Ableism: Why it Matters

ableism why it matters

Every parent knows the joy of expecting their precious, perfect baby... and then the moment finally comes to meet their little one! Now imagine: seeing your baby for the first time, spine entirely exposed and hearing two dreaded words: spina bifida.

26 years ago, this was the scene of my entrance into the world. Not being a parent myself, I cannot relate to what they must have felt, but I can only imagine the thoughts that go through a new parent's mind at that moment.

What will my child's future look like--school, college, career, independence? What about society's reaction to their birth defect? What effect will that have on their mental health? These are all very real issues and I hope to cover most, if not all of these areas.


The topic of education for children (as well as adults) with spina bifida is a complicated one. Almost all babies born with spina bifida also have hydrocephalus, which basically means that there is extra cerebrospinal fluid in the brain that is not draining properly.

A VP shunt is then surgically placed to aid in draining the fluid, but as a result varying degrees of learning challenges present themselves. Every case is unique, and the learning challenges widely vary in severity. In my early education days, I was fortunate to have some more mild problems (but significant nonetheless). Occasionally I would need some minor accommodations, such as extended deadlines for big projects, but I was able to do grade level work.

Although I had occasional frustrations, I didn't notice just how significant my learning challenges really were until I started college. My first classes were remedial 90 level classes which, with the exception of the reading classes, went fairly smoothly. The real trouble started when I began the college level courses. I got overwhelmed very quickly and, after many unsuccessful attempts, made the hard decision that college was just not the best route for me.


All of these education-related obstacles leads me to my next point: employment.

Being an adult with a disability in the employment world is not an easy quest by any means. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with college degrees, which makes it more difficult for those of us who do not have one.

Proving my equal ability to perform job tasks, despite my disability has been without a doubt the most frustrating process that I have ever experienced. We, in the spina bifida community, are equally capable of performing job duties just as well as any able-bodied adult and my hope is that someday that will be recognized in all places of employment.


My final area of focus is society's attitudes and reactions towards those with disabilities, and the impact that it can have on one's mental health, which again is an individual experience that is unique to each person. Many disabled young children and teenagers can experience quite a lot of bullying in school which, at critical points in their lives, can lead to a negative self esteem.

Due to this very issue, mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety are fairly prevalent in the disability community. Beyond the realm of public school, bullying and prejudice can also happen in the general public leading to the same issues.

I would love nothing more than to see things change to create a more accepting world for ALL people. There is definitely much work to be done still but I truly believe, with more disability education and awareness, it will be possible.

What's your experience with ableism? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Rachel Turcotte

Guest Blogger: Rachel Turcotte

Rachel was born in Tacoma, Washington, raised in Olympia since she was four years old. Although she isn't currently active in either, her two biggest loves are music and sports.

She got involved in wheelchair sports when she was very young, starting out in track and field, then started playing wheelchair basketball when she was 10. She participated in band for several years at school and enjoyed 11 years of piano lessons.

In her free time, Rachel also enjoy reading, watching movies and spending time with friends.



Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior: How to Help Someone You Love Back from the Brink of Despair

Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior - Bring Someone You Love Back from the Brink of Despair
Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior - Bring Someone You Love Back from the Brink of Despair

Finding out that someone you love is contemplating suicide – or possibly has attempted suicide – is unfathomable for most people, yet it happens too often to people who never suspected that someone close to them was struggling so deeply. While this often leads to guilt, with friends and loved ones blaming themselves for not noticing something was wrong or intervening sooner, the important thing is to educate yourself now and take a more active role going forward to protect the person you care about, encouraging the process of managing suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Know the Warning Signs

What signs should you be looking for? While every individual is unique, there are some common signs that you should watch for that might indicate that your loved one is suffering from a relapse and is considering self-harm:

  • Negative talk such as feeling worthless, having no reason to live and similar statements
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Reckless behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Drastic mood swings including irritability, rage, humiliation or anxiety

Any sign that strikes you as out of the ordinary should be considered a potential warning and an indication that you should take some action to ensure that your loved one isn’t having thoughts of self-harm or sinking deeper into depression.

