Regulation: the great equaliser

In the 21st Century, regulation is seen as a dirty word, a burden on the business success of the UK. The government in 2010 promised a “bonfire of red tape”. Well, those words are now coming back to haunt them after the horrific disaster at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, which looks to have been caused by flammable materials used in a refurbishment.

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Regulation is no more a burden than buying food to eat is a burden. It is an essential for a healthy life for the population of a country. Regulation goes some way towards equalising life chances for rich and poor, men and women, black and white and able and disabled.

Regulation saves the lives of normal people. It’s in the interest of the many to regulate everything from water and food production to buildings and theme parks. Regulation is good for everyone’s health and wellbeing. Deregulation only helps businesses that want to cut corners, it doesn’t help the people of the country. The outcome of deregulation is a race to the bottom because businesses that do want to do the right thing would be priced out by those that don’t.

Deregulation hurts people. Lack of regulation causes deaths, this has always been the case. Everything from unprotected women painting radium onto watch dials, to tobacco sales, to lack of guards on factory machines which meant that workers had limbs cut off. This is why governments started to regulate, because people were being maimed and killed in the pursuit of profit.

Good regulation means that everyone has the right to a safe work environment, a safe home environment and a safe public environment. Yes, this costs, but do we as a 21st Century society really want to go back to Victorian times where the poor were expendable? Because this seems to be what the bonfire of red tape is aiming for.

The Conservative Party’s mania for cutting red tape means that they are deliberately making it easier for wealthy people to become richer by cutting costs and increasing share value whilst putting the risk of injury and death onto those who don’t have the private resources to protect themselves in a neoliberal capitalist “society”.

In 2012 David Cameron stated that his new year’s resolution was to “kill off the health and safety culture for good“. Health and safety legislation has become an “albatross around the neck of British businesses”, costing them billions of pounds a year and leaving entrepreneurs in fear of speculative claims, he said.

This “killing off” is best demonstrated by the vote in Parliament last year on an amendment to a Housing and Planning Bill put forward to ensure that rental accommodation was “fit for human habitation”. This was voted against by a majority of Conservative MPs with the Conservative Government claiming the new law would result in “unnecessary regulation”.

Steve Bell, Guardian 16-6-2017650

So there in a nutshell we have the neoliberal attitude to regulation. This is government by the few for the few.   The very use of the phrase “killing off” is not even dog-whistle politics, it’s overtly stating that they are happy for people to die. They don’t care if people who don’t own their homes burn to death, it’s just a side effect of cutting the state to give more money in tax cuts to the few. This is the culmination of 35 years of neoliberal capitalism and it’s vile and disgusting.

To fail to hold the people making these political decisions to cut regulation to account is to fail the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

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Fat acceptance and the fantasy of being thin

I am in several Facebook groups for plus size women.  A couple of days ago, one of the moderators of one group posted the following question:

“Based on a few threads in here where some of us feel particularly low or unattractive I think a bit of forced positivity is in order….

So.

When was the last time you genuinely felt attractive and sexy?

Where were you?
What were you wearing?
What in particular made you feel that way?
Why did you feel that way?”

Good questions.  My reply was

“I felt absolutely fab last night. I went to the wedding evening do of a uni friend and met up with some people who I haven’t seen for years. Despite the fact I am quite a lot heavier than I was at uni, I dress better and feel better about myself. Ive let go of the angst about being fat and have decided that as I’m never going to be thin, I will dress myself nicely now rather than putting it off (forever) with the mindset that I will wait until I’m thin.

Anyway, I got loads of complements from people, including from two guys I haven’t seen for 20 years. I also got a free drink at the bar and a lot of smiles from people. I think it’s cos I felt fab and happy and that made me look great”

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But some of the other replies have almost had me in tears.  People saying that they only felt great when they were a size 10 and they could feel their hipbones grinding into the mattress, or saying that they lost 4 stone and felt great, but have put weight back on and feel terrible, or even that they have NEVER felt great.

The self hate of so many people in a closed plus size, supposedly supportive community is distressing.  Having been there in the past but escaped, it makes me very, very sad. 

And then of course there are the women who are dieting and have lost weight who are showered with congratulations (this is not a diet community). I always feel terribly awkward when people are congratulated on weight loss. Like you’ve made yourself smaller to take up less space and conform to the pressures of society, where’s the good in that?

