In my free time, I like to overthink all of the potentially embarrassing things I’ve ever done or said in front of other human beings. On the off chance that I have run out of things to cringe over, I give my nerves a break from roasting myself and instead put the heat on a topic that’s been hammered into my little noggin since I first developed spatial awareness: why do celebrities look so good, and how can I do it, too?!
Although I could be reasonable and focus on the facts (entire teams of people are paid to primp them and they generally have incredible genetics), there are a few incredibly cursed claims that I simply cannot unhear. If my brain sounds like a horror movie, that’s because it is. Except, instead of a bloody figure popping up in the mirror while I’m winding down for bed, it’s the ghost of a celebrity sponcon post touting a holy grail beauty product and a discount code that will essentially shave $1 off the retail price. Here are a few unrealistic things celebs have said about how they look so good. These tend to pop into my head usually when I’m perusing CVS for a product that will drastically change my appearance (without breaking the bank), or when I’m simply in a phase of blissful self-confidence, during which I’m convinced simply drinking enough water is making me objectively stunning.
Don’t Let Your Body Tell People How Old You Are
Do you have at least five Kardashian-Jenner quotes floating around your head at all times of the day, or are you normal? (I am truly just a girl caught between “phone eats first,” and Kim’s deranged mantra: “Instagramming photos of food isn’t sexy.”) Ever since Khloé shared her “new mom beauty routine” with Vogue, I’ve been unable to shake the sound of her voice from my subconscious when I get ready each morning. After toning, Khloé says she lathers SPF 46 on her face, hands, neck, and chest, “because this is where we all show our age.” Sorry, but that’s essentially my entire body? You mean to tell me that my entire body… shows my age? Damn. It really do be like that. Now, when I moisturize and apply sunscreen, I make sure to work the product all the way down to my toenail cuticles, lest anyone do the math and find out when I graduated college. Next, I cycle through five different photo editing apps and gaslight anyone with access to photos I haven’t doctored first. (But trust: I owe it all to the SPF.)
Stop Being A Potato
You know what will totally save you after a long night out? Potatoes. Unfortunately, you will not be eating hash browns, but you will be rubbing them on your face if you subscribe to the ways of Lauren Conrad, who once suggested, “to reduce puffiness, slice up a few refrigerated potatoes, soak them in water for a moment or two, and then place them over your lids for 15 minutes. Works like a charm.” Although, I have to wonder: if I am the kind of person who is whimsical enough to calmly sit with chilled potatoes on my face, what lifestyle mistakes am I making to suffer from puffiness in the first place? There must be some other habit I can eliminate. LC, LMK.
Enough With the “I’m Practically A Vegan!” Charade
During a chat with Extra, Halle Berry revealed that if you want to glow, you simply cannot be vegan. Relax, vegans, she did not call it out like that, but if you want to be beautiful, you’ll have to be able to stomach potentially seeing an animal carcass. Her skin care secret is simple: homemade bone broth. “You can go to the butcher and get all the bones they’re going to throw away and he’ll give them to you for free. Take the bones, boil them up for 24 hours… and you drink the broth. It’s so full of collagen that it’s crazy.” You heard it here, folks. It is officially free to look like Halle Berry.
Beauty Is Pain
Oh, the $28 Glossier serum you use to decrease inflammation isn’t working wonders? You should probably trash it immediately and opt for nature’s fix: letting a bunch of bees sting you. If you’re feeling skeptical, let Gwyneth Goop Paltrow calm your nerves: “I’m open to anything. I’ve been stung by bees. It’s a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy,” she told the New York Times. “People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful.” Perhaps the best part of Gwyneth’s suggestion is that even she doesn’t sound sold on it… which somehow makes me want to try it even more? It’s like when you meet a friend for a Starbucks run, and when she takes one sip of the $11 unnaturally colored drink and says, “This tastes like shit,” your first instinct is to grab it and try it for yourself.
But Also, Don’t Worry Because Everything Is Optional!
Bella Thorne has done a lot of things that made the internet collectively scream, “Oh no!” so it’s understandable if you missed the day everyone was spiraling over her beauty routine. The former Disney star revealed, “I don’t use moisturizer or anything,” which is simultaneously the most reassuring and troubling statement I’ve ever heard in my life. When a casual happy hour turns into all-night karaoke, the one thing I can typically manage to do when I get home is slap some kind of hydrating concoction over at least a portion of my face. If I lose sight of the most foundational skin care rule, I’m not really sure where I’ll end up next. But on the other hand, I know that even if I finally pull the trigger on the $70 Drunk Elephant moisturizer that’s been sitting in an online cart for a week, I’m still going to wake up and reenact Mia Thermopolis’ “This is as good as it’s going to get” scene from The Princess Diaries every day for the rest of my life.
Images: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Good American
NEW YORK—With temperatures rising in the parts of the country that experience seasons, along with vaccine injections, residents are excited for summer and hopeful they can resume something resembling a carefree lifestyle of drinking in public parks and hookups with strangers. And now that bikini season is right around the corner, one New York area woman came to the jarring realization that it is once again time for her to hate her body.
“Is it really time for me to get my bikini body into gear already?” gasped Kelsey, a resident of the Upper East Side. “Without all the constant messaging of how I need to shed my love handles or get rid of my stretch marks, I simply lost track of the time of year!”
For the past 12 months, Kelsey found herself preoccupied not with the newest technology that promised to freeze your fat off or the latest iteration of the thigh gap, but with simply staying alive.
“As nice as that was, I’m glad to be back in my comfort zone of feeling extremely uncomfortable in my own skin, like I just want to rip it off,” she says. “I mean, literally—I fantasize about this a lot. I think I’d start with the flap of skin under my arms.”
