History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

How being a stay-at-home mom helped my career

Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the cherished forms of motherhood. This one is for the strong mothers, the nurturing ones, for the mothers who have lost children, for the children who have lost mothers, for those who are aching to be mothers, for those who choose not to be mothers. Read more here.

Nine months may sound like a lot, but really, it’s quite short a time for life to enter this world and a career to end. For me, I went from planning my travel schedule to scheduling prenatal visits. One minute, I was on a plane to Cairo, prepping for a week-long shoot and lots of R&R. The next, I was puking in the bathroom of my 40th-floor advertising agency.

I knew things had to change; I just didn’t know how fast time would move. My belly was growing and, soon enough, I was taking a sabbatical from work, shifting from working nonstop for 13 years to take care of my daughter. And just like that, in a blink, three years passed. I continued freelance writing, but I didn’t know how it would be once I was back to work.

The opportunity to get back onto the working scene finally presented itself and I remember feeling like I would pass out from the stress of walking into an office again. I felt like I didn’t know how to talk. I kept checking to see if there was any dribble of milk on my clothes and making sure I didn’t babytalk to my boss. However, as the days went by, I realized there were skills I had learned as a mother that would be integral to work success.

Here are some skills that helped me transition from home to the office:

1. Patience

There are very few things or people in life that test you as much as your kids. Whether it’s spending half your day waiting for them to put on their shoes or spending a good part of the evening trying to make them finish their meal, kids have a way of trying you. And boy, do mine try me!

But, actually, this helped me become a stronger career woman. I used to be an impatient soul, always rushing because I didn’t want to waste time. Now, I’m open to long debates and questions in the workplace because I get a lot of them at home. This helps with team management and deadlines because you know how to manage tough situations and moody colleagues.

2. Time management

Remember the days when it was all about you? When you languidly made it through the day, doing as you pleased? Those days are long gone. Say hello to a strict schedule and routine. Because without those necessities, kids are just a hot mess. I spent so much time putting my kids on a schedule that my own free spirit somehow caught on as well.

Now, I’m a master of time management. I can have her to ballet, him for tennis, both dressed for a party and in bed, without blinking an eye and losing any time. So imagine the importance of multitasking at work? I can craft an idea, write it, delegate, and move to the next within a day. You’re suddenly not drowning in deadlines and not having panic attacks when someone requests a 3000-word document by end of the day. You’ve got this.

3. Multitasking

I was always good at this. But now, I can order groceries, change a diaper, put baby-shark on the TV, and velcro my other kid’s shoes at the same time. When I returned to the office, I found that I could use this to better manage my work as well. In my pre-kids life, I would focus days on coming up with a creative concept and refuse to take on any other task. But now, I know that I can do all that while preparing a presentation and reading the news.

I’ve always been a list-maker, but when a lot is on the line, it helps me immensely to plan my week on a Saturday. I plan right down to what they will be eating, who they’ll have a playdate with, my work deliverables, my gym routine, date night with my husband, even a walk to clear my head. It helps me to feel like I have control of the situation and lets me focus solely on the task at hand, instead of panicking about everything at once.

4. Perspective

When a kid gets sick, even with the minor flu, a lot of stuff falls into perspective. All the stuff you’re worrying about seems less daunting. You stress less about the house being too messy, not fitting into your old clothes, and not reading enough. You focus on the big stuff. And it carries forward into work also.

You pick and choose your battles at work. You realize if you fail, it isn’t the end of the world – you will do better the next time. If you’ve got too much work, you take a breath and plow through because at least the important stuff is in place. It’s all about perspective and realizing what really matters. It’s the same in the office, right? My day used to be ruined when my boss yelled at me, or I messed up on a big pitch. Now I realize that pretty much nothing is the end of the world. You plow through and do better.

5. Appreciation

You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Time away from work leads to a greater appreciation of it. You realize how privileged you are to be able to work towards something you love. I used to whine about my late working hours incessantly. Then when I became a mum I cribbed about the sleepless nights. But now that I have to juggle both, I realize how fortunate I am to have an opportunity to do both. This means when I’m at work, I can put my heart into creating amazing campaigns, working on strategies, and tossing ideas around with my peers. But at home, I can then focus on the stories of how my son made a new best friend, and my daughter finally perfectly sketched out a unicorn.

