Guilty Free

Whenever someone says that something is their “guilty pleasure”, I always ask why they feel guilty about it. If someone takes pleasure in killing animals or setting fires, then yes you probably should feel guilty about that, but if you’re talking about a tv show or song then save your guilt for shit that matters.

These guilty pleasures are usually things derided by society en masse, so it’s a “I should know better” kind of vibe. Like reality television or manufactured pop music, someone can acknowledge that it’s not “high concept” or “high art” and still enjoy it – but feels compelled to feel guilty about it. I know I shouldn’t, but I do! Don’t judge me as I would judge you if the roles were reversed. Why do we do this? Is it simply fear of what others might think, or is it because someone is not able to admit it to themselves for it might go against how they perceive themselves?

If a person, for example, loves rock music and defines themselves as a ‘rock music lover’ then they might describe their love for a Britney Spears song as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Is this because they want to downplay a sincere love for something in their peer group as to not lose respect, or is it because they are so narrowly defining themselves as a ‘rock music lover’ that to admit to themselves they like a pop song would mean potential soul searching?

As one of these reasons is external (appearances to others) and the other is internal (definition of self) then it might be worth looking at how the person presents this so-called guilty pleasure to themselves or how emphatically they might defend it. Do they begrudgingly like it against their better judgement, or embrace it as their ‘failing’? If the former, then maybe we need to question how we are judging things and if the latter then what else is counted among their character flaws.

Perhaps it is not as simple as one or the other but a tangled mess of how society is structured, tribalism, and classism. People are reluctant to venture beyond their self- or world- defined groups and express a passion in a vulnerable way for fear of retribution. This sounds like a dramatic reason behind calling “Real Housewives” your favourite show, but stop and think of what you believed the consequences would be if you did. Potentially, depending on your group, there is a risk of social shunning, being perceived as low-class or low-educated, or admitting to yourself that maybe you weren’t the person you thought you were. I’ve found people don’t like tugging on threads that would lead them down a path of self-evaluation, because there is a fear of what might be found.

I am probably only comfortable yanking on these threads because I’ve been unraveled several times during my brutal therapy sessions. There is enough guilt to go around without using it up on what’s on your playlist, and the world can be so horrible we shouldn’t downplay our pleasures. So fucking embrace what you love, love the person you are who loves it, and let yourself be happy.
There will always be something bigger to feel guilty about, so maybe enjoy what you can.

Advertisements

Nodding Blandly

Nostalgia is being peddled as currency, and no generation seems to be immune. Whether it’s the Boomers waxing poetic about a time that wasn’t really that great, or the 90s getting a reboot in the form of movies and fashion – we are all being sold a polished up memory.

As one of the kids born in the 80s, I am part of the generation to graduate into a recession and have Buzzfeed try to lure me with listicles of candy and television shows I should terribly miss. While I certainly share common experiences with those my age, there are some glaringly disjointed experiences I don’t share having grown up poor (by American standards) in another country.

Nodding blandly has become my go-to state when the conversation turns to reminiscing.  It tends to be the case that Americans think if something existed here, it existed everywhere but I can assure you that it is far from true. In all fairness, without having Sky or cable TV as a kid meant I was a little out of the loop in general because of the 4 channels our small TV (that was black and white until I was 6) received, none of them were MTV or Nickelodeon.

Due to the delay in pop culture reaching our shores, I found I had more common touch points with the Americans born 7-10 years before me so I often find myself straddling two generations in a peculiar manner. I don’t resent the American-centric nostalgia I’m sold because this is America and what else would I expect? Generations are generalizations, and I wouldn’t want to be put into a box in any case.

I just want to let other expats and foreign-born America-dwellers to know you are not alone. When a song comes on at a 80s/90s night and you have no idea what it is because despite the whoops around you, it had no success beyond the US: you are not alone. I’ve been there and I know how awkward as fuck it feels. Nod blandly unless you want to hear “oh my god don’t you know this?!” or “but this was such a big hit here!” or “come on, are you sure?”. When the talk turns to actors who were on that totally popular kids show, nod blandly because trust me you don’t really care and the explanation will just open a can of worms to more things you don’t need to know about.

