HOW I LEARNED TO FIGHT FOR MYSELF

What made me put on the gloves and get in the ring.

For the majority of my life, I was misguided. I have no illusions about this. 

I went through some heavy stuff when I was younger (that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing), and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me and the relationships with the people around me.

I don’t need to tell you too much to paint the picture. I’ve thrown up in someone’s parents’ flower bed, yelled at my parents while drunk, fooled around on a soccer field and been taken home in a cop car. I was never one for drugs, which to this day — I’m still very scared of.

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I think I’m 16 or 17 years old here? Honestly I couldn’t tell you.

If you know me now, some of this might come as a bit of a surprise to you. I do talk like a trucker most of the time, which is one of my old habits that hasn’t quite bit the dust yet.


A guy I dated when I was 22 called me something along the lines of “a drunk whore,” (that’s G rated for you) and that was the first time my inner fighter lifted her head, provoked.

I had taken those hits before from people before many times. Metaphorically, my ribs were bruised, lips fat. I was sitting in the corner defeated for most of my late teens and early 20s. But this time was different.

Why? Because prior to that moment, I would’ve said “you’re right.” I’ve written about this before: I hated myself, and I wore the insults people flung like a fitted leather glove.

But I had begun rallying and building up strength in the corner, and I was determined. This was the period in my life when I first discovered self-help books and realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles and flaws.

Everyday it felt like it took all my mental capacity and emotional energy to try to change my thoughts about myself. For those who have never tried to change destructive thought patterns/loops: it’s the mental equivalent of continually practicing a jab-cross-hook-uppercut on a punching bag all day every day. For years.

I worked so hard to make the small amount of progress I had made, I wasn’t about to let someone-that-I-will-not-name come and knock me out cold.

I don’t know how to describe it, but it was in that shitty moment that my months of repeating affirmations changed into an actual belief. Before I would say to myself “you are worthy of respect,” but didn’t believe it in my gut.

But it dawned on me that’s not who I was. I didn’t deserve that title. So put my boxing gloves on and got in the fucking ring. And I’ve been fighting for myself ever since.

I’m not perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be. 

I’ll admit to my flaws and the harm that I’ve caused.

Not all of my choices have been smart. 

Not all of my words have been kind.

I’ve struggled with alcohol use.

I’ve done uncharacteristic things out of shame.

I’ve been deaf and blind to my own emotions.

My words and actions have come from a place of insecurity.

I’ve been self conscious and acted accordingly.

I am sorry for my mistakes.

I do not come from a self-righteous place where I’m claiming that I have figured it all out. I do not come from a place where I’m standing before you saying I’ve always known better. I’m still learning in every way.

I didn’t always understand what it means to be body positive.

I didn’t reflect on my internalized misogyny. 

I didn’t always know about intersectional feminism.

I wasn’t always capable of admitting to my faults. And I don’t deserve a medal now for doing so.

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I absolutely haven’t always been the person I am now. Everyday I’m fortunate to wake up and try to live out my values better than I did the day before. I am ready to be wrong and call myself out when I slip up.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the reason I am the way I am now is because of what I’ve been through. I have so much empathy for people who are in the middle of that struggle where they want to fight for themselves, but aren’t ready.

With all of that being said, I’ve come to a place in my life where I know I’m flawed — but I’m learning, growing and still deserving of happiness.

I deserve to love and care for myself. 

I am worthy.

I am enough.

And that is the biggest and bravest statement I can make out loud. That I love myself, not despite my flaws and experiences, but because of the person they’ve made me into.

There are people who have tried to put me in my place again since that moment, but I’m still ready to fight for myself. Elbows are down, gloves ready at my chin, ribs are protected. I’m not trying to throw punches, but I am ready to protect myself when necessary.

All we can do is the best we can in the moment, with the knowledge we have at our disposal. I believe that applies, always. We can have the “wrong knowledge” and still believe we are doing what’s right.

I know now he called me a whore from a place of pain, and I don’t hold it against him. We all do shitty things when we are in pain because we’d do anything to make it go away. I know this firsthand.

