Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

My favourite thing about the internet is having the ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

My Twitter timeline is constantly full of amazing, inspiring women; women with stories to tell and brilliant, brave voices to tell them in. Women who are grabbing life with two hands and making it work for them. Women who have overcome unbelievable, devastating things. Women who really, really give a shit.

I’ve written before about Laura Jane Williams, one of the best and most beautiful writers I’ve encountered. I’ve followed her blog for a while now and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Debrief event a couple of months ago. So when she and fellow fabulous person Emma Gannon decided to throw a real life get together for these great Twitter women, I basically fell over myself in my hurry to get a ticket.

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Fittingly, the theme of the evening was friendship, so I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and decided to go along on my ownsome and make as many friends as I could. I had chatted with a lot of the folks who were going on Twitter, but I suffer from that eternal writers’ conviction that I am infinitely funnier and more charming on the page than I could ever hope to be in person, so I was pretty nervous.

I headed into the room, made a beeline for the prosecco and spun around to introduce myself to the nearest person before my confidence had the chance to desert me. Reader, the Universe sent me an angel. Halfway through our introductions, I realised I had met the woman I was speaking to before but hadn’t recognised her, due to my vision being impaired upon our first meeting by a knight’s helmet. We were taking part in a non-sexy pants photoshoot. No, really, we actually were:

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Me being unsexy in some pants.

She was the excellent Daisy Buchanan, whose writing you will probably have read if you have picked up literally any newspaper or magazine this year. Spurred on by this realisation, I introduced myself to another bunch of ladies standing nearby and spent the next half hour pouring prosecco for people and enthusing about how great Daisy’s writing is.

The panel of speakers took to the stage and I quickly scurried to an empty seat. I smiled shyly at the girls beside me, only to have one of them ask “Sorry, are you Fiona?”

Turns out that curly red hair and a big Scottish accent are good identifiers. My favourite thing about events like this is that everyone introduces themselves with their Twitter handle.

“Oh hey! Aren’t you @EscapologistGl? I’m @flo_robson!”
“SHUT UP, it’s so nice to meet you!”

The panel was made up of Nadin Hadi, Lucy Sheridan, Jade Coles and Emma and Laura themselves. The five women were strikingly different but equally excellent as they picked their way through the thorny topic of friendship.

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
A good friendship is one where you don’t both fall out of love at the same time.
You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited friendship.

But the wisdom was cut through with fast-paced, biting hilarity: Lucy recalling how her husband falls in friend-love at first sight, Nadin outing herself as Helen from Bridesmaids, Laura exclaiming Oh god, I’m Kristen Wiig and I HATE YOU.

I frantically tapped half nonsensical, typo ridden notes into my phone and nodded furiously at every word spoken. The truth is, these women could have been talking about anything in the world and I would have listened. There is something so uniquely wonderful about a group of women who are absolutely owning it. I wanted to stand up and high five everyone in the room when Nadin followed up her Bridesmaids comment by saying “People are intimidated by me and that’s fine. I am intimidating.”

In no time at all, the panel was over and people started to mill around the room. Self-consciousness soothed by prosecco and shared experience, we poured out our stories of love and loss, of friendship breakups, finding your tribe and whether or not you always want to sleep with your friends just a little bit. Scrolling the hashtag on Twitter, I found that a couple of my favourite bloggers were in the room and went around squinting at people’s faces until I found them. Once I met them, I tried to be cool, but ended up snuggling them instead. Such is life.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

There’s always something a bit magical about meeting people you admire and this night was absolutely no exception. If you didn’t get a ticket for this one, make sure you come along to the next. But be warned, I’ll probably snuggle you.

It Starts Now

I’m so excited that I arrive half an hour early and have to sit in the lobby of the uber stylish Hoxton Hotel, people watching and becoming increasingly frantic that everyone walking past looks infinitely cooler than I do. The beloved imposter syndrome sets in but has to take a back seat; there’s nothing in this here world that would make me miss one of my favourite writers in conversation with one of my favourite websites, especially when the odds of free cocktails are high.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

Photo provided by the lovely folks at Aperol UK.

The event is called It Starts Now, a name that runs up my spine and reminds me of that whispered promise that the New Year brings. It’s run by the Debrief, sponsored by Aperol and plays host to three amazing bloggers who will be telling us exactly how to grab 2016 by the unmentionables.

I’m at the event solo. This is the undeniable downside to having cool friends…they are literally always booked out. I tentatively introduce myself to another girl in the corridor, Hannah, and by the time the doors open, we are already cheerily discussing micropenises. We are ushered into a bar that looks like it leapt directly out of Pinterest: black and white chequered tiles, bright orange everything, squashy armchairs, warm white fairy lights, bottles of stinging orange Aperol scattered artfully around. We’re given a cocktail each and advised to hang onto our glasses for top ups. This is excellent news.

Hannah’s plus one, Sarah, arrives shortly after and turns out to be just as excellent as Hannah. They very nicely let me gatecrash their evening and it is definitely their fault that I don’t have a single non-blurry photo of the night. I’m far too busy giggling and drinking Aperol Spritzes to stand still enough for a photo.

