Thinspo to Fitspiration: destructive messages in disguise

First ‘thinspiration’, now ‘fitspiration.’ Can any of these health and fitness accounts be good?

Health and fitness accounts flourish on Social Media. Thinsperation. Fitsperation. Fat-shaming. Skinny-shaming. Skinny-fat. Thigh gap. Waist trainers. Detox Teas. The list of buzzwords could go on – and these hashtags reveal only part of our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with food, exercise and body image.

Despite attempts to stamp out movements like ‘Thinspiration’, images that glorify eating disorders are still plastered all over the internet. I was shocked to find that sites such as Tumblr still have this content readily available for young girls to consume:

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These are only some of the horrifying messages that still circulate on the internet today. Restricting calories is seen as a strength; a battle to be won against yourself. Being ‘skinny’ is the pinnacle of popularity, beauty and success. It acts as inspiration for a party outfit. An item of clothing to be worn like a badge of honour. What’s worse is that the admins of these accounts are giving out ill-informed information about diet and exercise, propagating damaging ideas about what it is to be happy and ‘healthy.’

Detox teas, laxatives, waist trainers, ‘specialised’ guides to lose 30lbs in a week, plague the internet, and are often advocated by fitness ‘inspiration’ accounts that have no certified qualifications to be giving such advice.

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The admin of this account advises eating 800 calories a day to see results: a cripplingly low amount of food for anyone to function on. Reducing body size has ostensibly become society’s way of measuring self-worth, happiness and success. The language and images used in diet and exercise advertisements equate all of these things with toned legs and rippling abs. The possession of a perfect body is a standard of contentment we all hope to achieve. Peeling off layers of fat is just a tangible way of aiding our feelings of imperfection.

In a generation of immediacy, weight-loss, no matter how long or hard the process, does have a guaranteed result, no matter how extreme the measures. And this is exactly where ‘Fitspo’, ‘Thinspiration’ and other insidious ideas about health and wellness come in.

Thinspo to Fitspo: What’s the difference?

‘Fitspiration’ began as a noble pursuit. As a reaction to ‘Thinspiration’ – a movement that, linked to cases of anorexia nervosa and other disorders, served as motivation for women to maintain a very low body weight – ‘fitspiration’ is meant to propagate a more ‘healthy’ way of achieving a desired physique. The effect, however, has been less than positive.

The ‘Fitspo’ definition of health is essentially a slightly reimagined version of ‘thinspiration.’ Fitspo hasn’t shifted the problem, they have just shifted the focus.

Every era in history has had its beauty ideals. Fitspo models, while offering a more full, curvaceous & ‘toned’ physique as a reaction to the dangerously thin bodies of ‘thinspo’, still propagate a certain kind of image that cannot be achieved by all women. While advocating slogans such as ‘eat more, not less’ and ‘build a booty’ – positive ideas, yes, about fuelling the body and increasing strength – they are still creating a particular kind of beauty standard not accessible to all. Everybody might want a big bum, but not all of us have the genetics to achieve one.

‘Fitsperation’ masquerades as ‘pro-body image’;  ‘health rather than weight focussed.’ Yet the body is still an enemy that needs to be battled with, controlled and conquered, and the ‘Fitsperation’ rhetoric aptly serves this purpose: ‘Fight through the pain, it’s worth it.’ ‘Set some goals, then demolish them.’


Fitspo’s intention to provide motivation for a sustainable way of living has become obscured by the circulation of senseless phrases such as ‘Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.’ In some cases, inspiration for a ‘healthy body’ becomes less about restricting calories and more about extreme gym routines that cannot suit every body type or lifestyle. Hyper-gymnasia, an over-emphatic commitment, or obsession, with exercise, is perhaps not a recognisable disorder to most, but the damage it inspires is real. Inspiration for a ‘healthy body’ becomes the same as inspiration for a thin body: extreme measures must be taken. These social media accounts, whether attempting to inspire a ‘healthy’ way of living or not, provide ample ground for negative body image to grow.

