2016: Turning 30 and why for me, the year wasn’t so bad (sorry)

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OK, so 2016 was pretty awful. Some of the greatest actors and entertainers we’ve ever known are dead. Half the country hates the other half. Half the country got us into a massive mess that we apparently won’t be getting out of even though the whole country is pretty much agreed that it’s a bad idea (understatement). An orange man who hates anyone who isn’t a rich white man, who goes through life with what looks like a bleached ferret on his head despite being rich enough, surely, to see a decent hairdresser, is in charge of America despite not actually having the majority of votes. No one likes Johnny Depp anymore. Brangelina have split. And then there’s the TV. The X Factor has gone beyond so-bad-it’s-good territory and is now just embarrassing. EastEnders’ biggest storyline up until New Year’s Eve seemed to be about the bins. We’re still waiting for the next season of Homeland. The John Lewis Christmas ad was so shit that it didn’t make you laugh OR cry*. Everything, frankly, is fucked.

HOWEVER. 2016 was also the year that I turned 30. And while I had a feeling it was going to be a huge, momentous year, the above wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Screw you 2016.

Nonetheless, *whispers* a few good things did happen in the year of my very big THREE OH, and just in case the world imploding gets in the way of me remembering that, I thought I’d write a few of them down.

Don’t hate me. I had an awful 2015 and really needed 2016 to be nice. And it was, because…

– I only went and went to NYC, didn’t I

OH YES I DID. I have wanted to go to New York since I sat in front of our little telly as a kid and watched all the films. Film after film after film; I never did and still never do get bored of films, bonus points if they’re set in NYC. I went with one of the greatest people I know for an entire week, and from the second I got into one of those yellow taxis I felt like I was starring in my own little movie. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more, and I can’t wait to go back one day. Just thinking about it makes my knees weak with love.

– I only met THE Carrie Bradshaw, didn’t I

OH YES I DID. Not in New York, funnily enough, but right here in London. My job has given me many wonderful things (hyaluronic acid, my favourite mascara and an award no less) but meeting THE Sarah Jessica Parker is by far and away the greatest gift of all. I stood next to, shook hands with and spoke to this utterly beautiful, kind and gracious woman at the launch of her infectious new unisex fragrance, Stash. She was everything and more. I love her. I think she thinks I’m weird (not that she’ll remember who I am) but that’s ok because I MET HER AND IT WAS EPIC.

– I only went and wrote an ebook, didn’t I

Yes, yes I did. Yes, it was while at work as it was part of my day job (it’s kind of hard to not do something when it’s like, your job) but I wrote my first ever ebook, a Beginner’s Guide to Sensitive Skin. It’ll never be top of the Amazon bestsellers list (it’s not on Amazon, you fools) but I’m still damn proud that it exists and can’t quite believe people have bought something I wrote. And none of them were even bought by my mum, because technology.

– I only went and got myself a date, didn’t I

Ok that’s getting annoying now isn’t it. But yes. A tricky summer and various ‘life is too short’ moments made me take the leap into dating again and I just so happened to find a normal one. It even went well for a while, until it didn’t. But for a few short months it was fun (and anxiety-inducing, obviously) to like someone again and sort of think that maybe they might like me back.

– I (ok, my parents) only went and got a bloody kitten

Which I named! Rocky is the friendliest, cuddliest, most affectionate cat I think I have ever met, and he earned his name on the first day they brought him home when he looked like he was trying to box with his little paws when I dangled some string over his head. He is adorable. He has brought so much happiness into my parents’ home in such a short amount of time, I just wish we’d found him sooner.