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After a little mingling, we are brought into a tiny cinema room and this is where the fun really starts. Jo from food blog Jo Eats London, Laura from lifestyle blog Superlatively Rude and Zara from beauty blog Mouldy Fruit sit in front of us and reveal the secrets to making 2016 a truly great year. Laura’s blog has been one of my favourites for a very long time. She’s one of the most stunning, truthful writers that I know, and if you haven’t read her blog before, you absolutely should. When I meet her, I instinctively throw myself at her, before panicking a split second too late that she isn’t a hugger. Of course, she is, so when I say goodbye, she gets a proper hug. Jo and Zara are both new discoveries for me but hearing them speak is amazing.

Jo talks about what’s going to be hotting up and what’s going to be cooling off in our kitchens. Cupcakes are over, thank the lord. Give me a slice of proper cake any day. So are spiralisers. Pasta is the way forward, says Jo. I think we’ll get on just fine. Jo is warm and sweet and funny and completely succeeds in making me very hungry. Apparently, in 2016, we need to be eating cauliflower. And doughnuts. And I’ll raise a glass to that any day.

Laura chats about life, love and social media, not necessarily in that order. Chat really is the right word for it. She goes off on tangents and laughs at her own notes when they get pompous – “I regularly prune my social media garden…what does that even mean?”, she chuckles at one point – and has all of us in stitches as she mourns the loss of her slightly uncool imaginary celebrity BFF Khloe Kardashian. Her message is the same one that rings out through her writing: do what feels good. She talks about authenticity and truth and beauty and I feel like standing up and doing a little victory dance every five minutes.

Zara is talking beauty. More specifically, beauty trends that will look just as good on your actual face as they do on Instagram. As she so aptly puts it, we’ve all gotten to the stage where we feel like we should have five Instagram filters on our faces before we even walk out the door. Excessive contouring is swapped for dewy, glowy skin, nude Kylie Jenner lips are replaced with bold cherry lips and swipes of turquoise eyeliner. I’m excited. Like the others, Zara started her blog because she felt like somehow, she had something to say. And she certainly does. I take a full page of notes of beauty products that I want to buy.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

Zara, Jo and Laura.

All three are warm and fun and gorgeous in every sense of the word. I leave the room feeling like 2016 is probably going to be the year that I take over the world. Sarah, Hannah and I head back into the bar where we sit and put the world to rights, drink a few more Aperol spritzes than is really appropriate for a school night and swap social media links and story ideas, before being politely ushered out after everyone else has left. What else are ya gonna do on a Wednesday night, right? Take a deep breath, my darlings. 2016 is here. It’s going to be a big one, if you’ll let it. Relax. Do you. Do what feels good. Introduce yourself loudly. Throw yourself in for the hug. Order another drink. Laugh too much. Get inspired. This is your life. It starts now.

Camille In The Round

As much a storyteller as a singer, Camille O’Sullivan has one those raw, heartrending voices that seems to tear the very fabric of the air, before reaching through and punching you right in the heart. When I lived in Edinburgh, I made a point of seeing her at least once a year when she rocked the Fringe festival, so last year, finding myself stuck in London throughout August, I was pretty gutted. It didn’t even occur to me to check whether she was playing in London and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should always date someone smarter than you. My lovely boy bought me tickets to see her for my Christmas.

Camille O'Sullivan London

From a tiny Edinburgh festival venue to London’s beautiful Roundhouse, Camille’s set remains familiar. It’s like wandering into the mind of a fairytale character; dresses hang in the air, filled with fairy lights, a rabbit lamp sits on top of a battered leather suitcase, an assortment of hats lies to the side of the stage, a microphone stand drips with chimes, a pair of ruby slippers glitter conspicuously in the dim light. Camille herself is equally surreal. She enters in a sparkling black cape, wrapped in yet more fairy lights, painted red lips the only colour among orchid-pale skin and dark, shining hair. I always have a certain amount of love and respect for beautiful women who could choose to be hot and choose to be weird instead (see also: Kate Bush). Camille lurches and sashays and bunny hops wildly around the stage, miaowing, swearing, drinking wine, before assuming whatever character she’ll be occupying for the duration of the next song. All of which isn’t to suggest that she isn’t sexy as hell. She’s basically the love of my life. She shifts between spurned lovers, spurning lovers, heartbroken daughters, deranged freak-show nightmares, salacious temptresses, often huge caricatures with enough truth in them that every one feels familiar. Changing characters are accompanied by changing costumes, a glittering array of shoes and dresses and hats and face paints and lipsticks. Different voices, different faces, different walks. Her singing veers between soft, whispering crooning, scratching rock and roll belting, rich, deep instrumentals. She has a voice that feels as though it is physically surrounding you, filling you up. I cry three times: once at the lovesick beauty of Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo, once at the raw, scraping power of Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam, once at the ironic, understated loneliness of Fascinating Aida’s Look Mummy, No Hands.