And then there are the ‘Before and After images.’ ‘True’ depictions of the bodies of ‘real’ women that are still most likely augmented by lighting, posture, clothing and filters. More worrying still, is that these juxtaposed images do not show the process of weight lossundertaken by the individual. From ‘before’ to ‘after’, we have no idea what measures have taken place in order to achieve this more desired physique. While the person who posts the picture may be feeling good about their progress, we could, by offering our encouragement on social media, be glorifying disordered behaviours surrounding food and exercise.

So if not ‘fitspo’, who can we follow?

Of course, these fitness movements can all be placed on a spectrum. There are positives to be gleaned from online movements such as ‘Fitspiration’. The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confident report, for example, showed that ‘girls were harnessing the power of social media to democratise the beauty narrative … and flooding the space with their diverse stories and images.’ Fitness accounts such as ‘Fit Girls Guide’, for example, ‘democratise’ the fitness community by encouraging inclusivity. Welcoming women from different ages, body types and skin colour, there are some accounts that create a supportive environment for women just starting out on their fitness journey.

Influencers such as Amber Romaniuk, dietician and expert in emotional eating add a human dimension to those struggling with body image issues and symptoms of eating disorders. Through her podcast, ‘No Sugar Coating’, she addresses deep-seated issues that she herself as dealt with, in order to provide understanding to those suffering from similar problems. Her instagram, while offering balanced and nutrient-dense recipes, focuses more on the mental and emotional benefits of health and fitness rather than just the physical: a trend Fitspo influencers would do well to adopt.

The Bottom Line

The stream of ‘fitness’ images on the internet, whether attempting to provide positive inspiration to people seeking guidance, is not the answer to long term weight- loss and sustainable living. There is still much to do in terms of helping women develop the resilience they require to overcome the impact of beauty pressures. While social media is inescapably becoming the first port of call for help and advice on health and wellbeing, choosing to follow registered dieticians and nutritionists on social media who offer accurate and balanced advice is certainly more insightful than content inspired by ‘fitspo’ trends.

If you are susceptible to feelings of guilt or shame about your body image, it’s wise to unfollow people who propagate restriction, extreme exercise, fitness drinks/ supplements or calorie-counting. A large social-media following does not often pertain to expert advice. Choose influencers with qualifications who promote ideas about how best to approach health and fitness in a sustainable, more long-term way.


Be Real Campaign – an organisation who provides educational tools to help people combat personal issues surrounding unrealistic beauty standards.


The Romantics and the shackles of Modern Life

‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains’ – Jean Jacques Rousseau

We’ve all heard scientists talk about how sickness is epidemic in the modern world. The ills of technology, social media, processed foods and oppressive schedules affect every part of our physical and mental wellbeing. While a lot of this can be considered scare-mongering, I think there is some truth to the warnings. In some ways, we are the sickest we have ever been.

We are somewhat fortunate in the West that our culture propagates a strong work ethic as the key to success. People climb higher than ever before. The ascendance of individualism, however, has its costs. Humans are wired to always be on the run. Rising stress levels cause us to produce fight or flight responses to small inconveniences. We rely on substances to wake us up or put us to sleep. Chronic stress,  high blood pressure and strokes are more prevalent than ever before.

We are the generation of immediacy. We expect quick results, and everything in society must attend to this purpose. Technology provides shortcuts and brain-power where ours has lapsed – it is the clock that makes us tick. Time is of the essence, and our health suffers because of it. We have cultivated a society that attends to our needs, and doesn’t. Our quality of life has been impaired as much as it has been improved.

Literature has long chronicled the illnesses of modernity. The words of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl suddenly spring to mind. His harrowing image of ‘starving, hysterical, naked’ automatons, the otherwise ‘best minds of [his] generation’, ‘dragging themselves through the streets at dawn, looking for an angry fix’, can only resemble the long queues of people waiting in line at the doctors for their magic pill: the elixir of life that will charge them up enough to face the mound of paperwork at the office the next day.

Ginsberg often used natural imagery in his poetry as a point of contrast to the encroaching threat of modernity. He visualised a world that rejected the oppressive conformism and materialism of American society that had produced the sickness he saw on the streets. Like the early Romantic poets, Ginsberg saw industrialism as the disease of the modern condition.