WHY?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why are women of all ages so focussed on losing weight to conform to a single societal ideal?  Why do women think that there being less of them is a good thing?

Yes, I once felt the same having drunk the diet/magazine/media Kool Aid, but now I’ve come to a place where I know that the word “Fat” is a descriptor. I am fat, I have been less fat and more fat, but I have always been fat. It was learning that the word is not an insult, but just a word (even if meant as an insult) that helped me to come to terms with the fact that I can live a perfectly OK life as a fat women, and all the mental energy I put into hating myself and wishing I was “normal” could actually be put into my relationship, my career, my crafting hobbies, my ukulele playing and my friends.

No, I don’t feel 100% all the time, BUT when I feel “fat” I now recognise that I’m feeling unhappy/nervous/upset/apprehensive/insecure about something and that my body insecurity is actually my brain playing up.

I have found that people take me more seriously now in my career because I dress better and speak out and I’m not afraid of being insulted about being fat (which I always was before). And now it never happens. I’m very short (5’4″) but people alway think I’m taller and I think it’s because I project confidence in a fat body.

I WISH I could help some of the women who are so unhappy about their bodies to let them know that it is possible to get to a place where you don’t actually mind your body. I’m not a “body love” sort of person, I think loving a body that you are constantly told is defective/non-conformist is very hard, but I am definitely a fat acceptance person. I accept my fat body, dress it nicely, feed it and exercise it and then get on with living life.

Meanwhile, here is a link to a ground breaking, mind-opening blog post by Kate Harding that started me on the road to fat acceptance back in 2007.

https://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/

“But then, the other day, I got to thinking about a particular kind of resistance that shows up every single time anyone dares to say that dieting doesn’t work — the kind that comes from other fat people and amounts to, “DON’T YOU TAKE MY HOPE AWAY!” Those of us in the anti-dieting camp are frequently accused of demoralizing fat people, of sending a cruelly pessimistic message. I’ve never quite gotten my head around that one, since the message we’re sending is that you’re actually allowed to love your fat body instead of hating it, and you can take steps to substantially improve your health without fighting a losing battle with your weight. I’m pretty sure that message is both compassionate and optimistic, not to mention realistic. But there will always be people who hear it as, “I, Kate Harding, am personally condemning you to a lifetime of fatness! There’s no point in trying, fatty! You’re doomed! Mwahahaha!”……..

“Overcoming The Fantasy of Being Thin might be the hardest part of making it all the way into fat acceptance-land. And that might just be why I’d pushed that part of the process out of my memory: it fucking sucked. Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.”

Day 365/366: the good. What I learnt this year whilst wearing my wardrobe

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Tweed pinafore by Tu – secondhand via Ebay

Despite the backsliding I described in yesterday’s post, I do think that this year’s exercise in looking at my clothes shopping habits has been helpful.

I went into town yesterday to have a look in the sales, but it was incredibly uninspiring; I looked through the rails and just went “meh” as nothing made me excited.  What I think I have evolved is a bit more of an original style than I had when I was thoughtlessly spending money on clothes and I just bought anything that fitted.

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Skirt is years old M+S, jumper is Oasis via a charity shop

Pretty much all of the clothes I have bought this year and have kept fit me really well.  Most of them have a slight retro feel to them, and I have definitely moved away from any bohemian, frilly, lacy or draped sort of styles.  My wardrobe seems to have refined itself into simple but strong structured garments; either nipped in waist swing dresses with cropped cardigans or straight or slightly A-line skirts with fitted jumpers.

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Secondhand tartan dress via Ebay, cardi from Lindy Bop

 

As a fat child and adult, I always veered towards clothes that draped, hid or disguised my body. This just made me look shapeless when actually I do have a shape, albeit a bit of a butternut squash rather than traditional hourglass shape.

What I have been learning this year during my wardrobe wearing experiment is what suits me.  I have moved out of hiding and into the light of Instagram and blogging.  I take photos of myself and I use them to give other women confidence that they can wear nice clothes too.  Life is too short not to wear pretty clothes, I don’t need to cover myself in shapeless baggy fabric. I don’t need to apologise for existing as I am.

