selfies are an empowering expression of self-love

The concept of ‘selfies’ gets a bad rap. The word is likely to make you think of annoying tourists almost knocking you out with a bizarre arm-extending pole – or that time we all facepalmed because Oxford dictionaries named ‘selfie’ word of the year in 2013.

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But people – mostly women – get a lot out of taking selfies. Taking a photo when you think you look good, posting it immediately to the internet and getting instant gratification for it is something previous generations never got to do. And we’re lucky to be able to share our faces so quickly and easily with the world.

The ‘selfie’ has been around long before the word became such commonplace in everyday language. It has been revolutionised in recent years by the increase of smartphones with good cameras, and more importantly, front-facing cameras. We didn’t always have this luxury; yet if you speak to any girl with a decent history of Myspace, we’ve been perfecting the selfie with a well-practised aim of a digital camera since about 2005.

It was a huge confidence boost, and played an integral part in my general self-esteem as a teenager.

Writing this now I can remember my favourite ‘selfies’ from that era, the ones that got the most comments on Myspace or even the ones that got ‘owned’ by a particular top-friend (you know you did that). And I can remember loving the attention, which was mostly entirely platonic from my peers. As a dorky teenager with low self-esteem finally finding my feet in a horrendous emo-kid world, friends throwing ‘<3 <3’ at me or complimenting my hair, eye make-up or outfit was a huge confidence boost, and played an integral part in my general self-esteem as a teenager.

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Some of my hilarious Myspace-angle selfies from the scene kid era… 

And that’s the magical thing about selfies. Selfies are all about confidence. You take them when you feel confident, post them, and importantly you’re positively reinforced by the responses. The most magical thing is the reinforcing. As much as I love posting a photo of myself that I like and having a friend tell me I look great – I absolutely adore the opportunity to tell my friends they look great too.

Some of my best female friendships involve the absolute delight of seeing them look at their best, look happy and confident, and the delight of telling them how amazing they look. The wonderful world of female positivity means we encourage each other to feel confident, and selfies fall right at the heart of that.

Selfies fall right at the heart of female positivity; we encourage each other to feel confident.

It’s easy to dismiss selfies as plain vanity – but self-love is an incredibly important thing which shouldn’t be dismissed. Taking the opportunity to capture how you look, editing it in whichever way you please, and posting it up on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or wherever else is a really powerful thing to do.

It’s taking control of your self-image and allowing a platform for positivity from your friends, it’s showing that you are you and you’re choosing to present yourself in that way – for whatever reason you choose. It might be a good outfit, it might be a rare win for your never-ending war with your eyebrows, maybe a particularly body-positive day – or maybe, actually, you feel a bit like shit but you know your friends will boost your confidence back up.

Selfies are an exercise of self-love, and they encourage us all to feel more positively about not only ourselves, but about each other. And to me, that’s a powerful thing.

This blog post supports the #SeeMySelfie by Girl Gang Manchester and Girl Gang Sheffield, which explores selfies as self portraiture, self representation and self acceptance. Check out the hashtag on `Twitter and Instagram to join the conversation!

 

why burning your bra has nothing (and everything) to do with feminism

I’ve had a bit of a personal revolution: I’ve stopped wearing a bra.

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I remember my first bra. Cotton, soft padding, no wires. Too young to need one at all, but feeling like it was a rite of passage. Growing up. I remember feeling self conscious and comparing myself and my adolescent body to the girls in my class. I remember stuffing my bra with tissue, and I remember being immensely proud wearing a bra that had so much padding that it gave me the chest I was a good 5-10 years off achieving.

As a young girl just diving into puberty, having boobs may as well have been the most important thing in the world. And for a long time, I felt incredibly ashamed about my small chest and went to great lengths to make it look bigger. As I got older, I pushed up and padded out my chest as much as I could, and contemplated future days of saving up for a boob job.

