Monday, 26 November 2012

Beauty Mishaps: The secret world of waxing

It’s one of those things that many women do as part of our grooming routine and we don’t really talk about it but I am all for talking a bit more after more than a mishap or two. It’s only when you talk to others you realise that shockingly, you’re not alone when it comes to waxing horror stories. I have several of my own and friends have shared theirs with me too. I recently tweeted asking if others had experienced waxing woes and there were plenty to choose from. Although at the time they can be excruciatingly embarrassing and painful, they are also pretty funny tales to share with the girls. It was while sitting around the dinner table a couple of Sundays ago with four of my best friends that we stumbled across bikini waxes as a topic of dinner party conversation.  Tasteful no but useful yes!
My friend has just moved to a new area, meaning she has had to leave her trusted local beauty therapist. Much like when you have to find a new hairdresser, it can be a daunting prospect. It’s not about letting any old person loose on your lady garden! Whilst enjoying our Sunday roast my friend raised the topic of waxing etiquette.  She has only ever been to one therapist and her way of working when perfecting her Brazilian is to get her up on the couch, pants off and up on all fours. She asked whether she should assume that the new beauty therapist would work in the same way. Should she rock up, knickers off, in position ready for her to do her work? It was a unanimous verdict around the dinner table that she should most definitely wait to be told what to do. Every one of us around has had a Brazilian wax and the conclusion was that all therapists work in different ways. Some get you up on all fours, some leave pants on and whip them to the side, others demand you’re  pants off, on your back or side, legs and bum in the air, all obviously very undignified but whatever it takes to get the job done! There was a potentially awkward moment heading her way if the new therapist was more of a pants to the side, on the back kind of lady and she waltzed in up on all fours naked from the waist down.

How do you know where to go when you decide you want some grooming? I’m a qualified beauty therapist but I almost butchered myself when I opted for some DIY bikini waxing at home. I am a very competent waxer but it’s all about the angles, and as far as I am concerned, it’s well worth the money to pay somebody else to do it to make sure you get the best job done.  However, I’m not going to lie, the whole experience can be pretty excruciating. You’re hardly feeling at your most confident laying on a couch, pants off with ungroomed nether regions and if the therapist isn’t up to scratch, it can be a whole lot more painful. You assume the therapist is the expert so you let them get on with it. I say it can be excruciating because like most things in life, it depends who is providing the service.

 In my experience, it’s not always about paying more to get a good result. I’ve had some bad experiences in more expensive establishments. Despite some less than pleasurable waxing sessions, the pain and a short moment of feeling undignified is always worth it if it’s neat and tidy when it’s finished.  I hate being ungroomed. I don’t wax for anybody else, I do it for me.  I’ve read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ with the chapter about waxing (or the avoidance of hair removal) and while I get it and it made me laugh out loud reading it on the train, feminist protesting in this manner is just not for me.  It’s all about the Brazilian!

Some of the tales I have heard include burns, blowing on the client after each strip has been whipped off (yes, there!), super slow therapists using strips more suitable for eyebrows so that the eye watering job has taken nearly an hour and pushy sales girls peddling vajazzles to surprise my boyfriend (you’ll be relieved that the sales girl didn’t get her way). It was only when chatting with friends that I have been give recommendations of places to go but I know some groups of friends may not be as open. I have a few horror tales of my own to share along with some I’ve pinched off friends who will remain anonymous and hopefully I can help you to avoid some waxing woes in the future with a few of the lessons I have learnt along the way.
The barber style; short back and sides
One of the most disappointing things in life is going to be waxed and going home to inspect the job, only to still be greeted by a growler. Ok, it may be a slightly tamed one but a growler nonetheless. Some beauty salons don’t offer Brazilians and you need to know what to ask for otherwise you may end up being disappointed.
Experience has encouraged me to be more forthright in my dealings with the therapist and I nowadays, I am always very clear about what I want.  You’re paying for a service after all, just because you’ve got no pants on you still need to make sure you get what you are paying for. I understand that you can feel pretty vulnerable laying there with your bits out and you trust the therapist to get on with it but if you aren’t clear about what you want you may be disappointed. It’s always a bit uncomfortable when they finish and ask you what you think. A bit like when a waiter gives you the wine to taste in a restaurant and then watches as you taste it waiting for your verdict.
The lesson: A temporary moment of cringe is definitely better than an under groomed lady garden and always do your research before you take your knickers off.

