Gym jerks, please stop hating on January joiners


I go the gym once or twice a week. It’s okay, hold your applause, I tell you this only as a statement of fact. I go once or twice a week and I’m sloppy and lazy and the whole thing is really just an exercise in getting out of the house and shutting my brain off for an hour. I’m not in it for the gains.

So I’m in the gym this afternoon, and a man approaches me (my fault, obviously, for not only being a human woman but also forgetting my earphones, so I’ve no-one to blame but myself). And he begins with the classic opener, ‘I haven’t seen you in here before’, as if he’s the gym’s official census taker. ‘I switched to this gym recently,’ I say. ‘Back in November.’ Then there’s the tight-lipped smile and small-but-forceful nod of the head to indicate the conversation is over. It wasn’t over, of course (it’s never fucking over).

‘Oh right,’ he says, before furtively looking around and lowering his voice. ‘I thought you might have been one of them January gym-goers.’ I stare at him blankly, before giving him the nod again, coupled with an ‘ah’ and a sort of nasal exhale, and eventually he walks off to grunt theatrically in the weights area.

January gym-goers. The absolute worst kind of people, if social media and op-ed columnists are to be believed. Right up there with vegans and cyclists. Look at them, jumping on the health-kick bandwagon, handing over huge wads of their hard-earned cash and then exercising in an environment designed for exercising. God, just awful. Where do they get off deciding to make some healthy changes to their lives in this, the month of January, which is apparently sacrosanct to year-round gym-goers – the ones who’ve presumably earned the right to be in the gym… by being in the gym.

I have a huge amount of respect for fitness fans, and I say that with the greatest sincerity. I marvel at friends who hit the gym before work, getting up at a time which for me feels like the middle of the night. I’m amazed by people who post their 5k, 10k and half marathon times, and am baffled by their declarations of disappointment when they don’t clear a personal best. I mean, my god, you ran for more than 10 consecutive minutes. I’d want a parade for that. And to be fair, my gripe is not aimed at all gym-goers (#notallgymgoers), but if you do have a problem with people joining the gym in January: why?

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? With everything. You don’t look at newly-toddling babies and think ‘wow, look at that fucking casual’ – or maybe you do, maybe you’re actually that much of a monster. Presumably – and correct me if I’m wrong, for I’m clearly not in the inner circle here – you can only become a regular gym-goer by visiting a gym for the first time, so why can’t that be January, when people are freshly motivated, or at least sufficiently beaten down by the relentless #newyearnewme narrative that has everyone feeling like shit?

Because ragging on January gym-goers makes you feel good, is why. Because it’s just another kind of tribal superiority that our garbage world is addicted to. ‘Ugh, I couldn’t get on the treadmill for 10 whole minutes because of all the newbies,’ you lament to your equally exasperated pals before getting in your cars and driving 10 minutes home. ‘It’s just so crowded in here because of them.’ And the implication is that because you’re the best at doing the gym, you should continue being allowed to flex your doing-the-gym privilege, free of the proles who can only dream of doing the gym as good as you.

If you really can’t bear to share your gym space with the eager newbies, just sod off for a week or two. Run outside or something, in nature’s gymnasium. When you return most of them will have stopped going anyway, probably because they’ve been sighed and tutted into the ground by your kin. And the ones that do stick around? Perhaps they’ll be worthy potential members for your whingy complaint club next year. You dicks.


Wear glasses? You can be cool but you’re still not beautiful


Several years ago, when I lived in London, I ended up at a terrible ‘warehouse party’ in one of the most insufferably trendy areas of the city. I’d been working a subbing shift in Westminster that day and was definitely not dressed for the occasion, but this was back in the early days of my Big Smoke adventure when I found myself saying ‘oh what the hell’ to a lot of things (too many things, really).

So I’m by the makeshift bar trying to decide whether I should rip the sleeves off my office shirt or cut a split into my skirt or tie my tights around my head or whatever was needed to make myself look less like a corporate shill, and a man walks over. An effortlessly cool man dressed in the bonkers aesthetic only someone from east London can really pull off.

“I like your glasses,” he said. “Shame they make your eyes so small.”

