Well, the General Election didn’t turn out as disastrously as I feared it might when it was first announced. And some lovely people read my piece on Domestic Violence and said some very nice things so that was awesome and a huge relief. So clearly it’s time for some more frivolous things that I am currently enjoying!
1.Sanex Advanced AtopiCare Bath & Shower Oil
Ooooh, just savour that name. Let it roll around in your mouth like the name of a French designer or a beautiful Lebanese dish. Sanex. So exotic.
There is obviously nothing particularly sexy about the name ‘Sanex’ or the word ‘AtopiCare’, and while I find 500ml of almost anything alluring for four quid, this is really not a product that screams luxury. It is made specifically for people with Atopic Dermatitis (or Atopic Eczema) so it’s very gentle, hypoallergenic, full of emollients, and just very non-drying. I’m lucky enough to have escaped the family curse of eczema but I still really enjoy using a product that feels oily and comforting and never gives me the itchy shoulders I get with even quite expensive shower gels. I dare say someone less obsessed with body lotion might find this moisturising enough not to follow up with cream and while I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, it definitely makes my lotion last longer and my skin feel softer the next day. It’s got no fragrance so as to avoid irritation but even without, it still feels quite luxurious and comforting on the skin.
I haven’t got an image because the packaging has changed recently and I can’t find a current photo that doesn’t go weird when I try to upload it: and taking a picture of the bottle that has resided in my shower for a month wouldn’t be very cute. But I’d definitely recommend it and you can get buy this fab, oily stuff at Boots or Superdrug or off the shelf in Asda like I did.
2. Laura Geller Baked Balance & Glow
This product has been an utter, utter lifesaver this month. I’d never tried Laura Geller make-up before because I was such a loyal bareMinerals fan and didn’t really see the point in trying a different powder foundation. Me Mam had said many times that she enjoys Laura Geller’s iconic Baked Balance & Brighten but it was only when QVC featured the new Balance & Glow that I decided to give it a whirl. With such hot weather and what seemed like a dive headlong from winter into summer, I thought a nice bronzed, glow-y sort of foundation would be very handy on days where the liquid foundation and all of its attendant layers were running down my face and pooling into my lap.
So I purchased and it stayed boxed for a week or so until I was having a lazy make-up day; took a while to build up and you have to be very careful not to be too heavy-handed, but it was a nice result. When this baby came into its own, however, was when I managed to sit outside for four hours in that hot hot hot sun the other weekend and I burned like an absolute bastard. SPF50 did nada. On a weekend, if I didn’t have plans, maybe I’d just brazen it out, but this was not the sort of burn that was going away immediately and I had work, including a v formal Trustee meeting.
Old Laura G came right to the rescue! I had to pack it on because the different areas of my face were so varying in colour- thanks five-year-old Burberry sunglasses, you’re very effective!- so I did look a little overly tanned. But seriously, the job this did evening me out and not caking or catching on my skin, was incredible.
Make-up like this really puts the emphasis on the glow, and the rest of the look can be quite minimal. I’d never go without blusher with a look like this though; even with a nice marbled foundation like this one, you need that colour to add light and shade back into your face. While I dealt with the agony of burnt shoulders, it was at least a relief to have a low-maintenance make-up regime to fall back on. I didn’t even need concealer! Happy Loz.
I chose the shade ‘Medium’, and while I don’t think I could have gone for the next one down- Fair- if I was made of money I’d probably have them both and use the Fair as an initial layer. Building up the Medium too much could see me into Al Jolson territory… I have tried a very thin layer of bareMinerals underneath and that works quite nicely thank you. Now it’s warming up again I’m really looking forward to shoving some of this on my face with a bit of gold eyeshadow and glowing for days.
Now it’s warming up again I’m really looking forward to shoving some of this on my face with a bit of gold eyeshadow and glowing for days.
3. The Longform podcast
I feel kind of guilty adding this podcast to a list because it deserves more fanfare, but I also think that describing it in too much detail would be very dull. If I over-explain what the podcast is about, it’s likely not to have the desired effect: i.e., to encourage you to listen to it,
Put simply, the Longform podcast is an interview- or perhaps ‘conversation’ is a better descriptor- between one of the three hosts of the pod, and a journalist. Those journalists are those who write longform pieces, that’s to say articles of between 1,000 and 20,000 words. This sort of length allows the exploration of topics, and incredible reporting, without the commitment of an entire book. The Longform podcast has introduced me to, or helped me get to know better, the most incredible writers - Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ariel Levy, Katie JM Baker, David Remnick, Pamela Colloff- and you really get to hear about the stories they’ve written, their approach, what they take away from their work. If that sounds dull, I promise you it’s not. It’s fascinating, human, challenging, comforting, and just my absolute favourite podcast of all time.
