Browsing Tag


beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

Just For Me (No Lye)

December 2, 2020

By Bella Reina

I look into a mirror and the first thing I see is hair. It is a big mess of curls that at first looks black, but up close is many different colors, like myself. My hair is large and bushy, but when touched feels like the inside of a teddy bear, a bit coarse and a bit soft, also like myself.

Hair–what a thing to hold significance. It can be cut, it grows anew, it is an extension of my body that is noticeable but holds no pain. That is unlike me. I’ve had a long journey with this hair and this body.

In my baby pictures I am chubby, with my grandmother’s American features peeking out from underneath a baby afro. Round. My nickname was bolo bolo, a Cameroonian word that means balloon, to fondly reiterate my roundness to me. Growing up, my mother never had to care for her own curls because she was forced to keep them short in boarding school. When I was around two or three she realised she cannot make beauty out of this growing, thick, baby afro mix, and relaxed it. Quickly I went from round to short and skinny, with lanky arms and knobby knees. My hair did also. Because of the chemical damage it never grew past my chin, and was always in braids with colorful beads hanging down my face that the little white girls in school would comment on.

I hated it. I did not want my skinny ribs or my braids, and so I went to the hair salon every week for years to have my hair straightened out, to make beauty of it, to make my mess fall in line. And always, my hair would be straightened and afterwards, as I looked in the mirror and people would tell me how beautiful I was, I still could not believe that the girl with the short straight hair hanging by her face was real. By the end of week my hair would always become big and frizzy again, it would no longer be beautiful, it would take up space, it would not fall in line. I could not fall in line, I could not straighten myself out.

Sometime in middle school, amongst my sadness that my hair would always curl no matter how much heat I pressed to it, my nanny (who did my hair) decided she would only keep doing it if I went natural. I stopped relaxing it, I went back to beads and braids, and tried to hold my head high when other girls commented on it, although it shamed me that bolo bolo was so easy to attack through my little girl braids and beads.

Finally, in the last two weeks of eighth grade, I cut off the ends and put my hair in twists. Before eighth grade prom I took the twists down, and curls, pretty, defined, corkscrew curls framed my face for the first time. I never knew my hair could be something I wanted others to see.

I went into high school and my mess of hair was the thing I became most identifiable for. I am still short, but womanhood has changed skinny and straight into softly curved, like my hair. My hair is long now and grows up to the sky, taking up space wherever I go, and I no longer try to make myself small.
The bushy mess, for the first time, brings community, as women on the train in the Bronx nod at me and raise a fist in recognition. A new generation of little black girls look at my afro as I walk by in Central Park and do not recoil at the sight, at the statement I make. They find beauty, and more importantly, themselves. With this community still comes divide, and girls still comment, adolescent tongues sharper than ever at my refusal to conform. Somedays, when I am tired of carrying the weight of myself, I am amazed at my hair’s ability to defy the gravity of these comments, to remain above when I feel low. That’s unlike me, but still like me in that I too have the ability to grow to be high. I find life in the insignificance of my big, secretly multicolored, curling, messy, paradoxical hair. I look into the mirror and I’ve become me.



Bella Raina is a rising senior at Notre Dame School of Manhattan. She has been writing since she was 8 years old and has written a multitude of different pieces in varying forms, ranging from creative non-fiction to poetry. Bella has performed her poetry in school, during the Notre Dame Christmas Concert. She hope to write in college as well. (We hope she she keeps writing, too!)









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Guest Posts, healing, Manifestation Retreats, Retreats/Workshops

The Aleksander Scholarship Fund.

October 17, 2016

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I just got back from leading a retreat in Tuscany and it was as magical as you would imagine. But what made it even more so was that Julia Anderson was in attendance. Thank to you guys!

Let me back up. Julia is a reader of my site and follows me on social media. She had taken my yoga classes in Santa Monica years ago and then fell in love and moved to Norway but continued to follow me online. She posted on my Facebook in August that she needed to reach out to me desperately. Luckily my mom (God bless her) saw the message and told me, so I reached out to Julia. I didn’t know who she was. But I reached out despite having my screaming brand new baby in my arms.

And am I ever glad I did. You know how you have those Sliding Doors moments in life? Remember that movie? Where you realize things could’ve gone another way if you chose this door instead of that door. I mean, it’s always like that in life, but sometimes we are so keenly aware of a parallel life if we had chosen differently.

