Beauty or ugly?

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Do you think about beauty? Apparently it is a huge issue in the Twenty- First Century. I was at a children’ dance show and children were putting on make-up and videoing themselves. They were going to share this video on social media. It is this perfect image that concerns me and it seems like many others also, as in a BBC news article a blogger talks about her relationship with beauty and what happened when she took off her make-up and showed her skin. She received abuse and people told her she was ugly. Is this right?

I had a similar experience as a teenager, but mine was the issue of dark, thick body hair. So should girls who have gone through puberty have body hair or not? At school, I was showering after swimming and one of the other girls stared at me and pointed at my legs. She said, “you’ll never be a fast swimmer with such hairy legs. Don’t you know how to remove body hair?” I didn’t say anything, instead I run in to my cubicle and dried myself as fast as I could and got dressed, so I didn’t have to face this girl again. But her words played over and over in my head. Why did I have such hairy legs? How do you remove body hair? I was going through puberty so life was incredibly confusing and I didn’t know what way to turn. I knew that my Mum had body hair but I didn’t feel like I could talk to her. I went through lots of different ways of removing body hair from waxing, where my skin bled; buying an epilator with money I had earnt from chores and babysitting, which also made my skin bled and was agony; and then the type I use for over a decade – a razor, this was not free from pain, as I use to cut myself by accident and I would walk around with pieces of tissue on my legs. Why did I and these other women feel they had to remove their body hair?

I believe the Western societies have a fascination with the pre-pubescent female form. This is why a woman is more beautiful if she has no body hair, no wrinkles and a pert body. Why do we believe in skin deep beauty? Is it because of TV and our shallow appreciation of a human being? Is it because the media bombards us with perfect forms? A fashion model gave a TED talk about her perception of looks and she believed it was the legacy of her genes that were chosen over generations. I think this is incredibly brave of her to talk about and it would be great to watch if you are interested in beauty. However, why don’t we talk about other important issues that I have raised in this blog and I believe make me the woman I am today.

What has happened to valuing other parts of the human form? In this TED talk, the image of beauty is challenged, as only part of a human beings contribution. Meghan Ramsey identifies other areas of self that needs to develop such as education, family life, and hobbies rather than focussing on appreance. From my knowledge of other cultures, the female form is recognised at different stages in her life for her role as a mother, a carer, an enabler. I believe this is starting to be lost and it worries me. This issue was recognised by Helen of Troy, when she said, ‘if only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect, the way you wipe colour from a statue.’ (see exhibition at British Museum, London). So in the 21st Century where should the issue of beauty stand?

I want to think about what beauty is for? From a basic instinct perspective, beauty is use by numerous species to attract a mate and select the fittest partner to ensure the survival of the gene. However, humans are social animals and so beauty can be part of choosing friendship circles, especially if skin deep beauty is your main indicator for a friend. Moreover, humans have created markets for trading goods and services and I believe beauty can shorten transaction times, which is the ultimate goal for an entrepreneur. However, I think this misses an issue about the emotional language of humans

I believe I have beauty within because I trust my emtions. This allows me to watch a man cry and hold that sadness. It enables me to face the joy and heartache of life with equal strength. My eyes have been opened to the beauty of human beings emotions and our ability to connect and reach out to each other.

 

This is for Kevin. Thank you for showing me how to live.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!

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Do we realise how vital water is as a resource? Human beings can survive for days without food, but without water you die in 24 hours. Given this, why as a species are we so wasteful with water? In the last hundred years, there has been huge amounts of ‘progress’. One example is plumbing. In the developed world or ‘over-developed’ plumbing is seen as a need. Every house needs an indoor toilet, at least two sinks, and bath/shower. However, newly built houses have two toilets, family bathroom (sink, toilet, bath, and shower), en-suite for the master bedroom. This is seen as a necessity for a modern family in the over-developed world. Do we understand the amount of water resource this takes?

A flushable toilet has provided improved hygiene. It has stopped the spread of disease from flies, bacteria and viruses, which are the vital organisms for breaking down our excretions. However, the water used is the same water that can be drunk, used to water plants to provide us with food, and clean hands to reduce the level of infection from bacteria and viruses. Why? From my perspective modern plumbing has failed. There should be a system to provide two different types of water. One level of cleaning water for cleaning and drinking, and another form of water for the toilet. Or use the water to wash your hands before it flushes the toilet.

People get angry about having to pay for water. We think of it as a right. This is because it comes through a tap and you can just use this resource. However, there is a cost to providing water that is drinkable and will not spread infections. This is why sewage treatment centres are needed, high quality pipes and now there are desalination plants (e.g. Thames Water). These provide us with water security and in turn food security, as lot of agriculture depends on irrigation. In some parts of the world, water is still a scarce resource, however there are innovations such as the innovation by Michael Pritchard.

