Picture the scene. You’ve woken up, headed over to the mirror to check out your fine self, and there’s a new best friend sitting on your face. It’s bright red, it’s practically waving at you, and it definitely wasn’t invited to the party.

There are all sorts of reasons why you’ve been blessed by a super-shiny spot because spots are actually your body’s way of trying to tell you something. Whether it’s a heads up that your period’s on the way, you’re using too much product or you’re neglecting your five-a-day, it’s basically a message in a bottle. But on your face.

The location that your spots most often pop up in can actually tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body. Here are some handy hints to figure out what your skin is trying to tell you.

A spotty forehead

Are you rocking a heavy fringe at the moment? While they look all kinds of awesome, they do have a tendency to gather grease from styling products and sweat throughout the day, which will lead to a load of pesky pimples. Try pinning it back for a couple of weeks to see if things clear up.

If you’re fringeless, spots on your forehead can also be an indication that you haven’t been eating too healthily. No biggie, but too much red meat or saturated fat could be to blame, so up your intake of fresh veggies, herbal teas and water to combat the forehead spots with a mini detox.

Spotty cheeks

Gah, spots on your cheeks are no joke. It seriously hurts to prod and poke those bad boys, and there’s actual betrayal involved too. Your ultimate best friend – your PHONE – could be to blame.

Think about it – you’re forever touching the screen with your fingers without washing them first, and then pressing the screen against your face. Bleugh. The same goes for if you’re a serial face toucher, or if you have a habit of leaning on your hands while you’re concentrating. Try your best to keep your hands away from your face, and giving your phone a quick wipe every now and again definitely wouldn’t hurt.

Spots between your brows

Fed up of having lumps and bumps popping up between those lovely brows of yours? You probably just need to chill out, pal. Spots in the middle of or around your eyebrows are often related to stress. The worst part is that stress can leave you with an oily T-zone, which then leads to blocked pores, which then lead to more spots, which then probably lead to more spot-related stress. It’s the cirrrcle of liiife.

A spotty nose

And if you’re finding that the blemishes just won’t quit around your nose and T-zone then, similarly to your brows, it’s bound to be stress related. If you’re freaking out about your crazy workload, endless revision or something that’s kicked off in your friendship group, your body will be releasing adrenaline the whole time.

This affects your body by increasing oil production and then the spots are officially incoming. If you’re feeling stressed, make time for a pamper session to a) unwind to improve your mental health, and b) get the face masks and acne treatment onto your T-zone while chilling out.

Spots near your mouth

We relate to this one on a spiritual level, because spots around your mouth basically means that you just love food SO MUCH. Residue from acidic foods can irritate and inflame your skin, while any residue left from scoffing great greasy foods like pizza or chips (yum) will block your pores. Keeping a packet of facial cleansing wipes handy to remove any invisible traces around your mouth after meals could be the answer.

A spotty jawline

While they’re not quite as in-your-face as the rest, spots along your jaw are no less irritating and can easily become inflamed and sore. This one could be a result of what you’re putting into your body.

Weirdly, experts claim that spots on the jawline can actually be linked to an inflamed large intestine, which often comes into trouble if you’ve been eating heavily processed foods. That’s stuff like ready meals, crisps and biscuits which include a lot of complicated ingredients that don’t make much sense. Opting for simpler, more natural foods like fruits, veggies and nuts (yeah we know, snooze), might help to clear up your skin issues.

A spotty hairline

Finding that spots gather around your face and right up to your hairline? The products you’re using could definitely be behind ‘em. If you’re overloading your lovely locks with life savers like dry shampoo, hairspray or hair oil, and then sticking your fingers into your roots for the perfect tousled look, you’re only clogging up the pores around the hair.

Avoid applying products near your forehead altogether, and try to wash your hands after you apply heavy hair products. Include your hairline when you’re cleansing your face too (but use a soft touch), and follow up with a gentle daily toner for a bit of extra help.

A spotty chin

Pretty much everyone gets a spotty chin once a month and yep, you guessed it, they’re just the cherry on top of getting your period. Chin spots are very often hormone-related, so there’s not a whole lot you can do aside from get enough sleep and drink a ton of water.

The monthly treat from mother nature will often by cystic rather than satisfying spots that you can pop, but resist the urge to poke at those under-the-skin lumps. Rev up your spot fighting skincare the week before your period by using products with spot-fighting salicylic acid in the ingredients. And if your skin is persistently bad during your time of the month, you might wanna have a chat with the doctor – they can offer prescription treatments to level out your hormones and keep breakouts at bay.

A spotty chest or back

Bacne or chest-ne (is that a thing?) are absolutely no fun, and can really get you down in the summer when everyone’s wearing cute strappy clothes. Maybe you’re wearing the wrong bra or t-shirt. Cotton fabrics quickly absorb sweat and then keep it close to your skin all day – and acne-causing bacteria thrives in moist conditions. Make sure to wear proper sweat-absorbing gear when you’re exercising or hanging out in the heat.