Ginsberg’s generation, the Beats, were liminal figures. They expressed their cultural marginality by being everything and nothing, and belonging nowhere. They were the nomads of the American streets. The poets of early nineteenth-century Romanticism pioneered this interest in the figure of the ‘wanderer.’ Wordsworth, writing against a backdrop of rapid industrialism and the casualties of the French Revolution, fought against the changing order of society that modernity had brought along. He wrote of ‘thou wanderer in the wood’ – a person who wilfully chose to escape the reign of inequality being produced by a hierarchical, industrial-led society, into the recesses of nature, ‘the guide, the guardian… and soul of … moral being.’ Nature was still pure, untouched by human influence, and therefore a place to receive spiritual consolation.

Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting, ‘Wanderer above the sea fog’ (c. 1818) captures a lone man stood on a summit, absorbed in quiet reverence, overlooking the catastrophe of the modern world. Framed by nature, he stands objectively, disconnected from the ills of modernity. Wandering was to the Romantics a way of submerging oneself into Nature and into a world with infinite and unlimited potential. Gazing out into the immensity of modern life, one should learn that it is, at times, okay to ‘wander.’


Casper David Friedrich: ‘Wanderer above the Sea Fog’, (1818)

I now realise how Wordsworth felt composing ‘Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’, sat peacefully on the banks of the River Wye. Nature and writing, I have found, have an interesting alliance. I have learned enough about myself to know how susceptible I become to claustrophobic environments, and how much this can stifle my creativity. Sometimes sitting alone on a park bench amidst a cluster of trees truly can, as Wordsworth said, allow us to ‘see into the life of things.’

As Rousseau observed as early as 1762, “man may be born free”, but in the 21st century, our “chains”, obscured by the flashes of our mobile phones, may not be visible. We are inescapably tied to an overcharged sense of responsibility to perform at our best, reach success, make as many connections and as much money as possible. We may just not realise it.

Perhaps what our society needs most is a Roussean call to ‘get back to Nature!’, for it is Nature that can provide clarity to an unintelligible world.

The Romantics felt that life was not always something to be analysed, but felt and experienced. Nature, in all its majesty, was an apt setting to contemplate how one could strive for something greater.

Of course, it is too late in the day for us all to flee to the mountains, but all humans do need an outlet. For the Romantics it was opium; for my generation its the hyper-escapism that digital connectivity, recreational drugs and binge drinking can afford. The antidote for the stresses of modern life shouldn’t have to be a rejection of responsibility, or a substance-induced oblivion, but a carefully planned, structured, period of escape. 

Allow yourself time, stillness and flexibility. Cultivate an environment where only your own thoughts pervade. Shake the pollution of the city and embrace the fresh air of the country. Plan a day where events can be unplanned and spontaneous. Turn off that bloody phone.

Accepting uncertainty is not surrendering. It is choosing to relinquish, if only momentarily, the planning, structure and insatiable drive that lies behind our success. 


‘My work is my art’: Breaking the taboo on sex-work

‘My area of work is very empowering to individuals in any situation. We get to be in control of our image, our schedule, our bodies.’

Upon first meeting Sarah, I never would have guessed that she was a sex-worker. In our rather conservative society, it is not every day that subjects such as this even come up in conversation.

It was my second week in Berlin. I was attending a small meet-up at the Berlinale Film Festival, if nothing more than to temporarily enjoy an evening of human interaction with other newbies. A seemingly quiet, reserved girl said ‘Hello’ to me sweetly and sat down next to me. We chatted about trivial matters. Following the linear course that these conversations usually take, we approached the ‘What do you do?’ topic. Her response was that she was a ‘sex-worker’; that she made video clips and had relationships with men over the internet.

The term ‘sex-worker’ is heavily loaded with negative connotation. If there are any typical stereotypes to be attached to sex work, however, Sarah defied every one. After speaking to her more on this topic, a person who derived real passion and joy from her employment emerged.

