‘Parenting here means checking the ingredients of teargas’: my return to Hong Kong

Emma-Lee Moss, who makes music as Emmy the Great, on life, new motherhood and her divided birthplace

It feels as if the entire world’s press is there, standing on the pavement outside the Foreign correspondent’ Club. They’re in Hong Kong to cover the protests, but tonight, the Friday before National Day, they’re off duty. From the bottom of the hill, the bars of Lan Kwai Fong thrum reliably. There is an uneasy peace in the air, as though we all know that, three days from now, the long-running citywide demonstrations will reach a violent new apex.

I’ve walked this route hundreds of hours, and been a parade of different egoes. I’ve been a adolescent trying to score 7-11 brew on the spot where Chungking Express was filmed. I’ve been a visiting novelist ordering drinks at the FCC bar. But now I am the mother and primary carer of a nine-month-old, and my time out has been negotiated. Quite frankly, I am dazzled by the world after 7pm. As I shuffle past the media crowd, I feel a pull, a yearning. In another life, I’d be there with them. When I moved back to Hong Kong in 2018, it was in search of stories about the strange, convoluted city I was born in.

I take the lift up to a wood-panelled room and join a table of thirtysomethings wearing plastic bloom garlands. I am expecting to be the main event tonight, at the reunion of my primary school class. For nine years, I was the only mixed-race person at my local Cantonese school, where I was known widely as gweimui ( literally” ghost girl “). Chinese school is where I developed a persist complex about not fitting in, and where, after being bullied, I fantasised that one day I’d do something so momentous it would appear in a newspaper, and my classmates would see that I was more than only a girl with an English dad and a Hong Kong mum.

This thought was the founding brick of ambition that drove me to become a musician and novelist, under the name Emmy the Great. Now my want has finally come true, but with a caveat. I am at this reunion because person ensure an article about me in an arts magazine, but it wasn’t about any of my albums, or projects, or anything I’ve written. It was about what it’s like to have an English dad and a Hong Kong mum. Some 25 years later, this is still my most noticeable feature.

I look around the table, disoriented by faces I never expected to see again. Surely they will want to know about the amazing life I went on to lead! I prepare the necessary Cantonese vocabulary in my head.” After we left primary and secondary schools, I moved to East Grinstead, Sussex. In England, I wasn’t a white girl any more. I was considered Chinese. In England, I had to assert over and over that I was British- still do. But I was so grateful for the grass and open space that I accepted this identity. I never expected to be back here in Hong Kong, a gweimui once more. And, abruptly, I’m a mother, too! I never sleep. I never go out. I’m caught between expat and Cantonese culture. I’m losing my mind, actually. How are you ?”

But despite a morbid obsession with the incorrects perpetrated on me by a group of 10 -year-olds, I can’t maintain my guess from the topic of the moment. The city has been tense and uncertain since the first major demoes began in June, initially in response to a bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, but now expanded to five demands, including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police conduct. Parenting has thrown up new challenges, like cry the council to ask for the ingredients of their teargas, and its effect on children. As each new weekend approaches, the population theorizes. Will it be peaceful, or will it spill into violence? Will we wake to news that stimulates us tearful with pride for Hong Kong, or frightened by the scale of the escalation?

Tonight, as China gears up to celebrate its 70 th year as a republic, there is no doubt about which style the news will sway. Someone at the reunion says they are boycotting products from the mainland, including tea. Another, a tiny son who has inexplicably grown into an adult, says he won’t use the MTR metro system any more , now that it’s been accused of enforcing the government’s agenda by shutting down during protests. I spot an opening to admit that, the day the demoes began, I was in England, on tour. By the time I got back, teargas had become the stock police response, and my partner and I decided we wouldn’t attend demonstrations- in case we find ourselves incapacitated and unable to care for our daughter. Instead, I say nothing. I don’t tell them, either, that we are planning to leave Hong Kong for England when our daughter turns one, because I’m self-conscious about having one foot in Hong Kong, and one abroad. This is how it’s always been. It’s how they remember me. And, ever since the protests began, I am wondering if it stimulates me a part of the problem.

***

I can only tell you what I remember. In 1994, Forrest Gump was the English-language film at every cinema for months. Every weekend, my parents would throw their three children into a Volvo and drive to Pacific Place, a mall in the Admiralty district. We’d fulfill our friends, expat families whose children went to see international schools, at McDonald’s, where the kids would climb the Ronald McDonald in the playzone, until we were allowed to go to the CD store and pick out an album. Everybody wore Nikes and had a favourite WWE wrestler and Street Fighter move.

In 90 s Hong Kong, everyone could speak English, even taxi drivers like my Uncle Ron, who had crazy hair and had once cut a demo videotape in a stoner-rock band. But my siblings and I spoke Cantonese, too. On the weekends that we didn’t see our friends, we had dim sum with my mum’s family: Auntie Dora, Uncle sam and Uncle Ron; my two older cousins, too, one of whom had recently taken a new English name, Michael Jordan Lee.

Moss
Moss with her grandmothers, 1988. Photograph: courtesy Emma-Lee Moss

American basketball, Japanese anime, Oxbridge ambitions. In Hong Kong- where the phrase” east fulfills west” is so overused that I’ve seen it advertising a shampoo parlor for dogs – you were at the centre of the world town, a place where global capitalist culture could operate unfettered, dominating the rites and oddities of the Chinese way of life. Watching over everything is was benevolent, late-stage British colonialism; its influence oozed into everything, from the names of English lords on road signs, to the ” Chinglish” that imbued the local Cantonese dialect. Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, was vaguely popular, his final approval ratings still higher than any subsequent leader. It was China that we feared and felt distinct from, even as schoolchildren.

As the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 approached, the expat families began discussing their various plans to leave. Many had one mother who was from Hong Kong, and one from abroad. The handover was an obvious deadline to fulfil any aspirations of living in” the other place”, where you went to visit your grandparents. Our closest family friends went to Australia, Singapore, Germany and Texas. When the day came that the British flag was folded up, and the People’s Liberation Army marched in, we were already scattered various regions of the world, watching on Tv while our moms cried. I didn’t see my best friends, Dan and Ash, again until I was 18. Today, when I text them images of Pacific Place filled with protesters, they joke:” Forrest Gump tickets released again ?”

Looking back, it’s easy to view 1997 as a year of mass exodus from the city, a few moments marked by the loss of foreign professionals( who are still inexplicably “expats” while other temporary workers are “migrant workers” ). But to do that would be to ignore the vast majority of Hong Kong people, who are Hong Kong-born Chinese, speak Cantonese as a first language and were not offered British passports by the departing government. They include my uncles, my aunt, my cousins, my classmates. There are also the minority ethnic groups who are as rooted in Cantonese culture as Hong Kongers. For households like mine, the handover was an opportunity to start again. For those who stayed behind, it was the beginning of a period of uncertainty. The Basic Law- a de facto constitution- promised Hong Kong” a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years. This created, in principle, a liminal time between British and Chinese rule during which the question” Who are we ?” became crucial and explosive.

In his volume Generation HK, on the young Hong Kongers who came of age in the post-9 7 period, the journalist Ben Bland describes the end of British rule as leaving an” identity vacuum “. In fact, the end of the colonial epoch also left an opportunity for Hong Kongers to regroup, to allow Hong Kong-Chinese culture to lift itself from the darkness, and to look back and ask what of the city’s history would be preserved, and protected, before it was absorbed into the mainland.

Today, you can’t take a step without hearing the phrase:” This is the real Hong Kong .” It is a thought that emerges when you find yourself in an alleyway inhabited by street vendors selling milk tea from polystyrene beakers; when the sunlight begins to drop over Aberdeen harbour( in Cantonese, Little Hong Kong) and a fisherwoman steers her craft, one hand on her Samsung Galaxy; when teenage couples hold hands at the entrance to Ocean Park( real Hong Kong ), the amusement park that was never defeated by the arrival of Disneyland( not real Hong Kong ). It is an inescapable theory, as tangible as rain, all the more sweet for the fear that it will soon slip away.

For Hong Kongers today face inordinate pressure that goes beyond the cliff edge of 2047. The high live costs associated with its status as a haven for the wealthy have led to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, which discovers its most extreme expression in” cage homes” for those who cannot afford housing. Meanwhile, whenever Beijing’s influence creeps beyond the promises of the Basic Law, it throws up ambiguities in its wording. The impact is like gaslighting: are we crazy? Or are our liberties being eroded?

The quest for post-colonial identity is something that lured me back to Hong Kong in late 2017. That spring, I had expended a month in Xiamen as part of a British Council scheme, and the effort to communicate in Mandarin( which, it is about to change, I don’t speak ), had somehow unlocked all the Cantonese I’d stored up from my childhood. I was dreaming in Cantonese, and felt a longing to be back in Hong Kong, to see the lanterns at the Mid-Autumn festival.

My mothers, sister and nephew had been back in the city for some time. As well as this, there was a person. While in transit from Xiamen, I had met a British artist who worked at one of the international galleries. We had bonded over our scattered thirties and our love of English woodlands. That Mid-Autumn, we began an adventurous period of walking through the city at twilight, the time when the lighting ricochets off the buildings like mermaid scales in the wind.

It was three years since the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Central. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the civil unrest had dissipated. Instead, I sensed a defiance in Hong Kong and linked it to the arts. Venues had been shut down by strict building regulations, and lifestyle restrictions that induced earning money from music almost impossible, and yet, as the indie DJ Wong Chi Chung told me, there were more than 800 indie bands based in Hong Kong. Improvisation was key: wall murals around unexpected corners, rooftop farms, pop-up art spaces in old mills. It was a place opposing to find itself, asserting its right to be. It was increasingly where my heart belonged.

In January 2018, I decided to return to Hong Kong. My flight arrived in March. Forty weeks later, my partner and I checked into the hospital where I was born, and I devoted birth to our daughter.

***

” Does anyone is of the opinion that the city’s flaws are their own fault ?” This is the question that nobody hurls me in the subsistence group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes; in the free playgroup run by friendly septuagenarian churchfolk; in the parenting WhatsApp groups and in the void of the mums’ Facebook pages where I have stooped to scrolling for hours through ads for baby products.

Some 18 several months after I arrived in Hong Kong, my quest to understand it has mutated into something terrible. It’s the not-sleeping that did it, I believe. Or those submerged infant memories that abruptly appear in your thoughts when you’ve just had a baby, disorienting enough without the realisation that you’re unexpectedly in the place where you spent that infanthood.

Emma-Lee
‘ Hong Kong was increasingly where my heart belonged .’ Photograph: Theodore Kaye/ The Guardian

I remember bumping into a friend in London, who had just had a baby and was moving back to Finchley, where she grew up. “ Finchley ,” she’d groaned, like Persephone on her route to suburban hell. Now I know how she felt. You are my Finchley, I scream at Hong Kong, silently.

On a baby’s schedule, you are stripped of the things that stimulate you who you are. Hong Kong, which should feel familiar but doesn’t, contains none of the touchstones I need as my identity slips into the blank of what the poet Liz Berry describes as “feedingcleaninglovingfeeding”. I look around and ensure my first home with the bleakest gaze. I find pollution that threatens my baby’s lungs and stops us going outside for days. I consider expensive housing that drew us to an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, where our road to the playground takes us through a construction site and past a sewage treatment plant. I place my family in this picture. Were we and the individuals who left not the prime recipients of the sunny 90 s, before unfettered capitalism and political change took its toll? Every time we fly away, we are opting out of the consequences.

In this new, dark Hong Kong, my uncles are gone, having both passed away while we were in England. No sweet Uncle sam , nor Uncle Ron in his emerald green taxi. In motherhood, I come up against uncomfortable aspects of the culture I shared with them. There is the culture preoccupation with postpartum weight loss, which leads a nurse to praise me when I lose too much weight in the first week of breastfeeding. There are the rigid ideas of what motherhood looks like: installing an art piece I worked on with the data journalist Mona Chalabi, my two-week-old in her sling, the technician tells me that I should be at home, in incarceration. Yet, when I hear expats complaining about such difficulties, I am angry. I cannot let myself relate to them; it feels like cheating on my relatives. In the space between my two demographics, I see how divided the city can be. There are gulfs of language, gulfs of experience. Varying privileges are doled out are in accordance with nationhood.

In the 20 th weekend of protests, graffiti appears on the mountainside:” If we burn, you burn with us .” My writer’s brain finds how Hong Kong and I are in tune. We know how pressure can take a search for identity and turn it into a full-blown identity crisis.

