18 Pre- and Post-Flight Exercises Trainers Swear By

Air travel is a modern-day wonder that lets us do awesome things that before were unfathomable. Like wake up in NYC at 6 A.M. and be on the beach in Miami before noon. Yet, despite all of its glory, flying kind of sucks. I fly probably five or six times a year, and I’ve never once gotten off a flight and thought, Wow, that was comfortable! Unless you’re shelling out the big bucks for first class every trip, chances are your flight experiences are the same as mine: cramped and uncomfortable, with a side of neck pain and butt numbness.

The one thing I have found that helps to mitigate this a bit? Moving a little before and after my flight. Now, I’m not talking full-on workout. I, for one, am of the camp that enjoys the rush of getting to the airport as late as possible (I’m often in the security line when my flight begins to board). I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d have time to do a full workout right before I head to the airport. Plus, it’s not really a good idea to do a tough workout right before you’re about to sit for hours, says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and nutritional advisor to Promix Nutrition. “Do something that gets you moving,” he suggests, “but don’t push anything to max right before travel. Airplanes are no place to recover.”

There are a few reasons for that, but the main one is that blood flow after a hard workout is important to give your muscles the nutrients they need to repair themselves and flush out various waste products that develop as a byproduct of exercise. Sitting for a long time immediately after a hard workout decreases blood flow and can slow down recovery a bit, Matheny says. That, combined with the altitude, dry air (hello, dehydration), and increased stress overall that many of us feel when flying, creates a subpar recovery environment and makes it more likely you’ll feel stiffer and sorer, adds Matheny.

Which brings us to your best pre-flight option: light stretching and bodyweight exercises. “One of the best things you can do prior to a flight is to open your body up and get your blood flowing,” Matthew Kite, C.S.C.S., director of education of D1 Training, tells SELF. Specifically, “mobilizing your hips and lower back the morning of or right before flying will help prevent those aches and stiffness that stem from flights.”

New York City-based certified personal trainer Bianca Vesco notes that she doesn’t do well on planes because she’s not used to sitting down for so long. “My spine locks up and I have a ton of low-back pain from tight hips.” Because of this, she focuses on spinal and hip mobility work before and after a flight. “Yoga is a must.”

The key, every expert I spoke with notes, is to get in some light movement both before and after your flight if you can. “I’m a big believer in somehow moving after flying,” says Ava Fagin, certified personal trainer and fitness instructor at BodySpace Fitness in NYC. “I’m not picky about what type of movement that is, but I’ve recently started to go on a short run after a flight to get the blood flowing and it feels amazing!” (Before a flight, she suggests hydrating to prep for the dry airplane air.)

Here, Vesco, Fagin, and other trainers share their go-to pre- and post-flight exercises to stave off soreness throughout a grueling in-flight sitting marathon.

Quick note: You’ll notice below that some of the movements come with a suggestion for pre- or post-flight, but others don’t. While some of the trainers I spoke to differentiated between what they like to do before vs after, many didn’t differentiate, saying that they do the same things both before and after flying. You should choose which movements from this list you want to do when you want to do them, based off what feels best for your body. There’s really no right or wrong way!

Why ‘Just Cook More’ Isn’t the Universal Solution to Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is an endlessly complex topic that often gets distilled into soundbites—some short directive that assigns a simple solution to a myriad of problems. For example: Just cook more. These days, home cooking is presented as the holy grail of healthy eating, and the way to meet every dietary ideal we’re supposed to be working toward—whether it’s what we should be eating less of (salt, sugar, calories, processed foods) or what we should be eating more of (vegetables, fiber, whole foods, vitamins and minerals).

Food reformers and celebrity chefs are loudly spreading this as gospel, and it’s rampant in public health messaging and food media. Heck, I’ve written my fair share of very easy weeknight recipes in an effort to encourage apathetic cooks, and I’m guilty of implying that time-saving kitchen appliances like slow-cookers are simple fixes for cooking on a tight schedule.

