THE BIKINI BODY IS BULL

We are about a month away from (slightly) warmer weather. Spring is imminent, which means my social media news feeds are beginning to dilate with advice on how I can start early on achieving a ‘bikini body.’ There is a constant stream of bullshit – more than usual – flowing from the internet at this time of year and it’s aimed towards ladies like me.

I don’t have a problem with men or women trying to look their best. I try to look my best every day, because it makes me feel good and I have a healthy self-esteem. However, the words ‘bikini body’ are being shoved down my throat on a daily basis and it could comfortably seep into my psyche. It makes me choke a little bit, but luckily I have the willpower to spit it out and reject the offensive concept that a ‘bikini body’ is something I should be pursuing.

So, if a woman doesn’t have what is commercially considered to be a ‘bikini body’, then what – she shouldn’t dare go to the beach? Should she be ashamed? Imagine the catastrophe that would follow such audacious behaviour.

What ever happened to having, I don’t know, a simple, old-fashioned BODY?

Two years ago, I went to the beach for the first time in about five years. Throughout my fragile adolescence, the only body of water I entered was within the comfort of a private bathroom. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in public in a bikini, because, alas, I did not see myself as swimsuit appropriate. I missed out on years of ocean-related shenanigans due to my poor self-image, perpetuated by publications that insist I hit the beach only if I am ‘summer ready.’

When you bash out the words ‘bikini body’ into a Google image search, this is what comes up:

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Needless to say, my colossal fear of looking like anything less than the ladies in the photos above restricted many beach experiences. I felt a sonic boom of shame whenever I would pass up beach outings with friends. I know there are women out there who would be in the same boat (fully dressed) as me. If a regular gal like myself once felt this way, then I know I am not alone in this. It’s a profoundly crushing reality for many people.

I’m also wondering what the male equivalent of a bikini body is. A speedo body? Board short body? I’m not saying that men don’t have it tough, because they do too, but this is about women.

The way we are told to be ‘ready’ for the beach implies that this isn’t at all about health, this is about aesthetics. It’s about looking hot. Nobody is telling us to work out diligently in preparation for winter. Since when did beach trips become more about our sex appeal than having a good time with salt in our hair and swimming around amongst the waves? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and feel sexy, but there’s a huge marketing problem tethered to the unattainable bikini body. We are being sold the idea that our bodies have to be extraordinarily without fault during hot weather, and we’re on a cold-hearted countdown to achieve it.

Thankfully, there’s at least one company that does understand that there’s no such thing as a ‘bikini body’. Target recently launched a body-positive swimsuit campaign called ‘Target Loves Every Body.’ It’s one small step for women and will hopefully eventuate into one giant leap for marketing and woman-kind.

On ya, Target.

On ya, Target.

I am going to go to the beach this year. I am going to feel fabulous, get my hair wet, dive into waves and channel Pamela Anderson’s confidence running along the sand. Not because I have a ‘bikini body’, but because I have a body – and that’s all you and I need.

Summer can be a stressful time of the year for many women who feel insecure about their bodies. These ads and articles which constantly shame us for not being absolutely perfect are toxic. It’s a poison which weaves its way around the ribcage and dribbles into the heart, manifesting in the anxiety that so many of us feel when it’s time to go to the beach, or wear lighter clothing during the warmer weather.

Do you want a bikini body? Put your body in a bikini. Congratulations – you have a bikini body.

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MY ANCIENT ‘HEALING’ EXPERIENCE

Yesterday I had an experience which I can only describe as absurd.

I had an appointment at a Chinese ‘healing centre’. I’ve never been interested in alternative medicine, but I thought I’d try something different to satisfy my cynical curiosity. I often get knots in my back and shoulders and I wanted to know if any ancient Chinese medical treatments could level them out.

I walked into the reception and it was all very serene – meditative music playing quietly, foot massage machines by every chair, lily plants hogging empty space in every corner, a bookcase full of guides on how to eat according to your blood type, and a receptionist draped in an earthy-coloured blanket. There was a pamphlet on a coffee table about how to naturally cleanse your genitals, I thought, how very Gwyneth Paltrow. This place was a far cry from the reception area of my regular GP.

My practitioner collected me from the waiting room and led me down a candle-lit hallway to the treatment room. I told him that my back had a lot of tension in it and I was feeling lethargic, likely because of the Antarctic chill that’s been blanketing Melbourne recently. He felt my pulse and told me he could feel a jaded energy emanating from my body. He said he could feel anxiety trapped inside my ‘vessel’ that needed to be liberated as soon as possible. I was asked about my personal life and I indulged him in details about some personal experiences I’ve had recently, and suddenly I found myself being more or less unofficially psychoanalysed by this man.

