Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Spots, Stretchmarks and Wobbly Bits – Why I Don’t Photoshop

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen the Worm. For those of you who haven’t, the Worm is my affectionate nickname for one of my less photogenic facial expressions.

Ok, so I pull this face a lot. A LOT. But this particular shot was grabbed from a video I made for work, and it made me laugh more than usual. As a result I put it up as my Facebook profile photo. I thought it was funny, and it made a change from my usual pouty/fish gape photo. While some people saw it for what it was, others used it as an excuse to open up a critical discussion of my appearance. What was most disappointing about this is that it wasn’t random trolls or internet strangers who took it upon themselves to make demoralising comments about me, but members of my own family.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not 100% happy with the way I look. Of course there are things I would change if I had a magic wand. Of course I think there are things about myself that could so with some work. But that’s my work to do. It’s my battle to fight. It’s not anybody else’s job to “suggest” ways that I should feel obliged to change myself, especially when they are working to outdated, sexist, heteronormative, ableist, racist standard of beauty that exclude so many wonderful, beautiful ways of existing.

I’m a work in progress that won’t be completed until the day I die. I will always see room for improvement. I will always be trying to get better at something. And I see my blog as a way of documenting that, for better or for worse. That’s why I am pledging, here and now, never to retouch any of my photos (aside from Instagram filters because they’re just fun.)

For some people a blog is like a museum of their life, with all the best pieces laid out for public view, and you know what? That is absolutely fine. If you want your blog/website/social media to show you at your peak then that is completely your choice and you have my full support. If you want to airbrush, alter, amend or otherwise edit your photos, that’s ok too. You do what you need to do. Your life, your choice.

Does this mean I’m going to only show you my Worm face from now on? Of course not. My social media and blog will still feature more flattering photographs. But it’s ok to acknowledge that everyone takes Worm photos now and again, whether they mean to or not.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christmas vs. Jul - The Date and Weird Traditions

My photo editing skills are still gold

In this final round of Christmas vs. Jul we're talking dates. Should Christmas be on the 24th or the 25th? And what other weird things do people do on Christmas day? Who will win the battle?

The Date
English Christmas is on the 25th, with Christmas Eve on the 24th. In Denmark we kick things off a day early, and celebrate on the 24th, in line with the majority of Central Europe and some of South America.

In my family, it’s always meant that we spent Christmas Eve with my mum’s family for Danish Christmas, and Christmas Day was spent at home with my parents and brothers. As we’ve got older we’ve dispersed a bit. One of my brothers spent last Christmas Day with his girlfriend’s family, and my dad is currently stationed in Afghanistan, but I plan to carry on the tradition when I have a family of my own.

I don’t think one is strictly “better” than the other, unless you’re especially impatient. This heat is a dead tie.

England – 1        Denmark – 1

Other Weird Traditions
Here are some odd things English people do on Christmas Day:
Go to church even when they don’t go on any of the other 51 Sundays in any given year. Make children perform in universally dull plays and say the word “virgin” a lot while singing carols about farm animals, wandering royalty, starlight navigation and mass infanticide. Watch the Queen talk about things on TV, occasionally while reverently standing up in your own living room. The Doctor Who Christmas Special. Get really drunk on sloe gin and complain about how families aren’t like they used to be.

Here are some, arguably weirder, things Danish people do:
Put actual candles on their actual trees and light them. Because fire and wood is totally sensible. Hold hands in a circle around the aforementioned flaming fir tree and walk awkwardly around it. Open your presents painfully slowly, one by one, under the painfully acute stares of all in attendance and then enthuse about the gift regardless of who gave it to you and what it is. Get really drunk on disgusting potato-based spirits called Snaps (NOT the same as Schnapps) and complain about the Swedes.

This one is really tough to call because, frankly, Christmas turns usually reasonable people into complete oddballs all in the name of Christmas cheer. However, flames are scary and Snaps is revolting, so England gets the point.

