The Blue Line turns 50!

Can you believe that the London Underground Victoria line is going to be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year? That’s right, the celebrated blue line will have been running for five decades since construction was undertaken between the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury and Islington. (The later stations to Brixton were gradually added as the station line was extended.) So what are the treasures you can see if you decide to take the line southwards?

One of the treasures you can see at Walthamstow Central is Vestry House Museum. Just a short walk away from the station itself, you can have a look inside the museum itself, which used to be a workhouse. The building, which was built in the eighteenth century, is a rich display of local history. There is a costume gallery and you can have a taste of what Victorian life was like. The best thing of all is that it’s free! This is a wonderful place to take the kids.

For those of us that are older – well, young adults really – Tottenham Hale might be your place to be. If you are into the nightlife, you might want to head up to Styx. Up sticks to Styx as they say! It has a good music scene, and has been described as an edgy music venue. Certainly not boring! You are guaranteed a good night out there. They run different club nights and also has alternative theatre shows. And just what exactly is an alternative theatre show? Not spoiling it, you’ll just have to head down to see it. And while you’re there, get down and munch on their tasty pizzas. The entry price depends on the night, so check it out before you head there.

A few stops down the line from Tottenham Hale is Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park was formerly known as Brownswood Park and is a great place to bring the kids when the sun is out. Thee are many playgrounds for them to enjoy playing at and when they get tired, you can take them to the cafe for a tasty snack. But what if the weather is not so good? There are many things to do around the area too. You can visit the theatre around the station, or Seven Sisters Road contains a wide array of shops guaranteed to tickle your fancy.

You are indeed blessed if you live around the Finsbury Park area – it is one of the established places with good transport links. There are places for artistic and health development. Gyms, theatre classes and music classes abound.. And if you are looking to start music lessons like learning the piano, why not get in touch with pianoWorks? A tutor visits your house and you get to play music suitably adapted, and music you like. Get in touch via the above link and learn a skill for life!

What food advertisements may reveal to us

You see lots of things advertised on public transport. Step into a London underground tube carriage and what do you see? Ads for musicals, food, places to go, money – and whatever you think of the advertisments, you can’t disagree that there is a captive audience. Bored people will glance up and take note of the advertisements, and even if you don’t commit to buy, the ads will have made an impression on your mind, that may induce you at a later stage to a purchase by a somewhat circuituous route.

But if you consider that advertisements are placed where they can have the most result, then their target market exists within the boundaries. Simply to say, if a tube carriage contains certain types of advertisements, then the advertisers must believe that their clientele exists there. You wouldn’t advertise a pregnancy test kit in a senior citizens’ magazine.

So what can the advertisements on tube carriages tell us?

Some believe that the ads can tell us various things. One of them is our relationship to food. Where in the past, people used to believe that sitting down to dinner was a daily affair, not it is believed that it is okay to sit up alone and indulge yourself in front of the TV and social media catchup. In other words, the number of takeaway ads suggest that the social side to eating is gone. People no longer sit at a table together to talk. Eating is lesson of a social expereience than belore.

Some suggest that the elimination of a social experience of dining is more further advanced that before. Eating is that annoying thing you have to do to stay alive. It is almost like eating gets in the way of work and going home. Considering the number of hours that people now work, the advertising of a takeaway meal to solven life’s annoying need to have to eat to say alive is symptomatic of that fact we work really long hours nowadays.

So that is what food ads on the tube can tell you. Sitting down at a table is too long, and gets in the way of work. It tells us we are working longer hours overall.

But bear in mind that what you see only tells one side of the story. The following is a case in point. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was always thought to be an extrovert. But it turns out that he was depressed, and prone to bouts of introspection too. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N8 website using this link.

Perhaps tube advertisements about food only tell us one side of the story, and a closer examination of other things around might yield a better picture. Still worth a thought though!

Success spoils: Staying Hungry

As we come to the conclusion of the World Cup, and a final involving a French and Croatian team, it is a good time to ponder over questions such as the following:

How did a team with a big national population and established football league and facilities, lose to a team from a small country and poor facilities? The majority of the Croatian team play outside of their own country and for those that remain, they have to train in ramshackle facilities and in harsher conditions. You can argue that these inbreed greater will to succeed, instead of the footballing teens who haven’t quite made it yet but are on high salaries.

Ever heard of Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Arsenal’s young player has played in a few games this season, but is on thirty-thousand pounds a week. If that is the salary of a fringe player, it is quite a cushy life, compared to what other people in normal jobs take home. A person’s annual salary in one week? You can see why some make the accusation that the hunger is lacking. Grown men in other European leagues have to fight to succeed to get anywhere near that.

The problem when you get too much, too soon, is that you go soft. You start to think about doing as little as possible to coast your salary. If you look at Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, he has been a peripheral figure for much of the seasons; only when it was contract renewal time did he put in an extra shift. But now that he has signed his new contract, and will be banking every week more than people make in a year, as long as he can ignore the criticism of fans, he will be fine.

The NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf was only fresh out of college when he signed a multi-million pound contract. But he only played a few years – totalling a few games – too much money too soon. Success spoils.

Is it the truth that too much too soon is too much to handle? Leaf’s contract was $31.25 million over 4 years. He ended playing 25 games in his NFL career, which is what most pros do in just over two seasons. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was identified as a child prodigy, but throughout his life had money problems and could not cope, dying penniless. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N15 blog.)

Success spoils – that is why Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh off his world cup exploits, sought a new move from Real Madrid to Juventus. After a few years of winning everything there is to win, staying hungry by moving to a less winning team is the only way to keep striving and improving!

Being two-faced (or more)

Do you have many faces? You might need more makeup.

Seriously though, when I say we have many faces, what I mean is that we have different sides to us. The face we show at home is different to the face we show at work. The face we show at home in front of our kids is different to the face that we show when they are not around. No one person is the same in different situations.

Take for example, this fellow Tom. In the office he is mild-mannered and agreeable, but on Saturdays when he goes to the football stadium he turns into a different person, disagreeing with refereeing decisions against his team, chanting taunts at opposing players, vociferously slagging them off. Tom goes home, kisses his wife and kids hello, reads the little ones the bedtime stories, and after that he goes out with his mates where they take turns badmouthing their other halves and complaining about women.

Stella works as a PA and is pretty much her boss’s runner, meekly taking orders, but after work she goes home and decides to go out with her friends, whereupon she tears up the dance floor.

When the people in various parts of their lives come together, they are surprised that the Tom or Stella they know is different from the other ones people know.

Is it good to have many sides to you? Yes. Your work may require you to be forceful, strong and opinionated, but maybe your children don’t need to see that side of you. Your children may think of you as generally sweet and cuddly, but they should know you can be capable of being forceful if they cross the line. Some sides of us may be less appealing than others, and we may try to suppress them, but there is no advantage in maintaining only one side to ourselves. If we refuse to acknowledge the darker side of us, we may find ourselves taken advantage of by people who bully us for trying to be to nice.

According to a Finsbury Park piano teacher, the composer and pianist Mozart had many sides to him. While he is recognised for being somewhat of an outlandish extrovert, no one saw the depressed side to him, the one he reverted to in private. Did he come under pressure to maintain the happy extrovert face at all times? Perhaps when he was down in the dumps the expectation by others that he should be positive and not feel sad might have even been a bit oppressive.

We all have different sides to ourselves, and the glimpses of others we come across may not represent them as a whole. That’s just how it is.

Get rid of disposable cups? Or the idea?

Is it a case of more being seen to be doing the right thing, than actually doing the right thing?

I’m talking about the ban in coffee cups.

I admit, I’m biased – I love my caffeine fix in the morning, in the mid-morning and in the afternoon. In fact, I have it as a nightcap.

The coffee industry accounts for billions of paper cups being disposed of each year, most of which ends up in landfill.

Currently there are only 5 centres in the whole of the UK where disposable plastic cups can be recycled.

The problem with disposable plastic cups is that they are single-use only, and the plastic coating that lines each cup to stop the liquid leaking through is what causes the cup – despite being made of paper – to end up in landfill instead of in recycling facilities.

The ban on disposable plastic cups is great, despite its inconvenience. Various coffee chains are already incentivising schemes where customers bring their own mugs, by giving them reductions, but this is usually paid for by charging over the odds for products.

The corner cafe where I live charges a pound for a cup of tea. Starbucks tea costs nearly twice that. You have to be amazed at the profits and the difference in price.

But coffee chains have to be seen to be encouraging recycling, because being sustainable is a perceived plus point. So when chains purport to be environmentally-friendly, and have a social conscience either by being Fairtrade or building schools in deprived areas, don’t be hoodwinked into thinking they care, they have to be seen as caring so as to attract customers.

Part of me wonders, shouldn’t we be trying to tackle wastage elsewhere in products where plastic plays a major role? I’m thinking, instead of tackling the coffee cup, tackle the plastic water bottle first. You get a few uses out of it, true, but certainly the amount of plastic in a water bottle is greater than the number of uses you get out of it.

Maybe we should spend more into researching thinly glass-lined cups that are more recycleable? Or design flasks that are more sleek and more easily washable?

The problem with carry-flasks and mugs is they have a hole in the lid – plastic, I may add – to allow the hot air to escape, which means they are not leakproof. Flasks are hard to clean, which is why people don’t use them. Maybe a plastic, folding cup like campers use are better for the environment?

In short, I can’t think that the spotlight on coffee cups is misdirected.

In the early days of film music, people merely used to sit with their food and drinks in the movie theatre to watch a silent movie. What cups did they use then? Everyone merely brought a mug or flask with them in their picnic basket.

If you want to help environment, target the behaviour, not the symptoms. We have to focus on the disposable culture of society, instead of the cups itself.

