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.

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“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.

 

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.

List Making

I am a big fan of writing out lists old school, pen to paper. Not only is it harder to ignore than a digital list on an app in your phone, but it is much more satisfying to tick off once completed.

Some people who want their lists to be a bit extra are turning to bullet journaling techniques, but you don’t need a pretty list for it to be effective. That said, using the list as a canvas for your creativity is a great way to relax and soothe anxiety. Making a physical list is a great way to chill out your mind before you go to bed, and concentrating on an art project is a good way to decrease device-screen time too!

In the spirit of things, here is a list of tips for making lists. It’s just a little bit meta.

  1. Break out big tasks into smaller list items. For example, don’t just put ‘clean house’ but put down ‘clean bathroom’, ‘clean kitchen’, etc. This helps things feel less daunting so you’ll procrastinate less, and more manageable in a timeframe. Plus, more things to tick off!
  2. Keep the list were you can see it. This might be stuck to your fridge, on the coffee table, or by your bed.
  3. If you have a deadline for some items, put that on there too. You can order items with levels of urgency, or just create a column for inserting the date.
  4. If you need incentives, you can reward yourself when you have checked off all the tasks on your list.
  5. Some people find that using a sticker or something more fun than just a check, motivates them to complete the tasks to award themselves accordingly.
  6. It sounds like cheating, but I always put a couple of tasks that I’ve already done onto the list. That way, you can tick them off straight away. Your list looks much less daunting when there are already a few complete tasks!

Task

Insomniac Productions

Anyone who has insomnia, knows how annoying and frustrating it is. Sometimes all you can do is stare at the ceiling, but sometimes you can get itchy to make things. Last night was a ‘make thiiiiings!’ night. I’ve found it best to just roll with it.

CatnipFeline

I can’t explain why I created cat magazines, but I did. I imagine them in one of the hipper and fancier cat cafes, where someone (cat or person) is wearing a beret. Then, because all cats aren’t necessarily cool cats, I created a gossip rag for them. Something to bring to the litter box, perhaps.
Can we collectively blame my lack of sleep for this?

Gettin' Catty IssueOctober 2019Issue 2 _ Vol 2

They aren’t perfect – the one above definitely isn’t – but running on fumes is never the best way to get good kerning. Oh well.

Who knows what tonight will bring? Hopefully sleep!

Asking For It: Help

Asking for help isn’t easy. We should get that out in the open first. Asking for help is admitting weakness, which few of us are willing to do. It has always been something I struggled with, for better or worse. It was often a curious situation of being chastised half the time for not asking for help when I needed it, or being praised for my self-reliance and figure-it-out-myself independence.

I know I could improve with this, and have been making an effort to be more willing to ask for help when I need it, but it’s also important to figure out why you were reluctant in the first place. Maybe you can empathize with some of these situations I found myself in.

As the youngest in the family, I was often held to the same standard as everyone older than me. Asking for help was publicly admitting I wasn’t at that same standard, and when things were then explained to it, it often made me feel small. Similarly, for whatever reason, there was an expectation to get things right the first attempt. If you couldn’t be perfect on your first try, you had failed. As you can imagine, asking for help was admitting your failure and it was better to keep quiet and practice until your “first” effort could be witnessed. I don’t begrudge being held to a high standard, it definitely made me work harder, but there should have been a distinction between the standard set, and the journey made to achieve it.

I thankfully now do not fall to pieces when I fail upon my first attempt. I tell myself that a high standard cannot be attained without trial and error.

Then there were the times when I did dip a toe into the asking-for-help waters, only to get bit. To reach out for help, especially in a moment of fear, to then not be heard or listened to is enough to make a person shut down. To work up the courage to speak, and for it to be ignored or twisted, would stop you asking in the future. I know that “safe spaces” are mocked in some circles, but simply letting a person know that if they speak up, they will be listened to and heard, is their greatest purpose.

Asking for help does not come naturally for everyone, and each person has their own reasons for it. If someone comes to you for help, please listen to them. Listen to what they are asking for, and hear what they need. These could be two different things. 

 

Cake Slices: Basic Cooking

One thing that stood out to me when I moved to America was the amount of times people seemed to go out to eat, or order take out. Having come from a place where meals out were saved for special occasions, and from a family for whom regular take out was not financially viable, it sort of blew my mind. On the flip side, I’ve blown the minds of some people here who can’t believe that it’s possible to cook for yourself for more than 6 days running. I wish that was a joke.

Therefore, the next slice of the self-improvement cake shall be cooking. It honestly isn’t that difficult, and luckily there are a whole lot more resources out there now. There are the food services, like Blue Apron, which would be a good place to test the waters for yourself and create the habit. I like the idea of these in theory, but they produce so much waste with the individually wrapped ingredients that it turns me off.

I once was told “if you can read, you can cook” and then handed a recipe book. Thankfully, there are so many recipe websites and inspired week menus to help you out with planning and making your meals. While no recipe has a guarantee of success, I’ve found that if you follow the instructions then more often than not you will get something edible. There are so many reasons to eat at home more: save money, reduce waste, relaxation, healthier, and time away from a screen.

