The Battle For ‘Ms’: Why are we so obsessed with titles?

Titles. For some reason, Brits think they’re incredibly important – especially when it comes to women. But why are we so obsessed with determining whether a woman is married or not?

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The above picture outlines the conversation I had this afternoon with a customer service agent while attempting to renew my car insurance. He was going through my details before generating a quote, and decided that ‘Ms’ is the wrong title for a married woman. He was convinced that ‘Ms’ is only for divorced women, and that’s “just the way of things over here”. I want to challenge this misconception, and ask: what’s so wrong with using ‘Ms’?

“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with “Miss” and “Mrs.”, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status.
– Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2. From Wikipedia.

Simply, I use ‘Ms’ because I do not want my marital status to be known or inferred by my title. My marital status is irrelevant to most things, and I will disclose whether or not I am married to the appropriate channels, but I will continue to use ‘Ms’ for all correspondence, and everything that requires a title.

I’m not entirely sure what’s so difficult to understand about this. Boys are known as ‘Master’ when they’re boys, but by the time they reach early teens, they become ‘Mr’ until they die. Girls are known as ‘Miss’ until they get married, whereupon it’s expected that they will become ‘Mrs’ (and take their husband’s surname, but that’s a whole nother argument). Why does a man have his title changed when he reaches apparent maturity, but a woman’s title is only changed when she marries (or divorces)?

Let me be clear: Women are more than their relationship to men. As a professional in her mid-twenties, ‘Miss’ seems rather young and immature, whereas ‘Ms’ feels more appropriate. Some people do like to use ‘Mrs’ once they marry, and that’s fine too, but, to me, using ‘Ms’ means I am more than my relationship status. I’m simply an adult woman.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor is this a new, modern feminist issue. Many women have shared their own ridiculous stories – one explained that their bank wouldn’t let them use ‘Ms’ until they saw their divorce papers, for fuck sake. A couple of members of my own family abused and disowned me because I complained about being referred to as ‘Mrs Husband’s First Name, Husband’s Surname’. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s unreal.msmissmrs

Last year, I was speaking to our utilities company, and mentioned that they couldn’t schedule a call back on that particular date, as I was getting married. I had been using the title ‘Mx’, which is a newer, gender-neutral term. Once the call was finished and I received some confirmation emails, I realised that the customer service agent had changed my title to ‘Miss’, because I was, at the time, unmarried, and they deemed that title to be the correct one. Are these people fucking insane? In what world is it okay to impose your own ideas and beliefs on others (paying customers, too!), and amend their details without asking them? Hell, I wasn’t even informed that my title was being changed, let alone asked.

This absolutely shouldn’t be an issue. If I’m speaking to a company, or anyone really, and I give my title as ‘Ms’, they should damn well accept it, and say no more on the subject. I certainly don’t expect to be argued with on the subject of my own damn title. My question is this: why do you care so much? Let me choose my own title, and be done with it. Until we afford women the same respect as men – and yes, even in little, seemingly insignificant things like this – we will never achieve equality.

S.N. Lemoing talks about the problem of finding a book cover

As an indie author, I have to do a lot of things by myself, and finding a good cover is one of our worst nightmares – unless you’re skilled at graphic design. For those of us who aren’t, we have some solutions: pre-made covers which can be affordable, or attempting photomontage.

 As I write about strong female characters, I have been dealing with even more hard choices each time I have to create a cover for my novels. First, I was browsing through a lot of pre-made covers in many genres: fantasy, thriller, drama, chick-lit, etc. There are some very beautiful works, some are as worthy as covers created by huge publishing houses.

However, it’s clear they’re all in need of a feminist helping hand.

The women represented on them are all overly feminine, wearing gowns and high heels. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but not all women are like this, and these different women should be represented too.

Moreover, all the models look fragile, strike unnatural poses like holding their bare shoulder while looking away. They all seem to be in waiting, probably for Prince Charming or a bad boy who will harass them.

And this is when they’re not naked, offering themselves to the male gaze – or simply dead bodies.

It’s striking how male characters are not illustrated the same way, just as in the movies, on TV, or in any media that we know. Have you ever seen a cover or a film poster showing a man holding his shoulder with a sad patient look, longing for the girl of his dreams? We’re still waiting.

The thing is, for my first novel, I was looking for female warriors with realistic and practical outfits, but I only found two women, hypersexualized, wearing the same stuff we can see on The Hawkeye Initiative.