Understand Outside Influences

Certain demographic factors do play a role in the overall risk profile for suicide attempts and ideation as well as addiction, a form of self-medication that can lead to reckless or dangerous behavior. For example, the incidence of illegal drug use is greater among the African-American community (12.4%) than the general population (10.2%). Illicit drug use and alcohol abuse may also be impacted by factors such as societal status, poverty and other demographics.

There’s a societal stigma associated with mental illness which can lead some individuals to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs rather than seek treatment for a mental illness. Understanding the roles these factors play can help you be more mindful of societal influences and take action sooner to get your friend the help they need.

Take Appropriate Action

If you fear for your loved one’s safety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. If you’re sure that your friend or loved one has no intentions of attempting self-harm immediately, there may be time to talk things through and arrange for treatment. There are several action steps you can take to help:

  • Start a conversation with care and understanding, but no judgement
  • Don’t handle the situation alone
  • Stay with your friend until you are sure there is no immediate crisis and/or they are receiving professional help (in an inpatient setting or through a trusted healthcare practitioner)
  • Remove firearms, medications and other items that could be used for self-harm
  • Offer hope that treatments and alternatives are available and that it’s possible to regain control over their life
  • If the person receives help, don’t drop it – follow up often to make sure they’re coping well

It may be hard to know what to do when confronted by the knowledge that a friend or loved one has contemplated suicide. However, many of the recommended actions are things that can be easily done. Understanding the warning signs and paying careful attention to behaviors can provide clues that someone is considering self-harm. Following these tips and strategies will help you ensure your loved one’s safety while being supportive and caring.

Guest BloggerSteve Johnson

Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.

*Note from Kathryn: When Steve approached me to write a piece on suicide prevention for Fashionably Frank, I was touched and happy to provide him with the platform. Having lost a good friend and colleague, an uncle and almost many additional friends to suicide, this is an issue that I am passionate about raising awareness for. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the journey I had coming to terms with why suicidal people feel the way they do--written right after comedian and actor Robin Williams passed, published just moments before my good friend and colleague took his own life. In a later guest post, a friend of mine shared her own personal accounts of having lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide at a young age.

Thank you for reading. Your time may save a life.

Help Someone You Love - Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior
Help Someone You Love - Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior


This Earth Day, Choose to Make a Difference

This Earth Day, what will you do to make an impact? There's a variety of simple ways you can help the planet by taking small steps and implementing more eco-friendly acts into your daily routine.


Avoid plastic or paper bags. Here in my county in Washington State, plastic bags have been banned for the last year or two and there is a five cent fee for each paper bag purchased. This can be avoided (especially when grocery shopping) by bringing your own cloth bags.


(Or become vegetarian, if you're so inspired). The meat industry accounts for 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. If you can't make this sacrifice every day, at least go meat-free once a week.


Eliminating the amount of vehicles on the road will greatly help our pollution issues. Carpool to work with a friend, opt out of a car and ride your bike or take the local transit bus. This will cut down on your costs, too!


This is a given, to me at least, but I know not everybody recycles. Most apartment buildings (and certainly houses) in the U.S. at least come with a garbage and recycling bin.


This is something I'm super guilty of that I can work on. Plastic bottles can be super convenient when you're at the supermarket and need something fast to quench your thirst, but planning ahead and packing a water bottle is the best choice you can make--by far.


The most cliche but useful tip I found when researching things to do to better your eco footprint was to plant a tree--at least one each Earth Day. By planting a single tree, you produce tons of water and oxygen, as well as keep people happy and shaded during the hot summer months.

What do you do on a daily basis to help the planet?

Kathryn Signature
Kathryn Signature
How to Help the Earth on Earth Day
How to Help the Earth on Earth Day


Why I Love My Body + You Should, Too

Why I Love My Body (And You Should, Too)
Why I Love My Body (And You Should, Too)

When I think about body love or body confidence, there's a whole bunch of history that comes to mind. I know deep down that no matter what my body manifests itself as or looks like over the years, I will always accept it because it has done brilliant things for me. Here's why I love my body (and you should, too).

