Married by 30? That’s an age-old notion.

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Photo credit: Hitched.co.uk

One of the plagues in our world is that women are given a shelf life. Everyone normally skirts around it, but we’re earmarked like a sack of potatoes with use-by dates seared across our forehead. Usually, that use-by-date is the age of 30.

As we get older, girls and women are under constant pressure to follow a straight and narrow road – as girls it’s either close your legs, don’t pout, pull that skirt down, and as women it’s get a degree, find a steady job, settle down and have some kids. Speaking from experience, rarely are women pushed to dream or be more.

As someone getting married in August this year at the age of 23, I can verify that yes, while I am classified as ‘young’, it doesn’t feel like the ‘achievement’ that Asian families in particular often make it out to be. And that’s something anyone who is worried about being single and approaching 30 should make a note of.

Our definitions of an ‘achievement’ need to be broader than that, and certainly be unrelated to becoming a wife – because they are far, far more unique than that. That mountain you just climbed? That’s an achievement. That job you bagged after years of hard graft? That’s an achievement. That painting you just sold? That’s a bloody good achievement.

However, getting married before the age of 30 has been the yardstick measuring a woman’s achievements for as long as I can remember. And I’m sure at some points, that age boundary was lower still. But let’s think about it. Which clever clogs plucked the number 30 out of thin air? What is its significance when it comes to marriage? Why does it matter so goddamn much whether you get married when you’re 30, 40 or 50?

The pressure to get hitched before this magic number seems to be crushing the confidence of otherwise bold and beautiful women. A constant timer seems to be flashing above their heads, vanishing only when the ‘married’ box is neatly ticked. But women shouldn’t have to race against time to ‘settle down’ and find someone just so they can pop out a couple of kids with and please society. The idea that women need to settle down by 30 is itself the problem – society wants us to settle, to stop dreaming.

We’re told our careers will flail, our breasts will sag and our ovaries will stop churning out eggs if we don’t have a man in tow by 30. It feels as though women are getting increasingly anxious and paranoid as they look around at their friends and families in relationships, getting married, having babies, and thinking that they are somehow inadequate, getting left behind, not good enough.

News flash: you’re more than good enough.

If our male counterparts can get away with it, why can’t we? We’re ‘undesirable’ as we approach 30 but they’re bachelors, taking their time and playing the field. But 30 is exactly that: a number. The problem is that its been signposted as the danger zone for women alone, and it’s seriously killing our vibe.

We’re the ones worrying about the wrinkles, love handles and the odd grey hair. We’re put under pressure in countless ways, day in, day out, and still we worry about the number 30 creeping up on us. And ultimately, why are we told to ‘find a man’ in ‘good time’? It’s just so other people can feel satisfied with their version of order being restored.

Excuse the eloquent wordsmith in me, but shifting times cause shifts in shifty people. You – single, hungry and chasing your dreams – are not the problem. It’s the people who tell you that you’re somehow lacking for being single at any point in your life, let alone when you’re approaching 30, that are the problem. Because anyone who thinks that 30 is the end of someone’s life is shifty as hell.

There is nothing, I repeat, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, wrong with turning 30 and being unmarried. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being 30 and deciding you don’t want that extra slice of cake. It’s a choice, and yours alone to make.

Like so many women who experience domestic violence, Amber Heard’s voice will be continually silenced

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in January 2016
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Last week saw a major Hollywood split come to everyone’s attention when it was revealed that actress Amber Heard had filed for divorce from husband and actor Johnny Depp.

And just as everyone digested this news, pictures of a bruised Heard emerged amid claims that Depp had physically, verbally and emotionally abused her throughout their marriage. Since then, Heard has been granted a temporary restraining order against him due to her claims of experiencing domestic violence, but people have not been kind about it.

Before I begin this blog post, I feel it’s important to let readers know I am fully aware that domestic violence can be experienced by anyone. However, the statistics show that in most cases, it is women who are abused:

· One in four women is abused during her lifetime.
· One in nine is severely physically abused each year.
· Two are killed each week .

