When I was a kid I was frightened of lots of things, seemingly normal things for a 7 or 8 year old to be concerned with. I was a bit of a morbid little girl and had a fascination with the macabre, so read books like ‘The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts’ and ‘Usborne’s Supernatural Guides: Mysterious Powers and Strange Forces’, as well as a Hamlyn book on ‘Mysteries’, this would also lead into a teenage obsession with guts and gore writer, Shaun Hutson (the British Stephen King). I was obsessed with these books and their classically creepy illustrations and ghoulish stories. They also frightened the absolute living shite out of me. I would often fear that there was a ghost, waiting for me, at the end of the bed at my dad’s house or that Mum’s great uncle (whose house we had inadvertently moved into) was lurking in the shadows. Although the long running joke about “John” was that he was there to protect us all, except for my Uncle Allan, who had numerous accidents whilst trying to decorate our house when we weren’t in! Poor Al! Then there was my mysterious rocking chair, a small wooden rocking chair that in the middle of the night, I would get up and walk around (if I needed to run downstairs for a wee), then walk back around when I came back, because I didn’t want to bruise my shins. I would get into bed and remember that I did not, in fact, have a small wooden rocking chair in my room. I always wondered if the chair was a latent memory or some kind of imprint on the room.
Then there was the real fear, a fear that chilled me to my very core. There was a phenomenon that could just take me at any moment. I would be there one day and then the next… POOF! Up in smoke! Yep, I was TERRIFIED of Spontaneous Human Combustion. I was convinced that one day I would end up in front of a fire place and all that would be left would be a pair of boots and a stumpy part of my leg. I shared some of my fears with my secret girl gang and it turned out I wasn’t alone. In fact one lady stated that she and her friends managed to terrify the hell out of themselves reading an article on Spontaneous Human Combustion and then whist watching Blair Witch, they were all too scared to huddle together in case they all went up in flames! It made me feel better that I was not alone in my crazy arsed fear. The pictures of cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion make me shudder and balk, but I weirdly cannot take my eyes from them. And despite the theory of Spontaneous Human Combustion being debunked numerous times, I still have that tiny bit of doubt… what if I do sit too close to the fire? Am I overheating? Can anyone smell burning?
Another fear came after reading the marvellous ‘BFG’ by Roald Dahl, utterly convinced that it seemed very plausible for giants to walk the streets at night. Because who would be up to see them? My childhood brain making sense of the world where, of course, everyone would go to bed at night and get up in the morning. I had to make sure that no giant was going to sneak his big old fingers in through my window and whip me from my bed, to make me into a tasty snack. So my plan was fool proof. I would be a doll. No giant would want to eat a plastic dolly would they? So I would lie as still as I could with one thumb raised up and my mouth pursed, as if I was one of those dolls that you could make suck their own thumb. I would plan not to panic and I would open my eyes and shut them a la Carol-Ann (my childhood dolly). Convinced this would work as my mum once mistook Carol-Ann for my baby cousin, and if Carol-Ann could look so human, then I could look doll-like, surely? Suffice to say I never got to know if my plan would ever work, but I did also think it wasn’t just exclusively for giants, but burglars, murderers, witches, wizards and goblins. It was a versatile plan.
Films had a lot to answer for too. I mean holy crap, some of the most loved children’s movies were actually fucking terrifying. The ‘NeverEnding Story’, with its beautiful ethereal princess, the brave Atreyu and the Luck Dragon (go on admit it, you wished you could just have one little ride on Falkor), I mean, I thought Bastian was a bit of a wang, but hey ho. That film managed to scar me for life! With the tragic death of Atreyu’s beloved horse, Artax, the morose and suicidal tortoise, Morla and the rather booby and terrifyingly lazer adorned Oracles. Then… then… THEN, there was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen on screen, even to this day… Gmork, the snarling, evil, TALKING wolf. It still sends shivers down my spine.
Another one of the ‘Girl Gang’ stated that she would sleep with her brother in thunder storms, so that if Jareth from the ‘Labyrinth’ came to claim them, he would have to take both! Films like ‘The Watcher In The Woods’, ‘The Dark Crystal’, ‘Watership Down’, ‘The Last Unicorn’, ‘The Secret of NIMH’ and ‘The Witches’ all seemed in one way or another to be made solely for purpose of traumatising our young selves! I had nightmares for weeks, after thinking I was old enough and brave enough to watch ‘An American Werewolf in London’. I wasn’t. However, it does rank as one of my favourite and possibly most quoted movies (“Stick to the path! Don’t go on the moors!”… “I missed that board, I’ve never missed that board…”). And for any of you that didn’t go back into the water after “Jaws”, it wasn’t Jaws that ruined water for me, but “Creepshow 2” and a story called “The Raft” where a big lump of black goo and bones ate a load of teenagers swimming in the lake. BBBBLLLLLUUUERRRGGHHH!
…And then there were the REAL threats… Stranger Danger (usually creepy men in white Ford Cortinas), Escalators (do you remember the ad with the welly boot getting eaten up by the teeth at the edge of the escalators??? Horrific) and ‘fire talks’ at school (feeling backs of doors with the back, not the front of your hand). All threats were made far more real by rumours of it happening to this “….girl my mum knew…” in order to add more gravitas. In order to keep us safe, but absolutely freaking us out at the same time.
Then, I think back to those times and also realise that I was not only terrified of all these perfectly normal things, but I was also terrified of becoming fat, a fear that would stay with me throughout my life. A fear that if I became fat then I would be un-loveable and therefore people would leave me. According to Jes Baker, “81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat” and those 10 year olds were more afraid of this than “cancer, war or losing both of their parents”. I was 10 when I started going to Fat Club, although I still had a more rational fear of nuclear war because of ‘When the Wind Blows’ (thanks for that one Raymond Briggs… we are still trying to get over THAT one!), than I did of being fat. However, I was still scared, I was still frightened that if I didn’t lose weight, I couldn’t be like all the other girls. Today, I can’t even fathom young girls being so much more terrified of putting on weight and being considered fat, than becoming orphaned. This is where the media has a huge amount to answer for and we need to make sure that our young people are getting the message loud and clear early on. Young people can just be themselves, they do not need to try to live up to an unobtainable image and they are beautiful just as they are. We need to get to our young people before that seed of doubt really plants itself in deep, before they become the broken adults that the Body Positivity Movement is seeking to repair.
Fear is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to feel, it stops us doing stupid shit, but sometimes we are frightened of the wrong things… mirrors, comments from other people, looks and judgement. Actually that’s all white noise. Seriously, I think I am still more terrified of Gmork.
And so I’ll end with this, don’t be frightened to take steps towards loving yourself, try to avoid showing our young people the fears that we have had instilled in us by the media and remember you are stronger than you think.
By the way, did I tell you..?
You can quash those fears, you might need a little help, you might need to pretend to be a dolly, you might need to distract yourself, but you are brave and you are beautiful.
…..and Gmork was only really a puppet!!