How Was it for You?

I happen to hate New Year’s Eve, with its emphasis on time and having fun and looking back while also looking forward, it’s enough to make you dizzy.

In the Kuhn house we hibernate in front of the fire with nice food and fairy lights and music and I usually manage to stay awake, but that’s mainly out of stubbornness. Because I do hate this evening and it often makes me sad, but I also want to look it in the eye before punching it in the face by surrounding myself with the people I care about most. I want it to know it hasn’t won. And for this year in particular, I can’t wait to see the back of it and I want to make sure it has actually gone and it’s not just a trick, that it hasn’t used all the life force of the people it’s taken away to prolong its own life, like a monster in a horror film.

I’m making it sound like something from a Harry Potter book when of course it is just a year, just another twelve months, a passing of time. There were no horcruxes involved and tomorrow will just be another Sunday. It just so happens that a lot of bad stuff happened in 2016 and we all like to give meaning to meaningless things, there has to be a point, even to the bad stuff, especially to the bad stuff.

Everyone’s talking about the famous people who have died and at times it’s felt like someone has been going through a list of all the people who were the backdrop to my childhood and ticking them off, one by one. But people have also died who I personally know. I’ve been to four funerals this year, some were for people who have lived their lives and left brilliant stories behind, some were for people who seem to have hardly got started with their stories. But too many people I care about have had a terrible time this year and that’s a really helpless feeling.

The bad things that started to happen in 2016 will play out in full in 2017 but my inherent optimism is still making me see this next year as positive, with things to look forward to. I can’t completely write off 2016 because there were some good things in amongst the bad.

I’ve reconnected with old friends and made some really good new ones. I’ve taken responsibility for something that wasn’t making me happy and done something about it, which means that while I’m ending 2016 a little bit emotionally battered, I’m healthier and much more confident. I’ve found something that I enjoy doing that also helps people, while giving me more time to write, because I’ve also found that the best way to get over your book being rejected by lots of publishers is to just get on and write another damn book.

So in a year of Brexit and Trump we have to look after each other more than ever if we don’t want to end up in some kind of Hunger Games scenario. And while women are still not being believed, and still not being paid the same, and still having to scrabble around for jobs, any jobs, that fit in around their kids because the working world is stuck in some kind of 1950s nine-to-five conveyor belt with little flexibility, we need to make even more fuss. It’s more important than ever that we make a noise about the injustices and prejudice we see around us on a daily basis, even if other people would rather not hear that noise.

So give yourself a break tonight, it’s just another night, you don’t have to make any big decisions or put extra pressure on yourself by making stupid resolutions. Just get through it the best way you can, the same as always and I’ll see you on the other side.


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Smile, damn you!

The other day I went for a swim. I swim a lot. It de-stresses me, I can write whole chapters in my head and it cancels out the peanut butter.

So there I was, swimming up and down, smiling like a loon when….Oh, wait, I wasn’t actually smiling, of course, because who actually smiles while they’re swimming? But I assume I had my usual ‘swim face’ on, which is pretty much like my normal face, just a bit wetter, with more eye liner than usual streaking down my cheeks, and as I got to the end of the pool I noticed a man sitting by the edge. He looked at me and shouted over, ‘Smile!’

He helpfully did a big smiley mime with his hands, just in case I wasn’t sure what a smile was. Just in case I was actually desperate to smile but just couldn’t remember how. I sighed to myself, ignored him and swam away.

But when I got back to that end of the pool he said it again, louder, ‘Smile! You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself!’ (Which in itself is really annoying, surely you can enjoy yourself without smiling, there are lots of things I enjoy while not smiling. Who, for example, has a huge grin on their face the entire time they’re having sex? Or while eating cheese? I’d find both really disturbing, unless I’ve been doing both of those activities wrong all this time, which is a bit of a bombshell…)

He then dropped the classic ‘smile’ bomb and told me I was prettier when I smiled.

I pointed at the only other person in the pool, a young man in his twenties and said, ‘He’s not smiling either, why aren’t you telling him to smile, or is it just women you want to make feel uncomfortable?’

