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:

who made your pants

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.

On Being “Just” A Beauty Blogger

I hate backhanded compliments. You know the ones.

“You’re so pretty when you make an effort.”
“I wish I could just let it all hang out like you.”
“You’re definitely not as cocky as I thought you were at first.”

Compliments like that suck, because they’re actually insults dressed up to make it seem like the person cares about you. There’s one particular backhanded compliment that I’ve gotten quite a lot since I started blogging. It takes a few different forms but the gist is always basically the same. That someone with a little bit of talent and influence like me should be talking about something with more gravitas than beauty.

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The temptation to just toss my hair and yell “MY CORNER OF THE INTERNET, MY RULES” is pretty strong, but I think there are a couple of important points to be made about this opinion that beauty blogging is somehow “less than”.

First, the smart girl/pretty girl thing is a false dichotomy.

That’s right, I’m dropping the false dichotomy bomb, biatches. This is what happens when you annoy a political philosophy geek.

Basically, writing about beauty doesn’t mean that I’m stooping to the stupid girl level, and being smart doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how I look. I can recommend you an awesome cleanser. I can also give you a potted history of the Middle East. When pushed for time, I can probably do both at once. I can’t believe I’m actually having to type this, but girls can be both smart and beautiful. In fact, most of us are.

I think a lot of the scorn that gets heaped on the beauty blogging community is just pure sexism. A lot of beauty blogs are sweet and fluffy and not particularly deep, but so what? When did it become a crime to do something just for fun because it makes you feel good? I never see the same smirks directed at video game bloggers, music bloggers or food bloggers as I do at beauty bloggers. Beauty is seen as trivial, even shallow in a way that other realms of blogging just aren’t. And I think a lot of it has to do with it being a community created primarily for, and primarily populated by people who present as female.

Sorry, boy bbloggers, I love you all lots, but you are very much the minority group here.

Things that women do are constantly scrutinised and patronised. We’re either saying too much or saying too little. We’re brash and opinionated or we’re boring and weak. We’re ugly or we’re vain. That’s the way it goes. And with this undercurrent running through our culture, maybe it’s not so surprising that women banding together to share pretty-making tips is viewed as a self-obsessed, unimportant trend. But I’m calling shenanigans on that right now. Think lipstick is boring? Cool! Go read about something else! I think cricket is totally boring…you know what I do? I don’t read about cricket. I don’t get in touch with people who are really passionate about cricket to remind them that THERE ARE CHILDREN STARVING IN AFRICA AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE CANCER AND INEQUALITY SUCKS. Because I figure they already know that. Because it’s totally possible to write about cricket and still care about the other stuff that’s happening in the world. Same with beauty.

But the reason that these particular comments really get under my skin is because I think that the things I write about are important. I think that the vast majority of my posts go way beyond what foundation to buy or how best to shape your eyebrows.

Again, I don’t mean this in any way to be disrespectful to people who publish beauty reviews and makeup looks and stuff, I love to read your stuff and think it’s really fun and awesome.

But my idea of beauty is mainly about learning to love yourself and feel fabulous in your own skin. I write about the stuff that goes on inside as much as I do about the stuff that goes on outside. And in a world where being female and having a body, occupying space or generally existing is a political and often offensive act, I think that the stuff I write about is pretty damn important. Women are taught to hate their bodies, to focus on their imperfections, to mask their differences, to look perfect, but without making any effort, to suck in, to shrink down. And if you don’t think that fighting back against that is important, I think we are living in very different worlds. And that you probably weren’t bullied as a kid for looking different.

What I wouldn’t have given when I was fourteen to have someone be like “Hey! Why don’t you wear some purple lipstick? You won’t look like everyone else, but that’s okay, it can be really fun to be different!” To have someone tell me that there was more than one way to be beautiful, and that about 80% of gorgeous is that glow that surrounds you when you feel amazing. To be able to turn away from the cookie cutter women on TV and in the adverts and see a massive range of ladies being sexy and wonderful in their own unique, amazing ways. Because the biggest difference between beauty blogging and beauty features in the mainstream media is that beauty blogging doesn’t try to mould everyone to the same ideal. We control the narrative. We control the ideal.

It’s about being able to go “Hey! I’ve never thought about wearing bright green eyeliner!” and not giving a damn whether boys would find it attractive.
“Does anyone know how I can control my mad curls?”
“I would never have put those colours together but it looks awesome.”
“You are gorgeous.”
“I am gorgeous.”
“We are gorgeous.”

Women supporting other women and helping them to feel like they can take on the world is basically my favourite thing. I’m lucky that I’ve been through a whole lot of appearance-related nonsense and have come out the other side with skin that might look like buttermilk, but that is as thick as a rhino’s ass. I love who I am, and part of who I am is the body that I occupy. I am dedicated to decorating and pampering that body however I see fit. I think I can take on the world, I just feel more prepared for it with a swipe of red lipstick.

And I refuse to apologise for that.

A Big Sister’s Duty: The Stuff No One Else Will Tell You

Today, I watched the Miss Representation documentary. If you haven’t seen it yet, please go watch it. It is so awesome, despite a really spacey, strange occasional voiceover.

Within nine minutes of pressing play, I was bawling my eyes out. Listening to a high schooler’s voice crack in pain as she described how her little sister cuts herself because she hates her body resonated all too clearly. As far as I know, neither of my sisters has ever hurt themselves, thank goodness. But the thought of the bullshit they’re going to have to endure just by virtue of being female is genuinely painful. With one getting ready to go to uni next year, and high school not too far away for the other, I know that they’re going to have to go through some pretty hard times, and that, being girls, they’re going to be told to think and feel and be certain ways, or face punishment.

