March favourites

March has been kind of crazy month for me! I (finally) got a new job. It’s temporary again, and involves moving to a new city which is very nerve-wracking, but I’m excited. Truth be told, I need a change and I think some time in a new city – however long it ends up lasting – will do me good.

To listen: The High Low

The High Low

I recently read Everything I Know About Love (review here) by Dolly Alderton and absolutely adored it. When I mentioned the book to a friend, she said “I think she has a podcast” and so obviously I downloaded it immediately. The High Low is the weekly pop culture/news podcast I didn’t know I needed. Hosted by Alderton and Pandora Skyes, together they discuss the news, books, television and podcasts you need in your life. It’s most of what I care about distilled into around and hour and a half and I love it.

To watch: Jameela Jamil and Sam Smith talk about body confidence

I have been a fan of Jameela Jamil for a while. As someone from the UK, I knew she existed before The Good Place and used to absolutely love her column in Cosmopolitan. I think her I Weigh body positivity project is really wonderful, and it has inspired me to think critically about my Instagram habits and start unfollowing people who make me feel bad about myself. I Weigh is gradually expanding, and its latest iteration is a YouTube channel where Jamil interviews people (so far it’s just Sam Smith but I think there are more planned) about body confidence and the impact diet culture has had on their lives. This conversation with Sam Smith… is, well. It’s a lot. You might have a little weep. It is such an honest, vulnerable conversation about the false equivalence of thinness and happiness, the grim reality of fame and the necessity of vulnerability – especially in the world of the Instagram highlight reel.

To watch: Fleabag (BBC, Amazon Prime)

fleabag

I only started watching Fleabag a few weeks ago, and to be honest, it has kind of taken over my life. This tragicomedy about sorrow, loneliness and attempting personal growth  is a work of actual genius. In any half hour episode the star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge will have you laughing, crying and staring dumbly in open-mouthed wonder as she articulates the world in all its awful glory. This is the only show I’ve ever watched where, when an episode ends I immediately go back to the beginning and watch it all over again.

Also she has, from where I can see, pretty much the entire UK wanting to fuck a priest (played to PERFECTION by Andrew Scott) right now – which, given how little else we can agree on, is no small thing.

To read: “Nobody Shows”

This is heart-breaking. Also you should read it.

To use: The Body Shop Vitamin-E Eye Cream

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What does that post-it say? You’ll never know… mwahahaha

In the last year I’ve had to have a couple of facials so I could write about them for work (I know. My life is hard.) and two of the facialists I’ve seen have told me that my under-eye area is very dry. Eye cream is one of those things I always considered a beauty industry scam to get you to buy more products (looking at you “double cleansing”) but I actually do think this stuff is having a positive impact on my face! I mean, the best solution would be sleep but who has time for that. Also using it makes me feel like a fancy lady with a proper skincare routine, which I am very much enjoying.

 

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Women of the Hour

I don’t think I will ever get bored of talking about womanhood. It is my safe space, on and offline. Listening to other women’s experiences helps me to make sense of my own, of struggles I am included in, as well as those I am not.

I rarely feel this more keenly than when I am listening to Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast. Every week Dunham presents a different theme – friendship, work, sex and being trapped are some examples – and invites a variety of smart women to talk with her about it.

This show is honest, funny, painful and absolutely not, as I have seen it described ‘Girls in podcast form.’ Girls is a show built on satire, while Women on the Hour is all about sincerity.

To state a controversial opinion, I don’t believe Dunham deserves 90% of the shit she gets (the other 10%, I have to allow, but I don’t really think she messes up more than the average narcissist with a Twitter account (so, most users)). My arguments in favour of Lena Dunham are as follows:

  1. She is wildly, frequently and – I think – deliberately misquoted. As someone who has read her memoir multiple times (review here), I have had many frustrating arguments with people who haven’t about its contents. All this without even mentioning the ‘voice of a generation’ thing – a joke from the first season of Girls widely attributed as Dunham’s opinion of her work that she herself has accepted will likely be etched on her tombstone. Before judging Dunham – actually before judging anyone – please read the essay, listen to the interview or watch the show in question. The source material they provide will often give you a better idea of a person than clickbait designed for outraged sharing.
  2. I find it strange that in the television business, which is, let’s face it, mostly white men giving jobs to other white men, it is Lena Dunham who is held responsible for the diversity problem. Let’s be clear, we need all TV to look like Shondaland (if only), we need different voices and groups to be represented. The fault of the total whitewashing of TV however, lies with the majority of producers, directors and screenwriters (i.e. the white men) rather than Lena Dunham.
  3. Lena Dunham would get away with so much more if she was a man. The main reason she gets shit for her radical honesty, her open emotions and her mistakes is that she’s a woman. In a landscape overwhelmed with stories written by narcissistic men, one told by a narcissistic woman is jarring. Because she is – or she was, at the time Girls first came out, which was, let’s remember four years ago – one of few such amplified young female voices, she was given the task of representing everyone, an impossibility for anyone, let alone a bohemian rich white girl from New York. Male screenwriters like Josh Radnor and Dan Harmon – who are, for some reason, only ever expected to represent themselves – can spill their emotions all over screen, tie them up neatly with a joke and be considered great writers. If Lena Dunham does the same thing she is a selfish naval gazer with nothing better to do than obsess about herself. When men write introspective satire its art, when women do it, it’s considered self-indulgence. The response to Dunham’s entire career thus far demonstrates this.

Rant over. Or paused, anyway.

After every episode of Women of the Hour, I have to dedicate a morning to googling the work of every woman interviewed. Shows so far have introduced me to so many women whose work I am now such a fan of. Janet Mock, the writer and trans activist, Ashley C. Ford, a journalist who writes so beautifully it makes me want to cry, hug her and bash my own head against a wall (because I will never, in all my days, be as talented) all at once, Mindie Lind, a singer-song writer with no legs who rides around on a skateboard and Anastasia and Alba Somoza, disability activists who have campaigned for their whole lives for people with disabilities to get equal access to mainstream education.

Also, Gina Rodriguez was on it one time, and she was every bit as delightful as you would imagine.

Just listen to the show. The only way to judge Dunham’s work is to experience it yourself. Most of what is written about her is wrong.

Podcast of the Month: Infinite Postivities

I found out about this podcast through Nina Dobrev’s Instagram, proving that, despite the somewhat rocky terrain that has been season 7, my continued obsession with The Vampire Diaries can still bring some goodness into my life*.

positivityInfinite Positivities is Jenna Ushkowitz’s companion podcast to her self-help book, Choosing Glee: 10 Rules to Finding Inspiration, Happiness and the Real You. I have not read the book, but I just did look inside on Amazon and within the first few pages there’s a picture of her with Bill Cosby she probably feels some regret about now.

Each podcast takes the form of an interview with a different celebrity, loosely based around a chapter of her book. This podcast, like most of the shows I regularly listen to, is all about getting a little inspiration of a morning (or whenever your regularly scheduled podcast time happens to fall). Even though it’s a little bit shorter than I would like (episodes very from twenty minutes to half an hour), it’s very effective. Jenna is a funny and charming host, and the positivity with which she seems to approach her life absolutely translates. Her guests are varied and interesting. After week one and Nina’s treatise on not taking anything too seriously (which was awesome, by the way), Jenna interviewed A.J. Jacobs about continuously experimenting in life (he is one of those who takes on an insane challenge every couple years then writes a book about it). Most recently she chatted with Julie Plec, Queen and Master of vampire television, about working hard to make shit happen, and the good and bad of being the Big Boss (she also talked about firing people. She doesn’t like doing it, which explains… a lot, frankly (Matt and Enzo)).

Far and away my favourite episode, and the one that I think everybody should listen to, was episode 5 with Kristen Chenoweth. Everything about Kristen Chenoweth makes you feel better. She is hilarious and open hearted and exudes this totally infectious joy that has made me listen to her interview at least three times now. She talks about the good and shitty parts of her life with the same level of humour and bemusement. She is the only person I have ever experienced who can burst in to song in conversation and not be annoying. By the end of her painfully short twenty minutes I wanted nothing more than to sit down with her about talk about the universe. Also about that time she was Peter Pan and almost killed herself on stage.

