5 Star Reads of 2021

I can’t think of a better gift than a good book. A book is permission to take quiet time for yourself. It’s the gift of jumping head first in to an adventure no matter where in the world we are and, in times like this where travel is almost impossible, we all deserve the gift of true escapism. Over the last 12 months I have reviewed every single book I’ve read, over on my Goodreads page. I’ve spent some time trawling through my reviews, reminding myself of the amazing books I’ve had the privilege to read this year and compiled all of my 5-star reads, to point you in the right direction for some 2022 reading inspiration.

*This post includes affiliate links.

Blood Orange

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Author: Harriet Tyce

Genre: Thriller

Date Read: 18/01/2021

Initial Thoughts: “My first read of 2021. Not only my first read, but my first 5/5 (which is very rare, I only rated 6 books with 5 stars in the whole of 2020). I heard so many good things about this book and I agree with every single one. Whilst reading this novel I have had so many theories, purposely trying to solve the puzzle, and still not expecting the twists and turns within this thrilling plot. One of my favourite aspects of this book was the stunning character development, effortlessly introducing the characters to the reader and allowing us to make immediate judgements. On several occasions, I wanted to jump through the page and scream with rage or lean in and give someone a big hug. This novel is completely immersive and I’m so happy I chose this one to get my 2021 reading journey to one hell of a start. I can’t wait to hear more from Harriet Tyce!”

Fattily Ever After

Author: Stephanie Yeboah

Genre: Non-Fiction

Date Read: 25/01/2021

Initial Thoughts: “This book feels like a natural extension of Stephanie’s social media; fun, insightful and moving, with the perfect balance of fact and personal experience/ opinion. I have learned a lot about myself, about Steph and about society. I have learned about black history and white privilege; specifically about the similarities and differences in treatment of people living in fat bodies, depending on their skin colour. It was particularly enjoyable to read the personal accounts of others which Steph sensitively included, as well as directing us to social media’s of other inspirational people we can look up to and learn from. Oh, and the book is super pretty with gorgeous, bright illustrations throughout. I’d 100% recommend.”

Such a Fun Age

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Author: Kiley Reid

Genre: Fiction

Date Read: 15/02/2021

Initial Thoughts: “I heard a lot of hype about this book and now I finally understand. On the surface, Kiley Reid has written an easy to read, entertaining novel with intriguing characters and a wonderful plot. Delve a little deeper and she introduces us to the complexities of racial inequality, the issue of fetishizing race, sexism, friendship and parenthood. This book gave me all the feels! At times I felt uncomfortable (and so I should) as it opened my eyes to other aspects of white privilege. It also introduced me to the concept of ‘white saviourism’ which I hadn’t heard of before, but is definitely something we should all learn more about! This debut novel is a good shout for a book club read, with so many talking points right up to the very last page. Even the last line is thought-provoking (but I won’t spoil it for you, I’ll let you go read it for yourself!).

The Hormone Diaries: The Bloody Truth About Our Periods

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Author: Hannah Witton

Genre: Non-Fiction

Date Read: 13/05/2021

Initial Thoughts: “Another 5 star (finally, I haven’t had one of those for a while!). I’m a big fan of Hannah, and forever thankful for providing us with the sex ed we never had, so I was so excited to read this book. Periods, hormones, sex, pregnancy, contraception, STIs, fertility issues, miscarriage; this book touches on so many topics in just the right amount of depth and with the perfect balance of sensitivity and light-heartedness. This book has taught me so much about subjects I thought I knew. It is both informative and entertaining, as well as super thought-provoking with extracts from people all over the world with so many different experiences. This book is a must-read! It’s empowering to learn about our own bodies… we’re living it!”

If I Disappear

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Author: Eliza Jane Brazier

Genre: Mystery

Date Read: 24/07/2021

Initial Thoughts: “Full of tension, I was obsessed with this book as Sera is with true-crime podcasts! I’ve never read a book quite like this one. My heart raced as I turned the pages of this book. The atmosphere was dark and storyline very easy to read, like I was right there watching it happen, in the centre of a movie. Although I found the ending a little hard to follow at times, it was truly unexpected, which is exactly what we want from a mystery/ thriller. I enjoyed this book so much I finished it within 2 days.”

The Whisper Man

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Author: Alex North

Genre: Thriller

Date Read: 20/08/2021

Initial Thoughts: “Genuinely, the first book to make me scared! A creepy, suspenseful plot that literally gave me the chills. I love reading before bed, so continued to while reading this book, but I genuinely had nightmares *wuss I know*. Surely that’s a big tick for Alex North’s debut thriller?! There is so much to this novel, from difficult familial relationships, grief and imaginary friends to child-killers on the loose! The way this author writes is compulsive and hands-down, the best crime-fiction I have read OR watched (and trust me, I’ve watched countless crime dramas on Netflix). Whilst reading I thought, “this MUST be a TV series or movie?!” and after a little research, discovered that the rights to make a movie have been sold in the last few years- so watch this space. New Alex North fan-girl right here.”

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: 14/10/2021

Initial Thoughts: “5 stars just don’t do this book justice. Hands down, this is one of my favourite books I have ever read. The characters feel like real people, the story is diverse and the emotion is raw. It is so much more than a historical romance. This book serves it all: sex appeal, heartbreak, success, pain, beauty, love, lust, jealousy, lies, manipulation and GLAMOUR. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but what I can say is that I envy people reading this book for the first time. No matter how much I dissect this book, I can’t think of anything I’d change. After being on my ‘to be read’ list for a while, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to pick it up. Now I wish I could rewind time to read it all over again…”

Life’s Too Short

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Author: Abby Jimenez

Genre: Romance

Date Read: 09/12/2021

Initial Thoughts: “This book is the only 5 star romance novel to add to my collection from this year. I expected this to be an easy read rom-com but it is so much more than that. There are some hard-hitting topics so delicately implemented throughout the story; ALS, grief, mental health (OCD/ hoarding), neglect, addiction and so much more- but it didn’t feel overwhelming. Each aspect of the story was perfectly placed and from the very first chapter I was completely invested in the heroine. Oh, and I think Adrian Copeland is the first fictional character I have ever had a crush on!? I’m so glad I picked this up as one of my last reads of 2021.”

I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING… yes, I seem to have been rather harsh with my ratings this year with only 8 being granted the coveted 5 stars, and so I have also included some of my 4-star reads below too (which are also brilliant, they just didn’t make it to my highest shelf).

For more reviews and book recommendations, head over to my Goodreads page.

Happy reading!

New Year’s Resolutions: Harmful or Helpful?