Now I’m asking why. Why, as a teenage girl, were boobs so important to me? And why, now that my boobs are the least of my problems, am I still treating them the same way?

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I write this post from a position of privilege on the matter; I never did get the DDs I wished for. My chest is small enough to not actually require uncomfortable wired support or to be painfully strapped down. And yet, it’s taken until the age of 23 to realise this. Wearing a bra is the norm. Of course you wear a bra! It’d be weird not to wear a bra! So now I’m asking the question: why are you really wearing a bra?

It’s actually quite difficult to find a bra that’s been made for comfort, rather than to “enhance” or “boost” your cleavage, unless intended for sport. The more you think about it, the more you realise the entire discourse surrounding bras has normalised the idea that “bigger is better” and it’s been ingrained since you were too young to even wear one.

Historically, bras developed soon after corsets: a constricting, uncomfortable undergarment designed to push the female body into an ideal shape. The idea of strapping our waists into a corset all day, every day, seems insane now. Yet women did it every day. The garments women have used to enhance and modify the appearance of their bodies have taken different shapes over time, but are closely entwined with our status in society and indeed the sexualisation of the female body. That’s why for so many women, particularly when feminism was making waves in the 1960s, the bra is symbolic of the societal restrictions on women.

 

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Corsets led to nausea, bowel disturbances, eating disorders, breathlessness, flushing, fainting and gynaecological problems.

A movement that has triggered recent discussion is the #FreeTheNipple campaign, which calls for the legalisation of female toplessness. Not long ago, I would never have dreamed of going braless and risking anyone noticing my nipples through my clothing. Women’s breasts are such an inherently sexualised image that even the hint of exposure is enough to cause offence – women still battle to breastfeed in public, for goodness sake.

Becoming more mindful about this has made me realise, I don’t always need to wear a bra. Sure, for the office I feel a little less confident to shout about “freeing the nipple”, but on the weekends, why not enjoy the freedom? I resent the idea that my body has been so sexualised to the world that it’s been drilled into my own norms, and for me, it is not even necessary to wear a bra. Unless I’m going to jump up and down on a trampoline or bounce down the stairs like a bunny rabbit, my chest can pretty much fend for itself.

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Feminist protestor removes her bra at a demonstration outside a department store in San Francisco, California on 1 August 1969

So, particularly if you’re small-chested like me, don’t let your taught ideas of what’s “normal” dictate how you look after your own body. If you like the support, feel like enhancing your chest gives you confidence, love to wear matching lingerie, or any other damn reason that you’ve decided for yourself: wear a bra. Work that bra. Your boobs probably look fantastic.

And if you don’t feel like you need or want to? Don’t! Take this tiny victory and set yourself free. You’ll love it.

NB: This post was written from the perspective of a cisgender woman and draws upon the experience of puberty and adolescence as a cisgender woman, thus some of its content may not apply to all women.

 

what girl gang sheffield means to me

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Everyone needs a little support. Without networks of people bubble-wrapping our problems, a lot of us would fall to pieces. I know I would.

Earlier this year, I realised I wasn’t getting the support I needed. My job was stressing me out, my best friends were miles away, I wasn’t doing anything creative or interesting in my spare time, I was starting to feel so distanced from the version of myself I’d previously felt so proud of that I didn’t know who I was anymore.

Then a glimmer of hope flashed across my Facebook timeline in the form of a handwritten manifesto by Girl Gang Sheffield. With promises of creating a community of positive, inspiring people who support and celebrate each others’ creativity, to influence and inspire women of Sheffield – it was exactly what I wanted.

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I put my brave face on and sent an email to Vanhessa, one of the co-founders of Girl Gang Sheffield. I told her how I’d been feeling, and how I wanted to surround myself with people who would make me feel positive, respected and appreciated. I told her I was so excited by what they were doing, and I wanted in. She and co-founder Ellie welcomed me with open arms, and we’ve been plotting our fierce world domination together since.

