The night I learned to be pretty

80s colours

If, like me, you grew up the 80s, you’ll know having your colours “done” was a Very Big Thing. People were judged not by the colour of their skin (well they were judged by that too) but by the undertone of their skin.

One would hear people saying “well her perm is nice, obviously, but how could she go ash blonde? She’s an Autumn for heaven’s sake! Now go pour me a wine cooler, while I rewind my cassingle of George Michael’s Faith. Now there’s a fine figure of a man. His girlfriend must be one lucky woman…” and so on.

Somehow I escaped the 80s without having my colours “done”. Doomed, was I, to spend the next 25 years wandering the earth seasonless, lapsing into a coma every time I heard people launch into in-depth discussions on whether a particular shade of coral was “warm” or “cool”.

I wore the colours that I liked the look of; the ones that I felt reflected my personality. I am vehemently extroverted; my favourite hobbies are acting and over sharing (by the way, I must tell you about my vaginal reconstruction surgery. What? I already did? Oh, yes, perhaps I have mentioned it before). So I have always been drawn to bright, attention-grabbing colours. My wardrobe consisted entirely of bright red, electric blue and bright green – with a bit of black thrown in for good measure. I had about 6 pairs of fire-engine red shoes.

Bright, clear, vibrant colours said something about me. And I looked awesome.

sisters in wrong colours

*may not be a genuine 80s pic


So when my bookclub decided we would have a fashion consultant come for consultation-cum-party, I thought it would be fun hearing my sartorial choices praised by an expert.

We went to my friend’s house and we had a couple of glasses of wine. We were full of good cheer, ready for a night of mindless frivolity.

She started by “doing” our colours. I volunteered to go first. Volunteering to go first is another of my hobbies.

I sat in front of a mirror with my friends looking on. Our consultant first alternated holding up silver and gold scarves to my face and asking everyone which they thought suited me best. Gold, we all agreed. So far so good. I didn’t have strong feelings either way about gold.


Then she held up what I thought of as my signature colour: bright red.

Awful, they all agreed. Truly awful.

…I’m sorry – what?

Let’s try mustard. You know – baby poo colour: Lovely, they all murmured, appreciatively. Just lovely.

I beg your pardon?

Electric blue: hideous. You look like you’ve just thrown up.

What’s happening here?

Brown (another poo colour): glowing! You are glowing!

Bright green: you look like you are in late-stage liver failure.

Olive green: perfect!

Black: argh, you look anaemic

Murky, rusty orange: gorgeous


I was pronounced “warm toned”. “You are as warm as warm can be” said the expert. She took down the last scarf to again reveal my normal clothes. I crossed my arms over my bright red jersey.

Ha, isn’t this fun ladies? Ha ha ha HA! HA! Hahahahahahaha HA!


I wanted to cry. But you don’t cry over a fashion consultation. That would be pathetic. It’s just clothes.

So, I don’t own a single stitch of clothing that suits me. Oh well! 

Apparently I have looked hideous for most of my adult life. C’est la vie!

This whole night was probably engineered so my friends could have someone else tell me how bad I look. No biggie!


I watched my four friends being diagnosed. All cool toned. Two “mid cools” and two “cool brights” (the lingo has changed since the 80s seasons craze).

I half listened to the advice on the right styles to wear to flatter our body shapes. Eventually it was over, and a few drinks and a lot of forced smiling later it was time to go home. I walked out in a daze.

I know how self-indulgent and shallow this all sounds – I know it’s just clothes. I know I could have just ignored what I’d been told and carry on. But unfortunately part of me also believed the consultant and my friends that I was wearing all the wrong things. I believed them that I would probably look much nicer if I wore the colours on the “warm toned” colour card I had been given to take home with me.


But even though I knew all this, what it felt like was that part of my personality had been unceremoniously stamped out. I spent two days feeling weird. I felt like I’d just been told I was a cylon or something.

I went out on one of these days to get my little girl from school. I was wearing the burgundy cardigan one of my book group had given me the night of the consultation. It was on her banned colours list and appeared on my card so it might as well have a good home. A woman whom I vaguely know approached me at after school pick up and said “Jessica, you look so chic!” (this would sound ridiculous from any other New Zealander, but this woman happens to be a 9-foot tall Brazilian model. Everything she says sounds lovely).




I snapped out of it. I went shopping with my warm-toned card in my warm-toned hand.

I went into each shop and immediately ruled out 90% of the clothes: those colours weren’t on my card. I then picked up almost all the clothes in my colours and tried them on. A normal shopping trip for me involves trying on 10 things for every one that I actually want to buy. This time those figures were reversed. I looked so… well. My skin appeared creamy rather than pasty. I’d become so used to pastiness that I thought that was just how I looked.

I was sold. Sold by the compliments I was getting on my appearance. Sold by vanity.


Some theatre pics may help to illustrate the change:

Me in lemon – a banned colour

me in lemon

Me in brown – a recommended colour

Much Ado In the ‘60s, by William Shakespeare. Director, Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay. On stage 6 to 16 May 2015.  Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.  COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

With the zeal of the convert I banned cool colours from my wardrobe. I even removed almost every shred of black from my clothing and shoe collection – my neutrals are brown and burgundy. Black is not on my card. I filled 3 rubbish bags with contraband clothes and accessories and spent the week feeling like Father Christmas giving away clothes to my friends and family. Since I had four book group friends who had been banned from wearing all my colours I acquired a lot of their banned clothes in return.

I became obsessed. Googling warm-toned celebrities, silently diagnosing strangers, having long discussions with other colour-obsessed people about whether a particular shade of coral was warm or cool while normal people lapsed into comas all about me. I was a bit like someone in the first flush of love. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And now I’m writing about it. Because I am still in love with colour theory and I want you to fall in love with it too.


Lots of you probably already know all this and many probably know it better than I do – but I figure if I got to my mid-30s not knowing this maybe you don’t either.

Here’s what you should know about colours.

How do I know what my skin tone is?

Skin tone is different from skin colour. Your skin colour is probably how you would normally describe your skin – it’s mostly about the shade of your skin – how light or dark it is. Skin tone is about the undertone – basically how much yellow, red or pink there is in skin.

As far as I can tell, there is some correlation between ethnicity and skin tone, but you can’t tell your skin tone from your ethnicity. For instance, pale-skinned people are more likely to have cool undertones, but I, for instance am very pale, but have very warm, or yellow undertones – my sister is also very pale but has cool, pinky undertones.

This is my sister. I love her, she is amazing.


annie cool bright

How can you tell what your undertone is?

