Self-Care Fashion Lookbook

I had juvenile arthritis and the way I dress changed the way I view my body

I didn’t particularly enjoy high school and I know that sounds pretty cliché, but it’s true. For the most part, my friends were supportive, but high school was tough because I was ill for most of it. My illness eventually wore down my self-esteem. I started to dress badly, and that worsened my mental health.

When I was in the ninth grade, I joined the school dance club, and after just a day of dancing, I felt aches in my joints. A quick trip to the doctor told me that I had arthritis – as a 14-year-old. I was officially diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and it was a very difficult, very long two years. Throughout ninth and tenth grade, I was on heavy medication, and my condition got worse— at one point, I was on crutches because my knees couldn’t take my body weight. I felt like an old, broken woman. 

When I eventually recovered in tenth grade, I didn’t like the way I looked. Objectively speaking, I didn’t gain that much weight, however, I hated myself for gaining the weight, being ill, letting myself go, and looking this way. I started wearing baggier clothes to hide my body, and I wore oversized graphic tees and sweatpants exclusively for months on end. I disliked looking at myself in the mirror, and baggy clothes made me look bigger, which further distorted my body image. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t handle myself well.

It still hurt to exercise, so I started to skip meals and count calories. I started to hate food, and I hated that I needed to eat to survive. It was difficult to break this habit and to build a healthy relationship with food. I gradually unlearned a lot of toxic habits and started listening to my body instead of punishing it for wanting to survive. 

In 11th grade, I finally started choosing my outfits intentionally, thanks to a good friend of mine. She forced me to go shopping with her, and I let her dress me. I was more open to her opinion than my mom’s (oh, the fickle nature of a 15-year-old). But, I was genuinely shocked when I realized that I looked good. She helped me buy clothes that I felt complimented my shape.

It was surreal to realize that I didn’t have to be ashamed of how I looked because I didn’t look that bad. Honestly, my friend made me fall in love with shopping and helped me realize that I didn’t have to hide behind massive t-shirts and sweatpants. I learned about contrasting colors, loose clothing that still looked good, and about dressing for my size. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to wear tight, petite clothing. I could dress well and stay covered up. 

Juvenile arthritis and the resulting medication sparked a series of body image issues that I still struggle with today.

I’ve learned to approach my body from a healthier viewpoint. I’ve learned that I look good and that (shallow as it may be) helps me feel good. Self-confidence is affected by a myriad of things, including the clothes you wear. Multiple studies have been done on how your clothes can change the way you see yourself, and how you dress impacts your self-esteem. 

I chose to wear baggy clothing because I was ashamed of my body, and I didn’t think my body deserved love. What helped was my friend showing me that I could look good, and my mom supporting me along the way. I remember how happy she was to see me expressing my personal style. It lifted me out of a two-year-long funk when I needed it the most.

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Mental Health Life Stories Life

I used to love myself until I fell into toxic corners on the internet

People love to talk about how the internet has ruined the lives of Millennials and Gen-Zers. They’ll go on about how social media has lowered our self-esteem. They’re right in some ways, but for all the wrong reasons. I’ve always been extremely confident. I have never had any of the insecurities kids in my school would talk about, I simply didn’t care what others thought. Some might say I was too confident, but my family happily encouraged it. I know I’m privileged in that sense, so it hurts even more that I let myself fall apart like this. 

I was 14-years-old when I really got involved with internet communities. I started out on fanfiction sites, and my time there was pretty tame compared to the stories I’ve heard. In fact, I would say the first nearly six years of my time on the internet were totally safe and friendly. When most people talk about social media and its effects on self-esteem they tend to imply it starts young, in your teenage years for example. But I was older and not new to social media or the internet when it impacted my self-esteem. So I felt as though I should have known better than to let internet standards manipulate me. And sometimes that thought hurts the most.

Things went downhill right before I turned 20 and by 22 years old I was in the worst place I had ever been in my entire life. It started on Discord with a group of friends who all gathered around a niche anime series. Most of these people weren’t bad people. In fact, I’m still friends with a handful of them and I’d even consider them my best friends. It started with small things: jokes, usually self-deprecating ones, everyone would toss around. It seemed odd at first but they were just jokes, right? I learned to play along with their humor, send knife emojis or jump in whenever someone was putting themselves down or jokingly call all my friends a bitch.

Then came the comparisons. There was one friend in the group that everyone looked up to. She and I were very similar; the same zodiac sign, Hogwarts house, and MBTI plus a handful of shared interests. That was all it took for everyone to start joking that we were the same person. And it was flattering until it wasn’t. She left the group for a while and I became her replacement. But I was never enough. No one ever treated me the same way they did her, with such joy and enthusiasm. I was ignored if I talked about a topic other than the same three we always discussed. I felt like I should be the one carrying the conversations the way she used to. But instead, I bored them all constantly. It hurt and I tried to compensate by adopting more of her personality and interests, or at least faking I did.

Between all this, I got on Instagram. I kept my following small, only classmates and family, but it soon became apparent no one was their real selves on the app. Everything on Instagram was through this rose-tinted view of life. I knew it was normal to fake things for social media, but my self-esteem still took the hit. I was left wondering if I was the only one so boring I never had anything to post about. Then I saw all my classmates graduate college in 2019, so hated myself because I knew it would take me another two years to graduate, and I was missing out on this moment. Adding insult to injury, several people who I thought of as friends didn’t even tell me they were graduating. I only found out because they posted it.

When Discord and Instagram got too stifling, I fled to Tumblr and Twitter. But those were worse in a way. Many people romanticized the idea of mental illness. It was treated as a quirky personality trait to talk about but not something many people ever encouraged each other to get help for. Instead, people on Twitter would often double down on bad behaviors and self-destructive habits, and I did the same. I threw myself into lots of drama and several of my friends encouraged it, gave me attention even. I think none of us realized the kind of damage we were doing by putting ourselves in such stressful situations when we could have easily walked away.

