Book review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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One of the most engaging, vivid and interesting books I’ve read for a long time, Purple Hibiscus is an incredible ‘coming-of-age’ story about fifteen year old Kambili, daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. I describe her in this decidedly non-feminist way because this is how she appears to see herself for much of the book. Her father is the sun around which her family revolves and having an identity of her own isn’t just something she isn’t allowed, it’s a concept that would never even have occurred to her. Until, that is, life throws Kambili and her brother into the life of their Aunty, the brilliant Ifeoma, and her spirited children.

I think my favourite aspect of the book has got to be the characters and the way they each influence Kambili in a unique way. Her tyrannical father, the quiet developments taking place under the skin of her brother Jaja, the gloriously intelligent teenage anger of her cousin Amaka, the budding philosopher in her cousin Obiora, and the quiet, heartbreaking tragedy of her mother, these are fantastically written, deeply complex people, who all have a part to play in unfolding the story, and enabling Kambili to wake up into her own person.

Another aspect that I absolutely adored were the intellectual conversations taking place around Kambili, about colonialism, nationhood, westernisation, racism and corruption, without her actually joining in or having an opinion about them. I thought this was a neat little trick of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who let’s not forget, is a very important figure in the field of modern feminism. It is a joy to read these parts because they were written by someone who really, really knows what she’s talking about. Like watching an interview with an actor who indulges the audience by slipping into their best known character for a moment, except here, Adichie is sharing her brilliant insights into deeply important topics.

At it’s heart, this is a story about people in pain, and it is a moving, thought-provoking, intelligent and compulsive read. This story tugs at everything in you, and you simply must read it.

Have you already read Purple Hibiscus? What did you think? Put a spoiler warning at the top of your comment and let’s talk about it!! 

 

Learning to love my armpit hair

Today, I went to my first ever yoga class, and I was a bit nervous. Being naturally flexible and weirdly good at balancing (thanks, five years of gymnastic trampolining), actually being able to do the poses wasn’t the thing that was worrying me. My nerves were to do with the fact that I haven’t shaved my underarms for almost a year. I was wearing a vest top and sports bra, and was about to spend an hour with my arms up in the air, surrounded by beautiful strangers.

I love my underarm hair. It’s so soft, and it curls like the hair on my head. My partner thinks it’s pretty. think it’s pretty. The fact that I can have body hair, not worry about people seeing it and still feel confident is a huge thing for me. I struggled with body image until I was about 22, so here I am making myself less attractive in the eyes of society, and I still feel good?!

The yoga class was a blip – I was unsure of the people I’d be around, and knew that if anyone looked at me there was no chance they wouldn’t see my underarms.This experience was definitely the most intense ‘armpit hair display’ I’ve ever had, and I got through it because I knew that I liked my armpit hair, and I wanted to share with you the way that I actually learned to love it. Yep, that’s right, this is my underarm hair beauty routine. And what?

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Step one: Washing. 

My boyfriend sports a lovely Aragorn-style 5 day beard, which looks insanely sexy but has a tendency to scratch my delicate face apart when we make out. When shopping around for something to tame it, we came across this Kalamazoo Beard Wash in Lush and he bought a small tub. A couple of weeks later, he went back to buy this bucket size, because this mixture of pineapple, almond oil, jojoba oil and cupuaçu makes body hair INSANELY soft. I asked James if I could try it on my underarm hair one morning and he enthusiastically agreed, and ever since my hair has been baby soft and super smooth.

Step two: Deodorise. 

I haven’t used anti-perspirant for almost a year. Natural deodorants are great as they allow you to sweat (which you NEED to do) but if used correctly, do help prevent body odour. I use Pit Rok Spray in the morning, as this prevents the smell, and then Weleda Sage Deodorant later in the day if I need to cover up. I’ve tried tonnes of natural deos, and these are definitely the best. I keep my arms pressed to my sides to make sure the liquid gets through the hair and all over my skin.

Step three: Conditioning.

