Tag Archives: appearance

My (Slightly Less) Naughty Little Sister

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s life treating you today?

Does anyone remember those stories about a little girl who was incredibly naughty, but essentially loveable?  They were called “My Naughty Little Sister”, and I remember reading them as a child and feeling a bit cheated by the stories’ inevitable happy endings.  If I’d got up to half of her shenanigans, I would never have been able to charm my way out of trouble the way that little girl did.  In fact, on many occasions I was that naughty, and it’s shocking how useless a winning smile and puppy dog eyes are when you’re dealing with angry teachers/parents/older siblings.

Anyway, as most of my social circle know, my siblings are the most important people in my life.  We are five very different people who happen to have the same face, and despite the obligatory childhood scraps and rivalries, we have ended up being very close friends as adults.  Last night I had a long phone conversation with my little sister: nothing major, just a nice, lengthy catch up and a bit of gossip.  But it was, as all of my conversations with my siblings are, very rewarding.  There are a few reasons for this, and for the existence of siblings in general being a brilliant thing.

First of all, there is nothing like having someone just like you around to validate your existence (and personality, in some cases).  I know that I can say to my little sister “I’m worried about this”, or “I really don’t like that”, and she will always understand where I’m coming from.  Like everyone else, I sometimes worry that I am very weird and that everyone else is a lot better at life than I am.  Having four people in my life who share my neuroses, genetic predispositions and slightly odd frame of cultural reference makes me feel like a proper human being.  I may well be very weird, but I am not alone.  Having siblings puts you into context, and that’s extremely valuable.

Secondly, siblings – even twins – are never entirely identical as people, and it’s a constant source of pride and joy to me that my siblings all pursue different ambitions.  It’s amazing how different close relatives can really be, and talking to my little sister about her degree (which is in science, of all things.  Can you imagine?) reminds me how important it is to respect other people’s passions.  It’s easy to go through life assuming that we know pretty much everything about our nearest and dearest, and we may not share their beliefs or aspirations, but it’s always worth checking in on them from time to time.  I love hearing my little sister talk about her life, because it’s so different from mine.

Thirdly, I am a very typical big sister in that I hate the idea of my younger siblings repeating my mistakes.  I mean, really.  If you’re going to mess things up then at least have the decency to be original about it.  Jeez.  Seriously, though: I have messed up enough times and been hurt often enough to recognise the danger signs in my little brother and sister, and I dread to think of them going through some of the rubbish that I put myself through at their age because of pride, misplaced affections or your basic, thoughtless drunkenness.  Thankfully, my younger siblings are a lot more sensible than I am, and my little sister in particular is a wise old soul (for a twenty-one year old).  Talking to her and hearing her opinions reminds me that she is a lot smarter than I was at her age, and if she is slightly less naughty than I am, that can only be a good thing.

I know that I am very, very lucky to get on so well with my multitudinous siblings, but I think that the essential elements of our relationships are the same for friends and family members from all walks of life.  It doesn’t matter how alienated you may be now, or how little you think you have in common: your siblings are the people most like you on earth, whether that’s in terms of personality or physical appearance, and their influence on your life is incomparable with anything else.  Even if they annoy you, bore you or just have far too many embarrassing stories to tell about you: they will always be a huge part of who you are.

And that’s a very good thing, because you’re wonderful.  Have a cracker of a Wednesday.

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The Smug Spectrum

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Hello, lovely reader.  How did you sleep last night?  Me?  Oh, I had a very weird dream about trying to put on a play in the House of Lords.  David Blunkett wanted to play Oedipus.  Very odd.

Anyway, today I’d like to talk about the various degrees of smugness (smugness?  Smugosity? Smugism?  Who knows) that we come across in day to day life.  As far as I can see, there’s a sliding scale of complacency that we are willing to put up with.  It’s very telling about British society that we have so many synonyms for “smug”, which is a state that we inherently mistrust.  We need lots of words for it so that we can identify exactly what it is about someone else’s demeanour that we find offensive.

Confident: damning with faint praise, in this country.  We say it about ourselves in job applications and we try to demonstrate it in our social interactions, but deep down we don’t believe that anyone is capable of being confident every second of the livelong day.  It’s just not natural.

