Monday, 23 March 2015

Burning Bright





If you asked me, I’d never say I was someone who aims to be bright – to fill life with colour, or to dabble in especially zany fabrics. But look in my wardrobe, and immediately you’ll see the clash of pinks, yellows, greens, blues and oranges, with plenty of stripes, patterns and prints thrown in among them. An ample dose of subtler background shades too, but they tend to be less noticeable. My necklaces are all jeweled tones and magpie-glitter, while my gloves range from raspberry to mint to lemon (and plenty that can’t be described with references to food either).

For I actually do love colour, especially when it’s mixed together: the satisfaction of a yellow vintage shirt under a blue boiled wool tunic; a baby pink gingham fitted dress with a bright green sixties coat on top; the delicious combination of mauve velvet and teal silk; red mohair facing off a grey leather full fifties style skirt; orange pleats matched with khaki layers. Whether there’s a number of juxtapositions, or one shade standing proud against a muted palette, I feel comfortable when my get-up is a little eye-catching.  

Plenty of my favourite film sequences and photographers tend to focus on colour too. Consider Kay Thompson with her instructions to ‘think pink’ in Funny Face, Moira Shearer looking glorious in a spray of petrol blue layers and flashes of lavender in The Red Shoes, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell dripping with red sequins in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or Audrey Hepburn’s array of dresses in orange, lime and light pink in Paris When it Sizzles – and that’s before we get to the technicolour brilliance/ headache of The Wizard of Oz. Also, think quickly of Erwin Blumenfeld, Horst, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Tim Walker, Nick Knight. All adept at monochrome, but dazzling in colour too.

But to rein it back in to the personal, it's easy to forget that it’s more unusual to love the vibrant and lively - and that for some a uniform of dark, restrained colours is much more desirable. I often think about this when I’m on the Tube (London Underground) - as I have been a lot this week - where the usual tone of coats, jumpers and trousers errs towards the darker end of the spectrum. Not always, by any means. But to be intensely colourful remains a way of making the choice to stand out slightly. As I try to stay upright, one hand gripping the rail and the other balancing a book, I’m aware that my red lipstick, turquoise cardigan, velvet shorts and purple tights (a combination that works, I promise) marks me apart. I appreciatively note others who’ve also chosen to be bright and bold, as well as the odd man or woman who looks intensely chic regardless of the need for something vaguely flamboyant. 

My own choices change from outfit to outfit too. One maxim I frivolously work by is ‘the greyer the day, the more intensely colourful my clothes.’ If it’s drizzling, out come the florals or electric blue beanie hats. (Also, the chillier it is, the shorter the skirt - but we’ll save that for another time). At other points I’ll move towards muted tones, reveling in charcoal, black, brown and navy. Also, uni taught me to dress for comfort, then provided another valuable lesson too – the art of sometimes dressing down, colour-wise. Right now I have on a black leather mini-skirt, black brogues, and a blue and white jumper. Still ‘dressed up’ by some people’s standards, but a little more low-key for me.


I like being able to chop and change though, to move between peacock and pigeon – knowing that I feel equally comfortable in either guise.

Here we have a mix of the intensely bright and the slightly more muted, thanks to my late great-grandma's mohair cardigan, and a velvet embossed/patterned - it's like flock wallpaper - dress from a charity shop (with the requisite polo neck underneath). Also a second hand cobalt blue handbag and men's shoes. Thanks to Stella for snapping the pictures. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Barbie Girl






Why does Barbie have such an enduring appeal?

At first, my mum hated her. She railed against that unrealistic figure - all snap-in-half waist and boobs big enough to cause backache. After much begging from five year old me, she finally relented and let me build up a small collection – but with the proviso of encouragement to be creative in making some of the clothes for them myself.

I had a box full of fabric scraps and bits of ribbon, creating costumes by wrapping, tying and (occasionally) stapling together these oddments and my mum also ran up a few tiny garments on the sewing machine. Alongside homemade skirts, there was a modest array of shop-bought outfits – emerald green gowns, shiny pink dresses, polo-necks you had to wrestle over Barbie’s head, little plastic shoes to jam on her feet. My favourites were some green glittery platforms with chunky heels and lots of straps. Different times indeed…

So, I look back and I don’t think Barbie is necessarily awful. I had such fun with all of mine, whether I was setting up elaborate scenes (I was that child who was more into dressing/ arranging/ making them interact and look great than actually playing) or on occasion urging the dolls to abseil down the tree in the garden. Bratz were out of bounds – an illicit treat I could only access at a friend’s house. My Barbies provided hours of entertainment and imagination though, and a good grounding in how to layer up silk and velvet.

Yet there are a few important things to point out. The professions of my Barbies, when first bought, ranged from the ubiquitous (princess) to the rebellious (skater girl) and the professional (photographers and scientists). They weren’t all blonde, long-haired and white either; my mum covertly ensured I had a diverse range. I was perhaps encouraged to play with my dolls in a particularly inventive way. And although there was a certain amount of fluffy female stereotyping, not everything was pink and sparkly and reductively ditzy/ more hair than brain cells.

