Reading Rec: An Exploration of Teen Girl Power by Constance Grady of Vox

Hello internet friends,

In addition to continuing to share some of my favorite books here, I’d love to start sharing online articles or essays that have excited me/taught me something/made me think. Recently I came across an article which I have since reread multiple times and thought about often, so I wanted to share it with you. You can read the full piece here:

“Who runs the world? Not teen girls.” by Constance Grady (Vox)

While the title says that girls don’t run the world, Constance dives into the ways in which teen girls have always been incredibly influential in shaping culture, from language to music to fashion. She explores the cultural shifts towards acknowledging the power of teen girls: young activists have found worldwide platforms, and music popularized or even made by teen girls has been taken more seriously. Unfortunately, as Constance points out, the sense that girls are powerful or deserve to be empowered has also been co-opted to sell them products.

I thought often of my teen self while reading this piece. I wish I had come across something like it back then. I felt conflicted at times about being a fan of musical artists that I knew weren’t treated seriously. I thought my tastes were just “uncool.” I personalized an issue that was really much bigger than me, and I wish I could have seen that. I also wish I had learned about the amazing history of teen girl fandoms. I would have seen I was in great company!

This piece was also a helpful reminder for my adult self, and maybe for others, too. I think it can be easy to dismiss something out of hand just because it’s not for you. This has often and too easily happened for things important to teen girls. Whether it’s an album, a social media platform, or anything else, I think it can be helpful for all of us to start from a place of asking what purpose it might be serving for those engaging with it. That’s of course not to say that we can’t critique anything. Sometimes we should. But I think to do so successfully and empathetically, we need to start from a place of understanding. Plus, I think we can all probably remember a time when we felt like someone just didn’t “get” what we were into. We all deserve to have who we are and what we love taken seriously.

xoxo

Marie

If you have anything you’ve read lately that you’d love to share too, please leave it in the comments below!

Inspiration & Apple Pie: A Few Quotes on Creativity

Hey cutie pies,

A few years ago, the above quote came up on my page-a-day calendar. It’s a line from astronomer Carl Sagan‘s book Cosmos; you can read it in its original context here. Without knowing what he originally meant, though, the first thing it made me think about was creativity.

I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to creative projects; so much so that sometimes it’s easier to quit before we even begin. The funny thing is, I think all of us are creative. I think being human requires it. We put our creativity to work all the time, whether we’re balancing a beyond-busy schedule or talking a friend through a challenging situation. Sometimes we make the impossible happen without even thinking about it. But making art? Forget about it.

I love to write, and I am so excited about the book I’m finishing, but now and then I get intimidated by a blank page or edits that need to be made. What Carl’s words reminded me is that I’m never really starting from nowhere. I’m not trying to create some crazy type of art form that doesn’t exist yet. (Although that would be cool!) I’m also not trying to write the One Book to End All Books. I’m just trying to write a book that I can be proud of, that my younger self would totally love, and that will fit nicely on the shelf with all of the books that guided me.

So yeah, I’m not trying to rebuild the universe from scratch. I’m just trying to make the best apple pie I can. I already have the ingredients (inspiration, knowledge, passion) that I need. And if I find I’m missing anything? I have full confidence I can go out and get it. And I 100% believe the same is true for whatever you dream to make, too.

Below are a few more quotes that speak to ways we can take the pressure off ourselves when it comes to creativity. One was too long to make into a cute graphic, but still too good not to share!

If you have any favorite quotes—on creativity or anything else—I would love to hear them. Please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

xoxo

Marie

We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it . . . At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.

Which is the entire point.

Or should be.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

My Dream Library: Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe

Hello autumn angels,

Sometime around my 12th birthday, I started dieting for the first time. I understood the game but not the stakes. I’d been surrounded by images of thin women, glorified in romantic comedies and princess cartoons, and highlighted on magazine covers and in advertisements for everything from yogurt to razors. I knew what I was striving for, but not what it would cost. I didn’t know it would take me years to unwind my tangled-up relationship with food and my body. I did it; I am free now, and incredibly grateful for it. I just wish it didn’t take so long. And I wish nobody had to get lost in those woods to begin with.

