‘ All my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake’

11 days ago

At five months pregnant, Ariel Levy lost her newborn. After four more years of IVF, had she left motherhood too late?

I first fulfilled Ariel Levy in 2009, soon after moving from London to New York, but I had been a fan for more than a decade. Her frank articles about pop culture and sex, which she wrote in her first task at New York magazine from the late 1990 s, the template of what I wanted to write one day. Her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, a blister look at how young woman were being sold the lie that emulating pole dancers and Paris Hilton was empowering, became one of the defining feminist statements of that decade. At the New Yorker, where she has been a personnel writer since 2008, she breaks up the publications occasional aridity with vivid articles about sexuality and gender.( She got her job when she told editor David Remnick that, If foreigners had only the New Yorker to go by, they would conclude that human beings didnt care that much about sexuality, which they actually do .)

Heroes rarely live up to your fictions, but Levy outstripped them. Usually marriage used to go for drinkings cocktails that knocked me sideways, but scarcely seemed to touch her sides and from the start she struck me as being just like her penning: laid-back, wise, curious, kind. Sometimes Levys wife, Lucy, would join us. Isnt she hilarious? Levy would say after Lucy had said something that wasnt, actually, all that funny, but I jealousy them their mutual love after almost a decade together. I, by contrast, was lonely and, like generations of single women in their mid-3 0s before me, starting to panic. But like a lot of women of my particular generation, I felt ashamed of this. Panicking about not having a newborn? How retrograde. So I never admitted any of it to Levy, who seemed more likely to eat her own hair than indulge in such uncool, unfeminist thoughts.

I left New York in 2012 and, despite my doomy fears, had twins when I was 37. Levy and I stayed in touch by email, and although her messages became shorter and more distant, I presumed everything was fine, because she was Ari. But in 2013, I opened the New Yorker and learned that it was not.


When we meet for brunch on a cold Saturday in February, it has been five years since we last comprehend each other. Its a typical New York scene: weary and winter-pale mothers eating scrambled eggs in a trendy restaurant while their sugar-rushed toddlers play on iPads. Levy, by contrast, looks calm, happy and healthy, and not only because she has a tan from a recent five-week stay in South Africa.

If we had this conversation five months ago, I would have been in a bad way, she says, in a lilting voice that are typically sets an unspoken Oh my God! and Can you believe it? behind her terms. But Im so much less miserable Im not even miserable at all. So what the frack are we going to eat?

We are just around the corner from Levys flat, where she has expended the past year writing a memoir. This in itself is something of a surprise, because she is not usually a first-person novelist. But Levy, after negotiating her order with the waiter( Ooh, the cheddar scramble is that good? But do we have to have the creme fraiche with it? I mean, lets not ), shrugs off any concerns about self-exposure: Im pretty open book-y, you know? I never understood what the big deal is about privacy. The hardest part was realising that Id better entail what I say. The whole schtick of the book is acceptance and surrender. So after I finished writing it, I believed, Wow, I guess Id better follow my own advice now.

In 2012, Levy conceived a newborn with sperm from a friend, having overcome the reservations shed long had about parenthood. She was about to turn 38: It felt like attaining it on to a plane the moment before the gate shuts you cant help but thrill, she wrote in her 2013 New Yorker article, Thanksgiving In Mongolia.

When she was five months pregnant, she flew to Ulaanbaatar for run. Her friends were concerned but, she wrote, I liked the idea of being the kind of woman whod go to the Gobi desert pregnant. After two days of abdominal discomfort, she ran into the hotel bathroom, squatted on the floor and blacked out from the ache. When she came to, her newborn was on the floor next to her. I heard myself say out loud, This cant is all very well. But it looked good. My newborn was as fairly as a seashell, she wrote. She gazed in awe at his mouth, opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world.

She had suffered a severe placental abruption, a rare complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus. In shock, Levy held the 19 -week foetus while blood spread across the tiles. She eventually called for help, taking a photograph of her son before the ambulance turned up. She was taken to a clinic where a kind South African doctor tended to her while she hemorrhaged and sobbed. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted small children, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me, she wrote.

Levy flew back to New York and, within two weeks, her relationship with Lucy came to an objective. For months afterwards, Levy continued to bleed and lactate: It seemed to me sorrow was leaking out of me through every orifice. She appeared obsessively at the photograph of her newborn, and tried to make others appear, too, so they could see what “shes seen” and they did not: that she was a mother who had lost her child.

Her article, which won a National Magazine Award in 2014, aims at that point, and I assumed that the end of Lucy and Levys marriage was tied to the loss of their child. In fact, that was a whole other shitshow, Levy tells now. When she returned from Mongolia, she realised through her cloud of grief that Lucy, who had struggled with alcoholism before, needed to go to rehab, poorly. The girls, still in love but too broken to support one another, separated. Today, they are in touch, but, Levy tells, There are times when one of us says, I gotta stop talking to you for a while because this is too painful. Because we are get divorced, you dont magically stop caring about each other.

The breakup is one of merely several shitshows recounted in Levys memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which looks, in self-lacerating detail, at events in her life before she went to Mongolia, and hints at some that came as. It is not the book that many expected would follow Female Chauvinist Pigs , not least because it could be spun as a warning to women about the perils of waiting too long to have a newborn. Placental abruption, Levy writes, usually befalls women who are heavy cocaine users or who have high blood pressure. But sometimes it only happens because youre old. She doesnt go into this in the book, but Levy, who is now 42, has not been able to conceive again, despite having undergone a ridiculous amount of IVF over the past four years.

The alternative way of looking at Levys memoir is that she is dealing with a subject that feminism has never been able to resolve: the immovable boulder of fertility, butting up against female progress. Levy says she had always wanted to be a writer, so I construct my life with that as my priority; by the time she realised she also wanted to be a mom, she was in her late 30 s. She writes that she and her generation were given the lavish gift of agency by feminism, coupled with a middle-class, western sense of entitlement that resulted them to believe that anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money and persistence. But the body doesnt play by those rules.

Of course, this is partly about class, she says now. I dont hear women who are less privileged supposing theyre entitled to everything, whenever they want it. Thats a privilege phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon. It constructs me laugh when people say, Why dont you simply do surrogacy, or merely adopt? Believe me, there is no just about them. Surrogacy expenses $100,000 – $150,000 in the US, while adoption expenses are on average between $ 20,000 and $45,000( costs in the UK are much lower ). After the money Levy spent on IVF( A plenty. A plenty, a lot, a lot ), those options are less possible than ever.

Doomy warnings that women need to stop shillyshallying and sprog up are published in the Daily Mail every day. They are far less common from prominent feminist novelists, and Levy concurs there is no point in lecturing young lady, because it doesnt do anything, and they know it already. Theyre like, Eff you: Im busy trying to earn money and figure myself out. Its just a design flaw that, at the exact moment so many of us ultimately feel mature enough to take care of someone beside ourselves, the bodys like: Im out.

At home in New York: I was a mess for a very long time. Read an excerpt from her new memoir below. Photo: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

In the UK and US, the average age of first-time mothers has climbed consistently for the past 40 years, partly because of the decline in teen pregnancies, but also because feminism has given women alternatives beyond marriage and motherhood in their 20 s. This, Levy tells, is a seismic rejiggering, and the cost can be epic. While not all women want children, many do eventually, and it doesnt matter how many articles you read about women who are childfree and fabulous when the desire makes, it grabs by the root. That much has not changed, even if the age at which it comes has.

It feels virtually treacherous to say this, I say, devoted how hard our moms fought to give us more alternatives than they had.

I was never any good at maintaining secrets, Levy says. I entail, we ensure their own problems all around us. All of my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake, but it wasnt fairly for anyone.

In the book, Levy indicates it was being a writer that encouraged her to believe she could prefer motherhood when she wanted:[ Writers] are accustomed to the power of authorship you control how the narrative unfolds. But I tell her I ensure the writer side of her more in her self-recrimination, the idea that she was to blame for the loss of her child because she waited too long to conceive. Although it is above the average age for first-time motherhood( in the US, this is 26; in the UK, 29 ), 37 is not insanely old to get pregnant. According to the NHS, 82 % of women aged between 35 and 39 will conceive within a year if they are having regular unprotected sex. Levy was in a different situation, because she was relying on IVF. Is it easier to ascribe self-blame, or even societal blame, than say she simply suffered terrible luck in tricky circumstances?

Well, its not just bad luck, because you are more likely to suffer from bad luck if youre older, she tells. But who knows? This might have happened to me if Id got pregnant when I was younger. I just would have had more hour afterwards to get pregnant again.


Levy grew up think the rules existed to be defied. As a child in pretty Larchmont, New York country, her mothers special friend, a large African-American named Marcus, would frequently come to stay with Levy and her mothers, a pair of diminutive Jews. Sometimes Levys mother would go to visit him. Marcus had the power to change my mother from a stern regulator of all food containing sugar into a giggling nymph pouring giant glasses of 7Up, as carefree as if it were carrot juice. It was frightening to watch her so happy, Levy writes. Eventually, her parents divorced.

They came out of the 60 s, where people were experimenting with all kinds of things, she tells. And they were going to reinvent marriage, and everything that was established was bullshit. So my mom was like, Im going to have everything. Ill have this thing and Ill have my domestic life, and neither will affect the other. She feels really bad about it. You know, it destroyed their own families. But its not like I think, Therefore convention is great and traditional families are perfect.

Because neither the traditional nor the less conventional approach insures happiness?


As she grew up, Levy occasionally experimented with women, but it wasnt until she was 26 and fell in love with her first girlfriend, Debs, that she realised this was, in her words, a definite thing. The narrative around[ came to see you] is that everything that preceded it was a lie. But thats not true for me I actually dug my boyfriends. But when I was with Debs, I believed, Oh, Im wholly a lesbian. Then I thought, Oh, wait. You dont have to choose no ones going to make you sign anything.

She satisfied Lucy when she was 28 and Lucy 41, at a friends party, and fell for her instantaneously. They had a wedding in 2006 and were legally married the following year in San Francisco. A few years after, Levy, then 35, embarked on an affair.

Even as affairs go, this one truly broke the rules. Levy had got back in touch with an ex-girlfriend, Jen, only to find that she had since transitioned and was now a trans man named Jim. The sexuality was as good as Levy recollected, but on a personal level Jim infuriated her: he indicated the two of them have a baby together employing his eggs and Levys uterus, a theory she found repellent in its blithe presumption: It was his sense of entitlement his belief that you could just keep choosing whatever you wanted in life, without ever sacrificing a single thing, Levy writes.

But this was really a kind of self-reproach: she wanted to be married, but also to have an affair; she had tried to forge her own path, but objective up replaying her childhood; she wanted to delay motherhood, but not reject it entirely.

Levy eventually cut Jim off, and she and Lucy repaired their relationship. Soon after, Lucys alcoholism overwhelmed her, and she attempted suicide. But the two of them went through it; I satisfied them soon after, when they couldnt have seemed more together. They decided to have a newborn. This, Levy believed, would be their happy story.

But happy tales come in unexpected shapes. Soon after Levy returned to New York from Mongolia, suddenly with neither a spouse nor a newborn, she got an email from John Gasson, the South African doctor who had looked after her in Ulaanbaatar. He sent her her medical report, which stated unequivocally that flying to Mongolia had played no part in the loss of the baby, just in case you have any lingering doubt or feelings of remorse, which she did. The two began to coincide, and that was a lifesaver, because he was the only one who saw me with the newborn, and that was the only thing that felt real to me then, Levy tells. Emailing turned into visits. Visits turned into something more, and they are getting married next year. This relationship feels less conventional than my relationship with Lucy: we dont live in the same country, we have different lives. My straight relationship is a lot less straight-out than my gay one was, she says.

Levy only hints at this relationship in her book, and I tell her I was astonished that she defied concluding with this better-than-Hollywood happy aiming. Well, I didnt want the books message to be, Someday, my prince will come, because it wasnt like that. I was a mess for a long time. Theres no such thing as a happy aiming. And this isnt an ending I mean, Im not dead.

The real lesson of Levys story isnt that women are having children subsequently and that this is a problem, but that womens lives are now an entirely different shape, with happiness no longer dependent on the old markers. A female can marriage other women in her 30 s, and then a human in her 40 s; a woman can run for president in her 60 s. And even if they dont get the original intended prize the baby, the presidency the forging of that new route still feels in itself like a victory. But I suspect it will be some time before Levy will be able to tell that story.

She has always loved to garden; her roof terrace was always bordered by shrubbery, and these days she has vegetable and flower beds. If I had my way, its the only thing Id ever do, she tells. In South Africa, she has learned to pony ride along the beach: I like how it feels like flying. When we satisfy, she is just finishing up a New Yorker profile of the artist Catherine Opie, whom Levy describes as a feminist and visual poet on gender.

As for herself, Levy remains first and foremost a feminist, but one who has moved on from Female Chauvinist Pigs: I still agree with myself that reducing females to tits and ass isnt this liberating thing. But Im just not that interested in talking about porn and whatnot at this moment in time. I dont know if its because Im older, or because the world has changed and were in a genuine crisis about womens rights with Trump.

