I discovered the magical abilities of the flat iron when I was about 10 years old. Before then, my hair care routine was quite simple: wash it, brush it, and let it air dry. The first time I let the hot tool pass over my hair, I was amazed at how smooth it and soft it felt. It looked just like the girls’ hair in the magazines! I felt pretty, older, and like I could be taken seriously. I had quickly become obsessed. Fifth grade through my sophomore year of college, I would wake up before the sun to flatten out the natural waves I was given. My bathroom vanity was littered with smoothing serums and heat protectant sprays. I often had to deal with split ends and my hair falling out. It had gone on so long that some people thought my straight hair was my natural texture, and were surprised on the rare occasion that I skipped a day (and even on those days, my hair was loaded with products and pulled back into a ponytail or bun). I thought my wavy/curly hair was too frizzy, too big, and out of control.
I now realize what I was subconsciously doing (and it has taken me almost a decade to do so). I was making myself smaller. I was afraid to take up space. I hid beneath oversized clothes. I sat down and I never spoke unless spoken to, and if I did, I immediately regretted it. It was what I was supposed to do right? These habits soon became part of who I believed I was. I didn’t think my thoughts, my body, and my hair were valuable enough to take up space or someone else’s time. The less attention I drew to myself, the better. I tried to live up to impossible standards of beauty in hopes that someone, one day, would find me valuable enough.
I let my bad habits keep me in a dysfunctional relationship for far too long when I was 16. I was drunk on what I thought was love. When you’re drunk (even on love), everything seems to sound like a good idea. He said he loved me, but did he really? I kept so much of me hidden, so what was there for him to fall in love with? When he did shady things, I made up excuses for him. To me, it was never his fault. It was my fault for not being enough; not pretty enough, not talented enough, not smart enough for him. When he interacted with other girls, I saw it as a failure on my part. I never shared anything too personal with him, for fear of him finding a flaw and deciding it wasn’t good enough for him. What I wanted from him and whatever relationship status we kept was some form of self-validation. I felt like I constantly had to prove that I was worthy of his time and attention. My physical and mental health really took a blow during this time because of how exhausting it was. One day, I finally broke. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I ended it with him.
The summer after I ended things with him was lonely, but I so badly needed that solitude. It gave me time to figure out who I was without someone attached to me. I’ll be honest, it was difficult, but this relationship that didn’t work didn’t have to be looked at as a failure. It was something to learn from. By learning to be gentle with myself, I slowly grew to love myself. I began to expand and discovered this new, creative side of myself that I had no idea existed! Suddenly, I had all this energy to write, run, dance, and take care of myself. Nothing had ever felt so liberating! All because I let go of expectations of myself and began to be okay with just being. I learned that I didn’t have to apologize for who I was and who I wanted to be.
More recently, I’ve been slowly falling back in love with my natural hair texture. My flat iron has been unplugged, put away, and left untouched for the past month and a half (same goes for my hairbrush). Just like I had to stop setting expectations for myself, I had to stop setting expectations for what my hair should look like.
If I could go back in time, I would tell younger self to take up as much damn space as you want. Say and wear whatever the hell you want. Stand up for yourself because you can’t count on anyone else to do it for you. You are important and valuable and loved—don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise. Oh, and guess what? The things you think you hate about yourself are going to be the same things that someone one day is going to fall in with, you just have to love those things first. Work on raising your vibration and the rest will follow. I promise. Oh, and please stop frying your hair.
I left college to chase after my dreams. That's it.
I always knew I would go onto college to pursue a higher education. I just thought I’d figure out what I wanted to study at some point later down the line. Then came junior year of high school when I really had to know what I wanted to do, so I could apply to schools. Deep down, I really wanted to be an actress, but scared myself out of it because it wasn’t “financially stable” enough. So I picked broadcast journalism. I thought it was a close enough choice—it could be fun.
