It is a little-known fact that along with periods, boobs, body hair and mood swings, an important part of puberty is thinking “I might get a fringe.”

One day you’ll be fine with your hairstyle; it’s healthy, it looks ok, it behaves when you straighten it OR curl it (you lucky thing, you) – but then… suddenly… BAM. “I MIGHT GET A FRINGE.”

And that’s great! Change is good! Fringes are nice! But with a fringe comes great responsibility. Some people get hamsters to learn about being a responsible human being; other people get a fringe. And I, personally, would argue that looking after a fringe is way more complicated and stressful and educational than looking after a hamster.

The difference between looking after a hamster and looking after a fringe is that you can’t grow out a hamster, more’s the pity. You can, however, grow out a fringe.

Said to the hairdresser that you loved it but really wanted to punch the mirror in the face? No problem. Can’t deal with it growing so fast and blinding you? No problem. Spend your evenings scraping it back with an old alice band you found in the back of your wardrobe so you can slather your forehead with various creams and gels to kill all the spots your greasy fringe has given you as a present? No problem. Grow it out! It’s like your fringe never existed. Easy. Right?

I had a fringe once.  Multiple times, actually. Sadly, there is currently no cure for the condition of forgetting how much you hated your fringe and getting one cut in again and again and again.

When I finally hit the growing-out stage of my first fringe saga, at 13 years old, I had to experience the trauma of trying out different ways to tame it as I killed it off. I scraped it back, half-heartedly turned it into a side fringe (with lots of hairspray), and even tried having a middle parting to turn my fringe into curtains. Middle partings were super uncool in those days, but my choices were limited.

I stuck to the side fringe, but some bits were flyaway and awkward, and one evening I finally snapped. I grabbed the nail scissors from my mum’s wardrobe and took a deep breath.

Snip… snip… *stare*… snip… snipsnipsnip. There! Gone. That’s better. I fluffed my hair about until the slight bald patch I’d now created had been covered. It was only a small round bit in the middle of my hairline in the middle of my forehead. No problem!

Except. You know when you grow grass? Or cress, in primary school? You plant the little seeds and then the grass grows slowly and is fluffy and quite cute? Well, can you now imagine that in the middle of your head, please? Yes, smack bang in the middle. A 10p’s worth of sticky-up, fresh, fluffy grass.

THAT WAS MY HEAD.

BECAUSE, LITTLE LOUISE, HAIR GROWS BACK. YOU FOOL.

It was a nightmare. I slowly began my transformation into one of those troll dolls from the 90s, and there was nothing I could do about it. Because, as I preached just a few paragraphs ago, you’ve just gotta grow it out.

At first it wasn’t too bad. I could shift my hair about and cover it up, just as I did with the bald patch in the first place.

“Louise, you’ve moved your parting right over.”

“Yes. Yes I have. I now have a severe side parting.”

“It’s a bit extreme, most of your hair is now over your fa-“

“GOD, MUM, JUST LET ME LIVE.”

When that was no longer of any use, when the hair-grass started growing further and further upwards with horrendous pride and confidence, I had to take drastic measures.

I pulled. And pulled. And yanked on my little troll fringe as hard as I could, and slapped it backwards in place with a clip. Not a subtle hairgrip, but a MASSIVE PROPER CLIP. It may as well have had a sign saying, “LOOK AT ME, THE INFAMOUS TROLL FRINGE,” complete with a musical fanfare.

I wish there was a good ending to this story. I wish I found a secret trick or a silver lining to cutting a chunk of your hair out. Alas, no. All I have is a simple lesson. Ahem: DON’T CUT YOUR OWN FRINGE. EVER. IN EVER OF ALL EVERS EVER.

The troll fringe grew out, of course. I worked that fanfare clip with all the dignity I had left. Eventually the clip worked its way back along my head and the troll fringe evolved into a troll quiff.

So yes, sometimes in life you do silly things, and sometimes you are full of regret… but all of those times come with lessons and (hair) growth. And that’s never, ever a bad thing.

@louisejonesetc

Image: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Summer is great for a lot of things: spending time outdoors, hanging out with your mates, unsheathing your pasty arms and legs from their winter woollies and getting some vitamin D… the list goes on.

You know what it’s not good for, though? Being a goth. Or in my case at least, being a rubbish goth.

At my school, come year nine, two main groups emerged: the chavs and the alts, and you had to pledge your allegiance to one or the other. You were allowed to sit on the edge with a gentle nod towards your chosen clan – an Adidas satchel or a bit of extra eyeliner, for example – but choose you must.

I’ve always been an angsty person – even as a child I’d get myself worked up about the meaning of life – so the alts were my obvious choice. And boy did I commit to it, bypassing the entry-level studded belts and skater shoes and launching headfirst into raven-black hair and boned corsets. In my mind I was a beautiful angel of darkness, with an ethereal aesthetic that matched my troubled soul.

The reality, though, was rather different. Caking white foundation over my already-bad skin just made it look worse, and my Potter-esque glasses only magnified the fact that I didn’t have a clue when it came to blending eyeshadow. I did a rubbish job dying my hair, my braces rubbed all my blood-red lipstick off and I could never get my blacks to match.

