I recently downloaded not one but two new apps onto my phone. Nothing new there, most of our lives are more or less managed with a cheeky app or two – but these are for photo editing. Which is fine in itself but after spending a good hour the other night doing ‘minor touch-ups’ to a selfie, I had to stop and have a word with myself.

You’re going to have to excuse this self-indulgent post, I’m afraid. I’m about to bang on for a while.

I’m not against photo tweaking in theory. I’m the queen of touching up a spot or two and choosing a damn good filter. I’m forever adjusting the lighting. This is deemed the new norm in our Instagram world and I’m all for it, as long as we’re honest about it. Life isn’t (always) like the images we use to paint a positive life. If I were being honest, my grid would be full of me lying naked and puffy in bed, avoiding the world.

The addition of these apps to my life is different because I’ve been leaning on them far too heavily. I’ve been changing the shape of my face, tightening my jawline – thinning my nose. More than that, the app can give you the perfect winged liner, eyeshadow and lashes for days – technically you’d never have to put on a face again. But it feels false and it goes deeper than just tweaking a few things ever so slightly – I look like a doll version of myself and it’s creepier than Annabelle*.

The reality is: it’s time for me to admit that I’m not pretty.

Before you say something nice to make me feel better, I know I have some *okay* features and can scrub up when I need to. I also know that ugly girls are never really ugly girls. As the man himself once said:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” ~ Roald Dahl

Idealistic I know but there’s truth in that statement. However, it’s time for me to come to terms with how I really look.

My lovely friend took and posted a video of me on Instagram at the weekend and secretly, watching it back on my own later, I was devastated. I look awful, all chins and bad skin. But really, so what? I was pissing about in the park with a friend and he cut the video to the chorus of Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry (my favourite song of all time). My hair looks good and I’m wearing my favourite outfit. Above all else, I’m having a laugh.

So I’m not beautiful like my friend, who looks like Bambi’s girlfriend on her very best day – I’m still loved and lovable and cool. I have never been beautiful and my life was never meant to be lived like a drop dead gorgeous person – if anything, perhaps I’m lucky?

I am sure I don’t have to worry about half the things my fit friends do. I mean, that sounds cavalier because all women have experiences of being harassed or made to feel uncomfortable – and it seldom has anything to do with looks. But I have been around seriously good-looking women who are treated differently to me. It looks tiring.

If I can truly accept that I’m no looker and tell the world, “I’m ugly and proud” then maybe I’ll be happier? I’m tired of kidding myself.

It’s much easier said than done though, isn’t it? I’ve recently talked about making more effort with my appearance which is quite contradictory to what I’m saying here. Or is it?

I mean, taking pride in my appearance as self-care is different altogether to trying to conceal how ugly I am. There’s not enough highlighter or eyeliner in the world to polish this turd – if anything, it makes me look even worse. I can have fun with it though for the sake of how it makes me feel. Accepting my ugliness has nothing to do with letting myself go.

Really accepting one’s self is a delicate balancing act – on one hand, accepting that I’ll never be a knock out is quite liberating. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me as long as I’m happy and feeling myself – and I am under no obligation to be pretty and shiny. I don’t need validation from others in the way I did when I was 21 either, though yes it is nice when someone compliments you.

But on the other, man this world is cold and harsh at the best of times – and it’s hard not to compare ourselves to others or covert what they have. A thigh gap, bigger eyes, perkier boobs.

I can’t do it anymore, I need to step away from the Photoshopping apps. I’m deleting them as soon as I finish this post. If I don’t, who knows where it will end? I’ll be Edvard Munch’s The Scream with four inch eyelashes.

From now on, I accept it: I’m not pretty, and that’s a) a fact and b) totally, honestly okay.

*This is absolutely no shade to anyone who edits their photos. Many of my friends are pros at it, and I respect it.

(All images by Juno Calypso)

Wholesome Content*: Colouring Between the Lines

Sometimes the only thing I want to do is come straight home from work, make a cup of tea and sit on the sofa doing my colouring. This isn’t a euphemism for a heinous new sex act, I’m afraid. I actually mean colouring shit in. On my phone. For hours on end.

Or rather, if I had my way it would be hours on end non-stop but my wrists start to seize up after the third or fourth picture – and I have to go and shake it off for a few minutes. Which reminds me of the time I got tennis elbow from being on my phone too much. What a modern condition!

So yes, I’ve swapped my first nights in Brighton in LGBT+ clubs, drinking shitty Spanish red straight from the bottle – to colouring in on an app in front of the BBC iPlayer. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Like most things we really enjoy doing, it is wonderful for good mental health and really helps me relax.

When I first got into colouring, I did it the traditional way, I bought a mindfulness colouring book and some fancy-arse felt-tips, and it was good. I upgraded to a rude one that had pretty patterns curling around the ‘C’ word – that was the one I had to hide at work.

But I’m a weird perfectionist in no other area beyond this one – if I made even the smallest mistake, if I slipped and went outside the line, or the flow of the felt-tip stroke was off – then I had to start a new one.

This means somewhere on my desk are half a dozen colouring books with half-finished pages in them – it’s a terrible waste. And then I found my app.