I initially read Body Positive Power: How to Stop Dieting, Make Peace with Your Body and Live by Megan Jayne Crabbe a few years ago, when I put together this list of body image books on BuzzFeed. While reading it through again this year, I kept thinking, man, this is the book I wish I had when I was younger. Megan, a body positive activist and creator who became well-known on Instagram, has created an amazing starting guide for healing your relationship with your body. Each chapter dives into a key topic, from beauty ideals in the media, to the diet industry, to our relationships with food and exercise. In each chapter, she explores the topic at hand from a variety of angles, incorporating her personal experiences, pop culture examples, and research studies. By the end of the book, it’s so clear that us getting stuck in this game of trying to control our bodies was never our fault. It was designed for us to lose (and keep playing).

But there is a way out, where we can find joy and freedom in the bodies we’ve been given. The things that I have personally found healing are ones that Megan addresses in depth as well. Intuitive eating? It’s here. Finding joy in movement as opposed to using exercise as punishment? Yep. Throughout the book, Megan even includes “Belly Love Tips,” as that is a body part that so many people have struggled to love (myself included). One of the tips is to create a gallery of photos or artwork of people with stomachs of all shapes and sizes, to remind yourself how beautiful they are. Strangely enough, I had already started doing a version of this in the year prior to reading this book for the first time.

All this to say, if I were to build a time machine and visit my teen self, I would certainly be packing this book. But since such an invention is not in my sights, instead I am going to enthusiastically recommend this book to you. If you’ve got a body, I think it’s got something for you.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. Megan recently started a newsletter called “Is it Just Me Or…” which you can subscribe to here. Other links are below!

Megan on Instagram

Body Positive Power on Amazon

Body Positive Power on IndieBound

Getting Too Hot? Some End-of-Summer Thoughts

Photo by Tincho Franco on Unsplash

Hello my sunset sweethearts,

Doesn’t it feel like summer just disappeared in the blink of an eye? I know it’s not fully fall yet, but still. It feels like just a minute ago that I was with friends on the 4th, and now Halloween decorations are appearing on end caps. I’d say “too soon,” but I’ve already consumed a few mugs of pumpkin spice coffee myself. Anyways. Next month I am going to be sharing the next pick in My Dream Library series, but for this last post of summer I wanted to share a little life strategy that’s been helping me as of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I got stuck. I was starting to obsess over a situation where I wasn’t sure if I “should” have done something differently. (The Shoulds are dangerous woods to wander!) I kept going over and over it, way past the point of helpful reflection. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to talk it over with someone, to get unstuck. But I was embarrassed. I am fully aware that I often notice, think about, and worry over things that aren’t on anyone else’s radar. So I sometimes feel the double-edged sting of being acutely aware of my worries, but also completely cognizant of how overblown they probably are. I know saying them out loud to someone I trust always helps, but sometimes wish I didn’t have to.

As I was gearing up to ask for help, a thought popped into my mind: Your conscientiousness is such a lovely thing about you.

I’ve often thought that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. That’s easy enough to see, embrace, and love in others. Someone who has the biggest of hearts might have trouble protecting the boundaries they deserve. Someone who can get lost in the zone of their passions might also lose track of time when it matters. It’s all just shades on the same beautiful spectrum. Imperfect but radiant.

In that moment, I realized I’d been telling myself that I was an annoyingly, embarrassingly anxious person. But I could also see myself as a careful, thoughtful person. It’s heartbreakingly sweet how much I want to do things right. And that’s lovely. I just need to catch myself before I fall in the deep end of overthinking now and then.

Ever since then, when I feel my brain starting to take off, I imagine a thermometer. (There’s probably a better metaphor/visual out there, but this one’s working for me.) I ask myself, am I getting “too hot”? Am I moving towards the end of the spectrum where I imagine highly unrealistic, bad outcomes or get stuck on something from long ago? Or is this a situation where my attention to detail is a gift? Because it is. My so-called overthinking brain is also reflective, attentive, thoughtful, and creative. Sometimes it just needs to be steered in the right direction.

So, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, maybe ask: Is this thing that’s plaguing me, also what makes me great?

xoxo

Marie

“Every Version of You is on Your Side”: Words of Wisdom from Ashley C. Ford

Happy Sunday, my sweet summer sparklers,

Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:

Ashley C. Ford is a writer who recently published her first book, Somebody’s Daughter, to rave reviews. The memoir is “A story of reckoning with your past to take hold of your future—of finding love for those you have yet to forgive.” Specifically, it delves into Ashley’s experience growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. This quote is from an episode of the podcast Hear to Slay, hosted by Roxane Gay and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, in which Ashley discussed the challenges involved with writing about (and making peace with) her past.

No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.

If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.

xoxo

Marie

“Let’s Just Be Honest” – Hear to Slay

Ashley C. Ford’s website

Ashley C. Ford on Twitter

Ashley C. Ford on Instagram

Somebody’s Daughter on Amazon

Somebody’s Daughter on IndieBound

My Dream Library: The Pretty One by Keah Brown

The Pretty One is a collection for the people who give a damn, for the girl who saw her differences as dangerous and ugly, who lived most of her life trying desperately to wish herself into another body, for the person who just wants to experience joy through a little sadness and laughter along the way.” – Keah Brown, The Pretty One (page 9)

Hey bookish babes,

The first book recommendation in My Dream Library series is a book I’ve listened to twice and thought about often. Like many people, I first become familiar with (and a big fan of) Keah Brown and her writing via the viral hashtag she created, #DisabledAndCute. After listening to her debut essay collection, The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me . . . let’s just say, I know we aren’t friends, but her vulnerable, honest, funny, and passionate work makes me love her as if we were.

The best way I can describe this book—which traverses across topics and throughout Keah’s life—is that it is like a stained-glass window. Each essay illuminates a different piece of her heart. In “Love You, Mean It,” we see Keah as a sister, grappling with the jealousy she felt towards her twin, who does not have cerebral palsy. In “The Human iPod,” she takes a deep-dive into the music that has been the soundtrack of her life thus far, from Toni Braxton to Demi Lovato. And in “I Like Me Now, Too,” Keah shares her journey to self-love, which is an incredibly personal one, but also a path that has brought light to so many others.

Taken individually, each essay is colorful, glowing piece to enjoy. Put all together, we get to see the kaleidoscopic beauty of what it is to really know someone, when they’ve shown us all the corners of their heart (from being a fan of cheesecake and The Sims to dealing with depression). I think it is incredibly masterful that Keah was able to capture such a thing on the page. It’s a gift, and I’m so glad she was willing to share it.

Links to Keah’s work and social accounts will be linked below. If there’s a book that’s really lit you up as of late, let me know in the comments!

xoxo

Marie

Keah Brown’s website

Keah Brown on Twitter

Keah Brown on Instagram

The Pretty One on Amazon

The Pretty One on IndieBound

May Recommendations: MuchelleB & Perspective-Shifting

Hello my good luck charms,

This month’s post is a quick recommendation on two things: a YouTube channel and an exercise in perspective-shifting. I love YouTube, and MuchelleB’s channel is one of my favorites. She makes videos on goal-setting, planning, self-care . . . my favorite things, basically. I appreciate her thoughtful (and well-researched!) advice. When I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, I thought of one of the many things I’ve learned from her. In a couple recent videos, she’s talked about questions you can ask yourself when you need to reframe a challenging situation. See the segment starting at 1:26 in the video below!

I love how she throws out all kinds of possibilities. I remember when I was young, my mom suggested I think about if something I was worrying about would likely still be bothering me—or even remembered!—a year from now. I still use that strategy sometimes. I have often recommended giving yourself the advice you’d give to a friend. Sometimes, if I’m not able or ready to seek a second opinion on a problem or worry, I envision talking to someone I trust about it. I love all of MuchelleB’s creative suggestions —in this other video, at 3:20, she suggests looking for the humor in a situation, or imagining what your favorite TV character might say!

