Tackling Anxiety WITH HEY LAUREN

Anxiety can be such a bitch. It’s become quite commonplace for us to state, “I have anxiety” in the face of discomfort, but there’s a big difference between nervous or uncomfortable and an anxiety disorder. Having experienced both, I can tell you that the difference between nervous or uncomfortable and a full-blown anxiety disorder is NOT a matter of how bad it feels in the moment. It’s more so a difference in level of insight, how capable you are of walking through the worry, fear, and panic, and how much in both quantity and quality it’s affecting your life. Regardless of where you fall on the continuum, the feelings are super-normal and treatable.

In our email exchanges, many of you say things like, “I want to A, but I’m afraid. What should I do?” or, “I’m supposed to B, but what if C happens?”. The most common is, “I keep putting off D because it stresses me out, but I’m getting more and more overwhelmed as D piles up. I’m a nervous wreck!” I hear you! Been there, done that, that, and yup—that, too. You’re not alone. We all experience these things. Seriously. Research tells us that there are an estimated 40 million adults (—women are 60% more likely to be diagnosed than men) , who suffer from an anxiety disorder. The rest of us get nervous, too. I’ve found that an intellectual understanding of what’s going on can be super-helpful as you muster the energy to hop into the solution.

#TheFacts

There are several different anxiety disorders. For example, Specific Phobia, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder are most common. Their close (but different) counterparts Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders and Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders feel super-scary, too, but most of you are expressing concerns about what looks like straight-up anxiety. So, let’s start with understanding what’s going on and what’s NOT.

#InOtherWords

Specific Phobia is like, “Shit, I’m terrified by spiders.” Your anxiety is specific to one isolated thing. In this example, that thing is spiders, but it could be heights, driving in wintery weather, whatever.

Panic Disorder means that you get panic attacks—a conglomeration of physiological symptoms (shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, to name a few) secondary to your fight or flight system kicking into high gear. You may even change plans or adapt your lifestyle for fear of having another.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder means you worry LOTS.

Social Anxiety Disorder describes those of us who get nervous in social situations and, in turn, avoid ‘em AT ALL COSTS.

#TheFeels

Sometimes our discomfort doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories, but it, certainly, feels like anxiety. Here’s the deal. Many of us, women, (—including me!) feel nervous and anxious secondary to other stuff like low self-esteem, dependency, body image concerns, and other results of the garbage that society tells us from the day we’re born. We, unknowingly, internalize this shit. Buying into what society feeds us is an anxiety-trap. The act of trying to be all that we’re seemingly supposed to be (—and expected not to be!) in this society we live in would make any normal human-being nervous as hell. Society says, “Be yourself!! Oh no. Not like that, though.” It’s like, “Damn. Then, like what?!” Enter the confusion, uncertainty, and the fear…of being seen, of not being liked, of being a failure, of not being enough, etc. Then, to make it worse, when we are experiencing anxiety secondary to the internalized messaging, society says, “Damn. You’re nuts! There’s something wrong with you. RELAX.” We, then, internalize that, and it has the potential to become a vicious cycle with no beginning, middle, or end.

#LetsGetPersonal

Until I learned how to manage my anxiety and stand in my own power—a decades long process—I struggled with all types of nervous energy, anxiety, and panic attacks. For me, what I feared changed with each age and stage but the underlying problem was always low self-esteem. At the time, I thought my anxiety and panic attacks stemmed first from academics, then from appearance, weight & shape, then some dude cheating on me. The apparent trigger morphed and changed, but the feeling was always the same. I worried about everything and nothing, and it took me years to realize that what I thought was the problem of the time was actually never the problem at all.

Here’s a true story to illustrate just how random & detrimental anxiety can be.

When I was in graduate school, I lived approximately 10 miles away from my school. Grad school was a super-stressful time in my life. I was ridiculously perfectionistic, trying to be all things to all people, and had tremendous difficulty with setting boundaries. I never said “NO”, so I was overwhelmed much of the time. Part of my daily routine was to run home to take my dog outside in between classes.

#TheFear

I worried that if I drove away from my garage before the garage was completely down after letting my dog out, the wind might blow swiftly and trigger the garage sensor without my knowledge. In that case, the garage door would remain open, my dog would get out, run into the road, get hit by a car and die. I would be heartbroken. My boyfriend would never forgive me and, in turn, breakup with me. I would be alone for life.

So, to manage my anxiety, I HAD to make damn sure that the garage door closed and stayed closed before driving away. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong. Especially on exam or presentation days ( high-stress days), my brain played serious tricks on me. I would “make sure” the garage was closed, drive 10 miles to school, second-guess myself, convince myself that there was a possibility that the garage went back up after I drove away, drive back 10 miles, look at the closed garage, drive back to school, repeat, repeat, repeat. No joke. Many times, I’d be late to class or not make it at all. I HAD to do something.

My solution at the time was to leave myself a voicemail that I could listen to, when my brain started playing tricks. I would watch the door close, sit for a second to make damn sure, call my voicemail and say, “THE GARAGE DOOR IS CLOSED.” After arriving in the school parking lot, my brain would inevitably play tricks. Instead of driving back to check, I’d listen to my message for reassurance and walk into class on time, feeling somewhat anxious but okay enough to walk through the fear. After a couple of weeks, that fear subsided. I actually forgot about the whole garage door thing, until a couple of years ago when my dad passed away.

On my first Monday back to work after the wake and funeral, my mom called me and asked if there was anything she could do to make my day a bit easier. Without thinking or remembering my grad school days, I said, “Yep. After you go to the gym, just drive by my house and make sure I closed the garage door.” She agreed to do so. I went on with my day. Within a couple of hours, my mom texted me, “THE GARAGE DOOR IS CLOSED.” I read the text aloud. Hearing my voice say those words immediately reminded me of the voicemail I had left for myself 15 years earlier. OMG. When feeling stressed, my brain seemingly chooses to focus on the f@ckin’ garage door. Kinda weird, but it makes sense. I can’t control unmanageability in grad school or family members dying, but I can try my damnedest to control the garage door. So, that’s just what I did!

My conclusion—It never had anything to do with the garage door, the academics, the body weight and shape, the relationships. It all had to do with me—with my inability to see the big picture, with me not knowing how to handle stress in a healthy way, with me not having the skill-sets to walk through the anxiety, so that I could handle life on life’s terms, not my own. The common denominator in all of the anxiety-provoking situations was that I felt threatened or in danger. My brain and my body didn’t know the difference between real and imagined danger, so my fight or flight system kicked in for survival’s sake.

