Sisters get all the glory. They’re in-built BFFs and take turns being bridesmaids. They borrow each other’s clothes and the older sister always teachers the younger one about periods and sex. Apparently.

I don’t have a sister. Instead, I have a lot of brothers. I always liked that about myself, as if I had anything to do with it.

I didn’t understand sisters; didn’t understand the way they could be screaming at each other over a pair of jeans one second, cuddling on the sofa the next. I would watch my friends fight with their sisters, hatred streaming out of their mouth, their faces red and vicious, completely unembarrassed by my presence. I would watch them storm out and slam the door, only to reappear ten minutes later and ask if they could borrow a phone charger, like nothing had ever happened.

People with sisters know how to fight. They know how to speak their mind. To let their emotions fly out of their mouth, rather than swallowing them whole.

Instead, I had three older brothers. Mostly, we conformed to stereotypes: they played lots of sports and I wore pink and complained when I was made to watch aforementioned sports. We never fought. Well, we did. But our fighting involved them tickling me until I cried or holding me, fully clothed over the pool while I screamed bloody murder. I wasn’t a defenseless kid, I would bite down until my entire dental records were ingrained on their skin, or pinch them until they let go of me. Our fighting was physical and fast and playful and almost always ended with our mother telling us to be nice to each other.

I liked our way of fighting. Actually, I still like our way of fighting, but it got harder as we got older and it became unacceptable for adults to throw each other in the pool or bite each other’s forearms.

monica-and-ross

These days, when we fight, our tactic is avoidance. We screen each other’s phone calls or let texts go unanswered until we’ve forgotten what we were cross about in the first place. We stew, wait for it to pass, put it aside. My family don’t work ‘through’ things, we work around them. I am always semi in awe of the people who are able to express their feelings. Those who deal with conflict head-on rather than running around the back and checking to see if the coast is clear before reemerging.

To be honest, my brothers and I rarely fight anymore. Mostly, they feel like my team mates. People who look like me and sound like me and remember the time our dad got airlifted out of the Australian desert because he had a headache that he was convinced was a tumour (it wasn’t).

We aren’t close in the way sisters often are, we don’t talk about relationships and we are perfectly content to let our mum collect and pass on our news, like some sort of loving, all-purpose media outlet.

But we are close in a different way. They call every so often just to make sure I’m doing ok. They are protective whenever I introduce them to a boyfriend. They randomly send me texts littered with emojis that I take to mean, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of you.’ They let me go halves on a birthday present for my dad if I can’t think of anything good to buy him. Having three older brothers feels a bit like having three bodyguards who each call you by a different childhood nickname.

Maybe, if I had had a sister, I would have been better at speaking my mind. I would have learnt how to deliver that verbal blow that sisters seem so adept at doing.

Instead, I had brothers. So I know exactly the spot on someone’s arm to pinch that will cause a bruise the next day and I know that there are a million ways to say ‘I love you’ without ever using the words. And who knows, maybe that’s just as useful.

Personally, I love family gatherings. Always have, ever since I was kid and family gatherings meant running amock with my cousins. Yet there’s no denying that with the onset of teenagehood, en mass family time becomes harder to bear. You don’t want to run amock with your cousins. You don’t want to run, period. But nor do you want to be grilled by your great uncle Pete on your GCSE, A level, degree and career choices when your whole brain is currently engaged in weighing up the relative merits of mum’s trifle versus aunt Anne’s cheesecake.
You need some survival tactics — some coping strategies you can employ when tensions are high and the conversation is low. Listen closely then, to the following advice. Because if anyone knows how to ride out an awkward family situation, it’s the girl with two stepparents, six step siblings, 10 cousins and more uncles, aunts and step uncles and aunts than you can shake an angry stick at…

Find a safe space

There will be moments when the atmosphere in the room is tense enough to tightrope on. These are the moments to find yourself suddenly and urgently needing the loo. You don’t actually have to go to the loo: in fact it’s probably best if you don’t, as you can bet your bottom penny you won’t be the only one with that escape route— but do, before you get stuck into the family time, scope out a quiet hiding place to which you can retreat when the going gets sticky. Mine was my grandad’s workshop — but I can also recommend attics, garages, large cupboards and the upper branches of an easily climbed tree.