Admitting your flaws is cool, but you wanna know WHAT’S EVEN COOLER??!?? ADDRESSING THEM! WORKING ACTIVELY TO UNLEARN HARMFUL THINGS YOU TOOK IN GROWING UP! That’s the growth bit. But it starts with stepping up and being able to admit your wrongs or harm, say you’re sorry (when relevant), speak your truth(s) and move forward (ideally with self-compassion, because that tends to make things easier).

Nobody wants to come out, be vulnerable and say they haven’t been perfect. It’s scary and it gives people a chance to hook you in the ribs; but showing up in that way and exposing yourself (in a positive way) puts you on a path to living your full potential. We’re all human. We’re all flawed. We still deserve to shine and love ourselves.

We don’t need to fight each other, but we do need to fight for ourselves. That’s why my  affirmation is “fight for yourself.”

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HOW I’M UNPACKING YEARS OF SELF-OBJECTIFICATION

This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

When I was 19, I won a booty shake contest at a local bar (specifically, The ‘World Famous’ Palomino Club, if you live in Winnipeg).

Why did I do it? I was drunk, a friend was egging me on and my boyfriend at the time was unimpressed when I said I was thinking about it. So naturally, I did it to prove a point.

But when I was up there, it felt weird and performative. Even with four (maybe even five?) shots of Fireball in my system, I couldn’t reconcile that feeling. But I walked away with a bunch of cash and bought myself a Big Mac so I wasn’t thinking too hard about it.

Self-objectification (SO) is thinking of oneself as an object of others’ desire first and as a person second. 

In simple terms, self-objectification is objectification coming in an incestuous full circle.  

According to a study done out of Eastern Michigan University by Kroon & Perez, “regular exposure to objectifying experiences socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts.”

As someone who attended my fair share of therapy growing up, and went through an eating disorder treatment program, I’m surprised that the first time I heard about the concept of self-objectification was when I started trying to put words around this thing I was feeling and noticing.

Let me paint you a picture: A guy sees a beautiful girl in a crowd. Maybe she’s sitting in the corner, or has an imaginary spotlight following her as she floats around the room. Her personality or character doesn’t matter. Everything else melts away, and nothing shines through but her beauty. He chooses her because she’s a mythical creature who’s MYSTERIOUS!!!! Why? Because we know nothing about her other than what she looks like.

Oh, not to mention the fact that we’ve also been socialized to believe that beauty = goodness of character.

Iliza Shlesinger has a bit in her Netflix special Elder Millennial on the fun scenario I described above.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shoved myself into a tight dress (the one in the photo below is leather and especially terrible) and hoped somebody noticed me. I was totally oblivious at the time how much I was setting myself up for disappointment.

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Typing that makes me want to light my computer, and my entire soul on fire. Don’t try to tell me that’s not what we’ve been force-fed in movies and TV. That’s what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner growing up; If we are picked out of a crowd based on looks, it means we are valuable and valued.

The danger with self-objectification is that it is associated with a number of ills including body shame, appearance anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Think about how that manifests itself for a second: women who self-objectify put all their value on being seen as a sexual object, then when they finally get to the part where they are supposed to be *~SExuAl*`~and have sex, they’re supposed to shut off everything they’ve learned up until that point and “enjoy themselves and be free.” BUT they are typically so preoccupied with the way their *INSERT BODY PART* looks that they can’t. Even. Enjoy it. (NOT THE FIRST TIME I’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS FOR A REASON)

When I did let good men into my life, there was almost a part of me that discredited them for liking me for who I was as a person. After all, I had been completely brainwashed into thinking the only thing that was valuable about me was my looks, and I found it hard to believe someone was going to give a shit about my personality, goals, dreams and hobbies.

I shrugged off accomplishments and thwarted off feeling proud for YEARS. I didn’t think it all meant anything compared to the cultural currency of beauty.  This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

The worst part is — I had no clue.

My self-objectification was so internalized it was totally undetectable. I wanted to be mad at myself, but I know from reading other women’s stories that I’m not the only one.