(Source: Refuge)

And in most cases, it is women who must bear the burden of their ‘accusations.’

Domestic violence is a subject that is very close to my heart, and one that I feel is increasingly swept under the carpet. Quick to denounce Heard’s revelations was Depp’s friend and comic Doug Stanhope, who said in his guest column for The Wrap: “Abusing women is bullshit. Johnny doesn’t abuse anyone. And he told me that day ahead of time that she’d pull some kind of shit like this.”

Depp’s ex-wife Vanessa Paradis also came forward in a letter, stating that “in all these years I have known Johnny he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man I lived with for 14 wonderful years.”

Elsewhere, various publications like E! Online and my personal favourite,  The Daily Mail, scraped the barrel for news and reported that Heard was “all smiles” as she left her legal meetings. If you aren’t following where I’m going with this, you probably never will, as pointing the finger at any woman who flags domestic violence has always been treated appallingly. Even this time, it is no different.

‘Blackmailer.’ ‘Liar.’ ‘Selfish.’ ‘Manipulative.’

These are just some of the words used by those who have made it clear they do not ‘believe’ Heard, and it echoes how women are often treated when they finally find it within themselves to talk about their experience of domestic violence. “Why did she not speak up earlier?” and “why did she just not leave?” are questions that people always fire in relation to it. Women aren’t even given a chance.

Everything which has been said about Heard in the media now implies that Depp could not possibly do this. That it must be fabricated, a ploy to defame Depp, ruin his career, or get millions out of the divorce settlement. People are very quick to put on their rose-tinted glasses when their idols are attacked, so much so that they  end up refusing to see them outside of their roles as big time Hollywood stars. Reel and real becomes so blurred that people begin to follow the lives of their favourite actors almost like a tragic plot-twist in a movie: ‘no, our hero could NEVER do this!’

And as always, women are sidelined and told to silence themselves because they are ‘crazy’ or ‘delirious.’ That a woman should say a man has hit her becomes illegal in our apparently modern world. Nobody wants to hear about it, and worse still, nobody wants to do anything about it. But what else can women expect from a society and culture that Googles images of Rihanna’s swollen face after she is beaten by Chris Brown, but allows the same Chris Brown to continue making music? And Brown’s continued success does not even cover half of the pats on the back men receive despite their abusive nature.

Reading about the reaction to Heard makes me increasingly worried and furious about the millions of women worldwide who are currently experiencing domestic violence. As I type this right now, somewhere in our world, a female is being subjected to all kinds of atrocities. The fact that Heard’s visual evidence of abuse still cause the media and people to react abhorrently frightens me, since it takes courage, strength and real heart for a woman to finally express that she is suffering. Even more so if she is in the media spotlight. I for one don’t understand why a woman would go to such lengths if she was lying.

A woman’s position in society has always been decided for us, and yet again I can see Heard – and others who experience domestic violence – will have to battle again to find their voice in a world that stifles it. An abuser does not come with a flashing sign above their head saying ‘I am an abuser.’ Nor does a woman come with a sign saying ‘I am here to be abused.’ Yet why do we only choose to create that accusatory sign for women?

This is exactly why women find it so hard to speak about their experience of abuse: because someone on the other side will shake their head ‘no’ and dismiss their story. This is a cycle that has been repeated for so many times and left only those in power – like Depp and other rich, Hollywood celebrities – completely untouched.

Nobody will remember that a man carried out abuse, because they’ll only remember the woman who ‘accused’ him.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on 2015

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Every year brings with it a range of triumphs and hurdles, and for me, looking back is equally as important as looking ahead.

2015 began with me knee-deep in stress as I approached graduation. Since I was little, I have been filled with a desire to have a degree in my possession. I’ve always believed it to be the highest form of educational achievement, and as only a few people in my family went to university, it was important for me to also come out the other side and be successful in that way. I worked harder than I could have possibly imagined right until I handed in my dissertation in April, and put my all into my final year in academia.

