THE DARK SIDE OF MEMES AND WHY WE NEED TO BE WARY OF WHAT WE SHARE ONLINE

I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to memes, I save them, share them, tag my mates in them. The ones that I like are *normally* involving dogs or scenes from famous films or bad photos of Donald Trump, but then occasionally one will slip through the net that is my over-cautious mind and I will laugh and share a photo that wasn't mind to do that with. One that was perhaps stolen and created behind the owner of the images' back, one that might be really funny to everyone else but one that is humiliating and hurtful to somebody. 

I was a meme once. Thankfully it happened before the things went bloody everywhere and hopefully it has been lost somewhere now in the deep dark realms of the internet (just in case you were interested someone photoshopped a photo of my dad's face over mine and made some grim sexual comment... DON'T LOOK FOR IT). Thankfully I wasn't deeply scarred and I'd actually forgotten about it until this morning.

But the topic of memes and their 'stars' is not a new thing, I've seen a few videos doing the rounds on Facebook of people coming forwards to say how hurt they were after seeing themselves on the LadBible or whatever. I remember seeing one interview with a disabled girl who had been made into one and it was truly horrible. I have also seen a few Tweets recently from people who have had their photos taken from their Instagram pages and turned into something that we're free to laugh at. 

And then today something really hit home. A friend of mine sent me this:

This friend has a little girl and said, quite rightly: "It just pissed me off because you wonder where this "fat shaming" or desire to be skinny and feeling insecure starts" and pointed out that if her daughter saw it it would imprint on her. 

Of course, she's right! I don't know who made this, whether the the parents are even aware of it. The problem is with this is that it IS quite funny, in that it is relatable to so many people, I can understand why it is so popular. But there are actually some really quite sinister things at play here:

- What happens when these little girls grow up and see them? Sure, they might find them funny, hopefully. But for the girl on the right especially, you have to wonder if she will be happy knowing that countless people laughed at her baby photos because she was 'overweight'. 

- What happens when this image is seen by other young children? This was my friend's concern regarding her daughter. Although kids seeing this might not necessarily understand what the grownups are finding so funny, they will subconsciously question why these two images have been put side by side and might end up looking for the difference between the two girls, deeming one size to be more desirable than the other. 

- By relating to this, we are projecting a lot of grown up, dangerous, fucked up issues onto children. These issues shouldn't effect anyone, we should not be drawing these comparisons at all. And it's one thing that it is a problem that we adults have, but to put it on children? It's actually so wrong. Fat shaming is ugly, it's horrible, it's bullying, and on some level we are doing this to these girls, comparing them to one another, saying that one is better than the other. This is grown up shit being forced on kids.

And so, whilst I hate to be a fun sponge, I really do, I might ask you to thank twice before sharing shit like this online. We need to remember that there is a story behind every picture, and sometimes that story is not ours to tell. 

INSTAGRAM LABELLED AS THE MOST DANGEROUS SOCIAL MEDIA SITE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE'S MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

A survey of almost 1500 14 to 24 year olds has found that Instagram is having a serious impact on young people's body image and the quality and quantity of sleep that they got. Research by the Royal Society for Public Health and Young Health Movement found that it also contribute to bullying, anxiety, depression and a genuine fear of missing out that make is difficult to disconnect.

The people being questioned were asked about all social media sites and the only one that came out as even slightly positive was YouTube. The rest all fell into the negative category with Twitter being second to YouTube, Facebook in third, Snapchat in fourth with Instagram coming in last. 

RSPH and YHM are calling on social media platforms to introduce a "heavy usage" pop up and to identify users who could be suffering with mental health problems and "discretely signpost to support". They also say that these sites should highlight when photos have been airbrushed, a move supported by more than two thirds of young people.

FYI. I wasn't surveyed but as a young person, I FULLY believe that this should be the case and am desperately hoping that soon any airbrushed photo will have to be labelled as such. Just so you can see QUITE how shocking the difference is, here's my face PRE Facetune and after it, I should NOT be allowed to get away with the false advertising in picture two. Influencers have to say #ad if a post is paid for. Everyone should say #ps if their photo has been photoshopped. Just sayin. 

Shirley Crammer, Chief Executive of RSPH said: "Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people's mental health issues. It's interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing - not platforms are very image-focussed and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people. We want to promote and encourage the many positive aspects of networking platforms and avoid a situation that leads to social media psychosis which may blight the lives of our young people"

This comes at an interesting time actually as yesterday a plus size blogger who I follow on Twitter shared an image of herself asking why Instagram had taken her image down. The suggestion is that it was 'fatshaming' and would not be the first time that a social media site has done this to a plus size model, famously Facebook removed a photo of Tess Holiday in a bikini last year. Despite this however Michelle Napchan, head of policy at Instagram said that keeping the app a "safe and supportive place" is its "top priority when it comes to young people. For those struggling with mental health issues, we want them to be able to access support on Instagram when and where they need it."

Again, I'll say, I am so happy to see that these findings are being talked about and people are now putting pressure on social media sites to do more, but as social media users this is an important thing for us to hear too. I know it seems like a great thing to do, photoshopping your face just a tiny bit, sending Snapchats of yourself having SO much fun to people who might be a bit lonely, but it's worth remembering that our actions do have reprecussions. Let's all learn from this and do what we can to be more considerate social media users, at least until the sites themselves get a grip eh?

CLOTHING BRAND PULL & BEAR HAVE CLASSED A SIZE 10 AS A LARGE AND QUITE FRANKLY THEY CAN GET F*CKED.

Every time I think we're getting somewhere, some dickhead comes along and does something like this. A Twitter user has just noticed that clothing brand Pull & Bear are now stocking clothes on the Asos website which class size 10 as a large. 

