“Stop Sexualizing Us.”

Today I met with my teenaged female client for our third to last session. We are wrapping up a project (Dear Me Campaign) we’ve been working on for the past several weeks. I was already tearing up because she wrote the most inspiring letter to her future self. The themes were: remembering how loved she is, the importance of being herself, recognizing her resiliency, and a declaration of her strength and power without a man. I nearly balled my eyes out-I am so proud of her and in awe of her wisdom and perspective at such a young age AND in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances.


Just this week she returned to her middle school after almost two months at another school and hospitalizations. Bored in the library with her best friend, she decided to finally make the flyers about dress code that she’d been talking about for months. The poster is of an image of a girl’s body with marker writing: Stop censoring my body. 

Stop Sexualizing Us!

We want the freedom to wear what we want! Tank tops, shorts, etc. should be allowed! Stop sexualizing us women for what we wear. I will fight for my women! I don’t care if I get detention or not, I will stick up for our rights. And if you have a problem with that, then so be it!

She went on to tell me that when she showed her older sister, she gave her a high five and was proud of her. However, when she showed her mom (who is from Pakistan) she gave her a “mean look.” My client said she didn’t care and wasn’t going to let that stop her. We went on to talk about her plan of action and she mentioned she knows the counselor at the school is into feminism and perhaps could be an advisor to a club she might start.

I hope as I reflect on my last few sessions that I find the words to describe how much I’ve learned from her. I know that her Dear Me video WILL change lives and I am so grateful to have had the privilege to work with her these past 9 months. About a year ago she courageously sought support by creating a video about how bullying was making her feel suicidal. Now, she’s on mission to inspire others to accept themselves.


When to Be Vulnerable

In the past I’ve always longed for “intimacy”, deep, meaningful conversations, strangers turned friends. Then why do I suddenly find myself hyper-aware of others’ need to disclose their inner-lives so quickly? Before I’m ready or wondering if they’re ready for what I might share.

I used to feel like people needed to know about my life experiences to know me. I wanted them to see my scars right away so I could feel seen and accepted. Now, I’m being trained in a profession that focuses on intentionality and mindfulness. We must ask ourselves: WHY are you sharing, for WHO are you sharing? These questions along with a stronger sense of self have me thinking twice about sharing and how vulnerable I am with people.  I feel more patient with the time it takes to build relationships and earn trust. I feel more guarded in a healthy way, protective of myself. We can’t control how people react to our stories, our disclosures, our wounds, but we CAN control who we share them with.

I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone. I know what I’ve been through and those experiences may not be written on my face but they live within me and inform everything I do and everything I am. I never thought I’d say this because I’m a big fan of vulnerability and still love connecting with people through sharing meaningful experiences. Yet, I’m noticing how others choose to share and why. I’m wondering if they feel these experiences define who they are or if they too see that they are SO much more than what’s happened to them. We are so much more than what we’ve been through.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Dear Me #1-Letter to My Younger Self

I have so much to tell the younger me so I’m going to just start now and accept that this might end up in a dozen videos or blog posts until I get it all out. Where Do I Begin?

You are amazing and you don’t have the slightest clue. You have a unique style and often wear things that nobody else would dare to wear. Forget about the one girl who comes up to check the name brand on your awesome, unique shirt. Know that you are courageous for daring to be different in middle school!

I hope you will surround yourself with nice girls who make you smile, NOT cry. I know they exist and it might take some patience and bravery to leave the one’s you’ve been hanging with for awhile. You are independent, and have so much to offer a friend, don’t waste another minute on girls who make you feel less than fabulous. The mean and insecure thing is normal at your age AND it’s also a sign that those individuals are struggling themselves. Try not to take it personally. Don’t change. There isn’t a single person who is just like you! Being sensitive is a gift.


