Woman

Bent Out of Shape – Opening Chapter

Bent (throwing shade)

I’m quite excited at the impending release of my new book on Wednesday 1st July so I thought I’d share a snippet to tempt you all.

Hope you like it…and if you do, don’t forget to download the full book from Amazon on 1st July.

And if anyone would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review, please drop me a line :).

xoxo

Chapter 1

Lily stretched herself out on her sofa, hearing a soft click somewhere in her back. Brilliant. Not only had she consumed enough alcohol earlier to completely negate the effects of her detox, she had now slept in such an uncomfortable position that all that yoga had pretty much been a waste of time.

Stretching out again, she rolled herself off the sofa, reached for her glasses on the coffee table and walked through to the kitchen to drink as much water as she could physically consume. She was still dressed in the same clothes she had worn when she caught the flight home, vaguely remembering that because of the combination of being so tired so could barely function and the post-alcohol come-down, she had crashed out on her sofa, not even able to make it to the bedroom. She had managed to take her contact lenses out though, so that was one thing. The mix of hard liquor, a ten hour flight and the difference in times zones had really mucked her up.

Checking the little clock on her oven, she saw it was only 8PM, which explained why it was just starting to get dark outside. Peeking through the net curtain in the kitchen at the pink tinged sky, she tried to work out how her fear of flying had gotten the best of her this time. Normally it wasn’t too bad. She could usually try and ignore it, calming herself with her breathing then when she was in the air and the plane had levelled out, she could sometimes forget about it until landing. But this flight had been bumpy and that had made her so nervous, to the point she was convinced she was going to die. And the passenger seated next to her hadn’t helped matters.

Oh God.

Now it was all starting to come back to her. She had been feeling nervous enough about the long flight but she was hardly going to turn down an invitation to go out and stay at an old friend’s yoga retreat in China. Because the stipulation of the invitation from Faith had been that Lily would not be paying for a single thing during the two-week stay, Lily had decided to splurge and fly out First Class in an effort to try and make the flight more comfortable. The flight out had not been too bad. Then Lily had enjoyed the most relaxing two weeks of her life, catching up with her old friend and learning a lot of new techniques she would be able to use with her own classes. But then the flight home had ruined it all.

There had been a horrendous storm the day before which was just about easing when she took her seat on the plane. All of the airline crew she had asked on the way from the terminal to her seat had told her with a smile that the conditions were fine to travel and there was nothing to worry about. It was meant to comfort her, but it really didn’t. Then things got significantly worse when the man assigned to the seat next to her flopped into it.

She turned to give him a friendly acknowledgement seeing as they would be sat next to each other for ten hours but froze as soon as she got a proper look at him. For whatever imaginably cruel reason, some higher power had decided to seat her next to the bane of her childhood and adolescent life – Dylan Hawkins.

They had lived next door to each other all through their youth and had grown up together. Once they had realised their children were in the same Nursery class, both sets of parents jumped from politely saying good morning to each other when putting out the bins to becoming full-blown friends. Inevitable play dates followed as the families met up for a coffee in the afternoon or a barbeque on a Sunday during the summer. But Dylan didn’t seem to want to be friends with a girl, no matter how much his parents forced him. Throughout their childhood, he had constantly teased her because of her untameable curly red hair and from the age of six, the thick glasses she was required to wear and was quite happy to torment her with mud and worms. By the time they reached their adolescence, they were no longer forced to be friends and went their separate ways, save for the occasional Stewart-Hawkins get-together. They moved in very different circles at school. He had a natural charm and charisma that helped get him out of most of the trouble he was causing. Along with his bad-boy good looks, it seemed he could do no wrong. Lily on the other hand quietly plodded through school, focusing on her work, waiting for the awkward teenage years to finish.

She had managed to avoid him in the years since they’d left school and hadn’t seen him since they were about eighteen. She remembered he worked in London and spent his time there, very rarely visiting his parents, making them go to him instead. Thankfully in the eight years since they had finished school, she had never run into him at one of his parents’ summer barbeques or New Year’s Eve parties.

