English classes: the key to integration

by Dr Jenny Philimore For many years now politicians and the tabloids have pointed to so-called self-segregation of migrants and their alleged reluctance to speak English as responsible for their lack of integration into economy and society in the UK. As a result much policy focus has been placed on trying to encourage cross-community connections and linking applications for citizenship to ability to speak English. New research from the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham, and the University of Cardiff provides evidence showing that for refugees at least, there is no reality behind the rhetoric. Using survey data – the [more]

Latin American Regimes

  An overview of a troubled past   By Tania Farias “From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people's voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated - because of his [more]

Asylum seeker pregnancy: a very sad situation

By Tania Farias Pregnancy is a very special state for a woman, one which requires complex and specialist care to assure the well–being of both, the mother and the unborn child. Pregnancy is also a time to share and be cheerful with family and friends. However, not every woman can enjoy such a protective support and some of them are exposed to very unstable situations. A pregnant asylum seeker under the support of sections 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be offered accommodation and financial support but she won’t be exempt from UKBA dispersal policies, meaning [more]

Reflections: Through the eyes of a refugee

By Mercedes What do I hear when I listen to the city, when I look to the future in this place that surrounds me? I see a neighbourhood of multiple languages, cultures, sounds, and fragrances. I see a woman wishing to tell the city that she and her child crossed the ocean and several continents to feel secure. She did not want to hear the screams of people running from the effects of war, hunger and disease. She wants to explain that she doesn’t understand what happened. Her town was peaceful before the modern tanks and men in strange clothes speaking strange [more]

Each journey entails a hundred possibilities

By Kate Monkhouse Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees and other forcibly displaced people, promoting their rights and providing a range of direct services. In London, JRS UK runs a weekly day centre at its base in Wapping, where each week up to 120 refugees come for lunch, some practical help and to share the joys and sadness of life in this country. In carrying out its activities JRS UK works in partnership with like-minded organisations, such as English PEN, a free speech and literature charity that campaigns to defend and promote free expression. English PEN’s trainers have run several creative [more]

From Sri Lanka With Surgical Skills

Vicky Ilankovan interviews her father Since I was eight I wanted to be a doctor. I still remember using pencils as injection cylinders and giving people sachets of powder from the kitchen to make them feel better. The concept of doing something to help people has always fascinated me. However, the year that I was to enter medical school in Sri Lanka was the year the policy of standardisation came into force. This meant that Tamils needed substantially higher marks than Sinhalese in order to get into university. For example, Tamils needed 250 points to get into medical school whereas the Sinhalese [more]

Jessica Ennis

Fat or fiction?

By: N. N. Dee

English athlete Jessica Ennis. Photo by Adam Kerfoot-Roberts.

English track and field athlete Jessica Ennis’ personal bests and record-breaking heptathletic feat could not have come at a more opportune time. Only last Friday it was revealed that a “high-ranking” athletics official had described Ennis as “fat”. What is remarkable about this is that anyone looking at Ennis would not dream of attributing to her a label that is so grossly inaccurate.  She is not anywhere near overweight or even chubby – two milestones one would certainly have to arrive at before one could be convincingly called “fat”.

I myself am no athletic official so cannot exactly be considered an authority on matters such as this, but I think that the average person would agree that Ennis’ physique more closely resembles “muscular”, “well-toned”, “strong”, “athletic” or any of a host of other words that do not denote surplus deposits of fatty tissue.

Apart from being untrue, the description of Ennis as “fat’ also reveals something very telling in society today: women are constantly bombarded with unfair and downright erroneous messages about their bodily appearance. The official’s inaccurate comment captures with absolute precision the serious body-image challenge that the typical woman faces today. The official’s voice simply articulated the non-verbal message women face on a daily basis – the fictitious message that physical feminine form achieves its pinnacle in “beauty” – a vague notion of some physical proportional dimensions increasingly being promoted as “ideal”.

Some women desperately aspire to this false (and unhealthy) ideal. They go to great lengths to conform as best they can to achieve what others deem to be an acceptable body image. Lamentably, in the process, many self-destruct, falling prey to depression, eating disorders and/or many other unhealthy behavior patterns.

If female athletes who are in peak physical form face such criticism, what hope is there for typically un-athletic women, who often feel ill equipped to cope and respond effectively when inaccurate and condescending labels are thrown at them? While it is a monumental task to surmount given the sheer volume of messages coming through to women from multiple sources, Jessica Ennis has provided an excellent example of how to deal with such messages.

By clever vowel substitution, Ennis proudly declared that she is “fit”, thereby effectively nullifying the label of being fat, not deigning to engage with the inaccurate label. In other words, she defined herself on her own terms. This act of self-determination and self-mastery of destiny, spells ultimate empowerment.

Even if she were fat (which she clearly is not), she is performing (and excelling!) in her chosen field and that is what matters. If actions speak louder than words, then her smashing of Denise Lewis’ heptathletic record, scream that “fit” is indeed the most appropriate word to describe her physical condition. She has indisputably proved that it would be a fiction to think anything else.

Her approach is flawless: pay less attention to how my body looks and more attention to what I am able to achieve once I put my mind and effort into it. This is the important factor – constructive achievement following applied effort and discipline in honing skill in one’s chosen field. Many women would do well to emulate this model rather than preoccupying themselves with societal messages of emphasis on size and image.

Ennis’ triumphs in Götzis this past weekend are being heralded as predictors of Olympic gold for Team Great Britain at the games, a mere 60 days away. That would be the icing on the cake. To my mind however, the a constructive model of effort and determination over preoccupation with size and image that Ennis demonstrates for girls and women everywhere, is conclusive proof that she is already a true Olympian success.