Take a time out with THL

Sometimes, you just need a little boost of inspiration to sustain your motivation throughout the day. While it can be difficult to maintain your positivity through the hustle and bustle of the work week, there is a simple — yet beautiful — solution that will remind you to keep pushing forward at all times.

Inspirational jewelry is not only the perfect way to keep your favorite mantra visible, it is also a great way to add a little dash of something special to your look. Often very sleek and unassuming, inspirational jewelry can look minimalist to the untrained eye, but to you, it carries a special meaning that you take with you throughout the day.

Check out some of THL’s favorite inspirational pieces:

Piper Cleo

This online boutique offers a host of jewelry — inspirational and otherwise — to inject a hint of meaning into your daily wear. Equal parts dainty and powerful, our favorite piece happens to be the “Nevertheless, she persisted” bar necklace, which boasts the now-famous words of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who ended a speech read by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Despite it’s political significance, the phrase has become something of a feminist rallying cry and makes for a perfect reminder to persist no matter the obstacles you face. The best part: the necklace is on sale for only $20.

Mantraband

A THL favorite, Mantraband offers both bracelets and necklaces with phrases on them that signify happiness, love, peace, strength or a journey. Available in gold, silver and rose gold, these pieces are subtle and unobtrusive enough to pair with your go-to jewelry without interference. Our personal favorite is the “Alis Volat Propriis” bracelet, a bangle that shares the message, “She flew with her own wings.” For only $25, you’ll remind yourself every day that you have the power to take charge of your life.

Alex and Ani

Perhaps the most well-known of these inspirational shops, Alex and Ani has a massive selection of their iconic bracelets, necklaces, rings and even accessories that all have latent meaning. If rings are more your thing, the Eros Arrow Wrap Ring offers the most unassuming take on inspirational jewelry yet. A simple arrow, the motif symbolizes direction; in its product description, the ring is said to serve as a reminder to “Stay focused with your eyes on the target. Let your arrow of intention fly to its goal.”

Take a break from work, take a deep breath and take a time out from the daily grind by perusing these selections of inspirational jewelry — and by reminding yourself that no matter what, you have all you need to succeed.

Take a time out with THL

It’s Wednesday, and you’re struggling to find the motivation to make it through the rest of the week. Enter THL, who has just the music you need to not only end the week on a high note, but also keep you inspired for days (and weeks) to come.

A Seat at the Table – Solange Knowles

Don’t be fooled by this easy listening; Knowles’ third album is packed with raw emotion and straight-shooting messages on what it means to be a black woman in today’s society. An album she deemed a “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing,” according to Rolling StoneA Seat at the Table delivers entrancing melodic hooks coupled with thought-provoking lyrics that are sure to make this album one that you’ll revisit time and again.

Standout tracks:

 “Cranes in the Sky” – A light and airy track, “Cranes in the Sky”is driven by a strong bass line that pulls it back down to Earth and enhances Knowles’ soulful voice.

“Don’t Touch My Hair” – Likely one of the most powerful tracks on the album, “Don’t Touch My Hair” not only asserts Knowles’ own power, but also that of all black women.

Long Live the Angels – Emeli Sandé

The sophomore album of Scottish singer Emeli Sandé doesn’t disappoint, delivering a heartrending account of a broken heart to eventual solace. Departing from her more pop-infused first album, Long Live the Angels incorporates soul, R&B and gospel influences, while certain melodies pay tribute to her Zambian roots. Overall, the album plays much like a story, bringing listeners from an introduction to her heartbreak, to a conflict in trying to grapple with the grief and finally to a resolution in deciding to love again.

Standout tracks:

“Selah” – Said to be a musical break that means “So be it” in Hebrew, the opening track is both haunting and beautiful, with lyrics flowing in a stream-of-consciousness style that is heavy with anxiety and pain.

“Sweet Architect” – Sandé’s emotionally-charged voice takes centerstage on this track, with words that sound like a prayer and an uncomplicated melody. The gospel choir at the end seems to act as a resounding “Amen.”

