I gave up smoking a few weeks ago. After smoking 15-20 a day for nearly eight years, going cold turkey was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had a health scare and just thought: enough. Thanks to a little drug called Champix, which you should by NO MEANS TAKE if you have a history of depression, I kicked the habit and am now almost entirely craving free. I’m not sure whether or not it was the Champix, the nicotine withdrawal, the health scare, or a combination of all three, but ever since I’ve stopped smoking I’ve been a complete emotional mess. I’m crying all over the shop, every day. My eyes have gone all puffy and swollen, like mice eyes. I very rarely get out of bed. Basically, I’m totally bummed out. It’s like being on my period, all the time, but without being able to make excuses for myself by saying ‘I’m not coming out because I’m losing so much blood that I feel dizzy and there is no hot water bottle in the pub for me to straddle.’ Except I can and will make that excuse too.
My mother, who gave up smoking when she was 25 (the age I am now), did it by crying every time she wanted a cigarette. I’m basically doing the same, but not on purpose. The worst thing about this is that I have very little to be depressed about- my best friend and I just got a book deal, for God’s sake, and I’m moving into a bigger bedroom. I don’t even have a proper job. Life is good. Yet from the looks of me you’d think my cat had died, twice. I don’t know what the hell is up with me, but considering that Champix has allegedly been responsible for allegedly prompting ordinarily level-headed people to make a beeline for a noose, I thought it best to say no to the drugs.
The perhaps as-yet imperceptible reason for rather rambling and inconsequential intro (I mean, I’m giving up smoking- so what? Why the hell should you give a toss?) is that kicking the cigarette habit has made me think a lot about why I smoked in the first place. And, perhaps oddly for a nicotine addicted feminist, most of it is tied up with being a women. It’s basically all my vagina’s fault.
Here are the main reasons that I think I smoked:
Smoking is chic
I have never, ever, grown out of this belief. Smoking gives you lung cancer? I’ll buy it. Smoking gives you heart disease? Fine. Smoking doesn’t look cool? Sorry, not buying it. All I’d need to do if you presented me with this argument is open up a copy of pretty much any fashion magazine and wave it in your face while dancing and chanting ‘YES IT DOES, YES IT DOES, IT’S SO SO COOL.’ Because smoking and fashion are like an evil team whose superpowers consist of the ability to make you look awesome at the same time as slowly killing you. Perhaps I have a touch of capnolagnia, who knows? What I do know, though, is that this woman looks incredible, as does this one and this one. There are probably LOADS of vile little people whom I can blame for the fact that I think smoking is dead sophisticated: fash mag editors, advertising executives, Freud, Jean-Luc Goddard and Humprey Bogart, to name a few (love you really, Humph). But if we’re playing the blame game, I might as well give the archetype of the elegant woman a shout out. Oh, elegant woman: you are the whole reason I spent my gap year sat on a windowsill in a kimono, smoking like a twat. I did it for fashion (lots of fashion people smoke) and I did it for vanity. I would still be doing it if it wasn’t killing me.
Smoking is sexy
I mean, you’re basically caressing a paper phallus with your lips. The whole idea that smoking is sexy ties in which the fact that advertisers and fashion brands have succeeded in feminising what was previously very much a masculine activity (more on that later). Think about how iconic the image of a white cigarette set against a pair of full, scarlet lips is. Then think about how, prior to about 1920, any woman who smoked was automatically regarded as a prostitute. There’s a risque, sluttish connotation to smoking that history (or herstory *GENDER STUDIES KLAXON*) has failed to eradicate. And being one who has always played a little fast and loose, I quite like the fact that lighting up can make me feel like a vixen. Miaow. Asking for a light is still a failsafe way of meeting potential sexual partners, which is why I’m glad I’m not single. Genuinely don’t know how to chat someone up without a fag in my hand.
Smokers are thin
This is where we stray into uncomfortable truth territory. Smoking suppresses your appetite, and one of the main reasons I delayed giving up for so long is because I was convinced that it would make me fat. Of course, I completely ignored the fact that lots of overweight people smoke too (I much preferred the elegant woman/smoker archetype than the obese, giro-weilding teenage mum/smoker archetype, so I tended to ignore the habit’s working class allusions in favour of FASHION, darling). But why did I care so much about being thin? Apart from the obvious answer (‘I’m a woman, duh. I have to’), the question of elegance also raises its ugly head. The women who smoke in movies and fashion editorial are elegant, and elegance, more often than not, denotes thinness. I’m probably going to be dragged over hot coals by angry commenters for saying this, but the rules of fashion dictate that a.) you cannot be elegant if you have tits, b.) you cannot be elegant if you have an arse. I’m not saying that’s right (put the stick down, angry lady), but it was an ideology that I bought into wholeheartedly. Whether you blame the patriarchy, the clothes themselves or gay fashion designers who want women to look like boys (that’s my mother’s theory), you can’t deny that there is little place for your lady lumps on the catwalk, and, for me, smoking ensured that said arse and tits were kept at a minimum, always.