In other words, if you have poor skin conditions like acne because you eat too much oily food, getting pimple cream is a waste of time; you need to address the consumption of oily food first.

What are they going to do at music festivals? When you are bopping to the dance music or rocking to punk rock music, will you have a mug in your hand instead of paper cups?

The whole strategy seems rather confused.

New Beginnings

A new beginning causes disruption to the status quo. It causes change. And sometimes the change is welcome. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it causes uncertainty and stress because we have not grapsed the situation fully yet and our minds go crazy at the lack of control.

To be human is to want control. While control varies from different people, ultimately control gives us a sense of confidence, of certainty that things are going right and that we are in charge. It is being in charge of our lives that we ultimately seek.

But change is not necessarily bad because it throws control into havoc, however mildly. It pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we find that when we have adapted, we are in greater control because we have adjusted to and assimilated the thing that we were fearing the most.

So while it may be difficult for us to realise this, embracing change and new things is necessary. It opens up new avenues and mindsets. It gives us more awareness of the things around us instead of trapping us in daily routine.

SO let’s embrace change for what it is.

Gender inequalities in the workplace are perpetuated from childhood

Women’s careers aren’t just in the ether, they’re on the front pages of newspapers, inside glossy magazines, on the radio, across the internet and they’re being discussed on a daily basis in governments all around the world. It’s amazing that there’s so much buzz around women and careers; people are really talking about women’s rights at work, and attitudes are changing.

Things are getting really exciting for women at work. Sure, if you look at gender-split job statistics, the situation is pretty much as depressing as it’s ever been. But – BIG BUT – the John stat doesn’t account for what’s swirling around the media, and is inside the meeting rooms and minds of career folk (women and men) across the globe. Women have been legally entitled to the same respect, pay and job titles as our male friends and peers for many years and slowly but surely the reality is catching up with the legal framework. We want equality, but we want something more than that too: we want to stay uniquely and wonderfully female. The same pay, yes, opportunities, of course, but we don’t want to have to abandon our femininity at the office revolving door. For us, gender parity does not imply gender uniformity.

While everyone deserves to be received and treated equally at work, women must do it their own way, because being a woman is part of what makes you, you. The side-by-side vision of a naked female and a naked male validates the simple fact of life: we are different versions of the same species. There’s the obvious stuff and then there are the mysterious workings inside our heads. Our brain is arguably the most important thing about us. It makes us human and is the instigator of everything that we think and do. It’s our life control centre, and science tells us that for men and women there are brain wiring variations.

In the past, we’ve been wedded to the notion that men have better connectivity within each hemisphere, whilst women have better connectivity between the hemispheres. In an everyday sense, this explained why men excelled at spatial awareness and women at social cognition and multitasking. Neuroscience is notoriously complex but the latest large-scale research shows that gender brain differences may not be as clear-cut as we were led to believe. While some recent studies suggest no significant difference in crucial parts of the brain at all, the most recent research leads to the centre of the brain – the hippocampus, the part associated with emotion and memory. This is usually larger in men than women, but, without wanting to get too technical, some women have a larger, more male-style hippocampus and some men have one that is smaller and more female in style. This suggests the idea of a continuum of femaleness to maleness for the entire brain. Scientists found that the majority of the brains studied were a mosaic of male and female structures, meaning there is no one type of male or female brain.

I like this because it validates our own stance of overlap. The most successful person in the workplace, research says, is the woman who retains her female brain but who isn’t afraid to borrow some stereotypically male traits when the opportunity requires it. Success isn’t about pitting yourself against a man, it’s about learning to be your best – it’s about finding your place on the continuum and making it rock. Interestingly, brains aren’t fixed organs, they are constantly evolving and changing as we age, depending on how we use them. Neuroplasticity, as it is called, in part explains why little girls end up studying languages and the arts and little boys get filtered into STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that frequently lead to more lucrative careers. Repetition reinforces the networks within our brains: baby girls and baby boys might start off with exactly the same brain software, but over time, as we unwittingly encourage boys towards Lego and trucks and girls into social situations that require capable communication skills, the map of association in our childhood brains is sculpted so that the function of the hardware is constantly altered by experience. We lead our girls to dolls and our boys to the top of trees, and then we wonder why society ends up treating women and men differently.

Hormones also play a part in this lifelong divide, as does parental nurture. More interestingly, though, this has a much more subtle impact – it defines what we believe about ourselves. We self-stereotype against ourselves as women, and then we live up to these restrictions.

There is a recent study using Asian-American women that perfectly illustrates the point. The group was divided and set a maths test. Just before the test commenced, half of the group were reminded that they were Asian, invoking the stereotype of Asians having a high maths ability. This half did better in the test. However, when they were reminded of being female (which invokes the stereotype of poor maths performance), they scored lower on the test than the control group. The point is that while men do tend to outperform women in assessments of mathematic ability, for example using the test results of American SATs exams, in reality women aren’t actually worse at maths (see here), we’re just stereotyped into thinking that way.

