‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ by Susie Orbach- A Review

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this book. It has been sat on my shelf for a good 6+ months. I bought it at the same time I bought The Beauty Myth, but didn’t manage to get past the first few chapters until the end of last month. The book addresses compulsive eating, examining the causes that Orbach argues originate in our society. The book suggests that obesity caused by compulsive eating has roots in the socialization of women, before moving on to a self-help section about how to tackle these issues. I had very mixed feelings about this book, and felt parts of it were outdated (it was written in 1978…), and some of the arguments flawed- which I’ll talk about later in the review. Yep, I definitely have very mixed feelings on this one…

To begin with: what does Orbach argue?

Orbach argues that women within our society are expected to automatically take on the role of care-giver within a home, even if they have a career outside of it, when they become a mother. Part of the role of care-giver is providing food, and seeing the rest of the family is fed. This can place strain on the relationship of the mother with the children, in particular with daughters, due to a mixture of feeling they must meet this role of caregiver, but also resenting it. On one hand, the mother wishes the daughter to be like her; she wants to bring her up with morals, see she has opportunities etc.  On another level, the mother knows that the daughter will in all likelihood become a care-giver like herself, and so must be prepared for a life of not placing emphasis on her own needs, but on the needs of others. This ambivalent relationship can often be embodied in food.  In learning to be a giver and not a taker, Orbach suggests, women also learn to supress anger and resentment- it isn’t “giving” or “caring” or “feminine” behaviour according to society. This resentment then can often be expressed in eating compulsively, to in effect ignore the feeling of anger/resentment, and cram it down with food. Thus, a young female learns quickly that food is a substitute for emotions: you can use it to show that you care, and you can use it to cram emotions further down inside of you. Continue reading

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Human’s of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

wp-1483540933660.jpgIf you read my Monthly Favourites, then you may recall this from December. It was a Christmas present I was dying to get my hands on, and have wanted for about a year now- and it was worth the wait.

Humans of New York is a blog, and an IG account, and there’s also another book- all about the inhabitants of NYC. If you haven’t heard of it before now, then you’ve been living under a rock. Brandon Stanton, the mastermind-photographer behind it all, walks the streets of the city, taking pictures and asking people’s stories. In the previous book (simply, Humans of New York), these stories were often confined to just one line. On the blog though, there can be paragraphs and paragraphs. So it wasn’t surprising when this book emerged.

New York already had a magical feel to it for me before HONY, but now I need to visit it all the more. Stanton’s photographs and the stories behind them are in equal parts beautiful and heart-breaking. They come from all over New York City, from all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds…and it’s astonishing how the book makes you realise each individual who walks this earth has a life as intricate as your own. The arrangement of the photographs in this edition also gives you some interesting juxtapositions to mull over; as a poetry student layout and order is extremely important to me, and so I appreciated the effort that had gone into this.

I’ll put it this way: no one does work like this as Stanton can. I recently saw a book by another photographer in Waterstones, with a similar vision but who had set the collection in London. It didn’t have the same magic on first glance. Maybe I’ll return to it, but the HONY collections have completely stolen my heart.

 

STRONG, by Zanna Van Dijk

wp-1483535583061.jpgIf you follow me over on Instagram (link to the right), then you probably saw that I got very excited about finally getting my hands on this book. Well, I was right to get excited. I don’t often go in for health and fitness books by YouTubers and IG personalities- even the ones by PTs can be a little…well, crap. One book I bought by an IG star kept the recommended diet plan incredibly low in carbs- except the one carb rich post workout meal. Needless to say, it didn’t work for me. Though I tortured myself trying to keep up with it and give it a fair go, it simply wasn’t worth it. I turn into a right arsehole without steady low GI carb consumption. Now, bear that in mind when I discuss this book; if I compare that to this, we’ll see that Zanna (thank god) does things very differently…

The book is hefty, and divided into ‘Move’ ‘Nourish’ and ‘Thrive’ (signalling this was off to a good start already). For simplicity I’ll be looking at each section, but as for things that apply to STRONG as a whole (yes I WILL be capitalising that all the way through, because it deserves it), the photography is beautiful and cleanly laid out. When used for the exercise section you can see exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It’s also incredibly easy to read. Any fans of Zanna’s YT channel (I’ll leave all links to her social media at the bottom of the page), you can pretty much hear her voice as you read it. The phrase “quite frankly” was when I realised this was happening, as it comes before her beloved rants about lack of balance on YT. I have to say, “the badger’s nadgers” has become a favourite after reading this. The tone is always light hearted and encouraging, not pushy or intimidating. The whole book also has a massive emphasis on sustainability in the long term. It doesn’t advocate cutting back all of your food, and upping all of your exercise at once (it doesn’t advocate scrimping on food, full stop). More importantly, it doesn’t advocate cutting back on life, or making fitness your entire life. Coming from a place where this has been an issue for me, I cant put into words how refreshing that was. I feel like this removes a lot of the risks you run with buying health and fitness books; Zanna is giving good, solid advice here. She isn’t telling you to go on a thinly veiled crash diet as I felt the aforementioned book did.

