I am human and I need to be clothed

I went to a local New Look store a wee while back and they'd moved the plus size section. It was once right in amongst the "normal" clothes in the prime of the store, but they'd moved it upstairs, tucked into a tiny corner behind the menswear. To make one feel just that little bit more shithouse, on this particular day the lights happened to broken. The whole store was a flourescent blaze, except for this one corner with the fat clothes which was in total darkness. You gotta laugh.

Things have changed massively since I was last a larger lass. Back in the early 00s it was a struggle to find something to wear and the limited selection seemed aimed at old ladies – blousy tunic tops, tapered leg jeans with elastic waists; shiny black "slacks". And of course those nighties with kittens printed on them.

These days there is so much more on offer, especially online. With the proliferation of fat fashion blogs you're never short of inspiration either. Here are some things I've noticed from recent shopping experiences:

1. Sizing is ridiculous
I know there's never really been anything remotely resembling standard clothing sizes, but I currently have clothes from 16 – 22, some of it even from the same shop. What the bloody hell size am I? In some stores I can wear the "normal" sizes, other times I'm banished to the plus sizes. You never really know til you try on, which is a pain in the arse if shopping makes you cranky.

2. They're making trendy stuff in larger sizes
Which is a great leap forward from the Sequinned Kitten era. Alas I'm now 33 years old and look ridiculous if I slip into something apparently Bang On Trend.

3. Somtimes you still feel like a second-class citizen
They make an effort to have a larger size range, but it's only available online. I'm looking at you H&M and Old Navy.

4. Jeans are easier to find
No more tapered legs! There's such a great variety of styles, but no matter what size I am I still usually have to get wide-leg styles to accommodate my sturdy thighs.

5. Dressing the top half is not as simple
This is no doubt down to my fusspot personal preferences and body shape, but I find it hard to find tops that don't totally swamp your waist. I still have a waist dammit, I don't want a smock! Also, there doesn't seem to be that much choice in the middle ground between dull basics and mega trendy.

Speaking of trendy, here are the two kinds of tops that most leave me spluttering with disbelief.

a) The modern equivalent of the kitten-print top, Tops with stupid shit written on them:

Lol   Rawr   Rawr

b) Tops that make you look like you were attacked by hungry dogs:

Nibbled2   Nibbled2

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Into the closet

Last year I hated opening my wardrobe. All those too-tight or just plain too-small clothes seemed to mock me. They were testament to my lack of self-control, my weakness, my laziness; whatever negative phrase you want to put there.

After awhile, when I retreated into all-out denial, I didn't really open it at all. I'd just slide the door a wee bit so I could reach in for my coat and the handful of trousers that still fit.

Something has shifted in the past few weeks. Now I am opening the doors and having a good nosey around. I feel a little rush at the thought of wearing them again. I know it's not going to happen for a long while but I feel it in my bones that it will happen eventually. I no longer feel threatened or overwhelmed. A dress is just a dress again, not failure-on-a-coathanger.

What saddens me is how little I wore these clothes when I actually did fit into them. I've got about five dresses and three skirts and to be honest each has been worn only a few times. I'd think, "I should save this For Good" then went back to my Jeans And Top uniform. I felt like an imposter if I put on girly clothes. It was almost scary. It felt like someone would bust me and say, "Who do you think you are, trying to wear normal clothes?!"

It must sound nutty but I'm not sure I ever believed I was smaller. On some level I don't think I felt I belonged there, or that I deserved it, or that I'd ever be able stay there. I'm only just processing these thoughts so it's not making much sense right now. I just remember that strange feeling when I was in the Green Room, waiting to go on the telly in America. The feeling I was still too fat, that I was in the wrong place, that everything was about to explode. The Applause sign would light up but instead of applause it would say FRAUD!

I know I keep saying it's different this time; I wonder if you're rolling your eyes. But it just does. I see exactly how and why it fell apart. I feel like I have grasped the "what can you sustain for the rest of your life" concept and backing that up with small, calm, consistent actions.

But I tell you what, whenever I do manage to get back into the size 14 frocks, I'm going to wear the buggers out on the town or down to the supermarket. And in the meatime I'll make the effort to actually do my hair, put on some lippie and look after myself where I am, right now.

