The Body Confidence Switch

Spoiler Alert: There isn’t one.

But oh how I’ve wished and wished that there was. I haven’t even found the body confidence dial yet. You know the one – you gradually keep turning it round as you discover who you are, and become at peace with your body and how you look day-to-day, instead of with a new outfit, some makeup and a fancy filter?

Good old fashioned body confidence. What does it even mean anymore? How do you get it? Where does it come from? I wish I knew. I can truthfully say I have never felt ‘body confident’. Ok, I’ve maybe felt confident in a particular dress, or I’ve felt confident that my skin looked good with no makeup or my hair looked ok a certain way, but never body confident. Not even ok with my entire body for a notable period in my life, there’s always been something, and occasionally it seems like it’s everything.

At 8 years old I told my new house mistress that I hated my thighs. At the boarding school I attended until 13 I refused to borrow the clothes of fellow boarders, in case I stretched them and became the whispered-about girl that you didn’t lend clothes to. Almost as bad as being the girl who made clothes smell – it was that time when you don’t all know if you need deodorant or not yet. Eventually 99% of you realise deodorant is a necessary evil. But you don’t all grow up to be the same size, shape, weight or figure as each other and you definitely don’t all have the same levels of body confidence.

At 21, my thighs are now often bottom of my internal ‘rubbish bits’ list. Usually somewhere fairly high up are my boobs. At one point I was confident and happy with the size of them. Now they’re big – they make blouses gape, they make bras expensive and they make my top half look huge if covered up, but if I wear anything even remotely revealing they are unavoidable and I feel as if I’m showing them off.

Maybe on a night out that’s acceptable – until guys drunkenly grab them as they walk past, perhaps presuming that because they’re there and they’re on show they’re up for grabs (ha ha) – but at a family occasion or in an office environment where you want nothing less than to seem well put together and presentable, the thought of unavoidable cleavage and unwanted attention makes me want to live forever in jumpers and 70% coverage ‘granny bras’.

At the minute, body confidence seems that goal that I’m ready to work on but I’m not sure how to reach. I’ve got to grips with my mental health, and I’m working on that. I’m working from the inside out, something that I do really believe will aid me with becoming really properly happy in my own skin without feeling like I have to make myself miserable by dieting or forcing myself to the gym. Even if losing weight and getting fitter is what it takes, then I can do that better now. But what if losing weight isn’t actually the magic key to the land of body positivity?

Perhaps if I repeat body confident affirmations every day, I will begin to believe that my worth is not determined by a number on a label in the back of my jeans. Perhaps if I get a tan and some expensive underwear and pose on Instagram preaching the importance of self-love and describe how I learnt to love my stretch marks, I’ll begin to believe that no one cares if I have a roll between the top of my high-waisted jeans and my bra strap. Perhaps if I start a healthy fitness regime and show off my progress via social media, I’ll begin to believe that I am beautiful and attractive and can be confident in a dress that clings to any part of my body.

It all sounds a little far-fetched.

Of course, there’s people that do those things. I follow them on Instagram. I could give you the account names of at least a few from each example I just listed – but just as I’m envious of the fitness models with their abs and strong bodies and dedication to gym so hard that what they eat doesn’t matter, I’m also envious of the body positive accounts that show me people of all shapes and sizes oozing confidence so hard that what others think doesn’t matter.

My point is – there is no one-size fits all method for gaining body confidence. What works for other people you know in real life and social media might not work for you. I don’t know what my method is yet, and this blog is for all those people feeling the same. The people who haven’t started – or are still on – that journey to body positive enlightenment, or whatever its called. You’re not at the very bottom of the self-loathing ladder – although you may have been at one point – but you’re definitely still wondering if you missed the class on body confidence and where it can be acquired from.  It sometimes feel like if you ignore the pressure to look a certain way, then you invite in the pressure of having to be confident in the way you do look. It’s a very personal balancing act, and unfortunately the switch doesn’t exist, but the dial does, it’s just a case of trying to find it and giving it a turn. If anyone has a torch, please let me know.

Lessons from the caravan

If you’d have told me 18 months ago that I’d spend my work placement year living in a “4 berth” (I definitely wouldn’t want 4 people in a place this size!) touring caravan with a young collie dog and my small flock of sheep half a mile down the road then I’d have chuckled nervously and said, “I don’t think so”.

