Flo la vita

Social commentary and think pieces

It doesn't take a genius to see that Prince Andrew hasn't been entirely honest with the press. Claims of a medical condition leaving him unable to sweat were quickly proven false when, in the days following the release of Emily Maitlis' notorious News Night Interview, the internet was abuzz with photos of a sweaty Prince Andrew. Not only that, but he claims to remember specifically that he was at Pizza Express, Woking on the specific date that Virginia Roberts claimed to be have been with him at Tramp nightclub, all the way back in 2001. But, as pointed out by many, how would one remember exactly where they were and what the were doing on a specific date eighteen years ago?

But, possibly what stood out most to those who saw the News Night interview was not only the blatant lies, but his lack of empathy for Epstein's victims, and those who claim to be victim to his own actions. The lack of remorse and the fact that Prince Andrew displayed no empathy whatsoever, nor did he even apologise, despite Emily Maitlis prompting him to numerous times, was what shocked and disgusted the public the most. However, whilst I too was disgusted by his response, I can't say I was particularly surprised. It doesn't surprise me that men with great power may abuse it. We've seen it happen before; with Weinstein; with Savile and now with a member of the Royal Family, which has so long seemed a stable force among various other societal issue in British Society.

Whilst his lack of empathy is shocking - and I do not aim to justify his response in the slightest - I do wonder if his lack of empathy breeds from his arguably incredibly privileged upbringing?I would not expect someone who has lived such a privileged life to understand that, despite being handed life on a silver platter, you can't always get what you want. I think what led to his involvement in Epstein's trafficking of underage girls is his sense of entitlement. He hasn't lived in the "real" world as such, he has arguably had a very sheltered existence, and though this doesn't justify his frankly appalling behaviour, I think it explains to an extent why those who saw the interview - most of whom are well adjusted to modern society and its expectations - are so shocked by his response to such horrifying accusations. I doubt he has ever had to think much about anyone other than himself, and unlike the vast majority of people who haven't grown up surrounded by such immense privilege and wealth, he doesn't understand that he is not entitled to everything, including women's bodies.

Though my perspective may seem presumptuous - of course, we can't know for sure how such immense privilege has impacted him, or if he would have done the same having lived an ordinary life - I do wonder if privilege breeds contempt and a lack of respect?

Throughout the interview it is increasingly evident that he is unbelievably self absorbed; his only evident concern being protecting his own representation. When asked of Virginia Roberts, he replies "I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady" and not once in the entire fifty minute interview does he refer to Virginia Roberts by name.By distancing himself from the problem in this way, he shows blatant disregard of the feelings and experiences of Epstein's victims and, quite possibly, his own victims. This does nothing but further emphasise the extent of the privilege that he has lived in, not having to care about the impact his actions have on others because he has always been able to do exactly as he pleases.Now, he seems to be learning a lesson. Its just a shame it come at the expense of so many innocent young women. 

Instagram is currently testing the removal of the 'like' feature in countries including Ireland, Japan and Australia. In removing the feature, the number of likes a photo receives will be visible to whoever posted the photo, however, it would be invisible to their followers and those viewing their account.
In response to the changes, Instagram's Tara Hopkins said "We want Instagram to be a place where people can feel comfortable expressing themselves." But, what does the removal of the like really mean for social media users? And, what does it mean for the future of social media as we know it?

Personally, I don't believe that removing the like will totally eradicate all issues associated with social media. Part of our attraction to Instagram is the validation we receive when a photo gains a certain number of likes, and as the number of likes a photo receives is still visible to us - only our followers can't see it - we still receive that dopamine rush that we so desperately chase through our addiction to digital validation. Admittedly, without the like the pressure to receive such approval is lessened, as the amount of likes you have is reserved for your eyes and your eyes only.
However, you would undoubtedly continue to seek validation with or without the like being public, and it is arguable that if the like is removed, our focus will shift to other factors such as the number of followers we have.