I started classes at the University of Miami in August of 2015. My first two semesters were amazing. I really enjoyed my classes and loved my independence. Then, something happened over the summer after my freshman year. I grew up and learned even more about myself and what my values are. All of the sudden, “Dana Chittavong—Journalist” didn’t sound right to me. I couldn’t visualize myself working in television and being happy anymore. I had developed other interests and I was dying to explore them.
I still went back to school for the fall semester. I told myself I’d figure it out. However, something still didn’t feel right. I was so happy with my friends and my sorority, but I felt like I was holding myself back. I felt like I wasn’t growing anymore; like I was making myself smaller and forcing myself to be someone I’m not to fit in with the rest of the class. After many teary phone calls with my mom late into the night, I decided I needed to leave. I needed to do myself a favor and pursue whatever it is that sets my heart on fire.
It took me until Thanksgiving break to officially make this decision. It took me so long because I was afraid. I was afraid of judgement and failure. What would people think of me? I like to think I’m a smart girl, but was I about to make a dumb decision? What if whatever I was chasing after leaves me feeling just as empty?
I had to stop the little voices in my head because what scared me down to my bones was the thought of waking up one day 20 years down the line and feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. I don’t want to wake up one day and wonder “what if?” What if I had tried something different? What if I had chased after what I really loved? What would my life look like?
One day before the semester ended, I jumped out of bed, marched my way over to the campus student center, signed off on my leave of absence, and didn’t look back. I felt a giant weight lifted off my shoulders. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t feel stuck anymore. I got a little taste of freedom that day. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from societal pressures to graduate in four years, get a job, get married, have kids, send them to college so they can graduate in four, get jobs, get married, have kids, and send them to college…yada yada yada (not saying there’s something wrong with that lifestyle nor am I saying that I won’t want that for myself one day. I'm just saying that maybe I don’t want to do it exactly that way).
I'm grateful for my experience at UM because it has introduced me to people and has given me memories that I will carry in my heart forever. I don't have any regrets. In fact, I love UM, and I view every experience as a stepping stone towards my true purpose.
I’m beyond grateful for my supportive family, boyfriend, and friends. This was not an easy decision to make, but knowing that I have a team of people cheering me on in whatever I decide to do is something I can never take for granted. Are there going to be people that don’t completely understand my life choices? Absolutely. Is it any of their business? Absolutely not. This life that we are given is too short and too precious to be spent living up to someone else’s expectations.
So for now, I'll keep traveling, working, learning through experience, and exploring what I'm passionate about. I have a couple of "passion projects" that I'm working to get completed, and I'm researching different university programs that are more aligned with my values and who I am. I'm not saying goodbye to higher education forever. I'm just doing things on my terms.
Respond to every call that excites your spirit.
This has always been a sensitive subject for me. Mostly because I spent a majority of my life criticizing myself in the mirror. It has taken a while for me to look at myself and not feel like I needed to change something.
It all began in the fourth grade. One day after gym class, I was my elementary school bathroom with my best friend at the time. We were standing in front of the mirrors that hung over the sinks, and she looked at herself, turned to me, and said:
"Ugh, I hate my butt. It's too big. I wish it looked like yours."
Keep in mind this was around 2006 before the "big booty craze" started. I was confused. In my mind I thought, "That's weird. We both have butts, what's the difference?" I had never thought to ever compare myself, or my body, to someone else. In fact, most of us aren't born to think this way. Thought patterns like these are taught.
Television, movies, advertisements, music videos, and magazines were using their platforms to tell me, a 9 year old kid, what is considered to be beautiful. It. Messed. Me. Up. I started comparing every little part of me to these images of flawlessly airbrushed women. My stomach wasn't flat enough, my hair wasn't straight or shiny enough, my eyebrows weren't the right shape, my teeth weren't white enough. I was on a downward spiral. All because I let other people brainwash me with what was supposed to be beauty standards and because I didn't look like those girls, I wasn't beautiful. This led to irregular eating habits, anxiety, and using exercise as a punishment for what I considered to be overeating. There were all these voices in my head that made me feel less than human.
