As a talented dancer, Kat Hawkins didn’t always believe that anybody could dance. It was a difficult journey for Kat to realise that all bodies are worthy of expressing themselves through dance. Here’s how Kat discovered that however you dance, you deserve to have your own rhythm this new year…

The words are in my head forever.

“I’m really sorry but we’re going to have to amputate your leg, it’s not healing.” What followed is a blur, it seems that the human body has the capability of protecting you from the worst moments, fading the edges so it’s not as sharp as it should be. I remember screaming out loud. Again it’s not a scream in my memory, but a tempered groan of pure pain. My first thought was dance. My one love, gone forever…

Without legs, I couldn’t dance. No way. It wasn’t possible.

I was 18, and in my third month of sleeping in a hospital bed, hospital food, medication, the painful 8 pm ending of family visits. The news that I would need my leg amputating below the knee was almost too much to deal with. Almost.

A few months down the road, and with both legs amputated, I was in a physio session talking about how dance was helping me learn to walk on prosthetics quickly. “It’s your core strength balance,” my physio said, as I struggled to hold on to the bars that were stopping me from falling straight on to the floor while pulling my incredibly baggy jeans up around my waist. The months of life-support, medication, meningitis, feeding tubes and surgeries had taken their toll on my weight. “We have had amputees dance before, it won’t be anything like you’re used to, but we might be able to get you back to a club on the dancefloor.”

No, I remember thinking. This is not what dance is to me. It’s really moving, it’s spinning, it’s circles and swirls. It’s jumping so high you might as well be flying.

No, dance is not for me anymore, that has been taken from me and it’s gone. And so, I pushed dance away. I shut down thoughts about it. I moved choreography ideas into a sealed box and silently cried after every dream in which my legs were back and I was dancing.

Until one day, I found Candoco whilst looking for disabled dance classes online and a glimmer of hope re-opened. They were a professional dance company made up of disabled and non-disabled dancers. Their view of the human body in all its differences and its place in dance changed my entire outlook on who is an isn’t a dancer. Suddenly every misconception I’d ever had was challenged.

Anybody can dance, all bodies are valid, all bodies are interesting and worthy and able of expression. How had I missed this?

That was it. I knew I needed to move again, to dance. At first, literally with nobody watching and then, as I got used to my changed body, with others and in front of an audience. Growing up, all I knew about dance really was of one body type with mild variations. Two arms, two legs, mostly slim, mostly average height, standing. But, what is dance really? It’s so much more than set routines or steps. It’s humans revealing, it’s humans interacting, learning, showing and enjoying.

That’s the most important thing for me. I enjoy dance again, and I hope you can too.

Keep up with Kat:

Instagram: @amputee_kat

student mental health

University is so often talked about as being the best years of your life, a place where you will make lifelong friends, get involved with many societies and gain independence. However, this is a large leap in a person’s life and it can bring with it a number of difficulties.

Students are warned about the stress that studying at university will bring with it, as well as potential mental health issues that may arise. The number of students dropping out of university courses due to mental illness has been increasing significantly in recent years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health difficulties are more prevalent in university students than the general population, with 75% of all mental health difficulties developing in individuals by their mid-20s (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010).

So, whether you’re new to uni life, have friends or family going to university or for anyone in education, here are the ten things that you need to know about mental health at university…

1. Academic pressure can fuel mental health difficulties

Whilst the majority of students will have joined university straight after completing their A-levels or similar qualifications and work pressure is nothing new to them, the sheer intensity can come as quite a shock. University is likely to be the first time that a student is asked to learn independently, to manage their own time and to think outside of the box, creating their own ideas far beyond a textbook. It is important that whilst at university you make time for self care and to know that your results do not define you or your worth.

2. Financial strain will become a larger strain than you first imagine

Another huge pressure is the financial implications of going to university. Financial stress can drive mental health difficulties; expensive tuition fees alongside uncertain job prospects mean students are becoming ever more stressed about whether the costs incurred will pay off. If you would like some more advice on how to manage your finances you will be able to find some information here.

3. A routine is essential to your mental health at university

At university, the ball is well and truly in your corner. You choose to attend lectures, if you skip them there will unlikely be any follow up unless you are regularly skipping. You choose what time to wake up and go to bed. For many, self-management can be incredibly difficult, there are different social events on different evenings, there are deadlines at different stages, it won’t always be easy, or possible to stick to a regular routine and losing this structure can have a really big impact on productivity and well-being. Start the year in the way you wish to continue, use bullet journals, diaries, calendars – whatever it is you find helpful to your own organisation

4. Social media is a blessing and a curse

I am sure this is nothing new to many students, however, at university social media seems to become ‘more central’ to the experience: friend requests left, right and centre, tagged photos, house party invites. Social media in general is known to have both positive and detrimental impacts to a person’s mental health, with a whole network allowing us to judge ourselves and our lives against others. The constant and sometimes relentless stream of status updates and photos of people appearing to have a good time can turn social media into an area of competition instead of relaxation. It is important to reclaim social media and make it a more honest place – you can share your best night in here.

5. Living in halls is not as scary as it first seems

The thought of living with complete strangers can be scary at first, but there are many thousands of others taking this step as they start university. It is important to try and make your room as homely as possible, put up your favourite photos, get nice bedding and make it your own. Why not buy some tea and biscuits for that first social meeting with your new housemates? It is also ok if you do not get on with your housemates, there are plenty of other ways to meet people at university. It will be useful to prepare yourself before you move in order to make the transition smooth.
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6. Living at home can be beneficial and isolating at the same time

When you picture a university student, you may imagine students living away from home but what about the 27% of students living at home (Guardian, 2017). You will have to try harder to fit in with close groups that live together. This is especially noticeable in first year following ‘freshers’, which is definitely not made for students living at home and you may notice most of your friends are from your course rather than across university courses – be sure not to shoot off straight after lectures, stay around and socialize if you are able to as it can feel very isolating at times.

7. Making friends

Being at university is not purely about studying, it is a whole experience, and socializing is a very important aspect. Students are put in the same position, thrown into a new environment, often not knowing anyone else – you become a very small fish, in a very large pond. It can be very overwhelming and very anxiety provoking, but a great chance to meet like-minded people. The first person you meet might not be your best friend for life and that is okay. If you are lucky, you might develop strong friendships that will last a lifetime. People may find this time in their lives difficult; know what to look out for in Student Minds Look After Your Mate guide.

8. Fresher’s week may damage more than your liver

Fresher’s week, the start of the university year. It is a great way to meet people, make friends, relax and slowly ease into university life. Whilst this period is usually seen as a student essential, the sheer amount of clubbing, events and most notably… alcohol, can become too frequent and prove overwhelming for some. Please, look after yourself and watch your alcohol consumption! Remember that’s it’s totally fine to not drink, there will be other students who are exactly the same! Read more here

9. Societies give you a much needed break from university work

There are lots of ways to embed yourself into your university community and joining societies is one of them. Always wanted to try out something new? Been part of a club at home for years? Attend your societies fair or check out your student union website to find out what societies are available at your university. This can be a great way to meet likeminded people and have fun outside of the academic pressures of university.

10. Services are there for you, make use of them

At university there are a variety of services to support students such as a doctor’s surgery and a wellbeing centre. When at school you will have had a large amount of contact with the staff, however at university you will have minimal contact hours with staff and thus sadly much less likely for them to pick up on symptoms of poor mental wellbeing, unless you bring it to their attention. It is very important that you speak to your tutors and also the wellbeing centre when you need that additional support.

