Monday, 12 August 2019

How to see "not fitting in" as a blessing

I don't fit in - I never have. Not with my family, friendship groups, jobs, circles, society. Not belonging, not fitting in used to bother me but at nearly thirty I'm past seeing not being "in with the in crowd" as a curse and quite frankly enjoying no longer giving a fuck. Read on for how I'm finally seeing "not fitting in" as being a blessing. 

Not fitting in at primary school 
I found primary school a struggle - I guess that's where I first felt a strong sense of isolation and loneliness. I had friends who I enjoyed seeing but would crave space; a bubble at home where I'd create my own magazines and spend hours writing stories or features for the made up people I'd drawn. I remember turning down a friend once as I was having so much fun making a new issue for the "magazine". I was intimidated by the cooler girls and always overlooked by boys. My friendship group was definitely considered geeky and we'd be dismissed and disregarded by most.

A chance accident aged 11 on my bike saw me knock out most of my two front teeth, which set me back even further confidence wise. The discovery of some grey hairs when I was in my last year at primary school horrified me, I felt like a total freak - I'm guessing it was due to my anxiety which had started at around 7 years old - and an additional white patch of hair on the side of my head made me feel mortified. Despite only being such a small thing, it took me on a whole new wave of insecurity, and I dreaded anyone discovering it. I look back and recall so much trepidation, from my constant phobia about being sick to the assembly hall spinning. I can still remember the heartbreak I felt when I overheard two girls bitching about me in assembly. Not realising I was behind them, they started laughing at my new glasses which I'd been so self-conscious of wearing for the first time since finding out I was short-sighted. My time at primary school was punctuated with panic attacks, I'll never forget shaking so hard after doing some rock climbing that one girl pointed it out. There were some great moments of course, like scaring ourselves silly with Goosebumps books at sleepovers, roller-disco on Saturday nights and helter-skelter-ing down flume rides at the local swimming pool, but mostly I was starting to feel like a total outcast. 

School rumours, bitchiness & friendship trouble 
Moving up to secondary school was particularly difficult. There was always a total love/hate border I had with that school that mostly veered towards the latter. Year 10 was by far my worst year. Everything suddenly changed for the worst. I started to feel like an outsider as my friend formed a new alliance, I suddenly felt on the sidelines. Left out and often the target of jokes and humiliation, however childish. My world fell apart when a rumour was started about me by the new girl in my group, who hadn't taken to me at all and did her best to make me know it. The rumour was ridiculous high school gossip and unfortunately for me something I'd held to my heart for years and hadn't wanted anyone finding out about. But soon enough our whole school year knew, thanks to this new "friend" dispatching the information merrily to everyone she could find. I was always shy and this just made things worse. People would come up to me in class and ask me about it and I'd flame up, wanting to hide. I called in sick sometimes, because I couldn't face going in. Year 11 turned out to be a major improvement on Year 10 - finally I felt more settled and at home at the school. I'd found my place, at long last. 

Sixth form struggles & bullying 
Staying on at school to experience Sixth Form felt like it would be an okay manoeuvre, seeing as everything seemed to be ticking along nicely within my friendship group and by pot luck we were all on the same Business Studies course. At first things were going smoothly, until a new girl joined our group and all the same problems of Year 10 reared their ugly head. My friends wanted to impress New Girl, and if Year 10 was bad then Sixth Form became a recurring nightmare. They started doing immature things like running away from me at lunchtimes laughing, bitching about me within earshot and once arranged to meet me at McDonalds and as I sat there on my own, called to say one of them was "sick", laughing down the line as their voicemail ended. They often bunked school and once a teacher kept on and on at me (albeit in good humour) to reveal exactly where they'd gone. When I finally broke and told him "McDonalds", cue high fives from all the boisterous yet harmless boys in our class who were thrilled I'd "dobbed them in", I was in the doghouse with my "friends" and now practically on my own in terms of having mates. Sixth Form became more bearable towards the end, things levelled onto better terms and I finally left the school that held such a conflicting kaleidoscope of emotions under more sun than cloud.

The job from hell
I hoped starting my first job at a garden centre aged 17 would be a relatively happy experience but what was supposed to be a new chapter and the chance to earn some extra cash quickly morphed into absolute hell. Most weekend staff were all into clubbing, drinking, shagging and drugs and it felt like a case of "them and me". The boss was very much "one of the team" but because I wasn't in on their social scene she'd make life difficult for me, snapping whenever I asked for the till code only she could give whilst I had a stream of stressed out customers, and ignoring me when I'd say hello. Instantly isolated, I found life there absolutely miserable.

