fitness · health · injury

Can 180 Seconds At −245°F Improve Your Health?

Cryotherapy is a new-to-me wellness trend. Easy and scary, cryotherapy is a process by which a near-naked human spends two to four minutes standing in a cold chamber cooled to below −100°C. The protocol claims to reduce tissue inflammation, which aids in sports recovery, alleviates diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, increases energy, enhances sleep and focus, assists weight loss, brightens skin and reduces anxiety and depression (17 ProvenBenefits of Whole Body Cryotherpay + Side Effects). Better to ask, what doesn’t cryotherapy promise?

I decided to give it a try.

Despite the skeptics at The Guardian (Whole-bodycryotherapy: what are the cold hard facts?) and US News (ShouldYou Try Whole Body Cryotherapy?), there are a lot of celebrity fans (pro athletes and movie stars, including the reigning, though retired, James Bond, aka Daniel Craig) who swear by it. The skeptics make the point that cryotherapyis not a magic bullet (despite James Bond’s endorsement). The protocol does not eliminate the need to take care of oneself. Well, why would it? Seems obvious that cryotherapy is a therapeutic technique (like every other) meant to support and boost a healthy lifestyle, not replace it, or be a hack that enables a casual or reckless approach to wellness.

A quick online search gave me CryoHealthNY only a few blocks from my apartment.  The cryo-office was ultra clean and new looking, but the space also has an unpeopled feel, too. The General Manager, Sujellee, alone at the reception desk the first time I went, was glow-y and enthusiastic.

As instructed I took off all my clothes except bra and underwear and put on the robe, white gym socks and pale blue nurse clogs provided. At the gateway to freezedom, Sujellee gave me earmuffs, a pair of liner gloves, ski gloves and a surgical mask. At the place I went the set up is this: There are two adjoining cold chambersabout the size of a large telephone booth. The first is the pre-freeze chamber, where you take off your robe. From chamber 1, you step through an inside doorinto chamber 2, the cryo-chamber, which, in this case, is cooled to a cryogenic temperature of −245°F. The attendant presses play on the music you’ve selected from Spotify (David Bowie’s Space Oddity) and your three minutes begins.

Temperature gauge of cryotherapy chambers, showing minus 125, because the session is over and the chamber has “warmed up” from minus 245

From the moment I stepped in, I was petrified. Panic nearly drove me from the Dr. Who telephone booth of deep space frigidity. Filled with cold fog, which makes it hard to see anything more than the shadowed specter of the attendant’s thumbs-up outside the window, I was claustrophobic, my breathing hard and choppy. I can’t even be sure how many times Sujellee’s disembodied voice piped into the chamber to let me know how many minutes and seconds were left. Three interminable minutes spent petrified. I had my hand on the door handle to the pre-freeze chamber when she gave me the five-second warning, and I busted out of there like a horse at the Derby when she announced “you’re done.”

The whole rest of the day I was exhilarated. Was it because I felt like I had dodged death? I may well have been experiencing some brush-with-mortality energy. All the way through to the next morning, underneath the warmth of my skin, I felt like I was wrapped in a hair’s-breadth-thick sheath of cold, a pleasant and tingly sensation.  

I also slept better than I usually do and felt springy and resilient on my run the next morning. That’s subjective, I know, but in the end, isn’t that what matters with any therapeutic protocol? Whether we perform better and feel better is the standard and goal, isn’t it?  

I am a willing guinea pig for so many new (and ancient) protocols. I’m curious about my mind and body. I have the good luck of being able to try things (at the place I went to an intro session is $55, a single session is $75 and a 5-pack is $300—I won’t detail the Black Friday specials). As to how often to cryo, I’ve seen recommendations of as many as 5 sessions a week, to once a week, or as needed when you’re feeling physically sore or depleted. At the price, I can’t imagine I’ll ever go 5 times in a week!

That said, I did go for my second session the very next day and took my partner with me. It was a lot less scary with the two of us in the Dr. Who chamber together. Neither of us experienced the same exhilaration I’d felt the day before. But then, he didn’t feel like mortality was an issue, since I’d made it out alive once already. In our US Thanksgiving double spin class the next day, I had strong energy. My partner wasn’t sure what benefits he felt, if any.  

