Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
Standoms Books Pop Culture

Confession: I haven’t read books for fun since I was in 8th grade

One of my biggest obsessions used to be reading books. I was that typical fangirl “tween” who even wrote for a fandom magazine at one point. Hearing about all these different stories and worlds was exhilarating and I just got so involved with them. Picking up a good book, reading it all the way through in one sitting, and getting invested in the characters and plot was so easy for me. I would cry with the characters and throw my book across the floor when the author killed someone I liked.

Books were my thing.

From Harry Potter to Divergent, I was one of the most passionate readers you’d ever meet. I even used to write a bit of fanfiction, if I were to be completely transparent. In fact, I attribute my writing journey beginning to 8th grade journalism. However, it actually started before then in 6th grade when I started writing about my favorite books. And most of the kids at my school would make fun of me if I ever told them. Right off the bat, I think it would be kind of unfair to attribute all of why I stopped reading to just academics taking over. I will say this – judgemental teens suck. That didn’t stop me throughout middle school from reading the cheesiest, best Wattpad and YA stories ever. But, it did in high school.

In addition, once I started high school, academic reading became increasingly important, and reading quickly became more of a chore. At first, I still read novels to keep me sane in between all of it, because here’s the thing. Academic reading can be BORING. But as I progressed through high school, the readings became harder, the time became smaller, and the leisure reading became nonexistent. Going to the school library to check out a book is unheard of at my school, much less taking the time to go to a public one. I think this stigma around reading at my school actually stemmed from the fact that everyone cares so much about getting into college.

Reading a YA book can’t possibly get you into Harvard, right?

But, I think it totally can. Reading is an incredibly valuable experience. It can teach understanding, acceptance, and other values that you just can’t get from anywhere else. Books contain thousands of new words that you’ve never heard before. They have rhetorical strategies (that DO NOT need to be analyzed so in-depth in my opinion). In academic reading, we tend to read too much into the book, which makes it so unbelievably boring. But when you read simply because you want to read, there is so much more to gain, as your brain is also more invested.

I do miss reading a lot though. I want to go back to reading the best YA novels I’ve ever read and dressing up as Hermione from Harry Potter and simply enjoying living in a different world. Reading was kind of an escape for me, and I need that escape now more than ever. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back to it while in quarantine.

For now, I’ve amounted to reading digital magazines, news publications, and, of course, the books that are assigned to us in school. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, and if it’s your style, you should definitely check out some great digital magazines. However, for me, reading was about romance, fantasy, and the stories that just won’t appear in a news publication or a magazine, or even an academic book. Reading was about the things I dreamed of and the things I desired. It wasn’t ever about why the author chose to write a capital ‘S’ rather than a lowercase ‘s’. Ultimately, reading still is and will always be one of my most favorite things to do in the whole world, but I just don’t do it anymore with a real, 500-page hardcover book. But you should.

Have YOU submitted your book nominations for our Reading Challenge yet? Hurry up, you only have until April 30!

USA Gender Politics The World Inequality

White men in government positions are forever disappointing us – I’m looking at you, John Kerry

Former Secretary of State John Kerry recently appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher to discuss his new book and, among other things, a recent Donald Trump tweet attack regarding John’s meeting with the Iran regime. In a seemingly lighthearted clap back, Kerry responded by saying that Trump had “the immaturity of an eight-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl.” While his response was met with approval by the audience, I myself found it incorrect and sexist. Not only is this offensive to young women everywhere, but it plays into gender stereotypes, and excuses Trump of his behavior.

First of all, I wonder why he found it necessary to make the distinction between the immaturity of girls and other genders?  Saying that boys are immature and girls are insecure assumes boys are confident but might act out – that whole “boys will be boys” idea. More pointedly, he specifies the age of the boys but not the girls, which assumes boys eventually stop being immature at some point but teenage girls are consistently insecure. It also presents this idea that Trump just had some insecurities left over from childhood that were never dealt with, so his behavior is laughable.

American politics have left me nauseated, embarrassed, and horrified ever since Trump has set foot in The White House. His behavior and ideas are dangerous, not something to be laughed at. He is narcissistic, racist, sexist, and erratic, not to mention guilty of sexual assault. Comparing him to a teenage girl is an insult to girls everywhere and is – more to the point – indicative of where our politics have led us – a laughing stock to the rest of the world.