He muttered something under his breath. I didn’t hear what it was but from past experience of this kind of situation I imagine it was probably something about how I can’t take a bit of fun. He had a hurt expression on his face (SMILE, damn you!) as he looked around to see if anyone else had heard this ungrateful, miserable looking woman completely get the wrong end of the stick as he innocently enquired after her well-being, mindful of the fact that it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown, so he really can’t be blamed for trying to rescue her from a life of saggy face-ness. Women! There’s just no pleasing them!

I was glad I‘d said something but still felt horrid. My little oasis of swimmy calm had been disrupted, through no fault of my own. I wanted to get out but that would have involved walking past him, so I did Fast, Angry Swimming for another 20 minutes. I suppose I should thank him, my arms are maybe just a little bit more toned after that, so toned that the next time a man tells me to smile (because it’s never, ever a woman) I’ll have the physical strength to punch him really hard in the testicles. While smiling.

It made me think of a conversation I got into on Facebook recently (the first one in weeks that didn’t involve someone telling me to chillax about the referendum result, why is everyone telling me what to do??) But it was a discussion underneath an article about how police in Nottingham are treating uninvited sexual advances, or verbal contact, as a hate crime. This includes cat-calling and wolf-whistling.

A lot of men got upset about this, claiming that it’s a slippery slope and it’s a very sad day indeed when a poor, innocent man can’t even talk to a woman without being reported for a hate crime. This is misogynistic in itself. For a start, I don’t like this suggestion that all women are looking for a reason to persecute men, the assumption that lots of women lie about this kind of thing to be vindictive. Those evil, manipulative women, witches even, casting spells over innocent men.

It reminds me of the automatic assumption that many rape victims are lying, that they must have an ulterior motive and that poor man who ended up accidentally putting his penis inside her was just trying to be friendly.

So here’s a newsflash. This kind of thing isn’t flattering, it’s purely about power and it needs to stop. Men don’t have an automatic right to talk to women. And they don’t control women’s bodies. We’re not here to be looked at, to be reduced to a sexual object. We’re not here to make men feel better by providing some fluffy, light relief, by being happy all the time. We’re not just a nice distraction for men, something to take their minds off all that hard, manly stuff they have to do all day, stuff like wrestling bears and then sitting at a traffic light picking their nose.

I used to wonder if men actually thought they would get somewhere by shouting at a woman in the street. Has there ever been a woman who heard ‘get your tits out, love’ and thought to herself, yes, that’s the man for me? Then I realised that of course that kind of man doesn’t think this, he doesn’t think at all, because he just doesn’t care. He’s been brought up in a society that teaches us that men are more important than women. It’s really hard for a woman to understand this kind of arrogant superiority. (And if you’re interested, you should take a look at #NoWomanEver on Twitter).

You might think wolf-whistling is harmless, you might think it’s flattering, that it gives us a boost, that it’s a bit of fun. But you’re wrong.

At best you can shrug it off, resigned to it just being how it is. But at worst it can make you feel powerless and crap, because let’s get this straight, it’s got nothing to do with flattery and everything to do with power. You can have left the house feeling great, feeling like a confident, capable, intelligent woman with a job and a mortgage and nice shoes. But then some bloke whistles at you from some scaffolding and comments on your tits and you feel self-conscious, aware of how you’re walking, not knowing what to do with your arms, do you fold them? But then it’s hard to walk fast with folded arms and you want to be out of there as fast as possible. You’re annoyed that you’re blushing because they’ll read that the wrong way, and that makes you blush even more. Maybe you should have worn something different? Maybe you need to find a different way to walk home later, so you don’t have to pass them again, even though that might make you late to pick your kids up from school. Everything you are, and have worked hard to be, is reduced to sex, in one fell swoop.

I was thinking the other day that maybe the reason I feel more confident now I’m older is because being over 40 I don’t attract that kind of wearying attention, maybe I feel less exposed. I can slip under the radar. But what about my daughters and their friends? Shouldn’t things be a bit different for them? Haven’t we moved on? I hate to think that they’ll become accustomed to this kind of thing, that they’ll become accustomed to adapting their behaviour because men so clearly aren’t.

