Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thoughts: My Mad Fat Diary

Saturday, August 8, 2015
I'm not all that into television shows. There are few programs that I love or get emotionally invested into. My Mad Fat Diary is one of those few shows that I hold a very, very special place in my heart and which I strongly believe has made an impact on my life for the better. 

This is a post I have really been wanting to write, recently more so than ever, but a post that I have been struggling to put together coherently in order to express how I truly feel and in a way that doesn't seem trivial. A couple of weeks ago, the season finale (and last episode ever) of My Mad Fat Diary aired. It was both a devastating and uplifting moment for me. 

Essentially, the show is based upon the real diary entries of Rae Earl, written during her teenage years. In her diary, she chronicles her life, writing about common teenage things such as sexuality, relationships, family and friendships. But most of all, after being advised to do so by her counselor, Rae writes about her struggle with mental illness and her low self-esteem.

My Mad Fat Diary has to be the realest representation of the issues that young adults face and suffer that I have seen, and I admire how it doesn't shy away from 'taboo' topics such as mental health; it certainly opened my eyes to how debilitating and complex they are. Despite not suffering a mental illness myself, I find the protagonist, Rae Earl, one which I relate to profoundly. I started watching the show when I was just shy of 18 and, to be honest, I was quite miserable for quite some time back then: alongside having many insecurities, my moodiness also came down to hormones, the fear of adulthood and all worries concerning 'the future'. What I do know is that over the course of the three years that this show ran, I felt myself slowing becoming 'better' just as Rae did. It is as if we both underwent a journey of self acceptance together, and made it out the other end.

There is a lot that I could write about how much I love this show, how much I learnt from it: far more than what I was ever taught in school. I feel lucky to have had this show to refer to on the cusp of adulthood, and I will probably continue to look back on it throughout my life. 

Love Yourself
The biggest thing I took away from this show is the need to accept yourself. In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae's biggest insecurity is her weight. Her hatred of her size dictated how she lived her life and often scared her away from other people, believing no one could ever love someone like her. It was heartbreaking to watch this fantastic, funny girl feel like she was worthless, especially because I used to feel the same. After my kidney transplant when I was eight, I had to take medications that led to considerable weight gain, and this really affected my self esteem. Food become somewhat of an enemy, I was advised to 'diet' and I remember being congratulated if I lost any weight.  Such comments at such a young age obviously had a long lasting impact into my teenage years, and I feel infuriated that I was led to think negative thoughts about my body, never mind that the weight gain was totally out of my control. I was otherwise perfectly healthy and I was actually enjoying eating food for the first time in my life because I was previously too sick and frail.

I remember relentlessly comparing myself to others, and visualizing how much better my life would be with a slimmer body, how I may become more popular, how if only there were a way to slip out of my skin. I related immensely to this scene. Alongside my physical insecurities, I was always (and continue to be) an introvert, and at times I found myself despising this personality trait. Why oh why couldn't I just be 'normal'? I feared that I was missing out on so much in life by being shy.

I just wish my younger self could have been able to watch a show like My Mad Fat Diary to affirm that I was not my weight, nor my appearance and that I shouldn't be ashamed of who I am. I learnt so much in the way of how to accept myself, and a part of this is to soothe any self-doubts and poisonous thoughts. How I wish I could have had someone like Kester, Rae's counselor, when I was younger to tell me how it is, but even so, I'm so glad I was able to learn so much from him as an 18-20 year old.

"You can't spend the rest of your life being afraid of people rejecting you. You have to start by not rejecting yourself. You don’t deserve it."

— Kester, My Mad Fat Diary

Whenever I'm feeling down, I always, without fail, watch this scene. And it always makes me feel better.

Nobody's Life is Perfect
Going hand in hand with learning how to accept myself, I learnt that everyone else has it just as tough. No one's life is perfect, and it does no good to compare oneself to others. In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae is jealous of her best friend Chloe. She is seemingly 'perfect' because she's skinny, pretty and confident. However, Rae learn's that appearances aren't all they're cracked up to be: viewers first get a small hint of this when Chloe has an abortion, and later on in season two when she realizes that Chloe is just as insecure as Rae; in fact, Chloe wishes she were more like Rae. This really hit home for me, because I feel like girls, from childhood through to womanhood, are 'taught' to pit themselves against other women, to secretly loath their female peers for being 'prettier, skinnier, more talented'. I loved how Rae and Chloe's friendship really solidified after Rae realized that Chloe had problems of her own, and as a result, they formed a beautiful bond which helped them to take on the world together.

When I look around, I see that everyone’s the protagonist of their own story. And the thing about stories is that not all of them have a happy ending. But some do.” 

— Rae, My Mad Fat Diary

You Deserve to be Treated Well
Another thing I learnt is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who truly care about you. Rae found a wonderful group of friends who always had her back, but she was always left wondering why they, especially Finn (her love interest), would want to hang out with her. She deemed herself 'unworthy' of the relationships she formed, so in season two, she drifted from Finn and her friendship group and formed quite a toxic relationship with another boy. Obviously, this had an even more disastrous affect on her. Her already low self esteem plummeted as the person in question validated all the self-doubts she had about herself. Now, while Rae in question isn't without her faults (just like anyone), she deserved more than that, and I learnt that I do too.