Having seen her at least ten times before, I’ve got a list of firm favourites, songs that give me goosebumps or make my heart start thumping after just a few notes. I couldn’t have written a better set list for this show. Niall laughs at me as I bounce and squeal and grab his hand every time I recognise a new song. The show opens with Gillian Welch and closes with Nick Cave, stopping off at Bob Dylan, Kirsty MacColl, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and a rollicking tribute to the Starman himself, Mr David Bowie. Camille covers songs that I would ordinarily forbid people to cover and she makes them better. She makes them more beautiful. She makes me understand them in a new way.

Between songs, she chats affectionately to the audience, trips over microphone wires, talks lovingly about the artists she is covering, marvels at how much easier it was to salsa Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes when she started ten years ago. Despite all of the glamour, all the theatrical glory of the performance, between songs, you’re made to feel as though you’ve just bumped into her in the pub. She exudes warmth and fondness for her audience, and performs with the air of someone who still, after all this time, feels so privileged to be sharing her favourite music with them.

She’s back in London on the 29th of April. Go see her. Miaow.

On the Razz

One of the best and worst things in my life is that I’m surrounded by people who encourage me to pursue the things I’m passionate about with absolutely zero fear and often, zero consideration of whether they’re actually a good idea.

So when I say things like “Hey, I could totally throw a blogger event for Cancer Research”, I frequently find myself standing in a basement bar in Dalston, surrounded by goody bags, helping a lovely beauty therapist set up a mobile massage chair.

The Razz for Life was on.

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I put on my party dress, laced up my converse, inked up for the Pink Army and casually took 30 goody bags on a rush hour bus in 25 degree heat. Not for the first time, I feared I might be slightly mad.

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We would be Razzing it up in the basement of the fabulous Farr’s School of Dancing in Dalston, which is every bit as cool as you would imagine a basement bar in Dalston to be.

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Of course, I couldn’t entertain a big bunch of bloggers all on my ownsome, so I enlisted help from some of the coolest cats I know.

First up was Richard from Sniffy Wiffy, a body lotion brand that I absolutely adore. I met him and his wife last year at a blogger event and have raved about them to anyone who will listen at every available opportunity since.

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Their lotions are made with just five ingredients, smell incredible and each label contains instructions on how to perform self-exams on your breasts and/or testicles (delete as appropriate). They also donate to Cancer Research UK and Ballboys every time you buy a jar. My guests barely got through the door before I was wheeling them over to the Sniffy Wiffy table and thrusting pots of Kiwi and Lime body lotion in their faces. Luckily, they all seemed to enjoy it.

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I knew that all this talk of body lotion would put my ladies in the mood for a little pampering and luckily I had the lovely Sarah from Spa by Car on hand to help me spoil them rotten.

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As well as charming the pants off us with her gorgeous South African accent, Sarah was treating us to mini manicures and amazing Lava Angels hot shell massages. Hot. Shell. Massages. I know. I was too busy running about the place like a mad person to take advantage of this, but I have it on good authority that it’s probably the best damn massage you’ll ever get. I’m totally booking one in as soon as I get paid this month.

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Getting spoiled is hungry work, so I’d arranged some sweetness to tide us over. I met Polly from the Cake Diaries at the Benefit Pop Up Bar back in March and immediately fell in love with her scrumptious blog. When I first got in touch with her about the event, I suggested an idea that I thought might be a little out there, expecting her to say no. Instead, she took it and ran with it, making me doughnut kebabs instead of cupcakes, but retaining that all important message that rang out through the event:

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Look me in the eye and tell me that those are not the coolest cakes you’ve ever seen ever. I think I ate about seven sticks of these.

I’d also put out some Race for Life back signs, some glitter glue and some transfer tattoos, worrying that I was being painfully uncool by expecting people to be into arts and crafts. I went upstairs to get a drink and came back down to this:

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Everyone was totally into the arts and crafts. And I got to pass on my plentiful transfer tattoo knowledge to a non 90s kid.

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The goody bags inevitably drew everyone’s eye and after much shuffling and peeking, they were doled out, along with some fabulous raffle prizes. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the brands who donated to my goody bags, as well as the folks from Sniffy Wiffy, Spa by Car, Lava Angels and Farr’s. Their generosity meant that I was able to put on my event completely for free, meaning that every penny of donations went straight to Cancer Research UK. And my ladies got some amazing treats as well as helping out a great cause. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have undoubtedly seen my brilliant sheet mask selfies at the hands of Timeless Truth Beauty Masks. These babies aren’t just good for scaring the life out of your partner though, they pack a serious skincare punch. I love to use them to give my skin a quick pick me up if it’s looking sad. They also got some lovely samples from Inlight Organics, including the night balm, which I literally kissed for a photo in my bumper skincare post a while back. Hifas da Terra, one of the quirkiest beauty brands I’ve come across, donated a whole load of their magic serum, which utilises the healing power of mushrooms to perfect your skin. They’ll also get the chance to try out Forever Living’s Aloe skincare range, which I haven’t had the chance to sample yet. Report back, ladies, you know how I get about skincare.

