My inability to rest

I’m on holiday. Since starting my holiday I have written 2 blog posts, signed up for an antiracism education course, created a list of my publications to date, and entered numerous in-depth discussions on – among other things – sexual representations in gaming, the impact of lockdown on mental health and body image, queer appreciation and allyship versus appropriation, navigating public spaces post-pandemic.

Not really what you’d consider resting.

I was ill in June with a fairly nasty kidney infection and while still on antibiotics and having only felt somewhat ‘better’ for 24 hours, I went back to work for a full day. That ended in a migraine and my recovery being set back. In reality, I’m still recovering. I lost a lot of strength from several weeks of little activity and eating. My endurance has plummeted – a 4 mile walk on Monday had my hip flexors screaming halfway through and the backs of my knees are still pretty grumpy with me for making them go so far on my first proper trip out in a month.

My last conversation with the mental health advisor I meet with at uni went something along the lines of “Your professionalism and work ethic are some of your biggest strengths, but they can also be your biggest weaknesses when you let them become more important than your wellbeing”. It’s safe to say I cried a lot on that phone call.

It’s absolutely true that I don’t know how to rest. My time dealing with the kidney infection was pretty miserable – on top of the pain, nausea, side effects from the medication and generally feeling low, I was unbelievably bored and guilty. I didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t drain what little energy I had. Trying to find shows that weren’t overly energetic, bright or brain-heavy was a challenge. In 3 days I watched 2 seasons of QI. Even then, I caught myself analysing the tired jokes, the (lack of) representation on the panels, just how bland a show it is. Easy watching? Absolutely. An exemplary showcase of comedy talent and diverse panelists? Not so much.

See? Even when I was sweating buckets, vomiting daily and crying pretty much every 40 minutes after I’d nearly drowned myself in another bottle of water, my brain was still picking things apart. It’s exhausting.

There’s also a firm hand of guilt gripping me when I even think about taking time off. Which I recognise is entirely hypocritical because I always preach that rest is revolutionary and it’s impossible to give to others if your own cup is empty. But internalising that, not holding myself to an impossibly high standard because I Should Do Better, seems somewhat unattainable. It’s pretty narcissistic, really. I’m not sure why I consider myself more special. I think it’s partly a worry that I’m not doing enough – that there’s so much more I could be doing to use my privilege and power to support those who need it. I can’t help everyone, but I can surely try – and in doing so reach more people than I would otherwise. It’s flawed logic, but it’s a hard belief to shake. I live with an abundance of privilege. It feels wrong to not do everything I can with that privilege to even the playing field for others where possible. It’s not healthy or the best motivation. I’m working on it – and in doing so, I’m adding more to the mounting pile of Things To Think About, but what’s the alternative?

I don’t know how people do it. Rest, I mean. Enjoy things for enjoyment’s sake. How does ‘switching off’ even work? I don’t know how folks sit and watch a show or read a book and not analyse the creative decisions and characterisation and wider social and political contexts or implications in real-time. That sounds ridiculous and makes me uncomfortable to admit (probably because I’m worried people will read it and take it to mean this is somehow better or more than when I don’t mean that at all), but it’s how my brain works. It has been a long time since I just *existed* without the wheels turning at a hundred miles an hour. Honestly, I don’t remember what it’s like to not think, overthink and get a little dizzy from the constant thoughts.

None of my usual pass-times or hobbies at the moment feel like rest. I haven’t had the motivation to get back into embroidery but I’m going to try and force myself to give it another shot this week. I have a week and a half to get myself to a place of understanding what rest means and how I achieve it. Hopefully it’ll be bubble baths, face masks, podcasts and other grossly stereotypical “self-care”. Honestly, I’m not sure I have the energy for the harder stuff at the moment.

It was important for me to blog about this so I don’t forget how I’m feeling down the line when the stress levels do ease off and my brain calms a bit. I’ll wonder why I made such a drama out of feeling this way. But it’s okay to be realistic and frank about how what I’m experiencing right now, even if it seems small, unimportant, cringeworthy or too self-absorbed later.

Catalogue of Published Work

The following is my portfolio of articles I have published on other websites and in print. I’ve catalogued my work by year and month. Overarching themes include intersectional feminist analysis, social media and online identities, and theatre reviews.

2020

January
My relationship with social media – YWCA Scotland

March
Tips for staying well while living online – YWCA Scotland

April
Homelessness is a feminist issue – YPeople

How our social media procrastination became just another type of work – Prospect Magazine

May
Body Image: No one size fits all approach – YWCA Scotland

August
Language’s influence on body image – Engender

2019

August
Review: Cotton Fingers – The Feminist Fringe

Review: White Girls – The Feminist Fringe

Review: The Addams Family – The Feminist Fringe

Review: Sea Sick – The Feminist Fringe

2018

January
Can marriage ever be feminist? – Femini Magazine, online (defunct)

May
Redundancy: What to expect, what questions to ask and how to handle it – Girls In Work

The darker side of social media influencers – The Nopebook

Review: The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward – Femini Magazine, print

August
Review: Dangerous Giant Animals – The Feminist Fringe

Review: Joe Sutherland: Toxic – The Feminist Fringe

2017

January
You know you’re an Obanite if… – BuzzFeed Community

May
The Manchester Attack – Vocal Media

June
Radical softness as a weapon – Femini Magazine, online (defunct)

July
Bloody Brilliant: Scotland becomes the first country to provide underprivileged women with sanitary products – Femini Magazine, online (defunct)

