TIME advice

A Letter to My 19-Year-Old Self on My 39th Birthday

Handwritten letter
Getty Images

Someday you will be 40. None of this matters

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Dear me,

You know how right now EVERY SINGLE THING seems like IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT? Like, how every small thing and every huge thing needs to be done perfectly all the time right now and there’s no perspective and you can’t waste one single second because right now is your big time and pretty soon you will be old and it’ll all be over?

Yeah, throw all that kind of thinking out the window.

You’re going to turn 20. And you’re going to turn 40. And you’re going to die. People are going to tell you that you need to have a plan, that you have just one chance, that you better not “blow it.” Here’s what they don’t tell you. You only make it when you blow it. Meaning, don’t be afraid to screw up. A lot. But if you can, try to make them screw-ups where you don’t put yourself at risk. Being embarrassed is not a risk. That’s totally recoverable. That will make you stronger. That’s the good kind of risk! You’ll know these situations when you’re in them. Trust your gut. Your gut is golden.

See, you only have one asset in this life that doesn’t ever change, and that’s you.

I know, I know, it sounds dumb and obvious, but it’s actually the best piece of advice you’ll ever get. Let me try to explain: You see, the biggest trap people fall into is continuously chasing stuff rather than realizing that they have everything they need inside them the whole time. It’s so tempting to look outside yourself all the time for salvation but that’s just an illusion. Sure, get a degree. Have a boyfriend. Take that wild call to adventure. But the one constant you’ll have through all these experiences is you.

Value you. Treasure you. Love you. Even when you screws up. You are the best advocate you will ever have.

“That’s not enough. I need all this other stuff,” you may be saying. Yeah that’s just your mind screwing around with you. All of your imperfection and your curiosity and your desire to explore and try these different things — that’s what makes you you! So don’t you see? You’re perfect already. There’s no need to “someday” your life. Someday is right now. You don’t need to wait to enjoy your life. You don’t need to wait to enjoy your journey. You don’t need to wait to go after what others may make fun of you for. What is your dream? How do you imagine your perfect life? What makes you feel good about you? How can you bring more of that into your life?

You can enjoy yourself; you can enjoy this journey. That’s one of the best secrets of all time. Think about all the knowledge and the experiences and the love and the excitement you have in your heart. That’s what matters. Not the “A” grade or the big job or internship or the hot guy or boyfriend who shows the world all your status.

Because that’s all that really is, you know: status.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in it. Sometimes it seems like the primary engine that drives society. Status is your grades. Status is who you’re taking to the fall formal. Status is what your parents brag about when they talk about you. Status is that nagging feeling that leads you to compare yourself to others around you, even when you were feeling pretty good about yourself.

Status is dumb. Status is empty and dead. Status is a cold bed partner.

The only thing that matters at the end of the day is how much you love — your self, your friends, your family, your life, your passions. There is no status in love. That’s one of the things that makes it so pure and beautiful and real and powerful. It’s wonderful to be ambitious, but it’s also easy to get priorities all screwed up when ambition and status start out to blunt out your true self. Then you stop listening to your gut and love stops being a priority and pretty soon, nothing is good enough. You find fault in everything. Gratitude falls away, and why is this good thing happening to this other person? And pick, pick, pick, pick, nothing is right. Everything could be better. Misery.

You will find no greater power in life than finding the power in peace of mind. It can be hard to find, but here are a few ways I’ve been able to find it myself: meditating, actively wishing other people and myself well, thinking of all the things I’m grateful for, doing kind deeds for someone else, taking one thing at a time, focusing on what I like, not expecting perfection.

Oh, and having fun. God, having fun is important. When I was entering my 30s, at one point I wrote this message on a Post-It note that’s how desperate I was to remember it, every moment, every day. I scrawled those words and put the Post-It on my desk. It had those two words on it: “HAVE FUN.” But you know what? It helped. Because life is filled with stresses left and right and above and below. If you have that nagging, urgent thing in you where you want to do a good job, then it’s easy to hear all these different demanding voices and let all of this culminate into one overpowering, deafening message: “Feel stress. Feel stress.”

But here’s a little secret. You actually do better work and are more efficient and productive and all those other good successful things WHEN you are happy. How does this translate? It means when something goes wrong, you don’t need to pile on yourself and catastrophize. You can be in the moment and laugh at the crappiness of everything that is unfolding around you.

That’s probably the biggest secret that I’ve discovered. You can get through almost anything with three things: friends, authenticity and again, love. It’s this magical concoction that allows you to not be alone in the dark with the harder things in life. Bringing your demons and your nightmares and your fears and your anxieties and your hardships out into the light takes away the scariness. It dissipates the power. And you have friends and potential new friends all around you, every moment, every day. There are so many people looking for love in this world, and the more you give it to yourself, the more will come your way.

Also: this may be kind of superficial, but: Wear a hat. You’ll thank me later.

Mandy Stadtmiller is Editor-at-Large at xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Style

The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes

"All dresses shall consist only of cloth sufficient for the body basic and the trimming allowance. The trimming allowance for non-transparent materials shall be limited to 700 square inches for all sizes, in excess of that required for the basic," reads WPB (War Production Board) order L-85 as amended Library of Congress

A look back at the start of arbitrary sizing

In the world of women’s clothing, a 4 is a 2 is a 6. Everything is relative — unless, of course, you’re shopping in Brandy Melville’s teen-“friendly” SoHo store, where the only size is small. (“One-size” reads labels that don’t even bother with the usual “fits all” addendum.)

One of the most infuriating American pastimes occurs within the confines of a dressing room. But where do these seemingly arbitrary sizes come from? Sit down, unbutton your pants and enjoy a condensed briefing on women’s clothing measurements:

“True sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940’s,” says Lynn Boorady, fashion and textile technology chair and associate professor at Buffalo State University. “Before then sizes for young ladies and children were all based on age — so a size 16 would be for a 16-year-old — and for women it was about bust measurement.”

