Lorna: Being My Own Hype-Woman

Story 2 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Lorna’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up, I have always been a big girl. The tallest in my class, the thickest dancer in the back, and the biggest center on the court. At a very young age, I thought that because I was Samoan and Tongan, that was immediately why I was so big. I had a love hate relationship with my body because I did love my body, but I believed everything that people told me about my body, too. As much as I try to be my biggest supporter, everyone has their bad days. 

Sometimes I return a joke with a joke, but when I was younger, there were some incidents where my temper stole the best of me. There was a time where this one girl in my class was going to tell another girl that I was rolling my skirt up and didn’t wear a shirt underneath my uniform sweatshirt cause I was sweaty. The first thing I thought of was to throw a slightly filled gatorade bottle at her to stop her, but instead ended up hitting the girl she was going to tell and gave her a huge bump on her head. Another incident, I threw a volleyball at a group of boys because they were teasing me during our basketball game at recess, calling me a “beast” with a negative snare. I smacked one of them right on their face and when he got up, it looked like he was literally seeing stars and he had the volleyball imprint on his face. Another incident and my favorite was when I was just starting to learn how to play basketball and I also had just transferred to a new school. The girls in my grade would make fun of me because of the way I would jump stop, pivot, shoot, and run, because just like everyone else who starts something new, I was just learning— so I probably did look silly at first. Well, because I was so big, my coach wanted me to be the “big man” on the court and focus on playing defense. At this moment, I was getting frustrated with the girls judging me and my coach telling me what to do. The coach’s daughter was driving the ball down the court, and I wanted to do something right, so I attempted to block her shot but ended up tackling her through the gym doors. Needless to say, the girls stopped teasing me during practice, and I practiced sportsmanship with every game from that day forward by helping opponent players up off the floor, after knocking them down and fouling them. 

As a middle schooler, I was size 14 in dress and size 10 in shoes. I was wearing junior clothes and 4-inch heels because I stopped fitting into the girls’ stores, like Limited Too, at the age of 9 when puberty hit me. My mom knew my personality was bright and reckless so she supported my style of wearing “actually cute” clothes that accented my boobs and big butt. But as much as I loved my body, there was always someone in my ear trying to tell me otherwise. A memory I have was when I was in the seventh grade attending a Catholic School. I was transitioning classes through the outside yard and was crossing paths with the older grade. This kid yelled at me in front of mine and his class, “Why are your legs so big?” My answer immediately was “Well, I’m Samoan.” I really didn’t understand why people asked stupid questions that they think would be funny. I was honestly use to these questions because everywhere I went my bigness was always talked about. It was always a thing on how big my hair was, how big my mom’s oldest daughter is, and how big my personality was too.

At first, I thought the “acceptable” body was having “tamed” hair, slim waist, and thin legs. I was born with huge calves, thick thighs, and coarse curly hair.  Growing up through middle school and high school, I was getting my hair permed straight, because of how easier it was to manage, and I was mostly focused on keeping my tummy “flat” because I felt that was the only thing I could really control.  I liked my tummy only when I woke up in the morning, when I didn’t eat too much that day, and after a workout. It was a great thing I played basketball. Being active was always a priority, but I would still be told to suck it in when going out in a dress or for dance performances. Today, having a “snatched” waistline and a big butt is acceptable and highlighted in all social media platforms. Ads show procedures, pills, and even creams that can help with maintaining this appearance. 

When it came down to wearing crop tops, skinny jeans, booty shorts, and bralettes, I was ALWAYS attracted to this clothing. Growing up in the late- 90s and early 2000s, I was influenced by celebrities like Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, Fergie, and Destiny’s Child. I would dress my barbies up with scraps I would cut from my clothing, and then make a cheeky matching outfit for me too. My mom has always supported my confidence and extra-ness, but never let me feel like I was dressing outside of my age. She knew I liked to show my tummy, even though she would always call me out to “suck it in.” Moms be like that. She also supports my twerk movement from chaperoning dance socials and attending my dance performances. Love you, Mom. I could see in her eyes that she sees how happy I get when I’m basking in my greatness, and so I welcome my mother to bask in my self- love with me too.  

I know I’m not the only one, but my family bonds through roasting each other and calling out each other’s insecurities. It’s a weird human normality, but it’s always a chance to stand up for myself and hype myself up— proudly. My mom talking to my aunties about how great – and how not great- I am are all a part of having a big family who genuinely loves me for all that I am. I live wholeheartedly on having a completely balanced life, and even with these negative comments coming from my blood— that itself multiplies my love for my body tenfold. People outside of my race who comment on my body get their comparisons to celebrities and athletes that are known through the media, entertainment industry, or “because they know someone who is also Polynesian.” I am Samoan and Tongan, which I guess makes it tricky for people to guess. Samoans and Tongans are very close islands in Polynesia, so if one was called the other of course just like every other ethnic person, they will feel some type of way for being assumed as a different culture. The last thing that a person wants is to insult a very big person, so everyone approaches me with a caution warning sign before asking me about my culture based on their first observation of me. The crazy thing is that when I say I’m both Samoan and Tongan they say, “Oh I can tell!” I feel like people say this to get a sort of connection with me because they want to be right about me. The way I respond to ignorance is simply by walking away because I will not tolerate being exoticized or to fulfill their desire to want to be right about me. I appreciate the recognition of my culture that people see when they look at me, and I channel that energy into pushing myself to understanding people for their interests instead of basing the first impression on what they look like. 

