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Unexpected gems #1




Sometimes there are products you seem to write off before you even try them. Whether the marketing has targeted a different demographic to the one you are part of or the packaging isn't speaking to you, I know there are so many products I wouldn't naturally gravitate towards. However, being a beauty blogger has its perks. I get sent products to try that makes me open my eyes to new brands. I hope to bring some of these products (plus products I've picked up randomly!) in the Unexpected Gems series. 

Time Bomb is a range I knew largely from my mother's childhood QVC addiction and the link they have with the legend that is Lulu. I had always assumed the range was targeted a little older than my demographic but I'm happy to say I was wrong. If you love Liz Earle's Cleanse & Polish, you'll love this even more. It removes makeup easily and thanks to the microdermabrasion crystals, it gently buffs away dead skin cells leaving skin glowing! This is a great product for all ages - in fact I let my mum use it too and she adored it! 

I'd read so much about this scent online and it's likeness to many high end designer fragrances *cough cough Tom Ford*. This unisex scent is very unique - musky, sexy and fruity all combined. As it is an Eau De Cologne, this differs from the perfumes we are used to. Colognes like this one are a real mix of citrus oils. 4711 is the original cologne created in 1799 and the scent is what is worn by the central character in Breakfast at Tiffany's! The best bit about it is that is smells so expensive yet costs next to nothing - 100ml is less than £20! The bottle is super traditional so I love having it sitting out and it also comes in a spray version if this splash style bottle isn't for you. 

*PR Sample

Acceptance


I have posted on this blog so many times about being happy, confidence and body issues. I'd say 2017 was were I personally really hit a wall with my own confidence. After turning 25 last November, I really started to look at my life. I'm a clever girl with a good job but I don't have a significant other or a baby - 2 things that many of my friends seem to have and that I assumed I would have by 25. 

I started to blame myself, or rather, my own physicality for the lack of these. I had convinced myself no man wanted me because I wasn't a size 10. Even typing it seems insane. I have friends of varying sizes with & without partners. I didn't really have any concrete evidence of my lack of partner based on how I look but my stupid brain had convinced me this was the case. 

I'm so hard on myself - in any situation I will always blame myself no matter how big or small. I realised this is a really bad habit to have and that it was feeding my confidence issues. I was constantly making myself the problem or apologising rather than being proud to be independent, curvy or different from the crowd. 

However, this week when on holiday and after a good bit of soul searching, I realised my own hang ups are normal. All women worry about the size of their tummy, boobs, back fat... whether they are a size 6 or a size 16. I decided to post a picture of me in my swimsuit that proceeded to go viral with so many women praising my confidence - little did they know I've spent so much time this year crying in fitting rooms, crying at the gym and generally feeling awful! 

I feel like there have been a few things that have helped me this year to grow in confidence... I hope my tips help you to grown and to #RockYourBody, no matter what size or shape you are. 

Go easy on yourself
I'm a girl's girl. I will always tell my friends (or random girls in nightclubs when I've drank too many gins) that they/their makeup/their outfit is fleeky. I'm a strong believer in telling people they look fabulous - especially my friends who I know have their own body confidence struggles. I was not extending this rule to myself, frequently putting myself down before going on nights. I'm making a conscious effort to try to be more positive about myself. If you are quick to criticise yourself, others will be too. 

Surround yourself with body positivity
Around my birthday last year I moved jobs and with that came new work friends. One of these has turned out to be a ride or die friend - the type I know that will be clapping for me the day I get married. I've never met someone with such a fantastic outlook on life. She encourages me no end - the best thing she ever told me was that I'm such a prize and that I shouldn't need to convince myself of this. Her values on life align with me so it has been the most amazing thing to have someone who encourages you to be the best version of yourself. Find someone who does this for you, whether it be a work friend, partner or parent - it has made a huge difference to my life! 

Treat yourself
A huge part of me feeling awful about myself was the lack of 'chill time' I had. I was running around from blog events to work to other commitments. I had very little time at home to get a shower, do a face mask and do my tan - simple things that make me feel like the best version of myself. I am trying to get into better habits of having a daily time to look after myself - whether that be an hour in the gym or a 10 minute mask before bed!

I am so aware in writing this post that many women struggle unendlessly with their confidence. I've been on such a journey this year with mine - with very anxious periods and down periods where I have felt pretty worthless. Improving my confidence has started with myself being honest about why I struggle & being positive in my outlook about myself. I'm not encouraging everyone to post a swimsuit picture but the largest thing I took from doing that was that women are mostly kind & clap for other women. Over 200 women commented on the post and said I looked great or they wished they had my confidence. No one talked about my back fat, but rather my smile, contentment and confidence they felt was coming from the picture. Confidence, like happiness, has ebbs and flows but I'm glad I have a healthier outlook on myself moving forward. 

The battle of the House of Fraser Facials


House of Fraser Belfast has really upped its beauty game in the past year. With more hot brands on the floor than ever, the department store now rivals a lot of the big players across the water. One of the best parts of the revamp has been the introduction of new beauty rooms - 2 are home to Clarins and 1 is home to Estee Lauder.  They are located at the back of the store beside Nails Inc meaning the rooms are very peaceful! I have been spoiled and was able to try out a facial from both brands - which one came out on top?

Estee Lauder
I've really grown up with Estee Lauder as my mother is a huge fan. The House of Fraser team are absolutely lovely & 2 of the staff are now trained in the Re-Nutriv facial. 