So if you’re someone who thinks that shouting out to a woman in the street, in a swimming pool, in a bar is harmless and she just needs to lighten up, I’m telling you now that it isn’t.

We don’t like it, and maybe you don’t understand this, maybe you never will, but you should still care.


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Fat Bottomed Girls

So today I was in a shop and saw what I thought was a strapless bra. On closer inspection it turned out to be something charmingly called a bum enhancer. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I was under the impression that big arses were a no-no too. Please keep up. We’re not talking proper, wobbly, spilling-over-your-chair big, we’re talking Kim Kardashian-big, topped by a tiny waist and gravity-defying breasts; we’re talking socially acceptable-big.

We seem to be all over the place when it comes to women’s bodies, throwing mixed messages out willy nilly. ‘You’re too fat!’ Shout the magazines, pushing diets and potions at us. The TV and film industries are more subtle, they don’t tell us we’re fat but then they also don’t show anyone above a certain size, unless of course their size is part of the storyline or they’re there for comedy value, (because fat girls are fine as long as they are funny, funny being the get-out-of-fat-jail-card for fatties).

Big women are part of the story because they’re big, not despite. You just don’t see women who veer either side of this so-called ideal weight in the media, and if you do it’s cancelled out by the huge fuss made. If you have to tell us how OK and right-on you are about bigger women, it doesn’t count. Of course, a certain kind of fat person is allowed, they’re paraded around as a beacon of chubby hope in a skinny world. Look! A plus-size model. Isn’t she great, isn’t she brave! Now let’s wheel her back into her over-sized cupboard because of course we’re never going to actually use people like her as fat doesn’t sell. It suggests lack of control and excess. Let’s just stick her on the cover of a mag and hopefully her massive arse will hide all the skinny models we’ll still be using.

‘Big is beautiful, love!’ they say, ‘But jeez, not that big! Have some decency will you? We don’t mean everything, just the important bits.’ These people obviously fell into a coma in 1985 while watching Weird Science and have woken up thinking that you can just adjust the size of a woman with a click of the mouse, depending on how you feel that particular day.

Meanwhile, women’s bodies continue to be public property in a way men’s bodies never are. It’s as though it’s their duty to society to put on a good show and there’s indignation if they differ from the norm or ‘let themselves go’, and this includes going too far the other way because skinny women make us feel uncomfortable too. It’s even more socially acceptable to criticise a skinny woman. A slim friend of mine has had people actually grab her arm and comment about how thin it is. They assume she’s anorexic. This would never happen with an overweight woman. You would never go up to somebody and wobble their arm flesh saying, ‘Gosh, you’re so chubby! You must have some kind of mental illness, maybe just eat a bit less?’ Women who lose weight are told they look haggard and old and we can’t have that, it’s against the rules.

And yet conversely,thin/skinny is used as a compliment, as though that is something to aspire to, the thing that everyone wants. ‘Aren’t you looking nice and thin,’ they’ll say to someone who’s lost weight. Nobody would say that to someone who’s put weight on, you wouldn’t shout across the road to your neighbour ‘Hey, look at you and your lardy legs, well done you!’ because everyone assumes that you would not put weight on deliberately.

It’s all too confusing, no wonder we’ve lost our way and this uncertainty is preyed upon by people keen to make money. There’s a whole industry out there that has been built on our insecurities as it tries to scare us into eliminating whole food groups from our diets. We’re bombarded with books and blogs and instagram accounts that tell us we’re poisoning ourselves. They give us little snapshots into their unrealistic lives, forgetting that it’s all very well existing on a handful of nuts, some spiralised celery and an energy ball when all you have to do is skip around a beach in Wales wearing flip flops, but for someone who has to get kids ready for school, then run for the bus to go and do a day’s work without passing out in the process, it’s just not attainable.

The emphasis should be on being fit and healthy, whatever our weight, but it’s not really in anybody’s interest for us all to be fit and healthy. If we were we wouldn’t need the drugs and the books and the diet foods.