Go armed with life choices

These do not need to be set in stone. They don’t even need to be real, in fact — but they need to be delivered with conviction. If it’s sociology and biology A-Levels followed by a stint on Love Island, you need to be as confident and positive about it as you might be a degree in law. See each family gathering as a dry run to a meeting with your careers advisor — we’ve loads of excellent betty guides here — and once great uncle Pete has dredged your entire future, turn the tables on him: nothing stops the Spanish inquisition like another Spanish inquisition.

Consider it an act of charity

For Pete’s sake, if no one else’s. You might not be living for the family do, but for the older members it’s probably the highlight of their social calendar: they’ll be dining off these memories until the next one comes around. Make them worth their chewing on – out of loving duty, preferably, but if it is easier to consider it your good deed of the week, then sure. Show them some affection, tell them your stories, ask questions and pay attention when they reply to you. What is the smallest sacrifice on your part – time – will be rewarded many times over by the pleasure you’ll give them – and besides, you may find you learn something. You don’t get to their age without racking up a fair few experiences, and, having grown up in a very different time to your own, their old tales are quite literally portals to another world.

Initiate games

My family are big game players: cards, Boggle, Pass the Bomb, Pit, Chinese Chequers, Rummikub, rounders, cricket: if it involves fighting each other to the death via the medium of a board or a pitch, we’re all over it. It makes for the perfect failsafe should conversation take a turn for the awkward, and – whisper it – it’s actually pretty fun. If your family don’t have any go-to games yet, initiate some. There’s plenty to choose from, and you can bend the rules to accommodate age and ability. Sure, you’ll be at each other’s throats by the end of it – but at least you’ll be arguing about spades and aces rather than the inheritance from your great aunt.

Help out

If all else fails – and there is a certain arm of my sprawling family for whom I have as much tolerance as I do a bluebottle trapped in a strip light – throw yourself into helping clear dishes, wash up, set tables and stir gravy with all the enthusiasm of those little mice in Cinderella. You’ll get brownie points AND you can minimise all unwanted contact with the fam.

Image: Katie Edmunds

Whether your dream bedroom is pretty and pink like Betty’s in Riverdale, or sleek and chic like Serena’s in Gossip Girl, we’ll bet there’s one thing you definitely don’t want in it – your sister.

But sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to sharing a room, and it can be pretty frustrating. No privacy, conflicting sleep schedules and having to live among all their junk does not make for harmonious sisterly love!

Sharing a room is not ideal, but it’s also not impossible. These top tips will help you keep the peace.

1. Remember it’s not forever

First things first, no matter how annoying your sister is and how much you feel like screaming every time you’re in your room together, remember it’s only temporary. One day you’ll have your very own room and you can do what you like with it. You could start a Pinterest board to plan exactly how it’ll look – it’ll give you something to focus on when she starts snoring again or after you’ve tripped over her shoes for the millionth time.

2. Don’t be petty

It might be tempting to literally draw a line down the middle of the room but that just makes things awkward for everyone. Agree that you’re both allowed to move around freely – within reason, of course. Sprawling across her bed because yours is covered in laundry isn’t cool.

3. Schedule some private time

Privacy pretty much goes out the window when you share a bedroom, but it’s important you get some time to yourself occasionally. Try striking a deal for some regular ‘me time’; perhaps she could watch her favourite TV show in the lounge each week, while you could take the dog for a walk on a designated evening?

4. Share and share alike

Set some ground rules for sharing your stuff. It’s probably a bit unreasonable to flat out refuse to lend her any of your clothes, because chances are she’s got something you’ll want to borrow, too. Agree that any borrowing requests must be made with plenty of notice – no sneaky pinching!

5. Keep it clean

Living with a slob is a clean freak’s worst nightmare – but it’s not much fun living with someone who has tantrums over mug coasters, either! Try to keep your mess to a minimum, and schedule some time once or twice a month to give your room a good clean together, so you feel like you’re putting in equal effort.

6. Respect each other’s sleep schedules

Sleep deprivation is horrible, and if you’re not getting to sleep early enough or you’re being woken up too early, you’re going to be tired, cranky and miserable. Decide on ‘quiet hours’ – say 10pm until 7am – where you both make the effort to keep noise to a minimum. Ask your parents to pick up some low wattage light bulbs the next time they do the weekly shop too so you’re not blinding each other if you need the light on in the night.