So at home, I am able to feel like I am leading by example. My kids see that doing what you love is the best gift you can receive, and that hard work pays off. And at work, I am mindful of how my kids are the reason I can really put myself out there, and how my career helps me feel better about myself and in turn, be a better parent.

6. Conflict management

You can imagine the chaos that commences every morning at 5:30 am with two kids, barely two years apart. However, both are exceptionally important personnel so I cannot offend anyone. This means if he’s snatching her doll, I need to explain to her that he’s hurting her feelings as well as his future chances of playing with her. And if she’s grumpy about the extra hugs he got, then I need to explain that his predicament (a nightmare) warrants this response, but she’s equally important to me. Isn’t this the same attitude we need to excel in the workplace?

I deal with stressors every day at work, but it helps to realize that sometimes my peers just need a bit of venting, someone to hear them out, and then we can return to work. I use this same logic with managing my own stress. To understand that every day, I will be faced with a new challenge, but with some positive self-talk, I can take it on, just like my kids do.

7. Inspiration

Your mission to become better has become not just a personal need but one that will be viewed by two little humans as well. Life changes when you’ve suddenly got to uphold the title of ‘role model.’ I now put the same heart and soul into my work that I do at home. Because for me, both define an exceptionally important part of who I am, and I must succeed.

These are just some of the ways that being a mother has helped me be a better career woman. So when I see in the media that mothers are sometimes sidelined as being ineffective members of the workforce, I cringe. Employers need to realize that life lessons are harder to come by and mothers are masters at making it all work. Because after all, what other choice do we have?

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Editor's Picks History Forgotten History Historical Badasses

Meet María de Zayas, the first author to publish under her own name in Spain

Although often forgotten, María de Zayas was a famous 17th-century writer and the first Spanish woman to publish fiction novels under her own name.

If I asked you to name the oldest female author that you can think of, chances are that you will say Jane Austen, or perhaps the Brontë sisters. Unfortunately, this only shows the prevalence of the perception that women did not write before the 19th century. But they did, and they did so well. We have simply forgotten about them. Or chosen to.

I want to bring to light the figure of one of those women from previous times who decided to be a writer: María de Zayas. I admire Zayas not just because she is Spanish like me, and therefore has been a role model of mine for several years now, but also because, unlike most of the female writers of the Medieval and Early-Modern period, she published fiction books under her name, and made a profit from it.

Let me tell you about her.

María de Zayas y Sotomayor (1590-1661) was the most famous female writer of 17th century Spain. We know of her existence from her written work, as, sadly, there are few documents that tell us anything about her life.

She published fiction books under her name, and made a profit from it.

Zayas was born in the Spanish nobility and, as such, had the opportunity to receive an education (albeit limited, as she was a woman) and travel to different countries, where she discussed with scholars and academics of the time. She began her literary career in the contests organized by the literary academies of her time.

María de Zayas became famous for her collections of short novels, each comprised of 10 novels under a common narrative frame: Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Amorous and Exemplary Novels) and Desengaños amorosos (The Disenchantments of Love). She also wrote poems, that she incorporated into the novels and a play.

Most of Zaya’s novels focused on the limitations that women suffered in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were short, fun, and witty, aimed for a mostly female audience.

Many have considered María de Zayas to be the first feminist writer of Spain. She filled her novels with female characters that were brave and questioned sexist concepts such as ‘honor’.

This writer shocked her readers when she stated that the human soul was neither male nor female. Moreover, she dared to insist that women were not less knowledgeable because of lack of capacity, but because of a lack of education.

Most of Zaya’s novels focused on the limitations that women suffered in the 16th and 17th centuries.

She stated that: “the reason why women are not learned is not a defect in intelligence but a lack of opportunity. When our parents bring us up if, instead of putting cambric on our sewing cushions and patterns in our embroidery frames, they gave us books and teachers, we would be as fit as men for any job or university professorship. We might even be sharper because we’re of colder humor and intelligence partakes of the damp humor’.

