Mermaid boobs and how to check if your Instagram feed empowers women…

An exhibition is launches this week in London to celebrate brands which have empowered women with their advertising. Kantar’s ‘What Women Want – An exploration of 100 years of marketing to women’ showcases the ads that have built positive female role models over the last century.

The exhibition features adverts, many preserved in The History of Advertising Trust archives, including one from Vimto in 1920 with a rare portrayal of a woman playing sport, a 1942 war recruitment poster giving women a sense of purpose and power with their new roles, a 1980 Trustee Savings Banks image of a working woman with financial control and the more recent Dove campaign, started by Unilever in 2004 and showing ‘Real beauty’.

It’s about giving women a voice, power and confidence.

Today, in our in our #metoo world, advertisers have got to get it right. A brand doesn’t want to be accused of objectifying women or placing them into sexist, clichéd roles. Just think of the furore over the ‘Are you beach body ready?’ billboards in 2015.

The Advertising Standards Agency is responsible for deciding if an ad is the right side of the line – in recent years approaches including a ‘mermaid’ with her breasts bared selling propeller cleaner, a woman in her underwear advertising fast food and a crotch shot have led to ads being banned.

Damn right.

But there is a worrying sub-trend. Marketing these days isn’t of course limited to billboards and tv adverts, but is carried out through paid partnerships with influential bloggers and Instagrammers. Most of the time, these influencers produce their own content to promote brands or products. Many of them have massive reach and ability to influence their followers, which is, of course, why companies are keen to work with them.

The ASA has just published a guide advising influencers of the rules they need to follow for sponsored content, such as marking it clearly #ad in an obvious, upfront way. They also state that adverts are covered by the Code of Conduct – but in practice it is hard to police the vast amount of internet content.

Whilst brands may carefully vet content going out in their name, to ensure it is in keeping with the Code of Conduct, it is the wider portrayal of individuals on sites such as Instagram that is concerning. It is not just the ad itself which matters, but the wider ‘brand building’ on an individual’s account. That bikini beach yoga shot is not an ad, but it sells as lifestyle that makes the next, carefully labelled #ad post of a yoga mat more sellable.

All too often, influencers are creating a female perpetuated image of self that simply wouldn’t be tolerated by the ASA. Take these examples of ASA rulings and guidance as to what is not acceptable, all of which are regularly ignored on Instagram:

Posing in an exaggerated way that makes the person look unrealistic or unhealthily thin.

This is a widespread practice, and is also often coupled with digital enhancement, filters and contouring with make-up to create the illusion of a flawless, thin body, many of them advertising diet products. There is evidence of body positive accounts – showing bodies that don’t fit the stereotypical ideal, whether with disabilities or higher BMIs, but they remain few and far between, and crucially, are often not the ones with sponsored content.

Objectification or fragmentation of women

Surprisingly common, even amongst those which might be considered feminist, this includes showing just body parts, or excluding the face from a shot. This may be in some cases because of the difficulty of taking your own photo – but it has the same impact: women are portrayed as just bodies, or clothes horses.

Over sexualised images and gratuitous nudity or semi-nudity.

Full nudity isn’t allowed on Instagram, but there is plenty of semi-nudity. A search for #bodygoals brings up literally millions of semi-naked images, mostly of women in lingerie or revealing swimwear in provocative poses.

It is of course a woman’s choice as to how she portrays herself – a feminist can wear what she likes and pose however she wants. However, I can’t help but question if the way many women are choosing to present themselves is not a true choice, but rather a societal pressure to appear a certain way and to be more ‘perfect’ to attract followers and sponsored work.

We’re right to celebrate the achievements of mainstream advertising in challenging stereotypes and cleaning up the portrayal of women, yet women themselves are creating brands in ways that mainstream advertising wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do today.

Responsible brands need to be aware not only of the adverts going out in their name, but the way women are representing themselves across their whole feed. We’ve still got a long way to go.

Here’s a quick guide to keeping your Instagram feed empowering….

  1. show your face – not just your body.
  2. if you wouldn’t stand/pose/dress like it at the supermarket, don’t do it on your photo.
  3. don’t pick a photo because it is the slimmest one – focus on your smile or your eyes instead.
  4. don’t be afraid to show imperfection.
  5. don’t use filters or digitally edit yourself.
  6. challenge cliches: don’t just show yourself in very stereotyped roles.

 What Women Want? Exhibition – An exploration of 100 years of marketing to women. Open  from 21 – 29 November 2018, free entry. Book your ticket on

 I wrote this on behalf of the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). With thanks to HAT for the images from their archives which also feature in the exhibition.


Book review of The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal

light in dark cover

I used to fear winter. Not just for its darkness and bleakness, but because it took away my coping mechanisms. Working full time in an office based job, I was forced to either run in the dark outside, which scared me, or to go to the gym – a much less effective mood booster for me.

