A slice of delicious – Salted Caramel and Peanut butter slice

After a frantic beginning to 2016 (bringing much joy and happiness, as well as a few metaphorical grey hairs), I am desperately clawing back time to cook and blog and all the things that fall out of the bucket when you’re racing through. Finishing my final masters assignment of the semester bought to a close a six month period that included: the joy of being a part of two of my favourite people’s wedding, a fundraiser for dancing goddesses, trips to Melbourne, to Sydney and to Africa, visitors, my 30th birthday, learning a new job, dancing, two courses running concurrently, some setbacks and some great laughs. In the interests of bringing more home-time and down-time, some cooking was achieved this weekend. Its like the last six months, some sweet experiences and others that zing on the lips with salty flavour that you’re not quite sure you like. 

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Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Slice

FOR THE BASE
225g butter chopped into cubes, plus a little for greasing (the tin not your face)
140g unsalted peanut, toasted and cooled
225g plain flour
50g cornflour
2 tbs golden syrup

CARAMEL
1 tin condensed milk
½ cup (120 grams) smooth peanut butter * salted *
1 tablespoon brown sugar
45 grams butter
Good couple of pinches of salt
CHOCOLATE
300 gram chocolate buttons

METHOD
1. Use food processor to process the base ingredients all together – it will go like breadcrumbs then a big lump.
2. Turn out the lump into a greased lamington tin. Cook for 18-20 minutes at 160 Fan forced. Cool it down in the fridge or if you’re being leisurely just out on the bench*
3. Once its cooled prepare the caramel sauce. Melt all of ingredients in the pan on low heat. After melting cook through for 5 minutes. Spread over the base and cool in the fridge
4. Once its cool, melt the chocolate and spread over the caramel and cool in the fridge.

*I wanted to hand this over pretty quickly, so I made the process quicker by freezing each layer in the freezer. I did this with a few tea towels protecting the glass freezer shelves, with about 30 minutes for the first two layers and about 15 for the third.

The chocolate layer is much crackier and thinner than others I’ve had – I don’t like the sickly sweetness of too much chocolate.

 

My Two Thousand and Fifteen

Its the second week of 2016, and I’m still wondering where 2015 went. Actually, where did 2014 go as well?!

This time of the year, a lot of us get a bit reflective. I thought I would return to the blog after a hiatus (oh hey exams, full time work, travel, moving house and jobs, thanks for the struggletown) with a two parter – reflecting on my 2015 and its lessons, and then next time thinking about 2015 for women generally. Sound good? Great!

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So what did 2015 look like for me? What did it teach me?

Two thousand and fifteen started off to a rocky start – breaking my foot at the 2014 Christmas party threw a spanner in my plans. For a few short weeks a round the world trip was seemingly getting cancelled and there may have been a bit of light melodrama. I’m incredibly grateful that the injury wasn’t as bad as first thought, and that the doctors gave me the all clear to travel.

From this experience I learnt that I am pretty inflexible once I have made a plan and worked towards it. Planning is awesome in achieving goals, but they need to be able to take shocks better. 

Today is the anniversary of my departure to Chile. I would not recommend travelling in economy for 14+ hours in a moon boot.  I went to Chile on a study tour to study power and politics in Latin America in Santiago. It was my first time to South America, and I was able to go to one of my bucket list items – Easter Island. Due to the late-ish notice of the program, I was *forced* to buy round the world rather than direct tickets allowing me to re-visit Sweden.

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From this experience I learnt that I could achieve personal and academic goals by taking risks and asking for support. 

Getting home and settling back into work was hard. My foot was weak, I wasn’t able to go to the gym or dance, removing two of my favourite activities. The physio was amazed at just how much I had walked on my trip, which helped keep muscle tone but probably wasn’t best practice.

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From this experience, I relearned about patience and about not being in control of progress.  

Things had changed and stayed much the same in my work. I was challenged by a female boss to be better, do better and push myself harder. Although we didn’t see eye to eye at first I’m pleased that I did take on her advice. From this relationship I was able to be mentored by two amazing women who both have different strengths.

From this experience, I learnt how important mentors who are similar and are different are. 

I was hitting road blocks professionally. Reflecting about what I could control of this, was finding opportunities for development for myself. I’m so proud of the things I could do. Raising money for Nepal, RSPCA and setting up a clothing donation for Communities at Work gave lots of feel goods.

From this experience, I took the advice of a fabulous mentor about reframing situations and drawing from my strengths. 