While everyone else couldn’t wait to turn their backs on 2016, I was sad to see it end – I was lucky enough to have a pretty good year, with things going well in my little life, and a new year just brings new fears of what’s to come. But now it’s 2017 (already. How did that happen? I’m 31 in 3 days. Oh god). Who knows what’s around the corner? EastEnders might find their scriptwriters. Trump might accidentally board a spaceship to the moon. Homeland will most definitely be back. Whatever happens, I just hope it’s a happy and healthy one. And I wouldn’t mind meeting SJP again either, in case the gods are reading…

 

*I just have to explain this. We needed you, John Lewis. We needed the little hare and bear back. We needed a cute penguin. We needed an adorable child who wasn’t a materialistic little bastard like those ones you see demanding toys from their exhausted mums on the high street. We needed the advert equivalent of little fluffy puppies playing with little fluffy kittens while a log fire roars, Mary Berry makes us cakes, David Attenborough reads us a bedtime story and Buble sings us a lullaby. We needed a giant cuddle of an ad. And what do you give us? You give us nothing. NOTHING. This year’s ad was so devoid of emotion that it just leaves you cold, confused, and angry at what the world has become; that even John Lewis can’t bring us joy anymore. YOU HAD ONE JOB, John Lewis. You fucking failed.

For a start, the dog isn’t very cute. The dog needed to be cuter. No offence, dog, you’re lovely, but you’re not Christmas-cute. The song is a terrible choice; it’s depressing. Saving grace, almost: the wild animals are sweet. But then comes the finale, and the dog, and you almost want to laugh, but the family aren’t laughing, they look horrified, and it’s as if the dog has ruined the girl’s Christmas, only you can’t understand why because surely, SURELY, if you loved your pet (as one should), seeing it jump on a trampoline for the first time with such gusto would surely make you laugh your head off. Or at least reach for your iPhone to capture the moment and share it on Instagram for #lolz. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT FAMILY?

What’s the rush?

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I know I live in one of the busiest cities in the world and that Londoners are rather known for having no time, charging through life at speed whether ‘life’ be a Tesco queue or a tube gate, but still. I am utterly exhausted. Not by everything that I have to do (which is quite a lot, when I think about it… *doesn’t think about it*) but by always, forever, every day being in a rush. Everything is a rush.

I leap out of bed in a rush. I eat my breakfast in a rush. I brush my teeth in such a rush that sometimes it hurts. I get dressed in a rush (and this is probably clear from what I am wearing and the fact I’ve recently decided trainers are totally OK for work). I cleanse in a rush (and I write about beauty for a living, this is not OK). I rush through the three tubes it takes me to get to work, sweaty and heart racing, as if my life depends on it. To be fair it sort of does, since I need my job, but you get what I mean.

I send emails in a rush. I pee in a rush*. I go and get my lunch in a rush and then I eat it at speed at my desk. Often followed by an anti acid for obvious reasons. I talk in a rush and work in a rush, hoping that I’ll get home in time to pop to Sainsbury’s in a rush before I power walk home and then cook in a rush, choosing the fastest and easiest thing to make so that the precious few hours afterwards are mine to rush through as I please.

One of my most upsetting rushes is the shower. I usually have this while my dinner cooks (read: heats in the oven). Living in a shared house aged 30 means it’s one of the only times in the day that I am truly alone with my thoughts and doing something for ME (and the benefit of anyone in whiffing distance). It’s soothing, too, or should be, shouldn’t it? But no. I have to shower in a rush, either because a flatmate jumped in before me and now my dinner is burning, or simply because I chose the fastest thing for dinner and surprise, surprise it’s nearly done. Then I forget whether I even did the shampoo (did I?) because I must get dinner finished before the house burns down, must watch that programme that I’m really into, must get X Y and Z done in between rushing through 40 WhatsApp notifications before rushing off to bed come midnight.

I can imagine certain people reading this and thinking, ugh, London life. But I don’t think we can blame London for this. I certainly don’t. In fact I’m fairly sure I was exactly the same when I lived in my little idyllic village in Sussex and worked at my local leisure centre. Everything fast, everything a little furious, too much to do, too little time. When has there ever been enough time?

The iPhone doesn’t help. Sometimes I’ll get to 6:15pm, standing and waiting on the tube platform wishing I could just be home like RIGHT NOW, and realise that I’ve barely looked at anything all day. You know, really LOOKED and *seen* it. And then I will put my phone away smugly, looking at everyone else who is neck-bent and hooked on their phones around me, thinking how silly they are; I’ll step onto the tube and stand next to a bunch of strangers and think, as hot and crowded as this is, at least I’m not doing anything, because I can’t. I have to just stand here and wait for four whole stops. Enforced slowness is the only way to slow me down.