Follow Student Minds on Twitter @StudentMindsOrg

Jamel on his experience as a gay, black man

As a homosexual man of British-Caribbean decent, I have struggled my entire life to satisfy the expectations of the black community, while still staying true to my gay self.

Growing up I often questioned my sexuality; although I recognised and accepted my attraction to men, I knew from a young age, that there would come a time when my parents would discover I was gay, and that this would be a significant and extremely difficult moment in my life.

What I knew of gay culture, growing up, came from homosexual characters featured in British television sitcoms. Most were depicted as overtly feminine, white males and I just couldn’t relate to these personas. I remember my parents once saying that they liked ‘gay, white men’, (having seen and embraced these token comedic characters on tv) but ‘felt sick’ at the idea of a gay, black man.

I had nothing in common with the gay men represented in mainstream media. Not only was I not white, I also didn’t possess the effeminate and ‘camp’ mannerisms that the men on these shows displayed, and were so loved for. Any feminine qualities I once possessed, I had been taught to hide. I think that black men especially, have always felt the need to act manly, dominant and sometimes even, aggressive. Maybe this is down to a long history of mistreatment and repression; maybe we feel there is a need to assert our strength and authority in a world that has constantly tried to pit us as unequal. However, this mentality directly opposes the general stereotype of homosexuals, as people who embrace their femininity. As a black, gay man I suffered an identity crisis.

I searched for a gay role model that looked and acted similar to myself, but had no luck finding one. I struggled to find relatable personas within the Caribbean culture too. Hearing the words ‘chi-chi man’ or ‘batty man’ in Jamaican reggae or hip hop songs, or hearing people use the word ‘gay’ as an insult or put-down, made me shy away from my sexuality even further. In attempt to fit in with my classmates, I would openly sing along with these songs and call things/people gay in a derogatory manner.

This convoluted self-identity started to have its implications. I found it hard to externally live up to the ‘black man’ stereotype, while internally wanting to embrace my homosexuality. This affected my ability to make meaningful friendships and find my niche within the gay community. As I got older I started to feel isolated, and found that I could not build social circles like my counterparts could. I also started to develop interests that could be associated with being gay (I loved Britney Spears for example) and I couldn’t share this side of my personality with my straight friends.

The more I rejected my true self, the more I became an outsider. My straight, black friends started to think I was ‘uncool’ – they dubbed me ‘Mr Nice Guy’ or ‘The Friendly Giant’ (nicknames insinuating weakness), because I could talk the talk (although it wasn’t genuine), but I couldn’t walk the walk. I was living a lie, and people were becoming suspicious.

Every year, the students in our class would change, and it was a new opportunity for me to meet other pupils. I remember thinking of ways in which I could ‘reinvent’ myself, and make myself ‘cool’. This basically involved me pretending to be someone I wasn’t. To start with, this facade drew people in, but long-term I couldn’t keep up the act – I didn’t like girls, football or any of the other things your average, straight teenager would. I wasn’t convincing myself or anyone else. Eventually this would lead to people teasing me, but it never escalated further than that. I would never claim that I was bullied; I had a quite a big frame and I think people were intimated by my size. Still, it was a very lonely time for me.

As I slowly came to terms with my sexuality, I started going to gay bars and clubs. I found most men at these venues were openly gay, proud and, 95% white. I have always admired gay men who are confident in themselves. I definitely find a lot of black men, like myself, to be more reserved about their sexuality, in comparison to gay, white males. I question where this confidence stems from: Does it come from within? From family support? Or from the media? The media openly embraces white homosexuals and their lifestyles unlike homosexuality in the black community. I wonder as a young boy, if I would have seen a black, gay man on screen that I could relate to, if this would have led me down a path of acceptance, rather than rejecting my true self.

I’ve also found that some white men refuse to date black men, but will sleep with them if they satisfy the aforementioned ‘masculine’ stereotypes. Strangely, I also bought into this stereotype of what a black man ‘should be’. Although I am gay, and I was practicing gay sex, I felt because I wasn’t a ‘bottom’ or in a submissive position, I still fulfilled the ‘black man agenda’. It sounds ridiculous, but because I longed to have a network and support system I played up to this. I was tired of being an outsider and I craved validation. In a way, I even felt proud of myself because I was finally seeking approval from other gay men, rather than trying to fool people into believing I was straight.

Black, gay men shouldn’t feel the need to conform to these archaic stereotypes. No one should have to act in a way that is unnatural – regardless of race or sexuality. We need to stop pigeonholing – not all gay men are effeminate, not all black men are masculine. Men shouldn’t feel any less ‘manly’ for being gay, or acting in ways that are not traditionally ‘masculine’, and gay men shouldn’t feel any less part of the LGBT+ community if they do not fit the effeminate gay stereotype. It’s about time we ditched these preconceived ideas of what people should look, or act like. There are no rules.

Written by Jamel

The 11 Secrets of a Sex Worker

My name is Douglas and I have been a gay male sex worker for nearly 18 years and involved in sex worker activism for the IUSW and The Harlots Collective for about ten years, here in the United Kingdom. I have worked in Edinburgh, London and Newcastle as an independent and also through several escort agencies. I genuinely and unashamedly enjoy my work as a sex worker. I am lucky that I have always worked in professions that I enjoy. I could not imagine working in a job I did not like or that did not offer me satisfaction emotionally and creatively. That is not to say that in sex work everyone must, or indeed does, enjoy their work. Human experience is complicated and varied and those who sell sex are no different from any other worker in any other profession.

Over the years I have been asked many questions about sex work, activism and what decriminalisation means for sex workers. I have listed below the most common questions I have been asked and the usual response I give.

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Top 11 Questions That A Sex Worker Is Most Frequently Asked

Surely no child dreams about becoming a prostitute?

 The most common accusation thrown at sex workers is that no child grows up dreaming of being a prostitute. This justifies, for the accuser, the moral perspective that selling sex is wrong and therefore righty condemned by society and punished by the law. The question, however, is a statement of the subjective stigma and prejudice that exists toward certain groups and behaviours within society which moulds attitudes toward those groups, conveniently ignoring the reality of real peoples lives and experiences.

The truth is that no parent can know for certain what choices their children will make when they are older. Sex work decriminalisation is about protecting the lives of sex workers, who are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and mothers. It is about prioritising safety above the subjective moral judgment inherent in the question.

Isn’t selling sex dangerous?

Selling sex is not in itself dangerous. Having sex is after all a natural function of the human body and a reflection of human attraction and sexual desire and fantasy. Provided an individual takes necessary precautions against sexually transmitted diseases, which, because of their work, sex workers are especially particular about, the risk is minimal. Most sex workers, like many freelance hairdressers, masseurs, plumbers and a host of other professions, work one to one with a singular client. A sex worker is, therefore, no more at risk than any of the other profession which works in a similar way, who also visit clients in their homes or hotels or invite them to their own places of work.

Clients seeking sexual pleasure are no different from clients looking for a relaxing massage, they are not looking to harm the person giving them pleasure. Criminals, however, know they can target sex workers with relative impunity because anti-sex-work legislation prevents sex workers from legally taking the necessary safety precautions that every other profession would think as obvious.

