24 April, 2013

An Experiment: The Day I had to Wear My Real Face


This morning it was panic stations when I get on the bus at 6.40am, at that point hating myself for being a gym hungry early bird (and also for being someone who had become fat in 7 days of holiday and therefore had no choice other than to run on the treadmill for hours and hours and hours...), and checked the contents of my meticulously packed gym bag only to discover I had forgotten something very important.

My trainers? No, they were on my feet. With a glorious hole where my right big toe has slowly protruded through, like it is objecting to all the running. My work clothes? No, they were there, looking better off than they do on. Sigh. My pants? My gym card? My will to exercise?

No, no and no. Any of the above would have been preferable losses compared to what I had actually forgotten. MY MAKE UP BAG! My war paint! My mask! My eyes! My cheeks! My lips! My golden and flawless complexion!  MY FAKE FACE! All of this had been left on my dressing table at home, leaving me with nothing but invisible eyelashes, a reddish complexion and all the sparkle of a lump of coal on a rainy day. And for a split second, I was distraught.

It;s okay, I thought, I can got to Boots post-gym and buy all their products to save the day and avoid future incidents where I might have to go round doing life with a bare face. BARE! But then I decided to turn this mishap on it's head. Things had just got interesting. Why not use this as an opportunity to challenge myself and my confidence, to see how I coped going about my day make-up free, a personal experiment - character building they call it, don't they? I mean, if I am happy to sweat it out in the gym (and I mean sweat) with near-on strangers and nothing but said sweat to hide behind, why would my fresh face be so bad all day long? And so that is what I did.

I was hoping to report tonight that the day had been life changing. The world had noticed. Some had accused me of looking ill, disgusting, deranged even, helped me across the road, asked after my health and tried to bronze me when they thought I was too busy eating to notice. Others had leaped to my defence, claiming au naturel is the way forward, it took years off me and so what if you could no longer see that my eyelashes do in fact touch Mars? I knew they were there, which was what was important, right? Unfortunately for me, this blog post and any readers, none of the above happened. The earth did not move. Nobody batted an eyelid. Not even me and my shadowless ones.

The Diary of my Naked Face 

6.40am: I resolve to spend the day make-up free

8.40am: I cave. My feet walk me to work via Boots and my hands use a tester foundation to at least cover the blemishes. Enough! I tell myself and force me to shut my eyes as I scamper out the door, past the counters of mascara, lipstick, blushers and perfume - all calling my name. I am determined to achieve what was left of my mission. No eye-shadow, no mascara, no eyeliner, no lippy, not even a measly bit of Cherry Carmex.

9:05am: When no-one has noticed my make-up less face (despite my eye-balling them and practically holding giant arrows up to my cheeks) I point it out. I was met with sheer indifference. No-one had an opinion on my make-up levels? WHAT.

11:15am: I catch sight of myself in the mirror in the Ladies and am startled by my make-up-less face. Who is that 12 year old ghost of a girl? OH GOODNESS. I had forgotten. Bah! Back to my desk with my eyes down so that no-one gets spooked or tries to match-make me with Caspa.

13:15pm: I go round town with a make-up less face. Check me out. What no mascara or notable eyelash? Yeah, that's me. Pale as the day is long? Yep, me again. Just paying for my M&S purchases without any kind of war-paint to speak of? Guilty. As. Charged. Yeah, no-one cared. The shop assistant still smiles at me, no-one leaps onto the intercom and demands the scary pale girl go immediately to the customer services desk.

14:30pm: I couldn't take it any more, my grease addiction got to me and I borrowed some Carmex from one of the girls. Menthol. Nice. It was sweet relief and I didn't feel too guilty, The functionality of lip balm however addresses health not vanity, so I am off the hook I think?

Home time: slightly concerned my boyfriend would kick me out when he answered the door to such an unrepresentable woman. I mean, he's seen me like that every morning and every night, but in the day?! At peak time? Goodness me I was brave. But he didn't even notice, ever the gent'. And he even still seemed to love me. Good lord.

