Hellosie, it’s Maisie. I can’t shave my hips to fit some sample size. But brands keep asking me. This is what you need to know.

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I am 1.78 metres (5ft 10in) tall, and hover between a UK size six and eight. And the first thing you may think when you look at a picture of me is, “Gosh, you’re pretty!” The first thing I think is: “Would I like a sandwich?”

I’m a human woman, I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down, just to fit into a sample size piece of clothing.

Awareness of the extreme thinness required of models has been growing for years, as have the objections to the cultural fetishisation of bones and hunger, instead of health and happiness, for women. Now, normally when a backlash starts against an advertising trend – which is in all important respects what model-thinness is, albeit more enduring and hegemonic than most – advertisers retreat. They take stock. Which is to say, they look at where consumers’ money is going – and they respond accordingly.

But the lack of change in this area suggests consumers are not changing their spending habits. And as most of the consumers of the brands and products these advertisers are selling to are women purporting to hate this kind of thing, we have a conundrum: why are we still doing this? Why aren’t we putting our money where our mouths are? And then, obviously, in further solidarity taking our mouths off for a pizza somewhere?

It seems that in the great fight against narrow beauty ideals we’ve gone only as far as lip service. We know what we see is wrong on multiple levels, but you can’t undo years of conditioning overnight. Enculturation starts at birth, and images work at a visceral level. You learn what your society’s beauty is long before you acquire – if you ever do – the tools to criticise and deconstruct it. Within the gap grow unhealthy aspirations.

For that, we need advertisers to break the vicious, and viciously effective, cycle that threatens to trap current and future generations of consumers, and start using “real” women – of healthy weights, and maybe slightly varying shapes – instead of those who are down to the bone.

Asking, or compelling by legislation, advertisers to do this runs counter to almost every prevailing ideology and trend. It asks that moneymaking ventures act for the greater good instead of the bottom line. It asks government to chip away at a cornerstone of the free market. It conceptualises women as hapless victims of intangible forces.

To the first two we can safely respond – yes, it does. Ideologies and trends are not immutable laws of physics; do it. To the last, I say – yes, that’s an uncomfortable thought, unless you accept that all human beings are hapless victims from time to time. It doesn’t mean any of us are stupid, or make us lesser beings. It means that when things go too far we all need a bit of protection, not just from one another but from ourselves. And starvation as the norm is always too far. So, let’s do it.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Put a normal woman in a bikini and photograph. Then publish and be damned.

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It’s just a guess, but an answer might be that the magazine’s publishers let that happen. But that would surely worry them that thin women wouldn’t buy their mags.

There is a grudging place reserved for ‘normal’ women who somehow still want a bikini for the beach, but those ‘normal’ women are still expected to do the decent thing and disappear. No wonder so many women hesitate over the holiday packing, wondering whether they can still get away with a bikini. When they can.

Designers have been warned that, by making clothes in impossibly small sample sizes, they were driving models to become ridiculously thin for women like me who are quite ‘normal’.

But it reveals much about that industry that even mild deviations from a rigidly policed ideal of beauty – young, skinny, white, impossibly beautiful – are considered commercially risky. Fashion sales essentially rely on convincing us that there is a “right” way for women to look, and that the 99% who don’t resemble the model can get there for the price of the dress she’s wearing. Relax the definition of perfect, accept that more women are fine as they are, and who needs the dress?

The pragmatic reason for using impossibly attractive models, however attractiveness is defined, is meanwhile, as Boden’s eponymous founder Johnnie Boden once put it, that “you can’t hold up a mirror to customers. If you make it too real, it becomes mumsy.” Put a normal woman in a bikini and it’s obvious how little of the magic is down to the clothes, how hard magazines have to work just to make them look interesting. Some bikinis are prettier than others, but it’s just something you wear to go swimming. There’s only so much a few triangles of cloth can achieve.

And it’s your life, not wardrobe, that creates the real interest in you in which the clothes look less interesting than the person inside them. Hurrah, at least, for that.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. What every feminist can get their girlfriend for their birthday, and not worry it will be the wrong gift.

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Here’s the problem with feminism: it makes Birthday presents very hard. Particularly when it comes to gift-giving. Of course, most women are content with something pink and expensive. But what about those feminists who demand presents that don’t prop up the patriarchy, gifts that don’t give in to gender stereotypes, trinkets that don’t trade in transmisogyny and objects that don’t objectify? It’s a minefield, basically – and one you should tread carefully. Everyone knows feminists don’t have a sense of humour.

