Reflecting on body building vs body positivity.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Since I got deeper into fitness and exercise and started to see real strength gains and the natural changes that my body went through as a result, I’ve grown more interested in the idea of low key ‘body-building’ in the sense of sculpting my shape using weight-lifting and food. A lot of women who are into weight training have shared a similar epiphany – for most of our lives, ‘fitness’ has been about running, forcing yourself through unpleasant workouts and restricting the food you eat in order to get smaller. Weight training offers an empowering alternative (to those of us who are in a good mental place for it); rather than restricting food, you have to eat, you have to focus on strength goals and you don’t have to force yourself to run on a treadmill for hours on end, either. Perhaps most importantly, it allows you to get bigger, to get stronger, and to take up space instead of shrinking and sweating and ultimately wilting under the pressure of the fitness goals you’re ‘supposed’ to have.

After over a year of weight training, I’ve not just seen my body lean out, but I’ve seen myself develop biceps, bigger glutes, back muscles, quads and calves. For a month, I had a brief glimpse of my own abs in the mirror most days! It’s a look that I’ve decided that I like on myself, and it’s made me realise that I want my body to look physically strong.

This is where I start to get into uncomfortable territory, because of the idea that you cannot truly be body confident or practice self-love and personal body positivity if you’re in pursuit of some kind of physical change. I get it, too. It goes against a lot of what I’ve taught myself over the past several years; we shouldn’t be aspiring to arbitrary changes to our bodies, we should be aspiring to love ourselves in our current state, against all odds and the expectations our society places on us.

For me personally, I want to be able to see evidence of my strength and determination when I look in the mirror, not just feel it, in the same way that I enjoy seeing a display of creativity and a different version of myself in the mirror when I wear makeup. I know that I’m already beautiful and that my body is and always will be perfect as is – no change required – but that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t want to tweak bits and pieces of it that are within my control occasionally, either. Neither version of myself is better, neither the before nor after is superior in any way and I like neither more than the other - they're just different, and an alternative way I'd like to present myself.

Does this mean that any desire to change your body is inherently without flaw? Absolutely not. It is well within our rights to want to change our bodies as we see fit, but we fundamentally cannot escape the society in which we live - I've said it before and I'll say it again: our choices regarding our bodies and our appearances don't exist in a vacuum. Sure, we choose to change for ourselves, but there is always a pressure bearing down on us to look a certain way - whether we are aware of it or not - and that shapes our desires. Would we really still want to look skinny if looking skinny wasn't presented as an ideal, an aspiration, a representation of health, wellness, dedication, moral fibre, beauty and fame?

You could argue that being a woman and wanting to look thicker or more muscular is less of an issue, as these traits aren’t put on nearly as high a pedestal (and in the case of muscle in particular are often denigrated as being unfeminine, manly and ultimately, therefore, unattractive) but even desire for these too are heavily influenced by social media and beauty trends - after all, fitspo is the new thinspo and the peach is the new thigh gap. The ‘thicc’ booty builders on Instagram perpetuate just as problematic and impossible an ideal as the super skinny, popular fitspo that preceded them.

It’s an issue that is nuanced and extremely complicated. I don’t believe that we should feel ashamed of our desire to change our physical appearances in some way, especially if we have thought critically about why it is that we want to do it. In the war against body-shaming and fatphobia, it can be easy for those of us who’re working towards an aesthetic change of some kind or another to feel awkward, out of place and part of the problem. And I suppose in a lot of cases we are part of the problem - particularly when it comes to weight-loss or attempting to make your body better fit society’s cookie cutters. There are plenty of people out there who are maybe less educated about body positivity, fatphobia and diet culture and tell themselves until they’re blue in the face that they only want to be skinny for themselves, and are perhaps ignorant to the bigger picture of what our culture makes us want and how thinness won’t really bring happiness or inner peace.

That said, for me personally, I don’t believe it’s any different to why I get body modifications, and as someone who has taken a nine year, painstakingly difficult journey to critically unpack what I want out of exercise, I disagree with the idea that I should feel embarrassed or like I somehow love myself less for wanting to make certain changes to my body’s appearance. Do I secretly hate my body for wanting to get tattoos and piercings too, or is it just my desire to be leaner and more muscular that makes me full of hidden self-loathing?