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I do love this outfit.  Skirt is new this year from Primark, jumper is C+A from 2014

What I have also learnt is that charity shopping is thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and productive, but internet shopping is my downfall.  It’s too easy to turn to the Facebook selling pages, the online vintage repro dress retailers and that old time and money pit, Ebay.  I turn to the internet in times of stress and look at pages and pages of clothes.  I don’t even like most of them, but feel like that old void that needs filling with stuff is still there.

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Second hand Monsoon pinafore dress

So my plan for 2017 is no internet shopping for clothes, shoes, jewellery or makeup.  If I want to buy something I have to get it from a shop.  I also have to buy it with real money, not with a credit/debit card – I have to see those notes cross the counter.  Much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can continue my shopping ban as it really hasn’t worked for the whole year. I do however think that stopping my internet shopping habit will be a helpful and more to the point an achievable goal this year.

Meanwhile, I will continue to wear the gorgeous clothes in my Wardrobe.  Bring on Wearing my Wardrobe in 2017.

 

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The Collectif Caterina – one of the only two dresses I bought in a shop this year. I love it, it has so much weight and swirl.

Day 364/366: the bad

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Anna Scholz dress from 2014 worn at The Curve Fashion Festival in September

My posts have been few and far between over the past few months.  2016 has been a horribly difficult year for me both personally and for the world in general which has not helped me to keep to my pledge.

I managed to keep to my promise to myself not to buy any new clothes until mid-August when I discovered Lindy Bop clothes whilst spending a lot of time at home because I was really unwell.  They had a massive sale going on and I just fell into buying huge quantities of their clothes.  I sent most of them back or sold them on, but have ended up with 17 Lindy Bop dresses out of the 40 I purchased (OMG this is sounding terrible).

Since then I have backslid further and purchased new clothes from other online vintage-style retailers such as Lady V and new retailer Joanie Clothing.   All of the clothes I have bought from these retailers have been beautiful, they have been chosen for how amazing they look and their lovely style.  Anything that even vaguely didn’t work on me has been sent back.

I have also bought clothes from Ebay which is something that I said I wouldn’t do and I think this is my biggest let down as I could easily have avoided this.  I did only buy two dresses from bricks and mortar shops though so I think I managed to get myself out of the habit of browsing the shops as a leisure activity.  I did however continue to visit charity shops and find some lovely things, especially wool jumpers and cardigans which I wear lots.

So I have come to the end of the year with more clothes than I started with, despite selling a significant number of dresses and other things online and giving more away to charity shops and friends.  This is disheartening as I started on my pledge with such hope that I could break myself out of the shopping habit.

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At last, an all old outfit.  Skirt Primark 2014, wool jumper Figleaves around 2008

However, I have learnt a few things about myself and my habits this year, and also my style has changed a bit.  I will talk about this more in my next blog.

 

Day 263/366: Oniomania aka compulsive buying disorder

Falling off the clothes-buying-ban wagon in mid-August has led me to completely losing my self control.  Having discovered Lindy Bop and found that their lovely dresses were on sale it was like the brakes were off and I went careering downhill back into my clothes buying obsession. I would check the website every day for new sale stock and signed up for notifications when stock came back in.  I also joined two Lindy Bop selling pages on Facebook, and took my obsession to Ebay where I broke my Ebay clothes ban too.

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Lindy Bop navy floral Audrey.  She is so pretty!

This spectacular failure was compounded by going to The Curve Fashion Festival in Liverpool ten days ago.  This plus-size fashion show included stands from amazing plus size retailers including some I’ve not come across before like Emmy Designs and Studio 8 as well as finding that Praslin were selling all their sample dresses for £5.

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Yay – plus size bloggers represent!

It’s been an utter disaster for both my bank account and my mental health.  It would seem that I have an obsession.  There is even a medical term for it: Oniomania or compulsive buying disorder.

I love everything I have purchased.  The clothes are beautiful.  I want to wear them all, in fact I think this is part of it, I just want to Wear ALL the Nice Clothes.  It’s not even like I have anywhere to wear them to.

According to Shopaholics Anonymous, there are several different types of compulsive buyers.  I think I fit into at least three of these categories.