"She's skinnier than me. Why is she skinnier than me? Does that make her prettier than me?"
"She has bigger boobs than I do, are my boobs supposed to look like that? Is there a reason why mine don't look like that? Is there something wrong with me?"
I remember staying up until 11 p.m. pushing myself to run the extra mile because I felt like I over-ate. I would put sticky notes on the cabinets in the kitchen and on the refrigerator reminding myself that if I snacked I would gain weight. I downloaded apps that helped me calorie count. There was a point where I was eating less than 1,000 calories a day which backfired completely because I would be starving and end up binge eating which made me feel terrible all over again.
It's been a bumpy road to get me to the place of acceptance I am in now. I've learned to be more conscious with what I consume media-wise. I choose not to read magazines that say "Get Your Best Body in 4 Weeks" on the cover. I choose not to follow "Instagram models" that promote "skinny teas" on their profile. I have chosen to wake up and I have realized that these ideas of beauty are not my own. They have been force-fed to me by industries that are gaining a profit off of me not feeling like I'm not good enough.
Today, I choose to run and do yoga because it makes me feel good. I choose to feed myself a plant-based diet because it makes me feel alive and because I know it's better for me, the animals, and the environment. I eat until I'm satisfied. I choose to not wear makeup on some days because I don't feel like it. I choose to wear makeup on other days because I do have the extra time and I do enjoy the process. I live for myself. I remind myself that every bump, bruise, dimple, stretch mark, and freckle is a reminder that I am alive. I am human and this is the only human body I'm ever going to get.
Don't get me wrong, there are days that are worse than others. Those are the days that I have to take a deep breath and remind myself:
I am human. I am beautifully and wonderfully made. I am strong. I am confident. I am healthy.
I've always dreamed of having children of my own one day. My dream for them is that they understand and truly believe that they are beautiful. I dream that they strive to be more compassionate, loving, generous, kind, strong people and they will make that their priority.
I hope that you find the beauty in yourself too. I hope you learn to love your hair and your legs and your smile. I also hope you learn to love the purity of your heart and the way you can make people laugh. I hope you learn to love everything that makes you, you. You are beautiful and you are enough.
Where is 2016 going?! April has been one heck of a month-between the last weeks of classes, final projects & exams, and packing up my dorm to move out, sleep is just a concept to me. Here's the playlist that has been on repeat and getting me through it all. I'm just about ready for summer. Best of luck to everyone on their finals!
P.S. I realize that Beyoncé and Drake's new albums are not on here, and they 100% would be if they were available on Spotify.
When I was in high school (before I turned vegan), my friends would always point out that I was "always sick." To be honest, it was kind of true. I was up all night doing homework every night, I wasn't eating enough, I was stressed, and let's be honest, schools are not the cleanest places on the planet. I would get sick multiple times during the school year, if not, I always had a headache or I was very tired. Since becoming vegan and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and grains, I've found that my immune system has become significantly stronger. Since starting college, I've only gotten sick twice over the past two semesters and the severity and duration of my colds were not as intense as they have been in the past. While this may be twice too many times for some people, it was like a miracle to me given my living situation (sharing a room with someone else, living in a building with hundreds of other students, communal bathrooms, a dining hall where someone else is making my food etc.). Taking care of yourself, whether you've come down with a bug or not, is absolutely essential. I know a lot of my peers find it easiest to just take something like DayQuil/NyQuil when they feel symptoms, but it really isn't going to do them any favors in the long run. A lot of over the counter medicines will mask the symptoms without actually treating the virus at it's core, so here are some of my tips for nipping a cold in the bud.
It is so important to make sure you're getting plenty of fluids, even when you're feeling healthy. Our bodies are made up of mostly water, so make sure you're drinking lots of it to keep your body going, especially when your immune system is working hard to ward off whatever bug you've contracted. I have a reusable stainless steel water bottle from S'well that I just refill as the day goes on. Warm herbal tea is also really great too! My favorites for daytime are green tea and Tulsi Holy Basil and I like chamomile tea when I'm winding down for the day.