It seems that in recent years the Barbie stereotype has heightened. Maybe that’s also because I’ve got an increased awareness of beauty ideals and gendered toys. But I do think beyond that, Barbie is less fun than she used to be – even more ‘perfect’ and airbrushed than before. And, yes, the word ‘Barbie’ has always been shorthand for describing a particularly ridiculous, archetypal expectation of brainless femininity, the type that asks boys for help with anything too smart or technical. But I’m sure that the relentless emphasis on looks and proportions and passivity have become more – rather than less – prominent in a world where women are reduced down to their appearance so much of the time.

Add into this the resurgence of Barbie in the fashion world last season - from Moschino to the Karl doll. Apparently all of this is meant to be ‘fun’ and ‘tongue in cheek’ and ‘soooooo innovative’ (fash-speak for, umm, I liked it, but can’t quite articulate how, so I’ll resort to hyperbole). Really though, and I’m only speaking for myself here, I find it quite bizarre. All the Moschino show underlined to me is how ridiculously slender the mould is for catwalk models. In a recent interview with The Observer, Jeremy Scott said that ‘she’s there to bring fun and you shouldn’t really look further into it. She doesn’t promote body dysmorphia, she’s a 12 inch-tall doll. People bring too much of an adult perspective to it. They do to all fashion, really. It’s just clothes and, above all, it’s a choice. Buy it or don’t – you don’t have to have a conniption fit about it.’

As someone whose basic mode of operating is to ‘look further’ into plenty of things, this held no sway. Scott ignores any sense of context or cultural awareness. ‘Perspective’ is bloody important, actually. Yes, fashion is meant to be ‘fun’ (at times) – but one designer doesn’t get to dictate exactly how that ‘fun’ is manifested, and then ignore all suggestions to the contrary. Nothing is ever ‘just clothes’. Designs are rooted in this culture, this age, this society. To claim anything can be separate from all that is pretty laughable. But maybe he’s right. It’s not Barbie that promotes body dysmophia, per se – but the entire ideal pushed forward by the industry. She’s just a kind of vamped up, hyper-exaggerated version of that.

There’s no better exemplification of this than the @barbiestyle Instagram account, which obviously mimics many high profile fashion bloggers/ industry figures. Yet it parodies the conventions, whilst also flagging up the fact that the kinds of bloggers given the biggest exposure and celebration are often those who fit the incredibly slender Barbie-esque measure of what's considered 'attractive'.

Essentially the continued message is that beauty and popularity are constituted online in extraordinarily slender, white figures (black Barbies only make cursory appearances, at best) dressed head to toe in expensive designer gear. This Barbie blogger’s imagined life revolves around shopping, spa days, exercise, jet-setting and taking selfies. Seeing a doll posed to emulate a blogger/ online celeb – but knowing it’s not a piss-take, but rather a seriously clever commercial move – leaves me unsettled. That particular incarnation of Barbie may resemble satire, but she’s not being laughed at. She’s being taken deadly seriously. 

The idea for this post was mainly sparked by realising just how perfectly 'Barbie' this vintage 70s pink satin blazer was - it was a present from my mum (and I actually snaffled the skirt off her too for the shoot). The shoes are from a charity shop, and the Barbie was dug out of the loft and dressed accordingly. And talking of Barbies, a while back I wrote a piece for All Walks on Louise O'Neill's brilliant YA book Only Ever Yours - which imagines a dystopian society where looks are the sole factor in determining young women's futures. It's great, and kind of bloody scary. You should buy it. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mother's Day Musings




I didn’t plan to write anything today. As far as I was concerned, my blog could sit by itself for the weekend: images selected, text published, some musings on chilly temperatures and big coats enough to sustain the site for a while. But as I lay in bed this morning, contemplating which was more pressing – further snoozing, or making myself a massive breakfast (hard life, I know) – I began thinking about mother’s day.

I’m still negotiating the strangeness of not being with my family for these kinds of celebrations. Independence fits with an easy comfort, and I enjoy having my own, separate life for a portion of the year. Right now though I’m anticipating the next holiday interlude back at home, or, rather, back at my original home. It’s not the only one now. Oxford feels more and more like ‘my’ city as the months wind by.

What am I looking forward to back among the hills though? Big meals, laughter, walks, bickering, hanging out clutching mugs of coffee, conversations over wine, charity shop trips, creative ideas, sustained projects, a little bit of nurture. The freeing feeling of not being responsible all the time. Being able to have loooooooong, meandering chats with my mum without having to pick up the phone (which, admittedly, I do all the time here). Spending time in the presence of a close-knit family that I’m overwhelmingly privileged to have, and to be loved by. Access to my full wardrobe probably figures somewhere in there too…

All of this floated through my head as I snuggled under my duvet earlier. I realized that today, of all days, it would be fitting to write about my mum – create some little essay for that intelligent, resilient, witty, empathetic woman.

