Thursday, 8 September 2016

Dolly's Advice

Every week I receive an email - known as Dolly Mail - from the brilliant writer and journalist Dolly Alderton... it is always thought provoking, funny, meaningful and an email I genuinely look forward to receiving every week. This week's is SO good that I wanted to share it here for you to read.

Do subscribe to the Dolly Mail by going to this link....

"Have you lost weight?" my flatmate Belle squawked at me as I walked past her bedroom in my knickers last month. "You have, haven't you? Stand there," she demanded, beckoning me into her bedroom. 
"Maybe, I don't know," I replied. 
"How do you do this?" she says. "How do you lose weight so quickly? It's not fair, it's like you bend down to pick something off the floor and you lose another five pounds." 

So, reader: this is the point where, up until now, I would usually agree with her. This is the exact moment I would say: yeah, just really lucky, me. Fast metabolism. All I have to do walk a bit faster and chew a bit slower for a week and BAM I'm down a dress size. I'm just like one of those French women who chain-smokes with a pouty, downturned mouth and shrugs at the word "diet" because it's so bourgeois.

But here's the truth, which feels odd to admit so plainly: I have barely eaten a carbohydrate since July. I've gone to the gym three or four times a week. I went to Italy, my culinary Mecca, for most of August and ate tons of fish, seafood and vegetables. I barely winked at a plate of linguine. I did yoga on the beach every day. I'm taking my lattes skinny or soya. I went for a run at midnight when I finished writing last week. 

I tried something, for the first time in my life - I told Belle the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how hard I am working to lose weight. No shrugging, no myth-making. 
"I think I probably have," I said. "Because I'm, like, doing squats in my bedroom like a dick. And I'm not really eating sugar or bread or butter or any of my favourite things actually, unless it's a treat or a special occasion. So, yeah, I've tried. It's not that fun. But it works." 

Since then, since I got it out in the open, I am quick to say it nearly all as one word. If someone asks if I've lost weight, I reply: "yeahihavethanksIhaven'teatenpotatoesintwomonths" in one breath. I can tell it makes some people feel uncomfortable; I can tell they'd prefer for me to do go "oh, um, I don't really know I haven't really weighed myself!" then move onto a different subject. But after much reflection, after many years of reading interview after interview with Hollywood actresses telling me they eat peanut butter from the jar for breakfast and don't exercise, after years of me not understanding why I'm not a size eight, why my body doesn't work; why when I eat peanut butter from the jar and I don't exercise I feel like crap; I have decided I would prefer to tell the truth and appear smug than push a damaging lie and seem modest. 

Wanting to be slim is not a crime. Wanting to feel fit and healthy and like you are fully inhabiting and celebrating your body is not a non-feminist act. Lying about it is. It is the lies that pile onto the heap of contributing factors of why women end up seeking to be slim through dangerous, damaging, unmanageable routes.

It is not a grand act of bravery or politics but, for me, being honest if you're on a diet is the first rule of the shared economy of truth telling, of which we all have our part to play. These are the truths that must be told because it could benefit someone else. The things that may be uncomfortable or embarrassing to admit, but you must because you have a responsibility not to perpetuate lies that reinforce unhelpful, useless, self-loathing behaviour in others. 

When Liz Hurley first admitted in an interview that she regularly goes on "watercress soup fasts" and that she goes to bed hungry nearly every night, the world was understandably judgemental. How irresponsible was the general consensus; what an awful thing to encourage. But here's what I took from it: Liz Hurley is not encouraging anyone to go to bed hungry every night, in fact I feel she's doing the total opposite. By highlighting how ridiculous the demands of women in Hollywood are, she's making a depressing, thought-provoking statement. Emma Thompson has also said in interviews that she watches what she eats and exercises regularly for the sake of her job, even though it's boring. Amanda Seyfried once said that all she eats for lunch is spinach and seeds. Spinach and seeds. 

