Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Why I still (kind of) blog

Everyone's a blogger these days. So much so that people no longer act like it's an unusual hobby when they find out. Little girls are growing up dreaming of starting their own websites and YouTube channels and Instagrams. While there's nothing wrong with that, the world of blogging has definitely become a much busier place. It's a legitimate profession now. And that's totally OK!

But one thing I've noticed more and more with the phenomenal rise of vlogs and YouTube, and continuing popularity of other social media, is that I read blogs less and less. I used to pour over the newest posts from my favourites, but now I see their content on my Instagram feed and Twitter timeline along with so many others, and I'm much less likely to click through and engage with it. That doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy the post, but when scrolling through any app is an assault of 'check out my latest content', it's impossible to take the time to look at everything without feeling overloaded.

I struggle to find inspiration to provide my readers (who I'm very glad are still here after all these years!) with something unique, or at least a perspective they haven't seen somewhere else that very same week. It sometimes seems like it's almost impossible to grow, too. My followers on social media have been stagnant for months - why would anyone follow yet another small-time blogger with little to say?

I've struggled in my private life so much lately, with anxiety rearing its ugly head not for the first time, and in taking the time to try and deal with that and prevent it from taking over my life, I really neglected this space. And not keeping your blog and social up to date is sinful these days. My pageviews have plummeted, my Instagram followers and engagement have dropped dramatically (I wish I could blame that stupid algorithm entirely). Any attempt to blog in the last few months has only come from a random spurt of inspiration, that vanishes almost as quickly as it appears before I lose enthusiasm once more.

I wrote a while back about how sometimes this whole blogging thing seems too superficial. I'm not sure I feel exactly the same right now, but I do know that something is stirring in me to create something a little more meaningful out of the turmoil I've been going through offline. I guess that whatever comes out of this will only be a good thing. Because after considering packing this all in I've decided that's not an option.

Thinking about it, blogging at all in my current mindset is still an achievement. I've managed to keep up a blog in some shape or from since 2013, and it was only in April that I found myself dwindling from my usual 2-3 posts a week. This blog as always given me something to work at, something to try with, something to distract myself with for a little while.

It's also given me some wonderful new blogger friends. I wish I saw more of them, but hopefully as I get to building up my confidence and motivation again I'll be able to get more involved in the local scene and maybe even arrange something myself.

A blog gives me a chance to develop a whole host of skills, too. Since moving into social media marketing a few months ago with a new job, I'm struggling to remember the last time I wrote more than 160 characters. It's time to learn how to pour my heart out again. It's time to pick up the camera again and actually remind myself how to switch off the auto setting. It's time to put on a sassy outfit and take an image that makes me feel more 'girl boss' than empty shell.

There are so many reasons not to keep this blog running, to pack it all in and find something else to do... but the truth is I don't know if I'll ever be ready to give it up altogether. There are so many more reasons to continue. So, yes - I'm still here! In an impossibly tricky online space, I still want to succeed in growing and learning and bringing even more of you on board for the ride.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The 'self care' advice worth taking

You can't scroll through Twitter these days without encountering a thread of 'self care' tips. They're all over blogs, vlogs and even magazine pages. The recommendations made in self care content range from the perfectly sensible (e.g. eat something), to the downright ridiculous (purchase some organic lavender oil spray and spritz your new fairtrade cotton bed sheets to your heart's content while adding even more unnecessary steps to your to do list). 

If you're not doing so well mentally, for whatever reason, the simplest daily task can feel like another mountain to climb. That's why however trendy it seems, self care is important. If you struggle to completely look after yourself sometimes then having key actions to focus on can help you get into a routine and take your mind off of your troubles. 

Self care is not, however, an endless tick list of treats and luxuries. It's not an aspirational lifestyle choice. It's not a 'trend'. The internet seems to have forgotten that part. For many people, myself included during a few periods of my life, getting out of bed at all feels like an achievement. There's no need to then add the weight of a bunch of unobtainable goals. It's all about taking things one step at a time

It's not healthy to set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Instead focus on 2-3 simple things you can do each day, and try to make these a habit. If you have to put a written list somewhere to remind yourself then do it, but don't beat yourself up if you don't succeed, just start again.

Some realistic things you can do to look after yourself

Get out of bed

Even if you just move to the sofa, getting out of bed will make you feel more awake. If you have trouble falling asleep then separating day and night locations could also help. By the time you've gotten out of bed, you may even start to feel like getting dressed, having breakfast etc. Even if you don't, you've succeeded at motivating yourself just a little.

Wash your face, comb your hair and brush your teeth

I find brushing my teeth such a chore when I feel down, but once I've done it I feel weirdly cleansed. The same goes for washing your face. Self-care isn't about looking perfect, it's about being clean and feeling a tiny, tiny bit better for it.