But rather surprisingly (for me), I have no idea where to begin or what to focus in on - mainly because the field of possibility stretches far beyond view…

I could discuss our shared adoration of vintage dresses and jumble sales, unwrapping the significance of my style heritage and nodding to the power of second hand silk shirts. I could plait together choice anecdotes about her side of the family, discussing each successive generation of mother and daughter – all quiet frustration and flashes of love. I could distill down the tale of how she met my dad, the meeting of the performance poet (him) with the teacher (her) – and how they married after knowing each other for less than a year. I could skim over the challenges my mum has faced: the bereavements, tricky situations, and family illnesses, both physical and mental, that required her to be so very strong in looking after others. And I don’t mean the ‘2D-female-stock-character-on-a-TV-show’ version of ‘strong’, but rather something veined with resilience and true tenacity.

Oh, and I could also relay the irritation/ absolute brilliance of having a mother whose editing skills are second to none, sharp eyes trained on extraneous words and grammatical errors (hi Mum! Am sure you’re going to tell me to correct some of these sentences when you see this!)

Any one of those is an outline that might be worked up into a full picture. But, maybe, actually, this is enough. Rather than expanding any further, I’m going to condense it down - leave this on a quiet note of appreciation. My mum is a fabulous lady. Truly fabulous. I’m lucky to have her. Not everyone has access to stable or supportive parents – and for some, mother’s day is not a time for merriment, but pain and weariness. That makes my heart ache. 

For that reason, I’m not going to finish by saying a general Happy Mother’s Day – because it’s not universally applicable, and this Sunday will be different for everyone (besides, it's only a UK-wide thing). But I do want to say it specifically to my mum. Happy Mother’s Day, Polly. You’re ace – and I've got a rather gorgeous seventies coffee pot waiting for you…

I took these photos of my mum in 2013 – when I was still living at home permanently. We tramped up to the bluebell wood behind our house, her resplendent in this glorious green dress. The light was extraordinary. Time always feels suspended when you’re standing among those trees. Nice to capture a snatch of that serenity on camera, and to be able to share it nearly two years later. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Creating the Image





'Behind every great man there’s a woman rolling her eyes', according to one old adage. There are lots of different variations on that particular saying, most on a scale from abysmal to just about acceptable. But if we applied the same formula to wintery blog shoots, it would go something like this: “Behind every great set of images, there’s a whole load of coats, boots, bags and gloves hidden just out of sight.” The picture only stretches as far as the reach of the lens, leaving out all the ephemera that joined us. Our tramp across a muddy field in wellies will be concealed in the instance of me pulling heels from a carrier bag. I’ll fling away all the practical bits and balance on the grass in my newly precarious footwear – trying to make the entire thing look effortless. 

It's something my parents and I have sometimes remarked on while setting up shots: the amusing disparity between the image of me, looking all serene in short sleeves or wispy layers, and the reality, which is a little more grumpy and sweary. For every snap where I’m posing naturally in a leather mini-skirt, there’s probably a minute’s worth of me hissing “I’m really bloody cold, can you hurry up?!”

That’s also before we get to the jaunts requiring a full change – a quick shimmy from HUGE jumper to sixties shift dress, somewhere, anywhere (but usually in the middle of nowhere). I’ve ducked behind bushes, hidden in cars, and brazenly stripped down and re-dressed on hill-sides – all the while hoping that no hikers stumble across me as I’m half-way into some ball-gown that’s proving tricky to get on. I’ve also grown adept at the art of hidden layers – of thick tights and thin vests that stave off some of the chill (any wonder I’ve shot so many polo necks recently?) All in pursuit of tacking on to an otherwise straightforward outing the just-in-case possibility of a few images I can use for the blog.

Fashion photography is artifice. This is how it is. The removal of anything practical or warm is just one element of that. Whether it’s in a studio or out on a countryside road, there’s an element of assembling something fictional or fantastical. It’s an exercise in imagination. Maybe I’m more aware of this with my forays into fairytale characters and whimsical get-ups; but the blogger in her skinny jeans casually stepping from a pavement is engaging in the same game. We frame, select, enlarge, conceal, reveal, and make myriad other choices over which pictures end up online. Doesn’t mean that they’re not ‘real’ – but rather that they are, inevitably, limited.

Maybe there’s some kind of distinction to be drawn between self-conscious invention/ illusion/ flight of fancy, and the semblance of a ‘gal about town just hanging out.’ Or maybe we’re just better at recognizing the former as make-believe.

At least the ‘coats, boots and gloves’ issue is beginning to ease as temperatures slowly creep up and the number of cardigans I have on diminishes. But it remains a humorous round of pragmatism versus appearance. What you see is a literal crop – or rather an idealized image in which, for a suspended second, all looks good. It’s a type of imagery I love playing with. There’s so much to explore and imagine there. 

This particular combination (above) of second hand jumper, my dad’s maaaaaassive jacket, a vintage Kangol faux-fur hat, woolly tights and my trusty men’s Russell & Bromley boots (from a charity shop) was the practical outfit I wore on the day we did this shoot - which took place on a family day out. The polo neck and ball-gown were pulled on, and everything else removed bar tights and boots. The rest of our afternoon was spent rambling around, gawking at my dad having a dip in a freezing Welsh stream, then driving up a mountain road full of hairpin twists and bends to see this extraordinary view laid out below. And I tell you what – I felt like I could properly enjoy looking at the landscape when I wasn’t shivering in it.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Young, Female, and Proud - International Women's Day 2015


What’s it like to be young, female and living in 2015? More pressures? More opportunities? A mix of the wonderful and the nerve-wracking? I think it’s a hotch-potch of so many things, most of them dependent on the individual and her circumstances. But to be a teenage girl right now is to be living through a time of unprecedented change (although I guess you can say the same of every generation), with all the challenges, possibilities, ideas, expectations and exploration that entails.