Then, I was looking for a determined Mexican woman who’s also a police officer, but could only find two Latina characters (yes, because there is also a lack of ethnic diversity): one who was sexy and passive, lying on a bed, and another one who was crying.

For another novel, I was looking for a confident plus size girl, but as the models on the pictures are all tall and thin, and mainly white, nothing matched. Or the few bigger women that could be found looked passive and/or hypersexualized too, which wasn’t the subject of my story at all.

Representation matters, and we need more diverse pictures and illustrations. We need women who aren’t scared, women with confident stares, women who can actually wear clothes and look powerful thanks to independent and self-assured positions. And also different body types.

We need different male models too, because as you scroll the pages, all you can see are bodybuilders, flexing muscles, and it shouldn’t be a standard either. There should be no standard.

S.N. Lemoing is the author of Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor. She was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

You can read more about Lemoing, and her book, here.

Introducing: Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor by S. N. Lemoing

The Bandwagon introduces indie author S.N. Lemoing, a fresh feminist voice in the fantasy world.

From the author:

“Several years ago, I wrote this novel to bring some subjects to the fore, such as diverse and powerful female characters, ecology, different families (single parents, large families, poor and rich backgrounds), and diversity of body types. The characters are never totally as they seem to be. The reader can feel a lot of emotions; the story is like a roller-coaster.

About the characters, we have ingenious children and teenagers, a biracial rebel princess and a maimed female warrior, among others. Politics, treason, magical powers, epic battle scenes, a little bit of romance – these are the themes you can find in this story.”

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For twelve years, the power has been usurped at the Realm of Harcilor. Cyr, an erudite, and his adopted son, Kaaz, have formed a secret school.

Indeed, in this world, some people were born endowed with magical abilities: the Silarens.

However, it is not that easy to detect your own powers. They will soon be joined by a mysterious young woman who will provide them with valuable information.

When Litar – the most powerful being of the realm – goes away for two months, they finally foresee the opportunity to act.

Can they win their freedom back? Will they make the right choices?

Grab your copy on Amazon now, or find it on Goodreads. You can keep up to date with the latest book news on the Facebook page.

About The Author

S. N. Lemoing was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

The will to write without boundaries led her to become an independent author. Her first novel is POWERFUL – T1: The Realm of Harcilor, a fantasy novel acclaimed by more than 85 French literary bloggers.

Her second book is a sassy chick-lit ‘Mes 7 ex’ (My seven exes), and the 3rd one ‘SHEWOLF’, urban fantasy genre, has been read by 1200+ readers and stayed on the Amazon’s Supernatural top 15 for 5 months.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I review The Power by Naomi Alderman.

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

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For those of you who haven’t yet discovered The Power, you are missing out. Endorsed by Margaret Atwood, The Power truly is an electrifying read. Told through multiple perspectives, we learn of a time where women gain the ability to conduct electricity with their hands. Fed up with society, the women rise up, and take control. Alderman is a clever, immensely talented writer.

To those readers who have given The Power a negative review, particularly mentioning that they do not condone what some of the women do, I simply have this to say: wake up. The Power is a huge, wonderful metaphor for today’s world, in which women and girls are constantly forced to the bottom of the pile. Sexual assault, domestic violence, restricted access to abortion… Society commits so many acts of violence against its female members. If women woke up one day and had the power not only to defend themselves, but to fight for themselves, to climb, to grow, to live without fear – should we not take it? I believe we should. I believe we would.

The men in The Power are terrified of these newly powerful women. Of course they are. Although not all men (#!) actively contribute to the oppression of women (nor do all of them benefit from it), the patriarchal society in which we live encourages men to keep women down. So when the women rise up, who are their targets? The men who kept them shackled and subservien, like in Saudi Arabia? The men who dictate the reproductive rights of women, like in the US? The lawmakers who decide that domestic violence isn’t really a crime, like in Russia? The politicians who declare that women who wish to claim child benefit for more than two children must prove that child was a product of rape, like in the UK? The government that forces women to travel to another country in order to access safe abortion, like in Ireland? The government that doesn’t take menstruation (or the education of girls) seriously. The man who sneered at women for needing sanitary products, telling them to just “cross their legs” and hold it, believing that menstruating is something we have control over. The soldiers who shared nude pictures of their female colleagues. The rapist who spent 3 months in prison. The rapists who spend zero time in prison. The men who kill their sisters and wives and daughters in the name of “honour”. The fathers who demand chastity from their daughters. PUAs and meninists and mansplainers. Manspreaders. Men who interrupt. That guy who shouted “nice tits!” at them on the street that time. This list is endless.