After two years of running a book club with fabulous women (oh hey!) I had well and truly experienced what it is to have a sounding board for personal and professional issues. This inspired me to think hard about how I could facilitate this for others in my organisation. The development of a network program was one of the hardest things – to get support and build it in such a way that was organisationally appropriate.

From this experience, I learnt about how important resilience is in organisational change, but also about finding lots of messengers for the cause (and that my style doesn’t convince everyone). 

I started a Diploma of Leadership with the local YWCA in September. This is ongoing. I am challenged by the different women in this group.

From this experience, I have already learned that I needed to make changes to make my activities align better with my values and that I needed to articulate these values better.

Travelling back to the Island Kingdom of Tonga, after almost five years of absence was emotional. Spending time with not only my husband, but two of my favourite people was so important at that point in my year.

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From this experience I was able to relive the amazing time I had in Tonga, but also reflect on how lucky I am to have lots of friends who have so many different perspectives. That adage that you should have friends of different ages, backgrounds and experiences is so totally true. 

After coming back from Tonga, I was refreshed. I shook things up – leaving my gym, moving house and then recently taking on a temporary transfer position in a completely new area and department. All of this in December, with 2016 all ahead of me.

 

The Highlights Reel

I was again amazed at the generosity of my friends in supporting Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

I was grateful for the support I had in planning charity events

I wish I could laugh as hard every birthday as I did on my 29th birthday

Completing five units of my masters with HDs this year – made it to the half way mark

Spending time exploring more parts of North Queensland with my parents

Easter Island 

Revisiting Malmo and reliving my student exchange with my favourite Swede

Decluttering our old place and a new start in our new home, including setting up a reading corner (totally going to take more time out in 2016) 

Almost growing out a pixie cut (seriously this is hard work)

Meeting new friends, and keeping old ones

All about women festival 

Ruby our new car

High tea at Raffles

Cuddling alpacas

Riding funiculars in Santiago, Zurich and Valparaiso

Seeing flamingos and baby hippos in Zurich

Speaking at  Melbourne University

cuddling a koala

my bird cardigan

swimming 

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Joining Obsidian bellydance and performing with them 

Celebrating the arrival of Elijah 

Preparing for my besties marriage in March

Volunteering at lifeline bookfair 

spending time with favourites 

celebrating our second year of marriage, which has been yet again filled with love and laughter 

 

Supporting women’s health, one story at a time

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Imagine this. You are young, pregnant and scared. You are hungry, because the yields in the village this year were poor. You are tired and in labour with your first child. You felt like you were too young to marry but it was the way it was done. You married shortly after your first period at age 13, but you did not yet look like a woman.  The women surrounding you now, are afraid, the child isn’t moving. There are no doctors, or nurses, in your village or the next. There is no help. Two sunsets have fallen. 

Eventually your body ejects the baby, though it is dead. You are in pain, your insides are on fire. A hole has been torn  between your  bladder and vagina and another between your vagina and rectum. The damage left your body unable to control its normal excretory functions, and urine and faeces were constantly dripping down your legs. Your husband quickly rejects you as do the village people. You live on the outskirts of town, alone, poor and ill. 

You can read real stories here

Childbirth, especially in the developing world, is a dangerous business. It is often compounded by poverty, poor health, lack of choice and education, and structures that do not respect each woman and her rights. According to the World Health Organisation:

  • Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  • Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%.

Last year, I read a book about an Australian doctor, Dr Catherine Hamlin, and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, and their story of moving to Ethiopia and setting up a treatment clinic for fistula. To give you context, for a population of almost 100 million, Ethiopia has less than 200 obstetricians or gynecologists and less than 5,000 trained midwives. Poverty is rife and access to healthcare is difficult. Their organisation, not only treats these injuries but also has changed lives by setting up a group home for those with nowhere to go to and trained midwives.

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Following that lasting impression, and hearing the stories of women not only in Ethiopia, but in other parts of the developing world, motivates me to regularly support this charity’s work. This year, like last year that means selling (or asking people to sell) fundraiser goodies, and hosting a high tea, though this years will be a smaller affair than last. The organisation also sets you up with a fundraising page which is linked below. I am hoping to raise $1000 this year. Last year we raised almost $2000, which exceeded all my expectations. So I am encouraging you to help me reach my target by heading to my fundraising page.

My August Wishlist

August has been crazy and shopping has taken a hit. But I have been having a bit of a wanty sort of week but unfortunately I haven’t actually won lottery yet.