In the workplace, this presents as women not reaching for leadership positions, or being too conservative in their entrepreneurial expectations for the simple reason that we believe that we don’t belong at the top. We aren’t all professors in waiting, but we should all be able to imagine ourselves where we really want to be at work. Not where society or our stereotyped brains expect us to land. Your career brain, the one you rely on to muster confidence, the one that assists you in awkward networking situations, pay negotiations and everything else in between, may not currently be on your side and thats in part due to stereotyping and nurture. When you know the reasoning behind where your brain is at, it allows you to make positive changes to redirect those channels – to change the hardware, so that your brain (your unconscious thinking) is aligned to your reach-for-the-stars career dreams.

Glass ceiling? Or glass half empty

Have you achieved all of your ambitions? When you look at the senior management in your company, are there as many women at the top as there are men? And the very top job, is it usually held by a woman? It would be no surprise if you answered no to at least one of these questions. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the answer to all of these questions was no.

A major report into the proportion of women on boards was published in late 2015. The Davies Report examined the approach to increase representation of women on boards in the UK and around the world. The UK is doing better than it used to. Appointments of women at board level to FTSE 100 companies have reached a new high at over a quarter: now 26 per cent are women. Look down a level, and the FTSE 250 has a proportion of just under 20 per cent.

The report’s author, Lord Davies, a former banker in his sixties, is delighted at this progress. New targets are being set for a third of directors to be women by 2020. The last time we looked women made up more than 50 per cent of the population. The proportion of women on boards is evidently rising. Yet most of the women on boards in the statistics are in non-executive, part-time positions. There are only 26 executive women directors on FTSE 100 boards – that’s just 9.6 per cent. This does not indicate a pipeline for executive women on boards. Nor does it show that there is a level playing field for women to get promoted, and to achieve the careers that they deserve.

Women in work in the UK – and there are 14.5 million of them – are still not getting the same opportunities to reach the top as men. Outside the UK, the Davies Report shows a similar picture. Norway, where a quota system has been adopted, has the most women on boards, at 35 per cent. Denmark and Germany have just over one-fifth. Then numbers dwindle. The USA has 16.9 per cent, Australia 16.2 per cent, Ireland 12.7 per cent and India 12.1 per cent. Again, let us remind ourselves, these are in countries where women have always made up at least half of the population.

Not everyone in work wants to be managing director or CEO. And not every woman wants to be managing director, CEO or in any senior role. But if they do want to, then they should have the same chance to do so as men. With such large proportions of women in the workforce overall, so many millions, it is really difficult to believe that so many of them lack the ambition or ability to reach senior levels of management.

Women are not a minority in any respect, apart from in the boardroom. What is really going on, and, more to the point, what can we do about it? There is a secret that no one wants to admit. Thousands of words have been written, numerous courses have been run. In workplaces across the world the recurring questions of ‘Why did that happen?’, ‘Is it just me?’ and ‘Does that seem fair?’ play in the minds of women of all ages and roles. The fact is that there isn’t any fairness in the way that the workplace functions for women, and women need tips, tactics and strategies that will help you get the career they deserve. Not necessarily to get to the top of organisations – because lots of women don’t see that as the path they want to follow. It is about getting you a career that you enjoy, with the seniority you deserve, and in which your contribution is recognised. We also know that there are men in the workplace who want the tools to make this contribution possible. They see the talent pool around them, and they see the individuals that can help the organisation thrive. Their difficulty is in being able to understand what is going on and how they can contribute to making it better, and in ensuring that they are part of making long-lasting changes that create permanent shifts in the workplace.

The workplace isn’t the only part of society where women have failed to play a full part. In the UK, women have been able to stand for Parliament since 1918. It was only in 1997 that the number of female MPs reached double figures. To date there have only ever, in total, been 450 women MPs, a figure below the number of men elected in 2015 alone (459). Worldwide, there are only forty-four countries where the representation of women stands at 30 per cent or more.

In Germany, a country led by one of the world’s most powerful women, the percentage of female representation is 31 per cent. So it isn’t just your problem. In the 1980s, there was a good deal of talk about the glass ceiling and the fact that it was now shattered. There was a woman prime minister in the UK. Equality for women in the workforce was a legal fact, ever since the gender equality act in 1970. There were a few women bosses around, and there were sure to be more of them as they came through the system. Although most bosses were middle-aged men in suits, it was clear that the future for women bosses was bright. A new dawn was on the way, a future where you would expect half of the management of every company to be women, and that every other CEO would occasionally wear a skirt to work.

But has the equality perceived in the 1980s materialised and evolved since then? You be the judge. My opinion is that we still are a long way from that.

Forget the obsession with our bodies

We are OBSESSED with our bodies.

Or rather, we are obsessed with everything that’s wrong with our bodies. We are obsessed with shrinking our bodies, toning our bodies, sculpting our bodies, getting lean and perking up, burning fat and slimming down, flattering our figures and flattening our stomachs, accentuating curves and disguising flaws, battling the bulge, beating the scale, dropping dress sizes, becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be! And for what? What are we in pursuit of when we do those things?