“Caroline, we are going to release your tension today. We are going to rid you of any physical or emotional pain,” he said. I said, “okay, let’s do it.”

I thought I was going in for a massage and perhaps a little mediation – suddenly this man was promising to banish my back pain and heal my heart. It felt like some sort of spiritual counselling session. I’m quite a happy person, but this man was certain that I had what he described as a ‘depressed back’.

I laid down and he treated me to acupuncture and a massage, focussing in on the heavily depressed parts of my back. This part was quite relaxing. He spoke to me about his philosophy on love and relationships. He was a man of intense passion. I admired his integrity, but as I laid there, I couldn’t help but wonder what these techniques were actually doing for me. It felt like a whole lot of make-believe.

As he finished the massage, he told me he was going to treat me to an ancient healing method known as Gua Sha. I was already lying there, this guy already knew about my personal life and had stuck needles in me, so I said, “look, I don’t know what Gua Sha is but give it to me.”

Oh, if only I’d known.

I felt the blunt end of a piece of metal suddenly scrape down my back in slow, forceful strokes. It was a shock to the system after being tenderly massaged and queried about my life goals. I flinched and asked him what the purpose of this all was. He told me he was treating me to something that’s changed many peoples lives – and backs.

Gua Sha is a traditional Chinese medical treatment in which the skin is scraped to create bruising. It’s believed to release negative energy, move ‘bad blood’, and inspire the body to heal. My practitioner told me that it’s often used on horses when they’re about to die because it releases adrenalin. I never thought I would have a ‘depressed back’, let alone receive a treatment appropriate for dying horses. I have a high pain threshold, but this sensation was extremely unpleasant. I’d already had acupuncture and a massage – did I really need to be assaulted with a piece of metal for the sake of smoothing out a couple of knots in my back?!

After a crowded hour of psychoanalysis, needles and metal scraping, I looked in a mirror and was horrified. It looked like I’d been through some kind of exorcism. My back looked grotesque.

Treatment or torture?

Treatment

I left the healing centre in more pain than what I entered with. They say that Chinese medicine will only work if you believe in it, and after my bizarre experience, I can’t say I’m a believer. I’m not a fan of the placebo effect. I don’t think Gua Sha has been beneficial for me in the slightest.

Next time I have a knot in my back, I’ll opt for a radox bath and a few stretches before bed.

Ancient Chinese medicine? It’s not for me.

A TINDER SENTIMENT

I took my first swipe at Tinder about two months ago after the unexpected end of a relationship. The man who was my boyfriend moved out of our house and I was alone in what was now just my bedroom, lying in bed and drinking whiskey, when I thought hey what the hell – I’ll see what’s out there. It was an impulsive and manic decision, I’m quite certain that Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ was playing from my speakers as I hit ‘download’ in the app store. I had no intention of doing anything other than browsing through an array of people around Melbourne who were as single as I had suddenly become.

Tinder is often on the receiving end of jokes regarding desperation and sex – and sure, I’m not going to deny those are two enormous factors in the app, but I may have found there’s more to it under its skin. Yes, a lot of people create a profile so they can pursue casual sex with strangers, but that’s never been my objective.

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I’ve detected there are many Tinderton’s (singletons who swipe), who are fresh out of a relationship. Many people state this in their bio section and, like myself, they’re just wading around in an online world of ego-driven, technological flirtation as a pastime. There are many negative factors to the online dating world, however it gives rise to a safe communication in which you are in control.

There are many fragile people on Tinder, and vulnerable people often crave control. Control can overpower vulnerability, and you never feel more sensitive as you do when you’re purged into the world as a single person after quite some time in a serious relationship.

Tinder can make for a useful baby step into the world of dating for tender-hearted individuals. It’s a fun way to explore the smorgasbord of single people from a safe distance, without having to be out in an environment where everybody is drunk and uninhibited in order to meet people – because let’s be honest, those kinds of environments are where 20-somethings often end up exchanging numbers. I’ve found there’s a lot of people on Tinder who are merely dipping their toes into the water without having to jump in. There’s also a large pool of people who are drowning themselves in a vigorous pursuit of love/sex/a relationship. I’ve definitely been one of the toe-dipping Tinderton’s. It’s allowed me to see who is out there without having to commit my time to somebody. Tinder is kind of like an entry-level transmission device when you’re re-entering the single world.

