Whew. It's already March and I'm assuming that a lot of you are asking the same question about 2021 that I am—where is the time going? Since the 20th of this month marks the official beginning of spring, I thought I would do a few articles surrounding spring cleaning. As you can tell by the title, this one is gonna be about spring cleaning your vagina.
I know. It might sound a little funny at first but trust me when I say that it's absolutely not clickbait. While I'm hoping that cleaning your vulva (you don't need to clean your actual vagina because it's self-cleaning) is a regular occurrence, what this is about to explore are ways that you can get to the baseboards of that area, so to speak. Like, you know how when you spring clean your house, you clean the baseboards? This is going to offer up 10 ways to give your vagina some extra special attention as you head into warmer weather and maybe even some "spring fever" opportunities. #wink
1. Up Your Vitamin C Intake
When it comes to what you can actually take in order to obtain vaginal health, probiotics are typically what come up the most often. They provide your body with more "good bacteria" so that the bad bacteria doesn't eventually lead to something like a yeast infection. Well, if there is a second place of things to consume to keep your vagina on the up and up, I think Vitamin C is the way to go. Not only is it loaded with antioxidants that can help to strengthen your immune system and keep free radicals at bay, Vitamin C has the ability to increase the acidity of your vagina so that harmful bacteria is not able to thrive. You can get this particular nutrient into your system by taking a supplement or you can eat foods like berries, peppers, broccoli, potatoes and citrus fruit to get a good dose of it into your system.
2. Take Some Chaste Tree Berry
If you've never heard of this particular herb before, don't feel bad. I do my best to share certain ones that don't come up in normal conversation because many have some really impressive health benefits. The awesome thing about Chaste Tree Berry is it can actually increase progesterone levels in your body. What's cool about that is the end result can lead to more regulated (and less heavy) periods, less PMS, a decrease in menopausal-related symptoms and, it can even help to increase your fertility levels (if you're trying to conceive) too.
That said, do keep in mind that herbs aren't candy. Some are quite potent. So, if this is something that you want to add to your regular diet, run it by your doctor first. Just make sure to avoid using chaste tree bark if you're pregnant. Also, it's important to keep in mind that it could take anywhere from 3-6 months before you start seeing some significant results.
3. Get Some New Cotton Undies
Tell the truth, shame the devil. When's the last time you bought some new underwear? If it was this time last year, that's close to being ridiculous because we're actually supposed to cop new pairs every 6-12 months. When you think about the discharge, period blood and even tiny bits of fecal matter that panties collect over time, you should want to get some fresh ones, anyway. As far as which ones, fabric-wise, are best for your vagina's overall health and well-being, breathable fabrics (like organic cotton) are the lick. As far as the kind/cut that you should go with, a lot of that is totally up to you. Just make sure to keep in mind that thongs can irritate your va-jay-jay and also trigger an infection over time and sometimes boy shorts are too much fabric. Bikini cut and hipsters are a happy medium. Please get the right size, though, because there is no point in having a breathable fabric if your panties are tight AF.
4. Balance Your pH Level
As far as spring cleaning goes, one of the best things that you can do for your vagina is make sure that its pH balance is right where it should be. For the record, a healthy vagina is supposed to be somewhat acidic and hovering somewhere around 3.8 and 4.5. The reason why it needs to be acidic is because that's what helps to keep the bacteria from turning into some sort of overgrowth. And what are the signs that your vagina is way more alkaline than it needs to be? If there's a dramatic change in color, texture or smell, those are dead giveaways.
One way to know for sure (if you don't have the money or time to see your doctor) is to take an at-home pH test. If it is a little "off", try taking a probiotic supplement, eating more fermented (like pickles and yogurt) and sulfur-based (like garlic and onions) foods, eat less sugar and lower your stress levels. If nothing improves in about a week, make an appointment to see your physician anyway. You may have some sort of infection that requires extra testing and/or a prescribed antibiotic.
