Language in popular culture, and why it matters

Unless you’ve been trapped under a rock for the six weeks or you don’t have a Twitter account, you’ll be aware of the current debate surrounding the well-loved Christmas classic, ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.  Specifically, the use of a homophobic slur in said song. The infamous line “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy f**got” is the subject of a lot of controversy, as many people from the LGBT community are – justifiably – uncomfortable with having to hear that word on repeat throughout the Christmas season. As well as suggesting that the word in question be censored when it’s played on the radio, people from the LGBT community are asking cishet people to refrain from singing it, simply because of the weight that carries.

Seems fair to me.  I’m speaking as a bisexual woman who, as I’m not out to a lot of people and have only ever been in straight-passing relationships, hasn’t experienced discrimination based on my own sexual orientation. However, I do have empathy and compassion for those who have and I would never do anything to trigger upsetting feelings. I love the song, but to be honest, that one little word isn’t what makes it for me. It’s an absolute banger without it too, and removing it just means that people who find it particularly offensive won’t have to hear it. Shane McGowan said he doesn’t have a problem with people censoring it, so what harm can it do? But, as with any issue like this, there’s backlash.

People – straight people – are becoming absolutely furious at this. Common arguments include “It’s only a song, grow up!” (yes, popular culture is always immune to political correctness, which is why we still laud Birth of a Nation as a brilliant work of art – wait a second) “It was written in 1987” (yeah, when homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland. Times marches on) “It’s not actually being used in a homophobic context, the word also refers to a lazy person” (okay, now you’re just grasping at straws). Even ignoring how weak a lot of these defenses are, it truly baffles me how opposed people are to simply showing a bit of basic decency.

Heterosexual people can’t seem to understand the weight that that slur carries. And that’s understandable in itself: the word wasn’t designed to hurt them. To the privileged, that word is just a word, to others, it’s a violently offensive insult that might trigger painful memories. My point is this: if the word wasn’t meant to offend you, why are you saying “it shouldn’t be removed because I’m not offended by it”? It doesn’t make sense.

But let’s face it: the ‘Fairytale of New York’ debate is only one issue in a larger debate. Go to any festival and you’ll see white people belting out the N word used in rap songs, do a Google search on Versatile’s song ‘Dublin City Gs’ and you’ll see people defending the racist lyrics because “it’s only a song”. Privileged people, it seems, have always chosen to be blind to certain standards that others want to hold them to when it comes to art. If it’s not real life, it doesn’t matter, or so they say.

It’s a debate that’s been going on for a while, and it probably will go on for a while. However, maybe it’s time to take a look at who is having this debate. Straight people are well within their rights to have an opinion on this controversy, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be shouting over the people who are actually offended and belittling their experiences. We need to listen to these people, take what they’ve said into consideration, and then just censor the damn word because its absence won’t hurt anyone. Oh, and by the way: if you know that there’s someone in the LGBT* community within your earshot who hates that word in the song and you still shout it out when the song comes on the radio, cop on. That’s a level of petty I’m not going to respect.


The Advice I’d Give To Anyone In Secondary School

It’s the last day of August (madness) and for a lot of people, this means that school either has just started or is only around the corner. Not me – I’m starting college very soon, having just graduated from secondary school. As someone who just about survived six years of secondary education and isn’t that much worse off from it, I’d like to share some advice for anyone who’s still in the hellhole, particularly those who are just starting off.

Keep up with your bloody homework. I firmly believe that third year (for any non-Irish folk, this is the year of the Junior Cert., the state exams we do halfway through secondary school) could have been far less stressful had I just done homework in second year. Alas, I didn’t, and panicked so much in third year when I couldn’t remember doing half of the things that my teachers insisted we’d covered six months prior. Everyone will tell you how important it is to do extra study, and it is, obviously, but just doing your homework every day will make so much difference. It might be the last thing you want to do – correction, it will be the last thing you want to do – but you’ll thank yourself later.

Don’t engage in drama. In the early years of secondary school (when we were around 12-14 years old), we were brutal for this. Even if you were as out of the loop as I sometimes was, you’d hear the gossip going around about so-and-so and the bitching was something else. It can be tempting to get involved, especially if you don’t like the person, but it causes you so much unnecessary grief and you’ll also feel a bit shite. Personally, I found this much easier as I got older, when all of us became a bit allergic to drama and all the stress it brought.

