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“from the very beginning it was all about this feeling” — bangs and a bun

“from the very beginning it was all about this feeling” — bangs and a bun

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Under the table, Muireann Carey-Campbell, aka Bangs, is wiggling her toes.

“I’m doing it right now,” she says. “The millions of things that are going on right now in my body to get me to wiggle my toes is fucking incredible. But people want to talk about cellulite.”

She laughs. “You know what I mean?”

Bangs is the Head Instructor at BOOM Cycle, an ELLE magazine Fitness Editor, and founder of the blog Bangs and a Bun. She was born in Halifax, Canada, grew up in Leeds, and has lived in New York, Tokyo, Toronto and Montreal. Her home, for now, is London.

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

On the day we speak to her she is in Leeds visiting her parents. A day later, she’s speaking on body image as part of a panel in Hull.

“You mean THE Bangs is coming?” someone asks, when we mention her arrival.

“Yes, THAT Bangs,” we reply.

Bangs has that THING about her. When she walks into a room, the atmosphere shifts. If it weren’t so cliché we’d say she was fabulous. But she is fabulous! We’re in a café, it’s not even twelve, and she’s just casually dropping the F word into these articulate, thoughtful sentences. It is so, f-ing, fabulous.

“I want to reframe the way people think about fitness,” she says. “From the very beginning it was all about this feeling. It’s like, I feel f-ing great when I do this thing; I want everyone to feel like that all the time!”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Bangs uses three expressions, all the time, and they’re all fabulous.

The first expression is: for sure. She says it like, for SURE.

“If you have questions about what your body can do, and if you’ve ever talked shit about somebody else’s body, you should run a half marathon,” she says. “I for SURE had all these ideas in my head, that if you’re overweight, you’re just lazy and you’re unfit.

“And then I ran a half marathon and I was overtaken by people that were straight up obese. I thought, damn, okay, that’s an eye-opener.”

The second one is just one word: listen. She pronounces it staccato-y, like: LI—STEN! As if one syllable is competing with the other for attention.

Mostly, Bangs uses ‘listen’ when she hits new inspiration half-way through one sentence, and that thing she’s just been inspired by can’t wait for the sentence to end.

“The pressure that you put on yourself to try and — LI-STEN! I’m never going to look like a Kardashian. I’m never going to look like Pamela Anderson in the nineties, or whatever was popular at any given time. I do not have that face; I do not have that body.”

She laughs. “But I think I’m fly as hell, so I don’t care, you know what I mean?”

The third expression is: you know what I mean? It’s tacked on at the end. She says it slurred and fast, like youknowhaddamean? It reminds us of New York City; it’s emphatic and very persuasive.

“In my spin classes I always tell people to take it to the ugly. Take! It! To! The! Ugly!” she says, like each word is a singular declaration.

“When it reaches that point where how we look takes priority over our health we’ve got a problem. Youknowhaddamean?”

Yes, yes! We nod. We know what she means.

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Bangs launched Bangs and a Bun in 2007 while she was living in Canada. She wanted to be a writer, and no one was hiring. At least, they weren’t hiring her.

“I couldn’t get writing work for love nor money,” she says. “Because it’s all about who you know, and I had moved to this new country and I didn’t know anyone.”

She began to write articles about her life, about travel. Anecdotes and opinions. ATM etiquette, ferris wheels, HBO, hip hop, the ten guys you’ll meet in the club, DJing, her aversion to citrus.

She posted an article five days a week; sometimes she’d prepare them in advance so she could keep up.

And this was 2007! Peak-MySpace era. Facebook was the ripe old age of three; Twitter was a teething one-year old. Instagram was just floating around in primordial cyber soup.

There was no Buffer, no content calendars; social media strategy was definitely not a thing. But Bangs was posting new content, five days a week like it was her full time job. Her articles were really funny; almost no one read them.

“At that point, you’re totally winging it. I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says.

“But it was really important for me to be generating content, to make myself better and get something out of it. I just wanted to have eyes on it. Just, somebody — please read it! You know what I mean?”

••

Two years later Bangs moved back to England.

“In Canada I wasn’t in the best emotional space,” she says. “I was very low on confidence and unsure about the direction of my life. I was for SURE not doing any exercise.

“I moved back to Leeds initially, and moved in with my parents. When I got back here, I just wanted to feel better.”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Then two things happened. Bangs and a Bun became a big thing; people started to read her blog. PR people started approaching her for reviews. And she fell in love with movement again.

Bangs had spent her teenage years and early twenties as a dancer. Dancing, to her, wasn’t fitness. It wasn’t about being active, or being healthy. It was movement, and it felt good.

“I had become very acquainted with the couch potato life,” she says. “I thought, ‘maybe I just need to move more.’ I started boxing initially, because that was something that I wanted to try.

“From the get go, it was about the feeling for me. I can’t stress that enough. For SURE I was carrying extra pounds.”

She laughs. “You know, Canada weight. It was important. You’ve got to protect yourself from the cold. I was probably saying to myself, you need to shed a few pounds. But that quickly gave way to, oh my God, this feels great when I do this thing. I felt more confident, like, when I left these boxing sessions I could conquer the world. And then the half marathon thing happened.”

A PR team representing a phone company approached Bangs, asking if she’d like to run a half marathon and blog about it as a part of the company’s campaign. Bangs accepted the challenge and documented her training on her blog and on Twitter. Four months into training, she realised that PR company weren’t going to hold up their end of the deal; she ran the race anyway and wrote about her experience with the PR team in an article called ‘The Tale of PR and the Blogger’ — that went viral.

