You Can Do Anything

I wondered if everyone who warned me about the dangers and lasting effects of forcing my wide little feet into heels every day had some merit in their concern as I hobbled back into my Harlem apartment in 2010. It smelled like marijuana and though I bought the cheap air fresheners from the Duane Reade around the block (a pharmacy I had never heard of), the scent was far too overpowering to ignore. The big box my mom sent me from North Carolina sat in my “kitchen”, or rather the furthest left portion of my 400-sq-feet room that amazingly cost $850 a month. I had spent the day going to interview to interview, scouring through every possible magazine masthead I could, emailing to meet up for coffee and praying to the job gods to give me their blessing. I had only lived in New York for two and a half weeks and most of my savings were gone thanks to a security deposit and first months rent. I started my hostessing gig in a week if I didn’t find employment before then. My parents couldn’t help. I was 150% on my own. I was terrified. And I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted the city to welcome me with the open arms I always thought it had somewhere buried underneath it’s tough exterior and soiled streets. But instead of falling apart, I repeated my mantra:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Putting the dirty details of my existent and non-existent dating life on the internet was rather a bold decision, I told some girl I met through a new friend I didn’t know well enough yet. The girl was “obsessed” with my blog and I felt a little naked in front of her – considering she knew about my last one night stand the boy who broke my heart in college, and yet, I had no idea what she told me her name was 10 minutes ago. I should be thankful for my job, I reminded myself the next morning while writing a blog about taxes for small business owners. It was a challenging subject matter, and my salary (barely) covered my expenses, but I longed to do what I already did for free: write things that will help women feel less alone. I knew how to get from point A to point B, but the thought of keeping up a popular personal blog, working 9-6, dating, attempting to make friends and applying for a new job seemed daunting. I had done it before when I moved here a year ago, I reminded myself. My drive didn’t seem quite as high but I knew that passion could never really be put out. After all, I repeated:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

It was as if the city knocked the air out of me on the ride up Broadway to the Upper West Side. The cabbie had asked if I wanted to take the highway, but I said I preferred to pay a little more and watch New York wind down on that Sunday night. We had been broken up for six months then, but never stopped sleeping together. Even though I acted like I wasn’t seeing him drunkenly or haphazardly, dangling my heart in front of him as he pushed it away. As always. But then the last shoe dropped and something inside me woke up – was this really the love I wanted? Was this the type of relationship I would encourage my friends, my readers, the strangers in the street to have? It wasn’t – and I gave him the choice to make it better. Pick me and work on it, or get out of my life. He wouldn’t decide – per usual – so I made the choice for him. But as I cried silently and the driver ignored my sobs, I felt the fear building up. What if that’s as good as it gets? What if I don’t meet anyone? What if I can’t feel it again? To keep from sobbing from that pit in your heart few people ever touch, I sang my song:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Your knee doesn’t really hurt, you’re just listening to the pain instead of focusing on the finish. Remember philosophy class? What you give your attention to grows – focus on something else to distract yourself. I decided to think about complicated things as I pasted mile 8 on the West Side Highway last Sunday. Only 5.1 more miles to go to complete the NYC Half-Marathon that I didn’t have time to train for with everything. With my dad’s 5th surgery in one year. With the uncertainty surrounding my future. With my dire need to get laid after quite the dry spell. With a trip to Europe so close I can see it, but can’t get excited about just get. Not until my dad is fine. Not until my finances are balanced and my taxes are paid. Not until I finish this race, with my ears freezing and my joints aching with every step. But if I can just keep moving, I know I’ll be home napping before I can think. I know what to tell myself:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Just when you think the sunshine that always defined you was withered away into the clouds that just keep surrounding you, a little ray shines it’s way through. People always warned me that finding my way on my own would be hard. That dating wasn’t easy in this city. That careers are flaky and my industry is shaky at very best. That friendships would require work and diligence, patience and understanding. That loving yourself and believing in the good gets easier and harder as you get older, as you experience more things and question, well, everything. And at times, it all seems impossible. It seems stagnant and unreal. Scary. Like all that you worked so hard for, all that you wanted, all of those magical things that you imagined growing up would never come true. And sometimes, they don’t. Other times, they do. Most of the time, they work out just how they’re supposed to – without you realizing they ever came to be at all.

But of all the struggles and the dilemmas your adult life puts you through, of all of the trouble, and all of the unanswered questions left spiraling in your mind, if you can remember one simple truth that’s true for you, that’s true for me, that’s true for everyone:

You can do anything.

That is, my dear, if you never stopping believing that you can. That you already have. That you always will.

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You’re Missing It

You’re missing it.

Your youth. You’re missing it. You’re missing it because you’re worrying too much. You’re missing it because you aren’t living in the moment. You aren’t fully in today, in the right now, in the present. You’re missing it because you’re not realizing your growth or your worth.

Linds, wake up.

Stop worrying. Look around: you’re a healthy, pretty, 25-year-old who has made her greatest dream come true. You’re living in New York City. There are girls around the world who would kill to be in your shoes right now. You are a subway stop away from Times Square. You have a favorite coffee shop in the West Village. You work in Meatpacking and live next to Central Park. One day you will live in suburbia and you will remember your life in the city, and you will think of how silly you were to worry away your early-20’s.

Stop worrying about your career.

Yes, you wonder what’s next. Yes, you question what you want. Yes, you get so incredibly frustrated thinking about what you should be doing and if you’re moving at the right pace and if you’re staying relevant. You question if your resume is as impressive as it can be at your age. Just remember, you’re growing your skill set. You’re expanding your contacts. You’re improving your writing. You’re meeting people who will one day be instrumental to your career path. You’ll figure out what you want. It’s not that far away. You’ll publish that book and it will be a best-seller. It’s all going to fall into place -so keep grinding in the 9 to 6 (or 7 or 8) groove, and work your little butt off. It’s going to pay off in big ways. Your name will be known. Women will benefit from your writing and buy books that will help them realize their value. You’re going to change lives.

