No Place, Any Place

I’ve been to this place before. It’s quieter than it needs to be, my eyes are redder and more watery than I willed them to be, and against every fiber of will in my body, I find myself curling up and succumbing to the sadness. I’m angry at the fact that I have so much to do—there are so many papers to write, so many people I need to help—and yet I’m wasting my time crying because of how stressed I am. My productivity has plummeted, and I stew until I’m ready to begin the cycle again.

It often seems like my life is an endless series of these periods. I work for a while, it all becomes too much, and then I break down, all for it to restart again when my focus shifts and logical thinking returns. The unrelenting sense of melancholy that these stacked odds make me feel is enough to continue the cycle. As much as I want to be positive all the time, mounting expectations debilitate the positive part of me from shining through, and all that’s left is a tired, unmotivated husk who finds it easier to move through the work one painful bit at a time. And I let it happen, because sometimes it’s just easier to acquiesce.

As much as I love life and enjoy living it, there are moments when I question its purpose. What’s the point of taking on a plethora of passion projects when the momentary joy fades and assignments of weeks past stare me down, demanding to be done? How do I know the career path that I’m pursuing is worth it? If my efforts to be a writer can crumble into stress and tears before I’m out of high school, how do I know I can continue to do this into adulthood? As much as I want to satisfy my dreams and achieve happiness in life, it seems that my efforts always fall short, leaving me defeated.

But then there’s that one brief moment that makes all those worries dissipate. My heart beats quicker, almost to the point where it feels like it will swell and burst; my eyes widen to take in the entirety of the moment, growing until I feel as though they might just bulge out of my skull. This is accompanied by a realization of the magnitude of life and the brilliance that is the ability to experience the moment I’m living in. A pocket of perfect is gifted to me amidst the chaos of the world, and I allow myself to live in it. That pocket is the moment when my best friend and I are laughing uncontrollably about something the other one said, tears coming down our faces and our abdomens aching. It’s the feeling of standing in a cluster of people, swaying to the music, and turning to see a flurry of lights moving to the bassline. I find the perfection when I’m enjoying the pint of rainbow sherbet that was on sale at the market or when I find a few extra dollars in my purse or when the sun shines a little brighter on my face, warming my skin deep into my bones.

It’s a series of subtle pleasures that are as fleeting as they are perfect, and they are the paradises I crave when I’ve lost my way. I don’t think it’s possible to find a perfect place that lasts for more than a short while—it’s unrealistic to expect a utopia to exist anywhere other than life’s most intimate moments. And that’s okay. To me, life doesn’t have to be beautiful all the time for it to be worth it. Life is supposed to be stressful and messy and upsetting, but it’s also supposed to feel heartwarming and simple and like a scene straight out of a young adult novel. It’s necessary for our experiences in life to ebb and flow, to be a pendulum swinging in constant motion. It’s the difficult parts of life that make the mini-utopias that much more special to me, and it’s the cycles of stress that invite meaningful reactions to the bite-sized slices of beauty that are stumbled upon. Things are less than ideal, more often than not, but that is something I’ve come to be okay with. I know that, in between the disorder and madness, I’ll always be able to find mini-utopias in places where they should have otherwise been impossible.

By Sophia Moore

The Human Response to Global Warming

Over the past few years, we’ve been constantly warned about global warming and how the world is falling apart with horrendous natural disasters—from the unforgettable earthquake in Haiti in 2010 to the Japanese earthquake in 2011. Simultaneously, films like 2012 were released to raise awareness about the consequences of climate change. This was no doubt a call for us to take action. Because of this issue and the recent Youth for Climate strike, I was inspired to create images that portray the human response to these intense climate changes and focus specifically on the idea of heat.

The concept here is straightforwardly illustrated through the models’ body language. The warm color palette emphasizes heat, which has been intensified by the severe change in climate. Each of these images shows a different mood, whether it’s exhaustion, resistance, or defeat. My intention with this series is to highlight global warming’s impact on humans’ emotions, health, and well-being.

By Rina Dokai

Girl to Woman

Girl to Woman captures seven different female bedrooms, aiming to reflect how a girl constructs her bedroom—exploring not only the rooms’ femininity, but how the girls' passions, experiences, and aspirations shine through within the four walls.

I was deeply inspired by photographers Petra Collins and Chloe Sheppard and writer Siân Lincoln, all of whom have used personal space to analyze growth, youth, and womanhood. With this project being focused on females approaching their twenties, I knew it would be important to involve myself in the project, as well as half a dozen other girls to give the project diversity.