Dylan looked a lot different since she had last seen him. Gone was the floppy hair and the leather jacket, replaced with a shorter cut that was meticulously styled and a crisp, white shirt. But he did look a bit rumpled too. Strands of his dark brown hair were falling away from where he had applied product, there was a thick line of stubble across this jaw and it looked as if he had been wearing a suit but had abandoned the jacket and tie, rolling up the sleeves of the shirt up and leaving the top two buttons undone.

She knew vaguely what he looked like these days from pictures his mother had shown of him if they had crossed paths at some point, but in the flesh he looked so much better and it annoyed Lily no end. He was just the right amount of dishevelled to be incredibly attractive to most women. Not to Lily though – she was never going to find Dylan attractive.

He had given her a slow, easy smile in return and Lily almost breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t recognise her. She did look a lot different to the last time he had seen her after all. But then recognition flickered across his face.

“Lily? Lily Stewart?”

She tried to fix her face into a look of confusion, as if she didn’t know who he was, complete with a polite smile. “Yes?”

“It’s Dylan Hawkins. Wow, what are the odds we’re sat next to each other on a flight back from China?”

“Oh hi. Sorry, I didn’t recognise you.” Liar “How are you?”

“I’m really good. Flying home after a business trip. What brings you to this end of the world?”

“My friend just opened a yoga retreat in the mountains and invited me to stay for two weeks to try it out.”

He just continued to smile at her, as if he was genuinely glad to see her. “Mum did mention you teach yoga now. It definitely explains why you look so great.”

Her stomach gave a little flip at his compliment that she couldn’t stop. She even noticed his eyes drop down as if looking the length of her body. Well, if he thought he was going to charm her, he would be bitterly disappointed. In the latter years of school, he showed every sign of becoming a serial womaniser but Lily definitely wasn’t one of those giggling air-heads he seemed to have had a taste for.

“Excuse me madam?” One of the air hostesses who Lily had asked about the weather conditions on more than one occasion appeared next to Dylan’s seat. “I’ve been advised the weather has worsened ever so slightly so the plane may experience a bit of turbulence on take-off until we get into clearer skies. It’s absolutely nothing to worry about and is perfectly normal. I just wanted to let you know what would happen.”

“Thank you,” Lily managed to reply in a tone that did not convey the fear that was swelling inside of her.

“My pleasure,” she smiled back. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, no thank you.”

“Yes.” Dylan calmly cut across. “Can we get two glasses of the best whiskey you have on board please.”

After the stewardess tottered off with her new instructions, Dylan turned his attention back to Lily. “Nervous flyer?”

“Something like that,” she admitted.

“Best way to handle it is to have a drink,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I don’t drink.”

“Trust me, it will help. You don’t have to have more than one but it will take the edge off things and help relax you.”

She thought about arguing but short of getting off the plane and walking home, she didn’t really know what else to do and right now she was willing to try anything. So when the waitress returned with the two glasses, she followed Dylan’s lead and threw hers down her throat, coughing as it burned on the way down.

But it seemed the stewardess had been ill-informed and the turbulence was more intense and lasting longer than expected, so Lily began to make full use of the free drinks that came with the privilege of First Class. Dylan seemed to be trying to keep up in some weird kind of supportive gesture and was drinking the same amount as her, although admittedly was handling it slightly better. After a particularly bad jolt, she tensed up completely so Dylan reached across and grabbed her hand, giving it a comforting squeeze.

Even when she thought she was about die any second, she couldn’t ignore the electric shock that went through her when Dylan grabbed her hand. It even started to help take her mind off the flight because suddenly all she could think about was his skin on hers.

When the flight started to smooth and the seatbelt sign was finally switched off, Dylan didn’t let go of her hand. Instead he kept hold of it, both of their hands resting on the top of her thigh. When he began to lazily caress the side of her hand with his thumb, it all became too much.

Whether it was the idea that the plane could go down at any moment, that she had drunk more alcohol than she had in a very long time or the fact she hadn’t had sex in a while and the slightest physical contact was sending her mad, she suddenly became a lot braver. At this moment, she didn’t care about what else was going on, all she knew was that she wanted Dylan Hawkins. Now.