I was instantly furious. Not just because of the blatant negging, not just because I’d already paid an absolute fortune to have my lenses thinned down in a bid to disguise my mole-like vision, but because the bellend was wearing glasses as well.

“Well, that’s because it’s the prescription I need so I can see,” I sighed. “What about your glasses?”

He looked momentarily taken aback, like he’d forgotten he was even wearing them. “Ah, nah mate,” he laughed, twirling his glasses in his hand. “These are fake. I wear contacts, though.”

So this guy remedied his poor eyesight by wearing contact lenses, and then over the top wore prescription-free glasses, an object originally designed to correct poor eyesight, because…?

“It’s just my style.”

His glasses made him cool because they were singularly based on fashion. But it seemed that the fact that I wore mine out of a genuine need meant my defective eyes and I were unworthy of stylish specs. Basically, why wear cool glasses if the aesthetic is going to be ruined by your tiny pig eyes?

I tend to wear contact lenses on nights out, mainly because I’m liable to fling my (expensive prescription) glasses off my face when I’m drunk dancing. There have been times that I’ve encountered these faux glasses in the wild, so of course, being drunk curious, I’ve tried them on. I remember vividly doing so one time and my (then) boyfriend telling me they made me “look really hot”, which was baffling because they were basically identical to my own everyday glasses. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, like the idiot he was. “They just do is all.”

The difference was, of course, that the fake specs didn’t alter the appearance of my eyes. My eyes looked exactly as they did without wearing them, but somehow the addition of them to my face made me look sexier. Why?

Fashion and beauty’s relationship with glasses is complicated and tumultuous. Dorothy Parker’s famous 1937 quote ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ had been gospel for a long time, and then 90s teen movies came along depicting bespectacled, awkward and unpopular girls who suddenly became a whole lot hotter and more desirable as soon as they took their glasses off. IT WAS THE GLASSES HOLDING THEM BACK ALL ALONG.

Suddenly, it was kind of okay to be a bit dorky-looking, because it meant you were probably artistic and thoughtful and SUPER HOT underneath, and I suspect this is one reason why prescription-free glasses became such a thing. Geek chic, right?

Another reason, and one particularly prevalent among hardcore trend followers, is that glasses make a statement. Not a ‘My eyes are broken so I need to wear these to see’ statement, but rather a ‘Fuck your beauty standards’ statement. Glasses are traditionally uncool, but make them enormous and bright green or whatever and you’re saying something by wearing them.

But, as with many elements of fashion, you have to conform to basic beauty ideals before you can make this statement. Catwalks are full of weird and edgy statement pieces designed to be worn by rake-thin bodies. Put an average-sized body into those clothes and against the media landscape to which we’ve all become accustomed they can seem jarring. Ditto: wear glasses as part of your statement look and, if the appearance of the lenses betray your shonky eyesight, it’s not cool any more. You need the glasses, you’re not choosing them, but bless you for trying.

FaceAppWhich is why the speccy Snapchat filter is so popular. Glasses are, for the ‘visually-privileged’, fun accessories like flower crowns (and dog ears?) to play around with. Genuinely needing them, though, is an obstacle to your potential as a visual blank canvas. And so this is why trend du jour FaceApp scrubs any trace of glasses off your mug once you set it to the beautify setting, as evidenced in the horror collage on the left (in which the app has even attempted to masculinise them for my male alter ego, because apparently glasses are gendered).

According to the app, I’m at my most fire when my skin has the matte appearance of a bedsheet, my eyes have the vague, glassy stare of someone who’s had too much MDMA (at, say, a warehouse party) and – surprise! – when my visage is unencumbered by glasses. Hey! We’re try’na make this gal pretty, get these things outta here!

So Dorothy Parker’s pithy comment still rings true 80 years later. Wearing glasses is fun and fashionable when it’s frivolous, but despite the apparent acceptance of specs in the trend arena, if you really need them it seems there’s still no place for you in real beauty narratives.

Leaving dignity at the door


Have you seen my bare ass this week? No? Then you’re probably in the global minority. At least that’s how it feels.

