Tuesday, 30 June 2015

My legs and society's view of "perfection"...

I'm wearing a dress... with bare legs. It's a nice day, a little muggy and grey but very warm, so why not? Donning a short dress on a summer's day is not a significant statement on face value, but for me, it's a pretty big deal. 

Last summer, I think I got my legs out a grand total of... once. Okay, I went nude-legged on holiday in Lanzarote (it was too scorching to be self-conscious), but back home in England, my "legs out tally" was shameful. And last summer was a good one too, with plenty of sunny days, but I was sat in the shade with a pair of jeans on, feeling pretty sad about it. Why did I not dress appropriately for the weather and let my legs be free? Well unfortunately, with age comes more awareness of ourselves. Ten years ago I wouldn't think twice about pulling on a pair of cut-offs. I wouldn't even notice the scabs on my knees and unshaven shins. But over the past few years, I have thought that my legs should be perfectly toned, smooth and clear of any sort of blemishes, and if they did not comply with this, they were ugly and unacceptable. 

I believe that teens have felt pressure to be "perfect" for generations, however, I also believe that this pressure is intensified for today's teens, mainly because of the internet. The majority of young people see countless images of models being "perfect" on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter everyday - and avoiding comparing yourself to these photographs is tough. 

Last summer, in an attempt to make my skin more smooth and "feminine" like the girls on my Instagram feed, I tried epilation. Ripping the hairs out of my legs with a noisy, tweezer-laden device that resembles a torture instrument, so that they would be stubble free for a couple of weeks, sounded like a brilliant idea (crazy I know). Having the tiniest amount of hair on my legs, even when only I knew it, made me feel unattractive and unfeminine - because society teaches us that women should have zero hair below their eyelashes. In contrast, eyelashes should be long, thick and luscious... social conventions are often so strange when you really contemplate them. 

I spent hours yanking the hairs from my long legs and thought it was fab. At the start, it was kind of fab, I had smooth legs for a month and there was no need for rushed and clumsy shaving jobs in the shower. However, when the hair began to make its inevitable return, the fab-ness upped and left. I got scores of terrible ingrown hairs which have left me with scars that are proving hard to shift. I was too embarrassed to get my legs out for the rest of the summer. How ironic - a product that was meant to make me go nude-legged more often, caused me to cover up for months. And this was all down to my quest the become more "perfect" in society's eyes. 

Fast forward to this summer... I have got my legs out on multiple occasions, and I'm looking forward to going bare-legged for the rest of this boiling week! Admittedly, I do have less ingrown hairs now, but some scars and blemishes remain. However, this is irrelevant - I'm not going to let that stop me donning my summer wardrobe during the sunny months. My mindset has changed: I've been trying to remember that what is noticeable and embarrassing to ourselves personally, is probably not at all obvious to our peers. Everybody is too busy thinking about their own lives to bother about the spot on your chin, graze on you knee, or cold-sore on your lip. My lovely boyfriend, Tom, does not understand it when I say I'm embarrassed about my legs. He doesn't seem to care about my blemishes and they do not affect his opinion of me. His support has given me more confidence and helped me to realise that what's a big deal to me, most likely isn't even registered by others... so what's the point in worrying about scars? 

It's by no means simple or easy to overcome body confidence issues. It takes time and effort to learn to love and accept yourself and to disregard society's image of "perfection". I'm so pleased that I've begun to see how pointless it is to compare my appearance to others and understand that my personal hang-ups are not of importance to my peers. 


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Romanticising The Victorian Era

I'm a history nerd. Specifically, I'm a Victorian history nerd, even more specifically, a local Victorian history nerd... you get the picture, Polly = history nerd. 

It breaks my heart that so many old buildings in my hometown of Birmingham have been brutally demolished. I long to go back in time for a day to explore the courts of higgedly-piggedly back to back slum houses. I'm obsessed with the back to backs, even though they're almost completely non-existent in Brum today. Birmingham had thousands of these squalid, badly built, cramped homes, and they were occupied right up until the 1960's. It's hard to explain the structure of back to backs, so here's a diagram I borrowed from google:

After doing some research on my family tree last year, I found out (much to my excitement) that some of my family lived in a back to back in inner city Birmingham. It makes sense, because tons of Brummies must have ancestors who occupied these filthy slums, due to them being very common. They were cheap to build and easy to cram into a small space - perfect for when demand for housing was huge due to rising numbers of industrial workers in the city.  