So I’ve got a few messages for my two incredible, inspiring, strong baby sisters, based on my experiences of being a laydee, which I hope will help get them through the hard times.

Warning to family members: there will be discussions of S-E-X and other such girly things in this post.

fskLet’s start with your body, because honestly, that’s what lots of people are going to do. People will judge you because of your body, they will assume that they know things about you because of how your body looks, they’ll tell you that your body is wrong, they’ll use it as a weapon against you, they’ll assume that your body is theirs to touch and comment on.

Here’s what to do with your body in response to that: don’t change a damn thing. You are not your body. This is really tough to remember sometimes, because we girls have it constantly shoved down our throats that the only way to be worth something is to have a body that confines to somebody else’s conception of what sexy is. But honestly, your body does not define who you are. It’s just a vessel that carries your beautiful heart and brilliant mind around from one place to the next, and as long as you are keeping it healthy and strong (whatever that looks like!), then it’s perfect. Everyone always tells you to learn to love your body. I’d like to take that a step further and tell you to learn to love the whole of you. Love how your eyes crease up when you tell an awesome joke. Love how your wobbly bits shake when you dance like a crazy person. Love how you throw your hands around when you’re talking about something you love. You are so wonderful, and you have way too much to do in this world to sit in front of a mirror worrying that your legs are too fat.

This doesn’t mean I’m telling you to burn your dresses and snap your eyeliner pencils. Wanting to look good is awesome, as long as you are doing it on your terms. Don’t let anyone else define your beautiful, ever. Look however you want to look. Wear plum lipstick at 11am. Go out barefaced in your raggiest old jumper. Buy that teeny tiny little dress you love. Wearing lipstick doesn’t make you an attention seeker. Wearing a leather miniskirt doesn’t make you a slut.

On that note, it’s time to get super serious. I really don’t want to talk about sexual assault, because I wish that it wasn’t a problem. But 1 in 5 women in this country have experienced some kind of sexual violence since they turned 16, myself among them, so we have to talk about it. Like I said above, some people think that your body is theirs to touch. It isn’t. Unless you want them to, of course (more on that later). No matter how you are dressed, how drunk you are, how many people you’ve had sex with before, what you’ve done with the person before, NOBODY is allowed to touch your body without your consent. Don’t think that you’ve led anyone on, or feel pressured to act a certain way because of how you’ve acted in the past, or because you’ve already said you would do something. You have the right to refuse, every single time, and if someone goes against that, it’s sexual assault. I don’t care if you’re blind drunk, wearing nothing but a tinsel bikini. This does not give anyone the right to sexually assault you. This line of reasoning is such total bollocks that I can’t believe it still exists, but it really does, so let me just throw a stat out for you: only 9% of rapes in the UK are committed by a stranger. You are 9 times more likely to be attacked by someone you know in a situation that you thought was safe. So don’t ever be embarrassed to set limits, know that anything to do with your body is your choice, and if something does happen to you, don’t you dare ever for a second believe that it was your fault.

Okay, onto (gulp) consensual sex. I’m not going to tell you not to have sex, because let’s face it, sex is fun, and it’s totally normal, and it’s a natural part of growing up, but I would like to offer one teeny bit of advice. Wait and do it with a man or woman that you feel really comfortable with. Not because it has to be special or because losing your virginity to a random person means you don’t respect yourself. Shockingly, I think that a woman’s sexual experiences are nobody else’s fucking business, and anyone who thinks that they are in any way relevant is a flaming idiot. Have as much sex as you want, with as many people as you want – whatever you are happy and comfortable with. But the reason I’d say you should wait for someone excellent, and this is something that no one will ever tell you, is that the first time is so very fucking awkward. It hurts a lot, and your body does loads of weird stuff, and so does your partner’s, and you really want to be with someone you can laugh with when your bodies press together and make that weird farting sound, rather than wanting to immediately die. Oh, also, always pee afterwards. This is another thing that no one ever tells you until you’re laid up in your GP with a horrifying urine infection. But that’s more mechanics that actual advice. And as Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I have to say about that.

Alright, that’s enough sex talk for one blog, let’s get back to you. Society tells people that women shouldn’t have a voice, and both men and women internalise that message. You will find that men interrupt you, talk over you, don’t take you seriously and use the mere fact that you are a woman to discredit you. And a lot of women buy into this too: they take men more seriously, think negatively about ambitious women and say things like, “Oh, I just get on better with men. There’s less drama”. Every one of these things is designed to make women shut up, and keep us in our place. To hell with that. You have a voice, so don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward because some stupid societal structure tells you your opinion isn’t worth anything. I hate these structures, so I try to use my voice to change them. And if that makes some chauvinistic asshole think less of me, so be it. I speak up, so that the world will get better for you girls coming through. Pay it forward and speak up for the next generation. Don’t you ever listen to someone else’s idea of what you should be. Don’t try to be anything except yourself. When you write goals and wishes, focus on doing things, rather than being things.

One last thing and then I promise, I’ll shut up for a while. Be kind to other women. Don’t buy into that rubbish that tells you that ambitious women are manly, or successful women are bitchy, or pretty women are stupid and slutty. This is tough, because these stereotypes are pushed hard, every day, by a £71bn per year business. But we can be smarter than them. Just remember, we’re all complicated people, who are trying our best. Let’s be excellent to each other. I love you. You’re going to move mountains.