And while last April, Kelsey’s main wardrobe concern was locating an effective face covering that wasn’t marked up 6,000%, the 29-year-old says she’s excited to get back to her roots, which include agonizing over her reflection in dressing room mirrors and storefront windows, trying on every single bikini in the Bloomingdale’s swim section and leaving empty-handed because “bikinis just look weird on me, I guess”, and working salads into every topic of conversation.
As her friends stress over the expectation to wear less clothing after an uncharacteristic year of moving less and drinking and eating more, Kelsey has found another silver lining: “Although small businesses and restaurants have suffered nearly insurmountable setbacks due to the pandemic, on the bright side, there are more companies than ever promising to get me to my goal weight in 30 days!”
“Do I go with the effective, but expected keto? The more glamorous Intermittent Fasting? Maybe I should try that ProLon thing all those influencers are posting about,” she says. “All the options are almost making me nostalgic for the simpler times when all I had to worry about was if dropping groceries off at my parents’ house would kill them.”
Kelsey’s friends have noticed the change, too. They report that during the pandemic, her usual diet talk and hemming and hawing over her jeans size were replaced by nuanced conversations about current events, sexism, and societal double-standards. Now, she’s back to interrogating everyone in her friend circle about how many calories they think are in her tofu and goat cheese scramble.
“Thank god we’re starting to return to normal,” she said with a sigh of relief. “I was starting to become interesting.”
Image: Bruce and Rebecca Meissner /Stocksy
When I first got the email about returning to my office in July, I was overwhelmed with emotion, both negative and positive.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I am a twentysomething living in NYC. I’ve stayed here throughout the entire pandemic thus far. I stay inside, I wash my hands, I wear my mask, I respect other people’s space, and I do my part to keep myself and those around me safe. In other words, I’m not an a**hole.
So, that being said, when I found out I was headed back to the office on the first day of phase 3 (July 6, to be exact), I was kind of shook. COVID had (has) made me quite an anxious person over time, and this felt like my worst fear coming to life. Public transportation? Sitting in an office with 50 other people I could not control? WEARING JEANS AGAIN? A lot of scary stuff here.
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On the contrary, sitting in my apartment day in and day out had also been quite an unhealthy habit. I made every excuse not to go outside, washing my hair became a task, and I had literally become one with the couch. Going to work meant I’d have an excuse to focus a bit more again on self-care and to get up and do something.
Here I am almost two months later, and I am here to spill what it’s actually like to be back in an office in the midst of a pandemic.
I take one subway and one bus to get to work. The first day I went all out and prepared for battle in the form of a mask, gloves, paper towels to hold the handles on public transportation (yes, even while wearing gloves), and a big bottle of hand sanitizer in my bag. The subway was fairly quiet, with some essential workers, and some others in suits who looked as nervous as I did. The bus was even quieter. Quieter as in, I was the only human on the bus and therefore it was a straight shot to work, with no stops in between. As time has gone on, the subway has gotten a bit more crowded, but the bus remains empty. Public transportation overall hasn’t been scary, but when someone gets on the subway without a mask (which is obviously against the rules but nothing I can do much about), my stomach still drops.
When you arrive at my office, the first thing you must do is have your temperature taken. Of course, if you have a fever, you will be sent home immediately. Upon entering the building there is a mask, glove, and hand sanitizer station. They are also set up throughout the office building. Most people wear cloth masks, but should you have a paper mask on and want a fresh one, it is available. The little things, ya know?
The elevators are limited to four people per ride (which I think is pretty standard across NYC now), but typically I opt to ride solo even though that means waiting longer for an elevator. We have an open floor plan in our office, with rows of tables as desks. As you can imagine, we are limited to one person per row, so there is forced social distancing in place. In some ways, it’s so distant that it’s lonely. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the luxury of being able to turn and chat with someone next to me.
During the workday, in fact, there is little to no human communication at all. Despite being in office, meetings are held via Zoom to avoid any large groups. If you’re reading this and thinking “sO wHy ArE yOu BaCk In An OfFiCe”, the answer is… unclear.
In terms of further safety precautions, while a mask is not required when sitting at our desks, it’s encouraged. You can bet my paranoid lil self has one on all day. All community snacks have been taken away (sad), so has the coffee machine (sadder!!!). Safety > coffee, obviously, but I know you all feel me on the heartbreak there.
We also can’t leave for lunch. Once you’re in the building, you are in for the day until you go home. This one hurts the most simply because I take my lunch hour seriously, but again, I get it. I did reach out to the few friends I have who are also back in the office, and they have similar limitations. On the bright side, I’ve saved money by packing my lunch daily, something I didn’t know I was even capable of! (Only half-kidding).
The best (and most important) safety precaution/perk of the office is weekly COVID testing. Once a week we are required to take both a COVID and antibody test. A team sets up right in the common area, and we have to walk a maximum of one flight of stairs to get there. As someone who lives with a roommate, this is a huge relief for not only myself but for him as well. Given the fact that he is working from home and did not sign up to be put at risk, the fact that I can come home and show him a negative result each week puts us both at ease. And even better, the antibody test has only a 15-minute turnaround time, the COVID test only a 24-hour turnaround time, so we don’t have to wait long for our results.
Being back in an office has forced me to make small but important changes. I set my alarm for 8am now (instead of 8:59am). I wake up and actually have to CHOOSE an outfit (remember that???). I style my hair. I wear makeup. I use time management skills to give myself a work-life balance. All of the things that gently slipped from my mind during my four-month quarantine period. It’s had a huge impact on my mental health, and a good one at that.
While the world is still gloomy AF, and the news cycle hasn’t gotten any better, at least leaving the house daily has provided a healthy (and easy) change I didn’t know I needed. Despite the fact that I have essentially left one room where I work alone to head to another room where I work alone, there has been something very refreshing about the act of getting outside and doing something daily.
