YOU can learn do the splits – here’s how…

splits
Me, last Xmas, at a ‘Stay Sassy’ dance event hosted by Steph Elswood aka @healthychefsteph

I recently shared a (front) splits tutorial on Instagram, and thought I’d post it here so that it’s more permanently findable as it’s a question I get asked a lot!

I do believe that anyone can learn, but I get the frustration that it’s a slow process and it’s easy for me to say as I learned as a child while dancing! However, even then it was something I was determined to nail, and between dance teachers forcing my leg up and practicing at home, I got there.

This video and the below instagram post explain how to train yourself SAFELY into splits. Please, please don’t try and drop straight into! Be patient, and follow this guide, and it will yield results, I promise!

Let’s go! how to do the splits

  • legallygymliving💙HOW-TO SPLITS & FLEXIBILITY TALK💙
    One of my most asked q’s is how to learn – I won’t lie, I was kind of made to when I danced as a kid – the teachers would pull your legs around and lift them up with you stood against the wall to get it near your head…! & I trained hard for it as they needed someone to do it for a show, and i got there!
    That said, I work hard to maintain it. WHY?
    💜flexibility will help with maximum mobility in old age
    💙it complements your normal workouts and helps ease stiffness
    💜if you’re working on strengthening you should also be LENGTHENING
    💙splits are a great party trick 😉
    💋PLUS it has other slightly cheekier benefits when the lights go out…!😜
    🔹🔹🔹
    HOW TO LEARN:
    1) watch this video!
    2) follow its steps, especially NEVER MISSING A WARM UP! You need warm muscles or you risk painful injury. I’ve been there, torn a hammy, it took me 6 months to get back to splits without pain!
    3) focus on increasing hamstring flexibility with things like forward fold where you can gradually improve over time. Use the breath for a natural boost! Inhale & rise a little, exhale and drop.
    4) open out the hips – as well as the hip fold over this vid shows, yogic squat and happy baby pose are fab!
    5) use a wall, and gravity. This helps you go further into a stretch and also measure your progress
    6) ALWAYS PREP YOUR SPLIT with a deep lunge for the hip flexors & a hamstring stretch as shown (until you’re super comfortable in it and then when you’re warm it’s ok!)
    🔹🔹🔹
    Hope this helps! The other thing to note is it’s a gradual process, don’t rush it, don’t push to the point of pain… you should feel a stretch, breathe, go a little further so it starts to be like “ooooh” but DO NOT GO FOR PAIN! Trying too much too fast and forcing it risks injury. Think of it like play dough – it’s not pliable when it’s all cold and stiff. Warm it up, make it bendy over time. Take it easy ✌🏾 

It really is that simple!

There’s no magic to it, just dedication and practice over time, and always following this rather than trying to “force” it, which is never a good idea.

So… I really hope that helps, and answers some of your questions! I really love maintaining flexibility because I think it helps with the quality of our movement generally, and as un-glamorous as it is to say, it helps with maximum mobility in old age! Don’t you want to be able to walk around, go to the loo, get up and down yourself without help when you’re 60, 70, 80+…?!

It is also a fun party trick, it makes for fun photo ops – see below! (you can wineglass stand anywhere once you get the hang of it, although if you aren’t warmed up it’s not adviseable – see my poor form in the top pic below!) and it definitely spices up play time after lights out, if you catch my drift.

Enjoy, babes!

B xoxo

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4 simple tips: become more CONFIDENT

mountains nature sky sunny
Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

Anytime I see posts and articles about this I find it SO INTERESTING because I feel like we all get insecure sometimes and want to be a little more confident.

I’m a super shy person. Always have been. But I am less painfully shy than I used to be, to the point where now often people don’t believe I’m shy (maybe they think I’m awkward instead hahaha…!)

Confidence is this weird thing, right? You see people who literally are just so free and don’t give AF and are able to share their ideas, boss something in the gym without embarassment or speak up at work… I’ve often wished I could buy it in a bottle (champagne doesn’t count if you wanna keep your job guys!)

In my first job at Vouchercodes.co.uk, a lot of ‘pitching’ was involved – and I had to deliver the pitches myself. I was 21, super shy, not at all confident, I felt inadequate and ridiculous, and could barely speak in internal meetings, let alone with clients! We also had to present in company-wide meetings weekly, and it nearly gave me a heart attack.

I’ve always hated public speaking. I’d shake – as in PHYSICALLY SHAKE. I’d feel sick. I’d cry on the phone to my dad every morning.

But you know what? Being forced to do it again and again means that 1) I know if forced, I can… I even gave a speech at a wedding a couple of years ago! and 2) where speaking in a meeting of 3-10 people used to terrify me, now I know how to do it.

How?

Practice, basically. I’d practice my pitches to my boyfriend, on the phone to my dad, I’d set up meetings with my boss to practice with her, I’d listen to her and make notes on how she did it… and then the worst bit was just making myself do it.

To help, I qualified to teach fitness so I had to stand up in front of a class so I could learn to do it somewhere I enjoyed. And it really, really helped. But you have to decide to put the work in.

All of that ground work is the only reason I could go to an interview at a magic circle law firm and get a job as a lawyer, because if I’d gone in post-graduation at 21, I’d have fallen to literal bits and been a nervous wreck.

I mean, I’m still an introvert, I like to recharge solo as much as possible rather than socialise, and that’s totally okay! I can still be awkward and weird hahaha… but I got over that crippling shyness and if I managed to, anyone else can too.

So here are my tips! And yes, ultimately it really is a case of fake it (or try!) until you make it!

1. Stop hiding behind the ‘it’s just my personality, I’m shy’

This is tough love, I know. I used to have panic attacks about doing public speaking, and I’ll never love it. BUT if you repeatedly practice exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, you WILL adapt. Be gentle with yourself, do it gradually, you don’t have to be too mean to yourself. But the big key is to stop making excuses and decide to make a change. The way to start is to jump in and practice whatever it is that makes you uncomfortable. 

Set small goals initially. Baby steps. Then as you get into your stride, you can take the leaps and bounds.

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

2. Physical strength builds mental strength

Did you see this one coming? 😉 Fitness is amazing for releasing feel-good hormones (endorphin pump is REAL y’all) but it also shows you the power of practice – little by little you increase strength and/or cardio fitness and it shows you change IS possible, which should give you the confidence to keep trying new things!

I did a Kayla Itsines leg workout the day of my training contract interview and it literally saved me hahaha!