What’s more, assuming all teenage girls are insecure is just incorrect. Young adults are more woke and educated about the world than I ever was at their age. With teens like Cameron Kasky and Emma González of the #NeverAgain movement to 13-year-old Marley Dias who started the #1000blackgirlbooks movements because she was “sick of reading about white boys and dogs,” this generations’ teenagers are proving to be hardworking, smart, and confident in their abilities. Sure, there are still young adults (as well as grown adults) with insecurity issues and there always will be. But we are in living in a time where we are more critical of the media we consume and are becoming more aware of how it affects us internally. Trump could learn a thing or two.

It’s clear that Kerry felt he could get away with a joke like this because firstly, as white cis male, he can really say pretty much anything and get away it. Secondly, as he was appearing on a show with a host that’s known for being sexist, unabashedly politically incorrect, and anti-Muslim, it’s pretty clear he felt it was a safe space.

What’s ironic about his comment is that the reason teenage girls are insecure in the first place is that of white men like John Kerry. They live a life of privilege, handed to them by the patriarchy, the same system that places these ideals on our shoulders of what women and men should be like.

Kerry and men like him are the cause of our insecurities and continue to perpetuate them, as long as they continue to be part of a system that oppresses women, LGBTQ people, and especially people of color.

Editor's Picks Love Life Stories Wellness

I was 11 years old when my mom signed me up for WW. This is what happened.

Trigger warning: eating disorders

I was 11 years old when I attended my first Weight Watchers’ meeting.

I was a preteen who didn’t understand diets, exercise, or what made a healthy lifestyle. Every Tuesday, my mother would tell me to pick foods that were low in salt, because salt caused water retention. I would go to our local banquet hall every Wednesday after school and step on a scale in front of what seemed like hundreds of women who were at least three times my age.

I remember her telling me to wear a light t-shirt and shorts, and take off my shoes to make sure I got the lowest weight possible. Those meetings quickly taught me that fat was the enemy.

US News and World Reports rates Weight Watchers as the best weight-loss diet of all. The program uses spokespeople like Oprah Winfrey and DJ Khaled to bring a friendly face to calorie restriction. Weight Watchers claim that their points system is designed to help you eat whatever you want and still lose weight. 

In February, Weight Watchers stated that they would offer free memberships to teenagers looking to develop healthy habits and get in shape this year.

The problem with this? The program epitomizes diet culture.

Diet culture is what fuels us to attach morality to food – that is, when we feel morally ‘bad’ for eating some foods and morally ‘good’ for eating others. It drives fatphobia – that is, the oppression of fat people, which is evident in the discrimination they face. Diet culture pushes many people to develop eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, or even orthorexia – which is an eating disorder that involves an obsession with eating ‘healthily’.

The ‘points’ system used by Weight Watchers does a perfect job of revealing the arbitrary nature of how we categorize ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. In their system, some foods have the illustrious title of ‘zero points foods,’ meaning you can eat them without cutting into your bank.

It is blatantly arbitrary in what foods are ‘zero points’ and what aren’t. For example, an egg is zero points in the Weight Watchers system, while an avocado isn’t.

As an 11-year-old kid, I struggled to adhere to the Weight Watchers system. My mother eventually grew bored of trying to create child-friendly diet meals, and let me returned to my kid-approved chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without much protest.

When I was 17, I chose to attempt Weight Watchers a second time. The seeds of diet culture were firmly sown in my mind by then, and I was dead set on changing my ‘obese’ frame. I started with a bank of 17 assigned ‘points’ and got to work eatingsalads, skipping breakfast, and stockpiling my allowances for ice cream after dinner.

I realized, if I strictly ate 17 points worth of food, I lost weight. If I ate 15, the weight came off even faster.

Points ticked down quickly, and within six months I’d lost 80 pounds. The mindset taught to me by Weight Watchers influenced me into participating in unhealthy behaviors – behaviors that could only be described as anorexia. I did shots of hot sauce to suppress my appetite after school and drank gallons of water to stave off being dizzy. These habits came to a grinding halt after I’d passed out during a shower.

Weight Watchers’ website addresses this behavior in mild language on their FAQ page. “Should members be eating ONLY the zero Points® foods on the new WW Freestyle™ program? In a word, no,” it says. “While there are many foods with a SmartPoints value of zero, a healthy and realistic lifestyle includes eating a wide variety of foods to prevent boredom and ensure proper nutrition.”

Even so, the mindset that Weight Watchers promotes can be unhealthy for adults and teenagers alike. Weight Watchers promotes dangerously restrictive behaviors, even if that’s not their stated intention. Not to condescend to teenagers, but they can be even more vulnerable to this unhealthy doctrine.