There’s so much emphasis on how we look we seem to be completely missing the point that we still need to look after ourselves and be healthy, and while that doesn’t automatically mean thin we do need to make sure that we’re not all so concerned about not giving in to patriarchal ideals of thinness that we end up giving ourselves heart disease in the process. Yes, the media places unrealistic pressures on us to look a certain way, but we shouldn’t get so hung up about not wanting to be told what to do that we replace that pressure with a different kind of pressure to not care about our bodies.

I’ve lost weight recently and I’ve ended up feeling a bit guilty about saying that, because it seems that I have gone from being the wrong kind of shape for society, to being the wrong kind of shape for feminism. There’s an idea that wanting to lose weight is shallow and petty. We shouldn’t care, we should embrace our larger bodies (even if we can’t quite get our hands around them), and concentrate on much deeper issues. Losing weight has almost become a guilty secret. There’s a kind of bravado about over-eating. Cake-porn is a thing to feel proud of, stuff the patriarchy, if we want to be fat we’ll be fat and no man can tell us any different. That’ll teach ’em.

Cake has more or less been given a sainthood and there are as many pictures of huge slabs of cake online as there are pictures of kittens. We attach so much emotion to it. We deserve to eat this cake, we’ve earned it. What kind of fast food/social media/instant gratification-obsessed society have we created where happiness is the responsibility of food?

I wonder if we’ll look back on things like cake club blogs in the same amused, yet horrified way that we watch episodes of Mad Men, where they sit around smoking fags while necking Old Fashioneds at a 10am meeting.

There’s a kind of negative boasting. When my children were small there were always people who made others feel bad about doing good stuff with or for their kids. Like the kids at school who would laugh at you for always doing your homework. Oh, someone said to me once, you make porridge for their breakfast? I can’t be bothered with that, I just stick a bit of cereal in a bowl and leave them to it. Everyone laughed and I felt silly for caring about what my kids eat. I feel exactly the same way when someone suggests that I’m no fun for turning down a piece of cake. When did it become a thing to be congratulated for not caring?

It seems that we’re allowed to talk about how we embrace our fatness but it’s almost gone too far the other way, and we’re not allowed to say when we want to do something about it. How is that equality?

We need to give ourselves and each other a break and start being more supportive, instead of judging and giving out little labels that we assume can’t be worn at the same time. Yes, you can want equality and want to look good. It is possible to type out those ranty blog posts with shiny red nail varnish, I’ve just done it and the world didn’t end.

And just so you know, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ was the best out of a very long list of fat bottom puns, so you actually got away lightly. (And you have no idea how hard it was to not write ‘You got a-weigh lightly’).


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Let’s talk about sex, baby…

It seems that sex education has moved on a lot since I was at school. I remember being ushered into the school hall for a mysterious talk by the scary Games teacher, who showed us some dodgy diagrams on the overhead projector and left us feeling more confused than ever. It was also far too late, I couldn’t relate any of that to what I’d already seen in films and read in books, and heard about in the school playground. (He did what with a crisp packet??).

But I’m not sure we’re getting it right, even now. I read an article earlier about a youth worker who put 400 condoms in her kitchen drawer for her teenage sons to use. I was mainly shocked that she had a kitchen drawer tidy enough to fit 400 condoms in, mine are all full of mysterious keys and takeaway leaflets. But she talked of how she’d met a 17 year old girl in an STI clinic whose parents had never talked about sex to her.

How can this happen? How can it not have come up, ever? Why are people so scared of it? It’s a huge part of life and of relationships, yet it seems to be the hardest thing for people to talk about. Maybe because we’re not that good at talking about it to each other. Or maybe people worry that if they talk to their children about sex they’ll give them ideas and they’ll go straight out and do it with the first person they meet. (Although I’d have thought that going out and having sex was the last thing you want to do after sitting down and talking to your mum about it.)

If you leave it too late you can be pretty sure that by the time you talk to them about it they’ll already have been exposed to unrealistic and downright damaging ideas about sex. And they’ll definitely have experienced some kind of sexual feeling.