It must be something good, because those things are not fun. Ask anyone on day five of the cabbage soup diet how much fun they’re having, and let me know if you get out alive. Of course, we’re not supposed to admit how not-fun it all is, we even go as far as lying to ourselves – I really am enjoying living off cayenne pepper and maple syrup cocktails, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself! The facade begins to crack when we start crying over our friend’s pizza and wondering if tissue paper is edible, and if so, how many calories?

Why do we keep lying to ourselves? Why do we willingly inflict so much discomfort, even pain, on our bodies? What for? We do it to get the perfect body – flawless, unblemished, ideal.

Some of us spend our entire lives chasing the ideal body. The one that will finally make us beautiful; the one that we’re told will finally make us happy. We picture that body while we run desperately on the treadmill and our knees feel like they’re about to buckle. Just one more mile. We imagine that body when we say no, yet again, to our favourite dessert. That’ll go straight to our thighs. We have visions of that body when we step on to our scales and the numbers flash frantically in front of our eyes before they settle on our fate. Please, just two more pounds this week, we’ve worked so hard. And we have worked so hard. We starve, we sweat, we cry standing over those scales and fall to pieces at the sight of our naked reflection. We vow to be better next week. Everywhere we go we carry around our feelings of not being good enough. They weigh on everything we do. I can’t wear that at my size! I’m not hungry, I ate earlier, I swear! They would never be interested, just look at me. I’ll do it once I’ve lost the weight. Our entire lives get tied up in the chains of the ideal body, only to be unlocked once we’ve earned it.

Perfection is the key. And it’s always just slightly out of our reach.

There’s always another pound to be lost, another problem area to fix (they seem to pop up out of nowhere, almost as if someone’s invented them …). But we still believe that we can get there. We still believe after all this time that if we hate ourselves enough we’ll end up loving ourselves. We don’t realise that we’ve been tricked.

How did we get here? How did we reach a place where it’s 100 per cent normal to hate your body? Every female I’ve ever known has disliked some part of her appearance, or all of it. We’ve been convinced that changing the way our bodies look should be our ultimate goal in life, and although women have been the primary target of these messages for the past century, these days no body is safe. Men are increasingly being told that their value lies in their muscles, and that looking like anything less than the cover of a fitness magazine isn’t good enough. Thanks to toxic expectations of masculinity, they’re also being told not to talk about the body-image issues they’re struggling with.

Hating your body is the new normal. Most of us know someone who’s had an eating disorder. Someone who’s had cosmetic surgery. Someone who’s lost and gained the same 20 pounds over and over again. People of all sizes, all ages, all genders, all colours, and all abilities are being affected by body-image issues. We’re too fat, too wrinkled, too masculine, too feminine, too dark, too pale, too queer, too different. We’re always ‘too’ something, compared to the ideal body.

The pressure becomes too much for us to handle. Our societal self-hatred is spreading like wildfire, slowly but surely we’re all being set aflame in the pursuit of perfection.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. You already know. You see it every day. It’s in the adverts for the new! Easy! Fast! Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days! Weight-loss plan. It’s in the sky-high posters of model bodies selling everything from perfume to burgers. It’s in the never-ending murmurs of how many pounds have been shed this week that you overhear on the train, at work, among friends. It’s in the TV breaks telling you how breast enhancement could change your life. It’s in the magazine pages you flick through to pass the time, raving about the latest juice cleanse or detox. It’s in the back-handed compliments about looking good ‘for your age’, and the concerned comments from family members about when you’re going to do something about, well, you know … It’s in the supermarket aisles you walk down filled with ‘guilt-free!’ reduced fat, sugar-free, zero carbs, made-of-nothing-but-water-and-air food products. It’s when you try to unwind with your favourite film or TV show and parading before you is a cast filled with nothing but thin, white, beautiful, young, able bodies. You might not even notice it, but you learn from it. You learn in millions of little ways every day that there is an ideal, and that you don’t match up to it. So that when you get home, away from the murmurs, curtains drawn against the pictures, adverts silenced and screens turned off, only you, your body, your mind, and the quiet … You still know, because there it is in your mirror staring back at you. Everything that you’re not. Everything that you need to change. All the ways that your body is wrong.

You know.

If you’re anything like I am then you’ve known for a long time. Ever since you were first old enough to take in the words, the images, and the lessons. The first time I remember thinking that I was too fat is when I was five years old. That’s all the time it took in the world to believe that I was too much. I was too big, too soft, too brown, too ugly, my stomach was too round and my hair wasn’t blond enough. I remember spending hours in fantasies of what I would look like when I grew up, grasping for reassurance that one day I would be beautiful. Beautiful meaning thin. Thin was the only option, of course that’s what I would become, that’s what all the representations of beautiful women around me were: Barbie-doll thin, Disney-princess thin, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe thin. To my five-year-old mind, that’s what women were supposed to look like. The fact that I was still a child didn’t stop me from comparing myself to them.