It became clear to me during our discussion that sex-work provides females with agency both artistically and physically. What Sarah described to me was an artistic process of filmmaking as detailed as painting a canvas. To Sarah, her work is her art. 

Sarah represents what every feminist would define as a modern woman: she is committed to her craft and in control of her life and body. 


Prior to interviewing Sarah, I asked her to write down an official definition for the term sex-worker. This is what she came up with:

‘A sex-worker is a consenting adult who provides a service and creates content primarily for the sexual, but also the emotional, affectionate or otherwise intimate, gratification of others.’

In this part of the interview, Sarah discusses how sex-work for females is an empowering career choice.

M. You explained in your definition that sex work is essentially a service that enables the sexual gratification of another. What kind of things can this include?

Sex-work can involve sex lines over the phone, selling nudes, live web-camming, working in a strip club or escorting.

M. And what does your particular work involve?

I am an online dominatrix who creates clips that I sell on clip stores online. I also have relationships with men online and I’m paid for the interaction. I’ve done live cam shows in the past but it requires a lot more stamina than filming clips!

M. Some people might conflate sex work with pornography and prostitution. How would you say your work differs?

I think there is a lot of stigma surrounding sex work. People think that it is exploitative of women and that it is controlled entirely by men, despite the fact that the overwhelming number of performers are female. This may be the case in other aspects of sex-work, such as porn, working in brothels, or pimping, but in my work, women have chosen to do it. We don’t have to respond to any kind of pressure from male producers. ‘‘I think it’s important to create a distinction between consensual, empowered sex work like mine and non-consensual sex work.’’

M. How did you get started with this work?

Well, live cam shows were always something I did from an age younger than I would care to admit. I was addicted to chatrooms as a teenager. I was addicted to the way it made me feel. ‘’I felt good, I felt beautiful, I felt powerful.’’ I felt like I had something that the viewer could only have if I allowed them to have it. When I was 18, I realised that doing this kind of work could be a source of income. I planned to go travelling, and was at the time applying to University to be a primary school teacher. I started doing cam shows on the side just to earn a bit of extra money. Before long, I was doing less hours at my part-time job in a shop and more hours on cam. I realised that I could earn money so much more quickly and efficiently this way.

M. You mentioned that you were at the time planning on becoming a teacher. What influenced your decision to become a full-time sex worker instead?

I realised that I had a passion for producing erotic content and I wanted to put more work into developing my image as a performer. I chose the lifestyle of a sex worker over that of a teacher because I loved the idea of being in control of my schedule and of my own life. Sex-work is incredibly versatile. I can work anywhere in the world, as long as there’s a sustainable internet connection, and can have complete creative freedom over my work.

M. So just picking up on your phrase ‘creative freedom’, would you say that this is the most appealing aspect of your work?

‘’Working for myself and having complete freedom in every aspect of it is certainly one of the things I value mostly about my job.’’ I always wanted to have a career in art and I was trying to figure myself out as an artist for years. However, I always worried that if I continued pursuing my art passion, I would end up being a struggling artist, or I would feel anxious about having to work towards somebody else’s brief or ideal. ‘’So I just make the work that I want to make now. I have complete artistic control.’’

M. So in a way, this work is a platform for you as an artist? Possibly in a way that you didn’t originally intend or imagine?

Certainly. I always thought I would be an artist, and I think what I produce now is art.

M. How would you say that creativity is channeled into your work? 

It takes creativity to think about the ideas for my clips, to construct the creative language that you use in dominating somebody, to create your outfit, to perform the part of a dominatrix, even to create a backdrop for the clips. I certainly take pride in my cam backgrounds. I put thought into the layers, textures and the colours to make a visually stimulating backdrop.

M. So what you’re essentially describing is the process of creating a work of art?

Yes. I mean, when you’re looking at a porno or a video clip, perhaps this isn’t so apparent. You’re just there for immediate gratification. You don’t think, ‘Wow this is a really beautiful work of art.’ Even porn or nudes are still art. There is still production and purpose there. Somebody has set this up, decided on the angles and the lighting. In independent performer’s work, people definitely exercise this freedom of creativity beautifully. And it’s not just nudes, it’s art. I am proud of the art I make.

