Nothing Compares 2 Slut Shaming

Date: July 20, 2015

posted by Lee / Comments: No Comments / Tags: , , , ,

Last week, former 90’s icon of rebellion, Sinead O’Connor dropped a ‘c bomb’ on a fellow famous lady for having the cheek to do her job. Kim Kardashian, irrespective of what you may think of her personally, is a pop-culture icon. As such, it is not unusual for her to appear on the cover of any magazine.


According to O’Connor’s logic, ‘the music has officailly died’ due to the featuring of a non-musician on the cover of Rolling Stone. What about Miranda Kerr’s cover in 2009? The band played on, right? I mean, people have been making music since then, right? Ms. Kerr has even less to do with music if you consider Kim’s at least married to a musician. So by O’Connor’s standards, how is her Rolling Stone cover in any way less offensive than Kim’s? The reality is that since it’s first publication in 1967 Rolling Stone has featured musicians, actors and models on its covers, so the idea that Kardashian as a cover model is somehow underqualified is rediculous.


Kim Kardashian constantly divides opinion, but love her or hate her, she can still stir up controversy. The irony of O’Connor’s vitriolic comments is that her response is the very reason Kim continues to be booked for cover after cover and sell a hell of a lot of magazines. The fact that she’s never released an album is irrelevant. She could be on the cover of Monster Motors and sell millions and she doesn’t drive a truck either.


I used to love Sinead’s music. I respected her as an artist, a feminist and an activist, but sadly in recent years she’s become one of the prominent slut-shamers of our time. The three open letters she penned to Miley Cyrus were depressing. Here was a 20-year-old girl expressing her sexuality in one of her music videos and citing Nothing Compares 2 U as the inspiration. Instead of a ‘thumbs-up’ from one of her mentors she was shot down and told, ‘None of the men ogling you give a s*&t about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a f*&k about you.’ Woah!


Be this sage advice or not, why make it so public? If O’Connor’s intentions were truly noble, why not write Miley an email and express her concerns genuinely and discreetly? These letters’ intent was at least partially to humiliate Cyrus who being 20, responded in the way most 20-year-olds would and trolled her on Twitter. I’m not condoning her reaction, but a more considered retort would have been a total waste of her time.


I agree wholeheartedly when Sinead wrote to Cyrus, ‘whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women.’ So why then is she so happy to call other women whores and c*&ts? Is it not easier as women to be kind to each other; especially women struggling to occupy their place in such a ruthless industry? What would it take for us to lift each other up instead of tear each other down?


I was disgusted and disappointed to read O’Connor’s comments about Kim Kardashian’s most recent cover. If she wanted to spew venom why not at Rolling Stone? Surely it was the magazine that disappointed her by booking Kim for the cover and not some band she’d have approved of. Kim was just doing her job and is laughing at her slut shaming haters like O’Connor all the way to the bank.


This is not a piece in defence of Kim Kardashian. I am really quite ambivalent towards her, but I think it’s irresponsible of us as women not to react when we see a well-respected woman like O’Connor speak so disrespectfully about another; especially when Kardashian has done nothing to O’Connor to deserve such public degradation. Shame on Sinead for behaving so poorly and calling women terrible names for simply daring to earn a living. #BoycottRollingStone? #BoycottSlutShaming.


Our Wardrobe Malfunction

Date: May 25, 2015

posted by Lee / Comments: No Comments / Tags: , , ,

I arrived back in Sri Lanka on Saturday morning, after fantastically rare, stress-free 19-hours of travel. This place has felt like a second home to me since I first came here to volunteer in 2013. It’s so nice to see that not much has changed and that the gentrification of Asia has been slow to reach these shores. The odd McDonald’s can be found, but the vast majority of the landscape is traditional and beautiful.

I find one of the most challenging things about working here isn’t the heat, the spicy food or even the occasional communication issue; it’s adhering to the conservative dress code that’s expected of those living and working in the local community. That’s not to say it’s a challenge adhering to it, it’s not that at all. It’s a challenge to actually be able to purchase appropriate clothing in western countries like the UK and USA to adequately prepare me and other women for our travels in countries where women are expected to dress modestly.

Grab a shirt from your wardrobe. No seriously, try it. Now put your hand inside it and hold it up to the light. Can you see through it? Of course you can. Western clothes are designed to be sexy, even if you were holding up a collared business shirt and not a burnout tee from Target, I bet you could see a lot more than you wanted to be on show round the office. We as women have had to adapt our wardrobe by adding layers or upping sizes to avoid being sexualized at every turn.