Not only had I objectified myself, but I knew I had also done it to other women. For example, every time I would worship someone for their body on Instagram without any regard for their humanity.

I actually felt sick to my stomach when I initially started doing research for this article because it felt like too much to wade through. But here I am writing this, so I guess you could say I put on some rubber boots and I’m getting to work.

I don’t regret participating in that contest (being under 20 is the perfect time to do dumb stuff like that), but I recognize now that winning money by shaking my ass in front of a crowd of strangers and doing things to get them to cheer me on is the perfect marriage of objectification and self-objectification.

Once you understand self-objectification and see yourself acting it out, you can’t unsee it.

I’m still coming to terms with the catastrophic damage that years of self-objectification have done. The diet pills, drinking to be less self-conscious, jealousy, following fit girls on Instagram as weight loss motivation and the *all-consuming concern* that someone will see my cellulite.

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2015. Closest I’ve ever come to doing a boudoir shoot and I look so serious. I’m wearing a HUGE pushup bra (I have small boobs, don’t be fooled) and I didn’t want to take off my jeans because I was too self-conscious about my cellulite at the time. Photo by Kanisha Szekely.

When you strip it all away, it’s simply a way of existing in the world. A story we tell ourselves that has been told to us for generations. Awareness is everything. You can contribute to the narrative the media has rammed down your throat, or start to rewrite it.

For me, this isn’t in line with who I want to be, so I’m ready to let it go.

I read in a Psychology Today article that learning about SO reduces its impact (thank goodness), and they suggest that we actively work to…

  • Override self-surveillance (e.g. sitting a certain way to look skinny, looking in the mirror constantly to check yourself)
  • Reduce our contact with sexually objectifying media (e.g. stop reading appearance-focused magazines)
  • Reduce contact with sexually objectifying people or groups (e.g., discussing another woman’s appearance with your friends because of something they posted)
  • Choose clothing based on comfort
  • Challenge sexual objectification when we hear it or see it
  • Decline to participate in demeaning the appearance of ourselves and others
  • Counter critical self-statements
  • Compliment on things other than appearance
  • Cultivate sustainable ways to affirm our worth

Learning about SO helped me find the missing puzzle piece in understanding why my self-esteem was non-existent for most of my life. I’ve gotta say, it’s actually kind of a relief to know what to call it now.

I know it’s going to be a struggle. I know I’ve stumbled already. I know it’s worth it.

The most interesting thing about me has nothing to do with the way I look, and if there’s something I’ve learned in my self-love journey I know I’ll never be satisfied with a well of validation that always runs dry. I have a feeling the next time I get on a stage to prove a point, it’ll be empowering. Not objectifying.

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2014. Winning a community radio award. This photo captured a spark of genuine pride.

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HOW I LEARNED THAT DOING THINGS ALONE IS AWESOME

Turns out riding solo is pretty great.

When I was 21, I went on a walking tour of St. Boniface alone. Being a person who grew up caring WAY too much about what people thought of me (to the point where I let people’s opinions shape who I was for many years), this felt like an act of defiance.

I was still really new to being single at the time, and I think it was the first time I purposely struck out and did something without a friend by my side. It was a Saturday morning and I had no plans that day. I remember when the tour guide asked the group if anyone was from Winnipeg and I was the only one who put my hand up.

I ended up chatting with the French-speaking guide and found out he was moving to somewhere in Europe the following month and this was his summer job. Then I walked with the tourists (most of them were retired folks) and talked to them about what they thought about Winnipeg so far and what they still wanted to do. I learned all these beautiful and unexpected things about an area of my city that had previously seemed so exotic to me.

Not only did the tour put a dumb smile on my face the rest of the day, but it also made me realize that going it alone was more about attitude than about the activity.

I’m now 24, and I now prefer doing most things on my own. In fact, I travelled through France, Switzerland and Italy alone for two weeks this summer and learned a ton about myself and enjoyed the hell out of it. Obviously, it wasn’t always this way. I’ve worked up to this point.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

No seriously. Do you have a list, or something specific that you really want to do but nobody will do it with you on the day you want to do it? That’s an opportunity!

