Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Trip To London


I loved filming this week's vlog for you - it involved some great breakfast and some even greater comapny, as I headed to London for my US visa interview... Enjoy!



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Friday, 13 May 2016

THOUGHTS ON: Life As The Single Girl



"So, Anna, are you seeing anyone at the moment?"

This is a question that crops up somewhat regularly; on this occasion, it was my grandmother asking. My answer was brief and varied little from any other time I am asked this. "Not at the moment, Nanny."

While my grandmother may have been asking with the most innocent of intents, I have found myself growing increasingly tense each time a friend, family member or colleague makes this same query. It is perfectly possible that every one of these individuals only seeks to make conversation, but I've come to realise that there may be something larger and even harmful at play here. Today I'd like to highlight the sexism I see lurking under the surface of this seemingly simple question.

The truth is that I now see being single as something I have to justify and almost apologise for. It is as if being in a relationship is seen as the "default" and being single is some kind of weird error; a blip in the system.

Think of the difference between the way we see the words "girlfriend" and "wife" versus how we feel about the term "spinster". Girlfriend and wife, though heavy with gendered baggage in their own right, lack the subtext of loneliness and sadness that we visualise when we hear the word spinster.

Compare this too with the fun, roguish stereotype of the spinster's historical male equivalent, the bachelor; somehow the female version engenders images of sad women at home with a multitude of cats, while the male term carries a sense of youth and sexual freedom. Why on earth should this be the case?




In fact I have realised that I began internalising this aversion to female singlehood from an early age. In both the fairy tale Disney films I devoured as a child and the sitcoms I loved as a teenager, the single girl was painted a sad, solitary figure, whose experience little resembles my time as a single woman. The princesses I loved (Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty) only found happiness and an escape from their difficult pasts by earning the love of a man. The female characters in the sitcoms I adored got off no better, and were often to hate being single (think Elliott Reed of Scrubs, Rachel from Friends, Grace in Will & Grace). The subtext of all these portrayals regularly implied that if a girl was single, she was not truly happy.  Rather, she was waiting for her true love to sweep in and rescue/marry/complete her, and only then would she find total happiness.

Even Sex and the City, widely loved and celebrated for its portrayal of four happily single women, focused almost in its entirety on the group's quest to find men. Particularly in its earliest seasons, the four protagonists were seldom shown as being truly comfortable living life without some degree of male attention. Instead, singlehood was often shown as simply the time spent between male partners; either nursing wounds from the last, or going all out to woo the next. This could well be put down to the show being a product of its era, perhaps, but I still think it is a crying shame that the biggest female-led sitcom of all time was so obsessed with men.



I think, too, of how quickly our society calls into question women who are not obviously interested in attracting male attention. Growing up I heard on numerous occasions of various women rejecting various men (both on and off screen) and noticed how quickly the assumption was made that the woman must be gay... As if rejecting one man is somehow the same as rejecting all men.

This is problematic for a number of reasons; firstly, it belittles the choices of gay women everywhere, implying that lesbian relationships are based on hatred for men rather than love for women. Secondly, it encourages the notion that the woman in question has an issue with all men, even when she is rejecting one individual who has treated her poorly. In fact, while writing this essay, I've begun to wonder how much idea that male desire should be the ultimate goal for all straight women (and ideally all gay women too, for that matter) feeds into the idea of rape culture. My initial thoughts are hugely so.





It's taken me a long while to share this post with you; I've deleted it, re-written it, scheduled it and then cancelled it on numerous occasions, all because I was so scared what sharing on this subject would say about me... To be perfectly frank with you, I was afraid I'd be dismissed as just another sad single girl. Only when a friend pointed out the irony of this to me did I feel I could finally hit "Publish".

Lastly, I've chatted with a fair few of my friends about how damaging the shaming of female singledom can be. I've known of so many beautiful, brilliant, bright girls who stay in unhappy relationships for seemingly no reason; who turn to Tinder even after finding it didn't work for them; who go through heartbreak over guys who are not the gods they believe them to be. I don't think that all of these situations arise solely because we are cultured to avoid being single, but I do think that pressuring girls to find a man and settle plays a part in this pain.


I'm so, so curious - what do you make of this topic? My fellow single ladies - do you feel shamed about your single status too? I am so eager to hear your thoughts!

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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

4 Beautiful Ways To Nurture Long Distance Friendships


Friendship is a subject that is forever near and dear to my heart; I've often said that the emphasis our culture places on relationships is too great, while our appreciation of strong friendships could use some serious love. Today we are righting that wrong, and I'll be sharing some of my favourite ways I've kept the flame of a long distance friendship burning brightly.

It's worth saying that when it comes to staying in touch, I am far from perfect; my natural ability to organise myself well is far lower than what I imagine is the average. Somehow, though, I've stayed in touch with a small circle of incredible friends... even when I moved from school to uni then work and from country to country too. Hopefully for my fellow ditzy kids out there this post will give you hope... Hope that, if nothing else, you will be able to find ways to thank those friends that have stuck with your hare-brained ways throughout the years!

Whether you're leaving school or uni, or just looking to re-invest in some bonds, I really hope I can inspire you to nourish your friendships and find a new sense of balance as your situations change.

Let's dive in...




USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE


We're starting with the most obvious: finding ways to make those long distances feel shorter the 2016 way. Arguably the best thing about the internet is its ability to connect us to those we care about, and we're now spoilt for choice with apps and websites that make those connections more accessible than ever.

