Does quitting social media make you happier? Yes, say young people doing it

2 days ago

Teenagers and young adults switching off from Facebook and other social apps reveal how the change has affected their lives

Our love of social media seems to have grown and grown in the past decade, but recent studies show the tide may be turning for some platforms, with young people in particular ditching Facebook. One study claims that more than 11 million teenagers left Facebook between 2011 and 2014. Its been argued that they are swapping public platforms such as Twitter and Instagram for more private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

We asked the Guardians younger readers whether they have quit social media and why, as well as what apps they are ditching. Almost all reported a greater sense of happiness after going offline. Here, we share some of their experiences.

Daisy, 23, Manchester: I feel less anxious and less like a failure

Daisy

After a romance ended with a guy I really liked, I kept trying to avoid Facebook so I wouldnt have to see him. It was after this that I gradually switched off from it, but before that Id been wanting to quit for a while.

Facebook made me feel anxious, depressed and like a failure. When I went online it seemed like everyone was in Australia or Thailand, and if they werent travelling they were getting engaged or landing great jobs. I felt like everyone was living the dream and I was still at home with my parents, with debt from my student loan hanging over me.

I also felt that if I wasnt tagging myself at restaurants or uploading photos from nights out, people would assume I wasnt living. I remember a friend from uni said to me once, Yeah, but youre still going out having fun, Ive seen on Facebook. I tried to present myself as always having a great time. If my status didnt get more than five likes, Id delete it.

My life has changed for the better since deleting social media. I now enjoy catching up with my friends, and when they tell me new plans my response isnt just, Yeah, I saw on Facebook. It makes you realise who your real friends are and how social media takes the joy out of sharing news with people. I also feel less anxious and less of a failure.

Im planning to visit a friend in Australia next month, and she and my mum and a couple of other friends want me to go back on Facebook to share my pictures. Id really prefer not to, though. Im on Instagram, but I mostly follow sarcastic quote pages. Ive never had a Twitter account.

George Lincoln, 17, Hampshire: A lot of young people arent interested in Facebook any more

George

When I first got Facebook, it appealed to me because I could talk to all my friends and see how they were feeling, but now it seems to have become more trivial. Instead of seeing what friends are putting up, I just see the articles that they like and other comments Im not interested in. I want to concentrate on more useful things and I find it very distracting. I dont worry about missing out on stuff, because I still use the Messenger app on Facebook to stay in touch with everyone.

Ive been off Facebook for two weeks now and I dont really feel tempted to go back. Ive thought a few times about logging back in but I havent so far. Since I quit, no one has really spoken to me about it; everyone is busy focusing on college work.

A lot of young people arent interested in Facebook any more its become really overcrowded and other sites such as Snapchat are offering something new and exciting.

Snapchat
Snapchat has been called teens favourite app. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Ben, 21, Surrey: I have a much more positive mindset now

I made a New Year resolution to cut down on my social media use. After doing this I started to ask, why am I using it at all? Thats why Ive quit various platforms over the past year: Snapchat in November and Facebook in June. Ive never really had WhatsApp or Twitter. I mainly used Facebook at university, for organising events and meet-ups, but Ive gradually started to realise how pervasive is it. I also feel uncomfortable with the amount of time I used to spend on it.

Ive always found social media to be an environment in which people constantly seek attention and validation through one-upping peoples comments, and boasting over likes and retweets.

Weve not needed social media for thousands of years and now it feels like people think your life is over if you dont have it, which is ridiculous. I joined when I was 13, but I dont feel like I really knew what I was signing up for and the platform has changed a lot over the years. Theres much more advertising on it now, for example.

I didnt find it hard to quit and, after a while, contacting people through other means became the norm. People completely respect my not being on social media, and some wish they could do it too. Since I left, Ive spoken to people about it and thats convinced them to do the same.

Im more productive and less concerned with what other people think about me now, the only person I have to regularly compare myself with is me. Im in a much more positive mindset without social media than I ever was with it. Its let me see who my friends truly are, and who I was only concerned with simply because they were there on social media. I now use a basic non-smartphone and email as my only forms of communication, and people have adjusted to it.

Twitter
Twitter has more than 300m monthly active users. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Syed Ali, 19, Birmingham: I dont need to prove anything to people

Theres so much negativity on social media, with people complaining about how tough their lives are (and these are the same people who post a picture of every meal they eat). Thats part of the reason I havent been using it for the past three years.

Posting on social media is quite frustrating because it feels like everyone is conforming to the norms, and you have to post photos of yourself (every place you visit, etc). Some people merely like your pictures so you return the favour its childish. I dont need to prove anything to people or show people Im doing well. This has made me a much happier person.

Rosanna Cassidy, 25, Nottingham: I can live my life instead of trying to shape it into one that looks good online

Rosanna

Id been thinking about quitting Facebook for a long time, but the EU referendum finally made me bite the bullet. I was sick and tired of people trying to force their political beliefs upon me, and I found it so depressing that people were repeating views they had heard that werent true.

Now, three months later, without Facebook I feel much happier and more content. I can live my life instead of trying to shape it into one that looks good online. I also have a lot more time now, and its easy enough to keep in touch with my friends in other ways. Whats more, now we can have conversations about what weve been doing because we havent seen it all already on social media.

I dont plan on going back to Facebook, but I still have my Instagram account, which I check once a day. Instagram is different because its not as time-consuming, and you dont get bombarded with other peoples views. Plus, the Instagram community is more supportive. I gave up Twitter years ago because it didnt really feel like it had a point, and it was just a space for opinionated people to air their views in a non-constructive way.

Andy Staunton, 23, Dublin: I enjoy actually talking to people face to face

Andy

When I used Facebook, I found myself aimlessly watching videos and scrolling through articles that I never had any interest in reading in the first place. Furthermore, the Facebook statuses I saw were very uninspiring.

Leaving Facebook was one of the best decisions Ive made this year. Aside from the increased productivity that comes from not having it, I enjoy actually talking to people face to face, and not seeing what someone I met once, years ago, had for breakfast.

I do, however, forget to wish a lot of people happy birthday and I seem to be months behind in finding out some news but I find out eventually.

Sophie, 18, Surrey: I used to check for updates countless times a day. Now, Im free

Ive never really used Instagram and Tumblr because I dont see the point of them. I had Twitter for news updates when I was in school and sixth form, but stopped using it when my exams started. As for Facebook, I only ever used it to contact my friends, but Skype chats and other apps mean I dont need it any more.

Ive been free from the chains of social media for about six months now, which doesnt seem like a lot of time, but it feels like it now that my time isnt being sapped by these apps. It sounds so silly, but since leaving I feel like my own person. Before, Facebook and Twitter became almost like extra arms attached to me that I constantly had to be aware of. I used to check for updates countless times every day. Now, I dont have to be reliant and dependent on it any more its like a breath of fresh air. I dont plan on going back, except for maybe WhatsApp if I need to talk to people when Im abroad.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Jeremy Hunt doesn’t understand junior doctors. He co-wrote a book on how to dismantle the NHS | Frankie Boyle

4 days ago

Frankie Boyle: The health secretarys name is so redolent of upper-class brutality he belongs in a Martin Amis book where working-class people are called Dave Rubbish

One of the worst things for doctors must be that, after seven years of study and then another decade of continuing professional exams, patients come in telling them theyre wrong after spending 20 minutes on Google. So imagine how doctors must feel about Jeremy Hunt, who hasnt even had the decency to go on the internet.

Consider how desperate these doctors are: so desperate that they want to talk to Jeremy Hunt. Surely even Hunts wife would rather spend a sleepless 72 hours gazing into a cracked open ribcage than talk to him. Hunt wont speak to the doctors, even though doctors are the people who know how hospitals work. Hunts only other job was founding Hotcourses magazine: his areas of expertise are how to bulletpoint a list and make dog grooming look like a viable career change.

Of course, the strikers are saying this is about safety, not pay, as expecting to be paid a decent wage for a difficult and highly skilled job is now considered selfish. Surely expecting someone to work for free while people all around them are dying of cancer is only appropriate for the early stages of The X Factor. Sadly, Tories dont understand why someone would stay in a job for decency and love when their mother was never around long enough to find out what language the nanny spoke.

The fact that Hunt co-wrote a book about how to dismantle the NHS makes him feel like a broad stroke in a heavy-handed satire. Even the name Jeremy Hunt is so redolent of upper-class brutality that it feels like he belongs in one of those Martin Amis books where working-class people are called things like Dave Rubbish and Billy Darts (No shade, Martin Im just a joke writer: I envy real writers, their metaphors and similes taking off into the imagination sky like big birds or something). Indeed, Jeremy Hunt is so overtly ridiculous that he might be best thought of as a sort of rodeo clown, put there simply there to distract the enraged public.

I sympathise a little with Hunt he was born into military aristocracy, a cousin of the Queen, went to Charterhouse, then Oxford, then into PR: trying to get him to understand the life of an overworked student nurse is like trying to get an Amazonian tree frog to understand the plot of Blade Runner. Hunt doesnt understand the need to pay doctors hes part of a ruling class that doesnt understand that the desire to cut someone open and rearrange their internal organs can come from a desire to help others, and not just because of insanity caused by hereditary syphilis.

The government believes that death rates are going up because doctors are lazy, rather than because weve started making disabled people work on building sites. Indeed, death rates in the NHS are going up, albeit largely among doctors. From the steel mines where child slaves gather surgical steel, all the way up to senior doctors working 36 hours on no sleep, the most healthy people in the NHS are actually the patients. This is before we get to plans for bursaries to be withdrawn from student nurses, so that were now essentially asking them to pay to work. Student nurses are essential; not only are they a vital part of staffing hospitals, theyre usually the only people there able to smile at a dying patient without screaming: TAKE ME WITH YOU!

The real reason more people die at weekends is that British people have to be really sick to stay in hospital at the weekend, as hospitals tend not to have a bar. We have a fairly low proportion of people who are doctors, dont plan to invest in training any more, and are too racist to import them. So were shuffling around the doctors we do have to the weekend, when not a lot of people are admitted, from the week, when its busy. This is part of a conscious strategy to run the service down to a point where privatisation can be sold to the public as a way of improving things.

Naturally, things wont actually be improved; theyll be sold to something like Virgin Health. Virgin cant get the toilets to work on a train from Glasgow to London, so its time we encouraged it to branch out into something less challenging like transplant surgery. With the rate the NHS is being privatised, it wont be long before consultations will be done via Skype with a doctor in Bangalore. Thank God were raising a generation who are so comfortable getting naked online. Im afraid it looks like youve had a stroke. No, my mistake youre just buffering.