Protest
Protest graffiti in Causeway Bay, 8 November. Photograph: Emma-Lee Moss

In early November, a student dies from injuries sustained while falling from a car park in unexplained situations. In the eruption that follows, there are no easy conclusions left. Protest schedules are abandoned, school is cancelled. There is no playgroup. There is no support group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes. The total number of teargas canisters fired reachings10, 000. My partner is teargassed stepping outside his office in the day, to check if the street is safe for his colleagues. Universities become battlegrounds. At the Polytechnic University, schoolchildren are among those caught inside the campus for days when the police seal off the exits. Then pro-democracy nominees win a landslide majority in district council elections, and there is a respite from conflict. As new councillors get to the urgent task of freeing the final Poly U students, the city wonders what else this national mood will achieve.

Medics
Medics result protesters to ambulances at the Polytechnic University, on 21 November. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/ AFP via Getty Images

In the midst of this, my time in Hong Kong is drawing to an end. I reflect on everything it has meant, this second time around. This precious time with my mothers, the responses to old questions. My relationship and my daughter. In the rawness of new parenthood, and the chaos of the last few months, I almost missed the gifts that Hong Kong gave me, the healing it offered. Even in these nasty days, there is a sense of the possibilities in community- my old schoolfriends and I are less distant in our communications. We have become simply another group of parents worried about the rumours of harmful chemicals in the teargas.

I’ve learned here that you don’t know if people or places will return to your life. You also don’t know when they won’t; I believed I’d make a final visit to the village where I grew up, but it’s next to the Chinese University in Shatin, the site of another major conflict between students and police. I guess this is the fear that follows everybody in Hong Kong today. When the smoke clears, what, if anything, will remain intact? In this place of many living and many rulers, how many times must we say goodbye?

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘Parenting here entails checking the ingredients of teargas’: my return to Hong Kong

Emma-Lee Moss, who attains music as Emmy the Great, on life, new motherhood and her divided birthplace

It feels as if the entire world’s press is there, standing on the pavement outside the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. They’re in Hong Kong to cover the protests, but tonight, the Friday before National Day, they’re off responsibility. From the bottom of the hill, the bars of Lan Kwai Fong thrum reliably. There is an uneasy peace in the air, as though we all know that, three days from now, the long-running citywide demonstrations will reach a violent new apex.

I’ve walked this route hundreds of periods, and been a parade of different selves. I’ve been a teen trying to score 7-11 brew on the spot where Chungking Express was filmed. I’ve been a visiting novelist ordering beverages at the FCC bar. But now I am the mother and primary carer of a nine-month-old, and my time out has been negotiated. Quite frankly, I am dazzled by the world after 7pm. As I shuffle past the media crowd, I feel a pull, a yearning. In another life, I’d be there with them. When I moved back to Hong Kong in 2018, it was in search of stories about the strange, convoluted city I was born in.

I take the lift up to a wood-panelled room and join a table of thirtysomethings wearing plastic flower garlands. I am expecting to be the main event tonight, at the reunion of my primary school class. For nine years, I was the only mixed-race person at my local Cantonese school, where I was known widely as gweimui ( literally” ghost daughter “). Chinese school is where I developed a persist complex about not fitting in, and where, after being bullied, I fantasised that one day I’d do something so momentous it would appear in a newspaper, and my classmates would see that I was more than simply a girl with an English papa and a Hong Kong mum.

This thought was the founding brick of ambition that drove me to become a musician and novelist, under the name Emmy the Great. Now my wishing has finally come true, but with a caveat. I am at this reunion because someone watched an article about me in an arts magazine, but it wasn’t about any of my albums, or projects, or anything I’ve written. It was about what it’s like to have an English dad and a Hong Kong mum. Some 25 year later, this is still my most noticeable feature.

I look around the table, disoriented by faces I never expected to see again. Surely they will want to know about the amazing life I went on to lead! I prepare the necessary Cantonese vocabulary in my head.” After we left primary and secondary schools, I moved to East Grinstead, Sussex. In England, I wasn’t a white daughter any more. I was considered Chinese. In England, I had to assert over and over that I was British- still do. But I was so grateful for the grass and open space that I accepted this identity. I never expected to be back here in Hong Kong, a gweimui once more. And, suddenly, I’m a mother, too! I never sleep. I never go out. I’m caught between expat and Cantonese culture. I’m losing my intellect, actually. How are you ?”

But despite a morbid preoccupation with the incorrects perpetrated on me by a group of 10 -year-olds, I can’t keep my supposes from the topic of the moment. The city has been tense and uncertain since the first major demonstrations began in June, initially in response to a bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, but now expanded to five demands, including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police conduct. Parenting has thrown up new challenges, like yell the council to ask for the ingredients of their teargas, and its effect on children. As each new weekend approaches, the population speculates. Will it be peaceful, or will it spill into violence? Will we wake to news that attains us tearful with pride for Hong Kong, or frightened by the scale of the escalation?

Tonight, as China gears up to celebrate its 70 th year as a republic, there is no doubt about which style the news will sway. Someone at the reunion says they are boycotting products from the mainland, including tea. Another, a tiny son who has inexplicably grown into an adult, says he won’t use the MTR metro system any more , now that it’s been accused of enforcing the government’s agenda by shutting down during protests. I spot an opening to admit that, the day the demonstrations began, I was in England, on tour. By the time I got back, teargas had become the stock police response, and my partner and I decided we wouldn’t attend demoes- in case we find ourselves incapacitated and unable to care for our daughter. Instead, I say nothing. I don’t tell them, either, that we are planning to leave Hong Kong for England when our daughter turns one, because I’m self-conscious about having one foot in Hong Kong, and one abroad. This is how it’s always been. It’s how they remember me. And, ever since the protests began, I am wondering if it induces me a part of the problem.

***

I can only tell you what I recollect. In 1994, Forrest Gump was the English-language film at every cinema for months. Every weekend, my parents would hurl their three children into a Volvo and drive to Pacific Place, a mall in the Admiralty district. We’d gratify our friends, expat families whose infants went to see international schools, at McDonald’s, where the kids would climb the Ronald McDonald in the playzone, until we were allowed to go to the CD store and pick out an album. Everybody wore Nikes and had a favourite WWE wrestler and Street Fighter move.

In 90 s Hong Kong, everyone could speak English, even taxi drivers like my Uncle Ron, who had crazy hair and had once cut a demo tape in a stoner-rock band. But my siblings and I spoke Cantonese, too. On the weekends that we didn’t see our friends, we had dim sum with my mum’s family: Auntie Dora, Uncle Sam and Uncle Ron; my two older cousins, too, one of whom has now been taken a new English name, Michael Jordan Lee.

Moss
Moss with her grandmothers, 1988. Photograph: courtesy Emma-Lee Moss

American basketball, Japanese anime, Oxbridge aspirations. In Hong Kong- where the phrase” east satisfies west” is so overused that I’ve seen it advertising a shampoo parlor for puppies – you were at the centre of the world town, a place where global capitalist culture could run unfettered, dominating the rituals and oddities of the Chinese way of life. Watching over everything is was benevolent, late-stage British colonialism; its influence oozed into everything, from the names of English lords on road signs, to the ” Chinglish” that pervaded the local Cantonese dialect. Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, was vaguely popular, his final approval ratings still higher than any subsequent leader. It was China that we feared and felt distinct from, even as schoolchildren.

As the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 approached, the expat families began discussing their various plans to leave. Many had one parent who was from Hong Kong, and one from abroad. The handover was an obvious deadline to fulfil any aspirations of living in” the other place”, where you went to visit your grandparents. Our closest family friends went to Australia, Singapore, Germany and Texas. When the day came that the British flag was folded up, and the People’s Liberation Army marched in, we were already scattered various regions of the world, watching on TV while our mothers cried. I didn’t see my best friends, Dan and Ash, again until I was 18. Today, when I text them images of Pacific Place filled with protesters, they joke:” Forrest Gump tickets released again ?”

Looking back, it’s easy to view 1997 as a year of mass exodus from the city, a few moments marked by the loss of foreign professionals( who are still inexplicably “expats” while other temporary workers are “migrant workers” ). But to do that would be to ignore the vast majority of Hong Kong people, who are Hong Kong-born Chinese, speak Cantonese as a first language and were not offered British passports by the departing government. They include my uncles, my aunt, my cousins, my classmates. There are also the minority ethnic groups who are as rooted in Cantonese culture as Hong Kongers. For families like mine, the handover was an opportunity to start again. For those who remained behind, it was the beginning of a period of uncertainty. The Basic Law- a de facto constitution- promised Hong Kong” a high degree of independence” for 50 years. This created, in principle, a liminal day between British and Chinese regulation during which the question” Who are we ?” became crucial and explosive.

In his volume Generation HK, on the young Hong Kongers who came of age in the post-9 7 period, the journalist Ben Bland describes the end of British rule as leaving an” identity vacuum “. In fact, the end of the colonial epoch also left an opportunity for Hong Kongers to regroup, to allow Hong Kong-Chinese culture to lift itself from the shadows, and to look back and ask what of the city’s history would be preserved, and protected, before it was absorbed into the mainland.

Today, you can’t take a step without hearing the phrase:” This is the real Hong Kong .” It is a thought that emerges when you find yourself in an alleyway populated by street vendors selling milk tea from polystyrene cups; when the lighting begins to drop over Aberdeen harbour( in Cantonese, Little Hong Kong) and a fisherwoman steers her craft, one hand on her Samsung Galaxy; when teenage couples hold hands at the entrance to Ocean Park( real Hong Kong ), the amusement park that was never defeated by the arrival of Disneyland( not real Hong Kong ). It is an inescapable concept, as tangible as rain, all the more sweet for the fear that it will soon slip away.

For Hong Kongers today face inordinate pressure that goes beyond the cliff edge of 2047. The high live costs associated with its status as a haven for the wealthy have led to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, which determines its most extreme expression in” enclosure homes” for those who cannot afford housing. Meanwhile, whenever Beijing’s influence creeps beyond the promises of the Basic Law, it hurls up ambiguities in its wording. The impact is like gaslighting: are we crazy? Or are our liberties being eroded?

The quest for post-colonial identity is something that enticed me back to Hong Kong in late 2017. That spring, I had expended a month in Xiamen as part of a British Council scheme, and the effort to communicate in Mandarin( which, it is about to change, I don’t speak ), had somehow unlocked all the Cantonese I’d stored up from my childhood. I was dreaming in Cantonese, and felt a longing to be back in Hong Kong, to see the lanterns at the Mid-Autumn festival.

My parents, sister and nephew had been back in the city for some time. As well as this, there was a person. While in transit from Xiamen, I had met a British artist who worked at one of the international galleries. We had bonded over our scattered thirties and our love of English woodlands. That Mid-Autumn, we began an adventurous period of walking through the city at twilight, the time when the sunlight bouncings off the buildings like mermaid scales in the wind.

It was three years since the Umbrella Revolution and Occupy Central. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the civil unrest had dissipated. Instead, I sensed a defiance in Hong Kong and connected it to the arts. Venues had been shut down by strict building regulations, and lifestyle restrictions that induced earning money from music almost impossible, and yet, as the indie DJ Wong Chi Chung told me, there were more than 800 indie bands based in Hong Kong. Improvisation was key: wall murals around unexpected corners, rooftop farms, pop-up art spaces in old factories. It was a place fighting to find itself, asserting its right to be. It was increasingly where my heart belonged.

In January 2018, I decided to return to Hong Kong. My flight arrived in March. Forty weeks later, my partner and I checked into the hospital where I was born, and I dedicated birth to our daughter.

***

” Does anyone is of the opinion that the city’s flaws are their own fault ?” This is the question that nobody hurls me in the support group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes; in the free playgroup run by friendly septuagenarian churchfolk; in the parenting WhatsApp groups and in the void of the mums’ Facebook pages where I have stooped to scrolling for hours through ads for baby products.

Some 18 months after I arrived here Hong Kong, my quest to understand it has mutated into something terrible. It’s the not-sleeping that did it, I guess. Or those submerged baby memories that abruptly appear in your thoughts when you’ve just had a baby, disorienting enough without the realisation that you’re unexpectedly in the place where you spent that infanthood.

Emma-Lee
‘ Hong Kong was increasingly where my heart belonged .’ Photograph: Theodore Kaye/ The Guardian

I remember bumping into a friend in London, who had just had a baby and was moving back to Finchley, where she grew up. “ Finchley ,” she’d groaned, like Persephone on her route to suburban hell. Now I know how she felt. You are my Finchley, I scream at Hong Kong, mutely.