2015

January
Review: The Real Inspector Hound – Edinburgh49

February
Review: The Vagina Monologues – Edinburgh49

Review: Sister Act – Edinburgh49

March
Review: Bittersweet – Edinburgh49

Review: The Gondoliers – Edinburgh49

Review: The Producers – Edinburgh49

2014

December
Review: The BFG – Edinburgh49

The Appropriation of African American Vernacular English

What is African American Vernacular English (AAVE)?
AAVE is an English dialect used by African Americans. Many words like salty, bae, woke and the habitual be verb construction come from AAVE; it’s a dialect that bares a wealth of linguistic gold. It’s often represented in African American artists’ music, particularly hip-hop, but is increasingly appearing in non-Black people’s vernacular as they continue appropriating it. This is incredibly problematic. As Nathan Metivier put it in an article he published in January 2020:

While the widespread use of AAVE by white speakers may appear to reflect an appreciation of African American culture or a bridge across racial tensions, the lack of recognition for the origins of culturally embedded AAVE terms and the attitudes of the white speech community — who flippantly overuse and eventually dismiss appropriated AAVE terms as “outdated” or “no longer cool” — ultimately reflect a lack of appreciation for the African American speech community’s language, culture, and art forms by the cultural hegemony.

Nathan Metivier, ‘Linguistic Appropriation: AAVE, Hip-Hop and Digital Culture’

What is linguistic appropriation?
Much like other kinds of appropriation, linguistic appropriation is the uptake of a language, dialect (often specific features) by the non-native speakers without understanding the cultural significance. These non-native speakers’ use often undermines the subversive nature of the language. In the case of AAVE, non-Black speakers do not stop to consider the implications of using, judging and misusing linguistic features that they come into contact with primarily through music and other popular media. This lack of empathy and informed use results in native AAVE speakers being further marginalised, especially when racial tensions are as high as they currently are amid the Black Lives Matter revolution.

Why can’t I use AAVE?
One of the first arguments refuting the idea that AAVE should be reserved for native African American speakers is something along the lines of ‘culture is for everyone’ and ‘it’s racist to not allow people to appreciate culture’. Culture can be appreciated without being appropriated. Unfortunately, it’s not appreciation non-Black people are exhibiting when they use AAVE, it’s a blatant disregard for cultural significance, and the historic and current oppression Black communities by white people.

There is a difference between sharing and taking. At present, our society is incredibly imbalanced in favour of white people. White supremacy rules and influences the majority of decisions, policies and practices in Western society. As a result, where African Americans are criticised and refused opportunities for using AAVE in job interviews or public spaces more generally, white people are not. This is racism in action. The rules are different based on a history of racism and white supremacy which disadvantages African Americans at every turn and that is NOT okay. White people cannot engage in activities and language which profits us – makes us look ‘cool’ (ew) or ‘different’ (double ew) or ‘exotic’ (a term so racist it’s actually vile) – while it puts African Americans at risk financially, legally or otherwise.

Much of linguistic change is controlled by the dominant group in an area. English was shaped by those who were in power, which is why there are remnants of French, Norse and other languages and dialects mixed into our modern vocabulary. Dominant languages determined much of language change. And sometimes, it did that by encouraging the non-dominant language to adapt and change in subversive ways. With the white supremacist dominant structuring of much of Western society, AAVE – the language of African American communities – is not a dominant language.

At best, this form of appropriation is disrespectful to AAVE’s native speech community, regardless of how innocent the intentions of the white speech community are. At worst, appropriating AAVE is actively destructive to the culture it comes from because it trivializes a rich language form that is embedded in a cultural history of oppression as nothing more than “silly youth slang.”

Nathan Metivier, ‘Linguistic Appropriation: AAVE, Hip-Hop, and Digital Culture’

English is an incredibly expressive language. We can turn just about any word into a euphemism for drunk. We have a bountiful vocabulary to work with. We really don’t need to appropriate AAVE to become more expressive. Especially when doing so is racially insensitive and, quite frankly, oppressive.

You might be copying characters from films or high profile individuals on reality TV. You’re also able to actively engage with the language and habits you’re picking up and purposefully choose to correct yourself aloud when you slip into AAVE and replace it with a non-appropriative alternative. Training yourself to think more carefully and approach language more pointedly will help to ensure you communicate as you fully intend to as well.

TLDR: if you’re not Black, African American Vernacular English is not for you.

Antiracism and Your Online Presence

A bit of background
Researching violence on social media, I look at language, memes, GIFs, emojis, the weight of violence in a retweet, and a whole range of other instances of violence as they occur on the internet. This is a topic I have been interested in for years and now it is the focus of my PhD. It’s a sprawling topic, much like the World Wide Web itself.

In light of the Black Lives Matter revolution gaining more traction and attention than ever before, antiracism is an understandably amplified topic both online and off. Of course, much of the current conversation is performative – that’s what happens when you haven’t done the work up til now. It’s not like people haven’t been talking about racism around the world for hundreds of years. People have just chosen to listen, to actively silence and place their own comfort above the safety of those affected by white supremacy. However, with more people joining these conversations, there are some patterns emerging that are a continuation of racism in digital spaces.

Back it up a bit
We’re living in the age of the internet. Many of the conversations we have about racism, antiracism and white supremacy are happening online. In theory, this is a great thing. Accessibility is hugely important, as are inclusion and diversity. The digital age should allow us to give space to educators, activists, those with lived experience and let us learn from a range of people across the world. However, the way we use much of the internet – especially social media – doesn’t often allow for this in practice. One of the reasons for this is the fact that poverty overwhelmingly affects Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Access is not a simple issue and intersecting barriers like racism, poverty and problems faced by those with other marginalised identities compound the inaccessible nature of social media for many of the important conversations where these people’s voices are most needed.