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Who are your self esteem heroes?

Recently I linked to Already Pretty, a fantastic blog by Sally McGraw about personal style and body image. Last Monday she wrote yet another brilliant post about her self esteem heroes.

It's easy to focus on and amplify the memories of those who have given your self-esteem and/or body image a kicking. Family members remarking on sturdy thighs, teachers pointing out chubbiness (so professional), or girls who called you a "red-headed slut" in high school. Despite having red hair themselves.

(Actually that last one made me chortle at the time and still does two decades later!)

Sally wrote:

But let’s talk instead about the quiet heroes of your self-esteem. Who in your life makes you feel gorgeous, powerful, perfect? Which friends and family members are quick with a compliment, or eager to re-route the conversation when you start tearing yourself down?

Such a cool idea. Here's my list – incomplete for sure, but it's been awhile since posts. No time for dilly-dallying!

  • Colin the Kickboxing Coach – I wrote previously that he deserves a knighthood for services to self esteem. He makes everyone in the team feel welcome, from prize fighter to prize wussbag. Whenever I'm about to punch myself in the noggin with frustration he'll pop up and say, "nice kick" or "good work, keep going!" and that you suck! voice is sent back in its box.
  • Kellie the Zumba Lass – I'm an anonymous number in an insanely crowded classes – she wouldn't know me if she tripped over my beet-faced sweat-basted semi-conscious body. But her classes make me feel so freakin' alive – I'm always there, fully present with shaking booty. Afterward I'm giddy and can't shut up about it all day.
  • Sister Rhi – We dissect our lives in a weekly phone debrief, lifting each other up and laughing at ourselves and our misadventures.
  • Carla – Our podcast calls leave me buzzing and determined to make the most out of my days. Carla makes me see how important it is to be passionate about what you do and not let other's opinions stop you.
  • Dr G – He is very economical with his words – a man of action to my slug with verbal diarrhea.

    "Your eyes look especially blue today" I'll say.

    "Yeah," comes the reply, "Blue EYE BAGS!".

    Or: "You're looking very tan lately, Doc!"

    "It's just dirt!"

    But he makes me feel loved and happy to be alive by making me laugh – half the time he doesn't even realise he's said something funny, which makes it even better. He also knows when to give a hug and can tell the difference between carefree joke and joke-to-disguise-inner turmoil.

    He also always remembers when it's Haircut Day so he can say, "I like your 'do!" when I arrive home even though he can't really see a difference.

How about you?

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Twas The Night Before Christmas Party

Thighstrangler Time for the Annual Christmas Party Eve Clothes Shopping Rant! 

I was going to wear the same skanky purple Going Out Top I've worn for all occasions this past year but it's so grandmotherly and sensible I thought I'd hunt down something groovier. Admittedly hitting the shops the night before the party was a crap strategy; all the ho ho ho and jingle jangling in the shopping centre made me cranky after ten minutes and I soon gave up.

This year's gripe: why the bloody hell why are they putting elastic on the bottom of Going Out Tops?

I thought I'd hit the jackpot with a slinky gold number. I pulled it over my head and felt a rush of hope as it draped over my sturdy shoulders, hugged the boobs and flattered the belly. But then it went quite literally pear-shaped because the top kept on going, all the way to mid-thigh, engulfing my butt… then finished with an elasticated hem. It strangled my thighs like a lasso, making the top billow out between boob and thigh so I resembled a shimmering, arseless Christmas bauble.

Why would I want a lasso round my thighs? I know where my thighs are!

. . .

A lovely former colleague visited us today along with her five-month-old twin girls. I held one for two minutes and didn't break it.

"Are you sniffing her head?" Linda asked.

"Yes! It smells like babies."

"What did you think it would smell like? Coffee?"

For the first time in my life I felt a very faint twinge that babies might not be the most revolting idea in the world. Very very faint, mind you.

I raised the possibility with Gareth this evening.

"Nah," he said. "Too much work."

"But we could raise them under a fascist regime like The Mothership did. It would be the total opposite of too much work. Teach them to do dishes and weed gardens as soon as they can lift their own heads. You'll never do chores again!"

"You can't do fascist regimes with kids these days! They just get resentful and steal all your money then stab you in your sleep."

. . .