England – 2        Denmark – 1

The Verdict
Taking into account the food, the folklore and the flames the overall score is a dead tie, with four points apiece. This is pretty appropriate because there’s a lot to be said for both versions of Christmas. Danish Christmas has too many biscuits, but English Advent Calendars suck. Danish elves are adorable but Father Christmas is the OG plus-size papa. And, coming from a bi-National family, having two Christmases is kind of the bomb.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Christmas vs. Jul - The Food

My photo editing skills are top-notch.
Coming from a bi-National household, my childhood Christmases were a mishmash of cultural influences. In this edition of Christmas vs. Jul we're looking at whether the Danes or the English are the kings of Christmas cuisine.

You can pretty much tell from looking at me, I like snacks. Snacks are great. Christmas snacks are generally delightful.

English Christmas snacks seem to mostly be chocolate, and I’m not complaining about that. Unless it’s those grotty ones that are basically strawberry toothpaste in a chocolate shell, those are the worst. But give me a toffee penny and I’m a happy lady. I could take or leave mince pies, mostly because I get asked by the wider family to make them and I bake hundreds of the sodding things every year. I think I’ve reached mince pie saturation. Oh, also there is generally a larger than usual amount of cheese in my house at Christmas, and that is also a good thing. Gingerbread men and candy canes are basically fine too.

Danish Christmas snacks are things like pebernodder which are little spicy shortbread biscuit thingies that you put in little baskets and hang on your tree. They’re nice and all but they don’t really wave my red-and-white-and-wonky flag. We also have butter cookies (better) which are melty, buttery, vanilla flavoured biscuits. And then there are klejner, little knotty biscuits that you deep-fry.

Basically Danish Christmas snacks are mostly biscuits. Which is great if you really like biscuits. Otherwise, I’ll be honest, it’s all a bit too biscuity. Also mostly of them have cardamom in them. For this reason, England just tips it.

England – 1        Denmark – 0

The Main Meal
Now, this is one thing that English Christmas wins at, without a shadow of a doubt. I know it’s just a giant chicken with gravy, veg and jam. I know it’s basically a Sunday roast with additional tiny cabbages. I know that it’s never all cooked properly at the same time and that someone always gets the best parsnips first. But it really is just bloody brilliant.
Danish Christmas meals are generally roast animals as well, typically pork, but roast beasts are definitely the preserve of the English. It’s a fact. And also Danish Christmas dinner also includes red cabbage which I loathe. No further debate necessary.
(Also, sprouts with bacon and chestnuts are basically the best. Danish people don’t do that.)

England – 2        Denmark – 0

This one is kind of a marmite situation because if you love fruitcake and Christmas pudding then obviously you’re going to prefer English Christmas confections. However, I don’t like desserts that could perform double duty as doorstops, and I despise booze in puddings, so English Christmas desserts are my personal idea of dried-fruit-studded-flaming hell. Also the idea of breaking my tooth on a sixpence on a Bank Holiday does not appeal in the slightest. You can keep that one, England. It’s all yours.

In Denmark rice pudding is a way of life, and this extends into Christmas. Specifically we have ris á l’amande. Don’t be fooled by the French name, it’s Danish and is only eaten in Denmark. I don’t know why it’s called something French. It’s cold rice pudding whipped up with cream and chopped almonds. I know, it sounds gross, but I promise it’s lovely. Especially as it’s served with hot cherry sauce (which had whole cherries in it and is generally yummy). A whole almond is hidden in the bowl and whoever finds it gets a prize. Traditionally that’s a marzipan pig (as in the image above), but it varies. I don’t really care about that tradition though (because I never win and I’m a very bitter person.) You also leave some rice pudding out for the nissermen to keep ‘em sweet and to prevent them from leaving upturned plugs all over your floor and stealing your car keys. Weird nut paste animals aside, Denmark wins again.

England – 2        Denmark – 1

The Scores so Far
Yesterday Denmark had the lead with 2 points to 0, but England's superior spread in this round leaves us with a much more even score of England - 2         Denmark - 3.

Tune in next time for dangerous trees and arguments about dates.


Monday, 7 December 2015

English Christmas vs. Danish Jul - Calendars and Elves

I grew up with a blend of national influences. My dad is English but was born in Nigeria. My mum is Danish and was born in England. I was born in Germany and lived there for a lot of my childhood, but I speak very little German. I never really thought that my family’s Christmas decorations or routine were any different to anyone else’s, but as I’ve got older, or had English friends over while our advent gear is up, I’ve noticed some key differences between traditional English Christmas and the Danish Jul.