María de Zayas dared to do something that seems very simple right now: publish fiction under her name. At the time, and particularly in Spain, women who wanted to be writers became nuns, such as Santa Teresa del Jesús or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. By being part of the Church, their access to (some) books and writing was acceptable, but their works were limited to religious themes, and therefore an appropriate interest for women to have.

Zayas did neither one nor the other. She wrote fiction, works that were entertaining, not moralistic. She signed them under her real name and made a profit out of their selling. She was a woman that earned a living as a writer. This is simple but was, at the time, almost unprecedented.

Zayas achieved incredible success during her lifetime. She was respected and admired by her colleagues. Writers that are now known by every student of Spanish literature such as Cervantes or Lope de Vega praised her work and recognized her as an equal.

Sadly, the passing of time worked against her. A hundred years after Zayas’ death, her work was still being printed, until it was censored by the Spanish Inquisition. They considered that it went against morality and banned its printing and publication. They thought that, by doing this, she would be forgotten.

She was. But only for a short time.

When I studied literature at school, I never learned about her. All the famous writers that appeared in my curriculum were male until we reached the 19th century. By the time I studied Spanish Literature at university, María de Zayas had obtained a paragraph in a chapter filled with pages and pages about her male colleagues.

Her writing was so controversial that it was quite literally censored by the forces in the Spanish Inquisition.

Surely but slowly, we are recovering the stories of those incredible women that history has asked us to forget. We are demanding them to be given the attention that they deserve. We are being inspired by their stories of courage and sacrifice. At least I know I am. I hope other people are too.

I hope we learn that the desire to write, to have a professional life, has always been inside women, throughout history. We have collectively chosen to forget. But now it is time to remember. 

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Coronavirus The Pandemic Inequality

I am staying at home even if it means not saying goodbye to my loved ones

It’s day 30 of national lockdown in Spain and I have only left my house once: to go to the pharmacy. I am social distancing and staying away from my loved ones who are sick, and I am asking you to do the same.

I have an uncle who has been receiving oxygen at the hospital for the past two weeks and two aunts self-isolating at home with COVID-19 symptoms. I am confident that all of them will recover but I will not dare visit them. My cousin is also a few weeks short of her labor date and will need to go to the hospital to give birth. An event that was meant to be filled with joy and family will happen in silence, and it is for the best. It is not allowed, and it will do more harm than good.

I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

For all of them, for your loved ones, and for the people that you don´t know that also have loved ones, I am asking you to stay at home and social distance.

I have the relief of knowing that my family members are not in a critical stage and hopefully all of them will recover soon. But not everyone has that. Right now, the person that I feel for the most right now is my best friend. Her grandmother passed away last week. Yes, it was because of COVID-19.

My friend’s grandmother started having a fever a few days after her chemotherapy session. She went straight to the hospital and was diagnosed with an infection and tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive. She stayed alone at the hospital for several days. She was soon sedated so my friend and her whole family stopped being able to talk to her over the phone. A few days later she passed away, and the family was notified of the death in a phone call by an employee of a funerary home. Only four members of the family were allowed to attend the incineration, all while maintaining the security distance between them.

Given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.

My friend’s grandmother was an incredible person. She grew up with supportive parents that encouraged her and her six sisters to have the same ambitions as their brothers. She finished a university degree and became the youngest female university professor at a time when most Spanish women were housewives. She loved playing bridge and golf, two games that she learned to play passed the age of 50, and she was very competitive in both. She had cancer but was starting to recover. She lived a full life, that has been sadly been cut short by the virus.

My best friend said goodbye without hugs or the kiss on the cheek that is traditional of Spanish greetings. She is grieving at home, and online, where she received hundreds of virtual messages. Her family, longing for a way to connect, organized a video conference to comfort each other, tell stories and grieve together.

I am asking you to social distance, even if your government has not. I am asking you to listen to the authorities and do as they say, even if it means not going for your daily run or being stuck in a tiny apartment. I too miss the streets, and fresh air, and seeing my friends and family that I have not visited since I went back to the UK after the Christmas break. I want to check on my sick family members and make sure that they are okay. I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. I want to meet my cousin’s baby. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

My best friend is grieving at home, and online.

