Mirror, Mirror

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When do you feel that you look most like yourself?  For me it’s about twenty minutes before I fall into bed when I’m in my bathroom and about to take my makeup off (on one of the days where I’ve actually done my makeup – that’s very important; I don’t count the other days).  That moment before I scoop my hair up and run the tap, I lean on the sink and look into the mirror and actually recognise the reflection staring back as most like “me”.  Or maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that I actually like the reflection staring back.  I mean sure, it’s not as polished as the 10am version – but that’s okay and I kind of prefer it that way; it’s more realistic, less maintained (but at the same time not the horror show that is the 7am version).  I’m slobbing around in my pyjamas, my makeup’s worn in, I’ve shed my glasses, the curl’s mostly fallen out of my hair and I’m about to get into bed (the best time of the day, I think you’ll agree) so I’ve usually got a happy little grin going on.

That slightly dishevelled, chilled out and cheerful reflection is what I expect and hope to see in every mirror I come across day to day – not just in my bathroom one – but also in changing rooms, hotels, other people’s houses, the windows I walk past when I’m out and about, in photographs and in the eyes of everyone I know.  Kind of like the evil step mother in Snow White (Mirror, mirror on the wall…).  So, how come I NEVER do!  That bathroom reflection never bloody leaves the house and I feel like I’m constantly being pounced on by other reflections of myself that I don’t recognise AT ALL.  Like the one lurking behind me in that long, tilting mirror you get in every H&M fitting room that lets you see what you look like from a horrible backwards angle (“Jesus christ, is that what my nose looks like from the side???  That’s not me!”).  Shudder.  The horror at seeing a photograph of myself on a day where I thought I was walking out of the house looking absolutely smokin’ in that new skirt when actually – turns out – it makes my thighs look massive.  Yeesh.  Then there’s that weird moment where I try and correlate those two very different images of myself and work out which one is actually real – because there can’t possibly be two.  I’m just one person after all, I don’t have two sets of thighs.  So which is the liar: the camera or the mirror?

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We’ve all experienced those surreal moments when people actually voice how they see you.  The first time I became aware that other people might see me differently to the way I saw myself was when I was about seven.  I was in school, queuing up with the rest of the kids to go to assembly and one of them suddenly turned around in the line and gave me a long, hard look.  “…It must be really strange having one eye bigger than the other,” they said, then shrugged and went off to assembly without realising that they’d just performed the equivalent of a hit and run on my appearance, and man was it a kill shot.  I remember being simultaneously confused and completely horrified, because firstly I’d never noticed anything different about my eyes, and secondly – hold up – “is that what everyone thinks I look like!?  Am I a monster!”   Thinking about that now makes me laugh out loud (kids are dicks, aren’t they?) – I mean, how ridiculous!  But I never forgot it and – you know what? – there might actually be some truth to it because to this day I can never seem to apply my eyeliner evenly.  Oh well.

Why is it that criticisms of our appearance – however wide off the mark and ridiculous – are so easy to believe, but compliments aren’t?  There are some observations that we want to believe, but flat out refuse to – like a mirage.  For example, my husband is always telling me that there’s nothing of me – that I’m stick thin.  I know he’s not lying, but I’m convinced that he sees me as skinnier than I actually am because he’s taller than me and so he’s always looking at me from a slightly skewed angle (isn’t that mad?!).  A few weeks ago my sister-in-law turned around, pointed to my eyes and said they were “quite stunning” because apparently they’ve got a darker ring around the outside of the iris.  Excuse me, what?  Looking at my eyes in mirrors all my life I’d never once noticed this mythical dark ring – but she’s right, it’s there.  How the hell did I miss that?  Why didn’t I see it?

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It’s a kind of weird, daily challenge that we all face, isn’t it?  Gathering up all these different versions of ourselves and trying to marry them up with the one we accept as the “real” us (and that’s without adding that impossible bar set for us by the media, fashion and beauty industries).  I’m 33 and I still haven’t figured out which is the real one, or whether I care.  Is it that bathroom version?  The skinny one with the stunning eyes my husband and sister in law see?  Or the sloppy one my neighbours see at 7am when I walk the dog?  Or are they all way, way off?  Are my thighs big?  Are my wrinkles easy to spot?  I can’t for the life of me work out how I can look in a mirror and love my appearance one minute and then take a photograph two seconds later only to stab furiously at the delete button.  I have absolutely no idea.  There’s no easy answer except that I’m probably all of these different versions of myself and none of them at the same time – and that mirrors are very, very strange objects.

