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‘What do the Anti-Immigration Lot Actually Want?’ – Stand Up & Slam Poem

Simply Awesome.

Body Positivity: Fuck Your #Fatkini Handwringing

Inspired my own Fatkini post, because…. just read:

Smokin' Tofu

Well butter my arse and call me a biscuit: fat women are doing something that doesn’t involve Gok Wan with a pair of Spanx and people are freaking the fuck out. Must be a day that ends in whiskey.

I presume the handwringing over the fatkini hashtag – in which chunky chicks post bikini pics of themselves to Instagram and Twitter – is because photos of fat bodies are usually reserved for the obligatory cautionary whale pictures used to illustrate hard-hitting articles about the rise in diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We’re not used to seeing fat people unclothed in any other context.

On the day it was published, I read Daisy Buchanan’s article in The Debrief about #fatkini and frankly, I lost my shit – we’re talking Rubyyy-Jones-fucking-a-shoe-shit-fit, and I’m not even that fussed about the #fatkini movement. This blog post isn’t written as a direct response to Ms Buchanan’s…

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#Fatkini Concern Trolling and Other Nice Reads

So, in the end despite promises I did not write about work parties, and feeling compelled to drink in #alcoholisgod #howcomeyoudontdrink environments. Perhaps another time. But today I’ve *cough* had time (read = MADE time, despite other commitments) to read up on #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen (ooooh, the links! I’ll post some later). I was having an awesome time reading, when – on friend’s Facebook – I saw an article posted with a simple “Word” comment.

Sue me, I clicked. It was a great response to this article.

The first, chronologically, text, has a title “The #Fatkini hashtag is well intentioned, but will only serve to fetishize fat as well as thin”. Oh-kay, heavy-handed there. Should be replaced with: “This text needs to appear well-intentioned”, which is not at all the same thing. Then, the lead presents a fresh concern: #Fatkini “only perpetuates the idea that it’s okay to comment on people’s weight”. So, commenting on people’s weight is now equal to fetishising it and I haven’t started reading yet. Lead on, Macduff. I have a feeling it gets worse.

In the first couple of paragraphs the author confesses both her own approach to beachwear (90% “let’s go!” vs 10% culturally-motivated anxiety). Then she prepares ground for her argument, praising the courage and beauty of women who posted #fatkini pictures, mentioning that she would never (I only posted half! and edited it! because I’m not that confident REALLY), and we’re waiting for a big fat (pun intended) BUT.

But I worry that the #fatkini movement is creating as many problems as it is solving”.

Say what?

Daisy Buchanan, the author, says that we’d be happier and healthier women if we stopped focusing (read: overfocusing, obsessing over, worrying about) our bodies. I agree with that on principle. Our culture seems to have a vested interest in keeping women’s time occupied with differentiating lipstick shades. Great if you like it, horrible if you feel like you have to. However, being focused on your body, when you have to live in it and care for it, is not a bad thing. Being proud of your body, and taking to producing media representations of fat bodies, because they are only present in media as a butt of fat jokes, is not a bad thing.

I could go on, but I shall just write it in a letter form.

Dear Daisy,

I think you mean well, but casting #fatkini as part of the problem, you get it wrong. I mean to help. The “problem” is called patriarchy. Its idea is to scrutinise and judge women’s bodies, label them (extremely fat, thin, or just right) and divide these women so that dislike themselves and one another, all in good, old style of “divide and conquer”. #Fatkini is a reaction to a problem; it’s an attempt to change an existing narrative. It’s a challenge to the system. It deserves support, not women turning onto other women for doing something “wrong”, even though the scrutinising, fetishising and judging of women’s bodies happens in a co-ed space, and men are also, if not primarily, perpetrators of it. Your text does not mention men much, but they are a part of the problem as well – your “naturally slim” friend does not catcall herself, after all. (Now, I understand why you underline Jenny being naturally slim, versus, say, anorexic/bulimic, but that phrasing brings its own problems – like thinking that all fat people are “unnaturally” fat, like you know enough about their “nature”, metabolism and health to place such a judgement).

Speaking of, later on you do talk about health. Now, I honour and respect your own health problems that center around weight issues. However, to talk about other people’s health, nevermind fat people’s health? You’d need to do a hell more RESEARCH. Your own experience is NOT enough, nor does it give you leave to comment. Obesity is a real problem in developed countries, but to talk about obesity is to talk about food industry; about food advertising; about food additives. To talk about obesity, is to talk about mental health, depression and why food can become an alternative to expressing emotions. To talk about obesity is to talk about attractiveness praradigm, molestation (and women who prefer to be fat and conventionally unattractive) and rape culture.