 

#HeyLauren skill-sets to manage anxiety.

 

Here’s what to do to decrease your anxiety in the moment:

Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behavior. Each of us has many thoughts, up to 70,000 per day! The goal is to get so familiar with your thoughts that you can instantly recognize the thoughts making you feel scared or worried. Once you know which thought patterns cause the unwanted feelings, you can change them! If you change how you think, you can change how you feel and how you behave.

Your body cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time. So, consciously relax your muscles. Taking a couple of minutes to stop, breathe and get present can reduce stress, increase mood and decrease anxiety in an instant. Focus your attention on your breathing, exhale slowly. Scan your body for tension. Loosen the cramped body parts, letting go of anything you’re holding too tightly. Recall a good memory, favorite place or event. Continue to breathe, exhaling slowly. Repeat, as needed.

If you're afraid of it, you need to do it. It's as simple as that.You cannot will yourself to courage. You have to exercise the emotional muscles that flex, when you walk through the fear to overcome it. Avoidance adds to the anxiety by reinforcing it. There's no easier, softer way. You don't need it to be easy and soft. You need it to work and exposure does work. Promise.

And, remember, I’m here to walk through this with you. So email me with any questions you have as you give these skill-sets a try this week.

Talk soon!

xo, Lauren


 

 





 



 

Gurls Talk x Arts Not Parts

Recently a law enacted by Obama allowing transgender people use whatever bathroom they self identify with was repealed. This is extremely problematic, it really starts to feel like we’re going about all of this the wrong way. We’re still enforcing the gender binary, along with perpetuating the violent and unnecessary gendering of pretty much everything, and at the end of the day, that’s just as transphobic as any attempt to force trans women to choose between facing violence in the men’s room or facing prison just to pee.

We teamed up with @artsnotparts and are asking everyone to make a pledge poster, hang it in a bathroom and share it on Instagram. 

Getting Started:

Print out our template, draw, paint, create, decorate an original positive poster (no pics of trump)

Send us high res photo of it.  Minimum dimensions 8 1/2 x 11" and maximum 11x17" (standard printer size)

We will select the top 2-3 to be featured on our special collaborators site

Send us a high res of your poster at submissions@gurlstalk.com with your name and instagram handle by April 24

Tag #gurlstalk and #artsnotparts

Adwoa + Camilla for Heads Together #oktosay

The Heads Together campaign is spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to end the stigma around mental health. Adwoa Aboah and Camilla Lowther speak openly about mental health. 

Help us change the conversation on mental health using #oktosay.

For more information including what support is available if you need it visit: http://www.headstogether.org.uk/oktosay

Growing Pains: Dealing with Asperger's as an Adult

By: Michelle Varinata

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

My name is Michelle (or if you are my friend/sister/cousin, I go by Missy) and I am 23 years old. My favorite wardrobe staples are my vintage cheetah faux fur coat, a pair of white Miista ankle boots, houndstooth Vivienne Westwood backpack, custom-made PVC leggings and worn-in vintage gray Motley Crue shirt. You’ll never catch me without a pair of John Lennon style sunglasses, lashings of red lipstick, topknot or rings. Optional accessory: a cup of piping hot matcha latte with almond milk. While I may look like “one of those girls who works in fashion”, you’d never suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. 

So, what exactly is Asperger’s? It’s a mild form of autism where one is blessed with intellectual capabilities and talents, but cursed with bad social skills. Alongside my Asperger’s diagnosis I also struggled with ADD. I had a hard time staying still, talk too fast and/or get easily distracted. These things might be a boy’s problem, but it’s girls like myself who also get affected by it too.

When I was a little girl my mom sent me to see a therapist for almost everything. While going to therapy seemed like it was an after-school activity, I also had to see one mid-day whether it be once or three times per week. A special schedule was created for me, which involved me having to skip portions of class. The teachers knew that it was something that they had to accommodate, but my peers kind of looked at me as if I had a disease. If going to therapy was a deal-breaker for everyone, the biggest problem I had was the struggle to express myself. 

When you think of someone with this condition it is always that A) they’re obsessed with science like Sheldon and co. in Big Bang Theory, B) talk like they’re writing an SAT, C) go on a Kanye-style rant when mad, or D) have a deep understanding of abstract concepts like the circumference of Pi. The biggest misrepresentation, to me, is the fact that regardless of any gender Aspies are always poorly dressed. Fashion may not be a subject that Aspies dig but the reason I fell in love with it was to hide my diagnosis. 

In middle school, I had a hard time making friends due to my shyness. Even when I said a word in class my peers thought that I was weird. One male classmate went as far to take away my monkey pencil case (which I dubbed “Anakin Skywalker”) and hid it - thankfully, I was able to retrieve it! Girls taunted me for having short hair and if they were kind enough, few wanted to befriend me for sympathy points. No one really understood what the hell I had but if there was any way to silence my haters without saying anything, it was to dress up. 

Growing up, I dug my nose into pages of Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Between the covers I couldn’t get my eyes away from seeing mouth-watering designer names, beautiful clothes and bold hairstyles. Given that both magazines had a totally different way of marketing what I always looked forward to were the celebrity fashions. If a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan wore a pair of liquid leggings with ballet flats I’d go out and get a pair too. If Mary-Kate Olsen or Nicole Richie had a pair of oversized sunglasses, I’d purchase some. Seeing a public figure dress up in the streets was an inspiration since I saw that as a way for them to deal with being seen without saying anything to hungry tabloid reporters. From then on I decided that the best way to silence my haters was to make them like my outfits - but to like my outfits I had to make sure that each one was better than the previous, to make the bullies forget about my social awkwardness. 

Packed with “Best Dressed” nominations, a fashion/beauty blog, an Instagram account and countless articles, the one thing I felt shy to dish out was my diagnosis. No longer do I feel the need to hide myself. Today I stand taller, braver and stronger.  

Through the Vineyard

By: Quasia Elle

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

I’ve taken a seat with a transfer of habit.  Where your soul-igniting kiss would land, cheers to numb all senses.  Melanin deep, layered in complexity, showing the world your victories as I cradled the fears… now, a red river floweth, somber thoughts forcefully rising with the tide.  Roll on.  Freedom was the warmth in your embrace.  We would lie next to one another, and then rise within ourselves. The highest high seems to knock me low; so fill my glass please, I’m having Merlot.

