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How Young Evangelical Women Are Navigating a Sex-Positive Internet

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On a Friday afternoon in late July, Bethany Beal and Kristen Clark stepped onstage inside an empty convention center in San Antonio, Texas, to kick off the first day of their annual summer conference. If not for the pandemic, the seats would have been filled with approximately 600 teenaged girls and their mothers, all hoping to grow as women in the eyes of Christ.

The event, which began five years ago under the title “Radical Purity,” is an extension of the sisters’ highly visible online ministry Girl Defined, a collection of blog posts, videos, and instructional books aiming to provide mentorship to young Christian women. The name refers to Beal and Clark’s foundational message—that one must work against the odds to be “a God-defined girl in a culture-defined world.”

Their ministry doesn’t say exactly what it means by “culture,” but those who follow Girl Defined understand the subtext. The pursuit of Christian girlhood is more difficult than ever. The church has bent to the will of progressive ideologies. Traditional ideals of femininity are seen as outdated, if not offensive to the general public. Purity has been traded in for a blanket ethos of “sex positivity.”

But faced with a country renegotiating its relationship with a biblical God, Beal and Clark are hopeful in their virtual conference, which was live-streamed to a private audience of some 800 girls on Facebook.

“God is looking for courageous women like you to go against the grain of modern culture,” Clark said in the opening session. “He is looking for brave women who will set a new trend, think outside the box and raise the bar for femininity. He needs women who refuse to live for the applause of this world, and instead live for the applause of their King.”

Sheltered from outside judgments, Beal and Clark began to present a new way forward for each woman watching, a vision of life where the burdens of conservative conviction did not have to be faced alone. Here, there would be strength in solidarity. All of the difficulties of evangelical girlhood would be addressed by women who worshipped in the same way.

For the better part of the past decade, Beal and Clark have worked in the influencer realm, moving from their early twenties to their early thirties with an audience that remains, in their estimation, around 18. The pair are only a year and a half apart, raised in a family of 10, and were homeschooled all their lives, plugged into the church and church life in a way that made them natural communicators. There is almost no online platform the sisters have not participated in at one point or another, but their mission has stayed largely consistent—young Christian girls deserve role models who don’t mince words, and Beal and Clark know they have a knack for getting through to them.

Their first online venture, the now defunct website bairdsisters.com, landed flat, but the vision was there. In 2014, Beal and Clark rebranded as Girl Defined—Clark’s idea—and narrowed their focus to the issues that mattered to high school and college aged girls, namely sexual politics and temptation. From there, it all seemed to fall into place.

A few months after the launch of the new blog, Clark wrote a post that quickly funneled traffic to the site and set the tone for the content to come: “Why Christian Girls Post Seductive Selfies.” It was both confessional and prescriptive, with Clark describing coating on makeup and waiting for the wind to blow in the right direction for a Facebook photo shoot until she turned to Ephesians and realized the error in her vanity. The post was noticed by Baker Books, a Christian publishing house, and led to the release of the sisters’ debut novel Girl Defined: God’s Radical Design for Beauty, Femininity, and Identity.

In 2016, shortly before the book went to print, Beal and Clark branched their ministry into YouTube, creating a channel that now has more than 150,000 subscribers, and began preparing for their first conference. It would be a space where girls could come and listen to the testimonies of older women, at once building friendships with other attendees who shared similar views on how best to serve Christ.

This year, in main stage sermons, Beal and Clark preached the importance of submission in a world that has fetishized women’s independence and self-sufficiency. Bri Clark, Kristen’s sister-in-law, advised girls to layer t-shirts under dresses and order skirts in tall sizes to combine modesty and fashion. Jasmine Jacob, a one-time attendee, led a breakout session where she suggested pouring oneself into devotional life to bide time in “seasons of singleness.”

In earlier years, girls in attendance may have introduced themselves to those they stood next to at worship performances or ran into in the common areas of nearby hotels. Now they were left to socialize in the comment section, a place filled with praise for the sisters and gratitude for a community that welcomes scriptural interpretations of womanhood.

