The expectation to be perfect is a curse that plagues the royal women, with Kate Middleton sending the Internet into shock last year for emerging from the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s hospital just hours after Prince Louis’ April birth to pose for photographs. Did I mention she was wearing heels with perfect hair and make up and you could barely see a baby bump?
And that was her third child, with Kate performing an extremely quick turn around and emerging fresh faced with Prince George and Princess Charlotte, too.
This for us ordinary folk is completely unfathomable – I for one know that when I give birth, I’ll probably have to be wheeled out of the hospital days later in my pyjamas and I certainly won’t expect to lose my baby bump for at least a year.
When Meghan Markle was announced to be bypassing the traditional photoshoot on the day of the birth, women across the world applauded. Why should you have to parade in front of a throng of photographers and pretend you feel incredible when you just want to curl up with your newborn?
Instead, the Duchess of Sussex chose to step out with Prince Harry two days after little Archie’s arrival, and as the couple walked towards the cameras, I sighed in relief.
Don’t get me wrong – Meghan looked stunning, and she even donned heels for the occasion – but she also looked entirely relatable.
Her choice of dress accentuated her baby bump and she showed off her pregnancy curves, her hair and make up was very natural and she and Harry made no secret of the fact that they were exhausted.
Bottom line – they were completely relatable, coming across as new parents rather than royals.
While on the outside, Meghan has simply stepped outside with her newborn, she has actually done a great deal more – breaking down the antiquated expectations around postpartum body image.
With brides and grooms dishing out the honours to friends and families ahead of their big day, a lot of people in the wedding party are left questioning what their roles actually involve.
For the bride a maid of honour – or matron of honour as some refer to it – is considered the chief bridesmaid, so the pressure is on to fulfil all the duties necessary; plan a hen party to impress (not embarrass) the bride, and be at her beck and call for the months running up to the big day. But there’s more.
I have never been a bridesmaid, or maid of honour (obvs), but last year my sister said those all important words ‘Will you be my maid of honour?’ After I squealed, screamed and sobbed (and obviously said yes) a sudden fear enveloped me because I don’t know what I’m meant to do, or plan (aside from the hen) or if I’m meant to give a speech on her special day – if I do I’m going to be a blubbery mess and not get a word out, and most importantly I d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ can’t let her down.
I spoke exclusively to wedding guru Sarah Allard – who is the Editor of Hitched – as well as, professional bridesmaid Tiffany Wright, and the Marie Claire team to get the top tips for being the best MOH, and to find out what a maid of honour’s duties really involve; from hen party planning to their role on the day, the speeches to their gifts, and whether brides need to have a maid of honour at all…
Maid of honour duties
The panicked question all maid of honour’s ask themselves is ‘what do I actually need to do?’ Answer: to plan the hen party and be the bride’s support.
Sarah exclusively told us: ‘As the maid of honour, your job is to be the bride’s right-hand woman for anything and everything they need throughout their wedding planning journey.
‘The maid of honour role has always been an important role in weddings. Helping to choose the dress and then organising the hen are the two biggies. The bride is going to have a lot on her plate, so being there to offer advice on the dress, and taking the pain of another event to organise out of her hands will really help her out.
‘Traditionally the maid of honour would spend several days with the bride leading up to the wedding day to make sure she was ready for the wedding. But the rules are a lot more relaxed now.’
Similarly, professional bridesmaid Tiffany Wright insisted communication with the bride is paramount.
She said: ‘The thing I advice maid of honour to do is talk to the bride as soon as possible and find out what is important to her when it comes to the duties of the maid of honour. Some brides might just want the emotional support whilst others want practical help, so make sure you know where you stand from the beginning.’
Aside from organising the hen party and bridesmaids, as well as helping the bride on her special day, whether it’s holding her dress when she goes to the loo or her bouquet as she signs the wedding certificate, you are also a moral adviser listening to all the bride’s woes and dilemmas.
Tiffany added: ‘Although the most of the bridesmaids probably want to get involved in the planning too, it’s huge job to set up the bridesmaid WhatsApp group, book flights, arrange games. You are the sos girl when things go wrong.
‘On the day you have to look after the brides bouquet when the bride and groom go through their vows. If you have your own bouquet hand it to one of the other bridesmaids to hold.
‘But, most importantly, make sure the brides eats and drinks (water!) no one wants a brides to pass out from dehydration or lack of food on the day so keep an eye on her and check she is eating and drinking.’
TIPS: Where do we start?
Sarah advised: ‘Start by organising a brunch for just the two of you, bring a notebook and start brainstorming some ideas with her – what kind of hen do she might like? When is the wedding? What is the colour scheme?
‘By the time the big day comes around, all the planning will be done, so on the day it’s all about being there to support the bride. One job that is paramount on the day, but often forgotten about, is to straighten the train of the bride’s dress when you get to the front so try to remember that – it’ll bug her in all the photos if you don’t!’
Tiffany added: ‘Make sure you have a list of all of the wedding vendors and contact numbers of anyone important incase anything goes wrong.’
Maid of honour gifts
Maid of honour gifts are subject to each bride, and will depend on their budget. Some may gift their bridal party when they dish out the maid of honour title, others may give their MOH a token present on the day or on the eve of the wedding day, while others may gift something post-wedding to show their appreciation, but there are some brides who may wish to do all three – if they are feeling generous.