Using oil on your armpit hair is entirely optional, I usually only do it when I’m wearing something sleeveless. It is, however, the most absolutely gorgeous thing you can do with your underarm hair, and an excellent way of feeling more confident about it. When you lift your arm up to point at something and are greeted with the smell of some beautiful essential oils, how could you, or anyone else, think anything bad about your body hair? It smells of flowers and fruits! I had this little bottle of Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil and have been using that because it smells divine and my hair loves it – while it’s pricey, I am SO tempted to buy some more when it runs out. But I’ve also recently bought some Elbow Grease, a exclusive Lush Oxford Street product that is without a shadow of a doubt the most gorgeous collection of oils EVER. It melts into skin and hair immediately, and actually smells just like my Serge Lutens Fleur d’Oranger perfume. When I put oil on my armpit hair, I like to comb it through with an eyelash comb. You’d be surprised how tangled  an inch of armpit hair can get! It curls and sits beautifully after I do this (and no, it doesn’t look greasy, the hair is too thick for that!)

Step four: Nighttime. 

I often shower before bed rather than in the morning as it helps me sleep, and as part of my night time skincare routine, I always sprinkle some dusting powder on my underarms to make sure they’re fresh in the morning. If I’m showering in the morning instead, I don’t bother, but it’s lovely to go to bed with fragrant, dusted underarms. Lush’s dusting powders are the only ones worth using if you ask me, and their Princess Dusting Powder, bought for me as an in-joke gift by my boyfriend (and another Oxford Street Exclusive), is gorgeous. Silky Underwear is another stunning option that I’ve raved about before.

So that’s how I grew to really enjoy, embrace and normalise having underarm hair! Is it different? Yes. Do I care? Hell no, I’m having SO much fun. One day I might even dye it green. 

LET GIRLS WEAR WHAT THE HELL THEY WANT

I’m completely fed up with seeing articles about schools banning girls from wearing short skirts or makeup. The headteacher’s justification is always the problematic notion that it’s ‘distracting to the boys’ which irks me more than enough, but one that really got to me today said “School bans short skirts because they’re ‘distracting’ to male teachers”

In the article they don’t seem to offer any proof, but even still, the idea that girls will be sent home for not wearing ‘school appropriate’ skirts is outrageous, for so many reasons. For a start, telling girls that wearing makeup distracts them from work, and then sending them home AWAY from work, seems a little contradictory. I would have more time for the concept if it was five hours extra school a week in return for wearing a full face of makeup. Well, I wouldn’t, that would be monstrously draconian, but still it wouldn’t be as bad as damaging a girl’s education because she doesn’t fit into the school’s idea of the perfect female student, would it?!

Now, objectively, I’m a well educated, intelligent, successful woman. I’m 25, so measure that success how you will (I’m not exactly a CEO). I refuse to submit myself to the idea that saying that about myself is arrogant because I’m sick of society forcing me to be modest about my entire existence – fuck that – I have a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Philosophy from a great university, I’m writing a book, and I’m a Digital Marketing Executive. I’m happy with where I am and how I’m doing.

What was the point of all that? Well, I wear makeup and revealing clothing, and I have done since I was about 15. I love showing my waist off and making my eyes look bigger, I love accentuating my chest and my full lips. Why the fuck shouldn’t I? My body is a part of who I am, just as much as my arguing skills, my compassion, or my complete inability to organise anything. Is it shallow? Is it really? I could take you on in a debate about the mind body problem, I’ve almost cried whilst trying to understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (like every other Philosophy student), and I’ve written essays on dasein whilst trying to push to the back of my mind the feeling that Heidegger is one of the most useless philosophers ever to write anything. The concept of ‘shallow’ is, ironically, pretty shallow. Mindless consumerism and an obsession with the aesthetic can be flaws, but only when they aren’t accompanied by anything else. To be purely shallow is a rare thing, and the idea that teenage girls, some of the most complex and confused creatures on the planet, fall into that bracket, is absurd, reductionist and misogynistic.

