“I moved into Refuge 5 months ago and although I have had my down days I have definitely had more highs.”

It was August 2013 when I met my perpetrator. He was charming, funny, all the girls fancied him and I was so flattered out of everyone he could of picked, he picked me. In hindsight, the controlling and bullying behaviour started straight away. He said he didn’t want to use condoms so I asked him when he last had a STI check. He was furious. How dare I ask him such a thing. I felt embarrassed and guilty that I had upset him but the reality is – it’s a perfectly good question.

I first tried to leave him in August 2017 but he convinced me I was “insane” and if I left him I would lose custody of our daughter. I even went to the doctors for help over my mental health but I was perfectly fine – I was just a victim of pure manipulation. The doctor didn’t realise this and prescribed me anti-depressants which made me extremely tired all the time and ill.

In December 2018, it had finally hit home I was struggling to handle the controlling abuse. I decided to ring the National Domestic Abuse helpline and spoke to an incredibly kind lady who asked if I had ever thought about going into refuge. I was shocked as I had always associated refuge was for those fleeing physical violence. I said I would think about it. Christmas and New Year had passed and his behaviour escalated to a whole new level and I knew I had to get out. He forced me to perform a sex act on him on Christmas Eve. Having to wake up on Christmas Day and play happy family was a new form of torture that I will never forget. I wasn’t able to keep it together the whole day and when I did cry I had to pretend it was because I was so happy.

I rang the National Domestic Abuse helpline again and asked if they could do a refuge search for me. They gave me four numbers in total, the first number I rang didn’t answer. The second answered and through the tears I asked if they had any spaces for myself and my daughter. Luckily they did and asked about my situation. It was the first time I had told someone everything my perpetrator had put me through, and I mean everything. He was flushing away my contraceptive pill (I forgave him for this because my daughter is incredible and I get to keep the prize now!), he had ruined many friendships, ruined my career, had taken £4,500 off me, he take my mind. The kindness I received back was overwhelming. I arranged to stay at a friends house that night and fled to Refuge the next day.

I remember feeling sick and terrified but three smiling reassuring faces were there to greet my daughter and I. They helped with our luggage and in our room was a hamper filled with beauty products – it looked like Boots had be raided! It was all kind donations from the public so if you’re reading this and have ever donated anything, even if you think it’s really small, thank you. My daughter had a toy box filled with brand new toys and she settled in instantly. I can honestly say I have never experienced kindness like I have received since being in refuge. The other ladies living here were also really welcoming asking if I had a meal I could make from my food parcel and someone made me a cup of tea. My daughter played with the other children while I just processed the strength I found to leave him.

I moved into Refuge 5 months ago and although I have had my down days I have definitely had more highs. I have laughed, danced and found my personality since I’ve been in refuge. My daughter has blossomed and her bad behaviours have stopped. She had found a real love for music and her favourite band is Madness which is brilliant until someone moves in the refuge with House of Fun on full blast!

We still live a relatively normal life. My daughter is in nursery and loves it. I’ve always worked so initially struggled with the mentality of not working but I have completed courses in Cooking and Gardening. I have also participated in Freedom and Power to Change courses which I have found extremely helpful. It’s emotional and eye opening but will help you come to terms with the abuse you’ve suffered and will improve your confidence dramatically.

I’ve moved into my own house and although I am excited to move on – I am also extremely sad to be leaving such a wonderful group of people. The women I live with and the staff have helped me become myself again. Sure it does drive you mad when someone leaves their dirty dishes for a day, but it’s when you realise you all love UB40 and weren’t allowed to listen to them because your ex thought they were shit and you put ‘Baby Come Back’ and dance around like lunatics. It’s when you’re struggling and someone puts the kettle on, its when Love Island comes on and you’re laughing at your new found friend shouting at the TV to go on the Freedom programme, it’s when you explain that although Australia is in Eurovision it’s not in Europe, it’s all the children running around the house playing Hide and Seek that makes the Women’s Refuge. I will forever be thankful the first number I rang didn’t answer.

I have had an abortion.

‘Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one.’

In the world we find ourselves living in today, this is truer than ever. We are a seething, tumultuous, broiling, churning mass of opinions. We have opinions about everything. We feel free to pontificate loudly on every single topic and subject under the sun. And it doesn’t matter a fuck whether we’re correct or not. So it’s important to let your rational voice ring out in the face of so much ignorance. If you are silent, you condone. I do not condone. I will speak out. We may be shouting into the void, but if we all shout together our voices might be heard.

An issue which I have personal experience with and which attracts so much opinions is abortion. Abortion is still very much a taboo subject for women.