You know you are different and that’s hard to deal with in middle school. You want to fit in and be “normal.” You have a LOT going on in your life right now and I want you to know that you are an inspiration to others. You are dealing with some major trauma and an illness and you are becoming a resilient and wise young lady. I’m proud of you and wish I could give you a hug (every day for the rest of middle school). I love you and am so excited for you to get to high school and start to explore activism and leadership-you won’t believe all the cool things you’re going to experience. Think boyfriends. Think Surviving Bullies Charity. Think Girls Leadership Worldwide. Think Gay-Straight Alliance. Think Field Hockey team. Did I mention you are going to go to a whole bunch of proms!?!


P.S One day you will laugh that you cared about where you were sitting on the bus or in the cafeteria. Nobody cares about that when you leave high school!

How I Learned To Feel Loss and Stop Pretending to Be Ok

I’ve been thinking about grieving since a lot of my clinical surrounds loss and grieving different kinds of relationships. Every day I think about healing and naturally, I think about my own life. Ironically, my ex-boyfriend forwarded me this BuzzFeed article about sadness (I think because of my professional interests, but who knows). The article was written by author, Mac McClelland, of Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story and For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question.

It reminded me about a theme from the Girls Empowerment Group I co-lead: how we don’t learn how to end relationships. We also don’t learn how to be okay with sadness. It seems like our society has deemed emotions around break ups (or “friendship divorce”) only acceptable in the form of pop music. I love this line of her article, “Everybody knows that crying girls are silly and weak. Hysterical, and overdramatic.” I remember how pathetic I felt starting graduate school and being torn up about a guy (forget about the fact that we dated for 5.5 years).


This scene in Bridesmaids perfectly illustrates our discomfort with sadness. Melissa McCarthy slaps Kristen Wiig around and tells her to stop being sad, though she has recently lost her job, her savings, her home, and her best friend. Often times the very same loving people trying to shake the sadness away from us and coach us to stay strong are denying our right to feel sadness, and ultimately, grow and learn from it. 

We have so much to learn from loss and grief and I’m only beginning to realize that, because for the first time in my life I’m allowing myself to experience my feelings without trying to make them go away as soon as possible. I refuse to make myself so busy and distracted and fill the void with a new boyfriend or project. I appreciate the sentiment and am certainly not wallowing 7 months later in my misery—but even if I was—it’s about however much time I need to heal. There are no stages of grief, and if you do believe i them, know that there is no set amount of time that a person moves through them. Loss and grief are best described as waves as one of my favorite teachers writes:

“But then, all of a sudden, I’ll be going about my business and a wave of grief will roll in from the depths, crash over me, and drag me back out with it into the deep waters. I welcome the grief waves; I want to feel the hole in the universe; I want to cry and miss her. I know that too soon she’ll be a beautiful and funny memory—my wild little sister who brought everyone so much joy. So I think about her a lot; I pray for dreams and visitations from the other side; and I talk often to her kids and her mate and my other sisters, so as to keep her presence vivid for as long as we can.” Elizabeth Lesser

It’s so tempting to numb, distract, deny our feelings of sadness. Who wants to feel sad?! Yet this allowing of myself to be exactly how I am has taught me the meaning of compassion. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself, kind, and generous. I’ve experienced closeness, gratitude, and joy like I’ve never felt before. As Brene Brown writes, there is a deep connection between the amount of sadness and joy we experience-you can’t numb one without numbing the other. It is actually not possible to build walls up for selective feelings, without building defences against all of them. When we build walls up, it protects us out of fully experiencing ANYTHING, and therefore we are no longer able to fully experience life!


I’ve always been a sensitive and emotional person. I used to cry on the soccer field in middle school when my best friend would trip (which was a lot because she was as aggressive as she was tiny!) Still, I think we are taught from a young age that we should smile for the camera and not dwell in the past. My dad’s coaching on the soccer field echoe these sentiments, “No pain, no gain! Take no prisoners!” I was raised to be tough. As we get older we learn that people like to be around happy, bubbly people not the depressed, introvert.

To be clear, there are different types of sadness, as McClelland writes:

If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that.

