Barbie’s problem

A few weeks ago when I was teaching a girl no less than 10, I saw that her pencil case was covered with prints and stickers of Disney princesses. This for me brought back moments to reminisce. I picked up the case and fingered the outlines of it. How I used to look up to all these characters, creating shrines for them in my bedroom and dressing up like them for every birthday. Momentarily, I asked the girl who her favourite was. “Belle” she said. Then I asked her least favourite expecting a villain like Scar or Ursula. “Tatiana”, she said as if it were obvious enough. I asked why. Her response instantly brought me back from my reminiscent high. “Because she’s brown.”

“Brown, but you’re brown too?”. Bearing in mind that the girl, like myself originates from South Asia. “I’m not brown, I’m white” she said almost proudly. I ended the conversation right there. The last thing I wanted was to argue with a child. Her comment angered me but more importantly I was concerned to what made her think this way. What was so wrong with us Asians that made her want to deny the fact that she was brown?

This isn’t the first time that problems have arisen with diversity in fictional characters and toys for children. Take Barbie for example; the doll was first released in 1959 where is wasn’t really a problem for all dolls being identical in skin colour, hair or having the “perfect” body. It was a huge hit with young children and parents since birthday presents had just gotten easier.

The issue relies on the fact that young girls from across the globe will have been conditioned to think that beauty only lies within a woman of white skin, blonde hair and a body shape that is impossible and unhealthy to achieve. Studies show that 40% of children are dissatisfied with the way they look after having received a Barbie doll. This comes from a variety of reasons such as body image and skin colour. Although the demographic for the Barbie is well below the age of ten, the long term consequences are much more severe. Having worries about body image at a young age is more likely to lead to having disorders with eating, social anxiety and body dysmorphia. What Mattel failed to mention is that the real life size of Barbie is frankly impossible to achieve. According to calculations, the doll would have a dress size of 2, this being far below the average dress size of an adult and extremely unhealthy.

It took almost 60 years for Barbie to have a transformation. In 2016 Mattel created dolls with several skin tones and body shapes. One size certainly does not fit all and customers were given a choice of what kind of Barbie they could have. But was it 60 years too late? Barbie’s brand image will always be of a silicon plastic doll with white skin and blonde hair and not the diversity that has recently been introduced. So for the future, children will need to be brought up with the varied dolls, potentially reducing eating disorders in teenagers and a less conditioned vision of beauty.

Barbie body image

Unconventional methods of dating

Online dating is not a brand new concept; In fact, it’s been around for almost three decades. Although the discovery of new technology allowed websites such as match.com develop into applications on our mobile phones, the objective of matching with a stranger online and having a potential relationship with them has remained the same. Popular dating apps include Eharmony, Zoosk, Tinder and the budding Bumble. Having previously tried Tinder before, I was keen to use Bumble as I had not really heard of it before and intrigued to find out what was in store.

As ironic as it may sound now, I wasn’t actively looking for a relationship. I strongly believe these things should never be forced and so, without much anticipation or expectation, I opened up the app.

Initial thoughts: I particularly liked the colour scheme; a strong golden yellow, which was attractive to the eye and useful for making your profile radiant. The concept being to find the pollen to your queen bee, in other words, your soulmate/best friend. The app allows you to have up to six images of yourself, a short biography as well as connect your Instagram and Spotify. This is what my profile looked like: (excluding images)

When writing a biography, it’s best to include your passions and something that represents your personality. In my case, this was something quite comical (as I find myself to be quite the comedian). The profiles that didn’t particularly catch my attention and immediately made me swipe left (reject) were the ones that said something along the lines of “swipe right for a good time” or “life-guard, so actually certified to give you mouth to mouth”. Yes, this was a real one.. I mean, it’s good to be a little enigmatic but there is a fine line between mysterious and unpleasant. Additionally, the best profiles also had the most intriguing images. They were often filled with colour and showed a genuine personality. Selfies are mediocre but the bee wants the flower with the most character, so perhaps use pictures of you travelling or partaking in a hobby. 

Unlike other dating apps, an advantageous feature Bumble is that it only allows the female to start a conversation with their match. Having an app that is so female orientated creates a sense of safety and a has a non-traditional value in which the male does not make the first move. Another compelling feature is that there is a 24 hour time cap to begin a conversation with your match including an additional 24 hours in which your match can respond. This gives only 2 days to strike up a conversation with someone, differing to other dating sites where the match can be kept on hold and dragged out for several months. This urges you to make a move as fast as possible meaning more bees buzz faster! Although, if the female does not start a conversation with her match, then there is an option for the male to use a ‘daily extend’, where you can remain matched for an additional day.

In my experience, the best conversation starters go along the lines of “Hey, how you doing?” or simply asking about their day. This will allow your match to open up and get the conversation going. A simple “hello” will not give your match a lot of work with, neither will a cringey pick up line. I started nearly all my conversations with a “Hey, how you doing?” followed by something that intrigued me about their profile. Once I received a reply from my matches, I was able to see who really had a genuine interest in me. 

