Blue Mountains Hike

Health: Why I Love #Fitspo

I read an article in the Guardian this week got me pretty mad. In it the writer tried to go in for some kind of moral panic about the #fitspo trend, and how it wasn’t too far off from the dangerous, pro-anna #thinspo hashtag. I immediately wanted to write an angry blog post refuting all the article’s points but instead I thought it would be a lot more productive to write about why I love #fitspo instead and why I actually think it’s great for women, if they should so choose to follow it.

Getting my yoga on

My first real brush with fitspo happened around this time last year when I found myself working with a very enthusiastic follower of all things exercising and clean eating. Pretty soon our whole team was sharing mason jar breakfast ideas and protean ball recipes. I live in Melbourne so of course we’re all insufferable hipsters but I was so pleasantly surprised to see a whole group of women banding together over something so positive instead of the usual complaining about our weight and the latest restrictive diet we all wanted to try.

Here’s the thing, I’ve always been pretty slim and pretty fit but I realise now that I never really understood the basics of nutrition and exercise until I started this fitness journey, all inspired by some of my favourite Instagrammers. Where I once avoided strenuous physical exercise in favour of my daily cycle ride and a little bit of pilates, now I’m eagerly running to my boxing and bootcamp sessions every week. Where I once ate an OK diet, now I think about food in terms of how much nutrition and nourishment it will give instead of how many calories. And I’m so much happier for it. I can’t even explain how much my overall wellbeing and mental attitude has changed now that I’m serious about my health and fitness.

Look how high I can Jump!

Could some women, particularly those recovering from eating disorders take #fitspo too far? Of course they could and my heart goes out to anyone suffering like that. But fitspo has some great positive messages that the majority of women really need to hear. We’ve been (mostly) raised in a society where being skinny is what matters and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a female friend say they’re worried that too much exercise will make them bulk up and look unfeminine. Fitspo empowers women to take control of their own health and to question the ridiculous skinny aesthetic that is pushed on us by fashion companies and the media. And of course the whole movement has come from social media. It’s made by women, for women and we get to choose what messages we want to see by voting with likes. Are the incredibly toned bodies on Instagram also unrealistic? Yes perhaps they are, but I personally think it’s a lot better to strive for a strong and healthy body rather than try and look like a 14 year old runway model.

Another thing that makes me sad is the incredible negativity put towards bloggers like The Food Babe. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to people who have harassed her so much, they’ve been banned from her page. Vani Deva Hari is an American blogger who campaigns for cleaner eating and gets constantly derided for her unscientific, unprovable claims. I don’t understand why some people are so insistent on tearing someone down who is just trying to challenge the additive-filled, junk food diet that is being pushed on us by food companies. OK so she’s not a scientist. I don’t think it takes science to see that eating natural whole foods is best and that big food companies care about profit more than our health. Anything that encourages people to think more critically about the foods being pushed on them and making more mindful decisions about their eating habits it a great thing in my opinion.

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And I love headstands!

Anyway I did promise that this was going to be a positive article so thought I’d end on a short list of the biggest things that have made a difference to me health this past year:

  • Ordering a weekly veggie box. Not only is my fridge always full of healthy food now with no extra effort from me, I actually help stop waste in the farming system by buying the misshapen veggies that supermarkets refuse. Oh and local farmers get a fair price for them. Double bonus!
  • Working with a trainer. I now attend an outdoor fitness group along with my husband and some friends. Having someone to push you and the support of your peers really has a huge effect on how hard you work.
  • Eating more mindfully. My diet has changed so much now I think about what I’m putting in rather than what I’m cutting out. Brown rice, pasta and quinoa have replaced those low fat rice crackers and bread. And I treat myself regularly too!
  • Paying attention to my stress. I can now see that stress was the number one barrier to better health because when you’re body is wasting energy on worrying, there’s not enough left for anything else. Regular yoga, meditation and more smiling have helped me let go of all that worry and focus on the positive.

Natalie x

Film: Dior & I Review

Dior & I Raf Simons

As a ridiculous Raf Simons fan-girl, I’ve been waiting to see Dior & I since it’s initial release in 2012. How appropriate then that I should go and see it the same day as I happened to stroll around an exhibition on the power of film at ACMI in Melbourne. That’s the most wonderful thing about a great movie, it can completely transport you; have you fixated until the final credits. From Simons excited and nervous arrival 8 weeks before the Fall 2012 Couture show to the final moments of scrambling to finish these incredible looks, the audience was taken on a journey of nerves, excitement, frustration and an irresistibly French sense of humour and stoicism. “It’s never over until the last girl is on the runway.”

