I wore a crystal healing necklace for a week and this is what happened

I wore a crystal healing necklace for a week and this is what happened

crystal healing

I’m probably the least likely person to believe in crystal healing. Which explains why I whispered it to my editor when I pitched this story.

I’m no stranger to therapy per se. I’ve done the ‘lie-on-a-couch-and-wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve’ kind when I was 22 and my parents unexpectedly divorced. I cried a lot. It worked.

So the idea of wearing crystals on my body to cleanse my energy and manifest the things I want seems a little, well, ‘out there’.

Rewind five years and crystal healing was still considered something fringe, practiced by Californian hippies or Gwynnie and her Goop brigade. Now crystal healing has gone mainstream and you see evidence of it everywhere.

I sit next to a colleague with a shard of rose quartz on her desk to ward off negativity. Another carries a piece of amethyst in her coat pocket to thumb during her commute.

On top of that, one of the coolest jewellers in London, Roxanne First, has combined forces with Emma Lucy Knowles, a healer who practices with crystals.


Together they have created The Power of Three. Or a crystal healing necklace, which the pair describe as ‘a piece of jewellery that takes care of you as you wear it.’

Choosing my crystals

It helps that this necklace looks beautiful, with three glistening crystals strung on a gold chain. I’m told it symbolises the connection between mind, body and spirit.

There are five sets to choose from to create good vibes: The Hero’s Shield (amazonite, pink opal and citrine); The Power House (hermatite, lapis, smoky quartz); The Super Attractor (citrine, orange moonstone, fire cornelian) and The Lovers Wish (rose quartz, green glass agate, amethyst).

Knowles carefully selects The Radiator Maker (labradorite, amethyst, orange moonstone) for me after talking me through the energies she senses in me. ‘Amethyst is good for balancing emotions and labradorite will raise your self-esteem. Moonstone has a calming protective energy that allows you to draw into your life what you need,’ she says.

The Power of 3 The Radiator Maker, £305, Roxanne First

crystal healing

Buy it now

Ironically, The Radiator Maker was the necklace my eyes immediately locked on when I entered the room.

‘Maybe you just liked the colour and shape of the crystals; the way they sparkle or the way they feel but you don’t really know why. However they call to you, it’s all good. That’s your intuition talking,’ Knowles reassures me.

Why wear a crystal healing necklace?

After a very difficult 2019, when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer (my mum is responding brilliantly to treatment; my father sadly passed away before Christmas), I’d started to shrink into myself.

I was a beauty editor by day, carer by night. It was about flying under the radar and getting through each day.

This time it wasn’t a shrink’s couch that I needed. It was something that would move my life’s gear stick out of neutral so I could connect with myself (and other people) again.

Could a crystal healing necklace really do that?

‘The whole world is made of energy,’ says Knowles. ‘Every person and every object is vibrating at different frequencies. When we are happy, we emit high vibes; when we are down or burnt out we emit low vibes. Your body generates electricity, which interacts with the crystal. Different crystals do different things so we can use them to change our energy and align ourselves with the vibe we desire.’

The Crystal Prep

Key to the Power of Three is the intention-setting ritual.

I dutifully light a candle, close my eyes and ask myself ‘what is the intention of my crystals?’ I then thread my crystals onto the chain, repeating the mantra that comes in the jewellery box: ‘I awaken, I align, I allow myself to truly shine’.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I secured the clasp. There was no clap of thunder. My boss didn’t suddenly offer me a pay raise. My cat threw up. But that didn’t have anything to do with spiritual purging. Just a dodgy fur ball.

What happened over the next few days is difficult to describe. I suddenly began to notice a shift in my thoughts.

In traditional therapy, you are encouraged to snap a rubber band on your wrist every time you find yourself drifting into negative thinking. In much the same way, I would roll the crystals along the chain every time I felt anxious or wanted to silence the voice in my head that says,  ‘you’re not good enough’.

I intuitively repeated my mantra. At times the crystals felt hot. Then they would cool down and I felt calmer and stronger.

crystal healing

‘You can use your crystals as worry beads or a lucky talisman,’ says Knowles. ‘Most importantly, every time you touch them, you’re tapping into their energy and bringing it in.’

Did It Work?

Even my cynical mind has begun to be more open to the idea that there is a hazy area between science and Eastern spirituality.

Take quartz, for example. It is piezoelectric, meaning it conducts electricity, which is why it’s used in watches. So it has a proven physical power. ‘When we connect with it emotionally, quartz steers us towards clarity,’ says Knowles.

I know that crystals can’t create a force field around you. Bad things will still happen. And, yes, this may all be a placebo effect. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that my crystal healing necklace makes me feel good.  Like EVERY DAY.

Not to undermine a good G&T or anything, but a crystal healing necklace is a healthier and less dramatic way to feel happier. To the nay-sayers out there, that’s surely worth embracing, right?