The Polynesian community are known mostly in society as athletes and entertainers. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Troy Polamalu, Jason Momoa, Dinah Jane, Parris Goebel, and Veronica Pome’e are one of the most prominent role models that represent our Polynesian community in their life’s work. Just like every other culture region, there are different physical attributes throughout each individual culture. When people outside of my culture comment on my body and appearance, they are looking at my thick thighs, big calves, “strongeness,” and long curly hair. When people question my physical appearance my answer is always, “Well, I’m Samoan and Tongan.” These are physical genes that I have inherited from my ancestors. My ancestors are from tiny little islands in the ginormous Pacific Ocean. God had to make these people strong enough to survive off the land that was limited around them, so of course I look like I belong treading the ocean waters— That’s on good strong genes! I am grateful for this body I was born into because it is a perfectly capable vessel to pursue my dreams and conquer my goals.

My relationship with food before was, in my eyes at the time, a beautiful symphony. Food was an escape, a happy place. I was never a picky eater, and especially loved authentic foods from around the world. My favorite to name would be mulipipi (turkey butt), boiled fish eye soup, and chitlins (pig or cow intestine). I love trying new foods, and making the statement that yes, I’m about to grub—and then a nap would follow immediately after. Now, my current relationship with food is that I’m a growing vegan of 3 years. I’ve chosen this journey because I admired the long lasting health benefits and other lifestyle changes that come with choosing to eat predominantly plant based— and I’m saving the earth too? Triple win! I’ve always loved a challenge, and I’m a hard advocate for eating healthy and sustaining our Earth’s natural environment. I still have my cheat days, but will only resort to vegetarian or on really special days, pescatarian. However, if I have never had it before, then I absolutely have to try it. Eating plant based has not changed my body weight or size at all either, which makes me convinced that I’m exactly how I’m supposed to be. Today, my happy place is still in food, and being completely aware of what’s going on in my body is the bonus of me living a longer happier life. 

Dance has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old. I danced hula and Tahitian up until I was 17 years old, and Samoan, Tongan, Maori, and Fijian all through college for Camp Unity— which is a Polynesian summer camp in Daly City, CA—the SJSU Polynesian Club, and for extended family functions. In Polynesian traditions, for every big family event like weddings, family reunions, milestone celebrations, or special birthdays— we love to put on a show of dance numbers, usually by the young ones of the family, as offerings and entertainment to the person we are celebrating, our elders, and the rest of our whole family. The grand finale is a freestyle solo that is traditionally performed by the eldest daughter of the family, and in Tongan it’s called the tau’olunga. In Samoan it’s called taualuga and the dancer is the taupo. I love being the taupo for these family functions because in this moment, I am just feeling and allowing my energy to flow with grace and love while my family is coming up dancing with me, proudly yelling “CHEEEHOOOOO,” and slapping money onto my skin and showering it above me. The money on the dance floor is an offering for the person or family of people we came together to celebrate. I love dancing for my ancestors and angels in heaven with my blood family here on earth. Growing up with these traditions has instilled that I feel the most beautiful when I’m dancing.

Aside from Polynesian dancing, I’m that friend that no matter where I am, I’m gonna dance if my soul summons it. Dancing makes me so happy because it’s the best way I can express my big energy. After college, I wanted to be active in some kind of sport. I am competitive, a natural team player, and I love being a part of an intimate community. I love contact sports because I love competition, but had to stop playing because I had over 10 concussions to count by the time I was 20 years old. I’ve played basketball since I was 9-years-old and got my first concussion when I was 14-years-old. I was a very aggressive and active player, and was always the biggest girl on the court. When I dove for the ball to claim possession, I collided with the opponent player’s shoulder and slowly blacked out and was immediately taken to the ER. After that one concussion, I kept getting smaller ones over the years as my team’s biggest center post player. The last concussion I had I was playing Lacrosse for SJSU’s Club Sports Team, and after that one, I had to completely stop playing contact sports.  So I chose to dance. Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of developing dementia, even after 30 years. This was the perfect sport for me because dancing also helps with spatial memory, retention, and boosting my cognitive skills.  I got started on my dance journey through heels choreography because I truly admired owning my femininity through a challenge of dancing in heels. 

I discovered the body positivity community when I began my dance journey in 2018. Heels choreography, specifically in the Bay Area, highlights self love and body positivity. There is just something about dancing in heels with bad ass bitches of all backgrounds and sizes that is so special— especially when there are no creepy dudes to hit on you. Choreographers like @vibe.withme, @cosmicallyshonna, @haleyburrr, and @kaiyadionne are only a few of my favorites to name that I’ve come to love as genuine people, as well. After every class, my cup is full of a love that nobody can take away from me. These dance classes bring us women together to show up, choose to love ourselves, and to support each other after that and along the way. The love is also taken to social media where we are following each other and showing love and support on each other’s dance posts and selfies. Surrounding myself with this community has instilled a practice that loving myself through dance inspires others to love themselves too. This has changed the way I look at my body because it shows me that my body allows me to do amazing things like learn a sexy ass floor piece and getting camera ready to perform it right after. 

Now, I choose to accept beauty standards that challenge every aspect of what is “acceptable” in mainstream media. I choose to support artists, actresses, and models that represent the spectrum of beauty that falls in between all categories of size, color, gender, sex, disability, all of it. I choose to believe that my body today is beautiful and sexy, especially when I’m eating a full course seafood boil with my family or when I’m eating a ton of junk food with my friends. I choose to love my body in the face of negativity because it’s my body, not theirs. This body is taking me through my lifetime of happiness and its bigness represents my big energy.