What propelled me to work so hard was an itch to triumph and be someone. I don’t know whether anyone reading this feels the same, but I have always felt I am extraordinary. During school, I suffered a lot of taunts for being somewhat intelligent. From being labelled a ‘boffin’ to a ‘teacher’s pet’, I was never allowed to rest just because I had a few brain cells. Graduating from university was therefore the final educational hurdle I wanted to conquer in order to prove to myself that I had beat the bullies, and had ended up in a strong position because of the qualities others labelled ‘weird’. I wanted to feel satisfied that despite encountering people who wanted me to stifle who I was, I kept on using my intellect to advance myself. And now, I can proudly say that my hard work paid off and I have a First Class degree in English Literature. My three years at Brunel flew by, but I will never forget everything I learned and experienced there. It was a life-changing time.

I’m sure many of you can agree that life is never smooth. It brings with it ebbs and flows that are often unexpected and can rock our world. We plaster smiles on our faces but so many of us are walking around with deep pain and sorrow buried somewhere underneath us. It can eat away at us and can often make us feel incredibly low and upset. This is a good time for me to thank those who have seen me through any hardships this year. Sometimes, it’s easy to let what others say about us overrule our own rationale. It’s even easier to let this consume us to the point where we no longer see ourselves as someone who is strong, brave and brilliant. I would urge anyone who has experienced any kind of low this year not to run, but to embrace what has happened and accept that you will become a better person from it. Turn to people who would do anything to see a smile on your face and spend time with them. More than anything, never stop loving yourself and always move forward at your own pace. We spend so much time living in yesterdays that we can forget that our now is more far more important. Just be kind to yourself.

Shortly after graduating, I also spent 3 months interning at Harrods and had the best time learning about the world of work. I never pegged myself as someone who would ever be interested in fashion, but I came out infected by the magic of Harrods and would definitely love to be back there someday. Scratch that – I never even thought someone like me could work somewhere like Harrods, so all I’ll say to everyone is believe you can do it. Never let yourself feel that you are not capable or that an opportunity given to you is not right for you: take a chance. Despite having other ideas about where I wanted my career to take me at that point, I gave the internship a shot and came out more refined than I would have elsewhere. I am extremely fortunate as just a week or so later, I landed my dream first job working as an Editorial Assistant at Comic Relief. It has been a steep learning curve so far, but in terms of my career, I feel extremely blessed and happy to be in such a position so soon after graduating. I can only hope 2016 takes me somewhere similar.

This year I also had tonnes of fun with all the right people: I tried a lot of different foods, saw some amazing plays and musicals at the theatre such as Othello, Wicked, hang and Hamlet. I also went to my first gig and saw Hozier play a beautiful set. I have taken up light reading again after letting my brain linger far too much on more ‘difficult’ and ‘heavier’ reads and  I am so happy to be rekindled with creativity. Books for me are so special and take me somewhere far away. I hope I can continue reading this way from here on now. For a lot of people, doing things like going to the theatre or a gig has been the norm since their teens, but I have been a slow bloomer, and I am proud of my small but slow steps to achieving things that stimulate and have made me happy. For me, these things have all been a highlight this year, and I am not ashamed that it took me this long to get where I am today.

For anyone reading, as you head into 2016, don’t let anyone steal your sunshine. Happy New Year everyone, and thank you, as always, for reading my blog this year.

Billboard magazine’s tweet about North West just revealed how the media still sexualises famous children

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This tweet from Billboard magazine earlier today sent shock waves across the internet, sparking anger about the sexualisation of North West. (Photo credit: Twitter)

The internet is furious today as Billboard magazine committed a social media blunder of epic proportions, likening a picture of 2-year-old North West licking a lollipop to her mother and reality TV persona Kim Kardashian West giving oral sex to Ray J, recalling the sex tape which initially threw her into the spotlight.

