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    Lifestyle

    How to Create a Reading List to Balance Your Life

    stacked books: 1) things no one will tell fat girls, 2) all about love, 3) reproductive justice: an introduction, 4) the beast, 5) quiet, 6) imagined communities

    This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, I may make a small commission. Nonetheless, all opinions are my own.

    Fall is my favorite season of the year. The weather cools down, the colors deepen, and everything feels like coming home. (And food blogs become saturated with recipes for chili and chicken pot pie… which, yes.) I began fall by returning to my yoga studio after a four-month absence and joined them for 108 sun salutations to welcome the new season. We talked about the fall equinox and how the balance of day and night is an opportunity to think about balance in our own lives.

    I’m not great at balance, especially now that my life is in transition. I always wonder, how much of my life should be focused on my career? How much time should I invest in freelancing? What does all this mean for my personal relationships and home life? And what about my mental health? Then I decided to turn to my favorite activity for education, entertainment, self-help, and relaxation: reading.

    The easiest way to find balance in your life is to start where you spend most of your time. It just so happens that I spend most of my time consuming information, whether it’s through Twitter, online articles, magazines, or books. And given our constant contact with the Internet, you may find that’s where you spend most of your time, too. While my reading list is probably different from yours, I’m going to share some thoughts and questions to help you create your own reading list to find balance in your life this season.

    1. What are your needs right now?

    My most impulsive book orders are the result of me realizing I had needs that weren’t being addressed in other ways. For example: If you’re stressed, maybe a self-help book on managing anxiety or a guide on essential oils can help. Alternatively, maybe you want an entertaining novel to take your mind off things.

    As for me, I’ve been dealing with body image issues and dipping my toes into the body liberation world. So on a whim I bought Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker for a dose of empowerment. I’ve mentioned before that she’s one of my favorite bloggers and has a ton of great insight on fat positivity, diet culture, and mental health. Admittedly, I just read this book last week (I finished it the day it arrived), but I know I’ll be coming back to it this fall.

    How to address your needs in your reading list:

    • What’s been on your mind lately? Is it negative or positive?
    • If something is bothering you, what would make it better? Do you need more information about something? Do you need a new perspective? Or do you need a distraction altogether?

    The key to finding balance is to be conscious of what’s on your mind and giving it an outlet. That way, it doesn’t take up more space than it has to.

    2. What areas of your life do you seek growth in?

    Growth encompasses a lot of things. It can mean your professional goals, your own personal development, your mental health, your relationship with your family—anything. If there’s any part of your life you’re trying to improve, you should consider that when crafting your reading list.

    Here’s a breakdown of the ways I’m trying to achieve growth and how I chose the books for my reading list around those goals:

    Career

    I’m currently looking for work, so right now my priority in career development is developing confidence in my abilities so I can 1) do well on job interviews and 2) perform well once I’m hired. That’s why I chose Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain for this reading list. I needed a book that would offer me a positive perspective of what it means to be an introvert in the workplace so I can begin to see my introvert qualities as assets rather than drawbacks.

    Knowledge

    The main reason I enjoy reading so much is because I like to learn new things. So the pursuit of knowledge is something I’m always striving for. That’s why I have Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger on the list. I was weary of the mainstream feminist movement’s fixation on abortion as the feminist issue and wanted a more radical, inclusive perspective. Reproductive justice is that perspective (and totally worth its own separate, educational post), and I plan to learn lots more by the time I finish this book.

    I also have Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson on the list as part of some background reading I need to do on nationalism. I recently joined an editorial team that will be focusing on Asian American, diaspora, and immigrant issues. All of these things require me to understand the concept of nationalism much better than I do right now, so I’m excited to learn.

    Finally, I have The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Óscar Martínez on my list because I care about immigrant justice, refugee rights, and global migration. This book provides narratives of people fleeing violence in Central America and details their journey through Mexico (via the train known as La Bestia) to come to the U.S. I previously worked in immigration rights, and listening to people talk about their lived experiences is one of the most basic ways you can come to understand the injustices of the system. This book is a way for me to learn about the context of Central America-U.S. migration while staying connected to a movement I’m passionate about.