Last summer, Levy chose, after four long years, to stop the fertility therapies. I merely need my life not to be about what I dont have, or consistently failing to get it in the most painful style. And its great. I mean, you cant spend the month of January in South Africa riding horses on a beach and is just like, my life sucks. All options entail not choice something else, and if the kid thing doesnt work up, John and I can travel when we like, and that has its charms.

I feel like were not supposed to admit to regret about our lives, but I do have unhappiness, and thats fine. That doesnt entail I cant live with them, or that somethings wrong. And its pretty great when I can hand my friends children back when they start having a tantrum. Simply as you wont lie to me and say theres nothing fulfilling about motherhood.

A decade ago, Levy profiled the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and asked her if she regretted not having had children. Everybody doesnt get everything, Dowd replied.

That sounded so depressing to me at the time, Levy tells. Now it just seems like a relief to know I dont have control over everything. Its a part of growing up.

Another part is learning that the rules are mutable: you can be divorced and still love your former spouse; sadness is part of a happy life; and feminism doesnt entail getting everything. It entails giving women choices and thats a good thing even if sometimes those options are taken away.

Dr John wished to know how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell: an exclusive extract from Ariel Levys new book

An email arrives from Dr John Gasson, medical director, SOS International Clinic, Ulaanbaatar. As promised, he has sent my medical report, which I need to submit to my insurance company. He has also attached a study on preterm birth that he mentioned when we were in the clinic.

I ask him if it is normal that Im lactating. He explains that the oxytocin that brings on contractions also signals the body to lactate. He adds that the milk letdown reflex after a miscarriage is one of natures less kind tricks, which I think is an elegant and apt style of putting it.

Dr John asks how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell. But the very fact of him asking, of is available on communication with the person who was there that night, is a balm beyond any other.

I thank him for being so kind to me at the clinic. I ask if its gets even colder in UB. He says that it has, but that the real problem is the pollution: the colder it gets, the more garbage and coal people burn in the street for warmth, and the harder it becomes to breathe.

He explains that for six months of the year, he lives on the other side of the world, in South Africa, in a bungalow he constructed himself. There is a stable there that he put up for his ponies, and next door, his two adolescents live with their mom and her second spouse. I do miss my children and horses when I am away, and that can be difficult, he writes. The kids will be leaving school soon and off to university. Then I will only have the ponies to miss.

I tell him about the time I spent in Cape Town. I describe my meeting with the track squad out in the wind in Limpopo, my encounter in Pretoria with Caster Semenya.

Actually, he knows that story: he has been reading some of my articles online. He says he likes the way I write.

I like the route he writes, too: One of my fathers better narratives involved being woken up in the early hours of the morning and leaving in some haste as the house was burning. He remembers himself and his younger friend peering through the back window of the motorcar, still in their Victorian nightdress, as the night sky lit up over the rapidly receding town of Barberton. The veracity of his account is suspect, but what is fact is that some very incriminating documents conveniently disappeared in the fire. His sentences are so jaunty! And so foreign. They sound like the latter are written in not just another place, but another time. His narratives transport me.

Dr John tells me about his childhood in Zambia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia, to him, at the time. Growing up, he didnt question why, if the latter are Englishmen, as the person or persons they socialised with considered themselves to be, they lived in a country where everyone else spoke Shona and Ndebele. He did not really contemplate what it meant that his father also a doctor and his grandpa before him were colonialists, until many years later when he began to question everything hed been taught about blackness, whiteness and where he belonged.

His brother, Greg, was his best friend; they were only two years apart in age. Their mother died when they were toddlers. Greg died, too, in a motorcycle accident when he was 21. I can feel how haunted Dr John Gasson was is by that loss from 6,000 miles away. His mom, two brothers, his father, his country no longer exist, are part of the past.

When we converse in writing, everything feelings complete, discrete. I dont have to explain what just happened; he was there. Within the confines of our epistolary friendship, I am not missing pieces of my life except the one that came from my own body, the one that Dr John alone has ensure. Not a picture of the piece, the person.

I wonder sometimes if my grief is disproportionate, inappropriate. I insured my father fall apart after my brother got killed, Dr John tells me. But he had the consolation of knowing the adult that my brother briefly became. You dont even know what your son would have been like as a little boy. I feel desperately sorry for you.

Only Dr John insured him, and merely Dr John insured me with him. Merely Dr John insured what feels so violently true to me, I cant stand that it is invisible to everybody else on Earth: here is a mother with her newborn who has died.

And so, in one style, our friendship is a kind of fiction.

We are two people on opposite objectives of the Earth, who do not know each other, who write one another emails as if we are aware.( At first, we just exchange a few, here and there. But soon we are writing regularly. And the first thing I do when I wake up after I stop crying is check to see if he has sent me an email full of narratives about places I have never seen, in a voice that is swashbuckling but somehow intimate .) In another way, these emails and that picture are the only things that are real to me.

This is an edited extract from The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy, published under 16 March by Little, Brown at 16.99. To order a copy for 12.74, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Woke models: how activism became fashion’s latest must-have

1 month, 1 day ago

Its no longer enough to have a look. Adwoa Aboah and Leomie Andersons socially aware voices have induced them the stars of the new catwalk generation

You can tell a great deal about an epoch by its fashion models. In the 60 s, the spirit of the youthquake was personified by the wide-eyed, Bambi-limbed Twiggy. In the early 90 s , nothing said sod the recession like a glamazon who wouldnt get out of bed for less than $10,000. In the ensuing two decades, Kate Moss represented not just a waifish appearance but a sphinx-like position, espousing the motto: Never complain, never explain.

But in the social media era, something new is happening. In persons under the age of protest and fourth-wave feminism, it is no longer enough for models to slink down a catwalk anonymously: stillnes is starting to look severely dclass. The hot thing in modelling is not a look, but a viewpoint. It is having a voice and not being afraid to use it. It is TED talks and open letters. It is Instagramming images from protest marches and hosting debates about intersectionality. It is campaigning for charities and founding NGOs. It is outspoken. It is woke.

Socially conscious models are popping up everywhere. On the current coverings of i-D and Love magazines is Adwoa Aboah, a woman whose relatively small stature( 5ft 8in) has done nothing to thwart her towering success. As well as appearing on catwalks and campaigns for Dior and Versus Versace, Aboah operates an initiative called Gurlstalk; her Instagram page intersperses backstage way present photograph with moving posts on her struggle with depression.

Many of Aboahs contemporaries equally refuse to conform to the archetype of the taciturn model. In both Love and i-D, Aboah seems with Slick Woods, a spliff-smoking 20 -year-old based in New York who said in a recent interview: Im definitely an out-of-pocket pick for a model. I say what I want and do what I want.

With social media, we all have voices and opinions Leomie Anderson, modelling one of her hoodies Photograph: PR company handout

British model Leomie Anderson runs a website that publishes articles by women( a recent one was titled: What does Brexit mean for women and marginalised communities ?) and sells clothing with empowering slogans. One of her hoodies, with This p *** y grabs back on it, was worn by Rihanna on the New York Womens March in January. Last month, during a Q& A at a Mayfair-based pop-up womens space to mark International Womens Day, Anderson argued that outspoken models are helping change the fashion industry from the inside out: When I was younger I was told, Modelling is going to be harder for you because youre black, and I simply accepted it, she said. Now, with social media, we all have voices and sentiments. Before, if it wasnt on the news, who was talking about it?

Of course, this is not the first time that models have taken a stance in the 90 s, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford said they would rather run naked than wear fur but back then merely a handful of models spoke out, and only once they were famous. Now, speaking out can bolster your career.

Many pinpoint the genesis of this trend to a 2013 TED talk by Cameron Russell, in which the Prada and Victorias Secret model skewered the fashion industry for its lack of diversity and argued that her success was part of a legacy of gender and racial oppression. If Russell had made a similar commentary backstage at a manner prove where a models traditional task is to quietly bend to the will of designers and stylists you wonder if she would have worked again. Instead, she has prospered: the TED talk has been viewed more than 17 m days, and Russell has become a Vogue cover star and a campaigner for sustainability in fashion. Her website has a page devoted to recruiting other models to become activists.

It could be said that the rise of the socially conscious model reflects a very 2017 archetype: the awake young lady, who appears set to define femininity this decade in the same style that the lager-swilling ladette did in the 90 s. It is also symptomatic of a broader cultural awokening that has reached the stuffiest organizations; even the royal family has recently relaxed its upper lip.

Adwoa Aboah at the Burberry show during London fashion week, February 2017. Photograph: Mike Marsland/ WireImage

If models represent a fantasised ideal of women, it is telling that until recently most have been seen and not heard. In the mid-1 9th century, when they first appeared, they were known as dummies and were professionally silent, according to Caroline Evans, prof of manner history at Central Saint Martins. They were haughty and glassy-eyed right from the beginning, she tells, recalling a 1920 anecdote where the designer Paul Poiret told an interviewer, while surrounded by models: Do not talk to the girls, madame, they do not exist.

Since then, dozens of models have found notoriety, but few for their opinions. Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman to appear on the cover-up of US Vogue in 1974, was a proto-model activist. Not by choice but by circumstance, she tells. I was 22 years old and I wasnt looking for such a serious responsibility, but it was placed on me and I had to respect and honour it. I was interviewed by the New York Times and Time magazine and I had a platform, she tells. Ive seen both sides of the industry. When I look back on it, there were horrible days. Days when guys were hitting on you, you would go to the agency for protection and realise you were alone, as well as the race thing.

Beverly Johnson on the covering of US Vogue, August 1974. Photograph: Conde Nast

However, Johnson feels that the representation of women in fashion has not assured a linear improvement, and that in some ways modelling was more progressive in her day than now. The late 80 s and early 90 s find peak model power, when a supermodels fee was as central to her brand as her waist-hip ratio and the most famous quote to be attributed to a model Linda Evangelistas I dont get out of bed for less than $10,000 was coined.

What followed in the mid-9 0s can be seen as the industrys reaction to the power the supermodels held over it: Prada ushered in a trend for very thin, white models( the influential Italian megabrand famously did not have a single model of colour on its catwalks for 15 years ), often scouting very young women from the previously untapped eastern Europe. Few became famous and rates fell drastically. The paucity of models of colour has been described as a visual neo-colonialism, part of a shift inside the industry that veteran casting agent James Scully attributes to a cabal of stylists and casting directors who, he tells, dont like women and go out of their way to prove it on a daily basis.

According to Scully, the rise of the fashion industrys most damaging impulses can be causally related to the lack of models power. Models have got thinner, for example, he tells, partially because in the 1980 s and 1990 s, daughters were bigger, and decorators would remake the dress if they gained a few pounds. Now, they would just get rid of her.

Social media has given models a voice just when they need it most. On decide, Ive spoken up for myself, when a hair stylist has not been equipped to work with my texture of hair, tells Calvin Klein model Ebonee Davis, and got a backlash. Theres an assumption that Im a diva, an angry black girl. Davis is one of many models who has taken the conversation online. Last summer, she wrote the industry an open letter. Way, the gatekeeper of cool, chooses and dictates what is beautiful and acceptable, she wrote. And let me say to you, it is no longer acceptable for us to revel in black culture with no consider for the fight facing the black community. She later delivered a passionate TED talk arguing that the lack of value for black lives in the fashion industry is the same lack of value that leads to black people being gunned down in the street.

The fear of losing work did cross my intellect, she says, but I felt that it was my obligation, my responsibility, to tell the truth. That far overshadowed any doubts, because what I have to say is valuable. There are so many young black women who have experienced absence of self-esteem and feeling inadequate. As someone with a platform and with a voice, I have to stand up and use it.

Ebonee Davis giving a TED talk. Photo: TED

Daviss Instagram feed combinations shots of her bathing in waterfalls in a bikini with videos of her interviewing homeless war veterans; she is comfortable with the idea that being outspoken is part of her personal brand. The same is true of many of todays burgeoning models, who have come of age in a climate in which the most successful celebrities Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian are multi-faceted one-woman businesses. Scully says that some models have changed from muse to marketing machine. The models at the top of the tree such as Gigi Hadid, who has 31.7 million Instagram followers dont simply model; brands fall over themselves to find novel ways to reach her adherents , commissioning her to design clothes and photo campaigns.

It constructs sense that being outspoken would be aspirational in 2017, when writing a thinky Instagram post can be a route to free media coverage. Hadid is frequently celebrated as a truth-teller, even though a clear-eyed appraisal of her interviews and Instagram posts was proposed that she plays it fairly safe. She did march against Trumps Muslim ban, and she has briefly alluded to her Palestinian heritage, but most of the activity that helped propel her to fame has not been genuinely contentious. She was much praised for writing open letters in response to online body dishonor on social media, a topic that postures her as the underdog while enabling the media to run many pictures of her much-discussed imperfections, which, it must be said, are incredibly difficult to see with the naked eye.

