12 of the best tips for staying cool in the heat

This blog post goes out to all my fellow wilting Brits (and anyone of any other nationality who lives here and has acclimatised to our usual rainy drudgery). We’re struggling right now. It’s rough.

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I felt like I was gonna faint when I took this photo and it was literally 10am

I’ve found it strangely hard to find good, practical advice about staying cool in the heat. I think this is probably because apart from Northern Europe, we’re the only country that has this problem because everywhere else is well prepared, with aircon and homes that are designed to let heat out in the summer. It’s really, really tough to not be able to cool down. I’m finding that my anxiety is getting worse, and I know other people are struggling in even worse ways. So I spent a little while compiling advice from various sources in the hopes that you’ll find some things that actually work for you.

1. Damp face cloths

Not the most glamorous or tidy option, but keeping a few damp washcloths in a bowl in the fridge is a lifesaver when you need to cool down quickly. Just get them out, and lay it over the back of your neck, on your forehead, or use a few and lay them over your arms and legs. If you do this just before you get into bed, it should help keep you cool enough to drop off to sleep.

2. Keep fizzy and still water in the fridge

It’s absolutely essential to keep cold water in the fridge in heat like this. So refreshing and quenching! I find that too many fizzy drinks make my teeth feel furry, but I love the refreshing feeling of the fizz, so I keep fizzy water in the fridge, though obviously that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Whatever you drink, make sure you have enough of it for your wee to be pale. If it isn’t, you aren’t drinking enough.

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At least these echinacea are loving the weather

3. Windows at dawn

If you can sleep with your windows open, I’ll assume you’re doing it already. If you can’t, set an alarm for 5am, open them all up, and go back to bed. Your home will be much cooler when you wake up to start the day. Likewise, when you go out, close your curtains and leave the windows open as far as you safely can.

4. Cool the breeze

At night, hang a damp tea towel in front of any breeze you might be able to create (whether from a fan or an open window). This drastically cools the air down, but because tea towels are so thin it doesn’t stop the breeze from getting to you. You can also use a length of a thin fabric like muslin.

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Maybe you could stay cool if you lived in this topiary hide?

5. Wear white when you go out

Yeah we’re at that stage of heat where I no longer think this is a ridiculously middle aged thing to do. Cover up in white. Get yourself a linen shirt or trousers. It really, REALLY makes all the difference.

6. Use a black umbrella as a parasol

See above. Nuff said.

7. Get dramatic

Wet a large towel with cold water, wring it out, then lie on the floor underneath it and fan yourself with a stiff piece of card. If anyone sees you, who gives a fuck. It’s hot as balls.

8. Ice water bottle

Half fill a hot water bottle with water, then stick it in the freezer. About half an hour before bed, take it out and put it in your bed, to cool your sheets. Then, cuddle the bottle like you would in the winter, or if you’re like me, rest your feet on it. Just wrap it in a towel first!

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Limiting activity and taking lots of breaks is also a good way to cope in hot weather, but it’s just no fun

9. Water sprays

When I worked in central London, in an office with no air con, we kept a supply of Caudalie Grape Water in the fridge and sprayed it ALL THE TIME. You can do this with Avene Thermal Water or any other brand that sells the big sizes of aerosol cans, or you can just get a couple of spray bottles from a garden centre, fill them with tap water and spray them all over your face, neck, chest, arms and legs whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed from the heat.

10. A cold ending

When you’re showering (if you’re anything like me this is certainly happening more frequently than usual), gradually turn the temperature of the water down, until by the end of the shower it’s completely cold. When I was in the Amazon we only had freezing cold water and I found it HORRIBLE to have that jolt of cold when the shower turned on. If you like that feeling, then go ahead and have a fully cold shower, but I can’t stand it, so I let it happen gradually instead.