In a world of countless designers, artists, writers and culture makers, it takes something extra special to be an icon. Coming from Jil Sander, not many people saw Raf Simons, with his famed minimal aesthetic, taking over from the flamboyant Galliano at Dior. “But I’m not a minimalist. I simply worked for a minimal brand.” Simons says exasperatedly in the documentary. Looking back at Dior’s celebrated mid-century aesthetic, Simons says it’s the excitement of the future that captivates him. Christian Dior wanted to take women out of their war-years uniforms and into a new femininity with his New Look, and there’s nothing retro about that. It’s pure optimism. Similarly, Simons was determined to take the best of the past and push it towards something completely modern.

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The only small thing standing in his way (but really of course helping him) was the eye watering amount of time and man power it takes to make a couture piece. “How soon until we can have this jacket in black?” he asks of an iconic bar jacket at the first fitting. “Possibly Saturday,” is the answer. “But can we spray paint it now?” he asks. His premiere thinks for a second, “but of course, it’s toile.” And out into the garden with a can of spray paint it goes. It’s this kind of thinking, an outsider’s thinking, that is able to take the beautiful and treasured art of couture and breathe fresh new life into it. And there’s something so inspiring about a leader who doesn’t need to yell, who does’t get overtaken by his own insecurities, but who trusts and values his team.

I loved this collection since the first time I saw it, but getting an insight into the thought and work behind it just makes it all the more sublime (Simons’ favourite word). And photographs can’t do justice to the way the fabric moves on film. I just hope these looks end up in a museum one say soon so I can see them in person. If this movie doesn’t make you want to move to Paris and go and work for a couture house, then nothing will. You’ll have to excuse me, I’ll just be over here practicing my French.

Natalie x

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Travel: The Best Walks in the Grampians

What is it that makes us want to climb mountains? It’s a really universal urge, I feel. I’m getting really into hiking lately, partly inspired by my fitness focus (I’ve been all about the bootcamp, surprisingly). Not to mention that I happen to live in such a beautiful place, surrounded by gorgeous walks. This weekend was my second trip to the Grampians and this time we focused on staying to the south and centre, rather than the north.

Grampians Mt Rosea

On Sunday we spent the day clambering up Mt Rosea, which is one of the longer and more challenging day hikes in the Grampians National Park. I’d really recommend this for anyone looking for a more challenging walk away from the crowds. We started by heading up Stony Creek Road from the Mt Rosea carpark, which is definitely the best direction to challenge this loop as you get to clamber up and then take an easier walk down again. It should take around 2 hours to reach the top via the Gate of the East Wind. Any aches and grumbles will soon be silenced by the unbelievable views that greet you once you reach the top. These are widely agreed to be among the best in the Grampians and the great news is that the difficult climb means you’ll get to enjoy them in peace, without the crowds of families that can be found on some of the easier walks.

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From the top, you need to make sure you turn left from the summit towards Burma Track, an old 4WD track. Be careful though as the signage isn’t great and the path itself is a little overgrown. Just make sure you turn left at any intersection and you’ll reach your original destination eventually. Also I came pretty close to being bitten by a snake, so watch your feet! After jumping at a noise, I turned to notice a large black snake slithering in the other direction. I couldn’t help but wonder how far away the nearest snake bite kit would be.

Other walks I really recommend include:

  • Mt Sturgeon for panoramic views to the south
  • Wonderland Carpark to the Pinnacle for iconic views and a challenging climb
  • Mt Difficult for a really challenging walk with waterfalls

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Photography: Finding Vivian Maier

maier 2What if you spent your whole life perfecting your craft and creating heart-achingly beautiful pieces but you never showed anyone? Would that make your work ‘art’? That’s probably a question that we don’t ask too often. If someone’s good enough, they’ll make it eventually right? But what if we stop for a second and consider that greatness and success aren’t necessarily the same thing.

The case of Vivian Maier is one of those rare events that completely flips our notions of what an artist is. And if it wasn’t for an amateur antique hunter discovering a box of undeveloped negatives in a random auction one day, we probably would have never heard of her at all. Uncovering Vivian Maier tells the strange story of a nanny who spent her life taking hundreds of thousands of photographs, which she never developed. A woman who travelled the world and pioneered street photography long before it became fashionable, Maier presents a bizarre, inspiring, brave and quite troubled picture of an artist. One stripped of the benefits of wealth, fame and privilege.