However, there's no denying that the like is particularly toxic in the sense that its a clear signifier of how 'validated' we are. Our addiction to receiving that validation is only aggravated by the feature, encouraging damaging habits - constant obsessing over likes - and damaging thought processes - beating yourself up when you don't receive the amount of likes you had envisioned.
The number of likes a photo receives can seem astronomically important, and as a generation we often obsess over likes to such an extent that we fool ourselves into believing that the number of times someone double taps our photo is  definitive of our worth as a human being. In the midst of such thought processes, its crucial to remind ourselves that a like is, in fact, astronomically unimportant. Its a flimsy piece of digital approval which benefits the world in no way. It means nothing.

This is an issue particularly prominent in teenagers. Its clear to see that the rate of adolescent mental health issues has soared since the early noughties, and I truly believe that the introduction of social media is largely to blame for that. Though this isn't an issue affecting teenagers exclusively - we all seek validation to a certain extent, despite our age - I do think that for teenagers, who have been surrounded by social media for almost the entirety of their adolescence, the removal of the like will be hugely impactful on their mental wellbeing.

One of the largest issues regarding the removal of the like is the prospect of a possible end - or significant change - to influencer culture.
Without the like feature, brands would struggle to see how much attention - or engagement - an influencers photo has gotten. This makes it far more difficult for influencers to take part in campaigns, their most prominent source of income.
Surely, this does nothing but go to show how unsustainable influencing is as a career. Particularly as the vast majority of influencer's content is owned by platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and so I think its quite naive to depend on social media, which you have very little to no control over, as your largest source of income.
However, I do wonder if, with the removal of the like, brands may focus more strongly on the quality of content an influencer is creating, rather than the statistical aspect of it? And if so, will the removal of the like restore a greater collaborative nature to social media, rather than a competitive one?

Despite the benefits of the removal of the like, I refuse to believe that the decision has been made by Instagram out of a genuine concern or care for the apps users.
Rather, I think its a business decision made purely to benefit Instagram and generate a larger income for Facebook, who own the app.
Without the like, Influencer culture is altered massively and if brands and Influencers struggle to work together, brands are far more likely to advertise through the Instagram app, rather than the individual profile's of Influencers, generating more money for Facebook.
Not only that, but by removing the like Instagram are avoiding any scrutiny in regards to the apps affect on the mental health of its users, particularly teenagers.

Possibly the most pressing question is; could this be the end to social media as we know it?
I wouldn't know the answer. But, as much of a change it does make, I really don't believe that the change will be at all groundbreaking or monumental in any way to the majority of Instagram's users who are normal people, rather than influencers.
Much of the younger generation - Gen Z - aren't particularly enthralled by the social media world anyway. I for one am certainly not.

When Instagram was introduced in 2010, I saw the app as a hub for me and my friends in which we communicated with each other and people at school who, without being connected via social media, we may not have come into contact with otherwise.
However, that's no longer the case. I almost never communicate with people I don't offline through Instagram and over the past couple of years fewer and fewer of my friends are using Instagram at all, myself included.
In fact, I almost despise social media and how its changed the way we interact with one and another. Quite frankly, I think its made us quite lazy, in the sense that we so often depend on the fact that we can hide behind a screen in order to avoid talking to each other face to face.
The amount of 'perfection' social media presents us with, Instagram in particular, is something else I find antagonising. No matter how many times we are reminded that Instagram is nothing but a catalogue of our best moments and certainly not a sum of our whole selves, we are only human and being constantly surrounded by other people's curated 'perfection' is bound to feed into self deprecating thought processes.

There's no doubt that removing the like will change the nature of social media. But, it will change it for the better.

In the April of this year, Spain's PSOE party (Spanish Socialist Workers party) announced that they were considering outlawing prostitution in an effort to appeal to female voters ahead of their general election. The part said "Prostitution, which we aim to abolish, is one of the cruelest aspects of the feminisation of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women."
Later that month, The Netherlands, with possibly the most prominent red light district of any country, admitted that they too were considering outlawing prostitution after a petition against sex work in the country gained over 40,000 signatures.
Whilst its clear to see that the intentions of both Spain and The Netherlands are only good - to protect the women operating in the industry - what would the outlaw of sex work mean for prostitutes in these countries?