There are lots of ways to test what your skin undertone is. Here are a few:

  • Do you suit gold or silver jewellery? If you suit gold, you are probably warm toned. If you suit silver, you are probably cool-toned.
  • Look at your veins (this one is easier if you have pale skin). Do they look blue or do they appear greenish? If you have warm-toned, yellowy skin, your (blue) veins will appear greenish. I couldn’t see how green my veins were until I compared them with my sister’s very blue veins.
  • Try, with clean skin and in good light, holding up different coloured clothes to your face. Look at your skin, not at the colour of the clothes themselves. If clear, cool colours make you look bluergh like they do for me, you are probably warm toned. If warm, murky, muddy colours make you look bluergh you are probably cool toned. I think mustard is a good colour to check – although it is a revolting colour in and of itself; it will either make your skin look equally revolting or it will make you glow.

My sister and I took no-makeup selfies to show you us in the right colours and then we swapped clothes and lipstick to show you us in the wrong colours.

Then we decided we looked too hideous for words so we allowed ourselves one makeup item each (mascara for me, eyebrow pencil for her) and we did the photos again. We still look far from our best, but this is what we do for science:

good sisters bad sisters

With me you can see how my skin looks creamy in the first pic and yellowy in the second one. My sister looks paler and sort of clashy in the second one.

Here is another warm and cool sister combo (see what they did there? Subtle, right?)


And another warm-toned Jessica looking very sallow wearing cool colours:

jessica alba wrong colours

And looking very lovely, if a little nippley, in warm colours:

jessica alba right colours

Why should clothes make such a difference to how your skin looks?

From what I can tell there are three effects going on here:

1) we are seeing the effects of contrastHave you ever had, say, a white bra and then got a new one and realised by holding them next to each other that your “white” bra has gone yellow or grey? Or not known whether some pants are black or very dark blue until you hold them next to something black? For me, as a yellowy person, when I wear white, my skin looks yellower by contrast. When I wear cream, the yellow isn’t so noticeable.

2) We are seeing the effects of reflection. When I wear bright green, bright blue or bright yellow, the colour reflects on my face. I don’t understand physics well enough to explain this properly, but something about the light bouncing off these colours onto my skin makes me look sickly. When a cool-toned person wears warm colours they tend to look washed out and a little grey.

3) We are seeing clashing. Some colours just don’t look nice next to each other. You can see this in fabrics. There’s something kind of icky about mixing khaki and hot pink, or electric blue and brown. But khaki and brown work together and hot pink and electric blue work together. Mustard clashes with a cool-toned person’s skin and bright green clashes with a warm-toned skin.

Oh – and there’s more:

Contrast and intensity

There’s another factor at play here too: intensity and contrast of colour. Basically even if you get the tone right, you also want to wear the right intensity or saturation of colour for you, particularly if you are pale and have pale hair. If you are pale all over and wear intense colours, you tend to look “washed out”. I think a fancy fashion consultant might say “the clothes wear you”.

Kirsten Dunst is cool toned and low contrast but she often wears warm, intense colours:

Kirsten-Dunst-In-mustardkirsten dunst olive

Yes, she is still a very beautiful woman – but look at her in colours that suit her better. Dreamy, yes?

Kirsten Dunst in white

Even in black, which counts as a cool colour, she looks less glowy and lovely because intense colours kind of make her face disappear into the background:

Kirsten dunst in black headband

My rule of thumb is that if there is a lot of intensity in the colour of your skin, hair and eyes (i.e. skin, hair and eyes are dark), or if you have high-contrast skin, hair, eyebrows and eyes (i.e. skin is pale but with dark hair, eyebrows, eyes) you look better in intense, or highly-saturated, colours. If you have low intensity of colour in your skin (ie if you are pale) and if you have low contrast in your skin, eyes, eyebrows and hair, you need to wear less intense colours.

So my sister, who is cool-toned and very pale, but has black hair and eyebrows, looks best in cool-toned bright colours (eg fire engine red, canary yellow, black). So too, someone with dark skin and hair will usually look better in intense colours.

Someone with cool-toned, pale skin and blonde hair (like Kirsten Dunst) will usually look better in less intense colours (eg mint, aqua, lemon, grey, white).

Someone who is warm-toned and has dark skin and hair or has high contrast in their hair, skin and eyes (like me) will look best in intense, warm colours (eg chocolate brown, rusty orange, burgundy).

Beyonce is warm-toned and looks amazing in mustard and olive.

beyonce in mustard beyonce olive dress

Contrast her (still gorgeous, obviously, but looking relatively sallow) in hot pink:

Beyonce in pink

Someone with warm-toned, pale skin and low contrast features will look best in less intense versions of those warm colours (eg paler browns, dusky pink).

Poor, warm-toned Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) spent years looking pasty in cool colours:

anna bates

If only they’d had olive green uniforms:

Joanne Froggatt olive

And lest you should think that is just makeup making the difference, see what happens to her skin when she chooses to wear cool, bright colours

Joanne-Froggatt yellow

I think, in general, pale-skinned people with low contrast features have to be more careful about the intensity of the colours they wear than people with high contrast because they’re more likely to look washed out. People with darker skin or higher contrast can probably get away with less intense colours, even if more intense ones are better.

Oh – by the way, this all goes for makeup colours and hair dye too.

Emma Stone is warm toned. This is her looking clashy (but still beautiful) in cool clothes, hair and makeup versus creamy and dreamy in warm colours:

emma-stone-warm cool

Wait – so what do I wear again?

Ok, so obviously you should wear whatever you want, or whatever you have and blah, blah blah. But! I’d encourage skeptics to at least experiment with wearing the colours the 80s fashion textbooks tell you to wear.

Otherwise, even if you are fortunate enough to look like Kim Kardashian (cool toned), you might look like this:

KK in olive

Instead of this:

Kim K, red

So! The easiest thing to do, if you have the means, is find one of those colour consultants; it’s their job to tell you what your friends may be too nice to say. It seems like there are heaps of them about now. We used Wardrobe Flair (in Wellington and Auckland last time I checked). Otherwise, if you’ve figured out your skin tone on your own, Google is awash with advice on what clothes, hair and makeup will likely work for you.