My Findings

I have gone through periods of wearing no make-up before, when it has just felt right to be all natural and stuff. In my gap yah when I was all bushy-beach hair and Billabong boardies, make-up was literally just for special nights out and writing on people. In my first year of uni this continued, but to the point my own Mum pointed out at the end of one semester that I want to make a bit of an effort. Oh dear. What?! I was relaxed, had a boyfriend elsewhere and no call to attract any more attention, but I took it so far I actually think I repelled people. A low point was rocking up to lectures in green combat trousers, trainers, a beige hoody with my uni name branded on it and hair that had not been brushed let alone straightened. Fast forward to 2nd year and everything changed. I got dumped. I needed to feel good and wanted to impress, on went the layers of whatever I could lay my hands on. Hello make-up overkill.

Now things have balanced out and generally I wear basic make-up and a brightly coloured smile for work, smokey eyes and eyeliner for a night out and on a Sunday if I am not going anywhere I give my real face a turn, put the make-up away and let my skin breath. Ahhh. However, for any social occasion such as work or meeting a friend, a full face of make-up is a habit. While I am confident to exercise and relax without it, elsewhere, where I like to feel on form, I think make-up gives you that edge.

I thought today's experiment would reduce my confidence, that I would touch my face a lot, be scared to look others in the eye and maybe even speak to people through the gaps in my fingers, but I just didn't feel any different. Apart from on some level, somehow, I just felt freer, and sort of proud.

Ironically, on the same day Jan Moir has come under fire for criticising the beautiful Katherine Jenkins for daring to wear make up and make the best of herself whilst running the London marathon on Sunday, where she knew hundreds of cameras and thousands of eyes would be on her.  I strongly support women feeling able to sport the nautral look, and hope I have the strength of character to always feel able to go bare faced anywhere if it should so suit me (or if I forget my make up again), but at the same time if a woman wants to enhance herself with make-up, especially when she knows so many people will be watching her? so damn what. That should always be her choice, without risk of being condemned.

In Conclusion

While I object to totally transforming your appearance underneath layers and layers of something that isn't you (and no-one is fooled into thinking is really you either) I do believe in making the best of yourself. When you have albino eyelashes like mine, you need mascara for people to see their length. When you have a spot or 2 it's nice to cover them up and feel less self-conscious. When you feel like dazzling, a splash of lippy never did anyone any harm - a bright smile benefits all who receive it. Women like Moir need to focus less on how other women want to conduct themselves and more on their own self-esteem. Who was Katherine Jenkins hurting in wanting to look good on camera? We all know shes drop dead gorgeous with or without the face paint, so it isn't like she was tricking anyone. My regular readers will know how strongly I feel about female loyalty and how I encourage women to feel able to compliment and encourage each other, rather than bring each other down. Needless to say I was angered by Moir's attitude, but I guess she's just not learnt that lesson yet.

Today I felt proud as I learnt that not only could I go about my day with my actual face on show, but that it didn't actually matter to anyone much. I forgot about it for the most part and it didn't effect my decisions, my behaviour, my ability to chat. If anything I just felt empowered and free - yeah I choose to wear make-up most days, but I'm not bound by it, and I was happy to learn that about myself. I recommend any woman who wants to challenge or build their confidence has 1 make-up free day a week, let your soul breathe.

What's your stance on make-up?


12 April, 2013

I gave my life to a Smart Phone...and now I want good old-fashioned offline fun!

For people like me who are extremely active on social media, sometimes you've got to wonder what kind of an impact that has on your actual life - you know, the one outside your smart phone.

As much as I am very active online  and can usually be found mid-tweet, I also invest a lot of energy into real activities in real life - working, running, netball, socialising, baking, eating, having tantrums, laughing too much and maintaining relationships, to name but a few. Yet while my use of social media hasn't stopped me from doing these other social activities, I have started wonder if it has had more of an impact than I realise.

Social media is a habit I have fallen into. I was always an easy target for Mark Zuckerberg - I started university in 2005, 1 year after Facebook was launched purely for University networks. I was bang in the middle of the Facebook boom. Combine that with the fact I have an addictive personality, I am super sociable, I love a good bit of personal endorsement (which is effectively what we get every time we see that little red notification) and I love to have my say - I never stood a chance against the social media phenomenon that has changed the face of socialising. My friend Lotty became personally responsible for not only my lifestyle but my actual career path that 2005 day she said to me 'you have to go on Facebooook (she's Geordie), you can poke people and stuff!' and signed me up. Uh-oh...

