Friday, 23 May 2014

...all of me, loves all of you...

"cause all of me, loves all of you.  Love your curves and all your edges.  All your perfect imperfections..."

I am seriously feeling this song by John Legend. Although it's a love song, as I listened to the lyrics, it struck me that these are words that a lot of us women, could do with saying to our bodies. It seems to me that a lot of us actually hate our bodies. We starve them or overfeed them. We constrict them in contraptions so tight, we can barely breathe (hellooo, body magic anyone?). We prod, we poke, we pinch and we abuse these bodies of ours, for not looking like the women in the magazines we read. Which is weird when you think about it- not even the women in the magazines, look like the women in the magazines! It seems like we do everything except treat our bodies with love and respect.

Personally, I spent many years avoiding looking at my body, because in my eyes it was disgusting. I perfected the art of getting dressed, checking the mirror, but only looking at my face. The first time I looked at my body, after many years, I could only manage a few seconds, before I looked away. I'm not perfect now, but I'm getting better.  Recently, I heard about a young woman who is paralysed from the neck down as a result of a car accident. I'm guessing, she'd take any body she could get now, as long as it's fully functioning. This week's post is to serve as a reminder that we are more than our bodies-no matter what they do or don't look like.

You know you're getting old when every police officer looks like a child and you find yourself saying; "it wasn't like that in my day". I'm not there yet (thankfully) but I do find myself bemused by the way a lot of young women sell themselves short these days.  I hear the conversations about mundane things like the latest clothes, shoes, handbags and the men who they want to foot the bill for those things and I wonder.  I wonder if they even realise that the most beautiful thing about a woman is a fully functioning mind. A mind that is exercised by more things than the latest fashion or movies. A mind that stands up for things and is prepared to argue its point.  My mum used to say to me all the time; "you're too argumentative, no man wants a woman who's always arguing"   To be fair, sometimes I was being a bit stroppy, but most of the time, I really was just engaging with an issue, wanting to really understand what it was about.  I tried being quiet, but frankly it just didn't suit me and I couldn't keep it up (still can't actually). When I am passionate about an issue, I'm prepared to defend my position to the end. Am I saying that being interested in fashion and movies is a bad thing? No. I love fashion, movies and make up!  What I am saying though is that it shouldn't be the only thing that you're interested in.

And that leads me to my second point: what we do by living out our purpose and adding value, far outweighs good looks and a hot body. My life's work is to add value to the life of every woman I come across. The most important requirements for that are empathy, the ability to be able to discern what's really going on with someone, the ability to ask questions and good listening skills.  These are not things that rely on how I look. These qualities have no shelf life and as I practice them, they are things that will get better with age, not worse. I like to think of them as the gifts that keep on giving, without needing Botox or some other strange medical procedure.

The talents, abilities and skills that we have are more important and longer lasting than our looks. The problem with using our looks to define ourselves is that we are limiting ourselves to just one part of what makes us, us. Not only that, we are defining ourselves by the part most subject to change. Our bodies are actually quite vulnerable when you think of it. Weight gain, pregnancy, disease, illness or accidents.  All these things have the ability to change our bodies forever.

When we define ourselves by our looks, any of these things has the ability to shake our confidence in ourselves, to floor us. To make us begin to doubt our true value.

It was international "no diet" day a couple of weeks back and I'd like to use this post to remind us that we are more valuable than how we look. Our character is more important than what we weigh. Our best asset is actually our brain and not our body.

Do you know what your purpose is? What talents, skills or abilities do you have? Are you living your best life? This week, I'd like to challenge you to think about these questions and answer them honestly. We can't change what we don't take responsibility for and we need to know what we are taking responsibility for.

If you'd like to someone about body issues and/or your relationship with food or any other issues raised in this blog, then please call on +234 706 335 0864 or contact us through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Friday, 16 May 2014

It's not you, it's me...