But really, it’s not that simple. A lot is implied and expected in this call for more home cooking. Really, the message is, “Cook more from scratch, with mostly unprocessed foods like produce, meat, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.” Boxed mac and cheese and white-bread-and-bologna sandwiches don’t cut it. And for many people, this is asking a lot.

To be clear, nutritious home cooking isn’t a bad thing—experts generally agree that eating mostly unprocessed food can lead to better health outcomes, and it’s easier to control what you’re eating if you cook at home. But, presenting it as an easy solution, or even as a choice that everyone can make, isn’t helpful. It might actually be harmful.

The message to cook more from scratch comes from a place of socio-economic privilege. “People who make these kinds of recommendations often underestimate and overlook the privilege they have,” Melissa Carmona, M.S., a clinical mental health counselor who works primarily with immigrant communities, tells SELF. “When my clients see doctors or other healthcare professionals, they’re often hit with, ‘You should cook more, eat better, change your lifestyle in order to improve your health.’ I heard the same thing when I moved to the U.S. from Colombia as a teenager.” But, she says, the reality of actually doing it wasn’t easy. She couldn’t necessarily afford the foods that were being recommended, and she also found that many of the cultural foods she was used to eating weren’t included in the Americanized picture of healthy eating and home cooking.

I’ve been writing about food for seven years and I feel comfortable saying that extolling the virtues of healthy home cooking is a staple in the repertoire of a great many Instagram influencers who are white and, if the rest of their feed is any indication, relatively well off. This creates an unrealistic and culturally narrow expectation for what acceptable healthy home cooking looks like. It ultimately makes home cooking a status symbol, Tamara Melton, M.S., R.D. a registered dietitian and co-founder of Diversify Dietetics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the dietetics profession, tells SELF.

“People are already confused about what healthy eating is, and now a lot of people think it’s about recreating all of the beautiful, trendy food they see on Instagram.” A lot of this food is very whitewashed, Melton says. It’s also expensive, and often made by food professionals and influencers who are paid to cook and photograph it.

Of course, not everyone feels pressure to eat the way they see people doing it on Instagram. But even a less-Instagrammable home-cooked meal isn’t as attainable as mass media makes it out to be.

Cooking from scratch also isn’t, in fact, budget-friendly for everyone, or more affordable than how they’re already eating. One of the selling points of healthy home cooking is based on a tremendous paradox—the idea that cooking at home is the budget-friendly choice. This is true for someone who might start cooking as an alternative to eating out, but not for someone who already does eat most of their meals at home. And, a 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the lowest-income households are spending a larger percentage of their food budget—about two-thirds—on food prepared at home (which includes unprepared foods bought at the grocery store) than the highest-income households—which spend only about half.

But what these lower-income households are cooking may not actually live up to the ideal of a wholesome meal cooked from scratch. In the book Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, authors Sarah Bowen, Ph.D., Joslyn Brenton, Ph.D., and Sinikka Elliott, Ph.D., draw on interviews and long-term observational study of several mothers, most of whom are poor or working-class, in order to explain the nuanced challenges of and barriers to healthy home cooking.

“There’s this widespread idea that if you just try a little bit harder or get a little bit more organized, you can be healthy and cook your kids a good meal,” Brenton tells SELF. But, her research proves this wrong. “It doesn’t matter if you know the ‘right’ way to eat or cook—what matters is having the money to do it.” Brenton and her coauthors describe a huge divide “between families…who can afford fresh, seasonal, nutritious fare, and families…who search for the cheapest deals—10 for $10—to keep everyone fed on the smallest possible budget.”

It’s also pretty much impossible to prioritize healthy food and cooking when you’re worried about having enough food. According to a 2016 report from the USDA, one in eight Americans is food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to, “enough food for an active, healthy life.” The USDA has tried to quantify food insecurity by mapping “food deserts,” low-income areas where at least a third of residents live more than a mile from a grocery store. But many experts see this as another oversimplification of a very complicated problem. “Just having a grocery store near you doesn’t mean that you have a way to get there, that you’re going to be able to afford the food there, or that you’ll even want to eat it,” Kathryn De Master, Ph.D., assistant professor of agriculture, society, and environment at the University of California, Berkeley, tells SELF.

