It is a little-known fact that along with periods, boobs, body hair and mood swings, an important part of puberty is thinking “I might get a fringe.”

One day you’ll be fine with your hairstyle; it’s healthy, it looks ok, it behaves when you straighten it OR curl it (you lucky thing, you) – but then… suddenly… BAM. “I MIGHT GET A FRINGE.”

And that’s great! Change is good! Fringes are nice! But with a fringe comes great responsibility. Some people get hamsters to learn about being a responsible human being; other people get a fringe. And I, personally, would argue that looking after a fringe is way more complicated and stressful and educational than looking after a hamster.

The difference between looking after a hamster and looking after a fringe is that you can’t grow out a hamster, more’s the pity. You can, however, grow out a fringe.

Said to the hairdresser that you loved it but really wanted to punch the mirror in the face? No problem. Can’t deal with it growing so fast and blinding you? No problem. Spend your evenings scraping it back with an old alice band you found in the back of your wardrobe so you can slather your forehead with various creams and gels to kill all the spots your greasy fringe has given you as a present? No problem. Grow it out! It’s like your fringe never existed. Easy. Right?

I had a fringe once.  Multiple times, actually. Sadly, there is currently no cure for the condition of forgetting how much you hated your fringe and getting one cut in again and again and again.

When I finally hit the growing-out stage of my first fringe saga, at 13 years old, I had to experience the trauma of trying out different ways to tame it as I killed it off. I scraped it back, half-heartedly turned it into a side fringe (with lots of hairspray), and even tried having a middle parting to turn my fringe into curtains. Middle partings were super uncool in those days, but my choices were limited.

I stuck to the side fringe, but some bits were flyaway and awkward, and one evening I finally snapped. I grabbed the nail scissors from my mum’s wardrobe and took a deep breath.

Snip… snip… *stare*… snip… snipsnipsnip. There! Gone. That’s better. I fluffed my hair about until the slight bald patch I’d now created had been covered. It was only a small round bit in the middle of my hairline in the middle of my forehead. No problem!

Except. You know when you grow grass? Or cress, in primary school? You plant the little seeds and then the grass grows slowly and is fluffy and quite cute? Well, can you now imagine that in the middle of your head, please? Yes, smack bang in the middle. A 10p’s worth of sticky-up, fresh, fluffy grass.

THAT WAS MY HEAD.

BECAUSE, LITTLE LOUISE, HAIR GROWS BACK. YOU FOOL.

It was a nightmare. I slowly began my transformation into one of those troll dolls from the 90s, and there was nothing I could do about it. Because, as I preached just a few paragraphs ago, you’ve just gotta grow it out.

At first it wasn’t too bad. I could shift my hair about and cover it up, just as I did with the bald patch in the first place.

“Louise, you’ve moved your parting right over.”

“Yes. Yes I have. I now have a severe side parting.”

“It’s a bit extreme, most of your hair is now over your fa-“

“GOD, MUM, JUST LET ME LIVE.”

When that was no longer of any use, when the hair-grass started growing further and further upwards with horrendous pride and confidence, I had to take drastic measures.

I pulled. And pulled. And yanked on my little troll fringe as hard as I could, and slapped it backwards in place with a clip. Not a subtle hairgrip, but a MASSIVE PROPER CLIP. It may as well have had a sign saying, “LOOK AT ME, THE INFAMOUS TROLL FRINGE,” complete with a musical fanfare.

I wish there was a good ending to this story. I wish I found a secret trick or a silver lining to cutting a chunk of your hair out. Alas, no. All I have is a simple lesson. Ahem: DON’T CUT YOUR OWN FRINGE. EVER. IN EVER OF ALL EVERS EVER.

The troll fringe grew out, of course. I worked that fanfare clip with all the dignity I had left. Eventually the clip worked its way back along my head and the troll fringe evolved into a troll quiff.

So yes, sometimes in life you do silly things, and sometimes you are full of regret… but all of those times come with lessons and (hair) growth. And that’s never, ever a bad thing.

@louisejonesetc

Image: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Not that we’re mad into maths or anything, but our lovely friends at Action Aid have come up with pretty much the best equation ever to exist: girl + sanitary towel = superhero.

With many girls around the world (and some even in the UK) missing school because they can’t afford or don’t have access to pads or tampons, the international charity are on a mission to raise awareness and help these young women in need.

Because if you’re armed with period supplies you can stay in school, learn, grow, become empowered and totally kickass – your period should never stand in the way, right?

To find out which badass sanitary superhero you are, take Action Aid’s quiz below!

You’re buying sanitary towels or tampons, and notice a friend/colleague/neighbour at the till as you go to pay. Are you embarrassed?

Everyone has a period horror story. Which of these scenarios does yours involve?

Have you ever run out of sanitary towels/tampons and had to improvise?

Euphemisms for periods exist around the world. Which of these euphemisms would you use to describe your period?

How do you feel when you’re on your period?

Image: Action Aid/Katie Edmunds

I was 12 and wearing cream Eeyore pyjamas when I got my first ever period.

I really loved them – comfy, cropped shorts with a frilly seam and a matching strappy top embroidered with my favourite moody A A Milne character. But even Disney wasn’t enough to keep adulthood away, and on a hot summer night during a family holiday in which I discovered my love of French petrol station hot dogs, it came.