Now that I’m a footloose and fancy free writer, I am master of my own day. I can take a break from my screen to go for a run or walk in daylight and, my god, it makes a difference to how I feel about this season.

So I no longer dread winter, but I also can’t escape that it makes life that bit harder. Even getting the kids out of the door in the morning seems more of an ordeal, when there are layers and scarves and wellies to find. Darkness means more time stuck indoors, and that can mean, for us, more family conflict.

As Horatio Clare puts so well and lyrically in The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal, “It is not fair to blame the winter, but it does set the stage so well, with its clamped-down rains, its settled and introverted darkness, its mean rations of light, its repetitions.”

Horatio’s book tells of his Seasonal Affective Disorder and his dread of winter, the way it brings self-doubt and a depressive sense of gloom. It is in part linked to the farming calendar, his mother is a sheep farmer in Wales and early on in the book we are faced with a horrific passage describing how badger baiters have brutally maimed his mother’s sheep.

“I drive to the murder field. There is an absolute silence and blackness beyond its fence. I know the shed is piled with dead animals. There is a complete dark nothingness there, something utter and eerie, a nihilism, a nothing you should not be able to feel, but cannot mistake.”

It is terrible, and serves as a motif of what winter does to Horatio; a dark fear that cannot be seen, but nevertheless pervades his life. I feel for his family. He describes his wife Rebecca like some sort of wondrous goddess of love, warmth and strength. She sounds formidable. I welcome the way Horatio has given himself permission to show his weakness – we all need to do that – but I wonder about Rebecca; for living with gloom is hard to do. This book feels like a thank you to her, as well as a celebration of the lifeline that a loving family brings.

It feels personal to say that, to comment on their relationship, but this is a deeply personal book. At times it feels like I am cooped up in a dark, leaking house with Horatio, gloom outside like thick smog. Does that mean I found it depressing? Yes, I think it does, but that is not a bad thing. As someone who has also experienced anxiety, depression, compulsion, hypochondria and insomnia, it is oddly comforting. We don’t need a Pollyanna-ish account – it wouldn’t ring true or be authentic.

The end though, does bring a note of hope that I trust is genuine. This sort of book almost forces a natural arc- from problem to solution, from dark to light, from winter to spring, from depression to health. The end is jubilant; Horatio has been told that he is not bipolar as her feared, or indeed depressed. Simply “cyclothymic – but we’re all cyclothymic to some degree,” and that supplements and therapy will be helpful.

And then that great reprieve from seasonal symptoms, spring, arrives.

Right now, as we fall deeper into the dark months – I write this with the light on for outside is gloom and drizzle – I find myself thinking of Horatio and his family, and wondering if this winter will be ok.

This book is easy to read – it flows and Horatio’s voice is warm and chatty, the prose lyrical and beautiful – but it is not an easy read. You will need to confront your own feelings about winter, about mental health and about how society views it. You’ll go to some dark places, and will have to trust that you can find your own light in the dark.

The Light in the Dark, by Horatio Clare, is published on 1st November by Elliot & Thompson.

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for giving me a copy to review.


Pre-school tractor addicts ALERT

Tractor ted

Whoa. Picking up the book was a bit like stepping in a time machine… There I was, back to being giddy and sleep-deprived with a sicky muslin on my shoulder, a newborn in my arms and a three-year-old tractor obsessive making me read Tractor Ted in Springtime for the MILLIONTH TIME.

Driven by my son’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge, we learnt everything about tractors. I’m a farmer’s daughter, but I soon knew NOTHING compared to him. He loved front loader diggers, back hoe loaders, double-wheel tractors and caterpillar tracks. He knew his Masseys from his Fords from his John Deere’s and his Claas as well as the niche McCormick. I once embarrassed myself by exclaiming to a colleague, on the way to a meeting, “Tractor there!” when we passed one, so complete was my indoctrination to cult tractor.

We were in deep, and there was nothing better than the Tractor Ted series, although he did enjoy a browse through the pages of Farmer’s Weekly. He liked the proper, accurate farm detail of Tractor Ted. I liked the non-cutesy approach – like piles of steaming manure and real animals. His Tractor Ted top was worn to death. I couldn’t agree more with the Amazon review of Tractor Ted All About Tractors, describing it as the “seminal work for infant tractor fanatics.”

Back to now, and I’ve just picked up the new series of Tractor Ted books, which I have been asked to review. My two still hold a fondness for Tractor Ted, but are no longer the target audience. For this, I needed the plethora of pre-school cousins that we are blessed with.

We looked at Who Goes Moo? and Toot Toot, both of which are a move towards story books, rather than the more factual series, but they are still packed with real life images and real life educational farm facts. I’d say they are more suitable for the younger end of pre-school, say age 1-3. A gateway to full farm, detail hungry obsession. Tractor Ted himself features more, as does a cute dog. They are fun, friendly reads.