Suffice it to say, assuming all 13-year-old girls and 36-in.-bust women were created equal proved problematic. “Mostly it was assumed that the women in the house would know how to sew,” Boorady says.

But consumers — and the booming catalog industry, which proliferated as Americans moved to more rural areas — were ready for change. In a 1939 article titled “No Boondoggling,” TIME explored the Department of Agriculture’s effort to standardize women’s clothes, an effort that had been inspired by the fact that U.S. manufacturers guessed it was costing them $10 million a year not to have set sizes. “Each subject — matron, maid, scrubwoman, show girl — will be [measured] in 59 different places,” the article read.

The data of 15,000 women was collected by Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton, and while the project was impressive — “especially considering they didn’t have computers to analyze the data,” Boorady says — it didn’t exactly solve the problem.

“It was flawed for many reasons,” agrees Parsons School of Fashion professor Beth Dincuff Charleston. “They didn’t really get a cross-section of American women… It was smaller than what the national average should be.”

Since the survey was done on a volunteer basis, it was largely made up of women of a lower socioeconomic status who needed the participation fee. It was also primarily white women. And the measurements still primarily relied on bust size, assuming women had an hourglass figure.

Then in the late 1940s, the Mail-Order Association of America, representing catalog businesses including Sears Roebuck, enlisted the help of the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) to reanalyze the sizing — often using the measurements of women who had served in the air force, some of the most fit people in the country — creating a 1958 standard that was largely arbitrary. Sizes ranged from 8 to 38 with height indications of tall (T), regular (R), and short (S), and a plus or minus sign when referring to girth.

There was no size zero, let alone the triple zeroes that sometimes are displayed in stores today.

As American girth increased, so did egos. And thus began the practice of vanity sizing. Over the decades, government size guidelines were heeded less and less, items of clothing began getting marked with lower numbers and eventually, in 1983, the Department of Commerce withdrew its commercial women’s clothing size standard altogether. A private organization called ASTM International began publishing its own sizing tables in 1995.

According to Slate:

In 1958, for example, a size 8 corresponded with a bust of 31 inches, a waist of 23.5 inches and a hip girth of 32.5 inches. In ASTM’s 2008 standards, a size 8 had increased by five to six inches in each of those three measurements, becoming the rough equivalent of a size 14 or 16 in 1958. We can see size inflation happening over shorter time spans as well; a size 2 in the 2011 ASTM standard falls between a 1995 standard size 4 and 6.

That means that ideals are changing too, Boorady adds: “We went from size 16 being a model in the ’40s to 12 in the ’60s. Marilyn Monroe was a 12 in the ’60s, which would now be a size 6.”

Now, stores often size based on their own preferences, which can make for frustrating online shopping experiences — modern-day catalog browsing — unless you already know your exact size.

But are we doomed to a future of sizing confusion? Maybe not. Parsons’ Dincuff Charleston notes that new technologies might be welcoming a new era of customized clothing. “Body measurements are so advanced now — with 3-D scanning, digital changing rooms — I think that people will have options for better fitting clothing,” she says. “And with 3-D printers, maybe you’ll be printing your own clothing.”

Read next: 6 Items You Should Wear To Achieve World Domination

TIME women

Why Self-Defense Needs To Be Part of the Violence Against Women Conversation

Ravens running back Ray Rice is planning to address the media at 3 p.m. Friday for the first time since he was charged with knocking
Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, and his wife Janay made statements to the news media May 5, 2014, at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md, regarding his assault charge for knocking her unconscious in a New Jersey casino. Baltimore Sun—MCT via Getty Images

Tim Larkin is the founder of Target Focus Training and author of the New York Times bestselling book Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-Protection.

There's something we could be doing while we stumble over laws and misogynistic culture

Gender violence is back in the headlines after Utah state police drew criticism for their lackluster response to the cyber harassment of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian last week. Scheduled to speak at a Utah State University, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel her address when the police decided they would do nothing to respond to a threat of “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” This drama comes mere weeks after the saga of the Ray Rice video showing him knocking his now wife unconscious in an elevator. Both of these incidents feel sadly familiar to those of us who work in the self-defense industry. The country watches while a seemingly defenseless female is assaulted or threatened, everyone gets enraged, then the spotlight passes and the country forgets to take any preventative action.

Wait, you might say, action was taken. There’s been serious talk of strengthening the laws that punish people like Ray Rice. And the NFL and the Utah state police are being held accountable – at least in the public eye.

Here’s the problem: In the white-hot heat of an assault, few women are considering Congressional resolutions, punitive damages or the legal system at all. They certainly aren’t thinking about the media. They are too focused on one thing and one thing alone: how to prevent themselves from being maimed or killed.

Let’s briefly consider the facts: Violence against women remains one of the most common human rights abuses in the world. Women ages 15 through 44 worldwide are more likely to die or be injured by male violence than from of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. A study commissioned by the National Justice Institute (NIJ) stated that approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the U.S.

And yet, in the face of all that, the best response we can muster is, essentially, a collective shrug of the shoulders. These things happen, we say. The government and other organizations will step in, we hope.

This isn’t enough. It’s time for this country to commit to teaching women how to defend themselves against attack. This is an effort that should begin in our homes, spread to our schools and involve entire communities. It should be a nationwide effort, and it should be mounted with urgency and energy.

Arguing that women should learn how to defend themselves isn’t a popular opinion. Self-defense for women is seldom discussed in the aftermath of these incidents, at least in part because the people who suggest it are accused of blaming the victims. Or worse, they are accused of indifference to the systemic issues that lead to violence in the first place.

After Nia Sanchez, the newly crowned Miss America, commented that she believed women should learn self-defense, social media erupted.

Sanchez’s comments came from a deep well of experience in the martial arts, years spent training on the mat and sparring with opponents. Yet to listen to some of her critics, you’d think she’d offered some kind of wholesale defense of rapists and predators.