The fact that prostitution is an issue in Spain isn't surprising. Over the last couple of years the country has faced economic hardships, which has caused many problems in the country, including the loss of jobs. When you consider this, its not at all shocking that women are turning to prostitution to make themselves some money, which just goes to show that more often than not a woman's choice to do sex work is purely circumstantial. Its something they go into out of desperation and something they only intend to be temporary. Its a means of survival.

In countries where prostitution is illegal, the women working in the trade are only a symbol of their own desperation. Working illegally on the fringes of society and mixing with people on the wrong side of the law is unlikely something they'd do out of choice, had it not been one of few feasible ways to support themselves or their family.
If prostitution is outlawed, then these women - who only do what they do out of desperation - automatically become jobless or, if they continue working, criminals.

I think its also entirely crucial to remember that outlawing something doesn't stop it happening. Murder and theft are illegal, yet people are still killed and robbed. The same applies to prostitution because even if you outlaw it, no matter how greatly you enforce that law, you still aren't able to abolish a woman's desperation or need to support herself or her family, which is likely the reason she is working in prostitution.

I want to point out that when I refer to women working in prostitution, I am not referring to those who have been forced into the trade; sex slaves. That is an entirely different issue and something that is rightly illegal. Rather, I am referring to the women who have gone into the trade by their own decision, though likely due to their circumstances.

When it comes to prostitution, rather than outlawing it we need to think more deeply about how we can improve the societal factors - poverty, the housing crisis, prejudice - that very often lead women to turn to prostitution as a last resort.
The safety of these women is clearly at the heart of the intentions of both Spain and The Netherlands, and rightly so. Theres no denying that prostitution can be astronomically dangerous for the women involved and I would certainly agree that providing them with safety and support is crucial.
But, unless the societal factors that lead women into that role are improved, banning prostitution can, and will likely, leave many women far more vulnerable than they were to begin with.

Everything I know about love - Dolly Alderton

Despite the hype surrounding Dolly Alderton's memoir Everything I know About Love, it was a book I was reluctant to buy. Having never read a memoir prior to reading Dolly's I had a preconceived idea that, as a genre, memoirs would be overly self-indulgent and come from a slightly narcissistic perspective.

However, Everything I Know About Love very much proved my assumptions wrong. I absolutely loved the book. In fact, its the first book I've read in a long time that I would be able to honestly describe as 'unputdownable'.

The book centres around female friendship, making the clear point that sometimes the platonic relationships you have with females are often just as valuable (if not more valuable) that the relationships you have with romantic partners.
The strong focus on Dolly and Farly's friendship and the extent of their closeness reminded me to appreciate the female friendships I already have, and strive to make more.

Dolly's ability to make the reader really feel the emotions of what's going on in the book is something to be admired. The chapter 'Florence' especially was evident of her talent of engaging the reader in her world and feelings, leaving me in floods of tears.

My only criticism would be that it got embarrassingly corny towards the end.
 Whilst the actual message in these particular chapters was a good one, I found the "I am my own universe, a galaxy, a solar system" narrative uncomfortable at times purely because it could come across as a bit preachy or similar to a self-help book at times. Maybe thats just the nature of a memoir, I don't know.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The emphasis on the importance of female friendships really stood out to me and spurred me to be more appreciative of my own.

Notes on a nervous planet - Matt Haig

In Notes on a nervous planet, Matt Haig explores the impacts social media, news and consumerism has on our mental health.
Not only does he look at the impacts and why these things impact our mental health and our society, He also treats the book as a guide on how to not let the digital age take over, and how to prioritise mental wellbeing in a world that almost seems designed to tip you over the edge.

The book had many strong messages on social media. Matt Haig very much drew attention to some of the harsh realities of the digital world, whilst also praising the positive impacts the internet has had on society, too. Despite occasionally coming across as a little self-indulgent, I think the personal experiences shared in the book made it all the more relatable and added to the emphasis of the importance of remaining humane in a world so ridden with technology.

"We still aren't immortal. All these products aiming to make us look younger and glowing and less death-like aren't addressing the root problem. They can't actually make us younger. Clarins and Clinique have produced a ton of anti-ageing creams and yet the people who use them are still going to age. They are just - thanks in part to the billion-dollar marketing campaigns aimed at making us ashamed of wrinkles and lines and ageing - a bit more worried about it. The pursuit of looking young accentuates the fear of growing old. So maybe if we embraced growing old, embraced our wrinkles and other people's wrinkles, maybe marketers would have less fear to work with and magnify."

