Style Rules EVERYONE Should Follow

The other day on Twitter I flippantly shared some of my all-time greatest style tips, and a number of people suggested I write a blog! Let it never be said I do nothing for you guys. Without further ado, here are my super-important, very serious style tips.

Ripped up denim, plaid and black t shirts are my casual staples.

1. If you like the thing, wear it. Put the thing on.
This seems like hideously obvious advice, but if an item of clothing makes you feel something positive, then you should wear it! I’m not suggesting you should wear your banging new bikini to the office, or a tee shirt with lewd sketches on it to your niece’s nativity play, but if it’s location/occasion appropriate, let your sartorial desires run riot. Glitter roots? Ugly sweaters? Bonkers shoes? Do it. Do the thing.

2. If you’re worried the thing isn’t “flattering” remember that you look fucking great. You don’t need to hide/compress/disguise your body.
As far as I am concerned, “flattering” is a filthy word. It’s a toxic concept that attempts to restrict the choices of people whose appearance doesn’t fit the narrow standards of beauty, creating a set of rules to de-emphasise perceived flaws. I still wonder if my aversion to colour is a direct result of being brought up with the “advice” that dark colours are “flattering”. Fuck “flattering”, and refer to rule one.

3. Fashion should be a fun challenge, not a frustrating and limiting set of rules.
Fashion trends come and go, and if you enjoy fluttering merrily along with the new ideas, revivals and silhouettes of each fashion week then that’s cool! For some it’s a way to stretch your boundaries, change up your wardrobe and introduce something new into your life. What is probably less healthy is feeling forced to adhere to these changing trends at the expense of your own identity. Again, look to rule one.

4. You don’t have to pigeonhole your “aesthetic”.
Having a strong style niche, or being part of a subculture, is fine! I’ve been a goth, an emo and a grunger in the past, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If nothing else, being part of one of these groups, or having a very specific idea of your sense of style, can make it a lot easier to have an Instagram theme! However, it’s also ok to step outside of your usual aesthetic if you find something that speaks to you. For instance, I do not wear pink. I never wear pink. But last week I bought myself a pink t-shirt covered in sequinned unicorn emoji. I have yet to wear it out of the house, but as soon as it happens I’ll let you all know. Rule one, people. Rule one.

5. One person’s “flaw” is another person’s “fabulous”.
Just because you’re not a fan of one of your features doesn’t mean the sentiment is universal. While I totally encourage flaunting your favourite parts of yourself, compliments and appreciation might come from unexpected places, and completely change the way you view a part of yourself that you previously weren’t so keen on. At the very least you might soften your opinion of that feature.

6. Your style should play with your own boundaries and comfort levels, not be limited by other people’s.
Following on from rule five, I know how important it is to feel at ease in what you’re wearing, but challenging yourself to wear something out of your usual range could have surprising results. If all that's stopping you is fear of what other people will think, then try and put that to bed. Your appearance should be a state of play for yourself to enjoy, and enjoyment comes in a whole spectrum of emotions from squashy and comfortable to adrenaline-inducingly risqué. What you shouldn't feel is anxiety or terror, especially if that's just because of other people. 

7. Imitation really is a sincere form of flattery, but interpretation is better.
There are a number of people, particularly in the blogging community, whose style makes me various shades of green with envy. Whether it's gothy/grungey/alt girls whose sense of style is within my wheelhouse (I'm talking Sarah, Kimberley and Jessica) or my favourite Balamory-resident-meets-Elmer-and-Alexa-Chung, Belphoebe, I find myself in a community of people whose wardrobes I would happily steal, wholesale. I would let them dress me every day. Blogging makes it even easier to "steal the style" of people you admire, as people are more than happy to share the stores they shop in. However generous they are, it's probably more polite, and more fun, to reinterpret someone else's outfit choices and adapt them to yourself, rather than taking it literally. Nobody likes a copycat, and most people would rather be seen as an inspiration than a personal shopper.

