The damage of diet culture

Happy new year, readers! It’s that time again, when the tinsel and Christmas jumpers have vanished from the shops, to be replaced by a range of items designed to make you hate your body. Lycra, dumbbells, kettlebells, diet pills, skinny tea, diet books and magazines, protein powders. To turn on the TV or open Facebook is to be bombarded by images of skinny, muscled humans advertising weight loss programmes. Just like the relentless fake-happy-clappy magic-of-Christmas advertising onslaught since October, there is no escape. And this writer is having none of it.

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Farewell, Facebook

It’s well past lunchtime on Thursday, December 27 and I’m still in my dressing gown. Isn’t Christmas great? Tea and biscuits beside me,  I’ve  just submitted my first Mayo News column of the year (toxic January diet culture, I’m coming for you next week), and am remembering, as I do fortnightly, how much I enjoy writing and how little of it I do for fun, these days. 
I’m now in my sixth year of writing for the Mayo News and I will never not be grateful to the team there for the opportunity they gave me in 2014, particularly Edwin McGreal, Michael Duffy and the late Neill O’Neill. Somehow they thought that the ramblings they spotted here and on my various social media platforms were worth encouraging, and as a result, for over five years I have had a reason to sit down and do what I enjoy more than anything else. It is a privilege and one I never take for granted.
The turn of the year is always a time for reflection and also, for forming new habits and ditching some old ones. My attempts at new year’s resolutions are usually pretty feeble, but there is a common theme every year, and that is to attempt to spend less time online. Earlier in 2018, I made the decision to mostly quit Twitter in an attempt to claw back some time for other stuff. It is a decision I have not regretted, despite sorely missing the interaction and learning I had enjoyed on the platform for years. I still use it to auto-share blog content there, though I rarely engage. 
But online addiction does not relinquish its hold easily, so it’s time to cast off some more of the chains, and this time, it’s Facebook that needs to go.
2018 has been quite a year. It was a watershed year for women, and in Ireland, the repealing of the Eighth Amendment was one of the most historically, socially and politically significant events we will ever encounter in this country. Much of it played out on Facebook. Eight months after the campaign (mostly) concluded, its effects are still being felt on a social level, but also on a very personal level by many. World politics has been more tumultous than ever, with the Brexit storm raging, Trump breeding hate, and wars and genocides on enormous scales that barely merit a mention in the mainstream media.
Closer to home, social media is once again playing a strong role in raising awareness of social injustices such as evictions, and providing a platform for right-wing reactionaries to hijack people-powered movements. Closer to home again, outrage on local issues often trumps logic or accuracy of information.  And always, Facebook plays a pivotal role by providing the platform but absolving itself of all moral obligations or responsibility.
Personally, it was a challenging and relentlessly busy year. Yet I’m pretty sure that had I not spent considerable amounts of my spare time, scarce as it was, scrolling through my phone minding other people’s business (or being typically unable to resist a good argument!) I might have have felt a lot better mentally for it.
The conversations that take place on these platforms are simultaneously informative and misinformative, passionate and vicious, progressive and regressive, enlightening and worrying, but always mentally taxing. Alongside the nuggets of learning and food for thought, the mundane is celebrated, and most terrifyingly of all, crimes against grammar continue to mushroom. And still we scroll, and scroll, and scroll.
This year I will revisit the New Year’s resolution I make in some shape or form every year. And that is to put my time to better use, by creating, writing, volunteering, spending more time with loved ones. Planning rather than drifting, and re-introcuding some discipline. So the scrolling needs to stop. The biggest casualty of my online addiction (there is no point in denying this reality) has been my ability to focus and concentrate. In 2018, I read three books. Three. Yet I probably scrolled about ten miles on Facebook using my thumb. What a miserable tally and what an absolute waste of time.
A bit like diet culture, Facebook now feels toxic.It breeds negativity, gives a platform to liars, promotes division and judgement of others, and it thieves hours and hours of time that could be put to better use. I have always advocated the power of social media as a learning tool (and without it, I would not be in the job I am today, nor I would I be lucky enough to know a lot of brilliant people), but as of December 31, I’m done with the Big F.
I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg will lose much sleep over this, but I am far from alone in deserting the platform, when people who bought so much into these  platforms and embraced the technology early are leaving in their droves, it says something. I am tired of implicitly supporting the bad behaviour and moral bankruptcy of these tech giants by maintaining a presence. I am also tired of having my private data commoditised – something that never bothered me in the past, but I am getting quite elderly, odd and cantankerous now, so he can sod off.
I’m well aware that many people quietly depart the platform without feeling the need to write about it, but it was my friend Nick McGivney who inspired me to actually bite the bullet by posting about his own departure, and maybe this will provide food for thought for others too. Also documenting something like this means that you have to stick to it and I need all the help I can get to keep my resolve.
Inspired by Nick, a group of us plans to write a letter or two to each other throughout the year instead. Anyone wishing to stay in contact can get me by emailing thecailinrua@gmail.com. For now, I’ll continue to man a feeble attempt at an Instagram account, though given the narcicissm on that platform, I doubt it will be for much longer. And of course, anyone that knows me can pick up the phone or knock on the door. Because no matter how useful technology is, nothing will ever beat the warmth and civility a face-to-face conversation.
Thanks for the memories, Mark. Now, here’s to making some 3D ones instead.