Your shower routine could also be to blame. Stick to a simple pH balanced products. Shampoo residue is a particularly sneaky culprit, so wash your hair, condition it, rinse – then wrap it up in a shower cap and wash your body properly afterwards. You’ll limit the oils from your conditioner irritating your freshly washed skin.

But more importantly than all of this, remember if you’re struggling with your skin, EVERYONE gets spots all over the place. It’s totally normal – but the doctor is always there to have a chat to if you feel like they’re getting you down.

Being sporty is hard, man. Unless you’re one of those girls whose ponytail does the perfect swish while running a 5k without breaking a single bead of sweat. Stomach cramps, sweaty fringes, big boobs and chafing thighs do not work in our favour. But even the world’s biggest female champions face the same hardships.

If you ever feel blue about having to go to PE while you’re on your period, or you constantly battle with a bloated tum while working out – take a look at these awesome sporty girls and prepare to be inspired.

1. Fu Yuanhui’s period-power statement

Fu Yuanhui might just be the coolest girl in sports RN. The 21-year-old Chinese swimmer was interviewed on live television after coming fourth in the 4x100m relay at Rio 2016.

Fu told the interviewer: ‘I don’t think I performed very well today. I feel I let my teammates down…It’s because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired – but this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim well enough.’

She instantly became the star of Rio, breaking the taboo of openly talking about menstrual cycles to an international audience. Because – shocker! – top athletes have periods too.

And why on earth shouldn’t Fu vocalise her experience? One can only imagine the tears of pain and frustration a boy would cry if he had to race with menstrual cramps.

Oh, and Fu went on to win a bronze medal in Rio *high five*

2. Paula Radcliffe’s roadside poo

Ever found yourself half way through a cross-country run at school and felt a sudden urge to use the loo? We’ve all been there – the panic, discomfort and embarrassment are all too real. But the chances are that you probably make it to the ground-floor bathroom just in time to do your business.

But not three-time London Marathon champion Paula Radcliffe MBE. The English long-distance running hero is testament to the saying ‘when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go’.

With just five miles left to run in the London Marathon, Paula had stomach cramps and knew there was only one way to relieve them. She crouched down at the side of the road and did what she had to do. Paula ran on to win the marathon then endure some very awkward interviews.

We salute her for feeling the fear and doing it anyway, all in the name of ensuring a triple-champion title.

3. Serena Williams’s bare-naked bump

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Serena Williams has been ranked ‘world’s number one tennis player’ eight times by the Women’s Tennis Association. EIGHT TIMES – and there’s me struggling to finish a lap limping around my local park on a Saturday morning.

She’s also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and heads up the Serena Williams Fund, which creates equality through education and assists victims of violence.

So Serena Williams is basically Wonder Woman but with a racket instead of a lasso and shield, OK?

And here she is heavily pregnant, butt-naked on the front cover of Vanity Fair earlier this year, absolutely slaying it. This shot screams ‘LOOK HOW AWESOME ME AND MY BUMP ARE’. The whole shoot is beautiful and celebrates her fearlessness as a sports star, tenderness as a mum-to-be and pride in being a woman.

4. Sarah Attar runs for Saudi Arabia

Sarah Attar was one of the first two women to represent Saudi Arabia in the 2012 Olympics. Up until then, the Saudi Arabia Olympics Committee did not let women take part and represent their state in the world’s most famous sports competition.

Sarah was only 16 at the time and wasn’t asked to take part until the International Olympics Committee insisted on female participation at short notice.

Despite coming last in her heat (it’s not like she had a proper chance to train!), she went on to run the marathon in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Sarah made a huge step for female sports in Saudi Arabia and her story makes us feel a teeny bit guilty about using a tummy ache as an excuse not to go for a jog.

She also has a really arty travelling Instagram, which is worth checking out.

5. Jessica Ennis-Hill’s post-pregnancy comeback

Jessica Ennis-Hill is the British three-time world champion heptathlon hero who took gold in the London Olympics 2012 and became a national treasure.

Just to clarify what a heptathlon involves, it is a series of seven events that take place over two or three days. These events include high jump, javelin and various short running distances. Basically, you have to be a pretty well-rounded, incredible athlete to do it.

After London, Jess took some time out for the birth of her baby, Reggie. She returned to the Rio Olympics 2016 with a lot of expectations to defend her gold status, but walked away with silver.

Pregnancy does a lot of crazy but wonderful things to a woman’s body, and anyone who even attempts a heptathlon just over a year after giving birth and juggling motherhood with training, is a gold winner in our eyes. The whole nation probably agrees with that.

Image: Getty/Katie Edmunds

 

Sure, some people LOVE exercising at school. Whether it’s team games, athletics, gymnastics, absolutely bossing the bleep test – a little sporting activity during the school day can be a lot of fun.

But, whether it’s because you don’t get on with other people in your class (but now have to shower with them, hello), you’re made to do really long cross country runs in the dead of winter like something out of an Enid Blyton book, or you get all hot and sweaty before maths class when you have that crush sat right behind you… sometimes PE can suck.