I rush to listen to the true crime podcasts I’m subscribed to the minute they’re available, but I always come back to Longform. The people interviewed and the subjects covered are just so varied, and it’s intellectual without feeling inaccessible or snobbish. I always feel cleverer and more informed once I’ve finished an episode but also like I’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket. It’s honestly just a joy. I’ve now listened to about 200 episodes and it’s my absolute desert island podcast. Thanks Max Linsky!
Statistically, you know someone experiencing domestic violence.
I wrote almost three years ago about a friend, H, going through a truly fucking awful time. We chatted online about her partner, the destruction, what it did to her. H sent me photos of things that had been broken. We talked about the woman she saw at the school gates who H knew in her gut was experiencing something similar, and I received long messages about where H’s abusive partner’s problems started, where the anger, frustration, and violence came from. His difficult start, how he’d been let down.
Scrolling back through our messages and seeing a screenshot of a text conversation between H and her now-ex, including a glimpse of an injury; it’s very dark and very sobering. H very generously thought of me to tell her story and thought I could do it justice, and for a while I thought I could too. It’s a feminist issue- as well as a human one- and I like those a lot, so why wouldn’t I write about domestic violence? It’s so blunt and cruel and often so nuanced and complicated. It’s not like I haven’t been around manipulative people and I definitely know what a twisted relationship looks like. That sick feeling I get seeing a huge imbalance of power between two people. The subtle abuse, the not-quite violence: these are things I recognise. But I soon realised that I didn’t have anything original to say about spousal abuse. It’s something I care so deeply about but beyond my own feelings and paranoia, I didn’t feel the words come. It simply felt like a story that wasn’t mine to tell.
I offered to proof-read H’s words, edit and present them, but I found myself unable to write anything myself, even when she asked me to. We talked about this but the discussion petered out until H got in touch again in April. The media hysteria surrounding the breakdown of Mel B’s marriage was peaking and the Mail Online was having a jolly good time with it.
“Check out the comments, that right there is every last one of the reasons why it took me 15 years to leave.”
They were obviously hideous.
The notion that if a woman doesn’t leave then whatever she suffers is her fault belongs in the last century, but let nobody accuse Mail Online commenters of subtlety or human empathy. It’s a website that sexualises children and then judges young people for dressing sexily. Of course it’s massively, stonkingly popular. It’s really easy for me to laugh at the online cesspit but the reality is so grim.
“Because ultimately the biggest fear in breaking silence is that no one will believe you……… it’s what the abuser grooms you to believe and this sort of comment and debate reinforces that… [it's] just awful. “
All that your abuser has done, all the hope kicked out of you and the amount of self-worth lost, beautifully topped with the cherry of a society that can’t look at a woman being controlled or beaten by their partner and feel anything but disdain. And yes, obviously not everyone feels that way but we see and hear these messages so often that one has to actually question one’s own thinking on the subject. Still, at least the government is on our side, eh Philip Davies MP? H found these comments so depressing and angering that again she asked me to write something and again I was hit by the feeling that I couldn’t say anything important or new and therefore should probably not say anything at all. Understandably, H found this a shitty response. So then she sent me her story in her own words and it was brilliant. But man, I felt bad.
Here’s an edited extract (taking out some very complimentary stuff that I definitely don’t deserve):
“The top two searches on my browser history right now are ‘pity party’ and ‘Mel B’. Random combination I know, a little-known hobby blogger and a former spice girl! Pity Party is a collaboration written by my oldest friend and her sister. A friend who has always been in the background, always been the one, stable, non-judgemental voice of wisdom in my life. The person who has known what is right for me often years before I was inclined to agree, a friend that is younger than me but who I never managed to quite achieve peer status with as she was always that bit further evolved than I was…… until now. Until tonight as I write this post. If you’re reading this blog then I’ve finished it and convinced Laura to share it in one of the.. places that house her [writing]. In her writing, Laura is the perfect combination of empathy and logic, of straight talking and compassion that would make her the perfect person to give life to my thoughts. When Laura writes…… I listen and I want people to listen. I have stalked Laura’s blog daily, I asked her to make a comment on the storm that is surrounding Mel B right now, I asked her to put words to the absolute devastation that is invoked when as a survivor of domestic violence you are faced with everything that a google search of Mel B on the internet gives birth to.”