Stop worrying about your apartment.

It’s old and dusty. You would have probably melted if you didn’t buy that air conditioner. You would freeze if you didn’t have sets of comforters to pile on top of you when the heat doesn’t work. Or the hot water doesn’t actually get hot. It’s not glamorous and your landlords are not the brightest. But one day, when you’re old and gray and telling your grandchildren about your New York adventure -you’ll tell them about this place that you decorated with cheap charm and made it feel just like home. You’ll tell them about how you never kept food in the fridge and you waited weeks to clean your dishes and do your laundry. You’ll tell them how you were scared about living uptown, but you sucked it up and you made friends with the hood. They will giggle and you will smile a smile that only belongs to you, and the memories of your youth. One day, you’ll move into a nicer apartment. One day, you will live alone with that little dog. The next move will help make you feel more established in a new New York, and new chapters will start to unfold.

Stop worrying about how you look.

Those zits that seem so worrisome now, will be nothing compared to the wrinkles that will grace your forehead, your cheeks and your eyes. Those extra five pounds that make you feel like you’re gaining weight, won’t seem as important when you’re 60 and enjoying stretchy-pants every single day. Those clothes that just don’t seem good-enough, trendy-enough, chic-enough, expensive-enough, or New York-enough, won’t be as important when you buy your daughter jeans and try to remember where your old clothes are so you can pass them down to her (even if she will never wear them). Your dirty feet that are constantly destroyed by the pavement and the heels or running shoes you insist to wear, won’t seem so gross when you ache in your bones and you can’t wait to get home to soak your feet. That hair that doesn’t corporate and never looks as silky or healthy as every other girl, will seem beautiful and stunning when you see yourself in the morning with gray hair that you’ll need to highlight with blonde again, just as your mother does. That skin of yours that doesn’t like to retain a tan or take well to self-tanning lotion, leaving you pale unlike the other girls, will seem heaven-sent when everyone else is pruning worse than you, and your skin is still healthy. Stop comparing yourself to others and cut yourself some slack. Beauty comes from the heart, and your kindness and compassion will take you farther than those toned legs you have.

Stop worrying about money.

You’re self-sufficient, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Even if you feel the need to save more and spend less, and to ask for a raise or figure out if you really need to take that weekend job -you’re doing just fine. And you’re only going to make more money as your career progresses. Stop beating yourself up for a splurge here-and-there, and keep putting a little money away each pay check. But, Linds, go for that drink with your friends. Buy those shoes on sale down the block. Keep booking trips like you did to Europe this year. You can’t hold your savings so close that you keep yourself from having experiences. That’s what you’re saving for anyway. Keep budgeting, and you’ll see how it will pay off one day. One day, you’ll pay for things like a house, a new car and college tuitions and those monthly-rents of the past and tiny paychecks won’t seem like much.

Stop worrying if you’ll have children.

Those little girls with braided hair and pretty smiles who point to your high heels in the subway, admiring them -are like your future children. You’ll have them. Your kids are beautiful. They are smart. They are healthy. They are able and they are dreamers. They are go-getters who will know more than you do by the time they hit high school. They are loving and they will be your whole world one day. Don’t rush that. The moment they come to this planet, you’ll wish time would come to a stammering standstill. They will grow up faster than you could ever imagine.

And, dear younger-me, stop worrying about love.

This one is a tough one for you -harder than any other part of your life. Take a deep breath and let it go. Let all of it go -the heartaches, the disappointments, the not-quite-enough, and the let-downs. Stop hanging onto old relationships. Stop thinking about the idea of what you thought previous lovers would become. Look at people for who they are. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive others for hurting you or for leading you on. Give yourself more credit and change your negative mindset. Go out to dinner with someone new. Accept a date, even if you don’t think he’s exactly your type. Smile at the stranger who sits next to you every morning on the train and is cute, but you are too tired to care. Put that extra pump in your step and swivel of your hips.

One day, you and your husband will talk about this time in your lives. You’re going to love him, Linds. You’re going to love him in a way that shakes and soothes your soul all at once. He’s going to put a light and love into you that you can’t even begin to feel. He’s truly wonderful, charming and handsome. You’re going to get that great story that you’ve dreamt about, wrote about, and thought about for so long.

So stop worrying.

He’s out there. You can’t speed up the process and you can’t make time go backwards once it gets here. Stop being jealous of the couples walking on the street -one day, there will be a young single gal like yourself who will look at you and your hubby, and feel exactly the same way. Stop getting discouraged and blaming yourself -all of life is part of a magical plan and a blueprint that you can’t fill out completely on your own. Love is out there, and I promise when you’re ready -it’ll be here. So go kiss those frogs -there will come a day when you miss the anticipation of a first date, and the surge of the first time you hold someone’s hand or see them laying next to you as the sun peeks through the blinds.

Don’t miss it.

Stop letting it pass you by. Your youth won’t last forever, and neither will the sharp twang of loneliness in the big city. The puzzle is just starting to fit itself together -so let it. Go live your life. Go get that drink. Go for a run.

Go be you. Your future awaits.

I’m serious, don’t miss it.

Love ya,

Lindsay

PS- Go back to Macy’s and get those shoes that were on sale for $24 -you’re not going to find a better nude heel this summer. I promise. And call your dad!

Originally written July 16, 2010 before you started this lovely blog. It’s funny how little you had to edit to make it relevant four years later… Food for thought. No matter where you are – don’t miss it. Stop missing it. Live it, instead.