Of course I would prefer to live in a world where women in the public eye don't have to starve themselves to maintain work; of course I would prefer to live in a world where there are as many slim women on screens and in magazines as there are average-sized and large women. I want all women to be able to take any shape they want healthily, without judgement or patrolling from anyone. But as we get there incrementally, with these women's careers at the mercy of their shape, I really appreciate them telling the truth about it. It puts the problem into much starker, colder relief rather than glossing over it with a cheery grin and saying it's "just good genes and a lot of Evian". 

I can count off the top of my head six women I know who are not truthful about how they stay slim. One of them eats five high-protein meals a day, one of them leaves a quarter of food on her plate, the other does regular juice cleanses. All of them lie about their conscious, daily lifestyle choices. I wish they'd be honest about them, because then a lot of women would look at those choices rationally and say: "that's not a life for me" or "that could only ever be a short-term method for me because I like Shepherd's pie on a Sunday too much", rather than spending their lives chasing a hologram of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

Here's another one I think we have an obligation to be honest with each other about: if our parents have bought or helped us buy homes. Every young person I know has, at some point, been gripped by a total and utter despair or despondency over the housing crisis. Nearly all my working life, I've tortured myself with a very real fear that I may never be able to own a property in the city I was born and grew up in. Many of my friends have had deposits, mortgages or whole flats funded by their parents and all of them have the grace to admit to it, which means I never feel a sense of judgement. Very brief skin-tingly jealousy, yes. But judgement, no.

Because telling the truth about your parents' financial assistance with buying a flat goes beyond the duty of checking one's privilege; it's about helping someone not detest their life by pointing out that yours is a result of sheer, dumb fucking luck. It's a very small act of altruism that saves your friend from sitting on the bus after leaving dinner at your house, biting their nails until they bleed while they think how come I don't own a place like that? How come I can only rent a shoe box? Is my salary shit? Is my career going nowhere? Why am I so crap at being an adult? It's a moment of embarrassment for you that will reassure that friend that they're doing just fine; that you, through no fault of your own, were dealt an extremely rare hand of good fortune that they are not entitled to just because you have it. So they better keep working hard and hope one day they have the same. 

Here's another one: couples who meet online and don't tell people: they're not doing anything for the shared truth economy. I am not saying we all have to wander around with megaphones, shouting to any willing listener about the ins and outs of our relationship, but here are the facts that I've seen for myself: a lot of people online date. There is still a strange taboo around online dating. A lot of single people who are holding out to meet people offline are only doing so because the people who meet online are not being truthful about it. These single people are staying single for a very long time searching for the perfect real-life rom-com meet-cute that very rarely happens. If you met your partner online and you tell one of these single people about it, they'll either decide they want to stay offline and feel a huge sense of relief that it's taking a bit longer than everyone else OR they'll create an online dating profile. Only good can happen. 

We are told lies constantly by strangers; whether it's the sponsored post on instagram telling us how to get thicker hair in 30 days or Iain Duncan Smith's pathetic: "series of promises based on a series of possibilities" in post-Brexit Britain. It's our responsibility to be truthful when it matters; particularly to those we care about. We do not need to be oversharers; we don't all have a stake in each others choices. Everyone is entitled to privacy and absolutely everyone is ripe for hypocrisy (it's too hard being human not to be). But it's important we reexamine the lies we tell, hand-pick the few that might be detrimental and start afresh with honesty. Not only will lifting those lies lift potential hurt, it will bring us the greatest sense of relief.

The older I get, the less I perform. My teens and early-mid twenties were a one-woman cabaret Dolly show of aren't-I-fabulous, with my defensive ego bashing away on a tinny piano, hoping that even the total strangers in the cheap seats will adore me. And here's the thing I'm learning with every coat of pretence that I peel off - as I stop lying about how fine I am, how fantastic I am, how unbreakable I am: the truth is sacred. The truth is useful. Telling the truth is the only way we can ever feel true freedom. It's the only way we can find graspable, sustainable happiness. It's the only way we can form real, deep connections with people. And we all owe each other as much of it was can spare. 

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