My seven-year-old little sister has been saying that she thinks she is fat and ugly. It really pains and terrifies me to see her go through this at such a young age, since I distinctly remember being very self-conscious as a kid and how all-consuming it could be. I don’t know where to turn about this—what do I do? —Olivia, 18, Denmark

I have sisters, and I know how much it hurts to see them in pain—it’s the worst! Your sister is only seven, so I can only imagine how hard it must be to hear her criticize her body. It’s really alarming for her to already have negative self-esteem, so this is something that should be taken seriously. Have you tried talking to your parents about the issue? If she’s really miserable, I think some intervention may be necessary.

In the meantime, please continue to assure her that she’s amazing as she is. Try showing her some other happy, beautiful girls of all sizes. Seeing other plus size bodies until they became normalized is what helped me appreciate my body! I know you say she’s not actually fat, but showing her that girls thin and fat alike love their bodies is a good idea. That way, she knows that even if she does gain weight, it’s not the end of the world.

When I’m feeling down about my looks, I remember that being smart and talented are so much more important than my appearance, and so I focus my energy on making myself a better person. Talk to her about your favorite icons, too—some of mine include Michelle Obama and Meryl Streep. Make a list or collage of their achievements with her and have conversations about all of the amazing things those women have to offer. You can even put HER on your list and talk about all of the (non-appearance based) things you love about her. You don’t have to make this a preachy therapy session—it can be something fun for you two to do in your spare time. I would also consider enrolling her in a positive program for girls, like Girl Scouts or Girls Inc., both of which focus a lot on building self-esteem.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, lead by example (and urge other people in your household to do the same, including your mom)! Kids pick up everything around them—I can’t tell you how much I wanted to be my older sisters when I was growing up. No matter how many times you tell her she’s OK, if she hears or even feels that you don’t like the way you look, she might pick up on that, which can negatively affect how she feels about herself. If she’s still having problems, I would talk to your parents about having her see a counselor. Good luck, and thanks for being such a good big sis! —Gabi

I have a bit of an issue with spending. I spend all my hard-earned bucks on makeup, which is VERY expensive. But I can’t seem to stop myself! I currently have six eye shadows sitting in a cart online and I have been fighting the urge to press “proceed to checkout” for about a week. Is there any advice you can give me on how to curb my spending habits? —Aquila, Washington D.C.

It’s not easy to resist the call of the makeup gods. My vices are nail polish and red lipstick, in particular. Whenever I see bottles on bottles of candy-colored liquid paint for my fingertips and a new crimson red for my smoocher, I go BANANAS. I always have to step back and say, “’Rie, do you REALLY need this right now?” and if I’m like ::Exorcist voice:: “YES!!!” then I ask myself, “OK, can you really justify spending $6 to $9 on it right now?” Usually one of those two questions will either get me to figure it out quick. It’s hard, though. I love makeup! So I really understand your conundrum.

Here are some tips to help you spend wisely and learn how to resist the automatic “add-to-cart” finger, which is like the internet shopper’s version of a trigger finger.

Create a budget.

I don’t know what your expenses are like, but you should definitely have a budget and a plan for your hard-earned income. I’m not going to be like, “DON’T SPEND ANYTHING AND PUT IT IN YOUR PIGGY BANK.” Life is too short to be a total tightwad. Plus, I think you deserve to treat yo’ self once in a while. You just need to spend and save the right way! Figure out what dollar amount is OK for you to use as your fun spending allowance after any expenses and savings are accounted for. Mint is a great (and free!) site that you can use to create a budget. There’s also an app called Simple Track that might help.

Analyze what you are buying.

Let’s talk about these eye shadows first. You say you’ve been fighting the urge for a week. I have to say holding out for that long is already impressive! Do you still feel as strong of a pull to buy them now, or has that faded at all? If you’re still dying for them, think about each color separately. Is there one or two that you are totally crazy about while you feel so-so about the rest? Basically, do you NEED all six eye shadows right now? Most likely the answer is no. How about buying a couple right now and waiting on the others?

Don’t get hung up on brand names.

There are plenty of lower-cost makeup brands that are just as good as the more expensive ones. Maybe you can find an eye shadow palette that has similar colors to the individual ones you have your eye on. More than likely, purchasing a palette will be cheaper than buying all shadows separately. Also, if there’s a pink shadow, that can double as a blush! Yay for dual-usage!

Do your research.

There are plenty of makeup review sites and beauty bloggers who can introduce you to awesome brands that may be less expensive than the ones you are trying to cop. The realm of makeup is vast. Yes, this might be even more dangerous, but not if you budget your money wisely!

Keep your eyes on sales.

Always check out what promotions Ulta and Sephora are running. CVS always has deals on their makeup—lots of “buy one, get one free”–type situations! Indie makeup brands usually have sales and specials on their Instagram or other social media channels, so check there as well! —Marie

My parents are totally against me traveling alone. Every time I bring it up, they shoot me down, saying that I need to go with a friend. I understand that my parents care about me and are worried about me, but I’m a pretty independent, sensible person and I’m sure I would be fine. How can I persuade them that I would be fine traveling alone and that it would be a great opportunity for me? —Rachel, 18, Scotland

So glad that the travel bug has bitten you! Traveling is seriously one of the most rewarding, fun, and empowering things a person can do, especially solo. If you haven’t traveled alone before, I think it’s important to acknowledge the terrible truth, which is that, as a female, you gotta approach traveling a bit differently than a man would. (This sucks so much, I know.) If you decide to embark on a European trip, or ANY trip, independently, there are small but important decisions you can make to avoid road bumps and get the most out of your experience.

Make an organized travel plan that you can present to your parents. Whenever I wanted to convince my parents of something (getting a car, extending my curfew, going on road trips), I made a PowerPoint presentation to prove to them that I put a lot of thought into my proposal. You don’t necessarily have to make a slideshow, but jotting down your thoughts before sitting your parents down will do wonders. In your proposal, you should include where you’d stay, what sort of transportation you’d use, and maybe give examples of other women who have taken trips similar to the one you want to take.

It’s important for you to consider your modes of transportation and general safety. For example, will you travel in the daytime or at night? If you’re taking a bus, would you sit in the front, near the driver, or in the back? These small yet important decisions can make a world of difference in your experience, and can help safeguard your well being. I frequent the Greyhound from Las Vegas to Salt Lake, and the nighttime crowd is a hellova lot seedier than the daytime rumble. (I kid you not: Once when I sat in the back, I saw someone do intravenous drugs RIGHT THERE. *eeep!*)

When making decisions, it’s best to plan ahead. Not only will this help you organize your plan, but will also display a logical thoughtfulness that will impress the heck out of your parents…and hopefully result in their approval! If you’re more excited about a volunteer project in China (or elsewhere!) than a backpacking quest, for example, look up a safe, reliable organization that would give your parents the reassurance they need (if you haven’t already).

Once you’ve reached your destination, you can improvise and remap your plan if you encounter some incredible, unexpected thing/person, which I guarantee you will. I’d also recommend that you get your hands on as many articles, podcasts, and online journals about women documenting their experiences traveling alone as you can. Wanderlust and Lipstick offers tips and tales from experienced women with an appetite for travel.

I hope these ideas have helped. If your parents still aren’t ready to let you travel outside Scotland, maybe they’ll let you start with some cities near you? Also, I know parental approval is important, but they should also recognize that you are legally an adult. Good luck! —Mads ♦

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