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    6 Changes I’ve Made on My Journey to Being Debt-Free

    Last summer, in the midst of planning a wedding and a cross-country move, I found myself in a real financial mess. While I wasn’t delinquent on payments or behind on my rent, I had no clue how I’d cover my upcoming expenses. It became pretty clear that, despite having a great job and a degree from an impressive university, I was broke.I’m one of the millions of Americans who graduated from college with student loan debt. And in my case, after paying on my loans for five years, I still had a six-figure balance and monthly payments equivalent to a second rent! And in conjunction with credit card bills and a car note, I was one missed paycheck away from spiraling out of control.
    I had a decision to make. If I ever wanted to realize my dreams of buying a home, traveling the world, and—most importantly—building wealth for my future family, something had to change. So I pushed past my self-doubt, frustration, and embarrassment, and started attacking my debt, one dollar at a time. And today, I’m more than halfway to a $0 balance. Here are six changes I’ve made along my journey.
     
    1. I convinced myself it was possible
    Prior to embarking on this journey, I was clueless as to how bad my financial situation really was. I could pay my bills on time, enjoy local restaurants and bars, shop every so often, and still have a few dollars in my account in between paychecks. In my mind, I was doing well!
    In reality, I was barely staying afloat. And it took a few wake up calls—like barely having enough for my bills after an unexpected doctor’s visit and realizing I couldn’t scrape together the deposit for my dream wedding photographer—to get my head out of the clouds. Aside from $200 in a “savings” account that I dipped into every time my checking account went into overdraft, I had nothing to fall back on. And when I finally worked up the nerve to open all my statements and tally up my balances, I could barely breathe. 
    How am I ever going to pay this off?
    After a minor meltdown and a self-loathing session, I had a decision to make. While I had no idea how I would get it done, I knew I’d never be debt-free if I accepted defeat before I gave it a solid effort. I spent time envisioning, in great detail, what my life could look like if I was debt-free, free from monthly payments, and no longer living paycheck to paycheck. It may sound silly, but focusing on the life I can live once I’m financially stable became my biggest motivation. And with Future Me in mind, it became a lot easier to take tangible steps to close the distance between my current situation and the life I want.

    2. I said “no more” adding to my balances
    The most overwhelming aspect of my debt payoff journey was coming to grips with the daunting amount I owed. If I was somehow able to put every penny of my annual salary toward my debt, it would still take nearly two years to pay off. The reality of my circumstances helped me draw a hard line in the sand: if I was going to get myself out of this mess, I had to stop digging the hole I was in. That meant waving goodbye to my credit cards.
    I reluctantly dumped my credit cards out of my wallet (even the ones with the great travel perks) and started leaving the house without them. Going out with only cash and my debit card to rely on scared me and I started checking my balance obsessively, trying desperately to avoid the embarrassment of having a transaction declined.
    But, as uncomfortable and unenjoyable as turning my back on credit cards was, I saw a near-instant change. Getting in the habit of checking my account so often forced me to think about each purchase before and after I made it. I’d gone from using credit as a makeshift emergency fund when I ran out of money to only buying what I could actually afford. Taking credit off the table sparked a level of discipline I didn’t know I was capable of. 

    3.  I reduced my fixed expenses
    As I started looking into ways to save more money and speed up my debt payoff, it became clear that I needed to cut some of my expenses to free up some money. Despite some of the “easy” recommendations for savings, I really hated the idea of never ordering a cup of coffee on my journey to debt freedom. Instead, I looked for ways to keep my small pleasures by lessening my largest expenses—namely my housing.
    At the first opportunity I had, I downsized my apartment and signed a lease that helped me save over $200 each month. When this money freed up, with newly minted discipline on my side, I prepared to put the money toward my debt payments (as opposed to shopping, brunch, and entertainment).

    4. I drafted a realistic budget
    Before I got serious about paying off my debt, I would have incorrectly said that I knew how to budget. In reality, despite the budgeting apps and resources I had on my phone, I was simply tracking my spending. It wasn’t until I decided to start putting “extra” money toward my debt each month that I realized my approach was all wrong. I needed a true budget.
    I started by writing down the dates and expected amounts of my paychecks. Next, I listed every recurring bill or expense I had each month—like my rent, car payment, and student loan payment—and organized them by due date. From there, I bucketed my expenses by paycheck to ensure I’d have the money and my payments wouldn’t be late. Then I layered on the estimated costs of my essentials, like gas and groceries, and any other unavoidable costs I had coming up and split them across my paycheck buckets. With any money that was left, I set aside a portion for non-essentials, like brunches and happy hours, and set committed to using the rest to attack my debt.
    While the idea of budgeting initially stirred feelings of overwhelm, embarrassment, and restriction, I’ve come to see my budget as an organizational tool. Determining where my money will go and how much I’ll spend in certain categories at the start of each month takes the stress and emotion out of my payments and purchases. And I use a budgeting app so my goals and guidelines are always accessible.
    Since I’m the one in charge of drafting my budget each month, I can apply lessons learned and adapt my allocations month to month. I put a little less toward debt to fund holiday gifts, for instance, and more toward debt when I get a gift or bonus.

    5. I decided on a plan of attack
    Once I got organized and identified additional money I could put toward debt pay down each month, I needed to decide what to pay off first. After a bit of research, I decided between two popular debt payroll methods: the avalanche and the snowball. 
    If I used the avalanche method, I’d make additional payments on whichever debt has the highest interest rate. Once my highest interest debt was paid off, I would add whatever I was paying on it to the payments on my account with the next highest interest rate. This strategy would save money, as I’d pay less in interest over the course of my journey. 
    If I used the snowball method, I’d make additional payments on whichever debt had the lowest balance. Once my lowest balance debt was paid off, I would add whatever I was paying on it to the payments on the next lowest debt. This strategy would help me build momentum in my payoff journey, paying off my smallest debts quickly before focusing on my largest balances.
    My debt balances and interest rates really varied and, initially, I wasn’t sure which payoff method made the most sense for my situation. But when I considered how long my journey to debt freedom would be, I knew the snowball method would be my best bet. By focusing on my smallest balances first, I was able to celebrate a few “small wins” early on. When I paid off my first credit card (a $1,200 balance), for instance, I felt incredibly energized around my goal—I could do this! And after a year of following this approach, I paid off five separate accounts and am putting more money than ever toward my payments.