Instant messaging and Skyping are both great, but each have their limits. Messages are quick but can lack the sense of a true conversation. Equally, setting up a time to Skype is tricky enough for busy friends, even without the added factor of differing schedules and time zones. For me the perfect in-between is using WhatsApp's voice message function, which allows you to record each other chatty clips at the times that suit you both. Voice messages bridge the gap between the practicality of an instant message and the intimacy of a Skype call, and I recommend WhatsApp in particular as its sound quality is the best I've found. Perfect for keeping you and a bestie going until you can next speak to each other properly.

In the past I've also made videos for my best buds. Two of my uni friends and I would upload videos to YouTube and share the link in our group Facebook chat; ensuring you've changed the video privacy from "Public" to "Unlisted" will mean that only those with a direct link can see your upload. The best thing about this idea is that you can go back and watch these really easily (and coo over how long each of you looked at the time).

These are my favourite ideas, but as the apps we use increase in number and opportunities, there are sure to be endless ways to use technology to keep in touch. Other options I swear by include:

- Making a private Facebook group for your best babes
- Snapchat (a fave with me and my overseas buds - the live video chat option is really good fun)
- A group chat with friends from the same circle (for example, I have one for my girls from school and one for my girls from final year of uni, among a few others!)

...but there really are so many other ways. Fingers crossed you're now feeling inspired to use the internet to chat with a friend, and not fuel your FOMO; but in all honesty, my favourite ways to stay in touch are all technology-free, so let's move on to the really good stuff.




SEND SOME SNAIL MAIL


I. Love. Letters. I always have. When I was a kid I adored pen pals (I wrote regularly to a lovely Irish girl I met on holiday for a good while at one point) and now I am an adult nothing has changed. The best letters I've ever sent all went to my very best friend, my twin brother, when he went to train in the army aged 16. I wasn't to know his stay there would be but brief thanks to an injury, so my letters were really heartfelt... and by heartfelt, I mean utterly goofy. I would send him the most random items from home accompanied by the craziest of messages. The poor guy.

Pick up a pen, open a word document or haul out your typewriter and get writing. Checking in via a friendly letter feels nostalgic and so lovely; each letter becomes a keepsake in a way that a text and email can never quite manage. Score bonus points by writing from somewhere special to you, or by sharing something that only feels right in missive form.

Be creative and include a trinket too if you fancy; the fact it needs to fit in an envelope will only push your creativity. I've sent and received dried flowers, mix CDs, post cards, photos, jewellery... It's a great challenge.

Nowadays, I adore letters as a way to connect with my online friends in particular; it's so touching to bond in a way that doesn't involve pixels and a screen. I'm an inconsistent correspondent but an earnest one; if you're keen, you can see my letter loving journey on my hashtag on Instagram, #thesnailmailtale. Feel free to use this hashtag for your own snail mail bonding and send me an email at byhermirror@hotmail.com if you want to swap letters with me too!

I've also been meaning to support some indie stationers with my letter sending: I've got my eye on everything in Liz Mosley's beautiful shop and need to get my act together and send a letter in one of her beautiful cards soon.




FORM A SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING ITEM...


Not sure what I'm getting at with this one? Then life has been cruel and not yet bought one of my favourite ever films to your attention... The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants was inspired by the novel of the same name and follows a circle of besties as they go their separate ways for the first time. It's cheesy but brilliant, featuring shots of great looking actors in equally attractive settings; a coming of age film where the star is, you guessed it, a pair of pants (jeans, to be precise). If this post moves you to do nothing else, I really hope it coaxes you into watching this movie: the real star is the supportive friendship the four main characters share.

Inspired by this story, my schoolfriends and I formed the Sisterhood of the Travelling Necklace last year and it was easily one of the best ideas we've ever had. It's a simple silver necklace with a circle pendant that we engraved with all our names, and we get to wear it for a short but sweet period before sending it on with a letter to the next bestie, just as the girls in the original story would send the eponymous pants to one another. So far the necklace has been all over the UK, to the US, to Australia and to Italy. Recently one of my girls had the genius idea to accompany it with a diary, so that we can all read what each wearer got up to while wearing the necklace. If you have a sisterhood like ours, I urge you to try something similar!



MAKE A MEMORY BOOK


The perfect goodbye gift, a memory book is a simple way to honour a bestie's friendship. Dig out your photos, make note of your favourite Facebook chats, and write down each and every in joke for maximum effect. I recommend leaving plenty of blank spaces that can be filled together once the book has been properly presented, and of course letting your collaging self have a total field day. Plan in advance, pick a date to give it, and get the tissues ready because you will be in for a sob fest.

I gave one as a leaving-cum-birthday present for my closest friend at uni and was faced with a year long challenge of making it for her with us living under the same roof. I remember one tense late night when I snuck off to show another housemate the book's progress, only to have said bestie burst unexpectedly. I was forced to lob the book in the wardrobe and make a hasty and seemingly very rude exit as I was so nervous she'd rumble me... A moment she loved having explained to her once the book was presented months later!



BE PATIENT, BE FORGIVING, BE GRATEFUL


Lastly, it is of course worth mentioning that long distance friendships do call for some maintenance; but I've found than it is far less than you may think... Change is natural as you grow, but with a little patience, you can ensure that those who are meant to be in your life stay just where they belong. Accept that sometimes those Skype calls can't happen, that radio silence is seldom a reason to panic and that distance can even help the heart grow fonder.



And there you have it... My best tips for ensuring that your friends stay close, no matter what the distance between you! What advice have you got for nurturing your long distance friendships? Do of course let me know in the comments!



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