Of course, someone who plans things, those weird, organised planners, probably wouldn’t have this problem. They probably waft through life on a perfect schedule of timed appointments, timed lunches and blissfully long showers, while I find de-stressing solace in four stops on the Circle line.

Wait, so is the tube – unreliable, clunky and expensive as it is – secretly keeping me sane? Now there’s a scary thought…

 

*This one is a worry. Please do tell me in the comments if you can relate to this, or of course anything in this post. Make me feel better. Thanks!

Looking in, or looking out?

Pic: Someecards

A mere few years ago, struggling with anxiety, I read every self-help article going. And, while I can’t remember the details of each and every one, there was a common theme. Look outward, they said. You’ll feel better if you stop over analysing yourself, overthinking everything, and simply look out at what’s around you. Friends, mentors, helping others, travelling, seeing what the world has to offer. There was an overriding theme of self-help: stop being so damn self obsessed and look at the bigger picture.

It’s struck me recently that our culture has moved in the opposite direction. We’re now selfie obsessed instead, constantly looking at ourselves, critiquing ourselves, adding filters to our faces before allowing anyone to see us; health retreats that tell you to look inwards; improving one’s self is about looks, followers, your brand, being strong not skinny, eating the right foods and filming every step you take, being at the latest ‘cool’ place and photographing it in the right way. Turn 30 and you’ll have endless people and articles telling you that this is the decade of being wonderfully selfish, of taking control, of doing what you want and to hell with any kind of people pleasing. While the latter is liberating, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference since turning the big 3-0, I’m not sure it can be so healthy to live in this ‘it’s all about me’ way.

Don’t get me wrong; I know we have to get to know ourselves, and to move with the times, and I probably sound older than my years already in mourning the past, pre-Instagram Stories and Snap-bloody-everything. But I’d bet money on the rise of this kind of self-promoting, self-obsessing culture being linked to the rise of anxiety and other mental health issues. Though I thought it sounded terribly hippyish at the time, I think those mags and books telling me to look ‘out’ were much more on the money.

If anything, it’s about distraction. Of course being overwhelmed is never good for anxiety and doing too much definitely triggers mine, but having regular plans, pushing myself to stop fretting and get out and do something, to distract myself from the detrimental thoughts that run constantly through my head, is what really helps me feel better. Having an interest in travel, reigniting my love of being creative be it with a piece of charcoal or an iPhone and a great view, listening to new music and learning things I’d never pay attention to before are the things that make me feel smarter, inspired, interested and interesting.

The more I look in, the less I like; the more I find to hate, criticise, obsess over, compare to others. Sure, that’s an issue in itself, but I’ve always believed being up yourself is a terrible trait and I’m not sure constantly looking at yourself is any better for you. In some ways I’m a hypocrite; having a personal blog like this one is probably the equivalent of self analysing, talking about myself or overthinking, only on screen – but I only post when I feel the need or feel it might resonate. In fact, recently, I’ve found it much more rewarding to write for myself, keeping unpublished posts in my precious Evernote app, purely for the joy of writing and getting the words out rather than to seek approval from readers (something which will often leave me feeling anxious, and yep, you guessed it, criticising myself again if the numbers are low).

I’m not slating those who do all the above – I’m part of that scene thanks to the career I’ve chosen – but it feels like the current trend is to be narcissistic, dressed up as self-development. I don’t think it’s going to change for a while, particularly as social media and blogging continues to grow and develop – but already it does feel like the tide may be turning when it comes to self-care. The sudden popularity of all things hygge, the move to video rather than images, or instant photos rather than ones that have been filtered and doctored beyond belief on social media – I think they’re a subtle reaction to the pressure to be a perfect person who has it all, and a step in the right direction for loosening the grip a little, looking up, and looking out. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Who do you look up to?

Beyonce

After a few recent conversations with journalists, PRs and friends, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success, and specifically successful women – how they get there, and how they treat others once they’re there. I’ve started to think about who I look up to, too; thanks to a mixture of social media, my career progression and my many goals, it’s changing all the time, but one thing that remains constant is that I look to other women for my inspiration. What’s different, though, is that I used to see power, status or a job title as motivational, whereas now the women I aspire to be like are the ones who have got my back.