It amazes and saddens me that many modern day Brummies do not know that these houses existed, even when they once dominated Birmingham. Because of hasty slum clearances, we will never truly see what they were like. When ridding the city of its condemned homes in the 60's and 70's, the council/government did not take into account the importance of social history. I wish more of Britain's slums were saved. It's hard to comprehend that the vast, vast majority of the streets that our working class ancestors lived on have just disappeared. The Victorian era was hugely significant. It shaped modern Britain and created much of the country's infrastructure and technology. But countless structures have been destroyed from this important time. 

The National Trust have preserved what is boldly labelled as Birmingham's last back to back court. Although certainly the only totally intact court left in the city, I believe that several remnants of courts do still survive, but are unrecognisable, as they have been renovated, converted and turned into private homes or offices. It's brilliant to be able to tour the "last court" and be taken back in time to Brum's industrial heyday, learning about the real families that lived in the tiny houses in tours led by well informed guides, many of whom were born in back to backs themselves! 

Recently, the BBC broadcast a series called 24 Hours in the Past, in which celebrities were transported to the tough and merciless Victorian times, stepping into the shoes of our ancestors. They tried their hands at work in the dust-yard, coach house and pottery factory. The backbreaking, dirty and relentless jobs and by extension, overall life of Victorians that the series presented, made me realise that I romanticise the era a great deal. Most Victorians were working class. They worked from childhood in grimy, exhuasting and dangerous jobs, working long hours for little money. Money was then spent on food. You worked to live, and there was not much joy in life.  

The average working class Victorian spent zero percent of their earnings on leisure, whereas today, a huge chunk of wages go on enjoying life - eating out, going shopping and having a daily coffee at Costa. Although I often dream of going back in time for a day, in reality, I would hated being a Victorian. The National Trust back to backs are much nicer than they would have been in reality. Although they have been decorated in styles from the past, they are obviously a lot nicer, cleaner and generally more looked after than the real deal. In Victorian times, they were smelly, unsanitary, infested with cockroaches and vermin, coated with smoke and grime, and just horrible. 

At first I wondered why my grandparents had not told me about the back to backs and how my family lived in them. But they saw what the slums were really like. I'm proud of my working class Brummie background, as I'm sure my grandparents are. However, they probably don't feel enthusiastically towards talking about what they first hand witnessed as grubby, inadequate pigsty-like homes. I look at the back to backs with a nostalgic mindset, but my fondness for them would most likely be much lower if I had seen them in their true form. 

I like to envision a cosy and friendly atmosphere in the back to backs, where everyone knew everyone, kids played all day in the yard, countless washing lines created a maze of raggedy clothes, and the pub was a haven on every street corner. I romanticise what would have been an extremely hard life. It's amazing to think how much Britain has changed and developed in two hundred years. I feel very lucky to have been born in 1996, and eternally grateful to my ancestors for paving the way for our modern Britain. 


Friday, 19 June 2015

Vlog Addiction

It's 2am, I can't sleep, I have a cup of tea in a Cath Kidston mug by my side, and a vlog playing on my laptop. Or maybe it's not that I can't sleep... perhaps if I found the will power to stop watching month after month of Anna, or Sammi, or the Saccone-Joly's addictive vlogs (video-blogs), simply closed my laptop, gulped down the final dregs of my brew, and shut my eyes, I would drift off... Maybe, just maybe, it's the vlogs that are keeping me awake... 

What I'm trying to hint at here, is that I'm pretty much addicted to vlogs. I don't know why I find watching the daily lives of other people so bloody interesting, but I do. I'm just a bit nosey. 

With vlogs, especially daily or frequent vloggers, I find that I become so involved in the lives of people that I've never met. Take the adorable Saccone-Joly family for example: I have been watching them everyday since their first child, Emilia, was a tiny baby. This September she'll be three, and every single day of her life is available to view on YouTube. Regular watchers become familiar with how she loves Mini Mouse, now goes to nursery a couple of times a week, has recently had her nap time cut down and has a best friend called Lily. The concept of publishing your life on the internet is fairly odd. My mom would probably call it voyeurism, and although she enjoys watching Emilia's cute antics every now and then, she doesn't fully approve. But arguments aside, when these vloggers share so much of their everyday life, audience members become very informed and consumed, which I think heightens the addictive nature of their videos. 

Although the concept of vlogging may seem strange when I stop and consider it, there are benefits to vlog watching. After a busy day, it's lovely to come home, flop on the bed and watch a cheerful Estée strolling with her dog, Reggie, and then exploring a quirky London museum. It's therapeutic to immerse myself in somebody else's life for a while - and stop over thinking about small things in my own. So, vlogs are good for a bit of relaxation and stress relief. 