Jayla Scott, a 19-year-old from Fairfield, Illinois, told me she found Girl Defined through their videos on keeping a “servant’s heart” in marriage. As a senior in high school, Scott became engaged to her boyfriend of six years, and they married this past July.  

“People focus on the sexual aspect of it, but it’s not just that,” Scott said of the transition from single woman to wife. “There are many other aspects than just physical.” 

The conference introduced her to a number of like-minded Christian women from different parts of the country whom she messages every day and considers some of her first female friends. It was an experience she called “life-changing.”

“These women follow God with their whole hearts,” Scott said. “They uplifted each other and encouraged each other. It wasn’t a competition, we were united.”

Here, it is easy to forget that to most people, Beal and Clark are wildly unpopular internet characters. In 2018, YouTube comedians Cody Ko and Noel Miller posted their first of two videos mocking the Girl Defined channel, zeroing in on Beal and Clark’s expectations for godly men and biblical advice for “guy-obsessed” girls. The video hit more than 20 million views and brought the sisters’ relatively unknown platform to the fore of the online zeitgeist. Now it is difficult to sort out how much of Girl Defined’s following subscribe to their religious views and how many come to try their own hand at comedy.

In the comment section of every public video, viewers throw shots at the sisters’ looks and speculate on their sexual performance. Some state as fact that Beal’s husband is a closeted gay man who went to conversion therapy, referring to a legless conspiracy theory born out of a 2019 “Dear Mr. Atheist” video and repeated on Ko and Miller’s podcast. (Jimmy Snow, the online commentator behind the “Mr. Atheist” alias, apologized for advancing unsubstantiated claims a week later, but by then the rumor had stuck.)

Ahead of the conference, Beal agreed to an interview with me, which she began with a procedural set of her own questions. “People have a lot of opinions and a lot of things to say about our ministry online,” she explained. She wanted to know if that is what this article would be about. I told her my interest is in the relationship evangelical girls have with online content creators and the way Girl Defined has been able to effectively build a young coalition against these antagonisms, to which she nodded and agreed that it’s a topic worth exploring.

In our conversation, Beal was reluctant to suggest that any of the ridicule they experience is gender-based, even when the comments are at their most degrading. She spoke fast, in long, roundabout sentences, pausing only to adjust the six-month-old baby tucked into her elbow.

“We don’t come up with our content out of the blue. We listen to what girls are asking and try to create content that best serves the majority.”

Her main theory is that it’s a combination of strong personality traits and counter-cultural ideas that make the pair such an appealing target. But after an aside on the general brutality of internet trolls, she grants the public might not get the same “thrill” from anatomizing a pair of outspoken evangelical brothers.

The Christian girls of Gen Z are as online as any of their peers. Those who follow Girl Defined closely enough to invest in their conference—the “sisterhood”—see the jabs and know to be fiercely protective of Beal and Clark. The negativity surrounding them only confirms their suspicion that, yes, the world has become hostile to the word of God.

For the evangelical women in attendance, the internet has long felt like a source of constant othering. TikTok and Snapchat ask them to compromise their values in sexualized trends, and platforms like YouTube see their devotion as a joke. That isn’t an accident, one girl told me: it’s the devil working. Girl Defined takes on a big sister role, offering ultra-specific advice for these novel problems, usually framed in binary questions: should Christian girls use TikTok? (Short answer, probably not.)

“We live in a culture where our view on sexuality is so skewed,” said Alyssa Stephens, a 21-year-old freelance marketing consultant who has attended the conference for the past four years. “It is condemned as a sign of weakness to embrace your calling as a woman of God.”

Stephens lives in Paris, Texas, a day’s drive from San Antonio, and kept the hotel reservation she booked for the conference months ago, using the virtual pivot as a way to indulge in a getaway weekend. She likens Beal and Clark’s ministry to the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in the Book of John—rather than waiting passively for the world to accept salvation, Jesus met with someone who did not accept His truth, speaking in terms she would understand and reaching her through common ground.

“We’re not lacking in a mission field,” Stephens said. “We just have to meet people where they are, exactly how Jesus did.”

