Thursday, 24 May 2012

Love Running - Post Race Reflections

Logo Used with Permission

"The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it,
but what he becomes by it."
John Ruskin - English Writer and Critic

Running the much-anticipated 10k was nothing like I had envisaged. Despite being aware of just how much of a mental effort it would be for me to persevere with an activity I don't particularly enjoy, I hadn't foreseen that my all-important running partner would not be able to take part on the day, nor how much of an impact that would have on my motivation. 

For me, the race was - at best - pretty miserable. I didn't have the sense of achievement other participants seemed to enjoy. I didn't relish the physical challenge. I didn't even manage to slot into the reflective frame of mind that has made other runs beforehand feel beneficial.  In short, I didn't really get much out of it at all.

But maybe that's the point. Maybe it was just never supposed to be about me in the first place. The loneliness of running by myself made me more alert to other people on their own, giving me the nudge I needed to spontaneously run alongside someone who was struggling with an injury; we supported each other for a period of time. Our collective group of fundraisers raised £70,000 and counting. The charities we collected for and the recipients of the money will also doubtless see the benefits.

The paradoxical thing is that maybe, just maybe, if this run has left me even an inch closer to understanding that my life experiences are not all about what I get out them - whether I enjoy them, whether I'm happy, whether it's all blue-skies and comfort - then, ta-da! I benefit. I benefit by becoming just a little bit less self-centred and consequently a little bit closer to being at my best.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

From H&M

Image created by artandwords on polyvore.com

It's been a good few months since I received any correspondence from H&M, so I think I can safely conclude that the conversation is over and reflect on where that leaves me. As chronicled in previous posts, I was disappointed to see a favourite brand of mine criticised in the press for using computer generated bodies in its online marketing. I wrote to H&M in a fairly impulsive and scatter-gun kind of way, taking the discussion straight to the top by sending letters to the company's board. 

My argument was that multinational clothing corporations play a role in shaping the aspirations and body-confidence of their consumers. That role should be exercised with sensitivity and respect, and passing fake, mannequin-like physiques off as reality is one distortion too far for an industry that is already fairly economical with the truth when it comes to what women's bodies actually look like. 

I suggested that, if these computer-generated bodies served a functional purpose (e.g. allowing online shoppers to 'try on' clothes), steps could be taken to protect the more impressionable from the pressure of trying to measure up to artificial body-types. A few ideas from internet comment boards included: making the bodies look like mannequins instead of trying to pass them off as people by superimposing head shots onto them; or putting a disclaimer on the page to educate younger shoppers about the nature of the images.

To the credit of certain individuals, I received a prompt response to my letters. Tina Jaederberg was kind enough to forward my letter to the media relations department, sending an email update to let me know she had done so. Press Officer Charlotta Nemlin then sent a more comprehensive response a few days later. Her email explained the process of creating the virtual model images, stressing that the practice is industry-wide and there was never any intention to promote any particular body type.

Although I appreciate the rationale, my overall feeling is that the company has missed an opportunity to elevate its practices beyond the 'norm'. The negative press coverage at the end of 2011 was a window where H&M could have taken a lead in showing concern for the wider social impact of its images, as identified by its customers. It could have been proactive. Instead it went on the defensive, denying responsibility. 

This is perhaps typical corporate behaviour, but sadly it's not very inspiring - and for me inspiration is what clothes shopping is all about: finding something 'me', something to put my name to and stake a little piece of my identity in. There are still things I like about H&M - their H&M conscious range, for example. But, where before I used to shop without thinking twice, I now find myself questioning the values that are woven into the fabric of each organisation I'm handing money over to and whether I want to be a walking advertisement for those things.

The jury has been out on that one since January. In the interim my indecision has contributed to the fact that I haven't bought any new clothes or shoes in 2012 - from H&M or anywhere else. I'm still working out where to go from here.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Thank Goodness for... Urban Splash


Housing is such a universal need, but manages to be a deeply personal and divisive issue at the same time. When I was introduced to Urban Splash it wasn't the swanky interiors that impressed me - it was more to do with their belief in moulding the urban environment to respond to people instead of the other way around. Or, as they put it:

"In the early days we worked with existing buildings that we fell in love with, buildings that had fallen apart and that we made better. When we ran out of buildings to convert we started to make our own. We made homes, we made offices and we made special spaces in between for people to be and do things that people do..."

Browsing through their projects, I love the thoughtfulness and imaginative energy in their work. And although I'm conscious of the fact that city centre regeneration is a complex and often imbalanced process, a part of me can't help but celebrate the idea of run down places being reinvigorated and be glad that, in the inevitable march of time and change, there are companies like Urban Splash leading the way. 
'Thank Goodness for...' 
Posts that celebrate the positive impact people and organisations are having on overwhelming issues
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