Don’t be blue, it’s only January

Dark days, we had plenty last year, but the new year can be just as daunting. The lure of over-sleeping and over-eating can feel irresistible. Our bodies tend toward hibernation from a survival instinct, but not necessarily because this is the best thing for us or what we actually need. It’s worth taking some time to remind yourself of what makes you feel most energised and fulfilled and continuing those practices into the new year. Trying to tackle each and every of your *perceived* flaws in one of the darkest, coldest, most miserable months is unrealistic at best. Whilst it seems like a natural time to build new practices into your life, putting an unhealthy amount of emphasis on being ‘successful’ or ‘achieving’ is unlikely to bring balance. It’s more likely to bring anxiety and feelings of unworthiness.

Here are a few suggestions for an energising new year:

  • Birthday bonanza: Celebrate someone’s birthday. Make a cake for your dog, organise a lovely meal for a friend or perform an act of homage to a hero with a January birthday.

 

  • Spice of life: January can be quite a stagnant month but you can try some new flavour combinations to keep things spicy. Maybe find a dish that uses something different like star anise or cardamom pods. (Try these cardamom biscuits)

 

  •  That’s life: Look after something living, whether its borrowing a pup or cultivating a windowsill herb-box – nourish and flourish is the way forward.

 

  • Reflect not ruminate: Remember the good things of the past year, reflect on where you have been strong but don’t give an unnecessary amount of time to thinking over the bad stuff. Focus forward.

 

  • Evolution/ revolution:  Making over the make-over – stick your head in your wardrobe and recycle anything that doesn’t make you tingle! Try something new like a bow-tie, or refresh an old favourite with tie-dye or a fresh ribbon. There’s not much that ribbons can’t solve…

Pin Up Girl Problems: A.K.A. Why is Pin Up Culture Problematic?

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One of the many things I love about modern pin-up culture is that it is diversifying. There are so many gorgeous models who are ‘plus-size’, of colour, alternative (i.e. heavily tattooed/ pierced). I think these are all stunning and magnificent things that traditional, mainstream pin-up images were lacking. Increasingly, the online presence of these pin-ups is body-positive, supportive and inclusive. It seems to be a community-spirited affair that encourages women to build each other up, rather than compete in damaging and pointless ways.

Discouragingly, some media targeted at vintage lovers is very unhealthy. For example, many ‘Pin-up’ memes glorify alcohol abuse, materialism, bitchiness and even violence. I think it unwise to understate what damage these messages can do. They are, perhaps, intended to be bold exclamations of “empowerment”, but for who? Personally, the empowerment that I’m looking for doesn’t come from undermining or criticising others. Nor does it depend on toxic sarcasm or alcohol abuse. These memes promote inebriation, rather than liberation. They also suggest that female empowerment is incomplete without misandry.

Perhaps these modern interpretations  intend to reject reducing women into mere sexual objects, as per the war-time origins of pin-up culture. However, the repetitive portrayal of pin-up women as man-hating bitches with stunted or repressed emotional capacity is only feeding already harmful female archetypes.

Pin-up is for anyone and everyone that wants it. Lots of good work towards this has already been done but the media representation, and even that of retro and vintage-reproduction companies,  is making a laughing stock of pin-up. Social media’s output regarding pin-up culture is shallow and judgemental – the opposite of the sentiments which attracted me. There is so much emphasis in the community on sharing pursuits outside the fashion and beauty elements. Likewise, there is a huge focus on self-care and spreading positivity that are entirely missed in harmful memes and images.

For me, pin-up culture is far from superficial. It’s about feeling good in yourself and helping others to do the same. It’s not about drinking to oblivion, slagging off other people’s appearances or cutting away human emotional depth and genuineness.

I’m a pin-up girl and I’m proud of what that means. We can write our own definitions, especially when they have been mistaken by others.

Fun and fancy for free

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They say the best things in life are free and I wholeheartedly agree (with the exception of buying dresses, of course). A person can’t live on dresses alone and nor should they try! Since wages aren’t what they should be and, anyway, Money Makes You Mean, here’s a list of shenanigans that won’t cost the earth (or even an island). Some of them cost nothing at all. Imagine that.