Maybe if we didn’t live in a culture that shames us for feeling sad for too long, I wouldn’t have been so afraid of my sadness. I thought I might never feel like myself again. It was hard to remember feeling happy. Nothing felt normal and yet I was expected to continue on as if nothing had changed. Everyone else seemed to be going about their lives.

Over the years I’ve gotten better and better with “self-care,” but this experience required more attention and time. Going to the gym, meditating, and calling a friend was not going to be enough-or rather, this wasn’t going to be a “tough week” that I had to make it through. Instead of being patient and gentle with myself, I was judging myself and causing myself more suffering by agonizing over whether or not I should stay in my graduate program. Everyday I felt exhausted by the decision to stay or to go. How on Earth would I decide?

My saving grace was that I reached out for support. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly and needed guidance. I found a therapist, I sought support from a professor, a Dean, some trusted classmates. I spoke to my cousin and friends on the phone. I let myself be loved and held, because “sometimes we are each other’s wings until we find our own. (Rha Goddess)”

I can’t explain in this coherent essay how I finally healed from my loss because I’m still healing everyday. Actually, some days I don’t think about it at all and this is how I know I’m making “progress”. My feelings are constantly changing and I know as time goes on the pangs of loss will be less frequent and eventually, I will get to a place where I can reminisce with my ex-boyfriend and possibly have a healthy friendship. I knew I was healing when I stopped feeling shame about the fact that I was still sad about the break up. A weight had been lifted and I finally was giving myself permission to feel, to be present with where I was at.

“They say it takes a big man to cry, and I think — unfortunately, given our collective feelings about sadness — that’s true. But it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame. With pride. I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, the way I let my emotions run, sadness included: the way it cleanses me, tears washing my face, resolving me to continue to feel with abandon.” Thank you  Mac McClelland, for the reminder that it’s okay to be sad.

A Week I’ll Remember

This past week has been a roller coaster ride of emotions. I feel full, inspired, and ready to try to integrate these experiences aka make sense of the madness. IMG_3053 Saturday I attended a fundraiser hosted by Haymarket’s People Fund for Community Change. The community conversation led by longtime anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise and Haymarket People’s Fund Executive Director Karla Nicholson focused on the recent lack of indictments, the Black Lives Matters movement and the impact of these events on the anti-racism community. I was drawn to the event because Tim Wise was my introduction to antiracism work (heard him speak my first semester of college at Mount Holyoke). The highlight for me was getting to talk to an inspiring Smith alumnae, currently Director of Client Services at Project Place.  I’m looking forward to meeting with her next month to learn more about her awesome work! Also, I loved Tim’s perspective on the importance of remembering that mistakes are part of organizing and activists and leaders should be supporting young people leading this movement. Monday was Martin Luther King Day. I participated in a protest against police brutality, mass incarceration, etc. Out of the 4 other protests I’ve been to this Fall, this one had the most children and most energy of solidarity, and the most inspiring speakers. I learned Samuel Jackon’s I Can’t Breathe Song, which gave me chills. Cassandra Bensahih, Community Organizer from EPOCA , was one of the speakers and it was amazing to learn about her organization’s work. Friday, I finally made it to an organizing meeting. I can’t believe they keep scheduling them on Friday evenings. Still, there seemed to be a great turnout (over 100 people). I left at 9:30PM and most people were still there! The setup was thoughtful and I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a segment on self care for activists! I so appreciated the question posed to the crowd: What can we do to make the movement inclusive to ALL people? As I headed to my car from this meeting, I was struck by the fact that I was literally walking around and between sleeping bodies who did not have a warm bed to go home to. My thoughts began wandering from short term solutions to anger. How could our society allow this to happen? How do we justify this? How do we look away and become numb to these human beings without family, without jobs, without beds to sleep in. IMG_3055 Rewind to Tuesday evening- it was the first Girls Empowerment (waiting for the girls to give us a better name!) group. This is something I’ve been planning and talking about for over a year now. I attended multiple trainings last year that fueled my passion for group work with teen girls and finally the opportunity arrived.The experience of getting the group started reminded me how patience and persistence pays off. I believe whole heartedly in the power of groups to transform us- and I couldn’t be more excited to create and hold space for these beautiful young women. I have no doubt these girls will change my life, in fact, in a week’s time, they already have.


