What interning at fashion magazines taught me: lessons on self-love

I recently saw a video on Facebook called The Ugly Truth Behind Beauty Magazines. I was intrigued; having interned at a couple in the past, I was interested in what it had to say. 

My feelings towards beauty and fashion magazines are mixed. Working at them has been such a valuable experience; I can now write publishable-quality articles with confidence, liaise with PR companies with ease and prep clothes for fashion shoots like a pro – and for that I am extremely grateful. But the most important lesson I took from it? Take magazines much less seriously. The reason is simple: the standards portrayed in magazines are unrealistic, and I’m a happier person when not constantly trying to measure up. I’m not vetoing them full stop – they’re a bit of fun escapism and I do enjoy a good flick through. But now, I do so with a sizable degree of separation. And when I look down at perfect girls on glossy pages and pangs of inadequacy start creeping in, I remind myself of the important lessons I’ve learned:

1) IT’S ALL ADVERTISING

When Oskar Brand (of said Facebook video) removed the adverts from a recent issue of Elle, he found they made up a whopping 85% of the page space. I’m not surprised – magazines are essentially product catalogues. During my time curating a weekly ‘Beauty Must Haves’ column, it was genuinely my job to write the sales pitches for these products – which BTW, I never actually got to try. I just had to come up with a snappy 25 words as to why each one will make you prettier/hotter/skinnier and add a few pictures of some models (because if you use XYZ, RRP £44.99, you can look like this too!)

Now I’m certainly not sneering at the process of beautifying yourself – I’m the first to admit that I love looking good and presenting the best version of myself to the world. But before I open a magazine, I mentally prepare myself for the fact that what I’m about to see is purely advertising. For these models, it’s their full time job to look gorgeous, and they have an entire team of people keeping them that way. If they had a hundred things to juggle before (single-handedly) getting ready that morning, there is no way their make up would look that on fleek.

2) PHOTOSHOP, PHOTOSHOP, PHOTOSHOP

It is everywhere. Seriously. They play with the lighting to change the mood of shoots. They elongate legs, nip in waists and blur out blemishes with the click of a button. I knew all this before, but only when you see it in action does it really hit home. The tipping point was when I overheard some colleagues moaning over how a model’s hips (too wide) were ruining the aesthetic of a shoot. Disclaimer: this was a ‘real life’ feature for a children’s wear issue, and said model had had a baby three months ago.

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One more time for those at the back: PICTURES IN MAGAZINES ARE NOT REALITY. THIS IS NOT WHAT A HUMAN BODY LOOKS LIKE. So the next time you start feeling bad about yourself because you don’t look like X celebrity, I recommend a two step action plan:

Number 1: Put down magazine, go to mirror, say the following: ‘Hello chica, you are a badass, you look cute as hell and you’re doing great today. I’m rooting for you’. Blow yourself a kiss, do a twirl, go slay your day.

Number 2: Type “[celebrity name] no makeup” into Google. Search. Sorted.

3) THE IMAGES YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH INFLUENCE YOU MASSIVELY

One of my jobs was going though next season’s catwalk collections and making trend reports. I loved doing this – it was so cool seeing the designers’ artistic visions in all their glory. But staring at one picture of a 5’11, impossibly slender model after another, I naturally began to compare my body with theirs- and I lost every time. “Look how graceful and dainty these girls look” whispered the voice in my head. “Think how much better you’d look if your collarbones stuck out like that too.” After a couple of hours of this a day, my normally resolute belief in health was completely obliterated by my desire to be thin. It was only when I left the office and hit the gym that my clarity came back; surrounded by fit, dedicated people hustling for their fitness goals, it once again became obvious that striving for strength was so much cooler – and infinitely healthier.

So to wrap up: beauty and fashion magazines are absolutely fine for light-hearted enjoyment, and to all you budding writers out there, I absolutely recommend the experience of interning at one. But girls, please, please remember that the emphasis that these publications place on your hotness is so warped and entirely detached from what actually defines you. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make yourself beautiful, just a friendly reminder to those of us caused grief by the fact they don’t look like the girls in magazines that it’s the other stuff – your intelligence, your warmth, the way you make people smile when they’re feeling low – which makes you a truly attractive soul. Surround yourself with images, stories and people that challenge you, develop your character and remind you of the qualities you possess that make you such a radical human being. That, my friend, is something no magazine will ever be able to sell you.