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Literally two seconds away from just jumping in tbh

11. Sleep under a wet sheet

At this point, pretty much everything we’ve been taught about not getting things wet incase they get mildew has gone out of the window. Even if your mattress gets wet, it won’t stay wet in this weather. So if you’re really struggling to sleep, take a sheet, get it wet, and sleep under it. Apparently this is what the Egyptians used to do! Just maybe put a towel underneath you to limit how much your mattress does get soaked.

12. And finally, don’t leave the house without…

A spare pair of socks and baby powder if you have to wear shoes to work.

Sunscreen (you need to be wearing this every day now, without fail, this is holiday weather).

Deodorant.

Your favourite thigh-rub remedy if needed.

Flip flops for your journey to and from work.

A mini water spritz (Caudalie, Avene, Evian and Mario Badescu do good mini sizes).

A massive bottle of water.

Blister plasters.

And a hand held or makeshift fan.

Good luck! Together we might survive climate change for a few more years 🙂 

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The Best Body Oils For Summer

HELLO! It’s me, with a blog post?! Yes I haven’t been blogging much lately, I have loads in my drafts I’m just focusing on other things at the moment. You know how it is. But I had to share my favourite recommendations for summery body oils because the wonderful weather we’ve been having has totally inspired me.

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For me, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I need to moisturise after I wash. I have dry skin on my body, which turns to eczema in winter but in summer I just get a bit of scaliness and roughness (nice). And of course when the inevitable post-burn ‘peeling’ happens, I need to exfoliate and moisturise even more! Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s early days yet, despite it feeling like we’ve already had our yearly allocation of sun about five times over! So anyway, onto my recommendations for body oils. I love body oils, and much prefer them to body creams. One thing to remember if you aren’t an oil convert yet, is that body oils are nearly always far more naturally derived than creams, and when you’re applying a product to such a large surface area, you should really be using something natural. These three are all light enough to be suitable for sticky summer days, but nourishing enough to leave your skin feeling gorgeously soft. Their fragrances are all very different, but each one is perfect for sunny days in its own unique way.

Aesop Geranium Lead Hydrating Body Treatment

This is the freshest smelling and most luxuriously textured of the three oils – the lightly floral fragrance of geranium leaf is combined with mandarin and bergamot for a really uplifting but intoxicating experience. It reminds me of extremely fragrant English country gardens, you know when the sun has been beating down all day and the flowers are just radiating their scents? It’s a wonderful massage oil as well, but I love to use it any time of the day – it absorbs very quickly when you apply a normal amount, but if you want to massage with it, just use more. It absorbs completely either way, you’re never left feeling sticky! I absolutely love the way this oil feels when you apply it – it truly is everything you could want in an oil. The scent lasts for a good while, as you’d expect from a luxury oil. The nourishing base is almond and macadamia oils which are both really rich in vitamin E, an essential antioxidant for preserving youthful skin. Get it from Beauty Expert, here.

Yves Rocher Orange Blossom, Lavender and Pettigrain Botanical Oil

First of all, I’m so sorry to have to direct you to Yves Rocher’s terrible website, but that’s the only way you can get their products in the UK! It’s worth it, I promise. This oil is glorious. It’s thick, but wastes no time absorbing. The scent of this one is primarily orange blossom or fleur d’oranger if you’re fancy, I can’t really get any lavender or pettigrain but that’s fine for me because orange blossom is my favourite fragrance IN THE WORLD. I absolutely cannot get enough of it. Orange blossom makes me feel so happy, it’s one of the most magically uplifting scents in the world. It’s rich and heady, like jasmine, but without being overwhelming, there’s a fresh element to is as well. I’ve had this oil for two summers and it’s still going strong, despite regular use, so it’s also fantastic value for money. The oils in it are very hardy – rapeseed, sunflower, coconut and macadamia, which makes it very effective at softening and nourishing the skin. The smell lasts at least half a day, which is incredible for a body oil if you ask me! Get it from their website here.