Eventually, my friend who had briefly left our group on Discord started coming back, but she was a different person. She would put others down for not agreeing with her, but she claimed it was because she knew better. She said she had fought her own battles with mental illnesses and came out better for it. That left me unable to speak up for a long time because if she was happier then what could I say? Besides, everyone else still loved her and supported her behavior, even if it was slightly problematic.

So I took to hiding my feelings about everything. To her face, I would agree with things and then backstab her anyways. I would rant constantly about her on a private account hidden away from others. My frustrations with her made me an ugly and twisted version of myself. I had other friends, people who knew nothing of this group, who constantly encouraged me to just walk out on her. But I kept justifying it by claiming she still saw me as a friend and I wanted to support her. In reality, I was terrified of losing all our mutual friends and thought I could keep up acting because she wasn’t around consistently.

Then she started lying, and I called her out on it once and I saw her true colors. She didn’t want friends, she wanted cheerleaders who never spoke against her. And finally, I put my foot down. I cut her out the next time she disappeared, and when she tried to come back I told my friends I refused to have her around, but they were free to do whatever. And in spite of all my fears, they agreed gracefully and several also drew away from her.

That was six months ago. For nearly three years I’ve been sinking in depression and swimming in self-doubt the likes which would leave me on edge for months. It was debilitating and I remember a point in which I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house, as if all these problems I faced online would start to haunt me in the real world as well. There are a lot of details that are still very fuzzy. It’s like my mind just decided I would be better off not remembering things. But I remember breaking down and thinking everyone I cared for hated me. I remember losing three different birthdays, first to internet drama and then to toxic friendships. I remember my mother coming to me when things were at their worst and telling me to eat because that’s her way of saying she’s worried.

It’s been three very tumultuous years on the internet. Three years of ripping my self-esteem apart to fit in on social media and not realizing that was what I was doing. I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of the girl I was before it happened. It’s slow work but every day I’m learning to love myself the way I used to.

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Hair Lookbook

I chose to go natural after 11 years of relaxing my hair – here’s how it went

For Black women, hair is a huge part of our identity, esteem, and culture. Unfortunately, many of us have grown up relaxing or perming (straightening our hair using chemicals) our hair to hide our natural curl pattern. Relaxers were so common among us because kinky hair has been historically viewed as unkempt, unprofessional, and undesirable. Personally, I began relaxing my hair when I was 8-years-old. After that, I spent the next 11 years chemically straightening my hair, and in turn damaging it repeatedly. When I turned 19, I finally decided to do what Black women call “the big chop” (cutting all the chemically damaged parts of your hair off) and fully go natural. 

The emotional process while chopping off your hair can be tough. Like I said, for Black women, our hair is a tremendous aspect of our self-esteem. Undergoing the big chop feels as though you’re shedding dead weight in an attempt to release the insecurities that led you to continuously straighten your hair to the point of damage.

However, my natural hair journey has not been linear. As perfectly encapsulated by Giselle La Pompe-Moore in her i-D Vice article, “Natural hair journeys are as diverse as the spectrum of afro hair textures experiencing them.” Like many other Black girls, I initially struggled with my confidence while being natural as I had always been insecure about my kinky curls. It was particularly hard to see my hair so short after I spent my whole life having an unhealthy obsession with length. For a while, I would even use protective styles like braids or wigs to hide how short my hair was. And in between styles, I would wear scarves to avoid having to embrace my short length. It took baby steps to gain the confidence I sought in my natural hair.

First, I had to learn how to upkeep my 4c hair texture. 4c hair is very particular in how it grows, how it’s styled, and how it must be managed. So, I had to trial and error (emphasis on the error) my way through finding products that worked best for my hair. Then there’s the detangling process. Honestly, it took me years to learn how to effectively detangle my hair. All of which came with years worth of tears and frustration as well as me trying to refrain from hating my hair all over again; this time, for its difficulty to manage.

Though, once I figured out how to manage my hair, I had to learn to style it. Unsurprisingly, this took another long while before I perfected my signature slicked updo with laid edges. Admittedly, it was the easiest style I could manage learning, so now it’s my signature look when I’m not wearing a protective style. After I found a way to make my hair presentable enough, I would periodically tease showing my natural hair outside of my house. For example, if I was going somewhere I was sure no one I knew would see me, I would test my confidence while wearing my natural hair out of a protective style or scarf.

However, three years since embarking on this hair journey, I’m in love with my 4c hair texture and kinky edges more every day. Going natural taught me how to be truly confident, for being natural allowed me to work towards loving myself in ways I never could before. It forced me to get to know a version of myself I hadn’t even seen since I was a child. Regardless of difficulties along the way, I began to find comfort in my nonlinear road to self-acceptance and love because I thoroughly liked the person I was getting to know. 

In addition, many Black women seem to be undergoing the same journey of acceptance. Thanks to social media and Black female influencers who started the hair love movement, Black women everywhere are embracing their natural hair texture. In fact, a short film titled, “Hair Love” won an Oscar last year due to social media’s strong support of the project, which has been further impactful to the movement.

To any Black girl reading who is thinking of going natural, despite how it may seem on social media, the process is not easy, but it is worth it. It’s likely you won’t immediately fall in love with your kinks, and it’s likely you may even feel self-conscious for a while. However, there’s so much power in our natural hair as well as the way our hair connects us to our identity and lineage. We should’ve never been made to feel insecure about the hair that grows naturally from our scalp in the first place. Simply being natural feels like you’re a living act of resistance. A resistance that firmly rejects Euro-centric beauty standards pushed onto Black women and allows us to reclaim our confidence on our own terms.

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Editor's Picks The Ultimate Guide to Dating Love + Sex Love

All the words I wish I could have told you

I got rid of my last photo of you, and I immediately regretted it. I realized that I will never be able to use the photos I took, documenting our love, as a bookmark.

I regretted that on any suspecting afternoon, with the sun gleaming just right twenty years from now, one of those photos will never fall out of an old book in front of my children and they won’t ask about the boy in the picture with curly hair and reddened cheeks.