In our society women are expected to look beautiful, no matter what they do. You can be a doctor, police officer or a politician, it’s nigh on impossible to escape the ‘does she look good enough’ magnifying glass. It’s not just celebrities who look perfect – your teacher probably knows damn well how to do her makeup, the woman who serves you in the shop, and lets not forget, the women that teenage girls watch on youtube for entertainment. Girls see women wearing makeup every single day, and teenage girls are in the process of turning into women. In just the same way as boys learning the rules of masculinity during their teens, girls are learning the rules of femininity. Of course they want to conform, wear makeup, shorten their skirts and act like women. They’re about to turn into them.

Lying to girls that wearing makeup and short skirts distracts them from their education is bad enough, but telling them they distract BOYS is worse still. We NEED to stamp out this disgraceful, archaic idea. I have a higher sex drive than anyone I’ve ever met, I’m attracted to women, and I’ve never had a hard time concentrating because a beautiful woman is wearing a short dress in front of me. Not because I’m not a man, it’s because I wasn’t raised to think that women are objects for me to look at. Is it therefore contradictory for me to want to wear tight tops and lipgloss? Actually, it probably is. But that’s because some of the things society teaches us are wrong. Despite my parent’s best efforts, I was still taught by society that women need to be sexy and attractive to feel good – and because I was taught this while I was growing up I genuinely feel that way. 

Society needs to change – there’s no doubt about that. But confusing the messages girls are sent – that makeup is a bad thing and wanting to wear it means you don’t care about school, whilst simultaneously marketing products to them and making physical appearance unbelievably important, just confuses women and girls and makes what they want versus what they know is right completely different. These ideas confuse boys and men in exactly the same way – how often have you thought “What is up with men, they say they like women to look natural but then react with disgust the second they see an acne scar”? None of us understand what we want, because from the get-go we’re taught things that are wrong. We want things because marketing departments know how to make us want things – and you cannot trust a marketing department to act with your best interests at heart. I’ve been lucky to work for ethical companies but believe me, they are rare. This, combined with the fact that no one seems to realise how much of an effect the society we grow up in has on us, has made for a pretty confused group of people. Teaching girls that something as innocuous as makeup and a short skirt is wrong makes them feel bad about what they want. Teaching boys that girls should hide from them fetishises girls in their eyes – makes their bodies into objects, and means they can’t respect us.

We NEED change, and schools are a damn good place to start. Let girls wear what the hell they want, teach boys that girl’s bodies are not there for them to look at, or enjoy, without expressed, enthusiastic consent, and we’ll end up with a more balanced, happier generation than we’ve had in a long time.

How to shave your legs like a feminist

1. Acknowledge that, as a feminist, you never want to tell other women what to do with their bodies and anything you may or may not say about hair removal is merely a suggestion based on subjective experiences.

2. Grow out a different body hair area to ensure there’s always a part of you that doesn’t unintentionally cater to the male gaze. With smooth legs comes great responsibility to ensure men don’t think you’re on their side.

 

3. If you start dating a beard bro, be sure to grow out enough body hair in the first few months that you can be certain of any feminist ideals he might claim to have (if there isn’t a man, skip to the end of step 4).

4. Once you’re sure of the aforementioned man’s regard for you and the choices you make about your body, or you get bored of the fur covering your lower extremities, decide that it’s time for a shave.

5. Invest in some nice products. You’re doing this for you, after all. May as well get it right.

6. Choose your first product: An exfoliator. These come in several shapes, a konjac sponge, a body brush, exfoliating gloves, or my personal preference, a scrub. I LOVE & Other Stories’ beautiful Body Scrubs.

7. Choose your razor. I always used to preach that expensive razors were a joke and that we should always go withthe 10 for a £1 orange Bic multipack, but I’m told by some of my fellow feminists that women with thicker or coarser hair actually need to take a three-bladed approach to their hair removal. So pick whichever razor you like, but DON’T go for the higher priced pink option just because it claims to be specially designed for your legs. It isn’t.