How about a pair of trousers, jeans or pants? How tight are they? Even if they’re not meant to be ‘skinny’ are they? I had to go up two sizes to get to a comfortable level of bagginess in the legs of my khakis; everything else was clinging like you would not believe and they were labeled as ‘loose fit.’

To those of you thinking…’just get stuff out there.’ Of course that’s possible, but I’m taller and bustier than the average woman in Sri Lanka, so the skirts are always a little short and the shirt buttons in my bust area are always pulling, threatening to pop off and take out someone’s eye. But that’s not the point, is it?

I should be able to walk into a clothing store in London and in Illinois and buy clothes that not skin tight or sheer. I should have the option of a low or high neckline and whether or not I’d like you to see my bra underneath. I can’t remember the time I last caught a glimpse of a man’s nipple through his shirt, but a woman’s bra? Every. Time.

We’ve seen this before with children’s clothing. This mom highlighted shorts for girls and shorts for boys were sold at drastically different lengths and there was absolutely nothing in between for anyone. From a young age we are sold the idea that shorter is better. That sheer is ‘sexy,’ but I’m just trying to work here and I don’t want to be sexy at work. Especially when the national team have managed to turn up to the meeting looking great and professional and we look like a Lady Gaga/Miley Cyrus tribute act.

I am working in 95 degree heat here and I want some nice clothes in some damn breathable fabrics, OK? I want chinos that don’t get stuck in my crotch from all the sweat and the too-tightness and I demand a collared shirt I don’t have to put another shirt on underneath of because: 95 degrees! Am I asking too much?

I think not. So here is my proposal to clothing companies everywhere- give us the choice. Let us choose how much of our bodies are put on show and give us the option to pick between the opaque and translucent. I want clothes that cover my body because I do not want to be sexualized or ogled at work. I want to do my job and I want my outfit to have no more or less bearing on what people are thinking about me than my male colleagues. How about that? How about a choice? I think it’s about time.

Body-Loving Burlesque

Date: May 19, 2015

posted by Lee / Comments: No Comments / Tags: , , , ,

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but burlesque really helped me to love and feel comfortable in my body. I’m in no way a professional, I’ve just got a few lessons under my garter belt and I can’t recommend it enough.

I was 18 when I was introduced to Burlesque. As a gangly teenager who was always on the stage performing in musical theatre shows, I was instantly intoxicated by the delicate femininity of the performers juxtaposed with the raw sensuality of the art form itself. From my second-row seat, I watched as woman after incredible woman took the stage and transformed it into a boudoir, a bus stop, a cake factory and more.

The great thing about Burlesque is that there are no rules. Purists might say that to be a true Burlesque dancer you need to remove a certain amount of clothing or include a few signature moves in your routine, like the Bump and Grind, but really, you can do whatever you want.

I’ve seen fire-eaters, mimes, gymnastics, fans and fireworks in routines before. I’ve watched, giddy and amazed as feathers flew, rhinestones glinted and sequins spun across the floor, unable to withstand the G-Force of the nipple-tassels they were once attached to as they twirled and blurred from the speed. Burlesque is pure fun and fantasy and what’s not to like about that?

It was at a friend’s bachelorette party when I first attempted this kind of performance for myself. When we arrived, after some awkward introductions and a few glasses of bubbly, a gorgeous and voluptuous redhead took us through the basics of walking, glove peeling and shimmying. In a dance studio covered with mirrors, you really couldn’t hide from yourself, so if you wanted to have fun, you had to watch yourself wobble.

We were a diverse group; most sizes, shapes and colours were represented and we made a pretty pathetic troupe. But man, did we laugh! After a short while it ceased to matter that most of us, including myself, had the grace of a drunken elephant. I felt graceful. I felt sexy.

There’s something about opera gloves and a feather boa that make a girl feel good, so good that I signed up for lessons that day and started the following week.

The first day of class was s bit unnerving. I’d had quite a bit of champagne at the bachelorette party, so turning up sober was a bit of a shock and I started to second-guess my decision. But once the rest of the women filed in and we got to know each other I was glad I came.

As before, we were quite a mixed bag. Single mums to pole dancers, lawyers to architects and everything in-between. We were bigger and smaller than each other, but no one seemed to be self-conscious. Our fantastic teacher took us through a series of moves and over the course of four weeks we’d learned a routine which culminated in all of us twirling our tassels as fast as we could.

To get bare-breasted in a room full of strangers was optional, but we were all up for it and all admiring each others’ tassels at close range. Feeling empowered through movement and character, even the shyest in the group was transformed into a little minx by the last class.