It was just over a week ago that the eyes of a total stranger first gazed upon my exposed derriere. I’d been having unexplained coccyx pain so I went to the doctor who wanted to ‘have a quick look’, despite my confident assertions that there was nothing to see back there. Turns out that indeed, there was nothing to see, but a quick poke around at the base of my spine revealed there was in fact plenty to feel.

It was a morbidly embarrassing moment. Apart from boyfriends, my parents (when I was small) and one or two very close friends (when we’ve been rip-roaringly drunk and silly), no-one has seen my naked bum. And then there I was in a sterile, strip-lit room, lying on a weird-smelling table and facing the blindingly white wall with the goods hanging out. The very definition of exposed. And it was awful. My feminine modesty!

Fast-forward a week, the condition escalates to the point of hospital admission, and now I’m basically as comfortable dropping trou in front of total strangers as I am buying fags in that horrendous new packaging brandishing images of dead bodies and amputated legs – it’s not ideal, but here we are.

Your sense of dignity goes straight out of the window when you’re in terrible pain. After 14 hours without eating or drinking (doctor’s orders) I was still waiting for a hospital bed when a nurse wheeled a sandwich trolley past and I exploded into huge guttural sobs, like a child. I ugly-cried for the best part of an hour. Hilarious in hindsight, but at that moment a simple sandwich was, to my mind, the key to the end of all my suffering. I like to think I’d hold it together during torture, but the fact is, if I can be taken down by a sandwich I probably need to revisit my parameters of expectation. The denial of such a basic need resonated furiously in me at a very primordial level.

I was kept in for two nights. It was hot and stuffy and I had to wear decidedly-unattractive surgical stockings, so I slept in my sexy hospital gown and nothing else. But hooked up to various machines with wires poking out of me, plus brain-frying medication and already-limited movement meant getting up to go to the loo was a laborious undertaking. Adding pants or shorts to the mix was just an unthinkable complication, so as quickly as my intentions of keeping my hair neat and my face clean went down the drain, so did my butt modesty. Never in a million years would I parade through a public environment with my ass on show, but again, pain does funny things to you, so very quickly I didn’t give a crap. Apologies to the women on my ward who got a visual demonstration of this epiphany.

Of course, as a woman I’ve been taught to keep my natural bodily actions to myself. We’re not supposed to fart, or poop, or burp – hell, we’re not even allowed to sweat – and let’s not even talk about periods, so up until my hospital admission I’d been rather coy about the whole thing. “My back hurts”, I’d tell people. “I’m taking codeine but you know how that *makes a weird face and gestures downwards* can affect things.” Later, “The doctors have found an internal cyst – bit of an awkward position, chortle chortle!”

Again, this glossy veneer of social acceptability went straight to hell when the pain got too much. “Is this gonna affect my ability to poop?” I asked the surgeon dead in the eye before surgery. “I suffer from bad period pain and am due on soon, how can I manage both issues comfortably?” I was being pumped with fluids: “Excuse me, nurse, could you please tell me when I’ll stop pissing like a racehorse?” And I used the word ‘pus’ a lot. Yeah, it’s gross, I know. I danced around the reality of that for quite a while before the pain drove me to tears and by then I wasn’t fucking about. “WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT ALL THE PUS?” I’d slur incoherently in my drug-addled state. Or on the second night, when I woke up and found my wound had burst open and I was lying in a pool of my own gore and the nurse – who also had human eyes – asked me what was wrong when I called for him at 4am: “I AM LEAKING GOO. THERE’S GOO EVERYWHERE. PLEASE GET THIS GOO OFF MY ASS” and then (slowly and with great effort) I flipped over to expose my goo-covered butt, pointing indignantly at it for even greater emphasis. LOOK. PLEASE LITERALLY LOOK AT MY ASS.

And now I’m home, and my hierarchy of needs, according to Maslow, has largely been reinstated. But every day a different nurse comes to the house to look at my ass and change my dressings and so even now any social decorum I’d previously had over such matters is long gone: the nurse isn’t just ‘changing my dressings’ *blush*, she’s unpacking a golf ball-sized wad of gauze from a wound just below the start of my bum cheeks and shoving a new one in and it’s gross and painful as hell, and I’ll have to deal with this every day for the foreseeable future. Tremendous.

