I Forgot to Shave My Toes

Hannah

          “Oh, no. I forgot to shave my toes,” Hannah cried, intently examining her big toe. My head whipped around when I heard this, my strong-female-role-model senses instantly activated. I turned and saw three other girls gathered around Kelly intently inspecting their own 12-year-old bodies.

          “Wait. What did you just say?” I asked. Shaving legs, armpits, and nether regions? Yes, I had heard of that, but never toes. As their youth group leader, I couldn’t let such an important topic go unaddressed.

          “I forgot to shave my toes. I look disgusting,” Hannah huffed, visibly deflating.

          “Why do you shave your toes?”

          “You don’t?” another girl Emily asked. “I shave my toes and my stomach. Guys aren’t going to like you otherwise.”

Lisa

          We lay on the beach wrapped in warm gusts of wind and spray from the Mediterranean tide. I tried to relax my now contorted body atop the jabbing stones of Nice’s beach. Lisa, a vibrant, carefree Australian girl I met at Versailles, had just returned from braving the cold, forceful waves. I noticed she didn’t shave her armpits or, after scanning down the rest of her body, anything else.

          “I know some guys have different expectations of girls’ body hair. What is your reaction from them if you aren’t shaved?” I asked.

          “I like the feeling of being shaved, but it’s such a hassle,” she explained. “Most guys are cool with it, and if they aren’t, they aren’t worth it. I don’t do it for them. If I shave, it is for me.

Dear Women,

          This week I read a news story about French teen Adele Labo who after being bullied about her body hair created the now popular hashtag #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils (#PrincessesHaveHair in English). My initial reaction was frustration that this even needs to happen, that women feel so uncomfortable in their natural bodies that it is radical and newsworthy when someone does.

          Even I am taken aback when I see a woman with unshaven armpits or legs because it is so rare, so I have to pause and ask myself why I feel that way. The answer is that for my entire life, I have been shown and told that women are supposed to be hairless save for their heads and eyebrows.

Really think about this:

Does not shaving hurt anyone? No.

Does not shaving make you less of a woman? No.

Does not shaving make you less desirable? No.

Does not shaving mean you are dirty? No. (According to a study published in JAMA Dermatology, 3 out of every 5 women remove their pubic hair because they think it is unhygienic. Not true! It’s actually the opposite.)

Does not shaving mean you don’t care about your appearance? No.

Does not shaving mean you are a stereotypical hippie? No.

Is not shaving anyone’s business but your own? No.

          My heart sank hearing how much effort, anxiety, and self-criticism those 12-year-old girls endured to be acceptable to middle school boys not only because I loathe the standards they waste their time worrying about but also because I feel the same pressures just as acutely. Yes, I know body hair is natural, but it isn’t easy to shake 23 years of messages saying otherwise.

          Seeing Lisa in Nice helped, though. As we walked through the streets and danced in bars, men were enamored with her stunning beauty and her spirited confidence; they couldn’t look away. I know that reaction would have been the same whether she shaved that night or not.

          I want everyone—including myself—to be able to look at an unshaven woman and find her beautiful; moreover, I want everyone to not be ashamed of the realities of physical humanity.

          The most effective way to conquer a fear is to face it, so challenge yourself as I have done to go out one day at a time without shaving something; I think you will quickly realize how little people notice, if they do at all, and how it isn’t as big of a deal as you anticipated. 

          Now, I’m not saying I have sworn off shaving. Not at all. Heck, I’ve had laser hair removal done, and if it wasn’t so expensive, I would do it again. The point is that we all have a choice of what we do with our bodies, and we deserve to feel beautiful whatever that choice is. I challenge you to love your smooth legs and your hairy legs—I challenge you to love yourself no matter what.

Love,

Brenna

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You’re Traveling Alone?! But…

“Vous voyagez seule?” an elderly French woman asked me at the bus stop to Èze. When I answered, “Oui,” she gasped, shaking her head, and exclaimed, “Vous êtes courageuse.”

She is one of many people who told me I was brave for traveling alone and they could never do it, sentiments by which I am continuously puzzled because I see nothing to fear and everything to discover. In fact, for the time being, I only want to travel alone.

Here are some of the questions people asked me when I told them I was going solo:

1. But aren’t you afraid being taken?

No, not even a little. While being taken, drugged, and sold into prostitution is a possibility, it is mostly just the plot of fantastic Liam Neeson film.

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My dad watches Jeopardy every night. Does that count?

2. But how will you feel safe? You could be robbed.

Not once did I feel unsafe in Europe. People mostly keep to themselves, and those who do approach you are probably just trying to sell you a selfie stick. Say, “Non, merci,” and keep walking. I think traveling alone is even safer than with someone else because you can become just another person living in that city, especially if you don’t dress like a tourist.  Not only are you not loudly speaking in your native language, you also are not distracted by someone else.