Being 12 is so great, but it’s a time when everything changes, and that can be disorientating. That summer I’d just finished my first year at secondary school and it felt as if everyone expected me to behave both as a kid, and an adult. And that’s how I saw myself too.

On the adult days I practiced walking in heels on the driveway and couldn’t wait to start earning my own cash so I could buy my friends amazing birthday presents, instead of relying on my parents for a fiver every month.

On the kid days, I wanted to roll like a human sausage down every grassy hill I saw, and watch cartoons next to the biscuit tin after school.

Being 12 – and most of your teen years, let’s be honest – is an age when you’re on the cusp of adulthood, but then childhood sneaks in and pulls you back like an elastic band. You want to buy your favourite chocolate on the way home from school, but the law says you’re too young to earn money. You want to hang out all night with your friends but your parents have set a curfew.

You want to wear your favourite cream frilly pyjamas, but you get your first period.

Back to that morning in France. The story of my first period actually starts the day before, at a market near the villa my family and I were staying at. I was checking out the anklet options when a rush of nausea came over me really quickly, and I fainted. I was prone to fainting during my teens (something I eventually grew out of, though that doesn’t stop me carrying a packet of chocolate digestives everywhere I go ‘just in case’).

My Dad and stepmum – one by the arms, the other by the anklet-less ankles – picked me up like a table and carried me across the road while I wet myself, leaving a humiliating trickle of urine as we went. I was a human wee snail.

It sounds scary but, in reality, I came around about 30 seconds later. Other than the fact that my favourite denim miniskirt now smelt of wee, and my sister wouldn’t stop moaning about how the sarong stall was going to close any minute, I felt fine. My parents and I put the faint down to the hot weather and we all trotted back to the car.

The day continued as planned; we got back to the villa, jumped in the pool and my siblings and I proceeded to make up a water-based musical inspired by The Little Mermaid, complete with a crab dance that we still sometimes crack out at Christmas. The faint was forgotten.

Until the next day when I woke up and went to the loo as always. That’s when I pulled down my PJ bottoms and saw it; my period had soaked into the pyjamas and was all over my inner thighs, making them sticky (but not a spot on the white bed sheets – must have been beginner’s luck). There was a lot of it. Some was bright red, other patches were brown and dry. I was one of the first among my friends to get their period, and neither of my three sisters had started yet. I began to panic.

Without thinking, I whipped the PJs back on and wrapped a towel around my waist. Palms sweating, head spinning, I began racing – thighs glued together to keep the period in, using only my lower legs to move, like a cartoon – around the villa to find my stepmum. I’d seen her pack sanitary pads before we left but had no idea where she kept them… I mean, I’d never even owned pads before. Like a menzies detective, possibilities filled my mind. Did she keep them in her handbag? Knicker drawer? THE FRIDGE?!

After turning the cutlery drawer upside down and finding nothing, I turned to plan B: find an adult. I went to see my sunbathing sisters – chilled and enjoying their period-free lives – who told me that our parents had gone to the supermarket and didn’t know when they’d be back.

So I did the only logical thing I could think of. I grabbed a snack from the kitchen (Lays crisps, holiday staple), locked myself back in the bathroom and sat on the loo, waiting for my period to slowly drip into it. Like the olden days, when women simply had to sit on buckets until it stopped.

Now, I’ve never bungee-jumped off a 100ft bridge in the middle of a snowstorm wearing a short dress and no knickers, but I imagine the feeling when it’s over isn’t dissimilar to the relief I felt when I heard my parent’s keys in the door. I called for my stepmum and summoned her to my period throne.

She wasn’t scared. In fact, she was super calm. It was all going to be ok – she gave me a hug and a pad, and stroked my head while I cried about not being able to swim for the rest of the holiday.

Later that afternoon I’d held a welcome party for my period cravings by polishing off my third cheese and ham baguette, and was sat with my legs dangling in the nice cold pool. I felt like everything was going to be ok.

And it really was totally fine. Fine. When my brother pushed me into the pool, oblivious to the fact I was wearing the second sanitary towel of my life, the pool didn’t turn into tomato soup. The landlord didn’t try to kick us out the villa because I’d unsuccessfully flushed a sanitary towel down the loo (don’t try it, never try it). And I didn’t even leak through the white linen trousers I wore to get ice cream at lunch. I survived.

Now, when I’m expecting my period, I either sleep in black knickers so that I don’t stain another fabulous pajama set, or wear a pad to bed. What was the lesson my first ever period taught me? That there’s nothing that can’t be solved by switching your Eeyore pyjamas for the toy instead.

And always go to the sarong stall early.

Image: Katie Edmunds

When you think about it, kissing is one of the weirdest things you can ever do.

It’s sort of gross, if you break it down. All sloppy tongues and wet lips and spit and teeth and hoping your breath doesn’t stink… or that’s what I tend to think about, anyway. Over the years I’ve kissed quite a few people, but my first kiss? The weirdest thing about the first time I ever kissed someone is how hard it is for me to remember it.

For so many years, having my first kiss was all I could think about. I’d sneak books from the library and read the paragraphs where couples would kiss over and over again. I’d watch TV, pretending I wasn’t looking through my fingers any time the snogging started. I’d daydream during my lessons, I’d practice on my arm (once even giving myself a love bite), and I would write in the notebooks I’ve kept since I was 12 about how much I wanted to kiss, a boy, on the lips.