Being coy about nudity and bodily ickiness is just another socially-manifested ideal designed to make everyone feel less uncomfortable about things, while simultaneously making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable about things. Perhaps if I’d been less entrenched in the accepted social ways of talking about RUDE BUM THINGS my grim ordeal would have felt a little less hideous, but here we are. At least now both myself and my bum are liberated.

Having a boyfriend isn’t going to fix your mental health, sorry


Most women my age have a favourite Disney heroine, or can name a Disney flick they loved most as a child. Mine was Snow White, largely, I think, because food was a strong theme in the film. Also, she had black hair at a time when the market was saturated with blonde Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas. Basically, becoming a chubby goth was on the cards for me from the get-go.

It’s no revelation that these films have one pervasive ideology in common: women get saved by men. Hollywood basically exists because of this trope, and while Disney has gradually dialled down the helpless female protagonists, the idea that women are somehow incomplete without a man forms the basis for a huge number of movies (and books) churned out every year. It’s no surprise that this ideology is so entrenched in the social narrative.

So I guess I wasn’t too shocked when a well-meaning individual asked me recently if I was going to come off anti-depressants “because I have a new boyfriend”, the subtext being, I suppose, that I was ever so sad by my loser single self but now I am saved. As a woman with a partner, my life now has meaning so what do I need Prozac for?

This mindset is of course compounded by the relentless and hugely damaging romanticising of mental illness. This post, doing the rounds on social media, sums it up perfectly:


Mental illness is an intensely personal experience, and no matter how well someone knows you, they can’t rewire your brain. Because that’s what mental illness is – your brain is literally malfunctioning. It’s not feeling glum or sorry for yourself or being unable to ‘snap out of it’ or being dramatic or attention-seeking or anything else attributable to free will or personality. It’s a hardware fault.

I’m a fan of the tonsillitis analogy, having had the joy of experiencing acute and recurrent bouts throughout my 20s. It hits without warning, often for no obvious reason. You have no control over it, and it’ll generally get worse if left untreated. Just like mental illness. But all the times I was lying in bed with a fat face, swollen throat and volcanic temperature nobody ever told me to get over it or that I should be grateful because there were people out there sicker than me, and certainly no-one ever questioned my illness because I had a boyfriend. “You’ve got a boyfriend, so what do you need these antibiotics for?” The notion is absurd, but bears repeating because of the pervasive idea that mental illness isn’t a ‘real’ illness.

That’s not to say, of course, that your partner can’t influence your mental health, and it’s probably because a partner can have such a negative effect on our mental health that we’ve come to believe they can offer salvation in equal measure. Let’s go back to the tonsillitis analogy. If you’re lying in bed in pain and your partner calls you overdramatic or throws a strop because you won’t go on a 20-mile bike ride in the middle of winter (true story) or gets huffy because you don’t feel like having sex or makes snarky comments about your sweaty appearance, chances are you’re gonna feel considerably worse, right? This isn’t conducive to a swift recovery. If, on the other hand, they’re patient and forthcoming with hugs and are considerate of your needs and generous with the ice-cream, then your life is just a little bit easier. But the infection rages on either way, whether they’re there or not.

So no, well-meaning person, despite our culture’s questionable portrayal of romantic love as a route to personal salvation, having a boyfriend (as truly marvellous as is he – HI DARLING) probably isn’t going to magically cure my depression. That’s not a reflection on him, or our relationship. That’s just SCIENCE and FACTS, and when it comes to mental health it’s this we need to pay attention to, and not flowery rom-coms where love conquers all.

Keep making noise

So last night, this happened.


At what point have I invited attention here? Or is it the case that I’ve got my head down, keys between my fingers in my pocket, ignoring my boyfriend’s text messages lest I become distracted and vulnerable, trying to simply get the fuck home? It doesn’t matter, because as a woman on the street – a public space and by default a male space – I’m fair game.

The narrative between my female friends and I is tedious and exhausting. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’, we say with almost weekly-regularity. ‘That’s shit’. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘At least you got home safe’. At least you got home safe. Like the entirely feasible and almost unsurprising alternative is not getting home safe, and if you’re aware of my back story you’ll know that actually, not getting home safe is a very real and possible outcome. How many men message each other after a night out (or in fact after a bloody movie and a pizza at a friend’s house) with ‘Ah well, at least you got home safe’?