Surprising herself with her boldness, she leant over and whispered to him to meet her in toilet in thirty seconds. She caught the smile on his face when he worked out what was going on as she slipped past him into the aisle. Walking towards the toilet, she quickly glanced at the other passengers but no one was paying any attention. They were all either asleep or occupied with something else.

Stepping into the unoccupied toilet, she remembered not to lock the door and had just enough time to check her reflection in the mirror before Dylan stepped in, locked the door behind him then moved towards her with the look of a man possessed.

His lips crushed hers and his hands clamped on her hips as he pulled her against him. Not to be outdone, Lily matched his enthusiasm as she dug her hands into his hair and tangled her tongue with his. He practically growled and moved her so she was pressed against the wall, lodged between his hard body and said wall. His mouth left hers and he started to drag his tongue down her neck.

She was able to feel through his trousers how hard he already was and it only made her more desperate for him. She wrapped one leg around his waist in an attempt to press herself against his erection to relieve some of the frustration. The fact the plane seemed to be shaking helped immensely with this and she let out a moan the same time as Dylan.

One of his hands was now under her top, kneading her breast through the lace of her bra and it felt amazing. Wanting her hands on him as well, she fumbled with the zip of his trousers and shoved her hand into his boxers, causing him to release a sharp, hot breath against her collarbone. Her hand gripped at the firm flesh and as it twitched and seem to thicken at her touch, she felt a swell of pure, feminine pride.

Then something brought her to her senses.

Someone was knocking at the door. Gently but persistently. Even Dylan seemed to respond to this as his hands froze.

“Excuse me?” A voice came through the locked door. “I’m afraid we have hit a patch of bad weather and everyone is required to return to their seat.”

It was then that the magnitude of what Lily was doing struck her. She had almost joined the Mile-High club, with Dylan Hawkins of all people. But she had been interrupted just in time, although she did currently have her hand in his boxers.

“I think that probably puts an end to things.” Dylan whispered quietly against her ear, so close that she could feel his breath. He actually sounded disappointed. “Hopefully next time we won’t get interrupted.”

There definitely wasn’t going to a next time. There shouldn’t have even been a this time. If she hadn’t been questioning her own mortality, Lily would not be in such a comprising position. She definitely wouldn’t be flying for a very long time after this.

Dylan took a step back, trying to give her as much room as he possibly could in the tiny toilet, while he tucked his shirt back into his now fastened trousers. She caught sight of herself in the mirror looking very ruffled but knew trying to tame her hair wouldn’t make the situation any less embarrassing. Instead she straightened her top and unlocked the door, ready for the scolding she was about to receive.

Instead the stewardess smiled at her. “I’m sorry about this. We just need you to take your seats again while we work our way through the bad weather.”

She was actually apologising for interrupting them!

Lily was sure she had been committing some kind of criminal offense and the pretty air hostess in her neat little uniform was the one apologising to her. She even saw the woman’s eyes flick over to Dylan with an approving look. How often did this sort of thing really happen?

But as she regained full use of her senses, she could understand why they had to return to their seats. There was an awful lot of turbulence and now Lily had no outlet for her fear.

She turned around to look at Dylan, not overly sure what the etiquette was in this situation, but he looked back at her giving her a wry little smile. “You should go sit down. I’m going to need another minute or so.”

Oh God, of course he was.

Wondering if she would die from embarrassment before the plane even had a chance to crash, she hurried back down the aisle trying not to look too guilty, though none of the other passengers seemed to notice or care where she had been. Flopping down in her seat, she tried to ignore the shaking going on around her, but if she tried to push this out of her mind, it was replaced by the memory of Dylan’s hands skilfully caressing her.

Damn. Damn. Damn. She should never have come on this trip.

Dylan eventually took his seat again and looked over at her, although she couldn’t quite focus on him right now because the turbulence seemed to be getting worse. To her surprise, he reached across and took her hand again to try and comfort her. To her increased surprised, it actually helped.

Once they were apparently in the clear, the air crew started to come round with the meals. This meant Dylan had to let go of her hand so he could eat his food. Neither of them spoke and Lily silently picked at her food, desperately wanting this flight to end. Once the meal had been cleared away, Dylan seemed to drift into a deep sleep which she jealously tried to ignore. She would have loved to have slept for the rest of the flight but was too wound up to be able to, so instead she pulled her journal out and started to read through her entries from the last two weeks.