If you’d have told me that during that year I’d live in the caravan through three lots of snow – and now a drought! – I’d have raised my eyebrows and said, “Absolutely bloody not”. In fact, I specifically remember thinking “what are the odds of that being needed” when the campsite owners reassured me that as the village is on a school bus route, the steep roads out of it are gritted very well in the winter. Perhaps I jinxed myself.

Reflecting on a year in my small home is a tough one, because as much as I wished I was anywhere else in the world when I was stranded for a week with no running water and snow blowing in through my closed skylight, it does sort of feel just that – home. For the first time since I started boarding school at 8 years old, I have had a long-term space that is entirely my own. I like to call it a cosy studio apartment with en-suite bathroom, and open plan living, dining, cooking and sleeping area. How many 21-year-olds can call themselves a homeowner after all?

It’s been an important year for me mentally during my time in the caravan. I’m sure that had I not been in the caravan, my mental health would perhaps not have suffered the way it has over this winter. But I can now safely say that I finally appreciate the term ‘character building’ in a way that only those who have survived the Beast from the East with no central heating or running water can. And I say that with irony, because it was not lost on me during that time that whilst I didn’t have those things, what I did have was a roof over my head, plenty of layers and two electric heaters, many did not.

Add into the equation that during this time I have lambed my small flock of sheep single-handed whilst working 9-5:30 (weather permitting!), and also helping a farm in the village every morning in their lambing shed, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent the odd night or two crying into my microwave meal in frustration, exhaustion and cold, having walked half a mile each way in the snow three or four times a day to check and tend to my flock and their newborn lambs. However, again, it was not lost on me that during those times there were many farmers that couldn’t get to their stock at all. Many farmers were digging sheep out of snow drifts, endlessly defrosting pipes, and giving their time and efforts to aid their wider communities.

I’ve learnt many exceptional lessons this year, but perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt has come from observing mine and others reactions to hardship. As I see it, there’s two basic reactions to adversity;

-Shit. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever. How on earth will I overcome this. I can’t. It’s impossible.

And;

-I need to stop complaining. Other people have it so much worse. I’m a terrible person for even thinking this is hard.

Both of these reactions are normal, but neither are productive. I think short-term self-pity is necessary. It gives you some time to realise that the situation you are in is hard, that it’s painful, that you are suffering. You have to let yourself acknowledge your pain before you can start to process it and work through it. If you’re the sort of person that buries your feelings under the excuse that someone else has it worse, then that pain will grow, and those feelings will manifest until their negativity starts to consume you. The big thing to remember is that all suffering is subjective. Everyone is suffering in some way, and their pain over something you perceive as small, is just as relevant as your pain over something you perceive as huge. Acknowledge your pain and others pain fairly. I think getting that balance right is something to spend a whole life working on.

And as suddenly as the snow and the cold and the winter has come, it seems to be gone. The entire country – human and otherwise – breathes a sigh of relief as the sun starts to warm backs and the grass starts to grow and those cold days seem to slip behind us.

That thin line between the outside and the inside that comes from living in a caravan doesn’t seem quite so thin. Or rather, it doesn’t bother me as much, because the feeling of spending ten minutes replacing the cold wet layers it seems like I only just took off before opening the door to the outside world is fast dulled when I can now be outside on the warm grass and sunshine within 10 steps of my bed. Never before have I felt the lengthening of the days and increasing temperatures so acutely as I have this year, and been so glad of them.

I have found my own strength this year, and have discovered the things that are important to me and make me tick. I have worked in an office-based job navigating a working world quite different to the farm, I have managed my own flock single-handed for the first time with all decisions, management and labour down to me, I have learnt the value of great friends, and I have realised the importance of taking care of your mental and physical health.

Thank you to those that have supported me throughout the most challenging and important year of my life so far, and thank you to those that continue to support me along the rest of my journey. With my newly updated driving licence firmly in my pocket, me and #bobthedog, the sheep, and my little home are on the move to pastures new before returning to university in the Autumn. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on myself, my flock, and my writing over my summer off.