My relationship now with my body image still fluctuates between being comfortable with showing my tummy or not, but I’m also learning to love different styles of clothing that aren’t meant to look skinny. Skinny jeans, crop tops, and bralettes are just as sexy as flare pants, baggy sweats, and loose streetwear tees. I’m learning that sexiness and sensuality isn’t based on how I look, but how I fully feel in that moment. My biggest insecurity growing up was my legs, because it was the most prominent part of my body that people loved to talk about. I hated talking about my legs and even looked up procedures to see if it was even possible to make them smaller. However, now I actually love my legs the most because they are literally my calves of steel. I have never had a leg injury, only too many concussions from playing sports, but my legs are what keeps me active.

What made me accept my body was consistently choosing to accept it when someone was in my face telling me not to. I was being named as “Tree” because I was the tallest girl in my class up until 8th grade, or “Whale” because I was the biggest post player on the court. Coincidentally, I have always loved trees and whales, so I really never allowed things like that to bother me. I internalize my pain in the privacy of my own space and give myself love. I have at least 5 people in this world I can turn to when I need extra love, which then eventually makes me unafraid to feel my emotions through my pride and loyalty for myself. It starts with acknowledging that the negative comments I receive are all based on the same idea that I am physically a bigger girl than what society depicts how women should look. Fuck that shit!!! My life is better, cuter, and happier, through my lens so I’ll choose bravery and courage and will speak about myself with love instead. I refuse to talk to myself negatively, especially when it was about my body— because that was something I couldn’t change, especially as a 9-year-old kid.

At this age, I had to choose to be the one to hype myself up, honestly because I knew no one even knew how to do it. It was apparent that I looked very different from my classmates and so my size was different too— that was very obvious to me. But being “thick” wasn’t cool then, so my friends would say things like “you’re not even that big,” or “you’re very proportional,” but I knew they were just being nice, because yes the fuck I was that big. I knew the bullies were just trying to be funny, so they chose to laugh at other kids obnoxiously, so I also made it my responsibility to stand up for those kids and to be friends with them. I have always been attracted to being friends with introverts because they always ended up being the funniest ones in class and my bestest friend there.  I felt like I had to mostly “play the strong role,” because no one was able to be strong for me. I come off to people as confident and strong in my beliefs— so that’s the role I strive to see in myself too. I wanted to always be the bigger person, for myself and anyone else who felt like they did not belong at that table. It is genuinely fun for me to be the person in the room who decides to bring inclusivity and good energy to each and every interaction.

My advice to anyone else who is struggling with their body image right now is that the most important image is the image you think of yourself. The love you wish from the world is the same love that you can give yourself. You can make as much of love as you want, and you decide who gets to bask in it. If people are talking about you, challenge yourself by giving them a reflection of themselves. Be brave with your body, speak up for others, and give more love to yourself and don’t skip a day. Some advice I would tell my younger self is to love yourself more than anyone else possibly can, every single day. This self- love journey will last longer than any other love you will come across.” -Lorna

Tee: On Falling Back In Love With My Body

Story 1 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Tee’s story, written in her own words:

“Your physical body is, and has always been, your true love” – Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., The Three Questions

“On falling back in love with my body. 

Trigger warning: Sexual assault

When we consider beauty ideals and standards, we have seen the shifts in what is glorified versus what is looked down upon throughout time. For one era, thin is in, and with the switch of time, being more voluptuous has become a trend. We hear it in music, we see it on social media, where so many women have become pro-body work and the BBL has become a new sign of wealth. These beauty ideals clearly target women and femme presenting people more so than anyone, and as we know they can be very harmful to one’s self esteem. What we don’t always talk about is how certain body idealization poses a violent threat to the existence of Black women and women of color. 

On one hand, we know that the glorification of thin bodies has been heavily present in mass media time after time. This Eurocentric ideal of what an attractive body should look like has been pushed on us since.. well since colonization has ever been a thing. You do the math. But on the other hand, there is a different type of “glorification” that happens among those who are not thin. Some call it “Hypersexualization.”

“Hypersexualization, or the sexualization of public space, involves the attribution by the media of a sexual character to a product or behavior that has nothing intrinsically sexual about it.” – Quebec. Ca

It has been a silent weapon used against Black women for centuries. For women who may be heavier set with bigger breasts and butts, they are sexualized. The identity of the tempest, the spectacle, the porn star, the hooker, the woman at anyone’s sexual disposal has been highlighted and forced onto women with this kind of shape. We are often taught to cover our bodies because we are showing more skin than is appropriate, even if we are showing just as much if not less skin than our thinner counter parts. Those around us also perpetuate the harm by commenting on our bodies in a sexual manner. 

I have fallen victim and survivor to this treatment. 

Since a child, I have always been on the thicker side. I was called names like “big booty judy” and made a spectacle at a very young age. I developed breasts fairly quickly, and because of my body developing so quickly, I was made to be mindful of it at all times. Because of my shape, I had to constantly be aware of how others saw me, whether or not they were looking at me with a lustful gaze, be sure not to wear clothing too tight, make sure not to bend over, not to show too much cleavage, always wear a bra, etc. All as early as maybe 8 years old. 

I was taught that if I revealed too much, that I would be giving off the wrong message. When I was dating, I had to be mindful of my partners dads, friends, brothers, cousins, etc. because at any moment that my partner caught one of them looking at my body, it became my fault. I was also raised both by my family and external socialization, to believe that the more of myself that I showed, the more vulnerable I was to experiences with sexual predators.

