ROOM FOR REBELLION

Room for Rebellion

An interview with Isis O’Regan

An image of Damn Rebel Bitches

Feminist activist, Isis O’Regan talks about the Room for Rebellion project to support the Repeal the 8th Campaign in Ireland and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Tell us a bit about room for rebellion and the brilliant bitches involved… 

Room for Rebellion is two sister nights in London and Dublin supporting one cause. We want to see the 8th Amendment removed from the Irish constitution. All funds raised will be going to the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the Abortion Rights Campaign. We want women to have autonomy over their own bodies and put simply, choice. This means safe and legal abortions. And yes, on demand.

There are so many brilliant bitches involved! The eight DJ’s of course! (Eight for the 8th – geddit?) They’re all passionate, hugely talented and very generous to give their free time and talents to get us dancing for choice. As well as Rachel Botha, who is my woman on the ground in Dublin. It wouldn’t be possible without her!

What pushed you to get involved with the repeal the 8th movement in such an active way? 

In November, I went along to the first London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign meeting, which is being run by a group of incredible women including Hannah Little  – who I’d met through a mutual friend. Over 250 women and men turned up for the meeting each one as passionate as the next to bring about change in our homeland. There are a huge number of Irish expats here in London and we won’t shy away from the issues that affect the women who are our family and our friends.

I needed to start something as I am a firm believer in equality and I’m not going to sit back and just hope something will change. Educating people that this is happening right now in Ireland and also here in the UK too is a priority. The same draconian laws govern Northern Ireland and are punishable by servitude for life. I want people to be engaged and if that’s by shouting loudly and getting them on dance floors – that’s what I’ll do. Rebellion can take many forms and these nights are carefully curated to do exactly that! We must show our support for our sisters in Ireland and worldwide.

Do you feel there is a big change happening in Ireland? And if so do you think that same sex marriage legalisation has had a part in that awakening? 

Definitely, I think it showed how powerful we are when we stand together and the result has instilled confidence in our voices. ‘Strike for Repeal’ is following the women of Poland and is taking place on the 8th March. It proved to be successful there so I hope everyone gets striking in Ireland too. I’ll strike here! It’s very clear that there is a hungry generation eager to make a difference.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career and causes? 

Viv Albertine from the Slits who is punk as fuck – I met her last year and my heart nearly exploded. I’m down with Vivienne Westwood’s climate change mission. Anna Cosgrave for everything she does with REPEAL and being the megaphone for young Irish women. Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Olson and Christine Tran who founded Discwoman. All the brains behind Gal-dem and Ladybeard. Big up Mhairi Black. Each woman in Sinead McCoole’s historical account; ‘Easter Widows’. My mates too, lol I’m cringe but they’re some seriously wicked gals with enormous talent and drive.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

Who me? I’m shy… Ha! In all honesty when I’m passionate about something I just do it. Simple as that.


DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH: SEX AND SMELLS IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Don’t hold your Breath: Sex and Smells in the Middle Ages

by Kate Lister

Academic and founder of the Whores of Yore blog, Kate Lister looks into the smell of sex in the medieval world. Perfume, history and just a little bit of naughtiness. 

In 1989 David Strachan proposed what became known as the ‘hygiene hypotheses’. Strachan suggested that we have sanitised our world to such an extreme that we’ve killed off bugs we need to develop a resistance to, and collectively weakened our immunity. Strachan’s work suggested we need muck to be at our best; or as a wise woman once sang, ‘if you ain’t dirty / You ain’t here to party.’ The hygiene hypotheses has been challenged over recent years, but one thing is true; despite Ms Aguilera’s protestations, we have never been less dirty, and more aware of cleanliness, hygiene and bacteria than we are today. From face wash for faces to special soaps for your ‘special places’, almost every part of our bodies has its own specialist cleaning product. Our homes are scrubbed, our clothes are washed, our streets are swept, our air is ‘freshened’, our odours are eaten, and our food and drink are manufactured within government specified guidelines.  A 2014 UK study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Southampton, showed that three-quarters of respondents had at least one shower or bath a day. Even if you are reading this sat in the same clothes you’ve worn for the last two days, with cornflakes in your hair and spaghetti stains on your tits; rest assured – as a society, we have never been so clean.