  • Compulsive shopaholics who shop when they are feeling emotional distress
  • Trophy shopaholics who are always shopping for the perfect item
  • Shopaholics who want the image of being a big spender and love flashy items
  • Bargain seekers who purchase items they don’t need because they are on sale
  • Bulimic shoppers who get caught in a vicious cycle of buying and returning
  • Collectors who don’t feel complete unless they have one item in each color or every piece of a set

I am definitely a trophy clothes shopper.  It’s always that the next dress will be perfect and will make me look amazing and everyone will love it.  But once it’s been worn once or twice, the excitement disappears and I’m looking for the next perfect dress.

I am also a sucker for a bargain.  Lady V London posted on Facebook today that all their sale dresses are now under £20.  I had one in my basket this afternoon despite the fact that last night I was nearly in tears about how full my wardrobe is.  But the dress was perfect and I must have it.

I saw someone wearing it at The Curve Fashion Festival and I thought it looked wonderful on her.  I want it.  I want to possess it.  I want to wear it because it will make me look beautiful.  I love the fabric.  And here I am, back to finding the Trophy dress.

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I mean, how gorgeous is this dress?  It needs to be in my wardrobe

I shut the browser and went away and didn’t buy it.  But it was beautiful.

And this is where we come to the third compulsive shopping habit I have.  I’m a bulimic shopper.  I buy clothes and then send them back, or sell them on.  In the last month I have purchased 23 dresses 7 tops and a skirt from Lindy Bop or off Ebay.  Add to that 2 Praslin dresses, an Emmy dress (at huge expense), a Studio 8 dress (also at huge expense) and one from TKMaxx which to be fair is the only dress purchase I have made in an actual shop this year.  Not that it’s much consolation.

Emmy Designs make gorgeous reproduction vintage dresses handmade in Sweden and I wanted them all, I seriously, seriously wanted to buy four or five dresses. I really, nearly bought more than one, but the cost made me think “I could get 10 Lindy Bop dresses for the price of this” as if quantity outweighed quality.  My mind is seriously screwed up if that’s the way I’m thinking.

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The utterly gorgeous Emmy dress I didn’t buy (and have non-buyers remorse oh so badly)

Of the Lindy Bop clothes, I have returned 11 and kept 12 dresses, returned 4 tops and kept 3 and returned the skirt.  Looking at this list makes me feel incredibly ashamed of myself. WHY do I feel the need to keep buying and buying.  Why am I not happy with the lovely clothes that I have got.  What on earth is my problem?

 

Above you can see just some of the clothes I bought from Lindy Bop. They are all pretty. I don’t want to part with any of them.

All the good work I have done since January has been undone in one month of completely uncontrolled binge-buying.  When I dieted, I used to be like this, good for weeks and weeks and then all of a sudden would completely lose control.  It’s the reason I stopped dieting because it made me so very unhappy.

How do I start again and get back on an even keel?  How can I train my brain to stop wanting all the pretties because I already have a lot of pretties.  Where does this void that needs to be filled with pretty dresses come from?  I think I need help….

Day 231/366 : Falling off the wagon

Well, it happened.  I totally fell off the new clothes buying ban wagon big-style and went mad in the Lindy Bop sale.

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This is the Twiggy shift dress. I absolutely love it.

I knew if a failure of willpower was going to happen in my year of no spending that it would be big, but perhaps not as big as it actually was. I bought six dresses, three cardigans and a top that I’m keeping and I’m sending back five dresses, 2 shrugs and a jacket because of fit issues.

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This is the Ariel, it’s got such an amazing shape

Up until now I’ve been SO good for the whole of this year about not browsing in shops that it’s become second nature not to head into the clothes section of supermarkets or just going into town on a Saturday afternoon for a mooch around to see what’s on the rails.

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The pattern of this fabric is so beautiful

I’ve been quite unwell since the start of August and have spent nearly three weeks at home off work, mostly in bed. Frustration and boredom has led to a spending spree starting with buying perfume, shoes and boots online along with various dresses from Facebook selling pages. I can’t stop and have gone well over what I should have spent.

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This is a lovely dress, really nice thick stretchy cotton

So this spree has ended (I hope) with me raiding the Lindy Bop sale.  I feel hugely disappointed with myself, but I also feel that I have picked up some really lovely dresses at bargain prices as the sales at Lindy Bop are known for large discounts – all my dresses were between £12 and £15 and the cardigans were £10 or less.

