“You can’t buy self care” - Pandora Sykes on Shame... | Edit | AllBright
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How do we know we’re doing it right? It’s the name of Pandora Sykes’ collection of essays, just released in paperback, but don’t expect a simple answer. It’s a whole book, after all. And we unpack it together in the latest episode of Sisterhood Works...

Pandora's wildly popular podcast The High Low finished recently, despite being a regular at the top of the charts and hitting more than 30 million downloads. We asked her why she believes in quitting while she’s ahead, why she’s not a big believer in bringing your whole self to work, and why authenticity is overrated. We also talk about the mental load, about flexible working, and about the shame women feel when we drop the ball.

It’s an episode full of food for thought, but here are 13 appetizers to get you started…

Listen to the full episode 

Purchase  here.

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On how parenthood slows you down (and why that might be a good thing)...

“My oldest child is three, and we went shopping together the other day. Because of COVID, I think it was the first time we'd gone on a little shopping trip together and she kept on saying ‘slow down Mum’, or ‘I can't keep up, you're going too fast’. And that was just yet another reminder to me, because obviously when they're little you can still charge around at the pace you want. You can put them in the sling, and you can put them in the pushchair, so this was yet another physical reminder of how the way I move through the world needs to change.”

On people pleasing...

“I think it's particularly a problem for women because socially, women care more about whether they're liked. And what makes someone likable is someone that's very easy breezy Covergirl, is always around to help out, will always say yes, will always put her hand up. And so creating boundaries is an uncomfortable process, because it means not everyone's going to like you, not everyone's going to think that you're easy and super helpful. And so I think just because of that gendered expectation, it's harder for women.”

On the shame women feel...

“I don't know many women that subscribe literally to having it all, or doing it all. I don't think it's as conscious as that, but I do think there's a subconscious need to look like you've got everything under control, and there's a large degree of shame when you drop one of those balls. If you turn up somewhere and you don't have a nappy for your child or you forget your child's backpack when she's at school, or her shoes are too small and you haven't got a new pair, I just think there's a level of shame for women that there isn't for men.”

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On the mental load...

“The cognitive labor and the emotional labor of the household has definitely been a work in progress, because you can physically split stuff a lot more easily than you can split the mental stuff. Like the act of remembering, remembering the name of your children's friends, remembering the names of their teachers, remembering who needs what shoes and what swimming costumes and what backpacks and what birthday presents and then what thank you letters for the birthday presents, all those acts of remembering, which I think can really take a toll because remembering that means that something else is shoved out of our memory.”

On communication boundaries...

“The fact that communication is now open is quite dangerous. You don't need a password in order to email someone, so our boundaries of communication are now really spiraling out of control, because you can send an email to someone and then you expect a reply, but that person might not have ever given permission to receive the email in the first place. So that, I think, adds a layer of complexity to it.”

On why she prefers self-respect to self-care...

“If we think of self-care and wellness as something you can buy, then it immediately becomes beyond the reach of so many people who don't have a lot of disposable income, because it's also now something that's incredibly expensive. All these wellness seminars and summits are thousands of dollars, and the original definition of wellness in the 60s was something that was social, it was systemic and society could not be well unless its most marginalized groups were well. And so I think something like self-respect actually taps into the intended definition of wellness better than some of the more commercialised ideas of self-care do.”

On why she’s a ‘good enough’ parent...

“I have really bought into this idea of ‘the good enough’ when it comes to my parenting. I am so not the perfect parent. I am chaotic, and I'm always late, and I get so many things wrong and I never feel like I've truly learnt everything I need to learn about parenting a child at that particular age. But I sort of know that. I know that I'll always be one step behind, and again, that is really freeing.”

On how to break the cycle of newness...

“I think the way to break that pattern has to be quite intentional. It has to be looking at who you follow on Instagram, and maybe seeing if you can vary your content, so you're not only following content creators whose work pivots entirely around new things. Maybe following as many vintage influencers or vintage stores, or following creators who have a more holistic relationship with fashion. Bringing it back to fashion as that idea of inspiration. I don't think you should be able to buy everything you see on everyone all the time.”

On how to ease back in from parental leave...

“I really don't think that taking micro maternity leaves are a great idea. But on the other end of the spectrum, I also think that taking a full year off and then going straight back into a full-time job is tremendously disorienting. Psychologically, physically, emotionally. And I wonder if there's a way of doing it a bit differently, of easing back in. So doing your work part time for a certain amount of time, or, and this is where the pandemic could help to sway these decisions, being able to work from home a couple of days a week so that you're not having to grind gears with your identities quite so forcefully.”

On why workplaces need to be flexible...

“I just don't think there should have to be a denial of who you are, and I think there has to be flexible working and an understanding of the nuances of womanhood, an understanding of the nuances perhaps of women who are undergoing fertility treatment and struggling to get pregnant, miscarriage leave for women who have had miscarriages rather than them having to tuck that away, hide it, barely tell anyone, barely take a day off. Even understanding around a woman that might have endometriosis, or intense period pains. And I don't think these things should be something that furthers the gender gap, that sets people who have periods apart from people that don't, it's just having more honest conversations and understanding around the workplace and realizing that bums on seats mentality is not necessarily the way to have a progressive workplace.”

On the financial benefit of female representation...

"Boards that have women on them make 30% more money, so even if companies don't care about inclusion and diversity, just look at the finances."

On why authenticity is overrated...

“People have worried about living authentic lives or being truthful to themselves or deriving truth from the world, feeling like they live in a truthful world forever and ever and ever. And I think my essential takeaway was that I really subscribe to the idea that we are a compilation of selves, and you bring a different self to different situations, and actually what we need to do is make space for our varying identities, rather than always trying to have one authentic self.”

On ending The High Low podcast...

“I really believe in quitting while you're ahead and making a decision before someone else makes it for you. That's not to say that there was not a huge degree of sadness...it's the most successful thing I've ever done, so there is, of course regular elements of ‘what have I done?’ in a professional sense, and in a personal sense, and I miss having somewhere to bring the random crap of the week. I miss having someone just to laugh with, a colleague. I'm freelance, so I don't necessarily have a colleague. I'm working on different projects with different people which is really fruitful, but I don't have a colleague that I can absolutely wet my pants laughing with every week, because The High Low was very specific. But I also wouldn't have been able to do the projects I'm doing now which have also brought me such creative joy and which have allowed me to grow so much.”

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