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#useyourvoice: ‘Masturbation has made me more confident with every soaring orgasm,’ says fashion influencer Style Me Sunday

#useyourvoice: ‘Masturbation has made me more confident with every soaring orgasm,’ says fashion influencer Style Me Sunday

Natalie Lee, founder of the Warrior Women project and co-host of The Everything Project podcast, was crippled with feelings of shame surrounding sex up until her thirties. Now she’s advocating why we all need to take control of our clitoris

Style Me Sunday
Natalie Lee

From a very young age I had associated sex with trauma after a particularly unpleasant event. Anyone who has experienced trauma will understand how it’s possible to become disassociated from your feelings generally, as you learn to shut them down as a way of coping.

Growing up in my household there was this veil of silence surrounding sex, it was hidden, it was painful and the unspoken nature of it only served to help develop it into something I took to be shameful. There are lots of other factors why I and many others associate sex with shame, especially as a female. Women who practise it freely and unapologetically are labelled dirty and used. I also think historically the role of religion and control has been a huge factor.

My early sexual encounters were about playing a role, a role that made me desirable to men, sex was a performance. Mostly re-enacted from the few bits of porn I’d seen. I screamed, I scratched, and I faked many orgasms. I had no idea that sex could or should be about my own gratification as well. I had no idea what a clitoris was.

So for most of life I’ve had mediocre sex. Sex wasn’t terrible, I enjoyed it, especially once I’d found my clitoris but it was very unexploratory. I was too self-conscious to do much other than missionary position.

Style Me Sunday

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Masturbation was definitely something shameful, too. I’d humped teddies as a kid, sometimes with my little friends, always, always in secret, away from adults and never, ever talked about. All I knew was it was something I shouldn’t be doing. Even as an adult I continued to think masturbation was disgusting, that if anyone knew what I was doing they’d have a negative opinion of me. It wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I began to understand masturbation was something fun, safe and normal. It allowed me to rediscover my body and increased my confidence in all areas of my life, including sexually.

Female pleasure is taking centre stage right now, and it’s about time. Women are demanding to be seen and heard and our sexual desires deserve to be taken seriously. There are porn sites made by and, overwhelming viewed by women, such as feminist erotic filmmaker Erika Lust. Even big brands are getting involved – Boots and Cult Beauty have a whole section devoted to sexual pleasure and wellbeing.

I want to talk to my daughters about sex as easy as it is to butter a slice of bread. I hope to make it an everyday topic of conversation and impress on them that sex is to be enjoyed by two mutually-consenting adults, it’s not dirty or shameful. That masturbation is extremely pleasurable, it’s completely natural. And I would wholeheartedly encourage them to explore their own bodies before anyone else gets the right to.

Masturbation has multiple proven benefits – increasing our confidence, self-esteem, helping us to sleep, reducing our stress levels and can be highly beneficial in relationships. Self pleasure has certainly increased my confidence with every soaring orgasm I’ve given myself and I will be forever grateful for finding out about the glorious delights of my clitoris.​

* Follow Natalie on Instagram @stylemesunday

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#useyourvoice: 'I want to hear about Muslim women who are politicised without being labelled jihadi brides,' says author Sairish Hussain

#useyourvoice: 'I want to hear about Muslim women who are politicised without being labelled jihadi brides,' says author Sairish Hussain

Born and brought up in Bradford, Sairish has felt the dehumanisation of Muslims from the age of eight. Here she explains why she was compelled to write her debut novel and banish the devastating tropes of racism and radicalisation

Sairish Hussain

Back in 2001 ‘circle time’ became a frequent part of our school life following the September 11 attacks. A teddy bear would be passed around the students and whoever it landed on would have to share something with the class: a thought, a comment, an opinion. In the weeks following the atrocity, our teachers decided that 9/11 would be the topic of discussion- over and over again. During one of these sessions (and with the class struggling to come up with new responses) the teacher rounded on a student and asked: ‘How would you feel, if your mum was in the tower?’

I remember the girl’s blank face. She floundered, in search of a word.

‘Sad,’ she eventually said, fingers clasped around the teddy.

‘Sad? Is that it?’ my teacher asked. ‘You’d be absolutely distraught.

Bear in mind that this was Bradford, and the classroom was full of Pakistani Muslim kids. Bear in mind, that we were all around eight or nine years old.

I remember this so vividly because everything about this situation was wrong. I didn’t fully understand why at the time, but I felt it. The dust had barely settled, and across the Atlantic, teachers were asking children to imagine their parent’s dead. Not just dead, but as victims of the most horrific terrorist attack of recent times. How would you feel? Our loyalty was being questioned, our responses analysed and discarded as unsatisfactory. Sad? Is that it?

Were the brown kids as troubled by the fiery wreck of those two skyscrapers as ‘normal’ children? What was going on in their homes? Whose side were they really on?