Yeah. I felt like a total fucker. The rest of the writing was so great, and H has said that she’s not ready for it to be out there yet but I hope she will be soon. But holy shit, I really, really felt that I’d let H down. I’m very aware of not making this about me as it truly isn’t; ultimately though, I’d been asked for help and not responded. Which is shitty. It was still another month before I could put any of this into words though, despite starting this draft immediately. I didn’t want to write just because I felt bad or guilty, but I did want to comment somehow.
Last week Refuge shared an incredible piece from The Guardian: ‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister.Terrible stories of heart-rending abuse are not that hard to find; one of the most moving accounts I’ve heard was Jahmene Douglas’ Woman’s Hour appearance with his mother. What that woman- and her children endured- is beyond my comprehension. The brilliance of the Guardian article is that there wasn’t physical violence in Luke and Ryan Hart’s childhood, but their father Lance was an emotionally abusive, controlling, and manipulative father and husband who turned to violence when he finally lost control of those he had sought to have it over. These behaviours- and the excuses we make for them- can have terrible effects.
From the piece:
“Lance was not physically abusive – largely, the brothers believe, because they all worked hard to orchestrate a calm atmosphere at home, and because they gave in to his emotional demands. They didn’t think of his behaviour as domestic violence, because they had only ever considered domestic violence to be a man hitting a woman. Lance didn’t consider his actions to be abusive, either. “Yes, we bickered, but it wasn’t serious,” he wrote in his suicide note. “It was normal marriage stuff. No violence.” For some months, Claire had been keeping a diary of everything Lance said and did, but didn’t feel she could take it to the police because there had been no physical harm.”
If you’ve ever known a person who dictates the atmosphere and outcome of a situation according to their own feelings, this will resonate. It’s real behind-closed-doors stuff, it doesn’t leave a physical mark, but it’s devastating whether it ends in violence or not. And finally, I felt like I had something to say about spousal abuse and domestic violence; I couldn’t put into words anyone else’s experiences but I kept thinking about how these behaviours are so easily excused. How we allow people to be ‘grumpy’ or ‘sensitive’ or excuse their behaviour as being a foible of their personality when actually they are acting as a dictator, taking more than their share. Since I read the piece in The Guardian, I have thought about it a lot. I’ve thought about it in terms of behaviours I’ve witnessed, and in terms of how I act as a very emotional person. In terms of my own life, and in terms of seeing an interaction between a couple and having that gut feeling that something isn’t right. It’s reminded me that abusive behaviour can lead to violence but it is destructive in and of itself. I haven’t directly experienced domestic violence but there is a lot in the Harts’ story to recognise.
I’m still not sure what to say on this huge subject, but I know I want to remain vigilant. I’ve taken some of H’s writing and used it here and I hope she doesn’t mind. I just couldn’t para-phrase what she had said and not include the actual power of it. One thing I can rely on is that she’ll tell me if she’s pissed off, but it’s my sincere hope that she will see this as my effort to say something. I’m sorry it’s a bit late.
I know H has incredible words and I hope one day I can help her to shout them.
Hey, it’s another post about fun things! I’m still pretending that the election isn’t happening! Here’s three things I am currently loving.
1. Tan-Luxe Facial Drops
A nice bit of glow on the face can lift the complexion, even it out, and mean you need less foundation, but I’ve always been wary of facial fake-tanning: I’m quite scared of fake tan in general as I never seem to get it right. The other option is a gradual tan in a moisturiser but that means applying a moisturising product or brand that you wouldn’t usually pick, and why am I using all these fancy anti-ageing things to just finish them with something I wouldn’t choose?