Now, down to the sections…

MOVE

  • As I read STRONG I underlined, starred, and also “!!” where something I had been doing for months was actually wrong. For example: doing my cardio before my weights in a combined session. I swapped them around, hey presto- suddenly I am able to lift more, simply because I am not knackered. I am by no means a beginner, but no one had ever taken the time to explain this to me. If you are a beginner, this is an excellent starting point, but even as a more advanced fitness fan, it is 100% worth a read.
  • Here we learn the importance of the mind-muscle connection; this has helped me no end.
  • All the words surrounding sets (e.g. straight, drop, giant…) are explained, as are other weight lifting terms. As a clearly female weight lifting fan, again, this is something no one has ever explained to me, thinking I “didn’t need the technical details”. And I didn’t know to look for them, because I didn’t know they frigging existed. Now, I do.
  • All the muscle groups (major ones) are pointed out in a diagram, and are easy to identify. Useful for beginners in particular.
  • There is a huge section of exercises and several workouts, then a section on putting together your own workouts. Zanna does encourage the reader to go an learn further moves through research, but this book already gives any reader the tools they need for quite some time, rather than trying to pull us into buying another book to top up our selection of workouts. This actually means I am way more inclined to buy another of her books, should one be written (hint hint Zanna).
  • The book also explains how to step it up in various ways and how to measure progress other than the scale, something particularly useful if you’re looking to build muscle.

Continue reading

In Order To Live, by Yeonmi Park- A Review

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Prefacing a review with a sentence telling you that this should be the very next book you read, pretty much gives away how this review is going to go- but to be honest the more people who read this book, the better.

Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea, and the beginning of her autobiography details life in the secretive nation. For someone who has never read anything from the point of view of someone living under the Kim regime, this was incredibly eye-opening. It is one thing to hear about conditions in North Korea from the British media; it is obviously another to hear about it from someone who has lived there.

Yeonmi speaks of her parents trading on the black market in order to keep herself and her sister, Eunmi, alive. Despite this, during most of her memories their family rarely had enough to eat, or enough money to heat their home. As the situation grew worse for Yeonmi, her sister, and her parents, they began to consider escaping North Korea. Eunmi left before the rest of her family, and Yeonmi did not see her sister again for several years. Herself and her mother believed Eunmi to have escaped to China, and so when they had the chance they followed, having to leave her father behind. Little did they know that they had been tricked by human traffickers.

The thought that a place exists where the people believe their leaders can control the weather with their mind, where there is never enough food, or electricity, where they are taught to instinctively hate “enemy” nations, where fairytales do not exist and are replaced by government political books, where it is claimed by those in power all are equal- when they are clearly not…it was sickening to read. This book is not just a story of survival, but of having to un-learn everything you thought you knew. This book is real life, and what Yeonmi describes is happening right now. The thing I was most hit by, alongside Yeonmi’s determination, intelligence, and courage, was how she captures that many people are neither good nor bad. They are a mix. And they are trying to survive. Until placed into situations such as Yeonmi has been, none of us know exactly what we are capable of.

I do not want to tell you any more of Yeonmi’s story in this review. I want you to read the book, and experience the mix of horror and admiration I experienced. It is possibly one of the best books I have read this year. When I read, I fold corners of pages and mark the paper when something really stands out to me; this book no longer closes properly for all of the folded corners and markers I have placed in there. Writing this book must have taken a phenomenal amount of courage, and I feel as many people as possible should read it. Yeonmi is a woman who has fought for her right to do things as simple as thinking her own thoughts, listen music, attend school, and speak freely in her own home.  Things most of us take for granted.

 

 

 

‘Sleep’ by Nick Littlehales: Book Review

wp-1482148488344.jpgIt’s been a long time since I wrote a book review, and though I have read an awful lot of books they’ve pretty much all been university reading. I could perhaps write you all some reviews of the more interesting texts, because I’ve been looking at a lot of crime fiction- but for today we’re looking at something which more of you may find helpful: sleep.

