Friday, 22 June 2012

50 Dull Shades Of Grey

Unless you've been living underneath a rock for the best part of this year, you will know that the latest literary sensation is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Written by E L James, the "mummy porn" series follows a young, bright eyed Anastasia Steel as she is mercilessly seduced by the billionaire Christian Grey. It appears to be the book every woman has nestled underneath her pillow: you see it on buses, trains, tubes, and now, apparently, there is a film version on it's way.

Desperate to understand the hype behind the series, I downloaded the entire trilogy last week and embarked upon the 'Fifty Shades Journey.' Now, I'm not a mummy, nor am I desperate for a kinky, erotic fix in my life, but I thought I'd dive head first into the first novel to see if I would have anything to contribute to the numerous conversations my female friends are having about the 'thrilling trilogy.'

I settled down on Monday with a cup of tea and the first book, ready to be taken on a wild, exhilarating journey through the young Ana's eyes. I made it to the end of chapter one and was ready to gauge my eyes out. I forced myself to the end of the book and can honestly say it is, without a doubt, the worst book I have ever read. The 'kinky, boundary pushing' sex scenes were boring, and the love story between the two leads was tedious. I finished Fifty Shades of Grey this morning, and I can safely say I won't be opening the next two in the series.

Having shamefully read the entire Twilight series, it became painfully obvious very early on that E L James started her Fifty Shades of Grey journey as a writer of Twilight fan fiction. The parallels were too blatant to dismiss: the young, shy girl, stuck in the mindframe that she isn't pretty enough or cool enough to ever stand out from the crowd, whisked off of her feet by an incredibly beautiful man who manages to see her beauty and charm despite no one else being appealed by it. And herein lies the problem.

Twilight, in my mind, is an incredibly sexist story. Throughout the series, we are told that Bella Swann cannot survive without Edward Cullen. She consistently needs him to reassure her of her strengths, and hide her weaknesses. There is a desperately annoying scene in the New Moon episode which sees Bella attempting suicide because Edward has left her. It was the reason Twilight ruined any minuscule credibility it had in my mind, and it is the reason I despair at my grown friends holding it up as an incredibly romantic tale. Likewise, I consider Fifty Shades of Grey an abhorrent tale that is basically just Twilight without the Mormon influence.

I am not under any illusions that women will realise just how badly these two series' are patronising them, but I am incredibly worried that the next generation of bright, young women (including my young cousins, sisters, and my boyfriend's nieces) are being raised to believe that these stories are hopelessly romantic. They are not, not under any circumstances. Someone hand these women a copy of Wuthering Heights, before all hope is lost.

Twitter: @AmyWhitear

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Get a life? I've already got one, thanks

On a rare evening off work, I settled down to watch the latest of BBC Three’s allegedly groundbreaking documentaries. In the past, we’ve been treated to individuals with freaky eating habits, not-so-informative sex education shows, and mothers and daughters with serious issues. Tonight, it was the turn of Cherry Healey in the form of her latest documentary series HowTo Get A Life.

The majority of the ‘documentaries’ offered up by BBC Three force me to sit there with my head in my hands. They often seem forcefully dumbed down, created by producers desperate to connect with the ‘urban yoof.’ As an ‘urban yoof’ myself, I find these documentaries incredibly patronising and I rarely learn anything, nor do I connect any of them to my own personal life.

I admit that I was a fan of Cherry’s previous documentaries for the channel, charting her stories on losing her virginity, dating, and parenting. However, I can’t really the say the same for the latest offering. The first in this series, titled Single vs Settled, presented us with Cherry pondering whether or not settled life had turned her into a bore. Over the course of an hour, we were greeted with several arrogant individuals with incredibly inflated egos, sleeping their way around town. It is honestly a miracle one of them hasn’t ended up with an STI or unwanted pregnancy.

