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10 Best Books I Read in 2020

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

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I read some great books in 2020, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and I even managed to read a few books that weren’t part of my course – I know, what a shocker! I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites from the past year, some you may remember from previous mentions in Monthly Wrap Ups or from my favourite lockdown reads, but some may be completely new to you. Either way, I loved reading all of these books and I think you will too!



1. Out of Office by Fiona Thomas


As a final year student, I’ve been thinking a lot more about life after uni over the past 6 months, and freelancing is an option for me. While it may not be my whole career, I will likely do at least some freelance work and this book is an incredible resource I know I will go back to. It covers everything from getting started, taxes and ensuring you are able to take time off to looking after your mental health and avoiding burnout. Fiona’s writing style is so engaging and easy to read, I got through this quite quickly. Each chapter ends with a checklist of activities, so you know exactly what you need to do in each section. A must read for anyone considering freelancing in any respect! 



2. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams


Ah, Queenie. This book has honestly seared itself onto my heart forever. It is such a raw story, covering some difficult subjects including miscarriage, sexual assault, poor mental health, misogynoir and more. The character of Queenie feels like a friend. The whole time I just wanted to give her a hug. It’s a very comforting read, especially if you’re going through a rough patch and need reassurance that things will get better. I can’t wait to see what Candice Carty-Williams writes next and hoping to see screen adaptations of this book!


3. 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak


This book is frankly heartbreaking. It follows the life of ‘Tequila Leila’, a murdered sex-worker, during 10 minutes and 38 seconds after her death as she lies on the streets of Istanbul and loses consciousness. We see her early childhood and family, meet her five closest friends, and find out how she ended up working in Istanbul. I loved the characters in this book, particularly Leila’s closest friends. It is a story which truly highlights the importance of chosen family. 


4. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkens Reid


This book helped me get out of a bit of a reading slump near the beginning of lockdown, and helped me get through my final assessments for second year. I could barely put it down and got through it in about a day. It’s fair to say it completely took my mind off my assessments and off the pandemic, even if only for a few hours. The characters were interesting and I enjoyed the structure. If you love the drama behind bands like Fleetwood Mac and ABBA, you’ll love this book. An easy uplifting read that will remind you of when we're able to go to concerts and read books on holiday in the sun!


5. Dracula by Bram Stoker


The firs one on my list that I read for my course! I loved the module thi was on so much and probably could have included more books from it to be honest, but I decided on just this one! Most people will have a basic idea of the Dracula story, but I have to admit that I didn’t really know the details until actually reading the book. It’s weird, creepy, sexy, and I really enjoyed (even if the end did drag on a bit). 



6. Animal Farm by George Orwell


I read this at the beginning of lockdown as part of a small book club I started with a student volunteer group I’m involved with. It was a great me thinking about something other than lockdown and uni work, as well as keep myself occupied while I was by myself. Yhis wasn’t the first time I read this book, I read it a couple of years ago, but it was still just as enjoyable and so much to discuss within it. 


7. Trumpet by Jackie Kay


Ugh, this book. I felt this book in my heart. It follows the aftermath of the death of jazz musician, Joss Moody, from the perspectives of those around him – his wife, son, friends, the press and more – as it is revealed that he was trans. Some of the language isn’t what we would use today (it was written in the 90s) and most of that language is used in point-of-view chapters of characters who are quite transphobic or at least are at that point in the story. This book is honestly gorgeous. It’s so filled with love and tenderness and still so sad. I would highly highly recommend!



8. Feminism, Interrupted by Lola Olufemi


I feel like I’ve talked about this book so much already but I’m going to talk about it again. It’s an incredible introduction to intersectional feminism and gives me true hope in the movement and what it can be. This book is concise and accessible but doesn’t compromise on conveying the nuance of the issues at hand. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you are unsure about various issues and want to learn more, please read it. It also makes a great present!


9. Sex Ed by Ruby Rare


This book is incredible, and I have raved about it to so many people. Aside from looking amazing and having gorgeous illustrations, it contains the sex education we all deserve to have had at school. Ruby Rare covers everything from wanking and sex toys to how a sex drive actually works and the effects of sexual trauma. I just want everyone to read this! And yes, that does mean I will happily lend my copy to anyone I know in real life (if I haven’t offered to already!). 



10. Quite by Claudia Winkleman


This was one of the last books I read in 2020 and I really enjoyed it. I laughed a fair bit and I found it really enjoyable! It’s not what I would call a memoir, it’s more, well, Claudia Winkleman’s guide to life! From the importance of eyeliner, to how to know when a partner isn’t right for you, to the reasons you should love the Tube, there’s so much packed in here. For me, it was something light and fun that could distract me after a busy day and was a book I couldn’t put down!