Feed yourself well
Think of your body as a car and food as your fuel. You would put the best kind of fuel into your car to make sure it ran properly, right? So do the same thing with your body. Your best bet is fresh, plant-based foods. Stay away from animal products, especially dairy! Dairy can thicken your mucus (gross, I know) and make the process of getting over a cold or sinus infection long and miserable. Soup with lots of vegetable broth is great and comforting. Fresh fruits and vegetables high in vitamins A and C like sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges, spinach, kale and apples are fantastic. My favorite way to really make sure I'm packing in all of my fruits and veggies is juice! It's also great for sneaking in other foods that you wouldn't eat a lot of on their own like ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper and lemon. I like making juice at home in a juicer or if you don't have a juicer you can make it in a blender. Just throw all of your ingredients into a blender with a splash of water, blend until smooth and strain the liquid through a sieve. Since I'm at school and don't have access to a blender/juicer, I go to Whole Foods and buy cold-pressed juices. Not necessarily the most cost-effective way, but it gets the job done.
My holy grail! I absolutely swear by essential oils to kick a cold in the butt. They're also a great preventative measure for keeping yourself healthy. I get mine online from Young Living, but I know Whole Foods also carries other brands. I like to use a couple drops of Lemon, Tangerine, or Lime in my water to get a little vitamin C boost. Lavender is great for soothing headaches. I usually rub a drop of lavender oil between my fingers and rub along my temples, forehead, and down the bridge of my nose. Peppermint and Eucalyptus oils are amazing for relieving congestion! I blend a couple drops of peppermint oil with carrier oil like jojoba oil (blending with a carrier oil is important-peppermint oil is very strong and can irritate sensitive skin) and rub it onto my chest. You can also put a couple of drops of peppermint oil into a warm bath. To really clear up your sinuses, you can put hot water into a glass or metal bowl, put in a couple of drops of peppermint or eucalyptus, drape a towel over your head and inhale the steam. The Thieves oil from Young Living is my favorite to diffuse. It has an amazing spicy and earthy aroma and it's great for supporting a healthy immune system. I use a SpaRoom diffuser, but if you don't have a diffuser you can pour hot water into metal or glass bowl, put in a couple of drops of oil and let the scent fill the room.
Herbal Supplements & Homeopathic Remedies
I like to take these as soon as I feel symptoms. I like Counter Attack by Rainbow Light and Oscillococcinum by BOIRON. They don't make you drowsy and they're really easy to take. You can find them at Whole Foods and most other health food stores have them.
Probably the hardest part of healing for me since I'm always busy, but definitely one of the most important. I aim to get at least eight or nine hours of sleep at night and power nap when I can during the day. I typically stay away from high intensity exercise, but getting fresh air by walking around campus, doing restorative yoga and stretching makes me feel a lot better.
If you had told me five years ago that I would give up all animal products when I was 16, I probably would have said, "Hell no, I'm not giving up pizza and ice cream."
I first went vegan towards the end of my junior year of high school. I mainly did it to help overcome an eating disorder and to improve my health. Since then, my reasons for staying vegan have evolved into something much greater than myself. I have done a lot of reading and documentary-watching, so here are my favorite resources for people looking to explore veganism.