However, what troubles me about meeting people online is that you’re supposed to set up a date with somebody before establishing an organic connection with them. When you meet people in real life, you ordinarily organise a date once your chemistry is already confirmed. It’s no wonder there are plenty of tragic Tinder date experiences out there – you’re organising to see someone with whom you have no real connection to. It’s the opposite order of what happens when you find someone in the flesh. That’s my main problem with Tinder. It’s synthetic, but that’s also what’s kind of great about it.

I can’t say I would ever consider something serious – or anything at all – with someone from Tinder. I’m not in it to necessarily meet people. I’m in it for the experiment; for the freedom that comes in being savagely superficial and brutally honest with every left swipe I commit my forefinger to without having to offend anybody. I can scroll through a bizarre catalogue of men and make split second decisions based on whether someone looks like my ‘type’ or not. That’s the other thing about Tinder that has been somewhat of a positive; it’s completely reiterated for me the kind of people I’m attracted to – which is good to know seeing as I was in a relationship with one person for a couple of years.

It’s been a fun tool for me to utilise in recent times because it’s a safe reminder, if only a mild one, that there are possibilities out there. As Cher would say, there is life after love, and on certain occasions, when you ‘match’ with somebody on Tinder, it’s a faint reminder that you are wanted, even though it is absolutely based on aesthetic. It’s a shallow flattery you can receive within your comfort zone.

Tinder is a superficial, fun, ego-boosting instrument that is a harmless way to reach out to strangers you may never even meet or particularly care to engage with. In 2015, as a 20-something year old, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

It’s entertainment, it’s comical, it’s harmless, it’s secure. It’s Tinder.

THERE IS NOTHING OFFENSIVE ABOUT BEING ASKED TO TAKE CARE

Victoria’s homicide squad chief says it is not safe for women to be alone in parks after the killing of a 17 year-old Melbourne school girl.

Masa Vukotic was attacked at approximately 6:50pm on Tuesday evening, less than a kilometre from her family home in Doncaster. Her life was taken in broad daylight.

“Particularly females, they shouldn’t be alone in parks. I’m sorry to say that, that is the case…We as a public need to look after each other,” Detective Inspector Mick Hughes told ABC Radio. “I don’t think we can live our life in fear,” he said.

Detective Inspector Mick Hughes.

Detective Inspector Mick Hughes.

The comments made have come under scrutiny by women’s safety advocates. They are being labelled as victim-blaming across the internet.

At the risk of sounding like an anti-feminist, I have to disagree.

I’m sure that everyone was told by their parents to be self aware when they started becoming independent. My parents were always checking in on me and they still do. My parents would always tell me to be aware of my surroundings and keep my phone on me – general safety advice. I think the comments made by Mick Hughes are really no different. There’s nothing wrong with telling women to be careful. We need to be. That’s a reality, as bleak as it may be. As idealistic as it is to say that we should be able to do whatever we want and not need to be careful all the time, it’s not always realistic. And this horrific crime that took the life of a young girl is an example of that.

Would you be as infuriated if your mother or father told you to be careful? Doubt it.

What’s so wrong about being asked to be vigilant? What is so audacious about saying that parks aren’t safe for women? There is clearly truth to what’s been said. Sure, it isn’t safe in many places for many people – men and women – but why have so many girls become enraged at these comments? If you need to be angry about something, be angry at the fact a gorgeous young woman was murdered. Don’t be angry at the man who dedicates his life to preventing crime and chasing justice.

I’d also like to point out that Detective Hughes didn’t say “you women are idiots, it’s your fault for being hurt because you’re out living your lives, what will it take for you to realise that you’re all in danger?!” He didn’t blame anybody. And he didn’t accuse anybody of not already being cautious. The anger that’s been born from these comments and that has sprawled itself across the internet is a severe misinterpretation of what has been said.

Of course there’s the suggestion that the debate should be shifted to telling men to not commit crime, rather than telling women to be careful, and I do think that is an important point. We need to do both! I do agree that violent people should be held to account and made to be responsible for their crimes. I do agree that there must be something done about violence againt women (and men), and I think that blowing these comments way out of proportion and labelling them as sexist is not the answer.

It’s part of the job of the police to prevent crime, and providing helpful tips to the nation is part of that. Sure, I’d say most women are already extremely careful when out and about on their own, but young girls especially may not be as vigilant as they need to be. I know from experience.