Emmy Spelman, an 18-year-old from New Jersey, agreed that her generation has fallen prey to lax views on physical intimacy. Since discovering Girl Defined, she has reevaluated her commitment to purity, now choosing to abstain from kissing until her wedding day as Beal and Clark did. Even in Christian circles, it can be a lonely promise.

“I face a lot of judgment from people that are close to me and I need to remember the motivation behind it,” said Spelman, who started her first year at Liberty University a few weeks ago. “They inspire me to stand firm in the midst of that and to continue being open with people, not to hide my faith or pretend to be something that I’m not.”

It can be tempting to write off this type of worldly defensiveness as the paranoia of privilege; Evangelical Protestants remain the largest religious group in the United States. But in recent years, the fire has burned from within—flocks of women have spoken publicly about the lasting trauma of fear-based abstinence teachings and expressed resentment towards being reduced to their sexual behavior inside the church. Rhetoric that falls under this umbrella was given a name: “purity culture.”

In 2016, author Joshua Harris called his fabulously popular abstinence memoir I Kissed Dating Goodbye a “mistake,” apologized for its 20 year legacy and announced he was no longer a Christian. That same year, writers and activists used the hashtag #KissShameBye on Twitter to denounce ritual paraphernalia like purity rings and True Love Waits pledges.

Beal does not associate Girl Defined with the evangelical ministry of decades past. She argues that it is possible to celebrate God’s design for purity and not engage with the toxicity of purity culture.

“It’s so important to emphasize that sex is a good, beautiful, wonderful thing,” she said. “I wish I could shout it from the rooftops: our choices on whether or not to save sex really have nothing to do with our value. Yes, God has a design for that, but God loves us in spite of everything we choose to do.”

While Beal’s statement shares the progressive language of some of Girl Defined’s critics, there are two different interpretations of freedom at play. As with all sin, falling short of the model of purity—physical, emotional and spiritual—is seen as almost inevitable. That does not change the fact that it is the model. The ultimate sexual freedom, in the ministry of Girl Defined, comes when one acknowledges this losing battle and chooses to pursue abstinence anyways.

In conversation, Beal speaks of a secular world that has failed young women in its permissiveness. She wants more for the girls struggling with anxiety and eating disorders, girls who she says participate in the “crazy cycle” of trying the same things and hoping for better results. She has seen biblical womanhood transform her life and the lives of those around her. She believes it can work for others, too.

But proselytization isn’t the goal at the conference. Unlike the public ministry, Beal and Clark are not trying to convince an unfriendly audience that they should reserve kissing for marriage or pray to break free from the sin of masturbation. Those watching have paid to be here. It is reasonable to assume they all agree.

On Saturday evening, after the conference closed with a group prayer, the Facebook group flooded with posts from attendees vowing to stay in touch and continue together in spiritual growth. From her parents’ home in the rural Midwest, Audrey (a pseudonym), added her own contribution: “Just wanted to say, if any of you are LGBTQ+, Jesus loves you! And I’m so sorry if anyone (especially in the church) has made you feel otherwise.”

She received one response: “Yes, but Christ is enough,” with a heart emoji. The responder followed up with a reading list, each relating in some way to the sin of lust: Sam Allberry’s Why does God care who I sleep with?, Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Jackie Hill-Perry’s Gay Girl, Good God. Audrey was loosely familiar with the last title, a memoir from a woman who describes her same-sex attraction as a product of original sin, a struggle she was able to overcome through salvation.

Before Audrey had the chance to respond, she received a notification that an administrator had deleted her post. “I cried,” Audrey said. “I called one of my best friends and I cried when I saw that.”

The post was not meant to be controversial. She figured it was a numbers game—if 800 girls attended the conference, at least some would have experienced same-sex attraction. For them, the message was a plea to stay in the church. She now worries the deletion netted the opposite result.

“I didn’t want to start a debate,” Audrey said. “I just wanted to repeat Jesus loves you.” 

Girl Defined did not address same-sex relationships by name at any point in the two-day conference, and it is rarely brought up in the ministry. There are other issues the sisters avoid as well: political behavior, scientific dissent, denominational identity. An early blog post on showing compassion towards prostitutes, homosexuals and Muslims in spite of their “brokenness” was deleted from the site, and their first and only video addressing race or racial injustice was released in June.

