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Summer reads 2017

Author:
sophia3

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

It’s that time of year again. If you’re lucky, the sun is out and shining gloriously down on you. If you’re British, it’s occasionally poking through the clouds a bit – and you’re chasing the patches of light whilst simultaneously groaning about the ‘heat’.

Oh yes. It’s Summer.

The best thing about Summer – in my humble opinion – is that there’s time to read, and no restrictions on what it is that you read. It makes me nervous that in a few years, my life won’t be structured around academic years, and I won’t have this open space to dedicate to lounging around, reading book after book. But I’m trying not to think about that too hard – I’ll save the breakdowns about my impending adulthood for more convenient times, such as exam season.

I’ve just finished my first year at university, where I study English Literature. I have read a few books for pleasure here and there, but I’ve found that when I’ve had free time I’ve wanted to spend it on other pursuits – by which I mean Netflix. I never thought I’d say this, but I haven’t wanted to read that much. I’ve been excited by new books and blew my student loan in Waterstones at the beginning of each term, but I haven’t read many of them. I’m generally very content to spend 85% of my time reading, but when I have no control over my TBR pile and said pile is full of pretentious essays that make little sense, and unsatisfying poetry written by white men I’m less keen. I love my degree, but it does suck some of the joy out of my favourite hobby.

However, now that I’ve had some time to decompress – and exhausted everything of interest on Netflix – I’m ready to read again. And I’m excited about it. Hopefully, you’re also feeling excited about it. It’s exciting. Books mean that not going on holiday doesn’t matter – you can travel all over the universe and across time, from the comfort of your home.

If you’re looking for some summer reading recommendations, you’re in the right place. I’m not going to patronise you and suggest nothing but novels about romance, shopping, and chocolate (which can be great fun, of course, but I’m tired of the assumptions that these kinds of lists tend to make). There are plenty of places you can go to for that. Powered By Girl is here to give you an alternative.

If you’re a fan of graphic novels, try….

PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi. All of Marjane Satrapi’s work is wonderful, but this is definitely the place to start. It’s an autobiography of her childhood and young adulthood, depicted in a beautiful and distinct style. Marjane grew up in Iran, during and after the Islamic Revolution, and PERSEPOLIS provides a great insight into what that was like. It is situated in personal experience but it also reveals a lot about the history and politics of the time. If you’re looking for something more lighthearted, EMBROIDERIES is fun and engaging, and is a completely unique work. It’s also a personal favourite of mine, just saying.

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If you’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale, try…

THE POWER by Naomi Alderman. This book has the greatest concept ever. Women can kill men with touch. If that isn’t the ultimate superpower, I don’t know what is. I also love ONLY EVER YOURS by Louise O’Neill, a novel heavily influenced by Margaret Atwood’s feminist masterpiece. It thoroughly critiques beauty standards and diet culture through compelling storytelling. It’s dystopian and yet hits incredibly close to home – it reflects the reality of our world and that is disturbing. If you struggle with an eating disorder, please be careful as it is brutally honest and does use numbers. Look after yourself and please reach out for support if you are triggered.

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If you’re pissed off about bi-erasure at Pride, try…

BI: NOTES FOR A BISEXUAL REVOLUTION by Shiri Eisner – a validating and thought-provoking manifesto for bi babes, everywhere. Reading this will make you feel powerful. It will remind you that it is not you that is wrong. They are.

If you miss One Direction and those solo careers aren’t quenching your thirst, try…

GRACE AND THE FEVER by Zan Romanoff. In case you’d forgotten, I love One Direction. And yes, I’m enjoying their solo careers, for the most part. But I miss them being THEM. To fill the void, I am reading a lot of boy band related fiction. YA authors sure do know how to fulfil a gal’s needs. GRACE AND THE FEVER DREAM does fangirls justice. It doesn’t patronise us. It doesn’t laugh at our expense. It is written FOR us. It is an ode to us and the way that we love wholeheartedly. It is fun. It is wonderful. I’m so completely obsessed with it. I think anything that I can relate back to One Direction is something I’m going to be obsessed with, but this book stands on its own in its brilliance.

