I've been back in Australia for almost a whole month, but so much of my holiday still plays heavily on my mind.
My trip to Ireland was amazing, but it was the time spent in France touring the WW1 Battlefields that really made me stop and think. Not only was this experience incredibly moving in of itself, but it was made all the more personal by the fact that I was able to see the name of a relative killed in the war - my great-great-grandfather: John Alfred Byers, M.C - on one of the many memorials to the missing (he, like many others, does not have a known grave) and, through the tireless research of my tour leader, I was also able to see the stretch of no-man's land where he was killed in 1916.
Growing up in New Zealand and then spending my early adolescence onwards in Australia, the myth of ANZAC Day and the Gallipoli Story was never questioned, either at school or in the wider community. That, people said, was our story and we should all be proud of 'our brave boys' and remember and honour the sacrifice at Gallipoli.
As I child I lapped up this well-intentioned but ultimately misguided patriotism. To listen to the teachers at school, the stories at the Dawn Services I attended as a child, or the textbooks I read, you could be forgiven for believing that the Gallipoli Campaign was the only time the ANZACs saw action during WW1 and, further to that, equally forgiven for believing it was a victory for our side.
The Gallipoli Campaign lasted ten months, beginning in February 1915 and concluding with the evacuation of troops in January 1916. British soldiers began the offensive and the ANZACs arrived in April 1915 (along with many other troops from allied and dominion nations) and remained until the evacuation. It was an Allied effort to gain a foothold in the Ottoman controlled Dardanelles and, whatever spin is put on it, it was an invasion and we were the invaders. The Ottoman Turks did what any reasonable nation would do when armed invaders arrived on their shores: they defended themselves. Allied casualities (i.e. British, Irish, Australian, New Zealander, French, Indian, and New Foundlander soldiers) from the Gallipoli Campaign were 44,150 men dead and a further 97,397 wounded: 141,547 in total. Ottoman causalities were 86,692 men dead and 164,617 wounded: 251,309 in all. Altogether, this puts total causalities at 130,842 dead and 262,014 wounded, which then equates to a massive 392,856* men killed or wounded during the Gallipoli Campaign.
And I am going to put paid right now to the myth that the ANZACs were the only soldiers there. Allied troops from all Great Britain's colonies and dominions were present at Gallipoli and all suffered losses, in fact, the greatest allied loss at Gallipoli was of Great British and Irish troops, who accounted for more than half of allied causalities during that campaign. But if you read an Australian or New Zealand school textbook on the subject, you wouldn't know anyone but the ANZACs was even there and you sure as hell wouldn't know it was a complete failure for the Allies. After ten months they had gained no ground, achieved none of their objectives, and they were evacuated from Gallipoli and joined other battles along the Western Front, but the way it is taught to children in Australian and New Zealand schools is with varnish and rose coloured glasses. Never mentioned is the fact that we were part of an unwelcome and invading force and I didn't learn until many years later that Gallipoli was a costly defeat. ANZAC causalities alone amounted to 11,488 dead and 24,653 wounded: 36,141 in total, but we accounted for only 25% of Allied casualities and just over 9% of total casualities in this campaign.
This is not to say that we didn't suffer at Gallipoli, or that it shouldn't be remembered, or that we are wrong to commemorate it (although I think we could do a better job of it, personally, and ensure that it is a commemoration, rather than the celebration it has become), but perspective is important. Gallipoli was our first engagement as ANZACs, but it was a costly, demoralising defeat in which nothing was achieved and a great deal was lost. Yet the propaganda of 1915 is still being taught today in schools around Australia and New Zealand and, to be blunt, it's wrong. We have a very dubious practice of editing history to suit ourselves, but when you edit the story of the Gallipoli campaign, you are writing lies with the blood of more than 300,000 men: fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, fiances.
And then there's all the graves.
As mentioned above, I didn't go to Gallipoli, but rather toured the Western Front and visited the many cemeteries there, including Tyne Cot, Adelaide Cemetery and Fricourt Germany Cemetery.