8. “Seasonal dressing” should keep you temperate, not prevent self-expression.
In the words of Miranda Priestly, "Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking." We have all been taught some basic "rules" of seasonal dressing. Certain fabrics and textures are even referred to by the seasons - winter knits, spring florals, summer gauzes, autumn browns... It's tried, it's tested and it's... well, it's a bit boring. So what if you want to wear a bright, busy floral print in the depths of November, or black all through summer? It's obviously sensible to wear clothes that keep you warm when it's cold out, and vice versa, but that should be the only limit you feel pressed into observing. Rule one still applies. Just don't get sunburn/frostbite/extremely soggy and then blame me, ok?

9. Gender norms can get fucked.
I could be very lazy and just scream "RULE ONE" until my eyes bleed, but I'm not good at being concise. If you can physically get the clothes onto your body and you feel good in them, then it shouldn't matter what section of the shop it came from. Similarly you shouldn't feel like you need to stick to one "gender" for even the confines of a single outfit, let alone your wardrobe as a whole. Wear "men's" jeans with a "ladies'" lace crop top if it makes you happy. Whether you wish to express yourself in a masculine, feminine, a-gender or gender-fluid way is absolutely your prerogative. If someone gives you the stink-eye for rifling through the racks in the "wrong" section, remind yourself that the only thing "wrong" with the situation is their bigotry. 

10. It is your body, your wardrobe, your happiness, your identity, your life.
Depending on your religious beliefs, we get one life to live. I imagine very few people reach their final days worrying about what they did or didn't wear, but self-expression is so important to your overall happiness. Your identity is more than just the way other people see you, it's how you see yourself. I know that sounds a bit trite, but I know from experience that making your outside match your inside is a tricky thing to do, and it can be daunting, but when you strike that balance it's borderline euphoric. No cruel criticism, arbitrary rules or outdated beauty standards should prevent you from being a perfect version of exactly what you are. You're a brilliant, unique, original little weirdo, and that's an awesome thing to be.

Cruel to be Cruel: Body Police are Horrible

This weekend I went out clubbing for maybe the second time this year. I'm not a big drinker, and I don't really go out much unless it's a gig or something to do with the band, but I've made some really close friends at work and we went out with a small group. We got dressed together, did hair and makeup at one of the other girls' houses, helped each other choose outfits... it's something I haven't done since uni, and it felt really nice to be surrounded by girls, doing unabashedly girly things. It was such an open, supportive atmosphere, and I didn't really realise how much I'd missed this girl-group dynamic since I moved home. Don't get me wrong, I love my Trash Panda bros and my guy time, but it was just really nice to be part of a girl gang. We all left the house feeling like nines.

Eyebrow game is strong
 I took a number of selfies and felt actually pretty. My much slimmer, much fitter friend pointed out that our legs are a similar shape and I was hugely, enormously flattered. Instead of disagreeing with the compliment out of habit, I actually took a look and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't hot air. I looked at myself in the mirror before we went out and thought, "Well, sure, I have a belly. And yes, I have some squidge. And from certain angles my ass looks weird, and I know I have a moon face and more than one chin. But none of those things is inherently bad or unattractive, in this day and age. My boobs look cracking, my hair looks great and these heels are actually relatively comfortable. I feel like a Vampire queen. I'm ready to go out." After years of bulimia, binge-starve cycles, hair-pulling, self-loathing and dissociative visual disturbances all based on my body, this is kind of a big deal for me. 

Tipsy duckface
Of course there were points in the night where I caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought, "Jesus, as a size 16 with a sizeable spare tyre, should I really have worn such a tight skirt? Or a lacy top?" But for a change I put those feelings to rest. Gone are the days of "hide your fatness under something baggy so as not to offend the thin people". We live in a world of Ashley Graham, Kardashians, Tess Holliday, Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy, all big(gish), beautiful, proud women.

Myspace mirror selfie
I'm fat, but I get a certain level of "fat privilege" by being an hourglass - which many argue is the only fat shape generally thought to be acceptable by mainstream media. I saw these "flaws" in myself, I acknowledged them, and I rationalised them away until I felt good about myself again. And I did feel good about myself. I was surrounded by my friends, beautiful girls, and I didn't feel like the "fat friend" or "the ugly one" as I've so often felt before in a group of beautiful girls. I felt like a legitimate part of the "squad".