I’ve talked about this before in another blog post, but the summer after I finished my degree I wrote a long list of activities that I wanted to check off before the summer was over. Some of them I had to do with other people, but a lot I could do alone. That was the first time I went to the Planetarium alone — highly recommend it — and travelled on my own agenda to Halifax and had to entertain myself.

My advice? Make a list, or at least identify something you’ve always wanted to try or do. Go at it with fury. Stop waiting for your friends to have time or money or both.

Here’s a list of 50 things to do alone to get you started.

PUT YOUR DAMN PHONE AWAY

It’s tempting to go out alone and just be on your phone the whole time, but it really defeats the purpose and makes you less present. I think a lot of people reach for their phone instinctively when they feel uncomfortable as a reflex now (myself included), but it’s a cop out and we all know it. After watching a famous Simon Sinek video I realized that people are so uncomfortable with the idea of eye contact and looking bored that when someone goes to the washroom at a restaurant they’d rather scroll on social than look around the restaurant for two minutes.

For example, if you’re going take yourself out for food, at least put your phone away (out of immediate reach) while you enjoy your dish. Be present. Chew slowly. It’s really not that terrible.

GOING IN COLD

Fun fact: our tolerance for uncomfortable situations and the unknown increases the more we put ourselves in situations with elements of uncertainty. We can change our threshold for fear (in safe, non-threating situations of course) if we do enough to challenge it.

I like to call it brain blocking, or going in cold. I’m sure there’s a chapter in a sales textbook somewhere about this, but I think it especially applies to doing things alone.

I shut my brain off and start moving my body before my brain has time to stop me or catch up. I learned this tactic when I had to do journalism streeters in college (this is where reporters walk up to random strangers on the street and ask them for an opinion).  My brain would be screaming profanities at me, but I knew the moment I hesitate I would be done for and fail the assignment.

Get out of your car. Stand up. Move your legs. Walk through the door. The first movement is the hardest. Once you’re in the cold, it’s not so bad.

GETTING OVER YOURSELF

The biggest barrier initially was getting over the what-will-people-think mental block I was imposing on myself.

Here are a few tricks I still use when I start to feel this way:

1) I imagine the worst-case scenario: some dickhead makes a comment to the person or people they are with about me, and I hear it.

“Oh wow look at that person eating alone — how sad.”

Lonely Tv Land GIF by #Impastor - Find & Share on GIPHY

First off, I know I have people who love me. No question. Second, their words aren’t bullets unless I load the gun for them. If I take it to heart, I go down. I don’t have to though — because it’s not true.

Second, what kind of dickhead comments on someone minding their own damn business? Don’t be that person. Let people enjoy their time alone in peace.

Here’s the game plan if this does actually happen to you: look them dead in the eyes, smile and take an enormous bite of my food without breaking eye contact. Nothing says confidence like shoving half a sandwich in your mouth in one bite.

2) I laugh out loud. By myself. At myself. Works like a charm.

A recent example: I was zoned out and walking around Toronto alone trying to find a place to eat, full of anxiety about the thought of sitting in a busy restaurant alone. I accidentally walked in front of a car turning when I wasn’t supposed to and I screamed and ran back to the sidewalk and the car honked at me. There was a guy standing on the curb who had seen the whole thing and he said, “he sure told you,” and I started laughing really hard. Like so hard I almost started crying.

I think he was confused but it totally brought me back into the moment and reminded me to not take myself too seriously.

Don’t know where to start? Go to a movie alone — it’s a great way to dip your toe into the pool of trying things by yourself. Plus you can pick the movie, sit in a single seat, and don’t have to split your drink or snacks with anyone.

p.s. The first ever movie I ever saw alone was How To Be Single and I’m such a cliché BUT HEY IF THE SHOES FITS WEAR ITTTTT.

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Do you have something you love doing alone?

