Why I’ve (Mostly) Stopped Wearing Foundation

Hello, dear internet friends,

Last month, I reflected on how powerful our actions can be in shifting our moods, and how I’ve come to think the same approach can be applied to any negative self-beliefs we may hold. For me, that has meant challenging my (too high) standards of productivity by choosing rest. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how a similar strategy could be used to improve one’s body image or relationship to their appearance.

I would like to devote more space on this site to body image, because I understand how impactful it can be on someone’s day-to-day life when they’re deep in struggle with it. I wouldn’t be a writer without having been there myself! But when I’m selecting my monthly topic, body image doesn’t often jump to mind, in part because it’s not as personally pressing for me as it used to be. That’s not to say I’m perfectly “healed” or never have negative thoughts or feelings about my appearance, but they don’t swallow me whole like they used to. I prioritize existing in my body and taking care of it, instead of judging or “fixing” how it looks on the outside.

Over many years, I have totally transformed my life in that regard. But how did I do it? By changing my behavior. By making new choices, over and over again, until they became habits—ways of life that positively impact me on a daily basis, with little conscious effort on my part.

A few years ago, I made a decision that was relatively small in the scheme of body-image-related changes I’ve made, but ultimately very impactful. I decided to stop wearing foundation on a regular basis. Well, not just foundation—makeup in general. Oddly enough, this decision came not long after having decided to become the type of person with a “daily makeup routine.” I had assembled a little cosmetics kit with all the “must-haves” I’d learned about from beauty YouTubers: foundation, of course, but also primer, blush, highlighter, mascara… the works. And I planned to layer it all on my face. Every single day. Even when I was just going to work with the same small group of people I saw every weekday, who had all seen me without makeup an uncountable number of times.

But why? I couldn’t tell you. When I look back at middle and high school, my motivations for changing my appearance are very obvious. I thought being capital-P Popular would make me happy, and I believed I needed to look a certain way to be Popular. But I didn’t have any similar motivations when I set out to put on a full face of makeup every day. I got on well with my coworkers. I was in a relatively new relationship, but I already knew that I did not have to look or be any particular way to impress my boyfriend. I was in the midst of a transition—stepping into a new role at work and reorienting my life around my writing goals—and I think the unsettling, unsatisfying truth is that beauty culture had so ingrained itself in my brain that I believed that new chapter in my life would be even better if I went through it with a painted face.

Of course, I was wrong. I quickly realized that all I got from regularly wearing makeup was a growing dissatisfaction with how my face looked without it. So I stopped. I knew I had to.

Now, when I say this happened a few years ago, I’m talking about pre-pandemic 2020. My decision to stop wearing makeup quickly became the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t spend much time evaluating my choice or what I hoped to get from it, other than feeling less bad about my actual face. Had I looked deeper and been honest with myself, I would have seen that the impulse to see beauty (in its culturally sanctioned, narrowly defined form) in the mirror was still there. A quick look into my Ulta account confirms this; in September 2020, I purchased a rather comprehensive (and expensive) skincare routine. Who needs makeup when you have *flawless* skin, am I right?

No, that’s not right. But the fact that I can both recognize that beauty-culture logic in my own thinking and choose to act differently shows how far I’ve come in the last three years. I don’t have it all figured out. I still hear some self-criticism over my not-so-“perfect” skin when I look in the mirror. But I am also choosing every day to act from a place of self-acceptance—mostly not covering my skin, and not spending excessive time and money trying to “fix” what isn’t broken. Taking this moment to sit back and let that sink in… I am really proud of myself for that.

I said I’ve “mostly” stopped using foundation, because I got my makeup professionally done for a major event last year and will do so once again this year. I haven’t decided if those choices are contradictory to my beliefs or not that big a deal (probably both). And I haven’t rejected all kinds of makeup. After writing this piece last year about the Jackson Pollock manicure, I bought myself some just-for-fun makeup. Eyeliner with these very fun stamps in the shapes of butterflies, hearts, and smiley faces, as well a variety of glittery products. I’m still experimenting with them and how they make me feel. By no means do I think we need to fully reject the fact that we have physical forms that we can present to world however we choose. But it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of making choices that don’t really serve us, that are based in a value system we wouldn’t subscribe to if we felt empowered enough to challenge it.

I understand that in the face of a multibillion-dollar industry, my decisions about makeup may seem tiny, but I also believe that we often underestimate our sphere of influence. You never know who in your orbit may be inspired or even subconsciously influenced by the actions you take. I hope that you can find the power to explore what choices are best for you, but I also want you to take to heart the potential your choices have for being a ripple of good in this world.