There is nothing simple about being a successful outspoken model; the road to enlightenment is paved with discarded cans of Pepsi, as Kendall Jenner knows. Jenner is one of the few Insta-models who has retained an almost Moss-like silence for most of her career, despite growing up in front of the cameras as one of the stars of Maintaining Up With the Kardashians. Her recent debacle of a Pepsi advert an attempt to sell fizzies pop by aping a symbolic moment from the Black Lives Matter movement is a clear instance of the pitfalls of a brand trying, and failing, to be awake. Jenner has so far kept shtum about the damaging media blizzard that followed, as well as further dispute after she appeared on a recent cover of Indian Vogue. The jury is out on whether her reticence on the matter has done her brand more damage than good.

Halima Aden models for Max Mara at Milan fashion week, February 2017. Photograph: Pietro D’aprano/ Getty Images

Just weeks before the Pepsi furore, Karlie Kloss a top model whose Instagram feed is peppered with concern about coral reefs went similarly unstuck after dressing as a geisha for a photoshoot that operated, ironically enough, in US Vogues diversity issue. Andersons defence of Kloss suggests that a models influence can only go so far: People assault Karlie Kloss, but as a model she had no say in what the editorial would be, she says. Thats the incorrect person. You dont always see a moodboard beforehand. You need to find out who the editor was, who commissioned it. Attacking the incorrect people is never going to affect change.

Still, Scully believes the power balance is changing and that social media has helped to extend the careers of some models that the industry was ready to toss away. Models have campaigned for better treatment in the industry, and have won media coverage that could persuade brands to take more care of them; Donald Trumps modelling agency closed after model Maggie Rizer and others publicly denounced the boss. Models speaking out about racism and ageism and body fascism has piled pressure on the industry to become more all-inclusive. From Halima Aden seeming at Milan fashion week as the first hijab-wearing top model to the use of septuagenarian starrings in underwear campaigns, societys interpreting of what constitutes beauty is starting to look only a bit more inclusive.

Beyond these small victories, however, you have to wonder if model-activism has a purpose beyond personal brand-building, and if the glut of photographs of models reading Simone de Beauvoir in the bath currently clogging the internet is doing much to further the feminist cause. Clearly, it is dispiriting that while young people contribute to an atmosphere in which protest and activism are fashionable, it was the over-6 5s who put Trump in the White House and won the Brexit vote. Still, for those of us who lived through the ladette years, and the time of Female Chauvinist Pigs, there is a little jolt of elation to be found in the fact that, right now, most models wouldnt get out of bed for less than the empowerment of marginalised groups.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The best food they eat in 2015

1 month, 12 days ago

Kebabs in Istanbul, sea urchins in County Cork, a sensational lobster pasta in London: top cooks and food writers share their favourite meals this year

A ++ iya Sofrasi and KadikAPy market, Istanbul

RenA( c) Redzepi
Chef-patron, Noma, Copenhagen

Walking through KadikAPy market in Istanbul you see dried aubergines hanging from stalls, dried chilli peppers and fresh dA1/ 4rA1/ 4m, and Turkish tea being poured all throughout. You hear street merchants calling out their catch of the day, maybe a pouch of sardines, turbot from the Black Sea or a kilo of mussels. I was there en route to A ++ iya, in the heart of this picturesque marketplace. A ++ iya to me embodies the perfect restaurant: full of tradition but not afraid of innovating, with a generous and welcoming space. The snack is a cornucopia of all there is to offer from Anatolia lamb stewed with dried cherries, chopped parsley with vinegar, rice cooked with raisins and fistfuls of whole spices … I would blithely set myself on a plane just to go and have lunch there on a beautiful springtime day.

Pickled herring platter at Russ& Daughters, New York

Yotam Ottolenghi
Chef and food novelist

It was a platter of pickled herring fillets with three sauce alternatives on the side cream, mustard and curry along with schmaltz herring fillets and then matjes herring fillets. In the centre were pickled onions, roll mops and a beet and herring salad. I had it for breakfast, around 11 am, and it left a sweet( albeit fishy) taste in my mouth for the coming few days.

I love the cafe, which opened last year and is strongly modelled on the long-established store. Sardines, chubs, rugelach, pickles, boxes of matzo, halva sold by the block, rye bread to blow your socks off, Bloody Marys: these are the flavors which define New York for me.

IdiazA! bal cheese, Urbia mountains, Spain

Elena Arzak
Chef-patron, Arzak, San SebastiA! n

This spring I made an idiazA! bal cheese with a shepherd in the Urbia mountains in the Basque country. We used natural rennet which the shepherd made from the stomach of a latxa lamb. When I went to pick my cheese up this autumn( after the ageing process) it had all the rich true flavor of the milk, but you could also sense the environment in which the mother had grazed. I could close my eyes and imagine myself on that windswept mountain top. The fact I constructed it heightened the flavor. I ate it with their own families, either by itself or with walnuts, quince jelly and apple jelly.

Dashi-simmered asparagus, tofu and egg at Koya, London

Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Chef-owners, Honey& Co, London

We went to Koya a couple of days before it shut and had an amazing goodbye snack. The asparagus and tofu dish was so delicious, we ordered another for dessert. It had those really fat English asparagus, blanched and chargrilled, with tofu, bonito flakes and a dashi broth. It was so nicely balanced and full of flavor. The next day, Itamar went back with our head cook to eat it all over again. The food in those last days of Koya felt very organic, more like dishes Junya[ Yamasaki, the head cook] would make at home than normal restaurant stuff.

Sea urchins from County Cork

Jacob Kenedy
Chef-patron, Bocca di Lupo, London

From now until February or March, you can get amazing ocean urchins from Ireland. I had my first one last week and it was mindbogglingly good. You can get warm-water ocean urchins, which tend to be bigger and more impressive-looking, all year round, but they are much less intensely flavoured. The Irish ones mine received from John Chamberlain in Dunmanus Bay, Co Cork have an enveloping fishy flavour. Theyre wonderful stirred through pasta or with sushi, but I prefer them on their own with just a tiny squeeze of lemon. You slice them open, clean out the gunky stuff, rinse them in sea water and scoop out the eggs with a teaspoon. It makes you realise how amazing nature is, and how little we should mess with our food.

Sea-salt ice cream in Dingle, County Kerry

James Jocky Petrie
Group executive growth cook, Gordon Ramsay Group

In Dingle this summer, during a chowder rivalry with lots of Guinness and live music, I tried a sea-salt ice cream at Murphys. It was one of those things that attains you go, damn, why didnt I think of that? Everyone loves salted caramel, but this is different: just plain ice cream with ocean salt. It voices odd but it truly works: the sweetness of the sugar balances the salty character. Its almost savoury but not quite its only a sweet salt. People come from miles around to eat this ice cream.

Lamb kAPfte at Sultanahmet KAPftecisi, Istanbul

Karam Sethi
Chef-patron, Gymkhana, Trishna, London

I went to Istanbul for the first time this year and ate at a place called Sultanahmet KAPftecisi. After visiting the Blue Mosque nearby, we find the big queue outside and decided to find out what was going on. They specialise in lamb kAPftes grilled very simply over charcoal and served with bread, pickled chillies and their house chilli paste. We ordered one and ended up having six. Its tough to find something so succulent and juicy and flavourful. I think its down to the quality and fat content of the meat, and that they serve them hot off the grill, so you can still savour the charcoal. Theyve mastered the recipe over years and years. Its the ultimate kebab.

Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo

Brett Redman
Chef-owner, The Richmond, Elliots, Jidori, London

On a research visit to Tokyo at the start of the year, I had a yuzu shio-ramen at a place called Afuri in the cellar of a shopping center in Roppongi Hills. Im not an aficionado but it was the best ramen Ive ever had. They make it with chicken stock, which induces it much lighter than the rich, milky tonkotsu ramen were used to in London. The addition of fresh yuzu is ingenious: the intensity and fragrance of yuzu peel explosions all the way through the stock. It left my head spinning: how do you get so much flavour into this bowl?

Khao chae at Lai Rod, Bangkok

Fuchsia Dunlop
Food novelist

I was going to recommend a snack at the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou every time I go there its the best dinner of the year but then I had something totally amazing today in Bangkok. I was in Thailand for the first time and the food blogger The Skinny Bib recommended I go to an old-school Thai restaurant called Lai Rod. The standout from quite a long lunch was a dish called khao chae: grains of rice in iced water with bloom petals, perfumed with candle smoke. It was served with a platter of deep-fried savors green chilli stuffed with pork, fish floss flavoured with coconut, caramelised beef and some salted radish with a little egg yolk and beautifully cut pieces of green mango, cucumber and a crunchy yellow root with a remarkable taste. The combination of the sweet, salty and umami flavours from the savours and the smoky, perfumed rice soup was a revelation.

Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca

Tomos Parry
Head cook, Kitty Fishers, London

I went to this fantastic cliffside restaurant the summer months. The whole experience is pretty special: you park your vehicle, jump over a fencing( which remains closed to keep wild donkeys in) and stroll for half an hour through fields with fig trees and goats. The trek is worth it for the food and the opinion youre appearing out over the bay where they catch most of your dinner. I particularly liked the shrimp, cooked very simply over a grill with wood from the trees around the restaurant. A plenty of the skill in grilling lies in restraint, and these shrimps were barely cooked, so you are able to taste the sea without being overpowered by the wood.

Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm, Kent

Stephen Harris
Chef-patron, The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent

Im somewhat obsessed with dairy produce and this year Ive started buying unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm near Folkestone. We hadnt been able to get it at the restaurant for about five years because the testing required for unpasteurised milk has become prohibitively expensive for most farms. The difference is just incredible. The pasteurisation process wipes out all the interesting things. In this, I can savour a hint of flowers and a rosewater tone. Theres a slight dung-y savour, which some people find offputting but I really like. You know it has come from a cow as opposed to a goat or a sheep, because it fragrances a bit like when you get near cows. Ive been trying it out with a warm chocolate mousse and a tiny bit of salt and thats probably the best thing Ive savoured all year.

Iio Jozos fujisu vinegar, Japan

James Lowe
Head cook, Lyles, London

In February I visited Iio Jozo, a vinegar-maker outside Kyoto which has been making rice vinegar for 120 years. They oversee all the parts of the process themselves: they brew their own sake and have local farmers growing the organic rice for them. One thing they do is collect the sake lees the fermented rice left over after filtering and pile it into big wooden barrels to age for up to 10 years. It starts out as a white, pure-looking paste but by year ten its black like treacle. The vinegar he makes from it is incredible. He gave me a litre bottle and, at first, I tried to use it sparingly, but I ended up putting it on lots of things at the restaurant. It was gone within a week.

Pasta al forno at La Cantinetta, Barolo, Italy

Sam Harris
Chef-patron, Zucca, London

Ive been eating at La Cantinetta since I started going to Piedmont 15 years ago its a very simple little trattoria run by two brothers but it was the first time Id had this dish. They ran it as a special and it was amazing a perfect baked pasta. Pasta al forno is basically lasagne, though the woman serving us insisted there was a difference. This one was quite firm and didnt breakdown all over the plate, which is a good thing. There were loadings of layers we counted about 15 and a very scant quantity of bA( c) chamel and meat ragu, but merely the right amount. The spice was bang on, it was really crisp on the top. Ive had millions of lasagnes over the years, but this blew my head off.

Ochazuke at Ishikawa, Tokyo

Isaac McHale
Head cook, the Clove Club, London

Ochazuke is a dish of rice, a few bits to sprinkle on top seaweed, toasted things, salmon eggs, shiso, whatever you have with green tea or dashi poured over it, a Japanese late-night fridge buffet. The fresh rice, the cornerstone of a Japanese meal, was a revelation. It was fragrant, simply chewy, almost al dente and constructed me really pay attention to the rice for the rest of our journey. Ive been reading about ochazuke in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art for 18 years and dreaming of a Scottish version, with Assam tea and pheasant broth over barley. To be served one in one of the best restaurants in Japan, induced my heart sing.

Porcini in Tuscany

Ruth Rogers
Chef and co-founder, the River CafA( c ), London

The family, around 20 of us, go to Tuscany every summer, near Monte Amiata. This year we were there when the first porcini were found. Our gardener brought them for us as a astound, then I roasted them whole with a bit of garlic and thyme, two hours when he was picked. We set them in the oven for a very long time, almost an hour, then ate them with nothing else on the plate. It was the put as much as the flavor; all of us being there together, the excitement of them arriving. It was late August, this is why it felt like a farewell to summer and the beginning of autumn.

Lobster pasta at Hedone, London

Nathan Outlaw
Chef-patron, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall

A lot of people told me Hedone was good, but the lobster pasta was the best thing Ive ever eats in England, and Ive eaten a lot of food in England. It wasnt so much the cook as the ingredients. They kill all their seafood fresh to order and that makes all the difference. You dont get a menu. If you ask Mikael[ Jonsson] for one, he says hell send it, but never does. But from what I can collect he took the coral from the lobster and put it into the bisque, which was somewhat aerated. The pasta was just a flat sheet, almost like lasagna, and cooked perfectly. Its refreshing to insure a cook sticking to his handguns and cooking the best produce he can find. The British restaurant scene is much newer than in France or Spain or Italy, and I dont think weve scratched the surface of whats possible in our own country, with our own ingredients.