Twenty things I learned from 2016

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  1. the people in your life at the beginning of the year can completely change by the end of it. that’s okay. people change and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  2. be nice to everyone. you honestly have no idea what people are going through. every person on this earth has something in their life or past worth collapsing on the ground in uncontrollable sobs over. what if the kindness you show them is the only thing to brighten their day.
  3. edit your playlists thoroughly and frequently. music has an indescribable ability to connect and heal – let it do its stuff.
  4. tell people how you feel. even if you’re scared it’ll burn your life to the ground. say it out loud – only good things will come of it.
  5. you can’t be happy all the time and it’s stupid to try to be. allow yourself to experience anger, sadness and hurt. it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human
  6. give less of a shit about what people think of you. dye your hair blue, wear that kooky jumper – whatever gives you your kicks. life is SO much more fun like this.
  7. there is nothing wrong with spending time on your appearance. present your best self to the world every day
  8. girls, i cannot stress this enough – find yourself an older female friend. they will teach you so much, they will give you such great life lessons. they are vital and helpful and important.
  9. do not change yourself for anyone. if someone makes you feel your personality is flawed, that’s their problem. your strength is in your uniqueness
  10. make your bed. there’s nothing like coming home to a orderly, calming space
  11. sometimes the way you think of someone isn’t the way they actually are. it takes clarity to step back and separate the two
  12. physical contact is important. never underestimate the power of a hug
  13. when you’re angry, put on some gangsta rap and run, far and fast. expels nasty energy (and makes you feel powerful as hell)
  14. stand up for yourself. ladies in particular – guys have no right to treat you as anything less than an equal and if they do, let ‘em fucking have it
  15. making someone feel genuinely happy when they are hurting might be the best feeling in the world. no matter how much pain someone is going through, you made them forget about it for a few seconds. isn’t that something?
  16. bring a book everywhere and spend your free minutes reading. highlight the things you find intriguing – they have a funny way of adding to your life when you least expect it
  17. choose people who choose you. don’t waste time on people who show you time and time again they don’t care
  18. find your safe place. whether it be in the company of a friend, snuggled up under some fairy-lights or exploring a city anonymous and alone, know you can go there at any time.
  19. keep the promises you make with yourself. it’s such a positive influence on your mindset and sense of self-worth
  20. friends are essential. cultivate a wide friendship base and deep, genuine connections. invest in friendships like you would a relationship; at the end of the day, they’ll get you through anything

2016 in life lessons

Hi all!

Put simply, 2016 has not got off to the smoothest of starts.  The last couple of months threw some major curveballs which really shook me up and fundamentally changed the way I think about things. Nevertheless, I’ve always advocated focussing on the good (or, at least, the lesson) in every situation, so I think it’s only right I take my own advice.  There have been some pretty low lows, but they’ve definitely taught me some useful principles which will only make me stronger for the future (‘what doesn’t kill ya’ etc etc).  Here goes…

1) Be kind to yourself.  If you’re the kind of over-achiever who always strives to be their best, this is going to be difficult. Sometimes you’ve gotta accept that you cannot perform to 100% in all areas of your life, all the time.  Please don’t feel bad about not ticking off everything on your to-do list for a day, a week, (hell, even a month!) if your priority needs to be caring for yourself for a while. Life is all about balance and sometimes that’s just how it’s gotta swing. In the long term, it’s your wellbeing that really matters, not the mark at the top of your last essay.

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2) Take new opportunities – even the weird ones. I really believe that when life ain’t fun, the universe has a way of conspiring to help you. Keep an open mind and open eyes to all the opportunities around you – and don’t be afraid to take them! Even if it’s seems really crazy and like nothing you’ve ever done before, go for it! You’ll learn, develop and grow out of it, which is only ever a good thing.

3) Read! A wise guy named Albert Einstein once said ‘Life is like a bicycle.  To stay in balance, you have to keep moving.’ This is such an important principle and regular reading  is a great way of putting it into action. It doesn’t have to be a novel – the paper or online opinion column does the same trick. Engaging with other perspectives widens your view, challenges your mind and just recalibrate your outlook on the world – useful for putting things in perspective 🙂 Start with some pieces by Caitlin Moran if you need inspiration.