5. Upgrade Your Sanitary Stuff
When it comes to my personal vaginal health and, what I call, "period convenience", something that has totally changed my life for the better is a menstrual cup. But if you would still prefer to go with tampons and/or pads, another vaginal spring cleaning tip that I would recommend is going with organic brands. Not only are they free of potentially irritating things like pesticides and dye that could lead to recurring yeast infections and BV or even certain diseases up the road, organic brands can actually help to lessen period cramps and prevent skin issues such as dermatitis.
If you need a little help in choosing which brands are best, Glowing Nest did a review on organic pads that you can check out by clicking here and Influenster did a review on organic tampons that you can check out here.
6. Clean Your Clitoral Hood
I've shared before that I once read about a woman whose clitoral hood was so swollen and irritated that her doctor ended up having to cut her hood off. Eww. The problem was there was so much hair, dried discharge, lint and overall gunk in there that the extra skin had to be removed in order to get it all out (whew). It got to that point because she didn't clean her clitoral hood.
I know it's not really something that we think about a lot but just to put everything into perspective—how would you feel if your man was uncircumcised and never cleaned his foreskin? A clitoris is a lot like a little penis in the sense that it's got a ton of nerve endings and it gets erect when it's aroused. And the hood of it? That is the foreskin. So yeah, once a month or so, dip a Q-tip in some olive, sweet almond or coconut oil, very gently push the hood back (as far as it will comfortably go) and rub the tip in order to dislodge what may be underneath. If your clitoris has been itching lately and you're pretty sure it's not an infection of some sort, it needing to be "spring cleaned" is probably the problem.
7. Schedule a Wax Appointment
It was literally this year that I started waxing. It started with my eyebrows because, for some reason, my threader seemed to be on a mission to thin mine out as much as possible. Yet as I became more comfortable with my totally bomb waxer, I decided that I was tired of literally bending over backwards to try and remove the stray hairs along parts of the inside of my butt (including what she calls the "coin purse" which is right where the crease of the butt begins). I had her do it instead. And man! It has been life-changing. It wasn't painful (just a little uncomfortable, but it's over really fast) and it lasts for weeks on end.
She's been trying to talk me into a Brazilian. I'm good on that. I like having grown woman hairs around my vagina. But what I will say is, as far as spring cleaning your vagina goes, if you want to tame some hairs or remove them altogether so that you can feel really clean and fresh down below, making a wax appointment is 1000 percent the way to go.
8. Condition Your Pubic Hair
Question. When's the last time you conditioned your pubic hair? I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it's something that you haven't exactly considered before but why wouldn't you do it every once in a while? Hair, anywhere, that is deeply moisturized can end up feeling smoother and being so much easier to manage. And in this case, if you happen to go with a conditioner that is high in vitamins A and E, it can help to unclog pores and prevent ingrown hairs.
The key is to make sure that you only apply the conditioner only where your pubic hair is and that you don't get any inside of your vagina (because that could irritate it). Let the conditioner sit for about 10 minutes and then rinse thoroughly. If you do this for about a week, you will notice a really big difference. (Feel free to add some Vitamin E oil at the end for some additional sheen.)
9. Sanitize Your Sex Toys
If you've got a stash of sex toys, now is a good a time as any to give them a really thorough cleaning. Make sure that you go with an antibacterial kind that is unscented because that will significantly decrease the chances of your clean toys irritating you once you're ready to use them again. If your toy happens to vibrate, wash it with a clean washcloth. If it doesn't, you can run it underneath some warm water and then clean it with the cloth. If your toys happen to be made out of glass, silicone or stainless-steel, you can actually boil them for 3-5 minutes in order to completely sterilize them. In any case, once you're done cleaning them, you can let them air dry.
10. Get Some “Naked in the Bed” Bedding
Definitely, one of the best things that you could ever do for your vagina is sleep in the buff. It's just one more way for your vagina to breathe since it's been cooped up in layers of clothing all day long. That said, one thing that a lot of people don't really think about is the kind of bedding that they should sleep naked in. Natural fibers are definitely the way to go. Organic cotton is great. So is bamboo. They are both breathable, soft and able to keep your body cool throughout the night. Hey, new sheets are supposed to be purchased every 2-3 years, so in the spirit of spring cleaning your vagina, why not get a couple of new sets this month? You'll adore it and your vagina will even more. Happy cleaning!
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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