The truth about my stretch marks

Stretch marks. Tricky.

Your body has ripped apart, cracked and torn. It calms from red, angry scratches to slivery lines and then – depending on where they appear on your body – puckered little wrinkles or white stripes. Mine were epic in week 37 of my pregnancy. They itched, they bled, they grew and they mother-funkin SPREAD. I’d done all that oiling everyone tells you to do – my mum armed me with Bio Oil as soon as I announced I was pregnant and highly vommy, and I duly spread that slick across my slightly swollen belly even though it made me feel worse, ruined my sheepskin slippers and stained my favourite rug. Then I got bigger and bigger, and of course the skin ruptured – I went from a 27″ waist to a roomy condo for twins. OK, it was just housing the one baby, but even a consultant winced when she saw me at week 38. I was carrying a lot of water, if you must know. When that sucker popped, it was like a pipe had burst in the condo. Or my vagina.

At first the stretch marks were deep burgundy and filled with itchy spots. Then my post-birth jelly belly got kind of puckered. Then once it had eventually shrunk down a bit, it looked like an empty bollock. Wrinkled, floppy and loose.

I knew there were products that promised to cure them, and as a beauty editor I was regularly offered fat-freezing procedures and lasers to zap them into submission. And there is some evidence of SOME success with lasers and fraxel on stretch marks. But I didn’t fancy it. Plus I was breastfeeding so I couldn’t anyway. But then I stopped breastfeeding, and I could try them. And I still didn’t. I still felt like my body was in a state of flux, I didn’t yet know what I’d end up with. And I kind of wanted to see what it would do without any help. Five years later, I’m fine with my tummy. It’s not a supermodel/flat/smooth stomach, but neither is my face or my hair or my butt, and that hasn’t bothered me since I was about 17.

It was easy to turn down all the offers politely and stick with my body as it is. But then I went to see the brilliant beauty editor and YouTuber, Nadine Baggott, and she asked me if I’d review some treatments. Her viewers had asked for realistic solutions to stretch marks, and together we could investigate. And I realised, I really didn’t want to. I said as much – if a magic wand could erase my stretch marks forever, would I accept? No.

Someone commented no truth-telling woman would actively decline a magic wand erasure of their stretch marks. I argued, well I would actually. And I would! I know that sounds trite and like I’m trying to ingratiate myself with the body-posi crew (well, duh – who wouldn’t want to join that tribe?!), but my reasons – MY reasons, lady – are actually as follows:

  1. I had a choice. I could take up the countless brands on their offers of products and treatments to tackle my stretch marks, or I could show my stretch marks off and thus normalise them, since I’m not that bothered anyway. Stretch marks on other people don’t bother me, and if you should be the change you want to see in the world – or the un-retouched bodies you want to see in an Instagram feed – so maybe it’s a good idea to show the people who AREN’T offered free lasers all the time that actually stretch marks aren’t a source of shame.
  2. I have a kid and I would like her to grow up feeling body positive. I could laser my stretch marks, but if she sees me and other people accepting and embracing them, isn’t that a good thing? This does not mean I think people who do choose to treat them are not doing good. This is just the current situ in our own personal relationship. It’s just one of the factors that has lead me to my decision.
  3. I will not be pressured to battle with my body. Not one part of it. When I was a teenager I punished it plenty, mainly with the opinions of other people spurring me on. OK, mainly the opinions of the school rugby team. And the odd hockey player. Now, I want my husband to enjoy my body, but I’d be bloody disappointed if he slagged off the stretchies. I don’t think he will.
  4. I have a lot going on. It’s amazing if I get time to pluck my chin hair. Stretch marks might be a bridge too far.
  5. Nadine is trying some procedures and is FAR better at explaining how things work than I am – she’s the official go-to on what’s worthwhile and what definitely isn’t.

What’s next? I might buy a bikini. I mean, sure I have never really worn them – I’ve been a fan of the one-piece since my teens – but maybe it’s time. Just to see. Be the change/feed you want to see in the world, y’all.

That said, if you do want to tackle yours – and I get that, I do – Nadine is an expert and has tried everything. If she does find something that works, she’ll share that and I’d wager that will be your best bet.

p.s. I really struggle when someone calls bullshit on something I feel. By all means call bullshit on my knowledge (there are holes) and question why I feel something, but you can’t question my feelings. They’re mine. THE END.

How Kate Middleton is helping mums

Photo from @kensingtonroyal

Other than a morbid, Netflix-fuelled fascination with Princess Diana last November, I’ve never been that into stuff that comes out of Buckingham Palace. I’m not anti, I just didn’t really engage. I was convinced I’d seen William in Thursdays, our local nightclub when I was 16, but given it was in a field in Sussex, it seems unlikely. Plus, when I yelled ‘WILLS!’ he didn’t even flinch, so probably wasn’t him. Other than that night, I just felt the whole family were a world apart from us. Separate. Then Kate Middleton changed things a bit for me. Not with her astounding head of hair or the way she made LK Bennett a thing again, but with her honesty about motherhood.