Even with that being the case though, there are ways to go about pursuing change without aligning yourself with harmful ideas about bodies:

  • recognise that your body was good before as well as after,
  • understand that true confidence and happiness do not come with physical changes,
  • be critical of your reasons for wanting to change and aware of cultural factors that contribute to your desire,
  • never put down the aspects of your physical appearance that you have since altered,
  • never use fatphobic or body-shaming rhetoric when talking about your goals,
  • understand that the work you put into attaining a goal does not elevate you or your body above others,
  • validate all other bodies and remind yourself and others that not everyone has to aspire to your life and goals,
  • be mindful of the space you take up by claiming body positivity, and don’t dilute it into fitspo thinly veiled as self-love.

I think the latter points are perhaps some of the most key – we get into dangerous territory when we co-opt the concept of body positivity with our fitness goals, to the point where body positivity itself has been warped to an unrecognisable degree. ‘Body positivity’ as it used to be was a space created by and for fat and marginalised body types, and it’s only taken a few years for the hashtags and communities to be largely overtaken by more socially acceptable, conventional body types, many of whom are fitness influencers with ‘perfect’ svelte bodies (unintentionally or not) silencing those that need the movement most.

Maybe that’s the conclusion I’ve come to from my reflections and from reading pieces by fat, body positive influencers over the past few months; that provided our hearts and minds are in the right place, it is possible for myself and others to practice self-love, love our bodies and uplift all other body types while working towards certain aesthetic goals. What shouldn’t happen, however, is for our voices to take over communities that our lifestyles and goals don’t really belong in. Society could certainly use more fat women kicking ass and taking names dancing and weight-lifting and running and proving that you can be unapologetically fat, fit and a badass, but the world is already saturated with slim bodies doing those things.

Those of us who are already a part of the socially-acceptable end of the body spectrum however can have self-love, we can have self-confidence, we can have adoration and celebration of our own and of other bodies in any and all states that they’re in, but things like fitness-focused content and progress photos and photo after photo of our perfect intsta-booties or biceps or chiselled abs are perhaps best left to other hashtags and not foisted upon the #bodypositive community. Fit bodies are already celebrated enough and put on a pedestal by the world we live in, they don’t need yet more space.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that you can practice true self love or body positivity while working towards aesthetic fitness goals?

I don't know how I feel about having children

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The past few years I’ve had some real swings to and fro on how I feel about maybe having kids someday. I’ve never been a staunch ‘I never want kids’ kind of person; although I’ve never had a point in my life so far where I definitely thought my life would be improved by the addition of children, I’ve always been open to the idea that this might change. It does change, occasionally, but rarely for long. I had a brief broody period a couple of years ago during which I could imagine life as a mum, and how wonderful it would be to have a child to raise and grow with. I could hear their giggles and chattery conversations with me, and see myself as a cool tattooed mum kicking life’s ass and taking names all with a toddler on her hip.

Since then, for the most part, I’ve been dead against the idea.

I still have the odd moments when my maternal instincts kick in.  I think I’d be a good parent, and look forward to learning from and being shaped by a child as much as they would learn from and be shaped by me.

The problem is that these moments are fleeting, and I’m always brought back to the same conclusion: I don’t want to be tied down by huge, life-changing responsibility that isn’t and has never been my dream and that I might regret. Parents who criticise the willingly child-free like to call us selfish for not raising children, and to a certain extent that’s absolutely why I don’t always think I want any. I like my life. I like my freedom. As much as I adore animals and love pets (way more than I want kids), I found the commitment involved in even taking Wilson in and having to plan my life around her a huge struggle to wrap my head around, and she’s a very independent cat, not a child. I’ve only recently got to grips with managing my own life like a real adult, let alone caring for an infant or kid, and my peaks and troughs with anxiety make me concerned for my ability to adequately raise one at times.