The item in question, or items I should say, are a crop top/tiny short type scenario modelled by, you guessed it, a tall, thin model. The smallest size that these bad boys come in is a size 4 (extra small, FINALLY, something that we can all agree on) and the largest is the ABSOLUTELY GINORMOUSLY DISGUSTING SIZE 10. 

What the actual holy hell is this madness? Just for your records, here is my size 10 body. My VERY SMALL size 10 body.

Get fucked if you think that is 'large'. Go get seriously fucked if you think that seems like an appropriate size to stop making clothes at. 

Asos replied to this Tweet by the way, with the ever encouraging: “Sorry to hear this Maeve. We understand how you feel. We’ve passed the feedback on to the relevant team.” (Do they understand though? Also. The 'relevant' team knew exactly what they were doing. FYI).

Rather fittingly I wrote a piece for Fabulous Daily about size-ism in shops today. About how ridiculous and unfair it is that women are prevented from doing something as simple as shopping, simply on account of their size. It's something that I talk a lot about and is one of the main themes in my book. 

But I wrote those things when shops stopped stocking clothes bigger than a size 16. Because that's unfair, that's stupid. But this? Stopping at a size 10? That's revolting. It's abhorrent. It's down right dangerous.

This isn't funny. This isn't OK. What it is, is a massive fuck up with some potentially really serious ramifications. I will not be shopping at Pull & Bear going forwards and have actually lost a great deal of respect for Asos that they allowed this to happen. These aren't just little mistakes that can be 'sent for review', these are massive problems that need dealing with and NOW.

FEMINISTA JONES HAS INSPIRED A TREND IN WHICH WOMEN AGREE WITH MEN'S COMPLIMENTS AND IT'S DISTRESSING AS HELL

Can you take a compliment? I sure as hell can't. For some reason, when somebody says something nice about me, rather than saying: thank you or even I know, (appropriate when someone tells you your makeup looks fierce and you know that because you spent hours on it), I squirm, go bright red and quickly bat the compliment back: No, YOU look great, I say. Or worse: No, I look gross, you're just being nice. What a shitty state of affairs.

Well. One woman has had enough and took to Twitter this week to encourage us to agree with a compliment. But not the ones that you get from your mates when they tell you that your jeans are fab-ul-ous, no. To acknowledge AND accept a compliment given to you by a man. Feminista Jones clearly knew that this was going to evoke trouble (because women should have absolutely no self confidence right?) and put out the following tweet:

She told BuzzFeed News that: "It's not a new idea, but in my own experience when [a man] complimented me and I say, 'I agree,' they get upset," Jones said. "It’s the idea that they bestow the compliment on you, and you’re not supposed to be aware of it." Anyhoo. She asked people to accept compliments and guys, the result was SHOCKINGLY SHIT.

And my personal fave...

This whole thing was met with SUCH a massive response of women all asking the same thing: WHY IS NOT OKAY THAT WE LOVE OURSELVES? Jones asked: "Why are people so bothered by someone having self-confidence and self-love?" and pointed out that "we have a culture that says it’s 'rude' — we obligate people to be appreciative of a compliment."

This girl is SO spot on and I am SO pleased that this whole thing has come up. But good God. What a shit show. I can't BELIEVE that loving ourselves is still such a shocking and terrible notion to so many. Obviously, it's not all men that do this, but if we're honest, we can't deny that this is a huge problem. 

I'll leave ya with this. A great tweet that basically summed up everything I felt about it.

Oh, and the next time someone compliments you? Take it. Grab it with both hands and run with the damn thing.

DOVE'S NEW BOTTLE SHAPES HAVE CAUSED UPROAR - BUT I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW A BRAND PROMOTING BODY POSITIVITY CAN POSSIBLY BE A BAD THING

On their quest to get women loving themselves, Dove have just bought out a new range of body-shaped shower gels and there has been quite the backlash. As part of their 'Real Beauty' campaign, Dove have released these products to reflect the "one of a kind" body shapes of their consumers. In a statement, Dove said: "Each bottle evokes the shapes, sizes, curves and edges that combine to make every woman their very own limited edition." 

And I GET why there has been a bit of a reaction. What with Pepsi recently 'solving' the problem of racism in their advert, people have already got their haunches up. The last thing we need at this point, people say, is another patronising marketing campaign. 'It's PC gone mad.' 'It's at best condescending, at worst it's insulting'. Twitter is, as you might imagine, awash with people, for lack of a better expression, losing their shit about it. Blog posts have popped up here there and everywhere kicking off about this and even the Daily Mail branched away from copying out the press release to offer their opinion. (If you care, they think Dove should stick to making products that make them money and stop pretending to be our friends). 

So yeh, I got it. The reaction of Twitter, for the most part, made me laugh. People comparing the bottle shapes to their own figures, playing around with photoshop, it was good, it was fine. But it was also really annoying because it proved to me, once again, that you can't do right for doing right anymore. 

For a long time, Dove have made some great adverts. Their 'Real Beauty' campaign is, to my mind, wonderful. YES at the end of the day they are a mahoosive company who's end goal is probably to do nothing more complicated than make themselves some money, but their process over the last few years has been admirable. In a world overcrowded with Insta-Stars and body shaming and photoshopping and sexist, boorish adverts asking us if we're 'Beach Body Ready Yet', I've sought comfort in brands that are working to promote body positivity. That are encouraging women to love themselves.

So these soaps. I mean, I do have a few questions, of course I do. What happens if I were to buy the wrong one, for example? Would it simply not open for me? Would the person at the checkout tell me that I couldn't buy it because I had made the wrong choice? They might be, I concede, a tiny weeny bit off the mark. They're not everyone's cup of tea. But, you've got to admit, the gesture is there. The idea is nice. 