But the main problem with me trying to kiss a boy was I didn’t really know any. I went to an all-girls school, so unless I was willing to grab a random one at the bus stop (and I was tempted), my kissing options at the time were pretty limited. When it eventually happened, I think I liked it.

I think I liked it… but I just don’t remember.

Some of the facts I do know: there was a boy. He was very tall and I really fancied him. We stood somewhere in the middle of a park, and I think we were chatting, and I think his arms were around mine. At some point he leaned down, I leaned up, and we kissed each other. It was late and dark, and all I could smell was wet grass and teenage boy (a funny mixture of sweat, chips and damp socks).

How to kiss for the first time (or not)

I always thought that when I finally kissed someone, everything would ‘just make sense’ and I’d feel like a proper adult. But it didn’t, and I didn’t. I stood there, thinking too much about nothing important.

If I wrote down my thoughts at the time, they’d go something like this:

1. Does he have two tongues?

2. He is tall, maybe he does have two tongues.

3. Or maybe he’s just spitting loads in my mouth?

4. Or maybe I’m spitting in his mouth!

5. Maybe I produce too much saliva and I’m a freak.

6. …or maybe he likes all my spit

7. Do I need to move my tongue more?

8. Maybe I should just try and spit into his mouth?

9. Ew, though.

And so on, until it was all over.

Community awkward kiss gif

When it finished, I said something mean or rude to a friend about him that I think I meant as a joke. He heard me. Of course he did. Later, my friend Mia’s mum picked us up from the side of the park, and in the darkness of the backseat of the car I whispered to Mia that I had kissed him that night. She whispered back to me that she had too.

I don’t think I felt jealous or weird about that, but I did feel annoyed at myself. I had told my friends I had kissed lots of people before – a total lie, obv – so I couldn’t tell Mia (or anyone) that was the first time I had kissed someone.

And that’s the story of my first kiss.

Here are facts I don’t know: I don’t remember how old I was. Yup, not at all, although I think it was somewhere around 14 to 16. I don’t remember if it was spring, summer, autumn, or winter. I don’t know if there was a party, or if people were drinking, or if I was drinking, or if we were just hanging about in a very dark park doing nothing but kiss and chat and kiss some more.

I don’t remember any of the build-up to the kiss; what time it happened, or how long it lasted, or if it was just one kiss, or if it was lots of them. I don’t remember what happened after I made my ‘joke’ and (maybe) insulted him, and I don’t remember if we ever spoke about it again afterwards, or if we ever even kissed again.

For something that I thought about every day for years, my first kiss has ended up being a pretty unremarkable life event. Over time, I realised it was the boring things like travelling around by myself or making the choice to go home early that have made me feel like a grown up, not kisses – even the kisses that have been really, really great. These days, a lot of my best friends are boys (well, men), and they’re nowhere near as mysterious as I once thought.

I’ve got no regrets about my first kiss, apart from wishing I wasn’t so anxious about it. I worried so much about it before it even happened, and now I remember that worry way more than I remember the kiss itself.

I might not remember the tiny details of the night I had my first kiss, but I do remember one thing: I thought I would remember it forever. The great thing about that not being true? Forever is a really long time, and you might forget things that happened long ago, but for every nice old memory is a new, great memory that comes to take its place.

@bridgetminamore

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I’ve never been very good at fancying people.

The awkwardness of really wanting your crush to know that you like them so you can actually be together, while at the same time being absolutely terrified of them finding out, is a struggle. And although I’ve always considered myself a total pro at advising my friends on this sort of thing, I’ve always been pretty bad at dealing with my own heartache.

The guy I fell hardest for took up a good year and a half of my secondary school existence, which, as we all know, feels like about five gazillion years when you’re 13 and convinced you’re in love.  

Don’t get me wrong, I did my best to live the rom-com cliché. I doodled our names in big fat hearts on the inside cover of my maths book. I found out his star sign and searched a bunch of astrology websites until I found one that said we were compatible.

Once he hugged me for a really long time at a party and then held my hand for a bit, which was pretty huge. I happened to be wearing brand new knickers that day and came to the conclusion that from that moment on, those very knickers would be known as my magical lucky knickers and that I’d obviously have to wear them on any occasion that could result in further one-on-one time with the crush boy.

(FYI – the effort of doing that much washing for the sake of a potential snog really isn’t worth the daily questioning you’ll definitely get from whoever presides over the household laundry basket.)

I had butterflies and googly eyes whenever he was within a 100-metre radius and I even bought an album by his favourite band and pretended to like their music so we’d have more to talk about. You know, if ever I managed to form actual sentences in his presence rather than the standard uncomfortable smile and really enthusiastic nod, that is.

Now, you’re probably thinking one of two things: ‘you’re really tragic and you weren’t lying about not being good at fancying people’ or ‘OMG, you have literally described my life’.

This crush business is a minefield, you guys. On top of all that, of course, there’s the stress of not knowing whether or not they fancy you back.

Unfortunately, even after all of my best efforts, it turned out that he did not fancy me back. And no, it wasn’t because he found out about the weird magic pants situation. It was because he fancied one of my best mates. Awks.

I noticed that he started to hang around with my group of friends more and naturally I assumed it was because I was an exceptionally good hand-holder. But then one day he got his friend to ask me if my BFF was interested in him.