Finally, half an hour later than planned, the plane touched down on the tarmac and wonderful relief spread through her body. Soon she would be off this bloody plane and far away from Dylan Hawkins again.

Dylan made polite small talk with her to make sure she was ok as they headed back into the terminal but she noticed that he seemed to be trying to ensure he didn’t get too close. Not that she could blame him. Now he had slept off any alcohol, he was probably as embarrassed as she was about their little incident. He was probably thinking about all the names he used to call her when they were growing up, relieved nothing had actually happened with little Carrot Top.

As soon as she had her bag from the conveyor belt, she have him a curt goodbye and hastily walked through to Arrivals where both her parents were waiting for her, sporting matching smiles and a board with her name written on it. She hugged both of them and listened to her mother immediately start to wonder if Lily had been eating enough while she was away. If she had been hoping for a power nap on the drive home, she was sadly mistaken. Her parents wanted to hear all about the trip and so for the entire forty minute journey she answered their questions. When they dropped her back at her house, Lily promised she would be round for dinner tomorrow for some “wholesome English food” and then preceded the crash out on the sofa.

Now she knew she wasn’t going to sleep at a decent hour tonight because her internal body clock was all over the place, she made herself a cup of green tea and set her laptop down on her little kitchen table. Flicking through her notebook again, she started to type away at a blog post she was going to upload to the studio’s website.

She worked solidly until well after midnight when she went upstairs and tried to force herself to sleep. She finally drifted off but her restless sleep was filled with dreams of Dylan Hawkins and his annoyingly talented hands. When she woke the following morning, she was frustrated in more than one sense.

Apparently Dylan Hawkins was not happy unless he was tormenting her.

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5 Women To Inspire a Healthier Summer

You can tell we’re now into the summer months (even if the weather doesn’t quite feel like that) because everyone is now even more obsessed with the shape of their bodies. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people around me say “I’ll lose weight for when I go on holiday.”

The most important thing you need to remember is that if you want to lose weight, you need to do it for yourself and you should be doing it for a reason better than because you’re going on holiday. It should be because you want a healthy lifestyle. And to get a bikini body, just do this:-

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but very few real people actually look like those bikini models you see in all the magazines. Instead of worrying about how much you need to suck your stomach in, just enjoy your holiday instead. And remember, being healthy is so much better than being thin.

So if you’re looking to get healthier this summer, here are five women to help inspire you. It’s much easier to exercise when the sun is out and salads are much nicer when it’s not freezing!

  1. Cassie Ho

Since discovering Blogilates a couple of months ago, I’ve become a big fan of Cassie’s. All her workout videos are up on YouTube and are completely free. And, if you subscribe to her mailing list, you have access to a monthly exercise plan where you just do the workouts listed for that day. It’s probably about as simple as it gets…although you actually have to do the exercises too!

http://www.blogilates.com/

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  1. Krista Stryker 

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t exercise because “you don’t have time” then you need HIIT, which basically means you have no excuses!

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is all about short, sharp bursts of energy and can burn more calories than 1 hour of steady cardio. Krista’s workouts, part of the 12 Minute Athlete, are designed to push you hard in a short space of time. Her website features workouts and exercise demonstrations. And if you download the App, it comes with a very handy interval timer you can use if you’re brave enough to make your own workouts.

Also, check out Krista’s Instagram for some pretty impressive posts that make you want to try your hand at handstands!

http://www.12minuteathlete.com/about/

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  1. Kris Carr

One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that exercise counteracts all the bad things you eat. Trust me, it doesn’t work like that. The fact my diet isn’t as clean as it could be is probably the reason my body is strong enough to run a half-marathon but I don’t have athlete-style abs!

I first came across Kris Carr while watching the Hungry for Change documentary and her story is a truly inspiring one. After being diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer, she reassessed her lifestyle and used nutrition to boost her immune system.