4) Take a daily reset.  When you feel yourself falling back into bad headspace, it’s useful to have a ‘reset’ –  an activity that you associate with starting the day over with a clean slate.  This can be anything – reading a book, watching a Ted talk, listening to your favorite song etc.  For me it’s a quick burst of exercise, followed by a shower.  It’s the perfect way to recharge your body, then (literally) wash away all the negative crap and move on.

5) Tell people how much you value them. You know those people in your life who say they’re always there for you – and really mean it? Those people who made you laugh when you wanted to cry, who listened to your 3am worries, who texted you out of the blue just to check up on you? Those people are your gold. Make sure you remind them how much you value them and how amazing they are – they deserve to know 🙂

Superfood Supper Club 2016

Hi all!

This post is SO overdue (Cambridge life is relentless!) but I’m so excited to share it with you!

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12717801_10207668051207064_4505337546106833183_nLast week, I had the honour of being invited to cook for Cambridge Pink Week’s Superfood Supper Club.  Pink Week is an incredible charity initiative, launched at my college (Clare) in Cambridge, which works to raise money for cancer care charities.  So far, it’s raised over £16,000 in the five years it’s been running!

This year, the team added a new event to their line-up – the Healthy Supper Club, held at super cool Cambridge cafe, Espresso Library.  Huge names in the health food world (think the Deliciously Ella team, Hen’s Clean Cakes, Superfood Siobhan, Mind Body Bowl, Food Doctor, Vita Coco, Plant Based Pixie etc!) were all invited to either cook or donate food for an incredible vegan potluck.  The menu included a roast beetroot wild rice salad, Vietnamese tempeh rolls, wholegrain pitta & a huge range of flavoured hummus plus more raw/GF/vegan cakes than I could imagine! It was pretty awesome 😛12716251_1650396361890741_522948105646797624_oFor my recipe, I decided on my favourite kale | sweet potato | avocado salad with lemon tahini dressing.  I was so excited to cook in the kitchens of one of my favourite lunch spots, especially after six weeks of only having access to a hotplate & microwave!  Fangirling on ovens and knives – what has my life become :LEspresso-Library-1

I also got a fancy little nameplate, which probably made me happier that it should have done….

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Whilst cooking a salad for 40 people in the gap between lectures ending at 4pm and the event starting at 6pm, was pretty mad, I had such an incredible time.  It really was amazing to be surrounded by a room full of people who share the same ethos on food, fitness and general positivity on life.

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Me and the lovely Annie of Mind Body Bowl

It served as a lovely & much needed reminder that the world is full of incredible people who are perfectly compatible with you in all aspects – you just haven’t met them yet.

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One of my all time favourite quotes ❤

 

Food exploration in the UAE (aka. new home!)

Hi all!  happy 2016!!

New Year is always a big time for change. Whether it’s choosing daily resolutions to make each day happier & healthier, or setting that big goal to work towards all year, I love the opportunity New Year brings to think about the your path for the year ahead.

For me, there’s a pretty big change on the horizon….I’m moving to Dubai!  I’m so excited about the opportunity to experience a new culture, way of life and, of course, cuisine!! Having just spent a week there, my first impression of the place is fantastic. The weather is lovely, the people are polite and friendly, the atmosphere is fantastic and there’s so much to do. I really like how strong the health scene is too; there’s fantastic running paths along the coastline, health clubs and pools everywhere and lots of cool healthy cafes in the many shopping malls.

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One of my favourite things about Dubai was the access to such a great range of Middle Eastern foods! Arabic and Lebanese restaurants are on every corner, serving their variation of the Levant classics.  They’re really healthy, with a basis on fresh vegetables and great herbs and spices.  Here’s an introduction to my favourite healthy dishes:

1) Tabbouleh

My fave! A veggie dish made with loads of parsley, tomatoes, mint, onions a little bit of bulgur wheat and lemon.  The perfect refreshment for the summer heat.

2) Fattoush

This is a delicious salad made with loads of fresh veggies and toasted pitta bread, dressed in lots of lemony sumac dressing.

3) Baba Ghanoush

Think of it as hummus’ fancier cousin 😛 This is a dish made with grilled aubergine (<3), onion, olive oil and lemon juice.  It’s so simple yet so good

4) Eetch

This was a new one to me! It’s an Armenian side dish made using bulgur wheat (or couscous), pureed tomatoes and paprika.

5) Hummus

Hummus needs no introduction. It’s just the best. End of.

