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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

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    7 Ways to Practice Self-Care During Tough Times, According to Experts

    #Selfcare is trending on social media, and yet, putting that trend into practice is not as easy as posting a picture on Instagram. Our health can easily become last priority when greater things feel more urgent. It might even feel selfish to do a face mask and turn off the news when the world is changing and our communities need us. In fact, Rachel Ricketts, an international thought leader, speaker, healer, and author, uses a totally different term. She said, “I prefer to refer to soul-care, which is the act of caring for ourselves in a soulful, nourishing, healing way, so that we can best show up for the collective. It is an act of communal care, which is the opposite of selfish.” In other words, forget about bubble baths and candles (although those things are still enjoyable!). Really caring for yourself means recharging your energy and prioritizing mental health for not only yourself, but for the betterment of the community.
    Ricketts explained, “The difference is most notably in the intention: am I partaking in an act or behavior solely to serve myself, or am I doing so to serve the community (which of course includes, but is not simply about, you)? Soul-care focuses on those most oppressed and how we can best heal our own hearts, and get to work creating change to dismantle the systems of oppression causing harm.” Whether you call it soul-care or self-care, think of it the same way: prioritize taking care of yourself so that you’re able to fully take care of others. 

    Why is caring for ourselves so important when overcoming social injustice?
    “Unless and until we have faced our own inner shadows, wounded inner child, and race-based traumas, we cannot create effective or sustainable collective change that prioritizes those most oppressed (and when we try to do so, we wind up causing more, not less, harm),” Ricketts said. “Racial justice work is healing work, and the healing work starts with you and it starts within. It is from this space that we create and cultivate critical collective change.”
    Jasmine Marie, founder of black girls breathing who just launched a campaign to make virtual breathwork sessions free for Black womxn, agreed. “I think even for those of us who’ve been immersed in this work beyond just this year, you can feel the shift,” she said. “It’s impossible to keep doing this work without taking care of yourself. I’ve had to relearn what my body, mind, and spirit needs during this time, versus what I needed before. There’s lots of unlearning and learning, so self-care is a must.”
    You know the old saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so why do we continue to try? Aside from sharing resources, educating yourself, and doing what you can to make changes in your community (go vote!), prioritizing mental health and protecting your energy is essential for making lasting changes in the world. Here are seven ways we can all care for ourselves during a time when it may feel selfish to do so.

    7 ways to practice self-care right now:

    1. Set boundaries
    On a daily basis, Ricketts recommended to, “Acknowledge your privilege, set boundaries, and learn to say no.” Setting boundaries is essential to a healthy life, but it’s a skill that many of us never learn. Sticking to specific limits can help boost self-esteem, force you to routinely check in with your needs, and serve as a reminder to put yourself first. Marie agrees that setting boundaries is crucial. “Create boundaries with how much news you allow into your world on the daily,” she recommended. “Log off. Go on social media breaks. Tune inward and ask yourself what you need.”
    Since emotional boundaries are not as obvious as physical limits like road signs or fences (though wouldn’t that be nice?), they can be hard to enforce. Start by considering what you can tolerate, and then what feels draining or overwhelming in order to set limits. Acting on boundaries might look like turning off the news and taking a social media break two hours before bedtime, or it might look like saying no when a family member asks you for a favor that you know will make too stressed. It also looks like taking responsibility for your own emotions, but not taking responsibility for the emotions of other people. No matter what boundaries look like to you, you’ll be conserving emotional energy for much more important things. 

    2. Move 
    Working out for calorie burn is so last year (or like, last decade?). Instead, work out for mental health, and move for the sake of caring for yourself. Exercise, in general, can boost your mental health and help ease stress, so fit in some kind of movement every day that you look forward to, whether it’s a dancing around your living room or going on a hike. For self-care bonus points, try calming activities that focus on relaxing the mind and slowing the breath, like restorative yoga. Ricketts loves yoga with Dionne Elizabeth and Marie counts long walks as one of her go-to self-care practices. 