  1. I would love a bow shirt.

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Like this beauty from Asos (AU$49)

2. This table which could make all my stashy needs come true from West Elm at a bargain price of AU$799.

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3. This trip to South Africa from Intrepid

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4. A time expander so I can finish all my homework and sleep.

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5. Another pleated skirt or two.

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City chic – please stop taking my money

and Zelie for She bring this back please:

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6. Volunteers for helping out with annual Hamlin Fistula fundraising. This year a casual type “low” tea for their High Tea campaign and all the fundraising chocolate. Hamlin Fistula is one of my favourite charities – it focuses on providing essential healthcare for women suffering from fistula as a result of childbirth, and also on training midwives from around the developing world in Ethiopia. Dr Catherine Hamlin is an amazing woman and doctor with a spirit that I love reading about. Last year my wonderful friends contributed to almost $AU 2000 of fundraising, which is probably about 3 or 4 life changing repair operations.

7. A lifetime of Instax film for my adorable instax camera, for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

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8. Peonies

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9. For my Lean-In group to take off in my workplace; to provide greater networking and support to develop stronger leadership in men and women.

10. To have time to develop a reggaeton-bellydance chereography.

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Not sorry

This morning I was beating myself up – I haven’t blogged in three weeks I said, I’m going to let it all go to hell again I ruminated. Then I was like…

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I mean, I love writing, and really hope I can continue to write in this blog into the future, but I’m not going to get an attack of the guilts. Spending time with my girlfriends over the last few weekends, taking a long road trip, having my mum visit, hanging with the husband, sleeping, working and doing homework? All important parts of my life, some of which I can’t or won’t trade in, that I’m not going to give up easily. So I was like, I’ll just try to fit it in as best I can – maybe this weekend I can do some photos. No harm right? No need to get guilts – sorted!

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Then today as I walked around, I noticed women, who were always sorry. Sorry for me walking past them, sorry for crossing the street, sorry for reaching over to grab something off the supermarket shelf, sorry for taking up time, sorry for having an opinion, sorry for talking on their phones, sorry for taking up a seat on the bus, sorry, sorry, sorry. I was like… Ladies, we don’t have to keep apologising for existing, for taking our place at the table, for occupying space in peoples minds. We are just as valuable as the apologee. Or voices, bodies and actions are worth so much more than we are giving them credit for.

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So I dare you, don’t say sorry for a day. Challenge yourself to be only sorry, when you need to be. Accept that you are allowed to take up space in peoples minds, in meeting rooms, in buses and in life.

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Rollin with my homies – my clueless shirt and what I’d tell my teen self

This weekend, he and I went to a place about an hour out of Canberra, called Grandmas Little Bakery, which I had heard lovely things about, which I thought would be fun to take some non-work outfit shots. The cafe is set in an olive grove, which was a delight to walk around and play with two farm dogs on a crisp winter day. However, the food, was a bit of a disappointment for me – I continued by three for three streak of getting raw meat. He loved his.

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This adventure in the sun gave me some time to pose for some casual photos for the blog, including my most favourite purchase over the last few months. Like many women my age, I loved Clueless as a young teenager. With its witty banter, fabulous clothes and storyline based on Jane Austen’s Emma, it was a glamorous world. As I went through my teens it was clear that there was less fancy clothes and carefully planned parties, and more homework and giant pimples of epic proportions. But it developed a nostalgic appeal, that has well and truly stood the test of time.

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I mean I’ve never got over this closet

So I was in that mecca of cheap and cheerful delight, Kmart, I was pretty excited to see this tshirt.

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In honour of my awesome Clueless find, I thought I would write a listicle of the eight things I would tell my teen self throughout my teens. One for each year I was a teenager:

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1. Your mother, is almost always right. You wont work that out until you are about 26, and will refuse to admit it until you are 27. Learn to appreciate your parents more, you will meet people who don’t have parents as wise and hilarious as yours.

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2. You will be surrounded always by wonderful women, who will be increasingly a vital and important part of your life. Some are your friends now, and those who stick around during your bratty VCE years, really probably need a medal. Remember that there is life after VCE. A life of university exams and work trials.

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3. However, beware of some of the ‘friends forever’  you make, they won’t necessarily love you forever as you grow into an adult.

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4. Please Renee stop wearing brown, you are a light spring and it isn’t your colour. Also, your mum (see no. 1) is right about the awful tracksuit pants.

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5. Accept that there will be twists and turns, you’ll have amazing experiences that you didn’t even dream of.