I regretted it because you are – you were – my first love. And a person only gets one of those in a lifetime.

When I finally left I reacted curt toward you, almost passive or indifferent, because I didn’t want you to know that this was killing me too. Because I wanted to be strong – because the alternative was weak. Because we met un-intentionally and you immediately became forever etched into my soul.

I regretted it because we were damned from the start – because I found happiness in you before I found happiness in myself.

But, the reality is that I didn’t even know that I was looking for someone like you to save me from my misdirection. In fact, all I knew was that I liked the feeling in my stomach when your bright smile landed in my direction. I liked the comfort I felt in your eyes, I liked being desired. And, I liked how the beginning of our love story sprouted as if it were straight out of a Nora Ephron film.

The thing about those movies, however, is that they always ended just before the story actually began and reality set in.

For whatever reason, I thought myself righteous enough to pop our bubble. To be the one who decides that there is something better, grander, more extraordinary beyond the story of us.

So, I let it go. I convinced myself that I needed to get away so that I could start feeling again.

But seared inside my mind, hidden behind my self-proclaimed and glaring passions for the best love story known to man – and my belief that you couldn’t possibly give it to me – are the photos of you that I took in sepia. My hand on your chest. The back of your head against a sunset. Our hands holding one another. A kiss stolen in a gas station parking lot. Your eyes meeting mine with affection from the driver’s seat when we stopped at a red light and I told you to smile.

I regret that I didn’t give us the chance to seize just one more moment together. I regret that I didn’t give us a chance.

I know that you broke my heart in little ways for a long time, but I broke your heart in a big way all at once. One does not cancel out the other.

I loved you unconditionally. You knew it, too, but you lost me. I waited until I had enough and I left.

I realized that it is better to be single and search for myself, then to settle for something I feel insecure in.

Don’t get me wrong though. Our ending wasn’t nearly as tumultuous as I am making it out to be, nor as I would have liked it to be. One second we were, the next we were not. And that was it. We just ended. There was no thunder, no lightening. Nothing.

Even now as I am sorting through what exactly happened, I still can’t help but think that if you loved me the way you said you did you would have treated me the way you said you would.

I wouldn’t have had to beg.

Even when we did eventually try to talk about us, instead of ignoring the elephant in the room with banter or seduction, I’d be speechless. I didn’t know where to start.

But, please don’t mistake my silence for indifference. I do still love you. I always will, except it’s not the same. We spent so much time together and I know that I am saying so little right now to make up for it. I know that this is unbearable, but I promise you that every word I wish to utter to you is in my mind. I just can’t bring myself to speak when you look at me like that. When you draw yourself closer, it is a bribe which I can’t commit to. So please take a step back, I’m so tired of this. I am drained. If I stayed, I would spend a lifetime choking on words I wouldn’t ever dare to say.

I invested in you and I lost myself. I became dependent. And to be honest, this was the last thing I wanted. I spent close to a year relying on someone I didn’t want to rely on – nor could I. I knew it was the end long before you did, and I held on anyways, just in case, because I have a drastic fear of letting go and moving on.

But how can I reconcile breaking your heart and leaving everything we had together in just a few short minutes. You say that I took you by surprise, that you didn’t see it coming – but I don’t know how. I gave you all of the signs. You saw my silent tears. I always knew I wanted more. I was destined for something different. I felt it, deep in my bones, I just never faced it until I was forced to. I was able to ignore my confusion because we laughed with one another. We couldn’t take our hands off one another. We ran home in the pouring rain together, stopping only to kiss.

We experienced the best of one another for a short period of time, and I know that our relationship lasted as long as it was meant to. We loved each other until we couldn’t. We chewed us up and spit us out. We got everything we needed to get out of one another. We fell in and out of love from worlds apart. But I still feel terrible. And I feel like I should be feeling more even though I have been overcome with intense conflicting feelings every day since we said goodbye. Every day for close to a year.

I guess I just want you to know that I didn’t make this decision in haste. I needed to get away in order to understand more of myself.

I regret not thanking you enough for watching me blossom and believing in me so that I could believe in myself. I should have told you just how much you helped me realize the endless bounds of myself, for better or for worse.

I should have thanked you for letting me go, even though it hurt like hell.

I regret doing this to you because you waited for me. Because I gave you dozens of silent chances in my head. Because you would take me back in a second and I am here telling you that I am confused. That I need more time. That is – time to think. Time to learn and explore and dream. But all you hear is that I need to do all of these things away from you, that I need time alone. That I would rather work on building my sense of self alone than by your side.

But I deserve someone who makes me feel alive. Someone who is generous and who makes my heart jump when I tell people that they are mine. And you deserve someone who doesn’t give you an expiration date.

I am scared that maybe I made a mistake, that maybe I am foolish, or maybe that this is all that my love amounts to. I am having trouble accepting the normalcy of the end of us. The lack of explosion.

I am scared that I will forget. I am scared that after a few months everything we had will feel just like a dream. A dream that is open-ended, a dream that will constantly be on repeat in our respective minds until the end of time. Fated to carry each other’s baggage.

I regret that I now have to give you to someone else. That someone else will nuzzle into your chest, and devour your smell. I regret that I gave it all up so easily and have only in hindsight realized the weight of my naivety. Or did I? Because I also remember being so incredibly devastated, and being met with oblivion, with dismissive niceties. I remember my anxieties being belittled or made to feel small. I remember that I didn’t have the means, or the patience, to heal you.

I remember crying on the dance floor a year ago. Turning around so that none of my friends would see. I was staring at your messages. They were curt, broken and hard to make sense of. I remember being confused, I remember when someone told me for the first time that I deserved a love that was better. A love that nurtured. A love I didn’t have to settle for. A love that swept me off my feet.

I regret that we were different together than we were around everyone else. That no one got a real glimpse of us, in love. I regret being so quiet. I regret that I couldn’t love you like you loved me. I regret that you couldn’t love me the way I needed you to. I regret that we’ve run out of things to say.