I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, ranging from the age of 4 years old to my early 20s. 

In none of those moments, was I ever showing too much skin. However, the shame and guilt that my parents were socialized to place upon me and thus, I was in belief of, caused me to keep these experiences to myself. I did not disclose to them any of what I experienced until I was 21 through a poem that I shared at a showcase I was performing at. The poem highlights how fear of being victim shamed and getting in trouble or causing havoc and discord could happen if someone knew. Which is often the silent burden that many survivors of sexual assault carry. Not only within their conscience, but within their bodies. This need to conceal, because the reality of the war on our bodies is too heavy a topic to be open about is an incredibly taxing place to exist in.

The feeling of my body being my fault made it such a burden to live comfortably in it. When I was a child, I was a dancer. Dancing was my first true love. But I stopped wanting to dance after I had experienced my wits end of sexual assault. The experiences I was going through behind closed doors made me hyper-aware of my body to the point where I was constantly seeing the differences between my shape and that of my peers. It felt like a constant beating into my head that my shape was the cause. And as a child, how am I to believe anything different than what trauma that hasn’t been addressed is telling me? I started to lose touch with my body. So much of me became numb because I didn’t want to feel the hurt that I had experienced. I didn’t want to touch myself, I shied away from others touching me at all, unless they were my parents or my partner. I didn’t feel comfortable with pleasing myself because I felt like my body didn’t deserve that type of intimate connection with anything. Not even myself. 

My body started to feel like nothing but a container for trauma.

Because I’ve tried to cope not only with my experience with hypersexualization, but also with my experiences with sexual violence, I resorted to many methods of changing my appearance. In some ways I felt that if I conformed to the expectations of women, that it would provide me more safety. So, I began dressing more “modest” at one point and wearing hijab, a traditional head covering observed in Islam and muslim countries. I also kept my hair cut really short/bald for several years because I thought that it gave me more respect or a distractor from my body being the main subject of people’s attraction. I can’t say that any of this helped me to fully cope, and it brought me to the idea that hypersexualization isn’t something to be coped with, more-so challenged.

My experience with body positivity is a bit different, because its less about the rejection of my image, and more about breaking down the fetishization of my image. FETISHIZATION is NOT positivity. It is detrimental to the well-being of so many femme presenting people. It makes a body problem into an internal emotional and mental problem. To me, being body positive has to do with normalizing the view of a woman’s body to de-fetishize and therefore contribute to ending rape culture.  

My first act of resistance was getting back in touch with my body. Knowing that the best way to feel safe in my body again is to know it. So I began dancing again about a year ago. 

These days, I’m definitely not all the way there yet, but I’m rebuilding a bond of trust between my mind, body and spirit as a unit. So that my body no longer feels like a place to hold trauma, but instead a place to host an abundant spirit and a brilliant mind. I’m dancing more often just because it is something I can do for and with myself to feel my body and know it is mine. It has become a celebration of sorts, to move my body and touch my body when I need it. Because of this, I now go to sleep holding myself like I’m giving myself a hug.

Then there was OnlyFans..

I am comfortably able to say that I am an OnlyFans content producer and by spectrum of definition, a sex worker. This is not my only means of income and it’s not what I do for a living, but it is something that I do. My experience with OnlyFans has made me aware of several things. The greatest being, my own sensuality. I was so disconnected from my body due to trauma, that I never touched myself, never wore lingerie, never knew myself outside of someone else’s touch or validation. But when I began using my OnlyFans, I found my ability to treat the experience of my sensuality like carefully curated art. I was able to show up in a way that I never felt comfortable doing because in my mind, concealing myself was supposed to protect me. Even though concealing myself never actually did. 

I began my OnlyFans account in the midst of the pandemic, because it seemed like an interesting and easy way to accrue income. I liked the fact that I could have full discretion, post what I wanted to and if people wanted to subscribe, they could, while I could also make money from what seemed like them simply just wanting to see what I shared there that the rest of the cyber-world didn’t get to see. During my span on OnlyFans, I’ve had many of my subscribers express to me that although I am sexually attractive, they can’t sexualize me because they see me as a person. Many of them have become far more interested in just knowing how my day is going, hearing my poetry, and engaging with me about my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, they still subscribe to see my content. But I’d like to believe that because I have taken the time to get to know my body again, as my own.. that it shows in my content. 

Of course, when it comes to any kind of sex work, there is a negative connotation that I believe is inherently an attack on women. That being that sex-work is shameful and it is solely a matter of force and trauma response. However, that is simply not true. Sex-work has existed for centuries and is actually one of the oldest trades to exist. The reason for it to be condemned is heavily rooted in colonialism and capitalism because a person’s body is not something you can put a price on and/or tax. Otherwise, that is slavery. Which does happen. But so much of how we base our moral compass, our perspective of women and what is women’s business, has to do with money. So, as I engage with OnlyFans, I feel content with my ability to charge what I want to disclose and what I want. When you allow people autonomy and agency, they are able to do so much to reclaim themselves. 

My body, in many ways, has responded to my agency. It responds to me giving it options through what I eat, how I move it around, who I allow to engage with it, how I embrace it. This is what I love most about it. My body, no matter what it has been through at the hands of others, or even myself, always believes in me enough to keep me living in it. I’m not sure that I gain as much for being confident in my body as I do from the sheer fact that my body is confident in me. I am building a relationship with it that is focused on close intention and attention. My body trusts itself and trust me to notice when something is wrong, and to remedy what the issue is. I am in immense gratitude for the resilience of this vessel. 