Cocky: a laddish, raffish, devil-may-care word for someone who is cheekily sure of themselves.  A bit annoying, but essentially harmless.

Self-assured: sounds like a good thing, and in general it is, but for most of us it also conjures up the urge to shout “WHAT?!  How can you be self-assured?  Why aren’t you riddled with self-doubt and paranoia like the rest of us?  Weirdo.”

Vain: get your face out of the mirror, dumbass.  This one is just about having a preoccupation with one’s appearance, which is foolish but not unforgivable.

Smug: a silly-sounding word for a fairly silly state of being.  The word ‘smug’ has connotations of self-satisfaction on a long term basis, which is just unacceptable.  It also makes us think of undeserved good fortune – it is used a lot in reference to celebrities and politicians, after all – rather than genuine achievement.

Arrogant: ah, this is a tricky one.  We say that arrogance is unattractive, and we may well mean it, but there is something weirdly appealing about someone whose self-assurance has been taken to this whole new level.  This one is a bit toxic for would-be friends and lovers, so it’s probably best to avoid these people unless you’ve got very thick skin.

Conceited: arrogance mixed with extreme vanity.  Stay the heck away.

Simon Cowell: almost certainly the devil in (not very convincing) disguise.  Avoid at all costs.  

Have a lovely, Simon Cowell-free day.

15 Words We Need To Use More Often

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Hello, dear reader.  I don’t know about you but I could really do with a coffee.  Do you want anything from the kettle?

After writing yesterday’s post about old fashioned things I think we ought to revive, I started thinking about words in the same way.  Every so often one of my friends will use a word like “balderdash” or “parenthetical” and everyone will go “ooh, that’s a great word!  Let’s bring that word back!”

Here are some brilliant and under-used words which I think we should all be attempting to bring back into everyday conversation:

  • Accubation – eating or drinking whilst lying down.  A fancy way of explaining that your hangover is preventing vertical movement.
  • Agerasia – the state of looking younger than you actually are.  Better than saying “I always get ID’d.”
  • Borborygmus – the sound of gas rumbling through your intestine.  Better than saying “I’ve got one brewing.”
  • Capernoited – slightly drunk/tipsy.  Trying to remember this word will be a good way to measure how capernoited/drunk you actually are.
  • Cruciverbalist – a person who loves doing crossword puzzles.  A better way of describing yourself than “word nerd”.
  • Farctate – being overly full of food. A marginally better way of saying “I’m stuffed”, but only marginally, because it sort-of sounds like “fart-ate”.  
  • Inaniloquent – being prone to say silly/inane things.  This one is going to come in very useful for all of us when we’re at parties with people we don’t like.
  • Jentacular – pertaining to breakfast.  I just love the idea of having a word that specifically means “breakfast stuff”.  I think that’s amazing.  Is there one for brunch as well?  
  • Lalochezia – the practise of using bad words to relieve stress/pain, e.g. swearing when you stub your toe.  I think this one is handy because if you get told off for swearing you can use a fancy word to justify your use of an obscenity.
  • Lethologica – the inability to remember the precise word for something.  Happens to lots of people all the time, although if you’ve forgotten a word like “jam” then I’d say your chances of remembering “lethologica” are pretty slim.
  • Prosopography – the description of a person’s appearance.  A good word to have on hand when trying to avoid looking shallow.
  • Qualtagh – the first person you see after leaving the house.  This is a bit silly of me, but I just love the idea of pointing at your unsuspecting postman/lollipop lady/bus driver and shouting “Hello, qualtagh!”
  • Sabrage – the act of opening a bottle with a sabre.  Not one I’ve ever tried myself, but now I sort-of have to, just so that I can use the word.
  • Sphallolalia – flirty talk that goes nowhere.  Write that one down, guys.  We’re definitely going to need it.
  • Tarantism – the urge to overcome sadness by dancing.  THIS IS A FANCY WORD FOR WANTING TO DANCE YOUR CARES AWAY.  The world is now a better place.

Have a truly outstanding Wednesday.  Extra cookies for anyone who manages to use all fifteen of those words in one day.

They Know Too Much

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Hello, and happy Tuesday to you, you gorgeous creature!