When does power exist? Only in the moment it is exercised.

There’s a meme around that says something like “give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”. The thing is, that mediocre white man has the power to change your life. A mediocre white man has more doors open to him than you can even imagine. You can spend months, years, trying to be the best, but your sex will influence whether or not you will succeed. A mediocre white man can cause you harm, can turn your life upside down. If there are truly people out there who don’t believe that women in civilised societies are still oppressed, are disadvantaged simply for being a woman, then they are blind, perhaps willfully so.

This book will remind you why you sweat so hard in the gym, why you must punch harder, run faster, be tougher. Be invincible. To be a woman is to be oppressed. To be a woman is to be hunted, objectified, worthless. To be a woman is to be little more than a “host”. To be a woman is to not own your own body, your own life.

The Power will remind you why you hold your keys in your fist as you walk home, why you lock the doors while driving at night, why you cross the street when you see a man coming towards you. The Power will make you wish you had it.

And can you call back the lightning? Or does it return to your hand?

The Power by Naomi Alderman gets The Bandwagon Feminist Read of 2017 Award, an award I just made up, but it is very well deserved. Read it. Feel it. And then curse its loss when you turn the final page.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

#GirlCrush: the feminist subscription box for all your beauty needs

#GirlCrush is the new subscription box that focuses on girl bosses, sending out a monthly box to subscribers that contain beauty products, clothing, jewellery, and many more fabulous items. The company also donates 10% sales to a chosen charity. I signed up to receive the first box, and I was not disappointed.

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Each box is despatched on the 14th of every month, and usually arrives within a few days. I was so excited to come home from work last Friday to see mine sitting on the side. I ripped it open to find multiple luxury beauty products (including a lovely red nail polish that I tried immediately!), a pair of yoga pants, and a candle.

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Sadly, the yoga pants were a tad too small for me, so I sent them to my sister, who definitely needs reminding that she is gorgeous. This box is the perfect pick-me-up. You can personalise it, and discover new brands by female entrepreneurs. Body-positive, feminist, women-centred, it’s everything you could want in a monthly subscription box.

I spoke to director Sienna Rose about this amazing new box.

What inspired you to start the #GirlCrush box? 

I think that usually someone thinks of an idea first and then they think of an appropriate name for it, but for me it was the other way round. I’ve always loved the Girl Crush hashtag as I love the idea of being supportive of other women, instead of viewing each other as competition, so I tried to think of a concept that would embody that.

I’ve always been passionate about business and I love to listen to podcasts of women with great start up stories, so I wanted to provide a service that would help these women promote their products in a way that would highlight what they’ve created.

The #GirlCrush box gives them the chance to do so. Our members can crush on their products, and girl crush on the women behind them via the interview series we run alongside the launch of each box. I love the fact that I know any woman who subscribes to this box isn’t just doing so to receive the beautiful products inside, but also because they believe in our overall ethos of women supporting women

As the company grows I want it to turn into more of a community to celebrate women and their achievements, so I can’t wait for everything we have coming up over the next few months.

What can subscribers expect each month?

For just £20 a month our subscribers can expect at least 8 different luxury quality products created by women owned brands. The box includes beauty, lifestyle products such as stationery, tech and home accessories, and clothing or jewellery.  Whenever we can, we’ll personalise it according to your personal preferences, such as your favourite colour.

The value of our box is up to £150. You can either subscribe on a monthly basis, treat yourself to a one off box, or gift one of our boxes to the main Girl Crush in your life.

What made you choose Women’s Aid as your first charity?

I chose Women’s Aid as the first charity to donate to, as I myself have been through abuse, both as a child and then domestically during my adult life, and so it was really important to me to give back to an organisation that helps us to grow from victims to survivors. As #GirlCrush progresses I’m looking forward to being able to get more involved and give back in an even bigger way.

Tell us more about your background. 