When I was little, I was in hospital for a few days. The boy in the next bed was an officious little guy who took me on a tour of the ward. Hed sort of appointed himself as an auxiliary nurse and would help out around the place, tidying up the toys in the playroom, and giving all the nurses a very formal Good Morning, which always made me laugh. I got jelly and ice-cream one evening (Id had my tonsils out) and they brought him some, too. Afterwards, he threw his spoon triumphantly into his plate and laughed till there were tears in his eyes. Then he tidied up and took our plates back to the trolley. What he meant by all this (wed sit up at night talking and waiting for trains to go by in the distance) is that this was the first place hed known any real kindness and he wished to return it. For most of us it will be the last place we know kindness. How sad that we have allowed it to fall into the hands of dreadful people who know no compassion at all, not even for themselves.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Love in the age of living for ever: could your marriage last 80 years?

13 days ago

Getting married used to mean a promise of 40 years, if you were lucky increased life expectancy means it could be much longer. Will your relationship go the distance?

My boyfriend looks terrible for his age. His skin feels as fragile and wrinkled as used clingfilm; age spots pepper his face and arms. What hair he still has is faded to grey, and the laughter we have shared over the years has etched itself in the lines around his eyes. Mind you, I dont look too hot, either. We have both been transformed by a makeup artist who, with latex and face paint, has fast-forwarded us from partners of four years into husband and wife of 60 years. It is a very odd experience; I feel a flash of nostalgia for 30-year-old me, and immediately feel the urge to wear a bikini. Its like an injection of Nora Ephron: Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and dont take it off until youre 34.

These pictures are the result of an experiment. I wanted to explore a question that pricks the minds of many couples at our life stage. We are both 30; a year and a half ago we bought a flat together; we have started to think about marriage. Perhaps the phrase started to think is disingenuous; the truth is, Shaun grew so bored with my talking about it that he banned me from mentioning it until after Euro 2016.

And so we find ourselves on the brink of a lifelong commitment, poised to make the same promise made by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, stretching back as far as our family trees will go, into countries I have never visited, from Yemen to Poland. But if and when we make that same promise, it will mean something very different. Because when our ancestors swore to love each other unto death, that meant 40 years together, if they were lucky. For us, thanks to improvements in healthcare and life expectancy (currently 79 for men and 83 for women in England and Wales, and set to rise), it could be more like 60 years. This is a radical shift, and one that forces us to question our assumptions about commitment and love. What does the age of longevity mean not just for individual marriages, but for the institution of marriage itself? What does it mean to say, Till death do us part in 2016?

As our life expectancy has improved (more than one-third of babies born today could live to 100), so have our expectations: we want a marriage to be great, not just good enough, all the way to the end. Dr Helen Fisher has been researching this issue for 40 years, and recently published an updated edition of her book Anatomy Of Love: A Natural History Of Mating, Marriage And Why We Stray. The focus of modern marriage is not stability, its love, she says. A century ago, a woman wouldnt have ended a marriage that was satisfactory, but a recent survey showed that one-third of people would leave a satisfactory marriage if they werent in love with their partner. Today, we want it all, and well walk away if we dont have it.

And so to the rise of the grey divorce. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show divorce is falling in all age groups in the UK except for the over-50s, among whom it has risen by nearly 11% in a decade. Nearly 60,400 people in this demographic divorced in England and Wales in 2013, while the overall number of divorces fell to a 40-year low. The same trend has also been observed in the US, where in 2014 those aged 50 and over were twice as likely to go through a divorce than in 1990; the increase was even higher for those over 64.

I have always assumed that the grey part of marriage was the best bit. I watch with loving envy as my parents enter their fifth decade together, finally allowed to relax and enjoy themselves after all the child-rearing and careering and work-life balancing. But, for many, decades of marriage can simply bring boredom that feeling of, Is this all there is? Of meh.

Roger Jenkins, 68, ended his 33-year marriage at the age of 65. For me, as for a lot of people, crunch time in a relationship comes when you retire, he says. Suddenly the person you saw for a couple of hours each night, mostly spent in front of the telly, you are now seeing 24/7. And all the problems, which you saw for only a few hours a week, you now see 24/7, too. My wife had a great social life, and when I finally retired and wanted a holiday, she said, No, I have my own life. I dont want to go around with you all the time.

After trying marriage counselling and discussing the situation with his children, both in their 30s, Roger filed for divorce. It was not an easy decision he had to overcome the stigma he had absorbed as a boy: People of my generation grew up at a time when divorce was virtually unknown and viewed as terribly sinful. That burrows into your psyche at a fairly early age. But a lot of people my age are fit and reasonably affluent, because theyve had the benefit of a property boom, and its now easier to get divorced than it used to be so why should I spend the rest of my life in misery?

Relate counsellor Barbara Bloomfield agrees: Women and men are feeling so much younger than they did in previous generations, and they fervently believe they have 30 more years after retirement. Some think, why stick with the same old same old if you might be able to find someone better?

Older couples have always had to deal with an onslaught of potentially stressful factors: boredom, yes, but also hormonal changes that can lead to mismatched sex drives, children leaving home, retirement. Bloomfield explains: There are quite a few mothers and fathers who cant get used to being a couple after children have left home and they have stopped working, when theyre under each others feet all day. Either the marriage crumbles or they find a new way to be together. But people are refusing to accept these changes as inevitable even at 80, because five, 10 years is too long if you are unhappy.

Divorce lawyer Kerry Russell says she has seen many couples like Roger and his ex-wife. The main trend I have seen is couples divorcing due to the realisation that there is more in life. They sometimes describe their marriage as tedious, and many feel trapped in a routine. They often care very much for their spouse, but the differences between them seem more apparent. They see divorce as a way to gain some independence and live life to the full.

Moya
Will you still love me tomorrow? Moya and Shaun reimagined. Photograph: David Yeo for the Guardian

Roger met his new partner through work two years ago. Were blissfully happy, he says. Sixty is the new 50 were not old gits, we love life, we travel. Im deeply in love with my partner and looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her.

After speaking to Roger, I find myself questioning my naive, unmarried assumptions about what constitutes a failed marriage. Can you really consider two children, 30 years together, an amicable end and a second happy relationship a failure?

For Fisher, the rising divorce rates among the over-50s represent one part of a sea change. She says, I think the concept of till death do us part is going by the way. What were going to see is serial monogamy, a series of pair bonds. Much of marriage as we know it we owe to the agrarian revolution, she argues: On the farm, you had to marry the right girl, from the right kin connection, from the right social standing, and hopefully from the farm next door. And you really had to stay married for life because you couldnt leave the farm.

She thinks well have more civil unions, and that it will become easier to marry and easier to divorce. Does this mean well drop that line, till death do us part? No, were very schmaltzy people. And theres something called cultural lag: our marriage habits may change much more rapidly than our marriage belief systems. So even though a great many people dont really know if it will be forever, theyll use the term, and have it in their heads, along with a whole lot of hopes and dreams.

Jessica Graham sees this as a positive development. She married her ex-husband at 22 and divorced at 52, 10 years ago. They got engaged a few months after meeting, and this, she suggests, is another reason for the spike in divorce among the over-50s. A speedy engagement is more unusual now: this wasnt true of her generation of grey divorcees back when they were lustrous newlyweds.

Jessica is a fiercely intelligent, witty, compassionate woman, a proud northerner with a sense of humour. She cant recall any happy times from her marriage. So why did she wait 30 years? Her answer she wanted to protect her daughters is another explanation for the increase in later-life divorce, and reminds me of the punchline of a dark joke: a 96-year-old is asked by his divorce lawyer, why did you wait so long? He replies, We wanted to wait until the children had died.

Jessica tells me, You feel bound to it, so you carry on, grit your teeth and stay married, despite it being very, very unhappy. My daughters grew up in a mild war zone; I look back and wish they hadnt had to experience it. She had planned to delay divorce until her daughters went to university, but they intervened earlier.

When I ask if she wants to meet someone else, Jessica is adamant in her refusal. I am happy being single, and financially secure. I like being able to do pretty well what I want, when I want. I can commute to London, go to the theatre, to concerts. Although she felt lonely to start with, she says, I felt lonelier in my marriage than I do now. What is the hardest thing about her situation? I dont find anything hard right now. Im OK. And yet: I wouldnt say Im yabadabadoo happy, and I dont think I ever will be. She thinks this is because that kind of happiness comes from sharing a life with someone.

As plan Bs go, there are far worse, says relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam. I would argue that the best option is a happy partnership, but the next best option is happy singledom. Ive known many friends and clients who are much happier now that theyre not in their relationship. Of course, there are single people who are unhappy without a companion, but from what Ive seen, the unhappiest option is an unhappy marriage, because you dont just have yourself to cope with.

When I speak to Lucy Taylor, 59, she seems politely, quietly, yabadabadoo happy. After her divorce, she swore she would never marry again. She was traumatised by the breakdown of her marriage. Her then husband called her his soul mate, and she believed him. Then he came home from work one evening and said he had fallen in love with somebody else, and wanted to be with her. The door opened, the grenade rolled in, then the door was closed.

Her husband was a corporate high flyer, and Lucy worked part-time in IT while their son was young, before returning to full-time work as a facilities manager. She was 46 when they divorced. It was shocking, devastating. When you meet somebody that you really care for, they give you a piece of their soul. And when they leave, they take that part back. You feel as if youve been amputated from their life.

In some ways, I despise myself because it took me so long to get over him years and years. It was a scary, lonely time. When you have loved deeply, its very difficult to trust people. Thats why I said I would never marry again. Because to intertwine your heartstrings and your finances with somebody elses, well, the prospect of being hurt or abandoned again is in the background of your mind all the time.

She met Joe at a dance class a couple of years after the divorce. Their first date was a lunch that lasted 12 hours, but she wanted to take things very, very slowly. Over a number of years, and with the blessing of her daughter, Joe moved in one sock at a time. They married two years ago, when Lucy was 57.

She still believes in marriage, and that you have to give it everything, even if it may fail. Joe and I didnt have a pre-nup that was my choice, against my solicitors advice. I felt its not a great way to start a marriage, if youre immediately saying I dont trust you. When we made our vows, I absolutely thought, I want to be with this man, I will always be good to him and I wont betray him. I loved hard and I lost, and Im loving hard again. And, hopefully, thats the way it will end, and we will die in each others arms. Thats what I would like.