Thankfully, there are already numerous gift guides tailored to the feminist in your life – you know, as opposed to all those other women who are not interested in equal-gifting rights. According to these guides, feminist-friendly presents include a Uterus Plush Figure (“an informative tag describes the wonders of the womb”); a $155 (£122) Vagina Charm Necklace and a body-positive iPhone case.

These are all bloody good suggestions, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, however, a feminist just has more vagina charm necklaces than she knows what to do with. So, I’ve helpfully put together a few more ideas to help you close the gift gap for your girlfriend’s birthday.

1. A nice broomstick

Definitions of feminism can differ so it’s worth quickly recapping what the f-word actually means. Pat Robertson, an American televangelist, might have said it best when he described feminism as a movement that “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”. Now, I hate to make sweeping generalisations, but if you’re going to practise witchcraft, then you’re going to need a broomstick.

2. A witty slogan T-shirt

If you’re a feminist but don’t have a T-shirt proclaiming you’re a feminist, are you really a feminist? Probably not. Women have never had so much freedom to purchase hideous T-shirts that let the world know that they truly do buy into feminism. With slogans such as “Girls just wanna have fun-damental human rights”; “Who needs gender roles when we can have pizza rolls?”; or “Ovaries before Brovaries”, you can show the world how important it is to have equal access to terrible puns.

3. A mullet

The bigger, the better. What, did you think the patriarchy was going to topple itself?

4. A pinky ring

If you like feminism, you should put a ring on it. More specifically, you should put a pinky ring on it. Fred+Far, an LA-based jewellery company, offers a “self-love pinky ring” billed as an anti-engagement ring. “Woman,” the website says, “reclaim yourself … choose power, choose fulfilment, choose choice … choose yourself.” If you think this sounds like some grade A bullshit rather than Serious Feminism™, I’d caution you not to be so cynical and have a little feminist faith. Buy a $325 (£256) pinky ring and equal rights will undoubtedly follow.

5. Some fancy makeup

Don’t let anyone tell you that makeup is a foundation of patriarchal oppression; makeup is war paint. Suffragettes suffered for our right to go to Sephora and we should celebrate this freedom, not debate it. In case you still need convincing that eyeliner won’t ruin your feminist credentials, may I remind you that the Nigerian writer and feminist role model, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a beauty ambassador for Boots No. 7. In an interview regarding this role, Adichie says that she wanted to be “part of the message that women who like makeup also have important and serious things that they’re doing in their lives … it’s time to really stop that ridiculous idea that somehow if you’re a serious woman you can’t and should not care about how you look.” So, there you go: makeup still maketh you a feminist. A(wo)men to that. See the pun there?

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. If you’re a woman in your 20s, chances are Facebook thinks you are right for reproduction.

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Are you a woman in your mid-20s, perchance?

As a daily Facebook user at the peak of my fertility (well, I assume; its data-gathering hasn’t got that specific – yet), my feed is full of advertisements for Clearblue and its competitors. One called Natural Cycles appeared a few days ago because it sought to “reach women aged 18 to 45 who live, or have recently been, in the United Kingdom”. You might say it’s casting a wide net.

Advertising is one of those areas in which the internet, and Facebook in particular, wears its unsettling insights on its sleeve. Just about every ad you see online says something about you, your habits, interests and desires, as gleaned from the hours you spend pootling around the world wide web. They’re so bespoke as to be utterly unobtrusive – until you see how someone else’s feed differs from yours.

Whatever Facebook’s pushing, it’s possible to find out why by clicking on the arrow on the top-right of any sponsored or “suggested” post, and then then “why am I seeing this?”

The same data is displayed at Facebook.com/ads/preferences, painted in brush strokes so broad as to be comical – think proper, Picasso-tries-a-face Cubist. Mine suggests I am interested in entrepreneurship, beaches, smoking as a treatment of meat, watercolour painting, women’s rights, Royal Caribbean International cruises, parties, and something called “botargo” that I understand to be a sort of salted relish made of fish eggs and pressed into rolls.

At first, I found the crudeness of these approximations somewhat comforting, given how much is made of tech companies’ precise and nefarious data-mining. What dirt could Zuckerburg have on me if I’m defined in his eyes by my interest in ichthyology?