The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone
Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon
Carbolicious by Bonny Rebecca
Vegan Made Simple by Tess Begg
Epic Raw Food by Ellen Fisher
Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward
Cowspiracy (Available on Netflix or here)
Gary Yourofsky's "Best Speech Ever"
101 Reasons to go Vegan
Forks Over Knives (Available on Netflix)
Vegucated (Available on Netflix)
Nina and Randa Nelson
Mr & Mrs Vegan
Fully Raw Kristina
What better time than Valentine's Day to talk about love? I wanted to dedicate a post to talking just about self-love and its importance. The idea of it never crossed my mind until I found myself in a toxic relationship when I was 16 years old. I never felt like I was good enough for this person, and when there were problems in our relationship, I blamed myself. It made me insecure and often fed my anxiety. I couldn't stand the person I became when I was with him, and that should never be the case in any relationship. I'm grateful to have someone like my mother to have taught me the significance of giving myself the love that I so freely gave to everyone else. It's not selfish, trust me. While it's important to radiate love everywhere we go, when it comes to relationships and friendships, we must be confident and able to appreciate ourselves before we expect someone else to appreciate us. I have compiled a list of things to do to show yourself a little more live each day.
Steps to practicing self-love:
1. Practice gratitude
Spend a few moments a day being grateful for all of the big and little things in your life. Show gratitude for things like the sun coming out while you were walking to class because it’s another beautiful day that you got to live to see, or a text message you received from your mom this morning because it shows that she was thinking about you. These are things that should not go unnoticed! More importantly, be sure to show gratitude towards yourself and all of the things you have accomplished! We often set really high expectations for ourselves, and while it’s good to push yourself, remember that you’re human too. Maybe you ran today, but couldn’t beat your mile time, and that’s okay. You have a strong and healthy body that is capable of running a mile, and that in itself is something to smile about!
2. Learn to say no
In high school, I was always the girl that would take on new projects and extracurriculars every week. It’s great to be involved, but know where to draw the line. I ended up spending more time at my high school doing clubs and working on plays than I did at home. I loved it, but I didn’t eat well or sleep nearly as much as I should have and it really took a toll on my health (both physical and mental). Learn to manage your time and say no to projects that you know really don’t fit in your schedule. Don’t spread yourself too thin! I always thought it was better to be dedicated to a few things that you know you can give 110% to rather than be involved in a million things that you can only put 50% into.
3. Take care of yourself
Show your body a little love! Put foods in your body that make you happy and give you energy. Find a workout regime that you enjoy and can keep up with daily. Put the phone and computer away at least 45 minutes before you go to bed to ensure you get a good night's rest. Meditate daily. Time to yourself is SO important. Every Sunday night, I like to make sure I reserve a little time to take a shower, put on a face mask, drink some tea, watch a movie, and go to bed early. It’s my way of resting and recharging before the craziness of the work week starts up again.
No, I don’t mean go on a juice cleanse or try one of those trendy “skinny teas.” I mean get rid of the things that don’t serve a true purpose in your life. Clean out your closet and donate the clothes you know you don’t wear anymore. Get rid of the excess clutter on your desk. Leave the relationships in your life that don’t inspire you to grow, or to create, to become a better person. I know it’s probably easier said than done, but I promise it makes all the difference. Relationships and friendships shouldn’t be forced and they shouldn’t be difficult to maintain, so don’t waste your time and energy on people that hold you back. The people in your life should want to see you succeed because your happiness means their happiness. Sometimes you realize that it’s not the actual person that you’re going to miss, but the memories that you created with that person, and that’s totally normal. Learning to let go of the toxic people in your life is the ultimate way of practicing self-love. How can you expect anyone else to love you if you don’t even love yourself?
5. Spend time doing what you love
A little cliché, but life is way too short to not do what you love and love what you do. Do something for yourself! Don’t get into the habit of doing things that will make other people happy, and don’t seek approval from anyone else. Whatever it is that makes you smile until your cheeks hurt and makes you feel warm and bubbly inside, do it. Do everything with so much love in your heart that you feel like you could burst.
"If I asked you to name all of the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?"
One of my all-time favorite things to do is creating playlists. Here is a list of some of the songs that I've been loving this past month!
My lifestyle has changed drastically over the past two years, and I wanted to share my story of how I got to where I am today.
Growing up I was what most people considered to be healthy. I consumed almost anything my parents gave me (except milk, I hated milk), and I was active and played with my little brother and my friends every day. When I was old enough to figure out how to work my mom's video camera, I spent my afternoons writing my own scripts and making my own movies.