Despite the fact that we are talking about body positivity A LOT at the moment, big businesses aren't really doing an awful lot, by and large. Fashion houses are still not stocking clothes big enough, makeup brands are only using young, beautiful models and to find a brand that doesn't photoshop their campaigns is literally like looking for a needle in a haystack.

There has not been a company doing something like this before. Dove are pioneering, they're experimenting and it IS a good thing. So what, they got it a bit wrong here, it wasn't all that well received, but give them a break would you? They are trying to do something good. They are trying to do something that we actually really need right now, and there is no one who has done it first to show them how it is done.

What we should be doing, is saying thank you to Dove. Perhaps not for this campaign, I'm not asking you to love it, but for everything else that they are trying to do. They are a NICE, SUPPORTIVE, REAL brand and actually, that's something that we've been crying out for for years, so let's not scare them away shall we?

FRENCH BAN ON 'EXTREMELY THIN' MODELS HAS COME INTO EFFECT

You may remember back in 2015, France promised to ban the use of unhealthy thin fashion models. Well as of this week, the law has come into effect. Models will now need to provide a doctor's certificate attesting to their overall physical health, looking specifically at their BMI (body mass index), which is a measure of weight in relation to their height. 

The law also means, and this is my favourite bit, that digitally altered images will have to be labelled from October 1st. Images in which a model's appearance has been manipulated will need the label "photographie retouchée, which of course means: retouched photograph in English. 

The first version of this bill in 2015 received a backlash from models but this one, backed by MPs puts the power in the hands of doctors. Now, employers breaking the law could face fines of up to €75,000 (£63,000) and up to six months in jail. 

Marisol Touraine, Minister of Social Affairs and Health in France said in a media report: "exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health and behaviour."

Statistics in France suggest that anorexia affects between 30,000 to 40,000 people in France, 90% of whom are women. They are not the first country to legislate on underweight models, Italy, Spain and Israel have already doe so.

Initially when I read this story I was concerned that it would receive another backlash, that people would scream out that this was 'thin-shaming' and that France were being unfair by doing this. That models were being forbidden from doing something simply because of their weight... (the very thing body shamers would do...) But thinking back to some of the fashion shows that we have seen recently, (*hrhum* Victoria Beckham) I can't help but feel that this is good news. Not least of all because every day we hear from yet more models who were told that they had to lose yet more weight in order to get a job in one of these shows. This is not, as it first seems as it is not the models that are being punished here, it is the companies. For a very long time we have had unrealistic body standards thrown down our throat and the fact that the French Government have acknowledged the dangers of that has got to be a good thing. 

The fact that retouched images now have to be labelled however, I believe is the greatest thing ever. It is one thing for us to see crazy thin models walking the catwalk but it is quite another seeing the same models photoshopped to make them even more 'perfect'. I met Abbey Clancey IRL once and thought that she was the single most beautiful woman in the world. I then saw a photo of her in a magazine, where she had been photoshopped and I remember thinking: if they' having to photoshop her, this GODDESS, can you imagine the work that they would need to do on me??? THAT is causing a LOT of problems. So the fact that companies now have to label them? That really is great. Finally, we'll get a chance to see through this shit. 

Now I suppose we can only hope that Britain follow France's lead and do something like this here. It cannot be a bad thing, it has taken a very long time for this to be acknowledged and I think it would be a very welcome change in the UK fashion industry. 

MPS ARE DEMANDING THAT TECH GIANTS AND SCHOOLS PROTECT CHILDREN'S MENTAL HEALTH

Good news! Two influential groups of MPs have come together to insist that technology companies must fight cyberbullying and that schools must stop prioritising academic success over the mental health of pupils, devoting more time to making them happy and resilient. This has come from the Commons Education and Health committees. They have also urged Ofsted to ensure that schools' inspection ratings are linked to the promotion of better mental health rather than just academic achievement. 

In a joint report released today they said:

"With half of mental illness starting before the age of 15, it is a false economy to cut services for children and young people that could help to improve wellbeing, build resilience and provide early intervention. More must be done to ensure that mental health and wellbeing are given appropriate prominence in inspections and in contributing to the overall grade given to the school or college. Achieving a balance between promoting academic attainment and wellbeing should not be regarded as a zero-sum activity. Greater wellbeing can equip pupils to achieve academically. If the pressure to promote academic excellence is detrimentally affecting pupils, it becomes self-defeating. Government and schools must be conscious of the stress and anxiety that they are placing on pupils."

They also call for social media companies to act against bullying saying: "Social media providers must not be allowed to duck their responsibilities for harmful content which affects children and young people's online safety and wellbeing. We head evidence of links between excessive social media use, sleep deprivation and depression."

Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Health Committee said: "With half of all mental illness starting before the age of 15, and three quarters by age 18, the government and educators must ensure sufficient time is allowed for activities in schools and colleges that develop the life-long skills children and young people need to support their wellbeing."

I am SO pleased to see this and to hear that MPs have come together to fight for something SO important. The age of social media is so complicated and it is so refreshing, exciting and important that MPs are standing and fighting for this. 2017 has so far been wonderful for mental health awareness, the London Marathon's chosen charity being Heads Together and Bryony Gordon's interview with Prince Harry being two of the most amazing, And now this? I'm really pleased to see that this is a conversation that is being had and I just hope this gets the support that it deserves. 

STATIONERY THAT IS FUNDING EDUCATION FOR GIRLS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

I have just come across a stationery brand that I have fallen totally, head-over-heels, in love with. It's called Words With Heart and was set up in Australia at the end of 2014 by a woman called Lauren, a "social entrepreneur with a passion for products that do good", as she is described on her website. 