The Re-Nutriv Estee Lauder room is only the third in the UK & Ireland (the other two are in Harrods & Brown Thomas!). This exclusive experience is an utterly luxurious way to immerse yourself in the Re-Nutriv range. The room is super sleek & glamorous, just like the skincare range. This range is designed to target ageing and the products are some of the most active on the market. Containing ingredients ranging from Black Diamond Truffle to 24K Gold, it's easy to see why this service is only available in the best of the best stores. The facial lasts just over an hour and is one of the most rich experiences I've ever had. The products are all magnificent & this is truly the best way to showcase them (I've been testing out the Eye Creme since the facial & I'm obsessed). The facial involves a unique technique that re-models the face using lymphatic pressure massage to remove any puffiness. My Re-Nutriv experience was fantastic & I felt like I learned so much about the brand. Overall, I would suggest this experience for those aged 35 + as the products are super rich and targeted towards those who are worried about the ageing process. My mum has just turned 50 and I definitely want to book her in as a treat. 

Cost: £50 booking fee which is redeemable off any product in the Re-Nutriv range (making it essentially free!)
Best for: First signs of ageing, exploring a new product range, Estee Lauder addicts, a post holiday treat 

Clarins
Clarins is a brand that I've grown to love over the past few years. The room is different to the Estee Lauder one - it's a bit more comfy & homely. The facial started with me getting under a heated duvet. As someone who is the coldest person on earth, I was in heaven. I had a facial that would help with my breakouts and dehydration. Their facials are customised using their Boosters that are added to products to target specific problems. During the facial I also had a neck, shoulders and arm massage which was divine. This can be added to your facial taking your treatment time from 1 hr 25 mins to 1 hour 45 minutes!  I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about the Clarins experience as it's a little more expensive than Estee Lauder but it is far better than many facials I've had in actual spas. I booked mine for a Saturday morning, came in my sweat pants & actually fell asleep during my facial! Overall, a fantastic experience for any age!

Cost: Facials start at £70 and increase to £85 if you add a 20 minute massage
Best for: Targeting skin issues, existing Clarins fans, a mini spa experience in the city

The winner.....
It's hard to weigh the two facials up as they are very different brands and experiences. I definitely will return to Clarins again but whilst I'm there I'll send mum to Estee Lauder! I like to get regular facials so I think Clarins caters better to this as Estee Lauder is definitely much more of a 'treat' experience, especially as you get £50 off a Re-Nutriv product of your choice. Both are utterly fabulous with talented staff - take your pick based on your age, skin needs and product loves!

Visit both counters to book your appointments - tell them I sent you! 

*I was kindly gifted with an appointment for both facials. All opinions are my own. 


Timeless style

*This post was created in collaboration with Marks & Spencer.






M&S is a national institution and a huge part of my growing up. M&S is so reliable and consistent plus their Autograph line is one of my favourite ranges on the market.

M&S challenged me to pick an OOTD from their new collections after attending one of their amazing instore Sparks events. My life is very busy on the work front at the moment so I love to buy things that I can wear from the office and then on out for a few drinks. Plus, inspired by the timeless nature of M&S, I wanted to create an outfit you can wear aged 25 or aged 60! This shirt dress is a great length, beautiful fabric and really flattering. I am pictured here at the Belfast Photo Festival at the Ulster Museum. This dress kept me cool but still looked really dressy. I teamed my dress with gold block heel sandals  from Marks & Spencer (they also come in red!) which were SO comfy - I could imagine wearing these on holiday or on a night out to prevent sore feet the next day! My designer inspired pearl bag is so beautifully made - the chain is so sturdy! I can't wait to use this more over the summer months.

M&S is more than just clothes and Percy Pigs. In fact, my tan and nail polish in these pictures is also from M&S! I've long been an advocate of their tan. The Autograph Tinted Mousse is not only fantastic value but applies so easily. The colour is just enough to give a bit of a lift. My nail colour is Autograph All in One Nail Polish in Chilli. Again, the formula is an absolute winner and looks like gel!

Are you an M&S fan? Tell me what you love about M&S on Twitter @GemmaLEBond 

10 things I can't live without



In the midst of purchasing my second pair of the same trainers (Because I'd battered the first pair to death), I realised there's a list of things (beyond makeup!), that I seem to constantly either repurchase or use everyday. I thought I would share my ultimate 'Can't Live Without' list. I hope it inspires you for some new purchases that you know will be used time & time again!

Let's start with the reason I decided to write this post - my favourite trainers. I purchased a pair of Adidas Superstar trainers over 2 years ago and they were my constant weekend go to trainers. They are trainers that still manage to look dressy. I had the original black & white version but now have gone for the rose gold (as I can wear them with the ridiculous amount of navy clothes I own!). I remember owning these trainers as a kid so it's quite funny that I love them so much again. Team them with jeans & jumper or a leather jacket & culottes for the perfect off duty cool look. 

I'd say I'm into triple figures of how many of these I've gone through in life thus far. I have expensive mascaras and  other drug store mascaras but in all honestly, this is my go to. The formula is great but it's really the brush that makes this mascara. If you have thick lashes that need some length, this is the ideal formula for you. It's also great for doing bottom lashes plus it's a favourite of Kim Kardashian! For £10.99, it doesn't break the bank (I tend to stock pile them when they are on 3 for 2!). 

3. iPhone 7+ 
I upgraded to the iPhone 7+ recently. I constantly laughed at people with giant phones and didn't get the fuss. ... until I got one! If you are a photography enthusiast or a blogger like me, the iPhone 7+ is a must! The portrait mode on the camera is a game changer plus I never have to worry about storage. Plus, it's great for watching YouTube & Netflix on the go. 

Oh yes, Victoria's Secret Body Spray's aren't reserved for teenagers. In fact, my whole family use them including my 78 year old grandmother! I use them everyday before I get dressed as a little sweet spritz plus I stockpile them in our work bathroom. They are great for the gym or just to keep in your bag/car for on the go. My favourite's are Flirt from the VS Pink range and Aqua Kiss. 

5. Philips Sonicare Toothbrush
Over Christmas I had a really bad flu and felt sorry for myself as I didn't have the strength to do my usual post Christmas sales mad dash. So instead, I treated myself to a ridiculously expensive rose gold toothbrush (I blame the flu meds). It was reduced in the sales but it was still expensive. I had heard so much about Sonic toothbrushes and how good they are not only for your teeth but for your gums. Nothing else I've ever used has removed plaque the way this toothbrush does - the hygienist was forever shouting at me about my back teeth when I was doing my best to clean them. I truly couldn't live without this toothbrush now!