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Till the Cows Come Home – Book Review

Good books written by farmers, about farming, can be few and far between, so I’ve been looking forward to reading what Lorna Sixsmith was going to write about for some time. As it happens, it didn’t need to wait to buy the book, as Lorna asked me to review it as part of the ‘Till the Cows Come Home Blog Tour’ (such a cool idea!) so here we are.

I’ve been paying attention as I’ve been reading the past week or so, and have spent some time thinking through what I wanted to say in my review, which is a bit of a daunting task despite basically reviewing novels, poetry, plays etc. for two years as part of my English Literature, Classics and Drama A Levels!

The main takeaway point of Lorna’s book for me, was how enjoyable and easy to read it was. She takes you through the various happenings of life on a modern farm in a way that old timers and new comers alike will be able to follow, and doesn’t shy away from the realities of life and death in the farming world. This book would be an excellent choice for anyone with interests ranging from dairy farming, farm life in general, and rural Ireland’s history with a really human voice and feel to it. It’s like you’re sitting at Lorna’s kitchen table with her, just having a chat about things.

An aspect that I really enjoyed was just how seamlessly Lorna takes you through the decades of development that have taken place on her family dairy farm. From pitchforks and manual labour to big tractors and bale trailers (and still some pitchforks and manual labour!). Lorna managed to weave in so much of the rich history of their farm through her anecdotal story-telling, I was sometimes surprised when I remembered she wasn’t actually alive when there was no hot water or electric! As I’ve said above, there’s just such a human voice and feel to the book that it feels as though you begin to know the generations of her family as if they were your own, through Lorna’s friendly tone and descriptions of individuals that everyone will come to picture in their mind’s eye.

Part of the charm of Till the Cows Come Home, alongside its factual information on historical and modern farming methods, is the constant anecdotes and short stories that Lorna includes to bring the reader to the modern day. Whether it’s a perilous ride atop a bale trailer as a child, moments spent reading by the fire, or her own children taking part in daily farming tasks, in just one book Lorna manages to introduce you to all the individuals, human and otherwise, that contribute, and have contributed, to the rural Irish community and success of a modern family dairy farm.

I’d like to congratulate Lorna on writing a book that I believe will be a great success. It was so fascinating and heart-warming to read about, and get to know, the people and experiences that have shaped her and her farm and family over the generations. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to review your book! It’s helped me actually start, and more importantly, finish a book in a respectable amount of time, something that was on my to-do list for this year!

Till the Cows Come Home Spread.indd

Grieving at 17

I’ve never written about this before. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because it’s going to be really hard. And why would you sit down and take the time and mental effort to write about something that is hard, when you could sit down and write so easily about something else. Like farming. But I’m at a stage where I would really like to invest time, energy, and emotion into more writing, to see where it might take me, and I’ve realised that I’ll never develop myself if I continue to write about what is comfortable and easy. 

Having had the title of this blog in my head for a few weeks now, and mentally constructed and reconstructed various sentences and paragraphs, I think I’m ready to start typing. To keep myself on track and accountable, I’d like to say now that my aim in writing this blog is purely to provide some insight, help, advice, support, anything remotely helpful, to others that might have gone, or be going through, something similar to what me, my friends, our parents, and teachers went through when Anna and Anastasia died. 

To briefly explain; in December 2014, our final year of school, in the midst of university applications and preparations for final exams, two of the most delightful people I have ever known were killed when their car collided with a bus on a rural road. Every single person that knew either, or both, Anna and Anastasia will have their own very personal and very traumatic memories of the hours, days, weeks and months that followed.

Grieving for the sudden loss of two friends at 17 was nothing short of horrific. Whilst I have the most comforting memories of our tight-knit boarding school community coming together to support each other in a way we wish we’d never had to, I also have memories of feeling so utterly alone in my pain and hurt and sense of loss that I, rightly or wrongly, make a conscious effort not to relive those first few days and weeks in my head too often.