We (the Happy Color Massive) get ten new pictures a day and often, for an extra special treat, I will save up a couple of days’ worth so as far as the eye can see I have fresh drawings to paint. There’s no freedom in colouring this way, the colours and where they go are decided for us – but I kind of love that structure in my life.

You never know how a picture is going to look until you’re finished. Sometimes you can doubt it will be all that and then – boom! – a highlighter or a dark outline comes along and it turns out perfectly.

You can’t go over the lines because you’re just tapping sections on the screen, so you don’t get ink on your new mani. The colours never run out and the app is 10% free – unless they release a very rare colouring pack – there hasn’t been one of them for a long time.

If you ever wonder about your life and how maybe you need to get one – remember this post in which I managed to type just under 500 words on the joy of colouring in. And you’ll feel better.

What are you doing to relax?

*Guess I’ve got a new series featuring all my favourite Wholesome Content then!

Maximum Effort

So much of my mental health is tied up in how I look. In the sense that when I feel I look good, it makes me feel better and stronger – and when I’m not looking my best, it drags me down. It’s a vicious cycle because on the flip side, if I’m down or not myself, I’m less inclined to slap on my face.

Women are screwed either way. This is something we’ve always known. If we spend too much time on our appearances, men are the first ones to remind us they like the ‘natural look’. We’re called narcissistic, vain – but when we don’t brush our hair and skip the concealer, we’re hideous hags with no value in this world. Worse sometimes, we’re completely invisible.

Of course it’s exhausting and unjust – but it’s nothing new. I try not to let it get me down but it still does, especially as I grow older. I don’t remember the moral of this post, it’s just a stream of consciousness running through my head at the moment. I think I’ve said before that not a day goes by I’m not preoccupied with the way I look – whether it’s my body, my hair – my face. It’s always a spectre on the horizon – staring at me. Do we all feel this way?

Anyway, I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and it was worse than ever. Hair like straw, fringe in need of a damn good trim, dull skin – with yesterday’s make-up crusted around the eyes. I put a comb through my hair and washed my face but this is not how I wish to present. This isn’t me – and you know what, it’s not acceptable that I’m too tired every day to make an effort. I’m not doing this for anyone but myself but here and no I vow to put my face on and prioritise my self-care.

Tonight I’m going to do a pink clay mask and deep condition my hair – once I’ve taken off today’s slap-dash eyeliner. I’ll get a trim tomorrow and I’m getting my nails done on Friday.

I’m getting back in the game.

Paranoid Android

A quickie! I’m having a creative slump AGAIN so can’t be arsed to get into regular posting at the moment, even though I’ve got shed loads of reviews piling up.

I’ll get to them at the weekend I guess.

It’s just sometimes life is hard and I feel tired and slightly depressed. Not enough not to function but enough to know I’m not myself. I’m also doubting myself a lot and I hate this feeling the most.

There’s a lot to look forward to this weekend though, I’ve got a London trip with eleven girls to look forward to on Friday. It’s not my usual scene a group that big but I enjoy every one of them, so it’s going to be fun.

Last weekend we went to a Mormon wedding and it was gorgeous, so full of love and generosity. And the groom, my work bestie Josh, asked me to be his witness. Hashtag blessed to be part of his history, officially.

I’m trying to hold on to all the beauty in my life. I know I’m loved and I’m lucky and I have my health and a roof over my head. What use is there worrying I’m not good enough? I’m good enough to sign a wedding register, I can get through this week. I can get through anything – the rest of this year, Brexit, global warming – this life. I have to keep telling myself that.

I’ll shake it off and be back to normal service soon. Just give me a minute.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

What Anxiety Looks Like To Me

I think about most things way too much but one of those things is anxiety itself. It can be all-consuming and exhausting. Nobody wants to spend that much time looking inward and fretting that they’re a terrible person with no potential. But that’s what it does to you – it’s the voice in your head that whispers you’re a fool with bad jokes and everyone hates you.

Living with anxiety and depression is a ride. I experience highs sometimes, not particularly nice ones that border on mania (this is usually if I’ve foolishly let my meds run out) but the lows are more frequent. I can feel them coming usually which is helpful, as I can batten down the hatches and prepare for them but in between these extremes there’s the constant doubt.

I think most people have a clear idea of what an anxious person might look like but the truth is, we’re not all rabbit-in-a-headlight eyes and wringing hands. More people than you can imagine live with anxiety and mental health issues – and they look like any one of us. Normal basically and with only one head.

Anxiety to me is a very mixed bag. I find my feelings are quite contradictory and in the past when I’ve tried to explain it to other people, I’ve told them it feels like there’s a perpetual war waged within me. Me vs. Me – it’s like the Battle of the Bastards up in here with less Jon Snow wandering around gormlessly. It’s Me, the confident, independent woman up against Me, the doubtful worry wort – the paranoid introvert who doesn’t like crowds.

I have to remind myself every day that I have a right to be here are much as anyone – and that I’m allowed to take up space.

