Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween

Tonight is the only night of the year when it is OK for children to mug their neighbours for sweets and when you can pass a werewolf in the street and not bat an eyelid. The pumpkins are glowing and the fireworks are fizzing: Happy Halloween.

Instead of joining the festivities I am sat at my 'desk' (in other words the kitchen table that I have claimed for my own in my shared flat) surrounded by piles of notes, elbow deep in research for my university final major project. You think ghosts and goblins are scary? This is scary.

At the moment thinking about my final project feels like standing at the bottom of a mountain in a pair of flipflops. But even scarier than the thought of how I will climb over all this work is the thought of what I will do when it is over. After three years of study I will have come to the end of what has at times felt like a trek, but really it has just been the warm-up lap before a marathon.

When I graduate I need to get a job, but the more I hear about graduate unemployment the more this prospect terrifies me. Especially when I talk to more and more young graduates who are working for free or who have had to give up on their dreams (and careers that they have trained for) because they can't afford to not to get paid for their time. This is why I am continuing to investigate and campaign against unpaid internships: because I know the thought of graduating and finding a job sends shivers up the spines of most young people, and because I don't think it is fair that wealth should be the real USP that you need to get ahead.

I am going to a fancy dress Halloween party on Friday and had been struggling with costume ideas. I now know what I'm going to go as. An unemployed graduate.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Autumn and the early bird

street copy

I am not a night owl. It is not even 8pm and I am already feeling sleepy. It probably goes without saying then that I am not my most productive in the evening. I am well into the first term of my final year at uni and weighed down with work. But instead of staying up all night I have taken to getting up early instead.

However stressed I may have felt the night before, I (nearly) always leap (or sometimes roll) out of bed feeling like the world is a wonderful place. I love sitting in my kitchen with my notes and my books, enjoying a proper breakfast whilst I watch the sun rising -  it feels like I am being let in on a secret. Even if it is raining morning rain seems far more poetic than the gloom of night time rain. Or at least it does to me.

This year is largely about independent study so without a timetable telling me when to work I am making my own schedule. Today I decided to fit in a break of fresh air and headed out to Clapham Common with my camera to kick through the leaves and get away from the web of post-it notes and papers that has ensnared my bedroom.

I woke up to sunshine but after a day of work and more work the evening gloom is starting to descend again. But it's ok. There's always tomorrow.

sky puddle

Reasons to love autumn:

Painted orange trees
Leaves that say shhhh when you kick them
Hot chocolate
Sequin wellies
Puddles that you can see your face in
Afternoon light that looks like maple syrup


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Why I am not watching The Work Experience

It is very rare that I get angry. But my blood is boiling. Last night I saw an advert for The Work Experience on E4, a mock sitcom that follows the experiences of two interns in a fashion PR agency. Unbeknown to the interns the PR agency is a set-up and the tasks they are asked to perform (exposing an illegal sweatshop and collecting a celebrity’s sperm sample being two examples) are not real tasks. I find the whole concept for the programme, which launches tonight, not just tasteless, but offensive.

The Work Experience may be a ‘mockumentary’, but this is real. I am a final year fashion journalism student and have done seven work experience placements, ranging from national newspapers and magazines to a local paper in London. I feel grateful for the experiences I have had and for the insight they have given me into the industry I want to work in, but there have been moments when my eagerness has been tested. I am still searching to find exactly what I learnt from delivering personal dry cleaning, doing personal ironing or steaming clothes for nine hours without a break. But despite the errands I have been asked to undertake on work experience I feel lucky: my experiences are nothing compared to the horror stories that I have heard from my peers. You do the job because you want a job, and the reality is that there isn’t much you wouldn’t do. The real rub comes when you remember that you are not even being paid.

Exploitation of young people in the fashion industry is endemic, yet it is an issue that remains largely unchallenged. Who wants to be the ‘work experience’ (as we are referred to) who complained? I certainly didn’t think that it would be me.

That was until I remembered that journalism is about having a voice. Instead of investigating a real issue within its own industry The Work Experience makes a cheap joke out of a serious situation. And the only reason it gets away with it is that the group of people it represents have no way of retaliating – they have no voice. But I am ‘the work experience’, and I am not laughing.

