Sunday, 26 February 2017

Children with disabilities take on the world of modelling

The disconnect between the mainstream image and reality of the modelling world being dominated by able bodied zero sized models and the faces and abilities of everyday human beings is being challenged. The challenger is a modelling agency called  Zebedee Management which is representing children and adults with disabilities as the contemporary faces of the profession.

About time too, I say, because since the Paralympics that took place in the UK in 2012 there has not been a game changer in the world of disabilities. The Paralympics represented a huge step forward in the portrayal of people with disabilities as having numerous abilities. That force for change does not seem to have kept its' momentum but, while it is difficult to replicate the grandiosity of the Paralympics, small steps can be made in different spheres of life.

Zebedee's work has the potential to change mindsets and challenge mainsteram views of the modelling world by providing us with alternative images. 

Zebedee was set up by a Laura Johnson, a social worker , together with her sister in law, Zoe Proctor, who currently runs a performing arts studio for those with learning disabilities.

“We need more plus size models and there are nowhere near enough older people represented on the catwalk, but the real omission is people with disabilities", Laura explains. 

Laura recognises that there are prejudices and barriers in getting disability recognised in a profession rife with airbrushing, zero size and racism.

She is under no illusion that it may be difficult to persuade retailers, designers, production and advertising companies to use Zebedee's models but she does feel that it is about time that having models with disabilities in campaigns became the norm. The demand is most likely to come from casting briefs requesting 'real' people.

Laura further explains that "Casting agents are often undertaking street castings so I don't see why people with disabilities can't be included. There is encouragement coming from the fact that the retailer, Teatum Jones, used some models with disabilities in their show at London Fashion week this year."

"The government minister for disabled people was calling on gaming, fashion and media industries to increase the representation of people with disabilities, so in that respect we have the backing of government. In addition, there has been a lot of discussion around getting more people with disabilities into paid employment - and this is what we hope to do... create opportunities for people with disabilities.I know that it is going to be difficult, but me and Zoe are so passionate about this, we are going to work really hard to make it happen!!"

I, for one, am sick of seeing the same old model faces modelling outfits that seem completely unwearable at prices that I can't afford even if I were to hawk my granny off. So here's wishing Zebedee Management all the very best in bucking the trend.

Zebedee Management can be contacted at . If you are hoping to become a model please send in three or four clear photographs.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

One American woman's Journey from Conservativism to Liberalism: thoughts on religion and racism

The following is a guest blog post from an American woman, Christine, living in London for whom Donald Trump's presidency has been a life defining moment. I met Christine recently and while we were having a chat it dawned on me that her story will resonate with many Americans who must be having similar introspections. 

I believe that everyone has an interesting story to share, if only we take the time to listen. It may be one of the reasons I became a social worker. So today, I would like to share a little bit about my story with you.

I grew up in the US with both of my parents, and my brother who is 6 years younger. My family originally lived in an old steel town just outside of a major city. However, following my parents’ separation, my mom, brother and I moved to another area. I should explain that in the US, you attend the local public school according to your address unless your family pays for private school. 

I was really upset with my parents for selling our house, and for having to leave my friends in order to move to a new school in the middle of 4th grade (age 10). My first elementary (primary) school was quite diverse, with a student population about 50/50 white and African American. 

So my first thought when entering my new predominantly-white elementary school was “where are all the black kids?” 

I thought maybe they were hidden somewhere. I spent the rest of my schooling in this district, and while there were some minority students, I can imagine that it was a challenge as they stood out. Two of my friends were mixed race sisters but,at the time, we never talked about what it was like for them being two of the handful of minority students in our high school (secondary school). Thankfully, I never witnessed any racially motivated bullying. It was only later that I learned my mother chose our new home, in a mostly suburban and semi-rural area, intentionally.

Apparently there was a lot of what my mom called “racial tension” in our hometown, and she wanted us to grow up outside of that. But the reality is that our old steel town experienced a significant economic hit at the time and this led to rising poverty and crime. Looking back now, I think my parents may have been uncomfortable with minorities and may even have blamed them for the issues in the area. 