You are most likely going to lose some friends and it will hurt. I went into first year with one close friend from primary school (my only friend at the time ha). Naturally, being twelve, I thought we’d stay friends all throughout secondary school, if I thought about it at all. We fell out of touch for many small reasons – no big fights or anything, but it hurt like hell at the time. Sometimes you will lose friendships this way, sometimes you’ll have a full-on argument that destroys your relationship, but no matter what, it isn’t easy. That being said, the pain won’t last forever and you’ll meet loads of new people as well. The new friends you make will make the loss of old friends easier.

You do not need to put on a full face of makeup for school. Before everyone comes at me and accuses me of shaming girls who wear makeup to school, let me stop you right there. If you want to wear makeup, absolutely go for it – I used to wear it myself, when I was around sixteen and still had some energy. I’ve just noticed so many twelve- and thirteen-year-olds piling on a full face as if they’re going to the club when in reality they’re just going to Maths class. If that’s what you like and you can be arsed with it that early in the morning, awesome, but never feel as if you have to. No matter what you do, just be safe in the knowledge that a few years from now you’ll be cringing when you see pictures of yourself. Trust me, no one looks back on these years as the most stylish ones of their life.

Come prepared for any eventuality. If you do no other kindness to yourself, bring painkillers to school today. It’s especially important if you happen to be in possession of a womb and have to deal with periods every month, but headaches and general stomach cramps don’t discriminate based on gender. Other handy things to have in your bag are deodorant (important during summer and on days when you have PE), tissues (if you have a cold or end up crying in the toilet for whatever reason – we’ve all been there) and your phone charger. Not necessarily essentials, but you’ve enough work to be stressing about without the added panic of realising your phone’s on 1% and you know that you need to ring your mam after school.

Have a good filing system for your notes. Another simple thing that would have made my life at school so much easier. Either get a big folder with dividers for different subjects, or just get different folders for different subjects. Don’t bother with individual notebooks, you’ll only worry about making sure that everything’s in the right order, which is far easier when you can just slot pages into plastic pockets. Also: that moment when you’ve finished making notes and you think “ah, I’ll file them later”? You won’t. And then you won’t be able to find them in six weeks time just before the test. File them now. Learn from my laziness.

Don’t be that smart-ass who always talks back to teachers. I’m always up for a bit of banter between teachers and students in class as it makes things a lot more interesting most of the time, but there’s a line. I’ve been guilty of crossing this line a few times just for a cheap laugh and if you’re funnier than me it might work in your favour, but I honestly look back at some of the things I said that I thought were so hysterical and cringe. In other words, use your roasts sparingly, otherwise it turns into a comedy TV show that started out as funny and then went on for too long and became really crap and boring. Not the impression anyone’s hoping to make.

Ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s with homework, a subject you’re struggling with or bullying, you never need to go it alone. Tell your parents you need the grinds, explain to a teacher that you trust that you’re being bullied or harassed, admit to your Maths teacher that you have no idea what’s going on with trigonometry. Unfortunately teachers are not always the most helpful regarding these problems (especially bullying). but I firmly believe that you need to tell someone. It’s a terrifying thing to do, especially when you don’t know how it will turn out, but it’s often even scarier to suffer in silence.

It doesn’t matter as much as you might think it does. I’m aware of how old I sound now and I’m also aware of how annoying it is when some adult says “ah sure it won’t even matter in five years’ time!” I’m not trying to invalidate the fact that it – school, exams, friends, feuds etc. – does matter at the moment, but it can help to have a bit of perspective. Know that in a few years’ time, you’ll be out of this nightmare and have more freedom to do what you actually want and you won’t have to put up with those annoying people in your class that make your life hell. These days, no matter what anyone tells you, are not “the best days of your life” – at least, they’re not for most adults I know. School is something you have to get through and believe me when I tell you that afterwards things start to get better (she says even though she hasn’t even started college yet. It can’t get that much worse).


Musings on Music Snobbery

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Picture the scene: I’m sitting in the library, chipping away at my Easter homework and study. Because I, as is the stereotype, have an inability to do most basic tasks without some music playing in the background, my earbuds are plugged in and every so often, I’m bopping my head along (no, background music isn’t distracting, why do you ask?). Any music-loving readers who are as nosy as me may be interested. What indie, underground artist or band has caught my attention, you ask, and which of their obscure songs am I listening to? Very well, let me tell you: ‘Sing’ by Ed Sheeran.