The Munchy Crunchy DVD will also prove popular with all pre-schoolers, and because it is genuinely so educational, then maybe that removes an iota or two of the guilt that comes with plonkage in front of the box.

You know what, I miss those simple days when a double-wheeled tractor sighting and Tractor Ted books were all we needed to be happy and occupied. Before Minecraft and hoverboard cravings, before being cool mattered and he’d avoid walking anywhere near embarrassing mum because she’s wearing a knit that looks like a cricket jumper (honestly, it’s a nice jumper!).

Ah, you know what, if you are in those tractor and farm-loving days, it may have degrees of tedium, but soak it up and feed their interest. It will be gone all too quickly.

To find out more about Tractor Ted, check out their website, which also has lots of lovely downloadables in the Funzone:

I was sent the newest Tractor Ted books and DVD in exchange for an honest review.

Can you green your Nespresso? One Green Summer #7


Latte o’clock with Sealpod

My coffee drinking habits are a guilty pleasure. A coffee or two a day is necessary fuel for a freelancer and parent, but I know my way of getting a caffeine fix is far from eco-friendly.

We were given a Nespresso and whilst we do recycle the pods, it is a horrifying amount of waste for one cuppa. Not to mention the ongoing expense. At 30p per cup, a two a day habit is going to set you back nearly £220 a year.

I was interested in finding a reusable option, to take the bitter taste of guilt out of my coffee.

The premise is simple – Sealpod makes reusable plastic pods that you simply fill with ground coffee and cover with a little lid – either aluminium or paper filter (if you don’t mind losing a little of the crema).

I find the Nespresso range limited and I also prefer my coffee at little milder, so being able to step away from their enforced selection is appealing. There’s nothing quite like grinding your own beans either.

The pods themselves are very neat and the sticker lids are easy to use – it was time to give it a go.


So did it work?

Not at first. My first couple of attempts yielded dirty dishwater, with zero crema. Given that Seapod advertise themselves as the only resusable option that still gives crema, I knew it wasn’t working properly. Attempts #1 and #2 went straight down the sink and I tried a different coffee: Lavazza’s espresso blend. From reviews, this was the option that seemed to work well for lots of people who’d been down the dishwater route.

After a few more attempts – varying the amount of coffee and tamping it down differing amounts, I got it working. It made a decent coffee. Still less crema than the Nespresso pods, and a slightly less intense flavour, but one that suited me perfectly.

I tend to use one espresso shot for my latte. I also discovered that for lungho coffee, you need to use two pods.

And that I suppose is the delight of this; there is no ‘one size fits all’ you can vary your bean, the grind, and your intensity and play around with it until you get it just right for you.  In short, this is coffee with a ritual. Coffee that you need to work a bit for.

Mind you, the pods themselves are very neat, the stickers are easy to use and they are quick to clean too.

If you currently get your fix from a cafetiere or stove top pot, then I wouldn’t swap, but if you have a Nespresso or similar and feel the eco-guilt, these are well worth a bit of fiddling around.

For more info, check out the Sealpod website:

I was sent these products for free in exchange for an honest review.

Ethical luxury: One Green Summer #6


Wearth London, for stylish, ethical treats, homewares and gifts

Wearth London is a veritable treasure trove of all things eco. We’re not talking ‘worthy hair shirt eco’ but ‘OMG I love that’ eco. All things gorgeous and covetable. The store champions independent, sustainable and ethical brands.

The natural beauty range, homewares and gifts are full of inspiration and green luxury. Co-founder Imogen explains the rationale; “As someone who has always been interested in fashion and style, I struggled to find a balance between this and my commitment to live sustainably. This is a store for people who care about style and also conscious living – the two no longer need to be a contradiction.”

What really captured my interest was the jewellery collection. It’s something we often choose to ignore, but mining for precious metals is brutal. There can be many environmental and human costs, including poor wages, toxic chemicals, dangerous mine shafts and lack of ecological restoration of spent mines.

Wearth London stocks ethical, handmade jewellery created from recycled sterling silver. The unique pieces by Smoke and Ash are captivating and charming. I’m a total sucker for things inspired by nature.

I tried out the Starfish necklace (and was pleased to note that 10% of the sales goes to the Marine Conservation Society). It is a gorgeous starfish pendant that brings a fresh, summery take on the trend for stars – its organic curves are much prettier and more delicate than an astrological star. So often in more affordable jewellery (the necklace costs £30), the chain is a disappointment. This one is fine and sits beautifully. It’s a ‘put on and leave on’ for the whole summer piece.


Pretty ethical

The cockle shell necklace is a favourite of mine too.