    How to address personal growth in your reading list:

    • Think about where you want to be—whether that’s in your career, education, relationship, etc.
    • What’s the missing element keeping you from getting there? Do you need inspiration or motivation? Do you need a second opinion? Or do you need some new knowledge and skills?

    The self-help genre is full of books meant to help you grow, but it’s also not your only option. If you’re a writer who needs inspiration, maybe get a literary journal or a short story collection. If you’re someone who’s trying to practice a language you’re not yet fluent in, maybe get a book in that language. The options for growth here are endless.

    3. What areas of your life have you been neglecting?

    Of course, finding balance also means not letting critical parts of your life fall to the wayside. Is work taking over your life? Are you keeping in touch with your friends and family (assuming there’s a good relationship there)? Have you set aside time for self-care?

    I’ve already read All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks a long time ago. It’s an incredible book that changed my perspective on family love and more importantly on how we learn to love as children and as adults. Lately, I’ve felt lacking in the self-love department. I added this book to my fall reading list as a reminder to offer myself grace during tough times.

    How to address the missing pieces in your reading list:

    • Step back from what you’re focused on and look at the big picture. What’s missing? What is important to you that you’ve been overlooking?
    • What’s a gentle way for your to incorporate that missing piece back into your life?

    A reading list is obviously not the cure-all for life balance. But it’s a good starting point for me, and I hope it can be for you, too.

    I’m a reader by nature. It’s the way I learn best and it also happens to be something I enjoy. But of course it’s not for everyone.

    If you’re like me and you have an overflowing bookshelf (and a bad habit of adding more to it anyway), this can be a good way of whittling down all the unread books. If you’re trying to find balance in your life this fall, I hope this gives you some food for thought. And if you have any other ideas on working towards balance in life, I’d love to hear it.

    How to Create a Reading List to Balance Your Life

    Lifestyle

    The Most Comfortable Jeans: A Universal Standard Review

    woman sitting on a bench wearing a gray t-shirt and dark blue jeans looking away

    This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission. With that said, all opinions are my own and I will only recommend products I love and believe in.

    Comfort is probably the most important quality that clothing can have. So when I sized out of my jeans earlier this year, I knew I had to look for replacements. This time, though, I decided not to settle for average, fast fashion jeans. I wanted to actually feel good in my jeans without needing to take them off first thing when I get home. I needed jeans that won’t dig in, jeans that actually stay on my waist without me having to adjust them all day. That’s when I discovered Universal Standard, my new favorite brand.

    Obviously, I’m not a fashion blogger (you can’t be one if you only wear t-shirts and jeans, right?). But because I’ve fallen so deeply in love with this brand, I decided to dedicate a blog post to them and their jeans, which are the most comfortable pair I’ve ever owned. So with no further ado, let’s talk about Universal Standard and why they’ve got me hooked.

    About Universal Standard

    Universal Standard is a brand that’s filling in the gap for plus-size women’s essentials with a classic, minimalist aesthetic. Think capsule wardrobes, but for women sizes 10-28. Think Everlane basics, but designed with bigger women in mind. Less emphasis on seasonal, “trendy” pieces and more on versatile clothing meant to last.

    Their stated mission is to “break the plus-size fashion industry” by offering slow fashion alternatives for women sizes 10-28. They run on a direct-to-consumer business model to ensure fair pricing. They develop their own fabrics to ensure comfort and good fit for bigger women, and they consider technical factors like pilling and bounce-back for longevity. Most importantly, they acknowledge the social pressure pushing plus-size women to view their sizes as temporary, and they try to alleviate this pressure through their Universal Fit Liberty program.

    In terms of their policies on ethics and sustainability, there isn’t as much detail as I would like. Their FAQs state that their co-founders have personally vetted each factory to meet ethical manufacturing standards, and they’ve stated that they track the carbon dioxide emissions from their shipments. It looks like these issues are on their radar, so I’m hoping for more transparency on ethics and sustainability practices from them in the future. (I’d also like to acknowledge that there is a shortage of ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion brands that are also size-inclusive. So I appreciate Universal Standard for hitting the slow fashion mark.)

    close-up of a white box with black text that says "universal standard"

    Universal Fit Liberty is changing the game in the fashion industry.