I grew up in a house full of women; with two sisters and my mum around me my poor dad barely got a say in anything (yes we will be keeping the kitten and can we please instruct you on how to move our bedroom around yet again?). I’ve always been a girl’s girl and aside from some light schoolgirl bickering it never occurred to me to compete with other girls – they were my friends, my sisters, my mentors, my idols. I wanted to be like every one of them and for them to want to be my friend too.

Working in the beauty industry, you get used to working with women; though my first job was in a place run by men in sharp suits, it was the women who managed the teams that I struck an instant bond with – supporting, motivating, understanding without an ounce of being patronising despite their broader experience, I’m proud to count them as some of my closest friends today and have relied on their advice and shared mine in times of stress at work and beyond. And beauty isn’t bitchy in the way that I expected it could be; sure, you get the odd person who likes themselves more than they like being nice to others but for the most part the beauty birds are made up of throughly good eggs.

It’s this that makes me love my work. I’ve met so many incredible women through it – thoughtful PRs, helpful interns, talented writers, inventive designers and smart editors, who without this career I might never have met. And girls may be girls, chatting and gossiping and sharing and conferring, but unlike school the ones you remember and look up to are not necessarily the coolest; not the prettiest or the most popular; not the ones with the most money, followers or the best wardrobe (though many have all of this and more, the sods). The women who stay in my mind and who I look forward to meeting again, or who I hope to work with one day if I don’t already are the kind ones, the smart ones, the ones who are generous with their time and who treat you as an equal. The ones who want to cheerlead your every accomplishment and buy you a glass of wine for your every disappointment.

Through Twitter and my job I’ve had the chance to meet and talk to women who have done just that – who’ve picked up the phone when I’m having a work wobble or who give their honest advice on everything from freelancing to half-hearted book ideas to this very blog. I can honestly say this is the most important thing I’ve learned in my career – to get ahead, you need support and to be supportive; from the intern at the bottom of the ladder who helps their team to nail a project to the editor who recommends that intern for their dream job.

We live in a time where comparison anxiety is rife; I have to remind myself daily to stop analysing my successes on the basis of others’, which is damn hard in this writing game where every day you hear of another person five years younger getting a book deal, or a job which you’re still working towards. No good can come of comparison, though, and frankly I’m happy to be the girl who works her ass off that nobody really knows, rather than the one who reached the top but who nobody wants to work with.

Social media doesn’t make this easy – we can all see a curated view of how someone is doing in their career and we all know it can cause jealousy, but on the flip side it’s also the place where we can champion each other’s achievements, recommend others and share what we learn as we go. It’s so true that the media and the opportunities within in it are very much about who you know… but that needn’t make it exclusive. You’ll never regret helping someone else out, be it with a contact or advice on their next pitch; and those you help will never forget that you did. Hopefully, they’ll follow your lead and will pay it forward next time someone needs that boost. That’s pretty inspiring in itself.

Happy 10th birthday, Twitter

TwitterHappy birthday, Twitter. Today you turn 10 years old, and yet in even fewer years than that you have pretty much changed my life.

I joined in January 2009, my then boss telling me ‘it’s the new PR’ and having me take over our company handles while building my own.

From the moment I joined I found support from every which way; from the beauty bloggers who welcomed me with open arms and the women who’d reply at 3am when I was having an anxiety attack to the other writers, singletons and friends who’d respond quicker to random questions or thoughts than if I were to text a close friend. After a tough breakup, I even found the fun in talking to guys again, hidden behind my keyboard and getting excited every time I heard that Tweetdeck alert, dating someone who got to know me very quickly thanks to those 140 character posts. I met women who became my best friends, whose weddings I’ve been to, whose babies I’ve held, who I holiday with, who I couldn’t imagine not knowing now, seven years on, where one lives with another of my friends and another, the most generous person I’ve ever had the luck to meet, makes me laugh daily no matter what struggles we are both dealing with. I’ve met so many wonderful people through it that I’ve lost count.