I once dreamt of wildcats in gardens I could smell, and tell, the difference between the passion in a rose and the hope of a sunflower.  Eyes closed, but a third peeked releasing a flow of uncontrollable emotions, followed by a calm that silenced my thoughts into complete unconsciousness.  I was physically awakened by the sunrise between your lips and the reassurance spoken by your presence.  You never opted against a chance to honor my being; never a loss for words when narrating your love; gifted in tracing my divine femininity with roots crafted by our glory and just when I thought I’d had enough, when more than just feelings start to rush… I peeled miserably from your company.  Focus was hard to come by that workday.  

We trusted to be taken wherever the other would lead.

… And then you left.  

I know you’re battling some things, and I would never stand by perfection, but I didn’t in any moment; believe this was an option, without notice, and especially without her highness’ input.  A king’s rare movement.

You’ve created a different entity; a new, now tainted version of the admiration I’ve held with you for close to a decade.  You made a decision without my involvement, and without respect for how it would affect my productivity, while I stood to be what enhanced yours.  You’ve witnessed exhaustion in central parts of my, me, still show up, unaffected, in your wants and needs.  Because that was easy.  While I do not doubt the superiority of energy we exchanged, I now doubt your knowledge of the one you evoked.  What you do not know is not by my lack of expression, but by your lack of comprehension.  I hope for your clarity, my love.

I am not proud of this reality, this anxiety, this new, beside-ness of me.  We are alike in that way-transferring habits as our minds can manage the impact and yet here I am… after fighting to gain vision through waterfalls of abandonment and empty bottles of resentment, here I am… praying that my King makes it through the battle because I, will be okay.  And I pray that you can catch me, listening.

lost boys and girls

By: Sarah Roselle

Illustration by: the illustratrice

Illustration by: the illustratrice

This is for all of those from broken or damaged- no… demolished  homes. Whose irreparable ruins couldn’t provide shelter or warmth to even a baby mouse.

Seek shelter under your shade, the shadow of which is made up of the darkness and light found within. As one can’t exist without the other. You’ll know what makes up both of these contrasting shades. My own darkness is sorrow through a fractured haven and abandonment. My light is optimism through sisterly love and imaginative joy. I first generously felt both as soon as I was old enough to yield to my overwhelming capacity to feel. I used to run around in circles, never standing still, trying to lose my shadow in the process. Now I stand under my own shade and let these shadows, which are sometimes heavy as iron chains and light as paper aeroplanes, dance all over me, and in this way acceptance allows me to release their hold and embrace all that I am made up of. The reasons for why I am me. What a waste it is to be ashamed when you can’t change what has been. Be careful about what you constantly dwell upon, thoughts can act as either your anchor or your wings. Burn the victim card, then throw blame into the flames instead of to the wind. Carry both of these around long enough and finally they’ll poison you and transform into their cousin - self-pity. It is so important to acknowledge and move on. The world will not stop turning or stand still for anyone. This is a golden lesson.

We are as pure and whole as we are broken and flawed. We are proof that it is more than possible to exist with these contradictions and that is a beautiful thing.

 

Adwoa's Bus That Trumps Hate - Washington D.C.

 

Gurls Talk teamed up with Romance Journal and Women Under the Influence in January for the Women's March on Washington D.C. check out the video we made together! Featuring so many incredible women and interviews. Check it out below: 

 

 

Special thanks to: 

KESEWA ABOAH, THE GURLS & GUYS OF THE GURLS TALK BUS, LYKKE LI, ANDREW WYATT, JEFF BHASKER, JEFF PANTALEO, COYOTE POST, LAUREN & BEN, IRIS & CAROLINA FROM EVERYBODY WORLD, ELIZABETH HILFIGER FROM FOO AND FOO, HOLLY GORE and HEIDI GAUDET

 

WUTI is committed to raising the profile of female directors because we believe it is important to own our stories

 

 

 

Trials and Tribulations of an Empath

By: Fallon Henderson

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

I’m more in touch with every emotion I possess than most people are in their lifetime.  I’ve always been more of a sensitive soul, always a little deeper than my peers.  I remember hating it about myself to the point of faking any feeling or emotion that I deemed not ‘normal’ and replacing it with a different one, a better one, or just trying to not feel at all.  It became clear to me that I was different in Middle School when one day while at lunch with a group of my friends I declared how excited I was to go to college so I could have “deep conversations” (whatever that meant) to my 12 year old self.  My friends looked at me like I had 10 heads and proceeded to chug their juice boxes looking at one another smirking as I slumped down in my chair, embarrassed.

I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t wish my heart was more cold, but it can’t help but to flow so warm.  I’ve often felt far too sensitive for this world. Way too fragile.  Being a minority I especially felt like I was regarded as lame for being so in touch with my feelings and awkwardness, within the African American community it is a little taboo.  I feel so much at all times that back in the day when MTV was my life, and The Real World was the best reality show in the universe (now it’s a joke in my opinion) I would tear up during every last episode of whichever city’s season I was attached to at the time.  It was just so heartbreaking seeing roommate after roommate crying and hugging each other goodbye and leaving the family they had become.  

Now, before you start thinking ‘wow this girl is two seconds away from jumping off her roof’ know that I am happy, funny and super outgoing. I’m just a young woman who is in touch with her emotions and feelings, and other’s emotions and feelings.  I have been told my whole life that this is a bad thing. That feeling too much should be something I despise about myself, and I did for a very long time.  It made me question my mental health and I started regular therapy sessions trying to find answers, and maybe hoping to get techniques on how to become numb.  I especially hated it when it came to having friends who betrayed me and I couldn’t find a way to not care about them anymore. To just say “screw them” and get over it, walk away with my head held high and not giving it a second thought.  Let’s not even talk about ex’s… after every break up I was a complete mess, regardless if I had ended it or if they did, and if I was in love or if I wasn’t.  Reliving those feelings of loss and moments when we were happy all over again for months. 

So yes, in certain circumstances being in touch with what you’re feeling 24/7 and experiencing it all can feel like a curse, like the universe hates you.  However after many painful, emotionally messy years I can honestly say I’m finding peace and beauty in it finally.  Being so in touch with all my emotions, the good, bad and ugly has inevitably made me stronger and made my skin a little thicker.  I have learned from years of caring too much to not care as much.  I still have my bad days where I struggle with it but i’ve accepted it.  It is a part of my identity after all - denying it would be denying a huge part of myself. It makes me and girls like me unique, especially in this day and age where no one wants to feel anything or be vulnerable and transparent.  There was an episode of ‘Girls’ in which Lena Dunham’s character Hannah states “…I just wanna feel it all”, and that’s how I feel now.  I want to feel and I’m proud to be comfortable enough with who I am to feel it all.  It has switched from a burden I carried around to being healing.  It has made me face so many things and as a result I am a better person.  Sure, I have had people in my life not understand it or think I am weird, but those people are missing out on a wonderful person who is crazy woke… woke about the one thing that matters most to me. Me. 