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To me, Girl Gang Sheffield means so many things. In a wider sense, it’s about creating a sense of community and support across Sheffield. It’s a city full of creative, amazing people, with a growing independent culture that constantly showcases a huge amount of talent.

For women, it can be particularly difficult to put yourself out there. There’s a culture of competition that is as outdated as it is unfair; a high-school reminiscent feeling of not being good enough – not talented enough – cool enough – popular enough – to get your ideas off the ground. Girl Gang is about bringing those people together in a positive way, connecting talents and celebrating them. Encouraging collaborations and making use of local artists and creative workshops. It’s about finding the people who are doing awesome stuff or want to do awesome stuff, and throwing them together to make something beautiful.

But then there’s all of the little tiny benefits, too, that you might not even think about. Since getting involved with Girl Gang Sheffield and increasing the amount of positive, understanding and totally fierce women in my life – I’ve felt so much more capable of doing what I want to do. I quit the job that was getting me down. I made an active effort to only surround myself with people who make me feel comfortable and happy. I’ve been more confident in my efforts to find freelance work, to do voluntary writing, to realise that I do have value in this world. I feel less self conscious about how I look, where I hang out, and started making more decisions for myself.

We’ve still got a long way to go, and so do I. But if Girl Gang Sheffield can give anyone else the feeling of support, connection and belonging to something that it gave me – if it can lift anyone else off the ground and make them happier – it’ll all be worth it.

Support your local girl gang.

review – urban quarter

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If you’ve read my blog before, you might have noticed that I’ve just moved to Kelham Island. And with the Little Kelham community mid-build and some cool new restaurants popping up, it looks like it was a good time to move here.

I visited Urban Quarter on one of their first nights after opening. My friend and I could hardly contain our excitement the second we walked in the damn door and were hit with the smell of beef. He’s a bit of a foodie himself, so we planted ourselves right at the bar where we could talk burgers with the manager, Adam.

There wasn’t much explaining to do, though. Urban Quarter’s heart lies in simple, good, honest burgers. Good meat. Not too much fuss. A very basic menu layout without an overwhelming amount of options – chicken, beef, or mushroom, with a sensible variety of toppings (a few different cheeses, chutney, etc).

Burgers are a bit trendy right now, and it seems easy enough to find a gimmicky burger joint with average meat patties slapped between a donut or a waffle or with monster munch and a unicorn thrown on top. Urban Quarter strips it back to basics and makes you realise what’s important – the burger.

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When they arrived, the towering size of the patty sandwiched between a shimmering, steamy sweet brioche bun made up for it’s lack of width. And oh man, that beef. It’s juicy and just pink enough, and full of flavour. It shows that doing one thing right is better than doing 10 things averagely – because these burgers are far from average. They’re the best in Sheffield.

The details are great, too. The decor is minimalist with an industrial feel – good lighting, plenty of steel – incredibly well suited to its location. They’ve tried a couple of different types of fries – the chunky chip variety and the skinnier fry, before settling with the latter – which was a good choice. The freshly fried and filled donuts are delicious, with a regular filling-change keeping things interesting. 

Finding a good, simple, tasty burger in Sheffield is now as simple as walking approximately 2 minutes round the corner from my flat to Urban Quarter. But it doesn’t matter where in the city you are – you need to check them out.

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review – lucky fox, division street

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If there’s one thing Sheffield does well, it’s independent food outlets. Last September, Lucky Fox popped up on everyone’s favourite indie street, Division Street, right opposite the beautiful MoonKo. With promises of fried chicken and beer emblazoned across its signage, it spiked interest with me from day one.

A few months later, Lucky Fox seem to be gaining a bit more confidence and developing their menus. I’ve popped in a couple of times lately, and I’ve been really impressed with the quality of their food and service.