On a baby’s schedule, you are stripped of the things that construction you who you are. Hong Kong, which should feel familiar but doesn’t, contains none of the touchstones I need as my identity slips into the blank of what the poet Liz Berry describes as “feedingcleaninglovingfeeding”. I look around and find my first home with the bleakest gaze. I assure pollution that threatens my baby’s lungs and stops us going outside for days. I watch expensive housing that drew us to an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, where our route to the playground takes us through a construction site and past a sewage treatment plant. I place my family in this picture. Were we and the others who left not the prime beneficiaries of the sunny 90 s, before unfettered capitalism and political change took its toll? Every time we fly away, we are opting out of the consequences.

In this new, dark Hong Kong, my uncles are run, having both passed away while we were in England. No sweet Uncle sam , nor Uncle Ron in his emerald green taxi. In motherhood, I come up against uncomfortable aspects of the culture I shared with them. There is the culture preoccupation with postpartum weight loss, which results a nurse to praise me when I lose too much weight in the first week of breastfeeding. There are the rigid ideas of what motherhood is like: installing an art piece I worked on with the data journalist Mona Chalabi, my two-week-old in her sling, the technician tells me that I should be at home, in imprisonment. Yet, when I hear expats complaining about such difficulties, I am angry. I cannot let myself relate to them; it feels like cheating on my relatives. In the space between my two demographics, I see how divided the city can be. There are gulfs of speech, gulfs of experience. Varying privileges are doled out are in accordance with nationhood.

In the 20 th weekend of protests, graffiti appears on the mountainside:” If we burn, you burn with us .” My writer’s brain watches how Hong Kong and I are in tune. We know how pressure can take a search for identity and turn it into a full-blown identity crisis.

Protest
Protest graffiti in Causeway Bay, 8 November. Photograph: Emma-Lee Moss

In early November, a student dies from injuries sustained while dropping from a car park in unexplained circumstances. In the eruption that follows, “there arent” easy conclusions left. Protest schedules are abandoned, school is cancelled. There is no playgroup. There is no subsistence group for women with postnatal depression and nervousnes. The total number of teargas canisters fired reachings10, 000. My partner is teargassed stepping outside his office in the day, to check if the street is safe for my honourable colleagues. Universities become battlegrounds. At the Polytechnic University, schoolchildren are among those caught inside the campus for days when the police seal off the exits. Then pro-democracy nominees win a landslide majority in district council elections, and there is a respite from conflict. As new councillors get to the urgent task of freeing the final Poly U students, the city wonders what else this national mood will achieve.

Medics
Medics leading protesters to ambulances at the Polytechnic University, on 21 November. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/ AFP via Getty Images

In the midst of this, my time in Hong Kong is drawing to an objective. I reflect on everything it has meant, this second time around. This precious period with my parents, the answers to old questions. My relationship and my daughter. In the rawness of new parenthood, and the chaos of the last few months, I almost missed the gifts that Hong Kong gave me, the healing it offered. Even in these awful times, there is a sense of the possibilities in community- my old schoolfriends and I are no longer distant in our communications. We have become simply another group of mothers worried about the rumours of harmful chemicals in the teargas.

I’ve learned here that you don’t know if people or places will return to your life. You also don’t know when they won’t; I thought I’d make a final visit to the village where I grew up, but it’s next to the Chinese University in Shatin, the site of another major conflict between students and police. I guess this is the fear that follows everyone in Hong Kong today. When the smoke clears, what, if anything, will remain intact? In this place of many living and many rulers, how many times must we say goodbye?

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘They have you in a cultish grip’: the women losing thousands to online beauty schemes

It sounds too good to be true earn money selling makeup on social media. And for many, it is. What really happens when you join a multi-level beauty business?

When a Facebook friend told Lindsay about a “genius” business opportunity in January 2015, the Manchester-based NHS laboratory assistant was already struggling for money. She had spent the last two years caring for her elderly father, and the stress meant she frequently missed shifts at work. Unwell with chronic fatigue syndrome and struggling to pay the household bills, Lindsay was instantly curious about her friend’s offer.

” I hardly had any money coming in, and I was looking at everything, doing all the maths, and there only wasn’t enough ,” Lindsay says now from the red brick terraced home where she lives alone with her dog, Freya. The Facebook friend- who Lindsay has never fulfilled, but added on social media because they were both fans of the musician Jean-Michel Jarre- told her she could earn between PS50 and PS500 a month if she signed up to a beauty marketings business called Younique.

” I guessed even if I stimulate PS100 a month, that’s something … I don’t have a big craving, so my food merely costs PS20 a week at most, if I’m splurging out a bit ,” Lindsay says. Though she is just 36 years old, she strolls with a cane and has a full head of grey hair. Her illness- which is characterised by extreme tiredness and joint pain- entails she fights to maintain her home. Paint is peeling from the walls, and an old mattress sits in the hallway.

After receiving her monthly paycheck, Lindsay clicked on the link sent over by her Facebook friend and signed up to become a “Younique presenter”. Founded in September 2012 by an American brother-and-sister team, Younique is a direct sales beauty company. Presenters sign up via the website and purchase products that they then sell on, earning a cut of the profits. Though there is no membership fee, members must regularly buy stock to retain presenter status. Lindsay paid PS69 for a starter kit, and then another PS125 to become a “yellow status” presenter. Younique has eight different presenter statuses- whites, the people at the bottom, earn a 20% committee from their marketings, while ambers, the next up in the scale, earn 25%.

This commissions-based model is somewhat similar to Avon, the 133 -year-old company that recruits” Avon ladies” to sell beauty products door-to-door. Yet unlike Avon dames, Younique presenters buy and sell through social media- usually Facebook.” We are the first direct sales company to market and sell almost exclusively through the use of social media ,” Younique’swebsite reads, adding that its founders, Derek Maxfield and Melanie Huscroft, made the business to ” uplift ” their members.” Derek and Melanie firmly believe that all women[ the company targets females] should feel valued, smart-alecky, and empowered through the chance for personal growth and financial reward !” the website says. But in her three years as a Younique presenter, Lindsay lost approximately PS3, 000.

From 2015 to 2018, Lindsay spent PS40 to PS60 every month on stock to retain her yellow presenter status. Though she initially made some sales at research hospitals where she worked, Lindsay was let go from the NHS in spring 2015 because of missed shifts caused by stress. She had been caring for her mothers since 2011- her mom passed away from cancer in 2012, while her father had Parkinson’s and suffered from three strokes before his death in 2018. Though she stopped stimulating Younique marketings after losing her job, Lindsay wanted to retain her presenter status because she was planning to go to university and hoped to be able to sell to fellow students. Meanwhile, Younique maintained fostering her to buy stock.

” They would email saying,’ You’re in danger of your account being suspended ‘,” she says.” They were worded in such a way to tell you,’ Oh, you only need to spend so much to keep yourself active .'” Lindsay says she didn’t notice how much fund she was spending on stock because it was a slow” drip, drip, drip” of payments.” But then you look at it all together. I could have saved up, I could have done roof repairs on the house .” In 2015, Lindsay attended a Younique training session in Glasgow where she was told not to” come with excuses” about being unable to sell products.” It was made clear to me at that point, I had no get out clause for not constructing sales .” Unsold makeup now sits in Lindsay’s car, in her closets, and in a large plastic receptacle in her living room.

***

Younique is not just a direct sales company- like Avon, it is also a multi-level marketing scheme( MLM ). Multi-level marketing is a business strategy where revenue is generated from both product marketings and forced recruitment of new distributors. A Younique presenter can earn money by selling makeup, and also by persuading other women to join the company. Structurally, MLMs are akin to pyramid schemes- once someone signs up under you, you become their “upline” and take a portion of their earnings. If they sign up people beneath them, you also take a cut of those profits- a handful of people at the top get rich from thousands at the bottom.

Over the last five years, MLMs have become increasingly popular in Britain. The Direct Selling Association( DSA ), the only recognised UK trade body for the sector, estimates that approximately 400,000 people in the UK are involved in direct selling, although many do so on a casual basis. Forever Living allows women to sell aloe vera-based drinks, gels and beauty products; Arbonne consultants sell skincare; Herbalife representatives flog weight-loss products; Juice Plus reps sell diet drinks; Nu Skin offers creams. Haircare MLM Monat is currently recruiting” EU Founders “.

Social media means MLM presenters now sell to- and recruit from- the entire world. On Facebook, posts from uplines like Lindsay’s friend promise “rocking” marketings, “instant” pay, and the chance to run” your own business “.

” The main distinction between MLMs and pyramid strategies is MLMs actually have a product ,” says Daryl Koehn, a prof of business ethics at DePaul University in Chicago.” In pyramid schemes, you’re just selling the opportunity to make money .” Yet Koehn argues that even when MLMs have products, they become pyramid schemes if there is a high cost of entry or if presenters build up inventory they can’t sell.

In 2011, Jon M Taylor, an employee at the US Consumer Awareness Institute, compiled a short ebook on MLMs for the Federal Trade Commission. ” After read these chapters, the reader may wonderif it is appropriate to refer to MLM, with its inherent flaws, as a’ business’ at all ,” he wrote.” Some who are familiar with MLM’s abysmal statistics feel it is more appropriate to refer to virtually any MLM as a scam .”

In theory, anyone can sign up for an MLM. In practice, Koehn says the model appeals to” people who have fewer opportunities “. Like Lindsay, many people who join MLMs have disabilities, or poor health, and are unable to work full-time. Those who sign up are taught to target new and single mothers.” We were encouraged to pick on stay-at-home mums, people who had just lost a job ,” says Rachel( not her real name ), a former Forever Living” business proprietor” in her late 40 s. She was recruited to Forever Living in 2016 as” a freshly single mum very willing to try anything to make a living for my kids”, who were seven and nine at the time.

Rachel’s upline, a “trusted friend”, told her to write a list of everyone she knew and “profile” them, listing their aspirations and weaknesses.” You’re encouraged to find out what it was they actually want in life and then use that to promise that[ Forever Living] would fulfil their want ,” she says. She was also given a recruiting script that included phrases such as” lifestyle-changing opportunity”,” control your own destiny”, and” earn in excess of PS40k a year “. She was told to avoid the word “job”, partly because 9-5 chores were presented as negative by the company, and partly, she believes, because Forever Living did not offer the consistent wage, paid holidays and sick pay that a traditional chore would.

It took six months for doubts to emerge, when she realizing that the praise she initially received from her upline (” You’re wonderful. You’re perfect for this job ,”) was just a standard script used for all new recruits. Still, she bided with Forever Living for nearly two more years.

” They said your business is a rollercoaster, you just have to stay on it while it goes up and down ,” she explains,” But actually, it just went down, down, down .” Rachel’s uplines said her mindset was to blame when business was bad- connecting her to seminars and success narratives, and telling her that she had to attend online training sessions or she would fail.” There was a lot of emotional blackmail ,” she says.” I would feel really guilty if I didn’t attend fortnightly meetings .” She says her upline encouraged her to “stay away” from people who criticised the company, including her own family.” They said if you don’t work on your mindset, your business will fail ,” she says.

nail
‘ I was sucked in. I believed everything they said. And I wasn’t making any money .’ Photograph: Ilka& Franz/ The Guardian

Rachel had joined the company just after splitting from her husband, and says that Forever Living provided a new world for her to occupy. She was in multiple Facebook groups where women vied to sell products, shared advisory opinions and scripts, and formed friendships. She was told to be ” a product of the product” by buying Forever Living products for personal use.” I set all of my passion and all of my period- oh my goodness, the amount of day ,” she says now.” I altogether gave up other things. And I wasn’t making any money .”

After quitting, she was devastated over the friendships she lost- many of her Forever Living colleagues blocked her on social media when she left the company, and the isolation entailed she suffered a ” mild depression “. She also still struggles with guilt from signing up a handful of women beneath her.” I have since apologised to them all. Some of them are still trying to offload products that they’ve got hanging around their house. I feel really awful. But I also think, I can’t stay guilty forever, because I was sucked in. I believed everything they said .”

Rachel felt trapped:” they have you in this grip, this cultish grip ,” she says. “Cult” is a word that every woman I speak to for this piece uses to refer to their time in an MLM.Many sell” mindset develop” sessions to their presenters.” Never let anyone say to you that you won’t succeed ,” reads a slide from a presentation Rachel paid PS30 to stream.” The greatest comeback is to SHOW them your success .”