I regret that our relationship was already broken even when your fingers were strumming through my hair or when we sat across from each other on the floor in a fit of laughter.

I regret knowing it was the end before you did, and holding on anyways just in case. I regret not telling you just how nervous I was and just how serious I was when I said that I thought we lost our spark. Our magic.

I regret it all because I wish that I held on to those pictures for a little while longer. I wish I studied them. Even though I knew the ending wouldn’t change.

Neither of us can fully heal our heartbreak unless we are apart. We have to heal for ourselves, rather than for the possibility that one day down the line we will be together again.

Seeing you that day, when you came by to collect your things, actually helped me realize that I am better off without you. That I am happy now. Really happy. And I no longer doubt myself. I no longer rely on you for happiness. I no longer get angry or sad because you couldn’t make me happy.

In hindsight I had absolutely no idea who I was when I met you. I still really don’t. I’m not even sure that I knew what genuine happiness looked or felt like.

Maybe that’s what ruined us after all. My indifference. My sadness. All of which at the end of the day amounted to nothing.

Soon I will be able to think about you without ripping my heart out.

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Tips & Tricks Life

Journaling lets me remember my self-growth journey

I have been journaling for as long as I can remember. Occasionally, I like to skim through the top shelf of my cabinet and pull out one of my journals to read. Do I cringe when I read my younger self’s entries? Yes. But it’s all a huge part of self-growth. 

Journaling has proven to have many benefits, particularly for mental health. For me, the biggest benefit was the reduction in stress. As someone who is prone to have stress-induced panic attacks, journaling – whether it’s small doodles or a novella – has helped by giving me clarity and a place to express my emotions. A 2005 study found expressive writing to be therapeutic, noting that participants who expressed trauma, stress and other emotions through writing decreased their chances of getting sick significantly. In the long run, people who journal are less seriously affected by trauma as opposed to their non-journaling counterparts. Although I wouldn’t consider myself completely unscathed by my experiences at school, I do look back at my journals and applaud myself for the strength I mustered to get through it. 

So what does journaling do for the soul? Reduces stress and anxiety as well as boosts your immune function. Well, there are other benefits. One great one I have noticed in myself is the ability to put things into perspective. Journaling is a great regulator of emotions as when you write down how you feel, everything becomes comprehensible and once you have the chance to figure out your own emotions, you are presented with the amazing opportunity to be able to process other people’s too. It is a great way to promote self-growth and confidence as many people, myself included, read over their past personal struggles and either laugh at themselves or marvel in awe at the inner strength they didn’t know they had. 

And the best part of journaling? There are so many different styles you could go for. Days where I am feeling more creative, I’ll do some art journaling or bullet journaling. Some days, it’s easier for me to do an electronic journal (I highly recommend Notion because you type or record videos straight into the app). And you don’t have to do the typical ‘dear diary’ stuff. Make it yours. Of course, there are other tidbits people concern themselves with before they start writing, namely,  what do I write about

My easiest tip is to start writing about anything. There was a class exercise one of my lecturers used to do with us in my first year of university and that was writing for the first 15 minutes of class. “If you don’t know what to write, write ‘I am writing’ until the thought, any thought, comes into your head.” Although this is not a piece of advice I had when I first started journaling, it is something I would pass on to new journalers. Start where you are. The great thing about journals is that they are private to you so they can be two words or a whole novel if you want it to. Even if it’s just a single line, or what you had for lunch, write it. Don’t censor yourself. This is for you and it’s your personal journey. There is no right and wrong when it comes to journaling because it’s an experience so personal and tailored to the individual. 

So unlearn anything you had learned about ‘keeping a diary’ back in the earlier stages of education and go with what works for you because you don’t get graded on how you feel. I’m sure that you would appreciate the nostalgia and growth that comes with looking back at your journey in your journal as much as I do.

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Health Care Mind Mental Health Health Wellness

11 ways you can gain your confidence back

I’ve always had trouble with my self confidence because I’ve had an issue with thinking everyone hates me. I lost my own self confidence, and it took so much to build it back up. Regaining confidence, or even gaining it in the first place takes continuous time and effort. A common misconception is that you can have confidence as long as you say it. In reality, you have to have determination and grit in self improvement and growth. However, if you’re having trouble with finding ways to gain your confidence back, here are 11 ways you can improve your self confidence.

1. Follow an affirmations Instagram account.

[Image Description: A light box reading "Reach for the" and a moon next to it.] Photo by Designecologist from Pexels
[Image Description: A light box reading “Reach for the” and a moon next to it.] Photo by Designecologist from Pexels
Contrary to popular belief, social media can be an empowering network if used the proper way. An affirmation is a statement of emotional support or confidence. For example, the statement, “You are beautiful,” is an affirmation. Affirmations can greatly help with self confidence because even simply hearing or seeing those words that you are amazing can help your brain see that you truly are wonderful. They help you keep in control of your life and more.

2. Help someone else

[Image Description: Two hands reaching for each other.] Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash
[Image Description: Two hands reaching for each other.] Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash
As crazy as it may sound, helping someone else does result in helping yourself. The satisfaction from helping a friend, family member, or even a stranger is incomparable to any feeling in the world. Let’s face it– being selfless makes you feel crazy good.

3. Set a routine and stick to it.

[Image Description: A bullet journal calendar with a yellow pen laying on it.] Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
[Image Description: A bullet journal calendar with a yellow pen laying on it.] Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
This is something I’ve been doing personally. Every day I get up at 9 AM, exercise and have a shift at work for two hours. The accomplishment I feel after that work shift is one of the best feelings ever. It makes me feel as though I could do anything. If I can stick to a routine, I can love and believe in myself, right? 