The first thing to know about grief, is that it is entirely subjective. You don’t really know a person until you’ve seen them grieve. Grief is not just a mental reaction, but also a physical one. You can’t escape the physical feeling of being kicked in the stomach, pushing out sobs and tears and wails. You can’t escape the numbness, the manic shivering as you sit in a hot bath, the compulsion to hit things, to get angry at life and how fucking shit and unfair it can be. Any, all, or none of the above are entirely possible and acceptable physical reactions to grief. Once you’ve seen a large group of people simultaneously begin the grieving process you understand that there is no one-size-fits-all setting. Hysterics, disbelief, loss of consciousness, practicality, utter calm. If you think someone is grieving wrongly, you are the one that is wrong. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, as long as it is productive.

What I mean by productive, is that it is very easy and – to some extent – ok to switch off from the world when faced with grief. But if that is the only answer your body and mind can turn to, then your grief becomes unproductive. You’re internalising your pain, perhaps blaming yourself, not talking and shutting yourself off to others that might benefit from your support and being able to support you. It’s ok to have moments alone, quietly, thinking and reflecting, but it’s also really important to keep talking, as hard as it is. I got into an unproductive habit of dreading the 5th of every month in the months after Anna and Anastasia’s death. I would emotionally build up to it for days, working myself up for 24 hours of trauma and upset. My mum pointed out that I couldn’t dread the 5th of every month for the next 60 or 70 years.

On the first anniversary of Anna and Anastasia’s death I was in my first term of university, preparing for my Christmas exams. On the 5th of December I didn’t attend lectures, I lay in my bed, I didn’t go to meals, I watched Netflix, stared into space, and ate snacks. I don’t remember the 6th of December because I probably got up, got dressed, went to lectures and meals, did some revision, and watched Netflix. I allowed myself the space and time to grieve and remember my friends, but I didn’t allow it to consume me. It’s easy to let grief consume you.

I’d like to talk about the process of getting through those last few months of school, with the reality that life doesn’t have to last forever just because you’re young. I honestly have no idea how I passed my A Levels. I have a very distinct memory of sitting in my room at school, trying to revise, looking out the window at the nice day and thinking “Why am I putting myself through all this stress trying to revise, when I could die tomorrow?” Those few months were a constant internal battle, I cannot express the utter despair I felt at forcing myself to sit and revise every day. Why sit exams, and spend four years doing a degree, to help me reach my final goals, when I could literally die at any moment. It was fairly morbid. But that’s the reality. It’s exceptionally hard to think rationally and fight for your goals, when your reaction is to choose flight, and do what is easiest and brings immediate gratification and satisfaction with life. If you’re someone reading this that is battling yourself right now, please think long and hard about what is right for you. The pain and mental anguish of grief does ease, and if I’d listened to those feelings I’d most likely be sat here kicking myself for giving in and losing what I’d worked so hard for and got so close to having.

I’d like to pick up there on saying that the pain and mental anguish of grief eases. If you’re reading this in the hope I’ll say that those feelings stop, they don’t. They ease, but they never go away. So my next point is about the long terms affects of grief, particularly grief cause by traumatic experiences. And there are very real, often very unexpected lasting effects of it. I cannot drive past a crash on the motorway, even a minor bump involving no emergency services, without having to fight off a panic attack. Sometimes I can carry on by slowing my breathing and sometimes I have to pull over. I cannot listen to the song ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams without dissolving into tears and sobbing. Last year, when the Manchester Arena bombing happened, I spent a good two or three days out of my 2nd year revision schedule crying for those young people that lost friends just like I had. I actually wrote a blog about it at the time but never posted it. Sometimes when I get drunk I sit on the floor and cry.

But the main point, is that it does ease. I cry when I’m drunk a lot less. A few weeks ago, I actually got half way through ‘Angels’ before having to leave the dancefloor. Maybe soon I’ll be able to drive past a crash without tearing up and starting to panic. These things might not stop happening, but the pain of them does ease. For the majority of the time, I feel completely normal. Trust me, at some point, you will stop sobbing into your pillow 5 nights out of 7. And you’ll find ways of remembering the person who has died without upsetting yourself, and you’ll be able to cope better when those moments of ‘surprise grief’ appear.

I’m not sure if this is really the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s a huge step in the right direction in challenging myself and my writing. I’ll be trying to share more of my thoughts, opinions and experiences on things other – and including! – farming over the next few months. Please bear with me!

 

You are the tree and grief is the storm.

Sudden or expected,

Grief is the storm.