1. My body has been the vessel that has carried me through this life. Oh, how I love it so! My body has helped me escape tough times, embrace great times and has survived a lot of health bullshit.

2. My stomach is amazing and useful! I can balance a plate of food, my phone and other random objects against my "poochy" belly (and then eat the food and enjoy my life even more).

3. My butt looks great in a tight skirt. We all have things we dig about ourselves, am I right? I wouldn't trade my fat butt for anything in LIFE.

4. My sturdy thighs that (HALLELUJAH!) don't have thigh gap by purposeful starvation. My thighs are strong and withhold all the yoga bends and all my yummy doughnut endeavors. I wouldn't trade my traits like these that remind me of my Hispanic heritage and womanly curves.

5. My skin by far is my favorite part of my physical appearance, hair being a close second (although that took years to feel good about and still sometimes gets me down). I never had to battle bad acne as a kid (just an occasional few pimples) and I'm so grateful for that.

6. I am unique. Just like you, we all carry traits that set us apart from each other and all of these traits (both physical and personality) should be celebrated and loved.

*Note: I'm a big fat lover and am beginning to do my best to not consider "fat" a derogatory term. Please don't interpret my usage as offensive or negative.

Why do you love your body? Brag a lil'! Share your beauty in the comments--all genders celebrated!

Why I Love My Body (And You Should, Too)
Why I Love My Body (And You Should, Too)


6 Life Lessons I Learned from the Most Prominent Social Psychologist

Throughout my college career, I studied under a psychologist who has a close relationship and mutual respect with arguably the most prominent social psychologist of all time: Dr. Elliot Aronson. Which yes, this means that I've been a lucky lady who has spoken with Dr. Aronson on multiple occasions. Dr. Aronson has spent his life studying and redefining cognitive dissonance, as well as the social nature of us humans as the "social animals" we are.

1. Mistakes were made (and definitely by me).  The perils of cognitive dissonance are REAL. Cognitive dissonance is the state of holding two or more inconsistent or challenging beliefs or attitudes about a situation, thing or person. Trying to justify why a situation isn't our fault (but knowing deep down inside that we truly did play a part in the event in question) is a staple of dissonance. To progress, we must acknowledge our wrongdoings.

2. There's nobody left to hate. We as a society shape our citizens. If we don't work to end this hyper-masculine narrative in our society, boys will always bully other boys and we will always have mass shootings. Similar to teaching intolerance and prejudice, we will never stop seeing cops senselessly murdering people of color. That escalated quickly, didn't it? This, among other facts, explains why there is absolutely nobody left to hate. We must work at changing the nature of our society if we want to see any true change occur.

As Dr. Aronson said to me, "It's not so much that I enjoy teaching compassion, but putting kids in a situation where they can begin to acquire compassion and an understanding of each other." Aronson is responsible for the famous Jigsaw classroom technique that helped integrate schools in Texas, allowing kids to work together to solve a problem, erasing the focus of their cultural differences.

3. We are all social animals. We are all affected by each other, settings and situations. Not one of us is "born evil" or "born saint-like", and "people who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy." We must understand social psychology in order to properly judge people and their situation(s). "The Social Animal" is Elliot's most famous text, now in its 11th edition with APA honors, widely regarded as the most long-lasting and relevant psychological text.

4. Democrat or bust. Dr. Aronson is a strong supporter of the Democratic party in U.S. politics (as am I), and has actively stood by our liberal thought process. He admits to providing advice to the Obama campaign (the second time around) in regards to hypocrisy research Aronson conducted many years before, encouraging an increase in the amount of African-American voters taking advantage of the opportunity to vote after the opposing side tried to stifle their votes in attempts at not getting Obama reelected. Democrat or bust, y'all!

5. "Any asshole can win if he's dealt the winning hand." Resiliency is key, and sometimes: "You have to do what you do well with what you get," as Dr. Aronson expressed during our last Skype session. The quote at the title of this lesson is what Aronson's brother told him when he was young. Aronson turns this around to say: while we cannot help our emotions to situations, we do have cognitive control and we can rationally analyze our thoughts, turning our emotional reactions into reasonable, rational behavior. A boy who grew up in poverty, later becoming almost completely blind, Aronson has never had it naturally easy. He proclaimed: "Every ground ball counts, and you have to play with what you get!"