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about personas, and how what we present to the world doesn’t match up with what we’re actually like.  Sometimes we come across well-meaning individuals who tell us that they can “see through” us, and that they know what we’re “really” like.

This is obviously infuriating for several reasons, not least because it’s pretty disrespectful not to take someone at face value.  Of course we all have many layers and sides and depths that we don’t reveal in everyday conversation, but I think we’re all at an age when we have arranged our social personas to be a good balance of what is accurate and what is acceptable.

Only a very few people in our lives are allowed to say that they “see through” us (and a good way of identifying them is that they very rarely feel the need to tell you so).  There are people in all of our lives whom we never want to lose, if only because they know too much about us.  It can be alarming and disarming to realise that your friends and loved ones understand some supposedly secret things about you, but I think that if we take a closer look we will see that this is an excellent thing.  Here are a few things that our true friends know about us:

What We’re Like When We’re Drunk
The friends who know you best will be able to tell at twenty paces how many drinks you’ve had, and in some cases what those drinks actually were.  (“Good Christ, she’s absolutely gone.  Must be between seven and nine ciders.”  “No, she’s only had six, but there was definitely a Jägerbomb between four and five.”)  While this can be annoying in terms of next-day debriefs, it’s also a very valuable asset.  Your friends know exactly when to humour your tipsy ramblings, dissuade you from drunk dialling, pour you into a taxi or even pour you another drink.  (That last one depends on how drunk they are in comparison to you, of course.)

When We’re Not Ok
It would be lovely to be able to go through life appearing as competent, happy and organised human beings, wouldn’t it?  A lot of the time, even when we are feeling very far from alright indeed, we can fool a lot of people into assuming that everything’s fine.  People who love us can always tell when we’re faking a smile or pretending to have fun, and it’s sometimes difficult to admit to when we’re trying to keep ourselves together.  You must know that feeling when someone offers you a hug and you refuse, just because you know that you’ll cry if you say yes?  Well, let’s all agree to stop doing that.  Take the hug.

When We’re Lying
I’m not suggesting that we’re all terrible fib-tellers, but our closest companions can always tell when we’re not being entirely truthful.  That might be when we’re umming and erring, trying not to offend them with our honest opinion, or when we’re being falsely bright with a person they know we can’t stand, or when we answer “yes” to the question “are you sure you don’t want seconds?”

What Our Weaknesses Are
Someone who has been in your life for a long time knows what your Achilles’ heel is, even if you’ve never explicitly revealed it to them.  It might be a particular food, a favourite film or even another person, but don’t forget that your real friends always know.  For example, my friends know that I am easily placated by shiny things (up to and including tin foil).  The great thing about weaknesses is that sometimes you discover that you share yours with someone you care about, which makes them more fun to indulge in.

I think that the main problem we have with our friends being so flipping knowledgeable about us is that it can make us feel vulnerable, and their understanding of us does sort of undermine the persona we present to the world.  Having said that, it’s only by being vulnerable with the people who love us that we are able to be who we actually are.  It’s so much better to let people in on your secrets than it is to go around pretending to be normal all of the time.

Have a glorious Tuesday.

Are You What You Want to Be?

Hello!  How are you this morning?  Yeah, me too.  Nearly the weekend, though.

Today I would like to ask you a question: are you what you want to be?  There are three possible ways to think about this question.

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Firstly, in physical terms: are you fit and healthy?  Do you like your hair colour?  Are you happy with your height and weight?  If you can honestly say that you are what you want to be in terms of your physical appearance, then good for you.  I think your pants might be on fire, though.
No one is ever totally happy with how they look, which is a massive shame (and almost entirely a result of the Western media), but I have good news regarding this.  Firstly, there are things we can change if we really want to: we can dye our hair, we can take up exercise and we can drink more water.  The second piece of good news is that how you look does not make you who you are, so let’s not worry about that.

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The next way to think about my question is in terms of achievement: are you in the right job for you?  Is your career progressing the way you hoped it would?  Do you feel that you’ve achieved significant things?
This one is tricky because it’s something that we decide by comparing ourselves to our peers, and that only ever ends in smugness or despair.  Once we leave school, the structure that kept us all on the same trajectory as our class mates is non-existent, and what happens to one of you no longer necessarily happens to everyone else.  Don’t waste time being jealous of other people’s success, or feeling superior about your own: just get on with what you want to be achieving.
This one is slightly more important than the physical one, but it’s still not the key way to answer my question.