I know that social distancing can be hard and that people’s homes can sometimes be very difficult environments. I feel lucky to be in a position where I can social distance and keep studying without worrying about the next paycheck. Many people live in small houses or do not have a good relationship with the family they are quarantined with. My boyfriend spent a week inside his room to protect his father, who is considered high-risk. We are quarantined on different continents, and I don´t know when I will be able to see him again. Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

Because every day the death tolls are lower. Last week we were counting almost 1,000 deceased in a day, and today we ONLY had 510. That is around 500 people that have been able to keep their lives, 500 healthy people, 500 families not having to grieve.

For the first time in a long time, our individual actions matter. We may not be able to cure cancer or end discrimination, and most of us work in industries that are not life or death. But today we can make a difference. A real one.

Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

We need to remember that COVID-19 is treatable. However, it only is if you can access the necessary medical care should you need it. By limiting the spread of the virus we give space for hospitals to breathe and treat the current patients. The biggest challenge of COVID-19 is the length of time that it takes for a person to show symptoms and that many people never show them. Therefore, although you might feel fine, you might be the cause of someone else’s illness. So please stay at home. I know the sacrifice is great, but the alternative is appalling.

Instead of longing to go out, I have learned to find comfort in the small things that remind me of human compassion and solidarity. Every evening, at 8 pm, the whole of Spain comes out to their balconies and gives an applause to the healthcare workers and other people that are out in the trenches for us. The sound of the country coming together gives me enough strength to face the next day and hope that my loved ones are also hearing that applause. At the moment that is all that can give them. Because, given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.

TV Shows Pop Culture

5 reasons why we all need a Sheila Mosconi in our lives

Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives is back on CBS with his new show Why Women KillThe show revolves around three couples living in the same mansion in different periods of time – 1963, 1984, and 2019 – but all three couples deal with similar problems of love, adultery, and elements of crime to boost the drama. While the three couples are exciting, and the audience is invested in their stories immediately, the real star of the show is the best friend who appears in the 1963 storyline – Sheila Mosconi.

A dark-haired woman - Sheila Mosconi - in a sleeveless top and a large, beaded necklace stares ahead.
[Image description: A dark-haired woman – Sheila Mosconi – in a sleeveless top and a large, beaded necklace stares ahead.] Via Why Women Kill
Sheila is Beth Ann’s neighbor and best friend, who is the protagonist of the 1963 storyline. Beth Ann is struggling with the newfound information about her husband’s affair and concocts an odd scheme of befriending the mistress but eventually finds herself deeper in the mess than she intended. Sheila is seen as a strong, sound-minded woman who disagrees with her friend’s plan, but remains a true friend throughout.

Below are my five reasons why we all deserve a Sheila Mosconi in our lives.

1. She’s always around

“You sit and I’ll pour.” – Sheila Mosconi

Sheila was the first person to welcome Beth Ann to the neighborhood, and was also the first to unintentionally break the news about her husband’s affair. However, Sheila isn’t a gossipy lady who thrives off drama. In fact, she genuinely cares about people’s feelings even if she doesn’t know them very well. From the beginning, Sheila becomes a shoulder for Beth Ann. The best part is that she doesn’t always agree with everything Beth Ann is doing or saying, and yet continues to be a good friend and listen to her friend. We could all use that unconditional ear and shoulder every now and then!

2. She’ll always cover for you

“You-know-who is on the phone.” – Sheila Mosconi

We all need a friend who will have our back no matter what, even if that means playing along with the white lies we’re sprinkling along the way. Sheila might disgaree with Beth Ann’s plan, but she continues to cover for her without asking too many questions. Not a lot of people would go through so much trouble for a marriage that didn’t even concern them. But not Sheila.

3. She demands respect and calls out misogyny even if it isn’t directed at her

“Just tapping on your cup? That’s how you treat a maid, not your wife.” – Sheila Mosconi

An outspoken woman, Sheila’s character is juxtaposed with another 1960s woman like Beth Ann who lives to serve her husband. Sheila does not subscribe to the misogynist mindset around her. In fact, she calls out Beth Ann’s husband’s treatment towards his wife in their first interaction, before she even became friends with her. This proves that Sheila’s principles do not sway with a personal bias and her grounded stance on life inspires the women around her, like Beth Ann, to understand their own worth better.