So, still eleven at heart, I love myself some stationery and probably fantasise more about it than I should, which is perhaps why, when you take into consideration by love for stationery and then my life mission to empower girls and encourage them to love themselves, I fell SO in love with Lauren and her company. A quick nosy on her website has taught me that this woman is not only a legend, but that we all need her products in our lives. In the 'About' section of Words With Heart I found Lauren's story of why she started the brand and when you hear it, you'll love her like I do:

"Earlier this year I was at the airport, and on my way to the boarding gate I stopped to buy a notebook. Walking into the stationery store I saw something that really bothered me. It was a notebook for girls, and it had the phrase 'Boys, heels, blogs - let's get back to basics' written across the cover. It might have been tongue in cheek, but I was pretty upset about this hugely dis-empowering statement."

She described getting onto the plane and not being able to get the notebook out of her mind: "what if that statement had been an empowering one instead? What if there was a stationery brand that had a truly positive impact- and not just in consideration of the front cover, but in terms of sustainability and philanthropy as well?"

So in true #girlboss style, she made one. Lauren founded Words with Heart, a new approach to stationery "combining environmentally responsible production, funding for women's and girl's education projects, and words that empower. It's a brand for people that want to create a better world."

So where do we sign up right??? Fast-forward three years and Words With Heart now creates some gorgeous notebooks which are not only adorable and fabulous, but are INCREDIBLE because they use 100% recycled paper, eco inks and green electricity. They also use a portion of their profits to fund education days for women and girls in the developing world. They're currently funding projects in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Uganda and Nepal and when a business or customer buys a notebook, Words With Heart lets them know how many days of education they are helping to fund. Some of these projects support girls in primary and high school, paying for school fees, uniforms, books and sanitary pads, others support small business training, teaching women the skills to start and grow successful small businesses. In Lauren's own words: "Investing in education is THE most powerful way to empower women."

So far Words With Heart funded more than 60,000 education days for women and girls in Sierra Leone, Uganda and Cambodia. 

I write everything down in a notebook. The one that I have now is full of ideas and spelling mistakes and I take it everywhere with me. I buy them, probably more often than I should, and I know that I'm not on my own with that. And so the idea of buying something that I love anyway that is going to change the life of a girl in a developing country? I honestly can't think of anything better. I will be placing my first order this afternoon and I would really encourage you to do the same. I think it's brands like this that are going to change the world and it's so beautiful that Lauren has given us the chance to be a part of that. 

Check out the Words With Heart website HERE.

THE BODY POSITIVE POEM THAT YOU NEED TO HEAR RIGHT NOW

Okay guys, I am in love. I have just watched a video of Actor Olivia Warren reciting a poem that she has written all about body positivity. She put it out on her Facebook page on April 12th saying that she was "so sick of men and women poking their bodies with contempt and feeling anything less than beautiful."

Since then the video has been watched 10,000 times (although I think it should be mandatory watching for EVERYONE so hopefully that number will seriously multiply!) and has been picked up by the Huffington Post UK. Speaking to them she said: “Social media and conversations are so full of ‘change yourself’ campaigns or sly ‘hate yourself’ language and images that I just wanted to add one thing that wasn’t that. Something that could perhaps calm the minds of people like me and just remind them that we are all okay and that there will always be something to change. So learning to love what you have really is the only way to live outside of the shadows of food and body guilt that are so ever-present."

Olivia is 22 and in her final year studying at a London drama school and yeh, basically, I'm in love with her for this. Check out her poem here and PLEASE share it 'cos it's great and needs sharing. For anyone unable to listen to it because they're still stuck in an office or classroom, I have typed it out below!

"This is a poem for all those who jiggle, 
I’ll scribble down some reasons to wiggle,
Do not be niggled by the thigh gap brigade, 
I’m a homemade upgrade,
And the last time I weighed my sense of sass, 
I broke the scale.

I’m a kale-dodging female,
Double the squish, it’s cool you can wish on this dish.
Measure my kindness, 28 inches of smiles, miles of compassion, 
And piles of the fashion taking us by storm, called defying the norm. 

70 kilos of smart under your nose, 
Suppose I weigh one tonne of weirdo, don’t fear though, it’s clear to me that 12-stone of trusting is heavy but busting through the disgusting numbers that weigh us down.

To drown in the river we call ‘beauty’,
Now I’m a cutie, but my booty is not the reason why.
I’ll die before letting a size 12 label disable my sense of self.

Smoking hot, but not because I forgot to have lunch.
No, I’m firing a punch to the books that showed us that thin is in, gingers are mingers and the short need support - it’s bullshit. All of it.

Measure my wit, quit the shitty myth of pretty, 
It’s a pity that we all feel the way we do, fuck it, me too.
But I know that I am fierce. 
No more tears, I quit the game that leaves its winners fucking hungry.

Put bluntly, I’m a spunky chunky monkey, 
But I’m also glowing from knowing that growing into my own skin is a win for me and the world. 

Girls, you’re gorgeous; boys, you’re swish, a fucking dish; so join with me and embrace the squish."

Olivia thank you so much for this- never stop being fabulous. xxxx

THE COMPANY CREATING HOSPITAL CLOTHING THAT WILL HELP CANCER PATIENTS LOOK AND FEEL BETTER

This is a company that is creating hospital gowns for cancer patients that will help them to look and feel better whilst undergoing treatment. 41-year-old entrepreneur Nikla Lancskweert has set up a clothing line, INGA Wellbeing, for patients in hospital in the hope that it will make men and women feel more like people and less like patients.

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

She has worked with fashion designers, doctors, nurses and patients to best create clothing that allows you to dress and undress with total ease, that is adjustable and that allows for medical examinations that is also flattering and comfortable and I'm so in love with this idea that I had to share it the minute I saw it.