My mom’s parents were from the South, in the heart of Appalachia. Mom was very clear about her awareness that her parents were racists. She had had an experience after a school dance when her parents weren’t happy that she was socialising with some black students. 

I always thought that in the case of both my grandparents and my parents, their ideas about race were based on ignorance and fear but that my parents could acknowledge that racism is wrong.

During my parents’ separation, my mom started taking us to church. They later reconciled and my dad moved home when I was about 13. I embraced the Christian faith for myself during this time but, unfortunately, the church we attended was very legalistic. 

For those not familiar with this term, it essentially amounts to individuals trying to force their own personal convictions onto everyone else as biblical mandates. Personal convictions are meant to address an individual’s own area of weakness. What resulted was a great deal of a “religious” facade that adults in the church presented when, in reality, hearts were very far from practising actual Christian principles. There was judgement for things like dancing, and the pastor even made an argument for why people shouldn’t have the internet in their homes. The hypocrisy between church members’ words versus their actions was unbearable to me.

When I reached adulthood and went off to university, I chose a Christian university 8 hours away from home in another state. It was where I needed to be at the time, and definitely helped me to identify religious legalism when I saw it. The social work programme was really amazing, and one professor in particular really inspired the idea of cultural competence in my professional practice. 

This and my group of friends at the time led to a lifetime love for learning about and enjoying other cultures: everything from the food, to the music, the language, fashion, social norms, etc. Along with this, one of my biggest passions has always been social justice. Learning about other cultures has helped me to understand how injustices have occurred around the world and impacted vulnerable populations, particularly throughout modern history and into the present.

When it comes to politics, my Christian upbringing in the States meant that I usually fell right-of-centre. 

I voted Republican plenty of times, although I was always unhappy with both of the major parties and constantly changed my party affiliation depending on who was running in which election

I should explain that in my home state, the primaries held earlier in an election year only allow a voter to choose a candidate from the party one is registered with. 

My parents have always been solid Republicans, and seem to have drifted further and further right as time has passed--perhaps because they watch Fox News. 

Nearly everyone I went to church with (white, middle-class Americans) would almost always be Republicans and therefore politically conservative.

In 2009, I was recruited by a Local Authority’s Children’s Services in London. Having been looking for a new job for over a year following a long period of burnout in my work, I was anxious for a change of scene and took up the opportunity to move to another country.  As you may have discussed with anyone who has moved to London, the amazing multicultural aspect of this great city has been one of the key things that have kept me here.

Although it wasn’t in my plans, I met a charming Muslim man and we started dating. 

I had always wanted to marry a Christian guy with similar beliefs to myself, and wasn’t prepared to change this particular conviction. In the end, I did and we were married in 2011. We have a gorgeous little girl who gets the benefit of a multicultural environment at home and at school.

As you might expect, my views about Islam have certainly changed since I met my husband. This is mostly because I didn’t know much about it before he came into my life. I understand a lot more now about politics and sectarianism in the Middle East. In the meantime, my political views have changed as I differentiate between my conservative moral views as a Christian and conservative political leanings in the role of government. I have also seen how the Tory leadership has single-handedly destroyed the effectiveness of Local Authority social services, which is a massive injustice to a disenfranchised, vulnerable population in which minorities are overrepresented. 

Im now left of centre on the political spectrum and, of course, I still feel very strongly about social justice. 

I also have a much better understanding of racism in the present, and how my own biases have impacted my views in the past.  It’s not so much a debate about the “wrongness” of racism, but of recognising it when others dismiss it as something else entirely.

My parents were certainly surprised at my choice in partner, but they presented with acceptance. My mom has been to London several times to visit us, but my dad hasn’t met him in person. In the first few years, dad was convinced that my husband was keeping me captive to prevent me from travelling and would someday kidnap me and move to Lebanon.