Sometimes it’s worth asking about, because it can explain how and why things are the way they are. However, most of the time it is best to nod blandly and just look it up on the internet later. Nostalgia is a big emotional trigger and it is often easier to look it up without invoking a passionately intense explanation from someone which can sometimes leave you feeling stupid or vaguely unwelcome for asking.

Nod blandly now. Internet later.

Oh, make me over

Browse any drugstore and you will find several eyeshadow palettes that are curated specifically for an eye colour. This one will make your blue eyes pop! This one will bring out the rich tones in your brown eyes! You get the gist.

As someone who likes to take all the help she can get with makeup, I would always give these a once over and search for a palette dedicated to making my grey eyes… be the best grey they can be. However, never have I ever found one. I’ve seen several ones for green eyes which I thought were rarer than grey eyes, and the ones for blue eyes do not translate to grey. Are grey eyes not as common as I thought? Is there a secret vendetta against those of us with cloud-hued peepers? What do you want grey eyes to do in terms of popping or enriching?

Since the jury is still out on that secret vendetta, I decided to do some research and put together some colors that are either scientifically sound via a colour wheel, or are shades that I – a person with grey eyes – have had success with. Grey has so many shades, it was hard to try and encompass them all, so get ready for some trial and error. For what it’s worth, the shade of my eyes is dark grey but they do have the grey-specific ability to look different shades when I wear certain colors or during diverse weather.

gray eyes

The general consensus and advice from beauty and design blogs was as follows:

  1. Purples, blues and greens will bring out the blue tint to your grey eyes.
  2. Warm browns and peaches will highlight any flecks of hazel if you have any (I don’t, sadly. That sounds like a lovely combination!)
  3. Greys and smokey hues are also a winner so go and get that smokey eye! In my experience if you use a grey hue similar to your eye shade, it helps to have a bold eyeliner look to divide them up a bit.
  4. If you want a neutral shadow, but still want to emphasize a tint then use colored eyeliner. I love how just doing your bottom waterline with a tight green line can work wonders on grey eyes.
  5. If you have paler grey eyes, avoid red or pinks.
  6. Your ability to pull off bright shades is not affected by your eye colour but rather your skin tone. I shall leave you to discover what works there!

Of course, this all is nothing compared to needing foundation and skin makeup to be inclusive so I am happy to wait. Especially since I can create my own now! If only foundation shades were so easy and readily available!

“Just hair”

I’m not sure where my hair is in that supposed 7-year cycle, but I can only hope the next 7 bring better luck. Did I break a mirror or maybe piss of the Follicle Gods? I am sure most people have a ‘grass is always greener’ relationship with their hair. Wishing it were thicker, longer, darker, lighter, straighter, curlier, whatever, from what they already have. As with many of our other insecurities, it’s very probable that our hair worries are just not noticed by other people (who are also respectively fretting about their hair). Oh, it’s “just hair”! Just a silly thing only women preoccupy themselves with, right?

Maybe it’s more than that tho.

Society tells us that the ideal is that thick, shiny hair that can be pulled into a big messy bun, preferably blonde but immaculate highlights will do. If spending hours of time and money on your hair is something you want to do, then I will support you, but I can’t get on board with a society practically forcing women into treatments, bleaching, relaxing, and the nagging feeling the hair we were born with isn’t good enough. Is this us overly worrying about our ‘do’ or multimillion dollar industry dedicated to controlling the bodies of women?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the changes I want for my hair are decisions made by me or the culture I live in. Do I want thicker hair because I feel my fine hair is inadequate, or because I personally want more volume?
Yes, I would make my hair naturally thicker and longer if I could. I would give a wave to my strands that hang as straight as if I use a straightener. I freely admit to having emotional breakdowns when my hair just refuses to cooperate with what I want to do.

Hair is a self-expression, so it’s pretty important to work out why you want the hair you do. Nobody else should have a say in how you do your hair, and we should be free from the hair-related stereotypes (there are quite a lot when you stop to think about it!) to decide too. There is more toxicity surrounding hair than just sulphates, and we should be less quick to buy into past ideas or blindly follow what we’re told are beauty norms.

