When Everything Is Broken

Everything has gotten a little bit out of hand, hasn’t it? The EU is broken. America is broken. The economy is broken. The Labour party is broken. The Conservatives are miraculously unbroken, which means that everything else in the UK is likely to be broken very soon. It feels like the past month has been a constant cycle of bad news layered on bad news layered on bad news and it’s hard not to feel as though everything is spinning out of control.

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I don’t know how to fix this level of broken. I really don’t. I don’t know how we get back from this, although I’m sure we will, somehow. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling helpless or powerless, and for the most part, I express this by turning into a giant howling ragemonster. But that’s not totally sustainable. And I’m gonna be honest with you guys, I’m tired. I am rage overtired and it’s making me want to melt into a little despondent puddle on my living room floor. Here’s what I’m doing to stop that:

I’m Surrounding Myself With My People

My Twitter is something of an echo chamber, filled with people who broadly share a lot of my beliefs and values. There are good and bad things about this, but right now, it’s exactly what I need. When it feels like the world might be populated exclusively by terrified, hateful people, it’s quite wonderful to be reminded that there are kind, soft, brave, generous people out there too. My entire Twitter community has banded together, some organising action and protest, some sharing sweet, fluffy news stories among all the chaos, some just offering a much needed hand squeeze. I purposefully surround myself with people who inspire me and god knows, I need a bit of inspiration right now.

I’m Doing What I Can

When you’re fighting a mess as big as this one, it’s easy to feel so paralyzed by the enormity of it that you end up doing nothing at all. When the entire world seems to be crumbling around you, where on earth are you supposed to start?

I’d say, start anywhere.

When the Conservatives won the general election last year, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let their brutality turn me cold or cynical. I promised that I would respond to their cruelty with kindness. I’m trying to do the same thing now. I give a tiny amount each month to the Trussell Trust and Centrepoint. I buy the Big Issue whenever I have enough change in my purse. Last week, I took a huge suitcase of supplies to the amazing Sisters Uncut, who are occupying an empty council house in Hackney and running free breakfast clubs for local kids.

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Realistically, not one of these things is going to fix all the things that have been broken. Realistically, I probably haven’t made any difference to the big picture. But maybe, somewhere in the UK, someone is eating a hot meal or sleeping in a warm bed or a child is going to school with a full tummy because of me. And that’s no small thing. Among all the headlines and the statistics and the political turmoil, people are hurting. Change can be slow and while we fight for it, people are hurting. There is nothing insignificant about reaching out a hand to someone who needs it, if you can. I can’t fix this mess. I’m not powerful enough or brave enough or clever enough. But I’m lucky enough to have things to share. So what I can do is be kind. And I intend to keep doing that for as long as I possibly can, hoping that some day, all of our tiny baby steps might add up to something bigger. How do you eat an elephant? One damn forkful at a time. Maybe we can eat the Tories the same way.

I’m Giving Myself a Break

More than once in the last month, I have felt like I was drowning. More than once in the last month, I have lain face down on my living room floor because I didn’t know how else to express the hopelessness I was feeling. It is so, so important that we are all fighting the good fight right now, but my darlings, you are of no use to anyone if you’re completely burnt out. I am giving you permission, right now, no matter how grim things get, to switch off. To turn off the news and binge watch a series of Pretty Little Liars. To do a happy dance in the street because you caught a Pikachu in the local park. To go see Ghostbusters and furiously tweet about how much you fancy Kate McKinnon. Just because there are bigger, more important things to worry about does not mean that you don’t get to be happy. Not allowing yourself to be consumed by all this badness doesn’t make you selfish or ignorant. It looks like we might be fighting this fight for a very long time to come, so we need you strong, my love. Take care of yourself. Feed your soul as well as your anger. Keep that little light inside you burning, whatever it takes. Take my hand, and we’ll fight together.

Beach Body Already

This week, my Twitter exploded for the second time when new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that he would be clamping down on body shaming adverts on the Tube. A lot of you lovely folks first found my blog through my fight with Protein World (if you’re a newbie, welcome to the party! You can read all about it here, here and here!) and I’m thrilled that people are still talking about it.