Surprised? Perhaps. Or perhaps you’re rolling your eyes, having known all along that an eighteen-year-old girl couldn’t possibly appreciate any song that hasn’t been in the Top 40 in the last three years. After all, why would I know or care about music that isn’t stupid manufactured pop that will be irrelevant in six months?

I’ve seen this attitude more and more often as I’ve gotten older, especially when I began my travels to the interesting place known as the comments section. When I started using the Internet regularly (at the age of about twelve or thirteen), I noticed that there was a certain niche that one had to fit into to be accepted by the masses online. Many of the comments that were getting the most likes and people replying in agreement were those that disregarded new trends with a dismissive sweep of the hand. Pop music just isn’t cool to like anymore, especially not pop music that came after 2010.

I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit that I used to be like this – on the outside, anyway. When I was fourteen, I was in a certain group of friends (who, might I add, were genuinely kind, intelligent and decent people). Some of these friends, whom I desperately wanted to like me, openly shunned pop stars, boy bands and their fans. I learned to do the same, rolling my eyes at whatever cheesy song came on the radio. Secretly, however, I enjoyed a lot of the music that was popular at the time, but I couldn’t say it. I’d lose my edge with my friends (fourteen-year-old Alexandria was something of a wannabe edgelord).

I outgrew my public dismissive attitude, but I still felt embarrassed about my tastes, making sure to advertise the rock bands I loved while hiding the pop singers I felt the same about. When I started talking to a boy who was a massive Green Day fan, I made sure to conceal my love for 5 Seconds of Summer. When I sat with a group of fellow music-obsessed fans, I’d nod along at the bands they mentioned that I’d never heard of, saying things like “oh yeah, they’re good, don’t know too many of their songs though.” I’d always brush off my liking of anything current as being ironic, fearing that people would think I was a mindless trend-follower.

As I’ve gotten older and a little more confident in myself, I’ve realised how ridiculous this attitude is. I, for one, am sick of feeling embarrassed about liking the artists I do, constantly feeling the need to justify myself with “but this isn’t all I listen to! I like Skillet, Green Day and Paramore too!” (I do, actually. Three of my favourite bands of this era.) I’m weary from watching music videos from the eighties and seeing comments that say “I’m 13 and everyone I know is listening to stupid shit on the charts, but I’m listening to real music!” Most of all, I’m tired of other people thinking that their music taste makes them superior.

Why? What is it about your taste in music, of all things, that makes you better than someone else? Is this really what we’re judging character or intelligence on these days? If that’s the case, maybe all those naysayers who complain about the world going down the tubes have something going for them.

I’m not suggesting that you have to like all music, or pretend to. For example, I don’t like all pop music. A lot of my favourite music would be classified as rock and would be revered by the music snobs I’m talking about. I’m not even saying that we should end debating and arguing over music. It would be a fairly boring world if we never discussed our different favourite bands, or had a healthy clash over who’s the best female singer of the twenty-first century (it’s Lilly Allen).

All I’m saying is that we need to drop this notion that someone’s taste in anything is anything more than just that: an opinion. It’s got nothing to do with what kind of a person they are, or how educated they are, or how strong-minded they are. It’s just something that they like, or don’t like.

At the end of the day, lads and ladies, it’s just music. It’s just a hobby for many of us: something we like listening to or playing or singing. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure or a genuine favourite, we should all just crack on and let people listen to what they want. Otherwise, leave me and Ed Sheeran alone.


Ten Things That Exams Will Do To You

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Greetings, comrades. Against all odds and my own cynicism, I have returned from my two-week journey in one piece. I bear no visible scars and, after a lot of time spent rethinking my lifestyle, I am fit to return to the life of a normal eighteen-year-old – at least until I’m thrown back into the battlefield. I am, of course, talking about my mock exams.

This is the time I became properly aware of all the disastrous parts of what I like to call “exam culture”. All the habits that you’d usually shudder at the idea of not only resurface, they seem completely normal. A healthy lifestyle can go straight out the window as you quickly turn into a hermit who can’t leave the house because of exam guilt. And, because my little grey cells are still too exhausted for anything else, that’s what I’m going to write about today.