A word of advice on how to handle this sort of situation: do not, I repeat, do NOT pretend to fancy your crush’s friend.

Somewhere between feeling really rubbish about crush boy not liking me and having to pretend to be happy for my best mate, I made the awful decision to then try and prove that I was completely fine with it all. I pretended that in fact I never liked him anyway, thanks, and actually it was his friend I fancied all along.

Word of my false love interest got around pretty quickly, which in the end resulted in two broken hearts and a whole lot of resentment towards our respective best mates who then started going out with each other.

I’d love to say that after that disaster, I was suddenly completely over Crush Boy and powered through the rest of school without so much of a fluttery heartbeat. I’d love to say that… but it’s never that easy, is it?

What I did learn over the years though, is that the process of having a crush isn’t always bad news.

Sure, it’s mega cringeworthy at times and you might go through periods when it feels like there is not a single human on earth who could possibly be as beautifully perfect as whoever it is you happen to be into – but once you come out the other side still standing, you realise that even though crushes are hard work, they’re also pretty great. Fancying people is quite exciting. And whether it works out or not, at the very least they make for really good group WhatsApp chats with your mates.

Just think twice before committing to the same pair of pants forever. Apparently it doesn’t work very well…

@JazKopotsha

Image: Manjit Thapp

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in your best knickers… oh hey! Discharge.

This totally wasn’t on the list

Don’t worry if you didn’t get the message. Discharge is a bit like the middle sibling of puberty – it shows up every day and does a great job, but often gets ignored. However at betty, we pay attention to both middle siblings (hey guys) and every weird and wonderful change happening in your body right now.

Like discharge.

There’s a party in my pants

Discharge is a natural mucus that is produced from your cervix. Formed from normal bacteria and fluids, and it’s your vagina’s way of keeping itself clean. We know, if only bedrooms did that.

You normally start producing discharge about six months to a year before your first period, so its appearance is a bit of a ‘hello!’ from your reproductive system, letting you know that changes are happening down there.

TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
  • Discharge is your vagina's self cleaning system. You’ll probably start producing it about six months to a year before your first period.
  • The amount of discharge and the consistency you produce will vary throughout your menstrual cycle.
  • If you notice a dramatic change (it looks grey, green or cottage cheesy) it might be a good idea to see your GP.

How much discharge should there be?

The amount of discharge you produce varies through the stages of your menstrual cycle. Generally you produce around a teaspoon of discharge a day, although at some times, like before ovulation, this could be quite a lot more. Around this time discharge can change texture too, becoming less like a liquid and more like a gloopy gel. Or for the sci-fi fans among you, ghost slime.

If you want to, you can wear a pantyliner (a thin pad) around that time of your cycle to absorb everything. Or not. You do you. Discharge comes out easily in the washing machine (woo!), so it’s really about what makes you feel more comfortable.

Anything else I should be looking out for?

Some variation throughout the month is perfectly natural, but a sudden change in your discharge could be a sign that something is a bit off – especially if you notice it looking grey or green, if it has a lumpy consistency like cottage cheese, if it starts to have a strong smell or if there’s suddenly a lot more than usual.

In that case, who you gonna call?

Ghostbusters?

No, your GP. Relax.

Image: Katie Edmunds

Body hair. It causes more social drama than an episode of EastEnders.

And all the shouting and opinions and ‘YOU AIN’T MY MUVVA’s can make you feel super confused at the pile of pubes you’ve now adopted, or your leg hair that seems to be growing darker and darker. What’s normal? Can you keep it? Or should it GET OUTTA MA PUB? (I’m not sure how long the EastEnders references are going to last, sorry.)

Firstly, let’s lay down the golden rules when it comes to YOUR body hair. Ahem. It is totally ok if you:

Don’t want to shave/wax/trim etc!

Not bothered by the hair on your body? Don’t get the fuss? That’s ok! Your body is yours and the hair on it is totally normal and healthy. If you don’t care about your fanny bush or fuzzy armpit then you leave it alone and stick two fingers up to the haters.

Want to shave/wax/trim etc!

Armpit hair too itchy? Leg hair too dark? Don’t like your pubes? That’s ok! You can remove your body hair as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. But your friends making comments in the P.E. changing rooms about you not shaving your legs, or your boyfriend/girlfriend saying you’re weird and dirty for keeping your pubes, aren’t the right reasons. Only change your body for you and nobody else.

So that’s that sorted. But what about the hair that’s not on your legs, fanny, or armpit? The hair that lurks but no one talks about? The tuft that’s appeared on your big toe or the sole, lonely long hair that’s sticking proudly from your left nipple? Is THAT normal?! Well…

1. Hairy toes?

Yep. Normal. Toes get hairy, which apparently is a sign of good circulation! So if you can plait your toe hair then your heart is probably doing a good job. Be proud.

2. Hairy nipples?

Totally normal. It’s very common to have a hair or two growing around your nipples. Like most things, you can probably blame hormones. It’s unlikely that many people are going to see them, or care, but if you do want to get rid then a gentle pluck will do.

3. Facial hair?

Normal, almost all of the time. While men are basically encouraged to rock a hipster beard, it can feel like a girl’s worst nightmare to have hair growing on their face (spot the inequality!). But whether it’s upper lip, between the eyebrows, or on your chin, it happens. Usually it’s just who you are – but sometimes a lot of face hair can be due to hormonal imbalances, so if it seems extreme or is really bothering you, get yourself to your GP.