Hello to anyone who found their way here from People magazine! Just to explain in case you came looking for super duper speedy weight loss tips, there was a wee typo in their review of the Dietgirl book - the lard-busting took around 333 weeks, not 33. Hehe.

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Death to Tapered Jeans

Jeans of Yesteryear meet Jeans of Today:

Jeans

The difference didn’t look half as dramatic as I’d thought when I compared them on the hanger, but I reckon some of that has to do with the new ones being a generous bootleg cut and the old ones being of the FUGLY AS SIN tapered-leg variety. Who invented the tapered leg and why haven’t they been drowned in a bucket yet? One pair is size 26, the other size 14 but they’re the exact same size round the ankles.

Can I have a seven-years-too-late rant about these godawful jeans? Thanks very bloody much, Fat Jeans Designer, for the ankle-strangling design that made me feel like a beach ball on legs. Thanks very much for the ridiculously long and saggy crotch – as though you thought I’d want room to carry an emergency picnic.

Jeans2

(Do plus size jeans come in more flattering shapes these days? Is the taper dead and buried?)

During my lard-busting I couldn’t wait for the day when I could stroll into a shop and waltz away with a pair of jeans without elastic or trauma. Of course now I realise that jeans shopping is a bastard no matter what your size. A friend persuaded me to try on skinny jeans recently. HA! Despite going a size bigger I couldn’t get them past mid-calf. I’m grateful for all the wide-leg styles out at the moment, because the wider thighs fit like regular on me, hehe.

(This post was inspired by Mrs Lard playing Russian dolls with her array of old jeans)

UPDATE: The taper is alive and well, my friends. Be afraid!

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Ye Olde Fat Shoppe

OutsizeLike many I have traumatic tales of shopping for plus size clothes. The frustration, the frumpiness, the flammable fabrics. Then recently at the Yorkshire Air Museum I spotted this advertisement from a WWII newspaper and realised we have come a long way. If a 1940s larger lass heard me moaning about my tapered jeans and shirts with beards she’d be rolling her eyes, "You think you’ve got it bad, missy? Why, back in MY day all I had was a Charmingly Colourful OUTSIZE FROCK!"

Gracefully draped style, designed to give soft slimming lines to the full figure. In brightly coloured screen print effect Rayon Crepe in various shades. 46, 48 & 50 ins. hips.

It looks like the basic idea was that one drew attention away from the hips with gigantic shoulders, upon which one could have landed a Lancaster Bomber.

The model doesn’t seem particularly outsized. I guess it’s only been in recent times that we’ve progressed to actual plus size people modelling plus size clothing, so it might have been too radical to sketch a proper plus size chick. Or maybe they had to ration their pencil strokes since there was a WAR on, don’t you know.

They also very thoughtfully catered beyond 50 inches: Others equally attractive in Prints up to 54 ins. Also Rayon Frocks, 46 to 60 ins.

Outsize2

What do you think of the plus size clothes of today? Are they getting any better? I must admit I had a few "Back In My Day" moments when I first arrived in the UK in 2003 – I nearly wept in an Evans store when I saw jeans without stupid sequins and costume jewellery that actually got around my wrists and fingers. And then I found Monsoon stocking up to size 22, so I could buy things off the same rack as my slip of a sister (except I didn’t coz it was so bloody expensive). I found three different shops with non-frumpy Going Out Tops. I was excited by the options, but part of me wanted to shout at the younguns, YOU KIDS! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE! I didn’t have no fancy wrap dress! All I had were black trousers and man shirts!

But five years on, from what I’ve read in emails and blogs, it seems that overall both the clothes and the shopping experience are still prone to extreme suckiness. It’s not all Charmingly Colourful Rayon but there is still some ways to go – as best illustrated by Katy’s horrific experience in New York.

. . .

I had eggs for breakfast on Saturday, of the Green & Blacks miniature soft-centred persuasion. Very tasty and no doubt top quality fuel for the eight-mile training walk that followed… but nothing can beat gnashing the ears off a good old Aussie Red Tulip bunny. Will somebody scoff one on my behalf and recount every filthy detail in the comments!? Happy Easter, comrades.   