6. Sulphate Free Shampoo
I have really curly hair which I tend to hide through constantly blowdrying it out. The only thing that seems to keep the curls from turning to frizz is sulphate free shampoo. It keeps my hair cleaner for longer (hello twice a week washing) plus it makes it more manageable. I use an array of brands but I keep returning to Palmer's Shea Formula shampoo - affordable, leaves hair shiny and lasts for ages! 

7. GHD Brush
Again with the hair! I need a good brush to dry my hair and the GHD Brush in size 3 is the only thing that makes me have a salon perfect blow dry. The brushes are so easy to grip, heat up nicely and glide through your hair.

8. Real Techniques makeup brushes
I have countless different makeup brush brands but my Real Techniques brushes are by far my most used, most washed and most loved. The brushes are so affordable and last for ages. I recently just replaced one I had for over 3 years! I particularly love their new Multi-Tech range

9. Mulberry Lily Handbag
This is the most expensive purchase on the list but a worthwhile one. I wanted a bag I could use at the weekends that wouldn't be heavy but still carry loads as well as working for day & night. My medium navy Lily has been on many an adventure with me and they age so beautifully. A very worthwhile investment that will hopefully see my through the next 20 years!

10. Duster coats
It all started with a black linen coat from All Saints. In our climate, I feel like you always need a jacket on hand and duster coats are the perfect option - throw them on top of your work clothes or with jeans at the weekend. I have countless varieties - I've picked up great dusters in M&S and TK Maxx.

Let me know what you can't live without - tweet me @GemmaLEBond 

How to summer proof your makeup


Every year around this time I get multiple emails from blog readers asking the same thing - how do I keep my makeup sliding off my face? The weather has started to get a little warmer and often the days seem clammy rather than warm. It's hard to keep a full face on all day at work, never mind if you are off partying in Ibiza! I have three top products I've been using for long-lasting makeup that you can rock all summer long. 

I've tried loads of makeup sprays over the years but Smashbox remains my favourite. Silicone, alcohol and oil free, I love to spritz this both before and after makeup application to set my makeup. It feels so light-weight and doesn't create a film on your face like some other sprays. I highly recommend this for warm holidays - it refreshes your makeup like nothing else! 

Laura Geller is a fantastic brand (those highlighters!) and I'm delighted that it's now available in Debenhams Belfast. The brand is well known for their Spackle range of primers - ranging from hydrating to neutralising. This variation is the mattifying version and is perfect for any of my oily readers. I tried this out on a warm day and my T-Zone remained oil free. Use this under your regular makeup for extra lasting power as well as a lovely smooth base for an airbrushed finish. 

I didn't powder my face for years. Apart from the odd night of heaving partying, I never felt the need. However, as I've gotten older I feel like my T-Zone needs a little bit more help. I searched for a powder that would be easy to apply and feel light - I didn't want it to add cake to my face. This powder is a huge industry favourite and I can understand why. It's so finally milled that you can barely feel it on your face. I adore using this powder and it was the definite reason my makeup didn't budge in the dry heat of Dubai. A little goes a long way with this product making it a very wise investment. 

*PR Sample. All views my own.

21st century burger



*Many thanks to McDonald's for sponsoring this post


McDonald's was a huge part of my childhood. Every Saturday, I went into Belfast with my grandparents and most weeks, my moaning for a Happy Meal & whatever toy was inside usually landed us in the Donegal Place store. It was cheeseburger Happy Meal for me & 2 x Fillet O Fish for granny and granda. 

As an adult, I still adore a McDonald's. There's something so comforting to know that for the past 20 years, their products are still the same. What isn't the same however, is how their stores look and operate. McDonald's kindly invited me down to the Sprucefield Centre branch to experience their new look store. Not only does the store look fabulous but they've stepped up their game in terms of technology! 

I learned 4 main things (and also lots of little surprising things!) during my hour behind the scenes at McDonald's:

It's a big operation
The Sprucefield Centre McDonald's is the busiest franchised drive-thru in the UK! Over 1000 cars visit every day and they have over 120 members of staff. I never realised this because the kitchen is segmented for all of the different operations (drive-thru, drinks & desserts, cooking etc) so you often don't see all of the team behind the scenes!

Team work is everything
It takes a production line to make a burger. I was so impressed at the accuracy and speed at which the team carefully create everything from a Big Mac to a McChicken sandwich. It's a carefully constructed operation and the kitchen is incredible. Everything has a place & things turn around so quickly! Full time McDonald's staff take 8 months to train & they learn all parts of the business making them fully equipped to make a delicious burger or to deliver excellent customer service at the drive-thru window. 

They are forward thinking
McDonald's Sprucefield is one of the many new Experience of the Future stores. This means you can step into the store, order your food easily on a screen (a bit like a giant iPad), pay with your contactless card and take a seat - YES THEY HAVE TABLE SERVICE! This begged the question about staffing - did it reduce staff numbers? In fact, quite the opposite. Becoming a Experience of the Future store actually requires more staff both on the floor to ensure customer satisfaction & in the kitchen to cook everything from fresh. 

The possibilities are endless
With the new screens in store, it's even easier to customise your order. The screens also help you to track the calories in your food as well as explore many more new options - who knew they did Toffee Lattes or Fish Finger Happy Meals? 

It was truly an eye-opener to make my own burger & really appreciate something that seems often so instant! Many thanks to Rita & the team at McDonald's Sprucefield for a fun experience! 

Why Galgorm is my special place







I am partied out. We just spent a fortnight celebrating my mum turning 50. It was a long awaited day and I feel so lucky to have my mum turn this age as I've started to see friend's loose their parents before they were ready to go.