    Universal Standard has a program called Universal Fit Liberty for items in their core collection. If you buy something that’s UFL-eligible and it no longer fits within one year after purchase, you can exchange it for your new size for free. And Universal Standard will take your old clothing and donate it to charities supporting women.

    I love UFL because it’s the first time any clothing brand, plus size or not, has ever addressed size fluctuations. When I shop, I get anxious trying to compensate for what my size might be next year—because it’s always changing. With UFL, I don’t have to worry because I know I’m covered for the next year.

    Other little things I love about Universal Standard:

    They show you what their clothes will look like in your size. For each clothing item, you can click on “See It In Your Size” under the main photo to see how it looks on models of different sizes. This is so basic, so bare-minimum… yet most brands don’t do this. So I appreciate it that much more when Universal Standard does.

    Free shipping and free returns in the U.S. Universal Standard cuts retail costs by being direct-to-consumer, which means they don’t have their own physical store. And figuring out what’s going to fit you online can be tricky. Hence, free shipping and free returns. It makes the online shopping so much easier and lower-stakes.

    About the Jeans

    I bought the 32-inch inseam Seine Jeans in dark indigo. These jeans come with two inseam options (27-inch and 32-inch) and three color options: distressed blue, distressed black, and dark indigo. They cost $90 a pair and are a part of the brand’s core collection, making them eligible for Universal Fit Liberty. Yes, this means that if my size changes within the next year, I can get my jeans exchanged in a different size for free. Win.

    The packaging

    As someone who loves to online-shop, getting my order in the mail feels a bit like Christmas. I know it’s not a big deal, but I appreciate packaging that wows. And Universal Standard gets an A+ on that front.

    My jeans came in a beautiful white box with a magnetic closure (and yes, I’m keeping it). Inside, the jeans were wrapped in black tissue paper with a #nowyoucan sticker (their branding hashtag). As a bonus, I also got a black tote with the Universal Standard brand. It felt like a present to myself.

    For more minimal packaging, you have the option of checking “skip the box” when you place your order.

    close-up shot of black tote bag with the words "universal standard" in white

    The fit

    I titled this blog post “The Most Comfortable Jeans” because they are. The high-waisted design makes them sit comfortably on my body without me ever having to pull them up. And when I sit down, they don’t dig into my belly like every other pair of high-waisted jeans has done. They contain the perfect amount of stretch to move with my curves rather than constrict them. Yet unlike many stretchy clothes, they don’t feel cheap.

    I love the relaxed skinny fit of these jeans. They taper down towards my ankles but leave enough room for a casual, comfy look. And while I’m almost always going for casual, the dark indigo color can easily be dressed up with the right shirt and accessories. Bonus points for versatility.

    The 32-inch inseam is a bit long for my height, but I prefer to cuff my jeans anyway, so it actually works out great. It just so happened that their 27-inch inseam was out of stock and I desperately needed new jeans.

    One last thing awesome thing about these jeans: They come with real pockets, meaning I can fit my entire iPhone in these pockets, vertically, and still have extra room.

    According to the website, the jeans do run large, so keep that in mind if you’re interested in getting them! (Then again, I guess you don’t have much to lose with free shipping and free returns.)

    The price point

    As someone who’s only shopped fast fashion until recently, the $90 price tag was high for what I’m used to. But compared to other slow fashion brands, it feels reasonable. Given that these jeans were designed to fit bodies like mine, and they’re covered by Universal Fit Liberty, I’d say I got more than my money’s worth.

    Final Thoughts

    There’s a difference between jeans designed for bigger bodies and jeans designed for thin bodies that were simply scaled up in size. I’ve never felt that difference so clearly as when I first put on these Universal Standard jeans.

    Gone are the days of squeezing my butt into jeans that clearly weren’t designed for my body shape and size. I’ve found something way better.

    The Most Comfortable Jeans: A Universal Standard Review

    Wellness

    5 Things I’m Doing to Feel Comfortable In My Body

    5 Things I’m Doing to Feel Comfortable In My Body

    (Content warning for discussions of body image, diet mentality, disordered eating, and overexercise)

    Since discovering the Health At Every Size community, I’ve made a lot of changes to my lifestyle. I’ve slowly backed away from my old mentality on food and exercise for something much more peaceful, much less controlling. And while I’m still very much in the beginning of this journey, I’ve noticed some subtle changes. I’m more forgiving with myself after eating at buffets; I don’t feel the need to compensate for a mac and cheese with salad the next day; and I don’t suck my stomach in as often as I used to.

