Friday 27 February 2015

Hard not to judge

How difficult it is to avoid judging someone's physical appear-ance, however much you tell yourself that their appearance doesn't matter and what's important is those personal qualities you can't actually see.

One writer who took part in "Fat Talk Free February" comments on how hard it was not just to ignore someone's looks but to resist appearance-based compliments, like saying how youthful, or thin, or pretty, or sexy, they were.

She says women are especially prone to comment on each other's appearance as a way of bonding and communicating.

But she points out the subtly damaging effect of being constantly complimented on your looks rather than your kindness, intelligence, loyalty or sense of humour. Women quickly learn that their value to the world seems to lie in how they look.

Like most people, I tend to form an opinion on other people's appearance, but that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to their personalities. I'm well aware that a quite ordinary appearance could be hiding a brilliant mind or enormous generosity or musical genius.

A woman once accused me of being a typical man who habitually objectified women. I'd never been accused of that before and I found it quite mystifying. Perhaps she was confusing body awareness with objectifying. Of course I'm aware of other people's bodies, but I'm always fully conscious they're a human being and not a thing.

I suppose one benefit of being male is that other men seldom comment on your appearance, so your looks aren't given an inflated importance. Nothing is said about the pot belly, the thickets of body hair, the sagging flesh or the wrinkles. And for that matter, nothing much is said even if you look impossibly fit and healthy with the skin of a twenty something.

Most men just don't care very much about other men's looks. They're far too busy judging the looks of every passing woman. But if anything, women probably judge each other far harder than men are even capable of.

I mean, thigh gaps, anyone? Cellulite? Asymmetrical tits? Nothing but nothing is spared.

Saturday 21 February 2015

I'm listening

It's common nowadays for people to say they just don't care what others think of them. And they say that as if it's a very wise and mature attitude.

I really don't know where they're coming from. I don't share their attitude at all. To my mind, sensitivity to what others think, and to the effect my opinions and behaviour might have on them, is part and parcel of being a human being.

That doesn't mean I'm a slave to other people's views. It doesn't mean that if someone criticises me, I immediately backpedal and apologise and rush to satisfy them. It doesn't mean that if they come up with some totally bigoted, ignorant, intolerant diatribe, I'll bury my own views and mutter something harmlessly neutral.

But it does mean that although I like to express my views as honestly as possible, I'm considerate of how others might react and I won't be deliberately provocative or taunting or dismissive merely for the sake of it.

It also means that if someone has views diametrically opposed to my own, I won't just dismiss them out of hand as ignorant nonsense, I will at least examine them carefully to see if there's any truth in what they're saying.  Because even the most prejudiced individual can have unexpected insights into something I haven't really thought about.

And it means that if I know someone's feeling vulnerable, or hurt, or distressed, I'm not going to upset them even more by saying something they wouldn't want to hear even if they were feeling more resilient.

As Ursula said, if people don't care what others think, how come they're all ears if what others are saying is in their favour - if it's flattering?

Who are they kidding?

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Less than human

I find it extra-ordinary than men can quite casually make use of prostitutes, many of whom are in the grip of some personal problem that can only be worsened by having to perform constant sexual acts they aren't enjoying.

They are more than likely weighed down by mental health issues, emotional problems, drug addiction or the scars of childhood sexual abuse, but these burdens are of little interest to the customers whose only goal is instant pleasure.

Clearly it's seen first and foremost as a simple financial transaction much the same as buying a loaf of bread or a bottle of shampoo, and the personal well-being of the person giving the service is of scant concern.

I really don't understand how a man can have such an impersonal and functional attitude, can so easily and callously objectify another human being.

It also amazes me that men can so happily visit prostitutes but hide it from their wife or girlfriend, knowing full well how horrified she would be if she found out. They are able to lead a kind of double life of everyday respectability alongside a seedy other self.

I've never been to a prostitute in my life. In my younger days I was totally unaware of the reality of prostitution. It was something that was joked about, Carry-On style, as if it was some sort of light-hearted frolic. At that time I wouldn't have indulged simply because it seemed a bit vulgar. Nowadays of course, having had my eyes opened, I wouldn't contemplate it because of the intrinsic dehumanising that's involved.

Also I don't have that compulsive sexual urge that men who use prostitutes claim to be in thrall to. Good grief, isn't your regular partner enough for you? I'm not sure I believe in that sexual compulsion anyway. Men love to fall back on it, but it's such a convenient excuse for bad behaviour.

The oldest profession in the world? Nothing professional about it. It's just emotional and physical abuse dressed up as human need.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Love actually

I think it's about time this entry from February 2012 was reposted....

It's funny how when you start a relationship with someone, you've no idea how long it's going to last. It could be 30 days or 30 years. Or 30 minutes. Which is one reason why making out with someone new is so exciting.