To celebrate her birthday (and also to relax post all the party craziness), we decided to visit Galgorm Resort & Spa. I've been many times before but I feel like every time I go, I discover something new.  It's my special place for making me feel calmer! On arrival, we were whisked into their beautiful conservatory that overlooks the river. We visited on a Sunday afternoon & it was perfect weather.

I had heard good reports about the afternoon tea which comes in a variety of different options with a champagne afternoon tea  and an amazing gin afternoon tea that I definitely will be returning to try out! The Galgorm afternoon tea is unique in that it comes in two courses. Firstly a slab appears with all your savouries - from a delicious gammon wrap to a baby soup! It was the perfect amount of food and I really enjoyed it as afternoon teas can be overwhelmingly sweet so this was much welcomed! The cake stand of sweet treats arrived and they were stunning. From warm banana bred & scones to a coconut & rosewater macaron, it was all divine. I had an amazing mint & lemon tea whilst mum opted for coffee. She's a coffee snob yet managed to clear two pots of their tasty blend! I'd say this is the best afternoon tea I've had in Northern Ireland. It's great value for money and it's a really beautiful treat. I want to take my friends & my wee grandma back soon!

After our afternoon tea, we retreated to the spa. I've blogged about the spa many times but on this occasion I was trying a brand new treatment. Galgorm are the first spa in Ireland to offer the amazing Quartz Bed treatment. This amazing modern take on hot sand therapy allows you to be enveloped in heated quartz (over a blanket - don't worry, you don't get all sandy!) and massaged head to toe for ultimate relaxation. I have a really bad back and it loved the heat of this treatment. It also helps to improve circulation, lymphatic system and immune system. It's unlike any other treatment I've ever had done and I felt completely rebalanced afterwards. If like me, you have joint or back problems or if like me, you find it hard to relax, this treatment is really worth a try. 

On the other hand, my mum had her first ever facial. My treatment lasted 90 minutes (I recommend getting it for that alone - probably the longest I have been conscious & quiet!) so I found my mum afterwards hiding (actually snoring!) in the relaxation room. She never tried a spa or a treatment before and honestly never understood the joy I got from them. After she had her facial, she's converted! She absolutely loved it and wants to go back with all of her friends. Plus, her skin looked fab afterwards. 

Overall, we are two rested girls after a very busy month. Thanks to the Galgorm team for looking after us so well. 

*Our afternoon tea and treatments were provided to us by the team at the Galgorm FOC however all opinions are my own. 

The truth about laser hair removal



I've been shaving since I was 11 years old. Seriously - that's 14 years of shaving, shaving products, nicks, cuts and ingrown hairs (the worst!). In that time I've tried waxing and hair removal creams - both with varied success. Although my hair is almost black on my head, the hair on the rest of my body is thankfully not as dark or thick! However, like most women, it's something I have felt self conscious about over the years.

My friends at Beyond Skin Clinic, located on College Street (close to City Hall), had spoken to me about hair removal for ages as I popped in and out for skin treatments. I think my perception of laser like many women was really bad. I had read horror stories and the cost always seemed so high. However, Beyond Skin Clinic dispelled all of this for me. Jennie & Gillian who own Beyond Skin told me to get my patch test done & go for it at my next skin appointment. We talked about where to laser & they said my bikini line would only take 15 minutes - again dispelling the myth I had in my head that I'd be there for hours! I had my patch test done and 6 weeks later returned for my first session. 

Is it sore?
If you are used to waxing your bikini, laser probably won't bother you. The laser is sorer where the hair is much more dense meaning there are little patches that pinch more than others. Overall though, it's only 15 minutes! I have had Hollywood waxes that have taken over 3 times that length! I also feel it's much more 'graceful' than waxing - paper pants but no weird bending or knee to chest positions required!

Is it expensive?
No! This is the thing that shocked me the most. The Beyond Skin girls have an amazing laser that works on lots of different hair & skin types which costs a bomb in other laser clinics. Bikini starts at £55 per session (increases depending how much you want off) and you only go once every 6 weeks making it so affordable. I used to pay around £30 a month for a Hollywood wax so this works out as cost effective. Beyond Skin recommend 6 sessions for the hair to be completely gone making laser a worthwhile investment that will last. I'm three sessions into my 6 & I have to say that the hair is already gone! They do a fabulous deal for £1999 for unlimited laser for a year - if you are really serious and want to be head to toe hair free, I think that's a great deal. One of my friends is doing this at the moment & she is so impressed. She had paid the same amount to just get her legs done somewhere else plus, the hair came back! 

Laser vs waxing? 
I am so glad Jennie & Gillian encouraged me to get laser - it was fab going on holiday recently & not having to panic about 'down there' in my bikini! However, the biggest thing for me has been not having ingrown hairs. I seemed to be getting them more & more frequently with shaving & waxing. I haven't had one since I had my laser. I'm definitely a convert & want to do under my arms next!

Fancy being hair free for your summer holidays? Book in with the girls at Beyond Skin. You won't be disappointed!

*My laser treatments were provided for free at Beyond Skin but all opinions are my own. 

Orange crush


Brighter weather mens brighter colours. I'm never going to be a bright clothes kind of girl (*black/navy uniform all year*) but I love bright lipsticks & accessories for spring. My one big love apart from red lipstick has always been orange/coral lipsticks. My mum's best friend is tan with brown eyes & blonde hair - orange has always been her signature lipstick colour. I've found four orange lipsticks too suit all budgets & skin tones. I adore all of them!

This lipstick is a great foray into the world of orange lipsticks. This is a more pink toned coral and like all Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks, it's a great texture. It's really easy to wear - from work to a few drinks in the sun, Coachella Coral is a great colour for all skin tones. 

This is one of my all time favourite lipsticks and it's certainly not for the faint hearted. A true orange, this is my ultimate holiday lipstick. I love nothing more than a tan, a cocktail in my hand and this lippy. This is the perfect shade for darker skin tones. 