It’s Chriiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaas! *Queue the Christmas hits and endless supply of Baileys*. It’s December again, a whole 12 months since I made New Years Resolutions to: read 52 books throughout the year (currently reading 36/52- this goal is out of reach, I have no excuses), stop biting my nails (mostly fail- gross I know, but at least all the handwashing means it’s less gross than usual), drink 2 litres of water every day (half fail), exercise regularly (win) and journal more (smashed it). I personally try to make resolutions every year in the spirit of ‘new beginnings’ and ‘fresh starts’, feeling like a brand new all-improved Kayleigh- for a few months at least. I’ve never ended the year with the ability to gloat about how I’ve achieved all I set out to… so why do I keep setting myself up to fail?

For some, New Year is a marker to encourage pause and reflect on the past 12 months. It’s a reminder to check in with ourselves and decide if there’s anything that we can do to make things better next year and, let’s face it, we’re human and more likely to do this if everyone around us is too. For others, New Year is the ultimate trigger to enhance those self-critical thoughts. It’s a time we see others celebrating their achievements, which can be hard if we don’t recognise our own. Our reflection, even with the best intentions, can lead to noticing the things we didn’t do or awful things that happened that were completely out of our control. No matter what your views of New Year’s resolutions are, as we watch Jools Holland’s Hootnanny and guzzle our Prosecco we’re reminded that many people will be setting goals to make a change for 2022. We can set goals too, if we want to. I think that’s the most important part.

It’s true what they say- we don’t need to wait until January 1st to make a positive change. Any day is the perfect day to change something to make you happier, healthier or more fulfilled. That being said, we have busy lives. We run around all day working hard, supporting our families, exercising, trying to balance a social life with self-care and when we finally have a few minutes peace, it’s bed time and we need to recharge to do it all again tomorrow. New Year is often the nudge we need to stop what we’re what doing and ask ourselves; if next year is exactly like this year, would we be OK with that? If the answer is yes, brilliant. If it’s no, we might want to think about the things we can take some control of and switch it up a bit. Wrap that in tinsel and fairy lights and bam, you have yourself a resolution.

Text

One of the scariest parts of New Year’s resolutions is that they seem so formal. The whole premise is to give us control over our lives, yet it adds yet more pressure and I get it, we really don’t need the stress. Some people manage this by setting their goals and keeping them to themselves. These people are “work-hard-in-silence-and-let-the-success-make-the-noise” kinda people. That’s fine and dandy until life gets in the way and 12 months later, we could still hear a penny drop. The dreaded feeling of failure creeps back in and either contorts itself in to a new, harder goal as some kind of punishment we give to ourselves or feeding in to low self-worth, making us feel even worse than we did last year. A counter-intuitive resolution doing the opposite of what we hoped it would achieve. On the surface, we think “self-improvement can never be a bad thing, right?”; but becoming obsessed with changing ourselves and believing our value is only determined by our “achievements” can be damaging.

I say “achievements” *air quotes and eye-roll* because what counts toward success for one person may mean absolutely nothing to another. A resolution I set may be something you have always done without a second thought. That’s why we should only set goals if it’ll truly make a positive difference for us and we deem it as important. We will see an influx in detox teas and tummy-toners over the next few weeks- but you don’t need to lose weight or firm-up. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to do. Imagine you were on a desert island without the beady eyes of consumerism or societal expectations. Your resolutions should be things that you would want, even in these circumstances. Do it for you, not for other people. Often, the goals we don’t achieve are because they aren’t our own, they’re things we feel pressured in to (even subconsciously). So, if nothing jumps to mind and you’re truly happy with everything as it stands, just don’t do it.

Graphing Paper With Text

If, like me, there are a few things you’d like to change- go for it, but be kind to yourself. I don’t know much about manifestation (other than it is ridiculous to assume the universe will provide us with something if we ‘manifest’ it, without changing our actions), but I am aware of the psychology behind us being more likely to achieve our goals if we articulate them. In that respect, I will completely selfishly share this years resolutions over on Instagram in a few weeks time. If this is you too, remind yourself that just because you have recognised areas in your life you’d like to change, that doesn’t mean you aren’t exactly where you need to be right now. Our wishes and expectations of life change as we do, and that’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s growth and the epitome of personal-development. When you set a resolution you’re setting an intention with a 12 month time limit which immediately provides the opportunity for us to fail but, let’s see failure as a chance to learn. It doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard enough or are unworthy, it gives us time to look at what made it difficult and make a new plan. It might even prove to us that what we thought was important, wasn’t really a big-deal all along. These things shouldn’t come as a surprise to us as we reach December. By checking in with ourselves and monitoring our progress throughout the year we have time to come to terms with the fact that things may be slower than expected or give us the push we need for the final sprint. Again, it doesn’t have to feel so formal; it could be an app on your phone (I used Goodreads to track my reading progress), a vision board or journal.

Sticky Notes on Board

I’m the type of person who always wants to learn something new and better myself, which is exactly why despite my annual ‘failures’, I keep making resolutions. I make New Years resolutions and I also make smaller resolutions all the time to work toward short-term goals throughout year. I achieve some of my goals, others go on hold and some I discard of all together. I’ve learned that not achieving resolutions means less about my character than my intentions whilst making them, and I’ve also learned change isn’t so scary. We all make purposeful change on a daily basis. We recognise we’re tired, we make a ‘resolution’ in our head to go to bed earlier. We work a lot and miss our family, we make a ‘resolution’ to call them at least once per week. And, if you’re sat there thinking “I never make resolutions anymore because they did more harm than good for me”… you’ve made a resolution right there and hell, you’re sticking to it.

Understanding Endometriosis with Bethany Johnston

It’s not surprising that a lot of us know very little about Endometriosis. Despite this condition affecting 1 out of every 10 UK women of reproductive age, and 10% of women worldwide (which equates to 176 million); it is one of the most under-researched and under-funded conditions. Thankfully there are people like Bethany who spend their time sharing their journey online to raise much-needed awareness and reduce the mystery that currently surrounds this diagnosis (or often, lack thereof). I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much from her and for her kindness in answering our questions so transparently. So let’s start from the beginning…

What is Endometriosis?

Bethany: “Endometriosis is where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. It’s a full body disease and has been found in every part of the body. It’s not to be confused with the Endometrium (which people often mistake it for).”

Bethany: “The Endometrium is the inner layer. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, hormones cause the Endometrium to change. Endometriosis is derived from the word ‘Endometrium’, which is the tissue that lines the uterus. Patients with Endometriosis have Endometrium-type tissue outside of the Uterus. The only link is from the name.”

That makes sense. I guess that’s why some people make assumptions that Endometriosis is a term for really bad period pain. What are the real symptoms of Endometriosis and how does it affect you on a daily basis?