When I first met Jenny at a central London bookshop and nervously fixed a date, I hadn't a clue what would happen.

We might have had a violent argument 10 minutes later and both walked off in a huff. We might have tried our best to get on with each other and decided it was a case of Mr Chalk and Ms Cheese. One of us might have had some personal passion the other totally detested.

If anyone had predicted we'd still be seriously in love over three decades later, I'd have scoffed and told them to catch themselves on*. I'd have said, how likely is that when relationships come and go like taxis. Surely sooner or later we'll get bored with each other, get itchy feet, and start looking for an upgrade.

But the months and years rolled on and in some mysterious way we found ourselves still together, still enamoured, despite all the predictable squabbles, misunderstandings, grievances and stand-offs. They were never severe enough to break the deep bond that had somehow established itself.

That we've reached the present day in such enduring harmony never ceases to amaze me. It's as if we've been on a long journey through unfamiliar territory with a thousand opportunities to get lost, get eaten by wolves, fall into a ravine or be crushed by a landslide, and by some miracle we've avoided all the dangers and reached our destination.

I can only give thanks to whatever guardian angel is looking after us and keeping this old banger** on the road.

* come down to earth. A common Northern Irish expression.

** the relationship that is. Not Jenny or me.

(I've changed the image again. Jenny and I have slipped back into anonymity. Well, you've all seen the real us now....)

Monday 9 February 2015

Birthday bash

Singer and model Myleene Klass has caused huge controversy after suggesting children's birthday presents are getting way over the top and it's just not on to ask parents of schoolmates to donate £10 each for a present.

She says "I know I am in a privileged position compared to many, but I live in the real world and have countless friends who wouldn't be able to put that sort of donation into a schoolbag. Being a parent is expensive enough, without birthdays adding up."

Reaction from other parents was sharply divided. Some told her privately they totally agreed and were glad she spoke up. Others, including the school headmistress, were hostile and claimed she was "attacking the school's community spirit."

She points out that if the parents of all 26 children in her daughter's class gave £10 for each child's birthday, that would be an awful lot of money they could maybe ill afford. She suggests going back to the custom of simpler, cheaper presents that she remembers from her own childhood. "My family simply wouldn't have been able to afford a contribution like that for my schoolfriends' birthday presents."

She adds "If my girlfriends gave me a gift to the value of £300, I wouldn't accept it - and I'm an adult. For a child to get a present of that value is sheer madness."

She complains that kids' parties are out of control as well. If one child has a massive party, the stakes are upped and other parents feel pressure to do the same. "If we were all still giving jelly and custard
and playing pass the parcel and having bouncy castles, this sort of crazy cycle wouldn't happen."

I must say that when I was a kid, birthdays were no big deal and me and my sister were lucky to get a birthday card and some very ordinary present. My parents would never have embarrassed my classmates' families by asking them to shell out for our birthday gifts. We didn't usually have birthday parties either. A birthday cake and a few sweets were seen as more than adequate.

We didn't feel disappointed. We didn't feel our birthdays were a washout. We were quite happy with such a modest celebration.

When did birthdays become such a spree of conspicuous consumption?

Pic: Myleene Klass and her daughter Ava

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Emotional gremlins

Wouldn't we all be very different if we could free ourselves from anxiety and fear? If we could go through life with endless confidence and optimism rather than all those doubts and insecurities that get in our way?

Virtually everyone is hampered by anxiety and fear to some degree, however skilled we might be at seeming cool, calm and collected. We all have those moments when we just want to flee some situation that stirs up the emotional gremlins.

I'm no stranger to anxiety and fear, but at least they take a fairly mild form and don't interfere too much with my daily life. It's unusual to feel so overwhelmed that I simply make my excuses and run for it.

I know people whose anxiety and fear is so intense they can be totally hobbled by it. People who have panic attacks that last for days on end and stop them doing anything but lie in bed in a helpless heap. People whose chronic anxiety means everything has to be double-checked, triple-checked, quadruple-checked before they're sure they haven't done anything horribly wrong.

Luckily I've never known those extremes. But there are things I would hate to do because I'm sure the anxiety would consume me. Like giving a lecture, or acting, or chairing a public meeting, or talking to a mega-celebrity. In fact anything where I'm visibly "onstage" and being scrutinised by large numbers of people.

And wherever I go, I'm always aware of a little frisson of fear, a slight apprehension about other people, though I know perfectly well they're probably harmless. Then there are specific fears, like a fear of the dark, or hospitals, or confined spaces, or old age. How wonderful it would be if I could just breeze through life, go with the flow, take everything as it comes, all with unshakable poise.

Which is as likely as turning into a mermaid.