Federal food assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps) are designed to help low-income individuals buy food they couldn’t otherwise afford, but these benefits can only go so far. Processed foods are generally cheaper than unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meats. Even with SNAP benefits, cooking with mostly unprocessed foods “requires a huge amount of planning and maneuvering,” De Master says, and in some regions where fresh foods are more expensive, it often isn’t possible at all.

Cooking healthy food also takes time, a luxury that many don’t have. A basic sheet pan dinner of chicken and potatoes will take about an hour from start to finish—many people, especially shift workers or working parents, likely don’t have this much time to wait. Brenton and her co-authors find that time is an issue for many. “Even middle class mothers who do have the money to cook healthy meals, don’t necessarily have the time,” she says.

It’s true that people spend less time cooking than they used to. A 2013 study in Nutrition Journal found that on average, women spent nearly two hours a day in the kitchen in 1965, while a 2018 study in the same journal reports that by 2016 that number had dropped to about an hour a day. But it’s not fair to assume that this is always a choice. “A lot of it has to do with work schedules,” Brenton says. And even time-saving hacks don’t work for everyone. “When you hear advice about how to eat healthy with a busy schedule, you hear things about meal prepping on the weekends” she says. “But what if you work on weekends?” What if you’re taking care of small children and sick parents? What if you’d rather spend what little free time you have doing something other than cook? Assuming that everyone can make time to cook if they choose to just isn’t fair.

There’s no easy solution to these problems, but we need to stop talking about healthy eating like it’s an individual responsibility. “The way we talk about home cooking, we convince people that it’s their responsibility to cook healthy meals for themselves and their families,” Brenton says. “This detracts from the real causes of poor health, like massive economic inequality, racism, long work hours, and stress.” These problems won’t soon be solved, but there are ways to make healthy food more accessible in the meantime. Brenton and her coauthors suggest large-scale solutions like government subsidies for healthier school lunches, plus paid maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, and affordable child care, all of which would give people more time to prioritize food.

On the community level, things like cooking healthy food in bulk in commercial kitchens and selling it on a sliding scale can help. Melton emphasizes how important it is that community-based solutions actually take each community’s unique needs into account. “It’s important to encourage people to eat in a way that they’re comfortable with, a way that’s culturally relevant to them, with food that they can access,” Melton says. “In low-income communities, teaching cooking skills based on the ingredients and equipment available is very important,” Melton says. “Pay attention to what’s at the local grocery stores and food banks, and teach people to cook with these things.”

Ultimately, experts agree that just encouraging everyone to cook healthy food in order to be healthier isn’t very helpful. Instead of promoting a lofty ideal of home cooking, we need to first and foremost find ways to make healthy eating accessible to more people.


More women using cannabis daily before and during pregnancy, research finds

The number of women using cannabis in the year before they get pregnant and early in their pregnancies is increasing, and their frequency of use is also rising, according to new data from Kaiser Permanente.

The research, published July 19, 2019, in JAMA Network Open, examined self-reported cannabis use among 276,991 pregnant women (representing 367,403 pregnancies) in Northern California over 9 years and found that cannabis use has increased over time.

From 2009 to 2017, the adjusted prevalence of self-reported cannabis use in the year before pregnancy increased from 6.8% to 12.5%, and the adjusted prevalence of self-reported cannabis use during pregnancy increased from 1.9% to 3.4% (rates were adjusted for demographics). Annual rates of change in self-reported daily, weekly, and monthly-or-less cannabis use increased significantly, though daily use increased most rapidly.

Among women who self-reported cannabis use during the year before pregnancy, the proportion who were daily users increased from 17% to 25%, and weekly users increased from 20% to 22%, while monthly-or-less users decreased from 63% to 53% during the study period. Similarly, among women who self-reported cannabis use during pregnancy, the proportion who were daily users increased from 15% to 21%, and weekly users from 25% to 27%, while monthly users decreased from 60% to 52%.