M. We’ve spoken prior to this interview about issues of legality in terms of people using and exploiting your work. Is there any way in which your artistic integrity is protected?

The monetary aspect of sex-work is currently quite complex as we are not understood as artists. As it stands, we have no legal protection over our content.

M. Why do you think this is?

There’s a big culture in society of consuming art for free. People aren’t used to paying for things and they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into it. Men online will find clips from independent performers expensive and say, ‘Oh my god, $10 for ten minutes. I could get that for free on PornHub.’ The problem is that there is a lot of process that goes into making such a small clip. Setting up, getting ready, finding different angles, ensuring sound and lighting is working correctly, editing. ‘’It’s not just taking your clothes off, it’s a real job.’’

Eco-feminism: what is it, and why should we care?

When I first came across the term, ‘Eco-feminism’, I thought it was just another highly convoluted buzzword. But upon closer examination, Eco-feminism provides a really interesting perspective on the unique impact environmental issues have upon women, particularly in developing countries.

To some, it may seem particularly absurd to view environmental issues through a feminist lens. Of course, problems of toxic waste, contaminated water, air pollution, world hunger, (to name a few), are not exclusively female issues: they are universal. However, while environmental degradation has an immediate, tangible impact upon everybody, statistics show that it affects a higher percentage of women than men.

What is Eco-feminism?

Eco-feminism is a movement that sees a parallel connection between the destruction of the environment and the oppression of women. Like feminism, Eco-feminism seeks to address inequality and remove existing power structures [patriarchy, hierarchy] that degrade the natural world and disempower women.

The United Nations Environment Programme suggests that, ‘Around the world, environmental conditions impact the lives of women and men in different ways as a result of existing inequalities. Gender roles often create differences in the ways men and women act in relation to the environment, and in the ways men and women are enabled or prevented from acting as agents of environmental change.’

Why should these problems concern feminists?

Eco-feminism seeks to highlight and address the problems of existing patriarchal power structures that seek to dominate, and derive value from, both the earth and women. This isn’t to suggest that men are to blame for all environmental problems. Rather, it proposes that such issues have a unique impact upon women, especially in developing countries.

Globally, women have less socioeconomic power than men and are more likely to experience poverty. In the U.K. alone, women are more likely to be affected by economic fluctuations, the discrepancies in wages and the prices of necessary items, namely sanitary products.

A global view: environmental degradation in developing countries.

A study by BBC News declared that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. In developing countries, much of the disempowerment of women is related to ecological problems.

Greta Gaard suggests that ‘Globally, women produce approximately 80% of the world’s fuel supplies, and for this reason women are most severely affected by food and fuel shortages and the pollution of water sources.’

Women in Third World countries are dependent upon the natural environment for their livelihood and therefore have a unique relationship to the effects of its degradation. In most households, it is the women who are the primary care-givers for their children, and the gatherers of food and water.

Often young girls will walk miles daily to collect water with their mothers, making them less likely to attend school. In urban areas, women from low-income households are exploited for labour in factories where they are exposed to harsh chemicals and contamination.

Furthermore, the inadequacy, or indeed the absence, of supplies of contraception, protection against STDs and sanitary products uniquely contribute to the hardship and disempowerment of women in developing countries.  The female body thus becomes a means by which women are degraded physically, socially and economically. 

Like the world around us, women are still intrinsically viewed as commodities and regarded as a means of production and profitability. Research suggests that in developing countries, women particularly struggle to defend their reproductive and sexual rights. Women are used in the same way as natural resources: they are taken and devastated.

In the case of natural disasters, the death toll is higher for women than men in societies with a greater gender disparity. An OXFAM report after the 2004 Tsunami found that the number of men who survived outnumbered women by almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Factors such as the inability to swim due to inadequate education, and the lack of ownership of technology, [women are often denied economic possession of necessities such as mobile phones], make women even more vulnerable to the devastating effects of natural disasters.

Why should we care about eco-feminism?