Sarah said: ‘It’s tradition for the bride to give her maid of honour and bridesmaids gifts too.’
Marie Claire’s Beauty Editor, Katie Thomas, shared her bridal party gifts advice. She said: ‘Buying your bridesmaids gifts is really lovely. I bought them each a pair of earrings to wear on the day and some pyjamas to wear the night before.’
But does the maid of honour give a gift? Again, this is down to each individual.
Sarah said: ‘If the bride has asked you to pay for your dress you don’t have to. But if you still want to give her gift, then focus on something more sentimental and a small token rather than splashing the cash, such as a framed photo from your favourite holiday or a bag full of goodies for the morning after the wedding.’
Maid of honour speeches
It is most common the father of the bride, best man and even the groom perfect a speech on the newlyweds wedding day.
However, it has become more common for the maid of honour or a bridesmaid to say a few words too. As daunting as they may be it’s your time to celebrate your bond with them. After all, if the groomsman can brag about the groom, so why can’t the maid of honour do the same?
Sarah explained: ‘We’re seeing more and more maids of honour give speeches on the big day. It’s such a brilliant way to celebrate your friendship and the ultimate way to show her how much she means to you.’
But professional bridesmaid, Tiffany, has insisted it is a conversation you need to have with the bride.
She said: ‘It didn’t used to be tradition but recently more maid of honours are giving speeches. Ask the bride if it is something she would like you to do.
‘Don’t try and compete with the best man. Best man’s speeches are renowned for being risky so keep it classy with yours.’
TIPS: What should the speech include?
‘Remember that while the story of you both getting locked out of halls during your first year of uni is still hilarious for the two of you, not everyone in the room will want to hear 20 minutes of inside jokes. Instead, focus on a couple of anecdotes (how you met or a special milestone you share), and a poignant message for your friend. I love the idea of writing a poem’, said Sarah.
Tiffany advised: ‘Explain to everyone why the bride is your best friend, remind her of anecdotes when you were younger and tell her why her groom is lucky to have her. Sentimentality goes a long way in a MOH speech.’
Maid of honour dresses
What dress the maid of honour should wear is a common question every bride wants to know, as well as who buys them.
Sarah clears this up. She said: ‘It’s really down to what the bride would like on her day. She may want every bridesmaid in a different dress or prefer to have you all in the same, but it’s really up to her and the vision she has for her day, as well as her budget.
‘If you’re worried about your friend choosing something you don’t like, sit down with her beforehand to discuss her ideas and see if you can agree on some styles you both like and that you feel comfortable wearing. If you have a dress you really don’t like, think about how you might be able to alter or adjust it, and then choose the right moment to explain to your friend that you’d like to make some small changes to feel more comfortable.’
There can be a lot of dress fittings for the bride, her bridal party and the maid of honour too, but does the MOH have to go to EVERY fitting?
Sarah added: ‘If the bride asks you to! But if not, it’s not essential for you to be there so long as she is happy and confident to go on her own or with her mum.’
Tiffany has revealed dresses can be styled in different ways, which can suit the whole bridal party.
She said: ‘Fabulous bridesmaid dresses out there than can be worn in numerous different ways, so if you do want to stand out, suggest that you all wear the same dress but that yours is worn slightly differently.’
This is the main role the maid of honour is given the responsibility of planning, but where to start? There’s pressure to please the bride, the stress of who to invite so not to upset the bride, as well as friends of the soon-to-be newlyweds, the fear the bride won’t enjoy it, so there needs to be a happy medium between fun but not too rowdy, and affordable, as well as drama free.
Sarah shared her nuggets of wisdom to make the whole process stress free. She said: ‘It really depends how well you know the other bridesmaids. If you’re all part of the same friendship group and you’ve planned things together before, then it can be easier to plan.
‘However, if you don’t know the other bridesmaids it can sometimes become tricky when everyone has a different opinion of what the bride would like. Ask the bride for a few bullet points of what she would and wouldn’t like before you get started, so you always have a point of reference to go back to.’
Katie added: ‘The hen party always reveals who puts the most effort in…it’s always very telling! There’s always a bit of drama. I thought I was going to completely bypass it, but I think its unavoidable.’
But when the hen do has been planned the responsibilities continue. During the actual party the maid of honour has the additional responsibility of being in charge of the kitty.
Tiffany said: ‘It usually falls to the maid of honour to be in charge of the kitty and collecting any money needed for the hen do.’
TIPS: ‘My top tips for planning the hen would be to start planning it as early as you possibly can. This way you can give the guests an idea of the cost immediately and manage expectations of whether it will be in the UK or abroad, and there is time for payments towards the total cost to be spread out and more manageable for those attending, especially if they have other holidays too’ Sarah advised.
With all the hen party planning – do not forget to factor in the bride, who the bridal party pay for.
Sarah continued: ‘Remember that traditionally, you need to add in the cost of the bride, so make sure you give the guests the costs up front – people will be annoyed if you keep adding more as the hen gets closer.’
Tiffany added: ‘Make sure you arrange a hen that THE BRIDE would like, not one that the bridesmaids want. If you bride has told you she doesn’t want penis straws and strippers then respect her and stay away from this.