Shooting on 35mm film was crucial, as I really wanted to connect with each girl personally. I knew that by condensing the number of images shot, I would have to slow down and really consider what I wanted to show. 

By Sophie Allsop

The Land of Lovecore

For many, daydreaming about love serves as an escape from the horrors of the real world. Frivolous pastimes like browsing pink-themed Tumblr blogs, creating vision boards on Pinterest, and joining chat rooms filled with other love-obsessed, like-minded teens have become sincere attempts to cope with an unforgiving reality.

The internet-based aesthetic community titled “lovecore” gave me a space to indulge in and reflect on all the not-real relationships I had with other people. These parasocial relationships have recurred throughout my life and offered me a safe haven in times of distress. But like any relationship, these connections offer as much stress as they do joy. We romanticize other people the same way we romanticize unfamiliar landscapes, and our expectations almost always extend past reality.

While collecting the images that populate the lovecore community, I found myself reminiscing on all the love I’ve given to random influencers; I questioned whether any of it has made its way back to me. Lovecore is an online aesthetic rooted in a celebration of love, affection, and sensitivity. Using the values and imagery associated with the aesthetic, I created collages that intend to actualize a landscape in which these lovey-dovey feelings can reside. By exploring my desire for a love-filled utopia, I was able to better understand my feelings and experiences around love and romance.

By Gia W.

I'm Not Asking for Permission

Illustration by Julia Kuo for VICE.

Sitting in second period chemistry, my tenth-grade self struggled to zoom in on ionic compounds: the lights were too bright, the chatter of my classmates too grating. I remember walking through the narrow halls of my high school moving slowly and deliberately, as if carrying a cup too full. Even the slightest falter would cause the storm inside to spill over.
Everyone feels broken sometimes. We all have days, weeks, or months when we feel like the cracks between our ribs let too much hope out and too much fear in. I’ve had those days, those weeks, those months before. I know how it feels when even making breakfast feels weighed down and burdened. I know that no one is immune to these phases. We all live somewhere on a spectrum of wellness, and we struggle to give room to one another when we each take our turn moving through darkness.
Living with mental illness is hard, but supporting someone who lives with it is hard too. When an episode comes for me, it pulls down the curtains to everyone I love and asks them to please wait outside until I come back home to myself; it asks them to tiptoe across eggshells and meet me where I am. It makes me fragile and tender, quick to bruise. Movements are heavy, speaking aloud sounds alien, and holding eye contact feels like kneading the parts of me that ache most. It can seem impossible to get out of bed in the morning. When and if I do, every action is a holding place until I can return to my room, turn off the lights, and collapse under the covers.

I have been rising each day to greet this part of myself since I was 14. I’m 24 now, and I’m still getting to know her: the things that make her sore and the things that make her full. But for much of my young adult life, I’ve followed a routine of folding up my complicated parts. I have gathered up the anxiety and depression that dangle out of me to make myself appear neat and tidy for the world. I know every step to this dance—don’t tell them how foggy you feel today, that’s not really what they’re asking when they say “How are you?” Pull back your shoulders, stretch your tired mouth into a smile, tell them you’re fine. There, that’s it. It’s okay, just hold on. You can go home soon.
Seeing a loved one live this way isn’t easy.  It makes sense that we see glazed eyes and take it personally. It makes sense that we ask if it’s us: what we did wrong, why we’re being forced to the sidelines when all we want so desperately is to come in. When we feel hurt, we are hardwired to hurt back or give up. This is only natural. We all face growing pains, and we don’t always have space to support each other in the ways we might need. But whether this space exists or not, we deserve to care for ourselves first, even if it feels like doing so lets everyone else down.

In the thick of depression, it can be easy to forget how alienating it is to live outside of it. But it is also easy to forget that we are allowed to take up room. We need not apologize for healing ourselves first, nor do we need permission to do it in the way we know best. Our only obligation is to ourselves, and that is responsibility enough.

As I continue to unearth what that means to me, I find myself navigating a fine boundary between selfishness and self-care. Part of this process may require losing balance, on one side or the other. But with time, I am finding steadiness between the two. Whether it’s through canceling plans, ignoring texts, lighting candles, or taking a bath, I am allowing myself to be as I am. And I am humbled and grateful to know that the people in my life will wait for me as I do.

By welcoming all of my messy parts (and having the space and permission to do so) healing can step in. I am beginning to understand that I am not defined by what surfaces in me; that sometimes I am leaden with fog, and sometimes I sparkle. With this, I am slowly learning how to tread softly on this landscape that is me. I am in equal parts trying to be gentle with myself and firm with the world. To me, part of that means giving myself permission to do what feels right.