  • Do you care about the environment?
  • Do you wish for world equality, where women, men and nature are treated with equal respect?
  • Do you wish for more women to be in positions of power?
  • Do you care about women in other parts of the world?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Eco-feminism is the movement for you.

The bottom line

Ecofeminism does not limit its scope to feminist issues. It highlights the deep and insidious effects of a hierarchical and exploitative society and gives credence to the legitimate demands of poor nations. In its mission to challenge power hierarchies, Eco-feminism seeks to involve women in the efforts to mitigate environmental issues and thus address their disempowerment in more ways than one.

Ultimately, Eco-feminism sanctions women’s unique vulnerability to environmental issues, particularly in developing countries, and advocates their voices as an integral part of the battle against climate change.



  • Check out the following websites for a list of charities that provide services to support and empower women across the world:
  • Ending period poverty. Support UK based charities such as ‘Always’ and ‘Action Aid’ that are dedicated to providing women with the necessary materials for menstruation. You can find many places in public toilets to donate sanitary products.



Will We Ever Switch Them off?

I’d love to see what would happen if all mobile phones went dead. 

I’m sat in a cafe contemplating this as I observe an awkward scene. People watching is one of life’s virtues, especially when hidden behind a laptop screen. One quickly learns the strategies. Leaning over and craning your neck to eavesdrop in conversation is not entirely subtle. The trick is in the eyes. Learning to quickly divert your gaze from the scene in front of you to the screen of your laptop is the first step towards successful snooping.

I’m watching a couple on a date. It’s going well. They’ve so far managed to order their coffee, and say a few words to each other. Ten minutes later, these words still hang in the air like a bad smell. No progress has been made. Hands reach to cradle their phones. One of them takes a call. The other nonchalantly drinks her coffee, gazing around the room as if to pluck a conversation topic out of the caffeine-fuelled atmosphere.

This is just painful.

Phones provide a justifiable excuse to not speak to each other, a handy tactic when on an awkward date. As young people, we are protected from having to deal with social interaction only by our common propensity to pick up our mobiles and immerse ourselves in Facebook mid-conversation. We just don’t know how to communicate anymore.

Everyone, of course, talks about the ‘millennial’ generation with contempt. But ultimately, our critics should just feel sorry for us. We are rude and obnoxious, and ruthless in our attempts to capture the perfect photo to upload to our social media sites. ‘Likes’ feed our egos more than real-life compliments. GIFS and Memes provide humour where ours has lapsed. We are the avocado-loving, cafe-brunching, news-munching millennials who know nothing of times gone by. We exist in a vacuum, bombarded by the constant flow of information of which we can’t escape. Armed with a step-by-step account on social media of how we fill our days, our generation is leaving behind us a technological footprint of triviality. Is this all we will have to show for our posterity?

The need to constantly document our lives, however, reveals something a lot more sinister about current social interaction.

Take the prior mentioned date as a case in point. Meeting somebody in the flesh requires a lot more cognitive effort, particularly as their choice to position themselves opposite each other makes them more exposed. In this instance, they have nowhere to hide. Queue the picking up of the mobile phone.

Interacting with a computer is entirely different. A computer does not care about your feelings. When online, one does not have to labour to understand another’s body language, or negotiate with social cues. Instead, our emotions become archetypically summarised in emojis. Virtual interaction removes feelings and emotions. We are, as the world fears, turning ourselves into beings void of the aspects that make us human.

Our self-esteem becomes based on the acquisition, essentially, of strangers who favour our content. Our ‘supposed’ selves, the ones we can perfectly package up and present to our gang of worthy followers online, somehow become more desirable than our actual selves. We come to envy others who are equally as inauthentic. While we know this, we can’t seem to shake the feeling that millions of others out there are prettier, thinner, smarter, richer or just generally more content than we are.

Like everything else in a capitalist society, our sense of self-worth becomes based on acquisition. ‘Likes’, ‘retweets’, ‘favourites’ are currency: we acquire and exchange.

A further frightening aspect of all this is that the more we reveal, the more data we contribute. Companies feed off our online presence, using information about us to tailor their advertisements to our interests, and consequently contribute to this atmosphere of acquisition.