3. Re-train your brain: the long bit!

How much time do you spend worrying about what other people think about you? I read an amazing book called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k and it suggested you have a think about the important things in your life that you DO and are WILLING to give a fuck about. Anything not on that list? It’s not within your fuck budget. Let that shit gooooooo!

How your life feels to you is more important than how it looks to other people

Trust your own choices and stop talking to yourself in a negative way in your head. Try just repeating (silently or aloud!) ‘I CAN do this’ or something similar. It sounds super American and cheesy but when your habit is to tell yourself you CAN do something instead of saying you CAN’T, it does make a massive shift in your mindset.

Too scared to try something in the gym? Feel stupid, watched, embarassed? Re-train your thought process to be like SO WHAT? What’s the worst that could happen? They’d laugh at you? (I guarantee the other people there won’t, they’re too busy doing their own workouts, but even if they did…) Worse things happen at sea, guys.

The ego likes to try and protect us from laughter or scorn from others, but I think as a result it goes into overdrive and makes us think 99% of the time people are judging us when actually they don’t really care or even notice what we’re doing! Your opinion and that of those you love (and maybe the person who pays you!) is the only one that counts. Let everything else go. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and you’re super embarassed – so what? Once you start approaching things this way, and not minding looking silly, you’ll 100% feel liberated.

I used to experiment with my hair tonnes as a kid, but my dad’s side of the family always made comments about it, and gradually I think I stopped wanting to experiment. I started to think I had to have long hair to prove I was a girl (?! wtf ?! seriously ?!) as comments would often be about short hair being ‘boyish’. As my EDs got stronger and my confidence got lower, I felt like I was way too ugly for short hair and needed long hair to distract from it. How crazy is that?!

So, recently, (and also once a year and a half ago!) I chopped all my hair off again from my boobs to my collarbone, and it’s super liberating… and I now don’t care what anyone else things, apart from me and my boyfriend basically!

Basically, work, fitness, gym, wherever… there’s a bit of work to be done on realising that you just need to go with your gut. And if it all goes wrong and you look silly… you’re not dying, you’re still alive and have soooo many good things going on… so focus on that ❤

Admittedly some of it comes with age too. The nearer  I get to 30, the better able I am to shake off anyone who bugs me and stick to my fuck budget 😉

Books for this process that I’d recommend (although you may have to take with a pinch of salt as they can get a bit too hippyish, but I do still love them!) are Life Tonic by Jody Shield and Hungry For More by Mel Wells.

4. Daily meds*

*meditations, of course!

Whether you hate the idea of meditation as woo woo, you’re a hippy spiritual moon-child or [insert other extreme here], meditation has been proven by various reputable scientific studies to have a positive effect on the brain due to its promotion of the ‘relaxation response’, a physiological change in the body as a result of the ‘relaxed’ state.

So. For the purposes of confidence, meditation’s mention here is twofold:

  1. it teaches you increased focus, which makes you better able to let go of nagging, negative thoughts like ‘I can’t do this, I’m too scared, I’m too shy, I’m too anxious, why is everyone else more confident/smarter/prettier/cleverer than me…’ and breathe, and master your emotions.
  2. it connects you better with yourself and your thought patterns, and by being more present with yourself, you eventually come to realise that you’re not your thoughts… you’re the observer of your thoughts. So you can actually create change and not let thoughts control you, but also it should increase your ability to spend time with yourself, feel good within yourself and actually (god forbid if you’re British) LIKE YOURSELF. Like, what is this madness?!

Also, her style may not be for everyone, but Jody Shield does a meditation series (with a track specifically relating to confidence) if you fancy giving it a try. Despite my atheist and decidedly not spiritual views, I really like her stuff – I find her voice super relaxing.

So, how are we feeling?

Hopefully some of these help a bit… Would love to hear any more you can add!

Also check out this piece on how to be confident by Rose The Londoner and this FREE fierce confidence workshop / livestream replay with Jody Shield to help you get started!

B xoxo

You may also wanna browse:

Ways to boost body confidence on bad days – without working out!

Careers section – Inspire Interview Series plus work tips, resources and confidence building

Body Confidence: talking about taboos, fat loss and some tips!

How to stay motivated to fit in workouts with an office job

Motivation 101: get it and keep it

Is it vain to have a fitness instagram?Is it vain to have a fitness instagram? + dangers of social media

Sparkle: resources to find yours

#Inspire Interview 5: MEL WELLS (actress, best-selling author, speaker, food & psychology coach!)

 

 

F*CK THAT: A message to the creators of those ‘what to wear for your body type’ graphics

i hate nothing about you with red heart light
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

I said I wasn’t going to post about wedding stuff, because it’s very personal to me and my fiance and I are very private about that kind of thing.

But in looking for inspo, especially in the realms of The Dress, we came across a lot of graphics. They go something like this:

“What to wear for your body type:

Pear shaped? Wear XXXXX sihlouette.

Apple? Wear XXXXX sihlouette…”

And so it goes…

 

woman in white bridal gown meditating
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And it’s not just weddings. Magazines and online articles tell you the ‘best slimming outfits’ or how to ‘dress to flatter your body type’.

Why am I kicking up about this?

BECAUSE YOU SHOULD WEAR WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD.

WHAT IS ‘FLATTERING’ IS WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD. PERIOD.

PS. FUCK ‘SLIMMING’. Just… don’t even start.

The problem with these cookie-cutter guides is they’re basically assuming a normative beauty standard (let’s call this societal ideal the ‘norm’ for ease) and by saying ‘if you’re a pear, wear an A-line dress to emphasise your waist and cover up your big hips’, what they’re implying is you need to create the illusion of a different body because yours isn’t good enough as it is.

Yes, this is a subtlety. But it’s there. And it’s insidious.

If they’re talking about black clothing being slimming or horizontal stripes NOT being slimming, they’re preying on insecurities and pushing the societal ‘norm’ and obsession with losing weight and being slender down our throats… and by recommending ‘slimming’ clothing, they’re undermining curvy and fat bodies, and suggesting they too should be ‘fixed’.

And they’re doing this so subtly with helpful ‘advice’ and tips that even little girls can come across in magazines… (during my EDs I consumed massive amounts of this rubbish, and it definitely helped fuel me putting my fingers down my throat… how terribly sad and twisted is that? But I didn’t even realise because it’s the ‘norm’, right?!)

Darling… let’s get something fucking straight. Your body IS good enough, exactly how it is. 