That shitty little garden centre in the back-end of nowhere became a constant source of dread, made even worse when two of the girls from "that friendship group" joined. Alongside them there was no escape from Sixth Form (which was still going on when I started), or college, which I joined whilst still working there at 18. At lunch breaks I locked myself in the toilets as I didn't know where else to go, and if ever in the canteen I tried to block out where I was and started reading Tupac's The Rose That Grew from Concrete book of poetry which my oldest and dearest best friend Rae had kindly bought me as a birthday present. In hindsight I can't believe it took me so long to work up the courage to quit, but at that point in my life self-worth and self-respect were something I never had. I can still recall counting down the days until I left that place with shaky hands on my iPod calendar. Walking out of that place felt like a dream come true, even if I suffered the humiliation of being ignored on my last day as the rest of my colleagues gathered round in a circle pointedly ignoring me, and one handed me a farewell card limply with a sarcastic smile. I ripped up that card and stashed it straight in the rubbish bin as soon as I got home. 

Throughout my 20s I've suffered from loneliness and isolation in various jobs. I'm more comfortable in a counsellor's chair than in any bar or club. I'm a jagged jigsaw piece, not fitting into my family or in any particular friendship group. I felt closer to the fireworks swirling in the sky than I did to being in an office team that published my favourite magazine. My favourite part of the day after work was to watch the glittering planes from the garden that descended down towards Heathrow, skylit and promising. I used to love sitting peacefully in the park alone escaping a stuffy office. I'll never "fit in" but that's okay. I'm embracing that. Accepting it 100%. Who wants to fit in to a world that traps you like a rat race? That wants you to mould into their model student? Nah. Not me, thanks. 

Not "fitting in" with family 
I don't feel like I fit in or belong when it comes to family, but I'm finally I'm realising that's okay. Last Christmas my auntie welcomed me to one of her get-togethers and I went, even though I hadn't been to one for a good few years. None of my dad's side of the family really had to be so welcoming, or so happy to see me - yet they were, and it really meant the world. I'm not very good with family gatherings, never have been. Pure spite from my mum's side of the family had made me wary of family in general and now I realise how unfair that was, especially seeing as Graham and I are always agreeing that dad's side of the family don't judge and are cool about these kind of things, which was proven when I didn't attend my Grandad's funeral as I couldn't cope with going. Sometimes it's acceptance like this which can mean everything. Earlier this year at a family barbecue I told my auntie how much I loved them all and how much I appreciated them being so understanding, and I meant it. I feel so misunderstood sometimes, and when people "get" me, it means a lot more to me than most. 

Leaving the hometown that haunted me 
When I moved out, a lot of things changed for the better. I was never happy in my hometown, it holds too many overpowering memories that I could never forget - the hospital next door, the school across the road, the college and work places I couldn't stand dotted around like digging reminders. I'll never forget the plane that crashed years back, smashing through two houses a few streets away from mine, tragically killing all the passengers. Night terrors started soon after and would come and go until I left home last November. It's a grey, lacklustre place filled with zombies and shattered ghosts but also residence to some of the best people in the whole wide world - people I can call friends forever and my parents. Whenever I come back to my hometown it's for good reasons, no longer bad. 

Not fitting in is actually a blessing.... 
Now at nearly thirty I'm relived and happy not to fit into a mould, a clique, an expectation. I can live a life without snakes and fakes, focus on my dreams and goals, enjoy life with my partner and the few precious friends that I cherish with all my heart. I'm happy in my own skin and the older I get the more I realise I'm happy not to fit in. So if you're reading this and unhappy in your job, miserable in your friendship group or feeling like the odd one out in your family, then you're not alone. Let's embrace standing out from the crowds, refusing to follow the paths paved out for us and going against the grain. Not fitting in is actually a blessing, who wants to be in with the "in crowd" anyway?  


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Dreamland Margate: my favourite colourful attractions!

Dreamland Margate is a spinning riot of colour and summer, a vibrant amusement park which had been on my bucket list ever since it re-opened in 2015. Holding close nostalgic trips down memory lane for my mum as a teenager, Dreamland looked even more promising upon its revival. We finally made it to Dreamland back in June, and I was just as enchanted with the premise of a theme park based on a quintessential British funfair as I'd hoped! I thought it would be fun to share my top colourful attractions with you, so read on for my must-see rides and moments in and around Dreamland Margate! ♥︎

Rainbow slides 
First my firm favourite; Born Slippy aka the rainbow slides of H-E-A-V-E-N! I'd seen these colourful gems adorning many insta-worthy moments over on the 'gram and was instantly enraptured. Six lanes of colourful joy to choose from and a rewind to that free-as-a-five-year-old feeling, yes please! 