“These findings should alert women’s health clinicians to be aware of potential increases in daily and weekly cannabis use among their patients,” said lead author Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “The actual numbers are likely higher, as women may be unwilling to disclose their substance use to a medical professional.”

In addition, the prevalence of daily and weekly cannabis use may have risen even further in the past year and a half following legalization of cannabis for recreational use in California in 2018, Young-Wolff said.

The data come from women’s initial prenatal visits at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, which usually take place at around 8 weeks gestation, and do not reflect continued use throughout pregnancy. Investigators were unable to differentiate whether self-reported cannabis use during pregnancy occurred before or after women were aware that they were pregnant.

While the current findings are based on women’s self-reporting, the results are supported by the Kaiser Permanente research team’s December 2017 JAMA Research Letter showing an increase in prenatal cannabis use via urine toxicology testing. In this newer study, the authors focus on trends in frequency of use in the year before and during pregnancy.

Some women may use cannabis during pregnancy to manage morning sickness, the authors noted. The authors’ previous work published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2018 found women with severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy were nearly 4 times more likely to use cannabis during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Women may get the impression from cannabis product marketing and online media that cannabis use is safe during pregnancy, said Young-Wolff. However, there is substantial evidence that exposure to cannabis in pregnancy is associated with having a low-birthweight baby, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy discontinue cannabis use because of concerns about impaired neurodevelopment and exposure to the adverse effects of smoking.

“There is still much that is unknown on the topic, including what type of cannabis products pregnant women are using and whether the health consequences differ based on mode of cannabis administration and frequency of prenatal cannabis use,” Young-Wolff noted.

More research is needed to offer women better, specific advice, said study senior author Nancy Goler, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist and associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group.

“There is an urgent need to better understand the effects of prenatal cannabis exposure as cannabis becomes legalized in more states and more widely accepted and used,” Dr. Goler said. “Until such time as we fully understand the specific health risks cannabis poses for pregnant women and their fetuses, we are recommending stopping all cannabis use prior to conceiving and certainly once a woman knows she is pregnant.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Young-Wolff and Kaiser Permanente Division of Research colleague Lindsay Avalos, PhD, MPH, have received a new 5-year grant from NIDA to support further research on maternal cannabis use during pregnancy. They plan to study whether prenatal cannabis use is associated with increased risk of adverse maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes using data from urine toxicology testing, self-reported frequency of prenatal cannabis use, and mode of cannabis administration. They will also test whether legalization of cannabis for recreational use in 2018 and local regulatory practices (such as retailer bans) are associated with variation in prenatal cannabis use.

Additional authors were Constance Weisner, DrPH, MSW, Varada Sarovar, PhD, Lue-Yen Tucker, Mary Anne Armstrong, MA, and Stacey Alexeeff, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research; and Amy Conway, MPH, of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Early Start Program.

Nations with strong women’s rights likely to have better population health and faster growth

Nations with strong women’s rights are more likely to have better health and faster growth than those who don’t promote and protect these values, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

This trend is evident in even in resource-poor countries, say the researchers.

While many parts of the world have made good economic progress, women’s rights have often been overlooked, say the researchers. This is despite many countries having signed the international bill of rights for women, formally known as The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The researchers wanted to find out if there might be a link between protection of women’s rights, and health improvement and sustainable development, and if ultimately, women’s rights might have more of an impact than economic and social, or civil and political rights alone.

They analysed databases which held information on health, human rights, and economic and social rights for 162 countries for the period 2004 to 2010.

Countries were grouped according to the respect they afforded to women’s economic and social rights: high (44); moderate (51); and poor (63).

Analysis of the data showed that strong economic and social rights were associated with better/improving health outcomes, possibly because of the spend on health per head of the population, say the researchers.

But this wasn’t the case when looking at countries based on women’s economic and social rights.

Overall, countries with strong women’s rights had better/improving health than those where women’s rights were only moderately or poorly respected.