4. Set smaller goals for your day

[Image Description: Piece of paper with words, "Goal Review" and three pens laying on it.] Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash
[Image Description: Piece of paper with words, “Goal Review” and three pens laying on it.] Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash
Setting bigger goals for smaller amounts of time is setting yourself up for failure. For example, saying that you will finish an entire book in one hour is unreasonable, unless it’s an incredibly small book, or you can read extremely fast. Setting smaller goals, and chunking them make them much more achievable. After reaching those goals, a similar sense of satisfaction and confidence will appear. Knowing that you could reach that goal helps you be more confident in your abilities.

5. Dress up sometimes

[Image Description: A woman stands in a white romper on stairs.] Photo by gbarkz on Unsplash
[Image Description: A woman stands in a white romper on stairs.] Photo by gbarkz on Unsplash
In quarantine, we often end up wearing our pjs all day. Honestly, it kind of makes me feel crappy when I’m in my pjs. I feel unproductive when I’m still in bed at 2 PM. Dressing nicely can force us to get out of bed and actually do something. It’ll also help you feel more successful and presentable.

6. Smile

[Image Description: A long brown-haired woman smiles at the camera.] Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash
[Image Description: A long brown-haired woman smiles at the camera.] Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash
This is easy to say, but hard to actually do. Our minds can sometimes be hardwired to think negatively– especially when we see this much negativity happen around us with COVID. However, being positive can make you feel infinitely better about yourself. Becoming aware of your speaking and what you say about yourself– for example, are you saying i can and i am or the opposite– can allow you to view yourself in a different light. The Facial Feedback Theory in Psychology also states that your physical self can affect your mental self. This means that if you smile or laugh, you’re more likely to also feel the same afterwards.

7. Focus on the solutions

[Image Description: A solved rubric cube held in a hand.] Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
[Image Description: A solved rubric cube held in a hand.] Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
It’s very easy to hyperfocus on what’s wrong with everything; what’s wrong with you. If you lost your confidence, don’t focus on the fact that you lost it. Focus on the ways you can get it back. When you focus on the solutions, you will also automatically become more productive. Fixing the problem is more important than the problem itself.

8. Practice gratitude

[Image Description: A pink notebook with the words, "Today I am grateful" on it.] Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash
[Image Description: A pink notebook with the words, “Today I am grateful” on it.] Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash
Simply being grateful for the things that you have not only is a self care practice, but can also increase your confidence. Self love, care, and confidence all come hand-in-hand, so it’s important to practice gratitude to lead a healthier lifestyle. Being grateful is incredibly humbling and can improve the way you see yourself.

9. Drink more water and eat healthy

[Image Description: Water being poured into an almost full glass of water.] Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash
[Image Description: Water being poured into an almost full glass of water.] Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash
Physical and mental health health are interrelated. Your physical health can affect your mental health and vice versa. This means, if you want your self confidence, image, esteem, or anything to improve, you’ve got to focus on treating your body right. Knowing that you drank that extra glass of water, and chose to treat your body right can be incredibly empowering. However, do it because you want to. Do it because you love being healthy. If you prefer to eat a different diet, then respect that and be confident in your decision.

10. Face your fears

[Image Description: Man wearing brown leather shoes stands on an object at a height.] Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash
[Image Description: Man wearing brown leather shoes stands on an object at a height.] Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash
Again, this is easier said than done. However, facing your fears means confronting whatever is stopping you from being confident and believing in yourself. Getting back control means attempting to eliminate irrational fears. Conquering your fears can help you gain a great deal of confidence because you feel more in control. Although this is difficult to do, there is an immense amount of self satisfaction and confidence that it will bring.

11. Step outside your comfort zone

[Image Description: Person wearing gold wedding band grasps onto another hand for comfort.] Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
[Image Description: Person wearing gold wedding band grasps onto another hand for comfort.] Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Whether it be trying a new food, or quitting your job to pursue your real passion, do it. Doing something you’re uncomfortable with will only make you more comfortable with it. Being comfortable with the unknown is confidence. Knowing that you can take on anything in your way is confidence. And by stepping outside of your comfort zone, you can do exactly that.

Everyone works in different ways, these are just some tried and tested ways that helped me on my journey of rebuilding my confidence.

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Food & Drinks Life

Cooking makes me feel guilty about food and here’s why

One hot summer afternoon, a hollow void was growing where my stomach had been. I was starving but had been putting off rectifying it after consulting the kitchen cabinets and finding nothing that I could eat with zero cooking. Even the early-2000’s America’s Next Top Model could not distract me and I began to feel lightheaded.

I could easily fry some paratha and be more or less satisfied but thinking of all that oil on the sizzling pan made me feel sick. From the corner of my eye, I spied an unopened box of couscous. Somehow, I had the patience to let the water boil before I poured in the couscous, adding in the tiniest pinch of salt. I brought half a bowl’s worth of plain couscous with me and returned to my little nook on the couch. 

The thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me.

It wasn’t laziness that had caused me to be this way. Well, not entirely. Preparing food is always perceived as such a technical and calming thing. Some people even plan their days around exciting meals. Yet, there is actually a recognized phobia of cooking that comes in many forms, ranging from the fear of following recipes to the fear of harming one’s self in the process.

I am not entirely sure if what I experience is a medical phobia, but the thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me. One on hand, I may be internally defying forced gender roles by refusing to be good at an act traditionally taken on by women. However, I know the real reason is something far more complicated and twisted.

When I’m in the kitchen, I am hyper-aware of the ingredients that are being put into my food and feel almost sick to my stomach. I can’t bring myself to follow recipes correctly because who knew everything needed so much butter? I skim down on the ‘unhealthy’ ingredients when I cook, and predictably, the food doesn’t turn out right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I have tried tracking what I eat, I mostly allow myself to indulge in food that I enjoy. Yet, in order to do that, I have to adopt a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset. I don’t want to see how my food is being prepared so that I don’t feel as guilty when consuming it. Knowing how much sugar went into it is sure to make me feel too distressed to eat it. When I don’t see it, I can fool myself into thinking it’s not a big deal. It is a coping mechanism I need.