Falling in Love on Fridays: I Am Not My Hair

This week’s Falling in Love on Friday’s post is by one of my dear friends from college, Allison. Though I haven’t seen here in years — since her last layover in New York for a night — she inspires me every single day via Gchat and witty Facebook statuses. She’s one of those people who feel and care with their whole heart, and as this blog will tell you, with her whole head of hair, too. Her post goes to show the bigger meaning behind Falling in Love on Fridays: you don’t just fall in love with men or people, sometimes you fall in love with things as simple, and yet as necessary, as… hair. She’s doing something ridiculously awesome and brave that I’m totally supportive of – but you have to read to the end to find out what it is. Learn more about the beautiful Allison here, and to learn how to submit your own Falling in Love on Friday story here

I Am Not My Hair

July 8th, 1986

I emerge from the womb in a Long Island hospital, screaming bloody terror at 10:35 in the morning. The doctor who delivers me declares “It’s a girl! Look at that hair!”

Kindergarten, picture day

The school photographer calls me “Curly Sue,” and would continue to do so until the fifth grade.

Every morning of my childhood

sassyMy dad gets me ready for school, and lacking any knowledge about little girl’s fashion or hair, lets me wear whatever I want. To do my hair, he makes me lay upside down on the couch and bunches all the crazy blonde curls into something vaguely resembling a bun. Sort of. I look at the Disney princesses. Their hair is flat and pretty. I look at the villians. Theirs is messy and curly and wild. Princesses never have to have their wild hair stuck up on their head.

First day of seventh grade

Standing at the bus stop in a plaid flannel shirt and JNCOs, with my hair still dripping wet, I press my hands against my hair and hope and pray it stays flat. It doesn’t. I will try this every day for many years.

Summer, 2003

I dye my hair so many different colors it turns orange. It gets huge and poofy and damaged. I look like Bozo the Clown, if Bozo the Clown wore green chuck taylors and punk tshirts. I cry on the way to my senior portraits, which will be someday documented in textbooks under the “worst hair in human history.”

Spring, 2006

I move into my first apartment with a fellow curly haired girl. She tells me to throw away my shampoo and my hairbrush and shares her products with me. I start getting real haircuts. The frizz starts to look like real hair again. A friend flatirons my hair once and I hate the way it looks.

Summer, 2007

Men love my hair! This assumption is based solely on a handful of weird dudes touching my head in bars, but I can only extrapolate to entire male population. More importantly, I love my hair. For the first time ever.  My personality becomes an extension of my wild curls, or vice versa – I’m not actually sure. I cut it short and wear big earrings. I grow it out and wear it in an updo on any day of the week. I tease it up and out and put on too much lipstick. I weep when fellow curly girls straighten their hair. I weep harder when a friend’s three year old curly headed daughter says she has “bad hair.”  What have we learned of princesses and villains and what it means to be wild?

January 11th, 2014

weddingI have some drinks in an arcade with some cute boys in the middle of a storm. We joke about shaving our heads. I tell them I would never. I love this hair too much. I make them all touch it. It’s so soft! It’s so pretty! It’s my thing, I tell them. A few hours later, my best friend asks if I wanted to participate in St. Baldrick’s with her, in which we will shave our heads to raise money for children’s cancer research. I say yes. She makes sure I am sober. I am. I use the word “YOLO” anyway. I send a text to my mom that says “Don’t freak out, but I’m shaving my head in a few weeks.” (It’s less permanent than the previous two “Don’t freak out” text messages, which have been followed by “….but we all got matching tattoos,” and “I got another one, and it’s pretty huge.”)

In the three days since we’ve committed to shaving our heads, we’ve raised $900 to help fund research for childhood cancers, which are severely underfunded and under researched.  Our goal is $2500 by March 1st, when she and I will publicly get our heads buzzed and the thing that has been so linked with my identity will lie in a pile on the ground. For three days I’ve been looking up scarves and wigs and hats and imagining all the dramatic ways I can now get away with doing my makeup. I’ve tried to figure out how long my hair will be for the wedding I’ll be in later this year.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be bald. This is a choice, for me. I get to dictate what happens to my body, and what I claim to be linked with my identity. I get to find it liberating and freeing and I get to think about how much time and money I’ll save. But for so many people it is not a choice. Children with cancer don’t get choices, and I hope you’ll join me in changing the odds. To make a donation, visit here.

This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here

Finding My Way Back to Me

Wrapped up in the warmth of moment you know doesn’t come around very often, I closed my eyes and listened to the gentle crashing of the waves.

My best friend was breathing deeply next to me, slowly falling into the slumber the comes so easy when you’ve spent the day absorbing the sun and the fun of a place that’s not your home and relishing in the whirlwind of a few days that came and went faster than either of us thought they would. I felt the sand blow up against my sunburnt calves and the subtle spray of the ocean barely touching my skin, and I exhaled the biggest breath I have in what feels like forever.

I opened my eyes and tried to count the seemingly endless stars above me – their tapestry fascinating me and reminding me of the Southern upbringing I’m continuously thankful for. Their flicker and gaze didn’t remind me of the city I love – in fact, I hadn’t missed much about New York in the last five days. My Mexican oasis with my dearest friend in Manhattan had arrived at the most serendipitous time and more than anything else, it got me away from the constant rush and pressure of a life that yes, I created, but also, I was exhausted of. As difficult as it is to look out from underneath my rose-colored glasses and to unravel the picturesque story I’ve depicted of my grand escape from North Carolina to find success in the Big Apple – the reality of my life isn’t always so, well, peachy.

Over the last few months, I’ve not only grown frustrated and tired, wondering – and worrying – that my day-to-day would always be unfulfilling and unoriginal. Taking the same subway to the same place and back to the same apartment, walking a pup for probably the thousandth time, going on yet another boring date that might result in a kiss I’ll be sorry I wasted lipstick on. While I’m one of the rare breeds who does enjoy the challenge and stress of my job – when last Thursday rolled around and M and I’s flight to Mexico was about to take flight – I took great pleasure in turning off my Blackberry.