Fun fact, every time you see your reflection in a mirror it’s out by about 10 nanoseconds – so it’s a slightly younger version of yourself.  *eye roll* In case you wondered, that’s probably the real me – the one who has to punctuate everything with a nerdy fact. 😉

Why we all want to be a bit more Villanelle (minus the murder)

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My husband and I always tend to have our most deep and meaningful conversations in the car.  It makes sense; you’re wedged together for anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours where at least one person isn’t allowed to scroll the time away on their phone.  Conversation is going to happen, and when you’ve known each other for ten plus years, it’s not going to be about the weather.  In between mini-arguments over who’s Spotify Playlist has got the best mix (mine, obviously), bouts of road-rage and scrambling around to find that fruit pastille I dropped between my legs (it was a black one, no!) – we tend to get a little deep.  Last weekend – road tripping back from West Wales – we somehow got onto the subject of murder.  “Could you ever kill a dog?” I asked.  “No, never – not unless it was in pain,” was our united stance on that one.  Even then, I’d struggle and sob myself silly; I couldn’t even bear the thought of it, because, well… dogs.  And then we played that game you always play when pondering moral dilemmas; you go to the most extreme situation you can think of.  I shrugged my lips, “Alright then, could you kill a person?”  

Now before you start thinking that my husband and I are psychopaths who spend every single car journey plotting murder, I should probably explain that we don’t.  We’ve just been watching waaaaaay too much Killing Eve.

It’s back this weekend for Season 2; are you as excited as I am?  I’m so ready for another helping of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s razor dagger-sharp script-writing, more scene stealing fashion and two of the most complex, well-written female characters on the box (three, if you include Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn – which I totally think you should because she’s awesome).  But mostly because, finally, more Villanelle!  Played by the brilliant and beautiful Jodie Comer, she’s become a bit of an unlikely icon and – yikes, dare I say it? – role model?  Probably not for the cold blooded killer bits, but for just about everything else.

I mean, there’s a reason why tailored suits are everywhere at the moment, along with frou-frou pink tops and dresses (who can forget that psychiatrist scene from Season 1?).  And it’s not just the fashion, it’s her playful, devil may care attitude that we’re all hooked on; she does and wears whatever the hell she wants, speaks her mind, and is as tough as the Balenciaga Biker Boots she stomps around in.  There’s a beautiful brutality to her that I think we all fancy injecting a little of into our own lives – whether that’s wearing something eye-catching and extravagant, to telling someone exactly what you think of them.  To their face, with a serene smirk.  Sorry not sorry, baby.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained in an interview that crafting the character of Villanelle (originally created by the writer Luke Jennings in his book Codename: Villanelle) came from continually asking herself the question, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”  And I think that’s the question we should all probably be asking ourselves every day in as many variously worded ways as possible.  It’s the only way to acknowledge the fear holding you back from being the most explicit and honest version of yourself, and then shake it and be that person – devil may care. “What would I wear today if I wasn’t afraid of being stared at?”, “What project would I take on at work if I wasn’t afraid of failing?”, “What would I say to that person if I wasn’t afraid of being rejected?” ad infinitum.  As long as the question isn’t, “Who would I kill today if I wasn’t afraid of being caught?” then you’re golden.

Killing Eve is back on BBC One this Saturday at 9.15pm.  Smell you later.  🔪

 

How to Go it Alone and Survive a Party or an Event Where You Know No one

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When I first started blogging nearly four years ago, the thought of going solo to an event where I knew absolutely no one would have been enough to bring me out in hives.  I’d have had some questions before predictably deciding to skip it.  Number one: Why the HELL would I voluntarily put myself through that kind of torture?  Number two: Can I bring a friend to cling onto/hide behind? and if not, then Number three: How do I get out of this and hide out at home without looking like a total loser?  The truth is that I’d have made my excuses, metaphorically shut the curtains and hid out at home – simple as.  “If anyone calls I’m not here!!!”

We’ve all been there (I hope!); at some point we all get invited to that party of a friend of a friend – only to have the friend bail at the last minute, or get sent to a networking event to mingle with total strangers (smingle?)Shudder.  I got invited to my first event four months after I started blogging and even though I was thrilled to have been invited, I was rattled.  I’d have to go alone and worse, as I was brand spanking new to the Cardiff Blogging Scene, I wouldn’t know anyone.  Yeesh.  Thankfully, I decided to be brave and went anyway, and even though – yeah – it was a bit awkward walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces, by the end of the event they became familiar and I came away realising that – actually – I wasn’t the wallflower I thought I was.  Four years on and I pretty much go solo to all the events that I get an invite to (in fact, as this post goes live I’ll be on my way to yet another one), and even though I still get those butterflies and that urge to bail – every single time – I’ve learned to take a breath and power through it and I always end up having a good time.