Cherry’s own admission that she hadn’t changed her relationship status on Facebook to ‘married’ slightly shocked me. She stated that was putting off the change because she almost didn’t want to admit to herself that she was settled, committed, and no longer young, free and single. Is married life really that awful? Must we stop having fun as soon as we reach a certain stage in our relationship? I've been with my boyfriend for almost two years now – it’s a milestone relationship for the pair of us – and, if anything, I feel as if my life has become more exciting.

I'm with an individual who shares most of my interests: nights in with a takeaway and a DVD, nights out to either a restaurant or a cinema, fun days and nights out with our extended groups of friends – both single and those ‘tied down’ – and our mutual sarcastic status. I'm with someone who is supportive and encouraging of my writing, on top of my other personal endeavours. Likewise, I am also incredibly supportive of his education, and will continue to support him until – and after – he achieves his personal goals. The past 21 months have honestly been some of the most exciting months of my life, filled with love, laughs, and incredible memories.

Some of my single friends lament at my relationship status. They are enjoying their lives, being free and able to do whatever (and whoever) they want, whenever they want. They consider my life boring, and I should consider diving head first into their lifestyle. But it really doesn’t appeal to me. After all, is sleeping around with anyone who’s game for it really that exciting or cool? For me personally, the idea of sleeping with upwards of 100 people is absolutely abhorrent. Never mind the fact that it would be ridiculously tiring, I have no idea how you would even fit 100 people into your life, never mind the circa-170 men Bianca has fitted into 22 years of  life. I fail to see how anyone could be proud of that sort of lifestyle: sure, have your fun and enjoy yourself, but knowing that your legs are almost like a revolving door? The idea is absolutely revolting to me. I find it incredibly disgraceful that this behaviour seems far too common in Modern Britain, and even more disgraceful that this sort of behaviour is rewarded with reality TV shows, documentaries, and even book deals.

I know that most people of my age group would find the idea of settling down horrifying, but I find that it suits me. I'm sure that those featured in the programme tonight enjoy their own lifestyles and are, indeed, having fun. Maybe I'm just incredibly old for my age, but I would get rather bored of getting drunk, taking drugs, and sleeping around all the time, fairly quickly. Some may consider my life boring, but it’s my life. And it’s a bloody amazing one.

Twitter: @AmyWhitear

Friday, 15 June 2012

My Race for Life Experience

A few months ago, I sat with my boyfriend and decided I needed a new challenge. I'm heading abroad for the first time in my life later this year, and decided I needed to get my Beach Body ready in time for our September departure. I spent hours searching for the solution to my problem when something popped into my head: I could do the Race for Life in Battersea Park!

I knew the event was held there every year. As a 10-year-old Girl Guide, I helped out at the event, handing out medals to the wonderful women who participated. As a 16-year-old, I cheered on my younger sister doing the race. This time, it would be me pushing myself to the limit around the park I spent my childhood in.

Cancer Research is a charity very dear to my heart. As a child, I lived through the excruciating horror of my mum being diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, she won the fight. But there are so many others who don't, including my great-grandfather, and numerous family friends. So with the still-raw pain of my mum's diagnosis in my head and heart, I signed up for the Battersea Park event and decided to go ahead and do something amazing.

My first training session was nine weeks ago. It ended up being my only training session. It was cold, wet, and miserable outside, and my 5k training became a race to McDonald's with my boyfriend. We made it to McDonald's at Wandsworth Roundabout (a mere eight minute jog from my house) and promptly got the bus back home. It subsequently proved to be my only training session. Over the past nine weeks, I conditioned myself to go from thinking of it as a 5k run to a simple 'stroll in the park.'

That all changed as I arrived in Battersea Park. Arriving an hour early with my boyfriend in tow, I could hardly contain the excitement I felt. I could hear 'The Promise' by Girls Aloud blaring over the speakers and suddenly felt energised. Heart DJ Toby Anstis kept everyone motivated with his own personal story, and high-fived numerous women who crossed the finish line. The whole way round the park, I kept trying to hear his voice, as I knew that meant I was almost done. A wonderful motivation! I spent a very long time reading all the signs on the backs of tshirts, discovering who these wonderful women were running, jogging, or walking for. It spurred me on to make a decision that, in hindsight, was probably quite stupid.