But, laying there in that cabana bed at 9 at night, equally exhausted and entirely at ease, full of food that wasn’t great and drinks that were, I didn’t concentrate on those negative thoughts I have let consume my focus lately. I didn’t think about the mess of my apartment or my mind. Or my heart. I didn’t think about turning 25 in September and the fear that another two years will come and go without another love to call my own since Mr. P. I didn’t think of him either. I didn’t think of my lack of savings or idea of my next steps or my next changes or my next choices. I didn’t think of my constant need to boost my own confidence and stop comparing myself to other ladies. I didn’t think about being good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or smart enough or resilient enough – or anything enough.

Instead, I felt my eyes well up with tears with so much thanks for everything I’ve been taking for granted.

For every last blessing I haven’t been counting, for every wish that I once had that has actually, truly and sometimes incredibly, has come true. For the best friends, like M, who remind me of the beauty in everything, and especially in patience. For the paychecks that make living in New York possible from a job – a career – that supports and encourages me. For the love of a little dog that keeps me warm at night and smiling on the street at 7 a.m., without makeup, without any care at all. For the love I’ve been lucky to experience — even if it has washed away like the tide in front of me, I do know that the tide always comes back. For the apartment that keeps me cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s not, and the friendly folks who make me cleaner than I really am. For this blog that lets me express everything I can never verbalize in any manner that makes sense. For the family who may be very far away, but never that far from my heart.

For this five-day escape that made me realize how much I needed to get away from the city…. and also from myself.

This vacation was what I needed, even if I didn’t expect it to be as luxurious or wonderful as it turned out to be. I had not only needed the company of someone who knows me, who forgives me, who reminds me to relax (and take more tequila shots) – but I had needed to let go of it all. I needed those waves – and those margaritas – to wash away my funk. To cleanse me of my selfish attitude, of my bitter thoughts, of my fears that have no place in the back or the front of my mind. I had needed the sun to warm my heart up again – to remind it of what it feels like to be free and though imperfect (and maybe a little scarred), still vibrant, still full of the love that makes me…. me. I had needed space to recognize the gifts I’ve been given, the people who make me whole, the hope that makes me feel alive.

And underneath that moonlight, talking about nothing at all, I felt that hope come back to me. I felt my faith rekindle and my soul bubble with happiness. As we walked away to our beautiful home-away-from-home (complete with an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi!), I said a little prayer to remember this tiny piece of time. To remember the release I can give myself, to remember how to let go of the bad and feel the good again. To remember to breathe.

Because even though vacations (sadly) can’t last forever and like all important things, moments pass and change, just like friendships, just like your hopes and dreams, just like the best (and strongest) of loves – if you’re able to let yourself learn and let go, then you’re able to do anything. If you’re able to find gratitude in everything and anything, then you can always be under that cascading drapery of stars, you can always hear the calm and sudden rush of the ocean, you can always feel the sun on your back, you can always feel the comfort of the people you love near you.

You can always find your way back to yourself, even if you’ve been missing for a long time.

This Baby Loves Her Back

My boobs were bigger when I was 10 years old than they are now.

Something happened the summer before I started middle school — my mom let me shave my legs for the first time (at our lake house in a bikini, terrified of cutting myself), acne snickered at my skin and well, every top I owned suddenly was a bit too small. And though I had always waited quite impatiently to look like a real woman, when those curves arrived sooner than expected, I wished they would go away.

Having an inappropriate body for a young girl brought all sorts of things — unwanted attention from older guys, untrue rumors at school because surely if my body looked sexual, I must also be sexual in nature. The truth was I found myself wearing a 32 D-cup and sincerely had no idea what to do with such a massive and speedy physical transition. I hadn’t “french kissed” a boy and yet I had a chest to insinuate I was ready for quite more than that.

Sixth grade was really the first year I started cursing my own body. I was too heavy on top. My stomach pooched more than the other girls in gym class. I couldn’t run as fast because my breasts were too heavy. My skin was speckled. My teeth weren’t perfect and I didn’t want braces. The other girls were prettier. They were skinnier. They didn’t have awfully huge knockers that I hated so badly I kept them only in sports bras for years until one of my friends demanded I wear a proper underwire freshman year of college.

Throughout my many growing body pains, my pants and dress size fluctuated too. Following a stressful period my sophomore year of high school, I gained close to 20 pounds and kept it on until I graduated. To compensate for my insecurity, I covered up the extra weight in loose-fitting clothing and cardigans to cover what I saw as embarrassing rolls in every place. When I went off to college, I not only had to walk — uphill, literally in snow — everywhere I went, but I discovered a newfound love for running, too. The thing that triggered my actual shedding of the baggage around my midsection and thighs wasn’t anything healthy though — it was the depression I fell into following that terribly awful thing that happened on my 18th birthday.

And then I was thrown into a dark world of strange feelings about my body.

Not only was it slowly shrinking due to quite a loss of appetite and desire for much of anything, I also felt foreign to my own limbs. And maybe more devastating to me, that power I had always felt sexually since I lost my virginity to my high school sweetheartfaded. I didn’t want to be naked and I really didn’t want to be touched — unless it was a touch of love. And love was pretty much void for most of college. I didn’t know how to get back all of that fire that got me through everything, so I took the advice of someone special and I faked it until I made it. I led one of the sections at the student newspaper, I volunteered, I became an orientation leader and I went on dates with men I knew I’d never actually care about. And inside, I felt like the ugliest person alive. Like this body I had, was damaged or broken, that it wasn’t worthy of what I once thought it was.

But after lots of counseling and even more determination to pull myself back up, I found myself interning in New York and starting to finally feel beautiful. Or maybe glamorous is the right word. My bra was not only significantly emptier but my waist and heavy heart was too, making me feel unstoppable and vibrant in a city that mostly defines itself by beauty. Or at least being surrounded by it, that is. But when you spend your time trying to be social and liberated and basking in the light of a bright new chapter, you also start drinking more. When I returned to finish my last year-and-a-half of college, I found myself staring at yet another number on the scale I didn’t like and pulling out those hefty bras I thought I could throw away.

And so this pattern continued pretty frequently over the next five years… until last summer.