Recent studies suggest that children as young as three years old have body-image issues and at four years old are aware of how to lose weight. The biggest concern a child that age should have is whether they can do a cartwheel or memorise the alphabet, not whether they’re too fat or how many calories it takes to change your body. The obsession is starting earlier and earlier.

And this is what those thoughts grow into:

97 per cent of women in a survey conducted by Glamour magazine admitted to having at least one ‘I hate my body’ moment a day, with an average of 13 negative body thoughts every day.

In a survey of 5,000 women by REAL magazine, 91 per cent reported being unhappy with their bodies.

The Centre for Appearance Research found after surveying 384 British men, that 35 per cent would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape.

54 per cent of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, according to an Esquire magazine survey.

There are thousands of statistics and surveys showing what the real story of our body image is. That we spend every day picking out our flaws and tearing our reflections to pieces. That we put our entire lives on hold because we don’t think we’re worthy of living in the bodies we have. That we would trade in years of life, risk illness, pain, and even death to turn our bodies into something worth loving. And that we’re teaching our children to feel exactly the same way about themselves. Statistics are easy to glaze over, so here’s the simple truth: we are destroying ourselves for an unobtainable and unrealistic body type. The things that we’re willing to do for the ideal body speak for themselves. We go hungry, we deny ourselves essential nutrients and ignore our most basic needs. We push ourselves past our physical limits until the room starts spinning and we can barely move the next day. We spend hours applying lotions and potions with promises of miraculous results on the label. We stuff ourselves into elastic casings to smooth out our silhouettes or train our waists into shapes nature never intended them to be. We drink teas and take pills that make our heartbeats race and make sure we don’t leave the bathroom all night. We attend groups every week where we sit in circles fantasising about goal weights and pretending we don’t hear it when someone’s stomach rumbles. We live off nothing but juice, convinced that our bodies are full of evil toxins that must be cleansed. We pay people thousands of pounds to cut into our healthy flesh, lift it, pin it, tuck it, suck it, staple it, reshape it and stitch us back together again.

And it isn’t a select few people who are going to any lengths necessary to get the body of their dreams, we’re all doing it. The stay-at-home mum who lives down the street, the girl you went to school with, your old English teacher, the star athlete, the savvy businesswoman, the A-list celebrity, the millionaire entrepreneur. The pressure of perfection leaves none of us behind. And besides the physical lengths we go to, the things we willingly inflict upon our bodies, there’s an even darker side to our obsession with perfection, and that’s what it does to our minds. The real cost of a diet isn’t those irritating hunger pangs you have to ignore, it’s the constant preoccupation with food, the never-ending counting and weighing and bargaining that takes up so much mental real estate.

The hatred we have for our bodies doesn’t stop at our thighs. It takes over our entire sense of self. It affects our relationships, how we treat others and how we think we deserve to be treated. It seeps into our professional lives, determines what we have the energy to accomplish and the will to aim for. It saps our ambition beyond dropping dress sizes. You can’t dream of becoming an artist, an explorer, or a leader when your dreams are occupied by visions of thin. It makes us believe that we don’t even deserve to exist in the world, to be seen and heard and valued in the bodies we have. It takes away all of our power. If we don’t measure up to societal standards of beauty, we see ourselves as failures, burdens, and disgraces.

We don’t just hate our outer shells, we hate our whole selves. And it’s exhausting. I know I’m not the only one who feels completely worn out by it all. Those extra pounds we’ve learned to see as hideous flaws turn into the weight of the world on our shoulders. Do you feel it? That heaviness? That pressure? That’s the weight of all the ways you’ve been told that you’re not good enough. In our current cultural game of How To Be Beautiful, none of us are good enough. We keep playing by the rules because we’ve been promised that it’ll all be worth it in the end. Even if we stumble, fall off the diet, or regain the weight, we get up and try again because we can still see it. The image of the body that will finally make us happy.

Want to be in on a secret that nobody ever told me in all of my years chasing the ideal body: happiness is not a size. It isn’t a number on a piece of fabric, it can’t be found in a calorie count, and it sure as hell isn’t hiding in your bathroom scales. I know that’s hard to believe – after all, everything around us says otherwise. We’ve been told for so long that if we just work hard enough the ideal body will be within our reach. Once we’re there it’ll all be worth it, we’ll be beautiful, desired, successful, and, finally, good enough. Except by now you might be starting to realise that you’ve been playing by those rules for a long time, for as long as you can remember, in fact. You’ve tried everything you possibly could, you’ve sacrificed so much time, energy and life to get the ideal body and still you look in the mirror and see something so flawed. So imperfect. So human. How can that be possible?

Take that weight off your shoulders. If you’re reading this then that probably means you’re tired of chasing the impossible. You’re tired of waging war against your body and never ever feeling like you’re good enough. The problem is that you just can’t see another way. How do you let go of the rules and realise that you’re good enough already? How do you make peace with your body?