Bethany: “My symptoms are: lower back pain, period pain (but only slight), Endo belly (which has been mistaken for being pregnant), chronic pelvic pain, pain when passing urine, constant UTIs [Urinary Tract Infections] and sleepless nights.

Endometriosis affects me every day of my life. There’s not a single day that I am not in pain; I can just deal with it well. I have a very high pain tolerance and get on with my life as much as I can. It’s not very often that I get floored by the pain but when I do, I physically cannot move from my bed or sofa! I have a hot water bottle at work, a back cushion for the chair, a stash of Codeine [pain relief] and a draw full of heat patches and peppermint tea. I always say that I am not going to let the disease control my life. I’m the one in control and no matter how much pain I am in, I always try to remember that!”

It sounds really debilitating but your mindset is so positive. You described a bit there about how you manage the pain and discomfort, but are there any specific treatments and if so, are there any that have worked for you?

Bethany: “I have had 4 Laparoscopic surgeries where they have used Diathermy. Diathermy is where they burn the top few layers of the Endometriosis growth. I have also had Zoladex injections which are a monthly injection in to the stomach for a period of 6 months. I am currently waiting for my next round of this. GnRH-agonists (Zoladex) suppress oestrogen synthesis by the ovaries which stops the menstrual cycle, effectively putting me in to a temporary menopause. I will be having these injections for 6 months and then 3 months in to this I will also be having HRT [Hormone Replacement Therapy] which I have never had before. HRT is a treatment to relieve the symptoms of menopause by replacing hormones that are at a lower level. I get prescribed the likes of Naproxen [anti-inflammatory drug], Codeine and Tramadol [pain relief] on a regular basis. In the past few months I have used a tens machine [transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation used to manage pain] which I am finding very useful.

It really does take a lot of management and I can imagine the recovery from these procedures isn’t easy, but it’s great there are treatments. If someone is reading this wondering if they have Endometriosis, what should they do?

Bethany: “Yes, recovery is hard and the more operations you have the longer the recovery seems to be.

If someone is wondering if they have Endometriosis I would tell them not to give up. It took over 7 1/2 years for me to get my diagnosis. You know your own body and you know when something isn’t right. If your doctor isn’t listening to you, ask for a different one. If that doesn’t work, join a different GP practice and tell them about it. Ultimately if you don’t push, unfortunately you won’t get anywhere. There’s only 200 Endometriosis specialists in the world and lots of doctors and gynaecologists don’t actually know an awful lot about it. I’ve been told to get pregnant as it will cure it, then told I need a hysterectomy to cure it. There’s no known cure for this disease but some medical professionals are advising their patients to do life changing things which won’t actually help! You know your own body. Don’t give up!”

Only 200 Endo specialists in the world is crazy! That’s exactly why it’s so important to raise awareness, so that more people are influenced and more research can be done. You have an amazing Instagram page (@invisiblemeinvisibleyou) where you share your journey so authentically and with so much knowledge. What made you start raising awareness on social media?

Bethany: “I started sharing my story online because when I got told I had Endometriosis after my first surgery, I didn’t get any aftercare or help. I felt like I was completely alone and at that point, I didn’t even know how common Endometriosis was. I felt that if I share my story and help raise awareness then hopefully I can help even one person avoid feeling the way I did.”

That’s amazing and it seems to really serve it’s purpose. The community over there is really lovely. Do you have any encouraging words for anyone who has recently been given the diagnosis of Endometriosis?

Bethany: “I would love to tell anyone who’s recently been diagnosed, you are not alone. The Endometriosis community online are always there to help each other. The Endometriosis UK charity have a helpline which you can call to get advice, support and tips for how to manage your condition.

Look after yourself. There are days where you feel like you can’t do anything and you have to call in sick or stay in bed. Do it. It is your health and that is the most important thing in your life. Take time to sit down and explain your condition to your loved ones. It may take them time to understand it but once they do, they will become the best support network for you.

Don’t let the disease take over your life. Live your life to the fullest. Yes, it may take a little extra time to do something but don’t give up! You will only regret not doing what you want.”

If you find Beth’s story relatable and are experiencing similar symptoms, please speak with your GP.

For more information follow the links below:

Bethany’s Instagram- @invisiblemeinvisibleyou

Endometriosis UK

NHS Conditions- Endometriosis

Cassual Signature

Christmas Gift Guide: From Women-Owned Small Businesses

It’s that time of year again. As winter approaches we grab our cosy jumpers, guzzle hot chocolate, arrange movie nights in and BAM, the man in red is on his way. In an attempt to avoid the dreaded December stress and empty shelves, I’ve started my Christmas shopping early. Even better, I’ve done the majority online from small businesses founded by women.

Did you know that only 5.6% of UK women have successfully started their own business, compared to 11.2% of UK men?

These statistics are taken from The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship conducted by the UK Government in 2014. No matter what people say, misogyny still exists in the UK meaning women face more challenges and barriers on their entrepreneurship journey than men do. Couple that with the devastating impact of the global pandemic on all small-businesses, these past few years must have been a nightmare. It’s now more important than ever that we support our sisters, and what better time to start than in the festive season.

Here are 7 of my favourite women-owned small business’ that I discovered in 2021:

(I have been a loyal customer to some since 2020, but did that year really exist anyway?)

*Discount codes are provided for some of these brands from previous collaborations (because who doesn’t want to save money?) but this gift guide is not part of an advertisement. I just genuinely love these products!

1. Oh My Gold LDN

Photographs copyright of Oh My Gold LDN.

Oh My Gold LDN is a brand showcasing handcrafted, bespoke metallic portraits and prints. Founded and ran completely by Jade, a creative genius, these gifts are sure to put a smile on your loved ones face. Jade is super friendly and more than happy to answer any queries over on their Instagram or visit their FAQ page.

“Oh My Gold LDN are symbolic of my desire to create diverse, empowering, uplifting, beautiful and accessible art for all”- Jade.

2. Incollection UK

First 2 photographs copyright of Incollection UK.

Incollection UK is a relatively new brand. Stephanie set up her Etsy shop back in January and has been creating new, beautiful products each month to add to her already vast collection of inclusive fashion, accessories and custom gifts. Stephanie designs and creates these pieces independently from her own home. You can find out more about Stephanie (probably one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting online) and her products over on her Instagram.

“I started Incollection UK in January this year. I wanted to create a brand that represented all bodies and celebrate feeling good in the body you have. The media constantly throw in our faces that we are not good enough. So Incollection UK is a brand that celebrates you.”- Stephanie.

For 10% off all orders, use code KAYLEIGH10.

3. OneOhSix

Photographs copyright of OneohSix.

