Have you ever made a cake that didn’t turn how you wanted it to and you’ve felt actual shame?
Me too. Awful isn’t it?
How did you get past it, or are you not past it? Is it just a case of pushing it to the back of your mind and carrying on? But then it’s there in the back of your mind, barging it’s way to the front every now and again giving you that churning tummy feeling of… shame.
For the last three years I have entered Cake International, a huge cake decorating competition in the UK.
There are many different categories you can enter and you are scored based on:
Creativity, visual impact, workmanship, degree of difficulty, proportion, balance, colour and specific class criteria.
Depending on how you score you either get a gold award, silver award, bronze award, certificate of merit, or nothing.
The first year I entered Cake International, I entered the ‘large decorative exhibit’ with a Beauty and the Beast cake that I was so proud of- probably the most proud I’d ever been of a cake at that time.
The pride didn’t last long though.
When I arrived at the exhibition hall and saw the other entries, my heart sank and I had a pit in my stomach. I felt humiliation and a feeling I hadn’t had before of “I shouldn’t be here. Who do I think I am to be displaying my cake with these works of art?”.
I had driven a very long way and spent a very long time making this cake so I left it there and had a look around the rest of the show, all the while nervously glancing across to where my cake was standing to see if anyone was looking at it. I don’t remember if they were or not.
I do remember that when I got home I was stalking Twitter like a cake creep. I was searching #cakeinternational, #beautyandthebeastcake, anything I could to find something that hinted that people didn’t think it was a joke.
The day passed and the following day was when the results were being released. I didn’t expect anything at all but I was with a friend in Thorpe Park and late in the afternoon, in a long queue for Swarm, I checked the CI website.
I started at the bottom of the list for my category, knowing if my name wasn’t in the Certificate of Merit section that I hadn’t been awarded anything. My name wasn’t there. Ah well.
Then a lot of ‘L’s caught my eye further up the list. Billie Loveland. In the SILVER section.
I almost choked on nothing. I had tears in my eyes and quickly text my mum and sister. I was so thrilled. The horrible cake shame feeling had passed and had turned out to be unwarranted anyway.
Yet it had affected me for a full 24 hours.
My second entry of Cake International was in the ‘Small Decorative Exhibit’ category and I modelled a very cute, friendly scarecrow.
I don’t remember having real shame with this one. Nerves of course, but not shame. I knew I had given it everything I could but again, on leaving my entry in the exhibition area, I left thinking that last year’s silver was a fluke so I should just expect nothing.
Those results came in whilst I was at an auntie’s house. I used her laptop to check and again started from the bottom of the list.
I had to scroll a bit longer this time because I had unbelievably won gold and second place out of the category.
This time I was buzzing! I had 6 family members around me and everyone was just as chuffed as I was. I felt on top of the world.
I actually said…
“Next year, I’m going for Best In Show”
That sentence will become all the more lols when I reveal what I made for “next year’s” show.
Next year, which was actually this year, 2016, flew round at lightning speed.
I had what I thought was a really creative, almost genius, idea.
I was going back to “Large Decorative Exhibit” again and I was feeling like my skills had developed and I could create something brilliant.
Bear with me whilst I explain the idea behind it.
It was based entirely on modern technology and apps in a comical way but with a serious undertone of how you never know who is behind the screen/ underneath all those filters.
I was going to make a giant Prince Charming frog, wearing his crown, and holding his iPhone showing his Instagram page, where with a few filters, he looked just like Prince Charming. Throw in a few hashtags like #selfie #nofilter #iwokeuplikethis and I thought, “Yes, this will make people laugh and it’ll look awesome”.
Ha, oh Bill!
So I made this bloody frog and I hated it. Absolutely hated it.
Do you know what I thought though, in a brave moment? It’s not that bad, I’m always overly critical, and in a way, he is quite cute.
Plus I’ve spent time and money on this and I haven’t got a bin big enough to fit a giant frog with a crown in.
It’s going to London.
I had a friend come with me to deliver this one (Thorpe Park friend actually). Not a very encouraging friend on this day but a very honest one whose opinion I value. He hated my frog too. Potentially more than I did.
When we arrived at the exhibition hall, we went in and did a little reccy of where the cake would be going and the other entries around my place.
This went well enough that when we went back to the van to get the cake, I stood there with watery eyes and said “I can’t take it in but I can’t take it home, I’ve got nowhere to throw it”.
In the end the SOLE reason I took that cake in was because I didn’t want to be lumbered with disposing of it. So lazy isn’t it but I also didn’t want to see it anymore. I despised that thing.
So, Brad (brutally honest Thorpe Park friend) helped me carry the cake in whilst we giggled like school children and he told me he was embarrassed to carry it in and he hoped people didn’t think he made it. It was how I was feeling and he is not one to beat around the bush at all. Plus I actually think now I put my cake shame onto him.