Lush Elbow Grease

I feel like I bang on about this oil at least once a week, whether online or in real life, but I just can’t get over how much I love the smell. It’s so tropical without being sweet or sickly, just makes me feel like I’m wandering through a flower garden in Tahiti or somewhere. It reminds me a lot of monoi oil although it doesn’t actually contain any – the scent is neroli, orange blossom, rosewood and ylang ylang. If you want to read more about this glorious slice of cosmetic heaven, you can read my full blog post on it here.

 

 

Skyn Iceland Skin Hangover Kit*

Why is it that getting older means worse hangovers? I don’t drink that often but when I do it’s like being hit with a tonne of bricks, it never used to be like that!! I know I’m not the only one, and I have a feeling that those brutal late-twenties/early-thirties hangovers may have been the inspiration behind this brilliant product I’m going to tell you all about…

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Skyn Iceland is a brand formulated with millenial women in mind. Their tagline is ‘Solutions for stressed skin’ and who among us doesn’t have stressed skin right about now? Whether it’s work deadlines, wedding planning, buying a house, kids, money, dealing with your landlord, worrying about pollution, concerned by the state of the world or literally suffering from anxiety, we’re all stressed out by something. Skyn knows this all too well, and their products are formulated to help support, soothe and care for your skin during stressful periods. I love brands like this, ones that think about what you want, rather than coming up with things to make you want. The Skin Hangover Kit illustrates this perfectly. Containing a detox mask, cooling gel eye patches, a hydrating moisturiser and a refreshing eye cream, it’s designed to help you feel fresh and awake on days where you can’t just pull the duvet up over your head and pretend last night never happened. Grab yourself a large glass of water and let me tell you more about it!

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Fresh Start Mask Sachets

I absolutely love this mask – I have a box of the sachets as well and enjoy using it whenever my skin is feeling dull. The first sachet contains blue clay to deep cleanse and purify, and the second sachet contains an activating gel which creates an effervescent effect to further stimulate the skin, and give you a really refreshed feeling. It’s a hangover cure it itself, even without the rest of the brilliant products in this kit! Buy this on its own here.

Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels

These lovely little patches help to de-puff the eyes and reduce fine lines with cooling and deeply hydrating ingredients. After just ten minutes they leave you looking totally fresh, absolutely perfect for when you wake up bleary-eyed and puffy. Buy a full pack of them here.

Icelandic Relief Eye Cream

I absolutely love this eye cream. It smells minty and initially I expected it to be like putting menthol under my eyes (cue: weeping!) but it’s very subtle indeed, just enough to make your eyes feel bright and awake without overdoing the tingling sensation. This eye cream helps to target puffiness for the rest of the day (after your eye gels have taken away the bulk of it), as well as reducing dark circles and fine lines. The eyes are the part of the face that really gives you away when you have a hangover, but these two together sort them right out. Buy this on its own here.

The Antidote Cooling Daily Lotion

Of course, there’s no point looking better if you don’t feel better, and while the wonderful eye products do help to relieve that tired-eye feeling, there’s still a whole face that needs some tlc! Once you use the mask, follow it with The Antidote which cools facial skin instantly, and really, deeply hydrates. I’m very picky about moisturisers so wasn’t expecting to like this, especially when I was hungover and moody, but I really felt better after applying this. The Fresh Start Mask gives your skin a wake-up call but this maintains that ‘awake’ feeling! Buy this on its own here.

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James and I tried the kit out the morning after celebrating a little too hard. We climbed Ben Nevis and may have overindulged on prosecco afterwards, and woke up feeling a little worse for wear. The Skin Hangover Kit contains two of both the single-use products, and plenty of the other two products so you can share it with your significant other, or a friend while you sip coffee and complain! The four products come inside a resealable packet, which means you could buy more of the single use products (both available separately, here for the mask and here for the eye gels) and restock the kit to bring with you if you’re going somewhere. I think it’s perfect for after a big night of celebration, such as a wedding, graduation, work party or housewarming, and I also think it would make a really nice bridesmaid gift, or something to put in your best friend’s bridal suit, perhaps a cheeky secret santa or even a going away to uni present! Get it here for £17.