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First off, it’s a really cute little place to be. With their custom-made tables (Sheffield steel, no less!) dressed with tiny jars of Swallows & Damsons flowers and even tinier salt and pepper shakers; it’s clear they’ve put a lot of effort into the details. It might be a little twee for some, but they keep up a good local vibe with some local artists (think Tom J Newell, etc) on the walls and some Sheffield pride slapped on their A-boards.

I’m yet to try what seems to be their signature dish, chicken and waffles, since despite my major sweet-tooth I’ve only ended up there when in a more *savoury mood*. One day, I’ll feel like pouring syrup all over my chicken. I’m confident the day will come. Their menu is plentiful enough without being a mess – a good balance of sweet breakfast options served all day (think pancakes, fruit, syrup) and a variety of sandwiches, too.

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credit to kate johnson (@igetdressedinthemorning)

On my first visit, I went hard and ordered the Fat Elvis. With the highest price tag on the lunch menu (still a mere £7.50) and a bold name, I had high expectations. And you know what? It’s not all talk! It’s a sight to behold, a tower of fried chicken, cheese, slaw, and even fries in a glossy brioche bun.

My second visit, I went for what I justified to myself as the ‘lighter option’ of the BLT, which is a bit like a BLT… but with fried chicken. It was a bit different (notably on cut granary rather than brioche) and felt slightly less indulgent… but not much.

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I recently strolled past with a couple of visitors from Harrogate seeking somewhere casual to eat at about 6.30pm, and was pleased to see Lucky Fox open for the evening. It was the first weekend of their new evening menu, which boasts a lot more of the heavy food options (think Fat Elvis and friends, along with more beefy options – including a reasonably priced £10 steak).

It was Fat Elvis’ all round for the three of us – although the lovely staff catered for my ridiculous custom requests – which was basically *can I add ALL of the custom add-ons please?*. Mine came loaded with cheese, slaw, fries, BBQ sauce, bacon, mixed peppers… pretty much anything you could throw on a brioche bun with their glorious double-dipped chicken.

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My verdict of Lucky Fox is this: they do chicken extremely well. They pair it with good, locally sourced ingredients and seem to know what compliments it. Fried chicken can so easily be done badly – see any takeaway in the city (and KFC, for that matter) for grease-saturated, tasteless “chicken”. Lucky Fox seem to have really nailed it – it’s great, it’s not greasy, it’s good quality meat, well seasoned and tasty as hell.

They’re a welcome addition to Division Street, which is sadly being slowly crept on by big chains buying up units that used to be independents.

Oh, and I recommend a slice of sour cherry pie for dessert.

instagram: the construction of the self in the 21st century

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Social media, in many ways, is more about performance than it is about communication. Our social feeds represent what we want them to, to who we want them to.

I’ve been an advocate of Instagram for a while. As a huge social-media user from a fairly young age, I’ve used a variety of different social networks over the years, heavily, and often for the wrong reasons. Take Tumblr, for example. I spent hours and hours a day endlessly scrolling through pictures and quotes and gifs on Tumblr. I reblogged pretty pictures, I wrote personal words. However, the only personal words I wrote were negative. I blogged when I was upset, angry, hurt, confused. It was probably a brilliantly healthy outlet for an angsty teenager to have, but it wasn’t a positive way to spend my time. And it certainly wasn’t a nice thing to look back on.

Twitter, the platform I use the most, isn’t a far cry from that. I rant. I swear. I bitch and moan. I put out opinions, I provoke responses and support from my (hopefully) like-minded followers. I love Twitter for so many reasons: the people it connects me with, the news and opinions I get to see, the unmediated, uncontrolled stream-of-multiple-consciousnesses element that the strict Facebook timeline totally loses. Twitter feels alive with words if you use it well. However, for me, it’s still largely a negative platform. Scrolling back through my Twitter isn’t a glimpse of the good times, it’s more like a glimpse at who/what has pissed me off lately in handy little 140 character flashes.