In reality, it was my husband’s immigration status which kept us from getting a passport for our daughter. So I didn’t go home to visit the US for about 4 years. When we were finally able to sort this out, my daughter and I visited twice in 2016. In the meantime, my dad was finally able to have a conversation with my husband over Skype, and dad seemed to be won over by how much my husband loves me.

However, I was really thrown when discussing the 2016 election with my mom.  

I was completely shocked to learn that my parents supported Donald Trump once he got the nomination.  

We have differed on political views for a long time, but I thought that surely they were intelligent enough to not fall for his lies and that their moral views would turn them off to his obvious corruption, let along his misogyny, racism, xenophobia, etc.  So mom and I had exactly one conversation about this before the November election before it became an off-limits topic. I was disgusted when my mom posted a photo of my dad wearing a Trump t-shirt on Facebook. I have never seen them support a candidate this strongly before.

I was also really surprised at the number of (white) evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump. 

It’s as if all people cared about was to stick to party affiliation. Their defense of him is absolutely disgusting and reprehensible. I’m happy to say that many of my own friends back home who fall into this demographic did not vote for him and openly speak out against his nonsense.

My daughter and I went home for Christmas especially to see my new nephew. I noticed that my dad immediately shut off the television when there was a report about police brutality against a black person and I made a comment about it. His reaction implied that he didn’t believe this is a real issue. Later during our stay, the issue of Trump’s proposed Muslim Ban came up and my mom insisted that he wouldn’t do it because, “it’s illegal.”

So fast foward to about 2-3 weeks ago. I couldn’t stand not talking about this issue with my mom, given everything that has happened and all the insane things that Trump has already done and said. So I tentatively brought it up by asking if she still supported him. To my horror, my mom said that she did. When I asked what exactly she supported about what he’s doing, she replied “everything.” 

This was after the Muslim Ban had gone through. I then tried to explain why I felt we couldn’t return to the US to visit them until after this is settled (and hopefully he is out of office), as I posted on Facebook about it. She cut me off, which is totally out of character for her, got a terrible edge to her voice and said “that’s your choice.” I was crushed. Completely devastated. I ended the conversation and haven’t spoken to her since.

For the record, of course my daugher and I could go to the States any time. 

I simply don’t want to visit the US without my husband yet again. I want us to be able to travel together as a family. 

Although my husband’s country is not included in the (currently suspended) travel ban, I was already on edge about the idea of trying to get him through US immigration. He has a very obviously Muslim first name and would be travelling on a passport from his home country. I think there’s a pretty good chance he would be stopped, if not detained, given the current climate under Trump. There is no way I would put him through that, nor let my young child witness that. So for me, it’s not a “choice” as my mom puts it so much as a sensible need to keep my family safe.

Trump’s rise to power, and the continued support from his party in Congress, has been absolutely traumatic to me. 

To see my country divided, and right on the brink of fascism, is so shocking. 

Not only is it infuriating but I also have to grapple with my own family. Their stance is a source of tremendous shame. I’m frustrated that my attempt to discuss it with my mom failed so miserably. Their particular support of the Muslim travel ban (let’s face it, that’s what it is) communicates a very clear message to me that my parents’ acceptance of my husband has been superficial and obligatory all along. 

They may not have meant it that way, but their failure to speak out against the Trump/Republican racism and xenophobia, to even acknowledge it, is incredibly painful. 

Although I don’t believe that every Trump supporter is racist and/or xenophobic, I have suddenly come to terms with the likelihood that my parents are indeed racist and xenophobic. I could previously accept our political differences but I cannot accept this as it is deeply personal and so far beyond politics. 

I have no idea how things are going to get better from here in terms of my relationship with my mom, because there is absolutely no acknowledgement about the impact of Trump’s policies on my own family (not just my opinion). But it breaks my heart to think that my daughter might not be able to continue the same relationship with her grandparents that she has had up until this point.