  1. You don’t leave the house (except to go to the library). It doesn’t matter if it’s your friend’s eighteenth, your parent’s wedding anniversary or just time to walk your dog. Everything that involves stepping out of your bedroom is postponed until after the exams. Even if you’re not necessarily studying, you feel better when you’re inside with your books all day.
  2. The vicious cycle of productivity. For a few days, you’re on fire. You’re at your desk at ten a.m. and you don’t leave it except to use the toilet until six. You finish your days not only feeling tired but satisfied at your day’s work. This is usually followed by a few more days when you do absolutely nothing. And I do mean nothing, unless you count sitting at your desk and reading tweets with your Biology book open next to you as doing something. This part of the cycle inevitably leads to…
  3. Exam guilt. Even if you think you know all of your English texts inside out and back to front and could probably deliver a speech on them that would rival Martin Luther King, you simply cannot spend the evening before that English exam doing nothing. You have to do something, even if that’s just frantically flicking through your notes and ending up on the floor crying.
  4. Your room just does not get tidied. Tidying? What’s that? I need to study, people! My room can wait! No, past Alexandria. Your room cannot wait. I know that now.
  5. You live on tea. Or coffee. Either way, it’s your hot drink of choice all day, every day. I still don’t know whether drinking the amount of tea I’ve drunk over the past two weeks is good or bad for you, but it’s probably the latter.
  6. Eight hours’ sleep turns into an urban legend. As horrible as this sounds, I barely remember what eight hours of sleep feels like. Please, and I mean this sincerely, do not follow my example. It happens to us all during exam season, though. We end up studying until ten and not going to bed for another hour and a half because you can’t go straight from your desk to your bed. Downtime is necessary. Right?
  7. Personal grooming takes a backseat. You’d better believe that I haven’t worn makeup in the past few weeks, and on many occasions I haven’t really cared what my hair looks like either. I just throw it into a ponytail so that it’s out of my face and there it stays until its next wash. (I did wash my hair, I hasten to add.) As much as I love beauty, even the most basic self-care tends to plummet down the priorities list in these troubled times. (I’m really not following my last post’s advice at all.)
  8. You devote an unhealthy amount of time to daydreaming about life after exams. My midterm break is next week, and I’d be lying if I said that hours of the last two weeks weren’t spend thinking about all the cool things that are going to happen then. I’d say that this is probably the most beneficial thing on this list, because it allows you to see the fun that will come beyond the stress. When you start planning your Valentine’s Day instead of revising trigonometry, though… that’s when it becomes a problem.
  9. You think about dropping out daily. Even though the call of university is strong, sometimes the call of opting out altogether seems stronger. Alright, mine and my friends’ thoughts of dropouts are fairly fleeting, but they do come. If I had a euro for every time I’ve even jokingly suggested it, I’d probably be able to buy myself some new film for my camera. I should start charging people.
  10. You have a “fuck it” moment. Usually around halfway through the exams, or towards the end. It’s at this point when you realise that the exams aren’t the end of the world, and even if they are, the important thing is to get them over with as soon as possible. At this point you don’t even care as much about doing well. Maybe not the best attitude to have, but when you’ve gotten this far, what else can you do? It’s actually quite freeing.




The Importance of Being Kind to Yourself

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In a world that glamourises working yourself to the bone 24/7 and never taking a day off, it can be hard to give yourself a break. The Internet – and the “real world” – is filled with people who brag about their busy lifestyles, constantly reminding us how hard they work and how rewarding it is. While there’s no doubt that working hard is important – you need to achieve your goals – this “always super busy” culture isn’t always healthy.

I first realised this last year, when I entered fifth year. I was sixteen years old and anxious about the workload. I’d been warned by everyone who’d done fifth year before me that it would be an impossible year, that they had broken down crying on their first day, that the shock after a laid-back fourth year would be the death of me. Naturally, I went in expecting the worst. When I actually got started, I was surprised at how manageable it was. Yes, there was a lot of work, but it was doable. “Fifth year’s not so bad,” I said to myself and anyone who asked.

I should have spotted the signs. I should have realised that something was wrong when I wasn’t finishing my work (this included piano practice) until after 9:30pm, or when I broke down in tears during a piano class. I thought that I was fine because I wasn’t visibly stressed and I was getting all of my work done, plus some study. Yes, that was true: I was very much on top of all my work, and even a bit ahead of things, if I do say so myself. But it was too much. I started to notice it in November. I was losing energy, I felt like I couldn’t keep it up at all. Some days I would study for hours and hours, some days I would find myself unable to do anything.