The nervous therapist
This is never going to end well but in all honesty it can be a little tricky to wriggle out of because by the time you realise she’s nervous, you’ve probably already got your pants off and she’s started ripping your hair out. I’ve experienced this several times and I get the impression that it’s down to experience or lack of it. I totally get that practice makes perfect but I’m not about letting my beaver be a guinea pig! If the therapist is not confident when she’s whipping the wax off, it can be way more painful, take far longer and the results don’t last as the hair tends to break rather than being removed from the root.
The lesson: Try and always go to therapists based on recommendations so you know what to expect and quit whilst you are ahead. If you are feeling really uncomfortable then ask the therapist to stop and discreetly talk to the manager after the treatment.

The slowcoach
Personally, I prefer to be in and out within 20 minutes and this isn’t a problem when I’ve visited experienced therapists. On several occasions though, I’ve had ones that like to wax a centimetre at a time. This is absolutely excruciating for both client and therapist! One time the therapist was using a weird kind of disposable roll-on type of waxing device which was narrow and meant it took absolutely ages.  To add to the uncomfort factor, it turns out she was best friends with an old uni friend of mine. I established this as I developed verbal diarrhoea triggered by the waxing fear. There was a lot of time to talk in the hour it took her to wax me. Just brilliant! I came across a slowcoach very recently too. I have been going to the same place for about 2 or 3 years now but it’s in central London. I flew to Thailand on Friday and had a busy week before I left so thought I’d try a local salon rather than make time to head in to town. It was cheaper than my regular place and meant I could pop round one evening. I know, I know, I should have known better. It ended up taking ages, the room was hot and the whole thing was just embarrassing. She was nervous, I was nervous and I ended up having to help her out because she was sticking wax all over the show. It all turned out in the end but it wasn’t pretty!   
The lesson: Don’t go to a new salon before checking out reviews beforehand.

The hand
When I’m getting my legs waxed I’m not offended by the hand. When training as a therapist we were taught that it helped to reduce the pain if you compress the area that has just been waxed with your hand. This all starts to feel wrong when it’s down there though. It’s probably less than a second or two that therapist places her hand on the freshly waxed area but it feels like forever and I don’t like it. It’s not something that every therapist does but when they do I still haven’t plucked up the courage to voice how I feel so I lay back and cringe until it’s done.
The lesson: Don't be a coward like me and if something makes you feel uncomfortable, tell the therapist.
The fire starter

I have been burnt on several occasions and I’ve heard several horror stories from friends too. I knew that the wax felt quite hot but I didn’t say anything as I trusted the therapist’s expertise. It’s not normally until the next day that you often realise the damage that has been caused. It’s pretty normal to feel sore after but your skin should not be bright red and peeling the following day.  

The lesson: Again it comes down to communication with the therapist and therapist recommendations. Of course waxing is not pain free but trust your instinct. If it feels too hot then it probably is!  

The blower
I have never had this happen to me and if I had I think I would have run a mile and then showered for a very long time. Upon sharing this with others, it seems my friend is not alone though which is worrying. After every strip of wax was ripped off the therapist lowered her head and blew on her bits. I’m not quite sure what she was trying to achieve and it totally freaks me out. I expect the therapist was trying to be helpful but breathing all over you is not professional, it is just plain weird!  
The lesson: If you hear of this happening to any of your friends, take down the name of the salon and make a note to never go there!

I thought it may also be quite useful to write my own little guide to demystify the waxing menu. There are so many things that you can ask for now. What is the difference between a bikini wax, a Brazilian and a Hollywood!? I am working on this now and hope to have it up within a week.

Disclaimer: Sorry to all the males who may ready this or the waxing guide who were unaware of the lengths we go to in order to look like we do.   