Here is a rough guide though:

Cool toned with darker skin colour or high-contrast features e.g. Kim Kardashian, my sister: Bright, clear, crisp, intense colours

Black, electric blue, fire engine red, canary yellow, bright green

Cool toned, pale skin and low contrast features e.g. Kirsten Dunst: Clear, less saturated or intense cool colours

Grey, periwinkle or powder blue, peach, lemon yellow, mint green

Warm-toned e.g. Beyonce, me (vary the intensity according to how dark or high contrast your colouring is):

Brown, burgundy, teal, rusty orange, mustard, olive


And here are some more beautiful people showing us what not to do:

jenniferhudson olive dresslindsay-lohan in blueGwyneth-Paltrow bright green

This stuff won’t ring true for all people. Some people are more in the middle of warm and cool and look good in everything. Some people tend to wear colours that are a bit in the middle too, like teal and some shades of purple. People with high-contrast features get away with a bit more too. Makeup and hair colour (and retouching! It’s no good looking at photoshopped images to see what skin tone celebrities have) can help people carry off colours that probably aren’t what the textbook recommends for them.


So I now love being warm-toned; you can take my poo-brown, and baby-poo-mustard clothes from my warm, dead hands.


PS: here are some outtakes from my sister and my selfies for your entertainment.

Photo on 20-03-16 at 4.06 PM Photo on 20-03-16 at 4.12 PM Photo on 20-03-16 at 4.14 PM #2

And the pre-eye makeup shots that I told my sister I deleted:

Photo on 20-03-16 at 3.47 PM #2Photo on 20-03-16 at 3.48 PMPhoto on 20-03-16 at 3.49 PM

Sorry Bub! Love you!

10 things I hate about being vegan (and 10 things I like about it)


About two months ago I went cold tofurkey on animal-based foods. I hung up my steak knife. I turned in my poultry shears. I retired my eggcups.

I didn’t embrace veganism with the zeal of a convert. Rather, after 15 years of feeling guilty, I went into it with an attitude of “ok conscience, fine! You win, you bastard – but you’re dead to me. I don’t want to hear from you next time I use a disposable coffee cup or walk past a homeless person without giving them money. You sit down and you shut up”.

So I glumly embarked upon my life of culinary deprivation. I swapped steak for soybeans; traded turkey for tofu; exchanged chicken for chickpeas

To my great surprise, while some things suck about it, it’s not all doom and deficiency. There are things I actually like about being vegan.

Before I talk about the pulses and minuses, highs and lentils, nuts and downs, pros and quorns of being vegan, I feel the need to start with a disclaimer: I’m not trying to convert anyone or start any fights. I write about the stuff that is going on in my life and this is a thing that is going on in my life.

timoty o

Yes, I think the world would be a better place if pretty much everyone was vegan, but I also think the world would be a better place if Timothy Olyphant lived in my pants.


It doesn’t mean every time I talk about the benefits of Timothy Olyphant living in my pants that I think he should live in everyone’s pants.

Which brings me to the first bad thing about being vegan:

Bad thing 1:

For a few people, any mention of my choice not to do X is taken as an attack on their choice to do X.

This is weird. Like I said, obviously I think veganism is a good choice, otherwise I wouldn’t do it – but it doesn’t follow that I’m judging other people’s very personal choices. It would be a bit bloody rich of me to judge anyone for eating meat when I was eating meat in January and still felt like I was basically a decent human being.

It sucks for people to assume you’re being judgmental when you’re just trying to, say, communicate efficiently that you have a long list of dietary restrictions. It’s even worse when they ask why you’re vegan and then get cross about your reasons for your choices as though you picked a fight.

Which leads to bad thing 2:

Bad thing 2:

I have a long list of dietary restrictions.


It is sometimes hard to find stuff to eat. Or to find stuff to eat that is nutritious. Or not boring. Or at the same place where your friends want to eat. Or that doesn’t have fennel in it. You want to talk about bad dietary choices? Fennel is wrong and bad and anyone who eats it is a deviant.

Which leads to…

Bad thing 3:

Food places that say “yes we can cater to vegans. You can have the burger but without any of the ingredients in it and it will still cost $18”

Bad thing 4:

This is the worst one for me: feeling like I’m putting people out when they are offering to feed me – for example if I’m invited to someone’s house for dinner.

It’s not like with my kid with allergies where we can go to someone’s house and say “can you please tell me what there will be to eat that won’t kill her. I am happy to bring safe food for her”. Instead it feels like I’m saying “I DEMAND THAT YOU PREPARE SPECIAL FOOD FOR ME BECAUSE I AM SPECIAL AND I AM PREPARED TO INCONVENIENCE YOU WITH MY TOTALLY DISCRETIONARY AND EXTREMELY FUSSY CHOICES”.

I had a friend invite me to dinner recently. I was under the impression we would be getting takeaways so I could just order something – but he sent me a text on the day saying that he got a leg of lamb. Naturally he thought I would be enthusiastic about this, as we had enjoyed partaking of the delicious sheep together before.

I felt terrible and seriously considered just saying nothing and eating (and, frankly, thoroughly enjoying) the lamb – but then I realised when he inevitably found out later that I was vegan he would feel terrible. So I told him and said I was happy just to eat veges and I could bring my own food and please don’t make anything special and I am so sorry I thought we were having takeaways and please don’t hate me and I sincerely hope you enjoy the lamb and and and.

It was fine. I ate veges. He ate lamb. We both drank wine. We will do it again someday.

brocolli 1I think this is one of the reasons it feels like vegans talk about being vegan a lot. Actually, since becoming vegan, I have found out that a lot of people are closet vegetarians or vegans because they fear being stereotyped – so no, not all vegans talk about being vegan. But to the extent that vegans do drop it into conversation, I think it’s often to avoid awkward situations where you’re going to feel rude and put people out later on. Better to get the revelation out of the way at a time when it doesn’t matter.


Bbrocolli 2ad thing 5:

However, it must be said that some vegans are dicks. I guess in the same way that some people are dicks. Which isn’t really surprising since vegans are people.

I have seen weird online discussions between vegans talking about whether honey should be verboten or whether ostroveganism is ok (eating mussels and oysters on the grounds that from a sentience point of view they might be more like plants) and sometimes a dick vegan will come in any say “fine, but don’t call yourself vegan – you are polluting my brand. Burn in hell” or something like that.

So people being dicks is a bad thing.


Bad thing 6:

A lot of animal stuff tastes good and I won’t be eating that stuff anymore.

Bad things 7, 8, 9, 10:

  1. Soy milk
  2. Almond milk
  3. Oat milk
  4. Coconut milk

I’ve had trouble finding a really good milk substitute. Unsweetened almond and coconut milk is my current milk of choice. I’m getting used to it.