Really suck.

The thing is, moving about is (breaking news!) really good for you. Working out gets your heart pumping, can improve your skin and does wonders for your mood. This means it’s important for your health – inside and out – to exercise, but not that it has to be boring or happen in school hours to make a difference.

Here are seven ways to work out that are about eleventy times more fun than anything that happens in PE lessons.

(NB: must also pay attention in maths)

Rihanna work work gif

1. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk

We know, it sounds obvious. It sounds boring. It sounds like something you do every day anyway, doesn’t it? But adding just a few more steps here and there can actually make you feel a lot better – and there’s nothing nicer than getting fresh air after double physics. Luckily what last year we called ‘walking’, this year we call ‘playing Pokemon Go’. Have you caught them all yet?

Liz Lemon dancing gif

2. Dancing queeeeen

Whether you’re at a party with a big group of friends or just rocking out in front of your mirror, dancing is scientifically-proven to be the most fun form of exercise, ever. (Well, if science is based on us asking all of our friends and them agreeing with us.) The best thing about dancing is: the more you do it and the more of your body you move, the better it is for you.

3. Walk, sprint, jog (then do it all over again)

Walking can be boring. Sprinting can be tiring. What’s the answer? Do a bit of everything! Mixing some walking with a bit of sprinting, then switching back to walking again, then finishing off with jogging gets your body really moving. It adds variety to your workout and it’s a tried-and-tested way to keep very fit. You can make it even more fun by taking a friend with you – or get good pet karma and take your dog.

Foxes on trampoline

4. Trampolining, bouncy castle-ing and general jumping

Trampolining is so much fun, because it makes you feel like a little kid again. Bounce around, do some tricks and make sure you do lots of laughing when anyone falls over – it’s kinda the rules. NB: this tip also works just as well on a bouncy castle.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse ice skating

5. It’s time to get your skates on

Roller skating is a great way to have fun with your friends, move about a lot and keep your body working – it actually takes a lot of muscle strength to keep your body balanced. Feeling frosty? Try ice skating instead.

Swimming baby underwater

6. Splash around

If you love to swim and doing length after length doesn’t bore you, go for it you athlete! But for most of us, it’s much more fun to dunk each other’s heads in the water and see if we can totally nail a handstand on the bottom of the pool. If you’re feeling ambitious, get your mates together and dream up your very own synchronised swimming routine. With a little bit of practice you’ll have everyone around you super impressed by your seamless moves – or it’ll just be a great thing to have a giggle about on the way home.

Dog on a bike

7. Get on your bike

That’s right, it’s time to dig your old bike out from your shed and take it for a spin. As long as you have a helmet you can explore your local area on two wheels rather than just two feet. It might be easier than walking (and it’s definitely easier than running), but it gives your legs a good workout.

Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, try a unicycle. You’ll find growing numbers of acrobatic skills classes in most areas – so if the thought of double hockey in the rain really gets too much, you can always run off and join the circus.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Every month or so, I start eating like an uncontrollable beast who has just awoken from 100 years in hibernation. 

I’m talking second breakfasts, constant inter-meal snacking and supersize dinners with all the trimmings (and by trimmings, I mean chips). And I can’t lie, I start to freak out. I worry that this ravenous hunger will never leave me and that if I continue to eat at this rate, I’m destined for a future as the world’s largest woman.

But then… then I get that pang; that little twitch in my lower abdomen giving me a head’s up that my period is on its way. And suddenly I remember that this always happens, that a few days before my period I am always hit with the most unquenchable hunger. Then I chill the hell out.

Me Want Food 30 Rock gif

You see we’ve all heard of pregnancy cravings (which seem to involve eating pickles with everything), but we rarely talk about period cravings – even though many women encounter them on a monthly basis. As well as just wanting to eat EV-ER-Y-THING for a time, I also get really seriously into cheese. And chocolate. Toasties, cheese on toast, thick chocolate milkshakes and really dense, sticky brownies are my go-to treats – things I usually eat as occasional treats suddenly become essential parts of my diet.

And it’s not just me. I asked around my friends, and everyone agreed that their eating habits changed around the time of their period. Unsurprisingly, chocolate featured pretty highly on a lot of people’s period craving charts, but some of the foods were a bit more leftfield. Not one but two people got back to me saying they craved all things tomato – from plain old tinned tomatoes to baked beans and even tomato & basil pasta sauce straight out the jar – while another friend said she became a crazed carnivore, always fancying loads of bacon, sausages, steak and, I quote, ‘ALL THE CHICKEN.’

But what do these cravings MEAN? Is there any rhyme or reason to them, or are they all just random? And are there any dietary dos or don’ts we should know about? To find out, I spoke to Gaynor Bussell, a dietician and registered nutritionist specialising in women’s health.

First up, Gaynor confirmed that period – or PMS – cravings are totally normal. She explained: ‘Cravings can be one of the symptoms of PMS, and due to changing hormone levels this can happen from two weeks before the period (known as the luteal phase) to the time when the period really gets underway (which could take a few days from when it first starts). Calorie requirements increase for many during this time of the month, and so there is an increase in hunger which may drive cravings.’ Phew.