We should talk more about how pregnancy, illness or addiction can alter your hair forever but that it’s ok. We should talk more about how touching hair that does not belong to you is not ok – and why it’s not bloody ok. Some people will never be able to achieve that shiny, ‘rich girl’ hair but that it’s ok. It should be a generally accepted rule that “is that your own hair?” is always answered with “yes” because it’s either their own hair or hair they own. Instagram and Pinterest are not always real – there is a lot of Photoshop and wigs out there masquerading as hair that is attainable without such aids. If you have to wash your hair every day, then don’t let the blogs make you feel bad about it. If you only have to wash it once every fortnight, then that’s cool too. Some hair does not belong to you, and you need to respect that. The hair style someone has may not have been chosen by them (due to illness or abuse, for example). It is worth saying again: do not ask to touch or touch without asking unless that person is paying you to touch their hair. 

It’s your hair, and whether you’re male or female shouldn’t matter in what you decide to do with it. How it is styled should not affect how people view or treat you. It’s all very well to say these things, but we need to start individually following through. How many times do you make guesses about a person because of their hair? Maybe more than you think.

I can’t change the world, society at large, or the hair industry, but I can change myself. I can question why I hate my hair, and what influences my opinion to your hair. I can try to challenge stereotypes or assumptions when I see them being made. We all have bad hair days, but maybe we will have less of them when we challenge why we think it’s bad.

 

Expat Existence: Sizing Up

There is this perception in America that if something exists here, then it exists everywhere else too. There is a almost always a look of disappointment of their faces when they discover I grew up with biscuits (or “cookies”) that weren’t Oreos (and were IMHO better than Oreos), without Target or Walmart (ASDA was the closest thing?), and most of our kids TV shows were completely different.

But I’m not here to knock on the “if it’s in America, it’s everywhere in the world because America IS THE WORLD!” mentally that is hopefully waning due to the Internet informing them Hershey’s is shite, and WTF is an Olive Garden.

I’m here to explain shopping is tricky when you move here, not just because all the stores are different, but because the US uses an entirely different sizing structure. Hopefully, my explanation and conversions can help anyone else new to the country or even any American heading off to Europe themselves.

First, the shoe sizes are totally different and annoying not consistent. I made a little chart based on my experiences, but there are a few caveats.

shoe sizes(women)

So, I was a size 7 in the UK which always translated nicely to a Euro 40. This meant that I was a size 9 in the US in “mall brands” like Nine West, Steve Madden or Jeffrey Campbell. However, some department stores translated a Euro 40 to a US size 10 (so adjust everything up one notch) which meant shopping online could be a bit of a crapshoot when they just listed the US size.

Sites like Zappos have ‘sizing converters’ like the graphic I made, but it doesn’t take into account that some of the brands they stock do the wacky size down move. The best advice is to get familiar with the brands IRL so you can shop online more easily. Note to the ladies: if you are buying shoes from the mens department then the Euro sizes are the same and the US mens size will correspond to your UK size. So I’m a US 7 when shopping in the mens section (a good place for sneakers!).

Where the shoe sizes wanted to sound bigger in the US compared to the UK, the opposite is true for the clothing. I can not even attempt a size chart for this since no store is consistent (true in both the UK and US!) and even jeans sized with numbers like 25 to denote a measurement aren’t always reliable either. Is it also my imagination, but are more clothes sized using XS, S, M, L these days?

General tips:
1. UK people, size ‘up’ for shoes and size ‘down’ for clothes.
2. Sales tax is added AT THE TILL (cash register) so remember that little addition to the total.
3. Sales associates are way friendlier in the US. I know this feels like they’re getting up in your business, but just tell them you’re browsing if you want to be left alone.
4. As always, if someone was helping you do mention their name to give them the commission. It’s just common courtesy.
5. High end department stores are usually the best for consistent shoe size calculators.
6. Yes, even your bra size is different. I’ve not purchased a bra in the UK for many years so I’m not a good authority. Just try a bunch on, ok?