If, like me, you’re technically a pear shape (you gain muscle and/or fat most easily on your legs and hips, and your skeleton likely has a slightly wider pelvis than shoulders – so take note, no amount of dieting is going to change this!) and you want to wear a fishtail/mermaid sihlouette for your damn wedding dress, but these graphics and articles imply you shouldn’t because you should be trying to ‘hide’ or ‘de-emphasise’ your lower body…

F*CK. THAT.

Now, hold on, you might be thinking… but I am self-conscious about *insert body-part here* and I do want to de-emphasise it…

A couple of things: firstly – that is TOTALLY NORMAL AND OKAY, we all have insecurities. This is about dressing in a way that YOU feel confident and at your best. My issue is with a cookie-cutter approach that ASSUMES you want to do certain things, as this implies that you should, to conform to the ‘norm’, and if you don’t, you look ‘wrong’ somehow.

However, I’d also  encourage as a side-note to explore WHY you feel negatively about that body part – chances are you’ve been affected by messaging we’re bombared with EVERYWHERE about what our bodies should look like. When we’re born, we don’t hate our thighs, or our stomachs, or our chest or arms. We get hungry, we get happy, we sleep, we live life. Our insecurities are LEARNED.

And if you work on it, you can UN-LEARN them too. Case in point: I used to long for skinny legs. I’d repeate the 90s Kate-Moss-heroin-chic mantra ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ while I threw up the 1 apple I’d eaten that day. Because I felt like being skinny, like models, actresses and magazine imagery that I saw as a young girl, was what I should be.

Now? I have wide hips, and I have strong quads, and it’s still where I hold more fat and muscle, while my mid-section doesn’t gain so easily. And I am more than OK with that. I love my body now. In the words of Shakira, lucky I have strong legs like my mother / to run for cover when I need it…

(But I do appreciate that its tough to get to that place of self-love. I know you can’t flip a switch. It took many, many years, therapy, briefly medication, reading anything and everything, soul-searching, a supportive boyfriend and a LOT of effort plus a Harley Street Nutritionist and a million positive instagram influencers to help fix me! To get started on your journey to accepting your body the way it is, click here for some life-changing stuff with Mel Wells…)

You’re allowed to want to emphasise the parts of your body you like most.

You’re allowed to want to de-emphasise or downplay the parts that make you feel less confident.

The only thing you should be wearing is whatever you freaking want.

The wedding dress issue is neither here nor there – the same is true for ALL outfits at ALL times.

On your wedding day, though, not only again do you want to feel confident and happy in yourself (so you don’t need helpful ‘advice’ about what society considers most flattering for you because f*ck the norm, f*ck general opinion, YOU are the one wearing it!), but you’re marrying someone who loves you AS YOU. You don’t need to look like anyone but yourself, or to try to fit into some constructed ideal.

Just wear whichever damn dress you please.

And if it happens to align with the advice? It doesn’t matter at all, that’s totally cool, as long as the advice isn’t the driver. If it’s genuinely what you want, go for it.

And if, as in my case, you’re likely to be breaking all the rules? Well, I’ll leave you with this babes:

kat
Photo credit: Pinterest

The Carnivore Diet Dangers, Anecdotal Evidence & Trolling

food chicken meat outdoors
Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

So those of you who orbit in the instagram fitness/nutrition universe along with me may have noted the recent controversy surrounding ‘The Carnivore Diet’.

Yup, that’s right, a diet advocating essentially only eating meat (and possibly eggs).

Now you don’t need to be a genius to work out that ANY DIET advocating extremes of ONLY EATING ONE THING or cutting out other major food groups is problematic.

lion painting
Photo by Jakob on Pexels.com

The Nerdy Nutrition Science Bit – why eating only meat is ridiculous

Why? Because we humans need a variety of not only the major building blocks for our bodies, macronutrients – protein, healthy fats and carbs, but we also need the smaller stuff in smaller amounts, micronutrients – all the little vitamins, minerals, things like iron or selenium or Vitamin A etc (see books The Food Medic by Hazel Wallace, Jr Doctor or ReNourish by Rhiannon Lambert, nutritionist).

A picture of optimum health involves a balanced plate, as advocated by Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert – which means eating a rainbow, the easiest way of achieving your micronutrient goals – focus on different coloured fruits and veggies! – and a balance of the macronutrients – palm size of protein, thumb of healthy fat, firstful of carbs (ideally things like wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa etc).

The carnivore diet cannot provide you with these micronutrients, which include antioxidants and phytochemicals, the stuff in certain fruits and veggies which helps influence your epigenome to avoid cancer and other serious health issues.

The carnivore diet is also not providing people with complex carbohydrates, the main nutrient our brains use for energy, not to mention key to the production of seratonin (tryptophan can’t synthesize to make seratonin without carbs people!), often known as the happy hormone, and often considered to be lacking in people with depression.

The carnivore diet is also missing fibre, key for the internal digestive system and weight management, and a critical part of a healthy diet.

The diet has been widely condemned by nutritionists and health experts. So please, please… don’t jump on this ridiculous bandwagon!!

What’s wrong with believing anecdotal evidence?

“Mrs X tried the carnivore diet and within weeks her cancer was cured!”

“I tried the carnivore diet and my psoriasis cleared right up – nothing worked for years before that!”

“I tried everything to lose weight but only the carnivore diet worked!”

So let’s look at anecdoctal evidence. Someone says something worked for them and people rush out and try it because we all want an easy mircale that provides perfect health – it’s too boring to acknowledge we have it well within our power to exercise, eat balanced meals and control lifestyle factors like stress and sleep!

Anecdotal evidence is an issue because:

  • They cannot positively know what caused the change without having tested it logically and systematically against everything else: this would mean only having one variable, for an experimental period of time, and keeping everything else EXACTLY THE SAME. Then doing the same to test other factors. To establish ONE THING as a root cause / cure, you need to eliminate the confusion of other factors. So if their sleep, stress, diet, job, commute, anything changed within that period, it has the potential to skew results. How do you KNOW the diet changed things? You can’t reliably separate it from other variables. You also ideally need a control group, and a group which has variables tested to see how patterns emerge, and whether correlations exist at all.
  • Even if you do test out variables as systematically as possible using the scientific method, you are a sample size of ONE. This is NOT ENOUGH to establish something as true for the rest of humanity. Sample size is key! 1,2,10, 20… they’re all pretty small groups when you think about it!
  • Additionally, we’re emotionally and cognitively biased towards people we know, so if our best friend says ‘OMG I tried this and it worked for me!’ we’re much more likely to not be questioning and critical and just take things as true, which is an issue!