​​All pieces are packaged in a small cotton bag that can be used to clean the jewellery should they tarnish and larger items come in a recycled cardboard gift box along with a small cotton bag.

I know exactly where I’ll be heading for stylish, eco-conscious shopping from now on.

​For more information, check out Wearth London’s website:

I was sent the necklace for free in exchange for an honest review.

I’m a little bit obsessed with Weaver Green: One Green Summer #5


Ever since spying a catalogue, I knew I loved the look of Weaver Green textiles, particularly their rugs and blankets. They give that wonderfully effortless textured look, with inspiration from around the world, including Turkey, Morocco, France. I can’t help but think of summer picnics and beach trips, but they work just as well for snuggles by the winter fire.

When I discovered that Weaver Green textiles are made entirely from recycled water bottles, I was keen to give them a try. Rugs can have up to 3,000 bottles in them, whilst the blankets are made of 300 bottles.

Nelly from Weaver Green explained to me that, “We source approximately 70% of our recycled plastic bottles from land origins (saving it from being put into landfill), and about 30% from waterways and ocean borne sources.”

Whilst some of these bottles might have been recycled anyway, it is often into disposable products that then need further recycling – and this cannot go on – most water bottles can only be recycled once or twice. When made into these rugs, you have a durable, lasting heirloom item that can be passed through the generations.

I was worried that whilst they look great, and have fab ethics, that the feel of them would put me off. I needn’t have worried, the rug is impossible to tell apart from a woollen weave and the hammam throw is soft cotton.

They even passed the daughter test – she’s very sensitive; I never buy a thing without checking the inside seams, snipping off labels and  then washing with fabric conditioner. She also prefers to snuggle under a blanket in the nude, free from the discomfort of clothes. She loves the soft feel of the hammam throw – there is nothing itchy or scratchy at all.


The Hammam throw in Dove Grey, £45

The rugs and blankets are perfect for family life. So many times, I’ve bought something beautiful only to have it ruined by someone puking on it or spilling juice, and they often can’t be washed or stain eaily. These items can be machine washed, even the rugs, and they are resistant to muddy boots, red wine stains, moth attacks and pet paws. They work well as inside/outside options.

Packaging wise, they were A*. Not a scrap of plastic – it was all sturdy brown paper.


The cat approving of the sturdy brown paper packaging

It really is credit to this brand, that despite being send three of its products for free to review, I have asked my mother-in-law to buy me the gorgeous diamond weave blanket for my birthday. I rather have my eye on these cushions too…

Cornflower_Kalkan_Cushion_40cm_x_60cm_cut_out_4c6724c2-3dd8-43fd-a10c-62d15f9493c9_large (1)


In fact, I want to fill my house with the stuff. And my garden. I’m a little bit obsessed.

To see the Weaver Green range, have a look here:

I was sent these products for free in exchange for an honest review.

Innovation and ethics: activewear with a heart

2 Sundried-Made-from-Coffee

Flattering, comfortable work out gear makes the world of difference to persuading you to get active. It’s great when it’s the kind of thing you can wear all day, so you can grab a chance to exercise if it comes your way.

Most of the options available are polyester-based, an eco-disaster, made from a chemical reaction involving coal and petroleum.

But there are market disruptors out there, testing new, sustainable ways of making performance fabrics. I tested out the Sundried Grivola 2.0 top made from 100% recycled materials. And those recycled materials are….COFFEE GROUNDS. It’s an energy-saving process that finds a use for a waste product.


The Grivola tee made from coffee

Sundried is all about ethics. From charitable donations, partnership with The Low Carbon Innovation Fund and responsible treatment of everyone in their supply chain, it is a far cry from the mass-produced options with very dubious ethics.

So aesthetics and performance: It is flattering, with a loose fit, dropped hem and open neckline. I’ve used it for yoga and running and it worked well for both. On a muggy hot day, I was impressed at how it wicks sweat away while staying dry. I’ve also worn it with a pair of shorts; the silky, drapey cut was lovely to wear.

Boring but necessary stuff: It washes well and dries quickly. And you know those work-out tops that still look fine but seem to have some specially patented, wash-resistant  B.O. particles hidden within them so they get smelly really easily…. well that won’t be this top. The coffee has odour blocking properties to keep things fresh. And you won’t smell of coffee either, thank goodness.


Love the look of this hoody

Sundried is great for all-day active wear and standard workout gear, but it also does hardcore kit for competition and for triathletes. It makes me feel tempted to give triathlons a go again. The range is well worth looking at if you have a sporting challenge on the horizon.

This is performance gear with ethics and sustainability at its heart. It brings a whole new meaning to coffee on the go.

Currently, the clothes arrive in recycled plastic packaging, but the Sundried team are working on better options for this.

To find out more about the Sundried activewear range, look here:

I was given the Grivola tee in exchange for an honest review.