6. Most important of all: you will end up where you want to be, not by chance alone. In his autobiography, Dr. Aronson speaks to his experiences of success (and failure). His life is a testament to why we all must go after what we want and take risks, because we won't get anywhere by sitting and waiting for our good fate to happen. Aronson says, "Students are continually asking themselves, 'Who am I?' My goal was to get them to reframe the question into: 'Who do I want to become?' Once they arrive at their own answer, they must also learn that getting there won’t come by chance alone."

I won't forget these life lessons as I graduate college, move on and do bigger things in life. Thanks to Dr. Elliot Aronson, I feel as though I have more insight than I would have had my life not been touched by his works and gentle soul.

6 Life Lessons from the Most Prominent Social Psychologist
6 Life Lessons from the Most Prominent Social Psychologist


Go-Getter Ladies to Watch Out For - #ffgirlboss

Go-getter ladies are my favorite kind of ladies! I like to consider myself a lady with entrepreneurial spirit, and I use the hashtag #girlboss far too much (I even snoop it to find new and exciting ladies to follow on Twitter and Instagram). This blog post is covering the best #girlbosses--the go-getter ladies to watch out for! Beginning my very first hashtag #ffgirlboss, I was able to connect with entrepreneur/blogger ladies who sent me their work, as well as receive nominations of ladies from their loyal followers. Each woman featured here has their own remarkable story, their own generational experiences and their own passion that they put their heart and soul into. I've since fallen in love with them all!

Let's dive right in!

Caitlyn Nunnery of Practically Preppy

A self-proclaimed J. Crew lover that's strong in her faith, this fashionista will surely take over the fashion blogging world in due time. At the age of 17, Caitlyn Nunnery has a lot of success ahead of her. You can read her blog, then tweet at her here.

Claire of The Aware Beauty

An up-and-coming YouTuber on the beauty guru scene, Claire takes a unique approach to the definition of "beautiful," encouraging other ladies to use only high quality, cruelty-free products in order to cultivate a respectful lifestyle. With over 1,000 subscribers, Claire is on the high road to becoming a YouTube hit with her do-good attitude. Check out her videos, then tweet at her.

Alexis Grippi of AMG Fashions

Breaking onto the fashion blogging scene, Alexis M. Grippi of AMG Fashions has a keen eye for putting outfits together and a natural love for fashion. "Fashion is all around us," she says, proudly proclaiming her love of style. She's the first to let her readers in to great deals as well as outfit tips, always a trusted source. You can read her blog, then tweet at her.

Kim Headlee of The Maze of Twisty Passages

An accomplished author and screenwriter, Kim Iverson Headlee has published a variety of fantasy novels with thrilling and entertaining characters, plots and messages. Currently appearing at a variety of conventions, don't miss out on your chance to see this lady's masterwork! Read her blog, then tweet at her.

Andrea Scher of Superhero Life with Andrea Scher

"No capes. Just courage." is the motto of Andrea Scher--artist, photographer, life coach and mentor who writes at "Superhero Life with Andrea Scher". Andrea is the definition of #girlpower, declaring: "To me, a Superhero is someone who invites her wisest, bravest, most alive self to come out and play, every day. This doesn’t mean having all the answers, being unshakably strong, or performing dramatic feats of heroism." Andrea captured my attention in 30 seconds; she'll capture yours, too. Read her blog, then tweet at her.

Erin Prewitt of Portrait of Forgiveness

After losing her beloved husband Chris, this remarkable lady chose to live her life with strength, stating: "There is nothing that can happen in life that cannot be forgiven." Now a speaker, trainer and consultant (featured in Huffington Post), Erin is leading by example and encouraging others to rise from tragedy with a sense of hope. Read her blog, then tweet at her.

Harmony Connell of Semi Poor and Somewhat Thriving

With a brand new lifestyle blog just launched this past week, world traveler Harmony Connell shares her unique experience of college living and taking chances that will enhance your career. Blogging about everything from cooking to beauty faves, I cannot wait to see what's next. Read her blog here.

