DITCHING SELF CONSCIOUSNESS: THERE'S SO MUCH FUN TO BE HAD

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The one part of blogging that I find utterly bizarre is the makeshift photoshoots I find myself on about once a week. When I started this blog I relied on nothing more than words, but over the years I realised if I was ever going to make it in the blogosphere I was going to need to up my game, and fast.

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Top: *Topshop
Skirt: *New Look
Boots: *Asos (v similar, mine are old!!)

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So that's what I did, and for the most part it's been okay. About once a week I hang out with my patient friend Evie, bored boyfriend Alex or, more recently, since she got home from her travels (and because she's a professional photographer) my sister Katya as they capture picture upon picture of me looking totally the same, aside for the outfit of course. 

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There are pros and cons to this. Yesterday, I experienced a big con.

Self conscious about having my photo taken in public at the best of times, I was not entirely enthused by the prospect of doing it, as we did, at school pick up time. I'd seen a cute coloured wall the day before and dragged Kat there, without realising that the building in question, was in fact a school. 

There were people everywhere and I resolutely refused to pose. 

Katya, had other ideas.

She pushed me against the wall, picked up her enormous camera and pointed it at me.

I noticed people were beginning to stare.

So Katya, rather than be a sympathetic little sister and listen to my desperate pleas and wait until the crowds of stressed out mother and surly teenagers dissipated, she, for lack of a better expression, totally fucked me over.

"OH EM! What's wrong with you?" She shouted. "You were B-E-G-G-I-N-G me to take these photos this morning, b--e--g--g--i--n--g!!!"

'Shut uuppppp...." I pleaded.

"No no, didn't you tell me on the way here that you thought you'd be the next Kate Moss? YOU DID!! Come on sweetie... it's your time to S-H-I-N-E."

I swear to God, I have never, ever, ever wanted to kill a member of my family more. 

But I couldn't deny that it was very funny. 

Funny in the same way as when you fall over in public or walk into a window. You're mortified, you want to cry, but you can't deny that it's still the funniest thing in the world. 

Her plan (if that's what it was), worked perfectly. 

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FUCK IT!!! I thought. Who cares. I will never see these people again. And if I do, will they remember me? Will they heck. Who knows, maybe I look fabulous and they're buying the Kate Moss line... yeah okay, okay, that one's unlikely. But still, what does it really matter what people think?

After that, we had a lot of fun. Not caring that we literally had to ask a man (who was actually on a very important business call by the sounds of it) to move out the way so we had full access to the fabulous pinkness of a building, I turned the sass-o-meter up to the highest level available and had a real giggle.

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Welcome to an inhibition free life. 

We walked home together cackling and sining hymns at the top of our voices. 

As a Londoner I can tell you that there is no way I would normally consider doing anything of the sort had I not been filled with a considerable amount of tequila. 

What if someone stares at me? What if someone laughs at me? *shudders*.

We're such a self conscious lot, us humans. Particularly those of the female variety. It's no secret, and it's clear to see why. But God, isn't it just a bit... boring?

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I love to laugh, it's one of my favourite things in the whole wide world, and so often I swallow it, hold it back, worry about it. It's the weirdest damn thing. I wouldn't let another shopper in the co-op tell me what I should have for dinner. I wouldn't let a taxi driver take me somewhere I hadn't asked to go. So why would I let Joe Bloggs on the street discourage me from having fun and being myself?

You know what it's like, walking down the street with a skirt that you think is too short, arriving in a pub without any makeup on, showing up to the cinema with greasy hair. 'They're all staring at me!' you think.

Let me let you into a secret: they're not.

Not even when you're the only person not wearing a coat in the rain, posing against a pink wall with a crazy person opposite you ridiculing your for labelling yourself as the next Kate Moss. 

Even then, people have better things to do with their lives than care in the slightest what the strangers around them are up to. And if, on the off chance, you find someone that does?

Well... fuck 'em.  

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Shop the look - if ya fancy it xx

*the links marked are affiliate links, this means I make a small percentage on anything that you buy after clicking through! 

WHY I WON'T DO A SOCIAL MEDIA DETOX.

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Bold headline Em, and absolutely no authority with which to back it up. 'Atta girl.

I have never had a social media detox, not a deliberate one anyway. Since I've been using a phone with a knackered battery for the last few months I've inadvertently detoxed when out the house for a long period of time, but have never had to consciously remove apps from my phone or train myself not to Instagram my breakfast. (Namely because I have the same thing every day and it always looks a bit rank).

I've never detoxed before for a few reasons. In part because it's my job to be online, in part because I can't really see the point and then, mostly, because I really don't think I have a problem. Or at least, I don't think that my problem is a problem, if you know what I mean.

When I got a bit sick last year I was told I had to give up caffeine for what turned out to be six months, I wrote a blog post about this called Giving Up Caffeine: the good, the bad, and the really bloody ugly, and found the biggest shock came from discovering that I had an addiction in the first place.

Can you be addicted to something and not even realise? It turns out yes, you absolutely can be.

In the morning, I drink coffee. It never occurred to me that I might need my coffee, that I might be addicted to my coffee. As it transpires, when you get out bed desperate for something first thing in the morning, you are probably addicted to it. With that in mind I think I'd be a bloody fool to deny a social media addiction, there hasn't been a day gone by, I don't think, over the last ten years when I haven't checked at least one site. 

If you were feeling generous you might pass it off as a habit. But then, no one's that generous.

So they are both addictions, but if I'm honest, I'm totally fine with that- probably why I'm in no rush to give either of them up. I'm enjoying them, and they're not exactly hurting anyone.

I do have one more addiction though. And no, sadly, it isn't running, or yoga, or boxing. It's one that I am actually ashamed of, and that's my addiction to cigarettes. That is an addiction that I don't love, namely because I know it is bloody stupid, a waste of money, and absolutely terrible for me. But at least I know I'm not going to do that forever, I don't want to at least. 

One day I hope to kick that habit and live a fag-free life. I will beat that addiction because I want to and not much will change, other than the fact I'll be healthier and have more money for shoes. There's a good incentive, I have a reason. My health, my future kid's health yadiyadiyadar.

I label it an addiction, I know it's a problem. One day soon, I'll sort it out. I really have to sort it out. Smoking is bad, stop it and you'll live for longer. Simple.

There is no such incentive with social media, just like there wasn't one with caffeine, which is probably why I was crap at giving it up. 

I can't envisage a life without social media, I don't think it's a conceivable notion. I can see my life without cigarettes, clearly. Nothing ultimately will change, other than my body temperature as I'll be allowed to spend more of my life inside. A life without social media though? I'll be unemployed, lonely and, well, an outcast.

Of course some miserable old bats who have nothing better to do than whinge about the good old days are quick to tell us how social media is a 'breeding ground for a selfish, self-indulgent and self-obsessed culture' but, come on, let's be honest Susan, it's just not that simple anymore. 

Social media, much like coffee, is a huge part of Western life. Of my life. I pour myself a cup of coffee, I scroll through Twitter. I order a cup of coffee, I upload a photo of it to Instagram. I see a video of some edgy coffee shop using only recycled petrol cans (or something equally ridiculous) on Facebook and immediately I need one. My addictions feed each other. 

And since I enjoy both things so much, I'm not in a rush to acknowledge either thing as a problem that warrants me worrying.

Not least of all, because the minute I treat it like a problem, is the minute it actually becomes one.

When I gave up caffeine and alcohol last year I became scared of them, despite not having even the slightest inkling of a problem with drink, I started to overthink both things and ultimately, it depressed me.

I was depriving myself of things and I didn't really know why I was doing it. The ever elusive 'it's for your health' was not enough of an explanation for me. I worry that if I were to banish social media completely, similar things would happen.

I also know myself and my overwhelming urge to do something the minute I'm told I'm not supposed to do it. 

Don't press the button.... BUT WHY?

Perhaps I'm lucky that I don't see my relationship with social media as a problem. Living online does come with it's problems and it's widely acknowledged to be detrimental to mental health. Nevertheless, I am very able to go through long lunches, movies, walks around the park not using my phone. I'm not glued to the thing, in fact, a lot of the time, I really hate it.

But I think the minute you told me I couldn't upload that adorable photo of Bua to Instagram on a whim, because I was d-e-t-o-x-i-n-g, I'm sure I'd create a problem over nothing. I'd get myself into such a state of frustration at not being able to upload a photo of my pup to the internet that it would take away more fun than the five minute posting process would ever have done.

A detox isn't the answer for me, on the contrary, I think it would create more problems in the long run. In the same way that diets have ruined my relationship with food and sobriety created a problem with alcohol, a social media detox would probably take away all the fun that I had online.

If you give up gluten when you don't need to, within a few weeks you'll develop an intolerance and ruin your relationship with bread forever. As someone who can't eat gluten for other reasons, I can tell you that's not a risk I want to take with Instagram. 

When my little online world gets on top of me, rather than boldly remove it from my life forever, I do what I'd do if I accidentally had a fifth cup of coffee: I'd get off my arse, into the fresh air and shake it off. 

DO I HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO BE HAPPY?

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Blogging full time can be really weird. For the last year it has been my sole job to share my life with whoever wants to hear about it and I've found striking a balance between being utterly depressing and wildly upbeat to be a struggle at times. In part I want to do my best to remain positive, making a passing visit to my site or social media channels an enjoyable and uplifting experience for those who stumble across my work, but then in part I want what I portray to the world to be real, so as not to make the aforementioned visitors feel in anyway different or alone with their unhappiness or gloomy outlook on life. 

Do I want to be cheering people up, a constant source of energy, sunshine and happiness for those on the hunt for a boost, or do I want to tell it how it really is; warts, overdue bills, snotty nose, anxiety and hairy legs galore? I'm only human, I don't only have good days, should I just remain silent on the bad ones or else feign joy so as not to depress anyone? Am I allowed to moan? Ultimately, do I have a responsibility to be happy?

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JUMPER: Nobody's Child
JEANS: Levi's

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Any regular readers of the blog will know that I was raised with the expression: "a bore is someone who, when asked how they are, tells you", with that in mind I suppose you could say I'm incredibly British: mustn't grumble, stiff upper lip, let's crack on. If a bore is someone who needs an invitation to moan, what would that make me if I did it uninvited? I dread to think... So I try and maintain an outwardly optimistic view in all areas of life. But that does become a little harder when you find yourself blogging for a living. 

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Of course it's no secret that for the majority of us, social media is nothing more than an excuse to show off and for many, not just a money maker but an entire job. Instagram is basically a CV these days and whilst I'm fairly okay with having spots visible in photos, I can understand why they're not regularly uploaded to Instagram (not least of all because I wouldn't put it passed the platform to deem images of that nature 'offensive' and ban them from the algorithm). So we portray our best bits on the grid, ensure the lighting is right and smiles are out in force; but as social media becomes more real, we begin to share every conceivable part of our lives, and with that, the misery comes. 

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I don't want to pop up on my Instagram stories every day moaning and grumbling about various ailments and annoyances, I'm all too aware that that would become incredibly tiresome after three days, equally I definitely do not what to produce a string of depressing blog posts which offer nothing to the reader beyond a depressing sense of irritation that I'm using my platform in such a self indulgent way. Whilst I do of course really enjoy serious, honest blog posts written by people who are going through something challenging (it's not all rainbows and unicorns in my search history,) that's usually because not only do these articles give me an amazing sense of perspective, but they also leave me feeling empowered and inspired. Although they may have appeared to be doom and gloom, more often than not both writer and reader walk away feeling healed in some way. 

'Channeling misery', that's probably the expression I would use. Turning something negative into a positive, using your pain to help someone else. That's powerful, it's art and it's also happiness. What I find hard to justify is the idea of a relentless pity party on my Instagram story. I follow some wonderfully cheerful people on Instagram and the stories are arguably my favourite part; thanks to the hard work and sunny disposition of so many of my peers I have become quite accustomed to inspiration in that department, so when the same people pop up time and time again to moan about trivial things, I have to admit I find it pretty draining, not least of all because more often than not these girls have created an incredible life for themselves using a fanbase that they now cannot stop complaining to and about. 

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That's the thought that bumbles around my head most of the time: I have a ridiculously great job, I'm so so lucky and I would have nothing if not for the people following me; surely I owe it to them not to be ungrateful? If every time I went out for dinner with my friends I told them that I was working 'too hard', had a cold and was having a period resembling a shark attack, they would very quickly get bored of me, and I wouldn't blame them, not only should I be listening to other people rather than moaning about myself *again* but I probably ought to appreciate that I may well be being a bit of a party popper. It's harder on Instagram because ultimately, it is all about you, and yet at the same time I find myself wondering: does it have to be ALLALLALL about you?

If you share your whole life online is it unrealistic to hide the bad bits? No, YouTubers have been getting in trouble for that for forever and are applauded whole heartedly when they open up about various struggles. Why should you have to hide your sadness, be ashamed of it and preach a message of easy peasy lemon squeezy when you really feel like crying difficult difficult lemon difficult. Surely by glossing over the bad bits you are just setting unrealistic expectations for readers, viewers, even friends? Apart from anything, it's exhausting to feel like you're living a lie. But then it's also a bit shit to be professionally miserable, so you can see why I find myself confused quite a lot. 

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When I started Pretty Normal Me it was supposed to be something real and honest. When I wrote the book I thought the same thing. "Be real, be honest, say the things that no one said to you. But don't be negative." It was never supposed to be a negative environment full of moaning and misery. We have enough of that shit in our day to day lives; the last thing I want to do is give more worries to those people seeking out a bit of rest-bite online. Sure I'm going through the shit, they probably are too. We can either all go through it smiling or we can keep shouting complaints at each other until one of us loses our voice. 

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In truth, I think I do have a responsibility to be happy.... and if I'm honest, I kind of love it. 

It's been a widely made observation that the news has long since been nothing more than shit. War, hate, crime, abuse, corruption, hate, stealing, hate, cancer and a bit more hate. The landscape over the last few years however, has begun to change, the media is more multi-dimensional and accessible than it has ever been before and that has been thanks to the growth of blogs. Normal girls and boys creating their own uncensored platforms from which they can empower, inspire and educate. Friendships and formed, mental health is discussed in a real and approachable manner, fashion is celebrated and bullshit is called out, there is self love in abundance and more impressively than any of that is the self-starter attitude that this shift has instilled in so many young people, never in history have so many been self-employed. Blogging makes people all over the world feel less alone and that is ultimately, the most important part. It's a huge community and one that I'm incredibly lucky to be a part of. 

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For me and my blog, I don't want to indulge negativity, whether that's from other people or from myself and I certainly don't want to inflict it on anyone else, not if I can help it. As an anxiety sufferer I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that my platform gives me to talk about it, but I really try to only address these issues in a positive light. What good will my blog post all about how shit anxiety is be for someone who is feeling anxious? About as useful as a chocolate tea pot. I do my best to talk about my woes when I have at least the outline of a solution at hand. It is not the responsibility of my readers to fix my problems and I suspect I know, deep down, that complaining on Instagram won't make me any happier, all it will probably do, is bum someone else out.