I no longer apologize to myself or others for speaking my truth and sharing my feelings (good or bad) or simply crying over anything that moves me.  The dope part about it all is that once you accept certain parts of your personality you come across like-minded individuals.  For the first time I have friends who relate to me and it has helped me appreciate it even more.  In the words of Edie Brickell “What I am is what I am. Are you what you are, or what?”.  

Locs of Empowerment

By: Imara Oshibanjo-Gunning

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

Throughout my teen years I had trouble understanding what beauty really is and what the ‘requirements’ were. As soon as I got my dreadlocks (locs) I desperately needed to feel comfortable, until I saw this quote “My hair doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’, society’s narrow minded view of ‘beauty’ is what’s broken”. From then on I understood that I wanted to break down the barrier for all people who didn’t fit into society’s perspective of beauty.

In this century it is particularly hard for young women and girls to find where they belong, and it has become harder for us now that we have access to social media. When we look at our phones, social media is all we see. It provokes young girls to be sexy and eye catching so that they get attention because having likes and a high amount of followers is ideal in the internet world. 

In my teenage years I attended an all-girls catholic school and I found it hard to fit in. The girls always had something to say about my hair, like "why's it so greasy?" or "why don't you straighten it?”. I had to ask myself, why did they wanted to pick on something so small? It affected me because my hair has always been NATURAL and I liked it, but at the same time I started to dislike my hair immensely. I didn't want to change it however it was making me feel uncomfortable.

After struggling with my hair I found a liking to locs as they were a carefree hairstyle that looked beautiful. Locs spoke volumes to me and I decided to try it. The first time I did it myself learning off a YouTuber. I did it pretty lazily and it looked a MESS, never the less I still rocked it with confidence. It took a long time for me to get respect from people when I got them, and still sometimes find this after. My mum was against them as soon as she saw them, even though I told her my reasons she still had her views. I knew not everyone would be accepting but I stood my ground and still rocked them. Through my loc journey I never had an inspirational woman to look up to. I realized as soon as my locs formed it gave me a sense of empowerment. To say I felt strange was an understatement. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that hair could make me feel this way. At the start all I wanted was a “hairstyle”, however this dramatically changed the way I viewed myself, and the way I viewed other people.

 I don’t think many people acknowledge the strength in moments like this. That they could change views and make people accept numerous things that they haven’t. Being a young woman I’ve learnt a lot of things about myself, and I’ve questioned what I can do to help young girls feel empowered by their flaws. I want people to know whatever you cherish as an individual is a symbol of beauty. 

 

Get rid of negative thinking Part - 2 with Hey Lauren

In the last post, we started learning the skills to externalize the societal messages that trigger our symptoms, so that we can stop reacting and instead, respond to them. We learned that to change the way we feel, we must change the way we think—an evidence-based skill-set of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). To refresh your memory—CBT is a set of interventions that are proven effective for a variety of diagnoses, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, bulimia, general stress, and the list goes on. The idea is that thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviors. So, if you’re carrying on, doing something you don’t want to do, or not doing something you’d like to start doing, you’re feelings are acting as a barrier. Because the feelings emanate from a self-destructive thinking pattern, we began by hitting this hard at the thought level. 

For many of you, it’s working! I get SO excited when you check in and tell me you’re feeling better. Yesss! But for some of you, it’s not quite cuttin’ it. Damn. No worries. There’s more. 

 

This shit won’t quit.

 

#SticklerThoughts

 

Some of you report feeling a lot of feelings, but you’re telling me that it doesn’t seem like you’re thinking much of anything. You just feel awful. I get it! My first go at this didn’t come easily either. For me, it seemed that I either had so many racing ( and disturbing!) thoughts that I couldn’t grab onto just one of ‘em to change up (as my clinician was telling me to do at the time). Or, even worse, sometimes my mind seemed totally blank, but I still felt anxious, scared, and lonely—similar to what many of you are expressing to me. Nothing to stress about! Super-common. Let me explain.

Negative thought patterns are said to, at times, be “ so interwoven into the fabric of our thought that we don’t even know that they’re there.” I’ve come to call them stickler thoughts. For the sticklers, trying harder won’t do the trick. We have to dive deeper into CBT skill-sets.

 

Making an ASS of U & ME. Assume.

 

#CoreBeliefs

 

Remember—Each one of us has both a positive and a negative thought voice, the part of you that has internalized all of the shitty messages thrown at you by society since birth and works overtime to shame you into fitting in with societal norms.

Sometimes those negative thoughts become so engrained in your thinking that, even with awareness, they’re hard to change! Those really engrained thoughts are the sticklers, and the reason they won’t quit is because they are fueled by a faulty core belief system.

We each have core beliefs about ourselves, other people, life, in general, and the future. We learn our core beliefs from the environment— media, society, your parents, teachers, the lady at the grocery store, and the guy you see everyday at the coffee shop. Your environment is everything that’s not you in your world. When these beliefs are limiting, they seriously impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Makes sense. If our beliefs are faulty and limiting, of course, our thoughts will be faulty and limiting, too! And remember—thoughts lead to feelings and feelings to behaviors. So, a limiting belief system has the potential to get us all jumbled up—big time! Think about it this way—If you have a deeply imbedded belief that the world is not safe, even with some work on the anxious thought, “If my friends ditch me, I’m screwed”, it’ll only be seconds until another anxious thought pops up in it’s place. The good news is that beliefs are assumptions, not facts. Even more, they are learned. Anything that’s learned can be unlearned. 

To begin chipping away at those stickler thought patterns, we’ve gotta get down to core beliefs. 

When I first wrote my core beliefs in 2005, they looked like this.

My Core beliefs—

I am weak. I am ugly. I am over-rated.

People are kind. People are flawed. People are good.

Life is scary, really really really really really really really really really really really really scary. 

No wonder I was petrified!! The worst part is that core beliefs become a part of our identities without us even knowing it. Without an understanding of all of this stuff, I had internalized these assumptions as truths. I identified as scared and weak and over-rated AF. Horrible.

With some work, I was able to change my belief system—totally.

When I wrote them down in 2016, they looked like this.

My Core beliefs—

I am smart. I am kind. I am my purpose.

People are innately good.

Life is an opportunity to show-up, create social change, make my life matter.

Much better!

 

It works, if you work it. You’re worth it.