    6. I shared my goals with my girls
    Along this journey, I’ve learned just how tough it is to say “no, I can’t make it” when I actually mean “I’d love to come, but I’m broke!” But I knew that making real progress with my finances would mean scaling back on the (really enjoyable) money traps I set for myself each month. That meant fewer weekend brunches, weeknight happy hours, and aimless trips to Target. And it ultimately meant learning to say “I can’t” when my friends invited me out.
    Initially, I struggled with the embarrassment of being the (seemingly) “broke” one of the group and then the guilt of blowing my friends off. But after a few months of vague excuses and declined invitations, I gradually lowered my guard and let my friends know why they were seeing me less often. And despite my initial hesitation, sharing my goals with my family and friends was one of my best decisions since starting this journey. 
    While a few people couldn’t make sense of my efforts, most of my friends were quick to offer their support and understanding. And in the time since, many of them have stepped up to cheer me on or ask for advice on their own debt-free journeys. Even though I’m on a different personal finance journey than some, I loved that money has become less of a taboo topic in my friend groups. More

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    How My Hair Shaped My Identity

    One of my favorite things about my look is my pixie cut. If you asked me to describe it, I would say: short, edgy, and professional. As a disabled woman, it’s effortless and time-effective. I have the advantage of waking up and not having to brush my hair if my bedhead isn’t too visible. Some days I add a little style, but I love having a hairstyle where it’s easy to manage. My ultimate hair goal, however, is to shave my head and have a buzzcut. Jazzmyne Jay, a BuzzFeed content creator, is my inspiration; she’s given me the courage to experiment with fashion. I’ve wanted to do it for a while; I’ve just been waiting for the right time.
    Honestly, I’ve been waiting for an accepting work environment. I want to work in an environment where diversity is valued, where there is an open-mindedness to individuals who have disabilities and endure mental illness, and where there are strong core values and beliefs; where these things are instilled in the company. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through. It’s hard to go into spaces where you are accepted, however, you feel that you still have to hold back a part of your identity, or when you have to hide your entire identity because you are not sure of the reaction, especially in this political climate where you’re often discriminated against for being LGBTQ+. 

    In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through.

    Chopping off all your hair is a way for you to start afresh and emerge a new person. I feel rejuvenated and on lighter feet after every cut. My hair wasn’t weighing me down anymore. Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.
    Society pushes many stereotypes about the short-haired woman: she’s damaged, she’s aggressive, she’s manly, she must be a lesbian. As a society, we attach so many parts of a person’s identity to their hair: their sexuality, history, gender, and even personality, and when women have short hair, people tend to think of that as almost being political. She’s making a statement. Long hair is depicted as feminine and beautiful, whereas short hair is not. 

    Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.

    As an individual with a disability (I have cerebral palsy and hemiplegia), I do not have the use of my right arm. Because of this, I have difficulty styling my hair, and what began as a move for more independence became a move for self-expression. I had long hair up until college, when I started getting pixie cuts. In high school, I’d had to ask my family to help me style my hair (ponytails, braids, etc.). On my own, I could get at best pin the bangs out of my face. Disabled women’s hair is just seen as yet another inconvenience in terms of independence, and at times we aren’t even given a choice around our hair length and style.
    When I attempted to pull my hair into a ponytail by myself, I ultimately failed. I had to deal with loose long hair in all weather and environments. I loved my long hair, and it was beautiful, but it was a source of inconvenience and discomfort. I’m never going to fit into a box. I’m never going to fit under a label; I’m never going to be anything anybody wants me to be, I’m always evolving. I’m all about breaking boundaries. Breaking barriers, breaking labels, and allowing myself to be free.
    And that’s what my short hair is to me. More

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    Why I Talk About Feminism on First Dates

    “I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to meet someone,” I said to my friends one day. But one of my friends quickly told me exactly why: it was because I expected too much from men. I even expected them to be feminists.I was immediately disheartened when I heard that she thought this was a lot to ask. I don’t expect the men I date to wear “women’s rights are human rights” T-shirts or have a PhD in gender studies. I don’t even expect them to identify as feminists, because it’s just a label and doesn’t carry much weight—I’ve met sexist men who call themselves “feminists.” But I do expect them to believe in gender equality, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
    Still, her comment got to me, and for a period of time, I was less outspoken about my beliefs, at least on first dates. It didn’t take me long to realize that holding these views back didn’t make dating any easier for me—in fact, it made it even more difficult. There are several reasons why I continue to talk about feminism on first dates.

    1. Gender equality should not be a radical idea. 
    I get that talking about politics, religion, or social justice issues on a first date could be perceived as intense. At the same time, gender equality should not be a radical idea. If I’m out with someone who is offended or discomforted by the idea that all genders are equal, that’s a red flag. 

    2. I don’t want to be several months in and find out that he harbors sexist views. 
    Speaking of red flags, I’d rather identify them early on than be several months into a relationship only to find out that my partner and I have opposing fundamental beliefs. Gender equality is not something minor to me. There are some things that I’m willing to agree to disagree about, and this is not one of them. The kinds of beliefs someone has about gender tells me a lot about their expectations for our relationship. During the time that I was avoiding talking about feminism on first dates, I still talked about politics and assumed that a guy I went out with was compatible with me because he was anti-racist and fairly left-wing. I only later found out that in addition to being mostly liberal, he’s also anti-abortion and is a strong proponent of traditional gender roles. Because I had already spent a bit of time getting to know him and I liked other things about him, I tried to make it work, but we argued on a regular basis, and I would never be the “good wife” he was truly looking for (and I didn’t want to be). If I’m dating a sexist man, I will find out eventually. Why wait until I’m already in deep? 

    3. I’m not scared of scaring someone away.
    We’ve heard it time and time again: don’t talk about religion or politics on the first date. But from my perspective, everything is political in some way. To avoid all political discussions is to have a pretty shallow conversation. I’m not dating to talk about the weather. I’m dating to truly get to know someone. During the time that I stopped talking about gender issues on first dates, I felt as if I was hiding part of myself. It’s not that my first dates are a two-hour long gender studies lecture; usually, gender issues come up organically because they’re connected to something else we’re talking about. If not, it’s natural for me to mention gender issues when someone asks about my passions or interests. Talking about feminist issues might scare some people away, but if I scare sexist guys away, I’m doing exactly what I want to do: filtering out people I’m not compatible with. 

    4. I want him to like me for who I am.
    When I had my first childhood crush, I actively tried to be the kind of girl I thought he would like. I was a proper chameleon, buying a jacket with his favorite football team’s logo on it, and adapting myself according to his interests. But I’ve lived and learned, and I’m not dating to stroke someone’s ego or to change myself until they finally accept me. I want to date someone who I truly like, and I want to date someone who truly likes me—not the idea of me or an altered, watered-down version of me. I once went out with a man who stopped me mid-sentence when I started talking about gender issues. “I don’t want to hear about this,” he said. “I want to hear about you.” Maybe he thought he was being romantic in a way, but he didn’t realize that they’re one in the same. I’m passionate about gender issues, and it’s part of who I am, not a separate entity. If a man doesn’t believe in gender equality, he’s not going to like me for who I am. It’s that simple. I now realize that the kind of man I want to date is one who is willing to engage in these conversations. 

