Wonder Women: Sinead Burke
The lack of diversity in traditional print – particularly in the fashion industry – has been discussed at length. From advertisements to editorial content, there is an overall sense of misrepresentation of the public. The popularity of bloggers and other online content creators has not only grown as a competitor of older media but it offers equal opportunity to everyone to share their voice, talent, opinion and product.
Sinéad Burke, or Minnie Melange, is just one of countless of women online using blogging platforms and social media to share their passions, thoughts and to celebrate themselves, not the shiny faces on the front covers of a magazine stand. Sinéad is a PHD student of education, teacher, award-winning blogger, speaker, broadcaster, fashion-obsessed and all-round amazing person. At 3’5”, Sinéad’s love for fashion and interest in the industry might have proved difficult to cultivate had she been someone else; someone less motivated or less passionate than she is. Her wonderfully charming documentation of her sartorial journey, eloquent style of writing and series of interviews with other inspiring women lead to a huge following online and have opened doors offline too.
Winner of Miss Alternative Ireland, ambassador for ISPCC and associate of the Women’s Council of Ireland, it seems like there’s nothing this powerhouse cannot do. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. As a little person, Sinéad has become a familiar face on the blogging circuit, instantly recognisable, because she is different. It’s her difference that her readers and followers relate to, her unique intelligence, her unique development of her fashion blog into so much more than fashion blog and her unique size.
Interviewing a blogger is always going to be a daunting task, because they already have the platform to say everything they want to say. What is my role here?!?! Composing questions for Sinéad was interesting because although she is a blogger, she is also Miss Alternative Ireland, an ISPCC ambassador as well as involved in the National Women’s Council of Ireland, to name a few. Multifaceted, Sinéad is the epitome of diversity in her professional life, while remaining humorous and humble. Given this opportunity again, I think I’d also like to ask her what her favorite movie was or if maybe she’d use her PHD training to teach me how to be more accomplished? Next time, eh?
Describe yourself in three words.
Three words? Agh! Curious, interested, has-notions-about-oneself.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
From the age of four, I had a fascination with becoming a teacher. Throughout my childhood, I would subject my young siblings to play ‘school’ with me at home. They had copy books and I would attempt to teach them whatever part of the curriculum I had learned in school that day. I set homework and corrected it too. I was eight. They loved me/it…
What first drew you into the fashion industry?
As a teenager, I was quite conscious of being excluded from the fashion industry. I was consistently aware that most of the clothes that I wanted to purchase weren’t available in my size and my perspective and stature was never represented in the magazines or advertising that I subscribed to. This feeling of ‘other’ within the domain really spurred me to learn as much as I could about fashion and I attempted to start a conversation from my own perspective and gained entry (quite stubbornly) through that personalised route.
How has your perception of the fashion industry changed since you first entered it?
I’ve learned how multi-faceted fashion is. We’re often quick to dismiss it as an industry, a profession or even as a hobby in a way that would not happen with sport, music or film. Fashion is something which we all have in common, whether or not we subscribe to trends. We all wear clothes and for me, they are a vehicle to not only exhibit your personality (in quite an extroverted fashion) but they’re also a conduit for fascinating stories. I’ve learned that fashion can be accessed at a variety of levels and whilst my perception of the industry has changed, I’m a little disappointed that it’s still considered to be quite farcical within a public arena.
Being an academic and a blogger, do you think it’s fair to say you’ve taken on two full-time jobs? How do you manage both and keep your social life (and sanity) in check?
Ha! I don’t have any set formula or routine in place but I’m incredible passionate, curious and interested in both education and ‘Minnie Mélange’. Having that insatiable appetite, I make every attempt to meet the high expectations that I set for myself within each platform. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and that makes everything easier. I’m more than aware that I can’t do everything and often, I have to make sacrifices but I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing network of family and friends who spur me on and encourage me to take a break when required.
The blogging industry, particularly with fashion bloggers, can be a fickle, superficial, and nasty place. Have you ever had moments of regret about getting involved in that world?
No. Never. Blogging has been an incredible vehicle for me to meet some of the most empowering, inspiring and thought-provoking people in Ireland and further afield. It has granted me amazing opportunities that without it, may have not been impossible. I’m indebted to those who read and support my blog and have felt nothing but gratitude and fortune for being a part of the Irish blogging sphere.
You always come across as confident and fearless. Do you ever have moment of self-doubt? If so, how do you deal with those?
Always. I consistently get nervous before sitting down to interview someone. I’m so lucky that I get to converse with many of the people that I admire but this element of fan-girling also brings about copious amounts of nerves. I over-analyse my questions, I doubt my abilities, I over-think and predict what will go wrong and I become anxious. When this happens, the first port of call is to ring my mother. She calms me by re-emphasising that I can do this, that the people who sit down with me are doing so because they are interested in what I bring to the conversation and fundamentally, she tells me that even if it does go terribly wrong, I’ll learn something from that. Taking a step back and refocusing your lens always helps!
What do you think is the toughest challenge you have had to overcome in blogging/your personal or academic life?
Toughest challenge? I think being physically different, sometimes people are unsure of how to quantify or measure my ability. Perhaps from popular culture, they have inherited perceptions of what I can and can’t do. Sometimes that’s correct but often, it’s not. Being aware of those perceptions and that thinking is something which I’ve become resilient to and although life would be easier without that, it’s become part of my quotidian life.
What are your favourite characteristics in yourself and in others?
I try to surround myself with people who listen, who have a (slightly sarcastic) sense of humour, who challenge my thinking, who don’t take themselves too seriously and who are kind. I would like to think that I personify those characteristics too but maybe you should ask them!
If you had to give 16-year old Sinead advice, what would you say?
Don’t be concerned or anxious about doing or being one ‘thing’. We live in an era where you can be a teacher, a broadcaster, a PhD student and a blogger. Your profession and your interests can be as multi-dimensional as your personality and don’t be afraid to explore them.
You’ve become somewhat of an inspiration for a lot of people with achondroplasia, is this something you set out to do? How do you feel about being a role model?
Oh gosh, I don’t know if I’m an inspiration to other little people and if I’m honest, I would be uncomfortable labelling myself as that. The population of those of us with achondroplasia is a microcosm of the average height world. Our interests and professions are equally as varied. What I do isn’t overly inspiring but I’m in a very privileged and fortunate position that I can articulate my positive and negative experiences. It’s not something that I have consciously architected but has come about quite naturally over time. I’m quite vocal that my experience is not a homogenous one and my overall aim is to alter society’s perceptions and definition of little people so that each unique person can be further appreciated for their individual talents, characteristics and personality.
As an Anti-Bullying ambassador you speak out against bullying. What do you think is the one thing everyone can do to stop bullying – online and offline?
I think we need to care about each other a little more – even those we don’t know. Often, we say and do things without considering the possible repercussions or the other person’s feelings. It’s so easy to do that online and often meaning, intonation and sarcasm can be misconstrued in 140 characters. My rule of thumb, particularly when I’m emotionally involved in a discussion, is to step away for a period of time and return when I’m calm. That way, if I still want to reply, at least my response will be clear and less volatile.
With all of these big plans on the horizon, where do you see yourself both personally and professionally in five years time?
In five years time, I’ll be Dr Sinéad Burke and will most definitely have notions about myself then, ha! I would love to convert the ‘Extraordinary Women’ series into a book, I’d quite like to a have radio programme whereby I interview interesting women each week and simultaneously, I’d like to start doing public interviews with those who interest me most at various different arts, film and cultural events.