Some of the commentary is even more galling. These days, you’ll find even law enforcement commentators arguing that women can’t protect themselves from male attackers, that they ought to simply scream at attackers, cooperate with them, or – if worst comes to worst — simply submit to force used against them. A self-defense pamphlet at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina – yes, a military base — suggested that often it is better for the woman to submit to rape rather than resist. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs offered women this gem: they should vomit or urinate to discourage attackers.

The critics and the cynics couldn’t be more wrong. Women need to be taught how to fight in their own defense should the need arise. And believing that women shouldn’t be harmed and teaching them to defend themselves when they are in danger are not inconsistent. In fact, there are plenty of male and female trainers who want to see violence against women disappear, but who also want to make sure that women are prepared in those regrettable instances where violence occurs.

We need to have a more sober discussion about this issue. If we give women the necessary tools to protect themselves in situations where self-protection becomes unavoidable, we will make them safer. Our daughters, our sisters and our mothers deserve a fighting chance. And until we abandon the idea that women are simply victims at the mercy of their attackers, another generation of women will be forced to live in fear, rather than walk with strength.

Tim Larkin is the founder of Target Focus Training and author of the New York Times bestselling book Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-Protection.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Why Facebook’s and Apple’s Offers To Freeze Eggs Are Not as Patriarchal as They Sound

Egg storage for IVF
Egg storage for IVF Science Photo Library—Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

Exploring egg freezing doesn’t mean the end of civilization as we know it

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I tell people about my reproductive organs in excruciating detail and advocate for egg freezing on an almost daily basis.

It’s my job as a patient care advocate for a fertility center, and I love it. I see no evil Big Brother plot to control women’s lives. I see it as options.

Since I’ve started planning these egg-freezing parties, we quickly started to see some people lose their minds over the issue.

One accused us of using scare tactics, another said we were encouraging women to have “bastards” and another claimed we were trying to do away with men.

Enter Facebook and Apple’s news this week that they would now be paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs, and the freaking out has reached a whole new level of lunacy.

Let me tell you why these benefits are a good thing — and not in fact an Orwellian attempt by Silicon Valley geeks to control your fertility future.

First, let me tell you my story: I met my husband at age 33. We got married when I was 34 and we starting trying to conceive soon after. What followed was years of doctors, invasive tests, various forms of fertility treatment and a lot of heartache and disappointment. By the time we were doing our third in vitro, we had depleted our savings account and only had one embryo. At the time, it literally felt like everything was riding on that lone embryo; our marriage, our finances, our hopes, everything. Through luck and good odds, I was fortunate enough to get pregnant on that cycle. Even though I was more grateful than I could possibly say for our now two-year-old son, I pressed my doctor as to why she thought we had issues. The only explanation was my age.

I never thought that early to mid-thirties was old or even questionable in terms of fertility. In my mind, the forties are when things really go downhill. As I’ve learned over the years, I’m not the only one who thought this way. Dr. Anate Brauer from Greenwich Fertility told me, “What people don’t understand is that even at age 30 years old, up to 40% of your eggs are genetically abnormal.”

After going through my experience, I became very active in the infertility community and switched jobs. I’ve been working as the director of patient care at Fertility Authority for over two years and you would be shocked at how many women don’t know anything about their own bodies, that age is a real factor when it comes to fertility or even how one actually gets pregnant.

My theory is when were in health class, they told us all about how NOT to get pregnant or get an STI but no one really explained how to conceive and the fact that we live in a time where more and more women are delaying having children.

A very important piece of blood work that women should get is called your “day three blood work.” This is when your blood is taken on day three of your menstrual cycle and informs you and your doctor what your FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and your AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) numbers are. These two aspects will give you an idea of how many eggs you have in storage (so to speak) and the quality. This is an extremely important test and yet, if I left my office right now, stopped a woman on the street and asked her if she knew what her FSH and AMH was, she’d think it was an acronym used on Twitter. Shouldn’t this be general knowledge or part of your yearly checkup? Why aren’t women more aware of this?

Isn’t it a good thing that Apple and Facebook are helping more women BE aware? Not to mention helping them pay for what can be insanely costly?

In effect, I look at myself as the “ghost of infertile future” hoping to educate and empower women who perhaps are going to medical school, law school, trying to climb the corporate ladder or who are actually waiting to meet the right partner for them instead of settling out of some biological fear. It used to drive me insane when I was single and people would say, “Your standards are too high!” If you make the commitment to marry and spend the rest of your life with someone, shouldn’t you have high standards? And what does that say about their own marriages? That their standards were low?

Also, if you take into consideration that in the last four decades, there has been a 900% increase in women over 35 having their first baby, it makes sense that companies at least make this offer of egg freezing to their employees should they want to explore it. You also have to be aware that typically, if you’re over the age of 42, most clinics recommend you use donor eggs as the quality of your eggs drop significantly. Basically, companies aren’t forcing their female staff to go through with egg freezing, they are just making the option available if you know you may want to conceive down the line using your own eggs.

This is why I don’t fully understand why so many are offended by egg freezing. It’s not mandatory and in the long run, it may save both the company and their female employee’s time and money. It cost me roughly $35,000 and three years with time in and out of work for my medical procedures to have my son. One cycle of egg freezing can cost around $10,000 and can possibly not only spare you from having to go through years of fertility treatment but save you additional money on exploring other options such as using donor eggs which can cost a profound amount.

I saw one comment yesterday by a man saying that the fact that companies were offering this was unfair to men. After I was done laughing, I commented back to him that this is not favoritism to women. It’s just biology. Steve Martin became a first-time dad at age 67 years old. I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that Helen Mirren wouldn’t be able to do this (even as amazing as she is). Men don’t need this option as they do not have limitations on their fertility while women do. We can argue all day about whether or not you believe in Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” advice but whether you lean in or not, top female talent at companies like Facebook and Apple might appreciate having the assurance of egg freezing.

And assurance is the key word here.