Fiona, a single mom of two from Merseyside, lost more than PS1, 000 selling Arbonne cosmetics in 2016. She says her upline, a local woman who she satisfied while working as a teach assistant in a school, pressured her to “prey” on new mothers in soft play areas; after she persuaded another single mother to join, she was told to pressure her into buying more products.” It didn’t feel right ,” she says. Fiona’s upline also told her to take out a credit card to buy stock- she is still paying off the debt.

During her 10 months at Arbonne, she was encouraged to set an alarm for 6.40 am so she could listen to a motivational talk devoted live by an upline.” It’s like brainwashing ,” she says, explaining that, like Rachel, she was told to become a” product of such products” by buying Arbonne for herself.” It’s really easy to get depicted into it, especially because at the time, as a single mum, I wasn’t seeing an awful plenty of other people .”

Members are encouraged to influence others by inflating their success on social media.” There’s a lot of lies ,” Lindsay says,” We were told if you’re going somewhere nice, post it with,’ Thanks to Younique, I’m staying here .'” Rachel says people who were struggling would post pictures of cars, spas, and prosecco to appear as though their business was flourishing. Fiona says people were even encouraged to post pictures of their children if they were home sick from school, adding captions like,” So grateful I have a home-based business which allows me to carry on working while I care for my kids .”

Despite the social media scripts and many motivational sessions, Rachel says she never received any financial educate or recommendations from Forever Living. It was only after she did her second year’s tax return that she realised she hadn’t made a profit and decided to quit.” You’re not coached on how to manage your finances because if they did that, people would realise they weren’t making any money .”

A UK spokesperson for Forever Living says via email thatthe company offers financial train through an independent accountancy company intermittently throughout the year.” The Forever network has been constructed over 40 years through collaboration, support and family values ,” they said.

” Forever does not condone pressure of any description, misrepresentation of lifestyle, the business opportunity or promises of income levels, the company has clearly defined escalation procedures to deal with any such allegations .” An online company policy handbook lists prohibited activities for Forever members, and refers to the DSA’s dispute handling service. The spokesperson adds that Forever representatives are” prohibited from placing orders until 75% of previous stock has been sold “. This is done on what the company call a ” self-certifying ” basis, ie the seller tells them they have sold or used at least this much stock.

When asked about Fiona’s experiences, an Arbonne spokesperson based in Northampton says via email that their sales scheme is” not a pyramid strategy; it is a standard, legal marketings strategy “.” Arbonne upholds the highest standards of integrity and we do not condone deceptive, unethical or illegal practises of any kind ,” the spokesperson says.” Our Business Ethics Standards Team( BEST) conducts regular training sessions with Arbonne Independent Consultants, continuously monitors their business practices … and takes immediate action if questionable activities originate .” They add that any unethical or improper behaviour can be reported at BEST.Arbonne.com. Fiona says she was not made aware of this reporting procedure.

***

If Lindsay was at the bottom of the Younique pyramid, then Lisa was at the top. The mom of three lives with her husband and children in a spacious semi-detached council house in a cul-de-sac outside of Halifax. A confident 36 -year-old, she is immaculately put together, with sleek long black hair and stylish, minimal makeup. She first heard about Younique in 2014.

” Because I have three children, I needed a undertaking that would fit around them ,” she says from her living room- there are professional portraits of the children on the walls, a bookcase full of sports trophies, and, on the table, a feel pencil suit her daughter recently made at school. Lisa joined Younique on the first day of its UK launch and went on to earn more than PS6 0,000 before she quitted in 2018.

” It was quite strange because I immediately had 38 people in my team ,” she says, explaining she had recruited 12 of these people, and the other 26 were people they in turn signed on.” We’d all joined on the same day but suddenly I was in charge .”

While white and yellow Younique presenters only earn commission from their marketings, after recruiting five women, members reach pink status. Pink status presenters earn 25% from their marketings plus 3% committee from marketings made by females beneath them. By the time she left Younique, Lisa had reached the highest level, black status, and had more than 3,000 people beneath her. She calculated that 95% of her fund was earned from commission on other women’s sales.

” I made a lot of a money, a lot of money to me, and it meant I could stay at home with my kids ,” she says, adding that she also felt a boost in confidence.” I ran from not being able to pick up the phone to an unknown number to talking on stage in front of thousands of people .” Lisa frequently spoke at Younique training sessions and conventions.

Yet although Lisa feels Younique changed her life, her perspective changed in 2018. Lisa says that during a Black Friday sales month in November, she slowly realised people felt pressured to buy stock they couldn’t sell.” The leaders would always say nobody’s forcing anybody to buy anything, but if you’re recruiting women who’ve lost a circle of friends because they’ve had children, or they haven’t got self-confidence, they’re going to buy to be part of a group .”

Kirsty, a 27 -year-old from London, tells me:” I got suckered in to Younique due to the promise of’ sisterhood’ being so strongly pushed on to me. I suffer with bipolar so I don’t really make a lot of friends that easily ,” she says by telephone. A Facebook friend told her she would have access to a group chat of 300 people who supported each other.” That was appealing ,” she tells me. Yet Kirsty speedily saw the group chat “toxic”. ” One female said her husband was telling her to get a regular task because they were losing money, but the group was bizarre, telling her he was controlling and abusive ,” she alleges.” It also got actually bitchy- one daughter wasn’t inducing enough marketings and they made her feel bad in front of everyone .”

Ironically, while women are often drawn to MLMs to make friends, they often end up with fewer than when they started.” One of the issues with MLMs is that you’re told to target your friends and relatives ,” says business prof Koehn.” People are trying to monetise social relationships .” Rachel lost friendships because she” pestered people every five minutes” to sign up for Forever Living. She was told that if someone said ” no”, she should write their name in a volume called ” no for now” and ask them again in a few months.” Because I was encouraged to pester people every five minutes to sign up, friendships disappeared .”

But confederations built within the business are also fragile- often falling apart once women quit.” Some people blocked me immediately ,” says Lisa of her decision to leave.” We spoke every day and all of sudden, we can’t be friends .” Rachel was particularly affected when she discontinue.” That was the thing that really got me in the end ,” she says.” I guessed I’d stimulate friends and then when I did leave, I had nobody .”

***

When so many women feel exploited by MLMs, why have these companies not been held to account? In America, clothing MLM LuLaRoe is currently being sued by Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, who says that” LuLaRoe tricked customers into buying into its pyramid scheme with deceptive asserts .” LulaRoe said during a statementthat the claims are completely without merit and that the company will oppose vigorously against them.In July 2017, the Chinese government shut down hundreds of multi-level marketing companies, which it described as” business cults “. Yet in the UK , no authorities are currently investigating them.

Mumsnet decided in 2017 not to allow MLMs to advertise on the parenting site.” We was just thinking about it long and hard because we know that home-based, flexible possibilities are very popular ,” says founder Justine Roberts,” but many Mumsnet users have posted about what they see as MLMs’ invidious marketing techniques and the effects on vulnerable someones, and we came to the conclusion that business models based primarily on recruiting have too much potential to be exploitative .”

Elsewhere online, hundreds of ordinary people are now campaigning against MLMs on social media.” I think the authorities are doing an perfectly embarrassing chore at governing MLMs ,” says John Evans, a 39 -year-old from Sussex who runs the 11,000 -member Facebook group MLM Lies Exposed. He was inspired to start the group after a friend tried to recruit him to an MLM. When Evans criticised the MLM model, his friend stopped speaking to him.

” MLMs are extremely clever at manipulating people. There’s lots of psychology involved ,” Evans says.” The people who sign up lose money, but they’re not stupid. They’re victims .” Evans says he has seen countless horror tales in the five years he has run his Facebook page.” Some people are thousands of pounds down from these companies and they end up in the sunk expense fallacy where they just maintain plugging away, maintain urgently trying to dig themselves out of this financial hole ,” he says.

Evans is particularly concerned when MLM reps stimulate false medical asserts about products on social media. A representative for Trading Criterion explains MLMs become an issue for the body if a company breaches consumer protection regulations, by, for example, attaining misleading asserts about products. In 2017, Trading Standards Cornwall shut down the business of former Miss England finalist, Charlotte Thomson, who had been selling weight-loss coffee Valentus, saying the product wasn’t licensed for the UK market. Thomson said she was ” devastated” and stopped selling the product. To date, Trading Standards has not looked into any MLMs on a national level.

Evans and others would like to see MLMs better regulated to ensure companies are open and honest when recruiting presenters. A spokesperson for Younique said that Lindsay, Lisa, and Kirsty’s experiences” do not accurately reflect those of our hundreds of thousands of Younique presenters around the world , nor our organisation’s values most fundamentally “. The company says it does not allow us presenters to attain” improper asserts” about earnings or products, and has a team of compliance officers to ensure all presenters abide by company expectations.

” Younique presenters are not required to build product inventories at all ,” they go on.” Additionally, we aim to safeguard our presenters’ fiscal security by enabling unused products purchased by them within the prior year to be returned for a full rebate should they wish to terminate their relationship with the business .”

Younique, Arbonne, and Forever Living are all members of The Direct Selling Association( DSA ). I put the claims in this article to them, including accounts of uplines constructing false claims about earnings and pressuring downlines into buying stock, and the DSA says they are investigating the allegations. Susannah Schofield, director general of the DSA, warns that people should” beware of individuals making outlandish claims about direct selling being a chance to’ get rich quick’- anything that lookings or sounds too good to be true probably is “. She adds that direct sales is “an effort-based” business. ” And with anything in life, if it’s valuable you’ll have to work at it to achieve success. Most people working in direct selling are good at what they do, and find the extra few hundred pounds a few months they make an extremely useful addition to their family’s income. There are not many ways of earning that sort of money from home, on a highly flexible basis .”

Lisa now works for another MLM, but merely sells products and refuses to recruit unless someone approaches her directly and asks about the business. “‘ It’s incredibly hard to get a job after being a stay-at-home mum for eight years, network marketer for four ,” she says.

Lindsay works at McDonald’s, though struggles to get frequent shiftings. She lost her Younique presenter status in July 2018 because she couldn’t afford to buy any more stock. She feels unable to sell the old stock she bought back to the company because it is scattered around her home.” I’m alleviated that I get out, but I’m angry that I still assure people recruiting ,” she says. She now sells handmade fabric cushions and lavender pouches on online marketplace Etsy, and is currently applying for Personal Independence Payments.

” It actually builds me angry with myself ,” Lindsay says, when I ask about the money she lost.” I’m annoyed with the person that got me into it, but I should have done more research. I always thought I was too smart for that sort of thing and I got so altogether taken in .”

* If you would like a comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Can you afford to be green when you’re not rich? I kept a diary to find out

Politicians and corporations have placed the burden of environmental responsibility on the consumer but how easy is it to go green when youre barely getting by?

How easy is it to go green, to construct deliberate, eco-friendly selections when you’re barely getting by? Can you be green and poor, as I am?

This is the question I ought to have mulling as politicians and corporations have placed the burden of environmental responsibility on the consumer: stop using plastic straws, carry reusable shopping bags, recycle everything.

I live in an environmentally conscious place: a rural town with flourishing local food businesses, a farmers’ market and many organic farms. But it’s also a small town in central Appalachia, in the poorest county in my country: Ohio. Many people here go hungry. They can’t afford food, let alone organic food. A gas station is the closest source of “groceries” for some people without autoes. You can’t stroll everywhere if you live in the country.

For a week, I kept a diary with some of the choices I made toward being green.

ehrp

Monday

I make my son’s lunch for camp. I got rid of most plastic in the kitchen several years ago- I don’t buy disposable plastic bags, plastic wrap or plastic storage containers- but reusable cloth bags don’t hold much, and most don’t maintain food from going stale, even for a few hours. There’s mold spotted on one of the cloth purses I take out of the drawer, even though I rinse, bleach and dry them. Any disposable plastic bags I have- because my mom sends snacks in them for her grandson, for example- I clean and carefully dry.

I bought my parents beeswax wrap, which I love: reusable, washable food wrap that molds around leftover food, utilizing the heat of your hands, and recently my mommy purchased newspaper and aluminum drinking straws. But it’s been a bit of a struggle to persuade the older members of family to induce green choices: it’s new to them, and it seems like extra work, because it often is.

My son, a rising third-grader, told me that his school can recycle cans only if the cans are totally empty. But there’s no place or opportunity to dump the liquid in the cafeteria, and he doesn’t have enough time in his 15 – to 20 -minute lunch period to drink a full can of seltzer or juice without chugging it and getting a stomachache. This is an issue of anxiety for him, so I stopped packing cans.

I feel that most mothers are trying to do their best, despite our often-difficult circumstances in this region, but it’s hard to balance children’s needs, finances and eco-consciousness.