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I want to talk about privilege for just a second before the celebrations start – and make no mistake, this is a celebration blogpost. Body positive victories like this one are always, always built on the tireless work of brilliant, gorgeous, fat women who get a hundred times the abuse and none of the media attention that I did. I am so, so proud of the stand that I took against PW and continue to be blown away by the support I received but it’s worth asking – would the stunt have been so well received if I was fat? Even between Tara and me, two relatively thin girls, she bore the brunt of the abuse, I got the majority of the press. So please, continue to send your congratulations and I shall continue to bask in them because I’m a big millennial narcissist, but I’ll stick a list of excellent folks at the bottom of my post who fight for body positivity every day and often get nothing but abuse for it. Go show them some love.

At the height of the Beach Body debacle, one of the things I heard over and over (and over and over and over) was that we were wasting our time fighting against something as trivial as an advert. And there’s a grain of truth there. Women, especially fat women, face discrimination in much more overt, dangerous ways than having the beach body brigade shoved down their throats every summer. But I dare you to go speak to someone suffering from an eating disorder and dismiss body image issues as trivial. Anorexia is the deadliest mental illness faced by humans. It carries a higher risk of death than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. This isn’t about an advert that hurts a few people’s delicate feelings. It’s about taking a little bite out of a culture that is actively killing people. So this might be a small victory, but it is absolutely 100% a victory.

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Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I’m not claiming that our protest single-handedly led to all of the changes that are happening, but I can’t remember the last time I saw an article about body shaming that wasn’t illustrated with a photograph of the Protein World advert. The advert, the protests, all of the trolling and argument, they made body image an issue that was suddenly worth talking about, worth writing about for the mainstream media. And that happened because we refused to shut up. We shouted louder and louder, over and over again, “This is not okay and we’re not going to take it anymore”.

The whole thing: the photograph, the TV interviews, the worldwide media, the Hyde Park party, the speeches Tara and I have given since, all of it was the product of a funny idea and about 12 seconds of mad courage. Everything hinged on the few moments it took to take a deep breath, steel each other and pull off our dresses in the middle of Charing Cross. Hundreds of thousands of women saw the advert and we just happened to be two of the many who dug our heels in and said no.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t think that you’re too small to make a difference. I took one photograph, had two mad weeks and held a protest party that was only about 100 people strong and the ripples of that are still being felt over a year later. We have the power to change things, if only we are brave enough to let ourselves care, if only we are brave enough to try. To steal a line from my blog’s namesake, even if you’re little, you can do a lot. I believe in you. And even at a time when it feels like the world is falling in on itself, I believe that people can be good. People can be great. And if we let ourselves, people can be powerful enough to change the world. Courage, dear heart. Courage.

 

Brilliant Body Positive People

Tara Catstello: my excellent partner in crime through the beach body furore, runs an amazing feminist blog that talks body issues, feminism and what it means to be a woman.

Bethany Rutter: plus size blogger and asskicker extraordinaire, made a huge batch of body confidence cards to hand out on the tube in response to a fatshaming asshat.

Hayley, Curves & Curls: pin up sasspot babe, runs a gorgeous plus size fashion blog.

Daisy Says: fabulous, opinionated, fierce as hell. Spends her days doling out positive vibes and dispatching trolls with gay abandon.

Lottie L’Amour: award winning blogger and ambassador for the Body Confidence Revolution, a project celebrating bodies in all of their glorious diversity.

Callie Thorpe: gorgeous blogger, Marie Claire columnist and longtime body confidence warrior.

MurderOfGoths: unreasonably talented plus size illustrator, creates the most beautiful, beautiful artwork of other plus size babes.

Danielle Vanier: fantastic plus size fashion blogger who campaigns for body acceptance and delights in breaking ridiculous “fashion rules”.

George Horne: plus size blogger and model who fights relentlessly for better representation of plus size women.

Because of the troll risk, I don’t want to add anyone to this list without their permission, but if you are or know an amazing body positive/fat positive activist, please shout! I’ll keep adding forever.

 

Stepping Stones

It’s a funny old thing, isn’t it, this life business?

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In a little under a month, it’ll be three years since I graduated from university. That got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.

The older I get, the faster time seems to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that one. But sometimes the nostalgic question “Where the f*ck did the last three years go?” twists and distorts until it becomes something much more sinister:

“What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?”

This is the question that creeps into my mind right before I fall asleep. It’s the question that guilts me into making plans when staying home would make me happier. It’s the question that sparks the constant desire for “self improvement”, even when I’m exhausted and would be better off pouring a glass of wine, lighting a candle and reading a book.