These health indicators include disease prevention, such as vaccination, reproductive health, death rates and life expectancy.

In countries where human rights, to include women’s rights, were highly respected, but where access to hospital beds and doctors was nevertheless below average, health outcomes were still consistently better than average, the analysis showed.

“The results confirm that even with a lack of resources, if a country has a strong human rights structure, the health outcomes are better,” the researchers write.

But countries where civil and political rights alone were highly valued had varying levels of health.

And despite some countries respecting economic, social and cultural rights, they still didn’t protect women’s economic and social rights.

This is an observational study, which used average health values, and as such, can’t establish cause. Further research over longer time periods in countries with similar human rights trends is needed to pinpoint overarching trends, say the researchers.

But gender equality is not just a women’s issue, but a development issue, they suggest.

“Since the promotion and protection of women’s rights play a fundamental role for progress for states as they unite health, human rights and development, nations that have the ability to promote [women’s social and economic rights]…are missing a crucial component in positive health outcomes,” they write.

“Today, the value of human rights has often been questioned from an economic standpoint; however, our data find that rather than limit progress, human rights, and [women’s economic and social rights] in particular, can only benefit them,” they conclude.

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Materials provided by BMJ. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Take a bath 90 minutes before bedtime to get better sleep

Biomedical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin may have found a way for people to get better shuteye. Systematic review protocols — a method used to search for and analyze relevant data — allowed researchers to analyze thousands of studies linking water-based passive body heating, or bathing and showering with warm/hot water, with improved sleep quality. Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering found that bathing 1-2 hours before bedtime in water of about 104-109 degrees Fahrenheit can significantly improve your sleep.

“When we looked through all known studies, we noticed significant disparities in terms of the approaches and findings,” said Shahab Haghayegh, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead author on the paper. “The only way to make an accurate determination of whether sleep can in fact be improved was to combine all the past data and look at it through a new lens.”

The paper explaining their method was recently published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.

In collaboration with the UT Health Science Center at Houston and the University of Southern California, the UT researchers reviewed 5,322 studies. They extracted pertinent information from publications meeting predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria to explore the effects of water-based passive body heating on a number of sleep-related conditions: sleep onset latency — the length of time it takes to accomplish the transition from full wakefulness to sleep; total sleep time; sleep efficiency — the amount of time spent asleep relative to the total amount of time spent in bed intended for sleep; and subjective sleep quality.

Meta-analytical tools were then used to assess the consistency between relevant studies and showed that an optimum temperature of between 104 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit improved overall sleep quality. When scheduled 1-2 hours before bedtime, it can also hasten the speed of falling asleep by an average of 10 minutes.

Much of the science to support links between water-based body heating and improved sleep is already well-established. For example, it is understood that both sleep and our body’s core temperature are regulated by a circadian clock located within the brain’s hypothalamus that drives the 24-hour patterns of many biological processes, including sleep and wakefulness.

Body temperature, which is involved in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle, exhibits a circadian cycle, being 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the late afternoon/early evening than during sleep, when it is the lowest. The average person’s circadian cycle is characterized by a reduction in core body temperature of about 0.5 to 1 F around an hour before usual sleep time, dropping to its lowest level between the middle and later span of nighttime sleep. It then begins to rise, acting as a kind of a biological alarm clock wake-up signal. The temperature cycle leads the sleep cycle and is an essential factor in achieving rapid sleep onset and high efficiency sleep.

The researchers found the optimal timing of bathing for cooling down of core body temperature in order to improve sleep quality is about 90 minutes before going to bed. Warm baths and showers stimulate the body’s thermoregulatory system, causing a marked increase in the circulation of blood from the internal core of the body to the peripheral sites of the hands and feet, resulting in efficient removal of body heat and decline in body temperature. Therefore, if baths are taken at the right biological time — 1-2 hours before bedtime — they will aid the natural circadian process and increase one’s chances of not only falling asleep quickly but also of experiencing better quality sleep.