Even now I flirt with the idea of getting on an actual stage someday, in front of an audience who aren’t friends or fellow students. I choreograph routines in my head on my way to work most days, but have yet to really commit to the idea and give myself a name and a persona.

However, those classes gave me confidence in myself, in my body and I made some lifelong friends. I fully recommend trying this yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose (but a few pesky clothes) and everything to gain.

A Closer Look at Street Harassment

Date: March 30, 2015

posted by Lee / Comments: No Comments / Tags: , ,

Street harassment is a global problem. In every city I’ve lived in, and most I’ve travelled to, I’ve been subjected to cat calling, inappropriate touching and public masturbation and sadly, my experiences are not unique. Every woman I know has a story and many of my male friends too. I want to have a look at some of the myths surrounding street harassment and what we can do as a community to be more aware of not only this kind of disturbing behavior, but the ideas behind the behavior so we can work to eradicate it.


1. If a stranger speaks to you on the street, they are harassing you.


This is not true. If someone says ‘good morning’ to you on the street, this is not harassment. If someone says ‘hello’ to you on the street, you are not a victim. We need to stop looking for reasons to be afraid of one another. Sometimes folks are just being friendly and there is nothing wrong with that. We live in a world so dominated by virtual contact that a genuine human interaction can seem intimidating, and that’s really depressing. Let’s break the cycle. Say good morning back and make your mama proud!


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen this video of the woman walking through New York for 10 hours. Now watch it again and see if you can tell the difference between people being friendly and people being predatory.


When you are a victim of harassment, you know it. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you involuntarily ball up your fists and you disappear inside yourself a little. When someone swerves into your path for no reason or someone puts their face really close to yours and tell you to ‘smile,’ that is harassment; when someone makes a comment to you as they pass by about your body like ‘I wouldn’t say no,’ then you are a victim.


Common courtesy and threat should not be confused and too often they are, thus forcing us into a constant sate of high alert. And let’s be honest, that guy who owns the bakery and says ‘hi’ to you in the morning is not trying to scare you, plus he’s ancient, so you could totally take him in a fight.


2. Only women are victims of street harassment.


Yes, it is far more common for a woman to be the victim of this kind of abuse, but it happens to men too, and often, we don’t take it seriously.

As in the above video, Dennis Cee was recently trying to expose the frequency in which street harassment happens in New York, but this time to highlight the difficulties gay men face.

Not actually being homosexual himself, Dennis disguised himself in the traditional attire of the gays- a comically tight t-shirt and teste-crushing orange pants. He then topped off his look with a little bag from every gay man’s favorite shop; Victoria’s Secret and took to the streets. I jest, because although the good intention was there, the execution was truly terrible.

However, one thing that this video did successfully was shine a big, bright light on how women are street harassers too. At the 25 and the 45 second marks, women invaded Dennis’ personal space and made comments about his appearance and his comically tiny bag. Then shockingly, at 57 seconds, two young women put their hands on his body, and said something to him as he walks away. That is not OK and we need to start recognizing that the issue of street harassment is not a gendered one.


3. Street harassment is a compliment.


No. A strange man on the street ogling your breasts and telling you that ‘you’d get it’ is not paying you a compliment. He is not trying to make you feel good. He is doing the exact opposite of complimenting you, because compliments are empowering and street harassment is intimidating.


Let’s not pretend that this kind of harassment has much to do with you at all. Similar to rape not being about sex, street harassment isn’t about flattery. Both forms of assault are about power and control. To insinuate that victims should somehow be grateful for the attention is completely insulting.


So what can we do?


1. Stop the double standard- I know I’ve been to a few bachelorette parties that got out of hand, and I’m sure our lascivious, disruptive behavior was intimidating to the men around us. Don’t be part of the problem. A woman touching a man without permission or speaking to him inappropriately should be no different than if the roles were reversed.


2. Make eye contact- In my experience, if you feel threatened, looking at the individual’s face can often make them think twice before speaking and force them to look away. Hiding and making yourself small is what they want. Stand tall and look them in the eye.


3. Practice kindness- try interacting with people on the street in a meaningful way. It may seem strange, but the more you welcome interactions from strangers, the less you fear them. Say ‘hello’ to people you see in the morning, you’ll be amazed what it does for your confidence and it might just improve their day.


4. Fight it- There are some amazing charities like Hollaback who through campaigning and activism are making a difference and bringing street harassment to the forefront of the political agenda. Whether it’s on the picket line or simply wearing a t-shirt to raise awareness, get involved and let’s work for change together.