7. Make your space your own

You’re probably never going to agree on a décor theme, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put your stamp on your area of the room, whether that’s draping fairy lights around your headboard or putting a funky rug down beside your bed. There’s loads of shared-room interiors inspo Pinterest to get you started.

8. Get your parents onside

Chances are, your parents aren’t super happy about you having to share a room either, simply because they know it’s going to result in arguments now and then. But at times it’ll feel like they don’t care about your situation – after all, they chose to share a room. But if something is really bothering you and you’ve already tried talking to your sister, speak to your parents about it. Keep a cool head and explain that you’d like their help in sorting out the problem. It’s much harder for them to say no to something if you’re reasonable about it.

9. Remember it’s no fun for them either

It’s easy to focus on how much it sucks for you to have to share a room, but your sister probably isn’t that happy about it either. Next time you’re about to lose your temper with her, take a deep breath and try to remember that you’re probably just as annoying in her eyes. You’re both in this together, which means sometimes just letting things go.

10. Enjoy it

Sharing a room with your sister can be a right pain, but it can also be a lot of fun. You’ve got someone there when you’ve had a bad day, someone to chat with late into the night and someone to have a giggle with 24/7 – you’ll never feel lonely. Make the most of it – you might miss it one day!

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I remember vividly the quivering sense of excitement I felt when my parents told me I was going to have a brother or sister. A playmate, I cried! After six long years of solitude, I was finally being rewarded with a partner in crime; a bad guy to my good guy; a fellow cast member with which to share the makeshift stage. For nine months I dreamed of all that we’d do together. His Action Man could save my Barbie — or, if he was a girl, her Barbie and mine could fight for Ken’s affections!

Looking back, my doll games were fairly limited in their plot lines, and in their depressingly conformist gender roles. More ambitious plans included reaching the top of the apple tree (I’d stand on their shoulders), forming a secret club of secrets (I’d be Club Captain), and reenacting the Little Mermaid in the paddling pool.

His arrival did not disappoint me. Sure he was small, but that was surely a temporary impediment. Patiently I pushed toy cars at him, placed Action Man in his tiny hands, and dressed him up in dresses, tiaras or dog masks according to the stage production or my mood.

Often I lost patience: WHEN would he just grow up! I’d shout, as he poked his tongue through the holes of the tennis racket I’d given him, picked up the ball and chewed it obliviously — and really, by the time he really was of Action Man playing age, I’d almost lost interest. I was 13 and had more important things to think about than dolls with contourless plastic for genitals — until an idle moment, rain and a sudden urge for silliness showed me the error of my ways.

You’ll be hilarious (simply because you’re older)

Whatever you do or say will be automatically far funnier than anything their minds can even conceive of (caveat: this only works up to a certain age — then they’re funnier than you).

There is no pressure

You don’t have to do or be anything other than their older sister. You can have a face like a slapped arse and be wearing your gran’s body warmer and they’ll still think you are the coolest thing in the world.

They’ll laugh you out of your moods

Either because they’ll do, or say something stupid, or because it’s actually impossible to run around the garden ‘riding’ a cane with your dad’s sock stuffed full of plastic bags tied to the end, with a horse’s face drawn on, and not crack a smile.

They will love you for it

In world in which people are increasingly hard to please, the simple offering of half an hour of your time will earn you no end of devotion from them, and your parents praise.

You don’t have to be cool

In fact, the more silly you are, the better. Hoover their foot. Shoot them with a banana. Steal their hat and run off with it. Make farting noises or, better still, actually fart at them — then run out and shut the door.

You can abuse them

See above. Obviously don’t punch them or anything. At least, not hard. Or too near their eye area. But by and large, when it comes to siblings, you can metaphorically speaking go for broke.

You’ll be good with kids

Being able to entertain the younger members of your family is the best possible preparation for being an adult who can speak to children without sounding like a simpering idiot — and ultimately, for having a good relationship with your own kids.

You’ll help your parents

Spare a thought for the ‘rents. They’ve only just got you to the feeding, speaking and walking stage, now they’ve got to go and do it all again in what must seem like a never-ending carousel of childcare. Take them off their hands for ten minutes or so and you’ll earn some serious brownie points — not to mention bargaining power when it comes to your next big night out.