 

Changing my core beliefs was an integral step in changing my thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. Restructuring my assumptions was necessary to #gethere. Be present. Be me. Believe it or not, that’s the goal. Being free from all of the faulty assumptions and thoughts, so that you can feel better and live your life with ease, balance, and grace. 

The goal is freedom—to be you.

 

#HeyLauren

 

Week 3

 

Write down your core beliefs. ( The list can be super-long!) 

Start with:

 

I am_______

I am_______

 

People are________

People are________

 

Life is________

Life is________

 

The future_______

The future_______

 

 

X marks the spot. 

Put an “X” next to the faulty ones that are likely the culprits, making you feel like shit.

 

Collect the data— Yes, again! 

Is this belief rational? Or is the opposite actually true? Write down all of the facts re: each belief.

 

Self-monitor for seven days. 

Make a mental note every time that core belief fuels a thought or action that doesn’t feel so great on the inside. 

 

Experiment with reversing the belief.

Move from “I am weak.” to “I’ve shown courage numerous times this week.”

 

Reminder: I’m here to work through this with you. I see these skill-sets work every day. I witness girls and women start off down in the dumps and scared as hell until they unlearn a lot of what they’ve been taught by society and emerge— strong and powerful. 

 

I want you to feel strong and powerful—especially, since you already are.

 

You deserve that. You deserve you and frankly, we need you. Each of us is necessary, and this is the next right step toward unabashedly showing up—getting here. That’s what we need—each of us to show up for all of us.

 

That’s why we do the work—for us. 

Let’s get to it!

 

Talk soon,

xo, Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resilient. Consistent. Resistant.

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

Illustration by: Ella Strickland de Souza

Over the past few weeks, my perspective on my impact on the world has gone from utterly hopeless and useless to extremely powerful and important. After seeing the real, substantial changes happening as a result of the Women's March as well as the various forms of resistance across the country, my hopelessness transformed into an extreme feeling of gratitude and strength. What I do, what WE do together, actually matters. It is important to remember this moving forward, because there are so many sources trying to tell us that we cannot cause any form of change. This is WRONG. The power of the people outweighs the power of the few who are "leading" the country. We cannot crumble under the false notion that our actions are ineffective. My own experience under the current political atmosphere has been undulating in terms of the way I feel and the actions I take. I spiraled into a fit of depression, the second I have ever been through in my life. I stopped eating well. I stopped taking care of myself. After the

inauguration, Trump's executive orders came in crushing, racist waves that targeted me as a woman, and me as an Iranian descendant.  I have never felt so personally attacked by a governing figure. I study and try to understand the attacks on POC through the eyes of black Americans throughout our history and today. But now I actually felt the feeling I had tried to understand for so long. The feeling of your rights being stripped from you for no reason other than a white man said so. The feeling of being identified as different, as separate, because of ethnic ties. My heart aches for my Iranian people. For my fellow WOC. For the massive number of refugees that are fleeing their own homes just to come to a country that calls them terrorists- falsely accusing them of being their own attackers. This is wrong. So, so wrong. I fell into a pit of fear and anxiety that I could only fathom when in the presence of family, of others who feel the same. Then, something amazing happened. I marched in the Women's March, and became surrounded by thousands of other humans, of all backgrounds and genders, who were there fighting for me, fighting for each other, fighting for those who have no voice against the injustice that is happening to them. For the victims of Trump's blatant racism and disregard for humanity. It was the first time I felt hopeful since the election. In the weeks following, changes were happening. Senators and congressmen received a plethora of calls from angry constituents, and many of them (though not all) listened. Cities sued the administration over the ban. The ACLU raised a record-breaking amount of money and continues to take Trump to court (and they keep winning). After millions deleted Uber because of their affiliation to the ban, Uber pledged to donate to ACLU and provide lawyers to their immigrant drivers. These are real, substantial changes that happened because of US. Because we stood together. It is no surprise that you do not see these positive changes blasted all over the media. You seldom find hope on any media outlet. You must do your own research to find what impact we have when united. I started taking better care of myself. I realize now more than ever that if I do not take care of myself, I can never help anyone else. YOU must realize this too. The first step towards bettering the world is to better yourself. 

Drink tons of water. Eat good, nutritious foods.

Give yourself at least twenty minutes of nothing but catching your breath and re-centering yourself.

The resistance needs your strength.

I now have a mantra that helps me stay focused: resilient. consistent. resistant.

I am resilient because every time I hit rock bottom, every time something drags me into the darkest depths of myself, I have pulled myself back up. I never stay at my lowest point. I continue to rise, to conquer new demons, to find strength that I never knew I had. I am consistent because when I am able to regain the rhythm of my life, I make sure I flow to it every. single. day. One day at a time, one step at a time, I continue pushing forward in a pattern that aligns with my beliefs and my purpose.  It is not easy. But it is the only way to progress as an individual, and as part of the fight against fascism. I am resistant because I refuse to accept any boundary that is set for me by anyone outside of myself. I resist the fictitious limits and uniformity that our government and society tries to uphold. As a woman of color, a child of immigrants, a descendant of an Islamic republic, a millennial; there are so many expectations and standards that are created to keep me in check under all of those labels. I REFUSE to live my life parallel to them. And you should too. I am resistant to the new reforms and laws that are based in racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. I refuse to look the other way while all of this happens.

I will RESIST.

We are most alive when we’re in love

By:  Natasha Bishop

Illustration: Katy Stubbs

Illustration: Katy Stubbs

When I was eleven, (sadly not the rad-heroine-with-a-buzzcut-and-an-obsession-with-eggos type) I somehow mustered the courage to write the headboy at my school a Valentine's love note. In the wee small hours (probably 10pm), on the 13th of February 2008, in crimson ink, I scrawled my deepest darkest secret. On a ripped out page from my journal, and covered in scratch and sniff stickers, I confessed a raw, unbridled love in poetic Shakespearean english; sonnet form, of course. I folded the note up, spritzed it with some air freshener I found in my downstairs toilet (genuinely), kissed it for good luck and slipped it into the front pocket of my dress. I vividly remember not being able to sleep that night. I was more excited to tell a boy two years older than me that he was the love of my life, and that we shared a star-crossed connection reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, than I was for Christmas – and that’s saying something for an eleven year old. Every time I closed my eyes, I pictured us like two cardboard cutouts in a Taylor Swift video. 

Archie, 

Roses are red,

Violets are blue, 

I don’t know if you know this,

But I’m in love with you. 

Tasha

 

(I know, understated. Classic.)