So, down to the million pound question: How do you survive a party or an event when you don’t know anyone?  How do you do it without clinging to a corner scrolling on your phone or choosing to keep the dog or cat company (GUILTY)?  Here are some tricks and tips I’ve picked up over the years.

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Arrive Early

I honestly can’t think of anything worse than turning up to a party or an event when it’s in full swing.  Having to walk into a room where everyone’s already paired up and chatting away is my idea of hell, so I always – if I can – try to be the first person to arrive.  Yeah, it’s a bit lame and you risk looking over-eager, but there’s a massive upside.  If you’re the first to arrive you’ll get one on one time with the host before anyone else does (and before they’re busy) – so, you can introduce yourself, offer to help out – and, when everyone else starts arriving they’ll most likely zone in on the host too, who’ll probably introduce you.  Easy, you’re in!

Pick a Bomb Outfit (and compliment everyone else’s)

Obviously you’ll want to check the dress code, but pick an outfit that you’re not only comfortable wearing, but also one that makes you feel confident.  I always like to wear one of my weird shirts because that’s usually how other bloggers recognise me (I’m the weird shirt girl) but also because they’re striking and a bit of a conversation starter.  Also, complimenting other people’s outfits is one of the best ways to strike up a conversation – a quick, “Sorry, I just had to come over and tell you how much I love your dress/bag/shoes – where are they from?” is all it takes.

Hunt down other guests who’ve decided to go it alone

One of the best tips I’ve ever read about going it alone is to track down someone else who’s in the same boat!  There’ll always be someone shy standing alone desperate to be rescued – so why not be their knight in shining armour?  They’ll be so grateful!  And don’t stop once you’ve settled in and have found a few people to talk to – always be on the look out for someone in trouble. 🙂

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Come armed with conversation topics

Don’t be the nob who reverts to chatting about the weather when there’s nothing else to say!  Come armed with questions to ask and topics to talk about.  After moving in with a compliment conversation starter ask questions about the other person’s life and the ball will usually start rolling.  At a lot of the blogging events I’ve been to there’ll usually be someone I recognise from social media – even if I’ve never met them in real life, and that makes things so much easier! If they post pictures of their dog, I ask them questions about that cute pupper – if they recently posted pictures of themselves on holiday, I ask them about it! I always feel like a total stalker, but usually I find the other person is just so happy you’ve taken an interest in them on a personal level that it never seems to come across  as stalkerish.  Maybe it’s a blogger loop hole!

No one is staring at you

Unless you get naked, you’re golden.  After I attended my first event alone, one of the biggest things I realised about myself was that I’d much rather take a risk and be the loudest, friendliest person in the room than play it safe and be the one standing alone scrolling on their phone.  I’ve always thought of myself as this shy wallflower – an introvert to the core – and I still am; I always get nervous before throwing myself into a social situation and I actually get a social hangover if I’ve spent too much time socialising (It’s a real thing!).  But, I’ve realised that I can be social and that I enjoy being social.  The truth is that the party or event isn’t going to revolve around you, there isn’t going to be a big spotlight following you around and no one is trying to catch you out or trip you up.  No one will care if you make a mistake.  So relax!

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Don’t Drink

Okay, hear me out; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of liquid luck, but use it once and it’ll become a crutch for every event you attend thereafter.  All the early events I attended on my own, I drove to – which at the time seemed like madness because, “How the hell am I going to be able to talk to people without a bit of dutch courage!?”  But actually, being forced to stay sober meant that by the end of the night when I’d come away having had a fantastic time and met some great people, I could chalk it up to being completely myself.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know anyone

You mean, admit that you’re a loner!?  ARE YOU CRAZY?  Well, look.  You can either stand around and hope someone will come and rescue you, or you can take a gamble and admit that you’re vulnerable.  I’ve done it a couple of times myself when I’ve really struggled to find someone to talk to and the other person has always been absolutely lovely and introduced to their friends.  No one is ever going to turn their back on you and tell you to go away – that worst case scenario rolling around in your head doesn’t exist.