Mindy Project McDonalds gif

So the hunger is normal, but what about our food choices? ‘Nobody really knows why certain foods are craved and cravings do vary, with some preferring savoury while some crave any carbs,’ Gaynor explained. But when it comes to chocolate, Gaynor told me it’s all about that feel-good feeling: ‘Chocolate has always been associated with comfort, regardless of PMS. This time of the month is associated with increased depression and anxiety so comfort food may be craved.’

Finally, I asked Gaynor for her period dietary tips. Unsurprisingly, seeing as she’s a nutritionist, chips and chocolate brownies didn’t feature too highly. Instead, she advised: ‘A healthy diet throughout the month has been associated with less PMS symptoms. Being generally active too can help reduce symptoms. It is also believed that having regular meals throughout the day that that are made up of low energy release carbs, such as pasta, seedy bread and oats, can help even out swings in blood sugars and hence avert cravings. And in general, you should avoid consuming too much junk food – especially foods and drinks that give you quick energy/sugar boosts which may be followed by crashing lows. These are known perpetrators of PMS.’

So, as ever, it seems that a healthy, active lifestyle with the odd treat is the way to go. I’ll try to remember that next time I’m dunking chips in a chocolate milkshake with a side of double-cheeseburger…

@MissSisiG

Image: Manjit Thapp

You know the saying knowledge is power? Well that’s soooo the case when we’re talking vaginas. Discovering all the wonderful, and let’s face it sometimes weird, things that goes on with our ladybits is fascinating, huh? More importantly though, learning what *really* happens between our legs can be the difference between thinking you’re freaky and knowing you’re totally normal. Trust us, you’re normal.

So how much do you know already about the inner and outer workings of your vag? A lot? A little? Nada? Take our test to find out…

1. How many holes do you have *down there* (bum included)?

2. Which moves us swiftly on, what the heck is the urethra?

3. The clitoris is the vagina’s super-sensitive feel-good button, but how many nerve endings does it have?

4. Vaginas are clever, but which one of these things CAN’T your vag do?

5. The outer lady bits – the labia, clitoris, urethra and the vaginal opening – are together called…

6. Which one of these ISN’T part of your vagina?

7. Their official name is the labia, but do you know the purpose of your lovely lady lips?

8. What is the hymen?

9. The cervix links up your uterus and your vagina, but do you know where it sits?

10. ONLY one of these discharge situs is totally normal. Can you spot it? (The others need checking out by a doc btw)

Image: Katie Edmunds

Cramps, clots and moods: we’re living in an era where people are more vocal and open about periods both among our friendship groups and in popular culture. We discuss the merits of a menstrual cup vs tampons, swap cramp cures and are just generally more comfortable chatting about that time of the month. This shift in how we talk about and manage our periods is amazing, but what about how they were dealt with in the past? How did people treat cramps in medieval times? What did people use before tampons?

Ancient attitudes

The root of the word ‘menstruation’ comes from the Latin word ‘mensis’ which means month. The word ‘moon’ also originates from this Latin root. Using the word ‘period’ is actually relatively modern, although it was in use from the early 15th century, it wasn’t used in the context we know it until the 1820s.

There was a major taboo around periods in ancient civilisations, and this means that there isn’t a lot of recorded information about what people used to deal with periods thousands of years ago. What we do know for sure is that both Ancient Greeks and Romans used makeshift ‘menstrual cloths’, a very basic version of the sanitary towels of today. A lot of these historical records were also written by men, so there’s not a lot of first-person accounts from people who actually had periods.

The medical knowledge we have today about periods means that a lot of the mystery that was there before has been debunked. Ancient civilisations were far more superstitious about periods and what they ‘really meant’.

The Ancient Greeks believed that if you didn’t get your period after the age of 14 the excess blood would cause a condition called ‘hysteria’, the main symptoms of which were headaches, depressive episodes and (gasp) swearing. Strips of linen were used and washed by Ancient Egyptians, who viewed the period as a time of ‘cleansing’. Ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was pretty outlandish in his claims about menstrual blood. Calm down, mate:

“turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens dry up, the fruit falls off tress, steel edges blunt and the gleam of ivory is dulled, bees die in their hives, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”

Medieval menstruation and beyond

Hygiene standards in the Middle Ages were less than perfect. In the era of the bubonic plague and open sewers, it can’t have been easy around the time of the month. Super-absorbent bog moss was used to stuff homemade menstrual pads, and petticoats were often red to disguise bleeding. Historians Karen Harris and Lori Caskey-Sigety wrote a book all about the subject and found that few medieval women actually got regular periods because of poor nutrition, and often menopause began earlier in light of the short life expectancy in general. Religious beliefs at this time also meant that periods were still seen as unclean and something not to be discussed.

The beliefs about periods varied from culture to culture. When Europe colonised America, they found that the indigenous Cherokee tribe avoided women during their periods, and the women stayed in special houses for the few days a month. Christian Europeans wrongly believed this was a result of the tribe thinking the women were unclean, when it was actually a case of them believing menstruating women were extremely powerful.