I have had an abortion.

Abortion. Even the word makes us tremble. Abortion. Abortion. Abortion. By naming something, do you lessen its power? I believe so, and therefore I will say the word out loud. Almost (but not quite) proud. I will shout it again and again. Abortion. Abortion. ABORTION. It just sounds horrible doesn’t it? It sounds like something to be dreaded, something to fear, something to be avoided at all costs. Since my abortionI’ve realised the real problem with abortion. The problem is not with abortion itself. No, the problem with abortion is that everyone seems to have an opinion on abortion. They freely talk about what they think of abortion and of women who have abortions. Even men have an opinion on abortion. But not many women will come out and say I had an abortion. Why is that?

Did you know that in the UK 1 in 5 pregnancies are terminated? Think about that wee statistic next time you’re sitting with a group of women. Would you have had any inklings? Who do you think would be the one?You look at the obvious candidates. Is it the career lady who is shattering the glass ceiling? Or maybe the stay-at-home mum who has two young children already? What about the party girl? Or it is the woman whose boyfriend doesn’t want to be a dad. It is the woman who doesn’t want to be a mother. It is the woman who suffers mental health problems. It is the woman who can’t afford a child with her boyfriend. It is the woman whose foetus has an incurable condition. Finally, the woman who is most forgotten about, the woman who does not want to be a mother. Abortion survivors are all of those women. The paths that led to our decisions do not matter. Our reasons do not matter. The only thing that matters, and which is common for all women who have abortions, is,for whatever reason, we cannot become mothers. We shouldn’t need to enumerate the many reasons why we need an abortion. Please, just understand that we need one. And please bear in mind that reaching the decision, and going through with the decision, is categorically not an easy process.

So why, when abortion is such an intensely personal decision, does everyone have such strong opinions about it?

It’s such an emotive issue that it’s taken me three years to write the words. I had an abortion. Mine was one of the more common situations. I was 35, I was messed up, I had been dating a messed up dude, we dated for three months, I fell pregnant. It was entirely unwanted and unplanned. I took a pregnancy test on the Saturday and I spoke intensively with the foetus father during the course of the weekend. He was a troubled soul himself and I can’t imagine the process was easy for him either. I wish I had been kinder to him in the aftermath.

So as I dragged myself into work on Monday, I knew that if I was going to have this child I would be having it on my own. I sat at my desk in a haze, readingabout the maternity rights on offer from my employers, researching childcare costs, benefits, working out every possible financial and practical permutation on a scrap of paper.

After doing all of this the thought that I wasn’t having this child began to crystallise. In another life I would have been happy to be pregnant. If it had been 5 years prior, when I was with my long term boyfriend my life could have carried along its expected, clichéd route. But I wasn’t living in that world. I had split up with my long term boyfriend and I had been single ever since, with no‘relationship’ making it over the three month line. I realised that I couldn’t have this child on my own. And to my mind, I would be doing it entirely on my own. This realisation led me to confront an issue that went to the core of what it means to be a woman. I didn’t want to have this child and raise it on my own: I knew that if I really wanted this child, I would bloody well have the child. It wasn’t insurmountable; lots of other women (younger, less financially secure) have done it. There are so many fantastic single mothers out there but I didn’t think I would be one of them. I didn’t want a child thatmuch. If I was honest, having a child had never been my raison d’etre. I knew that by having this child my life would change drastically and it would be so fucking hard. I didn’t feel that it was fair to the child. The world is such a fucked up place that didn‘t need another unwanted child. Yes, I knew that if I’d had the child Iwould more than likely have loved it more than life itself, and in time I may consider having the child as being the best thing I had ever done. But that wasn’t a guarantee. I loved my life the way it was, I loved my job, I wasn’t made to be a stay-at-home mum, struggling and trying to balance life and everything in it. I was so worried that I would grow to resent the child.

So, after having looked at the issue from every angle for perhaps another two days, I decided that I didn’t want to do it. I was going to have an abortion. From that point on, there was no looking back. I had set my course and I was not going to deviate from it.

I was perhaps unusual that I was vocal about my abortion in the immediate aftermath. I didn’t shy away from telling people that I’d had one. At that point I wasn’t ashamed about my decision. I was almost proud of myself for making the choice that I did. I knew that I hadmade the right decision for the right reasons. Everyone I told about my abortion was (to my face anyway), understanding and compassionate. I was vocally pro-choice about the issue on social media and wouldn’t shy away from getting involved in debates on Facebook. I never actually came out and said the words until recently.