So there you go, I lasted 226 days of the 366 of 2016, pretty much 2/3 of the year which isn’t all that bad.  I’m not going to go back to buying new things though, although I’m giving myself a free pass for the Curve Fashion Festival in Liverpool on 10th September.

I’m hoping that once I feel better and I’m back at work and not frustrated and ill at home that I will be in a better place for both my head and for my wallet.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that I can scramble back onto the wagon and ride it until the end of the year.

Day 212: I really don’t know what happened there

OK, so I haven’t blogged since April, but this doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.  I have kept to the letter of my promise not to buy any new clothes this year from shops or Ebay, but perhaps not really to the spirit of it.  I’ll explain.

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Lady V London dress via Facebook selling community called Horne’s Curvaceous Hunnies

In April I discovered selling communities on Facebook and these have really been a bit of a downfall as I have bought a quite a lot of clothes from several different sites over the past three months.  What is really good about them (and also really bad for my willpower) is that it’s mostly people selling lovely dresses in plus sizes.  There is such temptation!   I have also continued to buy clothes from charity shops as I do enjoy the thrill of the chase.

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Dress from Evans via a Facebook page called Plus Size Night Market

 

The problem is that probably half of the things I’ve bought from the selling communities don’t fit, or don’t suit me.  And as they are usually a bit more expensive than buying from charity shops (where at least I can try on the clothes).  This has meant that I now find myself with a number of dresses which I can’t wear.  So I’m now trying to sell some of these on but not having too much success.

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“Tess dress” from Yours via Betty Pamper’s Instagram selling page

I have also decided to sell or give away many of the clothes that I don’t feel comfortable wearing, but have kept because I like the idea of them or that they were expensive.  There is one dress in particular that I wore to a really, really horrible meeting, and then later on, on the same day, I got stuck in a lift in it.  It brings me no pleasure to look at or wear the dress despite the fact it’s really lovely.  So that’s on my for sale list now with a sense of relief. It’s unnerving how much an inanimate object can project so many bad feelings.

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Dress from Tu via aforementioned selling page.  I altered this a lot to get it to fit, but I think it was worth it as it’s such a fabulous pattern. 

So, yes I am still wearing my wardrobe, but it is a wardrobe supplemented by clothes from charity shops and selling communities.  Maybe I should have just said I wouldn’t buy any clothes full stop this year.

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Another dress from Tu – I love this and have worn it to work a number of times.  Best of all it has pockets.

I’ll do a rundown of all the amazing things I’ve got from charity shops in another post and also update on how I’m getting on wearing my unworn and unloved clothes – a sneak peek below of something I bought last year and didn’t wear. I have now worn this gorgeous dress several times already this year.

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Joe Browns dress via Depop last year – worn today for an outing to an exhibition of pottery art.

Day 101/366: the first one hundred days

I thought I would look back on the first one hundred days of Wearing My Wardrobe in 2016. Outfit pictures are from Instagram over the past month or so.

  • I have NOT bought any new clothes so far in 2016.  I would class this as a major achievement for me as I never thought I would make it this far.

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  • I have not bought new clothes despite having been to Preston, Manchester and London for work.  Usually I would have made time to check out the shops, but this year I haven’t done this.  It make the visits less eagerly anticipated though which is a bit of a shame.

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  • I have also not bought anything on the internet despite having had a pretty stressful year so far. Internet shopping has been a real bad habit for me in the past during times of stress so I’m pretty pleased about this. Unsubscribing from all the clothing companies’ emails and their feeds on Instagram and Facebook has been a huge help
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I found this AXParis Curve dress in a charity shop in Penrith.  I think it’s the best thing I’ve bought this year, I really like it.
  • I’ve not bought any new boots or shoes.  This wasn’t an aim for the year, but I’m happy with what I’ve got, and not shopping for clothes means that I haven’t been exposed to new  shoes either.

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  • I have not gone overdrawn yet this year because I’ve spent too much money on clothes which was happening with more regularity over the past couple of years

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  • I’ve not worn the same outfit twice (except for scruffy clothes for working at the allotment or housecleaning, but they don’t count!)