I don’t think I’m on my own here. Twitter has opened up our inner monologue to each other like never before and the prevailing theme for almost everyone over the age of 20 seems to be “What the hell am I doing and is it what I’m supposed to be doing?”. Having spent the entirety of our teenage lives fighting to get out from under the control of our teachers, our professors, our parents, a lot of us find that we miss the comfort of having someone tell us “This is what success will look like and these are the steps you need to achieve it”.

All through my life, I’ve had stepping stones to hop between. Markers of success to tell me when I’m doing a good job. Things progress logically, one milestone fluidly melting into the next. Pass your exams, move out, graduate university, get a job…as a child, and even as a young adult, the path is laid out. But once you reach the end of that path, once you step off and wander into the unknown, the world is suddenly your oyster. You can do literally whatever you want. And I know I can’t be the only one who sometimes gets vertigo from that realisation.

It’s not so much that I want somebody to tell me what to do. It’s more that I want to be reassured that I’m doing something. Anything. I asked Niall the question quite recently, “What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?” and he pushed me off of my chair. Affectionately, of course. Because I’ve done lots of stuff in that time. I started this blog and gained an amazing band of people who actually enjoy reading my words. I moved to London and survived there. I have raised almost £3000 for Cancer Research. I wrote a book. I have baked countless apple pies. I have made lots of people laugh. I have made a few people cry too. I have taken joy in a thousand tiny moments that no one will ever remember. When I really think about it, I know that I have done a million things in those three years since I graduated. So why does it sometimes feel like I have failed?

I think it’s because as an adult, milestones are few and far between. Maybe you get married, buy a house, have a baby. But I’m not planning on doing any of those things any time soon. So what do we cling to in the vast space between the last milestone and the next? How do we keep from drowning without that reassuring pat on the head, without the checklist to be ticked off?

We’ve all seen the articles on social media:

50 things to do before you turn 30
What your twenties are really for
7 signs that you’re really a grown up
The 5 secrets to getting your shit together

We devour them, pick them apart and swallow them. Turn our lives into bucket lists, a neat little path of experiences with “adulthood” glimmering at the end like a pot of gold. We create fake milestones, which we collect and wear like trophies: the Mulberry bag, the glamorous holiday, the ten thousand Twitter followers. We hoard them like misers, using them to tell ourselves stories about us. The truth is, once you step off the path that’s been laid out for you, there is no next step. There’s no grand scoreboard in this game of life, no quantifiable measure of success or adulthood.

It’s hard, to come to terms with that. To realise that you’re the only one who can assure yourself that you’re doing a good job. That you’re living just as you should. That you are meaningful. It takes real courage to strive for happiness, to stop trying to measure yourself up. What the f*ck have I done for the last three years? I’m not sure. But I’ve lived. I’ve tried.

What Yoga is Teaching Me About Me

So, I’ve been taking a yoga class.

*pauses for gales of laughter to subside*

I know, I know, me and exercise haven’t always been the most natural of bedfellows. I was once pulled in front of the class and used as a bad example in PE. I walk the 5k Race for Life every year. My idea of a hearty workout normally involves walking to the fridge to get another piece of cake.

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I signed up sort of on a whim. My dad had wired me some pocket money and I wanted to spend it trying something new, something that I’d never normally spend it on. I’d read a post by one of my favourite bloggers not too long before about how she had discovered yoga and had fallen in love with it. So I googled “Dalston Yoga” and booked myself a block of six beginners classes at the first school that popped up. I am beyond, beyond thrilled that by sheer chance, I picked one of the best exercise classes I’ve ever been to. Dalston Yoga classes take place in a tiny loft studio, sunlight streaming through an open skylight, the air warm and spiced with soft incense. A black and white cat pads around the space, curiously observing. The teacher, Paulene, guides classes gently in a thick, soothing Aussie accent (this is probably where I find out that it’s not an Aussie accent and get in trouble), liberally peppered with swearwords.

I first walked through her door about six months ago and I honestly don’t know how I lived without it. It’s become a hard, occasionally weird, but always brilliant part of my life. It’s constantly teaching me things about myself, and I don’t just mean that in the typical “yoga has brought me to a moment of clarity and reflection” (although there are shades of that sometimes). It’s teaching me things about myself in the same way that trying anything that you’re not immediately good at does. Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned:

It’s a damn good thing that I’m smart.