    3. Meditate
    There’s a reason that meditation is one of the most talked-about practices in the wellness world—this sh*t is powerful. Meditation is effective for self-care because it takes our focus off of the world around us, and puts it back on ourselves. Taking a breath (literally) re-energizes you so you can bring your best self to everything you do, whether it’s tackling your work day, chasing after kids, or fighting social injustice. Ricketts recommends breathwork sessions with Maryam Ajayi, or you can check out black girl breathing for virtual classes. And if sitting still isn’t your thing? Try one of these ways to meditate that involve movement, instead. 

    4. Rest (no, not just sleeping)
    “Burnout is an epidemic for everyone, but no one more than Black and Indigenous women and femmes (especially queer and trans women and femmes). Learning how to rest is imperative for our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being,” Ricketts said. “Rest is more than sleep. Rest includes time offline, a break from feeling like we need to do it all or be helpful, turning phones off, prioritizing our peace, sitting in silence, spending time with people who nourish us (and avoiding those who do not), and doing absolutely nothing.”
    Think of yourself like the battery pack on an iPhone. If you just recharge for only small spurts at a time, your battery will always stay in red. In order to get all the way to full-charge, you must regularly turn the iPhone off and give it some time plugged in. Getting six hours of sleep and watching TV while scrolling through Instagram for 30 minutes a day does not count as restoration. Turn off technology, do something enjoyable and creative (like reading or painting), invite your best friend over, and give yourself permission to do less. 

    5. Check in with yourself frequently 
    Taking good care of yourself doesn’t have to mean long digital detoxes, consistent yoga flows, or never saying “yes” when you mean “no” (even though those are all good goals). Self-care can sometimes be as simple as feeling intuitive to your individual needs, and checking in with what you really want.
    We often look for outside validation for just about anything (does anyone else need to know what everyone is ordering before making a decision on which entree they want?). Instead, ask yourself what do I really want, and how do I really feel, so often that it becomes habit. Marie recommended, “Check in with how you feel. Validate internally before seeking external advice on your specific and particular experience. This practice is life-changing and will help you show up in all areas of your life.”

    6. Ask for help
    Remember that self-care is not just a buzzword, it’s health. “Therapy” should not be a dirty word, and we should not need to wait until severe symptoms or intense crisis to ask for help. Instead, think of therapy as an investment in your wellbeing. To find a therapist that’s right for you, click here, or check out online mental health resources like Therapy for Black Girls and Sista Afya.
    Beyond professional help, also make sure to ask your boss, coworkers, family members, and friends for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to depend on and connect with other people. Marie includes seeking help from other practitioners, having good conversations with friends, and allowing her tribe to support her, as some of her go-to self-care practices she does on a regular basis. 

    7. Seek out resources in a community setting
    If you haven’t gotten the gist already, self-care is not just about yourself; feeling a part of a larger community is crucial for optimal self-care. Even though the global pandemic might make it more difficult to feel community in the sense we’re used to (*sigh* does anyone else surprisingly miss crowds?), online resources are stronger than ever. Seek out resources that not only help you heal and take care of yourself, but make you feel like you’re not alone. 
    For some examples, check out Rickett’s Racial Justice Resources and her Spiritual Activism webinars and workshops, which she said are “rooted in the inner, healing work required for external, collective change.” To hear from more Women of Color on their favorite acts of self-care you can try for yourself, click here. 

    How do you care for yourself that has made the most difference? More

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    Who You Love Has More to Do With Politics Than You Might Think

    When the results came in during the election of 2016, the country collectively learned that nearly 50 percent of white women had cast their votes for a man who bragged about sexual misconduct on tape. All of my fellow white feminist friends were horrified, as was I. But what disturbed me as well, perhaps more, were the number of women who I’d seen posting on social media that their homes were divided: split between Trump and Clinton under the same roof. These were the white women who didn’t vote for Trump, but lived and shared children with someone who did. I couldn’t fathom how a woman could love someone who voted so violently against her and countless others—and for that matter, how could he claim to love her? I started to fear that I, too, could wake up one morning and discover that my intimate partner had the capacity to think, act, and vote against my interests and those of so many others. What I didn’t realize in 2016 was that I was already living it.