At the end of the programme, and after the degrading tasks the interns perform, the set-up is revealed and the lucky pair are offered a month’s work experience placement at a real fashion PR agency. At least the placement is paid, but it makes me wonder what lengths I am expected to go to as a young person trying to make a career for myself. Everyone has to start from the bottom, but where does experience end and exploitation begin?


Are you defined by your degree?


“So then, what do you study?” is a question that I have come to dread. I may be having an interesting conversation with the person I have just met, but as soon as I answer ‘fashion journalism’ the cloud descends. The cloud is a shadow that passes inadvertently across the face of the person I am talking to and that fogs their perception of me. I see myself reflected in their eyes and watch as my IQ drops.

Of course, not everyone reacts this way, but I have become so used to the negative reactions (“Why would you want to do that?” is rarely a question. Give me a chance to tell you!) that I have started making excuses for myself before I even begin.

“I study journalism,” is how I usually start, perhaps followed by a sheepish, “specialising in fashion.”

The raised eyebrows that follow are the telling sign. As soon as I add fashion I become an airhead.

I study fashion journalism because I find it interesting. Most of all I find people interesting, and despite the inaccessibility (and often absurdity) of catwalks and couture, fashion is one of the greatest unifiers. You might say you are not interested in clothes, but you still wear them. I am interested in the business of fashion: it is a huge industry that affects so many people and generates huge amounts of wealth (and equally destruction). I am interested in the history of fashion, its social context and how it acts as a barometer of the times. I am interested in the psychology of clothes, and how what we wear affects how we feel and how people treat us.

Although I enjoy talking about and sharing what I do, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to justify myself. The sheepishness with which I talk about my course is so at odds with the way I talk about other things when I meet someone for the first time that it is not a true reflection of who I am: I am a confident, independent woman and I love meeting new people. But that is the point: I may feel the need to define my course, but it doesn’t define me. And it certainly doesn’t make me the stereotype that I know so many people see when I tell them what I do.

Today I well and truly let down the fashionista stereotype by tucking into a 12 inch pizza for my lunch. I may study fashion, but I would rather spend my money on pizza than shoes. There are so many sides to me that have nothing to do with my degree and that are at odds with perceptions of a fashion student. I study fashion journalism but I like books and burgers and baking, and I have more opinions than I have handbags. 


Friday, 19 October 2012

Don't let the bastards grind you down

 Sometimes life can make you feel like a paper doll that has been thrown in the washing machine on an an intense-clean cycle. You spin round and round and slosh up and down until you eventually turn to pulp.

Here are a few reasons why recently I have been feeling particularly like mushed up and soggy paper:

1) Fresher's flu. And I'm not even a fresher.
2) Dissertation angst.
3) Final university project angst.
4) I graduate next year.
5) What am I going to do with my life?
6) Am I ever going to get a job?
7) Am I ever going to get a job that isn't working in Macdonald's?
8) I wrote an article about unpaid internships and people keep telling me how brave I am.
9) This makes me slightly worried.
10) Rain.
11) The Great British Bake Off has finished.

Don't let the bastards grind you down. That was my inspiration for this outfit. Life may feel like a giant washing machine at times, but you just have to dry yourself off, stick yourself back together and remember what you believe in. And I believe in pink, I believe in smiling and I believe in not just waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain.


(And I believe in cake). 


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Hello Autumn

 Autumn is my favourite season. Summer may have warmer weather and Mr Whippy ice cream but it also has all the disappointment that comes with rainy British beaches and sandy sandwiches. Autumn doesn't try to be anything it's not: you expect rain so prepare for snuggling up with plenty of lattés, but when the sun does burst through the clouds and offer a crisp, clear day, it is wonderful.

I always find autumn refreshing. Leaves may be dying and summer may be ending, but as I head back to uni it feels like everything is only just beginning.