Guaranteed, the homeware I get the most compliments on are those from OneOhSix. This brand is the work of Casey-Rae, a woman with such amazing taste and talent, specialising in up-cycled and pre-loved furniture, and additional home accessories and gifts. If I could, I’d buy it all. With each piece, I feel I’m one step closer to the ultimate Insta-worthy home. You can find OneOhSix on their website, Etsy store and Instagram.

4. Novo Candles

Photographs copyright of Novo Candles.

I know I sound dramatic when I say this but… I’ve never smelled candles quite like these ones! Keely, the creator behind the amazing Novo Candles, started this passion project to share the scents from her childhood memories growing up in the countryside. These hand-poured aromatherapy candles don’t only make your home smell beautiful but are great for your wellness and completely sustainable. Browse Novo Candles products on their website, Etsy store and Instagram. (P.S. The Christmas collection has just launched too!).

“From blackberry picking to baking apple pies, the scents I choose are all inspired by those memories. I always struggled to find scents inspired by these memories surrounding nature that also helped with my wellness. That’s why Novo was born. These familiar smells help me to stay in the moment and remind me to take care of myself.”- Keely

For 10% off all orders use code KAYLEIGH10.

5. Lytton Rose Botanical

Photographs copyright of Lytton Rose Botanical.

Dried flowers and vintage home décor from Snowdonia, UK, to your front door. Dried flowers are all the range and I completely understand the hype. Beautiful, low-maintenance and so pretty- I’m obsessed by everything Lytton Rose Botanical have on offer. Paula, the creative behind this beautifully unique brand, prides herself on ensuring every single product is developed sustainably and handmade with love. You can find them over on their website, Etsy and Instagram.

“I am a Snowdonia based designer and crafts-woman and have been creating and designing at a professional level for the last 16 years. Originally trained in fashion and textile design, I have a keen sense of trend, design, colour, form and structure and have a passion for flowers in every form; from seed, to their finished form, back to seed.”- Paula.

6. LYNA London

Photographs copyright of LYNA London.

LYNA London launched in July 2021 and have already taken the internet by storm. Founded by two sisters, LYNA London is an affordable jewellery brand allowing everyone to experience that little piece of luxury we deserve. The range of products available is mesmerising, the packaging is beautiful and I can guarantee there’s something to suit everyone’s taste. Have a browse over at their website and Instagram.

7. Inspiring by Emma

Photographs copyright of Inspiring by Emma.

Emma is an amazing artist who helps me to make my family smile several times a year with her hilarious and super cute handmade greeting cards. Inspiring by Emma is now my go-to for cards throughout the year. They’re so beautiful, high-quality and thoughtful as you choose a card based on your friends and families favourite movies and characters. You can find Emma’s massive selection of cards over at her Etsy store and Instagram.

“Made with a sprinkling of fairy dust”- Emma.

What Actually Happens If You Call The Samaritans?

The shame and judgement behind calling the Samaritans is a direct reflection of the appalling stigma that still surround mental health today. If talking to someone is encouraged, why is talking to the Samaritans any different? It’s unfortunate that people still feel they aren’t worthy of using this service or that their problem isn’t big enough. Anyone who works in the Samaritans will tell you that if it’s a big deal to you, it’s a big deal to them. The Samaritans are known for their calming presence and true ability to listen and help those who don’t feel they can continue any longer, but they are much more than a suicide hotline.

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Photograph Copyright of Samaritans UK

The Samaritans helped approximately 1.2 million people throughout 2020; providing a confidential listening and advice service, helping others to explore their options and signpost to other services if needed. Their ethos is that everyone is worthy of support for anything that is affecting them. The service is free, it won’t appear on any phone bill and is completely anonymous. The calls cannot be traced and it’s individual choice how much identifying information is shared. As a mental health nurse, the people I work with are usually unsure about the amount of information they share. Thankfully, this initial discomfort often dissipates as we bust some of the myths around how mental health services work. Usually this is a discussion around hospital treatment being a last resort, the other options that are available and an understanding of our confidentiality agreement. When people are struggling with their mental health, the additional anxiety of “what if” can be extremely distressing and the anonymity when calling the Samaritans can be the vital comfort needed in that very moment.

There is no doubt that the Samaritans are helpful, but I completely understand when people tell me calling is easier said than done. When I was at university there was a period of time whereby I struggled deeply with my mental health and the thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if the Samaritans could help me?”. It was months until I built up the courage to pick up the phone, and weeks after that I managed to speak rather than pressing red as soon as a wonderful volunteer asked how they could help. We think about it, we prepare for it (which for me and my anxiety-ridden brain also included trawling through the internet to read other people’s experiences talking to the Samaritans) and finally, we do it. For many, this initial interaction is more than just a phone call- it’s an acceptance that we need help.

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Photograph Copyright of Samaritans UK

When you call the Samaritans you can share as little or as much as you like. They may ask you questions to understand your story but they will never pressure you into sharing details you don’t want to. I can’t say it enough- you can call for anything that’s bothering you. Loneliness, grief, anxiety, low mood, body image, eating struggles, hearing voices, relationship breakdowns, nightmares, sleep difficulties; if it’s affecting the way you feel, they can support you. Sometimes they ask a little about your history and support you’re currently receiving elsewhere (if any) and explore ways to help with your situation. They don’t tell you what to do but they can help you to make a plan collaboratively if needed. Even if you don’t want advice and you just want to be heard, they’re available to be a virtual shoulder to cry on or a pair of ears that aren’t emotionally invested in what’s going on for you. There is no limit on the amount of times you can call and no timescale on support offered- although many volunteers have had 10 minute calls to 2 hour calls, the average time spent supporting one person is usually around 45 minutes. During this time, you are in full control. You can end the call at any time.

You can call the Samaritans on 116 123. The Samaritans also have an email service at jo@samaritans.org (although understandably, this isn’t encouraged if you need urgent support) and a pilot scheme for an online chat service.

Speaking to the Samaritans is often assumed to be ‘extreme’. It is subtly suggested in our communities that the line should only be used for people who are severely depressed and suicidal, which we know is not the case. I’d encourage everyone to keep the Samaritans number to hand. It’s good to know you have access to a number that will always have someone pick up the phone.

To read more about The Samaritans, visit their website here.