Take your medication

Whether you're on prescribed tablets or are taking the supplement route to deal with whatever you've got going on, skipping doses is going to make them less effective and help you less in the long run. If it helps, you could get one of those weekly pill boxes to keep track. Keep it somewhere prominent e.g. by your kettle or on the bedside table. If you're not taking anything at all, it could be worth looking into if things are bad - there's no shame in asking your doctor.

Talk to someone

Even though I'm rarely truly by myself, in episodes of anxiety or depression I manage to convince myself I'm completely alone. Of course, that's never true, but I need to be reminded of this. Finding someone to talk to, whether through a helpline, a partner, parent, other relative or a friend, could make you feel a lot lighter. I can't tell you the amount of times I've gone quite literally crying to my parents as a grown adult because I've struggled to cope. They're always ready to listen and help me get my thoughts in order. Asking for help or advice doesn't make you weak, annoying or needy, and social interaction is important. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Go outside

You don't have to take up an extreme sport or buy hiking boots, but moving around a bit and getting some fresh air and sunlight is so important for your health. Vitamin D is a natural mood booster and a lot of us don't have enough of it. Even if you just step into the garden, it's a change of scenery.

Drink something. Eat something.

It's easy to forget to look after your body's basic requirements in the midst of a panic attack or when you feel like you're in the pits of despair. I have to admit that when my anxiety is simmering away in the background I'm more of an emotional eater (Krispy Kreme's for breakfast, anyone?). However when it really takes hold I can go the whole day without feeling hungry or thirsty. It's like that part of my brain has been disconnected. A slice of toast and a glass of water isn't much, but can keep you going when you're not interested in putting together a gourmet quinoa and avocado salad.

As far as I'm concerned, anything else is a bonus on those days where everything seems to take ten times the energy and effort it usually might. And who knows, once you've conquered the basics then maybe you'll be ready to start adding in new steps and getting back on your feet.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Everyday Summer Makeup Staples

Hi guys.... long time no blog! I took a long break from posting (it's an even longer story!) but I'm happy to be back in the swing of things again. I'm writing this on the hottest day of the year so far, so I thought it'd be the perfect chance to chat about my summer makeup routine. These products are what I use virtually every single day in the warmer months and have seen me through some pretty sweaty situations!

The Base

Now, I'd love to be confident enough about my skin to forgo foundation altogether on a hot day, but the only places you'll ever see me totally makeup free are the gym and the beach! I have very oily skin and some acne scarring so I tend to opt for a light layer of something medium coverage and mattifying - the last thing you need on a hot day is an oil slick going on.

Last year I discovered Maybelline's Fit Me Matte & Poreless foundation and I've been using it on and off ever since, for when I'm worried about my skin getting its shine on. It keeps the dreaded sheen at bay for longer than my other products and doesn't feel heavy on the skin or cling to any dry patches.

The Concealer

I've yet to find a girl that doesn't own a Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer, and for good reason. It does the job and it stays put all day! I use the no. 1 shade, which is probably a touch too light for me, but no. 2 is a little orange on my skin. A bit of blending hides that completely though and I feel a lot more confident with scarring and spots covered.

The Contour

When Kat Von D Beauty hit Debenhams last year I was so bloody happy. One of my first purchases was the Shade and Light Contour Palette and I think I must have used it every day since. You can tell by the photos in this post that my favourite shade is the lighter cool tone for daytime wear, but I do head to the darker shades and highlighters in the evenings. I use these as a contour and as a bronzer too to add a bit more of a glow,

The Blush

I've spoken before about how much I love the Soap and Glory blushes. They're pigmented but blendable and 'Rosy Chic' is a beautifully natural looking colour. Admittedly if it's a day as hot as today I'm already so beetroot that blush isn't needed, but most days I'll splash this across my cheeks with a Real Techniques brush to look that bit more awake and alive!

The Brows

I don't wear any eye makeup, so brows are my go-to area when it comes to giving a bit more oomph to my look and looking 'done'. I'm currently crazy about Soap and Glory's brow pencils - you can either get them with a brush at the opposite end or a liquid tint, which is handy! The pencil is fine so that you can add lots of small strokes and get beautifully filled-in brows in no time.

As my eyebrows are quite long and bushy (SO glad that's become trendy by the way!) they can get messed up easily. I go over the shape with Maybelline Brow Drama mascara just to fix the shape in place. I use the Medium Brown shade despite having dark hair because I find the end result is far less harsh.

