What’s Your Loose Screw?

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I’m currently on a flight to Denver (to take a sunrise yoga class at Red Rock Amphitheater—more on that later!), and I was catching up on my magazine reading when something in the latest issue of O, The Oprah Magazine really resonated with me. The theme for this issue is breakthroughs, and one of the essays was written by a woman named Beth Levine who’s afraid of flying. After years of trying to force herself to overcome her fear (and guilting herself about all of the wonderful life experiences she was missing out on because she couldn’t board a plane), Levine eventually realized that her phobia wasn’t the problem—her attitude about it was.

“Everyone has a screw loose somewhere, and having a thing about planes happens to be mine,” she writes in the essay. Once the writer came to realize that there were other ways she could embrace new experiences that didn’t involve having a panic attack during landing and takeoff, she stopped feeling like she was missing out—and started taking advantage of other novel opportunities, like performing with a community theater.

“Life wasn’t passing me by because I couldn’t get on a plane,” she writes. ” It was passing me by because I was obsessing about what I couldn’t do instead of rocking the things I could.” It’s not just the breakthrough that really struck me, though—it’s how Levine says she felt in the years before she got to this breakthrough: “Along with fear came self-loathing: I was defective, weak, chickenshit. Why could everyone else just do this?”

I think we all have that thing (at least one) that we feel like “normal” people don’t have an issue with. For some people, it’s drinking in moderation. For others, it’s losing weight or controlling their spending habits. For me, it’s eating “like everyone else”—intuitively, and in a way where food doesn’t ever have the power to ever make me feel bad about myself. I’m working on it (which is why I devote a lot of time on this blog to things I think are helping me get closer to that goal!), but one of the factors that’s been a big source of comfort in this journey is knowing that everyone has their own loose screw that they struggle with. That doesn’t mean there’s anything nothing wrong with you—dealing with adversity (no matter what it is) is just part of being human.

Here’s hoping that this helps you make your own mini-breakthrough with whatever your loose screw is—I know I’m going to think back on it the next time I start to get down on myself about mine.

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Photo by Janus Bahs Jacquet

One of the Easiest Ways to Brighten Up Your Day (Plus, Links!)

Back when I lived on the Upper East Side, I used to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art about once a month (and sometimes a lot more than that). But since I moved to Brooklyn, I haven’t been the semi-regular that I once was. Yesterday, I went for the first time in probably eight months (I have two college friends in town visiting from North Carolina, so I wanted to take them). Before we got to the museum, I’d felt a little low-energy—after all, we’d been running around all weekend. But the second we stepped inside, I felt instantly re-energized and just generally at ease. I’m pretty sure I also had a goofy grin on my face a lot of the time we were there. Here’s a small sampling of some of the amazing pieces we saw there:

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Going back to the Met made me realize how much of a happy place it is for me—my mood improved significantly the moment we got there. Turns out, I’m not the only one who gets a little giddy around art. I found this article about a 2011 study that explains four of the top six happiest activities are arts-related, according to preliminary research out of the London School of Economics. Here’s the full list:

1. Intimacy/making love
2. Sports/running/exercise
3. Theatre/dance/concert
4. Singing/performing
5. Exhibition/museum/library
6. Hobbies/arts/crafts

Pretty amazing, right? All you have to do to be happier is take an art break. Of course, you don’t have to go to a world-class museum to get a happiness boost (although it can’t hurt if you have the chance!). I’ve noticed that I get a little lift even when I just stop to appreciate street art or look at some of my favorite paintings online. This week, I’m going to remember that when I need a mental pick-me-up. Here’s what else is on my health and wellness radar right now:

Have a well-intentioned week!

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How to Exercise Intuitively (Plus, Links!)

Ever since I wrote about my recent fitness class fatigue, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of intuitive exercise. It’s something I first heard about while doing an intuitive eating challenge back in May; the idea is that, rather than dragging yourself to the gym and doing whatever will burn the maximum amount of calories, you should stay active in ways that you actually enjoy—and it definitely doesn’t have to involve doing the same exercises every day. Rather, just as you would listen to what your body is craving to eat intuitively, you should do the same with exercise and move in whatever way feels best to you in the moment.