It is as if I am competing against a machine that seems to know me better than I know myself. My iPhone can anticipate which emojis I would like to use based on the words I have tapped into a message. It knows all the locations I’ve been in … ever. It knows my exact distance home, the temperature in my room, where I am going to be at certain dates and times and locations. Perhaps at one point it will grow a pair of arms, reach for a stethoscope and conclude after seconds of analysing my heartbeat that I am actually nearly dead prior to my morning coffee.

And yet, what this all essentially boils down to is our generation’s preoccupation with insignificance. We live in a network of spies and informants. Ads are tailored to us based on personal information. Molly from Blackpool knows you’re spending a weekend in Tenerife because of the hashtag you used. Google stalks you at every turn based on your internet searches. Every drip of news is as necessary as the blood flowing through our veins.

It would not surprise me if soon we were diagnosing technological illnesses based on our anxiety to constantly be informed. Perhaps medication will have to be administered to those of us who are addicted to our phones. All joking aside, a period of weaning ourselves off from technology is overdue.

I am actively trying to cut down my time spent on the web before my brain disintegrates. When I find myself having to force myself to read a book – something I have known and loved ever since I can remember – I remind myself of how much I have attuned my brain to autopilot. It’s high time we saved ourselves from becoming machines.

It’s that time again: re-entering the job market

Perhaps it’s a dangerous thought, but I have to ask myself daily, ‘could I be anymore content?’ I get to spend my days walking the most beautiful streets, hanging out in cafes or parks; reading, writing, contemplating. I have time to myself. Time to enjoy not rushing from one place to the next. And yet, I have the overwhelming feeling that this is the most free I will ever be. 

It’s about that time again where I have to think about the direction that my life is taking me in. In two months I will be unemployed, again. I will have to face the depressing graduate landscape, where every organisation brandishes a banner reading ‘No room at the inn.’ I will have to face those feelings of inadequacy that I’ve dispensed of since being in Berlin. Reapplying for jobs means reentering the Rat race.

Yesterday I started going over my CV again, scolding myself for the fact that I haven’t spent a year as a journalist, civil servant, lawyer-in-training, or any of these other professional careers that I used to fancy for myself. I slept last night, badly, thinking about the nine-to-five desk job calling me, its wood scratching my fingernails and splintering my skin as I resist its pull. I’m holding onto Berlin and what it has symbolised for me personally – freedom, stillness, balance – with dear life. I fear that fighting the hoards of graduates just like myself for a single job will only derail me.

Not everyone can function on a hamster-wheel. While I have often tried to imagine myself climbing up the career ladder to reach the pot of gold of success, I’ve realised that I just can’t. I don’t have the stamina. So if not nine-to-five, if not working in administration or management or business, what else is there for me? The job market in England rendered me tired and disillusioned. I felt unskilled, worthless, betrayed by a system that propagates education as the sole ticket to success. I felt like I had nothing to offer any job, creative or otherwise.

For years, I have situated my future life in London. There’s a reason why this city is one of the most desired places to visit in the world. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, full of opportunity. It attracts the young and enterprising with its strong sense of individualism. It weaves each person into a romantic narrative of advancement: ‘young entrepreneur seeking success in the big city.’ It makes you feel part of a whole – a super-charged machine at the forefront of world advancement.

But its atmosphere is also oppressive. Floods of people get on and off the tube at ridiculous hours of the day, music booming through their headphones. Melody becomes a fugue to accompany the bitter march to their desks. Coffee becomes the taste in everyone’s mouths. Exhaustion permeates through office walls. People often seem tired, sickly. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only: to work, and to stay alive.

Perhaps this sounds dramatic. Perhaps I sound work-shy. But really, I am just trying to understand how we got here.

Coming to Germany has been a valuable experience in how other countries live. While Berlin, as a thriving economic capital of business and commerce, obviously has aspects of its working environment that are similar to London, it seems a little more free. A lot of my friends work full-time, but they have contracts that offer more flexible, sociable hours. It’s more common than not that I meet people who are freelance, who work several different jobs trying to pursue creative careers, or who work part-time and are still able to cover their bills. And this is deemed ok – normal in fact. Berlin’s prices, while rising, are significantly cheaper than London. People have disposable cash to build livelihoods. Artistic jobs are as highly prized and sought after as economic, or business-related ones. Naively, I suggest that Berliners have cracked it. People know how to enjoy working-life without the blood, sweat and tears.