4 Easy Tips to Tackle Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin is the root of SO many skin issues, and it’s often completely overlooked because it can be hard to identify. Dehydrated skin can be dull, it can feel tight, it can be flaky, rough, papery lined and even spotty or oily. A lot of the time, when people think that there’s something weird going on with their skin, it’s just dehydration. The important thing about dehydration is to combat it with water instead of oil, which many people do without realising. So with that in mind, here are some really simple, easy to follow tips to treat dehydration:

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Drinking enough 💦 It may be pretty relentless advice, but it’s really important. When your body gets dehydrated your skin is the first part to stop receiving water. This is actually the reason that drinking water improves the skin – none of that ‘detox’ nonsense. The only way your body actually detoxifies itself is through the liver and kidneys – whilst drinking water is essential for supporting their functions, you can’t ‘flush away’ bad stuff in the skin. As I said, spots and oiliness can be caused by dehydration because the skin produces more oil to make up for the lack of water. So by giving your skin enough water, it helps it to stop overdoing the oil, therefore, spots and oiliness are gone! It has nothing to do with toxins. If you struggle to get enough water, get yourself a nice water bottle, and download an app like Plant Nanny to remind you.

Exfoliation! It’s really important to remove dead skin cells to allow your still-living cells to absorb all the skincare products you use. Plus, if you have dullness or flaky skin, exfoliation will help with that too. I think that chemical exfoliants (as opposed to scrubs) are better for dehydration because they tend to be less disruptive to the delicate layer of water and oil that protects the skin. I absolutely love my Aesop Parsley Seed Cleanser which contains lactic acid, as well as Pixi Glow Tonic, and I’ve also recently fallen in love with Pixi Glow Peel Pads, although they are a much more advanced acid product so don’t go in all guns blazing with them. Two other longtime favourites are from Skyn Iceland – their Fresh Start Masks, and their Nordic Skin Peel Pads.

Hyaluronic acid. This is a naturally occurring part of the skin, it’s a jelly like substance that holds water. In skincare you need to have a combination of low and high molecular weight hyaluronic acid. Low molecular weight (aka micro hyaluronic or hyaluronic acid fragments) penetrates deeply unto the skin, and stimulates the skin’s production of high molecular weight HA. Applying high molecular weight HA directly to the skin absorbs only into the outer layers, which plumps up the skin, helps it to retain water and gives it a smooth appearance. For micro hyaluronic acid, a good serum is what you want – I love Caudalie Thirst Quenching Serum and Avene Hydrance Serum. Because of their texture, serums sink deeply into the skin to get ingredients where they need to be. And for macro hyaluronic acids try a toner or moisturiser – my favourites are Pixi Rose Tonic, Fresh Deep Hydration Toner and for a moistuirser, one of my true loves, Caudalie Moisturising Sorbet.

Sheet masks! All sheet masks have a hydrating effect in the skin, simply because the water in them gets absorbed by the skin while it’s on. If your skin is dehydrated, slapping a sheet mask on twice a week is the quickest and easiest way to sort it out. I absolutely love Tony Moly Sheet Masks, which you can get for SUPER cheap here (I use YesStyle a lot, you can trust them). Or Look Fantastic have a great range of sheet masks too, I LOVE the look of the Origins Hydrating Sheet Masks, they come in all kinds of versions like Jasmine, Orange and Rose.

I hope these tips are helpful for you – just remember that if your skin is playing up, and you aren’t sure what’s wrong with it, you should really consider the fact that it might be dehydrated. Adding more water to your skin can’t hurt, so always try these tips before moving onto a drastically different skincare routine!

 

Spring Clean with KINN* – toxin free, natural products for body and home!