- From the chapter 'Unhappy beauties'.

How to fail - Elizabeth Day

Based on the hit podcast How to fail with Elizabeth Day, Elizabeth Day's book 'How to fail' explores her personal failures - failing to fit in at school, failing to conceive, and failing to recognise her own worth both in the workplace and in her romantic relationships- and how these 'failures' have very much impacted her successes, and in some cases led her to her biggest achievements. 

Part memoir, part manifesto, the book focuses heavily on both the failures and success of Elizabeth Day herself and those of her podcast guests, who include the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Dolly Alderton and Sebastian Faulks. 

The book was full of wisdom and reassurance. In particular, the last chapter 'How to fail at success' in which Day shares James Frey's straightforward yet impactful mantra: it is what it is - a mantra that I have spent years repeating to myself when the inevitable occurs. 

How to fail has been the first book I've read in a long time that I can genuinely find no fault with. The memoir aspect of the book wasn't at all self-indulgent, as memoirs often can be - likely because there was also focus on the failures of her podcast guests. 

The ending was particularly impactful, reiterating the message of the book, with the last sentence being "After all: it just is what it is."

Few things stand as prominent and consuming in the mind of a young girl as friendship.  
In your primary school years those platonic relationships are far more likely measured in quantity rather than quality and with cliques being a regular occurrence, the dynamic of female friendship groups are often seen as the most important things in the minds of pre-pubescent girls. It certainly seemed soul consuming to me.

Being a shy child in a primary school class largely dominated by much louder, confident characters, friendship was something I very much struggled with. Being much quieter than the rest of my class automatically made me less heard, and the typical school dynamic didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. 
My best friend  - lets call her Sophie - was a particularly confident character, and one who was very much put on a pedestal by the rest of the girls in the class. She was heavily admired and ultimately that resulted in her becoming the ring leader of the friendship group.

Among the girls in this group there was a particular mentality that was shared between them all; they were all desperate to be Sophie’s favourite. Every one of them was as desperate as the next to win her approval and to a certain extent I think I was too. 
We’d go to extremes to be deemed her best friend and would often take to ripping each other to shreds just to be liked by her. And, as you would expect, that made it a particularly unhealthy group to be a part of. 

The question that I ask myself now, looking back, is why I was drawn to that group? The answer is simple; I had limited choice in friends. 
Primary school - and secondary school for that matter - have such strange dynamics in comparison to the outside world. At that time, it very much felt to me as though my only option would be to be considered an outcast or be friends with those deemed popular, and ultimately make life easier for myself. My intense insecurity meant that I chose to be a part of this abhorrent group simply because it was easier than being on my own. 

Thats not to say I didn’t try to make new friends. I did. 
When things within the group and with Sophie became extreme. When she was bullying others or when she was bullying me, I would take to forcing myself into other groups. 
I spent a long time in Primary School trying to convince four girls that girls bands with five members did exist so that they would let me hang out with them whilst they did ‘band rehearsals’ - this mostly consisted of singing Little Mix songs from printed out lyrics, behind the trees in the playground. 
Whilst I felt more valued in that friendship group, it transpired that we had very little in common and within a week I was making a crappy excuse for why I could no longer partake in ‘band rehearsals’ and rekindling my friendship with Sophie. 

By this point Sophie had lost a lot of friends. The group of girls who had once admired her so was slowly but surely reducing in size. 
This would have been the perfect time for me to call it quits on the friendship, but I didn’t. 
Because the difference between my relationship with Sophie and the other girls relationship with Sophie was that Sophie was my best friend. Not only was she my best friend but I was hers - probably because I was the only person who didn’t deem her more important than myself.
We went on family holidays together to Cornwall, we put on plays for our parents every time we were at each others houses (usually something Shakespearian - we were classy like that), we spent many a day in Brent Cross Shopping Centre buying clothes and art supplies. We even attempted to make our own DIY tutorials for youtube. 
We knew almost everything about each other, which was why I found the situation so difficult; I was torn.