Since I started going back into the office, I’ve been valuing my weekends and nights in a new way. Aside from sleeping, I’ve also used my downtime to capitalize on more *important* hobbies (like binging Selling Sunset, obviously).
So, in all seriousness, being back in the office isn’t so bad. It feels good to get back into a routine, and even if I am still questioning “the point” of putting myself at risk to travel to work and be in an office with others, I do believe there was some method to the madness.
Images: Marina Andrejchenko / Shutterstock; whenshappyhr / Instagram; Giphy (2)
“Shedding for those wedding bells, I see!” said an oblivious male trainer friend of mine the last time I was at a gym (which feels like 200 years ago), distracting me from a personal best I was about to make. Because we have a personal relationship, I said straight to his face, “excuse me, that was incredibly rude,” and we moved on. But, truthfully, rude doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how problematic this assumption is.
Shedding for the wedding has somehow become a cultural phenomenon that not only requires a bride to put on the most expensive party of her life, but also forces her to spend the months leading up to the wedding (that should be spent drinking champagne and shoving her hand in people’s faces) hangry and stressed. Disclosure: I am talking about female-identifying brides, as I rarely hear about grooms training specifically for the big day, but for the record, body shaming harms everyone.
First, let’s break down how little sense the idea of losing weight for your wedding makes. You’re marrying the love of your life, who loves you for you. Now you want to go and crash diet and/or binge exercise to drastically change your appearance for one day? There’s no reason to make yourself miserable in preparation for what’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life.
One could argue that the ritual ceremony of a wedding itself symbolizes entering adulthood. For me, it definitely does in a much more real way than graduating college or doing my taxes for the first time ever did, and for some, that can be a call to consider their health seriously for the first time. That is not inherently a bad thing, but the problem with the wellness industry as it stands is that it conflates health and well-being with beauty. That notion of “beauty” is further limited to Eurocentric features, so it’s problematic in multiple ways. True health and well-being aren’t as sexy to promote on Instagram, though, because it’s tougher to market what we can’t see from the outside, but diet culture has officially infiltrated the spaces we look to for health information.
Diet culture is the belief that thinness = “health” and status. This is dangerous to us all, but especially to women, BIPOC, people who are differently-abled, anyone over size 6, the trans community—basically anyone society “others”. It sends the implicit message that if you don’t look like the imaginary health ideal—which, according to stock photos, is exclusively thin white women (who can usually be found laughing at salad)—you’re not only unwell, but a whole slew of other unconscious judgments that come along with it (lazy, unmotivated, etc.). Wellness becomes inherently political in this regard. It is impossible to talk about health without addressing the fact that we all have varying levels of access to wellness resources and that we continue to glorify some bodies as beautiful and others as not—which lurks somewhere deep in our brain when we think about what would make us look *perfect* on our wedding day.
I so, so, so get wanting to look your best for the big day. These are photos you’ll have forever, after all. And yes, you better believe my skin care regimen is 234209243 steps long, and I’ve obsessed about the hair and makeup and the dress, but the idea that we need to lose weight to be and feel beautiful is sexist, and while we’re being honest, it’s racist. At the same time, I fully support your right to be autonomous with your body, in every sense of the word. If you want to lose weight to feel special on your special day, that is entirely your right and you shouldn’t feel shame for that—but you should know where that desire comes from, because I’m willing to bet my dream honeymoon that the desire to lose weight comes from a hope that we will be more worthy, better versions of ourselves once that finally happens. The thing is, though, losing weight doesn’t usually accomplish that. If you aren’t armed with this information going in, you’ll probably be disappointed when you get to that final dress fitting and you don’t feel as changed as you thought you would.
To be clear, I am not against having fitness goals! But by fitness goals, I mean actual fitness—not physique goals. A fitness goal is “I want to run a marathon” or “I want to carry this overpacked suitcase without breaking a sweat.” A fitness goal is not, “I want to lose x pounds or fit in this dress”. Personally, my biggest “wellness” goal is staying sane in 2020 and making it to my wedding alive amidst a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, PEOPLE.
As a bride and pilates instructor (with no wedding date in sight), what I am doing is continuing to do the exercise I enjoy because it feels good and helps me deal with COVID-19/wedding/2020/self-employed stress. Listen, movement is objectively good; I’ve literally made it my career and can personally vouch for the life-changing magic of moving your body every day. The problem is, shedding for the wedding puts the focus on changing your body for aesthetic purposes only, instead of enjoying it or even focusing on health itself. Not only can that get punish-y and dangerous, but it’s also just not fun.
I move my body regularly, whether it’s a full workout or a sanity walk around the block, because it feels good and also so I don’t lose my sh*t when my dress is indefinitely delayed or trips get canceled. Choosing to exercise in appreciation of your body and as self-care increases body satisfaction and helps you be nicer to your reflection, which, wedding or not, is always welcome.
Unfortunately, you’re not likely to get through your engagement without hearing the phrase “shedding for the wedding”. So what do you do when someone puts their nose where it doesn’t belong? It’s actually quite simple: Call them out and remind them (politely or not, up to you) that it’s not only not their business, but it’s also harmful and promotes an outdated beauty ideal. Let them know that your wedding does not revolve around an arbitrary number of pounds lost or gained, but the fact that you found yourself a life partner. What a concept.
It’s time to cancel “shedding for the wedding” and start celebrating body diversity with the same fervor that we do one particular type of beauty. 2020 brides have had to sacrifice dancing, hugging, and uh, human interaction in general with the rise of stoop and Zoom weddings. But, we’ve also started to see an edit of superfluous traditions in favor of celebrating what’s actually meaningful about a wedding: the love! Maybe, *JUST MAYBE* we can make engagements about being engaged instead of dieting, and “shedding for the wedding” will go the way of the garter toss.
