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Book Review: How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? by Pandora Sykes

How do we know we’re doing it right? How many of us are plagued by this thought on daily basis? In world where we seem to have more choice than ever before, how do we know we’re getting this thing called life right?

Well Pandora Sykes – journalist and podcaster – looks at questions and anxieties facing millennial women with a collection of essays.

In this short life

That only lasts an hour 

How much – how little – is

Within our power” Emily Dickinson 

So, this book won’t speak to or for everyone, something Sykes addresses herself. It’s collection that is written from a position of privilege, she’s a white, privately educated, middle class, journalist. However, Skyes argues that a certain type of millennial woman shouldn’t be ignored because of this and – I hold my hands up – a lot of what she discusses I could relate to (though I don’t have a middle-class background).

Like Fleabag, we’ve all – at times – wanted someone to tell us what the right thing to do is, tell us what to like and think, tell us we’re getting it right. Sykes doesn’t offer answers, doesn’t tell us what’s right or wrong but explores what it’s like to be a millennial woman and the everyday questions we’re faced with.

It tackles the growth of wellness, the fast fashion industry, binge watching culture and the pressure of to fit into a certain type of image of a woman while getting the work/life balance right, I’m a bit exhausted just thinking about it.

Her essay on women being cast as characters was the one that really got thinking. It’s the idea of being flattened into a certain role including the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Yummy Mummy, Angsty Twenty-Something Millennial, Career Bitch, Angry Black Woman, Nutty Lesbian, Asian Nerd, Thin White Parisian Girl and Cool Girl. 

“Once a company has identified its variety of woman, it sells the hell out of it’s its product to her. She is branded by what she chooses to buy, becoming part of a rolodex if women: categorizable and flappable” Pandora Sykes 

I didn’t realise how true that was until Sykes pointed me in the direction of @StarterPacksofNYC a comedy account of Instagram that perfectly sums up different roles that women can be flattened into based on her choices, that’s what society does. It’s easier to put people in easily definable boxes rather than celebrate the different fragments of a person. We’re all a mass of contradictions, we need to get better at embracing that. I sadly have to agree with Sykes summing up on this essay.

“The truth is that it is hard to imagine a world where women do not struggle to reconcile their fragments, where women do not feel paralysed as well as rewarded by choice, where a women’s fragments aren’t used against them”. Pandora Sykes

There’s so much more I could say on this particular essay around motherhood, but I feel that deserves a blog on its own, so I’ll leave that here because there’s other things that this book explored that I found myself nodding furiously to myself about…..

How many of us hate 24/7 communication? 

To be fair there are pros and cons, back in secondary school we just had to make firm plans and turn up on time at a designated spot, at least now we have a bit more flexibility, but the constant pings and notifications can, at times, feel a little overwhelming. WhatsApp, text messages, email, social media, phone calls (rare) a constant barrage and why my phone is ALWAYS on silent, much to the annoyance of others. I’m not even going to get started on the tyranny of blue ticks and last seen on WhatsApp.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like how easy it is stay in touch with friends and family but being away from the phone is a welcome relief.

Her thoughts around a certain kind of WhatsApp group chat is probably one of the most relatable things I’ve ever read:

“For the most part, the WhatsApp group is a tyranny of triviality: a mindless, maddening, enriching, life-enhancing, unrelenting chunter of chatter. It is largely accepted that the worst type of group is the event specific, banter-heavy one, which continues long after the jolly itself to keep the memories going”’. Pandora Sykes 

I hate a group chat for a social event, I understand it is the easiest way to organise things, but I still despise it. I hate the inane chat and ‘bants’ that goes on and on and on and on and on……they get muted. 

I can hear the chorus of “why not just leave”, I have done on occasion, mainly when it’s people I don’t need to see that often or when said event is over, but there’s an anxiety tied to leaving a group chat – I mean, does it have to inform EVERYONE, why can’t I just do a tech back door boogie? I worry about what leaving a group chat looks like, will people think I’m rude? Or that I don’t like them anymore? I accidentally left a work-related group chat without realising and I still feel guilty, when in reality, no one actually cares.

Which leads nicely on to ‘The Authentic Lie’, the idea of how we craft and create the perfect life for social media, blurring the lines between our public and private selves. It’s a tricky relationship to negotiate for Sykes, social media allows her to push and promote her work, but she isn’t exactly comfortable with it. 

I have similar thoughts, I think about deleting Facebook at least once a day, I hate the vitriol on there that feels like its intensified ten-fold over the past few months. Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter are kind of key to my job and key to promoting this blog and my other work. Still, I hate how much time I can end up spending mindlessly scrolling.

Away from that side of social media, Sykes rights about the role of Instagram and ‘getting the look’. We’re constantly bombarded with images of how we’re supposed to look, celebrities have never been more accessible and neither has getting the look.

“What was once considered an extreme representation of beauty has now become everyday, with the average young woman taking five and a half hours to get ready for a night out. Time aside, these beauty procedures cost a lot of money – infinitely more than a £15 dress. As she forks out pennies on her hair, her lashes, her lips, it is not so much that this ‘Get The Looker’ cannot afford to spend more on a dress, but that she does not want to”. Pandora Sykes

You only need to look at the number of filters available to give you ‘the look’, there’s some people I wouldn’t recognise in real life. The real low point of the filter, for me, came a few years ago, I was sent a missing person appeal from the police of a teenager, the picture of her was a one with a rabbit filter on………..that’s something to think about, if every picture you take and post has a filter on, how are people going to find you if you go missing? Also, it doesn’t look great, be your natural, beautiful, self, don’t be a Kylie Jenner clone. I don’t understand where this desire to look flawlessly like everyone else has come from, why young women are allowing themselves to be pressured into looking a certain way, what happened to standing out?

I enjoyed this book, I found thoughtful, it made me think and asses. We all want to know we’re getting right or feel like we are at the very least, the truth there’s no right or wrong way to live, it’s about being content.

“The progress of humankind depends on us striving for more. Otherwise we’d all stagnate. But the concept of ‘more’ is something we need to turn inward as much as outward. To accept that gain can involve loss; that to compromise is not the same as being compromised; that sensitivity does not eliminate resilience”. Pandora Sykes

I’ll try and take her parting words on board, it’s not about living the right life but a rightful one.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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