Which is why if I could transport you back to medieval Europe, the first thing that you would notice would be the smell. The middle ages have something of a reputation for being grubby, or ‘brown’ (a student of mine once explained; she’d always thought of the middle ages as being largely brown.) And this reputation is not without merit. Take almost any fourteenth-century city at random and you would have to sniff your way through an olfactory assault course of open sewers, animal waste, stagnate water, rotting food, refuse, unwashed bodies and collected filth. The Medieval world was far less sanitised than our own, but its people were not unaware of bad smells. Of course, they would have grown accustomed to niffs that would have your modern day germaphobe gargling with Toilet Duck, but as St Bernard wrote, ‘where all stink, no one smells’. Comparatively pungent they may have been, but medieval people were just as self-conscious of smelling bad as we are today. In his fourteenth-century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer gives us visceral portraits of his characters and smell is a key indicator of a pilgrim’s personality. Like many medieval authors, Chaucer links physical ugliness with spiritual ugliness, and he uses foul smells to signify a wrong ‘un. The morally bankrupt, Summoner’s breath smells of onions, garlic, and leeks; and his cook, a lazy, corrupt thief, is described as a ‘stynkyng swyn’ whose breath and festering sores are revolting. The hapless fop and forerunner of the metrosexual, Absolon, is heavily perfumed, ‘squeamish’ about farting, and chews cardamom and liquorice to keep his breath sweet. Absolon souses himself in the medieval equivalent of Linx Africa because smelling good was a sign of a higher social status. In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485), the poor Sir Gareth is cruelly told to ‘stay out of the wind’ by the Lady Lynette because he smells of kitchens and ‘bawdy clothes’. However, being aware of smelling like the privy on a tuna boat is quite a different thing from being able to do something about it. Bathing requires, at the very least, a river; but, more often than not, it requires bathing facilities and the means to clean yourself and your clothes regularly.

The Romans were famous for bathing. They established lavish bathhouses across the empire, as well as the infrastructure to support them. Public bathing had remained popular across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire (C.476 AD). But, the early Christian Church quickly pulled the plug on the communal soak. As the Christian faith clamped down on sexual freedoms, attitudes to bathing in the buff changed considerably. Not only did public bathing involve nudity, but heat was believed to inflame lustful senses. Theologians like St Jerome (ca 340-420) had anti-sex agendas that would make the Jonas Brothers look like Guns n’ Roses. Jerome advocated virginity as the supreme moral state, and urged women (in particular) to cultivate ‘deliberate squalor’ to ‘spoil her natural good looks’. Many monks, hermits, and saints saw washing as a sign of vanity and sexual corruption; filth was synonymous with piety and humility. Early Christian militants emphasized spiritual cleanliness over physical cleanliness, even viewing the two as inversely proportional; you could literally stink to high heaven. Saint Godric (1065-1170), for example, walked from England to Jerusalem without ever washing or changing his clothes. Ulrich, an abbot of Cluny, France and Regensburg, Germany (1029 – 1093) said: “As to our baths, … there is not much that we can say, for we only bath twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter.” Of course, just because a saintly squad of hardcore soap dodgers shunned the shower, does not mean that every medieval citizen felt the same; but whatever the early medieval washing rota was, by the ninth century, the Roman bath infrastructure had fallen to rack and ruin throughout Christendom.

It was the crusaders that brought the habit of bathing back to medieval Europe. Whilst the Christians were busy working up a stench that could be weaponised, cleanliness remained essential throughout the Muslim world. Medieval Arab doctors were far more advanced than the west and understood the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Medieval cities of Mecca, Marrakech, Cairo, and Istanbul all had their water and bathhouses supplied by well-maintained aqueducts. The Kitab at-Tasrif (C.1000) by Al-Zahrawi is a medical encyclopaedia that devotes entire chapters to cosmetics and cleanliness; Al-Zahrawi gives recipes for soap, deodorants, facial creams and hair dyes. Conversely, for all their ‘spiritual purity’, the crusaders stank. The medieval Arabian author of A Thousand and One Nights was one of many writers appalled at Christian hygiene; ‘They never wash, for, at their birth, ugly men in black garments pour water over their heads, and this ablution, accompanied by strange gestures, frees them from the obligation of washing for the rest of their lives.’ Happily, the Muslim habit of regular bathing seemed to rub off on the marauding crusaders, and bathhouses began to become popular throughout medieval Europe once more, and bathing became a serious business.