A few days later my partner discovered he had e-coli. His bout was unpleasant and scary, but didn’t stop him from doing any of our usual activities, like going for runs and out for dinner. When he’d recovered a few more days later, we wondered if the cryotherapy had helped reduce the severity of his symptoms. We don’t know.

My third time (my partner’s second), I was still scared, but less so. My partner had a calf pull that felt particularly frozen after the cryo session and he said there was a healing heat sensation afterward. He said he felt more alert that evening and into the next day. I slept better than usual and though not all my sporting aches and pains disappeared, I feel more physically chipper. The next day at aerial yoga I felt more limber.  

My partner and I are going to go back a couple more times to see how we feel. Then we’ll decide if the therapy is worth integrating into a regular regimen or using to heal injuries.

What are your cryo-thoughts? Skeptic, curious or convert?

body image · bras · clothing · Fear · femalestrength · feminism · gender policing · men · objectification · running

Again?! Women at Rowan University are Serena’d

This article in Odyssey about how women runners at Rowan University were forbidden from running in only their sports bras seems like it should be a spoof in The Onion. It’s real. The university’s response was half-hearted, though ultimately the no-sports-bras-in-practice policy will be rescinded.

How much longer will we be having these conversations? After the brouhaha this summer over the ridiculous outfit policing by the tennis powers (which we wrote about on this blog), causing grief to Serena Williams (Let Women Wear What They Want and Serena Williams and the multiple ways of policing black women’s bodies) and Alize Cornet (Is Tennis Trying To Win a Chauvinism/Misogyny Award?), how is it possible the university administrators at Rowan forgot? Or did the news never even reach their ears?

Every time this happens, I am grieved by the lack of respect for women and their bodies. Men are responsible for their own lack of decorum and inability to contain their impulses, not us!

A sports bra is not provocative. It is comfortable. It is practical. It makes us feel strong and capable and empowered.

Oh … maybe that is provocative … because it provokes fear?!

Do you workout in sports bra only?

advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

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amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.

Dancing · fashion · femalestrength · fitness classes

Nia With My Mum

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Self-portrait stick figure drawing of Mina doing Nia

A few weeks ago I went to my mother’s Nia class with her. I like trying new things. Especially ones that ask me to move my body. I was inspired, too, by Tracy’s report on her new SUP on this blog. I didn’t have any good idea about what Nia was. I had gleaned that it was something dance-y, with maybe a dash of martial arts. Yes. And more. I’ll get to that. I also assumed that it wouldn’t be too challenging physically. After all, my mother, who is vigorous but in her 70s, does the class. I imagined it peopled with other women her age. I imagined it would be a dawdle. Nope.

I go to a lot of new-to-me movement studios. One of the first things I do when I’m traveling somewhere is research my workout options (besides running) for while I’m there. Going to a studio in a new city is a fun way to check out the vibe of the whole town. On occasion I’ll look back through the studios that pop up on my Mindbody app, reminding me of some of the places I’ve been—yoga in Asheville, Toronto and Boulder; spinning in Phoenix, Calgary and Portland; aerial in Reno and Paris, plus rowing and SLT in New York. Susan Meehan’s Nia class in London, Ontario is one of the friendliest, warmest new places I’ve ever been.

I was still nervous. I don’t go to dance classes terribly often. I’m a bit awkward, and I’ve never been good at following choreography. I get self-conscious about my lack of grace. In this case, I added the extra fear of being a disappointing daughter, all elbows and knees. To be clear, that’s a self-generated thought, not anything my mother says!

First thing I noticed—the age range in the class seemed to go from mid-thirties through well into the seventies. I revised my expectations around anticipated exertion. The class started quickly, which I like because it keeps me focused. I was a couple of beats behind for most of the class, but the sequences repeated enough times that I started to catch the groove. Nia is indeed dance-related, plus martial arts, plus women’s empowerment, plus root-chakra-flirt, plus wild and free, plus a red face and a fast heartbeat. And a whole lot of sassy booty.