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One Size Fits All

I was in TK Maxx the other day. I know some people worship the place, but how come every time I rifle through those bulging racks it’s all lime green capris and Michael Jackson leather jackets? I was, however, very tempted by the glorious range of exercise gear. Check out these Sauna Exercise Suits.

Suit_2It says on the box:

"Shed water weight effortlessly! Wear it while you work, play or exercise. Body heat is sealed in to help muscles stay warm and keep you in top condition. Easy to carry and store. Hand washable. Elasticized – One size fits all."

Elastic at the waist AND neck… now that is sexy. Kind of wish I’d bought one now; I feel all desperate and lardy after two weeks without exercise.

I went to the doctor yesterday and I’ve got some antibiotics. Or andybiodics, which is how Dr G alleges I pronounce it. The ear pain has subsided but I still can’t hear a bloody thing. 

My doctor has a set of scales sitting right beside the desk. Why do doctors always have to put the scales, right there? I still have a residual fear that no matter how ill or injured I feel, they’re going to oh so casually ask me about my weight. I don’t see a doctor very often, but the last few times – shoulder injury, dodgy knee, Sinus of Doom – I held my breath waiting for them to say, "I’ll just get you to hop on the scales." Even yesterday when she stuck the ear-thingy into my ear and declared it severely inflamed I sighed with relief.

When I was seriously obese I avoided doctors because of that fear of not being taken seriously; that any ailment would be blamed on my size. And you know what? Part of me actually believed that was true. Part of me didn’t want to bother the busy doctors with my bulky presence. The only time I saw a doctor was in 1999, at The Mothership’s insistence, when she figured out about the depression. I was desperate to reach out but somehow felt it was my own lardy fault that I felt so shit; that somehow I deserved it.

I remember the doctor didn’t mention my weight. She just said she’d help me get help. I felt relieved, but I also like I’d gotten away with something.

She sent me off for some blood tests too, since I’d been feeling so run down. And this is the only real Fat Girl Horror Story I have. I was such a hermit at my largest, so I never had an opportunity to break chairs or to be yelled at by a carful of teenagers. All I have is a trip to a nurse for blood tests and they couldn’t find a vein. They wrapped my arm in the extra large cuff and had me squeeze my fist harder and harder. Then they tried the other arm. On and on it went for half an hour. The nurses frowned and clucked and said don’t worry dear, but I almost felt too numb to feel the humiliation. There was numbness and this low, rumbling anger directed at myself.

They told me to come back tomorrow to try again, and to have a really hot shower beforehand. And they managed to find the tiniest wee speck of blue that time. The tests came back perfectly healthy. I was always good on paper: perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar. No bad knees.

I’m really wandering all over the place tonight, aren’t I? I guess it still scares me how much I used to hate myself. I read lots of fat chicks on the internet, all loud and proud and confident and and unapologetic and I feel jealous and ashamed that I wasn’t like that. I just hid from the world and wished I could rip my flesh off. But maybe half the reason I keep writing is just in case there is anyone out there that ever felt like I did. To show that is possible to crawl away from that feeling, even if it takes an age. Even if you still second guess yourself at the doctor’s surgery and sometimes find it hard to believe the feelgood is for real.

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Helicopter Arms

Geekgasms ahoy! Thanks to my pal Claire I’ve found a new obsession – MapMyWalk.com. I can plot all my routes on the map thingy, log training walks and other activities, then calculate distances and calories burned. There’s calendars and graphs and I can track all sorts of wacky information like daily mood, weather and quality of sleep. I can enter all my SHOES and keep track of how many miles each pair plods. I already use a blog and a spreadsheet and WLR and a paper diary, but really… you can never have too many statistics.

I also like to stalk websites written by redheads, because it’s nice to read about accomplished redheads making their way in the world. If you believed what you saw on the television, all we do is go around stabbing people or generally being calculating and eeeevil. My current favourite is What I Wore Today by Kasmira in Cincinnati. As the name suggests, she writes about what she wears. She has a brilliant sense of style and colour, not to mention lovely legs. I bet if you handed her a piece of string, a paper clip and a banana peel she could fashion some killer accessories in a jiffy. Ginger power!