Plus, I lived in the middle of nowhere, so I couldn’t just pop to the shops for the stuff I needed to actually make the look work – visiting my nearest town involved sitting on a bus for more than an hour, which is not something I recommend when all the other passengers are aging farmers and elderly conservatives and you’re wearing a black wedding dress.

But I stuck with it, because even though I was doing a pretty bad job of it I felt that rocking a goth aesthetic was part of my identity. The music, the people and the mindset of the alt-goth scene spoke to me and made me feel like I was part of something meaningful and different – that I was meaningful and different.

So I was prepared to deal with the time-consuming faff of the hair and makeup, and I’d gotten used to the horrified stares from people in the village and the stupid insults from kids in school. It was the payoff for finding my identity and ‘my people’.

What eventually broke me, though, was summer.

No amount of factor 50 suncream could keep the freckles and weird tan lines at bay. No amount of powder would keep the white foundation on my shiny face and no amount of deodorant would stop me sweating profusely onto my thick velvet dresses. Any time I succumbed to the heat and wore a light dress or a pair of shorts the sudden change in aesthetic was so jarring everyone would make a big deal out of it, which made me feel rubbish, like I was betraying my own identity.

This was back in the days before pastel and summer goth were a thing. Back before there were endless webpages of style inspo to look to and long before Instagram makeup tutorials came along. It was all or nothing, and I was uncomfortable, sweaty and defeated. If I couldn’t properly show off who I was on the inside on the outside, I thought, then I wouldn’t bother at all.

So instead I just wore what was comfortable. I still went for blacks and dark colours, but there was no more scratchy velvet or rib-busting corsets. I stopped trashing my hair every month with black dye and started using a wash-in red to give my natural mousey-ginger a bit of a kick. I swapped the painful Victorian-style heels for a pair of comfy biker boots and while I still trucked on the black eyeliner, the white foundation went in the bin.

For a while I felt like I was compromising; like I was doing a bad job of ‘being me’, but gradually it dawned on me that, actually, I felt better in my own skin. I spent less time in front of a mirror fretting about my makeup. I moved around more freely and worried less about the vibe of my outfits.

I still listened to the same music and hung out with the same people – people who liked me for me, and not what I looked like. People who probably liked me even better when I stopped constantly tripping over my long skirts and being preoccupied with staying pale. I had, without even realising it, developed my own style and was more ‘me’ than I’d ever been.

So that summer was good for a lot of things, and as it turned out in the end, being a rubbish goth was one of them.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

At 5ft 10, I am the same height as Taylor Swift. I like this fact because it’s surely some sort of sign that my dream of duetting All Too Well with her live on stage is going to come true. It also makes me feel a bit better about being ‘the tall girl’ in my friendship group.

Taylor’s not the only talented, successful, fierce as hell long-limbed lioness either. Tennis champion Serena Williams is 6ft 1 and Game of Thrones Brienne of Tarth (IRL name, Gwendoline Christie) is a tremendous 6ft 3.

But the reality of being a tall girl at school or college is a different story to commanding Wembley stage, Wimbledon centre court or the battlefields of Westeros.

I felt clumsy and clunky walking through the corridors, like a discombobulated giraffe wobbling down the catwalk behind a squad of cute, nimble meerkats. It was even worse with my friendship group at home, I swear none of them grew over 5ft 5 while I continued to shoot up like Jack’s troublesome beanstalk.

If you’re in the Tall Club, you might recognise some of the same experiences that I had:

Shoe shopping is an absolute nightmare

Chances are, you have some big old feet at the end of those powerful, endless limbs. The problem is, ballet pumps and strappy sandals don’t look so dainty in size 8 or 9. Rather than asking ‘do I like these shoes?’ when out shopping, the real question is ‘do they look like Sideshow Bob’s clodhoppers?’. Oh well, androgynous styles are much cooler anyway.

All jeans are ‘ankle grazers’

I used to be too scared to wander into the Tall section with the older giraffe herd. Up until the point when I realised that this was absolutely ridiculous of me, I was relegated to regular leg lengths. Flared, skinny, bootcut, straight – none of them ever made it past my cold ankles. It’s quite lucky then, that Kate Moss is a total advocate for the ankle grazer (and she’s only 5ft 7!).

Shorter friends complain about being petite

My much shorter best friend once demanded we leave a party early because she felt too small. Did she not realise how often I feel like a telephone pole standing out like an eyesore in a field of pretty poppies, or a dog-bitten Barbie in a toy box of Polly Pockets? But at least I learnt that short girls have their problems too.

‘You’re the same height as a top model!’ is not a compliment

Oh, really? Does Gigi Hadid also have this warm layer of puppy fat, relentlessly shiny forehead and man hands? Does Gigi feel the need to hunch over like Quasimodo when she’s around her friends just to fit in? I might be tall but I’m not blind. Anyway, I’d much rather be compared to a rocket scientist or a sports champion thank you very much.