It wasn't until I reached the ages of 10/11 (around the time that puberty begins for most girls) that I started to develop serious self-esteem issues. I began to compare myself to the other girls at the dance studio. I wasn't as tall and my legs weren't as long and lean because I simply wasn't built that way. I developed a really bad relationship with food because I didn't look like other girls and it turned into a binge eating disorder. Some days I would be really picky about what I ate and skipped meals to "detox" or "cleanse" in an attempt to lose weight, but it would only be a matter of time until I binged again. I would eat until I felt so sick and so disgusted with myself that I felt the need to skip meals and "cleanse" again. It was a vicious cycle. My anxiety was through the roof and it eventually led to depression.
I thought playing competitive sports like soccer, volleyball and track and field in middle school would help break the cycle and it did help a bit. I got into much better shape and that itself boosted my confidence. I fell in love with working out, but my relationship with food didn't change. I knew I was eating more to compensate for the calories I burnt during my workout, but I still felt guilty.
I began seeing an acupuncturist to help with my anxiety when I was 15, and she told me that our diet has a lot to do with our mood. She suggested I cut gluten from my diet, and I noticed I had much better quality of sleep. I was still eating meat and dairy, but I was beginning to feel a little bit better. Later on that year I saw a nutritionist, and she suggested I started cutting down on red meat and limit my intake of sweets. I had no problem giving up the red meat, but because she said the only fruits I could eat were apples and berries, I was pretty miserable. I was eating a lot more veggies and superfoods, so I did lose quite a bit of weight and my skin looked better, but I wasn't happy.
Junior year of high school was a rough time for me. My anxiety was at an all-time high due to the unhealthy relationship I was in and stress from school. This really took a toll on my body. I wasn't sleeping well again, my skin looked dull, the dark circles under my eyes had gotten even worse, and my hair was breaking and falling out. I decided to try the Paleolithic Diet (or "paleo") to see how much better I would feel. The paleo diet consisted of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. I cut out dairy and other processed foods which was good, but because I wasn't eating grains I found myself very lethargic. I usually never felt the need to nap, but I was napping for an hour or two every day after school, so I knew I needed to do something different.
I discovered veganism through a close friend of mine that was vegan and had nothing but good things to say about it, so of course I wanted to try it. What did I have to lose at that point?
I didn't quit cold turkey because I knew myself and I knew I would be setting myself up for failure. For the first four weeks I was vegan until dinner time. Breakfast, lunch, and any of my snacks were 100% plant-based. At dinner time, I gave myself a little more flexibility to consume animal products if I felt I was really craving them. Even then, I found myself making better choices when it came to dinner time. I didn't miss meat, dairy, or eggs much because I realized that I didn't enjoy them as much as I thought I did. I was just used to animal products being a part of my diet.
Within the first month of eating a plant-based diet, I noticed drastic changes in my energy level, my mood, my skin, and my sleeping habits. I felt like I was glowing! I had the energy to go out and run multiple miles a day whereas before I was lucky if I could huff and puff my way through two miles! I felt inspired again. I was choreographing my own dances and writing more. I felt like a new person!
Of course, with veganism comes criticism. There were a lot of people in my life that didn't exactly understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. They thought I was extreme and expected me to fail. One person even told me she "felt bad for me." Fortunately, I had the support of my family. I watched lots of documentaries, read countless articles, and my Instagram feed was flooded with other young vegans just like me.
I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this lifestyle and I finally feel healthy! Veganism is about what feeds my tummy AND my soul. I always get the question, "How have you been vegan for so long?" and the answer is that I found a reason to stick with it that is bigger than myself. I have chosen compassion and kindness not only towards my self, but also to the animals and the environment. I have chosen not to contribute to the violence and cruelty against innocent animals that leads to the destruction of the very planet we live on.
(P.S. I'll make another post just on vegan resources!)