I bought this book in September, when I had just returned to university and was struggling to sleep. Third year is a massive jump up from second year, and I also had a myriad of little things causing me small amounts of stress (e.g. flatmates who don’t know how to tidy up after themselves, trying to maintain a social life, job hunting for when I graduate, deciding what I actually wanted to do when I graduate etc.). Lack of sleep was not helping in the slightest.

For as long as I can remember I have been told that 8 hours is the minimum amount of sleep I should have been getting each night. 10 was the best. So here I was trying to get 8 hours sleep, and then waking up even less awake than when I went to bed. I tend to wake up at 6am naturally, and I still was, but was struggling to function because my body didn’t  seem to understand that we had gotten a night of very poor quality sleep.

This book did provide me with some tips on how to adjust my sleep, and much as there were some things I refused to implement or simply couldn’t, overall it was a useful and informative read. Lets take a look at the things I took away from this, and the things I wasn’t so eager to try out…

 

The best points I took away:

  1. Which side of the bed I should be sleeping on
  2. What position is actually the best to sleep in and why (Nick gives reasons for everything, which I love; writers who expect me to accept what they say blindly are never among my favourites)
  3. I don’t need 8 hours sleep a night: I personally only need around 7 hours of good quality sleep
  4. Constant wake times are a god send hat I stick to (though I discuss this in the things I “haven’t” implemented/ have adjusted to suit me as well…)
  5. I can go to bed later than I was, 10:00/10:30pm instead of 9:00pm, and get a better night’s sleep, as the quality of my sleep is better
  6. We actually sleep in 90 minute cycles Continue reading

‘Geisha’ by Liza Dalby: A Review

    So, I finally have another book review for you guys. When you read books all day every day for your degree, and then spend hours reflecting upon them- it can be hard to motivate yourself to finish writing a book review. Hence, many half finished reviews in the “drafts” section of my blogger dashboard. But, I have now finished this one, and it’s ready to be sent out into the world.

Geisha

      , not to be confused with Arthur Golden’s

Memoirs of a Geisha

      , is a little different to my other reviews, because it’s a non-fiction text. This is the real life account of Liza Dalby, the only foreigner ever to become a geisha. Dalby was an anthropology student who went and trained, and lived, as a geisha for a period of time, and who recorded it in this book. This is a comprehensive guide to the flower and willow world, and so I had to have it. I picked it up from a charity shop too (student city charity shops always have better books; you’re always sure to find something of interest), and so it was a complete bargain in my eyes.

Dalby writes with both a creative and engaging voice, weaving the history of geisha into her own experiences seamlessly. She includes photos, reproductions of wood block prints, posters, charts, figures, and graphs- all of which track the evolution of the geisha, giving an accurate idea of the rise and fall of geisha numbers. Her anecdotes of hosting in tea rooms, and life in Kyoto are hilarious, eye opening, and sometimes even sad. Reading this, I developed a much better understanding of the geisha culture, from the different types of geisha that exist, to town rivalries, differences between country and city geisha, and even how a woman’s geisha name is given to her. It brought Memoirs of a Geisha (review of right here: http://ecstaticallyem.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-memoirs-of-geisha-by-arthur-golden.html ) more sharply into focus. In all honesty, it made me wish that I’d taken an anthropology degree.

      The most common statement uttered when I express an interest in geisha culture is this: t

hey’re just prostitutes.

      Although the ‘mizuage’ tradition (the sexual initiation of an apprentice geisha, or ‘maiko’) in years long gone does hint at something like this, geisha are so much more. The word ‘gei’ literally means art, and so a geisha is defined as a female artist. The geisha’s dedication to her art is phenominal, be it dance, singing, or shamisen playing; they are rigorous in their studying of their chosen art, alongside mastering an array of others. Geisha are meant to be witty, with a firm mastery of conversation – which is why they make excellent hostesses in tea rooms. A geisha does not often become accomplished and attain a certain richness that is desirable in conversation until she is in her thirties. Much of this is lost on foreigners; in a tea house we cannot understand the conversation geisha make due to the language barrier. Unfortunately, this means that much of the elegance and amusement of the geisha world is not something we can experience. The idea that most people associate with geisha is that of the ‘y

ū

      jo’, or ‘woman of pleasure’. The history of the y

ū

      jo and geisha is intertwined, but you’ll have to buy the book yourself to read more on this…

One final thing I wish to mention, which I found fascinating, is the process of selecting the name that a maiko shall take. This name usually has a basis in the name of the apprentice geisha’s older “sister”. Her sister is not a blood relation, just as the mother of an ‘okiya’ (a geisha house; all geisha must be affiliated with a house in order to be officially registered in their community) is not the girl’s mother usually, but a figure that will provide advice and wisdom during the maiko’s journey to become a fully fledged geisha. As the ceremony binding sisters is taken seriously, Dalby did not take a name based on her elder sister’s- as for all intents and purposes she was masquerading as a geisha in order to study and present their side of the story. Instead, she took the name ‘Kikuko’: ‘kiku’ meaning  ‘chrysanthemum’, and ‘ko’ being a common feminine suffix.