4. Hairy eyebrows?

So normal. Some people’s eyebrows are super thin and some are super thick, and what’s socially acceptable and trendy changes every damn day. Eyebrows can be cool to play with and style, but never think that yours are naturally weird or abnormal. And never wax or shave them off completely off… believe me. You don’t wanna do that.

5. Snail trail?

Funnily enough, normal! Snail trails, the hair that can run from your belly button to your fanny, aren’t just guy property. #Equality

6. Dark hair?

Normal. The colour of your body hair will totally depend on your DNA. If you have super dark hair that steals the limelight, or super pale hair that makes your eyebrows redundant, then you can probably blame your parents. Whatever the colour, it’s normal to you.

7. Hairy bum?

Unfortunately, normal. We’re not talking about the long hairs that get trapped in your bum crack after a shower, we’re talking about actual hair that grows in said bum crack. It’s a misconception that your pubes only grow on your mons pubis (the area above your vulva – Google it). They grow in ALL THE AREAS down below. You can get rid of it if you want to, but please be careful! Shaving down there can be tricky, blind, and VERY PAINFUL IF YOU GET IT WRONG.

8. Pubey thighs?

Argh, sorry. Normal. As above, your pubes can grow in ALL THE AREAS and that can include your thighs. Yeah. We know. Thankfully these pubes tend to not be as thick and wiry as your fanny pubes so are soft and less noticeable, which also makes them more easy to get rid of – if you so wish.

So, there you have it. Body hair. More often than not, totally 100% normal.

*gasp. dramatic look. DUFF DUFF DUFFDUFFDUFF DUFFDUFFDUFFDUFF. theme tune. credits roll*

@louisejonesetc

Image: Kate Forster

Dear Me,

All that stuff that makes you different to the other girls at school? Being brown, Pakistani and Muslim? You don’t have to hide any of it.

Don’t be embarrassed about praying at home with family, learning Urdu, going to the mosque and wearing shalwar kameez. Those family moments that you purposefully kept separate from your school life will make the sweetest of memories that will one day brighten up your homesick soul. Also, if other people haven’t realised that a shalwar kameez is as comfy as a pair of pyjamas and doubles as an acceptable form of daywear, it’s their loss.

I understand why you hate speaking up and try to hide among the many, instead of standing out amid the few. All this uncertainty is necessary right now because you’re choosing who you want to be and listening before speaking. But, that doesn’t give you a free pass to edit out your opinions and experiences because they don’t match everyone else’s. Like a ghost hiding in the shadows, don’t be left shapeless and voiceless. Be seen.

Remember this: those who are the loudest in the crowd haven’t always got it down. Say what you want even if it first comes out in a whisper – softly speak the truth and people will listen harder until you gain the confidence to shout it out. Once you can shout, make it a point to listen to others.

Your unique voice is the very thing that will fuel your career. I know you want to be a postal clerk working in a quiet back office in solitude listening to Bollywood songs on headphones; but tough luck, one day you’ll be a writer with an attitude. You’ll write for the Muslim girls of today so they don’t feel like you did (as out of place as a baguette in a gluten-free pantry) because if you don’t, who will?

Believe in yourself. One day you’ll lecture university students and be on the radio, you’ll pitch to magazine editors and move on after every rejection while fighting the urge to vomit after putting yourself out there (unfortunately that feeling never goes away so you may as well get used to it). Get all the comfort you need from family and friends, but be bolder and do the scarier stuff at school. It gets less terrifying the more you do it.

Work on improving your Urdu vocabulary because it will give you the tools to communicate better with your relatives and learn about your history. Make your dad another cuppa. One day you’ll be too far away to do it and miss sprinkling sweetener in his tea and dipping a digestive in it while he’s not looking. Believe your mum when she tells you that you’re beautiful, even though you feel like you look like a baked potato with curly hair. She may cook stinky food that makes your clothes smell and put a sour spice mix on her fruit salad, but soon balsamic strawberries will be all the rage and her Pakistani habits won’t sound so weird anymore.

Some girls will never ‘get’ you and criticise everything over the next few years, like why you wear a long skirt to school, don’t have a boyfriend and don’t drink alcohol. They are not your people. Instead of bootstrapping your way through those conversations, make friends with like-minded girls.

That empathy that you’ve got in spades? Hold on to it. Feeling affected by people’s pain is a good thing. Being sensitive is not a character flaw despite what the arrogant know-it-alls might tell you. Sensitivity is a route to compassion, to understanding human nature and to a better awareness that everything you say or do has a direct impact on the feelings of others. Next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, remember it’s just because they don’t like your valid reaction to their unacceptable behaviour. Thank them for the compliment.

Not everyone experiences the special sweet spot between two cultures. Your perspective is rare and interesting so don’t make a secret of your superpower. Instead of dimming your brilliance, shine like a star.

Love,

Me x

@javaria_akbar

Living as we do in the age of green juices, Instagram wellness gurus and friends who just happen to turn gluten intolerant overnight (except for, mysteriously, Colin the Caterpillar cake?) it’s easy to feel confused about food.