She could be a really manipulative person, both to me and others who she considered ‘easy targets' and in being friends with her I gained myself a reputation based on her actions simply because people assumed I was the same. 

 I distinctly remember the upset and confusion I felt all those lunch times when for no particular reason her and the rest of the group would run away from me, and hide behind the trees. Being the confused, and slightly naive eight year old I was, I ran after them whilst they ran away in fits of laughter. Somehow, it never occurred to me that maybe Sophie wasn’t as good a friend as I had fooled myself into believing she was.

Despite all of this, I was one of the only people to really know Sophie. I mean, really know her.
I was the only person who had seen her cry, with exception of her immediate family. And, in knowing her so well it was clear to me that the manipulative side of her was very much a front. It was a mask she put on when she felt vulnerable, to hide her insecurities. The more she relied on that mask as her safety blanket, the less she was able to cope with her insecurities without it and the more manipulative she became. It all came out of her own sadness.

To this day, I don’t know what caused her to feel that immense amount of self-hatred. Perhaps, the fact that she was so heavily idolised by so many girls? That’s bound to come with pressure. Or, as many people have since said; she just isn't happy in her own skin.

Underneath all of this, she was a really nice person. Underneath that mask was the person who was really my best friend. 
Thats why I didn't initially identify the friendship as toxic. Because I was so torn between the real her and the front she put on.

However, once we started secondary school the situation worsened. Or, more likely, the pressure of starting a new school made Sophie’s insecurities worsen and so she was even more dependent on the manipulative front as her safety blanket, making her nastier. 
In this period, the manipulation towards me and others deemed an ‘easy target’ escalated from petty comments to fully fledged bullying.
I was particularly vulnerable to this because in the past I had been a loyal friend to her in spite of the way she treated me, because like I said, I knew the real her and I was aware that the way she had treated me was just a part of that front. 
Because of the way I had reacted to her in the past, she had the idea she could treat me any way she wanted and I would willingly stick around. 

But, by this point I was better at calling her out. I no longer hesitated to stand up for myself - something I had never done before despite knowing that what she was doing was beyond unacceptable. 

An occasion that sticks in mind was a time in the canteen when she and the rest of the group started to shout continuously at a girl in the year above simply because she was wearing a blue headband that Sophie didn’t like. In fact, it wasn't even that Sophie didn’t like the headband (she had bought it herself about two years prior to this on one of our many trips to Brent Cross) it was because the girl in the year above was someone who would be considered an outcast and that made her an easy target to Sophie, who needed to put others down in order to feel good about herself.
So, I said something. Partly because it was so obviously a horrible thing for them to do and partly because I was mortified to be seen with them whilst they were behaving in this way (though evidently not as mortified as the poor girl they were shouting at). 
I told them to stop what they were doing (it didn’t work ) and I then approached the girl they were shouting at to apologise for what had happened. 

When I returned to the table, the conversation had taken a turn and instead they were talking about how terrible a person I was, rather than how terrible the other girl was. 
In the end, one of the nicer girls - who I suspect much like me, didn't enjoy being a part of the group but also didn't know where else to go - asked me if I wanted to go outside, leaving the rest of them behind. I did. 

We walked around the playground, talking about what had just happened. We ended up confiding a lot in each other. I told her how I really felt about the group and she ended up admitting that she too wasn’t the biggest fan of Sophie.

Our heart-to-heart was interrupted by the bell, signalling our last lesson of the day, where outside the classroom they continued to shout at me. It all became a bit much and, feeling the tears building up in my eyes, I turned a walked to the toilets where I burst into tears. This lasted a mere thirty seconds before I told myself to get it together, turned and left, returning to Geography.

When I emerged from the toilets, puffy eyed and mascara streaming down my cheeks, Sophie approached and followed behind me down the corridor, asking me if I was okay after what everyone had just done, but never once acknowledging the fact that she was very much involved.
I turned to her and told her what I thought. I told her that she was the ringleader and that she was the one who had started it, so not to shift the blame onto everyone else. 