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So, the third and most important way to answer my question: are you what you want to be in terms of personal attributes?  Are you kind, are you patient, are you polite?  Would your mother be proud of you?  What do your friends say about you?
I am not suggesting that the way other people see us is more important than how we see ourselves, but after all, the people who love us aren’t sticking around because of how we look or what our job is, are they?  (They’d better not be, anyway.)
This one is the hardest of all to change if we don’t like what we’ve got, but it can be done.  If you want to be less prone to losing your temper you have to practise staying calm under pressure; if you want to be more assertive then you have to speak up when you’re intimidated.  The best thing about this one is that it tends to be the one that your friends and loved ones are most willing to help you with, so you’re not alone with it.

Have a truly cracking Friday.  Definitely treat yourself to a muffin today.

P.S. The title of this blog is a reference to this song by Foster the People.  Good, ain’t it?

I’m Going to Weigh in Here…

Hello, you fabulous creature.  I hope your week is progressing as smoothly as a well-made batch of Angel Delight.

As pretty much everyone who has Facebook will already know, there’s a huge trend at the moment where women across the UK and North America (and presumably beyond, by now) take pictures of themselves without make-up on, and post them online to raise awareness of cancer.  Some people love this idea, some people hate it, and some people think all selfies are stupid.  Want to hear what I think?  Of course you do, you legend.  That’s why you’re here.

Right, let’s dive in: first of all, where did this craze come from?  Kim Novak’s appearance at the Academy Awards created a bit of a stir, with people criticising her for having had extensive plastic surgery.  According to the Guardian, Novak “has also made headlines in the press for diagnoses of breast cancer (2010) and bipolar disorder (2012).”  Not sure that dragging up the other two worst periods of Novak’s life is fair when she’s already having a crap time, but whatever.

I personally don’t agree with plastic surgery in most circumstances, but I would never presume to judge another person for their views on it, which obviously includes people who have actually had surgery.  It’s their body, so it’s their business.  So let’s just make one thing clear before we crack on: the people who judged Novak for her apparent surgery are absolute scum.  Judging someone based on their appearance perpetuates body dysmorphia, adolescent misery and unrealistic beauty standards across the Western hemisphere.  Her critics are a bunch of malicious asshats, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Next up: the initial reaction.  The author Laura Lippman was mortified by how people were treating Novak, so she posted a picture of herself without make-up to show solidarity with Novak, and the natural beauty of women in general.  Fair enough.  First of all, I get what Lippman was trying to do, but has anyone pointed out to her that not wearing make-up and feeling the need to have plastic surgery are not the same thing (and are, in fact, sort of opposites)?  Just a thought.  I really do appreciate Lippman’s intentions, but I think she made a slightly odd choice there.  I digress.

Ok, so now: the craze.  Lippman challenged other women to follow her actions, and many of them have.  This is where I start to get confused: why is cancer awareness the motivation?  I thought it was about women’s natural beauty…but never mind.  Anything that promotes cancer awareness is a very, very good thing and should be praised, but the transition from one key message to another can only serve to dilute them both, which is a shame.  It gives nasty people like Novak’s critics the opportunity to criticise us for not knowing what we’re trying to achieve.

Also – and this is a big thing – awareness is all very well and good, but what will beat cancer is money, not publicity.  I wish that that weren’t the case, but it really is.  The research to find cures, training doctors and nurses, drugs and treatments, paying hospital and hospice staff’s salaries: all of these things require money, and lots of it from as many of us as possible.  Awareness leads to more people being inclined to donate, which is great and should absolutely keep being promoted.  The thing is that if you create awareness without donating, you may as well have just watched a Macmillan advert on television and told someone else that it was sad.  What’s the point in promoting awareness if you’re not aware enough to know what’s actually needed to cure cancer?

So, in the spirit of solidarity, feeling gutted for Novak and wanting to prove a point, here is my no make-up selfie:

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I’ve also just gone on the Macmillan website to donate.  In the long run, I think people will be ever so slightly more grateful for the money than for my face.

This is all just my opinion and I applaud everyone who wants to make a difference.  People are beautiful and cancer is shitty, and we should absolutely keep saying those things.  We should also be doing something about them.