I wanted to cry at the time but it makes me laugh so hard now when I remember it all unfolding.
Heads down, faces red, we manoeuvred through the room to where my space was and placed the cake down.
I actually took a photo hoping that I’d look back at it and realise it wasn’t that bad.
Then we went and looked at awesome entries, took photos of those, and left to eat a lot of cake in various bakeries in London.
I was so mortified by this entry that when friends and family asked how it went, I refused to send them a photo because I was so embarrassed by it.
So are you ready?
It’s been around 6 months since the competition and I’m only just now showing people this to talk about the topic of cake shame.
Meet Instagram Prince Charming, the big green frog who gained condensation in the car and ended up looking much slimier than intended.
And do you know what? This dweeb got me a bronze.
Yet, I’ve still carried cake shame with me for 6 months.
Because it got bronze.
I didn’t share this photo telling everyone I got bronze when I found out because my first year of entering I got silver. Then I got gold and second place.
Then, this year, with more experience than ever, I got bronze and somehow bronze seemed like a failure.
Where has this come from?
If this was one of my students I would be supporting them with everything I had, and if they won a bronze, well I’d be prouder than I can begin to express in words.
Yet, when it comes to yourself, the critique becomes so much harsher. You think things about yourself no one else would ever think about you.
One of my friends text me a picture of my entry with my name and the bronze award next to it.
I didn’t feel pride. I felt like she was probably mocking the cake and all I wanted was to make someone take my name off of the cake. I didn’t even want to be associated with it.
Of course my friend wasn’t mocking it, she was my friend and she’d sent a picture to say “yay look what I’ve seen!”.
I couldn’t see it though.
Remember… the previous year I claimed I was going for Best in Show.
Of course, my big green frog did not win best in show!
However, the cake ONE DOWN FROM MINE did.
How’s that for irony?
Dawn Butler’s (Dinkydoodle) absolutely incredible Einstein cake was next to my gangly great frog.
Poor Dawn with me cramping her style. Soz Dawn!
So here we are 6 months down the line and I do actually still have a little cake shame looking at that photo.
I know cake shame is a daily battle in our industry. Exceedingly high expectations of ourselves from being immersed in the work of our competitors/idols across the globe leads to us feeling embarrassed of our own work, like we could have and should have done better and, sometimes, like we are intruders in the cake world.
It can happen with competition cakes, customer cakes, lovingly baked goodies for your family… every form of baking leaves us open to criticising ourselves.
I see posts all the time with people feeling they haven’t done the best work they are capable of on a cake and you can literally feel the cake shame in their words.
It’s a horrible feeling, we all get it (even the huge cake stars), we all have to suck it up and try to do better next time, learning as we go.
I asked Dawn Butler of Dinkydoodle (this link is to her Facebook page) about ‘Cake Shame’ after telling her about mine and here’s what she had to say.
“I’m so sorry that you had cake shame!!! Although I know that feeling all too well!
Do you know Einstein is one of the first cakes that I was proud of ….. I decided not to enter him at the NEC in Feb because for the first time ever I didn’t want to rush a cake – and I’m so very glad that I took the time to finish it properly- look where it got me!
I’ve vowed never to rush a cake ever again, although it didn’t last long!! The flying helicopter cake that I made for the queen could have been so much better!! There were so many things wrong with it, and it was poorly finished that if anyone in the cake world were stood close to it they’d have noticed all the mistakes, thankfully the queen and prince William were both just staring at the fact it was flying that they didn’t notice all the mistakes!!”
Dawn Butler, guys. Dawn freakin’ Butler gets cake shame.
She made a FLYING HELICOPTER out of CAKE for the QUEEN and she still felt she could’ve done better.
If that doesn’t show you it’s okay to feel it, then move on from it then I honestly don’t know what will.
I will be entering Cake International in Birmingham this year because as much as that feeling is rubbish and I’ll probably get it again this year, it makes me want to do better.
The same as if we make a hideous batch of cookies, we don’t stop baking. We make more because LOOK, WE CAN DO IT, we just had an off day.
I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of cake shame altogether but at least if we have a name for it, we can tell our cake friends and talk about it.
“Ah okay, tea?”
How much better is that than feeling nauseous and stalking hashtags?
This topic has rung true for so many people and it seems to be a huge comfort to know that the cake personalities we look up to also feel cake shame every once in a while.
I asked some of the world’s favourite cake decorators if they’d ever experienced cake shame and here is what they said:
Avalon of Avalon Cakes
“Billie!! What a great blog!! I think that “Cake Shame” is something that ALL artists go through, the pressures we put on ourselves and the pressure we perceive is coming from others. Really, truely, I think any and all creative artists from any medium go through a process of doubt, questioning, regret and a whole roller coaster of other emotions. We have the innate human nature to compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves above and beyond normal expectations. It’s kinda fascinating when you step back and look at our complex human behaviour.