On a slightly separate note, I find it so frustrating when people say they’ve tried ‘everything’ but just can’t lose weight – this usually means every fad diet, and therefore it’s no wonder! They’re not healthy, they’re not sustainable, they encourage deprivation-binge cycles and disordered approaches to eating, and typically once they’re over people return to their ‘old’ ways without ever wondering if their ‘old’ ways were this issue in the first place! Their version of trying everything doesn’t usually include the unsexy but simple and EFFECTIVE balanced eating, movement, and moderation with treats.

Trolling

The final thing I wanted to touch on in this post is trolling. Rhiannon Lambert is a highly educated, highly qualified professional, and she came out on social media to denounce this diet (quite rightly!) because it’s making dangerous false promises, not to mention encouraging unhealthy eating habits.

The trolling she received was not ‘healthy debate’ or ‘offering an alternative perspective’. It was personal. It was vindictive. It was unnacceptable. I know that ‘keyboard warriors’ are supposedly emboldened by being hidden behind a screen to say things they’d never say to someone’s face, I know technology ‘de-personalises’ things – but that’s no excuse, not in a million years, to troll, attack, bully and dissect an individual, full stop.

Further, in this case Rhiannon was RIGHT and putting forward a highly qualified professional opinion (although note even people who are WRONG deserve to be treated with respect and dignity!) backed up by PLENTYYYYY of scientific evidence.

If you want to debate in a healthy way, don’t shout, don’t troll, don’t attack. Harness legitimate evidence (so in this Carnivore Diet situation, studies – although there aren’t any credible ones that support it, so you’ll have a hard time), reason logically and calmly, and while being adversarial is okay in THEORETICAL terms – argue with VIEWPOINTS, attack VIEWPOINTS, not people.

Plenty of other nutritionists have come out with exactly the same view, but Rhiannon’s public profile makes her a target for abuse and it’s totally unacceptable.

Are we done now…?

I hope this cleared up a few points on the Carnivore Diet, and why I 100% believe you shouldn’t be following ANY fad diets – as ever, I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I take my views and everything I’ve written above from my nutritionist who is INSANELY qualified, from other nutritionists, from my personal studies and from scientific journals.

I hope this also highlights why you need to be smart about ‘anecdotal evidence’ and recognise it’s actually just a story and doesn’t prove anything!

And finally, it shouldn’t need to be said, but it seems that it really does in today’s day & age – trolling, bullying and harassing people is just not on kids.

be nice

Sending tonnes of love to you all, and to Rhiannon, and here’s hoping that we can share and spread POSITIVITY and arm ourselves with facts and information! Positing new ideas, theories, hypotheses is TOTALLY OKAY but before citing anything as true we need to DO THE RESEARCH!

B xoxoxoxox

 

Live Well With Louise: An Honest Review of the Made In Chelsea star’s new health book

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Photo credit: Live Well with Louise imagery from www.amazon.com

Louise Thompson was initially best known for her role in pseudo-reality TV show, Made in Chelsea, but now arguably she’s equally well known for her abs so impressive you could grate cheese on them! The pocket rocket is also one of the founders of Pocket Sport, a luxe fitness clothing brand.

Louise never looked unhealthy but admits to having all kinds of issues, not least with her relationship with alcohol. Subjected to public scrutiny in the extreme, she ended up suffering with anxiety and having very poor self-image.

Her brand new book Live Well with Louise documents her journey, from struggling with body image and unhealthy habits to transforming her mindset, ditching the booze binges and loving workouts and healthy food.

lou

It also contains recipes, and workout routines (approved by her PT boyfriend Ryan Libbey (also of MIC fame!), of course!)

So… what’s the low-down? Yet another unqualified celebrity book, or worth a read?

The Verdict

What could have been just another celebrity offering diet advice is actually a relatable, down-to-earth account of an unhealthy relationship with health, to a total transformation which yes, while it’s very aesthetic and ‘abs-y’ also conveys the important message that health, taking care of your body, good nutrition and MOVEMENT can be cool… and that binge-drinking and hangxiety are actually not all they’re cracked up to be.

While your average girl or guy can’t relate to being a celeb, I personally relate SO HARD to Louise’s use of alcohol for confidence, and going a bit too hard in my teens to early twenties.

Louise’s transformation from non-stop ‘ragers’ as she calls them where she’d drink so much she’d black out, to a healthier focus on fitness and health with the occassional social red wine with friends and family at dinner parties or with a cracking Sunday roast is something all of us who went to uni, damaged our livers and need a kick up the butt in terms of healthy living can relate and aspire to!

The recipes

Here I was dubious – on opening the book I thought here we go, another book by a non-nutritionist purporting to give dietary advice… But she doesn’t! She openly states she’s not a nutritionist but openly shares what has worked for her. She goes by what I feel is a very simple and similar philosophy to my Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. Louise advocates filling half your plate with veggies (rainbow, variety, you got this!), quarter with complex carbs (ideally without the beneficial fibre stripped out, so rather than white bread and rice go for wholegrains, legumes, brown rice, sweet potato…) and a quarter with lean protein.

YES PEOPLE, LOUISE THOMPSON EATS CARBS AND STILL HAS A STUNNING, LEAN PHYSIQUE. I am so happy to see celebrities endorsing healthy, balanced meals and helping combat the media myth that carbs are bad. (See my stance on carbsand why they’re essential here!)

Louise’s recipes are surprisingly varied, and there are tonnes of them!

It’s not a slim and flimsy book with a couple of dinner ideas – it’s jam-packed with tasty, balanced meals, and YES it includes desserts and dinner party appropriate dishes!

The recipes are easy to follow, and the photography is gorgeous.

The workouts

I did feel this section could have been more extensive, but the circuits are decent with beginner, intermediate and advanced options, and approved by her PT boyf.

Louise breaks down each move for anyone who’s new to exercising, with clear photographs and descriptions of how to execute the movement, and tips for upping the intensity if it gets too easy.

All in all, while there aren’t loads of options, her 11 minute ab blast is great, and then she offers 3 circuits – easy, medium, and hard – which are enough to get you started, and you can always use her book as  a base to create your own.

Best of all, they’re do-able from home, no gym or super-fancy equipment required!

Overall?