“When I started writing about training on my blog, it became the most popular content. I think primarily because that was 2010; pre-Instagram, pre-fitness blogs,” she says.

“Now it’s a very, very saturated market. If you’re a girl getting into fitness you have all these #instafit #fitfam bloggers; all these things as a kind of inspiration. When I was training for my half marathon I had Paula Radcliffe to look up to. I love Paula. But I was just getting myself off the couch, you know what I mean?”

Despite the situation with the PR company, Bangs had done the training. She’d run a half marathon! She’d written and tweeted about it for four months, and she had a stronger following than ever before.

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

In a blog post called Blood, Sweat and Tears, she wrote, ‘Six months ago, I never would have thought I could do this. I am living proof that it is mind over matter. Tell yourself you can do something, work hard at it, and you will.’

Bangs had inspired people. She decided to run another half-marathon, in Paris. This time, she trained alongside twenty women across the country; a team, connected through social media, called Team Bangs on the Run.

“I think people connected with the fact that I wasn’t there like, ‘let’s all try and lose ten pounds together, let’s not try and have flabby thighs’. It was all about this feeling; like, let’s go and be bad ass and conquer this together.”

She laughs. “I think I just want to debunk all those stupid fitness myths and be like, here, look! I’m not a pro athlete, I don’t look like a pro athlete.

“I just want to scream it from the mountain tops. Everyone should feel this good. And you don’t have to run marathons, or even half marathons. Just move. Somehow. Everyday.”

•• 

When Bangs feels passionate about something, her whole body says it. At one point, she bangs her hands on the table and our coffee mugs shake; and it is so, insanely, fabulous.

And then she says, “I think, not to get too deep…” and we wiggle our toes thinking, yes! what’s she going to say next? And then she describes the human race, in a nutshell.

“Patriarchy has told us for so long how we should look and what is deemed attractive,” she says. “Be it corsetry in the Victorian era, to implants in the eighties and people injecting botox and collagen into their faces in the 2000s. Men decide what they deem attractive; and our attractiveness is meant to be of paramount importance, because, traditionally, that’s been our value and our worth. Because attractiveness,” she slows her words, as if she’s writing it out on a chalkboard, “is linked to fertility and procreation.”

She takes a sip of her coffee, and says, “And that’s the human race. In a nutshell.”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

And that feels like a good time to ask about Instagram, fitness’s most beloved app.

“We’ve had the opportunity to create our own media,” she says. “I think it’s a shame that we’re basically recreating what we were rebelling about in the first place. When it first started out, Instafit was very inspiring, but the platform is a visual one, it’s about pictures. People want to see pretty things.

“We. Have. Been. Programmed,” — we imagine the clapping hands emoji between her words — “since the dawn of time, to think this way. It’s not going to all be unravelled and undone in one night.”

And she takes another sip of her coffee. Like a 21st century sibyl wearing denim dungarees.

The story goes that the Bangs and a Bun blog became so fitness-focused that Bangs created a new one, called Spike and Heels. She moved to London, became a BOOM cycle spin instructor, and was approached by ELLE to support their new digital team as a fitness editor; a magazine she’d stock piled as a teenager.

She has made it, and she has made it happen.

In July 2016, Bangs spoke at an event for ELLE and Matchesfashion.com. Later, she saw a comment on the event’s live stream on Facebook.

‘She looks like a man’, it said.  

In response, she wrote an article published on ELLE called I’m Not Pretty And I’m Fine With That.

‘I’m not pretty, but I’m fly as hell,’ she wrote. ‘I decide what attractive means for me, I don’t care about conforming to a standard I’m never gonna meet’.

The post went viral.

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

We ask Bangs about not being pretty.

“Listen!” she says. “I’m a size twelve. I’ve got jiggly bits, I’ve got cellulite. But I’ve cycled up mountains, I’ve run marathons. It has no effect on how good I am as a human. How much I’m contributing to society.

“There is power in owning your shit. And you have the responsibility to do that as a feminist, to counteract the complete jet stream of bullshit that comes at us on a daily basis in terms of how we’re meant to look, and be, for men.

“You know,” she says, her voice rising, “I had a guy email me the day that video went live. I’m paraphrasing, but it basically said if you had a nose job and lost some weight you’d be alright.

“Well thank you! Random stranger from the internet! I shall change my entire life…” and then she puts up two middle fingers, in the middle of the cafe, before twelve, “FUCK all the way off, you know what I mean?”

••

When Bangs runs in the city, she likes to set off at 5am, just before the sun is up. She’ll run to Regent Street, a long street, with a beautiful curve. Her favourite street. Sometimes she’ll visualise how the city would have been in Victorian times; horse and carts going up the road and people in long dresses.

In the early morning, London is quiet. No people, no scaffolding going up, no construction workers or trucks or noise. Nothing, she says, to obscure your view.

“There was one training run where I ran up Oxford Street to get up to the top of Regent Street, and I just ran down the middle,” she says. “I took a picture and there’s not a soul in sight; just the street.

“It’s rare that you get to have moments like that, where you can just appreciate one of your favourite bits of London and see it in a really pure form.”

When she tells us this story, we think; how fabulous?

••

Words by Jennifer Lee O’Brien
Photographs by Shang-Ting Peng

Originally published in The City Talking: Sport.


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