a chat with laura jane williams
“None of us is fucking up like we think we are”, states the tag line of Williams’ blog Superlatively Rude, a sentiment that seems to translate to every part of her life. Once Grazia’s dating columnist and now running sold-out online writing workshops, she is also the author of two memoirs--Becoming: Sex, Second Chances and Figuring Out Who the Hell I Am and Ice Cream for Breakfast: How Rediscovering Your Inner Child Can Make You Calmer, Happier, and Solve Your Bullsh*t Adult Problems. A force to be reckoned with, she is the epitome of a bold woman who throws herself into life and goes--as Williams herself puts it--“balls- to-the-mother-lovin-wall."
Here Girls & Glory talk to the female powerhouse about inclusive feminism, owning your sexuality and what makes her a #bravegirl.
On your blog, you say that “ballsy” is the compliment you strive for and that’s really become an identifier for you, so much so that Marie Claire magazine made you their #breakfreefromfear ambassador. Tell me about that accomplishment. How has it made you braver?
It was a real boost. I very much live out loud on the internet and I try to be as real and as authentic as possible, so to have somebody I didn’t know approach me, especially someone so prominent in the industry really came out of the blue. It just shows that you never truly know who is following your journey and for what reasons. Of course, getting into magazines is not the most important thing at all, but it was a little nudge of ‘there is something to be said for doing what I’m doing’.
You’ve done some seriously bold things: living and teaching in Serbia, moving to Bali and then India to become a yoga teacher, writing and publishing two books. Who and what inspires you to be so fearless?
From an internet perspective, I feel very encouraged by my community. The more of myself I give; the more people respond. And they do it so kindly and generously that it lets me step into an even braver part of myself. I’m so thankful for Instagram in particular. It’s such a beautiful community and one of the purest on the internet.
What about in real life?
In my real life, I’m always asking myself “who do I feel good around?” and who do I make feel good? I pick my company very carefully. Women especially end up in friendships and relationships where they’re the ones doing all the giving. It’s like “nice girls don’t end friendships” or “nice girls are nice to everybody”. I feel like I can only be my best self if I’m surrounded by people who get that. And if we don’t get each other--that’s not terrible. Our energies just don’t match.
Female sexuality is something you talk about quite a lot, particularly on Instagram. Your hashtag #laurajanenaked is a dedication to celebrating the female form whilst rejecting the male gaze. How important is it to you to be sexual without being sexualised?
It’s absolutely categorically important to me. I actually delete most men that follow me on Instagram--there’s just nothing there for them. I’m not creating content with them in mind. I don’t feel bad about removing them because I don’t want to have to consider them when I’m putting out things. When a space is female only, it really brings something out of us. We all just want to feel safe and when there’s a male gaze there, most of the time we don’t.
Does taking ownership of your body help you to be a #bravegirl? Tell me about that process.
Yes, it does, but I’m still learning so much. A huge part of learning to love my body has been gaining the confidence to address the issue of inequality in the bedroom. I believe that female pleasure is like the last feminist taboo. There is a massive orgasm gap – something like 50% of straight women in relationships don’t reach climax, whereas 97% of men do. For me, it feels very political because it’s seen as such a dirty or naughty thing.
So, the discussion still needs to continue?
Definitely. I, for one, would speak up everywhere else but for so long I didn’t in the bedroom. We talk about equal pay, we talk about equal emotional labour in a relationship and splitting the housework. We have all of those conversations and yet we are told by men what is sexy but then when we embrace that sexuality it’s frowned upon. There are so many conversations I would love to see happening about sex. In sex education, all I was told was ‘don’t get pregnant’ and that I’m going to have a period and it’s going to be gross. It [sexual confidence] is so intrinsically tied to body confidence and body positivity.
After the release of your memoir, Becoming, some tabloid publications focused on the sexual exploits detailed rather than the actual journey and experiences of the book. What was that like?
It was definitely a learning curve. With The Sun, I had seen the copy and I knew how the piece was going to go. It’s just when they put that headline “Around The World in 80 Lays” and took pictures off my Instagram and captions with those… and then it was the Daily Mail that really bastardised the story.
How did you reclaim yourself from that portrayal?