This book, in summary, is a wealth of knowledge for anyone remotely interested in geisha culture. It’s as close as you will probably ever get to being inside an okiya, living as a geisha. Dalby’s writing style is easy going, and though informative, you’ll never feel overwhelmed with knowledge. It’s an enjoyable read. and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Book Review: The Beauty Myth

I hadn’t actually heard of this book long before purchasing it. Which is hard to believe, I know, because since reading it I’ve found it to be a very popular book- not least amongst feminists, but also amongst critics in the English literature world. I was able to bring it up in a seminar where we were discussing Mary Wollstonecraft (proto-feminist and absolute babe: look her up if you fancy meeting one of the mothers of modern day feminism). So, what is this amazing book?

Naomi Woolf is the author of eight books, a social critic, and political activist- in short, she is bad-ass. She plays an active role in highlighting the inequalities currently running through our society. Her book The Beauty Myth is written in clear and razor sharp prose, producing a logical argument on the misplaced importance of beauty for females. Though not such an easy or lengthy read as The Vagenda (I would recommend this as a starter for feminist reading, review right here: http://ecstaticallyem.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/book-review-vagenda.html) , it packs a similar punch and message. It’s a short read, and also affordable; I picked up my copy for £4.99, so you won’t exactly be breaking the bank to get your hands on it.

Down to the good stuff: what I learnt from this book (in a very condensed form, because I’ve found that this book has changed some of my ways of thinking). Woolf’s work is divided into an introduction and then seven chapters: The Beauty Myth; Work; Culture; Sex; Hunger; Violence; Beyond the Beauty Myth. And in order to let you into what I learnt, this reviews is going to be done slightly differently. I’m going to highlight nine of the questions this book made me ask. Because we can all say we’ve learnt things, but it’s when questioning comes in that we can start to move forwards…

  • Why is it that “thin” is seen as desirable in our culture?

What does it correlate with? Why do we see it as a mark of success? One interesting point that Woolf throws out is that “thin” is seen as a mark of our self control. Something that, to put it crudely, shows you have your shit together. You can resist that cake. You can get up every morning to go for a two hour gym session, followed by just a green juice. I think that this could be seen as a misplaced attempt of asserting power.

  • Could beauty also be a “political sedative”?

Is it that women are so focused on being “beautiful”, that they are distracted from making progress in other areas? In increasing the number of women high up in government? In large corporations? As CEOs? If we weren’t so focused on losing weight to match an ideal alluded to on magazines, in porn etc, we wouldn’t restrict calories and our brains would have that horrible fog cleared. Hunger is a powerful political sedative according to Woolf, referring to a study where ‘prolonged and periodic calorie restriction’ lead to traits of ‘passivity, anxiety, and emotionality’.

  • Why is ageing seen as a bad thing?

Woolf makes the point (and since I have noticed this on TV), that although there are many aged male presenters and broadcasters there are proportionally less females. Once they hit a certain age…they seem to all but disappear. If anything, this not only sends the message that aging isn’t a natural and beautiful process, but also creates a divide between women of different ages. The younger women are scared of aging, and view it as a negative. The emphasis on staying young makes those senior to us seem less likely to know what they’re talking about, and so the majority of us never really  gain anything from female wisdom that could be passed down. On the flip side, the older women see those that are their junior as competition, and first in line to replace them.

  • Why is it that a woman’s appearance can be used against her?

In the past two things have primarily been used against women: first chastity, and then that leaving the role of the housewife when women flocked to the workplace made you a bad mother. Now, according to Woolf, it’s beauty. This is the newest attempt to undermine women’s achieving what they want in this world: its a distraction, and something it seems we are ranked by. It isn’t enough to be intelligent, you must also be perfectly turned out.

  • Is rape-culture gradually moving into porn and what can we do about this? 