4. She always has the best advice

“Sex is how women gain power over men. And there is nothing humiliating about that.” – Sheila Mosconi

Not only does Sheila inspire women to expect better from their surroundings, but she also inspires us to embrace every part of ourselves. An unapologetic woman, she once again proves herself to be ahead of her time as she hands Beth Ann a ‘marital anatomy’ book to help her friend improve her sex-life. Sheila condemns any self-deprecating beliefs in her friend and makes an important point about women owning their sexuality. Not only is she a friend who pushes you out of your comfort zone, she encourages you to be the best version of yourself.

5. She is a beacon of unconditional support 

“Whatever it is, I don’t judge.” – Sheila Mosconi

As the series progresses, she realizes her friend is struggling with more than she can understand. Instead of assuming to know everything, and instead of backing away, she makes the simple promise to listen and not judge. In the face of friendship, she puts herself aside and stands by Beth Ann as simply her friend because that’s what she needs. Her wisdom radiates through her quirky kindness and makes us all wish someone would make us that promise once in a while.

Sheila Mosconi may not be the main character of the show, but she certainly elevates it with her complex self, as stands out against the backdrop of the patriarchal 1960s setting she is placed in. The setting helps highlight how progressive Sheila really is and emphasizes her importance as she becomes an inspiration and a friend to the otherwise lonely Beth Ann.

Moreover, her importance goes beyond the storyline she is fitted into, as Sheila breaks stereotypes of gossipy-neighborhood ladies and friends who talk behind your back – a common trope in dramaedies otherwise. Instead, Sheila is a well-constructed character who resonates with the 21st century audience just as much, for being an honest, fierce, and unconditional friend who inspires Beth Ann on screen and the rest of the world off of it.

Love Life Stories Wellness

Working as a camp counselor for teen girls forced me to love my body

Last summer, I found myself working at a resort as a day camp counselor.

I worked with all age groups throughout the summer, but I mainly worked with teenagers. When I took the job, I had been in recovery from an eating disorder for about a year. I had gained a lot of weight and was struggling with my body daily. When I got dressed every morning, I would stand in front of the mirror and hold back tears.

As the start date for the job came closer, I reflected on what it was like to be a teenage girl.

I remembered being “the fat girl” and being bullied.

I remembered how all my friends had been “dieting” and how we developed our disordered relationships to food and exercise together, following each other’s examples; how people praised us for eating less and losing weight. I realized that my role models hadn’t modeled body positivity, but the exact opposite.

I began to think about how closely teenagers watch the actions of adults and model their behavior.

My behavior around food and my body would be on display for all these girls to see. When I understood that I asked myself, ‘What kind of messages do I want to send these girls about their bodies?’

Girls and women get messages about their bodies their whole lives.

When a mother says, ‘I’m so fat. I’m going on a diet,’ or a friend says, ‘We shouldn’t eat pizza or we’ll get fat,’ girls hear the implicit rules of womanhood: don’t eat this, don’t get fat, fat is ugly, and being fat is bad. They see the grown women in their lives modeling body hatred and disordered relationships to food and exercise, so girls learn to hate and abuse their bodies.

I decided to refuse to be a part of this vicious cycle.

Of course, I couldn’t completely change the course of any of these girls’ lives, but I could model something different than they were used to seeing.

I thought about what it would mean to model body positivity for these girls.

I would have to eat an amount of food that correlated to the amount of physical activity we were doing each day. I’d spent years counting calories and making sure I was always eating an insanely low amount, so eating a decent lunch with these girls would be a struggle.

But I was committed to modeling a healthy relationship with food, so I promised myself I would eat as much as I wanted/needed each day at lunch.

I would have to stop making negative comments about my own body. I was so used to bashing my own appearance that I often did so without even noticing. I promised myself I would pay attention to everything I was thinking about my body and try to not let it come out of my mouth.

I also promised myself that I would be hyper-aware of what the girls were saying about their own bodies and try to gently confront their negativity. Body shaming is a regular part of the conversation for girls and women, sometimes turning into a perverse bonding experience.