My life this week has been a master class in perspective-shifting. My partner and I had planned an engagement trip that did not stay on course, to put it mildly. The ring was delayed, and then delivered to the wrong place, and then not delivered at all (after a day’s worth of waiting for it). We tried to salvage the rest of our weekend, and did . . . only to get stuck an extra night due to a blown-out tire. And somehow, our bad luck seemed to carry throughout the rest of the week, to an almost sitcom-level of comedy!

And you know what? It is funny. I’m not saying it felt that way in each moment. But if I were to tell my younger self the same story, she would laugh . . . and also, be so incredibly grateful to know that I would eventually find my perfect match. I can also imagine myself years down the road, having enjoyed telling our wild story many times, but also having the perspective of years to see how small any bump in the road really is, in these big lives we are so lucky to live.

Joking about my bad luck this week has been a coping strategy. It’s helped me to see the humor in everything. But the truth is, when I stop to think about it, I feel overwhelmed by the good luck and fortune of my life at this moment in time. That’s the only perspective I can really see.

xoxo

Marie

Introducing a New Series: My Dream Library

Hello my dream angels,

For any endurance-testing endeavor, you gotta know your why. A few years ago, I wrote a mission statement for my (eventual) first book and posted it on my virtual bulletin board, to keep my purpose in sight. It went like this: “My mission is to write the book I wish I had when I was between 12 and 16 years old. My aim is for the book to be engaging, informative, and most importantly, empowering. I hope it serves as a model for girls to think about the different pieces of their life in new ways.”

Pretty good, right? Really, I think that statement captures the essence of what I’d like my whole career to be about. But in regard to this particular project, I’d change just one word. I don’t want to write the book I wish I had, I’d like to write a book I wish I had. If I got the chance to go back and guardian-angel my younger self, do I really think I would bring her just one book? Heck, no! I’d build her a whole dang library! One filled with books by the vast group of authors I’ve come to love, with a variety of perspectives on the topics I was so hungry to learn more about.

So, I thought, why not build that here?

I’m going to continue to fill this blog with reflections and celebrations on life, pop culture, and fabulous people (female and otherwise). One piece of that will be this new series of book recommendations called, of course, My Dream Library. If I can’t enthusiastically share my faves with my younger self, I’d love to do so with you, dear reader.

I’ve already got my first pick lined up, and I can’t wait to share it. In the meantime, check out some of my previous recommendations below. And let me know in the comments what’s well-worn and well-loved on your shelf!

xoxo

Marie

BuzzFeed: 5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey

BuzzFeed: 6 Teen Nonfiction Books for Girls of All Ages

Girl Presence: How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

Girl Presence: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

HuffPost: 4 Books for Young Women Going Through a Quarter-Life Crisis

HuffPost: 5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails

Happiness vs. Joy

Hello my spring blossoms,

I sometimes wonder how often or thoroughly other people remember their teen years. If you haven’t committed to writing a book for young people based on your own experiences, do you still remember the first time you heard a song by your soon-to-be favorite artist, on a mixed CD in your first car? Do you still think about your first massive crush from time to time, or do you leave any thought of them behind, along with the so-earnest-it-hurts journal entries you wrote back then? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe some experiences are universally sticky in our minds.

The reason I decided to write for teens—when I was still a teen myself—was that I wanted to help other girls avoid the pitfalls I fell into. I spent way too much of my teen life being unhappy, and my faulty formula for changing that was based on changing myself.

