My most recent transformation challenge at EP was in December 2017, prior to starting FIRE in March this year. That challenge culminated for me, like so many others, in a fitness photoshoot.
Each photoshoot I do with EP, I choose a theme. The last two shoots the theme has been pole dancing and yoga/meditation, but this time I decided to do something that represented my journey from scared, shy young girl to proud, brave, confident woman. My theme for December 2017 was NO SURRENDER.
No Surrender, for me, took into account all the struggles I'd endured to get to the point I was. I was at my strongest, I'd just performed in my first Showcase with PDCS and choreographed my first pole solo and performed it in front of an audience. I was eating well, staying on top of my workload and generally feeling great! I remember reflecting back on the past five years - the time I've been training with Hilal - and shaking my head at where I was now.
So why the 'pirate flag' for No Surrender?
The Jolly Roger, traditionally called the 'Skull and Crossbones' or the 'Pirate Flag', is probably one of the most recognisable symbols in history. The Jolly Roger I am flying in my photoshoot is the design used by the historical pirate captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham, who is famous for his expensive calico shirts, and for having two women on his crew: his lover Anne Bonny and Mary Read, a woman who had been raised and dressed as a boy since childhood and had served in the army and navy respectively before becoming a pirate. Calico Jack is one of my favourite historical figures and, while his life ended prematurely on the gallows in 1720, his name has continued down history and, along with Blackbeard, he is a pirate most people can name, even if they know nothing about him.
This is easily my favourite of the many Jolly Rogers, incorporating both that famous symbol of death: the skull, but eschewing the cliche of crossed bones in favour of crossed swords, being the instruments that bring death. It's a powerful image, and its minimalistic nature appeals to me aesthetically too: it would have looked very impressive (and undoubtedly terrifying) flying against a stiff sea breeze as Calico Jack and his crew descended upon a helpless merchant vessel in the Caribbean seas 300 years ago.
But this symbol is not only a favourite of mine, it is also a symbol that refuses to die, despite the fact that the men (and few women) who flew it and sailed under it are long gone. The Jolly Roger endured despite all attempts by the colonial powers who eventually exterminated piracy to eradicate it; it has cropped up again and again through history and most children can tell you about a skull and crossbones long before they know what a Union Jack (or other symbol from modern or recent flags) is or represents.
This is why it is so powerful for me. Everyone, everyone, at the time this symbol was a common sight loathed it and, once piracy was nullified in the areas where it once flew, the powers that were probably thought they'd seen the last of it. Yet, despite their best efforts, it wouldn't go away, it wouldn't die, and it stubbornly refused to surrender to defeat, or to be confined to the dusty annals of long forgotten history. It survived, being reinvented over the centuries to suit the needs of those using it, and even attempts to link it to the colonial version of the pirates - filthy, blood-thirsty brutes who wantonly raped, murdered and butchered for sport - and to paint it as a symbol of death and destruction, nothing history did to the Jolly Roger could make it go away.
For me, there have been plenty of times when events in my life and those around me have done their best to make me disappear. There have been times when it felt like, every time I pushed back or tried to climb back up, everything conspired against me and down I went again.
But stubbornly, I refused to surrender.
Six years ago this year I walked into a gym and met Hilal, and since then I have been on a journey that has not only got my body in tip-top shape, but my confidence, determination, and perseverance grew, as did my courage to try new things, to speak out when I had something to say, and grow as a person. I have learned to love my body and my mind, but it is a love born from strength and I refuse to give up, to let it go, or to let anybody take it from me.
Like the Jolly Roger, I will not give up just because those around me tell me it's time to shut up and move on.
And that's why I call it Straight Living, even though I'm standing up proud with the Jolly Roger. Because this is my opinion, straight as that, and I won't surrender or give ground on it; the Jolly Roger is representative of that.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.