For starters, we’re still figuring out the internet – deemed ‘digital natives’.  But we’re not really natives as such. We weren’t born into this online space, much as it may play home to so many hours in the day. Rather we’ve acclimatized quick-smart to new conditions, feeling them out tweet by tweet, blog post by blog post, selfie by selfie.

I was reminded of this again when watching a video put together by Gemma Cairney for the currently ongoing Women of the World festival – culminating today, on International Women’s Day. It made me want to simultaneously cry and applaud the AMAZING young women interviewed. They spoke perceptively on body image, sexting, exams, social media; immediately proving wrong any lazy generalisations one might be tempted to make about teens. But my god it’s frustrating too, especially in their observations on what was asked of them – whether it was from boys, school or society at large. So little room within that for a formation of identity and behaviour based on what feels personally right, rather than a reaction to the world they’re immersed in.

I’m a few years beyond that age – close enough for it to hit home, but with some healthy distance measured out in time and independence. I can recognize what they said without feeling it. I’m navigating other things now. But with each year that goes by, my belief in the significance of young people – in this instance young women – grows. And when I mean ‘significance’, I don't mean that there’s any kind of inherent wisdom, value, or precedence to be found among the next generation; more that the genuine concerns of teens and twenty-somethings often tend to be dismissed as having less validity than their older counterparts.

But what excites me is the momentum that’s building right now. Recently we had Yas Necati’s Campaign for Consent (with so many sex ed charities & other organisations continuing the battle). There’s an ongoing campaign run by the ace Integrate Bristol to eradicate FGM, with Fahma Mohamed and Muna Hassan (who once told David Cameron to "grow a pair"), among others, at the forefront. Malala is still being fucking awesome. My friend Azfa Awad has been doing her own show based on the experiences of female asylum seekers. Rookie is busy publishing engaging content, week in and week out. June Eric-Udorie is writing things like this and this. Jules Spector is fourteen (!) and runs this blog, while Ellen is 16 and has won awards for her writing on OCD. We’ve got the Guides being bloody brilliant with their Girls Matter campaign – asking us to all shout a little louder.

I mean, if I detailed all of the fabulous, fiercely inspiring campaigns, networks, communities, activities and individuals doing good things, this would be less of a blog post and more something the length of a book.  

Special mention, however, goes to Kate Nash’s Girl Gang initiative – echoing the message first heard in her Rock N’Roll for Girls After School Music Club. She’s saying that young women are important, that they need a space to be creative and experiment and be taken seriously. I was lucky enough to go to the UK launch of Girl Gang TV a while back, and hear about the evolution of something that is ultimately about giving young women a space and a place to talk, collaborate, think, respond, act. What began as a series of informal chats in Kate Nash’s garage in LA has now become a fully-fledged global community with its own Youtube channel. As she says here, she wants to support “really cool girls who are interested in feminism, and making stuff, and changing the world.”

And my god, we need more of that – more adults encouraging (and listening to!) the next generation. Also more older women carrying on with being spectacularly cool, whether that’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Janet Mock or Bjork (those are the first three I plucked from my head, but there are literally hundreds I could name). Also more sensitivity to the challenges out there that huge numbers navigate daily, and awareness of the fact that there are numerous problems, prejudices and possibilities for girls globally. And more celebration too, ESPECIALLY of young women. 

It’s a tough and scary time in so many, many ways, with much seemingly beyond control, but there are glimpses of thrilling potential too. Long let that momentum continue - and happy International Women's Day to all of you. 

This portrait by Tuuli Platner is part of a wonderful series done at my uni titled ‘Oxford Women Speak Out’ (with Pam Robertshaw organising it). The idea was simple – to choose a message that means something to you, and write, or have it written, on your body. Nearly 300 of us took part. I ummed and aahed a lot over what to put, swinging between possibilities like “Stand tall & stride well” and “Embody the space you take up.” But ultimately I settled for this because a.) ‘perfect’ is a concept I’m both fascinated and appalled by, and b.) Having these words next to my scoliosis scar was aptly personal. Learning to be properly proud of the body I have feels like something of a small - but radical - personal achievement for me within the last year.

Monday, 2 March 2015

We Need to Talk About Blogging


Photo: Dvora for Vogue.co.uk 




Photo: Elena Molina for The Upcoming. Here you can glimpse my glorious Ops&Ops flats that I was wearing around Somerset House. Their new collection is released on March 4th. More on them soon...



Photos: Simbarashe Cha for Lord Ashbury

Why do I blog? I’ve asked myself this at various points since I began – often at times when it has seemed like a struggle to keep up with posting, or when I've experienced frustration at the way page views have diminished slightly in recent years. Maybe it’s classier not to acknowledge the challenges. But it’s certainly more human, and honest.