    While I’m not an expert in health or body image, I’m learning—and I want to document that process. More importantly, I want to join the many others offering a counter-narrative to the diet industry that’s controlled us for too long. So acknowledging that I’m new to this school of thought, here are some tangible steps I’m taking to feel more comfortable in my own skin.

    1. I stopped “working out” and reevaluated my relationship with physical movement.

    I’ve mentioned before that I replaced my desire to be thin with a desire to be strong. This was true for a significant chapter of my relationship with yoga. Yes, there are elements of yoga I genuinely enjoy. Stretches feel wonderful, and I have a community-oriented, women of color-run yoga studio that feels like family. But yoga was introduced to me at age twelve as a means of getting the “perfect body,” and that influence hasn’t ever really gone away.

    Over time, diet culture evolved from the “thin ideal” to the era of fitspo. And that’s a problem, too.

    People were talking less about how much weight they wanted to lose and more about how much stronger they wanted to become. I followed Instagram accounts of yoga teachers showing off their handstands and standing splits, wanting my body to get there, too. I thought the more I could do with my body—arm balances, inversions, chaturangas—the more I would love myself. Later I realized that not only is this wrapped up in toxic diet mentality, it’s ableist, too. How is measuring my body’s worth in terms of strength and ability any better than measuring it in terms of weight or looks? And what does that say about how we view people with disabilities?

    I haven’t rolled out my yoga mat or stepped inside a yoga studio in months. I miss my studio—it’s the first place where yoga didn’t feel like a workout or a product but a place of community and healing. But I don’t trust myself to resume the practice without returning to my unhealthy mindset, so I’m sitting it out for now.

    Instead, I look for joy in movement in less structured ways.

    I’m a writer, after all; I have no intention of becoming a fitness expert or hobbyist. Once I let go of exercise as a moral imperative, it became clear to me. What was I doing lifting weights every day at the gym? Or going to grueling yoga sessions for three hours a day? How much of that did I really enjoy?

    It’s sad how much diet culture has taken away from us. Many forms of physical movement are enjoyable, and often something your body naturally craves. Yet we can’t seem to do these things anymore without thoughts of “losing weight,” “getting fit,” or “staying healthy” intruding our minds. These days, I’m unlearning the negative, controlling messages I grew up with around physical movement. And I’m figuring out what I actually like, what types of movement I go to naturally without even thinking about the supposed health benefits.

    I dance to the latest Fifth Harmony album in my room when I’m putting on makeup. I take my dog on morning walks because it makes her happy. And I go swimming in my neighbor’s pool to get away from the LA heat—no timing, no counting laps. These are things I love to do that I don’t feel the need to schedule or force into a routine. Maybe one day I’ll be able to unroll my yoga mat again, but right now, this is what feels good and healthy for me.

    2. I unfollowed the fitspo accounts on Instagram and replaced them with fat positive, body liberation-focused accounts.

    The only yoga teacher I follow on Instagram is Jessamyn Stanley, who is outspoken about the corporatization of yoga and its lack of racial and size diversity. I unfollowed all the others. It didn’t benefit me to read their motivational, then-now posts about accomplishing certain poses. I didn’t need them to tell me that with enough practice, I too can master the handstand. I wanted out of the mindset that my body needed to be something other than what it is right now.

    Now, my Instagram feed is full of badass activists and groups focused on body liberation. And because I want to encourage people to revisit their body politics, here are some suggestions:

    I never considered how much social media can affect your mental wellbeing when I was bombarding myself with fitspo. But it’s clear it had an impact. Now, with only body liberation messages on my feed, I’m more at peace with my body, in looks and ability. It’s done wonders for my mental health and my self-image, and I recommend you give it a shot.