Borrowing and sharing clothes is out of the question

Your friends swap clothes more times than Kanye and Kim swap saliva (eww, sorry!). But there’s no way that you’re going to fit into that cute floral jumpsuit that your BFF bought in the Topshop Petite section. It’s just the same old wardrobe for tall gals, while everyone else has the lolz and bantz of clothes swapping fun. Oh well, at least there won’t be any arguments about unexplained stains or rips.

Group photos are a painful experience

Usually, I use every trick in the tall girl’s book to try not to stick out like a sore thumb in photos: bending the knee, tilting the head, sitting down, wishing to be invisible. At least by pulling a silly pose, it can actually make you look like the most fun person in the photo.

Other tall girls make the best allies

Luckily, I ended up befriending two equally tall girls during my time at school. We borrowed each other’s clothes, walked around in a group without bending our knees or heads and shared tips on where to buy skirts that actually reached the knee. It was a blessing, and the first wide-stride step towards accepting my tall girl credentials.

Now in my twenties, I love being tall. I admit, I still have my off-days where I just want to blend it – but don’t we all? Even Taylor probably has body hang-ups but that’s not enough to stop her from being one of the biggest (and tallest) popstars on the planet.

It’s all about just owning it: having a snazzy sock collection to decorate ostentatious ankles with; not being scared to wear the highest of heels that will intimidate any badly-behaved guy; and strutting like a proud flamingo.

Those size 8 boots were made for walking, so do it with your head held high and everyone looking up at you.

@hlouiser89

Image: Getty

CRAP.

I mean, obviously that’s great. So great. For her. Couldn’t be more chuffed, obviously, because we’re basically the same person. Sisters from another mister. Soul mates. But…

CRAP. This is a disaster. I’m basically never going to see her again.

I’m going to die alone. Alone, old and friendless, after a life of solo Harry Potter marathons with no one even to share a tub of Phish Food with when Sirius dies.

Still, it’s early days. Could all be over by Christmas. After all, she’s never been entirely sold on his eyebrows, and they’re only going to grow closer together as time goes by…

Jeez, what am I saying?! I’m a MONSTER! This. Is. Good. News. In fact, it’s such good news I am going to Whatsapp her right now and INSIST we go to the cinema together, the three of us, so I can get to know him. If you can’t break ‘em, join ‘em, that’s what I say….

Or dinner. Yes maybe dinner is safer. Then I don’t have to listen to them making out halfway through Wonderwoman while I sit there trying to mask the sound of lip-on-lip action with my own aggressive munching on single-portion popcorn crying my own quiet tears…Oh GAD.

Woooahh, hang on. Why am I so stressed? It’s 2017. There is an all-female superhero on our movie screens. I’m not going to let a man, or the absence of a man, stand in the way of my own happiness. I’m an unconquerable warrior. I am Diana, princess of…

I. Am. So. ALOOOOOOONE.

Wait, maybe Bex’s bae has friends! Man friends! He could set me up with one of them, and then we can double date, and all make out in the cinema together!

I mean, not in that way, obvs. Five rows apart at least.

Joint weddings – are they a thing?

I’m going to ask her to ask him, for real. Let’s get this ball rolling. What’s that quote grandma says, about doors closing and windows opening? Just goes to show you.

Might look a bit desperate though, asking out the blue like that. Should probably get to know him before treating him like some kind of man vending machine.

Mmm, man vending machine. Why has nobody invented one of those yet?

They’ve probs got them in Japan, tbf. Maybe I should move there.

Wait, what if he hates me?

What if I hate HIM?

This is the beginning of the end. It starts with plastering couple selfies over Insta, and it ends in me peering through a church window at their nuptials, having been cancelled for revealing my true feelings ten years previously.

Damn! She’s just whatsapped me, demanding to see my face in Starbucks asap. Is it because she can hear my thoughts? Oh. No. She wants some girl time. Some friend time. Some ‘me and her’ time.

I am an idiot. THIS ships’s for life – boy or no boy.

@clare_finney

Image: Mean Girls

When you think about it, kissing is one of the weirdest things you can ever do.

It’s sort of gross, if you break it down. All sloppy tongues and wet lips and spit and teeth and hoping your breath doesn’t stink… or that’s what I tend to think about, anyway. Over the years I’ve kissed quite a few people, but my first kiss? The weirdest thing about the first time I ever kissed someone is how hard it is for me to remember it.

For so many years, having my first kiss was all I could think about. I’d sneak books from the library and read the paragraphs where couples would kiss over and over again. I’d watch TV, pretending I wasn’t looking through my fingers any time the snogging started. I’d daydream during my lessons, I’d practice on my arm (once even giving myself a love bite), and I would write in the notebooks I’ve kept since I was 12 about how much I wanted to kiss, a boy, on the lips.

But the main problem with me trying to kiss a boy was I didn’t really know any. I went to an all-girls school, so unless I was willing to grab a random one at the bus stop (and I was tempted), my kissing options at the time were pretty limited. When it eventually happened, I think I liked it.

I think I liked it… but I just don’t remember.

Some of the facts I do know: there was a boy. He was very tall and I really fancied him. We stood somewhere in the middle of a park, and I think we were chatting, and I think his arms were around mine. At some point he leaned down, I leaned up, and we kissed each other. It was late and dark, and all I could smell was wet grass and teenage boy (a funny mixture of sweat, chips and damp socks).