Sushi at Masa, New York

HA( c) lA” ne Darroze
Chef cuisiniA” re, HA( c) lA” ne Darroze at the Connaught, London

I was in New York with my chefs to cook a special dinner and we went to Masa. Its not the kind of place you can go every day its really expensive but it was an experience. You eat at the counter, and they build everything A la minute, right in front of you. The best thing was a piece where the cook took a kind of white membrane of the tuna not the the meat itself and wove it over a piece of rice into a piece of sushi. The rice was a little warm. It was so surprising: very smooth to eat but then the flavor of the tuna was like an detonation in the mouth. Just incredible.

Sushi at Masa, New York. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Pizza at Mission Chinese, New York

Lee Tiernan
Chef-owner, Black Axe Mangal, London

I was frightened about opening our new restaurant, and Danny Bowien invited me over to spend a few days at Mission Chinese in New York. I always feel calm around Danny. He has a lot on his plate but he just deals with it. The best thing I feed was a cheese and tomato pizza with mapo tofu on top, cooked in their wood oven. The base is made to a Tartine bread recipe, then the tofu is only rolled around on top. Its quite unusual to have a cheese and tomato DOP pizza on a Chinese restaurant menu, but nothings going to stop those guys doing what they want. I think about that pizza every day. I wish I was eating it right now, in fact.

Roast lamb in Segovia, Spain

Nieves BarragA! n
Executive cook, Barrafina, London

When I went to Segovia, one hour north of Madrid, I went to JosA( c) MarAa, a family place where they build the best roast mixed lamb on the wood fire. There were six of us; it was a four-hour lunch. We had two things: the lamb, which arrived with roast kidneys, and the suckling pig, with amazing roast potatoes and grilled peppers on the side. It was stunning: juicy, crisp It sounds quite English, but the centre of Spain is like this, its very traditional all roasteds. Their oven is huge, so beautiful half the size of Barrafina. I would love to have something like that in London.

Tarte tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France

Shuko Oda
Head chef, Koya Bar, London

We visited Lamotte-Beuvron, an hour or two from Paris, where tarte tatin is originally from. We went to the local bakery and bought the tarte tatin there. I dont commonly have a sweet tooth but it was absolutely beautiful. It was a nothing-special-but-everything-about-it-was-special type of thing.

Goats curd mousse at Lyles, London

Anissa Helou
Food novelist

Lyles has been my favourite restaurant more or less since it opened, and a few months ago I took two young Qatari friends for dinner as I wanted them to savour James Lowes cooking. It was a perfect dinner, ending with an amazing goats curd mousse. It was sensational: a little bowl with the mousse on the bottom, covered by an apple granita stimulated with estivale apples and sorrel. The apples werent peeled so the flavor was incredibly intense but not too sweet. And then there was this beautiful crunchy cracker a very, very thin sheet induced with apple, sugar and superstar anise. The textures were incredible: creamy, icy and then crackly. My friends loved it.

Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles

Claire Ptak
Owner, Violet Bakery, London

The thing thats genuinely been on my intellect is this pizza we had in Los Angeles at Gjusta[ a bakery and cafA( c )]. It was one of the best, most perfectly seasoned, chewy, crunchy, doughy things Ive ever eaten. Ive been dreaming about it. Its more like pizza bianca that you get in Rome, but thinner. They make it in big rectangular sheet pans. Really salty and oily, and stretched out. The one we ate had tomatoes, red onion, little bits of ricotta, an egg, and just oil and salt. It was transcendent.

Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Grouse from Scotland

Blanche Vaughan
Cook and food novelist

I was standing on a moor in mid-September just when the heather is in bloom and I shot a grouse. I plucked it myself, wrapped it up and took it back on the develop. Its a nice thing to be able to cook for other people. I made a recipe I learned at the River CafA( c ): you make a bruschetta with roasted tomatoes on top, slosh in red wine this is why it soaks into the bread, then you brown the bird and roast it on top of the bruschetta so all the juices seep in.

Burger at the Four Seasons, New York

Fergus Henderson
Co-owner, St John, London

A perfect burger at the Four Seasons bar in the Seagram Building in New York. I had a dry martini, which is a good way to start lunch, and a is a great pleasure pinot noir to wash it down. A real treat. It was a classic burger but its the put: its a beautiful room, a special place. They have chainmail on the windows, which shimmers. The bar has amazing spikes hanging above it, so everything they serve could be the last thing you ever feed or drink before a spike operates you through, which adds a certain twist to the whole thing.

Grilled cauliflower at Hearth, New York

Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley
Cookery novelists

In September we went to Hearth in New York. They offered us a seat at the cooks pass( directly in front of the kitchen ), where we enjoyed the most incredible six-course tasting menu right at the core of all the action. The ambiance was electric, the food was incredible the grilled cauliflower with sunflower seeds and capers, and grilled beef neck were especially memorable and typical of cook Marco Canoras food philosophy. His rustic, home-style cooking champs seasonal produce , nose-to-tail eating and a garbage not, want not attitude.

Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy

Andrea Petrini
Food writer, founder of Gelinaz !

Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Its simple almost provocatively simple. Spaghettoni[ thick spaghetti ], butter and beer yeast. When it comes to the table its almost monochrome between pure white and lightly brown-ish in colouring. The title of the dish is a possibility simple, but of course its not just one butter, but a mixture of three, and the beer has been spread out and cooked in the oven on a very gentle temperature until it solidifies. You have totally al dente spaghetti, the very savoury, milky presence of the butter, the suggestion of the crunchiness of the yeast that adds a dosage of acidity, and a gently insinuating touch of caramelisation. Its immediately recognisable comfort food that also pushes the boundaries. Its an instant classic, something I dread the cook, Riccardo Camanini, will have on his shoulders for many years to come. You cannot add anything else, because you would destroy the balance, the subtle dialogue between these three major ingredients. And if you take something out, it falls apart. For me, thats the definition of a dish, or a piece of art. You eat it in three bites, but it stays with you for a really long time.

Porra de naranja at Arte de Cozina, MA! laga, Spain

Samantha Clark
Chef and co-owner, Moro, Morito, London

We have a house near Granada and we decided to do a detour and fly into MA! laga to try a restaurant, Arte de Cozina, that one of our chefs had told us about. The standout dishes were porra de naranja and kids sweetbreads. Porras are the precursors to gazpachos but attained with fewer ingredients sometimes simply bread or dried fava beans, garlic, olive oil and water. This one was scented with orange. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavour subtle with orange, a fruity olive oil and perhaps a touch of vinegar. Topped with chopped almonds for crunch and salty jamA3n to balance the sweetness, it was nectar.

Adidas nigiri at Sawada, Tokyo

Enrique Olvera
Chef-patron, Pujol, Mexico City

Sawada is a tiny two-Michelin-star sushi bar with only six chairs, where the owner, Koji Sawada, and his wife are the only ones taking care of every aspect of the entire omakase. It was a tuna fish nigiri, but a totally different cut, between the chutoro( belly region) and the otoro, with so much fat it actually melted in your mouth. It was named by Sawada as the three lines of fat sort an Adidas appearance, like the three lines of the sport brand. The thing that inspired me the most was to see Sawada doing such an unusual thing but with so much respect for his culture. Innovating from tradition, applying a subtle change or improvement. You can still do new things that honour your roots.

Bonnat Madagascar chocolate bar

David Williams
The Observer wine novelist

As someone with expensive tastes in wine and whisky( professional hazard) and cheese( just plain greed ), Ive been wary of developing an addiction to posh bean to bar chocolate. The chocolate penny eventually fell with a bar make use of French artisans Bonnat from beans sourced in Madagascar. A sun, fruity, elegant creamy style described as the pinot noir of chocolate, it had me use words Id usually reserve for wine: balance, texture, and most of all, length( the savour lasted for minutes ).

Buttermilk chicken at the Clove Club, London

Thomasina Miers
Wahaca founder, cookery novelist

For my mothers birthday at the end of January we took her to the Clove Club. They blew us away with the food. We had the buttermilk chicken, consommA( c) and 100 -year-old madeira, and an Orkney scallop and orange dish that was so illumination. Its exceptional how much they make from scratch: the charcuterie, the butter, the bread My mother was blown away. Her eyes were glistening like a seven-year-olds at Christmas.

JamA3n from Barcelona

Angela Hartnett
Chef-patron, Murano, Cafe Murano

I bought a jamA3n from Joan La Llar del Pernil, brought it back to London and had a jamA3n party in my garden. I invited Nieves[ BarragA! n] and JosA( c)[ Pizzaro] over, and some of my cooks; I supposed Id get everyone round at 2pm and theyd be gone by 8p m, but, of course, everyone was there until two in the morning. Weve since gone back to Barcelona and bought another jamA3n.

Squat lobster from the Firth of Clyde

Ben Reade
Co-founder, Edinburgh Food Studio, Edinburgh

The most delicious thing I feed this year was a astound gift of squat lobsters from a fisherman on the Firth of the Clyde called Ian Wightman. Id ordered a loading of langoustines[ for a celebration I was cooking at in North Ayrshire] and he gave us these as a bonus. We cooked them up the top of a glen over an oak flame, with white wine, butter and some nutmeg. They are one of the sweetest, most delicious meats ever, but not many people use them in fact, most fishermen throw them back because theyre so small and the government had horrible shells that cut into your fingers when youre opening them. But theyre really worth the hassle, and the less you do when youre cooking them the better.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry | Elizabeth Wurtzel

1 month, 13 days ago

Everyone else can dislike cancer. I dont. Everyone else can be afraid of cancer. I am not, writes Elizabeth Wurtzel

Our daughter succumbed. Now she lives in the pages of a romantic fiction

1 month, 18 days ago

In 2003, Alice Martineau was on the brink of a successful pops career when she died, aged 30, of cystic fibrosis. Now their own families have given permission for her inspiring life story to be fictionalised

In November 2014, an email pinged into Luke Martineaus inbox from Alice Peterson, person he had never heard of. Peterson explained that she was a novelist and had been inspired by the life of Lukes sister, also called Alice, who had died in 2003. She wanted to construct Alice the subject of her next novel, to recreate her in fictional kind although, obviously, she couldnt touch this without the bles of Alices family. Would they be prepared to meet?

Naturally, the Martineaus were a little wary. I wasnt sure. I couldnt imagine it, admits Liz, Luke and Alices mother. My first thought was: Would I like it?

Luke says: I did need to know who this Alice Peterson was and what her volumes were like, but chiefly I guessed: Wouldnt that be wonderful?

Alice Martineau was bear in 1972 with cystic fibrosis her parents, Liz and David, were told that her life expectancy was about 10 years.

Cystic fibrosis causes a build up of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and have contributed to lung infections and reduced lung function as well as a long list of other debilitating conditions. Its inherited if both parents carry the gene, as Liz and David did, their children have a 25% opportunity of having the condition.( Luke, born two years earlier, does not have it .) Although Alice enjoyed a happy and relatively normal childhood in west London albeit with vast quantities of drug, a special diet and daily physiotherapy by her late teens and early 20 s, her illness was escalating, encroaching, fighting for space.

Despite her regime of nebulisers, intravenous antibiotics and physio, as well as regular remains at the Brompton hospital, Alice powered on, refusing to give her condition a minute more than she had to. She was unable to live independently, but her parents converted the cellar into a separate flat. She examined English literature at Kings College London, graduated with a first, then pursued a singer-songwriter career, finally landing a record deal with Sony in 2002. By then, she was on the waiting list for a triple transplant heart, lungs and liver. Alice succumbed the following year, aged 30, shortly after the release of her album Daydreams.

Back then, Peterson, only two years younger than Alice Martineau, had followed her narrative, bought her album and been saddened by her death. Fast-forward 11 years, and she was an established novelist searching for a topic when the name Alice Martineau had abruptly re-entered her head.

Alices parents, Liz and David, and her brother, Luke. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

After meeting Peterson and reading some of her volumes, the family agreed to share their daughters life. We had many happy hours chatting around the table. Entire mornings would go by, says Liz. Taking my mind back all those years almost brought back things I had forgotten. David, a retired judge, tells: Thats why we supported it so strongly. We could bring Alice back into our lives again.

Parts were painful. The household devoted Peterson old photo albums, scrapbooks and camcorder footage they had not looked at for years. There was one scene on the camcorder thats recreated in the book, where Alice spent a few days in Claridges to celebrate her record contract, partying like a stone star, tells Liz. She really was very poorly by then. Goodness knows what Claridges guessed when she arrived with her entourage her boyfriend, her wheelchair, her oxygen cylinders and full-time physiotherapist paid for by Sony.

Luke tells: The illness is so gradual, like your children growing up. You get used to it, its almost normalised. Seeming at the footage now, you cannot fail to be struck by how ill she was. That was hard to see.