School can only do so much, it needs to be supported by parents who need to take more responsibility. We need to talk to our kids from quite a young age, and make it normal and not just make sex a taboo subject that you suddenly spring on them when they’re 11. No wonder people are so uptight about it if this is your introduction to sex. One minute you’re happily playing with your lego, the next your mum sits you down and tries to sum up the whole complicated, confusing, fantastic muddle of sex in a five minute conversation that doesn’t actually use proper words. Instead there’s talk of birds and bees, or, if you’re lucky, you might get the proper words and you’ll be absolutely horrified because that thing between your legs has always been your wingywang, or your front bottom, or your foofoo or whatever stupid name you’ve been calling it, and you walk away from this whole sorry episode still not entirely sure what a vagina is, but you’re pretty certain it’s not the new car model from vauxhall.

It needs to be part of the dialogue before that, not a sit-down sex talk that will make everyone feel awkward, but an ongoing lesson about relationships and respect. Not just the biology of what goes where, that’s (‘scuse the pun) coming at it from the wrong angle, we need to talk about the emotions involved.

We need to stop talking to kids about sex from a ‘making babies’ angle, that’s not realistic; it needs to be talked about in the context of relationships and respect. We need to talk about what constitutes an unhealthy relationship and stop making sex sound like a serious, scary thing in the misguided belief that if we make it sound too nice they’ll all rush off and shag the first person they see. The same goes for giving out condoms. Giving a teenager a condom will not make them want to go straight out and have sex, chances are they probably already do want to go straight out and have sex anyway, deal with it. We need to reinforce the idea of safe sex, for everyone.

In the article I read it was talking about heterosexual relationships and most of the comments (always the best bit) were from parents of boys saying they always made sure their sons carried condoms. But what about girls? They should leave it up to the boy? That’s like going out in the rain and not wanting to get wet but assuming someone else will have an umbrella for you to use. And what about LGBT relationships? These seem to be tagged onto ‘traditional’ sex education like an after thought.

Then there’s the matter of consent, which is great, except lots of teenagers, hell, lots of adults, get into sexual situations that don’t require a yes or no, things just happen. One thing leads to another and before you even realise what’s happening, you’re having sex. What then? And what if you change your mind? Or aren’t actually capable of saying no, or you said yes last time but then want to say no this time.

There’s also the issue of technology. Our children are exposed to so much more, at a much younger age than we were, but that’s not all. Technology speeds interaction up, it enables them to get into something serious much quicker than they’d planned, it can escalate quickly. So many of my daughter’s friends’ parents have shut themselves off to social media, claiming to not be interested. Yet they need to be interested, to see how it works and how easy it is for young people to get into situations they’re not old enough, or experienced enough to handle. We’re putting sophisticated technology into our kids’ hands without giving them lessons in how to use it.

So don’t wait, or put it off because if you don’t talk to them, because if you don’t somebody else will, somebody nowhere near as qualified as you, their actual parents whose job it is to demonstrate a healthy, loving relationship every day of their lives, so who better? Because society is rubbish at this, society tells girls that the first time is always painful, that it’s not normal for them to want sex, and that it doesn’t matter anyway as they’re too fat and hairy or clever to have sex anyway and even if they do they don’t need to say anything because their clothes will say it all for them.

So, to sort of quote the wise words of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, let’s talk about sex. Because crisp packets are only good for one thing. (so many crisp-related jokes, so little time…)


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Are we there yet?

It’s 2015. We have cars that can park themselves and a computer that can decide for itself to make a robot that can use a 3D printer to make a gun. This is the future, right here. My dad can go to see a doctor who’s a woman and he won’t even make a comment about how nice she was in a surprised tone of voice, like any woman who would choose a career over, or as well as, children must be some kind of abomination of nature and not to be trusted. That’s how far we’ve come.

But then a few things have made me think that we haven’t moved on at all.

My daughters went back to school this week, so the last month has been mostly taken up with us trying to find the right school uniform, something that usually involves me walking into the centre of town and scattering the contents of my purse around to passing strangers. But this year there seems to have been an extra element of stress, because now it seems it’s not enough to send us out to try and find 50 different kinds of indoor and outdoor trainers with The Right Soles, we now have to find The Right Skirt and The Right Trousers.