The happy marriage is so ingrained in us as the only acceptable happy ending, from Shakespeare to When Harry Met Sally, that many of us (myself included) must subconsciously absorb the idea that any other ending is a failure. When I was younger, I never thought I would get married. Its just a piece of paper, I would say. I wanted my partner to wake up every morning and choose to stay with me because he wanted to, not because of some promise he had made decades earlier. But as the years have passed, and Ive cried at the weddings of so many friends, and watched my parents grow old, Ive come to feel differently. I see the value that these pieces of paper have in our lives passports, birth certificates, job contracts; these documents mark out the minutiae and the momentous in our lives, and marriage is both of those. I want our names to be written next to each other in that register, for them to be buried deep in the council archives, gathering dust. But perhaps I need to be more open-minded.

Emily White, 72, cast a light on the assumptions I never knew I had about finding happiness in old age: it doesnt have to mean going to bed with your husband every night. She was a widow when she met her second husband, but 11 years into that marriage, she realised he had transformed into a Jekyll and Hyde character. She divorced him four years ago and, she says, Im much happier now. Ive got a new partner, hes 77, and I get ruined rotten he takes me out for dinner every Saturday night. I keep getting told by my daughter that I have a better social life than she does. Im in the University of the Third Age, Im in a history group. I go to keep fit and do all sorts of daft things. When youre over 70, you can decide for yourself what you do. My partner and I each have our own houses, and we have a great time. I get a phone call every night, but we dont get under each others skin.

Its never too late to find an expression of love that works for you, and that may well not involve marriage. Sue Andrews, partner at the law firm BP Collins, has 35 years experience in family law and has represented many older clients, ranging in age up to their 90s: It was lovely to be told by an elderly client that I had enabled them to enjoy the rest of the time they had left, she says.

But there is also a darker side, especially at a time when loneliness among the elderly is such a compelling issue. Ruth Langford, community manager at Wikivorce, a social network for people in the UK going through divorce, says this year she has spoken to more people divorcing in their 70s and 80s than ever before. Its quite sad. These are people who have been married for 60 years, who should be enjoying their remaining years in peace and comfort, instead of entering into a legal situation that is fraught with emotional distress and expense. Langford says divorce for older people can be even more painful than it is for younger couples: It can often be a very lonely experience, losing long-term friends and causing family members to fall out. Often the disputes are over things of sentimental rather than real value, such as photograph albums of their children and grandchildren.

All the people I spoke to told me they married for life, all of them got divorced, and not one of them felt he or she was to blame. This is an alarming thing to hear when you are thinking about getting married yourself. No matter how fiercely you believe in your relationship, no matter how much you love your partner, you cannot see into the future, especially 80 years ahead; you cannot know for certain if boredom, unhappiness or personality changes will mean you are parted not by death but before. You have to take a punt. But I am comforted by Susan Quilliam, who tells me, In some ways, longer life expectancy is a threat; in others, its a huge opportunity, because unless youre very unlucky or closed and unreflective, your later life relationships can be better. They can be worse because of the Pandoras box of baggage you bring with you. But they can also be informed by the wisdom you bring.

Most of my interviewees felt no regrets about marrying their partners; they saw the value in the happy times they had spent together, the children they had raised. Jessica Graham felt she had failed because she had broken her vows, but she thinks a younger generation wont feel that: Younger people have the confidence to hold their hands up and say, it isnt a failure, it just hasnt worked.

After speaking to so many people about why their marriage ended, I feel less afraid of commitment. The desire to get married remains a gut instinct. I think Fisher gets closest to explaining why: I have studied the brain circuitry for romantic love and marriage, and these brain systems arent going to die. They evolved more than 4m years ago, and theyll be with us, if our species survives on the planet, for another 4m. The drive to fall in love and form a pair bond, rear your children as a team and make it a socially sanctioned relationship through marriage is not going to go away.

So what did I see at that photoshoot, when Shaun came out of makeup? My voice caught in my throat, in a rush of emotion I hadnt expected. I saw the man I love, but a future version of him, softer around the edges. He looked kind and wise and handsome, and, if I squinted a little (OK, a lot), a bit like George Clooney. I thought, I want to grow old with you. A week later, Shaun bought me a bunch of flowers. Inside the flowers was a photograph of us, and a postcard. On the postcard he had written a funny little poem, including the lines, Since you make me, and I hope I make you, just as happy as Larry, how about we marry? I felt terrified and overwhelmingly happy. Perhaps it was my age spots that made him forget about Euro 2016; well never know. All we can do, like the generations before us, is take our chance.

Some names have been changed.

How to stay together, for ever: relationship therapist Andrew G Marshalls advice

Learn how to argue
We have this idea that we will find a soul partner who will agree with us on everything. This is a myth and often makes people feel that they are not allowed to disagree with their partner, which can be disastrous. The important phrase is, I can ask, you can say no, and we can negotiate. Argue about one thing at a time. Dont attack your partners personality, and dont bottle everything up, because one day it will all come pouring out. People sometimes have affairs because they havent had their needs met. But remember that you must articulate what those needs are.

Embrace change
Accept that, even after 35 years of marriage, your partner might change in ways you never expected. I think couples should go out every 10 years and have a first date again to meet the new person theyre married to. Ask your partner, What are your hopes and dreams? They may not be what you expect. Dont let this make you anxious. Be open to finding out that your partner isnt exactly as you had imagined.

Have separate interests
Spending periods of time apart studying or travelling or having different hobbies can bring energy back into the relationship. Its important to have joint endeavours, but make time to be apart, too. If you stop your partner doing what they want, it makes your relationship vulnerable.

Make each other a priority
What often happens is that after retirement, or when children leave home, a couple realise that they have been on separate train tracks for years. It was just hidden by the business of life. Family time and couple time are two totally different things. You might think that your partner will understand if you ignore them for 25 years and focus on your children. But if you feel bottom of the pecking order, it can get to you.

Flirt
We often tell people what we dont like, but were bad at communicating the positives. Flirting with each other is fabulous. It shows you care. You need to learn how to touch each other, too. Make sure it doesnt only happen when initiating sex. Make time to hug and kiss and stroke each other. It keeps you feeling connected.

Appreciate the magic
When talking about newlyweds, people often say, Its all downhill from here. I disagree. Yes, falling in love is beautiful, but after more than 35 years together it can be just as magical as when you first met. At first its about the promise of a life together. Later on, its about the reality of the life you have made together. What could be more romantic than that?

Andrew G Marshall is author of I Love You But Im Not In Love With You: Seven Steps To Saving Your Relationship.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Rise in lip reduction procedures and labiaplasty driven by pursuit of ‘normal’

17 days ago

White European beauty ideal partly motivates women to seek out procedures, experts said, as breast augmentation is still the most popular cosmetic surgery

Lip reduction procedures in the US have increased dramatically, according to figures released today from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Last year, there were 3,547 lip reduction surgeries, representing a 283% increase from 2015.

The procedure is much more popular among African-American and Hispanic women according to Debra Johnson, a practicing plastic surgeon and president of the ASPS. Some people have overly endowed lips, Johnson explained, so lip reduction is a way to bring them into a more normal range (the irreversible procedure can be carried out for less than $1,000).

However, there is no objective definition of normal lip size, so individuals use social cues to decide whether to get surgery. As Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University explains: The standard of beauty and acceptability in America is a white standard.

Dr Germaine Awad would agree. The professor of educational psychology at the University of Technology has written about how female African American college students define beauty. When asked why lip reduction has become so popular, Awad said: The only thing that I can think would be a possible reason for this is the notion of striving toward a white European beauty ideal.

But its ironic, Awad added, because lots of other women are increasing the size of their lips. There were 28,430 lip augmentation procedures last year according to ASPS numbers.

After lip reduction, labiaplasty (cosmetic surgery which reduces the outer lips of the vulva) had the second highest year-on-year growth. A total of 12,666 labiaplasty procedures were carried out in 2016, a 39% increase on the previous year. That trend, too, is partly driven by societal depictions of normal.

What does a normal vulva look like?

Though lip reductions have increased far more than any other cosmetic procedure, they are nowhere near as common as other procedures. For every lip reduction carried out in 2016, there were 82 breast augmentation surgeries. Other reasons for going under the knife include liposuction (235,237 procedures in 2016) and nose reshaping (223,018 surgeries).

Boobs up, butts down – breast augmentations rose 4% in 2016 while buttock lifts declined by 11%.
Boobs up, butts down – breast augmentations rose 4% in 2016 while buttock lifts declined by 11%.

But even higher are non-surgical procedures which have been steadily increasing for years. In 2016, there over 7m Botulinum Toxin procedures in the US (commonly referred to by the brand name Botox). In 2000, that number was 786,911. Small amounts of this acutely lethal toxin are often administered to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Allergic to life: the Arizona residents ‘sensitive to the whole world’

1 month ago

In Snowflake, people tell Kathleen Hale they have found refuge in the desert to escape fragrances, electricity, Wi-Fi and other facets of modern life

A lot of things caused Susie pain: scented products, pesticides, plastic, synthetic fabrics, smoke, electronic radiation the list went on. Back in the regular world, car exhaust made her feel sick for days. Perfume gave her seizures.

Then she uprooted to Snowflake, Arizona.

I got out of the car and didnt need my oxygen tank, she said, grinning at me in the rearview mirror. I could walk.

There are about 20 households where she now lives. Like Susie, most of the residents in Snowflake have what they call environmental illness, a controversial diagnosis that attributes otherwise unexplained symptoms to pollution.

My knees knocked together as she swerved on to another dirt road. Mae, a Guardian film-maker, was busy shooting scenery from the front seat. Wed come for four days to find out why dozens of people chose to make their homes here, and Susie had agreed to host us only if we did not seek outside opinion from psychiatrists regarding their condition.

Hes got it bad, she said, nodding at a neighbors driveway. The sign out front read: NO UNINVITEDS.

My eyes darted on barbed wire cattle fences and dead Juniper trees. White mountains swam in the distance. We stopped, and Susie motioned for Mae to open a gate decorated in yellow Christmas tinsel.

Deb
Deb Schmeltzer has been living out of her truck for the past five years. She says the aluminum in the truck is preferable to homes with Wi-Fi and electricity. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

The idea that modern conveniences cause pain dates to the mid-19th century. In 1869, doctor George Beard published several papers blaming modern civilization and steam power for ailments such as drowsiness, cerebral irritation, pain, pressure and heaviness in the head.

According to him, other indications of chemical sensitivity included fear of society, fear of being alone, fear of contamination fear of fears fear of everything.

He called the illness neurasthenia. Susie called it being sensitive to the whole world.

