Does my bum look big in this?

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I did vow when I first started writing this blog that I would try and bring a bit of humour and as yet I haven’t really delivered. So with that in mind I thought I’d write something about one of my biggest anxieties, that is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty ridiculous.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a post about my sizeable backside (translated as; my big arse) and the daily insecurities it brings.

It all started when I read a text a friend sent to another friend at secondary school which said “is lorry arse there?”. Knowing full well they were referring to me, despite their resignation, my complex began.

We can’t have been much older than 12 or 13 at the time and I’d never really given my appearance much thought. There wasn’t the same pressure that now engulfs teenage girls to look a certain way then. But this comment really seemed to light a spark that still burns today as I’m standing here on the train; self consciously yanking my top down for fear of the person sat behind me judging my ample rump.

A chubby, spotty, bushy eye browed teenager I most certainly was but so were all my friends so it didn’t seem to matter. But as soon as I started thinking that other people might be judging how I looked, I ran into a spot of bother.

I went through a phase of fainting and being sick on a daily basis; on the way to school, in school, you name it. I still don’t really know how it started but in hindsight I do think it had something to do with insecurities about the way I looked. I didn’t really tell anyone at the time, but the more I was sick and didn’t eat the better I felt as I started losing weight. And I vividly remember aforementioned friend telling me when I wore a pair of very tight stonewash Levi’s to a subsequent no-uniform day that my arse looked great. God it felt good.

Whilst the likes of J-Lo and The Kardashians have since made big bums fashionable it’s still most definitely something that blights me. It’s sad to think that a part of my body causes such great anxiety but it does and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people. And whilst it sounds a bit frivolous, it can at times be really debilitating and tear jerking.

And boy does it make shopping difficult. Everything is judged on whether it makes my bum look big. Even handbags. And don’t even get me started about jeans. It’s nay on impossible to find a pair that fit well on the arse and waist. It’s a true case of first world problems really. Walking also has its problems. Whether it be walking out of room or walking past a group of people. I sometimes hold my breath as the thought of their scrutiny whilst I’m stationary let alone moving is overwhelming. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find a picture of me where I’m side on too, the fear of ever being captured with it anywhere other than firmly (pardon the pun) behind me, unthinkable.

I mean of course I know that 99.9% of people haven’t given my arse a passing glance let alone a thought and that it’s not exactly on par with Kim K’s but I can’t help but picture that text in my head and wonder whether everyone thinks of me as ‘Michelle with the fat arse’ and instantly sit down or lean against something.

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Beauty and The Beast…

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As a chubby acne-prone teenager, the closest I got to beauty products was a bottle of Clearasil and a tea-tree stick. I was ridiculed for my frizzy hair, my bushy eyebrows and my fat arse or ‘lorry arse’ as I once heard my friend refer to it. I used to gaze at the pretty girls with their make-up and plucked eyebrows and long to be the same but never thought it possible. I felt ugly and fat and I didn’t see that ever changing. And to this day, I largely feel the same; there’s very little about myself that I wouldn’t want to change and I spend painstakingly long periods of time scrutinising every inch of my body and noting its flaws. Whilst my lack of confidence is a common characteristic in men and women, I do feel that my anxiety and depression has made it worse and magnified it somewhat with quite severe consequences at times.

Whilst I still don’t like the way I look or feel comfortable in my own skin, my new found love for beauty products has helped. And by that, I don’t mean they’ve physically made me look better but they have helped me psychologically. I know to many that will sound far fetched and self-absorbed but it’s true. When you’re feeling rock bottom and hopeless, dousing yourself in a favourite perfume or slapping on some lipstick can really lift you and make something impossible seem possible.

But of course there are the days when getting out of bed and heading to work is an unfathomable task. And whilst you feel that huge black cloud hanging over you, it doesn’t mean you necessarily lose all sense of pride. You still want to look presentable, you still want to look like you despite the fact inside you’re a quivering wreck. And that’s where quick, smart fixes come into play. The beauty products that involve no faffing or effort but supply optimum results and allow a certain degree of self-regard when all else is awry.

And with this is mind, I wanted to share a few of my go-to products. It’s quite difficult to find many blogs/articles on beauty and depression that give practical, affordable advice and whilst I’m not claiming to be a beauty expert; some of the products I have found joy in might do the same for you.