Granted, everyone has those days when you don’t want to start working out because of sheer inertia—but are so glad you did afterward. Still, I’ve been making more of an effort the past several days to really ask myself, “What type of workout are you in the mood for today?” and make my decision of what to do based off of that. Today, I did a short bout on the elliptical at the gym (while reading The Silkworm; I know you’re not “supposed” to read while you’re working out, but I love it!). And I also biked to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with my boyfriend. No, it wasn’t as intense as a cycling class. But it was way more fun—and I saw some gorgeous flowers! Take a look:

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I’m going to continue to make an effort to exercise intuitively (including not forcing myself out of bed at 6:30 a.m. when I’m really enjoying evening workouts more lately). Here’s what else I have on my wellness radar this week:

Have a well-intentioned week!

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Using Your Password to Change Your Life

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Recently, I came across an amazing post written by a man named Mauricio Estrella who was going through a rough divorce in 2011. His workplace required him to change his password every 30 days, and one day, when he was feeling particularly frustrated with his current situation, his computer prompted him to change his password. He was annoyed—but then he remembered a piece of advice someone had given him: to use his password to change his life. What he did next is pretty powerful. Here’s an excerpt from the post:

It was obvious that I couldn’t focus on getting things done with my current lifestyle and mood. Of course, there were clear indicators of what I needed to do -or what I had to achieve- in order to regain control of my life, but we often don’t pay attention to these clues.

My password became the indicator. My password reminded me that I shouldn’t let myself be victim of my recent break up, and that I’m strong enough to do something about it.

My password became: “Forgive@h3r”

I had to type this statement several times a day. Each time my computer would lock. Each time my screensaver with her photo would appear. Each time I would come back from eating lunch alone.

In my mind, I went with the mantra that I didn’t type a password. In my mind, I wrote “Forgive her” everyday, for one month.

That simple action changed the way I looked at my ex wife. That constant reminder that I should forgive her, led me to accept the way things happened at the end of my marriage, and embrace a new way of dealing with the depression that I was drowning into.

In the following days, my mood improved drastically. By the end of the 2nd week, I noticed that this password became less powerful, and it started to lose its effect. A quick refresh of this ‘mantra’ helped me. I thought to myself I forgive her as I typed it, every time. The healing effect of it came back almost immediately.

Want to hear something even crazier? Mauricio says he changed his password to “Quit@smoking4ever” the next month—and dropped his cigarette habit almost overnight. Of the 10 motivational passwords Mauricio reports having used, all but one have worked to help him reach his goals.

The tip to make your password into a mantra that will effect positive changes in your life is so simple yet so smart—I can’t wait to start doing it myself! Do you have any other little tricks like that to help you reach your self-improvement goals? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

 

photo via Learning DSLR Video

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Yet Another Great Reason to Stop Comparing Your Eating Habits to Other People’s

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This weekend, when I was camping with the Girl Scout troop I volunteer with, my co-leader said something that surprised me: “I told myself that I was going to watch what you eat this weekend and have whatever you have.” Apparently, she had been impressed one time at a meeting when I turned down ice cream because I said I was having dinner afterward and didn’t want to ruin my appetite. What I hadn’t said was that, in addition to having those dinner plans, I had also overeaten at work that afternoon. Had that not been the case, I’m not sure I would have had the self-restraint to say no to some Ben & Jerry’s (at a later meeting, I gladly indulged in a Carvel ice cream sandwich).

The experience was a poignant reminder of something one expert told me when I was working on a story a wrote about food shaming a few months ago: You really have no idea what a person eats when you’re not around. And since our diets are all about the big picture—and not whatever you happen to notice someone noshing on in any given moment—the food habits of others you witness are definitely not worth guilting yourself over.

Still, it’s something that many of us do. Today, I got a text from the same woman mentioned above saying, “My watch Robin diet worked! I lost almost 2lbs this week! Now how do I get a video camera to follow u this summer? Lol.” Oh, the irony; I don’t actually feel like I have great eating habits. At all. Sure, sometimes I’m successful at my attempts to load up on produce-filled salads and snack on fruit with protein-rich Greek yogurt. But at other times (and a lot of other times lately), I stress eat, overindulge, or snack just because I’m tired—or for no discernible reason at all. Luckily, it seems like in this case the food comparison is somewhat motivating. But it’s not the only time something like this has happened. People at work have told me that I’m always so good about practicing self-control and turning down sweets. Again—that’s not at all in line with how I view my own eating habits. (I wish I could resist dessert more often!)