Another problem is that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour are routinely silenced on social media platforms. The algorithms are biased and do not amplify marginalised users where they should. Platform safety policies rarely do enough to protect users, but often are used against marginalised users to silence them when they speak out about the racism they’re experiencing on the platforms and in wider society. Then there’s the racist platform users who leave comments, share content and post their own content with the intent to harm; creating hostile environments for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour on the platforms. Coordinated attacks routinely see the deplatforming of Black, Indigenous and Poeple of Colour whose powerful voices condemn racism, white supremacy and a number of related social issues (e.g. whorephobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, poverty, class systems, misogyny).

Effective communication online
Another problem is that nuance can be difficult to communicate online. When you rely on images and text (especially with character limits), you often lose tone, facial expression, and context for starters. Videos often have a time limit. Posts can be taken out of context. Intention is hard to discern online and perception can be nearly impossible to predict (this is all stuff I’m picking apart in my thesis and to date I have no real answer for rectifying this issue). We have come to view certain actions as agreement, even when there’s no accompanying text to contextualise sharing or liking a post. We are seeing that platform users are finding ways around implicit messaging attached to actions like shares and likes. On Twitter, for example, we see people screenshotting tweets and images for resharing to minimise amplification of content (which at times is done to minimise harm, other times to capture ‘receipts’ or proof that the content did exist, should it be deleted). However, the fact remains that fully understanding someone’s point of view can be very difficult with the limited context and content provided by social media – particularly where there’s a lack of audiovisual components.

Internet communication is endlessly complex. Tackling complex issues on platforms where intention can be misunderstood does not bode well for positive exchange, civil discussion or learning. Every user has a unique relationship with the technology they use and a unique approach to their engagement with the platforms they use. Those relationships will depend on a number of things, not least their prior experience with the internet, their understanding of their own identity, their understanding of how identity construction online, their relationships with the people they interact with on the platform and their understanding of how others view them on that platform. Like I said, it’s complex stuff. Much of this work is subconscious, largely because our education on internet existence, identity building and online safety was (and continues to be) sorely lacking so those of us who grew up in the age of the internet have had to figure things out as we determined the ways in which apps and platforms would work for us and navigating the interface and content changes forced on us by the platform owners (think about Instagram’s proposed removal of the Likes count display and Tumblr’s banning of sexual content as two recent examples).

Unfortunately, since more and more people rely on social media for communication, education and entertainment, these conversations need to occur in places where more people are likely to see and engage in them. So, complex messages have to be distilled down to fit with platform formats. And, because we’re human and we like repetitive formats, we tend to consume information in the ‘easiest’, most condensed option available. Oftentimes, this results in us losing much of the nuance in conversations. It can also result in well-meaning conversations doing more harm tham good.

Taking the racism out of your internet use
Now, let’s consider your own online presence and how you might work antiracism into your internet use. First of all, look at who you’re following. How many educators, activists, researchers, artists, writers, musicians are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour? Now is the time to curate your feed in a way that promotes a diverse range of thinking, lived experience and action. Maybe you should unfollow people you know are refusing to learn and do the work to be antiracist. Maybe try and engage with people you know who are continuing to be racist and do the work so your pals from marginalised communities don’t have to.

One thing you should absolutely do is research the content you’re engaging with. Look into the arguments and the people sharing them – are they the OP (original poster), or are the reposting other people’s content without credit? Are these people experts, are they new to the conversation? Are there others you can learn more from and who share more nuanced takes on big issues? We’re all so quick to hit Share, but we don’t spend nearly enough time researching to ensure we’re promoting informed individuals who actively work to minimise harm and work in antiracist ways. A quick internet search of “[name] controversy” or “[name] harm” will give you an overview, but search Twitter and Instagram too. Whisper networks often work by not tagging but still using harmful users’ names (or swapping letters for an asterisk to avoid pile-ons or other violence). And be ready to be wrong.

One of the biggest things you can do is be open to being corrected or challenged. We’re human. We won’t get it right all the time. Getting it wrong isn’t the end of the world – it’s an opportunity to learn and expand our understanding of an incredibly complex issue. Share your learning – if you weren’t aware, the likelihood is some of your social media followers won’t have known either. Openness and accountability are good practices to engage with in your internet use.

There’s not only one strategy for weaving antiracism into your online presence, but there are lots of steps you can take in decolonising your social media use that will help.

Digital Blackface and cultural appropriation online
Think about where your internet use includes appropriation. Do you use African American Vernacular English outside of contexts where you are quoting somebody? What words do you search for in the Giphy library, and how many of those GIFs are stereotyped behaviours of Black people? Digital blackface is an issue I have been exploring for a few years. It’s real and it’s incredibly problematic. Teen Vogue published an article about Blackface in GIFs a few years back and I highly recommend you read it. Giphy hired a Cultural Editor, Jasmyn Lawson to address the imbalance of representation in GIFs. She was interviewed by i-D in 2018 on making GIFs more Black and the interview really stuck with me.

“I want to have GIFS that represent all types of black women: light-skinned, dark-skinned, heavy set, different sexual orientations, trans. And really make sure all the different sects of a certain minority group is being represented well in the media.”