Lashing rain, blue skies, winds strong enough to break, moments of still and cracks of lightning.

Blue skies, lashing rain, winds strong enough to break, moments of still, and blue skies.

Lashing rain, winds strong enough to break, cracks of lightning.

Moments of still. Blue skies.

Winds strong enough to break.

Blue skies.

Blue skies.

 

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

You assume that we don’t cry for our animals, as you attack us for our way of life, calling us ‘murderers’ ‘rapists’ ‘child snatchers’ ‘abusers’. You don’t see the hours of hard, physical, sweating work we put in to giving our livestock the best life we possibly can. You don’t see the tears when a favourite dairy cow comes to the end of her life, the tears when you lose a lamb that you thought had perked up. You can’t see the sense of pride when you win a rosette at the local show with your best animal, the sense of satisfaction when you see your herd or flock grazing the fields.

The relationship between man and beast is as old as time itself. There is no argument that homosapiens would have developed to the point we are at now without the utilisation of animals. They fed us, clothed us, enabled us to grow other food sources and to travel. And that journey of human development has not happened via the exploitation of animals, it has happened via the relationship we, as humans, can build with animals.

It is often said that humans ‘domesticated’ livestock. I think that suggests that animals are a lot less intelligent than they really are. Certain animals realised they had more to benefit from sticking with the humans and being fed, sheltered, and looked after, than being out in the open with their predators for company. Survival instinct, natural selection, call it what you will, but the suggestion that we ‘conquered’ these wild animals and claimed them through no choice of their own is at best idealistic and, at worst, absurd. We do not exploit animals, we work with them.

There is a reason that only certain people can work in livestock farming. The relationship between a farmer and their livestock is built out of respect. We respect our animals, we respect their strength, we respect their ability to feel pain, we respect their ability to produce offspring to feed a greedy planet, we respect their right to a good, healthy life, and above all – we respect their right to a death that is as quick and pain free as it can possibly be. It is this ability to respect and love an animal, and still be able to end its life that makes those that work with livestock exceptional. And just because you can’t comprehend that relationship, it doesn’t mean that it is ultimately wrong.

And it isn’t wrong if you can’t comprehend that relationship. That is how it came to be that there were farmers, and there were also leather workers, stone masons, ironworkers, and all the other professions that came along as mankind developed with the help of the animal kingdom. But just as we all respect animals, we all need to respect other people a little more too. Just because someone else does something or believes something that you don’t think is right, it doesn’t mean you need to pass opinion in a way that makes that person feel attacked, insulted, sad, scared, or otherwise. Think before you speak (or type).

In the words of the great Arethra Franklin…”R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

My sheep are coming back

This weekend, I will be loading a trailer with my 20 ewes, and bringing them to a field less than 10 minutes walk from where I live. I haven’t had my flock with me since we moved away from Rutland 18 months ago (and massive thanks must go to ‘The Boss’, Wilfred, for looking after them during that time). Moving 2 and a half hours away from the ewes didn’t really seem like a big issue at the time. I didn’t even consider that I’d miss them as much as I have, I was busy at uni and was hardly involved with the house move, but 18 months later, I really am ready to be back with my sheep. I’ve worked so hard to get my flock started that taking an unplanned 18 months break from that was a lot more difficult than I’d ever imagined.
It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually cried over the frustration of not having my flock within a reasonable distance. Moving to a new area is hard, moving to a new area when you spend the majority of your time at uni is even harder, and moving to a new area where you know no-one and need grazing for 20 sheep is even harder than that. My sheep are more than just a hobby, but they’re also more than just a business. I’ve cried because at times all you really need in life is to go and sit in the field and watch your ewes chew their cud, but I’ve also cried because I’ve got such big plans and dreams that I want to achieve with my sheep, and it was impossible to even get started with those with 2 and a half hours between us.
So I’m exceptionally excited to finally be able to focus on improving my little flock. Increasing numbers, working on beginning to breed and perhaps show Pedigree Jacobs, focusing on breeding and genetics and the type of lamb I want my ewes to be producing. This is the sort of stuff that excites me (believe it or not!).
My flock will (hopefully) be around long after I’ve graduated uni, and the work and thought and money that I invest now will start to show and come to fruition as I leave uni and get on with life. So it’s always been important to me to make sure I’ve got the beginnings of a really sound flock of sheep for when I finish uni and can hopefully work even harder at growing my ovine empire. Now that my ewes will be close by, I can finally make a start on improving my flock and making it more of a business and less of a hobby. So excitement doesn’t even cover it. I know that I’ll be so much more content when I’ve got my sheep back in my care.