How to kiss for the first time (or not)

I always thought that when I finally kissed someone, everything would ‘just make sense’ and I’d feel like a proper adult. But it didn’t, and I didn’t. I stood there, thinking too much about nothing important.

If I wrote down my thoughts at the time, they’d go something like this:

1. Does he have two tongues?

2. He is tall, maybe he does have two tongues.

3. Or maybe he’s just spitting loads in my mouth?

4. Or maybe I’m spitting in his mouth!

5. Maybe I produce too much saliva and I’m a freak.

6. …or maybe he likes all my spit

7. Do I need to move my tongue more?

8. Maybe I should just try and spit into his mouth?

9. Ew, though.

And so on, until it was all over.

Community awkward kiss gif

When it finished, I said something mean or rude to a friend about him that I think I meant as a joke. He heard me. Of course he did. Later, my friend Mia’s mum picked us up from the side of the park, and in the darkness of the backseat of the car I whispered to Mia that I had kissed him that night. She whispered back to me that she had too.

I don’t think I felt jealous or weird about that, but I did feel annoyed at myself. I had told my friends I had kissed lots of people before – a total lie, obv – so I couldn’t tell Mia (or anyone) that was the first time I had kissed someone.

And that’s the story of my first kiss.

Here are facts I don’t know: I don’t remember how old I was. Yup, not at all, although I think it was somewhere around 14 to 16. I don’t remember if it was spring, summer, autumn, or winter. I don’t know if there was a party, or if people were drinking, or if I was drinking, or if we were just hanging about in a very dark park doing nothing but kiss and chat and kiss some more.

I don’t remember any of the build-up to the kiss; what time it happened, or how long it lasted, or if it was just one kiss, or if it was lots of them. I don’t remember what happened after I made my ‘joke’ and (maybe) insulted him, and I don’t remember if we ever spoke about it again afterwards, or if we ever even kissed again.

For something that I thought about every day for years, my first kiss has ended up being a pretty unremarkable life event. Over time, I realised it was the boring things like travelling around by myself or making the choice to go home early that have made me feel like a grown up, not kisses – even the kisses that have been really, really great. These days, a lot of my best friends are boys (well, men), and they’re nowhere near as mysterious as I once thought.

I’ve got no regrets about my first kiss, apart from wishing I wasn’t so anxious about it. I worried so much about it before it even happened, and now I remember that worry way more than I remember the kiss itself.

I might not remember the tiny details of the night I had my first kiss, but I do remember one thing: I thought I would remember it forever. The great thing about that not being true? Forever is a really long time, and you might forget things that happened long ago, but for every nice old memory is a new, great memory that comes to take its place.

@bridgetminamore

Image: Hailey Hamilton

After over a decade of your parents feeding you night after night, the time has come to put your money where their mouth is and cook them a meal. You know where the oven is: you’ve seen things go in and out of it, and the hob looks easy enough. It’s all just button pushing really, and your phone can testify to your tekkers in that department. In fact, come to think of it, you’re not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. How hard can this cooking lark be?

Simultaneous equations

Forget cookery books: if being a phone addict has taught you anything, it’s that the answer to all life’s questions lie in the internet – and that includes recipes. You google ‘family cooking’ (or should, if you haven’t already) and up comes Jamie Oliver. There are family favourites, recipes for feeding a crowd, healthy meals, veggie dishes… jeez, who knew there was so much you could do with food? As you click through them all, your brain sizzles on a low heat with the effort of recalling all your fam’s likes and dislikes and, bearing in mind what’s already in the fridge, calculating the budget of each dish. You feel the first twinge of regret for your offer. You’ve an essay to write, three Pretty Little Liars eps to catch up on before bed time, and you’d give anything right now for your dad’s chicken kiev. Six hours of deep-sea internet diving later, you surface triumphantly with a recipe for Pukka yellow chicken… only to remember spicy food gives your stepmum the shits.

One potato, two potato

Fish cakes it is! Looks lush and seems, from the number of steps involved, pretty simple. Now you just need to adjust whatever quantity the recipe says it serves with the number of people in your family. Why, oh why, didn’t I listen in Maths? Gah. With potatoes it should be simple – if 300g serve 4 people, 600g serve 8 etc – but things grow a little more complicated when it comes to grams of smoked haddock fillets. What do you do with the leftover third of a fish? Or the mountain of parsley you end up buying because you misread 15g as 150g and you’ve basically bought a tree?

Stick it to me baby

A word of warning here for anyone planning to take this stuff literally and actually cook fish cakes: raw smoked fish smells pretty savage. As will your hands after you’ve reduced five of them to flakes and mixed them with that mound of potato it took you half your lifetime to peel, cube and mash. The fishy mash will stick to your fingers. The parsley will stick to your fingers. Your hair will fall in your eyes, you’ll go to brush it away – and it, too, will stick to your fingers. OMG, please try to resist the temptation at this point to pick up your phone. It’s true of fishcakes, but in any recipe there will come a point when all you can see is vegetable peel before you, oil slicks behind you and mess everywhere else — and that’s before your eyes cloud over with the mist of onion tears.