Talking about obesity, while part of an important conversation that needs to happen, has nothing to do with some girls who posted bikini shots, which is nothing girls don’t do every day. They are not creating these problems, nor are they perpetuating it. They are doing this thing called EXISTING. We exist in a flawed, patriarchal world. Social media is part of that existence. But if you worried about fetishising, you would spend time writing and worrying about all people who post pictures online. Also, if a someone, somewhere gets off on these pictures, how is it these women’s fault or responsibility? This argument smacks of “but her skirt was short and she was out late” logic. There is always someone, somewhere. Doesn’t mean that fat girls can’t strut their stuff online. If you think it’s bad for us, women, don’t single the fat ones out like you’re picking your volleyball team in a PE class.

I think – hope – possibly you meant well (okay, erring on side of caution here). But you published it, and it echoes round Internet. Alice’s response to you is great, but she doesn’t deconstruct your article, as I did, likely because she’s had enough dealing with concerned voices of people who know nothing about her, but are very willing to judge. Willingly or not, you joined these people. With this text, you are a concern troll; an Internet equivalent of a person who comes into somebody’s dinner party and yells “BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH CHILDREN”, just for shits and giggles. You’re derailing an important conversation about body image and representation, hijacking someone else’s party by shouting about health issues that are too badly researched to be relevant. Sorry #journalistfail. And you have some actual clout as a writer, which makes it even worse. Your text, as witty as it tries to be, is actually judgmental, under-researched and harmful. Please use your power responsibly. Please. And read up. Start with Alice’s response. It says all that needs to be said to begin with.

 

Love,

Rita

 

 

Honestly, some girls post bikini pics and suddenly they are responsible for patriarchy, fructose poisoning and the end of the world….

 

 

Cultural Wiggle Room

So I’m coming out of the feminist closet yet again.

I haven’t written feminist stuff for a while. I don’t like to complain. Positivity is something of a new religion to me – not complaining, focusing on happy sides etc., this stuff adds to my quality of life. But it’s easy to confuse that happy focus with the cultural imperative to Be Nice. To risk the tautology, it’s nice to be nice, and others can be nice to you too, often in response to your niceness. But sometimes in an effort to be nice, to not be a party pooper, you lose yourself, you risk your opinion, your values and your heart.

In writing this, I am not only complaining. I’m not only venting and letting steam off. I am attempting to change your mind. Or at least change the discourse. Or at least not stay silent while the mainstream machine rolls by, claiming all that is interesting in this life and changing it in its own image.

What is it about? THIS SONG.

Recently I was at a work party. I’ll write about the party itself separately. I heard that song being put on and just walked off. People think I’m crazy. Context: I teach children and regularly dance to this song, because that’s what children like and, limited as the interaction is, I have no chance to overturn their entire education and worldview by saying that it’s stupid.

But I do find it rude and demeaning, and if I’m off work? I don’t want to listen to this shit.

Because, as a musician, I TAKE SONGS SERIOUSLY.

I should put it on a t-shirt perhaps.

To me, a song is something to live for – and if not to die for, then at least to argue about, to chisel away at until it’s good. People will say I am making a mountain out of a molehill, that it’s just a stupid song at a party, not a big deal – just entertainment, just fun. But those very same people will be very vocal and passionate about their musical interests; those same people will express views that are in line with this song; and they will likely claim that advertisement and entertainment business have no influence on the way they view the world. Funny that.

A popular song constitutes cultural content. In various spiritual or psychological practices, the effect of repeating something regularly is very well known – heck, we all know that this is how you learn things. Not going into detail of how this works, but let’s just agree that engaging with a sentence or poem or an affirmation in a regular way influences a person, or at least the direction of their thinking. A song is a perfect vehicle for a worldview change – it has rhythm, often rhymes, engages the body and therefore enhances the memory by the performative aspect (kinesthetic learning). Still think songs are unimportant? Window dressing? Background noise? It’s not all elevator music. SONGS HAVE WORLDVIEWS. SONGS ARE POLITICAL. SONGS MATTER.

“Wiggle” is patriarchy having fun. I’m not always against being crude or even sexual (separate topic – who wants to be tagged as a “prude”, sex negative feminist?). But this is a song about street harassment, featuring a chorus of whistling and dudes pretty pleased with themselves (“Holla at her!”) and asking personal questions (“How do you fit all that in them jeans” is beat only by the infamous classic “What’s your favourite position”. That’s CEO, FYI, mofo). “Oh baby, let me come and change your life” (hahahahaha, he said “come”! #ohwait). “Got me in this club making wedding plans” (oh, a wedding, that makes it legit). And then the final piece of wit:

“Oh baby, you’ve got a bright future behind you”.