After opening the usual ‘guess who’ cards from my mum, dad and dog over soggy cereal in the car on the way to school, I put my valentines confession in his pigeon hole (I swear that’s not an innuendo, it’s just what weirdo brit’s call a locker) and excitedly hurried off to my first lesson. I was buzzing all morning, waiting for the lunch bell to ring and bring me that breathless moment when I’d be able to read his reply, and what I all too naively assumed would be an equally rampant display of affection. 

 

Tasha, 

Roses are red, 

Violets are blue,

You should know this by now, 

I will NEVER be interested in you.

Archie 

 

Mortified, I pretended to have a music lesson and proceeded to spend my lunch break in the toilets, crying. Undeterred however, less that a month later I had fallen head over heals for another boy and wrote him a ballad called “Knight in black jumper”, another infatuation that unsurprisingly, did not turn into the love story of our generation. Why, I hear you ask, am I telling you all this tragic/awkward/all-too-familiar story of an eleven year old girl’s heartbreak? Because, I forgive Archie, and that knob in a black jumper, and I am not ashamed. I have always been, as many are, someone who wears their heart firmly on their sleeve, and although it has been broken many times, I have never wished for another one. My heart has gotten me through a lot of sticky situations; my parents’ divorce, my brother’s stint in rehab, a diagnosis that rendered me infertile, consistently being faced with sold-out Bon Iver tickets, far too much unrequited love – the list goes on. We all hurt, and when I hurt, my heart allows me to feel that and use it in a way I am so grateful for: expression. Although I am a strong advocate of gender intersectionality, I am female and thus, can only speak for my gender – perhaps something men should learn to do? So many women and girls, I know are far too practiced in the art of bottling up feelings, because we are brought up in a society that denounces emotion as a weakness. Years on from the days of ‘female hysteria’ we are still existing in a world that convicts women of being over emotional as opposed to rational, and thus damaged goods, unworthy of success. In one recent presidential debate, Donald Trump seemingly refused to engage in Hillary Clinton’s substance of argument, instead resorting to censuring Clinton "extremely upset, very angry.”

So, what has all this got to do with Valentine's Day? I will never condemn anyone else’s coping mechanisms or dictate how one should feel or react, however I will express the freedom and solace I discovered in expressing my own pain and emotions and allowing myself to feel. I am lucky enough to have girlfriends, a mother, a step-mother, a step-sister, aunts, grandmothers, heroines and books like I Love Dick or Milk and Honey… these are people and things that have all taught me how okay it is to feel, and the value of human expression. Women will no longer be silenced, just as men are not silenced. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but I implore you to buy into the commercialism, be brave on Valentine's Day and celebrate it. This doesn’t mean you have to do an eleven-year-old-me type confession, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. We are free; free to express in any way, shape or form and that is what Valentine’s Day should be about. It is not a day reserved only for tinder dates or sappy couple expos ALL OVER YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA (breathe), it is a day of freedom, and more specifically, freedom of expression. I personally try to treat everyday like Valentine’s Day, because as Disney as it sounds, life is honestly too short. I’m not saying every confession will have a fairy tale ending, but it doesn’t have to – not all confessions are for romantic relationships anyway. Tell your mum, dog, cat, brother, sister, girlfriends, boyfriends, teacher (maybe not) just how much they matter, as often as you can. Buy as many cards as you want with horrible puns on them, scrawl as many crimson coloured notes as possible, celebrate the brave eleven year old within yourself that society has buried, because she is incredibly important and the world needs all the love it can get right now.

But, if you can't face doing all that, be your own Valentine. Send yourself a love note, write yourself a song, devour a box of chocolates, because if you can openly admit to loving yourself as much as Romeo loved Juliet, or Scarlett loved Rhett, or Barack loves Michelle, you are as free as that eleven year old and anything is possible; after all, we are most alive when we’re in love. 

 

Natasha runs an organization that raises awareness about infertility. She is having a Valentine’s Pants Auction where over 90% of the profits go to Fertility Network UK, who help those facing infertility, you can bid on sexy pants here: 
The Pants Project Auction

The Unresolved

By: Sophie Davis

I find a strange comfort in collecting images, It's a way of filling my head with beautiful things, dulls any pain and masks insecurity.

Collecting images of women feels as if I'm collecting wild flowers-building a personal Eden.  I began a cathartic journey; an experiment that took me out of my own head. Away from the constant analysis of physicality, the years of self punishment, dissatisfaction and comparison,instead focusing entirely outside of the self.

I don't know these girls, and they don't know me. I ask when I first see them, out in clubs, passing on the street, in libraries, coffee shops, on the underground, whether they would let me photograph them. I don't just want their image, I also want to know them- as they say a photograph catches a soul, imprisoning it in a negative to be printed -reproduced- to belong. It's a sudden and foreign sense of freedom, a constructed intimacy that the act of photographing strangers produces.

The level of trust is so surprising, the acceptance of one another in that moment.  The ease that comes with allowing themselves to be photographed by another woman. There is a desire to be gazed at and to be the gazer,  intense moments that would never happen in reality. Those moments of brief connection can be extended and owned, even if they end up as fabrications- images pinned to a wall, remnants of an unresolved desire for something I cannot place. 

Viewers question the motivation; the predatory nature that haunts the work and whether I want them as lovers, or as sisters or friends? 

I still don't know the answer but I know the hypnotic need to lose myself in the image of another.

A letter to the girl who was raped

By: Amalie H.  @scandinaviandreamgurl

Photo by: Fanny Lindström

Photo by: Fanny Lindström

 

Dear girl who was raped, 

First of all I believe you. I believe you. I believe you. 

It doesn’t matter if this happened to you two days, two weeks, two months, two years ago or two decades ago. I want to let you know that I believe every single thing you saw, felt and said. Even if you were silent and are still silent today. 

It was not your fault. You were not sending mixed signals, or drinking too much, or being naive. It was not you

  Instead of teaching our boyfriends, dates, friends, teammates not to rape, we are taught ways to avoid it.

“Don’t be alone with strangers”

“Don’t walk home alone”

“Don’t wear short skirts”

“Don’t accept drinks”

“Buy that pepper spray and download our new App”

I was raped. I want to take this opportunity to let you know about my rape and how I recovered. To let you know that I am both thinking about you and sharing your pain. Every. Single. Day.  

My rape happened in the end of 2014 when I was traveling in Costa Rica. It happened five days upon my arrival. 

He had been giving me creepy looks since the first day, and one evening a group of people from the hostel went to a party. I wore a beautiful green bodycon dress. I was drinking beers, dancing, making conversations, and having fun. I kept rejected his advances several times during the evening. 