Saturday, 17 November 2012

My Bubbly Guilty Pleasure

I love good food and the majority of the time I’d opt for savoury over sweet. Give me a starter over a dessert or a packet crisps over chocolate anytime, however, there are couple of sweet treats that do win me over and they are Aero bubbles (the mint ones) and a peanut butter Kit Kat Chunky. These are the things I sneak into the shopping basket when my boyfriend isn’t looking. When I was invited to a preview of the Bar of Aero on Thursday night I jumped at the chance.  The Bar of Aero is described as the ultimate bubble playground filled with innovative technology, a multi-sensory chocolate extravaganza. My love of Aero bubbles and the thought that there may be a hint to the magic in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meant cough or not, I was going.  
Walking in to the pop up bar located at Dray Walk Gallery at the Truman Brewery just off Brick Lane, I was greeted by a minty, bubbly paradise. Bubbles and Aero everywhere and a delicious peppermint scent throughout. Obviously there were also stacks and stacks of Aero chocolate. My hunch was right about my Roald Dahl favourite and there was a hint to Mr Wonka as the promotional staff were dressed top to toe in Oompa Loompa orange.

Experimental food designer Andrew Stellitano showcased the science behind the famous bubby treat in a specially designed master class. Who’d have thought there were 15 factors that went into making the bubbliness just right!? Burst or small bubbles leads to a dense chocolate bar experience and bubbles too big means it just doesn’t go down as well and melts a little slower as the chocolate is thicker. We got to try some of the ‘wrong’ Aeros followed by the perfect balance of bubbliness. I have to say, I loved them all! There were discussions about launching limited edition bars with oversized bubbles or tiny bubbles for a different experience but it was a unanimous decision that the perfect Aero was in fact the best.  

Andrew shared a couple of tailor-made recipes designed to showcase the different ways that chocolate can be aerated to create a different bubbly chocolate experience. The carbonated Aero Mint Float was like an upgraded amazing mini milkshake with multi-bubbly layers and the Aero Mess was a combination of frozen aerated orange Aero with orange meringue and chocolate powder. Again, it was delicious but I can’t help thinking it would have been even better if there was something gooey in there such as cream or melted chocolate. I washed these treats down with some bubbly champagne and then a bubbly hot chocolate from the Aero fountain. The perfect medicine for a persistent cough I kept telling myself.

I was very grateful for the goodie bag full of bubbly, chocolatey treats and I have to say I am relieved that it has taken until now to discover Aero biscuits. They are amazing! I am due to wear a bikini next week as I’m off to Thailand and a whole packet of Aero biscuits, bags of Aero bubbles and bars of Aero chocolate are not helping with my bikini body mission but I’ve had fun eating them and I eat healthy and exercise regularly most of the time. Well, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

The Bar of Aero is completely free and will be open all weekend from 12pm-7pm. As well as lots of free chocolate, there will be prizes on offer so if you’re planning to be East tomorrow, pop down and get your bubbly fix.  Find more info here