This is Acting – Sia

This covert singer-songwriter may not show her face on stage, but she certainly wears her heart on her sleeve in her songs. While some tracks discuss the struggle in letting her voice be heard, others serve as a reminder that we don’t walk alone when faced with struggles. Though her songs employ typically pop sounds, Sia’s unique voice cuts through the instrumentals and carries the weight of her important lyrics, as well as the heart and soul she surely pours into every ounce of her music.

Standout tracks:

“Alive” – A story of a woman still standing after facing the worst of what life has to offer, “Alive” places hope for a better future in the simplest of things: that we’re still breathing.

“The Greatest” – Sia’s most recent single, “The Greatest” pushes us to keep going, to never give up and to believe that we can be the greatest we can be.

Grab your headphones, close your eyes and let these artists restore your energy and rejuvenate your determination.

Take a time out with THL

We are 27 days into 2017, and the new year has already ushered in a host of new challenges. But don’t let the stress get you down — take a time out with THL to recharge and gear up to tackle head on whatever concerns are plaguing you.

Take some R&R time

If you’re too busy to head to a nail salon, try pampering yourself with an at-home manicure and pedicure. Better yet, use a nail polish with an empowering name so every time you look down out at your nails, you’re reminded to keep calm and carry on.

THL recommends: Essie’s “Power Clutch,” available at Ulta for $9.

Take some creative time

If makeup and spa days aren’t your thing, relax your mind with a little art therapy. A new trend, adult coloring books offer a brief respite from the daily grind and allow grown ups to be a kid once more. But make no mistake: adult coloring books aren’t all roses, sunshine and puppies designed to numb your mind. Some incorporate your favorite television shows, while others may even teach you something new while you’re coloring away.

THL recommends: “The Badass Feminist Coloring Book,” available at Barnes & Noble for $25, is complete with images of “40 badass feminists and bonus essays on feminism” that are sure to simultaneously relax you and inspire you.

Take some alone time

Everyone loves to read something that is both enlightening and engaging, so there’s no better way to steal a little time for yourself than by curling up with a good book. Whether you decide to read something brand new or choose to revisit an old favorite, reading allows you to escape from the present or become engrossed in a new tale — or may even make you aware of a previously unconsidered point of view.

THL recommendsWe Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, available at Amazon for $6.39 (or $2.99 for the Kindle Edition). This short essay, which was adapted from Adichie’s famous TEDx talk, lays out the basic premise of feminism and explains the logic behind an inclusive feminism.

These recommendations will surely provide an escape from the stresses of the new year. But don’t rest for too long — those challenges won’t resolve themselves.

What feminism means to me

As I follow the Women’s Marches around the United States and around the world today, I cannot help but reflect upon hundreds of thousands of people — likely millions — gathered in support of a just, equal society for all. I am proud of the women and men that are demonstrating peacefully, standing in solidarity for their fellow human beings.

But I also wish that I could have physically participated in a march. And that, dear friends, has spurred me to write, something that for me has always felt powerful and assertive and, in many ways, makes me feel connected to those participating in demonstrations today. My words are printed; they are permanent. And the permanence of my words feels like the promise of permanent change — the very goal of these marches.

But what also gives me power is feminism. I am a feminist. I believe in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism posits. I believe in a feminism that is inclusive of all women: straight, non-binary and LGBTQ+ women, women of all races, income levels, locations and circumstances.

I believe these things because I have felt the power in women supporting women, and I have seen how such support can embolden women to speak their minds, to own their bodies and assert their presence. I have come to believe these things because I have come to see their fruitful results.

So for me, feminism is not merely an assumed ideology or a lofty set of beliefs. To me, feminism is sticking up for your fellow woman, fighting not only for yourself but on behalf of your sister. It is empowering her, supporting her and pushing her to achieve her full potential.

It means securing the equality and liberties due to women of all circumstances without taking away from our male counterparts; it means serving as equals, knowing that there is enough of the proverbial “pie” to go around.

It means encouraging our mothers, sisters, friends, daughters and fellow women to respect their bodies, brains and hearts — and commanding others to respect them just the same.