The time of a high-school student is too precious to be wasted. It’s a time for experiencing life, building relationships, uncovering interests and being empowered with the strength to carry on a lifetime of growth. This time is too precious to be spent on weight loss.

Companies like Weight Watchers do not want you to love your body. With millions of members, their business model relies on the fact that you don’t.

Instead, let’s teach our children what’s truly empowering: loving yourself despite what the advertisers want you to believe. Through self love, you can unlock the kind of power that no one else can give. That kind of power can change the world.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, please consult the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website for help. 

TV Shows Podcasts Pop Culture

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ has returned with a second season – and that’s worrying

It’s been nearly a year since the first season of Thirteen Reasons Why was released, and it’s only become more controversial as the months have passed. The second season just arrived on Netflix las week and many people are questioning whether it should have been renewed for another season in the first place.

Adding to the initial controversy is the fact that Jay Asher, who wrote the book Thirteen Reasons Why is based on, has recently been accused of sexual harassment. Because of these allegations, he was expelled from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Asher denied the allegations.

In an Exposé podcast last year, CEO of The Tempest Laila Alawa sat down to talk to guests Kayria Taghdi and Katie Kaestner about Thirteen Reasons Why. They discussed the merits of the show as well as its potential harms. The show graphically depicted a suicide, bullying and abuse, social isolation, mental health issues, and sexual assault. It even hinted at the possibility of gun violence at the end of the first episode.

There are many good aspects of the show, of course. While I didn’t grow up in the US and thus am unfamiliar with the cultural context of the show, I feel like it’s quite realistic in its portrayal of high school politics. As someone who’s experienced suicide ideation and mental illness, I felt that the last few episodes depicted suicide in a fairly relatable, realistic way.

The podcast guests concluded that the show can’t positively change opinions about rape culture. I don’t necessarily think this is true, because it does show how the school system – including staff members – protects rapists. When Hannah tries to talk to her school guidance counselor about the fact that she was sexually assaulted, he used typical victim-blaming tactics on her. In my opinion, this was meant to anger the audience and prompt them into talking about rape culture. I don’t know whether it definitely improved people’s opinions, but as someone who’s been assaulted, I felt validated by it.

That said, I have a lot of reservations about Thirteen Reasons Why. I am sure that the show prompted some constructive conversations – but at what cost? A study noted that Google searches around suicide – including searches for information on how to commit suicide – skyrocketed after the show was released.

According to reports, Netflix was advised by suicide prevention groups not to show Hannah committing suicide, as it could trigger suicidal people and those with PTSD. Netflix went ahead and did it anyway. It’s reminiscent of when Netflix was warned about depicting eating disorders in To The Bone, as many of the scenes could trigger those with eating disorders. In both cases, it felt like Netflix was capitalizing on a growing awareness of mental health issues without caring about the people who were affected by it the most.

Many of us know our triggers, and we’d avoid depictions of suicide if we knew it would trigger us. However, there are many people who don’t know what their triggers are and what might push them over the edge. This is why “If you don’t like it, simply don’t watch it” is a problematic attitude to have – it’s not about whether you’d like the show, but how it would affect you and your mental health. Similarly, most people might not know their triggers. It’s possible that the show can trigger people and they won’t realize until it’s too late.

This is especially true for young people, who are given very little space to discuss their mental health and reflect on their emotional wellness. As Laila says in the podcast, teenagers are more impressionable than adults – something that is demonstrated by neuropsychology.  Since young people – including teenagers and preeteens – are the target audience for the show, this is particularly worrying.

So what’s to be done now that the show’s second season is out there? As mentioned in the podcast, many high schools were banning conversations on Thirteen Reasons Why, thinking these conversations could promote suicide.

As Laila mentions in the podcast, conversations on mental health are stigmatized enough. Although Thirteen Reasons Why can potentially be harmful, people will inevitably talk about it whether they like the show or not. For that reason, it’s essential that schools use it as an opportunity to promote positive coping mechanisms and to destigmatize mental illness and suicide. Ignoring the existence of the show isn’t a constructive move.

The first season of Thirteen Reasons Why taps into a lot of important conversations, and the second season is bound to do the same. That said, the show is not beyond reproach. The potential gain of “sparking conversations” is not necessarily worth the fact that it’s triggered people and even encouraged people to commit suicide. So, while I’ll watch the second season to satiate my own curiosity, I don’t buy that it’s great for society.


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, check out the resources below:

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.


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Love + Sex Love Advice

I ignored what he did with my friend, because I just wanted him to love me

As wise as I often attempt to sound, I’ve been the poster girl for toxic relationships for as long as I can remember.