Google’s insights were more accurate but also more generic, flagging me as a fan of all kinds of culture, news and “general info”.

If I had a rather laissez-faire approach towards my personal data, it was because I was given the sense I had control over it. That same Ad Preferences page on Facebook presents you with the ads you’ve interacted with, the information that’s informed them, and whether or not your engagements with brands are served up to your friends as a vote of confidence.

There’s even an option, currently in testing, to hide advertisements that relate to two topics: alcohol and parenting.

The requests for permission and the potential for personalisation may give you a sense of agency, but the reality is it’s so piecemeal as to be negligible. Even giving you the option to review your data is a bit self-serving of the platform: by correcting its understanding of your interests (“are you still interested in ichthyology?”), you’re making yourself an easier target.

Facebook’s and Google’s user guides are the friendly face of their advertising services, specifically simplistic so as to be accessible to people of all levels of tech-savvy. Whether or not it’s by design, the effect is reassuring. The apparent transparency gives you the illusion of control over your data and what companies do with it – the true extent of which no one really knows except them.

In May it was revealed that Facebook had touted its ability to identify teenagers at low moments to advertisers, reminiscent of its infamous 2012 experiment in manipulating its users’ emotions. The same month, it was fined €110m (£94m) by the EU for misleading the commission over what it was able to do with WhatsApp users’ data once it took over the messaging service in 2014.

When Facebook has appeared disingenuous about its intentions in the past, it’s no wonder we might not take it at its word. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll of 1000 US adults, conducted early last year, found that 28% did not trust Facebook with their data “at all”; 34% said they did not trust it “much”.

But nothing screams “breakdown in trust” like a public denial of spying. In June, Facebook felt moved to formally reject an academic’s speculation that it was listening in on users’ conversations through their smartphones’ microphones so as to show them relevant ads.

Of course, Facebook can access the microphone, but only for specific purposes, and only if it’s been granted permission – but the wherewithal seems enough for the theory to be floated on social media whenever an ad seems a little on-the-nose.

The coincidences across Facebook and Instagram, like being swamped with ads for probiotics after a passing mention of them on chat, are easier to explain: Facebook owns Instagram. I get pregnancy tests there, too.

It’s hard to overestimate just how significantly advances in targeting have changed the game of digital marketing, and even electioneering. I won’t begrudge you for having better things to do, but it is edifying to read material geared for the other end of the equation: advertisers.

Facebook’s how-to guide for businesses explains how one might market to a “person who likes cooking but doesn’t own a home and/or isn’t a parent”; so, put into practice, that ropy list of stock images suddenly points to a powerful tool.

When social media is so often experienced as a mundanity, a distraction, or back-to-back photos of strangers’ dogs, it can be easy to forget that we’re the product being sold. But why should any thinly-disguised marketplace need to know something so personal as your relationship status, or favourite honorific?

We’re able to access only the tip of the iceberg of our personal data, but we might as well do what we can. Review your privacy settings. Turn off every option and refuse every permission you can.

Facebook calls it “managing ad preferences”. But make no mistake, it’s a token gesture – no one benefits more from this exchange than they do.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. It’s all too satisfying to brand women like me who like fashion as shallow, self-involved or dumb.

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There’s a fashion week somewhere in the world right now, and there’s a lot to hate about them. The crash diets. The extremely skinny, disturbingly young runway models who are held up as “ideal”, and all the ways they’re exploited. Then there’s the extravagant cost of the clothing, where a shopper may drop in one trip what many people make in a month.

What’s not to hate is the creativity, the art and the women whose shopping sustains the industry.

It’s all too satisfying to brand women who like fashion as shallow, self-involved or dumb. And there’s certainly a lot to be criticized when it comes to promoting consumption based on a particular brand identity meant to signify wealth – the signature Louis Vuitton bag, the big Chanel Cs. Through the recession, brand identity went slightly more covert in response to an increased hostility to gross displays of wealth, but also as a way to establish a sense of insider-ness. Only the “in crowd” knows the exact shape of a Chloe bag or the signature weave of Bottega Veneta.

Displays of pure consumption to signal social and economic status are not exactly progressive, but it’s hypocritical to single out women for being shallow in their wardrobe spending. Men spend money on things that are just as unnecessary and just as intended to signal class and social tribe. For men, items like bespoke suits, fancy cars or innumerable electronics somehow signal a James Bond image, not a shallow one.