Last selfie before I fell asleep
Even this morning, with yesterday's makeup still clinging to the creases around my eyes, and my hair extensions matted up from a short, restless sleep I looked in the mirror and thought "You look better than usual today, kudos." I looked at photos of us from the night before and didn't cringe at the sight of myself, even in the photos where I have VBO (that's Visible Belly Outline to the uninitiated.)

The morning after
I looked more dressed up than usual, more made up, preened, polished and yes, the photos were taken at a flattering, double-chin-concealing angle. But for the first time in a long time I was looking at photos of me taken by somebody else and not wanting to screech "Oh, Jesus, delete it! Please don't put that on Facebook." I felt cute, in the most and least "attractive" photos (like the Instax photos we took where my face looks like a white planet in a wig). I felt closer to my friends. I was tired, slightly hungover, and my feet still hurt now, but I was happy. Genuinely happy.

Hungover, in my pjs
Then I got home.

I showed my mum some of the photos from the evening, buoyed up from the confidence boost the evening had given me. She sort of nodded and grimaced while she looked at them and then she said, "But it's not the real you, is it. You can't see your double chin." I tried not to let that comment take any of the wind out of my sails, and I mentioned what my friend had said about my legs. "Your friend must have big legs, then," she said. When I replied that I thought that my legs were proportionally slimmer than my upper body she just declared outright, "You don't have slim legs. You look nice in PICTURES but when we look at you all we see is your double chin." I pointed out that I know I'm photogenic, and that I know I look better in photos than in real life. She said, "I don't want you to have body dysmorphia and think that you look good when you know you need to lose weight." This was the point at which I left the room.

Later she came upstairs and said to me, "I'm sorry... but you don't have slim legs." I told her that apologising by repeating the things she was apologising for was a pretty poor excuse for an apology. She left the room in a strop.

I am too goddamn old to be blogging about hating the way my mother speaks to me.

I know what I look like. I'm very, very aware of how my body looks both in and out of clothes. I know I have stretchmarks in a colour range from angry purple to almost-imperceptible silver across my tummy, thighs, hips and boobs. I know that I have crappy skin on my arms and legs thanks to keratosis pilaris. I could draw you an unsettlingly accurate sketch, from memory alone, of the way my stomach folds at the top of my thighs or the sides of my back, at my waist, which my brothers dubbed "flub lines" when they saw me in a bikini as a teenager. I know I have "thighbrows" when I kneel and a crease in my neck from my double chin. I know I have a flat ass for a fat girl. I know I have a bump in my nose, scars in my eyebrows and on my thighs. And my wrists. And the back of one hand.

My rational, twenty-first century brain tells me that none of those things are something I should be ashamed of or feel forced to change. My liberal, body-positive, accepting, tolerant heart would see any one, all or combination of these things in another person and not judge them. I know that your body size doesn't accurately reflect your health and that BMI is trash. "Fat" is just an adjective.

The fact of the matter is, if someone stabs you with a kitchen knife, you wouldn't call it cooking. If someone uses words as weapons, they hurt. It doesn't matter that I already know when I look like; if someone tells me that they hate or are disgusted by something about my appearance it's still going to sting, regardless of how I initially felt about it.

My relationship with my body is chequered, complicated and incredibly dark in places. I have hated myself and felt such deep despair that I've wanted to hurt and punish myself, and times I've sincerely wanted to disappear or die. There are still things I want to change, and am working on changing. But I have learned from bitter experience that progress that comes from a place of self-love is so much better than progress from self-loathing.

I know I'm fat. I know I disgust and disappoint my mother.

I also know that I can sing pretty well, and write lyrics that people can relate to. I am good at my job, I'm compassionate, and I can make loads of different things, even if it does mean the occasional hot glue gun burn. I also know I can do squats with a 71kg woman sitting on my shoulders. And as someone reminded me on Twitter, if I can lift up an entire human woman, I can lift myself up too.

I don't really know how to end this post. I don't have a punchline or anything revelatory to say. I guess all I can add is that we get one chance at life, and one shot at being remembered. And I'd much rather be remembered as "squishy, but kind".