‘Try and personalise a hen do to your bride. If your bride loves the countryside and good food then book a gorgeous cottage and bring in a chef’, or even opt for a zen do.
How to choose your maid of honour
Picking one person to be your maid of honour can be a huge dilemma for some brides, who fear they will offend the rest of their bridesmaids with their choice.
Katie shared her tips for picking her bridal party, and we are so here for it. She advised: ‘I didn’t have a maid of honour as, to be honest, the whole asking people to be bridesmaids is awkward enough. I have so many best friends whom I love equally I didn’t like the idea of asking one to be top dog.
‘But choosing my bridesmaids was the easiest and toughest thing I have ever done. Easy because I knew exactly who I wanted by my side, but tough because I wanted around nine people. I’m not keen on lots of bridesmaids so I had to narrow it down, which broke my heart a little. However, I don’t think anyone would have questioned my choices.’
Marie Claire’s Fashion Editor, Penny Goldstone, said: ‘My maid of honour was my sister, which made it an easy choice, rather than picking a best friend within a group of friends. It meant she knew me best too, so was a great organiser, but also that I had that sister relationship with her that meant I didn’t mind telling her if there was something I didn’t like. She was just very good at taking stress off me.’
While some may opt for siblings or their best friend, others feel obliged to return the favour and choose someone to take the role because they were there maid of honour for their wedding, or because some are simply more savvy and organised (we’re not joking!)
Katie added: ‘I have one friend who chose her bridesmaids based on who was the most organised and would be able to throw the best hen do and be the most help in the lead up to the day.’
However, some brides may want to buck the trend and not single out one person as their maid of honour, and will stick with a group of bridesmaids to share the load, while others may even give the title to a male friend.
TIP: ‘Always stick to who you want. Don’t have someone because you feel you have to. Just because someone asked you, doesn’t mean you have to have them.’
I’ve always considered myself a mindful person when it comes to the environment. I’m vegetarian, I try to be conscious of the origins of my food, I take public transport as much as possible and I’m an avid recycler.
But, if I’m being honest, I’ve never delved into what actually happens to my rubbish or recycling after I chuck it into the respective bins.
So, I took on a challenge to live without plastic for a week and the statistics and realities of what I learnt was shocking. And, although I may never be ‘zero waste,’ I can certainly put a dent in how much I’m contributing to landfill and that’s a start, isn’t it? Here’s what I learnt…
No one is recycling enough
As a nation, we only recycle 14% of recyclable plastic. And around 50% of the plastic we do recycle is never actually recycled because it’s not been properly disposed of. I admit I never looked at my local council’s recycling policy before this week so was guilty of putting things like plastic bags in my green lid wheelie bin (rather than at a specific plastic bag collection bin) and being completely confused about what I should do with bubblewrap (which can jam recycling machines if not put in the right place.)
Our coffee consumption is getting out of control
Think about how much coffee you drink every day. Now, think about how many cups you chuck in the bin. Yeah, I quickly realised that it all adds up, with 7 million coffee cups thrown away in the UK every day – which adds up to 25,000 tonnes of coffee cup waste every year, to be exact. So, I got a bamboo forever cup instead since bamboo is the world’s most sustainable crop. And, it’s worth noting that coffee shops don’t even bat an eyelid when you hand it over for them to fill.
London consumes the largest amount of plastic bottled water in the UK
I’m guilty of it. I constantly buy multipacks of bottled water to bring me to work every day. I liked the convenience of it but considering that by 2050, there will be more plastic bottles in the oceans than fish, we really need to fix this. Plastic bottles make up 10% of all litter in the Thames, with ¾ of the fish inside consuming it, and considering how much I care about animals, these stats really hit home for me.
You can’t really recycle plastic bags
It takes the average plastic shopping bag 100 years to decompose and that’s only if it’s exposed to sunlight and air (which landfill rubbish often isn’t) so that plastic bag you chucked in the bin last week will probably outlast us all. So, now I have a ‘dirty’ tote bag that I put shoes in, a ‘fresh food’ tote bag for any fruit and veg and a ‘dry’ tote bag for everything else.
The sea floor is pretty much plastic
Considering 12.2 million tonnes of plastic litter enter the marine environment each year, it’s no wonder that 94% of the plastic rubbish that enters the ocean ends up on the sea floor. It’s not realistic for me to think I’ll never buy another plastic bottle of water again but I can make sure I only bin it in a recycling bin and never in one that’s overflowing (as these will just end up blowing away)
Plastic is seriously unhealthy for you
Chemicals like BPA and phthalates are used to make plastics and resins and when plastic is heated up (which can happen if your plastic bottle is in the sun for example), these chemicals can leech into the contents. And, since they’re known endocrine disruptors, they can cause a whole load of health issues so I’ve traded in for a glass and stainless steel as they’re both natural elements so are free from chemicals and wholly recyclable.
Plastic cutlery and straws aren’t ever recycled
I’m normally the first person to choose a plastic fork rather than a metal one. But, as it’s too small to recycle, it just adds to our ever-growing landfill. There is, however, a way around it. If you store it in a plastic takeaway container and recycle the whole thing, that works – but otherwise, just choose metal cutlery or invest in a stainless steel foldable spork! And, after finding out that the UK and US use almost 550 million straws a day – most of which end up in the ocean or take 200 years to break down into toxic particles – I’m all about refusing the straw, or using reusable stainless steel, glass and bamboo straws (I got mine from eco straws.)