It means teaching girls that they can do anything boys can, and teaching boys that being sensitive or contemplative is just as good as (or perhaps better than) being tough.

To me, feminism isn’t just about women. It’s about all of us. Because when one group succeeds, we all succeed.

XO,

Nicole

A blank page

There is power in a blank page. While its emptiness can be intimidating, there is plenty of space to be creative, to try new things and even try again when you mess up. What you want to add is up to you, and being tasked with filling the entirety of an empty page may prove to be difficult. But, once you fill it up in a way that makes you happy, it can be a satisfying experience.

A new year is exactly like this blank page: it’s a wide open, empty expanse stretching out in front of you for what seems like an eternity, even though there is a 365-day border that limits the space you have to create the life you want. Setting out into this vast unknown can be daunting, but it is in this unknown that you are granted the artistic license to do and try whatever you desire.

We’ve reached the end of the page on 2016; it’s been filled with ups, downs and curveballs we never saw coming. For me personally, it has been a year of growth, of some uphill battles and some great triumphs. And through it all, Take Her Lead has left its mark on the page of my 2016 in the most significant way, allowing me to take one more step into living the life I’ve dreamed of. But this page has reached its capacity; it’s filled with progress and some notes to my future self.

Now it’s time to face another blank page. We may think we’ve expended our creativity and our determination in 2016. We may think that those little paper cuts that sliced us open will never heal. But although that page of 2016 will always be there in the stories of our lives, it will not solely determine how our story ends.

So today, as we are handed a clean sheet of paper upon which to write the latest installment in our life stories, sharpen your pencils and break out your finest pens. Gather up all of those ideas, goals, hopes and dreams that you’ve shelved in the crevices of your mind. Take a deep breathe, and start creating.

After all, you have a whole page to fill.

Happy New Year, friends. Thanks for sticking around.

XO,

Nicole

 

‘Tis the season

Christmas Day is often one filled with joy, peace and love. The pressures of work are placed on a shelf in the back of our minds, and day-to-day stresses are cast to the side in order to enjoy a day with family and friends.

While this holiday — and the holiday season in general — often invokes such feelings, there is something fleeting about them. Like most feelings, they are only temporary, lasting for the duration of the day and maybe carrying over into the following. But once work or school begins again and the hustle and bustle of everyday life returns, this contentment often fades.

But what if this feeling, this state of mind, didn’t fade away? What if we could hold onto it well into the new year, living every day like it was Christmas.

Maybe we can. Maybe this holiday season, we will be able to carry that joy with us beyond Christmas Day or beyond New Year’s Day. Maybe we won’t have to confine these feelings to just the “holiday season.” Maybe every day can be the “season” for joy and hope and love.

So as we celebrate Christmas with our families and friends, let’s remember that this holiday season isn’t the only time for us to be hopeful and joyful. Let’s remember that we can carry these feelings with us every single day — and make every single day feel just as joyful, peaceful and magical as Christmas.

Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas.

XO,

Nicole

Giving thanks

Life is rarely perfect. We may experience fleeting moments that seem too good to be true, but seldom are they perfect; there is always something that could be better, something that could elevate that fleeting moment, bringing it one step closer to our idea of perfection.

But here’s the thing — perfection is elusive. In fact, perfection’s evasive nature may suggest that it doesn’t even exist, leading us in pursuit of something that we will never attain. It is this pursuit of perfection, this drive to have more that can sometimes blind us to what we already have. We — myself included — tend to get swept up in this chase, setting out in search of more while neglecting to take stock of what we currently have in the palms of our hands.

So when Thanksgiving Day comes, it reminds me to pause, to consider the countless blessings I have in my life already. To think about all of the people in my life that I am lucky to know and love, to reflect on the opportunities that have come my way, to remember what a gift it is to be alive, healthy and happy.

These are the things that matter the most. These are the things that the chase for more, for perfection can obscure, yet these are the things that will always — no matter what — bring me the most comfort and the most joy. These are the things for which I am grateful, not just this Thanksgiving Day, but every single day.

While I admit that I have at times been blinded in my own pursuit of more, I also know that this quest has allowed another blessing to take root in my life: Take Her Lead.