In writing this, I am hopeful that my friends and family will understand why I go dark. I am hopeful that I might understand a little better too. In writing this, I am not asking the world to support me in the way that I need. I am only asking for the space to support myself.

I know this isn’t easy—for anyone. It will always be hardest for the ones that love us most. But I also know that it feels right and good to ball up my fists and stretch out my spine in the morning. It feels right and good to lift my chin to the sun when it comes. It feels right and good to breathe deeply. It feels right and good to give myself time, to be gentle with every iteration of myself.

To you, wherever and however you are, I hope you will join me in telling yourself that darkness does not settle forever, that you will feel sun on your skin and full-bodied hope one day soon. I hope you will join me as I bite my tongue each time apology rolls out of me for taking the space to do what feels best.
So this spring, I will get up in the morning, wash my face in warm water, and announce to the world that I am seasonal. I will make every articulation of this life a quiet act of self-affirmation that I am growing. I will welcome my phases when they come and give them everything for which they have longed. This spring I’ll find the love and pull it back, hand over fist, and give it to myself first. This spring, I’m reaching for myself.

By Lauren Toccalino

Notes from a Fraudulent Writer

I have a confession to make: I did not religiously read Rookie. I signed up for the newsletter, I owned the yearbooks, and sure, I read some articles, but I did not pore over every essay on the site until it had molded me into a creative writer and cool person. I know, I’m an imposter, a fake. I love Rookie, I promise! But I have to be honest: I’m really lazy. And I loved the idea of being a girl that read Rookie more than I wanted to put in the actual effort to read it. When I did read Rookie, it was almost always planned, with a fruit plate and camera ready to capture this moment of teen girl intelligence. I had constructed this image of who I was in my head to distract myself from my own mediocrity.

Everyone always told me how smart I was, how incredible of a writer I was, how gifted I was. English class had always come easily to me, and even in my “worst” subjects, I still received A’s. I thought of myself as a writer, as an intelligent person, and dreamed of being some kind of professional smart person when I grew up: author, journalist, travel writer, etc.

None of this was real. None of this mattered if I wasn’t actually writing, if I lacked the actual manifestation of my dreams. I wasn’t doing anything to fulfill that vision, a behavior enforced by years of just being good at everything I did, believing that things just happened to me. I wasn’t published, I wasn’t working on a novel, I wasn’t really writing at all—even though I claimed I wanted to be a writer. My whole life existed (and still exists, to a certain extent) in romanticized visions of Future Me rather than an internal understanding of work and time and effort.

Other people told me I was a gifted writer, but my mind also fulfilled this genius fantasy by convincing me that I would be a writer when I became older, a magical and effortless combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Jia Tolentino and Joan Didion and Tavi Gevinson. I imagined myself as the editor of a magazine or newspaper in New York, despite the fact that I had never actually written anything outside of a classroom.

I believed it was my destiny to be a writer, that somehow the world, the universal energy that decides how things happen, knew I was special and I didn’t really need to work for it. I believed my dreams would just happen, that because I was a gifted writer, everyone would see that and I would float through life with skill and creativity and perfection. (I was full of shit.) All the years of being a straight-A student, during which everyone told me how smart I was, made me think I was somehow more special, more destined for greatness, than my peers.

The problem with realizing this flaw was my subsequent crash in self-confidence. I wasn’t a writer. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t enough. I thought that somehow I was behind in life, like I had missed years of writing the personal essays of my generation and becoming the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. I wanted to apply to a writing program over the summer to “catch up,” but it required 8-10 pages of writing samples. I didn’t have writing samples because I hadn’t written anything. I followed women on Instagram who had written whole novels as teenagers. Seriously? I was a fraud.

I don’t know when exactly I realized this. Maybe a year or two ago. So I had essentially been lying to myself for about ten years, all the years when I was academically conscious and able to conceptualize my self.

I lost my sense of agency over my life. Before this shift, I felt comfortable and proud in my “gifted student” and “writer” identity. But I was now detached from myself, as if there was a public perception of myself, a mold of my body that my soul was now viewing from above. Everything I thought I was—everything I thought I was destined for—crumbled. I had no future, I had no identity, and I hated everything I wrote. I hated myself for not having written a hundred journals throughout my childhood, all filled with effortlessly brilliant reflections on adolescence and the world around me. I hated myself for not finishing books but still including them on my list of books I’ve read. My sense of self was fundamentally performative, creating an idealized version of my identity, not just for others but for myself.