As a 16-year-old who was an ardent fan-girl and bibliophile, I pretended like I had ultimate worldly wisdom. The only relationship that I had ever been in was perhaps with Draco Malfoy (in my head). I was convinced that I was too evolved a human being to fall for just another boy. The plot twist that I had failed to foresee was that behind the facade that I had conveniently put up, secretly hid just another naive 16-year-old.

At school, I was friends with a boy who was the quintessential nice guy. As much as I detested his loved-by-all character we ended up becoming close friends.

As someone who does not open up to people easily and has had multiple massacred friendships, I was baffled at how I voluntarily let down my guard with him. We texted each other for hours each day. Our walk back from school seemed like the most anticipated walk of the day (and I hate walking). He was the friend I knew I could talk to no matter what and he’d be there for me.

[bctt tweet=”As wise as I often attempt to sound, I’ve been the poster girl for toxic relationships for as long as I can remember.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I gradually began to realize that I started developing feelings for him. Soon after, he admitted to like me as well and I couldn’t have asked for more. As much as I valued him as my friend, a part of me hoped that our feelings would materialize into something more than friendship. But the fear of having to deal with the repercussions of a possibly messed up romantic relationship (which could end our friendship) consumed him and stopped us from taking things forward.

However, his reluctance towards a relationship and the differences in our opinions regarding the situation made things more complex than I imagined it to be.

Initially, the feeling of having someone that close was so overwhelming that I refused to notice the red signs that kept blinking right before me.

I wasn’t the only one he had in mind.

He ended up hatching a similar “almost” scenario with a close friend of mine at the same time as me, who also happened to be his best friend. But honestly, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst and the most crippling part was that I knew about it and compelled myself to be cool with it. Just because I had agreed to be someone’s “almost” I decided it was okay to trivialize my feelings for that transient and frivolous sense of joy. I deceived myself to believe that the feeling of being wanted was more important than my happiness.

[bctt tweet=”I deceived myself to believe that the feeling of being wanted was more important than my happiness.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I fabricated a bubble of self-doubt and insecurities, believing that I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or good enough. My friendship with both of them began to crumble as I started pushing myself to hate them and knowing that I’d never get those friendships back.

I started loathing myself in every possible way until I realized that it had to come to an end. I was finally left with no choice but to make him choose between her and me. And the moment he said it was her, the only feeling that prominently stood out for me was the relief.

While he and I managed to mend things and let go of the past, I lost her as a friend in my futile endeavor of being happy.

We’re all guilty of having an unhealthy obsession of surrounding ourselves with people just so we can evade the stigma of being a loner. We tend to equate happiness with other people even if they bring nothing but toxicity and misery to our lives and their absence often makes us feel like we’re shrouded by a cloud of loneliness. We allow ourselves to go through the worst just for that momentary feeling of being loved.

[bctt tweet=”We allow ourselves to go through the worst just for that momentary feeling of being loved.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The most underrated concept of all time that is so deeply buried under the shenanigans of companionship is finding happiness in yourself and the life you lead.

As beautiful as the feeling of love may be, our mental health and personal well-being come before any inane relationship. Believe my favorite K-Pop group, BTS, when they say “Love Yourself” because that is the only love that one needs to lead a complete life.

You deserve better than relationships that do not help you grow.

TV Shows Pop Culture

I never realized that ‘Skins’ would help me deal with my own trauma

Skins, the controversial British TV series that premiered in 2007, has become a beloved cult hit in recent years. With its racy storylines and talented cast – Dev Patel, Kaya Scodelario, and Daniel Kaluuya all starred in the show – it’s no wonder why it appealed to a lot of people. For me, though, the series has always been deeper than that: it was incredibly validating to me as a teenager struggling to cope with PTSD.

I started watching the show in 2010, when I was 15. From the beginning, it struck me that this was a series for teenagers. The show unapologetically showed teenagers aged 15 to 18 doing drugs, having sex, and making some awful decisions, which meant it wasn’t meant to be palatable to adults. In fact, Skins was so unpalatable to adults that the US version was cancelled, partly due to the fact that the Parents Television Board boycotted it.

It looked at teenagers’ lives in an unapologetic, raw way. One of the issues it dealt with was mental illness.

[bctt tweet=”‘Skins’ was never meant to be palatable to adults.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Both in the media and in the rest of society, teenagers are seldom given the space to have mental and emotional problems. Symptoms of mental illnesses are often dismissed as mood swings or over-exaggeration. We should take it seriously, but we don’t. This is partly because children and teenagers aren’t treated as people, and we dismiss their autonomy, opinions and experiences. It’s called adultism, and it sucks.