Definitely worth it for Louise’s personal story, and the recipes… and I do love her ab routine, so I’d say it’s worth the (affordable and fairly small!) investment.

Hope that helps!

B xoxo

Life Chat: changing your name, marriage & feminism

So this isn’t a fitness or nutrition post by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I often blither on with lifestyle nuggets on here don’t I, so we’ll squeeeeeeze this into that and call it content, shall we?!

To change or not to change? That is the [feminist] question…

adult bridal bride brunette
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

In all seriousness, I wanted to share this post for a few reasons –

  1. it’s something I struggled with before making my decision!
  2. I have friends going through the same thing and making choices right now
  3. feminism is something innately important to me, my fiance, my friends, practically anyone I’m close to, so why miss an opportunity to bang on about it?

I guess I first ‘woke up’ to feminism at university whilst studying English Literature and being introduced to feminist theory, as well as the writings of various key people – Mary Wollenstoncraft, Virginia Woolf, Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir… because in Somerset it wasn’t really a thing, everything was very white, middle class patriarchal and let’s say ‘local lads’ expressed distaste for feminism (one of the reasons I tend to find going back to the South West a real struggle, and I’ve been known to cause a scene in our local pub over it when some bloke at the bar thought it was acceptable to play with my top and bra strap… I don’t think so!)

I’ve subsequently spent quite a bit of time swinging like a pendulum – “I’d NEVER change my name if I get married” (my struggles with the institution of marriage itself are something we’ll save for another time, but I don’t need to say much more than I’ve attended 3 of my parents’ weddings, none of them to each other…!) but I also LOVE the idea of transformation, I’m names-and-characters obsessed (hey, writer!) and I have gone through periods of liking the idea of a name change.

I found myself, once engaged after a ridiculously perfect proposal in Santorini, torn. My feminist principles dictated I shouldn’t change my name, right? It’s a relic of patriarchal possession, being passed from father to husband.

My love of name changes, characters, transformation and identity shifts, not to mention the cliched, unoriginal, but [un]fortunately true fact that I quite like my actual fiance (shocker!) also stirred an irrational, compelling urge to take his last name.

And at other times, I wavered, hedged, sat on the fence, grappled with it all, and wanted to double barrel.

Conflicted, I spoke to an old friend, Joy, who is far, far more intelligent than I will ever be, and also a feminist. It sounds odd, but I almost needed permission from someone smarter, entire galaxies more articulate and lightyears more well-thought-out than myself, who I knew also believed wholeheartedly in feminism… plus, I happened to know she’d gotten herself married, and chosen to change her name.

I felt like I needed to know how her much more capable mind reconciled the disparate fragments of this socio-political-emotional-mental-minefield.

couple hugging each other
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

Ultimately, she told me what I suppose I’d reasoned out in various, wriggly, squiggly lines and tangled trains of thought, and stumbled across in various things I’d read both online and off, but needed permission to believe.

Feminism is about choice.

Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women.

If you rail against feminists making a ‘patriarchal’ choice to change their last name upon marriage, it is worth pointing out that keeping your current name is no more feminist because (with few exceptions, like the Spanish way!) naming conventions dictate you ALREADY have a partiarchal name – your father’s.

Not doing something you really want to do, because you feel it violates feminist principles, is actually in itself violating those principles.

There is, these days, nothing to stop you changing, or keeping, or double-barrelling your name – which is now the exact position men have always been in. Just because they chose not to change their names historically does not mean you have to make the same choice now. You have the option. Which is great.

If you want to change your name, you are no less feminist for doing so. In fact, if you don’t, you’re pretty much cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Similarly, if you don’t want to change your name, you are not a freak, a pariah, someone who shouldn’t be getting married at all… it is just as valid, just as legitimate…

So what did I do?

You probably already know by now that I double barrelled, and I made this change legally before getting married (we’re not getting married for a year or so yet either, no official date set… #superchilled) in large part because, practically speaking, it made sense for me to start my new law career under the name I intended to change to.

Ultimately, the Boy would also have double barrelled, ideally, for symmetry and whatnot (he was totally up for this), but given that he was already working under his name and known by it, we decided practicality trumped symbolism and all that jazz, and he continues with his name.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how something that’s a symbolic act means so much and yet so little at the same time…

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to the world, but it matters to you. It doesn’t have to mean anything, so you can toss a coin if you really want, but it equally can mean quite a lot, particularly if you like the idea of shedding or gaining parts of an identity, or if you’re particularly romantic about the whole thing… whatever. The gist of this post is:

Feminism. Not. A. Stick. So stop beating yourself up with/about it…

PS. F*ck the patriarchy…

B xoxo

If you’re thinking of changing your name and need reassurance that it is still feminist, as some people do, try this article for size… it’s not Pulitzer prize winning journalism or particularly well written but I like the gist of it ❤

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Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Top 10 EASY ways to stay workout-motivated!

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Photo by antas singh on Pexels.com

Sometimes our insta feeds get filled with post-workout selfies and when you’re having a day or a week where you reeeeeally don’t feel like working out, it can actually be really off-putting.

Everyone has, at some point or another, hit a bump where they just don’t feel like working out. It’s completely normal! I LOVE training but I still have this happen to me sometimes. But over time I’ve gotten used to it, and figured out some easy ways to slide back into the zone. So – what are the easiest ways to pick yourself back up?

Social media

This is a double edged sword. Scrolling for motivation can be helpful, but it can also make you feel rubbish. I recommend, first and foremost, an ‘unfollow’ spree – stop following ANY accounts that annoy you, make you feel not good enough or make you compare yourself with them. It’s not a comment on their content! It’s just protecting yourself. Similarly, start following accounts you do find helpful and inspiring.

Book classes!

This is an obvious one, but super useful. Kobox, Core Collective, Psycle, F45, whatever your jam – buy some credits and book some classes, and you won’t want to waste the money!

Make sure you’re doing workouts you love

If you hate running, for example, or weightlifting (or if you used to like it but you’re now over it) – change it up! Don’t do it anymore, do something else.

Ignore what’s ‘optimal’ because if obsessing about that is making you not want to train, then in trying to optimise your workouts you’re ironically stopping yourself from training… not the desired outcome!

Love netball? Join a team! Curious about #bbg? Download Kayla’s app! Always wanted to try boxing / capoeria / modern dance / athletics / volleyball / trail running…? Sign up to a class or a team or club.