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A LOVE LETTER TO ANYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH SELF LOVE

I know how hard it is to have a lack of self-love, and I love you for it. I want you to love yourself for it too.

I bought a book a few years ago called ‘Unworthy: how to stop hating yourself’. The cover posed the question what would you do today if you didn’t despise yourself? I remember hiding the book from people when I would read it in public.

“If you’ve felt so unworthy, so unlovable, so alone for a long time, then to realize that maybe you can feel a different way about yourself actually makes some people incredibly sad. It feels like coming home — but coming home can unleash a great deal of sorrow. It’s a ‘missed-you-so-much, where-have-you-been’ situation.”

Anneli Rufus

My counsellor at the time told me she thought people might be surprised if they knew how I really felt about myself. I mean, it’s not like you can wear a lapel pin that says “I am full of shame, and I feel like a horrible person.”

To explain, I spent most of my life hating myself. I think the interchangeable saying would be saying I have very low self-esteem, but when I was looking for the book I found above, I Googled how to stop hating yourself.

If I had to describe what it’s like to have a total lack of self-esteem, I would say it’s like sentencing yourself to live in a cave — it’s all out there to experience, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You don’t deserve to see sunlight. You convince yourself this is where you belong, and that the world out there isn’t for you. Maybe you’ve gone out before and it made you want to never do it again. You hide yourself, horrified people will see how ugly you really are. You are both the jailor and the prisoner.

What does a lack of self-love look like?

A lack of worthiness can show itself so many different ways. Many of them might look like personality flaws, odd behaviours, or quirks on the surface.

  • Saying sorry too much, because you really are sorry you exist
  • Saying yes to everything, because you are afraid of what will happen if you say no
  • Avoiding choice and leaving your fate in the hands of others
  • Stunting your own growth and blunting your feelings, even the good ones
  • Struggling with vulnerability
  • Replaying the past and letting it dictate your present feelings
  • Driving your life into the ground with self destructive behaviour
  • Deflecting praise
  • Internalizing failure, shame, guilt and error
  • Staying in situations that are unhealthy or don’t make you happy (this also can look like being loyal to a fault)
  • Letting other people’s opinions dictate how you feel about yourself
  • Lashing out or closing down because of shame
  • Wanting things but denying yourself them
  • Getting mad at yourself for not liking yourself, and so forth

Any of these sound familiar?

First things first — these things are not your fault. These behaviours are learned from life experience. I don’t care what anybody says, if you’ve ever felt the pain of feeling worthless, that shit is horrible and equivalent to getting a tooth pulled with no freezing. We adapt to those pains. We act in response to that pain. Sometimes we’d do just about anything to avoid that pain (some of them are a protective mechanism to avoid further pain).

For people reading this who don’t know what this is like, it’s the difference between forgetting someone special’s birthday and thinking “oh shoot, I feel bad, I’ll make sure to send that person flowers and write it my calendar for next year,” and “I’m a shitty friend who isn’t there for the people I care about, I’m going to call them and apologize profusely for forgetting and try hard for the next month to make it up to them.”

Lol true story on my part, but yeah. You get the idea.

Now that I have hindsight, I look back at the things I did as a result of that pain I was causing myself, and I’m not terribly surprised I did them.

Awareness is half the battle. Once you can start recognizing these behaviours and how they impact your life, change comes next. I highly recommend you call in the big guns for change: a counsellor/therapist/psychologist will definitely help get you there faster if your resources will allow for it (work with whichever works best for you).

Even now that my life and feelings toward myself have changed drastically, and I have a very high level of awareness of my self-hatred habits, I haven’t been able to kick them all the way out just yet. And that’s ok. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

But we’ll get there.

These thoughts and actions aren’t YOU

It doesn’t matter how we get in the cave, or how deep we are in. Everyone has their own challenges and experiences that drive us in there. I am telling you that no matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, or what has been done to you, you don’t deserve to be in there.