Sairish Hussain

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In my life, I categorise this as ‘the beginning’. It was a pre-warning of the intense global scrutiny we’d grow up under, something we would just have to get used to. Seeing brown people on TV became a cause for dismay because it never involved anything positive. The tabloids screamed at us; so did the six o’clock news. The limited representation we got in film, TV and books also became saturated with ‘war on terror’ content. Global discourse informed teenage me that Muslim men were monstrous beings. Women were oppressed and needed saving. The only time we appeared to be interesting or worth writing about was if we’d been forced into a marriage by our evil parents, or if we’d blown something up and caused mass murder. There was no in between.

For me, there was a slight problem in all of this, because most of the people that I loved belonged in this category. The Muslim one. It is an emotional issue for those of us who have family and friends that face constant dehumanisation. As an avid reader who found solace in books, I learnt that stories were largely at the root of this problem. Stories, whether delivered to us in a book or on TV, gave us the ability to relate to others and live for a while in their shoes. Hence, the solution could also be found within the types of stories that we chose to write.

I began writing my first novel, The Family Tree, as a creative writing student at university, and I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. I had no desire to write a ‘positive’ portrayal of British Muslims. No thanks. Similarly, I refused to write a story that screamed ‘LOOK HOW NORMAL WE ARE’! I wasn’t going to beg anyone to recognise my humanity. Instead, my main character, Amjad, is widowed in the first chapter and left with two small children to look after. Why? Because the primary concerns of people of colour on a day-to-day basis are not just racism, colonialism and radicalisation. Life happens to us too, though this has largely been ignored in artistic portrayals.

Sairish Hussain

The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ, Harper Collins) is out now

As recently as November 2019, a trailer debuted on Apple TV for a movie called Hala which drew controversy. The film, which is written by Minhal Baig and produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, shows an American Muslim teenager struggling with her Islamic faith and her parent’s expectations. In the trailer, Hala’s mother objects to her having a skateboard and she is seen finding solace in the arms of a white boy. Social media became flooded with negative responses as young Muslims expressed their disdain for the overused, tired tropes. Many asked: ‘can we please just have one normal movie?’

Of course, everyone’s ‘normal’ is different and the unfair burden placed on writers of colour leaves them susceptible to accusations of inauthenticity. The portrayal of people of colour in books often leads to higher expectations from readers who are crying out to be seen. Most writers do not wish to become spokespeople for their entire communities. Yet this can only be resolved if a range of stories are being told, which brings us to the publishing industry.

Book publishing feels notoriously closed off for many people. It is a London-centric, white, middle-class industry that struggles with regional, racial and social diversity. Plenty of research has gone into this, including the 2015 report Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Marketplace by Danuta Kearn. The report included first-hand accounts of writers of colour who felt pigeon-holed and pressured into writing stereotypical stories. It is a great resource for those wanting to understand why literature by writers of colour has always been so homogenised and limited in scope. But more needs to be understood about this situation: the human side. The reality of what it actually looks like to grow up with your name attached to constant negativity.

We are not just the pathetic statistics that reflect the failures of the creative industries. We are kids made to feel guilty during a seemingly innocent class activity in primary school. Kids made to feel like outsiders at the age of eight. Quizzed and questioned about our opinion of a catastrophic event far beyond our emotional capabilities.

It is this frustration that compelled me to write my novel, The Family Tree. It is the story that wanted to tell, a story that maybe teenage me might have liked to have read. Growing up, I wanted to hear about British Muslim women who could be angry and politicised without becoming jihadi brides. Women who did not need to become anglicised or secularised to be viewed as liberated. I wanted to read about young Muslim men who could frequent the mosque regularly without being radicalised. Academic, ambitious young men, who did not have to turn to criminality or terrorism to make their mark on society.

The desire to be seen as full, complex human beings is a valid one. Those with marginalised identities should see themselves reflected freely in books, and on our TV screens, and this should be normal.

* The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ, Harper Collins) is out now

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Is it time we admit Love Island is outdated?

Is it time we admit Love Island is outdated?

Even before Caroline Flack’s tragic death there were questions over the brand, linked to former contestants’ suicides and reduced ratings. Here, Olivia Foster asks if it’s time we admit it’s run its course

love island outdated
(Photo Credit: ITV)

Following the announcement of Caroline Flack’s sudden and shocking death on Saturday 15 February, Love Island was not broadcast for two days but it returned last night with a tribute given by her friend and show narrator Iain Stirling. However many fans posted on social media they just didn’t feel right watching the show after the former presenter’s suicide – the fourth associated with the ITV2 show – and viewers did tune out, with an average audience of 1.93 million recorded by ratings supplier Overnights.tv.