Judith Duval

A Latina who immigrated to the United States in junior high, Judith went through a variety of overwhelming emotions after leaving her home in the Dominican Republic--some bad, some good. Combining her business and coaching backgrounds to begin a mission of bringing wellness to those who surround her, she has a lot to offer. Check her out here, then tweet at her.

Did you like this recap of powerful, on-the-rise #girlbosses? Please continue to send me your favorite entrepreneur/blogger ladies using the hashtag #ffgirlboss on Twitter or comment suggestions down below!

Go-Getter Ladies to Watch Out For
Go-Getter Ladies to Watch Out For

Pin it for future inspiration!

PFLAG Olympia Scores $5,000 Grant!

Yes, it's true! PFLAG Olympia scored a $5,000 grant! The generous Olympia Credit Union signed over a $5,000 grant to the LGBTQ advocacy organization this past Friday. I've had the pleasure of serving on the PFLAG Board of Directors for the past five years, and I can confidently say this PFLAG Olympia grant will allow the organization to expand its efforts in 2016! PFLAG Olympia is a chapter of the national PFLAG non-profit--one of the original pioneering LGBTQ rights organizations promoting education, support and advocacy for LGBTQ individuals and their loved ones.

The PFLAG Olympia community has been a second family for me ever since I joined back in late 2010. 2016 will be my sixth year serving on the board and I couldn't be happier with how much we accomplished in 2015.

We started an LGBTQ military support/discussion group near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, presented the very first annual Steve Mast Advocacy Award (an award for parents or parental figures who support and advocate on behalf of LGBTQ folks), began our series of social events, and continued reaching out beyond our monthly programs to complete trainings with companies and law enforcement and support individuals one-on-one.

With plenty of good ideas as to how we can put this money to good use, next year looks more promising than ever! Thank you, Olympia Credit Union!

Are you the parent, family member or friend of an LGBTQ person? Or LGBTQ yourself?  Learn more about PFLAG Olympia here.

"I Don't Wear Heels!" & Other Fashion Confessions

Who defines the rules of fashion and fashion blogging? I don't know. What I do know is that most conventional fashion bloggers that've successfully made a name for themselves and developed a solid online presence often fit a few common criteria. They wear heels.

The working and fashion-forward women of the world don't seem to have any problem putting a six-inch platform on their feet every day as they head into the office, carried out through dinner in the evenings. I've always had a sick sort of envy over this.

For the past four years, I've seen the ladies in my store buying platform heels every day, so much that it's become an odd fact that I don't wear them myself. I've got this flat foot situation that my podiatrist claimed was "the worst he had seen in all his years in medicine" (and he was old)!

They fit about a size six or so.

We all know that a size six is not the national average pant size for women, but for some reason, the most popular fashionistas that we see on Pinterest seem to fit our societal pressures of the "sexy, perfect weight". I'll admit: I've pinned their looks, too. This doesn't discredit them as fashion icons or good people, but when one size is favored far more than others in our community, it's hard to not get discouraged in the blogosphere.

They take time to do intricate hair and makeup.

Ladies, I chopped my hair off so I didn't have to deal with the hour of blow drying, curling and primping that ensues every morning! I also don't entertain eye makeup because of my glasses (another odd trait--a fashion blogger with glasses!?).

I believe this diversity within the blogging community is so necessary. It's a breath of fresh air.

While I'm technically not a "fashion blogger" in my niche, I do blog about fashion within my lifestyle blog, and considering my blog name, many people mistake me for one.

A while back, I wrote about the importance of blogging and why I chose to start blogging as a normal, everyday gal. Even if a minimal amount of us ever make it, gathering a plethora of blog followers, I believe us average-looking, unique souls should be blogging, all around the world, enriching our Internet with a variety of opinions, styles and attitudes.

There's not only one way to do it.

What are a few of your secret confessions?

12 Best LGBTQ-Friendly Spots in Olympia, Wash.

When thinking about cities I foresee myself visiting or possibly moving to, one of the top criteria on my list is whether or not they are friendly to LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, etc.) people.

