Banishing Self-Indulgence

Earlier today I wrote one of those typical woe is me blog posts, alluding to how hard everything felt, how lacking I was in inspiration etc. But before I posted it I stopped, my finger hovering over the mouse key, and asked myself: What good will it do to share this with the world? It may well be cathartic to get things off your chest, but haven’t you done that just by writing it? Don’t you feel a little lighter as it is? And you know what? I did feel lighter just for having written it. Much like a letter to an ex that never actually gets sent, I had expunged the negative emotions without the need to inflict them upon the world. So that was one thing that happened today.

Another thing that happened was my reading of this article, which can, I believe, be best surmised by the following excerpt:

“The 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

I don’t know about you, but reading those two paragraphs struck a chord so deep within me that the hairs on my arms stood up of their own volition. Why? Because that person with no time to be ambitious outside work, who feels constantly dissatisfied in a way they struggle to articulate and who spends money they don’t have on ways to make themselves feel better: That person is me. And most likely also many of you. Of course (trust fund children aside) we have to work for a living (and in this respect with a four day week I can complain less than many about my lot), but it’s so true that outside work it takes (what often feels like) a superhuman effort to cultivate the kind of extracurricular activities that leave you feeling wholly satisfied and fulfilled.

But, that aside, the fact is that those with true talent and passion DO manage to make the most of the time they have, no matter how little it is. They don’t sit around complaining about being oppressed and enslaved by the organisations they work for, but rather work out ways to escape their clutches and create opportunities for work – and living – on their terms. Whether incarcerated by consumerism or not, we all have choices. And our choices are the difference between a life of success and a life of failure. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

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Duvet Day

Whilst slobbing around for a whole day in pyjamas isn’t normally my style, from time to time it’s great to give in to temptation and settle down in front of the TV with a fry up and a box set of DVDs (or, in these technologically advanced times, a laptop streaming a series directly from the internet). It’s especially rewarding when the weather outside is foul (tick) and there’s just enough food in the fridge to get you through the day without having to leave the flat or order a takeaway (double tick). Also, given that NaNoWriMo month is fast approaching and this may be the last lazy Sunday this flat sees for some weeks, I feel all the more vindicated for having made this decision.

Duvet days are (I believe I’m correct in asserting) a primary feature of most people’s university experience. Later in life, therefore, it’s rather enjoyable, on the odd occasion, to cast off the shackles of civilised society and revert to eighteen year old type. Characterised by an outright refusal to get dressed and a tendency to eat vast quantities of food whilst watching back to back episodes of the same television programme, Duvet Days are the perfect tonic for the modern overworked and overstimulated mind. Want to eat ice cream in your pants and stare into space for a few hours, troubling your mind with nothing more taxing than what channel to watch and whether to opt for coffee or tea? Go ahead my friend, because a Duvet Day is YOUR opportunity to do just that without experiencing a single iota of guilt. Now, will somebody pass the remote?

You are what you eat

Whilst waiting for the special ‘feminist edition’ of Bookslam, featuring Hadley Freeman and Caitlin Moran, I read this article in the Standard about Mimi Spencer, author of the 5:2 fasting diet – and also, it’s worth noting, the Standard’s fashion editor – about how her diet’s revolutionised her life. Not only has she dropped two dress sizes from a perfectly healthy size 12 to a skinny size 8 as a result of radically cutting down her eating two days out of seven, she’s also clearly rolling in cash, as her recent holiday to Madagascar is held up to prove.

The timing of my reading the article was ironic, given that both Hadley and Caitlin would soon after read passages from their new books that were chosen specifically to demonstrate that women shouldn’t feel they have to look, feel or act a certain way in order to be a success. Both women would talk about the objectification and suppression of women not only by men but also by the ever-burgeoning women’s magazine market and even their own bodies (Caitlin sharing some particularly graphic details of her first menstruation, and commenting that it was no wonder women struggled to wave the feminist flag before the advent of sanitary products when they were forced to spend vast swathes of their time washing blood-soaked knickers – a fair point).

Whilst many converts of the 5:2 diet will no doubt jump to Mimi Spencer’s defence, it’s hard (for me at least, and I speak as a woman whose love of food cannot be overstated) to imagine really being bothered enough to change your entire lifestyle for the sake of dropping a couple of dress sizes. Take going out for dinner as an example. Does being on the 5:2 diet make it necessary to rearrange every social occasion to fit in with which days you’re starving yourself and which you’re not? Or do you just sip water as your friends devour delicious morsels of tapas washed down with red wine?

But it’s not the 5:2 diet specifically I wish to criticise in this post, it’s more the point that Hadley and Caitlin were getting at; that women should be able to be who they are, without feeling the constant pressure to be thinner, prettier, better in every way. Why shouldn’t we eat what we want, when we want, as long as we appreciate the fundamentals of a balanced diet and a balanced life? Why should we starve ourselves two days each week because the women’s magazines tell us it will make us happier? How can cake deprivation make anyone happier, EVER?

My opinion, for what little it’s worth, is that life’s too short for fad diets. Of course we should eat healthily, but there are limits, and starving for two days a week must surely be one of them? I know proponents of the 5:2 will wax lyrical at this stage about the many health benefits of the diet (concentration allegedly being one of them – now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d be able to concentrate all that well after eating half a carrot and a dry Ryvita for my lunch), but in case they hadn’t noticed there are also rather a lot of health benefits to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach – not least to our mental wellbeing.

I’ll close with an apt quote from G.K Chesterton, who had some sage words on health:

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”

Quite – now pass the Dairy Milk.

Slightly hypocritical of me to post an article slagging off fad diets whilst commencing a wheat and gluten free period, but my dear friend Sian (who attended Bookslam with me last night) assures me it will revolutionise my life. And, er, make me look better…Oh.