You’ll be friends forever

Yeah, it’s taken some time — but 20 years later that that tiny, wailing, flopping thing was worth the investment. My brother has picked me up when I’m down, shot me down when I’m up myself, ferried me from parties, airports and train stations and built various bits of furniture. They may be as irritating as eczema, sunburn and hives all rolled into one, but trust me: in every sibling there lies a potential best friend.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

You will apply it too late

This is, by any means, a piece of advice — you really shouldn’t do this — but if you’re anything like me, the moment SPF flits across your mind will be the moment someone says helpfully, “you’re looking a little bit red on your face, love. D’you want some cream?”

You will apply too little

Leaving four perfect little finger lines where you slapped it onto your back, moved your hand around a bit, then got distracted by a beach ball game.

You will apply too much

Leaving you wandering around like Casper the Friendly Ghost, holding out your sticky paws and asking “suncream anyone? Anyone for some some cream?” in attempt to literally palm the stuff off on your mates.

It will get on your favourite top

Leaving a greasy, blotchy, sunproof souvenir of Tenerife ’17 you neither wanted nor needed.

Someone will slip on it

Because it is, let’s face it, nigh on impossible to succeed in the thorough application of suncream without leaving a little oil slick around where you’ve creamed your feet.

The spray nozzle will clog up

Either it will spurt out in unexpected directions (probably into your eye), or it won’t spurt at all; it will just dribble feebly down the sides of the bottle. This means that in order to access the cream, you’ll have to open it — but you can’t do that because it’s too greasy, and you can’t wash it off because it’s waterproof suncream, so in the end you just have to resign to creaming up, splurty dribble by splurty dribble, until the sun goes behind a cloud and the whole sorry exercise comes to nought.

Somebody will have the smart remarkably stupid idea of writing their/their crushes initials in suncream on their chest

Not that this doesn’t work guys — it really does, and all too well — but the burning pain slash shame of having CF 4 PT tattooed across your torso will almost certainly outlive its comedic value.

It will get in your eyes

Think you’ve washed the bugger off? Well think again, maestro! Because you can bet your bottom Euro that the moment you go to scratch your eye will be the moment a searingly painful droplet of SPF 30 will appear out of nowhere and leave you in an unreasonable amount of pain.

You’ll be covered with sand

Sand on your hands, sand behind your knees, sand in your bikini, sand in your ears: where there’s suncream, there’s sand, just as where there are picnics, there are flying, stinging creatures. It’s just one of those things.

You’ll taste it

A faint, sour tang of SPF in every post-application mouthful or sip.

You’ll leave an oil slick in the pool when you dive in

Rendering it slightly less attractive for all other users, to whom you feel compelled to point out it’s suncream, not your own sweat and dirt. Then, when you get out, it gets out, running into your eyes/mouth again.

After the pool, you’ll have to re-apply it

And you’re back to #1 again. *face palm*

Image: Katie Edmunds

The realisation that your parents are actual people can be horrifying.

It’s like seeing one of your teachers outside of school, or Matthew Perry playing a character that isn’t Chandler.

You get used to seeing your parents in certain, parenty roles and it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that they exist outside of that realm; that they forget birthdays, that they send needy messages, that they feel fat some days, that they fall in love.

That they fall out of love.

And they also go through break ups.

For some people, when their parents break up, it can feel like their entire world is crumbling around them. As though the stable life they have always known has been blown apart.

For others it can feel like an enormous relief, an end to an unhappy household and parents who fight all the time.

But even if you expect it to happen, even if you knew it was coming, it can still hurt like hell.

I was seventeen when my parents broke up and I didn’t see it coming.

I was wrapped up in my own life. I was taking my final exams, I was navigating my way through my own, very intense relationship, I was trying to decide what I wanted to study at university. I didn’t notice the other things that were going on in our house.

I didn’t see that my parents were hardly talking anymore. I clocked that my mum was crying a lot, but I put that down to her becoming more emotional as she got older. I was aware that my dad was coming into my room more often to hang out, but I thought it was because he was worried about me going away to university next year and having an ‘empty nest’.

But when they finally told me, I felt the pieces click into place. I felt stupid and self-absorbed and confused. I had no idea what to say or what to do or how to act.