Mr. Possibility was still in my life — in and out — and though he did help me get over my intense hatred of my acne (“Those are only your freckles!“), he didn’t do much for my body image. His love (and constant praise) of those 5’10-and-up skinny, long-legged gals made my shorter, curvier, womanly frame feel unworthy. Unappreciated. Not good enough for any successful man in New York. While almost every guy I’ve dated (Dr. Heart included) has adored the little extra I’ve always packed, I’ve never felt quite comfortable having them like it so much. If it jiggled or wiggled or moved at all, surely it’s not an attractive sight for a man to see.

But in the sweltering heat of the July sun, after a knock-down, drag-out fight that ultimately kicked Mr. P out of my life for mostly good with the shocking slam of a taxi cab door — I made a decision to be beautiful.

Scratch that — to feel beautiful. To embrace my beauty. To accept it. To know it’s there.

And as much as falling in love with myself is more than my mirror’s reflection, a positive, accurate body image is part of the courting, too. I got back into running after a long-delayed absence, I starting drowning myself in water, I went on Accutane to get rid of 15-year-old acne and I stopped comparing myself to every girl that I saw.

That last one was the doozy.

I had been measuring myself up against every pretty lady I passed, wondering if she had all the things I wanted because her thighs were the size I wished mine were. Or her skin had never seen a bad day. Or her teeth were aligned so symmetrically it blinded me. Instead of seeing perfection in everyone around me — and ignoring my own shine — I started reminding myself about how superbly awesome my body is.

And maybe more importantly — how incredible it will be one day.

Now, it can run 6 miles and not be out of breath. It can make it through an intense Pilates session and hit the pavement minutes later. It can endure the brutality of the city and stay in step with the fastest New Yorkers who push by. It’s hand can comfort a puppy who has a nightmare in the middle of the night. It can hold the head of a friend in need or embrace a celebratory moment. It can rock out a black mini and a red dress, and then look equally good — and damn it, curvy as hell — in tight workout pants and t-shirt an hour later. It can curl and go straight, it can go natural or pageant-faced and be just as pretty. Even if the beauty is in the fruitful flaws.

But one day — it’ll even be better. It’ll produce life. It’ll carry a baby. It’ll give birth to that baby. It’ll grow and stretch and sag and wrinkle and change and with all of that, it’ll just get more astounding. It’ll get lines and have scars that hold meaning — ones that were caused by things I survived. Or memories that were worth every bit of pain. It’ll be touched by a man worthy enough to be loved by me for the rest of his life. It’ll be held delicately because it’s precious and one of a kind.

And it’s mine.

So why not love it? Why not be madly in love with it? Big boobs, freckled cheeks, a baby-got’s-back rear end, frizzy hair in all-weather and everything in between belongs to me. And to me, all of it is beautiful.

Oh Love, Sweet Self-Love…

Hey there lady, 

You’ve had quite the year, haven’t you darling? It’s been full of changes and challenges, incredible new beginnings and the start of  madly, profoundly falling in love with yourself. It certainly hasn’t been easy — in fact, it’s been a lot of work. You had to learn to let go of the glimmering hopes of the past so you could find all the lovely opportunities (and people) waiting for you in the days you’ve yet to see. You had to have faith in that brilliant and incredibly powerful voice inside of you that aches for better. The knows there’s more out there. That’s brave, yet very soft. That feels things it only tries to explain in far too many words. It’s your heart that makes you so thoughtful, so loving, so sentimental and it’s that same heart that will help you find all that you’ve ever wanted. For the first time, maybe ever, you don’t have a five-year plan. You don’t have a complete schedule for what’s next or what will be. Instead, you’re learning to love this little life you’ve built this in big city. You’re savoring your friendships, your adorable puppy, your morning runs and the coffee that follows, the job that continues to fulfill you, and the people and the places, that make your life so beautiful. And like a star, you really are. Never change that. Don’t ever lose it. It’s what sets you apart, it’s what makes you bold and what makes you adventurous. It’s what titillates your curiosity each and every day. It’s what makes you so fierce that people notice it once they’ve known you for just five minutes. Your nature makes people want to be better. You have more beauty than what you see and you’re spirit inspires those around you. Keep believing. Dream bigger. Dare yourself more. Say yes. Buy yourself some flowers. Buy that expensive pair of shoes that is really out of your budget — and march those streets with intention. Catch a jetplane. Be so excited that you still have your single status and complete independence… for now. Remember that you’re truly special, incredibly unique and yes, oh yes — that the best is still yet to come. I love you, Happy Valentine’s Day! -Linds 

I love the way you have big dreams and are not afraid to work hard to make them come true. You are the eternal optimist and always put a smile on everyone’s faces. You are selfless and kind. You are always there for a hug. You have a beautiful family that is always happy, even when the laundry isn’t done and there are dishes in the sink. Your children love you; you can see it in their eyes. You a strong woman, and you’ve built a family with a wonderful man because you want to, not because you need to. You have faith that one day everything will work out, and you are determined to enjoy the journey with all its ups and downs until it does. You take each day as it comes and never stop dreaming of what the future will bring, even if sometimes you get overly hopeful about your make-believe plans. I understand. This Valentine’s Day you will snuggle with your children and tell them how much they mean to you, how much you love them. You will curl up with your husband because you want his presence near you, but you will be perfectly fine alone when he wants to go play his video game before bed. :) You will love because you want to, not because it’s an obligation to make you feel better about yourself. You are strong, you are loved, and you love. Happy Valentine’s Day, Me. - Tiffany, Atlanta, GA

Happy Valentine’s darling. Look around you and take in all that you have accomplished. Look at the incredible, inspiring people in your life that you are lucky enough to call boyfriend, friend, and family. It hasn’t been an easy few years, but all the hard work was way more than worth it. Live in love today – with yourself first and then with the love of your life (don’t forget to put those roses in water right away!) - Jenn, New York, NY