First, she stood sweetly on the steps of the Lindo Wing with William and baby George, and we saw a gentle mound beneath her pretty blue dress. She was leaving hospital in a form-fitting dress that showed the still swollen belly beneath it. I didn’t crow and cluck with glee – when people said she was brave for showing it I thought this said more about them than her, and where exactly is she supposed to hide it?! – but I did nod sisterly, glad that she had single-handedly dispelled the commonly held myth that the uterus shrinks back down as soon as it’s vacated. Two more babies since then with more small shift dresses and that gorgeous shape, Kate is still having to brave those bloody steps in heels, when – if she’s anything like me (and appearances would suggest otherwise, of course) – she’s most likely clenching stuff around a wad of towels up there.

OK, so some might argue that by wafting out of the Lindo Wing, fully made up and looking like she could guest star in an episode of America’s Next Top Model might not be that helpful or honest. When you look like a raw steak 4-hours post-partum (hi!), this kind of high octane glamour could royally piss you off. BUT I’d argue – the majority of people who, thanks to family pressures and circumstances I guess we’ll never understand, had to face a bank of photographers and strangers in Union Jack suits hours after pushing out an 8lb baby would also gratefully allow a hairdresser and expert makeup artist in to soften the blow. She’s not posing for a ‘LOOK I SNAPPED BACK!” shoot, she’s following protocol. I can’t think of anything worse than being exposed like that, when all you want to do is get into bed and stick an ice pack in your pants. And what Kate Did Next at a Best Beginnings charity event will always override any residual snark about the post-birth get up, frankly. For me, anyway.  Because what she did that day went a long way towards making an honest dialogue more acceptable. In her speech, she admitted she found motherhood ‘a huge challenge’.

“Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer, overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother,” she said, “It’s full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together. Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual, to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost. There is no rulebook, no right or wrong; you just have to make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family. For many mothers, myself included, this can at times lead to a lack of confidence and feelings of ignorance. It’s right to talk about motherhood as a wonderful thing but we also need to talk about its stresses and strains. It’s okay not to find it easy. Asking for help should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Our children need us to look after ourselves and get the support we need.”

I was stunned to hear her speaking so frankly. Because this isn’t just a break with royal protocol, but also the general theme of post-truth perfection wielded by so many mothers in the public eye.

And just as some might give that nude patent pump a go when they see her shapely foot shining in the sun, she might also ignite a spirit of honesty that helps people acknowledge and share their feelings, and hopefully when necessary, to seek help. What a gal.

An Ode to lipstick

When I was a teenager, lipstick wasn’t really the thing – in fact, lipgloss reigned supreme right into my Uni years. So I spent a long time with my lips somewhere between shiny and dry-as-hell, spitting wisps of hair out of my mouth before kissing boys. I once burnt my foot quite badly because my lips were so slippery with gloss that a cigarette shot out of my mouth and fell onto my peep-toes.

But by the time I was officially a Grown Up,  lipstick was back. And I’ve been obsessed with the transformative effects ever since. Chalky pink, satin scarlet, poster paint poppy, glowy rose blush, silky nudes, punchy coral, matte fuchsia – they can suit EVERY skin colour, and are so easy to apply (more on that below), but they imbue your face with a sense of gutsy stylishness that’s all your own. When I see someone wearing lipstick I automatically assume they’re nailing it – work, motherhood, whatever.Even though I know how easy it is to purchase and apply, lipstick is just one of those things that makes you look pulled-together and a bit sassy. You’ve got chutzpah. Balls. You’re laughing.

It also does wondrous things for a tired person, detracting from dull skin and dark circles with a wide-awake pop of colour. It’s the fashion statement you can make regardless of shape, size or budget. OK, you do need cash, but as little as £4.49 for this Barry M lipstick I have on repeat purchase, and only £1 for MUA at Superdrug, another from my own makeup bag.

I don’t go in for the bullshit spun about it being a sexual fishing rod used to catch a mate. When I like a girl’s lipstick I don’t find my brain immediately swimming in the big red/fuchsia vaginas it’s supposed to summon by association. It’s just a bit of fun, something to make you feel good with a single swipe, if like me you apply direct from the bullet. Yes you can make it last longer with primer, you can create a fuller lip with a liner, and you can buff and blot your way to a totally flawless, Insta-ready pout. But if you have 10 seconds between wrestling your toddler into his or her buggy and pulling a beanie down over a head of 3-day old dry shampoo, you can also look pretty fucking amazing by just slicking it on. The dream accessory for a time-poor mother.