 

I’m always looking for new things to read – even if I don’t necessarily have the time to read them – so please let me know some of your recommendations!




If you liked this post you might like: Where to Access Books and Avoid Funding Amazon

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5 Reasons You May Not Be Able to Use a Menstrual Cup (and Why That's Okay) | #ACupaDay

Friday, 8 January 2021

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Trigger warning: sexual assault, FGM 


 

Menstrual cups are brilliant, but they’re not for everyone. Mine suits me really well, but different bodies, different life experiences, and different preferences, means that menstrual cups don’t suit everyone. 

 

1. Vaginismus

 

Vaginismus is a condition which causes the vaginal walls to close and prevent foreign objects from entering. This can often occur with people who are survivors of sexual assault, but can also have no specific cause. Most often it is caused by something mentally.  Whatever the cause, it does mean that penetration of the vagina (by tampons, menstrual cups, fingers, sex toys, penises, etc.) can become impossible in some cases (although levels vary between each person).

 

From what I’ve seen (based on others’ experiences), the series Sex Education seems to do quite a good job of representing it. Even seeing representation on TV and film is incredibly rare – I think the only other place I’d heard it mentioned was YouTube (big up Rowan Ellis and Hannah Witton for that). It’s something that affects a lot more people than you’d necessarily think based on how much it’s talked about. 

 

2. It may be triggering

 

For anyone with sexual trauma in their past (whatever that may be), anything around the vulva, particularly involving inserting something into the vagina, has the potential to be triggering. Similarly, FGM survivors may also feel very uncomfortable using products like menstrual cups and may also be physically unable to use them as they would cause significant pain and discomfort. 

 

Whatever someone’s history, we all need to do what is best for our own wellbeing, and both our physical and mental health.


3. A disability may prevent you from being able to insert and remove it properly

 

Let’s be real, even if you’re fully able-bodied they can be tricky to insert if you’re just starting out. Occasionally, I have times when I need to readjust mine several times, and that’s as someone who has used menstrual cups for over 3 years. For many people with mobility issues, issues with their hands, backs, etc. (I’m sure there’s many ways this could be affected) menstrual cups will just be impossible to use. There are other sustainable alternatives, such as period pants, but as I mention in my review of my first pair, they are currently still quite expensive so levels of accessibility intersect and become complicate depending on both your physical body and your financial circumstances. 


4. You may really like the type of period product

 

In this case, I would still encourage you to look at the ways you can make that product less wasteful (if you’re in the position to do so). If tampons are your thing, perhaps consider a reusable applicator (if you like using applicators at all) and organic tampons such as the one sold by OHNE and TOTM. As from being better for the environment, these are also much better for your vagina as it significantly reduces the number of chemicals present. The same goes for pads – see if there’s something organic or reusable you like!


5. You just may not like them!

 

For whatever reason, you may not get on with menstrual cups. They may just not suit our body, you may not like the idea of them. That’s okay. Our bodies prefer different things, and hey! It’s your vagina, you get to decide what goes in it. If you’ve tried menstrual cups before but didn’t get on with them, I presume you want to have a less wasteful and plastic-filled period, and if you do that’s great. There are lots of alternatives to menstrual cups if you want to have a sustainable period, which I discuss in a previous blog post, and hopefully one of those can be useful to you.


Whatever menstrual product someone chooses to use, they should not be shamed or be pressured into using a particular type. As I mentioned, we are all different and different things suit our bodies. 



If you liked this post you might like: 5 Things to Know If You're a Menstrual Cup Newbie

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November & December 2020 | Monthly Wrap Up

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

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The past couple of months have been hectic but somehow haven’t felt as stressful as they could have done.



Favourite part?

 

With lockdown and then Tier 3 and 4, I’ve not been up to much (like most people!). But it’s still been pretty good I’d say. Especially considering the circumstances!

 

One of my favourite things the past couple of months has been going for a lot of walks and seeing more of the area surrounding where I live. Not having my weekends filled has meant I’ve been able to explore a bit more and force myself to go outside! 



 

As since the beginning of lockdown, I’ve relly been enjoying online events, including talks by Layla F. Saad and Fiona Thomas, Remake Community Calls, as well as hosting some of my own events as part of FemSoc!

 

Before my flatmates and I went home for Christmas, we made the flat look really festive and I absolutely loved it! Here's to the wonders fairylights from Poundland and some green fabric can do! I was really glad to get home for Christmas though and feel like I have had a decent amount of rest time – not doing any work at all is amazing!  But I’ve now been back to work for a couple of days and it won’t stop until I finish my degree! (No you’re the one panicking about that.)