Enter Tan-Luxe, full name: Tan-Luxe Illuminating Serum Self Tan Facial Drops (bit of a mouthful). You mix 2-4 drops with your own moisturiser (GENIUS) and then over a couple of days of use, a very natural tan develops. It doesn’t add weight or greasiness. There can be a very slightwaft of fake tan smell occasionally but I usually don’t find that unless I use 4 full drops in the morning. As a light-to-medium skinned person, I would say that the Light/Medium option I went for is very subtle and I could probably have gone for Medium/Dark and used less, and the Medium/Dark is a great option for darker-complected ladies who want to warm up their skin during the winter months. I’ve been using this for about three months now and have had no patchiness or dryness, the tan has looked very natural, and I’ve been able to use all my beloved serums and Liz Earle products without compromise.
XOJane is sadly no longer being updated but articles are still available to read, and I just found Marnell’s voice- so flippant in the face of so much pain- compulsive. How to Murder Your Life isMarnell’s memoir, of her privilege, her pain, her huge talent and success, and her inability to hold on to any of it. I’m about ten pages away from the end and I’ll be so sad to finish it.
I am a terrible, decadent cosmetics purchaser. I love trying new colours and styles, and I love stockpiling any essentials. Nine times out of ten, when QVC has a Today’s Special Value deal on make-up, I end up buying it: Tarte, BareMinerals, Becca, and all the other wonderful brands they stock. Sigh. I’m also a huge huge fan of Beauty Pie but that’s a whole other post entirely.
So I had promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any more make-up for a while but as soon as I saw it, I just had to have the Jeffree Star Cosmetics Lip Ammunition in Ice Cream BLVD. It’s pink with a lilac undertone, so on trend but without going too purple. Densely-pigmented and in awesome, kitsch bullet packaging, this little wonder has the power to cover fully in one sweep and still get more intense. I’m wearing it with fluttery lashes and neutral eyeshadow.
My favourite thing in a lipstick is buildable colour; I want that good, pigmented pay-off, but I also want to sweep it on and get a subtle wash if the mood takes me. And you can do that too. I can’t promise I won’t be getting more colours of these (and they are vegan and cruelty free).
I think about hair a lot, and I talk about hair only marginally less. I’ve written about it before, but anyway that was ages ago. One might argue that there are more important things to think about and that’s the whole problem; I haven’t written properly in forever because the world is so freaking overwhelming. I am genuinely overwhelmed by it. Work has been very busy this year so far but yawn, whatever, work is hard. That’s capitalism, babes! But it’s the political landscape that I’ve struggled to fathom, the lack of generosity and empathy in the way we are voting in the Western world (thank Christ for Trudeau and Macron), the million opinion pieces that make me feel worse. The seemingly constant belief by the common man that the rich will lift you out of your inequality! Why ask to be treated fairly if a billionaire can help put a (brown) face to your frustration and disappointment? It is so utterly depressing my creativity seemed to give a tiny pfft and disappear. I am left with too much to say and no words to express it all. And now a General Election!
But y’know what we can have a bit of control over? Hair! Well, to tell the truth, I’m not even sure that’s accurate, but I have to search for some order in this shitshow and why not start with my sharing the painful learnings of years of hating my hair? Beats thinking about the other stuff! Now, if you don’t have hair that you would hand-on-heart call ‘thin’ then you have my best wishes but you don’t know my life. Truly fine hair is the kind that experiences a gust of wind and goes greasy, blow-dries with some oomph but is flat in an hour, is generally hard to work with and won’t hold a curl. Now I have empathy with our fine, curly haired sisters, but that’s a whole different ballgame; I’m talking MY hair: flat, fine, caucasian, straight but with the ability to kink in a hairband, prone to grease. I had one huge blow-dry that lasted a few hours once, and that’s about all anyone’s been able to do. So often all you can really do is take away the factors that sabotage your hair, and here are my tips.
1. Get your hair cut regularly
Ugh, haircuts are so expensive. Even where I live- where the hairdressers don’t have websites- a cut is £35-£39. Extortionate. I think lots of people get a lady round their house rather than go to a salon and if you have one you like, awesome. In an ideal world, all fine-haired wimmin should find a stylist who knows their hair. They may not be the most cutting-edge (sorry) stylist in the world, but if you think they do reasonably well with your hair and they understand how finer hair works, stick with them. And then get your hair cut, every 6-8 weeks. I know it’s annoying, I know it’s hard to find the time (I go to a salon near work so I can do lunchtime trims), and I know it’s expensive, but it really is the best thing you can do for your hair.