The Equality Collection: Not So Equal

Clothes: BOB by DOP Model: Angela Scanlon Photography: © David Loftus
I loved Dawn O’Porter’s Channel 4 series about vintage and sustainable fashion last year. I loved it when she opened an online vintage and vintage-inspired clothing boutique. I loved it when she opened pop up shops. So when I saw the press release for her Equality Collection I think it’s fair to say I got a bit overexcited.

It started with so much promise; a print called “Love Wins” is described as a “funny and vibrant print featuring couples of all shapes, sizes, creeds, colours, sexes and even species”. That sounds cute. It looks nice in the little image accompanying the press release.

The “Boys Toys” print promotes genderless play, by putting typically “boy” toys into a print on women’s clothing. I mean, from what I can see it’s mostly a dinosaur print but whatever, I like dinosaurs! I’m sold!

And then there’s the “Women Are Boss” dress, using images of mums, office workers and women just doing stuff. That’s cool too – acknowledging that women can fulfil multiple roles is a great thing, and turning it into a print is an interesting concept. So far, so good.

And then, hidden away in the final paragraph, I see the words: Each piece is a limited edition with sizes ranging from 8-16*”.

Oh. Oh dear.

The UK average dress size is 16. As someone who could probably only just about squeeze into the largest size this collection has to offer, I still have to ask: what is “equal” about a collection that only caters to the UK average dress size and smaller? In fact, what is “equal” about a collection that features fat people on a fabric, but doesn’t make sizes that would allow real fat people to wear the print? Nothing. There’s nothing equal about that.

I think this collection’s heart is in the right place and the pieces themselves look lovely. Dawn O’Porter says in the press release:

Fashion and politics go hand in hand, the way women dressed throughout history changed the way they were able to live their lives. Anyone who denies that clothes are not powerful and a huge part of feminism is massively missing the point. Designers from previous decades created shapes and ideas that transformed what it meant to be female, and now I get to take those vintage styles and incorporate a modern sensibility. The Equality Collection prints are beautiful and funny, but they also carry a serious message. Our prints look fantastic, but they also have a lot to say.’

That’s all well and good, Dawn, but a truly “modern sensibility” would take into account the actual bodies of modern women, and as such women above a size 16 should be considered. Evidently BOB by DOP haven’t done this.

Plus size women are used to brands not catering to us. We’re used to being excluded from limited edition ranges and high-fashion brands. It’s frustrating and upsetting that the majority of retailers are happy to provide for women up to 5 sizes below the average size, but will only usually stretch to a size 18 on the higher end. The fact that this collection doesn’t have anything larger than a 16* on its own would be disappointing, but the fact that the clothing actually has fat people in the prints without providing fat people with an inclusive size range is borderline fetishistic. It’s definitely exploitative. It’s really just a complete fail.

If you're happy to put fat people on your clothes, you should be willing to put fat people in them too.


Since I published this blog, Dawn O'Porter tweeted me to say that her press release mistakenly stated the size range. Apparently they stock sizes 8-18. Except in the skirt. I argued that this wasn't really much better. She also said that the two plus size people clearly seen on the shirt in the image above are normal-sized people in "giant animal costumes". Draw your own conclusions from that one.

Body Positivity and Weightloss

Me (in the green dress) at my highest weight
This is it: the first day of the rest of our lives. A new year is just beginning and the decadence of December is soon to be a distant memory. I've seen a slew of inspiring and invigorating posts about New Year's Resolutions and hopes for this shiny new year. TV advertising has moved away from the indulgent foods of Christmastime, and is already telling us all to start getting fit and slim. So, I suppose it's appropriate that many of the New Year's Resolutions I've seen involve weight loss.

I have no qualms or shame in saying that I am a large girl. I'm 5'7" and I'm a size 14-18. I'm a fervent advocate for body positivity, and we are starting to see great steps being taken when it comes to fat fashion. Social media has wonderful pockets of support for people of all sizes, shapes and styles, and it's becoming more accepted to be big, beautiful and proud. So why am I one of those people resolving to lose weight this year?