I also love how she looks so comfy and relaxed in her clothes, like she has fun getting dressed every day. I want to be like that! I want to have more fun with clothes and this new body of mine. It’s not even new anymore – I’ve been a size 14 for almost two years now. But I’m not always the best at judging how much space I take up. I absentmindedly take 16s and 18s into change rooms; I still have a tendency to walk with my arms flying out like a helicopter, as if they’re resting against a much wider body. A journalist asked me recently, "Do you go WILD with new clothes now?" and I said, "What do you mean?" and she said, "Isn’t that what people do when they lose a crazy amount of weight?" and I thought, Ohh! Why haven’t I done that?

I’ve been more advanced this past year, trying a few frocks and stuff but it’s all a bit dull. I’ll get dressed up for a night out but feel like a dowdy granny as soon as I meet my pals, who always seem colourful and adventurous. How do they do that? My most exciting purchase has been my boots which have a current cost per wear of £50, coz I’m too chicken/lazy to think of something to wear with them. I feel like an imposter when I’m clip-clopping around, like someone is going to yell, "HEY lardy, who do you think you are in them boots?"

Are there any other losers out there who struggle to dress their new bods? Or are you all going for gold doon the shops?

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My Day In Elle

When it comes to confidence it’s all about context. For a long while now I’ve claimed to be totally cool with all my wobbly bits, as I stomped up hills or paddled canoes or dashed to the hardware shop in a tracksuit encrusted with paint and yesterday’s Weetbix. But back in November I had a real test of those convictions: a photo shoot for ELLE magazine!

I was so excited when they asked me to write about how I came to a place of bodily peace, lurve and understanding. But when it came to the accompanying photo shoot, you might say I had an old-fashioned Fat Girl Freakout. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’d written 1500… so wasn’t a picture and a half enough?

"I’m not Elleworthy," is what I whimpered to everyone who said I was being ridiculous. I thought they’d have to amend the slogan on the spine: The World’s Biggest Selling Fashion Magazine: Now Contains Morons!

I’d had my photo taken before under less daunting circumstances: just me in my own clothes with freelance stylists and photographers. This time it was in London in a posh studio with Real Magazine People, and they were supplying the clothes! I couldn’t sleep for a week beforehand. Despite giving them my measurements I feared they’d not find anything to fit me. I had visions of seams bursting; of buttons flying off and blinding nubile assistants.

I woke at 6AM on the day of the shoot to wash my hair. I dried it at 7AM. At 8AM I became convinced it looked greasy.

Shauna: Does my hair look greasy? I think it looks greasy.
Rhiannon: It doesn’t look greasy.
S: But I think it does, I used too much of your hair stuff. It’s more powerful than my hair stuff.
R: Is it?
S: Why didn’t I use my own? Why did I risk New Hair Stuff today of all days?
R: It doesn’t look greasy!
S: I think I better wash it again. Do you think I should wash it again?
R:   . . .
S: I don’t know. I can’t decide.
R: Well you better hurry up and decide. You only have two hours.
S: Oh my god what do I doooo?

Not only does my nervousness cause loss of appetite, there’s also severe indecision and paranoia. In the end I listened to the voice of reason that is my sister and did not re-wash my locks.

We met the lovely Sam and Anna from my publisher outside the studio and together we entered the temple o’ glamour. It was all high ceilings and huge windows and yawning white spaces. We sat on a plush couch and were offered refreshments, but I declined because my teeth were chattering so wildly that I feared I might bite a hunk out of a teacup.

The Elle People trickled in, and they were very nice and chatty. I began to relax. Then the hair and makeup artist got to work. She did a great job at disguising all those sleepless nights! Then she bouffed up my hair and pulled fancy moves with the straighteners. All I could do was gawk in amazement. Make up artist? Make up magician more like! Woohoo!

Next I met Bonnie the Stylist and she was gorgeous. She took me off to a dressing room with a rack of clothes and a neat row of swanky looking shoes all waiting to be caressed by my size eight hoof. She explained we’d be doing a series of portraits with a soft, elegant look. I nearly snorted because I saw myself as more suited to a rustic farm girl look.

She pulled a shirt off the rack and it looked impossibly dainty and pretty. Thankfully it fitted. The trousers did not. I couldn’t get them past my knees and I mumbled, Sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry.