But the best thing about this event wasn’t the goody bags or the doughnuts (although both were pretty damn good), it was getting to hang out with so many totally awesome people all at once. I got to see Tara and Jo, who I became friends with during the Beach Body party, I got to finally meet Hayley from Curves ‘n’ Curls in person. I got to know a whole lot of fantastic, inspiring, sunshiney women, and I really hope I get the chance to see all of them again.

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Since I threw the Razz for Life one week ago, I have had three separate run ins with cancer. Some are people that I care about dearly, some are people that I only know by association. I get defiant about cancer a lot, and most of the time it’s a real positive, passionate defiance. But in reality, cancer doesn’t care how sassy we are. We talk about bravery and strength when it comes to beating cancer, but the truth is, cancer doesn’t care about that either. Every day, cancer takes incredible, courageous, wonderful people from us, and the only thing that will stop that is research. I am so, so proud to have raised over £200 with this event. That’s 6000 microscope slides. That’s a cancer support nurse. That’s a clinical trial. And if we managed to throw a little sass its way at the same time, all the better. Cancer, I am coming to get you. And I will never, ever stop.

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If you would like to support Cancer Research UK, my donation page is still open at https://www.justgiving.com/Fiona-Longmuir/. Thanks!

Just Wear White

If you read my blog often, you’ll have seen Antonia Mariconda’s name pop up on more than one occasion. A veritable beauty guru, she has been a great inspiration, mentor and friend to me as my blog has grown. So when she announced that she was throwing a super-chic, glamorous beauty industry party, I knew I had to go along. My ticket arrived with one simple instruction: just wear white.

Having tried on and rejected approximately a million dresses that basically disappeared against my pale skin, salvation arrived in the form of this gorgeous Chi Chi London number.

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I felt prettier than Hilary Duff when that spotlight shines on her in A Cinderella story.

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That’s right, I felt give-you-four-pictures-of-my-face level sassy. Having made up my mind to go full Disney princess on this one, I paired glowy skin and fluttery eyelashes with a glossy purple lip and topped it off with Cinderella heels and earrings that would make Blair Waldorf proud.

When I got on the bus (I know, the glamour never ends with me), someone asked me if I’d lost my pumpkin, so I’m gonna chalk that up as a major success.

I arrived at the sumptuous Home House to a genuinely jaw dropping sight. The room was white, filled with glinting crystal and white roses gently dropping their petals to the floor. There was champagne everywhere. And everyone, but everyone, was wearing white. The gorgeous Nadia Roberts, who I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about very soon, looked around and commented that she felt like she was surrounded by angels.

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I’ve written before about feeling like an outsider, and this fabulous occasion unfortunately also bore witness to one of the most utterly mortifying moments of my life. At the very front of the room was a wall of photographers, snapping the guests as they entered. Having grabbed the girls I knew and established that we all looked completely excellent, we decided to go get a photograph taken. We strutted up in front of the photographers, struck our best poses and…nothing. Not a thing except muffled silence and bored gazes. Not even one sympathy click to make us feel better. We must have stood there, smiles frozen on our faces for about 15 seconds before it started to dawn on us that no one was going to take our picture. It was like all your worst high-school nightmares come true. Grabbing a glass of champagne and satisfying myself with visions of someday taking Pretty Woman-esque revenge (You remember when you wouldn’t take my picture? Big mistake. Huge.), we fell about laughing and decided to take our own. Because sometimes this world is like climbing a ladder, and while we might have been nobodies in the room, we were still in the room. And I know that some day, we’re going to be the somebodies.

*hair flick, sashay*

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Fortunately, this was the only blip in a truly wonderful night. After hitting the bar to soothe our bruised egos, we hit the dancefloor and soon after, the photobooth.

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We had a few quick words of thanks from the inspiring Tulsi, representing the Katie Piper Foundation, which was the beneficiary of the night’s fundraising. This was followed by the most upmarket raffle I’ve ever seen and a quickfire auction, which raised about £5000 in the space of ten minutes. We danced the night away, but as the clock struck midnight, I started to consider taking on another Cinderella trait…she might have had to act as a servant, but at least the girl got to take off her party shoes.

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As with everything that Antonia does, the White Party was a glittering success, sparkling with elegance, style and fun. What started as a throwaway comment on her Facebook grew into something truly special. And I’m sure she’s already plotting next year’s encore.

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Me and the woman herself.

Baring Our Breasts, Baring Our Souls

This week, I was invited to the launch party for Laura Dodsworth’s amazing book Bare Reality. I was pretty excited, having never been to a book launch before, so I donned my finest “I’m-totally-a-sophisticate-who-goes-to-book-launches” dress and headed for Brick Lane.

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Me, failing to look even a little bit cool and nonchalant.