Thinking about doing a bit of spring cleaning? Perhaps you’ve read the recent news stories about household cleaning products being an underestimated source of air pollution? Or maybe you heard about the new research, which has found that women are more likely to experience respiratory illnesses due to inhaling cleaning products over extended periods of time? Not long ago I tweeted about how looking after your home is a form of self care, but how can it be when the products required to clean a home are so dangerous? These news stories really left me feeling a bit despondent.  Luckily for me, when these stories were published, I had been invited to try a new, non-toxic and organic lifestyle brand called KINN… and trust me, you’ll want to learn all about this amazing brand too!

Four bottles. One is a body lotion bottle, one is a bath oil, one is a kitchen cleaner and one is washing up liquid. there are two plants behind them.

KINN products are non-toxic, vegan, and have fully traceable ingredients (which is something that very few brands actually have). The brand was created by mother-daughter duo Marie and Sophie, who set out with the aim of creating products for the body and home that would be enjoyable and effective to use, without doing damage to the consumer or the environment. I’ve tried four KINN products so far, two from their cleaning range and two from their body care range, and have been absolutely delighted with every single one of them!

Two bottles sit on top of three cookbooks. The bottles are washing up liquid and kitchen cleaner in modern, clean packaging. A plant is next to them.

Eco Friendly Kitchen Cleaner – £3.50

This is without a doubt the best cleaning spray I’ve ever used. It’s anti-bacterial but not in the same way that Dettol is anti-bacterial – instead of horrific chemicals, KINN use rosemary and lavender extracts to kill off unwanted germs sustainably. The scent is absolutely beautiful, a clean rosemary scent, and it cuts through dirt to leave surfaces absolutely sparkling clean. I actually really do not like cleaning, but the gorgeous scent of this stuff, and how satsfying it is to just absolutely blast through kitchen worktops, the hob, cubboard doors etc with this stuff makes it so much more enjoyable.

Eco Friendly Washing Up Liquid – £3.50

Easily the best washing up liquid I’ve ever used. Although in this country, everything that goes down the drain is heavily treated before being released back into the ecosystem, I do know that your water company’s job is made a lot harder when weird chemicals go into the mix. So when I put things down the drain, I prefer them to be as natural as possible. This is an absolutely brilliant washing up liquid, it’s so effective, it’s kind to my hands and smells wonderful; those lavender and rosemary extracts again.

Two white bottles sit on a white tile in front of two green plants. The bottles are of body lotion and bath oil.

Organic Body Lotion – £18

This body lotion is absolutely stunning, and is 90.9% organic, amazingly. The scent is ylang ylang and lavender, with orange in there too to lift it up. The base is sunflower seed, shea and cocoa butter which makes it rich, but absorbs really beautifully. And there’s aloe vera in there too which gives it a gorgeously soothing feel as you massage it in. A little goes a very long way too, and I find that when I use it after I shave my legs, it completely prevents any dryness from occurring, which is a recurring problem for me with shaving – so it’s clearly an amazing body lotion if it can treat that!

Organic Bath Oil – £28

This might actually be my favourite product of the four I’ve tried. It’s not like any other bath oil I own, which have very herbal scents like arnica, pine or rosemary. This is a delicate, uplifting scent that put me in a good mood as soon as I poured it in. The scent comes from tangerine oil, lavender and ylang ylang and it’s just so lovely. The oil blend is composed of sweet almond, grape seed, avocado and sunflower seed oils which are very good for nourishing the skin, but they are all very easily absorbed meaning it doesn’t make your bath or your skin oily. There’s added vitamin E for extra skin-loving nutrients. Every time I have a bath in this I just do not want to get out, ever! The oil is 100% natural and 99.5% organic too. It doesn’t get better than that.

I hope you enjoyed reading about KINN, this brand has been an absolute revelation to me and I can’t believe how much I enjoy using their home cleaning products! They have lots of other gorgeous sounding products too, including a body oil and body wash, a bathroom cleaner and a floor wash. I really want to try their body wash, it sounds divine!! You can buy KINN products on their website here, or they are also available in Waitrose.