The research team is now working with UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization in the hopes of designing a commercially viable bed system with UT-patented Selective Thermal Stimulation technology. It allows thermoregulatory function to be manipulated on demand and dual temperature zone temperature control that can be tailored to maintain an individual’s optimum temperatures throughout the night.

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Materials provided by University of Texas at Austin. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019: 17 Fitness Deals on Sneakers & Activewear You Can’t Miss

As you may have already heard by now (we’ve been pretty loud about it), the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale officially opened the floodgates to the public today. Nordstrom cardholders got to take first stock of activewear savings from brands like Nike, Champion, Adidas, and The North Face at the early access sale, and now they’re available for everyone else who wants to load up on sports bras and socks, or invest in a cold-weather parka before the chill settles in. The sale comes to a close on August 4, so you still have plenty of time to browse, but sizes are moving very quickly on these activewear discounts (and brands like Patagonia are almost completely sold out), so this is one time we’d recommend not procrastinating. Here, some of the best fitness and activewear deals to keep your eye on.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019: 15 Best Home and Bedding Deals

If you needed yet another reason to shop, Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale is finally here (FYI for next year: Nordstrom credit card holders get first dibs to the sale). For anyone looking to elevate their home essentials with functional yet chic pieces that’ll last you at least until next July, now is a good time to nab them. If you’re more of a beauty fanatic or in need of a barre-to-brunch workout set, make sure to check out our picks for the best beauty and activewear deals.

Whether you’re in need of a new set of goose down pillows or want to unwind with an aromatherapy diffuser during your self-care Sunday rituals, scroll down below for 15 of our favorite finds from this year’s sale section (and don’t forget that these deals are only good until August 4).

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019: The 15 Best Home and Bedding Deals

If you needed yet another reason to shop, Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale is finally here (FYI for next year: Nordstrom credit card holders get first dibs to the sale). For anyone looking to elevate their home essentials with functional yet chic pieces that’ll last you at least until next July, now is a good time to nab them. If you’re more of a beauty fanatic or in need of a barre-to-brunch workout set, make sure to check out our picks for the best beauty and activewear deals.

Whether you’re in need of a new set of goose down pillows or want to unwind with an aromatherapy diffuser during your self-care Sunday rituals, scroll down below for 15 of our favorite finds from this year’s sale section (and don’t forget that these deals are only good until August 4).

5 Coming Out Stories From People in Their 30s and Beyond

Not to be all cheesy, but it’s never too late to learn new things about yourself. When talking about coming out as LGBTQ+, though, so many of the stories we see revolve around those discovering their identities in their teens and 20s. Hello, Stranger Things, The Bold Type, Riverdale, One Day at a Time, hell, even throwing it back to Glee. I could go on.

Personally, I didn’t come out as bisexual until college, and even that felt “late” compared to other queer kids I knew and what I saw in the media. But real talk: No matter what the usual coming out narrative suggests, a ton of people realize, accept, or share that they’re not straight or cis later than their 20s.

To highlight this common experience, I talked to five people of different sexualities and genders in the LGBTQ+ community about their coming out journeys. Their stories show that, despite what you may have internalized, there is no “typical” coming out experience.

“Being around lesbians made me realize I was a lesbian.”

Alison, 39

“I was born in 1980, which is hardly the dark ages, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near where we are now in terms of LGBTQ+ culture, understanding, and progress. The assumption everywhere was, ‘You are a girl, thus you will like and date boys, eventually marry a boy, have babies, and live happily ever after.’

I first started identifying as bi when I was around 15. Being an unpretty teen, I was perhaps extra desperate for boys to give me some proof I was likable. That very low self-esteem contributed to years of believing I wanted to be with boys, then men. But in my mid-20s, I started quietly wondering if I was actually gay.

The relationship I was in with a man from age 23 to 27 both propelled and hindered my sexuality journey. I truly liked him a lot and I was attracted to him, but now I believe it was more in a general, ‘God put this person together quite nicely and it makes my aesthetic brain happy’ sort of way. But it also became clear—to him long before it did to me—that I simply didn’t want a sexual hetero relationship. In breaking up with me, he said, ‘I think you should date women.’