Fourteenth-century Italian physician, Maino De Maineri, wrote extensively about the health benefits of bathing and had guidance for bathing in old age, pregnancy and even when travelling. If you had the money, you could pay for servants to heat water and fill a wooden tub for one, but most people used the public baths. By the thirteenth-century there were thirty-two bathhouses in Paris and eighteen in London; even the smaller towns had bathhouses. It wasn’t just the habit of social soaking and an arse whooping the crusaders brought back from the Holy Lands; they had also learnt about the art of perfume. The Medieval Europeans have always valued a nice smelling plant, but oils, soap, colognes and exotic bases, like civet and musk, for perfume, were wholly new.  Rosewater, in particular, was the Chanel No. 5 of the middle ages. A donner à laver was a bowl of rosewater rich guests would use to wash their hands before dinner. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy owned a statue of a child that peed rosewater. John Russell’s fifteenth-century Book of Nurture has advice for preparing a good bath. He recommends ‘flowers and sweet green herbs’, breweswort, camomile, mallow, fennel and (of course) rosewater to scent the water. The first known perfume was created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary around 1370. It was known as ‘Hungary Water’ and legend said it was created by a hermit who promised the queen it would allow her to live for ever; its ingredients included rosemary, grape oil, mint and lemon balm, and whilst the Queen may not have lived forever, she may have at least left a lovely smelling corpse.

So, medieval people smelled a lot nicer than you might have expected, and we all know it’s much more pleasant to get down and dirty if you and your lover are not dirty (if you follow); but, for all their rub-a-dub-dubbing, the medieval folk were a metaphorically mucky lot. Historically, wherever you have had public bathing, sex has been working up a lather at the soapy heart of it. Of course, this is still the case today and you must do your homework before arriving at an all-night city sauna with your swimming cap, nose plugs and loofah (just me?). So closely associated are sex and bathing, numerous slang phrases for sex and sex work are derived from bathing; ‘lather’, as in ‘to lather up’ was sixteenth-century slang for ejaculation. The word ‘bagnio’, meaning a brothel, derives from the Latin ‘balneum’, meaning ‘bath’. Likewise, a medieval word for a brothel was a ‘stew’, which also derives from the bathhouses, where you could literally stew yourself in the hot water and steam. Sex work and saunas were closely associated, the word ‘stew’ became synonymous with both. In the twelfth century, King Henry II officially recognised the Southwark area of London as a red-light district; it was no coincidence that this was also the area of the city with the highest concentration of bathhouses. So concerned with being thought of as a brothel, that one new bathhouse in Avignon, around 1446, felt it necessary to announce their opening with a clear statement defining themselves as an ‘honest’ establishment.

Let everyone of whatever rank be aware that Genin de Geline or de Helme, otherwise known as de la Cerveleria, has established behind his house at Helme good and honest stews for bathing by good and honest women and that these are quite separate from the men’s bath of de la Cerveleria.

Sanitation was patchy, and Beyoncé’s Heat may have been a few centuries off, but the middle ages were quite discerning about a sexy smell. In the fourteenth-century Decameron, for example, Boccaccio clearly links sex and smell together.

Without permitting anyone else to lay a hand on him, the lady herself washed Salabaetto all over with soap scented with musk and cloves. She then had herself washed and rubbed down by the slaves. This done, the slaves brought two fine and very white sheets, so scented with roses that they seemed like roses; the slaves wrapped Salabaetto in one and the lady in the other and then carried them both on their shoulders to the bed . . . They then took from the basket silver vases of great beauty, some of which were filled with rose water, some with orange water, some with jasmine water, and some with lemon water, which they sprinkled upon them.

