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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review / Walden Natural Perfumes: A Different Drummer

Not long after I started to get more interested in perfumes, I received the latest press release for one of the latest additions to LoveLula, and was delighted to see that it was a new high end, cruelty free and vegan line of fragrances. The new brand, Walden Natural Perfumes, takes its name from the works of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The book itself is a reflection of simple living in natural surroundings, and walks the line between an autobiography, and a social critique of consumerist attitudes and attachment to the material, hustle and bustle world in which we live.

The brand shares much the ethos detailed in Walden – one that I can very much relate to as a nature lover who is increasingly feeling alienated and frustrated by the materialist ways of today’s world – and each fragrance is said to be made from only the finest natural absolutes, resins and essential oils. The perfumes are named after and inspired by quotes from the book, and were created with the themes of nature, spiritual awakening and solitude in mind.

Given the heavy links to nature and the natural world, I was very keen to see how they smelled since I’m someone who tends not to enjoy traditional perfumes; I find they smell too harsh, alcohol-based and manufactured (and just stinky and unpleasant). I did a little reading about each fragrance, and eventually selected A Different Drummer* to try, as it sounded right up my street.



This particular fragrance drew me in almost immediately, as it’s described as opening with a spicy blast of pepper, followed by cedarwood, amber, and finishing with sandalwood. I tend to prefer spiced, woody, earthy smells so it seemed like my perfect scent on paper. When I first tested it out, I must say – I wasn’t sure if it was for me! The smell caught me off guard, and was indeed quite strong and peppery, with an almost musky kick. Once it started to settle however, I noticed the other notes to it, and the fiery blast dulled down to a warm, spicy scent complimented by the clean, woody smell of cedarwood and the sandalwood notes. After a while of mixing with my body chemistry, it takes on a faintly sweeter dimension but maintained the warm, musky tone to it.

From what I know about traditional perfumes, this doesn’t last quite as long as some (but none can be expected to last the entire day). I can still smell it very faintly on my skin at the end of the day, but I’ve found spritzing a little bit on my sleeves or collar as well as my skin helps to layer the scent and keep it going for a little while longer.

Despite my initial reservations when I first smelled it, I’m extremely enamoured with it now and have been really enjoying wearing it. It lends itself well to the quote after which it’s named: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” It’s a truly unique scent, unlike anything that I’ve ever really smelled in a perfume before, and the way that it changes after a while of hanging in the air or of settling on my body throughout the day is so multi-dimensional. It evokes warmth, confidence and self-assuredness; a reminder to grow, follow your own rhythm and resist the conformity that our world so fiercely tries to box us into.

I look forward to applying A Different Drummer each morning, and am happy to say I will definitely be looking to Walden Natural Perfumes for my future fragrances. The packaging for each perfume is beautifully simple and elegant; a 50ml glass bottle, with a removable wooden lid that reveals the nozzle. The prices vary very slightly between fragrances, but A Different Drummer is £50 per bottle, which I would argue is reasonable and expected for a cruelty free alternative to high end fragrances.

To me, Walden’s fragrances successfully set themselves apart from the over-produced, sickly scented high street, high end perfumes that I’ve learned to hate over the years; these really do march to the beat of their own drums, and it’s a beat I can get behind.

* This review is not sponsored and has not been paid for, however the product was sent to me free of charge. All views and opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Fatphobic Problem in Plant-Based Living



Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard all about the Lush controversy. I won’t get too bogged down in the nitty gritty of the issue, but in an nutshell, they shared some rather insensitive ‘medical facts’ relating to obesity, lifestyle and early death on their Instagram feed. Ultimately, as Lush is a brand who has claimed heart-felt ethics, inclusivity and has used body positivity as a marketing tool in the past, it didn’t go down well that they were sharing content that – medical fact or not – alienated and shamed swathes of their own customers.

In the wake of those posts, a lot of problematic issues in various communities came bubbling to the surface. Slews of bloggers rushed to their defence, in one way or another, creating a divide in the body positive community between those whose body positivity extends only as far as healthy (read: acceptable looking) bodies, and those who believe that all bodies deserve respect and love irrespective of health.

Obviously, there is a lot to be said about that, but I’m not the one to say it today. Instead, I want to address a couple of different groups that intersect here – the vegan, plant-based and general ‘wellness’ communities. Given the circles I surround myself with in the blogosphere, it’s not surprising that a few of my fellow plant-based Internetizens had a few things to say about this, and honestly, what many did share didn’t surprise me at all.

Veganism and plant-based living have long been equated with fatphobia; a certain amount of it I would argue is created by those outside, looking in. A lot of omnivores have a certain image of those who abstain from animal products as being super skinny, athletic and existing with 1% body fat on nothing but veggies and copious amounts of fruit, and many of those same omnivores might dip their toes into plant-based diets purely for the supposed health benefits. Vegans who don’t fit this skinny, fit mould or who are just straight up fat occasionally find non-vegans questioning whether or not they’re really vegan, because ‘aren’t vegans all really slim and skinny and healthy-looking?’

That said, the nature of some of the arguments behind why we should go vegan leads plenty of those who promote plant-based and vegan living down a hella fatphobic road. The health benefits of a varied, plant-based diet are many – eating large amounts of certain animal products is correlated to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, high cholesterol and, on the whole, dying earlier than those who don’t eat these things. Not to mention the fact that meat and animal products are also generally less nutritious than they were fifty years ago (thanks to industrial farming and animals reared in unnatural environments and on less nutritious meals themselves) and are also often hormone-, drug- and/or disease-ridden.