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This was the only person who responded to the likes and interests of my profile which definitely got my attention, and I was intrigued to know more about them.
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I was a little confused by this one… he loves reading but hasn’t finished a book yet? I didn’t think it would be necessary continuing this conversation.
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And of course some just weren’t as serious as others.
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This was funny and flirtatious, again drawing me closer for more conversation.

The best response were the ones to reciprocate my questions and ask more about me.  My passion for crime novels and English literature was shared with a complete stranger and we were able to connect on a deeper level and speak more personally about ourselves so I began to develop a genuine interest in this person. This was my Bumble boy .That being said, this is how you can ‘over’ do things:

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You will know once the foundations of a potential relationship has been set when you begin to connect on other social media platforms other than the app itself. You begin to have a mix of constant flirting as well deep, meaningful heart to heart conversations and sending each other pictures of what we’ve come across in our day. For example; myself and Bumble boy would send each other pictures of the books we’re reading or bargains we’ve found at the supermarket for a few weeks or so (Yes, this is what adulting feels like). Then came the conversation of meeting up. He was always reassuring me that he did not want to push anything or make me feel uncomfortable in any way. Even so, just like most people, I felt anxious about meeting a stranger from the internet. He would always say “The worst case scenario is that I’m 50 and I’m fat but we are meeting in a public gallery and I most definitely not kill you!” – bearing in mind we both love crime novels and always come up with ways to kill each other when we’re flirting (grim, but sexy). 

The thought of meeting someone from online may sound daunting, and there are correct ways to approach this. Do meet in a public space – you will never know the intentions of the person you are meeting and even if you think you know them, you can never be sure. Make your place of meeting easily accessible for the both of you. You don’t need to travel lengths to meet someone for the first time, why not meet in the middle? Always let a close friend or family member know where you are at all times and what you’re doing – prepare for the worst case scenario. My match and I decided to meet up at a gallery in London during the afternoon. It had many visitors but was also quiet enough so we could communicate with each other clearly. We went on a long walk through Hyde Park and I showed him my favourite spots in London (since he was new to the city). Don’t pressure yourself to make a move with your match, first let the conversation flow and learn to feel comfortable in each others’ presence. If it was not meant to be, you will know so always prepare to be disappointed at least in the slightest.

I have a humiliating history of not being asked out on a second date. To my surprise, Bumble boy messaged me after our meeting and told me he enjoyed my company and would like to meet again. Triumph! I mainly think this was because I went to our date with no expectations. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to look amazing or be funny like I would do on most other dates, I also didn’t have any expectations from him..

Turing’s Pardon.

Alan Turing was a code breaker who revolutionised artificial intelligent engineering during the second world war. There were only a small number of people who only knew of him and his work before Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him in the award winning film, ’The Imitation Game’. Turing was part of a team which set out to break the Enigma Code – a complex set of letters and numbers coded by German scientists which was used send secret messages to German U-boats in the battle of Atlantic during the second world war. U-boats would often disrupt the paths of containment ships which contained vital supplies for Great Britain. By breaking this code, Turing and his team were able to outsmart the U-boats which eventually led the allies to victory and pushed back the war by at least four years. 

In contrast to the victory, Turing’s unfortunate suicide was triggered at first by being found guilty of “gross indecency contrary to Section II of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885” on three attempts. Punished with a choice of either imprisonment or chemical castration, Turing was left with no choice but to ingest chemicals to “cure” his homosexuality. The idea was that the castration technique would turn him into a heterosexual by reducing his hormone levels. Turing was found dead in June of 1954 after intentionally eating an apple filled with cyanide. 

Almost 60 years later, in 2013, Turing was given a royal pardon by the queen – this was essentially an apology for the way in which he was brutally treated. This, of course, was supported by many important persons on a global scale. However, it also raised questions and thoughts about the type of small minded society that most Britons lived in. Those in the LGBT+ community often lived by keeping their identity a secret- or like Turing, marry a person of the opposite sex in order to remain ‘normal’ to the rest of society. 

During the war, there were many countries in which being homosexual was criminalised. However, in Germany, the LGBT community were especially segregated and went under the most merciless treatment. Both Great Britain and Germany were damaging communities and punishing homosexuals at extreme measures even though both countries were fighting each other. If both parties believed most truly in the same causes then was the war even that necessary? Additionally, it is a known fact that the person on the throne will pass all the laws. The Queen herself was coronated in 1953, Turing died in 1954 and homosexuality was legalised in 1967. Discarding all the circumstances, would it have been possible the homosexuality bill to be passed earlier, preventing Turing’s death anyway? 

There are many questions still being asked in which getting hold of an answer will merely seem impossible. Although, Turing’s work saved the lives of hundred and thousands of people, it was his identity that let him down in the end and he could not go on to contribute more to science due the simple fact that his sexual preference was not accepted in society. Changing laws does not necessarily change opinions. Everyone living in a small minded society cannot suddenly become more open to new ideas due to a passing of a bill. Yet following authority figures in order to bypass commotion only shows conformity and fear. Turing ignored the stigma placed upon his sexuality and came out honest and clean despite opinions and laws- this being a method we should all adapt. 