 

 

The Feminist Fiction Bookshelf

Fiction is far more than just entertainment. The right story can change your life, make you see things in a different way and teach you something about humanity you could never have imagined otherwise. Books are powerful, wonderful, dangerous things. Fiction is one of the most important things in the world to me; I wrote my bachelor’s dissertation on the ethics of fictional representations of evil, and then my master’s dissertation on emotional responses to fiction.

I firmly believe that what you read shapes who you are, and therefore I think that reading feminist fiction is absolutely essential, for our understanding of right and wrong, of who people are, and of what they can go through. Feminist articles, papers and non-fiction books are essential too, but the difference is that the author of an essay is explaining to you; with fiction, the author is showing you. With fiction, you learn through emotions, compassion, empathy. I think that it’s extremely important to learn in a multi-dimensional way, and therefore both fiction and non-fiction are vital tools. So, I’ve put together a little ‘bookshelf’ of a few novels I think every feminist should read.

There are intersectional gaps in this list, but with fiction there pretty much always will be unless you’ve read every book ever written! You certainly can’t just read all these books and then say ‘now I’m done!’. There are an infinite number of stories to tell, and this is just a tiny snapshot, but each one has something individual and important to offer.

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[Presented in alphabetical order]

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. I mean…do I really need to explain this one. If you haven’t already read it then come on?! Atwood is a phenomenal author. Her words flow off the page. The main difference between the TV show and the book is that in the book, you get far, far more insight into how June/Offred is feeling and thinking. The show introduces more characters and their different motivations, backgrounds and experiences, but with the book, you have that claustrophobic, lonely insight into one person’s experience of the dystopia. Buy it here.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë. This book is one of the first to truly present a woman’s feelings and emotions as valid, and to focus purely on a small, unimportant woman’s life and desires. You care so much about Jane’s life and her happiness. Mr Rochester, the main male character, is a means to an end in this sense, and I think that so much of this early feminist story is extremely important; for example, Jane not being manipulated into compromising her morals for a man, Mr Rochester’s punishment for his actions, her journey towards finding her own happiness… Jane makes things happen on her own terms. Plus, it’s extremely romantic, and romance CAN be feminist! I really want to read more of the Brontë sisters’ work, but this was the perfect one to start with. Buy it here.

Difficult Women, Roxane Gay. A collection of short stories about a huge variety of different women, their relationships, lives and individual situations in life. If you were trying to explain the complexity of women’s lived experiences to someone, this book would do the trick, even if it does only focus on American women! It’s an extraordinarily diverse collection of stories and every single one is compelling and moving. There are some stories that use surrealism and magical realism too, which just makes it even better in my eyes as I’m a complete sucker for magical realism. Buy it here.

Geisha of Gion (The US title is Geisha: A Life), Mineko Iwasaki. Ok, ok, this one isn’t fiction! But I have a good reason for including this. You are almost certainly familiar with the film/novel Memoirs of a Geisha, yes? Well, in the world of Geishas, secrecy is paramount. For centuries their lives were shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Before writing Memoirs of a Geisha, the man who wrote Memoirs met with one of the few Geishas to publicly quit the profession, Mineko Iwasaki, who trusted him to tell her life story responsibly. And yet… he took her story and completely bastardised it, presenting it as researched fact, when what he actually did was create an inaccurate, disrespectful and sensationalist drama. Of course, everyone ate it up, the book was a bestseller and was made into a film, whilst Iwasaki was left to deal with the fallout and humiliation. So she wrote her own book. Geisha of Gion is the real Memoirs of a Geisha. If you’ve already read Golden’s novel or seen the film, I BEG you to read this one too, but if you haven’t, just read Iwasaki’s memoir and learn about what life as a Geisha (or as you’ll learn when you read it, what life as geiko and maiko) is actually like. Buy it here.