Oh! And I got a fringe! Here's to dissertation procrastination haircuts...



Best read?


I’ve actually read a lot recently! They’ve mostly been for my course, but they have all been super interesting and I’ve enjoyed them all. At one point in November, I read 3 books in a week. It’s fair to say I was quite tired by the end of it! Books I read for my course were The Beetle by Richard Marsh, which was very weird but was quite easy to read and enjoyable; Dracula by Bram Stoker, which I did really enjoy although there were definitely some bits they could have cut out! I also read Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn and The Sheik by E. M. Hull.

 

I read Trumpet by Jackie Kay and held a book club event around it for my uni’s Feminist Society. It’s such an incredible book and I honestly couldn’t put it down. It’s such a beautiful story of love and grief and it’s so wonderfully written!

 

I have also read Quite by Claudia Winkleman, which I found very funny and readable, as Ruby Rare’s Sex Ed, an incredible book I would recommend to everyone. That book is what our sex education should be!



Favourite tunes?


As always I’ve listened to a fair amount of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. I’ve also been loving Taylor Swift’s new album, evermore, I find it quite relaxing. I’ve been listening to a ot more Dolly Parton, specifically her new Christmas album and her album Here You Come Again (including singing quite loudly on a train carriage I thought was empty but turned out not to be). 


My favourite music to work to recently has been the soundtracks for Ratatouille, How to rain Your Dragon and Narnia. 


Image source

Favourite watch?


As I’m sure a lot of people have a found, a combination of lockdowns (including a mixture of Tiers 3 and 4) and winter has meant a lot of TV has been watched. 

 

My flatmates and I watched Catastrophe, which I absolutely loved and miss. We lso watched Strictly, I’m a Celeb and Bake Off when they were on, as well as the old reliables: Gogglebox and First Dates. I may also have been binge watching Made in Chelsea, and yes it’s shit but I can’t stop watching!

 

And of course there’s been Christmas watches: both Home Alone films, Arthur Christmas twice, Dickensian, Muppets Christmas Carol and the 

 

I also watched the BBC Dracula series. I thought the first two episodes were incredible but the third one went a little bit rogue and I’m not sure what I think about it. 

 

I introduced my family to the show Lovesick, and they lved it as much as I do! And then I’ve watched Bridgerton with my mum over the past couple of days and loved the silliness!


Image source

 

What did I learn?


Rest is crucial!! This is the same for the whole of this year but I suddenly noticed how tired I was when I went home for Christmas once I wasn’t worrying about work for a week and a bit. Things really catch up on you and we all need to take care of ourselves!

 

What’s happening next month?


I’ve been in Tier 4 since Boxing Day, but have to go back to Newcastle for university at the beginning of January - doing my best to keep Covid safe of course! I’ll be mostly working on some final assessments and my dissertation.

 

What’s been on my mind?


Honestly just trying to keep on top of everything! I’ve had so much to do, I’ve been focusing on my uni work and other commitments, as well as making sure I take time for myself and actually relax on the weekends. It’s a plan which seems to be working so far.

 

Favourite blogger/vlogger?

 

I won’t lie I’ve not watched much YouTube or read many blogs recently. I’ve been focusing on all the work I’ve had to do!

 

Favourite post?

 

I wrote a lot of the posts published in November and December earlier on in the year and I quite enjoyed revisiting them when they were released.

 

Some of my favourites are How to Check a Fashion Brand’s Ethics and Sustainability, 5 Ways You Can Support Ethical Fashion Without Spending a Penny and My Slow Fashion Journey.



Biggest inspiration?

 

Not very exciting, but honestly just getting through this year and trying to do the best in my degree!

 

Any other favourites?


This one has to be seeing my cat for the first time in 3 months. I missed cuddles with her!



If you liked this post you might like: October 2020 | Monthly Wrap Up

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How to Check a Fashion Brand’s Ethics and Sustainability

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

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 Being able to tell if a brand’s practices are ethical and sustainable is difficult. We have greenwashing, lack of transparency and a whole load of flashy marketing to push passed to help us make purchasing decisions we’re happy with and to help us know where to direct our activism. This post outlines my process when researching into a brand and some tips I’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes, the answers are confusing, and although it may seem incredibly cynical, I find that going into research assuming the worst of brands tends to be the best (and often most accurate) approach. They must prove that their supply chains and practices are ethical and sustainable to you as a citizen and potential purchaser – think of it like a defense in court but just with fashion brands.