Biancha

50 Things That Scare Me More Than Halloween

Halloween, witches, devils, vampires, zombies, it’s all pretty scary stuff, but these things scare me more than Halloween ever will…

  1. The dark.
  2. The Tory’s proposed ‘Policing Bill‘ which would lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue of a man, than for attacking a woman.
  3. The fact that 73,223,369 people actually voted for Donald Trump to become president.
  4. Global warming.
  5. Britney Spears being under a conservatorship and having her rights taken away from her for 13 whole years before anyone did anything about it.
  6. Trainspotting the movie (When the baby is on the ceiling? You know the part).
  7. How the pandemic has taken over our lives, but we’d never heard of it back at the start of 2019.
  8. The fact that 84% of women in the UK are on hormonal contraception despite horrific side effects like Depression and increased risk of Breast Cancer, yet male contraception is yet to be approved just in case it “blunts sex drive or reduces erections”.
  9. Other people tagging me in Facebook photos unexpectedly.
  10. Losing my job.
  11. The fact that society has normalised dressing up as a “naughty school girl” as though that isn’t completed perverted.
  12. People who don’t like reading.
  13. It’s getting colder so spiders will be trying to join our lovely warm homes, rent-free.
  14. People that refuse to use others’ preferred pronouns.
  15. Using a toilet away from home that refuses to flush.
  16. The fact that there’s no barriers to stop us falling on to train tracks.
  17. Misogyny.
  18. That UKIP even exist.
  19. The energy bill increase.
  20. That Zoe and Zoey are pronounced the same but Joe and Joey aren’t, and nobody is questioning it.
  21. Homophobia.
  22. What is happening over in Afghanistan.
  23. Every single one of the Redhanded podcast episodes.
  24. People who snoop on your social media but don’t actually follow you.
  25. “Charities” who don’t give money to the actual cause.
  26. People who spit on the floor as they walk.
  27. How underpaid nurses are.
  28. The fact that people take drugs without knowing exactly what’s in them.
  29. When it’s dark outside but you’re in the house, so people can see you but you can’t see them.
  30. How small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
  31. Standing on a plug.
  32. The fact that there’s more publicity for Caucasian victims of crime than there is for other ethnicities.
  33. Photoshop, filters and editing used purposely to be mistaken as reality.
  34. Racism.
  35. People who don’t like cats.
  36. In the year ending March 2020, 5.5% of people aged 16-74 in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse.
  37. When your Netflix ‘Continue Watching’ list is endless with no way to erase it.
  38. Toxic diet culture.
  39. Losing my friends and family.
  40. Walking home alone, especially in the dark.
  41. The fact that Johnny Depp has been accused of 14 assaults, with 12 of them being proved on the balance of probability, yet people still gush over him on the new Dior advert.
  42. Listening to my own voice back.
  43. Monday mornings.
  44. Going to the dentist.
  45. Terrorism.
  46. Saying something to offend someone (of course, completely by accident).
  47. The fact that there aren’t enough hospital beds in UK hospitals and we aren’t yet in the always difficult winter months.
  48. The noise of gun-fire and shouting (when the men in my family are gaming).
  49. The fact that gun-fire and shouting is some people’s reality.
  50. That this list was actually rather easy to write… scary.

Biancha

EFT With The Anti-Burnout Club

For World Mental Health Day the Anti-Burnout Club are offering everyone 21 days FREE access to their online courses and stand-alone classes, when you sign up today. This platform is a hub for all things mental health and wellbeing; from yoga and nutrition advice to breathing techniques, sleep stories and confidence workshops. I’ve just completed an EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) course with them and I already can’t wait to dive straight in to something new.

My EFT Journey

Prior to starting this course, I hadn’t heard of EFT before. My knowledge of Emotional Freedom Techniques started and ended with “it’s something about tapping”. During this course our wonderful teacher, Aga, taught us what it is, how to do it and why it works. I’d encourage everyone to join the course to find out more about this technique but, if you’re still not convinced, let me tell you a little bit more…

EFT, or EFT tapping, is a practical self-help method that combines using acupressure points with psychological therapy techniques for emotional healing and stress-management. The pressure points used are in the face and upper body and we’re encouraged to steadily and gently tap them as we work our way through the process of reminding ourselves of an event, acknowledging our emotions from this and adapting our behaviour to manage this emotion. I could have completed this course as a mental health nurse, taking this education forward in my career only, but we’re humans too and so I completed this course with a real problem in mind.

Sometimes, when people feel low or anxious they think about the same thing over and over again. This is called rumination. For me when I’m feeling particularly anxious, which usually goes hand-in-hand with stress, my rumination replays events and conversations I’ve had throughout the day, making me doubt my reactions and behaviours and wonder what others think about me. Did I say the right thing? I wonder if I sounded stupid or incompetent then. Did I offend them? Should I have acted differently? Rumination for some people can be debilitating. We need to find coping skills that work and lock them away in our mental health toolbox until we need them again. My toolbox is full of useful tools, some I use regularly and some I haven’t used in years, and EFT is another to add to my collection. We know that there is no magic pill to take stress and worry away for us, but I’ve found that in regards to the physical sensations of anxiety EFT can do exactly that.

Woman Wearing Hijab Looking at Camera

EFT tapping has been proven to have a calming affect on the Amygdala and Hypothalamus (the parts of the brain that have many responsibilities, one of which is managing our emotions). It’s also been proven to affect our hormone production, making us produce less cortisol (stress hormone) and therefore, reducing our anxiety levels.

The course over on The Anti-Burnout Club includes the following:-

  • Introduction to EFT Tapping
  • 3 minute Tapping for Stress
  • EFT for Overwhelm
  • Tapping for Happiness
  • Tapping Before Bed

If this doesn’t sound up your street, there are so many other options to choose from. A lot of the courses are available to work through at your own pace as well as daily live lessons. I can guarantee you’ll find something useful, and what better day to start prioritising your mental health than on World Mental Health Day (and for free too).

So, HAPPY WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY. Our mental health is something to be celebrated, treasured and cared for. I hope you find something from this platform to make you that little bit happier or your life that little bit easier.

Click here to sign up for 21 days free (sign-up only available on World Mental Health Day- 10th October 2021). See more from The Anti-Burnout Club here.

We Don’t Know a Lot About Mental Health, but We Do Know This…

Mental Health is a huge part of my life. I’m a Mental Health Nurse by day and an anxious, super-organised empath by night (OK, OK, I’m those things throughout the day too). It’s great to see that Mental Health is becoming something important to all of us, as it should be. It’s hard for me to remember sometimes that for some people mental health is still an abstract concept to them, depending on the information they’ve had access to (or not in some cases) and their lived experiences. When I see comments on social media that at first seem ignorant, I remind myself that some people are simply uneducated (and I promise, I mean that in the least patronising way possible). Instead of cancelling people and dividing society in to “them” and “us”, those of us with stories to tell can help them to understand.

So, What Is Mental Health?