Believe in Yourself
I could keep pumping out all the life lessons that I have learnt by watching My Mad Fat Diary but I'll end with just one more. The end of season 3 divided viewers, as it saw Rae leave for University and break off her relationship with Finn (after it had been on the rocks). Some viewers thought that the show could have made more of a positive point by showing that more voluptuous girls can maintain a relationship while also chasing their dreams (I agree that it could be deemed a positive message for girls in general: that you can be independent and kick-ass and also be in a loving relationship at the same time. I think the two are often deemed to be dichotomous, which is not true at all). So yes, I was sad to see #Rinn end, but overjoyed that Rae did what she thought was best for her. She finally reached a point where she realized that she had to do things for herself and be her own hero, and I thought that to be a beautiful, beautiful thing considering how far she had come. From believing  '“I’m not strong enough to deal with it all on my own” to

I’m going to stop waiting for someone to come and save me.

I’ve just gotta learn how to handle things on my own."
— Rae, My Mad Fat Diary

So, I congratulate you if you've made it to the end! If so, I hope this post has encouraged you to watch My Mad Fat Diary if you have not already done so. And if it falls on deaf hears, I really don't mind. More than anything, I wanted this post to serve as a personal 'thank you' to My Mad Fat Diary. Thank you for making me realize how much potential I have, that anyone has, if they're willing to believe in themselves. I still have down days, but these are now few and far between. I am slowly learning to love everything about myself; be it through Kester's wise words, by surrounding myself with people I love or not letting anything stop me from pursuing my dreams. Thank you for being one of the most authentic television shows that is far beyond being 'just a television show'. Now whenever I hear 'Champagne Supernova' or 'Wonderwall' I think of My Mad Fat Diary and all the things it has taught me about life, the things that make it worth living and most important of all, that I am good enough.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oh Comely Perfect Strangers Package Swap

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Image: Oh Comely
This month I took part in a very exciting project which is run by Oh Comely magazine. Every so often, Oh Comely sets up a 'Perfect Strangers Package Swap' where applicants are able to sign up to send and receive a package to and from a stranger allocated by the Oh Comely Team. 

Being my first time taking part, I was a bit wary initially about signing up (especially because there is a small sign up fee), but I think this is totally necessary because, in the past, there were instances in which some people didn't receive any packages at all despite creating and sending a thoughtful assortment of gifts. So the fee is there to ensure that the people who do sign up are certain they want to take part, and that really reassured me.

Once you sign up on the Perfect Strangers portal, you can add your details, a short bio about yourself, whether you want to write a letter to your perfect stranger and whether you want to send your parcel overseas or in your own country. From there, you are given a date of when you can send your package. You are also able to let your allocated partner know when you have sent their parcel as well as inform your partner when you receive theirs.

I sent mine off quite early as I was keen to be as organised as I could; so organised, in fact, that I completely forgot to take a picture of the unwrapped contents, so I can't share visually what was in the package I put together. I included a letter, Womankind magazine, some baby socks (my swap partner just had a baby!), a sweet smelling candle, a handmade necklace, a recipe card, a zine and a few stickers.

As for the package I received in return, I could not be more grateful about how wonderful and thoughtful it is! My package also happened to arrive on a day when I wasn't feeling my best, and it brightened my day. My swap partner lives in New Zealand, and she took great care with choosing items that reflected her country. Here is a breakdown of my package:

1. Special edition New Zealand chocolate (just released) in Marlborough Sea Salt and Caramel Brittle and Nelson Pear and Manuka honey. 
2. Vintage storybook illustration necklace- handmade by my Perfect Stranger (I added a close up shot, how gorgeous is it!?)
3. A novel by a New Zealand writer, Kirsty Gunn. I'm excited to read it as I haven't read any NZ literature
4. Recipe for Vegan Chocolate Tart. I'm just going to make a note to self right now that I need to make this asap. It sounds delicious!
5. Artisan almond and NZ Manuka honey soap
6. A gorgeous notebook, featuring Lancewood leaves. My swap partner wrote that she loves this tree and added that 'it is an awesome metaphoric image. The tree starts off flimsy and jagged and grows into something completely different - unrecognizable - strong and robust'. 
7. Pencil engraved with an Andy Warhol quote: 'Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?'
8. A wonderful card featuring photography taken by my swap partner with lovely words inscribed inside
9. A post card showing part of the map of NZ (and arrow pointing to my swap partner's hometown. A nice personal addition)

After such a great first experience, I would definitely take part in the Perfect Strangers swap again. There's just something heartwarming about putting together a package for a person you've never met, and knowing it will make them smile. And of course, being at the receiving end is just as exciting! It's a great way to ignite a friendship: I'm hoping to get into touch with my swap partner, as we have such similar interests.

All in all, if you're curious about this project, I'd 100% recommend taking part in upcoming swaps. It was certainly the highlight of my month.
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