Right! I kind of expected most of the bad things, but I promised some good things:

Good thing 1:

I feel better without the food-related guilt. I had been convinced I probably should be vegan (or at least use animals much less) about 15 years ago when I was studying bioethics, but I hung on until now. I hung on by buying free-range foods and by telling myself stories about why it was ok or why it would be too hard to stop or whatever. The cognitive dissonance hurt my brain, but for many years (Guilt + Animal products) outweighed (No guilt + Veganism). Then after my brother and sister became vegan and I saw that they were coping fine it looked much more achievable and less like an extreme lifestyle and the equation changed for me.

From the very first day I went vegan I felt the cognitive dissonance and guilt lift and I felt better. It was nice.


I live in an agricultural country. I live in a city but can go see sheep and cows 10-minutes drive away. I frequently see (and smell) crowded, sheep-transport trucks driving around. We hear a lot in the news about “dirty dairying” polluting our waterways. There is currently a case in the courts about bobby calves being thrown into trucks and abused. It feels good not to be part of that world anymore.

Good thing 2:

I feel healthy. I felt healthy before too – I eat pretty healthily and have done for many years – but I worried that with less protein and iron and calcium and stuff that I would feel tired or hungry or become malnourished.

I feel good. I don’t know whether I actually am healthier, but I don’t think I’m significantly unhealthier. I eat more sugar from sweetened soymilk etc, but less from opportunistic eating – like when someone brings in a cake to work. I probably eat more unsaturated fat but way less saturated fat. I definitely eat less protein, but I think my protein intake is adequate. I have neither lost nor gained weight as far as I can tell (not owning bathroom scales).

I might go see some sort of health professional at some stage and see whether I need to take any supplements or have blood tests of whatever – but now that I have talked to some people who have been vegan for 10-plus years, I feel more confident that I can get everything I need from plant-based foods, especially with many vegan foods being fortified with things like Vitamin B12.

Good thing 3:

My favourite vices are still on the menu:

Dark chocolate (which I’ve always preferred to milk)

Wine (most – some are processed using fish or eggs)




Good thing 4:

I’ve discovered some amazing food that I never would have discovered.

Yes, I could have made falafel from scratch before. I could have learned to cook lentils really well. I could have discovered how to make tofu Bolognese that tastes like the meat version. But I never did until I had to. And now I have and it’s good. It’s been fun. I did not expect anything to do with eating to be better than it was before, but some things are. I don’t feel deprived.

Good thing 5:

It’s cheaper. At least, it can be cheaper if you don’t eat vegan convenience foods (which I sometimes do). Meat and cheese and yogurt and stuff are expensive. Vegan milks are more expensive, but I don’t use much. I haven’t done the budgeting, but I’m pretty sure I’m spending significantly less on food.

Good thing 6:

If I ever really get a craving for something meaty I could eat some; I’m not allergic. If it’s true, as some claim, that a vegan diet uses 18 times less land than an omnivorous diet, then an almost-vegan diet might use 15 or 16 times less (this isn’t a fringe view, by the way. There is heaps of neutral, respectable research on the environmental benefits of having a plant-based diet). If I ate meat once in a blue moon I’d still be doing pretty well. I don’t see myself eating meat on special occasions, but it’s not the end of the world if I do.

Good thing 7:

There is a secret society of vegans.

Sort of.

I guess like any community – feminists, religious groups, ethnic-based groups, people with disabilities – when you find people like you there is a common feeling – an ease. You don’t have to explain yourself and you have shared experiences and understandings. I’ve made some really great friends.

Good thing 8:

At least where I live, eating out is way easier than I expected. I live in an educated, relatively wealthy, liberal city. I think I’ve taken up veganism at a good time. There is more and more to eat for vegans and the quality and range of the food is getting better.

I’ve visited small towns where they look at you like you have two heads if you ask for soy milk. But where I live, within a minute’s walk of my work, there are about 8 different lunch choices – like not 8 items – but 8 styles of vegan food: Turkish, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Japanese… my local pizza place has vegan mozzarella. It’s not that hard.

That said, at the local French café I had a long, confusing conversation with the woman at the counter (this was not a language barrier thing btw – she was local) when I asked if anything on the menu was vegan. She told me the crepes were vegan. I, doubtfully, asked if she was sure they didn’t have eggs in them and she said yes they did. So I asked if there was anything vegan and she said the crepes have eggs in them. So I said I understood the crepes had eggs in them and was there anything vegan and she told me the crepes had eggs in them and I asked if there was anything vegan and she told me the crepes had eggs in them… and eventually one of her colleagues interrupted our hilarious two-woman show and told her that eggs aren’t vegan. So she said “no, there’s nothing vegan here”.

(This sort of exchange is not new to me, having a kid with multiple allergies. Asking if there is anything with no dairy, eggs and nuts in it I have been offered all sorts of interesting options, including a gluten-free cheesecake. With veganism a mistake isn’t the end of the world. With my daughter it could literally be the end of her world – and allergies are very freaking common – so I don’t understand why allergy awareness isn’t part of the training in every food establishment. Don’t get me started)

Good thing 9:

I already had a fairly high-fibre diet but my fibre intake is a lot higher. Perhaps because I already ate lots of fibre, I haven’t noticed a change in my level of fartinesss. However, in related departments there have been other… improvements. And that’s all I have to say about that.


Good thing 10:

There is less gross stuff to deal with when cooking.  Like – you know when you’re cutting up a chicken and there’s raw chicken blood that gets on your hands and then you use the soap dispenser to wash your hands and now the soap dispenser has blood on it so you wash it off but now the taps have blood on them so you wash the taps and you think you got it all but you somehow feel like everything is contaminated and like you will never be clean again. Yeah, there’s none of that.

And the food waste and leftovers are all compostable and nothing smells very bad in the rubbish bin.

So this is a good thing.


And if the good things didn’t outweigh the bad things? All this is totally reversible. If the vegan versus non-vegan equation changes for me in the future, I could just not be vegan anymore. With each passing week I feel more confident that I’m probably vegan for life, but I’ve lived long enough to have been proven wrong about things before, so I’m learning to be less arrogant about my choices and beliefs.

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, but I’m not looking to argue with anyone, please. My parents and husband and children eat meat and I love them. I love you too. Let’s be friends.


Where Love is Illegal

Where Love is Illegal

I live in Wellington, New Zealand, the most liberal city of a liberal country. A country where same-sex marriage is legal and where we have many gay members of parliament but I couldn’t name most of them – not because they are closeted, but because their sexuality is seen as neither remarkable nor relevant to their jobs; a country where a woman who had been a sex worker became the world’s first openly trans gender mayor and went on to be a member of parliament.