    My ex—we’ll call him Mark—was not a Trump voter. But he couldn’t understand why I was depressed after the election, or why I was overreacting to something that, he maintained, would be of no real consequence to anyone. He told me he thought Trump was “a buffoon and an idiot,” and that he wasn’t happy about the results, but as I lay next to him in bed and cried, he told me he didn’t get why I was so emotional. When I emphasized Trump’s numerous sexual assault allegations, something that was very personal to me as a survivor of abuse, he replied, “Well Obama was accused of a lot of things.” It didn’t occur to me to say at the time, but Obama has not been accused of sexual assault, and had one white woman said a fraction about him of what they said about Trump, Obama’s career, his life as we know it, would have been over. But at the time, desperate for comfort, all I asked was for Mark to hug me. He sat uncomfortably for a moment before he said, “I can’t hug you if I don’t know what I’m agreeing to.” We then sat in an icy silence and I stared through the window, feeling stung and embarrassed for having asked in the first place.
    I grew up in a moderate-sized town surrounded by small towns, in the dead-center of flyover country. Many marry straight out of high school or college, have children within a year, and stay either in their hometown, or live within a few hours of it—that is, if one of them doesn’t enter the military first. I don’t say this in a negative way; many of my good friends have followed this path and they’ve been very happy. But I always felt that this created a culture of “not being too picky” when choosing a mate, especially as a liberal, educated, pro-choice, non-religious woman. You find someone who mostly aligns with your personality and activities, and whatever exists outside of that, you accept, because the alternative is to risk being alone. The idea that one would break up with someone because of their politics, I always perceived, was frowned upon. Why do politics have to come into it? You don’t want to be closed-minded. Some disagreement is healthy—it keeps things interesting!

    The idea that one would break up with someone because of their politics, I always perceived, was frowned upon. Why do politics have to come into it? You don’t want to be closed-minded. Some disagreement is healthy—it keeps things interesting!

    Under these criteria, when I was 19, I found my perfect pairing. We met doing regenerative, local farm-to-table work, we were both artists, neither of us listened to country music, he handed me the power tools. These things were all important to me. Once we made our relationship official, our futures became intertwined, and it started to look like I might have that Midwest path.
    Then 2016 happened, which set me off in a new personal direction. I, like many of the white folks around me, had thought on some level that the election of Obama meant the end of large-scale racism in America. I knew that racism still existed, but I had always subscribed to the thinking that it was just a few individuals and had no larger means of existence. Mark shared this belief, but after Trump, only one of us started to adapt our thinking.
    I started to become more outspoken on social media. For a developing activist, social media is the catalyst for finding our voice and discovering new viewpoints to expand our thinking. It was this newfound expression of mine that quickly became a source of arguments in my relationship, although I could never figure out what the actual argument was about. All I knew was that Mark would see something I posted or even something I liked, and within moments, we’d be shouting back and forth to no avail.
    One of these arguments took place in response to the riots that had broken out across the country in the wake of Trump’s election. I was in support; Mark was starkly against.
    “The reason Martin Luther King Jr. made change was because they were never violent. For the sit-ins, they took the abuse, they sat there while people pounded on them, and that was how people saw how awful it was,” he said. “These people need to know that violence alienates the rest of us who would want to help them. When they do stuff like this, it’s all noise and people like me tune it out.”*

    *Editors’ Note: This is an example of a microaggression. The Everygirl Media Group does not condone this type of speech. To educate yourself on microaggressions and how to combat this behavior, click here.

    This became the running theme. Emotion, anger, frustration, ‘acting out’—all of these things caused the movement to fail at what Mark proposed was its single purpose: to get people like him, ‘moderate white America’, on board with Black liberation. He threw MLK and his ‘passive resistance’ in my face at every turn, and I responded by publicly sharing Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which King states, “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate… who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Mark responded by saying I was intentionally trying to hurt him by turning his hero against him, and that I was mis-interpreting MLK due to context. I didn’t know the phrase ‘white fragility’ then, but Mark was textbook.