I’ve made connections with people I came to cherish who I’ve then lost to the cruelty of depression, who I miss dearly even though we never met. I’ve found colleagues, from incredible interns and writers who came to help me in the midst of startup madness (and later became mentors and friends) to the team I’m in today, in a job I was offered after I loved the site so much I followed everyone that worked on it on Twitter just to be inspired, if nothing else.

I’ve shared my biggest moments with those few thousand people who inexplicably follow me, from losing my grandparents to gaining a nephew, winning awards to finding out my mum had the all clear from cancer. I’ve spoken with experts and editors in the beauty industry who, without Twitter, wouldn’t even know who I was let alone reply to my mini message of how much I loved their work. I have cried with laughter at the #whowillspeakforEngland hashtag and felt like part of a community when chatting along to #XFactor (the main thing I’ll miss when the show goes is the tweets). I’ve followed feminists who motivate me and learned the true horror of #everydaysexism, and watched the news unfold second by second during riots, terrorism attacks and when the story breaks of a childhood hero passing away. I honestly think my followers probably know me better than some of my closest real life friends; they read my thoughts, frustrations and comments in real time, with no filter or agenda – and I feel like I know them, even if we’ve never met and they perhaps don’t even follow me back.

It’s the first place I go for information, inspiration and conversation. The kindness of other tweeters is something you can’t even find on the likes of Facebook, where you’re friends with your real life friends. I have, if I can bring myself to use this hideous millennial word, found my ‘tribe’, and I’ll never forget nor stop talking to those early follows and followers who taught me so much and helped me find my way; but I’ll also continue to find new people, a new follow there and another follower here, because the tribe is ever growing. You just never know who you might chat to next, and for a shy girl from a tiny village like me that’s an exciting prospect. It might be their 10th birthday today, but Twitter for me is like one big, never-ending party, full of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet or talk to, whether it’s just in passing or as the start of a great friendship.

So here’s to the teenage years of Twitter – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The modern girl’s to-do list

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The other night on the way home on a casual Monday, I wrote myself a little to do list for that evening. I’d been so busy at the weekend and at work that there was a ridiculous amount of life admin to do and for various reasons it really needed doing that night.

But as I wrote the list I realised how tedious it was that I had to fill my precious, short spare time with such ridiculous things. ‘Shower and dry hair’ even made it on there that night, as I usually leave it to dry by itself (to save time, natch) and obviously this looks rubbish come 7am so I wanted to put some effort in for a meeting. By the time I had finished writing the list I was feeling utterly deflated – off went my hopes of putting my feet up and getting stuck into my new book.

It got me thinking about just how much there is to DO as a woman in 2016. Having it all (or attempting to) has essentially become doing it all, and it’s bloody exhausting.

I’m not suggesting we all stop washing our hair. But at what point is something going to give? Time has become so tight, and as I’ve got older it’s the thing I’m starting to treasure the most; I resent having to use it on commutes and on people who don’t reciprocate their time back when you need it. Time is really all we have, it’s the thing money can’t buy and the thing we are all running out of. So why do we fill it with so much life admin?

Stylist recently reported on the stats that revealed the average 30-year-old woman has just 17 minutes a day to herself. While I’m not sure I’m quite as time-poor as that, it’s not much better – the first 12 hours of my waking day go to commuting and work, which leaves me with about four hours to play with before I’m desperate for sleep. At least half of that goes on the aforementioned life admin, or something else that I feel I ‘should’ be doing.

Here’s everything I could think of that, as a single woman in 2016, I have on my to-do list:

  • Watch must-watch TV (on catchup, because who ever gets home on time for it all?)
  • Check online dating apps, bang head against wall, repeat
  • Go on dates if previous point is successful; most likely waste an evening on someone you’ll never see again
  • Read books, magazines and articles by all the brilliant people you follow on Twitter (this could easily be a full time job)
  • Blog (I try)
  • Have a hobby (it helps with the online dating chat, plus makes you a bit cooler these days)
  • Paint nails, go for a wax and other general beauty things (as a beauty journalist, this really has to happen)
  • Shower (yep, this has to go on the list now)
  • Food shop (worst thing on the list)
  • Cook (wait, no, this is the worst thing on the list)
  • Have actual chat with flatmates that isn’t just ‘Hi, I’m tired’
  • Chat to family so they remember you exist
  • Reply to 278 Whatsapp messages, 5 texts, 33 Facebook notifications and 18 messages on Facebook Messenger (why does it have to be a different app?!)
  • All the emails, all the time, on three different accounts
  • Wash clothes in order to attempt fabulous work outfits
  • Shop for clothes that I don’t hate
  • Return clothes that you inevitably do hate
  • Work out (HAHAHA)
  • Do the washing up (there is so much of it. Where does it come from? I don’t even like cooking?)
  • Keep an eye on finances and make mental note to get buses more when you see how many Ubers you’ve booked lately
  • Catch up with friends who are all in different groups and work different hours just to make it extra fun
  • Sleep (remember that?)
  • Look up, every so often. Tech neck is a bitch

So without sounding whiney… what about me? As it’s my 30th year (yup, I’m going to take the whole year) I’m trying to give myself a break, be a little more selfish and do a little more of what I love – without, hopefully, pissing anyone off. After last year’s health scare in my family and nearly 8 exciting years of working my arse off in startups, I need to focus on spending my time on making myself feel better, being with the people I love and generally be a better person.

Because doing it all won’t make us the best we can be – it’ll make us the most exhausted, and probably the most grumpy versions of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I love to say yes to things, to keep busy (my mum always says of me when I was a child: ‘You were very… busy, all the time, always doing something’) and to share those experiences with others. After all, we might not have much time, but we’ll only have it once, so I’m all for making the most of it.

But I’d also love to read all those books stacked up on my bookshelves, to write more, to walk around London more without being in a rush, to not waste my weekends ticking off that admin list in the bank or the Post Office, and just generally to ‘be’. To have time that doesn’t feel like it’s already assigned to something I’m obligated to do. Now *that* is something I’m putting on my to-do list. Who’s with me?

 

Why my best Valentine’s Days have been when I’m single

Sex and the City Valentine

I kind of feel about Valentine’s Day the way that other people feel about New Year’s Eve – a bit too much effort, never as good as you hope and not really worth the bother. (I will never understand why people feel this about NYE – it’s an excuse to go dancing and partying with people you love, with a bonus free day off the next day – why on earth would you not want that?!)

This Valentine’s Day though, it seemed like everyone, whether single or coupled up, was making more of a big deal of it. It’s not that the shops were unbearably full with it (possibly even less so, this year) but more that people were actually asking others what their plans were, and making some of their own as if it was a real holiday to be celebrated.

Single or otherwise, I’ve never felt the need to even acknowledge it, but convention kind of means that if you’re a couple you’re supposed to mark it somehow. And that’s why this weekend, as a singleton, I got to thinking about what I would have been doing had I been with someone, and it made me realise: I’ve never had a great Valentine’s Day as a non-single. Not in a, get-the-violins-out-I’m-so-unlucky kind of way, but it made me see that a) I’m quite pleased not to be with someone for this ramped up 2016 version and b) if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be making plans other than maybe a takeaway and a DVD (piss off with your ‘Netflix and chill’, I’m old school).

In fact, it’s not so much that the years where I was with someone were bad (though they generally involved overpriced meals in horrid restaurants, severe anxiety because of the general pressure of it and occasionally, mild food poisoning), but actually that the single ones were just SO damn good.

I’ve got some brilliant friends, luckily, and from the time that a few of us went to a dating event in which a topless man and woman served us cocktails in little more than a thong to the night where we all went bowling and drank quite a lot of cocktails which makes it quite hard to throw straight, my single Valentine’s Days have been an absolute hoot.

This year was slightly less exciting – I stayed in, settled on the sofa with copious amounts of tea and a brilliant film (Ex Machina, highly recommend). I suppose company would have been nice, but there’s something wonderful about not having to please anyone but yourself for a whole day. Someone corny would call it self-love or something equally hippy-ish, but to me, that’s just a perfect Sunday. Same time next week, hopefully…