I hope you have the kind of Thursday that makes Friday nervous in case it can’t live up to your expectations.

Tricky Definitions

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Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all decided whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat.  These are the kind of decisions that can really make or break the start of your weekend.

Today’s blog is about definitions, and why they can be really good OR spectacularly awful.  We use them all the time, perhaps without even realising in some cases.  Definitions are meant to provide clarity and make something that is unknown more imaginable, but in some situations they may do more harm than good.

Let’s start with the basics: a dictionary defines words for us.  This is a wonderful thing, except when people start a speech or essay with the words “The Oxford English Dictionary defines (insert random abstract noun) as follows”.  That needs to stop.

In terms of human definitions, the most obvious initial one is whether a person is male or female.  Without delving too far into the complex issue of gender politics, I do think that this is quite an interesting one.  Firstly, there are people who are biologically one gender who identify more strongly with the other, and some prefer an androgynous identity.  In literature, many authors have chosen to use their initials rather than gender-specific first names: P.D. James, for example, and J. K. Rowling.  Again, I really am not trying to start a debate about whether women are at a disadvantage in literary circles and anonymity is necessary, but I do think it’s interesting that something as arbitrary as gender definition has a role in somebody’s reputation as a writer.

Physical definitions are incredibly tricky, and they come up most often in life.  When you’re talking to a friend and describing someone they can’t remember, physical definition is the first thing you turn to: “You know Simon.  Tall, dark hair.  Always wears a leather jacket.”  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s an aide to memory, but in some cases it can get pretty nasty.  Online dating profiles, for example, or when discussing the pros and cons of a potential partner: “She’s nice, but she’s got a really big nose.”  “I’m a curvy, bubbly socialite with long, blonde hair.”  Cringe o’clock.  These definitions are more disturbing than the memory aides because they are not about reinforcing a previous observation: they are about trying to create a mental picture of someone that allows you to judge them.  Why is an appearance-based picture of someone more important than what they’re actually like?

Appearance-based definitions are absolutely huge in the performing arts world.  Casting briefs can be incredibly specific about height, weight, eye colour and all sorts of other physical attributes.  As a writer and director I understand that you may have a very clear mental image of what a character needs to look like, but my favourite thing about casting is when somebody surprises you by being like the character, not necessarily looking like them.  On a fundamental level, I resent the idea that you could go through life being an extremely talented actor who doesn’t look “marketable”, and therefore miss out on work.  What on earth is the point of investing thousands of pounds in your education at a drama school, working hard to develop your skills and repertoire, only to discover that you just don’t look right?

Sometimes definitions can be helpful.  In rehearsals, I encourage my actors to work out as much specific detail about their characters as possible: favourite foods, pet peeves, family backgrounds and more.  These definitions may never be referred to in the performance, but they help the actors to build up as complete a mental picture as possible of who they are trying to portray.  But here’s the thing: this mental picture is based on personality attributes, not physical, and it’s there to help them do their jobs.

The issue of relationship status definition is among the most prevalent in today’s society, particularly for people my age: as those of you who have read this blog post will know, I hate the entire damn thing.  “We’re just dating.”  “We’re sort of seeing each other.”  “We’re not official.”  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people who are “officially” together do not have a certificate from the government or a permit from their local council; they’re just together.  And whatever you are to someone, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how the rest of the world sees your relationship as long as YOU know what the terms are.  What good does it do you if you tell your friends that you’re “not exclusive” with someone if, when they go out and sleep with someone else, it upsets you because you secretly hoped that the relationship was more serious than that?  Well, you may THINK you feel emotionally betrayed, but actually your social circle can testify that your relationship definition was “non-exclusive”, so actually you have no right to be sad.  Oh, ok.  I’ll switch my emotions off, then.  Ridiculous.

The main thing about definitions is that, if we do need to use them, I think we should use them for good things.  Aides to memory – fine.  Character analysis – fine.  (I hope so, anyway, because I get my actors to do a lot of work on that!)  But definitions that reduce a person in any way, or encourage others to judge them for something completely arbitrary, are a no-no.

Have a lovely Friday.  May your trains/buses/flying monkeys run exactly to schedule.