As everyone was lining up to start the race, I joined up with the joggers. I have absolutely no idea why. But I did it! I jogged the full 5k, stopping every now and then to take in the beautiful sights of my local park, filled to the brim with thousands of women running or walking around by the river. What pushed me on more than anything was Dame Kelly Holmes, who can only be described as Superwoman! I think she spoke to pretty much every woman who was participating that day and I know I enjoyed my little two-minute chat with her as I jogged along.

I had such an amazing day, although my body is feeling the effects now. I ache from the waist down, but it's a good pain. I did my first Race For Life on Wednesday, and I've already set the plans out for next year too! I implore every woman reading this to sign up for your local event. There are still places available and you have no idea how amazing you will feel afterwards.

Photo Credit: Toby Anstis

Twitter: @AmyWhitear

Monday, 11 June 2012

Fifty Shades of Gay

Can we just all take a moment to appreciate the glory of the Tony Awards, please?

The Tonys are my favourite night of the year, and the below clip proves exactly why. I applaud NPH for once again delivering a great show. I'm delighted that Once won Best Musical. I stared wide-eyed at the Newsies performance. And I'm absolutely horrified that James Corden won an award (an absolute travesty).

I'll get to Broadway one day. Not as a performer (those dreams went to bed long ago) but as a delighted audience member. It just feels like the natural order of things.

Look! It's Patti LuPone! It's Jesse Tyler Ferguson! It's Annie!! What if like were more like theatre? Well, life would be pretty damn amazing in my opinion.

Oh, and Book of Mormon comes to London next March! After seeing the Tony performances, reading the reviews and listening to the cast recording a million times, I implore you to book tickets and go and enjoy the magical Trey Parker/Matt Stone creation.

Twitter: @AmyWhitear

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Great Olympic Fools

If there's one thing hardly anyone knows about me, it's this: as a child, Taekwondo was my life. I joined my local club - a very small one - at the age of eight and rapidly fell in love with the sport. I competed at regional, national, and international level, and won medals at each competition. I was devastated when my club folded, mainly because I'm still here many years later and yet to find another great club that has the proper affiliations.

Not many people are aware of Taekwondo. It's not as well known as it's cool cousins karate and judo. But something has happened over the past few weeks that has propelled Taekwondo in to the mainstream. Aaron Cook is arguably Britain's greatest Taekwondo fighter, having won more medals than most could count over the past few years. He came forth in the Beijing Olympics at the age of 17 and looked an absolute certainty to scoop at least a bronze medal in his home Olympics. Except, that's not going to happen. Because for some absurd unknown reasons, he hasn't been selected to participate.

I never imagined that so many people would care about my little sport. When I mention it to people in passing, I normally have to spend a good ten minutes trying to explain the sport before eventually giving up and just saying, "it's a bit like karate." But here we are. Taekwondo is not only featuring in national newspapers, it's also on Sky Sports News. People with absolutely no affiliation to the sport - and I dare say that some have never even heard of it, nor care about it - are suddenly up in arms at the thought of one of our best medal options being sidelined for someone who, I'm sad to say, doesn't quite match up to the skills Aaron Cook has to offer.

I know there isn't much an individual like me can do. I even doubt a collective army of enraged individuals can change the minds of the selection board. But what we do need to do is raise awareness of this beautiful sport. We need to get more kids involved in Taekwondo. We do need to find a way to get Aaron to compete at the highest level. Taekwondo is more than just a sport - it is a way of life. It becomes second nature. Even now, I find myself counting in Korean, or comparing someone's actions to a Taekwondo movement. By refusing to allow Aaron Cook to compete, the powers that be are doing so much more than just taking away his chances of Olympic glory, they are taking away the very thing he breathes for. I can only hope something changes.

Join the fight to get Aaron to the Olympics. Sign the petition here:

Twitter: @AmyWhitear