During lockdown I still found myself reaching for bold lipsticks – reds and bright oranges and hot pinks. It was one of the things that made me realise that I really do dress for myself. I was wearing those vibrant lipsticks because it made me feel good, not because I wanted validation from other people.
Fashion, for me, has always been about self-expression, and I’ve tried to encourage that attitude through my blog, Style Me Sunday. The right fashion can also really change your mood. If I feel low in the morning I find myself reaching for muted colours. I want to disappear, to have no eyes on me.
But I try to force myself to do the opposite. I pick bold colours, clashing patterns, things I really love. If you walk down the street wearing something cheerful then people smile at you. You find yourself smiling back and that’s when your mood starts to lift. It’s great, too, to have an outfit you know will lift you. Mine is a red and white maxi dress from Ganni. You can’t help but make an entrance in that dress: it flows into the room around you.
Like many people now, most of my work is from home, so I live in jogging bottoms. But I try to team them with a patterned swimsuit, worn as a top, or my leopard-print trainers that I love. For a video call, though, plain is best – jeans and a plain T-shirt always look classic. And, of course, you don’t want anything you’ve got to iron. Let’s be realistic, if you’re getting out of bed and heading to your computer you are not going to pull out the ironing board.
When we are out in the world, women can worry about being “too much”. I’m 40, and so many women my age fear being seen as mutton dressed as lamb. We find ourselves thinking: “Is this appropriate?” I have a jumpsuit I love: it’s black, but embellished with stiff ruffles and gold and pink. It’s very ornate. When I pick it up, I think: “Do I have enough bravery to wear this today?” Then I do and I feel wonderful. We should enjoy our own personal taste!
It’s the same with body type. I started Style Me Sunday when I was pregnant with my second daughter. After she was born, I was really distressed by the changes in my body. But I made a decision: I didn’t want my children to grow up with a mum who was constantly checking herself in the mirror and worried about how she looked.
I needed to be a role model. So I faked it. Faked confidence and self-acceptance. But the funny thing was that the longer I kept it up, the less I was pretending.
Reading empowering books helped enormously. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth is a classic. Megan Jayne Crabbe’s Body Positive Power is another good one, as is Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given and What A Time To Be Alone by Chidera Eggerue.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that speaking out is key to bringing about change, whether we’re challenging society’s perception of women or dealing with issues of wellbeing.
Before I started working full-time on Style Me Sunday I was a midwife, so my boundaries are quite low when it comes to acceptable topics for discussion.
Many women’s health issues are talked about in whispers, and bladder weakness is certainly one of them. Yet it came up time and time again after women had given birth. Women would be so ashamed, but it’s not like anyone was at fault. As midwives, we tried to respond with compassion and care, and we’d make sure people got help, usually from a physiotherapist at first. Things like pelvic floor exercises can really make a difference but the referrals could only happen if people spoke up.
We need to talk about everything – our feelings, our sense of self and our supposedly embarrassing medical issues, publicly and with our peers. We have to be less British about it all. There’s no reason for anyone to suffer in silence.
With bladder weakness affecting one in three women over 35, it’s time to overcome the taboos around incontinence. TENA aims to help women feel sexy, confident and able to wear what they like. Find out more at tena.co.uk/women