Help! I need somebody

And not just anybody. Trust me when I tell you that at a certain moment in the proceedings, you will need your parents, AS to the P. Maybe your onion is burned; maybe your fish cakes are soggy AF; maybe you’ve broken a glass into the mix (if you do this, ABORT ABORT. There’s no going back from that) or forgotten to add a vital ingredient. Whatever it is, when you realise you’re facing less of a cook up, more of a cock up royale, it’s okay to call mum or dad.

Dishing up

Your doting parents are gunning for your first dinner to be the GOAT, your siblings may have other ideas – but so long as your brace yourself for a solid trashing, the only way is up. It’s a great feeling, feeding people – particularly those you love. It’s the fastest way to anyone’s heart, and great practice for when you’re flying free. However not okay your first experience was, trust and believe me when I say, you WILL get better – and you’ll learn to, if not love it, at least be able to put something edible together one day. You hope.

@clare_finney

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I’ve never been very good at fancying people.

The awkwardness of really wanting your crush to know that you like them so you can actually be together, while at the same time being absolutely terrified of them finding out, is a struggle. And although I’ve always considered myself a total pro at advising my friends on this sort of thing, I’ve always been pretty bad at dealing with my own heartache.

The guy I fell hardest for took up a good year and a half of my secondary school existence, which, as we all know, feels like about five gazillion years when you’re 13 and convinced you’re in love.  

Don’t get me wrong, I did my best to live the rom-com cliché. I doodled our names in big fat hearts on the inside cover of my maths book. I found out his star sign and searched a bunch of astrology websites until I found one that said we were compatible.

Once he hugged me for a really long time at a party and then held my hand for a bit, which was pretty huge. I happened to be wearing brand new knickers that day and came to the conclusion that from that moment on, those very knickers would be known as my magical lucky knickers and that I’d obviously have to wear them on any occasion that could result in further one-on-one time with the crush boy.

(FYI – the effort of doing that much washing for the sake of a potential snog really isn’t worth the daily questioning you’ll definitely get from whoever presides over the household laundry basket.)

I had butterflies and googly eyes whenever he was within a 100-metre radius and I even bought an album by his favourite band and pretended to like their music so we’d have more to talk about. You know, if ever I managed to form actual sentences in his presence rather than the standard uncomfortable smile and really enthusiastic nod, that is.

Now, you’re probably thinking one of two things: ‘you’re really tragic and you weren’t lying about not being good at fancying people’ or ‘OMG, you have literally described my life’.

This crush business is a minefield, you guys. On top of all that, of course, there’s the stress of not knowing whether or not they fancy you back.

Unfortunately, even after all of my best efforts, it turned out that he did not fancy me back. And no, it wasn’t because he found out about the weird magic pants situation. It was because he fancied one of my best mates. Awks.

I noticed that he started to hang around with my group of friends more and naturally I assumed it was because I was an exceptionally good hand-holder. But then one day he got his friend to ask me if my BFF was interested in him.

A word of advice on how to handle this sort of situation: do not, I repeat, do NOT pretend to fancy your crush’s friend.

Somewhere between feeling really rubbish about crush boy not liking me and having to pretend to be happy for my best mate, I made the awful decision to then try and prove that I was completely fine with it all. I pretended that in fact I never liked him anyway, thanks, and actually it was his friend I fancied all along.

Word of my false love interest got around pretty quickly, which in the end resulted in two broken hearts and a whole lot of resentment towards our respective best mates who then started going out with each other.

I’d love to say that after that disaster, I was suddenly completely over Crush Boy and powered through the rest of school without so much of a fluttery heartbeat. I’d love to say that… but it’s never that easy, is it?

What I did learn over the years though, is that the process of having a crush isn’t always bad news.

Sure, it’s mega cringeworthy at times and you might go through periods when it feels like there is not a single human on earth who could possibly be as beautifully perfect as whoever it is you happen to be into – but once you come out the other side still standing, you realise that even though crushes are hard work, they’re also pretty great. Fancying people is quite exciting. And whether it works out or not, at the very least they make for really good group WhatsApp chats with your mates.

Just think twice before committing to the same pair of pants forever. Apparently it doesn’t work very well…

@JazKopotsha

Image: Manjit Thapp

1. Did I just…?

2. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

3. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. Unlike it immediately!

5. Oh my god! I re-liked it! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!

6. My life is officially over.

7. Will they still get a notification that I liked the photo?

8. Will it say which photo I liked?!

9. WHY, OH WHY, DID IT HAVE TO BE THE PHOTO WITH THEIR EX?! Do the internet gods have no mercy?

10. I should text Jo and tell her to like and then unlike one of my photos and see what happens.

11. Why won’t Jo text me back?!

12. Urgh and because we don’t even follow each other on Instagram they’ll know I stalked them.

13. And that I trawled through the bazillion Alex Joneses and found the Alex Jones (by the way, thanks for having such a generic name) and that I then proceeded to go through SEVENTY EIGHT WEEKS of Instagram posts.

