Aimee Horton

Frenemies

May
09

Frenemies – a term we usually associate with the rich and famous, whether it’s Paris and Nicole, Nadine and Cheryl, or SJP and Kim. Friends who spend all their time together, but don’t really like each other. I’m not doubting that they don’t enjoy one another’s company at times, that they don’t have things in common or have fun together, but there is the underlying motive within the relationship which is always to be better than the other. Whether it’s who parties the hardest or dresses the most provocatively the main thing is to be the most famous, they’ll stop at nothing to outdo each other.

Being 30 this year, I grew up in the era where Girl Power was the mantra. I went through the teens quoting the phrase “friendship never ends” and shouting about individuality and standing up for who you are. At the time, the term “Frenemy” wasn’t one that would even be considered. Girls stuck together. Well, in theory we did. We’d focus on honing our own individual style, which just happened to reflect the style of two of the most popular UK girl bands. We’d strut about clad in combats and vest tops by day, and by night we’d wobble in platforms and baby doll dresses, pointing, pouting and loudly asserting ourselves, hugging each other, hanging around in rowdy groups hoping to get away with underage drinking and dancing in the local clubs.

Nevertheless, when it came to putting our chosen motto into practice, it never really happened. We often shunned our friends to “walk around the field” with our best friends number one crush, or we tried to ensure that the current girl who was the least popular in the group looked foolish for the school disco, we weren’t there for each other, we were there for ourselves. Clawing our way up the social ladder in life, pretending to be individuals and confident, when really, being the same was the thing that kept you safe.

You assume that this is where it stops though. After all the social life of the stars appear to be all about playground politics, that in real life we are far more sophisticated. However, when I look at day to day life, I see frenemies wherever I look. Think about it, who are yours? Is it that gym buddy? The mummy you go on regular play dates with? Or perhaps that work mate with a mutual dislike for another colleague? Friends you probably wouldn’t have if you didn’t have that miniscule nugget in common. How do you deal with them when they frustrate you?

Being a quite cynical person, I’m aware of my close friends versus my fake friends (my less glamorous version of a frenemy). I have had a few in the past, the best friend who pretends not to revise for exams, the work mate who is going for the same promotion, but you don’t mind WHO got it, because you both are amazing and deserve it (whilst you are both secretly scurrying away in the background), and most recently, the friend where every day is a competition to keep up with the Jones’s.

I watch the most recent fake friend closely. I watch her compete, to try and drag others down, she often goes in for the kill when her self confidence is at a low point. My personal favourite time was the time she told a new mum that people still thought she was pregnant, hours after the new mum had voiced her frustrations with her frumpy post pregnancy body. It turned out the underlying reason was that the new mum had got into her pre-pregnancy jeans a whole three days before the frenemy had the year before.

On hindsight, you can laugh about these things, it’s almost funny the lengths things go to. However, my concern is, there is an underlying edge to the frenemy which leads to a more serious side of things. This is a situation, which like so many of the celeb relationships could spiral out of control, without the protection of the A list lifestyle when it all inevitably blows up in somebody’s face.

Not only do people get hurt, confidence wounded, there’s the underlying competitiveness which could cause long term damage. Whilst it’s tempting to play games with the competitive fake friend, to tell them you’re buying the latest designer handbag, or that you’re a size 6 then sit back and see what they get up to in order to go one better, the lengths they’re willing to go during this power struggle of a friendship is scary.

In quiet suburbier I’m witnessing everything from new boobs, to new cars, to “accidental” pregnancies. It wouldn’t do to not have the most children on the street. To not have the newest car. Sod the loans and the cost. Sod the friends, the feelings and people’s lives. Winning is key.

When did friendships become so aggressive? Why do we surround ourselves with people who cause us to question our integrity? Why, in our 20s, 30s and even 40s do we still feel the competitive urge to have as may friends as possible, even if sometimes, they’re only as close as a Facebook status “like” or a Retweet? Are we ashamed to admit that actually, the people we really like and trust we could count on one hand? Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on those we love and care about? Or is it all about how many people will be in the room at that big birthday party? Have they always been like this?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I’m as guilty as anyone for having a mass of facebook “friends” who I haven’t spoken to in 12 years. I threaten on a weekly basis to cut ties with a frenemy who drives me up the wall, but always reel myself back in before I do. Perhaps it’s for my own amusement, or perhaps I’m taking heed of the old saying keep your enemies close and your friends closer. Maybe we don’t want to admit it, but maybe it’s just the fear of ending up alone.

Are we getting a bit OTT when it comes to “protecting” our kids?

Apr
29

After becoming aware of the “Are Make-Up Kits For Tots Evil?” campaign last week (aka Slap on the Face of Childhood), along with a brief chat about little boys with guns and swords on Twitter the same night, I started thinking.

Are we over thinking certain areas too much? Are we making too many choices for our children? Assuming that certain mindsets and opinions are formed based on what we form ourselves? By withholding access to certain toys from an early age are we actually encouraging them to rebel in the future when they have access to them, with our without our approval/consent/knowledge? By shielding them from marketing, and not teaching them about it, are we in fact making them naive to it in the future.