    The underlying dynamic of our relationship began to shift after about four months of dating, when I left to attend the Women’s March. It was a life-changing experience for me, to be surrounded by people who were also experiencing the devastation I felt after the election. But my elation was short-lived, because by the time our busses left D.C. for Kansas, I was already bracing for another argument at home. Instead, I was met with no words at all, as Mark greeted me with no mention of the trip I had just made. When I nudged him, worried he was quietly simmering grievances that would erupt later on, he remarked that the whole ordeal seemed a bit silly. I asked him what seemed so ‘silly’ about the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. After some back-and-forth, I finally asked what he thought the Women’s March was for. No answer. When I informed him that it was in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump, he simply raised his eyebrows and said he’d had no idea it had anything to do with Trump. His tone was almost accusatory, as if I had intentionally held something back from him. As if the expectation that he would take a moment to look it up while I had been gone for five days was somehow unreasonable.

    His tone was almost accusatory, as if I had intentionally held something back from him. As if the expectation that he would take a moment to look it up while I had been gone for five days was somehow unreasonable.

    And yet, I bought in and started to believe that it had, in fact, been unreasonable. I started to think that if I could just explain things in the right way, if I could bring the answers to him, the fighting between us would stop, and we could actually work together at navigating the world of intersectional activism. He seemed so close to being on the same side that I thought I could give him that final push.
    So I sent him articles, gathered materials to talk about sexism and racism and homophobia and how they all roll themselves up together to form institutional violence and oppression. He wholeheartedly refused to read a word of it, because as he told me, he ‘wasn’t that interested.’ But if this was true, why were we fighting so constantly? And why did the fighting only seem to stop when I finally broke down crying? And why did he seem incapable of expressing genuine sympathy when I was in pain? For that matter, why did talking about it hurt me so much more than it hurt him? Why did I feel like I was treading water while he was blank in the face?
    At the time, I didn’t know about concepts such as ‘gaslighting’ and ‘stonewalling,’ so instead, I accepted Mark’s definitions of what I was experiencing. I kept crying during our arguments because I was simply more fragile than him, and in turn, my argument constructions were inferior to his because they were emotional. He convinced me that while he could always be objective about the things other people had endured, we would forever be un-objective after experiencing them for ourselves. Beyond this, my hours of reading, lecture, discussion, and academic study had no bearing on my credibility in our debates, because to Mark, any social or political issue was fair game to the casual viewer, regardless of the time or work they had dedicated to understanding it. As Mark’s voice became a constant passenger in my head, I struggled to feel conviction about anything at all, until I began to pull away from activist work altogether.
    Mark and I finally broke up just before my college graduation, when I became too exhausted to prop up his version of our relationship. When I finally demanded different treatment, he found another way to flip it around on me: Our issue was simply that I wasn’t strong enough to take his emotional manipulations, and I needed to logically explain to him how to change without causing him discomfort along the way. I told him to pursue therapy, and closed the door for good. I then lived with his voice in my head for two years, during which time I was still too intimidated, too lacking in conviction to find my way back to my voice.

    I pursued therapy for myself in the fall of 2019, where I began to tease my own voice apart from Mark’s. However, change was slow, and I still felt great shame and embarrassment when I dared to engage in activist work. That all changed in the spring of 2020, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked uprisings across the country, and something in me finally cracked. I found enough purpose to push through Mark’s voice and start reading again, finding books about racism and intersectional feminism, which led me to Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. I had never seen such a fearless, honest analysis of feminism, and even though her experiences as a Black woman were different from mine, the truth she spoke hit me in waves with every chapter. She was unafraid to look at her deepest insecurities and challenge them, to confront the very real fear that all feminists have of ending up alone because we dare to demand something more from our men. In her chapter White-Girl Tears, I learned that I was not the only person asking what the hell happened with white women voters in 2016, though the answers she proposed weren’t the ones I had anticipated. She wrote of the Women’s March that meant so much to me, “Watching white women take it to the streets to protest an election outcome that was a result of white women’s powerful voting block felt like an exercise in white-lady tears if I ever saw one.” Reading this was sobering, but it helped me recognize that as a white feminist, if I wanted to create change, I needed to start much closer to home.