In the UK and other less tolerant legal jurisdictions, sex workers are not allowed to work together for safety. The law states that two or more sex workers working together are classified as running a brothel which carries severe legal penalties. Sex workers are not allowed to work through any third party who is at risk of prosecution for controlling for gain, money laundering and/or living off immoral earnings. Street sex workers face prosecution and are often forced, because of anti-kerb crawling legislation, to make quick decisions about which clients to accept. They are forced to work in isolated areas, work alone and in other words, they, like most sex workers, are made easy targets for criminals. It is, therefore, not sex work that is dangerous, nor our clients who are dangerous, but the law that prevents sex workers from taking common sense safety precautions.

All sex workers are drug addicts and lead chaotic and desperate lives:

Undoubtedly, some sex workers do take drugs. I have always argued that sex work reflects the society in which it operates, therefore, drug abuse exists but is no more prevalent within sex work than it is within society in general. When reference is made that sex workers’ lives are specifically desperate or chaotic, what is really being expressed is stigma and prejudice rather than the reality for the overwhelming majority of sex workers, who have made a considered and sober decision to sell sex. The underlying truth is that individuals in all professions and work environments may face problems and require help at certain times in their lives. Substance addiction and social need are not particular to sex work, yet they are used to restrict the sex worker debate within a context that perceives sex work as always being problematic, partially the reason for this is that our knowledge about the wide range of experiences within sex work is limited.

No one knows with any certainty how many people work in the sex industry within the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. The most visible contact and the easiest accessible information available to the media, politicians and the general public about sex work is gathered from outreach projects and home office statistics. Sex work projects work with specifically targeted groups of sex workers while the Home Office statistics record where sex workers have come into contact for various, but usually negative reasons, with the police. Both the Home Office and sex worker projects reflect, predominately, the experiences of outdoor street sex workers.

Statistically, street workers represent between 5 to 15% of UK sex work. Their experiences, whilst important, are not necessarily representative of the experience that the majority of indoor sex workers have. Independent academic research and I especially reference the recent studies undertaken by Jane Pitcher (Loughborough University), suggests that most indoor sex workers see themselves as a small business requiring a wide and diverse variety of skills to accomplish their job. Increasingly, academic research contradicts the idea that sex workers, indoor or street, are any different to other workers in that their experiences are varied and rarely fit a convenient stereotype.

Aren’t sex workers are all coerced by pimps and traffickers?

Many sex workers choose, for very good reason, to work through a third party even though the third party is breaking the law and can face severe penalties. The sex worker usually pays a third party a proportion of their income from sex work in return for anonymity, security and for the third party to deal with marketing. They organise appointments and where appropriate, provide safe places from which to work. The sex worker is contracting out a role that they don’t have the capacity to perform or do not wish to do themselves. In any other profession, these professionals would be classed as managers and, like in any job, there are good managers, there are bad managers and there are indifferent managers.

The popular media too often sensationalises reporting about sex work by referencing violent pimps, usually street pimps, often foreign, low-level criminals, enticing young women into sex work where they control their income through violence and drugs.

References to pimps in much of the media reflect stigma, cultural prejudices and often racism, rather than reflecting the reality of the often close working relationship that exists between the sex worker and the third party. The word “pimp” especially has racist connotations in the USA, where the term pimp has become intrinsically linked with varied aspects of black culture. Violent pimps undoubtedly do exist, but they are the exception rather than the reality.

Trafficking has become the big scare story, in recent years, used by anti-sex work organisations to justify their anti-sex work narrative and for governments to justify anti-sex work legislation. Trafficking, however, is a lot more complicated than the simplistic story that is being told to create a moral panic.

Legal and illegal migration for sex work to the UK, within the UK and within most countries, is classified as trafficking. Any third party facilitating in any manner the travel for any consenting sex worker, even a UK national, to an appointment to sell sex within the UK can, for example, be prosecuted for trafficking offences. The recorded evidence, however, is that the percentage of sex workers trafficked into the UK (or elsewhere) against their will and forced to sell sex is negligible. The numbers forced to work, sold into slavery in other industries, such as construction, farming, domestic service and even catering are far higher.

There is a growing immigration crisis facing all of Europe, both legally and illegally. It is essential that, within the context of sex work, consent is recognised and that the adult sex worker is not infantilised by legislation determined to make them victims to satisfy a moral and political agenda.

Won’t decriminalisation of sex work mean that children will be encouraged to think that selling sex is a proper and legitimate profession?

There is no evidence from New Zealand, where sex work has been decriminalised since 2003, that the numbers of sex workers have increased. The official numbers have remained very stable since decriminalisation and New Zealand is recognised as the best country in the world in which to work as a sex worker.

Decriminalisation of sex work does not mean that children or adults can be coerced into selling sex by individuals or by the state, it simply means that adults who do sell sex have the protection of the law and choices about how they choose to work safely. No one has ever suggested that decriminalisation would mean that sex work becomes an option for careers advisors or that job seekers should be forced into sex work or lose their benefits. These are scare stories. Decriminalisation simply allows adults who have chosen sex work to work within the law, with the support of the law and with the right to access the same state support structures as every other worker.

Aren’t most sex workers survivors of sexual abuse who started selling sex as children?

There is no evidence to support this story, although, it is a popular and much-repeated myth amongst anti-sex-work organisations who mis-quote research. Evidence tells us that most sex workers began working in their 20’s and not their teenage years (or even younger as some suggest). Are some sex workers survivors of sexual abuse? Undoubtedly yes, just as some nurses are or shop assistants are. Accountants, politicians and your next door neighbour could be too. Being a survivor of abuse of any sort does not pre-condition you to sex work or any other type of work.

Sex workers don’t pay tax:

Sex workers are obliged to pay tax the same as anyone else. If you avoid paying tax then you can face the same legal penalties as anyone else. The difference is that sex workers are not offered the same rights or protections or respect legally or within society for paying tax.

Are you a happy hooker and therefore not representative?

The media are obsessed with the idea that a sex worker is either a happy hooker or a victim of sex work, whereas the truth is that if you enjoy your work or not is irrelevant.

I enjoy my sex work but that does not mean that everyone else does. Sex work is work and sex workers, like all workers, have good days and bad days and indifferent days. Decriminalisation is about rights for all sex workers and not just those who love their work.

During my 17 years in the sex industry, I have met many sex workers and thanks to my partner running an escort agency for nearly 11 years, I was privileged to meet and work with sex workers from many different socio-economic, educational and cultural backgrounds. It was listening and talking to those sex workers and sharing their experiences that led me into activism. When talking about sex work I often reference my personal sex work experience and academic evidence, and I try to give a voice to the overwhelming majority of sex workers who work discreetly and anonymously throughout the UK.

Ultimately every sex workers’ experience is unique but we all experience stigma and prejudice and it is that shared feeling of exclusion that drives us to fight for rights, and for decriminalisation.

Sex work is not work:

Sex workers invest in their work. Condoms, lube, sex toys, lingerie, premises, photographs, internet sites and advertising, the list is long and endless. A sex worker prepares both physically and emotionally for a client, performs for the client, relaxes when the client leaves before preparing for the next. That all sounds like a job to me.

Isn’t selling sex immoral?

Morality is always subjective, it reflects the culture and social conditioning that exists at any particular time or place in history (or indeed the present.) As a sex worker, it is not my job to morally judge anyone.

Provided my clients are of legal age then my job is to provide a service that I consent to and one that the client consents to pay for. I, therefore, provide a consensual adult service.