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You’ll never get robbed in Switzerland because everyone is richer than you are. (This hotel’s theme was money, just having lots and lots of money.)

3. But won’t you be lonely?

Even though I was traveling by myself, I was rarely alone. All it took on my part was asking simple questions, and every day I met new people from around the globe, all connected by travel and all open to sharing a slice of their life. Thankfully, it is easy to find an English speaker almost anywhere you go; however, some of my dearest interactions were when I was forced to speak solely in French.

I explored Èze with a South African couple, discussed foreign affairs with two Israeli girls by the Arc de Triomphe, got wonderfully lost with an American expat in le Marais, danced on picnic tables to the Backstreet Boys with an Australian, ate too much gelato with Canadians, and had the perfect Parisian evening with a Colombian photographer—to name a few.

Another fantastic way to meet people is to stay in hostels because you not only automatically have something in common with dozens of people but also because those people are usually as eager to meet new people as you are.

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You’ll always remember the people with whom you bonded even if it was only for a day.

4. But won’t it be weird eating alone?

Why is eating alone weird? If the idea of eating alone makes you uncomfortable, do it before you leave a few times to get used to it. I promise, nothing bad will happen, and no one is judging you but yourself. To keep myself occupied, I always carried a book and a journal.

Many times I didn’t eat alone, though, because I would meet people at the café or restaurant and start talking to them. Go to a restaurant with a bar to sit at because that is where a many couples and solo people dine. When I did that, I always met people with whom I could talk throughout the meal. Another option is to go to a very small establishment where you can make friends with the staff. Bonus: go somewhere multiple times. People will already know you, so you can build relationships instead of always starting from scratch.

5. But what if you get lost?

I hope that I do! Whenever I would go someplace new, I would walk around the city without a plan and without knowing precisely where I was. If at a glance I saw a beautiful street or an interesting monument, I went to it. While this prevented me from ever sticking to an itinerary, it allowed me to discover sites, shops, and streets I would have never seen otherwise. By doing this I observed how a city and its inhabitants live and breathe, not just how guidebooks present them. Even getting truly lost isn’t scary; in fact, relying on yourself to solve a problem is exhilarating and empowering.

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Meandering through the gorgeous streets of Nice.

Beyond the joys of discovery and new relationships, solo travel provides a perfect adventure for independent people who like to be in control of their own experience. If that sounds like you, just go for it!

Do You Love Me? Losing My Virginity and Searching for Approval

approval

Seeking approval is a part of being human. Maslow said being respected by others is one of our basic needs. However, particularly seeking approval of who we are from outside sources will only lead to frustration, inauthenticity, exhaustion, and feeling captive to the opinions of others. No one wants that.

But can’t it be terrifying and difficult not to care about what other people think? Heck yes! It’s scary knowing that by revealing who you are or by making a certain choice, other people may be disappointed in you, disrespect you, or dislike you. The more you love and respect someone, the harder it is.

Is it worth the risk?

I say yes. Even if it means someone doesn’t want to date or hang out with you. Even if someone thinks less of you. You will be content because you are loving and accepting yourself. In situations where it’s tempting to look to others for my worth, I always think, “This is who I am. I have shown you my authentic and vulnerable self, and if you don’t like me, there is nothing I can do about it.”

Kevin G from Mean Girls

But all of this can be told another way, a story illustrating my—disastrous—search for approval and eventual realization that “your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”

The Bad Beginning

When I was a senior in high school, I started dating my first boyfriend. Three months later, he broke up with me over text because he “couldn’t be in a relationship with me and God at the same time.” That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard and didn’t accept it as a valid reason.

Are you serious?

Doing the exact opposite of what I should have done, I continued to pursue him. I spit in logic’s face, hopped in my car, and went 100 mph down Hormone Highway. But why would I do this?

  1. It was my first romantic relationship, and I had no idea what I was doing.
  2. Hormones. All of them.
  3. I quickly and deeply care about people—especially him—and I genuinely wanted to do whatever I could to make him happy. I thought that if I could only prove to him how much I cared, then he would want to be with me. Right? Right? Bueller?
  4. No one likes being rejected—especially those of us who always seek to be the best. The rational part of me knew I was worthy of dating him, making his rejection all the more confusing. For the majority of my life, failure just wasn’t an option. It wasn’t something that I grew from: it was a devastating example of inadequacy. Thus, I started my mission to prove my worth to him.
  5. Finally, I wanted him to accept my point of view and say he was wrong about not being able to have a relationship with me and God at the same time. We came from very different religious points of view, and his didn’t make any sense to me. Instead of just acknowledging what he believed and moving on, I argued. I pushed. I tried to persuade. Brilliant idea, right?