Given all of that, it’s only natural to want to spread the word about how eating fewer animal products and more plants can help to improve your health. I’ve felt plenty of major health benefits from going vegan myself; I’m more energetic, I look healthier and more radiant, my hair and nails are stronger, my IBS symptoms have improved and my hormones are less all-over-the-place than they were pre-veganism. How we go about doing that though, is where the problem lies.

Vegans and plant-based folks are often accused of fatphobia and bodyshaming because, well, they often are fatphobic and bodyshame. For some, fat bodies become a tool used to guilt and scare people into giving up animal products.  For example, I’ve seen a number of illustrations shared among the plant-based social media communities in the past, depicting fat silhouettes filled with illustrations of burgers, chips, chicken wings, donuts etc. contrasted with skinny silhouettes filled with vegetables, fruits and nuts.  Pro-plant-based cartoons and illustrations depict images like fat people lounging on sofas, stuffing meat-based fast food into their mouths with ‘ironic’ speech bubbles such as ‘I won’t go vegan, that’s not a healthy lifestyle’. The identities of fat people and the fact that they are living, breathing humans deserving of respect are stripped away, and instead they become a cautionary tale or a side-by-side comparison essentially to say ‘this is what a vegan body looks like, but this is what a body that eats meat and cheese looks like – yuck!’

Warnings about the so-called obesity epidemic are rife in plant-based communities, because plant-based diets are viewed (understandably) as a solution to that ‘problem’. And this isn’t just vegans, of course, it’s the ‘wellness’, ethical and sustainable living communities too. Basically, any group of people for whom what we eat is a large part of our lifestyle and our view of the world around us. The issue here though, is the fact that folks who use this as ammunition in their fight to promote these lifestyles are often dehumanising other people. They’re reducing fat bodies to a societal problem to be solved, a symptom that can be cured if only you would only put down your bacon sandwich and pick up a green smoothie instead, and that is not okay.

For a start, at least in the vegan world, not every vegan or plant-based individual is healthy. You can be vegan and exist on little more than potatoes, Oreos and pizzas smothered in Tesco free-from mozzarella – that’s not healthy. Secondly, not every fat person is unhealthy. Regardless of whatever statistics you want to try to throw at me, ill health and being fat might be correlated in some circumstances but are not intrinsically linked; a fat person can eat well, get plenty of exercise and still be fat. Fat people can even suffer from eating disorders and, yep, you guessed it! still be fat. You simply cannot know just by looking at the size of someone’s body what their lifestyle and diet are like. Finally, and this is the kicker that has come out of all of this, even if someone is unhealthy it doesn’t mean that they are undeserving of respect and being treated like a human being.

It’s absolutely okay to use statistics and facts to back up the very real health benefits of giving up animal products, but what’s not okay is to use living, breathing people and entire body types as expendable props and horror stories to justify our arguments. You just need to learn the damn difference.

Sharing with a friend that those who eat a wholefoods, plant-based diet have a much lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who eat your average, animal product inclusive diet is totally cool. What’s not cool, for example, is the sharing of ‘shocking’ images of fat bodies and talking about how diet-based lifestyle choices are going to kill you and how going vegan would ease the strain of obesity on the NHS. Nor is talking about how obesity and being overweight is killing us all, and that ‘lifestyle choices’ (i.e. being fat) are a major cause of death, so 'lol go vegan!'. Nor is using the simple idea of looking fat as a cautionary tale for giving up animal products, and promoting thin bodies as a holy grail you can finally find if you go vegan or plant-based. In the first example, you’re sharing an objective statistic about the benefits of a plant-based diet. In the others, while they may be ‘facts’, you’re demonising and dehumanising an already marginalised group of people, equating body size with total body health, and reducing fat bodies to curable, medical conditions that are at best just lazy and at worst burdensome.

Those might sound like odd or extreme examples, but they’re all examples that I’ve seen. There are certain vocal members of plant-based communities who feel the need to comment on Instagram images of fat people, and share why they should go vegan for the sake of their health and appearances. There are plant-based YouTubers who tell their viewers that if you’re plant-based and fat, then you’re being lazy, not working hard enough and you’re doing it wrong. There are plant-based people who fight for the rights of animals to not be used as objects for human consumption, yet at the same time will reduce fat people to faceless fat bodies, unsightly creatures and problems viewed from a medical lens – essentially, turning them into objects, using the same tactics commonly used in the media used to scare the public and serve certain agendas.  Hypocrisy much?

If we can extend our compassion to animals and the environment, we should be able to extend our compassion to other groups of humans who are so often marginalised and mistreated by society. Veganism and plant-based diets have plenty of benefits without having to resort to turning fat bodies into objects to use to promote our lifestyles. If ‘but you can be skinny instead of looking like THAT’ or ‘but don’t you know obesity is costly and deadly and you’re less likely to be obese if you’re vegan/plant-based’ are the only arguments you can think of to adequately fight your corner then, honestly, you’ve got some problems with your ethics there, sort yourself out. Fat people are people; not statistics, not propaganda. Fat bodies are deserving of respect regardless of whether or not they are healthy, and fat people deserve more than to be treated like medical symptoms, deterrents or fucking wake-up calls.

If you take away nothing else from this, then at least remember that as a movement that can benefit so, so many, it simply doesn’t make sense to alienate and exclude groups of people in the way that this approach to plant-based activism does. This type of behaviour and this use of other people as ammo for your cause does little to sway many towards plant-based living and gives veganism and plant-based communities a terrible, exclusive and uncompassionate reputation.

Basically, don’t be that guy.