Ultimately, for me, I do feel there is a responsibility to be happy and I think it's important that I never let that go. Sure, I'm happy to share the spots and the cellulite and the bad days, we all have bad days and I want to keep as real as I can about that, but I owe it to my friends and my followers to at least look for the positives, to point them out, to try to cling onto them. As far as my blog is concerned, for the most part I will save my moaning for my Whatsaap groups, exhausted mother and various wine bottles and just pray that that keeps working.  

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LITTLE THINGS THAT I DO TO MAKE ME FEEL MORE CONFIDENT

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Confidence is such a funny thing. As far as I am concerned there is nothing more attractive in a person than confidence, there is nothing that makes a person feel happier than when they have it in abundance, and yet it is something that so many of us totally lack. 

Some days I wake up exploding with it, other days I want nothing more than to put a brown paper bag over my head, wrap myself in a duvet, cover all the mirrors in the house and accept that I am destined for a life of misery. I had one of these days a couple of weeks ago and wrote a piece called Why Does No One Like Me? , that's how that one came about. Some days it is noting more than a lottery, a thing totally out of my control that I can do nothing about, I'm just not on it. But then on other days there is the potential to turn it around and with a few tiny tweaks, I'm able to make some great positive changes.

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Blouse: ASOS (CURRENTLY IN THE SALE!!)
Cardigan: ASOS
Jeans: LEVI'S
Boots: ASOS

So for anyone out there struggling in anyway to keep the confidence-o-meter topped up, I've pulled together a list of things that I do to ensure that I'm living my best life (nearly) every damn day. 

(I know already that these won't all be right for everyone, please remember these are just the things that I do for me, take what you want and leave what you want.)

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Smile.

You'd be amazed how quickly you'll find something to smile about, even when the world feels dark and gloomy. Even when I find myself self conscious about the colour or shape of my teeth (or whatever it is I'm fretting about that day), it's really hard to feel doom and gloom when you're smiling. If I do it when I'm on the tube or walking down the street I feel as if I've got a secret with myself and that's a huge boost. 

Paint a face on.

I love that so many women feel beautiful without a scrap of makeup on, I applaud them, I envy them and sometimes I am one of them. A lot of the time though, I rely on my makeup bag. Alex calls my makeup my warpaint and I love that. When I sit down in the morning and prepare to put it on I look in the mirror and think that I'm preparing for battle. The battle of the day. Makeup really helps.

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Channel your inner Rapanzul.

I really struggle to feel like a superstar confident woman when I've got greasy hair. In fact, a bad hair day has been known to absolutely crush my confidence on more than one occasion. If I need a boost, have a busy day or just fancy myself I have to wash and dry my hair. Not least of all because there is nothing better than swishing your way down the street; whatever else happens in your day, at least your hair looks fabulous. 

Smell delicious.

One of my biggest fears in this life is smelling bad. Dunno why, I just can't even deal with the notion. Whatever it is I am doing that day, whether it's a big meeting, a night out with friends or even just a walk in the park with Bua I drench myself in scent. It's no secret that I have a total Jo Malone obsession and have long since equated success and happiness with owning a lot of her products (even if that does sound totally ridiculous), and covering myself in my scent obsession of the moment - Jo Malone Basil & Neroli does wonders for my confidence. 

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Treat your commute like a music video. 

If you tell me you don't know what I am talking about then you are a bloody liar. We've all done this and we should never underestimate the power that this tragic action holds. Depending on my moods I find this a really useful tecnique, whether it's Beyonce on the way to a party, Imagine Dragons before a run or Rihanna's Work before a meeting, music has been the answer to problems I didn't even know I had.

A clean shave.

I find it really hard to love myself unconditionally when I've got hairy pits. I wish that was not the case but it's 2017 and society's a bitch, hair's not sexy... apparently. Anyway. I got into bed the other night, thought I was rocking all kinds of adorable until I noticed my underarms and the fact I'd neglected to epilate in way too long. I dealt with the problem immediately, booked a bikini wax and attacked my legs while I was it and it honestly did wonders. When you know you're looking your best it's hard not to feel your best.

Drink water.

Can't really explain this one other than to say, when I'm hydrated I just feel like I've got my shit together. 

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Take some time. 

Whether that's another five minutes doing your makeup, walking through the park on your lunch break or even just listening to a podcast at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee, taking a bit of time to reflect on everything is really important. Thinking about the things that are important to you and celebrating the success of your day/week/life thus far is incredibly fulfilling but only really achieved when you take the time to do it properly.

Add some height. 

Long legs: killer confidence. Or so I think anyway. Unfortunately I was not blessed with lengthy pins and so it falls on me to rectify God's oversight on my own. Even if it's just a couple of inches that a pair of chunky ankle boots give you, a bit of height goes a long way (pardon the pun). It also makes me feel smarter and more ready for the day. Again, fuck society and it's obsession with women having to dress up to feel smart, but here we are, it works for me. Whoever said 'no one looks at a man's shoes' was probably a liar anyway. 

Get busy. 

Nothing makes me feel more confident than feeling in demand. Even if it's just popping into the pet shop to stock up on dog food, rushing to the post office and then dragging your feet to the gym. If I plan nothing and spend the day doing nothing more than twiddling my thumbs, it's very easy to find yourself feeling utterly useless. Ensuring that I've got a lot on makes a huge difference to my confidence and I am able to get into bed at the end of a long day feeling satisfied and fulfilled and pretty much like the biggest bestest VIP in all the land. 

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BEING AN ADULT IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

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"Great, that's my council tax sorted for this month!'

Welcome to the mind of a struggling freelancer upon receiving a paycheque. Where I used to look forward to payday with a rather unhealthy thirst, normally for tequila, I now find myself comparing lump sums of money to various expenses that I need to pay. It's boring and complicated and grownup and I'm not loving it. I no longer blow my earnings straight away on a big night out and a jacket I've been lusting over. Nor am I comfortable with £17 in the bank and no idea where the next job is coming from. My years of being 'young dumb and broke' are behind me, or at least, I think they are. 

At the ripe old age of 23, no one can tell me that I'm a child anymore. I am already surrounded by responsibility and can't help but get my future out of my mind. Although I still feel very young, three of my friends have got engaged this year and when I held my cousin's baby last month I wasn't totally grossed out. I have a boyfriend of nearly five years, run my own business and am totally responsible for keeping my dog alive, to all intents and purposes I am 'adulting'. So why do I spend so much of my time waiting for the penny to drop? For everything to fall into a place? For me to make it?

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Jumper: Asos
Jeans: Levis
Boots: Asos
Dog: Not for sale. 

When I was at school I lived with the following hopes and dreams: I will get older, finish school and go to university, I'll love it, come back to London and find a job that I adore and am excellent at. I will buy a cottage somewhere beautiful, get married, have babies, they will think I'm wonderful and I'll be a spectacular mother, I will look fantastic, smell amazing, wear a lot of cashmere and then, as I enter my twilight years, I will start drinking too much and embarrassing my grandchildren. 

Of course my house would be full of candles and decorated immaculately, my friends, smelling equally amazing, would pop over a lot in the evenings and my hair would probably be blowdried about three times a week. Alex would wear very soft White Company jumpers and the kids would be in mini Timberlands. I'd host dinner parties and wear nice dresses and I'd live a thoroughly enjoyable life. 

And although adulthood has done it's very best to scupper my plans, by relentlessly reminding me that in the real world no one smells that great or actually buys the White Company jumpers, I still hope that one day I'll be able to pull this off. After all, all the people on Instagram seem to be living my dream. 

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I live by the logic that one day, I'll get there. One day I'll make it. One day I'll be a successfuly grown up. 

But when? By law I've been a grownup for a while now. So when will I finally wake up as the swan that I'm so desperate to be? When, if ever, will the expectation of my life become the reality? It's a conversation I am finding myself having more and more often at the moment with so many of my friends: what does the future look like? "Well, we'll get married in the next couple of years? Babies by 30? And then out of London not long after I suppose? Only when we can afford it of course.... well, if we can afford it..." 

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It only feels like two minutes ago I was standing at the hole in the wall trying to work out if I had enough money for the bus home and now Alex is trying to save up for a car. It seems we're growing up. But at what age will I will be grown? When will I not have to stop drinking, not because I'm too pissed, but because I can't afford another round? When will I be able to just buy a new toaster without having to budget for one? Will I ever get to the point when I can walk into a shop, see a candle I like and not have to work out how badly my car needs a service before I buy it??? 

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And it's not just the money thing. It's pretty much every element of grownupping (new word, love it, use it). When will I stop needing to ring my mum every time the dishwasher beeps in a new way? Or be able to go the gym without needing a round of applause from Alex and my Instagram followers when I get back home again? If I can't plan my breakfast, how will I be able to plan a wedding and if I lose my phone once an hour what the hell am I going to be like with a child? When will I not need to google about fourteen million things a day and know for sure whether or not you're supposed to reheat rice? When will I start wearing matching socks, stop getting spots and be able to keep both the tupperware container AND THE LID in the house for more than a day?

Will I ever be able to move to the countryside and find myself a cottage with whatever it's called growing on the walls (something else I need to google cause I can't remember shit about plants!), and when I get there will I be able to paint the front door in duck egg blue or will I forever have 'paint' on the shopping list? Will I ever be able to stop telling people how much my clothes cost when they compliment something, just so they know that it didn't cost a lot and I'm not being extravagant? And how on earth are my sister and I ever going to be able to pull off our grownup fantasy of living on the same beautiful road together, loving each other's kids and cooking dinner for each other when we're both shit at cooking and laugh uncontrollably every time we think of seals? 

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I'm not sure there is a person alive who didn't fantasise about being a grownup when they were a child, and I'm not sure that those fantasies ever truly fade. I thought maybe when I turned 21 or so I might have had to rejiggle a few things, but ultimately I'd be on the path I needed to be. If I'm honest I'm hella pissed that no one thought to tell me on my eighteenth birthday that there was no path. That all you can ever do is your best. That being an adult is very great, but also absolutely nothing like you thought it would be.

Most days I still feel like a kid playing grownups and yet every other day someone asks me how long it will be until I start thinking about kids, it's a really odd thing. 

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I wrote last week about how one day the days that we were living now would be the good old days, and I'm pretty sure I was right. Being in your twenties is great, it's awesome, it's fun and exciting and mad. It's also expensive and confusing and messy and painful. I feel like that Britney Spears song "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman." Except, I AM a woman. I'm a grownup and the only reason I don't feel like one is, I suspect, because no one really knows what it feels like. It doesn't mean it's not happening, just because it differs to my teenage fantasy, please, at that time I was convinced Alex Pettyfer was going to fall in love with me and he's engaged to someone else now. If I've learned anything it's that your future is absolutely nothing like you thought it would be. 

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I was hanging out with a kid the other day and whilst I was scrolling through my phone, terror rising as I realised I had a lot of emails to reply to, he turned to me and asked:

"What's it like to be a grownup?" 

"What do you mean?" I replied.

"Well," he said, "I've always wanted to ask my parents but I've never got around to it before. What's it like?"

"It's fun", I told him "if not a bit stressful sometimes".

"It looks fun", he said "you have your own phone, you can eat sweets whenever you want, you can drive AND there are no bedtimes!!". 

Ah, well when you put it like that, I suppose it's not all bad. 

SOMEDAY THESE WILL BE THE GOOD OLD DAYS

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"Go hard or home."

"You can sleep when you're dead".

"YOLO."

 Yadiyadayada.

You know what people say, normally as they're bullying you and shaming you into doing something that you've told them that you can't be arsed with.

"Oh perlease, you're SO boring, you're only young once, come out with us, one day you'll be old and wishing you'd had more fun".

Maybe, but tonight I'm watching Bake Off and I really don't want a hangover in the morning so it's a no from me, now piss off and leave me to my pizza.

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Jumper from M&S (similar one HERE!)
Jeans (fave ever pair) from Levis (available HERE)
Trainers (never take them off) from Adidas (available HERE)

I'm pretty good at going out, but I'm also really, really good at staying in. I don't like waking up with my mouth feeling like it's full of sand, I'm bored of the headaches and I'm really done with the days of spending my last £17 on a round of tequila. I have responsibilities now. I have a dog and a job (where I'm my own boss and I really need to not fuck around with that) and I'm trying to plan my future (which I hope will include a lot of Jo Malone, meaning I do probably have to sacrifice the jaegers). I can't just go on six benders in a row and expect my work not to suffer, I can't afford to blow my remaining pennies on a skirt I don't need and, with a boyfriend who works a conventional office job, we can't just pack up a suitcase and piss off to Greece for weeks on end. 

Sometimes, occasionally, I look back at the me of five years ago; the one that could go on six benders in a row without really suffering, the one that regularly blew money on useless skirts and the one that never actually pissed off to Greece, but who did bugger off to Dublin for a few months, (and when you're eighteen that's pretty much the same thing) and I mourn it. I mourn the freedom that I had. With rose tinted glasses on I look back on my former years and I miss them; it all seemed so fun, so easy, so care free. What wouldn't I give to be eighteen again? No one expected anything from me, no one relied on me, I was a free agent. Young, dumb and free. I'm sure I've heard that in a song before now.

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And yet, of course, at the time, everything was just as shit as it is now. I had responsibilities, of a different kind. 

That's not to say that my life today is shit, on the contrary, my life is wonderful. I'm so lucky and I'm so happy. But I'm also very busy and very tired and very stressed. I lack any real direction, of course, because I'm 23 and who the hell has any direction at 23? I don't see my friends as much as I would like, I feel guilty about loads of stuff and give myself a really hard time if I go off and have too much fun. Probably in the same way that I did when I was eighteen, but I can't remember. It's the gift of hindsight that made my life of five years ago look so amazing. And no doubt it will be re-gifted to me in a few more years and I'll look back at what I've got now and mourn the freedom, the fun, the laughter. 

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the fashion freedom that comes with youth and whether I was taking it for granted; was I going to come down the stairs one day asking if I was too old for something and hate myself so much for wasting all the times I didn't need to ask that question by wearing nothing but black jeans and a hoodie? Am I wasting my youth basically, I came to the conclusion that I definitely was.

Last night I sat with my mum as she went through stacks of photos that she had taken in the 1980s. God weren't times simpler? Weren't they happy times? Didn't we all look so hot? Yes. Topless sunbathing, parties, bad hair, laughter. So much laughter. Photo upon photo of my mum's older sister who died, too young, aged 40. Helly smiling. Helly smoking. Helly with this boyfriend, that boyfriend and... whatwasthatboyfriendsname? Helly smiling more, laughing, pissed, on holiday, naked, happy. I've missed her my whole life. I never knew her, not really, but I know I love her. My mum talks about her all the time, all the time, every story is better than the one before. God they got into trouble. They had fun, so, so much fun. They were the good old days eh?