Preparing food for myself triggers something toxic within me. If I am being honest with myself, I am scared that it will blossom into a condition that is more serious. Right now, I am just wary of cooking for myself. Yet, it could escalate into being more strict with calories, or skipping meals completely. I know I can’t continue having this relationship with food. I am holding myself back from enjoying life by refusing to be self-sufficient in this simple way. 

My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

Acknowledging this behavior of mine has been crucial to overcoming it. Having someone cook alongside me as helped to ground me in reality and hold me accountable. A friend had told me, “Well, like it nor not, we need to add butter otherwise the carrot cake will be a sad brick.” Their words are brutally honest and correct. Why bother cooking if I am going to consciously mess it up anyway?

But more than that, recognizing the source of my cooking-induced anxiety is important in defeating it. While I could dismiss ANTM as a silly, ironic pastime, it does wire my brain a certain way. The bodies that these shows promote or bash creep up on me. These things subliminally plaster onto my mind, without me even consciously recognizing them. In an era of self-love, it may be difficult to recognize the self-criticism that lurks beneath. My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

I know it will take a while for me to unplug the wires and reset them. With time, I hope to confidently cook food that I will enjoy without breaking a sweat about the amount of butter in the recipe. Continuing to learn how to cook can break me out of this cycle of guilt. While I don’t think I will get to the culinary level of needing a personalized apron, I am hopeful to see where this journey takes me.  

Celebrities Fashion Lookbook

Marilyn Monroe and fashion as a shield

“‘Do you want to see me become her?’ I didn’t know what she meant but I just said ‘Yes’ — and then I saw it. I don’t know how to explain what she did because it was so very subtle, but she turned something on within herself that was almost like magic. And suddenly cars were slowing, and people were turning their heads and stopping to stare. They were recognizing that this was Marilyn Monroe as if she pulled off a mask or something, even though a second ago nobody noticed her. I had never seen anything like it before.” – Amy Greene, wife of Marilyn’s personal photographer Milton Greene.

The name Marilyn Monroe immediately conjures a certain image – diamonds (a girl’s best friend!), white dress billowing over a subway grate, Andy Warhol’s pop art. All visuals that have become synonymous with the blonde bombshell, actress, singer, sex symbol, and the many other roles Marilyn has come to occupy in popular culture.

Confidence is a quality often associated with icons and tastemakers. To make an impact you must be unapologetic – Rihanna, Cher, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe herself join these ranks. Despite the fact that her life was cut short, the fashion statements she made – immortalised in countless photos – are memorable, timeless, and recreated often, making her one of the most recognizable fashion icons ever.   

The archives of Marilyn’s own writing, however, paint a drastically different picture of the person she was underneath the bombshell. Plagued by crippling insecurity, the fear that the mental illness that had claimed her mother would come for her next, an absent father, a childhood spent between foster homes, betrayals from those closest to her, and a teenage marriage to escape the orphanage, she was a young woman trailed by her many demons. Her writing reveals someone who was terrified of disappointing the people around her – worlds away from the breezy, disarming confidence she projected on-camera.

She writes about a dream she had where her teacher, Lee Strasberg, cuts her open ‘and there is absolutely nothing there…. devoid of every human living feeling thing — the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.’

Monroe’s debilitating insecurity and complete lack of confidence left her entirely at the mercy of external opinions from husbands and co-stars. A member of the latter group, Don Murray, highlighted this paradox when he said, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”. 

He was right about the camera loving her, there’s absolutely no trace of insecurity in Marilyn Monroe, the persona that Norma Jean referred to in the third person, and could turn into at the drop of a hat. Marilyn Monroe was a vessel for Norma Jean’s own talent, a vessel she would often critique in the third person – “She wouldn’t do this. Marilyn would say that.”.

Marilyn Monroe was as much a part of Norma Jean, as Norma Jean was a part of Marilyn. Amy Greene’s anecdote about Marilyn “becoming” the larger than life force that persists to this day attributed the Marilyn effect to an inner force from within the woman herself. It wasn’t just about the clothes she wore but how she projected herself in them that would transform her into a timeless icon.

The image of Marilyn Monroe that persists today should be more than the one-dimensional figure of tragic fame. Her magnetism on-screen is a testament to the talent and skill that she never could recognize in herself, and the work she was able to produce despite her personal troubles leaves room to imagine how much she was capable of achieving if she had more faith in herself. 

Marilyn is a reminder of the transformative effects of confidence, and how much this one quality can alter our perceptions. Norma Jean felt she needed to become Marilyn Monroe to have the impact that she did, but would she still be the icon she is today if she hadn’t projected that particular persona, or that particular shield? 

Whether you think of Marilyn Monroe dripping in diamonds, performing the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in red sequins, photographed on the beach in her final days, or as a writer who revealed her true self on the page, she wasn’t just a bundle of insecurities in beautiful clothes – she possessed all of the skill, talent, and depth she never thought herself capable of. 

Monroe is a fashion icon whose influence has inexplicably grown to make her a historical figure characterised by glamour and confidence. By sticking to this narrative, we reduce her legacy by only sharing the fragments of her story that were seen on camera. Her reality is a harsh indicator of how blinding insecurity can be, and her lasting legacy is a mark of the achievements she barely acknowledged.  

It is difficult enough to simply exist, let alone occupy the status of an icon, when you are your own worst enemy – and yet, the narrative that persists of Marilyn Monroe’s time in the spotlight might be her best performance of all.

Health Care Culture Beauty Wellness Life

I decided to step off the treadmill and let my body be

There are a couple of sounds that instantly take me back to a simpler time in my life; the music of onions frying in a kitchen, U-Roy playing on a loop and sneakers being tied. I grew up in a family that took exercise seriously. In every single office that my father has occupied, he has a photo of him completing the Boston Marathon, a smile gracing his damp face, one arm raised in celebration of his achievement. My sister would stretch this way and that before she would go on a run. My other sister used to be a dedicated swimmer.