In terms of regret, that’s a tricky one. I know parents are never supposed to say that they regret having children, but as discussion about the negative aspects of parenthood (and in particular, motherhood) have become somewhat less taboo, I’ve read a lot of stories from parents who – if they could go back in time and make different choices – they would choose differently. That isn’t to say that they don’t still adore their children, or haven’t enjoyed watching the grow up.  But, if they could do it all again knowing what they know now and that the experience of parenthood really wasn’t for them or knowing the life and opportunities that they missed out on due to opting for parenthood out of obligation or because their partner wanted kids or because they didn’t realise they had any other choice, they wouldn’t.

Luckily, as a woman in 2018 I don’t have quite the same pressure to be a mum that a lot of older women had when they were my age. Having children is no longer a requirement of being a woman, but I am still wary of the subtle, ingrained view that once you have your long term partner, and your career, and your house, the next step is largely still expected to be starting a family. It’s not a requirement anymore, sure, but it still tends to be ‘just what you do’, and I don’t want to unintentionally fall into that trap thinking it was just the natural next stage of life when it doesn’t have to be.

The logical person in me also looks to the facts: to over-population, to the state of the planet, to the fact that – other than frankly more selfish desire to hopefully have someone to care for you when you’re older – there is no real need to procreate. It also looks to the likely struggles that my child would endure thanks to the uncertainty of their future, of our politics. I don’t want to raise a kid if they aren’t going to be guaranteed the same privileges and head starts that I was; I don’t want them to struggle through life without the NHS or pay five times my tuition fees for university or be unable to experience the joys of travel because of cost and visas and lack of opportunity. (Unlike, as apparently voting statistics would suggest, many of the generations before us, I want my children to have everything I had and much, much more. They deserve better.)

Life for our generation as parents is going to be different to our parents’ lives with us. With the lack of increase in wages, the higher cost of living, the increase in tuition fees, the difficulty in getting decently paid jobs, it’s looking likely that just as our generation often find themselves stuck living at home with parents well into their twenties or even thirties, the same will probably be said for our children. So, on top of us having to struggle for longer to get our lives together and get houses and actually start to enjoy some semblance of security, once we choose to have children, we’re probably going to be sharing our home with them for far longer than our parents did with us simply because they won’t be able to afford anything better. We’re also having children later, due to the simple fact that we cannot afford to and are in no position to have them (generally speaking) any earlier than thirty.

On mulling it over, that means that, most likely, while our parents were able to see us properly fly the nest in our mid-twenties and settle down and enjoy their lives and retirements between their forties and sixties, that will be pushed back considerably for us. We may not even have children until our mid to late thirties or early forties. That means that we could be well in excess of fifty by the time our kids graduate university, and if the current trend is anything to go by, they might end up living with us for a long time after that. Our retirement age will no doubt be pushed back further, so we’ll be housing or supporting our grown-up kids (through no fault of their own) while holding down a job well into old age, possibly into our retirement, and then by the time they’re able to find solid ground we’ll be too damn old to actually enjoy our golden years without them.

Truth be told, there is no good time to have kids. There is no magic formula or plan you can have that will prepare you. For many, having kids is a reward in itself that makes it worth all of the trials and tribulations, and that’s cool. But I know me – I struggle. A lot. And having only just got to grips with my career and living my life and being my best self at 26, I’m not ready to give that up and the thought of not having my independence again until my late fifties or sixties is terrifying. Years ago, I had hoped that if I were to have kids, I would have them by 28 or 30. I wanted to be active and healthy and youthful enough to still play and keep up with them and relate to them (I’m constantly exhausted now at 26, I cannot imagine experiencing that plus parent-level exhaustion at 40+). Now I’m not willing to give up my youth just yet, which scuppers that plan, and leaves me wondering when – if ever – I will actually be okay with the idea of bringing a child into my life.

If I get pregnant, I get pregnant, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Maybe it’ll happen and I’ll think of it as a blessing, I’ll immediately fall in love with the idea of parenthood and we’ll roll with it, or maybe it’ll happen and I’ll have the complete mental breakdown I expect myself to and I’ll know I’m either not ready or it’s just not for me.