A recent discovery, Hype is an orange with red undertones. As this is a matte lipstick, I find it takes a few more coats to male the colour really strong but it means you can wear less during the day & build it up for night. I think this lipstick definitely needs a lipliner to help it last. However, this is a great & very flattering colour for all skin tones. 

Another new discovery, this red/orange shade is similar to Morange. A creamy texture, this formula is easy to apply and is great for paler skin tones for that English rose look. I can't wait to rock this all summer long.

Let me know your favourite summer shade over on Twitter: @GemmaLEBond

Love with hindsight


Friendship is the most amazing thing in the world. It's incredible to meet someone and develop such a bond with them. I have friends I've known for over 20 years and friends who I've met last year but, I love them all the same. 

I think friendship is much like a romantic relationship - sometimes you just have this amazing spark from outset and you know it's BFFs from here on in. Friendship is fantastic- find someone amazing & you will always feel loved, uplifted and supported. Friendship can be so intimate and heart-wrenching, to the point you feel the other's pain just by looking in their eyes. 

The side of friendship that no one talks about however is the loss. When you've been to such high heights of an amazing friendship, when things go pear shaped it's hard to figure out where things go to. Where does the love, the adoration, the laughs and most of all, the memories go to? This is something I've really struggled with over the past year. 

When a friendship has been so full of great times, when things turn sour there's no way to deal with it in a graceful manner. Believe me, I've tried. Unlike breaking up with a significant other, it feels completely different. In my experience, friendship breakups don't have the same bitterness as romantic ones - just sheer heartache. 

I've broken up with friends I never thought I would for senseless reasons and with hindsight, probably the friendship breakups could have been preventable if communication was better. 

Not every friend I've broken up with makes me feel like my heart has been torn out. I'm grateful for what I learned from some friendships. Some I just grew apart from and moved in a different direction and some, quite frankly I was glad to be rid of - that toxic kind that you never quite knew how to say goodbye to. 

The kind of friendship breakup I'm talking about in this post is the kind that still sometimes makes you sad. I genuinely would say I've had to grieve for friendships - loosing a piece of your life that was always there is no mean feat. Sometimes I see ex-friends on Facebook or hear through other friends about their life and I feel sad that I'm not part of that anymore. If you loved someone so deeply, I don't know if that ever goes away. It's that horrendous feeling of bumping into an ex-friend. I've done it - passed myself with lots of smiles & "my life is great" but you know the other person knows you are lying because they've seen the real you. The same encounters have usually ended in a tear stained car journey home. 

I don't think that love ever truly disappears. It's other worldly. But loving an ex-friend with hindsight is a big hurdle to get over. In the end, the breakup doesn't matter - if you still look at someone and wish them the best & want all the success in the world for them, then some love remains there. Even though the friendship might be long gone, it's a great feeling to know you were part of someone's journey and them of yours.

Holiday beauty prep





I love the ritual of getting ready for a holiday as much as I love an actual holiday. From beauty treatments to buying new summer pieces, I've been preparing for months for an upcoming week in sunny Dubai. Below is what I've been up to over the past few weeks in preparation! 

Skincare
I have naturally dehydrated skin so my skin needs lots of love and moisture. I have been using the Bioderma Hydrabio Moisturising Concentrate to try and add some extra moisture before I head to the sun. I have also been using my favourite exfoliator, The Body Shop Vitamin C Microdermabrasion in order to boost glow and make sure my skin is in tip top condition! I also have used the brand new Charlotte Tilbury Dry Sheet Mask to add hydration. I'm going to buy another one & use it on the plane there - what a treat!

Hair
My hair is so dry at the minute - what can I say, my hair hates the cold! I am heading to get my colour and Olaplex treatment with Shannon at Paula McCourt Hairdressing before I go. Olaplex is perfect to help to smooth curly hair like mine - I need to return to my weekly Olaplex blowdries to make my hair grow again!

Nails
I tried nail free life and it wasn't for me. I talk with my hands so without nails I look ridiculous! My girls at The Dolly Rooms have been doing my nails for years & I can't wait to get my chrome nails for Dubai! 

Brows
I let my brows grow for a few months and had them tinted at threaded at the new Benito Brow Bar in Topshop Victoria Square. They did a fab job of them and the tint has lasted really well. The shape is really great & my threader made sure to keep them really thick but with a good shape which I love. I definitely will go back - it was really quick (their tint takes in 3 minutes!) and painless!. 

Hair removal 
I am a huge advocate of the amazing clinic Beyond Skin. The owners Jennie & Gillian are two amazing girl bosses who started their own business last year. I've been working with them since they opened for skincare treatments and since Christmas, we started laser hair removal. I have had 2 sessions so far on my bikini line and the hair is barely growing back! It's much faster than waxing & after 6 sessions I should hopefully be hair free for good! It's an absolute dream come true to not have to worry about waxing or shaving - I think I'm totally converted! Plus, bikini line laser only costs £55 per treatment and you have 6 weeks between treatments. I think there is a huge misconception about laser being expensive but I think that is so manageable (and cheaper than waxing every month for a whole year!). 

Suncream
I always wear factor 50 on my face. Since I was a little girl I have always kept my face out of the sun - in fact, I have absolutely no sun damage on my face when I've been assessed under a UV lamp! I love the suncream brand Ultrasun. My bestie got my hooked on it a few years back. It's pricey but it gives you amazing protection whilst still allowing you to get a great tan. For my body I use UltraSun Sport Gel SPF 20 and I use UltraSun SPF 50 for face

Writing this post has made me even more excited for my holiday - make sure to follow me on Instagram @thatbelfastgirl to see what I get up to!

Words from a big girl

Picture by Photography by Astrid
I'm a self professed big girl. I'd be the first to call myself a 'big girl' - I'd rather get in there before someone else had a chance. I've always been bigger than my peers growing up. In primary school I was always much taller than everyone else and now at almost 5 foot 10, I tend to tower over many of my petite friends. 