What do you think about The Swedish Model where sex work is decriminalised but the client is criminalised?

The Swedish Model has failed because it has forced sex work out of sight, has increased social stigma and alienation and by doing so has made sex work more dangerous. It has not ended the demand for sex work which was the ideological position that justified the legislation.

The Swedish government claim that they have reduced sex work, yet acknowledge that they have no proof of how many sex workers there are working in Sweden either before or after their legislation and criminalising clients was introduced. Despite claims made by the Swedish Government that they have decreased demand for sex work we have evidence that the number of massage parlours, where sex is on offer, has increased. Sex worker advertisements are readily available on the internet and there appears to be an increase in the number of foreign nationals that are selling sex which questions the claim made by the Swedish Government that Sweden is no longer a destination for sex trafficking.

Despite the claim that the Swedish sex worker is decriminalised, Swedish sex workers are forced to work alone and they are not able to advertise openly or employ a third party. They cannot legally rent apartments for sex work because when discovered they are evicted, as the apartment owner is liable to prosecution should they be found guilty of renting an apartment to a sex worker. Swedish sex workers cannot access social support, even though being a sex worker is completely legal unless they exit sex work. Family members can be found guilty of living off the earnings of prostitution, again forcing sex workers to work secretly and in isolation. To enable the authorities to prosecute clients, sex workers are coerced into giving evidence against their clients. This again forces sex workers to work in secret in order to protect their clients, their families and themselves.

The Swedish model was not implemented to help sex workers but to coerce sex workers to exit sex work. The idea was to apply very simplistic economic attrition, by targeting the clients of sex workers the Swedish authorities had hoped to end demand and force sex workers out of business. The reality, however, is that sex work continues and indeed flourishes.

Many within Sweden are beginning to question government policy, because of the negative effect the Swedish anti-sex work legislation has on sex workers and on attitudes toward women who sell sex, in particular, foreign migrant sex workers. Despite the governments’ ideological position that women in sex work are always victims, regardless of their consent to sell sex, opinion polls suggest that attitudes toward sex workers are becoming increasingly negative, with a majority of Swedes wanting those involved in selling sex criminalised, and not just their clients. Sweden proves that prohibition does not work, other than to push that which is prohibited underground.

The Swedish government ignored the evidence and the voices of Swedish sex workers. It was an ideologically motivated piece of legislation, that is why it has failed. Sex workers want legislation based solidly upon evidence and to include the voices of sex workers, with the emphasis upon protection and rights, not on endorsing stigma and prejudice.

These are the most common questions I am asked and I suspect the same questions are asked of every sex worker. I have given my usual responses. Feel free to comment.

We’ve all had ‘that one friend’ who believes themselves to be higher up the social hierarchy than the rest of the kids at school…

Singer-Songwriter Emma McGann, wrote a guest blog for Ditch the Label on how to challenge the label of ‘Queen Bee’… Here’s what Emma had to say:

I was different from a lot of people when I was younger. I was the only girl in my circle of after-school friends – we played football, re-enacted wrestling matches and collected Star Wars memorabilia from cereal boxes. Most girls didn’t like me for it. My hair was always tangled, I never wore make-up and I dressed how I wanted. Most boys didn’t like me for it.

Socially, people never knew how to categorise me. Like that weird looking fork that’s bent and rusty and doesn’t fit with the rest of your cutlery drawer. But I still managed to fit in somehow – I had girl friends and boy friends and floated between different social groups throughout school. There were plenty of others like me too… we weren’t labelled chavs or nerds or mods or the popular crowd. We were just the uncategorised ‘weird looking forks’ that everyone used to keep around.

It’s so hard to just be yourself when you’re a kid because you constantly think you’re under everyone’s microscope. But really, other people are too busy worrying about their own problems. And if they do focus in on yours, they probably have bigger problems than you think. I think I’ve always been less susceptible to the criticism of others for one big reason – my Mum. She allowed me to hang up whatever I wanted in my room. I decided that something would be a dartboard. She endured my endless Cher/South Park/Karen from Will & Grace impressions. She rarely complained, no matter how much I barrelled around the living room playing Time Crisis with a Namco gun or how hard I trampoline-danced on my bed to the “Spice Girls” She let me be me and she taught me that labels are just… lame. I am grateful to have been brought up by someone that didn’t force gender roles upon me. So, shout out to my Mama Bear.

Not everyone tolerated my differences though. To some, I was an easy target on the bus ride home from school. To others, I was just another dot on their ‘irrelevant’ radar. And to some, I was the perfect recruit for their Army of Skanks Please forgive the Mean Girls reference (you secretly loved it). Yes… I fell into the ‘Queen Bee’ trap. A few times.

It is THE MOST TOXIC social experience and form of bullying I’ve ever encountered personally. But like any kind of trouble, if you can already see it coming you can jump out of the way. So, based on my own experiences here are 5 ways to challenge the label of ‘Queen Bee’… (please do not mistake for Queen Bey. You don’t wanna challenge her. Beyonce is better than everyone at everything).

1. Don’t hold onto anger.

Queen Bee’ is a depressing label. So don’t use it. There’s underlying reasons why that person is treating you the way they are. Don’t stoop to their level – you could make it worse. Whether you’re affected directly by the group you’re in or another group of people who target you, one of the biggest emotions we feel in these vulnerable moments is anger. Retaliation solves nothing and anger we keep with us over time only makes us more bitter. While I was uncategorically floating between social groups in school, some people didn’t like my presence. They’d judge me on my tomboy clothes, the bands I liked, the endless lyrics that I scrawled across my school bag, guitar case and school folders… I was a bit alien to some people; just that ‘weird looking fork’ still lingering in the cutlery drawer.

“Queen Bee’ is a depressing label. So don’t use it.”

4 years ago I bumped into a girl that went to my school. It was at a bar that my band was performing at that night. Back in school she was what I would describe as a grade A bully. After the show, she said hello and surprised me by apologising for her judgements towards me in school. Well… it was a good attempt at an apology by any means. Clearly, it was a real shot in the dark for her, but I appreciated her apology. And I did remember everything. But Que Sera, sera… Life moves on, people change and we don’t have to carry a big ol’ bag of anger around with us for the rest of our lives.

2. She’s not the fairest of them all.

Don’t be a fallback support for someone if their actions are undesirable or intimidating to others. If you don’t stand behind them, they won’t act on their own. Back in secondary school one group of girls I often found myself with followed the agenda of just one person. At lunch break, we would go where she wanted to go and naively followed as her backup for any playground drama that she dragged herself into (just think as cliquey as ‘Clueless’ but with less plaid). In a way, we were out to prove ourselves to her. It feels ridiculous to even type that, but such was the social pressures of the playground hierarch.

3. Don’t laugh if it’s not funny

“Don’t feel like you need to join in laughing at someone else’s misfortune and don’t play yourself up to be someone you’re not in front of your friends. “

If you can’t be yourself around your group, maybe they’re not the good friends you thought they were. I’ll never forget the day my best friend stood up to a group of guys at the back of our bus (Yes, there are ‘King Bee’s’ out there too). Whether they were throwing things or hurling comments, I can’t exactly recall, but one thing I do remember was that one guy in their group wasn’t laughing. He actually called out his friends and asked them to stop. He was clearly embarrassed by their actions. My friend had had enough too, stormed up to them and totally put the main culprit in his place. I admired her more than ever in that moment.

4. ‘Fly my pretties!’