Source : The Daily Beast. (2018). The Castration of Alan Turing, Britain’s Code-Breaking WWII Hero. [online] Available at: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-castration-of-alan-turing-britains-code-breaking-wwii-hero [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

In light of world mental health day.

My mental health story. 

NOTE: (trigger warning*) Writing this piece brought back memories that I have hidden for a long time. I tried to make my stories as light as possible hence why it may sound trivial but there is a lot more to it of which I am not yet comfortable to share. I am not diagnosed with any mental disorder and please do not try and diagnose yourself. I try to better my mental state by writing things down or turning them into art like poetry. Please speak do to someone if you are going through a tough time.

My jet black leather-leather-bound journal. I was gifted this when I turned 10 and it didn’t really have a particular use. It’s been a holiday journal, drawing book and now it plays a role as my mental health diary.

Up until the age of 10, I would say that I was a very intelligent and likeable young girl. I was swimming for my local team, played a musical instrument, had lots of friends and was academically striving at school – you could say I was “perfect”, an all-rounder. The earliest memory of me breaking this character down was when all the girls in my class had started to eat a school dinner, leaving me as the only girl with a packed lunch. I was sitting on the grass, a few metres away from a large circle of boys when one shouted out to me ‘nerdy lesbian’. More awful words followed. In all fairness I didn’t know what most of them had meant so I was not bothered. 

The last year of primary school was possibly my worst. Let me give you a scenario: the girls in my class, my ‘friends’, formed a dance group and called themselves the ‘Golden Chicks’. Since I was always around them, I was appointed as their manager. I did everything they asked me to do from filling out their audition forms to spending a long time mixing their music which they could use to perform with. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me as odd when they would have sleepovers or group meetings without me. When I confronted them, the typical response would be “We’ll invite you next time” or “we’ll tell you about the meeting later”. What shattered me the most was when they used their own music to perform at the end of term assembly and had discarded mine completely. Things went from bad to worse when I was the only person in the class not to be invited to a birthday party. She kept telling me that she had forgotten to bring in my invitation and she would be sure bring it the following day. This never happened of course and it truly made me feel lonely at that moment in time. Over time, my personality changed from being bubbly and kind to angry and bitter. I was constantly jealous of everyone else being happy and enjoying their last few weeks of school. I really don’t know what came over me when I started stealing things from the sliding drawers of my classmates and put them in someone else’s drawer when nobody was looking so that they would get into trouble. Thinking about this almost a decade later, I think at first I was unintentionally bullied and isolated by my classmates. My personality before may have come across as cocky and overly passionate. The way I was treated gave me a negative attitude and turned me into a horrible person masking what I felt deep inside; having a constant urge to fit in with the people around me. 

I was accepted into a highly selective grammar school when I was 11. I went back to my old bubbly personality but my new found fear of loneliness still hung onto me. I made friends quickly, who did not judge nor tease me for being a ‘nerd’. There were times when my group of friends would make plans for the future to go to Cambridge university and live together. Then one would say “except for Thanucha obviously no offence”- meaning I was not clever enough. After this my lowest point was when I was 15/16 or so when my close-knit group of friends had cut me off completely and I had just been dumped from a year long relationship. I felt at my loneliest, I had nobody to hang out with during breaks as it was the last year of school and everyone already had their friendship groups. The place I felt safest was in the girls toilets on the far end of the school – where people don’t usually go to. The end cubicle was hidden away behind the door and was completely dark. It also had the best wifi connection so I was sorted for company. For a whole year, every lunchtime I would go to my cubicle, eat my lunch there and come out when the end of lunch bell rang. If I had work to do, librarian would let me work in the store room all because I did not want to be seen alone if front of my ex friends. Sometimes I would see them walking a few paces in front of me in the corridor which automatically made me turn around and walk the long way to my lesson. I started being late to school every morning  simply because then I wouldn’t have to do the daunting job of walking past all four of them to get to my seat in registration. During the holidays, I felt a huge sense of relief that I would no longer have to face anyone. However, I felt more and more depressed everyday. I would not shower for days at a time, there were times when I would no wear my glasses for days in a row so that essentially I would not have to see the world. I also self harmed a lot. Here is a short extract from my diary:

19th December 2015:

“Its nearly Christmas but I’m not excited as I usually am, I haven’t even bought anyone presents because I don’t care. Really, I wish my mind was more at ease, resting in peace…”

I kept my emotions between myself and my diary. I honestly don’t know how I came out of constantly feeling trapped and uneasy. If I knew how, I would say so but I don’t. I tried putting more effort into my schoolwork and fought off negative thoughts. My handwork paid off and I proved my doubters wrong. My mind is more at ease but some situations always make me feel uneasy. Like walking past a big group of people and being horrified at the fact that they might talk or laugh about you when actually most of the time they wouldn’t even notice that you’re even present. I now have a group of friends I can speak to and feel comfortable with. And as for feeling lonely, I have learned to enjoy my own company and forget about trying to impress anyone.