Nikla first came up with the idea eleven years ago when her mum, Inga, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer aged 52. Claire Robinson, INGA Wellbeing's co-founder told Metro.co.uk that "during this time the cancer threatened to take her life away, but the treatment threatened to take everything that made her, her, too." Describing regular hospital gowns Claire said: "It changer her relationship with those that she loved and who loved her as she increasingly saw herself, and felt others saw her, as a patient, no longer as Inga. That is one of our key drivers" to help people be seen as more than a patient and a person too."

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

Claire herself had had a similar experience with her own mother, Diana's treatment for breast cancer and after meeting, the two of them, with a fashion designer, co-founded this company. The pieces are currently sold on the website although they are working to introduce them into hospitals and care homes soon.

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

Claire said: "our goal is to completely re-imagine how patients seem themselves and are seen by others, improving their psychological and physical wellbeing, and returning vital hours to the carers that support them."

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

(Picture: INGA Wellbeing/Stephanie Derouaux)

She finished by saying this, which, I have to say made my heart sing: "it wasn't so long ago that women dressed in grey, baggy tents when pregnant until somebody decided that clothes that flattered the body would help those wearing them feel better. We hope that the same will be said of this new genre of 'patient clothing' which will transport us from the the age of the hospital gown, to a state where these living with ill0health are able to enjoy their clothes, be comfortable, retain their mobility and their desire socialise, and feel dignified- not different and marked out from others by the clothes that they wear."

I absolutely LOVE this brand that think this is SUCH a beautiful idea, I'm wishing them so much success and hope that they will one day soon be available in hospitals everywhere. If you do, God forbid, know anyone who might have use for this, please check out their website HERE. 

BODYFORM TO DONATE 200,000 FREE SANTIARY PRODUCTS TO HELP THE "PERIOD POVERTY" PROBLEM

Last week, I wrote about the fact that girls are being forced to miss school because they don't have access to sanitary products or can't afford them. The charity Freedom4Girls announced this after they revealed that they had been handing out sanitary products to girls in schools in Leeds.

On the back of this, Bodyform has pledged to donate 200,000 free products to women and girls who are unable to access or purchase products for themselves or their families by 2020. The products will be distributed to various charities who support women and girls affected by issues such as homelessness, poverty, disability, illness and domestic violence. 

The founders of The Homeless Period (a project helping to raise awareness of issues faced by homeless women when it comes to menstruation) said: "The new pledge could make a huge difference to homeless women in the UK. It means fewer women will have to go without sanitary products during that dreaded time of the month. Knowing that they can rely on a local shelter to provide these essential products means that they will have just one less thing to worry about in an already difficult situation."

The Amber Foundation, based in Wiltshire is a charity that gives homeless, unemployed young people a fresh start, will also be receiving some of Bodyform's donation. Their centre manager Barbara Bewley said:

"Many of the young women we work with come from very tough backgrounds and being able to provide them with feminine hygiene products means that this is one less thing for them to worry about. Amber's Centres are a young person's home and so having access to all the home comforts that we take for granted is essential in terms of helping them to focus on achieving their goals and aspirations." 

The marketing director for Bodyform, Nicola Coronado has asked other manufacturers to step up and look at how they can support further and added: "alongside campaigns such as The Homeless Period we can overcome the taboo of talking about menstruations while ensuring sanitary products are reaching those most in need." 

The reaction to the announcement last week that girls are having to miss school because of something so simple, was massive. Bleeding once a month is something that us women cannot control and the fact that our eduction is suffering as a result? That's SO wrong. So big thanks to Bodyform for their great donation and I hope that other companies will follow suit very soon. 

RECYCLING LIKE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE...

Last night I heard a talk form Kresse Wesling MBE at the Chivas Venture, a woman who in her own words, is 'obsessed with trash'. She is now a co-founder of an incredibly successful luxury brand that makes products using only recycled materials and I was so inspired after leaving the event last night that I had to share the story of Elvis & Kresse.

So in 2005, after a chance meeting with the London Fire Brigade, Elvis & Kresse discovered fire hose for the first time. After 25 years or so, all fire hose gets 'retired' and was, after becoming too old or damaged, simply going to landfill. Upon hearing this, Elvis & Kresse decided that the hose was too beautiful with too much left still to give, to simply go to the scrap heap.

So they decided to recycle it, working with skilled craftspeople to create luxury fashion pieces in the shape of belts, bags and accessories. They then decided that they wanted to give back to their 'suppliers' and they pledged to donate 50% of all the profits from the firehose range to The Fire Fighters Charity. 

Since then the company has only crown and now uses a range of recycled products to create the products that they sell. Parachute silk makes an ideal living for bags and wallets, tea sacks are recycled to make their packaging, auction banners are used for the lining of their bigger bags and leather is used for everything. 

The European luxury industry produces 35,000 tonnes of leather waste each year, normally just in scraps and offcuts. Elvis & Kresse have designed a system that transforms smaller scraps into components, creating bags, chairs and even rugs out of them. 

Kresse last night, speaking at The Venture, shared some horrifying statistics about waste in the fashion industry: of the 1.13 million tonnes of clothing waste in the UK each year, 31% goes to landfill and 7% is incinerated. It is second only to oil in terms of industrial pollution and the most shocking to me? That 30% of clothing hasn't been worn in a year. 

I had no idea that the fashion industry was so wasteful and I don't think that I am alone in that. This is why I wanted to put this brand onto your radar and hope that it will make all of us think twice next time we buy something new! I hope Elvis & Kresse are able to set a precedent for the rest of the industry by using their business as a force for good.

HOW IS IT THAT GIRLS IN THE UK ARE HAVING TO MISS SCHOOL BECAUSE THEY CAN'T AFFORD SANITARY PRODUCTS?