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Much like these days will one day be my good old days. Before I even know it my whole life will have changed and I'll be looking at photos with my kids, laughing and crying, sharing my memories, reminiscing, mourning probably. Celebrating. 

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Celebrating a life well lived. A life full of laughter and joy and happiness and friends. Of new experiences, bad hair, worse clothes, no problems. 

I won't look back at this day and remember the headache that I woke up with, I won't remember the fact that I stubbed my toe or uploaded the podcast half an hour late. I'll remember a great day spent on the beach, eating sweets and skimming stones. I'll remember all the stuff that I took for granted at the time. 

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I was driving along a costal road today, looking out across the Irish Sea and a song came on, it's by Macklemore and Kesha:

I wish somebody would've told me then, someday these'll be the good old days.

I don't know why but I nearly cried listening to that song, hearing those words today. I think I really needed to hear them, I think I needed a kick up the arse; I needed reminding how good everything was, how precious life is. How I need to open my eyes to it and enjoy it and live it and celebrate it.

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I didn't mean to have an epiphany today and I definitely didn't mean to write such a cheesy blog post. But here we are. I did have an epiphany and now I'm writing about it. I suppose, in the hope that I can kick someone else up the arse. Someone who is feeling overwhelmed by their life today, who is caught up being stressed and angry and tired. Someone who can't see the good, who is missing days passed, who is sad and who can't explain why. Life is good. It's so so good. And it's also really, really quick.

And so for as long as I remember to, I'm going to live my best life. And remember to enjoy it whilst it's happening and not just as I look back over some blurry photos in years to come. 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS: BEING THE PERSON YOU WANT TO KNOW

We talk a lot about the kindness of strangers, or I do at any rate. I live for kindness, actively seeking it out, desperately desperate to do my best and to see the best in other people. And I feel like I'm not alone with that, not many people get out of bed in the morning with the intention of being a knob, and everywhere I look I am surrounded by what seem to be some really great people. And yet it seems, being kind is not always that easy. In a world where we are glued to our phones, trampling over one another to get to the top and just being generally busy, it's surprisingly easy to be a bit of an arsehole. 

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Pushing in front of someone in the queue for the bus (because hella no I am not losing my seat to these shrieking school children), barging through a crowd with the RBF in full force because your G&T is empty and you'll be damned if you have to listen to Julie moan on about that shitstain of a boyfriend without another one and ignoring desperate pleas for money from people sitting on the pavement because you genuinely haven't got any change on you are just a handful of the little things that we do without thinking, every day, that prevent us perhaps, from being the kind hearted strangers that we are so desperate to be. 

The situation online is just as bad, if not worse. The inspiration for this article came from the rather wonderful Vix Meldrew who wrote an article this week expressing her concern that blogging was making people pricks (she wasn't actually wrong at all) - it's all too easy to skim past positive comments that someone so diligently took the time to leave for you and even easier to ignore other people all together. Whether you're a blogger who can't be bothered to read about Clinique's new eyeliner pen (which in fairness does look pretty dreamy) or just your average Facebook user who is becoming acutely bored of seeing photos of Susan's baby, it's impossible to deny that for a large portion of the day we behave like the lone wolfs we feel like.

Every man for themselves. That's what we're taught isn't it? London is a dog eat dog city if I ever saw one and whilst it might not make sense to you, little old lady who I just knocked to the ground as I ran to get onto the tube before the doors closed, (even though, yes, there is another one coming in a minute), I'm b.u.s.y and I've got a lot going on and I just REALLY COULDN'T AFFORD TO MISS THAT TRAIN OKAY?!!?!?! Online it's the same situation. My post, my post, my post!!! READ MY POST FIRST!! (Although, you seriously need to read Vix's post first actually to know what I'm talking about), Twitter is like the London of the internet. Despite wanting to be kind, we're inherently pretty bloody selfish. 

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And yet, despite our shitty behaviour, we still talk a lot about the kindness of strangers, which does at least suggest, thankfully, that there is a glimmer of hope for what is starting to sound like a pretty bleak situation. 

Let's take my life for example, and no, before you roll your eyes, I'm not about to tell you what a great person I am; volunteering at soup kitchens and stopping to feed the pigeons (although that is, of course, the person I would like to become), I'm instead going to tell you about the kindness I have experienced recently from a group of what are, to all intents and purposes, strangers. (Because sadly, I'm hard pushed to call the people I follow on Twitter, who I've never actually met, actual friends, as much as I would like to). 

I wrote a blog post last week called Why Does No One Like Me? (If that's not attention seeking then I don't know what is) and last night a girl that I have followed on Twitter for ages @TheSundayGirl (who as it transpires is an actual angel who you need to follow immediately), commented on my post offering some advice, I actually ended up taking up about two hours of her time (bless her, she probably regretting offering) as she talked me through a whole load of stuff that I have wanted to know for ages, but have been to embarrassed to ask anyone about. Blogging networks that I should be part of, tweaks that I could make to my website and social channels, taking my email address and telling me that she would pass it on to people who might be interested in working with me. Despite what I am sure is a demanding work life and, since it was Monday night and there was probably something great to be watching on television, a million better things to be doing, she took the time to just help. 

I experienced something similar from Emily Leary (@AMummyToo), another great human who took time out of her day one Saturday morning a few weeks ago to inform me of something I wouldn't otherwise know and suggesting things that I could do to avoid it happening again in the future. I witnessed it again not long ago, Jemma from @dorkfaceblog spent an entire day last week tweeting accounts of the people that she liked, telling her 20k followers to follow them too. She definitely did not need to spend an entire day doing that, detracting probably from her own website, scheduled tweets and beautiful Etsy shop and yet, she did. Because, you guessed it, she's a kind stranger. 

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Bloggers talk a lot about supporting each other. Empowered women empower women. That's what we like to say. I say it on the daily. And I genuinely mean it. But I wonder how much I undermine that expression by then, even accidentally, doing the exact opposite of what I am promising? It's not entirely empowering to ignore others is it? Nor is it empowering to only look out for number one, no matter how important my own success seems at the time. In the same way that you find yourself wondering how good the person who just told you how good they are, actually is, I worry a little that a few of us brush over our bad behaviour with a well placed hashtag and hope that really, no one notices that we haven't been all that great today. 

The fact of the matter is this: being kind is fundamentally fairly easy. Sometimes it seems like hard work. Sometimes it's a bit of an effort. Sometimes we need to be a little bit selfish in order to make the most of a situation. But most of the time, it's something that we should be doing and that we're not, for no reason in particular. Offering help, going out of your way to make sure that you can provide it, not just being there, in the background for someone, but being the person who goes out of their way to do the right thing is the person that most of us want to be. And that's a person that we can be, so easily. I don't want to undermine the kindness that I have experienced from others by suggesting that what they did was easy, as we get busier and the competition gets tougher, it's becoming more and more difficult, actually, to be there for other people, but I wonder if they know how much their small acts of kindness meant to me? 

Maybe it's an indication of the nastiness of the world that we are living in today, that when someone behind you in the queue returns your bank card to you when it falls out of your pocket, it merits telling your other half, mother, father, neighbour and dog about how this incident totally restored your faith in humanity. That's a sad reality actually, that this tiny favour done by a stranger can mean so much to us. But it also proves something else: that making another person's day has never been easier. Being kind has never been easier. 

MY SISTER WRITES ABOUT SHOPPING AS A PLUS SIZE GIRL.

Hello everyone! It’s me again, the less successful but far superior sister; Katya. I’m back on the blog to once again write about something that’s been rustling my jimmies for quite some time now. Although the topic of a lack of plus size clothing is nothing new, I thought I would wade in to add my own views, feelings, praise and scorn to the matter, as I’m a millennial, and sharing my opinion is what we were made to do. 

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Right. So I shall begin by saying that I am what you would call a ‘plus size girl’. I’m not ashamed of this, it’s a sort of life choice I suppose. I could go to the gym and yes, I could eat more healthily, but I don’t really feel like doing that right now. I’ve got more important shit going on in my life and a burger and a nap will help me cruise through my problems a hell of a lot more easily than a protein shake and jog will. There is no point in trying to hide that I’m bigger than most as there is no way that I can possibly hide it.

I have love handles, the little ‘pooches’ under my boobs, a whopping double chin, thunder thighs, back rolls and an inconveniently large tummy. If you’ve met me, you will have seen these things, that’s the way that sight works. And trust me, I’m aware that this is my body, and if I had a problem with it, which one day I might do (if I ever work up the energy to care), then I will change it. However, what you will have also seen is the clothes that I wear. Now my clothes aren’t particularly awful. I do own some nice stuff which I’m happy to wear, but there are other things which I wear simply because they cover my body. I hate doing this. I find myself doing it with t-shirts and jeans all the time because there isn’t much else that I can find that fits me. I love fashion, and if I wasn’t ‘plus sized’ then I think I would have a fairly great wardrobe by now. 

When I go online to shop for clothes (always online, don’t think for a second that I’m going near the black hole of self-despair and hatred that is shopping in an actual store), I always have to avert my eyes from what the entire shop has to offer. If I go on a website and click on the ‘dress’ button for example, then I’m met with a whole host of beautiful garments which I will get insanely excited about, click on, prepare to buy, only to discover that their idea of an 'extra-large' is a size 14. Really bitch?

If I dare even spare a glance at the ‘regular’ options then that familiar feeling of self-loathing which real life shopping brings about will slowly begin to piss on my parade once again and I’ll probably end up smashing my laptop, flipping a table and inhaling my body weight in whatever unhealthy stuff we have in the house, which in my home of athletes will probably just be decade old chocolate sprinkles and left over roast dinner. Sue me. It helps. So I avoid all the options that the website gives me and I go over to the left hand side of the screen and look for a filter button where I can narrow down to my size. I notice that they have only five size options and the highest one is my size, a size 16, which as I’m sure my fellow size sixteeners will know by now, is never a good sign. 

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Clicking on that button I already know why I’m going to be faced with. All those glorious and beautiful dresses suddenly vanish off the screen, and I’m met with only two dresses out of a thousand that are in my size. And Jesus Christ if they aren’t the ugliest fucking dresses I ever saw. So what? Am I supposed to just wear the exact replica of Robin Williams’ dress from Mrs Doubtfire for the rest of my life, or does anyone have anything half decent which I can wear?

Going to another website, I repeat the same steps, but this time I’m delighted to find that there are more than two options! There’s over a hundred! Could it be? Could this website, this beautiful, amazing website really have clothes that I can wear? Cool clothes? Clothes that other girls, three sizes smaller than me also wear? Can I actually be confident in the clothes that I dress myself in? Of course not. Congratulations! In clicking the size 16 option, you’re now being offered our special branch of maternity wear! Don’t worry, even if you are nine months pregnant, which you must be if you’re as huge as a size SIXTEEN, then we’ve got clothes that’ll fit you just right! Motherfuckers. I’m a fairly self-deprecating individual, in a way that I wear my nastiness like a medal, but I will not let my dignity take a hit that big by purchasing maternity wear. So Mrs Doubtfire it is. 

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However, by the power of Christ himself, do I dare say that times may be a changin’? Although I am still struggling to find clothes that I actually feel are unique and tailored for my own personal style, I am indeed a step closer, and I have Asos to thank for that. They have a whole section on their website dedicated to plus sized girls, and hot damn they’ve got some nice shit on there. Looking at it now, they’ve got 50 pages of options dedicated entirely for big girls and I cannot be more grateful. Even if I do find clothes which stretch up to a size 16, its soul destroying to always feel like you shouldn’t be wearing those clothes because you’re too big, even though the national average for women’s clothing is in fact a size 16.  It’s so nice to finally shop in a place without any anxiety or depression, wondering whether or not the things you want will or will not fit you, whether or not you’re actually allowed to wear them. They even do plus sized jewellery! I don’t know why, but to me that actually shows a level of care as they’re not just silencing the big girls by letting them have some clothes, but they’re actually giving something extra. Something as small as a ring or a choker can really ruin your day if it won’t fit on your fingers or wrap around your neck, but Asos are really giving you something special there. Something a bit more personal. 

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In conclusion, I think that other clothing stores need to get their shit in order to be perfectly honest. They need to follow suit with Asos and inject a bit of humanity into what they’re selling. When you first meet a person, yes you notice their body size, but you also notice the clothes that they wear. And surely we big girls and boys have just as much right as everyone else to show just how fabulous we are? I’m going to go ahead and point names and name fingers and say that Urban Outfitters, bitch I’m looking at you. Zara, you too. Sort your shit out guys, cause you know you’ve got some really cool clothes in your store, trust me, I know because I’ve spent hours agonising over it. You may have some cool clothes, but it’s not cool to be an arsehole. Sort it out. Please.

(Hi, it's Em here. Just a quickie to say - apart from being a superb writer, total baller and all round good girl, Katya is also an INCREDIBLE photographer and you really ought to follow her Instagram xxx) 

 

WHY DOES NO ONE LIKE ME?

When I was at school I was totally convinced that no one liked me. I felt often that I was too big for my skin, that my presence was an annoyance and that one day, soon, the people I was spending time with would identify me formally as a fraud and banish me from their circle. Although I have grown up to have a collection of truly wonderful friends around me, with whom I feel totally myself, there are still times in my life when I feel, without a shadow of a doubt, that no one likes me... I’m only human after all.

I’m aware of my breath, what if it smells? I say things and instantly regret them, what if that wasn’t funny? I sit down in a seat and worry constantly that the people on either side of me would rather it was someone else’s bum on that cushion. I get it at parties and with people I don’t know that well. When talking to other women I cant help but compare myself to them, not with the intention of judging them at all, only to note how much better they are then me and to wonder how they could possibly be happy wasting their precious night hearing what I have to say. 

It’s an overwhelming lack of confidence that I find hard to shake off. It’s not a constant feeling anymore, not like it used to be when I was at school and convinced that I was about as irritating to the people around me as a piece of loo roll stuck to their shoe, I do now have friends who I absolutely know like me, but it does rear its ugly head from time to time. At a friend’s birthday a couple of weeks ago with the people I had gone to school with I found myself lurching between past and present, they want me here, they like me, why I am I here? They hate me. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you that it’s so great to see you, if you don’t want to hear it, you won’t and old habits die hard.

A place where I had never experienced this problem before though, was online. In the past I have had great confidence with my writing and what I was doing. Although I’ve always had my guard up against internet trolls and I’ve always absolutely known that a lot of people won’t like me before they even get to know me because of my surname, I have always believed deep down that the people who found me, liked me and they were all that mattered. Recently though, I have noticed my feelings towards the blog and social media in general change, and it’s making me sad in ways I cannot express. 