This is going to sound really weird, but every time I feel myself retreating back into the cave, I ask “have I robbed someone lately? hit a pedestrian? lit a house on fire?” Sometimes we feel the need to back in for the smallest of things, but these phrases help put things in perspective sometimes when I think I’ve done something I feel like I’ll  never forgive myself for.

This whole blog is about the moment you step out of the cave into the blinding sun and it’s so beautiful it brings you to your knees.

I remember the moment I realized I could feel differently about myself. I sobbed uncontrollably, not only because I was mourning all the years I’ve spent “in the cave” but also because I had never had hope like that before.

Just because society screams at you to be thinner, smarter, manlier, anything-er doesn’t mean you can’t come out of the cave as you are. It actually means you NEED to come out the cave as you are.

I want to share something I read in that book I mentioned earlier.

“Our true selves are the selves we were before we twisted, bent, and beat ourselves into the shapes we had to take in order to please others: the shapes that we hate. Our true selves are the selves we would have been had no one tried to break or shame or change us. Our true selves are what those who actually love us see in us. Our true selves are who we have always been, even if they have been in hiding all this time. Our true selves are who we will, in that sheer blue zone above self-loathing, always be.”
Anneli Rufus, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself

The true you is in there somewhere. When you do come out, you be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, don’t hate yourself more for it. You’ll get there.

Accepting your experiences

The time you spent hating on yourself? You’ll never get it back. But it taught you a lot, created some really special traits within you, and made your goals and purpose so much stronger. It is not lost time.

Once you realize that you’re worth fighting for, you’ll never be able to un-realize it. The journey from there is a long game full of rediscovery, mistakes and triumphs. Back sliding into the old habits that are well worn grooves in our brains. Charging forward and standing up for ourselves in small ways.

Everything I’ve talked about doing in this blog — finding hobbies, making new friends, learning lessons, letting myself feel sad and so much more — have all been part of my process of coming out of that cave. It has literally been life saving, in every way. Even this blog has been an act of self-love in the face of raging self-doubt.

Just by having a blog, I have become vulnerable. It is terrifying and worth it. Every time I post something, I remind myself that this is for me — as much as it’s for the internet to read.

What have you done for yourself like this? Hold it tight. Appreciate it. Celebrate it. Don’t let anyone take it from you or make you feel differently about it.

What will you start doing? Something to ponder on for your new years resolutions.

Learning to knit won’t undo years of trauma or f*cked up shit, but these things subconsciously say to your brain, “it’s time to start rebuilding regardless of those things.” Every time you try something new you show yourself that anything is possible.

Being good as a result of feeling bad, and asking for a hand up

You can grow positive traits as a result of being someone who hasn’t always felt good about themselves. You might become more compassionate and empathetic, never take a moment of joy for granted, be introspective and maybe “a little too deep/intense” for some people (and that’s ok) and so many other good things.

I am not claiming to be on the other side of self-hatred. More like, I have come out of the cave, cried in happiness a bunch, stumbled around and wondered what the hell to do, and now I’m slowly starting the process of hiking away. It does pull me back from time to time, but the more tools, lessons and tricks I have up my sleeve the better shape I’m in to run further away.

While the war is fought inside your head, having people there is crucial. They can’t fight it for you, but they can be a huge influence on your mindset.

People who can see this struggle to improve in you, and can appreciate it, are worth keeping around.

People who are empathetic and will be vulnerable in return are worth keeping around.

People who hold you accountable to the person you want to be and don’t let you talk shit about yourself or about others are worth keeping around.

People who make you want to love yourself more are worth keeping around.

There is so much self-love in going through the process of rebuilding your self-esteem, even if it doesn’t feel that way. There is love in realizing and acknowledging things need to change. There is love in every small and defiant act of vulnerability. There is so much love in self-compassion and care.

And you deserve it all.


While this post was based on the literature I’ve read and my personal experience, I recognize that everyone’s experiences and situations are very different and I have privilege in being able to afford a counsellor, books and so forth. I wish you all the best on your personal journey, whatever it may look like.

I hope that one day you’ll be able to look back at old journal entries and realize how much you’ve changed. It’s an amazing feeling.

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