 

WTF is a dime tho

I moved to America slightly before internet shopping was as ubiquitous as it is today, and therefore had to bid farewell to many of the shops I knew from back home. High street shops like Topshop and H&M had only a couple of outposts in the states, and ASOS wasn’t shipping internationally yet. Faced with shops I wasn’t familiar with, I kind of needed to learn how to shop again as an adult.

Another hurdle to this shopping challenge was that I didn’t initially move to a big city. I did end up moving to New York later, but during my on-and-off visits and initial year stateside, I was in a small city in the mid-south. That’s both a shopping and a culture shock.

This sounds dated now, but this was a time when department stores reigned supreme in the States. I was used to a high street with shops like Mango, Oasis, Coast, and Whistles on one side then Primark, Dorothy Perkins, New Look and Accessorize on the other. Department stores like Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, or Fenwicks were where your mum shopped. Harrods and Harvey Nichols were where your rich mum shopped. While there were some high street-type shops like American Apparel, Express, Madewell, bebe, or Banana Republic, and shoe shops like Nine West, so much shopping and brand knowledge came from Macy’s, Nordstrom, or Dillards.

Remember, this was a good few years ago before Madewell existed and Free People was as easy to find. Also, the location I was in also played a huge role in the new norms of how and where people shopped.

Many Americans just assumed that if it exists here, it exists everywhere. What do you mean, you’ve never been to Target before? How is Victoria’s Secret a novelty to you? No, that coin is worth 5c and that one is worth 10c, how adorable you aren’t used to the money.

I think I might have to make this a series, because the more I’m thinking about it there were many parts to this education. I want to do them justice and not end up with a long rambling post. Of course, I had to relearn everything I learned in the South when I moved to NYC, and then again when I moved to LA.

Then there’s the challenge of adjusting your shopping and fashion choices as you age. Ugh. No wonder I decided to quit buying stuff this year.

Marketing As The World Burns

User information is a hot topic of conversation today, and it’s been a long time coming. As someone who has worked in social and digital marketing, I’ve long been aware of the kind of data that has been easily availably. Acquiring audience analytics does not necessarily require complex tools, you’d be surprised at what common platforms like Facebook Business Manager or Sprout can tell you.

While somewhat disturbing, if people want to share that information online then that is their prerogative. They have free will and a social media account, so who am I to tell them what they can and cannot post? Common sense would say to not post your holiday schedule or SSN, but if you want to I won’t stand in your way. If you’re a person who needs validation from likes on your selfies, then you probably won’t be swayed by Facebook knowing your food preferences.

My issue with marketing is a bit broader and general, and probably more related to my getting older. I’m finding myself less comfortable or ambivalent to the capitalist insistence of urging people to buy things they probably don’t need.

No, this isn’t going to turn into a self-indulgent Tyler Durden speech, because if that IKEA table makes you complete then go for it, that’s not my business.

When the news shows us images of people dying and forgotten in Syria, hungry in developing nations, oppressed due to race or religion, murdered, suffering, or living in poverty; it can be difficult to care about an ad campaign for high-end alcohol or designer clothes. In addition to the immaterial worries, the material worries of manufacturing and waste impacting the environment is also an ethical worry for me.

I would rationalize it by saying to myself, oh well this is providing people an escape. Ad campaigns can be ignored, it’s their choice or not to buy! If this ad campaign didn’t exist, those problems still would, so what’s the point in making a stand? While all true, isn’t this all systemic of a larger problem where people think one person can’t make a difference so why bother? In and of itself, likely true but becomes an issue when large groups of people feel that way.