Susie had warned us that Deb, a sort-of-roommate who lived in her driveway, was extremely sensitive to scents. In order to protect her, wed agreed to various terms: we would not a get rental car or stay at a motel, because those were places where chemical cleaners were used. We would wear Susies clothes, and sleep at Susies house. She also made us swear not to get any perms before we came, which made me think she had been in the desert for a long time.

For weeks, Mae and I avoided makeup, lotion, perfume, hair products, scented detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets. We used fragrance-free soap and shampoo, as well as a natural deodorant, which, according to the description on the box, was basically a rock picked off the ground with a cap on it.

Despite our best efforts, Debs sensitive nose picked up our body odors. For her, we reeked like a Bath and Body Works store flooded with vodka or as she put it, floral, with chemical solvents. Youre fragrant.

Snowflake was not easy to get to. Id risen at dawn, vomited on a tiny six-passenger plane, and walked one mile down a busy highway in a town called Show Low (160 miles from Phoenix) to get to Susies car.

Well do our best to get you cleaned, Susie promised us. I got lots of hydrogen peroxide.

In
In order to wear sunscreen without fragrances, Kathleen Hale was given a mixture of zinc oxide and safflower oil by Susie Molloy to avoid the sun. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

It was decided that the best way to get us straight from the car into the shower, where we could wash the outside worlds chemicals away, was to enter the house completely naked. So we took off our clothes and marched without dignity across the gravel driveway.

You can have first shower, Mae said, wrapping herself in a towel. We had only known each other for a few hours.

Susies bathroom, like the rest of her one-room, off-grid house, was wallpapered in heavy duty Reynolds wrap. Above the toilet, a small, sealed window looked out at the desert. I scrubbed off with a bar of olive oil soap and inhaled the metallic scent of hard water. It was the only thing I could smell.

Someone knocked. Mae reluctantly asked if I wore underwear. Were playing dress-up! Susie shouted from the other room.

I realized what Mae actually meant was, Did I wear Susies underwear? I hesitated for a moment, considering the alternative: going commando in a sandy environment.

Hey, Kathleen! Susie yelled. Do you?

I wear underwear, I called.

Later, we gathered in the kitchen. Deb is sensitive to grains, GMO foods, preservatives and all artificial flavoring and coloring, so we ate cabbage soup for dinner.

Afterward, Mae and I ducked behind a curtained-off partition to consider our sleeping arrangements: two metal cots, one broken, and zero blankets, (because blankets are absorbent and, according to local logic, our pores were still off-gassing dangerous chemicals). Nighttime in the desert is freezing, and Susies house did not have heating. I wanted to be unconscious and regretted my semi-recent decision to start weaning off sedatives.

Asked whether she might at least have some padding to cover the iron springs, Susie retreated outside, shouting over her shoulder, FYI, the rats here are aggressive. She returned with dirt-caked bathmats. There, she said, turning off the lights. Comfy.

That night Mae and I, who were complete strangers just the day before, had to hold each other for warmth. I reminded myself that whatever discomfort we felt paled in comparison to how Susie and Deb had suffered in the regular world.

Susie
Susie Molloy collects Native American pottery that fills the Arizona landscape near her home in Snowflake. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

Susie grew up in forested northern California, and spent most of the 1970s in the Bay Area, working odd jobs and traveling with her boyfriend. As friends started dropping like flies from an illness nobody could understand, Susie endured respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. It hurt her feelings when doctors suggested she might just have anxiety.

While the Aids epidemic kicked into crisis mode, Susies symptoms got worse, intensifying whenever she smelled smoke or saw power lines. Unable to function, she moved back home, where, through an autodidactic game of trial and error, she identified what triggered her worst symptoms. She slept on her parents porch, or on the bathroom floor, because those were the only places she could breathe. Her mother collected rain for her to drink.

Now using a wheelchair, she returned to San Francisco to pursue a masters degree in disability policy. She launched the Reactor, an environmental illness advocacy newsletter, which circulated via an underground network of hypersensitive people throughout the country. An environmentally ill reader told Susie the air where he lived was clean enough for him to manage and in 1994, Susie followed him to Snowflake, where the tiny community (only a handful of people at the time) immediately rallied around her. Within a year, her father and neighbors pooled their resources to build her a house a little, safe place.

Meanwhile, across the country, Debs life had never felt more dangerous.

Like Susie, her initial thought was Aids. After ruling that out, she juggled endless skepticism. Even those who believed she felt ill wrote it off, saying shed bounce back.

Deb had always been strong. As a child living on Lake Michigan, she sailed and played sports. After attending Michigan Technological University, she worked for nine years as the only female metallurgical engineer at Bendix aircraft; her specialty was failure analysis.

Snowflake

When she and her husband became pregnant, Deb kept working, inhaling zinc and cadmium nobody told her not to but all she could smell were her co-workers cologne and aftershave. Scented products sent her body into crisis. She vomited a lot.

After giving birth in 1992, Deb left work to parent full time. She lived in a moldy house with a smoky furnace. Infections blow-torched her sinuses, turning into migraines that hit her like an ax. Her weight plummeted to 75lbs. Doctors said she was anorexic.

Finally, Deb couldnt take it anymore. She left Michigan when her daughter was 16 and became itinerant, sleeping in her truck, because unlike plastic or drywall, metal emitted no chemical fumes and was safe.

The same word-of-mouth network eventually led Deb to Snowflake, where she performed chores for the environmentally sick in exchange for food. By the time Susie spotted her boiling out clothes for a neighbor, Deb had been living in her truck for five years and needed a place to park. The two women became a domestic duo. Deb cooked clean food for Susie on the hot plate. They made each other laugh, and protected one another. Susie remained compassionately straight-faced when Deb finally admitted she hadnt seen her daughter in seven years.

By the age of 67, Susie had finally put her masters degree to use, although not in the way she had originally intended. She had become Snowflakes unofficial welcome wagon, local therapist and advocate. She sat with men and women who were sick with something no one else believed in, and she believed them. She fielded at least five long phone calls a night from the bedridden and lonely, talking to them for as long as they needed company. She helped people with the arduous paperwork involved in collecting government aid. She reassured them that their illness wouldnt kill them it would only hurt, a lot.

Everyone we met loved her, and got tears in their eyes when they said so.

Historically speaking, settlers reasons for uprooting typically establish the hierarchy of wherever they resettle. Puritans relocated for religious reasons, so the devout became popular. Forty-niners rushed in search of gold, and those that struck it gained status.

But people came to Snowflake to nurture disease, and so, here, illness acts like a social currency. Being normies a mostly derogative term meaning that chemical fragrances and electricity didnt (yet) cause us debilitating pain not only dropped Mae and I into a category of people who had historically hurt, abandoned, and misdiagnosed everyone we were about to meet, it also ranked us as lepers.

Luckily, I was about to become very sick.

Mae
Mae Ryan with Kathleen Hale: They wanted to know how they could be sure that we werent just another pair of journalists here to play games. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

On day two, I woke with a headache, and Maes hair in my mouth. My headache was snowballing into nausea. I was starting to feel familiar, flu-like symptoms which pave the way for emotional darkness.

I had begged to write about Snowflake because I identified with the idea of sick people retreating to the middle of nowhere to find peace. Almost two years earlier, I had a mental breakdown and retreated to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. Medication and therapy brought me back to reality. I felt I recognized the urge to leave everything behind.

In the almost two years since my mental breakdown, sticking to the to-do list they gave us at the psychiatric hospital (sleep; eat; take medication) had, at the very least, made me feel in control.

Now, each item had been compromised thanks to our sleeping arrangements, the unsatisfying house staple (cabbage), and my personal desire to, at some point, become pregnant with a baby that did not resemble an octopus.

Im starting to think now might not have been the best time to start tapering off psychotropic drugs, I said to Mae, who barely heard me.

Theres a situation, she replied.

In the kitchen, Susie and Deb revealed that trust issues had developed between us. The night before, Mae and I decided to charge her camera battery, and apparently it had kept Susie awake.

But we could hear her snoring, I said.

You hurt her, Deb said.

They wanted to know how they could be sure that we werent just another pair of journalists here to play games to test their disease with shenanigans, and make fun of them?

Deb said we couldnt fool her.

As proof, she relayed a story about how, once, when her daughter was 10 or 12 theyd gone together to the grocery store.

I lost track of her and her friend, Deb said, smirking proudly, and then I found them, and I could smell it. They claimed, No, no, no, but I knew theyd gone and done perfume samples. So, were in the car, and theyre giggling to themselves, and I told them to get out.

That was the end of the story.

Did you make them get out of the car? I said

Well, yeah, she said, looking confused. We were only about three miles from home. She turned the car around eventually. But I couldnt help seeing it from the daughters point of view: a friend had come over, theyd been left on the highway.

I worried we were about to get kicked out, too.

Deb said, in order to trust us going forward, we had to promise we werent going to write anything but a positive piece that would clearly inform readers of the clinical validity of environmental illness.

We cant promise that, Mae said.

A general silence fell over the aluminum foil room. Deb, who had been pretty emotionless up until now, looked like she might cry. Our chance at writing a story seemed to be disintegrating. So I cleared my throat and prepared to overshare in order to hopefully diffuse things.

Ill tell you a secret, I said.

The
The walls in Susie Molloys home are covered in aluminum foil to mask any fragrances that may emit from the building materials. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

I told Susie and Deb that I knew how it felt, at least a little bit, to be sick, and have nobody believe you, I explained how, four or five years earlier, my hair started falling out, and I had this awful, burning sensation on the back of my scalp that was so intense I used a bag of ice as a pillow, and how I felt nauseous all the time, and tired, and cried a lot. The word diarrhea had already been introduced a number of times by Susie and Deb to describe their own symptoms, so I plugged that in, too.

They softened. When I got to the part about how every other doctor I saw that year said I was fine, physically speaking, and had referred me to a psychiatrist, they scoffed knowingly and protectively. They asked what my environment had been like; I thought they meant emotionally so I told them how I moved to New York for this guy, James, and we signed a lease together, broke up after one month then I lost my job, and had no savings la-la-la.

Susie cut me short: No, your physical environment. I remembered, with a lurch, that our apartment had been downwind from a dry cleaners. I used to go stand next to its vents because the detergent smelled great compared to the chicken slaughter plant down the street.

Susie and Deb looked like they wanted to high-five. My depression had been a symptom of environmental illness.

They use all sorts of chemical agents to clean slaughterhouses, Deb said excitedly. When you left, did the symptoms go away?

No, but they started to, a little, when this doctor friend of mine said to try eliminating gluten.