Saturday, 10 November 2012

My Running Journey

I still struggle with calling myself a runner but I think I have earned myself the title now. I may not be super slim or speedy but I do have a healthy little medal stash under my belt now which I’m pretty pleased about. I hate the word journey but I think it's the best way to describe this long post.
Back on 16th October 2010 I signed up to run the Paris Half Marathon which was my first proper run. When I started training I remember being totally overwhelmed at the prospect of running for more than two hours. I’d tried to run before but never very seriously and all that really meant was a bit of a jog around the block with a lot of stopping and heavy breathing. I like to aim high and work better if I have a goal, so after volunteering at the London marathon as a sports massage therapist, I entered the ballot but didn’t get a place. I took up the invite from Bangs and a Bun to run the Paris Half Marathon instead.
It was tough but I rigorously stuck to the training no matter what the weather. Looking back I was a little na├»ve and very unknowledgeable about some of the technical aspects of running people talk about. But I kept my goal insight and trained hard finishing without stopping in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Although it was 1 minute slower than my original target I was absolutely thrilled.  Looking back, I didn’t complicate things, I just ran. You can read more about Paris here.
I learnt a lot about myself when I finished that run. It is amazing what you can achieve if you work hard and keep your goals in sight. I have now run a total of 5 half marathons since March last year and last month I ran my first full marathon in Amsterdam. I still can’t quite believe I did it!
Charlie Dark from Run Dem Crew has said that you learn a lot about yourself throughout training and on race day and I can honestly say that with every race, I most definitely have found out something new about myself. Running gives me time and space to think and although it is hard work it also allows me to switch off and have some time of my own. Running is more than physical activity- it is a metaphor for life. So much of what you achieve is down to what is going on in your head. I am absolutely convinced that positivity and determination were what got me across the finish line in Amsterdam with a smile.
If I’m being honest, my training didn’t really go to plan but I did stick to my long runs. It was the midweek runs that I found more difficult. I started out with great intentions but sometimes life gets in the way and certain things have to take priority. However, there was no way I was backing down. I signed up to a couple of half marathons to take part in during my training.
Firstly, the Burnham Beeches Half. We had a rubbish summer this year but I seem to have history that whenever I sign up to a run we get a momentary one day heat wave. The run took place on one of the hottest days we have had this year.  It was a tough run with tough hills and even tougher because it was a loop that you had to run twice which is pretty hard going. No PBs were set on 21st August but I did manage a sprint finish at the end and I ran up every single one of those hills. It was a very organised race and I would definitely do it again even though it was quite a challenging course. The race starts and finishes at Caldicott School in Burnham Beeches. There is a great family atmosphere and an outdoor swimming pool within the grounds that you are able to use after the run which was particularly popular this year.

I then ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon on 7th October. I went along and cheered some friends last year. London is my home and I love running in my city. I have to say I absolutely loved Royal Parks. It was a perfect cold and sunny running day. It’s a beautiful course and I loved it even more because my family, boyfriend and the Run Dem Crew Cheer Dem Crew were all there cheering. Getting a cheer en route makes such a difference.  No PBs were set but it more was more about keeping it steady and staying injury free until my marathon at the end of October.
I absolutely loved it. The course was a little windy and repetitive in the parks at times but it didn’t bother me. I really enjoy running in the London Parks and the atmosphere was electric.  The scenic route runs through four Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park and Green Park) and takes you past some key London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and the Royal Albert Hall.  It was brilliant to run a great course with so much support and I finished in pretty good shape. Don’t get me wrong though, although I was trying to ignore it there was a little voice in my head asking me how I was going to run double the route in Amsterdam. This voice continued to pop up uninvited but I just ignored the question afraid of my answer.

I set myself some goals last year and originally thought about trying to get a pace in the New York marathon but decided Amsterdam was a more realistic option. Soon after I had signed up it was then announced that it was going to be the next Bridge the Gap run so more than 100 friends from Run Dem Crew were going to there as well as the other running crews from around the world such as the New York Bridge Runners, Paris Run Club and of course Patta, the Amsterdam hosts who were amazing hosts indeed.
As the marathon got closer I got more and more terrified even though I tried to keep my fear hidden. In training the furthest I ran was 25k (a marathon is more than 42k). I am normally the type of person that trains more than I need to so that I am confident I will be able to do the distance on the day. However, I was having a few ITB issues and didn’t want to aggravate it. I took the decision to scale the training back so that I was in the best shape possible for the day.
We went to collect our race numbers the day before and then had a very chilled day where we hydrated and fuelled to give ourselves the best chance. My boyfriend is usually the resident photographer, cheer squad and bag holder but this time he was going to be running his first half marathon. He admitted that in the past he had always felt a little bit jealous when I collected my race number but I have to say he did look a little green as he walked towards me race bag in hand. Before going to bed I glanced at the course map and I had to look away quickly. Doubt was trying to rear its ugly head when I saw just how far I was going to be running.

Amsterdam Marathon Course

Walking to the race start I felt sick with nerves. All the others that were going to be running the full are hardcore and had trained very hard.  We arrived at the meeting point and I felt out of place and like I didn’t deserve to be there. I hadn’t trained as much as I wanted to and rather than a high tech Garmin on my arm I had a rubbish basic digital watch so that I could keep track of my start time. There was talk of race pace and tactics but my goal was just to finish and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to be consumed by clock watching and disappointment. I wanted to go out there and prove that I was strong enough to do it. I had trained on my own and I was going to be out there on my own on race day. I went a bit mutey as we walked towards the stadium.