Fine hair damages easily and if yours is anything like mine, I always need to apply some heat to it to not end up with a flat mess. So every time I’m using the hairdryer, I’m probably doing some damage, and that can be seen in split-ends or broken hair (which can make hair look quite fly-away). The more precise the haircut, the more it will benefit from regular trims, but I would argue that fine hair needs those trims even when the cut isn’t high-tech. In my experience and opinion, fine hair just looks better when it’s regularly trimmed. It just keeps those bobs looking healthier, and long hair looking as thick as it can do. When your hair gets ‘end-y’, it looks thinner.
I always walk out of the hairdresser looking flat and sad, but it passes!
1a. If you have a fringe, get it trimmed
More trips to the hairdresser, sorry. And this is one that I have come to quite late, but now I know the truth: if you have a fringe, take your hairdresser up on those goddamn free trims! I’ve been offered these for years and had never gone for one; I just found it a bit mortifying and I tended to wait until I was getting my hair cut properly. This may work if you have a sweeping kind of fringe and you go fairly regularly for the cut as evangelised about above. But for a heavier or more classic fringe, a trim keeps it from separating; the bane of a fringe-owner’s (wearer’s?) existence.
I combat fringe separation with the following tools:
Blotting papers for absorbing oil on the forehead (I like these; the case is cute and practical)
Even with all of that, if the fringe gets too long, it’s Game Over. But I do understand! Being a bit weird and awkward at times, the thought of going in to the salon to be told no-one could trim me seemed like a nightmare. But now I’ve realised how much neater and fresher I look (vanity will out), I just call them up, ask when the best time to come in for a fringe-trim is, and it’s relatively painless. At a push, a place local to you will probably trim your fringe- if they’re not too busy- for £4-£5.
2. Take B vitamins!
My gorgeous and clever big sister recommended Biotin to me and I was all like “Whu?” as I had never heard of it and I wasn’t much of a supplementer. Oh how times have changed! I didn’t use anti-ageing skincare then either and that time seems a million years ago. Now I take a tonne of supplements to help with joints and digestion and fatigue, and I sure do love my Biotin, which is basically a B vitamin that helps your hair, skin, and nails. It’s what’s in Perfectil, which I used to take, but the dose in just straight-up Biotin can be way higher. Since taking it, my nails grow so much faster and stronger and I feel that my hair is in better condition. My hairdresser has assured me that it will mean my hair is much stronger and a good friend recently told me that she’s been taking it for a couple of years, after she noticed some hereditary thinning hair, and she looks fantastic. It may not work for you but I’m certainly happy and it’s not expensive at all to try.
Big Sis did counsel caution with the Biotin as it caused a few spots on her and apparently, this isn’t hugely uncommon when taking the big old 10,000mcg strength; she cut down to half and the issues went away. There’s a variety of strengths out there and I’m thick with numbers so I get a bit confused between milligrams and micrograms… Anyway, I sometimes get a spot when I am, I suspect, hormonal, but that’s pretty infrequent and could just as easily be my wine consumption.
Purchase at Holland & Barrett, Amazon, or most shops where you’d buy supplements…
3. Styling product balance is KEY
I do not have the answer to this: whenever I think I’ve reached an Hallelujah moment with my styling products, I feel like they kind of stop working. And, if I don’t keep up with the other rules on this list, my styling products don’t work as well. I would say that the golden rules are:
Usually more than 2-3 products are going to weigh your hair down so don’t overload; and
If someone tells you some light-hold, all-natural spray is the answer to your dreams, she doesn’t have fine hair and do not pay heed
That second one might just be because I’m bitter. Either way, any time I casually Google ‘fine hair tips’ or similar, I get terrible articles about blow-drying your hair upside down. No shit! I need product recommendations, specifics I can use. I’m glad the Aveda product worked for you, but I need something to change the texture of my hair- fine, fine baby hair needs work (and if you have a less baby-like texture then I am very jealous).