I would never stop living my actual life in favour of living souly online, but I am definitely guilty of avoiding going out because I want to update my blog, of not paying attention to conversations with the the girls at work because I am distracted by twitter and of spending my time at social events absorbed in my Smart Phone world. But it's so prettyyyy! Ultimately, in making those small decisions and shutting out the world in front of me, I am choosing the life in my iPhone over the life outside of it, and that is bound to have some effect long-term.

I can't help wondering how different my life might be if I hadn't sometimes prioritised my digital life for my real one. That said, I am not complaining - I  have met so many fantastic people purely through Twitter (the only place you can instantly find like-minded people who want to share baking stories, go to blogger events with you and digitally cheer you on through your marathon training), Twitter is largely responsible for me finding my lobster and I get so much positivity out of being on these sites that I don't have regrets, but recently I have been forced to realise that if I were to go to far into that world, I could risk losing what's outside of it.

We need to maintain a balance, and the danger begins at the point we prioritise our online life over the world right in front of us. If you're talking to your friends and checking your twitter - stop! If you're constantly texting whilst spending quality time with someone important you - you better watch yourself! If you're failing to go to parties, the gym or even work,so you can stay home and blog (or simply Facebook stalk), then you risk missing the WHOLE WORLD. And that would be a shame.

The digital world is an easier way to socialise at times, there's less pressure, it takes less effort, you can be who you want, and as a result it can feel like the more tempting option, but the confidence and natural high you get from throwing yourself into real life, real social events, real activities where you risk falling over in front of everyone or saying something stupid  - that's what makes a person whole, and you need to do those things.

While I won't stop using social media any time soon and will for the foreseeable future continue to blog, tweet and update as furiously as I always have, I am going to be extra careful in the little decisions I make every day. I don't want to find myself ignoring conversations at work because I am 'in' my phone, I don't want to not see me friends because I'm writing an (awesome) blog post and I certainly don't want to live in a computer. I want to see the world, and not just through my camera phone, I want to enjoy a meal because I have eaten it not just because it got 12 likes on Instagram, I want to feel totally content on holiday, without feeling the need to share it with my 'following', because that's just not healthy, it's exhausting, and we're tired. Good old fashioned offline fun puts colour in your cheeks and fuel in your heart, and there just isn't room for anything digital there.

Next week is my birthday 'week' and I am so excited to see all the people and do all the things, and I really want to take it all in properly, without succumbing to the urge to digitalise everything as soon as it happens. Easier said than done, given that old habits die really, really hard. While I still want to share photos and tweet my excitement, I just want to make sure I don't forget to stand still and enjoy the moment first.

Because what is life if you're not in the moment?


03 April, 2013

Can our clothes please change with the times? One is not a beansprout.

Dear High Street Stores,

Up until a few years ago, when I tried on skinny jeans in Topshop and couldn't get them over my knees, I would peg it out of the changing rooms in a hot flush, feeling like my body was just all wrong because it wasn't the shape of a beansprout. WHY ISN'T MY BODY THE SHAPE OF A BEANSPROUT I would wail internally, hit the gym hard and avoid carbs for 6 weeks, look vaguely more like a beansprout, run back to Topshop, STILL not be able to get jeans over knees, resolve to get bum, calves and boobs all just REMOVED, so that I might (albeit a looking a little freakish) fit into the god damn Topshop skinny jeans.

Skip forward to 2013 and I have learnt 5 things:

1. Topshop clothes are made for a shape that covers about 1% of women
2. I am not that 1% of women
3. I have a latin bum in a Caucasian body, and I am stuck with it
4. I am healthy, fit and strong, and if Topshop don't want me shazzazzing about in their jeans, then more fool them
5. It was not my body that was wrong, it was the jeans

While I now embrace all my curvy curviness with glee and am almost pleased when jeans can't contain my frame, I do remain disappointed with High Street stores and their unrealistic notion of A) what the female form does actually look like, and B) how varied that female form is, or isn't in their minds. How are we supposed to love our bodies when we are made to feel 'wrong' by the very stores we buy from?