I decided to make a conscious effort in 2018 to consume less, going on a self-imposed shopping ban, which has probably affected my feelings to this too. I have no right to tell other people what to buy or how to live – and I won’t – but we should all really make an effort to waste less. Here are some small changes that I found useful to assuage my guilt about this, and maybe you’ll find them useful too:

  1. For every item of clothing you buy, donate or sell something you own. Same for shoes or accessories. Think of it as a club-style one in and one out rule. Maybe try to work up to a one in and two out rule.
  2. Buy less take out or coffee to go. I’m glad the plastic straw ban is growing more widespread, but there is still so much waste with plastic containers and cups. Use your tupperware, eat your leftovers, and save/donate the money saved.
  3. Instead of buying gifts, make donations in their name. Especially for corporate holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Also, very apt for holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving.
  4. Clean out your things regularly. Try to donate, sell, or recycle instead of trashing.
  5. Think “do I really need this?” before you buy something. It sounds stupid, but it can help.
  6. I also come at it from other angles with: “why do you want this?”, “do you want the product or the lifestyle it’s selling? If the latter, what is it that you want that to solve about your life?”, “can you afford this?”, and “put it in your cart, and buy it in 3 days if you still want it!”
  7. For every purchase for yourself, donate the same amount to a chosen charity. Also, take advantage of Amazon Smile, or similar charitable price matching schemes.

Our Love Affair With Murder

I don’t think podcasts were on many peoples’ radar until Serial came along. The series from NPR became a hot topic of conversation, and people eagerly awaited new installments. I remember listening to it at the gym, wondering if he was guilty, and how her parents felt having their daughters murder become part of a national obsession.

It definitely seems fitting that the first podcast to explode in popularity focused on murder, as that morbid fascination seems to unite unlikely people around the world. Now, you can choose from many murder-related podcasts that are popular enough to have spawned world-wide tours, such as My Favorite Murder and The Last Podcast On The Left. Television shows that capture the collective attention of the internet tend to be about murders (True Detective), and true crime shows, movies, and books is a powerhouse genre of consumers and creators, professional and amateur alike.

It isn’t a topic for everyone, but those that adore the topic come from such different backgrounds and have diverse other interests, to make it an interesting cross-section of society. There are probably different things that appeal to us, drawing us in, from morbid fascination to empathy, or historical curiosity or sadism.

I can only really speak for myself when I theorize why we are drawn to it as a subject, and I really don’t think it is an interest that should give cause for alarm. I mean, think about how many people would attend public executions! There is an innate draw in some people to seek such things. The main interest for me is finding out the inner workings of the ‘logic’ they use, and how human error is often at fault for why things were not stopped sooner. I think we could all benefit so much from looking at the mistakes made from victim blaming, not believing people, not being careful at crime scenes, and being more guarded against superficial charm.

It’s always disquieting when you can see the point of the killer, like revenge on an abuser, or when a pattern of behavior across many killers emerge, such as early childhood head injuries. However, what is more disquieting is when it is random, or because they believe a higher power is telling them to. Is evil behavior nature or nurture? We should study these things more closely, to help prevent future incidents.

I also enjoy the stories of people who escaped, people who overcame crazy odds to emerge on the other side. Ordinary people can harbor extraordinary stories, or unbeknownst motives, and it’s a perfect reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

Duck & Cover

As children, we’re told to not judge a book by its cover and this is great metaphorical advice. Not leaping to conclusions is always a good rule to stick to. However, how many of us literally judge books by their covers?

The cover of a book tells us so much, from how the publishing house wishes to market the book, to what kind of story we might find inside. I mean, that’s the point of the cover. Whether it’s an illustration, a version of the adapted movie poster, or covered in excerpts of reviews, the cover is there to tell us both what to expect from the story, who the story inside is for, and whether or not it’s in Oprah’s book club.

 

I recently saw a list of similarly comped up book covers (I will add the link when I find it!) and then made these myself based on the tropes that always jumped out to me. Is the difference between a ‘cultural dramatic fiction’ and ‘chick lit’ just having a male or female author, respectively? Who decides when the name of an author is worth outweighing the title of the book? Why have stock images on the cover to give the reader a predetermined visual instead of letting them use their imagination? Nobody likes it when the movie adaptation is used for the cover, right?

I know that in the past I’ve not read a book because I didn’t like the cover, only to really enjoy it when I begrudgingly read it. If the cover were blank, would it be better? Do we enjoy books more or less when we know the general gist or theme? There is no right answer, but I think a good answer is for the publishing houses to find some new ideas when it comes to covers.