Jasmyn Lawson, in an interview for i-D

That this was such a revolutionary step in 2018 really frustrated and upset me. But I was so inspired by Jasmyn’s work. It got me thinking about how I present myself online. Do I resort to racist caricatures? I certainly did. I take a lot more time in choosing GIFs and sharing memes now, considering what implicit messages they carry and whether they fall foul of racial stereotyping or appropriation.

There are multiple ways non-Black people have been appropriating Black culture, history, pain and joy. A recent example is the Breonna Taylor memes. The memeification of her murder, “Anyway arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, is a stark reminder that the ways we engage with content on the internet removes an element of humanity from the topics we’re discussing. An excellent article from Huffington Post explores the need for greater recognition by non-Black people of Black humour, joy, grief, pain and culture.

But the popularity of this one call for action has also highlighted the ways in which this current cultural moment is being commodified, trivialized and used as fodder for performative allyship. 

Zeba Blay, Huffington Post

Removing racism from your social media use
We need to bring our internet interaction back to a place of intention and reflection. If we’re going to post online, we have to take away the mindless scroll and actively participate. That means stopping to think about why we’re consuming the content we are, what potential impact this could be having on others, and how we want to engage with other people. In many cases, our use won’t change. But you might consider not retweeting harmful tweets – retweeting tells the algorithm to amplify the post and will potentially put more people at risk of harm. You might add a contextual message to the Instagram post you share to your Story. Maybe instead of a Story, you record a video to give you more space to communicate effectively and save it to your highlights so you can reflect on it later and have it accessible beyond the 24 hour mark.

Social media, but make it antiracist
How you present yourself online is how people will likely remember you, especially during times where in-person meetings are limited and more of our communication is occuring through screens (with or without video and microphones enabled). Actively working antiracism into your internet use, particularly your social media, is a crucial step in decolonising your online presence. The internet doesn’t start or end with social media, but as it continues to play a huge part of our lives in how we curate our digital existence, portray our lives, consume content, learn, engage in activism and so much more, it’s certainly a great place to start building antiracism into your daily life.

This is a huge topic. Technically it’s a combination of multiple huge topics, which makes it even bigger. Such a mammoth needs more than one 2,000 blog post/essay/thought piece/brain dump to investigate it. I have lots of thoughts and feelings about lots of things that are happening online. I’ll publish new blog posts when I have the energy and the words to verbalise the abstract ideas that are bouncing around my brain. As you can probably tell from this ridiculously long blog post, I’m incredibly passionate about these topics. Not least from a research perspective, but as a human who works, researches, learns, connects and emotes a lot online it’s important to me that I reflect regularly on what I’m seeing and doing. I hope this post has given you some food for thought too.

2020 – A Year of Revolution

A long-overdue life update and an even longer overdue commitment to active anti-racism work for 2020 and beyond

It’s been a few years since I visited this website. I fell out of love with blogging. Other things took priority. My motivations for it were all wrong. I was chasing views when I should have been exploring real issues. So I stepped away and with distance I gained perspective.

Since I last uploaded in 2018, I’ve had several new jobs and completed a leadership programme run by YWCA Scotland and the Scottish Parliament Community Outreach Team. In March 2019, I returned to uni, excited to begin my postgraduate journey at Edinburgh Napier University. In September 2019, I changed track from a Masters of Research to a PhD programme. So, long story short, I’m studying part-time and working part-time as YWCA Scotland’s Digital Officer.

Activism has long been a part of my life. I’m a vocal feminist, keen to further educate myself in ways the patriarchy continues to oppress people – especially marginalised communities. Predominantly through writing articles for various online magazines, posting on my personal social media and in-person conversations, I have advocated for LGBTQ+ rights, more comprehensive sex education, and more recently have engaged in campaigning to end period poverty in Scotland (which I had previously written about for the now defunct Femini Magazine).

My postgraduate research is absolutely an extension of my activism. I am exploring the nature of online violence, specifically as it pertains to Twitter. Through discourse analysis, my current aim (I’m in my first year, this will likely evolve as PhD research has a tendency to do) is to build a framework that can be used to accurately pinpoint how violence is created, maintained and replicated on Twitter. We all know Twitter as a hellhole, but we don’t often engage with the Whys and Hows. I’m diving into the murky waters in the hopes of figuring that out. This has already been an emotional, shocking, exhausting experience as an observer. So far the content has not connected with my lived experience and while I know it will, many of my privileges (my whiteness, my cisness, my hetero relationship, for starters) have shielded me from the brunt of the violences unleashed on others through Twitter (and other digital or offline means).

In the context of 2020 and the #BlackLivesMatter revolution (one which, to my mind has taken too long to hold the sustained interest of white people globally), my research has taken on a new dimension. Racism and hate speech were two aspects of violence I was keen to explore in my research case studies for understanding what makes language a source of violence.

I jumped on the #BlackoutTuesday bandwagon without really considering the implications. For someone who has worked in, theorised, examined and interacted daily with social media, I sure missed the wider implications of that one. It was a wake-up call I needed. The anti-racism workshop I attended through work was the start of my active anti-racism journey where before it had been an implicit, underlying consideration.

Explicit anti-racism work will be a part of my job, research, activism and daily life going forward. This will undoubtedly involve sitting with incredibly uncomfortable realisations about my beliefs and behaviours, both past and present, while figuring out how to make appropriate changes or outputs. And, it’s important to note that my discomfort is a drop compared to the ocean of racism, pain, generational trauma and violence faced by the Black community around the world. There is so much work to be done and I’m ready to commit.