Advent Calendars
In England you have flimsy cardboard boxes with puny plasticky chocolates inside that you get really rather disproportionately excited about. Perhaps I’m biased against these because I’ve only ever had one, and someone at my boarding school snuck into the office and ate all my chocolates in the dead of night, but that’s just speculation. I know some brands do fancy-schmancy ones with luxury products in them but these tend to be pricey and certainly aren’t the norm.

In Denmark we have Christmas calendars which, frankly, are the absolute boss kings when it comes to the Christmas countdown. These behemoths of Christmas cheer are big wall-mounted fabric fandangos which are reused every year and are usually passed down through families. As it happens, my mum actually made mine and my brothers’ herself, by hand. They have little rings on each day from the 1st to the 24th, to which Santa’s elves (the nisser – more about them later) attach small gifts, increasing in size/value up to the big day. Danish calendars win this one, hands down.

England – 0        Demark – 1

The Lore
Please bear in mind, I may not have got all of this 100% right as I’m only reporting what I’ve been told by my mum who has been known to unintentionally mistranslate things, so I apologise to any Danes who might be reading this, just in case!

In England you have Father Christmas or the Americanised Santa Claus, who rides around the planet on Christmas night with his reindeer, delivering presents at supersonic speed. He’s beardy, wears red and employs elves to do all the hard labour. There seems to be some variation among households as to whether he leaves presents in stockings, shoes or under the tree. You leave out treats for him (in my house, that’s usually mince pies, milk and a carrot for Rudolph) and if you’ve been bad he might leave you coal instead of gifts.

In Denmark, we have the nisser/nissermen, which aren’t entirely unlike the trolls from Frozen, if you need a point of reference. They live in attics or barn rafters and are kind of unruly. If little things go wrong in your house, or you stub your toe or tread on Lego you blame the nissermen. They are also responsible for filling up your Christmas calendar. You leave out rice pudding and seeds to get on their good side.

The nissermen are pre-Christian but were adopted into Christmas when paganism declined. Father Christmas is sort of present in the modern Danish Christmas, but he was only introduced on the late 19th Century when Danish-American emigrants sent Christmas cards home with American Christmas imagery. Personally, I prefer the idea of nissermen because the idea of a personal house elf kind of appeals to me, and the idea of an old bearded man inviting himself into my house under cover of darkness has a touch of the Yewtree about it. All jokes aside, the nissermen are just far more practical, in a magical pixie sort of way. Denmark wins again.

England – 0        Denmark – 2 

Next time we're looking at the important bit - the food! Stay tuned!


Sunday, 6 December 2015

My (non-material) Christmas Wishes 2015

This year I don't have an Advent Calendar. I almost bought myself a Darth Vader one from Tesco but I've been reliably informed that the chocolate inside is disappointing, and so I held off. Also, my family Christmases are always slightly Danish-flavoured (my mum's family is Danish) and we have special fabric Advent Calendars, which frankly make your puny English cardboard ones a bit of a let down. We haven't put the fabric ones up this year because of some nonsense about us being "too old" so I've been left calendarless. I know. It's a travesty.

Despite this, I am feeling the Christmas spirit, and I've even done the bulk of my Christmas shopping which I'm pretty smug about. I'm always happy for an excuse to decorate, so I bought myself a little Christmas tree with battery-powered lights (from Lidl, around £6) and it's on my desk with all my other odd ornaments.

In the run-up to Christmas there can be some fraught moments. Family and friendship dynamics can get, shall we say, interesting this time of year, and coordinating plans to make everyone happy can seem impossible. My dad will be in Afghanistan for Christmas for the second year in a row, and the older of my two brothers will be with his girlfriend's family, so it'll just be me, my mum and my youngest brother. Last year we ate leftovers and watched Coyote Ugly. Very seasonal.