Le Ménagier de Paris (1393) is full of helpful advice on smelling attractive; Sage water is recommended, along with ‘chamomile, marjoram, or rosemary boiled with orange peel’. William Langham’s Garden of Health (1579) recommends adding Rosemary to a bath:  ‘Seethe much Rosemary, and bathe therein to make thee lusty, lively, joyfull, likeing and youngly.’” Delights for Ladies (1609) suggests distilling water with cloves, orris powder, nutmeg and cinnamon (because you’re worth it). And in a medieval forerunner of the lynx effect, the civet effect meant musk harvested from the glands of the civet cat became highly desirable; along with castor from the anal glands of a beaver, and whale vomit (ambergris); but, these were luxury items. If you really want to know the smell of medieval illicit sex, it’s lavender.

The word lavender comes from the latin word lavare, which means to wash. It has been used for thousands of years for its sweet smell. Unlike the more exotic and expensive perfumes, lavender grows all over Europe and is both cheap and readily available. Lavender was widely used in washing clothes, and washerwoman became known as ‘lavenders’; in fact, the word ‘launder’ derives from lavender. As historian Ruth Mazo Carras identified, one medieval profession that was especially connected to sex work was the washerwoman. Medieval laundresses were very poor, and had a reputation for making ends meet by dollymopping (subsidising their income with sex work).  Dante calls ‘meretrices’ (sex workers) ‘lavenders’ in his Inferno. Chaucer writes that ‘envy is lavender of the court’ in his The Legend of the Good Woman (C.1380), metaphorically drawing on the double meaning of being at once both dirty and clean. Walter of Hemingburgh tells a story of King John who thought he was seducing a married noble woman, but instead had been sent “a horrid whore and laundress.” The sixteenth-century poem “Ship of Fools” includes the following lines: “Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress / To wash and keep clean all my gear, / Our two beds together shall be set / Without any let.” Given lavender’s rather conservative and somewhat old fashioned reputation today, I personally take great delight in knowing that elderly women and aromatherapists the world over actually smell like a medieval strumpet.

But, the fun was not to last. Public bathhouses went into steep decline across Europe in the sixteenth-century. New medical advice suggested bathing weakened the body, and that cleaning the skin left it open to infection. Periodic outbreaks of plague and the arrival of syphilis in the fifteenth century certainly burst the bubble bath. As people became cautious about bathing, washing the body was replaced with wearing linen shirts; linen was thought to draw out and absorb sweat. Louis XIV changed his shirt several times a day and French mansions were designed without bathrooms, as changing linen was so popular. Bathing would not come back into vogue until the eighteenth century with the rise of the spa.

When Monty Python sent up preconceptions about the Middle Ages in Holy Grail (1975), the dead collector correctly identifies Arthur as the King, because he is the one who ‘hasn’t got shit all over him’. In 2014, beloved Python Terry Jones published his Medieval Lives where he sets about redeeming the Middle Ages from unjust stigmas; such as smelling of shit. Far from living in a ditch, eating twigs and rubbing themselves with sewage, the citizens of the Middle Ages actually smelt quite good; certainly better than the people of the Renaissance who believed bathing would make them ill. Medieval lovers valued clean bodies, sweet breath, regular scrubbing and an array of perfumes. They also knew the aphrodisiacal qualities of various scents, oils and plants. They enjoyed mixed sex communal bathing and invested in bathing infrastructure. Sex was very much a part of the culture of communal bathing; at worst it was tolerated, at best it was fully embraced and enjoyed. The medieval period was undeniably grubbier than our own; but, they embraced cleanliness as fully as they could, and their sex workers smelt of lavender.


EVERYDAY FEMINISM

Everyday Feminism

Male feminist, Jonathan Ruppin, talks about the day he realised his privilege in being a white, middle class man and became an activist. Everyday sexism? Why not everyday feminism instead?

I was brought up a liberal middle-class Londoner, for whom equal rights – for people of any identity – was the only political position to take. I would have bristled at the notion that I was even capable of prejudice, and if feminism meant equal rights for women, then a feminist I most certainly was.