It’s hard to remember that, until 1986, homosexual sex acts were illegal here. It’s hard to comprehend that there are still 76 countries where same-sex sex acts are illegal and five where such acts are punishable by death. It’s chilling to think that, in some countries, things are getting worse, not better, for LGBTQI people.

Robin Hammond, a human rights photojournalist (who happens to be my big brother) wants us to remember that rights, dignity and security for LGBTQI people are a global struggle. He wants those of us who are free to talk about and raise money for LGBTQI people’s rights to care about and do something to help those who aren’t.

On Friday, Robin, along with a team of volunteer activists, launched a new campaign: Where Love is Illegal. You might have seen it this week on the cover of Time Magazine.

Robin has spent time with LGBTQI people in Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, Malaysia, Russia and Lebanon taking their portraits (often with the subjects in disguise for their own safety) and recording their stories. They are sad and beautiful. Many of them say they feel alone. Many of them have been made to feel that their gender identities or sexual orientations are sinful and that they are broken and weird. One of the the aims of Where Love is Illegal is to give a virtual megaphone to people who could never safely march with a real one.

Another aim of Where Love is Illegal is to provide concrete help to the on-the-ground, often clandestine, organisations that support LGBTQI people in these countries. Where Love is Illegalis part of Witness Change, an organisation my brother and other human rights activists founded to raise awareness and money for on-the-ground organisations working to promote human rights. Where Love is Illegal, for instance, is fundraising for (among other things) a Nigerian organisation called the Hope Alive Initiative, which needs money for a safe house, an office and condoms. The whole organisation has a budget of $25,000 a year – which shows you how far money can stretch for these small organisations.

Here’s what you can do:


Go see the portraits and read the stories on Where Love is Illegal

Talk – spread the word:



instagram @WhereLoveIsIllegal

twitter @love_is_illegal



instagram @Witness_Change

twitter @_WitnessChange


Donate at Witness Change

This in an interview my brother gave on Friday. I loved reading it. If you have any more questions for Robin, ask away and I’ll pass them on.

If you shave your armpits you are a slave to the patriarchy

I defied the patriarchy.

I damned the man.

I flipped off Bic.

If you shave your armpits you are a slave to the patriarchy*

I stopped shaving my armpits.

You might call me a rebel. You might call me a pioneer. You might even call me a hero. Just so long as you call me!

Am I possibly being a touch facetious? Perhaps. But. But! Not shaving your armpits is a Really Big Deal where I’m from. I’ve only ever seen hairy pits on one other woman and she was holding the megaphone at an anti rape-culture protest; you’d have been gobsmacked if you discovered she did shave. In my usual professional and social circles – armpit hair is just not A Thing. If we are ever careless enough to develop a fuzz we adjust our clothing choices accordingly so that no one will ever know that we are mammals.

Anyway, this protest lady – I believe she was making some really good points really well – but I was just looking at her thinking: holy crap I wish I were as cool as you. I wish I were brazen enough to openly reveal that I am a normal human being.

So I toyed with the radical idea of epilation cessation. And, god help me, I experimented with it. I would sometimes go hours without a shave. And what’s more I flaunted it. That is to say I self-consciously and with great trepidation, left the house wearing sleeveless tops and, from time to time, I reached for overhead objects.

To my surprise, I was not stoned in streets. People did not run after me yelling “get out of here you damned dirty ape”. Mostly people didn’t notice.

Ok, so one time my mother asked, with a conspicuously neutral voice “ahem… are you not shaving your armpits anymore?” (but after I said I was giving hairy pits a try, she changed the subject and life continued as normal). Another time when I was talking to a parent at school, I raised my arm and she stopped mid-sentence and lost her train of thought (but, after a pause, she recovered and carried on). I participated in a dance class and the instructor openly stared at my pits (but did not stand, arm outstretched towards the door, yelling “GET OUT, BEHEMOTH!”).

The thing is though, I just wasn’t as cool as the megaphone woman. In my fantasies, people would criticise my armpit hair and I would turn on them with a steely gaze and mortify them with my cool riposte “Oh, I’m sorry, are we sharing our views on each other’s personal grooming, now?” – but in reality, I feared people’s judgement (I frequently have fantasies about being awesome at confrontation in various contexts. The few times I’ve faced real confrontation I have generally cried, which is pretty much the opposite of being a badass).

See, I was rehearsing for a play at the time and I was playing a sort of 1960s feminist. I’d offered to the directors to grow my armpit hair as a kind of a badge of feminism. They reacted with neither enthusiasm nor horror, but said they’d think about it. So I grew my armpit hair for the two-month rehearsal period.

Growing my hair for the play made it feel socially acceptable for me to have armpit hair. If I were planning to wear revealing clothing around people I would find myself, days in advance of the big reveal, dropping into conversation that I was growing my pits for the play. Then when the time came to reveal my pits I could do it without fear of judgement. This is not the behaviour of a cool person.

Further, while in my fantasies I practically shoved my pits into peoples’ faces, daring them to say something obnoxious, in reality, I found myself wearing a cardigan when it wasn’t strictly necessary so as to avoid showing my dirty little secret.

Speaking of dirtiness, I wondered whether it really was authentic for me to have hairy pits in this play, so I did some internet research. I couldn’t get a straight answer on the authenticity question, but I did see the same comments over and OVER AND OVER AND OVER on various fora:

  • Of course women should be free to do whatever they want with their armpits and armpit hair is perfectly natural; I mean I shave mine, but it’s certainly not because the patriarchy requires it of me, but because [I’m paraphrasing here] I don’t want to be a smelly, dirty, disgusting beast; and
  • If you remove your pubic hair you are catering to pedophiles because children have no pubic hair but if you remove your armpit hair that is OK because… err… eww gross.


For the record, I do not think I smelt any different and my armpits were more comfortable than when I shaved. I was used to having mildly itchy pits pretty much all the time from shaving and it was lovely to have a respite from that.

So, dress rehearsals arrived and I asked the directors for their decision on the pits. “Yeah, just shave them” they said. I was in equal measures disappointed and relieved. I thought it would have been a nice touch – but even I was distracted by my shamefully unadulterated underarms – the audience probably would have been too. Deep down, I worried a good proportion of them would have been revolted by me. And I had an excuse to give up this hairiness lark that had nothing to do with me not being as cool as the megaphone woman.

Again, for the record – I get that this is No Big Deal in the grand scheme of things. In some places, in some cultures or sub-cultures hairy pits are ordinary, even de rigeur. And it’s not like I was doing anything brave; growing my armpit hair was a purely discretionary act that I could opt out of at any time and that was never likely to have any serious consequences. I’ll probably do it again sometime.