Our mental health is with us every single day no matter where we are, who we’re with or what we’re up to. It’s there and it’s affected by all of our behaviours and circumstances (even those outside of our control), our genetics, our past experiences and our personality types. It’s often phrased as ’emotional health’ but it’s so much more than that. Sure, it involves our emotions and the way we feel but it also includes our social and psychological wellbeing which, although they’re linked, are totally different. In a nutshell, this means our mental health affects our thoughts, feelings and actions every second of every day.

We all have mental health and our aim is to maintain this. Often, the terminology is misused as a way to describe what is actually mental ill-health; but mental health is not simply the absence of illness. The best way to describe mental health is to imagine it on a continuum. At one end we have feeling content, great day-to-day functioning and positive stress-tolerance skills (that work). At the other end, we have the opposite; feeling generally pessimistic and negative, poor functioning and the inability to manage stress (often leading to severe and persistent mental health struggles presenting as a range of different symptoms). We all slide up and down the continuum. The continuum stays the same for all of us, but the speed and distance in which we slide differs from person to person.

Photo of Woman Leaning on Wooden Table While Looking Upset

“I don’t feel mentally healthy. Now what?

Remember we can, and will, slide both ways on this continuum. It’s inevitable that we will all go through mental health struggles to a lesser or greater extent throughout are lives. We are constantly sliding, every day. This shows that no matter what mental health struggle you’re going through, things can get better. You can slide back up the scale of mental health. To do that, we all have different things that will help us cope and if needed, different treatments that are beneficial. It most certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution- but it can be resolved nevertheless. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that mental ill-health doesn’t have to be a life sentence. If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s worth speaking to your GP who can support you navigate your way back to where you want to be on the continuum.

“I don’t want to slide!

We can’t stop ourselves from sliding completely, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By experiencing some stress we learn ways to cope and increase our ability to manage even bigger stressors when they arise in the future. Sometimes, sliding is completely out of our control but we can do some things to add a little bit of friction, such as: exercise, getting enough sleep, avoiding use of illicit substances or excessive alcohol and generally checking in with yourself on a daily basis. If you notice something out of the ordinary, talk about it.

Back view unrecognizable girlfriends wearing casual clothes hugging each other while standing on grassy vast field in summer countryside

If you’re stressed out, feeling low or otherwise worried about your mental health and need someone to talk to, please find contacts below for people who can support you:

UK

Samaritans UK– Free, 24/7 telephone support or webchat (pilot) for anyone needing confidential support.

Mind Infoline– 9-5pm Mon-Fri- Non-urgent queries about mental health support that may be available to you.

Campaign Against Living Miserably UK– 5pm- Midnight Every Day- Confidential helpline and webchat for anyone needing support.

YoungMinds Textline– Free, 24/7 text support for people under 18.

(If you’re in another country, I am not familiar with the services near you and therefore don’t feel able to make any recommendations. Please speak with your health provider or go online to find appropriate support. If you’re not from the UK & would like to recommend a useful service, please feel free to drop their detains in the comments below).

Biancha

Boycott BMI

I get it. Navigating the whole health and wellness industry whilst working hard to also be accepting of our already fabulous bodies is hard work. Finding the balance between making positive, beneficial lifestyle changes and avoiding toxic diet-culture is an ordeal. I haven’t mastered this yet (far from it) and I still have lots of unanswered questions- but one thing I am sure of, is that using the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of health, is unhelpful for all of us.

The BMI was developed in 1982 by a Belgian Mathematician called Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, with the view of using it as a quick and easy population generalisation tool to help the government divide finances for resources. From the very beginning, Adolphe advised that it would not be useful for individuals, as it doesn’t account for many important factors when it comes to health, such as body fat percentage or fat distribution. The development process of this tool was tried and tested on, you guessed it, white European men; and so the validity of these results are immediately questioned. If this was a current trial, researchers would be advised to broaden their sample to be more inclusive and diverse. In this case, Adolphe never intended it to be used on individuals and so this issue wasn’t raised. So, if the person who developed the BMI felt it wouldn’t accurately determine overall health- why is this still so widely used today? And why did it start to be used for individual health monitoring in the first place?

Adolphe Quételet by Joseph-Arnold Demannez.jpg
Photograph from Wikipedia.

The answer is, we have no idea. It’s utterly bizarre that health industries all over the world still use the BMI on an individual basis, despite it being an outdated and inaccurate ‘guessing-tool’ that was never designed for this use in the first place. Our knowledge of health has developed greatly and, with that, we have more specific tests to monitor factors that can impact our health in more detail; such as blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. Since we’ve had access to this type of testing it’s been determined that weight doesn’t necessarily directly correlate with health, yet the BMI is still worked out as a tick-box exercise and a sure-fire way of making someone feel stigmatised.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call out this tool for being discriminatory. It doesn’t consider that females naturally have more fat than males, yet the calculation is exactly the same for both sexes. It doesn’t consider that as we age, we are likely to have more fat and less muscle. Research throughout the years has even found that a ‘slightly high’ BMI in elderly people can be protective against disease and early death. So is it ‘slightly high’? Or is it just right?

Positive young plus size female in leggings and crop top doing abs exercise on rowing machine during intense workout in modern gym with fit Asian male trainer

The number on the scale often means very little. Sure, weight can exacerbate some symptoms of some conditions, but it is by no means the only factor and is definitely not the most important one. You can weigh more but also be more active and overall ‘fitter’ than someone who weighs less. You might wear a size 18, but have lower cholesterol and a healthier diet than someone sporting a size 8. Most studies show that an ‘underweight’ BMI is more dangerous than an ‘obese’ one- yet we get praised for losing weight, sometimes until it’s too late, and utterly discriminated against if we weigh above average. The BMI, ultimately, is a name-and-shame tool to categorise us in to ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’. It might sound dramatic, but even health professionals demonstrate weight bias.

So many people have shared their personal stories of seeking help from their GP and being turned away or not listened to, and advised to lose weight. Internalised fatphobia is ingrained in to us all, and if we aren’t trying to unlearn these thoughts and behaviours, they will overflow in to our everyday lives. This goes for professionals too. It is not inevitable that you’re unhealthy if you are fat- so losing weight isn’t always the answer. Imagine asking for help, being made to feel ashamed of your own body (despite all the awesome things it does for you every single day) and then fearing reaching out in the future due to the huge negative impact it had on your mental health. Perhaps its not the weight that leads to health problems in people who have a ‘high’ BMI, but its the professionals who don’t take their concerns seriously and therefore don’t prevent or treat things quickly enough?

Unhappy young female with centimeter tape on face looking at camera while standing on white background in studio during weight loss

It’s time to stop discriminating against people with bigger bodies and making assumptions about their health based on an old-fashioned, extremely flawed, one-size-fits all measure. We’re all learning and that’s OK.

Want to learn more? Follow the links below to hear more about the BMI from great, inspiring minds.

