Catch 22

All artists, writers, actors and others in the public eye, such as politicians, are inadvertently open to criticism if they open up and speak their truth (or voice their opinions). The same holds true for someone standing up and sharing their journey of hardship. I’ve often deliberated back and forth between going public with my infertility journey. I certainly do not regret sharing it publicly; but I do wonder how far I should go with it – how much of the truth should I tell? By letting my story out, I am completely vulnerable and can be a subject of matter discussed – open to judgement. By (over)sharing, it’s like putting myself (and my husband) in the firing line. But if we (as society in general) keep hiding and covering up reality, we will never move forward. Believe me – it is so easy to ignore a situation. It is the ‘safer’ option. But perhaps, in order to shed light and bring awareness to a situation, we have to bite the bullet. I have found that more than being vulnerable, our story has actually struck a chord with many and, hopefully, given others some strength in knowing that they are not alone. It is the first step at chipping away the stigma that is infertility.

By writing (or using any kind of expression as a form of delivering your story), I feel you have a responsibility to be truthful and take ownership of your views. And the truth does not always taste sweet. (Ah, the bitter truth.)

In her weekly column for the Daily Mail, ex-Vogue UK Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman’s post on Sunday was what I term to be ‘controversial’ journalism – it created a lot of debate but resulted in more readers being offended than agreeing to her views, and prompted Ms Shulman to delete her post on her Instagram page. (‘Good’ journalism, in my opinion, generates debate, where both sides can be argued with valid points and without name-shaming.) Her post was addressing the issue of not dressing ‘age-appropriately’. I personally tend to agree to a certain extent. Sure, everyone should feel empowered enough to dress however they see fit. But, there is a fine line between acting blasé and looking tacky.

I once attended an event a few years ago (I cannot even remember what kind of event it was – it was that uneventful), but it was full of culturally minded people – Indians. Anyway, there was a ‘mature’ lady sat at my table who was dressed in this absurdly inappropriate gown that showed a bit too much flesh.

(I know, you may be aghast that I, as a woman, am judging on how another woman dresses and whatever happened to letting each to their own and women empowerment? Well, I’m not one to shy away from voicing and owning my thoughts. I’m always up for a good, solid debate so I invite you to be a worthy adversary. To add; just as one aspect of women empowerment holds the flag for ‘freedom of choice’, another aspect celebrates differing opinions.)

Back to the above point of the lady and her choice of styling. I kept my initial thought to myself (I display some tact when necessary). After introductions, she found a need to voice her thoughts and proceeded to ask me outright, “Do I look like mutton dressed as lamb?”

(Full credit to her for being so direct.)

The question left me baffled for only a moment, after which I simply replied, “Yes”, whilst the other members of our table averted their gaze in, somewhat, confused fashion.

(Full credit to the both of us for being honest.)

Now, let’s refer back to the article by Alexandra Shulman. Where her argument fell short, was the fact that she specifically pinpointed Helena Christensen and her choice of a black lace bustier to a party. (I personally do not think the issue was about age appropriacy because Helena does look fabulous; the issue for me was wearing underwear as outerwear purely because, even if I was in my twenties, I would not dream of wearing that. Tsk tsk – fashion these days is just not that simple.) Name-shaming, regardless of how valid your view may be, just reduces your intention to pulp. Hence, this article generated a great deal of controversy. One could argue that without giving examples (i.e., naming), a more ‘general’ view may not be ‘juicy’ enough for the tabloids or for your story to gain traction. I think it’s safe to admit that any good journalism includes a bit of controversy – it’s only good ‘reading’ when the topic irks or resonates with you completely. Otherwise, we all tend to just bypass and ignore it. That’s why the politician with the most controversial viewpoints is discussed most and we pay attention to them most, whether we agree or disagree with their views. That’s why anyone who puts themselves out there is at the forefront of interest. Sideliners, unfairly, get forgotten. It’s the way of life. By putting yourself out there, yes you are vulnerable and open to judgement and objection. But it also gives you a platform to really open discussion on topics that are otherwise not understood.