It’s hot the summer months, usually intense and early, even for swampy Appalachia. Camp is just a 10 -minute drive away, but we couldn’t stroll it in this heat and with an eight-year-old who is already not thrilled about going to camp so his single mom can work. The rainfall cools things off enough to open the windows.

Today’s expenses: beeswax wrap, $18.99 for three wraps

Tuesday

Illustration
Illustration: Dev Murphy

So many of my decisions are made by time. There’s a bus station by my house, but the bus comes irregularly, and I merely have so long before my son returns from his second day of camp, hungry and wanting dinner. I drive 10 minutes to the small Aldi.

Shopping at a discount grocery like Aldi constructs it difficult to meal prep because you can’t really plan on what’s going to be there. But when I was laid off from my full-time job in March, I swore I would mainly shop there, or a similarly priced store. Doing so has cut my grocery bill by at least $ 40 a few weeks. I haven’t been able to find full-time work yet, and I get by with a lot of freelance writing and editing, which entails I need to keep my grocery bill low.

But Aldi doesn’t have everything I need, like breakfast burritos and tofu for my largely vegetarian kid, so I have to made Kroger, too. Fortunately it’s on the way back home. I’m not squander gas, only time, but I do spend a lot of fund for simply a few items at Kroger: the eco-friendly dish soap that is not available at the discount store, the recycled paper towels.

I spend $50 at Aldi for the largest proportion of our snacks for the week. And I expend $59 at Kroger for merely … things. I’d like to buy local meat- I feel it savours better, has fewer hormones, and I like supporting local farmers- but to do so, I would have to go to yet anothe r grocery store, this one clear across town. This third, smaller store has issues with shelf stability: items don’t sell quickly enough not to go bad sometimes.

Often, I shop at the health food store. It’s expensive but locally-owned, and along with herbs and vitamins, they have organic food, frozen meat and vegetarian food. My son and I can walk there, and usually do. Merely a few months ago, another, much bigger health and organic food store opened, which is even closer to our house. I’ve only been in the new store once. It looks like a mini Whole Foods and is priced as such. What this community needs isn’t another pricey organic food store; I worry it could set the older, more established local health food store out of business, and it still doesn’t bring affordable, fresh create to the people who need it most.

I bring my own reusable purses to Aldi, which is a requirement and it helps- if you have to buy or bringing shopping bags every time, you will remember to bring them. And I use another of my own purses at Kroger. After unpacking groceries, I return the suitcases to my car and keep them there.

Today’s expenses: $59.28 at Kroger for 11 items , $50.06 at Aldi for 21 items

Wednesday

My son and I live alone in an old house, over a hundred years old, which I rent. As a renter, there isn’t a lot you can do. My house has new windows on the top narrative, but the original ones on the bottom, most of which don’t open. In the winter, I seal the windows to keep in heat, and seal the drafty kitchen door, closing it off for the season. I change the furnace filter regularly and have blackout draperies on many of the windows, which can help keep the house warm or cool.

But in the summer, like in many old homes, the downstairs is OK and the upstairs sweltering, too hot to sleep. I have two window air-conditioning units, given to me used. I feel terrible about running them, but am forced to sometimes to escape the high humidity, and 90 -plus degree heat we have had this spring and summer.

One of my neighbours has a fantastic, almost full-roof display of solar panel, but she owns her home. I can see her panels glistening in the sunlight from my porch.

Today’s expenses: blackout draperies, $34.95 for two; furnace filter, $36 for two

Thursday

Illustration
Illustration: Dev Murphy

I am someone who was raised in the country, and while I don’t think I ever really made it into the middle class as an adult, my circumstances certainly lessened when I became a single mom, then lessened again when I was laid off. For me, having a dishwasher would be a marker of success. I’m not there yet.

I have thought about buying a standalone dishwasher, but our older kitchen is extremely small. I don’t have the counter space for a counter dishwasher. So, even though I have read a dishwasher can actually use less water, I have to wash dishes by hand.

I wash all of our clothes in cold water in the washing machine. I don’t wash my own shirts or jeans every time I wear them, both to conserve water and electricity and to extend the longevity of clothes. But my son’s clothes, stained with dirt, grass and paint, I have to wash often.

I hang most of our wet clothes to dry, which is another time-suck and one of my least favorite chores, but prevents the energy utilization of the dryer and maintains some shirts from shrinking.

Today’s expenses: hand washing dishes: about 50 pennies a batch ; washing clothes in cold water: about $1.50 a loading

Friday

My son and I are traveling this weekend: flying, which is not an environmentally conscious thing to do. We don’t travel often, but this is a special, long-planned trip to visit family in Colorado, route too far to drive with a small child and my 18 -year-old Honda. I would love to replace my vehicle. I know a new model would be more gas efficient, but it’s not possible for me right now financially. A hybrid, or any new or utilized vehicle, is simply out of my reach.

One of the impacts of our current eco-consciousness is some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control- and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control. I feel guilty for flying to see loved ones. Do executives at Coca-Cola feel guilty for their massive plastic pollution?

Somehow I doubt it.

The inventor of Keurig K-Cups, a source of mounting plastic pollution, did publicly express remorse for his invention. I was gifted a Keurig coffee maker, but utilized the refillable attachment, putting in my own ground coffee rather than the plastic cups. When that coffee maker broke, I started employing a simple French press.

You can purchase carbon offsets to try to mitigate some of the environmental damage done by flying. The notion is to invest in green options, like gale farms. This is not something I have done before, and I have to admit, it’s a little overwhelming and confusing, especially as many carbon offset companies work directly with airlines and other corporations now.

We’re taking a direct flight to Denver, which helps cut down on more unnecessary traveling pollution, and we carpool to the airport. I bring empty reusable water bottles for myself and my son, and fill them up after security.

I’m disappointed to see the recycling and trash can at my airport appear exactly the same: the recycling can is overflowing with trash. Some airlines mention, as the flight attendant collect items after the drink service, that they recycle those cans and little plastic cups. But do they?

Today’s expenses: glass French press for coffee, $28.00

Saturday

I haven’t buy much new dres for years. Proportion of that is out of necessity. Not merely can I not afford it, I live in an area without many shopping alternatives. We have a mall, but more storefronts are empty than occupied. The closest Target is across state lines. The biggest clothing retailer in my township is Goodwill, and all my friends and I shop there, and at other, local charity-based thrift shops.

It’s normal in my town to wear utilized things- something I believe should be normalized everywhere : not to be sporting the latest trend, but to be wearing a piece that meant something to someone you know, that has a story or history. For an item to take up space in this rapidly filling world, it should really matter.

It’s so typical to wear employed clothes where I live that my friends and I hold clothing swap parties, where we bring bags of clothes that don’t fit any more or household items that we no longer need, and shop one another’ closets. Once, it would have mortified me to be out wearing a dress that a friend pointed to and said: that used to be mine . Now it’s a source of pride. Clothing connects us. It’s more than only fast fashion. That shirt brought me luck , person said when I held up a red T-shirt at a clothing swap. Maybe it will bring you luck too .

I didn’t buy anything new for my journey to Colorado. My sneakers are several years old. I rinse them carefully, and replace the laces. I do have to buy new shoes for my son often, as kids grow quickly. I sometimes buy items from ThredUp, an online resale garb shop, and I sell clothes to them as well, usually saving up credit for trade so I don’t have to expend a dime.

In Colorado, after eating at a eatery, I feel nervous asking for a box for leftovers, fearing the most difficult: Styrofoam. But at every restaurant in Colorado that we patronize, the carryout boxes are recycled or recyclable cardboard.

I don’t think we talk enough about how the America consumer’s attempts to go green involve so much uncertainty and absence of agency. Starbucks, for example, gives me a plastic fork for a sandwich I order and certainly don’t need a fork to eat with. They don’t ask first if I want a fork, and should. I leave the fork unwrapped and dedicate it back. But will they just throw it away?

Small choices like this feel huge- but many of them aren’t even selections we as individuals can construct. I can’t bringing my own takeout receptacles to local eateries in Ohio – it’s a health hazard, according to the restaurants. On our Colorado trip, my mom was amazed at a store that sold soap and shampoo by the barrel – you bring your own containers to fill. There are no stores like that near me.

There are no bins or instructions about recycling in the Airbnb we have rented. So we pitch all the empty cans, bottles and cardboard into a couple of grocery suitcases, and at the end of our trip, trek them back down the mountain to my boyfriend’s mother’s house in the city( sorry, Judy ), where they can be recycled.

Today’s expenses: a pair of kids sneakers, utilized, about $16 ($ 35 -4 0 new )

Sunday

A couple of years ago, inspired by several classmates, my son decided he was going to go vegetarian. Recently, he has started eating some meat again: chicken fingers, pepperoni pizza, but for the most part, we only eat meat two or three times a week. This does a lot, both for health- my dad’s physician commended my son for getting his grandpa to eat less meat, and my dad’s subsequent weight loss and lower cholesterol numbers- and for the environmental issues.

But eating vegetarian isn’t always easy, especially in rural Appalachia, and it isn’t always cost-efficient or healthy. Many of the meat substitutes I have bought my son- soy bacon, bean burgers- expense more than meat, and are much harder to find, requiring special trips.

Which means more gas. And more time.

Time is a resource, especially for women, people of color, people who are incapacitated and people who are poor, and to ignore the impact of time on environmental choices is to ignore the reality of many people’s lives. People have to work multiple jobs, have to travel for run or groceries, don’t have recycling available, don’t have enough childcare to spend precious hours hanging laundry or cleaning plastic bags.

A lot of things aren’t easy in my Appalachian home: finding work, procuring and affording a place to live. Why did we believe being green would be any different?

When it comes to the environment, I am not alone in feeling a predominating sense of remorse and concern. I have felt this a lot of the time, since I was a child and first heard in school about the depletion of the ozone layer.

We live in a time of such dreaded. We walk with and through dreaded constantly. Dread is our companion in 2019, and also the feeling of futility. So many news sites have tossed about data and studies on how long until we run this planet into the ground. The dates vary, but it’s not long. Not long at all. It’s overwhelming to suppose the burden of maintaining the world alive remainders on the shoulders of consumers. And frankly, it shouldn’t. Not entirely.

People need help from the companies that got us into this mess in the first place with their products and pollution. People need incentives- but also, assistance on how to be green. You have to offer and clearly label recycling bins, for example. Fresh, affordable produce needs to be available before we can focus on organic.

In order for people to construct eco-conscious choices, there has to be an eco-conscious choice available for them to stimulate . For many places, especially in rural and impoverished America, those choices simply don’t exist , not yet.

Today’s expenses: veggie hot dogs, $5.79 for four

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Can your phone keep you fit? Our writers try 10 big fitness apps- from weightlifting to pilates

There are a dizzying number of apps promising to get you in shape even if you cant get to a gym. But can any of them keep our writers moving?