First of all, we have to unlearn all of the lies we’ve been taught about the way we look. Then, slowly, we can learn the truth instead. If it doesn’t happen straight away or if it feels like it’s too difficult, I want you to remember that you are fighting against a lifetime of negative conditioning about your body. It’s not easy to undo all of that and embrace a new way of thinking. So be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and most of all, keep reminding yourself that you deserve better. We all deserve better than spending our lives hating our bodies.

Lesson number one: the image of the ideal body you’ve been holding on to for all these years, is a lie. The images that fill our minds when we think about what’s beautiful aren’t creations of our imagination, they’re from the hundreds of media bodies we’re exposed to every day. With every magazine page, every film, every advert, every TV show, every music video, every time we turn on our screens or walk down a billboard-lined street we see it. We see her. The fashion model, the Hollywood star, the girl with the golden hair and honey smooth skin. Sometimes the hair is sleek and dark, the eye colour might vary and very occasionally the skin colour does too, but two things remain the same: she is beautiful, and she is thin.

If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, we now have the faces that launched a thousand diets, a thousand beauty regimes and a thousand different kinds of self-loathing. From seeing their bodies plastered wherever we go, we learn what our culture’s idea of perfection is, which bodies are celebrated and lusted after, what we should all be striving for. We’re never allowed to forget.

If aliens ever did descend upon Earth, and confined themselves to a small room with only a television and a stack of magazines in order to learn about humankind before integrating themselves into the community, what would they think? Probably that our women are all five foot ten, weigh about 110 pounds, with gravity-defying globular breasts, faces without a blemish to be seen, are naturally hairless from the nose down and that we pretty much all die out after the age of 35 (except the few that become mothers, cougars, or sad-looking old women). They’d probably also think that a disproportionate number of our men have rock-hard abs and dazzling white smiles, although they’d notice that men are at least allowed to age visibly, and have identities beyond how attractive they are. They’d probably assume that people of colour are a rare spectacle, and disabled people are far too rare to ever be seen in the outside world. And they wouldn’t have any idea that people outside the gender binary exist at all. Imagine their surprise when they leave that room and encounter us, women especially, in all our glory. After the initial shock, they might be quite confused about why our media chooses to constantly represent a body type that 95 per cent of us don’t have, and leaves the rest of us behind. They might even find it funny, seeing it as such an obvious distortion of reality.

The problem is, we don’t recognise the distortion. Instead of seeing a single body type everywhere we turn as inaccurate, misleading or manipulative, we see our own bodies as the problem. Why aren’t our legs that long and toned? Why is our hair so flat and lifeless? Why does our skin have lines on it? We compare ourselves with those images until we’re left feeling worthless. Those images are nothing like us. They’re not supposed to be. They’re supposed to be aspirational, superhuman enough for us to be in awe of, but with a beauty that we can still believe is achievable. That way, we can be sold the thing that promises to make us just as beautiful. We can buy the miracle diet pill that will give us the figure of our dreams. We can spend our money on the shampoo to get thick, flowing locks. We can splurge on that outfit that we’ve seen advertised on the most flattering (read: thin) bodies, because maybe it’ll make us look like that too! Maybe we can be beautiful too!

In all adverts we’re being sold two things – the ideal image, and the product to get us there. Want one? Buy the other. Female beauty ideals are the best marketing scheme in the world. What better way to make money than to make half the world feel ugly and then sell them the solution? Outside of advertising, the media makes sure we all get the message that the ideal body is the only one worthy of being celebrated, admired, or loved. When was the last time you saw a leading female character get a happy ending without first fitting conventional standards of beauty? You only get a happy ending if you’re beautiful, duh. When was the last time you saw a magazine cover with a red circle of shame drawn around a female celebrity’s ‘flawed’ body parts? Inside, the article suggests that she’s lost control of her entire life because her stomach folds when she bends over. She couldn’t possibly be happy! The next issue shows how she’s fighting to get her body, and her life back (cue eye-roll). We quickly learn that the only way to be beautiful or happy is to spend our lives chasing the ideal body. And it will be a chase, since only 5 per cent of us naturally possess the body type that the media loves so much.

Even those of us who appear to be perfect on the outside carry the same nagging insecurities about not measuring up. When we look in the mirror we don’t see ourselves clearly because we’re looking through a lens of every perfect body we’ve ever seen. Against those images, we are always too fat, too ugly, too dark, too imperfect. One study examining the effects of how seeing ideal female bodies on television impacts our own self-image found that 95 per cent of women overestimated their body sizes after seeing images of women with ideal body weights.