I am very pro positive body image, I am very pro women realising there is more to life then Pink shoes and a flat stomach. I know it’s surprising for ME of all people to quote that, but it’s true. I may suffer from low self esteem at times, but as a whole, it’s because I’m terrified that I could be considered dumb and shallow. Even if I am a little bit of both.

I have two children, both boys. They mix with boys and girls on a regular basis, either at nursery/pre-school or on play dates. Because of this not only do they have a magnitude of toys to explore, they have the opportunity pick their favourites, and are able to begin to explore their likes and dislikes. Not only with toys, but with who they mix with. At three and a half my son already has “best friends”, and people he likes to play with who “aren’t his favourites” and also little boys and girls he doesn’t like to play with.

Some of the toys my children love I approve of, some I even like. However, some I hate. I’ve not yet banned a toy coming in my house (although musical instruments are a close – that’s not because I disapprove of them, I just value my sanity), however, I have been known to steer an opinion/preference – for example I really didn’t want my eldest to have a Baby Annabel for Christmas. Not because I’m against him playing with dolls, but because I hate that particular doll, it freaks me out. Therefore I showed him an advert with a remote control train on it, the one that I knew a relative had already bought him. That promptly changed his mind.

If he’d begged for the doll like he did for his lighting up and web shooting Spiderman, I think I would have given in, or done the thing I swore I’d never do, get a slightly less ugly doll. (For the record. I also hate Spiderman, he’s annoying, and probably far too grown up for my son, I have never marketed Spiderman to him, he never saw it on the TV or computer until his friends at school introduced it to him.)

Which leads me to thinking a lot about the current war cry regarding toys such as pink lego. What’s the harm really? Is it being overtly marketed to girls? Or is it just our assumption that it is for girls, as is the age old generalisation. Pink is for girls and blue is for boys? If my son pointed out the box of pink lego on the shelf and demanded that one rather then the pink, would I try and steer him to the blue one? No. if he wanted pink so be it (I may also be a bit excited at the thought of building a pink windmill instead of a black and red one), however, he was bought a box of blue lego earlier in the year. Am I meant to be horrified that whoever bought it for him assumed that because of his gender he should have/would want the “boy” option? Will the pink make him camp and girlie, and blue make him macho and sporting? By painting our childrens nails – whatever their gender – whilst letting them dance around the house in our necklaces and shoes to Britney Spears and Girls Aloud, are we jeopardising their future?

If we’re saying they shouldn’t make make-up kits for little girls, that it’s steering them down the path of self esteem issues…should we be looking at dress up clothes (surely dressing up as princesses and superheros have the same impact, will not having a six pack harm self esteem along with the lack of fairy wings?), at school uniforms (maybe boys should be allowed to wear skirts instead of just trousers or shorts? Some schools I know of wont let the girls wear trousers, is this something we should be protesting against?), should we be looking at hair (perhaps we shave the heads of all our children(, send them in to the world in pants and vests (white so not gender specific) and let it pan out. Oh sorry. Am I being an extremist?

As a child I grew up in the country, caught frogs by day, slept in tents in the bottom of the garden by night (well for a few hours until we snuck inside in the early hours), I owned a sword, I wore green wellies with frogs on them. I also had fairy wings, barbies, and bright pink dressing up shoes that came with a make up kit. I used to watch HE-MAN and SHE-RA, but I always wanted to be SHE-RA, she had amazing long blond hair. These days the thought of camping kills me, but I love to catch frogs with my kids to scare my husband with. Although, I’d still rather be She-Ra. What does that tell you? Has that confused the issue? Perhaps we’re allowed the overtly girly pink stuff if we had non-gender specific stuff too?

I’d like to think I class myself as a feminist. Although admittedly often I forget this when it suits me (putting out the rubbish, mowing the lawn lifting anything heavy). I wear nail varnish, I have a pink handbag, I colour my hair, and shopping and cooking is a therapy to me. But I believe women should be classed as equal, that the world is our oyster and that we can do the majority of jobs out there as well as men…sometimes even better because we can multi-task. I think men are as bitchy and emotional as women are these days. The strain of modern society appears to have caused everybody to be riding on an emotional roller-coaster.

My body image issues didn’t come from a play make up kit where my eyes were bright blue and my cheeks were stained red for days. My low self esteem hasn’t come from wearing my mums white stilettos (HA). They’ve come from school, from TV, from magazines. From my natural competitive perfectionist streak which means that I’m never happy with anything I do or how I look.

Surely, when it comes to helping our kids grow up from little people into rounded individuals we should be focusing on the bigger stuff out there, the lack of children who seem to be starting school toilet trained, the inability to hold a pencil let alone write their name. Those who don’t know the difference between a carrot and a grape, but do between a Mars Bar and a Snickers. Please’s and thank you’s, swear words, manners, respect, growing old before their time (does smudged lipstick and felt tipped nail varnish count as growing up or just playing at being mummy?), the list is endless.

Surely we should be focusing on the lack of outdoor play that seems to happen, the lack activities across the country to encourage children out of the house (here all there is soft play if it rains – which begs the question, should we be scared of the rain, or should we just get out there and enjoy it?). Why are our children getting fatter and lazier?

There are so many more issues to think about with our children, so much more to protect them from why can’t we just let them play what they want to play with and perhaps guide them in the right direction of who they want to be. Encouraging them along the way.

Just a thought.