Set some goals that make you want to progress

For example, I REALLY want to improve my pushups and be able to do 20 effortlessly, super quick. So that motivates me to train upper body, even on days I don’t feel like it. Maybe your goal is to run 5k, 10k, or a half marathon… maybe it’s to do a pull up, maybe it’s to increase the height of your box jump, or learn a new style of dance… whatever you think sounds like something you want to achieve, set the goal and then work towards it.

Be honest: are you making moves or excuses?

Yes, rest and recovery is important, but don’t fall into the trap of using it as an ‘excuse.’

You do need 2-3 rest days a week (ideally active rest, so still lots of walking, and maybe gentle movement like yoga or swimming) but stop using this to disguise the fact you can’t be bothered. It’s FINE to have a day where you’re like nah, today’s not the day, but own the decision. I like to schedule my rest days at the beginning of the week so they’re mindful. Ultimately it’s about being honest with yourself and in tune with how you feel!

Schedule workouts like you would meetings

This speaks for itself, right? By scheduling workouts you don’t really need to exert much willpower to go. They’re already in your diary.

Remember your why

Remember all the reasons we work out in the first place! It’s AMAZING for reducing stress, keeping us fit and healthy as we age, it has important cardiovascualr and longevity benefits, so keep in mind that it’s for your mental and physical health! Try to imagine the endorphin buzz you feel after a workout, and mentally re-create that feeling. Focus on those process based goals we talked about above – being able to do push ups or pull ups or whatever! And lastly, it’s okay to think about your aesthetic goals as long as it’s from a healthy, positive place, not a guilt-ridden one! Exercise isn’t a punishment!

Eat well for energy

Eating healthily, with a balanced plate of carbs, protein and healthy fats, plus ensuring you’re eating a rainbow of fruit and veggies (the easiest way to get in all those good vitamins and minerals – as you all know I’m all about the micronutrients and phytochemicals!) is the best way to fuel both your body AND mind. Carbs are essential for seratonin production which is a key hormone in your moods and staying happy! If you’re down, blue, grumpy and hangry and nutrient-deprived you’re less likely to train. Look after your body on the inside too and you’ll be primed for a productive sweat session! I also find that when my nutrition is good, I feel more motivated to take care of myself in other ways too like working out, and I feel so much happier and more energised!

A spoonful of caffeine helps the workout go down…!

Be careful with this! Make sure you always have a glass of water with your caffeine as caffeine is dehydrating. But several studies have shown caffeine can help boost your workout – my understanding is it lowers your perceived rate of exertion, so you don’t feel like you’re working as hard as you are, enabling you to go harder or longer! There’s a reason preworkout is sold to bodybuilders. Personally, I now steer clear of preworkout as I worry about all the other crap in it, but I grab either an espresso, or a black coffee, or even matcha.  This especially helps me as I like to train fasted as my body struggles to exercise after food, so I love having a bit of a supercharge to my session!

Playlists are key

Make sure you’re not bored of your workout playlist, and I always like to choose ‘pump’ tracks – tracks that get me excited and want to make me get moving. This can be anything from a super motivating soundtrack to the Spice Girls! Whatever floats your boat. Studies also show that listening to music while training can also lower your perceived rate of exertion, so you don’t feel like you’re working as hard as you are. Go figure!

I hope some of these help get you a bit more motivated to train… you’re not alone if you’re in a bit of a rut and not feeling it, but the important thing is just to brush yourself off, stop beating yourself up and get moving again and you’ll soon feel AMAZING. ❤

B xoxo

Do you need to stop reading and start DOING?

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Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

I don’t know about you, but I’m an obsessive reader. This applies to fiction for fun, but also non-fiction, articles, blogs…

If I want to learn about something, I trawl through EVERYTHING I can find on the topic. It’s a little bit weird and obsessive, actually…!

And this can be a really useful (if nerdy) habit, especially if you want to learn how to do or achieve something.

I think education and research is so important and it pays to be well informed! But if, for example, your wellness goals are as follows:

  1. Get healthier by exercising 3 times a week and improving my body composition
  2. Meditate or do yoga or something for stress relief.

They’re great goals to have! Doing some reading about nutrition is going to be key, and if you’re new to exercise, you’ll want ideas for what to do, how to train, how to do it safely… and if you want to reduce your stress levels but don’t know how, have always thought meditation and yoga were a bit woo woo until recently til they became in vogue, you’ll want to do some reading around that too… which type of meditation, how do I do it, how do I know if it’s helping, does it really work, where is my nearest yoga class…?

I’m not for a second advocating skipping your due diligence! But there does come a point where people fall into blackholes of reading about their goals instead of getting up off the sofa and doing it!

It’s almost like we think by READING about the best foods to eat, or the BEST ab exercises, that will give us the results.

Sadly, it won’t.

So as I say – be informed, please do! – but know when to stop.

Staring at articles about celebrity diets and training programmes and how to optimise your training and best butt exercises will not make your dream health (and bonus improved body!) goals any better.

Reading about relaxation, fancy breathing and meditation techniques, or fun buzzfeed things on ’10 things you’ll know if you’re a yogi…’ will not make you less stressed.

You need to do the work darlings.

I have fallen into this trap SO MANY TIMES! I spent money on more nutrition programmes and coaches, read EVERYTHING, stalked celebrity height and body weight stats and how they achieved their results, googled everything to do with nutrition and fitness… It wasn’t until I’d fully healed my eating disorders, seen a Harley Street nutritionist, spent some time in therapy and done a whole lot of soul-searching that I stopped obsessing and started focusing on what I was doing.

Stop worrying about the pros, about what is ‘optimal’. Chances are, you’re not an Olympic athlete.

Regular physical activity, and healthy balanced nutrition will get you where you need to be if your goal is fat loss, for example.

People read about bro splits vs full body days vs intermittent fasting… basically, it’s about finding what works for you, and even IF a study says something else is ‘optimal’ if it doesn’t suit you, you won’t stick at it, so it’s not really optimal for you is it?

I hope this makes sense – I just see so many people get either overwhelmed with information, or get sucked into this idea of perfection by reading everything under the sun rather than making small, sustainable changes.

Just start!

PS. if your goals are fitness and health based, these are the essentials on this site to browse, and from there just get going!

My transformation story – from eating disorders & bingedrinking, to excess bodyfat, to healthy, strong, recovered & BALANCED: how I did it

Motivation 101 – how to get it & keep it!

Emotional vs. Physical hunger and how to train yourself to eat intuitively, without missing out on treats!