If you have ever visited any of these cemeteries, particularly allied war cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), you will know that the first thing that strikes you is their uniformity, the next their symmetry, then the shock sets in as you realise that, beneath each of these uniformly white headstones is a soldier, a sailor, an airman, a nurse, or sometimes two, three, even six people buried together (more on that soon), and then, in the big cemeteries, the next thing that smacks you in the gut in the sheer size.
Tyne Cot is the final resting place of over 12,000 men, which accounts to roughly 0.2% of total Allied war dead, and that is enough to make your head spin. 12,000 men there, and they barely even make a blip on the casualty count.
Turtle Bunbury, in his blog post Remembrance: The Irish & The Great War described the feeling of visiting Tyne Cot perfectly:
"...when you walk through the graveyards of the Western Front, you begin to get a sense of just how intense it was. At the Tyne Cot cemetery in Flanders, I was entirely overwhelmed by the immensity of it all when I walked alone down a path through line after line of those proud white headstones, with a wall blocking the view to my left. I thought I might have become immune to all the death by then but when the wall ended, I looked to my left and I slumped … because, behind the wall, the field of graves was replicated again and again as far as I could see, like the saddest dream ever dreamt. Endless rows of white upright slabs, framed at one end by the ‘Memorial to the Missing’ upon which were written the names of tens of thousands of soldiers whose bodies were never identified." - Turtle Bunbury
And yet, despite all that death, all that needless killing, we still continue to speak of glory and honour when we talk about the first world war.
It really makes me uncomfortable, particularly as we tend to ignore the other wars before and since, putting WW1 up on a pedestal it really doesn't deserve. So, next ANZAC Day, instead of getting caught up in the festivities and celebrations, pause for a moment, take a breath, and reflect. War is a waste of life, of energy, of time, resources and money. It destroys countries, cities, families and forever changes the physical, social and cultural landscape of the world.
How strange to think that we have decided it is something to celebrate.
*It is difficult to caculate the total number of casualities from the Gallipoli Campaign (or indeed any of the battles of the first world war, given the nature of record keeping at the time). The figures here come from this page of the New Zealand History website, and have been sourced from staistics used in Richard Stowers book Bloody Gallipoli (2005).
When you arrive back from holiday, there's 101 things going through your mind as you prepare to reenter reality. I've had a fairly smooth transition back into the real world; the jet lag hasn't been too bad and, frankly, it's great to be home.
But there's one thing everyone is saying that is really getting under my skin. It usually goes along these lines:
"Wow! You look great! I can't believe how much weight you lost while you were away!"
It's said with a smile, with the speaker meaning it as an honest compliment, but I just wish people would stop saying it!
My reasons are two fold:
1) I am not trying to lose weight and dislike the fact that this is a go-to compliment when a woman changes shape.
2) The weight I have lost is weight I didn't want to lose and it wasn't lost in a healthy manner either!
So, without further ado, let me get specific. We'll start with reason one.
We live in an incredible fat-phobic society, where the only socially acceptable way for fat bodies to exist is if they are actively trying to be skinny. Despite some small steps forward in regards to body positivity movements, there is still a social assumption that 'being fat' is equal to being unhealthy, ugly, unloveable or any other negative connotation you would like to attach. Even if a body socially seen as 'fat' is perceived as trying to get 'skinny', the owner of that body is still seen as an object for public consumption (and often ridicule) regardless of their lifestyle habits.
Think of the viral videos that do the rounds on social media every so often, usually captioned with 'How to motivate me to exercise' or something else just as cringe worthy. They usually show a person seen as 'fat' either being given an incentive to exercise - such as the woman running after the car being handed money; or being humiliated and/or punished, often publicly, for not being able to exercise hard enough - think the woman walking on a treadmill while a man stands behind her holding a cactus. While there are those of us who find these videos amusing, I dislike them because of the message they send: that it's OK to ridicule someone based on the way their body looks, even that it's OK to hurt them, even if they are seen to be doing something socially acceptable, such as exercise.