I was quite surprised to find that Ms Shulman had taken down her post on Instagram, as I would have hoped that she ‘owned’ up to her views and stood her ground. Perhaps, it was a case of trolling? Whatever the reason, since the post is public on the Daily Mail, why let trolls or people with other opinions bring you down? (This is a topic to explore further … maybe in the future.)

It’s a catch 22 – by putting your views out there you should expect backlash.

(Because we all know that saying where we judge someone by what they read, etcetera, I better address the fact that I read the Daily Mail. On most days [not daily], this is where I get my information about the happenings of the world. That and flicking through the news on television. I’m not ashamed to admit this as it gives me all the information I want. I also read many books, occasionally read the New Scientist, follow many writers and artistically inclined individuals, and catch up on other worldly events on social media. That sums up my reading ‘material’.)

I had left a comment on Ms Shulman’s Instagram post (sadly since the post has been deleted, you nor I can refer to it anymore). Amongst other things, I wrote about how, in my opinion, celebrities only make up a small part of the community and the problems we face at large; they do not need more fickle exposure. She (Shulman) has the platform to actually write about something more valid and she should use it (the platform). If it has to be celebrity-centric (since she is of that ilk), why not talk about meaningful issues that we all face today?

For example, in an interview in February this year, the actress Selma Blair spoke about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis on camera for the first time. It is so brave and heart-warming to see someone in the limelight who is so honest about what they are going through. Did she think she would be vulnerable once she is opened about her diagnosis? Probably. Did it stop her from getting her story out? Nope.

I can probably count the number of celebrities (or women in the spotlight) who have come forward with their struggles with infertility; Michelle Obama, Chrissy Teigen … okay I can’t think of anymore at the moment, but there are a few names we all have come across.

Kudos to them all for raising awareness and for letting individuals like myself, know that we are not in this alone. That infertility is not taboo; it is real. And that is affects our lives profoundly. (Actually, my husband would probably disagree with me a little. You see, he bought Michelle Obama’s book ‘Becoming’ because he was interested in reading about her infertility journey. Turns out, she mentions it and that’s it. He [my husband], felt a little deflated that that was all to it [infertility]. He was expecting so much more to help and reassure him that, yes, there are powerful individuals who have had the same difficulty as we have. That we are not alone in this. [I cannot comment as I have not read the book].)

On the other hand, how many ‘Indian’ celebrities do you know of that have come forward with their infertility stories? You know, whilst doing the rounds at the various fertility clinics and meeting individuals in the same boat as us, you hear whispers from the grapevine about certain Indian celebrities who have had fertility treatments in the same clinics that we have visited; yet, this is all just ‘gossip’ since these celebrities have not come forth to claim the stories. Is it a cultural problem, to not address this head-on? I’m not convinced. Are we prone to more secrecy in our lives? I’m not sure. (I would refer to this attitude as ‘The Indian/Cultural Lie’ – a good title for another post, no?)

It takes a lot more guts to ‘confess’ and be open about something so deeply personal. But perhaps, it takes just as much strength to hold it in and not let the world see your pain. One releases your pain but relinquishes your privacy; the other maintains your privacy and keeps your ‘image’ intact, but you never get to share your struggle (at least not with the ‘public’). However, I have no doubt that either way you choose, you still live with the wound(s).

It’s a catch 22. You are damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

Coming back to the beginning of this post where I explained how I’ve often deliberated back and forth between going public with my infertility journey, and how any good ‘debate’ requires solid arguments from both sides, here is a take from another view. A couple I know had no trouble conceiving their first child. However, they experienced secondary infertility and had to go through IVF to conceive their second. Other than a select few people, they have not told anyone about this. Their reasoning was that, “We didn’t go around announcing to everyone that our first was conceived naturally, so why should we go about announcing how our second was conceived?” Truly valid points. It is actually nobody else’s business how they had their children.

Everyone chooses what aspects of their lives they wish to share with the world. My belief is that if you have the platform, you should use it to share because however raw, difficult and painful it can be for yourself and those involved, you may be able to help someone else.

If you prefer to keep it to yourself, that is okay too.

In the end, celebrities are just like all of us. Some are brave enough to shed light on important issues; some are brave enough to not let it affect them. But, thankfully, no matter the access to platforms or the bank balance in our accounts, we all have moments of fashion faux pas.

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