Wool’d you believe it?

Today I saw on Facebook that the programme This Morning were running a poll on whether we should consider wearing wool the same as wearing fur, asking their viewers if wool is ‘cruel’ and whether we should follow PETA’s stance and go wool free.

It was quite refreshing to see that the majority of comments were overwhelmingly positive, berating This Morning for trying to make a story out of nothing, and – quite rightly – quoting welfare as the leading reason behind shearing (it certainly isn’t the profit margin!).

But for me it is just another example of how these massive organisations, with a clear bias, can influence so many people who just don’t even think to consider that what the organisation is saying may not be the truth. Organisations such as PETA and other animal rights groups obviously have one aim: To ‘expose’ cruelty to animals, and that is fine. Of course cruelty to animals is not acceptable under ANY circumstances, and as a member of the agricultural industry, I am just as upset and outraged when I see cases of abuse as any animal rights activist.

My issue is with people that see what these organisations post and believe that what they are portraying is the truth across the industry. It so often is not. I see videos used to attack agriculture and farmers on social media all the time, of animal abuse that hasn’t happened in this country, or cases where the abuser has already been prosecuted. I have no issue with people that choose not to eat meat, or follow a vegan diet, or simply just promote animal rights issues. That is your choice. But people see these videos, these photos, this propaganda, and often believe that this is common practice. Sometimes maybe it is common practice, but not in the UK.

If you are concerned about animal welfare on farms, then the single most helpful thing you can do is buy British produce. We have the highest welfare standards in the world. Standards for things that you may not even have thought needed regulating – but they are – because it is important to farmers in this country that our animals are handled correctly, looked after well, and treated with respect.

I think as humans we’ve become lazy. We no longer seem to want to educate ourselves and form an opinion based on research and unbiased information. The first impression we get of something is taken as gospel, we believe the first thing we read or see about something we have no experience in. People that call dairy farmers ‘abusers’, ‘rapists’ and ‘child snatchers’. Calling dairy farming ‘slavery’ and branding it a ‘slaughter industry’. These people may not have even been on a farm, but they’ve formed their opinion based on biased propaganda that has been funded by organisations with an anti-farming agenda.

If you want to educate yourself on animal welfare and farming practices in the UK, be my guest. There are plenty of opportunities out there to go and see farms and see what farming is really like, not what it is like through the eyes of an organisation whose sole aim is to ‘expose’ the industry. Of course, there are going to be people who abuse farm animals, just as there are people who abuse their pets, and their children. You don’t then start to say that all pet owners are abusers, all parents are cruel. The important point to realise is that other farmers are just as disgusted as you when cases of abuse, neglect and cruelty come out. I think some people believe we support the abuser just because they’re also a farmer.

It always astounds me that people who claim to care so much about animals, can be so utterly hateful towards another human. And I know that animal welfare, and the right to life and the exploitation of animals is a passionate subject, I feel passionately about it too, but that never gives you the right to attack others in the way that I have seen farmers attacked on social media. It’s verbal abuse and targeted harassment of an industry that contributes so much to this country, whether you agree with it or not. Farmers don’t take the time out of their day to individually harass people that choose not to eat meat, calling them disgusting names and trying to shame them for their choices. I’ve seen farmers told that their children should be taken away from them, and raised by people who don’t abuse and rape animals.

I’m not sure what more farmers can do. It’s disheartening to see the constant stream of abuse and negative press we get across all platforms. We’ve got Twitter, we’ve got Instagram, we go to shows and supermarkets and have tv programmes aimed at promoting the industry and all the fantastic work we do for our animals and the industry. But do people want to see a thousand videos of sheep being sheared comfortably and without pain, or do they want to see one video of sheep being cut and stamped on and chucked around? Which is more believable as a true representation of the industry, and which makes better viewing?