I still want maximum happiness for all of us, but I’ve adjusted my perspective slightly. I’m taking an amazing course led by the incomparable Jess Weiner, called “WTF is Success?!?” We are working to redefine success and what it means to have a good life on our own terms. One of the recent exercises was to choose 3 non-negotiable values for your life. Doing so helped crystallize some things I’ve been reflecting on as of late. The first guidepost value I chose for myself was “joy.” I’ve decided that I’d rather focus on creating joy than chasing happiness. I get that those terms could be synonyms, but hear me out. The difference, as I’ve defined it for myself, matters.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that emotions can be fickle and, honestly, sometimes incongruous. If you’re someone who has struggled with your mental health, you probably know what I mean. As a teenager, I coulda/shoulda been happy, but often I wasn’t. That was true at times in my twenties as well. When you start tilting towards anxiety or depression, being happy feels like one more thing you’re bad at. And of course, being hard on yourself about it hardly helps.

I can’t necessarily control my emotions or what life throws at me. I may get a frustrating email at work, or a burst of anxiety out of seemingly nowhere. Already this year, I’ve felt both the bittersweet sadness of loss and the ecstatic joy of celebrating a new life. All of these experiences, all of these feelings, are worthy parts of being alive. I can’t promise myself that I will always feel happy. But I can make a commitment to create joy in my life, and sprinkle it throughout my days.

Even if I have a long day ahead, I can pause to make a good cup of coffee. I can sing off-key to Taylor Swift (still my favorite, years away from that mixed CD) while loading the dishwasher. I can ask my partner to sit on the back patio during sunset with me, even if it isn’t quite warm enough yet for that to make sense.

Looking back, my younger self may not have had a great handle on happiness, but she did know joy. Back then, it was a stack of magazines in my bedroom, episodes of “Hannah Montana,” and a perfectly chilled Diet Coke. If I could go back, I’d give her more of all that. Still, seeing my life now through her eyes—from my pink office and stuffed bookshelf to my wonderfully strange and cute cats—I can’t help but think, Man, she would really enjoy this. And so I will.

xoxo

Marie

Gold Coins & Phone Calls: Life’s Little Anchors

Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash

Hello my little mermaids,

Has anyone else been feeling a little seasick lately? Since 2021 began, I’ve had so many weeks start out smooth sailing, only to be tossed over by unforeseen waves partway through. Near record-breaking snowfall (and cold). COVID-related disruptions. And more. I’ve found joy wherever possible. Snow is fun, and so are unexpected snow days! But I’ve also never looked forward to a so-called “normal” week more. “Boring” sounds good right now!

I recently read Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Your Life Together When Your World Falls Apart by Rachel Hollis. In the chapter on developing good habits, she wrote: “Your great habits and positive rituals are the anchor you need in the storm, not just because they’re good for you but because your brain isn’t wired to handle intense discomfort and keep making good decisions. Meaning, if you haven’t already built your muscle memory for making consistent good choices, you’ll find it nearly impossible to do so once life gets hard.”

She makes a great point, and I don’t know that I’d ever really thought about it that way. Stability in the good times can help you navigate the rocky seas with a little more ease. What has impacted me from that chapter the most, though, is the word “anchor” as she used it in that passage. It has been floating in my brain ever since I finished the book. You could think of a metaphorical anchor as a bad thing. Who wants to be tied down, stuck in place? Not me! But I do sometimes want to be held steady, which is what Rachel was describing.

The more I’ve thought about anchors, the more I see them everywhere. I’m a meditation novice, but the most helpful thing I’ve learned from my recent attempts is the technique of using your breath as an anchor. When your thoughts try to carry you away, you come back by focusing on your breathing. But anchors can be more personally specific, too. My daily phone call with my dad is an anchor that has steadied me for years. Sometimes when I’m anticipating a challenging day, I put a small object in my pocket. I use it as part good luck charm, part fidget object. Sometimes it’s a mini teddy bear, smaller than my palm, from when I was younger. Lately it’s been one of my grandpa’s gold coins. Tiny, sweet anchors.

Of course, there are times to get carried away. During the past couple months, I’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s evermore over and over again and got lost in the lyrics. One of my best friends had her first baby, and I’ve been swimming in joy, excitement, and love for her family. When she asked me to be her son’s godmother . . . let’s just say I will ride that wave of excitement forever!

All this to say, I hope this next month brings you waves of joy, and a perfectly suited anchor if you need one.

xoxo

Marie