I’ve worked for myself for the past 9 years within the creative digital space, doing a variety of things including website design and influencer outreach. Prior to that I worked in corporate sales. I’m not sure what it’s like now, but 9 years ago it was definitely a male dominated area, so I would often find myself being the only woman in an office filled with men, who would mostly ignore and side eye the 19 year old petite girl consistently smashing her sales targets. This definitely gave me the self motivation to create a business for myself, where I could always be comfortable and have fun doing whatever I wanted, and I’m proud to say I’ve been continuously able to do so. #GirlCrush is already becoming the most fulfilling part of my entrepreneurial journey so far.

Which Girl Bosses are you crushing on right now?

I’m obsessed with beautiful stationery, so I’m really inspired by Kristina Karlsson (the creator of Kikki K) and Erin Condren. I love wrestling so I’ve always loved Stephanie McMahon (WWE), but overall I’m able to draw inspiration from all the Girl Bosses I discover on a daily basis through work and listening to podcasts such as Goal Digger by Jenna Kutcher, or watching Youtube or reading a blog. I particularly crush on Mimi Ikonn and Alex Beadon, they’re both amazing women. I love visiting markets in my local area and being able to see Girl Bosses selling beautiful and unique creations that they made with their own hands. I believe there’s always an opportunity to learn and be inspired by fellow women, because each of us is a Girl Boss in one way or another.

You can sign up to #GirlCrush here, or follow them on Instagram, @hashtaggirlcrush

Guest Post: Helene Leuschel on healing from abuse

 

How do you mend a broken heart? How do you recover after bad treatment, emotional neglect, the feeling of having wasted years of your precious life; hence, how do you start again after abuse?

Why me? may be just one of many recurring questions you may ask yourself. Although some people may be much more vulnerable to falling victim to abuse, anyone can get trapped in a toxic relationship, be it at work, school, among friends, or at home.

Nevertheless, it can also be reassuring and liberating to seek the answer to this question, and find out why and how it was possible to slip into a situation where your right to respect and peace was severely jeopardized.

For all the victims of abuse I have met and gotten to know well over the years, they have told me that once they had made the decision to leave, they went into some kind of ‘limbo’. Finding the answer to the question had become a necessity to start a new life again. It allowed them to move forward with much more confidence, less feeling of guilt and regret. Without that vital clue, they felt that, just as they’d been trapped in a destructive roller-coaster relationship, they were now left to pick up the puzzle pieces and rebuild a picture that they could not see clearly.

I’ve given these courageous women a collective pseudonym here – I call her Emily – and she will go through the different stages of healing and the challenges they faced and/or are still facing.

Emily is breathing a sigh of relief. She and her three children are safe. They have gotten away, broken all ties with a person who never really had their well-being in mind, who cheated and deceived them, who abused their confidence and good-will and whose remorse never lasted long enough. On the contrary, who twisted their words, diverted attention from his actions and intimidated them even after proffering a few apologetic words or promises to change forever. He always ended up expertly shifting the guilt onto her.

Now she needs to create a new chapter in her life and, although she is happy with her decision, there is the weight of the past to deal with, the future to secure, her children’s well-being to consider. It either drags her down like a load of coal mounted onto her back one day or she feels hope another day.  

Physical and emotional exhaustion – a result that is not your fault

Emily knows that she is not alright, but safe and glad about her decision. The feelings of guilt and remorse subside as she surrounds herself with people who endorse and encourage her decision. She feels deeply hurt when comments such as ‘how could you have stayed with someone who cheated on you?’, ‘how was it possible you did not see?’, ‘anyone could tell he was a waster’ cut through a conversation because even though she cannot comprehend why she did not escape earlier, the comments are like salt rubbed into her healing wounds.

It is essential to surround yourself with people who are truly compassionate and caring, who are genuinely interested, especially in the first year after the separation. There will be much self-doubt, anxieties about how to cope with the future demands as a single mother, how to protect yourself from snide remarks, the doubt in people’s eyes and occasional pity.

Talk, talk … and talk some more
Rewriting your life-story and understanding Stockholm Syndrome

Emily is experiencing many highs and lows. Some days she is hunky dory, another her head feels heavy and the world is painted in shades of black and grey. She has found a new job, has made new friends and her children are all starting to talk, ask questions. Each one of the three children take turns in either brooding over their loss of an abusive father one day, or talking to her for hours another day. Emily feels the same need. Sometimes she retreats into silence, at others she reads everything there is to know about abusive relationships. The Internet, bookshops and many 24/7 helplines are available to answer all of her questions … except the main one: Why me? Because every Emily has a unique story to tell, based on different backgrounds and circumstances.