Suffice to say, part of our identities were tied up in exercise. It’s something that I didn’t embrace until I was much older, which elicited annoyance from my family.  But that time did come. For me, it was almost like a siren call. The gym beckoned to me, promising to be a place that I could solve my problems and cultivate the discipline that I desperately needed and, in the beginning, it was. I learned that I was much stronger than I looked and that I could push through discomfort to lift a heavier dumbbell. It turns out those were valuable lessons for me to learn. As I’ve aged, I’ve been put in situations where I have to push back against my discomfort and stand my ground. I honestly do not think I would have been able to do that without stepping foot into the gym.

But then Instagram happened. Ah, Instagram; the bane and yet the light of our modern society. I was never an avid user of Instagram until about two years ago. I was so opposed to the app that a friend used to run my account. I didn’t see the less savory side of it until I started looking for workout videos on the app. While those videos were helpful, I couldn’t help but notice a pretty obvious pattern. All the women’s bodies looked the same. An extremely flat and toned stomach with a round, curvy butt that seemed to defy gravity paired with strong muscular thighs.

These Instagram fitness coaches preached about taking time for yourself and investing in your well being in between adds of slimming teas (which are laxatives, don’t let anyone tell you any different). In between all the weightlifting, yoga classes, high-intensity exercises, and skincare tips that I came to follow, something changed. My body never looked better, but my mind was messy. No matter how much muscle I had gained or every achievement, it wasn’t enough for me.

I was miserable. I began looking at myself in the mirror just after showering, handling my body unkindly and asking myself how come my butt didn’t look like theirs? Why weren’t my arms growing at a faster rate? How come I hadn’t hit a certain number of calories burned on the treadmill?  I didn’t realize that part of the wellness culture online is cultivating the feeling that you could be better and that your best self is just around the corner. If you can hold out for just long enough and spend a little more money, use more derma rollers to firm up your cellulite or wear these leggings while doing weighted rows, your life will change.

Months later and I was burnt out. Not just physically but emotionally. Deep down, I knew something had to give. So I did the one thing I needed to do; I took a break. I ate whatever I wanted, and that includes ice cream for dinner because why not? I only exercised when I felt like it and not a minute more. I let my body be, with no expectations attached. Through this process, I discovered A Swole Woman‘s Instagram account. Her only goal is to teach people about the strength of their bodies even if they don’t see it or feel it. Through her, I have learned to focus not on the aesthetics of my body, but the strength that it holds.

I am currently still on my break from exercise. I am dedicated to refocusing my joy on what my body can do and not what it looks like. I am also relearning that my body does not need to be on a constant track to something better. Through this, I’ve learned to love my body more, even if I don’t necessarily like it all the time. Soon enough, I will walk into a gym again in the cold and put my hands on a squatted rack the same way I did a year ago. But the reasons for it will be very different and so much better.

Health Care Wellness

Your body deserves better than Before/After photos

How many times have you come across a social media post where an individual sets multiple photographs of their body side by side in comparison? How many times have you witnessed the claims “I am so happy with my body now” and “I believe in body positivity” uttered within the same breath? You might be wondering what exactly is wrong with either of these statements, and that is exactly why a conversation about this phenomenon and its implications is necessary.

While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it.

The example I mention above is a result of a culture driven by a need to constantly be in progressive motion. The very existence of the Before/After binary depends on seeing one side as superior to the other. It connotes that the Before image is something to be reviled and altered, while the After image is the one to aspire towards. Many claim that such a comparison merely functions to motivate the self and others to achieve difficult goals, but this is a common and harmful misconception that we unknowingly fall into.

While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it. Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body—and celebrating its transformation into a thinner, conventionally more beautiful body vehemently opposes the notion of all bodies deserving respect. 

While there is absolutely no harm in establishing goals for personal betterment, either for physical or mental health, it is critical to recognize the line between personal projects and the way they are publicly celebrated. In a society where fat-shaming is increasingly common and socialization dictates that all must conform to certain bodily standards, the public shaming of our own bodies contributes to the same regressive notions. Too many people keep engaging in discussion about their bodily transformations in a manner that actively excludes those who have failed to meet the same standards.

Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body. 

When someone openly shames their own unfit body, they automatically convey the same message to others who may also be struggling with their own body image. In cheering our own transformations, we propagate that those with even bigger, and hence “worse” bodies, are automatically in need of changing.

The same is the case with a common tendency to constantly refer to our bodies as “fat” or “ugly” while interacting with others. Too many people, especially young girls, are in the habit of publicly degrading their own bodies while talking about them. I am certain many of us can admit to sharing our photographs with a disclaimer like “I look fat but…” without a second thought.

In truth, when we publicly self-shame, even as victims of conditions like body dysmorphia, we unintentionally end up reproducing the same standards that oppress us. In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own. It’s an endless cycle where everyone suffers.

Of course, those producing this self-shaming discourse are its own primary victims. By setting a standard of progress that is rooted in physical transformation, we tie our own self-worth to our body image. In instances where we fail to consistently replicate similar progress, we shame ourselves for failing. Many times, the strive from a Before to an After results in a never ending cycle where every After is a new Before, and no ultimate satisfaction is achieved. 

In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own

The constant need to always be doing better is a pressure that most of us are victim to in today’s fast-paced world, where personal worth is inherently tied to productivity. Fitness journeys, fad diets, and Before/After transformations exist within this very context, and necessitate us to be in constant flux. It is normal to fall victim to the standards that are constantly pushed onto us through media, societal conventions and our own interactions, but it is time to question our own role in reproducing them.

It is entirely possible to celebrate achieving our personal goals without shaming our past selves in the process. If we must strive towards betterment, then let it be in our treatment of our bodies. Verbal narratives hold power, and it is never too late to start being mindful about how we talk of our bodies. Let us start a healthier cycle of kindness to ourselves and, in turn, to others.