It’s definitely worth doing some research on her and what she promotes these days. It should inspire you to add a few more greens to your plate at least!

http://kriscarr.com/about/about-kris/

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  1. Lucy Bee

Keeping on the topic of a healthy diet, we need to talk about Lucy Bee and her coconut oil. I definitely think coconut oil is now one of my must haves. It’s so versatile – I use it as a daily moisturiser, eye make-up remover, hair mask, to put in smoothies and as a cooking oil! The actual benefits of coconut oil are endless.

Lucy Bee’s coconut oil is ethically source, is organic and Vegan. Her website is full of tips for using the oil, however you want to use it, and if you follow her on social media, she’s always posting recipes for healthy eating, as well as just generally promoting a healthy lifestyle.

https://www.lucybee.co/about/

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  1. Emma Paveley

It’s pretty much a given that all athletes work incredibly hard and what they put their bodies through makes them more-than-human. The reason I picked Emma is because I used to work with her and saw first hand how much effort she put into everything. And along with all the morning gym workouts or using lunch breaks to practice routines, she was able to resist the many, many cakes our office is notorious for bringing in. If willpower was an Olympic sport, she deserved gold!

As well as being the current British Champion and World No 3. for bodybuilding and making the Ninja Warrior course look like a doddle, she’s now part of Team GB and will take part in Baku 2015. Check out her social media to see how she combines strength and flexibility, making it all look so easy and making you want to push yourself just a little harder.

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So there you have it – five women to help make this summer your healthiest yet. And if you are planning on honing your bikini body this year, do it because you want to and do it the right way! Remember, strong is the new skinny.

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xoxo

The Best and Worst Disney Princess Role Models

I have now seen the latest Cinderella film and have admit that I was a little bit hesitant of watching it. While I like the original, I think Cinderella is one of the more annoying of the Disney princesses. She doesn’t really have that much about her and seems to just cry and languish, while letting others deal with everything. That might have been ok in the fifties, but for more modern-day audiences, she just doesn’t have that much too her.

And don’t even get me started on her prince! He spends the night dancing with her and then apparently doesn’t remember what she looks like the next day. She was blonde – at least go with that for a start!

Thankfully the newest Cinderella manages to iron out the kinks from the animation. They give Ella more depth while still retaining the underlying fact that it is her kindness and hope that sees her through. And it’s a nice touch that she and the prince can have a conversation before the ball, making their relationship seem more believable and they initially begin to fall in love because of an intellectual attraction, as well as a physical one.

This got me thinking about the rest of the Disney princesses. While I’m a massive fan of Disney films, there a few of the princesses that are rather irritating when you think about it. Obviously, some of the problems are due to the time period they we released, when the depiction of women wasn’t quite the priority.

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                So here is my take on the best and worst Disney princess role models:-

The Best:-

Mulan – She disguises herself as a man to join the army and save her father, gets a Rocky-style montage and becomes the best soldier in the unit. Even when she gets found out (after saving everyone) she still goes on to save the whole of China.

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Merida – A Disney princess who refuses to marry and is still unmarried at the end of the film. And she’s handier with a bow and arrow than Katniss Everdeen.

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Elsa/Anna – A nice sign of Disney moving into the 21st century. We can have a queen without her having to have a king and both Elsa and Anna have a complete personality. There’s a nice inside joke that the idea of want to marry someone after only having just met them and the central love story is about sisterly love.

Jasmine – Nicely feisty and stands up for herself. And she’s more than happy to marry for love, even if he is a penniless orphan, instead of just choosing any old prince.

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The Worst:-

Aurora – Sleeping Beauty meets a stranger in the woods, doesn’t even know his name and then throws a strop when she won’t get the chance to see him when he turns up at her house, even though she’s just discovered she’s a princess. She’d rather entertain a stranger than finally get to meet her real parents after sixteen years. In the whole film, she only sings, dances, throws a hissy fit, sleeps and has awesome hair. That’s it really.

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Cinderella – Original Disney Cinderella doesn’t seem to have that much depth to her. While it follows the idea of being good and believing in magic so everything will work out ok in the end, Cinderella seems to just put up with her station in life, cries a few times, lets other people sort things out for her (a fairy godmother or pet mice) then falls in love with a man who can’t even remember what she looks like after a night of dancing with her.

