Escaping Wonderland (& the Wrong Kind of Popularity)

Hello, dear internet friends,

I’m with Aly & AJ on this one: The greatest time of year is here. Okay, “greatest” may be too broad. This season doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite, but it is mine. While the holidays can certainly be busy and overwhelming, this year I’m ready to embrace each sparkling moment. I hope to be present with the ones I love, slow down to appreciate decked-out front yards, and make plenty of time to watch holiday movies and shows.

I have become a connoisseur of Netflix’s seasonal offerings. Did you know that there are four Vanessa Hudgens characters in the Netflix Christmas Cinematic Universe? It’s true, and I’d love to talk to you about it. Outside of that tinsel-tangled web of doppelgängers and fake European countries, my favorite festive show on the platform is “Dash & Lily,” a one-season series based on a young adult novel. Lily, a Christmas-loving human ray of sunshine, leaves a notebook of clues to decode inside New York City’s famous bookstore, The Strand. Sarcastic and surly Dash picks it up, kicking off a Christmas break of the pair sending each other on dares throughout the city, getting to know each other—and themselves—along the way.

It’s a sweet love story, a traveling tale of Christmas in New York. It’s also about fitting in—or rather, finding where you belong. As we get to know Lily, we see that she struggles to fit in with her peers. While reading a book on the subway, she looks over wistfully at the three girls next to her who are interacting over stuff in their phones. In another scene, Lily is caroling at a park with her adult neighbors when she spots a group of her soccer teammates. One appears to look her way but doesn’t wave or invite her over.

As Lily reveals to Dash in their notebook, life wasn’t always this way for her. Without spoiling the details, an experience of social rejection in middle school changed everything. Before then, she believed that she’d always belong by being herself. “After that,” she writes, “I started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, like school was full of all these rules that didn’t make sense.”

I came to view that scene through a new lens after finishing a book called Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist and the Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association. Taking readers through scientific research on the subject, Prinstein shows how popularity impacts our lives well beyond our middle and high school days. While the book is written for adults, I think anyone of any age can benefit from understanding the two types of popularity as he defines them. The first is status, or what I call capital-P Popular. As Prinstein explains, this type of popularity becomes apparent in adolescence and defines individuals who are well-known and powerful amongst a given group. The second type of popularity, likability, is the one we understand from when we’re very little. Likable people engage in kind, inclusive behaviors with the aim of truly connecting with others.

The disorienting shift that Lily experienced was status overtaking likability in her middle-school world. I can certainly relate. When I was little, I found it easy to get along with other kids. I honestly thought I was best friends with “everyone,” meaning all the girls in my multiage class of first and second graders. For me, the transition to a new social order felt more like a slow fall down the rabbit hole than an abrupt change. I learned that people might spill your secrets, make fun of you to someone else (who would tell you about it), or exclude you for no obvious reason. I found it all so painful and impossible to understand that I latched onto the only solution I could come up with: I needed to change myself—especially how I looked—to fit in. To be Popular. Then I could be fully happy again.

I wish I could go back and teach my younger self about the two types of popularity, but Prinstein’s book helped me understand how the challenges of status and benefits of connection don’t end with graduation. It’s never too late to make changes. The main reason I struggle with social media is that it feels like being in middle school, holding my breath to see who “likes” me. Since last month, I’ve kept up with cutting back on my use. I’ve been surprised by how different life has felt, considering I didn’t think of myself as someone overly plugged in. Without the backdrop of all that social noise, moments of genuine connection have felt more properly highlighted. It’s a little like being six again. I’m just happy to be invited to play.

The difference is, I know now I can’t really be best friends with everyone. What Lily’s story shows is that you don’t need everybody to see you. Finding just one person you can take off your social mask around can be transformative. Meeting them through a hidden notebook at a famous bookstore may be highly unlikely, but you never know what a simple lunchtime “Can I sit with you?” will do. I made a lifelong friend that way.

So, I never achieved capital-P Popularity. And I’ve come to realize that, at least for me, social media can be the same status game by a different name. But you know what? I have friendships that are as simple and sturdy as they felt in the years before I knew Popular. I don’t take them for granted because I know what it’s like to get lost on the wrong side of Wonderland.

xoxo

Marie

“Dash & Lily” is available for streaming on Netflix.