It can be hard to go against the grain. I find it easier to do when I realize I’m not just doing it for me, but for all of us.

xoxo

Marie

One Small Step

Hello, dear internet friends,

It’s a gray, rainy day as I write this. The kind of day that makes you want to curl up with a blanket on the couch and zone out with a book or TV show. Admittedly, I’m feeling extra-inclined to succumb to the sofa because that’s where I’ve been all week. I’ve been feeling under the weather, and for me, the hardest part of being sick is usually not the day (or days) I feel the worst—when it very much makes sense to snuggle up and do nothing—it’s the transitional period at the end. When I’m feeling better enough that I know it’s time to resume some of my normal activities, but I still haven’t recovered my usual level of energy. There’s an inertia to being sick that I find very hard to break. But the only way to do it… is to do it. Get dressed, have some coffee, and—to whatever degree is reasonable, given the circumstances—start acting like I’m feeling better. That’s what I’m doing right now, and I have to admit, while I’m not feeling 100% recovered yet, I’m feeling better than I would have predicted when I woke up this morning.

A couple months ago, I wrote about my “ghost” self, or the so-called “perfect” version of me that I have often measured myself against in my mind. Ever since then, I have been thinking about how we can reduce the shadow such comparisons cast over our lives, and two words have kept repeating in my mind: “behavioral activation.” To note, behavioral activation is a psychology concept—specifically, a treatment approach that can be utilized in therapy; you can learn more about it here—and I am not a therapist. But what it means to me is that the actions we choose can have a profoundly positive impact on our mood. Emotions can be incredibly sticky; patterns of thought, even more so. It can also feel really hard to choose a behavior that seems contrary to our current mood state. But doing so can often have an outsized positive impact, at least in my experience. No matter how down I’m feeling, mo matter how swamped in a negative thought cycle I am, if I have plans to hang out with friends or family, I never cancel. I don’t like to break commitments I’ve made, but I also know that spending time with those I care about always makes me feel better. I don’t even need to bring up what’s on my mind. In fact, I think it’s generally better that I don’t, unless of course the explicit purpose of getting together was seeking support. Getting out of my head and focused on those around me is enough to lift my spirits. It may not solve the underlying problem—if one even exists—but it certainly puts me in a better mindset for dealing with it later.

So, a little positive action can help transform a bad mood. It can help with getting through those lingering last days of sickness. Could it even help with defeating our ghosts, with overcoming the voices that tell us we’re not good enough? Because you can’t easily think your way out of those challenges, at least in my experience. I logically understand how unhelpful and, more importantly, unkind it is to compare myself to some idealized version of me. I know that I haven’t gained anything from the comparison. In fact, I think there have been many times I was so stuck on being just like her, I lost the opportunity to come up with real, creative solutions for overcoming challenges and achieving my goals. I was too fixated on following the “perfect” path she laid out. I know all of that, but still, she’s hard to get rid of. She does a very good impression of me, and sometimes, I mistake her thoughts for my own.

The last couple months have given me an interesting opportunity to contend with my ghost self in new ways. At this point in my life, she’s mostly eased up about how I look, but she’s wildly more productive than me. And in the last couple months, I haven’t been able to be as productive—certainly not as much as her, but not even as much as I typically would be. I need to work slower. Do less. Take breaks. And what that’s made me realize is that not only do I not need to “earn” breaks or a slower pace, I don’t even need to fully convince myself that I deserve those things. I just need to give them to myself. I just need to take the action that I know is right for me, in the actual life I am really living. And I truly believe that if I can keep doing that, keep making the choices that are best for me even if they don’t look “perfect,” over time my ghost self will dissipate. She’s already looking a bit fainter to me.

It’s great when we can change our minds from the inside out. But sometimes, it’s a whole lot easier to act first and let our beliefs follow.

If any sort of negative self-belief has been haunting you lately, I hope you can think of one small step, one tiny action you can take this next month that would contradict it. Little by little, we can make big changes that way.

xoxo

Marie

The Ghost of Me

Ghosts don’t have to be so scary.

Hello, dear internet friends,

February has been a good movie-watching month for me. Especially for coming-of-age movies. After last month’s blog, I had To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on my mind, and I finally watched the whole trilogy. (Still a big fan of Lara Jean, though my feelings about the central relationship shifted as the series went on.) I also watched The Fabelmans, a fictionalized drama based on acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s real-life experiences. The film portrays his counterpart, Sammy Fabelman, growing up and falling in love with filmmaking, with the bulk of the (quite long!) movie set during his teen years.