"What am I doing here?"- Looking totally out of my depth

The race started and finished in the Olympic stadium which was incredible. It gave me just a little glimpse of how an athlete feels on a big day. I got a little bit emotional at the start, overwhelmed at what I was about to do. My tactic was to keep positive, enjoy it and smile a lot and it all went to plan. I absolutely loved it! The wall that people talk of never appeared and I felt great the whole way round. Seeing my friends Guy and Kaye at 2k was great and I shouted “I’m running a marathon!” as I ran past, still trying to convince myself I think. I knew that I wasn’t going to see anybody until about 26.5k so I turned my music up and just got on with it.
The marathon route has an additional 13 miles along the River Amstel on top of the half marathon route. Personally, I loved the run along the river as I train along the Thames in London and it was a smoother surface with Windmills dotted along the route which pleased me. Families were lining the route cheering and handing out water so I tried to engage with as many people as possible and said thank you for their support. It was cold and windy too but I was actually grateful for the cold weather.  Some of the Run Dem Crew guys had planned to be at 26.5k to cheer the marathon runners before the start of the half marathon but my pace was a little slow and they had to leave before I got there. I was on track for my time I’m just not a 3:45 marathon kind of girl. Despite having a race of his own my boyfriend stayed to support me and I was thrilled to see him. I remember shouting “It’s brilliant, I love it!” as I ran past and I really was loving every minute.

I had aimed to try and run to 25k without stopping but I got there and I was fine. I reached 30k and I was fine. I reached 35k and I was still fine. I couldn’t quite believe it. I looked forward to seeing Bangs and a Bun who had told me she was going to be cheering between 37k and 38k. I saw her from afar cheering loud and running up and down. It meant a lot to me having her there as I ran my first half marathon with her and she has always been so supportive.  I have to say I got a little emotional as I ran past but I still had a smile on my face.
My ipod and me had our own little running party the whole way round and I sang as I run. I listened to everything from dancey stuff to the Madonna Immaculate Collection. Like a Virgin felt very fitting as it was my first marathon. I also listened to some slower, more relaxing music which I never, ever do when I run but it really helped me to stay relaxed, calm and steady. I got to 39k and Kaye and Guy were still there cheering loud. I screamed as I ran past saying “I’m still running!” I couldn’t quite believe it. A race picture at 40k sums up how I was feeling.

The last 2k was tough but knowing the end was so near kept me going and as I was about to enter the stadium I saw a Run Dem Crew logo in the distance. I screamed at Terry as she cheered and I shouted “I’m actually going to do it!” I ran into the stadium and around the track to the finish line where I said the same thing again to a woman running just in front of me. I crossed the line and after a massive smile I just cried. I couldn’t believe I had done it.

The last 18 months has been really hard for several reasons but crossing that line meant so much more to me than just finishing a run. It was about achieving something even when things hadn’t quite gone to plan. It proved to me that staying positive can be so powerful and even when things go wrong you can pick yourself up and achieve things you never thought possible. That may sound dramatic but it’s truly how I feel and I believe that this sentiment can be transferred to other things outside of running. Don't let doubt creep in, take each step one at a time and never take your eye off the goal, whatever that goal may be. I have been really lucky to have great support from people around me. Charlie from Run Dem Crew has always been supportive. He has helped me to feel more confident and the email from him before we left for Amsterdam meant a lot. I'm sure he won't mind me sharing a couple of the lines that really got me (and made me cry!) but I thought about what he wrote as I ran on the day. Thank you for your kind words Charlie!
 "I know that life hasn't always been easy but Sunday is a chance to leave it on the road. Know you are going to totally rock your way through it. Run your own race and celebrate how far you have come with every step. We'll be cheering you along to the finish line."
I finished in 4:49. My original goal was just to finish by secretly I wanted it to be under 5 hours. I am confident that with training I could definitely finish more quickly. It seems I may well have the bug. However, before I even think about another marathon I’m going back to Paris where it all started to run at another Bridge the Gap event and this time my boyfriend is going to train and run with me. Happy days!