However, after I've been lying in bed in the morning for three hours, allowing the YouTube autoplay to persuade me to watch vlog after vlog, I start to see the irony in my addiction. Why am I lazing about in my pyjamas with the curtains drawn at 12pm, watching strangers live their lives, while I'm wasting my own day? 

It's all about balance. It's absolutely fine to watch a few vlogs with a brew after coming home from a day at uni, it's a stress reliever and can provide me with inspiration. In many ways I'm envious of the lives of vloggers, because many of them work for themselves, blogging, vlogging and going to events for a living. But I need to calm my addiction slightly and realise that I'm wasting so much time when I get drawn into a vlog marathon... I could be doing something productive with my day, like the vloggers I am goggling at! 

There definitely is a paradox here... some vloggers such as Lily Pebbles and Vivianna Does Makeup have recently inspired me to start a blog again - hence Polly Cat Contemplates! But when I could be writing blog posts or taking blog photos, you can often find me curled up in my sea of scatter cushions, re-watching and re-watching their weekly vlogs. 

I need to tell myself again: It's all about balance.

It's not going to be easy, but I really should lay off the excessive viewing. As I talked about in my post about books, I've been getting into reading again lately, so hopefully I'll be able to swap a few vlogs a day with a few chapters of a good novel. 

As much as I love vlogs, I accept that they are a huge source of time wasting for me. I should be living my life instead of watching others live theirs! So, I'm going to cut down on my vlog watching and shake off my paradoxical addiction. 


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Musing about modern wedding convention...

On Sunday, my uncle got married. The long anticipated day caused me to reflect on the strangeness of wedding convention and how it's a shame that it seems to be a very stressful event for the bride and groom.

Although great emphasis is put onto the bride and how she is the star of the show, the centerpiece, the individual with all eyes on her... the day isn't really for her, or her soon to be spouse. The bride and groom basically just create a "perfect" day for their family and friends, complete with a ceremony to watch, a four course meal to indulge in, and a party to jive at. This popular and expected wedding structure seems to be rarely veered from - but where did it come from?

Who decided that every modern wedding should conclude with a cheesy party, showcasing the tunes of ABBA and an unnecessary buffet? (you've probably already eaten your body weight in soup, roast dinner, crumble and cheese by the time the sausage rolls and wedding cake arrive). Who declared that after the meal, the bride's dad has to do a speech, then the groom, then finally the best man? And who demanded that the best man has to ridicule the groom with embarrassing tales from childhood? These "rules" aren't set in stone, but hardly ever seem to be broken. 

Things seem to be getting bigger and bigger these days... be it cars, portion sizes or wedding dresses. When I look at my grandparents' wedding photos from 1959, the simplicity of their outfits compared to the bejeweled dressed and intricate suits of today is very noticeable. I wonder what wedding attire will be like in another fifty years... will it continue to become more extravagant? Or maybe it'll return to being more low-key and modest? 

Fifty years prior to my grandparents' wedding, many working class couples had their ceremony in the local church, followed by their wedding breakfast and shindig in the court of their back to back house, or the garden of their terrace. In many ways, these simpler celebrations would have been less stressful and more personal than the expensive and extravagant festivities of today. 

Ultimately, I think the bride and groom should do what suits them. If they want a "normal" wedding, fine! If they fancy a barn dance instead of disco, cool! If they want a quiet ceremony and then family and friends round for a party at home, go for  it! Many couples seem to put so much pressure on themselves to have a perfect, conventional, beautiful wedding, resulting in stress tainting what should be a joyous occasion. 

I don't think weddings have to comply with what has become the expected structure and that they should be personal to the couple that the day is for! 


Friday, 12 June 2015

A Symbolic and Spontaneous Piercing

I have been contemplating the idea of getting my cartilage pierced for quite a while. For many people, a piercing isn't a big deal at all and as soon as the urge to get a new one comes, off to the shop they go without a second thought. But I'm an over thinker. 

I'd been keen on having my lobes pierced a couple of years ago, but eventually chickened out. Lots of my friends have been shocked to find out that I don't have them pierced, but I was a tomboy as a child, and my mom doesn't have any piercings (for me to envy), so begging my parents to let me have my flesh hole punched at Claire's was not a main priority for the younger me. 