Of course, when a new series of Love Island was first touted last year, it was safe to say people were excited. Would it be the antidote to the depressing winter months we’d all been looking for? Well, apparently not, even before Caroline’s death, the show was in trouble with recent reports revealing figures had dropped a massive 800,000 since the last summer series. In fact, in Ireland it was even reported that more people tuned in to see the Prime Time Leaders Debate on the February 1st, than watched the South Africa based show.

love island outdated

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So what’s gone wrong? Well, the beginning of the series was mired by complaints and issues; from criticisms of the inclusion of 23-year-old Ollie Williams – who was seen posing next to a dead animal in a (since deleted) Instagram post – to accusations of racism and gaslighting being levied at Connor Durham.

love island outdated

One of this year’s Love Island contestants, Connor Durham (Photo Credit: ITV)

As for the Winter Love Island being posited as the cure for the winter blues,  it’s only really served to make us feel worse about ourselves. In the summer we can relate to the Islanders (exceptionally tanned bodies and extensive bikini collections aside), we’re hot and horny and LI makes us believe that we too could get off with a six-pack wielding fireman, or a personal trainer from Essex with eyes so blue you could swim in them. Now our hearts are as cold our hands and we’ve barely seen our own bodies for months so the thought of rubbing them up against someone else is as alien as the thought of a Prime Minister who actually cares about people.

Then there is the image issue. For several seasons the show has been criticised for its lack of body diversity, with the majority of the shows female stars barely pushing over a size 10. But the casting producers fail season in, season out, to do anything about it. In 2019 ITV Studios Entertainment creative director Richard Cowles said, ‘I think we try to be as representative and diverse as possible.’ But when you consider that up 98,000 people were said to have applied for previous series, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t possible to cast a wider variety of people.

What’s more, previous stars have begun to reveal the unhealthy lengths they’ve gone to prepare for their stint in the villa, leaving further questions about what it means to promote these unrealistic body goals. Former star Ellie Brown recently confessed to one newspaper, ‘One of the biggest myths about Love Island is that we look so toned, tanned and skinny all the time. In reality, I practically starved myself going into the villa — eating nothing but fish and vegetables for months and spending hours sweating away in the gym each day.’

love island outdated

(Photo Credit: ITV)

It is hardly surprising, then, that after six series things have started to get a little stilted, with one Twitter user calling the contestants, ‘The most boring set of islanders,’. Another called the show, ‘dull as dishwater.’ Like Big Brother and the X Factor before it, what was once an exciting new format has become to feel tired, especially as there is very little going on by way of new twists and turns to keep us entertained. Part of the problem behind this is – of course – is that the contestants will have seen the show before, such a juggernaut is it that you’d have to have lived with your head under a pillow and with no social media in order to miss it. So chats about ‘where your head is at,’ now feel performative rather than sweet, and Casa Amor is no longer a shock, but an expected few episodes in every series.

With only one week remaining before this show’s finale, its future and future direction is unclear. Although it’s unlikely the show will be axed, given that last year an ITV executive said they had never considered cancelling Love Island in the wake of the deaths of two former Islanders, Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. However, they’re now in uncharted waters with their former presenter’s death most definitely reigniting the conversation, and with calls from the public for the show to be taken permanently off air. If it remains, here’s hoping we see some serious changes for the better the next time Love Island comes around.

In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie

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Random Acts Of Kindness Day reminds us to check our own reflections

Random Acts Of Kindness Day reminds us to check our own reflections

As Caroline Flack’s tragic death prompts #BeKind to go viral, Olivia Adams says it is us – not the media – who needs to be better

Random Acts Of Kindness Day

‘Be Kind’. These are the two words echoing around the office today. We all know why. Yesterday the six letters were also trending on Twitter, written on London transport tube boards and reposted to Instagram. It made me consider my character, and if being kind is a quality I can proudly claim.

I believe it is, but I often thought my former job in the showbiz journalism industry shunned this attribute. Because it’s true, bad news sells. Repercussions for spreading negativity? No, reward! It was my first job out of university and as a junior writer, at lunchtime I would watch my editors huddle around the picture editor’s computer to buy the most unflattering snaps of celebrities on the beach. At night, I was praised for obtaining controversial lines from drunk, sad or ‘fame-hungry’ stars.

But it is not the press who is unkind. I know, I would say that – I am the press. But hear me out. It’s the people. It’s us. It’s all of us. We like to see those fatter, uglier, poorer than us, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Ever wondered why soap operas are so damn depressing? It’s because we’re happier that these poor souls have had a harder day than us.

At this time of being a junior reporter, social media was in its infancy – but the concept of trolling was the same. I’m printing these derogatory words, but would I say it in person, to their face? Unlikely. And this question still rings true today. From whispering in the office about other colleagues to WhatsApping catty comments in your friendship group. Would you voice these opinions to their face? If the answer is no, we really shouldn’t be saying them at all.

Transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf worded it perfectly on social media yesterday: ‘I hope one day we stop tearing each other apart and realise that each and every one of our words hold weight,’ she penned. ‘How we treat each other in real life or on social media, is literally a matter of life or death.’