On the one hand: diets suck. Body positivity is the way forward, ‘strong not skinny’ is so now and we know it’s so much healthier to have a cookie when you fancy one than to live a life of obsessive calorie-counting. But on the other hand, when you’re fed up of bad skin, feel like hormones are taking over your body and need all the energy you can get to keep up with your busy, busy life, food could hold some answers.

“Teenage years are BIG years for your body – there’s a lot of change and development,” says Alice Walker, a registered dietician (which FYI is a legal title, whereas anyone can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’ without professional qualifications). “Your body is calling out for good nutritious food.” So how do we sort the true superfoods from the trendy fads? Ask a professional, that’s how.

Here are Alice’s top five nutrients to be eating more of in 2017. Tuck in!

1. Fibre – keeps things moving

“First up is fibre, which we don’t seem to be consuming enough of these days and we need it to keep [lol] regular. Fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of fibre and have the added benefit of being rich in other vitamins and minerals too – so if you aim to meet your 5-a-day of fruit and veg then that’s a good target. A portion could be an apple, two satsumas, two broccoli spears or a banana. Wholemeal carbs (oats, bread, pasta and rice), nuts, seeds, lentils and beans are also great sources. Long-term low intake of fibre can cause digestive problems later in life, so it’s important to get your fill.” 

2. Protein – power up

“A teenage body requires plenty of protein. Having good skin, hair and nails could all be down to having enough protein in your diet – but that doesn’t mean you need to go and drink protein shakes. Lean cuts of meat, fish, yoghurt, milk, eggs, quinoa, soya and tofu all are good sources of protein. Be savvy and include a portion of protein at each meal – that could be a palm-sized amount of the above, a chicken fillet, a salmon steak, an individual pot of yoghurt or a couple of eggs.” 

3. Calcium and Vitamin D – besties for bones

“These two together make a heavenly pair for strong bones. Teenage years are crucial as it is when bone strength peaks, and a diet lacking in calcium and vitamin D could lead to Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Calcium is, famously, found in dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese – but if you’re vegan or don’t like the white stuff then oily fish, calcium-enriched breakfast cereals and green leafy vegetables can also help. Again, aiming to have a portion at each meal would be a good start. Meanwhile vitamin D is added to lots of breakfast cereals, milk and margarine but the best source is actually direct from sunlight. As well as eating a balanced diet we should also have an active lifestyle, so fresh air and safe sun exposure [remember your SPF] for at least 15 minutes per day also benefits those bones.”

4. Iron – for inner strength

“We lose iron every month in our menstrual cycle, so it’s extra important to make sure you get enough once you start your period. Found in red meat, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruit and nuts, iron also helps to carry oxygen around the body, giving our muscles energy to move – so there is some truth in Popeye downing the tins of spinach to make him strong! If you don’t think that offal is awful then liver or kidneys are fab sources of iron. Vitamin C can also help the absorption of Iron from plant sources – so a perfect breakfast could be breakfast cereal with a glass of orange juice to wash it down with.

5. Fats – oil’s well that ends well

“Finally, let’s talk fat. Good fats are essential – our bodies can’t make them, so we need to eat them. Let’s not worry about the long complicated names but oily fish (like mackerel, sardines or salmon), avocado, nuts, seeds, rapeseed and olive oil all contain essential fats that can help give you great skin. Fats found in processed products – like cakes, crisps, biscuits and pastries – contain the less brilliant fats that it’s better to eat only in moderation.”

“But most importantly,” says Alice, “enjoy your food and be creative with it – variety is the spice of life!”

So there you go; proper, medical permission to fill up your plate with all kinds of food. Because there’s so much more to life than green juice.

Alice Walker is a registered dietician.

Image: Manjit Thapp

Ergh, blushing. That dreaded phrase “You’ve gone red!” litters so many people’s teenage years and then some (sorry guys, it’s not going to stop after you’ve nailed puberty). It’s the most annoying song on the adolescence album, even including the “No, you’re not old enough” and “Can I see some ID please?” party (pooper) anthems.

As the old, slightly sinister, saying goes; Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so that’s what we’re going to do right now.

Let’s find out what blushing actually is, why we do it and whether or not there’s any way we can take back some control next time it turns up to the party, like a bully, and tells everyone who you fancy.

So, what actually is blushing?

Here’s what the NHS website tells us: ‘…blushing occurs when a strong emotional trigger stimulates the nervous system, resulting in the widening of the blood vessels in the face. This increases the flow of blood into the blood vessels just underneath the skin, causing your face to turn red.’ The website also states that blushing doesn’t just occur in the face, but can also make your neck, upper chest and ears scarlet.

Cool. So, essentially, blushing occurs because  ‘strong emotional triggers’ just happen to widen blood vessels, which happen to increase the flow of blood to our faces (right where our eyes are, so people can really see it – again, cool), and blood happens to be red. Not see-through, or even a very subtle pastel shade. Red. So it just happens to be very obvious when we blush, particularly for people with pale skin.

What the experts say…

So what counts as a ‘strong emotional trigger’, and is there any way we can stop them?

The short answer is no. Of course we can’t. Although we can pretend to the outside world that everything’s fine, trying to make our nervous system believe that we’re feeling chilled when we’re not just isn’t possible.