Either way, all I know for sure right now is that I don’t know, and I’m not making any plans to commit to an ‘I don’t know’ and an increasingly bleak social and political future.

Review / Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics Lip Colour, Colour Pot & Concealer

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Close up photo of Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics Colour Pot in Harmony, Lipcolour in You and Arnica Concealer in Latte in base packaging.  The colour pot packaging has a lovely glossy, mirrored lid.
You might remember me talking about Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics products before – I did a review post of a highlighter, colour pot and lip and cheek tint by them back in September 2016 – and I was pretty impressed with their products at the time.  I even featured them in a simple, glowing winter makeup look at the end of 2016.  I loved that they were gentle and natural, and achieved softer looks, and that’s something that I’ve really been gravitating towards recently. I still love heavier, more glamorous makeup, but since I started going bare-faced at least five days a week, when I finally do wear makeup I’ve been preferring how my face looks with it being more minimal and understated.

I was very excited when I saw that Ere Perez had redone some of their products and packaging and released some new items and, of course, I had to try them! Since I’ve been lusting after natural looks recently, I thought I would try some products in shades that would be more subtle and ‘my face but better’, so I decided to order the Moisturising Macadamia Lip Colour in the shade You and the Carrot Colour Pot in Harmony, both of which are repackaged and possibly even reformulated versions of old products. One of their new goodies however, is the Arnica Concealer. If you’ve been following my beauty escapades for a while now, you’ll know that a good concealer that’s both vegan and cruelty free has been the ultimate challenge for me to find, so it was a no brainer that I gave this a go. The shade I chose was the lightest available, Latte.

Close up photo of Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics Colour Pot in Harmony, Lipcolour in You and Arnica Concealer in Latte with lids off.  The lipcolour is a cool pink lipstick, the concealer a pale cream concealer and the colour pot a peachy pink coloured cream formula.

Let’s start with the lipstick! The Moisturising Macadmia Oil Lipcolour in the shade You* is a creamy lip product made with macadamia oil, and is supposed to give great coverage as well as sooth and moisten the lips like a balm might. I believe (but am not 100% certain) this is an old product, rather than one of their re-packaged new creations. This shade turned out to be an almost perfect match for my lips, and is advertised as a pinky-brown, natural shade best suited to people with fairer complexions and cool tones to their skin.

On the lips, this makes my face look a little bit more polished and put together with minimal effort, and is easily the best natural lip colour I own now. You can’t really tell that I’m wearing anything on my lips when I have this on – they just look fuller, more even and filled in than usual, and on top of that I barely even feel it. Coming from someone who is used to wearing heavy matte liquid lipsticks all the time, it’s virtually weightless and my lips feel soft and almost like I’m wearing a lip balm when I’m wearing it. The staying power is about what I would expect from a creamy product in that it does wear away if you eat or drink, but it doesn’t smudge or smear and it’s extremely easy to reapply. Since I received this, it’s been my go to lip product for days when I want to wear something on my lips, but don’t want anything drying or to have to deal with the commitment of even my nude liquid lipsticks.

My one complaint with this product would be that in certain lights you can sometimes see just a hint of glittery bits in this lipstick (which as someone who hates glittery lipsticks, immediately concerned me and made me think I wasn’t going to like it), but it doesn’t seem to show when you actually apply it to your lips. That aside, I definitely intend to repurchase this and to try more of the lipcolours that Ere Perez has to offer.

Next, the Carrot Colour Pot in the shade Harmony*. I have one of their colour pots in the old packaging, and I think that the new version was an excellent choice. Rather than the old flip-top container, this is a screw top with a glass base and beautiful mirrored lid and, although the old packaging was elegant-looking and great quality, this gives it a much more high-end feel. I’m not sure if they’ve altered the formula for these at all with the repackaging, but I think I also much prefer the texture and consistency of Harmony to Holy, which I have in the older packaging.