 

First, go to their website


This should be the first thing you do every time you want to find out more about a brand. What does their homepage look like? Have they got green, natural imagery everywhere that’s a bit overwhelming? Do they have ‘sustainable collection’ plastered everywhere? This is likely to be greenwashing if they don’t clearly state their ethics and sustainability policies elsewhere on their site.  Now, most brands will have a page related to these issues. They may be called something like ‘Sustainability and Ethics’ or ‘Supplier Code of Conduct’, but we’re looking for more than them just having that page. If they go into specifics on their site they’re more likely to actually be ethical. These include include details such as naming factories and countries, stating their materials clearly, highlighting whether or not their workers get a living wage. If they’re being vague and simply stating their ‘commitments’ to ethical working conditions and sustainability, you need more information. The important thing here is what they’re doing to make changes and ensure these commitments are a reality. What are they doing to follow up on these claims?

 

You can also keep your eyes peeled for any accreditations which may pop up on these pages. These may be from Fairtrade, Fair Wear, Ethical Trade Initiative and more. If a brand includes any certification logos on their page, look up those certifications and see what they actually mean. 

 

As it is now compulsory in the UK for brands to publish their Gender Pay Gap, you can also find that out relatively easily. Some will have this on their websites, but the Government website should also have them. However, these stats don’t account for their supply chains or other companies they own. Boohoo, for example has a 0% median gender pay gap, whereas their subsidiary companies Pretty Little Thing and Karen Millen have gaps of 29% and 49% respectively. The UK average is 17%.

 

Google their brand name along with words like ‘sustainability’ ‘ethics’ and look through the results


This is good for getting the initial picture. You may see some major red flags straight away or it may be a bit more complicated. When you search ‘Boohoo ethics’ for example, you get loads of information about Leicester and their generally terrible supply chains. Other brands may be less specific. Most brands aren’t great, but it’s generally about determining the horrendous ones from the bearable ones. This will take time just having a flick though articles and headlines, but it will provide you with a broader picture of the brand. 

 

Use tools like Good On You and Clean Clothes Campaign’s Fashion Checker to find out background more information

 

There are loads of great tools out there to help breakdown the ethics of different brands and when deciding if you want to buy from a brand or not. Many of these tools show different elements of ethical production and go into different levels of detail. 

 

Good On You are a great resource. You can use their app and their website to find information about brands’ records in regards to workers’ rights, environmental impact and animal welfare (if they use materials such as fur, leather etc.). They don’t go into a huge amount of detail but I find Good On You to be incredibly useful to get the general gis of how good a brand is. The one thing I find frustrating about Good On You is that that tend to only have information on bigger brands, so you often have more work if you want to find out about smaller brands. 

 

Other useful tools include Clean Clothes Campaign’s Fashion Checker. This website will tell you whether or not the garment workers making clothes for a brand are being paid a living wage or not. They also have more information on what minimum vs living wage means and how it affects garment workers, the gendered aspects of the garment industry and a whole host of other great resources to learn more about the industry from podcasts and reports to Netflix shows. Fashion Checker provides a bit more information, highlighting the brand’s revenue, other brands they might own, their top 3 production countries and any commitments they may have made to improving their supply chains. 

 

Find detailed information on Remake's Transparency Report

Remake have recently released their incredible new Transparency Report, and it is incredible.  Remake rank their brands in a slightly different way than just saying ‘they’re good’ or ‘they’re bad’. They have 4 main categories: Rockstars, Up & Comers, Wannabees and Offenders. Each brand gets a different number of points based on five different categories: Traceability & Transparency, Maker Wellbeing, Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Raw Materials and Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion. While some brands did much better than others, every single brand surveyed lost points on the last category, which measures racial diversity at board levels and throughout their headquarters. 


Currently, they have the information about 40 different brands on their website, however they are aiming to expand to 400 soon and you can request to find out more about a specific brand if they haven't got their information up already. This report includes all public information about the brands, so you have one place to go to for everything! I love it. 


They also further divide brands depending on their price and what type of clothing they make. To me, this is a temptation for endless clicking. I find that kind of research a bit addictive, but maybe that’s me being nerdy for ethics. I'm so excited to see how this grows!

 

You can also check Remake’s Pay Up Fashion campaign website to keep track of which brands have paid their suppliers since the start of the pandemic and who hasn’t (spoiler: many still haven’t). 

 

Check Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index


Brands who do well on this Transparency Index aren’t guaranteed to be ethical or sustainable by any means (H&M took the number one spot in the first report and they are certainly not ethical), however, it is a good means of knowing what information is out there. We can’t know if a brand is ethical or sustainable in its practices if they’re not telling us any information about its supply chain. Transparency is the first step for any brand to move toward a more ethical framework and it is vital when communicating with the people who buy their clothes. 