I've been lucky enough to have grown up in a very accepting (for the most part), radically liberal city. Olympia, Washington is full of hippies, hipsters and everything else you could think of. I absolutely relish in our diversity and appreciate every friendly, loving soul here.

However, not everyone is so jolly. While every Olympian will hold their own opinion on these, here are my top 12 friendliest, most welcoming places:

1. Obsidian Cafe & BarThis trendy cafe-by-day, bar-by-night sanctuary serves up a variety of panini sandwiches, breakfast items, delicious espresso and mixed drinks nearly 24/7. Open to all ages until 9PM, Obsidian creates a unique nightlife atmosphere with live music, educational talks and film screenings at night. Welcoming to all, they are one of the few in town to offer transgender-affirming restrooms.

[ Photo: Traditions Fair Trade ]

2.Traditions Cafe & World Art Known for their fair-trade art and collectibles from over 50 countries, as well as full menus and live entertainment, Traditions is the place to be! Order a hot bowl of soup or delicious full entrees, espresso and ice cream. The cafe is a central spot downtown for concerts, workshops and public forums--it's a gathering space for all walks of life.

[ Photo: Andrew M.on Yelp ]

3.Quality Burrito Quality Burrito, or "QB," as its affectionally known, is the downtown Mexican food hotspot, accommodating to many diets including vegan and gluten-free. Loved by the locals, QB celebrates civil rights issues such as the "Black Lives Matter," movement and LGBTQ equality.

4.Oly Rockfish Grill

An upscale, welcoming place that I personally believe has the best breakfast menu in town! Oly Rockfish is friendly to its LGBTQ patrons and works hard to please their bellies with a variety of seafood dishes (don't worry--they have stuff for vegetarians, too), as well as a full bar.

[ Photo: Winter Teems ]

5. King Solomon's Reef The cool kids hang here. King Solomon's Reef, or more simply: "The Reef," is the diner spot for all local college students. The epitome of diversity can be found here, along with the best waffles and burgers known to diner fans. Either sit in the restaurant  side with your laptop completing some work, or feel free to head to the bar in back.

[ Photo: Devin True ]

6.Archibald Sisters Quirky, eccentric--embodying the true Olympian spirit, Archibald Sisters is a downtown boutique shop filled with bath products, knick-knacks, books, perfumes, cards and other fun items.

7.The Urban Onion Home to the most popular drag shows and host of many LGBTQ fundraising events, the Urban Onion Lounge is central downtown's hotspot bar and restaurant. You will often find rainbows here, as well as some of the best bartenders around. [ Photo: Caffe Vita ]

8.Caffe Vita The coffee company based out of Seattle, Wash., Caffe Vita now operates nine cafes around the Pacific Northwest region, providing a hipster-y, welcoming space for visitors.

[ Photo: Roadtrippers ]

9.Burial Grounds Dabbling in the darker sides of life (or death), Burial Grounds Espresso is the coffee shop that never fails to stun its patrons with beautiful, ghastly foam art in each of their beverages. Loud music and free WiFi (plus two open computers on site) completes the atmosphere ideal for punk-like college studying.

[ Photo: Katie Doolittle ]

10.Radiance Herbs & Massage Operated by LGBTQ owners, Radiance is a downtown sanctuary with the best local massages, candles, herbs and natural makeup products, to name just a few of their offerings. Celebrate holistic health and get in touch with the power of being good to yourself!

11.Olympia Film Society Housed in the iconic Capitol Theater, the Olympia Film Society brings entertainment from all around the globe, showing independent films that are underrepresented elsewhere, striving to enrich our community's knowledge of film. [ Photo: Food Network ]

12. Darby's Cafe Darby's is the talk of the town, and not just because it was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives! Serving up unique burgers and other plates, Darby's plays by its own rules and seeks to please all different dietary needs!

Of course, if you're looking for an LGBTQ celebration, consider sticking around the last weekend in June for Capital City Pride, a party with a parade, films, resources and contests for all!

What LGBTQ friendly businesses have you discovered in the area? Share your experiences in the comments!