So the next time you find yourself noticing how or what someone else is eating and starting to compare how it stacks up against your own food tendencies, I hope you’ll remember this post and tell yourself that the person could have skipped the previous meal, just eaten a snack not too long ago, be planning to eat a big dinner, or any number of other situations about which you’re totally clueless. Rather than feeling bad (or good) about your own eating choices based on theirs, focus on listening to your cravings and hunger levels and choosing foods that will satisfy those. (And check out this other advice on how to stop comparing your food choices to other people’s.) If you ask me, that’s a much saner and less stressful way to nourish yourself.

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photo by Kwekwe

The Best Way I’ve Found to Deal with Work Stress

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I’ll admit it: I think mental visualization is kind of hokey. Always have. So if you had told me five years ago that I would be sitting here, suggesting that you use a meditation to deal with negative emotions, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I’m a big fan of Michelle May, M.D., founder of the “Am I Hungry?” mindful eating program. So when I read that she suggested an exercise to help you sit with your anxiety (or depression, or whatever) and feel it—rather than resorting to less-than-constructive coping mechanisms—I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? The visualization has actually worked really well for me, particularly when I feel overwhelmed at work (which I’m guessing is probably something most of you can relate to). Here’s how it works:

While using mindful breathing, imagine yourself sitting at the edge of the ocean. Place your hands on the area of your body where you’re experiencing discomfort. Imagine breathing it closer to you, just as a wave moves toward you from the ocean to the shore. Allow the wave to wash over you. While breathing out, allow the discomfort to pull away from you and recede back into the ocean. Continue to visualize the waves building, rolling toward then over you, then rolling back out into the ocean. Align the rhythm of your breathing with the sequence of the waves.

Simple enough, right? As May says, “This wave meditation will help you become more relaxed and less fearful of the discomfort of the feelings in your body because you recognize that they ebb and flow by the ocean and that even intense emotions will subside as you observe them.” Lately, when I’ve tried this technique, I can actually feel my stress decreasing with each breath. I don’t think I’ll be visualizing myself running a faster mile as I fall asleep at night (even though experts recommend it), but I am happy to say I was wrong—at least about this meditation.

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The Most Important Thing I Learned From Doing a 21-Day Intuitive Eating Challenge

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Back in May, I participated in a 21-day intuitive eating challenge. I’ll be honest: The challenge wasn’t as helpful for me as I was hoping it would be. I think a lot of other people in the group had a different experience. But since I’d been introduced to a lot of the concepts before, getting daily e-mails reminding me of them wasn’t exactly life-changing.

There was one big lesson that the challenge hammered into me, though—and I’m so thankful it did. The message? There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. The idea is that if you slip up—in this case, eat mindlessly—that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You could look at it that way, and goodness knows many people do. But the much more helpful thing to do is to look at it as a potential learning experience and try to figure out where your good intentions were derailed—so you can use that knowledge to your benefit in the future.

For example, I found myself snaking a lot one afternoon during the challenge. But rather than berating myself for being so “bad”—something I definitely would have done in the past—I decided to think about why I felt like munching nonstop—and I realized the fact that I was sleep-deprived didn’t help. Since then, it’s become obvious that not getting enough shuteye definitely makes it hard for me to eat mindfully.

The concept of “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback” is incredibly empowering, especially if you’re the type of person who’s ever beat yourself up over mistakes (guilty as charged). It gives you the ability to change yourself from a “complete failure” to a human being—one who’s allowed to make mistakes without letting it completely erode your self-worth. That self-compassion is the real benefit of this approach—although getting helpful information on how to change your situation in the future is definitely a nice bonus. I still slip into that mindset where I start belittling myself sometimes. But I’m getting better about making more of a conscious effort to stop that destructive thought process and repeat my new mantra instead.

Tell me: What other strategies do you have that help you practice more self-compassion when you feel like you’ve “failed”? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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How to Ask Your Boss to Lighten Your Load—Without Looking Like a Slacker

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I wrote something for The Muse, a career advice and job search site, about how to deal when you’re feeling overwhelmed and overloaded at work. Here’s a sneak peek:

A couple of months ago, I had what I thought was a good (OK, great) story idea that I pitched to my editor: 50 states, 50 gorgeous hikes. It would be a beautiful slideshow that I thought would generate a decent amount of traffic. My boss loved it and gave me the green light. Then, I started reaching out to the media contacts for various state tourism bureaus. Very shortly, my clever idea turned into a logistical nightmare—and a total time suck. Hounding dozens of media contacts for the information and photos I needed—while staying on top of my daily to-do list—turned out to be much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I felt like I was drowning.

Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation, in which you inadvertently created an incredibly time-consuming project for yourself. Or maybe your boss loads you up with an onslaught of assignments without a clear concept of what’s actually doable by the requested deadline. Either way, it can be difficult to tell your supervisor that you feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to impress him or her. Luckily, I found a way out of my situation (unfortunately, not until after I’d been stressing about it for a couple of weeks): I suggested that, instead of waiting several more weeks to create a slideshow with all 50 states—some of which had submitted subpar photos—we should instead create a curated selection of truly must-try hikes, all of which would have breathtaking photos (and that could go up within the next few days).

To keep reading and get more tips on how to ask your boss to lighten your load without looking like a slacker, visit The Muse!

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photo via The Muse

Doing My Small Part to Stop Body Shaming

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Last night, I went out for part of my friend Amanda’s bachelorette festivities. She’s an excellent singer, so we went to a karaoke bar and had a great time dancing and singing along with everyone on stage. At one point in the night, though, someone commented on how she couldn’t take off her jacket because her arms weren’t “summer-ready”—she didn’t think they were toned enough. Another woman in our group who was wearing a sleeveless dress chimed in about how she had “hello-goodbye” arms. After she waved hello, she explained, her arm fat kept moving, waving goodbye. We all laughed—after all, body shaming often serves as a social lubricant for women, as Mean Girls so poignantly illustrated when it came out 10 years ago—but I didn’t like the direction the conversation was heading.

Normally, I would have just followed suit and talked about about how I’d gained a few pounds since the last time I’d worn the dress I’d chosen for the night—and how I felt like I had lumps in all the wrong places because of it. But this time I decided to try something different. I told everyone that, as someone who writes about self-esteem and body shaming on a regular basis, I felt obligated to say that I thought we shouldn’t be talking about what we hate about our bodies—that if we were going to talk about them, we should be focusing on what we appreciate about them, particularly since everyone in the group was (and is!) so beautiful.

I’m not quite sure how the other girls felt about my comment—but I can tell you that no one criticized their bodies aloud after that. And I, for one, felt proud of myself for stopping the cycle of body shaming, rather than using that moment as an opportunity to harp on my own figure (not to mention make the other women there feel like they should be harping on theirs).

Have you ever spoken out against body shaming among your friends? What did you say? And how did they react? And if you haven’t, I hope maybe you’ll at least think about saying something the next time you find yourself in the middle of a self-bashing fest. I can say from firsthand experience that it’s pretty liberating!

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photo via Blisstree

What Happened When I Ate One of My “Forbidden” Foods

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As you may have read, I started a 21-day intuitive eating challenge today. This isn’t actually the first resource I’ve experimented with in an attempt to find my way to a healthier, less obsessive relationship with food. In March, I spent a weekend at a mindful eating workshop hosted by Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. So I thought that, in honor of kicking off the intuitive eating challenge today, I could share one of my most memorable experiences from the workshop.

During lunch on day one—the first meal we were going to eat together as part of the workshop—we received very detailed instructions about how we were supposed to make our food choices. There was a buffet setup, and one of the key tips was to pick out whatever things we really, truly wanted to eat—not what we thought we should eat. The reason this was so crucial is that when you classify certain foods as “bad” or “forbidden,” you get into a cycle of restricting that usually leads to emotional eating and/or bingeing (often in secret)—and one of the key principles behind intuitive eating and mindful eating is that when you stop judging your food choices and listen to what your body truly craves, you’ll be able to find a more balanced approach to eating (after all, you don’t have to eat an entire box of chocolates in one sitting—after you’ve “already blown it”—if you allow yourself to eat chocolate whenever you want).

This is a really scary thought to many people–myself included! I feel like I’m always mentally prepared for the likelihood that I’m going to make “bad” food decisions later—so I try to pick healthier, lower-calorie foods when I’m in a good state of mind as a way to counteract what I see as my inevitable downfall. Of course, I find the idea of eating “bad” foods in moderation incredibly intriguing—but going into the mindful eating workshop, I didn’t trust myself to stop at “in moderation” (and if I’m being totally honest, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with this concept). Still… I decided that, this being the first meal of the workshop and all, I was going to give it the old college try.