I’m always in two minds about school uniform; I can see both sides and change my mind daily. But some of the recent rules have just been plain silly, particularly when it comes to uniform for girls.

I know there are plenty of rules for boys too and there probably only seem to be more rules for girls because they have more choice when it comes to uniforms, i.e. they can wear either skirts or trousers, but so many of these rules seem to be about making girls feel responsible for the way men see them at the very time we’re trying to teach our impressionable, social-media obsessed girls the opposite.

Skirts have to be knee-length. Never mind that none of the girls would be seen dead in tights any other colour than opaque black, they can’t wear anything shorter. Although there isn’t an official reason for this I read that it is because short skirts ‘distract the boys as well as the male teachers.’ Aw, poor lambs, maybe we should cover up wrists and necks too, just in case. We wouldn’t want anyone (male) to feel uncomfortable now, would we….Or, we could maybe try teaching our young men that women aren’t objects to always be seen in a sexual way especially when they’re only 11. Just a thought.

But no worries because they can wear trousers, right? Wrong. Because the trousers have to be right too and can’t be too ‘skinny’, in fact the rules say ‘you must be able to pinch an inch of material around the thigh.’

This reminds me of that awful saying that was used in a cereal ad years ago, the ‘rule’ that if you can pinch more than an inch of fat then you’re overweight. And I know we’re not talking about flesh here, we’re talking about trouser fabric but it still boils down to how much you fill your trousers.

Because what happens if you you don’t buy ‘skinny’ trousers but have big thighs? (Ironically, all trousers are ‘skinny’ if you are a bit big. Please try to keep up). What message is this rule giving out? And how do they even enforce it? How will it make our daughters feel, being made to feel that they’re too fat to wear the right uniform? Teenage girls are under enough pressure as it is without this kind of thing making it worse.

One theory behind these rules is that it prepares them for being in the workplace where they have to wear appropriate clothing, but does this really prepare them? How? Surely wearing appropriate clothing to work is mostly common sense anyway, we’re not stupid, we know what is and isn’t appropriate at work. We don’t have to be talked down to like silly little girls, under the common pretence that it’s ‘for our own good’.

Imagine if these rules were enforced in the workplace? You stroll across the office towards the coffee machine only to be shouted at from across the room, ‘Hey, you there, those slacks are very snug around the thigh area, you’re provoking unnatural desires in these poor defenceless men, find some loon pants at once or cut down on the cheese and biscuits, lardy-arse!’

So we gave up and she has resorted to the age-old trick of folding her skirt over at the waist to adjust the length accordingly, just like I used to in the 80s. Progress indeed.

So we move on to the sports kit, nothing to worry about here, trainers, shorts and a top, sorted. Except we need shin pads and I didn’t have time to go into town so ordered online from a well-known sports shop. But when I tried to buy some it seemed they only came in three sizes; boys small, boys medium and boys large. My daughter looked at the screen. “Where are the girls’ shin pads, Mum?” she asked, and 11 years of finely tuned feminist upbringing went down the pan.

Surely this shouldn’t still be happening. Why am I still having to explain this kind of thing to my girls on a regular basis? Why do I have to talk to my 14 year old about what to do when a man pays her unwanted attention? Do mothers of 14 year old boys have to have this kind of discussion?

So while I accept that things have moved on a lot, I can’t help feeling that we’re all still going over the same old ground again and again and will carry on doing so until we make some changes. Or all get a robot with a gun. You choose.


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She wears it well…

So. The weather is getting better. Spring is here, the sun’s out, we can put our bobble hats away for another few months and choose our footwear based on what we like, instead of what is least likely to make us fall over on our arses in the ice. Run free, all of you, I’ll see you back here in October.

Oh wait, hang on a minute. You’re not a woman are you? You are? In that case there are a few little rules you need to consider.

Look online and there are countless articles telling women what they shouldn’t be wearing, whether they’re over 20, 30 or 40. But especially after the age of 50, because apparently that lot are all over the place and despite the fact that a lot of them have made actual people in their own bodies and have fantastic careers and are generally sorted in almost every other area of their lives, they just can’t be trusted to choose the right thing to wear.