There are lots of material things I'd like for Christmas (I've dropped some VERY heavy hints about a marine-themed colouring book, so I may end up with six of them) but I will write another post about that in due course. These are the more abstract things I'd like this year:

1) No fisticuffs at family gatherings.

2) Minimal Yuletide bloating (sprouts are the enemy). 

3) A decent ending to Downton Abbey. If Edith doesn't get a happily-ever-after I'll commit acts of unspeakable violence. Speaking of which...

4) World peace. Or, at the very least, a stop to the senseless air strikes on Syria and for all members of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to dissolve. Literally. Into hateful little puddles.

5) The Force Awakens being a complete gem of a film that reinvigorates the franchise without causing any damage to the legacy of the originals.

6) Lots of bookings for my band so we can share Trash Panda goodness with everyone.

7) A staff Christmas party where I don't tell a coworker that I'm in love with them, drunkly weep into my whiskey and tell my department head "there's always one crying girl at the party... and this time it's me..." Not that I've ever done that (I have).

8) My pets to have a comfortable winter, especially my bunnies and my elderly dog.

9) To see as many of my friends as possible, despite them all being dispersed about the globe.

10) To see more smiles than any other facial expression.

What are your non-material Christmas wishes for 2015? Let me know in the comments! 


Saturday, 5 December 2015

5 Things About Me!

Well, isn't this just a shiny, brand new post on a shiny, brand new blog? Hello, blogosphere. How are you this morning?

Some of you might remember me from Wild Bear, and while I'm still proud of everything I did with that site, it's sort of deviated from who I am as a writer and a human, so when the domain expired recently I took the cue to reinvent my web presence to reflect my life a little better. For this, my very first post as Elena the Mermaid, I figured I'd reintroduce myself for those of you who've never "met" me, and anyone who wants to know more.

I found him!

1. I love aquariums and the sea

This fact cannot be overstated. I am at my absolute happiest when I am in the presence of animals, and marine life is way, way up there with my favourites. When I was little I used to spend a lot of summers at my aunt's house. She had a swimming pool in her garden, and I spent hours swimming underwater, floating about and imagining I was a mermaid. This was partially inspired by Ariel from the Little Mermaid (I'm a child of the 90s, of course I'm a Disney fan) but there was also a Pokémon book I owned where Misty goes back to her sisters' gym and performs in a mermaid display with a load of water Pokémon which sounded like my dream job.

2. I have blue hair (usually)

This year I finally took the plunge and bleached the hell out of my naturally dark brown hair and started the arduous task of dyeing it blue. There have been some teething problems, from initially having to wear a wig to work, to accidentally splattering most of my bathroom in Directions Midnight Blue, but most of these are resolved now. I love having blue hair, and it makes me feel more myself than I ever did as a brunette, despite the multiple chemical processes it takes to make it this colour.

3. I'm in a band called Trash Panda.

Earlier this year I met up with these boys and we formed a band called Trash Panda. We're sort of alt-rock, a little bit goth punk and we're in the process of polishing out 10-song set of original music. Hopefully 2016 will be the year of the Panda, but honestly playing and writing music with these boys is usually the best part of my week.

4. My brain isn't always on my side

I have bipolar disorder, which can make normal life a little bit difficult at times. I suffer from anxiety-induced hallucinations and take medication called Quetiapine, both of which prevent me from doing certain things, like driving a car or going out and partying every weekend. If my sleep patterns are disturbed I can get a lot worse very quickly, and my bad days can be very, very bad. Between medication, therapy and the support network of brilliant humans in my life, I'm usually doing ok though. 

5. I am a feminist and I am queer

Those things might sound unrelated, but actually I feel like my sexuality has informed my feminism, to an extent. Just over a year ago I got involved in a little bit of a media storm over something called The Ugly Girls Club. To cut a long story short, my old uni's feminism society launched something of a joint clapback and acceptance movement via selfies which went global, and as a result the face I'm pulling above was on the Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, the Guardian, Huffpost and apparently a couple of news channels. What can I say, my ability to take a truly horrendous photograph is pretty much unparalleled.

These five points just scratch the surface, but they give a bit of an insight to some of the lego bricks I'm built from. Why not tell me a few facts about yourselves in the comments?

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