The charity Freedom4Girls have said that girls in the UK are missing school because they cannot afford sanitary protection after they were contacted by a school in Leeds who were concerned about teenage girls' attendance. The charity normally focuses their efforts providing products to girls and women in Kenya but are now doing the same thing in Leeds.

After the findings were published, the BBC spoke to a number of teenage girls. One of them said: "I wrapped a whole tissue roll around my underwear, just to keep my underwear dry until I got home. I once scellotaped tissue roll around my underwear. I didn't know what else to do. I kept this secret up until I was 14 years old and then I started asking for help. I didn't get any money because my mum was s single parent and she had five mouths to feed, so there wasn't much left over money in the pot to be giving to us." As a result, this girl had started to take a few days off school every month.

Another teenager said: "When I went on my period, I started taking time off school, because I didn't know what was actually going on with my body. That made my attendance really low and I was getting in trouble. One day the teachers came to my house and asked why I'm not at school and they actually took me. I thought it was only happening to me... So I was scared and I wanted to stay at home."

Tina Leslie, a public health worker in Leeds and part of Freedom4Girls told BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour: "I wasn't shocked at all. We ha an idea that there was something happening in schools. It's linked to poverty- 250,000 visits to food banks in just Leeds last year. We need to give these girls dignity back. It's happening in other schools. Teachers have told me they are buying towels to have just in case. If you're hoy no goof, you've got no money for sanitary protection. If you have a mum with two teenage girls, that's a lot of money each month when you're on zero-hours contracts, benefits or low income. It's the working poor that we are looking at."

Conservative MP Jason McCartney has since said that he will raise the issue in Parliament and wants to enlist other MPs to help start a campaign for free sanitary products for young girls in need. Labour MSP Monica Lennon is calling for sanitary products to be given out free in Scotland, telling Woman's Hour: "We are trying to establish a principle here, that this is a health issue. If you go to a food bank or homeless shelters, they know people who are having to go without."

There are places to donate sanitary products in the UK if you want to help (and I would encourage you to if you can!):

The Monthly Gift (Manchester based)
Campaign increasing donations of sanitary products to charities helping the homeless and those in poverty.

Bloody Good Period
Collects period supplies and toiletries for refugees and asylum seekers.

The Homeless Period
Needs donations of money or tampons for those women living on the streets.

Food banks also accept them.

When I read this story yesterday I couldn't believe it, how is it possible that in this day and age, in such a rich and powerful country, girls are forced into this position? Not only can they not access basic sanitary products but they are also left totally in the dark about what their bodies are going through, this to me, highlights are huge gap in the syllabus at schools. Every single month our bodies bleed and there is nothing that we can do about that. But we should not be embarrassed of it, or ashamed of it and we DEFINITELY should not be missing out on our eduction because of it.

M&S LAUNCH "FRAZZLED CAFÉS" WITH RUBY WAX WHERE CUSTOMERS CAN TALK ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH

Cafés within M&S stores will now open after hours on a fortnightly basis as part of an initiative with Ruby Wax to help customers improve their mental wellbeing. The idea of the cafés is to remind people "that it's okay not to be okay" and to allow people who are feeling "frazzled" to meet and share their stories in a "safe, anonymous and non-judgemental environment".

Ruby, who has been honest about her battle with depression said in a blog on The Huffington Post UK: "These meetings are for people like you and me and everyone who feels frazzled from the burden of everyday life. Often we don't want to tell our relations or friends how we're feeling because we worry that we're a burden.

People at the Frazzled Cafés listen to you and care. What's said at those meetings stays at those meetings. We live In a time where to have a life crammed to the hilt is considered a success story. But with all this pressure, so many of us have nowhere to go to meet and talk about it. Frazzled Café is about people coming together to share their stories, calmly sitting together, stating their case and feeling validated as a result. Feeling heard, to me, has always been half the cure."

11 M&S stores will be hosting Frazzled Café meetings over the next few months; three in London and others in Brighton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Canterbury and Norwich with more locations set to be added throughout the year. Each session will be lead by a trained volunteer. 

Sacha Berendji, retail director at Marks & Sparks said: "Ruby's Frazzled Café is a simply, pressure-free way of tackling what can be a taboo subject - feeling stressed. We hope that by providing free and calm venues after the café has closed, we can help any members of the community who simply need to talk about things and what's happening in their lives."

At the moment 1 in 4 of us in the UK are struggling with some form of mental health issue and that is why I am so pleased to hear about this initiative: it really is so important to talk. 

If you want to find out more about Frazzled Café, sign up to their mailing list or attend an event, you can do so HERE.

All there is left to do now is to thank both Ruby Was and M&S and wish them so much luck with this amazing project.

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST BACKLASH SHOWS THAT WE'RE MORE ACCEPTING OF BEASTIALITY THAN WE ARE OF HOMOSEXUALITY

It was announced last week that the new Beauty and The Beast film would feature Disney's first openly gay character and today there is speculation as to whether the film will be allowed to air in Malaysia where being gay is still a crime punishable by a prison stay or corporal punishment. Disney has since ruled this out but it is yet unknown as to whether or not this scene will be cut with a bit of good old fashioned censorship.

The character in question is LeFou, Gaston's right hand man who is played by Gosh Gad, and Malaysia was not the only place to dispute it after a cinema in Alabama cancelled all screenings of the film.

And my question is this: how are people SERIOUSLY able to get their knickers in a twist over ONE GAY SCENE when the entire film follows the story of a beautiful young woman falling in love with a buffalo. A FRIGGING BUFFALO.

A couple of weeks ago, when the news of this scene first broke, the film's director Bill Condon said that the "gay moment" is "not a big deal" and on one side of course he is right. It's not a big deal at all. HELLO, it's 2017, so what if there is a gay guy in the film? It DOESN'T matter. But on the other side, it is a big deal. It's a very big deal. It's a huge milestone; the first time that a Disney character has been exclusively gay, it's a massive indication that times are changing, that the world is becoming more accepting and that cinema is starting to portray the real world a little bit more accurately. Even if it is in a film where a woman falls in love with an animal.