While it’s a common assumption that women simply have more clothing items in their closets than men, that also reflects social necessity. Women can be (and are) fired for not being attractive enough, for not wearing enough make-up, for being too attractive or for not putting out the right “look”. And being attractive isn’t just about whether or not your face is pretty; it’s about how you signal your social class and your sexual availability.

When it comes to fashion, then, women are socially shamed no matter what we do. Don’t engage at all? There are entire television series dedicated to making you over, since you clearly lack self-esteem. Do a little shopping but at cheap low-end stores? You look “trashy”. Buy pricier items and enjoy it? You’re shallow and materialistic.

There are of course some extremely talented women who excel at perusing the aisles of thrift stores and second-hand shops, and who balance loving fashion with a dedication to social justice (no sweatshop labour) and the environment (recycled clothing).

Women, for better or worse – although mostly worse – are the class of people who are on physical display. Sure, men are judged by their appearance, but as long as they look clean and are wearing an outfit within the universe of what’s considered socially appropriate for the occasion, they’ll avoid criticism. While being an attractive man is beneficial in the job market, being an attractive woman is beneficial only if you’re in a traditionally female career. Otherwise, even pretty women face job discrimination.

There are racial elements to this as well. Some companies, like retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, have reportedly favoured hiring employees with “all-American” good looks. Black women have long been told that natural hair or braids aren’t “professional” (meaning they should have to spend money and time chemically straightening their hair to fit someone else’s aesthetic ideal).

And, of course, the body you’re putting into the clothes changes how the outfit is read. A relatively thin, flat-chested woman wearing a V-neck blouse isn’t a problem, but bustier women are accused of attention-seeking or looking “inappropriate”. A few years ago, conservative bloggers went wild over a photo of Bill Clinton and several liberal writers, because Jessica Valenti, was wearing a crew-neck sweater, under which were two breasts. For women who are big-busted, sometimes a turtleneck isn’t even enough coverage to be considered “professional”.

Of course, a lot of us have closets full of clothes to make sure we can meet these ever-shifting demands, and the many requirements of varying social and professional settings.

Fashion is also fun, at least for some of us. While I’m the first person to object to the social expectation that women be visually pleasing creatures, as long as I’m in that jail, I’m gonna take joy where I can get it.

Aesthetics aren’t the enemy of feminism; social codes that require women to meet certain aesthetic principles, and to be constantly putting in time, effort and money in the service of femininity, are the enemy. Fight the system, not the people who do their best to operate in it, or, God forbid, take a little pleasure where they can find it. Gendered fashion requirements are bad. Enjoying the self-expression and aesthetic appeal of clothing? Girl, go ahead and enjoy your new shoes.

That’s the central issue though, isn’t it? That fashion is a thing girls enjoy, and so therefore it must be silly and stupid. There’s nothing that makes an afternoon of shopping any sillier than an afternoon watching football; there’s nothing inherently less useful about a handbag than a new video game. But because fashion and clothes are stereotypically feminine pursuits and sports are stereotypically masculine, fashion is frivolous and sports are awesome. Women who spend money on themselves are self-involved. Men who do are either dapper or early adapters of the gadget du jour or just “that guy with the boat”.

Men, in fact, spend more money on consumer products than women. But men aren’t considered frivolous spenders, because the connotations of the very word “frivolity” are feminine.

Men are also the ones enjoying the lion’s share of the money and the fame for women’s “shallow” interest in fashion. They outnumber female designers and they get more recognition. The New York Times noted in 2005 that The Council of Fashion Designers of America had given its prestigious annual award to young talent to 29 men and eight women. While male designers have taken home the Womenswear Award 13 out of 18 years, a woman has never won the CDFA Menswear award.

The system that keeps women out of top tier positions, even in industries that largely cater to and are supported by women, is worthy of condemnation. And I won’t argue with critics of mindless consumerism. But for all of its faults, the fashion industry creates wearable art, and its designers display laudable ingenuity, creativity and commitment to aesthetic pleasure.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Beauty: my holiday essentials.

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By the time you read this, I’ll be packed for London and home. Now with traveling on holiday I’m decidedly more high maintenance, and mindful of sun damage and hygiene, so balancing a satisfactory number of products with bikinis and toys is somewhat challenging. I welcome the social acceptability of looking rough on arrival, without wanting to go completely native, and so I’ve been mentally editing my travel bag.