    5. I can learn more about who this person truly is. 
    I don’t expect anyone to be perfect. I don’t expect a person I’m dating to know everything about gender issues (I don’t either, of course), or to fully understand something that he hasn’t experienced firsthand. But I do expect him to be open to listening. I do expect him to not be defensive. Talking about issues like this shows me how he reacts when faced with something uncomfortable or challenging. Is he just defensive when I’m simply having a discussion and not trying to argue, or does he want to know more? I once went out with a guy who said he didn’t believe some survivors of sexual assault because they reported it years after it happened. Extreme red flags aside, I tried to talk to him about why women might wait to come forward about sexual assault. As I was talking, he got up to add more sugar to his coffee and asked to change the subject once he returned. That told me exactly how he liked his version of reality: sugar-coated and easy to swallow. 

    6. I don’t want to tolerate sexist behavior anymore. 
    Gone are the days in which I would ignore casual and benevolent sexism because it “could be worse.” I’m willing to give second chances. People can change, especially if they didn’t recognize that the way they were thinking was sexist. But if he just doesn’t really care about sexism, thinks it’s not a big deal or says something along the lines of, “Well, that’s just the way things are,” I’m not here for that. Benevolent sexism is still sexism, and I don’t want it in my relationships. I want an equal partnership. Unfortunately, maybe that’s a lot to ask from a heterosexual relationship at this point in time. But I’m going to keep asking.  More

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    How I’m Learning to Live a More Authentic Life

    I love a romantic comedy. The predictability of the storyline and the inevitable happy ending sucks me in every time. I watch them on rainy days, I watch them on days when I have cramps, and I watch them on days when I’m feeling down. I’ve seen hundreds of romantic comedies, yet I’ve never seen one that is a true reflection of my authentic life. There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all. They have not written my story because my life doesn’t fit the typical mold. I’m a 37-year-old world-traveling free-spirit, living my most authentic life. My life wasn’t always this way, but today I can say that I love my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

    There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all.

    From a young age, I realized that I wasn’t your typical child. My interests were different from my friends, the way I wanted to dress was different from my sisters, and my Christmas lists for Santa were filled with non-traditional items. I remember one year I asked for a hot stone massager and essential oils—and this was the ‘90s, so the term “self-care” as we know it now wasn’t even invented yet.
    I struggled through high school because everyone was so excited to go to college. My friends wanted to be nurses and teachers and seemed like they had it all figured out at the age of 18. I didn’t want to go to college. I asked my mom if I could rent a van and travel the country (#vanlife) when I graduated instead of going to college, and she turned me down faster than the speed of light. 
    I was frustrated because I wasn’t given options to explore what I wanted and what was important to me. It didn’t’ feel like college was the right next step, and I wanted time to explore what felt right for my journey. I grew up in a small town, and the lifestyle that was available to me in my hometown was not the lifestyle that I wanted for myself. I had no idea how to mentally and physically get out, yet I was screaming on the inside for somebody to let me go. I was craving freedom and wanted permission to explore all the options that were available to me.
    Instead, I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me. I went to college and followed the rules, and if I look back on it now, college was a giant waste of time. Yes, I had fun, but that fun cost me $30,000 in student loans. 

    I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me.

    After I graduated from college, I was still trying to figure out how to lead a “normal” life. I got a 9-5 job, a one-bedroom apartment, and moved to Philadelphia to try my hand at adulting. I remember going shopping to get professional clothes (of which I had none). Everyone was so excited as I came out of the dressing room in different versions of dress pants, blouses, and black flats. I’ve never felt like crawling out of my skin more than I did on that day. 
    I believe that moving to Philadelphia (even though corporate life wasn’t for me) was the turning point in my life. Living in a big city on my own gave me the adult playground I craved for in highschool. In Philly,  I was able to encounter different cultures, lifestyles, foods, and careers that I wouldn’t have had access to in my hometown. I remember the first time I tasted Indian food. Wow! I fell instantly in love. The flavors and spices that I experienced that night were completely new to me. I was never exposed to Indian food growing and my mind was blown. If a simple dining experience could open up my mind in this way, I was excited to see what other new experiences were ahead of me. 
    It felt as if I was getting a second education, and this knowledge proved to be more beneficial to me than my geometry class ever was. Because I was able to interact with so many different people I felt confident to show who I truly was. Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth. I went from an unfulfilled, suit-wearing, meat-eating 22-year-old to a happy, thriving, afro-wearing, free-spirit 37-year-old! That transition didn’t happen overnight.  I knew what it felt like to live someone else’s life and I wasn’t willing to do it anymore, so I slowly began making changes that honored who I was. I wanted to celebrate what I loved about myself and stop hiding who I was from the rest of the world. It was time for me to step out as my full self, and I was ready to take that journey. 

    Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth.

    I spent 20+ years being someone I thought I was “supposed to be.” It wasn’t until I started paying attention and honoring who I truly was and what I needed that I began to lead my most authentic life.

    If you want to start living your life on your own terms, ask yourself these three questions:

    What do I love about myself?
    This was not a question that was posed to me growing up, so it wasn’t something I focused on until I was in my 20s. When you ask, “What do I love about myself?” you begin to unlock clues and truths that are meant to be seen. I discovered that I loved my creativity and that creativity was meant to be celebrated. As a child, I was always creating. I sang, danced, cooked, and came up with “science experiments” out of thin air. My thoughts bounce around and don’t necessarily follow a linear pattern. I think my creative mind frustrated the adults in my life, so I was never pushed to use it. Realizing that my creative mind pushed me to brainstorm and innovate allowed me to strengthen this muscle and has become one of my most valuable assets.
    Answer honestly. Let whatever answers come up to be the start of something new. Once you have your list, see if you can use that information to make some small changes. Did you realize that you love your funky fashion sense? Head out to the thrift stores and buy a few favorite items. Not everything on your list will change your life dramatically, but starting small can begin to build the confidence to continue living life on your own terms. Remember, the things you love about yourself may just be your most valuable asset too!

    What and how am I hiding?
    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro. Hiding who I was and what was important to me was a coping mechanism I created. In the ‘90s where I grew up, the kaftan version of me would have been too much for people to handle. It felt safer to hide that piece of me from the rest of the world instead of walking in my full truth. In hindsight, if I would have continued to stay hidden, I would have never allowed my creativity to help me build the successful business that I have today. That business has allowed me to help so many people, and I never would have gotten there if I continued to hide who I was. 

    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro.

