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The Cleaver

29 May 2023 9 minute read
Kate Cleaver

Kate Cleaver

A bit of writing about being neurodivergent, disabled, ethnic and a woman in Wales.

The other day I was scrolling through my Insta feed and came across story about a harassed mum.

She was a mess and sitting on her towel, carefully watching her kids playing in the surf. She’s keeping a good eye out, but she noticed this mum come over with her daughter.

Both were immaculate, both were dressed the same and both immediately set up a blanket and sat on the hot sand.

This is where it gets a little strange. The child said and did nothing but seemed to be waiting. The mum then took out her phone and the two posed for photos.

The author of this post then goes on to say that as she watched the perfect mum dumped some beautiful toys on the blanket and took more photos.

She mentions that the kid knew what she was doing and placed herself without being asked. The image-obsessed mum rings someone and effectively dismisses the child.

Across from her I am betting that the mum with a messy bun and ice cream stain on her top was feeling bad about not looking right. That she was aware of the extra pounds and her lack of make-up.

Whilst looking after her own kids though she noticed the little girl, with the perfect hair and swimsuit, ask her mum if she can have a paddle.


Her mum said nothing but continues to talk on the phone.

The child begged.

Her mum puts down the phone, packs up the unused toys and they leave in their perfect swimsuits, the child looking back at the water.

The author of the post considered that the woman probably had the best photographs and it probably looked like she had given her child a great day at the beach. But the reality was that it was all a façade.

I am finishing my PhD and looking at Victorian private insane asylums, there is one thing I have noticed is that they would make them look beautiful to the visitor and those passing.

They would have rugs and plants and sofas, whereas the reality would be chains, poverty, hunger and thirst. It was a façade.

Are the two comparable? Perhaps, but only in the simplest of senses, both create an illusion.

One for the perfect looking day at the beach and the other for the perfect asylum, when neither were truthful.

I guess it worries me. My autism means that I rarely dress to look good. Instead, I wear clothes that are comfy. I mix patterns because they can make a chaotic day more organised.

I wear the same colours because they don’t hurt my mind or my eyes. I never notice my size (I am overweight) unless it is pointed out to me.

I pick shoes that are comfy and durable. I plait my hair because that it what I learnt as a child, and I have never wanted to change it.

I do take a lot of photos, but they are never of me. I must actively have a reason to take my own photograph. I am not well known on Instagram except for photographs of my garden.

Vegetable patch Photo: Kate Cleaver

Photos of green plants and growing calm me, as does wildlife, so that is what I do.

I guess that must mean my façade is broken and will never truly live up to the standard of others.

There is another meme of an artist in paint splattered clothes and glasses, a messy mop of hair and no make-up stood next to a masterpiece, compared to a woman in a crop top and perfect face and makeup but stood next to a carton.

The likes on the two show that the perfect woman façade will always win. This I am well-aware of.

I was chatting to my husband the other day and saying I was perplexed by the fact I am good at art, yet I struggle to sell. He said that it was because I can draw but I can’t brand.

That’s the word I was looking for – brand. That woman with the child on the beach had created a brand of the perfect life. The Victorian businessman had branded his asylum…

Everyone seems to be creating something to appear more than they are. For someone who has been to therapy in order to stop masking I find it very confusing.

Protest Photo by Kate Cleaver

A few weekends ago I went on a protest with R. We were on the anti-fascist side, but this is where it gets confusing. I was there to stop racism but the people that were yelling at me were against fifteen-minute cities.

Ordinary folk stood with them. The fascists stood with them. The people who want to protect cash stood with them. I was confused.

I took photos of people’s shoes and backs because they were interesting. I understood the arguments. I was stood with a couple of people, and we were chatting. I was one of the few ethnics there.

A guy from the opposing force comes over.

“Hello,” I say.

He ignores me.

He explains his concept and shows these cute flyers that looked like Monopoly money. He explains we must protect cash.

“I’m interested,” I say and hold a hand out for a flyer.

He ignores me.

He leaves and it is smiling all round. They are all saying how he is lovely, and I stand back. They didn’t see, but then his brand is that of kindly older white gentleman who wants to use cash and hurt no one.

I could have walked away and said nothing, but I was tired of people not seeing past the platitudes.

“He didn’t talk to me,” I say. “And I didn’t get a flyer.”

They looked at each other and then at the man. I thought that there were going to confront me about it, so I walked away and back to R.

I’m not proud of that but I have no wish to talk to a man who will deny he did what he did. A man who would explain that he didn’t see me and how dare I. And I know that there is a possibility that those I was talking to will say I was wrong, and they would have noticed if someone had been racist in front of them.

But the reality is that they won’t.

You won’t.

Sometimes I won’t even notice until later that day, after my brain had processed what occurred. That door that is closed because the person holding it open let go, or the smiling person in the street who will never smile at me.

Photo by Kate Cleaver

That day I saw the fascists and the racists brand themselves and being on everyone’s side and I saw the lines blur.

People who I would have stood with a year ago were now over the other side. People who I would smile at in the street. I do wonder though how long it would be before they would stop smiling at me and other people of colour.

How do you stop those people who are racist but hide in plain sight, especially when they hide behind the protesting of fifteen-minute cities.

It reminds me of a friend I had in university. I would hang out with her a lot. She was nice and we liked to drink in the same bars.

One day I was chatting to mutual friends, and they were all chatting about their time abroad. They were saying how the insects truly were the size of your hand and how they loved the local wildlife.

I listened and found it confusing. We had just been on the summer break, but I had not been asked to go anywhere. I mentioned this and my friend laughed.

“I couldn’t take you,” she said.

I asked her why not.

“Because you are coloured…”

And there it was. Turns out her family and herself were terribly racist. I hadn’t noticed that our friendship was just one sided.

I hadn’t noticed that it was me who cooked for her or helped with research. It never crossed my mind because she was a nice racist. She was polite. She never got angry or raised her voice, she was really really nice.

I sat there until we all went our separate ways and slowly began distancing myself.

I am happy to give my time and friendship freely, with nothing expected in return, but I couldn’t remain a close friend – I found that my heart wasn’t that big.

So, I pulled away and let her go on with her life without her brown friend. To tell you the truth I am not even sure she noticed that I disappeared.

And no, I did not try to alter her opinion. We had been ‘friends’ for two years by then. If she was going to change then she would have. Me calling her out would have only given us both heart ache.

I just decided that I would not place myself in a situation where the other person could not see me as an equal. I guess her brand lost its diverse element.

And that is the problem. It is all about brands. How people appear to others. I would suggest that you ignore what they want you to see and instead watch them when they are not trying to sell you something or appear perfect.

Do they smile at everyone? Will they hold that door open for people? Because brands are not happiness or people living a full life. It is simply a façade.

You can find more of The Cleaver and the rest of Kate’s writing on Nation.Cymru here or by following her link on this map

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