The Lips

If winter is for matte berry lips, then summer is about muted glosses and going natural. I received an Arrow Boost lip balm in a Birchbox a while back now and I use it all the time. The stick of balm is totally clear but when applied the PH of your lips causes the product to change colour and provide a flush of pink along with some serious moisture. It means that no two users of the product end up with the exact same shade!

What products to you always reach for when it comes to summer makeup? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Rejecting perfection: Why I couldn't care less about having my 'shit' together

I'm someone who has always put a lot of pressure on myself: to have a spotless home, an organised handbag, an endless selection of (largely unused) notebooks and makeup organised meticulously into shiny acrylic display holders. But lately I've become more and more aware of something that was probably inevitable but is still pretty disturbing. Having your shit together has become ridiculously commercialised, and I've really fallen victim to it.

Think about some of your favourite bloggers, YouTubers or famous faces. From lifestyle bloggers to healthy chefs, Instagram yogis and more - all we really see in their social media are images of pure perfection. They make appearing organised, well put together and successful look easy. And their followers, myself included, find this aspirational. We want what they have, and to project a similar image, because it's cool to have your shit together.

From bullet journalling to self help books, influencers have spawned an entire industry dedicated to being organised. Expensive Pinterest-worthy homes paraded on social media have also contributed to this. What 20-something woman doesn't have a set of cute miniature cacti on her bookshelf, or a motivational print hanging above her desk? (I certainly do) A craze for ladylike brunches of avocado on toast has also taken off even though most of us probably find the stuff gross. Working in scandi-chic cafes on marble encased MacBook Pros is all the rage.

But it's made to look so attractive that everyone is doing it. Perfection is the new black. 

Lately I've noticed several hugely well-known influencers complaining that it's not all glamorous outfit photos and exclusive brand dinners, but I find it very hard to be sympathetic towards this. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that most of these figures have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are, and just like every job I'm sure there are downsides. I'm sure they have all kinds of personal struggles behind the scenes just like you and I. But herein lies the crux of the problem. 

The parts of their lives that we are shown are a glorified highlight reel. It's very rare (with the exception of a few big names that regularly engage in #realtalk) that we see anything about these people's lives that humanises them. I'm sure that they, just like me, have been so tired and overworked that they drop a 4 pinter of milk on the kitchen floor and just burst into tears. I'm sure they have relationship problems, health scares, messy bedrooms and career worries the same as anybody else. But they just don't show it. 

And I really wish they did. It would mean so much to so many young women who are struggling with everything from mental health to financial problems, who feel like they could never achieve what these influencers have, to be reminded that really we're all the same and all get lost in the chaos of life sometimes. When all we're confronted with are edited versions of others, we start to believe we're inferior with our messy lives and rented magnolia bedrooms.

Perfectionism is the devil. Obligation and guilt are demons we can all live without

I don't blame big influencers for wanting to seem perfect - the picture of health, style and positivity. It's what makes them so attractive to brands. It's how they make their money. But ultimately, it's just not real. 

Many of these people have agents, managers, accountants, videographers, editors and everything in between helping them take their success to the next level. Product placements and PR events have evolved into huge brand campaigns, book deals and makeup lines. But where is the substance? Where is the realness? The lines are so blurred that audiences just doesn't know anymore.

And I'm not suggesting that influencers should have to share every nitty gritty detail of their lives with us - privacy is a basic human right, and most us are grown-up enough to know that what we see is very much censored. But I do feel is that there is an element of responsibility here, to inject a touch of balance into the squeaky clean videos and images girls as young as 11 or 12 are consuming on Instagram and YouTube daily. 

All I know is this

For too long I've been feeling like I have to be just like these people. To spend every penny on the latest stuff, to spend so long taking photos of my coffee it's gone cold when I finally take a sip, to carefully design a weekly schedule in my bullet journal and never tick any of it off anyway. Comparing my acne-scarred face to a photoshopped version of someone who's used face creams costing hundreds of pounds that I don't have. And I've finally realised that none of it matters.

It's not healthy to put pressure on yourself to always be hyper-organised perfectly dressed and fully in control of your life. Nobody actually has their shit together. It's a disturbing projected image that reminds me a little too much of that 1950s-style Stepford Wives aspirational lifestyle. Be practically perfect in every way or be rejected by society. 

Why are we so afraid of being publicly honest about the struggles of everyday life? Why do we allow advertising and social media to set such high standards, and get disappointed when we don't live up to them? We are we so worried about being our own weird selves and straying from a spotless bleached white and pastel colour palette? Where did our personalities go?

Do what you want

One evening a while back I'd been scrolling Instagram for what seemed like hours (to the point that my hands hurt) and it hit me just how much I'd been sucked into all of this. Many of us preach that comparison is the thief of joy, but we allow other people to shove their supposedly perfect lives under our noses for hours and hours of the day. 