Follower count never meant much to me when I started Pretty Normal Me, it is true what they say: ignorance is bliss, and I was so, so, ignorant. Not knowing that photos mattered or mentions mattered or retweets mattered, I wrote because I loved it. And then I got the book deal and that became my focus, it also made me feel that I must be doing something right, surely? But it’s been three months since it came out now and time to think about my future. I can’t really do it part-time anymore as there are too many commitments and yet I can’t really afford to do it for a job, I never learnt how to monetise, hell, I never really realised that I could. So I’ve been at a crossroads these past few weeks: where do I want to take the blog, what do I want for my future? 

And, since life is cruel, when you ask questions of this magnitude you are inviting self doubt into your mind like a wave. What if what I want for my future can’t happen? Why isn’t my following bigger? Why aren’t I better? And whilst those questions are questions that any blogger or business owner will find themselves asking from time to time, they can slip very quickly into feelings of ‘everybody hates me and I’m wasting my time’ if you’re not careful. I find myself saying this to Alex almost daily at the moment: no one cares, what’s the point. 

I’ve gone into self-sabotage mode and I’d be an idiot not to identify the pattern: when I was at school and unsure of myself and the plans for my life, I doubted everything, I convinced myself that I was worth nothing and I wouldn’t be missed if I were to disappear. Once again I have found myself in a period of insecurity wondering what the future might be holding for me and what the point of my existence really is. After years of clear focus, knowing that a published book was the end goal, everything is calming down again and I’m left feeling that I am worth nothing, that I have somehow failed, and when that happens the first thing I do is assume that everybody hates me. I pit myself against other people and convince myself that they are talking about me at the parties; laughing at my blog, my book, my pitiful attempts at Instagram, much like I did when I was at school and assuming they were laughing at my frizzy hair, bad breath and waist size. Even constructive criticism, or healthy debate, as Twitter has been so full of lately, I take to heart. I’m at my most sensitive when pondering the big stuff, which isn’t very helpful.

When I am up, feeling good and confident and proud of myself I’m the first to chant the words: opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one and everybody’s stinks. I’m over here preaching the importance of self belief and how it fundamentally does not matter what other people think of you. I know that in the grand scheme of things the followers that I have, the interaction and the likes mean nothing, that at the end of the day I am able to call upon a friend or go home to my family. I know what’s really important, but of course, when you’re feeling low, your entire sense of perspective changes and all of a sudden none of the big stuff matters anymore. 

I’m still sitting here wondering why people don’t like me, which I realise is an incredibly self indulgent thing to do. I read the first bad review of my book the other day and I think that has had a huge amount to do with my lull in confidence. On Amazon the reviews have been great and I’ve been so lucky, but on Sunday for the first time I hopped onto Goodreads and found a 2* rating from someone with a lot to say. Although of course she had to be honest; she disagreed with a lot of my points and we can’t all agree on everything (and despite my bringing it up I really don’t resent her at all!), the feeling of someone actively not liking something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into can hurt in all sorts of ways. Combine that with all the information I have just provided you about my self-sabotage mode and perhaps you can see how this depressing spiral of ‘everybody hates me’ started off. 

It’s a pain really, I thought I’d just about escaped the generation of kids who are growing up with the online world as another source of insecurity, adhering to the rules: the minute it stops being fun, get off. But for me I realise I cannot do that, online is my job now, regardless of how hopeless I am at it and for kids in school, online is their life. But for me at least, I suppose it’s not the internet that’s the problem, it’s me and my tedious crisis of confidence. I’m brining my baggage to an otherwise fun party and no one wants to be the person with a suitcase full in the pub, literally or metaphorically. 

I write for therapy, I should have mentioned that sooner, I didn’t really plan ahead to a stirring and inspirational final paragraph, which I am regretting now, but I suppose what I have to do is take a step back from this. So one woman didn’t like my book? Lots of others did. So what, people make assumptions about me? That’s their weakness and laziness, not mine. And the fact that some people flat out don’t like me? Well you can’t please everyone can you.

ACCEPTING ANXIETY.

How long have I suffered with anxiety for? I don't know.

A therapist told me that I had it about four years ago. I thanked her for the information and did nothing with it. I think they probably call that denial. Or maybe just a byproduct of living in a society that was yet to accept a mental health problem as 'normal'. 

At the time I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious. But despite my diagnosis (from a woman I really didn't like by the way) I was incredibly unwilling to recognise it as truth. In the midst of a panic attack I'd think: I'm broken. Or, I'm mad. Or I'm disgusting. I'd think that a lot. I didn't know what anxiety was and made no effort to make the connection between the things going on in my mind that I didn't understand and couldn't identify and the word that the therapist had used.

I understand anxiety now, I understand why I felt like I did. I know now that it makes the simplest of tasks cripplingly difficult. I know that it makes me push people away. I know it's why I can't sleep sometimes or struggle to get up in the morning. I know it's why I'm late to stuff and why I cancel things. I know it's why I never reply to text messages and I let opportunities pass me by. I know it's why I feel sick.  I know it's why I have bad days and why I cry. I know now that it is normal and that I am OK. But I didn't know that. Even with my 'diagnosis' it took me a very, very long time to a) accept what anxiety was and b) that it affected me. Even in my book which came out this summer, I only touch on the condition. 

I didn't write a letter to to it, although I should have done. I wrote a letter to everything else. I wrote a letter to my handbag and I didn't write one to the part of my brain that I think about so much. Anxiety wasn't important then, it wasn't worth talking about, it wasn't that bad. That's what I thought about my anxiety. I thought people wouldn't really care, that they didn't need to know. I didn't think it merited a conversation, in print or in person, even with the people who love me most.

Before last weekend I hadn't seen most of my school friends for five years. At first it was to do with our lives moving at different paces, they went to university and I didn't. Then the 'anxiety' and the denial that came with it kicked in and before I knew it I hadn't seen them for a year. Without using this as an opportunity to accept that this was anxiety in action I thought to myself that they were okay without me. They don't miss me. Why would they? It's better if I just stay here. Every time you say no to something it gets easier to say no to everything, by the way. So that's what I did and I gave them no excuse. I lost so many friends and even I didn't know how I had done it. I couldn't tell anyone how I had done it. But then last weekend, after finally accepting why I had pushed myself so far away from everyone I used to know so well, I grabbed life by the metaphorical and went to my school reunion. I said to anyone that asked me where I'd been all this time: I'm so sorry, I find this difficult. They accepted that and welcomed me back. People are good like that.

Five years it took me to say that out loud: I find this difficult.

I would cry and scream and shout and storm out the house when Alex would ask me what I wanted for dinner. That was somehow easier than telling him that I couldn't make a decision. That I was scared to make a decision. So scared that I would get it wrong, that I'd say the wrong thing. That he'd hate me forever. A crime punishable by death, choosing sausages for our tea. Or so I thought. Why couldn't I just tell him: 'I find this difficult.'?

Even my mum, I talk to her every day. That makes it so much harder to explain somehow. With someone that you haven't seen for months it's easy enough: I'm sorry, I'm anxious. With someone that you love and trust and talk to every day, what are you supposed to say? I finally understand why I find it so hard to walk Bua! I know why I can't decide what I want for dinner! Don't ask me why but every time I leave the house I convince myself it's burnt down and I think that might be a symptom of anxiety. Broaching the topic of mental health in a serious manner shouldn't be done on the phone. But it's a bit much to do face-to-face isn't it? To make a big deal out of this? It's easier to say nothing. To pretend it isn't happening. Sure, I find certain things difficult, but doesn't everybody? Won't this just pass? It will probably pass. Why isn't it passing?

I waited for so long for it to pass, for it to just get better. And when it didn't, I couldn't understand.

It's tricky. Because there is a part of me that thinks: the more I talk about this, the more I am thinking about my behaviour and the more I think about it, the more anxious I get. It's like when you get a mosquito bite and if you think about it becomes even itchier. The minute I say out loud that I find it difficult to walk my dog, it becomes more difficult somehow. It's a 'thing' now. In lots of ways it makes it easier, Alex will help me now when I'm having a 'bad' day, but the internal monologue that goes on every time I unclip her lead is excruciating, would that have happened if I had just swept this under the rug? 

I've probably been battling anxiety, quietly, for five years. Why have I decided to talk about it now?

The reason is three fold. In part I would like to use my experiences to help others with what they are going through, I can't be the only one to feel like this and personally I find it incredibly helpful to know that I am not alone with my struggle. To read someone else's account of their anxiety helps me in ways that I cannot help myself and if I can be that person for somebody else then I am grateful, at least something good is coming of this.

In part I am talking because I think we should, it won't be 'normal' until we do. If we lived in a fully accepting world I think I would have walked out of that therapist's office four years ago and owned my diagnosis, working towards fixing it then and there. Instead I kept quiet, did not learn enough about it, convinced myself that it had just gone away and then was hit with a wave later on in life that could have been avoided had the conversation been happening already. It is my responsibility, as someone with a degree of understanding around my own mind and willingness to share my struggles, to share them. 

And in part I am talking about it because I have to. I share a lot of my life, most of it really. I wrote a book all about it, every day I film myself for my Instagram story and use pretty much every situation I encounter as inspiration for a blog post. I'm not a private person and yet, I was keeping a massive part of me totally, totally hidden from the world. And from myself actually.

Last year I ended up battling a string of issues with my stomach, I didn't understand a lot about what was going on and nor, unfortunately, did the medical world. In August 2016 I ate a piece of cucumber and out of nowhere my stomach swelled up like a beach ball, for weeks I was unable to eat anything without exploding. I went to a gut specialist in London who told me that I had IBS. Unsatisfied (and knowing that already since I hadn't been able to eat gluten or dairy for three years because of this) we sought out more help. I was put in the hands of a nutritionist who deprived me of everything that I loved to eat. I could no longer drink coffee or alcohol, sugar was off limits, I was to avoid red meat, raw fish and all eggs. Yeast was a no no. Gluten and dairy were still off the table. "People can have fun without drinking you know?" she used to tell me.

It didn't make me any better. I lived like this for months, my Christmas dinner was pitiful and I spent new year's eve trying desperately to make one gin and slimline tonic see me through the whole night. I couldn't go out for dinner, they wouldn't be able to feed me and if they did, I knew it would make me ill anyway. My friends would go drinking and I couldn't go with them, it was too depressing and I was too tired. I became a recluse, terrified of food and all that came with it. The anxiety surrounding anything to do with my health was becoming truly overwhelming. I was obsessed with all of it and I couldn't be blamed for that, it was all encompassing. `

In the end I found a new nutritionist and she told me to get my life back. As it turned out nuts and seeds were causing me huge problems and if I removed them I would stop bloating. Gluten and dairy were still off the table. But booze was back on it again. I shouldn't go on huge regular benders and if I do it should be spirits rather than wine that I drink, but I don't always listen. And I don't always have to and that helps. I shouldn't eat grapes but if I fancy a couple I know that it won't kill me. I should go easy on red meat but if I fancy a steak and a glass of vino when I'm out with my mates than that's okay. I was told I had to listen to my own body. I was forbidden from counting calories. And I did get my life back. I only went to see her twice more after she told me to have a cup of coffee (first one in six months and I didn't get out of Costa for a week). I wanted to do it on my own, no one knows my body better than me and yet everyone had an opinion on it. 

The hangover from this episode has lived on. Although I can go out to dinner now and get pissed with my mates and I do, to all intents and purposes have my life back, I realise what this sorry story did for me, and that was to make me own up to a mental health problem. It was more than just being a bit bummed out that I couldn't have a glass of champagne on Christmas morning, it was a total fear of food and every situation surrounding it that was becoming crippling, it was anxiety. Anxiety that I think stronger people than I would have fallen victim to, it IS stressful having a stomach that badly behaved. Made worse by the fact that the one thing an IBS sufferer really needs, is not to be stressed.

I can't say that I'm grateful for this period of my life, as it was by far and away one of the worst, but I learned a lot about my body and for that I am riddled with gratitude. It's exploding out of me. That second nutritionist was not a shrink, nor did she have any psychology degree of any kind, but she was the first person I said it to: I cannot go on like this. I am finding it difficult. 

Perhaps I'd have accepted anxiety had it not been for the food crisis, but I think not, not yet anyway. 

The day after my book was published I found myself stuck in bed. It was the first time this had ever happened to me. I was too anxious to move. I couldn't leave. It was the Boxing Day on the biggest day of my life and I couldn't celebrate it. It's easy to pass that off as a comedown, as something that happens to everyone after a huge event, and a big part of me believed it when people told me that's what it was. But a bigger part of me knew that something else was at play here; fear like this isn't normal. Being afraid all the time isn't normal.

And I am afraid a lot. 

Living with these nerves, the butterflies, the sickness, the overwhelming sense of panic all the time, I was passing it off as normal, whatever that means. I wouldn't admit that there was anything wrong with me: it's nothing. Other people have it worse. Stop being silly. Get over it. Over and over again I would say this. It's nothing. It's nothing. It's nothing.

But it's not nothing and it wasn't the normal that I wanted for myself. I wanted to make it better. I didn't want to feel sick, I didn't want to spend hours convinced that Alex was going to leave me if I get him the wrong popcorn at the cinema, I didn't want to cry every time I made a mistake, I didn't want to pretend that everything was fine when inside I'd convinced myself that the house had burnt down. I did that one a lot, and I didn't want to do it anymore.

And it's true, other people have it worse, so, so much worse. But that's just classic isn't it? An anxiety sufferer worried that she's not anxious enough. Mental health and mental health issues are not a competition. I tell myself that a lot.

I don't claim to suffer badly, but I do at least now claim to suffer. That is important. I need not be ashamed of this. In fact, I need to own it. There's something wrong with me. That's OK. We'll fix it. That's what I'd say if the dishwasher was broken. I'm going to pretend my mind is the dishwasher for a bit. 

It has never been easier to be anxious. We are a generation that needs to be busy. We live online and we're the first ones here. You tell me that the first men on earth didn't have some teething problems. Where is the line between worry and anxiety? Between sadness and depression? Between an ongoing diet and an eating disorder? Who put the line there? Who gets the final say on this?

I didn't hear it when a professional told me I suffered with anxiety, I actively ignored it. The only person who I could hear that from was myself. And that's a weird one in itself. We've all googled a rash before now, we know how dangerous Dr. Google can be. But not for this one. Mental health requires acceptance, however we find it. Whether it's accepting the diagnosis from a doctor or from resonating with a blog post written by a person living in a country that you have never been to, it's all about acceptance. Not just accepting others and the battles that they are facing, but accepting ourselves and the battles that we are facing. 

I'm not defined by my anxiety. In fact, it's a very small part of who I am. It didn't even make it into my Twitter bio. But it is a part of me. A part that cannot be ignored any longer. 

HOW TO STOP PROCRASTINATING... MOSTLY.