For the first time, I’m realising that a life like this is entirely possible, and more importantly, justifiable. I no longer want to have to explain to myself and others that I don’t want to live my life enslaved by a desk. Despite the odds, I can’t help but suggest that there must be something more than this.

It seems that modern people have emptied themselves of their dreams. People frequently snigger at my desires to become a writer, or even to work in a job that allows me to practice creativity.

In an ideal world, I will have a job that’s varied and enjoyable, that affords me structure, discipline, the option to advance, but also freedom of mind and creativity. It’s about time that I returned to the job market, not to skin myself alive and plague my thoughts with encroaching feelings of fear or inadequacy, but to challenge myself to find a life that I want to live.

It is possible. I want to believe that this is so.

Writer’s Block – The Affliction of the Creative

It’s  five am. Late. Or maybe early. I’m sat at my desk in the dry light of the approaching morn, writing. I’m a walking cliche, I know. The wannabe desperate nomad who seeks solace from the oppressive city in a battered old notepad and pen – thoughts of great poets and her own shaky verses churning in her mind.

But while I sit and stare at the page, no words come out. It’s in moments like these where one contemplates the fleeting nature of ideas. Here I am, stressed and useless, probably (definitely) tired, just thinking about how best to manufacture inspiration. Thoughts and ideas always seem to ebb and flow. Emotions, events going on in my life, a busy schedule, all feed into my ability, or indeed, my inability, to write.

Biting my pen at the end so that the ink swells into large globules on the page, I give up. I go back to bed. I remind myself that I am not the Romantic poet who wakes at dawn to hear the birdsong, the whistling wind, the chords of the Aeolian harp, nor am I the late-night genius working by candlelight to produce his next masterpiece for the court of Henry VIII. My mind races and doesn’t deliver. Especially at five am.

The next day I’m running errands around the centre of Berlin, looking at everything with an author’s zeal, inhaling intricate details of everything I pass to aid my woeful attempt at writing. I gaze at the contours of the buildings before me, some almost beautiful in their concrete majesty. I look to the sky, incandescent in the waning light of the afternoon and to the wily shapes of trees reflected in the river. Is this poetry, or just plain bullshit? I laugh at myself, clutching my books tightly as if to impress their words onto my tired hands and down the nib of my pen, and at the failure of my corny attempt to write something that matters. Darkness approaches, the streets fill up and inspiration has fled.

Writer’s block – the affliction of the creative. You berate yourself for failing. You berate yourself for trying.

Sometimes you just cannot force it. 

We’re taught in life to banish feelings of self-doubt as a hindrance to progress. Yet, here I am, yielding to self-doubt and making up words in the process. I have produced little else but a personal essay composed of self-depreciation, but I have somehow managed to string coherent sentences together.

Writing is about identity. I haven’t quite found mine yet. A personal essayist I could perhaps say, or just someone that rambles on in the direction of something vaguely meaningful. My writing is inescapably inflected by my own experiences. My thoughts and opinions seem to infiltrate my sentences at any available moment, no matter what the topic. A personal essayist, I could say, or just a plain narcissist?

In later years when I am more wizened with age, perhaps my writing will take a different form. Perhaps I will always be overthrown by too many ideas rather than too few. A good writer understands the limits of his or her understanding of the world. The most important lesson, I think, is to stay curious. This brief essay has been nothing if not a practical exercise of self doubt, but by allowing my mind to wander, I reminded myself of my motto: ‘ideas flourish at the hands of the uninhibited.’ Trusting your own process, your own curiosity, can, at times, pay off.

And on that note, in a further absence of ideas, I leave you with a friendly platitude from Sir Philip Sidney on the subject of lapsed inspiration:

‘Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:

‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’

– Astrophel and Stella 1. 13-14