When I was 16 years old, I engaged in all kinds of unsafe activities. My friend and I would sneak out of her house at 1AM and walk across to the next suburb in total darkness – part of our route was by a bushy train track – and my mentality was very much “it won’t happen to me.” I would skip school and venture into the city for hours without anybody knowing my whereabouts. I put myself at risk many times and thought nothing of it. These days, I am hyper aware of my surroundings and I even purchased a pocket knife last year for protection (which I now realise was maybe a little paranoid.) Nevertheless, my 16 year-old self could have definitely benefited from the advice Mick Hughes has given this week. I think a lot of younger girls could too.

To the women who have taken enourmous offence to what Mick Hughes said: nobody is saying you are the problem. Nobody is blaming women. Nobody is victim-blaming. We just need to be careful – and I’m sure you are – but let’s not become obsessed and over-analyse what is essentially message of ‘take care’. Let’s also remember that Mick Hughes said that we shouldn’t have to live our lives in fear. He’s right. I am confident in saying you would agree with the latter.

In an ideal world, no crime would be committed. In an ideal world, women wouldn’t walk around in fear of being attacked. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have the need to discuss these topics. However, this is not an ideal world. And I think it’s silly to be offended as a woman by being told to be careful. You do need to be careful, and there’s nothing outrageous about saying that. We must realise that bad things do happen and we need to take care of ourselves and each other.

Finally, I’d like to reiterate that something does need to happen to stop these violent crimes against women from happening. How can we reason with people who cannot be reasoned with? How can we stop sociopaths from being abusive when they don’t realise it themselves, or don’t simply don’t care? The answer to this is education and perhaps tougher bail laws and sentencing – but that is not an easy task.

Detective Inspector Hughes has not targeted women in any way. He has only asked that we are wary and take care of one another. It is unfair to accuse him of anything other than sending out a very important safety message to the nation.

Nobody deserves to be hurt, and anybody who commits a crime as heinous as the one against Masa Vukotic ought to see the rest of their life out from inside a maximum security jail.

SHARP OBJECTS – REVIEW

“SOMETIMES IF YOU LET PEOPLE DO THINGS TO YOU, YOU’RE REALLY DOING IT TO THEM.”

“I THINK ILLNESS SITS INSIDE EVERY WOMAN, WAITING FOR THE RIGHT MOMENT TO BLOOM.”

Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. Released in 2006, before any book-loving, crime-fiction enthusiast had discovered the wonderment of Flynn’s writing.

I read Sharp Objects in a matter of days. The novel follows Camille Preaker, a print journalist who returns to her dreary hometown to cover a series of gory murders. The victims are little girls, found with their tiny teeth plucked from their soft and unwethered faces. Brutal.

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Camille now lives in Chicago and is eager to live a determined and successful life. She has suffered for years after the death of her young sister, Marian. Camille spent time in a psychiatric hospital after obsessively self-harming as a younger woman. As an adult, her body is still marked with glittery scars which she is forever aware of, and very conscious of what they mean to her. Much of Camille’s mentailty rests upon her morbid history in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. This is where the novel takes place for the majority.

Amma is Camille’s half-sister who lives in the house Camille grew up in. Amma is 13-years-old, and like most girls that age, she is calculating, provocative and without a moral compass. The depth of her manipulation is at first not known to Camille or to their mother, Adora. But boy, Amma is one screwed up character. She is a key driving force in this novel, and although she is not completely likeable, she brings you a sense of unease throughout the book, which is also something that helps drive the mystery of this narrative. Amma is bloody terrifying.

Adora. Darling Adora. An unemotional and clinical mother. A woman with standards so rigid that nobody could possibly meet them. Adora’s wealth is amongst the highest in Missouri. She exercises strong maternal love for Amma, and a severe lack of it towards Camille. Worlds collide when this family comes together.

The local police in Wind Gap are reluctant to provide Camille with any information regarding the murders, despite Camille’s insistence that the media coverage can only assist the investigation and prevent similar crimes from happening. Despite Camille’s inability to get a mere comment from the police on the murders, she manages to connect with a detective working on the case on a more personal level. He expresses interest in her, and she follows through. The pair foster an unethical romance.

It’s a story of a dysfunctional family, small-town gossip, secrets and abuse. There are many unsettling aspects about this book, but that’s what I adored about it. If you’ve ever read a book written by Gillian Flynn, you’ll know that none of her characters are one dimensional. Even for her first thriller, the characters are all complex in their own way, each revealing more fragments of themselves as each chapter progresses. I felt that the story started off at a slow pace, but I think this is necessary to draw you into the narrative itself. After the first 50 pages, I was engrossed.

