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

Hannah Montana was Right: Learning to Challenge My Perfectionist Thoughts

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – Brené Brown

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

Hello my digital angels,

I came across the above quote while working on my book. (Mark my words, it will be done before my next birthday!) I decided to add a preface, and I was reading through the first pages of books I admire for inspiration. On page 2 of Daring Greatly, that line jumped out at me. Like something I needed to hear. And that surprised me.

You see, I think of myself as a recovered perfectionist; I wrote about it for Gurl.com (see below!). My sophomore year of high school was the peak of my perfectionism. I took AP classes for the first time and was diligent with my homework. (I remember reading my World History textbook on Friday evenings.) I was active outside of classes, participating in cheerleading, theatre, Key Club, and concert band.

Gurl.com no longer exists on the web, but it does in my heart (and this screenshot). ❤️

And I monitored every bite of food I ate, in search of the “perfect” body.

By junior year, I learned to be more realistic about my schoolwork. On the first day of AP U.S. History, when the syllabus was passed out, I realized I couldn’t complete the work to my satisfaction and stay sane. So I switched to the regular version of the class. By the end of the year, I acknowledged that being a cheerleader was more about what I wanted to be (popular) than what made me happy, and I quit. As for eating, it took me a number of years of ups and downs to unlearn the desire to control my body, but I did it. One night recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter at 10 PM eating cold Chinese food. I stopped and marveled at the fact that I can do that. Silly as it sounds, back then I never would have dreamed it. I listen to my body and enjoy food without constraints, and that’s a miracle to me.

I worked my way out of all those modes of perfectionism. I know, and not just because Hannah Montana told me, that nobody’s perfect. So why did that quote hit me?

Then I realized, even though consciously I know I am not expected to be perfect, I sometimes react in a way that suggests the opposite.

One of my greatest fears—and anxiety triggers—is hurting others. This year, my mind has been a little harder to manage than usual, for understandable reasons. Lately, when I feel I’ve made a mistake (or remember one from months past), I go into a downward spiral. I think, over and over again, about what I did wrong and how it could have negatively impacted someone else. Anxiety takes over my body, and I can’t slow down my thoughts or heart rate until I talk to someone else or “fix” the perceived problem.

Of course, it’s normal to feel a sting when you think about how you could have done something better. I care so much about doing things well, and I don’t expect that to change. But when I go into full-on meltdown mode over things that do not warrant that, what I’m telling myself is that it’s not okay to ever make a less-than-100%-perfect decision. And that’s not okay.

Recognizing this problematic pattern of thinking has already been liberating. Not that I’ve “fixed” it—you can’t be perfect at not being perfect—but I realize the path I’ve been walking, perhaps longer than I realized, is not one I want to continue down. I want to be kinder to myself. I want to give myself the love and grace I think everyone deserves in moments of struggle. I want to live a life of self-compassion.

I have so many more thoughts, and a few resources, to share with you, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. What I ask of you is this: if you find yourself being your own worst critic, stop and examine the standards to which you’re holding yourself. And if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Your compassion belongs to you, too.

xoxo

Marie

“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

5 Empowering YouTubers to Follow

Hello Internet angels,

I spend a lot of time on YouTube. Like, a lot. Anytime I’m at home and doing something I find mildly boring—brushing my teeth, putting away dishes—I’m probably also watching people do stuff on the Internet. Putting on their makeup, testing out weird products, sharing their experiences with mental health or travel or just life in general. I’m not sure why I’m so into it, but I’m into it.

I’m working on an article regarding a famous family I’ve spent many hours watching (you can probably guess who I’m talking about!) and what it means to be a conscious consumer. I learned about that concept when I was in college and involved in the Eating Disorders Education & Prevention group on campus.

At the time, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) encouraged people to be “media watchdogs”—to be mindful about the media they consume and how it impacts them. Being a watchdog also means using your voice (and buying power) accordingly. We are presented with so many options about how we spend our entertainment hours (and dollars). It makes sense to stick with things that lift us up. All of us.

These YouTubers make me feel good, because they do their part to share stories and perspectives that aren’t always represented in traditional media. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think it’s a good start.

Molly Burke

Molly is bubbly and charming and lives a life filled with adventures, sparkle, and a very sweet dog. She also happens to be blind. In addition to sharing typical lifestyle content on her channel—including fashion, hair makeovers, and  travel—she talks very openly about her experience with blindness. She challenges misconceptions, answers common questions, and tells her story. I think hearing the stories of others is a great way to build empathy, and I’m so grateful Molly is willing to share hers.

Jackie Aina

Jackie is so funny. She’s so funny! Not to mention her skills with a blending brush. But I especially admire that she is willing to use her platform to talk about the lack of diversity in makeup lines and the beauty community, and to challenge brands to do better. I’ll admit that untill too recently, I took for granted that as someone who enjoys makeup, I can walk into any Ulta or Sephora and find a ton of products that match my skin tone. Far too many people don’t have that experience. Of course, it’s not just about being able to buy a concealer; it’s about seeing your beauty reflected in the world around you. Jackie is doing her part to move our culture in the right direction.

Jessie Paege

The first thing I noticed about Jessie Paege is her really lovely, kind, gentle energy. I would love to meet her in person. While she does a lot of light-hearted, colorful, fun videos, I was drawn to her channel because of her videos about her experiences coming out as bisexual and dealing with social anxiety. Being as young as she is (at this time, she’s 19), she has a unique opportunity to connect with young people who are going through similar experiences as they grow up. I’m so glad she’s using it.