The family also handed Peterson Alices lyric book handwritten, almost like a diary. That was very raw, tells Luke. All Alices anthems were quite personal about not being able to breathe, or being worried about death, or feeling alone. Music was her way of conveying some very dark believes because, generally, Alice was positive, funny, upbeat, even though this horrible illness was dragging her down physically all the time.

The next stage was to put Peterson in touch with everyone else from Alices world her friends, her consultant at the Brompton, her physiotherapist, her nurse, her voice coach and, key to the book, her boyfriend, Al. They were together for the last four years of Alices life and their relationship forms the beating heart of the book.

Alice and her mum.

Al Tom in the novel had fallen in love with someone with a very uncertain future when both of them were in their 20 s. Their friends were getting engaged and beginning their adult lives. Tom had a dream of living by the sea and one day being a dad, but the couple lives in the shadow of cystic fibrosis. On top of that were the regular nearly routine life-and-death dashes to hospital and, on a good day, the sheer hour and endeavour it took before Alice could leave the house.

They did divide for a while and thats in the book, tells Liz. Alice was absolutely devastated but I really appreciate how hard it was for Al imagine taking on all that. Gradually, he realised he couldnt be without her.

Happily, Al has since marriage( and lives by the sea) but remains close to the Martineaus Luke is godfather to one of his children. Through the whole process of this volume, Ive been most anxious about Al, tells Luke. For us, the book is a lovely way of remembering Alice because our relations with her hasnt changed. Al has a different life, a family, and weve tried to be sensitive to the fact that he might not want to bang on about Alice in the way we do. He has been so generous and so has his wife and Im very pleased he did agree to it. Its a love story more about Al than any of us.

Peterson worked on the project for 18 months, weaving her research into a narrative, before presenting the family with a manuscript.

I was nervous, tells Luke. Im an artist and paint portraits among other things for a living. Its a slightly strange moment when its time for the subject to see themselves as handled by someone else. You always fret. Its a paint in the end its not the person.

I knew there would be things that Alice would never have said, there are composite characters, and parts that are entirely fiction. But the main body was completely true. I wanted to know it was recognisable of us and of Alice and it was. She got the tenderness of my relationship with her, and our closeness as a family. The novel kind makes it readable, more involving than a factual biography. Its emotionally gripping.

A Song for Tomorrow is packed with real details from Alices family moniker( Leech ), to her favourite foods, real dialogues and remembered scenes.

Whats striking, though, is her sheer lifeforce. Although the reader can sense day running out, cystic fibrosis is in the background. Alice doesnt dwell on it. Theres no self-pity, just forging forward.

That was Alice, says Luke. She was feisty people with cystic fibrosis have to fight for breath from the beginning, so its absolutely ingrained. She didnt talk about death or the end, there were no big conversations and she detested being called brave. The only route you can live in those conditions is to maintain the sense of life going on. For us, the book is another way to help keep her alive. But if simply one person with cystic fibrosis reads it and thinks: Im going to bloody well be an actress or do my thing, whatever it is then it has made a difference.

In A Song for Tomorrow, Alices death is sudden. Theres no build up its one March morning like any other. Tom has stayed the night and gone to work. The builders are in, her mum has brought breakfast on a tray, Alices mind is on a publication interview scheduled for afterward that day. Abruptly, shes coughing up blood, losing sensation, fighting for breath. The aim is very quick.

It was like that, says Luke. A shock but not a surprise. The demise bit of the book was the component I was most anxious about. But I have to say, reading it was the only period I cried.

David tells: I think its the best bit of the book actually. Its the most emotional, quite poetic.

Peterson ends with an incident from Alice and Lukes childhood as a metaphor a bird being set free. It happened on holiday in Portugal, remembers Liz. Luke was eight, Alice six, and this sobbing Luke came into our room in the night and said: Mummy, theres an eagle in our bedroom! I ran in and it was quite a big owl above the door Luke could just see its claws. Alice wasnt frightened at all! Somehow I got this poor thing wrapped in a towel, we went to the balcony and I released it. We watched it sail off down the valley.

Luke tells: Im so glad it was included because that image has always bided with me. It showed how good Mum was at handling a difficult situation and in my mind, it was very connected to a lovely letter a friend wrote to Mum after Alice died.

She wrote: The most amazing thing you did for Alice was to allow her her liberty. It must have been so instinctive to want to protect her and keep her wrapped up in cottonwool, but you really allowed her to fly. And how she flew.

A Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson is published by Simon& Schuster, 7.99.

Cystic Fibrosis Trust helplines: 0300 373 1000 or 020 3795 2184

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Is sugar the world’s most popular narcotic? | Gary Taubes

1 month, 26 days ago

The Long Read: It eases ache, seems to be addictive and demonstrates every sign of causing long-term health problems. Is it time to quit sugar for good?

Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesnt have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to newborns it elicits a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Could the savour of sugar on the tongue be a kind of poisoning? What about the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Overconsumption of this drug may have long-term side-effects, but there are none in the short term no staggering or dizziness , no slurring of speech , no passing out or drifting away , no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only most extreme fluctuations on the apparently natural emotional rollercoaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, it constructs infants happy, at least for the period during which theyre eating it. It soothed their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and leaves them excited and full of elation until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dosage, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis.

How long would it be before parents took to using our imaginary drug to pacify their children when necessary, to alleviate inconvenience, to prevent outbursts of unhappiness or to distract attention? And once the narcotic became identified with pleasure, how long before it was used to celebrate birthdays, a football game, good grades at school? How long before no collect of family and friends was complete without it, before major vacations and celebrations were defined in part by the use of this medication to assure pleasure? How long would it be before the underprivileged of the world would happily spend what little money they had on this drug rather than on nutritious dinners for their families?

There is something about the experience of consuming sugar and sweets, particularly during childhood, that readily invokes the comparison to a drug. I have infants, still relatively young, and I believe creating them would be a far easier chore if sugar and sweets were not an option, if managing their sugar intake did not seem to be a constant topic in our parental responsibilities. Even those who vigorously defend the place of sugar and sweets in modern diets an innocent moment of pleasure, a salve amid the stress of life, as the journalist Tim Richardson has written acknowledge that this does not include permitting children to eat as many sweets as they want, at any time, and that most mothers will want to ration their childrens sweets.

But why is this rationing necessary? Children crave many things Pokmon cards, Star Wars paraphernalia, Dora the Explorer knapsacks and many foods savor good to them. What is it about sweets that makes them so uniquely in need of rationing?

This is of more than academic interest, because the response of entire populations to sugar has been effectively identical to that of children: once people are exposed, they eat as much sugar as they can easily procure. The primary roadblock to more consumption up to the phase where populations become obese and diabetic has tended to be availability and cost. As the price of a pound of sugar has fallen over the centuries, the amount of sugar consumed has steadily, inexorably climbed.

In 1934, while sales of sweets continued to increase during the course of its Great Depression, the New York Times commented: The Depression[ has] proved that people wanted candy, and that as long as they had any fund at all, they would buy it. During those brief periods of day during which sugar production outdid our ability to devour it, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugar-rich products have worked diligently to increase demand and, at least until recently, have succeeded.

The critical question, as the journalist and historian Charles C Mann has elegantly put it, is whether[ sugar] is actually an addictive substance, or if people simply act like it is. This topic is not easy to answer. Surely, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science offer no definitive evidence. Until lately, nutritionists analyse sugar did so from the natural perspective of viewing it as a nutrient a carbohydrate and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a reaction in the brain or body that induced us wishes to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.

The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet-tooth phenomenon, or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat too much of it, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared with other medications of abuse, in which existing mechanisms of craving is now relatively well understood. Lately, this comparing has received more attention as the public-health community has looked to ration our sugar intake as its own population, and has thus considered the issue that one style to regulate these sugars as with cigarettes is to establish that they are, indeed, addictive. These sugars are very probably unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.

Historians have often considers the sugar-as-a-drug metaphor to be an apt one. That sugars, particularly highly refined sucrose, render peculiar physiological impacts is well known, wrote Sidney Mintz, whose 1985 book Sweetness and Power is one of two seminal English-language histories of sugar. But these effects are neither as visible nor as long-lasting as those of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, the first use of who are capable of trigger rapid changes in respiration, heartbeat, skin colour and so on.

Mintz has argued that a primary reason sugar has escaped social disapproval is that, whatever conspicuous behavioural changes may occur when infants eat sugar, it did not cause the kind of flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion of other medications. Sugar appears to cause pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full only years or decades later. With no visible, immediately noticeable consequences, as Mintz says, questions of long-term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered. Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because well never run long enough without it to find out.

Sugar historians consider the narcotic comparing to be fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of medication foods, to use Mintzs term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16 th century onward the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.

Its history is intimately linked to that of these other narcotics. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugar cane. In the 17 th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener to tea, coffee and chocolate, and costs allowed it, the intake of these substances in Europe explosion. Sugar was used to sweeten spirits and wine in Europe as early as the 14 th century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups contained sugar.

As for tobacco, sugar was, and still is, a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel. Its this marriage of tobacco and sugar, as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that builds for the mild experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.

Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the old world until they arrived, sugar, nicotine and caffeine had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labour of everyday life. These were the 18 th-century equivalent of uppers, writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. The empire, it might be said, building on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine hurry a rush nearly everyone could experience.

Sugar, more than anything, seems to have attained life worth living( as it still does) for so many, particularly those whose lives lacked the kind of pleasures that relative wealth and daily hours of leisure might otherwise offer. Sugar was an ideal substance, says Mintz. It served to make a busy life seem less so; it eased, or seemed to ease, the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined with many other foods No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.

What Oscar Wilde wrote about a cigarette in 1891 might also be said about sugar: It is the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

Children surely respond to sugar instantaneously. Give newborns a option of sugar water or plain, wrote the British physician Frederick Slare 300 years ago, and they will greedily suck down the one, and make Faces at the other: Nor will they be pleasd with Cows Milk, unless that be blessd with a little Sugar, to bring it up to the Sweetness of Breast-Milk.

Sugar induces the same replies in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol Photo: Alamy

One proposition commonly invoked to explain why the English would become the worlds greatest sugar consumers and remain so through the early 20 th century alongside the fact that the English had the worlds most productive network of sugar-producing colonies is that they lacked any succulent native fruit, and so had little previous opportunity to accustom themselves to sweet things, as Mediterranean populations did. The sweet savor was more of a novelty to the English, and their first exposure to sugar occasioned a population-wide astonishment.

This is speculation, however, as is the notion that the taste of sugar will soothe distress and stop infants crying, or that consuming sugar will enable adults to work through pain and exhaustion and to assuage starvation aches. If sugar, though, is merely a distraction to the baby and not actively a pain reliever or a psychoactive inducer of pleasure that overcomes any ache, we have to explain why, in clinical trials, it is more effective in allaying the distress of infants than the mothers breast and breast milk itself.

Research literature on the question of whether sugar is addictive and thus a nutritional variant on a drug of abuse is surprisingly sparse. Until the 1970 s, and for the most part since then, mainstream authorities have not considered this question to be particularly relevant to human health. The very limited research allows us to describe what happens when rats and monkeys consume sugar, but were not them and theyre not us. The critical experiments are rarely if ever done on humans, and surely not children, for the obvious ethical reasons: we cant compare how they respond to sugar, cocaine and heroin, for example, to decide which is more addictive.

Sugar does induce the same answers in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Craving researchers have come to believe that behaviours required for the survival of a species specifically, eating and sexuality are experienced as pleasurable in this part of the brain, and so we do them again and again. Sugar induces the release of the same neurotransmitters dopamine including with regard to through which the potent effects of these other drugs are mediated. Because the narcotics work this route, humans have learned how to refine their essence into concentrated kinds that heighten the rushed. Coca leaves, for example, are mildly inducing when chewed, but powerfully addictive when refined into cocaine; even more so taken immediately into the lungs when smoked as crack cocaine. Sugar, too, has been refined from its original kind to heighten its rushing and concentrate its effects.

The more we use these substances, the less dopamine we create naturally in the brain. The outcome is that we need more of the medication to get the same pleasurable reaction, while natural pleasures, such as sexuality and eating, please us less and less.

There is little doubt that sugar can allay the physical craving for alcohol, the neurologist James Leonard Corning observed over a century ago. The 12 -step bible of Alcoholics Anonymous recommends the intake of sweets and chocolate in lieu of alcohol when the cravings for drinking originate. Indeed, the per capita consumption of sweets in the US doubled with the beginning of proscription in 1919, as Americans apparently turned en masse from alcohol to sweets.

Sugar and sweets inexorably came to saturate our diets as the annual global production of sugar increased exponentially. By the early 20 th century, sugar had assimilated itself into all aspects of our eating experience, and was being eaten during breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Nutritional authorities were already suggesting what appeared to be obvious: that this increased intake was a product of at least a kind of craving the development of the sugar appetite, which, like any other appetite for instance, the alcohol appetite grows by gratification.