I wish that we had the ability to force all harassers to unknowingly hit on their moms in disguise, like in this fantastic Everlast Campaign. But that’s not real life, so in the meantime keep fighting the fight against street harassment in your neighborhood. Let’s all work hard in our corners of the world to keep each other safe.


When Eating Disorders Are Not About Beauty. My Story.

Date: February 3, 2015

posted by Katie Ashley / Comments: 2 Comments / Tags: ,

It seems that talking about eating disorders and positive body image is en vogue lately. Stories of recovery, calls for help, and encouragement to heal are splashed all over social media and major online publications. The stories that I am seeing are heartbreaking. They are all from individual perspectives, and yet they have a lovely sense of sameness.


It is the story of a woman struggling with self worth and self esteem as a result of an onslaught of images of unrealistic hypersexualized women from the popular media. It is the story of body shaming experiences that were endured at a tender age. It is an infuriatingly common story that chills me to the bone and lights an activist fire in my soul.


But, it is not the only story. I know it wasn’t mine.


I heard only positive things about my body when I was young. I was always told how tiny I was, how flexible, how talented, how fearlessly willing to push myself to my limits. All good things to hear as a young dancer.


When I began getting the attention of boys and men I continued to hear only praise. I can remember standing in the basement of a house that belonged to the parents of a friend of my first boyfriend surrounded by a group of 16 year old guys. I was the only girl. They were discussing how flat my stomach was and how luck my then boyfriend was to be dating me.


The positive feedback was not limited to my body. I was also told regularly that I was smart, creative, a good student.  I followed the rules so well.  I was so responsible. I was a good friend, a democratic leader. I was a role model.


The praise from so many people in my life felt amazing. It felt sustaining. If felt like a part of me, like part of my own internal dialogue.


Until it didn’t.


I began to realize that my perception of myself wasn’t mine.


I began to go deep into myself to figure out what I believed in, what made up the core of me. I jumped down the rabbit hole - silently, without warning, without telling anyone.


My eating disorder was a misguided attempt at independence. It was a way for me to feel that I didn’t need anything. It was a distraction from all of the anger and sadness that I didn’t want to feel. It was a way have something for me that was not in concert with the needs, beliefs, and desires of someone else. It was a way to be my own person. It was a turning away from the deep connection to spirituality that I was feeling, but which was in direct conflict with how I perceived the religion in which I was raised. It was a way to mirror physically the way I felt - unseen and unheard.


In truth though, it wasn’t any of these things. It wasn’t really working in any of the ways that I thought it was. Instead of finding my true self I had given complete control over to a part of myself that was terrified of living life on my own terms. I gave into fear and uncertainty and the eating disordered part of me took control.


Just as my experience with Anorexia was not about my appearance, neither was my recovery. The process of deep healing was long - much longer than it took to get to a healthy weight and cease all eating disordered behaviors.


I had to question everything. I had to let go of all that I believed and clung to. I had to drop the story that I had been telling myself. I had to drop the meal plans, the “therapy talk,” the identification with my self as an Anorexic. I had to leave behind my tendency to be the good student and the desire to rebel against system. I had to accept the unknown and get really comfortable with letting faith guide the way - even without a plan or set of rules to follow or break.


I had to take what resonated deep within in my soul and leave all the rest. I had to drop judgement of myself and others. I had to get really vulnerable and really brave. I had to find my Self and my voice.


Finding my voice and using it to create a life that felt authentic continues to be a phenomenal journey. I made many wrong turns at the beginning, but each misstep taught me a lesson and propelled me further into freedom from my eating disorder and into a place of trust and love for myself.


I see this time and again with my clients. They come for help with healing from eating disorders. They have made some progress in recovery in the recent past, but they are not happy. Just as I was over a decade ago, they are hyper-focused on food, exercise, and numbers of all kinds - on the scale, food labels, clothing tags, and on the clock.


The real issue is never the food or the body. The real pain is never healed by just gaining weight, losing weight, or letting go of eating disordered behaviors. The real healing comes from getting to the core. We truly heal when we find our voices and begin to use them. Full recovery is possible and it happens when we go deep and open ourselves up to knowing and being who we really are.


Katie Ashley is an international whole health coach who specializes in recovery coaching for those in the processes of healing from eating disorders, disordered eating and body image struggles. Her home is in Charleston, SC where she falls in love with her life everyday.

Katie loves to connect via social media. Reach out and say hello.