Images: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
If you were like, “Hey, what happened to Holly? She said she had cancer and then disappeared, did she die?”, I’m here to tell you, I lived, bitches. Not only did I live after getting a stage 4 triple negative cancer diagnosis, despite the odds, I was able to get a double mastectomy (which will keep those murder boobs from creating more cancer), and I am now officially cancer-free. I mean, I have to be on immune therapy for a few years/maybe forever, but it’s a small price to pay.
On average, I had a year to live if I didn’t have immune therapy and respond well to treatment. Which would have been next month. So, given my very close brush with death, I keep thinking back to how I found out that I was BRCA2+ in January 2019, from a 23&Me test. That gave me a 90% chance of getting breast cancer. (BTW, that test only checks for 3 out of 1,000 strains of BRCA and is not totally accurate, so if you think you may have it, you need to get the official blood test from your doctor.) I did nothing about it. I mentioned it to my doctor that May, who advised me to get a preventative double mastectomy. The thought was so horrifying (and over the top, I thought, I was only 28!), I just kind of blew it off and decided that was more a problem for Future Holly. Then in September 2019, I rolled over, found a lump, and this sh*tshow began.
It’s funny how I went from terrified to get a mastectomy to absolutely begging/praying for one in such a short amount of time. Normally at this phase of cancer, it’s no longer an option because you can never go off of chemo, and you can’t have major surgery on chemo because your body does not heal. Immune therapy changed that for me, so I was able to get the surgery when most people cannot. Look, I’m not going to lie, it’s a major surgery and amputation and it really f*cking sucked, but if you have a family history of breast cancer or test positive for BRCA, I am telling you right now, just do it. Because not only will you have to do it anyway, you’ll have to do a lot more terrible sh*t AND STILL maybe won’t survive it. That’s simply not worth it.
If you are doing it preventatively or have an early stage cancer that does not need radiation, you actually can get reconstruction done at the same time as your mastectomy. So you walk in with (potential) murder boobs, walk out with fake boobs that look the same (or even better) but won’t try to kill you in the middle of the night like mine did. If you’re getting radiation, you have to have the mastectomy, heal for a couple months, then get radiation, then wait six months, then get reconstruction. It’s because radiation will melt/mess up whatever recon they try to do, so they give you a while to heal from it before they even bother.
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My second clean pathology report! They tested my murder boobs’ tissue and found it all to be CANCER FREE! The white part in the first image is the scar tissue from my lumpectomy. 😳 I got my drains out yesterday and I’m doing great. Btw. I asked what they do with the tissue after testing and they keep it all, frozen, in case something else comes up they can retest. So my breasts are sitting in a jar somewhere in a lab. Found this little detail a bit horrifying but at least they can’t kill anyone else. 😂🔪 #fuckcancer #fuckbreastcancer #triplenegativebreastcancer
I’m having radiation so I could only get temporary reconstruction that will get screwed up but then be replaced. I opted to get my nipples removed, because nipples are still breast tissue and there is no way at this point I’d risk having a tumor come back. The surgery was done by a breast cancer surgeon and a plastic surgeon together—one took everything out, the other put it all back together. It only took a few hours, but I stayed one night in the hospital. I left feeling really tight around my chest and unable to move my arms. I had little implants that were about half the size of my original breasts as a space holder until I get my actual reconstruction. I didn’t have to get expanders (which go under the muscle to make room for implants) because I’m opting for a Deip flap surgery later on, which means I’ll have small implants on top of the muscle and most of the new breasts will actually be stomach fat. So, new boobs, a tummy tuck, and lipo in one, all in the name of cancer. You know, I always wanted abs. I didn’t think I’d get them this way, though.
The other super weird thing was that my chest and armpits around the implants are completely caved in. Your breasts actually go up to your neck and into your armpits, so all of that is now hollow. They’ll fix it with fat from my stomach, but it does look pretty strange in this interim. Since I got my nipples chopped off, my only incisions were two lines where my nipples used to be and they did the entire surgery through those holes. I had little white band-aids on those lines and that is it. I also left with two drains on either side, which fill with blood/liquid (ew) and you have to measure what comes out of them every day until it’s a small amount and you can have them removed.
Serious question: Can I walk around topless now since I don’t have any nipples?
So let’s talk about pain. At first I had absolutely zero pain, but then I tried to sit up, or even worse, stand up. Your breasts actually go completely numb after a mastectomy so I can’t feel anything under/the sides/or where my nipples used to be. I have a small amount of feeling in the center/sternum area. This was a huge relief since I didn’t have to deal with any of that pain. But when I tried to get up, suddenly my rib cage was lit by every fire from the depths of hell. I honestly don’t think I would have noticed had I been actually lit on fire. This is apparently a nerve pain issue, as your nerves start freaking the f*ck out about what happened to them. This pain went on for four days and no amount of drugs seemed to curb it. To be honest, it was a pain I previously wouldn’t have been able to conceptualize, but it was only when I tried to get up.
However, when that pain resolved, suddenly I was very aware of my surgical drains. I mean, it’s barbaric. They look like this:
Etsy PostOpSolutions Lanyard to Hold Surgical Drains
Except this photo fails to show the huge 8-inch piece of tubing that was in either side of my body. I was told I was super lucky, because some people get four drains and I only got two. They’re just sticking right out of your skin. Below my chest ached and had a lot of pressure that I didn’t realize was from the drains until I had them removed. Which, BTW, also hurts, even though they tell you it doesn’t. They legit just yank them out. But, it’s a relief once they’re gone. I had mine for eight days, and opted to wear mine in a cute little fanny pack instead of a lanyard like pictured above.