Centr

Price PS15. 49 a month.
What is it? A full-service experience from the Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth: not just workouts, but a complete meal planner- with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner- a daily guided meditation and a daily motivational article.
The experience I immediately regret proclaiming myself “intermediate” as the app launches into a punishing pilates workout. I am not very flexible at all, and it is about to change that my baseline fitness leaves much to be desired in terms of core strength.
More frustrating is the fact that the various workouts are introduced as videos. Clearly, this is supposed to emulate a real pilates class, but when my phone tells me to lie face-down on the floor I can no longer ensure the screen. It is frustrating to have to repeatedly break out of the pose to check the next movement.
Worth a download ? Only if you are single, enjoy cooking and are willing to hand control of your life to an app.
AH

Aaptiv

Price $14.99( PS11. 40) a few months or $99.99 a year.
What is it ? A cheery selection of audio workouts with curated tunes.
The experience Before I start, the app asks me my fitness level, how many times I work out a week, how many weeks a month, what days I work out on, what machines I have access to, and what equipment I have to hand. None of this stops it from absolutely destroying me with bodyweight exercises– but it is the thought that counts.
The teachers are great, with the right level of enthusiasm( read: grating in any other context ). I am glad to have clear verbal instructions for how to do the exercises, rather than wishing I could just read a list of workouts from my screen. Video walkthroughs, available before and after the workout, assist clear up any persisting concerns about form.
Worth a download ? If you want to get fit to the tune of PS7 5 a year, this is the app to expend your money on. AH

Alex
Alex get in the spirit. Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Fitocracy

Price Free; coaching from$ 1 a day.
What is it ? A bizarre mixture of a mediocre workout app and personal trainer upselling.
The experience You get what you pay for, and as a result the free version of Fitocracy is odd. The main workout app lets you defined a goal, then pick workouts from a listing, but the presentation of the workouts is much simpler than its competitors: only a list of exercisings and reps, which you check off as you go.
The problem is that much of the app is effectively broken, with visual artefacts- graphical flaws- all over the place. Digging in, the cause is clear: genuinely, the app is a gateway to a coaching business, where you can spend anything from$ 1 to $250 a month on a one-on-one consultation with a personal trainer.
Worth a download ? If you want free, there is better; if you want a coach, head to your local gym. AH

StrongLifts

StrongLifts
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price PS17. 49 a year.
What is it? A simple and direct approach to strength.
The experience A popular approach to learning to lift free weights, 5×5 involves doing five sets of five reps of heavy weights, with three different exercisings, three times a week.
It demands precisely what it does and no more. You need a gym, a squatting rack, a barbell and a bench. You don’t need to memorise a list of different exerts , nor wonder which equipment you are going to need today , nor, truly, think.
StrongLifts is the best introduction to this type of workout there is, basic coaching and tracking, as well as just enough motivation to get you to lift the next define. It is my personal favourite: in a year, I have gone from struggling with a 20 kg bar to reliably squatting my own weight.
Worth a download ? Yes, if you have access to a gym and don’t know what to do when you are there. AH

Nike Training Club

Nike
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price Free; PS13. 49 a month for the premium version.
What is it ? Slick branded workouts with a generous free offering.
The experience Nike Training Club, the workout sibling to
the more popular Nike Run Club, feels less human than its challengers. While the personal trainers are front and centre, they mostly exist as silent models demonstrating the best form for each exercise.
That may suit a certain type of self-motivated student. Less helpful, for me, is the approach to equipment. I feel as if Nike expects me to have an incredibly well-stocked home- with multiple dumbbells, a skipping rope and a bench- or induce myself tremendously unpopular at the gym by seize six things at once. That said, most of the app is available for free- a price you can’t beat.
Worth a download ? Yes, if free is the magic number. AH

Sweat: Kayla Itsines Fitness

Sweat
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price PS14. 99 a month or PS88 a year.
What is it ? The chance to have your workout( for the home and gym) and diet scheme organised by not only one Instagram influencer, but five- inspired by everything from
powerlifting and muay thai to yoga.
The experience Kayla Itsines was one of the first internet exercise influencers. She rose to fame with the Bikini Body Guides, her series of fitness ebooks( the name hasn’t aged well ). Itsines still offers the BBG programme, but it now includes differences for different fitness levels. This feels like an app that could stay fresh for well over a year. I like that there are adjustments for various exercises, that it is easy to sync to Spotify, and that it put so much emphasis on rest and rehabilitation to enhance healing.
The meal-planning features are disappointing, though. There is no option to swap indicated recipes, but as some of the suggestions are as unimaginative as” egg and salad roll”, I imagine quite a few people would want to.
Worth a download ? Yes- for the exercising, at least.
CK

Sworkit

Sworkit
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
What is it? It is all about workout on Sworkit, and there is a hell of a lot of it. You can choose from a variety of plans or one-off workouts, customisable by time or focused on body parts( Sworkit is quite to be used in firming hoboes ).
The experience This has one of the best interfaces for exercising of the apps I tried. It works in landscape, counts you in before the next exercise starts and has a preview window to mentally prepare you for the next move. You can alter music within the exercise window and set how long you want to exercise for, with sessions beginning at five minutes. It also has a great voiceover feature: think of the sort of thing a gym instructor might say, such as” keep your toes pointing outward “. The app sends out push notifications to encourage you to exercise, but the upkeep of a plan does not depend on exercising every day. So, novices can define their own pace.
I can’t work out if the instructor figures on Sworkit are AI or humans, but either way I liked them. Sworkit has tried to make its teachers diverse- there are men and women in a variety of sizes. It is a small thing, but I appreciate not always having to follow someone with the figure of a goddess.
Worth a download ? Yes, especially for novices. None of Sworkit’s conferences involve equipment, so if you ever work out at home or while travelling, it can’t be beaten. CK

Fit Body with Anna Victoria

Price $16.99 a month.
What is it? The Instagram influencer Anna Victoria rose to fame with her downloadable workout plans known as the FBGs( or Fit Body Guides) and pictures of smoothie bowls. Here, she brings together her fitness and food advice in one app, offering 12 -week exercise and nutrition programmes, including a customisable snack planner.
The experience The app offer a series of 12 -week plans to last you 60 weeks( for home or gym, for weight loss or sculpting etc ), a forum for users, a journal to log notes and a healthy-meal planner, which aims to spoon-feed the user into eating well( the nutrition segment generates your recipes and grocery list for the week as well as reminding you when to drink water ).

Coco
Coco tries out the apps. Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

I couldn’t get to grip with all of this, but when I tried it out there were some excellent features- a nutrition guide that is not just about calorie-counting( although the variety of the dishes may bore food fans ), plus educational videos( such as breathing does and don’ts) to help newcomers to regular exert. The downsides? The app doesn’t work in scenery mode, so checking the demo during workouts is difficult. Also, workouts often involve equipment. I am not convinced the app would work for total novices( push-ups in week one for a woman seems ambitious , not to mention the amount of vicious burpees ), while scanning future weeks leaves me know … … if it might get boring.
Worth a download ? Unless you are a fan of Victoria and her style, I can’t see it delivering enough. CK

Freeletics

Price PS1. 78 a week for educate; PS2. 66 including nutrional information.
What is it? Touted as a digital personal trainer, this app has a cultish fanbase thanks to its detailed personalised fitness plans.
The experience You can join in with the short but intense fitness challenges, or a variety of running, bodyweight or gym workouts. Users can opt for workouts anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes long, and can select sessions based on parts of the body. So far, so normal. But it is the Coach programme that stands out. The personal plans are created by algorithms that pool the data of users with similar stats to chart your journey. Key to this is regular logging; you will record your details when you first start( height, weight, general fitness level) and log after each workout, telling the app how tough you received it.

Freeletics
Freeletics Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Freeletics promises its workouts will be hard, but not so hard that you give up. It is the feedback moments that allow it to alter your plan accordingly, based on the behaviour of other users who the hell is similar experiences. As with a real coach, “theres plenty” of demo videos and tutorials to guide you through, plus helpful nudges to drink water and sleep well. The Coach can even see if you are overtraining. Freeletics also has a reasonably busy meetup community, some of the social elements of exercise that can be lost when training at home. Plus, the exercises don’t require any equipment
Worth a download ? Perfectly, if you have some experience of exercising- it could be a little overwhelming for a total newbie. CK

30 Day Fitness Challenge

Price Free; from PS1. 99 a week for the premium version.
What is it ? A 30 -day programme with levels from beginner to pro.
The experience Month-long challenges have become a staple of modern fitness. This app capitalises on the idea that people can do anything if it is in short bursts, hence the idea of daily sessions for 30 days.
Most of the challenges are focused on a specific area- there is the” flat belly challenge” and the” slim limbs challenge”- but nearly all involve a full-body workout. The video tutorials are clear and there are 400 workouts in the library if you feel like doing something completely different outside of the challenge. The objective outcome should be that your overall fitness is improved.
Worth a download ? Absolutely- 30 -day challenges may not be for everyone, but, unlike many other apps, there is plenty to do for free. CK

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Can your telephone maintain you accommodate? Our writers try 10 big fitness apps- from weightlifting to pilates

There are a dizzying number of apps promising to get you in shape even if you cant get to a gym. But can any of them maintain our writers moving?


Centr

Price PS15. 49 a month.
What is it? A full-service experience from the Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth: not only workouts, but a complete dinner planner- with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner- a daily guided meditation and a daily motivational article.
The experience I immediately regret declaring myself “intermediate” as the app launches into a punishing pilates workout. I am not very flexible at all, and it turns out that my baseline fitness leaves much to be desired in terms of core strength.
More frustrating is the fact that the various workouts are introduced as videos. Clearly, this is supposed to emulate a real pilates class, but when my phone tells me to lie face-down on the floor I can no longer insure the screen. It is frustrating to have to repeatedly break out of the pose to check the next movement.
Worth a download ? Merely “if you il” single, enjoy cooking and are willing to hand control of your life to an app.
AH

Aaptiv

Price $14.99( PS11. 40) a few months or $99.99 a year.
What is it ? A cheery selection of audio workouts with curated tunes.
The experience Before I start, the app asks me my fitness level, how many times I work out a week, how many weeks a month, what days I work out on, what machines I have access to, and what equipment I have to hand. None of this stops it from absolutely destroying me with bodyweight exerts– but it is the thought that counts.
The instructors are great, with the right level of enthusiasm( read: grating in any other context ). I am glad to have clear verbal instructions for how to do the exercises, rather than wishing I could just read a list of workouts from my screen. Video walkthroughs, available before and after the workout, help clear up any lingering concerns about form.
Worth a download ? If you want to get fit to the tune of PS7 5 a year, this is the app to expend your money on. AH

Alex
Alex gets in the spirit. Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Fitocracy

Price Free; coaching from$ 1 a day.
What is it ? A bizarre mixture of a mediocre workout app and personal trainer upselling.
The experience You get what you pay for, and as a result the free version of Fitocracy is odd. The main workout app lets you set a aim, then pick workouts from a list, but the submission of the workouts is much simpler than its competitors: merely a list of exercises and reps, which you check off as you go.
The problem is that much of the app is effectively broken, with visual artefacts- graphical glitches- all over the place. Digging in, the cause is clear: really, the app is a gateway to a coaching business, where you can spend anything from$ 1 to $250 a month on a one-on-one consultation with a personal trainer.
Worth a download ? If you want free, there is better; if you want a coach-and-four, head to your local gym. AH

StrongLifts

StrongLifts
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price PS17. 49 a year.
What is it? A simple and direct approach to strength.
The experience A popular approach to learning to lift free weights, 5×5 involves doing five decides of five reps of heavy weights, with three different workouts, three times a week.
It demands precisely what it does and no more. You need a gym, a squat rack, a barbell and a bench. You don’t need to memorise a list of different exercises , nor wonder which equipment you are going to need today , nor, genuinely, think.
StrongLifts is the best introduction to this type of workout there is, basic coaching and tracking, as well as just enough motivation to get you to lift the next set. It is my personal favourite: in a year, I have gone from struggling with a 20 kg bar to reliably squatting my own weight.
Worth a download ? Yes, if you have access to a gym and don’t know what to do when you are there. AH

Nike Training Club

Nike
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price Free; PS13. 49 a few months for the premium version.
What is it ? Slick branded workouts with a generous free offering.
The experience Nike Training Club, the workout sibling to
the more popular Nike Run Club, feels less human than its challengers. While the personal trainers are front and centre, they largely exist as silent models demonstrating the best form for each exercise.
That may suit a certain type of self-motivated student. Less helpful, for me, is the approach to equipment. I feel as if Nike expects me to have an incredibly well-stocked home- with multiple dumbbells, a skip rope and a bench- or attain myself enormously unpopular at the gym by seize six things at once. That said, most of the app is available for free- a price you can’t beat.
Worth a download ? Yes, if free is the magic number. AH

Sweat: Kayla Itsines Fitness

Sweat
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price PS14. 99 a month or PS88 a year.
What is it ? The chance to have your workout( for the home and gym) and diet plan organised by not only one Instagram influencer, but five- inspired by everything from
powerlifting and muay thai to yoga.
The experience Kayla Itsines was one of the first internet exercise influencers. She rose to fame with the Bikini Body Guides, her series of fitness ebooks( the name hasn’t aged well ). Itsines still offers the BBG programme, but it now includes fluctuations for different fitness levels. This feels like an app that could stay fresh for well over a year. I like that there are adjustments for various exercises, that it is easy to sync to Spotify, and that it put so much emphasis on rest and rehabilitation to enhance healing.
The meal-planning features are disillusioning, though. There is no option to swap indicated recipes, but as some of the suggestions are as unimaginative as” egg and salad roll”, I imagine quite a few people would want to.
Worth a download ? Yes- for the exercise, at least.
CK

Sworkit

Sworkit
Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Price $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
What is it? It is all about workout on Sworkit, and there is a hell of a lot of it. You can choose from a variety of plans or one-off workouts, customisable by period or focused on body parts( Sworkit is quite invested in firming hoboes ).
The experience This has one of the best interfaces for exerting of the apps I tried. It works in landscape, counts you in before the next exercise starts and has a preview window to mentally prepare you for the next move. You can alter music within the exercise window and defined how long you want to exercise for, with sessions beginning at five minutes. It also has a great voiceover feature: think of the sort of thing a gym teacher might say, such as” keep your toes pointing outward “. The app is sending out move notifications to encourage you to exercise, but the upkeep of a plan does not depend on exercising every day. So, novices can set their own pace.
I can’t work out if their teachers figures on Sworkit are AI or humen, but either way I liked them. Sworkit has tried to make its teachers diverse- there are men and women in a variety of sizes. It is a small thing, but I appreciate not always having to follow someone with the figure of a goddess.
Worth a download ? Yes, especially for beginners. None of Sworkit’s conferences require equipment, so if you ever work out at home or while travelling, it can’t be beaten. CK

Fit Body with Anna Victoria

Price $16.99 a month.
What is it? The Instagram influencer Anna Victoria rose to fame with her downloadable workout plans known as the FBGs( or Fit Body Guides) and pictures of smoothie bowls. Here, she brings together her fitness and food advice in one app, offering 12 -week exercise and nutrition programmes, including a customisable dinner planner.
The experience The app offer a series of 12 -week plans to last you 60 weeks( for home or gym, for weight loss or sculpting etc ), a forum for users, a journal to log notes and a healthy-meal planner, which aims to spoon-feed the user into eating well( the nutrition section makes your recipes and grocery list for the week as well as reminding you when to drink water ).