That’s another thing I’m not good at: inhabiting the traditional sexy-hips-and-shoulder moves. They feel false in my body, like something put on to please other people, not myself. I feel sexy when I’m just home from a strong run, or striding across town in my favourite green velvet boots. Have I mentioned the Nia outfits? Love them. Pants that widen outrageously below the knee, possible ribbon adornment, sleeveless off the shoulder on one side and sheer on the other. That’s just what I witnessed at the class I went to. This is a workout with fashion flair potential.

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Photo of woman wearing black flared Nia pants with ribbon at the knee

The class also included a portion of free dance, or really free-to-move-however. I relish any opportunity to let my body climb inside some music and see what happens; so energizing. By the end of the class, despite my various bits of fear, I was sweaty and limber, and my heart felt big and full.

Will I go to Nia now that I’m home in New York? I’m not sure. I’d have to give up one of the other workouts I love so much. But just knowing that I have it as an option in my back pocket is great; for a day I might need a bit of vavavoom. And I have a workout for with my mum.

How about you—any Nia practitioners? Or other saucy workouts you suggest?

hiking · menopause · running · training

Now That Getting Stoned Is A Legal Training Option

Before I dive into this post, I want to put a caution up front. This represents my personal views. I’m coming from a cannabis-positive direction and will not look at the risks and downsides. Others will represent that perspective, to be sure!

Yesterday the recreational use of cannabis became legal in Canada. As if I needed another reason to miss my homeland! By way of celebration, I considered getting stoned this morning before my run, but I’m only a baby stoner and consuming cannabis straight out of bed (and by myself, since my partner is away) felt more than a wee bit outside my comfort zone.

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lush green cannabis plant

This article in Canadian Running about the potential benefits of cannabis on training might change my mind about running stoned.

By way of background, I consumed virtually no pot until I was into my thirties. Then a few years ago I became intolerant of alcohol, likely related to the onset of menopause. I was never a big drinker, but I enjoyed the social aspect. I miss the festive feel of a cocktail or the last glass of wine around a dinner table littered with the debris of a long meal. I’m glad that I have access to edibles (products like candies or brownies containing cannabis) and enjoy them as an alternative that never gives me a hangover.

Cannabis products didn’t really figure in my athletic life. Sure, there was the marathon I finished where a friend with a joint was at the finish line, touting the anti-inflammatory benefits. I can’t remember if I recovered more quickly from that marathon. Until recently, I had not used cannabis specifically as a recovery tool. Yes, I am likely to consume in the evening after a long effort, but that’s a reward, a celebration. The pain relief is a bonus and I haven’t tracked the efficacy.

Then, about a year ago, I had a period where my hip flexor started bothering me out of the blue. Putting on a pair of pants was uncomfortable. Running got hard and slow, because lifting my leg invoked the pain. My partner counseled me to use the CBD oil he’d bought a while back. I was skeptical. Then I was a grateful convert. Since then we’ve bought a couple of other CBD products for muscle pain, and my acupuncturist uses it. Wow. Nothing topical has worked so well for me. This summer when I was training for a 30k mountain run, I would mix CBD cream with foot salve, to my feet’s delight. I used it on my sketchy hamstring and my cranky shoulder blade muscle. All were happy.

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White plastic bottle labeled Muscle Melt Active Cannabis Heating Rub, beloved by Mina’s muscles

While training for that long run, I did a couple of runs with some younger folk. They were mountain goats with incredible endurance, agility, quite a bit of speed and a lot of good cheer. I also realized that two of the three of them were stoned. That gave me pause. I had never thought about the potential training benefits of cannabis. If anything, I assumed that being stoned would diminish my ability to work out.

The day after one of our four-hour training runs, my partner and I decided to do a 10-mile, steep hike, as a way of being on our feet, without using the exact same muscles. I suggested we follow our mountain-goat friends’ example. We had a cannabis candy as we started up the trail.