Instagram, however, does something different for me. Scrolling back through my Instagram feed isn’t a negative experience, it’s like a condensed photo album of actual nice things in my life. It encourages me to make record of the good things I’ve done, pretty things I’ve seen, lovely people I’ve spent time with, the places I’ve visited, the tasty food I’ve eaten. The good brow days.

And that’s what stands out about Instagram. It’s the only social media platform, ever, that I’ve used for strictly positive purposes.  You don’t Instagram your bad hair days, your miserable times, your sadness. It makes your life look good, even if it isn’t.

But that can have a sinister side to it, too. It’s not reality. The truth is, you can construct your life on Instagram however you want to. You cherry pick the pieces of your life you want displayed in a grid in a pleasing display of what you want people to see.

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Looking at my own feed with some actual thought, I can see exactly what was going on during those photos. I can see the exact point that my heart got broken, I can see myself struggling from place to place, I can see where everything was going wrong. I can see that even though I photographed some treats from a shopping trip, I was worried about making rent that month. But you can’t. All you can see is a wall of selfies, burgers, alcohol and smiling faces.

Instagram is a powerful tool. It’s a way to connect visually with your friends in a clean, streamlined way that Facebook will never give you. Crucially, it’s a way to record the good times, and have positive memories of the beautiful things about your life.

But life isn’t always beautiful.

So the next Instagram feed you see and think “wow, this person’s life is amazing!” – remember that it probably isn’t. They might have paid for a few more VSCOcam filters than you, but they’re not perfect. And that is totally okay. Keep recording the good times, curate your life in a feed of squares. You’re creating a good thing.

moving house, changing perspectives

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 17.22.05I’ve just moved house. Protip: don’t move house two days before Christmas, it’s really fucking stressful. But we got a van, and with the help of some really good friends, we successfully moved mine and my housemates’ lives from one side of the city to the other.

I’ve moved house five times in the last five months. For someone who has grown up in the same house her whole life, and only ever moved rooms when moving into university halls, it’s unusual for me to be moving about so much. It’s been super chaotic, and has made me realise how important home truly is.

My house moves lately have been for a few different reasons, but their timing has always felt somewhat significant. Moving house has felt metaphorical, in ways. I’ve changed my surroundings when huge things in my life have changed, and it’s a very literal way to make a fresh start.

I was chucked out of the student house I was subletting about two days after being dumped – a relationship I’d been in and out of since I was fifteen years old, and precisely one month until the deadline of my masters dissertation. Which I had not yet started writing.

It was probably the most high-stress time of my life, and I recruited my wonderful friend Sophie to help with the move. I moved into university accommodation to finish off my dissertation, and I really feel that it helped me a lot. A new part of Sheffield to live in, a new bed to sleep in, a new desk to write on. A clean space with no memories. New shops to nip into on the way home, a new park to run miles around. I was very alone, and under a lot of pressure, and a new space and perspective was a huge part of what got those 15,000 words handed in on time.

Then I had to move back home. I was pretty sure I had a job lined up in Sheffield if I chose to return, but I had nowhere to live and wasn’t really sure what direction my life was going in. Coming home was hard, I didn’t want to live off my parents and I *really* didn’t want to become miserable, but I was looked after and I got to catch up with my old friends. It was a break I needed, but not one that was going to last. I knew I was in the wrong place.

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A simple tweet of desperation hooked me up with my current housemate Bethan, who offered me her spare room. My next move. I moved back to Sheffield knowing that the majority of my friends had moved on, and was starting a job in an industry I knew nothing about, with people who I thought were way too cool for me to fit in with. I was apprehensive and anxious, but I knew Sheffield was where I wanted to call ‘home’. I jumped straight into my new job, made new friends, and got more entwined with everything than I ever expected to be. In those few months after moving back, I changed a lot. My emotions were on acid. I learned a lot about myself, shook off a lot of negativity, and probably found some new stuff to stress about too. But I needed that.