The hysterical Victorians

The Victorian era was extremely conservative and uptight, and any discussion of periods or female sexuality was usually silenced. People were more generally aware of having good hygiene standards, so tampons, if used at all, were made with linen and even had the string they come with today. A girdle-like contraption called a ‘sanitary apron’ was also used during this time. The idea of female hysteria from the Ancient Greeks became something Victorian doctors wrote about a lot, with symptoms like headaches, mood swings and even homicidal mania. These ideas would eventually evolve into what became known as PMS (pre-menstrual tension).

The first period products

The first disposable pads were called Lister’s Towels and were made by Johnson & Johnson from 1888. During World War One, nurses noticed that wood pulp bandages made excellent makeshift pads. Cellucotton were big suppliers of these bandages and in a stroke of genius decided to market them as Kotex. The first commercial tampons were invented a few years later in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas. He later sold the patent to Gertrude Tendrich who made each tampon by hand with a sewing machine and air compressor. Her company is now known as Tampax.

The first pads with an adhesive strip were made in 1969 by Stayfree, which was just one of many design changes that made life easier for millions of people.

The first menstrual cup was patented all the way back in 1932. It was made of rubber, not like the modern silicone variety and wasn’t a commercial success, as people were still a little squeamish at the idea. The popularity of reusable cups has now skyrocketed, as a way to save money and also avoid creating waste.

Still a way to go

The stigma around periods is lifting, with companies finally realising that ads depicting a blue liquid being poured onto a pad just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Approaching periods in a realistic way means more of us are talking about them. We’re ending the shame, piece by piece, conversation by conversation.

Although many of us are lucky enough to be able to afford period products, there are many others who are not as fortunate. People who are made homeless or living in poverty don’t have access to the comfort and security of pads or cups, but there are ways you can help. Dignity Period are an organisation that provide pads and education to improve the lives of women and girls in Ethiopia. Closer to home, food banks accept donations for those they help, and your donation can really make a difference.

The greatest thing about having boobs is being able to touch them whenever you like. Feeling a bit down? Just grab your boobs. Feeling needy? Grab your boobs. Bored? Grab your boobs.

But grabbing your boobs isn’t quite the same as feeling your boobs to check all is in order. You’ve probably seen all the adverts and viral posts on Twitter and Facebook detailing how to properly check your boobs for anything that might seem a bit off. Really good for adults who are at risk of breast cancer, right? Give it a quick RT or share so your Auntie Val in Scotland is aware of the signs then keep scrolling…

DING DING DING. RED ALERT. SIRENS WAIL. LOCKDOWN COMMENCES.

Wrong. No. EVERYONE should check their boobs, whether they’re 44, 74, or 14 – because you never know when something might appear, just like it did for me.

Yes, my name is Louise and I found a lump in my boob.

I was barely out of my teens when I ran to my mum’s bedroom wide-eyed, toothbrush dangling from my mouth, and both hands clutched on my left tit. I have a habit of flashing my boobs or bum to people (I blame my Nan, she loves showing people – namely my boyfriend – the scars on her hips from her many operations, she isn’t shy) but this time was different.

“Ere’s a fing in ma oob,” I said.

“Excuse me?” Mum replied, taking the toothbrush from my mouth.

“There’s a thing in my boob.”

I grabbed her hand and pressed her fingers on my nipple, moving them around a bit. She frowned. “Definitely something there. I’ll get you an appointment for tomorrow.” And that was that.

My mum’s a secretary to a breast surgeon, which was incredibly handy. She doesn’t fluster. She knows that symptoms can mean anything – unlike Google, which screams ‘DEATH!’ any time you search ‘my toe hurts’ or ‘my bum’s itchy’.

Regardless, I Googled ‘types of boob lumps’, which Mum specifically told me not to do. I knew that breast cancer would come up first. I knew that breast cancer charities, support groups, and frickin’ funeral planners would be thrown in my face, but I kept my eyes firmly on the NHS website.

There were so many things this lump right under my nipple could be. A breast abscess, a breast cyst, benign lumps or, of course, breast cancer. All of these I’d heard of but another diagnosis sounded more fancy than the others: Fibroadenoma.

Fibroadenomas were described on the NHS website as, “smooth, well-rounded solid lumps of tissue that sometimes develop outside the milk ducts. They are particularly common in young women.”

Bingo. That must have been me.

(Sidenote: I do not recommend Googling symptoms – it’s much better going to see your GP!)

The next day, Mum and I saw her surgeon for a proper examination. He was a small, old guy who I’d known for years and the thought of him touching my tits seemed a bit… weird. But I told myself that this is his literal job. He does this all the time. I just wish his hands weren’t so cold.

He confirmed the lump and instantly told me that there was nothing to worry about. HOW DID HE KNOW? JUST FROM FEELING IT? IS HE A WIZARD? But he told me the lump, which was very likely a fibroadenoma (smug Lou here felt so smug indeed), was quite large so may have to be surgically removed.

