Year of the Monkey

 

It’s the year of the monkey. Naturally, I was born in the year of the monkey. Witty, sociable, easily bored, stubborn.

Sums me up perfectly I think.

No better time to get harnessed up and back on the face of a mountain.

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Coconut thief

It’s been a few years since I went boulder climbing. It used to be  a regular thing, but after my hand injury I didn’t trust my wrist to support my weight.

I didn’t know what to expect on the half day climb with The Rock Shop. I’d signed up for a beginners course because I was worried.

Climbing had been my way of dealing with my fear of heights. I don’t like to be scared, or limited. My way of handling fears is to throw myself into them. More than often the return is something beautiful. The views from the top. The reward of an isolated spot. It’s a risk, but one worth taking.

When I floundered on the first climb our guide grinned at me

“You can be good or bad, but you must have fun!”

He was right. Once the pressure was off, it was more fun.

After the day’s climb, the rest of the group wanted to grab food and see some of Railay. We were all keen to find the lagoon for a relaxing swim to end the day. We deserved a break.

Little did we know.

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Only 10 more metres…

We had assumed that it would be a calm walk, a couple of dips and then back to Tonsai.

The warning signpost and the exhausted faces of people scaling down from a point up into the mountain, should have been our first indicator this wasn’t going to be easy.

The route had ropes set up along the way. All you had to do was find your feet and hoist yourself up. Easy enough. I decided to pop my flip flops into my bag and go barefoot.

My feet still haven’t forgiven me.

When we finally reached the clearing at the top it dawned on us that we’d have to climb deeper down into the mountain to reach the lagoon. Unless there was an off chance this was a magical lagoon at the top of a mountain that defied gravity.

The downward descent to the lagoon was a little more than “strenuous” as the warning at the start of the ‘hike’ suggested.

We were lowering ourselves through slippery sharp rocks, climbing through narrow holes with back packs on and at times reaching around for a foothold, or handhold when we couldn’t see behind us. After my first slip and near fall onto craggy rocks, my faith in my wrist was completely restored.

It was a precarious climb to the bottom. But it was completely worth it. Photos don’t do it justice.

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Take the risk, reap the rewards

It’s the things we really work to get that bring us the greatest satisfaction.

I’m quite impulsive in the risks that I take. God knows how far this ‘All or nothing’ attitude will get me in Vegas in a few weeks.

Maybe it will get me out of student debt.

 

 

 

Dem Gains

As I sat watching Kickboxer, I could feel my brother staring and stifling his laughter.

It wasn’t the questionable plot, Van Damme’s excuse for having a Belgian accent, or his badass dance moves. No.

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Visual reenactment. Thanks to Piers for the use of his pale, but effective forearm.

“Your arm…”

Yes, it was a bit big.

I had been feeling like a new arm would burst out of it any day now, and wrestle the old one to its death. But you know what some girls are like when they lift a 1kg dumbbell.

I’m always saying “I’m getting huge,” forcing some poor fella to search bemusedly for a bicep muscle, and then being reminded of how diminutive I am when they show me what a real bicep muscle looks like.

My brother put his forearm next to mine, and fell off the sofa laughing.

Hmm.

This time it was no exaggeration. My forearm belonged to another person.

I’d been ‘working out’, since I came back to London five months ago. Fat burning, cross training, running 5k a day. I had been taking a 30 minute train journey to run inside on a treadmill, when I lived next door to a park. Why? Love.

It was idiotic.

I would meet my ex at the gym and run, when I could have easily have done laps around the park for free. I guess it was an easy routine to slip into. I didn’t have a job. He finished work and headed straight to the gym. If I wanted to see him, that’s where I had to go.

The one time I suggested doing something different, he had a perfectly timed foul mood. The evening was a disaster.  It ended with his wise observation that “We should have just gone to the gym.”

His gym was like Cheers, where he could walk through the door, everybody knew his name and he could start a bit of banter with the trainers, other members. I would be constantly told how nice it was to meet the girlfriend that they had heard so much about, and proudly shown around.

It took me a while to realise I was effectively walking him to the gym and home again with 30 minutes cardio inbetween. This wasn’t quality time. It was me slotting myself into his life.

When I told him I wouldn’t go with him to the gym in the afternoons, it was the beginning of the end really. He wasn’t going to change his schedule. We saw each other once a week. If that.

After our breakup, if ever there was a place where I felt like I would be judged and unhappy it was his gym. But he’d already convinced me to sign up for the year. So as part of my whole make-yourself-happy face-your-demons style of life, I decided to go there.

Everyday.

For 3 hours.

It made perfect sense to an insecure masochist.

I think everyone has their own body issues. I have always struggled to be happy with the way I look. When I had been going out with my ex, I had felt somewhat unattractive in comparison, through no fault of his own. He was someone who was in great shape, took care of his appearance, wore the right clothes and groomed himself carefully.

I was someone who often had crumbs in my hair, wanted to eat my body weight in cheese and then blog about it.