I loved it. Even if you’re not a Spielberg aficionado, the characters are more than compelling enough to draw you in. One scene in particular has stuck with me since I finished the movie. (If you don’t want any spoilers, please feel free to come back to this post after you’ve watched it!) In Sammy’s last year of high school, he agrees to film Ditch Day. His film is shown to the senior class at prom. Up to this point, two boys in school, Chad and Logan, have bullied Sammy. Chad is maybe the worse bully, or at least more impulsively antagonistic, but Logan at best is a laughing bystander and at worst gives Sammy a bloody nose and bruises. Still, throughout the Ditch Day movie, Sammy makes Logan look good. Really good. Logan leaps to spike the volleyball in slow motion. Breaks through the foot-race banner to a triumphant soundtrack. He looks like a movie star. A golden god.

As you watch Logan watch himself in the film, you can see how deeply unsettled he is by the experience.

But why?

Shortly after the screening, Logan angrily confronts Sammy in the school hallway. As the conversation unfolds, the truth is revealed: what Logan saw in the film was the perfect version of himself that he can never be. He says to Sammy, “You took that guy, whoever he is, wherever you got him from, and you put him up there on that screen and told everyone… everyone that that’s me. And that’s not me.”

He breaks down into tears.

It was such a potent scene to witness, all the more surprising and complex because, again, Logan was a bully. Hard to empathize with, let alone like. His emotional vulnerability in that moment did not change how I viewed his previous behavior, but I was caught off guard by his reaction—and how much I related to the heart of it.

Since last month, I’ve continued to reflect on how we can build positive relationships with ourselves, as well as cross any barriers we may face in doing so. For me, one of those hurdles is another relationship. The one I have with the Other Me, or as I’ve lately come to call her, Ghost Marie. Like Logan’s movie star self, she is an apparition of perfection. She haunts me by standing tall in all the places I think I fall short. She first materialized sometime around sixth grade, when I started to find female friendships confusing and difficult to maintain. When I thought I needed to change to be liked. Back then, she was mostly silent and visual. Lightness and thinness, the chill in the air much cooler than me. A phantom ideal of beauty, with straight hair and a stomach that lied flat. But like any good ghost, she can shapeshift. Be and do anything beyond my (very human) limits. Disappear for long stretches of time and return when I need her least. She’s untouchable in every possible way. And only ever visible to me. I look back now and think how often I’ve reacted to someone no one else can see, like the haunted one in a movie, seemingly losing it as they appear to converse with a pocket of air.

I’ve tried to emulate her. Tried to trap her fantasy in the fibers of my reality. In a so-called “perfect” body, an optimized schedule, gold-star accomplishments. It’s never worked. The more I fixate on her, the more she glows and grows in my estimation. Anything I do dims in comparison.

So, what should I do with her?

As I was pondering this, I started thinking about movies and what a character might do if they believe they’ve encountered a ghost. A good starting place, when a possible spectral presence glimmers from the corner of a dark room, is to simply turn on the lights.

Turn on the lights. Highlight what’s real and dissipate what isn’t. For me, that is the solution. The more engaged I am in life as it really is, the less I get pulled away by shadows of self-doubt. When I devote time to doing something that is valuable to me—writing, spending time with friends, even just doing chores and listening to a podcast—Ghost Marie often fades away. I believe that engaging in meaningful activities can help us stay grounded in the present and also provide counteracting evidence to any negative self-beliefs we may hold. Projects seem overwhelming until they’ve been broken down into manageable pieces. Friends and family serve as a validating mirror, a reflection of love for who we truly are.

I don’t think I ever actually cared about being perfect. Not for its own sake, anyway. I only wanted to enjoy my life, and for some reason I thought perfection was the permission slip required to do so. Now I see that was just another figment of my imagination, a warped use of my creativity.

Which I can bend in any direction I want. I just mentally made myself a million permission slips. They’re pink and covered in glitter. Scattered across the floor of my life, from here through forever.

xoxo

Marie

Valentine’s Day With You

Hello, dear internet friends,

Valentine’s Day is just over two weeks away. Stating the obvious, I suppose; you can hardly go shopping anywhere—online or IRL—without being bombarded by red, pink, and heart-shaped everything. “Bombarded” is a word with a negative flavor, but maybe that’s how you experience the lovey-dovey overload all around us. I’ve certainly been there. As much as I love Valentine’s Day, sometimes this holiday can taste like a chocolate-covered reminder of what you’re missing out on.  

