Saturday, 5 April 2014

Roughing It

I couldn't believe after a few hours, a few days, then a few weeks, how many messages of support and donations I received on announcing the news that I'd be sleeping rough for one night in my town centre with sponsorship going to a local homelessness project.

Firstly, I was, and remain, both grateful and welcoming to all of the inspiring snapchats, messages and pennies that came flooding my way. That such an event could raise £300 for charity from my sponsorship alone surprised me.

It mostly came as a shock though not because most of my friends are students with funds that most likely reflect mine at the minute (a saddening sight), or because they're all super-stinge, but rather because it occurred to me that what I was doing wasn't really all that special. It seems pretty brave for an 18 year old girl to be roughing it on the grim and grizzly streets of a town centre on a Friday night when she could be lapping up the Tequila slammers in some swanky bar in celebration of her birthday the following day, I admit. However, when you delve a bit deeper I only really did for seven hours or so what homeless people do day-in and day-out with no sponsorship attached.

For me, the experience was a bit of fun - mostly because I knew that I had a hot bath, a double bed that could match the Queen's in comfort, and lots of shiny new presents to open (thanks girls) the next day. Walking off the streets and into my mum's car as she picked me up I looked and felt shoddy, but as I say, knew that it'd all be fixed in a matter of minutes when I got home. To do a sleep out day after day and for that to be your only routine is pretty unimaginable. In the few hours I was on the streets - aside from the two and a half that I actually managed to sleep - it was all pretty thought-provoking, and, even with a hundred people around me, particularly lonely. This is what I have to say:

I suspect that I was treated astoundingly differently to how the everyday homeless person would be: that guy who receives nothing but blank stares and a bit of loose change. So, whilst putting myself out of a life of luxury for a few hours is quite distinct, and perhaps a bit brave, it really is only a sample of what men and women up and down this country experience 24/7. In addition, I knew that I had safety around me and so no-one would be out to steal either my midnight snack or phone, but living it the real way you would turn timid at every noise, anxious at what or who was around the corner. I couldn't do it.

You may complain about going to lectures, or clocking in at nine for the daily grind, but imagine not having the luxury of an income. I don't mean to go all philosophical and high-and-mighty here and, as I said, I'm so appreciative for every single donation seeing as the money will go to help those who I am discussing now. It's just a very thought-provoking topic for a country as developed as ours in the modern day.

A huge part of the issue is perception. For two morbid years I worked in an outdoor shop, not because I'm an outdoors enthusiast but rather it was a job and I wanted some pocket money. Anyhow, through the two years I spent there and saw just how big profit margins were on outdoor jackets and the like, it seems insane to me that a company like North Face or Rab couldn't donate a few of their jackets to people on the streets, with other industries (e.g. food, toiletries) following suit. On the sleep out I thought about this for a good hour and contemplated why on earth a company who have the spare goods to relieve at least one homeless problem (weather), and the profits to cope, wouldn't utilise those resources. Then, I realised it's all about perception. If a homeless person was seen to be wearing a North Face garment then who would want to wear the same? That's not my opinion, just what I established to be general consensus - and it stinks. It stinks that in 2014, as I said, in a developed country like ours - or anywhere for that matter - that both people and brands wouldn't be willing to put themselves out in fear of damaging their image. Shouldn't it be the reverse? Shouldn't the ethos of helping others be the positive image we aim to chase? I think so, and that's one of the core problems.

Homeless people are largely seen as some kind of underclass who are sleeping on the streets because of their own actions or addictions. When you look into it this just isn't the case. I don't have any statistical backing here but I prefer to see drugs and alcohol as the consequence, not the cause. A whole array of people from all walks of life end up on the streets and in shelters. Yet, they're looked down on by some. Even using the word 'they' seems to indicate a collectivity, which you wouldn't expect elsewhere. Typecasting a whole social group just wouldn't be tolerated, but we do it mindlessly with homeless people.