Here’s to a summer of thousands of pages. Enjoy!

What Larry means to us

Author:
larry

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

It’s 2am on 12th May 2017. Harry Styles’ debut album was released into the world just two hours ago. It feels like a major shift has occurred in the earth’s atmosphere. It is entirely possible that with these 10 songs, Harry has ended global warming. If anyone has the power to do so, it’s this man.

Fans across the world are lapping it up, of course – although One Direction going on hiatus was (and still is) entirely The Worst Thing Ever, the idea of a solo album from Harry has always been appealing. I am enjoying watching people’s reaction videos and reading their tweets about each song just as much as I am enjoying the actual album.

The one thing I’m not enjoying is the arguments amongst two camps of the fandom. These are always present, unfortunately.

Such arguments centre on one specific topic – that of Larry Stylinson. If you have never heard this term before (though, if you’re reading about One Direction, how is that possible?), it refers to the ‘ship’ of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson’s relationship. Some would say, a non-existent one.

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It was inevitable that an album entirely written by Harry would come into this debate – although, honestly, this fandom can make ANYTHING come into this debate – especially as he has spoken about it being pretty personal.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with people’s speculation. I am a Larry, seven years strong, and I will no doubt spend the next few days dissecting every word, every note change on this album for Larry content. It’s fun. It’s part of our exploration of this piece of art. That’s okay.

Equally, I really do not care if people don’t believe in Larry. I don’t care whether or not they read the same things into these lyrics as I do.

What I care about is the way that ‘anties’ attack larries for being larries. Why? One, because the fandom is supposed to be like a family – a massive one – and it’s supposed to be fun. But ultimately, it upsets me because it completely misses the point.

The point is not whether Larry is real or not. Maybe it is. Maybe it once was. Maybe it never has been. WHATEVER. Believe what you want to believe.

The point is that Larry symbolises something more to us.

The majority of Larries are LGBTQ+ fans. That is a fact.

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From the very beginning, it was seeing two boys being openly very affectionate towards one another. It was seeing them being completely comfortable in that – they didn’t care what people thought. That was inspiring for many young LGBTQ+ fans who were just coming to terms with their sexuality, closeted, or in difficult environments. It normalised queerness. It sent a message that we were okay. That these people that we cared so deeply about would never ostracise us for who or how we loved.

From there, we found friends. Within the fandom, we could find other queer people. We could be safe. We could explore our own sexualities and possibilities about them, particularly through the realm of fan fiction. We could be supported in our questions and concerns and confusions.

And for those of us who were so uncomfortable with our own realities that we couldn’t overtly explore them? There was a distance that Larry provided us with. I have connected with many young queer girls over the years who used writing and reading Larry fic – between two young queer boys – to think about the possibilities before they were ready to confront their own identities. For many of us, it has helped us to disentangle ourselves from internalised homophobia.

Larry is so much more than Louis and Harry – and Harry knows this, too. He knows that their relationship – real or not – is a symbol of hope to many of his fans. He knows that it’s complicated. Which is why he is continuously telling us to interpret the songs however we want to. He has never insisted upon a single meaning. He has never shut us down, and for that, I am thankful.

The wider world may not get it. Heck, the rest of the fandom may not get it. But Harry gets it. That’s nice.

She podcasts

Author:
pic3

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

Podcasting is on the rise – it’s become a very popular medium over the past year or two. It’s a great format because you can listen on the go, unlike YouTube videos, and it’s versatile. A podcast can feel like a news report, an academic lecture, an intimate conversation between friends, and anything in between. That’s why I love them so much, there’s something for any mood – although, the intimate conversations are definitely my favourites.

There are so many podcasts on iTunes, it can be overwhelming and impossible to know where to start! Here at PBG, we like to minimise overwhelm and so are at the rescue. The following are a few of my personal favourite shows, all of which are so different from each other.