The gluten, thats what happened with me! Susie said. Thats one of the things I found I was sensitive to. Its commoner than people think.

For me, personally, it was a placebo, I said carefully, clocking their disappointed looks. They cringed even more when I used the word psychosomatic.

The gluten-free thing helped for a long time, especially with the shitting my pants problem I think just controlling my environment probably helped. But the scalp burning didnt go away until a dermatologist prescribed me antidepressants.

Thats not me saying the symptoms werent real, I continued and in my nervousness that Id once again offended them, I then farted so shrilly that Mae laughed in shock.

Susie just shrugged and Deb remained completely impassive, as if maybe she hadnt heard, which was not possible. Chemicals bothered them, but bodily functions were fine.

Given the progress made by discussing my medical history, I publicized my current headache. Susie scrambled to get me Tylenol, and Deb graciously explained that this was yet another sign my body was dumping toxins from the regular world.

My illness had immediately elevated my status in the household. Here you go, Deb said, handing me a mug. Susie tapped pills into my palm.

After almost 24 hours of being told I stank and generally being treated like a contagious freak, I was so grateful for these ministrations that I went to hug them. Susie acquiesced, but Deb said I was still too fragrant for us to embrace.

But I changed my mind, she said to Mae. Ill let you film me, if you want.

Steen,
Steen, a neighbor, says he is allergic to computers, Wi-Fi, electricity and ink on paper so he must print off his emails, air them out to dry for 24 hours and then read them. He only responds to emails via handwritten letters. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

Susie and Deb, like most of their neighbors, receive disability checks. But welfare has not made them complacent. It isnt easy to apply for disability when you suffer from an illness that most refuse to recognize. And even if you do receive some aid, the checks could stop at any moment. All it takes is one Arizona bureaucrat looking at your file and deciding that your sickness is made up.

Over and over again, residents emphasized to me that they wanted to work, they missed working they had no identity now, they said, no sense of self worth. Many, like Deb, were former chemical engineers. They were smart, easily bored, and embarrassed by what they worried some might misconstrue as laziness, or mooching. I believed them when they said they wanted jobs. I also believed that they were far too sick to work. Many spent entire days in bed, eyes cinched against the blinding pain caused by their illness.

People here suicide themselves, Susie said, as we trudged around the desert, collecting rocks. Our boots crunched on petrified rabbit shit. Susie told us about a friend with environmental illness who had killed himself a few months prior.

He wasnt depressed or anything, he just couldnt take it anymore, so he starved himself, she said. Apparently it was common, around Snowflake, for people to kill themselves. Susie estimated that it happened around twice a year, which, given the shifting population, I pointed out as an epidemic.

We bury our own dead, she said.

Im so sorry, I said.

Many of the people we met had finally found doctors who believed them. Before, in the regular world, after enduring years of humiliating check-ups and stints in the emergency room, they relegated the medical profession to enemy status. Now, they spoke adoringly of their physicians, most of whom practiced integrative health a blend of western science, holistic healing and one-on-one therapy. As long as I framed environmental illness as a physical phenomenon, Snowflakers were happy, even eager, to communicate. But they got angry if I broached their illness, even obliquely, as a psychological phenomenon. They had spent years feeling sick and battling skeptics. The last thing they wanted was to be told by an outsider, who had just met them, that they were crazy.

I didnt blame them. Later, breathing through another stomachache, I scanned my notes, rereading scrawled concerns based on various conversations about the potential that everyone we met had some form of extreme PTSD, either from being sick, witnessing a nationwide health crisis, or as had cropped up in one or two of the conversations from being sexually assaulted.

When I asked Susie whether she took any medications for her environmental illness, she cackled, at first, like a little girl, and said, None of your business!

I do, though, she continued after a pause. For seizures.

Certain psychiatric drugs double as anti-seizure medications, so I rattled off a few familiar brand names. Susie nodded at one I took. I wondered if we had the same thing, whatever that was.

Susie
Susie Molloy hangs up her clothes to dry after washing them in fragrance-free detergent. Molloy was one of the first people to move to Snowflake. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

On our last morning in town, Deb intercepted me in the driveway to explain how fragile I was. She had been thinking about my symptoms the headache, my history of so-called depression and my menstrual cycle which started two weeks early on our second day there.

My therapist says its just stress, I said. I feel like maybe we recognize something in each other. We just want to call it different things.

She shook her head. You have environmental illness, I can sense it.

In a quiet, tentative voice, she explained to me that there was, in fact, an objective, scientific way to test me for environmental illness; she could do it right then and there.

The procedure would be relatively painless, but I couldnt mention the specifics in my piece.

I feel like this will sound more ominous than it is if I leave out the details, I said as we went through with it.

People will think were crazy, she said.

I am crazy, I said.

No, she said.

After we finished, I lingered in the doorway while Deb searched the dark house for her glasses. I was no longer permitted indoors because I had changed back into my own clothes, and the scents emanating from my regular world apparel had already caused Debs ears to swell, making it hard for her to hear. It was time to go, but Deb said the apparatus she used to diagnose environmental illness wasnt working, so she would have to be in touch. I wrote down my phone number and email address.

Can I give you a hug goodbye? I said.

Not in those clothes, she said.

As Susie ferried us back into society, beef cattle glared at us from the ditches, and calves stumbled in the road. Susie told us she didnt see any overlap between mental and environmental illness. Certain substances were physically poisonous, and that was the end of it.

If someone is reckless or careless about exposures that will cause issues for you, that is, to some measure, assaultive, Susie said.

Assault, thats a strong word, Mae said.

Yep, Susie said. Thats why I say it.

At the airport gate, I remembered the emergency Valium in my bag, and all of my stress went away. But it wore off on the flight, and by the time I got home, I felt the sadness in my blood. I almost hoped Debs test would work that she would find something scientific to substantiate how shitty I sometimes felt.

A few days later, Deb and Susie put me on speakerphone, because holding the receiver to their head triggered neurological problems. Once again, they wanted me to tell them exactly what I would write about them. They worried I might make fun of them. I told them that wasnt my intention, but that I tended to tell the truth, at which point Deb told me that my test results had shown her that I was sick.

But I can help you.

We can help you shave off a couple years of fruitless effort, Susie added.

Whats wrong with me? I said.

Deb promised she would tell me, eventually. But only after she read this piece.

Isnt that, like, blackmail? I said.

Susie and Deb started to laugh, softly and shrewdly.

Im still waiting for my results.

  • This article was amended on 12 July 2016 to reflect that the Arizona town of Show Low is formatted as two words, not one, and is pronounced phonetically.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Mohsin Hamid on the rise of nationalism:’ In the land of the pure , no one is pure enough’

1 month, 3 days ago

From Myanmar to Pakistan, the US and Britain, an preoccupation with purity is driving political, religious and moral agendas. But a retired from intricacy is no ensure of future harmony

Perhaps it is living half your life in Pakistan, for Pakistan is the land of the pure. Literally so: the land, stan, of the pure, pak. Perhaps that is why you have come to question the commonly held perception that purity is good and impurity is bad. For a tribe of humans newly arrived in a place never before inhabited by humans, such an outlook is perhaps sensible. Purity in a creek of water renders it fit to drink. Impurity in a piece of meat nauseates those who eat it. Purity is hence to be valued and impurity to be avoided, defied, expelled. And yet you believe the time has come to seek to reverse, at least partly, the emotional polarity of these two terms, to extol impurity’s benefits and denounce purity’s harms.

The issue is, of course, personal. We are each of us is comprised of atoms, but equally we are composed by hour. Since your time has been expended half inside Pakistan and half outside, and your outlook and postures shaped by this, you are in a sense half-Pakistani, which is to say, as Pakistan is the land of the pure, you are half-pure: an impossible country. You cannot exist as you are. Or instead, you are required impure. And if impurity is bad then you are bad. And to be bad is hazardous, in every society. So yes, the questions is personal, and pressing.

But in Pakistan, the questions is political as well, for it affects everyone. Once purity becomes what determines the rights a human being is afforded, indeed whether they are entitled to live or not, then there is a ferocious competition to establish hierarchies of purity, and in that contest no one can win. No one can ever be sufficiently pure to be lastingly safe. In the land of the pure , no one is pure enough. No Muslim is Muslim enough. And so all are suspect. All are at risk. And many are killed by others who find their purity lacking, and many of their killers are in turn killed for similar reasons. And on and on, in a chain reaction. The politics of purity is the politics of fission.

This should not be surprising. Pakistan was founded by fission, the splitting of British imperial India into two separate independent states, Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. And Pakistan has experienced farther fission, the splitting of its western and eastern wings into Pakistan and Bangladesh. In each case, a more complex entity was broken into what was believed would be two more internally harmonious ones. But a retreat from complexity is no guaranty of future harmony. Too often, it is accompanied by the rise of a fetish for purity, the desire to exterminate persisting traces of intricacy within.

Pakistan is not unique. Rather, it is at the forefront of a worldwide trend. All around the world, governments and would-be governments appear overwhelmed by complexity and are blindly unleashing the power of fission, championing quests for the pure. In India a politics of Hindu purity is wrenching open deep and bloody rifts in a diverse society. In Myanmar a politics of Buddhist purity is massacring and expelling the Rohingya. In the United States a politics of white purity is marching in white hoods and red baseball caps, demonising Muslims and Hispanic people, killing and brutalising black people, jeering at intellectuals, and spitting in the face of climate science.

White Neo Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Photo: Samuel Corum/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images

And what of Europe? Europe, too, is rekindling its love affair with purity, with signs of this deadly ardour everywhere, from the rise of the far right in Germany and Austria to the endless emergency in France to the ethno-national cracking of Ukraine and Spain.

And then there is Brexit, particularly saddening for you, since you are not just part-Pakistani, you are part-British( and part-European) as well. Brexit illustrates only too well the politics of fission and the unleashing of the forces of purity. First, or so it was said, the British took back control. But the Scottish and Northern Irish seemed not to want to take back control. So the English took back control from them. And also from Londoners, for London had long ceased to be properly English. And also from the young, addled in their reasoning by the ever increasing numbers of the non-English in their midst. In some English newspapers today dissenters are called traitors. In England’s north-west frontier, which is to say Northern Ireland, a return to violence is feared. The ruling party is paralysed, riven by factionalism. No one is deemed pure enough, brazenly English enough, to govern. Magistrates, journalists, parliamentarians, citizens: everyone is suspect.

How Pakistani it all ten-strikes you.

P

In these pure days, you believe more impurity is desperately needed. Only impurity can save we are currently. But, fortunately, there are reasons for hope. Our species was built on impurity, and impurity will probably come to our rescue once again, if we let it.