The Truth About Carbs!

Workout inspiration

B xoxo

#6 Inspire Interview Series – ALICE MAY PURKISS – FREELANCE WRITER & COPPAFEEL TRUSTEE

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Alice May Purkiss, Photo credit: What’sOnDarlington.co.uk

I’m so grateful for some of the interviews I’ve been able to do as part of this Inspire Interview Series – it’s mind-blowing to see the range of different but reeeeeally cooool shizz people can do when they put their minds to it! If you missed any of the previous installments, they’re all collated here on my careers page, so go and check them out!

Today, though, we have an incredibly special Q&A with a phenomenal woman tackling, among other things, proving publishers wrong, writing books, kicking cancer’s ass – in other words, grit and life wisdom from a gorgeous girlboss warrior.

I think  ‘career inspo’ style pieces can end up being very glib, trite, very ‘yeah! postivity woo, follow your dreams!’ and I wanted to make sure I’m sharing real stories, real experiences with breadth and depth and struggle as well as glossy corporate fairytale stories, so today I think this much deeper, harder, more real interview than any featured so far in this series is the most important – it’s definitely affected me the most of the pieces so far, and I hope you all find what you need from it too ❤

Alice May Purkiss (author of Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year)

While already battling depression, Alice was diagnosed with cancer. Ultimately, she kicked its ass and survived it, and continues to document her journey on social media (@Alicemaypurkiss) and she has written some incredible pieces on her experience and given a range of speeches and workshops. She is now a freelance writer, self-published author, trustee for Cancer Charity CoppaFeel and much, much more.

Upon being told by publishers that her social media following wasn’t big enough to publish her memoir about her experience of cancer, depression, and everything in between, Life, Lemons and Melons, Alice successfully crowdfunded the project, sourced illustrators and singlehandedly proved them wrong (click here to pre-order now!) She now works as a freelance writer and has written for Stylist, Metro, Red Online to name a few.

I wanted to share as much as possible of the insights from this awesome human with you, both life lessons, career and writing, because I think we all struggle with figuring out what we’re doing, where we’re going, career stuff… but this is a girl who did it / is doing it while simultaneously frying much, MUCH bigger fish… so without further ado, let’s go over to Alice.

The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. – Alice May Purkiss, Life, Lemons & Melons

B: Please could you give a little intro of your journey of the last few years for anyone who doesn’t know you from social media?

A: Writer. Avid eater of food. Northerner on loan to London. Feminist. Had a run in with breast cancer. Trustee for .

B: You’ve been through an incredibly difficult ordeal and what’s been amazing about following your journey is how you’ve managed to transform some of that into a force for good, with your advocating for women checking their breasts for lumps [#CheckYourChebs], writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons, speaking at various events and sharing your experiences… do you have any advice for people struggling with similar (or different but difficult) situations?

A: Life is tough. We are consistently thrown curve balls that keep us on our toes and these can have long lasting and far reaching effects. But there is nearly always some good to be found in the difficult situations, it’s just about switching your view up so you can see it. And it’s important to remember that while every day might not be good, better days will come. Like the sunrise and the sunset, time is constantly moving and the world is always changing, so you won’t feel like you do now forever.

B: This seems like a stupid question as it must change so much, but how has your journey with breast cancer and everything you have to deal with as a consequence changed you and your perspective on life, looking after yourself, and work?

A: I get asked a lot if being diagnosed with breast cancer has changed me – and the honest answer is I really don’t know. Some days I feel like the same person I was before I got sick, other times I feel like a completely different human. I’m a bit of a contradiction really because sometimes it makes me more cautions and other times it makes me more adventurous. I think the best way to describe it is I’m a bit like a twin of myself – with the same basic DNA (minus the cancery cells) but with tweaks to my personality and my outlook. I’ve always been “work to live” rather than “live to work” and this is SO MUCH WORSE now, which is a blessing in many ways but also means I need to give myself a kick up the arse a lot more than I used to. And in terms of looking after myself, this has become completely crucial to me. My body has been battered and bruised and my brain has taken it’s fair share of a battering too – so things like yoga and meditation have taken a bigger priority in my life than ever before.

B: Can you talk a little bit about your process and experience of writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons?

A: The process of writing Life, Lemons and melons has been a pretty long one. I started my “journey” towards publishing this book about 18 months ago, when I secured an agent and he began talking to publishers about my work. They felt that despite the fact that they loved my idea and my writing, I didn’t have a big enough social media following for them to take a punt on me. So I decided to stick it to the man and do it anyway. I launched a Kickstarter and raised £5000 in 30 days last October and since then I have been knee deep in the writing trenches, driven on by nought but my own perseverance and the 176 investors who chose to believe in me with their hard earned dollar. As the book combines a number of difficult topics, it’s taken me quite a lot of time to geth through the chapters, and it’s really important to me that I am looking after myself while writing, so I’ve taken my time and tried not to put too much pressure on myself to get it done. I also have to be in a very particular place mentally and emotionally to write it so I don’t make my way into a mental nosedive, so I have to be really careful. 

B: You moved from a marketing role to going freelance and writing your book – any tips for people looking to do the same?

A: Take your time – don’t rush. The move doesn’t need to happen immediately. Start putting some feelers out for freelance work before you take the plunge and leave your job. And don’t be scared of the peaks and troughs that come with being a freelancer – there are many and they never get easier but where there are troughs there are always peaks.

B: Can you describe a (working/writing) day in the life of Alice Purkiss?

A: God I’m so bad at sticking to a particular schedule so it varies massively from day to day. I still struggle with fatigue so I don’t usually rush out of bed – even if I’m awake (which I usually am) I don’t get up til about 8.30 or 9, then I’ll get my breakfast, have a wash and start my day at 10am, unless there’s anything in particular that needs to be done first thing (usually dealing with social media clients or responding to emails). Then I usually work for a few hours on whatever projects I have on, whether social media management, writing pieces I have been commissioned for, doing the copywriting work that pays the bills or banging out some words for the book. I usually work til around 2 or 3pm. But this can all change if I have an event to go to, or a meeting to attend, or if I want to go for a swim, to yoga or to another exercise class.

B: What has been the most challenging part of going freelance and working for yourself?

A: Being kind to myself when things are difficult financially. Freelancing is so variable – some months I have lots of work coming in, others I don’t. That’s just the way it is for most freelancers but I have a tendency to tell myself I’m not doing enough, not trying hard enough, should be doing more etc etc. So working on treating myself better and learning to relish the downtime has been a big learning curve.