Although Sharp Objects isn’t perhaps as complicated as Dark Places or Gone Girl, it’s written in a compelling way. It’s stylish and moody. There are some elegant analogies throughout the novel, which helps knit together each chapter so tightly you’ll want to read it as soon as you possibly can. It’s not the kind of book you’d read slowly. I mean, you wouldn’t pour yourself a glass of merlot and then finish it off the next day, would you? No, you’d drink it steadily and then pour yourself some more. And that’s exactly how this book should be read.

Sharp Objects even managed to scare the living daylights out of Stephen King. So there you go!

Highly recommend!

MY TOP 5 BAD BITCHES

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! What a great day it is. Today I’ve been thinking about the women I love, the women who inspire me and the women who I think are just freakin’ awesome. To celebrate, here’s a list of my TOP FIVE BAD BITCHES.

1. Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers is Queen Bitch. A stand-up for six decades. SIX DECADES. The clip below is one of my favourite moments of hers. She revelled in being a bad bitch, and it gave her a lifetime of success and wonderful opportunities in a male-dominated industry.

2. Roxane Gay

I have a book called Bad Feminist, written by bad bitch Roxane Gay. It’s a collection of her essays which make for a curious and refreshing take on the modern feminist culture. Roxane is a funny, honest, and above all, an informed writer.

“When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to the lead by example.” – Roxane Gay.

3. Lady Gaga

Always been a fan. She is a woman with no inhibitions, at least not when she’s on a stage in front of an audience. This live version of her song Dope is one of my favourite performances of hers. It takes fearlessness to write and sing a song like that, and to do so in such a raw manner. Go Gaga.

4. Gina Liano

A top criminal barrister, mother of two, cancer survivor and now the star of Real Housewives Of Melbourne. In this scene she is being confronted over her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour by the other housewives, and her response to it is one of my favourite bad bitch moments.

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5. Lisa Wilkinson

Lisa makes the cut not only because she’s brilliant and always a pleasure to watch, but she recently gave a review of 50 Shades Of Grey and absolutely annihilated it. I was waiting for somebody to come out and say it. Watch Lisa absolutely destroy this terrible excuse for a film with a perfectly worded review:

DARK PLACES – REVIEW

“I WAS NOT A LOVABLE CHILD, AND I’D GROWN INTO A DEEPLY UNLOVABLE ADULT. DRAW A PICTURE OF MY SOUL, AND IT’D BE A SCRIBBLE WITH FANGS.”

After reading The Girl On The Train, I had a strong thirst to read more crime fiction that needed quenching. I went to Readings and decided on Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I hadn’t read Gone Girl, but I’d seen the film and I was curious to find out more about the dark places conjured by Flynn’s imagination.

DarkPlaces1

Dark Places follows the story of Libby Day. She is the novel’s narrator and protagonist. She is the only survivor of a massacre in Kansas in 1985. Her mother and two sisters were slaughtered in their home in what is thought to be part of a Satanic cult ritual. She testifies as a child against her teenage brother, who is convicted for the murders and locked away in prison. Twenty-five years later, Libby is in dire need of cash. A group of amateur investigators approach Libby with offerings of money to help find out more about what really happened on the night of the murders – they are certain of Ben’s innocence, but lack crucial pieces of evidence to prove it. With the support of the group, Libby embarks on her own investigation of the crime that rocked her world.

The book goes between two timelines. It begins in the present day as told by Libby, and flashes back to the 24 hours leading up to the murders, told by her brother and mother’s points of view. Dark Places surrounds class issues in rural America, intense poverty, marital abuse and the Satanic cult hysteria that overwhelmed America in the 1980s. Nobody knew exactly who was doing it, but the fear of it happening was very real.

Libby Day is an interesting character. She is not likeable – she is lazy, she lies, she steals other peoples things and has an extremely cynical nature which makes it difficult for her to treat other people well. In the very beginning of the book, she says that she has a ‘meanness’ inside of her. This is easy to understand because of what she went through as a little girl. The massacre appears to have stunted her emotional growth, and intrinsically she is still a child. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but they are all intriguing and seem to be hiding some of their very own dark places within.

I loved this book because each page is leading up to something. You just never know what it is. Suspenseful is an understatement. Each chapter leaves you just a little bit on the edge – and by the final chapter it’s difficult to stop reading. Flynn’s writing is descriptive and poetic which makes it easy to visualise each scene, even down to the small details which a lot of writers wouldn’t bother to include. Her writing is sophisticated and careful, which again makes some of the more violent and dark scenes very intense. It felt intrusive at times. Parts of the book are so cruel and menacing, making it impossible to read without sitting up straight and wincing. At times I found myself holding my breath, exhaling at the end of a page. I read a lot of this book while on the train travelling to and from work, which I’m glad for, because reading it right before bed can certainly give rise to your own paranoia and darkness. I wouldn’t recommend reading this one in an empty house at 1am in the morning. Good luck going to sleep if you do.