The media perpetuates this adultism. In many sitcoms and movies, teenagers’ emotional problems are often made to be the punchline of a joke. The problems often disappear an episode, underlining the implication that teenagers are over-dramatic. These issues are often contrasted with adult issues, which are shown to be more valid. This representation did nothing to validate me, a mentally ill child. Skins was a breath of fresh air.

Initially, I thought it was a show about kids behaving badly and getting up to mischief. A few episodes in, it became abundantly clear that it was deeper than that. Skins dealt with suicidality, abortion, death, grief, psychiatric hospitalization, addiction, eating disorders and more. The show never invalidated these issues. The characters engaged in adult-like vices, but they usually did it to cope from trauma. I went from thinking, “Holy shit! They’re too young to act like that!” to “Holy shit! They’re too young to go through that trauma!” to remembering that in real life, teenagers deal with this stuff every day – myself included.

[bctt tweet=”Both in the media and in the rest of society, teenagers are seldom given the space to have mental and emotional problems.” username=”wearethetempest”]

On the surface, the teenagers were irresponsible – but beneath that, they were worthy of our empathy, forgiveness, and compassion. Like real teenagers, they all had their own struggles and hurdles. Despite the fact that there were a lot of central characters and not enough episodes to look at all of them closely, the teenagers were all were shown as complex humans with their own thoughts, traumas, and feelings. 

An example of this is Effy, one of the show’s most beloved characters. She goes through a great deal of trauma throughout the show: she sees her brother getting hit by a bus, she’s kidnapped, her parents get divorced, she nearly kills someone, she runs away from home, and she was abandoned by her mother. She goes on a bender with her boyfriend in season 4, but it’s clear that it’s about self-medication and not superficial pleasure-seeking. She ends up in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt.

The characters in Skins all had reasons for their actions. Cassie had a reason for her suicide attempt. Freddy had a reason for his reaction to Effy’s breakdown. Cook’s questionable choices occurred for a reason. Mini’s eating disorder was founded in real anxieties. In other words, the teenagers’ problems were shown as valid. Skins was unique in that it showed teens working through emotional baggage without once invalidating their feelings. For the first time, I felt like I had a right to be a mentally ill teenager. 

Additionally, it shows how the characters were let down by the adults meant to protect them. Very few of the characters have supportive parents or teachers, so it’s no wonder they struggle. In seasons 3 and 4, Jay Jay and Effy both see psychiatrists who harm them more than help them. As someone who was mistreated by the counsellors and adults that were meant to help me, this meant a lot. It reminded me that adults weren’t always right about these things.

[bctt tweet=”On the surface, the teenagers were irresponsible – but beneath that, they were worthy of our empathy, forgiveness, and compassion.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Skins is imperfect. The dialogue is sometimes frumpy and awkward, some of the jokes and gimmicks are cringe-y, and the cliffhangers are frustrating. On a deeper level, the show wasn’t the best example of diversity – I’d have liked, for example, to see a fat character represented well. That said, it was pretty revolutionary for its time. I can only hope that it inspires many future projects to deal with the topic of teenage mental health in an empathetic, understanding, and validating way.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, check out the resources below:

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.


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Books Pop Culture

I found understanding and love in the most unconventional place: a book

I love reading books more than anything else, I always have. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people’s shocked reaction when I tell them that I haven’t watched a particularly famous movie because I was too busy burying my head in a brand new novel. Growing up, reading books was what I enjoyed most. I remember my parents being so proud when at 10-years-old, I would be reading books from my older brother’s bookshelf.

The Young Adult genre has always held my interest, and it’s what I still read to this day. There’s just something so satisfying about all those sappy, happy novels. They make me feel good and grant solace from everyday life.

So when I picked up All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven after Zoella did a recommendation video about it, I was so excited to pick it up. It’s not very often that I come across literature discussing mental health and after listening to Zoe describe the novel, I looked forward to reading it.

I have to say, I went in with a very cautious mindset. I’d read books dealing with mental health before, and it was always very cliched. Girl meets boy, one or both of them has a mental illness, throughout the novel they work together, and at the end, the person is magically cured.

Those that have suffered from mental illnesses in real life know that that’s not exactly how it goes; it’s never that simple.

A spoiler-free gist of the book, for those who haven’t read it, can be summed up by its tagline: it’s a story about a girl that learns to live, from a boy who wants to die.

Violet, the girl, suffers from a deep sense of loss after the death of her sister, Eleanor, whereas Finch, the boy, suffers from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. They team up together for a school project exploring the “natural wonders” of their state of Indiana.