The thing that fascinates and baffles me is that – at least in my little corner of the world – a woman having the default state of armpit hair is seen as a political statement; it baffles me that it is even remotely noteworthy.

*I only said you were a slave to the patriarchy so you would read this story where nothing very interesting happens.

Adventures in Free-Boobing


Today I did something stupid and reckless.

It’s something that I haven’t done since I was 11 years old.

It was a mistake. A big mistake. A Double-D-sized mistake, to be precise.

Yes, ladies. I went running without a bra.

I didn’t decide to go running without a bra. I’m not a total boob (see what I did there?). I just sort of forgot to put one on. I was wearing the crop-top thing I wear to bed and I started walking as a warm-up and I didn’t realise I didn’t have a bra on until I took the first running step.

I usually wear two bras at the same time to go running. So I didn’t actually know what it felt like to free-boob. I was too far from home to turn back, so I thought… how bad could it be?


Just for a bit of context, I live in a very hilly city. I start my runs on the downhill part of my loop with the glorious illusion of being fit and fast (in case I have given the impression that I am actually fit, I should mention that I run about once a month and my running loop is about 2 kilometres – less than 1 mile – and I can’t run the entire way – I run down and have to walk back up the hill until I see someone coming when I start running again, wait till they are out of sight and then double over with my hands on my knees to recover before resuming my walking).

In this case, though, the usually glorious downhill part of my run was… not. Each time my feet left the ground, my breasts went skyward; floating, soaring, weightless, like a pair of fat, white cherubs ascending into heaven. Each time my feet hit the ground there was a slight delay… and then my breasts came crashing down to their nadir – gravity, years of breastfeeding and an almost total absence of pectoral muscles conspiring together so that the slap of breasts on belly was more of a thud.

I tried running with my arms crossed over my chest, but this restricted my movement too much. I settled upon grabbing one breast firmly in each hand and loping along with elbows out to the side, the chicken dance song springing, unbidden, into my head (na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na, bok bok bok bok).

This worked fine for taming my fun bags’ bounce, but was not exactly a posture fit for public consumption. Luckily is was a grey day and early enough that I only encountered a few dog walkers. At these encounters, I dropped my hands and squeezed my arms in close to arrest the lateral swing and just bounced obscenely out the front, trying to look casual.

Eventually the downhill ordeal was over and I could trudge back up, only needing to jog when I saw other joggers. Male joggers with their solid, unsupported chests; women with their frontal appendages bound, strapped and tamed.

I was living proof that the bra-burning myth, for all its illiterative catchiness, not only trivialises the feminist cause, but is downright absurd.

Burn my high heels, lipstick and pantyhose if you must, but as God as my witness, I’ll never run braless again!

Hey, Movie Industry! Put more than one girl in kids’ movies

I have read article after article about why the movie Frozen has been such a phenomenon. It’s the catchy tunes, right? The adorable sidekicks? The outstanding animation? Yeah, it has all those things, but I don’t think that’s it.

I think it’s something simpler.

Frozen has something that no other major kids’ movie has:


Two significant female good guys. [ETA: a commenter has reminded me of Lilo and Stitch, which has Lilo and her big sister Nani (not to mention the all-too-rare non-white cast and some deviation from the body-types we are used to seeing. Ka pai!). I think this counts too – I’ve ordered a copy for my daughters. Thanks for the reminder!]

Hey, Movie Industry! Let me tell you something about how most kids like to play: most kids like to play together. And when kids do pretend play, girls usually want to pretend to be girls. In my house with my two daughters (and for that matter, with me and my sister growing up or most of the time when two girls play together) it goes like this:

“Let’s play [current popular movie]!”

“Ok, I’ll be [girl character]”

“No, I want to be [girl character]”

“No, I want to be [girl character]”

“No, I want to be [girl character]”

What’s the problem here, Movie Industry? Yep. There is only one girl character.

When my sister and I were growing up it was:

“I want to be Gertie”


“I want to be Princess Leia”


“I want to be Princess Buttercup”


With my kids it’s “I want to be Rapunzel!” (no, neither of them wants to be Mother Gothel)


Or “I want to be Lisa!”


Or even “I want to be Miss Piggy!”


What happens when they want to play Frozen?

“I’ll be Elsa”

“Ok, I’ll be Anna”

Guess which game gets played the most?


Now, if you go into any toy shop this year you will see shelves sagging under the weight of Frozen merchandise. Anna and Elsa dolls, toys, games and costumes.

This is what happens when my daughters play our Jake and the Neverland Pirates Board Game:

“Ok, I’m going to be Izzy”

“No, I’m going to be Izzy”

“No, I’m going to be Izzy”

[a stalemate ensues and they eventually lose interest. The game sits there unplayed until I eventually ask them to pack it away, ask them again, ask them again, and eventually do it myself and hope that they don’t notice that they won]


This is what happens when we play our Frozen board game:

“I’ll be Elsa”

“Ok, I’ll be Anna”

Guess which board game I prefer them to play? Guess which puzzles, dress ups and dolls they ask for for Christmas and birthdays?

It’s movie

After movie

After movie

With just one girl as the love interest

Or as the token girl




Or it’s one great female character but with every single other significant character male




Including almost every animal sidekick in the history of sidekicks




Even all these male talking dogs from Up, which Charles Muntz was somehow breeding for decades without any girl ones because… everyone knows that talking girl dogs would be ridiculous?


And then there’s this incomprehensibly male cow from Barnyard, complete with udders


Or sometimes there are no girls at all


Frozen has two girls. Granted, it also has two boys, to balance them out. And, granted, for some reason Sven, Olaf, the Duke of Weselton, the Duke of Weselton’s sidekicks, the boss of the trolls, the dude who runs the sauna shop, Marshmallow the giant snowman and 16 out of the 19 randoms in this randomly-chosen crowd scene all have to be boys to balance them out too.


But at least there are two girls.

Get it, Movie Industry? Two girls. Or more! And maybe next time not all of the girls have to be white!

You’ll make more money.

Girls will have fun pretending to be the characters.

And you’ll make more money.

Female actors will get more parts.

And you’ll make more money.

Girls will have more role models.

And you’ll make more money.

And you might care about sexism in your industry regardless of the money.

So… do you wanna build a less sexist film industry?


















The terrible truth about my body

My body pretty much does what it is supposed to do. It has lasted me 35 years with only a few significant interruptions in service and it has bounced back from periods of neglect and abuse with relative ease. It has gestated and ejected two children. It has ingested and excreted numerous substances, fair and foul. But I have been hiding the terrible truth about my body.

This is how the world sees my body:

The terrible truth about my body

But it is a lie.