Biology is instructive here. The physical commingling of two human mothers is required to produce a child. Every child is a combination of genetic material from two different sources. Every child is impure, a mixture. There is a clear reason for this: it works better than the alternative. If we simply split in half to create two humen from one, or detached a hunk from our leg or from our buttock, which grew into an identical copy of us, we would all be the same. We would all be pure. But we would be much less capable of coping with the challenges of an environment that always has been, and always will be, in a state of change.

Over time, our inescapable, systemic, basically human impurity dedicates us the capacity to do what has not been done before, to make creative leapings: in our biology, in the diseases we are going to be able defy and the foods we are going to be able digest. And in our thinking and culture and politics too. The coming together of people from different backgrounds, with different ideas, permits breakthroughs to occur. Constitutional democracy as currently practised around the world owes a great deal to America and Britain and France, but it also owes a great deal to the ancient Greeks, and to the Arabs who built on and transmitted Greek thought to a Europe where the ancient Greeks had been all but forgotten. The first aircraft was fabricated in America, but the physics and maths and engineering that induced it possible came from Europe, from North Africa, from India, from China, from the collision and collect of knowledge by all of humanity.

‘The ‘ The coming together of people from different backgrounds, with different ideas, permits breakthroughs to result … think of jazz.’ Photograph: Frank Driggs Collection/ Getty Images

Think of jazz. Of Asia and Africa’s influence on European cuisine- and vice versa. Of the Moors on Don Quixote. Of the foreign-born on Silicon Valley. Of the green revolution. Of cutting-edge research in medicine. These are not victories of purity, designed by cutoff, like-minded people of similar appearance and narrowly shared pedigree. These are what can be achieved when humanity mixes.

Climate change. Mass migration. Rampant inequality. None of the most pressing and daunting problems today facing humanity have simple answers. As a species, we require creative new approaches, yet-to-be-imagined leaps forward. But while we might not yet know what the solutions to these challenges are, we should already suspect from where the breakthroughs are most likely to come. They are likely to come from mongrelisation. From profound impurity. From people and ideas at risk of being inhibited and marginalised in our purity-obsessed age.

P

We are all impure. But because many of us deny our impurity, those who are most obviously impure among us require allies. And one of their most important friends is literature. Writing. Reading. When, sitting alone, we read a volume, something profoundly strange results. We are by ourselves. We are merely ourselves. And yet we contain within us the believes of another person, the writer. We become something bizarre. Something manifestly impure. A being with the guess of two beings inside it.

A reader, in the moment of read, experiences a pooling of consciousness that blurs the painstakingly constructed borders of the unitary ego. The very possibility of read, the facts of the case that it can occur, that a human being can experience this, the thoughts of another in the same physical place, that place so deep within, where the reader’s own thinks reside- and furthermore that the reader is drawn to this experience, seeks for it, desires it- reminds us that the impure is fundamental to what the fuck is, and calls out to us, powerfully, like the sea calls out to an organism that has evolved to live on the land, and yet recreates the sea inside itself, forms a watery womb, every time it conceives a child.

Writing and reading are, as sexuality is, a commingling. Literature is the practice of the impure. Written words might articulate demands and justifications for purity, but the fact that such terms are written and read means they are, by their very nature, impure- prudes perhaps, but inescapably engaged in an debauchery. Writing cannot help but remind us of the power of impurity, even when some written words claim the opposite.

So yes, writing is among the most important friends of the impure, which is to say it is on the side of the mixing upon which our future ability to thrive as a species depends, and on the side of the mongrelisation that has rendered each of us people; a mongrelisation that, if acknowledged, allows us to accept ourselves as the messy, fertile, multifaceted composites we actually are, rather than the frozen, sterile, monochromatic entities we are told to pretend to be.

( For you, of course, possibly more obviously a mongrel than many others, writing has become a way of life, the route of your life, because it was not clear to you that a life such as yours had a route without it .)

But novelists are easily identified as agents of impurity. And so it does not surprise you, and should surprise none of us, that the forces of purity have identified writing and novelists as in need of suppression.

These suppressions do not occur in a vacuum. For each, there is a context. Individual impurities are cited as harmful. As offensive to a define of beliefs, or to a desired cohesion, or to an economic future, or to the wellbeing of a younger generation. And then a mode of suppression is selected: a legal one, such as libel statutes in Britain or lese-majeste laws in Thailand or national security and official secrecy laws in America; or an extra-legal one, such as abduct by a drug cartel in Mexico, or a religious proclamation by a cleric in Pakistan, or the bullet fired by an assassin, anywhere, everywhere.

Houses Houses of Rohingyas burning in Myanmar, in September 2017. Photograph: NurPhoto/ Getty Images

Such suppression almost never presents itself as an attempt to end free speech in general. Rather, it focuses on the specific. Not the herd, but the lamb. Not the school, but the sardine. On this one particular case of impurity, which has gone too far, and can now, should now, be picked off, swallowed up, in a mighty gulping, never to listen to from or seen again.

Because of this merciless specificity, a scattering pas, even among those who seek to defend the impure who are currently novelists. You have often observed this tendency. It manifests itself in a focus on the threats to those impurities that we like, to the forms of speech we ourselves tend to value. For many in Europe, for example, this is the threat of violent Muslims against speech perceived as anti-Islam. But while this menace is real and dangerous( albeit encountered much more by novelists in Asia and Africa than in Europe ), it is not the only menace. Indeed it is not the largest nor the most significant one, in terms of the numbers of writers it affects and the aggregate quantity of harm that befalls them. Around the world the hazards writers face come from criminals, from the powerful in their own communities, and from their own governments, far more often than from Muslim terrorists.

To focus only on one form of suppression, then, while ignoring the others, operates the risk of seeking to harness outrage as a weapon, rather than as a shield. Of failing to value the impurity of writing, and instead opening a new front in the battle of one purity against another.

When we celebrate writers for their bravery, it is also worth asking if there are writers whose gallantry consists, in part, of standing up not to others but to us. Standing up not to the monsters without, about whom we speak so often, but to the monsters within, which we prefer not to notice. Writers who undermine our cherished nations, militaries, borders, races, clans, beliefs.

For there are many kinds of heroes, or rather many utilizes for them. There are those heroes who inspire. But there are heroes, too, who remind us of our own potential for villainy, impure mirrors who reflect back at us the false purities we conceal. Such novelists may go unsung, understandably. But when they go unprotected, we risk losing with them the possibility for the best within us, that redemptive impurity we shall seriously need in the times to come.

Adapted from a speech dedicated for PEN International Free the Word! at Winternachten 2018. Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West is published by Penguin in paperback on 8 February. Illustration by Christophe Gowans.

Mobile dating apps spur HIV epidemic among AsiaaEUR( tm) s adolescents, says UN

1 month, 11 days ago

Smartphone technology has increased the opportunities for casual sex and led to a spike in HIV infections among teens in Asia, researchers find

United Nations research has observed the growing utilize of mobile dating apps by young gays men is a major factor in a new HIV epidemic among adolescents in Asia, the Guardian can reveal.

The report uncovered a upsurge of HIV infections among 10 -1 9 years olds in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the worlds 1.2 billion teens live.

The two-year study found that smartphone dating apps have expanded possibilities for spontaneous casual sex as never before.

The epidemic is fastest growing amongst men who have sex with humen. Other groups include those who are sexually exploited by or engaged in sexuality work, people who inject drugs, and young transgender people.

Young lesbian men themselves has systematically told us that they are now utilizing mobile dating apps to meet up for sexuality, and are having more casual sex with more people as a result. We know that this kind of risky behaviour increases the spread of HIV, said Wing-Sie Cheng, HIV/ Aids consultant for Unicef in east Asia and the Pacific.

We are hence convinced that there is a connection, and that we need to work better with mobile app providers to share information about HIV and safeguard the health of adolescents.

The previously unreported epidemic threatens the UNs goal to end the global Aids crisis by 2030, which appeared achievable after a sharp drop in Africa during the past 15 years.

Adolescents are also more likely to die of Aids-related demises, researchers from Unicef and UNAIDS detected, as they are less inclined to seek therapy, dreading they will be stigmatised or forcing them to expose their sexuality to their family or the authorities concerned. In many countries in the region, under-1 8s cannot get an HIV test without parental consent.

Dating site visits

While global HIV infections are dropping, the number of teens aged 10 -1 9 officially living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific has grown to more than 220,000, with the unofficial number expected to be much higher, Unicef says. Fewer than half of them are receiving treatment and demises have risen nearly every year for a decade.

An HIV-positive Filipino man aged 30, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect himself from abuse, said it was hard to find sex for a gay teen, bullied at school and closed off from the adult-only lesbian bars.

At university, the introduction of internet dating chat rooms and online forums allowed him to find more sex partners his age. He would chat with men and agree to rent a room for a few hours in the capital.

If I write down all the people I had sexuality with in Manila, I can probably write one to five people for each stop of the metro, he said.

Smartphones and mobile dating revolutionised his sex life. Whereas internet dating involved a laborious process of arranging a session up, dating apps are location-based, allowing users to scan their surroundings for others.

Dating site visits

Even if youre still in school and “youre feeling” the need to have sex, you just open Grindr, he said. You dont even have to talk to them. People simply send you naked photos or photos of their cocks. If youre fine with them, you just go and have sex.

The immediacy of the sexuality, organised in minutes, attained condom utilize less likely, he said. I did use condoms. But it was not consistent. You dont want to lose the momentum.

Despite his promiscuous mobile dating years, the Filipino mans HIV test returned negative and he entered into a long-term relationship. But two years later he contracted the virus from his boyfriend who was secretly cheating on him by employing mobile dating apps.

In the Philippines, new HIV infections among teenagers have doubled in four years. In Bangkok, young gay humen now have a one in three opportunity of HIV infection.

HIV rates in Bangkok

And eighteen countries across the Asia-Pacific region criminalise against same-sex relationships which UNAIDS says causes lesbian humen to avoid life-saving HIV services.

A separate study last year found that men who have sex with men utilizing dating apps are at greater hazard of contracting gonorrhoea and chlamydia than those who gratify in-person or on the internet.

Wing-Sie, the Unicef adviser, said that dating apps create networks of men, in which infections rapidly spread among users. Mobile dating apps essentially hook you up to a central network.

She said the study looked at observational trends around the region reported by United Nations policemen and local community workers who said their HIV strategy urgently needed to adapt to the explosion of mobile dating apps. HIV is a covert issue, it is very hidden. So data is not available.