I am currently enjoying the Oribe Maximista Thickening Spray, but it’s extortionate at £27. I got it with my Space NK loyalty points and while I’d like to buy it again, I’m not sure it’s demonstrably better than a bog-standard thickening spray. I need mousse in my roots, and I have been impressed with the TIGI Catwalk Root Boost Spray, which you can find for about £8 if you’re savvy. I spray it right into my roots in little bursts and then rub it in. I think it keeps a little lift in those roots through the day, and a bit of dry shampoo (I like Colab) helps refresh my hair when it gets a bit flat. I also usually use a bit of hairspray to finish everything off, and as long as it has a nice fine spray I’m not sure the brand matters too much.
I still stand by the products I recommended in my post a while ago, but I try different things when I’ve used a product for a while and the initial excitement has worn off. TIGI products are pretty good in my experience, and I love Fudge Urban Iced Coconut Cocktail hairspray because you need so little of it and it’s very handy to sling in your bag for trips and going out.
Ultimately it’s about trying different products and seeing what works on you, but too much product in your hair- even if it’s promising the world- will just weigh your hair down.
4. Go easy on the conditioner
This may be stating the obvious for most, and for fine-haired lovelies with dry lengths and ends, it’s also not helpful. But goddamn did it take me a long time to realise the truth of this statement. I think it was a hangover from having highlights and needing to use umpteen products to both boost and tame my dry, damaged blonde hair. So many brands that have a volumising range include a conditioner as part of it and I just continued to use it, but not conditioning has been a revelation.
My general advice would be that if you have fine hair prone to oiliness throughout, try skipping the conditioner; if you have a bit of dryness, then try conditioning first and then washing out with your shampoo; and if you’re dry through your lengths and ends or have processed hair then do what needs to be done, deep-condition, and ignore this tip. Philip Kingsley Elasticizer is a great choice if you do need a full-on conditioner but want to avoid heaviness; pop it on while you’re brushing your teeth and then shower and shampoo off (you can leave it on for 10-20 minutes if you really need to condition deeply).
5. Dye your hair regularly
If you don’t dye your hair then I’m not suggesting you start! I’ve always found that my porous hair likes a bit of semi-permanent dye, but I’ve no idea whether this is the case for other fine-haired peeps. What I do know is that if you do dye, keep it up because hair that has had the colour stripped out- which is essentially what is happening when you’ve dyed your hair and the colour starts to fade- tends to feel weaker and thinner. My personal experience is that my hair looks stronger, shinier, and thicker when it’s freshly dyed (well ok, after I’ve washed out the custard-y conditioner that you put on afterwards a couple of times), and sadder and thinner after about 4 weeks.
I realise this isn’t easy if you’re fancy and go to a salon, but I am ride or die for my Blue Black at home.
6. Volumising shampoos and conditioners will promise the earth…
…and sometimes they’re not bad. But honestly, I go into every new bottle of shampoo with my eyes shining and with hope in my heart, and I just don’t think that there’s a magic bullet. It pains me to say it, but there’s only so much shampoo can really do. Gah! It’s so sad.
I have tried many different combinations and I’ve often thought I found a keeper, only to get halfway into the bottle and lose faith. Philip Kingsley and TIGI Bed Head were pretty good. The L’Oreal Fibrology range is ok, and is nice and cheap. Sali Hughes rates the Bumble and Bumble system and what I find interesting about this, even though I haven’t tried it, is that part of the aim of that range is to avoid hair-loss, which is a more long-term aim than a lot of ranges will work towards but worth thinking about, and definitely part of the benefit of taking Biotin.
I’m currently using STEMM by Deciem and I really love it. I’ve stopped using the conditioner because as light as it was, it still weighed my hair down, and the shampoo is mildly conditioning anyway. I also use the Density Stimuli from the same range and I have no idea whether it works but I’ll probably keep going for a bit. I think my hair currently looks the best it ever has and I’m sure it’s a combination of all of the tips I’ve set out here; and there’s no scientific way to see whether that’s the case or not cos I did them all at the same time! But the STEMM feels really good when I use it and I just make sure to do a proper shampoo once every 1-2 weeks as it hasn’t got any of those chemicals that are so handy for cleaning the crap out of your hair.
So that’s it; these are the things I’ve learnt the hard way. Maybe everyone else knew and I just hadn’t cottoned on? Very possible. But hell, this piece was long. I wanted to get a few words about hair down as I hadn’t written for so long and here we are at 2300. Congratulations if you got this far- email me and I’ll send you some hair styling products that are still 90% full!