Heartbroken by what I learnt we’re doing to the environment and wildlife (as well as to ourselves), I finally saw just how unnecessary so much of my disposable plastic use was so, not to sound like a poster but really, it’ amazing how much a difference we can all make by refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing and recycling everything we can.
‘The backlash against Dr Bouman is a not-so-subtle reminder that male scientists who make history gain recognition, while their female counterparts are painted as frauds,’ says Marie Claire’s Jenny Proudfoot
You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Dr Sarah Bouman this month. The 29-year-old computer scientist was credited for her work developing code resulting in the capturing of the first-ever image of a black hole.
The photo posted by MIT showed Dr Bouman at her computer, captioned: ‘Here’s the moment when the first black hole was processed, from the eyes of researcher Katie Bouman.’
Unsurprisingly, the groundbreaking photo went viral, with Katie congratulated by everyone from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Nancy Pelosi for her work on the project, as well as her ‘inspiring women and girls with STEM dreams’.
A woman at the front of a huge scientific breakthrough getting the credit she deserves – 2019 was looking good.
Katie was the first to tell everyone that it was a team effort, insisting that ‘no one algorithm or person made this image,’ but with the internet being what it is, the online backlash started and within hours, Dr Bouman had been vilified.
Yes, just when we thought we were making progress, here’s a not-so-subtle reminder that when male scientists make history, they gain recognition, but when female scientists make history, they are painted as frauds.
Within hours, Bouman’s Wikipedia page was marked for deletion and there were videos on YouTube dissecting how much work she had actually contributed to the project. People speculated that it was her colleague Andrew Chael that was actually responsible for the breakthrough, with Katie getting to be the face of the project for the sole reason that she was a woman.
To those people I say, how dare you? This is blatant sexism.
We need more women in STEM, not just for diversity but for scientific innovations. But it’s no wonder there aren’t more women in the field if we publicly vilify the ones who succeed.
Your tweets stripping the recognition away from Dr Bouman will have been seen by young girls across the globe, deterring them from pursuing science and technology, and changing the future for the worse.
Andrew Chael was quick to defend his colleague, taking to Twitter to post:
‘So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop.’
He continued: ‘While I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years, if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life’.
In my opinion, even a development as huge as the first black hole photo doesn’t count as progress if it means regressing on something as important as gender equality.
In search of some serious Michelle Obama inspiration, Team Marie Claire went along with Live Nation and experienced it for ourselves.
The atmosphere was electric and this writer isn’t embarrassed to admit that she cried early on – a mix of the female power ballads, montages of Michelle’s life and excited Mexican waves rippling the crowd.
Once the 55-year-old started talking however, you could have heard a pin drop, with every audience member on the edge of their seat to hear her recall everything from her first meeting with Barack to how her father raised her to be an equal, teaching us all life lessons along the way.
Here were our most inspirational takeaways from Michelle Obama’s UK tour…
‘Hope takes patience whereas fear is immediate’
‘It’s easy to go low. It’s easy to stoop and to lead with fear – that’s one of the easiest ways to operate. But going high means you’re taking a longterm view. You have to think about whether the words you’re about to utter will help or hurt. And you have to be really systematic and strategic and thoughtful about that. Hope takes patience, whereas fear is immediate.’
Hard work goes a very long way
‘If you don’t take control of your message and your image and your voice, someone else will do that. That was an important lesson for me to learn. People were literally trying to reshape my voice. I could have gone home and said, “I quit – this is too hard”, but I saw it as a challenge, adding to the underestimation that started when I was in second grade. Every step of the way, there was always someone there telling me that I was talking too loud or dreaming too big. I learnt that I could either succumb to it and wither away or I could become steely and say “I’ll show you”. So I did that. I said “Ok, you don’t think I’m worthy of being First Lady, you don’t think that I’m smart, you don’t think that I’m strategic, you don’t understand that I love my country – well I’m going to just do the work. I’m going to put my head down and I am going to work hard. I’ll show you.” So I worked my tail off.’
‘We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines’
‘My advice is get to work – don’t be complacent and don’t become so cynical that you just turn off because democracy never stops just because you get cynical and emotional about it. It keeps going. So we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.’
Anyone can make global change
‘A lot of young people think that change only happens on a big stage, that you have to be President, the Queen, hold some high position or be wealthy, and some of that comes from the fact that we only hear limited stories of what it means to be a leader. The books that are written about leaders are primarily about rich white men. And so we naturally start thinking that power is what change is because that’s all we know. That’s why telling more stories is important. That’s why sharing more of ourselves is important, because we’ve got to get more images out there in the world of what it means to be human and make change.’
‘It’s our job to do a better job’
‘There’s no one way to get things right. There are many ways to be human and do it well. There’s no one religion, no one race, there’s no one who has a monopoly on kindness and compassion and truth. And I get emotional when I think about it because it just hurts when we don’t get that and we hurt each other over this kind of stuff. We have an obligation not to lose faith in the possibility of being better – we have to do it for our kids. They deserve a world that is full of hope. And when I think about the youngest of our kids and the kids in this audience, they’re just so full of promise. They’re not jaded, they’re not racist, they haven’t been harmed in any way – they come into this word pure. We fill them up with all that stuff, it’s not the natural way humans are meant to be. So, it’s our job to do a better job, and give our kids a sense of what’s possible.’
‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice’
‘We have to understand that as Martin Luther King said – my husband uses this quote often – “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice, and it bends because we help it bend”. So that’s my advice – it’s time to do some bending. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves. We have to pay attention, we have to be engaged, we can’t take our rights and liberties for granted because if we don’t vote, somebody else will, and that will be the direction that our country will go in. This is still in our control. This is still within our power.’
‘Change is hard but you have to keep pushing’
‘Yes there are bumps in the road, but that’s what change is. Change is hard. No one ever said it would be easy and we’re just in the throws of the uneasy part of change. But we have to keep pushing. We have no other choice.’
‘We have to learn to be more empathetic’
‘It’s almost a bit unreasonable for us as a world to expect change to be without fear for some. And in truth, we have to learn to be a bit more empathetic because there are people who are afraid because the world is changing so fast. And their fears are real. We may not agree with them but some people don’t know where their place will be in this new and changing society. “Where will I work?” “Will I have a job?” “Will I become invisible?” People are afraid of that change and why wouldn’t they be? But we have changed before.’
‘It’s all going to be OK’
‘This may seem like a dark chapter, but there are highs and lows. And yes, we are in a dark place right now, but we’ve been darker. And we will come out on the other side better and stronger’.
We send millions of texts, emails and WhatsApps, but the phone call is steadily dying out. When did it stop being good to talk, asks Daisy Buchanan
I’m reading Hanging Up by Delia Ephron. It’s a novel about three sisters, their complicated family dynamic, and the rather tricky transition period between youth and advanced adulthood. But it’s also an ode to the telephone; each character spends more time on it in a day than I do in a year. When I was a teenager, all I wanted was a phone of my own. If Future Me had told Teen Me that I’d own one, and never call my friends on it, I would have been horrified. Yet when a new acquaintance recently asked if she could ring me for a chat, I responded as if she’d asked for my PIN. I will only take phone calls from blood relatives, and even that’s under some duress.
In 2017, the number of mobile phone calls fell for the first time.* We’ve clearly fallen out of love with phone conversations – even though many of us grew up romanticising the receiver (remember the board game Dream Phone?). Like me, you probably had an argument with a parent about a phone bill, where the expression ‘not made of money’ came up – or my father’s favourite: ‘You’ve been at school with them all day, what can you possibly have to talk about?’ So, when did our telephone mania become a phobia?
According to behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings, the shift is due to the growing number of communication options. ‘It was shaped by the onset of text messaging, followed by WhatsApp messages and voice notes, PMs on Facebook, DMs on Twitter, Snapchat and emojis – we have adapted the art of conversation to a written rather than spoken form,’ she says. Plus, we’re out of practice. ‘People are losing the skills of proper phone conversation,’ she adds. ‘We fear interrupting someone, there’s a lack of confidence in what we’re going to say and there’s no time to think of a witty written response.’
‘If this is the information age, it makes sense that the phone call is being phased out in favour of other methods of sharing data more quickly’
Interestingly, we still have an appetite for the aural. According to estimates, since WhatsApp launched the voice notes feature in 2013, over 200 million are sent every day. It’s easy to see the appeal. You have more intimacy than you do with a written message, but you don’t have to respond to any unexpected information, and you can delete what you said and say it again.
If this is the information age, it makes sense that the phone call is being phased out in favour of other methods of sharing data more quickly. But if we’re losing faith in it, maybe we’re losing faith in what we have to say. Emails, DMs and voice notes allow us to filter our personalities. Choosing to speak on the phone takes courage. But, as Hemmings says, ‘Those of us who do cherish phone calls will remember the fun and soul-bearing conversations with deep affection.’
While technology has made us feel as though the phone call is anachronistic, it might be revived by our thirst for nostalgia. Science writer Elizabeth Stinson predicted a renaissance, citing, ‘a renewed desire for authentic communication’. When I was a teenager, the phone felt like a life line. Those intense conversations formed the core of my friendships and helped me to learn about the woman I’d become. Today, that woman sometimes feels a little lost in a sea of Whatsapp alerts. If we want to seek quality experiences, a phone call might be the best place to start. After all, it’s easy to text, but it’s good to talk.
Thanks to an explosion of domestic influencers on Instagram, housework – once feminism’s public enemy number one – is experiencing a resurgence.
Marisa Bate explores Mrs Hinch and the dirty underside of cleaning’s new-gen makeover.
‘You have a room like a slattern!’ my mother would yell into the unclean pit of my teenage bedroom when I was growing up. For her, cleanliness was not necessarily next to godliness, but sat firmly alongside pride and self-respect (while filth was akin to sluttishness). Yet, as I became older, cleaning became a rather more complicated subject for me than just teenage laziness. As I grew increasingly interested in feminism, eventually publishing a book on the subject, I realised housework (and the emotional labour to boot) had hung round women’s necks like a rank political albatross; it had been a shackle that worked to keep men in power, and women out of it. Even today, the slovenliness that I haven’t quite left behind (much to my domesticated boyfriend’s annoyance) is imbued with a quiet, grateful nod to my foremothers, who fought so hard for me to be able to worry more about my career than scrubbing the kitchen sink.