The controversy that this film has caused, though incredibly frustrating, might be a good thing. It has started a conversation, opened the door to change and got people thinking. Of course it's the backlash that has made the news but by and large the response has been good: either in the shape of support or indifference - both are reassuring. 

I'm loathed to tell a country off, not least of all because I have absolutely no authority with which to do it, but seriously, Malaysia, if your ONLY ISSUE in a film where the teapots sing and a woman falls in love with a BUFFALO is that there is ONE GAY MOMENT, then you need your heads checking. 

NET-A-PORTER'S PHOTOSHOP F*CK-UP IS JUST WHAT THE WORLD DOESN'T NEED ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Today is an incredible day for female empowerment. I am not even ashamed to admit that I've basically got no work done today because I have literally spent the whole morning scrolling through Twitter and totally buzzing. Everywhere I've looked I've seen women being unbelievable, standing up and doing great things. But then I saw something that depressed me more than I can say.

We all know that photoshop happens. Every other week we see some huge exposé of yet another huge fashion house, magazine cover or celebrity on Instagram who have embarrassed themselves on their hunt for perfection. I hate that photoshop happens. I hate it so much. It's giving young girls, hell, all girls, totally unrealistic beauty standards to live up to and reminds us of the sad fact that society still doesn't regard us as good enough.

But I thought that today, of all days, we might get a break. Today I thought that MAYBE the world might give us a break. Alas. it only gave us another reason to keep fighting. This time it happened at the hands of Net-A-Porter who added an image to their site advertising a pair of Maria La Rosa Sailor Man Socks with the instructons for the graphics team (AKA photoshop notes) still on it.

"Please slim" they say. PLEASE FUCKING SLIM?! You have got to be bloody kidding me. Unsurprisingly the image has now been replaced but seriously. PLEASE SLIM? Look at the size of this woman. This woman, who is literally just modelling a pair of socks, has been deemed 'too fat'. For the love of God.

So apart from the fact that £35 for a pair of socks is a crime in itself, the fact that this has been found today, of all freaking days? It is just beyond depressing.

But since we're all feeling so inspired today, it seems like a good a time as any to stand up against this stuff. We've asked to #BeBoldForChange today and this is a great opportunity to do that, we won't take this lying down and we won't let the fashion industry get away with this forever. Cheeky bastards.

 

LEGO ARE DUE TO PRODUCE WOMEN OF NASA SET

Guys great new for you to start off this wonderful Thursday: The Danish toy company Lego are making a set of five new figures based on real female scientists, engineers and astronauts. Lego boxes already contain Batman, Harry Potter and Starwars characters but these characters will be available late 2017 or early 2018 after the design, created by US Science writer Maia Weinstock won the Lego Ideas competition. It was picked after receiving 10,000 public votes, which made it eligible for consideration.

Ms Weinstock said: The reaction has been overwhelming. Messages of congratulations and excitement at the prospect of this set actually being on store shelves have been poring in." 

The five women that will be portrayed in this set will be:

- Scientist Katherine Johnson
- Computer scientist Margaret Hamilton
- Astronaut, physicist and educator Sally Ride
- Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman
- Astronaut and physician Mae Jamison.

Ms Johnson was also a character in the recent Oscar-Nominated film Hidden Figures which tells the story of female African American mathematicians working at Nasa in the 1960s.

Lego Ideas spokeswoman Lise Dyotensborg said:

"As a science editor and writer, with a strong personal interest for space exploration as well as the history of women in science and engineering, Maia Weinstock's Women of Nasa Project was a way for her to celebrate accompanied women in the Stem Professions."

Ms Weinstock said herself: "I hope it sets a new example for both girls and boys. Girls, in that they can and should be engineers, scientists and mathematicians, and boys, in that they internalise at an early age that these careers are for everyone, not only men."

In a blog post a guy who runs a website called Jay's Brick Blog made a great point:

"Imagine this very scenario extended to young kids and parents taking the time to not only build this set with their kids, but to also explain who these women are and why their contributions were so important to space exploration and astronomy."

Margaret Hamilton was awarded the United States highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. 

I don't know about you guys but I am personally so excited about this sort of thing. Only last week I was reading some horrible statistics about the low self worth of so many girls and how few of them look to people of their own sex to be inspired by and I feel like this is going to be a huge step in changing that! Any parents out there, big sisters or God parents please do keep an eye out for this hitting the shelves later this year!

GOD DAMN IT ZARA - THEIR NEW ADVERT IS THE FASHION INDUSTRY'S MOST RIDICULOUS YET

Another month, another fashion house is here to shame the living shit out of us. Happy March everyone and welcome to this month's episode of 'the fashion industry won't make clothes for girls with cellulite!', this time it comes from Zara who, in their latest campaign have told us all to 'love our curves' alongside a photo of two of the tiniest damn women that I have ever seen. 

Thankfully this BS is being tolerated less and less and the backlash to this campaign has been huge. The photo was first shared by Irish Radio Presenter Muireann O'Connell who shared the photo, that she took in Dublin, to her followers with the caption: 'You have got to be fucking kidding me Zara' - my thoughts exactly. 

The response from the masses has been wonderful, inevitably, and I'm pleased to see that this has not being taken lying down.

But seriously, Zara, what the actual FUCK are you doing? Telling us to love our curves is great. It's perfect, in a pretty messed up world it is exactly what we need to bloody hear. BUT HOW DO YOU EXPECT US TO LISTEN WHEN OF ALL THE WOMEN OUT THERE YOU COULDN'T FIND ONE BLOODY MODEL WITH A CURVE WITH WHICH TO DEMONSTRATE YOUR POINT?!?! 