I mistakenly thought that because my parents had survived four children, five different cities and 30 years of marriage, that they were somehow immune from divorce.

When dad moved out, my boyfriend helped me pack all my dad’s clothes into big black bin bags and stuff them in the back of my car. We counted up all the spare change in his top drawer, separated it into different currencies and took it to the bank. We made cookies with my new Christmas-shaped cookie cutters.

I remember holding my mother as she cried and realising that I had never been the one doing the holding, I was always the one being held. My mother had spent her whole life taking care of me, and now I decided it was time for me to take care of her. And sometimes, she’d let me.

I would go to the supermarket and return armed with what I considered precisely the amount of chocolate to cure her broken heart. We would lie curled on the sofa watching films and she would fall asleep resting her head on my shoulder. When the film was over I would carefully nudge her awake and tell her ‘it’s bedtime,’ while I turned off the lights in the living room.

My parents got back together in the end, so I guess I was luckier than most. Now, they hold hands like teenagers who can’t bear the idea of being apart.

And sure, it was a crappy, emotional, chocolate-filled time but I learned a lot from the experience. The thing that stuck with me the most was that sometimes adults will act like teenagers and sometimes teenagers will act like adults. After all, we’re all just people in the end.

Image: Getty

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 am a sucker for romance. I have watched pretty much every two-and-a-half star romantic comedy there is. I’ve pined along with Elizabeth for Mr Darcy, even though I still think he’s a grumpy arsehole. I’m the first person my friends call when they have a new crush because I know all the right moments to ‘ohhh’ and ‘ahhh’ at their story. 

So it wasn’t exactly surprising that in the early years of being a teenager I fancied my friends’ older brothers. Not just one of my friends’ – I fancied ALL of their older brothers.

I didn’t discriminate on anything so trivial as age or appearance or sexual orientation. If you were my friend between the ages of 10 and 15 and you had an older brother, I fancied him. There is literally no exception to this rule.

I went to an all girls’ school from 12 to 15, or what I refer to as ‘The Oestrogen Years’. While other girls in my school would go to dances on Friday nights and meet boys, I went to debating and ate chips in the park with my teammates. On the bus home from school, other girls would flirt with the boys at the back of the bus, while I would sing loudly along to 90s songs with one of my friends.

I was scared of boys I didn’t know. My tongue would go thick in my mouth and I would end up shouting at them by mistake.

But my friends’ brothers? They were boys I knew. I saw them on a semi-regular basis, but never had to spend time with them one-on-one, which as far as I was concerned was the ideal amount of interaction.

My friends would drop crumbs of information about them – they liked maths, they went to see the new Star Wars movie, they were allergic to yoghurt – that I would feverishly collect with the same enthusiasm most people reserve for actual hobbies. I would use these pieces of information to adapt my daydreams of our eventual relationship to ones that included Yoda or excluded Yeo Valley.

Naturally, I had elaborate fantasies about how our relationship would go.

I imagined watching a movie, something funny and probably featuring Owen Wilson, when his arm subtly started edging closer to mine. The completely wonderful and secret kissing, where our teeth would never, ever, knock together. The conversation with my friend who would give me her complete blessing because she knew I was excellent and her brother was excellent and she wanted us both to be excellent together. Obviously.

I imagined the declaration of love that would make me weak in the knees. The eventual Loss Of Virginity. The wedding, where of course my friend would be my maid of honour and make a hilarious, yet deeply moving speech about how we were meant for each other.

I’m almost certain these boys had no idea I existed. A fact that one of them confirmed when I did eventually kiss him, a few years after I emerged from my obsessive bubble.

“When did you start fancying me?” I asked, hoping he would reveal that he had been pining for me for years. That my obsession with him wasn’t one-sided, but rather completely requited.

“I dunno,” he replied. “When you got hot?”

Yep, he was a regular Casanova. This answer was also unhelpful in a myriad of ways.

Firstly, it implies I wasn’t always hot. Which is obviously false. Secondly, even if I wasn’t hot (which I was), my personality is rockin’. How dare he overlook my passion for US politics, my weakness for videos of unlikely animal friends and my admirable loyalty to both of these topics throughout all the years he’s known me? Thirdly, it gives me no clear time line. Lastly, it was wildly unromantic and not at all like the script I had prepared in my head.

