I can’t stop thinking about Sarah Everard.

On twitter it seems I am not the only one, as heart felt condolences fill our news feeds. I am so sorry if you are a loved one, or friend of Sarah. I can’t imagine the pain you are going through.

Women everywhere have been rocked by this and I am one of them. For years I have lived in London. The journey across town in the night has always been frightening, whether it was 9 at night or 2 in the morning. Buses and trains could have anyone on, you have always had to keep your wits about you. That is what we are taught as young girls. In a way I felt the same walking home from school in the dark in Bournemouth suburb - it could have been tea-time, but if it was dark, a little later and quieter, I would power walk or run the half a mile home. On my bike from friends in the evening I would cycle quicker than I ever knew I could. I could have put myself in danger throwing myself across roads, not double-checking for traffic, but I had this feeling ingrained in me, that someone was following me; I was in danger.

It isn’t an experience exclusive to London, but I have encountered moments of genuine fear in areas of London I have then moved away from. A man followed me around a shop once, in broad daylight, insisting I took his number while forcefully rubbing his leg. I ran out of the shop as he attempted to follow me home. On the same road, I was walking back from a Christmas party and a group of young adults walked into me and pushed me in the road with no explanation. I spent the rest of the time that I lived there getting the bus two stops home, and running to the front door with the key poised in my hand, ready to defend myself. I have taken the wrong bus to get away from strange people at the bus stop. Sometimes they mean no harm by the strange looks or comments, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Every woman has a handful of stories like this, wherever they have lived.

Women everywhere see themselves in this story. It could have been any one of us. She just wanted to go home. Perhaps normally we would dismiss this, as some people have, as a flagrant disregard of her own safety. Why was she walking so late at night, or her own and for so long? Why would she walk at night wearing head phones? Of course it wouldn’t be safe, we may say it was her own fault. My question is why shouldn’t she be able to do those things? Would we question her choices if she were a man? The fear is the normality for women everywhere but would men accept this normality? In addition to this, I needn’t remind you of the situation we are in and why this has made this story more poignant.

We have been living with restrictions on our freedoms for a year now but deep down we know the reality for women is that it has been much longer than that. We are told that by walking at night, or in the dark, is to put ourselves in danger. We should have a male chaperone, to ward off unwanted attention; they are physically stronger and are taken more seriously. We have been told not to wear this or that for fear that it will attract the wrong kind of people and the wrong kind of actions. We have been told since we were small that we are the weaker sex; that we should be careful and look out for ourselves. Even in taxis we should share our whereabouts so we can be tracked by friends, in case the driver abuses our trust. When will this stop?

I resent that women already feel like their movements and choices have been restricted. We have a right like men to walk safely on this Earth whether it is dark or not and yes, most men are kind and wouldn’t harm us, but why does a situation as simple as getting home from a friend’s house have to be fraught with so much fear, anxiety and in this awful case so much pain?

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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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