The Vegetarian, Han Kang. This is a gripping South Korean book about a woman’s descent into madness. Set in Seoul, it follows Yeong-hye’s transformation from an “entirely unremarkable” housewife into something tragically extraordinary. It’s fascinating to see how the men who expect to own, consume and control her react when they realise they cannot, and this brutal yet accurate portrait of men is one of the most important messages of the book. Her introspective protest at their anger and violence is heartbreaking and brilliant. Her ‘madness’ seems to me to be an analogy for how we all feel in the face of the society we live in. I think this book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt exhausted by the cruelty in our world of patriarchal societies. Buy it here.

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. This follows a young girl in a wealthy post-colonial Nigerian household, growing up with an abusive father, a downtrodden but unfailingly loving mother and a quietly strong older brother. I think this story shows what it is like for the many people who grew up in a household with a man so wrapped up in himself that he is unable to love other people. I grew up in a purely loving family, and I think it is very important for people like me to read these stories. To actually ask someone who grew up in an abusive home what it was like, or what it felt like, is to demand an inappropriate amount of emotional labour from them. The story focuses primarily on Kambili’s thoughts and feelings – very few adults book feature a teenaged girl as the protagonist, and yet, as anyone who has ever been a teenaged girl will attest to, they are some of the most fascinatingly complicated people on the planet. The story is carefully optimistic, and very moving. Buy it here.

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A Victorian feminist novel, Herland satirises men in a way that any exhausted feminist (man or woman) will relish. Not only that, but it inspires you to think about how you could live a more peaceful existence. It might also make you pine for a world where men don’t exist, but if you have any men in your life that you actually like, that feeling won’t last too long. Perkins Gilman does a fantastic job of removing ‘maleness’ from a society, thinking about what a world of women would be without men, and it is a fascinating thought experiment. This book was banned by men of the era because they found it so offensive and threatening, which is just another reason to seek it out! Buy it here.

Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy.  This wonderful piece of work is a feminist science fiction novel written in the 70s. Through Connie the protagonist, and Luciente her friend, it depicts a socialist utopian future, starkly contrasted against the horrors of living in 1970s New York as a poverty stricken Mexican American woman. Everything from racism, sexism, womanhood, motherhood, mental health, sexual relationships, gender, political ideology and the environment are discussed in this book, at length, without you even realising because you are so swept up in the story. I’ve never read a book that could tackle so many issues and seamlessly interweave them with a compelling, moving narrative. It’s an incredibly intelligent book. It has aged, there’s no doubt, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a book from the 70s to meet the excellent language standards we feminists have today. This book will teach you that everything is interconnected, you will come away from it understanding that every facet of the way we live our lives and the choices we make have an impact on the planet and other people, and I think that’s a very good thing for every person to understand. I have a personal connection to this book too, not only because my mum gave me her edition of it, published in the year I was born, but also because it made me finally realise that I don’t fit into the gender binary, and I am so grateful to Marge Piercy for helping me to understand that. Buy it here.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath. This is one of those books that every feminist knows they should read. And you definitely should. It is an unflinching and very realistic account of a woman’s experiences with mental health. Plath, of course, was writing with first hand experience. It’s very readable and I identified with the main character in many ways. However, the book is racist. Not in a ‘depicts racism’ way, in a ‘the author is racist because they thought it was ok to write that’ way. Because of this, rather than seeing The Bell Jar as a timeless, emotionally brilliant piece of art, it left me a little cold, so really I see it as a pioneering historical piece, that we must read to ground us and give us the background needed to understand where we’ve come from. Buy it here.

The Colour Purple, Alice Walker. What. A. Book. I don’t even know what to say about it, other than it is phenomenal. It’s original, highly readable, heartbreaking, moving, fascinating, insightful and profound. I’m honestly a bit embarrassed by how utterly lost for words this emotionally brilliant work of art has left me. All I can say is: buy it here.

WHAT IS SELF CARE?