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A post shared by MUNROE (@munroebergdorf) on Feb 15, 2020 at 12:27pm PST

Caroline Flack’s decision to end her own life is as shocking as it is sad. The media is facing blame for covering the news so heavily  (the presenter was due to stand trial on the March 4 after she was arrested and charged with assault on boyfriend, Lewis Burton, at the end of 2019), when she was clearly going through a distressing time and her mental health was in question. A petition has even started in Caroline Flack’s name (Caroline’s Law) to introduce stricter laws around press conduct.

But in my opinion, it’s not the industry’s fault. Nothing would be printed if there was no demand for it. And so, it comes back to us. We have to change us. The Oxford Dictionary definition of kind is, ‘someone who behaves in a gentle, caring and helpful way towards other people’. And today, February 17, marks Random Acts Of Kindness Day. So let’s all say something nice to someone, and not just today, but every day. After all, it’s nice to be nice. We can all agree on that.

In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie


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'Why don't we talk about the emotional labour of being single'

'Why don't we talk about the emotional labour of being single'

Do you know it’s Single Awareness Day? Well, writer Olivia Foster would love to celebrate but she’s frankly too exhausted…

single awareness day
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Twelve hours into the worst sick bug I’ve ever encountered and I’m lying on my bathroom floor, totally naked, surrounded by discarded Dettol wipes and the last of my dignity when suddenly a wave of panic mixed with acute loneliness sweeps over me. I have absolutely nothing in the house and, as a single woman who lives alone, I have no one to help me. My mum is away, my siblings and friends are at work, so I know I must look after myself, alone, which is no mean feat when you can’t go more than ten minutes without being sick.

Emotional labour,’ is a term that gets bandied about a lot, especially when it comes to people in partnerships. We hear how women, so much more often than men, juggle both their own jobs and the responsibility of keeping their houses and families in shape. In fact, a report from the United Nations in 2018 found that women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid work that men do. This could be anything from cooking, to cleaning, managing household expenses and bills to – if you have them – caring for children. It’s a stat that becomes particularly ridiculous when you consider that a reported 71.6% of women are in the UK workforce, meaning they’re effectively working twice.

Similarly we often hear about the issues for older people, whose partners or friends might have passed on, who struggle with being alone, not only when it comes to chores or tasks but with feeling isolated and unable to ask for help; be that someone to help with the shopping, or someone to have a conversation with. But we don’t often talk about the reality of what it’s like to look after yourself, by yourself, all the time as a younger person. It seems silly in some ways to point it out but it is just another way in which the real life experiences of single women outside of the usual stereotypes are silenced. Our emotional labour ignored.

single awareness day

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I know there are other women who feel the same as me – who recognise the very real exhaustion that can come from always having to look out for themselves with no help and not wanting to put the burden on other people. Rose is 38 and lives by herself in a flat in North London, she tells me that it’s when work gets tough that she feels it the most, ‘I’ve been on my own a while,’ she says, ‘And in many ways I love it, but there are some days when not having anyone can help becomes really tough. If I’ve had a stressful week at work then finding the energy to cook or clean my flat can feel impossible and it’s hard to talk about it without feeling like I’m moaning so I just say nothing.’

No wonder really, that a report on millennial women found six in ten feel lonely and as if they wish they could have someone to talk to. It’s an interesting stat when you consider the definition of emotional labour is the feeling that you need to suppress your feelings in order to make sure everyone around you feels comfortable. Indeed, it was originally described by American sociologist Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart as the need to, ‘induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.’ She has since said that she feels people shouldn’t always relate this to housework for example, but that it is something that can affect both women and men, not only at home but at work and in our general personal lives.

For me limiting my personal emotional labour has been about being totally honest with people when I can’t take on additional tasks for them that might lead me to feeling frustrated and repressed. This could be not going to a birthday party when I’m already exhausted, or not offering to help someone if I know I’m already at capacity and won’t be able to give them the attention they need. But going forward from sick-gate I’ve also vowed to be more open when I’m not coping – and always keep a stash of restorative full-fat cokes in the fridge.

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'Valentine’s Day is a cheesy nightmare but it forced me to get serious about love'

'Valentine’s Day is a cheesy nightmare but it forced me to get serious about love'

With a broken heart and a string of meaningless relationships behind her, writer Daisy Buchanan recalls one Valentine’s when Cupid was hiding in plain sight, well on Twitter actually…

Valentine's Day love
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Arguably, Valentine’s Day has the worst reputation of any occasion that can be marked with a greetings card. It has become the opposite of what it sets out to celebrate.

Firstly, no-one wins – even if you’re in a happy, secure committed relationship, you start to worry that you’re failing at love because your partner has not bought you a cuddly toy holding a heart. And if they have, it’s somehow worse – because how could they express their passion with something so naff and flammable? They don’t know you at all!