I was familiar with the litany of harassment and abuse to which women are subjected. I had often had cause to sympathise with female friends, but my apprehension was that sexism was the doing of people of another generation, another class, another political standpoint. My cohort – at least so I believed – did not tolerate the leering and sleazy demands of a boys’ club mentality.

Then a few years ago, I was at a party hosted by publisher Simon & Schuster, an occasion for booksellers to meet authors of theirs with books due out in the upcoming months. I chatted, with mild interest, to a couple of novelists and an historian, and quietly steered my way around the publicist trying to elicit interest in a reality TV star hawking a glittery, ghostwritten autobiography.

But then I was introduced to a woman whose book title I knew as a recurrent hashtag on Twitter. She was Laura Bates and her book, like the campaign she had initiated via a website in 2012, was called Everyday Sexism.

Laura didn’t speak of builders bellowing at passing women or boorish senior managers with wandering hands or braying cityboys in bars. She walked me through the structures of society as seen from a woman’s point of view.

Why do women find themselves losing out on promotions to less qualified men or getting paid less for identical jobs? Why is it still the case that the prominent figures in almost every field are mostly men? Why do toys specifically marketed at girls shy away from action, adventure and technology? Why are women subjected to so much more – and so much more threatening – abuse on social media? Why are such unrealistic, unhealthy and judgmental ideals of beauty imposed upon women?

Laura didn’t try to enforce her view on me, but simply allowed a pattern to unfold: the ongoing mistreatment of women in ways that pervade every aspect of society.

While society is hardly free of old-fashioned sexists, what I had failed to appreciate before this point is that much of the problem is unconscious bias, the perpetuation of deeply ingrained attitudes and stereotypes that went largely unchallenged until relatively recently. (Even from a purely legal point of view, women’s suffrage is less than a century old and the Sex Discrimination Act came into force only in 1975.)

Sexism comes from a position of power, like any form of bullying, so it is rarely a simple thing to confront. We may encourage women to demand fair treatment, but fighting back comes with risks: in the workplace, for instance, it may cost a woman a job she simply cannot afford to lose, no matter the theoretical protections of the law.

So what can a man do? Three things, I suggest.

First, and most importantly, we must listen. Too often, we can find ourselves explaining the experience of being women to women, instead of asking them for theirs. We need to move beyond sympathy and develop true empathy for women living under a persistent imbalance of opportunity and fair treatment.

Second, we should add our voices to those of women demanding fair treatment and challenge misogynist views wherever we encounter them. When those who are not the victims speak out, it reinforces the demand for change.

Third, we should champion Laura Bates and other feminist campaigners such as Malala Yousafzai, Caroline Criado-Perez, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Stella Creasey, holding them up as role models for young women. For young men too: if the women leading the reshaping of society are respected, it sets a precedent for women everywhere.

There is a broader principle here, of course. Just as those of us who are not women should care about women’s lives, so too should those of us who are not black or disabled or gay – or any identity at all – look out for those who are. A fairer society is a healthier and happier one, one where those with out power cannot be turned against each other by identity politics, where those with power can only retain it if they concern themselves with the wellbeing of us all.

by Jonathan Ruppin 


An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.

WOMEN'S MARCH

Bitches Unite: Women’s March #PussyGrabsBack

An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.
An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.
An image of the Women’s March in Edinburgh to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.

Today people around the world joined forces to stand up for equality at the women’s march in Washington, London, Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin and more. The atmosphere was infectious and inspirational. REEK. perfume’s activist team was at three marches in different cities. Here’s how it was.

LONDON

As we arrived thousands were already placed in Trafalgar Square. Signs and placards proudly held up high telling everyone what they were there to shout about.

“PUSSY GRABS BACK”
“You can’t comb over sexism”
“I’d call you a cunt, but you don’t have the depth or the warmth’
“Queefs not trumps”
“Nasty women unite”
“If abortion is murder than a blow job is canabalism”

Women, men and children united in their anger and hoping to change a tainted world. We watched in awe as inspirational feminists stood up and got the crowd cheering, singing and screaming. Surrounded by effigies of Trump, Theresa May and signs proclaiming the atrocities faced by my fellow protesters every day, you’d think it would be a  reminder of all the reasons to give up. But it wasn’t. There was something that stopped me in my tracks. The humour. Instead of feeling angry at the terrible times faced by those I stand shoulder to shoulder with, I felt solidarity that this many people think that the world is ridiculous as I do right now. That we can all laugh together AND be angry.

