Forget Summer with its sun beaming down on roasting skin, sizzling in the heat. It has never been my favourite season.

Stark shadows mark the ground like a warning sign. The sun: a danger to delicate skin. Fair and freckled, I hide under the canopy of trees; their shade is my safety.

I sense relief as the leaves fall to mark the sun’s retreat. Slowly the days draw in. Anticipation builds as the greens radiate into oranges, reds…

Eager to move through the seasons I remind myself to cherish the glow of early mornings. To catch the sunrises through the window, misty from the outside chill, before they disappear into the months of darkness ahead.

Winter is long and equally relentless. The absence of the sun’s warmth is as much of a challenge to me as its presence. I hide wrapped inside blankets, relying on the comfort of warm cups of tea and hot water bottles.

To me, those few days in early Autumn are the most precious. When the sun shines in cloudless skies but its power is muted by a gentle breeze. A touch cooler. Is it too early for a scarf? I long to be outside, swaddled in soft knits, found like long lost treasure at the back of the wardrobe.

The bright blue sky comes alive with the glow of burning oranges in the trees below. Crisp leaves underfoot; the ground is coated with spiked conkers, undiscovered by squirrels. Inside the deep red gloss shines.

I am reminded of back to school and fresh starts. The clean page of a brand new notebook, or a the shine of a new pair of boots; adventures lie ahead; marks are yet to be made. Autumn’s beauty lies in its endings, paving the way for new beginnings one leaf at a time.

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I had never really understood Feminism. Back in the noughties when I took my History A-level, feminism was a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned we had completed it once women’s right to vote had been achieved in 1928. Now, after a few years of experience in the big bad world, I can see there is a lot more still to be done.

I attended an all girls school and we were sold the dream. We could have any job we wanted, marry who we wanted, if we even wanted to marry at all, and children; they were also optional. Most of our teachers were women; they were our role models. If they could have a fancy countryside house a few miles from the beach, a nice car and a family, then so could we. It didn’t really occur to me to look closer to home because the two worlds were so different. Perhaps my own mother hadn’t achieved everything she wanted to due to the limits of society, but she also left school at fifteen and had her children very young. Anyway, I knew my life would be different from my mother’s. I believed I could have it all, or at least most of it.

Alongside the uplifting education we received, there were strange elements of sexism at play at the school. When I first joined, the pupils were amidst a battle with the Parent Teacher’s Association and the Governors over the uniform update including the option of wearing trousers. I had just spent the last 6 years of my school life with my legs covered and I was devastated that a presumably pro-women all-girls school would then deny their pupils the option of covering their legs. (The reason I wanted to cover my legs was of course because society demanded smooth shapely calves, with a light tan, which I knew even at eleven years old I would never be able to achieve or maintain, but that’s another story.)

I distinctly remember a friend was suspended for shaving her head for charity, obviously it was too short and too unladylike. She stayed in hiding until it was deemed presentable enough because, of course, hats weren’t allowed either. We were often pulled up on our choices concerning our hair design against the tight rules and regulations, right down to the detail of which scrunchie we were wearing. I wondered if the boys in the neighbouring school were equally harassed for how they looked.

I always found it entertaining that we had to learn how to put a condom on a banana, whilst the boys must have slept through their lesson on menstruation and pregnancy, if they had one at all, if my experience having to explain it to them was anything to go by. I remember the fear of pregnancy was drummed into us so hard, most girls were on the pill before they left school. Not because we were all whores servicing the boys in the school field at lunch, but because education was too important to us for it to be destroyed by a silly mistake. It was clear even then, that it would be the girls who suffered the consequences in that situation.

I got a paper round as soon as I could but I knew friends that “weren’t allowed” whilst their brothers were. Their fathers were limiting their independence from a young age based on the perceived vulnerability of girls from the potential actions of men. My own father, whilst I was encouraged to go out and earn money, had issues with my sister and I having boyfriends; a stark contrast to his enthusiasm over my brother’s multiple girlfriends and sexual exploits. He is a year younger than me.

The trouble with change is it happens slowly. Here we were almost eighty years after women’s suffrage had been achieved with presumptions about gender still hanging around. Unfortunately not a lot has changed since then, either. I know, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a part of the world where while women and men might not be on quite an equal footing, it’s a better situation than some. I got an education. I was able to go to school and to university. Crucially, I have been able to make my own choices; they were not defined by my gender and not decided by my father.

I do, however, think we have some way to go. Feminism is the focus of equality for the female of the species, but there is much more equality needed in this world. Equality for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, mental and physical health. I don’t understand why in 2020 we are still trying to close the gender pay gap or why there are so few women in the top jobs. Why does it feel like the country is being run by exclusively white men from Eton? I hope we can increase the visibility of diversity across all groups, including those from poorer backgrounds in all industries. Encouraging young people, like our teachers did back then, that they can be this person, they can do this job. There should be no limitations on ambition.