    Are you hiding? Why? When you hide, who you are you limit yourself from experiencing your full life? You were created in your unique way, and the world needs to see you fully. Stop hiding and walk in your truth one step at a time. 
    In 2005, I decided that I wanted to do the big chop and begin to wear my hair completely natural. I gathered all of my courage and headed to the only Black salon in Philadelphia doing natural hair at the time and cut my shoulder-length hair down to one inch. When I walked out of that salon, it was undeniable that I looked fly. From that point on, I could no longer hide. 
    Discovering how and why you are hiding could require you to make some uncomfortable decisions. There is a reason why you have been hiding, and walking out as your full self may take some time. Be patient with yourself and take it slowly. Ask yourself, “Where do I feel safe as the real me?” Maybe spend some time there and see how it feels. It may just be five minutes, and that’s OK. Know that every day won’t feel like a party, but the work you are doing is important and necessary. 

    Where can I begin to walk in my truth?
    Living an authentic life takes time. It’s unlikely that you will be able to go from 0-100 in 24 hours (although if you do, I will be your biggest cheerleader), so find a place to start. The first unveiling of my truth came when I went cold turkey and became a vegetarian. I was no longer at home having to eat whatever was cooked for dinner. I could make my own choices, and vegetarianism made sense for me. Could I have quit my job, packed my car, cut my hair, and traveled the world? No. That wasn’t an option for me, so I started small. 
    You don’t have to make giant life-altering decisions to live your truth. Why not explore your love of writing by journaling for five minutes each day? There is much satisfaction from small changes that ultimately honor the real you. Take your time and discover the real you at your own pace; even one thing a week can lead to big changes! Every step forward unveils something new. Have fun and enjoy the process. 
    Living my most authentic life is non-negotiable. Our individuality is what makes us special, and we need to honor that uniqueness time and time again. Standing in your truth might be scary, but it’s what we are called here to do. Explore the freedom in being unapologetically you 365 days a year. Celebrate what you love about yourself, step into the light, and one step at a time, you will get closer and closer to living your most authentic life. More

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    4 Lessons I Learned From Grief—and How They’ve Changed My Life

    As a child, I remember my friends going over to their grandparents’ homes for the weekend and coming home with mountains of homemade cookies and hand-knit sweaters. Me? I came home from my Grammy’s house smelling of patchouli and incense. I would hop back in the car from East Texas back to Dallas arm-in-arm with a pile of new books from the thrift store, a head chock full of Beatles songs, and lots of stories to chat about on the two-hour drive home.From what you can probably gather, my Grammy wasn’t the typical grandparent that you may have grown up with. She was a nurse dedicated to each and every patient that saw her, an activist for everyone who walked past her, an animal rehabber who took care of everything from chinchillas to possums, and a hippie at heart. When she died in 2017, I was wrecked—and so was everyone else. It wasn’t until I began to deal with my grief in a productive way that I realized something: the people we love leave us with lessons in the smallest, most magical of places—it’s just up to us to find them. 

    1. Life’s too short for boring
    I’ve always been a monochrome girl. I love a nice gray sweater, a fantastic pair of black jeans, and dainty gold jewelry. My room has always been decorated in neutrals (with the exception of an unfortunate satin purple bedspread in the 4th grade), and I’ve always been happy with it. My Grammy, on the other hand? Everything has always, always been an explosion of color. From the tie-dyed peace sign bumper stickers on her red Nissan Cube to the bright shirts and scrubs she wore on the daily to the card she carried as a member of the Red Hat Society, she was a huge proponent of rainbows and color bursts in any and every situation. 
    When she died, I wanted to honor her in little, everyday ways. For me, this looked like adding a rainbow quilt to my bed and a bright-colored tassel to my keys. More importantly, it was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load. By finding tangible, small ways to remember the person you lost, the grieving process might just shorten itself.
    My challenge to you: Add a little color to your bedroom with a bright pillow, swipe on some red lipstick, or pick up the bright blue socks from Target instead of the plain white ones.

    It was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load.

    2. Spread some love in your loved one’s honor
    As a (sometimes) vegetarian, an animal rehabber, and a seriously political woman, my Grammy did her absolute best to teach my sister, my cousin, and I about how lucky we were to have an Earth that supported us like it did. She also taught us how lucky we were to have animals that roamed the Earth and snuggled up next to us, and she was recycling everything in sight and carrying reusable bags way before it was the cool thing to do. She spent every extra second of her life volunteering somewhere, in some capacity, and I never once heard her complain. From picking up extra shifts as a hospice nurse on top of her normal ER hours and waking up at all hours of the night to bottle-feed injured possums, she never, ever put herself first. 
    In the years that have passed, I’ve become acutely aware of the holes in my community and the world that I could be helping with. Many of us probably understand the dichotomy that often occurs when we lose someone close to us—that balance between honoring someone while remembering they weren’t perfect people—that can add a confusing element to an already confusing time. While I’m sure my Grammy had qualities that were certainly not great, choosing to embrace her love for the world has helped me become a better person in every way. Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.
    My challenge to you: Set up a recurring monthly donation to a political candidate that inspires you, go pet the puppies living in cages at your local animal shelter, and rinse the shampoo out of your bottle so you can recycle it, damn it!

    Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.

    3. People make all the difference
    After my Grammy died, we had the intensely un-fun job at our hands to go through her things. I found myself near her bookshelves—the exact ceiling-to-floor shelves that had captivated me as a child—picking through the thousands of novels and self-help books that filled out. On the bottom shelf, I found a collection of all of her old high school yearbooks. They were coated in a thin layer of dust, and it was obvious that she hadn’t touched them in a while. I cracked them open, and the inside front and back covers were simply covered with long, handwritten notes about how grateful they were to have met a sweet spirit like her. As a high school teacher myself, I understand how rare it is for any high schoolers to write much more than “have a good summer” in anyone’s yearbook. 
    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel. In a world rife with turmoil and heavy with reminders that life can change on a dime, it’s our job to build meaningful relationships and love as well as we can. After all, not a single day is guaranteed.
    My challenge to you: Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, write a thank-you note to a teacher who made an impact on you, or make a point to have a true conversation with someone you love.

    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel.

    4. Never, ever stop searching for more
    My Grammy was always looking for something. I spent 23 years as her granddaughter before she died, and in that time I saw her explore transcendental meditation, dabble in Buddhist and Hindu prayers, twist herself into yoga positions, burn incense, and convert to Judaism from Methodism. She was on a constant quest for self-improvement, an understanding of the beyond, and a spiritual view of the world. While her method was unorthodox, it also reminds me of how important it is to never stop looking. While religion might be an extreme example, it’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 
    Losing someone is a difficult mountain to climb, and it often opens up questions that weren’t there before. However, taking that heartbreak and sadness and making it into a learning experience? I feel like there’s nothing that could honor those we love any better than that. We’re only on this earth for a short while, and making the most of every single second is the only good way to do it.
    My challenge to you: Go to therapy, download an app and dabble in meditation, or crack open a new self-help book that challenges you.