Cocktails and colourful sights 
There's a spacious area surrounded by cocktail bars, food stalls and candy floss carts; make mine a Piña Colada! As we sat down the DJ started playing "Who's That Lady" by The Isley Brothers - my favourite ever band, which seemed like fairground fate seeing as we'd been playing the song in the car as we pulled up alongside Dreamland itself! 

Ice cream dreams 
Unintentionally matching my outfits to ice cream trucks since 1990 (sassy woman emoji) this cute little pink and white truck greeted us upon arrival. If you don't already know I have a big thing for retro ice cream trucks, and am always on the look-out for new gems, so this was a treat to behold! Of course we had to get some style snaps in the mix, would have been rude not to document! 

The big wheel 
Pretty self explanatory, but while I'm here I'll also mention the carousel, dodgems & mirror maze are also all highlights to hit up!

Roller disco 
Sparkly and stunning, the retro Roller Room is made for any disco dream goddess worth her skates! I love the kitsch feel to this place, from the mirrored disco ball lights to the vintage 80s party era vibe.

Peony Vintage 
Easily the prettiest pink shop in Margate, I was probably a bit too thrilled that my pink denim jacket and skirt made such a match against the gorgeous vibrant shopfront! Located in King Street, this retro diamond of a shop reels me in every time! 411 of the outfit; all Missguided and all ready to satisfy my hot pink heart. I'm so into double denim lately, especially when it's as colourful as this combo. The pink basket bag also called my name sassily from the Missguided shelves, for some reason it seemed very 90s Vet Barbie, never a bad thing surely. Turned out to be the perfect outfit to rock for a day out at Dreamland! 


Have you ever been to Dreamland? ♥︎

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Thursday, 27 June 2019

Catcalling isn't a compliment, it's disgusting

Catcalling isn't a compliment, it's disgusting. 
In the mirror I worried about my outfit being.... too bright, too revealing, too noticeable? A green neon jacket, over-the-knee length boots, a short skirt. Would I get hassle for the outfit? Stares and looks of disapproval? Trouble? Unwanted attention? Oh, fuck the lot of them - I'll wear what I bloody want, the reckless side of Sophie that I much prefer to derail the sensible side of Sophie shouted somewhere in my subconscious. 
But my worries soon materialised in front of my eyes - in the form of two male builders high on some scaffolding, pointing down and laughing at me. As my boyfriend stood taking a mere few photos of me on my phone, the builders started talked loudly about Instagrammers, making fun. I hoped they weren't referring to me but it was blindingly obvious they were, seeing as we were the only ones around getting photos. Trying to stay calm I went over to Graham and we paused the pictures momentarily. "Ignore them", he said. "They're probably not even talking about you", I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but unease was already spreading through my system. We attempted to get some more photos. I was happy to let their ignorance wash over me and leave things. Until. Until in clear view of the busy walkway they joked that "we won't be finishing our job today and we can tell our boss it's because we've been watching this blonde girl doing her photoshoot", further whistles and jibes were made, more pointing and laughing, directly this time. 

I felt vulnerable and violated, like I was standing there practically naked. They made me feel embarrassed, humiliated. Scared and targeted. And for what? Daring to stand there in a skirt? To exist? To be female and in front of their eyes for a mere few minutes?

Occasionally in my life there have been wonderful moments of rare courage where I've been pushed too far by people, and an explosion of anger, truth and vitriol comes pouring out like petrol. It happened with my mum's friend, who is renowned for being a bit of a nasty cow, and, two days after my Grandad died, she started getting arsey with me so I told her exactly what I bloody thought of her and her bitchy behaviour. It happened with my driving instructor when I was taking my practical test - he was being a sexist pig and thought he could get away with it, until I gave him what for. We argued in the car before he told me I'd passed my test. It also happened with an old man who once called me over just to tell me how awful I looked in my jeans. Let's just say after the shouty lecture I gave him I don't think he'll be bothering young girls in the street again about their fashion tastes.
And it happened when the catcalling did. My blood boiled, and unable to stop myself in front of the public, I decided those vile oinks needed a few reminders of how to respect females - and stop wanking each other off over a bright coloured jacket and a Topshop skirt. "DO YOU HAVE A MOTHER? DO YOU HAVE A SISTER? WOULD YOU LIKE OTHER MEN TO TREAT THEM LIKE THIS, YOU SEXIST DICKHEADS?! HOW WOULD IT MAKE THEM FEEL?" No response came from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Quelle surprise. 