I wanted to be a journalist, I thought, but what did I have to show for it? A fantasy. I wasn’t doing enough. I binge-read for hours in a state of anxiety, trying to make up for years of laziness, years of personal essays that would have made me a good writer, all the years I was falling behind. And every time I read, I fell deeper into a panic, wishing I could have written that first. But I didn’t. I was lazy, I told myself—lazy, untalented, and supremely mediocre.

I am trying to unlearn these timelines and expectations and fantasies. I am trying to read for myself, to write for myself, not for the version of myself that doesn’t exist. I am learning self-respect and I am learning how to work and I am learning acceptance.

Three days ago, I finished my first journal of all time. It’s a black Moleskine, filled with my thoughts and rants, movie tickets and polaroid pictures, concert wristbands and pressed flowers. I should be happy about it, right? That’s a pretty cool accomplishment, especially for someone who values writing so much. But all I could think about was how this should’ve happened years ago. At this point, I should have documented every day of my adolescent life in order to really be a writer. In my head, I know that’s extreme. But I think a  part of me believes that if I had written everything down, if I had been visibly writing my whole life, maybe I would have a clearer sense of self. I would have set myself up for confidence and skill. I would have set myself up for the future.

In my plunging self-confidence, I searched for a reason, and found it in my lack of writing. But I am trying to detach myself from others’ timelines, learn my own worth, and rid my mind of the concept that perfection and failure are the only paths in life. I am a writer, and in learning to write, I am learning to live.

By Katherine Williams

Lady Liberation

Illustration by Ellice Weaver for Broadly.

Though Lady Liberty enticed my parents to leave their homeland and chase the American Dream, she somehow forgot to tell them to leave the traditions at home. Being the daughter of two Bangladeshi immigrants, I grew up wearing the notoriously itchy salwar suits, eating fish and rice in abundance, and dancing in front of the TV to Bollywood classics, convinced I would grow up to look just like the beautiful women I saw in movies.

But with what the parents of my American friends referred to as my “exotic” culture, came outdated views on the standards to which women in South Asian households were held. When I was younger, I was never able to attend sleepover parties with the rest of my school friends. I was discouraged from playing too roughly or pursuing sports, and God forbid I have friends of the opposite sex. In high school the number of rules grew. Soon I found myself being silenced when I voiced my opinion, and pressured to explore career options that were more “suitable for girls.” As I grew older, I began to realize the rules set by my parents were more than just a trademark of having strict parents; they were demeaning, unfair, and frustrating. I saw this not only in my family, but in the majority of families in our South Asian community.

For the longest time, I felt restrained. It was difficult growing up in such a constricting environment, and to me, the only way to express myself was through writing. From an early age, I was encouraged by teachers to pursue writing. What was at first a menial school task became a flourishing passion. I found myself scribbling random thoughts in school journals, typing short stories on hot summer days, and enjoying every second of my English classes. Through writing, I could be the person I had always aspired to be: an independent young woman with opinions just waiting to be heard. The words I couldn’t speak, I could write. As time went on, writing gave me a voice; a voice with which I could inspire, I could argue, I could express. Pursuing my passion began to seem less like an outlet and more like a purpose.

When I first told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, I was told I wouldn’t have a job. I was told that “no one would hire a Bangladeshi writer,” and that instead, I should try teaching English—a disguised compromise of my happiness and cultural career expectations. I spent countless days and nights creating the ideal college essay to show my eagerness in becoming an education major. I practically convinced myself of this sudden path, going as far as choosing a program that practically bound me to teaching certification. I felt dissatisfied and unhappy, but above all, I felt unreal. I was living the life of a girl who chose compromise over bravery, who chose safety over the unknown. I was living a life, but not my own. It took me years to build the courage to write, months to try and forget my calling, but a mere two minutes to change my application, and essentially the course of my life. After seventeen years of nothing but expectations, I broke the rules.

I will be beginning my freshman year of college next fall as an English major. Despite my choice in degree being unconventional by Desi standards, I can’t imagine slaving over a subject that I wouldn’t be content pursuing. So what if I end up with ink stains on my hand rather than henna? So what if Aunty-ji and Uncle-ji from back home find me unsuitable or unsuccessful? So what if writing isn’t a “girl’s job”? If the Bollywood movies of my childhood taught me anything, it was that anything could happen, and my anything begins now.

By Farisha Rashid

Glitter Boobs: Gilded or Good?

I think it’s incredibly unfair that women and men’s nipples are treated differently. The images I created are in conversation with rule-breaking, as women's breasts and nipples are considered very taboo. In these photos, I emphatically draw attention to the model's breasts through glitter and paint.