Popular by Mitch Prinstein can be purchased at Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Can You Ever BeReal on Social Media?

Hello, dear internet friends,

This week, I wrapped up edits on my book’s next chapter about the intersection of celebrities, social media, and identity. (A topic worthy of its own full book, but I hope I did it justice!) I had a lot of fun working on this one. I find pop culture to be an endlessly rich subject matter for all it has to say about us. It’s our shared dialogue. An overarching narrative full of rich themes and fascinating characters that we all take part in shaping through what we buy, watch, listen to, and talk about—and who we make a star.

It was so interesting to walk through the iterations of young female celebrities in my lifetime, from the glossy, well-choreographed pop stars of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, to the bedazzled-pink paparazzi craze of Paris Hilton, to the flashy, fame-focused Kardashians, to now. The era of the internet creator, where suburban Connecticut high schooler Charli D’Amelio—playing the role of our modern Cinderella—went from filming TikTok videos that embarrassed her older sister to promoting her custom Dunkin’ Donuts drink to millions of followers.

What surprised me during my research—though it really shouldn’t have—was how many articles placed Charli in a frame of authenticity or relatability. Certainly, in contrast to the Kardashians before them, the D’Amelio family as a whole comes across as humbler, politer, and more grounded. Charli is likable, but I wouldn’t say she’s relatable; she’s aspirational. Just as Paris Hilton represented an ideal of excess in the reality-TV-saturated early 2000s, Charli exemplifies celebrity in the 2020s: optimally suited to go viral on the internet and make it look natural.

“Authenticity” is the guiding undercurrent of the most popular social media platforms today. The heavily filtered selfies of early Instagram have given way to blurry “candid” shots. TikTok feels like the Internet finally turning in on itself, trying to Do All The Things, All At Once. What if you meme-ified your closest relationship to the current trending song? Perhaps due to the virality that keeps it running—and constantly raises the stakes—it’s the platform where the boundaries for what’s appropriate to share have most dissolved. Many times I’ve used it, I’ve scrolled into a shockingly intimate piece of a stranger’s life and been left with the unresolvable unease of knowing what someone is going through but not them. I don’t “like” it.

Then there’s BeReal. The buzzy new app that may not last but has caused enough of a stir that Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are copying it. The stated purpose—for those who haven’t been exposed yet—is “to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.” Users are given a different two-minute window each day to post photos taken simultaneously from their front and back cameras. If you don’t post, you can’t see your friends’ posts. If you post late, your friends will be notified. The number of times you retook your photos is also visible to your friends.

Being “real” is enforced.

I haven’t used the app myself because I don’t want to post, so I don’t know what it’s like experientially. I understand that the norms of a given platform sometimes morph it away from what the designers intended. Still, the concept reads like a parody of our attempts to create—or perform—authenticity online.

You can’t make people be real. Online or off. Maybe we should stop trying.

All of this has finally broken the spell of social media for me. I’ve long been aware of its problems, of course, but I wanted to believe that not altering or filtering your photos was enough. That as long as you didn’t lie or manipulate the truth in what you posted about your life, it was okay. No room for harm.

I’m not holding onto those hopes anymore.

I don’t know how you step on the stage of social media and not perform a little. No matter what app you use—BeReal included—you get metrics on how well you do. How “likable” you are. (You can hide like counts on your posts or those in your feed on Facebook and Instagram, but you still get the likes.) The more I’ve thought about it, it disturbs me that I intuitively know what “content” of my life is most appealing to the algorithm or audience. It has little to do with what’s meaningful for me to share.

Maybe you can’t envision someone envying your life, because you’re not a social media celebrity living in the same white-walled California home they all seem to have. I think of another me in an alternate universe whose life unfolded a little differently. Maybe she’s a couple steps behind or had one less stroke of good luck. What would she make of me, or rather, my posts? And I already struggle sometimes with comparing myself to some imaginary me who had the foresight to do everything just right.

Why make it harder on myself? Why add more ghosts to the room?

I think many of us feel exasperated with at least some aspects of social media, and yet we keep going. It’s hard to log off completely and not feel like you’re missing out, socially or otherwise. I know I wouldn’t have as many blog readers if I didn’t use social media, and I’m grateful for the connections and conversations that sharing my work has inspired.

