Friday, 26 February 2016

Filter Fatigue

I used to read a lot of magazines, starting with my mum's Good Housekeeping when I was about eight. (Luckily it was mostly recipes for flapjack, not red-hot sex tips.) I loved the (sadly now defunct) J17 and Sugar, but somewhere along the way I got bored with the same old repetition. (I do feel sorry for the editors, who KNOW that every year they will be obliged to write something about "How to get 'beach-ready' for summer / how to glam up your look from office to party / what age is too old for mini-skirts?" (Answer: never!) 

However, I recently opened a bank account which offered a free magazine subscription, so I picked the classic: Cosmopolitan. (FYI, the bank account was Lloyds. If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out www.moneysavingexpert.com for info on the best accounts around.)

Somebody needs to work on their contouring...

Getting a free magazine reminded me why I don't buy any; the actual content takes about ten minutes to read, and the rest is adverts and glossy pictures which are fun to look at for two seconds. I have enjoyed Jameela Jamil's wise words, some of the funny dating stories and the occasional interesting article. But it dawned on me that reading Cosmo wasn't actually fun. It made me feel guilty. But not because I haven't exfoliated or shaved my legs or deep-conditioned my hair (I have! Spring is on its way!) but because I am not a billionaire entrepreneur with a million followers on Istagram. (Oops! I don't even have an Instagram. My online presence is soooo not on fleek right now.)

In years gone by, "having it all" used to refer to women who combined a career with having a family. (Plenty of ladies managed this, but we're getting into mythical territory if we suggest there were never any compromises or guilt involved.) In 2016, "having it all" appears to be more about effortlessly combining a high-flying career with a delightfully photogenic family (whether by "family" we mean adorable children, a gorgeous partner or a close-knit group of pals). It means having the time and money "check in" to glamorous restaurants and high-end stores, not to mention getting plenty of likes on your latest selfies. And magazines like Cosmo are actively encouraging this.



Leading with "Want in on the action? Of course you do..." (but what if we don't?) the article goes on to describe the "soul-destroying" desk job that Laura Jenkinson had before she became a make-up artist, wowed the world via Instagram, earned thousands and launched her own book and line of makeup brushes. It's meant to be an inspirational tale – "See? Anything can happen! You too could become a super-success even though right now you work in the post office!" – but it comes across as somewhat accusatory. "Why aren't you using Instagram to your advantage like these other, clever girls?" 

I'm all for reaching for the stars, but we do have to remind ourselves that the number of people in the world who make their fortunes on Instagram is pretty minimal. But more importantly, why is this being pushed as the option we should all be aiming for? What if we like our nine-to-five jobs? Cosmo and other magazines are constantly interviewing women CEOs and "mompreneurs"  who launched amazing businesses while wrangling six-month-old twins. Good for them – we absolutely should celebrate their successes and feel inspired. But equally, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING A NORMAL JOB!

If you've read The Princess Guide to Life you'll know this is one of my bugbears: every job is a contribution, and one should not be valued more than another just because it seems more glamorous. If you do the photocopying in a solicitor's office, or serve burgers in a fast food restaurant, or muck out ponies, should you be feeling bad about yourself because you don't have a huge online following or get interviewed on a red carpet? HELL NO. It makes me angry that this is even implied by the media. And it is, all the time. How often do contestants on talent shows talk about their current day job as a misery they desperately want to escape via singing for a living? (Even when that job is something like teaching children to read, or working in an old people's home, or any number of incredibly valuable contributions to society.)

Perhaps this gets under my skin because arguably, I am one of the people who "should" be using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc to "grow my brand", "build my platform" or whatever the other buzzwords are. I've written a book about style (among other things), so why am I not constantly updating you on my latest manicure / outfit / handbag? Well, it's largely because I'm lazy and can't be bothered. (Did I mention, I'm Sagittarian? We're noted for our honesty.) 