I must also say, that the ending of the book really took me by surprise. It was beyond satisfying and unforeseen. Climactic, brutal and unforgiving. I tried to figure out the end of the book before I got there and there’s just no way I could have. Another reason why this book was absolutely fantastic. I’m recommending it to every one I know.

Gillian Flynn has a talent for creating complex and unfavourable characters. And I love it. It is far more interesting to follow characters who are disturbed than characters who are your every day, ordinary person. That’s probably why I loved Dark Places so much.

There is a film being released this year based on Dark Places. The cast looks quite spectacular: Charlize Theron, Christina Hendicks and Nicholas Hoult. Not bad at all. However, I’d try to stay away from watching the trailer if you plan on reading the book. Like every goddamn film trailer these days, it gives away too much. I try to avoid most theatrical trailers most of the time. Why do they always have to give away too much!? Stop doing this, film companies!

Give it a go. I can’t imagine any crime fiction fan not adoring this one. I just started reading Sharp Objects, Flynn’s first novel. So far, so good. My next review will be covering that.

Stay tuned!


Gillian Flynn discusses Dark Places. Don’t worry – no spoilers!

THE VIDEO GAMES THAT CHANGED MY MIND

My sister and I were given a Playstation 2 when we were children one year for Christmas. We were opened up to a world of animated fun and used to bicker over who would get to play it. Some nights I would sneakily stay up until 3am playing my favourite games before tip-toeing back to bed. My favourite games were Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (so I could feel like a badass), Ratchet and Clank (so I could fly around and smash things), and of course, The Sims – so I could control animated characters and do with them whatever I liked. Most of the sims I made were representations of people I knew in real life, or people I dreamed of knowing. The Sims was my top pick, it was the ultimate fun.

Every child my age played The Sims. The standard gameplay involved making your sim go out onto a patch of grass, you’d pause the game and build walls around them so they had no escape route, and they’d eventually die. Brutal stuff. Or you would make a couple of hot sims and make them ‘woohoo’ in bed, or in the spa if you were into that kind of thing. (Pretty messed up when you think about it).The Sims was a hit because it gave players control over characters you’d create in houses you would build – most often using money cheats so you could turn suburban homes into McMansions you could only ever dream of living in. Your sims could have careers, learn new skills, build new relationships and live in luxury. I don’t know one kid who didn’t love to play The Sims. It was the freedom of fantasy. You could come home from school and play God.

I stopped playing games when I entered my teenage years. The story goes the same for many girls, I’m sure – you start growing boobs and wearing a bit of makeup and you have a sudden urge to be a cool. And being cool for school girls isn’t a walk in the park if you’re into gaming. It’s not that I made a conscious decision to stop playing, I just lost interest. All games are the same anyway, I thought. I’ve played a few, that’s enough. Besides, video games are for boys. I am not a boy! The video games I knew of at the time (which I admit, weren’t many), didn’t feel like they catered to girls. My impression was that it’s all about shooting bad dudes, dealing with thugs and driving lavish cars through degenerate neighbourhoods. There wasn’t a whole lot more to it than that.

Fast forward several years and I met the man who is now my boyfriend. He’s interested in video games, and I’ll admit when this information was new to me I wasn’t overly excited. I thought it was endearing, but I didn’t see myself getting back into the world of animated fun any time soon – unless we were watching Family Guy, which is a show I bloody love.

Fast forward again to about 10 months ago. I picked up the controller to the PS3. The shape of it in my hands felt foreign, but I was curious. Surely there was a game out there for me. Not all games are for guys, I thought. I started playing a game called The Wolf Among Us. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It was like watching a suspenseful and mysterious film, except I was in control of the narrative. I wasn’t skateboarding or shooting people, I found myself using my moral compass and thinking like a detective. It wasn’t just a video game, it’s interactive storytelling.

Interactive storytelling is digital entertainment in which the user creates dramatic influence over the narrative of the game. The game moves only in the direction you take it. It’s not just a game which tells a story, you become part of the story. Your emotions while playing can greatly effect the way the game and its plot line evolves. It’s difficult to not become psychologically engrossed in what you are doing in the game, because they’re often designed in a way to draw you into the emotional journey of the character you play. You get to experience empathy, something that you’ve never been able to do in a video game before.