Firstly I love you & how you always convince yourself that you are one handsome lady that has the world at her feet, being a hot poet that indulge herself with everything good. The reason you are here single and enjoying yourself is your independence your bravery to be on your own and to achieve your goals…You’re a city girl living a life with a deep philosophy of the inner peace you have within. I admire the courage, with your beautiful smile that always give your eyes that much needed glow….You’re beauty transcends everything about you, you are alluring. No matter how many women have broken your heart and walked out your life, you still pick yourself and move forward with life..That is something they can never take from you that you would still greet them if you should see them walking down the road or in a mall. You have finally decided that hindering on past hurts doesn’t need to feature in your life. The universe will give you something better and this V-Day embrace your growth and your journey..This is about me, Myself & I and nothing and no-one else..I love you, you sexythang… -Chim, Capetown, South Africa

You are incredible. I love that you smile to much, laugh way to loud, trip all of the time, have a coffee addiction, and live life to the fullest while trying not to look back. Take time to be proud of yourself. Be proud of who you have become. You are worth someones affection, time, and love. Although you have always been single, you have discovered how to love yourself. Take pride in that. Not many people can say that they have lived in other countries in their twenties. Or have an amazing group of friends who would do anything for you. Or truly have a passion for what they majored in. Enjoy being single while it lasts. Stop trying to find love and let it find you. You have so much to give to the world. Don’t hold back for a second. -Ashley, Canberra, Australia

Happy Love Day! I know that 2013 has not lived up to your expectations: you put your trust in the wrong person and it backfired. It is perfectly understandable to be upset, sad, angry, confused, or whatever emotion you are currently feeling (I know how much they fluctuate), BUT stop letting that negative emotion get in the way of creating new relationships and new opportunities. Your destiny is never tied to anyone that left and the rest of your life is a blank piece of paper just waiting for you to decorate it. This isn’t the last time you will ever feel sad, and this isn’t the last time you will cry. But when those feelings rise to the surface, take a deep breath and realize what you have to be thankful for. February 14th is not a day to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. But instead, it is a day to celebrate love. Yes, I said celebrate love. Love is not contained to romantic feelings. Tell your family how much you love them. Make sure they know that you appreciate EVERY little thing they have ever done for you and that your love for them is limitless. Tell your friends how much you love them. Thank them for the countless hours they have spent nursing your broken heart and listening to you rationalize what happened over and over and over and over again. And last, but certainly not least, LOVE YOURSELF. You are a magnificent creature who is worthy of bona fide love and nothing will ever change that. Go buy yourself something pretty and some fine wine and celebrate love. - Chelsea, Charlotte, NC

I am so happy you’re a solo diva this Valentine’s Day. Why? Because you won’t have to pretend to like any jewelry you hate, you don’t have to look gorgeous whilst eating chocolates – in fact, feel free to binge (in a good, liberating way). I can’t wait for you to throw on some fierce heels for a carefree night on the town, no strings attached! Expect flowers and chocolates from me to me. Love, Me -Anonymous 

Stop beating yourself up for not being “right” for people. They probably aren’t “right” for you either. Even if you vacationed at the all same places growing up and love the same food. It doesn’t mean forever. It’s just a series of lovely coincidences. Don’t turn into a hard person or frigid. Look for the love, don’t change to make it happen. You’re a beautiful, caring, fun girl. Someone is bound to come along and appreciate these things and put the effort in. You deserve more than the bare minimum. Don’t go for Mr. Boring, he’s been around long enough. Let go. Remember, the definition of ‘settle’ is to move downward; sink or descend. You know you always kick way more ass when you’re single anyway ;) Your biggest fan, Danielle PS- have I mentioned how good you look naked these days? I couldn’t be more proud of you for sticking to your workouts and better eating habits <3 - Danielle, Greensboro, NC

I am happy to spend Vday with my girlfriends, because I always have more fun with the girls over dates. I love my independence, freedom, and living by my self. I like being with a man, but am happy without one. - Anonymous 

Dear Renee, You don’t know much about love, admittedly. But if there is one person you have always loved, it’s yourself. You’ve always been proud of yourself, always been able to see the bright side of your flaws. You’ve always been there for yourself, always supported yourself, always believed in yourself. You have never had a problem being who you are. You have never had a problem loving yourself. You have always been fearless and fabulous and you’ve always known it. You’ve spent that last 20 Valentine’s Days on your own, and you’ve always enjoyed them without even a hint of cynicism — writing a love letter to yourself is practically second-nature at this point. But this year has thrown you for a loop. You love your family, your friends, and yourself so naturally. But this year, you’ve had to learn to love someone else too. You have been with a wonderful man for almost a year, longer than you’ve ever been with anyone. But you are a neophyte in the first degree — a definite “beginner” when it comes to being in a relationship, and it has been quite the learning experience. It continues to be a learning experience — learning how to give yourself to someone without losing yourself completely. Learning how to be less selfish and to compromise instead. You thought it would all come so naturally but you’ve had to make some changes. You’ve had to let go of that control you love. You’ve had to give in to those feelings that scare you. In learning how to be there for someone else, you’ve actually grown up a little. And it’s a good thing because this wonderful man does love you — no matter what. Throughout all of your wild independence and criticisms and learning curves, he has been there, patiently waiting, always willing to work with you. You love yourself, but you know you can be a handful. He knows it too, and he’ll still be in your apartment tonight waiting to give you a kiss when you walk through the door. So here’s to a new kind of love — the romantic kind that you never looked for but miraculously ended up with. Here’s to the love you never thought would be as important as the love you have for yourself. Here’s to realizing that you can love someone else the way you love yourself — unconditionally and repeatedly, no matter what, over and over again. Happy Valentine’s Day. Go celebrate ;) – Renee, Asheville, NC