Ariel – The Little Mermaid is probably one of my favourite Disney films but Ariel is a complete drip – although she is only sixteen, so maybe she can be forgiven for that. She willing trades her voice for legs, changing everything about her, all for a bloke she’s laid eyes on once and she’s supposed to rely simply on her looks to win him over. Not the greatest message for young girls.

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Obviously there’s a few more princesses who I haven’t included, mainly because I feel they’re kind of down the middle. While Rapunzel and Belle are better role models than some of the older Disney princesses, I don’t find Snow White that bad, if you take all things into consideration.

What do you think? Who would you include in the best and the worst?

Megan

xoxo

Happy International Women’s Day!

Although do we still need one? Surely we should have reached the point where we don’t need a special day to think about the achievements women have made throughout history? Surely that should just occur every day?

Sadly, we’re not quite at this point just yet, although I like to think we’re getting there. But to get there, everyone needs to work together. Women need each other – support your fellow woman, don’t judge her!

The important part of International Women’s Day is the international. Growing up in the UK, things are a lot more equal than in many countries. We have freedom, we have the right to vote, to drive, to work, to marry or not and a million other things we take for granted every single day. You don’t have to feel guilty for having these things but don’t squander the rights you do have. The General Election is right around the corner. Voting is a chance to do something that too many people in the world don’t get to do.

Just remember, anyone can do anything, regardless of gender, race or background. At the end of the day, we’re all human after all.

Oh, and in the interest of equality, there is an International Men’s Day too (19th November) – just so you know.

I’ll leave you now with just a few of my favourite quotes from women I greatly admire, in the spirit of IWD.

xoxo

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The Perfect Body Myth

After a very controversial “Perfect Body” campaign, Victoria’s Secrets have now put an end to it. People have had issues with the way they have paraded impossibly beautiful, slim (and probably slightly photo-shopped) models and essentially made a lot of women feel incredibly inferior. My main issue with it was with the proclamation of the “perfect” body. It’s not just Victoria’s Secret at fault here – most advertising these days uses impossibly beautiful women to flog their products, insinuating that you have to be a certain shape to be happy. It’s taken me just over 25 years to realise this, but there is actually no such thing as a perfect body.

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Like a snowflake, no two bodies are the same. People can exercise all day, every day and go through plastic surgery as much as they want, but stick two people side-by-side and there are always going to be differences. Straight away that contradicts this perfect body myth.

My second point is that beauty is subjective. Just because the modern day advertising machine tells us something is the epitome of beauty, is it really? One person’s idea of what they consider beautiful may differ greatly from the person standing next to them. Then there’s the cultural aspect to consider – one culture may consider one thing attractive but this could be the complete opposite to what a country on the other side of the world considers an attractive feature. You only need to take a look at the great Renaissance paintings to see how the concept of female beauty has changed over time. Today where size zero seems synonymous with being attractive, the subjects of these paintings had bodies that would might make them be considered “plus size” but some people (this being the days long before sit-ups and lunges) yet were considered beautiful.

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Besides, does anyone really want to chase this mythical beast that is perfect body?

I recently read an article by a woman who was doing exactly that and she discussed how having a “perfect” body made her incredibly unhappy. Society had made her believe that to be attractive, she had to be skinny so she spent a lot of time working out. However, when she was down to the weight she wanted to be, she realised her lifestyle and obsession was keeping her from having a relationship. She was so strict about what she ate, she couldn’t go out for dinner dates or generally do anything spontaneous, so her love life was non-existent. Trying to maintain this weight, she spent a lot of her free time in the gym, which in turn led to not having a social life as well.

While health is obviously really important, life is too short to become obsessed with body image. Yes, treat your body right, eat well and exercise – but don’t forget to have fun. Chocolate every so often is not going to kill you. The Victoria’s Secret Angels get that gig because they are obscenely attractive. The reason their roles are so coveted is because so few people actually fit the strict criteria. I’ve got nothing against these women. I think they are gorgeous and could happily stare at the likes of Doutzen Kroes or Alessandra Ambrosio for hours. But while they are stunning, just remember, they don’t represent to majority. And don’t forget, even these beautiful women get photo-shopped for their catalogue shoots (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/victorias-secret-photoshop-fail-doutzen_n_1840958.htm). If they need digitally altering, what chance to the rest of us have?