A century subsequently still, sugar has become an ingredient in prepared and packaged foods so ubiquitous it can only be avoided by concerted and decided endeavour. There is sugar not just in the obvious sweet foods cookies, ice creams, chocolates, fizzy beverages, sodas, sports and energy beverages, sweetened iced tea, jams, gelatins and breakfast cereals but also in peanut butter, salad dressing, ketchup, barbecue sauces, canned soups, processed meats, bacon, hot dogs, crisps, roasted peanuts, pasta sauces, tinned tomatoes and breads.

From the 1980 s onwards, manufacturers of products advertised as uniquely healthy because they were low in fat, or specifically in saturated fat, took to replacing those fat calories with sugar to construct them equally, if not more, palatable often disguising the sugar under one or more of the 50 names by which the combination of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup might be found. Fat was removed from candy bars so that they became health-food bars, in spite of added sugar. Fat was removed from yoghurts and sugars added, and these became heart-healthy snacks. It was as though the food industry had decided en masse that, if a product wasnt sweetened at least a little, our modern palates would reject it and we would buy instead a challengers version that was.

For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage( and for many of us who do ), its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that makes our day. For those of us who are mothers, sugar and sweets have become the tools we exert to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in them, to motivate them, to entice them.

For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage, its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that induces our day. Photograph: Christopher Stevenson/ Getty Images

The common propensity is, again, to think of this transformation as driven by the mere fact that sugars and sweets savor good. The alternative style to think about this is that sugar took over our diets because the first taste, whether for an infant today or for an adult centuries ago, is a kind of intoxication; its the kindle of a lifelong craving , not identical but analogous of the implications of other medications of abuse.

Because it is a nutrient, and because the conspicuous ills connected to its consumption are benign compared with those of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol at least in the short term and in small doses sugar remained nearly invulnerable to moral, ethical or religion assaults. It also remained invulnerable to assaults on grounds of damage to health.

Nutritionists have found it in themselves to blame our chronic ailments on virtually any part of the diet or surrounding on fats and cholesterol, on protein and meat, on gluten and glycoproteins, growth hormones and oestrogens and antibiotics, on the absence of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and surely on the presence of salt, on processed foods in general, on over-consumption and sedentary behaviour before theyll concede that its even possible that sugar has played a unique role in any way other than merely getting us all to eat too damn much. And so, when a few informed authorities over the years did indeed risk their credibility by suggesting sugar was to blame, their words had little impact on the beliefs of their colleagues or on the eating habits of a population that had come to rely on sugar and sweets as the rewards for the sufferings of daily life.

So how do we establish a safe level of sugar consumption? In 1986, the US Food and Drug Administration( FDA) concluded that most experts considered sugar safe. And when the relevant research communities settled on caloric imbalance as the cause of obesity and saturated fat as the dietary cause of heart disease, the clinical trials necessary to begin to answer this question was ever pursued.

The traditional response to the how-little-is-too-much question is that we should feed sugar in moderation not eat too much of it. But we only know were devouring too much when were get fatter or showing other symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Insulin resistance is the fundamental defect present in type 2 diabetes, and perhaps obesity too. Those who are obese and diabetic also tend to be hypertensive; they have a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes, and perhaps dementia and even Alzheimers as well. If sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are the cause of obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance, then theyre also the most likely dietary trigger of these other diseases. Set simply: without these sugars in our diets, the cluster of related illnesses would be far less common than it is today.

Metabolic syndrome ties together a host of disorders that the medical community typically thought of as unrelated, or at least having separate and distinct causes including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and inflammation as products of insulin resistance and high circulating insulin levels. Regulatory systems throughout the body started to misbehave, with slow, chronic, pathological outcomes everywhere.

Once we have observed the symptoms of consuming too much sugar, the hypothesi is that we can dial it back a little and be fine drink one or two sugary liquors a day instead of three; or, if were parenting, allow most children ice cream on weekends merely, tell, rather than as a daily treat. But if it takes years or decades, or even generations, for us to get to the phase which is something we display symptoms of metabolic disorder, its quite possible that even these apparently moderate sums of sugar will turn out to be too much for us to be able to reverse the situation and return us to health. And if the symptom that shows first is something other than get fatter cancer, for instance were truly out of luck.

The authorities who argue for moderation in our eating habits tend to be individuals who are relatively lean and healthy; they define moderation as what works for them. This assumes that the same approach and amount will have the same beneficial impact on all of us. If it doesnt, of course, if we fail to remain lean and healthy or our children fail to do so, the premise is that weve failed we ate too much sugar, or most children did.

If it takes 20 years of devouring sugar for the consequences to appear, how can we know whether weve devoured too much before its too late? Isnt it more reasonable to decide early in life( or early in parenting) that not too much is as little as possible?

Sugar and sweets have become the tools we wield to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in their own homes, to motivate them, to seduce them. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Any discussion of how little sugar is too much also has to account for the possibility that sugar is a drug and perhaps addictive. Trying to ingest sugar in moderation, however its defined, in a world in which substantial sugar intake is the norm and virtually unavoidable, is likely to be no more successful for some of us than trying to smoking cigarettes in moderation merely a few a day, rather than a whole pack. Even if we can avoid any meaningful chronic impacts by cutting down, we may not be capable of managing our habits, or managing our habits might become the dominant theme in our lives. Some of us certainly find it easier to ingest no sugar than to eat a little no dessert at all, rather than a spoonful or two before pushing the plate to the side.

If sugar consumption is a slippery slope, then advocating moderation is not a meaningful concept.

In my own mind, I maintain returning to a few observations unscientific as they may be that induce me topic the validity of any definition of moderation in the context of sugar consumption.

The roots of the modern discussion on sugar and illnes can be traced to the early 1670 s. Thomas Willis, medical consultant to the duke of York and King Charles II , noted an increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the affluent patients of his practise. The pissing evil, he called it, and became the first European physician to diagnose the sweet savour of diabetic urine wonderfully sweet like sugar or hon[ e] y. Williss identification of diabetes and the sweetness of the urine happens to coincide with both the first flowing of sugar into England from its Caribbean colonies, and the first employ of sugar to sweeten tea.

Other observations that resonate with me when I wrestle with the concept of moderation include one of Frederick Slares commentaries in 1715, in his article Vindication of Sugars Against the Charges of Dr Willis. At a period when sugar was just beginning to be more widely eaten in England, Slare noted that women who cared about their figures but were inclining are far too fat might want to avoid sugar, because it may dispose them to be fatter than they desire to be. When Slare made his observation, the English were ingesting, on average, perhaps 5lb of sugar a year. The US FDA research indicates we now ingest 42 lb a year.

We have to acknowledge that the evidence against sugar is not definitive, obliging though I personally find it to be. Lets tell we haphazardly designated someones in our population to eat a modern diet with or without sugar in it. Since virtually all processed foods have sugar added or, like most bread, are hit with sugar, the population that is asked to avoid sugar would simultaneously be avoiding nearly all processed foods as well. They would dramatically reduce their intake of what journalist Michael Pollan, writer of books on food, agriculture and drugs, has memorably called food-like substances, and if they were healthier, there would now be a host of possible reasons set out above. Perhaps they feed fewer refined grains of any kind, less gluten, fewer trans fats, preservatives or artificial spices? We would have no practical way to know for sure.

We could try to reformulate all these foods so that they are made without sugar, but then they wont savour the same unless, of course, we replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners. Our population randomised to ingest as little sugar as is practicable is likely to lose weight, but we wont know if it happened since they are consume less sugar, or fewer calories of all sorts. Indeed, virtually all dietary advice suffers from this same complication: whether youre trying to avoid gluten, trans fats, saturated fats or refined carbohydrates of all types, or just trying to cut calories feed less and feed healthily an objective outcome of this advice is that youre often avoiding processed foods containing sugar and a host of other ingredients.

Artificial sweeteners as a replacing for sugar muddy these waters even more. Much of the anxiety about these sweeteners was generated in the 60 s and 70 s by the research, partly funded by the sugar industry, that led to the banning of the artificial sweetener cyclamate as a possible carcinogen, and the suggestion that saccharin could cause cancer( at least in rats, at extraordinarily high dosages ). Though this particular nervousnes has faded with period, it has been replaced by the suggestion that maybe these artificial sweeteners can cause metabolic disorder, and thus obesity and diabetes.

This suggestion comes primarily from epidemiological studies that show an association between the use of artificial sweeteners and obesity and diabetes. But it is likely that people who are predisposed to gain weight and become diabetic are alsoes the people who use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

As Philip Handler, then head of the US National Academies of Sciences, described in 1975, what we want to know is whether employing artificial sweeteners over a lifetime or even a few years or decades is better or worse for us than however much sugar we would have ingested instead. Its hard for me to imagine that sugar would have been the healthier selection. If the goal is to get down sugar, then replacing it with artificial sweeteners is one route to do it.

The research community can definitely do a much better task than it has in the past of testing all these questions. But we may have a very long wait before the public-health authorities money such studies and devote us the definitive answers we attempt. What do we do until then?

Ultimately, the question of how much is too much becomes a personal decision, just as we all choose as adults what level of alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes well ingest. Enough proof exists for us to consider sugar very likely to be a toxic substance, and to make an informed decision about how best to balance the likely risks with the benefits. To know what those benefits are, though, it helps to see how life feelings without sugar. Former cigarette smokers( of which I am one) will tell you that it was not feasible for them to comprehend intellectually or emotionally what life would be like without cigarettes until they cease; that through weeks or months or even years, it was a constant conflict. Then, one day, they reached a phase at which they couldnt imagine smoking a cigarette and couldnt imagine why they had ever smoked, let alone saw it desirable.

A similar experience is likely to be true of sugar but until we try to live without it, until we try to sustain that endeavor for more than days, or just a few weeks, well never know.

This is an edited extract from The Case Against Sugar, published by Portobello Books( 14.99 ). To order a copy for 12.29 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846 .

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Katy Perry’s Christian mothers find her cherry pie hard to swallow

2 months, 29 days ago

The innuendo-laden lyrics of the singers recent make, Bon Apptit, have left her devout mum and dad impression queasy

Katy Perry has revealed that she and her devout Christian parents have to agree to disagree over the lyrics to some of her sungs, including her innuendo-riddled recent reach Bon Apptit. In the video, Perry is served up as a dinner, with all the delicacy of a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ad from the 1990 s, until she rises up against her male oppressors and takes retaliation by pole-dancing in front of them.

The song uses a series of culinary metaphors to describe what is on Perrys menu. She claims to be a five-star Michelin who is spread like a buffet. Presumably she is not talking about the kind of buffet Lost in Showbiz grew up with in the north more prawn cocktail vol-au-vents and pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks than the part of Perrys body that she calls the worlds best cherry pie. And that is to say nothing of the practicalities of serving a whole tart at a buffet, when every caterer knows that individual mini-pies are preferable. She taunted the release of the way in April by tweeting a recipe for the worlds best cherry pie and asking fans to cook it for her. What she entailed by cherry pie wasnt wholly clear until Bon Apptit was released afterwards, which in hindsight stimulates the stunt a little less appetising.

Bon Apptit.

The excitable acid-blond vocalist told the Australian radio prove Smallzys Surgery that, shockingly, her pastor parents did not inevitably approve of the internationally successful call to enjoy her cherry pie. We agree to disagree but still with loving space, she told Smallzy. We all come from different places you can have your faith system , nobody is telling you not to believe your beliefs but you can also come from a place of love.

It is not the first time Perry has discussed the clash between her line of work and her parents religious beliefs. She told Vogue that she was taken to picket Marilyn Manson and Madonna concerts when she was younger, and when she spoke at the Human Rights Campaign Gala earlier this year she described herself as a gospel-singing girl raised in youth camps that were pro-conversion camps. Having gone from picket lines to savor other dames cherry chapsticks, to offering her own cherry pie for intake, one thing is clear: if Perry ever offers you fruit, do check if its a metaphor first.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

WD-4 0 and microwaved tampons: secrets of food photography exposed

3 months, 16 days ago

Its the job of a food stylist to induce products look delicious on camera even if the makeover leaves the dinner inedible. Six stylists tell us their tricks

Behind most professional food photos is a stylist who tricks the spectator. These deceits range from a touch of lipstick to redden a strawberry, to milkshakes made from mashed potatoes. Its not that food stylists are liars and defrauds. Theyre simply in the business of improvisation.

Throughout the 10 hours it takes, on average, to complete a photo shoot, stylists are expected to solve any dedicated crisis on the spot. No tzatziki on set? Make do with the mayonnaise or whipped cream in the refrigerator. A client wants that turkey skin to seem a bit more red? Better have food coloring on hand.

When shooting, you cant stop and say: Hey, ugh, I forgot this, explains Denise Stillman, an Orange County-based food stylist whos been in the business for 26 years. You only have to make sure you[ bring enough materials on set to] covering all your basis and then[ ask yourself ], What else can go wrong?