Books Life

The story of Paddington helped me learn to love myself

I was recently reminded by an Atlantic article about a small bear I had grown up with named Paddington who came from “darkest Peru” and liked to eat marmalade sandwiches. In the essay, the author explains how she felt a kinship with Paddington as a Latinx immigrant navigating a completely new culture that can so often be unfriendly to outsiders. Michael Bond, the author of A Bear Called Paddington based Paddington’s origin story on the stories of families displaced by World War II, so I’m sure for many children it gave them a connection to someone who might have been just like this bear.

For those who aren’t acquainted with him, Paddington Bear is a small bear who wears a wide red hat, a blue coat, and a tag around his neck that reads, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Brown in the Paddington railway (which is how they give him his name) and they take him to live with them in Windsor Gardens, London.

While I grew up in America, I was introduced to Paddington by my Tibetan grandmother who lived in London. While I simply enjoyed Paddington as a good story, I now wonder whether my grandmother also felt a kinship with this small bear. Having lived a large part of her life in India, my grandmother eventually moved to London where she lived alone, as my grandfather had died at a fairly young age. She was always a semi-mysterious character, short, with hair perfectly styled and a fashionable scarf often wrapped around her head or neck. She would often send packages for birthdays or no reason at all. Each arrived with a special smell that was slightly flowery, but somehow also spoke of her personality. Whenever I think of her I remember this smell and the chocolate digestive cookies she would often bring. I think about her often and wonder if sometimes she felt a bit like a Paddington at times, navigating her way through a busy city, despite having come from a place full of mountains and magic – he from Peru and her from India.

Stories like this are so vital to children and adults alike. We are becoming a society that relies much more on technology to communicate rather than face-to-face contact. Although we can develop online communities, there’s something about human interaction that fulfills the spirit and reminds us we are not alone.

Growing up, I have always loved the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Not only are its illustrations endearing but the story itself is a reminder of how we are always worthy of love. Just because there are those who will judge and try to break us down doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who love us for being purely ourselves. Chrysanthemum is a story about a little girl mouse named Chrysanthemum who has loved her name since birth, that is until she goes to school, where all of the girls in her class proceed to make fun of her.

“I’m named after my grandmother,” said Victoria. “You’re named after a flower.”

However, when a new music teacher named Mrs. Twinkle assigns them roles for a school play and gives Chrysanthemum the role of a daisy, the other girls are quick to tease her for not only being named after a flower but literally being a flower. When Mrs. Twinkle asks them what’s so funny, the other girls explain the cause of their derision. But to their astonishment, their pregnant teacher has an equally long name – Delphinium – and absolutely loves the name Chrysanthemum, even suggesting she might give it to her future child. After her announcement, all the bullies ask to go by names of flowers. Chrysanthemum leaps out of school, realizing that she still loves her name and it’s perfect like she always thought.

Looking back on it now, it seems so silly, but bullying or hateful comments mean the world when you’re young. Being different or sticking out means you will be reminded of it every day and told that it makes you unlovable. Having a character that you can read about over and over and feel solidarity with is a warm reminder that we are all lovable and we are all trying to find our way, whether we are a small mouse who is determined to love her extra-long name or a bumbling bear from Peru who loves marmalade sandwiches.

Culture Family Life Stories Wellness Life

High school social norms CAN end

I had a hard time as a teenager in school. In fact, I think that’s putting it lightly.  As I was going through it at the time, I always focused on a light at the end of the tunnel. One day all of it would be over. This became the torch I carried with me through six years of general non-stop embarrassment.  As I got older, though, I slowly began to realize that wasn’t the case. The high school films of old made it look so easy. You take off your braces and you became an adult and the past would fall away like a dead weight. Needless to say, I was very wrong.

There were a couple of issues that made my educational journey a difficult one. The first was the feeling of being overlooked. My sister and I went to the same high school, though not for very long. With five years between us, she was always on the way out just as I was coming in. She was everything I wasn’t; tough, popular, witty, able to command respect without even trying. So long was her shadow, that year after she graduated people would still come up to me and ask if I was her sister. My actual name never factored into the conversation.

My second problem was another thing that was completely out of my control; my face. Everyone knows that the years of adolescence are years of upheaval and transition. Your body is doing things it has never done before. But something I don’t think is discussed enough is how much your face changes during this period. It slowly starts to take on the contours of what you’ll look like in young adulthood. It’s often unsettling and confusing. Having people call you ugly right in front of you definitely doesn’t help matters either. Nevertheless, that’s what happened to me, over and over again. It goes without saying that it did lasting and profound damage to my self-esteem which I am still trying to address and heal to this day.

Almost ten years separate my adolescent self and young adult self. Still, I revert back to my fifteen-year-old body and mind when I run into a classmate that was part of a social hierarchy that I never had access to and still don’t.  There are clear lines, after all, this time between those who are cool and those who aren’t. It’s quite clear which side I fall on.  I wish I could say that once I exited my high school campus for the last time it ceased to matter to me, but that would be a lie.

The recent Christmas vacation brought all these conflicting emotions into focus for me. I went back home. The familiar faces were everywhere and the work I have done to rid myself of lingering feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem was put to the test. I usually try to avoid places where I know there will be a large congregation of ex-classmates, but I chose not to do that anymore. I determined to start doing things and addressing things that make me uncomfortable. It’s through this discomfort that I know I’m growing. I simply cannot hide anymore. I suppose I could, technically. But I won’t and didn’t.

This isn’t to say I was a perfect person in high school. That was never the case. I made some wonderful friends during this period of my life. I learned to be resilient and not to run away from my problems, but to find ways to cope with them, some less healthy than others. It isn’t even to say I was a particularly kind person either. I could be petulant, annoying, hurtful and spoiled. It’s easy to make yourself the protagonist in your story because the only perspective that’s readily available is yours. However, what sets me apart is that I am well aware of this. Not only that, I made strides to grow mentally and spiritually. I wanted to be able to look back and see how different I was, in a good way.  High school may never end for some people in their quest to preserve the strict sects of social groupings (to what end? I don’t know) but for me, moving into a new decade and a new chapter in my life, it finally has.