Meaning that when we constantly see images of the ideal thin body, we come away thinking that we’re bigger than we are. What we see every day is shaping how we see ourselves. We can’t see the beauty in everything that we are because we’ve been taught to first see everything that we’re not. All the rules of how we should look take the magic away from how we do look. We do this terrible thing where we look in the mirror or at pictures and we expect to see a thin model. Unless you are a thin model, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN. The second you start looking for you is the second you will start to appreciate what you are. Things get even more complicated when we realise that the perfect body we’re searching for in the mirror, the body we think we should have, the body we’re killing ourselves for, doesn’t even exist. The ideal isn’t a real woman, one with history that comes to life on her skin, one with a moving, changing body. The ideal is a creation of a Photoshop wand. Nobody looks as perfect as the person on the cover.

Not even the person herself.

Using colour to bring out your traits

These days, among other things, there is such a vast selection of clothing options that every one of us has the possibility of finding items that bring out the best in us. Despite this, however, so many of us find ourselves confronting the daily dilemma of “What am I going to wear today?”, and all too often our choices leave us underwhelmed or at least partially so.

We often see young women in the street wearing clothes that are perfectly formed for their physique, each one of them wearing up-to-the-minute fashion, and yet they are anything but alluring or beautiful. The reason for these failures lies essentially in the fact that when we follow the trends, we very often find ourselves forgetting the importance of sticking to our own style, which is fundamental if we want to craft an image that not only keeps us satisfied but also profoundly reflects us, highlighting our physique as well as our character. Only style, in the end, is able to fully bring out our best. As Coco Chanel said, “Fashion changes, but style endures”. And so it’s style, not fashion, that we have to follow.

Finding your own style is, at the end of the day, really quite simple. There’s just one key: truly embracing your own sense of femininity. In truth, there are many ways to be a woman, and each one of these perfectly corresponds to a well-defined style born from the fusion of our aesthetic taste and our own personality. It’s precisely because of this that we can say that it’s enough to simply reach into our own way of being a woman and our character to find the style that brings out the most in us—the one that fits us the best.

But what does that even mean? It means, in other words, that if we consciously gear our aesthetic choices toward styles that reflect who we are, with just a teensy bit of effort we will be able to achieve our most personalized style, which will have a double advantage.

On the one hand, it will help us make the most out of ourselves aesthetically, and on the other hand, it will help us understand ourselves even better, something that can only happen if our style is in sync with our nature. In selecting our look—for example, when we pick out our daily outfit—personality is of far more importance than the use of aesthetic ideals, which may be formally irreproachable but are not personalized in any way. I’m sure you’ve seen a friend for whom look is usually not of huge importance all dressed up for an important occasion and looking no more attractive than usual and even looking clumsy and impeded by clothes in which she clearly feels uncomfortable. This is the most evident proof of how important it is to always follow your own personal style, one that descends from your own inner nature and personality, pairing this rule with some necessary technical suggestions to enhance your physical characteristics.

In and of itself, as you can see, the concept is pretty simple. What’s a bit less simple is translating it into something that can be readily put into use. To better understand what this means, let’s try to shed some light on it with a comparison of the colour of a simple piece of clothing. Take an everlasting colour: blue, for example. Without a doubt, this is a classic colour that goes well with practically anything, one that everyone tends to like.

Each one of us, however, will use the colour blue in a slightly different way. This is because each one of us will chose a different tonality of blue, even if that hue varies only just slightly, and also because despite using the same colour, we will always choose combinations that will make it seem different. A woman with a more exuberant character will tend to prefer, for instance, more brightly lit tonalities, almost electric blue. The traditionalist wills her preference to the classic navy blue. A woman with a more romantic nature will match her blue with pink floral patterns, and so it goes. This selection process usually gets carried out in a completely spontaneous and unconscious way, at least for the simplest of choices, such as colour or pattern.

But if we apply it to our whole personal look in a deliberately conscious way, our decisions will have the effect of clearly highlighting what fits and matches us the best and what brings out the best in us. If we focus on the most significant aspects of our personality and our character and combine them with the choices that bring out the magic of our body type, we will then be able to zero in on the most suitable look for us, avoiding having closets stuffed to the brim with clothes that we will never even think about putting on.

The end result? Allowing us to have a curated choice rather than an unlimited one. A closet overflowing with clothes and accessories, rather than giving us the opportunity to have the most perfect outfit for every occasion, instead drains us of our energy as we waste time choosing and mixing up our ideas; it can leave us feeling indecisive.

In contrast, having but just the right amount of clothing for us allows us to always roll on the safe side of things and feel “right” in every occasion. The idea came to me while I was observing my dearest friends; I realized how for each certain type of character, there was a corresponding well-defined understanding of image and self-care.

As I mentioned at the start, the styles are not picked out like the typically understood aesthetic standards, but instead they should be seen as the many facets of the diverse ways of expressing your own femininity. For this reason in particular, they transcend the trends of the day and the passage of time. This allows us to be, in every moment and in all occasions, authentically fascinating and spontaneously feminine. Because it’s truly our femininity—and let’s not forget it—that at once contains and reveals the charme of every woman.

So in short, don’t dress to suit fashion. Dress the bring out characteristics of yourself you want to emphasise. And the way you dress can help you not only attract a future partner, but also help you advance up the career ladder too.