Recently, I've had a bit of a hard time... struggling with anxiety and stress. Fortunately, I'm feeling much more positive now. This progress coincided with completing my first year of university, which is just crazy - everyone says it, but uni really does whiz by. To mark this time, I thought I'd take the plunge and finally, actually, really get my cartilage pierced. No over thinking, no imagining being incredibly unlucky, getting a horrible infection and having my ear fall off, and no making it a big deal - it's only a piercing after all. 

My friends, Kat and Harriet, accompanied me last Friday to Holier Than Thou in Manchester's Northern Quarter. I felt very out of place as a piercing virgin in a small shop full of heavily modified individuals, but supported by the encouragement of my friends, I didn't back out. The experience was surprisingly pleasant, as the "piercer" was lovely and amazingly quick... it barely hurt! The whole process took a mere two minutes.

The rather non-eventful and low-key experience underlined how a piercing isn't anything particularly significant, and that there was no need to worry and worry and worry about it (as I usually do!). To a cautious over thinker like me however, having my cartilage pierced makes me feel like a slight badass. In a way, taking the plunge was a challenge for myself, to prove that it's pointless to stress about and over think small things in life. Worrying is such a consumer of energy and I often worry about things that haven't even happened yet, or that I have no control over... which really is pointless! 

It's definitely easier said than done, but I want to live in the moment much more and stop wasting head-space on a vicious, negative cycle of worry - it's not good or productive in any sense whatsoever. 

I should also mention that I do love the piercing and I'm enjoying showing it off, so no regrets! This could be the start of a more spontaneous and relaxed Polly, I hope so! 


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Finding the joy of books again...

A couple of weeks ago I treated myself to a long overdue trip to Waterstones. Ironically, as an English Literature student, I rarely buy books. I buy books for my course and read countless random chapters that are recommended by tutors, but I don't think I had bought myself a book for about three years!

The situation of my recent book buying had arisen after indulging in a huge pot of tea for two and a slice of carrot cake in Manchester's lovely Northern Quarter with my boyfriend. Rather than heading straight back to my stuffy flat, I thought I'd have a mooch around the shops. The possibility of picking up a new top or perhaps a pair of sunglasses was my initial intention, but I found myself skipping past Topshop and New Look and heading into the haven that is Waterstones. I must admit, I've spent an awful lot on clothes lately (blinded by the temptation produced by persuasive sales), but I was in a spending mood, and books seemed much more acceptable and justifiable than clothes.

I'm funny when it comes to choosing a new read. I skim the first line and if it doesn't sit right with me, back on the shelf it goes.  It's pretty shallow to judge a book just on the first sentence, but when faced with copious amounts of shelves in Waterstones, it's necessary to devise some kind of elimination strategy.

It may sound over the top, but if I had to give one adjective to milling around the sea of fresh smelling (we all know that distinctive new book smell) and colourful books and reading tons of first lines to narrow my haul down to two, it would be joyous. Actually, one adjective doesn't do the simple experience justice. It was therapeutic. The comparison of my usual guilt surrounded clothes buying, along with my often rushed self and stressed mentality (unfortunately, I'm a worrier by nature), to a peaceful glide around a quiet bookshop in a bustling city, was striking.

It's so often said, but we really do live in an internet dominated world, and I definitely read less now that I watch YouTube videos like I used to watch TV, and scroll through Facebook and Twitter like I used to flick through teen novels. I miss the feeling of being excited to go to bed to pick up where I left off in a gripping book, and experiencing a unique mix of sadness and satisfaction when finishing a favourite novel. I suppose the internet does cause me to read in some ways, blogs of course are a source of reading, so it's quite ironic that I'm criticising the internet for distracting me from books when I'm hoping people will read this online post!

Before I began university, a couple of people who had also studied English Literature warned me that their dense compulsory book lists caused them to see reading as a chore rather than a pleasure. Unfortunately, I do understand where they were coming from, but after making the effort to go to the bookshop, leisurely browse and pick my own books rather than say, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, I am reassured that the pleasure can be found again. And I can't call a Waterstones trip an "effort", it was lovely... and no offence to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, it's a perfectly good collection of work and was just the first book on my course that I thought of...

I'm so glad I decided to pop into Waterstones instead of Urban Outfitters or Paperchase and spend my money on a couple of aesthetically pleasing, new smelling, and interesting books - and I'm already onto the second! I'm planning to read lots over the summer and I'm looking forward to getting around to reading novels that I've been eyeing up for ages. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to continue to spend hours watching YouTube videos and idly refreshing Facebook and Twitter, but making time for reading is going to become a priority again. I can't blame my lack of reading on my past A Level subjects or present university course, if I want to read, I will - and this summer, I shall.