But not everything is faked. The product the advertiser is trying to sell is often featured, explains Stillman. When, for example, she shoots an ad for Breyers, she shoots the real ice cream. But if shes styling Gay Lea Foods whipped cream, the ice cream it rests atop can be made of anything so long as it seems delicious.

Whether shooting a television commercial or print advertisement, a food stylists goal is often to emphasize food ingredients natural beauty.

Im like hair and makeup for food, says Charlotte Omnes, a stylist are stationed in New York. When you watch models walk down the runway, they dont look like that. But after they come out of makeup, youre like, Wow.

If you want your Instagram food photos to resemble Bon Appetit coverings, weve collected some pro tips-off that will help. Six food stylists served us their secrets on how to attain common dishes look ready for their close-ups.

Enchiladas: mashed potatoes give the appearance of bulk


For a tasty-looking enchilada, add mashed potato. Photograph: Photo by Rick Gayle. Food styling by Kim Krejca.

Mexican food is not the most photogenic. No one knows this better than Kim Krejca, a Phoenix-based stylist who works with a lot of south-western cuisine. Enchiladas with sauce hemorrhaging into the beans[ are] not very visually pleasant, she says. You have to modify that but still be true to the food.

To give the enchiladas the appearance of bulkiness( as considered above ), she stuffed them with instant mashed potatoes, a stylists go-to filling because they are easy to make and mold. Then Krejca added meat and veggies to the ends where the tortillas open up. To finish the dish, she used a hot handgun to build the cheese melts perfectly on top.

Tacos: cosmetic sponges keep the shells open


Tacos: try cosmetic sponges, glue, and WD-4 0. Photograph: Photo by Rick Gayle. Food styling by Kim Krejca.

In real life, tacos are a delicious mess. To stimulate them presentable on camera, Krejca glued two tortillas together and placed cosmetic sponges behind the meat to keep the shells open. For dark and juicy-looking beef, she painted the pieces with a brown sauce called Kitchen Bouquet, made of water and food coloring. Krejca then sprayed the fill with WD-4 0, her secret weapon to attain Mexican food glisten. Stillman uses red pepper in place of diced tomatoes for a more vibrant coloring and pours corn syrup on beans so they look moist and fresh.

Cereal: mens hair products and sunscreen make a perfect milk

Do you prefer your cereal dries or with hair cream? Photograph: Photo by Chris Elinchev at Small Pond Productions. Food styling by Tamara Kaufman.

This may ruin your craving, but the milk used in cereal photos is usually fake. Since the real stuff quickly constructs cornflakes seem soggy, food stylists have come up with alternatives. In this photo, Wisconsin-based Tamara Kaufman used Wildroot, a white hair cream for men with a sunscreen lotion-like consistency that many stylists covet. Krejca favor the old-school method of white glue, which photographs just like the real deal. When pros do use actual milk, its merely a very small amount. According to Michelle Rabin, a Toronto-based food stylist, you can place the most beautiful pieces of cereal in a bowl filled with vegetable shorten and cover it with a thin layer of milk. The abbreviating defies the liquid and it looks like the whole bowl is filled with knolls of cereal, she says. The pieces will stay fairly crisp for a long time.

Coffee: watered down soy sauce and gelatin give a smooth look


For a smooth-looking coffee, try water and gelatin. Photo: Photo by Beth Galton. Retouching by Ashlee Gray. Food styling by Charlotte Omnes.

Black coffee is hard to work with because of its oily sheen. In a latte or cappuccino, the foam will speedily evaporate. In this photo, Omnes used a combination of Kitchen Bouquet, water and gelatin to give the coffee a smooth seem. In a pinch, Rabin has used watered-down soy sauce and once had to improvise with cream and gravy browner on the situated of a popular Canadian brand. I see that billboard I worked on and Im like: Thats funny, because thats not a coffee, she says. Kaufman uses the real deal when possible, but adds fells of soapy water around the perimeter with an eyedropper to simulate fresh brew. The froth, stylists say, is often made from piped soap foam.

Turkey: it may be raw and bloody inside, but the skin looks good


Undercooked turkey is often featured in ads. Photograph: Photo by Marshall Troy. Prop styling by Grace Knott. Food styling by Charlotte Omnes.

Every home chef knows its hard to make a bird crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Fortunately, food stylists only have to focus on aesthetics, which means they never fully cook one. It is important not to overcook them so the skin stays looking moist, plump and juicy, says Omnes. These are visual cues that build your mouth water when you look at it. New-York based stylist Brian Preston-Campbell says he often roasts five or six turkeys for a few hours each to get that perfect hero bird. Its still raw and kind of bloody inside, he says. Its kind of nasty but its about the end product in the photo.

In this shot, Omnes pinned down the turkey skin so it wouldnt tear in the oven. She lined the pan and stuffed the bird with a water-soaked paper towel so it would steam instead of turning crispy. To achieve that brown, glistening seem, she brushed the turkey with a mix of water, Kitchen Bouquet and dish soap.

Ice cream or whipped cream: abbreviate, corn syrup and frosting


Frosting plus icing sugar makes an impressive-looking ice cream. Photograph: Photo by Marshall Troy. Prop styling by Grace Knott. Food styling by Charlotte Omnes.

If ice cream were a human model, she would be a diva. The dessert is hard to mold, and if youre not styling in a refrigerated space, melts promptly. To avoid the headache, experts often turn to other ingredients. To create the ice cream on the left, Omnes mixed frosting with icing sugar( the cone on the right is the real bargain ), but the most common fake ice cream recipe is a combination of vegetable shortening, powdered sugar and corn syrup.

For other milky desserts, stylists have many hacks. For a dollop of whipped cream, Omnes use a non-dairy creamer that does not wilt or weep. Kaufman favor Barbasol shaving cream but notes: The woman who mistakenly tried a bite was not pleased. For milkshakes, Stillman employs sour cream because its thick and easy to swirl.

Drinks: that frosty glass? Its spray-on deodorant


If your beverage lacks the right sheen, only spray some deodorant on it. Photo: Alamy

Stylists dont waste real liquor unless the ad is for alcohol. To induce cocktails, Omnes mixes food coloring in water, a trick Kaufman also uses to create chardonnays from diluted Kitchen Bouquet. In truth, the liquid itself is the sideshow. The most important part about cocktails are the visual cues, says Omnes cues such as ice, fizz, bubbles and froth. They[ make the drink] appear refreshing.

For frozen beverages like margaritas and daiquiris, the pros rely on ice powder, bits of gelatin that look like crushed ice when mixed with liquid. They also use fake plastic or acrylic ice cubes, which dont melt under the hot camera illuminations and vaseline on the rim of margaritas. To create frost, Stillman coats a beer mug with spray-on deodorant and uses a mixture of Scotchguard and glycerin to make soft drink look icy cold with beads of condensation. What a fus it would be otherwise, says Stillman. This style, you can choose the level of wetness on the glass.

Steamy pasta: incense gives the appearance of steam

That moment when steam rises up from pasta like mist over a mountain is hard to capture naturally on camera. Kaufman hides a tin foil package of steam chips inside the pasta bowl and adds water to make vapor. To get the same effect, she has also illuminated incense and later removed the stick with Photoshop, while other tricks involve a attire steamer or cigarette smoke. By far the most interesting method is to microwave water-soaked tampons( cotton balls work as well) and bury them behind a dish. I have them in my kit just in case, says Kaufman. Regardless of the technique, she says steam should always be shot against a dark background.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Annette Bening:’ Women don’t have to do everything’

3 months, 17 days ago

She is the ultimate 21 st century female both on and off the screen. Eve Barlow fulfils Annette Bening in LA to talk about movies, motherhood and her search for meaning

At 11 am on a Friday morning, Studio City in Los Angeles is full of mums. Mums coming out of fingernail salons, mums falling dogs off at day care, mums picking up fresh bread. Outside one deli, a local mum with cropped hair slides in through the front doorway in a camel-coloured overcoat. She moves towards a back kiosk and, complaining of a slight cold, orders chicken noodle soup. She could be any mum, but shes the mum: Annette Bening.

She seems around the 1950 s diner. I love the booths, I love the ambiance, and she smiles, pointing at portraits of stacks of salt beef and rye, I love the pictures of the sandwiches. Its a surprise, perhaps, that such Hollywood royalty can sit at a booth in an unassuming deli without anyone bothering her.

For nearly 30 years, Bening a four-time Oscar nominee, a Bafta winner for American Beauty and twice a Golden Globe recipient( for Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right ) has been bending the notions of family. At the age of 58, her latest maternal portrait in 20 th Century Women is lauded as her most electric, searching and emotionally expansive yet.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The magic number: how many people have you slept with?

3 months, 20 days ago

From a 40 -year-old virgin to a role-play devotee, real people disclose everything theyve learned between the sheets. Cautioning: adult content

You didnt go all the way unless you were stupid, because it would ruin your life

Jane, 81, three partners

My grandmother was a Victorian and wouldnt mention the lavatory. For her, sexuality would have been something a woman suffered rather than enjoyed.

Coming to London in 1955 was a revelation. My friend and I shared a flat with three chaps. This was unheard of at the time, but by gosh we had fun. There was a bath in the kitchen and, if you didnt want to miss the party, people could hand you a drink through the curtain.

But Id never go all the way. You couldnt enjoy sexuality to that extent, because youd be afraid of losing control. We had no contraception. You didnt go further unless you were stupid, because it would ruin your life. Even when you were married, you were holding back, in case you got pregnant again. That destroyed a lot of the pleasure for women. The greatest liberation was the contraceptive pill. That changed everyones attitude to sex.

I marriage at 24 and had two children, but I used to wish I could have sex just for the sake of it. Im divorced now and, a couple of years back, a male acquaintance asked, Are you still active? And I supposed, whats he on about? My arms and legs still run. I can walk about. Then I realised it was a euphemism for sexually active. When I told my grandson, he burst out chuckling. Hed have to be fairly damned gorgeous, but I dont guess I could now. A man of my age would expect me to cook his food. I cant be bothered with that.

I went on Grindr when I was 16, and I was frightened

Paul, 20, three partners

When I was really young, I imagined myself being with a woman, because that was the norm. Growing up and used to identify I was gay changed everything.

At my age, a lot of gay men are quite sleazy. Straight men are likely the same. People sleep around, and its not my scene, so finding a long-term partner can be difficult. I recollect going on Grindr when I was 16, and I was terrified because older humen started sending me photos. I was like: what are you doing? Youre 40. Is that OK? That 40 -year-old humen can approach 16 -year-olds?

Its very easy for lesbian men to find sex. If I wanted to have sex tonight, I could probably find someone, but I wouldnt feel the connection. I could go on Grindr, chat person up and invite them round, but I dont like the idea of inviting a stranger into my house.

I miss people actually talking to each other, instead of being online. You ensure 90 s Tv programmes where people go up to someone in a bar and say, Hi, can I get your number? And I think, that would never, ever happen these days.

Ive not been in that situation yet, but I think sex is likely best when youre in a relationship, because youre more comfy around one another. When you dont know person, you always think, Oh God, is this OK? Am I doing this right? Especially if theyre more experienced than you. Ive slept with guys whove had more experience and guys whove had less, and you can tell the difference, so I always wonder: can they tell that about me?

There are lots of things that are way more pleasurable than penetration

Matt, 28, more than 25 partners

The sex we see in the media is one-dimensional. Its nearly always penetrative, and that might be how you construct babies, but its not the best style to induce your partner climax. I had an illness when I was a child, which meant I lost one of my legs. Disabled people have a blessing in a manner that is, because they learn that there are lots of other things that you can do that are style more pleasurable.

I discovered that confidence is a trick when I was at university. Its a style of holding your head up and faking it, because women dont actually care how you seem. But I also realised that the best thing I could do was to learn how to induce women genuinely enjoy themselves. So much of sex education is not based on female pleasure at all. A lot of men have a narrative in their head about how sex should play out, which objective up prohibiting genuine experimentation. Some humen get intimidated by a woman who is sexually empowered or open because its not what they were taught was meant to happen.

Photograph: Liz McBurney

I insure sexuality as play. If you havent got many hangups, when youre in that room and you close the door, its a space to do what youre interested in. I think some humen are intimidated by sex playthings because they induce them feel like theyre not been enough, but its merely another set of tools with which we can give our partners pleasure.

Im at a stage in my life now where, because of my disability, Im not always be permitted to do things as much as I would like to. But my partner is disabled as well, and there is never any pressure. We flirt and tease one another every day. Weve constantly get that flame being lit, and the most important thing is to make sure it doesnt go out.

When I was in my 30 s, my partner and I set up a role-play group

Christopher, 64, about 50 partners

I had BDSM interests from the age of eight, and a very full fantasy life in my head, but I didnt have sex until I was in my early 20 s, with another virgin. I took to it like a duck to water. I remember trying to establish with my doctor why my back was so messed up when I was at university, and realising Id built love 22 hours over the weekend with my first girlfriend. If I did it 22 times a year now, Id be lucky.