The terrible truth is that I am – wait for it…

… a human woman.

As a human woman I have some terrible secrets. And I am going to reveal them to you now.

I grow hair. I know. Hair. Some of it grows on areas other than my head. You would never know that terrible truth were I not telling you now, because if I were careless enough not to remove my body hair, I would cover any of my hairy parts with clothing. I would cover those parts even if that meant I was too hot or had to wear something I didn’t like. It is a terrible secret, after all.

This is the terrible truth about what grows in my armpits.

The terrible truth about my body

Shocking, isn’t it?

This image is not doctored in any way. I believe other women also grow hair on their bodies, but I can’t swear to it, because I have reason to believe that most of us are hiding the terrible truth about our hairy bodies.

I also grow hair on my head. And the terrible truth about my head hair is that some of it has lost some pigmentation as I have gotten older. See?

photo 1

You would never know this terrible truth about my hair, because I have been hiding it from you. I never go long enough without dying my hair for the grey bits to be noticeable to the casual observer. If the casual observer saw – even once – that my hair is really grey, even if I subsequently dyed it, they would always know the terrible truth. I have to remain vigilant.

I believe my hair may be typical of a 35-year old woman, but I can’t swear to it because I suspect other 35-year old women may be hiding the terrible truth about their bodies too.

I have another secret. This is the worst one of all. After gestating two humans inside my body, so that I looked like this:

The terrible truth about my body

the outside of my body looks quite different from how it looked before. You would never know this because I dress very carefully to hide the terrible truth about my abdomen. In order to keep this terrible secret, I avoid, for instance, going to public swimming pools with my two little children, as much as we all might like me to.

This is the terrible truth about my abdomen.

The terrible truth about my body

And this is the terrible truth about my thighs (note the lack of thigh gap. Nary a photon of daylight between them).

The terrible truth about my body

Those of you who are not human women may be reading this and thinking – whoa, that human woman must have real confidence problems. Maybe you are thinking that I should get some professional help. There are probably some delightful people out there who will tell me I should go a gym.

The terrible truth is that I am fairly sure I am more content with my body than the average human woman. This is not because I am better at hiding the ugly, old and damaged parts of my body than other women – in fact, for numerous and complicated reasons, the correlation between others’ ratings of our beauty and our own confidence seems to be very weak.

There are many women far prettier than I who hate their bodies and work far harder to hide the terrible truth about their bodies than I do. There are also women whose bodies are far less “acceptable” than mine and have to do twice as much to be treated half as well as I am; women whose hair grows coarse and curly, not soft and straight, women who do not always “pass” as women, women who are not white, slim, able-bodied. Women who are not rich enough to afford hair dye, white teeth and nice clothes.

The terrible truth is that it is “normal” for women to hide the terrible truth about our bodies. When the relentless message from the world is that we are either fuckable or worthless, we know that the ugly, old, damaged parts of us had better never see the light of day.

Yes, I know some men have secrets about their bodies too. But the men who hide generally hide the unusual things about their bodies – maybe having a lot of breast tissue or an atypical number of testicles. Women are expected to hide the unusual things as well as the things that are true of every single human woman in the world but that are still somehow shameful secrets. It is bananas.

Because most of us are hiding the terrible truth about our bodies, pretty much the only ones of which we do get more than fleeting changing-room glances are those deemed aspirational enough to be associated with a brand. So we are all left with the impression that our stretch marks, sticky-out tummies, under-eye circles, asymmetrical breasts, thighs that rub against each other, upper lip hair… are shameful and weird. We want to apologise when we present our stinky, hair vulvas to the doctor for a cervical smear, convinced that ours are smellier, hairier, less symmetrical than the other 45 vulvas she has seen that week. Or, worse: we don’t take our hairy, stinky vulvas to the doctor at all.

Well, the terrible truth about this human woman is out now. Some of it anyway. I’ll keep my hairy, stinky vulva to myself if it’s all the same to you.

An ode to one of my favourite things (spoiler: it’s a menstrual cup. If you don’t want to hear about period stuff, then do yourself a favour and don’t read it)

Tampons and liners and minis and maxis

Money I could spend on shoes, booze and taxis

No digging ’round for a lost tampon string

That’s why my Mooncup’s my favourite thing


Light flow or heavy, in trickles or geysers

I don’t need products in different sizes

No getting pubes stuck under my pad’s wings

That’s why my Mooncup’s my favourite thing!


When it’s full I

Empty it out

And put it back in

And never regret that I don’t have to open that sanitary iiiiiitems bin!


Though I was worried that it might get stuck in

And though I have to clean out all the muck in

Tampax and Carefree and all of those brands

Can take my Mooncup from my cold, dead, bloooooody hands!

A letter to my hero, Richard Dawkins

Dear Richard

We go a way back, don’t we? Do you remember when I first read The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype? They BLEW MY MIND. The gene’s-eye view? Geneius! When I started viewing the world from the point of view of a replicator everything looked different. When those New Zealand farmers released calicivirus to control rabbits and it eventually stopped working, it wasn’t because the rabbit developed resistance to it – it was because the virus evolved to become less virulent because it could produce more copies of itself by being less deadly so its host would spread it better. WOW.

And you coined the term “meme” while you were at it – it was just a casual aside in the book, really, but memes have been perhaps your most successful meme of all!

Did you know I have your lecture series for children on DVD? You were so inspiring and such a sweetheart with them. Your demonstration of how a complex organ like an eye might evolve was inspired. I’ll never forget it.

And let’s not forget the time I read The God Delusion. At the time I was struggling with the clash of my religious upbringing with my education in philosophy and my brain was such a mess of cognitive dissonance – it felt like it was full of taut rubber bands reading to snap. Reading your book was like releasing all those rubber bands at once. Not only was I able to finally admit to myself that I was an atheist, but I was able to “come out” to my parents. It was scary, but you gave me the courage.

So Richard, know that I love you when I say this: FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU RIGHT IN YOUR MAGNIFICENTLY EVOLVED EYE.

I’ve heard some of the things you’ve been saying about rape lately. I’ve been inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and interpret things as kindly as I could. I know myself I have said lots of stupid things, but luckily I am not famous enough for anyone to notice. But this:

A letter to my hero, Richard DawkinsEXPAND

Richard, I’m not sure we can get past this. I’m not even sure where to start but I’ll try:

If I am so intoxicated that can’t remember what happened and someone had sex with me, then that is the evidence that I was raped.