She was writing to me from the hospital in Norway. I started to read her email and called my husband over to take my baby Charlie.

She was writing from the hospital because she was 40 weeks pregnant and 6 days and was to be induced the next day. But her baby’s heart had stopped beating. I continued reading through my tears. Of course I was in shock that I was receiving this email since I didn’t remember her from my class. She told me that we were the same age, that in fact, we shared a birthday. She said she had met a Norwegian man and fallen in love. She said she was desperate and needed to know if I had any resources for her. She had been following my Facebook page for years and knew what kind of safe environment I had created and she had remembered seeing posts about one of my best friends, Emily Rapp Black, whose baby Ronan died from Tay Sachs a few years back. She remembered that and emailed me, before anyone else, from the hospital.

Standing there with my arms still warm from holding my son, I felt guilty and angry and devastated and I yearned for my boy back and I wanted to fly to Norway and I wanted to build a time machine to go back in time and induce her baby earlier and I panicked and I felt an ache like I had never felt before, an ache so profound that I felt like I was dying. I kept reading her words and wondered why some of us have to experience such pain in this life? I felt like I was slipping out of my body.

Hi Jen!
Thanks for getting back to me so fast. I have been following your posts for a few years. I know about your loss in the past, about Emily’s tradegy, and you write about loss sometimes. I lost my second baby at 40+6 today, less than 24 hours before induction tomorrow. His heart just stopped beating this afternoon. I feel so lost. if you have any advice for me on where to turn, what to read or anything I can do to find peace please let me know..

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courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

What You Will Learn From This: Living With Head and Brain Injury.

October 6, 2014

By Jane Ratcliffe.


1. Some people will refuse to believe that there’s anything wrong with you. They will accuse you of pretending to be sick for attention, even though you had plenty of attention in your life before the table top that was mounted on the wall fell on your head (or you got in that car accident, et cetera). They will counsel people not to help you, they will explain to them that helping you with your myriad terrifying symptoms is akin to enabling a drug addict; help will only encourage you to fake your illness longer. What you will learn from this: You’ll learn how to swaddle the voice that spends hours (and hours) each day defending itself to your accuser in soft, warm blankets and hold it to your breast rocking it gently like the frightened baby that it is. You will learn how to hear your soul and spirit shouting to you through the (temporarily?) out-of-whack channels of your brain, calling out over the cries of the baby, that your naysayer’s truth is not your truth, no matter how forceful their voice is. You will slowly excavate Your Truth from the dark, neglected chambers of your heart. You will discover how to let others say what they will about you while you’re still sick and heal anyway.

2. Most people will believe you, but they won’t really “get it”—so they’ll drift away until you’re better. Or they’ll get it, but you’re like a drowning person grasping at anything stable—and just because they don’t have head or brain injury doesn’t mean they’re consistently on steady ground. So they may drift in and out depending upon circumstances. This will hurt, but you’ll reflect upon your own life and all the times somebody else’s suffering was too much for you to carry. Or the times you judged someone’s suffering as symptomatic of character flaws—some of which were annoying enough that you secretly considered that perhaps they deserved their struggles, that if they were better people they wouldn’t have these struggles and, really, it wasn’t up to you to fix that mess. And that just as you have been put aside now, so too did you put aside others. What you will learn from this: Compassion. We are all suffering. You haven’t been singled out. Listen. Watch. Study others. No one is without fear. You will learn to hold their fear in your cleaned-up, cleared-out heart, and you’ll discover that the compassion you generate for their fear has the power to dissipate your fear as well. And likewise, the compassion you learn to generate for yourself (because you need it more than you initially realize) makes it easier to be present to another’s suffering which, well, makes it easier to be present to your own. And so on.

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Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

You Did Not Cause Your Rape.

February 3, 2014

Note from Jen: Trigger Warning within this post. This post is not written by me. There is graphic mention of rape and sexual assault! I am posting this anonymously, per the author’s request. I think this is such an important step in her healing, but also, this needs to be talked about. This is not your fault, whoever you are. In light of so many recent discussions about the rape culture we live in, I wanted to share this powerful post with you all. Please do not stay silent. Please find what you need, even if you start here with this post and this community on this anonymous blog post. You are NOT alone or at fault. I have been in contact with the author for many months now and this is the first time she has talked about this, let alone written about it. It is beautiful and brave and I bow to her. May you all find the healing you need and the community you need. I hope this is a start. Please post comments to the author as she will read them all. 