I’ve returned to this blog, in part, to track my anti-racism journey. Instead of resharing resources on the reg, I’ll be unpacking my privilege, unlearning white supremacy and exploring ways I can be an active ally.

The number of resources currently available are plentiful. The anti-racism courses, podcasts, books are abundant. Documentaries examining the historic and ongoing racism of the UK, the USA and further afield are easy to find. So, now I’m reaching for them where I hadn’t been with any consistent commitment or active participation before. I’m ashamed it has taken until this newest wave of anti-racism discourse to engage more fully with the cause and educate myself in a meaningful, present, connected way. It’s inexcusable. The onus is on me to do better; as a white woman, as an intersectional feminist, as a human.

On a Budget: Cruelty-Free Makeup

If you’ve read my last blog post on cruelty-free skincare products, you’ll know that I’m looking to replace my current skin and hair products with cruelty-free brands. However, it’s quite an expensive feat, and most cruelty-free brands I knew of before doing some research were pretty pricey. So, having snooped the internet and shops for bargains, I’ve come up with a list of budget-friendly cruelty-free makeup brands and products.

I wanted to mention in this blog post a bit more about the Leaping Bunny stamp you sometimes see on product packaging. This, for me, is the most trustworthy source of information for ensuring a product is, in fact, cruelty-free. There’s a problem in the UK with smaller brands being branded as cruelty-free, but whose parent companies (often living under a P&G or Unilever-shaped umbrella). These larger conglomerates do not adhere to cruelty-free standards across the board, usually because they trade in China (whose laws state that products must be tested on animals before hitting the market). This makes it trickier to root out the more ethical brands from those less so.

A lot of groundwork is needed, but luckily for you I’ve done just that. This is certainly not an exhaustive list (please leave any brands I’ve missed out in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them in!), but here’s my list of six great, go-to budget cruelty-free makeup brands.

e.l.f.

Short for eyes lips face, e.l.f. boasts a wide variety of makeup – all of which is cruelty-free and vegan-friendly. They’ve replaced beeswax with a synthetic wax and lanolin has been substituted with Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladinpale-2 (whatever that means…). I recently bought my first e.l.f. products, which I’ll write a separate review about, but I will say that I spent £31.50 and for my money I got a pack of face wipes, a lip balm, mascara, finishing powder, bronzer and a primer mist (with a great freebie present for spending over £30). Not bad, eh? TReheir products start at as little as £1, and I have to say I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far. I bought my products straight from their website, but I know that Superdrug carries a small selection of products too.

(Want a £5 discount? Use this link: http://i.refs.cc/G3gmkQWj?u=1524523088193)

Barry M

What started out as a teenage-friendly makeup brand I adored in the early 2000s has blossomed into a cruelty-free brand that delivers. Best known for their nail polishes, Barry M provides consistently good quality products at truly affordable prices. Personally, I’m really excited to try their Crushed Jewel Cream Eyeshadow range and stock up on some cruelty-free nail polishes. They’re working on recipes for vegan-friendly products, too – those products have a wee vegan symbol, keep your eyes peeled!

Revolution

With a whole section of their website dedicated to purely vegan products, Revolution‘s cruelty-free makeup offering is pretty extensive! Their eyeshadow palettes are the stuff of dreams and their lip kits are divine. I’ve used their Pro Studio Oil Control Base before and found that it gave good coverage without an oily residue. The prices are reasonable and the products are good quality. You can buy from their own website, or Superdrug. None of their products are tested on animals and they’re a British brand – what more could you want?

Natural Collection

Boots’ own brand of makeup is another cruelty-free option. Natural Collection was one of the first makeup brands I ever tried. I have sensitive skin and their lightweight formulas made sure my skin wasn’t overwhelmed by the chemicals. I’m not a fan of their liquid foundations, personally, but their powder-based products are great!

No. 7

Boots’ more grown up range, No. 7, is another range of cruelty-free makeup that won’t break the bank. I think Boots are great. They promote cruelty-free makeup products and help the other brands they carry to find alternative testing methods to save the animals, too. Lads. No. 7 is a great range, with plenty makeup options to suit everyone’s needs. Their liquid foundations are a little heavy for my taste, but again, their powders are fab and I am a big fan of their powders and mascaras. I definitely recommend giving them a try!

MUA Cosmetics

Another cheap, cheerful, cruelty-free brand I adore is MUA Cosmetics. Their Pro-Base Smooth Set and Prime primer pot lasted me a year (I’m just eeking out the dredges now) and their array of eye shadow palettes are calling to me. Can’t wait to restock my palettes with some cruelty-free goodness!

Zoeva

If you’re a little more flush at the end of the month (which is always a good feeling when it happens), you might want to push your budget a little further for some Zoeva products. The German makeup brand is cruelty-free (according to my latest Google search) and while some products are a little pricier, you can still bag a mascara for £9, or an eyeshadow palette for less than 20 quid. Check out their own website, or grab their products on BeautyBay. I’m intrigued to try some Zoeva makeup, and will report back as soon as I have.

There you have it – every beauty product you could possibly need from cruelty-free makeup brands at affordable prices! Know of other brands that are cruelty-free and don’t cost the earth? Let me know in the comments and I’ll update the list!

On a Budget: Cruelty-Free Skincare

Finding cruelty-free products is hard. Shop shelves are bamboozling and a lot of information online seems to contradict each other.  I’ve also been finding that a lot of cruelty-free brands’ products are much more expensive than the animal-tested options, which can make the “ethical” decision a pricey one. For those of us who haven’t made their first million, that’s problematic. After doing some research, I compiled a list of budget cruelty-free skincare brands for myself – I thought you might find it useful!