I spent a week basically bedridden with family helping me out, and then I went home to my apartment. I needed a lot of help because I could only move my arms like a T-rex, although I was able to touch my head and my ass, so thank God, I could like, wipe myself and wash my own hair. Weeks 2-4 are about the same: super f*cking boring and you’re in a moderate amount of aching pain. This is the pain I expected, though. It feels like I’ve been in a really bad car accident, I’m just very sore and tight and achy. It hurts more in the morning and I still can’t sleep on my side, so I sleep like a corpse and I’m really stiff when I get up. I’m mostly bored because I still can’t really use my arms much and I’m not allowed to drive or lift anything until the 6-week mark. But I’ve totally been able to take care of myself since that first week (with friends helping with things like driving to appointments, putting groceries away, getting things from high cabinets, etc).
Overall, it’s not even close to as bad as I pictured. And if I’d done it preventatively I’d be done by now, and wouldn’t have had the rest of the cancer disaster to deal with. The worst is over and it’s only up from here. Getting my boobs done and a tummy tuck just makes me like every other girl in LA, so I’m expecting it to be way easier than everything I’ve already been through. Honestly, chemo was way, way, worse. Being uncomfortable/sore is infinitely better than being sick for five months of your life. Let me tell you, it’s also a huge relief that I don’t have to neurotically check my boobs for tumors anymore. After FIVE of them over the last year, I’m over it.
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So, I’m at week 5, and I have a couple more weeks of healing, six weeks of radiation, six months to heal from that, recon surgery, probably a second recon (most people need two when it’s post-radiation), and then I’ll get my nipples drawn back on via 3D tattoos. And by then, this pandemic shit BETTER BE OVER, my hair will grow back in a way that doesn’t look like I’m the coolest boy in 5th grade, and I can forget that I ever had cancer. Besides the immune therapy. But that’s every three weeks and not a big deal.
Also? I asked them what they do with the boobs they took out and apparently they keep them frozen in a lab in case something else comes up and they need to retest. Super. Gross.
TL;DR; It hurts, it sucks, it’s totally bearable, over with quick, if you need it, just do it.
So, get your preventative mastectomies, check for BRCA, and check your boobs. I assure you, the rest of it sucks much worse if you fail to take action. And not to be overly dark, but here’s a gentle reminder of the alternative:
Although if I die, you guys better make sure I look exactly this chic at my funeral, kthanksbye.
Images: MR.Yanukit / Shutterstock; Giphy (4); Etsy
If your Facebook timeline looks anything like mine, you’ve spent the past few months scrolling past pictures of your friends’ houses, a lot of politics, and that one freaking person who will not stop posting misinformation and conspiracies about masks. Whether this person is screaming into the void that masks are yet another tool for government control (if only we would just OPEN OUR EYES), or this well-meaning but ill-informed friend is trying to convince you that masks themselves are a danger to your health, there is no shortage of misinformation out there.
As frustrating as it is to see post after post about the horrors of masks, it isn’t entirely surprising. According to a paper by psychology professor Monika Grzesiak-Feldman, increased fear and anxiety make it more likely for a person to believe conspiracy theories and misinformation. When you feel threatened, you often feel out of control—belief in conspiracies, regardless of how baseless the theories are, gives you the (misguided) sense of control that you’re so desperately seeking. A need for control over your surroundings combined with a deep need to make sense of the world around you can lead to misinformation spreading like wildfire, simply because people are fiending for answers.
Imagine you’re standing up against a wall with nowhere to run, and a hundred little kids with water balloons show up and just start firing. That’s us, every single day, with the incredible amount of information (both accurate and inaccurate) being lobbed constantly in our general direction. We can’t avoid the information tornado that we exist within, but we can cope with it. How? Well, by doing the equivalent of wearing a raincoat during a water balloon attack. We have to protect ourselves. This isn’t easy, it involves treating every piece of information thrown your way like a telemarketer trying to sell you a problem-solving pill. Repeat after me: NOT EVERYTHING YOU READ IS TRUE. Ask yourself a few simple questions to figure out if whatever you’re reading is reliable. Who is writing this article, are they credible? Do they have some sort of expertise in this area of study? Why are they writing this article, what are their motives? And perhaps the most simple, yet inexplicably complicated question, does this even make logical sense (looking at you, “5G caused a pandemic people)?
One of the most prevalent subjects of conspiracy theories and misinformation in the past few months is none other than the ever-present face mask. Again, this whole situation is extremely stressful. Anxiety is high, and truthfully, we don’t know exactly what’s going on. I hear you, that’s scary. However, failing to use masks (or failing to use them effectively) is going to keep us in this situation for even longer. It’s ok if you’re glaring at me through your screen right now. Stick with me—I promise to act as your information poncho for the next several paragraphs, and we’re using trusted experts to debunk some of the most common mask myths.
Myth #1: Wearing A Mask Reduces Your Oxygen Levels
Before we get to the experts, please remember that medical professionals have been wearing masks for hours at a time long before the pandemic started. The very people responsible for understanding and helping us take care of our bodies are using masks every single day with no serious issues. I say “no serious issues” because there are absolutely non-serious issues. For example, masks are uncomfortable. They get sticky and humid and it really might feel like your mask is inhibiting your breathing. Spoiler, it’s not. In an interview with Animal Político, Dr. Daniel Pahua Díaz, an academic from the Department of Public Health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico medical school explained, “This misinformation may arise from the feeling of lack of air due to mechanical obstruction depending on the type of mouthpiece we are using. But the feeling of obstruction is because we are not used to using the mouth mask. But as such it will not cause us any kind of hypoxia.” Hypoxia, meaning lower levels of oxygen.