    It helped me recognize that as a white feminist, if I wanted to create change, I needed to start much closer to home.

    “[T]he choice of whom to love is political. And if white feminists were honest, they would recognize that their feminism actually does demand that they interrogate the political dimensions of their intimate engagements.” This line, like so many other lines in Cooper’s book, put language to something I didn’t realize I’d been trying to say for years.
    I began to view my relationship with Mark through an entirely different lens. I started to question his motives more deeply, wondering now if he was identifying with a larger power structure which was threatened by the activist movements I was engaging with. Did he truly think that social justice efforts were simply too chaotic, too loud, too disorganized to gain traction? Or was the concept that a movement could attain justice with or without his approval simply a challenge to his sense of superiority and importance? I had my answer when I realized that while Mark claimed to support peaceful protest above all else, when his girlfriend left for five days to participate in the enormously peaceful Women’s March, he couldn’t be bothered to learn why it was happening in the first place. I then realized that no matter what arguments I laid out, what research I conducted, or what efforts I made to help him understand, no message of change or justice would have ever reached him because he did not want to be reached.

    I then realized that no matter what arguments I laid out, what research I conducted, or what efforts I made to help him understand, no message of change or justice would have ever reached him because he did not want to be reached.

    For the first time since our breakup, I have stopped hearing Mark’s voice in the back of my mind. I feel like I finally have the vantage point to see all of the things that had been at play, which were far more than just two people standing in a kitchen at 3am, arguing over my presence on Instagram. Behind both of us were years upon years of socialization and experiences that formed who we were, and he was backed by a system that had been doing this insidious work for generations. His weapon was far more substantial, and he was far more adept at using it. But as I am now listening to Black feminist leaders who have studied this longer and more extensively than I, as I learn about the inner-workings and generational pull of this weapon, I can finally start to neutralize its effects.
    White women with white male partners: We need to have a conversation about the word ‘political,’ what it means, and what we allow the men (or should I say ‘enforcers of the white patriarchy,’ because we do that shit, too) in our lives to tell us it means. We act as if politics are a dressing of topsoil over our lives, disconnected from everything else, something to discuss at dinner. In fact, what I’ve learned is that politics form the very roots that feed everything we are made of. It has taken me some time to recognize that Mark was emotionally abusive, but what is not lost on me is that his abuse was also political. And because he and I came out of a culture that told us we shouldn’t base who we date off of politics, it was the perfect shield for the weapon he brought to the table.

    White women with white male partners: We need to have a conversation about the word ‘political,’ what it means, and what we allow the men in our lives to tell us it means.

    I am changing my constitution allllll the way around. My relationships, from here on out, are to be a sanctuary for me in the sense that they are a safe space, and 100 percent optional. First date topics will include but not be limited to the following: Black Lives Matter, intersectional feminism, abortion, white supremacy, transphobia, religion, who you voted for in 2016, who you voted for in 2020, who you wished you could’ve voted for in 2020, Black reparations, Native American reparations, and whether or not Louis C.K. is redeemable. I refuse to act as if any of these opinions are not critical to agree upon with my future partner. We can disagree about many things—for example, I do enjoy a good dill pickle, and if they find them repulsive, then more for me. But politics and the weapon they wield are no space for compromise, and the best thing that white women could recognize in 2020 is that we no longer need to endure or carry this weapon in exchange for our security.

    I believe that all white women have a Mark, whether it’s a romantic partner, a father, a grandfather, a fellow white woman who parrots the same sentiments in a higher pitch, or the simple voice echoing through our culture and directly into our ears.