Finding Belonging in a World of Doubt and Competition

I've recently realized something about my life: I have lived so very much of it as the 2nd place runner-up, so to speak. I entered first grade terrified of my parents leaving the classroom each morning. Because of my severe separation anxiety, all the kids on the playground viewed me as stupid, annoying or just plain WEIRD. Therefore, I was the target of endless bullying from 1st-6th grade. It took me a long time and tooons of therapy in order to cultivate a sense of calm to a point where I could successfully function and learn in a schoolhouse environment, but once I did: I flourished.

Being the "weird one," didn't stop here, however. I never truly found a source of solid belonging growing up. Sure, I had love, respect and support from my immediate family, but I never had a large-scale sense of acceptance or appreciation from the world. Adoption is always hard on a youngin'. You're constantly trying to discover more about your heritage and where you fit in best. From my observations over the years, the majority of my adoptive family lacked the desire to foster close relationships with their family members. They're good living at a distance, and while that's absolutely fine if it works for them, this never fostered certainty in me as I became a part of their family.

To my best luck, I was also born with two other cultural identifiers that I could never fully claim. One being bisexual, and the other: Hispanic (Mexican). Due to my adoption, I was raised by a white family and never grew up in Mexican culture like my biological father. While I embraced and felt pride in my heritage, I was told by the world that I wasn't allowed to claim this culture as my own. As a bisexual individual who has predominantly chosen heterosexual relationships, while I have fought for LGBTQ rights for nearly a decade, I never truly felt as though I were included as, "one of them." Perhaps this is just the nature of growing up in a radical liberal community.

On top of this: I felt as though I was attractive, kind and funny, BUT I was also curvy with a belly. Sadly, I was never outwardly flirted with/"picked up," and was often told I wasn't the: "ideal body type," or was just flat out: "too thick," for many people I would've initially been interested in pursuing (disclaimer: I wear pant size 10 or 12, with the average American woman at size 14. This kind of unhealthy body critiquing is not safe, nor should it be considered "normal").

In terms of brains, I scored into something like the 93rd percentile for reading and writing on the SATs, but very much below average in math. I worked my butt off to graduate high school (dealing with a professor that failed to grade many of my assignments in a timely manner), took up a variety of volunteer opportunities to better my resume, as well as applications to college. I was a hard worker because I had to be.

I found myself out of place wherever I turned. This was an incredibly difficult position to be in as a small child and later, as a young teenager. With this lack of belonging, I looked for meaning wherever I could find it. I ended up loving people that did more to hurt me, associating with (and trusting) people who weren't safe nor helpful, as well as doubting my own ability to wholeheartedly succeed. I accepted half-assed outcomes and never stood up for myself to the extent I should have. I picked the career that seemed safest and stuck to it. Until I suddenly realized that I would live a bitter, unhappy life if I didn't quickly make a move to veer off this path I had chosen.

The only way I made sense of my life and pushed on utilizing resilience was by constantly teaching myself new things. Knowledge became the biggest source of power for me when attempting to take ownership of my successes. As long as I had my video editing, social media, blogging and other tech-savvy talents, I could be the best among the people I knew in at least one thing. This was my ticket to first place. Perfecting this craft and building my identity around it has allowed me to find a sense of belonging in a world where I had very little.

It is vital that we all pursue the career and greater lifestyle that lights us up inside. Something we feel proud of, something that makes us fill with joy when we speak of it, something we don't ever want to stop doing and something that gives us the opportunity to design our own podium for gold, regardless if we are handed that by somebody else. While it all might seem impossible to achieve initially, hard workers always triumph over those who aren't.

"Perfection is the disease of a nation. We shine the light on whatever's worst. You're trying to fix something, but you can't fix something that you can't see. No doctor or pill can take the pain away; the pain's inside and nobody frees you from your body. It's the soul that needs surgery. Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far, then you break when the fake facade leaves you in the dark. When you're alone and you're lying in your bed, reflection stares right into you: are you happy with yourself? Pretty hurts. This time I'm gonna take the crown without falling down."   -Beyonce, "Pretty Hurts"

Cultivating Positive Body Image Throughout Life

I used to hate my natural hair (pictured above). It wasn't curly, but it wasn't straight. It was this messy, tangly, wavy thing that just sat there... it had no volume, yet no tame. Recently, a teen customer came into my store and complimented me, proclaiming to her mom: "Man, if only we all had that hair naturally!" This suddenly pushed me back to the time when I absolutely despised it.