After recent laws have been implemented, homeless people can no longer beg for money. The homelessness project for whom I fundraised have stood out in agreement with this and instead encourage buying a homeless person some food or a hot drink as opposed to giving them money. Food for thought. There are a lot of things you can do; even just acknowledging that a homeless person is there, and exists, and is a person after all, should be the done thing. Don't snub them, you're no better. My granddad always told my mum to remember the humbling and inspiring phrase, 'you are better than no one, and no one is better than you,' and I stand by it now.

It continues to amaze me how many people donate to fundraising events like 'Children In Need' and 'Comic Relief' where you are given an annual report in the form of a TV programme of where your money goes but never get fully tangible proof - especially after a recent news story that uncovered how such events don't directly spend the funds on people in need but rather invest it in companies like BAE as well as tobacco and alcohol firms to try and make a return, before passing it on to those it's supposed to be helping (but that's a different rant). Yet, when an opportunity presents itself to directly help someone in need, I've witnessed so many people just act blasé and look down their nose.

So, I'm not going to change the world with one fundraiser or one blog post but I hope I may have at least influenced and altered a few attitudes to an everyday issue that is played down by so many.

Photo: Flickr, Indigo/592

Thursday, 20 February 2014

What do 'slags' wear?

Most girls are probably self conscious about their body, whether it be their nose, their calves or their 'flabby bits'; it is seemingly the modern way as we see photoshopped photos of idolised women plastered everywhere. Even they have their insecurities though.

To work against a recent pet-hate of mine - not having a flat tummy - I started to control what I ate in a healthy way and attended fitness classes. In less than a month I not only look better but also feel better, and to celebrate on a girls' night decided to wear something a bit daring, a bit risqué, albeit not the most elegant piece I own, but slaggy? I'm not convinced.

Exhibit A, the dress in question, whilst allowing me to 'show off' my more toned tummy (although I am not showing off, just feeling good about myself for the hard work it took to get more toned) admittedly also flaunts a bit of cleavage. Why not? They're my boobs. If I want Royal Leamington Spa to catch a glimpse of my body - more than they would ever normally see - then it really isn't criminal.

There are mesh V shaped panels along the chest and at the sides, which show off a little more than I would usually be comfortable with, but with a rare boost of confidence it felt right to wear. Let me be clear, I am unapologetic for wearing the dress: yes, it's racy, it isn't so classy one might choose to say, but it made me feel good just for one night - and my mum approved (all that matters).

As touched on, I think most girls are self conscious about something; even if it is the most minuscule feature of their body that no one else would even notice. For me, it is the bend in my nose visible from a side angle that really drags me down, so much so I considered a rhinoplasty last year and attended a consultation about having the procedure, which was all in the name of feeling better about myself, not trying to compete with the likes of, or model my own look on any female celebrity. Moreover, I'm really not a vain person, but rather the insecurity is pretty draining and can affect the most unrelated activities like public speaking.

What has self consciousness got to do with my racy dress? Well, when walking from one pub to the next on the girls' night a car drove past with open windows and both male and female voices were heard first blasting 'nice legs', then 'slag' and finally 'how much?' in my direction.

Nice legs? They're not abnormally stunning legs but I'll take the compliment. Yet still, thank you lovely man for driving past and commenting on a part of my body. I'm not a doll, I have other assets. That may seem a bit OTT feminist to say, but let's be honest it is plain objectification.

'Slag'? I have an issue with those words anyway: 'slut', 'tart', whatever synonym you want to use. I guess this links back to the age-old critique: 'if a guy sleeps with five girls he's a lad, but if a girl does the same then she's a slag'. Even if this is a downright stupid argument unwelcome in 2014 it is still a common opinion, especially among my generation, although it may be diluted into conversation not stated so bluntly.