Earlier this week came news that Tatler had also branded David Beckham’s son Brooklyn “hot, ready and legal”, despite him just turning 16 years old. And this isn’t the first time that the media has speedily jumped onto the child-sexualisation bandwagon, with the likes of Britney Spears, Charlotte Church, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez having been sexualised very early on in their careers.

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David Beckham’s son Brooklyn Beckham was labelled ‘hot, ready and legal earlier this week by a Tatler journalist. (Photo credit: The Telegraph)

Viewing children in this sexual way is simply wrong – when journalists publish this type of article, everyone who gives it the green light very forcefully takes famous children’s innocence away from them and places a completely different, more damaging kind of pressure on them, and one which they may not necessarily understand or want. Making a teenager like Brookyln Beckham into a sex symbol, and worse, painting a 2 year old like North West in the same light, is damaging for them and other teenagers and children too, who may feel they also need to aspire to an image that is sexual and appealing in only physical terms.

It would horrify any parent if someone approached them and said that their child was looking ‘hot, ready and legal’, or that their child reminded them of the parent in an intimate and sexual act. So why does a renowned publication like Billboard think it is okay to unleash such a warped view into the public domain? What makes the media different from child groomers? If our media organisations are the one leading these kind of labels on the children that either find or fall into fame, then who the hell can we look to as a source of justice or righteousness? Publications like Billboard and Tatler are letting everyone else say what they are saying too, making it easier to create a culture of child sexualisation that simply shouldn’t exist.

1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)
1999 cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which saw a 17-year-old Britney Spears pose in her underwear. (Photo credit: Rolling Stone)

Tatler and Billboard shouldn’t get away with it. If our media organisations are the ones leading the perception of famous children in this uncomfortable and overtly sexual way, then who can we look to as a source of morality or righteousness? Publications like these allow everyone else to follow suit, making it easier to create a worrying culture of media-induced child grooming.

Today’s tweet about North West was especially disturbing as it suggested that a 2-year-old had the sexual potential to imitate the actions of her mother in a moment of childish innocence. North West’s portrayal in this way is disgraceful, giving the impression that a child can only be the bearer of her mother’s lucratively sexual past, and that North West can and will be included into Kim Kardashian West’s slut-shaming by Billboard magazine.

After all of this, who can blame Britney Spears for shaving off all her hair and breaking down back in 2007? No one at all.

The Future of Fashion: Genderless Buying

Photo credit: qz.com
Photo credit: qz.com

When I was growing up, I was sometimes coaxed into the idea of wearing clothing made for boys. “Don’t worry, no one will notice”, my parents would often tell me. Money used to be scarce and with options often limited, I would have no other choice but to sometimes go along with it. Naturally, being a girl, I used to despair at the idea that out in public, somebody might notice that my jeans were actually made for boys, or that at school on a non-uniform day, someone would simply look at me and identify something amiss (I got this anyway though). And of course for any child, wearing clothing not designed for their gender was distressing beyond belief, and I was no different.

Recently, in my previous workplace, I asked one of my female co-workers where she’d purchased her rather nice shirt from. “Oh, ASOS, it’s actually from the men’s section…” she told me. Unbound by the restrictions of ‘his’ and ‘hers’, she was proudly wearing and telling me about an item of clothing which hadn’t technically been designed for her, and of course, it got me thinking…

Right now, there is an evident and indisputable shift occurring in gender dynamics. As definitions of gender become more fluid, style is also changing to accommodate that. For instance, the androgynous look is back and in full swing, with Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart and Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose nailing it, and even singer Taylor Swift jumping on the androgynous bandwagon in a recent cover for Vanity Fair.

Actress Kristen Stewart adopts an androgynous style. (Photo credit: mirror.co.uk).