Back at the hostel and went to sleep in my tent. He came in several times, each time wearing less clothes. I cried and said no but I was completely in shock. I didn’t fight, didn’t run. I Froze. The fourth time he was about to enter I manage to get up and block the way. I cried and screamed. He panicked a bit and asked me if I wanted to buy drugs of him. 

He didn’t go in jail even though there was video evidence of him entering my tent multiple times, and of him calming down a couple that had heard me. The couple looked angry and ready to confront him. He said something to the guy, placed his arm casually around his shoulder, and their faces switched from angry to happy. He took them away from the tent. Then he returned. 

The first thing I did in the morning was throwing up and take a shower. Afterwards I went down in the reception and asked them to call the police. I broke down when the policemen arrived. I pointed out the rapist. He acted confused. Found his “girlfriend”, held her hand and walked slowly towards us. I threw up again. I tried to puke on his feet. 

He acted like I was insane and the policemen believed him.

I was the one who was taken away and who sat in an overly air-conditioned room for four hours. I gave “my version” of what he had done to me and on the same night I was taken to five different hospitals to go through rough examinations. 

At the police station they had asked me: “Are you sure you want to report this as a rape? You will have to go through the ‘victim procedure”. They told me what it would consist of and that it would last for at least 16 hours. I felt as if they were giving me my last chance to admit I was lying and take it all back. As if I was causing the problem and wasting everyone’s time with this inconvenience. As if the procedure was a threat, a test. 

The procedure consisted of both vaginal and anal examinations, plenty of blood work, and injections with thick needles. The vaccine was heavy and caused my brain to hurt and made me blind for three minutes. I had to take pills - both emergency contraception and pills that killed infections. The emergency contraception made my skin break out badly, caused severe cramps and made me bleed for 10 days straight. The other pills, for preventing possible diseases such as HIV, fucked up my ph balanced so I had infections in both mouth and vagina the following three weeks. In case I might forget about the rape, I was reminded of it every time I had to pee. 

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gone through it. The most traumatic part of the rape was how it was handled afterwards, but I couldn’t bare the thought of him doing the same to another girl. So I reported it, and when I heard that he was free to go, my heart broke. Now he could do it again and reporting him felt like a waste. It made my situation even more difficult to deal with and I was left traumatized and more hurt than ever. 

I had a travel blog at the time, so over the following days I wrote down the whole incident and posted it. It went viral and I received over 400 personal messages telling me how horrible it must have been and how strong I was. Ironically it made me break down even more. The reactions I received from people were like tiny mirrors on my own situation, and I could no longer pretend that it was one long nightmare. It made me realize how serious it was. 

I went home to Denmark for a month and got psychological help. One month later I was out traveling again.  

I decided to still wear the dress I had wore the night I was raped. I did this for several reasons, but first and foremost for my own healing process.

I had to reclaim my body and the dress was one of the ways that help me do this.  

The dress is a concrete object that I am able to separate from rape myths, victim blaming and stigma. I was not raped because of the way I was dressed, or because I was drinking and dancing. 

I was raped because of a rapist.  

When I wear this dress I wear it with pride. Each time I wear it I am showing myself, him, and the entire world that he didn’t get to me. He didn’t get to fuck up the way I choose to dress or to present myself and my body to the world. It has been my way of reclaiming my body and I have become even more body confident after the rape. I now truly understand that my body is entirely mine and nobody is allowed to touch, control, harm or criticize it. My body is my business.  

I am wearing the dress I was raped in as a walking statement. I am wearing it to create awareness. To show you and other rape survivors that it truly doesn’t matter what you wore, what you did or how you reacted - it is only about your consent. I am wearing it to kill the idea that when women dress up or down we give up control and allow men to feel entitled to our bodies. 

This is how I handled my rape and recovered. 

I am not saying you should go out and turn your rape into a heroic story. I am not saying you should turn your anger and trauma into a drive and fight and put yourself in that headspace all the time. 

I know, that for many rape survivors, this is simply not an option. 

For many rape survivors, it is about surviving, one day at a time. 

For many rape survivors, it is about getting through the day only revisiting the trauma a couple of times. 

For many rape survivors, it is about being able to fall asleep at night. 

But I am saying you can get through this, with the right help, the right support and by knowing that it was truly not your fault. 

Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome

By: Tasha Bishop

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan - www.jessicavaughan.co.uk

I begin this story with some context. Right now, in 2016, I am 19 years old. Having met at boarding school, I have been with my boyfriend (lets call him L shall we, nice and mysterious) for two years now, he was my first everything, and sickeningly, he is quite possibly the love of my life. So here I am, present day Tasha, all shiny and happy. 

Rewind 3 years. I am 16, currently studying for my GCSE's and I’m sitting in a white sterile room, awaiting an ultra sound scan. Many, MANY doctor’s appointments, tears and statements like "I bet there's nothing wrong with you, you're probably just a late bloomer" lead me to this point. I am finally about to find out why I have never had a period in my whole life. Countless people tried to convince me from the age of 12 that I was just eating too many bananas, or I was stressing too much and my body 'sensed' it. Up until now I'd just sort of gone along with it to appease people. But something in my 16-year-old psyche was screaming THIS IS WRONG. So yes, here I am, 16, doctor's waiting room. An hour and a big smear of cold blue gel later, a taut and stern-faced female doctor looks at me, puzzled. Holding up two ultrasound images of the lower abdomen area, she shows me a normal one, and mine; a seemingly abnormal one. Using the end of her chewed black biro she traces the indigo fuzz and tries to point out a pattern. Mum and I clearly look completely disillusioned because she all of sudden and very brashly announces "There's nothing there” whilst pointing to my scan.

After more confusion, I was referred back to my original consultant, armed with ultrasound evidence. That afternoon I had my follow up appointment. It gets kind of gritty here, so I will try to be brief and to the point. In the uncomfortably normal setting of my doctor's office, and in the short space of about 20 minutes, I was told some pretty life changing things. 

She started slowly, explaining the route she’d taken to arrive at my only probable diagnosis, because of how rare the condition I had was. She told me I was going to be referred to a specialist hospital in London where a team of experts would assess me further and offer some support. Eventually, the words I’d waited almost four years to hear, were suddenly aired. Affecting 1 in 500,000 and formally known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), I was born without a womb, meaning I’d never have a period and I’d never give birth to my own child and if I wanted to have sex, I would have to undergo invasive long term treatment. I can remember the room going very silent, as if I’d become momentarily deaf, and looking outside through the slits in the blind I watched the blue sky; the world seemed to stand still for a minute. The words I’d just heard somehow sank into me and embedded themselves, I’d never really expected something to actually be wrong. My body reacted for me and I remember crying and nodding a lot. Finally, as a farewell gift, the doctor added: “At this point, we assume you have a normal female chromosome pattern," glancing at my breasts, "but we will run some tests to confirm this.” Great, so I'm half human, half empty space, and they're not even 100% sure I'm a girl. Am I an X-Men mutant?