When I started reading the book, I was immediately immersed into the very bleak world of Violet and Finch. I felt as if I was them; I lived these characters and their experiences. The world that Niven built within the book is so real and so raw, there were so many times when I had to put it down because of how deeply I felt the characters’ emotions.

The story deals with themes of loss and mental health so well and so realistically. At no point did I feel that the situation or characters were exaggerated to the point where they seemed unbelievable to someone who has had experiences with mental illness.

As someone who suffers from depression, I felt every emotion Finch felt, and I can unashamedly admit that I cried multiple times throughout the book. Its understanding of mental illness is so well-researched that it is drastically different from others of the same genre. ATBP offers a completely different perspective on mental health issues, and how people deal with it in their own way.

The story is raw and heartbreaking. I have never identified with a character more than I did with Finch. His thoughts and morbid fascination with death were something that horrified me in the beginning. But as I got to know Finch more, I realized that at one point or another, many of us have felt this way. His willingness to hold on to something, anything, to keep him going is what stuck with me till the very end.

Finch struggles every day, but so does Violet; this is where the uncanny “love story” comes in. There are several instances where the thought of Violet is what keeps Finch going, and to me, that is poetic.

However, what’s worth noting is that this love story is not the driving force of the novel. Rather, it is just a side story; the main focus of the book is mental illness, and that’s a rare commodity in the world of literature.

We definitely need more novels that tackle mental health in such a delicate yet raw way as ATBP has done. A movie adaptation starring Elle Fanning will be released soon, and I for one, have high hopes for it to pave the way for discussion of mental health in Hollywood movies.

It’s time for society to create more open, honest conversation about mental health.

Tech Now + Beyond

Cyberbullying can kill. Why are we pretending it’s just a joke?

Cyberbullying has become a serious problem in the digital age and the impacts can be devastating.

The story of Amanda Todd shows that cyberbullying can be fatal. Amanda was chatting with a man online who asked her to flash him. She did, but she didn’t know that he snapped a picture of her breasts. When she refused to flash him again, he sent the picture to her Facebook friends, and the vicious online harassment began. Her peers cut her out. In her isolation, she began drinking heavily and using drugs.

Eventually, she killed herself.

She was only 15.

The story shares many elements with the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, one of the first widely publicized cases of suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Tyler’s roommate turned on the webcam in their dorm room and captured video of Tyler being intimate with another man. His roommate then invited others to watch the video and shared it on Twitter. Tyler immediately became a target for harassment on campus and endured brutal cyberbullying for the last weeks of his life.

He threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. He was only 18.

The wildly popular Netflix Original series “13 Reasons Why” also sheds light on the problem of online harassment. The main character, Hannah, has misleading pictures of her sent to the whole school. Rumors spread quickly, also mainly through digital means, and her reputation quickly suffers. This sets in motion a series of events that lead to her suicide.

These are extreme examples, but cyberbullying has everyday impacts as well.

A recent study found that girls who have been victims of or engage in cyberbullying are less engaged in school. The study found that girls who have encountered online harassment feel less accepted by their peers, which makes it difficult for them to be in a school environment.

I don’t take the impacts of cyberbullying lightly, mostly because I have been a victim.

When I was in middle school the cool thing to do when we got home from school was hop on the computer, sign in to AIM, and chat with our friends. We all traded screen names, which we created and recreated every other day so we’d have ‘cool’ screen names, and spent hours gossiping and sharing secrets.

One day, I received a message request from a screen name I didn’t recognize, but it was connected to a fandom I was really in to, so I accepted the request. I ended up chatting with the person for a while and became pretty comfortable with them.

I ended up sharing things with this person that I was embarrassed to share with my friends.

Then, out of the blue, my friends knew these things that I was too embarrassed to share and they teased me relentlessly. I was devastated and I couldn’t figure out how they could have figured out the secrets I was keeping. After a few weeks, someone let it slip that my ‘best friend’ had created the screen name and was pretending to be someone else in order to get me to share information.

She had shared the information she’d manipulated out of me with my other friends. They all thought it was a big joke.

In the realm of cyberbullying, this is a pretty mild experience. No nude photos of me were shared, The secrets I was embarrassed to share were run of the mill middle school things. But the experience made it really difficult for me to trust my friends and it really hurt my feelings.

When teens experience cyberbullying they experience overwhelming emotions that are hard for them to process. Victims of cyberbullying reported feeling angry, embarrassed, and hurt.

They are forced to relive these feelings every time the harassment occurs.