I like how organized you are, and how you are such a great friend. You DO NOT need a man to make you happy. You are building a fantastic life for yourself, your career is progressing in the way you want it to, and if a man came into the situation he would fuck that up right now. I am a fabulous single woman because I do not need a man to validate me. I am a strong and independent woman. I am happy to be single this Valentine’s Day, I would not like to feel like a caged bird. - Anonymous 

Although I’m happily married now, I had plenty of single-mom years to learn that being on my own was just fine, and often really great. There’s simply no way to be happy with a man without being happy with yourself, first, and through a lot of trial and error I kept learning and re-learning this. I write this more for Rivkah now, our sweet daughter, because whether she flies solo temporarily or forever, she needs to know that love starts with herself, first. So, dear me, I hope you feel supported enough to feel love from the outside world but strong enough to share as much love as you possibly can with the rest of the world. Sharing love, as it turns out, is what brings it back… and that feels pretty great. - Bryce, New York, NY

I may be a guy, but am very much appreciative of the wonderful beings women are. I love most about my liberal attitudes, being accepting and tolerant towards others. Well I’m single now, I believe in giving love time. It’ll pop up in the most unexpected circumstance and till then, I should always keep my heart open and strong. I am happy to fly solo this valentine’s because eventually when I find my love, it doesn’t have to be on this particular day, or Christmas, or any other day. Because everyday, being with my valentine would simply be special =) - Jason, Singapore

You are a crazy ball of nerves and curls and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re afraid of aquariums, tunnels, and escalators but not of hiking glaciers or navigating through new countries with only a post it note with an address and a handful of useful phrases in your pocket. You cannot figure out a tip without a calculator or dance a waltz, but you can play punk songs on the ukulele and bluegrass on the guitar. You are a 5 foot 10 sponge, constantly learning and soaking up stories and memories. You once taught someone how to fence at a tiny, narrow, southern diner. You can recite poetry, name constellations in the freckles on your cheeks, and say “cheers” in five different languages. You can go for miles and miles. You, my love, are disgustingly, hopelessly optimistic at all times and can handle emergencies like a champ. You are taking risks and I’m so proud of everything you are and have become. You’ve come along way, and I love you. – Allison, Raleigh, NC

You are fierce and brave. You love your husband with abandon, and that is an admirable quality. Your body is an amazing temple that is currently housing a little miracle that you’ll fall even more in love with throughout the rest of your life. You respect yourself and are finally in a place where your are comfortable with the body you’re in. You’re doing good and will continue to do so. When you are counting your blessings, don’t forget to include your wonderful self. I’m so blessed to be in your skin. -Fatima, Asheville, NC

Look at you, you starry-eyed princess. I don’t mean to give you more of an ego than you already have, but you were SO amazing and beautiful this past year. It is so incredible to read back on your love letters to yourself for the past two years–in 2011, you were so fierce and wild, ready to love yourself more than anything in the world. In 2012, you were so much wiser & calm–you knew love was on the horizon, & who knew that a week after contributing a Valentine to yourself for your beloved friend’s blog, you would meet the man of your dreams. This year has been beautiful and amazing in a way that words can’t express–but this isn’t luck. With your positive energy, joy, & hope, you made all this happen. Your heart and your spirit never fail to impress, & I’m so glad that after all the tears, the analyzing, & the let downs, you found someone that was worth the wait. Although your Valentine is your missing puzzle piece, & you’ll spend this evening preparing lobster together & cuddling to your favorite Valentine’s Day episodes of “30 Rock” & “Parks and Recreation”, and it probably will be perfect and wonderful (just like the two of you), but please don’t forget your sweetest Valentine–yourself. The love in your life from your partner, your family, & your friends exists because you love each of them madly & deeply–never stop. You love others because you love yourself. And that, my glittery princess darling, is something to write a love letter about. Now go get some from that sexy man of yours. XOXO. - Michelle, Asheville, NC

I am so freaking proud of you…maybe more than I have ever been. Not only did you make it through the crazy wedding drama, your mother-in-law’s death, your husband wanting you to quit your job and move so he can go to school and LORD only knows what else, you made it through on top. AND despite being married, you still are you, you still go out with your girlfriends, you still have me time and you have yet to succumb to being one of THOSE wives (you know what I’m talking about). Plus so far in 2013, you lost 12lbs and finished writing a 77,000 word novel. I think you deserve a high five. But more importantly, last year you’ve learned to love selflessly, but you’ve also learned how to make yourself a priority too. So take a deep breath and feel the love. It’s still crazy and probably always will, but rest assured that for the first time ever, you’ve finally realized who you are and you’re not hating it. -Nikki, Boone, NC

So this year, I’m proud — no, excited — to say I am the sole owner of my heart… and as such, I feel the need to express it in the silliest, cutest way imaginable. And if that means I get a sparkly card… then dammit, it’s gonna be the BEST sparkly card EVER!! (Read the rest of Leslie’s New York, NY love letter to herself here.)

Well hello you ambitious, determined young lady! Yet another year has flown by but this Valentine’s Day is so much different than last. You are now MARRIED to your best friend, living in Los Angeles (planning on moving to NYC), and above all…you have finally grown to love yourself. People have told you for years that you need to love yourself if you ever dream of being happy and I never knew what they were talking about until this year. I can finally embrace my quirky habits and see myself through my husband’s eyes. I am beautiful, intelligent, and, depending on the day, I can be funny. You have so much going for you! I couldn’t be more proud of your determination to succeed in a male-dominated profession and your willingness to always take on more than any one person should. Keep up your spirits this year and always remember, you are your own person, don’t let anyone tell you any different! - Alyssa, Los Angeles, CA