Anxiety looks different to everyone but to me it manifests itself in intrusive thoughts and dark spots on an otherwise happy life. It’s not crippling but it does need to be kept in check. I’m getting quite good at pushing back – I have the tools to fight. And lately I’ve started to think of it from a more positive stand-point – what if being anxious is my secret super-power? What if I’m supposed to feel crap sometimes so I can recognise it in others – and be a better friend/wife/colleague because of it?

I think my friend anxiety would hate that idea – which is why I love it even more.

Get Me Bodied

I wrote this for my work blog but thought I’d share it here too because… I’m lazy.

I’ve talked about my “complicated relationship” with this old carcass I call a body before but I’ve been thinking about it again in relation to Mental Health Awareness this week because the theme this time is Body Image – and how we think and feel about our bodies.

Even joshing about it being old and decrepit sums up how I feel about my body – it’s a love/hate kind of thing and I choose to look at it with humour, something I have worked long and hard to do. Most people have low self-esteem at points in their lives and particularly when they compare how they look to the media (and society’s) narrow view of what is beautiful. The beauty of low self esteem is that it can strike at any time, at any age – and nobody is safe. Which means we’re all in it together.

For me it’s been a 40-year journey to get to a point where I love my body, even when it aches, even when I’m looking at pictures of Scarlett Johansson and cursing the fact we’re not identical twins. And even when Joan from Accounting is talking about how disgusting she is because she accidentally walked past a cupcake in the break room once. I really do see this relationship as an ongoing project, the most important project perhaps in tandem with mental health – the body and mind after all are so intricately connected.

I don’t know if there is any tried and tested way to get to a good place with yourself but I personally believe it surrounding yourself with positive influences can help enormously. For instance, only following people who enrich your life and your worldview on Instagram. Why keep up with people who make you feel bad? I unfollow as quickly as my fat little fingers will allow if I read or see something that doesn’t align itself with that philosophy. Life is hard enough, give me all the positivity and light. And no, there’s nothing to be learnt from another person’s view on your body – it’s yours alone and truly, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or says about it.

I also choose to dress nice (when I can be bothered) and cover myself in weird and wonderful tattoos, that’s my own personal jam – and not necessarily a recommendation. Diet and exercise are always cited as great for mental health and can help you feel better in your own skin but what you do and how often again is only your business. The gym isn’t for everybody and let me assure you it is not for me. I like a walk while I listen to podcasts.

The Mental Health Foundation‘s tagline for this campaign is #bebodykind and I think it’s a good place to start. But it does need to encompass all body types, even the ones you don’t personally like the look of or the ones you don’t understand. So be kind to your body as much as you can and be kind to others too.

There are lots of interesting and surprising facts to be read about a research done on Body Image here, if you fancy – as well as helpful resources if you feel you need some support.

What are you thoughts on Body Image?

Enjoy the Silence

I’m a big fan of the PMA meme. I choose to believe that a fair bit of being able to get through life is to maintain a positive attitude (where possible, obvs). I don’t really like to thrive on negativity or be around bad energy – the odd bitch about a colleague is one thing but I don’t enjoy being dragged into drama, my own or someone else’s.

What I’m trying to say is that here on the blog I might have a gentle moan but most of how I’m feeling is filed away in the “being handled” cabinet, and that is that. But that’s not always realistic and sometimes I just get very, very tired with everything. Not in a sinister way, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s more about getting fed up with slapping a happy face on and going about my day all the time.

Of course most of us are doing that – it’s life – we’re fighting the good fight but sometimes all the relentless positivity, all the Go girl/You got this memes, the very memes I subscribe so heavily to, start to annoy me. What if I don’t got this? What if I can’t pick myself up and dust myself off? Obviously I can and I will eventually but what if the effort of this is too much because sometimes it is. Sometimes I feel so numb I don’t feel anything. Of course there’s always love for my husband, family and friends – it’s not that, it’s something else this numbness. It’s a bone tiredness that sucks the joy of life and the excitement out of the future.

On the other hand sometimes, when I let my meds slip (which isn’t often), I might go the other way. My brain literally buzzes and it feels as though all the nerve endings inside this head of mine are live wires. I feel overwhelmed and out of control. That’s the worst feeling in the world and almost worse than the depression.

I don’t reveal all this because I’m special or that I want to be treated differently, I share it because it’s true and a part now of who I am. We’re told all the time it’s important to talk about these things and it is, we shouldn’t be scared by fact and by the so-called negative things that make us human. I wouldn’t change this about myself, I believe honestly that it makes me a better person somehow, that my anxiety and depression attunes me to others and I can spot a person struggling and act accordingly. I will never shy away again from being sensitive, even over-sensitive – this is me.

I just think it’s important to acknowledge that the fight is tiring and that sometimes I want to give up. Genuinely, I think often of getting on a bus and disappearing, starting a new gentler life somewhere alone. My reclusive nature goes into overdrive and it seems so appealing. Imagine not having to speak to anyone for as long as I wanted! Sounds like bliss. In reality it would be lonely and isolating and it would make me feel so much worse.

I’m not going to do that. I have everything I could ever possibly need right here but sometimes, just sometimes I need to allow myself to feel these things. Then I’ll pick myself up and get on with it.

How are you?