If you need more proof, a doctor in Ireland set out to disprove the myth himself. He put on not one, not two, but six face masks. His oxygen levels were unchanged. Assuming you’re not wearing seven face masks, or using a mask made of some sort of metal, wearing one for a few hours at a time isn’t going to impact your oxygen levels.
“Does wearing a face mask lower your oxygen levels” repeatedly by patients today!
Based on what they are reading on social media
*Face coverings / masks don’t reduce your oxygen levels!*
I managed to get six face masks on + it had no effect on my oxygen levels! pic.twitter.com/qNKYa8pejx
— Maitiu O Tuathail (@DrZeroCraic) July 14, 2020
Myth #2: Wearing A Mask Causes Carbon Dioxide To Build Up In Your Body
I, for one, have seen more than my share of posts claiming that wearing a mask can cause you to drop dead of carbon monoxide toxicity. As with the oxygen myth, it’s important to remember that MASKS WERE CREATED TO ALLOW US TO BREATHE THROUGH THEM (I’m not screaming, you’re screaming). It is true that too much carbon dioxide can cause hypercapnia (a fancy word for having too much CO2 in your blood), but it’s really unlikely to occur from regular use of a mask. A CDC representative explained to Reuters, “The CO2 will slowly build up in the mask over time. However, the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it. You might get a headache but you most likely not suffer the symptoms observed at much higher levels of CO2.” A simple solution to even a small buildup of CO2 in your mask is to take it off (in a safe place, with clean hands) every once in a while.
Myth #3: If My Mask Is Covering My Mouth, I’m Safe
Ok, I’m taking some creative liberties here because I’m not sure that anyone consciously believes that a mask covering your mouth is effective. Here’s the thing, though, I have seen countless people in stores, in memes, all wearing masks with their noses still completely exposed. With all due respect, f*cking what? We know that this virus spreads through droplets, ones so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. These droplets leave our bodies when we talk, sing, or even breathe. If we inhale someone else’s droplets, through any hole (mouth or nose, relax), we invite potentially infected particles into our bodies. An article from the Cleveland Clinic explained, “A mask should cover your mouth and your nose. It should be snug but comfortable against the sides of your face, and you should be able to breathe without restriction. Choose one that secures with ties or ear loops. Don’t wear your mask around your neck or chin, or over your head—that doesn’t protect anyone.”
Myth #4: I Don’t Need To Wear A Mask Around Healthy People
A few of your friends want to have a little get-together. Just the four of you. I mean, you’ve been cooped up for so long—and it’s your birthday! You deserve a little treat, right? Just one day of pretending the world isn’t crumbling is exactly what you need to keep your sanity. I say this with all the love in the world: don’t trust your friends. Regardless of how careful your friends think they’re being, there is room for error. An almost imperceptible scratch of the nose after opening their contaminated car door, forgetting a mask once while walking their dog, there are so many ways to contract COVID that the safest bet is to assume that everyone (including yourself) is infected. Even more frightening than the ease with which the virus spreads is the fact that seemingly healthy people may not only be infected, but incredibly contagious.
Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco clarified some things about asymptomatic transmission (the spread of COVID by people who aren’t even showing symptoms) for The Conversation. She explained, “Researchers have found that pre-symptomatic people shed the virus at an extremely high rate, similar to the seasonal flu. But people with the flu don’t normally shed virus until they have symptoms.” She continued, “When people cough or talk, they spray droplets of saliva and mucus into the air. Since SARS-CoV-2 sheds so heavily in the nose and mouth, these droplets are likely how people without symptoms are spreading the virus.”
Even if your friends seem completely healthy, there is just no way to know for sure, short of having everyone flash their negative COVID test results on their way inside. Symptoms can appear as long as two weeks after infection, or sometimes not at all. This means that people walking around looking perfectly healthy can be huge transmitters of the disease, since they’re under the assumption that they’re not even infected. Assume everyone you encounter is sick. End of story.
Myth #5: Cloth Masks Are Ineffective
According to the most recent research, scientists say that cloth masks are just fine for the general public. While they are not as effective as masks with filtration elements such as the N-95, they do an adequate job at blocking particles from entering or exiting to protect both the wearer and those around them. According to a recent study, cloth masks provided about half the protection of medical-grade masks. Practicing social distancing and staying away from large crowds will provide the wearer with even greater protection.
Infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD explained in a University of California San Francisco article, “The concept is risk reduction rather than absolute prevention. You don’t throw up your hands if you think a mask is not 100 percent effective. That’s silly.”
He continued, “Nobody’s taking a cholesterol medicine because they’re going to prevent a heart attack 100 percent of the time, but you’re reducing your risk substantially.”
Part of the reason there is so much mistrust and confusion about masks is because for a while, we were given conflicting information. The experts were trying to figure things out as quickly as possible in an urgent situation—this means that some of the information we may have received initially is no longer valid. (Like when experts were initially concerned wearing a mask would do more harm than good because it would cause people to touch their faces more.) Dr. Moshe Lewis, a San Francisco doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation explained to Healthline, “Science is complex, and when the public sees it unfold on a grand scale in front of their eyes, confusion ensues. Various recommendations were put forth and then retracted, leading to mixed messaging. From these embers, fear, facts, and fiction get spliced into controversy.”
The best plan? Stay up-to-date on research from trusted experts to get the most accurate information and, for the love of God, please stop getting your medical advice from Facebook memes.
Images: Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock; drzerocraic / Twitter
I’m sure that some of you, upon reading this headline, checked today’s date in the desperate hope that we had yeeted back in time to April Fool’s Day. But no, it’s 2020, so this is just what the world is like now. It isn’t fun, but at least it’s not boring. We’re not even close to being done with coronavirus, but the universe may already be sending us something even scarier. But instead of just immediately panicking, let’s go through what we know.