Niki DeMartino

Niki is one-half of the famous twin YouTube and music duo Niki and Gabi. They create a variety of fun videos for their joint channel, but I’ve been especially inspired by a series that Niki produces for her solo channel, called “The Truth About.” In each episode, she interviews a female YouTuber about a notable experience or challenge they’ve faced, from being in a public relationship to losing a parent. The conversations they have are incredibly candid, to the point where it feels like being let in on an intimate conversation between friends.

Nabela Noor

While working on this list, I realized I wanted to include a YouTuber who creates a significant amount of content on body image. I was going to feature Bodyposipanda, but I have already shared my love for her on a variety of platforms, so I decided to keep searching. In one article, I came across Nabela Noor. On her channel, she does makeup tutorials and plus-size fashion hauls, in addition to discussing body image and her culture (she’s a Muslim Bangladeshi-American woman). She recently released a series called “The Bright Fight” about beauty standards and self-confidence that I really enjoyed.

Who else should be added to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Xoxo

Marie

Writing for BuzzFeed: “5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey”

Hello, my digital cuties!

I wanted to share my most recent publication with you. I wrote an article for BuzzFeed entitled “5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey.” It’s mostly exactly what it sounds like! But it’s also about why books are so important to me, and how they helped me find my way in life at a very critical juncture. 5 Body Image BooksWriting this article was a test in perseverance. I actually started working on it months ago. Granted, I got a little bit distracted by life for a while. I don’t like that I do that, but sometimes I do. When I came back to working on it, I found myself struggling to move forward. I liked the introduction I had originally written—that stayed mostly intact for the final version—but I got stuck on the descriptions of the books. I found myself delaying writing them, and then when I did write a couple of them, I didn’t feel anymore confident about where the piece was headed.

But I kept showing up, and I finally realized what wasn’t working for me: the book blurbs I had written were kind of boring. I felt so passionate about the books I chose and the authors who wrote them, but that was not coming across on the page. I had written the book descriptions the way I thought I “should”—in second person,  focusing solely on the subject matter of the book. Basically, my own miniaturized version of Amazon summaries. It hadn’t occured to me to do them differently. In part, I was just going off the many other book lists I’ve read. I also wanted to let the books stand on their own, and for readers to get a clear sense of what they’re about, so they could decide if they wanted to read them.

But realizing what wasn’t working for me opened up room for new idea. Since my introduction was so personal, more than usual when I write an article like this—it actually made all the sense in the world to be more personal in the descriptions as well, and share how each book impacted me in the moment they came into my life. Once I figured that out, I suddenly had all this momentum. I was able to finish up the article pretty quickly, and I was proud of how it turned out.

Which is all to say that this experience is a good reminder of what I have learned to be true over the course of my writing career: you just have to keep showing up. When you’re working towards a goal, sometimes progress feels slow, or the solution to a problem might not be immediately apparent. But if you meet that resistance with persistence, you will get where you’re trying to go. I wholeheartedly believe that.

If you’re looking for a new read or interested in becoming more educated on body image and related issues, check out the article. And if you’re moving, climbing, (sometimes) trudging towards a goal, just know that I’m right there with you.

xoxo

Marie

Soft Bellies & Hashtags: The Good Side of Social Media

Hello, Internet darlings!

Social media can sometimes be a dark, negative place. Obvious, stated. As easy as it is to scroll down into an Instagram or Twitter hole and not come up for hours, I think we all know that may not always be the best thing for ourselves or our time. Research on the impact of social media on our mental well-being is a growing field, but there’s still so much to be explored as the digital landscape grows and morphs.

But as you can very well tell from the title, I’m not here to get into the negatives. One of the most exciting things about social media, from my perspective, is that creators and activists can share their work without having to depend entirely upon traditional media sources. In particular, I’ve been interested in and excited by the images you can find on social media, which help fill in the diversity gap that still exists in more traditional outlets. Don’t get me wrong—traditional media sources, from advertisements to magazines to television shows, are making improvements. Fenty Beauty made headlines at its launch last year not only because of its celebrity creator, but because it celebrated diversity at every step, from its product range to the accompanying campaign images. But for every big step forward, we still have a loooong way to go. Thankfully, activists and creators are stepping up to the plate via social media. Let me introduce you to a couple of them.

Browsing Megan Jayne Crabbe’s Instagram account, @bodyposipanda, was my first foray into body positivity on social media. Growing up, Megan struggled with an eating disorder. Discovering the body positive community transformed her life, and she started her account to share what she’d learned. She uses her account to not only share quotes, illustrations, and reflections, but to make space for beautiful, loving photos of herself and other women. They are photos that may not find a place (yet!) in traditional media, but that deserve to be seen. (P.S. If after browsing Megan’s account you haven’t got enough, consider reading her fantastic book. I recommend it times one million.)

Another wonderful woman you should know is writer Keah Brown. Just over a year ago, Keah shared a few photos of herself on Twitter (see below!) with the tag #disabledandcute. As she told Teen Vogue, “I started it as a way to say I was proud of the growth that I made in learning to like myself and my body.” The hashtag took off, and other individuals with disabilities shared their own selfies and photos. People with disabilities are given hardly any space in entertainment and other media, and as Keah further explained, when they are, they are often turned into caricatures. With every selfie, #disabledandcute challenges those portrayals. (P.P.S. Keah has an upcoming book entitled The Pretty One, and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves).

At the end of the digital day, social media is what we make of it. If something makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow! But if you, like me, crave images that display diversity in beauty, they are out there. And they deserve a place in your feed.

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