The Only Self-Help Guide You’ll Ever Need


Being a ‘good girl’ can be draining at the best of times, and at its worst, it can lead to terrible anxiety and self-doubt, something I’ve got plenty experience of. For there are so many things to consider at all times:

–   Am I polite enough?

–   Do people like me? And if they don’t, what have I done wrong?

–   Am I making the right decisions?

–   Am I a good mother?

–   Am I a good wife?

–   Have I neglected my duties as a sister, daughter, granddaughter, friend, etc.?

–   Have I forgotten anyone’s birthday?

–   Is the house clean enough?

–   Are my children eating too much sugar?

–   Should I put some make-up on to look more pleasing?

–   Am I pretty enough?

–   Am I too fat? Do I need to lose weight?

–   Have I offended anyone?

–   Am I good enough?

–   Did I miss something out on this list?

And so the list goes on ad infinitum.

As if the stress of being a good girl wasn’t enough, I’ve got shelves-loads full of self-help books designed to help me improve myself. But guess what? I’m chucking them all out. Why? Because I’ve found the ultimate self-help book that beats them all.

It was quite by chance that I happened to set eyes on a slightly wine-stained copy (or was it blood?) in my local Daunt bookshop. The title says it all:

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, by Sarah KnightIMG_1808

Having secured a 10% discount on account of the stained cover, I rushed to the nearest coffee shop, ordered a cappuccino and a freshly baked scone with jam and clotted cream (because I didn’t give a fuck about the calories) and started reading. This is what I learned:

Instead of immediately shouting YES to every request that comes your way and which demands your time, energy and money, take a moment to ask yourself:

“Do I really give a fuck?”

There are of course times when you should give a fuck, such as when “something – be it human, inanimate, or conceptual – does not annoy and does bring your happiness.”

Beware: not giving a fuck doesn’t give you license to be an asshole; on the contrary, the author is very careful to point out that politeness matters a great deal.

Essentially, it’s all about allowing yourself to say no to people without feeling sorry, guilty, anxious or afraid and whilst still being thought of as a nice person.

The things we do and don’t give a fuck about will vary from one person to the next, and although I’ve not yet worked out what my ‘no fuck’ list is, there’s one item on that list I can’t do without (and neither can you): not giving a fuck about what other people think. This one is non-negotiable, the author points out. “All fucks stem from here.”

PS. If in doubt whether or not you should give a fuck about something, here’s an easy-to-follow guideline:


Disfigurement on the Screen

screen-92134_640On Tuesday night, BBC 3 broadcast an hour-long documentary in which Adam Pearson, a British actor and presenter, explores the fringe world of freak shows in the United States.

Pearson has a condition called neurofibromatosis 1, which causes tumours to grow on his face. As a child, he was called ‘freak’ and ‘monster’ in the school playground and his exploration of the modern freak show scene is nothing if not personal to him. Continue reading

Leave the Kids Alone

Initially, my plan was to dedicate this week’s blog post to extolling the virtues of my new favourite comedy heroine, but that will have to wait, as something less hilarious but more urgent has come up that I want to address.

quotes-933816_1280This morning I marched my children off to school earlier than usual, to attend a parents’ meeting in my eldest daughter’s class. She’s now in year four, and with only two years to go before she moves on to secondary school, the pressure is building. I assumed that was what the meeting was about.

I am not a pushy mother, and deliberately so, as personal experience tells me that a bunch of A grades isn’t the key to happiness.

That’s not to say I don’t care about my children doing well at school; of course, I do. But I don’t believe the so-called ‘Tiger Mum’ approach is a particularly constructive, or healthy, way of supporting my children’s growth.

I was pleased to discover, therefore, that the reason we’d all been called into school this morning was not to add more pressure, but on the contrary, to implore us not to fret about our children’s secondary school application and to assure us that tutoring was not the way to go.

Tutoring, by the way, is an ever-growing business in London thanks to anxious parents worrying that their darlings won’t get into the ‘best’ schools, thus ruining their chances of a prosperous future.

In a nutshell, the headmistress’s message was: your children’s academic future doesn’t depend squarely on them excelling in arithmetic and algebra. Math is important of course, but so is reading for pleasure and immersion in creative pursuits, as well as the ability to think independently, none of which tutoring will necessarily achieve.


The headmistress’s words were music to my ears though there were a few grumblings from other parents.

Each to their own, I suppose, but when it comes to my daughter’s application to secondary school, I am infinitely more interested in finding a school that suits her, rather than pushing her to the brink to secure a place at a top ranking school.

I’d like to think I know what I am talking about. I’ve got postgraduate degrees from two top-ranking universities, but I credit a large portion of my learning and growth to the happy two and half years I spent at a small, respectable but by no means top ranking – liberal arts college in the American mid-west.

I learned much more there than I did at the Ivy-League universities I subsequently attended, and where the relentless pressure to excel, took me down the route to depression, excessive drinking and an eating disorder.

Yes, I got my PhD in the end, but it cost me both my physical and emotional health, and I’ve spent much of the last decade repairing the damage and gradually finding my way back to the person I truly am.


Face Equality: the long road ahead

A week into the New Year I already feel as if I am playing catch up. Having enjoyed lazy mornings for a few weeks when the kids were off school, it’s been quite a struggle to get up at 6 am and get ready to take the kids to school, especially as I’m more of a night owl, and resist going to bed before midnight.

At school drop-off this week, parents and children alike have been looking pretty bleary eyed, obviously struggling themselves with getting back into a routine following the holidays. Meanwhile, the teachers are looking fresh-faced and full of energy after a much needed holiday. Teaching is a tough job, something that parents don’t always seem to appreciate.


In my last blog post, I expressed a desire for 2016 to become the year of face equality, but a quick look at two new programmes on Channel 4 leaves me somewhat disheartened.

The first series is called Tricks of the Restaurant Trade and explores the less than savoury means restaurants employ to maximise their profit. For example, your looks determine where in a restaurant you get seated. Every restaurant apparently has a “golden table,” where only those considered good looking get seated, a strategy used to increase the attractiveness of the restaurant.

In one experiment, two attractive models walked into a restaurant and asked for the best table. They got to choose where to sit, but when a man with a facial disfigurement – a consequence of neurofibromatosis -walked into the same restaurant, he found himself seated at the very back of the restaurant, even though there were plenty of tables available. On another occasion, he was told there were no tables available even though the bar had empty spaces.


The other TV show is the fifth season of Channel 4’s “documentary” The Undateables, which follows a group of people with different kinds of disabilities looking for love. For starters, the title of the show is terribly unfortunate, if not outright offensive. I’d, therefore, resisted watching the previous series, assuming it was exploitative and voyeuristic, but the other day I sat down to watch among others, a young man with Asperger’s, and a woman with a facial disfigurement as a result of illness, go on first dates.

I have to admit that it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated, but the title of the programme still ruins it for me, implying as it does, that people with disabilities, medical conditions and facial disfigurements are second-rate people and, therefore, undateable.

So, while racial equality and gender equality have made significant, albeit imperfect, strides, it seems much needs to change before we’ll have anything resembling face equality.