I’m sure that we are all aware that the majority of porn demonstrates a sickening violence towards women. And if it doesn’t, then the woman is nearly always a submissive/passive figure. This book argues that porn imagery is becoming akin to rape imagery, and with many young people turning to porn for sex education (because lets face it: the British sex education system isn’t up to much), it isn’t hard to see how for the next generation violent and degrading sex could be moving into the mainstream. Woolf herself point out that ‘even if we never seek out pornography, we often see rape where sex should be’ (p.43). If you are looking for someone making waves in the porn industry, then go check out Erika Lust. She’s a film maker who has created something new in the world of porn: porn where all participants enjoy it. As she says, its porn where sex is something beautiful, and seen from a new perspective. Every one in four searches on the internet is for porn. It’s currently acting as a replacement for sex education, and it’s also leading to misinformed gender education. She wants the ‘sex to stay dirty, but the values have to be clean’ (You can see a talk she gives on YouTube; type in “It’s time for porn to change, Erika Lust”). I have to say, she’s just been added to my list of inspirational women.

To add fuel to the fire, page 41 of Woolf’s book details how what I’ll here refer to as “the female porn body” (waxed, thin, flawless) works its way through several every day adverts: for perfume, for clothing lines, for cigarettes. All show the female body as something to be objectified, subjected to violence, or as the inferior sex. The female body is something that should be as polished and coveted as in porn, but also something malleable to a male whim: ‘if the women depicted in mass culture are ‘beautiful’ and abused, abuse is a mark of desirability. For young men, beauty is defined as that which never says no’ (pp.54-55)

  • How would society respond if the prevalence of eating disorders was amongst men, instead of women?

Think about this for just a few minutes. Eating disorders are on the rise in women. I whole heartedly acknowledge that it is criminally overlooked in men. However, it is more prevalent among women. Imagine that this is the other way around. See pages 56-57 if you want Woolf to do this for you. How do you think that people would react? Would the reaction be different? I feel it would. If the same number of men developed anorexia (and linked disorders) as women, people would be shocked. People would ask why. People would more emphatically say that things needed to change.

  • How much of the responsibility to create change is on us women?

For the system to change, women have to change their own attitude. A market that promotes a beauty myth ‘would be powerless if women didn’t enforce it against one another […] the toughest and most necessary change will come not from men or from the media, but from women, in the way we see and behave towards other women.’ (p.97). Much of the pressure placed on women to be beautiful comes from large companies attempting us we aren’t good enough- and their product will make us good enough. If women turned around and said “Hang on. I like my body and myself. I’m pretty damn hot”, think about how many businesses would go bust. I don’t necessarily agree that the makeup, fashion, and body care industries would lose out completely. A woman who respects herself can still like clothes, can still love makeup, can still love pampering herself (in fact this last one shows appreciation for yourself). Those that would lose out are the ones that offer quick fixes to get a body promoted by so much of the media: diet pills, for example. But on top of showing this respect for yourself, you have to show the same respect to other women too.

  • Where do men come into all of this- and what are the negatives for them?

I am not a “man-hater”. In the long run equality is in the interests of men as well. Already, media corporations have figured out that the same pressure applied to women regarding how they look, can be applied to men. Think of the explosion of male body building products. The adverts and media campaigns that feature men with a six pack. Think about how they’re already affecting the male population- in the same way that dieting became mainstream for women, this is becoming mainstream for men (don’t believe me? Check out BBC 3’s documentary by Reggie Yates, on male body building. It’s called Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK: Dying For a Six Pack). Women who love themselves and aren’t constantly made miserable trying to lose those extra few pounds, are generally a lot more fun to be around. If you’re a guy and you’re reading this, would you rather have a woman who looks like the airbrushed version of a model in real life, or someone who can hold a conversation, laugh, make you laugh, eat out and enjoy her food, and demonstrating a general passion for life, instead of spending her life catering to an ideal?

  • What can I do to dispel the beauty myth?

There are numerous little things I can try to do to dispel the beauty myth. I can wear makeup not because I feel like my skin isn’t good enough, but because I want to be creative and find it fun. I can go out for a meal and not worry about kcals, and weight gain. Because a pound or two won’t change who I am. I can complement other women on their personality, achievements, and, yes, their appearance. Because acknowledging beauty doesn’t come as a one-size-fits-all is a step towards dispelling the beauty myth. I can embrace the advice women who are older and more experienced offer me, accepting that aging is a beautiful thing.

This book contains so much more than the above. It got my mind working, and encouraged me to ask questions- as I’m sure it will for you. Even if you’re concerned that this is just written by “an angry feminist”, I would give this a read- even if the word “feminism” turns you off. Woolf notes how Gill Hudson, editor of Company at the time of writing, said young women were not encouraged to be feminists, because ‘feminism is not considered sexy’ p.98. If you don’t like labels, then that’s fine. Just don’t let it be because you, god forbid, don’t want to be considered less than sexy.