Elsewhere, retailers are also reflecting dramatic changes in their approach to categorising clothing. In America, Target announced they are moving away from gender-based signs, and American Apparel has recently started a unisex line too. Athletic brands like The North Face typically retain a genderless stance, and footwear companies like Converse and Vans also occupy this position too. More recently, London department store Selfridges has also impressed with its gender-neutral ‘Agender’ concept store.

And with this all occurring so rapidly, it points to one thing only: retailers and consumers alike are gravitating towards the removal of rigidity. Somewhere within us, we know that it would be great to go into a store and pick something to wear without worrying that our gender excludes us from wearing it, just because society once said so. And responding to that, retailers are taking risks and feeding our secret desires. As we read more and more into celebrities and non-celebrities sharing stories of defining themselves outside of expectations placed on them, we become more and more inclined to accepting that ‘woman’ does not mean frilly dresses and tight skirts, and ‘man’ does not mean sharp-looking suits or casual sports gear. In fact, there is more of a push to look at someone and not be able to decide ‘what’ he or she is except being a) human and b) happy in their own skin.

Just like a toy related to science or construction shouldn’t be sold as being exclusively for boys, so a t-shirt or blouse should not be sold as being exclusively for a woman. And let’s not forget that influential personas have been battling against these gender binaries to positive effect; everyone’s favourite superstar Kanye West wore a woman’s shirt by Celine during his Coachella performance in 2011, Kid Cudi sported a crop top showing off his midriff at last year’s Coachella and this year, Will Smith’s son Jaden was also the topic of discussion when he was photographed wearing a dress at Coachella.

Kanye West performs in a woman’s shirt. (Photo credit: nydailynews.com)
INDIO, CA - APRIL 12: Kid Cudi performs as part of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at The Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)
Kid Cudi proudly shows off his midriff in a daring crop top (Photo credit: mtv.com)

Jaden Smith’s choice to wear a dress was widely reported on [and criticized]. (Photo credit: zimbio.com)
Celebrities have always been known to push trends into the spotlight, but is wearing the opposite of what’s decided for you more than just a trend now? Clothing speaks volumes for our identity, allowing us to look presentable and feel comfortable in expressing ourselves. With the sudden upsurge in celebrities and retailers erasing gender labels, it seems as though we are being forced to change the way we have been taught to think for centuries and simply embrace newness.

With the direction fashion and retailers are going in, it won’t be long before we enter stores and see no signs pointing to ‘menswear’ or ‘womenswear’ – everything will be ours to choose, according to our own decisions and desires. That’s the kind of fashion I’ll be investing in.

Why is body positivity met with so much negativity?

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A hair-raising decision: Jemima Kurke on the CFDA red carpet . (Photo credit: stuff.co.nz)

Last week, Girls star Jemima Kirke stepped out on the CFDA Fashion Awards red carpet and sent everyone in a frenzy by wearing a dress that revealed her armpit hair. What happened next was inevitable and somewhat predictable: a lot of publications talked about it, with some left completely shocked by this horrendous ‘fashion faux pas’.

E! Online was particularly disapproving and drew comparisons to Miley Cyrus’s similar decision, commenting that “while she’s [Kurke] yet to dye her underarm hair pink a la the “Wrecking Ball” singer, our immediate reaction was still the same: cringe!”. And that’s exactly the message that so many of us received, that ‘cringing’ is the right way to feel about the completely natural process of hair growth. The negativity surrounding Kurke’s decision to grow and then display her armpit hair suggests to female readers that the millions of hairs that cover our bodies are unnatural and undesirable, and that whenever you see even the faintest sprout of hair you must get out the wax strips and razors and remove the monstrosity you’ve been plagued with.

While on one side we have body positivity on the rise, seen very recently in the banning of a Yves Saint Laurent campaign depicting an ‘unhealthily underweight’ model, on the other remains the burden placed on women to conform to often unattainable standards of (hairless) perfection. And as summer approaches, the first thought on the minds of so many women is of course, to remove their hair.  In our personal spaces at home we’ll take care of these very hairs, moisturize and give them nutrients to thrive and grow, in the public space this aspect of our body is detested and made unacceptable. We look in the mirror and accept ourselves, accept our body, but we stare into a mirror framed by the intrusive eyes of society and allow this to shape how we feel about ourselves. The necessity of hair removal is so deeply engrained in our lives that we never  question who told us that we need to get rid of it in the first place.