Whole lyrics perpetuate the idea of a woman who exists specifically as an object of man’s needs and attentions. She doesn’t speak (interaction strictly one-sided); her life can be changed by the male protagonist, either in terms of sex or career (she can become “a star”), and her sexual wiggle is aaaaall for him. And she knows how to do it, ’cause that’s what she’s FOR. Even the bubble bath is thrown in as something done to her, not for her. And what frustrates me is that we are so very used to this, that it barely registers, this insidious propaganda. Can you imagine a woman being lazily “serviced” by a “wiggling” man, with the implication that that’s his only purpose in life? If you’ve seen something like that, post some links, please, I’d love to expand my horizons…. though even if you miraculously found content that had exactly the same implications, mirrored with reversed gender, I’m still not sure it is something to aspire to. Is that what sex positivity means? Often it seems like one can’t criticise the sexual aspects of popculture, because it automatically makes you sex-negative, in alliance with conservative (wait for it) prudishness. Where’s my door number three?! And I don’t mean a middle option between sex-negativity and free-for-all availability which still somehow pertains more to women, and is cunningly exploited by capitalism. I mean a third perspective.

If I can cut out some effing WIGGLE ROOM for myself to live and breathe, I’ll be happy.

Because if I don’t speak up, patriarchy will go on as planned.

Revolution will not be televised.

So I protest, best as I know how. I protest against girls hearing this stuff from young age with absolutely no alternatives (it’s twerking and wiggling everywhere), and then being slut-shamed as having no self-respect – just because they engage with the prevalent culture, and, you know, want to be attractive. I protest against the cultural climate that doesn’t allow women to own their body or sexuality, ’cause there’s always somebody happy and entitled to comment and shame them for it. You can’t walk down the street sometimes, whether you’re wearing a mini or a hoodie, without getting picked on. You can’t dance without feeling like you’re asking for it. For the record, I love to dance, I love to be sexual in dance, hips and all. But these are my choices to make. I know I don’t have to. I’m frustrated by how tight the boxes are though. So frustrated by the assumptions that whatever I do, I do for the male gaze, or against the male gaze. If I dress up, it’s to be noticed, if I dress down – as I tend to – it’s to be left alone.

I’m frustrated, because so many of us don’t question the dominant message, aren’t ever taught to look underneath. Of course, we, as women/female identifying people, cannot – will not – ever be ALLOWED to be free. The very thought is preposterous. You have to assume your freedom like the air you breathe – but to get there, you have to TAKE it.

Yeah, songs like these make my teeth clench. But I am done taking shit from culture – from now I will be making my own message. Even if I’m leaving it on the cultural answering machine. Pick up, goddamn it. Pick up!

 

EDIT: Here I have previously included the entire lyrics. But you can Google them easily enough. I’d rather include this:

 

Madiha Bhatti about popular songs

 

…. and the documentary that changed my understanding of media:

on writing when you have to

This is a bit of a private one, but:

I have been writing since age 7.

I have called myself a poet between ages 7 and 17.

Now I am 27, calling myself a poet again, one language later.

 

I’ve only been writing when I had to. Perversely, I was proud of it. I thought to myself, I only write when I have to, when I can’t hold onto the scream anymore. I write about breakups, I pull out the journal when I’m in pain or joy that cannot be ignored. I manage to not write anything else.

And then I thought, are you crazy?

Not only I get in trouble, emotions exploding, because everything in me overloading, overbalances and in certain circumstances I get a shitload of anger, tears, a breakdown that was completely preventable.

Not only I get ideas that scream to get out and I let them fade and die, like an insult to anybody who ever suffered any sort of creative block.

But also.

I wondered, how exactly can I be useful to people? This narcissistic exploration of own head liniment, lining, lines left behind by childhood, personal borders, orders of magnitude, interludes of thought, attitudes towards life – often dearly bought and paid, but not useful in the present day anymore….?

I can tell stories. I can tell the truth.

That’s all it takes.

Yes, it’s nothing new, but I am struck sometimes by the sheer stupidity and unwillingness to see that I discover in myself. I’m not even putting myself down – the blinds on my eyes exist for a reason. I’ve been a truthsayer since day one. I made a lot of people uncomfortable. And they made sure I was uncomfortable with myself. And  believed them – I did the believing. 

I’ll be leaving now – that mindset, that is. I might adjust this text yet, I might change it. But telling the truth, that one does not get old.

So many texts that wait for publication. The right moment. The permission I now give myself.

Are you crazy?

Yes, I am. 

Good.

Identity: syntax error

So I meant to have a blog about culture, general my-life-in-London with a slice of politics and feminism here and there (I still have somewhere a note I wrote after The Stylist has done an infuriating article on motherhood).

But it appears I shot myself in the foot.

I called this blog “London Pole”, and now every time I want to write, I am faced with the dilemma: what does this even mean? Am I meant to be representative of the Polish experience in London? (I feel very special and not at all representative). Am I trying to sell a brand that has long lost the shine of novelty? Am I trying to be somebody’s voice? (and whose? and why not just mine?).