Plus, the answer that I consistently come back to is this – I blog because I love it. I blog because I adore great clothes and dressing up and interesting ideas and online conversations. I blog because, really, very little beats the satisfaction of knowing I’ve written something I’m pleased with (that doesn’t have to be passed through an editor, or given a news hook). Those evenings where I sit down in a fizz and flutter of thoughts, rapidly working my way through a first draft of three or even four posts in a row – oh, they’re the best.

Plus there’s the added satisfaction of occasionally meeting people who visit this little corner of the internet I’ve carved out for myself. I’m still kind of surprised whenever it happens. Sitting in front of a screen, you end up creating stuff in a weird vacuum-style space – not quite sure who (if anyone) is seeing it and responding to what you’ve flung out online.

I’ve now had this blog for a significant portion (more than a quarter) of my life – something I was reminded of when I spent a day at LFW recently, and got talking to various (very wonderful) people I originally met there, aged fifteen. That first time/ season, I’d taken my mum along – a detail that plenty of the photographers still remember, and they continue to ask after her. Some of them told me that I had made a bit of a stir on the street style circuit at that time. Although I was aware of the attention from cameras, everything felt so new and exciting that I just kind of took it for granted. I was from a tiny village. Suddenly having all this appreciation for my outfits was a form of both adventure and validation.

Many of the other bloggers I first met then have since turned their blogs into full-time careers, with huuuuuge followings, brand collaborations and brightly lit photos a-plenty; while lots of the the street style photographers are working for amazing publications. Fashion has sped up. It’s about the instant, the insistently ‘now’, the Instagram post put up quick-smart. Essentially, the relationship between social media, PR, the fashion industry and blogging has evolved beyond measure in recent years.

It's easy to fall into hard-line camps when discussing that evolution though. Innovation or frivolity? Creative or commercial? Airheads or clever business heads? Revolutionising the fashion industry or transforming it in damaging ways? Exciting growth or unsustainable pace? (I mean, yeah, it is definitely the latter with that one). It's easier to retreat into the realms of generalisations rather than interrogate these divides with any sense of depth.

Besides, you're allowed to hold two conflicting views in your head if you so wish. By way of example, I'm not the biggest fan of the kinds of style blogging now overwhelmingly celebrated (or at least gaining the most exposure) - slick, brand-led, frequently featuring white, model-slender figures. In fact, I've discussed the lack of diversity in the upper echelons of fashion blogging before – as well as giving an overview of what’s changed in recent years. Yet, despite all that, I can still respect the ways in which often relatively young women have built themselves up from scratch, working damn hard to get to the point where their blog becomes a business. They are usually enterprising, driven and very committed. That deserves to be applauded. I must admit, I admire it that little bit more if they weren’t already super-rich and very well-connected (isn’t that the same in all creative industries though?) Oh, and I DEFINITELY reserve the most respect for those bloggers who are genuinely nice and relatively uninterested in pulling rank. I mean, that’s a general life thing too, but it’s worth holding onto.

However, there's rather a lot of continued handwringing about commercialisation - as though the very presence of ads or collaborations completely undermines all sense of veracity. But bloggers do have bills to pay too. It's a time-consuming endeavour. Most of us dive into this online realm because we love clothes or conversation (or, for others, cupcakes - and beautiful food), but there's no harm in transforming that platform into a career - in fact, it's pretty impressive if you can manage it, and orchestrate your online presence into something lucrative.

There are some very interesting posts written by bloggers on this very topic that offer thoughtful insights. First, Olivia’s on why it’s ok to earn money from blogging. Also Emma’s, now a few years old, on the blogger/ writer divide and Kristabel’s on her answer to people asking her ‘So what do you do?’ All make immensely salient, smart points.

If we’re talking business though, this Texas Monthly piece is… eye opening to say the least – raising plenty of questions about transparency, the creative/ commercial divide and what ‘authenticity’ actually means now. I personally found it a pretty disheartening (but very compelling) read, reflecting a blogger ‘industry’ that’s so consumer oriented that there’s little mention of joy in dressing up, or approaching style as something inventive or intelligent. There are lots of exceptions to the rule, like Leandra Medine, but, well – they’re still exceptions. Plus, the article reflects a rapacious rate of consumption, with that persuasion to buy, buy, and buy some more buggering up our environment and leading to big worker rights problems.

I pretty much missed out on the first stages of the social media revolution – keener to focus on my blog (and to apply to uni!) than build up a following on lots of new platforms. Now, having belatedly hopped on board I spend a tad too much time on Twitter and Instagram, but enjoy them both on my own terms. Maybe one day I’ll use affiliate links, although that would be somewhat problematic given that most of my wardrobe is sourced second hand…! If I ever do though, I won’t feel guilty, because I know how much energy I pour into not just keeping the integrity of the blog, but keeping it going – full stop.

But I had a real moment post-LFW of wondering what might have happened if things had moved differently; if I’d monetized my blog, worn more ‘labels’, gone to a London-based uni and fully launched myself much more into the fashion industry? Where would I be now? Would I have tens of thousands of Instagram followers? Go to lots of parties? Measure my worth and professional standing just by page hits?