I’ve always been a rather appalling goody two shoes. A teacher’s pet. A kiss ass of the highest order. So imagine my surprise on learning that when I’m not immediately good at something, I have an almost irrepressible instinct to play class clown. As soon as I start to struggle, when my legs start to shake or I can’t bend as far as I want to, I feel compelled to comically fall over or make a smart comment about my lack of fitness. Because at least then, people would be laughing with me, right? There it is, one of my biggest insecurities and defense mechanisms, laid utterly naked by nothing more and nothing less than a forward bend. There is nothing scarier than trying really hard and still not being very good. It has taken real strength to battle past that. To accept that actually, nobody is going to laugh at my poses quite simply because no one is looking at me. Which brings us neatly into surprise number two…

“Poses” is a grossly misleading word.

When I hear the word “yoga”, the image that comes to mind is pretty specific and also, as it turns out, utter bollocks. I imagine a thin, white, pretty woman pretzelled up on a sandy beach. The sun is probably rising. She’s probably drinking from a coconut. She has great hair. Her name is probably Tiffany. Regardless, her poses are just that: still, serene, beautiful. When I go to yoga, I am anything but. This took a long while for me to come to terms with. I had a very definite idea of what I should look like when I was doing yoga and for the first couple of classes, I verged on upset, face flushing bright red as my legs juddered and twitched beneath me, or my wrist cracked, or my breath became ragged. Then, as I got out of my own damn head for a second – helped infinitely by the incredible teacher, Paulene – I realised that yoga isn’t supposed to be pretty. It’s a process of discovery and discovery is almost never neat or Instagrammable.

Now, I set my mat up at the front of every single class. I have never ever done that in an exercise class before. My yoga isn’t any prettier but I don’t care, because I’m discovering my body, piece by tiny piece. Sometimes, it does super weird things. When they get tired, my limbs start to shudder. My movements aren’t smooth and practised. A lot of the time, I jerk stiffly from one position to the next. Sometimes, for no reason at all, one of my muscles will decide that it’s going no further and cling on for dear life. I grunt and groan and sweat my way through the classes. And it feels incredible.

It’s not about that.

We all tend to think of ourselves as big heads on sticks. Our mind does all of the living for us and our body runs after, trying to keep up. As somebody who has devastatingly physical symptoms whenever my mind gets out of balance, I can definitely attest to that. More than being about getting bendy or skinny or even fit, for me, yoga is about actually taking some time to hang out in my body. As touched on in point one, I’m a bit of an Overachiever. It has been really, really difficult for me not to get caught up going “Well, by this time next month, I want to be able to bend this far, or hold this pose for this long”. That works for some people but is really destructive and distracting for me. I spent my first couple of classes physically pulling myself into uncomfortable stretches and poses before being utterly called out on it by Paulene.

Once I got past that, it became less about nailing each pose and more about going Oh, so that’s how my body moves in that direction.
So that’s how far I can go this way.
That’s what it feels like when I twist like that.

Your body has no moral value. There is no right or wrong way to have a body (despite what some people adamantly insist). The class isn’t a place for me to criticise or improve my body. It’s a place for me to observe. Because how are you supposed to love something that you don’t even know? So I watch my body. I learn what it can do. I learn Oh, that feels good.
That feels weird.
That’s interesting.
I think I can go further.
My body is great.
I am great.

Just like she knew when my mind was pushing me too hard, Paulene knows when my mind is blocking me. She knows when it’s my mind saying no, when my body could actually go a little further. Bit by bit, I’m building up. I’m starting to notice which poses make me feel happy, which poses make me feel strong, which poses make me feel grounded. Because I started at the ugly, ungainly beginning.

Once, talking about another yoga class she had attended, Paulene snorted, “They’ve got all these poor people trying to stand on their heads and they haven’t even learned to stand on their f*cking feet”.

That’s what yoga is about for me. It’s not about the money shot, the headstand, the scorpion pose, the perfect, beachy Pinterest pin. It’s about spending time with me. It’s about not pretending to love my body when actually, I’m just ignoring it. It’s about being present. It’s about learning to stand on my f*cking feet.

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.

Tiny Acts of Self Care for When You Just Can’t

I write about self care a lot. I started this blog to chart my decision to choose happiness, at a time when I didn’t feel like anything could ever make me feel happy again. I write to remind myself why I made that decision, and how I continue to make that decision. And sometimes I think maybe I’m helping other people to choose it too.