I have now come to believe that abortion is the last taboo for women. I didn’t know who to turn to for help or to vent to when I was trying to make a decision. I was too frightened to tell people I was pregnant and was considering an abortion. I needed advice. I needed help. I needed to talk. But I came to the decision on my own. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise that on telling my closest friends about my abortion a few months after the event, I was gobsmacked to find out that I knew women who had experiences like I had. But because I’d kept my mouth zipped shut I didn’t know they were there.

And this is why we need to talk about abortion. For an issue which is going to personally affect one in five women in the UK, we are remarkably silent when it comes to talking about abortion. We are too afraid to speak out. We are too ashamed to admit that we had an abortion. We don’t know how people will react. Will they understand us? Or will they attack us? We cannot face getting embroiled in upsetting, traumatic discussions in which we desperately try to justify our reasons for aborting. Because our reasons, they are legion and they do not need to be justified.

So we just don’t talk about abortion.

We don’t own our abortions.

We don’t admit that we have had an abortion.

We take the days off work, we have the procedure, we go back to work. We don’t talk about it. We try and forget about it. We find that we can’t.

So, why are we so ashamed of abortion? Is it because in a patriarchal society women, essentially, are viewed solely as baby makers? Women are distilled down to our bare essential purpose of being put on this earth purely to prolong human existence. Is it because in such a patriarchal society it is anathema for a woman to say I can’t have this baby. I don’t want to be a mother. And admitting that you do not want to be a mother is the worst thing a woman can say. It utterly negates what it means to be a woman. You are decrying and denigrating your femininity, your own fucking raison d’etre.

I was reminded of the episode of Sex and the City, when Miranda decided to have an abortion. Well, colour me shocked to learn that Carrie terminated a pregnancy when she was 22, and that she never told the ‘foetus father’ about the pregnancy. For the record, this is not something I agree with. In the majority of more typical, normal, situations (where there is no abuse or anything equally horrendous), I would always advocate telling the father. Aye he might decide he wants nowt to do with it, as my foetus father did. But please do give him the knowledge. It’s up to him what he does with it. And it will let you come to a firm, independent decision for yourself and your foetus.

Of course Miranda bottled it and eventually gave birth to her bouncing baby.

Even SATC’s Samantha was not much of a role model to hang your hat on. Of course the sexually liberated, feminist, outspoken, older character is going to agree with abortion. Remember her wittily singing out the infamous words:

It’s less than a desirable situation, but it happens. We’ve all been there. I’ve had two!”

While this is an admirable point of view and goes some way to demystifying abortion, it also somewhatoversimplifies the issue.

And that’s the problem with abortion. It is an issue that is multi-faceted, like a corrupt diamond or a flawed emerald.

Women need to open a dialogue on abortion. We need to be able to say the word abortion without cringing into our skins. We need to be able to reclaim it and strip it off its potency. We need to shine a light on it and illuminate it. We need to demystify the subject. We need to have open discussions around it. Until we do, women will constantly struggle with making possibly the hardest decision they will ever have to make. And women will continue to needlessly suffer after having had an abortion.

Women are vilified for having abortions, both by other women and by men. This is just wrong. This must stop. Abortion survivors should not be treated the way society treats them.

I recently found out exactly how other women reacted to the mention of abortion. I was a member of a beauty group on Facebook. Now we all know the internet can contain the absolute dregs of society (refer back to ‘comments’ sections I mentioned earlier) but this group wasn’t like that (although the Admin and Owner are.. well, that’s for another essay). There were over 10,000 members, largely female and members often posted about their personal issues for others to support them and share kind, supportive words with them. So I decided to test the waters. I posted a very succinct statement to the effect that I had had an abortion and briefly discussing the impact it had had on my mental health. So, with expectations of empathy and understanding what I did not expect was for Admin to have to pull my post within two hours. It was deleted sofast that I didn’t even have a chance to read the comments. From what I did read, a lot of commentswere disgusting and aimed at me personally. One comment I did see was from a lady who accused me of being proud of killing my baby. Others were more supportive and I was proud of the ladies who came out and owned their own abortions.

So if you learn something from my words, let it be this. If a woman tells you that she has had an abortion, DO NOT PITCH IN WITH YOUR OPINION. If you haven’t had an abortion, you are simply not entitled to have an opinion.  And Men with Opinions on Abortion? Jog on motherfuckers. Men can have opinions on abortion, but as with the ladies, ONLY if they have personal experience of abortion. So when a woman says she is an abortion survivor, listen to her. Try and understand her. Put yourself in her shoes and walk a few yards. Ask her questions by all means because she may want to talk it through and, in doing so, remind herself that she made the right decision. Do not make cruel comments. You wouldn’t dream of telling a woman who had miscarried that she had murdered her baby, would you? Or what about those 1,000 women a year who abort because of extreme morning sickness? Are they babykillers? People seem to think that just because a woman has had an abortion, she is an unfeeling, uncaring, cold hearted cunt. You can therefore say anything to her, call her the most hurtful names, decry her feminity and it won’t hurt her. She is a monster, after all. Because only a monster would kill her own child.