Admitting he was right was scary, because then what did that mean about our whole time together? Was I a fucked up, selfish jerk who had strung this great guy along? Was I wrong about this most intimate aspect of my own damn self? I didn’t want to think I could lack such crucial, and for most people, simple and basic knowledge of myself.

Maybe this is a serious ‘No shit, Sherlock’ statement, but being around lesbians made me realize I was a lesbian. I’d say that realization probably came around a year after I moved to San Francisco, when I spent my first Pride in the city. I finally had some queer crew to hang out with, and so much gayness to soak in. They helped me see myself reflected in them. It was a similar thing with coming out as asexual a few years ago—exploring that community online was a major lightbulb moment for me. Once I started using the label, it felt so obviously appropriate that I wondered why I’d never thought of it before.

By a certain age, especially as a woman I think, I’ve just started to give nary a fuck what other people think of me. I’ve had the time to explore, and I’m making choices based solely on what works for me, and not what others expect of me. I get to be the Cool Older Queer who can support younger folks on their own journeys. And hopefully, no one will make the stupid ‘phase’ comments I used to get. I’m one year shy of 40. There are no phases anymore.”

“I didn’t want to embrace a label that came with so much baggage.”

Staci, 56

“A lot of things kept me from my sexuality growing up. For one, I was raised as a Catholic. I was also heavy as a kid and I got a lot of negative messaging around my worth because of it, which does not encourage you to explore other things that will make you different. I remember being younger and feeling somewhat of a sexual attraction to girls, and I was just like, la la la la la.

I finally had my first relationship with a woman 10 years ago. By that time, I had moved away from my town full of conservative Republicans to New York City. We went to lesbian events and things like that together, but I knew I never fit there. I liked them, they just didn’t feel like my people.

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to use the label bisexual. I didn’t want to embrace a label that came with so much baggage. People who label themselves as bisexual can be looked upon with distrust by the lesbian community, and seen as wishy-washy by gay men. I’m not even a big label person in general, but I understand it’s how we categorize things and understand them—or pretend to understand them.

I don’t have any regrets about coming out when I did, because I don’t know if I was strong enough to deal with all that before then. But people today are lucky. There are so many resources, from social media to centers to media portrayals. People can find each other safely and much more easily online than you could in my day.”

“I was genuinely convinced that I was just a girl who didn’t know how to do it right.”

Simen, 32

“I’m a female-to-male middle school teacher. I came out to my boss last week (she was amazing), and I’m starting my medical transition in two weeks. Oh, and because I’m trying for LGBTQ+ bingo, I’m also asexual.

I’ve never not felt this way, but I didn’t know what that meant about my sexual or gender identity. Growing up, I was genuinely convinced that I was just a girl who didn’t know how to do it right and hadn’t had her lesbian awakening yet. Everyone else seemed to know a secret to being a woman that I’d just not discovered. It was the same with being asexual. It was like everyone else knew something I didn’t.

The kids I teach are understanding and usually more open-minded than adults. I hate attention, but I remind myself that this might just be the most important thing for someone who is 14 and in the wrong body to see. Maybe if I had had a role model, I wouldn’t have waited to come out until I was 31.

An upside of coming out later is that the insecurity of my 20s is gone. By now, I know I’m going to be alright. I also don’t buckle under the pressure from doctors or therapists who think they know better than me. As a younger adult, I would have taken it on the chin, probably, and then gone into a deep depression. Now, I have the life experience to back up what I’m saying. My opinion matters in a way it didn’t when I was younger.

A downside is that I’m perpetually explaining and coming out and talking about details. But I’ve never worried about coming out or transitioning. It just took me time to realize that when people said they didn’t feel their assigned gender was right, that was what I was feeling. However long it takes you to come to terms with yourself, it’s not time wasted. Some people just have a longer road to walk.”

“Years of pretending to be someone that I wasn’t helped me build an armor.”