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The biggest revelation for me has been Liz Earle’s ‘Cleanse and Polish’. My mum has sworn by this for years and I always thought it wouldn’t suit my skin. But having tried it for the first time last year after my mammoth 15 mountain climb; I have used it every day since. Not only does it smell and feel divine but it’s both time-effective and cost-effective. It allows you to wipe every trace of the day away, and whilst that in itself is most therapeutic after a hard day, it leaves you with a wonderful glow, which is hard to come by when you’re taking regular medication and lacking in sunlight. My other preferred make-up remover is Bioderma’s Micelle Solution; I always keep it beside my bed, safe in the knowledge that if I’ve climbed into bed to escape the world, I have something quick and easy to hand to get rid of my warpaint.

As I have already mentioned, taking medication can take its toll on your skin as does stress and anxiety and it’s definitely something I’ve noticed over the last 4-5 years whilst taking antidepressants. As dry and lack-luster as it is, I do however find that Balance Me’s Radiance Face Oil instantly plumps it up and makes it feel alive. Again it smells divine and the act of rubbing it into my face really helps with feelings of zen. Embryolisse’s Lait‐Crème Concentré is also a stable that instantly makes me feel a bit more nourished and less like a leather handbag. Similarly any of Korres‘ body milks, but especially the Santorini Vine, can’t fail to have a positive impact on spirits. The glorious smell coupled with the instant absorption makes for a feeling of being cocooned in cotton wool.

Baths are my biggest indulgence; nothing quite beats sinking into one after a grueling day and quite often, my foot is only just over the flat threshold before I’m taking off my clothes ready to jump in. Whilst I’m not fussy in terms of what I have in it as long as it involves bubbles, one of my faves is Sainsbury’s Mandara Spa range, having taken the recommendation from beauty know-it-all Sali Hughes. And if like me you like to be liberal with your bubbles, its affordable price-tag helps.

Lipstick is probably my biggest weapon in the constant fight with my social anxiety and body confidence. It’s truly remarkable how much bravery a slick of red lipstick can muster. It gives me the confidence to do so many things and to not feel quite so bad in doing them. If I’m wearing it, it will be for a reason other than it looks nice! It will be because I feel fat and ugly, it will be because I was shaking with fear before leaving the house or maybe it might be because it makes me feel that bit more confident. And more often than not I will have chosen MAC’s ‘Lady Danger’ as I’m quite sure it’s not a lipstick but a secret power.

Last but by no means least, I have to mention Chanel No.5. For me this scent is everything. It was both my gran’s and still is my mum’s favourite perfume and holds a special place in my heart. The hint of it reminding me of my childhood playing with my gran’s cosmetics and dressing up in her jewellery; some of my fondest memories. And sometimes when your head is full of anxiety and your overthinking everything, being transported back to a simpler time is a godsend.

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Marks To Prove It….

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I’ve been wanting to write something about how music has helped me cope with my mental health issues for a long time; the ability to listen to a certain song or album and disappear is a great help when things get tough. But there’s one band in particular that I owe a lot to and that’s The Maccabees and given I’m off to see them this weekend, I thought it was an apt time to put pen to paper.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll know of my love for this band; I wax lyrical about them to anyone who will listen. But for me there’s something beyond being a fan, something more then enjoying their music and supporting them. I made a connection with their music the moment I heard it and it’s one that I always turn to when I need comfort. Certain tracks of theirs seem to have given a narrative to moments in my life where my emotions have been all tangled up and unintelligible. Sometimes these were euphoric moments and some were painful, yet the affinity I felt with their music was a real consolation when I had nowhere else to turn and often the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning or stopped me from cutting myself.

Some people will read this and guffaw, with many believing that this sort of simpatico with a band reserved for ‘legends’ and ‘icons’. I’m of course writing this in the wake of David Bowie’s death where I’ve found the outpouring of love  most heartwarming, and something of a catalyst to write this. I’m sure Bowie was that comfort blanket for many people; whereas for me it’s been The Maccabees. And that’s okay; I think the greatest gift you can get from music is empathy and it doesn’t matter where you find it, as long as you find it.

As many band recommendations have come over the years, it was a boy who first got me into them. In a futile attempt to impress said boy I bought tickets to see them at Manchester Academy having not listened to any of their stuff but spurred on by said boy’s constant enthusiasm for them. There were a couple of months to go until the gig so I attempted to acquaint myself with their back catalogue quick smart (they’d just released their second album), and it didn’t take long for me to fall madly in love with them. Anything with guitars is usually a winner with me but the added intensity of Orlando’s voice and the devilish lyrics ensured they had me hook, line and sinker and by the time the gig came around I was fit to burst with excitement and longing to hear Love You Better in particular.