However, then I remembered that all my choices have been active ones, and that this is an immense privilege. Just as others have made canny, active business decisions, I’ve chosen to make room for the things I want to engage in while I’m still in full time education; before I have to earn a monthly income I can live on. For me, this has meant time spent in intellectual engagement and improvement; a huge focus on writing; assembling an immensely diverse social group; developing a span of aspirations that range from performance poetry to modeling to working on books. There are so many crackling ideas to develop and experiment with. There’s time to form an identity that isn’t predicated on maintaining an online profile; time for a working life where blogging is a part, rather than the whole, of my output. Space to muck up, make mistakes, and take chances.

This is about as subjective as it gets. Not a judgment on other blogging paths, but rather a recognition of what was right for me. Dipping back into the chaos of LFW for a single day this season was special. It allowed me to reflect a lot on how we define success and status, as well as to dwell on the experiences I was beyond lucky to access as a younger teen. But it also let me know that things are doing ok as they are – and that there’s still so much time ahead.

Thanks to all the lovely, lovely photographers who took my photo at LFW. Wonderful to catch up with Dvora and Craig in particular - and there was a fabulous moment of serendipity as the day drew to a close and I bumped into Simbarashe, having posted an old photo of his on my Instagram that very morning! 

I was wearing a hand-made vintage 60s/70s dress from Rokit, a green vintage coat that once belonged to my mum, a second hand shirt, my great-grandma's necklace, and a hat that first appeared at LFW in September 2011 (Craig and Dvora took my photo then too!) Both the bags were from charity shops. If anyone happens to see any other photos of me floating around, I'd really appreciate you letting me know.

It's been a busy month. This weekend just past was pretty momentous for all sorts of reasons (mostly to do with the book I've been writing) - all to be properly revealed soon. Take a look at my Instagram for some clues though. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Metamorphosis










For Christmas, I received a pair of socks. So far, so standard to the point of boring. However,  these weren’t just socks to hide away in boots or to put on when I need an extra layer – but ones with a very specific, personal pattern curving up the length of them: a softly swiveled set of (what looks like) vertebrae, white on black, x-ray style. I’d asked for a pair with books on them – but instead of the spines of hardbacks, I got some proper spines instead.

To accompany the images of these beauties, I wanted to use a piece I wrote last year, when I was going through a tricky-ish patch body confidence-wise (more on that at some point soon). It was an article commissioned for a zine put together by both the excellent photographer Eleanor Hardwick, who I've modelled for a few times, and all round amazingly lovely human being Olivia Aylmer - who I miss quite a lot now she’s moved back to America. The zine was called Shapeshifting – with all contributions on that theme (you can read a feature about it on Dazed Digital). I contributed a personal essay called ‘Metamorphosis’ - paying particular attention to the rhythm and balance of my sentences.  

I hesitated before putting it up here though, my internal critic going, “Oh god, not another bloody piece about your back? You’ve posted so much on that previously. Booooring.” But you know what? I live with my two thirds surgically fused spine day in and day out. Most of the time I'm not directly thinking about it, but that central column is always there, holding me up. It's what makes long days in the library uncomfortable, standing up for several hours at gigs a tough(ish) task, and heavy bags more of an aching burden. It's also what made me, to a certain extent, in that it's informed both my life and my work pretty significantly.  

Besides, this is still a piece of writing I’m damn proud of, and words are my primary way of unpeeling and reviewing various experiences. Thus it's also a subject I’ll probably continue to return to in years to come, seeing it through other lenses as I grow. In fact, there are already elements of what I said in this essay that I’d now approach differently, feelings I captured then that no longer apply in the same way. 

So here it is. Another set of reflections, another angle, another view…

Metamorphosis

If I define myself through my body, what am I? Arms, legs, a head, a heart, a set of cells renewing themselves? A shin often covered in bruises, cheeks that pink up after a single glass of wine, a height placing me taller than many others, curly hair that frizzes in rain? A muddle of desires and hungers and functions and sensitivities, just like everyone else?

Above all these details, there’s something else that comes first though – my spine. I’ve got a more intimate relationship with mine than most. It’s usually a component taken for granted, the hidden scaffolding holding up the rest of the skeleton. Like many other internal parts of the body, it’s often only dwelt on when it goes wrong. That’s what happened with me. I’ve seen multiple x-rays of mine, spent months unable to ignore its morse code message of aches and pains, eventually let a surgeon cut through my skin and nerves to manually set it straighter before stitching me back up.

The reason? Scoliosis. One year my spine decided to stop growing upward and began curving out to the side instead. Diagnosis came at fourteen. This process of twisting was labeled ‘idiopathic’ - no known cause. Just happens. That’s the way it is. Being female and teenage, I was among those most likely to be affected. Part of a statistic. That was little consolation though. I knew no-one else who had been through what I was experiencing. My friends were concerned about their boobs and newfound curves as their hips grew and their heights shot up. I was distraught as my rib cage shifted, my hips became uneven and my right shoulder blade stuck out into a lopsided wing. Others around me fretted over weight, I curled up in bed and cried at the hurt, the seeming injustice of being physically set apart.