Almost a year and a half ago, I created this site in the hopes of inspiring women and girls of all ages, shedding light on those working to make our world a better place while also (hopefully) spurring readers to action. It is through THL that I’ve had the chance to speak with some incredible people; from the Just, Girl Project’s Ilana Harkavy, to mentor and former Senior Vice President of Global Communications for DKNY International Aliza Licht, to the Creator and “Chief Fire Starter” of activewear company SparkFire Active Samantha Hodgkins, I’ve been lucky enough to share their stories in an effort to inspire others to be the change they wish to see in their communities and in their lives.

However, their stories haven’t just been for the benefit of the readers; they have — in every way — shaped, changed and touched my life in a way that I could have never imagined. They have given me the fuel to keep writing, to keep trying to incite change through my writing. And you, dear readers, have further sparked my passion; by commenting, following and interacting with this site in any way, you have added so much to this site and to my life. Allowing THL into your lives in turn allows me to do what I love every single day, and I could not be more thankful for this unique opportunity.

So yes: I have pursued more, yet it has added more to my life. I have pursued better because I hope to make the world a better place, one article and one interview at a time. I know perfection is unattainable, but knowing that I have so much to be grateful for feels pretty perfect to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. I hope you’re spending it with those who mean the most; I know I am.

XO,

Nicole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year

I have always enjoyed writing. Documenting my thoughts in any form — a journal, a blog, an essay — has been something that has come naturally to me ever since I could remember. But last May, I decided that it was time to pursue a different route; I wanted to test myself and my love of writing by starting a website.

It was all so daunting: What would I call it? What would its focus be? Would I be able to write regularly? Would anyone even read it? These questions swirled in my mind like a rip current, pulling me down into their depths and forcing me to swim against it in an attempt to prove to myself how much I wanted this idea to survive.

But suddenly, I made it to shore. On June 5, 2015, I launched TakeHerLead.com as a website dedicated to the things I love the most — fashion and feminism. I wanted to highlight women who were not only well dressed, but also were successful, strong and intelligent, proving that women could be both ‘beauty and brains.’

I remember distinctly the rush of energy I felt when I purchased the domain name, set up the site and hurriedly published my first articles. I remember feeling like I had already accomplished something just by following through with something I had talked about doing for (at least) a month.

But the hardest work was yet to come; writing at least one article every single day was not something I was used to, and my mind was often parched when I was thirsty for the right words to start a story. I also had no idea how to self-promote my work on social media; after all, how would my small voice be discovered in the midst of the whole world speaking at once?

Starting THL may have been difficult, but maintaining it and working through its early problems was even harder. However, all the while I felt like this site would open doors for me — what doors it would open I was not sure, but I felt like I was cracking open a long novel with the ending torn out so I couldn’t peek to see if my favorite character finally got her happily ever after. But, what I did know was that the story was going to be one heck of a journey.

And so here I am, on THL’s first birthday, reflecting on the incredible journey that I have traveled with this site. There are still challenges, but every challenge reminds me that there is, within it, an opportunity to be found — an opportunity to grow, evolve, persevere.

But there have also been so many successes; if someone told me a year ago that I would have interviewed not only a journalist for Glamour magazine, but also an Iron Chef America judge and the former senior vice president of global communications for Donna Karan International, I would have thought you were insane. Yet I have done just that — the very thing I thought would be impossible in a year’s time.

And so I thank you, the readers, who have kept up with THL, followed us on the site and on social media and commented and shared my articles. Readers fuel my desire to write, so thank you for spending your time with me when there are so many other voices waiting to be heard.

While I still don’t know how the story of THL will progress or if it will have its own happily ever after moment, I do know that I have learned so much from running THL. From tales of generosity to stories of believing in oneself and pushing boundaries, the women I have written about for the past year have been my ultimate teachers, I the student and THL the virtual classroom.

If I had to sum up all that I have learned while working on this site, it is this: always leave room for the unexpected and the seemingly impossible. Never lose sight of your goals and be continuously creative. Work hard, but have fun.