At my lowest adult weight
I have always been unhappy with the way I look. At higher weights, at lower weights, when I work out, when I don't, when I eat freely or when I restrict myself, I am never satisfied. A huge part of that is absolutely because of social conditioning, after years of being told that my achievements were tainted by this physical failure. Backhanded compliments telling me I'd be "so pretty if..." have taken their toll. Fat-positive bloggers and beautiful plus-size models have helped to reverse some of this damage, but it does run pretty deep.

Also, I have a couple of mental and physical health issues that would be improved by losing weight and getting fitter. I have some lung problems that are alleviated slightly when I am regularly doing cardio, and the relationship between mental health and exercise is undeniable. I will stress this now, you can never judge a person's overall health by the shape of their body. I am not equating "slim" with "healthy" because we all know that this is a flawed concept. However, I find exercise easier when I am carrying less extra weight, and my lungs and brain work a lot better when I exercise.

Me at a high weight after a quick weight gain

It's not all about fixing the negatives, though. Exercise also helps me with singing and stamina while performing. The band has huge plans for this coming year, and I want to give it my all, and that includes being as fit and ready as I can be.

Weight and body image are such touchy subjects for so many people, and I feel a little conflicted talking about it at all. I completely believe that everyone should be allowed to look how they want to look, eat what they want to eat, wear what they want to wear and exercise how, when and where they choose. People should be allowed to take pleasure in things they find pleasurable without being subjected to the unsolicited disapproval of others. This is why it's important to stress that I'm not changing the shape of my body for anyone's comfort but my own.

I'm going to be joining Slimming World, and I've written myself a workout plan inspired by my favourite female characters, like Buffy, Jessica Jones and (of course) Ariel, the Little Mermaid. I don't know how much I'm going to continue discussing my weight loss/fitness efforts here, and I don't really have any concrete goals. I'll try not to be boring about it, because this isn't a fitness blog and I don't want it to become one. But I know this will be a lot easier with some support.

I do not believe that any body type is better or more attractive than any other. In my imaginary utopia all clothing ranges would come in all sizes and tailoring would be free. Everyone would feel free to express themselves however they chose, and airplane seats would be universally comfortable. But, even in this judgement-free dream world, I know I'd want to be slimmer and fitter than I currently am. And, really, that's what tells me that I need to do it.

If you're losing, gaining or maintaining your weight this year, I wish you all the love and luck in the world.

Spots, Stretchmarks and Wobbly Bits – Why I Don’t Photoshop

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen the Worm. For those of you who haven’t, the Worm is my affectionate nickname for one of my less photogenic facial expressions.

Ok, so I pull this face a lot. A LOT. But this particular shot was grabbed from a video I made for work, and it made me laugh more than usual. As a result I put it up as my Facebook profile photo. I thought it was funny, and it made a change from my usual pouty/fish gape photo. While some people saw it for what it was, others used it as an excuse to open up a critical discussion of my appearance. What was most disappointing about this is that it wasn’t random trolls or internet strangers who took it upon themselves to make demoralising comments about me, but members of my own family.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not 100% happy with the way I look. Of course there are things I would change if I had a magic wand. Of course I think there are things about myself that could so with some work. But that’s my work to do. It’s my battle to fight. It’s not anybody else’s job to “suggest” ways that I should feel obliged to change myself, especially when they are working to outdated, sexist, heteronormative, ableist, racist standard of beauty that exclude so many wonderful, beautiful ways of existing.

I’m a work in progress that won’t be completed until the day I die. I will always see room for improvement. I will always be trying to get better at something. And I see my blog as a way of documenting that, for better or for worse. That’s why I am pledging, here and now, never to retouch any of my photos (aside from Instagram filters because they’re just fun.)

For some people a blog is like a museum of their life, with all the best pieces laid out for public view, and you know what? That is absolutely fine. If you want your blog/website/social media to show you at your peak then that is completely your choice and you have my full support. If you want to airbrush, alter, amend or otherwise edit your photos, that’s ok too. You do what you need to do. Your life, your choice.

Does this mean I’m going to only show you my Worm face from now on? Of course not. My social media and blog will still feature more flattering photographs. But it’s ok to acknowledge that everyone takes Worm photos now and again, whether they mean to or not.