Give Yourself a Bail-out Time

Before leaving, I always give myself a deadline – a time when I’m allowed to “give up”, call it quits and leave.  Not only is it a sensible thing to do so your nearest and dearest know what time you’re likely to be heading home, but it also takes the edge off if you’re nervous.  You’ll know there’s an end in sight.  Usually you’ll find that your bail out time sneaks up way too soon and you’ll be having such a great time that you’ll end up extending it anyway! 😉

If you’re local to Cardiff, whether you’re a blogger or own a small business or just fancy mingling with some new faces then there are loads of networking events to attend.  Definitely check out The Monday Club (most of the photographs in this post were taken at their summer garden party earlier this week), The Wonders Of Events, Warrior Women and House 21.

4 Times my Confidence took a Hit and How I Punched Back

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Let’s be clear here; I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where my ego doesn’t take at least a little bit of a dent.  You know, those little everyday knocks to your confidence.  Bad hair days, bad skin days. Those moments when you can’t seem to get your words out straight without spitting them all over someone (“Hey, I asked for the news not the weather!”). Days when you walk down the street and end up tripping over your own shoes (come on, we’ve all done that little over the shoulder look to blame an invisible crack in the pavement – “I was framed! I’m not just a complete and utter prat!”).  Those times when you just get it wrong; whether it’s an outfit, an answer to an important question or a telephone number (oh the horror).  I mean, that’s life right?  We all need taking down a peg or two from time to time; it’s those little knocks that remind us that we’re not actually walking Gods but snorting, spitting, “whoops I slipped up!” humans.  Who knew!

But in terms of overall self esteem those are just little bumps and bruises, aren’t they? No biggie. A bit of a knock or a graze that can be sorted with a bit of Sudocrem from your emotional first aid kit by way of having a good old chuckle over the fact that we’re all capable of being a bit of an idiot from time to time.

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But then there are those times when someone or something throws your ego a suckerpunch. One you didn’t see coming. The kind that knocks you flat on your back and leaves a little bit more than just a couple of bruises.  Something breaks and you need a bit of time to recover.  Maybe you even step of the ring for a while, and when you do come back you can’t escape the fact that you’re different – altered in some way.  More skittish, more likely to duck out before you get hit or maybe you’ve learned how to punch back.  Okay, I’m going to ease up on the boxing metaphor now – I’m getting carried away!  What I guess I’m trying to say is that no matter how much it hurts at the time, it’s only through moments that shake our confidence right to the core that we find out what we’re really made of – and who we really are and want to be.  Here are four of mine. 🙂

That time a famous Children’s Author told me to “Go Away”

Yep, you read that right.  Back when I worked in a High School supporting English lessons it wasn’t that unusual for authors to come visit and read to the kids, and some pretty big names passed through.  During one of those visits the teacher I was working with asked me to do a little bit of essay marking for her during the reading; it was coming up to reports time and she was absolutely swamped.  So, “sure” I said and went to sit at the back of the crowd where I got out my green pen (apparently red’s seen as too negative these days) and started marking.  The author got maybe a paragraph into his reading when he suddenly stopped and shouted, “Uh, the woman sitting at the back with the glasses and snot-coloured top.  If you’re going to insist on scribbling through my reading, I’m going to have to ask you go away and scribble somewhere else.”

Oh man.  I’m furious just thinking about it.  If the same thing happened to me today, I’d have absolutely no problem punching back at someone like that.  In fact, I’d enjoy it.  But back then, I just couldn’t.  I felt small every single day because I hated my job, and the way he’d treated me made me feel even smaller.  Practically microscopic.  He’d humiliated me in front of the people I worked with and worse, my students – who never let me live it down.  Had it been rude of me to sit there marking while he read?  Maybe.  But was I – little old me with the messy, mousy hair, glasses and snot-coloured top – SO distracting, SO offensive that he couldn’t even concentrate on the simple task of reading a book out loud?  Would he have spoken to me like that if I was a man?  I doubt it.  The truth is that Mr Successful Children’s Author had felt the need to pump up his already bloated ego by deflating mine.  I’m sure he forgot about me the minute I walked away, but I didn’t.