I do have hope that things will get better on the larger scale, however. I’m getting more involved with events that are happening around London in response to both the US and UK politics, and it’s been a joy to involve my daughter as well. I’ve needed it for personal reasons in addition to wanting to do something about social injustices. We attended the Women’s March in January along with the march against the Muslim ban earlier this month.

I feel that given the state of things, the words of Desmond Tutu apply now more than ever: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  

London mum and social worker
P/S Jane, author of this blog, and I are hoping to start up a women’s group for mums who want to get involved to make a difference in their local communities. We’ll be attending the Stand Up to Racism march on 18/03/17 alongside a few other mum friends. I hope to see you there. Let us know if you want to join us specifically under the banner of Mothers Against Racism.Please email Jane at


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Trump's Facebook Foreign Policy

Donald Trump met with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, at the Whitehouse on 16 February to discuss the two-state solution and other matters. Both men gave a press conference at which Trump made the following profound statement: 

"I am looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I am very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one...If Bibi, If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I am happy with the one they like the best"


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

What a meaningless photo taken in the Oval office

Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Justin Trudeau
The caption on Twitter that comes with this photo which was tweeted by Ivanka Trump was:

"A great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table! πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦"

The following are reasons why I think this photo is utterly meaningless and is, frankly, a bore too:

1. There was a woman running for President and, yes, most of the world did think that a woman ought to have been in that seat. 

2. There is no point having a woman sitting on a seat at the table if that woman is told to 'dress like a woman'. The former is a good idea but is negated by the latter direction. Where's the logic? 

3. The woman sitting in the photo above is the President's daughter. If that's the extent of the push for women having seats at tables then...what a load of nonsense. It is women sleeping floors and serving at restaurant tables that need help, not mega-wealthy silver spoon in mouth types. 

4. The reason why many women don't get seats at tables is because of structural misogyny - related to Point 2 above. 

5. It is a photo that smacks of immaturity. It is the sort of thing that daughters do when they visit Daddy at the office. Sitting on Daddy's chair is a great thrill. Note- these daughters are normally below the age of 12.  

6. I am so bored with this that I am going to finish this post right here and go off to watch paint dry. 


Monday, 13 February 2017

Community radio is the best thing since sliced bread

Today is 'World Radio Day' and it marks the success of how radio is a mega important means of communication by reaching into parts of the world and communities that would otherwise be forgotten. The deregulation of radio licensing has resulted in many community radio stations being established.

Last year I signed up with K2K radio and it feels as if I have a new phase in life. Community radio is the manifestation of the Latin aphorism 'Carpe Diem'. 'Seize the day' if you have something to say. Sign up at a community radio station.

I seized my day and am a co-presenter at K2K radio. I present in a trio with two other friends and our show is called 'Me, Myself and I'. My co-presenters are Geoff Payne and Pauline Pearce. We broadcast on the last Wednesday of every month.

Our next show is on 22 February at 8 to 9pm. We discuss politics, feminism and anything that is topical. Geoff is our smooth and cool DJ and he plays Ska music. Join us on our Facebook page.

Me, Myself and I


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Mothering confessions on Twitter

'I accidentally threw my daughter's foundation away #badmummy'

I still feel rotten about it. In my defence, I thought it was an old bottle. It was a #badmummy moment. I didn't tweet about it but all you have to do is to look at the #badmummy or #badmommy Twitter hashtag stream to appreciate how many mummies feel bad about their mothering.

What makes mothers take to a media platform to let everyone around the world know about their perceived 'bad' mothering?

Is it because it is cathartic to do so? The mum blogsphere are a supportive lot with a large amount of empathy and, in many ways,  it's not a surprise that mothers feel a need to reach out to others to gain some sort of validation that will, as they see it, absolve them.

In 140 characters a domestic chaos can be turned into a piece of humour. After a couple of retweets the mother feels so much better about herself. She has validated herself and is free from the 'shameful' moment. The Twitter helps a mother own up and be forgiven.