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I procrastinate. In fact, I procrastinate so badly that this post has actually been on my to-do list for about seven weeks and the title was only ever as far as I got with it. Ah irony eh, don't you just love it? Procrastination is one of my biggest short comings and one of the things that I get most frustrated with myself for. Being self employed I rely totally on my work ethic and ability to motivate myself and although I do adore working and love love love what I do, I very often let myself down, losing entire days to procrastination. 

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I often find myself wondering how much more successful I would be if I were able to just sit down and get stuff done, and then I realise that that entire thought process is procrastination in itself and I find myself in a world of stress. 

I have a list of over fifty blog posts that I would like to write, I have about 100 photos that I need to get outside and take and edit. I currently have 181 emails sitting in my inbox, my laundry basket is so full that I'm onto the granny pants and actually, I cannot believe that I am admitting to all of this. It's shameful and I am truly embarrassed and disappointed. However, I know that I am not the only one to suffer with this affliction and so I would like to talk about procrastination and the steps that I am taking to beat it. 

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You may have heard some of these before, this is a list of various things that I have been picking up for a while, from reading articles and listening to podcasts (while procrastinating probably) and this is what seems to work for me... sometimes. 

Make your bed.

Not every time you get writer's block or don't know what to reply to an email, obviously, otherwise you will have days when you'll have nothing to show for them other than a really well made bed, but just do it when you get up in the morning. The theory behind this is that it's very important to 'achieve' something so early on in the day and to get something done before you've even left your bedroom at least puts you on the right path.

Have a little boogie.

Meredith Grey taught us this; the importance of a good dance. Whether it's first thing in the morning to get you up and pumped up for the day or in-between a particularly frustrating work load, stop what you are doing, turn the music up and dance it out. It will make you smile and that will help you in so many ways.

Write a to-do list.

I normally fucking hate a to-do list as I end up putting too much on it, getting overwhelmed, not doing anything and then carrying them on and on for days and days until they eventually go away (or arrive through the post covered in big scary red letters). Make it realistic and leave it on your desk, not allowing yourself to leave until they are all crossed off.

Be sure to actually cross them off though, none of this tick nonsense, there is nothing more satisfying than putting a definitive line through something when it is finished. 

If you can do it in under two minutes...

Then just do it. There are so many tasks that I just put off and off for literally no reason at all. Putting my plate in the dishwasher, taking the bin out, making my bed, these are tiny tasks that I don't need to be putting off. By the time I've thought about them long enough to decide that I'm not going to do them they could already be done. Do it, then put it on the list and cross it off straight away, it feels great. 

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One thing at a time.

I'm going to reply to all my emails and then I can go get a snack. I'm going to put all of my clothes away and then I will watch TV. I am going to write this article and then I can read that blog post. Don't juggle everything or interrupt one task to start another, before you know it it's the end of the day and nothing is done, both tasks having been left abandoned. One thing at a time. 

Allocate break times.

I'm lucky, since I have Bua and LOVE walking anyway my break times are necessary and lovely. If I know I HAVE to take Bua out at lunch time (which I do because there is only so long that she can keep her little legs crossed for) then I cannot waste all morning watching vines and even if I do, the cloud of shame that comes with me when I leave the house for the walk is not even worth it. Plug your headphones in and get some fresh air, before long you will start to see the break as the reward and you can come back to your task after 45 minutes with a heightened sense of productivity guaranteed. 

Shut down the distractions.

For me basically all my distractions live on my iPad and once I get sucked in I can rarely pull myself out. Whether that's playing an episode of Modern Family whilst I write, a mid-morning game of Candy Crush or a binge reading of someone's entire blog archive, the only way to stop myself from falling down this rabbit hole is to remove the distraction from arms-reach (since I really am a child). I get Spotify up and leave it playing music on the other side of the room.

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Get out.

This works better for the self employed amongst you but I NEED this. If I know I have a big blog post to write and I'm struggling to concentrate at home I will take my laptop and my dog to a coffee shop. It's hard to pass scrolling through Asos off as work when there is a cafe full of people behind you, equally I don't let myself leave there until I have finished what I went there to achieve and that really helps.

Have a work-less lunch. 

Eating your lunch whilst reading your emails or trying to complete as task is ridiculous and a huge waste of your well earned time off, not least because there is only so much work you can do when you threaten spilling your mayonnaise all over your keyboard. Take your lunch break as a break and do something else. I make my food, take it somewhere different to eat it and watch a vlog or read a blog post, chat with someone on the phone or read a magazine before washing up my plate and then coming to work feeling refreshed and smug. 

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It's never too late in the day. 

Sometimes the clock will hit 2pm before I realise that I've basically done nothing productive with my day. Instinct kicks in here and tells me that there is no point trying to do anything for the rest of the day since the morning was such a shambles. This is absolute bollocks, it's never too late to start anything. Just because five hours have been wasted, that doesn't mean that the next five will be. 

Seek inspiration. 

There are so many women who inspire me and I often find myself thinking: did they get to where they are today by watching five episodes of Grey's Anatomy during a working day? The answer is always no, so then I ask myself: why would it be any different for me? It won't. This is not the key to success. They spend their days working hard, so must I. 

Switch off. 

Don't start doing something in front of the telly, not if it's on the to-do list. If it's important then you need to either put it on tomorrow's list or take yourself quiet somewhere to do it immediately. The minute you start combining work and play, procrastination reaches new heights. If this task requires your full attention then give it what it deserves. A work space and a home place with as few blurred lines as possible and taking a break from work are two of the most important factors in productivity... I think.

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Get excited.

Before I go to bed I force myself to think of a task that I want to get done the next day, that way when I wake up in the morning I am ready and raring to go. Much like with the switching off rule I make myself wait tot do whatever it is properly, all in one go, so as to avoid starting something on a whim and then drifting away from it and never getting it done. Which used to happen a lot.

Ask yourself: 'why am I do this?' every time you mind wonders. 

Why am I here? What do I want to achieve? How can I be the best? NOT BY WATCHING ANOTHER VIDEO OF A BABY GOAT ON A TRAMPOLINE EM. Successful people get shit done. They grind. And they definitely don't spend hours looking at baby goats like I do. They achieve and they do that because they are working hard. All good things are worth working for and I want the good things, I want to be successful and I want to get it right: I have to give it my all and I have to remind myself of that a lot.

Ah guys look I'm going to be honest, whilst wiring this I did get a little distracted, I started it at 9am and took a break to take Bua for a walk, ate my breakfast, had a shower, read AND REPLIED TO all 181 emails, had a cup of coffee and spoke to my mum on the phone, so it's not perfect. But I started it this morning and I got it up before close of play. That's not bad. At least I'm trying.

Procrastination is human nature, so don't beat yourself up too badly. Having said that, try cutting back on it, I notice how much happier I am when the day ends and I can see, clearly laid out in front of me, all that I have achieved in a day. Sure no one else need know that you procrastinated so badly for four days that you basically got nothing done, but you will and it's horrible having to admit this to yourself. Ultimately you need to remember why you're doing it and cling onto that for dear life.

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Good luck! Also, if I forgot any tips, which I probably (definitely) did, please let me know in the comment section as I clearly need all the help that I can get!

SOME THINGS TO SMILE ABOUT THIS WORLD SMILE DAY

Happy World Smile Day!! I know, I know, there's a day dedicated to bloody everything at the moment and you can't keep up. Me neither. But this is one that I can definitely get on board with. In a study done recently it was discovered that 20% of Brits feel that they smile enough, so just in case you're one of them, today I'm going to try and fix that for you! 

It's Friday.

End of the working week. A good excuse for a drink. Ability to have a lie in tomorrow. Friday's fucking great, smile about that.

Your life is a gift.

Ah a bit deep and heavy, but it's true. Take a quick moment to think about the world and space and the concept of time and travel and solar systems. It may make you feel small, but it might also make you realise how lucky you are to be here, how your life is a blessing and how you must use your time here to do something great. 

Banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour.

So even if everything is shit and falling apart and you are despairing, you know that you can at least call what you are doing a workout. 

Fresh sheets are a thing.

Literally, at any point you can go into the cupboard and change your sheets and ensure that when you get into bed that evening you can be in crispy, starchy heaven. 

You woke up this morning. 

Another day, a chance at something new, a chance at a fresh start. You're alive and that's great.

There's a huge sale on at Asos right now.

If that doesn't make you smile (and your bank balance weep) then I really don't know what to do with you.

Chocolate.

Go to a shop right now and buy some chocolate. Open it. Eat it. Take immense joy and satisfaction from the fact that you're eating something so totally, incredibly great.

You sneeze at 100mph

That is both incredibly impressive and amusing. I think I will smile every time I sneeze now.

The sun is shining.

At least it is in London, so if it's not where you are then might I suggest you come and visit.

Every single episode of Gilmore Girls is currently on Netflix.

And that's enough to get me weeping with joy.

You can do anything that you want to do.

We hold ourselves back and that's just a fact. Whether we're scared of being rejected or of failing, often the only thing that is stopping us from doing things is our own fear. What we need to remember is that we are in charge or the decisions that we make and we are the masters of our own fate. If you want to do something, you can do it, right now.

A crocodile can poke it's tongue out.

And that's just adorable.

It's never too late.

Whatever it is that you aren't doing right now that you wish you were doing, you can do. It's never too late to make a change and do whatever it is that you want to do. Start now. Because you can.

Sea otters hold hands when they sleep so they do not drift apart.

Picture it guys, little sea otters holding hands and tell me that you're not smiling right now.

I once shoved my hand into an electric whisk just to see what would happen.

Go on, laugh at me, it's fine.

Somebody loves you.

What a blessing, to know that you are not alone. You mean the absolute world to someone and you must never take that for granted.

Music.

You are never on your own as long as you have music, and you'll always have music.

The rain.

Because you know what comes after the rain right? The rainbow.

Cows have best friends.

And the two best cow friends spend most of their time together *awwhhhhhh*

Somewhere, someone is having the best day of their life.

So whilst you might not be onto a winner today, revel in the fact that someone out there is ludicrously happy and be happy for them.

Bubbles.

Because scientist have proven that there is no way to say that word in an angry voice. Go on, try it, and then laugh. 

You are meant to be here.

Whether you're religious, spiritual or totally atheist, you need to accept that there is a reason for your being here. There is only one of you in this world and this is your one time here (probably). Everything in the world is too great and too complicated for your being here to be a total accident, if everything happens for a reason, then so did you. Never forget that the world needs you.

Smiling will make you happier.

So do it. Not just today, but every day.

Smile, laugh, live. 

(And then tit punch me for being so nauseating)

 

THE GIRLS THAT MADE FETCH HAPPEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH SPECTRUM BRUSHES FOUNDERS

On October 3rd, he asked me what day it was... Happy Mean Girls Day!

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Today we celebrate the film that shaped girls the world over and I'm very excited that Hannah, one half of the iconic brand Spectrum Brushes, who have finally made 'fetch happen' with their Spectrum X Mean Girls collaboration, agreed to have a chat with me about what it's like to be the founder of one of Instagram's hottest brands. 

Spectrum is a makeup brush brand (which you will, definitely, have seen on social media) that I have fallen in love with, they are PETA registered and totally cruelty free. Adored by celebrities, makeup artists and bloggers around the world, Spectrum have created an incredibly successful brand. 

But it hasn't been plain sailing, this summer has been, to put it bluntly, an absolute shit show. They wrote a blog post about it last month and reading it I couldn't believe how much bad luck this company had had. I was left sitting in the hairdressers asking no one in particular: WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?! They lost £10k on a sponsorship deal gone wonky, had their website ripped off by the creator and then, because that wasn't shit enough, there was a fire in their warehouse that destroyed about £470k with of products.

And somehow they have bounced back. Sophie and Hannah Pycroft, sisters from Barry Island in Wales, founded Spectrum three and a half years ago and I knew I had to talk to them; inspiration personified. So let's meet the girls behind this incredible brand shall we?! 

First things first, I've got to ask, how did all of this start?! You were so young to start something so massive?

So we were on holiday with our parents in Gran Canaria having a family pow wow around the pool. We'd been creating content and concepts for a few other e-commerice and high street brands and they started to get a lot of press coverage and social media success so we decided we needed our own product,

To be honest we always felt we were destined to be self employed and do our own thing, it's hard to explain but any job we've been in we always felt we could do better... so we did!

We researched clothes, shoes and jewellery, we knew it needed to be fashion or beauty related for us to really put all our energies into it. We ordered some clothing samples but quickly ruled them out because of the initial start up cost. We completely self funded Spectrum so every penny really did matter, there was no bottomless pit of funds from a private investor or the bank of Mum and Dad. 

Makeup brushes came from nowhere to be honest, we're not trained artists but we knew we could do something different with the product, they were all black and brown and BORING!

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Did you have any idea when you started off how incredibly successful Spectrum would become?

We definitely always had faith in the brand and what we were doing, but it wasn't until the second year of the business that we actually made a (very small) profit.

In the first year we made barely any money at all and our Dad would ask us every day "Have you sold much today girls?" We'd reply, not really Dad but it'll pick up. Our monthly running costs for the website, accountants and insurance was around £350 and we'd re-invest this on a monthly basis just to keep things ticking over.

We'd constantly post on Instagram, hash tagging everything beauty related to get the brushes seen by as many people as possible - we'd definitely say we're an 'Instabrand".

It wasn't until we did The Clothes Show in December 2015 and reality stars like Charlotte Crosby noticed our stand and loved the brushes instantly. We gifted them with a few brushes and they'd post them on their Instagram or Twitter for free which really did help get us noticed.

So in short, we didn't really have any idea how quickly Spectrum would grow, but we always believed it would be a success, we're big on cosmic ordering and the positive power of the universe - we get it from our Mum who's a bit of a white witch! 

General consensus is that you've created the 'world's most Instagramable makeup brushes', what does it feel like to be scrolling through your feed and just seeing your creations being obsessed over by so many?!

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It's seriously amazing and we love nothing more than scrolling through social and seeing all the brush love. We still manage and run the accounts between us because we genuinely love having that connection with our customers, it's massively important to us.

We're constantly showing each other customer pictures and screenshotting everything, our camera rolls consist of makeup brushes and pictures of our dogs! 

It's always amazing to see professional makeup artists share their love of the brushes too, we get a lot of support from celebrity artist which is always such a buzz for us. We've now officially been Jeffree Star approved too! We were on holiday with our Mum and Dad (again lol) so we watched his YouTube review over dinner then had shots to celebrate!

OBVIOUSLY you are regularly showered with love and compliments (did I mention how great you were looking today???), but the internet can be a bit shit, do you ever get any negative feedback and if so, how do you deal with it?

As much as we love the internet, you're completely right, it can be a really negative place too. The Daily Mail did an article on our story and some of the comments were seriously aggressive - someone called me (Hannah) jungly - wtf is jungly? I think they meant amazonian princess but whatever! 

Sometimes we see comments where people will slag off the brushes and that they much prefer a different brand but everyone will always have their own opinions so we just brush it off (no pun intended!)