DSC042636. Don’t judge people so harshly, treat them with more kindness. Even though you are learning and developing ideas about the world, that doesn’t mean you should be unkind. Sorry jocks. You were at the brunt of my developing scepticism about the feminist implications of sport and masculinity.

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7. Laugh more, realise there is power in your deeply silly nature. You have a natural gift for friend making that no. 6 is holding you back from.

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8. You will be loved. You don’t realise how close you are to meeting your husband, who is indeed the perfect amount of goofball.

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Headspace

I have a confession, I have a big head. Not in the “I’m full of myself sort of way”, but in a can’t find hats big head. So when I went into David Jones on a whim on Saturday afternoon, I anticipated a tantrum-inducing experience as I looked through the hat racks. The irony is, is that I love wearing hats, but I’m typically stuck with stretchy beanies and floppy berets. But I’m always on the hunt for a felt hat with that lovely structure for winter. Cloche in a perfect world.

But as I picked up this Milana hat, I had a vague sense that my 60 cm head (the average is about 57-58 centimetres) might actually fit within this felt beauty. I tried it on. It must be too good to be true. I ruffled through the vortex that is my handbag, found my phone and took a selfie to send to my Canadian based stylist (and bestie) who can always be trusted to tell me the brutal honest truth. Silly or cute I ask?

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 I mean, how adorable is that face?

So I bought it. Its harder than I thought to pull off – it had its going to work début today and the cape/hat combo was harder than anticipated. I kept knocking the hat off with the capes collar. It totally ruined my mystique, particularly as I hobble-ran to the bus. I suspect I may have looked like I belonged in the mafia or a bad detective novel with my dark glasses. But I love it all the same.

Before the struggle between cape and hat begun
Before the struggle between cape and hat begun

In some ways my head-hat problem is also reflective of sometimes how we all feel. Like when my boof head tries to squeeze into a hat, sometimes our head feels too big to contain all the dilemmas, thoughts, pressures, goals, dreams, fears and feelings at any given time. I’ve tried in the last two weekends to un-plan myself, doing the bare minimum and taking that time out to do only things that energise me with people who’s company I love. Creating that headspace and being honest with myself is really important.

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There is a cult of busy. A competition on burdens we carry. The demand that we ought to be doing more for ourselves or others. Creating headspace to decompress is hard.

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Taking time out is vitally important for wellbeing, mental health and the ability to increase resilience. The ability to “push on” is not necessarily a long term strategy. I love being busy, but it got to the point that I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any favours by pushing through. I was lethargic, de-energised and grouchy after a long six months of injury (recovering from), travel (harder than it sounds), work and study.

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This is not just a me problem. Brigid Schulte talks about how leisure time is a feminist issue, despite its value for mental health and resilience. Leisure, she argues is not something that is not socially constructed for women, even before entering the workplace became mainstream. It was designed for the wealthy male; who had the paid or unpaid services of others who could complete his household, or administrative functions. Today this persists, but despite more women working than ever, they remain the principal care-givers, house-slaves and administrators, despite working full time. For me, I am fortunate to have a partner in all senses, who does an equal share; but this structural problem remains. In Australia, according to Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought, “76% of full-time working fathers have a “wife” or stay-at-home spouse. Only 15% of full-time working mums have the same”.

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But the second problem in accessing leisure or headspace, is the drive to “have it all”, however you define it. The pressure to build that empire, is immense. The ability to re-frame having it all will be increasingly important for modern women, rather than continuing to ruminate on what’s next, what’s wrong and where you are lacking. Taking time-out to re-frame your goals, opportunities and weaknesses is the way to achieve your “it all”, because you are not becoming a spent husk, from continuing to run the gauntlet-shaped treadmill.

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Feminist enough thanks

One of the biggest challenges women face today is the question of being “enough”. Not only at that personal fear in the middle of the night level, where you contemplate whether you are doing enough for your loved ones, your career, your community and your career, but also the this feeling of being feminist enough.

Identifying as a feminist can be simple or hard, and come at a variety of times in a persons life and have a different application for each feminist. Much is made of celebrities having a “feminist awakening”. For me, it was at a young age, where I recognised myself in Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, who was fierce, fiery, clever and not afraid of hard choices in a world so foreign from my own –civil war, pre-suffrage, pre-abolition of slavery. I wish I was a teenager now, where there is so much exciting debate and material on the internet about versions of feminism. Trolling through the seminal feminist books at the library was not nearly as vibrant, discursive or accessible. Neither was participating in the debate easy. My girlfriends, from school, who remain such a strong force in my world, looked at me like I might be a little crazy for my vehement opposition to their débutante balls.