This is a sweet, low commitment podcast (it’s bi-weekly and as I have mentioned, very short) for anyone needing a little pick-me-up before a day of working in retail (or whatever sucky job you have right now).

 

 

*I actually don’t think the lack of Elena is the problem, TVD side. I know that’s not what this post is about, but I felt the need to say it anyway. I have many theories on what would fix The Vampire Diaries (not Matt Donovan meeting Elijah Mikalson. Honestly I can’t even talk about that development), but resurrecting Elena isn’t one of them. Co-dependent relationships bore me almost as much as contrived pregnancy storylines.

Where I Hang Out On The Internet #3

I haven’t done this in forever.

To read:

This Is Water. David Foster Wallace gave good commencement. I recommend this if you’re currently in the process of figuring out how to be a grown up.

‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish go on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”‘

To watch:

Ira Glass on storytelling and being a beginner.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And A took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

To listen: 

the moth

The Moth is a weekly storytelling podcast. It is absolutely wonderful and guaranteed to make your life at least 15% better. Don’t believe me? Try this story.

Stuff Mom Never Told You

The best podcast Glamour provided me with that week, and one of my favourites to date was Stuff Mom Never Told You, presented by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. SMINTY is a podcast for burgeoning feminists everywhere.

Last summer when I went on holiday to Yorkshire with my family, we were having some problems. Specifically, issues with the cottage we had rented for the week. The dog peed on the brand new sofa twenty minutes after we arrived. Not a good start. The shower in the en-suite in my bedroom I had got so excited about did not work. Unfortunately neither did the one in the main bathroom, and when we attempted to use either, this awful moaning wheezing sound would start in the ceiling and reverberate throughout the house for hours. It would be fair to say that nerves were frayed.

But I was determined to have a nice time. I took the Glamour magazine I had brought and saved specifically for reading in this cute cottage and went upstairs to look it over in bed despite what sounded like an aging werewolf throwing a tantrum above me.

In Glamour was an article about podcasts. I had been vaguely aware that podcasts existed, but I pretty much thought they were mostly run by middle aged comedians who felt that the BBC were too restrictive for their genius, so I was surprised by how great the content Glamour described sounded. It may have been timing or it may have been the cottage’s continued attempts to noisily eat itself, but over the course of that holiday I threw myself into the podcasting world with enthusiasm. And I’ve spent a lot of time there since.

sminty

The best podcast Glamour provided me with that week, and one of my favourites to date was Stuff Mom Never Told You, presented by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. SMINTY is a podcast for burgeoning feminists everywhere. I have learned so much about the different experiences of women and how feminism fits into wider cultural issues through listening. SMINTY has taught me about subjects I have never even considered, as a feminist or otherwise.

Here are my top five shows to get you started:

5. The Literary Reign of YA Fiction

An interesting look at young adult fiction and the relationship adults have with it. YA is a big topic in feminist writing because of course most of the authors of it are women. This podcast was particularly interesting to me at the time because of the articles written after The Fault In Our Stars got big about how John Green had ‘saved’ young adult fiction. Love TFIOS, but ugh. Seriously.

4. Cosplaying with Gender

Cosplay fascinates me as I know very little about it. In my first year of university there was one night were I attempted to get involved in one of those Dungeons and Dragons-type (see? Terrible!) board games that one of my flatmates was playing with her friends, but it did not go very well and I was never invited to play again.

3. Black Hairstory

This podcast with Lori L. Tharp, author of Hair Story: The Untangling of Black Hair in America utterly fascinated me. Tharp’s discussion begins with the story of how when she first approached her university about writing a thesis on black hair, eyes were rolled because her supervisor couldn’t see her having enough to say. Spoiler alert: she did.

2. Curly Hair Conundrums

I think I’m obsessed with hair. This was one of the first of Cristen and Caroline’s podcasts that I listened to. It looks at the representation of straight VS curly hair and how curly haired women are often represented in television as crazy or evil. Think Elena VS Katherine in early The Vampire Diaries.

1. Fat Bottomed Girls

This podcast looks at the cultural and historical background of our obsession with big bottoms. Large bottoms and race associations are discussed, with a particular look at the really tragic history of Saartje Baartman. It is totally fascinating and gives a lot more insight into why those Kim K pictures could be considered so problematic.