Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: Weightless

Weightless is the debut novel by Sarah Bannan. It first caught my attention six months ago as a book to watch out for, but it wasn't published until March of this year.
Reviews have compared it to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides which is one of my desert island books. I've read it so many times the pages are sick of seeing my face. It's a captivating piece of literary gold that I cannot recommend enough.
Both The Virgin Suicides and Weightless are debut novels written in the first person plural...and this is where the comparisons end because Weightless is so far removed from Eugenides's masterpiece that I cannot begin to think why anyone would even sit them next to each other on a bookshelf. The Virgin Suicides captivates the reader from the offset and leaves them hungering for more. I have read the book more times than I care to admit and I still find some new clue, some new motivation for the girls' suicide on every read.
In its own right, Weightless is an enjoyable book but comparing it to The Virgin Suicides is like putting a standard bar of Dairy Milk next to Belgium's finest chocolate offerings.
The story centres around a new girl, Carolyn, who moves to a small town in Alabama. Our narrators are a group of her high school classmates who are neither popular nor unpopular but that middle class of not disliked.
In the beginning the girls are in awe of Carolyn; she wears the right clothes and is naturally beautiful, she displays talent after talent, is intellectual and is lusted for by the boys. As the story develops we see this novelty begin to fade and the girls show resentment for Carolyn and what she represents, namely the way she highlights the backwardness of their own town. This brings out their insecurities.
Brand prevalence is striking in the beginning but tails off as you get deeper into the book. This may be because as the girls get to know more about Carolyn they stop relying so much on assumptions relating to her brands. Their obsession with brands, which they often mention they do not own themselves, helps create this built up value and idolisation of Carolyn which leads to her later downfall.
The narrators are unreliable in an obvious way. They talk a lot about what 'they say' but often will tell a story and the differing gossip which chinese whisper-ed from it. They offhandedly repeat anything they hear. This demonstrations the culture of the high school, no one wanted to be the one to speak out and set the record straight. They're happier having a new piece of gossip to mindlessly chatter.
As the bullying escalates so too does the girls sympathy for the bullies. This protection foreshadows the events to come. After Carolyn's suicide all of America looks onto their town with critic and disgust and the justifications from our narrators become stronger. Stepping back, we can see why they might do this. On a personal level, our narrators are the people who prop the popular few up in the pyramid of social hierarchy and the ones at the top are the reason Carolyn kills herself. Had they spoken out and broken social order the stability and power the bullies had, which allowed them to so mercilessly torment Carolyn, would have been broken. Indirectly our narrators are responsible for her death.
On a broader look the disgust shown by the country through the media is a reflection on the girls themselves. Their town is a part of them and its faults are their faults. Though they mock it they embrace its ideal and traditions.
Their guilt shows through references to councillors and their story-telling. Often they say they were watching Carolyn with concern or that they wanted to call her over, in actuality they did nothing and it's this silence that helped create Carolyn's isolation. However, they justify themselves by claiming that they had good intentions.

The book was like being in a meadow: enjoyable yet boring. Bannon's writing skills creates vivid mental images that easily sucks the reader in but she fails to stir up any lasting interest. There's no mystery in the book. It's clear from the outset Carolyn is going to kill herself, or at least die, and it's clear that the bullies will be the reason. The entire book was watching this very slowly play out and I mean slowly.
Our narrators are one-dimensional onlookers and the storyline is based completely on Carolyn's death. Sure, there's some revealing text about the town and its culture which goes a way to explain why everyone became so protective after the suicide and why no one stepped in beforehand. It also sheds light on their selective and biased narration. Overall though it doesn't do enough to stir up any interest nor does it spur the reader on to read more. I found this book highly put-downable and I can't stress enough how far a cry it is from The Virgin Suicides. There is no mystery, no suspense, no questioning.
Was it an enjoyable read though? Page to page yes, as a book no. I neither regret reading it nor do I regret buying it but there's nothing within its pages that would make me want to recommend it.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

I was first introduced to coconut oil two years ago by my grandmother who got onto it after reading that it could help prevent against alzheimer's.
If you've never had it, coconut oil has the consistency of butter and, obviously, is made from coconuts. Its popularity has boomed in recent times and now most large supermarkets stock it. Due to this the world of coconut oil is expanding. Recently I saw a cacao and coconut oil blend (a healthy answer to chocolate spread) and it's also been incorporated into cold-pressed nut bars. As an added bonus it's 100% vegan. The uses and benefits are well known but here's my experience.

As a butter and oil substitute. This is the easiest way to introduce coconut oil into your diet. Use in the same quantities to add a twist to your meal. It's great as an oil replacement in cooking and I love coconut oil and honey on toast for a different and yummy breakfast.
Note that the calorie and fat content is very similar to that found in oils and butter. Coconut oil offers far more health benefits though and is way lower in saturated fat. Nutrition is more than just calories!
As a conditioner. Apply to your ends and leave for 10 minutes before washing out. This left my hair feeling soft and healthy, and I could even smell the coconut as I blow dried it.
As a moisturiser. One word: greasy. I wouldn't recommend this unless you suffer from chronically dry skin. Definitely only apply at night.
Mixed with sugar as an exfoliant. Sugar can be very rough on your skin. Useful for your legs and feet though as they can take a bit of toughness. A warm shower will remove most of the oil and therefore the grease issue. A light layer will be left behind which is amazing for your skin as a long-lasting moisturiser.
For oral hygiene. Pop a spoon of coconut oil in your mouth first thing on a morning and swill it around. It's meant to pull the nasties from your teeth and gums and even whiten your teeth. Better oral health with a great smile? Bring it on. Remember not to spit it down the sink though as the oil can resolidify and block your drain.
It can help lower cholesterol. This isn't a problem I have (it would be worrying if a 21 year old did) but there's no harm in thinking ahead or recommending it to older relatives.
As a suntan oil. Insanity. Coconut oil has zero SPF and, as mentioned above, is hella greasy. Get out your factor 30 in you're lucky enough to be on a beach and keep the coconut in the pina coladas.