As Dr. Fahimeh Sasan, chief medical officer at my company and a gynecologist at Mt. Sinai, said at our event this past Tuesday, “Just because you freeze your eggs doesn’t mean you have to conceive that way! You can still get married, conceive naturally and end up never using the frozen eggs. They are just insurance should you find that you have difficulty getting pregnant and you prefer not to use donor eggs. It’s like car insurance. No one buys it expecting to get into an accident but it’s there if you need it.”

See? No one is replacing egg freezing with conceiving naturally or even relationships. Even in the best case scenarios, “car insurance” doesn’t always protect you from everything so it’s extremely important to note that there are no guarantees with egg freezing. I can’t say for certain that it will completely spare you from additional fertility treatment beyond the in vitro needed for the eggs you’ve frozen. It’s just a back-up plan should you need it. That being said, pregnancy rates from frozen eggs are currently the same as they are fresh eggs, so it is a viable option to explore.

As for the criticism that companies should put the money and energy instead into offering paternity leave for men or providing in-house childcare for parents; my question is why is it an either-or proposition? Why can’t companies offer all of the above? I know many feel that it’s not an employer’s responsibility to accommodate people’s personal lives but I contend that if you value your workers and want to retain them, it’s a valuable investment.

Another major complaint I’ve heard about egg freezing is it encourages women to have babies in their fifties. Again, this is just ignorance.

Dr. Brauer explains, “We know that carrying a pregnancy at an advanced age increases complications of pregnancy such as hypertensive disorders or pregnancy, gestational diabetes, placental abruption and growth restriction. Because these risks increase as a woman progresses into her late thirties and forties, most clinics have established an age cut off, usually in the late forties.”

This is true even when using donor eggs. It’s not like there are no age restrictions and that the industry is telling women old enough to be grandmothers to have their first child. There are guidelines.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are a woman interested in having children and are not yet ready for any reason whatsoever, just see your OB/GYN or a reproductive endocrinologist, get your AMH and FSH, tell them your history (do you smoke, have diabetes, etc.) and find out if you are fertile or if you have any issues. Through my job, around 20% of women who contacted us for an egg freezing consult found out they had a fertility issue they knew nothing about. One had blocked fallopian tubes, another was going into early menopause and one in particular sadly found out she wouldn’t be able to have any biological children. All of these women were in their thirties and absolutely had no idea there was any problem with them whatsoever.

Educating women on knowing their fertility health is so incredibly important. Whether they freeze their eggs, whether it’s moral or not is no one’s business. It’s between them, their doctor and whatever god they choose to worship.

I for one “like” this.

Jennifer Palumbo is a writer and former stand-up comedian.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Leave Renée Zellweger’s Face Alone!

2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards - Arrivals
Renée Zellweger arrives at the 2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 20, 2014 in Beverly Hills, Ca. Steve Granitz—WireImage/Getty Images

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

There is a very real reason why the actress would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one

Last night Renée Zellweger did something totally normal for a celebrity of her magnitude: she went to a red-carpet event. But something different happened when the photos from her trip in front of the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards step and repeat hit the wires. Everyone freaked the hell out. “Is that you, Renée Zellweger?” CNN asked. “What has Renée Zellweger done to her face?” the Daily Mail cried. “Stop what you are doing: Renée Zellweger has a whole new face,” Metro implored, past the stage of mourning where we ask questions and moving toward acceptance.

Yes, it’s clear that Zellweger has had some work done. Welcome to Hollywood. I would like to introduce you to Meg Ryan’s lips, Nicole Kidman’s forehead, and everything that is currently going on with Bruce Jenner. The reaction to Zellweger’s big reveal seems more than a little bit unjust.

Most outlets are taking the tack of asking readers if her new look is good or bad, and there are some people that will fall on either side of the debate. However, the subtext to this question is always, “Holy hell, what did this lady do to her face and how is she going to fix it?!” If it was a text from your best friend, it would have about 100 times more exclamation points and probably the emoji of the girl crossing her arms in front of her body. Everyone is very concerned that Zellweger doesn’t look like herself anymore. Her signature squint is gone, her lips seem a little more full and less pursed, and her cheeks just aren’t quite as puffy as they used to be.

It’s always dicey for an actress to mess with her looks. When her face is unrecognizable, it distracts from her work as an actress. (And any lack of mobility in the face can certainly make it harder for her to ply her craft.) Why would Zellweger want to look like someone else when she makes money partly from her appearance? That seems to be a bad decision. Just ask Jennifer Grey about her nose or Kate Gosselin about her new haircut. (Actually, please don’t ask Kate Gosselin anything; it’s better that we just keep on ignoring her for the time being.)

But there is a very real reason Zellweger would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one. Here is a post likening her to Mr. Magoo and making multiple stabs at her appearance. Here is a mock-up for Renée Zellweger’s Extreme Sour Lemon Candy, making fun of her pout and squint. Here is her Urban Dictionary entry calling her a “cure for a case of the boners.” Here is Dlisted saying she looks “like she’s staring directly into the sun after swallowing a cup of Sour Patch Kids dust” right before retiring her nickname Squinty Zellweger forever. Here is me taking a really lame cheap shot at her back in 2009. Oh, I have been mean to the Zellweger myself, and I should be ashamed.

Now, you wonder why Zellweger would want to do such extreme things to her face? Maybe it’s a reaction to the extreme things that were constantly said about her old one. If people always made fun of a giant mole on my neck, I would have that removed too. If I was bullied for being overweight, I might think about going on an extreme diet just to shut the haters up. Maybe Zellweger did the same thing, and now that she fixed the squint and pout that have created a million “Looks like she’s having an allergic reaction to shrimp” jokes, everyone is being just as mean.

The celebrity media is fascinated with bodies. Headlines are constantly made out of “baby bumps” and “bikini bodies,” as if these don’t belong to real people but instead are lumps of flesh for our inspection, like breeding animals at the state farm. (The women certainly get it worse, but we’re increasingly critical of men without Gosling-esque abdominal muscles too. )

I sincerely hope that the media’s fascination with Zellweger’s appearance didn’t lead to her undergoing such extensive surgery. As we’ve seen, her detractors aren’t going to let up. There is no appeasing the beast. The only solution is to disappear from public view entirely. Harsh scrutiny is the price anyone has to pay to pursue a very public career, and we shrug our shoulders and say they should know that. But is that clause in the unspoken celebrity contract really non-negotiable?