The Dastardly Deed

Let’s fast forward a few months to the day of my high school graduation. Not much had changed between him and me, mostly just the dating label. So how did I pull off this comeback? In the most naive and demeaning way. I knew his biggest weakness was his physical attraction toward me, so I exploited that. Because I thought if I could physically entice him into spending time with me, then I would have an opportunity to show him how much I cared about him and to talk about getting back together. Did anyone just cringe out of humiliation after reading that? Yeah, I did too.

Cringe face of Jack from Jacksfilms
We all know this isn’t going to end well.

So, it was graduation day. We were together. In my bed.

“We should have sex,” he said. Instantly, I froze. I was in no way ready for this unexpected proposition. “C’mon. Just a little. Just to see what it feels like. Please?”

Janice from Mean Girls

Even though my common sense, my morals, and my sympathetic nervous system were sounding the retreat, the part of me that thought his wanting to have sex meant that he wanted to be in a committed relationship with me—the part that desperately sought his approval—won.

A few days later I learned he was pursuing someone else. After a week of silence, he finally responded to my communication. Over text, of course. He said these words that are eternally branded into my mind. “You’re right. I used you for sex. I never really liked you.”

Cue Brenna’s self-worth shattering.

Pull out my heart

The Annihilating Aftermath

I was utterly devastated, livid, betrayed, and broken. How could he? I offered every part of myself to him, but ultimately I meant nothing. For a year after that, I was lost. Combine my bad decision making with the religious crisis that I was going through, and I started questioning everything, incapable of making a decision without asking multiple people’s advice. My friends noticed, and I felt myself losing their respect.

Even after all the pain my ex-boyfriend inflicted upon me, I spent the next seven months in an arduous, yet successful campaign to date him again. While there were many noble reasons why I did this including love and forgiveness, one was selfish—one was needing to prove I was good enough for him, and the only way I would be satisfied was if we started dating again.

The Illuminated Insight

It wasn’t until three years later when we broke up for good that I fully understood someone’s not wanting to date me doesn’t mean I am worth anything less. It doesn’t mean I am not good enough. And it definitely doesn’t mean I failed.

Asking yourself, “What could I have done better? What’s wrong with me? Did they ever really care? Why am I not good enough?” are all questions that will never lead to answers but will always lead to agony and strife. We were never getting back together, so I had to make a choice: love and accept myself, move on, and be happy or dwell and be miserable.

This mindset has revolutionized how I deal with ending relationships. Earlier this year after dating someone, he told me he didn’t want to pursue a relationship. All I responded with was, “Okay! That’s cool,” and I meant it.

  1. I’m done trying to convince people who don’t care about me that I am worthy of being cared about. It’s an emotionally exhausting sales job with zero return on investment.
  2. In a romantic sense, this man couldn’t control his feelings of indifference toward me anymore than I could control my feelings of admiration for him. How could I fault him?
  3. I have nothing to feel bad about or regret when I present myself as genuinely as possible.
  4. I consciously decide that no one is allowed to bring me down. No one controls my happiness but me.

Everyone, I implore you to experience the vast and uplifting freedom that is not letting the opinions of others determine your self-worth. I know it isn’t easy. However, you will have the courage to be authentic when you understand that you are enough. Trust me—you are.

8 Reasons to Choose Love Over Hate: Part 2

Here is Part 1 if you haven’t already read it.

Maybe Atticus Finch said it best. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

5. Most people aren’t trying to hurt you—they’re trying to find their own happiness.

People don’t cheat on their significant other because it would be fun to hurt him or her. People don’t boast about themselves because they want everyone else to feel annoyed and inferior. People don’t lie to make others feel betrayed. They are just struggling to find happiness and making bad decisions trying to get there. Thinking about this makes you feel a lot less attacked, betrayed, and hurt.

6. People are broken

Like my last point, understanding that people are broken redirects the target of someone’s actions away from you. People have been hurt and continue to hurt. They carry the weight of their struggles with them and never heal their scars. When people are so broken that they are hurting others, they don’t need you to be angry at them—they need love, help, and empathy.

7. The fundamental attribution error

AP psychology alums will recognize the term fundamental attribution error. This is when someone overestimates the effect of someone’s personality and underestimates the effect of situation on someone’s behavior. Remembering this concept will transform the way you interact with people! Instead of quickly judging someone, which is the easy thing to do, try thinking about why someone is acting that way. Talk to him or her. Try to understand. For example, if someone is constantly crabby and negative, don’t get angry at him or her for having a bad attitude: try to understand why this person is acting that way. Maybe he or she is having relationship issues, doesn’t have enough money to pay a bill, or is even depressed. Making people feel understood is one of the best gifts you can give them.