By the time I’d finished playing The Wolf Among Us, I’d been taken on an adventure through a world I would never otherwise experienced. I was amazed at the technological engineering behind the game, and I couldn’t believe how invested in it I had become. It was a similar feeling to what I felt while I was watching Breaking Bad. It was like walking out of the cinema after an incredible thriller, when you turn to the person next you to and say ‘wow’. But this was an individual journey, it was different. It was enticing and a wonderfully refreshing form of entertainment. Something other than my usual binge-watch sessions on Netlfix.

The next game I played was called Heavy Rain. It’s a film noir thriller. You play as four very different characters all separately involved in the mystery of a serial killer. Again, your decisions and actions throughout the game have a great impact on the narrative. The main characters can be killed. All of them died while I played and it was stressful. Certain actions may lead to very different scenes and endings for each player. Every person who plays the game will have a unique experience. It was reminiscent of the novels I read as a kid where you choose your own ending – but this time it was psychological, dramatic, exhilarating and I never knew what to expect. Like I’ve said before, it was essentially an interactive film. Absolutely enthralling. Not a game for children. It was complex and very adult.


Heavy Rain trailer

Still from Heavy Rain

Still from Heavy Rain

I’m currently playing a game called Beyond Two Souls. Created by the same company that made Heavy Rain, It’s an interactive drama-action game. Again, you can manipulate the game based on your actions, mainly by making morally challenging decisions. This game in particular has revolutionised the video game industry. Despite being a game, it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013. The protagonist is played by actress Ellen Page, who describes the acting experience as the best she has ever had. This game fascinates me, and I know that girls would love to play it. It has feminist undertones, which helps cast aside the stereotype that women can’t enjoy games.

In 2014, The Guardian reported that 52% of gamers are girls. Put the old stereotype to bed. Women make up the majority, and I’m delighted to be part of that group. I’m not at the stage where I’m going to start buying tickets to gaming conventions, but sitting down with a glass of wine after a long day and turning on a video game is one of my favourite pastimes. I never thought I’d say that.

Still from Beyond Two Souls with Ellen Page

Still from Beyond Two Souls with Ellen Page

These games aren’t a waste of time. They’re not about mindless violence. They’re not about racing cars and doing tricks. They are conceptual, intellectual and emotional. It is a whole other world which many people are ignorant about, and don’t want to spend their time learning about because it’s easier to think of them as just violent and/or dull. And for those who argue that you’re wasting time just sitting in front of a screen, you’re wrong – and the kind of people who would say that are also the kind of people who would spend all their time on Instagram.

Many times have I been met with disinterest when I’ve told people I play video games. I know they’re thinking, what on earth for? And if I had a dollar for each time I’d heard a girl say that their boyfriends play video games and how it’s an annoying ‘boy’ habit, I’d be one rich lass. Ladies – I felt your pain once upon a time. But listen to me, there are games out there for you. And it doesn’t make you lame to enjoy them. And please don’t fear looking like a nerd either – because there’s nothing wrong with being a nerd. They rule the world. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates – all nerds.

The idea that playing video games is a boyish pastime is tiresome and old. There are brilliant games out there to play and can certainly be enjoyed by girls. These games allow you to indulge in emotion while having fun – two things that girls love to do. So it makes sense that girls enjoy them.

If you liked playing The Sims as a child (you definitely did), then you would love these video games. There’s a whole other world waiting.

Don’t knock it till you try it.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN – REVIEW

Ever found yourself on a train wondering about the people and places you go by? Ever thought a little too much about the lives of familiar looking strangers? You may want to think again.

One of the first things I was told when I was handed a copy of The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins is that it’s the next Gone Girl. Naturally, I expected a narrative about an out of control woman, driven by her emotional highs and lows. I expected to be taken on an adventure of manipulation and intimate terrorism. And by the end of the first chapter, my journey had already taken off.

The Girl On The Train is a story told from the perspectives of three different women.

Rachel, a divorced alcoholic who has been fired from her London-based job in PR, but still takes the daily commute there and back so her housemate doesn’t figure out that she’s unemployed. Rachel is the key figure in this fast-paced book. She is lonely, suffers from alcohol-induced memory loss and is hung up on her ex husband. She frequents parks to drink pre-mixed gin and tonic in the middle of the day.