We don't dwell on any negativity to be honest. haters gonna hate but we always try to empower and support our followers and Spectrum Squad.

I think if I went into business with my sister we would kill each other (or at least pull each other's hair in the office), of you guys bicker or disagree about things and how do you keep it professional? 

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So when we first started Spectrum, we did EVERYTHING from Sophie's garage, packing the orders, going to the post office, sending out samples, customer service, social media... seriously everything. 

We worked from the garage for two and a half years, with no window and one lightbulb. So Christmas 2016 after we'd finished 6 days at The Clothes Show we can back to pack 300 orders that had built up while we were at the show... we ended up having a full on bitch fight and hair was definitely pulled. It was at that point we knew we needed to sort our shit out and get out of the garage, so we've been there, didn't quite kill each other but we weren't far off. 

Sometimes we do have the occasional tiff in the office but it's literally 30 seconds then we get a coffee and get over it. We're so close we might as well be conjoined but it's only natural to disagree, we jut try and do what's right for the business and move on. 

It's safe to say that you guys are basically living the dream in terms of BEST CAREER EVER but surely it hasn't always been this great. Five years ago what were you doing and could you ever imagine being where you are now?

Five years ago we were working together (obvs) as a freelance wedding photographer and videographer. We'd come as a pair and offer a complete wedding package, that's how we managed to save the money to start Spectrum. So every weekend we'd be schlepping around at wedding after wedding with absolutely no social life. 

We've had our fair share of lack lustre jobs to be honest, working at Barry Island serving chips and ice-cream, bra fitting in La Senza through to pot washing in restaurants. More recently we both worked as freelancers in the creative industry and we both feel every job we did gave us some new skills and lessons that helped us develop Spectrum.

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For many the idea of jumping in with both feet to a new business is t-e-r-r-i-f-y-i-n-g, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to do it?

It is terrifying there's no doubt about that, we absolutely freaked out when we imported our first shipment, panicking about having to drive a van to the port to unload boxes off a boat... none of that happened thankfully but it was completely alien to us when we started out. 

We'd definitely say you need to research and plan before you go full speed into anything new. We took a full year to sample and research the market. We put together a business plan for ourselves just so we had realistic ideas of what we could achieve and to keep us on track.

Trust your gut instinct and don't be afraid to say no. When you're first starting out there'll be people along the way who say they can offer you this and that and that you shouldn't be doing X you should be doing Y... but they don't know your business, you do and you'll know what's best.

It's hugely important to grow organically, we were approached by a lot of wholesalers and distributers very early on in the business but we wouldn't have had the man power to manage the demand efficiently so we said no and grew at a pace that was right for us.

When running your own business it can be so hard to keep morale and inspiration high, how do you keep yourselves going?

To be honest sometimes it's nice to just take a deep breath and take stock of everything we've achieved so far. The business is growing so quickly and amazing things are happening all the time it's so important to take 5 every now and again and give yourself a pat on the back! Becky in the office bought us two giant hand shaped back scratchers so we can do just that!

We live and breath Spectrum so we're always motivated and inspired to keep creating and growing but when you've built it from nothing it's almost instinctive to keep pushing to the next level. 

It's hugely important to surround yourself with people who inspire and support you, make time for family and friends and that G&T.

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This summer was pretty fucking shit for you guys, I think we can all agree. How did you pick yourself up after something like that happens? If it were me I thing I would have booked a one way ticket somewhere!

August was an absolute shit storm from start to finish!

When I woke up to the text on Sunday 20th August saying all our stock had been destroyed in a huge fire I shot up in bed completely in shock, screamed 'SHIT!' and phoned Sophie. After speaking to the fulfilment centre, 5 minutes of crying and cuddles we are straight on the emails trying to sort shit out, we don't hang around!

To be entirely honest the love and support we had on social media from all our customers and community was absolutely overwhelming and totes emosh! That alone gave us the drive to keep going and come back bigger and better!

We've taken the shit in our stride and used it as an opportunity to reflect on the business and look at what wasn't working as well and what we can do better so we've already got plans in action and 2018 is looking to be our best year yet.

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If you could say anything to your 13 year old self, what would it be?

First thing that comes to mind is blend that hideous eyeshadow and don't over pluck those brows!!

Next thing would be don't let the bastards get you down, Sophie in particular had a much harder time in school at 13 dealing with bullying (more details to come in a blog post soon) but the whole experience really did make her who she is today.

Do what you love and don't panic about the future, everything will fall into place and everything happens for a reason.

Quickfire round:

Early bird or night owl? Night owl.

Favourite 90s jam? We remember more of the 2000s to be honest and we'd definitely go for Destiny's Child Survivor.

Your biggest inspiration? Our family... sounds sad but they're all grafters who've never quite had the success they deserve so we're trying to do it for us all!

If you were a colour what would you be? Grey... jokes! Pink for sure!

Happiness is...? Walks with the dogs and coffee by the beach.

Last thing you watched on TV? Bake Off (we love cake!)

Who runs the world? Girls!

Favourite item of clothing? Shoes, the crazier the better!

Last thing you screwed up? Our bodies! We ruined ourselves doing Tough Mudder raising awareness for Pulmonary Fibrosis.

The best thing about YOU? Our originality. 

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To shop the collection head over to the Spectrum website now xxxx

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE GIRL THAT HATES WHAT SHE SEES IN THE MIRROR

I saw you on Twitter last night, asking if you were the only one. I can’t be the only one who looks in the mirror and hates what they see? That was what you asked, and that was how you broke my heart. Whilst you may not be the only one, that does not make what you are feeling right. Whilst you may not be the only one, that does not make what you are feeling okay. There are people like you everywhere, what you are feeling is normal. But it's so, so wrong.

Because the girl that you are looking at in the mirror is incredible and I'm just sorry that you can't see that right now. The girl in the mirror is a friend, she is a daughter, she is a woman. The girl in the mirror is strong, she is talented, and she deserves so much better than this. The girl in the mirror needs kindness, she needs support, she needs to be loved. And she needs that from you. 

The body that you are looking at, that you hate so much, is doing incredible things every day. You take them from granted and for that you are forgiven. As you swing your legs out of bed in the morning you catch sight of the cellulite you wish would go, you're distracted by that and you fail to appreciate the amazing strength it takes for your muscles to move you to the standing position. The stomach that you are all too aware of as you look down in the shower disgusts you, it wobbles, and you fail to remember that the fat there is serving a purpose, it is protecting the organs that you rely on to keep you alive. The breasts, maybe scarred with stretch marks that you catch a glimpse of as you dry yourself make you embarrassed, and you fail to remember that one day, they may be the thing you rely on to feed your child with.

You go to brush your teeth and as you see them looking back at you, you wish they were straighter or whiter, of course you fail to remember how crucial they will be in a few minutes time when you use them to chew your breakfast. As you apply foundation to your face you are all too aware of the blemishes that you wish weren't there, you hide them, bury them underneath your warpaint and you fail to remember, as the last one is hidden, how your skin is the most impressive, beautiful and complicated organ on your body. As you pull out your mascara wand and begin to elongate your eyelashes you wish your eyes were bigger, you hate them for their shape and their size and you forget the gift that they give you every day; the gift of sight, the gift that allows you independence, the chance to SEE incredible things, the opportunity, ironically, to look yourself up and down and hate what is staring back at you. 

And that brain of yours? What a waste of it's amazing potential. To be filled with thoughts of self loathing and disgust when it could be used for so much better. It could be filled with love and laughter and joy, with self belief. The belief that you are worthy of love and in turn, able to give love. The belief that you are important and in turn, able to be important to somebody, to everybody. The belief that you are good enough and in turn, able to make others feel good enough too.

The person in the mirror is everybody. And everybody is worthy of love.

We have been taught to believe that we are not enough. The society that we have grown up in has instilled in us this belief that perfection is out there, and we are not it. It has told us time and time again that we are getting it wrong, it has shown us what is possible if only we were a bit better. It says we should be thinner or whiter or blonder and have small waists and white teeth and long hair. It has left us striving for something that does not exist. Society is wrong.

Because you, my friend, are perfect.

And you have one body, and one life. This is your one chance here. That mind of yours has been gifted this body, the body that will see you through your entire life, the body that is your home, it is where you live. The body that you need to embrace and love and protect. 

When you look in the mirror you see somebody you don't like. You see a girl staring back at you that doesn't look like she's supposed to. You see her and you compare her to all the other girls, the better girls. The girls who are also staring in the mirror and seeing the same thing: someone that isn't good enough.

But please believe me when I tell you that you ARE good enough. You are more than good enough, you are perfect. 

You need to look in that mirror and open your eyes and for the first time and you need to see what is really there. You need to look at the woman staring back at you and drink her in. Her laughter lines, each one, a memory. Her blemishes, proof that she is alive and evidence of the passing of time. Her eyes, glistening with potential of sights yet to be seen.

Her body, perfect, because it is hers.

So what, you feel a bit fat? So what, you feel a bit spotty? So what, you feel that you're not quite symmetrical? In the grand scheme of your life so far, has that ever truly mattered? Did that stop you from cry laughing last week when one of your friends told you a terrible joke? Did that stop you from cuddling your mum last time you saw her? Did that stop you from being there for somebody that needed you? 

There is so much more to your life than what you look like and to waste your time hating yourself is the biggest travesty of all. You are surrounded by laughter and love and light, absorb it, embrace it and remember this: you are beautiful, you are perfect, you are enough. 

IS 'SELF CARE' JUST A TERM WE USE TO JUSTIFY OUR SELF INDULGENCE?

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I've found myself wondering recently if 'self care' is just selfishness rebranded in a favourable light. Don't get me wrong, I'm as up for a bath and a pizza as the next girl, but I do wonder if the rush that we are in to justify the me-focussed activities we are engaging in at the moment, to both ourselves, and our Instagram followers, is just serving as an excuse to get away with doing exactly what we want.

Again, I hold my hands up, I'm as in favour of making yourself happy as anyone and firmly believe that you, as the master of your own happiness, have the right to take care of number one first and foremost, but I'm not sure that you need to justify it, particularly not in a way that feels so, well, self indulgent. 

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It's the connotations, I suspect, of the words 'self-care' that I have such a problem with. In the same way that I can't abide passive aggressive comments on Facebook: 'now I know who my true friends are', which FYI, translates, roughly, to: 'if you don't know what I am talking about then you, dear reader, are NOT a true friend', I find the use of these particular words to be loaded with connotations. 

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'Tonight I am partaking in self-care'. Is it just me that hears 'since no one else is taking care of me, *SHAME ON YOU ALL* I suppose I'll need to do it myself.'? Maybe. Probably. I've always been sensitive like that, reading too much into everything and a full time adopter of the very British stiff-upper-lip-must-crack-on attitude. Not helped by the fact that I eat pizzas pretty often anyway and rarely feel the need to justify it to anyone.

I love the idea of self care. Of course I do, I promote it all the time. Baths are good. Early nights are good. Walks are good. Meditating is good. Eating chocolate is good. Creating a safe space is good. Keeping your mental health in check is paramount. And that does of course require putting yourself first; it doesn't take a genius to work out that if you work hard all day, are out every night and are constantly on the receiving end of everyone's elses' problems, that you will, after a while, burn out. Sometimes you need to say: no, not tonight. Tonight I want a glass of wine in the bath and to tuck up in bed and watch Gossip Girl until I fall asleep at 8.30pm. 

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But did we really need to label that? And if we did, did we really have to label it with such a loaded term??? A.... "I'm so selfless ALL THE TIME, is it really too much to ask that I take thirty damn seconds to look after number one?!?!" way of 'getting away' with doing what we want?

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I know that I'm very quick to justify any self indulgent activities in my own life. It's all too easy to feel like a slob after your fourth night eating take out in front of the television and even easier to feel like a princess as you sit in the hair salon for the fourth time in as many weeks. All of a sudden you read that there is a name for what you are doing and relief rushes through you: "I'M NOT A SLOB AND I'M NOT A DIVA, NO!! What I'm doing is important, what I am doing is self-care, and I deserve that." Girls, I'm with ya. It's perfect. It's genius. But it's also bloody annoying. 

Because the fact of the matter is this: we don't owe anyone anything and we don't need to justify ourselves to anyone either. As I write this I am sitting, alone, in a coffee shop having just paid for a soya latte that I definitely could have made at home. A home which, incidentally, has a bunch of flowers on the side that I bought for myself last night. Flowers that I didn't need, but that I bought because I thought to myself: I deserve these flowers. A thought that faltered slightly, by the way, when the guy at the check-out asked me if they were for anyone special and I had to say: why yes actually, they're for me. It would be all too easy to describe my actions of the last 24 hours as 'self-care', it would be easy too, to describe them as a bit self indulgent, but easiest of all, I have found that it's easiest to not think that much about them at all. 

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Loving yourself is important, and to have an abundance of 'self love' is wonderful. I'm so on board with that. I am also, despite everything said thus far, a big believer in caring for yourself, it's just the bloody label that I have a problem with. A label that feels more self indulgent, actually, than the act of just doing it.

We, as women, feel that we have a lot to prove. Particularly as millennials. I NEED to be busy, too busy, and I definitely need to tell everyone about it. Having an 'easy life' feels like we're cheating somehow, and no one wants to be accused of that. So rather than portray ourselves as having an easy life; slobbing, relaxing, or being selfish in anyway, we have found a way of justifying our behaviour. Of telling the world that we don't spend every night on the sofa, and when we finally do, that we deserve it. That this isn't normal for us. That the decision to buy a pair of £50 shoes that look exactly the same as every other pair in our wardrobe did not just spring out of midair, rather, it was part of a well calculated plan that involves our well-being. No one's going to accuse you of being selfish once you play a card like that. 

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Someone asked me on Twitter this afternoon what self care actually was. Was it washing? Was it checking for lumps? And I found myself a little lost for words. I didn't really know... What is self care exactly? Surely it's just taking care of yourself isn't it? Washing, lump checking, and eating out of a carton for good measure. Something that people have been doing for, well, ever. 

Guys that doesn't need a name. And it certainly doesn't need to be an excuse. No one thinks you're selfish for doing any of these things, and if they do, you aren't going to help your case in anyway by telling them that you've named your selfishness. Look after yourself. That's fine. That's important. Buying yourself flowers, spending a night in, running a bath, that's just life. And it doesn't need justification. 

A WEEK ON A BIKE FOR HELP FOR HEROES

Last night I returned home from a week's cycling; 350 miles across three countries in five days with a group of wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women, and 200 fundraisers, who have been raising money for Help For Heroes on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2017. It has been a life changing week and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Despite the lashing rain, the gale force winds, the early starts and punishing hills, I have had more fun this week than I could have imagined, I have learned things about myself that I didn't know, I have made friends for life and I have done something that I can be truly proud of. 