Now, we can talk about the education system and how much work it piles on teenagers all we want, but that’s a post for a different day. This is about what I could have done differently. If I had paced myself a bit better at the start of fifth year, and spread out the work more sensibly, I would have still achieved good results, but I would have felt better and less tired. I should have made more time for my hobbies: I hardly read at all during fifth year and I wrote almost nothing, which was a terrible shame. Seeing other people – my schoolfriends, my family, people I know of from social media – fall into the same way of thinking really makes me sad.

Yes, diligence is important. Yes, some days it is going to be tough and you’re going to have to push yourself. But you need to know when it is getting too much. Taking a break isn’t a crime. In fact, it’s beneficial: if you allow yourself to rest, you’ll feel more rejuvenated and better able to do more productive work. If you’re studying for six hours, at least take a five-minute break between each topic, with a bigger break after three hours. Try and take a day off per week. I know that this isn’t always realistic, but at least try to have one afternoon off.

Make time for what you enjoy doing. Everyone has a hobby, and if you neglect it, you’re going to find yourself feeling miserable. I definitely find that I feel more relaxed and content if I read every day. Some of my friends play sports. Whatever it is, make time for it. Schedule it into your timetable. You need to do something that doesn’t feel like work.

And, as always, don’t skip self-care. I’m not talking about long baths and basting yourself in body moisturiser. I’m talking about the most basic forms of looking after yourself. Shower every day, drink lots of water, take your makeup off every evening, try to at least be in bed for eight hours every night. I know that everyone gives these tips, and I also know that there are some days where even doing that is unrealistic. That’s okay. I’m certainly not here to shit on you for not feeling up to showering when you’re too run-down. But, whenever you can, just try to stay on top of the basics.

We’re living in a world that’s obsessed with being busy. In some ways, it’s good that we’re so devoted to working hard and being active. But you can’t hope to work to the best of your ability if you’re not being fair to yourself. Even at the most stressful times, when you need to push yourself, never forget to be kind to yourself.



Sleek Lifeproof Foundation

As someone with fairly dodgy skin, I’m always on the lookout for a good foundation. I want something that will even out my skin tone and make whatever issues I’ve got going on look slightly less noticeable. I don’t mind a medium-to-full-coverage finish as long as it doesn’t look cakey. As I’m a teenager without a job, price is also a factor.

I saw this in Boots for €11.99 and thought I’d give it a go. I tried the lightest shade which I think is a decent enough match, although still a tad darker than my neck. The shade range is impressive compared to most cheaper brands. It’s not perfect, but it has twelve shades that range from pale to dark, rather than stopping at tan beige (woefully common in a lot of foundations).

It’s packaged in a matte black tube. The squeezy tube doesn’t give as much control as a pump would, but it does take up a lot less space in my makeup bag. It promises a full coverage and to last throughout the day. Naturally, that sealed the deal for me because no one has time to be touching up fifty times during the day.

The foundation delivers a medium-to-full coverage. It masks the redness in my face, making me look far healthier than I probably am. It doesn’t entirely cover spots, but that’s okay: what is concealer for? It does make them look far less alarming than they would otherwise, and that’s what I’m after.

It lasts a long time and I don’t need to use powder with it. I found that my other powder products don’t drag on it, which is always a good thing. It does, unfortunately, gather a little bit around my nose and if I’m not careful with how much I put on, it can look cakey. However, since it’s so good otherwise, I can overlook those faults.

Pardon my wet hair. 🙂

All in all, I really like this foundation. It makes my skin look much better and still doesn’t look like I’ve just caked on a lot of makeup. I wouldn’t recommend it if you have dry skin, as it would probably emphasise dry patches, but for oily/combination skins, it’s a winner. You should definitely moisturise before this (which you should do every morning anyway) and be careful with how much you’re putting on at once. But if you’ve got problematic skin and don’t want to break the bank, go for it!


MAKEUP WORN IN PHOTO: Sleek Lifeproof Foundation, Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer, Urban Decay Naked Palette (shade – “Smog”), Essence Lash Princess Mascara, Bourjois Little Round Pot Blush in “Rose D’Or”, Topshop highlighter in “Crescent Moon”, Revlon Super Lustrous Creme Lipstick in “Pink In The Afternoon”