In the mean time, I’ll be throwing more money at the problem and pretending we’re staying part of the EU. Ciao.
I’m rarely prompted to write about a programme I’m enjoying. I’ve written some oh so witty recaps for an as-good-as-defunct website in the past but apart from that, I’m usually hearing about programmes once someone’s already said they’re good. I think Transparent is utterly incredible: so does everyone else.
But I had heard nothing about UnREAL when I started watching it, I just finally gave in to the relentless suggesting of it on Amazon Video. And man, it’s good. The premise is fascinating, and UnREAL does it super well. UnREAL is a drama set behind the scenes at a hit reality show and as such, lets us glimpse behind the magic and into the machinations that make such shows happen.
At the centre of UnREAL is Everlasting, a reality show almost identical to The Bachelor, which is now about to enter its 21st season in the US. The Bachelor has been around so long that it’s easy to forget how huge it has been, and the extent to which it created the blueprint for dating shows. In the post-writers’ strike days of reality programming, The Bachelor is a behemoth. Looking at its Wikipedia page, The Bachelor has been accused of being scripted and I have no idea of the extent to which this is true, but UnREAL takes as its starting point the idea that the show isn’t scripted, but that the Producers manipulate every detail to produce the result they want. This includes cajoling, flattering, and criticising the contestants into acting the way they want, which is as compulsive to watch as it is horrifying. And some of the ways they manipulate the characters is watch-through-your fingers bad, pushing buttons and using the mental health issues of the contestants to push them in to an emotional, sometimes extreme, reaction. Which is to say that it’s so entertaining! While I do like to think that Producers on a real show wouldn’t go quite as far as they do on UnREAL, I could well be being naive.
The co-creator of UnREAL- along with Marti Noxon, who is probably most famous for working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer- is Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who originally wrote the acclaimed short Sequin Raze, on which UnREAL is based. Shapiro worked on The Bachelor for nine seasons so I suspect she knows a thing or two about the show, but it is her personal reaction to working on it that I find so interesting, and is what makes UnREAL so compulsive for me. Yes, it’s fascinating to watch the manipulations and machinations, and to see the dynamics between the people working on the show as they simultaneously compete with each other and strive for a common goal. But it’s the characterisations that make me go back to UnREAL for episode after episode, long after that point that I lose interest with most series.
UnREAL has two main characters and they are both women. That genuinely doesn’t happen often, and when it does the female characters are rarely as flawed and complex as these two. Rachel is very definitely the heroine of the piece, dragged back to work on a TV show she finds morally repugnant but that she is so very good at producing. But Rachel also makes terrible decisions- and selfish ones- and acts in a way that makes you want to shout at her sometimes. She is stuck doing something she hates but is incredible at and we watch wondering whether she will destroy herself. She’s also played by the ace Shiri Appleby, who was so great in Girls, and brings a real humanity to the role. Rachel is bright, capable, right-on and likeable, and sometimes she is a pretty bad person. Luckily there is her boss, Quinn, the show-runner of Everlasting, to make Rachel look good. Quinn is vicious, cutting, hard-nosed, witty, and angry, and also a multi-layered character with human relationships, hopes and dreams. Looking at the other roles Constance Zimmer has had, I can’t pin any one thing down to where I recognise her from, but she has been in a lot, and I love her in this. Two female characters who are selfish and single-minded, successful and intelligent, and you still manage to like them for at least some of the time; I can’t think of another example of this. It happens slightly more in our new, amazing golden age of television, but usually as an ensemble cast or in a sitcom; a genre where the reality of complex human relationships is often lost. in UnREAL there are other fascinating characters, not least a gay character who isn’t a horrible stereotype, but it’s the women who run the show. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is.
UnREAL holds a mirror up to reality TV and all of its racist, homogeneous tendencies. The drama of the show that is being produced is almost matched by the drama going on behind the scenes, but I don’t find anything camp. Of course there are times where there has to be a little suspension of disbelief, but even watching episodes back-to-back UnREAL stands up. This is something I struggle with when I watch episodes of anything close together as so often the characters suddenly change their mind about things that were so important an episode ago, in order to advance the plot. UnREAL does a pretty good job of staying true to its characters and smashes it out of the park when it comes to the Bechdel Test. I’m thrilled that a third season is coming and heartily recommend this show. Now someone watch it so I can talk to you about it.