Ere Perez colour pots are designed to be worn on cheeks or lips, and Harmony is described as a dusty pink shade that I thought would complement my complexion well, and it certainly does! When applied, this gives a beautiful soft pink flush to my cheeks, however on my skin it seems to take on a warmer, slightly more peachy tint than dusty pink (you can see from the swatch below that it looks much warmer on my skin than it seems to in the pot). It still looks perfectly natural and matches my complexion well, but you may want to be aware that it might take on a different tone depending on your own complexion and undertones. On the lips, it matches my natural lip colour extremely well and just helps to add a little colour back into them on those days I can’t even be bothered with an easy lipstick, but still want a hint of colour.

This is a really easy product to use and I love that as a cream/balm-based blush, your skin still looks luminous and hydrated after applying it. It has a slightly stickier consistency compared to some other cream blushes I’ve used, but you can pat it on and blend it out with your fingertips, or occasionally I’ll apply it with my fingertips and then blend it out with my Real Techniques Expert Face Brush. A little does go a long way, so be careful not to gather up a large amount of product on your fingers!

Again, I’ll definitely be repurchasing this little pot – it’s almost as though this and the You lipstick were made to perfectly match my skin, and this product in particular feels like a luxury item with the new packaging.

Lastly, we have the new Arnica Concealer in the shade Latte*. Now, this was the product that I was most anticipating, and hoped that it would finally fill the void that being both vegan and cruelty free with sensitive skin had left me. Ere Perez’s concealers are made with arnica, which they say is a calming remedy that’s both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory – so while other concealers might make spots and blemishes worse, the idea is that this one helps to heal them as well as cover them up. The shade range is unfortunately quite limited; Latte is the lightest shade and seems to match me perfectly, but I know I’m not as pale as many other folks, and there are essentially no options for darker skinned people of colour.

The packaging for the concealer is essentially the same as for the colour pot, but with a white lid instead of a shiny, mirrored one, and feels similarly high end and good quality. The consistency of the product is a light cream; it’s somewhat similar to the Illamasqua skin base concealers but much, much lighter to the touch. At first, it feels almost dry like a kind of crème-to-powder formula, but once your skin warms it, the Arnica Concealer becomes more of a true cream texture.

Now, if you’re looking for a heavy duty concealer, I would say this isn’t for you. Like most of Ere Perez’s products, this is natural both in appearance and in ingredients, but it does give very good, natural-looking coverage that I suppose I’d describe as medium-ish. It adequately conceals everything from spots to dark circles, but obviously doesn’t compare to say, Kat Von D’s concealers.

Having said that though, this is the perfect concealer for me. Once applied, I can pretty much forget that I’m wearing it because (unlike everything I’ve worn in the past) I can’t actually feel it on my skin. Paired with a colour corrector, the Ere Perez Arnica Concealer covers all of my uneven patches, redness and dark circles in a way that achieves my ideal ‘perfect’ skin – you can’t tell I’m wearing makeup, it just looks as though I have really, really good skin, without looking like a blank canvas or caked in product! When using setting powder, it doesn’t even crease under my eyes, which was a problem I’ve been having with all of my concealers since the onset of my late twenties fine lines.  It wears just as well as the Illamasqua or Collection concealers, and doesn’t awkwardly sink into pores or separate as my face gets oilier throughout the day.

Swatch photo of Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics Colour Pot in Harmony, Lipcolour in You and Arnica Concealer in Latte on fair skin.
Left to right: Moisturising Macadamia Lip Colour in You, Carrot Colour Pot in Harmony, Arnica Concealer in Latte

I would consider these higher end items that aren’t suited to everyone’s budget, though – the concealer is £23, the colour pot is £21 and the lipcolour is £15.50 on LoveLula so they aren’t cheap. I would say that these are worth investing in if you’re likely to get a lot of use out of high quality, natural products, especially when it comes to multipurpose items like the colour pot. I think Ere Perez did a great job with their repackaging at least, because the new pots fit the standard that the price range sets much better than the old packaging did, making each item feel like more of a treat.

I’m really happy to say that I think these products are even better than the ones I reviewed previously, and if you’re someone who is into natural beauty and gentle products with natural ingredients, then these are definitely worth adding to your collection. Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics continues to impress!