According to the world of High Street fashion, the average woman is approximately 8 different shapes (6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20). These are the sizes you can expect to find on the shelves of New Look, Topshop, River Island, Primark, Dorothy Perkins...and this was okay when I was a beansprout, aged 15 and my body looked vaguely like everybody elses, just fatter or thinner or taller or shorter. You could just go up or down a dress size and you would still slot in okay. This was before the whole shape dynamic was brought in, around the age of 18 (I was a late developer), when all of a sudden everyone starts going in and out in different places, and what looks like a flowing prom gown on your best mate looks like bodycon on you, your jeans won't do up round your waist but are gaping round the thigh, your skirt looks fab on your legs but your muffin top floweth over, your top sits great on your boobs but there's a huge gap between fabric and tummy - the problems are endless, and this is a direct result of a notion that ladies come in just a handful of different shapes and sizes.


Developed, matured, healthy, grown women do not fall into just 8 different body shapes and sizes. What if I am between a size 10 and 12 (I am and I continue the campaign to bring in size 11, as I might argue the difference between a UK Ladies size 10 and a UK Ladies size 12 is ghastly vast and usually means we, the size 11's, end up with items either gaping in places or clinging in others. It's always just a matter of choosing where best to cling and gape.) What if my bum is 2 dress sizes bigger than my waist and my boobs are a size smaller and my calves are giant and need specially made trousers to accommodate them? Am I supposed to patchwork my own clothes out of different sizes to create something that accommodates me? Need I be a walking fabric jigsaw? I have been a loyal shopper of the High Street since 1996 and I want more dammit!

In this day and age, where New Look have a whole range of specially 'Wide Shoes' for stupidly wide feet (me again!), where you can get backless/strapless/invisible/padded/push-up/multi-way bras, where you can buy running shoes tailored to suit your exact posture and foot-shape, where you can get every variety of coffee under the sun (skinny, tall, black, half-shot...) why and how are we still supposed to fall into 8 different body shapes. EIGHT. What if I am a square peg and you are offering me a very round whole to squeeze into? It's just not fair Topshop, when your clothes are so pretty, it's just not fair. Half my friends don't even bother going in Topshop anymore, as it seems to be the leading culprit in this ongoing saga of the sizes. As a woman of the High Street shops, until I can afford Gucci, I want to have the same control over my clothes as I get over my morning coffee. That is all I want.

Of course we cannot design our own clothes to exactly match our shape or even expect stores to offer anything even near a tailored service, but surely we shouldn't still be putting ourselves under this pressure to match these rigid sizing stipulations that have been dictating how we define our body shapes since the 1980's, when they thought gays were mental and Bono was cool. We have changed, our priorities have changed, women have changed. We are fit and strong and we exercise a lot. I have got massive calves, like they could feed a lot of people in an apocalypse (if you like that sort of thing), but I love my massive calves. Not only are they a great topic of conversation at parties/on nights out/in job interviews, but they remind me how strong I am - I worked, worked, worked, to get those calves. I traipsed up and down the hills of Sheffield as a student and then I ran miles and miles and miles to make myself strong. I love my calves, but man do they suffer in my skinny jeans, because what the High Street don't know is Strong is the New Skinny, in this here 2013.

Stop making clothes that encourage anorexia, calling it a size 10 and convincing women they  have 'gotten fat', when they haven't, they are just still not a beansprout.

Thank you in advance.


NB: A few months ago I did actually buy some Topshop skinny jeans, and they fit! Snugly, but comfortably. And I love them and wear them ALL THE TIME. I didn't expect this result though, I only tried them on because they were just so pretty (raspberry red, polka dot, need I say more) and it was with great surprise I found the waistband was able to navigate my calves, up over my bum and actually do up (without me breathing in) round the waist. Note - I have not changed size or shape, I am not a beansprout, this is purely a better made jean. The difference now is, if those jeans hadn't have fit me in the way they so kindly agreed to, I wouldn't blame my body and all it's 'failings' I would know that Topshop is a silly shop at times, with an unrealistic perception of women's bodies.