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A lot of people seem to be struggling right now. I think that happens a lot in the springtime. Things start to change and for better or for worse, change always dredges up the dirt that’s lying under the surface. And when you’re struggling, every single step you take feels heavy and impossible and pointless – even the ones that you know might help. How are you supposed to summon the energy to start an inspiration journal when you can’t even face taking a shower or cooking a proper dinner? I’ve been there, and I promise it gets better. But until then, here are a few teeny tiny little acts of self care for when you’re genuinely not up to joining a yoga class, starting a healthy eating plan or taking up knitting.

Put On Some Clean Socks

I’m not even joking, I feel like a new woman when I’m wearing clean socks. If I’ve been travelling or if I’ve had a really rubbish day at work, I come home and put on a pair of clean, comfy cotton socks. Boom. Ready to face the world again. I told you they’d be teeny tiny. But it helps.

Breathe

Go somewhere warm. Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing. Don’t try to alter your breath – you don’t have to be doing deep, mystic, yogic breathing, just let your body do its thing. Cry if you feel like you have to. Let your thoughts come and go and try to be gentle with them. If you feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, stop. Being still works for some people, being active works for others.

Make Your Bed

Okay, this can be a hard one, I know. I wrote an entire post shortly after starting this blog about how the hardest thing about feeling like the world is falling apart is dealing with the fact that it actually isn’t. You still need to wash your clothes and pay your bills and do your dishes. Pick just one thing. Decide to go and make your bed right now. Or empty your bins. Or wash your dishes. Let yourself take pride in having done it. Self care isn’t always a bubble bath or a trashy movie. Sometimes, it’s doing the thing that has to be done, even when it makes you hurt. You’ve got this. I promise, you’ve got this.

Cuddle Something

I’m a very tactile person and I sometimes feel like I get an actual high from a good hug. Hey, if people are allowed exercise highs, I’m allowed hug highs. But if you’re not into touchy feely people, it doens’t need to be a person. Cuddle your dog. Dogs are great, and they always know when you’re sad. Wrap your arms around a big pillow, or around your duvet and give it a big squeeze. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Wash Your Face

This is similar to the clean socks in that it makes me feel like a brand new person. I’ve obviously internalised the idea of a clean, fresh start very literally. Grab a facecloth, run it under a very hot tap and place it over your face. Breathe in that steamy goodness. Enjoy the feeling of something warm and soft on your skin. Now wash your face in gentle little circles. No vicious scrubbing, we’re loving ourselves, remember?

Come take my hand, my darling. It’s okay not to be okay. Recovering from depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to be a gigantic hose of positivity and hope all the time. It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. It’s okay to just survive, if that’s all you have the strength to do. Look after yourself, survive, give yourself the chance to fight again tomorrow.

The Way That I Love

My love is chaotic. It’s a wild, passionate tangle. That tumbling, swooping delight that fills me to the brim and explodes from my fingertips. It’s both of us talking at once, filling the space between us with excitement and laughter and short, sharp bursts of outrage. It’s the fact that after six years, my heart still thumps when he walks through the door. It’s being dragged on tiny adventures when I’d rather lie in bed and cry. It’s pouting and thrashing and lashing out and having someone gently respond, “I love you”.

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My love is quiet. It’s a hand gently covering mine as I stare distractedly out of the window. The kiss at the base of my neck as the cup is placed by my side. It’s slow dancing in a freezing square, wearing twenty layers of clothing It’s noses bumping together, hands intertwining. It’s the sound of a page being turned. It’s a body pressed against mine under the cold sheets, pale light trickling beneath the blinds. It’s a whispered secret. And fingers in my hair. It’s pancakes. And soda bread. It’s the scent of jasmine. It’s the knowledge that in all my imperfection, I am enough. And that wherever he is, that’s my home. It’s the smile that tugs at the edge of his mouth when we run out things to say. It’s the perfect circle of freckles on his shoulder. And the kisses that fall like rain.

Love is my dad saying to me, “I’m so proud of you”. Love is dancing like my mum. It’s tearing across a beach with my sister on my back. The sound of ice clinking in a glass. It’s eating chips in our car by the seaside, because it’s too cold to do it outside. It’s old home movies. And terrible, terrible jokes. It’s telling my best friend that I love her, and wondering why I didn’t say it sooner. It’s butterscotch Angel Delight. And strawberry daquiris. And white irises. And the hot, bitter smell of gunpowder at New Years.