See what I mean?

I’m not necessarily deeply involved in the Polish community and events – never have been, really. It’s not like I’m going to start going out and reviewing every single one, though I might go to few. It just looks like I imposed a limiting assumption. Therefore, a conclusion: my concept of being Polish is a limiting one.

Yes, I fear being judged for it. In our international environment, class and nation differences suddenly grow to different heights. Though uni-educated, I am the first generation of a working class background family to have this kind of cultural capital and clout. And yet, I’m also the ear picking up Polish accents (mine is not so distinguishable after my stint in Netherlands, it turns out); I’m the one making friends in Polish shops, when nostalgia creeps up and I need my home food fix. I even, god help me, went to a Polish priest to bless my food for Easter, because I missed my grandma so much. It ended with an argument interesting conversation, which reminded me what institutional sexism means and why, in general, dating Polish men is a futile exercise, unless they are 1) Gender Studies graduates and, to narrow it down, 2) pansexual. It’s not a big group, though it does exist.

I cross the road when I hear drunk Polish men. Well, I cross the road when I hear drunk men, but with anything, anyone Polish it’s literally closer to home. I get embarrassed, because it’s personal and relates to me.

I have been writing in English since about age 22. But recently I’m missing Polish. There are things I want to write in Polish. I miss Polish books (last time I went home I bought two books on the airport and devoured them by the time I got home… right, first home was the one with mum, the second – the one with my partner. Ark.).

I have always had the vision of being a bridge, a go-between. But then for a long time I just disliked all things Polish – how can you be a bridge to someplace you disdain? I started getting over that (largely, though not solely because of nostalgia) and I realized that this disdain for your home country is a part of a larger phenomenon. While being in England I noticed every nation thinks they have the worst politicians and society on Earth – yes, even the Swedish! So, shockingly, it appears that all politics is full of cringe-worthy clowns, faux-paus is not reserved for Polish dinosaurs who don’t speak English, and there is institutional sexism in all Europe, not to mention the world (strangely, the last one does not make me feel better). Perhaps it’s an expat thing. All of us, expats, love to travel, but very often we leave our countries for a reason. All very well if it’s an economical one – better jobs! better paid jobs! any jobs! – but often, that’s not all of it. Outcasts Outsiders, weirdos, wrong skin colour, wrong gender identity, wrong values; tall poppy syndrome, crab mentality, avoiding the boiling frog’s fate – you name it, sometimes it gets too hot in the hometown and it’s time to hit the road.

In the end, the kinship I feel is with expats of all kinds. That is one identity that I can claim freely. As for language, Polish is as beautiful as it is restrictive, and yes, I do miss it and mourn my proficiency, slowly eroded by repetitive English programming. It’s like a hole in my heart. But at this point, if I tried to leave English behind, it wouldn’t feel much different. My self, translated, was a door to new things. It was important, and I wouldn’t change it.

So where does that leave me? Well, I wrote a note! And I hope you don’t mind if I occasionally write one in Polish.

homecoming

London at night.

Shop displays, eerie and still, with smooth-faced mannequins and monstrous patchwork horses, watching no one. Big delivery boxes marked MADE IN TAIWAN – in a few hours managers will carefully peel off all Taiwanese stickers, so that socially-conscious consumers can turn a blind eye, pretend not to know what they buy. I walk through this gentrified landscape, there is no one in sight, except occasional McDonald’s aficionado. 

One long bus ride later, it’s a different story. An hour on the bus, where two girls, taking selfies and flushed with drink, insist on window being open. One failed closing attempt later we hate them silently from the back seats. Finally they leave (I immediately snap the window shut with a satisfying crack!), and soon after the bus terminates. Night bus in 25 minutes, so I walk – again, the streets are empty, but there are 24 hour Turkish groceries every so often, which I find reassuring. They feel familiar, safe and friendly – there was one everywhere that I lived in London so far. Their shop assistants always remember your name.

That reminiscent mood is broken by an inevitable London sound of police siren, followed by ambulance. Living here is like existing inside a film, but only as a movie extra – finding your way through the crowd, the AD long lost. You see perpetual car chases and get out of the way, and you don’t want to know, this once don’t want a starring role. Passing unmarked police cars – the next point to tick off on my journey home, an unobtrusive yet hostile presence in the side alley – always creeps me out. Faceless people with unknown agenda, I don’t know if my safety registers as a value, never mind priority. Maybe I watched too many movies. Though I don’t watch that many.

Finally home. My flatmates left the light on for me, so I sit on a couch, with its soft burnt-orange blanket. I got home safely, again – streets were quiet, suspicious cars did not take me away. Birds are singing outside. Nothing else matters.

… now, for some tea.