Being a big girl has never bothered me. Along with physically being a big girl, I also have a big girl attitude. This is the greatest part of being Northern Irish in my eyes. A big girl attitude is a sense of 'I can do anything' and confidence that makes people think you're doing alright in life.

The fact of the matter is, I struggle with my weight and I struggle with my confidence. I feel at a crossroads in my life. Do I go flat out at the gym, eat really clean and get down to a size 10 because I think it will give me more confidence? In reality, I think my confidence crossroads has been spurned on by men who do or don't find me attractive. I've questioned so often lately do boys like a big girl? I really don't know. I've heard men, even male friends of mine, make some horrendous comments about women & their weight. This is especially rich when it comes from a man who isn't exactly Mr World himself. 

Why is our society obsessed with weight? I've been bigger all my life and I've never felt it was a problem until others pointed it out. My confidence has rocked more because of comments across a lunch table or passing remarks from men intended as a joke. Women's magazines at this time of year particularly drive me nutty with their features on getting 'your beach body for the summer'. How about a feature on feeling fabulous in the body you are in?

Whether I'm a size 8 or size 18, I think confidence is constant variable. I have been much thinner and much more miserable. Even at a size 10, I was still a big girl. There's no right or wrong answer but as women, we need to stop tearing strips off each other. I hate nothing more than a woman calling another woman fat. It breaks my heart. You might just look at someone at see their weight but they might be super confident & feel gorgeous. My mind has been so changed over the past number of years as I've started to meet friends who struggle to both put on & loose weight. There's people I look at and I think they have the perfect figure - and they are still miserable. 

There's no right or wrong size but there is a hugely wrong, destructive attitude that is making weight a bigger problem than it needs to be. My goal for 2017 is to be so happy AND healthy. Health and thinness aren't always on the same spectrum. This big girl is trying to change her attitude to believe I'm fabulous at whatever size - just like the version of me in the picture above who doesn't give two hoots. 

24 Hours in Glasgow with Stena Line
















*This post was sponsored by Stena Line. All views are my own.

When Stena Line contacted me & asked would I like to do a whirlwind trip to Glasgow, I jumped at the chance. I had never been to Glasgow nor had I ever driven my car on to a boat! I was partnered with Glasgow based blogger Charlotte from Colours & Carousels - she came to Belfast for 24 hours and I went to her hometown! She gave me lots of recommendations of things to see & do when I was in the city.

Myself and my friend Jayne boarded the lunchtime sailing from Belfast to Cairyan. I am lucky as my house is only about 10 minutes away from the docks! I was a bit nervous about driving on to the boat but it was so simple & all of the Stena Line check in staff were so lovely. We boarded the boat and made our way to the luxurious Stena Plus lounge. This area is quieter than the main boat plus has free magazines, papers, drinks & snacks. They also have table service so you can relax on your journey with a delicious breakfast or lunch! We also had a Superfast Suite & access to the Nordic Spa on our journey. The Superfast Suites are a fantastic idea - they essentially a little hotel room on the water! I highly suggest trying one out especially if you are travelling with little ones or have a big forward journey on the other side. The spa is located next to the Superfast Suites - we managed to fit in a little dip in the jacuzzi followed by a mini snooze in our suite! The spa also offers treatments from manicures to back massages.

The drive from Cairyan to Glasgow takes just under two hours. I'm used to driving long distances so this was a pleasant drive - the first hour is nearly almost coast road (we had to stop on the way back to enjoy the view!). Once we arrived in Glasgow I was glad to have Jayne with me for navigation purposes! Glasgow is a big city with lots of cool buildings and history. The city is much more hilly than I imagined so be sure to pack your trainers! 

We stayed in a hotel at the bottom of the city that provided easy access to all areas of the city. On our arrival we got changed & headed out. It was a Friday night and much like our own good city, it was busy. Glasgow has a huge food culture- in fact when I asked for recommendations of things to do in the city, most of these were food themed! We headed to Pizza Punks for some prosecco & pizza - my chocolate pulled pork pizza was a delight, as was my Salted Caramel & Banana Pudding ice-cream! After dinner we took a little wander around the city & stumbled upon The Corinthian Club. This old bank (much like our own Merchant Hotel!) is now a beautiful restaurant, bar and casino. We enjoyed some cocktails and the atmosphere.

The next day we got up bright & early and headed to the much recommended Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery. I've never been to a museum like this before - the exhibits ranged from shoes to elephants and Salvador Dali artwork. I could have spent all day here - it's worth a visit just for the iconic floating heads!

After working up an appetite wandering around the museum, we headed to The Willow Team Rooms for afternoon tea. This Renee Macintosh inspired experience was a delight! Full of sugar & tea, we proceed to head for some shopping. The shopping in Glasgow is fantastic - in particular Princes Square (where I went a little bit wild in COS!) and the original House of Fraser which is in the most amazing building. 

Our whirlwind tour of Glasgow was short but sweet. My advice? Jump on the Stena with a group of friends and go for a long weekend. The food, nightlife and shops are fantastic - I only wish we had an extra night! 

For more information on travelling with Stena Line please visit: www.stenaline.co.uk 

The surprising spa






If you told me 10 years ago that public leisure centre would have a spa in it, I would have laughed in your face. I spent my childhood at our local leisure centre - bowling, swimming and going to summer camp for the entire months of July & August. 

The newly rebranded Belfast City Council gyms are now owned by the GLL Group under the brand 'Better'. When the newly refurbished Olympia Better Leisure Centre on the Boucher Road invited me to try their 'Spa Experience', I jumped at the chance. I was totally intrigued. 

The bright lights and turnstiles of the leisure centre are foreign once you step through the doors of the spa. The tranquil, dimly lit environment is welcoming and calming.