And most of all — keep on swimming.

Here’s to another year, and many, many more to come.

XO,

Nicole

 

Women’s place in politics

In a scintillating piece written for The New York Timesbest-selling author Jennifer Weiner tackled the changing significance of nude images and sex tapes in the realms of politics and pop culture. Arguing that while these videos and photos were once the source of a public female’s fall from grace, Weiner says that they are now losing their destructive force, so long as the woman is in charge of not only the camera but the release of such images.

However, Weiner also claims that such uses of the sexualized female are infiltrating the current presidential race, citing the recent showdown between Republican hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (R-TX), which began with the release of a video from a super PAC called “Make America Awesome” that shared images of a nude Melania Trump posed for GQ with the words “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady.” emblazoned across the screen. Thinking that Cruz’s team created the ads, Trump fired back, taking aim at Cruz’s wife, Heidi, even sharing a side-by-side image of Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump, with the image of the former model Melania clearly serving to diminish Heidi.

Although Cruz jumped to the defense of his wife, Weiner argues that not only have both women been reduced to mere “things” through the exchange, but also that other women — like FOX New’s Megyn Kelly who was called a “bimbo” in a tweet shared by Trump — have been downgraded to objects throughout the entire presidential campaign season. She writes:

“In this strangest of primary seasons, women exist primarily in terms of their relationships to the men they marry or question or critique. They can either be beauties or beasts or ‘the love of my life.’ They can be ‘crazy’ or ‘losers,’ ‘fat pigs’ or ‘dogs.’ They can be mothers and daughters. They can be the currency with which you buy voters’ belief in your machismo and alpha-maleness, or they can be the sand you kick in the face of a ‘New York bully.’ In every case, whether they are assets or liabilities, they are objects. In no case are they people.”

Wrapping up her argument by saying the super PAC’s ad not only brought on “the predictable calls to leave candidates’ families out of the fray,” she says that it was also accompanied by “charges of slut-shaming, and the insistence that a grown woman can pose as she wishes; that as long as it’s her choice, it’s empowering.” And while Melania Trump may have opted to pose for GQ, the way in which her photos were used to slut-shame her portrayed her “modeling portfolio as revenge porn.”

What, then, could change such perspectives on women on this side of the aisle? Perhaps the answer exists in a strong female who, as Weiner argues through the person of former Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, is “a candidate, not just a wife and a mother, or a face and a figure — a person, instead of a thing.”

Consider, for a moment, what such a figure could do; maybe an assertive female would voice objections to the treatment and portrayal of women thus far in the campaigns. Maybe she wouldn’t even need to vocally oppose such images of women; maybe her presence alone would prove that women are not objects to be talked about, ammunition to feed virulent campaigns or voiceless, helpless things to be defended by the more emphatic presence of a man. Maybe her presence would prove that women are capable of defending themselves, being leaders and being more than just a pretty thing to be talked about — maybe she could prove that women are people, too.

As Weiner points out, both Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz are accomplished in their own rights: “Melania Trump speaks multiple languages and is a successful businesswoman,” while “Heidi Cruz has an M.B.A. from Harvard and had made a name for herself in the worlds of both politics and finance.”

But what we, the general public, knows of either of them is that they were recently pitted against each other not in a face-off that would crown its winner the most successful or the most intelligent, but in one that would only compare superficialities — as if we were deciding between one brand of car and another, merely comparing one’s features to its rival’s.

While the media will surely be tracking the Trump/Cruz feud in the coming week(s), one thing is for sure: women are not being treated as women. What is worrisome, then, is how such candidates may — or may not — address hot-button issues that directly impact women; from reproductive rights to equal pay, there are a host of issues concerning women that will need to be addressed by each candidate sooner or later. But if the candidates’ wives are being outrightly discussed as objects, as Weiner so eloquently pointed out, then how will they tackle issues that concern all American women?

Sifting through the excess to get to the heart of each candidate’s platforms and beliefs can be difficult, but Weiner’s article certainly shed some light on a concerning aspect of the current presidential race, and her argument is something we should not take lightly as we enter into the homestretch of campaign season.