I’ve been looking more into vegan and cruelty-free products across the board in an attempt to minimise the chemicals I’m using, opting for natural alternatives where possible. I’m not vegan; I eat animal products, wear leather and love seafood. My mind is not fully made up on the environmental impact of veganism, but I do understand why others follow the lifestyle, and I applaud them – the high street and supermarkets don’t always make it easy!

Anyhow, I’m gradually replacing my makeup, skincare and haircare products with cruelty-free (or vegan) options, in the hope that I’ll be reducing the chemicals and improving the condition of my skin and hair (which have both taken a bit of a beating in recent months with bad weather, bleaching and general lack of care). So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into the budget cruelty-free skincare products and brands I’ve found that don’t break the bank!

Soap and Glory

With a fun testamonial on their website, Soap and Glory boast the cruelty-free badge of honour (while also explaining that they cannot promise that their ingredients haven’t been animal-tested before arriving in their factory, but it reads more as a safety notice than a real worry). I adore their Breakfast Scrub and use it religiously on my legs when I’m showering (gotta get my pins ready for sunshine). I’ve used a few of their body lotions and hand creams in the past, too, and have found that they smell delicious, but that I should use them sparingly to avoid a little oily excess (my own fault, getting carried away smelling like a tutti fruity).

Superdrug

Superdrug’s own product ranges are all cruelty-free and mostly vegan-friendly too. I already use their Naturally Radiant Brightening Eye Cream for my eye bags. There are masks, scrubs, lotions and potions for all skin types across their various ranges, and all are totally affordable!

B.

Superdrug’s own B. range is tailored by age to ensure you’re using the right products for your skin’s needs. They cover all your daily routine product requirements, from day creams and night creams to micellar water (which I cannot live without and am so happy to have found a cruelty-free version) and face washes.

Solait

One thing I only recently realised I should look into is sun cream! I found that Solait (which you can pick up at Superdrug) is vegan-friendly (and therefore cruelty-free too). I’m going to stock up on their Factor 30 and Factor 50 for our holiday next month, and will report back! They also do fake tan, which I’m not particularly partial to, but if it’s your cuppa you should try it out!

Yes To

Another brand you can find on Superdrug’s website, British brand Yes To boasts the Leaping Bunny Programme symbol and is also mostly vegan-friendly (check for beeswax and honey). Their products are segmented by skin type, and each skin type has a primary ingredient; charcoal, carrots, etc. They offer face masks, micellar water and other skin care products to build your daily routine with yummy smells that suit your skin type.

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Nip + Fab

While on the top end of the budget, if you can grab Nip + Fab products on offer, they’re well worth the money.  All of their products are cruelty-free, and most are vegan (their FAQs list the non-vegan-friendly products, there aren’t many). Check Superdrug’s promotions for the best deals!

Original Source

If you, like me, enjoy leaving the shower smelling like a tropical fruit smoothie or cocktail, then you should definitely check out Original Source. Their products are vegan-friendly, deliciously infused with natural fragrances, and cheap to boot. My current faves are Mint and Tea Tree (although I’d not recommend slapping that on freshly shaved legs – stingy!) and Coconut and Shea Butter. Good enough to eat! Their foaming shower gels are pretty snazzy, too.

Carmex

If you’re a lip balm lover, but can’t justify forking out £10 for a 15ml tube of Glossier’s cruelty-free Balm Dotcom lip balm, you should try Carmex. I especially love the cherry one, it makes my lips tingle!

Source of Nature

Sainsbury’s own range, Source of Nature, is incredibly afforable, available online and their products sound positively scrummy! They mainly deal in face washes and creams, with most products priced at a measley £2! Cruelty-free and vegan-friendly, I’m really excited to try these products out.

Nature’s Alchemist

If you love a face mask, but don’t have the dosh to splash out on a tub from Lush, Nature’s Alchemist might be the brand for you. While you’re at it, check out their cheap, delicious smelling hand creams, body moisturisers and face mist (which I’ve added to my basket now). You can find these products on Superdrug’s website.

 

This list is long, but certainly not exhaustive. I’ve tried to give you a range of brands to try that will help tick off all your daily skincare routine boxes. Let me know about your budget cruelty-free skincare brand recommendations – I’d love to hear them!

 

An earlier version of this blog post included Sanex as a suggestion. I’ve since learned that Sanex is owned by a company that trades in China. China requires that all products be animal tested, so the parent company of Sanex is not cruelty-free. This is a huge problem when trying to buy ethically. P&G, Unilever and Nestle are some of the largest organisations whose brand collections reach far and wide. It’s so important to keep checking for parent companies when trying to shop ethically. So, Sanex has been removed from my suggestions, and the hunt continues for a good cruelty-free deodorant!

Lunch at Leftfield

To say I enjoy food is something of an understatement. I live for food. I’m always trawling recipe books and websites. Most of my favourite TV shows and YouTube channels focus on some aspect of food or cooking. I’d almost be inclined to call myself a foodie.

To say I enjoy seafood is even more of an understatement.

Coming from a fishing town on the west coast, it’s practically illegal to not enjoy seafood. It’s a staple. The produce is incredibly fresh and always great quality. Oban has as many chippies as it does supermarkets and there are only 8,500 locals to feed year-round.