EDINBURGH

Edinburgh’s Women’s March was organised by a 17 year old girl who thought that perhaps 40 people would turn up outside the US Consulate. Thousands pitched up instead – a rainbow of diversity with banners from political groups like Amnesty International, the Women’s Equality Party, Women for Independence to concerned people who had (by their own admission) never been politically active before. Speakers called for today to be a start of daily action to stand, in solidarity with Americans and fight for equality. The atmosphere was fun – women were there with babies in prams, hundreds wearing ‘pussycat’ knitted hats as police joked with the attendees and local choirs sang protest songs. The early morning fog lifted and the sun came out. Quickly, people found their voices and came up to the mike – one old man in his 80s told the crowd he’d lived through WWII and the only way to get through tough times was acceptance of yourself and others. The crowd cheered wildly as another, male feminist handed out golden acorns as a symbol that this movement will grow. Vonny Moyes talked about the right to diversity and an American woman who had never campaigned in her life, said this was the start for her – she had found her cause. Scotland knows Trump better than many countries – and longtime campaigners who protested his golf development in Aberdeen were present with personal tales of his way of doing business. ‘Roll up your sleeves,’ one woman said, ‘and we shall prevail.’

PARIS

Full of coffee, DAMN REBEL BITCH stickers in hand and with enough battery to last me a couple of hours, I headed to the Eiffel Tower. Sauntering alone in the sunshine, taking in the beautiful views I began to think I had possibly missed it. But as I neared the famous landmark I began to hear chanting from a few blocks away. Following the sound I soon came across thousands people of different ages and backgrounds following a brass band down Avenue de La Bourdonnais with signs in numerous languages. Some rude, some funny, but all relevant. I slapped a REEK “pussy grabs back” sticker on my cat-like hat and joined the crowd.

As we marched our way down the streets I couldn’t help but feel a kind of magic, a fiery energy. I was alongside people who felt the same as I, who wanted to make a stand. They danced, they shouted (mostly in French but I tried to join in) and soon I found myself talking to strangers about the dire situation we all currently find ourselves in with the recent inauguration. It’s obvious this hasn’t just affected America, but the world.

The march finished at the square just off Place Joffre, where the brass band continued to play everything from Baroque music to “This land is your land” which I found both slightly ironic and fitting. The sun slowly sunk behind the iron latice tower and I stood around taking the atmosphere in I watched teenagers climb the near by monuments screaming “fuck Trump”, people crying, rejoicing, taking photos…it was a mixed bag of emotions but I genuinely felt like I was part of something.

People say marching doesn’t do very much. Voting doesn’t do anything, the system is corrupt. I didn’t feel that today. I felt a surge of energy, a monumental rebellion in progress, women standing side by side abhorring the horrific laws pending and ludicrous opinions of POTUS. We won’t be ignored. Today’s worldwide march proved that.

An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.
An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.
An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.
An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.

A PATCHWORK OF UNCONVENTIONAL BEAUTY

A PATCHWORK OF UNCONVENTIONAL BEAUTY

A photo posted by Ash Soto (@radiantbambi) on



A photo posted by Vitiligo (@vitiligoworld) on

Journalist and Feminist, Gemma Tipton, on the day she found out she had a skin complaint she would be living with for the rest of her life. Vitiligo.

When something’s not quite right, you tend to dismiss it, while you can. That paler patch under my arm, and then another – to begin with it was like knowing and not knowing something at the same time. But the patches were growing, and then I noticed one on my hand, and then more. It looked like someone had spilt acid across my fingers, but it wasn’t painful. I went to the doctor. The doctor referred me to a specialist.

The Irish health system is simply terrible.

I could see a specialist in about a year’s time. Or one in the next month, for several hundred pounds (this was before Ireland joined the Euro). The thought of something creeping across my skin, or perhaps even under it, that I didn’t understand, was increasingly disturbing, so I spent the money.