There is a shift, slowly, in understanding water. There are more water butts, and rainwater is increasingly used for gardening. Some families are going further here is a great example of gathering water and using it in the flushable toilet.

The next time you fill up your kitchen sink and start to do the washing up, please think before wasting lots of water…..

All power to the sink!

Do you feel welcome in this country?

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I remember as a child driving through London and reading signs in pubs saying ‘NO BLACKS, NO IRISH’. I knew I was partly Irish as I would stay with my Irish granny, but I could not work out why I was not allowed in these places. Had I done something wrong?

Well, as an adult I know that I had done nothing wrong. I did not ask to be born. I did not ask to be brought in to this world with Irish heritage. But as a child, I just felt excluded. Why as human beings do we create these barriers? What do we fear? I believe barriers are put up to make one feel safe. We have physical barriers – our homes and the barrier is the locked door. Or we have psychological barriers – we are part of a group and you are excluded. The exclusion is normally because we do not know you and so do not trust you, moreover we fear how you could affect us. In the 21st Century what is wrong with this perspective?

The politicians have been discussing it and it is an emotive topic. I am concerned that the language will become xenophobic. And if it does, where does it stop? Will you kick me out because I’ve got some Irish blood in me from a time back in our family history? What about the Jewish community that have made their home in this country following escape from persecution? Where will it stop?

The issue of immigration has resulted because of national boundaries. Borders are a human construct. We have created slightly different rules and cultures within these borders. However, the planet does not think about these borders and to be honest, it does not care. I believe, we have got our priorities wrong. We are moving towards a planet of 9 billion people, if we can not learn to co-operate then the natural laws of the planet will reduce our species. Just think! The dinosaurs were able to stay on this planet longer than this……And we believe reptiles have smaller brains. Why are homo sapiens uber-confident?

Bankers’ bonuses or care for our parents?

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‘In what industry do you give bonuses for failure?’ This is the question Jon Snow posed to the CEO of the British Bankers Association during a debate with Louise Rouse of ShareAction and the British Bankers Association. My question would be ‘Why are job cuts done at the low to middle level in banks and bonuses are still paid at the top?’ For me it is obscene.

Why does one person need a pay packet of millions and another person does not have a living wage? It is abhorrent that these people live side by side and they are sometimes employing the people on the minimum wage as cleaners, care workers and supermarket staff. These people are on the margins of employment where employers use zero-hours contracts. The rights of these employees is weak.

An example of a broken system was shown on TV programme called ‘protecting our parents.’ It was sad and challenging viewing, as the majority of us will become old. The main premise was the care of an elderly couple in their 80s. At least nine people were trying to provide appropriate care and listen to the needs of the couple, as they wanted to live together in the home that had been theirs for decades. The challenge for the health and social care workers was well demonstrated and you could see they agonised over how best to provide a decent and safe life for this couple towards the end of their days. It was summed up well by a GP, as he said ‘he was afraid that the care decision would come down to cost’. I could see this effected the GP negatively. We live in a society where money rules…..A banker gets paid millions in bonuses, while social workers and health staff worry about how to give our ageing parents a dignified end to their life. As the wife said again and again, ‘I’ve paid in to the system. I can’t pay for private…. It’s not my fault I’m ill.’ She was asking for respect and 24 hour care in her home. What is your answer banker? The taxpayer bailed you out and NOW we cannot care for our vulnerable parents.

Where have the morals gone in this debate? There is a spectrum of remuneration and employee rights but the extremes are not allowing people to take part in their local society. The care workers in the ‘protecting our parents’ were paid by the quarter of an hour, and no money for travel time or cancelled work. Our values seem to be topsy turvy. We have forgotten what is important and notes and coins seem to have taken over. Do we really believe the human construct of money is more important than human life?

From my perspective this approach seems to be going backwards in history to times of slavery. This was illustrated by the film ’12 years a slave’. There are industries such as cheap fashion where human life is being lost (100s of Bangladeshis in a garment factory in a factory fire) and care of our elderly, where people who are vulnerable are scared or unable to get the care they need. When will we say…..

 

STOP, this is enough!

 

Human life and our planet seems to have lost value and I feel ashamed to be a human being in 21st Century. We have great knowledge and understanding BUT we do not use it wisely. How can we tip the balance? There are some that are looking at life product analysis. The concept is that you do not just create something you think about each step along the supply chain of creating a product and disassembling the product. This process reviews the resources used such as the raw materials needed to build a house, the impacts of this process and the embodied energy within it and also thinking about how the raw materials can be extracted from the building when it is no longer needed. This approach is moving from a linear line of production to a circular line. I support this approach by asking these kind of questions when I buy things and through my pension fund as an investor. ShareAction has supported me in doing this important work. It continues to call industries such as the banks to account. A moral voice is needed. Bankers need to recognise the consequences of their actions. When will the industry behave like responsible adults rather than spoilt children demanding more sweets?

Choice – you can’t be serious?