When the political gets personal #8thRef

This article originally appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday, 18th April 2018.

A relationship with a close friend came under strain a few years back, when he was adamant in his opposition to the marriage equality referendum, and I was just as adamant in my support for it. We talked, we debated, we argued, we cried (well, one of us did) and ultimately we fell out. He went his way and I went mine and we each cast our votes according to our consciences. Afterwards, we reconvened. We didn’t talk about the issue ever again. And things have changed. I see him differently now, even though he’s the same person. He sees me differently too. And I miss the way things used to be, but we can’t go back.

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Belfast Rape Trial – three small steps to change

I tried really hard this week to write about something else, something other than the verdict from Belfast last week and the subsequent reaction. But I couldn’t. Truth be told, I’ve thought about little else since the verdict.

I won’t dwell on the verdict; it’s been done to death by the amateur lawyers on Facebook. However, it has rightly been acknowledged that “not guilty” does not equate to “innocent”; and in a complex case like this, proof “beyond all reasonable doubt” always felt like a bridge too far. The only positive outcome – if there is one – is the conversations that have been started, but the time for conversation has long passed.

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#IBelieveHer – turn your anger into action

This isn’t going to be a long blog post; I’m at my desk and don’t have time to delve into the horror that is today’s verdict nor to engage with any of the misogyny that is no doubt currently polluting social media.

It is a very short post to say I BELIEVE HER. Beyond a shadow of a doubt I believe her, and so do hundreds and thousands of others.

I can’t begin to imagine the effect that the coverage of and verdict from this trial has had and will, for many years, continue to have on those who experience sexual violence. They, like many others are neglected and abandoned by the state when it comes to providing essential services.

If you’re angry today, make your anger count. Donate, so that service providers can continue to support survivors.

Support Rape Crisis Network Ireland – a fantastic organisation that advocates for survivors, informs policy-making, conducts research and collates statistics

Donate to Mayo Rape Crisis Centre

Donate to Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (Or text ‘DRCC’ to 50300 to donate €2)

Donate to Women’s Aid Ireland

Donate €4 to Rape Crisis Midwest by texting RAPE to 50300

Please feel free to add more links in the comments below if you wish.

Withdrawal of SAVI funding an insult to sexual abuse survivors

This article was originally published in The Mayo News on 24th October 2017. 

Last week, amidst all the talk of inclement weather and hatch-battening, it was reported by Ellen Coyne in the Irish edition of The Times that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had quietly reneged on a promise made by his predecessor, Frances Fitzgerald, to fund an updated report on sexual violence in Ireland. The first Sexual Assualt and Violence Report (SAVI) was carried out in 2002, and was groundbreaking both in its methodology and the insights it provided into the dark and murky world of sexual violence, as well as estimating the prevalence of the problem. (Hint: a lot more prevalent than many would like to acknowledge).

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Walking Home Alone

In the aftermath of the Brock Turner rape case sentencing in the US, and the powerful words of the woman he assaulted, Irish women took to social media to share their own experiences of “rape culture”. From being groped in nightclubs, to catcalling, to casual” sexism in the workplace, it painted a harrowing picture of a culture that is so engrained, we often don’t think to question it. The response to this outpouring from men was interesting and mixed, and I’ll be following up with a column on that. 

In the meantime, here’s the column I had (coincidentally) written for last week’s Mayo News, on one of my own experiences.

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