I am hetero-flexible. I respond sexually to girls, transvestites and transsexuals, as long as theyre garmented as girls. As soon as they put on men clothes, its not working for me.

I detected this back in 1987. I was in my 30 s when my live-in partner and I set up a role-play group. This was pre-internet, so we set an advert in a publication, and a lot of people joined, including trans girls. Its always been my attitude to be accepting of people.

In the end, its the cuddle and the spooning that are important. Sex is great, and Ive had one-night stands, but its empty as an experience. I opt the sex I have now to be part of a relationship, although nobody gets me exclusively any more.

Im on holiday with three girls at the moment. One is a former fan, one is current and one will be a fan in the future. We all know that. Nothing will happen behind anyones back, but neither does anyone have to know the full details. So thats what Im doing now, and I dont know what it constructs me, but I am instead enjoying it.

If I have an orgasm, I use it as time to focus on what I want to achieve, professionally or personally

Hattie, 41, five to 10 partners

Even if youre not in the mood for it, I think its good to have sex regularly, because it gets you out of a funk. It doesnt have to be a marathon. Theres a pressure around having great sex all the time, and get the doll out or doing the massage, but quickies can be great, too.

I have a little ritual around sex. If I have an orgasm, I use it as time to focus on what I want to achieve, professionally or personally, because its an empowering position to be in. Youre relaxed and positive, so putting out that vibe is a way of doing something with that energy.

My first teenage tries at sexuality were not promising. My confidence was low. I didnt have much of a drive and it all seemed a little bit painful and not a lot of fun. I didnt feel feminine and sensual in my 20 s at all. That came afterwards for me. I feel much more able to express myself now than I did when I was younger.

I think theres a tendency to put pressure on our partners to be everything: emotional and physical subsistence, great sexuality: its too much, particularly when children come along. Thats when my relationship broke down with my daughters dad.

My current relationship is genuinely positive. One thing I have learned is to maintain my privacy and not tell my partner everything. Not that Im being deceitful, but having bounds whether thats physical space or not oversharing is a good thing, because there needs to be a little bit of mystery there, too.

My most freeing experiences are usually around BDSM, inducing yourself with wax play, bondage, being blindfolded or spanked. Its that balance between being submissive and a feminist that I love. Its really nice to have person take control for a little while. It doesnt mean they take control in the rest of our life together. At the end of the working day, its merely an act.

Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

Ive had a few flings with girls, and detected Im probably not a lesbian

Samantha, 39, 20 to 40 partners

My mum was quite sexually aware and sassy. That was a positive influence. I wasnt made to think sexuality was bad or shameful, “its just” part of life. My parents kept it fresh. I received a pouch of naughty clothes in their wardrobe once, and I could never look at them the same route after that. They never let the trigger disappear. Even though there was a lot of screaming and slamming doorways, everyone elses mothers got divorced except mine.

There is the stuff Id instead forget( the dates where youre not that into it but end up drunkenly sleeping with them anyway ), but the things you think youll regret, you dont. Ive had a few flings with daughters. I learned Im likely not a lesbian, but I detected a lot about myself in the process.

Ive been with my partner for 10 years now. Its not the same as the early days, when you cant keep your hands off one another. We work at preserving the intimacy and excitement, because you dont want to get to the point where you know your partners next move, but we are still attracted to each other. I appreciate the fact that weve not done everything and there are adventures still to be had.

I still suppose Im the best person on earth for dedicating myself an orgasm; I guess men would say that, too. Girls need to get their boulders off in whatever way works best for them. Its important not to subsume your desires and needs for someone elses, because sexuality is so much better when a woman is genuinely enjoying herself.

The internet allowed me to be a lot more upfront about my intentions

Tom, 49, more than 100 partners

Even though a lot of guys talk lavishly about sexuality, I dont guess a lot of them care about it as much as they make out. Ive been having sex for 33 years, and it has always been of upmost importance.

I aimed up getting my first girlfriend pregnant when I was 17 and marriage her, so for the first six years I was having sex with only person or persons. After we divorced, I began to sleep with more girls. There was no internet back then, so it was asking for girls numbers in saloon. But I was an early user once the internet get started. It allowed me to be a lot more upfront about my intentions.

In my 20 s and 30 s, there was a clash between my need to experimentation and the recommend to be in a relationship. If I gratified someone I was very sexually into, Id mistake that for real feelings, dive in and it would all go wrong. It started to feel quite corrosive.

Ive been in a comparatively open relationship for the last eight years. Were together, but we can play with other people if we want to. Theres no lying involved, and that completely changes the dynamic. In past relationships, Id had affairs that felt like a big secret, but not now. Any participation is with my partners knowledge, and Im upfront about that with the women I meet. For some, that attains it instantly less appealing. Ive been in genuinely passionate flirtings that fizzle out the moment they realise Im not cheating.

My sex drive has started to diminish, but its a bit of a relief. I often is considered that if I was celibate, Id be a millionaire, because the time Ive expended pursuing women could have been spent on my career.

For two days after I sleep with someone, I dont trust my feelings. I call it the sexuality haze

Sadie, 25, undisclosed

This year has been my big sex awakening. My friends take the piss out of me: Sadies got that look in her eye. Watch out, men! At the same day, I have an old-fashioned shame thing when it comes to approaching men. I dont like that, but I think its quite emblematic of where women and men are at. No ones really sure what femininity means any more, and men dont know what masculinity stands for, either.

I was destroyed after my breakup and went online to remember how to interact with guys. Wed been together three years, and theres something wonderful about having sex encounters with people you really dont know, but its stressful as well. Online dating leaves a road of digital events to agonise over, depending on how emotionally vulnerable you feel. Like: Hes on Facebook now, so why isnt he getting back to me? Its a horror. And the very nature of the swipe interface on Tinder constructs the whole thing feel so disposable.

The only way Ive managed to deal with it is to set a framework in place you have to be able to protect yourself. Im methodical and rational about it now. I heard somewhere that women are predisposed to develop strong emotional ties with the person or persons they have sex with, especially if its great sexuality, so for two days after I sleep with someone, I actively dont trust my impressions. I call it being in the sexuality haze.

My allergy to relationships has passed now. Its been a year since we split. Im not as hungry as I was for new experiences. My ex had a looking that merely certain boys are capable of devoting: its about love, and who you are, and wanting you because of that, and thats really hot. I want to fall in love with a really sexy human who loves me. Is that too much to ask?

Photograph: Liz McBurney

Theres a simple sense of playfulness that get lost in adult sexuality

Sarah, 57, more than 1,000 partners

I had a breakdown at 13. I had a difficult household background and ended up in a psychotherapists office and then hospital. There was a lot of acting out and I lost my virginity shortly afterwards. I was interested in sexuality, but I had no appreciation of myself and I got a reputation for being easy without actually understanding how that had happened. I developed cravings, and as soon as my education was over, I left home. I fell into the gay women freeing movement, and for the next 25 years I identified as a lesbian.

As my addictions took over, I ended up in the sex business, and on my 30 th birthday I observed myself in rehab, having been charged with solicitation. I was so full of traumatic, undigested sexual experiences from the street; if I ever had a sexual feeling, Id shut it down.

Then, 10 years ago, I had a moment of clarity that I wanted to explore my sexuality with humen again. Being a lesbian had felt like part of who I was, so it was strange to grapple with the idea that it wasnt really true any more. One of the things I love about sex with women is that it can be so endless and full of possibilities. It doesnt have a clear start or a finish. But lesbian sexuality can at times feel labour-intensive in a way that sexuality with men doesnt.

I decided to start an erotic massage practise for men, and Ive became aware that Im much better at devoting pleasure than receiving it. Its erotic for me. Its a pleasure to give pleasure. Im moved and sometimes saddened by how much loneliness and longing I find in my naked men, but I also find a lot of what I call libidinal elation a simple sense of playfulness that I think get lost in adult sexuality as people struggle to hold partnerships together. That kind of play requires vulnerability, and an enormous currency in any relationship.

I was a 40 -year-old virgin when we marriage. I never sowed my wild oats

Terry, 67, one partner

Right from the start, I was sensitive and a little bit of a nerd. I recollect my mothers friends commenting that I looked like a little professor, and I was. At 26, the pressure and stress were getting to me. I tried online dating bureaux with no success. I was simply not equipped to get along with women. I spiralled into alcoholism and eventual recovery.

I met my spouse towards the end of my heavy-drinking period, and we pretty much clicked instantaneously. Our marriage has lasted 25 years, and its been solid throughout; we get on well and love each other deep. But weve had our challenges over the years with sex. I was a 40 -year-old virgin when we marriage and shed had sexuality only once before: at 21, consensual but traumatic, at a party.

She had been imbued with the idea of a womans duty or Lie back and think of England. Sex was invariably initiated by me and, at around 46, my wifes interest waned. The menopause came and ran, her libido dropped away and our sexual encounters stopped. We are physically affectionate and greatly attached, but I miss sex and that moment of communion. I masturbate most days, mainly to the kind of internet porn that demonstrates real couples or homemade stuff, but I miss body contact.

Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

I have developed a yearning for what is highly improbable: that I can take up with a young woman for casual pleasure without commitment. I have discussed this with my wife, who has not expressed aggression to the idea; she said she just wouldnt want to know the details. The last thing I want is to hurt her. Many of my friends confess to me the infidelities that theyve kept secret, and I simply cant comprehend such a thing. It would be agony. But I never sowed my wild oats, you watch, and I regret that. Is it too late to make up for that somehow?

I remember driving across township to have sex with a stranger

Jonathan, 50, 40 partners

Im definitely a one-to-one guy. Im not into sleeping around. For me, a big part of sexuality is getting to know someone. The more you feel that sense of commitment, that locking in of trust, the more playful and expressive you are able to be.

Im not in a relationship at the moment, but I can remember periods when Ive had to stop the car to have sex with a girlfriend on the way to Brighton, and its firm commitment that has enabled me to be mischievous and expressive like that.

The truly great moments? The first time is up there, because it felt significant and I felt really loved. I was 17. If there is such a thing as a top 10, Id include those moments in a relationship when you wake up in the night impression horny and have to have sex. Also, I recollect chatting to someone online when the internet was still a novelty and driving across town to have sex. I didnt well known and I didnt assure her again, but it was thrilling.

There have been all sorts of times, in tents or up mountains, but great sex has always been when Im in tune with person. I dont find uncertainty thrilling; I find it a pain in the arse.

I had a very experienced lover. I wasnt in love: he was just the facilitator of my fantasies

Rachel, 55, a few hundred partners

Generally, I feel a little bit flat. The ups and downs you get when you have periods are all gone. But its not as if Im thinking, I wish Id had more group sexuality or I wish Id shagged 100 more people. Because I did more in 10 years than most people have done in their entire lives.

I think there is a surge of hormones in your early 40 s perhaps your body is trying to fulfil its destiny because I felt up for it all the time. I was divorced, Id had my children and I was involved with a man who was a very experienced lover. I would tell him what was going through my head and he would make it happen. I wasnt committed to him, I wasnt in love. It was just: You are the facilitator of my fantasies. I wouldnt even know what was happening half the time, because there were so many different sensations going on in my body. It was quite spiritual, in a weird sort of way.

Women in their 40 s are dangerous. Theyre nuts. The great thing is that you have the mental capacity to switch off all the drama that you had in your 20 s Does he love me? Does he not love me? In your 40 s, youre like, I definitely do not love him but, by God, hes a good shag.

I think, for women, desire happens in the brain. This is something I am constantly telling my current partner. Weve been together three years and he doesnt get it. It amazes me that no matter how intelligent guys are, they simply do not appears to get that if you dont do certain things, youre not going to come. I think there must be a lot of women who fake it, because how else have men come to the conclusion theyre all so amazing?

The intellect is an erogenous zone. It doesnt have to be intercourse

Angela, 61, one partner

I have been married for 38 years and my husband is the only sexual partner Ive had. For the last 10 years, our marriage had lacked intimacy. It wasnt that we were unhappy, it just happened as it does to lots of people: intimacy, failure to communicate, the omnipresence of children.

Just over a year ago, when I was feeling particularly sad and frustrated about this, my husband reached out to me in bed. I think he simply touched me. It was as simple as that, but it was as if a floodgate had opened. It was like a thin wall had been there, so thin you could put your thumb through it, and thats all it took for someone to break it. Theres been no looking back since then, and sex is a wonderful part of our lives now.

Im sure it was exciting and lovely when we were younger, but I think it was probably more goal-oriented, and it isnt now thats a huge difference. Now its more about is available on the moment. The whole body can be an erogenous zone. The intellect is an erogenous zone. It doesnt have to be intercourse. Thats a tiny part of it for us. This is the greatest day of my life, sexually. Everything feels very heightened and real.

My husband said he didnt know how interested in sexuality I was, and he delights in it now. And because Ive become more open and able to express myself, he has as well. You guess, why didnt I say this a long time ago? Because it wasnt hard in the end. But theres no judgment or impression of disapproval or shock or anything. Its all just wonderful.

Whats your number? Tell us about your experiences anonymously.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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