Maybe we should just leave Renée Zellweger’s face alone altogether. It’s her body, and she can do whatever she wants to it. If she wants to get “I am Bridget Jones” tattooed across her forehead, then she should feel free to go ahead and do it. Sure, her changes might cost her some jobs, but that is a decision that she made and she can deal with it.

Now that her new face has been revealed, we’ll all get used to it, just like we have with Cher’s, Madonna’s, Kenny Rogers’ and the countless iterations of Dolly Parton’s and Joan Rivers’ (RIP). Pointing, gawking and screaming about it says more about our media, our vanity and the type of society that would lead a star to completely rearrange the most personal part of her body than it ever will about Renée Zellweger.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Renée Zellweger: ‘I’m Glad Folks Think I Look Different’

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME 2014 Election

Pelosi and Hillary Join Forces to Rally Democratic Women

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Doris Matsui, Nancy Pelosi
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gathers with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, and other Bay area congresswomen after speaking at a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates hosted by Pelosi at the Fairmont Hotel Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in San Francisco. Eric Risberg—AP

The event brought together Clinton and Obama supporters from 2008

Three generations of Birmingham family women turned out on Monday to see House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rally for female Democratic candidates.

“It was fabulous, a wonderful event,” gushes Alanna Birmingham, 17, clutching one of the lunch’s floral centerpieces, a keepsake for her to take home. “You could just feel the energy in the room, all this beautiful female energy.” Birmingham was there with her mother and grandmother in a show of political unity the family hasn’t always enjoyed, especially when it comes to Hillary Clinton—and they weren’t the only ones.

Billed as “The Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon,” the event raised $1.4 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from the 820 mostly women in attendance bringing the DCCC’s money lead of its GOP counterpart to a whopping $38 million with just two weeks to go before the election. The event also featured a set by singer Carole King (including a rendition of “Sweet Seasons” where she changed the lyrics to “Some times you win; sometimes you win” instead of lose).

But the 2014 midterms, where Dems are expected to lose seats in both chambers and possibly control of the Senate, were not the elections on most women’s lips at the lunch. Cynthia Birmingham, Alanna’s mother, was there to show early support for Clinton’s anticipated 2016 presidential bid, in part to make up for not supporting her primary candidacy in 2008. “I’m so excited to support Hillary in 2016,” she says.

Birmingham wasn’t the only one. California Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller and Barbara Lee—all close allies of Pelosi—were all in enthusiastic attendance on Monday and all endorsed Obama during the primaries in 2008. Indeed, many saw then Speaker Pelosi’s call in 2008 on super delegates to respect the will of the voters in their home states, rather than endorsing the candidate of their choice, as one of the nails in the coffin of Clinton’s candidacy. Though Pelosi very carefully never endorsed either candidate in 2008.

The event was a healing one for the Birminghams as well. Ann Birmingham, Alanna’s grandmother and Cynthia’s mother-in-law, was also in approving attendance, happy to see her women kin supporting the candidate she’s long adored. “I loved and supported Hillary back in 2008 and I will love and support her in 2016,” Ann says. “I was terribly disappointed when she lost.”

But all that was forgotten on Monday with Clinton and Pelosi hugging and kissing onstage and united in their common cause to not only elect more women to Congress, where women make up less than 20%, but to start a women’s empowerment movement in politics. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” both women—and the crowd—chanted over and over throughout the program.

“For too many women, for too many families they don’t just face ceilings for their dreams,” Clinton said, referring to the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, or the 18 million Americans who voted to make her the first female Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, she famously referenced in her concession speech, “they feel floor has collapsed beneath their feet.”

Clinton lavished praise on Pelosi’s ground-breaking leadership as the first female speaker, a post she held from 2006 until Democrats lost the House in 2010. And Pelosi started her speech saying she hoped she would soon be surpassed. “I’m frequently introduced as the highest ranking woman in U.S. office; I’d like to give up that title. And soon,” she told a roaring crowd. “If Hillary Clinton, mother and grandmother, decides to run for president she will win… and she will be one of the best prepared leaders, one of the top presidents in the Oval Office. That she happens to be a woman is a bonus and a wonderful, wonderful thing. But she happens to also be a leader of visions and values.”

Indeed, Cynthia Birmingham says she’s supporting Clinton this time around because she’s an experienced, proven leader at a time when the country most needs that experience. “No one else in the field even comes close,” she says, “Hillary just blows them all away. It’s not so much that she’s a woman, but that she’s the best person for the job.”

TIME women

I’d Like to Talk to You About Not Talking About Beyoncé’s Bangs

Beyonce is seen leaving Harry's Bar, Mayfair on October 17, 2014 in London, England.
Beyonce is seen leaving Harry's Bar, Mayfair on October 17, 2014 in London, England. Niki Nikolova—GC Images

Female celebrities and women in media are also picked apart with alarming regularity

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is an extremely famous pop singer known for quality vocals and sexy radio singles. She is married to Shaun Corey “Jay-Z” Carter, and they have a lovely daughter named Blue Ivy. Beyoncé has won 17 Grammys and is Time’s Most Influential Person, and oh, she went out a few days ago with a new hairstyle and nearly broke the Internet.

Reporters and commenters alike felt the need to say something about Beyoncé’s hairstyle, which appeared to be a wig with short, choppy bangs. Everyone with an Internet connection was invited to Weigh In: Love It or Leave It! And the general consensus was negative.

I know it’s rough to devote a page of writing to how much I don’t want to talk about something, but I got tired of shrugging it off when people asked and would like to go on record with my reasons why.

I’ve already written a call to not discuss her daughter’s hair, and this one goes out to Queen Bey herself. I feel sort of silly, like I’m shaking a proverbial angry fist at the sky; this type of non-event is the perfect conflagration of celebrity worship and pop culture phenomenon that really irks me, but becomes more common each day in our Join The Conversation culture.