If you enjoy following orders you can always enroll in the army… but don’t do other people’s dirty work. Don’t be a bully’s sidekick. Be a hero… or a sidekick to a hero. Robin’s not all bad, is he? As a kid, I was always terrified of the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. Super creepy stuff. But what you might not know is that you could actually have more in common with them than you think. No, I’m not saying you’re a hairy winged beast… but maybe you’re a minion (and not the adorable yellow, dungarees-wearing kind).

It’s easy for bullies to offload their dirty work onto other people. One day there was a buzz at my door and my usual group of four girls were calling me to come out. Instead of the friendly visit, I was expecting, I was heckled on my very own doorstep. Two girls in the group had decided for whatever reason that they did not like me and no longer valued my friendship. They felt it was imperative to rock up to my place to tell me so. Having been lured out by what I thought was a friendly call was in fact, just the minions at work.

5. Escape the hive

By walking away from a friendship that is toxic, you may even lay a path for others in the group who feel the same. When I say ‘squad goals’ perhaps you think ‘High School Musical’… I know I do. Maybe you think of the type of friends who made your Summer unforgettable. Either way, friendships need to be nurtured. Not all friendships are as healthy as they may seem.

“It’s healthier for you to distance yourself from toxic people. Don’t feel the need to stick around if you’re not comfortable.”

One lunch break, I was asked by a friend to finish her homework. She said she didn’t want help but that she needed me to do it for her. I straight-up refused. Then, I was TOLD I would do her homework and when I refused a second time, I got a boot to the shin. Classy. Before then I don’t know how I hadn’t realised how controlling she had always been over our group. People rarely disagreed with her and apparently, when they did, she responded with violence. Although we made up afterwards, our friendship dwindled and was never the same again. But, it was definitely for the best.

To summarise, we need to embrace our differences and look out for ourselves and our friends. People who are labelled as the ‘Queen Bee’ need a look-out too because all too often, those who victimise others are often victims themselves.

If you’re experiencing problems within friendships and need more help, go to our Community or check out ‘Are They Really Your Friend? 15 Signs That Suggest Otherwise.’

Follow Emma on Twitter and check out her YouTube channel here.

Melissa Herrera on her experiences with virtual dating

When I swiped into a “virtual relationship”, it wasn’t by choice. I had every intention of actually meeting the men I’d matched with, as I assumed that was the purpose of online dating. I assumed this was for people looking for an easier outlet to meet other singles. I assumed this was a pool of potential baes who wanted exactly what I wanted – a convenient method of dating multiple singles while ultimately zeroing in on that one final match. Well you know what they say about people who assume…”you make an ass out of you and me”. And in this story, I ended up as the stupid donkey and he ended up the actual a**h*le.

Now I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience with online dating has been exactly that…online dating. Sure, there’ve been a few one-time meet ups here and there, but the mass majority of men I was in contact with had zero interest in breaking past the virtual realm. When I signed up for online dating, it was a last resort choice made after the initial shock of finding myself back in the dating pool after a six year streak of serial monogamy. I thought it would be the most efficient way to re-cast that rusty line back into the sea of men to help combat my cluelessness towards this newfound single life. But what I found was the complete opposite. I found myself a group of men whose interest in me extended no further than daily electronic messages and watching my life virtually through social media, all while dodging every opportunity to meet face-to-face. What the hell is this online dating world and why was I so VASTLY wrong about its purpose?

“I found myself a group of men whose interest in me extended no farther than daily electronic messages and watching my life virtually through social media”


Needless to say, I was quickly turned off by this new age style of “dating” and ultimately had no patience for it. Coming off multiple long term relationships with men who actually valued my time, I found the online dating world a complete sham. I wanted to be taken seriously, but no one else within the dating platform was taking the process, or myself, seriously. As I was about to throw in the towel and accept my future as a single cat lady, binge eating Chinese take-out, while engulfed in reality television… someone finally stood out to me. His name was Dan and his claim to fame was his comment “Nice duvet cover” on a photo of me sitting on my bed. Every other guy made flirty comments about my appearance, but he sarcastically avoided commenting on my looks as if to intentionally give me the opposite of what I wanted. He was different, witty and funny? I LOVED IT!

“Dan and I were together for four months. And by ‘together’ I mean we text messaged, talked on the phone, Facetimed, and connected via Snapchat and Instagram”


Dan and I were together for four months. And by “together” I mean we text messaged, talked on the phone, Facetimed, and connected via Snapchat and Instagram for four months straight – every day. I’d wake up to “good morning” texts from Dan and I’d go to bed with “sleep tight” texts from Dan. We watched House of Cards together…while Facetiming. We’d send each other Snapchat photos all night while we were out at the bar with our friends as if to make it seem like we were together. We’d stay up late sharing stories of the past and goals for our future; we bonded over how much we actually had in common. It felt like a real relationship, minus the physical face-to-face interaction. It was amazing and it was miserable, all at the same time.

As the months passed, I began to feel more and more bothered by the lack of “reality” in our relationship. I’d make multiple attempts to plan a date or activity, giving him enough time to open his schedule and commit, to ultimately get cancelled on at the last minute – every single time. My patience wore thin, my heart was beginning to break, and Dan was proving to be exactly what I feared – a sham. I told Dan he was getting one last chance to meet me in person, and if he didn’t follow through, I’d be gone. Can you guess what happened next? He ghosted me. He removed me from social media, he blocked my number, and he vanished into thin air as if he never even existed. After four months of daily communication and intimate bonding, Dan was capable of vanishing and made sure to do it before I beat him to the punch. I was going to leave him because he refused meet me; he chose to leave me because I wanted to meet him. Seriously, the irony… #facepalm.

“It felt like a real relationship, minus the physical face-to-face interaction”


It took me a long time to get over Dan, partly because I had no closure. I couldn’t make sense as to why he did what he did. I couldn’t make sense as to why he refused to meet me and had no interest in taking our relationship to the next “real” level. And lastly, I couldn’t make sense as to why he felt ghosting me was a justifiable answer to the situation at hand. After four months, I didn’t deserve an explanation? I didn’t deserve a mature response as to what was going or why he couldn’t commit in the real world? I was forever stuck with “what ifs” and lingering questions that haunted my brain.

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Since Dan, I’ve become less of a donkey. Through that heartbreak I was able to learn the ropes of the online dating world and create my own rules and regulations to help avoid falling into another virtual relationship. Rule number one – two week maximum of virtual communication. If no date has been made, I give a last chance warning and then I unmatch. Rule number two – I no longer accept any social media additions prior to an initial meet up. Why? Because they don’t belong there. Someone that’s interested in me should get to know me from an unbiased viewpoint. Which let’s face it, rarely happens if you allow them to scroll through every moment of your life for the past decade. I’ve found that creating these limitations has quickly filtered out the a**h*les. They don’t have the patience for my rules, so they vanish as quickly as they appeared. My time isn’t wasted, my emotions aren’t fooled, and I’m now one less a**h*le away from the potential good guy floating around in a pool full of flakes. You’ve got to play to game in order to play the player, and there are A LOT of players in the virtual world.

“There are A LOT of players in the virtual world”


But you have to wonder, why are so many men online matching up with women they never want to meet? Why are people finding themselves in virtual relationships whether they planned it or not? Overall, why has the single community shifted into a virtual platform in order to find their match? What is wrong with real life and why is everyone avoiding it?