“How many times do you check your breasts?” he asked.

“Mmmm, when you say check…”

“So, never.”

“…”

He was bemused as to how I hadn’t noticed this lump before as it was QUITE LARGE, but I quoted the NHS website back to him and said fibroadenomas are sometimes referred to as ‘breast mice’ because they easily move around so it was probably hidden. He gave me a (well deserved) lecture on how to check my boobs anyway.

After an ultrasound and biopsy to solidify diagnosis, I had the operation and, during it, the surgeon found two lumps. A smaller was hiding behind the bigger. Peekaboob.

They both had to be removed, tested for malignancy (cancer) for protocol then destroyed, so I couldn’t keep them in a jar. Boo. I had a six-month then yearly check up and was signed off. Done and dusted. Who knew finding a breast lump could be so normal, so simple?

I’ve got a crackin’ scar now around my left nipple. I don’t tell people I was bitten by a shark, I tell them I had lumps in my boob. That shocks them more because “YOU’RE SO YOUNG???”  – and maybe, just maybe, hopefully, it’ll encourage them to check their own boobs more often.

@louisejonesetc

Check out the Coppafeel site for more tips and advice on getting to grips with your boobs.

Image: Katie Edmunds

Lots of things in life are complicated. Conjugating french verbs. Contouring. Heart surgery.

Luckily for all of us, tampons don’t have to be one of them.

Made of absorbent material, compressed into a small cylindrical shape and inserted into your vagina like a fancy plug, tampons come in two main species:

Applicator vs non-applicator tampons

Applicator tampons have a cardboard or plastic mechanism that slides out, clicks into place and helps guide the tampon into place, like the satellite GPS of sanitary products. Because of the applicator, they can look intimidatingly long when they’re in their packaging, but don’t worry – most of that will end up in the bin, not your body.

Non-applicator tampons are just like applicator tampons… but usually shorter, a little wider and, you know, without the applicator. You just insert these bad boys with a clean finger, no equipment required.

Tampons may take a bit of practice to get right, but when they’re put in correctly you shouldn’t be able to feel them at all (like, AT ALL).

The best way to work out whether you an applicator or non-applicator type of gal is to try out both, and see what works for you.

Let’s talk absorbency  

Tampons tend to fall into four main houses.

Lite – these are the Hufflepuff of tampons. People often overlook them, or underestimate their abilities, but they’re actually really approachable and great for those who are new to the tampon world. Perfect for the light beginning and end of a period, or times when you’re only bleeding a teeny tiny bit.

Regular – these are the Gryffindor of tampons. They’re popular and heroic and they often take on more than they can handle. They’re all-round great sports. But just because they get all the glory, it doesn’t mean they’re always the right tampon for you.

Super – these are the Slytherin of tampons. They’re ambitious guys who know how to get a job done. They might seem a bit intimidating, but when needed they should still slither-in fairly easily… if you know what we mean.

Super plus – the Ravenclaws of tampons, super plus won’t be outdone by anyone thank you very much. Like a teacher’s pet in a History of Magic class, these guys absorb everything. Just remember to Expelliarmus every 4-8 hours to avoid a Moaning Myrtle situation.

How do I know which one to use?

Luckily there’s a sorting hat in your pants – all you need to do it listen to it. Most people start with lite or regular tampons and then adjust the size they use depending on their flow.

Your tampon should be easy to remove. If it feels dry or ‘stuck’ it probably means it hasn’t been in for long enough and you can wait a bit longer before removing it. But if you’ve had it in for eight hours and this is still happening, you might want to try a lower absorbency tampon – particularly towards the end of your period when things tend to lighten up.

On the other hand, if you go to the loo and find that the tampon string is wet with menstrual fluid, you’re definitely ready for a change. If you find that this keeps happening after only having your tampon in for a few hours, you might want to try a higher absorbency tampon. Simple!

Or as the French would say… simple. Oh.

If you’re not sure what kind of sanitary product will work best for you, check out our tampons vs pads article.

Image: Manjit Thapp

Ah, boobs – one of life’s biggest ironies. Some people have them, and wish they didn’t. Others don’t and wish they did.

Just like people with straight hair often dream of having curly hair, and people with curly hair want straight hair, and tall people often wish they were shorter and short people often wish they were taller. Haven’t you heard? The grass is always greener.

You just have to trust us when we say everything is pretty damn green on your side of the fence too.

Boobs, boobs, boobs

Puberty is a process. Like photosynthesis. Or methodically stalking your crush on social media.

At the beginning of your boob development, you might notice a small, raised bumps behind your nipples. These are breast buds. They’re pretty friendly, but sometimes they might get sore and tender from the effort of growing. A little while later, you might notice your nipple and the skin around it (the areola) get bigger and darker.

Some time after that, your breasts will begin to grow. For some people, it might feel like your boobs sprouted overnight. For other people, it might feel like you bought a ticket to the main event, and no one showed up. People’s boobs develop at different speeds and grow to different sizes. Whether you end up an A cup or a J cup, we promise, your breasts are awesome.