I was dating at the time and was Grazia’s dating columnist, which came from all of the headlines and me going to them and saying ‘look, when I talk about sex it goes viral--let me do it in your magazine’. I was going on all of these dates and waiting for the point where I would have to say, “if you Google my name, the third result is that I’m a whore and it’s not true." I realised that I was so nervous about it because I’d internalised it as a true narrative. I wrote 88,000 words about how that was not a true narrative and then some asshole editor decides what my truth is.
I didn’t feel strong or empowered until I was unpacking that and realising--hold the fuck on--that’s not who I am. It was like learning the lessons of the book all over again. It was the testing of what I’d written that made me braver.
You were very open about calling out Glamour magazine for the lack of diversity in their YouTuber category of the Woman of the Year awards. How important is inclusion and representation to feminism?
It’s not feminism if it’s not including all women and for all women. And including all women means representing all women. I don’t know if there are many women of colour on the editorial team at Glamour, or if there are any disabled or LGBT women, but it felt to me like their category for the Glamour awards was very reflective of who must be in their office. For example, Teen Vogue have done and are doing an amazing job [with representation] and that’s because their editorial team are diverse.
So yeah, I did call them out and they were very much like, “you’re right--if you wanna talk more about it then get in touch." But I didn’t call them out because I wanted to have that conversation with them, it’s more to say to anyone who follows me: this is not good enough.
It’s about representation behind the scenes as well as in the public eye?
Exactly. It’s so important to make the London media scene accessible to minority communities that aren’t just nice white women. I’m a nice white woman and with the best will in the world, there are things that I don’t understand because it’s not me. I can think I understand but it’s really my job as a feminist is to be as inclusive as possible. How to be as inclusive as possible? Get as many different voices as you can. I’m waiting for the moment that a brand will, instead of defending themselves, just say ‘thank you for inviting this discussion, we will try to do better’. Don’t be defensive--nobody has got all the answers and there’s nothing wrong in learning.
Both your recognition of your privilege and your willingness to continue learning and understanding complex issues is something that sets you apart from most mainstream online personalities. What makes you so vocal about these issues?
If you’re not going to use your voice and your platform, what’s the point in having one? It just feels right. On the most personal level, I just want everyone to be having a nice, lovely time. I don’t know why or where that comes from, I just know that if anybody read something I had said and felt excluded… Feeling excluded is the worst feeling in the world, but the way to include people isn’t to be as bland as porridge. The best way for us all to be allies to everyone--women of colour, the disabled, the LGBT community--is to shut up and fucking listen.
You also started the hashtag #bloggerswhovote in the recent UK election. What inspired that?
When I’d heard that Theresa May had called the election, I felt sick. I had never considered myself that politically aware--I could tell you the basics about what each party stood and my own opinion, but that’s about it. But even with my limited knowledge, I knew she had done it because she thought it would be a landslide victory. So, I was in the shower after my yoga class thinking--how can we make it not a landslide? I knew that young people had to show up, so wouldn’t it be amazing if Zoella and people like her got younger people voting? So I started the hashtag in the hope that it would reach and engage a large audience of younger people.
It was really important to make sure we weren’t talking down to them [the younger population] and that it was framed as a dialogue rather than “this is what I’m telling you”. Everybody is on the learning journey together. I’m not perfect and I don’t know everything, so I’d hate to project the kind of image that I am. Let’s all fuck up together!
And what was the public reaction like?
People really did embrace it. I got excited about it because the blogging community is very much about belonging and people want to get involved. It’s a community that’s focused on jumping on the trend, so why not make politics the trend?
How about in the press?
We got coverage in The Independent and The Times. A Sky News journalist was commenting on it saying how stupid it was and it was great after [seeing the voter turnout] being like “hey guys, remember when that journalist said we were stupid?”
What advice would you give to young women growing up in today’s world? How can they be #bravegirls too?
You are not your mistakes and you are not your victories. I can be bold and brave, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know that if I screw up that my mistake isn’t who I am. I teach that in my writing workshops as well--what someone thinks about your writing doesn’t make you a better or worse human, your art is your art and you are you. Also, it’s all about tenacity--being too pig headed to give up. At university, I was told that what I wrote was the female narrative and who really cares about that? I told my journalism teacher that I wanted to make a living being myself and she laughed at me--now I can’t even remember her name as I have my own column and two memoirs and blog. You just never know. You have to keep on keeping on.