“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 worthychapter 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 excitment 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

Ten Years

Hello, my Internet angel babies,

My ten-year high school reunion is happening this month. In one sense, it’s kind of crazy to think about that amount of time passing. Ten years ago, the Obamas had yet to move into the White House, Taylor Swift had only released one album and was still considered a country artist (“Teardrops on My Guitar” forever!), and neither Instagram nor Snapchat existed.

In the scheme of my own life, though, it’s easy for me to accept that a decade has passed. I used to think it felt like I’ve gotten to live multiple lives in this one, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the different phases of my life have felt like distinct chapters, boookmarked by heartache and friendships, unbelievable opporutnities and challenges that at times felt impossible to overcome (they weren’t). Not to mention all the haircuts and dye jobs. So yeah, ten years sounds about right.

Notebooks
It has taken a lot of notebooks to get to this point.

But to be honest, this summer marks another ten-year anniversary that for me feels more significant. On June 4, 2008, I started my first blog and began my journey as a writer. It was one of those experiences that may have held little significance to an outsider (my blog was by no means super popular, and that’s okay!), but on the inside, it felt revolutionary. After spending so much of my tween and teen years feeling unsure or unfond of myself, I’d found my voice and a way to share it. I was ecstatic in the knowledge that I knew what I wanted my life to be for. What I felt that summer seemed to be made of the same magic of falling in love.

And man, what a wild ride it’s been. I’ve gotten to do so many cool things! I’ve interviewed amazing girls and shared their stories. I’ve provided advice in real time to tween magazine readers. I’ve published articles on subjects I’m passionate about for websites I love, and connected with some of my favorite authors along the way. In addition to all that, I’ve realized how happy writing makes me. And happiness is something I don’t take for granted anymore.

I’m so excited to be starting this next decade and chapter. My dream of publishing a book—the one I wish I had on my shelf ten or so years ago—is approaching reality. I can’t wait to share the journey with you, too. I have a feeling this next adventure is going to be one for the books.

xoxo

Marie

Some Thoughts on Worms: What I’ve Learned About Dealing with Negative Feelings

Hi, Internet friends!

A while back, I was going for a walk in my neighborhood. It must have recently rained, because I was thinking about worms. I have always had a weird fear of worms. When I was a kid, I couldn’t even handle an image of a worm touching me, let alone a real one. I really liked helping my mom in the garden on Mother’s Day, but I usually wouldn’t put the flowers in the ground myself, for fear of a worm squirming my way and touching my glove. As an adult, if a harmless spider ends up inside, I can carry it outdoors in my bare hands. But even just the thought of touching a worm is still a little overwhelming.

Umbrella
Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash

As I was on my walk that day, I was thinking about the reason we have fear from an evolutionary standpoint. If we’re in the presence of something that could hurt us, it’s important that we act quickly. If you had no fear, and you were out in nature when a large animal came by, you could find yourself in a bad scenario. Fear, like all negative emotions, can be both painful and valuable.

The thing is, though, a worm is not going to hurt me. It just isn’t. But my emotional reaction treats it as though it were a bear. Because sometimes, our feelings are just flat-out wrong.

Across my life so far, I have dealt with some mental health struggles, as well as the regular fluctuation of feelings that comes with being human. Along the way, I’ve learned that while our feelings are always informative, they aren’t always telling us the truth. For example, when I’m feeling down on myself, my first instinct is to retreat. Be alone. Give up on the big things I want to do. But actually, it’s just as valuable in those times, if not more, to be active, whether that’s by getting exercise, hanging out with friends, or working on a project. In fact, by acting contrary to my feelings in those moments, I can almost always change how I feel for the better, even if only a little.

I am by no means suggesting you should ignore your feelings. On the contrary, I think there’s a lot of value to be found in sitting with your feelings to see where the truth is in what they’re saying and how you can challenge them if necessary. For me, getting outside perspective can be invaluable.

I’m also thinking that this spring, I need to rectify my relationship with worms. It’s been long enough.

xoxo

Marie

 

“Never Leave Yourself”: Western Media and Body Image in Fiji and San Andrés, Belize

Hello, Internet darlings!

Palm Trees
Photo by Sang Huynh on Unsplash

I apologize for my digital absence in recent months. I have been devoting my writing time to putting together a book proposal (!!!) for a book I would like to write and have published someday. Along the way, I have come across some really interesting research, and I wanted to share what I found with you.

One of the topics I have been investigating is body image. Each person’s body image (how you see yourself and how you feel in and about your body) is influenced by a variety of factors, and each person’s experience with body image is unique. However, media is often cited as having a powerful—and negative—influence on an individual’s body image.

A commonly referenced study, when discussing the negative influence of media on body image, is one that occurred on the island of Fiji. In 1995, television was introduced to the island, and with it came Western television shows, like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Fijian culture had traditionally valued and encouraged hearty appetites and “robust” body shapes.  Dieting was considered to be rare. However, three years after television had been introduced, 69% of the teen girls in the study had reported dieting to lose weight at some point, and 74% reported they felt “too big or fat” at least sometimes. This was perceived to be a major change, and Western television seemed to be part of the cause. You can read more about that research here and here.

My interest in the Fiji research led to to a related study that occurred in San Andrés, Belize. Similar to Fiji, San Andrés newly had an influx of U.S.-made media at the time of the study. What’s more, female beauty was highly valued in the culture; beauty pageants played a central role in the community. However, eating disordered behavior and attitudes were relatively rare. Why was that?

The researcher believed that part of the reasons girls in San Andrés were able to take in the media without being negatively impacted by it was a concept passed down by the older generation of women that in English translates to “Never Leave Yourself.” What that means is you protect and look out for yourself; you do not “leave yourself” by doing something—or letting someone do something to you—that is not good for you. While the concept was likely originally used in regards to unwanted sexual contact, the younger generation of girls had broadened it to include general self-care and protection. The researcher explained that in regards to food and body, “Not leaving—and further caring for—the self required eating when hungry, stopping when full, sleeping when tired, and not over-exerting oneself in exercise . . . These criteria for protecting and caring for the self were notably monitored by internal experience, not external measurements.” Meaning, the girls generally listened to their own bodies regarding what they needed, as opposed to being guided outside sources, such as diet advice or media imagery. In fact, since most girls were so in touch with their bodies’ needs, they tended to find the concept of eating disorders “almost incomprehensible.” You can read more about this research, including direct quotes from the girls, here.

This is not to say that the girls of San Andrés were without any challenges, including in the arena of body image. Unfortunately, at the time of the study there was a developing expectation of thinness among employees in the tourism industry, and its possible that such a standard could have an increasingly negative impact on girls’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their bodies as the industry grows. However, it appears that their guiding philosophy, of never leaving yourself, had generally protected them from the potential negative impact of Western media.

it’s so, so valuable to learn about other cultures, including how people in those cultures handle issues we all deal with. I think we sometimes take for granted that media is going to have a negative impact on the way we feel about our bodies until drastic changes in what is presented to us are made (if they are made). But these girls have shown that there is another possibility, for which I am incredibly grateful.

xoxo

Marie