I show my body positivity by thanking it for all that it survived through. I thank it for still giving me the ability to feel pleasure even though I denied it of that for so long. I thank it for bearing with me as I numbed and navigated out of touch with it. I thank it for choosing to host my spirit everyday. I thank if for all of its imperfections. I thank if for looking the way it looks, for how it carries weight. I thank it for sticking with me and having patience with me as I learn to love it despite all that has made it feel unworthy of love. Above all, I thank it for always loving me back.” -Tee

The Low Waste Gal

Angelina decided to re-start her low-waste journey in the beginning of 2021. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it really back tracked all the progress she made up until that point. Angelina fell off of her low-waste lifestyle for a bit, but in 2021 decided to resume her plans. This time though, she decided to make her journey public by starting an Instagram page, @thelowwastegal, dedicated to her personal experiences and goal to transition to a minimal waste lifestyle. On her Instagram page, Angelina shares alternative tips, tricks, and objects that can help one start their low-waste journey. She believes it is important to be as transparent with her followers as possible because even she has difficulty with her waste management at times.

“Even for waste that I could not prevent I would still feel guilty, (for) example, not being able to use my own produce/grocery bags, refilling items in the bulk section of grocery stores, being able to use my own containers at the deli section, and not being able to refill my items at refill station due to being closed,” Angelina said, recalling how the pandemic backtracked her progress. “I am thankful now that some of these habits have been reintroduced into my routine, although it may not be 100% back to normal, I think it’s better than nothing at all.”

Angelina stresses to her followers and those around her that living a low-waste lifestyle is never linear. You will have your ups and downs, times where you fall off, feel defeated, and will want to give up. All that matters is that you are conscious about your waste management, and want to make small – but significant – steps to improve your lifestyle. The lesson she wants people to take away is that changes from individuals turn into big changes collectively.

What really opened Angelina’s eyes to waste management was an undergraduate course she took at San Francisco State University. She had no idea that the class, “Geography of Garbage,” would change her perspective entirely. At the time, the class sounded fun and interesting, but she mostly just signed up for the credits she needed to graduate. Little did Angelina know that this class would become the foundation and the spark that started it all.

In “Geography of Garbage,” Angelina learned about a low-waste lifestyle, and waste in general. The class’ main objective was to shine a light on waste management and the affect garbage has on the planet. The class visited a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, and participated in a beach cleanup. She has always pictured landfills to be disorganized with trash laying around every direction you looked. Angelina was surprised to see that the landfill was surprisingly clean and tidy – man-made formed hills and dirt, with trash only in its designated area. Angelina learned that the reason why there wasn’t a plethora of random garbage around was because of the landfill’s process of discarding materials.

“The way most landfill works is that they dig into the land, apply layers of different material, and then cover the layer of garbage with dirt, this is why you will not see trash just laying around,” She explained. “After landfills are completely filled with our trash, these lands are then most likely covered with grass.”

Once the landfill is covered with soil and grass, the land itself cannot be built on. This is because the breakdown of garbage creates Methane. These gases need to be released to avoid explosions and fires. Pipes are built on the landfill so these gases don’t build up underground. This is also the reason why the landfill is usually kept as an open space – incase the ground were to collapse or an explosion were to take place. According to science.howstuffworks.com:

Bacteria in the landfill break down the trash in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic) because the landfill is airtight. A byproduct of this anaerobic breakdown is landfill gas, which contains approximately 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide with small amounts of nitrogen and oxygen. This presents a hazard because the methane can explode and/or burn. So, the landfill gas must be removed. To do this, a series of pipes are embedded within the landfill to collect the gas. In some landfills, this gas is vented or burned. More recently, it has been recognized that this landfill gas represents a usable energy source. The methane can be extracted from the gas and used as fuel.

Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.

Visiting these places, partaking in clean ups, along with the knowledge she gained from the class, really opened her eyes to how she plays a part in all this collective waste. She started to evaluate the daily waste in her current routine: how she uses water, energy usage, and the products she bought and ate that all came in plastic. Angelina started becoming very conscious of her impact on the planet. She started off small by purchasing low-waste products like reusable cotton rounds and a safety razor, but it wasn’t close to the level she wanted to be at. At the time, Angelina was living with roommates, and found it difficult to maintain a low-waste lifestyle without having her own space. Still, she couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of all the things she could change in her routine in the future.

Even though Angelina couldn’t fully dive into her journey due to lack of space and roommates, she still educated herself on the topic. Even after her “Geography of Garbage” class ended, she would read up on things online to further her knowledge on waste management. Instagram really helped her find alternate items that she could swap in for items that were not eco-friendly. These pages educated her on eco tips, information, and different ways that humans create waste – some we don’t even think twice about or think is detrimental to the environment. Her recent shocking discovery is when she fell into the rabbit hole of the transportation industry – in relation to the supply chain of goods. She had no idea how much the e-commerce industry (buying and selling products or services online) affects the environment. This opened up Pandora’s box of topics: greenhouse gases, unethical / unsustainable products, cheap labor, pollution, etc.

“After learning about a low-waste lifestyle, I started to feel very conscious of my impact on the planet,” Angelina explains after she took the undergraduate class. “It was something I could not unlearn, and I was constantly aware of the waste I was making.”