Even when I see my friends, we tend to chat over coffee rather than do anything photogenic. (Sometimes we cry "Oh! We should have taken some pictures!" after we've taken our makeup off, so I don't think we've got the hang of social networking, really.) I enjoy seeing other people's pics of all the good stuff in their lives (especially new puppies), and find a makeup tutorial or fashion inspiration blog as exciting as the next gal. But it's an open secret that the flawless selfie which makes it online is the tip of an iceberg of rejected snaps. We're spending all our time perfecting our makeup for that #IWokeUpLikeThis shot and getting the angle right so it shows off our new shoes but not the messy bedroom floor.

Amazing hair colourist Ursula Goff shows the truth behind the image

It takes time to create the image of a perfect life online. Right now I'm working on The Princess Guide to Beauty and have discovered that researching the safety of sunscreen ingredients / parabens / essential oils is intense and time-consuming work. So I have to choose between: a) setting up the perfect shot of my laptop in the sunshine (or preferably overlooking a beach) so I can caption it "My office today" and make everyone jealous of my cool life, or b) spend that same time writing. It's a no-brainer.

By all means, record every detail of your life, from the contents of your shopping basket to the two shades of lipstick you're blending today – but only if you genuinely want to because you find it fun. Thousands of likes might boost your self-esteem, but does it really mean anything? When you're sixty, you may have a portfolio of fantastic self-portraits, but if you remember more about posing for your holiday snaps than the swimming, sunbathing and drinking sangria part, something has gone horribly wrong.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

It's Christmas! (Well, in two and a half weeks it is....)

How we feel about Christmas can vary from year to year. Sometimes we NEED the festive season to force us to stop, relax, and take stock. I confess, this year I'm feeling mildly inconvenienced by it. Everything work-related sort of winds down from November onwards, which is lovely really, but I actually WANT to get on with stuff! However, the social scene hots up as people feel a compulsion to get together BEFORE the big day, as if 25th December is the deadline for all friendship interaction. 

I don't know how you guys below the equator deal with this, but I'm currently enjoying warm sunshine streaming in through my open window, and the mild weather is not making me think of cosy fur-laden sleighs or reindeer stamping through the snow. Maybe when it starts being all frosty outside and cosy inside I'll start feeling more festive!
  
Although I find it annoying when commercials start referring to it actually BEING Christmas when they start playing in October, I do appreciate the reminder to get my present-buying self in gear. So I'm going to be a big old hypocrite now and say.... Happy Christmas! (Yes, it's weeks away.) But I thought you might like a heads upThe Princess Guide to Being a Cat is now available in paperback, and in my humble opinion it would make a great Secret Santa or stocking filler gift! 


I'm also hosting some giveaways so there's always a chance for you to win a free copy.
If that's not exciting enough, The Princess Guide to Life is now being stocked in many libraries in the UK and USA (hopefully Australia will be added to the list in 2016). So even if you're not a member of Kindle Unlimited, you can still read it free.

On that note.... MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Monday, 28 September 2015

BARGAIN!

Just a quick one to let you know that The Princess Guide to Life is ON SALE at Amazon this week! Princesses in the USA can get it for a mere $0.99 from today (September 28th) until 4th October. 



Due to a glitch in the matrix, the dates are slightly different for those in the UK, the deal is £0.99 and runs from Wednesday 30th September until the 4th October. 

That price drop though... from $8.99 / £5.99 to just 99 pennies!

Gratuitous Keanu Reeves picture
So tell your friends, grab a bargain and enjoy land Let me know what you thought of the book when you've finished reading!

There's more to pop stars than sexuality... probably

                                 Why does Jay-Z never strike this pose?
So I was listening to Beyoncé's song Flawless, which features parts of a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a prize-winning Nigerian writer. Part of the speech says "We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. If we have sons, we don't mind knowing about our sons' girlfriends, but our daughters' boyfriends? God forbid."  

How many times have you heard men joking about the fact that they'll "never" let their daughters date? Partly because they can remember all too well what they were like as teenage boys, and the thought of their daughters meeting anyone like that scares the crap out of them.

But along with protectiveness, there's a bit of competition mixed in; it's not that your average father doesn't want his little girl to grow up and have a happy relationship with a man who loves her; it just gets to him that he won't be number one any more. It's not only dads who feel this way – as we can see from these creepy / hilarious entries from STFU parents, there are plenty of mothers who wish they could marry their sons. 

The Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speech is worth listening to in its entirety because it's full of interesting and important points. But when the frame of reference is a Beyoncé song, cutting the line to say that girls "cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are" strikes me as disingenuous. OK, so we know that Miley gets ridiculed every time she swings around naked and licks a hammer, Rihanna is generally considered every parent's worst nightmare, and everyone from Demi to Selena to Lady Gaga gets criticised for dressing in skimpy outfits or dancing suggestively. But are their male counterparts really allowed to be sexual without fear of reprisals? We'll probably never know, because the difference is that they don't do these things. 


The gender difference when you take to the streets to dance. Also, Yoncé's crew spend quite a lot of the video looking like they want to have sex with her, an element notably missing from Bruno and Mark's gang.


The video for Blurred Lines was infamous for showing fully-clothed men but near-naked women. In  Beyoncé's Drunk in Love video, she writhes around in a bikini while her husband just stands there, fully-clothed. Her video for Yoncé is basically nothing but close-ups of red lips and female flesh from different angles, to the point where it starts to be quite bizarre. Can you imagine Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars creating the equivalent lollipop-sucking, butt-shaking, crawling-on-the-ground piece of film? Then there's Partition, which is hypnotically beautiful to watch, but doesn't really support the idea that there is more to women than their sexual allure; the same goes for Rihanna's Pour it Up. I suppose the nearest male equivalent to pole-dancers would be hen party-style strippers, but I don't see Drake or Justin Bieber adding this to their repertoire any time soon. 

The closest match I could find to these ladies' overt sensuality was Jason Derulo, because he likes taking his clothes off, too. His Want to Want Me video has shades of equality; he's in his underwear in bed, and so is his lady friend... oh but there she is in a basque, watching him perform in a suit. We have several admiring close-ups of her buttocks, while he is shown having a little workout. The message is that his body DOES stuff; it's strong as well as sexy. Hers just looks good, and that's all it needs to do. 
 
We're constantly being told that women aren't allowed to be sexual because of the "slut" double standard. Maybe this was true 30 years ago, but today I think the reason people get their knickers in a twist over the likes of Miley twerking on Robin Thicke is because they're wondering WHY?  

Call me a feminazi, but I'm not sure how empowering this is. 

WHY do you feel you need to do that? Why don't you let your talent, your voice and your personality speak for you? Are you so insecure that you think getting more and more sexually explicit is the only way you can keep the world's attention? (Incidentally, he was criticised too; because you can only work that "dirty old man" act for so long before people get turned off).

We know that Bey, Miley, Gaga et al are talented ladies who can write songs, contribute to political debate and make their own choices. Beyoncé doesn't NEED to slink around in her underwear; she's just as attractive in jeans and a t-shirt (singing with Eddie Vedder at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival). In defence of her stripper-style antics, she's undoubtedly proving that motherhood doesn't meant the end of hotness, she's talking openly about being a feminist, and her music videos have enough variety to prove that sexuality is just one small part of her repertoire.

But looking at the music industry as a whole... maybe it's time to forget proving how sexual we are and start showing the world all the other stuff we can do. 

Failing that, true equality demands that the men need to strip off too. Who's with me? 





Monday, 3 August 2015

Married at First Sight...?


I love a bit of reality TV, and I'm not ashamed of that. Of course, I'm still selective in my viewing choices: anything Kardashian, yes. Jersey Shore, no. (At least, not yet.) I'm not even joking when I say that I've learned a lot about human psychology from watching them. (Come on, they're not ENTIRELY scripted. Do you think Kim and co would be that good at acting?!) 

It's all there: sibling rivalry, marital dispute, and the KER-CHING seen in Kris Jenner's eyes whenever one of her daughters reaches 18 and can make the big bucks with naked photo shoots. If nothing else, the programme exists to remind us how lucky we are to have (comparatively) "normal" families.

Kim Kardashian: making you feel better about your "crying face" since 2007
My latest TV love is #MarriedAtFirstSight. When I first heard about the format, I was as repulsed as everyone else really? We're treating marriage as nothing more than entertainment now? And a VICAR is OK with this? But when I tuned in (out of morbid curiosity) I was pleasantly surprised.