When I first started going off meat, my parents made me a deal. I could only stop eating meat if I stopped being so picky with my vegetables (although I still hate broccoli and cauliflower) and kept eating fish. It was a little arduous at first, but with a great cook like my Mum, and the produce as great as it is, I was soon converted back to my pescatarian ways.

I’ve been a pescatarian for years now, and adore playing around with recipes, substituting meat for fish and shellfish, to see what sort of textures and flavour  combinations work.

So, yeah, seafood is pretty darn high on my Food Loves list. And good seafood is my fave way to celebrate.

On Sunday, my family and I went to Leftfield for lunch to celebrate my Dad’s birthday.

leftfield edinburgh bruntsfield

It’s a lovely restaurant in Bruntsfield. Bright and open with large windows, it has a real Scandi feel to it. The decor is inviting and the music was a golden selection that included Nina Simone and he Isley Brothers. Basically, I loved it.

Their Sunday lunch menu is really lovely. It’s small, but there really is something for everyone and the flavours are adventurous. Dad and I both opted for starters – he had the chicken pate and I opted for the vegetable pakoras which was light, warmly spiced and completely scrummy.

Their specialty, though, is a seafood platter (although it needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance) which Mum and Dad ordered unbeknownst to Zoe and I at the time.

Now, being an Oban girl, I’ve been spoiled most of my life with great seafood and often lament to Mum and Dad about how it’s just not the same in the city. Leftfield, however, knocked it out the park.

leftfield seafood platter

Every element was prepared differently, and it’s clear chef X knows what he’s doing. Barbequeued crevettes, scallops with curried aubergine, tempura oysters, clams with a delightfully fresh salsa, and that’s just for starters. Mammoth langoustines, melt-in-the-mouth fried squid and half lobsters with claws to boot were waiting to be demolished.

The marie rose dipping sauce was a wonderful accompaniment for the langoustines and the salsa gave the barbequeued prawns a real tang. The lobster claws were my favourite though – scoffed down with gorgeously golden chips and a fresh, herby salad.

I can’t get over how delicious everything was. And how brilliant the service was, too. At £25 a head, this incredibly nostalgic taste of my no-longer-home was an absolute bargain.

We all joked that it was such a shame the next family birthday wasn’t until mine in November, but I’m sure we’ll find an excuse to return for the seafood platter – every day’s worthy of a celebration, right?

Rupi Kaur’s Poetry Performance in Glasgow – A Review

Do not listen to the adage “Never meet your heroes” because then you’ll not get the chance to sHARE A STAGE WITH THEM LIKE I DID!!!

St Luke's empty stage Rupi Kaur Glasgow review

I’m not joking. Rupi Kaur completed her whistlestop UK tour in Glasgow, shrouded in purple and pink lights and smiled down on by the stunning stained glass of St Luke’s on Bain Street. While the east end of Glasgow initially seemed an unusual choice to me, Waterstones certainly introduced Rupi to a warm west coast crowd.

Rupi Kaur Glasgow review

The room was abuzz with excitement. I was so glad to have bagged seats in the second row. It was the perfect view to soak up the palpable emotion that dripped from Rupi’s lips; rich like the honey she repeatedly makes mention of in both her published works.

Key readings were set to music that, at first, seemed odd choices but soon they married perfectly; matched – and mismatched – to stir up feelings I couldn’t put a name to. That’s one of the most magical mysteries of Rupi Kaur – her uncanny ability to unite a room with an emotion, even if it’s foreign to the crowd until she brews it with her piercing words.

Lyrical, smooth and utterly bewitching – Rupi Kaur was showered in clicks (a common sign of appreciation in the slam poetry world), claps and stomping as she roused a solidarity among the audience.

More wonderfully, though, was her interjections with utterly human stories of her friends, childhood, family and female experiences. She jokingly made mention of no longer being able to live now that her book is written – that she must practice what she preaches and accept the compliments that were made for her. She is adorably bashful and thankful for every click, clap and whoop that echoes through the church hall. Some moments, you could hear a pin drop as we hung on her every word. Other times, we were excitedly yelling in agreement with her empowering messages and proclamations of love before the words left her lips.

Being able to share a stage with Rupi Kaur will go down as one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. I cannot begin to explain the nerves, disbelief, fangirling and admiration swirling through my veins. Words still escape me as to how surreal the experience was. I read her words alongside her – her arm around me, soothing and encouraging – as I prayed I didn’t butcher her art in front of her adoring fans (I only stumbled once or twice, thank god).

I’m still shaking with excitement. I hope someone took a photo or recorded it so I can share it with the world forever and ever. For now, you’ll have to make do imagining me shakily reading the odd numbers and her perfectly delivering the evens.


If she ever comes back to the UK (which she did say she hopes to), I would buy my ticket in a heartbeat. It’s not often you find words that, even on a page, reach down into your soul, set you alight and leave a lasting warmth emanating through your entire being. Hers did, and being able to imprint her own glorious energy to memory and revel in her delivery of such similar experiences to mine is something I could happily experience again and again.

My Embroidery Journey So Far

The least creative creative person in existence

I describe myself as someone who is creative, but not artistic. I appreciate art and creativity, and at any one time can have a dozen art project ideas in their infancy, but I rarely complete them. Mostly, this is down to lack of skill or ability. Sometimes, it’s down to time or resource. Other times, it’s because I get distracted by the Next Great Idea. I have a lot of NGIs…

A little over a year ago, my sister gave me a cross stitch kit for my birthday. I was so excited, because it was a fun project to get stuck into and I knew how to cross-stitch already. In primary school we were taught some basic stitchings as a Mother’s Day bookmark project and it’s one of those weird memories I’ve never forgotten.