Holidays are one of my few concessions to wipes – there’s no use fighting it. I still believe the best are by Simple (£3.25) – they stay wet, remove makeup better than most, and are usually on offer somewhere. Then I’ll slap on Superdrug’s Simply Pure Hydrating Serum (for £2.99, who cares if someone nicks it?) and baste myself, optimistically, in Murad’s Luminous Shield SPF50, £55 (from the neck up) and Nivea Sun Moisturising Sun Lotion SPF50+, £6 (from the chest down). For colour, cover and belt-and-braces backup, I’ll follow with Full Coverage SPF50+ CC Cream from IT Cosmetics (£35), a makeup brand with ugly packaging and the occasional flash of brilliance. This has a smooth, blendable texture and great staying power. To hide inevitable tiredness, I’ll wear Estée Lauder’s Pure Color Envy Lip and Cheek Stick in Rose Exposed, £28, and swap the grotty black liner for Burberry’s Midnight Brown Eye Colour Contour, £23 (both packed in slim, durable aluminium tubes), M&S Autograph Fibre Sculpting Brow Gel, £9.50 (the best I’ve tried in ages), and Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascara, £8.99.

I’m someone who, like a watch-wearer who’s left their timepiece by the sink, has to run home if I forget perfume (or at least to a department store for a tester). Glass is forbidden on holiday, making YSL Rive Gauche (£34.99) a straightforward choice. This isn’t just an olfactory masterpiece, it’s a design classic. Its chic, stripy aluminium canister is easily the most efficient way to store perfume – opaque to avoid spoiling by light exposure, unbreakable for travel.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. I follow girls across different platforms and yes I fancy some of them. Is this stalking?

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You have to ask a version of the two primary questions pertaining to behaviour online: am I being gross? Or, more commonly, is someone being gross to me? The answer in both cases is usually yes, since the internet, if it has done anything, has liberated our grossest instincts, and I salute your attempt to police yours.

Stalking, however, is a big word for something most of us do in some form. One of these days, a clever hacker – or someone at Facebook – will figure out a way to release our browsing histories and we will all die of shame. I know I will. This record of where we go in our minds when we think no one is looking is as close to a document of our unfettered subconscious as woman has ever come: the thought spirals, the non-sequiturs, the weird desires and creepy interests as expressed through the websites that cater to them.

And the stalking. People have always obsessed over someone, or over famous people they see on TV. The difference these days is that the entire online world is set up to externalize, nourish and amplify these obsessions and this is where things can get tricky.

There are endless avenues to stoke and nurture a broken heart, or a vengeful one, or merely to entertain one during the off hours after lunch. The question, in the case of low-level obsessive interest, is who is the injured party? Assuming you’re not gearing up to send poison pen letters, what is the cost of your “stalking”? And the answer, of course, is that in this particular scenario, the main casualty of your assault on privacy is you.

Perhaps the question, then, is what are you looking for?

There is something addictive about deep-diving into the online lives of others, not least because most of us know we shouldn’t be doing it. I’ve done it myself, falling down a rabbit hole on Facebook for minutes at a time, only to look up and find myself paging through seven-year-old photos of some girl. What the hell is that?

It is partly voyeurism. It is partly an odd kind of tourism. And it’s partly – it must be – insecurity; mining for deficits to tell myself my own life is better. When I find myself in these places, I come to, blinking, and hastily shut down the window. Then I think about unfollowing whoever it is I’ve been looking at. They’re usually friendly people whose lives fascinate me because they’re so different from my own. I don’t know what to call this. It isn’t stalking, but it isn’t entirely innocent either. It’s a sign that my interest isn’t altogether wholesome that I would be mortified if they found out.

These behaviours aren’t new, and I suspect they will never go away; comparing our lives to the lives of others is part of what it is to be human. But we have never lived in a time when there is so much opportunity to gorge ourselves on each others’ intimate details, and just as public health advertisements target “social drinkers” who don’t think they have an alcohol problem, so it might be useful to remind ourselves that there is a line and we should be aware of not crossing it.

A bit of recreational snooping is fine, but know when to cut yourself off. Put down your phone, leave the empty room, and go be with the human beings who love you.