The glitter-boob trend is very popular among social media influencers right now, especially at music festivals. It is an outlet for creativity, but many don’t realize that it goes beyond that. To this day, women are constantly shamed over their bodies. Meanwhile, men are permitted to be shirtless in public. Even partial female nudity can provoke claims of promiscuity or being too attention-seeking. So why is it that if a woman wears fake nipples or covers them up with glitter, it is more okay?

By Riley Gunderson

Bodily Autonomy in the Aftermath of Alabama’s Abortion Ban

Sierra McAvoy for Refinery29

In the past few weeks, a variety of states across the U.S. have unveiled new laws that restrict women’s access to abortions. Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed into law the state's so-called "heartbeat bill," an effective ban on abortions more than six weeks into a pregnancy, and Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed the state's controversial near-total abortion ban Wednesday evening. Draconian new anti-abortion measures have also won wide margins of approval in Ohio and Missouri.

The new law in Alabama is the most restrictive anti-abortion measure passed in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973, banning all abortions except when "abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk" to the woman. Cases of rape and incest are not exempt as they are in other states.

In Alabama specifically, after a march on the state capital in Montgomery, many women have begun fearing the worst for their reproductive rights, with even referencing The Handmaid’s Tale. The Alabama ban takes effect in six months, so abortion is still currently legal in the state at the three remaining abortion clinics, but it is unclear how much will change in the coming months. Supporters acknowledge that they expect the ban to be blocked by lower courts, but many others believe it will be decided in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the topic of abortion moves back into the political limelight, “bodily autonomy” is brought to the forefront of the conversation by pro-choice advocates. But what exactly does that mean, and how have women been denied this right throughout history? And perhaps most importantly, what will these new laws mean for women’s rights in the near future?

What is bodily autonomy?

In short, bodily autonomy refers to humans’ self-determination over their own bodies, and it follows that the infringement upon this right is intrusive and possibly criminal. If it is your body—be it your hair, blood, or bones—only you have the authority to make decisions that have direct ramifications on your life and well-being.

Bodily autonomy is perhaps best summarized by the 1978 Supreme Court case McFall v. Shimp. Robert McFall was suffering from a terminal bone marrow disease and would die if he did not receive a bone marrow transplant. The only potential donor for McFall was his cousin, Mr. Shrimp. Mr. Shrimp refused to donate his marrow to McFall, and so McFall took the case to court to mandate that Shrimp undergo the procedure. The judge, however, concluded that forcing a person to submit to an intrusion of his body in order to donate bone marrow "would defeat the sanctity of the individual and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn.”

To summarize, no one can force you to undergo any circumstance that would directly impact your well-being as another human being. You cannot be forced to donate blood or bone marrow, and by the same principle, you cannot be forced to have a child by the laws of the government.

Women’s bodily autonomy

Historically, women have been denied access to the right of bodily autonomy. These restrictions haven’t been consistent, however; they were generally nonexistent up until the rise of the rise of the Christian Church in the medieval period. It was during this time that religious leaders and writers like Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome outright attacked women and mandated scriptures and texts that infringed on women’s right to bodily autonomy, writing that women were “weak and hysterical and open to temptations.”  It was these church fathers who blamed Eve for the downfall of humanity, and by extension all women, everywhere, and because of this, fighting back against these sentiments and regulations on women has been an uphill battle since the modern era began.

The laws and behaviors used to restrict women’s sexual behavior have ranged from female genital mutilation (which is still practiced in many countries to this day), to forced marriages, to the denial of access to abortions. These mandates all represent an assault on women’s right to choose. They serve as a deliberate ploy to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling upholding abortion access as a constitutional right in the United States.

What bodily autonomy means in a post-abortion ban Alabama

Limiting a women’s access to abortion will not stop women from having abortions. It will only limit women’s access to safe abortions. And further, the idea that these abortion bans are in the support of life or the unborn ignores all of the other facets that go into being truly “pro-life.” A true pro-life attitude would argue that the lives of women, the incarcerated, children in foster care, immigrants, and the poor matter as much as the unborn.

How can you help?

Donating to organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund. This fund provides financial assistance, transportation, and lodging to Alabama residents who need access to abortion services.

Volunteer at or donate to Planned Parenthood or ACLU. These organizations are taking the battle against abortion bans to the courts.

Take to social media. Spread the word and start a conversation with people who may not understand why this law is so dangerous to women everywhere.

Contact your representatives and VOTE. If you live in Alabama, vote for candidates that support reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. If you live elsewhere and see your state headed down a similar path, do the same. This is not only a fight for the women of Alabama, but for people all across the U.S. We’re not backing down. Will you?

By Vanessa Poulson