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  1. Choose a day to do a weekly grocery shop on, and make a menu plan before you go so you can list out all the ingredients you need. The added bonus of a precise list is that you’re less likely to have impulse purchases!
  2. Start with simple recipes to build up your confidence.
  3. When planning your week, think about how leftovers can be repurposed for other meals. Tacos can become a taco salad for work the next day. A roast chicken can last through a variety of meals and days.
  4. If you have a busy week at work, plan accordingly! Make a big pot of soup or stew at the weekend you can heat up easily when you get home, or have frozen leftovers thaw during the day for a quick microwave when you’re home.
  5. Be safe with reheating leftovers, especially meat and rice.
  6. Bookmark successful and tasty recipes for you to reuse in the future.
  7. Give each day a theme to make it easier to think of new meals. Such as “Meatless Monday”. That said, if you like a meal and want to repeat it, then go forth and enjoy.
  8. Wash up as you go, or put things into the dishwasher as you go, to keep the kitchen tidier as you cook and to avoid having to do it all in one go.
  9. Don’t oversalt!
  10. Miss your fave take out meal? Look online for a dupe recipe and try making it for yourself at home! It will probably be healthier, and you might even like it better.

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Mutton Dressed As Fabulous

Do you ever wonder if you’re too old to wear something? That thought is a milestone unto itself since I never wondered such things when I was 23. Society is keen to point out what is age appropriate to wear, via shaming articles dressed up as sartorial self-help pieces. When I started thinking about these standards, the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ sayings, I began to notice that it’s always aimed at women. Not once did I find an example of a man being told to dress his age.
(Although if you can find one, I’d very much be open to seeing it!)

Regardless, it cannot be argued that ‘dressing your age’ is a female-focused topic. The subtext is sexual, as most subtext tends to be. ‘Dressing your age’ translates to “nobody wants to see that!” and sometimes removing sexuality from women society deems too old to be reproductively ‘useful’. At other times, the ‘do’s and don’ts’ seem arbitrary and rooted in outdated norms: why should we care if people over 40 want to wear distressed denim?

Whenever a woman decides to shun the subtly imposed uniform of the aged, and reclaim her body, the response is most likely to be of the “Put it away, lady” variety. The uniform, often unique across cultures, races, and economic status, shares the underlying theme of muted, covered up, and invisible. The uniform should be optional, with Iris Apfel and Baddie Winkle leading the way of advanced style.

real estate in the city
Advanced Style, Baddie Winkle

When we are also told that 40 is the new 30, and “you’re only as young as you feel”, what does ‘dressing your age’ even mean? The Advanced Style publication showed us that fashion and style has no age limit, and that we aren’t all destined for Chico’s. Happy, healthy and comfortable always look good, whether wearing orthopedic shoes or thigh high boots.

We don’t think twice about these helpful guides online, telling us to throw out our miniskirts when we reach our 30th birthdays, or toss our glittery eyeshadow when we leave our parents Obamacare plans. Magazines and stylists tell us how to dress our body in an ‘age appropriate’ manner, and banning us from certain stores. I’ve counted too many articles chastising me for owning graphic tees, sheer dresses, and a Hello Kitty purse. Well, excuse me, but fuck your articles.

While we focus too much on 30-something women reclaiming a youthful style; we need to look older. Can we stop nagging women over 60 who want to wear fast fashion or light up sneakers? Can we just focus on encouraging the exploration of personal style, regardless of age? I’m sure I won’t have exactly the same style when I’m 70 as I do now, but I would hope that wherever my style goes, I’d be free to wear it without the fashion police tutting at me for not dressing my age.

No Reason

It’s sometimes the simplest piece of advice that can have the greatest impact. A few years ago, when in a session with my doctor, she said something so… obvious, and yet it kind of blew my mind.

You don’t have to justify why you say ‘no’.

How many of us feel guilt when refusing or declining something that we feel we must give a reason why?
“No thank you… I have a boyfriend.”
“No… I’ve been really busy lately.”
“No… but we can definitely do it tomorrow.”
I’m not suggesting that you need to stop giving reasons completely, in fact sometimes it is necessary. It’s more with the situations when you maybe can’t articulate why something doesn’t feel right, or you’re not in the mood, or you’ve had a long day and you’d rather scream into a pillow. It should be enough to say “no, thank you” but it often isn’t, especially for women.

At work, it is often more diplomatic to agree to tasks outside our job descriptions, but there should be another way to deflect. Our friends should know not to push why we don’t feel like drinking that day. In dating, it should be enough to just say no.

We are guilted into being accommodating, because heaven forbid we’re seen as a bitch or not ‘nurturing’. We’re scared into giving reasons that cannot be dismissed as easily as it is to dismiss what women say.

Saying “no” in and of itself is oddly empowering. When asked if you want to eat somewhere, you can say “no” without following up with “but I love that place, I just ate there recently” even if it’s a lie. You can say “no” to being a bridesmaid, and thank them for the honor, but you don’t owe them a reason why.

We also need to look at ourselves. Do you push things when someone says ‘no’? Do you push them to give a reason why? Do you keep bringing it up later? Do you try and guilt them into saying yes? (Obviously, if a friend appears depressed and you’re concerned, you could try to get below the surface!). How many of us who claim #MeToo were guilted or chastised for saying no? No means no, and you don’t need to apologize for it.

Don’t abandon manners, but don’t always feel like you need to justify why you say no. If someone makes you uncomfortable, you can say no and not owe them an explanation of why they are leaving. If you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do, even by your boss, you can decline. It’s better to explain later, than to try and justify your fears in the moment. A reasonable person will understand if you tell them ‘no thank you’. It’s a good barometer for the type of person you’re dealing with.