That moment, where your views are met with indifference, confusion or even anger, is a challenge for an emerging feminist. You are like a mole, popping your head into the bright new world, which blinds you with all the injustices and inequities, but that temporary blindness makes you blind to the range of views and diversity within your new world.

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Though the meaning is perfectly clear, my favourite version is that of Nigerian author and thinker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, the application and approaches are as diverse as the men and women who identify with the term. There is a constant debate about the choices feminists are making, whether they work, whether they breed, what they wear, who they date, whether they marry, what work they pursue, how aware of their privilege they are and a countless number of other choices. This debate seeks to make out that feminism is some kind of rule book rather than a discussion, a conversation and a process. Making feminists question whether they are enough, makes it nigh impossible to make the progress made to end the unequal outcomes, the experience of violence and discrimination that defines the challenges facing women. The last thing women need is further regulation and rules over their behaviour and choices. So I’ll be declaring myself, feminist enough.

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Nope, I’m not choosing beautiful today – Why Dove’s #choosebeautiful doesn’t pass first blush

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Walk through a door?

Dove, has recently released an advertising campaign, encouraging women to #choosebeautiful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw). At first glance it seems innocent enough, encouraging women to see their positives, see their beauty. The company suggests of women polled, 96% of women will not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, and shows in its short film, women from five cities as diverse as Sao Paolo to London, choosing whether they are beautiful or average, by walking through labelled doors. Dove’s website suggests:

“Dove believes feeling beautiful is a personal choice that women should feel empowered to make for themselves. “Although the majority of women don’t describe themselves as beautiful, 80% agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful. It’s time women think differently about this choice,” says Steve Miles, Senior Vice President, Dove”

At the first blush, I don’t disagree that these results are skewed, that this says a lot about how women are influenced by society about their perceptions of their appearance. But beyond that first blush, I am deeply sceptical of the commoditisation of the body positive movement which seeks to combat the damaging impacts of images which market a particular kind of loveliness – typically feminine, able bodied, white, clear skinned, able bodied, thin but just voluptuous enough to be “sexy” – that isolates many from society’s view of beauty and desirability. Furthermore, it seems internally inconsistent from a company that makes profits from the beauty industry.

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Furthermore, I would hope that I have more choice than choosing just beautiful. I have, like many of us both strengths and weaknesses which offers my husband, friends, family, colleagues and society unique contributions beyond whether I am having a good hair day (yep, that’s a while off while I grow out this pixie).

The final reason it does not pass my first blush, is that it is masquerading as a positive message,  but remains focused upon the external desirability of women, rather than the inherent qualities that they possess. It suggests that we should reorient how we talk about our beauty, rather than suggesting that we could refocus our energies in something deeper, more complex than just our external appearance and how we choose to describe it. Whilst commercial enterprise suggests women should be focusing their attentions on their beauty – whether it be defined by ourselves, or by society- our efforts are being dissuaded from achieving our full potential. The greatest value should be more variable, and should be not just skin deep. The beauty industry is extremely profitable, around $55 billion annually in 2014, in the USA alone. The business of making yourself beautiful is said to waste about 55 minutes a day, or 2 weeks a year. Imagine the potential benefits of refocusing that attention and money elsewhere if we could refocus our value elsewhere. Considering the comparative time, energy and importance appearance is placed on men’s appearance, I thought that Caitlin Moran has summed it up best more generally:

You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”

So yeah, I’m not choosing beautiful today. I’m choosing to be the intelligent, passionate, hilarious and caring person I know myself to be. I love clothes, and think that makeup can be tops, but I love me for so much more than any external reference that you could pick.

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Today’s outfit post, has been delayed by a week, I have had the great joy of hosting friends from abroad, university and maid of honour duties in Melbourne. You might have noticed my use of the word blush. Today’s outfit is focused around my favourite purchase from my recent round the world trip, from H & M in Sweden (the mothership), a beautiful blush tulle skirt. It can be a challenge to put this together, it is foofy and needs a lot of calming down with darker colours. I’m working on a decent spot in our apartment for photo taking, you are going to have to imagine what my plain black boatneck looks like tucked into my shirt, because that photo is le rubbish.

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Braided fringe – a pixie cut grower outers best friend
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Black Asos curve boat neck top Big W Pink costume pearls
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H&M Tulle skirt in blush Novo shoes in black patent
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Foofy spinny glory