100 lessons in life

I need to tell you about an interesting day I had a couple of years ago. A memorable one – for the wrong reasons.

Instead of walking with my usual head bowed, listening to music, trying to concentrate on not tripping up over small children or rogue squirrels (what the fuck are those little bastards on these days? They’re so brazen) I guess you could say I’d been looking ahead. Straight forward. Head held high.

Actually, what I’d really been looking at is beards. Fit beards EVERYWHERE. The kind that frequent coffee shops in London’s Soho (ahem, Fernandez & Wells) asking about the carbon footprint of a single Ecuadorian coco bean or some other wank. But frankly, hot beards can say whatever they want – because who is listening when you’re that pretty? No one, that’s who….

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We’re not great at calling things out in Britain. Perhaps it’s the stiff upper lip or extreme politeness, but when something uncomfortable happens, as a nation, we tend to seethe, inwardly. Sometimes you have to let things go for the sake of your sanity – as The Great British Bake Off’s 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain said of her experiences as a Muslim British-Bangladeshi woman: ‘I’ve had things thrown at me, been pushed and shoved. I expect to be verbally abused because it’s happened for years. I don’t retaliate. There’s a dignity in silence.’ But I’d argue that we’ve been quiet for long enough….

I’ve done it my entire life. I regret not being outraged at regularly being called by the name of the only other South Asian child in my year group at school. I should have challenged would-be suitors on dating websites who lauded my ‘exotic’ looks, followed by a comment about never having been with a ‘brown girl’. In my seven years as a beauty editor, at every new foundation launch, I should have objected to being told that my shade will ‘come later’, if at all. I should have said something, because when you trivialise any form of low-level racism, you make it OK for it to keep happening….

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I knew this girl at university, a friend of a friend. She was that kind of 70’s bohemian type (proper boho, rather than Sienna Miller-esque fash-boho) all velvet flares and bell-sleeved shirts. Her long brown hair fell into silky snakes around her shoulders, she wore zero make-up  – and I doubt she ever had. I’d never seen anything like her before. With my blue hair and fluro make-up I found her minimal aesthetic mesmerising. She was, and remains, the closest thing I’d ever seen to Patti Smith…

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