Love is my sister running across the playground towards me. It’s the corner of the kitchen where my brother and I learned to be friends. It’s Practical Magic. It’s the Emperor’s New Groove. It’s red lipstick. It’s my granny eating cake mix straight from the bowl. It’s ordering two bottles of wine on a school night because you don’t want to stop talking. It’s the exclamation, “I know exactly what you mean”. Love is realising that it’s not too late. That you still have time. That all you have to do is reach out a hand. It’s lying on the ground, staring up at a sky full of stars.

My love is the crinkles in my eyes when I laugh. My love is the way I tuck my hair behind my ear. And the way I can read until I’m drunk on words. And singing in the shower. My love is the way that I cry when I’m happy. My love is insignificant. My love is undignified. My love is beautiful.

And because of my love, my life is good.

Happy Valentines Day.

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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.

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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.

Two Years On

It’s that special day again, folks. The Escapologist’s Daughter is two years old today!

*cue marching band, over order flowers and drinks, weep drunkenly about how fast they grow up*

This time last year, I was reflecting on my recovery from a pretty blue period of my life, which had inspired me to start a blog. In its first year, my blog encouraged me to stop being ashamed of who I am and how I’m doing. In its second year, my blog encouraged me to positively shout it from the rooftops.

The second year of my blog saw me ask myself “Well, why the hell not?” over and over again. And if the answer was “Because I’m scared to”, for the most part, I went ahead and did the thing.

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I went viral after accidentally creating the perfect storm of feminist rage and a funny idea. Dealing with going viral made me want to hide under my duvet and never come out or try to do anything ever again. Instead of doing that, with the help of my nearest and dearest, I rallied. I went on breakfast time TV. I organised an event to share the love I was feeling around. I spoke at a feminist conference. I started writing for one of my favourite online magazines. Why the hell not? Why the hell not? Why the hell not?

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As my blog gained a little more traction, I was invited to speak at a couple of blogging events. I felt like the world’s biggest fraud. I felt like they had somehow invited me by accident and when they realised their mistake, I’d be shunned forever by the Grand High Blogging Police. I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, painted my lisptick extra bright and went for it. People told me I was inspiring. Why. The hell. Not?

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I decided to throw my own blogger event. I had no experience. I had no budget. I had no idea what I was doing. I threw it anyway. It was a tiny little event. It lacked any kind of finesse or elegance. But you know what? It was brilliant. Everyone had a great time. There were sweary doughnuts. People stuck transfer tattoos all over their faces. Everyone drank slightly too much and we raised over £200 for Cancer Research. Why the hell not?

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I wrote a book. Something I’ve always wanted to do. For my entire life, I’ve been hiding behind the excuse “I’m too busy”, when in reality, I was just afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. How do you face up to the reality that you actually might not be talented enough to achieve a lifelong dream? I didn’t want to. So I just didn’t try. Then, in November, I sat myself down, gave myself a stern talking to and started to write. 28 days later, I had a draft. I’m not saying that you guys should be putting the Man Booker prize on hold just yet. In fact, it might never even see the light of day. But I wrote it, and I am world endingly proud of it. And I was able to do it for one reason: because I got out of my own damn way.

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Of course, I haven’t done this on my own. I’m lucky enough to have the most entirely brilliant boy by my side, who will no doubt be livid that I’ve even mentioned him.

Back yourself, baby, he tells me every day. No fear.

From buying the leather jacket I don’t think I can pull off or dying my hair purple, to putting myself out there and taking the big chances when they come, he’s the world’s greatest cheerleader.

But no amount of cheerleading makes a difference unless you’re willing to actually make the jump and do the thing.

Back yourself, Fiona, I’m learning to tell myself. No fear. Do the damn thing.

For the most part, the scariest thing about all of the things I did this year was the first step. The there’s-no-going-back-now moment. Putting the bikini photo on Twitter. Answering the phone when the BBC called. Stepping onto the stage, in every sense. Everything that followed was terrifying, but I was never more terrified than I had been in those few seconds where I had to decide between following through and backing out. A deep breath, a few seconds of crazy, unthinking courage, that’s all it took. To quote a great philosopher, bravery isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.

If you recognised that quote from the Mary Kate and Ashley film, Double Double Toil and Trouble, hit me up. We’ll get on just fine.

This year, I’m going to be brave. I’m going to back myself. And I am going to kick some arse.