I never knew going for a run was something I could regret so much.  That I could regret for so long.  That one choice, one night would change the way I look at myself, the way I interact with people – my basic identity and self-esteem so much.  But it did.

I wasn’t even a runner; I was a soccer player.  I played soccer almost every night of the week, year round.  Once every couple months, each team had to take a hit and play in the latest time-slot – kick off didn’t begin until eleven o’clock.  It was a brutal time-slot for most; the moms who would have to get up with their kids in the morning, the twenty-somethings who had to go to work – but I’m a nighthawk and I was a student, so it didn’t matter to me.

My week had been particularly stressful and I was gearing up for a stressful weekend.  It was a long-weekend and all my local family was heading out of town to be with the rest of my family.  I wasn’t able to attend because I was shooting a wedding that weekend and hosting about six people at my place who were coming to the wedding from out of town.  I’m not a great host, I didn’t know the people very well and the wedding was going to be widely attended by guests from a part of my life I was trying to disengage from.

So when I got home from soccer late that night, I was totally wired.  I decided I needed to run off some more anxiety and frustration, so I took off in my soccer gear straight from my driveway and headed to the trails near my house.

The neighborhood I live in is safe.  It is one of the safest in my state.  There’s not a lot of crime here – and the crime that is here is usually frauds and domestics.  Needless to say, crime was never really at the forefront of my mind when I was trying to make choices or discern whether I should do something.  That was probably another mistake.

There’s a half-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk on a main road when you leave my driveway.  Then you have to go through a parking lot and through a clearing in the woods and down a dirt path to get to the hiking trails of the local nature park.  Once you hit the parking lot, that half mile separates you from the nearest houses.  Once you’re through the clearing, the trees shield your visibility from any passing traffic.  Really, it’s the perfect place to hide.  Or to commit a crime.  But again, that wasn’t on my mind at the time.

Now, I could launch into an explanation about why those things should have been on my mind.  I could talk about my background, my education, the fact that my best friend is a decorated police officer – all the things that should have made me stop and think.  But I wasn’t thinking about those things; I was thinking about other things.  I was thinking about how great the soccer game I’d just played was.  I was thinking about how much cleaning I had to do to prepare for the wedding guests.  I was thinking about how screwed I’d be if it rained that weekend and how that would screw up my photo ideas.  I was thinking about how I wouldn’t get to see my two baby nieces that weekend because I was stuck doing this wedding on a long weekend.

So while I was totally wrapped up in all that, I forgot to be smart.  I forgot to think about myself.  And I made a stupid choice.  Like I said, it’s a choice I am always going to remember.  And it’s a choice that some part of me, even if it is the smallest part possible, is going to blame myself for for the rest of my life.

Because I was raped that night.  Twice.  All those specifics about what would make the area an excellent spot for a crime that I wasn’t thinking about – someone else was thinking about.  And they were waiting.

Which is crazy.  Because… I mean, it was the middle of the night.  And who goes on trails in a park in the middle of the night?  Trails with no houses around?  So who would wait there in the off chance that someone does?  But they did.  And I did.  So it happened.

I think I would have been able to get away if there had been one guy.  My high school made all the girls take self-defense every year in P.E.  I was the most fit I’ve ever been.  I’m strong.  I’m resourceful.  So, if there was just one, I think I would have gotten away.  But there were two.  And I couldn’t get away no matter how hard I tried.

The thing that surprised me the most – and still surprises me today – was how not violent it was.  It was sexually violent, but it wasn’t violent; they didn’t beat the shit out of me, they didn’t try to kill me.  They just restrained me and took turns with me; I had a few bruises from their grasp and a few scrapes from when they pushed me up against a tree or forced me to my knees; one of them hit me once, not even very hard, when I bit him from said position.  But my face showed no signs of violence.  And no one I knew would even bat an eye at scrapes because of my intense soccer schedule.  It’s like they knew exactly what to do to keep me quiet.