Angelina’s low-waste journey fully started when she moved to Long Beach in 2019 for graduate school. She was so excited that she and her boyfriend, Dominic, would finally have their own space. This meant that she could finally have the chance to fully start her low-waste journey without any space restrictions. In the beginning, diving into the low-waste lifestyle was slow progress. At times she felt defeated and that the transition seemed nearly impossible. She knows now that a sustainable lifestyle takes time and changing one’s way of living just doesn’t transform over night. This is a lifelong investment, and Angelina admits that to this day, she is still transitioning. Advocating for the planet and environment is something really important to Angelina, and she encourages others to be aware of their impact on the world as well. She believes this is a topic everyone should care about.

“I think it’s important to take care of the Earth and be conscious of our habits effecting our communities,” She explained. “Some anthropogenic habits that negatively change our planet’s climate are, monocrop farming, industrial farming of animals, greenhouse gases, water pollution, deforestation, material waste, etc. Aside from collective human impacts, there are impacts at an individual level as well. Participating in a low-waste lifestyle can help reduce impacts at an individual level. In that, we are all consumers, we all have needs to survive (ex. food, hygiene products, clothes, etc.), but with all these needs comes waste. We can still attain these needs by being conscious, for example intaking fewer or zero plastic products, supporting local, supporting ethical and sustainable companies, reusing and repurposing, buying second hand, eating less animal products, buying vegetables at farmers markets to support local farmers, etc. I think others should feel compelled to be more conscious because we should all feel that we need to do our part as an individual to take care of our home. It will not be perfect, but I think at least trying is better than not.”

Angelina humbly admits that before her journey, she, like many others, did not think twice about a product’s afterlife. She didn’t give too much thought into what happened to the product once it was used or when she was done with it. Out of sight, out of mind. She educated herself and found that products are only supposed to be used X amount of times and disposed of, and are not meant to be kept “forever.” This forces people to keep re-buying items that are only good for a couple of uses – like paper towels, pads, and plastic bottles and containers to name a few. This forces consumers to buy one-time use products because it is easily accessible and more convenient. Because of this supply chain, Angelina found it difficult at first to break the cycle and switch to ethical and sustainable products.

Her most challenging hurdle was finding non-toxic cleaning products. She would try different DIY concoctions, but some didn’t work for her. There were times she would have to go back to the cleaning products she was used to and would have mixed emotions about flip flopping back. But she knows that with trial and error she will eventually find a cleaning product recipe that will fit her needs and wants. Though that has been a hurdle in itself since COVID. But Angelina has found ways to effectively clean her space with products that she approves of. She makes her own foam soap by mixing together castile soap, water, fractioned coconut oil, and essential oils. She uses castile soap and water mixture to wipe down all of her areas. She uses alcohol on a reusable cotton pad to wipe down her phone. These are minor changes to her cleaning routine, but finding the right products and the research behind can either be a hit or miss.

As much as possible, Angelina and Dominic try to buy their fruits, vegetables, and the occasional sauces, juices, and bread from local farmer’s markets. They make the conscious effort to buy from local farmers so they can help support their businesses, even though these are items that the couple can get from a local grocery store. Currently, Angelina is working from home so throughout the week she isn’t going out much. But when it’s the weekend, she does use her car to get from point A to point B. She would prefer to use a bike, but given that her bike is more of a cruiser bike instead of a commuter bike, and that she’s not the best biker, she decided to trade in her car for a more sustainable option. She is not able to get an electrical vehicle just yet, but taking the step to get a more sustainable car option is lessening her impact. Though their grocery shopping and form of transportation seem like little actions, collectively, these all make a difference.

Recently, Angelina created a map display of refill stations / zero waste stores in California that could be found by clicking the link on @thelowwastegal ‘s Instagram bio. She thought of making this map to help others who are interested in finding a refill station near them. Surprisingly, it was easy for Angelina to find these types of stores with simple research. She has found that refill stations and zero waste stores seem to be more easily accessible in urban areas. With COVID restrictions easing, Angelina is happy to get back into the routine of visiting her favorite refill stations. She feels at ease knowing that she is repurposing old containers and avoiding purchases that contain plastic.

Reducing, reusing, and recycling items doesn’t just apply to household items. It has also translated in Angelina’s closet. When she first started her low-waste journey, she refused to buy any new clothes. She tried her best to buy secondhand or hand-me-downs. When she couldn’t find anything at a thrift shop, she just wouldn’t shop for clothes at all. Of course, she would have to come up with a solution that didn’t leave her feeling guilty. For her, and many others that thrift, it can be really difficult to solely rely on thrifting especially when you’re looking for a very specific item. Sometimes it’s a hit or miss, and you never know what the selection will be. When Angelina would look for specific clothing items and they weren’t available at secondhand stores, she would cave in and buy them new. She would feel so conflicted with buying new clothing that she would reduce the number of new items she purchased – one item here, one item there. Now that she has been in the low-waste journey for some time, she has now found her middle ground – if she can’t find a specific item second hand and has to buy it new, she will try to purchase the new items from local and small businesses.

Angelina has made changes all the way from her cleaning products, to where she buys her food, how she uses transportation, switching up her household items, changing the way she shops for clothing, all the way down to her feminine products. Yes, you read that right. And Angelina is not ashamed to speak on it – she wants to share as much information as she can so she can help others who are thinking about low-waste period products. Back in the day, she would describe herself as a “pad girl,” when on her period. So you can totally understand why she had some apprehension about the period cup since it is larger than a tampon. Surprisingly, Angelina didn’t mind the period cup. It’s definitely something she had to get used to, but after a while, she became a pro at using it, and she loves that it is a reusable item. She has also tried the reusable pad and has recently purchased period underwear which she hopes to review soon. She confesses that even she second guessed the reusable pad, with fears that the product wouldn’t be sanitary.