 

  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it: Use that gym membership that is totally neglected, delve deep into the recesses of Netflix, wiggle to your premium Spotify and enjoy your ad-free fantasy world (damn you). Read an entire book of poems that you haven’t picked up yet. Just an idea.
  • Stroke an ego: Maybe your own, but not necessarily. You could beat down a friend’s door with flowers and serenade them in a creepy Ginny Weasley’s cupid kind of way.
  • Deal with it: Crack out a pack of cards or a chessboard and make a move.
  • Booked up: Raid a library, whether a public one or a friend’s. Get stuck in. Reading can sometimes feel daunting if you’re out of the habit so start light – maybe don’t go straight for War & Peace… try one of the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press, maybe. Or Mills and Boon.
  • Dirty Dancing: Learn an iconic dance routine. Become Kevin Bacon. Or leap into Jennifer Beals‘ dancing shoes.
  • Creative cooking: Dig out everything in your cupboards and create something from what’s in there. Things might get interesting…
  • Snuggle ‘n’ snacks: Is there anything better than a cosy cutch and some first-rate munchies. The correct response is no.
  • Water baby: Go for a muddy walk and splash in a puddle. Put a watering can out in the rain. Steam your face. Try watersports…
  • Found you: Grab some free magazines, chop them up and make found poems with the headlines (see main picture for ‘Here’s one I made earlier…).
  • Beauty queen: Go through your beauty supplies and spend some time experimenting. Try some basic nail art or play around with a shade of lipstick you never use. Try repurposing it as a blush stick. Try something a little different, or get ready for halloween… Youtube is your friend.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Self-care for dummies

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Taking care of your emotional well-being is the most important thing you can do. But, it’s not easy and might take a bit of getting used to if you’ve been in the habit of neglecting yourself. It’s good to build habits that will let you move forward through difficult times. The best way to go about it, in my experience, is make it an everyday habit, rather than a big blow-out. While planning a spa experience does sound lovely, it’s not necessarily practical or affordable. Little things will give you a boost and keep you buoyant.

Here are a few things you might find helpful:

  • Wash that stress out of your hair: Have a long hot bath and lather up. Add bubbles and heat your towels. Light a candle – it’s nice to feel nice.
  • That’s a mouthful: Have a little snack of whatever you fancy – a row of chocolate or a handful of nuts.
  • Brideshead Revisited: Revisit a favourite book that helps you to feel safe.
  • Savour the flavour: Make an event out of tea time – infuse a special brew in a teapot, drink out of your granny’s china, have a nice little biscuit on the side… Make it a ritual.
  • Change as good as a rest: Try walking a different way to work or order something new from the takeaway.
  • Light up: Light a candle or some incense and focus on the flame or light.
  • Clean your act up: Take care of your garments or gadgets. Take a few moments to polish and freshen up your shoes or delete some apps to make things go smoother.
  • Tiger, tiger: Try Tiger Balm for your aches and pains. Lush have a great range of massage bars that’ll do the trick, too.
  • Get it off: Switch off all your devices, it’s incredibly liberating – find a new part of town, get some undisturbed shut-eye, read the dictionary, stand on your head, or maybe get it oooon with some sweet guy or gal…
  • Present you: Future You is going to love Past You – make sure you have a nice lunch and an enchanting ensemble ready for tomorrow, set your alarm a little earlier so you can ease into the day.

 

For more ideas, have a look at my lists, 50 Things To Do On Dog Days and 50 MORE Things To Do On Dog Days

Take care!

Here’s why Freshers’ won’t be the best week of your life

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So, you did good in your exams and got into university – nice one. Now you have to continue that success by carving out a new little life for yourself, maybe away from home for the first time, maybe in another country. That’s awesome. ‘Have the time of your life!’, people will tell you, and maybe you will! But, if you’re not having the best week ever in the whole of your existence on planet earth, you’re  not alone, you’re not weird and you’re not going to feel this way forever.