We don’t know what the fuck to say to each other anymore. The above placatory sentences are meaningless. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’ is meaningless. Of course I’m sorry my friends had to go through that. Any human female who’s deigned to walk unchaperoned in public has been through that. I’m a human female and the very fact that we’re friends indicates that I can’t tolerate that kind of shit. So… what? An eye-roll emoji? A fucking shrug? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Do we seriously live in a world where our friends message us to say they feared for their safety and we’re like ‘AH WELL. C’EST LA VIE. At least you’re alive’, simply because it happens with such alarming regularity they may as well be talking about the weather?



So we make noise. We make noise about this bullshit in digital spaces and the results are mixed. Take, for example, an episode a few weeks ago when I challenged a man in a garage who deemed me too delicate and precious to put air into my own goddamn car tyres. I was called a hero and a feminist pioneer, but also a liar, a bitch and – tremendously – mentally unstable. The latter insults not just by men either, sadly, but by several women who subscribe to a form of institutionalised misogyny that – hands up – I think we’ve all been prey to at some point (‘I’m not like other girls.’ ‘I prefer to be friends with men because there’s less drama.’ ‘I’m a “cool” girl.’ And so on).

It’s deflating, absorbing the trolling and sexism and hatred that follows openly discussing your own experiences (after all, random strangers know better than you!). Here’s a good example from last night *slow hand clap*.


And here’s a Nice Guy™ who totally missed the point.




And another.


And I’m sure more bullshit will follow. But the important thing is that women keep making noise about this. Because until these digital spaces existed in which we now have the opportunity to make noise, this entrenched misogyny was all but invisible to our decent-thinking male friends, unless they witnessed it first-hand. And even then, well… How many times have you gone out wearing a ring on your left hand so men know you’re ‘off limits’? How many times have you gone out with a group of friends and some guy won’t leave you alone so you’ve asked a male friend to pretend to be your boyfriend? And how many times has the perp apologised to your ‘boyfriend’ for his behaviour, instead of you? The silver lining here – faint as it may be – is that in drawing attention to this issue we’re able to create a new awareness among men who don’t subscribe to this entrenched social misogyny. The fact is, they’re the ones with the power to change the situation.


So keep making noise, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Because you know what’s uncomfortable? A large 6’4” man angrily demanding a blow job on a dark street. A man staring at your ass as you inflate your tyres. A man punching you in the face because you’re trying to stop him beating his girlfriend to a pulp. A man smashing your head off a car bonnet simply because he’s having a bad day. Fuck anyone who pushes back against these experiences – and your experiences – because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Keep making noise.

Seven lessons the new Ghostbusters movie would’ve taught the younger me


The original Ghostbusters movie came out the year I was born, so evidently I didn’t see it on its release. I think I was probably about five or six when I saw it for the first time, and my main takeaways from it and its sequels were:

  • What the hell is going on with Dan Aykroyd’s character and that ghost?
  • I’m never getting in the bath again
  • Probably never gonna look at any portraits again, either
  • Women need men to save them
  • Lol, Slimer

I also had a weird crush on Egon.

We can all agree that they’re super fun movies, and ones people my age revere so highly no doubt because they harks back to a simpler time (when we didn’t have to pay bills, or get cars repaired, or deal with performance reviews, or confront the hellish reality of our political landscape). Perhaps this is why so many people have a problem with the reboot? They don’t want their pure memories of carefree childhood bought into the modern age, where everything is a bit shit? That, and misogyny.

In any case, I’ve been thinking about what Younger Rachel would have taken from the new version. Without confusing blowjob scenes, damsels in distress and bizarre and premature sexual awakenings to deal with, I think these would have been my key takeaways. And I challenge anyone who has a problem with the reboot to say – hand on heart – they wouldn’t want their kids to experience the same.

Own your passion

Erin is quick to dismiss her book on ghosts, because she’s worried it’ll affect her chances of tenure. Because she’s worried people won’t take her seriously because of it. Because she’s worried it doesn’t project the socially-approved image she’s worked so hard to create. But in the end, her passion ends up saving the whole goddamn city of New York. At the beginning of the movie, she’s hella uncomfortable with Holtz’s dancing, but it’s not long before she’s doing awkward aunty dancing with Kevin. She is her authentic self for having followed her heart. Do the same, Younger Rachel.