I surveyed the options: salad, soup, veggie wraps, chicken salad wraps, tuna sandwiches, fruit salad, and cookies. Normally, I would take some salad and a veggie wrap. But what was really calling out to me—the siren of the lunch buffet—was the chicken salad wrap. Under normal circumstances, I would have ignored my cravings, gotten the veggie wrap, and then probably felt unfulfilled the rest of the afternoon, thinking about how amazing the chicken salad wrap that I’d denied myself must have been. That day, however, I decided to get some salad and a chicken salad wrap. Dr. May promised that it would be fun to try out the foods we thought we would enjoy—and that definitely sounded preferable to my normal song and dance.

When I sat down to eat, a funny thing happened: I took a few bites of the chicken salad sandwich (making sure to smell each bite before I ate it, to thoroughly chew and savor each morsel, and to put down the wrap in between bites, as I was instructed). And by the third or fourth bite, I realized that the chicken salad was all right—but it wasn’t nearly as mind-blowing as I probably would have built it up to be if I’d deprived myself of it. So instead of finishing the mediocre wrap, I went back to the buffet and got some fruit salad instead. And you know what? I ended up much more satisfied in the end.

After lunch, when I shared this revelation with the rest of the workshop participants, I felt as if I’d knocked the chicken salad off of some kind of pedestal. As I mentioned earlier, I definitely have more practice to do before I become 100 percent comfortable listening to my body when it tells me to make a food choice that’s “unhealthy.” But when I looked at my inbox this morning and saw that today’s intuitive eating challenge was to give myself permission to eat what I want, I reminded myself of the chicken salad. I decided to go for a grilled cheese and salad for lunch today and had a similar experience to the chicken salad wrap incident. So from now on, I’m going to remind myself of that experience whenever I get squeamish about eating something indulgent. Hopefully it will save me from a lot of anxiety in the future!

This Week in Wellness (Links!)

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! I spent yesterday celebrating the recent conversion of one of my good friends (she’s now Jewish!). And today, I biked to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to see the cherry blossoms there. It was my first time visiting, and I was so impressed that I bought a membership on the spot! Here are some photos from my trip:

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Hopefully, I’ll get to spend even more time outside in the coming week; beautiful weather is such a mood booster! I also start my 21-day intuitive eating challenge tomorrow. I’m nervous about it but also excited to see how it helps me reshape my relationship with food. Here are some other things I have on my health and wellness radar for the next few days:

  • Download Russel Simmons’ Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. I found this article from Well+Good NYC about the different ways Simmons says medtation has benefited his career pretty compelling.
  • Make these flourless banana bread muffins from Running with Spoons. Nom nom.
  • Keep these tips about sun protection in mind when I spend time outdoors (for those of you who don’t know me, I am obsessed with wearing sunscreen).
  • While you won’t see me jumping on the no-sugar bandwagon anytime soon, researching and writing this article on common mistakes people make when avoiding added sugar has inspired me to look for more whole foods (and minimally processed ones) that can help satisfy my sweet tooth.
  • Remind myself that working out isn’t about being the best or achieving some arbitrary fitness accomplishment—it’s about doing something that will help make me happier and healthier. It’s an important lesson that was brought to my attention while I read this writer’s account of how she benefited from being the worst yogi in the room.
  • Remember that I don’t have to stress about eating “perfectly” all the time. This recent article from The New York Times touches on how there’s not really a ton of evidence that fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer (or that fat-filled foods increase your odds of getting the disease). That’s not to say that fruits and vegetables aren’t healthful, of course, but sometimes we can get into the trap of stressing out over every little food decision—and this is just one piece of evidence supporting the fact that it’s not worth beating yourself up over.
  • Start following these nutrition experts on Instagram—their food photos look gorgeous!
  • Buy this Etsy printable and frame it for my mom so I can send it to her for Mother’s Day next week. She’s notoriously difficult to find a good gift for, but she always used to read me Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever when I was little—so I think this may be a winner!

Have a well-intentioned week!