Now, I'm going to say that I have thin-privilege (yes, it's a thing) and have never been seen or considered as fat or plus-size. I'm a size-12 girl who enjoys physical activity and, regardless of dips and drops in the amount of exercise I do or the type of food I eat, I have never gone up a dress-size. I'm lucky in that regard and I'm going to do my best to stay in my box and not 'thin-splain' fat-phobia. In fact, I'm not going to say much more on it; but you need to understand the social background to the so-called compliment of 'losing weight' before I go any further.
In our fat-phobic society, and fat-phobia (like most forms of abuse and prejudice) is primarily aimed at women, we are geared to assume that weight loss is automatically a good thing, especially in women, and something that should be noticed and commented upon in all circumstances.
If someone is actively trying to lose weight and you know this for a fact (it's not enough to assume) then, by all means, compliment them on it. Making the decision to lose weight in a safe and healthy manner is great and every accomplishment should be celebrated. Know your friend who has been working with a trainer and eating well lost two-kilos? FANTASTIC! And when they tell you 'It's only two kilos' make sure to show them this picture, won't you.
If your friend is not trying to lose weight, but they looks great and you reckon they've dropped a few kilos, find something else to compliment them on. Just a simple 'You look great' will do. Particularly if someone is working out regularly, they may not be losing weight at all, but instead putting on muscle and shedding body fat. Weight loss is not the only goal of healthy eating and physical activity and it's certainly not the only way for a body to change shape either.
Yet, fat-phobia abounds and we compliment any change that leads to a seemingly 'thinner' physique as weight-loss, regardless of the circumstances or the reason behind it. 'Fat' does not equal unhealthy and 'thin' does not equal healthy, because these are both socially constructed concepts and everyone will have a different definition of these two things.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, as does health, and it's none of your business what someone else is doing with their body or what it looks like; so unless you know someone is trying to lose weight and doing so in a healthy way, find another way to compliment their awesome physique and all-round amazingness.
So, that's point number one covered; onto point number two.
During my time in Europe I didn't have much opportunity for structured exercise. No pole dancing and a few ad-hoc weight sessions with whatever was available in the hotel gyms.
I missed my exercise and, while I still managed to get in a bit here and a bit there, it was nothing like I wanted or was used to.
And my physique suffered for it.
I lost a lot of muscle during my month in Europe, and (for interest's sake) I did lose some weight, but it wasn't fat, it was muscle I'd worked for and tried so very hard to keep.
So when people look at me and say 'You've lost weight' all they are saying is 'Congrats on losing muscles you worked your ass off for!'. I know full well they don't mean this, but it hurts all the same.
The other reason my physique suffered in Europe? I didn't eat well.
For various reasons, I didn't always have access to as many meals as I like to have a day, and those that I could eat were not always the most enjoyable. Due to food allergies, I was often heavily restricted when I went out to eat, and several of the apartments I stayed in, while advertising kitchens and cooking facilities, either had sub-par facilities or didn't have an essential piece of kitchen equipment, such as a working stove top or an oven. I also had issues with money when I was away and didn't always have enough to go out to eat all the time, which led to skipping meals occasionally or snacking on junk from the nearby Tesco or lollies from the mini-bar.
That is not to say I didn't eat while I was away. I certainly did and had some lovely dishes too, but I didn't eat as much of my kind of food and that led to unhealthy weight loss which I didn't want.
So, in summary, when you see me next I will have recently come back from a month-long trip to Europe. I have lost muscle and haven't eaten as well or exercised as regularly as I would like to and my body composition has suffered for it. I have lost weight, but I didn't want to and I'm not happy about it. So please, find something else to compliment me on. If I look great, you're welcome to tell me, in fact, you will probably make my day, but keep your thoughts about weight loss to yourself. Because the moment you add that onto your compliment it becomes meaningless, fat-phobic and expresses congratulations for something undesirable to me.
But, on the positive, I'm back home now and getting back into a routine, eating my kind of food and getting back into pole dancing again, with some more structured weight training coming soon. I'll get those muscles back and (fun fact) my weight will probably go up, but people will still look at me and say 'You've lost weight!' because we don't know how to compliment a change in physique any other way. So here's an idea: compliment strength, beauty, intelligence, mastering a new skill, working hard to get somewhere, or anything but someone's weight. Because, when it comes down to it, it's actually none of your business anyway.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.