It is likely that during her search, a victim of abuse will stumble upon the term called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ which is a descriptive term for the kind of coping mechanisms involved in dealing with a traumatic situation. The reason for the emotional attachment to the abuser is the result of the continuous stress and dependence and ultimately a way to survive. It’s an extremely powerful reaction and the result of a perceived threat that completely blurs a victim’s point of view on reality but makes them express empathy for their abuser to the extent that they will even defend them with teeth and claw. Often a small gesture of kindness from the manipulator is enough to trigger the adaptive behaviour.

Therapeutic recovery from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is said to be good … as long as the person is separated from the narcissistic manipulator/abuser.

Re-connect with the world therapy, diary-writing or meditation

Emily is working in a local estate agent, relishing the hours that she gets to meet other people – new colleagues and clients. It is not her favourite kind of job but that doesn’t matter because as long as she feels useful, is financially independent and reconnecting with ‘normal life’, she can embrace her new start.

Some days, Emily knows that the past will never quite leave, her feelings of loss, lack of self-esteem, the years forever gone are a painful reminder that she needs to find an outlet for the recurring memories. She turns to anything that can take some of the burden off her shoulders, help her re-assess what may have gone wrong, what aspects of her toxic relationship caused her to shift, lose her confidence, her self-worth.

For one woman, it is therapy under hypnosis, another prefers diary-writing, yet another finds peace and a feeling of refreshment and release when meditating, jogging or walking through a wood, reconnecting with nature. There are many apps available for free which may be helpful guides to start with relaxation techniques, yoga postures that are conducive for better sleep or breathing exercises that can help people to cope with emotional turmoil. Reading poetry is another activity that has proven beneficial and soothing when the dark clouds are threatening to blur your newly found vision.

Healing rather than revenge, truth rather than pretence
The Titanic Image

Emily imagines that she is Rose, the heroine in the movie Titanic. She is lying on a ripped piece of wood, floating on the freezing Arctic Sea. There is much debris moving around her and she is suddenly aware of a massive shadow looming in the corner of her eyes. She lifts her head to see what it is and her eyes widen with disbelief. She ponders whether to attempt reaching the ship again, finding a way to get back on. After all, she’d been told that it was the safest, the best built ship of all times, unsinkable. She believed it was but notices that within minutes, the massive bulk of the vessel is sinking and creating waves that carry her further and further away. The panic rises to her throat but she is so cold and weak that all she can emit is a small whimper.

What she thought was a beautiful and strong Ocean liner is now sinking in front of her very eyes. She must give up on the idea of returning. She looks around, not sure who has survived the shipwreck with her but also knows that her existence is precarious. She is trembling intensely, emotionally and physically drained. Staying out here for much longer will mean her certain death. She must accept that all’s changed, that she will only survive if she gets onto one of the few life boats floating nearby, wrapped around a blanket, finding warmth and comfort.

You are stronger than you think you are. You can accept and survive the symbolic disappearance of an illusion. The Titanic can represent any relationship which was not built strong enough to detect life’s perilous ice bergs.

Everyone deserves to be given respect, love and joy; the chance to grow and most of all a life that holds no daily threats, fears and anxieties. Whenever you falter, don’t reprimand yourself, embrace the emotion, observe it, then let it go, reminding yourself that you did survive the sinking of the Titanic, that whoever you left behind does not have a connection with you anymore. Rediscover just how powerful kindness, support, encouragement, and compassion of others are. These gestures have a huge impact on our brains and bodies and allow you to find that general sense of well-being you deserve.

 

15337013About The Author

Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.

@HALeuschel | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

 

Not A Diet: Getting fit with fibromyalgia

As readers of this blog may know, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in May last year. On the advice of the doctor, I made an attempt to get healthier. And so, Not A Diet was born.

*trigger warning*
I’ll be talking about eating disorders, OCD, and my abusive childhood. Proceed with caution.

A bit of background: When I was a teenager, I had a really rubbish relationship with food, to put it lightly. It was either something to control, or something to hide in. I starved myself, obsessively counting calories; I spent hours doing ridiculous exercises in my bedroom; I binged, tried to purge, then punished myself with the starvation-exercise-binge routine again. Why did I do this? In an abusive household, food was one of the few things I could control. My father always called me fat, ugly, disgusting. He made me believe that I wasn’t worthy of friendship, of love. I believed that I was huge, grotesque. I was obsessed with numbers (thanks, OCD) – counting calories, weighing myself, staring at “thinspiration”, feeling sick when I looked in the mirror. Nothing else mattered – I had to be slim, else I would be alone forever.