This week, public health officials in Jefferson County, Colorado announced that a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague. Yes, that’s bubonic plague as in, the disease that caused the Black Death of the 14th century, which killed tens of millions of people across Europe and Asia. This news came just one week after China reported a confirmed human case of bubonic plague in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, warning residents not to hunt wild animals.
Not now, squirrel in Colorado with bubonic plague. We’re busy. https://t.co/9BW8Zka3ql
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) July 14, 2020
I’ll be honest, I can’t think of anything that sounds more terrifying than the bubonic plague. It’s like some mysterious medieval disease that’s come back to haunt us in our darkest hour, and even though we don’t learn much about the actual disease itself in school, there’s no doubt that the history of plague is… scary. But as much as we associate bubonic plague with like, the 1300s, it’s never actually completely gone away. According to our friends at the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015 there were over 3000 reported cases of plague, resulting in roughly 500 deaths. Left untreated, the death rate for bubonic plague is somewhere from 30-90%, but with treatment, it’s closer to 10%. Those numbers might still sound scary, but the point is that bubonic plague has been around this whole time, we just normally don’t hear about it.
The WHO reports that the three countries with the highest rates of plague are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru, but the idea that there could be a plague-ridden squirrel in your backyard (if you live in Colorado) is less than ideal. According to David Volkle, a Jefferson County environmental specialist, local authorities became aware of the squirrel after a resident reported that they had seen 15 squirrels die “within a period of two to three weeks.” The last squirrel to die was the only one tested, but it’s likely that bubonic plague is responsible for the rest of the deaths as well. 15 squirrels sounds like a lot, but chances are you don’t need to be too worried. But just in case (and because 2020 is a nightmare), let’s go over how people actually get infected with plague, and what the symptoms look like.
According to the Jefferson County public health notice, “Humans may be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, by the cough from an infected animal or by direct contact (e.g., through a bite) with blood or tissues of infected animals.” Plague spread so quickly in the 14th century because everything was dirty as f*ck back then, and there were flea-infested animals everywhere. Ew. These days, you probably don’t come into contact with too many rodents (your exes don’t count), but it should be noted that cats are highly susceptible to bubonic plague, and they can contract it from eating or being scratched by a rodent. Dogs are much less susceptible, but they can still carry the disease on fleas.
So if you have pets living in your home, you should probably be extra careful about fleas right now, and the Colorado statement also advises not letting pets roam freely outside the house, and eliminating any sources of food around your house for wild animals. So if you have a bird feeder that the squirrels constantly get into, maybe get rid of that for now, sorry. The Jefferson County public health office says that if you follow these rules, your “risk for getting plague is extremely low.” Phew.
If we didn’t test squirrels for the bubonic plague there would be way fewer cases of squirrels with the bubonic plague https://t.co/bmZ1KVNSJE
— Grace Segers (@Grace_Segers) July 14, 2020
But just in case, the most common symptoms of bubonic plague are “sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes,” usually experienced within the first week of exposure. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please go see a doctor, because bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed.
At this point in the hellscape of 2020, it almost feels cathartic to find something new and different to be worried about. But really, you’re way more likely to get COVID-19 than you are to get stung by a murder hornet or bitten by a bubonic flea, so just keep focusing on that for now. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and don’t go to Disney World—don’t stress yourself out more than you need to.
Images: Shane Young / Unsplash; parkermolloy, grace_segers / Twitter
Apparently, I had no idea what being “stir-crazy” actually meant until we entered this indefinite solitary confinement they call quarantine. Even as a proud introvert, it feels like the universe is shoving all the plans I’ve ever canceled in my face and screaming, “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?” This is absolutely not what any of us wanted—as any introvert will tell you, part of the thrill is canceling plans. With no plans to cancel, this endless abyss of plans that could have been (canceled) feels like a discount version of Groundhog Day. Not only are we mourning the closures of our favorite restaurants, stores, and bars, but many of the activities that kept us sane are no longer an option. One of the most difficult aspects of my quarantine has been the closure of my gym, and not only because of the sense of community it provided. Physical activity has been one of the only things I’ve found in over a decade of pretty severe anxiety that actually helped keep it in check. According to the CDC, reduced anxiety isn’t the only noticeable benefit of regular physical activity. Just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week (that’s like 7 episodes of Schitt’s Creek which, realistically, you’ve done in one day) can improve both your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular exercise can also reduce your risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. So yeah, TL;DR, exercise is good for you and I’m sorry for all the times I pretended I had cramps to get out of gym in high school.
During this time of incredible stress and uncertainty, the anxiety-reducing aspects of physical activity are more important than ever. Being trapped inside a small space with no end in sight is stressful, to say the least. Exercise is definitely helpful, and nothing makes me feel quite as calm as the aftermath of a heart-pounding sweat session. There are plenty of workouts that can be done from the comfort of your own home, but when running is your go-to, working out while quarantined can be a little more complicated (unless you have your own treadmill, you lucky b*tch).
At the beginning of quarantine I was running four miles a day ….. Now I’m proud because I did a single squat
— Donese (@donese22) July 9, 2020
It’s SO tempting—outside is literally right there. You can see it and hear it screaming at you to lace up and get out there. So what’s stopping you? If your neighborhood is anything like mine, you’ve seen countless people jog by, headphones in, totally oblivious to the fact that we’re in the middle of a freaking pandemic. If they can do it, why not the rest of us? Well, because we both know we’re smarter than that. Yes, it’s tempting to squeeze in a quick 3-miler and be back inside before the coronavirus even has a chance to notice we left our bubble. Unfortunately, this isn’t some high-risk game of tag and we really can’t afford to take any chances. Here’s the great news, though—experts say that it is fairly safe to run outside, as long as we take the proper precautions. Family Medicine Physician Doctor Mike Varshavski—or as he’s known on Instagram, Dr. Mike—tells Betches that running “is considered a low to moderate-low risk activity based on the new chart put out by the Texas Medical Association” and notes that “throughout this pandemic, almost all shelter at home orders have continued to allow and encourage solo exercise like hiking, walking, and running.”