All this to say, I can’t see the full path ahead, but I’m walking anyway. Taking the apps off my phone to remove the temptation to check them every quiet moment. Deciding to continue sharing my writing but leave my life where it belongs from now own.

Stepping off the stage. For me. For you. For us.

xoxo

Marie

The Lips Are Everywhere

Hello, dear internet friends,

I don’t remember when I first started looking for them, but once I did, found myself surrounded. They were everywhere. 

Those lips. When did everyone get those lips?

By “everyone,” I actually mean almost no one. A tiny subset of the population, but a highly visible one: female celebrities on the spectrum from “popular in one corner of the internet” to “so famous her absence at award shows is noted.” Even if you only casually engage with pop culture, you’ve seen The Lips: artificially puffy and even top-to-bottom. Strikingly similar to a certain cosmetic brand’s imagery.

The prevalence of The Lips—presumably achieved via injectable lip fillers, which celebs are varying degrees of forthcoming about using—has been building for years. I wonder if they’ve reached their peak of popularity and within a year or so won’t be “in style” anymore. I hope so, but I also think they’re just the easy-to-spot tip of the iceberg. For me, their undeniability has been a gateway to realizing how common cosmetic procedures, including much subtler ones, must be amongst celebrities.

Maybe you already knew that. But it wasn’t until this year that I really saw it.

Months ago, I came across a body+soul article about actress and advocate Jameela Jamil. It drew attention to one of Jamil’s Instagram posts. In response to a Vanity Fair article about how the Kardashians “reshaped the beauty industry,” she called for transparency about the cosmetic procedures they’ve had done. (They’ve admitted to some things and denied many others.) What stuck with me was part of the quote at the end of the article from a previous interview with Jamil:

“I think it’s important to investigate why maybe we want the Botox or the nose job or the boob job, etc, and make sure that we are genuinely doing that for ourselves. It’s really hard to unpack why we make those decisions in the first place.”

Genuinely doing that for ourselves. That’s the part that stood out to me. For context, this was not about the Kardashians; the broader statement was that what you do with your appearance doesn’t define if you’re a feminist or not. I appreciate that Jamil immediately noted how “hard to unpack” such a choice would be. But the question I keep asking myself is: if you make a significant change to your natural features to match current beauty standards, how could it every truly be just “for yourself”?

For comparison, I’ve been thinking all the different things people do with their hair. Grow it out, shave it, dye it pink, braid it. The options are many and varied, as are the meanings—personal or cultural—attached to them. On the other hand, when it comes to altering facial features—be it with cosmetic procedures, photo filters, or makeup, as the Seventeen article I mentioned last month suggested—those changes tend to go in a one direction. Lips fuller. Nose slimmer. Eyes wider. The ubiquity of the beauty ideal washes out appreciation for individual difference and covers up its complex interactions with gender, class, culture, and race. For example, in a 2017 essay for gal-dem, writer and creator Jess Lawrence discussed how she and other black girls like her experienced discrimination regarding their fuller lips while growing up.  In contrast, the enhanced lips of many white celebrities today are viewed as “trendy” and admired.   

I’ve wanted to write about this topic for months but have always stopped short. In part, I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. Somewhere along the way—I believe from women’s media websites, and maybe some public figures—I got the sense that the dominant sentiment about cosmetic procedures from ostensibly female-uplifting sources was: If it makes you happy, go for it. It’s your right! Through that frame, questioning such choices sounds like discrediting one’s right to bodily autonomy. In her book Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, writer Jia Tolentino argued that mainstream feminism “has put such a premium on individual success, so much emphasis on individual choice, that it is seen as unfeminist to criticize anything that a woman chooses to make herself more successful—even in situations… in which women’s choices are constrained and dictated both by social expectations and by the arbitrary dividends of beauty work…”

The problem is that the individual appearance-related decisions of public figures do not only affect them. This is especially true when celebrities directly profit off people’s desires to look like them—why Jamil has been calling out the Kardashians for years—which increasingly feels like a core part of modern fame. The market for celebrity skincare and makeup lines is seemingly boundless. You can be a young TikTok star or an older A-list actor and incorporate one into your brand.