In case you're wondering, I'm talking about the British version of the show from Channel 4; you can check it out here. There are spoilers below so don't read if you don't want to know what happens! Here's Rita Hayworth and a quote from The Princess Guide to Life to act as a buffer...


After the "experts" narrowed down the pool of candidates based on personality types, DNA swabs and general compatibility, they came up with only three potential pairs. (One couple dropped out early on due to her cold feet but you'll be pleased to know that thanks to the miracle of social networking, there was a happy ending to their story.)

The show was cleverly edited for maximum shock value and suspense. In the wedding episode, Jason and Kate genuinely looked like any other couple getting married they were all shiny-faced and beaming, stealing coy glances at each other and going all giggly. If anyone looked like a good match, it was them. Meanwhile James and Emma seemed destined to be nothing but extremely well-suited platonic buddies. However, by the last episode it had all turned around; James and Emma were going for the slow burn (he's such an adorable teddy bear of a man that I suspect Emma's friends all said "If you don't want him can I have him?") while Kate and Jason's relationship had fallen apart. 

So what lessons can we learn from trash TV?

Firstly, Kate was utterly beautiful on her wedding day. Not just pretty in the way that all brides are, but movie-star gorgeous. After the programme aired, Twitter was awash with people despairing of ever getting married "If SHE can't find a man, what hope does anybody else have?" they moaned.


I've always found it incredibly bizarre when people have this attitude that "good-looking" equals "no trouble finding relationships". (Film critic Mark Kermode ridicules the notion of attractive women not being able to "get a man" in this radio review.) It's as if people believe that if you're pretty, that will somehow make all the men who ask you out magically compatible with you. If only! (Not to mention how inconvenient it would be for everyone else if only hot people could find dates.)

Jason said he didn't find Kate attractive – fair enough, you can't predict chemistry. But wasn't that risk exactly what he'd signed up for? His real disgrace came when he logged onto Tinder before he'd even told his "wife" that he wasn't feeling it "I never cheated on Kate. Nothing happened until I decided it was over." (Italics mine, because I just can't get over his arrogance.) I think we can conclude that some people are just incredibly dumb. Jason was MARRIED to Kate; a beautiful, intelligent, healthy, interesting woman. But rather than attempt to make this ready-made relationship work, he actually thought he'd do better on TINDER. Oh, Jason.

I was intrigued to read that he'd been encouraged to restart online dating by a "good friend" – I couldn't help wondering if that was his best man Tim, who'd given me an iffy feeling over the course of the show. From telling Kate about Jason's unflattering nicknames, to looking all sneery at every detail of the wedding, he just had "bad news" written all over him.

This reminded me of something I learned from watching Khloe and Lamar. (Reality TV wisdom; it always comes back to the Kardashians.) I couldn't understand why a seemingly nice guy like Lamar would have a friend like Jamie. I don't want to be horrible, because since appearing on the show, Jamie has sadly died due to drug use. But he didn't exactly endear himself to audiences as we saw him leeching off Lamar's finances and generally causing him trouble in his life and marriage.

When they made their now infamous "rap" video (in which Lamar talked openly about cheating on Khloe), I realised something: water finds its own level. You might meet a guy who seems lovely, yet he has this one friend who's really negative, or manipulative, or nasty in some way. And you dismiss it as some kind of weird anomaly. But it isn't his friends are signposts telling you who he really is.

Gulp.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A Couple More Giveaways

Howdy Princesses! Just a quick one to say that I'm currently running 2 (count 'em) giveaways: Enter either or both for a chance to win a paperback copy of The Princess Guide to Life.

Here are the links:

Amazon (USA readers only I'm afraid):

and Goodreads (Open to everyone! Yay!)

Happy reading!


Thursday, 9 July 2015

Unlimited Reading? Count Me In!

I'm thrilled to announce that The Princess Guide to Life is now available to read on Kindle Unlimited! 

If you're not familiar with it, Kindle Unlimited (known as "KU" among aficionados) allows you to borrow TONS of ebooks and audiobooks  for just £7.99 GBP / $9.99 USD per month. And now my book is one of them! If you read it I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

I'm excited!
Photo Credit: David Niblack, Imagebase.net.