Messages that constitute cyberbullying are often passed from one student to another and travel quickly through social networks and school systems. This forces the teen to relive the experience multiple times.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a relatively common occurrence for teens. Statistics show that about half of teens surveyed have been the victim of cyberbullying. About a quarter of the teens surveyed had experienced persistent cyberbullying. This is not something that’s happening to a few teens.

It’s happening with alarming frequency and a lot of teens are getting hurt.

Cyberbullying isn’t limited to teens either. It’s extremely common for adults, particularly women, to experience cyberbullying on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Twitter especially is a nexus of online harassment. The women being harassed are often from marginalized groups. They are often speaking out about women’s issues. They are often speaking out about problematic structures and how they need to be changed. They are often speaking out against men.

When my first article was published just over a year ago, I experienced cyberbullying again. The article was about going shopping for the first time after gaining weight in recovery from an eating disorder. It included pictures of my plus size body in shorts and tank tops.

In the comments, I encountered cyberbullying for the first time since middle school.

People called me a fat-ass. They told me that they would want to die if they looked like me. They suggested that I try to diet and just not have an eating disorder.

Why did they think I deserved this harassment? Simply because I was comfortable in my plus size body. That’s when I learned not to read the comments on my articles.

Cyberbullying is a serious problem for both teens and adults, especially girls and women. The consequences of cyberbullying are always serious. People who experience online harassment experience intense feelings, that can sometimes feel so overwhelming that suicide seems like the only way out.

We need to address cyberbullying head on.

We need to talk about how harmful it is and we need to fight to put systems in place that will prevent it from occurring.

And we need to confront cyberbullies and shut them down.

Tech Now + Beyond

What you didn’t know about your nudes

More likely than not, you’ve either sent a sext, gotten a sext or you’ve known someone who has done either. It’s a topic fraught with enough anxieties and dangers, from body image to cyberbullying, from sextorsion to college and job placement, from cybersecurity to revenge porn. But for teenagers, there’s another issue at stake.

Although these are complicated situations for adults, they have the right to expose their bodies in any way they’d like after the age of 18. Minors, however, are not in the same situation. The consequences of sending nude or semi-nude photos of yourself can be much more severe for minors. If you’re under the age of 18 and you’re sexting, chances are that you could be convicted under child pornography laws. Why? Because the legal system, as usual, has yet to catch up with modern times.

First, let’s look and how frequent teen sexting occurs. Almost 40 percent of all teens (defined as 13–19 year olds) are “sending or posting sexually suggestive messages,” according to the 2008 Sex and Tech survey from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In a 2012 study by Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, over 25 percent of teens have sent a sext. With the increasing ubiquity of smartphones and apps like Snapchat and Kik, these numbers are sure to be on an uphill path.

But who are receiving these messages? Over 70 percent of these messages are sent to significant others, while over 20 percent of teenage girls and almost 40 percent sent them to someone they wanted to date or hook up with. Perhaps even more telling than these numbers is that almost 50 percent of male teens and 20 percent male teens have asked for sexts and 20 percent. Meanwhile, almost 70 percent of female teens have been asked, along with almost 45 percent of male teens.

When teenage girls were asked the reasons for sexting, 40 percent said they did it as a joke, 34 percent to feel sexy, and 12 percent feel pressured. These numbers show the commonality of sexting and give insight into why sexting occurs.

Many teens do not consider the consequences of sexting, and the biggest consequence is legal action. Because teenage sexting is technically covered under the definition of child pornography, the possession of sexts is considered possession of child pornography in many states. And these child pornography laws, as they should be, are incredibly harsh. Being charged with the crime can lead to years in prison as well as registration as a sex offender. For states that do not have distinct sexting laws, these are the charges that teens face when they sext.

But sexting isn’t child pornography, and our laws need to reflect that. There are a total of 18 states that have passed specific sexting laws, which lessen penalties to fines, misdemeanors, sexting educational classes, and family court. But the majority of the U.S. is still far behind. With one in four teens admitting to sexting, I would like to claim that these teens are not sex offenders. These are teenagers who are exploring their bodies, using the modern technology to do so, and misunderstanding the consequences of their actions.

Child pornography laws were developed for the purpose of convicting and deterring sexual predators from eliciting, distributing, and trafficking revealing or nude photos of children. Willingly sending naked photos of yourself as a minor is different, but it’s still irresponsible. But how would you know your life could be ruined by sending that photo? I doubt most people who send naked photos of themselves think that it’ll be sent around, although the numbers show a different story. They don’t think that it can be used against them. It’s not a fault in the person, but in the education.