However, there is hope. You know how sometimes you’re blushing a little, then someone points it out and somehow that makes it worse? Well, a 2009 study suggests that a fear of blushing exists, which makes us all have an even worse time when it happens. But findings from the same study also showed that, although the person blushing is having a negative reaction to it, people generally do not react with negative judgement when they see someone blush.

So in other words, the only person that really cares when you’re blushing is you.

Another study from 2014 showed that ‘children reported more fear of blushing than adults’. Which tells us that, although we may not grow out of blushing, something clearly happens as we get older to stop us caring so much. Maybe it’s the fact that being a teenager is incredibly difficult, and there are way more opportunities for blushing to attack.

How to deal

Now we know what blushing is, why we do it and what other people are thinking when it happens, let’s make it all a little less painful. We may not be able to stop it happening completely but, like macaroni cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a bad period day, there’s always a way we can relieve the stress a little.

Number one; remember the research. The majority of people are not judging you when you blush – because who would? Who takes pleasure out of someone else’s social discomfort? No one whose judgement we care to accept. Next!

Beat blush at its own game

It may seem like a silly tip, but if you can convince yourself that people can’t see you blush it may help the situation pass by a little quicker. One way to do this is to, ironically, wear blusher. At least, this worked for me and a bunch of friends at college, who all noticed a difference in the number of people noticing our blushing because our cheeks were already flush with Bourjois Rose D’Or.

Own it

Remember all the great women whose embarrassing moments – and their unapologetic honesty in those times – have made people absolutely adore them; Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, your friends, you. Try to embrace it. It’ll happen anyway. When you think about it, embarrassing moments are actually amazing. They make for hilarious stories and memorable life experiences.

In his famous book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin describes blushing as ‘the most peculiar and most human of all expressions’. But really, it’s the most human of all expressions.

We blush because we’re human, and to be human is to feel a load of things; embarrassment, attraction, awkwardness, guilt, panic. It’s not easy, but it is normal and we all do it. To blush is to feel emotion in its truest, no-hiding-it sense. So just try to ride the wave – and think of all the great anecdotes.

Image: Laura Callaghan

Don’t say you haven’t thought the same! No seriously, shh.

“There is nothing as satisfying as perfectly wrapping up your used pad in the wrapper from the new one. Look at that! I’m an artist.”

“ATCHOO! Was that a sneeze or… pants Niagra?”

“One of these days I’m going to leak so bad that I owe someone a new sofa.”

“Uber, but for a robot to come and change your tampon so you don’t have to get out of bed on a Saturday morning.”

“If I tense my muscles and try really hard, could I, like… speed up my uterus? Get it all out a bit quicker?

“If I had the choice, would I rather have all my year’s period in one go?”

“Or even… my whole LIFE’s period. In one go. Imagine! You could go away to a special place to get it all over with, somewhere nice with loads of pillows and hot water bottles and warm baths. A period spa.”

“Actually a period spa is a fantastic idea. All the towels and dressing gowns could be red! One of the treatments could just be a beauty therapist patting your head for an hour and saying “there there” while you whimper.”

“Do you think women who do bell ringing in churches are extra good at getting their tampons out?”

“What if other girls are taking their bags to the toilet for some other cool reason I don’t know about?”

“Do Americans call full stops ‘periods’ because they make everything feel like it’s the end?”

“Why has nobody invented a bra made from something softer for when your boobs hurt? Like… I don’t know, feathers? Marshmallows?”

“Mmm, marshmallows.”

“Would it actually be easier to just sit here on the loo for five days? I could have pizza Deliverooed to the toilet!”

“There we go, another business idea. A period delivery app, that just does cookie dough and chip butties and all the orders come with a pre-filled hot water bottle.”

“I wonder what a cramp looks like inside. Is it like, a whole load of my uterus wall just falling away like a waterfall?”

“Do periods make a noise? If I listened really carefully would I be able to hear it, like a stomach rumble?”

“Shhhh…”

“….”

“No.”

@laurenbravo

Girli, the teenage punk rapper-slash-pop star who is being tipped as one of 2017’s most intriguing musical talents, may be jetting off to Los Angeles hours after I call her up, but she’s still paranoid about losing her passport. The 19-year-old, who is known to her parents as Millie Toomey, has spent the past year in a whirlwind, blending turning 18 and A Levels with becoming the new Lily Allen, while spending the summer living in a flat by herself.

It’s the kind of life many teenage girls dream of. But it’s one that’s even more remarkable considering that Millie spent her first years of secondary school dealing with bullies and waiting for her period to turn up, venting her anger by organising awareness against sexual harassment and, at 13, speaking in the Houses of Parliament – “wearing an untucked shirt thinking I was the coolest person ever”.

Both of Toomey’s parents were actors, so performing was always on the cards. But she only turned to music at 15 after becoming fed up of “never actually changing anything” as an elected member of Youth Parliament for Camden, north London, where she grew up. “I thought, that’s not the best way to change things. I remember going to school and everyone was like, ‘There’s that goodie-two-shoes who’s always telling everyone what to do. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to prove you all wrong.’” So she formed a girl band.

When her bandmates decided to concentrate on going to university, Millie, then 16, decided to keep making music by herself. Her first effort? “A song made by sampling the sound of Japanese girls shouting at someone.” From here came Girli: the hyper-pink, provocative, unashamedly bolshy and completely, fiercely feminist alter-ego, which won her a record deal within a matter of months.