Kylie Jenner’s popular “lip kits” appear to be the archetype for key facets of this moment in pop culture. Her makeup brand is inextricably linked to her cosmetically altered face. In May 2015, after much public speculation about her significantly fuller lips, she admitted to having gotten lip filler. She was still a teenager. A couple weeks before, she tweeted, “I’m not here to try & encourage people/young girls to look like me or to think this is the way they should look.” Six months later, she released her first lip kits, a matte liquid lipstick and pencil duo. The boxes featured a graphic similar to her own lips, similar to The Lips seen everywhere now. They sold out in less than a minute. She continued to expand her range of lip kits, which felt like the center of the makeup universe at the time.

I got two of them.

I can’t control anyone else’s behavior, nor would I ever dream to. But there is power my own. You don’t have to have a worldwide platform to have influence. In this article, beauty culture critic Jessica DeFino expertly laid out the ways in which we are all an integral and influential part of the system. We can’t fully pass the blame to celebrities or some amorphous entity like “media” or “society.” As she says, “When we participate in toxic beauty culture, we perpetuate toxic beauty culture.” The flipside is that we can also make active choices to “divest” from the impossible beauty standards that hurt all of us (celebrities included).

I don’t use face-altering filters when I post on social media. In the last couple years, I stopped wearing foundation—with the exception of my wedding—because I realized it made me feel worse about how my skin actually looks.  I also understand that how I spend my time and money matters. I wouldn’t purchase a Kylie lip kit again, given what it represents to me now. But I don’t say that to shame my past self, and I wouldn’t shame anyone else for their choices, either.

Beauty culture is tangled web. Teasing apart the threads of truth that will carry us out can feel near impossible at times. But the level of perfection demanded by beauty standards won’t be required in our escape. We just have to do our best to really see each other through it all. And look out for each other.  

xoxo

Marie

The Jackson Pollock Manicure

Hello, my dear internet friends.

Last month, I told you that I’d started editing “How to Be a Girl,” the chapter in my book on teen magazines. On Monday, I finished my edits (for now!) and sent it off to my workshop group for feedback. I was so excited that I set up my Spice Girls dolls to celebrate (which you can also enjoy here). That chapter was a challenge—trying to sift through stacks of magazines to find the best thematic examples, deciding where to land to capture how they’re still relevant—but even when it was hard, it was fun. It never ceases to amaze me that, even when I sit down to write about a topic I think I know like the back of my hand, I always learn something new along the way.

During my magazine scavenging, I came across an editorial called “Art of Makeup” in an issue of Seventeen from my junior year of high school. It featured four “looks” inspired by classic painters, from eye shadow blended in the vibrant colors of Georgia O’Keeffe to splatter-paint nail art a la Jackson Pollock. Which I tried. I don’t remember the actual attempt; I must not have been successful, otherwise I would have done it over and over and never forgotten. But that’s when I started wearing black nail polish. I thought it was cool. Maybe even edgy, one of the many personal-style descriptors I learned from Seventeen. Of course, I Marie-ified it (and in turn, removed any potential edge) by covering it with silver holographic glitter. It was fun. It was a good time.

That anecdote doesn’t mean much on its own, I’ll admit. But coming out of the particular environment of looks-based messaging I’ve been wading through over the last couple months, it definitely stands out. Teen magazines often spoke in the language of your appearance being a project, your body an object with many parts in need of maintenance, repair, or upgrade. That Seventeen was a makeover-themed issue. The first image in the “Beauty” section was—honestly?—haunting. The article was entitled “Look Like a Model!” Unsurprisingly, the face of a runway model was featured, but her actual appearance in the main image was somewhat obscured, covered in arrows, dashes, and instructions. A template for all the ways one’s face could be fixed. “Shade Jawline” was written along the arrow down her chin. “Contour cheeks.” “Fill in lips.”

I would love for such an image to sound severely outdated. But I know that it doesn’t. Magazines spoke confidently under the assumption that you knew that your hair/skin/body/brows needed work and understood why that was important. (Generally: attention. Often, more specifically: male attention.) The implicit importance of “fix-it” work is still written into media and advertising. It’s programmed into the social media filters that distort your features in… well, all the ways Seventeen was suggesting you could with makeup.