Here are a few things you might experience during Freshers’ that don’t make the headlines:

  • Burnout: Your body will hate you and every human in sight. Everyone gets sick (sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes Freshers’ flu) and it spreads like wildfire in halls. Take your vitamins and Drink Aware, but read up on other illnesses such as meningitis, which can be particularly nasty.
  • Brain-ache: You won’t understand a word of your lectures/ you will immediately regret everything in your life that led you to the decision to study this crappy course. There will be a lot of reading which after week 1 you will never finish.
  • Social caterpillar: All your life’s fears of being inadequate will probably come to the fore during a conversation with someone who speaks 5 languages, plays 5 instruments and is a semi-pro golfer in their spare time. Also, they will be good looking, well-spoken and bubbly. Whatever, you managed to get out of bed today, so who’s the butterfly?
  • Ground-hog day: There’s a 98% chance that you will have the exact same conversation at least 564 times during Freshers’ Week. It will go like this: ‘Hi, I’m [insert name here]’, ‘Hi, my name’s [insert name here]. Where are you from?’, ‘[insert hometown here], you?’, ‘Oh, cool. I’m from near [insert major city here]. What are you studying?’ etc. etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Eventually the boring will filter out.
  • Under pressure: You will feel like you should be doing certain things and in a certain way. Destroy this notion. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to go to a museum rather than a poster sale, do it. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DRINK ALCOHOL, DON’T. If you do things that you are comfortable with, you will meet like-minded people and make nice friends. Winner.
  • Culture shock: You will miss your family/ partners/ pets. You’ll be around unfamiliar people with unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) opinions and habits. The water will be different, the noises at night-time, the smells and sights will all be big, bright neon signs that you’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Don’t forget you can always click your heels and book a ticket home…

 

So, the moral of the tale is: don’t try to be anybody but yourself. You probably won’t meet your friends for life in Freshers’ Week and, if you do, they’ll understand that Freshers’ Week ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t rush – this is your grace period – use it.

Worthy days

I’m all for lazy days. There’s nothing like that cat stretch under the covers when you wake up without your alarm. It’s a beautiful feeling. But, what feels even better is having a day planned around boosting your self-worth – worth getting up for. It’s a worthwhile thing to build into your calendar, maybe as a monthly thing. You can be as flexible or religious about it as you want to be; even thinking about saving the date will give you a little boost of yes!

It doesn’t have to be an entirely solitary venture, either. Maybe get a little crew together, write letters to praise each other to high heaven. There’s nothing more powerful than a bad-ass girl gang! (And nothing as destructive as girl-on-girl ‘this bitch bites’ bullshit) Or, meet up with a friend and give a mutual pep talk – big up artistry, knowledge, cookery skills etc… You’re a talented lot, so shout about it and remind each other when it slips your mind. No need to be bashful.

Get yourself in gear with a day doing what you do best. Don’t sit on your laurels. Keep yourself on the straight and narrow in terms of creative projects; sit down with your knitting and challenge yourself to do 5 rows, 10 rows, 40 rows… Sitting down and following through with one of your plans makes for a big boost in confidence. It also takes a bit of pressure off if you are working to a deadline. But, of course, taking these days can be anything you need it to be. It could be that you decide to revisit a childhood passion and do a few lengths at the pool or read back through a scrapbook that has nice comments in. If you like to lend a hand, check in with friends that might need a boost, or do your mother’s ironing while she’s out. If you regularly give too much to people, indulge in something that you love to do alone – read a book, shop without lending anyone money, start training for a race you’ve had your eye on.

Another route you could take for those oasis days is to focus exclusively and purposefully on your mental health. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Trigger warning: Start a trigger/ worry diary and set aside some time each day to review the points you write down.
  • Bad hair day?: Draw a self-portrait of how you are feeling. Now draw one of how you want to feel and think about the ways you could achieve that happiness.
  • Target practice: Write a list of things you want to do that scare you. Share with someone who will help facilitate/ alleviate any fears surrounding your goals.
  • Careful: Think about any self-care practices you have and how to improve them. Try asking friends about their self-care practices and maybe try out any new ones.

 

The point is, relying on anyone else for your self-worth is never going to be that effective. Also, it takes time and concentrated effort to identify and deal with low self-esteem. Reap what you sow and all that.

 

Me, Myself and Merida.

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Merida is, by far, my favourite Disney princess of all time, ever. In real life, I’m probably more like Anna from Frozen, but I like to dream that one day I’ll be as bad-ass as Merida. And as ginger.

Princess Merida is a feminist icon. There, I said it. Not only does she rebel against the restrictions of female fashion and arranged marriage, but she proves why these things are unnecessary. She rejects her parents’ selection of suitors in the most spectacular and poignant way – by proving that she is her own mistress. She is the only one worthy of her own ‘hand in marriage’ and she makes no mistake in demonstrating to the world her worth. She is her own best suitor (see Tracy McMillan’s TED Talk on marrying yourself). Quite right, too.