Being in love with your friends’ brothers can be difficult. Especially when you’re in love with eight of them simultaneously. And in real life, it might not work out anything like in your head. But hey, a girl can still dream.

Dear Me,

All that stuff that makes you different to the other girls at school? Being brown, Pakistani and Muslim? You don’t have to hide any of it.

Don’t be embarrassed about praying at home with family, learning Urdu, going to the mosque and wearing shalwar kameez. Those family moments that you purposefully kept separate from your school life will make the sweetest of memories that will one day brighten up your homesick soul. Also, if other people haven’t realised that a shalwar kameez is as comfy as a pair of pyjamas and doubles as an acceptable form of daywear, it’s their loss.

I understand why you hate speaking up and try to hide among the many, instead of standing out amid the few. All this uncertainty is necessary right now because you’re choosing who you want to be and listening before speaking. But, that doesn’t give you a free pass to edit out your opinions and experiences because they don’t match everyone else’s. Like a ghost hiding in the shadows, don’t be left shapeless and voiceless. Be seen.

Remember this: those who are the loudest in the crowd haven’t always got it down. Say what you want even if it first comes out in a whisper – softly speak the truth and people will listen harder until you gain the confidence to shout it out. Once you can shout, make it a point to listen to others.

Your unique voice is the very thing that will fuel your career. I know you want to be a postal clerk working in a quiet back office in solitude listening to Bollywood songs on headphones; but tough luck, one day you’ll be a writer with an attitude. You’ll write for the Muslim girls of today so they don’t feel like you did (as out of place as a baguette in a gluten-free pantry) because if you don’t, who will?

Believe in yourself. One day you’ll lecture university students and be on the radio, you’ll pitch to magazine editors and move on after every rejection while fighting the urge to vomit after putting yourself out there (unfortunately that feeling never goes away so you may as well get used to it). Get all the comfort you need from family and friends, but be bolder and do the scarier stuff at school. It gets less terrifying the more you do it.

Work on improving your Urdu vocabulary because it will give you the tools to communicate better with your relatives and learn about your history. Make your dad another cuppa. One day you’ll be too far away to do it and miss sprinkling sweetener in his tea and dipping a digestive in it while he’s not looking. Believe your mum when she tells you that you’re beautiful, even though you feel like you look like a baked potato with curly hair. She may cook stinky food that makes your clothes smell and put a sour spice mix on her fruit salad, but soon balsamic strawberries will be all the rage and her Pakistani habits won’t sound so weird anymore.

Some girls will never ‘get’ you and criticise everything over the next few years, like why you wear a long skirt to school, don’t have a boyfriend and don’t drink alcohol. They are not your people. Instead of bootstrapping your way through those conversations, make friends with like-minded girls.

That empathy that you’ve got in spades? Hold on to it. Feeling affected by people’s pain is a good thing. Being sensitive is not a character flaw despite what the arrogant know-it-alls might tell you. Sensitivity is a route to compassion, to understanding human nature and to a better awareness that everything you say or do has a direct impact on the feelings of others. Next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, remember it’s just because they don’t like your valid reaction to their unacceptable behaviour. Thank them for the compliment.

Not everyone experiences the special sweet spot between two cultures. Your perspective is rare and interesting so don’t make a secret of your superpower. Instead of dimming your brilliance, shine like a star.

Love,

Me x

@javaria_akbar

We’ve mentioned volunteering quite a bit at betty, but we’ve never actually properly explained how to volunteer, or why you should in the first place.

So, here we are: betty’s guide to the wonderful world of volunteering!

I mean, why would I WANT to volunteer?

It’s a very good question. Why WOULD you want to volunteer when it takes up a lot of your time and you don’t even get paid for it? Well, here are just a few benefits we can think of:

– You’re supporting others or a cause in need
– You’ll make a bunch of cool friends
– You’ll learn loads of skills for free
– You can even get qualifications for free!
– You can learn a lot about yourself, what you love and what you’re good at
– You can even volunteer FROM HOME?!
– It looks bloody great on your CV
– It can even lead to a permanent job

Happy Wednesday! ☀️🌟✨

A post shared by Do-it.org (@doitvolunteering) on

That actually sounds cool. But is it super serious like a job?

