Little women grow up

I have just returned from the cinema where I saw Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women. As a child, Louisa May Alcott’s book Little women was one of my favourites and I read it many times over. My husband suprised me with a ticket for tonight after it was sold out when we tried to watch it at the weekend.

Watching it transported me straight back to reading my dog-eared copy by torchlight under my duvet. I allowed the loving March family to take my hand and bring me with them on their tale of love, betrayals, family, strife, hardship and sisterhood. As an only child myself, I was always drawn to the tight bond between the four sisters.

I desperately wanted to be a writer, so I understood Jo’s passion and admired her gumption. I also wanted to be kind and good, like poor sweet Beth was. I was a little prissy and overly dramatic, like Amy, and I wanted to marry for love, like Meg. I longed, in my idyllic country childhood, to struggle through war and sickness and turmoil, just like they did. Coming through well-rounded, full of wisdom and tall tales! (I told you I was dramatic…)

When you stop to think about it, they were the Sex & The City girls or Spice Girls of their time. I know, a fairly horrifying thought, but each character possessing a trait you can identify with personally, so you can see yourself as one of them, or even parts of yourself in all of them.

The book has love stories and shows love in many different forms, but it’s not a romance to me. It is about learning how to become a woman and where you fit in, and about the bonds of family. Greta’s version places feminism and choice at the forefront and perhaps she saw in the story something I connected with before I had words for it.

Now as an adult I still have fondness for Little Women, though in my real life I know I would have less patience for the foiballs and drama of the heroines. I have enough of my own very real troubles to wish myself anything as deadly as war, famine and life on the bread line. I’ve grown up. I’ve lost touch with that feisty Little Woman I once was and perhaps it is time I remembered her a little.

A promise I have made myself is that I will write more this year. When I was reading about ink-stained Jo in this novel, I was so sure that I would have books published by the time I was 30. I’m pushing 40 now and finding the blog hard enough to keep up with! But Jo’s furiously scribbled pages, the plays she writes for her family and her sheer determination are calling from the backroom of my childhood memories. They are reminding me we are all Little Women, even when we grow up.

I am thankful I did marry for love, and that he is the kind of man who can give me a thoughtful gift like a night with myself and this treasured childhood memory. I am thankful to live in a world where even though I’m sickly like Beth, I likely won’t die from it. I am thankful I live in a world where I don’t have to fight to publish my stories or pretend to be a man. I can write and be heard as me and I should use that privilege. I am sad that we don’t yet live in a world where the stories of Little Women are always treated as equally, or given as much prominence, as men. And where Little Women of Colour are fighting to be heard and represented still. But I’m thankful I see the fire of change in so many Little Women’s eyes and I am it, is pushing it’s way through.

If this story tells us anything, it is that we should love our sisters – even when we don’t understand them or don’t like them in that moment. It tells us our stories are powerful, no matter how ordinary or how dramatic, they all have a place.

Happy New Year / Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Trigger warning: Diet talk, eating, weight loss, body image

Insert typical “new year, new me” mantras here and add in some additional unachievable resolutions. Is that what you’re expecting? Well, prepare to be underwhelmed!

I don’t actually hate new year’s resolutions, like some people seem do, and in recent times I have found a new year is a great driver for making successful changes in my life. But they have to be tied to some kind of measurable success criteria, or significant motivation. Otherwise I can lose interest, or worse still get sidetracked into some unwelcome behaviours.

For example, in 2018 I was all about getting fitter and healthier, and that was mainly driven by health concerns. I actually achieved that pretty well and was driven further by my engagement to my now husband. Actually not for our wedding, but our honeymoon! I wanted to be able to go somewhere warm and be able to cope with it, and have enough energy to do all the things we wanted to do. A previous holiday in Berlin had us experiencing a heatwave and I just couldn’t cope, it was unbearable. I was so sweaty and uncomfortable and I had to sit down every half an hour because I was so unfit. It was then that I realised how far I had fallen from where I was comfortable being.

I’m strongly into body positivity, but in a very much “do as I say, not as I do” kind of way! I have always been bigger than other people. I’m short but have big hips, bum and breasts. So even when I’m actually pretty thin, I don’t look that way. And my weight has fluctuated terribly over the last two decades, ranging from a size 12 to a size 24.

When I was a teenager in the 90s it was cool to wear 70’s-style clothes like flares, Adidas striped jackets and collared t-shirts. All my friends were tiny waif like girls (because we were young!), and they looked so much like the girls in bands on posters on my bedroom wall.

I always wanted to be thin like them, and even though I did dancing classes and played sports, I never was. In part this is because I like food, especially cake and chocolate, and I eat a lot of it. Unapologetically, mainly. But what I didn’t realise then is that it’s also just my body type.

Many of those friends tell me now how they wished they had my curves back then. I wished they had told me that at the time, it would have helped. My dad used to joke about my ‘thunder thighs’ and ‘footballer’s legs’, but I never realised then that these are because my legs are powerful, strong and full of muscle. Now I am proud of them.

I applaud people who are powerful, confident and are at home in their own skin. I want to be that way, but I’m not (not yet anyway). I realise that I have for too long focused on the scales, the numbers, the fat rolls. But it isn’t about that. For me the question is: what is it about inhabiting my body that makes me feel good? I feel good when I’m able to do the things I want to. I feel good when I feel I look good. I like feeling strong and powerful. I like feeling sexy sometimes.

So I realise I need to work on doing the things that make me feel that way, not dieting or trying to lose weight. That is what works for me, but everyone is different.

I’ve really beaten myself up this last year because I lost all the progress I made in 2018. The scales stopped going down, then eventually they went up. I was unwell for a large portion of the year, only finally getting a diagnosis recently of Asthma and Hypothyroidism. A lot of my time was spent feeling angry at myself for not being able to get off the sofa, when in fact I wasn’t giving pause to consider why that was.

So am I going to be starting a new diet or fitness regime? Is that what I’m really trying to say, and all of this is just waffle? Well, in a way…

I’ve lost where I was a year ago in my fitness levels, there is no denying that. I was happy then with where I was, what I could do physically and I’m keen to get back there. I also want my clothes to fit me again as I’ve gone up a dress size and I can’t afford a new wardrobe!

What I DON’T want to do is be obsessing about how many pounds up or down I am. So, I’m removing unhealthy accounts from my social media (meaning those obsessed with weigh ins and counting) and I’m concentrating on eating well and doing exercise, when I can. I’m not going to beat myself for not feeling well enough to do something. I’m not going to focus the scales, but how I feel. And, sometimes buying a nice dress or eating a piece of cake might be what I need.

Sometimes a big salad or a HIIT session at the gym might do it. Sometimes I might need to go to bed for two days. But overall it’s all about me feeling better in myself, and exactly how I achieve that doesn’t really matter. As long as I treat myself with love and patience.

That is my new year’s fitness resolution: finding comfort and peace in my own skin.