“Before trying out the reusable pad, I thought I wouldn’t like it and that it would be too unsanitary, but it’s the same as using a disposable pad, except you just wash after each use,” She explained. “When you need to change your pad, unclip the pad, spray stain remover, allow stain remover to sit in and then rinse, then wash with laundry. Although if you’re out, some will come with a baggie, which allows you to deal with it later. I just recently bought my second pad, it will take some time to purchase a couple since they are about the same price as a box of disposable pads, but once you have them you no longer need to keep buying.”

This is all information that Angelina publicly shares on her low-waste journey Instagram account, @thelowwastegal. She has been so open and transparent about her journey, but had to grow the courage to get to this point. She was very hesitant to start an Instagram page separate from her personal account because she was basically back to square one. At the start of the pandemic, Angelina had to put a pause on her low-waste journey, backtracking her progress, and in turn, resulted in her creating more waste prior to when she started her journey.

“As things began to get back to normal, I was able to re-introduce some low-waste habits again, and I then started my Instagram account at the beginning of 2021,” Angelina recalls. “I also felt very new to the low-waste lifestyle and I barely had begun a year prior to the pandemic. With the pandemic, a lot of my low-waste habits had to stop due to safety concerns. For example: not being able to bring your own produce and grocery bags, no more bulk section, a lot of one-use cutlery and dishware when eating out, etc. Even though feeling new to the lifestyle I reassured myself that this does not happen overnight, you will not be perfect – progress over perfection – and you will get to educate and inspire others along your journey.”

Her main goal is to help educate others on realistic sustainable changes. Especially since she felt as though she was back at the “beginner” stage again after almost a year of the pandemic, she knows how overwhelming everything can be when you decide to take that first step. In the beginning, it is easy to compare yourself to others who are creating no trash, and it can be a little discouraging. Angelina prides herself on being transparent about her journey with her followers so they can see that it’s okay not to fully transition right away. Also, she wants to share her tricks and tips, as well as what she has found that works for her thus far. Angelina hopes her page makes it easier for others to just start.

@thelowwastegal page is helping keep Angelina accountable. Having a public low-waste page encourages her to keep going with her own personal journey so she can spread that knowledge that can help someone else. However, there are times where she feels pressured to be perfect in her waste management and create zero waste, but it is at these times that she has to quickly remind herself that she is not perfect. All that matters is she’s trying her best, and will eventually turn into a pro, but at her own pace. She knows that she will get there one day, and thinks it’s important to share those little hiccups online because people can relate in not being perfect.

Angelina’s content on @thelowwastegal’s Instagram page is inspired by her everyday normal activities and chores. That’s part of the reason why starting a low-waste lifestyle can be difficult to start – it applies to everything you do on a day to day basis. Because of this, Angelina will share her cleaning products, what she uses for her hair, face, laundry, etc. Her most popular posts are the ones focused on doing groceries. Sometimes it can be a little challenging to come up with new content to post, but she gets a sense of what interests her followers when they interact with her.

Her posts are very intimate, and just by watching, you feel like you get to know Angelina on a personal level. She has received so much positive feedback, and she’s so grateful that her followers are reaching out and connecting with her. Recently, she’s been getting a lot of questions about the period underwear, and she hopes to make a post on her honest opinions and experience with it soon. She absolutely loves getting feedback and questions from her followers because she feels like she’s helping someone transition to a low-waste / zero waste product. Through @thelowwastegal account, Angelina has interreacted with many like-minded individuals and has found a spot in the low-waste community. Whether it be online, or in person at refill stations, community composting gardens, or other events.

Not only is she helping people through social media, but those around her are starting to change their habits for the better as well. She is extremely grateful for her boyfriend’s support. If Dominic wasn’t on board with the transition, Angelina believes that she would not be able to move forward with a low-waste lifestyle solo because they share a life, living spaces, and products. It has been more of a learning curve for Dominic, but Angelina loves his willingness to keep trying and to be there to encourage her to continue. Other members of the family are willing to try different things as well. When Angelina’s mom visited them, they took her to a refill/ zero waste store. Her mom took her advice to try out reusable cotton rounds, and Angelina was ecstatic. To others, it might seem like a little change, but to Angelina it was a big deal because it is 1 less thing her mom has to toss out and keep purchasing. Dominic’s mom has made it a point to use her compost bin, change out paper towels for reusable towels, recycle more often, and regrow her veggies. This gave Angelina the idea to do the same! Her aunt, who is very resourceful, started to make her own cotton rounds an reusable toilet paper. These small – but impactful- changes that her family and those close to her are making warms her heart.

Angelina’s low-waste journey has not been linear. She has had her fair share of ups and downs, feeling defeated, and overburdened with guilt. Feeling guilty is still something that Angelina is working on. She feels as though she’s at the stage in her journey where she is trying to manage her guilty feelings. On one hand she wants to take accountability so she can do better, but on the other hand, she knows that she is not at an expert level, and backtracking and some mistakes will occur. And that’s okay. Instead of trying to make herself feel bad about making waste, she tries to think of ways in the future that these incidents can be avoided.