I don’t think online dating was created with the intent to produce virtual relationships. I think it was created to assist with the initial “hook” stage of landing a match while producing that match in a more convenient and less pressured environment. You know, the part we once did in person when we came across someone we might be interested in and actually had to make a move not knowing what the response would be? Well now you can skip that step with the technological advancement of swiping through profiles pictures and bios of all your single options and mutually connecting without ever having to risk rejection. My guess is that online dating was meant to help connect people in a more convenient manner with the assumption that they’d move forward in real life on their own. Ughh…again with failed hopes through assumptions!

Unfortunately, my progression into adulthood took place in the midst of the technological/social media boom. While I’ve met a few of my boyfriends in normal social environments, it appears that my generation as a whole is solely sticking to online dating or drunken hookups during hours of lowered inhibitions. The millennial generation is not experiencing the dating scene our parents and grandparents once experienced where singles courted each other in passing and casually dated a variety of people at once without so much pressure.

“Why has the single community shifted into a virtual platform in order to find their match?”


In my adult life, I’ve never been approached by an interested man in the grocery store, at work, at the gym, in the neighbourhood, at the mall, or at a park. The best I’ve gotten is a drunk man in a bar slurring over his words asking to buy me a 1.5 ounce of poison he’s praying will result in a one-night stand. Or, I’ve had to pursue every single guy I’ve ever dated whether that be short or long term. In my experience as a millennial women in today’s society, my options are to hunt down a man myself in person or resort to the online world where men can hide behind their electronic devices and “ghost” before ever actually experiencing rejection or becoming involved. How did this happen?

With the influx of available technology, our society as a whole is simply distracted. There are televisions in every social establishment and cellphones and music in the palm of our hands. It’s no surprise that the dating scene transitioned over to the electronic world as well. It’s almost impossible for humans to interact naturally in any social arena because we’re burying ourselves in electronic devices…and our society is supporting it! I don’t want to stare into my phone at still photos of men who send me flirty texts throughout the day. I don’t want some random internet guys following my Instagram and Snapchat feed commenting on how cool I am yet never wanting to meet me or experience life with me in person. I don’t want to fall for another virtual sham, have my heart broken, and be ghosted by someone I actually took time to invest in. I want the real deal. I want a man to look me in the eyes, create memories with me, and vocalise to my face when the relationship must come to an end. I want real life experiences while living in a society that highly promotes living behind a lens. And that my friends, is a very scary thing.

“I want real life experiences while living in a society that highly promotes living behind a lens”


And for the record, my story with Dan didn’t quite end where I left off. Oh no, he wasn’t finished with me back when he broke my heart and left me alone, confused and exiled as he vanished without a trace. Like most a**h*les, Dan allowed enough time to pass before he came back for round two in hopes there might be a small fragment of donkey still left in my soul. Two years after his disappearing act, Dan re-added me on social media and sent me a photo through Snapchat. When I opened the photo I discovered a picture of his Netflix television screen with the caption “Netflix and Chill?”


Conveniently I happened to be watching The Bachelor and retaliated in the most creepy and volatile way surely to scare off any a**h*le. I paused the show and snapped a quick photo of the bachelor holding a rose with the caption “Final rose and propose, Dan?” He responded back, “Yikes”, and I’ve never heard from him again.

The only lasting bit of donkey I savoured over the past two years is the two back legs I used to kick his ass to the curb. Boy bye!

Lexi Gibson blogs about life with HIV

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that replicates itself off fighter cells, also known as the immune system. This replication is stopped when a patient takes daily medication.

My first 14 years of life I was discriminated against for having HIV. Since then, the only place I rarely receive it, is from people behind a computer screen.

Sometimes I get sick longer than the average Joe, which would keep me out of work longer (but remember, everyone’s body is different). It did cause me to stress about money a bit and the possibility of getting fired. But, I always made it work, and I never got fired. I work for myself now, so that is not an issue anymore. In terms of free time, HIV plays no role in holding me back from dating, activities or anything at all really.

“I am open about my HIV status to everyone, and talk about it like it’s the most normal thing ever – because it is”


I have disclosed being HIV-positive to a couple of people I was interested in, and they were honest about not wanting to get involved. I appreciate and respect that. Everyone has different wants and needs in life. I overcame the bullying I faced in grade school growing up by understanding that it came from a lack of education, as well as learning a very important lesson in life: not to take anything personally. What others do is a reflection of them, not me. When it comes to comments on my social media platforms, I ignore their hateful words, and I simply educate them. Leaving it at that. Their words only mean something if I allow them to. I do not send hate back. That will not solve anything. I want to clear the air around HIV, not add fuel to fire. I healed my wounds by believing that I am worthy, and I am lovable. I will not let others ideas of me change my ideas of myself and what I know to be true.

“I have disclosed being HIV positive to a couple of people I was interested in, and they were honest about not wanting to get involved. I appreciate and respect that”




Which leads me onto this: my advice for others who are HIV-positive is to be confident in you! Do not take things personally! Do not assume the worst before anything has even happened. Stay in the moment when disclosing. Educate yourself on the virus, so you can educate others when you disclose. They are not fearing you, they are fearing the virus. A virus that most people have only heard horror stories about. So we must allow others time to ingest the new information we are giving them. My energy will be their energy: if I am fearful while disclosing they will be fearful. If I am confident and speak nonchalantly, they too will feel calm and relaxed. In terms of dating, not everyone we meet or go on a date with is the one. And remember, we cannot control anyone, but ourselves.

“Since accepting my HIV status and following my truth, my life has exceeded any expectation I had ever had. Something that once was a burden to my life, is now the key to all of my doors in life”


Since accepting my HIV status and following my truth, my life has exceeded any expectation I had ever had. Something that once was a burden to my life, is now the key to all of my doors in life. Having HIV has given me direction and passion. If it wasn’t for this virus, I would not be the woman I am today, and I would not have a platform for helping others. I take one pill a day, and it keeps the doctor away. Aside from my normal 6 month check up. HIV does not hold me back from doing anything in life. I work out regularly, I travel often, I make new friends almost everyday, and I go on dates whenever I feel like it. I am undetectable, meaning the virus cannot be detected in my body. Leaving my body in a natural state. Which means, I can have babies without passing the virus on, and I can have unprotected sex with my partner without passing too. Although I leave that decision up to my partner and whatever makes them feel most comfortable. Either way, my life isn’t any different to anyone else’s.

I am open about my HIV status to everyone, and talk about it like it’s the most normal thing ever – because it is. It’s just a virus that can be 100% managed with medication. People are still learning that 🙂 so I lead the way and 99 percent of the time, they follow.

YouTuber Brenna Burk blogs about life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Years ago, if you’d asked me what OCD is, I would have given you one of two answers: “Isn’t that where people organise stuff a lot?” or “I don’t know, I’ve never heard of it.” If you ask me today, however, you’re in for a much longer, detailed, and knowledgeable explanation, because I was diagnosed with this disorder approximately eight years ago.

Before I go into detail about my mental health, let me introduce myself. My name is Brenna Burk, I’m a 19 year old college student from the United States of America, and I am probably the most smiley and fun loving person you’ll meet. I grew up playing sports and dancing, which developed into a passion for fitness and personal health/nutrition; something I now regularly practice to create a better version of myself everyday. I also really enjoy the arts – in so many different forms – drawing, writing, film, and makeup, the last two being a merged passion that turned into one of my most exciting hobbies – my YouTube channel. If you happen to be a girly girl, or are just bored enough to watch me talk, you can check my channel out with the link provided with this post.