After this moment I stepped back from all things blogging for a few weeks. I turned off push notifications and abandoned Instagram pods, I missed Twitter chats, ignored my YouTube subs and abandoned the blog post schedule I was struggling to keep up with alongside changing jobs. And it did wonders for my mental state.

It felt so bloody good to remember what it was like not to obsess over Instagram themes, monthly pageviews and how many retweets I was getting. I went for dinner and didn't take photos of my food. I didn't feel desperately compelled to place an order for a bunch of 'useful' stationery I'd never use. I posted dark, low quality photos of little moments on the go that made me smile. Who cares if my hair's a mess or my nails are chipped or I didn't use a selfie light to show of my highlight?

Is my engagement worse as a result of it? Yes. Of course it is, because we're all so obsessed with perfection that anything less gets ignored (or worse, unfollowed). But did I enjoy it? Hell yeah. It was liberating. And should I continue to blog and keep up my social media from now on, you can expect less of the stuff I think you'll love and more of what interests me.

Be more real, don't change yourself or buy things just because that's what somebody else has done. Don't agonise over 'having it all'. Just do what makes you happy.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Olympus Pen E-PL8 - worth the upgrade?

I've been the proud owner of an Olympus Pen E-PL7 for about 18 months now. I absolutely love it, but like many I found myself wondering if it was worth an upgrade when the shiny new E-PL8 was unveiled. A couple of weeks ago I got the chance to try out the new model at Campkins Cameras in Cambridge. Here's how I got on.

I headed to the Campkins store along with a few other bloggers from the #CambMeetUp Facebook group. They're ladies I've gotten to know at events over the last year or so and a really lovely bunch! A special shout out is in order for the lovely Alice who organised the event. After a couple of minutes spent setting up the cameras with our memory cards and connecting them to the Olympus sharing app, we set out on a photo walk around the city.

It was a beautiful Spring day and despite stopping every hundred metres or so to take a snap, we covered a lot of ground around some of Cambridge's prettiest streets. David, an Olympus specialist, lead the walk and was on hand with his reflector and insider know-how to help us get the most out of the E-PL8. He gave me a tip on how to get the gorgeous starburst effect below in the afternoon light.

In terms of the user interface and software features, there's virtually no difference in capability between the E-PL7 and E-PL8. What I love the most about the Pen series of cameras is that there are functions for all abilities, styles and interests. If you don't know how to go fully manual or you're finding it tricky to get a particular effect, the auto mode has an extensive menu of sliders that allows you to tinker with things like exposure, warmth and background blur to get professional looking images.

The other thing that impresses me so much about these cameras is the clarity. I moved to the E-PL7 from an outdated Fujifilm bridge camera that struggled to focus and ran on 4x AA batteries, and the results are just dreamy. On this particular day we just used the kit lens, but I also own a zoom lens that produces amazing results.

My favourite feature of the Pen range is the Wi-Fi sharing. The app creates its own connection, so you can be in the middle of nowhere with no signal and still be able to quickly import photos from your camera to your phone. You can also use your phone as a remote, with an in-app viewfinder. It's helped me take a few outfit photos in the past when no one's been around to take them!

The E-PL8 hardware is very similar in design to the E-PL7, just slightly sleeker in terms of the hand grip being less bulky. It's such a pretty piece of kit that I strategically and quite deliberately place mine on the bookcase to look at in-between shoots.

There are a couple of possible negatives to consider if you're thinking about investing in either of the Pen cameras. Firstly the weight - being a compact D-SLR the Olympus Pen is much lighter than your usual large Canon or Nikon camera and is perfectly portable in a small handbag. However, don't expect to be vlogging on it for more than a few minutes before your arm goes dead. Luckily, YouTube isn't my bag so that's not an issue for me.

Again, if YouTube and selfies are your bag, you might get a little frustrated with the flip out screen, as on both models the primary direction of the screen flip is down, not out to the side. This has never bothered me and you can also pull the screen up and out so you can get some weird flatlay angles without having to contort your body to see the screen.

And finally, there's the price. I was lucky enough at the time I purchased my E-PL7 to find a 25% discount code online, but these are few and far between. Olympus Pen cameras are gorgeous, good quality and well worth  the investment in my opinion, but be prepared to part with several hundred pounds for the standard kit and an extra lens.

All in all, although the Olympus Pen E-PL8 performed fantastically, it isn't quite different enough from its predecessor for me to make the upgrade just yet. I'd highly recommend getting your hands on either if you're after a camera that's easy to use but allows you to learn more and use high-tech features as you go. As for me...I'll be waiting to see what the E-PL9 has in store!
© kelly anne rist

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