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Do you really believe you have a choice? Come on, think. Everything has limits and choice is only there as far as what can be provided and your ability to access it. Let’s think of health. In the UK, we have the NHS. It was established as a service to be free at the point of use. The idea was to ensure everyone had access to basic healthcare without the barrier of payment. In the 1940s this was admirable and the film by Ken Loach highlights the sentiment of what the NHS stood and this we need to remember.

Is the NHS fit for purpose in the 21st Century? The variety of services that are provided for mental and physical health have expanded, because as a nation we have become healthier and live longer. The types of illnesses are more complicated. This increases the cost and the demand also increases. It is a circle of increasing need. Medical staff are improving their ability to deal with illness and disease, and I presume this provides a sense of job satisfaction. The staff at the top of the hierarchy are well paid earning salaries around the £100,000 mark. However, what about the lower paid staff, who are these people? The nurses, care workers and cleaners are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are on paid much lower salaries and also their terms and conditions are worse. For example, care workers are on zero hours contract, with low wages. This was recently highlighted on the Channel 4 news and blogged about http://blogs.channel4.com/siobhan-kennedy/grim-reality-life-hours-contracts/466 . Fiona Phillips has recently proposed the idea of professionalising the role of carer to improve pay and working terms and conditions. She workers with the Dementia Society, as she was effected by the system when both her mother and father died from the disease. Do these low paid carers have a choice in this system?

What other stakeholders are there in the NHS? Us as taxpayers and as patients. Today the language has changed patients are described as consumers in a lot of literature and there is an offer of choice. However, is this a real market? Can a patient walk away from a treatment? Yes sometimes if the disease is not too serious. However, it comes back to the hierarchy of need. If the disease/illness/condition is life threatening then you have no choice. You must trust the health professional will provide care. There have been stories of care not being provided. For example, food and water not provided, people left in their own excrement because of overflowing bed pans. What is happening?

Health professionals can you provide an answer, is it because of your remuneration? Is it because you are not being treated with respect?

How do we create a functioning health service for health professionals, patients and taxpayers?

Food Glorious Food: Security or Sovereignty?

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Food – we all need it, but how much and of what? When was the last time you were hungry? Have you missed a meal for a diet or your religion? Do you eat your five fruit and veg a day? In response to these questions, I feel privileged as I have a varied diet and I enjoyed lots of different types of foods. I love experimenting with new flavours and textures. I am able to eat fresh fruit and veg and even sometimes stuff I have grown myself. Therefore, I have food security. No, I don’t grew all my own food. I don’t have the energy, space or time to provide for myself and my family.

In the 21st Century, the majority of people do not have food security. Even people who have access to land, sometimes the land does not provide enough or a varied enough diet. These people can suffer from under nutrition (i.e. not enough calories to give them enough fuel to grow as children or do the work they need to do as adults) or malnutrition (i.e. not getting certain nutrients e.g. not enough Vitamin C from fruit and vegetables). Normally, food aid will start and so starvation has been reduced. However, there are still incidence of starvation. This is when there is conflict or natural disasters and it is impossible to get food to people. Are the cases of natural disaster going to increase? Hurricanes, floods, tornados these are becoming a regular occurrence. Do you feel secure in your availability of food?

I am concerned that we have gone soft. We expect supermarkets to be fully stocked, and if not we will complain to the manager. Our food is kept in fridge and freezers for our convenience. We still waste large amounts of food that contributes to methane (a greenhouse gas) as the food rots. Some people such as Raj Patel are starting to talk about food sovereignty. This idea originated in Cuba, where socialists had controlled the agrarian economy. However, as capitalist ideas have creped in over the last couple of decades, there has been an increased desire to own land. The compromise was to allow farmers to have tenure. This allowed farmers to use the land and use the produce for themselves or sell crops at market. However, if the land was not used then the state took the land away and gave it to another farmer. Is this fair?

I think ‘yes’. Use it or lose it…..our natural resources are being depleted and people should be using resources in line with the environment and ecosystems as well as trying to meet the needs of humans. My concern is that we are going to get to a stage where we will not be able to meet the needs of both. What do you think?

How crops are viewed has changed so much. Recently the World Development Movement (WDM) had a campaign to challenge the structure of commodity prices. This highlighted how financial institutions gambled with the price of commodities at the cost of rural farmers who are living on the margins. Is this fair?

New approaches are being suggested. These are ideas like urban gardens, incredible edible, and closed loop systems (e.g. restaurants sending scraps to pig and chicken farmers and then buying the produce). This last idea recognises that uneaten food in a restaurant is NOT waste, but a resource to produce another meal. This to me is amazing and we should be creating laws and policies that enable these types of closed loop systems.

When I started writing this blog, I discussed the idea of fairness. It is imperative for me. At this point in our history, there is NOT fairness in our food….this is NEEDED for survival. Why can’t we act more co-operatively?