Vivian Maier collageI have to admit that I went into the film not really expecting her work to be that good, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Armed with a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera and an unobtrusive, low-key demeanor Maier was able to get so close to her subjects, catching them in beautifully unguarded moments, with all the pain, beauty and messiness of their crazy lives. It’s really sad that this complex, trail-blazing woman was never able to claim her place in the photography canon alongside her male contemporaries. Even now, with issues over copyright, lots of galleries are refusing to hang her pictures despite this whole fascinating story coming to light. I guess it makes me wonder how many other great artists or writers we’ve missed out on.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Maier, I highly recommend reading the New Yorker article, Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women.

May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL

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July 27, 1954, New York, NY

Gentleman Prefer Blondes

Society: Gentlemen prefer bonds

Last week, I noticed some sexist advertising on the London Underground. ‘Gentleman prefer bonds’, according to the online ‘retail stockbroker’ the Share Centre.

While I have no interest in stockbroking, or any idea what ‘sharedealing’ is, there are millions of women who do. Many invest, some even work in finance. There are women travelling on the tube every day who might actually want to use this site.

So what a way to alienate a proportion of your market – by implying that only ‘gentleman’ are interested in bonds.

Referencing ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ is crappy in more than one way. It’s pretty racist for one thing. It also implies that gentlemen prefer their women stupid (‘blonde’). It’s one of the stalest sexist stereotypes in circulation.

In the context of finance, blondes are ‘bonds’ – commodities to be shared and played with by men. The ad says “Investing in the stock market isn’t gold-digging, it’s common sense.”

So, I shamed them on Twitter.

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(Sorry about the shaky pic, I was on an escalator.)

I asked people to contact them and ask why they thought the ad was OK:

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The Share Centre’s response was, “it’s an iconic film title – can you come up with anything better?”

(It’s not very hard. It took me 5 minutes to come up with something that wasn’t sexist – a western theme of ‘Make few dollars more’ and ‘Once upon a time to invest’. You can have that one for a nominal fee, the Share Centre.)

The Share Centre

Someone at the Share Centre offered to give me a call, to discuss what I thought was so wrong with the ad.

I spoke to Ian in marketing, a very nice man, who explained to me again that it was an iconic film title (which I explained I did get) and asked what I thought was wrong with the title?

I said that it alienated female customers as it suggested that investment banking and finance is a man’s world.

He told me, “Only about 20% of our customers are women. Our customer base is mostly men, that’s just the way finance is.”

That’s just the way it is.

He also explained the theme alluded to an iconic film title (yes, I did understand that, Ian), that they were running other ads in a similar vein, including “The man with the Golden Bond”.

“Ian, that’s another title referring only to men!”

Ian, investment banking is a sector dominated by men not because ‘that’s the way it is’, but because of numerous obstacles, including inflexible working hours for mothers (women who take time off to have children are “worth less” to finance than men, according to Nigel Farage) and not enough women to coach female graduates. Plus, the simple fact that people hire people like themselves. Men beget men.

I asked Ian if he realised that many potential female customers may already feel barred from a career in finance because of the barriers they face and that this advert could alienate them further.

Women already think they shouldn’t be interested in finance and this ad is perpetuating the ‘Old Boy’s Club’ mentality of the financial world, bold as brass on the London Underground. I explained that ‘the way it is’ has to change to be inclusive of women.

Ian said only about 20% of The Share Centre’s customers were women. That’s odd, because women make up 60% of the global workforce across the financial services industry.

But women hold only 14% of board seats and 2% of CEO positions. That’s why the Share Centre doesn’t care about that 60%.

As a consumer you command respect from the brands you seek out. The Share Centre has made it clear that a fifth of their customer base is unworthy of any respect at all.

Ian assured me that extensive market research had been carried out on these ads (about 1000 people, mostly online I think), and that the response had been unanimously positive.

“I’d like to know what the demographic of that group was”, I asked.

“Yes, it was largely men, though there was a female contingency.” (I’m not sure what a ‘female contingency’ makes up, but i’m guessing not a lot.)

Ian assured me that my opinions would be “taken on board”. “With all due respect, Ian, i’m only one person who happened to raise the issue on Twitter. What difference is my voice going to make?”

Oh it will, Ian said. He’d been discussing the comment with his team for most of the day.