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  • I have been motivated to sell clothes on Ebay and have so far sold 24 items of clothing and some unused perfumes.
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This skirt is an ancient Monsoon sale purchase. Having to find new outfits in one’s wardrobe really makes you look through everything you own quite carefully and there are some real gems in mine.
  • I have found out that I don’t actually like some of my clothes very much and these have either been Ebayed, given to friends or donated to charity shops.  It seems that being critical of one’s wardrobe is actually quite cathartic

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  • I have altered quite a lot of my clothes to make them fit better
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I altered this skirt to make it more of a wiggle style (altered on right), I think it looks significantly better now!
  • I have discovered the joy of hunting for interesting clothes and jewellery in charity shops and have started doing a bit of charity shop tourism when I visit other towns.  The thrill of charity shops is that you never know what you’ll find and there’s something new every week.  I have to admit that I may have to stop visiting the shops quite so often as I almost always come away with something to wear.
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I absolutely LOVE this jumper – it’s by Oasis and I would never normally even bother looking in Oasis as the clothes are usually small, but it caught my eye in a charity shop and I think it looks great!
  • I’m looking forward to going through all my summer clothes and wearing my favourites (and also passing on those that I’m not so keen on)

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  • I really don’t like the KonMari method (sorry Cassie and Leah!!)

 

Day 99/366: feeling low

I’m putting on weight.  For all the body/fat acceptance work that I have done with myself, I still feel awful and ashamed about it.  I have been on a particular medication for two years and I was taken off it at the end of February, and I think this is what is causing the weight increase, as I lost weight (unexpectedly and without trying) when I started taking it, going from a solid size 20 to a 16/18.

Add to this nearly losing our dog Marley to an attack of ideopathic vestibulitis two weeks ago, grief from losing Bella and extreme work stress,  I feel terrible both mentally and physically.  Marley still isn’t quite well although he is a lot better and back on his feet.  As he’s so old, I worried that we are keeping him alive for our sake rather than his (although he is so much better now and is definitely still interested in life).  It’s a really hard call, but he didn’t tell us that he was ready to go even when at his sickest two weeks ago, unlike Bella did two months ago.

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Poor sick Marley

The question is, why is my sense of self worth so tied up with my weight?  I do wonder if the huge amount of stress and grief I’m going through at the moment is actually making my emotional reaction to my (so far very small) weight gain worse.  I have observed in the past that when I’m feeling low my attitude to my body is far more negative.  It’s that classic “I feel fat” feeling which really should be more accurately interpreted as “I’m stressed/scared/tired/anxious/upset”.

The problem with documenting my outfits on social media is that I can see the difference between me this year and me early last year.  I wore the dress in the picture below on Tuesday to a meeting and I spent the day feeling incredibly self-conscious about myself.  When I wore the same dress this time last year, I felt wonderful.  Looking at the two images, there are differences, but they are very subtle, so why do I feel them so acutely? Why do I feel ashamed of how I look on the left, but happy and confident on the right?

Kerry who blogs at Ruby Thunder blog (http://www.rubythunder.com/) posted a video on Facebook earlier today.  Its called Embrace and is a trailer for a documentary by Taryn Brumfitt of the Body Image Movement (http://bodyimagemovement.com).  I sat and watched it and cried my eyes out as it pinpoints the fact that most women feel awful about themselves and how they look and that it’s such a complete waste of energy and emotion.

The part that set me off was when the majority of women that Taryn interviewed in the street and asked to describe how they feel about themselves said negative things about themselves.  There were at least five women who called themselves disgusting.  No one should feel that their body or appearance disgusting, but we are living in a society that encourages people to pick on their flaws rather than celebrate the diversity of human appearance.

This is such a sad state of affairs for us, so much negative energy spent telling ourselves that we don’t meet arbitrary societal standards rather than putting that energy into making life better for ourselves and others, or having more fun, or volunteering or baking or doing art or making music.  We spend too much time staring in the mirror pinching our flesh and criticising the vessel that carries us around; feeling inadequate, or thinking that people are staring at us and criticising us for our appearance.

And yet, I know that I don’t go around looking at people in the streets or at meetings or in the pub and thinking critical things about their appearance.  I’m more likely to be concerned about what they do, how they act and how they treat people. So why do I think that other people are looking at me critically.

I seriously need to get myself out of this negative self talk as my work life is unlikely to get better or less stressful over the next two years and my appearance has nothing to do with how I cope with what’s going on. I have had a period of four or five years where I have felt significantly better about myself, partly down to reading wonderful fat acceptance blogs and actually meeting some of these amazing, positive women who have created this social movement for self-acceptance.  I feel like I need to go back to the beginning and start again.