It's not you, it's me... a phrase that strikes fear into many a heart.  It usually precedes a break up you neither saw coming or want!  No matter how kindly it's said, you don't believe a word of it and recognise that it is absolutely about you- they are just trying to let you down easy! In spite of the title, I'm not talking about break ups this week (although I could write a whole book on that too). I'm talking about moving beyond talking about something, to actually taking action.  I'm talking about really standing up, to be counted, to make a difference.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you'll know about the abduction of 200+ schoolgirls from Chibok, in northern Nigeria. Even as a person who currently lives in Nigeria, I'd never heard of Chibok, but now I doubt I'll ever be able to forget it. Before the abductions, I'd hear about the activities of Boko Haram, be outraged for a moment and then get back to my own life. To my own shame, I have to admit that I thought it was a problem that affected some 'other' people, up there in the north.  As long as me and mine, were safe, I was unaffected by the mass bombings and killings perpetrated by Boko Haram.  But the abduction of the schoolgirls was different.  I don't know if it was the sheer numbers, the fact that they were girls, the fact that they were likely being raped, being forced into marriage and trafficked.  Whatever it was, It was clear to me that this was something that did affect me.  These girls represent part of the future of Nigeria.  These are girls with hopes and dreams, whose lives have been cruelly shattered by this act of violence.

I hope that like me, a lot of people are waking up to the reality of the fact that this abduction is a stain on the country as a whole, not just one part. Complacency is no longer an option.  All around the country and outside, rallies, marches and petitions are being organised to "bring back our girls". But when the marches and rallies and petitions are all done, what's next? What are we doing practically, to reach out and help the families and communities devastated by this horror?  Don't get me wrong, I think the current activities are important.  They have shone a light on what is happening here and raising awareness is often the first step in making a change.  What I am saying though, is that we need to start working on 'what next?'  We are working and praying for their release, but what kind of reception awaits them on their return? What will happen, when they come back traumatised by their captivity? What will happen if they come back pregnant or with a sexually transmitted disease? What will happen, if they develop mental health issues as a result of the trauma?

We need to begin to think about and put things in place to help them heal and re-integrate into the community. We need to begin to work with the community now, to prepare them to be able to receive the girls back.  If we wait until the girls are actually returned, it will be that much harder.  Personally, I'd like to see trained counsellors and other professionals, equipped to recognise and work with those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, working with the community first and then the girls themselves.  I'd like to see a halfway house set up, to ease the girls re-integration back into the community. I'd like to see some sort of financial assistance provided to help the girls and the families back on their feet.

I chose the title of this week's blog deliberately to reflect that whatever challenges the girls face, when they are released, are not really about them, but about us.  Our discomfort, our fear, our anger, our feelings of helplessness in the face of what they've gone through.  They've done nothing wrong.  Their only 'crime' was in wanting an education. 

So, I guess this is my call to action.  No matter what you have or haven't done to date, it's not too late to start now.  What can we do to help now?  What skills do we have, that can help the community and the girls when they are released? Are we prepared to put aside our own fears and discomfort and do what needs to be done, to help the healing begin? It's a question I'm asking myself as well as you.  Leave me a comment and let's see if we can come up with a plan.  Alternatively, you can contact me through the website.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

When words fail...

Every weekend, I write a list.  Bread, eggs, milk, juice and sugar. Nothing major, just a mundane grocery list for the next week. This week though, I've got a different kind of a list on my mind. It's a list of the schoolgirls who were abducted from a federal government college, in the north of the country, by Boko Haram, back in April.  Each name on that list represents a life that has either been lost or which has now been indelibly marked by the unspeakable horror of abduction, rape, sex trafficking and forced marriage.  Each name representing someone's daughter, sister, niece, cousin or friend. Each name representing a family, shaken to the core by this callous and cowardly act.

I wondered whether I should add my voice to the conversation about this atrocity, questioning whether I had anything new to add? But then I realised that it's not just about whether or not I have something new to add. It's about the fact that evil flourishes, when we stay silent.  And so I add my voice to all the other voices, in the hope that we will make a difference.  