I hope it will make a difference and the fact that they called me suggested that they either respected my opinion, or got a scare from me shouting my mouth off online. Twitter can have that affect on brands.

I’ve got about 1,200 followers – not loads, but enough to make an impact. I’m sure Ian understands how quickly fat can catch in an online fire, especially when it comes to the ‘discussion of the moment’, feminism.

Perhaps they’ll choose a 50-50 male/female split the next time they run market research. I hope so.

If a brand disrespects you, because of gender, race or sexuality, I urge you to make a noise about it on social media. I think it makes a difference, and as a consumer, it’s the best weapon in your arsenal.

Featured image from randomaniac.us.

Blog: My New Year’s Resolutions

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What is it about January that makes us arbitrarily decide to change our lives? And how many of us actually stick to our New Year’s Resolutions? Last year mine was to learn French and let me tell you, my French definitely still stinks.

Maybe instead of choosing something that we’re only half-heartedly into, we should focus on making small changes to our everyday lives that we will actually stick to. And I’m not saying that learning a new skill or language or promising to workout more is a bad thing, in fact it’s amazing. My point is that adjusting our attitudes and being more aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions is the best way to achieve change that will actually last.

Here are some things I’m going to aim for in 2015…

Be more mindful of the things I’m doing

Getting home exhausted and browsing online might seem appealing most days but does it make us happier in the long run? I’m planning to spend less time on my phone to make more time for things that I genuinely love like writing, photography and yoga. I also want to take the same approach to eating. Yes chocolate, ice cream and pizza make us all feel good at the time but am I eating something bad because I genuinely want and deserve a treat or is it just habit? By taking a mindful approach to the things we’re doing, we can learn so much about ourselves and our behaviours, which is the first step to change.

My kikki.K planner

Do the hard things first

I’m really obsessed with the book Eat That Frog at the moment. It made me realise that I often procrastinate, leaving difficult or boring things to do another time. This actually makes me miserable in the long run because whatever it is just hangs over me and I feel like a failure. So I’m making an effort to do things when I think of them rather than putting them off. A silly example of this is that last week I ripped my favourite surfing shorts. The old me would have just thrown them in a pile somewhere promising to fix them at a later date. Instead, I immediately got my sewing machine out and fixed the tear in 15 minutes, which made me feel so proud of myself and now I can still wear them. Yay!

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Live a beautiful life

It’s so easy to get bogged down by financial and everyday stresses, but really is this the point in living? Instead of worrying about what I don’t have, I’m going to focus on just living a happy, inspiring and creative life with my husband and lovely friends. Whether it’s making an effort to visit exhibitions, plays and talks that are coming to my city or jumping in a rental car for an impromptu road trip down Victoria’s beautiful surf coast, I’ll be making an effort to enjoy the incredible things that I’m lucky enough to have around me. What could be better than that?

Natalie x

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The Roses of Heliogabalus is an 1888 painting by the Anglo-Dutch academician Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888)

Art: A Victorian Obsession at Leighton House

I was thrilled to be invited to Leighton House Museum for a private tour of a new collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings recently. I’m obsessed with the interiors of people’s houses; psychological most certainly to do with feeling disinherited as a member of Generation Rent.

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum. Image: Flickr

Frederic Leighton’s house in Holland Park, speaks of an artist who was sociable enough to sustain his career, but not for a love of people; the rooms are opulent but there are no guest bedrooms.

It’s a solitary house, built to and for his own requirements (unlike Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, whose rooms flow into one another like it was built for a party and whose table was always set for friends).

Outside of the collection, the focal point of the house is the Arab Room, which is filled with Islamic tiles from Damascus. Curious, then, that he was no Orientalist. He created it simply, he said, ‘for the sake of something beautiful to look at once in a while’.

In an austere gallery environment, I can find portrait art a bit dull, but Leighton House is warm and enchanting in itself. Each room holds just enough paintings to let you take them in together with the room.

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

In the drawing room, I was drawn to The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne. The baked, earthy colours make sense when you find out Payne worked with stained glass; the umbers and oranges seem cut through with sunlight.

One picture of Leighton’s muse Dorothy Dene really seduced me. In Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle), the muse is enveloped in the folds of her drapery, which flow into the waterfall behind.

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

The centre of the collection is the Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda.

It tells the story of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus smothering his guests to death with rose petals, which apparently made little sense to critics at the time, since the people in the painting don’t seem to mind or have noticed.

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum
14 November 2014 – 29 March 2015