Bare Reality is an intimate and fond study of our complicated and often fraught relationship with our breasts. The book consists of photographs of 100 pairs of breasts, with 100 women’s stories underneath, ranging from age 19 to age 101, from burlesque dancers to nuns. What really struck me looking at these pictures and listening to the excerpts read was how different each woman’s body was, and how different each story was. Even as the owner of a pair of them myself, my exposure to boobs throughout my life has probably been pretty narrow. I see mine. I see my mum’s. I sometimes see my friends’. I see the ones in the adverts. And somehow, this had added up to the idea that all breasts look pretty much the same. Except mine, which are obviously weird and wrong. But seeing these 100 photographs made me wonder how we ever arrived at such a small ideal of female beauty. Every single one of the photographs was stunning. Their bodies were beautiful and strong and most had survived incredible things.

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For most of the women interviewed, their breasts were not just the lumps of sexualised flesh that we’re so used to seeing them portrayed as. They were what they used to feed their children. They were the stepping stone to sexuality – but these stories focused on the pleasure women got from their breasts, not the pleasure they gave to men. They were just body parts to lots of women, and those women couldn’t give a damn how aesthetically pleasing you found them. They had undergone surgery, changes, insults, huge life events like motherhood, cancer and menopause. In Bare Reality, women’s bodies became the subject, a canvas on which our stories are painted, rather than the object.

bare reality book launchOne excerpt read “when I bare my breasts, I am trying to bare my soul”, casting the idea of nakedness in a beautiful light. The act of being naked not as a sexual experience, but as a literal stripping back of the layers, a search for the you that lives underneath.

One woman talked about being tall, and how tall women, especially those with big boobs tend to hunch over, to make themselves small and inconspicuous. I glanced round the room at this point. Every single woman straightened up and stood a little taller.

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Laura, looking justifiably delighted with her book.

Laura described the book as “100 acts of feminism”, and I think she’s spot on. I’ve said this before, but we exist in a world where having autonomy over your body, taking up space and generally existing as a female is seen as offensive, as a demand for attention, as an attack. Our physical existence is a political act, whether we like it or not. And with that in mind, to stand up and say “Here is my body, and I think it’s great” is an incredibly brave thing to do. And I absolutely applaud every single one of these 100 women for their courage.

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Lots of boob love on The Canvas’s body positive wall!

Okay, to the event itself! The launch took place in the Canvas, an adorable-yet-edgy cafe and exhibition space a stone’s throw from Brick Lane. The white walls are peppered with questions, ranging from “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” to “Where do you want to be in ten years?”. People have scrawled and sketched their answers beneath in pencil and thick black marker. It’s gorgeous. I spent most of the evening wandering around, reading the little snippets of their lives people had left behind.

Having never been to a book launch before, I was completely nervous about going on my own. I had reruns of old school discos playing in my head, although it being a book about body positivity, I hoped at least to avoid the question of why I was wearing a bra when I had nae tits to put in it. Fortunately, as soon as I arrived, I was adopted for the evening by Becky, founder of Who Made Your Pants, and her friend Clare.

bare reality book launchThey were both hilarious and gorgeous and world endingly fantastic, so I hope we bump into each other again. We went through a few glasses of Prosecco, more than a few chocolate truffles and chatted about everything from teenage feminists to religious mythology. No, really. They were great.

Laura was waiting at the door to greet us, and I shuffled a bit shyly when she asked my name, convinced that she would have no idea who I was. When I introduced myself and explained that I had been invited after the whole Protein World thing, my fears were immediately put to rest.

“FUCKING YES,” she shouted, giving me a high five, and then a kiss for good measure. She then proceeded to introduce me to everyone she spoke to. Basically she is warm, radiant and excellent in every way.

The event was a huge feminist love in, and I felt so absolutely honoured to be in a room with some of these men and women. I met Lucy-Anne Holmes, who founded the No More Page Three campaign. I met Caroline Criado Perez, who I chatted to for five solid minutes before suddenly realising who she was. Instead of playing it cool and acting like I’d known the whole time, I fully went “Oh my god! Caroline! You’re Caroline! Like, Caroline Caroline!”. Facepalm. I am the worst at being a sophisticate.

DSCF1252 DSCF1246Somewhat crazily, I spoke to at least three people who, when I introduced myself, responded with “Oh my god! That’s where I recognise you from!”

People recognised me you guys. I don’t even know how to deal with that. Again, I was super uncool about it. I’m basically a 23 year old feminist fangirl.

I left the event feeling ready to kick the patriarchy right in the face, despite the fact that my sexy-sophisticated Kate Middleton shoes had given me a bit of a limp by this stage. I felt so buoyed by the passion and confidence and sheer power of the women in that room. These women remind me what I’m fighting for, what I’m aspiring to, what I’m strong enough to withstand.

The Razz For Life

So. I’m throwing us a party.

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I don’t know about you guys, but I am way, way over cancer getting all up in our business and taking away the people that we love.

For anyone who doesn’t know my history, my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was just 16. My sister Sophie was 11. This completely sucked. But amazing advances made by organisations like Cancer Research UK meant that 15 years after my dad lost his mum to cancer, I didn’t lose mine. She beat its ass and now spends her time drinking cocktails in her Spanish apartment, taking hilarious selfies with our dog and cruising the Norwegian fjords.11243676_921685944537392_512823715_n

Awesome.