I’ve just moved to Kelham Island. We’ve got a gorgeous flat on the river, we’re dangerously close to great pizza and burgers, and I’ve got a beautiful kitchen to cook in and a nice big double bed to sleep in. My soul is already happier from having nice surroundings when I get home from work. But it’s also another mental adjustment. My settling in to Sheffield happened a little too fast, and my lifestyle got a little bit out of my control. I wasn’t cooking myself dinner anymore, my gym membership expired and the streets got too icy to run. I got out of routine, ate at restaurants daily, drank a lot of beer, worked super long hours and started to feel really down, unhealthy and unproductive.

I’ve moved again and I’m changing my perspective again. I’m going to write more. I’m going to do more creative things. I’m going to make zines with my talented friends. I’m going to cook delicious meals. I’m going to exercise. I’m going to read the books on my shelf. I’m going to take baths. I’m going to do good things for myself, and not be reliant on others. This is all starting to sound a bit New-Years-resolutions-esque; but I’m going to take good care of myself, inside and out.

Moving house is supposed to be one of the most stressful things a person can do. For me, it’s become part of a self-adjustment. A change of lifestyle, a change of scenery, a chance to take a look at your life and adjust. Here’s hoping this change has been one to stick with.

recommendations for sophie – things to do in liverpool

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I’ve got a lot of love for Liverpool. Born in the middle-of-nowhere outskirts yet still sporting an ‘L’ postcode, I can just about claim to be ‘from Liverpool’. It’s my family’s city, and it’s my teenage city – most of my hilarious, ridiculous memories of wandering around town with an obnoxious crowd of scene kids with jeans too tight and too much hairspray (yes, I was one of those) are from Liverpool. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised how lucky I am to have Liverpool as my home city, and as fond as I am of Sheffield, Liverpool is still (sort of) home.

I’m writing this because I was approached by a friend with the following request, which I’m going to do my best to fulfill:

“Kaz, please can you help me? I am taking my boyfriend on a surprise visit to Liverpool. He is a big fan of the Beatles and nice clothes and records. We both love food, especially meat, and drinks too – love a good cocktail. PLEASE GIVE US YOUR ADVICE AND KNOWLEDGE! Thanks x”

SO, here it goes:

Firstly, Sophie, I’m going to make you go straight to my teenage haunt, Liverpool’s alternative shopping experience – Quiggins. From its new(ish) home in Grand Central Arcade, you should find a super-cool record shop downstairs, but you’ll also find some vintage clothes shops, cute handmade jewellery, and all of the other cool and quirky stuff you’d expect to find in your local alt store. Imagine me running around the bannisters buying bandanas, band tees and beaded bracelets at age 14 and you won’t be far off.

From there, your natural progression is Bold Street. Ah, lovely lovely Bold Street. To Sheffielders, I would describe it as Liverpool’s Division Street. I have actually been known to confuse the two. For independent shops, food, bars, and coffee – you’re golden.

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For a quick lunch stop and really good coffee made by pretty people wearing Dawson Denim – Bold Street Coffee is well worth a visit.  Bakchich’s Lebanese street food is awesome for lunchtime or evening. The best burgers I’ve had lately were from Nolita Cantina (just a few doors down from Bold Street Coffee) – double beef patty with pulled pork and a Dr Pepper BBQ sauce, with a mixture of potato and sweet potato fries – it was pretty great. Good beer, too. If beer’s your forté, Liverpool just opened up a Brew Dog. Their staff are lovely and really seem to know their shit – so pop in if you fancy trying something new. They’ll help you out.

I’m a huge fan of Mexican food, and one of the best nights I’ve had in Liverpool recently started with an innocent meal at Lucha Libre (and ended with being chucked out of Bumper at 6am, but that’s another story). We got a platter of different Mexican treats so we could try different things, and we were super impressed. I blame the rest of the evening on their incredible frozen Mojitos in a variety of flavours. Think slush puppies for grown-ups.