    3. I only wear clothes I’m 100% comfortable in.

    This means a lot of loose-fitting clothes, oversized tees, stretchy bottoms, and braless days. When I go out, I wear swing dresses or relaxed-fit tops with the only comfortable denim shorts I own. Most recently, I bought the most comfortable pair of jeans (to be reviewed)—designed with bigger women in mind—and can’t wait to live in them this fall.

    When I shop, I pay more attention to fabrics than I did before. This is partly because of sustainability concerns, and partly because it’s important that clothes feel good against my skin. Considering the costs of high-quality clothing, I realize the ability to be choosy about my clothing is a privilege.

    It’s true that body fluctuations affect my body confidence, which in turn affects the clothes I feel comfortable in. Last year, I was thinner, had slightly more body confidence, and preferred more slim-fitting clothes. I went out in bodycon dresses and wore shorter, tighter tops. Still, this body confidence came at a price, and I have no desire to force myself into dreaded workouts anymore. So while the loose-fitting clothes are a symptom of existing body image issues, they’re an important step to feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

    4. I eat whatever I want.

    I don’t have any food allergies or medical conditions that require me to restrict my food, so why was I doing it? Earlier in the year, I would have told you I’ve been eating whatever I want for my whole life. Then I realized how much our current language on food is actually thinly veiled diet culture.

    In health circles, there’s a lot of talk about letting yourself eat whatever you want—but always with conditions.

    There’s the 80/20 rule (80% “healthy,” 20% “indulgences”), which is still a diet. Allowing yourself to eat the “bad foods” 20 percent of the time means you’re still moralizing your food and imposing rules on them. There’s also the “eat whatever you want, just make sure you exercise enough to work it off” mentality. That’s what I once believed until I realized there’s something deeply messed up about thinking I had to “earn” or “burn off” my food. So yes, while I was going for the Ben and Jerry’s and the side of fries, I was also punishing myself for it. Which means that no, I was not actually letting myself eat whatever I wanted.

    These days, I approach food with an emphasis on my sustenance and enjoyment above everything else.

    When I eat my favorite Thai salad, I savor the combination of lime, fish sauce, and chili peppers mixed with the herby flavor of Chinese celery and the texture of the glass noodles. I silence the inner voice wanting to congratulate myself for “being good” by eating a salad. After all, this is food I enjoy. Shouldn’t that be enough?

    When I eat mangos and bananas, I don’t think about their starch or sugar content. Instead, I think about how pop science has made us afraid of so many foods, only to reverse those beliefs over time. Think egg yolks and the fearmongering around their cholesterol content—despite the fact that most nutrients from eggs come from the yolk in the first place. Think last year’s news about how scientists were funded by the sugar industry to make us afraid of fat.

    Eliminating “health” concerns from food hasn’t changed my preferences. I’ve always liked what I liked. It’s just made me more laid-back and unashamed about what I eat, which is exactly what I needed.

    5. I listen to podcasts that promote body liberation, Health At Every Size, and intuitive eating.

    The first time I ever heard of intuitive eating and Health At Every Size was on the Every Body Podcast in an episode featuring Evelyn Tribole, a dietitian who focuses on intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery. Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for similarly awesome podcasts, and there are some great options out there! Let me share my favorites:

    Of course, there are many more body liberation-focused podcasts beyond this list—I just haven’t gotten around to checking them out. Food Psych so far has been my favorite. I think it’s something to do with Christy’s voice and the way she conducts her interviews. Also, she features some amazing guests who I admire: Ijeoma Oluo, Sonya Renee Taylor from The Body Is Not An Apology, Gloria Lucas from Nalgona Positivity Pride, and more.

    The more I listen to these podcasts, the more I learn how deeply ingrained sizeism is in our culture. Why is something so basic and essential as medical care not inclusive of people in larger bodies? Why is the “body positive” movement, which branched out of fat activism, now excluding the very people who started it? And finally, why is weight loss prescribed—by doctors and by society—when research shows that it’s practically impossible in the long-term?

    Body liberation is a long, difficult journey. I want more conversation that counters the moralization of food and exercise we see in “health” communities today. I need to see more intuitive eating and HAES experts in the mainstream. And if you’re struggling in your relationship with your body, I hope this post offered you something new to consider for your journey as well.

    5 Things I'm Doing to Feel Comfortable In my Body