But what about the Jackson Pollock manicure? In the sadly not-distant universe of a teen magazine promoting white eyeshadow as a means for visually editing your nose, the suggestion to emulate an iconic artist’s work on the tiny canvas of your fingernail seems delightfully absurd. And absurd delights are my soft spot in life. (Cherry cola Oreos with Pop Rocks in the middle. My cat entering deep sleep atop a crying-while-laughing emoji bean bag.) What I really mean to say is, the concept and attached memory feel both nonserious and joyful. And what might that be like? To treat physical presentation as a totally nonserious avenue for joy?

Which feels like the right question, or rather the right direction to head. The vulnerable truth underneath is that, for all the ways I’ve disentangled my day-to-day actions from the fix-it mindset of beauty and diet culture, I’m not perfectly immune. That stuff is sneaky. “Problems” get invented so “solutions” can be sold. And that rhetoric can infiltrate—or imitate—our self-talk. That’s where I get stuck sometimes. Because man, it sounds so real. But I know it’s not me.

I’ve become more aware of that little critical voice lately, and it’s something I want to change. I don’t exactly know how, but the great thing is, I don’t exactly have to. Looking back on all the ways I’ve transformed my relationship to my body, I see that as long as I knew the general destination, I was able to practice my way there. With food, I knew I wanted to listen to my body instead of subscribing to arbitrary rules, so I kept practicing until doing so became second nature. I now truly enjoy exercise because I factor how I feel into every decision around it.  And so, I no longer want the appearance-project mentality to feel like it has any validity, so I will figure out how to make choices that actively invalidate it.

Probably, where I’ll land will look a lot like where I’m at now—a daily preference for comfort via elastic waistbands and my one-step hair-styling routine (it’s a scrunchie)—just with a bit more intention. But I’ve also been wondering if occasionally doing something a little bit fun and frivolous could serve as a reminder: If my appearance-related decisions are anything beyond practical, they should simply be fun. And rarely do any of them need to feel all that serious.

So, is black glitter nail polish the answer?

Not for everything.

But is it fun?

Oh, absolutely.

xoxo

Marie

Still fun, even missing one. 🤷‍♀️ Nail polish by Holo Taco. Photo by me. 🙂

Articles referenced:

  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Art of makeup. Seventeen, 66(1), 88-97.
  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Look like a model! Seventeen, 66(1), 32-33.

274 Ways to Miss You

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

This month, I started the process of editing a chapter of my book called “How to Be a Girl.” This one is about teen magazines and my complicated relationship with them. It’s due for some TLC, as I cut it from the last version of the book. I thought it wasn’t relevant anymore since most teen magazines are no longer in print. But the truth is, I can’t fully tell my story of growing up girl without talking about them. Plus, while they don’t appear on newsstands anymore, some of the classic ones, like Teen Vogue, are still publishing online content. Also, I think the “need” that those publications met still exists but is being addressed by other means. I think there’s a solid case to be made for influencers being the new teen magazines. Perhaps I’ll explore that in another month’s post… or the updated chapter!

I don’t read magazines anymore, so in gearing up to work on the chapter, I decided to take a trip to Barnes & Noble to see what was even available these days. I was delighted to see that their magazine section was as big—and full—as it ever had been. There weren’t any teen magazines, but there was a strong “Women’s Interest” section. I grabbed a few of the titles I subscribed to in my twenties—Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan—and took them over to a table at the edge of the café to skim through.

I decided to start with the favorite of my early twenties, Seventeen’s saucy older sister Cosmopolitan. As soon as I picked it up, the strangest feeling came over me. Nostalgia, sort of, or something in that neighborhood. I was hit with the memory of how exciting it used to feel to sit down with a new magazine. But I could only step into the shadow of that feeling. There was an emotional place between those pages that I could never access again. I simultaneously longed to go there and recognized that it was probably for the best that I couldn’t.

Cosmopolitan magazine surrounded by four issues of Seventeen magazine
The Cosmo in question with her (older) younger sisters.

Pretty complicated feelings for a shiny, disposable publication that some may have only passing thoughts about when they see it in a checkout line.  But it would be hard to overstate the influence of magazines on my life, the way they are woven into my story of becoming an adult, a writer… me. The first check I ever wrote was for a subscription to Seventeen. My first experience seeing my words in print was when I served as a “V.I.T.” (Very Important Teen) Editor for Teen magazine in high school. And for many years, one of my most tried-and-true methods of relaxation was sitting down with a Diet Coke and the latest issue of Seventeen, Cosmo, or one of their brightly colored peers.