However, twist the Twitter mother confessions around and you will see that it is mother shame in reverse. Mothers get shamed for a myriad of things and some examples of this are not breast feeding one's baby, not cooking healthy foods every day and so called 'letting' one's child run around a supermarket even though that is what kids do.

Even when we, as mothers, know that the social expectations of us are nigh impossible we still castigate ourselves when we perceive ourselves as having fallen far short. It would be an underestimate to say every mother has, at some stage, felt like a bad mother. Blimey! my daughter is 17 and I still feel guilty for sending her to school on Easter Bonnet day (about 12 years ago) with one bought off Amazon while the other girls turned up in home made hats that resembled an Easter egg hunt taking place in a field full of daffodils. If Twitter had been around then I would have tweeted a picture of the dismal hat and called myself a '#badmummy'.

Online maternal confessionals has become a regular enough phenomenon for it to have warranted a chapter in a book called 'Taking The Village Online: Mothers, Motherhood and Social Media'.

The chapter, titled 'Confession in 140 Characters', is written by Lorin Basden Arnold, a high flying academic at the State University of New York, who has undertaken research in online parenting communities.

Demeter Press: $24.95
Arnold goes behind the tweets in an attempt to construct a context around why mothers choose to go online with their stories of being 'bad' mothers. The tweets, she says, are a "...subtle but persistent resistance against the intensive expectations of motherhood". 'Intensive expectations' arise out of the dominant conception of mothering in the Western Hemisphere termed 'intensive mothering'.  'Intensive mothering' defines good mothering as making all decisions from the subject position of the child, and positions the maternal obligations as the creation of a happy and secure childhood that will lead to a successful adult life.

Arnold analysed a number of tweets using different hashtags which all related to being 'bad' mummies and concluded that four different themes were evident: Bad mothering as happiness harm, bad mothering as excessive self-focus, bad mothering as a failure of maternal devotion and bad mothering as inappropriate emotional response to mothering.

Taking each theme in turn, firstly, Arnold defines 'happiness harm' as being "bad mothers are mothers who do things that make their children unhappy".  An example of this off Twitter is as follows:

So my daughter has decided she wants to be Lambie from Doc MsStuffins for Halloween...only everywhere is sold out #badmom

Secondly, 'excessive self-focus', according to Arnold, is about "mothers behaving in ways that suggest they may be prioritizing themselves rather than focusing on the needs and desires of the child". An example of this off Twitter is as follows:

Helping the girl with her religion homework. Drinking wine. #badmom

Thirdly, 'failure of maternal devotion', Arnold says occurs when "even when not particularly focused on the self or causing express harm to a child's happiness, mothers can still assess their behaviour as a failure to show adequate levels of devotion to the tasks of mothering". A Twitter example as follows:

I was up at 4 so I overslept this morning and missed saying goodbye to my kids on their first day of school #badmom

Lastly, Arnold cites 'inappropriate Emotional Response to Mothering' as a self inflicted negative response by mothers. "Mothers assessed themselves negatively when they did not feel the way they 'should' about their children". As an example:

Oh sweet heavens...Josh has his first loose tooth. It's killing me not because he's growing up, but because it grosses me out. #BadMommy

This examination of online maternal exposure of mother guilt is certainly worth a read if only because Arnold has managed to drill right down to the very essence of mothering which involves bucket loads of guilt. I, for one, recognised my 'guilt' when I read the chapter which goes into a lot more detail and introspection than I have blogged about here. It will touch a raw nerve with mothers.

I am going to finish this blog post on a really ridiculous note. My daughter is on half-term school holiday and will be spending the whole week revising for her A-Level mock exams. No room for guilt you would think? Wrong. I always take her out to either watch a movie or a play and I can't do that this week. I am well aware that it's not my fault but that does not stop me from feeling bad. The only silver lining is that i can now evaluate this negativity as stemming from 'failure of maternal devotion'.

I cannot take my daughter out during half-term because she is revising for exams #badmummy

Book available from Demeter Press