Some of these you may have heard of, some you won’t have. And I can guarantee that at least one of them will be for you, regardless of whether you’re an avid podcast listener already or new to this world.

Magic Lessons

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This is Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast. Yes, ELIZABETH GILBERT. It’s an extension of her book, Big Magic, and it is genius. Of course. It’s currently on hiatus, but there’s plenty of episodes already available to get you started. Plus, each episode deserves at least two listens – there are some that I’ve played 5 times, and each time I discover something new.

Melanin Millenials
Imrie and Satia are hilarious. This was the first podcast that I got into which felt like a radio show, and not ~just~ a conversation between friends. I look forward to the different segments each week, especially ‘Clash of the Clashbacks’. If you want to know what that is (it’s as fun as it sounds), you’ll have to tune in! They recently recorded a live episode, which I got to attend, and talked about being entirely unprepared for university. It was comforting, as well as entertaining, to say the least.

Let It Out
This podcast saved me. When I first went to university, I felt incredibly isolated. When I dropped out, I felt that just as acutely. During that time, I listened to this show whenever possible. It felt like I was part of something, part of these conversations with Katie and her guest/s, and kept me out of my own head. Without a doubt, it’s my favourite podcast, and I love it more and more all the time. It’s the most intimate, and listening in feels like a giant hug.

XX, Will Travel
XX is a travel podcast made by and for women! Too often, the outdoors is viewed as “the boy’s” realm. Over the past few years, narratives of women in the wild have increased, but this has predominantly been about white women. I love that this show is different. One of the two hosts is Latinx, and they feature a diverse range of guests. That, and they share really cool resources and tips.

Food Psych

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Fellow PBG-er, Fee, introduced me to Food Psych, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Host Christy Harrison is a registered dietician/nutritionist, but ~plot twist~ she doesn’t spout BS about food and weight! This podcast has been instrumental for me in gaining understanding of the Health At Every Size movement, and has introduced me to so many cool people doing body positive work.

Call Your Girlfriend
Yes, this is named after the Robyn song. It’s a podcast created by two long-distance best friends, and they talk about everything. It’s kind of like if you were actually calling your BFF and catching up, and just happened to record it. And they often call in other cool people, including badass babe Virgie Tovar, who is a fat activist and – quite simply – a hero.

Witch, Please
I solemnly swear that Witch, Please is the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. It is the best because all I ever want to do is immerse myself in the world of Harry Potter, and this gives me the space for that. It is the worst because it has ruined the cocoon. I can no longer watch my ultimate comfort films without screaming at the screen every five minutes. And not just because dementors really, REALLY give me the creeps. The Chamber of Secrets has truly been opened. You have been warned.

the hurricane pod

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I started the hurricane pod because I needed a way to connect with other people – I was not in education, and my family had just moved to an unfamiliar place. I also really wanted to talk about mental illness in an honest manner – I was tired of the ‘success’ narratives of celebrities overcoming their mental health problems. These stories are important to hear, but they’re not always relatable when you’re in the midst of it. Plus, for many of us, ~recovered~ is not a state we will ever reach, and that is okay. The hurricane pod is about living through the storms of our brains, accepting that it’s messy, and managing the best that we can. I’m immensely proud of each and every episode, but those with my fellow PBG-ers Pip and Anna-Marie are my favourites to listen back to.

This Creative Life
Sara Zarr – author of How to Save a Life and Story of a Girl – hosts this podcast, and she speaks with other YA authors about the creative process. I’m obsessed with it, because I love hearing people’s thoughts on creativity, and I love YA. My favourite episode is with Nina LaCour, obviously. Nina LaCour makes my favourite everything.

And a few more fantastic shows, if you’re ready to dive in deep (I may or may not be subscribed to 50+ podcasts…)

Sooo Many White Guys

The Business of Soul Searching

Doing Good

The Notable Woman

Get InPowered

The Girl Gang Conversations

Hey Sis!