14. Is it possible they’ll find it flattering?

15. No. Probably not.

16. Maybe I should delete my Instagram account.

17. ORRRR I could move to Latvia! No one knows me in Latvia.

18. I wonder how much flights to Latvia are?

19. What’s the capital of Latvia…

20. Riga? Huh, I wouldn’t have guessed that.

21. I should move to Riga.

22. But then I’d never see Alex again and we would never fall in love.

23. Maybe I’ll just have another look.

Ergh, blushing. That dreaded phrase “You’ve gone red!” litters so many people’s teenage years and then some (sorry guys, it’s not going to stop after you’ve nailed puberty). It’s the most annoying song on the adolescence album, even including the “No, you’re not old enough” and “Can I see some ID please?” party (pooper) anthems.

As the old, slightly sinister, saying goes; Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so that’s what we’re going to do right now.

Let’s find out what blushing actually is, why we do it and whether or not there’s any way we can take back some control next time it turns up to the party, like a bully, and tells everyone who you fancy.

So, what actually is blushing?

Here’s what the NHS website tells us: ‘…blushing occurs when a strong emotional trigger stimulates the nervous system, resulting in the widening of the blood vessels in the face. This increases the flow of blood into the blood vessels just underneath the skin, causing your face to turn red.’ The website also states that blushing doesn’t just occur in the face, but can also make your neck, upper chest and ears scarlet.

Cool. So, essentially, blushing occurs because  ‘strong emotional triggers’ just happen to widen blood vessels, which happen to increase the flow of blood to our faces (right where our eyes are, so people can really see it – again, cool), and blood happens to be red. Not see-through, or even a very subtle pastel shade. Red. So it just happens to be very obvious when we blush, particularly for people with pale skin.

What the experts say…

So what counts as a ‘strong emotional trigger’, and is there any way we can stop them?

The short answer is no. Of course we can’t. Although we can pretend to the outside world that everything’s fine, trying to make our nervous system believe that we’re feeling chilled when we’re not just isn’t possible.

However, there is hope. You know how sometimes you’re blushing a little, then someone points it out and somehow that makes it worse? Well, a 2009 study suggests that a fear of blushing exists, which makes us all have an even worse time when it happens. But findings from the same study also showed that, although the person blushing is having a negative reaction to it, people generally do not react with negative judgement when they see someone blush.

So in other words, the only person that really cares when you’re blushing is you.

Another study from 2014 showed that ‘children reported more fear of blushing than adults’. Which tells us that, although we may not grow out of blushing, something clearly happens as we get older to stop us caring so much. Maybe it’s the fact that being a teenager is incredibly difficult, and there are way more opportunities for blushing to attack.

How to deal

Now we know what blushing is, why we do it and what other people are thinking when it happens, let’s make it all a little less painful. We may not be able to stop it happening completely but, like macaroni cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a bad period day, there’s always a way we can relieve the stress a little.

Number one; remember the research. The majority of people are not judging you when you blush – because who would? Who takes pleasure out of someone else’s social discomfort? No one whose judgement we care to accept. Next!

Beat blush at its own game

It may seem like a silly tip, but if you can convince yourself that people can’t see you blush it may help the situation pass by a little quicker. One way to do this is to, ironically, wear blusher. At least, this worked for me and a bunch of friends at college, who all noticed a difference in the number of people noticing our blushing because our cheeks were already flush with Bourjois Rose D’Or.

Own it

Remember all the great women whose embarrassing moments – and their unapologetic honesty in those times – have made people absolutely adore them; Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, your friends, you. Try to embrace it. It’ll happen anyway. When you think about it, embarrassing moments are actually amazing. They make for hilarious stories and memorable life experiences.

In his famous book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin describes blushing as ‘the most peculiar and most human of all expressions’. But really, it’s the most human of all expressions.

We blush because we’re human, and to be human is to feel a load of things; embarrassment, attraction, awkwardness, guilt, panic. It’s not easy, but it is normal and we all do it. To blush is to feel emotion in its truest, no-hiding-it sense. So just try to ride the wave – and think of all the great anecdotes.

Image: Laura Callaghan

There’s a strange, unofficial law of puberty that says all the big, life-changing, gross-out experiences have to happen to you on holiday.

Sometimes on Guides camp, during sports day or at the incredibly posh wedding of a distant relative – but mainly, usually, on holiday. Because hey, even the sneaky gremlins of adolescence love a day at the beach! It’s just a shame they have to gatecrash your jolly hols rather than packing off on their own.

Picture the scene: I am 12, and on holiday with my family. In Belgium. Normally this would be enough trauma to be going on with, but because the universe is sometimes the actual worst, I also had my period.

Not my first period – that had arrived in a dramatic mudslide of brown goo one day at school, followed by a sticky five hours walking around concerned I had pooed myself without realising – but an early one Before they had settled into a reliable routine; when my period was still turning up unannounced, like a neighbour who won’t take the hint and then stays and eats all your best biscuits.

Up till now I had been welcoming. I had rolled out sanitary pads like a red carpet each time my uterus lining decided to drop by. But now – now, I was on holiday and I didn’t want a period, thanks. I wanted to go swimming. And I couldn’t do it with a big white lilo in my pants.