These days, it seems as though no “conversation” is deemed too trifling, and though slow news days have been around as long as reporting the news has, social media can make a frenzy out of a single picture. And since you know I keep it real with you, dear readers, I will now acknowledge that here at xoJane we share about all sorts of things at all levels of relative importance. We cover many bases. But the endless reportage of Beyoncé and The Day She Banged is something else.

At best, it’s continued commodification of this woman as a product that exists either for our consumption or our scrutiny, and at worst it’s just plain mean. So many people were slinging insults and creating rude memes, and even the ones that weren’t directly cruel felt the need to “report” on Beyoncé’s Bangs: The Happening.

Real talk: I don’t think that’s the most flattering hairstyle I’ve seen Mrs. Knowles-Carter rock. And she’s also probably changed it already. And it also doesn’t matter at all what I, or anyone else looking at a picture of her on the internet thinks of Beyoncé’s hair. While this is not strictly a racial issue, the politicization of black women’s hair is a reality, with #TeamNatural in one corner and certain relaxed and visibly Anglicized styles in another and all sorts of questions and assumptions about our identity weighing heavily in the center of the ring.

Overall, female celebrities and women in media are also picked apart with alarming regularity. I won’t name names, but there are more than a handful of male celebrities who are allowed to roam freely looking every level of disheveled or trying out a new ‘do without inspiring Internet memes and hashtags. There are also other women in the industry who don’t get the kind of head-to-toe scrutiny that Beyoncé gets.

The other thing that has me miffed about the Incident On Beyoncé’s Forehead is that she was photographed on vacation with her family. Beyoncé’s job description is not “24-hour hair model.” She is a stellar entertainer and a pop star, and goddamnit she was off the clock. Celebrities do not exist solely for public consumption.

Had Beyoncé gotten on stage at the Superbowl half time show or opened her recent arena tour On The Run with this hairstyle, we might be having a different conversation. She may not be an accountant, but work is work and if your job is to entertain and something gets in the way of that, even just by pulling focus or being a distraction, that bears mentioning and possible critique.

Former Fox Sports lead sideline reporter Pam Oliver was the subject of intense criticism because her hair generally looked quite unkempt and literally got in the way, blowing all over in sometimes inclement weather conditions. She was called all manner of terribly insulting names on social media and compared to animals and such, and at the time, I made a few comments saying I wished she worked with different styles so that her hair wasn’t such a distraction. Some people on social media were upset with me, questioning how I could “attack” a fellow black woman, especially over her hair.

I would never call her ugly or any of those things, but she was at work when we saw her on television; I wasn’t commenting on candids or random paparazzi photos. Her job was as a television reporter, and her unflattering hair was stealing every shot she was in and undermining her expertise and decades of experience in her position. I wished that she could find the most flattering style for her face that also worked for her job, a basic standard that I could apply to almost anyone.

Being “camera-ready” is a job requirement for a television reporter, not a life requirement for Beyoncé’s trip to France. Still, she knows she’s heavily photographed whenever she’s in public. By all appearances, Beyoncé embraces or at least manages her role as an international celebrity, including awareness of paparazzi and that so many people care how she looks. All the time.

So I believe that if she went out on the town with her family during a vacation, she probably felt fine with the way she looked. That’s good enough for me.

By the way, Beyoncé is routinely attacked by certain news outlets and has been called a “whore” for things she does while on the clock; entertaining huge audiences and doing it well. She’s repeatedly been the subject of author and feminist scholar bell hooks’ scathing criticism of her “faux” feminism. She’s had to endure insults to her daughter’s looks on a national platform. If we must keep her name in our mouths and devote endless bandwidth to mentioning her, I think it’d be cool to recognize her achievements in her field, salute her owning her sexuality and being vocal about feminism, acknowledge her as her own woman who does not belong to us, who is also a wife and mother… pretty much anything but analyze that bang.

Some people told me, in the course of recommending that I locate some chill on this topic, that the issue is that Beyoncé usually looks so good that it’s a big news story that her bangs looked so… you know what? I’m not even going to finish that sentence. We’ve all got other things to talk about.

Pia Glenn is an actress and writer.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Corporate Egg Freezing Is a Benefit, Not a Mandate

Apple IPads Sales Down
In this photo illustration an Apple iPad displays it's home screen on August 6, 2014 in London, England. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications.

No matter how nefarious you think Apple and Facebook are, the bottom line is that women are getting more choice

Can everyone ease up on Apple and Facebook already?

Last week’s news that the two tech giants now pay for female employees to freeze their eggs prompted many to say that the program could make women feel as if they have to put their child bearing off until it’s convenient for the companies, forcing women to have their lives “in the right order.” These critics say that if women ignore the egg freezing option and choose to have babies in their 20s or early 30s, they may be indirectly penalized.

I could see reason to protest if Apple and Facebook had replaced their extremely generous (by U.S. standards) maternity and paternity leaves, “baby cash” or adoption and other infertility coverage with their new policy. But they haven’t. This benefit will be provided in addition to the family-oriented programs already in place. It’s a boon for the companies, yes, but also for the women working within them.

It can be incredibly hard to juggle the demands of a job in the technical field and the demands of a toddler. More than 50% of women in tech leave their jobs midway through their career. In an unrelated survey of 716 women who left the tech field never to return, two-thirds cited motherhood as a deciding factor. And now companies are responding in kind. Knowing that infertility issues can increase as maternal age increase, the corporations have decided to fund child-planning programs that speak to a population in their buildings. They’re not telling women they can’t have families while working; they’re offering help to women who have come to the decision not to have families at a young age to begin with.

Let’s not forget that women have free will. They do what they want. Many working in the tech field have toiled for decades to perfect their resume in the competitive landscape. Many simply don’t want to have a family at a young age. By acting like offering egg freezing forces the hand of women in tech to delay families before it has been proven to do so, we are forgetting the many women who are playing that hand of their own volition. We are telling them they must want to delay childbearing only because their work is giving them those cues. We are acting like all women not only want a family, but want one in their 20s. Because biology. Or women-folk. Or something.