I visited one evening post work (the spa is opened until 8pm during the week!) to try one of their many treatments. They offer standard beauty treatments such as manicures, pedicures and waxing along with massages & facials from top brands such as Elemis and Murad. On checking into the spa you are handed a tote bag with your dressing gown, slippers and towel. 

I opted for the Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Peel. Elemis is a brand I love and the treatment sounded right up my street as my skin loves acids & peels! The treatment was really interesting - different layers of masks and deep cleansing that left my skin super smooth and bright looking. It took almost an hour - I'm pretty sure I almost fell asleep at one point!

Following my facial I headed to the thermal experience and I had the place to myself. From the jacuzzi to the steam room, I totally forgot I was in a leisure centre in the middle of the Boucher Road!

Overall I had a lovely time at Spa Experience Olympia. It provided a the perfect spa fix without having to drive to a resort further away from the centre. It's a great option for busy mums or young professional girls like me - it means post gym or whilst the kids are at a sports lesson, you can pop in for a treatment!

Spa Experience are offering a great opening offer for a bargain £30 - make sure to check it out here. 

Little winter essentials



I feel like winter has only truly arrived this week. Bitter winds and cold temperatures play havoc with my skin & hair so I need a little bit of extra help. 

FACE
On my face I have been using Yon-Ka Hydralia*. This is described as a hydrating concentrate - it's somewhere between a serum and an oil. I have frequently featured Yon-Ka skincare on my blog over the years and it never fails to impress me. This product is perfect to increase hydration, plumpness and general dullness. They suggest mixing it with your favourite moisturiser but if my skin is super dry I do a mini facial on myself and use this sparingly as the final step. It also smells amazing (all Yon-Ka skincare does!) as it's packed with lots of raspberry, blackberry and good acids for your skin. 

HANDS
In the cold weather my hands also get super dry. I have used the same hand cream for years but I heard someone on Instagram rave about Hand Chemistry Triple Function Hydrator. My skin loves hyaluronic acid and the geniuses behind this product have packed it into a hand cream. It's unlike any other hand cream I've ever tried - you feel a difference plus it's not oily or sticky. They also make a hyaluronic anti-bac hand gel that I can't wait to try! 

HAIR
In the winter I weirdly seem to wash my hair more so it needs more than my usual twice a week. I have curly hair that I tend to blow-dry out but in the winter between the rain, wind, general dampness and hat hair, it needs more love! I've been testing out the Alfaparf Precious Nature range* for a few months. The range is salon exclusive & prescriptive to your hair type. As I have curly hair the range for me is the grape & lavender range. I enjoyed the shampoo and conditioner - as it's sulphate free it really helped me to get my curls in tip top condition. However it is the Precious Nature Grape & Lavender Hair Oil* that continues to impress me. Hair oils are often too heavy for my curls but no matter how much I use of this leave in oil, my hair looks so shiny & healthy. I use the hair oil after towel-drying my just washed hair. It makes blow-drying easier and has given my winter battered hair a little bit of a lift. 

HOME
If you are like me and spend the winter nights hiding in your bed or bath with a good book & a candle, you need to look into local brand Sass & Boho. The candles are made from soy and are hand poured in some of the most interesting scents I've come across. I am absolutely obsessed with the Sass & Boho Sweet Tart Candle* which is a mix of rhubarb and damson plum. It's an amazing mix of winter & spring and it has such a comforting smell that reminds me of my Grandma's house as a child. You can purchase Sass & Boho in Bedeck on the Lisburn Road.

*PR Sample. All opinions my own 

Growing up to be the woman you always wanted to be

The cute kid who wanted to be smart & fabulous
Something struck me yesterday I as I was getting dressed. I threw on my favourite jeans (a Nine by Savannah Millar pair if you must know), my staple Adidas Superstar trainers, a navy jumper, a coat that coat me about half a month's wages and a Mulberry scarf. I went to lift my Louis Vuitton bag and this thought just came over me - I grew up to be pretty fabulous.

When I was a little girl I used to love to gaze at fashionable ladies in Belfast city centre. I think I loved street style from an early age, particularly a very beautiful coat. I didn't come from money - my mother raised me on her own and often has told me of the times she would spend her money on buying me meat so I would would get iron & be healthy whilst she would go without. However, my grandmother and grandfather who were and still are, my heroes, always loved to dress me like a little doll in fur coats & shiny shoes. I was a little Shirley Temple to them and I wanted to grow up to be a fabulous grown up lady like the ones I saw buying bright red lipstick at the Chanel counter in Debenhams. 

Our lives continued to get better as my mum worked hard to climb the career ladder and with that came many treats in the form of fabulous holidays. Style was always a huge part of our holidays and even as an adult I really enjoy the thrill of buying new holiday clothes & laying out my outfits to wear each day. Again on holiday, I loved gazing at the holiday style of posh ladies in their one piece swimsuits and giant Elizabeth Taylor sun-hats.

The greatest of my style spotting moments was my first trip to Harrods as a child. My mother's friend worked in London and when I was about 7 or 8, we went to visit her close to Christmas time. I remember just being awe struck by the choice of brands and the rate at which people were buying things. I instantly fell in love with Louis Vuitton bags as I asked my mother about the bags & her response was that they were bags for 'rich ladies'. My trip to Harrods made me very determined to grow up to be those ladies I loved... and to afford a rich lady Louis V.

My whole life there have been glimpses of the woman I hoped to be one day. I have always had sheer determination. I used to tell my mother I would pass my 11+, go to my local grammar school then go to Queen's. And I did. I did everything I ever wanted. Don't get me wrong, it has been a bumpy road. Illness and operations really hindered some of my teenager years but this feeling of not getting to be the person I wanted to be really pushed me on. It's not that I was ever ashamed of where I came from or that I didn't value the lot I had been given, it's just that I knew in my heart that I was destined to have a good life after all of the pain my mother had endured. I think partly I wanted to be the woman I grew up to be for her so that one day she would know I could look after her like she looked after me. 