I did a little bit of research before I started writing this and found pages and pages of ‘rules’. It was hard to work out what age these particular ‘rules’ are aimed at, but I think we can safely assume that if you have a vagina, you’re wearing the wrong thing. If you’re not covering up too much, you’re showing too much of yourself off (asking for it! Whatever ‘it’ is, although usually ‘it’ means any bad behaviour men don’t want to take responsibility for). It’s a very fine line but you must get it right as that’s what you’re for, silly, to look right.

So then, what shouldn’t you be wearing? You might want to jot these down.

It seems to be mainly leather, leopard print, mini skirts, horizontal stripes, shorts, berets and black eyeliner, for starters.

I’m amazed I’m still walking free. I have all of these things and sometimes, in the case of my leopard print beret, leather jacket, stripy top and black eyeliner, wear quite a few of them combined. How do I even sleep at night?

Also, don’t wear black. What do you mean, you like it? Are you not listening to me? It drains you, you imbecile and apparently it washes you out, whatever that means. If you must wear black then add a pop of colour by wearing a brightly coloured scarf at a jaunty angle. Which is a sentence I actually read in a grown up, serious woman’s magazine.

It’s worth remembering that you should be wearing a scarf anyway, to cover your baggy old neck and your wrinkly décolletage. I’m not entirely sure I know what a décolletage is, or where mine is. I’m pretty certain I have one though, I think it’s somewhere between my ribs and my neck. Ah, I expect it’s so wrinkly I’ve probably mistakenly tucked it away under an armpit or something. Next!

Don’t show your bare arms. I can’t believe I’m even having to tell you this. Bare arms might be a little bit wobbly and as you know, society doesn’t do wobbly so stop it. Wobbly is like wrinkly, it reminds people that age is just waiting around the corner and they don’t like it, so cover them up now, damn you.

Right, where were we? Oh yes, don’t wear black sleeveless tops with low necks. What next?

There’s a whole section on how to wear jeans. Yes, that’s right, how to wear them. Apparently this procedure is a whole lot more complicated than just putting them on. I know, you’ve been doing it wrong your whole life! Idiot.

Don’t wear blue and green, don’t show your toes, don’t get a tattoo as one day your skin might go wrinkly and the world will END,

There’s a whole list of sub-sections about what you should and shouldn’t wear if you’re a fat woman, or a thin one, or a fat old woman or a woman who’s older than 30 yet younger than 40 who’s a bit thin at the top and then a bit fat further down. And you don’t stand a chance if you’re a pregnant woman because jeez, you might as well just stay inside for 9 months as you’re never going to get it right. It’s fine though, because being pregnant means that everyone has free reign to make comments about, as well as actually touch, your body so I’m sure someone will give you a piece of helpful advice.

Women are judged by what they wear in a way men never are. There are no articles about what men over 40 should and shouldn’t be wearing, apart from a few half-hearted attempts that mention skinny jeans and sandals with socks. But the clothing rules for men seem to consist of buy stuff, put that stuff on, go out in aforementioned stuff, forget about it until you need to take the stuff off again, or the stuff falls apart. Sorted. What’s for lunch?

We’re told what we should and shouldn’t wear by the media, by society, by each other. We police each other, saying things like ‘Look at you with your legs out! You’re brave!’

I was told I was brave last summer, for daring to wear a sleeveless top. (Which reminds me, we need to have a word about being brave. Oh, people say, you’re so brave writing that/sharing that/wearing that. I hear it thrown around so often. Brave is running into a burning house to rescue a child, or surviving a war, or standing up to a bully. Brave is not wearing a top with no sleeves. Stop throwing it around willy nilly, you’re watering it down).

There’s always something else to worry about. You get one thing sorted and another pops up, one minute we’re supposed to be worried about our knees, the next our elbows or our ankles. We’re either too hairy, too white, too tanned, too fat, too thin. It’s a minefield.

Why do we care?

Even though I think society has made us care, women don’t help each other. They judge and sneer and whisper, commenting on the height of necklines and hems, forced into a competitiveness they never wanted in the first place. It’s exhausting.