Let’s try a “thought experiment” that might help you relate. Imagine you wrote a book. A really good book that was really important to you. Now imagine you got really, really drunk just as you were about to email your publisher to approve the final draft of it. And then imagine I came along and next to “by Richard Dawkins” I wrote “and Jessica Hammond” and then I hit send. Maybe you even said “yesh, sokay” before I did it.

Should we just let that one go, Richard? Shall we be coauthors of what happened? I mean you can’t really remember how it all went down – but I assure you, you were into it.

Do you see where I’m going with this Richard?

Hey, look mate, it’s ok. You are a very smart guy, but you can’t be an expert on everything. But, as a friend, let me give you some advice: you don’t know shit about rape and consent and until you do, you need to shut your damned meme hole.

Yours sincerely,



Memoirs of a Slut


My slutty past came back to visit me last weekend. An old friend introduced me to another woman. We each thought the other looked familiar and commenced to play the “where do I know you from?” game: a common pastime in my little country where we are said to have only two degrees of separation.

She was the kind of woman who inspires equal measures of envy and bafflement in me. Beautiful and beautifully presented, she had perfect clothes paired with perfect accessories, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect shoes and (as I checked when she removed those perfect shoes) perfectly pedicured perfect feet. She has three small children and she wears white pants without any snot or tomato sauce on them. How? How does she do it? When, for crying out loud? Is she grooming for an hour before her kids get up in the morning? Maybe that’s it. Ok, it’s never going to happen. Moving on.

We raked each other’s pasts and discovered that we grew up in neighbouring suburbs. We almost certainly went to the same primary school discos when we were ten or eleven years old, we probably had inter-school sports competitions together, we might have gone to the same church on occasion. Nothing quite explained our feelings of knowing each other.

We went to the same university. Getting closer. We frequently frequented the same student pub. This might be it. Then I knew.

“Did you ever-?”

She collapses with mirth “YES!”

“You were-” I can’t complete the sentence, I am laughing so hard.

“And you-“

We are both incoherent, laughing, tears streaming down our faces (why isn’t her makeup smudging? Sorceress!). Our mutual friend can get no sense out of us for a good five minutes.

At this point all three of our husbands enter the room and ask what’s going on.

“We just figured out that we have met before!”

And one of the husbands, who went to the same university as us, sharply inhales – “Oh! Was it something to do with bananas?”

“YES!” All three of us are laughing now.

Eventually, eventually, we are able to explain.

One night, half a lifetime ago at age 18, I was drunk at the university pub because… you know, it was the university pub and it was a Thursday. And there was a Coruba party. You know the sort of thing? A dude with a fake Jamaican accent runs a bunch of party games (limbo et cetera) while scantily-clad “Coruba girls” sell drinks to young men who sexually harass them.

The Jafakean man was going from table to table recruiting participants for the games, and for one of them he only required young women. He was cagey about the details, but there was a free drink in it, so obviously I was up for it.

I lined up on the stage with about 7 other drunk young women and we were each offered a banana and told we had entered a banana eating competition. Errrr. I guess he was counting on the fact that none of us would want to be seen as the prude who was going to publicly back down. He was right. We each took our banana.

I was second-last in the queue and I watched while all the more obvious sexy banana-eating options were taken. Bananas were licked salaciously and deep throated. Women licked each other’s bananas. Two women ate a banana from either end and then kissed each other. Then it was my turn.

I turned to the beautiful girl behind me in the queue and asked if she wanted to do it together. “No, I’m good thanks” she replied confidently.

So I peeled my banana. Then I asked myself what Molly Ringwald would do. I took a deep breath and shoved that banana between my breasts and commenced to eat it. I invited the Jafakean to have a bite, which he greedily accepted. I had a couple more sucks and bites. And then I was done. Next, please.

The beautiful girl behind me skipped into the middle of the stage and peeled the top off the banana. She took a little nibble. She danced up to a man in the crowd and offered him a bite, whipping it away just before he bit down and biting it herself. She dropped to the ground and slowly rose up, buttocks first, dragging the banana up along her body and taking another confident, almost vicious bite. She was glorious. The crowd was going… well, bananas.

When she was done, the Jafakean invited the crowd to vote by cheering. The last performer got the loudest cheer by far, but I had a respectable response owing to my having a large group of friends in the audience. Some of those friends chanted “Two winners! Two winners!” and the host, ever the crowd pleaser, acquiesced. We got our free bottles of Coruba and cola, went back to our friends and, I suppose, drank them.

I woke the next day fully clothed, with a hangover and cleavage full of banana. When my friends, at whose place I had crashed, offered me bananas for breakfast I laughed. When they did it again at lunchtime I laughed. When one of them continued to do it every time he saw me for the following week I eventually said “for fucks’ sake dude, it’s getting old”.

Back to present day.

The immaculately-presented, 35 year-old mother of three with whom I was sharing a nice bottle of Pinot Gris, was, of course, my co-champion (the real champion) at sexy banana eating. We laughed and laughed. Everyone else laughed. And when we had finished laughing we both said that of all the drunken, stupid things we did as teenagers, that was the one thing that stuck. That could still make us really cringe, half a lifetime later.

Why did it still bother us so much? It was embarrassing, of course. I have no doubt that my performance wasn’t sexy, but that it also wasn’t so silly that I could pretend I had been mocking the event.

I think it bothers me that this sort of event happened at all. The whole night was engineered for the male titillation and female objectification and we participated in it willingly.

This was just the most obvious event in my teenage years where I used my sexy teenage body to try to win the attention of men. But it was far from the only time I did it. I craved male attention and I thought the best way – the only way – to get it was to give the impression that I might be sexually available to just about any young man who crossed my path.

And I don’t get it. Why did I want it so much? Why didn’t I think that it was enough that I was smart and fun and kind? I knew I had those qualities, but for some reason I didn’t think they counted for much.

I suppose it’s for the usual boring reasons. That’s what young women are raised on. Pretty girls, sexy girls get male attention and that’s what we are meant to want. Is that it? Why didn’t most of my female friends seem to rely on their sexuality as much as I did? I don’t know. I want to know though. Maybe then I can help my daughters to have better self esteem than I did.

To be clear, I don’t think that all or any or even many young women who wear sexy clothes and flirt and tease are necessarily doing it for the reasons I was. I wear sexy clothes now sometimes and it’s certainly not to make myself sexy to men. I have sex now because I want to, not because I think it will make boys like me. I eat bananas now because they are delicious, not because they are phallic.

I don’t think there is a damned thing wrong with wearing sexy clothes or having sex with people one doesn’t love or even with fellating bananas. I just think the reasons I had for doing it weren’t good for me.

And that Coruba party was bullshit.