For parents, daycare costs, health emergencies, simple lack of sleep and feeling spread too thin are par for the hectic course. Yes, businesses don’t want to have to deal with that, but did anyone pause to think that maybe the women (and possibly men) in the field don’t want to deal with that either? I wonder again, how is giving women the choice a bad thing?

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2008 18% of women remained childless into their 40s. By the time a woman reaches her early 40s, likelihood of pregnancy naturally falls to just 5%, and infertility treatments are costly and not always covered by insurance.

It’s important to mention that Apple and other tech companies already offer help for family planning, including adoption and infertility coverage. In that light, this new policy isn’t much different in kind, and really just an extension of care already being provided.

Egg freezing isn’t the one-and-only, all-inclusive solution to tech’s lack-of-women problem, but it is an olive branch for women struggling to keep their footing in a career filled, so far, with men, whose family responsibilities, even in this day and age, are still viewed as less of a problem than women’s. We may not have won the war yet, but we shouldn’t complain about winning a battle.

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications. You can find her on Twitter @parentwin or on her blog at http://parentwin.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

Why So Many Women Are Crying at the Gym

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Yoga mudra Stefano Oppo—Getty Images

For a generation of stressed-out working women, exercise is as much about emotional release as it is physical training.

“Let it out! Let out the sludge!”

It’s 7am on a Tuesday, at a small dance studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Taryn Toomey is stomping her feet into the floor like thunder. “Get rid of the bullsh*t!” she shouts. “Get rid of the drama!”

Two dozen women in yoga pants and sports bras sprint in place behind her, eyes closed, arms flailing. Sweat is flying. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is blaring in the background. There are grunts and screams. “Hell yes!” a woman bellows.

When the song ends, Toomey directs the group into child’s pose, torso folded over the knees, forehead on the floor, arms spread forward. Coldplay comes on, and there is a moment of rest. “Inhale. Exhale. Feel your center,” Toomey says. Heads slowly come up, and suddenly, tears are streaming down the faces of half the room. A woman in front of me is physically trembling. “I just let it all out,” a middle-aged woman in leggings and a tank top whispers.

This is “The Class”—one part yoga, two parts bootcamp, three parts emotional release, packaged into an almost spiritual… no, tribal… 75 minutes. It is the creation of fashion exec turned yoga instructor Toomey, and it is where New York’s high-flying women go for emotional release (if, that is, they can get a spot).

“During my first class I didn’t just cry, I sobbed,” says McKenzie Hayes, a 22-year-old New Yorker who has become a regular in the class. “Whether it’s your job or your relationships, I literally picture my emotional problems being slowly unstuck from my body and moved out.”

Toomey calls that “sludge”: it’s the emotional baggage we carry in our muscles that has nowhere else to go. She’s not a doctor. But week after week, she encourages participants to sweat, scream and cry out those emotions, in the company of a group of mostly women who are doing the same. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” Toomey says. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”

Indeed, the message to women has long been to hide your tears lest you look weak. (Among the tactics: jutting out your jaw. Breathing exercises. Chewing gum. Drinking water.) Yet while crying in the office may remain a feminine faux pas, tears at the gym seem to have lost their stigma — to the extent that there are a bevy of fitness courses that even encourage it.

For Asie Mohtarez, a Brooklyn makeup artist, it began in hot yoga. The music was on, the floor was warm, the instructor was standing over her encouraging her to let go. “I was in child’s pose and I just lost it,” she says. Then, two weeks later, it happened again – this time at Physique 57. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on and it was waterworks again. “There’s something about these classes that feel safe,” says the 33-year-old. “I can’t cry at work. I’m not emotionally distraught enough to cry in the shower. I can’t just burst into tears in front of my husband. So, what does that leave you with?”

You could go to therapy – or you could hit the gym. Women are getting teary in SoulCycle, and misty-eyed at Pure Barre. They are letting out wails in yoga and rubbing the shoulder of the weepy woman next to them at CrossFit. “I think people have started to notice that their clients are just showing up to class and just unloading, and so they’re tailoring their classes to create space for this,” says Hayes, who is a pilates instructor by day. “When I take private clients I end up feeling like a therapist for them.”

These fitness instructors aren’t trained in that, of course. But they’ve probably been there.

“I usually just go over to the student after class and quietly ask how they’re feeling,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles who sees criers often. “My classes are focused on release so it feels pretty natural.”

Physiologically, it is: Exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that impact mood. In yoga, deep hip openers – like the “pigeon pose” – are meant to stir emotions (yogis believe our emotional baggage lives in our hips).

But many of the newer courses are specifically choreographed to release emotion, too – making it all that much more intense. The lights are dim, candles flicker in the background. It’s not an accident that just as you’re starting to relax, coming down from the adrenaline, you’re blasted with a throaty ballad. Those playlists are meticulously constructed. “I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years, so I’ve basically seen it all: crying, laughing, throwing up, overheating,” says Stacey Griffith, a Soul Cycle instructor. “There are moments in the class that are directly programmed for that reason – but it’s not like we’re trying to get people to cry. We’re giving them the space to step outside of themselves.”

And indeed, that may be necessary. We’re busier, more stressed and more connected than we’ve ever been. Simply finding the time to have that “space” can be near impossible, making the release that these courses offer – packaged neatly into an hour – a kind of fix. “The night before, I can’t wait,” says Hayes of Toomey’s class. “I already know what will be the flood that I’m working through. And sometimes conversations with friends just don’t cut it.”

Getting those emotions out is a good thing – at least in moderation. Emotional tears contain manganese, potassium, and a hormone called prolactin, which help lower cholesterol, control high blood and boost the immune system. Crying reduces stress, and, according to one study, from the University of Minnesota, actually improves the mood of nearly 90 percent of people who do it. “You really do feel lighter after,” says Hayes.