I committed to shutting down this kind of talk if I heard it.

With these promises in mind, I started the job and began trying to put my body positivity into practice.

The first thing I noticed was how much the girls policed me, and each other.

When I loaded up my tray at lunchtime they would stare at me incredulously and comment on how much food I was eating. The first few times it happened I had to pause and take a deep breath before I smiled and told them that I was hungry, so I was eating what I needed to fuel my body.

After a while, this became an automatic response.

When we’d go to the pool, the girls would start to stand in front of the mirror together and begin the ritual body bashing. I’d loudly declare that my camp group was a ‘body positive zone’ and challenge them to a pool handstand contest.

Some of the girls looked at me like I was crazy, and at first, I felt crazy.

I also felt like a hypocrite because on the inside I longed to join in their body shaming ritual. But as the summer continued, I began to believe my own hype. We were having too much fun to stand in front of mirrors feeling bad about ourselves.

Whenever I’d hear a girl offhandedly make a negative comment about her body I’d say, “I feel ya. I used to think that too. Now I just think my body is the way it is and there’s not much I can do about it. I might as well like what I’ve got.”

I started to talk about all the things my body did instead of the way it looked. I began to praise the girls for their accomplishments instead of saying they looked pretty.

I stressed the power their bodies had to do great things.

It was tough to maintain such a positive attitude about my body, but I was continually motivated by the reactions from the girls. They smiled, they sighed with relief, some of them even thanked me.

It was clear that they’d rarely if ever, received positive messages about how to relate to their bodies.

I spent the whole summer modeling body positivity, and I gradually discovered that I no longer choked back tears when I stood in front of the mirror in the morning. I didn’t hate myself when I got dressed. I didn’t want to hide when I put on a bathing suit.

I no longer hated my body.

All summer I had been acting as if I didn’t hate my body and by the end of the summer, I actually didn’t.

I couldn’t force myself to love my body, but when I was motivated by the desire to pass on better values to younger girls I had the power to change my own experience.


I wasted so much time trying to meet my parents’ expectations, but now I’m done

One gold trophy. That’s all it took to raise my family’s expectations on me.

It was a reward for me as a top student in my school. Of course, my parents and my eldest sister were ecstatic. It felt as if their legacy was shown through my small success.

Little did I knew, they had something planned for me.

It was my sister’s idea to send me to a boarding school. I begged them not to. They refused to listen and convinced me that it was for my own good. Deep inside, I could feel they took a great pride from it. Imagine how proud they’d be, telling the relatives and neighbors about it.

I couldn’t disappoint them. So, I agreed.

I spent three years away from them. During those years, I put a lot of hard work in so I could live up to my family’s expectations. I knew they had high hopes for me. My sister kept reminding me about the victories I’d gained in the past and my younger siblings made me their role model. The pressure was more than I could handle. It was as if I owed them my success and I had to fulfill that responsibility.

But I couldn’t do it.

All three years, my results were just average. I graduated, as an average student. I wasn’t as brilliant.

Of course, my family was disappointed in me. But they didn’t give up. Not just yet.

My sister had just graduated with Master’s degree, with honors, of course. She arranged for me to get in to the same college. I thought I could finally choose which major I wanted, but she didn’t give me a choice. It had to be business, just like she did. She reminded me that I’d already failed to fulfill my responsibility, so this time I had to put extra effort to achieve.

My family ignored me when I said I wasn’t interested in business.

I started to feel resentful of them. My relationship with my family became strained. Still, I gave it a try for them. I overworked to reach their impossible expectations and my health started to deteriorate.

I failed even worse than before. This time, my results weren’t just average, they were awful.

I failed to give my family what they wanted: a brilliant student, a high achiever. I’d failed them all. There are no words to describe the guilt I felt for disappointing them. But when my parents blamed me for not trying hard enough, my heart dropped.

Was I at fault for this? I tried my hardest make them happy. What more could I do? I’d been doing my best. Couldn’t they at least appreciate that?

I even abandoned my real passion, writing, to please them.  I didn’t tell them, but I’ve always loved writing. It’s always been my passion and back in high school I’d won many writing and poetry competitions. Most of them were first prizes, but my parents were never interested.