I was so irritated that I’d said that out loud. What happened to the Happy Just Being Me stuff? I felt crushed and pathetic, but Bonnie was like a reassuring old Aunt trapped in the body of an elegant, tiny young woman. She told me not to worry about sizes and labels, and besides, she had plenty more trousers to try on. Soon I was clothed and climbing into a pair of high heels.

Dudes. Nobody warned me about high heels. I mean really high ones. I started to walk back into the studio expecting my legs to just, you know… walk? But instead I staggered like I’d been thrown out of a moving car. How do people wear those things all day? I was mortified by that entrance and the fact that I was clearly the elephant in the room… yet all this fuss was due to My Amazing Weight Loss?

It was one of those moments when I could stand outside myself and listen to the wild screaming match between my Old Thinking and New Thinking. Who will be the victor today? I hope you can understand how everything I’d learned over the past seven years could temporarily desert me. It was the context – a room full of glossy magazine people, cameras, bright lights, high-heeled clomping. I’d never felt like such a big fat fish out of water. My mind raced as I took my place on the wee set, Who have I been kidding? I should lose another ten kilos. Maybe twenty. Why did I eat so many bloody bagels in New York?

But then thankfully the New Thinking took over. The moment the photographer smiled and lifted the camera to her eye, I felt a massive rush of adrenaline and glee. I’m in London! In a studio! With fancy hair! And crazy shoes! Gettin’ me photie taken! For ELLE! This isn’t awful, it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.

I remembered my favourite Flight of the Conchords episode with Jemaine’s heartfelt speech about racism: "I’m a person. You’re a person. That person over there is a person. And every person… deserves to be treated like a person."  All the people in the room were persons, and they were treating me like a person. So I should remember to treat myself like a person, and not a lardy freak!

The camera was hooked up to a computer so the photos instantly popped up onscreen. That could have been daunting, especially when people were clustered around it with serious expressions, pointing to blown-up eyebrows, teeth and jawlines. But somehow once we were in the swing of things I could look at the images with a pleasant objectivity. It was fun doing all the poses too. At first I couldn’t stop laughing, so there were dozens of giant gummy grin shots. Then the photographer said, Look sad! So I looked out the window and saw an old lady shuffling towards a mailbox. I pictured a Royal Mail van burning around the corner and mowing her down. I think I even summoned a wee tear. Then she said, Pretend your secret crush has just walked into the room. Oooh. Cue demure blush. At one point I had to toss my hair around, like I’d just stepped out of the salon. Fun and games!

We had a lunch break. There was table full of freshly-cooked gourmet treats but I picked at a tiny wedge of quiche. Not because I’d gone all Starving Model but I didn’t want to get anything stuck in my fangs! I thought about models and how its no wonder they snort things and live on cigarettes and have tortured love lives. I can’t imagine anything worse than your career being based entirely on the way you look. How do they not explode from the constant scrutiny?

There was a basket of miniature bars of Green and Blacks chocolate. In all the flavours! OH I trembled with joy, or it may have been high heel instability. I grabbed one, clopped back to the dressing room and nestled it beside my Spare Bra. I had to bring two along – one black, one flesh coloured.

The rest of the shoot passed without incident, except for when my arms got STUCK inside a shirt! It was outfit change no. 5 methinks. The top was carefully placed over my head and outstretched arms, but when they pulled downward they couldn’t get very far. I felt like a right goose, trapped in designer cotton with my arms glued to my ears, but at least I laughed instead of apologising!

Afterwards, I changed into my civvies and was just about to head out when I remember my choccie. They were packing up the clothes in the dressing room. The stylist’s glamourous assistant smiled and scooped up the goods from the table.

"Here’s your bra and your chocolate!" she said.

She had the chocolate bar in one hand and my giant, ultra supportive bra in the other. She could have worn one cup as a hat, I swear. It was hilarious.

. . .

So the story is in this month’s issue of Elle, but it’s only this month’s issue for another half hour as the new issue comes out on the 30th. How’s that for timely blogging? Anyway, I’ve done a dodgy scan if you fancy  a peek. Gareth and I keep cackling over one frame in particular because it’s like the opening credits of Kath & Kim:

Over the shoulder
There’s always a joker in the pack.
Bwaaaaaaahhahahaa!
(apologies if you’ve never seen K&K!)

click for larger mugs
(click for larger)
Full story: page 1, page 2

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