How Amy Schumer Learned to Be Her Own Fairy Godmother

Ms. Foundation Women Of Vision Gala: 2014

I heard about Amy Schumer for the first time four or five years ago. I was working at Cosmopolitan back then, and Amy came into our office as part of a speaker series our editor-in-chief used to organize. She came off as funny, smart, pretty—and above all, confident. So I found it beyond fascinating (not to mention inspiring) to hear that earlier this week, at the Gloria Awards and Gala, the comic opened up about how she suffers from insecurities just like the rest of us. The difference is that in those times when she thinks, “I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice,” she’s learned how to silence her inner critic (and external ones for that matter) and become what she calls “my own fairy godmother” (love, love, love that idea). Here’s Amy’s speech in full (via Vulture). Trust me—it’s worth reading all the way through (although if you absolutely can’t resist skimming, I’ve bolded my favorite parts):

Here I go, and if it doesn’t go well, please just don’t blog about it.

Right before I left for college, I was running my high school. Feel it. I knew where to park, I knew where to get the best chicken-cutlet sandwich, I knew which custodians had pot. People knew me. They liked me. I was an athlete and a good friend. I felt pretty, I felt funny, I felt sane. Then I got to college in Maryland. My school was voted number one … for the hottest freshman girls in Playboy that year. And not because of me. All of a sudden, being witty and charismatic didn’t mean shit. Day after day, I could feel the confidence drain from my body. I was not what these guys wanted. They wanted thinner, blonder, dumber … My sassy one-liners were only working on the cafeteria employees, who I was visiting all too frequently, tacking on not the Freshman 15, but the 30, in record-breaking time, which led my mother to make comments over winter break like, “You look healthy!” I was getting no male attention, and I’m embarrassed to say, it was killing me.

But one guy paid me some attention — Matt. Matt was six feet tall, he looked like a grown-up von Trapp child, and he was five years older than me. What?! An older boy, paying attention to me? I must be okay. Uff. I made him laugh in our bio lab, and I could tell a couple times that we had a vibe. He was a super senior, which is a sexy way of saying “should have graduated, but needed an extra year.” He barely spoke, which was perfect for all the projecting I had planned for him. We grew up in the same town, and getting attention from him felt like success. When I would see him on campus, my heart would race, and I would smile as he passed. I’d look in the mirror and see all the blood rise to my face. I’d spend time analyzing the interaction, and planning my outfit for the next time I saw him. I wanted him to call. He never called. But then finally, he called.

It was 8 a.m., my dorm room phone rang. “Amy, wassup? It’s Matt. Come over.” Holy shit! This is it, I thought. He woke up thinking about me! He realized we’re meant to start a life together! Let’s just stop all this pretending that we weren’t free just to love one another! I wondered, would we raise our kids in the town we both grew up in, or has he taken a liking to Baltimore? I don’t care. I’ll settle wherever he’s most comfortable. Will he want to raise our kids Jewish? Who cares? I shaved my legs in the sink, I splashed some water under my armpits, and my randomly assigned Albanian roommate stared at me from under her sheets as I rushed around our shitty dorm room. I ran right over to his place, ready for our day together. What would we do? It’s still early enough, maybe we’re going fishing? Or maybe his mom’s in town, and he wanted me to join them for breakfast. Knock-knock. Is he going to carry me over the threshold? I bet he’s fixing his hair and telling his mom, “Be cool, this may be the one!” I’ll be very sweet with her, but assert myself, so she doesn’t think she’s completely in charge of all the holiday dinners we’re going to plan together. I’ll call her by her first name, too, so she knows she can’t mess with me. “Rita! I’m going to make the green bean casserole this year, and that’s that!” Knock-knock. Ring ring. Where is he?

Finally, the door opens. It’s Matt, but not really. He’s there, but not really. His face is kind of distorted, and his eyes seem like he can’t focus on me. He’s actually trying to see me from the side, like a shark. “Hey!” he yells, too loud, and gives me a hug, too hard. He’s fucking wasted. I’m not the first person he thought of that morning. I’m the last person he called that night. I wonder, how many girls didn’t answer before he got to fat freshman me? Am I in his phone as Schumer? Probably. But I was here, and I wanted to be held and touched and felt desired, despite everything. I wanted to be with him. I imagined us on campus together, holding hands, proving, “Look! I am lovable! And this cool older guy likes me!” I can’t be the troll doll I’m afraid I’ve become.