Coco
Coco tries out the apps. Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

I couldn’t get to grip with all of this, but when I tried it out there were some excellent features- a nutrition guide that is not just about calorie-counting( although the various forms of the dishes may bore food devotees ), plus educational videos( such as breathing dos and don’ts) to help newcomers to regular workout. The downsides? The app doesn’t work in scenery mode, so checking the demo during workouts is difficult. Also, workouts often involve equipment. I am not convinced the app would work for total novices( push-ups in week one for a woman seems ambitious , not to mention the amount of vicious burpees ), while scan future weeks leaves me know … … if it might get boring.
Worth a download ? Unless you are a fan of Victoria and her style, I can’t see it delivering enough. CK

Freeletics

Price PS1. 78 a week for educate; PS2. 66 including nutrional information.
What is it? Touted as a digital personal trainer, this app has a cultish fanbase thanks to its detailed personalised fitness schemes.
The experience You can join in with the short but intense fitness challenges, or a variety of running, bodyweight or gym workouts. Users can opt for workouts anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes long, and can select sessions based on parts of the body. So far, so normal. But it is the Coach programme that stands out. The personal plans are created by algorithms that pool the data of users with similar stats to chart your journey. Key to this is regular logging; you will record your details when you first start( height, weight, general fitness level) and log after each workout, telling the app how tough you procured it.

Freeletics
Freeletics Photograph: Alicia Canter/ The Guardian

Freeletics promises its workouts is difficult to, but not so hard that you give up. It is the feedback moments that allow it to alter your plan accordingly, based on the behaviour of other users who had similar experiences. As with a real coach, there are plenty of demo videos and tutorials to guide you through, plus helpful nudges to drink water and sleep well. The Coach can even see if you are overtraining. Freeletics also has a fairly busy meetup community, providing some of the social elements of exercise that can be lost when training at home. Plus, the exercises don’t require any equipment
Worth a download ? Perfectly, if you have some experience of exerting- it could be a little overwhelming for a total newbie. CK

30 Day Fitness Challenge

Price Free; from PS1. 99 a week for the premium version.
What is it ? A 30 -day programme with levels from beginner to pro.
The experience Month-long challenges have become a staple of modern fitness. This app capitalises on the idea that people can do anything if it is in short bursts, hence the idea of daily sessions for 30 days.
Most of the challenges are focused on a specific area- there is the” flat belly challenge” and the” slim arms challenge”- but nearly all involve a full-body workout. The video tutorials are clear and there are 400 workouts in the library if you feel like doing something completely different outside of the challenge. The objective outcome should be that your overall fitness is improved.
Worth a download ? Utterly- 30 -day challenges may not be for everyone, but, unlike many other apps, there is plenty to do for free. CK

This article contains affiliate connections, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate connection, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Dopamine fasting: why Silicon Valley is trying to avoid all forms of stimulation

Its the most recent developments trend in the worlds tech capital. But is it really possible to cut yourself off from everything in life that excites you and can it be any good for you?

They have done biohacking, clean sleeping and the keto diet, but now Silicon Valley types have coined a new health tendency- dopamine fasting. It is thought that depriving yourself of the neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that motivates us to do things, can help to reboot or rebalance the brain. Fasting might necessitate abstinence from technology, artificial lighting, food, drink, conversation, eye contact- basically anything that an individual discovers inducing. But is there any sense to the fad?

” Retreating from life probably attains life more interesting when you come back to it ,” says David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London.” Monks have been doing it for thousands of years. Whether that has anything to do with dopamine is unclear .”

It is possible to manipulate the production of dopamine through diet, Nutt says. He mentions the velvet bean, which contains high concentrations of a precursor to dopamine.” There is no question that you can have a dietary influence on the production of dopamine ,” he says. “Starvation would probably reduce dopamine to some extent.”

Dopamine is often thought of as a reward, but Joydeep Bhattacharya, who results the research group of cognitive and neuroscience at Goldsmiths, University of London, points out that dopamine is really” about learning the anticipation of the reward, and not the pleasure itself. It is primarily released in this anticipation phase .”

This could counteract dopamine fasting because abstinence might trigger a greater number of thoughts about the things from which a person is abstaining.” The moment we try to abstain, naturally our brain will crave that- so there will be more of a dopamine release .” Similarly, anyone who abstains and has a sense of occasion about the abstinence would be in danger of triggering the production of dopamine, as would a person who periodically congratulates themselves on their abstinence during the course of its abstinence.

Rather than casting this sort of intense, time-limited disengagement as a dopamine fast, it may be better seen as meditation. But dopamine-related hazards lurk there, too. As Nutt, who has studied the production of dopamine in monks, says:” If you transcend in meditation, you might get euphoria, a release of dopamine .” It would seem nowhere is safe.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Selfies, influencers and a Twitter president: the decade of the social media celebrity

From Gyneth Paltrow to Trump, todays starrings speak directly to their fans. But are they genuinely controlling their message?

I have a friend, Adam, who is an autograph seller- a niche profession, and one that is getting more niche by the day. When we gratify for breakfast last month he was looking despondent.

” Everyone takes selfies these days ,” he said sadly, picking at his scrambled eggs.” It’s never autographs any more. They just want photos of themselves with celebrities .”

Anyone who has attended a red carpet event or watched one on Tv, knows that selfies have securely supplanted autographs, with fans careening desperately towards celebrities with outstretched phones instead of pens and paper. Celebrities have adapted accordingly. In 2017, a video of Liam Payne ran viral that depicted him miserably working his way down a line of selfie-takers, his smile lasting as long as it took for each fan to press click.

A photo of oneself with, say, Tom Cruise, feels more personal than a mere scribbled signature, which he could have given anyone( and could have been signed by anyone ). But the real reason selfies have abruptly rendered autographs as obsolete as landline telephones is because of social media. Instagram is constructed for photos , not autographs, and what’s the point of having your photo taken with Payne if you don’t then immediately post it and watch the ” OMG !” s and” NO Way !!!!” s come flooding in? If you stand next to a celebrity and your friends don’t like the photo, did it ever happen? Do you even exist?

Instagram launched in 2010, four years after Twitter, six years after Facebook. Although social media was originally pitched as a way for people to keep in touch with their friends, it quickly also became a way for people to feel greater proximity to celebrities, and to flaunt this closeness to others. Facebook, with characteristic hamfistedness, attempted to monetise this in 2013, when it announced it was trialling a feature that would allow users to pay to contact celebrities for a sliding scale of fees: 71 p for Jeremy Hunt, PS10. 68 for Tom Daley. But there was no need for people to spend money for the privilege, because celebrities had already proven extremely keen to bend down low and share their lives with the peasants. When Demi Moore appeared on David Letterman in 2010, she was already so addicted to Twitter she continued to tweet while live on air to millions. (” This stinks ,” Letterman griped .)

The appeal of social media for a celebrity is obvious, in that it allows them to talk to the public without those awful middlemen: journalists. The past decade is littered with examples of why celebrities( and their publicists) now prefer social media( which they can control) to giving interviews( which they cannot .) It’s unlikely that Michael Douglas would have tweeted that his throat cancer was caused by cunnilingus, as he told the Guardian’s Xan Brooks in 2013( and for which he later publicly apologised to his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones ). It’s even less likely that Liam Neeson would have made an Instagram story about the time he went out hoping to kill a” black bastard” after a friend was raped, as he said in an interview this year. Why risk such disasters when, instead, you can just take a flattering photo, slap a filter on it and post it to your already adoring followers? Mega celebrities with a hyper-online fanbase- Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Frank Ocean- can now go for years without giving an interview and their careers are helped rather than harmed for it.

Instagram is an airbrushing app, one that lets people touch up their photos, specifically, and their own lives, generally, by determining what they choose to post.( When Jennifer Aniston ultimately joined social media last month, and momentarily broke the internet, she naturally chose Instagram over the bearpit of Twitter .) Some are more honest about this than others: after he married Kim Kardashian- the celebrity who more than any other has made a virtue out of artifice- Kanye West proudly told reporters in 2014 that the two of them expended four days of their honeymoon in Florence playing with the filters on the wedding photo, that they eventually posted on Instagram,” because the flowers were off-colour and stuff like that “.

Frank
Frank Ocean: a mega celebrity with a hyper-online fanbase. Photograph: Rex/ Shutterstock

You wonder what they’d do with all that time if the internet didn’t exist- remedy cancer, perhaps? Musician John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen have established a new kind of fame for themselves with their regular social media posts: with Teigen complaining about Donald Trump on Twitter; both of them posting photos of their perfect household on Instagram. Teigen is considered more “real” than her friend Kardashian because she is funny and doesn’t take money to advertise dodgy weight-loss supplements. But their photos are as idealised and managed as any Hello! shoot. The reason Teigen- a heretofore relatively little known model- has over 26 million adherents on Instagram is because she hits that social media sweet place, which is to be( to use two of the more grating buzzwords of the decade) aspirational and authentic.

At the beginning of this decade, it was the aspirational side of the equation that was deemed more important- leading to the rise of a new kind of celebrity: the influencers. This bewilder group of people indicate their lives are so perfect that, by showing us photos of how they eat, dress, mother, travel, decorate, exert, put on makeup and even remedy themselves of illness, they will influence us to do the same. For the successful, the money was suddenly limitless, as brands realised that the public trusted influencers more than adverts, and so threw money at them to endorse their products; Kylie Jenner, a makeup influencer, currently makes$ 1m per sponsored post. This was always a delicate bubble and it finally began to burst last year, when the Advertising Standards Authority decreed that influencers need to spell it out when they’re being paid to promote something. Writing ” ADVERT ” beneath that perfect photo of you chugging some Smart Water next to a waterfall doesn’t really boost one’s authenticity.

Even more problematic were the Fyre Festival debacle and the fall of YouTube superstars such as Logan Paul and PewDiePie, scandals that eroded the relationship between online celebrities and their followers. It turns out influencers weren’t more trustworthy than adverts; in fact, in the unregulated world of the web, they were markedly less so.

An older demographic has sneered at influencers, as they did with the previous decade’s reality Tv stars, indicating they are not ” real” celebrities. This is an absurd complaint, in recognition of the fact that some influencers have more adherents than traditional movie stars do. Yet influencers atomise audiences in a way traditional celebrities don’t: even if you have never bought Vogue, you’ll know who Cindy Crawford is; unless you follow Chiara Ferragni on social media you will likely have no idea who she is- and yet the style influencer has four times as many adherents as Crawford.

Ironically, the rise of the influencer began with a very old-school celebrity, one who is frequently accused of being the personification of the worst kind of elitist privilege: Gwyneth Paltrow. When Paltrow launched her wellness website, Goop, in 2008, few would have predicted it would reshape both Paltrow’s career and cultural notions of what constitutes an aspirational lifestyle. Paltrow helped usher out the 2000 s trend for bling and Cristal, swapping them for yoga clothes and gluten-free kale crisps, stimulating discreet asceticism the ultimate -Alister look. Which is more authentic is debatable, but the biggest swap Paltrow stimulated was personal: “shes gone” from being an Academy Award-winning actor to online influencer. And, in recognition of the fact that her company is now estimated to be worth $ 250 m, she probably stimulated the more lucrative choice.

