Self love: more than masturbation

Self love. It’s a euphemism, a way of skirting around something that isn’t talked about in polite society, which isn’t really the way I do things. If it’s not something most people would talk about in polite society – sex, masturbation, writing erotica in your spare time – you can pretty much guarantee I’ll be doing it.

I’ve been lucky, I think, when it comes to masturbation – no one has ever tried to make me feel guilty about it, and the shelf crammed with erotica on public display by my bed is just a grown-up update on the pile I hid under Mills & Boon novels as a teen, and which my mum kindly turned a blind eye to.

I’m with Girl on the Net on wanking, though – it’s not something I indulge in in a sensual, lingering manner. I know what works for me and everything about the way I do it, from the toys I use to the times of day I pick – just as I’m on the cusp of sleep, at night, or when I’m already late for work in the morning, conspires to mean that I’m all about an orgasm in under five minutes – often it barely feels like engaging with my body at all.

And I’m okay with that. Sex positivity often suggests, with the best of intentions, I think, that women should understand their bodies – I’m thinking the hand mirror between the legs trick that teenage girls are sometimes told to try in order to be able to identify what’s ‘down there,’ and the assumption that, once you understand your body, liking it will naturally follow. Which is a nice idea, but not necessarily the reality.

Partly, I think what I struggle with is the separation of body and mind. We talk a lot about women’s bodies, and increasingly we acknowledge their minds in so far as women’s desires and fantasies are more recognised now than ever before, but I still think the conversation about self-love in the sense of being mentally healthy and at ease with ourselves has a long way to go.

Luxuries and indulgent products for women are often marketed as being something for use when we escape from the myriad demands put on our time, often by the people who care about us and who we care about – I’m thinking partners, children. Loneliness isn’t something that’s acknowledged (and yes, I see that it’s not an ideal way to sell products!) – women are painted as always trying to grab ten minutes ‘for themselves’ rather than watching the hours stretching out in front of them, filling their time with as many activities as they can, in order to distract themselves from the fact that something feels like it’s missing. Because it can’t just be me, can it?

I’ve mastered masturbation. I understand my body. My mind, not so much. Which is why, for me, self love is as much about learning to sit alone in a cinema and enjoy the experience as it is about wanking.

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On red lips & falling out of love with my body

Being brave with make up is an odd one. When I originally started thinking about this post, I was intending to say that it’s perverse how, the more at ease I am in my own skin, the more tame my make up. But it’s not perverse; it’s complicated.

In my teens my skin was greasy, but even then, I escaped lightly compared to many of my schoolmates. My mum bought me a few Rimmel bits when I was ten and the fashion for Body Shop parties meant that make up quickly became part of my daily routine. Foundation, mascara, lipstick – we were allowed to wear it at school in those days, too.

I never felt I mastered make up, and I never experimented with it that much, but I liked playing with it, and I was interested in it, in a way I never was with clothes. Glitter gels, iridescent powder shadow (thanks, Miss Selfridge!), stick on hearts. It was tacky, and joyful, as fuck.

In recent years, the frequency with which I’ve worn make up has dropped dramatically. I rarely wear any at work, and the contents of my day-to-day make up bag (listed below), is pricey, but play-it-safe in the extreme.

Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Foundation
Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
Benefit Roller Lash Mascara
Clarins Multibush
Tom Ford Lips & Boys Lipstick in Eric

It worries me that I’ve stopped wearing make up. Not necessarily because I think I ‘need’ it, although it does make me feel more confident, but because every day I get up too late to put any on, every day I go to work with wet hair and bare skin, I’m reminded of the following statement on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale:

‘I have lost interest in my appearance.’

The scale requires you to rank how much each statement applies to you between 0-3, and I’m never quite sure what to do with that one, because although I do wear less make up and spend less time getting ready, I still buy new clothes, I still read a couple of beauty bloggers, I still spend money on new products. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s bad because increasingly, I buy make up in the same way some people buy bags and shoes – because I’ve put on a stone and a half in four years, I’m uncomfortable in my body, I feel fat, and buying clothes is miserable. Make up always fits, but it’s also an excuse to not take a long, hard look at myself and the way I really feel about my body. It’s an excuse not to change.

But there’s a flip side, too. I already feel conspicuous, because of the disability, because of the weight – and so, for the first time in my life, I’m not afraid to choose cosmetics that will make me stand out. In the past couple of years, I’ve bought three *bright* red lip products – MAC Red, MAC Sweet Sakura and, this week, Lipstick Queen’s Seven Sins gloss in Anger. 