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Sunday 

We all met at St Pancreas station at 10am on Sunday morning. Since I have been involved with Help For Heroes for the last 11 years, and this was my fifth Big Battlefield Bike Ride, I had a lot of hellos and hugs from new friends and old friends, people that I haven't seen all year who come together for a week of pain for a great cause. We load our bikes onto a big lorry and collect our tickets before making our way through security and boarding the Eurostar train to Lille in France. For many this is their first ride and you can feel the sense of apprehension hanging like a cloud over the carriages. For many though this is a reunion and the bar cart is filled with old friends raising a glass to what is undoubtedly going to be a great week.

Later that day we check into a hotel and come together for a big team dinner. Beers were drunk, reassurances were dolled out from old hands to nervous new comers and stories were shared from H4H CEO to it's proudest supporters: how our money and efforts were going to change the lives of those that have paid such a huge sacrifice for our freedom. It was a great night but by midnight we had to accept that riding the next day would definitely be easier without another glass of wine, and we headed to bed.

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Monday

5.30am and we're up. A hurried breakfast, padded shorts everywhere and a sense of subdued panic from those who have absolutely no idea what to expect. We board a coach to our starting point and listen to a service given by the 'Pedalling Padre' in a beautiful church. He tells us that our life is out of our control. And, since we're about to follow the infamous orange arrows laid out by the Discover Adventure team for five days across strange lands, I can't help but agree with him. Then we're off. With a wave of the Help For Heroes flag, the Pedalling General starts the ride and 200 lycra-clad people wobble their way through the streets of Lille.

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Before we knew it we'd made our way up some fairly considerable hills, were fifty miles in and eating lunch out in the sunshine. If we had known that clouds were making their way to us at an incredible speed perhaps we'd have departed quicker, alas, we set off again slowly and by the time we had reached Brussels, at rush hour on a Monday evening I hasten to add, the weather was beyond belief. My friend Sophie (poor Sophie to any podcast listeners out there) lived up to her name and went flying off her bike after underestimating the depth of a puddle and the Traffic-Gods looked down on us a with wrath we didn't deserve; every light turned red as we approached it, busses seemed to go out of their way to drench us, driving through puddles at remarkable speeds and the tram lines caused accidents left right and centre, landing two people in hospital.

We had a bit of a sense of humour failure, Sophie and I. The shoes that you wear to cycle in are called 'cleats' and they mean that you are attached to your bike. They are very useful on long open roads, since you can pull up on the pedals as well as pushing down, but in towns they are a nightmare; if something jumps into your path you can't just put your foot down to steady yourself and falling off seems an inevitability. We walked over the tram lines (all 1000 of them) and eventually made it back to our hotel soaking wet and a bit grumpy (so of course I bit Alex's head off when he told me that he'd forgotten what room we were in which resulted in an examination of four floors). We drank lots of wine that night and pretended that we didn't have to do the same thing again the next morning. 

Tuesday

Another early start to allow time for another 75 miles. Knowing that since the town had been terrible to arrive into on Monday night during rush hour, we allowed plenty of time, since Tuesday morning rush hour probably meant more of the same. The weather was better this morning though and plenty of others had had the same idea; we left as a group of fifty or so and made our way out of Brussels. (My friend Ross was knocked off his bike by an angry Belgian driver who had no doubt had enough of the lycra wearing lunatics who had taken over his city but other than that we escaped relatively easily). 

At a service that morning, at a cemetery deep in the country side, we heard from one of the Band Of Brothers (the name given the 75,000+ Help For Heroes beneficiaries) who described with beautiful and brave honesty his battle with alcoholism and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), it was both humbling and inspiring and reminded us why every single wet and windy mile was worth it. The rest of the day was perfect; windy but bright and the roads were flat. We passed the time with word association games and at the 65 mile mark we were allowed to stop in a brewery; a couple of ciders made the last ten miles almost easy.

Wednesday

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Thank God for another sunny day. We made our way out of Belgium (something that really couldn't have come soon enough as the place was definitely not made with cyclists in mind) and arrived in Holland (which by stark contrast is a cyclist paradise). Another very humbling day visiting cemeteries and remembering those who had fought so bravely for our freedom during Operation Market Garden, where my grandfather had fought and won his Victoria Cross, in 1944. The wind today was reaching speeds of up to 40mph and the act of staying upright on our bikes was becoming a real challenge. 74 miles later though and we were all safe and sound and in the Holiday Express in Eindhoven celebrating the wonderful Dutch. 

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Wednesday morning, by the way, is ALWAYS the hardest. Your bum is at peak bruising and your legs spend a lot of time asking you what the fuck you think you're doing making them do more work. When Wednesday is over, it is a great feeling, because you know that by day four you will be totally numb. 

Thursday

Here comes the rain. Famously, Thursday on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride is 'fancy dress day' and the theme this year was 'airborne'. In 2013 I made the mistake of taking dressing up very seriously indeed and ended up doing 85 miles dressed as a medieval wench; corset, bonnet and even two enormous fake hips. That had been the hardest cycling of my life and I was not going to make that mistake again so opted this year for a humble t-shirt. Others had a bit more fun with it and two of our members, both big blokes, riding a tandem, did it as fairies in charity shop dresses stuffed with false bosoms. Thank god for the laughter, it kept us warm. 

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People tell you that Holland is flat and they're not entirely telling the truth. Nijmagen is home to some hills and by 4pm we were soaking wet and making our way up them. At the top of one we heard another great sermon by the Pedalling Padre and remembered yet more of the brave men who had given their lives for our freedom. A combination of not enough food and the pouring rain started to get to a few of us by the point and I did the last seven miles with tears streaming down my face and my jaw chattering, I think that might have been the coldest that I have ever been. I've never got to a bar faster in my life.

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We spent the evening playing silly games and helping one of my best friend's Ross celebrate his 26th Birthday. He says he had a great birthday but I'm sure there were a few things that would have made it a bit better: dry socks for example, or maybe not having to do 65 miles on a bike. 

Friday

It's the last day and it's raining HARD. Since my mum was going to be honouring her dad today as we cycled to our finish line, the bridge at Arnhem, we thought we would do it as our team of twelve. The rain was so bad however, we literally could have been riding with anyone, not being able to hear each other over the sound of pounding rain or see each other through the dark. Thankfully by 9am it had eased and the sun was starting to make it's way through the clouds, the damage however was done and, soaked through, 200 of us squeezed tougher under a bridge for warmth. Desperate to enjoy our last day however we pinned our smiles on and continued. This was by far and away my favourite day.

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Following the route that 12,000 allied troops had followed 73 years ago had been an incredible experience and cycling the streets on which my grandfather had fought was an experience I will treasure forever. We had a truly moving service and my mum spoke beautifully about her father and the man behind the medal. By the time we reached the bridge and our finish line it was raining again but we didn't care, our week was over. 

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350+ miles cycled was coming to an end and there is no describing that feeling. As one team we cycled through the city and laughed and smiled and cried as the wonderful Help For Heroes support team cheered us in. We were thankful for the rain, after the week we'd had it wouldn't have been right to finish in the sunshine. 

We had dinner together that night, all 200 of us; we ate, we drank, we celebrated, we hugged and we learned that as a group we had raised over half a million pounds for this incredible charity. It's hard to complain about the pain in your legs when you've got a hero at the end of the table who completed the ride with no legs and only one arm. It's impossible to moan about your sore bum when you see a father pushing his son in his wheelchair up to the stage. You can't take this as a personal achievement when you look around the room and realise that what it was was a team effort.

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Nursing hangovers and stiff bodies, we made our way back to the UK yesterday and by 9pm I was asleep on the sofa with drool sliding down my chin. Although I'm happy to be home; I'd give an awful lot to do the same again. Because the Big Battlefield Bike Ride is an experience like no other. To take part in something so massive, so challenging, so humbling, is something that I feel very lucky to have done. I wouldn't change a thing, I wouldn't swap a minute of it. Even if I could have done, I wouldn't have even stopped the rain. Every single second of this week was a memory that I will treasure forever and was very lucky to live. 

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Sean Connery, star of the film A Bridge Too Far, which told the story of the Battle of Arnhem, once said: 'there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in a man' and he was right. Sitting at dinner on Friday night I was surrounded by the very best of 200 people who had done all done something extraordinary for the people that need it the most. I am incredibly proud to support Help For Heroes and am very grateful to them for bringing out the best in me this week. 

If you would like to donate anything you can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emandalex

THE WORLD IS TOTALLY OBSESSED WITH INSTAGRAM, AND I'M BORED OF IT.

The world is totally obsessed with Instagram, and I'm bored of it. Not of the app. The app is bloody marvellous. Photography and being nosy are two of my all time favourite things; they literally invented Instagram for people like me. No, I'm not bored of the app, long may it reign over us. What I'm bored of is the world's obsession with it. It's driving me up the fucking wall.

Gone are the days of uploading every grainy photo you took at last night's party with a 'hipstamatic filter' and a dodgy border, that's like so 2012, we're over that now. We barely had a moment to enjoy it in it's infancy stages before it was conquered and exploited, monetised and manipulated into the influencer playground that it is today. For many people, the platform that we fell in love with all those years ago is now a full time job for and as such it must be taken seriously. For those making money on the site, or building a brand using Instagram as a tool, their pages are now well curated art-pieces that require time, effort and well, hard work. 

Even for those that just use it recreationally, the time spent thinking about what goes into an Instagram post is longer, I suspect, than most people would readily like to admit to. Despite most my friends being pretty cool and seemingly chilled people, I can't pretend I haven't noticed changes in their behaviour when Instagram is brought up. Teenagers readily admitting to deleting posts if they fail to secure more than 100 likes, couples talking quietly about the best hashtags to use on their images so as to accumulate more followers and the awkwardly transparent texts I receive from people who like really need me to send them that photo today so they can show their 400 followers that they looked 100% fuckable at the weekend are not rare occurrences, in fact, they're all too common.

I'm not exempt from this. I wish I was. I can hear the 'tragic-o-metre' in my mind rattlingly loudly between my ears whenever I vocalise any Insta-related concern I might be having, but it doesn't stop them from coming out. I can pass most of it off as work, I'm lucky like that, being a blogger and all, but it doesn't stop me from feeling like a twat; not least of all because I'm fairly shit at Instagram anyway. Not as shit at it as I was at Angry Birds, but nowhere near as good as I am at Candy Crush, just in case you were wondering. I can't get away from it though, it's not just a case of keeping the app closed, because to a certain extent Instagram is my job, or an extension of it at least. Not that I should be complaining, at least I'm not a teenager, for many of them, Instagram is their life. And this is not a patronising pondering of someone who remembered a time before applications even existed, this is concern from a woman who is watching the black hole that is Instagram suck us down a rather dubious path. 

On average the 700 million active users of Instagram 'like' 4.2 billion photos a day. That's a fuck-tonne of activity from a population who probably ought to be out earning a living or doing their homework. Knowing this as we do, it's hardly surprising that people feel a little hard done by when they only secure a handful of likes on a photo that they look amazing in. It's even more frustrating for people who are trying to make a living out of their Instagram accounts, they feel that this must be a personal attack. It's the classic: why does nobody care about me?!

For the average user, uploading photos to keep their friends up to date, and if we're honest, a little bit jealous, this isn't a massive problem. Of course we want to make sure that we look our best, show our exes that we're over them, make last night's party look much more fun than it was all the while giving off an air 'of I'm pretty fucking cool but the best thing about me is how ridiculously chilled I am' vibe, the other users are not the problem. The prime objective of the plot behind the post is to ensure that the people we already know see it, although we all dream of Insta-fame and endless likes, most of us will settle for a 'like' from a guy who's just let slip that they were stalking your profile.

But for the 15 million bloggers out there, there is a serious feeling of: it's not fair!!! right now, the cries are echoing around every channel I look at. We're hearing lots about the 'algorithm' (which I don't understand) and the fact that apparently Instagram is 'shadow-banning' (whatever the hell that is) people's accounts and causing them to lose followers. The 'flat-lays' that have always served these people well in the past are boring people and the 'content' that they have spent hours pre-planning and creating in a fool-proof manner are not accumulating anything like the likes that they deserve. My Twitter newsfeed is full of it: people are genuinely upset about this. And it's sort of fair enough, a girls' gotta eat. It's hard enough being a blogger in this day and age, pitching to brands to sponsor our Instagram posts when we're competing with women who had sex on Love Island and rose to Insta-fame overnight, without a flat-lay insight, without feeling that somehow Instagram is trying to fuck us up too.

The one thing I can't get away from though, whether in my personal life or my private one, is the conversations. The constant conversations that start and end with 'Instagram'. Friends of mine who are frantically looking for signal so that they can check to see 'how their post is doing' (a direct quote from a friend of mine at a festival last weekend), girls who are unashamedly posing for hundreds of photos in the hope of getting one good enough to be uploaded onto this platform, and then the grown women everywhere who are taking the fact that they are being unfollowed seriously to heart. 

It's got to stop. The reason that Instagram was so fabulous in the beginning was because it was fun, it was a breath of fresh air. There are no political rants or homophobic messages, as we so much of on Twitter and we are spared the passive aggressive 'now I know who my true friends are' status' on Facebook that we have become accustomed to. Instagram is a snapshot into a person's day, it's inspiration, it's laugh out loud, it's motivating, inspiring, pretty. And then the minute it stops being any of those things you have the greatest gift of all: the power to unfollow the person responsible for making you feel anything less than what you want to feel. 

The hardest lesson that any creator can learn is that not everyone is going to like their stuff. For artists that is an easy enough lesson to learn, since they learn it early and know it's coming. For the rest of the world it perhaps comes as a shock, not least of all because most people don't even realise that they are creators at all. But whether you realise it or not, you have created something with your Instagram profile and now you need to work out what you want to do with it. You can work at it, using it like a portfolio and see how far it takes you down a career path or you can accept that it's private, a representation of your life and not the business of everyone else. What you need to stop doing though, is worrying about it. Because it is boring. And Instagram isn't supposed to be boring. There isn't supposed to be pressure. It isn't supposed to be stressful.

I am one flat-lay away from throwing my phone out the window most days. Whilst I tip my hat to any woman who can take such a perfect photo of a lipstick without getting her shadow in the image, there are only so many that I need to see in a day. I don't unfollow people, that's not really in my nature, but I can't blame people for doing it, and nor should you. It's not a personal attack and it's not the world's way of telling you that your blog is shit or that you are ugly and unloved, it is nothing. A number on a screen.

Assuming your Instagram account is not your business and it is purely personal, ask yourself this; what is this hashtag going to achieve? More people will see my photos. Maybe more of them will like them. Maybe more will follow me. BUT THEN WHAT? More followers, more likes?! Who gives a fuck? It doesn't matter. It's not real. It's not FUN. And if it's not fun anymore then I really don't understand the point, of anything really. For Godssake. Just try to have some bloody fun. 