My body is an instrument, not an ornament – the power of sport

Recently, there’s been a shift in the media towards embracing healthy living;  everyone is going to spin classes and drinking kale, and working out has become cool again.  This is great: I’m a huge advocate of healthy living and support outlets that encourage people to get active.

However, the focus of this health drive, especially for girls, falls far too heavily on the aesthetic benefit – and it’s having worrying effects. The media tells girls that the most important and valued outcome of physical activity is losing weight /  looking hot / getting that much coveted bikini body.  For example:Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 20.20.20

(girls:  lose weight! look great with no clothes on! )
(guys: win gold medals! excel in everything!)

Uh, what?!  Why should girls be channeling time and energy into shrinking themselves to look good for others?  Shouldn’t they be encouraged to excel and win gold medals too?

For much of my teenage years,  my relationship with fitness influenced very much by these expectations. I’d set my cross trainer to the ‘calories’ goal to burn off the exact number I’d consumed and would top it off with an ab routine – because it was almost summer and my abs were no where near ‘beach ready’.  I didn’t see exercise as anything other than a route to look good, and when I didn’t get the results I wanted, I lost confidence.

But when I started to treat exercise as sport rather than a a way of burning calories, my outlook completely changed.  This first happened when I signed up for a half marathon: I had 13.1 miles run and needed a workout plan that was structured around achieving my goals, not a tiny waist.

The shift in mindset was even more pronounced when I got involved with team sports.  This term,  I began to take rowing seriously and trained hard to get into the women’s first boat.  Everyone on the team was really strong and I knew that if I was to keep pace, I’d have to fundamentally rethink how I saw my body.  I couldn’t worry about being ‘skinny’ – skinny doesn’t get power down in the water! Weights weren’t the route to ‘tank top shoulders’, but a valuable opportunity to strengthen myself and make me more powerful for my team.  Going to the gym wasn’t something I should do if I wanted pudding, but a central part of my training – I’d be letting my crew down if I didn’t.  In this way,  I started to think of my body as an enabler,  focussing on what my body can do, not what it looks like.  As a result, I’m training harder, feeling much more empowered and getting better results than I ever would before.

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This is most fundamental and important change that needs to happen in the message we’re putting out to girls about exercise. Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.  You are capable of so much more than looking hot.

We should teach girls to take pride in their strength, not how they look.  Teach girls to find confidence in knowing they are a valued member of a team, not valued for their looks.  Teach girls that empowerment does not come through looking good, it comes through using your body to achieve and experience all the wonderful things life has to offer.

Sport and exercise has a fundamental role to play in this, and we need to take responsibility to ensure that today’s young women are engaging with sport in its full capacity to benefit and strengthen themselves, not to look good for others.

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Daily inspiration, courtesy of the boathouse wall 🙂

Check out www.thisgirlcan.co.uk for more information on how to get involved.

5 things to do tonight to kickstart tomorrow

For me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of getting to 11am and already feeling like you’ve accomplished the major part of your to-do list.  Getting things done early not only means I have the rest of the day free, but also makes me feel more productive so I work better later on.  As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail, so here are five great night-time tips to help you maximise those waking hours.

1) Review your calendar.
Make sure you know what your commitments are for tomorrow. This will enable you to plan, both mentally and physically, for the tasks on the horizon.  It’s not fun going to sleep under the impression you have a whole day to get your work done, only to find at 9am the next day that you have a 10am class and a dinner date you forgot about. Be prepared.

2) Write a morning to do list
Make a list of everything you want to accomplish by 12pm.  Keep it realistic, probably no more than 5 items.  Break every task down into manageable chunks (for example, ‘1hr on essay’ rather than ‘write entire essay’), but really commit to crossing off every single one.  You’ll feel much better when it’s done, I promise.

3) Get your gym kit ready
Get your clean kit out and lay it on the radiator.  You’ll be much less likely to skip your morning run if your outfit is sitting there as a reminder of what you should be doing! You weren’t planning on exercise? Think again! Even 5 minutes is enough to reap health rewards and put you in a better state of mind for the rest of the morning.

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4) Set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’
A productive day starts with a good night’s sleep, so being awoken at 3am from yet another spam email is no good.  If you use your phone as an alarm clock – first, make sure the alarm is on with the volume up! – then turn off notifications to allow you to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

5) Write down three positive things you’ve achieved today 
Spend a couple of minutes reflecting on the day’s highlights – what did you achieve? What are you grateful for?  This process will really improve your sleeping and waking thoughts and help frame the day in a positive light.  Behaviour breeds behaviour, so remembering the good – opportunities arisen, great memories made –  will set tomorrow off in the right direction before it’s even started.