I call bullshit.

I have grieved so hard for my lost child. I will always grieve for my lost child. Take it from me, you can guarantee that if a woman has had an abortion, she is hurting. She might hurt for a short while or a long time, but she will most definitely experience one of the worst hurts a woman can experience. One comment I hear again and again from abortion survivors is “It haunts me”. And it does. I will remember every estimated birthday. I will always think my baby would be how many years old today. I will look at my niece as she grows and a tiny voice in the back of my mind will always wonder would my baby have been like this? Just because a woman decides to have an abortion does not mean that she is not wrecking herself for making the decision. People don’t even think about that before they open their mouths and let their opinions fly free.

I do not and will not regret having my abortion. I doregret taking so long to get help to deal with my mental health and the aftershocks, and I also regret not having spoken out before undergoing the procedure. I regret not haven taken a bit more time to let the dust settle before having a practical conversation with my parents about it. I wish I had asked for help from people with experience with abortion before I finalised my decision. I wish I’d spoken to more women who had walked where I was walking, who felt how I felt, who know what was going on in my fucking head. I really wanted to talk about the consequences of the decision with other survivors.

This is both a good time and a bad time to be a woman. The world is definitely changing, and I hope for the better. I fervently hope that my niece will grow up in a better world. I feel hopeful that she will. Change is definitely afoot. Women are shattering the glass ceiling in every industry. We know how men are paid more than us for doing the same job as us. We will not tolerate harassment, hate speak, misogyny, bullying or anything that infringes our rights and equality which our predecessors sweated blood and tears to get for us. We are getting there.

But we do need to look at the issue of abortion. It is the Last Taboo. We need to think about how it can be positively represented in popular culture. We need to think about how to best help women who are struggling with abortion, either before an abortion or after an abortion. We need to think about how we can remove the stigma and the shame associated with abortion, as we have done with suicide.

Don’t push abortion survivors back into the shadows. Don’t leave us to lick our wounds in the dark. Let us talk. Let us work it out. Don’t abuse us for making a decision we hope you’ll never have to make. Stop hating on abortion survivors.

And for all those women like me, it’s time that you rose from the ashes like the mother fucking phoenix you are. Soar high my ladies, soar fucking high.

The beginning of June can only mean one thing: Love Island.

I have had various discussions during the build up with my friends. To watch or not to…
Last year, the answer was simple: Yes. But now, I’m not so sure. What changed my mind? After all it’s a great antidote to a dull day in the office. TV where you can escape reality and watch without a worry. Or so we thought.

There had been some anticipation of plus size models and a more ’diverse’ group of entering the villa this year, so when I saw ITV had released the line up, I excitedly went to investigate. Scrolling through bright candy coloured images, I saw 12 gorgeous human beings… from scientist to surfer. But not one person with a visible difference.

18% of people self-identify as having a visible difference such as a mark, scar or condition*(me being one of them- I have Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome). Which means, that there should be at least one person on Love Island representing this demographic.

Why do people who look ‘different’ need to be represented? 

1 in 3 people feel depressed, sad or anxious as a result of having a visible difference*

I believe that a contributing factor to this is how people are portrayed in the media.

Adverts show a very narrow perspective of beauty and we are under constant pressure to look like what their idea of ‘perfect’ is. This in turn can influence our happiness: we experience low confidence and self esteem , as our bodies do not match what we see in the media; suggesting that we are simply not good enough.

People with visible differences are putting up barriers because they assume that they wouldn’t make the cut. I would never apply to go on Love Island purely because I don’t think they would want someone like me, who has a swollen foot and is a size 12/14. We aren’t putting ourselves in situations to gain opportunities because of our insecurities about looking different.

What can we do to change this?

I am very proud to be a Campaigner for the charity Changing Faces and we want more brands to sign our Pledge To Be Seen and commit to better representing people with a visible difference.

Love Island attracts millions of viewers, with the average amount being 3.6 million.

img_2466
My friend Heather and I bumped into Love Island winner Kem Catinay in Ibiza!

Over half a million people with a visible difference will be tuning in on Monday to watch a new group of singletons entering the villa. Amongst the viewers will be many teenagers.

For me, I was most self-conscious when I was in my teens. I never felt good enough and I was constantly comparing my body to what I saw in magazines, films and reality TV.