This is why I find it mildly alarming that the biggest influencers of 2019 – the very role models girls and young women are looking up to in their millions – aren’t popstars or politicians, but women who clean. Instead of flashing rock-solid abs or sporting Grenson Nanette boots, they are gaining hundreds of thousands of followers for their spotless front rooms and stain-removal hacks; flogging not handbags, but Marigolds and antibacterial spray (Zoflora is, by all accounts, the Tom Ford Black Orchid of the cleaning world).
Sophie Hinchliffe, 29, a hairdresser from Essex, is leading the charge. More commonly known as Mrs Hinch, her Instagram account has 1.9m followers and, this month, she publishes her first book, Hinch Yourself Happy: All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul. Ever since she started posting Instagram Stories of herself cleaning, nothing short of a frenzy has followed. On 15 April 2018, she had 1,000 followers. By October of that year, she hit the one million mark. ‘I can’t get my head around the growth,’ she says. ‘I keep thinking, where are they all coming from?’
After Morrisons sold 13,000 Minky pads (a cloth favoured by Mrs Hinch) in five days, the supermarket has rationed them to two per customer. ‘Whether we like it or not,’ says Hinchliffe, ‘we all have to do cleaning at some point in our lives. So, without realising, we’ve all got this thing in common. My Instagram has just brought people together.’
Mrs Hinch is not alone. Nicola Lewis, aka This Girl Can Organise (_thisgirlcanorganise), the ‘queen of decluttering’, has 80,500 Instagram followers, and Queen Of Clean (lynsey_queenofclean) has 111,000. Plus, there’s Marie Kondo, who’s been teaching the world to throw things away if they don’t spark joy since her international bestseller was published in English in 2014. Her Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, released in January, revived attention around her and has been watched by millions. Meanwhile, the message of clean and clutter-free living has been in the popular vernacular for a while – from the popularity of minimalist Scandi living and ‘clean eating’, to the increasing rejection of ‘stuff’ in the name of sustainable living. Arguably, the rise of Mrs Hinch has been a long time coming.
Holly Friend, from the trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory, suggests that the appeal of Mrs Hinch et al is also linked to the current wellness craze. ‘Self-care has become the defining phrase of our generation,’ she says. ‘Taking care of not just ourselves but our homes is fast becoming the next iteration of that.’ And with Instagram as wellness’s most ardent foot soldier, cleaning is becoming aspirational in its own right. Take Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness mecca, Goop. A quick search on the site throws up a sun-kissed ‘super organic mom’ in her Bel Air home talking about… cleaning. In between pictures of her browsing vinyl and washing kale, she’s promoting a cleaning product. ‘Brands are undergoing a major change in visual identity,’ says Friend. ‘While products are typically designed for a life below the sink, companies are experimenting to encourage customers to display them proudly. In turn, attractive bottles that resemble wellness or beauty trinkets make ideal content for Instagram, perhaps even more so than the spotless interiors.’
‘Instagram is providing a glossy filter for the unpaid labour of women’
For many, there’s also something more fundamental about housework. ‘It helps us find our way through a dirty world,’ a defender of Mrs Hinch wrote in The Guardian earlier this year. ‘While the country is falling apart around us, with Brexit, austerity anguish and climate meltdown, we need to turn to bleaching our toilets.’ Cleaning to block out a disordered world makes sense in times of political turmoil, but it can also create order in our personal worlds, too. Shahroo Izadi, behavioural change specialist and author of The Kindness Method: Changing Habits For Good, points to the mindful qualities of cleaning. In fact, the tools involved are the same as those Izadi uses in her work with people who have substance abuse issues. ‘Cleaning gives you something to focus on, repetition, being able to do things in your own time and the sense of satisfaction of completing a small task,’ she says. ‘But it shouldn’t become a coping strategy to avoid uncomfortable thoughts.’ Izadi is also concerned that the Insta-cleaning culture could become another way to beat ourselves up. ‘In the same way that we might think, “If I’m not controlling my body, I’m not good enough”, we don’t want that to become, “My house isn’t clean enough, so I’m not good enough.”’
Aside from the role housework plays in our emotional well-being, the feminist in me can’t ignore what this might say about women’s progress today. Although Mrs Hinch is making a lucrative career out of her passion, celebrating cleaning feels at odds with the fundamental fight of the feminist movement that still rolls on, directly impacting the gender pay gap. For decades, domestic labour has kept women in the home, and out of the workforce and positions of power – what Betty Friedan famously called ‘the problem that has no name’. By the 70s, Italian Marxist feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa began the International Wages for Housework campaign that spread globally. This was, in part, a reaction to the 50s, when advertising helped put women firmly back in the kitchen after a brief period of independence during WWII. A smiling red-lipped woman, kitchen appliance in hand, became the face of a booming post-war economy and the return to a woman’s ‘proper’ place. Arguably, Instagram is providing a similar glossy filter for the unpaid labour of women, simultaneously offering a platform for others to profit from traditional feminised spheres, such as fashion and beauty, and once again, housework.
It’s problematic, right? Journalist Suzanne Moore thinks so. She believes the trend ‘is about taking back control of small private spaces at a time when we need to fight for more in the big public ones,’ she says. ‘I’m quite shocked to see younger women going for it. What next? Mangles and washboards? It’s impossible to understand now how much things like washing machines changed women’s lives.’