8. Second product: shaving aid. You don’t need to use special shaving gel on your legs, but don’t cop out by using your shampoo, or worse, conditioner on your legs. I know so many people who do this and I don’t get it – you’re shaving the hair off for heaven’s sake! When you shave, you’re leaving the product on your legs for longer than normal so it’s imperative to use something actually designed for your body, not hair. A moisturising and gorgeously scented shower gel is what you want. Korres Bergamot Pear, or any of & Other Stories’ Shower Gels are perfect.

9. Warm your skin under the shower to soften the skin a bit, and then exfoliate. This’ll help make the exfoliation more effective.

10. Turn the shower off because otherwise you’ll waste a tonne of water. I actually have a little plastic pot in the bathroom, which I fill with water to rinse the hair off the razor as I shave.

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#sustainability on the #newyork subway

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11. Try not to cut yourself. (If you do slip, cool the area asap. Your blood vessels are open from the warm water, which is why shaving injuries bear a striking resemblance to the elevator scene in The Shining. I usually just rinse the blood with cold water and then apply a flannel soaked in cold water as I hobble back to my bedroom…)

12. Should you manage to complete your shave without abandoning due to injury, gently pat your skin dry.

13. Time for the third product. Lush’s Silky Underwear Dusting Powder contains cocoa butter, cornflower and jasmine. It smells unbelievably sexy, and it makes your body feel smoother than smooth. Sprinkling it over freshly shaved legs gives the ultimate smooth shave feeling. I don’t know if people with dark skin tones can use aggressively white dusting powder, and if I’m right, then try my other favourite body moisturiser. Korres Bergamot Pear Body Milk contains aloe vera, almond and shea butter as well as the most beautiful fragrance known to humankind. These are two of the best body products I’ve ever tried.

14. Do this:

15. Go outside and show your legs off! Only if you want to (and you slather on some SPF) of course.

A Gender Neutral Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

So for the first time in my 25 years I’m actually not single on Valentine’s Day. Normally all those ‘Love is in the air’ email marketing campaigns would go straight in the junk folder, but I’ve actually been opening them this year, and unsurprisingly found some hefty heteronormativity and cisnormativity. I really think stands in the way of romance. Know what my dad got for my mum a few years back? He hunted down a (not widely available back then) black and white non-edited version of Night of the Living Dead on DVD. She loved that film when it came out, and hated the way it’d been edited over the years. You wouldn’t find that on an ASOS ‘Gifts for her’ edit.

Maybe you’re in a new relationship or suck at buying gifts, but don’t want to fall back on chocolate and roses or aftershave, because you’re a bit more enlightened. Or maybe you’d just like to enjoy a bit of seasonal romance without the ludicrous obsession with giving men basic skincare products as gifts. Good for you! Hope this helps.

1. Printed Instagram photos

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I love this idea, it’s seriously romantic. There are lots of options for printing too – posters, books, mini pictures, framed photos. You could even get creative and take photos that will surprise your partner – cutting out big letters that spell out a message and taking Instagram photos of them perhaps? These in the photo are £8.99, and prices vary depending on what you want.

2. A recipe book to use together

Books are great gifts because you can write a thoughtful (romantic) message inside it. Buy a cookbook and write inside the front cover how one of the recipes reminded you of them, or that meal they ordered on your first date. Write how you can’t wait to spend Saturday afternoons making food with them, or why that particular book jumped out at you as the perfect one for them. The one featured above is written by a couple and contains lots of stuff about their adorable daughter, so maybe don’t buy this one for them if its early days and you don’t want to freak them out…

3. Something for the kitchen

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Following on from 2, if you’ve already got an amateur chef in your life, get them a cool, funky, different thing to go in their kitchen. I absolutely love this spice rack, a great option for people who use lots of spices, buy them in big bags and spend forever trying to keep them organised and clean whilst avoiding spills. This spice rack is ridiculously adorable, and unique. Just like your other half, I’m sure.