It starts out so simple. When you’re a kid, Valentine’s Day can be like a mini-Halloween, minus the costumes. My elementary school did a classroom party every year.  Everyone brought equal amounts of love (er, candy) for everyone else in the class. I’m sure some people picked out their closest friends’ cards with extra care, giving them their favorite Disney Princess or Nickelodeon character from the pack. But at the end of the day, everyone went home with a full construction-paper-covered shoebox of treats.

Life was good.

Somewhere along the way, though, Valentine’s Day can start to look like a holiday for highlighting the haves over the have-nots. Maybe even before you’re ready to have a real Valentine yourself. For me, that shift happened in middle school. The classroom parties disappeared. Instead, our school had a carnation sale. The way I remember it, if one (or more) of your classmates bought you a flower, you were given a paper slip to go pick it up at the end of the day.

I don’t have strong feelings about carnations. They’re fine. Not my favorite. But oh, how I wanted one that afternoon, watching those fluffy little flower heads bob down the hallway as I walked out of school empty-handed.

I don’t know if I was expecting flowers from anyone. Maybe I sent some to my friends, hoping to do an exchange, but didn’t talk to them in advance about it. Certainly, I secretly wished a crush would send me one, but the hurt I felt wasn’t about that. Feeling left out stings. Understandably so. Still, the disappointment wouldn’t have cut so deep if I hadn’t placed my self-worth outside of myself, where it could be battered by the flimsiest of flower petals.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week—self-worth, and how the relationships we have with ourselves affect the tenor of every experience we have. I used to think “relationship” was a funny word to use in relation to our own selves. I mean, relationship implies two people, and as far as I know, none of us have clones. But the more I’ve thought about it, it’s actually a great term to use. Sometimes, the way we approach ourselves—through self-talk, for example—is so automatic we don’t stop to question it. I think we could learn a lot by creating a little space to observe how we treat ourselves.

I also think considering our self-care as a relationship is great because a lot of the things that work in relationships can also help us feel better ourselves. Miley recently reminded us all we can buy our own “Flowers” and also learn to enjoy our own company, which I think might be the best possible place to start. So many of our friendships begin with the simple foundation of liking to spend time with someone, right?

I recently read through some of my journal entries from high school. One rough day when I was 16, I wrote: “My life is just so lame sometimes. It’s a Saturday Night and I’m in my bed at 9:20 watching That’s So Raven.” My first thought when I read that was, that actually sounds pretty great. I don’t mean to diminish how I felt. Feeling lonely and without a place to belong was miserable. But what I see now that I didn’t then is that, at the very least, I would love to hang out with that girl. That me. I’d love to spend a Valentine’s Day with her, watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and picking the vanilla cremes out of the shiny red heart-shaped box. I’ve had plenty of great Valentine’s, but that would be pretty exceptional.

I’m looking forward to exploring this all more with you this year. I think the relationships we have with ourselves are so much richer and more complex than we give them credit for being. They deserve to be held amongst the great love stories of our lives.

I hope you can find a moment to enjoy your own company this Valentine’s Day. Because there’s one person you’ll always get to spend the holiday with: you. How lucky are you?

The luckiest. I can see that. I hope you can, too.

xoxo

Marie

Powering Your New Year’s Goals with Purpose

Hello, dear internet friends,

The last few days of the year have arrived. For me, parts of this month felt like a sprint—lots of activity squeezed into a small frame—but this week has moved like a saunter. I thought of a tweet I came across last year about the unique break that the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be. When I looked for it, I found countless posts—mostly jokes—about the last seven days of the year. The general themes were that time feels weird (What day is it again?) and no one wants to do anything but sink into the sofa. I agree that the days pass differently as we near the end of the calendar (and many people are on break from school or work), but I see this week as a more meaningful pause. The space between an inhale and exhale, a bridge between what’s been and what’s to come. I’ve been listening to my Spotify Wrapped—following the musical map of my emotions and memories from this year—and I plan to make a vision board for 2023 on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. They’ve become an easy punchline, spurring oft-repeated jokes about gym memberships being purchased on January 1st and abandoned before the first month (or week) of the year ends. I unabashedly love the spirit of New Year’s. I think it’s incredibly lovely to build a picture—literally or figuratively—of what you hope to do, feel, or experience in the future. That’s why I’ve gotten into vision boards. I never ended up finishing mine last year, but in a way, even its blank space has become meaningful. So much happened this year that I never could have accounted for.

My board for next year will include some very big goals. Over the last couple months, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the purpose behind them and how I will define my success in meeting them. Along the way, I’ve come to recognize how easy it is to subscribe to definitions of success that depend upon the approval of others or outcomes you can’t fully control.