10 Reasons to love One Day At A Time

Author:
oneday

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

I am not someone who watches a lot of TV programmes.

I’ve watched and enjoyed a couple of shows in the past year or so, but I am still more of a movie fan. Nothing, except Orange Is The New Black, has really excited me. Until very, very recently.

At the beginning of 2017, Netflix premiered a new show called One Day At a Time. It’s a remake of a 1975 American sitcom. It could’ve fallen into the trap of nostalgia. It could’ve tried to replicate the original. But it didn’t. It is entirely its own show – merely paying homage to the former incarnation – and it is absolutely brilliant.

You should watch it. Here are ten reasons why:

1. One Day At a Time is centered around one Cuban-American family, all of whom are proud of their heritage. Too often, Latinx representation on screen is marginal, caricatured, and negative. That is not the case here. Where stereotypes are used, they are acknowledged – and either celebrated or gently mocked. In this show the Latinx characters are allowed complexities and contradictions – they are multi-dimensional. They are flawed human beings who are ultimately good and moral. This kind of representation is so important, but especially in the current state of the world.

2. At its core, the show is light-hearted and fun. It is a wonderful relief, and it is impossible not to laugh from your belly whilst watching it.

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3. But it is also unafraid to tackle important issues, and is not neutral in its viewpoint. Across the first series, One Day At a Time talks about refugees and has a key storyline focused on deportation. It touches on these topics with sensitivity and compassion, refusing to perpetuate the dehumanisation and demonisation of migrants and asylum seekers.

4. The teenage girl in the family, Elena, takes ‘social justice warrior’ as a compliment, and is unapologetic about her beliefs.

5. And *SPOILER ALERT*
her coming out is so well done. Coming out is usually depicted as a single moment in time, and it typically has one of two outcomes: either everybody is fine with it (YAY!) or the reaction is extremely negative. This is rarely a reflection of reality. For most of us, coming out is a more continuous process, and that is exactly what One Day At a Time Elena comes out to different people in her life at different points, and each of them have different reactions. She faces several difficulties – most significantly when she tries to come out to her father – but it is ultimately a positive experience. This is encouraging for closeted LGBTQ+ people – far more so than the overwhelmingly positive depictions of coming out, which only cisgender heterosexual folk believe in. What Elena’s journey shows is the truth:
coming out isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but it isn’t always tragic and traumatic either.

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6. Penelope – the mom – is a veteran who served in Afghanistan, and defies the notion that women cannot be strong and brave and badass. This comes out in so many instances throughout the series, and it is a delight to watch.

7. But she is also allowed to be vulnerable, too. She struggles with PTSD as a result of her time in action, and we witness some of her difficulties with this. What’s heartening is that we also get to see her find a place to help her heal, in a therapy group for female veterans.

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8.Lydia – the abuelita (grandma) – is fabulous. Played by the legendary Latina Rita Moreno, she is hilarious and fun and impossible not to love. Lydia is the heart of One Day At a Time, for sure.

9. Women and the relationships between them are at the forefront. There’s the young teenage boy, Alex, and the neighbour/extended family-member Schneider, but men are otherwise at the periphery. The relationship between Elena and her best friend Carmen is given attention and is shown to be important. The relationships between the three generations of women in the family are shown to be important. The friendship Penelope finds in her fellow female veterans are key to her moving forward in her life. Relationships between women are made to matter, and this matters.

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10. Having a man in the house isn’t portrayed as necessary. When Elena and Sam’s dad walks back into family life, his presence isn’t revealed as the missing piece to the puzzle. Penelope – despite left-over feelings – does not run straight into his arms. In fact, she realises that she is better off without him. The family is strong enough as they are – it may not always be easy but they make it work, one day at a time.