Looking back on it now, I see that the notion of my hair being ugly was absolutely ridiculous. For years, I applied harsh heat, flat iron straightening my hair almost every day, praying that someday I would wake up and it would suddenly be an automatically straight, beautiful masterpiece.

I also used to hate my eyebrows. They were too thick and unruly. Now I pencil them in after plucking them WAY too thin as a young teen (and I mean pin-thin). Here's a flashback if you don't believe me. The left side is me as a child with my crazy brows and the right is me last year before I began letting them grow naturally again. *That was my all-time favorite sparkly dress as a little girl, by the way.

My current challenge is certainly my smile. It has been for most of my life. Ever since I was an infant, I've had a deep white discoloration on my front two teeth--either due to a bad fever or an accidental smack to the mouth. It bugs me. Bad. So much that sometimes I begin subconsciously not opening my mouth in photos and end up as the only one smiling with their mouth closed in group shots.

Let's keep going. My glasses. I was in the 3rd grade when I received my first pair of frames and felt incredibly embarrassed to wear them, along with the braces that would later appear as just another burden I had to deal with. I wasn't a conventionally "pretty," kiddo, so the awkward phase hit me.

Today, I couldn't envision myself without my trademark, "librarian," look and wouldn't wish to (I also couldn't see without switching to contacts, and I am not at all about that eye-touching life!). I still struggle with doing my makeup--I was never a pro at this growing up and didn't start truly doing a full face of makeup until I was around 16 years old. Even now I am just beginning to dabble in eye makeup.

Let's admit: we all use filters and edits on our social media portraits these days.

However, I have to say: no matter how much I make my skin look more porcelain than it already is, no matter how much I brighten the photo... I am okay with what I look like when all of the superficial edits are removed. When I look at the girl in the photo in the top right, I see a much more confident girl than I did five years ago. I hope this progress continues to grow as I become older.

Now, to address the elephant in the room: the all too popular obsession over body shape and our perception. I've always fluctuated in my weight throughout my life, seemingly gaining a steady five pounds each year. In the past year, I've gained some, then lost some. I haven't before been my current weight since I was 17, and I can say that I have made peace with the size I'm at now. It's not about size, necessarily: it's about health and wellbeing.

I strive each day to implement more exercise and nutritious eating into my lifestyle. I've been seeing a nutritionist to help me drop the initial weight and get on a better regimen, however I quickly noticed that my confidence was being jeopardized and I started to feel bad for allowing myself a cheat day. Now allowing myself to purchase food that isn't necessarily the most healthy, but also isn't full of crap, I notice myself ordering takeout almost never and in fact, adopting healthier habits!

We all must achieve a mindset of "tradeoffs," as one of my psychology professors would say. If I workout for 30 minutes, I'm going to allow myself a couple gluten-free cookies or a handful of chips. I'm not perfect and I won't hold myself to unrealistic standards that will damage my emotional wellbeing. Another issue I found with following such a restrictive regimen is that I could not regularly afford the items on my grocery list or activities that were recommended to me, such as regular sauna visits at $60-80 a pop.

This cultural phenomenon that is telling us: "You must be skinny to gain happiness," or, "You are not worthy of love and belonging if you aren't a pant size 4," is so toxic to our livelihood as humans living in all different body types, shapes and sizes. Taking in what our nutritionists and personal trainers say about living a healthy lifestyle is much more valuable than what a magazine or store mannequin is representing about our body image.

I'm learning when to say, "No, this isn't right." Slowly but surely I'm grasping the bigger picture of who I am, what I stand for and what will make me truly happy in the future, regardless of my weight, glasses or other unique features that make me who I am. We're all on our own special journey to becoming content with ourselves and the way we perceive our own beauty and identity, and I think it's okay to be patient with each other while we constantly flow through this state of uncertainty.

What are your thoughts on positive body image? How have you worked to cultivate your own confidence?

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