That time I flunked my A-Levels

Okay, maybe flunked isn’t the right word because the truth is, I didn’t really flunk my A Levels.  I did absolutely fine, the problem was that fine wasn’t quite good enough to get me into my top choice of university… or my back up.  The day before I picked up my results the plan had been to go to Cardiff University to study History.  Well, that plan went tits up – spectacularly.  I was absolutely devastated.  I felt like I’d let everyone down, including myself.  The truth was – and I think I knew it deep down at the time – that I just hadn’t worked hard enough.  I’d gotten sloppy.  I’d overestimated myself, and it was tough coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t quite as good as I thought I was.  My confidence took a savage hit.  But hey, it all worked out in the end.  I went through clearing and got a place at Swansea University instead.  In the end it was good for me to get out of my home town and out of my comfort zone, and I had such a blast that I stayed on for another year with the guy I was really into at the time (…and still am, reader, I married him 😉 ) to study the other big love of my life; Creative Writing.

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That time my hair started falling out

I used to have really long hair.  I mean it was always quite fine, but I had a lot of it and it used to grow really fast.  I used to steer clear of the hair dressers and didn’t really need to bother caring for it.  I brushed it, I washed it and that was about it.  Then during my twenties, everything changed.  It became very dry, very brittle and even started falling out in massive chunks.  My confidence took a nosedive.  I stopped wearing my hair down and felt really bad about myself and how I looked.  In the end, I had to get it all chopped off just to take back some kind of control over it.  Nowadays I never take my hair forgranted!  I get it trimmed regularly and take care of what I’ve got.  It’s not perfect by any means, but these days I put in the work to keep it on my head!  (If you’re interested in reading more about how I got my hair back, I wrote a whole post about it here).

That time I was called a liar during an interview

Oh the shame.  This happened during one of my first interviews after graduating .  I was  so excited to have finished university and felt fairly optimistic about getting out there and finding a job I loved, although the truth was that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.  I was entertaining the idea of moving to London and was looking at jobs in marketing and publishing.  I managed to bag an interview for a job in sales with a big marketing firm in the middle of London and went in feeling super confident.  But it all went south during the interview.  I don’t know whether I was nervous or got a bit tongue tied, but the man who was interviewing me smirked the entire way through.  At the end he raised his eyebrows, scoffed and then said, “Sorry love, I don’t believe a single word of what you just said.”  I can’t remember what I did or said next – I must of repressed it – because I was absolutely mortified! I couldn’t get out of that room quick enough!  It was a good few months before I felt ready to go on another interview, and I didn’t apply for another job in sales after that.  Good thing too, I’d have been bloody awful at it!

How do you cope when your confidence takes a hit? 🙂

 

Why we need to stop turning 30 into an Expiration Date

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Today’s my birthday.  I’m 32 years old, which is crazy to me because the truth is that most days – in my head – I still feel like I’m 17.  And I suppose I still am in some ways; I still listen to the same kind of music, I still love doughnuts just as much (and more to the point still eat them for breakfast sometimes like I did when I was 17), still have a crush on Robert Downey Jr, still have the occasional volcanic eruption on my chin, and I still (and always will) think that mayonnaise is rank – get it the hell away from me.

How do I feel about hitting 32?  I feel good.  Better than good.  Which is strange because for a long time I was absolutely terrified of hitting my thirties.

I feel like during our twenties we’re made to feel like our thirtieth birthday is an expiration date of some kind.  You know, that by thirty we’re supposed to have travelled the world, ticked a few things off of our bucket list, met “the one”, know our personal style, have our own place, feel ready to create little humans (if we haven’t already), have reached a certain point in our chosen careers and just generally have life figured out.  We spend our twenties making Before 30 Lists of things we want to do or accomplish – and that’s not even taking into account society’s ideas about what we should have achieved before reaching the big 3-0.  And because of that we turn our thirtieth birthday into an expiration date.  The real life version of what midnight was to Cinderella… minus the pumpkin and glass slipper.

As I take another step into my thirties I can safely say that I’m happier and more comfortable in myself now than I ever was in my twenties.  And that’s not because I ticked everything off my 30 Before 30 List, or because I have life figured out – I really, really don’t.  Who does?  But I definitely understand myself a little better; who I am, who I’m not, and who I want to be.

We need to stop turning 30 into something to be feared and instead treat it as something exciting.  There’s something empowering about turning thirty.  It’s a whole new decade.  A whole new you… if that’s what you want.  You might not have x, or done y, or been to z, but hopefully you’ll know yourself a little better, and what and who matters to you the most.  And at the end of the day, those things are more important than whether you’ve backpacked the world or run a marathon or partied until the sun comes up.  You can still do all those things in your thirties, by the way.  No one’s stopping you!  😉

Happy Birthday to meeee! 🎈