It’s funny, last year my Valentine opened with how appreciative I was of your faith in God’s plan, and this year I want to start the same way–even though so many things are vastly different. The past year has brought you so many changes that you chose, and some you didn’t. But all of them have made you an even more fiery and brave woman than you were on the last 14th of February. You’ve embraced your independence and you’ve learned to love the things about yourself that you can’t ignore when it’s quiet–and there’s no one else to distract from your flaws. You’ve learned the value of solitude. And you’ve come to appreciate the beauty of being on your own, and being happy, whole and peaceful. You’ve turned to God when you were lonely. And you’ve trusted God when you were anxious. The last nine months of singledom could have been terrifying, but instead you grew in your faith and spirituality and you’ve entered 2013 with the clearest picture of what you want and need than you have ever had before. You are doing things instead of just talking about them; and for once, pretty girl, you’re following through! But of all the growing pains and changes you’ve endured and conquered in the past year–perhaps the best? The most beautiful? Is that you’ve healed a heart to the point of brand new. And you’ve remembered that love is magical. And you’ve believed that love can come again. You’ve learned that you’re not broken. And you’ve found that your heart is very capable. This Valentine’s Day, it could be so easy to look at what hasn’t come yet. But instead celebrate that this Valentine’s Day can be one of the very most true to date. Love will come. And until then, love the fact that, right now? Right here? These friends? This family? This is all very, abundantly enough. - Ashley, Winston-Salem, NC

I love how you chew up toys and pull towels off hooks while mommy is at work. I love how everything that can get stuck to your fluffy white fur, does. I love how cuddle everyone, stranger, friend or neither. I love how you try to pull mommy into the streets during walk-time. I love how socks are much better than most treats and how stealing them from mommy — or anyone — is really funny. I love your little bark that alerts mommy of every sound. I love your sweet, beautiful big brown eyes and the way they steal the heart of everyone you meet. I love how your belly is perfect for scratching. I love how much joy you bring to your mommy’s life, always. I woof you very much! Happy Chew-Up Flowers Day! - Lucy Liberty, New York, NYC

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Getting Naked in Soho

Yesterday, after taking the pup for a quick jaunt around our block, I hopped the downtown train to make an appointment that had me a little jumpy. But no really — it was a trampoline exercise class that brought back childhood nostalgia along with a quick fix for my champagne hangover from the night before. I quickly discovered that while I’ve always had quite the bounce in my step, when I try to actually put some steps to that bounce… it’s not exactly graceful. No matter — I found myself sweating more than I thought possible when it’s under 20 degrees outside, and once the class ended, I graced the streets of Soho without muffs or gloves to get an iced coffee.

When the wind hit my flushed cheeks, I inhaled and smiled at the dirty, yet fascinating concrete landscape before me.

Since I’ve been living in the fog of cold, dreary days and the cloud of a warm, promising someone, I haven’t had much time — or really energy — to just walk around the streets I moved hundreds of mile to walk on. And so, carrying around gym clothes and a book I’ve been trying to read for a month without much progress, I decided to forget about the frozen sidewalks and have a day date with my very first love.

I tried on a dozen puffy down coats because I know I need one, but can’t seem to fall enough in love with one to actually fork over the cash to bring it home. Then I browsed clearance black boots in search of a replacement pair for the ones that my lovely dog not-so-innocently chewed the zipper (thanks, Lucy). I spent a good thirty minutes redesigning my bedroom in Bed, Bath and Beyond, filled up a cart and determined I could find a way to budget it into my savings before concluding that I liked the way my space looked and put it all away. I lost myself in the Container Store because for some odd reason, organizing gets me excited, and I landed a pair of expensive running pants on sale for $2. And then, I walked across some avenues and got naked.

No, but really.

It wasn’t technically in Soho, but at the Soho House — a swanky, members-only establishment in Meatpacking — but saying I stripped down to nothing in Meatpacking just seems very terrifying and kinda dirty. And while I’d love to say that my baring-it-all adventure was caused by a lovely combination of friends who encouraged me to let it all go and some sparkly something to make me feel at ease, it wasn’t that type of situation. Instead, it involved a fancy gift certificate and a massage therapist who knew just how to knead out the soreness in my very tired legs and shoulders.

It doesn’t seem like much of a story, I know — but when I walked out of my relaxing oasis into the women’s changing room, sporting a fuzzy robe and slippers, I caught a look at myself in the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw.

For the first time, probably ever, I saw natural beauty.

Beauty that wasn’t made by Maybelline or lined with liner or pinched with pouty lipstick. Instead, it was me. With some flaws and lines, some scars and teeth that definitely aren’t aligned symmetrically and flushed cheeks from nearly falling asleep from an hour of rubbing. I’ve worn makeup nearly every single day since I was 13, and though my skin isn’t entirely clear yet, with the help of Accutane lately, it’s been rather radiant. I’ve been so amazed with the results and the changes, that I decided I would try the makeup-free thing at the spa. So, I must have looked a tad obsessive, standing there looking at myself, but I realized that in my pure state of just me, I was actually, just fine. Better than that actually — I was, and am, just lovely.

With that confidence, I headed to the steam room, where I decided I wanted to go… robe-less. And though no one came in for me to compare myself to, I know I would have felt comfortable if they did. The past six months, I’ve worked really hard to get myself to the very best me that I can be — both emotionally by letting go of the past and imagining a future that’s better, and physically, by making a commitment to running and putting things in my body that are good for me. Or, in the case of my acne-prone flesh, doing what it takes to feel pretty, literally, in my own skin.

And you know what? Sitting there, naked at the Soho House, feeling the sweat everywhere, I felt so incredibly refreshed… and beautiful.

That feeling, though wasn’t just because of a toned body or a complexion that’s clearing up, it was also from dedicating myself — and the pages of this blog — to learning how to love myself for who I am, regardless of what I have and what I don’t. Who I’m dating or not dating. If everything is perfect or everything is unsure. I still deal with bouts of insecurity and moments where I doubt anything I see — but finally, I’m really starting to see the changes I’ve worked for since I started this journey. The transformations aren’t huge breakthroughs or major events that I’ll remember the date of, but it’s moments like that one, that make me see how far I’ve come.

While I will always have a long way to go, I really couldn’t imagine a better ending to my much-needed time with New York than catching the train home, relishing in my daring bare of a day.