 

Day 80/366: Plus 40 Fabulous – what am I most proud of?

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Thanks to Cathy for this month’s theme: what are you most proud of?

Most people probably won’t know that I’m actually Dr Kate.  My proudest achievement is that I carried out five years of research during my 20s and early 30s and was awarded a PhD in Landscape Ecology in 2002.

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Great robes, absolutely terrible outfit underneath!!

One of my (many) reasons for doing the PhD was to prove to myself (and others) that fat women aren’t stupid and lazy, a message that I had received all of my life.  I knew I wasn’t stupid and lazy, but I wanted to demonstrate to the world that I was more than how I looked and that judging people by appearance is generally a ridiculous thing to do.

I always loved studying geography.  It was my favourite subject at school and I went off to university in 1990 and did a physical geography degree.  I loved my time at university, but I was having too much fun to really put the time in to studying, and I scraped by with a 2:1.  I wanted to go on and do more, but it wasn’t to be; so between 1994 and 1996 I worked and spent some time volunteering for a conservation charity to enhance my skills.

In August 1996 I was offered a funded PhD jointly between Liverpool University and Chester College (now Chester University).  The funding was provided to study in the semi-desert Almeria Province in southern Spain looking at the landscapes of badlands and their vegetation.  I was to be provided with remotely sensed data of the area by the Natural Environment Research Council who had undertaken flights over the site in early 1996.

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Remotely sensed data of one of my field sites overlaid on a digital elevation model.  Looks similar to Google Earth, but I had to process all the data myself, it took MONTHS

Within a week of moving to Chester, I found myself in a small field study centre called Urra in the middle of nowhere in the wilds of southern Spain at a conference!  It was all very, very intimidating, all these academics, mostly middle aged white men and there I was a small, chubby 24 year old daring to think I could join their ranks.

Urra
Urra Field Study Centre, SE Spain

I spent five field seasons out at Urra where I “ground truthed” the remotely sensed data that had not yet turned up.  This meant that I went out to the sites I was studying and recorded plant and soil data in 5m square quadrats.  What I was aiming to do with this information was to use it to help train the software I was using to recognise different plant communities by analysing the data.

Q 77A
Perched like a gnome on top of a badland
TA 30
Looking hot in my fieldwork gear and essential hat

I spent a lot of time standing in terraced fields counting plants!  I didn’t mind though as the scenery was absolutely mind-blowingly incredible.  The rock and soil of the area is so easily washed away by torrential rain that that huge gulleys form in the sides of the hills, and sometimes enormous pipes form under the soil where material has been washed away under the surface.  It was an utterly fascinating landscape to study in.

trenching in Infierno
Huge gulleys cut through what used to be agricultural terraces, where most of the soil has been washed away
mocatan catchment
Typical badland formations looking north to the Sierra de los Filabres in the background

The first year went well, I gathered my field data, I analysed soil in the lab and I learnt to use a Unix computer (scary).  However, the promised data didn’t arrive.  It also didn’t arrive in 1998 by which time I was running into my third year and my funding was about to end.  I was seriously depressed by this and decided that as the promised data was now two and a half years late, I would never finish my PhD, so I decided to look for a job.

I applied for and got a job.  Of course life being what it is, in-between being offered the job and starting it, the data arrived in Feb 1999.  My PhD supervisor, a very kind and supportive man called Alex suggested that I at least write up what I had already done to get an MPhil degree so that I and the university got some benefit from the work carried out.  I decided to take six months off the PhD to concentrate on my new job, and then go back to writing up.  But meanwhile, I managed to get hold of the remote sensing software for my home computer and I started to analyse the data and tie it in with my fieldwork.

ndvi_6class1
Classification of the remotely sensed vegetation data. Class 1 is bare soil, class 6 is dense vegetation

The results were so interesting that I really wanted to research it properly which is how I ended up both working full time and finishing off my research and writing up my PhD.  I had so much support from Alex, I couldn’t have done it without him.

2000 – 2002 was possibly the most stressful period in my entire life as during the two years it took me to finish the work on my PhD and write it up we also bought a house, got married and I was severely bullied by my manager.  So all in all I am most proud of having had the fortitude and resilience to work through this absolutely fraught period of time and come out of it with my sanity (mostly) intact.

wedding pic
Obligatory wedding photo.