Stop procrastinating in 4 simple steps

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Hello!

This topic of this post is a bit ironic, given that I have been doing exactly that with writing for the blog for a long while now! To be fair, this because university exams have dominated my life for the last two months,  and (sadly!) health and fitness have taken a back seat.  In the process of revision, I found it was often all too easy lose motivation and fall into the trap of procrastinating until everything built up and put me under unnecessary stress. This happens to all of us at some point, and applies to uni, work, chores and exercise.   Here are some tips that I found very helpful in curbing the procrastination – hope they help for you too!

1) Create a To Do List

When there’s a lot to be done, it can all seem a bit overwhelming and unmanageable, which in turn leads to procrastination (=not good). Writing down a to-do list helps to clarify exactly what needs to be done also prioritise them in order of importance. I find it useful to make two: one overall list of the big tasks that need done (eg. send off internship application), and then break this down further into things to do today (eg. write first draft of CV).  It’s really rewarding getting to tick off the little boxes and see

2) Do 10 Minute Tasks

Sometimes things don’t get done simply because we don’t want to do them.  The next time a task crops up that you really don’t feel like doing, ask yourself “Will this take me less than ten minutes to complete”? If yes – do it! It will take the smallest amount of time, but in the long run can save you a few hours of chores that you have been putting off all week.  This works really well with exercise; if you don’t have time for a full workout, make yourself do  a 10 minute youtube HIIT workout for all the benefits of working out in the shortest space of time.

3) Accept Things Don’t Need To Be Perfect

If you are a perfectionist it can be hard to get things done because you are always waiting for “the right time” or the “right things”.   But going about things like this means that often, you wont be as productive – it takes up a lot of time and may even put you off from starting in the first place.  Instead of waiting for that ‘perfect moment’, take a moment and make it perfect – just get started and battle through.  You’ll often surprise yourself at how good a job you can do 🙂

4) Cut Out Distractions

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – I’m looking at you!  Social media is a massive drain on concentration, and most people are so much more productive when this source of distraction is completely away. Turn your phone off if you don’t need it, and use airplane mode if you do.  It’s so easy to fall into the ‘I’ll just reply to this message and then get started’ trap… NO! Cut it out, and challenge yourself to complete your task in a targeted amount of time, without looking at your phone once! You’ll notice such a huge improvement in productivity levels.

Hope this helps!  Have an awesome week 🙂

The Happiness Project 

Hey guys!

I can’t believe today is the last day of the year! 2014 has been my best year yet; I’ve learned so much, made some pretty big transitions (hey there uni!), met some incredible people and had a wonderful time along the way.

I’ve been looking forward to December 31st for a long time now, thanks to a special project I’ve been working on over the past year.  Last year, I saw a post on Facebook about ‘Happiness Jar Projects’.  Over the course of the year, you commit to writing one thing that made you happy each day day on a piece of paper and putting them all in a jar.  It could be anything, no matter how small or trivial it may seem at the time.  On New Years Eve, you get to open the jar and relive 365 moments that made you smile over the year.

I kept my own for 2014 and got to open it today….
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What a wonderful tribute to the year! It was so lovely to relive those tiny moments that’d otherwise be lost for ever.

It also served as a reminder that happiness isn’t a destination created by reaching a single goal; it’s found in the moments along the journey, at every step of the way.  I think that’s really important to remember. Too often life can seem like one endless quest for the next hurdle, the next accolade, that we forget to appreciate the beauty in the every day.

Another hidden benefit is that it helps you spot trends – is there something that repeatedly makes you happy? Coffee with the BFF? Curling up with a good book? (Mine happened to be working out and munching on health foods …. whouda thought :P). Well, DO MORE OF IT! If it keeps popping up it that jar, there’s a reason 😉  Who knows, it might help you spot your calling in life?!

So for 2015, I challenge you to do your own Happiness Jar!  Helpful tips: when life gets busy/you don’t have access to your jar, transcribe your daily thoughts onto your phone to write out later when convenient. Also, buy youserlf a nice jar (mine was about £7 on Amazon) to encourage you to stick with it.  You’ll thank yourself this time next year.  I certainly did.

I hope 2015 proves to be your happiest and most fulfilling year yet.

Lots of love,
Charley