So that’s the good news! And as long as you follow these pretty easy guidelines, you can rest easy knowing that you put your safety and the safety of others first.
1. Jog Alone Or In Small Groups, But Make Sure You Maintain A Safe Distance
I get it, running with your best friend or your running group like you’ve done for years is a blast. However, just because you have been extremely cautious about protecting yourself from the coronavirus doesn’t necessarily mean your running partners have done the same. Make sure whoever you’re running with is also taking the proper precautions, and continue to practice social distancing even when running outside. Dr. Mike tells Betches, “any time you are exposing yourself to other individuals, it raises the risk of catching the virus,” reminding us, “those who look healthy can still be spreading COVID-19. If you have to go with a group (for safety reasons, perhaps), try and be with the smallest group possible.”
Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas told Runners World, “If you deem running with a small group is something you’re comfortable with, you’ll want to ensure that these few people have been properly careful over the past few months, same as if you’re running with one other person. Additionally, your small group should run somewhere you know you won’t come in close contact with others.”
Labus also emphasizes that if you live with someone in the at-risk age group (over 65) or someone who is immunocompromised, extra precautions are necessary, and running with a partner may not be the best idea. He explains, “There have been over 182,000 cases (as of June 10) and over 77,000 COVID-19 deaths (as of June 6) in those age 65 and over since February 1, according to provisional data from the CDC. It is safer to run solo until disease transmission is low in your community.”
2. Bring A Mask With You When You Run
It’s probably not necessary to wear a mask while you run outdoors (and realistically, it would be really tough to wear a mask during any exercise that leaves you gasping for air) as long as you maintain the proper distance between you and anyone you encounter outside. Indeed, Dr. Mike tells Betches that “a mask should not be worn while running as sweat will make the mask wet and create other problems.” He advises, “The best protection is to wear the mask until you’re ready to exercise, take it off, and stay at least six feet away from others as best as possible.”
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That said, it’s probably not a bad idea to bring a mask with you when you run just in case. You may end up lost and needing to grab an Uber back, you could desperately need to run into Walgreens for a drink of water, or you might end up running into your ex and needing a disguise. Point is, there are a lot of reasons you may need a mask when leaving your house, so make sure you have one with you at all times.
Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health explained to the New York Times, “Outdoors is relatively safe, and masks would only be important if you are exercising in crowded areas or indoors in space shared with other people.” According to Milton, as long as you’re keeping your distance, you should be pretty fine running outside with your mask at the ready in case of an emergency.
3. Scope Out Your Street During Different Times Throughout The Day, Or Find A Different Street Altogether
Please withhold all “duh”s, because from what I’ve seen firsthand it apparently needs to be said—the easiest way to keep your distance when running outside is to run in a less crowded area. Now, this doesn’t mean driving 38 miles to the middle of the forest to knock out your run. This honestly may be as simple as spending a few days looking out your window every hour or two to see how many people are out and about. Peak hours in your neighborhood may also vary between weekdays and weekends, so also take that into account when planning your run. Ideally, you want to find both a time when not too many people are out, and a place where you have plenty of “escape routes.” This means not running next to a busy street that you can’t cross if you see a group of people on the sidewalk. If you’re running on a forest path, it means being able to step way off to the side if someone else is approaching (and, see #2, don’t forget your mask in case this isn’t an option).
Dr. Benjamin D. Levine, a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, explained to NPR the importance of keeping an even greater distance when exercising outside. He advises, “The greater volume and rate of breathing that occurs during exercise has the risk of spreading droplets farther. I think it’s reasonable based on the known changes in breathing during exercise.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve been out walking and out of absolutely nowhere, a jogger runs by me so close that I feel a small gust of potential plague-wind as they pass. This isn’t okay, guys. First and foremost, if we can’t be considerate to other people who have just as much of a right to use the sidewalk as we do, we shouldn’t be out running in the first place.
That said, if you’ve been keeping an eye on your street and it really doesn’t seem like there’s much of a break in the constant stream of people passing by, check out some other side streets nearby. Chances are, within a mile or so of where you live, there are some quieter residential streets that will be far less congested.
4. Make Sure That It’s Actually Okay To Run Outside In Your Area
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As we’ve discussed, it is more than tempting to grab your shoes and just GTFO. But even if you’ve thoroughly read through these important tips and feel confident in your ability to run outside safely, please hit pause for just a hot second. Because of the constantly evolving nature of how we’re handling this pandemic, running outside without a mask may not even be allowed in your area. Make sure you’re constantly checking mandates from your state health departments to ensure you’re adhering to your area’s current requirements. These mandates are changing fairly regularly in some areas, so it’s a good idea to check them daily before your planned run. Your state will most likely have a dedicated coronavirus page with all of the latest information, from things like the number of confirmed cases to reopening guidelines.
Dr. Mike emphasizes, “Know that there is no such thing as absolute safety when outdoors. The guidelines of wearing a mask, physical distancing, and washing hands will certainly reduce risk but not eliminate it. Know what is an acceptable risk for you.”
If you’re still hyped up to go for an outdoor run, more power to you. Just remember the four M’s, and you should be good to go. Maintain your distance, Mask (in your pocket/bra/around your neck/whatever), find tiMes of the day that are less crowded (ok that was a stretch, who cares), and Mandates (check your local mandates to see what rules are in place in your area). Happy running!
Images: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels; donese22 / Twitter; notskinnybutnotfat, dietstartstomorrow / Instagram