The abduction of the schoolgirls has reminded me that no woman is safe, until we are all safe. 1 in 4 women are affected by violence against women, in its many forms. It doesn't discriminate by age or geographical location.  It doesn't discriminate by socio-economic class or education.  It is a scourge that affects mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces all over the world.  Chibok is a rural, relatively poor area in northern Nigeria, probably not known to many people, before the abductions. I guess now though, that it will be remembered by many as the place where the community was changed forever, because of the abductions.

These abductions are a chilling reminder that in any conflict, the bodies of women and girls are invariably viewed as being part of the battlefield. Rape and other serious sexual assaults, domestic slavery are all part of the consequences that await many women, caught up in a conflict situation. Bosnia, Somalia, Syria and now Nigeria, places where women and girls have become casualties of war, even when they are never touched by a bullet, a bomb or any other weapon.

Finally, these abductions are a stark reminder, that in many instances, women and girls are still viewed as being 'less than' or property, to be dealt with and disposed of, as others (usually men) see fit.  Boko Haram are against western education and these girls were in school.  What gives Boko Haram, the right to decide who receives an education and who doesn't? There was a bitter irony in the fact that the leader of Boko Haram released a video, 'bragging' about the fact that he would sell the girls. Video cameras are products of western development and education.  How ironic, that the thing that is despised, is the thing that enables him to share his ideology with the world!

As I write this, Nigeria has accepted help from a number of countries. My prayer, one that I expect is shared by countless others, is that these girls be found and returned to their families. So that they can begin the long journey back to healing and restoration.

Until next week, go well

Friday, 2 May 2014

...hands up who doesn't like madeira cake

If I gave you a couple of eggs, milk, flour, sugar, butter and some lemon peel, you'd probably think, "what's this woman on?" But if I gave you a madeira cake, you'd probably thank me profusely, unless you're one of those strange people who doesn't like cake! On one hand, it's just a collection of ingredients, that don't taste very nice on their own. But combine them and bake them, the result is absolutely delicious. And so it is with realising our dreams.

Many of us have a seemingly random assortment of skills and we can't quite see how they fit together. We can't make sense of them. But if we're focused and determined, one day, we have that 'aha' moment, when it all comes together and we can see clearly how everything fits together. We see how we can use all our skills to bring our dream to life. I'm always in awe of my sister's alchemist-like skills in the kitchen. She can literally rustle up something tasty to eat, from the most random of ingredients (personally, I always think, these are the moments that takeaways were created for!) What skills do you have? Are they working well together? Is it the right combination? When we have a dream, I believe for the most part, that we already have everything we need, to bring it to life. Actually, it's either already in you or you can access what you need from elsewhere.

In this day and age, there's really no excuse to say "I don't know anything about that". Now that Google has become a verb as well as the name of a search engine, we have access to huge amounts of information. Obviously, we still need to be discerning about what we find out, but there really is something out there, on whatever subject- no matter how obscure! No matter the dream, we can always find some information about it. I can't begin to tell you the weird things I've googled (well I could, but I won't because you'll think I'm weird). My point is, do whatever it takes to get what you need to bring your dream alive: take a course, read a book, get a mentor. Decide what you need to do to move forward and do it.

It's in exactly these kinds of situations that a coach can be really helpful. A coach can look at your 'ingredients' and help you come up with a very tasty fulfilled dream. What's that dream you've been putting off, because you don't think you have what it takes? As I end this week, I invite you to think about what you can do, with what you already have. We always have more than we think. We just need to stop focusing on what we don't have and start focusing on what we already have instead. Let me know how you get on, by leaving me a comment.

Need a coach? Contact us through the website. Want to find out how a coach could help you bring your dream to life? Call us on +234 706 335 0864 for your 30 minute complimentary session.

Until next week, go well.