He put on some music, and we got in bed. As that sexy maneuver where the guy pushes you on the bed, you know, like, “I’m taking the wheel on this one. Now I’m going to blow your mind,” which is almost never followed up with anything. He smelled like skunk microwaved with cheeseburgers, which I planned on finding and eating in the bathroom, as soon as he was asleep. We tried kissing. His 9 a.m. shadow was scratching my face — I knew it’d look like I had fruit-punch mouth for days after. His alcohol-swollen mouth, I felt like I was being tongued by someone who had just been given Novocain. I felt faceless, and nameless. I was just a warm body, and I was freezing cold. His fingers poked inside me like they had lost their keys in there. And then came the sex, and I use that word very loosely. His penis was so soft, it felt like one of those de-stress things that slips from your hand? So he was pushing aggressively into my thigh, and during this failed penetration, I looked around the room to try and distract myself or God willing, disassociate. What’s on the wall? AScarface poster, of course. Mandatory. Anything else? That’s it? This Irish-Catholic son of bank teller who played JV soccer and did Mathletes feels the most connection with a Cuban refugee drug lord. The place looked like it was decorated by an overeager set designer who took the note “temporary and without substance” too far.

He started to go down on me. That’s ambitious, I think. Is it still considered getting head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds and moves his tongue like an elderly person eating their last oatmeal? Chelsea? Is it? Yes? It is. I want to scream for myself, “Get out of here, Amy. You are beautiful, you are smart, and worth more than this. This is not where you stay.” I feel like Fantine and Cosette and every fucking sad French woman from Les Miz. And whoever that cat was who sang “Memories,” what was that musical? Suze Orman just goes, “Cats.” The only wetness between my legs is from his drool, because he’s now sleeping and snoring into me. I sigh, I hear my own heartbreak, I fight back my own tears, and then I notice a change in the music. Is this just a bagpipe solo? I shake him awake. “Matt, what is this? The Braveheartsoundtrack? Can you put something else on, please?” He wakes up grumpily, falls to the floor, and crawls. I look at his exposed butt crack, a dark, unkempt abyss that I was falling into. I felt paralyzed. His asshole is a canyon, and this was my 127 Hours. I might chew my arm off.

I could feel I was losing myself to this girl in this bed. He stood up and put a new CD on. “Darling, you send me, I know you send me, honest, you do …” I’m thinking, “What is this?” He crawled back into bed, and tried to mash at this point his third ball into my vagina. On his fourth thrust, he gave up and fell asleep on my breast. His head was heavy and his breath was so sour, I had to turn my head so my eyes didn’t water. But they were watering anyway, because of this song. Who is this? This is so beautiful. I’ve never heard these songs before. They’re gutting me. The score attached to our morning couldn’t have been more off. His sloppy, tentative lovemaking was certainly not in the spirit of William Wallace. And now the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard play out as this man-boy laid in my arms, after diminishing me to a last-minute booty call. I listened to the songs and I cried. I was looking down at myself from the ceiling fan. What happened to this girl? How did she get here? I felt the fan on my skin and I went, “Oh, wait! I am this girl! We got to get me out of here!” I became my own fairy godmother. I waited until the last perfect note floated out, and escaped from under him and out the door. I never heard from Matt again, but felt only grateful for being introduced to my new self, a girl who got her value from within her. I’m also grateful to Matt for introducing me to my love Sam Cooke, who I’m still with today.

Now I feel strong and beautiful. I walk proudly down the streets of Manhattan. The people I love, love me. I make the funniest people in the country laugh, and they are my friends. I am a great friend and an even better sister. I have fought my way through harsh criticism and death threats for speaking my mind. I am alive, like the strong women in this room before me. I am a hot-blooded fighter and I am fearless. But I did morning radio last week, and a DJ asked, “Have you gained weight? You seem chunkier to me. You should strike while the iron is hot, Amy.” And it’s all gone. In an instant, it’s all stripped away. I wrote an article forMen’s Health and was so proud, until I saw instead of using my photo, they used one of a 16-year-old model wearing a clown nose, to show that she’s hilarious. But those are my words. What about who I am, and what I have to say? I can be reduced to that lost college freshman so quickly sometimes, I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, “All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at a pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.” But then I think, Fuck that. I am not laying in that freshman year bed anymore ever again. I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it. I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.

Amy’s honesty here is incredibly moving—particularly because I think her story is something many women can relate to (I certainly can). It’s a good reminder that, even for people who seem totally self-assured, it often takes a conscious effort to get to a place of confidence—but that it’s so, so worth it to make that effort. The next time I’m feeling down on myself, I’m definitely going to try to channel my inner Amy Schumer and think Fuck that—then try to remember that I have to be my own fairy godmother. I hope you’ll do the same.