    So if we’re really committed to widespread liberation and equality, we need to start looking critically at the results of our alignments. I believe that all white women have a Mark, whether it’s a romantic partner, a father, a grandfather, a fellow white woman who parrots the same sentiments in a higher pitch, or the simple voice echoing through our culture and directly into our ears. They may not actively participate in oppressive systems, but they certainly won’t lift a finger to help take their weight off of our backs, and they will sure as hell judge us for trying. When our collective Marks attach onto our pre-existing insecurities, assuring us that our actions toward positive change are inconsequential, it would do us well to start challenging them at the root. One way to do this is to simply pose the question to one’s self, perhaps late at night once our Marks have gone to sleep beside us: If I break my alignment with him, what does he stand to lose? And when I venture out into a diverse community of revolutionaries, when I bring with me my tool of white privilege and the need for my own liberation, what could we all stand to gain? More

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    The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in the Black Community

    When I was a child, my mom would drop me off at my grandma’s house when she went to work. The entire time she was gone, I would sit at the window and wait, watching the road for headlights signaling her return. Later, family members would tell stories about how easy I was to babysit because I would only sit in the window and cry. They made jokes for years about how sensitive I was, how spoiled and attached. The truth is, I was developing anxiety.While I appeared to just be spoiled or a “mama’s girl,” I was actually sitting there in that window because every time my mom was late coming home, I was convinced she had been arrested or had died. And it was more than just a fleeting thought or worry. I could envision it clearly in my head, and it would replay over and over until she finally returned. I didn’t know it then, but I was experiencing several adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that were taking hold of my mental well-being and causing these types of thoughts and fears. Unfortunately, like many other Black people and people of color, I wouldn’t obtain the language to describe nor the knowledge to understand this for a very long time.
    There are several unique difficulties that underrepresented groups have to contend with relating to mental illness. The first step to addressing these struggles is reducing the stigma around mental illness in these communities; then, advocating for greater support and inclusion. Let’s begin with key reasons why it’s critical for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to address mental health.
    1. Adverse childhood experiences
    Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic experiences and events that can have lasting effects on health and well-being in childhood and/or later in life. ACEs can include exposure in the home to factors such as parental separation/divorce, substance abuse, physical/emotional neglect, mental illness and suicide, incarceration, violence, and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse; but can also include environmental factors such as exposure to violence outside of the home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, homelessness, bullying, discrimination, and experience of income insecurity.
    In a 2018 study of ACEs by state, race, and ethnicity, it was found that nearly half of all children nationally and in most states have experienced at least one ACE. However, Black and Hispanic children and youth in almost all regions of the United States are more likely to experience ACEs than their white and Asian peers. These racial disparities reflect discriminatory policies and biases that systematically disadvantage black and Hispanic children, specifically, leaving them more vulnerable to traumatic experiences in childhood. Then, as they move into adulthood, ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, poverty, depression, suicide, and substance abuse. With 61 percent of Black non-Hispanic children and 51 percent of Hispanic children have experienced at least one ACE, it is imperative that the likely subsequent mental health impact is met with social/community support and treatment.
    2. Racism and collective trauma
    Racism itself is its own adverse childhood experience, disproportionately affecting BIPOC. Racism leads to feelings of inferiority, guilt, self-hatred, and helplessness; additionally, racism can be the cause of mental health issues such as anxiety (and related symptoms), depression, psychological distress, and intergenerational racial trauma. Racial trauma describes the physical and emotional response that BIPOC have as a result of being exposed to racism. The emotional responses to racism include fear, confusion, and self-blame; there are also physical symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Black folks are regularly experiencing collective, intergenerational trauma due to a legacy of hate and discrimination that includes slavery, police brutality, and the lynching of Black bodies (both now and then).
    Oftentimes, when we (BIPOC) think about how racism has affected our lives, we are thinking about the racist encounters we have experienced, and how we felt in those moments. What we often forget to consider is how those racist encounters remain in our minds and our bodies, wreaking havoc in ways greater and more dangerous than the encounter alone likely did. Mental health awareness and treatment is imperative to the process of ridding our bodies of the poison and toxicity of racism.
    3. Self-perception
    Many factors lead to Black people feeling as if they are “less than” others, including internalized racism and negative self-evaluations. If I had to guess, I would bet this began during slavery, when Black bodies were up for sale at humiliating rates based on perceived fitness, agreeableness, and ability to “break.” Unfortunately, this discounting of Black bodies did not end with slavery.
    Black people are consistently underpaid and/or undervalued in the workplace. And instead of getting better as wages improve in the economy, the wage gap between black and white workers has grown significantly since 2000. And it’s not just about wages; Black people experience disparities in wages, opportunities, and treatment. And when Black people call attention to these disparities, we are often accused of playing the victim or exaggerating or outright lying. It’s no wonder, then, that many Black people struggle with feelings of inadequacy, self-hate, and blame. Left untreated, these feelings can compound into psychological patterns/issues such as anxiety, imposter syndrome, and depression. 
    For BIPOC, addressing mental health is a necessary step to healing—but it’s not that easy. There are also many barriers in place that prevent Black people, specifically, from accessing mental health care.