I started this season the way I think I should start every season: by buying one fab, colourful item of clothing that I will enjoy wearing throughout the coming months. This time it was a bright pink plastic mac from Miss Selfridge. Sombre weather doesn't have to mean looking (or feeling) sombre.

Here are some of the nicest things that this year's autumn has involved so far...
 Warm cappuccino froth at Rosie's in Brixton. Dusting of cocoa powder, vintage crockery and a pile of old books to flick through.

 Discovering Chillbox, a new Greek frozen yoghurt shop in Brixton Village.
 Eating a rose cupcake at Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden.
 As I looked around the pretty pink shop I said to my friends, "I want my life to look like this." I then stopped as they both looked at me, "actually, what am I saying? My life DOES look like this."
 Baking the most wonderful chocolate truffle cake. Twice.
 Looking down whilst sitting in a cold grey park and smiling at what I see.
 Sitting in Macaron, a french café opposite Clapham Common, and drinking an apres-swim pot of mint tea whilst writing in my notebook.

 Chocolate Guinness cake at Bea's of Bloomsbury, the tea / cake shop that my coursemates and I headed to after our first lecture.

 Coffee at Gail's, a lovely café and artisan bread shop in Queen's Park (that has other branches across London.
 Coffee was followed by brunch: brioche with poached rhubarb.

Pancakes with a smile.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Recent writing (and how to deal with haters who hate)

My blog page on the Huffington Post
Me on the front page of the Huffington Post
"I Want to be a Journalist, But I Can't Afford to Work for Free": My article on the Huffington Post

It has been a busy few weeks in Libbyland. Last week I was on the front page of the Huffington Post and on Monday an article by me went up on the Guardian student website. 

Let me start from the beginning and with the Huffington Post. Recently I have been involved with a national campaign to end unpaid internships, and a campaign at my university (University of the Arts London) branded 'The Devil Pays Nada'. I have done seven unpaid internships and have used my student loan to support myself whilst working for free. This year, however, I am starting my final year at university, which also means the final year of my student loan. I will soon no longer be able to afford to work for free, and I don't think that I should have to. 

Last week I went to my university's fresher's fair to man the 'Devil Pays Nada' stand and talk to students about the campaign. Unpaid work experience is something that pretty much everyone at my university will either have done or be expected to do. Within a few hours I had spoken to hundreds of students and as a team we had 700 names signed up to the campaign by the end of the day. 

Although the campaign is something I believe in, I had been unsure about how public to be about my involvement. It is probably obvious why I was anxious: I want to get a job so didn't want to cut off opportunities for myself. I also feel very lucky to have had the experiences that I have had on my internships; I didn't want to seem ungrateful. But working for free is still something that I believe is wrong and cuts off opportunities for so many people.

I eventually decided that my hesitations were the exact reasons why I should speak out, and publicly. I want to be a journalist and for me one of the main purposes of journalism is to say the things that aren't being said. I may not want to be a political journalist or a war correspondent but I still think that with any form of broadcasting it still comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I want to use my voice in the best way that I can, so why was I not prepared to practice what I preach and speak out about an issue that directly affects me?

I wrote 'I Want to be a Journalist, But I Can't Afford to Work for Free' and pitched it to the Huffington Post. It went live on the site and made it to their front page last week. I now have a regular blogger's page where I will be able to post more articles in the future.

In the meantime I had also pitched an article to the Guardian student site which went up on the website yesterday. The article is very different in subject matter to my Huff Post piece, but similar in its aim. I wanted to speak openly about my experiences of university and to discuss whether students are always honest about 'the best days of our lives'. A few years ago I posted about my experiences applying to the London College of Fashion and have since then received a large number of emails from prospective students asking for advice about the LCF application process. I am always more than happy to respond, but sometimes feel somewhat dishonest when I do.

Since I wrote my post about applying to LCF, a lot has changed. The reality is that university has not been the experience that I had dreamt of. At the end of my first year I was actually very close to dropping out. I didn't really talk about the problems that I had encountered because coming to university was a decision I had made, and a decision I had been so sure of. I didn't want to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else, that I had found my time there difficult. 