Best of all, she is imperfect, as are her relationships. The crux of the film’s plot is the no-woman’s-land between mother and daughter. Of course, this all resolves itself in the typical fairytale way with a family group hug, but Merida is savvy enough to admit her mistakes and to allow her female role model to be equally imperfect and to love her anyway. I love Merida’s strength, but also how she develops tolerance over the course of the film.

Another thing that makes my heart sing about Brave is that the protagonist is a teenager. Adolescence is a difficult and turbulent time, but it is also a vibrant stage of awakening and self-creation which ought to be celebrated more in the media. Part of the appeal of films such as The Virgin Suicides, The Breakfast Club etc is that the characters are teens asserting their new selves in all their messy glory. Merida is no exception (apart from the fact that she is royalty). Being a teenager is a total ball-ache, catch-22 scenario (you’re not a child anymore, but don’t ever think you are mature enough to know your own mind) and it shouldn’t be. We should learn to listen to our young people and help them to shape their future. Merida’s initial rejection of her mother is understandable; she is denied the autonomy to decide on her future’s course. It is a painful reminder that she is at the in-between stage of life. We need to stop telling our teenagers that their opinions are invalid and that mother always knows best.

Merida is funny, athletic, generous, adventurous and a talented archer. These are all qualities that, in an older person, would gain her a great deal of respect and renown (although she is female, so, maybe not). She has an honest heart and is deeply loyal to her family. But my favourite thing about her is her loyalty to herself. She doesn’t compromise on her own aspirations, she rejects convention and still manages to be diplomatic when dealing with delicate masculine pride. I’d say she’s quite the catch.

MERIDA FOR PRESIDENT!

 

Empaths Anonymous

Every now and then, I like to read my horoscope. Whether its 4am and me and my girls are putting the world to rights, or I need some vague reassurance that I’m going in the right direction, a horoscope can be just the ticket. I don’t swear by it, I don’t obsess over it, but it gives me a buzz (or a reality check). I am, according to most definitions, a ‘typical Pisces‘, acting from intuition and sensitivity, as well as having my head in the clouds and being naturally disposed to melancholy. Empathy is another trait strongly associated with water signs, like Pisces. Astrology aside, empathy is a powerful but painful thing.

With the exception of psychopaths, we all have empathy to some degree. It’s the ability to sense and experience other people’s emotions. Some people claim to physically feel others’ pain. Being an empath means that it is a struggle to switch off from other people’s problems or hurt. Being with large groups of people can often be emotionally draining and exhausting. It’s common for highly empathetic people to also suffer with depression or anxiety. We’re not called Sensitive Souls for nothing.

Empaths especially need to have good self-care practices to help maintain healthy boundaries between themselves and others. Empathy helps to build deep bonds with other people, but it can also complicate relationships. Empaths also have the unfortunate tendency to be attracted to, or to fall into relationships with, narcissists. This can be particularly damaging as empaths are natural nurturers; narcissists will absorb this attention but rarely return the favour. Do yourself a favour and ditch Narcissus.

 

Here’s a quick 12-step plan for Empaths Anonymous:

  • Home bird: Lots of empaths are quite introverted – if this applies to you, make sure you get time on your own to recuperate and focus on your own emotions.
  • Not my stuff: Learn to separate your baggage with that of those around you. If your friend is very socially anxious, support them but do not take responsibility for them. Process your own stuff first.
  • Big, bad world: Don’t let the big bad world get you down. We’re living in a scary, depressing world. Don’t forget that the personal is political. Small actions make real impacts on others’ lives and your own.
  • Hang about: Surround yourself with a community of socially engaged, positive people. It will help you to understand your pain as well as lessen it.
  • You may confer: Ask a (more or less) impartial friend/ relative to help you assess problems – they will be able to advise you on where to draw the boundaries.
  • Hard lines: Be strict with people who tend to overstep the line or who don’t give anything back to you. It might be that they need to be unceremoniously deleted from your life or it could be that a gentle word will help the situation.
  • And… release: Maybe you need a good cry to get it all out of your system. Maybe you need an endorphin hit. Maybe you need an orgasm.
  • Suck it up: Absorb some positive energy instead. One positive of being an empath is that you can glory in other people’s joys, as well as struggle with their pain.
  • New and used: Try something different to get a new perspective on things. Get recommendations or get back to something you miss doing.
  • Hibernate: Take a sabbatical and hunker down for a while. Take some annual leave…
  • Somewhere only we know: Pit-stop somewhere familiar or that feels safe and take regular breaks during the day. Safe could be a group chat that you check into, or a cafe that you spend your special moments in.
  • Film fiend: Watch a movie marathon, remove yourself from the current/ real world.