At times, I was very sad and wished I would wake up one day and for my KTS leg to have miraculously shrunk to the same size and colour of my left.

If only I had a public figure to look up to who had a visible difference! This person could be a Love Island contestant. I know I would’ve felt a bit more comfortable with my body, knowing there are other people with visible differences who are successful.

Instead, it’s taken me years of anti depressants, therapy and counselling to help me on my journey of accepting my visible difference.

On the plus side, I feel a lot better about my body and how it looks and I am comfortable enough to show my leg in public: I’m not hiding it anymore!

*Statistics are taken from the Changing Faces report: My Visible Difference.

An open letter to the producers of Love Island.

To the producers of hit TV show Love Island,

Love Island is a hit TV show in the UK. They’ve just started filming the 5th series which is expected to start at the beginning of June.

I’ve actually not even watched one episode but I’ve heard plenty of stories and read some of the tragedies associated to the show which are no coincidence, let me tell you.

Even the way the team at ITV2 describe the programme demonstrates their lack of care or regard to the wellbeing of their contestants…

Here’s an excerpt from a teaser for the next series, “Another batch of boys and girls looking for love – and a few million Instagram followers – will be jetting into Majorca next summer for months of sticking it on and mugging off in the hope of winning a huge cash prize (and true love, of course).”

The problem with Love Island is that young men and women apply to the programme not necessarily looking for love but searching for fame and a career and what worries me is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of preparation OR after care to the contestants. Contestants leave a secluded house with a MASSIVE following and a tiny window with which to grab the opportunity to suddenly become an entrepreneur. You better believe how tiny that window of opportunity it.

The show provides such a lack of after care to their contestants that we’ve seen two suicides in the last 2 years. On the 15th March this year, former contestant Mike Thallassitis completed suicide by hanging and on the 20th June 2018, we lost former contestant Sophie Gradon too followed closely by her boyfriend Aaron.

2017 Islander Dom Lever called for more thorough after-show care for the cast, tweeting: “You get a psychological evaluation before and after you go on the show but hands down once you are done on the show you don’t get any support unless you’re number one.”

I want to know specifically what measures ITV2 are going to take in order to ensure the mental wellbeing of the new contestants. We simply CANNOT lose more young lives due to poor preparation / psychological protocol.

Thanks,

Mandy

I never called it bulimia… but deep down, I knew it wasn’t a good thing.

Most days, I feel optimistic as I scroll through my social media. I follow people of all sizes, shapes and gender. I see positive phrases, bold messages, incredible diversity. I see empowerment.

 

Of course, there is the flip side. I follow news outlets and suchlike, and I rage in anguish as I see reports on period poverty, frighteningly common anti-abortion groups, the pay gap. But those are topics to save for another day. Today I’m going to talk about body image, about mental health and about eating disorders.

 

As a child and then teenager growing up in the ‘90s and ’00s, I was living in a world obsessed with body image and the suppression of women with the ‘beauty myth’. Celebrities were mostly thin, their bodies plastered across magazines (and yes, not much has changed these days in that respect). Models lacked diversity – I can remember reading a Teen Vogue article shaming the limited range of body types in fashion publications, yet the fashion pages following that piece only showcased stick thin models. Britney danced on my television in crop tops, with a slim stomach that we all desired; plastic surgery was on the rise and everyone wanted a boob job; fad diets came thick and fast. The constant blast of the media and the social expectation of women was suffocating. I felt as though I needed to conform to be accepted, that thinness would be my route to success.

 

For years, I covered up my problem. I never called it bulimia, but deep down I knew it wasn’t a good thing. It was called ‘just being sick’ or ‘I’ve been a bit ill again’ – which to me meant I’d stuck my fingers down my throat, but to others it just meant I was perhaps feeling a little poorly. It was my cry for help, saying those words, but a rather masked one. How was anyone meant to decipher that there was another level to what I had said?

 

It started during a summer break whilst I was at university. Eating disorders were surprisingly common at my holiday job and it wasn’t long before I was in a loo at a club with a girl from work, being shown how easy it was to make yourself vomit. Bulimia was a convenient way to ‘have it all’ – I was literally having my cake, eating it and then watching myself flush it down the toilet later. It was almost glamorous; I had read somewhere that Princess Diana had had it. I was following in the footsteps of a royal! Surely that was something that was commendable?