I'M SCARED TO WALK MY DOG

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I find walking my dog absolutely terrifying. There is very little in this life that makes me happier than making Bua happy and yet some days that takes all the strength I've got. What if she runs away and onto the road and I never see her again? What if she gets attacked and killed right in front of me? Worse still, what if she turns into a savage and kills another dog while I watch and then the police arrive and have to take her away from me and put her down? These fears consume me.

It hasn't always been like this. When she was a small puppy, and arguably at her most vulnerable, we would be outside all the time; I would encourage her to play with as many other dogs as possible and I'd be really disappointed if I went into the park and we were the only ones there. These days things are somewhat different. Other dogs come near us and I run away with her. If there is a big group of dogs all playing together I'll hide round the corner praying that they don't notice each other. Sometimes I'll arrive only to turn round and take her straight home again.

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It kills me to be like this, not least of all because I am all too aware that this is so unfair for her. Although she isn't actually particularly bothered by other dogs when we are in the park, too distracted by her ball, I know that what I'm doing isn't in her best interest. In my heart of hearts I trust her not to run away and her lack of interest in other dogs makes it extremely unlikely that one would attack her. I also know that Bua wouldn't say boo to a goose; she would never attack another dog. I KNOW all of this. I KNOW I'm not being fair. I KNOW that by being neurotic all I am doing is projecting that onto her. I know it, but I can't stop it. 

This is one of the ways in which my anxiety presents itself. 

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I can generally gauge the state of my mental health by how easy I find it to walk Bua. If I am able to take my audiobook out and sit in the middle of the park playing without having to stand up in a panic when another dog comes towards us or rush her home after five minutes because the park is full then I know that I am doing okay. Recently I haven't been okay. Our walks have been short and my panic has been crippling. What if... what if.... what if?????

What Em? What's going to happen? Seriously. She's fine. Just breathe. BREATHE. 

I can't. I'm scared. I'm really really scared. 

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In lots of ways dogs are very very good for people suffering with anxiety, or a mental health issue of any kind really. They are company, something that as a self employed person I crave. She is also my reason for leaving the house on days when I don't think I can face it. She gets me out and gets me moving, she keeps me living on the days when my bed seems like the safest place. In lots of ways she keeps me well. 

And it's not that walking her makes me ill, it's that walking her makes me realise that I already am. 

People don't understand it. Why would they?

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"She's such a good dog!" "Stop worrying, she's fine!!" "What's wrong with you? They're just playing?!" "Oh for Godssake Em, she's a dog, it's what they do" "Animals can sense your stress you know, you need to relax." 

These aren't nasty comments from people who mean to insult me. These are comments from people who don't understand. Who can't understand. Because anxiety doesn't make sense, not even to the sufferer. If I knew WHY I felt like this, I would do everything that I could to prevent it. I don't like living like this. I love walking my dog, I genuinely love it, I just find it so hard. 

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And I hate that. I hate myself for it. I hate the knot in my stomach. I hate that it doesn't make sense. I hate I'm doing this to her. I hate that people don't understand it. I hate that I don't have more faith in her or in myself. I hate my brain for doing this to me. I hate the woman who suggested to me that I was doing Bua a disservice by being neurotic around her because I wouldn't let her play with this woman's yappy little west highland terrier (what if Bua just snapped and decided to EAT it?!). I hate that that doesn't make sense and I cannot explain it.

But that's anxiety really. It's unexplainable, at least for the sufferer. I'm sure there are all too many experts out there who are just desperate to tell me why I feel like this, and I'm sure that one day I will want to listen. But for now it is just a part of me that I don't like, that I cannot explain. Anxiety is unexplainable and it is often unjustified and unfair. 

It's a small thing really, being frightened to walk my dog. It is not the end of the world. But it makes me sad, because it is something that I want to enjoy, and more than that, it's something that I want to be able to explain. I don't want to put my hands over my head and look away when another dog walks towards us. I don't want to irrationally play every worst case scenario in my head every time I unclip Bua's lead. I don't want to spend time worrying about things that won't happen when I could be enjoying time with my friends or my dog or even myself. What I want is to be normal, rather than reminded every time Bua needs a wee that my mind is letting me down.

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But that's just the way it is for me, that's just the way I'm wired. I'm not saying that I'm never going to get over this, I am sure that I will. When I am settled and happy walking Bua is one of the things that gives me the most joy, it is the reason I love and need her and in time I know I'll work this out. This has been a chaotic summer for me and as long as things are up in the air in my life, as long as I am out of my routine, I know, as an anxiety sufferer, that I can't expect to find things easy, and I'd be a fool to hope for anything else. I also know though, that I'll be alright in the end.

I just wish I could explain it. Not just to someone reading this with no concept of this particular mental plight, or even to my friends and family who can't stop their eyes from rolling to the sky when I begin to panic the minute Bua sets off in the direction of a squirrel, but really, to myself. I wish there was rationale, I wish I understood it. 

In the meantime though, I will settle for talking about it. Because these are the things that we need to talk about. It may seem trivial, but to me, it is important. And so just in case there is someone else out there who fears the big green spaces in London as much as I do, I'm prepared to talk about it. For the coming months I intend on being more open about anxiety and the fears that live inside of me, in the hope that maybe one person out there might read it and think: oh thank fuck for that, I'm not alone in my crazy. 

AS LONG AS WE CONTINUE TO SLUT SHAME, WE CAN NEVER BE EQUAL.

For as long as I can remember, I have lived in a slut shaming culture. I'm not proud to admit it, but at times I've noticed myself being part of the problem. It happens quietly, subtly, but regularly in my own mind: I'm a product of the society that I have grown up in and looking around, I realise that enough is enough.

The other day I found myself watching the Jeremy Kyle show (no judgement please, I was interviewed for Lorraine and JK popped up just after) and as so often happens with shows like this, I was hooked from the off. The conundrum that Jezza had to deal with was a DNA test. A woman had come on, a mother, who was asking the man that she was 99% sure was the father to be more present in her child's life. He had found out when she was pregnant that she had slept with someone else within a two week period of having slept with him. Well, you should have heard the audience react: they couldn't believe it. How very DARE she?!

She knew that the baby was his. He probably did too, deep down. And of course when the results came in, it was confirmed: he was the dad. It should have been a happy ending, had it not been for the fact that because of this 'revelation', her name was tarnished, worse than it was anyway for appearing on the Jeremy Kyle show in the first place of course. She slept with two men in two weeks: she's a slut. 

This is not a new notion, for as long as I can remember, the double standards surrounding this issue have been rife. When I was at my junior school I remember a photo of a boy's 'bits' shared around the school and, apart from a few titters from my friends and I as we goggled at it on the tiny screens of our Motorola flip-phones at the back of the classroom, nothing was really said about it. If anything, he was praised. Around the same time a video of a girl in the year above me masturbating (clearly meant for her boyfriend) did the rounds and the reaction was enormous; she was judged, heavily and ostracised, totally. 

The boys would have competitions at the parties: 'who could snog the most girls?' and lad points were awarded left right and centre. Some of them would manage to kiss as many as twenty girls in one night and yet that one time I kissed two boys in the same evening? I didn't hear the end of it for months.

For as long as I can remember 'slut shaming' has been a massive part of our culture, of my life, and since as I'm as guilty of it as the next girl, I think I am within my rights to say: enough is enough now. 

It's only got worse as we have got older. Since kissing turned to shagging and grainy phone photos turned into revenge porn and sex tapes, we've found ourselves in a whole world of trouble. 

My male friends are shagging like it is their sole responsibility to continue the human race and that has never been a problem. We roll our eyes, but we don't say anything, we don't even really think anything. But recently I have noticed that a few of my girl friends have been following their example and enjoying regular, casual sex. For a while it was great to see: my girls shaking off their shackles and unashamedly enjoying sex, until of course, their behaviour was identified as anything other than fun, it was becoming a 'pattern', and that's when it becomes a 'problem'. 

The thing that comes up time and time again are their reputations. As if they were ever our problems anyway. They're talked about in hushed tones and plans are made, conversations are had, interventions are staged. We do anything we can to stop our girl friends from damaging their reputations, all the while laughing, mocking, blissfully ignoring the same behaviour when exhibited in our male friends. 

I cannot take the double standards. I'm bored of it. I'm tired of it. I've had enough of it.

Because sex is one of the most natural things in the world and sexuality is one of the most beautiful. And the fact that women are still made to feel embarrassed about it is ridiculous. This stigma attached to sex is affecting us all. It affects the way we perceive sex. it affects the way we have it. It affects our confidence, our thoughts and our attitudes, whether we realise it or not. 

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'No I can't wear that, people will think I'm easy...' 'I can't get with him, I snogged his brother six years ago and it wouldn't really be fair...' 'I will wait until the third date because you know what they say about girls who put out on the first night...' Of course we bloody know. We're the ones saying it. 

Slut shaming is happening on our watches and that is what annoys me the most about the whole thing. We don't just enable it, we enforce it. 

A few weeks ago I heard a story from a friend of mine: she really liked this guy and he knew, he clearly chose to ignore this information. At a party he had sex with two of her friends, in the same night. I couldn't catch myself before I heard the words falling out of my mouth: 'do these girls have no self respect?!' I was livid with them. I judged them. I went so far as to question everything about them. Meanwhile the man, who had spent the evening bed hopping and breaking hearts in the process, walked away totally judgement free. He's just the lad that shagged two girls in one night. What a hero eh?! 

Despite my carefree nature and my overwhelming feminist beliefs, I was all too quick to question the behaviour of two women I didn't know, all the while ignoring the man who was just as guilty. Maybe it's because I spend so long encouraging girls to support one another, the idea that women could do this to their friends was the thing that shocked me. Or maybe I'm just not used to women enjoying sex as freely as men. Maybe it's both. 

This might be bad example, since feelings have been brought into it. But I won't need to think for long before another one pops up. These things pop up all the time. And it's not okay. It's not okay that women are punished for sex and judged for sex. It's one of the biggest problems women are facing, it's one of the remaining great injustices. 

We can do something about this. And we must. 

It is our responsibility. This needs to change. It needs to end. And we need to end it. 

We are so used to waiting, to protecting our reputations, to being cheated on, to saying sorry, to making excuses, to hiding ourselves, denying our wishes and being embarrassed that I worry that it's just too engrained in us: this moronic and ancient notion that we must 'do the right thing' and maintain a clean image whilst our male counterparts explore the many beds of the UK spearing their seed. But that is all it is: a notion.

Because in reality, we can do anything that we damn well please. But that perception will only change when our own perceptions change. When we, as women, as mothers and as friends, stop raising our eyebrows. When we stop talking in whispers and planning interventions. It's more than simply shagging who we want, it's being who we want. It's the promise that we can live judgement free, that we can do what the men do: it's the right to be equal. 

LEARNING THAT I AM ENOUGH

How many times do you shy away from possibilities? How often do you bite your tongue for fear of sounding stupid, or let an opportunity pass you by in case you embarrass yourself? How many things do you say no to because you are frightened to say yes?

So many times in our lives, even in our day to day, we make ourselves smaller so as not to upset anyone, do something that others might judge us for or embarrass ourselves. And I've had enough.

I've spent the last however many years ever so slightly ashamed of myself. At times, mostly throughout my teens, I was cripplingly self conscious about my body; I felt overweight and unattractive, awkward in my own skin. I was also embarrassed of my brain (can you imagine such a thing?) I was nervous to speak out, to be true to myself or go out and get what I wanted for fear that other people would look at me and think me to be stupid or ignorant. I was terrified, truly terrified at the idea of making a fool of myself. 

Perhaps it was growing up. Perhaps it was leaving school and finding people who actually loved me and let me feel like myself around them, but I seem to have grown out of my 'downer mode', in that now I love my body, actually love it, and adore my brain. I'm passionate about so much and have finally learnt how to vocalise it, I no longer bite my tongue and am not scared of my own opinions.

At some point I made the decision that I am enough.

And that decision was liberating, in so many ways. 

The negative thoughts didn't stop. The overwhelming urge to squish myself into a box or cower away from an inflammatory conversation didn't go away. The anxiety that eats away at me didn't leave. But I made a decision. I made the decision to be happy with who I was and to use the negative thoughts as an incentive, an incentive to do better, to make myself proud. 

It's not a decision that I can make every day. Confidence doesn't just happen. But confidence is something that comes with practise. It's something that comes with time. It's something that you have to fight for. 

So prepare yourself for a fight.

A fight worth fighting.

See this as a challenge. Make self-acceptance and self love the goal. Fuck the gym, fuck the diet you've been thinking about, fuck hoovering under the bed. 

Let's create a challenge worth working for: let's teach ourselves to believe that we are enough. 

It starts with saying yes:

Yes, I'll do it.

Yes, I'll go after what I want.

Yes, I am enough.

If you would've told me five years ago that one day I would voluntarily upload photos of myself in a bikini onto the internet, I would have located a dead fish to whack you over the head with. 

I spent my entire life believing that being proud of your body was something that was only permitted if you sat down and didn't get stomach rolls or if your legs went up to your shoulders. I was the girl that couldn't wear a bikini, and if she did, covered her stomach with her hands at every moment.

I was the one that didn't breath out on holidays. I was the one that wouldn't have photos taken or stand next to skinnier people. 

How boring was I?

Do you know how easy it is to start loving yourself when you accept that that is OK? And do you know how good it feels when you do? 

I don't want to be boring anymore. I don't want to waste time hating myself and my body. The body that, coincidentally, allows me to live the most amazing life. The body that does incredible things for me every single day. I want to love it. I want to be happy with it. 

And it's about time I owned that: I AM WHO I AM. AND I AM ENOUGH.

We constantly feel the need to change. We feel that we are not good enough. We worry that people don't like us. Self doubt is laced in nearly everything that we do. Being a human can at times feel like you're on stage and that the world is staring at you, and judging you.

And you know what? Sometimes, they are.

But it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with that. 

It's always up to you.

Are you going to spend your whole life feeling undeserving and embarrassed and guilty and self conscious and judged, or, are you going to realise that you are worth so much more than the opinion of people who either don't know you or don't get you. 

Why do I need to change myself to keep other people happy? Where have I got this crazy notion that I'm not good enough from? And what exactly is stopping me from doing exactly what I want to do? 

It's the fear of what other people might think. 

Other people. Who are these other people

"Those that care don't matter and those that matter don't care."

God I wish I'd heard that sooner. 

You come into this world on your own and ultimately you leave it alone too. That doesn't mean that you don't need other people and it doesn't mean that you should only ever look after yourself. No one man is an island. But it is worth remembering that as you live your life: you're the only one that can make the change. Every decision that you make needs to be made by you and for you. You have to look after number one. 

Don't allow self doubt to dull your sparkle. Don't put yourself down. Don't be the reason that you don't reach your full potential.

It's okay to be happy and it's okay to be proud of yourself. And it is imperative that you learn to accept that you are enough.