This is me back then, the week my dad died, while I was on holiday with friends. I was 17.

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Yup, I’m eating frosted flakes out of the box. Don’t you judge me. (I spent a lot of my teenage years high.)

I look back now, and I think, I wish I was that size again! I spent so much time thinking I was huge, when I wasn’t! But I was miserable. I was slimmer, yes, but I was rarely happy. I had to learn that the way I felt about myself shouldn’t be so directly connected to my weight. I had to escape the cycle.

So, moving on a few years. This was taken during my final year at university. My weight has increased since I was a teenager – a combination of hormones and fibromyalgia is not a good one (side note: I believe I’ve had fibromyalgia for 7 years, since my dad died, but I was only diagnosed last year). Thanks to increased pain, my activity level decreased significantly, while my metabolism slowed down, and I kept hold of all the calories I was eating. I was bigger. But my weight didn’t bother me half as much as it used to, because I didn’t have someone constantly putting me down, making me feel bad about myself.

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Since I headed off to university, about 6 years ago(!), my weight has stayed around the same, with small fluctuations. When I was diagnosed last May, I was 101kg. I was terrified of slipping back into the cycle, of obsessing over food and weight, of hating myself for eating a doughnut. So I made a decision to weigh myself every time I went to the doctors, which was every month or so, to try to keep track, to see if my changes were making a difference. My weight barely changed. At one point, it went up to 106kg, then down to 104kg, but it mostly stayed around 101kg. Realising this wasn’t a very scientific way of keeping track of my weight, I bought a set of bathroom scales.

Let me be clear: OCD is a very real disorder, one that is often reduced down to sorting your clothes by colour or washing your hands a bit more than normal. In reality, OCD is insidious. It defies logic. With regard to calorie counting and keeping track of my weight, it turns these numbers into the most important thing in my life. Coupled with my dad constantly telling me that I was hideous, the link between weighing myself and feeling like shit was (is) strong. I refused to let a set of scales dictate my level of happiness, but I had to try to do something. I’m not blind – I know what size I am. I know that being overweight doesn’t help (though it doesn’t cause!) conditions such as fibromyalgia. My health is important. But so is my mental health.

I made a deal with my partner – if I started getting obsessive, he was to take the scales away and hide them. This deal still stands, though we’ve had them for a couple of months now, and, so far, things are going well. The fluctuations still don’t make a lot of sense – why am I 102kg today, but 100kg yesterday?! – but I do not, I will not, let it rule my life.

Treating fibromyalgia requires a multi-pronged attack. First, I had to get the pain under control. In June, I started taking Amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant that also helps block pain signals. Over the next few months, I slowly increased my dose, aiming to get to a point where the pain was more manageable. Getting the pain and exhaustion under control had to be my number one priority. As it was, I could barely function. I dragged myself through work each day, I had to choose between cooking a meal or washing my hair in the evening, and I spent every weekend, the entire weekend, sleeping, sitting, trying to recuperate from the working week, for the working week ahead. It was a horrible, exhausted, pain-filled experience.

This went on for quite a while. Getting used to the increased dose of Amitriptyline came with its own issues – it often left me with a “hangover”, zombie-like in the morning. One of the worst parts of the fibro was the stiffness in my lower back in the mornings. It took me ages to get out of bed, and I could barely lower myself on to the toilet. I felt like I was 60 years old. I decided to ask for some physiotherapy. Long story short, with the NHS in the state its in, I had to go private. Towards the end of 2016, I attended several sessions, and was starting to feel a difference. Then, a colleague told me about a Pilates class she was attending. It was specifically designed for people with back and joint issues. I scoffed, secretly terrified. She wanted me to walk into an exercise class? Not bloody likely! I’ll get laughed out of the place! But the more I thought about it, the more appealing it sounded.