She said researchers found that with the rise of these apps, the probability and risk of infection will increase multifold because it stimulates it so much easier for them to date other guys and hook up for sex, she said.

A spokesman from Grindr, used in 196 countries worldwide with 1 million active users every minute, said it has a minimum age requirement of 18. As the worlds largest homosexual platform, we take matters of sex health very seriously, the spokesman said, adding that Grindr runs in-app proclamations fostering testing at local clinics.

David S Novak, senior health strategist at Online Buddies, the mother company of the dating app Jackd, directed the Guardian to its ManHunt Cares project, which provides health resources to its users. In 2009, the company also set up a research institute focusing on lesbian sex health.

Other major dating app companies Tinder, Blued and Growlr did not respond to requests for comment.

The UN report says these apps can become vital conduits promoting sexual health, including HIV messaging and testing, and references a 2014 World Aids Day project by the Chinese gays dating app Blued where a red ribbon was added next to every users profile scene, linking to details of nearby testing centres.

Wing-Sie said Unicef will approach mobile dating app companies in the next month for a collaborative endeavor and so the world body might collect data to further investigate the impact of mobile dating.

Based in Bangkok, Jesse Krisintu has been working with charities trying to persuade young people to get tested for HIV through tactics such as pop-up advertisements on dating apps. He said the project did not work.

Dating site visitors by PC

Its their business. If they advertise too much about HIV/ Aids services there, do you think people are going to go online? he said.

He said that one project involving pop-ups offered discounts on HIV tests but that very few were claimed and that the analytics depicts most users instantly closed the pop-up advert.

The application is where the key population is but no one is going to read the pop-up because the purpose of people going to those apps to find sex , not to find knowledge. The results are not that favourable, he said. People merely close it.

The UN is now also advocating for comprehensive sex education beyond a simple explanation of the sex organ and for reducing the age at which adolescents can take an HIV test without parental consent.

AIDS is already the leading cause of demise for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among teens globally, tripling over the past 15 years and largely as a result of mother-to-child transmission. However, this new breed of epidemic found in Asia-Pacific could be replicated elsewhere, public health officials warn.

There is a risk of not being able to eliminate Aids at all, Wing-Sie said. This is the new frontier of Aids to tackle right now. The world can never end Aids if this matter is not controlled.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Trouble in Venice: can this trendy LA enclave reconcile a deep divide?

2 months, 2 days ago

As the neighborhood inundations with tech workers and new wealth, its homeless population holds rising and a political battle is raging over what to do

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It is less than a hundred yards from the hipster restaurants, cafe, and giant street art installations of Main Street in Venice, California, to a straggly line of industrial warehouses and storage facilities where a homeless encampment has sprawled over an entire city block.

Tents and shopping carts filled with garb and possessions obstruct sidewalks and parking spaces along 3rd Street and Rose Avenue and prompt unceasing complaints from nearby residents as well as stares of astonishment from tourists. The encampment, home to people with nowhere else to go, is a constant reminder that all is not well in one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in North America.

Outside in America about

Venice is the quintessential southern Calfornia beach community, an edgy, artsy pocket of the city of Los Angeles where industry, poverty and creativity have always procured a style to coexist. But it is also ground zero in a battle in which an unprecedented official effort to fight homelessness across Los Angeles is being met with growing skepticism, impatience, and, from time to time, outright hostility.

At public sessions, people are openly calling homeless residents lepers and likening Venice to Baghdad. Local elections being held tomorrow pit a popular incumbent city councilman, Mike Bonin, who has championed efforts to build new low-income housing and provide services to homeless person including showers, bathroom and storage space, against an energetic underdog, Mark Ryavec, who thinks the situation is spiraling out of control.

We see snowbirds in their RVs and young people from all over treat Venice as the campsite of America, Ryavec charged. I want to provide a bus fare to send them home, because theres no future for these people here.

The future certainly seems to belong to a new wave of highly paid tech employees, many of them working for Google or Snap, who have inundated into Venice now often nicknamed Silicon Beach and pushed rents and house prices through the roof.

Industrial warehouses have been transformed into luxury condos and shabby-chic restaurants. Abbot Kinney Boulevard, once a relative backwater where local restaurants struggled to obtain liquor licenses, has become one of the trendiest streets in the country, where coffee shop offer$ 6 lattes and tables at the hottest dinner places are booked out weeks in advance. Meanwhile, the homeless population maintains rising its closely connected to 1,000 people, by some estimates, and nearly 30,000 across the city of LA as a whole.

It is this stark contrast of extreme wealth and growing poverty that has pushed city and district leaders to take unprecedented action. After decades of doing little more than moving homeless people around and offering services so they dont starve or freeze to death, the political class is inducing the instance that aiming homelessness is both a moral and an economic imperative.

Michael Michael Munsterman from Oklahoma has been homeless in Venice, California, for six years. Photo: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Up to now, the electorate has been fully on board. An impressive 76 % of Los Angeles voters approved a bond measure last November to constructed 10,000 affordable housing divisions on 12 parcels of public land around the city, including one in Venice. The signs seem promising, too, for a countywide measure on tomorrows vote that would increase the sales tax by half a percentage point and raise more than $3.5 bn for homeless programs over the next decade.

In Venice, homeless residents surely feel the difference. Reynaldo, a 59 -year-old man who sleeps in a tent on 3rd Street, said he had friends who were being moved into housing and offered help by squads of social workers, mental health consultants and addiction specialists. He appreciated the free showers and noticed a far more conciliatory stance from police, who ride down 3rd Street every couple of hours during the day to make sure tents are packed away and not being used for drug-dealing or prostitution, but no longer conduct large-scale sweeps as they used to.

If youre polite and respectful to them, theyll be the same way to you, Reynaldo said.

Still, the political leadership is under pressure. On one side are residents who say they find homeless people urinating on their front lawn and allege, like Mark Ryavec, that the new city services are only depicting more homeless people in local communities. As Ryavec set it: I do not want to see the city of LA became the trailer park of last resort for everyone who has chosen either involuntarily or voluntarily to live in their vehicles.

And on the other side are advocates who have spent decades railing against what they see as an unnecessarily belligerent police presence and worry that the climate has not changed as much as the city asserts. Becky Dennison, director of the nonprofit Venice Community Housing, said the city was not doing nearly enough to slow gentrification. At the same time, she noted that the police continue to enforce a nighttime beach curfew, close the boardwalk to pedestrians at twilight and, under an regulation that came into impact last month, send people sleeping in their automobiles to one of just a handful of streets zoned exclusively for industrial use.

The idea that we are going to be able move people around and criminalize them doesnt cut it, Dennison said. We need to build and preserve affordable housing to protect the racial and economic diversity of Venice.

Josh Josh Corr from Las Vegas( left) and Laz from Miami( right) on Venice Beach, where they have been living for a year. Photo: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Such strong opinions have made for a vigorous and, at times, nasty political season. In the city council race, Ryavec has been accused, unfairly, of an association with Donald Trump because he briefly represented Trumps hotel interests as a lobbyist 26 years ago. He, in turn, has accused his challenger, sitting councilmember Mike Bonin, of working to cover up an MRSA infection outbreak at the 3rd Street encampment, an accusation that city and county health officials say has no basis in fact.

Much of the citys plan for Venice hinges on a new low-income housing facility now being developed on the site of a parking lot on Venice Boulevard.( It was one of the sites approved by voters in November .) But those schemes are under threat from yet another item on tomorrows election agenda a slow-growth vote initiative, championed by adversaries of mega-developments budding in Hollywood and elsewhere in Los Angeles.

If it passes, the initiative would freeze parts of the city planning process for two years and proscribe almost all the low-income housing developments, including the one in Venice. Its future prospects that both alarms and infuriates advocates of the homeless.

You cant complain for years and years that the city isnt doing something substantive about homelessness and then, when they do start acting, say youre against it, Becky Dennison said.

On the streets, people like Reynaldo are watching the battle unfold without too many expectations one route or the other. I merely live day to day, he said, and stay out of trouble.

This narrative was updated on 6 March to correct the location of Venices new low-income housing facility

Spooky! Messages from the beyond or merely coincidence? | Oliver Burkeman

2 months, 7 days ago

Weve all heard eyebrow-raising narratives so whats really going on?

In 1944, a British soldier battle in Italy was knocked unconscious by shell fragments. That same day in Monmouthshire, he later recollected, my wife was washing up after lunch. My daughter, aged two and a half, to whom I was only a name, was playing with some bricks on the kitchen floor. She suddenly got to her feet, gone over to my wife, said Daddys been hurt, and went back to her bricks.

This eyebrow-raising tale appears in Connecting With Coincidence, a new book by the psychiatrist Bernard Beitman along with so many others it becomes easier to keep ones eyebrows permanently raised. Beitman has one of his own: in 1973, he found himself inexplicably choking at his kitchen sink merely to learn, the next day, that his father had choked on his own blood and died at the same moment .~ ATAGEND

The rationalist in me knows this all comes down to the law of truly large numbers, which states that, given a large enough sample, many seemingly unlikely things become downright probable. Even presuming the soldiers memories were accurate, so many fought in the second world war that its virtually inevitable a few would have odd tales. Beitman tells of one therapist who dreamed of an ex-patient lying immobile in a beach shack; subsequently, he learned that one week after that dream, that patient had taken an overdose in a seaside hotel and nearly died. Spooky! But less so when you factor in the patients the therapist didnt dream about not to mention all the other therapists with no such anecdotes to relate.

Still, Beitman makes an intriguing lawsuit for approaching coincidences as if they werent simply random, whatever your notion. Connecting With Coincidence is full of people taking such happenings as signs, telling them who to marry, whether to have kids or get divorced and it serves them rather well. One widow injures her finger while gardening, forcing hospital staff to cut away her wedding ring, which she takes as a sign from her “husbands ” that its OK to date again. A message from beyond the grave? Presumably not. Did she subconsciously arrange the trauma herself? Perhaps. But Im not sure it matters: either way, the incident smoothed a transition shed been struggling to make.

All very unscientific, I know. But the truth is that the biggest personal decisions in life cant be made in scientific way anyway; there are too many variables involved. Yet we often do seem to know, just below the surface of awareness, whats best for us and noticing how we respond to bizarre coincidences can provide clues to that subconscious knowledge.