Jenna, 36

“I came out as a gay woman in the past couple years. I was so terrified of the idea of being gay that I half-repressed it, half-avoided it. There wasn’t a religious or parental influence, there was never anyone telling me it was a bad thing. I was just terrified of being different.

I quit my job back in 2012 in corporate graphic design to become a full-time farmer and freelancer on this little piece of land in upstate New York. It took being alone on a farm for a decade to really get to the point where I could come out. My farm has become a little paradise and it’s been hard as hell to keep it, but that fight is what gave me the strength to come out. There was too much proof that I’d been able to do hard things and be OK. And you get exhausted, pretending to be someone you’re not.

I think if it wasn’t for the internet, it would’ve taken me even longer than it did. My farm is in a town of 1,800 people without a lot of queer spaces, but I’m on Twitter constantly, and it feels magical. There’s a huge queer farm community online. I think there are a lot of us because there are so many cliches about outdoorsy women being gay, and we wind up needing isolation to escape the stereotypes and be ourselves.

It’s like going through a second adolescence. I get to be excited about things like dating and getting out there, and probably being really loud and really queer online just because it’s been so bottled up inside me for so long. It’s the first time I’ve actually felt like I’ve been able to be myself in my entire life.

I really like that my life has happened the way that it has. Years of pretending to be someone that I wasn’t helped me build an armor that I use every day to get through life. It’s nice that I can put it on and take it off when I want to.”

“I didn’t know I was allowed to be trans.”

Alice, 31

“I came out last year as a trans woman. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of it before then. I’d started following more people on Twitter who are involved in the trans community and there’d be tweets about feelings trans people have and things they go through. I saw myself reflected in those experiences, and I thought, ‘Wow, it would be awesome if I were trans.’ And then I realized, ‘If you’re wishing you could be trans, you probably are.’

It’s kind of goofy, but I took this quiz online, and it was like, ‘Congratulations! You’re probably trans.’ The question that kind of sealed it for me was, ‘If—with no complications—you could permanently turn into a member of a different gender, would you?’ I absolutely would.

I told my wife two weeks after I realized. It was a little embarrassing when I initially came out to her, because I hemmed and hawed for a while like, ‘I want to talk to you about something, it’s kind of a big thing,’ and by the time I actually spit out that I’m trans, she was like, ‘Oh, thank god. I thought you were breaking up with me.’ She’s taken it really, really well. She was like, ‘Either way, that’s fine, I just love you for who you are,’ which is definitely what you want to hear.

My son was 3 when I came out, and my wife and I had to talk a lot of things through. Like, ‘Is he going to keep calling me ‘Dad’ because that’s what he’s used to and we don’t want to confuse him? Is this going to affect him at daycare when I start presenting female?’ As a trans parent, those are things you have to really be aware of. We told our son, ‘Daddy is now Mama, and this is Mommy, and we’re your two moms,’ and that was that. My son was much more relaxed than we expected because, well, he’s 3. But he’s just like, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’

I didn’t know I was allowed to be trans. Being trans seemed like this whole thing, like you get your card from the trans association after you pass the trans test. All the trans people I follow project this air of confidence and security, like they’ve never questioned if they were trans. And that wasn’t me. But for some people, it just takes longer to figure out.”

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

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Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019: 17 Luxury Beauty Deals You Can’t Miss

If you’re already fatigued by all the summer sales that have been rolling out this month, we have just one more (we promise, for now) to keep on your radar, which is the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019 that officially launched to the public today. Starting today through August 4, the retailer is offering a bunch of beauty bundle exclusives that you’ll exclusively find at Nordstrom from brands like Ouai, Kiehl’s, Supergoop!, and more that we can’t wait to get our hands on. If you’re a Nordstrom cardmember, you may have already gotten early access to all the deals.

Whether you’re looking to try out a new product that you’ve had your eyes on for months, or buying yourself something nice because you deserve it (and you do!), there are tons of options available to keep your beauty shelves well-stocked—and your wallet, too. Read on for 17 of the best items to score at Nordstrom Anniversary Sale 2019—we won’t judge if you decide not to share any of them.

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