    It’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 

    Perhaps the most vivid memory from the week my Grammy died is getting the call that she had passed away and thinking to myself that it was my job to hold everyone else together. We’re a family of close-knit, like-minded women, and my mom lost her mother that day. The way I saw it, I couldn’t let myself cry or be overcome with grief. If I did, I was letting everyone else down and giving us permission to unravel from the inside out. I held my sister’s hand at the funeral and spoke to everyone gathered without a single shake in my voice, and I never, ever let anybody see me cry. 
    In hindsight, all that stoicism did was turn me away from every single lesson my Grammy had ever taught me. Feelings are there for a reason, and the people we love leaving us is staggeringly painful. Instead of sinking into ourselves, we’re all meant to rise up by loving people deeply, constantly bettering ourselves, sending love out in every direction, and doing it dressed in colorful clothes. After all, what’s left without color, light, love, and emotion? Nothing but darkness. When the people we love leave us with good, we have to carry it on. More

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    Why Losing Weight Didn’t Make Me Love Myself More (And What Actually Did)

    Every woman has a different story about the relationship she has with her body. Many of these “body stories” are dramas full of ups and downs that could rival Game of Thrones, while others are more like a happy rom-com. But most often, our body stories are individualized, private, and can stop us from feeling true self-love and acceptance. As a health coach, I’ve had the privilege to learn about and help heal other women’s stories. While every woman’s body story is vastly different, here’s mine:I was one of the lucky ones. My mother never commented on my weight or the way I looked. She called me kind, smart, and talented, and never once referred to the size of my body. I grew up with the mentality that who I was defined me, not what I looked like. However, even my mother’s values and limitless support couldn’t totally protect me from how the rest of the world told women they were supposed to be.
    Body insecurities are normalized to the point that we bond with other women over poor relationships with food and putting ourselves down. I still try to channel Cady Heron in the Mean Girls scene where the only thing she could think of that she didn’t like about herself was bad breath in the morning, after the other Plastics picked apart their appearances (#selflovegoals). But the truth is that along with the strong, beautiful, funny, talented, smart women I’ve been friends with, I thought more like Regina George or Gretchen Wieners when looking at my reflection. 

    Each woman’s insecurities look a lot different. For me, my insecurities looked like the occasional, I wish this body part different, or I wish I looked like her, or Sure, I could probably afford to lose a few pounds. I’ve always called myself confident, but I was more confident in my personality than in my body. Bathing suits always made me a little self-conscious, and I was painfully aware of the pounds I gained from cafeteria food and slapping the bag at frat parties my freshman year of college (full disclosure: my freshman 15 was not just 15 pounds, and it lasted much longer than freshman year). 

    I’ve always called myself confident, but I was more confident in my personality than in my body.

    I spent my early 20s eating all the late-night pizzas I wanted and going to daily spin or Orange Theory classes, thinking it would counteract the over-indulgences (it didn’t). I attempted diets here and there, but enjoyed sushi takeout and Taco Bell too much to make any dramatic changes for the goal of weight loss. Instead, I felt a constant underlying pressure to eat better before every formal or felt guilty for “over-indulging,” whether it was dessert at the cafeteria or drinking too many glasses of Two-Buck Chuck.  

    Source: @josie.santi

    The year after I graduated from college, I moved home and started my career. I went to bed early to wake up with enough time to exercise before work, ate dinner with my parents instead of ordering takeout or going out with friends, and my weekend mornings looked like an omelet and coffee at home instead of my usual french toast and mimosa brunch. My clothes started fitting more loosely, and people started telling me I had lost weight. I like to say that I “accidentally” changed because I wasn’t even aware that anything looked different.
    If I had lost weight, shouldn’t I feel better about myself? I thought I shouldn’t have any more food guilt, and I should be happier about my appearance. It’s what I had thought for so long as the missing piece I never had the willpower to achieve, and yet, I didn’t feel any better. Flash forward a few years, and I’m more confident than I have ever been (while being a few–or 10–pounds heavier than that first year out of college). Here’s why I learned weight loss isn’t a prescription for self-love, and what made me love myself instead. 

    There’s always going to be another five pounds
    When I did lose weight, it was not the immediate sense of gratification I had expected it would be. I felt the same amount of self-consciousness, whether it was thinking I still looked bloated, noticing cellulite, or finding a new imperfection. We often think that as long as we hit a certain weight or pants size, then we’ll be happy. But more often than not, this isn’t true. Even if we get a six-pack, we would focus on the size of our thighs, or maybe start hating the bags under our eyes. There’s always going to be another imperfection when weight loss is the ultimate goal.

    There’s always going to be another imperfection when weight loss is the ultimate goal.

    Self-love is a skill, not a circumstance
    I always thought that once I had the perfect body (LOL as if that exists), all my problems would go away. Since I grew up from the 20-year-old girl tracking her calories on MyFitnessPal and light-heartedly laughing with friends about how weak our willpower is when it comes to cheese boards on wine night, I learned that a number on the scale is never the problem. The problem is that we don’t feel like we’re good enough, and that doesn’t change, even if the number on the scale does.
    Just like happiness, confidence is a skill, not a circumstance. It doesn’t come when you achieve a certain weight or pants size, because it’s something that has to be consistently worked, like any muscle. Thinking that you’ll feel more self-love when you lose a certain amount of weight is distracting you from the real problem of not feeling good enough as you are. Practice and prioritize self-love first in order to achieve a body you feel good in, not the other way around. 

    Practice and prioritize self-love first in order to achieve a body you feel good in, not the other way around. 

    Source: @josie.santi

    Everyone feels better in different body types
    While our culture trains us from an early age to believe there’s only one type of “attractiveness” we are supposed to strive for, this just isn’t true. It’s marketing, not biology. In reality, every woman does (and should) feel like her best, sexiest self in a variety of different body types. When I did lose those extra “college” pounds, I remember telling my therapist that I should feel better about myself, but something about the weight loss made me feel less feminine and confident.
    Yes, I desperately missed those same curves that I had wanted to get rid of for years. The point is that we all have different body types for a reason. Every woman’s “ideal” body should be totally different than anyone else’s. We’re often so distracted by achieving what society has told us is “perfection” that we don’t stop to think about what would actually make us feel our very best.

    Every woman’s ‘ideal’ body should be totally different than anyone else’s. We’re often so distracted by achieving what society has told us is ‘perfection’ that we don’t stop to think about what would actually make us feel our very best.