This shift away from discussing issues outside the bounds of “godly” relationships may have been a product of the sisters’ sharpened awareness of their target audience over time: “We want to focus on the things we best understand,” Beal said, although she did not refer directly to posts that have been deleted. “We don’t come up with our content out of the blue. We listen to what girls are asking and try to create content that best serves the majority.”

When I asked Beal if it bothers her that silence on these topics could lead to new viewers drawing their own conclusions on where the ministry stands, she said that it’s “not really a concern.”

Heather White, a professor at the University of Puget Sound who specializes in the history of sexuality and religion, explained that these are lines that are drawn, blurred, and redrawn in every generation of evangelicalism. They remember similar tensions at Young Life 20 years ago. Among highly religious peers, teenagers were encouraged to block out the noise of culture and look inward to search for their identity within God. Some of those teenagers looked inward and found they were gay, which was not the kind of introspection ministry staffers intended.

“It may be that there is a tipping point we’re reaching,” White said. “But it does make me wonder, is that tipping point going to be clear and decisive? There’s a piece of that openness and shut-down response that just keeps on happening.”

After experiences of hostility in ministries that claim to offer unconditional belonging, there is usually a crossroads for queer evangelicals: a compartmentalization of identity or a dissociation from the church. For those who maintain a belief in modesty, purity and other traditional social mores common in evangelical teachings, options for community become smaller, and they require even more compromises.

There are churches that actively and publicly affirm their LGBTQ+ members, should teenagers choose to wait it out and pursue a life of faith in adulthood. But even if they are willing to abandon denominational ties and have the means to move to a place where these churches exist, there can be a crisis of authenticity and a struggle to replicate that “evangelical feeling,” White tells me.

“It doesn’t feel like Christianity in the same type of way,” White said. “You sometimes feel like it’s not real spiritually.”

Both Beal and Clark declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on the removal of Audrey’s post specifically. But in our conversation, Beal was careful to argue that the ministry’s focus on sexual discipline was a strategic decision, and one born out of compassion. While it’s common in evangelical spaces for men to have support groups to openly discuss pornography and unwanted desire, women and girls are usually left to suffer in silence. Opening this dialogue was not meant to suggest that sexuality is, or should be, the basis of a young woman’s faith.

And for the young women who attended the conference, this seemed to resonate. Even under Girl Defined’s branding, abstinence was far from the most popular topic of discussion in the Facebook group. 

Through October, posts and responses continued to appear on the page. There were prayer requests for healing through grief, illness and a bevy of personal tragedies. There were confessions of anxiety about the rapture and what it might be like to be torn from friends and family without warning. A few girls went back and forth on how they imagine heaven.

These are conversations that Audrey, and almost certainly other women of devout faith, want to have. But the sisterhood is splintered within its own otherness. There are terms of entry, even for those who share Girl Defined’s vision of a Christian life. In a generation that is significantly less religious than any before, the places where these women can turn for a young and comparably observant community are few and far between.

In the last session of the conference, Beal and Clark brought a flowering potted plant onstage. At first, the pair made a show of admiring its beauty and growth, only to cut each flower by the stem, removing them from the soil and placing the blooms in a glass of water.

“We all know what happens over time,” Clark said. “These flowers might look good right now, but what’s going to happen a week from now? These flowers will be wilted, the petals will be coming off and they won’t be thriving anymore.”

If the flower as the emblem of religious purity was unfamiliar to any of the girls in attendance, it would likely be familiar to their mothers. Here, just as in the posies sketched on the covers of women’s devotionals for generations, there is no removing virtue from femininity, and no removing femininity from faithfulness.

Clark went on to analogize the separation of the flowers from the soil to the separation of the soul from Christ. As an audience, we were meant to be distracted by their short-lived beauty, goaded into mistaking it for liberation. It wasn’t our fault—the temporary pleasures of the world are attractive by design. The best we are asked to do is approach with caution and the comfort of a similarly yoked cohort. “You have been adopted as His daughter into His family,” the sisters said, eyes closed, hands to God.

Follow Scout Brobst on Twitter.

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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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