8. You would want someone to forgive you

If you hurt someone and were sorry, wouldn’t you want someone to forgive you? Then, why won’t you do it for other people? Not forgiving people leaves a burden of anger with you like I talked about in Part 1. We all mess up; that is guaranteed. We all also deserve love and forgiveness—without a prerequisite. Even though it is difficult, when people hurt you, love them more and forgive them. Give them the freedom to try again and improve. Make people’s hurtful actions actions bring out the best in you, not the worst.

The power of empathy is immense!

Love, Brenna

8 Reasons To Choose Love Over Hate: Part 1

no time

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently, a friend and I were talking about someone who had severely hurt me, and she asked, “Don’t you hate him?” I truthfully replied, “Not at all.” Let me share with you why it is so important to choose love and understanding over hate when someone has hurt you.

1. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

There are so many better ways to use your time, especially if you are as busy as I am. Use your free time to think about important and positive things like a career goal, a book you are reading, or what you could do nice for someone today.

2. Hating people sucks your energy and weighs you down.

It takes effort to keep thinking about how upset you are at someone and talking about it over and over to your friends. Think about negativity as a parachute  attached to your back. Every time you try to move forward, it catches the air, pulls you back, and slows you down. Free yourself! Instead of feeling upset about someone who just brings negativity to your life, you could be putting your energy into relationships with people who truly care about you.

3. Hating someone isn’t hurting him or her—it’s only hurting you.

Your being angry has no effect on someone else whatsoever, but it is making you frustrated, distracted, obsessive, and negative. Moreover, your continuing to be upset isn’t moving the situation toward a resolution.

4. Sometimes, someone didn’t actually hurt you: you just don’t like what happened.

For example, so many times I have seen a guy not want to date a girl, and suddenly the guy becomes this monster. She and her friends call him a bunch of awful names and pick apart his flaws. Maybe that guy truly did things to justify feeling hurt, BUT you can’t get mad at someone just because he or she doesn’t want to date you. That doesn’t make him a bad person. Next time when you have a strong emotional reaction, take five minutes to think about what you are truly feeling and what caused you to feel that way. Are you upset, or are you actually disappointed, scared, jealous, or feeling attacked?

Make love a habit. Come back for part two, which will be up in the next few days!

Brenna

Remember who you are

Dear women,

            Soon before my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, I sought the counsel of one of my professors who always helps me see life clearly and leads me in the right direction. At the end of our conversation, he said, “I think you know exactly what you need to do.” He was right. I knew almost from the very beginning of our three-and-a-half-year relationship that my ex-boyfriend and I shouldn’t be together.

When I called upon a psychologist to help me through my religious crisis, all the sessions lead up to his telling me, “You know what you truly believe, and you are never going to change.”

In both situations I spent years trying to rationalize things I knew weren’t right out of fear, social pressure, and even love. Boy, I was stressed—major cognitive dissonance! It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to live contrary to who you truly are.

Sociologist and author of “Finding Your Own North StarMartha Beck says everyone has an essential self and a social self or who we are and who we think we should be. She says our bodies give us clear signs when we are going against our essential selves. “That feeling of choked hostility, or numb depression, or nauseated helplessness is a sure sign you’re steering…toward a life you were not meant to live.”

When I finally surrendered and accepted myself, I felt such blissful freedom. Ladies, take time to truly listen to your intuition and your feelings about whatever you are dealing with. Asking a million people for their advice will only confuse you and frustrate you, and it won’t change your life. Be brave and live life the way you want to live it even if it seems scary. When you do, you will feel lighter, freer, less stressed, and more whole because there is no longer a battle going on inside of you.

Love,

Brenna

The Secret of Happiness

Dear women,

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? By bills, deadlines, and big decisions? I know the feeling. But what if I told you that I want you to be overwhelmed—because it will totally change your life?

I want you to feel overwhelmed by gratitude, like a wave crashing over you as you realize all reasons you have to be thankful. The force of the wave expels all your stress and negativity, and you are left enveloped by feelings of joy, warmth, and wonder.

By consciously being gracious, I promise that you will be happier. Not only that, it makes you more attractive, more popular, and more emotionally resilient. Plus, it even helps you live longer

Don’t just take my word for it. Dr. Robert Emmons, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, shows through his research that people can be consistently more happy by practicing gratitude. Vulnerability and shame researcher Brené Brown’s work has also proven that gratitude brings joy, a finding that has transformed her family. Listen to her story in this video:

Give being consciously thankful a try. It doesn’t take long, and it’s free. I recommend the Five Minute Journal, which helps you evaluate your days and boost your self-worth. Think about someone for whom you are thankful and write him or her a letter expressing that. While sharing a meal with family or friends, take turns saying what you are thankful for.

Practicing gratitude has made me so joyful that some days I feel as if I am glowing or that the joy might burst out of me like air from a balloon. Ladies, I want you to feel that way too; I want you to feel overwhelmed with gratitude.

Love,

Brenna