It took me a long time (cramping happens) and a lot of thread, but the finished piece was fantastic and so adorable!

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You could say that my flamingo project was the start of a love affair with needlecraft.

After that, I indulged myself at Hobbycraft and picked up the basic supplies to continue my new hobby:

  • aida
  • embroidery threads
  • wooden hoops
  • embroidery scissors (or, if you have a spare pair, just use nail scissors)

I already had a bunch of needles and a Cath Kidston sewing kit (another present from my sister from a few years back – she knows me so well). I was ready to get started.

It makes me a little bit sad that I can’t remember the first hoop I created without a pattern. I think that’s probably because there have been so many!

The benefits of embroidery

This particular creative outlet is, for me, one of the most enjoyable. It’s low energy, low maintenance and low mess (apart from when I sprawl all my kit across the entire sofa and leave no room for Tam to sit…)

One thing I really love about embroidery is the sense of accomplishment. It’s a productive hobby and you can measure your progress very easily and visually. As the number of completed hoops begins to pile up, and I refine my technique or learn a new stitch, I feel proud of myself. It’s a simple pleasure, but an important one. Pride in our work, and in our abilities, is an under-appreciated luxury in our society. Embroidery gives me a spark of accomplishment with every new stitch and I love that!

For me, embroidery is incredibly therapeutic. It occupies just enough of my attention, but doesn’t require so much concentration that I can’t listen to the latest Guilty Feminist episode or rewatch Brooklyn 99 for the 147th time. The repetitive motions are soothing for an over-active brain like mine, and it can literally be done anywhere. I’ve taken hoops on buses, to cafes, to work, and I’ve even been known to finish some stitching in bed of a weekend. It’s a versatile, flexible hobby that can fit into your lifestyle, no matter how busy you are. It’s the perfect Me Time activity, in my opinion.

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There’s a really wonderfully tight-knit crafting community online (pardon the crafting pun). Embroidery is especially prevalent on Instagram. Check out different hashtags to see the vast range of embroidery art that people share, sell and teach via Insta, it’s really quite incredible.

You cannot make an irreversible mistake when you’re embroidering. Either unpick, cover up or snip away any rogue stitches and no one will ever know your needle went for a walk off the beaten path. And don’t be afraid to get creative. The possibilities are endless with embroidery. People embroider all sorts of things, in all sorts of places. The opportunities are there for the taking – unleash your creativity and see what you can create!

How expensive is embroidery?

In all honesty, it can be a pretty cheap hobby. Most people have a sewing kit lying around from a Christmas cracker or hotel room. Skeins (or embroidery threads) can be relatively pricey, depending on the colour and manufacturer. DMC embroidery thread is lovely, but cheaper versions do exist. I recommend bulk-buying to avoid running out too quickly and to lower the cost per skein. It’s the economical way to do it, I reckon.

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Hoops are available on Amazon for next to nothing if you bulk buy. Again, shop around. They come in varying sizes – all measured in inches – and for beginners it makes sense to go a little cheaper at first. If you’re keen to display your patterns in their hoops, you might want to go for slightly more expensive hoops, though. If you’re not planning on displaying the hoops, why not invest in plastic embroidery hoops? Tam gave me a set for Christmas and I ADORE them.

As for fabric, anything that can handle being punctured by a needle is good material. You might have old clothes that are too raggedy for the charity shop – why not practice your stitching on them first? If you have the budget, packs of aida are great – especially if you’re new because the fabric is woven in squares and makes creating patterns very intuitive. I bulk-bought a bunch of fun, printed cotton fat squares from eBay for more variety, too.

My fabric pens and pencils all came from Amazon. I’d highly recommend picking up a few – especially fine-tipped pens. You’ll need those if you want to draw anything detailed. The ink disappears under warm water, like magic!

Presents will never be hard to come by again, either! Who doesn’t love a handmade gift? You’ll be able to show off your newly learned skills and give someone a heartfelt, thoughtful pressie for every holiday and birthday from now on. Win win!

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How do I start embroidering?

Thread a needle and stab some fabric!

If you’re not keen on drawing out your own designs or free-handing it just yet, there are plenty of places you can go for lessons on stitching and pre-drawn patterns.

DMC has a fantastic selection of patterns you can download for free from their website. If, like me, you don’t have a lightbox at home, just stick your design to a window and trace the pattern onto your material that way. Their patterns also tell you which stitches to use and how to create them. I’ve used a few of their patterns already and have a bunch more downloaded, waiting to be copied onto some fabric.

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YouTube is also your friend. You can learn specific stitches from a wealth of videos online. I reference them now and again when I forget how to do something. They’re incredibly useful and straightforward to follow.

Buy books! Check in the charity shops, book shops and online for beginners’ guides to embroidery. There are so many, and once you’re feeling confident you can pass the book on to someone else.

Etsy is a great place if you’re able to pay for patterns. Buying pre-drawn patterns or embroidery kits from Etsy sellers is a great way to explore different styles and patterns while supporting artists and helping the embroidery community continue to thrive!

What are you waiting for?

Embroidery is really fantastic. It’s productive, pretty and you’ll end up with presents and wall art for everyone you know! You can only improve your skills and you’ll always feel like you’ve achieved something after a stitching session. I’m always up for a crafternoon session, so if you fancy getting started and want a friend to stitch with, hit me up!

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