There was nothing wrong with either. But I guess when you’re not happy with who you are, you lose yourself in what other people want for you. Every suggestion starts feeling like a put down.

Growing up, I was quite underweight as a child. My mother would pinch my nose shut and make me swallow raw eggs to fatten me up. Edwina Curry saved me with Salmonella. I could have been a far rounder child.

Raw eggs were replaced with using me as a human garbage disposal, and the Indian ‘just one more’ sneak attack, in which food is shoved into your mouth when you open it to refuse.

This typically asian way of showing love, was then confused by calling me ‘moti’. ‘Moti’ meaning fatty in an endearing way. Only the latinos and south asians could possible think calling someone fat was endearing. After being plumped up like a French goose, moti was my reward.

It’s easy to see why I might take extra time to be healthy and active. Also why I have always given too much time to mindless comments about my body. Helpful observations on how the right diet and a couple of hundred crunches could boost my sexual capital from an 8 to even a 9 or a 10 have always increased my self esteem.

It’s nice to know you’re a fixer upper.

Regularly going to the gym always helped me to get out of my head more and into my body. This time though, I wanted to get into the body I had, not some supermodel’s body that I would never have.

When I came home with the 4 page training program, I asked for my brother’s help in figuring it out. He took one look at it and burst out laughing.

“He wants to destroy you.”

I had made it pretty clear to Paulo that I wanted to tone up. Be stronger. I didn’t want to body build or get ‘swole.’ Paulo had other ideas though. In his mind I wanted to build my body. I wanted to build up muscle. That was the definition of body building.

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Gold’s Gym was Arnie’s gym. Now it’s mine.

When you say “Body builder” the mind will go to the magnificent photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger, striking a pose and showing off his hulk like muscle definition. He is the archetypal Mr Universe. Now type Miss Universe into google and you may happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world…

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Miss Universe

I have spent my life, like many other women, being convinced that my body will look like Rihanna’s or Eva Mendes’ body when I work out. Or that I will develop a generic Barbie like body, because that’s what we can all look like. What we should aspire to.

Wrong.

I remember Jennifer Lawrence saying that she trained hard for Hunger Games because her character was meant to be someone young girls would look up to, without wanting to skip dinner. Not sexy, marriageable, or someone a man would be happy to wake up naked next to. Someone healthy and strong.

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My fears about being laughed at for my light weights, or using the weights incorrectly were ignored by Paulo. He would help. If he wasn’t there someone else would. I had to use the weights area. I paid for the gym, I used the gym.

If I was worried about being judged on appearance, I may not have been the only one. But there is no time for it. Thinking about other people messes up my reps. The less I think about anything other than what my body is doing, the better I get. The better my time gets. The happier I feel.

I judge too quickly. After a few weeks of pushing the ‘What will people think?’ anxiety out of my head, I can see that now. It’s why I think I’m always being judged. It is something I am working on.

My worries about being in my ex’s gym, surrounded by his peers were quickly dismissed. Once again, there were more lovely supportive people in the world than those that were out to hurt and judge me.

I now know all the trainers and have a chat when I see them. I can’t say everybody knows my name, but they recognise my face, say hi and help out if I ask. I am able to laugh at my mistakes with them. I will forever be known as the girl that was doing three times her work out because she can’t do maths.

I may be an idiot, but I’m one that can do 72 barbell squats in under five minutes.

Who knows what I will look like at the end.

Someone happier I hope.

One man’s 7 is another man’s 10

About ten years ago, after yet another afternoon of boyfriend show and tell, a friend remarked that my taste in men was ‘eclectic’. A more honest male friend suggested she was being too kind. There was no taste. I was attracted to the bizarre and quirky. The only unifying quality was that they were recognisable as men.
He may have been onto something.
As someone who always considered herself a woman with personality, rather than a looker, I tried to look for those long lasting attributes in a partner. Someone who reads. A gifted conversationalist. A good sense of humour. Perhaps a collector of rocks that look like celebrities. You know, the important stuff that outlasts great teeth and hair.
These were my people. This was my dating level.

As I have gotten older, the men I date have definitely become more objectively attractive. This is at least what common consensus indicates. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve levelled up dating wise. Perhaps finding my push up bra and contact lenses opened the door to the world of more beautiful people. Perhaps as we’d grown older, my friends and I reached a similar standard, they gained some perspective, and suddenly the quirks that I loved had become attractive to all.

Yeah right.

I was dating prettier, because I was feeling prettier.

In my younger years I was a hoodies and baggy jeans kind of girl. PS3 and beer. I was never a fan of my face or my body shape, so why would anyone else be? I’d always pulled through a comfortability factor.

As I have aged, I’ve become a lot happier with the way I look. Living in Mexico contributed to that. There is a real focus on beauty and appearance for women. Women are very well groomed, dolled up to the nines and curling their eyelashes with a spoon whenever they hit a red light. As amusing as I would find this, I started dressing to get into the clubs and bars I liked and almost immediately I started getting a lot of compliments and attention. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like it.