So here’s my advice.

Wear what the hell you want, when you want to. Nobody actually cares, and if they do they need to stop and will only do that if everyone just does what they want to and breaks these ‘rules’.


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Jeez, I want a cape.

Harrison Ford, Robert de Niro, Alan Rickman, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Willis, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford.

What do they all have in common? They are all sex symbols. They have been sex symbols throughout their careers and continue to be so even though they’re all over 50, quite a bit over fifty in some cases, (I’m looking at you, Redford). It seems the older they get, the more we like them, with their crinkly eyes and inappropriate flirting on chat shows. They can do no wrong as they continue to be wheeled out, looking increasingly dazed and confused but hey, they are silver foxes, they are foxy over-fifty’s, they just get better with age. It’s like they’ve never even heard of saga holidays and Shackleton high seat chairs.

Look at Tom Jones for example, who seems to have turned into some kind of demi-god. He sits there grunting at young women, but bless him, that’s allowed, he’s from a different era when it was considered normal to leer at young women, they should be honoured! Or even Cliff Richard, who despite allegations of child sex abuse, still has millions of loyal female fans. But never mind all that stuff, just look at how good he looks! What an inspiration! Yeah, sure they have a few liver spots now and not much hair but that rugged look is so sexy, right?

Meanwhile, some woman, Madonna or somebody, seems she thinks she can still be in the public eye, being all successful and talented, even though she’s passed the cut-off point of 40. What was she thinking? Hasn’t she even read the rule book?

I think the thing with Madonna is that she probably did read the rule book, saw it for the nonsense it so clearly is and ripped it to shreds on the points of her shiny, metal bra.

She’s never behaved how she’s supposed to. She’s always lived by her own rules. From the minute she appeared in a music video wearing a slutty wedding dress and singing about being a virgin accompanied by the sound of my dad tutting, I knew she was someone different. She’s always done what she wanted, and looked great doing it. And when she got to the age that women are normally expected to disappear, she kept on going, still pushing boundaries, still making dads tut, constantly reinventing herself.

I watched the clip of her falling over at the Brit awards through my fingers. I didn’t like it, it looked hurty. Now if it this had happened to me I’d have run off crying, my default reaction to hurting myself. I’d probably have flounced my cape a bit on the way out. But she barely missed a beat, she got up and carried on singing, like nothing had happened.

The media reaction was horrible. It was like You’ve Been Framed on steroids. We saw the clip of it from every angle and with every possible pun and you couldn’t post a retweet of a puppy on a skateboard on Twitter for all the hilarious jokes about how Grandma could have broken her hip. Suddenly, Woman Falls Over was big news, but in actual fact I read it more as Woman Dares to Behave Inappropriately for her Age, because we were constantly reminded that she is 56. Like it matters.

But it does. She is constantly criticised for being outspoken, (even about sex! Sex! Imagine!) and bossy (Women, know your place!). And whereas ambition in a man is seen as a positive trait; a sexy, powerful trait even, an ambitious woman is seen as ugly. It’s not natural for a woman to be ambitious. What does she need ambition for? Her only ambition should be to serve her man and produce children, and then once she has done her duty and her ovaries have retired and settled back with their Werthers originals and their knitting, she should quietly fade into the background, away from the public eye. I need to check that rule book again because ageism seems to be allowed, while most of the other isms aren’t. It’s so hard to keep up.

So I refuse to be part of the sheer glee that people felt at her finally getting her comeuppance. I don’t want to be one of those women who are manipulated into sneering at other women because I hope Madonna continues to be a badass until she’s in her 90s.

Meanwhile, the vlogger, Zoella, was photographed a gabillion times this week because she dared to leave her house without make-up. She was virtually unrecognisable apparently. Not that this is a big deal, the papers hastened to add, but hey, here’s another close-up anyway.

These women are going wild, if they’re not flouncing around in capes being fabulous and successful and independent, they’re actually showing impressionable young girls that you don’t need to plaster your face in make-up all the time. It’s anarchy. Save yourselves.


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