But magazines are who they are. And their problems are hard to overlook. As another step in getting prepped to edit my book chapter, I took home all the magazines I saved in my childhood bedroom (two plastic tubs full). As I skimmed through years of Seventeen, I was struck by how supernaturally poreless the featured faces were. How many Ways To Look Pretty were offered. How expensive it would be to follow through on those offers.

But what troubles me most about magazines is also what I miss the most. Magazines feel like a fresh start. And I’m a sucker for a fresh start. Some of their brand-new essence comes from the fact that they regenerate every month. I was always excited to get a new issue in the mail and take in its flashy, pristine cover, not yet crinkled by use. But for me, and probably not just me, their fresh-start feeling also came from the insidious sense that there was a prettier, more likeable, all-around better me hidden between the pages. With every cover, every how-to article, and every fashion spread, magazines build an ideal girl or woman. Each month presents a new chance to find her. To become her. In an earlier chapter of my book, I wrote about how I used to feel like “there was a better me living a prettier life elsewhere.” I don’t solely blame or attribute that mindset to magazines. But we certainly spoke the same language. We reinforced each other’s beliefs. But it cost one of us more.

I set aside an hour this weekend to sit down and read that new Cosmo. (Yes, I brought her home with me.) I tried to approximate how I would have done so in the past. I got a cold drink (iced coffee over Diet Coke this time), propped myself up in a comfy spot, and started from the cover, reading front to back, not skipping a single article. Like the old days.

At first, I was highly tuned into the critical analysis lens of my current mind. When did the clothes get so expensive? Who is the woman who buys $380 sunglasses and wants a recipe for turning leftover pizza crusts into croutons? But I read more than I planned to—finding myself drawn back in after stepping away—and the more I did, the more that voice started to fade. I didn’t fold page corners to bookmark hairstyles or makeup looks to try, like I used to. I didn’t rip out Maddie Ziegler’s pictures to hang on my closet door between glow-in-the-dark stars, as I might have circa 2005. But I have to admit, I was having fun. It was strange how comfortable it was. It was easy even though it didn’t feel the same.  

It was like how I imagine it might feel to drive down the familiar streets of a long-left-behind hometown. I may not feel like I belong anymore. I may not choose to live there (for good reason). But I was wrong to think I could never go back. I’ll always know the way. Because part of me will live forever where I left her.

It was weird and it was nice to visit. If only for one issue.

xoxo

Marie

A Few Blossoms of Light in March

Hello my spring blossoms,

Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.

For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?

So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!

An article: “I trained myself to be less busy — and it dramatically improved my life” by David Sbarra, PhD for Vox

I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?

A podcast episode: “Are Your Expectations Too High?” from The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness is hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD and co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?

A quote by Kurt Vonnegut

A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:

. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.

xoxo

Marie

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!

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

A Few Rays of Sunshine in January

Updated January 27, 2022

Hello my dear snow angels,

I was going to write something for you today. I had a bit of an epiphany recently, and I was so excited to share it. Unfortunately, that idea doesn’t seem to be done cooking, so I will have to save it for another time (perhaps next month).

While I enjoy winter, I know it’s not everyone’s favorite. If you could use a pick-me-up, here are a few things that have added color to my days as of late.

A song: “Delight” by Avenue Beat

Like many folks, I was introduced to this girl group via their anti-ode to 2020. But I’ve gone back and listened to, well, everything else they’ve released. I really enjoy their sense of humor and lyrics, and this song is a *delight* to sing along to in the car.

A podcast episode: “Auld Lang Syne: A History and Remembrance” from The Anthropocene Reviewed

New Year’s is one of my favorite days of the year, and its unofficial anthem holds a special place in my heart. This tender deep-dive into the tune is slightly somber but full of hope. Which, actually, is how I’ve always heard the song.

A quote by Frida Kahlo Rebecca Martin*

I came across the below quote, oddly enough, while shopping for a new notebook. It has rolled around in my mind since. I like the way she puts it that, even when we feel strange or flawed, we’re never alone.

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” Frida Kahlo Rebecca Martin

A movement: The Good Life by Jess Weiner

One of my favorite creators is starting a new chapter in her career, helping people develop their own Good Life. Her first (free!) workshop called “What Do I Really Want?” is available to watch through 2/2, but you can sign up for her newsletter or follow her on Instagram for more resources + updates.