One of Beitmans patients, his marriage on the rocks, has a thrilling encounter with an old girlfriend in a bar, which he seems to take as a sign he should recommit to his marriage. Why not as a sign that he should leave his wife? Both interpretations work, but only one had meaning for him. Its odd to ask whether such coincidental encounters genuinely entail anything, as if theyd need to be choreographed by some cosmic force-out. Who says thats what meaning entails?

oliver.burkeman @theguardian. com

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘ It’s not about your age, it’s about your notions ‘: the teen power listing

2 months, 13 days ago

Meet 25 young activists, scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs and big thinkers shaping your future

Harley Bird, 14, Tring, UK

An actors life is hard: its just one audition after another, and you have to grow a wall-thick skin to deal with all the rejection. For Bird, however, things went a little differently: she was signed to the Alphabet Kidz agency just before her sixth birthday and two weeks later beat hundreds of other young actors to land the lead role in a 1.4bn show.

She is the voice of Peppa Pig, the eponymous piglet who enjoys dressing up and jumping in muddy puddles. Bird, who in real life has two pet pigs (called, of course, Peppa and George), has now voiced Peppa Pig for eight years. Early on, she was too young to read the scripts, but that didnt stop her winning a Bafta at nine.

The show, while simple in its format of five-minute episodes, has taken the world by storm and is now shown in 180 territories and broadcast in 40 different languages. Not bad for a first role. Were there any clues that this one audition would lead to a starring role in a global franchise? Bird has said she doesnt understand it herself. I just auditioned and they said my voice matched. because it is quite husky.

Mihir Garimella, 16, Pennsylvania

Mihir
Mihir Garimella won the 2014 Google Computer Science award. Photograph: Courtesy of Mihir Garimella

Some teens might be grossed out by a bowl of bananas starting to rot and attract flies; high school student Garimella came up with a potentially life-saving idea. The flybot a tiny, flying robot that avoids obstacles by mimicking the way a fruit fly avoids threats and moving obstacles could be used in search-and-rescue missions in dangerous environments, and went on to win the Google Computer Science award in 2014. Garimella has since turned his hand to everything from robotic violin tuners to algorithms that could help doctors diagnose brain tumours.

Shubham Banerjee, 15, California

Shubhan
Shubhan Banerjee, founder of Braigo Labs. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Banerjee turned his Lego bricks into a braille printer for the blind for a school science project, it wasnt just the famous toy company that was singing the then 12-year-olds praises. The product, which made computing more affordable for millions of visually impaired people, also caught the attention of Intel, and the award-winning Braigo Labs (an amalgamation of Lego and braille) was born. Hes solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing industry, Edward Ross, director of inventor platforms at Intel, has said. Thats really what its all about.

Benjamin Kickz Kapelushnik, 16, Florida

Benjamin
Benjamin Kapelushnik: sneaker broker to the stars. Photograph: Complex

What started as a hobby, buying rare trainers and selling them on to classmates, is now a lucrative enterprise. A sneaker broker to the stars (Chris Brown and Drake are fans), Kapelushnik has accumulated 5,000 pairs and is well on his way to making his first million.

Rayouf Alhumedhi, 15, Germany

Rayouf
Rayouf Alhumedhi. emoji designer. Photograph: Courtesy of Rayouf Alhumedhi

While chatting with her friends on social media, this Saudi teen living in Germany realised there was no emoji to represent her, so she designed one. Now shes campaigning to get it added to phones (its currently being considered by the Unicode Consortium). In this day and age, representation is extremely important, Alhumedhi said. People want to be acknowledged. There are so many Muslim women in this world who wear the headscarf. It might seem trivial, but its different when you see yourself on the keyboard around the world.

Willow Smith, 16, California

Willow
Willow Smith: youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label. Photograph: Broadimage/REX Shutterstock

After making her acting debut at the age of seven alongside her father in I Am Legend, the daughter of Hollywood golden couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith has forged her own way, becoming the youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label, Roc Nation, at 10 remember Whip My Hair? Since then, shes swapped the smiley, happy, preteen style for a cooler, pared-back, Instagram-friendly aesthetic. She has starred in a Marc Jacobs ad, and this year Karl Lagerfeld made her his muse, photographing her for Chanel AW16. She and her older brother, Jaden (star of Netflixs The Get Down, directed by Baz Luhrmann), have been dubbed the coolest teens on the planet.

Sasha Obama, 15, Washington DC

Sasha
Sasha Obama has had a unique global education. Photograph: Getty Images

Barack and Michelle Obamas youngest has lived her teen years in the White House (she was seven at her fathers inauguration), but stays down to earth: she spent the summer working on the till in a seafood shack (even if secret service agents sat at the tables outside). Her awkward moments have been captured the world over (most recently when Malia, 18, was snapped giving Sasha a sarcastic thumbs up as her little sister spoke to actor Ryan Reynolds at a Canadian state dinner).

More importantly, Sasha has had a unique global education, meeting Malala Yousafzai at the White House, and helping her mother promote womens education in Liberia and Morocco. In this years Thanksgiving message, the outgoing president described his daughters as funny, smart, humble and extraordinary young women. All eyes on the next-gen Obamas.

Maddie Ziegler, 14, Pennsylvania

Maddie
Maddie Ziegler: thrust into the limelight aged eight. Photograph: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

The pint-sized dancer was thrust into the limelight aged just eight, when she starred on US reality show Dance Moms. But she reached a global audience thanks to Australian singer Sia, who cast her in the video for Elastic Heart. Four videos, several world tours and stage appearances later, Ziegler has become more recognisable wearing her cropped blond Sia wig than sporting her natural hair. She has modelled for Ralph Lauren and become a judge on the junior version of So You Think You Can Dance.

Brooklyn Beckham, 17, London and Los Angeles

Brooklyn
Next year Brooklyn Beckham will be bringing out a photography book. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

Photographing the Burberry campaign, skateboarding through his mother Victorias Dover Street store and hooking up with Hollywood ingenue Chlo Grace Moretz; the eldest Beckham kid couldnt attract more attention if he had followed his father, David, on to the football pitch. Last week, Beckham announced to his 8.8m Instagram followers that next year he will be bringing out What I See, a photography book published by Penguin Random House. If even a small proportion of his social media followers buys the book, he has a bestseller on his hands.

Kiara Nirghin, 16, Johannesburg

This year, as South Africa suffered its worst drought since 1982, a Johannesburg schoolgirl came up with a potential solution. Nirghin found an orange peel mixture had better water-retaining properties than existing super-absorbent polymers, which are usually expensive and non-biodegradable. Her invention, which aims to help farmers save both money and crops, is made up of waste products from the juice manufacturing process, including discarded orange and avocado peel; it won Nirghin a $50,000 scholarship at the annual Google Science Fair.

Yara Shahidi, 16, Minnesota

Yara
Yara Shahidi: star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

The half-Iranian star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish (a sitcom about an upper-middle-class African American family) is passionate about media diversity: We are in the middle of a representation renaissance, she has said. She is constantly in conversation about keeping roles for women and people of colour multifaceted and representative of our true nature.

Flynn McGarry, 17, New York

Flynn
Flynn McGarry: has taken up residency in New Yorks Kava espresso bar. Photograph: Courtesy of Eureka

Sick of being cooked kid food by his parents, McGarry took matters into his own hands with a little bit of help from The French Laundry Cookbook. By 11, he was hosting a supper club in his mums kitchen, cooking progressive American cuisine; at 15, he was charging $160 a head for his eight-course tasting menu. He has now taken up residency in New York espresso bar Kava, under the name Eureka, where his 16-course feasts are becoming the stuff of legend.

Gavin Grimm, 17, Virginia

Grimm didnt plan to become the poster boy for a national fight for equal rights for transgender students, but when his school wouldnt allow him to use the boys toilets, a long legal battle ensued. The result, now in the hands of the supreme court, could have implications for young trans people all over the US. That I have the opportunity to ensure that, hopefully, fewer kids or anybody will have to go through this in the future makes me feel good, Grimm said.

Katie Griffiths, Josie Baldwin, Emily Bowes and Alex Hill, all 16, Stratford-upon-Avon

These Stratford Girls grammar school pupils were shocked to discover that young LGBT people are at much higher risk of depression and suicide; two years ago they teamed up to create the Im Okay app, giving support and information to young people exploring their sexuality and gender. Thousands of people have since downloaded the app from the Google Play store; it won a national Apps for Good award in 2014.

Jeffery Xiong, 16, Texas

The USs second youngest player to become a chess grandmaster, Xiong stormed on to the scene aged 14 and snatched first place at the 24th Chicago Open. He played his first game at five, when he decided to join a friend who was playing by himself. Xiong carried on until he was the worlds under-20 champion, at just 15.

Krtin Nithiyanandam, 16, Surrey

Krtin
Krtin Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize. Photograph: Newsquest

In 2015, Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize for developing a test to diagnose Alzheimers 10 years before any symptoms appear. An antibody is injected that then attaches to proteins present in the earliest stages of the disease; the injection contains fluorescent particles that can be picked up on a brain scan.

This early diagnosis could help families prepare for the future and ensure that existing drugs are used to better effect, Nithiyanandam explained. The Surrey schoolboy is now tackling the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, a rare form found in 15-20% of women with breast cancer. It doesnt respond to drugs, and must be treated with a risky combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Most cancers have receptors on their surface that bind to drugs like tamoxifen, but triple negative doesnt, Nithiyanandam explained. Working at home and in his school lab, he has found a way to block a protein that prevents those receptors from forming, thus turning this type of breast cancer into one that responds to drugs. Science isnt about your age, its about ideas, he told Wired magazine.

Mone Davis, 15, Philadelphia

Mone
Mone Davis: the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series. Photograph: AP

Formerly a Little League baseball pitcher, Davis was the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series, and the first female to pitch a winning game. The baseball (and basketball) prodigy was spotted at the age of seven while playing with her older brothers. Since releasing her memoir last year, Mone Davis: Remember My Name, she has designed trainers to raise money for Plan Internationals Because I Am A Girl campaign, aimed at helping lift girls in the developing world out of poverty.

Ben Pasternak, 17, Australia

Dubbed the next Mark Zuckerberg, Pasternak created the chart-topping app Impossible Rush (a colour-matching game) that was downloaded more than 1.3m times and made him a tech star at just 15. That success allowed him to secure just under $2m in funding from major Silicon Valley investors, move to Manhattan and launch his own startup, Flogg. He had noticed that friends were increasingly selling unwanted items to people they knew through Facebook, rather than to strangers on Gumtree or eBay. Yet Facebook wasnt really doing anything to look after their user experience. So he created an app that allows users to buy and sell items through their Facebook connections with a swipe left or right; the Sydney Morning Herald described Flogg as the love child of Tinder and eBay.

Lewys Ball, 17, London

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