I didn’t want to accommodate my shape. At school I was hyper-aware of how it looked in my uniform, my shoulder bulging beneath my horrible acrylic school sweatshirt. At home I hid it beneath silk shirts and big belts, hoping it might be invisible behind folds of fabric. I say ‘it’ for a reason – I wanted to separate myself off from it, not have to be responsible for my own physicality. I became increasingly envious of anyone with a straight back and symmetrical set of shoulders. They represented an ideal of normality that I couldn’t access.

It took roughly nine months between discovery and surgery. It’s a quicker trajectory than usual, but by the time of the operation my spine had bent into an S-shape measuring 80 degrees (think of straight as being 0). The solution involved two titanium rods screwed into my spine to keep it straight-ish for the next six months as artificial bone graft grew over the vertebrae, forming a solid mass. I was in intensive care for a night, hospital for a week and off school for two months. I relied on others to look after me, feed me, help me to learn to walk again. It was an odd experience full of intense trauma and pain, a small pocket of time where ‘usual’ life was suspended and left to hang. I experienced great kindness from some, bemusement or awkwardness from others.

Now, several years on, the middle of my back is a fused line of bone. I have a scar that runs its length, a pearlescent souvenir. The remnants of my metamorphosis can still be seen. My back remains uneven, my rib cage prominent, my waistline undefined. It is easier to deal with the skin, the scar, than it is with the structures that remain beneath.

It has been bewildering to inhabit so many shapes – my body changing form, without time to accommodate or acclimatize. I had a double metamorphosis – first from straight to curved, then from curved to mildly skewed. Sometimes I can look back on my pre-surgery body with a kind of unsettled awe, seeing the beauty in the twisted flaws. There is something compelling in the few snaps I have of my back, taken on self-timer in our bathroom just before surgery. All the usual lines have been disrupted, re-drawn with odd shadows and highlights. At other points the recollections hurt too much. It took me an incredibly long time to reach a sense of peace with my body’s appearance – and it’s a peace that can still disappear now.

Occasionally I think of the scar as a zip. I imagine unzipping that silver line of flesh to find the hunchback still hiding beneath. Because it stays, even after fusion. Physically it’s much reduced, but the emotional resonance lingers: the vulnerability, the feeling of being out of control, of not quite having ownership over one’s own body as it alters. I can be proud and strong and grateful, yet I carry these elements too - walking my own personal crooked mile.

With the socks - a present from my mum - I'm wearing a vintage sixties LBD, necklaces that belonged to one of my great grandmas (can't remember which one!) and a vintage hat bought from a market stall. The heels were from a charity shop. The matching curve of mossy grass in the lane behind: fortuitous.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Year of the Polo Neck








2015 is shaping up to be the year of the polo neck.

That’s the kind of statement usually more suited to the pages of fash-mags than this blog, but for once I’m ok with sounding slightly hyperbolic. Mainly because it’s closer to truth than over-exaggeration. Like crop tops - but slightly warmer - suddenly they’ve infiltrated libraries and cafes and pubs and (in my case whenever I’m home) rural villages, all with a pretty understated elegance. Recently The Guardian, in a fit of tongue-in-cheek, even deemed them one of the top items for making yourself ‘look interesting’.

Personally, I didn't realize that my choice to indulge in something warm and comfy and versatile was a conscious decision to present myself as ‘interesting’ (besides, daahlings, I’d hope all my outfits do that. Ahem.) It was more a mix of thinking, “I cycle everywhere and these tops stop me from freezing quite so much” and, “if I wear enough of them, maybe I’ll look as chic as Audrey Hepburn circa Funny Face” (other options for emulation include Lauren Bacall, Maggie Smith, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Diane Keaton, Brigitte Bardot or Jane Birkin, depending on mood.)

They are having a moment though – popping up all over the place, whether that’s on another girl in my Troilus and Criseyde class (Criseyde definitely could have rocked a polo neck, if she hadn’t been so busy being a fourteenth century love interest and all) or strung out over my Instagram feed. So many people suddenly affirming their love for the polo neck - pairing them with anything from suede patchwork miniskirts to jeans.

I’m actually a polo neck convert. Used to hate the things. For years I've had plenty knocking around in my tops and jumpers drawer, but found them uncomfortably tight and scratchy around my neck. They were reserved for those days back at home when the temperature felt even colder indoors than out. However, suddenly they make sense. So full of potential and possibility (especially after getting rid of the too-tight-necked ones). Now I can wear all my summer clothes in really chilly temperatures – plus there’s the ease of the way they go with kilts/ black velvet trousers/ floaty tunics/ eighties' party dresses/ lashings of red lipstick and liquid eyeliner. They are pretty much the equivalent of a kitchen cupboard staple, in that: they go with nearly everything, you can always rely on them as a basic, and you often get taken unawares and are slightly saddened when suddenly they’re nowhere to be found (probably because they’re all in the ever-growing laundry pile you’ve been ignoring). 