But I’m not through with cancer yet. Because while I was lucky enough to keep my mum, lots of people haven’t been. And this is not over until no mother ever has to sit her kids down and tell them she has cancer.

So I’m doing what Glasgow girls do best: picking a fight and throwing a party.

On the razz:
out enjoying oneself or celebrating, especially while drinking freely.

We will be taking over the fabulous basement bar at Farr’s School of Dance in Dalston.

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We’ll be filling this sexy speakeasy with flashes of hot Race for Life pink, decadent treats and amazing people.

We’re gonna have cupcakes from the fantastic, gorgeous Polly from the Cake Diaries.

We’re gonna have goody bags for every guest, featuring amazing products from Timeless Truth Beauty Masks, Inlight Organic Skincare, Hifas da Terra and Race for Life.

We’ll have the chance to win a massive bumper goody bag worth over £100, with goodies from the Body Shop, Nails Inc, Essence and more.

We’ll have glorious heated massages from Lava Angels.

You’ll be able to chat to the folks from Sniffy Wiffy about their amazing products and how they can help you check yourself for the early signs of breast and testicular cancer.

And we’ll have more surprises to be announced closer to the time.

Fancy coming along? Of course you do! Just drop me a line at theescapologistsdaughter@gmail.com. Places for the event are limited, so get in touch!

Cancer, we’re coming to get you. And we’re gonna party all over you.

We Took Back The Beach

So, this has probably been the craziest week of my entire life. Beginning with this photograph:

How to get a beach body-Take your bodyAnd culminating in a big assed party in Hyde Park, with a quick stop at Sky News, the BBC and Troll Bridge along the way.

When Tara and I took this photograph, I wanted to provide an alternative idea of what beach body means. To say “Sure, Renee is gorgeous, but you don’t have to look like her if you don’t want to. You can have a body like mine and be gorgeous. You can have a body like yours and be gorgeous.”

When I uploaded the photo to Twitter, I was conscious that Tara and I only represent two body types, so I thought, why not throw it open? Why not give people the chance to be part of a photograph with all different shapes, sizes, races and genders? So we decided to throw a bit of a party in Hyde Park. And despite my fears that I’d turn up alone in my bikini in front of the world’s media, it was totally awesome.

take back the beach protein world

Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I arrived just before 3, for a quick interview with Stephanie from the New Statesman, and shared with her my nerves that no one else would come. Our very deep discussion about why trolls feel the need to troll was interrupted by me yelling “OMG BANANA” in her face, as I spotted a group of women heading towards us carrying an impressive array of inflatables.We headed over onto the grass, and I suddenly panicked about how I was supposed to entertain everyone and make everyone feel comfortable enough to start stripping off. My worry, as it turned out was completely unnecessary. People didn’t even wait for me to catch up before getting down to their swimming costumes, cracking out picnics and starting games of “toss the inflatable stuff at each other”. Total respect to the guy who just stretched out in front of the cameras and read his book like it wasn’t no thing.

DSCF1205I met a mother who had travelled down with her two daughters for the event, and was quickly introduced to dad, who was preoccupied with blowing up a giant rubber ring, like a hero.

DSCF1200This, to me, was incredible. How inspiring, to have a mother who is that determined to teach her daughters that their bodies are perfect and wonderful and capable of miraculous things, and a dad who understands and supports that. Seriously, you guys are amazing. I was so pleased to have teenage girls at the protest, because I remember being a teenage girl. It sucks. Your body changes in a lot of weird and frequently alarming ways, and all anyone wants to tell you, from the ads on TV to the boys in your school, is how your body is wrong. And yesterday was about stomping on that idea and grinding it into the ground. Your body is perfect. No caveats. No “it would be perfect if you toned it up/got a tan/lost some weight/put on some weight”. It is perfect right now. If you want to do any of the things in that list, that’s great, go ahead and do them. It’s your body. You can do whatever you want to it, if that will make you feel amazing. For some people, that means losing weight. For some people, it means a quick swish of red lipstick. For some people, it means wearing a fabulous dress, For some people, it means covering your body in tattoos and body art. And all these things are great, if they make you feel great. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to love your own body, because you’re the one who has to live in it.

I worry that nobody is telling young girls this, so I was beyond delighted when an enormous troupe of 13 year old mini-feminists appeared.

take back the beach protein world

DSCF1181This is unspeakably fantastic. To have a group of young women so confident and so intelligent that they can be part of a terrifying, complicated conversation like the one surrounding body image is amazing. I am so, so proud that this is the future of feminism. Seriously, if you guys ever read this, you inspire me. And sadly, I know that they’ve got a hell of a fight ahead of them. They’re going to take a whole lot of nasty coming from a never-ending parade of stupid, just like I have this week, for daring to stand up and say “We deserve better than this”. (Ladies, I’m always here if you need me. My email address is in my Contact Me page, please, please use it.) But to hear a thirteen year old girl stand among a group of adults and wax lyrical about what feminism means to her made me want to happy cry.