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Rachel is intensely curious about a house she sees each day as the train goes past and the couple who live there. Scott and Megan. Rachel feels like she knows them. She imagines an idealistic marriage for them. A life of happiness that escaped her. This particular couple live only a few doors down from where her ex husband and his new wife live. So it’s easy to let the mind wander.

Megan lives down by the train tracks which carry Rachel to her fictitious life and job in London. She is the embodiment of Rachel’s imagination. From an outsider’s perspective, she’s got it all: she is attractive, her home is beautiful and so is her husband and his adoration for her.

One day, Rachel sees something from the train that startles her. She is no longer just the girl on the train – now she knows something.

Suddenly, Megan disappears. Nobody knows what’s happened to her.

Rachel’s voyeurism graduates into excessive interference quite quickly, and it lends itself to a world where alcohol-induced memory loss could play a vital role in the disappearance of a young Megan.

Something happened to Rachel on the same night Megan went missing, but Rachel has no idea what it is. A chronic drunk, she is unable to piece together what happened on that Saturday night, however she knows she can help the police with their enquiries. Rachel know a secret and she is desperate to find out the truth. But her helping hand doesn’t come easily – not with her drunk perspective coloured by the fantasies she’s conjured up from the train window.

The Girl On The Train is not your typical mystery. It’s a story about modern day marriage, trust and secrets. I read it in four days, which I must say doesn’t happen all too often. I especially enjoyed the three female narrators. Sharing the storytelling between three characters sets the book up to manipulate even the reader, which is a large part of what makes this thriller so engrossing. The Girl On The Train is about trust, jealousy, marriage, domestic abuse, fear and desperation. And between an alcoholic, a cheater and a liar – who can you really trust?

This is an absolutely brilliant book. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys playing detective – and, let’s be honest, we all do.

A quick, exciting and emotionally engaging read. Pick up a copy and start reading.

And finally, The Girl On The Train has been optioned for a film by DreamWorks. My fingers are crossed and I can’t bloody wait.

I let Paula know that her book is fab

I let Paula know that her book is fab

It’s Been a Big Week For Mental Health

This week, mental health has been given the attention it deserves. We’re nearly at the end of Mental Health Week, and I must say it has been brilliant and uplifting.

Everybody has been getting on board.

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Humour is a powerful form of therapy, and it’s one that ABC has embraced this week by running Mental As. Mental As involves a range of programming and content across radio, TV, online platforms and a two-hour live TV variety show that aired last night, Friday Night Crack Up. The entire aim of Mental As is to push forward the national dialogue about mental health and release the stigma that is so often fastened to mental illness. This week’s episode of Q&A focused on the problems too, the topic of the week being, naturally, mental health.

Also this week, a controversial new book has been published earlier than expected. The book is called Brekky Central and is written by Adam Boland, the man who brought the ratings of Sunrise to number one in the country and bound together the successful duo Mel and Kochie. Breakfast TV royalty. Boland’s book surrounds his time at Sunrise and his life after it. Another major element of the book is Boland’s frank struggle with bipolar disorder. Earlier in the year, Adam Boland appeared on Australian Story to share his truth and his trials throughout his mental illness and has been recently giving emotional interviews about it too. In his book, he shares stories where colleagues would assume his poor mental health was an excuse to take time off work. That it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

WRONG.

I applaud Adam Boland for speaking out. There has been a lot of media attention on issues such as feminism and equal rights, so I find it fantastically refreshing to be hearing a successful man step forward and speak out. It isn’t something you often see in this country. Unfortunately, it’s rare to see a man conduct himself in such a raw manner on the topic of his mental health. I really hope that this can encourage other men to seek help where it’s needed and not be afraid. It’s not emasculating for a man to admit that he’s sad, it’s brave and it’s simply right.

Adam Boland

Adam Boland

I’ve been to therapy on and off for years, and I find it so curious how people are sometimes more comfortable talking to professionals more than their friends or family. Why is that? It’s interesting how we’re okay to offload our emotions onto someone we are paying by the hour because it comes mostly guilt free. Hey, it’s their job to listen. I never once felt bad talking to a psychologist, but I would often find myself constantly apologizing to friends whenever I’d open up to them. Imagine if we could communicate with one another without worrying what they’re thinking. Imagine if we could confide in our friends in the same way we do psychologists without the fear of judgement. I think that would change a lot of lives, but first we need to focus on liberating the stigma and being okay with not being okay.

The most common disorders in Australia are depression and anxiety and according to a major study conducted by Harvard University, depression is expected to be one of the biggest health problems in the world by 2020. That is five years and two months away. We have five years to defy this estimation and become a happier society. I hope we do.