Nope! It doesn’t have to be. Fair enough, you often have to formally dedicate a certain amount of hours when you volunteer, but that’s only so the charity or organisation can keep a track of who’s doing what when, and so they know just how dedicated you will be (very dedicated, because you are obviously awesome).

But because it’s voluntary work and therefore you aren’t getting paid for your time, you aren’t bound into a life or death contract. We promise. If you find the role isn’t for you, that’s totally ok. You can let them know and pull out.

That’s fair enough. So where can I find these volunteering roles?

Another very good question. It’s all well and good saying GO AND VOLUNTEER but, um, where do you start?! Thankfully, there are a couple of great websites that cater exactly to this need:

Do-it is a wonderfully simple platform to find the best volunteering opportunities for you. They allow you to filter your search down to even ‘volunteering from home’ opportunities (yeah, they exist, we told you!) and is a super easy website to use.

We love to share your volunteering stories to inspire others! Email hello@do-it.org to get involved ✌️

A post shared by Do-it.org (@doitvolunteering) on

vInspired is a charity helping 14 – 25 year olds get into volunteering. You can filter your search right down and, if you can’t find the thing you’re passionate about, they can even help you set up your own voluntary project! Pretty badass.

Volunteering Matters focuses more on the importance of volunteering in your local community to support the most vulnerable. Look at their Instagram – everyone’s having SUCH A GOOD TIME.

And here are some charities (and, um, search engines…) who are looking for brilliant young people like you…

The Mix is a charity supporting under 25s in the UK and a lot of their services rely on volunteers. As they’re passionate about peer-to-peer support, a lot of their opportunities are 16+ AND they offer those sweet, free qualifications. We’ve heard they get pizza in during their training sessions too. Just saying.

parkrun isn’t just for those who like running. The weekly, free, timed 5k runs all over the UK wouldn’t exist without volunteers. Literally – they organise the whole thing! There are a number of roles available, you’ll make a load of friends, and be so stupendously inspired by all the different people who take part.

Girlguiding offers volunteering opportunities for those still in school and beyond. Thought Girlguiding was old-fashioned and embarrassing? WRONG. Girlguiding has grown into a strong, feminist, modern movement and GOD we wish we could go back and join them.

Google. Apols for being basic, but you can always just search for opportunities in your local area. There will always be something available, from volunteering in schools to volunteering in parks and green spaces.

Also, don’t forget big events! Huge sporting events like the Olympics always rely on hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, so it’s always worth searching their official websites. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of something incredible.

I feel like you have something else to say…

YES. Sorry. I’m passionate, ok.

Volunteering doesn’t just stop at the end of your volunteering shift. When you’re a volunteer, you should just want to help and support people, causes, and organisations full stop. And opportunities could come at you at any moment.

After the tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, hundreds and hundreds of people came out to volunteer their time and donate clothes, bedding, and toiletries etc to those affected. That included young people, too. We were pretty inspired and motivated (and emotional) at the video below of the human chain of teenagers volunteering to help.

We’re not saying you have to go out and volunteer after every tragedy like this – sometimes it can be dangerous, and you definitely shouldn’t wander down on your own without an adult – but often you can feel useless after something horrible happens, so it’s always worth seeing if there’s something you can do, however small, to help.

Alright, you’ve persuaded me. I’m going to volunteer!

YAAAAAAS. We’re proud of you. Go forth and do good. The world needs you.

@louisejonesetc

You know what it’s like. You’re a fun, cool, sociable person. Of course you are! And fun, cool, sociable opportunities are always coming your way. People probably invite you to hang after school EVERY DAY, and shower you with you party fliers in the corridor, like your life is an early noughties high school movie. Of course they do!

But sometimes you get one of these potentially life-enhancing invites when you’ve already agreed to do something less amazing. Like go to a woodwind concert, or babysit your cousin. Or watch three hours of competitive snooker because your friend has a crush on the guy who chalks the cues.

Also, sometimes you can’t be arsed. Just plain can’t be arsed. You have nothing better to do except lie on your bed refreshing Instagram with a jumbo bag of Popchips but babe, that’s what your heart wants tonight. And so you need a killer excuse.

Here are 21, just for you. You’re welcome.

1. “I’m doing a sponsored walk! To somewhere in the opposite direction.”

2. “I just realised there is still so much of the patriarchy to smash.”