Smokers are rebellious
That’s right. Way back when, women who smoked were essentially saying ‘screw the patriarchy’. Until the Suffragettes, and later the Flappers, smoking was regarded as a completely male pastime, and any woman who did it was very firmly on their patch. Smoking was rocking out with your cock out as far as the Victorian era was concerned. The fact that someone with a vagina lighting up could be seen as so subversive is almost unbelieveable now, but back then it was pretty much the equivalent of growing a penis and becoming Director General of the BBC. The fact that smoking has remained a signifier of rebellious behaviour is partly thanks to these women. The Flappers were probably the first ‘liberated’ class of women the 20th century would see- they drank, they smoked, they danced. They just wanted to have as much fun as the dudes were having, and smoking wasn’t the only male behaviour that they adopted- they also bandaged their breasts down and swore. This masculine look seems to have been the inspiration for the gamine (read: elegant) fashion styles that were popularised by Coco Chanel and are still worn by like, every French girl ever, today (I started smoking while living in Paris, because I am a terrible cliche). Pretty soon women were wearing trousers and demanding equal rights, and stuff.
Now, I’m not telling you this because I think that my smoking was an attempt to say ‘fuck the patriarchy.’ It’s 2012 and that would be a really lame excuse. But I certainly thought it gave me a certain rebellious edge and that without that edge I’d have just been another boring girl. Smoking was basically my way of trying to convince everyone that I was interesting, when actually I’m about as interesting as the next gal, fag or no fag. Turning your back on traditionally feminine mannerisms is actually quite a brave action to take, even now (just look at the abuse women with short hair have to put up with). Of course, no one thinks smoking is ‘for the boys’ anymore, least of all my grandma (40 a day, I reckon), but that doesn’t change the fact that that’s how cigarettes have been marketed since the 1970s. You’ve come a long way, baby, indeed.
All you have to do is show me a picture of Debbie Harry with a cig in her mouth to get me craving a puff. I mean, LOOK AT PATTI SMITH! Smoking is punk, perhaps because it’s such a stupid, dangerous thing to do that it makes you look proper hard (read: stupid) by doing it.
Smokers think they are basically saying ‘fuck you’ to ‘the man’ (and everyone knows that ‘the man’ = patriarchy), except the man doesn’t care, because he’s moved on to other stuff, like riding my ass about how I should curl my eyelashes and telling me to get a ‘proper job’.
Smokers don’t cry
This is probably the main and most important reason why I smoked. I have always been, and probably always will be, a cryer. It sucks because no one takes you seriously, and you become a target for bullies because your reaction to their taunting is often spectacularly overblown (like that choke sobbing you do when someone dies) that they feel it’s adequate payoff for the labour of being a dick. Up until I moved to Paris (ten days of crying cos I missed my mum, mofos) and started smoking, I would burst into tears at the drop of a hat, which was inconvenient for me and annoying for others. Once I found the crutch that is the cigarette, I stopped crying and became all insouciant. Smoking is a really easy way of suppressing your neurosis (see Betty from Mad Men)
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I started smoking during the time in my life when I was the most confident. Smoking didn’t make me confident, but it turned me into the kind of person I thought I should be (aka not someone who cries because they saw a squirrel and it reminded them of a squirrel they had once seen with their ex boyfriend. YES REALLY.) Instead of crying, I started going out with a French guy who cried every time we argument and I actually became that tosser that sits there calmly in an row and says ‘I can’t discuss this with you when you’re like this.’ In other words, I became more like a man and less like a woman.
Now that I’m smoking again I’m crying all the time (twice while I was writing this, FYI) and I genuinely think it might be because I’m crying all the tears that I have been stifling for the last eight years. It is genuinely THAT spectacular. So for me, smoking was primarily a way of controlling the emotions that I perceived as shameful. If I was stressed, or sad, I’d just have a cigarette, and now I don’t have that anymore I’m like, WAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
I don’t want to be a bride with a fag in her hand
I know, I know. I need a trip to feminist bootcamp, but I just can’t get over how ‘common’ this looks. I’m not even sure I want to get married, but on the off-chance that I do, I don’t want to be hacking up tar riddled phlegm onto my dress (which, by the way, will totally not be a ‘wedding dress’ because, gross.)
So there you have it: how I’ve psychoanalysed myself out of smoking with help from feminism. Of course, none of the reasons I smoked even come close to the reason that I’ve given up, which is that I don’t want to die (the number one reason like, ever). But it’s interesting that, by not smoking, I suddenly feel fatter, less fashionable, more square and like more of a crybaby than I used to. What’s that about? And how much can I legitimately blame the patriarchy?