I stopped wearing hoodies and vests all the time. The skirts, dresses and heels came out. Then all the lookers dropped their cloaking devices and I was dating a much more attractive category of man.

There has been a steady increase of female acquaintances cooing over my love interests over the last five years, and a general confusion as to how I’d managed to get them. Past relationships with good looking men have met with similar responses to the one below:

Looking at a picture of my boyfriend “ Where did you cut this out from?”

“Nowhere, he’s my boyfriend.”

“You’re going out with him!?!!”

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Too hot to function

“ Err yeah.”

“Yeah right, he’s bloody gorgeous.”

“Wow thanks.”

“What I mean is, well, look at him. No offence. What I meant to say was well done! How did you net him?’

“Roofies. Lots of roofies.”

Yes, it was unbelievable that I’d managed to date a man found unanimously attractive. I mean I was attractive, but way too covered in food and obsessed with finger puppets for this level of dating.

Now these friends liked me. They enjoyed my company. Thought I was smart. Funny. Attractive. But for some reason they also seemed to believe there was an attractiveness threshold that needed to be met to date someone of this aesthetic calibre.

The man in the picture was undeniably handsome. As I would find out a few months later, he was also an undeniable cock, who had a problem with gay people, and the disabled.

But pretty, so no one seemed to take that part too seriously.

This was not something that horrified or surprised people. If anything I was frowned upon for mentioning it and tainting the poor guy’s pretty. If you’re good looking people naturally assume you’re amazing in all departments. Even if you’re not.

It’s the halo effect.

Comments that would normally sound self absorbed, stupid or superficial in the mouth of a regular human, must be witticisms, ironies and a black sense of humour. He didn’t mean to say ‘escape goats’ he was being funny. Err, no he wasn’t.

Some lookers will buy into their own hype, John Hamm style. Of course you can put Gatorade on salmon, it was culinary genius. Yes you should be a public speaker, because I would listen to you talk for hours. You are a far superior specimen of humanity who can do no wrong.

A friend of mine couldn’t believe his luck when he got a beautiful girl to date him for nearly four years. It was the most tumultuous, abusive and disrespectful relationship I had ever been witness to. She once threw his laptop out of a window because he had been rude to her. She got him kicked out of his apartment complex by bursting into tears, saying that he had mistreated her, after physically attacking him.

It culminated in him having to leave the country because she had destroyed his passport, stolen his credit cards and used her looks to ensure if he came near her to try and get them back, he would be the bad guy. Because, well look at him, and look at her.

Now this girl clearly had a problem. But wouldn’t it have been nice if people had listened to both sides of the story, and paid attention to the scratch marks on his face, rather than immediately assuming she was the victim in all of this because she was so fragile and beautiful?

It would have been even better if he had stopped putting her beauty on a pedestal and actually paid attention to how she was treating him.

Why would you make excuses for the poor behaviour of someone purely because they were physically attractive? Why was their seal of approval, relationship, friendship, or opinion so important?

It’s easy to be charmed by someone ‘incredibly good looking’. A scientific study in China showed, more men were likely to be conned out of money by an attractive woman than a less attractive one. We don’t trust the less attractive. People that are less attractive are actually more likely to be attributed negative qualities, and considered to be ‘inherently bad‘.

More circles open up to people that have the right look, in the same way doors are opened if you have money or social standing. It’s no wonder that with this kind of beauty bias, people struggle to take the perfect selfie or to present themselves as more attractive to gain the approbation of others and the perks that come with it.

Looking for this kind of validation would make anyone unhappy. Who wants to be judged on their appearances alone? What happens when they fade? What about all the other qualities you possess?

On a date with another stunner, I was told that I was like a 7 or 8 on a scale of hotness. A 10 personality, but you know… Naturally I was slightly offended. Also unimpressed by his shallowness. He could see this, so he quickly added I could be a 10. I just needed to get that beach body, wear a little make up and ‘take more pride’ in how I looked.

I ordered the cheese sticks and mentally noted there would be no second date. Not that he would have a problem getting another date with someone else, as long as he kept his mouth shut, and the cheese sticks flowing.

Surely if we all saw ourselves as amazing, none of this would even matter.

If we treated people based on what they were like as human beings, rather than favouring a certain look above another, maybe people wouldn’t be so obsessed about making themselves fit a generic mould of beauty.

I rarely get preferential treatment based on how I look. I don’t know how I’d feel if that’s how I lived my whole life and then that treatment faded, or disappeared because I was getting older, I was pregnant, or married and unavailable. Would I even be willing to give it up? It’s nice to be treated specially.

I’m reluctant to comb the Cheetos out of my hair to be treated on a par with someone who lucked out on the gene pool front. Personally, I think we should all hold out for the guy or girl who likes us Cheetos and all.

I’d probably be a 10 to that guy.