Now that you know a little about me, let’s move onto the reason you’ve arrived at this post: my OCD.

I had just finished sixth grade when one certain event during that summer (that I don’t tend to discuss, but am willing to in more personal situations) made me feel immensely guilty. Being so young, the only type of guilt I’d ever experienced was the kind where you steal your sister’s toy and then lie about it to your parents. But I felt in my naive heart that this was something new, something so heavy that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I told my mum, via email. Yes, email. I couldn’t face the confession of this horrid feeling in person. This was the turning point of my mental health; I went from carefree to guilty as could be. I felt guilt over everything – and I mean everything.

“I felt guilt over everything – and I mean everything.”


As the days went by, I started getting more and more intrusive thoughts about everyday actions that my mind told me I should feel so shameful about that it made me sick. That one email to my mum turned into multiple per day, until one day I broke down and felt frantic because the amount of confessions I felt I needed to make to her were more than I could keep up with. These thoughts (the “obsessions”) not only manifested themselves in these confessions I speak of (the “compulsions”), but in weird ways that I couldn’t explain. I had to take nine steps in the living room. I had to count all stairs. I had to look over my shoulder six times. I had to stop breathing if I looked at someone that had a disease or was injured, because I thought breathing while laying my eyes on that person would give me their health problem (and I’ll admit, this is still one of my compulsions to this day).

“I had to take nine steps in the living room. I had to count all stairs. I had to look over my shoulder six times”


My mum eventually sought counselling for me, which was absolutely the right thing to do, but I stopped going soon into my treatment because I felt it was too shameful to talk about my thoughts. I do remember that in my first couple of sessions, that counsellor was able to diagnose me because my symptoms were so severe and obvious. By the time 8th grade rolled around, I was feeling lots better and I was convinced the OCD had mostly gone…wrong. So wrong. Fast forward to my junior year, where it came on stronger than ever before, and my confessions were aimed at my then-boyfriend this time around. I repeated the my past actions and I stopped going to my counsellor. I am not proud of that, but I can thankfully say my confessions have eased up again. I did, however, decide to start attending therapy again in my freshman year of college to address my depression and general anxiety, and I’m happy to say that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. Finding the right therapist who relates to you deeply can make a world of a difference. Though I’ve come a long way, I still carry excessive and unnecessary amount of guilt, shame, and self doubt with me. To this day, I continue to live in fear that another episode of constantly confessing will haunt me in the future.

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Now, at 19, I can say I’ve learned so much about OCD and its ability to make your mind take over your body. I’ve learned how immensely isolating it is to feel like you are living a double life, putting up a front for everyone around you while your head spins with self-destructive madness. I’ve learned that OCD is so powerful, and even more terrifying, because it truly feels like you have lost control over your own actions. Like I said, I’m doing loads better now, but I still have little compulsions everyday that simply feel routine now after all these years.

“Finding the right therapist who relates to you deeply can make a world of a difference”


If you suffer from OCD or love someone who does and you’ve read this far into my story, you’re probably begging me to reveal the magic cure. I resent to tell you that there isn’t one, but I will tell you the number one thing that has helped me to cope and get past my ugly, dark thoughts: Every time they invade my mind, I say to myself that it is the anxiety talking. This is not Brenna, this is OCD. It is trying to convince me that I don’t have the power and strength to not give into my compulsions. It wants to take me over, but I will not let it. Accepting my thoughts and resisting my compulsions, as frustratingly difficult as it is, is the thing that has healed me most. I’ll also tell you what has been the most challenging part of having OCD, and that is loving myself. I want to say I have learned how to, but the guilt and shame that comes with this disorder makes it feel nearly impossible. With that being said, though, I want to beg you to never stop trying to love yourself. I have made a promise to myself that I won’t give up on trying, even on the days where there is not an ounce of progress in sight. As humans, we give so much love to the people and things that matter to us. They all deserve love, just as every being on this planet does… so tell me, why don’t you? You would never rip someone else to pieces, pick out their every flaw, and tell them they are not worthy of love, so why do you do this to yourself? Next time you look in the mirror and start the self destruction, think about the questions I just asked you. I hope more than anything that you will find the power to love yourself someday.

Let me reintroduce myself: My name is Brenna Burk, I’m a 19 year old college student from the United States of America, I am probably the most smiley and fun loving person you’ll meet, and… I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I left this out the first time I introduced myself to you, as I do with every other person I meet. Why? Because as much as OCD feels like a part of me, one thing I will never do is let it define me. This disorder and I have driven a long path together, but I’ll never stop fighting it- even if this road trip lasts the rest of my life.

We interviewed Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Rachael Sage

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Rachael: My proudest moment so far has been when a young man approached me at a show in San Francisco and told me my music had kept him from taking his own life. While the details of why are too personal to share, let’s just say nothing is more gratifying – and humbling – than knowing something you’ve created has helped remind someone why they want to live and endowed them with renewed purpose.

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so what happened and how did you deal with the experience?
Rachael: Yes, I was very badly bullied in an all-girl grammar school between 2nd and 6th grades; basically the entire time I attended that particular school. It was 5 prolonged years of emotional and often physical abuse that was, sadly, enabled by the adults at the school to whom I confided, and unfortunately it never really got better. However, through all of it I had things outside of school that helped to define my mostly positive sense of self-esteem such as ballet class and my songwriting. I threw myself into both and the worse “regular school” got, the more intensely I applied myself to my extra-curriculars and couldn’t wait until the bell rang and I could go to New York City each day to do what I loved. I did complain to my parents but they felt helpless and didn’t know how to improve the situation. Finally, in 6th grade I came home and simply refused to go back. At that point, thankfully, they “got” it and we all agreed the next year I would switch schools. Better late than never!

“The worse school got, the more intensely I applied myself to extra-curricular activities”


My next school was the complete opposite, co-ed (which immediately seemed to foster a kinder environment) and the staff and students had a much more holistic, transparent relationship which inspired responsibility and curbed meanness. Positive values of compassion and encouragement versus meanness and bullying were openly discussed, and kids were held accountable for negative behaviour – which was far more rare. It was truly an exemplary place, almost like a young college, and knowing the difference between the prior torture and relative heaven of a positive learning environment helped me appreciate it all the more. I thrived there, and I will always be grateful I basically was given a second chance to become a happy, expressive young person, at age 12.

“I was very badly bullied in an all-girl grammar school between 2nd and 6th grades; basically the entire time I attended that particular school”


DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the music industry?
Rachael: I have always been the kind of person who strived for success and to achieve very concrete goals. Likewise, I grew up with a very feminist mother who taught us the history of women who had trail-blazed so we could have the rights we do as women, and encouraged us to continue to be part of that history. She set an example by being a leader in our synagogue and pushing for women to be able to have the same honours i.e. rights as men within our temple service, and later on she encouraged me when I wanted to be the first girl to perform my entire Bat Mitzvah service, without help from the Rabbi or Cantor. So by the time I grew up, it was normal to me to lead by example versus dwelling on the negative of what has transpired before, and I’m sure that much of that is why founded my own label, years later. So in short: yes I’ve always been aware of the challenges of being female whether as a producer or a self-managed artist or a CEO; but I’ve tried to never dwell on any of that or use it as an excuse. The only way change happens, it seems to me, is by embracing exactly who you are, what you have to offer, and standing up for yourself and your vision every chance you get.