Tough times reveal true friends

There’s a line somewhere in the film that goes: ‘Okay, scientists! And Patty’.’ As Erin says, they weren’t really looking for another member of the gang. But it wasn’t long before she was assimilated into their clique. In another, ghost-free, world, would they have all formed this unlikely friendship? Probably not, but that’s just how it goes. Some of my very best friendships have sprung from the oddest places.

If at first you don’t succeed…

…make like Holtz and keep on trying. Every gadget needed a tweak here and there, and each led to the creation of a bigger and better invention. If she’d downed tools at the first hint of adversity, everyone would be fucked.

You can always learn from your elders… and from those younger than you

Don’t use age as a yardstick for wisdom. Look at Holtz and her ‘mentor’ at the end of the movie. Their scene together lasted about 30 seconds but in it they learned something important from each other.

Always question those in positions of authority

Look at what’s going on in America and the UK right now. How many headlines are borne of misplaced trust in politicians, law enforcement agencies, judicial systems and even the media itself? As the hapless mayor in Ghostbusters shows, people in power do not always have society’s best interests at heart. Younger Rachel; engage with these individuals, speak up and ask questions, but don’t take everything they say as gospel.

Men, though

I can’t be the only one who thought our boy Rowan smacked of Nice Guy. ‘Waah, life has been unkind to me so I’m going to react in a hugely disproportionate manner then they’ll be sorry.’ Kudos to the casting unit for choosing someone who looks so stereotypically jemble, by the way (if you have a problem with this statement pull up a chair and let’s talk about the character of Janine Melnitz – and indeed Dana Barrett – in the original movie). Younger Rachel, you’ll encounter a lot of pissbaby men in your adult life – and indeed men who masquerade as something else in order to fulfil their objectives. Don’t stand for it – send ‘em to hell.

Don’t leave your keys in the car

But if you do, it’s not the end of the world. As the movie showed, sometimes your biggest mistakes lead to the biggest successes.

Update: This post has been edited to reflect my memories from the original trilogy, not just the debut film. Thanks to everyone for pointing that out – this is how we learn.

Upgrading the meltdown

In May 2014, I went off the rails. I walked to the nearest hire car place in my pyjamas, threw my credit card at the bewildered girl behind the counter and spent a week driving around the UK, staying in bleak Travel Lodges, passing the evenings staring at identikit wallpapers and wondering why they had plants in reception when no-one could be bothered to water them.

Almost exactly two years later, and I’m in a similar situation. Mercifully this time I have my own car, so I’m not condemned to spend my time on the road listening to the one CD I found under the passenger seat on repeat (T’Pau’s ‘China in Your Hand’, hilariously). I’m also wearing actual clothes, and can report that I’ve been nowhere near a Travel Lodge. Meltdown deluxe, if you will.

Except it’s not a meltdown. Not this time. Yes, the catalysts in both scenarios are largely the same – people disappoint you, life goes awry, you get lost – but two years ago I was trying to run away from it all. It was a pretty futile exercise, really; as goes the old saying: ‘Everywhere you go, there you are’. It didn’t matter whether I was sitting in a roadside service station in Derby or by a river in Shropshire, my stupid brain, and all the anxiety and desperation and fear slamming around in it, was along for the ride whether I liked it or not.

And so, to now. “I can’t believe I’m in this place again,” I announced to myself between heaving sighs and moments spent consciously unclenching my jaw. But as I careen aimlessly through the Welsh Valleys and English countryside I realise that to disbelieve this fact is as ludicrous as disbelieving my hand in front of my face. Specific misfortunes are not like the chicken pox, unfortunately. Enduring them once does not make you immune to them again.

But, you do build up a resilience, and so my unscheduled adventure this time is less about outrunning the gremlins licking at the corners of my consciousness and more about talking them down. Not yelling at the barking dog but feeding it, walking it, brushing its coat. It’s time consuming stuff, but it makes the barking stop.