    “Weight loss” is not a sustainable way to live
    Although dieters might feel a sense of satisfaction in seeing the numbers on a scale go down, each pound lost likely requires sacrifice and suppressing cravings. The focus is on less, less, and less. Food becomes an enemy and a stressor, not something to nourish us. Restricting food, resisting cravings, and making life changes (like avoiding social settings that center around food, for example) takes a toll on mental and physical health. Yes, I lost weight, but I also dealt with a lot of anxiety that left me with less appetite, and I focused on my career much more than I focused on enjoying time with family and friends. Weight loss didn’t make my life better; it only happened because I wasn’t living my best life.
    Even though weight loss was the aftermath and not the cause, it was the one time I was “successful” at losing weight, and it did not make me any happier. I realized that nothing is worth the price tag of enjoying my life for the messy, happy series of moments it is. Those extra inches on the waistline is where life happens. It’s the extra glass of rosé on a summer rooftop, or a slice of your favorite chocolate cake when you go home to visit your mom. I realized that constantly hoping to lose weight demoted these moments to be worth nothing more than a pants size or number on a scale.

    Source: Felicia Lasala for The Everygirl

    …and 5 Things That Did Make Me Love Myself More

    I changed my goal to be healthy, not skinny
    I used to think of nutrition through the lens of calories, carbs, fats, and proteins. I obviously knew food was necessary for survival, but I also understood and saw food through labels like “good” and “bad,” or “healthy” versus “unhealthy,” because it was all about how it would make my body look. My entire outlook changed when I learned about using plants as medicine and how to eat to change how I feel. Now, my goal is to be healthy for optimal energy, to live a long life, to be my most vibrant self, and to feel happy. When I started eating to be healthy instead of skinny, I started loving my body for what it could do, instead of what it looked like.

    When I started eating to be healthy instead of skinny, I started loving my body for what it could do, instead of what it looked like.

    I focused on strength, not weight
    No, the transformation was not all mental. As much as I believe in screwing the man (in this case, damaging diet culture and societal pressure on women), and as much as I wish this is 100 percent about internal mindset, the truth is that’s just 90 percent of it. The other 10 percent of achieving self-love came from how I felt physically in my body. I’ve always loved exercising and knew I felt better overall when I was consistently moving, but I would also work out for calorie burn. I loved classes that tracked how many calories I burned, as if that’s what made a tough workout worth it.
    When my self-love changed, so did my workouts. I learned there are thousands of reasons to work out, but weight loss isn’t one of them. Now, I work out to make my muscles stronger and to feel more powerful in my physical self. I started eating to get more energy and as fuel for workouts. I became addicted to feeling powerful and strong, rather than hoping to feel smaller. 

    Source: @josie.santi

    Actually prioritizing self-love
    This one sounds like a no-brainer (you felt self-love by prioritizing self-love? Revolutionary!). But surprisingly, so often when we are hell-bent on losing weight, we’re promoting weight loss over self-love, thinking that the two don’t conflict. Instead of restrictive eating, calorie counting, and labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” prioritize self-love by being compassionate to what your body wants. Eat intuitively, not restrictively. Prioritizing self-love means you choose to leave behind whatever is unhealthy for you, whether it’s relationships, jobs, or your own beliefs and habits that aren’t letting you be happy.

    Prioritizing self-love means you choose to leave behind whatever is unhealthy for you, whether it’s relationships, jobs, or your own beliefs and habits that aren’t letting you be happy.

    Knowing that the way I looked was not an accomplishment
    I’ve always been a big self-improvement girl: self-help books are my guilty pleasure, and my daily affirmation is always about showing up as my highest self. But perhaps the greatest shift in my self-love came when I stopped associating being a better version of myself with having a better body. Now, when I feel insecurity come up (because it still does, I swear!), I remind myself that my best self has nothing to do with a breakout, a patch of cellulite, or gaining a few pounds.
    When I notice myself looking in the mirror and thinking something negative, it’s a sign that I’ve been too focused on myself. My fix? Call up a friend to see how they are, donate to an organization, or tell my boyfriend what I love about him (you’re welcome for my selflessness, boyfriend). Not only does it help me to get outside myself, but it reminds me that I do like the kind, compassionate person I am. Now that’s a real accomplishment. 

    Source: @josie.santi

    Focusing on what makes me “big”
    I think everything clicked for me when I realized I was constantly trying to shrink myself, rather than feeling justified for the space I take up in this world. Instead, I want to love what’s big: in body, in personality, in love, in altruism, in voice, in confidence, in aspirations. In the end, weight loss is not the secret to success, a relationship, or happiness; it’s an endless goal that keeps us from achieving everything we want in life because we don’t think we deserve it yet.
    I had been so focused on being smaller for so long that I forgot to love what’s big in me. Now, I consistently remind myself to love everything from my loud laugh to my lofty goals. My advice to you, dear readers, is to love your bigness so much, the world can no longer point at you and call you small.  More

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    8 Outdated Rules for Healthy Eating That We’re Ditching

    We grow up learning a lot of food rules that we believe as fact. Maybe you’ve experienced some form of self-prescribed dieting, or you depended on rules to make healthy decisions (I know I certainly have). You try your best to eat healthy because you know you’re supposed to. But imagine a different approach to healthy eating, one that isn’t focused on numbers, news, or the latest diet trend. Instead, imagine knowing your body so well you know what it needs and feel guilt-free eating what it wants. The truth is that a lot of those food rules we have always believed as fact are stopping us from achieving true health and food freedom. Here are eight of them that we’re completely getting rid of (and three that we’re living by instead). 

    Source: Social Squares

    1. Some foods are “good” and some foods are “bad”
    Every food is predefined into labels of “good” and “bad” by our culture. We grow up understanding that a stalk of celery is a “good” food, a slice of pizza is a “bad” food, and there is always an “evil” nutrient we turn into a public enemy (like carbs, saturated fats, or sugar). However, when we put a moral value on foods, what’s meant to nourish us becomes associated with guilt. Of course, some foods have more nutritional value than others. A plate of spinach will provide your body with more nutrients than a Twinkie, but you’re not “bad” when you do want to eat a Twinkie. Rid yourself of food guilt and listen to your body to decide what you need (not what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat). 

    2. You should eat everything on your plate
    As children, many of us were praised for joining the clean plate club and guilted if we didn’t. We had to sit at the table until we finished eating, or we were told wasting food was wrong. As well-intentioned as our parents may have been, this mentality sticks with us as adults. We base serving sizes off of what’s in front of us, instead of what our bodies need. Rather than eating a portion that someone else recommends (whether it’s your mom, a restaurant, or the recommendations on the box), eat until you’re satisfied. Newsflash: we’re not supposed to eat until we’re full, and certainly not until we’re “stuffed” (Thanksgiving dinner is the exception, of course). Eat slowly and mindfully, so you’re aware when you’re no longer enjoying your food and just eating out of habit because it’s in front of you. 