So there were two options: either give up and mooch about by the pool all week like a sad, bleeding fun sponge – or find another type of sanitary soaker-upper. As MC Hammer might have said while breakdancing on my achey uterus, STOP! Tampon time.

My mum was a long-time tampon fan, and only too happy to hand over a box for me to have a go. They were non-applicator, because that was the type she’d always used, and so it was that I found myself, quite literally, in at the deep end. Squatting, as per the box instructions, in the holiday chalet bathroom, boldly going to parts of my body that no finger had ever gone before.

First I unwrapped a tampon, gave the string a cautious yank. It looked like a make-up applicator, or a tiny friendly mouse puppet. I took a deep breath, did my very best full plié (if all those years of ballet classes hadn’t turned me into a modern day Anna Pavlova, they could at least give me the thigh strength to ram a tampon in successfully), and prodded it in the vague direction of the blood. In went the tip. Easy! Like plugging a leak. Or that song, about the guy with the hole in his bucket.  

I stood up, triumphant. I was a tampon-wearer! I was a vaginal victor! I was… nope, I was in pain.

Ow. I moved around, testing things out. OW. Owwowwoww. I sat down. OWW. Was this… right? Surely not. How was I meant to swim if I could barely walk? The leaflet said I shouldn’t feel it at all. My mum never said it would hurt. All those carefree ladies on the adverts leaping through meadows and riding horses while wearing white trousers didn’t look like they were wincing every time they took a step. Were they grinning through gritted teeth? Were ALL women? WOULD I BE FOREVER CONFINED TO A LIFE OF FANNY PAIN?

No, my mum confirmed when she found me whimpering in my swimsuit, drowning my sorrows in a packet of Belgium’s finest paprika snack nuts. It was not supposed to hurt.

It was, though, supposed to be inside my vagina – properly inside, rather than the place I had lodged it, hanging halfway out as though my labia was smoking a little white cigar. For that tampon to do its best tamponing, she explained cheerfully through the bathroom door, it needed to be completely hidden where the sun didn’t shine.  

I had to boldly go further. I yanked it out by the string, unwrapped a fresh one and took another deep breath.

With two more attempts and a lot of what can only be described as ‘tampon yoga’, I discovered with wonder what so many girls had discovered before me: that your vagina, like the TARDIS, is far bigger on the inside than it appears. It goes all the way back! And up! My first tampon had been sat in the doorway when there was a whole… corridor to conquer!

Finally, it was in. Actually in. And once that third-attempt tampon settled into its proper home, I realised that it wasn’t a lie – I couldn’t feel it. At all. Nothing to see here, folks, just a girl totally in control of her menstrual fluids!

Not even going headfirst down the flume with a swimsuit wedgie could diminish my aura of physical achievement. It might not have made the photo album or the ‘What I did on my holiday’ essay, but it was a golden memory nonetheless. I was a tampon-wearer! A vaginal victor! Yes.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I am about to break a silence that has lasted some eighteen years. I am about to tell you something I have never told my best friends. I have never told my mother. I have never told a doctor.

Are we all ready?

When I was a teenager, for a while I had a bad thing happening in my nipular area. I don’t know how long it lasted, all I remember is that it felt like years.

Here are the basic details:

I have had eczema all my life. When I was a kid, it only ever showed up in my elbows and behind my knees and the doctor told me I’d probably grow out of it. Oh, doctor. You sweet, naive fool, if only you had been right. I think of that alternate-universe Janina, from time to time. The Janina who can buy moisturiser freely and without fear, experimenting with joy instead of sticking with that one brand that seems to work consistently most of the time (Aveeno, by the way). She must be so happy.

While the rashy patches on my legs and arms did fade, they were replaced by weirder, more painful, less predictable rashes literally everywhere else. When the weather is hot, for example, I get pompholyx on my hands and the soles of my feet. This particular brand of eczema consists of tiny, itchy blisters that recently saw me tear my shoes off mid-exercise and clutch my feet in agony. My shoulders, neck and back are popular sites also, which can make wearing a bra downright painful.

But nothing has ever been so bad as the Year of the Nip.

It started slowly. A weeping crack here, a weeping crack there. First the left nipple, then the right. Eventually, the peaks atop my boobs were more weeping crack than nipple. Literally a pair of open sores on my chest.

It was unpleasant.

They would dry onto the fabric of my clothes and I’d rip them open every time I got changed. So I put plasters on them, obviously. But friends, my nipples were too much for your common-or-garden plaster. I had to find an upgrade.

It is at this point that a doctor might have been able to help me. Doctors are good at helping with this kind of thing. But I was young and embarrassed and I couldn’t figure out how I would tell anyone what was happening in the secret confines of my underwire.

So I MacGyvered a solution. I chopped a sanitary pad in half, and put a half in each cup. I slathered them in emollient cream and prayed for salvation. It wasn’t perfect. They would slide around sometimes. I would find one making an escape towards my cleavage, and be flooded with fear that someone had seen it poking out from my t-shirt.