* This review is not sponsored and has not been paid for, however the products were sent to me free of charge. All views and opinions expressed are my own.

2018 Hopes & Goals

Monday, 1 January 2018

2017 was a pretty wild ride – just as David Mitchell recently described it, I thought “it was personally adequate and internationally disastrous”. On a global scale, it’s been quite the clusterfuck of a year that anyone who keeps up to date with the news will be well aware of, but as far as it goes for me as an individual, it wasn’t half bad. 2017 was the year that I went to Antigua, was offered not one but two great job opportunities, and finally moved away from the south and ended up in Nottingham.

The past several years have been awkward and transitional, like living in a constant state of limbo, and the latter half of 2017 and moving into 2018 I’m now feeling settled and hopeful for the future. Life isn’t perfect or fully secure by any means; there are still plenty of uncertainties around what we’ll be doing and when and whether or not living in Nottingham is going to be it for the rest of our lives. For the foreseeable future at least, we’re here and we’re waiting to get our lives in order so that we can finally start the process of buying a house.

I’m more optimistic now than I was this time last year. I was happy and in a job I enjoyed, but I had my end of contract in March looming over me, no other prospects and was still ultimately unhappy about where we were living. It’s a very different picture now – I have a permanent, better job with a team that I love working with, and I feel like all of the pieces of the puzzle are finally falling into place and like our adult lives can really begin, for real this time. We even seem to have somehow acquired a cat!

I suppose the main somewhat negative note moving into 2018 is that I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to blogging anymore. It seems to be a common theme lately that a lot of us are feeling a little hopeless; growth has been crushed by algorithms, communities are frustrating those that are a part of them, content isn’t reaching the number of people it used to and, by and large, inspiration and motivation has almost fizzled out. I don’t know what I even really want my content to look like moving forward, but I think I’m going to start making a conscious effort to blog about a wider variety of ethical lifestyle and just plain lifestyle topics, and start introducing fitness posts too (from a more balanced perspective than it perhaps tends to be). Sad thing is that my non-beauty related posts tend to do the worst when it comes to statistics, but I think the fact that I’m so fed up with everything lately has made me stop caring and want to just write for me and for the people that are going to keep reading my blog regardless.

That seems like a bit of a downer, I guess, but what can I say? The last couple of months of 2017 have been pretty reflective for me as a content creator and I think I’m going to just have to start dialling it back and producing things that I love, even if no one else does!

Some other personal aspirations and intentions of mine for this year are:
  • Hip thrust 60kg by the end of the year. My personal best is 45kg so this isn’t an unrealistic goal, but it’s challenging to practice at higher weights regularly because my gym is just too busy and doesn’t have enough space for full-sized barbells.
  • Keep building my upper body strength and maybe finally have full on biceps by the end of the year.
  • Drink more water. I’m not too bad at this, but I’ve fallen back into bad habits and need to pull myself out of it again.
  • Visit my best friend in the US.  She came to me the year before last, and it would be amazing to arrange to fly out and see her again!
  • Start pole dancing. I’ve already booked myself in for my beginner classes in mid-January, and I can’t wait! This has been a goal of mine for around 6 years now, and I’m so excited to finally be doing it.
  • Take steps to lead a more minimalist life, maybe build a capsule wardrobe. 2017 has been the year I realised that all of the stuff I have just stresses me out, and maybe 2018 can be the year I fix that.
  • Practice a more meditative and mindful lifestyle.  Blogger friends like Bre of Brianne Etc. have been bringing living positive, bright lives and generally being more balanced, mindful and self-loving to the forefront of my thoughts lately.  It’s really made me want to shift my lifestyle, look inwards and try to be my best self in 2018.
  • Be better at tidying. Linked with the above, I’ve always been shit at tidying up regularly so I may as well make the same resolution I do every year and try to do it more often…
  • Read more. Honestly, I’m awful at reading. I love it, but I’m crap at making time for it and sticking with it and that’s something I really, really want to change.
How about you - what are your goals for the next year?

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