What has been brightening your days as of late? I would love to hear in the comments below!

xoxo

Marie

*1/27/2022: The quote in this post was originally attributed to Frida Kahlo, which is a common misattribution. It was originally written by Rebecca Anderson and shared on the blog PostSecret in 2008. Read more about it here on BuzzFeed.

“Acting As If…”: Inspiration from Body Confidence Queen Michelle Elman

Hello, my computer cuties!

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching YouTube (as I often do), and I came across a video that really inspired me. It was by Michelle Elman, a body confidence coach who is perhaps best known for her two very popular Instagram accounts (@bodypositivememes & @scarrednotscared). She also has a YouTube channel, where she discusses everything from body positivity to therapy to dating. In this particular video, she talks about how to build up your confidence.

Self-confidence is something I’ve thought a lot about in my own life this year, and I feel like I’ve reached a personal turning point. I have built a foundation of confidence that I didn’t quite have befeore. But there was one concept she explained in the video that put to words something I’d thought about before but never been able to succinctly articulate. The idea is “acting as if,” or acting as if the things you want to be true already are. As Michelle explains, it’s a different take on the commonly-used phrase “fake it till you make it.” Watch the video below to hear her explain it more fully: 

I think the reason this idea resonated so strongly with me at this moment in time is that a lot of the pieces of my life feel like they’re in flux right now.  I’m not quite where I want to be, nor am I content staying where I’ve been. I’m on the move, so to speak, and that’s a good thing. But of course, uncertainty and putting yourself out there can be a little scary, to say the least. 

What I struggle with sometimes is not knowing right away how things are going to turn out. Patience may be a virtue, but it’s never been one of my strengths. Some things I can be more zen about than others. I have wholly accepted that writing a book is a long-distance journey, mostly uphill (but one that I can take in my PJs, so that’s cool). Plus, I keep in mind what Cheryl Strayed, my favorite author, said in a letter to her younger self: “Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.” 

The arena where I struggle with this the most is dating (perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also the topic I’ve written least about). If writing a book is a mostly straight, uphill path, then dating is a multi-level obstacle course, where you learn the rules as you go. One day you’re blushing from a text you’ll read more than once, and another you’re trying to crack the code on what when wrong. It’s a lot. I know it’s worth it, but it’s a lot.

And since dating is an area of my life that feels less in my control—not to say I don’t have a say, but relationships are dependent upon not only the other person, but a lot of things that are hard to articulate—being patient is harder. I’m ready already. It’s not even so much that I need to start the chapter of building a relationship with my life partner right now, I just need to know that it’s coming. I don’t even need to know the birthdate, I just want to know that it exists. So maybe I can chill out a little bit. 

That’s where Michelle’s words struck me. I’ve thought a lot before about how I would act if I did know.  Would I relax a little more? Embrace this chapter of my life as not limbo or purgatory, but a wholly worthy chapter of its own? Because honestly, it really isn’t a bad one at all. Sure, there are a lot of loose ends in my life that I’m attempting to string up, but all in all, I’m happy. Like today, for example. I am in my oversized Cookie Monster shirt and favorite PJ pants,and I probably won’t change unless I decide to venture out to Whole Foods (one of my favorite treat-yourself places). I am in the pink office I designed exactly for myself, and I’m chipping away at my goals. I’ve reached a point in my life where I recognize how much I enjoy my own company. I may not know exactly where the various paths of my life will lead, but I’m choosing to move boldly forward on them anyway, and that’s what matters.

So I am going to write Michelle’s advice on my heart. I am going to “act as if” the future I imagine already exists, I just haven’t arrived yet. And with that, I’m going to make more of an effort to enjoy the journey. When I was a 17-year-old who was just beginning to write and working her first job at Panera, I remember looking at my little aproned reflection in the bakery window and thinking how very few people knew all that I envisioned doing someday. I felt the excitement of what it would be like, as those dreams began to come true, to look back at that moment when everything was just beginning, and I was simply a bagel-slicing teenager with a lot of hope and confidence. I was happy in the now because I had faith in the future. As we head into 2019, I wish that sense of happiness and faith for me and for you. 

Actually, I don’t just wish it. I believe in it. 

xoxo

Marie