B: You’ve been very open about your struggles with depression before and during your breast cancer, and the importance of mental health which is so inspiring and I’m sure has helped so many people. What would you say to someone who is suffering and needs help or advice?

A: It’s such a hard question because everyone is so different but I think my number one piece of advice is that the sun will come out again. Better days are coming. You will know lightness again. Just hang in there. Kind of reminds me of this section I wrote in the book:

“There is one key thing I have learnt over the last three years. I think this lesson has partially occurred as a result off my extensive CBT and counselling but partly just as a result of living through a trauma and probably as I approach 30 and develop a bit of hindsight on the life that has gone before me. The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up for not reacting the “right” way to something. There is no “right” way. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. And if the intense emotions you’re feeling are horrible or scary, find someone to sit with them with you, someone to hold your hand and remind you that everything’s going to be ok. I think every emotion comes to teach us something. We just have to be open to learning.”

B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?

A: 1) Living well and making the most of the life I’ve been given and sharing it with people I love

2) Managing to do the above!

B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?

A: My life’s mission in a nutshell is to do my bit to help stamp out late detection of breast cancer by educating the masses on the signs and symptoms that you should be looking out for when you do your monthly check (that’s why I volunteer with CoppaFeel!). I want people who are struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone – that they can talk when they are ready and things will get better. I want those people to know that the world is better with them in it. I want to tell stories and go on adventures, to laugh, to be happy and to be healthy for as long as possible

***Quickfire***

Swimming or running?
SWIMMING. Every time.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Dinner (or tea as we call it in the North)

Forests or beaches?
Beaches near forests?!

Nature or nuture?
Nature

Talent or hustle?
Talent

Chocolate or cheese?
Chocolate

Fave self-care ritual?
Yoga

A good book or netflix?
Book

Fave quote:
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Tea or coffee?
Neither. I am a traitor to my Yorkshire kin.

Avocado toast: ridiculous or delicious?

DELICIOUS

Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)
GOOD ONE. Erm. Margaret Atwood, Bryony Gordon, my Grandma, Zadie Smith, Jon Ronson and Adam Buxton.

The best meal in the world is…
My husband’s mum’s roast ham Sunday dinner with all the trimmings. It’s honestly the best ham I’ve ever tasted. But I also bloody love seafood so anything fishy works for me.

Thanks SO MUCH Alice for sharing all of this, and I can’t wait to read your book!

Check out Alice on social media via the below links, and please do spare a minute to browse the CoppaFeel website and don’t forget to not only #CheckYourChebs but remind all of the lovely ladies in your life to do the same (breast cancer signs and symptoms explained here).

Spend more time with Alice over on her website, instagram, twitter, and read more about Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year here.

You can also PRE-ORDER her book, Life, Lemons & Melons now for just £10 – click here!

B xoxo

Boobs, cancer, questions, queries…?

If you have any questions or concerns, whether you want to donate or have worries about your own health… have a look at the CoppaFeel website and other relevant charities but please do not hesitate to book a boob check, and speak to a qualified health professional. Other resources include:

Signs & Symptoms of breast cancer – CoppaFeel

Cancer Research UK

Breast Cancer Now – resources

 

LegallyBooked – TWO MAYA ANGELOU MEMOIRS -Bookclub Pick #3

When thinking about the next bookclub pick, I just couldn’t narrow it down any further than these two, so I chose both… but narrowly Mom & Me & Mom is my favourite, though it’s a tough call.

Maya Angelou is, to steal an almost-quote from one of her own poems, a PHENOMENAL woman. She wasn’t just a writer (poetry, memoirs, essays), she was a singer, dancer, civil rights activist… but she is perhaps best known for her series of seven autobiographies, of which the above two novels are volumes. The first in the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells the story of her life up to the age of around 17 and is the book that brought her international acclaim.

Mom & Me & Mom (2013) is the last in the seven-book-series, focussing, unlike the other volumes, on Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, who is an incredibly powerful figure. It  revisits many of the same anecdotes she relates in her previous books, with the first part, ‘Mom & Me‘ looking again, like Caged Bird, at Angelou’s early years (pre-17), and documents Angelou’s journey from distrust of her mother and initial resentement to acceptance, love and support – epitomised by Angelou switching from her first name for her mother ‘Lady’, to calling her ‘Mom’ after Baxter assists with the birth of Maya’s son Guy.  Angelou chronicles the intense and unshakeable bond between them and Baxter’s vitality, along with their mutual support for each other, and tells the story of Baxter helping her navigate through single motherhood, work issues, a failed marriage, and career ups and downs.

Both books touch on Angelou’s sexual abuse as a child, and also deal with race, racism, womanhood, identity, family and travel. 

I love Angelou’s writing for its immediacy and authenticity. There’s a frankness, freshness and honesty in everything she writes, and I think her autobiographies are so powerful because although they tell Angelou’s very personal story, for example growing up and living as a black woman in the American South, she connects those experiences to those of all black women, exploring wider themes of racism, sexism, and isolation.

Click here for Penguin Randomhouse suggestions for book club questions on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Below are the LitLovers book club question suggestions for Mom & Me & Mom:

1. Maya says her mother was “irrestible.” What makes her so? How would you describe Vivian Baxter? What did you admire most about her? And what did you not admire?

2. How do you view Vivian’s decision to send her children to live with their father at such a young age? Why did it take her so long, even after the divorce, to call her children back to her?

3. Talk about Maya’s resentment of Vivian…and the halting path toward reconciliation that she followed. The Washington Post reviewer believes this process contains some of the best writing in the book. Do you agree…or not?

4. Discuss Maya’s brother Bailey and his easier path into his mother’s orbit. What can explain his later struggles with drugs?

5. What are some of the episodes in Maya’s life that particularly shocked you?

6. Talk about the society in which Maya grew up and the degree to which it was pervaded with racism. How have we changed…or have we?

7. Reviewers talk about the tone of optimism in this book—the fact that Angelou’s prose lacks bitterness. Do you agree? If so, why do you suppose that is? How has she been able to overcome a resentment that many of us would carry with us for years?

8. Mom and Me and Mom is the seventh book in Maya Angelou’s remarkable autobiographical series, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Have you read any other of the books in this series…or any of her books of poetry? If so, how does this book compare with the others? Can you identify elements of poetic writing in the prose style of this work?