    Source: Social Squares

    3. Avoid fruits and white potatoes (they have too many carbs)
    “Carb” is not a dirty word; it’s actually an important nutrient that the body needs for many crucial functions like energy. Even carbohydrates like potatoes and fruit are loaded with essential nutrients that will help the body to thrive. White potatoes (yes, the kind found in hash browns) are full of vitamin C, fiber, and contain more potassium than a banana. Fruits are one of the most plentiful sources of vitamins and minerals, and offer a wide range of health-boosting antioxidants. Bottom line: you should never be afraid of or avoid any whole foods from the earth. That’s what we’re meant to eat, and our bodies will respond accordingly. 

    4. Read the nutrition labels on everything you eat
    You should absolutely be informed about everything you eat. I do believe everyone should know how to read a nutrition label (and if you don’t, HMU). We shouldn’t be tricked into believing a bowl of a certain cereal is a nutritious breakfast when it has more grams of sugar and artificial ingredients than a candy bar, so that part I stand by. However, the outdated food rule I’m thinking of actually comes from Mean Girls. Regina George asks the other Plastics what percentage fat is from the calories of a food she’s thinking of eating. Even though the line, “whatever, I’m getting cheese fries,” is iconic, this is when we should stop reading nutrition labels.
    If you’re going to indulge, enjoy it without having to see how many calories or grams of fat it will cost. This just leads to more food guilt and an inability to be intuitive. Rather than reading every nutrition label to eat healthier, we should be aiming to eat more foods without a nutrition label at all. Stop worrying about the numbers, and start focusing on nutrients (but more on that below!). 

    Source: @kayla_seah

    5. You shouldn’t eat dessert every day
    Life is short, so let them eat cake! (Yes, I did just combine two well-known sayings that make perfect sense together, thank you very much.) A lot of us have a sweet tooth, or for others, eating something sweet signals that the meal is over. And guess what: both are OK. If you crave dessert but don’t let yourself eat it, or if you eat it and then feel endlessly guilty afterward, this will only lead to bingeing and a bad relationship with food. If you want dessert, eat it (yes, even if that means every single day). The trick is to find things that satisfy your sweet tooth while also giving your body added benefits and better nutrients. Try nut butter and apple slices, dark chocolate, or meal-prep one of these delicious plant-based desserts for the week. 

    6. Have five small meals a day instead of three larger meals (or that you have to have three meals a day)
    I first heard the advice to eat five small meals throughout the day when I was in high school. The suggestion came from a good place; you definitely shouldn’t wait to eat until you’re so hungry you feel weak (or worse, hangry). But thinking that multiple small meals a day would be better for me than three larger ones, I wouldn’t let myself eat as much as I wanted or wouldn’t feel hungry for my next meal if I did eat a “bigger” snack (AKA a small meal). My body was constantly confused and never really satisfied. Since then, I’ve learned that three meals work perfectly for me. I never feel the need to snack, and instead just eat enough filling, fiber-rich foods so I’m satisfied until the next meal. 
    My point is not that you should eat three meals a day. Many people don’t like to eat breakfast and prefer two meals a day. Other people feel best when they’re snacking throughout the day, and some people are more energized when eating five smaller meals. Instead of promoting one over the other, my point is that you should eat when you’re hungry. Find the amount, time, and method of eating that works best for your body and lifestyle. 

    Source: @sivanayla

    7. You should resist cravings
    I always recommend intuitive eating and listening to your body, but a lot of people will tell me that if they “listened to their body,” they would only eat boxed mac n’ cheese, pizza, Doritos, and cookies all day. Even if that’s what you think your body wants to eat, you’re listening to the ingrained food rules that have taught you certain foods are “off-limits” and, therefore, more attractive (it’s true for bad boys, and it’s true for food). But when you forget the aforementioned food rules and stop thinking cravings are the enemy, the truth is that you’ll crave a combo of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and yes, some “less nutritious” food here and there, which–believe it or not–is absolutely OK. 
    Your body is incredibly smart (I promise). Cravings are how your body is communicating with you that it needs something, not an attempt to sabotage your health goals. Whatever you’re craving, get creative and DIY an option that will be more nutritious and make your body feel better. Feeding cravings actually helps give more clarity to what our bodies need—because if we don’t feed them, they’ll only get stronger. 

    8. We need experts to tell us how to eat
    If you feel overwhelmed by which diet to try or which expert to listen to, that’s not on accident. In order to sell you on limitless products and programs, you have to feel like your health is not in your control. The truth is that bodies are not one-size-fits-all, and therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. Every body is different, with individualized nutritional requirements. Just like we all have different personality traits, we all have different food needs. What works for one person (even if they are an “expert”) may not work for you. Get curious about nutrition, educate yourself on how to eat the best nourishment, and talk to your doctor about what diet and lifestyle is best for you, but listen to your body more than you listen to outside advice.

    1. Count nutrients, not calories
    When we count calories, we approach eating from a place of lack and deprivation. But when we’re aware of the nutrients that foods have and what those nutrients do for our bodies (give us energy, boost skin glow, reduce inflammation, etc.), we come from a place of abundance and nourishment. Focusing on eating more plants and whole foods filled with nutrients can also subconsciously crowd out processed and sugary foods (totally guilt-free). Think of adding more foods into your diet (like adding leafy greens to two meals a day or eating berries with breakfast), rather than subtracting foods (like no dairy, no processed foods, etc.). 

    Source: @loveandlemons

    2. Eat your colors
    My entire wardrobe may only consist of neutrals, but when it comes to what’s on my plate, I like to load up on every color of the rainbow. The colors of plants come from the different phytochemical antioxidants they contain. Eating fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of colors ensures we’re getting a wider variety of antioxidants. If your meal is looking as monochrome as your stay-at-home #OOTD, add a little color with fruits and vegetables. For example, if you’re having pasta, throw in some cherry tomatoes (red) and kale (green). If your salad is just a lot of leafy greens and avocado, good for you for getting in your veggies, but consider adding in some sweet potato and purple cabbage for a wider variety of nutrients. 