I actually did manage to hold it together and not cry. For most of the day. Until I spotted these guys:

take back the beach protein worldBoth of these women are in recovery from eating disorders. And speaking to them, seeing their absolute strength and seeing the love and support they held for each other, even as strangers, I couldn’t help bursting into tears. Just bawling, in my swimming costume, in the middle of Hyde Park. We had one guy come along solely to pick fights with us, and he stood and ranted at this woman about why being fat is unhealthy. Now, I have been extremely proud of how I’ve handled our critics. I believe it’s nice to be nice, even to the person who has just called you a fat, jealous attention seeker. But if I ever see someone make a comment as triggering as that, I will track you down and gouge out your eyes. Comments like this can kill.

A lot of people have contacted me since yesterday and tried to embarrass me or make me say that the event was a failure. To them, I have but one thing to say.

Have you lost your damn minds?

Over one hundred men and women gathered together yesterday to feel amazing about their bodies, display their confidence and demand better from our adverts. I’ve spoken before about how daring to have a body as a woman is a political act in itself, one which seems to invite comment and criticism. A woman feeling great in her own skin is not a small thing. It’s huge. It’s life changing. There were picnics, there were bubbles, there were inflatable dolphins, there was body paint, there were hugs and laughter and tears galore, and you’re asking me if I’m embarrassed by the turnout? To put it politely: have a word with yourself. I’ve never been prouder in my life. I am heart burstingly, mind blowingly proud of us, and I will not try to hide that because yesterday didn’t meet somebody else’s completely arbitrary expectations.

I met so many incredible, inspiring people yesterday, and I will never be able to express the love and gratitude I feel for all of you who came to support me. Did we take back the beach? You bet your ass we did.

This is what class looks like.

This is what class looks like.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That's what you get for making good signs.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That’s what you get for making good signs.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Take Back The Beach

So, on my lunch hour this Wednesday, fellow blogger Tara and I did this:

How to get a beach body-Take your body

If you would like to read about us doing that, head on over to my last post here!

Basically, the response that we’ve had has completely knocked me off my feet. Seriously, you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back. I have been so, so bowled over by the love and support and strength that we’ve been shown.

Well, for the most part.

Protein World’s response has left…well, a little something to be desired. After we tweeted our photo, I saw some pretty heinous responses to docu-comedian Juliette Burton’s tweets (you can find Juliette on Twitter here, and you should definitely follow her. She’s ace).

protein world twitter

 

I was pretty shocked. As someone who spent a year working in social media, I nearly fell off my chair that this was the brand’s official response. The tweets got increasingly horrendous, telling women to “grow up” and branding them “crazy”, and then last night, I stumbled on a response to some women saying:

Surely as feminists, you understand no one takes you seriously?

And it hit me. They’re trolls. They’re literally just trolls. And I don’t know about you guys, but this totally takes their power away for me. I’m now imagining Protein World as being a group of guys polishing their muscles and reassuring themselves that feminism is the reason they’re not getting laid. Maybe with a smattering of girls insisting that they don’t see why the ad is offensive, probably because they’re not hysterical like all those other girls, babe. I’m kind of embarrassed for them.

After this paradigm shifting revelation, I realised that this isn’t a protest anymore. This is a party. This is a celebration of the million and one different ways that a woman (and a man, you gorgeous men, you) can be beautiful.

So let’s celebrate. Tara, Juliette and I are organising a massive version of the photo above at 3pm on Saturday 2nd May. Do you look like the model on the poster? Awesome, step this way, gorgeous! Are you a size 24? Come on down, beautiful! Are you a guy? Get those swimming shorts looked out! Don’t want to bare all in a bikini? Come in whatever you feel great in! Beach ready means different things for everyone, and we want to see all of them.

This was never about suggesting that people shouldn’t try to get fit if they want to. If having rippling abs is your thing, more power to you. I bet you rock them. But I’m so tired of it being an expectation. The idea that your body should be covered up and hidden away if it doesn’t meet these bizarrely specific requirements…I’m over it, you guys. And judging by the response we’ve gotten on Twitter, it looks like you are too.

Bring your friends. Bring your beachballs and buckets and spades. Bring those awesome beach bodies.

We’ll be meeting on the grass by Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park (by the Marble Arch entrance), and I’ll be there from a bit before 3. If you’re coming in your bikini, we’d maybe suggest wearing a dress over it that’s easy to whip on and off, to fend off hypothermia.

The more people we have, the more amazing this picture is going to be, so rope in as many people as you can. Saturday the 2nd. 3pm. It’s happening. And it’s going to be sexy.

If you’re coming, feel free to give us a wave down in the comments or on Twitter! You can definitely just show up on the day, but it would be cool to have some idea of how many people we have. We also have a sexy Facebook event here if you’re on Facebook!

Addendum

So, as expected, all of us have been on the receiving end of some genuinely sickening comments after speaking out like this. Of the two of us in the photo though, it’s depressingly unsurprising that Tara and her beautiful, perfect body have been the target of the most vitriol. I’d just like to thank Tara for having the bravery to hold my hand through this, even though she probably knew in advance that she would bear the brunt of the abuse. And to every single person who has posted nasty comments, I’m sorry that your life is so unfulfilling that you feel like you have to tear down a strong, gorgeous woman who is celebrating her body.