4. Body Oil

You know why. I featured this REN Moroccan Rose Otto Body Oil because I genuinely think it’s the best body oil around, but it’s fairly pricey. If you’re on a budget but still want to enjoy sexy massage time with your partner, Lush make amazing massage bars for around £5 that will go down a treat. My favourite is Tender is the Night, which has the most incredible jasmine scent.

5. Something for their house

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Whether your partner is living in a pokey flat in East London with 4 other people, or owns their own house somewhere grown up (or you live together!), I think Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to buy them something for their home that you, or they would never buy normally. A nice shower curtain is something I always think would be lovely to have, but a completely unnecessary extravagance when Primark sells them for a fiver. ModCloth has some adorable ones, and Society6 also has a wide selection. Here are a few other examples of housey stuff that would make great, completely unnecceary but thoughtful gifts:

I love this matching toilet brush, soap dispenser and toothbrush holder. Can you imagine how much this would brighten up a morning?

Really really nice bedding. This is from Zara Home, and the quality of their bedding is amazing. There’s something wonderful about seeing your partner all sleepy in the morning against the backdrop of some gorgeous, quality sheets. OK, to be fair that’s probably the least important benefit of your partner having nice bedding, but it’s the only one I’m going to put on my blog. I love these others too, but of course it entirely depends on your partner’s taste:

Garden Bed Linen

  Leaves Bed Linen

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An added bonus to all these lovely homely things is that if you end up living together they’ll bring it with them…crafty aren’t I?

6. Something sexy

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Maybe there’s something your partner has mentioned wanting to try. Well, do it. Tell them you’re taking them Valentine’s shopping and head to the nearest sex shop to get them the vibrator they’ve been lusting after forever. Some sexy clothes for you or them? Erotic literature? A whip? I’m not suggesting you slam a bottle of lube on the table for your first anal session because they said they’d like to try it, unless that’s the kind of relationship you have. Work out what they’d like and how they’d like to get it, (e.g. surprise vs non-surprise) and treat them to something that’s going to make you both feel amazing. The photo is of a toy called the TRANSFORMER, which is the world’s first gender neutral sex toy. That’s pretty cool.

7. Take them on a thoughtful date

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Do they like plants? Science? History? Art? Botanical gardens, museums, stately homes, art galleries… take them somewhere interesting and walk around holding their hand before having a cup of tea in the cafe/gift shop while taking a few selfies of your cute selves. This is my boyfriend at Kew Gardens. I highly recommend that as a romantic destination because you’re both guaranteed to feel great in the fresh air, and it’s ridiculously beautiful. But museums and art galleries are usually free, so that’s a good option if you’re completely broke come the 14th.

8. A Spotify playlist

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If you have absolutely no money to spend then some extra time and effort needs to be put in. Make a Spotify playlist of all their favourites, or a mixture of yours and theirs, or even just of songs that remind you of them. That’s sure to brighten their morning commute. Make the playlist, give it a special name and share it with them over Spotify with a sweet message. A millennial mix-tape. There’s a reason it used to work so well in the 80s! Of course if you don’t have Spotify (er, what?) then there are lots of other places you can make a playlist. I just don’t know what any of them are because I barely even use iTunes any more let along anything else…

9. Headphones
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What I’m trying to communicate here is that if your partner doesn’t already have a good pair of headphones, and you can afford it, GET THEM SOME. Headphones are the perfect gift, and will go great with that nice little Spotify playlist you put together for them. One thing I’ll point out though, as someone with big, easily messed up hair, I can’t use my Plattans when I wear it down. If your partner has long or large hair, or they spend a massive amount of time styling trying to tame it, perhaps lean towards a pair of earphones.