The name is not a coincidence. I am angry, mostly with myself. But on my lips, that anger is transformed into something vital, something kickass. One of the saddest conversations I had with a friend of mine – who is beautiful – was about lipstick.

‘I’d never wear red,’ she said. ‘I just want to blend in. I don’t want to be noticed.’

It’s her choice, obviously, but it’s not what I want for myself. I’m not convinced red lipstick suits me, or is flattering, but I also don’t care. I’ve been reading Ella Risbridger’s wonderful lipstick columns for The Pooland she talks often about liking shades of lipstick that might not suit her. And I think she’s right – it’s psychological, as much as anything else. It’s colour, in a world of beige.

Red is anger. It’s also love, passion, fire, heat. It’s brave and it’s unapologetic.

And right now, it’s what I need.

An uneasy relationship with my blanket fort

I love my bed. I don’t iron my bedlinen, instead I use jersey cotton, which feels just like your comfiest T-shirt, in Summer, and flannel in Winter. Both create a snuggly, inviting heaven. I have the perfect number of pillows, books all over the place, and I sleep naked. I know how to make my bed somewhere I want to be.

And for the most part, I do want to be there. I go to bed too late, but I don’t struggle with insomnia once I’m in. I hit snooze again and again in the mornings. I lie in at weekends and I’ll take a two hour journey home in the early hours if it means I can sleep under my own duvet.

But depression and anxiety have made my relationship with it a little more complex. There’s lots of great writing out there about the impact of depression and associated medication on sex – Jilly Boyd and The Shingle Beach are both worth reading on the subject – and I’m not sure I can add anything else useful to the discussion, even if the Fluoxetine has undoubtedly diminished both my desire for and my ability to orgasm.

What I can tell you is that, when your bed becomes the place you retreat from the world, a place where you go when you’re at your absolute lowest, it makes it harder to also keep it somewhere you want to make yourself come. The blanket fort is a curse as much as it is a blessing – yes, I can go to bed at 20:40 on a weeknight and the softness of the sheets and the sheer relief at not having to face another minute of the day will make me feel better, but that comfort is short-lived. By 1 a.m. I’m invariably awake again. My body thinks it’s morning and the anxiety cranks back up as I lie there in damp sheets and try desperately to find a cool spot with my feet and to persuade my mind – still too sleepy and distracted to focus on anything useful like reading – to drift back off. It takes at least an hour, and when the alarm goes off in the morning, I’m no more rested than when I went to bed, despite having laid there for pretty much twelve hours.

The first time I was diagnosed with depression I read Sally Brampton’s Shoot the Damn Dog, which I would highly recommend to anyone suffering with mental health issues. I seem to remember her talking about spending her lowest points not in bed, but sitting on the bedroom floor, in the gap between bed and wardrobe. That makes sense to me: it smacks of lack of self care, for one thing (I’ve been known to come home from work, sit on the sofa in my coat and stare at a blank TV screen as the night plunges the room into darkness; on other occasions I cried hysterically while supporting myself against a doorframe. I wrote this, loosely inspired by that time.) But also, it captures the rapidness with which depression can side swipe you and the need to reduce the world to the smallest possible area when it does, in order to be able to breathe. If I get as far as my bed when I feel that shit, in some ways I’m doing well. But it doesn’t feel that way when I get up for work the following morning having spent nearly all my free time horizontal. At that point it feels like a failure.

Talking about it

I’m not sure of the etiquette of girl crushes, but I’m pretty sure the best way to go about them isn’t to get all star struck, buy the sex toy and then write about the guest post. Girlonthenet is probably utterly sick of me by now.

But the guest post is really interesting, and it ties in with stuff I’ve written about here before. I contemplated not writing about my views on it, because when someone writes something so beautifully honest and open about their own life, it’s probably best not to try and make it all about you.

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Charlie? She’s a fucking letdown

When I wrote about Eroticon a couple of posts ago, I was kind of hoping my nerves would settle before the day itself. Instead, the complete opposite proved true: I spent last night wide awake with nerves until 3.30, and I had to get up at 6.30 to drive to Bristol. Where I spent the whole day in a state of permanent terror.

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Butterflies

It’s a weird week to be admitting that I’m more nervous than ever about what I write. Last weekend saw my highest number of blog hits ever, along with endorsements from both Girlonthenet and Alison Tyler. For me personally, it doesn’t get much better than that. Then, yesterday, I also got a lovely email from a reader who, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have realised was in the readership demographic for this kind of blog at all.

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