Feminist activist and former leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker goes one step further, suggesting that the deliberate design to put women back in the domestic sphere is connected to our current political landscape. ‘There’s a nationalist populist move across various countries right now, which has the protection of men’s jobs and the re-establishment of women inside the home at its core,’ she says. Walker points to US President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal reproductive rights, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán promising women who have
four or more babies that they’ll never pay income tax again, and hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg admitting he’s never changed any of his six children’s nappies.
Scarlett Curtis, author of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, sees the issue differently. ‘There are many more fights that need to be won against patriarchy before we start complaining that we’re the only ones loading the dishwasher,’ she says. ‘Mrs Hinch and Marie Kondo have turned this shameful, unfeminist chore into an activity – by no means a feminist act in itself – however, it’s a way to celebrate and highlight the fact that women do a fuck of a lot of cleaning, and might as well enjoy it and talk about it.’ Unsurprisingly, Hinchliffe herself rejects the notion that cleaning has anything to do with gender at all. ‘My husband loves to do it. I don’t see it as a male or female thing. My followers are all ages and genders, from all over the world. When we put on our rubber gloves, we’re all the same.’
What is clear, though, is that cleaning is imbued with layers of politics, culture and socialisation. For me, domestic labour will always be far more than arguing over who unloads the dishwasher, but a belief in who should have access to power.
This month, our columnist Angela Scanlon explores the mysterious world of lymphatic drainage to see what all the fuss is about
Ever felt curious as to what exactly lymphatic drainage entails?
Flavia Morellato arrived at my home on a windy Wednesday evening and hugged me before taking off her boots and bounding up the stairs. A little forward you might think, but I enjoy a human who travels light and knows what they want (‘a high bed’ as it happens). I had been told not to eat anything heavy that afternoon, to stay hydrated and be prepared to ‘wear little clothing during the massage’. I usually don’t do massage in a full boiler suit, so this wasn’t alarming. I lit a candle, brought my kid’s Miffy lamp into my bedroom, Flavia cracked on some music and away we went.
I was familiar with ‘manual lymphatic drainage’ and may have even had it at the arse end of a treatment in Thailand a decade ago. I knew, in theory, what it was about. If you don’t, the technique was invented by Dr Emil and Mrs Estrid Vodder in the early 30s. It’s a form of massage that stimulates the lymphatic drainage system (the network of vessels through which lymph fluid drains from the tissues into the blood) with gentle-ish massaging strokes.
Flavia started with my tummy. I love every type of massage, but having someone press firmly on that area is oddly terrifying. It’s the bit of you that houses all your major organs – there’s a cage to protect it and it’s usually hidden behind folded arms. Like getting a bikini wax, I figured tension and anticipation would only make it worse, so I forced myself to take deep breaths and relax into it. Once I did, things started to… gurgle. I can’t quite explain the sound (or the sensation), and that may not be a bad thing.
Flavia is almost evangelical about her work and spoke to my body as she massaged (which should be weird but somehow wasn’t). ‘Thank you, very good. That’s it,’ she said to the water, as she moved and manipulated everything that was trapped in my system – she said a few recent flights had made me pretty bloated. We cheered as she steered the water towards the lymph node. Apparently, there was air there, too, and I should just ‘let it out’. Although I was grateful for the gesture and was in the comfort of my own bed, I was not quite there yet.
The light, rhythmical massage encourages the lymphatic system to eliminate metabolic waste products, excess fluid and bacteria. It also speeds up metabolism, circulation, digestion, detoxification, facilitates healing and supports the immune system. Basically, all the benefits of colonic irrigation, but less invasive and without the obliteration of good gut bacteria.
I can’t really tell what benefits of lymphatic drainage, if any, I’ve gained internally, but my tummy did definitely feel flatter, I slept like a baby and I’m, ahem, gassed about having another one sometime soon.
Vick Hope says hosting a new show about identity forced her to consider what it means to be mixed race and British in the midst of Brexit
Words by Vick Hope
When my mum arrived in Newcastle from Nigeria at the age of 11, the residents of Eversley Place began a petition to ‘Get The Darkies Out’. It was 1971, and I’d like to think a lot has changed since then.
Certainly, growing up, it was rare that I felt unwelcome like my mum did. But rather what I have endlessly grappled with is the sense that no matter what I do or where I go, I have never felt that I belong. Born from what was -at the time – a pretty controversial collision of cultures (the night before their wedding, my parents were sat down and urged to decide whether they’d bring their future kids up Nigerian or English, because God forbid we could possibly be both), I’ve been called posh by my fellow Geordies, then deemed common at the University of Cambridge. I’ve felt too stupid and inadequate amongst my ultra-intelligent course-mates, yet too geeky and opinionated for commercial radio. I’m perpetually straddling, and not in the sexy way.
Working out who we are, who we are supposed to be, who we want to be is normal, even …hell, especially… when it feels anything but normal. When you’re a kid, fitting in is everything. I was the only mixed race pupil at my school and all I wanted was to look like everyone else. I remember begging my mum to ‘wash the muddy brown off me’ when she bathed me. I counted down the days until I turned 16 when I’d be allowed to straighten my ‘crazy, frizzy hair’, as the other girls had called it. I wanted to be white and blonde so I could be an angel in the school Nativity play. Because only the blonde girls were allowed to be the angels and angels are lovely and I just wanted to be lovely too.