Ode to the teenage diary

Author:
dear diary

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

I feel as though when I say that I keep a diary, people look at me differently. There’s something judgemental in their response. That’s something that I’m used to, because I was a teenage girl for a pretty long time, and I’m a massive One Direction fan – most people tend to look down on people who meet this criteria. Actually, there’s a link there. People who like One Direction and people who write diaries can be anyone, but what demographic are they traditionally associated with? That’s right – teenage girls.

Obviously, I’m a cheerleader for teenage girls. I love teenage girls and I have experienced first-hand how smart they can be, how kind they can be, how strong and brave and creative they can be.

I am also a cheerleader for diaries and journaling. I believe that there is so much value in this practice, especially as something in the life of a teenage girl.

In a culture which teaches girls to hold back our emotions; to be good and sit pretty; where we are to be seen and not heard – writing a diary is an amazing release. Our diaries are private spaces, and nobody can criticise or judge us. Our diaries are places where we are allowed to let it out. All of it.

Anger is a particularly difficult emotion for a lot of girls to express, because we’ve been taught that it’s an ‘ugly’ emotion. I really struggle with it, and tend to only ever direct it onto myself. But if I take the time to sit down with my journal (or any old notebook, even a scrap piece of paper – and failing that, the notes app in my phone) I can get out some of that pent up rage. I can release my frustrations, and it doesn’t cause any harm to me or to anyone else. I also like that because nobody else is going to see what I write, it can be messy visually, too. I like things to be ‘perfect’, because I like to have people’s approval. In the comfort of my own pages, I don’t need anybody’s approval. I can, for once, relax, and scribble away.

It’s not just the emotions of girls that are undervalued, but our everyday experiences. We are taught to value what upper-middle class white men say, and to ignore the lessons we learn in our own lives. We learn early in life to question what we have to contribute to the world, we are told the story of our irrationality, our fickleness, our naivety. When we write in our diaries, we tell ourselves a new narrative. When we write about our lives, we are writing to remind ourselves that we have something to say and that it matters.

As a teenage girl, I was told often that my mood swings were normal, ‘just hormonal’, and that I was overdramatic. Now, I cannot say that I was not dramatic – I remain so to this day – but I can say that these comments were dismissive. They told me that other people knew best what was going on in my head, and that stopped me from talking about it. I even told myself, “you’re making this all up”, “this isn’t real”. I didn’t believe in my own version of events, I didn’t trust myself in the slightest. Finding that self-trust is something I’m still working on. But I am always learning, and my diary is instrumental in that discovery. At 15 years old, reading my own diary entry from the day before was what made me wake up, and realise that what was going on in my head was serious. At 19, it is what made me stop denying the truth and recognise the significance of what I was feeling – my diary helped me to end a relationship I was no longer happy in, and leave a space that was triggering my anxiety and depression to the extreme. My diary saved me from my own denial.

This record of memories and the validation of our personal experiences is also important to our identity. It is so easy for your sense of who you are to get tangled up with who you’re ‘supposed to be’. Teenage girls are thrown hundreds of mixed messages every single day, and we lose ourselves to it all. We allow ourselves to be defined by others and simply categorised. Not because we want to be, but because it’s overwhelming, and it can feel like the easiest option to play pretend. But in our diaries, we can take off the masks. We can be honest, and that is healing.

Nobody’s identity is static, but mine is particularly erratic. I have spent my life moulding myself into different forms, usually out of a sense of desperation, a need to be seen, a fear of being abandoned by the people I loved. For me, identity is something I don’t understand – none of the people I’ve been in the past really feel like me. When I read through old diaries, it’s painful. “I don’t know her”, I think, going through the journal I kept during my hospitalisation at 15 years old. But as uncomfortable as my past selves make me, it’s important that I connect with them, learn to accept them and, ultimately, forgive them. And when I read my old diaries, I learn about who they were, and by extension who I am. This was the only place that I was honest, and so it gives me an insight to thought patterns; shows me the consistencies in my likes and dislikes; proves to me that there is a thread which connects me to myself. I’m not just fragments.

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