On this note, if actually coming to our event would make you feel unsafe, please feel free to support us with tweets, messages and happy thoughts. Let’s keep each other safe. Let’s keep each other strong.

Shine Bright Like A Diamond: How To Be Your Own PR, with Antonia Mariconda

I stepped down the stairs at the Soho Hotel to the now familiar sound of heels clacking, cameras clicking and new connections being made. This was the third of Antonia Mariconda’s workshops that I’ve been to, and as usual, she didn’t disappoint.

Antonia is an award winning media professional and safety in beauty campaigner, who began her interest in beauty after significant reconstructive surgery following a car accident. She took this tragedy and turned it into a wildly successful career.

Basically, this is a woman who knows how to grab life by the balls.

And this workshop was all about how we can learn to do that too. How to find our inner sparkle and make it shine bright enough that everyone else can see.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshopWe settled in with the usual gorgeous breakfast spread and exciting goody bags…just what I need at ten on a Saturday morning!

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop

Armed with my notepad, a cup of tea and a whole lot of ambition, I couldn’t wait for Antonia to get started. On seeing Antonia for the first time, I couldn’t help expecting a certain personality to follow. I expected her to be fluffy. To be ditzy. To be shallow. I literally could not have been more wrong if I tried. You don’t get where this woman is without having some serious steel in there. She is determined, she’s smart and she point blank refuses to take any nonsense from anyone. Her criticisms and anecdotes are blunt and sometimes brutal, but cushioned in the genuine warmth of someone who truly wants to see you succeed. She’s a woman who lifts others up, who wants to share her knowledge and help others achieve what she has. She’s also brilliantly relatable, quipping throughout the presentation about the beads dropping off her skirt, and handling an impromptu Rihanna outburst with typical grace and aplomb.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop

Seriously, why this room is called the Indigo Room, I will never understand.

The presentation lasted for three hours, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. If you want to know all the secrets, get yourself booked onto her next workshop. But since I love you all very much, I’ll share just a few of the gems (see what I did there?):

1. You have to know who you are.

Sounds obvious, I know. And yet, when Antonia picked on workshop attendees and asked them to pitch themselves in one sentence, most struggled. And when she asked for the two words that they’d write under our names on TV shows, we struggled even more. When I worked in marketing, I had product pitches that described our service in 250 words, 100 words, 140 characters, one sentence and a tagline. I prepared pitches from lengthy investor presentations to 60 second elevator pitches. I knew it inside out. So why should it be any different when you’re marketing yourself?

2. You have to know who you’re talking to.

Again, seems obvious. But it’s so important to know your audience. It affects everything from the visuals you use, to your tone, to how you choose to communicate.

3. You have to know what you want to say.

Everything that you do in the public domain is PR. Every tweet, every comment, every picture is PR, and it all comes together to create people’s image of you. So make sure that you know what you want that image to be. Make sure you know what message you want to put out there.

4. You have to believe that you are awesome.

Let’s be honest, if you don’t believe you’re awesome, why should anyone else? You have to be your own absolute number one cheerleader, and not be ashamed to shout your achievements from the rooftops. I’m Fiona. I’ve been published in a number of online and print media sources. I single handedly ran a marketing department for a year, at the age of 22. I’m a pretty talented writer. I once starred in a national media campaign with Cancer Research UK. Let’s have a brag off! Leave your best brags in the comments, or tweet me. Be your own champion. Back yourself.

5. You have to put yourself out there.

This is an old cliche, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But like so many, it’s a cliche for a reason. Pitch a story to the Huffington Post. Ring up ITV and ask if they need an expert to go on This Morning. Don’t keep yourself small because it feels more comfortable. You’d be surprised how much you can blag with a bit of confidence. Believe that you’re important, take the risk of putting yourself out there, and you bet that people will believe right along with you. Fake it til you make it, and you will. Okay, that’s enough cliches for one bullet point.

The advice that Antonia gives is like gold dust, and I always leave her workshops feeling ready to take on the world. But actually, I haven’t touched on the most amazing element of the workshops, for me at least.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshopSix months ago, none of these women knew each other. And on the surface of it, we don’t really have much in common. In this group, we have mums, bloggers, scientists, business owners, make up artists, aestheticians and more. We are scattered from all over the country. And each of us are at a different stage in our stories and our careers. But Antonia’s workshops seem to attract a certain type of woman. Strong, ambitious, warm, going to Antonia’s workshops and connecting with these women on Twitter and in real life, I have surrounded myself with a network of women who want to see each other succeed. All of us have different areas of expertise, and we use them to build each other up. They inspire me every single day, and I feel very lucky to have a support group like this in my life. Not to mention that they’re mean craic over a bottle of wine.

Despite my insistence on Twitter, Antonia isn’t a fairy godmother. She doesn’t wave her magic wand and make your life better. She does something much more important. She shows you that you are the one holding the power, the magic is inside you, and it’s been there the whole time just waiting to be unleashed. Go forth and sparkle, fellow fairies. Yes, even you guys.