That was when the friendship significantly changed. From then on we grew further and further apart and that year, for the first time in seven years, I didn’t invite her to my birthday.
Instead, I invited two better friends to Brighton for the day. I didn’t tell Sophie I was going. Instead, took her out to dinner the Wednesday of my actual birthday, so that she felt we’d celebrated in some way at least. But, I wanted to go to Brighton without her so I could be certain that I would enjoy myself.
However, walking across Brighton pier, my phone pinged.I looked to find a passive aggressive text from her, saying she hoped I had a good time in Brighton. And just like that I was sent into a frenzy of panic, wondering wether or not she would be angry that I hadn’t invited her. In fact, I think at some point I apologised for doing it without her. 

The friendship continued for another year or so - despite the fact that I spent almost every evening crying over how much I hated the group dynamic -  until another occasion similar to that of the one with the girl in the year above took pace and I could no longer stand being around her.
But, I even failed to leave the friendship on my own. I had to make it their decision somehow, despite it being clear to everyone that I wasn’t happy in the group.
It was the sort of situation where you do the unexpected. When you feel something so strongly that without thought, you just say what you’ve so long wanted to say. And so I did. I told them that if they didn't want me to be their friend then I would much rather them just say so, rather than being so nasty to me. “Fine, fuck off then” one of them said. And so I did. Gladly.

With exception of a small group of friends I had at the beginning of Primary school (a group that very much proved that three really is a crowd) I’d never been good friends with anyone else but Sophie. 
Sophie and I had been best friends for the best part of ten years almost exclusively, so biting the bullet and finally ending that friendship that had so quickly turned toxic was incredibly daunting. 

Having not been friends with anyone else and being so desperate not to appear a ‘loner’, I had to actively seek out new friends. 
The minute I walked away from Sophie in the school corridor, I approached Zara, a girl I knew from Primary school, although admittedly not very well. Certainly not well enough that my approach wasn't a surprise.

The conversation that followed was excruciating on my side. I believe my exact words were “I know  this is forward, but i’m sick of Sophie and I was wondering if we could be friends?” She took it surprisingly well and simply said “Sure, you can meet Annie.”

On meeting Annie - who is now my closest friend - I tried to win her over by sharing my Pizza rolls, which I’d just made in the home economics class. They were disgusting, and I now know that in a bid not to offend me, Annie was secretly throwing them in the bin, which isn’t surprising really - they were verging on inedible.

Having been in a toxic friendship for so long and having been constantly manipulated for years on end, its not surprising that I didn’t have a clue what it was like to have someone reciprocate the feelings of a good friend. 
So, when after knowing Annie for approximately twenty-four hours she invited me to her birthday, I was over the moon with excitement, albeit very surprised. We still laugh about how shocked I was when she handed me the invite and how I kept asking if she was sure and saying “Oh my god, thank you so much!” after she had told me for the umpteenth time that she really did want me to come. 
I was equally as surprised when my now good friend, Celeste, made plans with me after only having met me two minutes before hand. Though, this time I’d managed to play it cool. 

If I’d never taken the plunge and left that toxic friendship, I wouldn’t have met the girls who are now my closest friends. They are the ones I confide in with everything, the ones I get on best with and the ones I’ve made my fondest of memories alongside. 
And, as it turns out, when we all met, we were all feeling out of place within our friendship groups in some way. The timing couldn’t have been better. Our failure to fit in with our old friends is what bought us together in the first place and why Annie has taken to calling us ‘The Misfits’.
So, when a couple of months after leaving the toxic friendship, Sophie approached me and asked if  we could be friends again, I wasn’t lying when I told her I was happier with my new group.

Leaving the friendship in which I was bullied and manipulated was one of the hardest, yet best decisions I’ve ever made. 
Not only has leaving resulted in me meeting and making some of my best friends, its taught me a number of valuable lessons. Its helped me gain perspective and I truly believe that having that experience when I did has made me far more grown. 
Now, I’m especially careful with what I say and do to the people close to me. I think that comes out of my fear of ever being perceived in any way resembling the way Sophie was perceived. But ultimately, thats made me a better friend. 

In hindsight, I can see the extent of how unhappy I was at that time. Unbeknown to me my unhappiness in that friendship was taking its toll on all the other aspects of my life. But, I will always be grateful for my toxic friendship; it led me to my closest friends.
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