If you’re single, it’s a maddening reminder that the world thinks like your mum, or a tabloid newspaper when Dec was briefly Ant-less and would really prefer you to be part of a pair. If it’s a bad year, every poster in Smiths offering free heart-shaped Lindor with every purchase of the Daily Telegraph looks like the world’s most invasive sign, flashing “AND WHERE ARE MY GRANDCHILDREN???”

Yet, I love it. Because on 14 February 14, 2012, I realised I’d had enough. I looked around at the teddies, chocolates, carnations and bad lingerie, and thought, ‘This is what I want. Well, maybe not this exactly – but I’m tired of pretending that I’m too cool for romance. I’m sick of saying that I’ll keep it casual, acting as though my heart is unbreakable, and telling boys that I don’t mind if they don’t text me, or want to sleep with other people, or forget my birthday. I want true love – in all its naff, shiny, polyester splendour.’

Valentine's day love

Writer Daisy Buchanan (Photo Credit: Grace Plant)

At 26, I’d believed that I could give up yearning in the way that other people managed to give up cigarettes, or sugar. After having my heart broken – mangled – by a childhood friend, I threw myself into a series of meaningless relationships. I was having a soul-destroying affair with a much older man who pursued me enthusiastically and waited for me to fall for him before making it clear that his life was too complicated for me to play any real part in it. For every hour I spent with him, I must have spent thirty in pubs, squinting at texts and trying not to weep as I muttered ‘I mean, I knew what I was getting into.’ I don’t think this man ever actually said ‘I’m married to the sea’, yet that’s what I remember him telling me.

The trouble was that these relationships weren’t meaningless. They made me think that I wasn’t worth true love, time and attention. I was depressed. Yet deep down, a tiny spark of hope reminded me that I didn’t want to give up entirely. It was time to try for the real thing. Typically, Cupid had a stupid disguise. He was hiding in plain sight.

Valentine's day love

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Right before Valentine’s Day, I spotted something on Twitter that cheered me up and made me laugh. A company was offering a joke romantic ‘experience’ – ‘a romantic hotel stay, for three!’ The idea was a ridiculous gimmick, but the copy on the website made me hoot. It read like a Carry On film scripted by Vic and Bob. ‘FAQs: I once went to Aiya Napa with three chums in 1999. How will this experience differ?’ Without giving it much thought, I tweeted at the company ‘I fancy your writers!’ The writer in question made contact and slid into my DMs. Two weeks later, we had our first date. Three years later, we were married.

Our origin story might be silly, but I often think about the fact that he came into my life as soon as I decided to get serious about love – almost to the very second. At first, I thought he was too romantic. ‘He bought me a book I mentioned, he calls every night, he took me back to my flat in Brixton when I felt sick at the theatre, and then went all the way home to Walthamstow – is he not a bit intense?’ I complained to my sister Grace. ‘He sounds like the nicest person you have ever been out with. I think he’s The One,’ she replied. She was right. I had spent so long starving myself of romance that I didn’t know how to handle it when it arrived. Still, I learned to love it. It was worth waiting for.

This Valentine’s, I’ll be celebrating love, and hope – I doubt there will be any helium balloons, but I’m definitely holding out for a heart-shaped box of Lindor balls. More importantly, I’ll be focusing on how magical life can be when we allow ourselves to value our desires, to be vulnerable and to be open to love, in all its cheesy, terrifying, thrilling glory.

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#useyourvoice: ‘Be true to yourself and confidence comes' says trans woman medic Abi Giles

#useyourvoice: ‘Be true to yourself and confidence comes' says trans woman medic Abi Giles

NHS pathology lab scientist Abi Giles shares her story in a bid to promote understanding and equality

trans woman

‘Realising I was a woman was a gradual process for me, rather than feeling trapped in the wrong body from a young age. Before I transitioned in 2017 and changed my name to Abi, I spent a few years expressing myself as female behind closed doors.

When I presented myself in that way I felt more confident and comfortable. I started to think, this is who I am. I’ve been through male puberty so I’ll never have the same features as a cisgender woman – my bone structure is bigger and I naturally have more muscle mass – but I’m still a woman.

My parents are in their seventies and they don’t fully understand my decision, but they can see how much happier I am and support me. Basically, they put their love for me first.

I’m a pathology lab scientist – which means I test blood in hospitals – and I’m based in Bolton. I literally wear a white coat for a living! I’ve always wanted to help people but without being on the front line like a doctor.

I came out to my managers and agreed a set date to transition. A few months before that day, I put a message out on Facebook for my colleagues to see. They were all incredibly understanding and since that day I’ve represented my NHS trust at Bolton Pride.

My appearance didn’t drastically change. I have an androgynous dress sense and found daily make-up too much of a faff. I have light facial hair and it’s painful to shave my face every day, so I’ll admit, I have been a woman walking around with a bit of a beard every now and again.