I think acknowledging my decisions helps me out a lot, because instead of trying to ignore my guilt or what I considered myself to be doing ‘wrong’, I am acknowledging my actions and thinking about ways I can better the situation I am currently in for the future,” She explained. “(Like) eating out and creating so much plastic waste, next time I will bring my own cutlery set, cloth napkin, and reusable straw. I have been struggling with this situation often, so this is my most relevant and recent example.”

She knows that this lifestyle takes some time, space, and money. She has learned that living a low-waste lifestyle calls for keeping random things that you’d usually throw out to save for future low-waste projects and DIYs. However, that takes a lot of space, and their apartment space can be limiting. Still, she is hopeful for her progress in the future, like having plans to one day have her own garden so she can grow her own food, participate in more cleanups, and maybe even one day host a cleanup session.

As her journey continues, Angelina stresses the importance of being 100% transparent to her followers because it shows the realities of her transition. Living a low-waste (and eventually zero waste) lifestyle is never going to be a straightforward journey. She is aware that she has a lot of learning to do, as well as changing old familiar habits. @thelowwastegal account has made it easy for Angelina to showcase her struggles, as well as being openly vulnerable to the public. But she loves that others out there can connect with her story and journey because they might be feeling down on themselves as well. When you’re feeling guilty and frustrated with backtracking on your progress, it is nice to know that there are others that are going through the same thing, and that you’re not alone. She wants to create a space that is realistic for the vast majority of people who are new to this lifestyle. Since she is at the the transitional stage – no longer a beginner, but also not an expert – she believes sharing her findings will benefit those who are just beginning.

I would just like to end with a quote: ‘Little impacts from one person, turn into big impacts, collectively’(from @thelowwastegal),” Angelina said. “It is important to recognize how big of an impact you have and changing habits can have a positive impact on the planet. You may feel like just one person, but you can inspire another person, which can turn into a collective effort.”

Last Year

Every first of the month, I stalk Susan Miller’s Twitter to see if she posted her monthly horoscopes. May 1st was no different. I went on and read about my Aquarius horoscope for the month of May. I paused. Wait, MAY?! It’s crazy to me how we are already in the month of May, and I can’t help but feel like this pandemic is speeding up and slowing down time simultaneously. To me at least, it’s like ever since March 2020, the months are just bleeding into each other, and all sense of time is completely fucked up. The pandemic has been around for such an extended period of time that pre-COVID life seems like ages ago.

I couldn’t believe that it’s May 2021 already. Not in the actual sense – given that I don’t live under a rock – but it’s crazy to me how fast time is flying, and how much things have changed. It made me think back to this time last year, and I realized that it is the anniversary of when my life drastically changed. To those that have kept up with my journey, I bet you’re like “omg, girl, you moved out, calm down.” To others, moving out is something exciting. For me, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life to date. Sounds dramatic but it’s true.

Around this time last year I got an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of my parents’ place. It was the end of April when this opportunity was brought to my attention, and little did I know that for the next 2 and a half months, I would be in a constant state of stress. This opportunity would give me the privilege to start saving money, live in expensive ass San Francisco, and take the next step in my relationship – but it also gave me headaches and countless sleepless nights. From the end of April 2020 – July 2020, this decision weighed heavy on my mind 24/7.

At that time, I just wanted to look into the future. I wanted to channel my inner “That’s So Raven,” and see what my outcome would be. I was so mentally stuck and conflicted that I didn’t know how to go about my life anymore. I was put in a position where whatever decision I chose, whether I accepted or denied, my life would drastically change either way. I was so stressed out. I feared change and didn’t want to mess up my family dynamic, but at the same time I was so curious to know what life would be like if I accepted the opportunity. There were pros and cons to both decision, and I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I begged the universe, my ancestors that have passed away, God – anybody or anything – to give me a sign on what the fuck to do with my life.

One of the months while I was in silent mental torture, I read my horoscope forecast for the new month. I can’t remember which month it was, but I remember reading it in awe. My horoscope basically described that I was going to be put in a position where I had to make a big decision. Now here me out, I love reading my horoscopes. It’s something that I think is fun to read and feeds my curiosity of the universe, future, and my life. But I don’t make big decisions in my life based on what my horoscope says. At this time though, I wanted a sign. I read my horoscope by Susan Miller, and not only did the whole thing seem very relevant to my life and my current scenario at the time – it seemed creepily spot on. It said I was going to have to make a tough decision, but whatever decision I chose, I could never go back to how life was before. Susan Miller described this transition like as if I were crossing a bridge, and that bridge falling apart right after I made it to the other side. Meaning, I was moving forward with my life, and whatever decision I made could not be undone. She also mentioned how I would make a commitment for at least 2 years – which tripped me the fuck out because the deal that was on the table required at least a 2 year agreement. I was shook. The universe doesn’t lie.

However, I didn’t make the decision I made because my horoscope was spot on at the time. But I do think of my mindset one year ago, and how I so desperately wanted to know what life would be like if I chose either decision – to move or not to move. It’s like I wanted a crystal ball to help me see what was the “right choice.” A year ago, I was so stressed out and really felt like I couldn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like no matter what I chose, someone would be upset or disappointed with me. Fast forward to now, the present day, I look back and think damn, 1 decisions really changed my whole ass life. And here I am now, 1 year later, in a totally different headspace, happy with my choices, and growing as a person. It’s crazy what time can do. It’s true that 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. – your life can drastically change. I kind of chuckle at how stressed I was a year ago – not because it’s funny, but because I should’ve known I’d be just fine. I’m exactly where I need to be.