I was curious to see how it would feel. Would we be slower? Would we lose the thread of the hike? Would we just sit down and admire the forest? Nope. We charged up the mountain and got to the top as fast, if not faster, than we usually do. We were so jazzed by our ascent that we run-hiked back down. We were so focused on whether we were having a “better” time on our hike, that we didn’t even notice our performance. We concluded that the forest had seemed just as spectacular as always, the view from the peak as breathtaking, and the high meadows of wildflowers as eye popping. With or without cannabis enhancement, we got the same joy out of the experience. It was only afterward that the performance side sank in. Hiking stoned was hiking strong.

That one anecdotal event was not enough to change my training habits. I didn’t overcome years of a strict church and state separation of the workout part of my day and the relaxation part; that prude in me who clucks her tongue at having too much fun when I should be working. I thought of that hike as a one-off. But when I add in the new information from the Canadian Running article about the potential benefits of cannabis during training runs, well, I can feel my no-no stance crumbling.

I’m always curious about new training modes, so why not running stoned? Have you tried it? What are your experiences with cannabis and training?

aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

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Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?

competition · Fear · feminism

Running into my mojo

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Mic on a floor stand in front of soft focus room full of people

I’m giving a talk in Nashville this weekend at HT Live! The topic is identity alignment and authenticity, so that has been much on my mind these last days. I wrote about it here. A topic like authenticity forces the speaker to confront her own inconsistencies (okay, even hypocrisies). As the talk gets closer, I think, “I’m a fraud.” I think, “I’m no expert.” My confidence starts to tank.

 

This is the moment when I remind myself of the manner in which men claim expertise in so many domains without a second thought. I recall interviewing Jane Blalock for my book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. She’s a former golf pro who, among other things, offers golf clinics for women. She told me how women come to her to brush up on their golf game, because they are worried about a business-networking event. Only to discover, the men are not nearly as good golfers as they claim to be.

Lack of confidence plagues women from puberty. How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence, in a recent issue of The Atlantic, covers a range of studies that expose the inflection point, somewhere between 12 and 14-years old, when girls’ sense of self worth plummets. Interestingly, one of the things girls say is this, “I feel that if I acted like my true self that no one would like me.” 

Girls think that if they are authentic, then no one will like them. No wonder I’m having confidence issues around this speaking topic! It’s a double whammy. Because, as The Atlantic points out, once girls’ confidence gets killed off, it often never rebounds back to the same level as boys’ and men’s. I remember my father once saying to me that he didn’t understand why I wasn’t more confident. He told me that his memories of me as a child were of a happy, outgoing, even brash little girl. He was right. And he had missed the moment that went south.

Lest I get the idea that at least things have gotten better for girls than in my day, there’s social media to thwart progress. As the article points out: There’s no distance anymore—only constant, instant, and public condemnation or praise.

What to do? I go to my Tuesday morning aerial Pilates class and I don’t give up on the push-ups-in-plank series as I usually do. I go for a run Thursday morning and push a little harder than usual. I literally recoup my confidence through the strength of my own body. I run into my mojo. As if it’s somewhere out there, ahead of me and I just need to catch up to my own confidence, my own better self.

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Lioness head

The Atlantic article says this: Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience.

I never played competitive team sports and I came late to competing in running races and triathlons and cross-country ski marathons and such. But even my belated participation has been a boon in my life.

I know. Sports aren’t enough. And sometimes our sports aren’t available, because we’re injured. I’ve been there, many times! But when we have sports in our toolbox of confidence-builders, what a loyal friend. Getting red in the face resets my perspective. Sweat exhales bad energy. And those endorphins are an excellent, non-prescription, chemical pick-me-up.

Do I feel 100% go-get-em about my talk now? Not quite. But I’m focusing on the final preparation now, instead of my right to be at the front of the room. I belong there.

Uh oh, I’m backsliding. Even writing those last couple of sentences and stating my self-worth feels nerve wracking.

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Neon sign with red lettering: I AM BOLD

 

Do you have these crises of confidence? How do we pitch in to make things better for girls?