 

Contact the brand!


If you can’t find much elsewhere, ask the brand directly. Send them a message on social media or tag them in a post/tweet asking them for more information. You can also find a contact email for most brands quite easily, so send them an email asking to know more about their supply chains and their policies in terms of ethical and sustainable production. You may get no reply (as has often been the case), or you may get something that may as well have not been a reply, or you may get something pretty decent and detailed – it all depends on the brands themselves but analyse their responses carefully. 

 

Just remember that the people behind the social media accounts and emails aren’t the ones who are exploiting garment workers and the environment and ultimately don’t have the power to make change quickly, so make sure that you’re being nice to them! They may be able to pass on concerns their customers have to people higher up and what they’re allowed to tell you is certainly indicative of the brand’s ethical policies. 

 

Keep researching and keep updated


Brands are always changing. New scandals emerge and we have to remember that brands can change and do actually do better sometimes. We have to keep holding brands to account, even if they’re ones who are open about trying to do be better. Follow fashion activists on social media, keep an eye on how and when brands are being covered in the news, and let them know what you think of their actions. And remember that it’s okay not to be a perfectly ethical consumer, because frankly no one is – we just have to try and hold those in power to account and to demand they make meaningful change. 

 

If you have any questions about figuring out how ethical and sustainable a brand is, just comment on this post and I’d be perfectly happy to help you! 



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5 Practices to Implement into Your Self-Care

Friday, 11 December 2020

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 Self-care is necessary at the best of times, but right now it is more important than ever. There are different challenges to our mental health than life pre-pandemic, and we need to adapt and think of new ways to look after ourselves we maybe didn’t have to consider previously.



1. Write a list of everything you need to do


Anyone who knows me in real life will probably know how much of a list person I am. I make daily lists of things to do, and have a huge list on a Google Doc separated into different categories, to help me keep track of different areas of my life (e.g. uni, my blog, other projects, general life things, etc.), and honestly, having these lists helps me so much. 

 

Having everything stuck in my head stresses me out, and leaves me overwhelmed and confused. My making a list of everything I need to do, no matter how small, I dump everything in my mind onto the page (whether paper of digital) and I can think so much more clearly. I guess it’s quite similar to how some people use journaling as a tool to clear their minds. 

 

2. Go outside


Get some Vitamin D! As we’re all spending so much time inside now, this has become much more of a chore or something we have to remind ourselves to do. Even if it’s only to pop to the shops or a five-minute walk around the nearby streets, you’ll be glad to have a change of scene. I think having somewhere to physically be is something we all miss and feel like we took for granted, I know I do. I used to spend most of my days out of the house working in different uni buildings or cafes, and I am definitely going to miss that this year. However, I’m still trying to break up my days with scheduled plans to walks outside, even if it’s just to sit on a bench with a cup of tea for 10 minutes. Brave the cold, get moving and get some fresh air!


3. Cook something from scratch


Cooking is like meditation to me. Whether I’m cooking in silence or having a dance party in the kitchen, the act of putting together something nutritious always calms me down. I’m not sure if there’s some psychological links behind it, but having that process does wonders for me and really helps me unwind and to really do something I love. And you have to eat after, something you may forget to do if that’s the space of mind you’re in, especially as the days blur into one in lockdown. 


4. Speak to friends or family


Just because we’re socially distanced, that shouldn’t mean that we have to be socially distant – if that makes any sense at all? If you’re able to, foster the relationships you cherish and try to stay connected where possible. While we do need time to ourselves, humans are social creatures at heart, and this forced behaviour will take its toll. Wherever possible, we must try to mitigate that. Just remember that if you’re seeing people you don’t live with in person to make sure you’re taking the necessary precautions to protect both yourselves and others and that you’re following the law wherever you are (i.e. standing at least one metre apart if not two metres, wearing masks, unless you have a medical reason not to, and being outside if possible).


5. Fight for change 


Like many others, I believe that activism is a form of self-care. Wellbeing is not an individual thing. It is dependent on us as a collective, and political decisions impact on the wellbeing. A bubble bath is useless if mental health services aren’t properly funded, or if systemic racism is damaging both the mental and physical health of people from ethnic minorities, particularly Black people. Calling for wider systemic change not only seeks to improve overall wellbeing in the immediate term, but also for longer term impact so that future generations can have an improved wellbeing and better mental health than those who have come before them. 

 

In the words of Audre Lorde: ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,’ and therefore all acts of self-care, whether acts of sheer survival or of engaging with wider political systems, are acts of defiance and revolt.



If you liked this post you might like: Self-Care is Not Pretty | Rethinking Wellness

 

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