 

In the beginning, it felt like it was something I could control, that I had power over. However my initial thoughts on this ‘glam’ disorder were quickly replaced with a feeling of helplessness. I was governed by the binge and purge cycle. It was a coping mechanism. I would spend the day being extremely healthy but then run to the nearest Tesco and hone in on all the bad things I would have restricted myself from earlier on: doughnuts, trifle, giant bars of chocolate, cakes dripping with icing and jam. The brief elation I would feel would be rapidly overtaken by a feeling of uncomfortable fullness, quickly veering on to hellish nauseousness and then followed by a swift run to the toilet to rid myself of all the calories I had stuffed in my mouth. My throat would be bruised and scraped from the force of my fingers, my teeth tingling from the surge of stomach acid (the cause of many a filling) and my belly flipping over and over as it tried to work out what was going on. I would then sit in my room as my mood sank lower and lower and cry my eyes red raw, putting frozen peas on my throat in an attempt to shrink my swollen glands, my face resembling that of my hamster’s when she’d snaffled all of the food in her bowl away in her cheek pouches.

 

I know the above can sound a little graphic, and also quite disgusting. But that’s the reason I’m writing it, to remind myself and to show you that it is just that. It is disgusting. It ravages your throat, it messes up your periods, it makes you anxious, it makes social situations involving food an absolute nightmare to endure, it leaves you feeling constantly tired and low… The list goes on. But remember, you’re not disgusting. The disorder is telling you that you are. It’s making you embarrassed to speak out. It’s making you secretive and sly. Give it a whack and tell it you’re done with that crap.

 

Although having an eating disorder revolves around food and body image, it is not the disorder that is the cause. It is just a symptom. I am now aware that I have body dysmorphia; the size I see in the mirror on a good day is totally distorted by what I see on a bad day. I am now also aware that the bulimia is triggered by different emotions and situations – stress, anxiety, rejection.

 

I hit true rock-bottom just under a year ago. My job was more stressful than it should have been, my relationship was breaking and I felt as if I had nowhere to turn. It was like Iwas wading through thick mud and was never going to reach the grass on the other side. Then I saw something online about forgiving yourself when you relapse. A tiny phrase that for some reason, that day, struck a chord in my head. By that point, I was now eight years down the line from the toilet-in-a-club scene. I was pretty sick and tired. Something snapped. I wanted to reclaim my body and my mind. I only started seeking formal help for my condition less than a year ago. I now take anti-depressants, which make me feel a little less like my anxiety is spiralling out of control, and I regularly see a counsellor who is allowing me to better understand myself and what is causing my eating disorder.

 

Don’t let the world get you down. The shiny, happy world of social media is not always what it seems; these people have been photoshopped and touched up, they have personal trainers and they’re definitely not using that flat tummy tea they’re flaunting in their #ads. They have down days too but they’ve chosen not to post a picture of them bawling their eyes out on their Instagram story to keep their fake image intact. That’s absolute rubbish though and totally unrealistic. Choose to follow body positive role models, real-life people that post on good and bad days, people with a cause, people that give you hope, inspire and empower you. Also follow accounts that show you endless pictures of small furry animals, because that never hurts.

 

Although the NHS mental health services are somewhat under strain, there is still support out there and public perception is changing. It is now recognised that it is vital to speak about mental health (thank you to countless number of celebs and public personalities that have taken it upon themselves to address this), to discuss problems, to put health first.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to discuss my problem and I hope that this empowers others to speak about it too. Not only that, but that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that things will get better. Seek help, speak up and speak out, and find the tools that allow you to empower yourself to be the best you can be, do not let anyone or anything suppress you. Take back control and don’t let a disorder dictate your life for you.

Confessions of an ex-stripper who’s not ashamed any more.

It was summer 2009. I was nearing the end of my studies in Musical Theatre and I REALLY needed a job. I had a brief stint doing some bar shifts but the work was too sporadic, and I couldn’t depend on the income. I was aimlessly scrolling online one day, and I saw an advert seeking ‘dancers’ in a city centre venue in Glasgow and it said there was loads of money to be made!

As I’d been studying Musical Theatre, I was curious about the performing aspect and decided it was worth a bash if this claim of uncapped earnings was true. I sent an email with zero expectations and was offered an ‘audition’ almost immediately. My boyfriend at the time drove me all the way from the Borders where my family and he lived up to Glasgow in time for my audition. I knew it was ‘exotic dancing’ but I didn’t have a clue what to wear and was deeply apprehensive about what to expect.

I had done a wee bit of research and bought a black and pink matching set from Primark of all places. I shoved it in my bag, kept the potential earnings at the forefront of my mind and just decided to drop any pre-conceptions I had and give it my best.

When I arrived, I had butterflies in my stomach. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. The club was very fancy. Lots of bright lights and a big stage and many powerful women strutting around. I was introduced to the house mum Shelley (who has since appeared on Channel 4’s programme ‘strippers’) and she really lives up to the name.