The thing here is, that it was happening elsewhere as well. Specifically, to my lips. I’d had to take a full two weeks off school, because my face had basically exploded – I had conjunctivitis, a cold sore that made my jaw swell to three times its size, and lip-eczema that had left my lips so raw they had – brace yourselves – scabbed themselves shut.

You would think that, given all the highly visible grossness that was happening one floor up, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to say, ‘oh, hey, also my boobs are revolting right now!’ But sometimes it’s difficult to talk about boobs, in that kind of way.

We can talk about cleavage and cup size, of course, we can talk about plunge and balcony and lace and underwire, and how few people wear the right size bra. We can talk about how to feel for lumps – in theory, at least. But talking about things being really wrong in that area is scary. Or if it’s not scary it’s shameful.

There is one thing every teenage girl knows to be true: boobs are important. Apparently. They mean you’re growing up, they are the most obvious thing that might make you desirable – if something goes wrong with them, does that mean you no longer are?

Added to that is the fact that we only hear about things going wrong with boobs if it’s really serious, so when you think about boob health, the first, terrifying, thing you think of is cancer. But little things can go wrong too. No one talks about the infected ingrown hair they once had on their left breast, or all the other small problems that might seem huge at the time.

The happy ending here is that, eventually, my disgusting nipples healed. I am still scared they’ll come back, of course, but if they do I think I might just be brave enough to go to the doctor about it.

And for a silver lining, after all that, periodically plucking out long black nipple hairs doesn’t seem like that big a deal at all.

@j9andlf

“To err is human,” wrote Alexander Pope in his poem An Essay On Criticism. He was talking about the flawed frailty of the mortal condition, but let’s be honest – he may as well have been about getting your WhatsApp groups muddled. Or DM-ing something bitchy to the person it’s about. Or accidentally liking your crush’s Instagram from 78 weeks ago.

We can’t have been the only ones who got VERY excited at the recent news that we might soon be able to edit and delete WhatsApp messages after they’ve been sent (thank you, merciful social media gods!), or who’ve watched a whole friendship go up in flames because someone hit the ‘live’ button when they really, really shouldn’t have. But hey, let’s comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we’ve all done it (without Ed Balls tweeting his own name that one time in 2011, we wouldn’t have Ed Balls Day, your favourite national holiday after Christmas).

And once the initial burning humiliation fades, what you’re left with is a really, really good anecdote… Here are our faves.

“I tried to stalk someone I thought had deleted me on Facebook, but instead of searching their name I accidentally posted their name as my status. It was there for two whole days before I noticed.”

“Accidentally sent a picture reading ‘I LOVE YOU’ on FB messenger to someone I didn’t know very well.”

“In my first “proper” job I accidentally live tweeted my entire holiday to Japan from my work (GOVERNMENT!) Twitter account.”

“I received an unexpected Snapchat from my ex and in my mild (such an understatement) excitement I pulled a horrifying face that no one should really have to see, to send to my best friend proclaiming that he’d messaged. I sent it to him instead.”

“A friend was showing me an old FB message (from someone inappropriate who had been trying to pick her up), but sent them a massive thumbs-up emoji by accident.”

“Casual Sunday night stalking session on Instagram. I was new to iPhone and not used to the fact that iPhones don’t have the double tap to zoom on everything function… so I ended up liking a picture of the slightly less-than-sane girlfriend of someone I kind of know. Obvs I quickly unliked it, and she quickly made her profile private.”

“My BFF and I spent half an hour writing the perfect message to the guy she liked. After multiple drafts, we composed the *perfect* message; funny and flirty and totally easy breezy. In our excitement, we accidentally sent him one of the drafts and the final version. Easy breezy my arse.”

“Pulling a stupid face that really didn’t capture my best angles, which I meant to send to my bff but instead accidentally ended up adding to my Snapchat story.”

“A very nice boyfriend of mine who I was getting bored of sent me a v. long message lamenting that I’d been off with him for a while. I screenshotted the message and sent it to a friend saying “Oh no, he knows I want to dump him. What should I do?!”. But I sent it to the boyfriend by accident. Problem solved.”

“I once typed a long-winded excuse to cancel plans with someone later that day, but sent it instead of saving it – making my totally made-up excuse entirely implausible.”

“A boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend was stalking my Facebook and accidentally sent me a friend request. I asked him who she was, he asked her and THAT’S how she found out that she had sent the request. I assume she is dead from embarrassment now. Or living in a cave in the desert away from the internet forever.”

“In an exchange with a friend on Twitter I made a casual, bitchy reference to someone we went to school with years and years ago. Had no idea at all that she followed us both… until she replied to us both within five minutes. Ack.”

“I asked someone I really fancied about their recent trip to Wales. The only place they had mentioned the trip was in a long Twitter conversation with someone who I did not know at all. They looked confused, and I said ‘Oh, I think I’ve got you mixed up with someone else! Hahahahaha!’ BUT WE BOTH KNEW.”

“My boyfriend’s ex once followed me on Twitter – for three seconds. Sucks to be her.” 

“Messaged a friend saying ‘You can’t tell ANYONE… but Suzanne thinks she’s pregnant’. Then sent it (you guessed it) to Suzanne.”