Sure, but when do I need a bra? #shopping

The good but confusing news is: there’s no right time!

Comfort is the best reason that anyone decides to wear a bra – whether it’s physical, or emotional. It could be to stop them bouncing up and down like a five year old on a trampoline while you’re trying to do PE. It could be because you don’t want people to see your nipples through your t-shirt. Or it could be because other girls in your class are wearing them and you want to too. We’ve all been there.

But either way, your comfort is the most important thing. The biggie. Numero uno.

So I can put it off?

It’s totally up to you! But most people find that their boobs are quite tender when they’re growing, so a bit of support can make things in your chestal region more comfortable.

TL;DR? Do I need a bra - the important stuff:
  • Most people find that once their boobs have started growing, they’re more comfortable with a bit of support – especially for playing sport or running around.
  • It’s always a good idea to get properly fitted. Maybe start with a crop top and move onto a soft cup bra once you need something sturdier. And save underwires for later, once your boobs are more developed.
  • There is no magical ‘right’ time. Comfort is the main reason that anyone wears a bra, and it’s important that you do what makes you feel great – even if that means not wearing one at all.

For your first bra, it’s a good idea to get properly fitted. We know the idea of a lady in a department store with a tape measure round your norks is beyond awkward, but trust us: if you’ve ever tried to wear shoes that are a size too small, you’ll know it’s really not worth the pain.

You might want to start with a crop top in the early days, and move onto a soft cup bra when your boobs get bigger. And unless your boobs grow very quickly, you probably won’t need an underwired bra at first – just keep things soft and comfy.

Got that? Comfort is Queen.

So there’s no ‘right’ time?

Nope. Working out when (or if) you want to wear a bra is totally up to you. We recommend wearing one for sport to keep the bouncing at bay, but whether or not you want to wear one day-to-day is something you can decide as you go.

As you venture into the weird, wonderful world of underwear, you’ll meet bras that can make your boobs look bigger or smaller, rounder or pointier, closer together or further apart – but while it’s fun to try all the different styles, remember your boobs are totally fine just as they are.

So are your hair and your height, while we’re at it.

Anxiety. We’ve all had it at some point. It could be pre-exam nerves, those jitters you get when your phone lights up with a text from your crush, or building the nerve to ask your parents if you can go to a party at that girl’s house you know they don’t approve of. It’s totally normal, and often harmless—even helpful, when it comes to pushing you to do that exam prep. But for some of us, those bouts of worry aren’t so occasional.

It’s a strange beast. It can creep up on you without you even realising it, or when you least expect it. And all personality types can experience it. As someone who’s spent half their life simultaneously being a self-confessed party girl, and occasionally feeling like I want to hide in my room for the rest of time, I am a living example of how you can be the most extrovert person in the world, and still suffer from social anxiety and poor mental health. And I’m not the only one.

The more I’ve opened up and talked about it, the more I hear a similar story. That seriously funny girl in my class? Yep, she cried the whole way in because she feels like she can’t cope with school at the moment. The girl that seems so cool and confident, who’s everybody’s friend? She has depression, and sometimes spends the whole weekend in her room because she can’t face the crowds. It made me realise: I’m not alone. And while I’d never wish it on anybody, when you’re going through a hard time, having someone you can relate to can be a huge comfort. Which is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to people when you’re struggling and be open about what you’re feeling. With that in mind, here are five things I want to share about being an extrovert living with anxiety.

It’s totally possible to really want to do something, but feel sick with anxiety when it comes to actually doing it

Yep, this one’s a real bastard. You booked the tickets because you want to go. All your friends are going and you know it’s going to be so much fun. So why are you struggling to eat your dinner, because your stomach’s full of butterflies? Anxiety, my friend. Take some deep breaths, call your mate and tell them how you’re feeling—or better, plan to get ready together next time. You’ll be calm and collected again in no time.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something, or how ordinary it is, you still get worried about doing it every. single. time

It could be doing the high jump at school (wtf is a fisby flop, anyway, and why do I need to know how to do it?! I can launch myself onto the sofa just fine, thank you very much), calling the dentist to make an appointment, or just knocking on your neighbour’s door because you forgot your key. It’ll be fine, you’re sure—besides if it’s not, what’s the worst that could happen? But sometimes it doesn’t matter what your brain says, your emotions don’t seem to get the message.

That feeling of wanting to do absolutely nothing and hide from the world, but actually feeling far worse when you do

I am SO BAD FOR THIS. When you get that ‘I-can’t-face-the-world-today’ feeling, while it can seem like locking yourself in your room and re-watching Gossip Girl for the 76th time is the balm to heal all wounds, if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel 10 times worse for it. Use that iron willpower and get yourself up and out the house, or even just have a cup of tea and chat with your mum in the garden to put things in perspective.