I pinged off an email to the instructor, just to get some information, and she responded almost immediately, booking me in for a taster session in late January. Shit. I was definitely scared, but I forced myself to go. What harm could it do? I thought. What’s the worst thing that could happen? People might stare at me, judge me? So what? So what indeed. Armed with my own mat (there is a cleanliness element to my OCD), hair up in a ponytail, clad in a baggy shirt and leggings, I turned up, determined. And I loved it. I’ve been going for six weeks now, and I look forward to every session. It’s gentle, the instructor is mindful of any injuries or health conditions you have, and alters the movements if they’re not quite suited to any individual. It’s perfect. I can already feel a difference – I feel stronger, with less pain, less fatigue. This multi-pronged attack is, currently, kicking fibromyalgia’s arse!

Last week, we went on a mini break to Edinburgh. We spent three and a half days wandering around, exploring. I still had to take it easy, rest, and wear appropriate shoes, but I could do it. I did it!

This is me, standing outside a cafe – the birthplace of Harry Potter, no less! – last week.

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Sorry, random maid walking past!

My weight is still 101kg. But I feel better. I’m nowhere near well – fibromyalgia never goes away, after all – but I’m making progress. And it feels amazing.

I spent an hour in the gym on Saturday (with Inspiring Woman, personal trainer, and bleddy slave driver Colette Cooper!), and have been hobbling about for two days now, having strained the muscles in my thighs. It hurts, but I also feel proud. Colette challenged me, my body, ignoring my protests. “I can’t!” I’d say, but I did. We did push it a tad too far, as the DOMS will attest, but it was useful for Colette to assess what I was capable of. Now, we can work together to create an exercise plan that will allow me to get stronger.

I’ve been monitoring my calorie content for about a month now. At first, I just wanted to see how much I was eating on a daily basis. I went carefully, mindful of taking it too seriously. Any hint of obsession, and I would stop. Studies show that people with fibromyalgia have a lowered metabolism, making it harder to lose weight, but I wasn’t exactly gorging myself. I rarely went over 1800 calories per day! So I made a decision to cut that down to 1600, trying to lower my sugar intake and eat less carbs, more protein. Colette will now be helping me to understand what I’m eating, and suggest other changes I can make. I’ve posted several yummy recipes in the past, including spicy pork chops, Indian style wedges, a gluten-free lemon drizzle cake, and homemade coleslaw. I hope to keep posting more healthy meals, and I’ll also be including calorie content where possible, something I didn’t want to do previously.

When I was at university, there were some lean times, where I couldn’t afford to eat very well. I would have sworn up and down that the changes I made back then made zero difference, just like when I started the Not A Diet. But, back then, I was in constant, sometimes debilitating pain. I didn’t feel like I was making any progress, because fibromyalgia had taken over my life. I felt, quite honestly, like shit, all the time. So any tiny changes I made – swapping a chocolate bar for an apple, cutting out fizzy drinks and alcohol – made very little difference to the way I felt. I needed to get a diagnosis, and treatment, and then approach having a healthier lifestyle.

But why am I being so candid, posting relatively unflattering pictures of myself, sharing my weight? Why am I opening myself up to fat-shaming? Well, it’s simple, really. I hated that last picture, grumbled at my partner for taking it. I don’t see what he sees. I could only see a fat, ugly, horrible person, one who doesn’t deserve anything. But that’s my dad talking. My partner sees a woman who deserves to be happy, to be loved, to enjoy a pizza if she wants one. It’s so hard to look at ourselves that way. It’s easy to put ourselves down, constantly worrying about our “love handles”, or feeling guilty for having a second glass of wine. It’s so easy for women to hate ourselves. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way. It’s not about how I look – it’s about how I feel. I know how twee that sounds, but it really is true, for me. My goal isn’t to lose weight, not really. My goal is to be able to go to work all week and pop out on a Sunday morning for a quick stroll. My goal is to be able to walk for longer than two minutes before desperately needing to rest. My goal is to not have to spend the entire weekend in bed. My goal is to get better, to feel better. And if I lose weight in the process, that’s just a bonus!

So I’ll continue with this Not A Diet, trying to be healthier, tracking my calories, weighing and measuring myself once a week, being accountable to not just myself, but to Colette too. If I want a slice of cake, I’ll have a slice of cake (and I will enjoy it!), but I will not feel guilty about it. I’m lucky to have someone like Colette, who understands the real world. We can do our best 80, 90% of the time, and still reap the rewards. And still enjoy a slice of cake, or a glass of wine. Happiness is the key, as is health. I can be healthier, and I can be happier. This girl can; can you?