I still can’t listen to that song and not become misty eyed. It’s both one of my favourites and one of the hardest to listen to. The echoes of “and I thought that you might feel the same” instantly taking me back to the countless times I fell for a boy only for him to not feel the same or fall for someone else. That moment when you can’t stop thinking about someone only to find that they’ve played you good and proper, is painful, really painful. I’ve lost count of the times I lay on my bed crying whilst listening to this song on repeat. And even now I have the most wonderful man in my life who appreciates all the love I have to give, I still can’t hear this an not be reminded of all those nights feeling like no-one was every going to like me, let alone love me back.

I’m pleased to say that Precious Time has far more positive connotations and will always remind me of my first few months with Tom. When we first got together, he lived in Newcastle and I was in Manchester. It was hard, we only saw each other every other weekend and it was a time where my depression had really taken a hold and I was severely unhappy. Knowing what a sentimental shmuck I am, he sent me a mixtape. It was the most thoughtful thing anyone had ever done for me and I was overjoyed, even more so when I heard he’d included this song. The notion of “taking our precious time about it” was not lost on me; I’ve never been known for my patience and the distance between us was making me even less so, so this became my anthem and the song I turned to when I got frustrated with the situation…”you’ll need heart and I’ll need courage. We all need time”.

Given To The Wild, their third album, was released when I first started to realise there was something more to my down days and the album felt like something of a saving grace. They’d been away for nearly three years and I was longing to have them back as I was finding less and less enjoyment in life and knew that the announcement of a tour would give me something to look forward to. They didn’t disappoint and as much as I was finding things difficult, I knew that there was going to be at least one night ahead where I felt happy (and here’s the proof; my gig review from 2011) and I think I ended up seeing them another 3 times during that album campaign; despite being ridiculed by my friends.

There was a particular song on Given To The Wild that really stood out for me and once again seemed to describe exactly how I was feeling; Slowly One. The lyric “some day you’re going to wake up and think you went a day without going cold” mirrored all the feelings of deep sadness and loneliness I had at that time and also offered me a tiny glimmer of hope that one day I might not feel quite so bad.

Last year’s chart topping album ‘Marks To Prove It’ unsurprisingly took hold of my heart, much like its three predecessors. And not only because of the songs this time, but because of its back story. At the time of its release, Tom and I had just decided to make the leap and move to London; South London. The album’s main concern is the strain of gentrification on London’s Elephant and Castle and through reading various articles about the album I felt like I had a better sense of the area I was moving to and the plight of the places I would be travelling through daily on my commute, something I was somewhat ignorant to previously.

The accompanying film ‘Elephant Days’ gave me a huge insight into one of my favourite songs on the album; ‘Silence’. It’s a stark, highly impassioned personal song, where guitarist Hugo takes the vocal reigns for the first time. It’s a simple song that on hearing, you might, as I did, assume it’s about a lost love. And it is, but not in the usual sense. Elephant Days included a small piece to camera where Hugo informs that’s it’s about his and Felix’s mum who passed away when they were younger. The moment I heard this, my eyes welled up, even more so when he explained that the faint recording in the background of the track is a voicemail left by a counsellor for him ahead of an appointment.

Often we’re told that boys don’t talk about feelings and suddenly there was a member of my favourite band talking about something so very personal and putting it out there for the world to hear. I felt so proud and inspired. And then a few months later, this article appeared in The Sunday Times, detailing the loss of their mum to MS and the impact it had on them. At the risk of sounding dramatic; it had a profound effect on me. The Maccabees have always been a private band, preferring to let their music do the talking and having this insight felt like a real privilege, especially given the subject matter.

The circumstances are of course completely different, but I remained silent for a long time about my struggles and I appreciate how difficult it is to open up, even to those close to you. Hugo’s admission that “I’m trying….trying not to keep everything locked away. But it’s not easy” stood out particularly. It’s so easy to forget that musicians are human and have their struggles.

I think for two private people like Felix and Hugo to acknowledge the ardour in talking about painful experiences and the effect it can have is a huge thing, and to put it out there for public consumption even more so. These sorts of articles reach the demographic that perhaps traditional mental health campaigns don’t and they start a dialogue. That’s so very valuable, especially for young males.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And thank you Orlando, Felix, Hugo, Rupert and Sam for always being there; whether it’s during a panic attack on the tube or whilst celebrating an anniversary. Thank you for making me feel less alone and giving me hope.

And with that, I’m going to head to Brixton Academy tomorrow night (and Saturday night!!) fling my arms around, sing my heart out and remind myself that music really is a wonderful wonderful thing.