It’s important to me to be honest about my story on social media, because society has this idea of what a woman should be, and I want to show you don’t have to conform to this dated idea of femininity.

Because I’m a medical professional I’m not a hard-core tweeter of my opinions, but I am vocal about the importance of trans rights. I like to challenge people to think about what they are saying.

There are on-going debates about whether trans women who still have male genitalia should be put into female-only prisons if they have committed a crime.

The name usually quoted from people or the press who are anti society reforming is Karen White, a trans woman who was placed in a women’s prison in 2018 and sexually assaulted four female inmates. That was essentially a big screw up by the prison service and it doesn’t mean all trans women are dangerous or a threat to women.

In-fact, trans people have a huge amount of empathy for women who have suffered at the hands of men. And trans women can be the victim of rapes and attacks just as much as cisgender women. Or they are even more of a target, because we are ‘unnatural’.

As a state registered health professional I also really want to clear up another misconception about the NHS – that teens are given hormones to change their gender identity if they ask for it. In reality, it’s so hard to access treatment, and no person is given any permanent hormone treatment until they turn the age of 16. What is given to teenagers under the age of 16 is hormone blockers, which essentially puts puberty on hold. They are safe and have been used for decades.

I’m not supposed to be on hormones yet (the NHS target is to be prescribed hormones within 16 weeks and it’s been three years since I was referred), but I suppress testosterone by self-medicating on three tablets a day, as prescribed by my individual GP.

I’m keen to have full gender confirmation surgery, but I want to stress that not every trans woman can or will have an operation. The Equality Act of 2010 outlines that you don’t need to have any medical procedures to be a woman, you just need to define as one.

I’m 29 years old and currently single. In the past I’ve felt lonely and desperate for love, but right now I’m content. I’m bisexual, so for me, it’s about connecting with the person, not the gender. I have tried dating apps, but it’s sometimes scary to think of people not taking kindly to you because you’re trans.

If I found myself in a stable relationship I would like to have a family of my own. I’m infertile due to taking hormone treatments, so I would definitely consider adoption. Family is so much more than sharing strands of DNA. It’s about teaching good ideas and values to offspring.

Since the 2016 Brexit vote there has been a lot more toxicity towards minority groups, but I appreciate life is a lot easier for trans people to live than in decades past. Put simply, I just want people to be treated equally. What you’ve got between your legs does not define who you are as a person. I’m trans, I’m proud of it – it’s nothing to be ashamed of.’

Abi is a fundraising co-ordinator for the national transgender charity Sparkle, which aims to celebrate the transgender community. For more information see sparkle.org.uk

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Things that'll definitely happen if you're single this Valentine's Day

Things that'll definitely happen if you're single this Valentine's Day

Brace yourself, it’s time for all the clichés coming your way…

Valentine's Day
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Words by Olivia Foster

Valentine’s Day; a day of romance, flowers, M&S two-for-one meal deals and declarations of undying love or, if you’re single, texts from men you don’t fancy, mis-matched underwear and avoiding conversations in the kitchen at work about exactly how you’re going to be spending the evening.

Whether you’re a Valentine’s lover, hater or you’re totally indifferent to the Hallmark holiday, one thing’s for sure, at least one of the below will happen to you before the day is out. Sorry, we don’t make the rules…

You’ll Get A Mysterious Card From Your Mum

What’s that in your letterbox, a card in a red envelope, signed from a mysterious admirer that happened to arrive just days after your mum text to ask for a reminder of your address? Seems legit.

Plus Four Texts From Guys You Went On A Single Date With

These will range from a three scroll epilogue about how, despite only meeting once, John, 35, from Essex, has actually realised you were perfect for one another, to a cursory, ‘U up?,’ from a guy you snogged outside a Be At One. To be fair, Valentine’s does fall on a Friday this year so who can blame him.

Valentine's Day

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And One Text From Your Ex-Boyfriend

There’s nothing good about this, if you ended on good terms it will only set you back a few weeks of pretending you can be friends, if you ended on bad terms you’ll have to spend the day resisting the temptation to tell him to…

You Might Even Send Some Yourself…

Look, this is a no judgement zone, you can’t help it if you have four glasses of Pinot Grigio and decide that you don’t want to spend the evening alone. Just make sure you’re not texting someone you’re going to regret – yes, we are talking about that fit guy in your office.

You’ll Be Served Sponsored Ads To Singles Nights

If you’ve ever wondered if your phone is listening to you it will 100% be confirmed as you’re served ad after ad for singles nights in your area. Now all you’ve got to do is decide what would be an appropriate outfit for Jenga speed dating.

But At Least They’ll Break Up Your Instagram Feed

You’re not saying you’re not happy for Sarah and her new boyfriend, but was it really necessary to do a 25 slide long Insta-story tribute to him?