From the outset, she explained in a caring mum-like manner what I could expect from the job and introduced me to a lovely dancer who was about to start her shift called Amy-Lee. Amy-Lee said she would show me how to do the job and then I could decide whether it was for me or not. At the time, I had just turned 19 and Amy-Lee was 23. I remember pondering how she had so much confidence and finesse. She was articulate, self-assured and clearly a very talented dancer.

She took me into a private booth and drew the curtains. She then proceeded to give me a dance. She didn’t come too close to me and had clearly choreographed her moves. I then felt liberated to give it a go myself, so I gave her a dance. It was clear to both of us I was extremely nervous, and I didn’t have a clue, so she decided to choreograph me a routine. This would then literally become what I’d do every single time.

After I gave Amy-Lee a dance, I felt strangely powerful and liberated. I felt proud of my body and empowered. I decided that this was a job I could give a good shot. And so, I started. I would work Friday and Saturday nights as the other dancers told me these are the busier nights. I remember arriving at the dressing room an hour prior to the shift beginning and being surrounded by hugely confident women who seemed to know it all. I didn’t have the big fancy clear stripper heels and I certainly didn’t realise it was standard to wear stockings! Thankfully for me, a very kind ‘older lady’ (says she at 29 now) who was 28 and working that night saw the uncertainty in my eyes and said if I give her £5, she would nip to Asda and get me some bits and bobs. What was nice about this was, the next time her and I were on shift together, she produced a pair of fishnet stockings from George at Asda! I think that after this, I grew very fond of Ashley. She’d noticed my uncertainty and opted to help me out with what now seem like basics! But without her friendly gestures, I don’t know that I’d have had the guts to stick at it.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind! I certainly made money. I was living a life I could only have dreamt about. Conversations of depth with men and women from all walks of life who wanted to PAY for my company. I started to enjoy the nocturnal life filled with sassy outfits and cheap champagne behind the curtain.

Once I found my flow with the job which I didn’t know if I’d like or not, I continued to work in different clubs. Never in my life did I imagine that working 10 hours per week in a job I enjoyed could afford me such a lavish lifestyle. I even had a stint in London! I met some hugely interesting and dynamic women throughout this time. Lawyers, young mums, students, travellers… all just trying to make their way. From the age of 19-21 I really learnt a lot about humans. Stripping isn’t an easy job. It required communication skills, sass, sales, marketing, negotiations… people write us off as stupid or say that we are doing it because we must. 90% of the time, I can tell you that this isn’t the case.

Fast forward to April 2011, I met someone. The man of my dreams. Not in the dancing capacity although I was totally open and honest with him about the job I’d been doing and how much I enjoyed it. He expressed his feelings about the job and said that he wouldn’t be OK with me doing this job if we were to become serious, so I quit, and I hung up my strappy clear platforms until March 2017. My time away from the pole and behind the curtain showed me that when dancing ISN’T an option, I am capable of some fantastic things ‘in real life’. I put it like this because when I’m in the club, I’m in character. I am an actress. Also, dancing can’t last forever and there isn’t much which can replicate the income. Without the option to dance, I had to go study again and apply for ‘proper’ office jobs which weren’t dependant on my looks or ability to move.

In this time, I had some amazing jobs which I’m very proud of. I worked for a large media house and various marketing agencies and felt a new kind of respect I hadn’t felt before. People were looking at me differently and instead of taking first impressions from my body or outfit, those first impressions were drawn from my ideas, my mind and what I had to offer creatively. This new-found respect from peers in a different setting was liberating.

Anyway, fast forward a few years and include trying to settle down… I ended up without my husband who was my rock and my constant and all on my own again. I needed money, and quick. So, I decided to search for my nearest club, dust off the old strappy clear platforms and go work a random Thursday night. It’s March 2017 now and it’s been 6 years since I performed and took my clothes off for money, but I remember feeling so empowered the first night I set foot back in a strip club. I’d missed the lights, the tacky old dressing rooms where some of the lights are broken and the stories of other dancers unfolding while we shared curling tongs, prayed for a busy night and talked about life.

I’d missed this. I’d missed the girls, the chat, the stage names, the costumes and the hustle. I’d missed having a laugh with the girls on a quiet night reminiscing about the busier times.

I haven’t danced now since August 2018 because I haven’t needed to. But that doesn’t mean I don’t WANT to now and again. Writing and my events and work around empowering women to own their truth provides me with just enough money and a busy enough schedule that I just don’t need to. But I don’t think my love for it will ever die. I like the uncertainty of a night’s earnings. The hustle. The ability to be someone else for the night. You can be whoever you want!