I spoke to Girli about about school, periods and becoming a pop star. 

Going from a youth politician to a pop star sounds like something out of a teen movie we’d want to see. How did that happen?

“I realised that it wasn’t the best way to change things. I was 15 and I’d been doing politics for ages and I had a teen realisation where I was like, actually, “Everyone’s against me”. I always felt like I was on the side of teachers and politicians, because I thought they were there for me. But they weren’t there for me, they’re there for themselves, and it got me really angry. I started hating politicians and everything they stood for.

I started really hating school at that point because I felt like there were a lot of people who didn’t get what I was about and a lot of things were changing and I thought, no. I wanted to be able to go somewhere after school and just rock out. I started making music with my band and I cut all my hair off as a rebellion. It was an outlet.”

How did you form a band?

“I got together a band from joinmyband.com, the dodgiest thing ever. Luckily I didn’t get any dodgy ones, but found these three girls and we played indie rock punk. It was really rubbish but it was fun. The girls left me to go to uni, they didn’t think the band was going to go anywhere. I still maintain that we could have headlined the O2 one day, but whatever.  

Then I started making songs on my computer and messing around on my own and Girli was born. I think it must have been two years ago now. A few months later I got label interest. I was playing loads of gigs and I was going to loads of networking events and stuff, desperately trying to get a manager. And I met this guy who had been a rapper, he was a rookie manager and he started managing me, which was a bit of a disaster really, because he was super young as well and it was kind of messing around. Then I got a new manager who knew what he was doing a little more and started putting out more music on my own and the label got involved.”

I had a lot of fun at your Camden show – whose idea was it to string tampons from the ceiling?

“That was such a fun gig, everyone was so up for everything. I threw a Donald Trump pinata at them and they were so up for it! I always like to involve sanitary products in my shows. I used to chuck them out at the crowd. I think people think I do it to shock, and really I just do it because I don’t think that tampons or periods should be something that’s taboo. It’s just something that comes with being a woman. I feel like if I string tampons up at my show it’ll help people be like, “oh, tampons – whatever.””

So, tell us about your first period…

“I remember being really upset because I was really late in having my period. Obviously now I’m like, “huh! Upset! Could have gone a few more years without bothering with it!” But I remember all of my friends and all of the girls in my class were like, “oh my god, period talk”, and I had to be like, “yeah, totally, LOL”, when I had no idea what was going on. I felt like such a baby.

I had just turned 15 and I got my period at home. It wasn’t a messy story: I went to the loo and was like, “oh, blood!” And I remember walking out and my dad was standing outside and the first thing I said to him was, “Dad, I’m a woman now”. And he just looked at me and said, “no, you’re not.”

My mum was a legend, she was prepared. She was like, “Here are some I had earlier,” and revealed a whole cupboard of sanitary products.”

Do you have a period craving?

“To be honest, it’s just a craving for everything. I just eat like a horse when I’m on my period. But in general, chocolate is always the go-to. Chocolate all day, every day.”

Can you tell when it’s coming?

“I just start to feel a bit heavy and sluggish and I sync with all of my female friends. Whenever it’s coming, we’ll text and say, “I feel like my period’s coming along”, and as soon as someone says that we’ll jinx it and we all just get out periods like 10 minutes later.”

What about period pains?

“I don’t get terrible pains but I do get bad mood swings. I got my period on my birthday, which was like, two days ago, and I was like, “are you f***ing kidding me?” Because obviously it’s your birthday and you’re meant to be in a good mood, and I was just being really pissy to my mum.”

One of your best new songs is dedicated to your sister, and has loads of lovely advice in it. Would you give yourself the same tips if you could?

“If I could look back, I’d just say to chill out. Because I worried way too much, I still do. But I think that’s the thing that gets most teenagers, you just worry so much about the future, like, “do I have to decide who I want to be now?” or “should I feel a certain way?” and being 13-15 is sometimes really rubbish and that’s just a normal natural growing up and getting used to your own skin and finding your people. It’s so normal.”

“My sister is having a tough time at school, and so did I – I got bullied at school and hated school a lot of the time – and that’s why I did well at exams, because I just decided to study and get away from it all. Then I started the band. Just pushing through and remembering that on the other side you’re going to have a great life. That’s the most important thing.”

Bullying sucks big time. What was your experience of it like?

“The move from primary to secondary really stressed me out. I was so anxious. I had to go to therapy and I really wasn’t a very happy kid, and there was a group of girls who just preyed on me like demons. I would come to school and everything I did or say they would comment, they’d try to trip me up and it was constant, there was no escape. Now, I look back and I think, I’m actually doing stuff with my life and I have really good people around me and I have no idea where they are. I think being tormented like that, it made me want to weird people out even more!”

What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you at school?

“I was about 12 and this boy asked me to go to the Year 6 prom. And I’d literally never been asked by a boy to go to anything, and I was like, “Yeah, sick!” Then this other boy, who I’d had a crush on for ages, like years, asked me as well. And being 12-year-old, savage me, I was like, “well yeah, this is a better offer”. So I went back to the first guy and was like, sorry mate. Then he was like, “you bitch!”. The guy who I’d fancied for ages found out and came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re a dick” and took away his offer.

And I ended up going on my own. Which was actually great.”

Girli’s new single, Girl I Met on the Internet, is out now.