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#useyourvoice Model Felicity Hayward: 'Why I’m boycotting London Fashion Week'

#useyourvoice Model Felicity Hayward: 'Why I’m boycotting London Fashion Week'

Plus-size model and body positive activist Felicity Hayward won’t be at this week’s shows. She believes a lack of diversity is damaging the industry and leaving London lagging behind in the fight for equality

London Fashion Week Felicity Hayward
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‘We would love for Felicity to attend our show this season, but unfortunately we can’t do dressing’. It’s a carefully crafted email that has become the norm for me to receive prior to London Fashion Week and, quite honestly, I’m bored of it. I’m tired of supporting an industry that doesn’t support me and women of my size so, this season, I’m boycotting LFW.

I get that I am not the sample size, but it’s not just me who struggles:my size 10/12 peers find it hard too, and just about manage to squeeze themselves into generous cuts. Me? I’m lucky if I am offered a bag or a hairclip.

Plus-size model Ashley Graham spoke to designer American Christian Siriano [who shows at New York Fashion Week] in her latest podcast, Pretty Big Dealabout this very subject, asking him, ‘Is it hard to cater for bigger sizes?’. He replied, ‘It takes time but my small team of 20 still seem to be able to do it, I’m not sure why others can’t.’ And to me, that spoke volumes.

So why are plus-size women not included; not seen at the shows? I think the answer goes much deeper than not being able to find the right dress.

London Fashion Week Felicity Hayward

Ashley Graham walks the runway during the TOMMYNOW New York Fall 2019 fashion show on 8th September, 2019 (Getty Images)

I turned down an invitation to attend The Fashion Awards because I was offered one outfit for the occasion, while my thinner counterparts were afforded myriad dresses to choose fromIt may sound petty at first, but I’m tired of plus-size women always being seen as an after-thought. We deserve to be at these events, but we’re often told to be grateful to be included at all.

We are living in the year 2020. Haven’t we all woken up to the fact the world is not one beauty ideal or one size?

I love London, I really do. I moved here when I was 17 to study. This place I call home has paved the way for so many iconic fashion labels and brands. London created punk and it remains a pioneer for a plethora of trends and talented designers. So why are we still so far behind when it comes to diversity?

Every season during the shows, I take my seat and pray I will see some sort of improvement in diversity. But every year, I’m disappointed: I’m lucky if I see one or two women walking at LFW who are even slightly curvy. London just doesn’t take risks when it comes to body diversity – and it’s starting to show.

After all, we live in a society where the rise of social media has influenced how people feel about fashion and identity. As an audience, we want to see something real; we want to be able to relate and aren’t following one type of body or beauty ideal anymore.

Rihanna and what she has achieved with her Fenty enterprise is a great example. You only have to see the Savage X Fenty lookbooks or Fenty Beauty campaigns to realise that she is making her brands accessible to everyone.

I attended the Savage X Fenty show in New York last season and I was literally in tears. There stood Bella Hadid, one of the world’s most famous supermodels, next to a size 22 model dripping in lace and diamonds. A plus-size dancer and a model with a prosthetic leg then took to the stage. Everyone single one of those women glowed. They looked empowered and there was no hierarchy among them: they were all considered equal in their beauty.

That show did something to people. It showed love, respect and power. It portrayed a fierce female force that was an army to be reckoned with. This is how the world really looks now, and Rihanna reflected that in her fashion offerings.

London Fashion Week Felicity Hayward

Artist and body positivity activist Margie Plus (R) walks the runway for the Savage X Fenty Show on 10th September, 2019, New York City (Getty Images)

So why aren’t we seeing the equivalent of this in London?

Is it because we don’t have as many plus-size icons as they do in the States? Or is it simply that there’s less pressure to dress curvier celebrities, so designers avoid the issue in shows, too?

Looking on Christian Siriano’s website I find his take on the subject: ‘[We design for women of all body types]. It is simply bad business to ignore a demographic. We order most production runs of the Christian Siriano Collection up to size 18 [or UK 22], as that is what our retailers order from us. However, when any piece from our collection is desired in a size not pre-produced, we can make it custom for the client.’

London Fashion Week Felicity Hayward

A model walks the runway for the Christian Soriano AW 20 Fashion Show on 6th February, 2020, New York City (Getty Images)

And this is from the designer who created Billy Porter’iconic Oscar gown in 2019. Siriano also famously dressed 17 women for the Oscars in 2018, including Whoopi Goldberg, Janelle Monae, Amy Adams, Laverne Cox, Christina Hendricks and Keala Settle – each of whom exude their own style, size and beauty. Wouldn’t it be nice if this wasn’t seen as trailblazing, but normal?

The truth is, I am embarrassed that the UK isn’t catering for plus-size women; that we’re continually being excluded from high-profile shows and events.

London Fashion Week, I love you. But you gotta step up your game.

* Follow Felicity on Instagram @felicityhayward

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