My mutation so to speak, didn’t make me feel special, or unique. I felt indescribably disgusting.  I was unable to do the two things my body was biologically created to do: have sex and recreate. I felt unwomanly and unworthy. I felt like I was grieving the loss of someone or something I’d never known, and I felt like nothing else really mattered much anymore; there was this irrecoverable piece of my body missing and I couldn’t even see the hole. There were days that summer, and many days after, when all I wanted was to curl up into a ball under my duvet and let my seemingly genderless, infertile body fester in sadness. Although my friends and family were, and still are, incredibly supportive, nothing any of them said could dull the pain I felt or make me feel normal.

People say you fall in love when you least expect it, so if you’re trying to prove the rule, I’d be a good example to use. Fast forward one pretty miserable year and along came L, who to me was like early mornings and moonshine. He couldn’t put a foot wrong, and when I finally felt able to trust him with the secret that was chewing up my insides like the hungry caterpillar, he guarded it like his own and supported me in a way he’ll never understand the full extent of. For the first time since I was 12, I felt like a woman, loved not for what I had or didn’t have, but for who I was.  

Fast forward another year and it’s the summer after my A levels. Having asked me out on my 18th birthday, we’d been dating for a year and waiting, sexless, for me to have my treatment so that I could lose my virginity. Even though the sexual tension was palpable and frankly unbearable at times, we found ways round it, and L was as patient as a saint. The summer months came around and finally I had the time to go into hospital and undergo the treatment that enabled me to have sex: an all-singing, all-dancing sparkly internal vagina was created for me! The treatment was painful and traumatic and not very nice at all, but fuck, it was worth it. L was going to university in Paris, so we’d strategically planned my momentous week’s visit in the city of love. Cheesy yet? Before we get down to the dirty details, let me just tell you how embarrassing saying goodbye to my family was that week. Of course EVERYONE knew why I had been in hospital, everyone knew why I was going to Paris, and everyone knew I wouldn’t be the same when I got back. Interestingly though, this almost helped. Being the last one out of all my friends to lose my virginity and feeling very late to the party, the nerves and apprehension was getting unbearable. After everything I went through though and the countless awkward conversations I’d had about sex, losing my virginity sort of lost its taboo.

Here I am, 18-year-old Tasha, self proclaimed virgin queen, standing outside L’s front door in Paris, new pants, hairless body, terrified. He takes my bag and pulls me in with one big arm and kisses me. We look at each other and burst out laughing. We manage to eek out the small talk for about 5 minutes, unable to stop smiling or take our eyes off each other. The excitement and a year’s worth of waiting gets too much and we sort of end up running/stumbling to the bedroom in under 10 minutes of arrival. 

I’m lying next to L staring at the ceiling, our fingers intertwined. My vagina hurts, but it’s a good pain. Our clothes decorate the floor. My eyes start to sting and a lump forms in my throat. Six years of pain and frustration and happiness and relief flood out. It was perfect because it wasn’t perfect. It hurt and it was awkward and I didn’t know what I was doing and it was probably shit, but it was sex for the first time with someone I loved more than words can describe, and that was enough. There were days when I never thought this would happen, but I can proudly announce I am virgin Queen no longer.

However, I have only very recently realised, a year later, that losing your virginity doesn’t fix everything, that the most valuable treatment I can give my body, is in fact, value. It has taken me months of thought, ineffable sadness and countless tears to finally reach the conclusion that I am actually worth something, a lot in fact. There may be a proportion of my internal makeup missing, and I may not be able to do things other women can, I may have to masturbate/dilate my vagina with a horrible medical plastic dildo so that I can have sex and endure days of total despair, but those small moguls are certainly conquerable and I am not my body; my body is a part of me, it does not define me. I am sure there will be far worse things to come, but at the ripe old age of 19, I can offer no gems of life wisdom, other than my truthful report that sex is not the be all and end all, and it is very possible to survive heartbreak, even if it seems unfixable, because usually there is nothing broken in the first place. For a while, I thought MRKH was this unsurmountable heap of sorrow, and I’d be the 40-year-old virgin, but I bigger than my body. 

Becoming a woman doesn’t happen overnight, no matter who you are: if in your mind you are born a girl, you will grow to be a woman through experience; it is not a biological process, it is not losing your virginity, nor is it one that can be calculated or defined: it is a staggeringly gorgeous uphill battle from chaos toward a balanced state of contentment, self belief, self love and empowerment. 

https://www.thepantsproject.com/

 

Growing up in Ulanhot

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.54.19 AM.png

By: Amber Yang

I grew up in a small city called Ulanhot in China where I was expected to live by strict social rules. Where I am from, woman are not equal to men, they are expected to marry before the age of 30, to have children and to be content taking care of the family and laborious household tasks. I know some women who have been forced into marriage by their parents, including my big sister. 

These traditional ideas have been ingrained in people’s minds but from an early age I felt like this is not a life I want to have. I became a Feminist, before I had even heard the word.

I’m not sure if I always knew what I wanted and who I wanted to be, or if it was more like a seed slowly germinating in my mind. At first I was scared to perceive my feminism in this way, and still probably feel that way sometimes. I feel like some people live so peacefully they forget how to right for their rights. 

My mother is my biggest influence, yet she is also my greatest oppressor. She is the breadwinner in our family, which is unheard of. She showed me that women are able to be independent and can be stronger than men. Even though her example showed me an alternative to my society’s constraints she keeps telling me I have to follow them. That I shouldn't work hard, and that I should just find a husband and have a baby. 

I can remember once when I was 16 my mother finding an entry I had written in my diary. I wrote about my best friend, how we had held hands, and that maybe I had feelings for him. She made me tear up my diary in front of her and she grounded me. To her it was improper behavior, to me it meant I had nowhere to talk about my feelings. After that I built a wall and I stopped talking to my parents as much because I didn't feel like they could understand me. 

I moved to the UK and am studying Fashion Design. I enjoy my life here so much. I am working hard to prove I can live like I want, and can do whatever a man can do. I want other girls who struggle with societal restraints to know what you can be an independent girl. I hope that women have the right to pursue their own life.