But as I sat in the specialist’s office, and read upside down as he looked up my complaint in something that wasn’t titled “your bumper book of skin diseases”, but really should have been, I got angry. “Ahh yes, Vitiligo,” he said, “that’s what you’ve got”, before prescribing a cream and waiting for me to leave.

Here’s a useful tip: if you’re ever going to see an expensive specialist, or even your regular doctor when something’s worrying you, write down a list of questions.

I got my notebook out, and didn’t give up despite his increasing levels of pissed offedness. What is it? Did it make me more susceptible to skin cancer, I wanted to know? What were the triggers? Did diet have anything to do with it?

Maybe I should have got a gig as a highly paid specialist, because he clearly hadn’t a clue. On the other hand, I have a feeling I’m too ethical to fleece people that way.

The cream was useless. I looked it up with my Dad when I got home. It only works with a course of UV light, and then it doesn’t really. Vitiligo might be an auto immune condition, they’re still not sure, but whatever it is, it causes you to lose your skin pigmentation in patches. Stress is a trigger, according to the internet, and cabbage may be too. One website said I should avoid crab. Another broccoli. Yet another said that diet had nothing to do with it. It’s frequently symmetrical, and can spread, as fans of model Winnie Harlow will know, across your face.

But Winnie Harlow wasn’t around back then, and I felt scared and upset. It’s interesting, as we grow up, gently (and not so gently) nudged into routines and ideas of beauty by family, friends, magazines and media, that we don’t also learn skills to deal with the unexpected. The logic is that if you eat well, exercise, use the right products and always, always moisturise, the “right” sort of beauty will be yours.

But what if you have an accident? An illness? What if you actually get old…? My changing skin tone was out of my hands, but the minute I fully understood that, I had another realisation: I’m me. I might end up with white patches, anywhere on my face and body. I might not. I might have an absorbing and reckless adventure and gain a scar or two, and I might not. My hair might fall out, and my hands might indeed look like acid has been sprayed across them, but does that make me, or anyone else, less of a person?

No. Our faces and bodies come to be a record of our lives. Illnesses, health, mountains climbed, horses ridden and trees fallen out of. They carry sleepless nights and spa detox breaks, beach holidays and too long spent in front of a screen, but they’re fully and one hundred percent ours.

These days I tend to forget I have vitiligo, until the sun comes out, and then, when it does, I’m reminded how many rays I’m getting by the contrast. I’ve come to see it as part of me, and I’m even rather fond of it. I think there’s nothing like a spot of white to show off a tan.

Hating any part of yourself is destructive and deeply painful. Loving it is better, and the chance to revel in whatever it is that makes you differently you is one of the most amazing things that life can offer. I’d still like to punch that specialist though.

Gemma Tipton is a writer and journalist based in Ireland


GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

REEK. perfume ethos on cruelty free, animal products and use of synthetics in scent.

At REEK. we are cruelty free but that’s not that big a deal – in the EU it’s illegal for cosmetics to be tested on animals, so ours aren’t. China insists on animal testing cosmetics so we don’t and won’t sell our perfumes there. That’s a promise.

Damn Rebel Bitches also doesn’t use any animal products. Sarah McCartney, the award-winning indie perfumer who makes our eau de parfum uses natural and synthetic perfumery materials and follows IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines and EU regulations. The EU has banned or restricted anything that harms the skin or the environment, so no worries there.

Shocked at us using synthetics as well as naturals? Turns out that the materials most likely to give you a rash are the naturals, because they contain 300 to 600 different chemicals – they’re naturally occurring ones. So Damn Rebel Bitches is chock full of dangerous ideas, but nobody and nothing has got hurt making it or wearing it.

We include delivery because why would we add that on? It’s not a special offer or an inducement, it’s just the way we think things should be. We deliver via the Royal Mail and Interlink. We particularly like Interlink because they are carbon neutral.

Last of all we pay everyone the living wage. When it comes down to it we’re happy to charge more to ensure no animals are harmed or perfumers underpaid. That’s us all set to make a bitch feel good and you can take that to the bank.