For me, personally, I’ve gone through the entire roller coaster and then some! I think it’s a constant uphill battle with the pressures I put on myself to constantly one-up the cake or tutorial I did before. Or at the very least, staying consistent! I couldn’t, of course, fall behind in the uphill battle! AH, the pressure. Kinda silly right? I think it even, naturally, got worse when I started creating tutorials for the public. When you really put yourself out there in the public eye, the pressure intensifies ten folds. MUST DELIVER. Must be better than before! Must try to be innovative and original! Better, BETTER BETTER. Ahh the pressure, enough to leave you in the corner sobbing like a baby in the fetal position! 😉 Broken record of “Cake Shame”.
I think comparing ourselves to others and comparing ourselves to a “better version of our self” is just plain HUMAN. Everyone does it, no matter how “perfect” their work looks to you, there is most likely something on that cake that is making them feel like they didn’t make the mark somehow. So remember, you are not alone! We are all constantly growing (even if you don’t see it right away). So, be easy on yourself.. you’re only human! :)”
Shawna of McGreevy Cakes
“Billie… are you kidding me? I can’t even tell you how many photos of my cakes I look back on and involuntarily cringe at, every single time. Without fail.
I made an Elsa cake bust a few years back.
Yeah… I can barely get myself to look at that one.
I re-post my past cake blogs on my Facebook page periodically and I have to give myself a little (HUGE) pep-talk every time I consider re-posting Elsa. I won’t even tell you the amount of “things” I wish I could go back and change about her. (‘Cause I’ll probably start having nightmares again, if I do.)
We want our work to be perfect. Every single time. In every single way. And we’re hard on ourselves.
‘Cause we know how vulnerable it is to put ourselves into the world, in front of all of mankind (errr… and some beasts as well) to stare at… and judge. That is NO easy thing.
But that’s what life is about. Taking risks, sometimes failing, and then picking our red, puffy faces up off the floor and trying again.
And then one day, you’re staring at that one crazy cake that you wouldn’t believe you made with your own hands if you didn’t have a witness or two around to confirm it.
But you know what they say… there are two types artists in this world. Those who have periodic, long sessions of being curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth in a dark corner whispering “Mama”… and those who pretend they don’t.
Knaw I’m sayin’? ;)”
Lesley of Royal Bakery
“It’s been a long time since I’ve made a cake I’m ashamed of, I have to be honest. I learned a long time ago that if I have to say ‘that’ll do’ it probably won’t, and I will do it over until it’s right. Of course, that’s easy for me because while cake decorating is my ‘day job’, I don’t have to support myself or my family with my earnings, and only make one or two cakes a week. I have the luxury of time to fix things that I know aren’t right.
I have learned, too, to be less critical of the tiny flaws that are glaring to us, but not at all obvious to our customers. I remember talking to my best cake friend, Peggy Does Cake, and showing her what I thought were all the glaring errors on the cake. She said, ‘Don’t you DARE point them all out to your client!’ She knew I would because she had been there, too, and it’s in our natures to be honest. It was all I could do to keep my mouth zipped as I dropped the cake off, and I was thinking about Peggy the whole time. Of course the client loved the cake and didn’t see what I could see, but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
There have been cakes I’ve made that I’ve hated, but I still know I’ve made that cake to the best of my ability. It’s a mindset. You have to step back and remember, ‘I might hate this cake, but it’s exactly what the client wants, and therefore, to them, it’s a great cake.’ You have to put your personal preferences aside sometimes.
I’ve just scrolled back through all my photos. July 2013 was the last time I made a cake I was ashamed of. Don’t get me wrong, there have been cakes that haven’t been perfect since then that I’ve had to bite my flaws about when handing over to a client, and there are certainly cakes that I’ve told Peggy that I hate, but that last feeling of real shame was three years ago. I’d told a bride I could model her husband’s car as a topper for his groom’s cake. I’d done other cars – I thought I could, but I couldn’t. I tried for two weeks. And in the end, I had to admit it to her, and I had to buy a model of a different car in the wrong color that was too big for the cake at the last minute and I cannot think about that wedding without cringing. Since then, I’ve had a very realistic view of my abilities and a determination to work as hard and for as long as I have to on every cake so that I never have to think I didn’t do the best job I could possibly have done. “
I mean, c’mon, here we have three of the hugest cake personalities in our Cake World and they all know the feeling. Two even mentioned the foetal position! That can’t be a coincidence.
Each time you feel like you just failed a little bit, I hope these incredible ladies’ words bring you some encouragement and some motivation to feel the emotion, and to then use it, learn your strengths, and your weaknesses, and grow!
Let’s all keep going, keep learning and keep talking to each other.
We are a cake tribe. I know you’ve got my back, and I hope you know I have each and every one of your backs.