If my face had had a bruise on it and someone would have asked me what happened, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold it in.  Not in the few days following the attack, not while I was still grieving and processing.  If my best friend, the police officer – or my mom – or my sisters, had asked what was wrong, or what happened, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it to myself.  But my family was already gone for the weekend, my best friend didn’t see my until after the wedding and… even looking at photos from the wedding now, I don’t know that I can even tell something terrible had just happened.  So no one asked.

They didn’t ask and I didn’t feel like I could tell them.  Because my best friend is a cop, I know exactly what “rape victims” go through when they report.  You go to a hospital where you strip all your clothes and let a stranger examine every inch of your body for evidence, do a full vaginal exam and give you a bunch of pills to fight unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.  Then you sit in a room with a cop, either male or female (who you already know because your best friend is a cop so you know all her co-workers), and answer questions, explain your story, say the same thing over and over again, so they can see whether you’re lying or not.

And then you try to explain to your cop best friend, who was told what happened by the cop who interviewed you, how you let yourself get raped.  And then no one… ever… looks at you the same way again.

Then they look for the guys but because they’re strangers and they wore condoms, odds aren’t good to begin with.  If they do find them, if they get charged, if they make it to court – everybody knows what happened.  Everybody knows what they did to you.  It becomes a completely public record and the proceedings are open to everyone.

And I cannot speak for other people who have gone through this, but when I was laying on the cold ground in the middle of the night after something like this happened to me, I was only thinking about what other people would think.  So knowing what I knew and knowing who I knew and not really yet understanding the gravity of what happened to me or how my choices following the attack could weigh just as heavy on me as the choices leading up to it, I got up off the ground, composed myself, walked home and sat in the shower in the hottest water I could bare for as long as I could bare and tried to get the feelings I was feeling to wash down the drain.  That may sound like such a clichéd “movie of the week” thing to do, but that was my experience; telling a rape victim not to shower until they’ve sought medical attention is ridiculous.  I understand why they tell you that, but come on; I’ve never felt so dirty and gross and disgusting.

I hadn’t had sex before that.  I was eighteen and “waiting” or whatever (I’d never even had a PAP).  Obviously, I knew what was happening to me; I didn’t grow up under a rock.  But there were so many things I didn’t understand – like whether all sex hurt like that, or whether they were making it hurt more because of what they were doing to me.  Personally, I think they were making it that way because it hurt significantly more after I bit the one guy and pissed him off than it did before.

Six months later, after I started having meaningless, random sex with a meaningless, random guy a bunch of times to just try to get these guys off me and out of my head, I felt guilted into getting my body checked out because “I could knowingly be giving someone something I caught from the rapists” and blah blah blah.  So I did.  And I’m healthy (and I went back for the appropriate follow-up blood tests, etc).  I also stopped having sex because it was hurting me in my current state way more than it was helping me.

Around the same time, I told a friend what was going on.  Coincidentally, it was the friend whose wedding I was at that weekend (a detail I left out when I told her).  She has since completely severed all contact with me.  Perhaps me telling her has nothing to do with that, but it seems like curious timing – so that experience hasn’t led me to open up to more people around me.  In fact, I am afraid that whoever if reading this right now, if they know me, will do the same thing.  I’m terrified of people not loving me.

Long term, I question every day whether I made the right choice after the attack.  I don’t really think I did, but I think it is much too late to change those choices now.  No one around me knows.  I went to see a counsellor once; I don’t plan on going back.  And everyday when I look at the people around me who I love and who I think love me, I always wonder if they know.  If they can tell by looking at me.  If there is some silent signal that this happened to me.  And I wonder if they’ll continue loving me if it was ever confirmed.  If they ever read this.

I’m sure I give off red flags; I’m sure there are things I do that have just become part of my personality that I do because of what happened; I hate being touched by most people and even my closest friends recognize that I want to initiate and be in control of any physical contact.  I am neurotic about locking doors and windows when I am in my house or any other.  I insist on the buddy system when walking anywhere after dark.  I had never really cared about these kinds of things before; I guess I thought I was invincible, and now I know I’m not.

And there’s always this internal battle going on.  Part of me just wants to be another statistic, because nobody notices a number; but if I am just another number, my experiences can never ensure that someone else doesn’t have to have the same experiences.


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Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next Manifestation workshop is London July 6. Book here.

Jen works with many young women like the brave author of this piece on her retreats and workshops.