The fashion industry is ridiculous, every day I find another reason to hate the whole bloody thing and THIS is why. So many shops don't stock bigger than a size 16, every mannequin looks more like a pencil than a person and every time I put on a piece of clothing I realise that it actually wasn't designed for a real woman at all, because, quelle surprise, it won't flatter, or fit, my stomach/arse/chest/arms/thighs.

How many people work at Zara? How many hundreds, thousands of people do they employ? That this ad campaign will have had to be designed, created and approved by? And not once, in that whole, long, thought-out process, did one person think to say: hang on - something isn't right here?!

I love the reaction that this has received, it's great, it's exactly what needs to happen. But it something that shouldn't have to be happening, because adverts, campaigns like this should not exist! It's beyond ridiculous and I hope that one day soon someone, somewhere, will grow the balls to stand up and say, you know what? ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

HPV VACCINATION IS NOW AVAILABLE AT SUPERDRUG

Superdrug is extending vaccinations to even more nursing clinics after seeing a service uptake for the vaccine increase by 224% over the last two months. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women aged 35 and under and since almost all cases of cervical cancer (99.7%) are caused by persistent infections with the Human Papilloma Virus, Superdrug have decided to offer the service 

The in-store HPV vaccination service is priced at £150 per dose and is suitable for patients aged between 9 and 26 and depending on age, two or three doses are recommended. As of this week it is available in 49 stores nationwide and will be available in 62 by March. Cancer Research UK is projecting that cancer rates will climb nearly six times faster in women than in men over the next 20 years with the projected incidence for cervical cancer being identified as one of the highest rising rates. 

HPV is a very common infection that four out of five sexually active adults will come into contact with in their lifetime. The infection often clears by itself due to the body's immune response but in some cases the infection persists and remains unnoticed. In some, the HPV virus can cause genital warts and for others the virus can damage the cells' DNA and causes cells to start dividing and growing out of control and this can lead to cancer.

Currently all girls afed 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccination on the NHS (something that I REALLY recommend for any parents or older siblings reading this!) but for anyone that missed the opportunity when it was offered to them and now wants the jab, it's great that Superdrug are now offering it and something that I think we ALL need to take up.

And it might not just be for women either. It's not routinely provided to teenage boys but it is highly beneficial for young men. HPV is associated with certain types of penile, anal and throat cancer as well as genital warts. 

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said: "The Human Papillomavirus Vaccination offers one of the best forms of protection against cervical cancer. Uptake of the free vaccination, offered through the NHS childhood vaccination programme, is currently at 86% and increasing each year which is extremely positive to see. Research has shown that if uptake of the vaccination continues at over 80% we could see a two thirds reduction in cervical cancer incidence in women under 30 by 2025. 

Cervical cancer is largely preventable however every day nine women are diagnosed with the disease and two will sadly lose their lives. I would encourage all women to take steps to protect themselves against cervical cancer and it is excellent to see Superdrug provisions that opportunity."

I was very lucky and was offered the Cervical Cancer jab on the NHS when I was at school aged 17, since then my sister and most of my friends have had it and that is really great. But I know that there are a lot of people out there who haven't yet had the opportunity and so I wanted to share this story for them.

I also wanted to say quickly that I am aware that there is often a stigma attached to the cervical cancer jab as a lot of people consider HPV a sexually transmitted disease and therefore something that only 'sluts' (HATE THAT WORD) are likely to get it. This is NOT true. Four in five people will come into contact with it in their lifetime. Men carry it too and it's silent, it's not an indication of anything at all and is simply a fact of life. Getting the jab is so important, if you get the opportunity and are still yet to have it, then PLEASE get down to Superdrug. 

POVERTY IS SEXIST - 'NONE OF US ARE EQUAL UNTIL ALL OF US ARE EQUAL'

Did you know that there is currently nowhere on earth where women have the same opportunities as men? The ONE campaign have released a global video this week as part of their "poverty is sexist" initiative to show us that there is nowhere that we are equal. They're calling for people to take action for women hardest hit by gender inequality - those in extreme poverty. 

The film, created by Don't Panic, shows us that women are being told "no" at every stage of their lives. They want to generate a conversation and celebrate how powerful it would be to empower women and girls and say "yes" to equality on a global scale.

Even as a raging feminist (self proclaimed), there are times when I ask myself: can it really be that bad? I'm doing OK. I haven't been sexually harassed today and no one has said no to me since Tuesday. But guys, I think it really is that bad. 

Take a look at just eight ways that our world isn't equal that we NEED to know about:

1) Girls in Uganda miss up to 8 days of study each term because they are on their periods with limited access to sanitary products and washrooms

2) Women living in the least developed countries are almost a third less likely than men to be connected to the internet.

3) 1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence.

4) In the Democratic Republic of Congo women are half as likely to have any savings in the bank as men, even though they have roughly the same percentage of adults working in the labour force. 

5) Girls born in Kenya are 2 times more likely than boys to experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

6) Six year old girls are less likely than boys to think members of their own gender are 'brilliant' (and they're more likely to shy away from activities requiring that exceptional intelligence).

7) There are more men leading the UK's biggest companies called JOHN than there are women.

8)In Nigeria, 28% of girls will be married by the age of 15.

These statistics are not okay. None of this is even slightly okay and to anyone that thinks they are, then that is why the problem exists. We might think that we are equal, we might look around and think 'this isn't so bad' and if that is the case, then we are one of the lucky ones. Or maybe we're just having a good day. Or maybe we're wearing rose tinted glasses. Because the truth of the matter is: we aren't equal and as this campaign says: none of us are equal until all of us are equal.