I think they were a bit taken aback that someone was actually challenging their behaviour. Two grown men, egging each other on, showing off, were suddenly silenced and didn't appear to understand the connection between their mothers and sisters and myself. So thick and dense that they couldn't fathom the notion of other males treating their mothers or sisters or (god forbid any self-respecting woman dates one of those parasites) girlfriends in the same way as they were treating me in the here and now. After the initial confusion had left their little-boy-lost faces, one of them piped up: "Calm down, it's only a photo". Great comeback, really sensational. Award-winning. Only a photo? Exactly. We're only getting a photo yet look at you two up there, on your scaffolding, making such a big fuss and showing the world how thimble-sized your dicks are. I turned away, but that reckless side of me couldn't let it go before yelling a few more colourful phrases their way. It felt good. I'd tried to reason with them, to make them see what they were doing but they couldn't be reasoned with. So calling them a few choice names under the sun seemed more fitting.
As we walked off I was shaking so hard I dropped my sunglasses and bag on the ground. I was in a state, my nose started running and tears stung my eyes. To my dismay a few people around were giving me disapproving looks, most of them women. Everyone around us had completely ignored the catcalling and carried on as if it were perfectly normal, acceptable behaviour which speaks worrying volumes in this supposedly modern day and age. One older woman muttered about "maybe now we'll get some peace and quiet". This to me was just as sickening as the catcalling; for it was fine for two men to be abusing me in the street, making lewd remarks and treating me like a piece of meat but here I was, the villain of the piece for wanting to defend myself? I'm usually quiet and reserved. Guarded. But sometimes there are times in life when loud is needed. I wasn't willing to walk away without fighting their harassment first. 

I wasn't willing to be objectified because of what I wore that day. I certainly wasn't willing to let them think it's OK to carry on behaving this way to every future female that happens to walk past them wearing a skirt. 
Later that night, I spoke on my Instagram stories about what had happened. Initially nervous about opening up and being so vocal about the catcalling, I was overwhelmed by all the kind messages I received in response. It made me realise how vital speaking out was, and it also gave me strength and faith as encouragement, power and hope rang through each reply. It took me a few days to realise that out of a horrible experience came unity and girl power, empathy and wisdom, promise and hope from other beautiful and spirited women I'm lucky enough to know and love. It reminded me that women are fucking powerful, and will only continue to shine harder and glow brighter. The catcalling was a nasty reminder that it still occurs unwanted and unprovoked on a daily basis, but that we aren't prepared to take it. That we won't stop until things change. Speaking out about it scares me, this post makes me nervous, but no way in hell is leaving it unwritten any kind of option after what happened. 

After the catcalling incident, I started to remember other similar situations I'd been in, made to feel vulnerable and powerless by men. At 17, back in 2007, I was walking across my street when two builders on roofs whistled and yelled after me. "Alright darling?" Laughing pathetically as I turned and told them to fuck off. "She said fuck off! She said fuck off!" They parroted. At 20, my boyfriend and I were walking in the park when a van roared past "Up your fanny, love! Up your fanny!" One man yelled, leaving me speechless and shocked. Naively I wondered whether it was my fault for wearing a shorter dress than usual, as my mum told me not to be so ridiculous and it didn't matter what I was wearing, no-one should ever think that behaviour tolerable, whilst Graham managed to see the company name on their van and reported it. A woman answered the phone and once we'd explained what had happened told us there'd be an investigation and at the very least a suspension. At 23, a gang of builders turned up unannounced to do some roofing work (my dad had forgotten to tell me) and I saw ladders and thought they were coming to break in. Caught unaware I opened the door and they found my fear hilarious, all gathered in a gang around my front door, enjoying the intimidation. When I rang the company to complain the male manager brushed it off "it was just lads being lads". And at 27, two old men making light of me in an interview, leaving me hot with humiliation and making me feel like a failure. Only last week two different men made two inappropriate remarks about an outfit I was wearing, both unnecessary and alarming.
I'm writing this post because cat-calling is still poisoning, prominent and not seen as the problem it so clearly is in near 2020. Catcalling isn't complimentary or harmless; it's frightening and vile. Catcalling isn't flirty banter or desired attention, it's unwanted harassment. Women should be able to walk down the street in any outfit they choose without having to feel scared of car horns, thugs shouting suggestively out of the window and sexual remarks yelled after them. Catcalling isn't a compliment, it's disgusting. When the world finally awakens to this fact fully, only then can things change for the better ♥︎