Love who you are and rock what you were given – be your own Angel. To repeat a great quote I heard recently, “don’t chase perfect, chase perfectly healthy“.

Today’s Amazing Woman – Ella Fitzgerald

I’m going to be trying this new thing where I’ll release a blog about a woman I idolise/admire on their birthday (or what would have been their birthday if they were still alive). Hopefully this will introduce people who may not know much about these women or their work and might even turn them into fans. So here goes the first one…

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If you’ve never listened to Ella Fitzgerald, firstly, what is wrong with you? Secondly, stop reading this and go listen to a couple of her songs. Seriously. Then come back.

 With unique, pitch-perfect vocals and an incredible ability to scat, she became a musical icon with a recording career spanning 59 years and over 70 albums, putting her own stamp on the Great American Songbook and performed with some of the greatest names in musical history – Sinatra, Armstrong, Gillespie, Ellington.  

 Born in Virginia on April 25th 1917, she was moved to Yonkers, New York at an early age and grew up with her mother, step-father and half-sister. Growing up, she was a popular child, self-described as a tomboy who aside from loving baseball, also loved dancing and singing. After her mother died when she was fifteen, Ella went to live with her aunt to escape her abusive step-father but her schooling suffered and she eventually started skipping it altogether. After running away from her Aunt’s, she took on various jobs to make some money including working as a lookout in a bordello. But she was soon picked up by the authorities and sent to a reform school, where she was regularly beaten. Eventually managing to run away, becoming a homeless teenager.

 But things started to turn around in 1934 when she won the chance to perform at an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem but her dreams of being a dancer ended there. She was due to go on after a dance act called the Edwards Sisters who drove the crowd wild. When she was called up, she knew she wouldn’t be able to follow their dance act because they had been too good. Instead she started to sing. The song Judy won the crowd over and this was the night doors were opened for Ella.

 She joined Chick Webb’s band as a singer in 1935 and found a new career along with a father figure who would look out for her. She went on the road with the band and would now spend the next five decades of her life “on the road”. But it was her 1938 recording of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” that brought her the attention she deserved. In 1942, she left the band (influenced by the death of Chick Webb) and embarked on a solo career.

 Despite her success, this was still the age of discrimination. While travelling, the bands regularly encountered commonplace racism, especially in the South where everything was still segregated. Norman Granz became a great asset in Ella’s life when he became her personal manager, aside from turning her into the superstar she became. Granz was a jazz producer who was well known for his anti-racist stance. He would pay black musicians the same amount as white musicians and would refuse to let a band play at a venue if there was a slightest hint of racism. But even in 1955, when she was a huge star, Ella was still being judged on her colour instead of her talent. It took a call from Marilyn Monroe to the owner of the Mocambo nightclub in West Hollywood for them to book Ella. Marilyn promised that if Ella performed, she would take a front row table every night there was a performance, which would obviously amount to incredible publicity for the club. So Ella was booked and became the first black performer at the club and would go on to sell-out a three week run. She went on to become a musical legend.

 But even though she was a superstar, her life never really became the fairy-tale she deserved. She had two failed marriages. The first was annulled when she realised she made a mistake after she found out Benny Kornegay was a criminal and drug dealer. Her second marriage to bassist Ray Brown, who she met while touring with the Dizzy Gillespie Band, ended in divorce after six years but was a mutual discussion when the couple realised they were spending too much time apart due to their careers. Despite her persona on stage, off stage she was plagued by shyness throughout her life and was very self-conscious of her appearance.  

 In her later life she suffered many bouts of illness, experiencing heart failure and exhaustion, as well as developing diabetes. In 1993, she had both legs amputated below the knee due to the diabetes and by the end of her life, was almost blind. She passed away on June 15th 1993.

 The fact her music is still so popular today is a true testament to her immense talent.

 On what would have been her 97th birthday, download a few of her songs (of which there are many), put your earphones in and relax in the presence of a true musical icon and generally inspirational woman.

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