Photo credit: The Tribune
Yves Saint Laurent ad banned earlier this week. (Photo credit: The Tribune).

And it’s that need I don’t understand. Women are constantly placed under pressure to be immaculate, to leave their house with perfectly groomed eyebrows, with no hair lingering on their upper lip, with legs waxed to Venus-style perfection, and with arms silky smooth and visually appetising. The TV adverts begin rolling in during the summer as the images of fresh, ‘feminine’, hairless bodies swallow us up and make us feel inadequate if we don’t ‘scrub up’ well. A few days ago I found myself very angrily expressing that I did indeed need to begin thinking about a grooming regime for the summer – and the priority was that the hair on my legs, arms and under my armpits needed to be removed before I made my debut in public; as if I, blessed with no hair follicles, otherwise roamed the earth like a divine, hair-free, sensual goddess.

So when I saw what Kurke had done, it reiterated my questioning of the relationship between hair and women – it will never be accepted. If I walked into work tomorrow with legs full of hair, it would raise eyebrows (which also require hair to be raised, but hey, eyebrows are acceptable) and I’d be office gossip. If a man walked in with exceptionally hairy legs, it would be ignored. When men have beards, it’s cool and trendy. But if women might want a beard, or suffer from health issues (like polycystic ovaries) which mean they end up with hair in more unconventional places, it’s something to stare or laugh at. Hair just seems to upset people a lot.

Kurke’s move to display her hair is inspiring. It’s a rejection of everything women are taught to do from a very young age, and it signals a new wave of infectious feminism that is very slowly spreading its body positive message.  I’m all for the display of male and female body hair, and I hope you are too.  It’s time to stop expecting and start accepting.

A glimpse into Britain’s changing consumer market: The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising – Notting Hill, London

Photo credit: logogeek.co.uk
Photo credit: logogeek.co.uk

Housing around 12,000 items relating to Britain’s ever-changing consumer market, Notting Hill’s Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is a glorious tunnel into design, commercial art and consumer history, revealing the way British people have experienced life and sustained themselves since the Victorian era.

Located just around the corner from Portobello Road, the museum is host to a selection of intriguing products including foodstuffs such as chocolates, breakfast cereals, sauces and tinned food. It also showcases the evolution of TVs and radios, and has cabinets displaying how even medicinal packaging and washing-up liquid has changed over time. There are valentines cards that signal the start of a new era in the brilliantly constructed tunnel-like route, and haunting reminders of war-time Britain, the fear of Hitler and an incessant need to ration food.

Here are a few pictures of my favourite displays from the museum:

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Gather around everyone, it’s time to watch a little TV…

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 Everyone loves chocolate, and to see my most adored brands in their more earlier packaging was just astounding. We pick up so many items and never pause to think about the creativity and thought that has gone into making sure it appeals to us. We also don’t realise that we become attached to these brands and products, forming relationships with them. What the difference in chocolate packaging taught me was consumer demand for chocolate to appear more and more luxurious. Just look at the Galaxy bar above and the kind of royal feel it attempts to create now. It’s an upheaval to say the least.

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 This, purely because I have a phobia of those who sneeze loudly around me. We won’t dwell on that too much.

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 This took me right back to the 1920s and reminded me of classy women dancing the Charleston and attending lavish Great Gatsby-esque parties. Beautiful.

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 I loved seeing these packets of crisps, considering I’ve spent much of my life eating them…

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 But this was a  sorrowful reminder of Hitler’s threat to Britain and a war that no one can ever forget.

 If you’re interested in seeing your favourite brands and the history attached to them, head over to this museum for a delightful and infomative trip down memory lane.