Over the past year or so, I’ve become very actively involved in feminism and have learnt a huge amount on the subject area from books, the bloody internet and other women! It is so broad and there are many subgroups within it. As with everything, there are tiny pockets of feminism which, in my opinion, are not inclusive and toxic.

Unfortunately, during my time researching, I have become aware of a subgroup called SWERF. This stands for Sex worker exclusionary radical feminism. Just to set the record straight, I have only and would only ever sell entertainment / dancing in exchange for money. Never sex. That’s something entirely different to me. I don’t, however, feel it’s up to me to judge others who CHOOSE to do this. Of course, there are outliers, like with everything. There are a small number of women who are in sex work against their will or because their caught up in a dark cycle of addiction where getting their next hit depends on making money ‘on the game’. But this number is far lower than the group of SWERF’s would have you believe. SWERF is characterised by hostility to the third wave of feminism. The main objection SWERF’s have against sex work seems to be the sexual objectification and violence that occurs towards women in the sex work and pornography industries. Predictably, they go overboard and are abusive towards sex workers who CHOOSE their profession freely, as opposed to because of human trafficking. This is bullying and oppression and is often referred to as whorephobia.

Anyway, I guess my point in sharing this is that I want to have the opportunity to be more open about my past experiences and I want to make it clear that MY feminism is inclusive of those who choose to have autonomy over their bodies and of those who choose sex work freely as a profession.

I will always continue to do what I can for organisations who fight against human trafficking and who provide services to women who have encountered sexual harassment, particularly in these settings. But what I won’t do, is exclude people from a conversation when their voice is equal.

This article is for Shelley, Annabelle, Liberty, Robyn, Jamie-Leigh, Maria, Jacqui, Ashleigh, Jessica, Scarlett, Tina and the bouncer who worked the club with me in New York City: you know who you are. It’s also for any individual who has worked in the industry and felt ashamed of their job or their choices. Your work is work. And I’m proud to live in a country which values the rights of sex workers. Glasgow girl Megara Furie has just facilitated the first union for sex workers, and this is something which makes me hugely proud.

Let’s feel less uncomfortable having unusual conversations and let’s aim to include everyone in all conversations.

Mandy @ TEWP x

 

My reasons to stay alive.

Over the last few days and possibly weeks, I’ve been having a pretty massive existential crisis. My mental health has been impacted massively and during what has been a relatively smooth recovery process since March last year, I’ve found myself stumbling on a massive hurdle. A hurdle so big I don’t even know if it will be possibly to conquer. Even with adequate support.

It all came to a head on Tuesday night. I took myself to a book launch but prior to the book launch, I found my mental health becoming increasingly worse. Prior to the book launch event, I just remember floating around the streets of Glasgow, totally dissociated for hours and even having thoughts where I’d look at a building and think “Wow, how did we even think to build this” or I’d be looking at others walking around and asking myself “Why is no one panicking because one day, they too are going to die. They’re all mad.”

I literally felt like I was starting to lose my mind.

Pair this with the fact I’d been drinking to excess pretty much every day for 14-15 days prior to this day – I wasn’t in a good place.

Anyway, as the night progressed and the book launch drew to a close, I found myself becoming increasingly worse and took myself to a wee bar I like called The Variety Bar on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. I have a bit of a penchant for Arr deco so it’s always been a favourite haunt of mine.

The last thing I remember vividly is looking out of the window while drinking my vodka and Diet Coke and tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt helpless, scared, lonely and utterly pointless. I then remember one of the bar men coming over to console me followed loosely by my best friend arriving, an ambulance, the police and then the next thing I knew, I was in hospital.

I’ll never forget the kindness of my friends and family on Tuesday night who all rallied round to locate me, rescue me and protect me. Thank you. I was a danger to myself and I still probably am.

I’ve been under the watchful eyes of close friends and family ever since and it’ll be that way for the forseeable future as I don’t think I’ve ever felt in such a dark place as I do now. I don’t see this fog lifting any time soon.

As such, I thought that, for my own benefit more than anyone else’s, I’d compile a list of reasons to stay alive while I still feel in this suicidal and fragile state of mind.

My reasons to stay alive:

My Mum – thank you for bringing me into existence and for your CONSTANT support

My siblings

My Niece and Nephew

Martyn and Barbara

Fresh sheets in a cosy house

Christmas

Jane

Friends – near and far

Dancing

Food

LOVE.

These are just a few that sprang to mind straight away. Please feel free to write your own if you feel inspired to do so!

Mandy @ TEWP x