As an example, let’s say you set the goal of getting the lead in your school’s musical. You practice your heart out, memorize your lines, and quell your nerves enough to power through the audition… but you don’t get the part. You might feel like your best wasn’t good enough, but that’s not necessarily a fair interpretation. Perhaps the director has a very specific vision for that character, and someone else’s performance happens to match it better. No right or wrong. Just different.

Still, if all your hopes were tied to that one specific opportunity, you may find yourself deflated. But what if you kept your focus on the purpose driving your goal? You have a passion for performing. If one opportunity doesn’t work out, you can find—or create—many others. You can take vocal lessons or acting classes, join a community theater or choir, or craft material to perform on a stage of your own making. 

Purpose is the engine that keeps us moving, allowing us to adapt course in the face of rejection as well as personal setbacks. Let’s step into the tennis shoes of the person who buys that gym membership on January 1st. Their resolution is to go to the gym five days a week. In the first two weeks, they only go once. They feel the air coming out of their tires. They tell themselves they’re lazy and unmotivated. Not even a month in, and they’ve already failed.

Going to the gym is their stated goal, but they have an underlying motivation. They want to be more active to boost their mood and energy. If working out at the gym isn’t a sustainable practice, that’s okay. There are plenty of other options for physical activity! Through the lens of purpose, a lack of success in getting to the gym isn’t actually a failure. It provides an important piece of information, ruling out what doesn’t work so they can find what does.

Recognizing the purpose behind what you pursue is also valuable because it illuminates the path where you’ll spend most of your time. The destinations—moments of big success—are awesome and deserve to be celebrated, but you likely won’t reach them every single day. Much of life happens on the road, chip-chip-chipping away at your goals. What matters is finding joy and meaning in the in-betweens. The long practices and late-night rehearsals. The hazy days between holidays. They’re the stepping stones between Here and Where You Want to Go, and they tell a story all their own. You don’t want to miss it.

I hope your year to come is full of joy and purpose. Thank you for being here to help me create my own.

xoxo

Marie

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

The Stories That Make Our Lives

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease’s website (original quote source material unknown)

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

I hope your summer is in full swing in the best way. And if you happen to be tuning in from the southern hemisphere, I’m sending you winter well-wishes!

In March, I wrote about challenging my expectations for myself (and life itself), “practicing my flexibility muscle, [and] balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented.” In May, I reflected on the resistance I feel in the face of unexpected challenges and how “I have learned—am still learning—that instead of resisting, I need to embrace what is so I can decide what I want to do about it.” This month’s post feels like a natural progression from those two. Some chapters of life are apt for learning certain lessons or exploring particular themes—if we’re open to reading them that way.

This month, I’ve been reflecting on how crucial storytelling is to the way we experience the world and understand our lives. Our personal memories are often stored in narrative form. Our friendships are built on shared experiences, from the humorous tales we recount with glee to episodes of support in hard times, which stay written on our hearts even if we never speak them aloud. And when we go through something unexpected, we try to make sense of it through story.

Expectations can exist in our minds as stories. Scripts—or at the very least, loose outlines—for how we anticipate certain events or facets of our lives will go. I often don’t realize how attached I was to an imagined version of the future until life goes off-plot.

That upending of expectations can feel like loss. Loss of what we hoped for. Loss of control. We are the authors of our own stories, but we’re not the authors of the world (or other people). Story collision is bound to happen. Sometimes in a spectacularly serendipitous way. Sometimes in a painful one.

When that happens, where does it leave us? With a new story. Already lived through, but not yet shaped for memory. It may feel hard to hold at first. But once it’s in your hands, it’s yours. Yours to craft as only you can. What may have felt in the moment like a story of disappointment or self-doubt can become one of resilience and growth. Of love and connection. Or maybe you’ll write a story bighearted enough to hold all of it. Every shade of the experience coming together to form a mosaic. One that looks a lot like life as it really is. As Kathryn Schulz writes in her beautiful memoir Lost & Found, “We can’t get away from this constant amalgamation of feeling, can’t strain out the ostensible impurities in pursuit of some imaginary essence, and we shouldn’t want to if we could. The world in all its complexity calls on us to respond in kind, so that to be conflicted is not to be adulterated; it is to be complete.”

From one storyteller to another, I am simply encouraging you—as I’m encouraging myself—to be mindful of the narratives you “write” about your experiences, even if they never leave your own mind. Expand your story’s frame to capture the bigger picture. Treat each “character” with compassion (including yourself). Highlight the scenes of connection, meaningful details, and lessons learned that you want to carry with you.

Because one by one, your stories make your life. And you deserve one that’s been written with care.

xoxo

Marie