It's an extremely odd moment now realising I am that woman. I'm 25 so I'm no longer a child, in fact I'm now even older than my mum was when she had me. My journey is far from over - I still have a house to buy and I hope one day for a family of my own. But the girl of my dreams didn't have those things - the girl of my dreams was smart and wore fabulous coats & carried a Louis Vuitton bag.

And I am that girl. 

5 things I learned from the Charlotte Tilbury Masterclass




I have made no secret of my love for Charlotte Tilbury. That love has heightened even more now we have our own counter in House of Fraser in Victoria Square. 

I was delighted to attend their first masterclass at the House of Fraser counter with lead artist Adrianna who came up from Dublin for this special event. I felt I already knew lots about the brand but I learned a few tips & tricks I thought I would share with you. 

1. Products work better together
I am a huge fan of the amazing primer/illuminator Wonder Glow and also love the Magic Foundation. However I chop & change with things and don't always use them together. Charlotte designed all her products to work together and sends all her celeb clients her skin prep to make sure their skin is red carpet ready. I got up this morning and did what she does for the A Listers: Magic Cream, followed by Wonder Glow followed by a light layer of Magic Foundation. My foundation has lasted all day & definitely looks a lot better than usual!

2. Natural brows are life
Team Tilbury love a natural brow and their Brow Lift pencil comes with an angled brow wax plus a highlighter powder hidden inside in order to give your eyes a wider look. I LOVE natural brows and I am so glad to see a beauty brand embrace this creating products that enhance natural brows. There is also a new brow gel called Legendary Brows which I can't wait to try when it launches on counters soon!

3. Pillowtalk is the greatest lip-liner of all time
Ok so I did actually discover this at Christmas when Santa brought me Pillowtalk liner but the masterclass confirmed this for me. I think it looks good on EVERYONE! It's a fabulous colour, texture and generally it goes with every lipstick imaginable. (P.S. Pillowtalk now comes in a lipstick too. Note to self - must order). 

4. The Dolce Vita look is all you ever need
If you are familiar with Charlotte Tilbury you will know that her makeup is divided up into looks. My favourite of these is the Dolce Vita look (inspired by Sophia Loren) which Adrianna demonstrated. A bit like Pillowtalk liner, it's a great option for everyone. A smoky eye that can be built upon with a pop of glitter for night and a nude lip - what more could a girl need? 

5. Less is more 
I really loved that the masterclass didn't encourage really heavy makeup but rather building up makeup to enhance your natural looks. It really emphasised to me how much I love the ethos of this brand.

Many thanks to Team Tilbury Belfast for the invite. More masterclasses are coming in February so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!

Tall girl army



Being 5ft10 is no joke. Often I have to size up in regular sized clothes to get good length in things. As well as having long legs, I also have a  really long body with big boobs- double the fun! This has either meant belts or a seamstress has come in very handy in my life!

However, over the past year I've definitely found stores that cater for tall ladies or stores which just seem to run a little longer or bigger which helps in finding your perfect items. I feel like investing in pieces that fit to your body will help you feel better. I know it is so disheartening when you have to size up in things for the length - it makes you feel bigger than you actually are.

I hope my tips are helpful for my fellow tall girl army! You can click above to shop any of my current favourites from lots of my most loved stores.

ASOS Tall
I never really got the ASOS bug until I started shopping in their Tall line. A lot of their best selling items are available in the tall line which is aimed at women 5ft9 and over. It's a great option I find for dresses for more formal occasions such as weddings & the races. I find standard sizing can mean that I have to size up one-two sizes to ensure the dress comes to my actual knees! I am loving this Tall Kimono Plunge Midi Dress as it's flattering but still sexy. I've also purchased jeans from the ASOS Tall line and love them - they definitely have more room around the bum & hips making them much more flattering for taller girls. Also, their tall swimwear is fantastic & most welcomed (They also do a great fuller bust swimwear range).

Topshop Tall
I've loved Topshop my whole life and I can still wear probably 70% of their mainline products but often I find I have to get a size 16 in a top for the length. However, if I buy from the Tall line I feel things are more true to size for me- I can get away with a 12 or 14. I find the in store Tall offering (unless you go to the Oxford Circus London store which has a fab range) to be a little lack lustre but they often have some great basic items - jeans, leggings, shirts and jumpers that have become wardrobe staples for me. However, their online offer is more inspiring for the tall girl army!

Warehouse
I've heard so many things about sizing at Warehouse over the years but I have consistently worn Warehouse jeans since I was about 15. They come in a few different leg lengths which really helps but I find their skinny jeans in particular a lovely fit. I also pick up a lot of work dresses in Warehouse and these are always a great length & true to size in a 14. They also go up to a size 18 online which is great for my curvy readers. 

Zara
Zara notoriously has small sizing but I've found that the Belfast store has started to carry a lot more of the XL size across the store making things like dresses & shirts much easier to find. I wear quite a lot of Zara stuff but I tend to go for stuff that is a little oversized to make it sit better - this has been easy over the past year as they have so much stuff that is in a relaxed style. 

Nine at Debenhams
Nine has been my favourite discovery of the past year. Designed by Savannah Miller (sister of Sienna), their jeans are my absolute favourite fit. I've been wearing these coated skinny jeans all winter.  They also do fantastic jumpsuits - something as a tall person that I find hard to get the fit right on. They have a fantastic sale on at the minute that I encourage you to check out! 

& Other Stories and COS
Although we don't have either of these stores yet in Belfast, they have fab Dublin branches and their online offering is super. Both part of the H&M family, the ranges are much more well cut and a bit more pricey than their hughstreet sister. However, the items wash so well. From coats to dresses, I've bought so much from both stores in the past year. COS in particular is great for all shapes & sizes. This draped collar jersey dress is one of my most worn & loved items from COS - it's so flattering on.

Need more inspiration? Tweet me or Instamessage me: @gemmalebond