DtL: Have you ever experienced sexism/stereotyping in the industry based on gender? If so, how did you deal with it?
Rachael: Yes, I have…an internship in my teens, in particular, was fraught with sexism and I had a very intimate look at how it thrived in the music industry at a very young age. But I’ve also experienced competitive, negative behaviour – perhaps even more so – from other women! Women, like girls, can be incredibly petty, cruel and dismissive of each other’s talents and I think the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge it, not engage in any of the negativity, remain singularly focused in your purpose and show others at least as much respect as you hope to receive.

The other power one has is the choice to never work with a certain individual again, if they really seem to be sexist and offensive; I’ve made that choice a handful of times and chalked up the experiences to “growing pains”. As long a you learn from them, there really are no mistakes. But if you know someone will dampen your voice, water down your vision or dismiss your ideas simply because you are a woman and you walk into that situation repeatedly for whatever reason, well…then you may need to look deeper at the root of why you’d choose an oppressive situation. Is “success” really worth that kind of degradation? In my 20’s I had lower self-esteem, but I would do my very best to never remain in a a sexist work or personal environment now.

DtL: What advice would you give to young people who might be experiencing bullying?
Rachael: I actually recently wrote a piece about this exact subject, wherein I strongly encourage young people to tell an adult they trust (whether it be a parent, religious leader or teacher) what is going on – as well as to channel the emotional pain they are feeling into a hobby or something they love to do. I never really could figure out how to STOP the bullying admittedly; so really, my only hope became my own family protecting me, which eventually they did. You can read my story here.

DtL: What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Rachael: The most exciting thing I’m working on right now is a video for my single “Try Try Try”! It’s almost complete, and I can’t wait to share it because it features a world-class ballerina named Abigail Simon who’s danced with American Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Ballet. It’s so exciting to see an incredible dancer bring my music to life – and to integrate ballet with performances by myself and my live band. Look for it soon on my YouTube Channel!

“I think I would tell my younger self to give myself a break”


DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Rachael: The older I get, the more I believe it is a myth (perhaps for the self-help, therapy and morning talk show businesses) that we “overcome” our challenges. I think I will probably be facing and struggling with my challenges in one way or another my whole life, by addressing them through my art…and that how you move gracefully through them, in spite of never really overcoming them, is what defines your character. Nonetheless, here’s a short list:
– Perhaps due to a self-diagnosis of ADD (which certainly runs in my family), I am and have always been terrible at keeping organised, in general. However, I have taken on a lot of responsibility running a record label and helming my own music career. Therefore I have to work very diligently and consistently to keep my business in order, my home environment reasonably uncluttered, and my mind clear. I suppose I do this primarily by limiting my social activities, making sure I have enough “free” time to reorganise as inevitably I become disorganised, eating healthfully and sleeping enough as when I am overtired is when my mind becomes too cluttered to make sense of my external environment.
– I don’t love being a boss, but it is a necessary aspect of running a company and being the leader of one’s own career. I find it extremely challenging, ongoing, but I also know that the inverse i.e. being told how to be, what to do and how to do it less amenable to me. So I suck it up, push myself through the uncomfortable challenges that arise in that role, and remember that the reason I do it is to grant myself the privilege of being a creative artist and nurturing other like-minded, creative artists as well.
– I am often lonely and it is hard to maintain long-term romantic relationships. I have come to realise this is simply part of the lifestyle I have chosen, voluntarily, and that the people I know who also tour and have found complimentary partners may not also run a business; the combination of the two seems to be what is particularly challenging not only for me to balance but for someone else who loves and misses me to accept, due to the sheer workload and that I rarely “shut it off”. On the positive side, I’ve had many short-term relationships, loved and been in love often, and written many songs about it all!

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Rachael: I would tell myself to get more sleep and be sick less. I used to literally make myself sick because I had so much drive and wanted to please everyone. I think I had mononucleosis three times…and they said you could only get it once! I was a very stressed-out, young overachiever and I didn’t have enough fun. Part of this was certainly because I was bullied – but part of it was also because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best at everything I tried. Granted, my parents had very high expectations too – but nonetheless I think I would tell my younger self to give myself a break, and take a nap once in a while haha! I probably took a year or two off my life just worrying about the repercussions of getting a bad grade, which seems insane to me now. Especially in the field of music…well, it simply hasn’t been relevant. If anything, I should’ve been listening to more of my Dad’s old ’45s!

‘I Don’t Believe It’ taken from the EP ‘Home’ is released November 18th through MPress Records with all the proceeds going to Ditch the Label.


Ambs blogs about life with Asperger Syndrome

I was officially diagnosed with the syndrome in 2009, when I was 13-years-old. I didn’t know anything about autism back then; in fact I don’t think I had ever heard of the condition before, and all of a sudden I was told I have this life-long ‘disability’.

I remember my mum sitting me down and telling me. I just said ‘okay’ and left the room. I didn’t process it and I didn’t accept it. I wouldn’t accept it for a long time to come and this would cause me to suffer from depression and anxiety. I constantly felt like I had a sign hanging around my neck declaring to the world that I was ‘different’ from them. I always felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb when in reality I didn’t.

For a few years after my diagnosis I was in a pretty dark place, I moved schools a lot as those schools couldn’t accommodate my needs. I was bullied in year nine and that definitely took its toll on me when I was already feeling low. This is where it got really bad for me, I started to self harm and I completely withdrew from everything, and ended up getting signed off from school.

“I constantly felt like I had a sign hanging around my neck declaring to the world that I was ‘different’ from them”


Unfortunately I never got my GCSE’s despite having once been on fast track to get them.

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Four years later, I still hadn’t accepted my diagnosis. I couldn’t even hear the word without feeling disgusting – like I was a freak. I went to college and successfully passed my course but I was still so unhappy and in denial about my condition. I struggled to make friends and maintain any friendships I managed to form. I didn’t really leave the house.

Now I’m 19 and although I still struggle with my mental health and diagnosis at times, I am much happier than I have ever been and have some really great friends. I go to film conventions and have met lots of people through these events and my old theatre company.

“I couldn’t even hear the word without feeling disgusting – like I was a freak”


If you are being bullied, please tell someone! Remember that you don’t have to tell your teacher or parents if you don’t feel comfortable, but DO tell someone who is going to be able to help in a positive way – like Ditch the Label!

In life there will always be challenges to overcome, whether big or small. The biggest challenge that I have overcome so far is being confident enough to try new things and actually commit to them. I am so proud of myself for how far I have come in the past few years; I’m most proud of writing a manuscript, I haven’t done anything with it, but I stuck with that one project until it was complete.

If I could tell my younger self one thing, I would tell her to keep pushing for what you want. It may not feel like you’re getting anywhere but one day you’ll look back and see how far you have come.

On my down days, and I’ll be honest with you, I have my fair share, I put on my favourite film or tv show, or read my favourite book and listen to my favourite album. And I read through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s good morning and good night tweets – they never fail to give me a boost when I need it. I don’t know what I’d do without the lovely Lin’s tweets to read when I’m feeling low, they always get me motivated and out of bed.

If you are having a bad day and just want to stay in bed, try to get up for at least an hour and get something done; make yourself a cuppa tea or bake a cake. Don’t let days go to waste because they soon start merging into one and that is a dull existence. Believe me!