The next night, I joined two of my colleagues at Wayside for a panel and screening of A Path Appears. Despite some anxiety about being on a wait list, it all worked out. I was blown away by the documentary clip (focused on anti trafficking work in Boston) and can’t wait to see the rest on PBS. There was a huge acknowledgement of the real heroes of the story (not Nick Kristoff, the film producers, the celebrities, the nonprofit, etc. )—but the women who chose to share their story in the documentary simply for the sake of helping others. I was elated to learn Becca Steven’s Thistle Farms social enterprise is one of the select few organizations featured in the film because of their effectiveness in this issue. Can you BELIEVE the average age of girls who are trafficked in the US is 12-14?! My Life, My Choice (Boston NGO) begins their prevention work in middle schools. TUNE IN TONIGHT 10PM ON PBS.  Then this weekend I received tragic news about one of the families I’ve been working with over the past several months. I won’t be able to go on here due to confidentiality concerns. As you can imagine, I was tired after such an intense and full week. I was grateful to have planned an overnight with one of my closest friends. We snow-shoed, relaxed in a sauna & whirlpool, met an interesting social worker on a beach, cried, tried some delicious beverage with my mother, watched Broad City, cooked an insanely delicious salad for our friend’s housewarming/birthday party. I am definitely looking forward to this blizzard and getting to enjoy a quieter week since I’m ready to hibernate the rest of Winter! On a lighter note, I recently started dating again as an adult for the first time and these are my findings. 10407218_3426649820175_1425560900590800704_n

Grateful for the inspiration and support from my community of amazing women.

     In September 2013 I packed for an unknown voyage. My relationship was in question and I had just left a great job that seemed perfect for me on paper. In reality, I had lost sight of who I was without the relationship, the apartment, the job, the external signs that I was moving forward in my life. For many of us, the Omega Women’s Leadership Intensive became our “before” and “after.” Returning to the Omega Institute for a week felt like the next right thing. I knew the organizers and trusted they were creating something magical. For weeks I contemplated whether it made sense to quit my job before or after this weeklong workshop. I could never have dreamed up this convention of powerful women. I was feeling really down, I couldn’t comprehend how I had been invited to join this sacred circle. I had a case of imposter syndrome-there must have been a mistake, I insecurely thought.
     This week at Omega reignited my passion and hunger for all that makes me come alive. The adventures and risks I took in the 6 months following this experience have been invaluable to me. But this piece is a reflection, and a Thank You to those women who continue to give me so much.
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What I took with me on my journey:

A robust support system of women whose faith in me would sustain me in the years to come
An understanding of how to set goals, hold myself accountable, and integrate my personal and professional visions
Friendship and mentors
The profound experience of sisterhood
How shall we live?
Singing, coaching, heart centered, running, partnering, speaking out, raising children, running for office, dancing, feeling, leading, creating, advocating, shifting office cultures, taking care of ourselves, hugging, renewing vows, executing our own visions, writing, yoga, integrating, collaborating, volunteering, laughing, directing, healing.
Some comments from the circle that stayed with me:
I’m learning to accept support.
My daughter in my mirror. I want to be present and engaged.
I want to have more dance parties with my son.
I want to know it feels like to see myself as beautiful.
If I start practicing self-care, I know it will trickle down to everyone else. I want to shift the culture at work.
I want to bring mindfulness, love and kindness to organizations-this should be a priority.
I’m writing a book dedicated to women that suffer.
My hands have touched so many women at critical moments.
OWL Intensive has been a womb.
I want to heal myself.
I want to create a sexual healing center to help women tell their stories.
When you realize your power, you are dangerous.
People feel safe with how you are. When you change, they become afraid.
I am so vast that I contradict myself.
This video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsFha77l3RY&feature=youtu.be (2.40 seconds for young girl dancing)
Together we dreamed of the worlds we wish to live in, we cried, we danced, we hugged, we hula hooped, ate ice-cream, played music, and believed in each other’s visions.
I learned to lead from my vision, not my agenda. I learned that even in a world where bios and profiles are easily accessible, it’s better not to know superficial details for authentic connections to thrive. I learned the difference between being at home and feeling at home in your body. I arrived depleted and feeling undeserving and left with ideas and energy that helped me take big steps including starting coaching people through transitions, fundraising and social media consulting, and beginning a clinical social work masters program. One of the most exciting “takeaways” was meeting other women who shared similar visions who I could collaborate with in the years to come.
Since the intensive in 2013, I think of this sacred circle often and draw strength from their inspiring lives and ongoing encouragement. Since the Intensive, I’ve seen many of these women, in their homes, planning conferences, presenting their visions to the world, and they are truly memories I cherish. I look forward to many many more!
    This holiday, I danced with my mother on the beach beneath the moonlight. With live steel pan drumming, I let go of the self-consciousness that contains me day in and day out. I mirrored my mother and she mirrored me. In that moment, I felt wild and free. After, we walked onto the dock where a young Trinidadian couple were sharing a romantic evening. The man commented that his date was admiring us dancing out there. I left hysterically, unable to believe someone would admire our ridiculous dance moves. I realized it wasn’t our dancing she admired, it was our courage to dance. I wish courage for every being out there–to dance their bliss, sing their song, and feel wild, free, and at home in their body.
*Photo Credit to the magnificent Julie Gelfand

A healing mantra

I am a good listener. I am committed to listening to what people are telling me and also what they aren’t. I value being present and making sure those around me feel heard and understood.

I am fearless. I don’t let opportunities pass me by. I reach out to family and strangers alike to see what’s out there and go after new experiences.

I am open-minded. I love trying things and learning whether it’s related to health, people or something I’ve never heard of before. My friends admire my drive to step outside my comfort zone.

I am beautiful.
I am beautiful because of the way I carry myself. My presence. My energy is beautiful. And my smile and my eyes. I am beautiful because of my compassion for all different types of people and the blessings they bring into my life.

I am resilient.
I am resilient because I have to be. I am honest about that which challenges me while remaining optimistic that I’m growing and learning everyday. I show up for hard conversations and raw feelings.

I am brilliant.
I can communicate well with people and express and receive others’ feelings in ways that serve me in my relationships and professional interests. I am ambitious and hard working.

I am dependable.
I give of my time and heart to anyone in need. I get energy from doing for others and letting those I love know how much they mean to me and remind them they can count on me.

I am adventurous.
I travel alone. I couch surf in the US for the sake of meeting interesting people. I make an effort not to order the same food or eat at the same restaurant.

I am inquisitive.
I have an insatiable curiosity for who people are. I seek answers, advice, mentorship all the time.

I am inspiring.
I share my experiences and passion for living authentically and in doing so give others permission to do the same.

I am creative.
I prefer handmade gifts and cards whenever possible. I start things from scratch because I have lots of ideas and passion for creating and building.

I am funny.
I laugh at myself. I mispronounce common words. Sometimes call things by unusual names (i.e grocery carriage instead of grocery cart). I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself playing Taboo, Karaoke, or trying an impossible exercise at the gym.

I am amazing.
I am an amazing woman. An amazing daughter, sister, Aunt. An amazing lover and friend. I amaze myself with my own strength and desire to do good in the world.

I am strong, because I know this.

[Thank you to those who contributed to this piece, you know who you are! Thank you to SR Atchley for additional inspiration http://www.rebellesociety.com/2013/01/02/i-am-beautiful-a-healing-mantra-for-an-open-heart/)