Editor’s Letter: A New Beginning.

Seize the moment, if there’s anything you need to do, do it now, because you may not get another chance

This is a quote which has stuck with me since December 2010. I had been suffering with the mental health disorder Anorexia Nervosa and had just that day been told that my choice at this point was, to get better immediately, or die, with one mental health specialist even saying that I wouldn’t make 2011. With a lot to think about, I chose to attend my good friend’s baptism, and during the service, which I hadn’t really paid much attention to up to this point, the vicar said those 20 words which, surprisingly were powerful enough to kickstart my formidable determination. The next day I chose to eat a mars bar, and the rest is history (and I’m sure most people would knock me out if I retold this same story of personal success one more time).

Image: 'Stars' by Natalie Foss. (Conker does not own any rights to this image).
Image: ‘Stars’ by Natalie Foss. (Conker does not own any rights to this image).

Since my experience with Anorexia, and other mental health disorders, I have dedicated a lot of my time to learning about the Anorexia in particular, and finding out how I could help others. Prior to having this anxiety disorder, my only knowledge of mental health problems, was rather stereotypical and brought the ‘mad, dangerous, mumbling man on the bus’ image to mind. However, Anorexia is not something to take lightly, in fact, of the people suffering with the disease, only 46% of sufferers’ recover, and of all the sufferer’s approximately 25% are male. We are amidst an epidemic, in which ‘perfection’ is the goal. In 1991, it was reported that devastatingly 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat, and equally as chilling, 42% of 1st – 3rd grade girls actively want to be thinner. If we put that into perspective, this means that, generally speaking and according to the phenomenon that is Mumsnet. 42% of 6 to 7 year old girls, know that they should be dissatisfied with their body before they even know their times tables. And this was in 1991… I’ll just let that sink in.

Generally speaking, mental health is desperately lacking funding or awareness. Despite mental health disorders collectively having such a high mortality rate in comparison to other diseases considered ‘more serious’, only £9.75 is afforded to research for each sufferer, whilst £1,571 is spent on research for each person suffering with different forms Cancer, according to an MQ Landscape Analysis in 2015. Whilst I believe that Cancer absolutely does need that funding in order to beat this awful disease, we should also acknowledge that funding for mental health disorders should be equally high considering the fact that the mortality rate is as devastating. And let’s be honest, doctors would not tell a Cancer patient to wait till stage 4 of the disease before being ‘allowed’ to seek treatment. That would be stupid. Yet this is the reality for many sufferers of both eating disorders and other mental health problems – and why? Because of insufficient funding for research and care.

Whilst I have suffered in my own way, I am fully aware that issues surrounding mental health disorders alone are not the only pressing point in our society today. I am a firm believer that ‘suffering is relative’, I do not think one person should lord their suffering over another and deem it ‘more significant’ or terrible. Yet the groups suffering at large in our society today, include women, people of colour, those suffering with mental health disorders and those who do not conform to the ‘straight’ demographic. These are fairly generalised groups; however the communities have long been sidelined and subjected to huge injustices. Luckily, I can say proudly, that I am part of a generation, which has seen the first black president of America; I have seen young women such as Malala Yousafzai bravely stand up to terrorists, and advocate for girls’ rights to go to school, and trans women such as Laverne Cox raise awareness for transexual women of colour and the persecution they receive for who they are. I have witnessed this all through the immense power of the media. However, I have also read about the horrific shootings inside the Orlando Gay Club on June 12th of this year, the rise of the threat that is ISIS, and the awful divides this has created amongst Muslims and nonMuslims; the disgusting police brutalities against law-abiding POC, and the fact that what a woman wears is considered a significant reason to determine whether she was ‘asking for it’. These tragedies are also conveyed through the media, and whilst it is important to learn about what is happening in our world, it is also important to recognise the power that the media does have. And therefore here at Conker, we want to create a safe place, and perpetuate understanding instead of ignorance. We are living in a time when we are becoming increasingly disillusioned and restless of our society’s ever-impossible levels of perfection. In a time where a woman only looks good in a magazine, if she has her skin lightened, and is air brushed into perfection.

Being ignorant is no longer an option: We have some excellent spokespeople for our generation, cultivating their followings from Instagram, television, films and magazines. The fact is our hypocritical society conveys that we need to be skinny otherwise we are lazy and don’t look after ourselves. Yet if we are naturally slim, people assume that we are vain and selfish. Meanwhile, our white central society systematically discriminates against people of colour, yet thoughtlessly dons cultural styles as ‘fashionable’ and ‘ground breaking’ completely ripping away all historical significance of that piece of clothing or symbol.

It is easy to build up a resentment for each other when those things that make us unique are simultaneously subjected to judgement and misunderstanding. Instead, we should change cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation. We should start advocating that those with mental health disorders start demanding attention, we shouldn’t stand for ‘slut shaming’ regardless of what gender you do or don’t stand for, and ditch labels such as ‘angry black woman’ or ‘attention seeker’, Instead, we should accept that the one thing that unites us is the damage that we have had done to us by societies suffocating values and standards – not one of us has got through it this far without some damage to ourself. Soothe each other, protect each other, and break down the hostile barriers that prevent us from growing as a unit.

Now I didn’t intend my introductory letter to Conker to be all statistics and doom. Therefore I want to take this opportunity to thank Tskenya, for the opportunity not only to lead Conker, but one year ago, take me on as an editor at Wildabout Magazine. It was a pretty rocky point in my life, but with the encouragement of a fantastic friend and leader, I was able to overcome a lot of personal troubles, and for that I would like to thank you – I’m not sure where I would be at this point if it hadn’t been for the amazing Wildabout team.

Consequently, I thought it would be fitting to use a particularly poignant quote from the first article I wrote for Wildabout, The Freedom State: Sexuality Vs. Cultural Tradition. In the article I discuss Diriye Osman’s ‘Fairytales for Lost Children’ (2003) in which he states ‘No one allows anyone anything.’ By rejecting that notion you discover that only you can give yourself permission on how to lead your life, naysayers be damned. In the end something gives way. The earth doesn’t move but something shifts. That shift is change and change is the layman’s lingo for that elusive state that lovers, dreamers, prophets and politicians call ‘freedom’.”

Suffice to say, I personally have experienced a series of marginalising experiences,  but so have the rest of my fantastic team: (introduce team names and roles) all of whom you will hear about in the next few months, along with an amazing and inspirational host of guest writers and artists, all ready to finally express themselves and their experiences without being pushed to conform to stereotypical representations by mainstream media. So whatever you want to call the fantastic Conker team: dreamers, prophets, politicians… or straight up girls next door: we are all ready to finally express our often untold or misunderstood experiences, in a hope that we may carve out new hope for the sidelined members of our society.

If you are interested in finding out more about eating disorders, or what to check our more about the statistics I mentioned, here are some relevant links: 

b-eat: Eating Disorder Statistics.

The Emily Program: ED facts.

MQ: UK mental health research funding.

NEDA: ED Facts.

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