“To me, it’s a sign of being present, it’s a sign of feeling your feelings, of being in the moment,” says Toomey, just after “the class” has ended. Plus, shoulder to shoulder in a hot room, there is almost a sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie. “I so needed this,” a woman tells her on the way out, with a hug. And, of course, with that much sweat, the tears are almost hidden anyway.

Read next: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

TIME world affairs

Syrian Women Know How to Defeat ISIS

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria

To the Islamic State, Syrian women are slaves. To much of the rest of the world, they are victims.

It’s time we expose their real identity: an untapped resource for creating lasting peace. Listening to and implementing the ideas of women still living in Syria is key to weakening ISIS and stabilizing the region at large because, in many ways, they have a better track record laying the foundations for peace and democracy than any other group.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked side-by-side with Syrian women leaders as they propose concrete steps to end the war. Most recently, we brought several women representing large civil society networks to Washington, D.C., where they cautioned against the current approach of the international community – and proposed a very different blueprint for the region’s future.

More arms and more bombs, they said, are not the answer.

They insisted that the only way to fight this extremist threat is to return to the negotiating table and hash out a peaceful political transition to heal the divisions ripping Syria apart.

“Oppression is the incubator of terrorism,” one woman told us as the group prepped for meetings with high-level officials in D.C. and New York. Her participation in peaceful protests during the early days of the revolution led to her two-month imprisonment in a four square meter room shared with 30 other women—yet she was adamant: “We cannot fight ISIS except through a political approach.”

That women who’ve been hunted and tortured for their nonviolent activism still say “no more bombs” is remarkable. That their solutions are forward-looking and inclusive is unsurprising; we’ve seen similar approaches from women in conflicts all over the world. In Colombia, Northern Ireland, Uganda, and dozens of other places, women have been catalysts for sustainable, inclusive peace.

During three-plus years of war, Syrian women have consistently led efforts to end the violence and mitigate suffering. They’ve worked under the direst circumstances: dodging sniper bullets, evading arrest, surviving without adequate food or medicine. They’ve retained hope and determination in ways that most of us would find impossible.

That’s precisely why we must listen to them.

So what do they recommend? To create stability (which is kryptonite to extremists), Syrian women say three things must happen.

First, humanitarian aid must get to the millions in grave need. Almost three million people are registered as refugees in neighboring countries and over six million are displaced inside Syria. That’s in a country with a pre-war population of just under 18 million. Approximately half of the remaining inhabitants live in extreme poverty.

In response to this disaster, the UN made an urgent appeal for $2.28 billion just to meet the critical requirements of the internally displaced. So far, Member States have committed only $864 million—a little over one-third of the total. Last month, the UN was forced to cut the delivery of food aid by 40 percent.

Violent extremism thrives in areas where social services have all but disappeared. A woman who serves on the local council of an opposition-held town told us that she fears more of her neighbors may become radicalized because there’s no work, no education, and no other opportunities.

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria. Typically perceived as less of a threat, they’re able to smuggle supplies through checkpoints without being searched. This affords them first-hand witness of the different needs of zones under government, opposition, Islamic State, or other control. They’ve seen, for instance, that food baskets can’t get into areas blockaded by the regime; in these circumstances, cash transfers are more effective. To reach the greatest number of people, relief agencies should coordinate with civil society and devise humanitarian strategies that reflect these differences.

Second, international actors must encourage local pockets of stability. Beyond funding, a key barrier to humanitarian access is the ongoing violence. Besieged areas are the hardest to reach and most in need.

Here too, women have a solution. Though missing from most news reports, a number of local ceasefire arrangements have proliferated throughout the country, often negotiated by civil society actors. In the Damascus suburbs, a women’s group brokered a ceasefire between regime and opposition forces. For 40 days before fighting resumed, they were able to get essential supplies into the city.

Syrian women are now calling on the UN to not only track these local arrangements, but assign international monitors to ensure parties stick to them. Beyond opening channels for the passage of humanitarian aid, this may also help the parties come closer to an agreement to cease hostilities on the national level. This will require accountability, as these negotiations are all too often used as a tool of political manipulation.

Which brings us to the third, and potentially most important, step: The parties must return to internationally-mediated negotiations and agree on a political solution to the conflict. The last round of talks in Geneva failed, it’s true. But this is still the best solution to the burgeoning civil war and the opportunistic extremism that has followed it. Only a unified Syria can beat back the ISIS threat.

Convincing both parties to come back to the table won’t be easy. But Syrian women have identified concrete ideas that could help unite disparate factions by encouraging them to cooperate on mutually beneficial activities. For instance, the regime and opposition could coordinate the safe passage of university students between government- and nongovernment-controlled areas to allow them to resume their studies. The women also call on parties to prioritize construction of temporary housing for those displaced by the conflict on both sides. These actions could help cultivate trust between the regime and opposition and encourage popular support on all sides for renewed negotiations.

As important is the construction of an inclusive peace process. One that engages women, but also others who have thus far been missing from the conversation: the Kurds, Druze, youth, independent civil society networks, tribal leaders, and, yes, more radical elements like Jabhat al-Nusra, who can otherwise spoil the talks from the outside. Without this, no agreement stands a chance.

These three priorities—humanitarian relief, support for local ceasefires, and resumption of negotiations—are not the result of idealistic or wishful thinking. This is not an abstract call by Syrian women to “give peace a chance.” It’s a plea for policy approaches that are grounded in the lived experiences and long-term goals of the vast majority of the Syrian people.

Regional and global stability depend on the international community getting this right. Luckily for us, Syrian women—and civil society more broadly—know exactly what it will take to rebuild their country and undermine the ambitions of the Islamic State. Will we listen?

Kristin Williams is Senior Writer and Program Officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she calls attention to the most powerful, untapped resource for peace: women.

Michelle Barsa is Senior Manager for Policy at Inclusive Security Action, where she focuses on expanding the role for women in peace and security processes, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria.

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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