3. “My sea monkeys get lonely.”

4. “The weather looks humid, and a frizz halo goes better with my other jeans.”

5. “I’m doing a sponsored silence. I shouldn’t even have told you that.”

6. “I have this weird feeling that today might be the day my Hogwarts letter arrives.”

7. “My parents called a family meeting tonight, and now I have to send an urgent email to my lawyers.”

8. “There’s somebody going that I have a DEADLY RIVALRY with.” (Refuse to explain)

9. “I’ve JUST realised my tampon’s been in for 7 hours and 45 minutes!”

10. “I’m doing a sponsored… bath.”

11. “I’ve suddenly become allergic to sunlight. But only between the hours of 3pm and 7pm.”

12. “Taylor Swift has run out of people in America to be in her squad and I heard she’s going to start recruiting in the UK.”

13. “My bullet journal really needs updating.”

14. “If I don’t do a five hour hair mask once a week, it might all just… fall out.”

15. “I’m having a bilious attack!” (This one relies on them, like us, having basically no idea what a bilious attack is)

16. “I have to go home and mist my cactus.”

17. “I’m sorry, I just have so many software updates to install.”

18. “I put the slow cooker on 6 hours ago and my beef is about to reach peak tenderness.”

19. “The moon is pulling me magnetically towards my sofa. Not me – the moon!”

20. “I need to get home to cancel my month’s free trial of Amazon Prime before my mum gets charged.”

Or of course, just channel Phoebe Buffay:

21. “I wish I could, but I don’t want to.”

@laurenbravo

I think I was seven or eight the day I cried to my mum about just wanting a cake with candles.

I pleaded so much that she brought out the Victoria sponge with raspberry jam that she had just made, stuck a dinner candle on top and lit it. ‘Are you happy now?’ I wiped my eyes and nodded, because for a moment I think I genuinely was. I made a wish like I had seen on TV – probably for Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin to be my boyfriend, yuck – then blew out the candle. I don’t even think it was my actual birthday.

The joy quickly went away though as I looked at the once perfectly good cake now with blobs of wax and a gaping hole in it, and waited for a call from Macaulay that never came. What a letdown. I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about, but I was glad that I finally got an insight into the ritual that seemed to be the norm for everyone else but me.

I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, a Christian subsect that views many aspects of society as morally corrupt and, cheerily, believe that the world is due to end any minute now. Basically, Witnesses believe that living according to their interpretation of the Bible will mean that once the world ends, they will be rewarded with eternal life. And while it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible that birthdays are bad, Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays as they believe they are rooted in pagan origins and therefore a big no-no to God.

As an adult, the reasoning behind JWs not doing birthdays (as well as Christmas, Halloween and other ‘worldly’ practices) makes more sense to me – but as a kid with little understanding of what the point of religion even was, it was mostly just embarrassing and silly. What kind of god hates cake, presents and a cute song? And I constantly felt guilty for being naturally excited about turning a year older.

This isn’t to say the lives of Jehovah’s Witness children all over the world are grim. I still got presents and stuff, just sprinkled throughout the year for no reason at all, and there were always parties for some reason or another. I was pretty lucky in that my mum understood how confusing being part of a world-critical religion but having to, you know, be a part of the world, could be for a kid. A lot of Witness families are much stricter though. I remember one boy in the year below me at my primary school whose parents requested he sit out of the end of Autumn term assemblies so that he didn’t have to sing the Christmas carols. I think the most important thing in my family was that we had a solid foundation and understanding of the faith but weren’t given an excuse to be made to feel like weirdos, especially at an age when that can happen easily enough without even bringing religion into the mix. 

Over the course of my teens, my family gradually stopped being practicing Witnesses. Conveniently, this was also at a time I was increasingly convinced that it was in no way the faith for me. So the first time I had a proper birthday cake with real candles and actual icing, I was 18. This time it felt a little more magical (although that could have been the cocktails). I can’t remember what I wished for but I remember not having that guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was doing something wrong.

I’ve still never had a big party though, I don’t really see the point when I managed my entire childhood without one. Now I see birthdays as a time to reflect on how much I’ve grown over the past year and where I hope the next year will take me, whether that’s spent amongst friends and family or alone. But either way, I’m always happy to catch up on all the cake I missed.

@KirbyAfua