One highlight in this rather terrible period was our honeymoon which was a trip to SE Spain to help me finish off my fieldwork.  We got the ferry  from Plymouth to Santander in northern Spain and then drove our Ford Ka down through central Spain to Almeria.  We had a wonderful time even if we did spend one week of the three out in the terraces counting plants (well I did this and Dave went to sleep in the sunshine!)

I graduated in November 2002 in Chester Cathedral.  There were buglers and a choir and it was an amazing experience which I will never forget.

20160319_000059
The completed thesis; I still can’t believe I wrote 100,000 words about something!

And whilst a thorough knowledge of the vegetation and geomorphology of a small part of SE Spain doesn’t actually sound particularly useful for someone who lives in the Lake District, I am able to apply an awful lot of what I learnt about how landscapes function and change to my job now.  I’m so lucky to work doing something I’m interested in which is intellectually stimulating and related to my thesis.

Check out the other lovely bloggers writing about what makes them proud 🙂

Cathy: http://www.southernyacht.blogspot.co.uk/
Christy: http://www.sprintingwithscissors.blogspot.co.uk/
Daisy: http://daisysays.co.uk
Kate: https://wearingmywardrobein2016.wordpress.com
Kath: https://fatheffalump.wordpress.com
Leah: http://www.justmeleah.co.uk
Lee: http://www.pinkybellesshed.co.uk/
Lisa: http://www.kitandkoboodle75.blogspot.co.uk/
Mookie: http://www.mookieslife.com/
Nikki :http://www.nattynikki.com/
Perelandra: http://www.pamperandcurves.com/
Sarah: http://www.plussizeproud.co.uk
Steph: http://www.misskittenheel.com

Vicky: http://therandomnessoftwee.blogspot.co.uk
Yvonne: http://woosangwashere.blogspot.com

PS The Abstract for my thesis is copied below in case anyone is interested….

ABSTRACT

The Sorbas basin lies within the Betic Cordillera of south-east Spain. It is a recently uplifted sedimentary basin with readjustment of drainage systems still occurring, and hence intense erosion is found in places. This erosion, coupled with a semi-arid climate and a history of human impact has lead to a variably patchy vegetation cover throughout the catchment. This thesis examines controls on vegetation cover patchiness in a pair of adjacent catchments using a landscape ecology approach. These catchments display contrasting patterns of landcover and represent two stages in an erosion-stabilisation cycle driven by base level change on the Rio Aguas into which they both drain.

Cover and species type data were collected in the field along with soil samples. The vegetation analysis programs DECORANA and TWINSPAN were used to explore the cover and species data collected in the field. Results of the analyses were correlated with environmental variables to identify controls on distribution. Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM) data were acquired from a NERC ARSF flight in 1996 along with aerial photographs of the study area. The ATM data were used to produce a clustered landcover image based upon the clustering of an NDVI image followed by interpretation of the six end groups using the cover data collected in the field. The aerial photography was used to produce a digital elevation model, and from this the environmental variables aspect, slope gradient and wetness were derived. The digital elevation model was also used in conjunction with the aerial photographs to produce an orthorectified image of the study area.

Geology was found to be the most significant control on cover type distribution, closely followed by geomorphology and soil chemistry. Species type distribution is also strongly controlled by geology with geomorphological history being almost as significant, and soil chemistry controlling the distribution at a fine scale. Slope gradient and aspect were not particularly associated with either cover or species distribution. The clustered landcover image, in which the six classes of cover ranged from very sparse to very densely vegetated, was analysed in conjunction with aspect, slope gradient and wetness to identify which of variable had the closest relationship with cover distribution. It was found that aspect had greatest association with cover, and wetness the least. However, all three show a statistically significantly relationship to cover class. The clustered landcover image was then used in conjunction with FRAGSTATS, a landscape metrics program, and a class buffering technique was used in order to quantify the landcover patterns in the two catchments. The quantification of pattern enabled an assessment of the relative controls of each of the environmental variables on the cover pattern in both catchments. Geology was found to be the most important control on the cover distribution, with geomorphological history and aspect important at a finer scale. Slope gradient, wetness and soil chemistry were not found to be very significant controlling factors.