Sexting should be a part of sexual education, something that’s desperately needed around the world and in the U.S. Teen sexting is not an issue of child pornography—and should never be treated as so—but a question of responsible usage of technology and sexual activity. Both of those are incredible hard to teach, but these issues will only get sticker if we’re not talking about them. 

Tech Now + Beyond

Here’s the secret behind apps like Yik Yak and Whisper

Last time I checked, our deepest, darkest secrets are supposed to be shared between our closest friends―not to whole world. A text bubble with a simple background revealing something as ridiculous as naming your third toe Larry who hates Joe (toe number five) because Joe stole Pam (toe number four) away from him isn’t really necessary to know. Okay, that was pretty exaggerated, but do you get my point? 

 I know what you’re thinking: “Well, what if I want to share my deepest, darkest secrets? What if I like reading others’ deepest, darkest secrets? Who told you that you can have a say in all of this?” I get it, you’re addicted to the voyeurism. Whisper is to you as Twitter is to me. Nonetheless, these certain apps can get you in trouble no matter the number of restrictions and regulations companies set up.

It becomes a problem when cyberbullying sneaks into the party along with hacks and RSVPs that say “No” are being returned with a couple of government bans attached to it (R.I.P. Secret, shut down because CEO David Byttow didn’t like what his app turned into).

1. Whisper

Let’s starts out with Whisper. Now if you’re someone like me, who has only looked at this app at least twice then you probably don’t understand the excitement over it either―same for the rest of these types of apps. Well, when one wants to let something off their chest without revealing it’s them it comes in handy. And what else makes telling secrets better than a picture in the background? They can even message another user and stay anonymous. Of course, this will seem silly to some of us. Why not use a journal? Call a friend? To be fair, the company created Your Voice to help people deal with stress to bullying which does show they don’t support negative, offensive posts. 

 Yet, the posts from the app are being used for news stories by actual news publications, such as Buzzfeed (which can cause trouble like it did for Secret). The use for this app is going too far and doesn’t seem that safe for people who want to stay anonymous.

2. Yik Yak

A lot of young people are attracted to Yik Yak  because they can post pictures and texts for others in the same area, to see what others are up to. I first heard about this app was when a University of Missouri student used Yik Yak to threaten to “shoot every black person” he saw. Nice. You can probably tell right there I already had a bad first impression of the app. Wouldn’t you have that impression, too, if a company didn’t stop that post from being published for the world to see?

Another incident is when a Staples High School student in Westport, Connecticut used Yik Yak to attack other students and teachers. This pretty much sums up why you don’t hear about Yik Yak in high schools and middle schools (about 85 percent of high schools in the United States have this app banned). These two obvious aren’t the only incidents Yik Yak has been caught in and probably won’t be the last.

3. After School and Kandid

High schoolers lost Yik Yak, so they picked up After School and Kandid. Both aiming for students, Kandid is the child of Whisper and Yik Yak. You are able to see posts outside your school group and chat with others. After School stays within the school’s zone and doesn’t tolerate cyberbullying. They even have a system for students to talk about school and stress, similar to Whisper’s Your Voice.

If I was clueless about these types of apps, I’d pick After School because it doesn’t support bullying. However, who’s to say that unnecessary drama can’t start amidst the “fun?” It is high school after all. 

4. 23 Snaps

Honestly, I have never ever heard of this app before, and already the name is throwing me off. You already know it’s for pictures. Don’t want to flood your Facebook news feed, Twitter feed, Snapchat, etc. with your posts? The limit doesn’t exist here (haha, Mean Girls reference), so you can post a billion pictures if you want to and can keep it private to just your family and friends. My main fear of this is having your account hacked, and the next thing you know, all of your pictures have been leaked. 


I have to admit, I had an account and used to think it wasn’t pointless. Public answers to anonymous questions. What’s wrong with a stranger asking my favorite color? Sharing my grade and school isn’t dangerous. Totally! My other friends would use it to and sometimes we would anonymously ask each other silly questions for fun. It wasn’t until some of the questions my friends would get gave me a gut feeling of “haha…this can get messy.” Not only the predictable school drama crap, but also the possibility that a grown adult miles away might ask very specific questions and I’d be naive enough to publicly answer.

No one spends thousands of dollars creating an app just to be a part of cyberbullying cases. Yet we should pressure them to fix these issues, since people don’t want to give up these forms of social media. Knowing that problems can show up no matter who it is, I’d recommend you stay away from these types of apps. The last thing you want is getting harassed online, but can’t tell who it is.