Maybe part of the power is that they can suggest anything from geography teacher to forties screen siren. They run the gamut from demure to louche to pretty sexy, and they’re equally as easy to reach for on days when you’re feeling tired/ hungover/ ill as they are when you’re all sparky and alive with ideas, full of clarity for the day ahead. Besides, it’s still bloody cold at the moment, and anything to ease the shivering can only be good.

As I write this, I’m actually wearing the one pictured here – today paired with a silk striped shift dress and a vintage navy Jaeger cardigan, as well as the brown Chelsea boots also featured above. Sadly doesn’t quite have the same grandeur as sweeping through the Welsh hills, glittering in a green lurex 70s evening gown. But it’s perfect for a day sitting in a café with my laptop, a large coffee by my side and a long word doc in front of me, waiting to be edited. Maybe I’ll ‘look interesting’ while I type. Maybe I won’t. But to be honest, who cares? Today I’ve decided my polo-neck’s message is this: I’m a woman with work to do, and I’m going to do it well…

Everything I'm wearing is second hand, including my trusty Russell and Bromley men's boots, which are becoming ever-more battered as I wear them day in and day out. Thanks to my dad for the photos. 

By the way, I recently did an interview with the lovely author Siobhan Curham, who has a book for young women called 'True Face' coming out with Faber in April. I discussed everything from childhood dens to struggling to fit in at secondary school to my absolute love for conversation.  

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Reckless

































One of my favourite forms of procrastination when I’m back at home during holidays is taking veeeeery extended coffee breaks with my parents. They’re both self-employed, so usually at least one of them is working somewhere around the house. We’ll sit, cupping warm mugs, chit-chatting over anything from practical tasks to new, fizzing ideas.

Over the Christmas break, there was one particular morning when I sat with my mum on the landing, weak sun straining through the windows (illuminating just how much dust had settled). Behind us was a bookshelf stacked with everything I’d had read to me, when I was a tiny toddler in dungarees and bobbly jumpers – plus the picture books, fairytales and traditional world stories I’d gobbled up before moving on to the more sophisticated (at that point) worlds of Enid Blyton. We spent ages cooing over some of the bright covers and battered, much-turned pages, recalling particular favourites, hunting along the spines for old friends and recalling narratives that had long lain dormant.

Then, squeezed in next to each other, I re-discovered two cherished gems. The first was Reckless Ruby by Hiawyn Oram (first published 1992, illustrated by Tony Ross), the second, Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. Both, in rather different ways, are brilliantly feminist – smart, feisty (in the proper sense of the word) texts about girls who refuse to do what’s expected. I cackled with glee on re-reading them, nodding appreciatively at these strong-willed individuals who were bored of special treatment and the prospect of marriage. They both wanted to do stuff. Silly stuff. Dangerous stuff. Their own stuff.

Reckless Ruby skateboards and walks tightropes and (in my favourite ever picture-book image) smokes five cheroots in the shrubbery (!), all because she refuses to be “wrapped in cotton-wool and grow up to marry a prince”. Princess Smartypants sets a series of ever-more ridiculous challenges for her tedious suitors, and then still refuses the successful one – swanning off in her dungarees instead, with her menagerie of pet monsters.

I took such books for granted at the time – assuming that young women could do, or be, whatever they wanted. Classic fairytale plot-lines rubbed shoulders with rule-breakers and little girls full of rebellion. The idea of laughing in the face of both male entitlement and/ or the parental expectation of traditional stories was just as familiar as the archetypal ‘happy ever after’.

But I wonder whether Reckless Ruby would be published today? In an industry almost entirely dictated by market forces, children’s choices have, perhaps, been narrowed down. Oh, there’s magic and pretty dresses and gleaming teeth a-plenty, and fairies of every description. But the type of behaviour engaged in by Ruby - who “grew so reckless she said she could dive off any roof into a fishbowl…and dangle from skyscrapers by her shoelaces…and walk on water in lead boots…” - would it really make it past the shuddering health and safety concerns of 2015? Would Roald Dahl be published now? There was a genuine autonomy and free-spiritedness in many books from the end of the last century.  Is it still there in today’s crop? I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong (and I’d love to be corrected, if so), and maybe you can still find that kind of joy, play and sheer single-mindedness in contemporary children’s fiction, not to mention robust role models and strong endings. But if not, we need them more than ever.

(And if you don’t want to know how Reckless Ruby ends, look away now – once released from the tyranny of being expected to be ‘precious’ she’s able to ‘stop being reckless and grow up’ to be… a fireman).

To emulate Reckless Ruby's naughty antics and fabulous outfit, I used a vintage dress I bought in Paris last summer - pairing it with a hat that belonged to my great-grandma and some shoes from a charity shop. Many thanks to my brother for allowing me to clamber around his tree house. 
It's also been a busy few days for me. Earlier this week I had another article published on The Guardian's website, discussing the joys of junk shops and second hand finds to furnish your house-share or room in halls. Then the day before yesterday I went to protest far right French politician Marine Le Pen's appearance at the Oxford Union. I shouted, got very cold, and wrote it all up for The Debrief (which I'm super-excited about, as I LOVE their website).