 June 2014

Beauty, beauty, beauty...

At the start of this year, I vowed this would be the year where I’d learn to love my body. For 31 years, I’ve struggled with my shape and size. I’ve dieted, stressed, cried and at times made myself miserable over it. None of which helped. This is not about the right or wrong of my weight; I’m more concerned with how I look at and feel about my body. And how we, as a society support and nourish this view.

Travelling to and living on farms in remote places for the last year has been the most incredible gift imaginable in so many ways, but my self image has been one of the most powerful and unexpected transformations. Separated from most media and advertising, once you step outside that particular fish bowl, you start to see how manufactured that bubble is. I mean, I’ve always known in some part of my mind that the media portrays that women (just using women as an example here, as that’s my personal experience) should look a certain way, and that it’s bullshit. But after 12 months of living away from that message, I finally stopped believing it. Truly. Deeply. And began to see how far reaching and deeply we’ve been brainwashed down that path.

I want to challenge what we conceive of as a beautiful body. Who tells us what’s beautiful? The makeup companies, advertising industries, clothes manufactures, Hollywood and HBO? All of whom stand to make a profit out of your crisis in confidence.If you don’t see the beauty in your body now, you still won’t find it when you’re 20 pounds lighter. If society says my body isn’t beautiful, then I say 'fuck society'. I refuse to accept your definition of beauty any longer.

Around the start of the year, I was lucky enough to meet a couple of amazing and strong women on Cortes Island, who really helped me to question my existing self image and build a new and better one. I began to separate out the facts and opinions around my body – yes, I am overweight – I’m not denying that. But I, me, and only me, hold the power to change the way I think and feel about that. Overweight does not equate unattractive. Overweight does not equate embarrassing. Overweight does not equate failure. Instead of viewing my curves as horrible things I’m ashamed of, I began to embrace them as part of who I am. I’ve had my ups and downs in life, and my body has the scars and lumps and bumps to show it. They’re part of my story. Part of my beauty.

I began to change the way I spoke about my body. I’d always joked about my size in a self-depricating way, but I realise that when you use negative language about yourself, it’s really easy to start believing it. My friend Nico persuaded me to start telling myself every day that I loved my body. And the mind is a funny thing – because soon enough, I did stop hating it. And soon after that, I began to not mind it. Love might still be a step away, but I’m falling deeply into like now.

Another thing that I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful, and massively liberating is being naked. And no, I don’t mean in a rude sense. I mean in a ‘swimming in a river with your friends’, or ‘going in the sauna’ kind of way. Before I came to Canada, this was never something I’d have considered doing because I was so ashamed of my body. And well, I’m British, and we don’t do that. In fact, it wasn’t something that I encountered before I came to Cortes, and then to the Kootenays (both places slightly infamous for their relaxed nature towards public nudity). I realised that the only person who really cared whether I was naked was me. And so I got over my astoundingly massive fear about it, and just got on with it. I embraced the new year with a naked dip in the lake with some friends and a hot tub. And each time I’ve been naked in front of other people, it’s got easier. Each swim, each sauna, each hot springs causes me less anxiety and gives me more confidence in my body.

Equally, my views on femininity have been challenged and altered this year. I’ve never been a makeup-wearing-spending-ages-on-my-hair kind of girl, and while I truly love wearing dresses, they are more likely paired with chunky boots than some heels. I guess I never felt truly feminine, like I was a bit of a failure as a woman. But I’ve come to wholeheartedly believe that femininity has nothing to do with my skincare routine or how much body hair I remove. It’s about embracing who I am as a woman and finding my strength in that; it’s about discovering MY femininity and living that. I love living in Winlaw because nobody genuinely gives a crap if you shave your legs or wear eyeliner or not. I haven’t worn makeup in over 6 months (excluding glitter of course) and didn’t even notice until I just thought about it. I removed the underwire from my bra because I’ve never found an underwired bra that doesn’t cause me significant discomfort and even bruising (and yes, I’ve even been to bravissimo) and have just decided to let my boobs be the shape they are, not the shape they’re ‘supposed’ to be.

And after all of this, I feel so much stronger as a woman. I feel more feminine rather than less, and so much more confident in MY femininity.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to wear makeup or wear a push up bra. But I do believe it’s wrong to tell people they should be doing that to be feminine, or that you’ll never be attractive if you don’t (down with advertising!). It’s your decision what body hair you remove and whether you have a skin care routine or not. If you’re looking for love, and these are make or break things for a partner, maybe they need to challenge what lenses they look at the world through.

So say hello to the new Steph. She looks a lot like the old Steph, but boy does she feel different.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Another life...

This life, it doesn’t feel real. It feels so separate, so different from my life ‘back home’. There are no commonalities, nothing to anchor it in reality. I feel like I’m living a story; a book I’m reading or a very long and vivid dream. Maybe I’ll wake up back in my bed in Bristol, ready for another day in the office, another evening in the pub, another night sleeping on the same mattress.

Life here is so different. Gone are the colourful painted walls of Bristol, the hubbub of the city, the noise of the traffic, the taste of cider on my tongue, the familiarity of old friends and the comfort of my life. Instead the colours are from the trees and rivers, the quiet of the wilderness, the feel of mud beneath my boots, the flavours of fresh vegetables from the garden, the uncertainty and excitement of new friends, and the refreshment of a new life.