But I was also jealous of my Nigerian cousins and their friends, whose seemingly profound connection to their heritage -and skin dark enough to prove it- meant they never had to fruitlessly scramble for an answer to the question, ‘do you feel more black or more white?’: a question so utterly ridiculous and resolutely unanswerable. And yet one that nonetheless left me feeling devoid of a definable culture to which I could feel I comfortably belonged. And that’s without ever having to deal with a ‘Get The Darkies Out’ petition.
Two years after my mum arrived, in 1973, Britain joined the European Union. Now on the cusp of leaving, questions about belonging are more pertinent than ever, for all of us. What will Britishness look like, feel like; who are we in the wake of Brexit? These are the questions we ask in Art50 i, a project I was so passionate about getting involved with because I ask these questions every damn day. Art50 is a Sky Arts TV series and festival centred on British identity since the triggering of Article 50, explored via 50 pieces of art, showcasing everyone from painters to composers, orchestras, dance companies, poets and playwrights.
I was lucky enough to sit on the commissioning panel and present the show alongside Stephen Mangan and Joan Bakewell, hosting panels of many of the artists involved about what British identity means to them and the thousands of Brits from all walks of life who they interviewed to research their projects. Brexiteers and Remainers alike, the multiplicity and diversity of their answers was staggering: layers and layers of heritage, experience and perspective, all of which are constantly shifting and evolving as we scrabble in the dark to make our way through these uncertain times. It turns out that everything that makes us so different is actually what makes us the same, as we seek solace in community, family, shared memories and love.
It is a sentiment echoed, albeit via a VERY different medium, in the recent series of Shipwrecked which I narrated, in which beautiful, half-naked 20-somethings (at the very peak of their working-out-who-the-hell-I-am journey) choose which of two desert islands to reside on based on the other inhabitants. ‘Your vibe attracts your tribe’ was the overriding message, and indeed it is the people around us who shape who we become, not some arbitrarily assigned labels: ‘Too common for Cambridge’ and ‘Too brown to be an angel’ are NOT identities. And to every little girl out there working out who she’s supposed to be, worried that she’s too much or she’s not enough: don’t let anyone tell you that you are either.
Something which resonated throughout Art50 for all was a rejection of stereotypes, shallow definitions and being squished into boxes by others. And so it seems identity is dynamic, it is multi-faceted, and where the Art50 project presents many versions of Britishness in glorious technicolour, so too are our personal identities multi-layered and constantly in flux. Who says we are the same person from one day to the next? Who says I can’t inhabit two seemingly opposite spaces at once? Yes we are our roots, but we are also the routes we take through life. We are where we come from but also where we are going. And Lord knows where that is. Perhaps this means at once we belong nowhere and everywhere; maybe I will never belong, maybe I always have, and maybe that’s fine.
Art50 appears on Sky Arts every night between Monday 25th and Thursday 28th March at 9pm
The blatant violation, involving filming up someone’s clothing without their permission, will now be punishable by up to two years in prison. But my God, has it taken a long time.
The criminalisation of the offence is a done deal – having finally been approved in the House of Lords and now just awaiting the formality of Royal Assent. The issue is that the campaign was started in 2017.
My question – why has it taken so long to be made illegal?
Surely something as intrusive as filming up someone’s clothing in a public space without their permission deserves to be made a crime, right? Not to some it seems, and if it wasn’t for the determination of Gina Martin, it would have fallen at the first hurdle.
Gina introduced us to the term, Upskirting, after starting a viral online campaign to get it criminalised. She had discovered that it wasn’t a specific offence in UK law after being victim to it herself at a festival and being unable to progress her claims, with police telling her there was nothing they could do. She later petitioned to reopen her claim, and then went ever further, lobbying to change the law.
Gina’s aim? To have upskirting recognised in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and to thereby make it punishable by law.
Gina Martin. Credit: REX
But while it garnered a lot of celebrity support and was brought to parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, its progress was halted by Conservative MP Christopher Chope in June 2018 who did his very best to disrupt the policy’s development – the proposal’s sole objector.
This week however the House of Lords chose to back the bill, and when the criminalisation was confirmed, Gina exclaimed that she was ‘over the moon’.
‘After becoming a victim and recognising a gap in the law, I partnered with Ryan Whelan of Gibson Dunn and began 18 months of exhaustive, emotional and life-changing work,’ she announced. ‘Now? We have changed the law! I always thought politics was impenetrable but with the right help and willpower you can do it. We did it. We made upskirting a sexual offence! I am exhausted and so so happy!’
So now England and Wales are joining the many countries that already have laws on upskirting, with serious offenders even to be named on the sex offenders register.
This is huge progress, but I’m still angry.
Upskirting being made illegal is obviously an incredible thing. I just think it’s a shame that it has taken so long to criminalise something that is so obviously not OK.
Scotland has had laws against upskirting for almost a decade, so why were we behind the curb?
Let’s make sure the next unspecified offence doesn’t take as long to criminalise. We need to do better, and if we we see something that isn’t right, we need to be a Gina Martin and make change.