While in boarding school, I’d completed a 300 page manuscript.

As a consolation for my ‘failure’ in boarding school, I showed them my work. I just wanted them to feel happy about my accomplishment, to be proud of me. But all I got was a nod from them.

They promised to read it later. But they never did. They never even give it back to me. To this day, I don’t know where it is.

My heart was broken knowing that my talent in writing wasn’t acknowledged. For them, writing was just a hobby, not something that I could pursue as a career. According to them, writing wouldn’t get me anywhere. I should do something that would promise a bright future.

When they accused me of not trying hard enough to succeed, I remembered the manuscript, and my heart filled with anger and regret. I’d had enough of trying to meet their ridiculous expectations. Years of my life had been snatched away trying to make them happy. For once in my life, I decided to follow my heart.

There was no use in explaining to them why I had to be selfish this time. I have the right to choose and decide my future. This is my life, not theirs. It shouldn’t be wasted by doing things that I hate. I want to spend my life doing something that I love.


Meryl Davis changed the way I see female athletes

I have many female role models in many different areas of my life. Role models in faith, for example, or role models as a writer. But if you asked me to pick just one all-around role model, I would have to say Meryl Davis. Davis is an Olympic Gold Medalist in ice dance, a sport that resembles figure skating but with partners. She performs with her partner Charlie White, and is the and Dancing with the Stars Season 18 winner along with partner Maks Chmerkovskiy.

[bctt tweet=”If you asked me to pick just one all around role model I would have to say Meryl Davis.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So what is it exactly that makes me look up to her? The fact that she accomplished all that while only a scant two inches taller than I am. Short women unite!

In all seriousness, though, there are a plethora of good qualities that Davis has that I admire.

1. Determination.

The Wire

Many of Davis’ accomplishments required a serious amount of dedication to her goals. Training at an Olympic level requires hours of workouts, drilling moves, learning choreography, fixing mistakes,  and perfecting choreography. Not to mention that Davis’ work was often done on top of a student schedule. This kind of dedication is an inspiration to me when I’m stressed out with schoolwork and everything I’m juggling on top of that and need a reason to keep going.

2. Fitness

Meryl Davis’ Instagram

My goal is not to become any type of Olympic athlete. In fact I’m much the opposite, and many sports do not come naturally to me. But having a role model with physical activity as such an important part of her life does make me reconsider its importance. I probably won’t ever be as fit as Davis, but I can take better care of my body than I have been doing.

3. Dedication to schoolwork

It is hard to be a Wellesley College student and not notice a good dose of dedication to schoolwork. Davis graduated from high school with honors  and despite the fact that she no longer needs it for career purposes, she is still working to graduate from the University of Michigan. All this despite a hectic travel schedule, as well as having dyslexia, which makes schoolwork more difficult for her. As someone who admires intellect, I find hers absolutely one to admire.

4. Teamwork ethic

In today’s increasingly cooperative world teamwork is undoubtedly important. I definitely see this in Davis, who partnered with White for  seventeen years before winning the Olympics and still travels and works with him extensively post-Olympics. Seventeen years! I can only imagine (and admire) a partnership like that. Her ability to effectively work with someone also no doubt helped her with her partner Chmerkovskiy in yet another successful endeavor. This dedication to teamwork reminds me how important it is as a skill, and how much I want to cultivate long-lasting relationships like that too.

[bctt tweet=”Seventeen years! I can only imagine (and admire) a partnership like that” username=”wearethetempest”]

5. Kindness

The Huffington Post

Alongside White, Davis is an active participant in a program called Classroom Champions, mentoring a classroom full of young children. She is also consistently kind to fans and others both online and in person. No matter how famous or busy she gets, she makes time to do this, and that inspires me to be a kinder, more giving person.

6. Courage

Davis recently gave a TED talk where she openly discussed her dyslexia and the self-doubt that it brought. She mentions in the talk that she did it in hopes of helping or inspiring even one other person. This takes serious guts, and is another of the qualities that I look for in a role model, because when I’m trying to be open and vulnerable it’s inspiring to know that one of my favorite role models does that too.