IWeigh with Jameela Jamil (Podcast, Youtube & Social Media- a radically inclusive community, initially formed to remind us all that we are more than the number on the scales).

Dr. Joshua Wolrich (NHS Doctor and bestselling Author fighting, in his own words, ‘weight stigma and nutri-bollocks’. Need I say any more?).

Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes (A podcast focusing on debunking the junk-science behind health fads, wellness scams and nonsensical nutrition advice. They have a whole episode on BMI specifically which I’d 100% recommend!).

Biancha

The Horrifying Truth Behind The Handmaid’s Tale

I have been hooked on The Handmaid’s Tale. With being a die-hard feminist and Margaret Atwood (writer of the original novel) being an absolute genius- this was the perfect recipe for binge-watching. This novel, and Hulu TV Series, is a fictional depiction of dystopian America. It’s eerie and devastating, but what makes it even more horrific is that Atwood’s inspiration for this story was based on real-life religious and political history.

If you haven’t yet watched The Handmaid’s Tale *totally judging you*, you can find a great synopsis here.

So, the reason you’re here, what truth lies behind this fictional masterpiece?

The repressed state of The Republic of Gilead is a dictatorship developed by Christian extremists who use violence and aggression to control everyone living there. Gilead is ran by a hierarchy of male commanders and high-class couples whose primary focus is to increase levels of reproduction. Despite this, pleasure is a sin, and so instead of making love with their wives- they rape and abuse women (those who are fertile and therefore chosen to be handmaids). When their handmaid has successfully given birth, they will get moved on to the next family.

This entire concept was inspired by The Old Testament of the bible- particularly the story of Rachel and Leah (Genesis Chapters 29- 35). It tells a tale of these two women, both married to Jacob, who are trying to conceive. Leah discovers she is pregnant quickly, whereas Rachel struggles with infertility. Somewhere along the line, a handmaid named Belhah is offered to Rachel as a “vessel” in which she could have children. Although Gilead isn’t real, this is a perfect example of how extreme interpretations can lead to the misuse of scripture to validate oppression and hate crimes.

See the source image
Photograph from Hulu.

Atwood has advised in several interviews that the constant oppression of women in Gilead was also inspired by conservative control in America, specifically in relation to the views of Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was the first president to propose a constitutional amendment for organised prayer in schools. He teamed up with religious organisations and, as you can imagine, this had a dramatic impact on views of fertility and access (or lack of access) to abortions. The similarities of this to current politics in places like Ireland and Mexico, are unnerving- but it doesn’t end there. In 1966 Romania, there was a ban on both abortion and birth control, instigated by President Ceauseacu to increase the countries population. How barbaric.

The protagonist of this book/ series June Osborne, or ‘Offred’ when in Gilead (of- Fred, a reminder that she is property of Commander Fred Waterford), is placed in the Waterford household solely to provide them with a child. The expectation is that once the baby has been born, she will be moved to another household for the same purpose. This happens frequently to every handmaid and the emotional turmoil of immediately removing a new-born baby from their biological Mother without consent, is brilliantly portrayed. Unfortunately, this happened in reality to women during World War 2. WW2 generals in Argentina were reported to be ‘dumping’ people out of aeroplanes, however, if they were pregnant- they’d be looked after (to some extent) to provide a healthy baby. This baby was then given to those in command and Mum put right back on the aeroplane. There is also evidence to say that Hitler kidnapped children depending of their appearance in hope to raise them in to being blonde Germans. Similarly, there are so many reports of children from unwed or indigenous women being removed and given to families deemed ‘more worthy’ throughout 1950- 1970.

See the source image
Photograph from Hulu.

It’s well known that one of the main inspirations for Atwood was The Salem Witch Trials, with a specific interest in the case of Mary Webster. Webster was accused of being a witch in 17th Century New England. She went to trial and was declared guilty- which was followed by a series of physical assaults and the decision to hang her. After years of avoiding the noose, she survived. Evidence of misogyny yet perhaps a symbol of hope- as Atwood says, “she made it through”. It is rumoured that the fabulous Atwood is actually a descendent of Webster. Who knows? Either way, she definitely has a keen interest in her story, writing a poem about her in 1995 called Half-Hanged Mary.

See the source image
Photograph from Hulu.

Of course this is a feminist masterpiece, but Atwood also draws attention to other forms of oppression- such as the criminalisation of homosexuality. I wish this was just fiction but homosexuality is illegal in 69 countries around the world and, even in the UK where we like to think we’re forward-thinking, it was still illegal until The Sexual Offences Act was published in 1967. It’s worth baring in mind that marriage equality was only passed in 2014.

One of my favourite characters in the show is referred to as a ‘gender traitor’ as people discover that she is a lesbian. Not only does she have to deal with toxic, derogatory slurs on a daily basis but when she finds love in what otherwise seems to be a loveless place, she is punished with Female Genital Mutilation (and her girlfriend hanged). FGM is used in Gilead as a ‘corrective procedure’, whereby they forcefully remove their outer labia, inner labia and clitoris. The belief is that women will no longer experience pleasure but can still be baby-makers. Devastatingly, this happens in the real world too. It is estimated that this has happened to 140 million women around the world and, despite FGM being criminalised in the UK in 1985 (a little bit late, don’t you think?), research suggests that approximately 23,000 English/ Irish/ Scottish girls are still at risk.

Another form of punishment in Gilead is being sent to The Colonies whereby women who have broken ‘the law’ are expected to perform intensive manual labour in dangerous conditions for the rest of their shortened lives. Atwood talks openly about how this idea stems from prisoners of The Soviet Union during the 1970’s who were sent to work in toxic uranium mines and exposed to fatal levels of radiation (making their expected life span only 2 years).

Incarcerating women and stripping them of their human rights is completely inhumane and it’s mind-blowing (in the worst possible way) to discover that this actually happened. In America during World War 1, during the implementation of the American Plan, women whom were thought to have sexually transmitted diseases or were seen to be ‘promiscuous’ were sent to detention facilities. The purpose of this was to protect soldiers (whom were men, because equality was an abstract concept back then). Clearly, they didn’t think twice about the women.

See the source image
Photograph from Hulu.

Atwood’s attention to detail is astounding. The dialogue used by handmaids, “blessed be the fruit” and “may the lord open”, are inspired by the book of Deuteronomy (5th book of the bible) and the enforced dress code relates to both religions’ and cultures (both historically and currently) whom place these expectations on women and to the idea of uniform dehumanising people, making it easier to cause them harm. There are so many more subtle yet equally thought-provoking features of this book and series; such as the handmaids sitting in a circle, pointing their fingers at a peer whom is thought to have done something wrong in the eyes of Gilead, and repeating “it’s your fault”. This encapsulates the stigma thrust upon survivors of abuse, whom are often not believed and made to feel ashamed, despite them being a victim.