Ever since the concept of self care became a thing that we actively talk about, people have tried to define it in lots of different ways. I have to say, I’ve found a lot of these definitions lacking, because most of the time they seem to invalidate what one person does, in order to validate another person’s self care techniques. I’ve seen people laugh at and bully a wonderful internet activist who created an app reminding people to drink enough water. I’ve seen people describe taking a bath as ‘self care for people without any problems’. I’ve seen websites promote buying £200 weighted blankets for ‘luxury’ wellbeing, while these very same blankets are desperately needed by people with ADHD who often can’t afford them. I’ve seen people implying that the only valid form of self care is basic maintenance (sleeping, eating, drinking) whilst other people claim that meditation and mindfulness are the only true ways to perform self care. Others will tell you that self care is worthless if you don’t love yourself. The concept of self care is turning out to be quite a complex one, and I wanted to spend a little time unpacking it, to shed light on what has become so unexpectedly confusing.

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I believe that the root of the problem is consumerism. Brands have had a hugely negative impact on the way people view self care. Above, I mentioned a listicle of luxury self care items, and this is where I think the problem comes from. Most people will have first heard about self care in the media, so they see it as something luxurious, an indulgence. Something they have to spend money on. This makes many people who are truly in dire need of self care reject it, because it seems frivolous. It isn’t the bubble bath that’s the problem, it’s the women’s lifestyle website telling you that you need to spend £100 on accoutrements to go with your bubble bath.

This has led to people feeling that it doesn’t reflect what they actually need, and I completely understand. Just like the trivialisation of the word ‘triggered’ affected me in therapy, where we used the word when discussing trauma, thoughtless media treatment has put people off self care because they feel silly talking about it. This is why I’ve decided to spend time earnestly talking about it; I know how important it is, and want help other people see that self care isn’t a fancy lifestyle choice, it’s a basic choice that helps you live your life.

Some people have tried to get around this trivialisation by moving the goalposts – describing self care as being only things like taking meds, drinking water, brushing your teeth. But I believe this makes some very unhelpful assumptions, and doesn’t clear things up at all. First of all, it assumes that self care is only for people who are ill. It’s also very ignorant of the fact that illness and wellness both take many, many forms. You cannot make a statement about self care being one thing but not another, because you don’t know what other people need. At the Foodbank I volunteer at, we put bodycare products like lotion or bubble bath in with our monthly menstrual parcels, we put chocolate into all of the food boxes and we put lipbalm into every homeless food box. Why? Because people need more than just baked beans and tinned vegetables. They need to feel like a human being. Many people across the world go through terrible, horrible things whether it’s due to poverty, sickness, grief or abuse. They don’t just require basic self maintenance to feel better. I truly believe that there is a gross lack of empathy in a lot of conversations around self care.

The NHS describes self care as being the different ways you can look after yourself, both mentally and physically. What we really need to understand is that this looks different for absolutely every single person on earth. And we need to accept that we can never, ever know how much another person needs their self care, how hard their journey is or what’s going on with them. Self care can also be very hard for some people. Roxane Gay makes a very good point that this concept of self care seems to her like yet another thing women are expected to be good at, and I’ve been there; I used to suck at self care too. But you cannot expect people to be able to learn how to practice self care if it doesn’t sound accessible, or attainable. The only answer is to eschew rampant consumerism and to be empathetic when others talk about their self care. We should be open about how we like to look after ourselves, both the elaborate and simple methods, and be honest about how that doesn’t always mean doing what we want to do. You can’t change what self care is – it already is what it is.

What we should be spending our time doing is discussing how to ensure we make honest choices about self care, because it doesn’t always mean doing whatever you want. Being honest with yourself about what you actually need is essential. For example, you might really want to spend four hours cooking a fancy meal to cheer yourself up, but perhaps you only want to do that to procrastinate some less fun chores? Skipping school or work might be something you do need to do once in a while, but you must be careful – why are you skipping it and what are you doing instead?

Every human being on the planet deserves to practice self care, and some people find it harder than others. The most important thing to remember is not to be negative about what one person is doing to care for themselves, because you don’t know how much they need it, why they need it or what they’re going through. But next time you see a magazine listing the “40 Best Self Care items you need”, ignore it.