    4. Stigma
    In the Black community, there is a serious stigma around mental health. Another memory I have from childhood is growing up with an aunt who everyone called crazy. Much later, I learned that she likely suffered from dissociative identity disorder. But those words were never used to describe her. Instead, I heard words such as paranoid, not right, and crazy den a betsy bug. Growing up Black, I learned pretty quickly the things we weren’t supposed to speak about. Right in front of my eyes, there was mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, violence, and substance abuse; yet I knew better than to mention any of it.
    5. Black cultural values
    Although there are many merits of the traditional Black church, mental health awareness is not one of them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I grew up being taught that Jesus could heal any issue I had. If I said I was depressed, I was told to pray. If I was still depressed after praying, well, that was the devil’s doing. And anything that was the devil’s doing was not to be brought up in the presence of God. It was a confusing circle that caused me to never speak up about my depression, not even once it became serious. Black cultural values, while well-intentioned, often lead to these types of inconsistencies.
    6. Fear of seeking help
    I recently attended a writing workshop for writers of color. When our cohort completed an exercise on cultural values, we discovered that many of us shared one particular value: an insistence on keeping family issues private. BIPOC tend to value privacy, even at the expense of getting help. This means that an issue in the family stays in the family, at all costs. BIPOC value privacy for a multitude of reasons, including the fear of persecution. When speaking out about an issue at home could put your family at risk of separation, deportation, arrest, etc., you learn right away to keep your mouth shut. While this level of privacy is certainly warranted, it often leaves BIPOC struggling and with nowhere safe to turn.
    7. Lack of access to quality care
    According to Mental Health America, Black people have less access to mental health care, due to issues such as insurance coverage, lack of Black care providers, and discrimination in healthcare settings. Even when Black people manage to get past the stigma and actively seek help, we are often met with challenges and denial. For example, Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and less likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people experiencing the same symptoms. Even when Black people can access mental health care, we are often treated poorly and/or not taken seriously. This leads to mistrust of the medical system, which further deters Black people from seeking help.

    I am actively working to break down the stigma around mental health and mental illness; and I challenge my Black community to do the same.
    It is not just about placing blame on someone or something else for your issues (which is what I once thought); it is about liberation. Liberating ourselves from our past traumas and our collective traumas. Demanding effective care and access. Fighting for our right to be whole. It was truly empowering when I obtained the language to describe the issues I’d been battling all my life. Once I learned about anxiety, I began to understand myself in a new way. I was able to understand and piece together how my childhood factored into my adult struggles. I was able to identify how slavery continues to impact me now, a Black woman born after its abolishment. And I was able to realize how racism, oppression, trauma, and fear factor into my everyday experience as a Black woman in America.
    In my journey towards liberation, I have found many things that work well for me, and others that don’t. For my anxiety, I utilize a combination of therapy, meditation, mindfulness, and physical movement/awareness. I’ve also found several mental health resources specifically catered to Black people, many of which have been compiled into this Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Resource Guide. My best (non-expert) advice: find what works for you and do it.
    Having a mental illness does not make us weak. It makes us human.
    Acknowledging our struggles does not make us weak. It makes us strong.
    It is human to struggle. It is strong to keep fighting.
    It is human to fear. It is strong to face our fears.
    Human to question.
    Strong to speak up for ourselves.
    Human to hurt.
    Strong to survive.  More