Since Soph mentioned cocktails, I’m going to recommend Santa Chupitos, where I’ve been going since I was 18. If you’ve skipped dessert, go for a five dollar shake. Whoever decided to mix vodka and chambord with ice-cream can be a friend of mine. But if you can’t stomach that, they do a cool mix of different drinks which are usefully plastered all over the walls in chalk. Plus, cute courtyard.

One of my favourite haunts will always be Tabac. Sitting at the top of Bold Street, they pour generous gins (probably because I’m pals with the bar staff) and play decent music at all times. You can’t ask for much more. And if your night is taking you further, here are the bars/clubs I will tolerate in Liverpool: Aloha (because they serve Pina Coladas in PINEAPPLES), the Shipping Forecast (because it’s basically Bungalows & Bears), Alma de Cuba, Mojo, Heebie Jeebies, and, when really drunk, Bumper.

And Sophie, you won’t be able to breathe for Beatles stuff to do. I’d head to the new Liverpool museum on the docks, and have a wander around the Albert Dock for Beatles-esque memorabilia in *all of the shops*. It’ll be windy and cold, but it’s pretty too. Hit up the Tate Modern for some cool things to look at. My favourite museum in Liverpool is the World Museum, because it’s big, there’s dinosaurs, and it’s free. It’s not exactly the Natural History Museum, but it’s awesome anyway. Especially the space floor.

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My other fave things to do in Liverpool are: wander around the new fancy shops in Liverpool One and cry at what I can’t afford; go to FACT, the amazing indie cinema; get a love hearts milkshake from the milkshake bar in Quiggins; grab a slice of joy from American Pizza Slice.

Things I want to do more of in Liverpool: get to know the Baltic Triangle. I saw Chvrches in Camp and Furnace last year and was super impressed by all the cool stuff happening down there. Go to cooler bars, eat at all of the new places opening up on/around Bold Street.

I’ll conclude here, because I think I’ve given my friend enough to do. Liverpool is really cool, and seems to be getting cooler every time I visit home. However, writing this has made me super homesick, so I’m going to grab a burger from the Harley and remember that Sheffield is also fucking ace.

shopping locally this christmas

This October, I started working at an independent coffee shop in Sheffield. Having lived in Sheffield for four years, I already had somewhat of an appreciation of our independent scene. I knew we had lovely little shops, cafes, etc. But until now, I never really understood how important they were. I didn’t quite realise how much soul and culture they bring to this city, and such, I didn’t give the independents as much support as they deserved. I still shopped at Primark. I still bought gifts from Amazon. I lusted over crafty things – but didn’t often take the time to pay for and support the talented folk behind them.

So this Christmas I decided to do things a little differently. I decided I wasn’t going to buy a single thing from Amazon or the supermarket. I wasn’t going to take the yearly trip to Meadow-hell to face the department stores with all of the other gloomy, soulless crowds of miserable faces who just want to get their shopping done and get the fuck out of there.

This Christmas, I decided I was going to shop independently.

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credit to jasminedowling.com

Luckily, it’s a pretty good year to do this. I’m at a bit of a crossroads personally (but more on that another time) so I don’t have the usual immediate friendship group and steady boyfriend to buy presents for – I’m sticking with buying for the family. So that’s presents for Mum, Dad, grandparents, my brother and his partner.

That brings me to the first commitment you’ve got to make: time. Going to Meadowhall and getting all your gifts in one might be a total fucking nightmare – but at least it takes a day. Shopping independently takes a bit more care and attention, you’ve got to keep an eye out over a longer period of time, know what’s in the shops and what the local suppliers are doing. It’s a bit more of your time and energy – but you know what? It shows. Gifts that are more carefully considered are better gifts.