See the source image
Photograph from Hulu.

I could write for days about The Handmaids Tale. The concept is intriguing. The actors in the TV series are extremely talented. Antwood is a genius.

If you plan to watch, you’re going to want to clear your diary. You’ll be hooked! The rest of us will have to patiently wait for series 5…

Biancha

The Ultimate Playlist for Empowered Women

If you’re anything like me, your phone will have a million different playlists specially curated to match your mood, no matter what. Our playlists say a lot about us. I have a soundtrack for being sad, needing motivation, working out, feel-good songs, bath time, driving; you name it, I’ve got it. A category often forgotten about, however, is “feminist bops”; essential listens for women. It was hard (almost impossible) to narrow it down, but here are my top 10 songs for empowered women.

10. Run the World (Girls)- Beyonce

Does this one even need an explanation? Queen Bey did it again, representing the women. With lyrics like, “Make your check, come at they neck, disrespect us, no they won’t” and “how we smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business”, Bey sings about women as we really are, super heroes with no limits.

9. Like a Girl- Lizzo

Lizzo is the ultimate self-love guru as she encourages us all to believe in ourselves throughout this song, whilst celebrating other amazing women for their success. With reference to Serena Williams, Chaka Khan and Lauryn Hill, Lizzo reminds us that women should be celebrated for their talents and achievements rather than beauty (although these women truly are beautiful inside and out). She has also written some of my favourite lyrics ever, “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for president, even if there ain’t no precedent, switchin’ up the messagin’, I’m about to add a little oestrogen” and “only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes”. Love it.

8. The Man- Taylor Swift

The entire premise of Taylor’s song ‘The Man’ is so important and, after the way she has been portrayed in the media, the song packs even more of a punch. It’s true- women are slated and cancelled for doing things that men do on the daily. This song perfectly calls out the double standards in the entertainment industry (and life in general). “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars, and getting bitches and models, and it’s all good if you’re bad, and it’s okay if you’re mad? If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch not a baller, they’d paint me out to be bad, so it’s okay that I’m mad.”- yes, it’s absolutely OK to be mad. I’m mad too.

7. Woman- Kesha

Whenever I achieve something I worked hard for, this is something I want to scream from the top of my lungs. “I’m a motherf**kng woman!”. Kesha has spoke openly about the inspiration for this song being Donald Trump’s vile “grab em’ by the pussy” comment which repulsed women everywhere, including her. She said, “That made me infuriated, as a hardcore feminist”. At least one good thing came from that comment- this song! I am here for it, and all the F-bombs.

6. Just Fine- Mary. J. Blige

This song is the ultimate reminder of how good it feels to be content. Blige considers that there are ups and downs in every day, but there’s always something to feel good about. One thing we can have control over, is how we feel about ourselves. The greatest message I take from this song is that of self-love. We can achieve anything when we love ourselves- mind, body and soul. We all deserve to get to the point where we’re like… “So I like what I see when I’m looking at me when I’m walking past the mirror. Don’t stress through the night, at a time in my life, ain’t worried about if you feel it.”.

5. U + Ur Hand- Pink

“I’m not here for you’re entertainment, you don’t really want to mess with me tonight… just keep your drink and give me the money, it’s just you and your hand tonight”- ladies, who else can relate? Not only is this song an absolute bop but I find the lyrics hilarious. If you’ve never listened to this song, you have full permission to stop reading right now and go listen. I feel heard. It should be compulsory for women out on a ‘girls night’ to listen to this before heading to the bar- reminding us that we have every right to say ‘no’ without trying to rationalise it. No is no, even for something as ‘innocent’ as a drink or a dance.

4. Independent Woman- Destiny’s Child

You guessed it, it would be immoral to miss Destiny’s Child off this list. The ultimate girl gang we all want to be a member of. My Nanna introduced me to the film ‘Charlies Angels’ during a sleepover, which means she also introduced me to this song. It may have felt insignificant at the time, but having kick-ass role models like the Charlie’s Angels and listening to lyrics like this, I was taught that I don’t need to depend on a man for anything. It’s not just the little boys who are ‘strong’ and ‘brave’. “Try to control me, boy, you get dismissed, pay my own car note and I pay my own bills, always fifty-fifty in relationships”. If I ever have a daughter, you know she’ll be listening to this song.

3. Just a Girl- No Doubt

I love that Gwen Stefani didn’t intentionally write this song as a feminist anthem- but that’s exactly what is has become. She speaks her mind through her music and in doing so, has given us all a platform to sing along and rant about how simply being a girl leads to people trying to confine us and shut us down. “Oh, I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights… cause I’m just a girl, I’d rather not be, they won’t let me drive late at night”. OK, sorry, but I’m glad Stefani’s parents didn’t let her go driving late at night if this really is the entire inspiration for this song.

2. Can’t Hold Us Down- Christina Aguilera and Lil Kim

There is so much greatness in this song, I’m not sure I can do it justice with such a short summary. Christina and Kim call out misogyny from women being coined a “bitch” for speaking her mind whereas men are deemed ‘confident’ to the double standards of sexuality, “the guy gets all the glory the more he can score, when the girl can do the same yet you call her a whore”. They touch on language used commonly every day to minimise women’s ability- such as telling people to “man up” to represent strength and remind us that it wasn’t too long ago that men were taking women’s ideas and advertising them as their own. I wonder how many pieces of artwork, books, songs, inventions and discoveries were actually the work of women, yet we’ve grown up attributing them to a man? This is actually a song directed toward men, to remind them that we are just as worthy and deserve to be respected. We are not “to be seen and not heard”- we have every right to speak out loud. Together, they can’t hold us down.

1. Hard Out Here- Lily Allen

It has to be said that Lily Allen is a genius. Her music is so easily deemed ‘controversial’ when in reality she calls people out on things others are frightened to- because patriarchy still exists. In numerous interviews about this song Allen talked specifically about the male-dominated music industry and how controlled women in the public eye truly are. She raises awareness of the immense pressure on all women to be ‘thin’ to be accepted and how, despite wanting to discuss these things publicly for so long, she was called “mouthy” and told people wouldn’t take her seriously or they’d laugh at her. Making a stance against double standards, stereotypical gender roles, objectification of women and reclaiming language often used against us; she has smashed it. After listening to this song so much, my boyfriend & I now naturally say “grow some tits” instead of “grow some balls”. Lily Allen battling internalised misogyny in households everywhere since 2013.

So there we are, my top 10 songs for empowered women! Add them to your music library and play them loud whenever you need a reminder that you are enough.

Biancha