The best foundation EVER

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I’ve been inundated with texts from friends over the past few weeks asking after foundation. The seasons are shifting, so it’s time for many to rethink their coverage, taking on the ubiquitous advice that you MUST switch to tinted moisturiser immediately because it’s better for your skin in the heat. RUBBISH! IT ALL CLOGS PORES TO THE SAME EXTENT! But nonetheless, I shall proceed…

The general gist of the text is always, I want something light that won’t cost a fortune. And I wish I could text back with a simple, BUY RIMMEL FOUNDATION, IT’S THE BEST! But actually getting the right foundation is way more complicated than that, and you DO get what you pay for. So here goes: my guide to what’s good, what’s cheap and what actually works…

  1. YOUR FOUNDATION IS ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR CLEANSER. If you’re not using the right cleanser or cleansing thoroughly enough, your foundation will not sit in the same way, plus it will have a whole myriad of problems to cover. If you want to scrimp on foundation, PLEASE invest in Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Cleansing Balm first. A weekly or even b-weekly enzyme exfoliant would be good too – I like Indeed Labs and Peter Thomas Roth.
  2. YOU NEED TO HYDRATE YOUR SKIN BEFORE YOU APPLY FOUNDATION. I only know of one foundation which effectively hydrates while it covers (Hourglass Hyaluronic Skin Tint) but even under that I always need moisturiser. I swear by Pestle & Mortar Hydrate, and focus it around the eyes, chin and lines.
  3. DON’T RELY ON FOUNDATION’S SPF AS SOLE PROTECTION. You’d have to wear a shit-ton of makeup to actually get the protection of a sun cream. I really rate Darphin Intral Environmental Lightweight Shield SPF50. But remember: the time it protects you for is the time is usually takes you to burn (usually around 10 minutes) multiplied by the SPF number, so for example SPF50 gives you approximately 500 minutes of protection. And you should still avoid direct exposure to strong sunlight.
  4. OK, now you can apply it. I don’t have time for primer on top of all that other stuff (see points 1-3), so I am very demanding of my foundation. It must be long-lasting and comfortable without a primer. So, no – I don’t often scrimp on foundation. My current favourites are:
  5. NARS PURE RADIANT TINTED MOISTURISER £30  – it’s excellent for drier skin, but for me it skims over lines and gives the appearance of plumped up skin with a healthy sheen. This is a high summer choice for me when I’m not after quite so strong a coverage.
  6. GIORGIO ARMANI POWER FABRIC £36 – this is AMAZING – definitely light and seamless on the skin, but it also covers properly. I have a mammoth hormonal spot right now and haven’t used concealer once thanks to this souped-up base. It’s imperceptible to the touch once it’s on – just a genius formulation, possibly witchcraft actually. Plus, a little goes a hell of a long way so you get your money’s worth on a cost-per-wear basis. And I repeat: you will NOT need a primer.
  7. IF YOU REALLY HAVE TO SCRIMP – I would recommend BOURJOIS HEALTHY MIX FOUNDATION £9.99 mixed with a dash of serum for added glow. L’OREAL TRUE MATCH GENIUS 4-IN-1 COMPACT FOUNDATION £12.99 is a brilliant base but I use it for touch-ups rather than an all-over job. If you did want to use it like that, make sure you moisturise well first, give the cream time to cook and settle, then apply with a clean sponge (not the one in the compact – harbinger of germs).

How eyebrows can rock your world

I didn’t know I really needed eyebrows until I got them. I’ve always had some, granted and even toyed with shading them in with a powder now and then. I’ve had quite a few different types of shaping appointment over the years – threading, waxing, tweezering – but it wasn’t until I discovered HD Brows that I really GOT brows. And now I feel a bit naked without them. If my brow game is strong, the rest of my face can sort of fall away a bit – they give structure to the mushy expanse of pink skin, they make me look a bit more groomed.

I was wary at first – a Scouse brow just wouldn’t work on me – but was persuaded when my best friend had them done. And I suggest you too only go on recommendation – even HD in the wrong hands could be a disaster of Groucho Marx proportions. They use a combination of science and witchcraft to establish what the perfect brow shape is for YOU – you can’t go in and ask for an Angelina, it’s more bespoke than that. And then they wax, trim, tweeze and tint that perfect arch in less than 20 minutes.

So for two weeks, that’s brows sorted. The tint does start to fade about two weeks in so then I lightly fill in the gaps with either Benefit Gimme Brow (in a shade darker than my natural colour) which literally takes less than 30 seconds to do both brows. TOP TIP: Don’t cleanse with an oil-based eye makeup remover as this will break down the tint more quickly.