Getting overly upset when you’ve planned to do something and it goes ‘wrong’, even if you’re enjoying yourself

For my 18th birthday, I planned a huge night out. After all—it is THE biggest birthday ever. All my friends came—I was over the moon. My then boyfriend spent the night rounding everyone up and making sure we all stayed together, so that I was sure to have fun with all my mates. Naturally, I bawled my eyes out. Why? Because it’s not how the night was supposed to go! They should just know where we’re going. It should all just naturally run smoothly. The irony being, it was actually a good night till then. Learning to let go of expectations and go with the flow is easier said than done, when your mind’s constantly working over time.

Being really loud and dominating a conversation on a night out, then getting embarrassed about it the next day

I’ll be honest, sometimes this is legit—well, if I don’t laugh at me who will?! But in all seriousness, there are times where I feel like I’m having the best time, everyone’s laughing with me, joining in. But then when I get home, I start to think: were they laughing with me, or at me? I need to wind my neck in, I talk about myself far too much! Well, keeping your ego in check is one thing, but it’s important to remember, no one’s judging you. And if they are, well then you really shouldn’t be mates with them, anyway.

@EllieCostigan

Britney is a total sasspot. Seriously, if you haven’t seen her in concert (ok, we get it, it’s expensive and in Vegas but we can dream) or at least watched her goddess moves on YouTube over and over, please do. Not only is she an insane dancer, but she gets us. We can pretty much relate to every one of her bangers.

If you’re having relationship drama, Womanizer on repeat will help release your anger. If it’s love you’re feeling, Gimme More will have you head over heels before you can say, ‘It’s Britney, bitch’. And if you’re on your period, well, you could create a whole album… Does it drive you crazy? Make you stronger? Or do you become a total slave for it? Take our quiz to find out!

1. You come on your period at school, do you...

2. You’re two days into your period. It’s Wednesday. It’s raining. Do you...

3. You see a puppy in the park licking its owner and you...

4. You’ve got a sleepover tonight and you’re on your period, do you…

5. Periods = cravings. Always. Your go-to favourite food to binge on is…

6. You’ve got a party on Saturday night and your crush is going. But you’ve got a period spot. Do you…

7. You’ve vegging out in front of the TV eating snacks. But what’s loading up on your widescreen?

8. You’re sat round the lunch table chatting with your squad. Are they…

Whether you’ve been dreading it or totally desperate for it to arrive, your first period can feel like a leap into the great unknown.

Will it arrive drip by drip, or all at once in a river? Will I look different? WILL EVERYONE KNOW?

Unfortunately there’s no period crystal ball to tell you exactly when it will happen, or where you’ll be when it does (please not assembly). And like your first day of school or your first ever burrito, everyone’s first period will be memorable in a different way.

But here are some things you can expect.

Will I feel it?

Probably not. You might feel some wetness or stickiness in your pants, or maybe some slight cramps in your tummy – but there is no specific ‘bleeding feeling’ that announces your period is in town. Chances are you won’t notice at all until you next go to the loo.

What colour will it be?

This will be different for everyone too – but we can promise you this much: it won’t be blue.

Nobody really knows why olden days sanitary towel companies decided that bright blue liquid would be less scary than the real deal, but you can live safe in the knowledge that your monthly visitor won’t be a raspberry Slush Puppy.

More surprisingly, period blood doesn’t often look like the bright red blood you see when you fall over and cut your knee either. For some that first appearance will be a pink-ish colour, while many people’s first period is often closer to brown than red – which can come as a bit of a surprise. Fact: you will not be the first person to wonder if they pooed themselves without noticing.

Seriously.

Whatever the shade, don’t panic. Your reproductive system is just getting into the swing of things, and the colour will often become more red over time. But it will never, ever be blue.

How much blood will there be?

The amount will be different for everyone too. It could be a sticky discharge that only lasts a day or two, or ‘spotting’, which means bleeding lightly on and off for a few days. And some people’s first period might be quite heavy – but don’t panic, that doesn’t mean it will be heavy forever.

Your first few periods might be feel like a whole variety pack of changes, but things should settle down into a more predictable routine.

TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
  • At least at the beginning, period blood will probably be more brown than red – but everyone is different.
  • Some people will have a sticky discharge the first time, others will have light, on-off bleeding and some might bleed quite a lot.
  • Your first period can last from anywhere between one and 10 days, and might not arrive again for a while.
  • You can celebrate however you like (we recommend a dance party).

How long will it last?

Your first period can last from anywhere between one and 10 days, and it’s also pretty common to have your first period and then not bleed again for a few months. Helpful, we know.

For the first year or so your periods might be a bit all over the place while your body finds its natural rhythm, but things should settle down into a fairly predictable pattern.

Will everyone know?

Nope.

Promise?

Honestly. You might feel like you’re walking around with a neon flashing ‘PERIOD! PERIOD!’ arrow above your head, but the truth is you look exactly the same as you did the day before. Nobody will know unless you choose to tell them. Or send out party invites.

But if you’re ready, it is a good idea to talk to an adult you trust. They can help you to get all the supplies you need – whether it’s pads, tampons, cuddles or a really big burrito.

Image: Emma Block