But at some point this adventure has to come to an end. The wanderings become old and the finances become low. The need for stable friendships increases, and the longing for being able to unpack becomes greater. But this new person doesn’t fit into that old life. So what to do? Do I force the fit, shaving off much of the learnings and changes of the last year? Or do I stay, forgetting that old life and building a new one from this fresh perspective? Or do I search for a place, a space that will let me incorporate both, a hunt which could be wondrous, or an elusive search for a place that doesn’t exist.

And so I reach the crux of the matter. What are the things I can compromise on, and what is a need, something I cannot imagine being without. Which of these things can be found in my old life, and which require something new and fresh. Can I go back to the hustle and bustle of city life? Will I thrive once more among the busyness and creativity that it brings, or will I yearn for the stillness of the riverbanks and the solace of the mountains? Will I be a city dweller that escapes to the country, or a country dweller that adventures to the city? Where will my soul seek its home? Among the trees and valleys, or the alleyways and rooftops? Does my heart yearn for the quirky corner of the city or the peaceful nooks of the countryside.

I feel I’m at a tipping point. One leap forwards and I could be forever lost to this life, living in the countryside and quite possibly never having a stable job. Or one step back and I could easily fall into the life I left behind, this trip turning into nothing more than anecdotal stories of a place I once visited. Moving forwards means cutting some ties to my old life, but stepping backwards feels like denying the person I’ve become. This is the answer I’m looking for...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

A travelling song...

I don't really write songs, mostly because I can't play music. Which makes it tricky. But occasionally things just come out as songs so I roll with it.

I wrote this on the way from the coast to the Kootenays. It probably isn't finished, and it doesn't have a real tune. But I hum along regardless...

Hello mountains, fairwell sea

I leave behind the cliffs and coves, the paddling feet and sandy toes
I turn my back on old growth trees, on ferry boats and stormy seas
I bid adieu to seals and gulls, the sounds of waves and pause between
I say goodbye to friendships made, to island life and snowy scenes

So hello mountains and farewell sea
I journey onwards, heading east
Moving from winter, on into spring
To the land unknown, and what she brings

I head on to snowcapped mountains, river swims and bluffs up high
I seek hot springs and secret spots, the glacial lakes and hilly hikes
I look for bears among the trees, to sunny days and bright blue skies
I open arms to unknown folks, to places new, to valley life

Musings on writing and inspiration...

I wrote this late at night in a couchsurfing host's kitchen last month, and just rediscovered it. Just some random ramblings and musings from my brain...


My fingers move over the keyboard, the words pouring out of my soul without needing to think. Tiredness removes the barriers in my brain – the words come with ease and without effort. I don’t know what I’m writing, what I’m saying, I just type the stream of consciousness that emanates from my brain, pausing only to question the spelling or enjoy the feeling and shape of a word as I think it up and find a place for it in my sentence. I enjoy feeling the words, of letting go and letting my creativity be free. Of not worrying about the right and wrong of everything I write, but of just writing everything that comes and worrying about editing it later. The words are delicious in my mind, and I feel them running down my arms to the tips of my fingers and through the keys, forming shapes as my fingers dance across the keyboard. I hear the rhythm of the words, the taps and clunks my fingers produce as they waltz and tango around their dance floor. Everything I write feels beautiful to me right now, inspired and effortless. 

It feels like a dance when it’s this easy. I don’t pause, I just feel. Like dancing in the middle of a dance floor without worrying about how you look, my fingers dance away to the music of my soul. It’s light, like meringue; soft like clouds and candyfloss. I wish I could bottle how writing feels in these moments, so I have something to give me hope in the moments when my words and hands are heavy at the keys, when everything feels misshapen and wrong, when nothing fits. Sometimes the words are so hard to form, so hard to get out. Maybe they’re not ready for the world, or maybe my brain holds onto them too tight. Or maybe the world isn’t ready for them. 

I don’t know why sometimes it’s so right and other times so wrong. Other people recognise this feeling – the artists, the musicians around me. It’s the magic and addictive feeling of inspiration. Some people devise a way to access it or tap into it, but I have yet to find a reliable entry point. All I know is that I have to run with it when the feeling comes. Drop what I’m doing, find a corner and let it roll. Sometimes I feel that I only struggle because I’m trying to write the wrong thing or at the wrong time.

I am starting to see the benefit of typing with my eyes closed. I write in the now, in the present as opposed to puzzling over the words I just wrote, getting stuck on analysing the rights and wrongs of sentences past. I smile as I write a few words, utter a phrase that pleases me, pleases my brain. I feel like I’m writing in my voice, in my own dialogue, uninfluenced by the writers I adore and immerse myself in. I’m slowly developing my own narrative personality, the same way it took a long time for my external personality to find herself and be confident in who she is, uninfluenced by the people I surrounded myself with. 

So I sit here in a stranger’s kitchen in the late evening, my knees bent on an orthopaedic stool, my face warmed by a wood stove, my left ear dominated by the hum of the refrigerator and my right by the haunting sounds of a folk band. Here I sit, writing.