    3. Make mealtime sacred
    Many of us think we’re supposed to eat purely for health and are cursed by the pleasure aspect that comes with food (lust and gluttony, after all, are two of the seven deadly sins, and things I feel regularly when a truffle mac ‘n’ cheese is in front of me). “On-the-go” is a popular recipe trend, and a rise in fast food over the past 50 years is no coincidence: we want to eat as quickly as possible. But the truth is that we don’t just eat to survive. We eat for enjoyment, for social connection, for meaningful ritual, and these days, we often eat because we need a break (Find yourself stress snacking during work? Your body might be telling you to take a break).
    I get it: sometimes busy mornings call for tossing back a smoothie, or you need to take your lunch on-the-go. But whenever you can, make your mealtime sacred. Turn off the TV, close the laptop (yes, that means taking a real lunch break), and actually enjoy the food you get to eat. Use mealtime as a mindfulness practice, a way to reconnect with loved ones, and a much-needed break.  More

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    My Honest Thoughts About Dating as a Plus-Size Woman

    When I was 5 years old, I was in love with my next door neighbor, David. (David isn’t reading this, but his sister, Dana, might be. Hi!) He was charming and funny, older than me, smart, close in proximity, had blonde hair, and his mom always let me stay for dinner. The whole package really. I want to say he liked me back—I mean, he kissed me, and I feel like that means like-like, right?—but if anyone was around, he’d never show it. When we’d play a game of Capture the Flag and it was just us two behind the shed, he’d be nice and funny and sweet to me. But the second anyone came around, he called me ugly and fat and made jokes about me. He was only 6 years old at the time, and I’ve forgiven him for all those times I ran home crying after feeling rejected by him, but I have to wonder if even then, he felt embarrassed to admit he liked a fat girl. And this is how most of my relationships have gone over the years. For a long time, I thought I just had horrible taste in men. To be fair, I kind of do (I’m not kidding when I say my dream man is Pete Davidson, and I know that requires a little bit of self-reflection). But after I read One to Watch, a women’s fiction-romance novel exploring plus-size dating, I began to notice that the patterns might have a little more to do with the men than my interest in them. (It’s also important to note that I’ve never experienced this with women before, but I’ve only been on a few dates with girls in my day, so this could be across genders and sexualities. I’m just speaking on my personal experience.) 
    I wanted to believe that being plus-size wasn’t affecting how men were seeing me. Yeah, there are some jerks out there who fetishize larger bodies or who want to try their personal trainer certification on me, but overall, men couldn’t be that affected by my body weighing more than average, right? After doing a deep-dive on my dating history, I think I’ve concluded that the answer here is no and that actually, being plus-size has played a major role in my love life, even after I started loving myself for who I was.
    Since my very first date at 17, I’ve struggled to meet someone who completely accepts me—rolls, flab, fat, and all. Dating is uncomfortable and stormy regardless of your body type, but I’ve noticed a few common themes in my relationships that seem to correlate with being a plus-size woman. 

    People are embarrassed to admit they’re interested in a plus-size person.
    For whatever reason, I’ve experienced a lot of men who are absolutely embarrassed of me. To the point that when I dated a guy a few years ago who kissed me in public, I put up with all of his other abusive tactics because I was so excited to finally meet someone who didn’t deem public appearances with me as a major hit to their ego. 
    First, they’re embarrassed to even admit to themselves that they find me attractive. Is this speculation? Perhaps. But there’s a reason guys are more likely to talk to me when they’re under the influence or behind the guise of a dating app than IRL. A quick search on a porn site (I did the work, y’all) and you’ll see that porn involving plus-size women gets just as many views as porn with thin women, but I’ve never met a guy who would admit that plus-size women is even something they’re attracted to. There’s a stigma around finding a plus-size woman attractive; men have been conditioned by media and society for generations that thinness is what’s beautiful based on what they see, read, and hear, so they might be othered or uncomfortable admitting that their interest deviates from the norm. For sure, being interested in plus-size women is a preference, and I don’t think you’re automatically fatphobic if that’s not what you’re into, but there’s a real societal pressure at play that keeps plus-size women thinking they’re not worthy all the while men are watching us have sex online with no abandon.
    I explored dating men significantly older than me for a long time because I craved the maturity. Young men I find often don’t have the clear sense of self required to differentiate between what they actually feel and what they think they’re supposed to. And while I think this makes a small difference, there’s still something to be said about the power of masculinity and media portrayals because older men often have outdated views of health and beauty standards. Yep, I’m talking a message once that said, “You’re hot, but you’re unhealthy and will probably get diabetes.” I’m actually plenty healthy, but OK 🙂

    My partners treat our relationship like a secret.
    I’ve also found that partners and dates have been embarrassed to be seen with me too. So, they finally allow themselves to take a chance and date someone fat: congrats, here’s your cookie for going against the grain. But they want every meeting in private. They don’t tell their friends I exist, they don’t take me on public dates (I’ve experienced way too many “Netflix and Chill”s for my liking), they strategically move away from me when we’re at bars together. It’s as if being seen with a fat person ruins their reputation and makes them less of a “man.” And just in the same way that women look to height as a security blanket in men, I think seeking women of a certain body type makes them feel inferior and insecure, like they’re not masculine enough if their partner is bigger than them. 
    The first boy who showed interest in me kept our relationship extremely private, ultimately lying to everyone that he’d ever been interested or attracted to me. Our relationship was kept a secret, complete with Snapchat messages that deleted automatically, a short-lived hookup, and me feeling like absolute garbage when he announced he had a girlfriend the same day I delivered handmade Valentine’s gifts to his locker (I will never get over the sheer embarrassment and shame of this one). This all goes back to being embarrassed of me, as if I’m the impulse purchase you took for a spin with joy one day and completely regretted the next. They seem to think there’s a lenient return policy on having feelings for me.

    People festishize my body. 
    So, you see I’ve had my issues meeting guys in real life and on “normal” dating apps like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge. Then, I tried all the plus-size dating apps. And that was basically a recipe for disaster. The ideas are incredible in theory; a whole community of people who are happy and excited to date a plus-size person. But they were all rife with people who viewed my extra body fat as a kink. 

    …you just KNOW there are gonna be weirdo fetishists on here. Which is why….I almost wish that plus size girls could just *use* normal dating apps freely like everyone else, rather than being treated like a specific ‘kink,’ as it were.
    — Olivia🧜‍♀️ BLACK LIVES MATTER (@myladyteazle) August 14, 2020

    I’ve gotten everything from “I’ve never been with a big girl before, and I really want to try it” (hello, my body isn’t something you can just add to your bucket list, sir) to “Can I use your stomach as a pillow?” to explicit descriptions of how absolutely hot and sexy my rolls are. The worst part is that when I first started dating, I looked at these as compliments. I was so excited that someone was into me that I never allowed myself to feel the discomfort. Plus-size women are made to feel like they’re lucky to have someone be interested in them, so we overlook potential red flags out of fear of rejection. Well, newsflash: I am really f*cking over that. 
    I’m not making plus-size dating seem very fun, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot of trauma and grief to work through over past relationships in relation to my body image. I wish I could end this saying I won’t have this any longer and I’ll only go out with guys who treat me like a princess (heck, just treat me like a regular person, and I’m yours), but it’s not so simple. It’s much more realistic for me to say that I’ll put off dating until I feel confident enough in myself to not allow myself to be treated like this. This is only my experience, and part of being confident and strong is knowing that there are mature, adult people out there who won’t treat me like this one day. I just really wish they’d come a little quicker because I’m getting Carpal Tunnel in my hands from swiping. More