 

Maybe the best advice is the most general: Be kind to yourself, whatever that looks like!

 

A girl in a red dress: ‘Me Before You’

 

My Film Flavour of The Month is Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) in ‘Me Before You‘. Warning – plot spoilers!

She is the most adorable thing since the beginning of time. Her style is modern, nostalgic, feminine and fun. She mixes total madness that shouldn’t work (and totally does) with sophistication. Emilia Clarke gives her character warmth, sensitivity and genuineness -her wardrobe only makes you love her more. She is quirky, imperfect and determined, qualities which all come through in her clothing choices.

There are definite hints of 50’s styling in Lou’s wardrobe, right from her tootsies to her midi cut, but there is always a little twist taking the traditional to a new, unique level. She rocks nautical looks, neck scarves, Hawaiian dresses, t-bar heels… But her looks are never cliched or dated; she is a new vintage kind of girl. She’s as goofy as Lucy Ball and as smooth as Lauren Bacall but as utterly original as either of them.

Part of Lou’s overall appeal is her dedication to her own sense of self. Her clothes are bright, bold and unabashed – they don’t really fit in her small home-town. At the beginning of the film she is in a suffocating relationship with someone who does not understand who she is or what she wants, however good looking he may be (played by Matthew Lewis). She has a strong sense of duty and works hard to help her family make ends meet, but there is a continuous strain between her loyalties to her family and to herself. Despite a difficult beginning, Lou grows close to her employer, Will (Sam Claflin), for whom she is a caregiver, following a motorcycle accident which has left him quadriplegic. She helps him to live, rather than to just exist in his own body. They go on trips, to the races (for which she has an equestrian ensemble) and on an exotic holiday. Her optimism, however infectious, cannot go so far as to change Will’s mind or his decision to end his own life.

In a bittersweet kind of way, the end of Will’s life is the kick-start of Lou’s. He gives her and her family the financial freedom to move forward, and frees Louisa to focus on her own ambitions, rather than the minutiae of staying in the black. Lou brings Will out of his, understandably, self-absorbed way of thinking with a not-so-subtle ‘you don’t have to be an arse’. Will shows Lou the realms of possibility that she has started to turn her back on – french cinema, university etc. They may be as clashing as some of Lou’s pattern heavy outfits, but they compliment each other well.

Sometimes, you just need someone to let you know that they do make bumblebee tights for adults. And, sometimes, you need a film to be so bittersweet that you can cry, smile and feel hopeful all at the same time.

 

See also: Flavour of the Month: Brooklyn

 

 

Travel Chic: How to stay glam on the road

Staying a style icon whilst travelling or going on holiday with limited luggage can be difficult. Maintaining a varied, kick-ass  wardrobe with just a few pieces is no mean feat when you’re on the road. When travelling, keeping comfortable is the main aim, along with making an entrance.

A few rules of thumb:

  • Want vs Need: Pack only what you need – don’t be over-stuffing and huffing and puffing at stations and getting your hair in a frizz. Unless you’re going to Mars, there will be shops if you get snagged tights or period panties.
  • Put a cape on it: Travelling is tiring so build a blanket into your outfit. Wear a cape/ wrap/ shawl or pashmina. Light enough for a megabus sauna and cosy enough for a chilly train ride.
  • Now, neutralise: Outerwear in neutral colours is great because it goes with everything. I tend to opt for my grey woolen blazer and matching beret.
  • Put on your dancing shoes: One pair is quite sufficient. Brogues are a good all-weather, walk around and smart option, although a reliable sandal is good for hotter climates.
  • Colour scheme: Take outfits that revolve around one or two colours to make accessorising easier.
  • Accessories for all occasions: You only need a couple of things – maybe one square scarf, one belt in black or tan and a hair flower in a match-all colour like white or cream.

 

Happy adventuring!