[bctt tweet=”Guts is another of the qualities that I look for in a role model, because sometimes life requires more courage than you think you have.” username=”wearethetempest”]

7. Amazing fashion sense

Just Jared Jr

Davis is a major tough who also looks amazing. She is the brand ambassador for two clothing lines, Vera Bradley and a sportswear company, Stable 26, proving that toughness and a traditionally feminine look are not mutually exclusive. This reminds me that the tough, determined hardworking person that I often am is not at odds at all with the pretty, girly person that I occasionally want to be, or am.


Here are 10 women more badass than the Suffragette movies

“I’d rather read about 10 badass women of color who were better activists and suffragettes,” you said, fuming in your pajamas.

Ask and you shall receive.

1. Cecilia Fire Thunder

cecilia fire thunder

Besides becoming a licensed nurse, opening two clinics in California (one in Compton, another in San Diego), Cecilia became the first female tribe leader of the Oglala Sioux. She even tried to get Planned Parenthood on the tribe land, and when that didn’t work, wanted to open an independent clinic so that Native American women on the land could get access to abortion. The members of her tribe impeached her, but hey, it gives her time to be coordinator of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains and teach Lakota at the Ogala Lakota College.

2. Ida B. Wells


Everyone was talking about how women couldn’t vote, so in addition to that, Ida chose another topic for people to sit down and pay some attention to: lynching, and how black women couldn’t vote. This shook up the usual dialogue ’round the country. She also created a space for black women to talk about how messed up all this injustice was, called the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, so they could come together in their badassery.

3. Fusae Ichikawa

Fusaye Ichikawa

What do you do when there’s no female suffrage in your country? Simple: you become president of the first organization dedicated to improve female status in Japan, then you start up the Women’s Suffrage League of Japan because you’re that fed up with the lack of ability to vote, and then you get elected multiple times to serve on the Japanese Diet. Casual.

4. Sojourner Truth



“Ain’t I a woman?” Hell yeah you are, Sojourner! You were able to rescue yourself, your daughter, and your son from slavery. You spoke everywhere: abolition conferences, women’s rights conferences, and even grew the Union army by signing up black men—and when someone dared to call you a man, you flashed him.

5. Asra Nomani

asra noman

I wish I had a resume like yours, Queen — Washington Post, Salon, Time, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. But let’s talk about what you talk about: women’s rights in the Islamic community. Specifically, how Muslim women should be able to choose their partners. When her mosque exiled her, she organized the first Muslim prayer in New York—I’m not done yet—led by a woman.

6. Eva Perón


You know your baddassery is off the charts when there’s a musical written about you. Eva Perón began a foundation in her own name dedicated to help the poor. It did everything from build orphanages and hospitals to handing out scholarships for children. And there’s no party like a feminist party either: Eva started the Female Peronist Party, which ushered women into Argentina’s political sphere.

7. Doria Shafik

Doria Shafik

Besides having the best eyebrows in the entire world, Doria marched with the Bint Al-Nil Union and the Egyptian Feminist Union into Egyptian parliament for female equality. Then she took it to a new level: a hunger strike, which eventually led to Egyptian women getting the right to vote.

8. Michelle Bachelet


Who can become the Chilean president twice, Health Minister, Defense Minister, and the first executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women? Your answer is Michelle Bachelet. Her first presidency focused on helping all women, and was even inclusive of an indigenous tribe in Chile: the Mapuche.

9. Park Yeon-mi

woman talking into a microphone

She’s walked across the Gobi desert, spoken at a Summit in Dublin, and published a book at 21 years old — which is more than I’ve ever done. Yeon-mi has raised awareness about the North Korean regime and human trafficking. When she’s not speaking up for the unheard human voices, she teaches herself English with YouTube and a Friends DVD set. Again, I’m unaccomplished for my age.

10. Sufia Kamal

Sufia kamal

She’s beauty and she’s grace, she got all up in your face with the rights of Bangladeshi women. Mahila Parishad, the biggest female organization in Bangladesh, was her pride and joy for many years. She sat on that throne and many others, including the Indian Women Federation, the Bangla Academy Award for Literature, and learning seven languages.