History is what has defined certain groups to have a so-called easier time today and history is where it should stay. Feminism, however should be in the history books with an asterisk. *the pursuit of equality is still ongoing.

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Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Again and again, how many times do I need to do this?

It’s a freezing cold Sunday morning in February and I find myself on Hampstead Heath, yet again, running. Running, but not going anywhere. At least that is what the scales are telling me.

I see the familiar oak tree on the circuit, I know she is on the other side, waiting. I’m tempted to turn right and run out of the park. I wonder how long it would take her to notice? How long would it be before she judges me for abandoning her and my efforts to lose weight? Would she be disappointed in me?

I hear the lap button on the timer. “Getting quicker, Sally, nice one. Keep it up.”

I’d be pleased except I had found a shortcut to run through. Instead, I only felt shame. I had never been to the heath before January but I had already begun to loathe it: every well-trodden path, every tree, every miniature pedigree dog. In the rain, as each droplet seeps into my hair I am reminded I would rather be with the skinny girls, ordering my skinny latte mocha choca frappuccino to accompany my smashed avocado on sourdough. I look down and I am reminded I haven’t earned the privilege to brunch yet. For me, Sundays are rundays.

I had been perfectly happy with my weight. Granted I am curvier than most, with an ample breast but I am not exactly overweight. Perhaps she was right, though, I had let myself go.

I’m twenty-nine, that’s what happened. I sit in an office all day, I drink, I eat – my Mum always said it would catch up with me one day. That day came and went and I didn’t really notice. Until my sister pointed it out, that is.

Mum always complained I was a skinny bitch. She hated that I got away with eating all the chocolate and sweets. I didn’t deserve to be skinny.

Eating has become a comfort for me. It’s the one thing that makes me feel better. Eventually though, all that comfort adds up to jeans two sizes bigger and my sister staging what I can only call an intervention.

Of course it isn’t really me she cares about. My health or my happiness aren’t her concerns. She doesn’t want a fat Maid of Honour ruining her wedding photos. She doesn’t want to upset the in-laws. There was a real danger my widening waistline could end up dominating their mantelpieces for years to come.

My niece, at least, was straight forward about it. At the dress fitting she announced to the room of the bride-to-be’s closest female friends and family that I looked like Miss Piggy. That is her favourite Muppet though, she said, not that I found that any consolation. Perhaps that was why she was always trying to copy my curls, I thought, trying to recreate them in her own hair with wet overnight plaits.

“Is it because of my curls?” I had asked.

She replied, “Nope.” She blew her cheeks up, her finger pressed up against her nostrils.

If my sister‘s subtle approach wasn’t enough, then her daughter’s pig impression sure was. Kids can be cruel but at least they are honest. Perhaps it was honesty that I needed.

I need to be honest with myself; I hate my job. I eat to distract myself. Each biscuit, donut or Haribo Starmix, is an afternoon treat I look forward to. On my way into work I think about the moment that first sugary donut will hit my lips. Endorphins rush to my head. Nothing beats the first bite. I get through the day one eating opportunity at a time: late breakfast, elevenses, lunch, mid-afternoon tea break and even a light snack for the journey home.

I thought it was normal to not like your job. Work is work. You aren’t meant to enjoy it. But instead I realise it’s not just a dislike. I am overwhelmed with sadness, trapped behind a desk doing monotonous tasks for people who don’t appreciate it. The money is okay, but it hasn’t changed since I started three years ago. Plenty of new people have come in and been promoted ahead of me. I have never understood why I am always left by the wayside.

I am lonely. The only social interaction with colleagues is at the biscuit jar or when we congregate for birthday cake. I know they think I am desperate, the way I grab a slice and rush back to my desk, but I just want to get away. Making friends has never been my strong point.

I see my personal trainer in the distance. Tree trunk legs and the straightest of backs. Even the way she stands is strong, despite having a petite frame. I know I could never be as thin as her but what I need is her confidence, her strong sense of self and her determination. Perhaps that really had been what I was looking for when I decided to get a personal trainer. I needed someone to believe in me.

Why hadn’t I ever asked for a pay rise or more stimulating work? I want to be paid well and I want to enjoy my job. I need the courage to confront them. I deserve to be valued. I deserve to be given the opportunity to grow, like so many others have ahead of me. If not I will find somewhere I will be.

She signals me to stop. I hadn’t noticed the weather had worsened.

“I have been calling you to stop. Are you okay?”

I smile. I am soaked through to my skin. “I am great.” I have a plan. Losing weight is no longer my goal, but working on my self. I will run for strength and for happiness, soaking in the confidence emanating from my personal trainer. If I lose weight in the process so be it, but I am determined to walk into that wedding a happier healthier self. If I am not a pound lighter, then that is even better.

“Sally, you are doing great. Same time next week?”

I nodded. She looked at her timer. “It gets easier you know. As you get more confident you’ll be running around here at twice the speed, you won’t even realise you are doing it.”

I walk home composing my resignation letter in my mind. I know it is the right place to start.

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