Brace yourselves too, because as noted a female voice was heard from the car and it was she who shouted this particular remark. Girl-on-girl attacks, in my opinion and experience, cut deeper than the same remark from a man. I may be wrong on this, and each to their own on whether the insult is worse depending on whose mouth it came out of, but it seems like a complete paradox for a girl to use a term that is specific and insulting to girls as a social group. This isn't reclaiming a word like African Americans have done in the past; it is simply employing a vicious term against a fellow.

Finally, 'how much?' How much what? How much for some common decency? Priceless, mate. How much for shouting something so freely to get 'lad' rep? Someone else's confidence. In fact, the top lad he was (sense sarcasm), was asking how much for my sexual services, indeed implying that my attire was fit for a prostitute. Funny though it may be, and a bit of a knock on the chin, there is a serious undertone behind this that alike to the 'slag' comment cannot be justified and should not be used. I am aware that some people my own age may read this and think 'get a grip, he was having a laugh' or 'don't take things so seriously', but I really am not bothered about being 'cool' on this one. I know I have a sense of humour, anyone who knows me well enough also can see that.

My main point is that when people spit out insults that they think are funny, laddish, even deserved things to say, the consequences of those jibes are not realised. This isn't just the case with 'slag' remarks, a word used far too freely, but so too with a variety of words that, let's face it, are bullies' diction.

So when you come into contact with a stranger who you know nothing about, who may have the most enormous insecurities, personal confidence issues, low self esteem or even may just be having a bad day, it isn't wise, necessary, funny or in any way 'laddish' to put him or her down in such a casual way.

Secondly, in choosing what to wear for the night I did have the concern of 'will I get judged for flaunting my body?' But, covered with a jacket the dress was a harmless piece of material that elevated my confidence for a few hours, so the balance was outweighed in favour of the little black number. The idea I was toying with though, fundamentally, was if I wear X am I bringing on comments of Y to myself? A highly controversial statement made not so long ago about girls bringing sexual assaults onto themselves addresses the same issue - albeit he did it in the wrong way. Obviously it is in no way acceptable to think that by a girl flaunting her body she automatically wants sexual attention, grabs or bum slaps. In the same way then, although not akin to a sexual assault in any way, it shouldn't be okay to think that by a girl wearing something she is 'bringing it on herself' to be called a 'slag' or likened to a woman of the night, of which I am neither.

Judge me for my choice of clothing in terms of elegance, I can handle that; I own enough sophisticated clothes that cover my body up to know that I am by no means ungraceful. But do not judge my 'sexual readiness', my behaviour or my own decency for deciding to show a bit of skin. As noted, I am unapologetic and this blog post should never have needed to be written.

This section is not about being vain but rather to prove my point one last time. By wearing the Little Mistress black and cream dress on the left with a high neckline but a short skirt am I more or less of a 'slag' than when I show off cleavage? Is being a 'slag' really determined by what part of the body you expose? A slightly older snap in old Paris from 2013 where I am totally covered up with a River Island denim dress and tights, would the same people from last night still ponder upon how much my sexual services cost if they saw me here? My behaviour and sexuality is not defined by what I wear, but rather my identity is.

And what about here? Younger Chlo is blowing a kiss to the camera New Years' Eve 2012 (please sense the sarcasm in all of my pouting ways). Surely though, this promiscuous action is more telling of my sexuality than getting my cleavage out? Yet, by covering up my body with cloth would I garner the same reaction as I did when wearing Exhibit A?

Those people on beaches tanning it up in their bikinis, like me here in Cape Verde in 2012, are they whores? I know the bikini is beach attire fitting to the environment, and so it wouldn't be judged as such, but the point stands, I think.

Onto another girls' night, this time my Bardot neckline reveals my shoulders, my hair is long and flowing, both frowned upon until last century - and the dress is red, the colour of passion. So, you know what I'm going to say: does this Chlo get around more or less than any of the other Chlo's in the photos? I'm the same person in each one with the same respectability and values, just covered in different material. These garments or not indicative in any way of my behaviour, and so surely I and every other woman should be treated as such regardless of what we wear?