Happily , not everyone uses social media to hawk fantasy images of themselves. Occasional glimpses of reality peek through, to everyone’s delight, and by “reality” I entail “feuds”. We’ve had Katy Perry and Taylor Swift’s long-running snarky subtweets aimed at one another. There were Kim Cattrall’s explicit swipes at Sarah Jessica Parker on Instagram. After her brother died, she wrote:” I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time @ sarahjessicaparker. Let me make this VERY clear.( If I haven’t already .) You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your’ nice girl’ persona .” Most recently, Coleen Rooney accused” Rebekah Vardy’s account” of selling tales about her to the tabloids. One can only feel deep stabs of regret that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford died before either had access to an iPhone.

As much as young celebrities tout the importance of authenticity, those who come across as most genuine tend to be the older ones- perhaps because they are less internet savvy, or, more likely, have fewer media directors. Bette Midler and, in particular, Cher have really come into their own on Twitter, gleefully sharing their often emoji-heavy supposes on Trump and politics in general. (” What do you think of Boris Johnson ?” one tweeter asked Cher.” F-ing idiot who lied to the British ppl ,” the goddess replied, rightly .) And while Instagram may be best known for hyper-stylised photos of, say, Beyonce holding her newborn twins, the most purely enjoyable celebrity accounts belong to Glenn Close- she posts candid videos of herself and her puppies, always liked by Michael Douglas- and Diane Keaton, who posts decidedly unstylised photos of herself.” YES, I AM WEARING[ TROUSERS] UNDER A SKIRT” is a typical all-caps caption. Ever wanted to know what Annie Hall would be like online? Now you know.

Actor
Sarah Jessica Parker, target of Instagram swipes from fellow Sex And The City star Kim Cattrall. Photograph: Reuters

Of course, the downside to being able to reach one’s public immediately is that the public can reach back. Stars from Stephen Fry to Nicki Minaj have publicly left social media sites after the audience proved a little less admiring than they hoped. “Stan”- or obsessive fan- culture has blossomed. Sometimes this has been to the celebrity’s benefit: Lady Gaga’s fan squad, the Little Monsters, amped up her Oscar campaign for A Star Is Born. But if stans feel they have been let down by the object of their preoccupation, they will viciously bully the( usually female) star, as Katy Perry and Demi Lovato have experienced. As a outcome, many celebrities have turned off the comments on their accounts, so we can hear them but they can’t hear us. So much for getting closer.

And yet, for all the fascination social media currently exerts, the celebrity narratives that will have the most enduring impact did not start there. There had been rumors about Harvey Weinstein for years, but he was ultimately undone by good old-fashioned investigative reporting, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times, and Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker. Michael Jackson, R Kelly, Woody Allen, Max Clifford, Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer became pariahs( in Jackson’s case, posthumously) when their accusers spoke to journalists. Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world , not on social media, but on the covering of Vanity Fair. When Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, the artist formerly known as Meghan Markle, spoke out against the “campaigns” against her, they directed their rage towards the print media( and the Mail on Sunday in particular ). Ironically, this could be seen as instead reassuring to the newspaper industry: sure, our sales are falling, but for a certain kind of celebrity, publish is still what matters.

Nonetheless, this decade has, in a very profound way, been shaped by the social media celebrity. Donald Trump did not emerge from the online world; he came to prominence through the traditional format of TV. But he has taken advantage of the route Twitter prioritises personality over expertise: it doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you say it in a way that captures the most attention; and the public has grown accustomed to this kind of communication. In the early part of the decade, Trump devoted himself a Twitter makeover; it was a platform where he could move from being the embodiment of obnoxious Manhattan privilege( bragging in interviews that he wouldn’t rent an apartment to anyone on welfare ), to the say-it-like-it-is kinda guy, the one who tweets about the dangers of vaccination. When he ran for the presidency, Trump maintained this persona, and many people assumed that’s all it was- a persona- and one he would fell once in office. Well, we all know how that turned out.

Now he, and in this country, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, treat their offices as if they were a form of social media: they rely on the web to build a dedicated following, and complain about journalists who venture anything but adoring coverage. They disdain traditional interviews, preferring instead to put out their messages via Facebook or Twitter, metaphorically turning off the comments, staying comfortably inside their respective bubbles. Social media was never supposed to reflect the real world, but the real world is increasingly being bent to reflect social media. And it’s not only autograph vendors who will suffer for that.

* If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in publish, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Read more: www.theguardian.com

They taunt vegans and feed 4lb of steak a day: gratify ‘carnivore dieters’

An extreme, all animal-based diet is gaining followers in search of heightened productivity, mental clarity, and a boosted libido. But experts carry doubts

For the past 18 months, Shawn Baker has eaten about 4lb of steak every day.

” I’ve got two rib-eye steaks waiting for me when I get off this call ,” said Baker, a developed orthopaedic surgeon, from Orange County, California.” It can be monotonous eating the same thing over and over again, but as hour goes by you start to crave it .”

The 6ft 5in bodybuilder, in his 50 s, is one of a growing number of people experimenting with the “carnivore diet”, a regimen that involves eating merely animal products like meat, offal and eggs, and no plant-based foods. It’s an extreme version of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet– which develops the body to run on fat rather than carbohydrates- that has become popular in recent years. Proponents of the diet say it reduces rednes and blood pressure while increasing libido and mental clarity.

Baker, who is nicknamed the “Carnivore King” and has amassed a cult following on social media, says the diet is easy because he doesn’t have to plan meals or count calories.” I just have to think: how hungry am I and how many steaks do I want to eat ,” he said.

Before becoming a pure carnivore, Baker was also eating salads, spinach, dairy and nuts. Trenching these plant-based foods has been transformative for his body and athletic performance, he says.

” My joint pain and tendinitis went away, my sleep became excellent, my scalp improved. I no longer had any bloating, cramping or other digestive problems, my libido went back to what it was in my 20 s and my blood pressure normalised ,” he said.

Although most medical practitioners balk at the idea of their patients ditching fruit and vegetables, the all-meat diet has been embraced by a cluster of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, who describe themselves as” bitcoin carnivores”, a phenomenon previously reported by Motherboard.

” Bitcoin is a revolt against fiat[ government-backed] fund, and an all-meat diet is a insurrection against fiat food ,” said Michael Goldstein, a” bitcoin and meat maximalist” based in Austin, Texas.” Once someone has grown capable of see beyond the lies and myths that experts peddle in one domain, it becomes easier to see beyond them in other domains as well .”

Goldstein, who runs a website dedicated to carnivory called Justmeat.co, feeds 2-2. 5lb of “very rare” rib-eye steak each day, at a cost of about $400 a month. He says he never has cravings for pizza, chocolate or veggies.” They don’t even register in my brain as food .”

He argues that eating merely meat has freed up his time to get more work done.” Grocery shopping takes all of 10 minutes, most of which is standing in the checkout line. I spend little time thinking about food. I merely need to eat once or twice a day( no snacking or cravings ). Basically, it’s the greatest productivity hack, and Silicon Valley should have listened to me about it while I was there .”

Saifedean Ammous, a bitcoin economist, concurs, quoting a” huge improvement” in productivity.

” The ability to focus for long periods has been life transforming, and was the reason that I managed to write a 300 -page book, on bitcoin, fittingly enough !” he said.

Lily Chien-Davis, a social media specialist at San Francisco-based startup Heads Up Health, says that the enhanced productivity and mental clarity explains why this diet, like intermittent fasting, is popular in Silicon Valley.

She started eating a very low carb diet when her husband was diagnosed with cancer- some studies indicate that a ketogenic diet can help the body fight cancers. However, Chien-Davis found that changing her eating habits alleviated her pre-diabetes.

What’s causing females to join the NoFap movement?

A Reddit forum dedicated to abstaining from masturbation has over 450,000 member states and about 5% of them are female

From a sunny sitting room, 26 -year-old Kristel rays at the camera she has set up to broadcast her life to her 49,000 YouTube subscribers.” I fought with acne and I had body issues ,” she explains.” I believe I[ now] looking better and I think more positively … I’ve been told how much more attractive I’ve got .” Later, she will intercut the video with photographs of herself taken over the previous eight months, her skin growing perceptibly more radiant, her hair changing from lackluster to glossy.

But with her before-and-after shootings, Kristel isn’t documenting a weight-loss journey or a new skincare regime. Instead, she credits her new incandescence to a movement that has lurked in corners of the internet for several years.

Kristel is a follower of NoFap, a platform that encourages its users to refrain from masturbation. She claims her new lifestyle has led to a complete physical and mental reformation.

” After starting NoFap I felt more motivating, more willpower and more discipline ,” Kristel tells me.” I decided to take part in the movement because I like challenging myself and I wanted to prove that I could accomplish this .”

The flippantly named NoFap community has gained a strange prominence since it was founded in 2011 by Pittsburgh web developer Alexander Rhodes. Inspired by a small studythat suggested that male testosterone levels rose after seven days of abstinence from ejaculation, followers avoid masturbation in order to “reboot” their brains.

Having first gained momentum among humen in Reddit forums and backwaters of the internet, local communities considers NoFap as a sexual health program to combat porn addiction. But there is also a consensus among many NoFappers( who often brand themselves “Fapstronauts”) that refraining from masturbation can be achieved through” superpowers“, ranging from increased energy and confidence to commanding respect from peers or curing social nervousnes. NoFap’s Reddit forum now has more than 450, 000 members primarily in North America and the UK, and Kristel is part of a smaller subset of female subscribers.

Rhodes estimates that about 5% of the NoFap followers are female and although the cohort may be small, it is seemingly mighty. Kristel’s transformation video alone has racked up virtually 1.5 m views to date. She says the vast majority of her spectators are based in the US, with a smaller but significant following in India.

In an attempt to engage its rising female cohort, NoFap has recently introduced new measures including hiring female moderators and creating women in reboot forums.

Kristel explains:” Even though most of the responses I get are encouraging and positive, there is also a side of people not taking it severely. They believe girls don’t even masturbate to begin with .”

Kristel has become something of a poster-girl for the Femstronaut movement, but there is a darker side to NoFap. Among the reams of Reddit discussions and YouTube videos, a fundamentally misogynistic rhetoric regularly emerges. The movement’s focus on testosterone inherently idealizes masculine traits, and the oft-cited claim that NoFap attains men more attractiveto the opposite sex objectifies men and frames them as the “prize” in the game of who can hold out for longest. Some have even connectedthe movement to incel( involuntarily celibate) communities, who extendcontempt towards masturbation and pornography to a more insidious hatred of women.

So what drives women to participate in this male-dominated trend? Like Kristel, Chicago-based YouTuber Alana, 29, joined the NoFap movement as a lifestyle improvement in 2017.

” I guess the biggest issue is porn ,” she says.” Porn is where people go to learn how to have sex, and the majority of cases the approach to sexuality in porn is built around the man’s pleasure. Even as a heterosexual female, porn constructed me sexualize and objectify women … I also began to think of myself as a sex object, and that my value come back here my sex appeal .”

Kristel also quotes the influence of pornography as a key driver of current trends. She says the unrelenting theme of male predominance, unrealistic body standards and the overly performative scenes made watching adult content a discomfiting experience for her. She claims that without pornography to masturbate to or compare her own experiences with, she is able to enjoy sex in a way that she wasn’t able to before.

Sex addiction therapist Staci Sprout says the phenomenon really is” a new grassroots movement where people are seeking to reclaim their own bodies separately from pornography’s input. If a woman has only learned how to self-pleasure through high-stimulation pornography and later simply re-enacts this with others, she probably won’t know herself very well sexually .”

It seems no coincidence that both Alana and Kristel, apparently some of the most prominent and outspoken women in the NoFap movement, are part of a generation that has grown up with extreme sex content only ever a few clicks away. Despite the nearly non-existent science behind its asserts, the NoFap movement seems to represent a solution to very real concerns. Yet it is not clear whether NoFap offers any relief. Although the thousands of women who post on NoFap might be benefiting from access to a community of like-minded people, it fails to provide the expert support that may realistically be needed for women struggling with sex or porn addiction.

The females drawn to NoFap seem trapped in a conundrum of the digital age. They insure themselves as victims of a world where access to online pornography is unlimited, but also end up seeking answers within a similarly opaque and murky world. Although they may feel isolated from the male-centric world of porn, their association with an ideology that idolizes the strange pseudo-science of semen retention and stereotypically masculine powers could only further isolate them from the nuances of female sexuality.

And yet, Kristel has no plans to stop.” After years of abstaining, there is no restriction involved, it feels natural to me now ,” she says.” I don’t feel any advise to go back .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com