10. A handmade card

When I was a kid, if I wanted to give my parents anything for mother or father’s day, it had to be a handmade card. These were purely consumerist holidays, they told me, and I wasn’t to ask the other parent for money to buy them something, or indeed use my own pocket money. If I wanted to show my love and appreciation for them, I had to make them a card. I think my magnum opus was probably a mother’s day when I was about 8 or 9. I made a long thin cone out of paper and stuck it upside down to the front of the card on which I’d written something like ‘Love you mummy’. I went out into the garden, picked some small flowers and tucked them into the cone so it looked like a mini vase. She was pretty impressed with me that year. Anyway, buying a Valentine’s Day card from any big store, no matter how hard Urban Outfitters try to make it look like an indy project off Etsy, is buying into mass produced consumerism too. If you possibly can, make them a card. And if you can’t, get it from an independent artist.

Something you might notice about this list is that none of these things are specific Valentines Day gifts. Seriously, people, use the day as a way of showing the person you love that you love them. But buy into it only in so far as you say ‘I may hate the premise of Valentine’s Day but I sure as hell love you so here’s something that doesn’t have any hearts on it, wasn’t mass produced and sold at a vast markup, and won’t get thrown away the second we move house because it’s literally just a piece of trash’. Quite apart from making us better humans and being better at relationships, it’s better for the planet!

Attention people who menstruate: Buddha Nose Girl Balm

I’m really adverse to using everyday painkillers because I don’t believe that drug companies necessarily want the best for us, and I’d rather know what’s happening in my body so I can be aware of changes. That’s just me though, I know everyone is different. And of course that doesn’t mean I don’t get horrendous period cramps every month. Just today I almost blacked out while talking to someone (they didn’t notice). A while ago I went on the hunt for something natural that I could carry around with me as if it were a sleeve of paracetamol, to help me get through the cramps.

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And hey, guess what, I found something! Buddha Nose’s Girl Balm is a thick organic balm made with a glorious mixture of warming ingredients with bright scents that help to sooth away pain and cut through sluggish pain-induced nausea.

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Now obviously, it goes without saying that this doesn’t eliminate pain like popping a pill. What this does is all together more holistic, and healthier. I’m not saying that people with low pain thresholds or extreme cramps will be able to get along with just this, because I’m not one of those people, but I do think that it will restore a sense of wellbeing, help you to calm down and definitely ease that sicky feeling.

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It has a really gorgeous scent –  refreshing ginger and bright, sweet rose geranium. I can smell lemon in the scent too, although there’s none in the balm. There’s no musk or wood in the fragrance at all, which is important because as I said, much of the effectiveness is aromatherapeutic, and those types of scent really don’t help with feeling groggy.

You rub it on your lower belly and back, and if you’re unlucky enough to have pain spreading down your thighs too, pop a bit on them as well. It absorbs very quickly for me. I think that’s because the base oil is jojoba, which is the most easily absorbed oil since it’s closest to human sebum. This also means that the ingredients can be absorbed better, because they’re being held in jojoba. Along with the ginger, black pepper provides the heat, and it’s amazing what an effect these two run of the mill kitchen ingredients have! Obviously, the action of massaging the area has an effect on the pain too, but with this balm you get the added effects of the ingredients, which I do believe are considerable. I also like to pat a bit behind my ears so I can enjoy the scent for longer. Since owning this, I haven’t used a single other form of pain-relief, (apart from warm baths because they’re just nice).

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I think (though I have no actual experience) that this would be a good product for pregnant mums too? The gingery rose scent must be good for hormone induced nausea, and rubbing it on a painful back would be effective no matter what’s going on in your uterus.

I really find that I forget about the pain for a long time after I use this. I can’t say whether that’s because the pain is gone but it definitely doesn’t bother me. I’m so happy I found it, and I really recommend it. I know I sound a bit diplomatic about it, but I would never want to assume someone else experiences pain the same way I do, so although Buddha Nose Girl Balm is perfect for me, I don’t want to try too hard to convince you that it would do the same for you. Hopefully by reading about my experience you’ll be inclined to try it, and will love it as much as I do! The only stockist in the UK that I know of is Naturisimo.com, where you can get it for £20. It’s actually great value I think, given that I’ve had it for half a year and only used that much!

Do you have any natural pain relief tips or tricks?