I started with Mum and Dad, and my grandparents. The coffee shop I work in – Upshot Espresso – gets jams and preserves supplied by the lovely Matt at Just Preserves, a Sheffield-based company who make (in my opinion) some of the best jams you’ll ever taste. I’ve become unhealthily addicted to their Chilli Jam, and you won’t find a raspberry jam to rival their Extra Raspberry. I knew I trusted their amazing products, so I bought a couple of their mix-and-match preserve gift sets. Three jars in a cute little bag – a nice way to try some different things without huge commitment to a product I’m not sure they’ll love.

Not feeling this was quite a complete gift for Mum and Dad – I added some extras. I took a trip down Abbeydale Road and visited the amazing Mr Pickles – got a nice taster of the Sir Robin of Locksley Yorkshire gin (which may end up being a sneaky self-present at some point…) – and picked up this gorgeous bottle of Christmassy beer spiced with cinnamon and ginger. I’m thinking after dinner I’ll be cracking this open and making sure I get a taste myself.

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With alcohol in mind as a fantastic gift – because, duh – I decided to roll with that thought with gifts for my Dad and my brother. I’m currently mid-move from a house on London Road to a flat in Kelham Island, and am super excited to discover everything there is to discover in the Kelham Island area. I’m aware one of those things is beer. My family aren’t from around here – but I like to think they appreciate my ridiculous love of Sheffield – and my Dad’s a bit of a beer drinker (he’s a northern bloke, after all). Starmore Boss on Sharrowvale Road kindly provided this awesome gift set of Kelham Island beers, which is probably one of the best *Dad presents* I could find. So he’ll be getting to know the Kelham Island breweries before I do.

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My brother’s a bit older than me and I don’t know him massively well, but I know he likes a drink every now and then too. I’ve recently found myself hanging about in Sheffield’s BrewDog more often than I’d like to admit. While not exactly Sheffield-independent, they’re an up and coming business with a great ethos, passionate staff and an attitude to craft beer that I can really get on board with. My brother lives in Liverpool, where they’ve just opened a new BrewDog. With a mind to introduce him to something a bit different in the boozy world – I’ve got him a Punk IPA gift set including a BrewDog glass. Here’s hoping I’ll find him frequenting Liverpool’s BrewDog next time I’m home!

While food and alcohol make amazing gifts, it wouldn’t have been right to do Christmas gifts without buying some beautiful things from MoonKo. Division Street’s home of gorgeous things – MoonKo makes me want to cry with envy every time I step in. I want my whole house to be decorated by Matt and Debbie at MoonKo. I opted to buy one of the solid Natalie Bond soaps for my brother’s lovely girlfriend – she’s a doctor who works real hard and could do with something to pamper herself. And Natalie Bond’s stuff is beautiful, gorgeously packaged and smells absolutely amazing.

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credit to samuel binstead (@sam_binstead)

While I couldn’t afford to send gifts to my best friends, dispersed all over the country and somewhat estranged since I lived near to them, I wanted to let them know I loved them. Because I do, I know some wonderful people who’ve helped me out a lot lately, and I wanted them to know I was thinking of them. MoonKo provided me the perfect solution in the form of some beautiful Christmas cards, designed by Stephanie Cole. I decided to treat them like letters, spill some emotions and goodwill framed by some gorgeous illustration.

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Buying independently feels really good. Sheffield is full of amazing shops with staff who really, really care about what they’re doing. Their stock is well crafted and considered, and they’ll actually chat to you about what you’re buying with a sense of pride and usually some extensive knowledge too. I’ve been humbled by how grateful these independents are for your business, and seeing them so busy over the last few days has really brought a smile to my face.

Sheffield’s a wonderful place, and our local crafters, makers, bakers and coffee-makers are all part of what makes it so wonderful.

Huge thanks to the following for saving my Christmas this year:

MoonKo
Starmore Boss
Little Shop of Chocs
BrewDog Sheffield
Just Preserves
Mr Pickles
Birds Yard