This is my final year at LCF and I thought it was time to be honest about my time here. The reality is, although it has been incredibly difficult at times, if I was given the chance to do it all again I would still make the same decisions.  For a long time I worried whether coming to university had been the right decision. I seriously considered changing courses. But now I have come to realise that it was my attitude, not my course, that I needed to change. The troubles I encountered at university have made me more independent, have opened my mind to different opportunities and have made me the person I am today.

Read my articles following the links below:

Through writing these articles I have learnt more about the way I want to use my voice in the future. But I have also learnt another valuable lesson (even if it is one I hadn't necessarily signed up to): how to deal with internet hate. 

Overall I have been incredibly happy with the responses to my Huffington Post article. Firstly I never expected it to make it onto the front page. Then I was touched by the support from my coursemates, friends, family, lecturers and other interns like me. But as soon as it went online the inevitable 'haters' came out of the woodwork too. 

One main criticism was that I wrote an article about unpaid internships on a website that does not pay me for my work. I can understand this point of view but I still think it is missing the point. I think of my blog on the Huffington Post in a similar way to this blog: I own the copyright to my work and don't get paid. But equally I was writing about a campaign so just want to spread the word of the campaign in any way possible. My mum summed it up well: "How do you think the suffragettes got the vote? By voting? No. Sometimes you have to do the things you would rather not in order to be heard." 

On both articles there have also been the few hurtful comments thrown in for good measure. It is so easy to post an anonymous comment that this is an issue that anyone posting online content will no doubt be familiar with. Anyone can log onto a computer and tap away some words and not think that the person they are sending them to is a real, normal person who will read them and feel so hurt that they sit and eat a fish finger sandwich whilst feeling utterly miserable, until their friends and family tell them not to worry and they eventually cheer up again. (I speak from personal experience). 

I am only human so of course I read hurtful comments and take them personally. But this experience has also taught me that internet hate is just part of being a modern journalist, it is part of the internet and it is not something to carry with you into the real world. I want to be a writer and I value constructive criticism, but at the end of the day I write because it is something I want to do, so feeling confident in what I have written myself should be the most important thing. And as much as I want this to be my career, it is still just a job. As long as my mum and my friends are proud of me and think I'm fab, then that is all that really matters. 

And as they say: 'haters gonna hate'. And there's not much you can do about it, except not let it wipe the smile off your face.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Identity Crisis

"Grande latté for Uby?"

"Grande latté for Uby?"

I looked around the crowded Starbuck's. A line of suits jostled for their morning dose of caffeine like siblings fighting over a Christmas present 'to share'. But no one was responding to this coffee order.

"Uby? Latté for Uby?" repeated the barista, looking around for a hint of recognition in the queue.

"Do you mean Libby?"

When the barista at Starbuck's asks for my name to write on my coffee cup I am always tempted to give a joke answer like 'Beauty' or 'Awesome' just to hear them call it out. I had used my real name, but that morning I was given both a coffee and a name change.

The reality is it wouldn't be the first time that my name has been under dispute. My birth certificate says Elisabeth, but I have been Libby for as long as I can remember, or more accurately for as long as I stopped responding to Elisabeth. My passport may disagree, but I am not an Elisabeth. I am Libby, and my name has come to be an important part of who I am.

But it makes me wonder: in a world where a coffee giant wants to know our names, how well do we really know ourselves?

This is me:

My name is Elisabeth Ann Page, but I am Libby.

I love colour (and think it is underrated in our wardrobes).
I love rabbits and novelty knitwear (and clothes that make me smile).
I love food (and the role food plays in our relationships and lives).
I love working (when I love my work).
I love pink (but I'm not a Barbie-bimbo).

I smile (and believe you can get where you want without changing who you are).
I write (because I love it and because it is 'like thinking on paper').
I love love (but despite the romantic inside me there is also someone realistic).
I love clothes (and think they make an important statement about who you are).

I love cake, and I love to bake (but I can still be a strong and independent woman with my apron on).

And I love drinking strong black coffee in independent coffee shops, but sometimes I buy a milky latté from Starbuck's. No one is just one thing, but I guess that's what makes us who we are.