If any of that sounds like your thing swing by your local health food shop or check your supermarket's aisle. Remember, only buy virgin coconut oil as this is the one which offers health benefits.
If you're on a diet don't be put off by the calorie content. Coconut oil has been linked to effective weight loss and is an appetite suppressant.  Talk to your local health food shop assistant or herbalist for more advise as to how you can incorporate it into your diet.
One final benefit is coconut oil is solid at room temperature so there's no need to refrigerate it. This will free up precious shelf space in the battle that is a shared fridge.

At around €10 a tub it's a bit of a payout but,
 unlike butter, doesn't go off for ages

Saturday, 4 April 2015

France Bans Skinny Models

French MPs have voted on an outright ban of models with a BMI of less that 18. For those of you who don't know, your BMI - 'Body Mass Index' - is a measure of your height and weight. A 'normal' BMI is between 18.5-25 and if you fancy checking out yours click here.
France is well known for being the fashion capital of the world and this has contributed to the country's anorexia problem. This new law will impose fines of up to €75,000 on agencies who continue to use unhealthily thin models and staff can face up to 6 months in prison. Additionally, it will now be a crime to not state when a photo has been retouched. Failure to do so will result in big fines.
I say hurrah! And I stick my hand in the faces of agencies who are shouting about confusing thinness with anorexia. Yes, I do believe someone with a BMI of 17 can be healthy and naturally slim. A prime example is Kate Moss, a skinny-minnie all her life with no signs of an eating disorder. However, you'd be flat out lying if you claimed all models were naturally thin. The ugly truth is so many of those girls (and boys) are pressured to lose weight and a quick internet search will bring up horror stories that would put you off fashion for life.
This law will help tackle the pressure those models are under but I'm not so naive as to think it will end the culture of sickeningly thin models. I'm sure the major fashion houses will continue to use girls who look like their last meal was a grape, three months ago, which they shared. However I do think it will help change the highstreet's image, either because they don't have the bags of cash needed to pay all those fines or because international companies won't want endless lawsuits which could impact their overseas business. Once you change perceptions at street level you can really make a difference. Not all French girls read Vogue, some read normal magazines that show normal highstreet clothes. And once a 'normal' BMI becomes the norm then maybe there'll be less children who grow up thinking thin is in. Okay, so the move is unlikely to be a booming success straight away. But go 20 years into the future and we might have a generation that looks back on our Twiggy culture with disgust.
The move to clearly labeling a touched-up photo as what it is, a fake, will also drastically change the way the French are advertised to. I have no doubt it will make little difference to the images but having it printed in black and white that this is not real will surely aid those who feel inadequate next to these pictures. Again, I'm not confident that this will make any difference to the current generation but given time fake images may become guaffed at and ridiculed for being the falsity that they are. Equally, I'm sure photographers will become ever more exacting with their technical skills to avoid touching up photos at all and modeling agencies will become ever more cut throat in the quest for the models that don't need re-touching.

Moving away from the fashion world, perhaps the most interesting clause in this health bill is a fine of up to €10,000 and a year in prison for promoting anorexia online. 'Pro-ana' websites have long been a problem in the eating disorder world and can fuel a sufferer's desire to be thin by normalising and potentially encouraging their dangerous behaviour.
I'm sure some of you will wholeheartedly agree with this new rule, but personally I struggle with it. On one hand, these websites are sick and can aid the already sick into becoming sicker. On the other hand, the website's creator is likely to be a sufferer too. They need help, not punishment. The details haven't been released yet but I hope as an alternative to imprisonment the French courts will be able to impose a mandatory stay in an eating disorder clinic.
It will also be very difficult to enforce these rules. Even if all French pro-ana websites were taken down there are still millions of others across the globe that won't be subject to this law.

What does all this mean from Britain and Ireland? Well, seeing as both countries have some of the highest obesity rates in the EU it's a wonder that there's enough skinny people to fill those modelling roles. It's not inconceivable that similar laws will be enacted here but Ireland definitely will be one of the last because Ireland already has a brilliant fashion culture that celebrates healthy looking women.
Back when I was a teenager, Kiss (Ireland's only magazine for teenage girls) banned size 0 models. Popular fashion magazines U and Stellar regularly use models who look like they've eaten within the last 24 hours. Even the magazines that come free in the papers use realistic, healthy women. That's not down to legislation though, it's down to a culture of no messing and while French chic might be universally revered I myself prefer realism...and cake.

Isabelle Caro, a French anorexia sufferer and model who died in 2010