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

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

Hello internet friends,

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

Marie

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

In the Media—Refinery29’s 67% Project

Hello lovelies,

I came across something awesome happening in Girl World this week, and I wanted to share it here in case you hadn’t heard about it yet. Refinery29—an awesome women’s website that features everything from cultural commentary to nail-art ideas—started an initiative called “The 67% Project.” The idea behind it is this: 67% of women in the U.S. identify as “plus-size,” wearing a size 14 or up in clothing. However, those same women are only represented in 1-2% of images in the media. Here’s how Refinery29 is addressing this problem through the initiative, in their own words:

“During the launch week, 67% of the bodies you see on our site, in our newsletter, and on our Instagram and Snapchat channels will be plus-size. To do this, we’ve made significant changes within Refinery29 to fully represent the 67% this week, and beyond. For the last six months, we’ve been shooting stock photography and redesigning illustrations to more accurately reflect the women who make up the majority of our country. And we’re partnering with Getty Images to make this collection available to other outlets that wish to join us in closing the representation gap.”

Refinery29.png

A sample from Refinery29’s homepage today, 10/2/16.

Browsing the site this week, I realized that every time I saw a photo of a plus-size woman, I immediately assumed that the article was about either plus-size fashion or body positivity, because often, that’s the only time plus-size women appear in women’s publications or media. However, that wasn’t the case on Refinery29 this week; images of plus-size women appeared alongside a variety of articles, from “3 Health Benefits Of Being Nice” (pictured above)to “31 Days Of Halloween Beauty Inspiration.” Refinery29 is treating these women not as a niche but as the norm—because that’s what they are.

Though the launch week of The 67% Project ends today, I’m excited to see where Refinery29 goes from here. Beauty in the real world is incredibly diverse, and having media that reflects that diversity is good for all of us. I am thankful that Refinery29 has taken this big step in the right direction.

Read more about The 67% Project here.

xoxo

Marie

GP Reads—Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Hello, dear internet friends!

One thing I would love to do in my lifetime is write (and then publish) a book. This certainly isn’t a new dream for me; in fact, I spent a good chunk of the summer before I turned 19 putting together a book proposal. That particular project was never fully realized, but I still consider the time well-spent.

Fast-forward to today. I’m at a place now where I’m taking steps to make that dream a reality. Or perhaps I’m taking steps in preparation for taking steps to make that dream a reality. Either way, I decided a comfortable starting place would be to see what related YA/teen nonfiction books had come out since I last looked, as that’s the genre I imagine my future book project would fall under. After I gathered a list, I decided to start working my way through the titles. And then I realized I’d like to share my finds with you, in case you’d find them of interest. So today, I’m sharing with you my first pick, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen.

popular-cropped
Please excuse the barcode covering Maya’s name… Shout out to Lincoln City Libraries for lending this to me!

Popular is the true story of Maya’s eighth grade year, but the inspiration behind it came from a book written—and purchased—long before Maya was even born. That book is Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell and published in 1951. Years later, Maya’s dad purchased the interesting, now-vintage book at a thrift store. Years after that, the book made its way out of storage and into the hands of Maya—and so this journey begins.

At first, Maya simply finds the book “quirky,” but then her mom gives a suggestion: Maya could follow the book’s advice on how to become popular throughout her eighth grade year and write about what happens. Like many a middle schooler given advice by their mother, Maya initially rejects this idea. But Maya, by her account, has never had the experience of being popular; in her ranking of her school’s “popularity scale,” she places herself at “the lowest level of people at school who weren’t paid to be here.” She decides to give the experiment ago.

And go all in she does. Each month, Maya tests out a different category of Betty’s advice. She tries everything from wearing Vaseline on her eyelids to sitting at each table in the cafeteria. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Maya gets mixed results and reactions along the way, but by the end, Maya is transformed—and I’d definitely say that the ending is a happy one.

Maya’s story was very relatable to me. In middle school (and high school), I did have good friends, but I definitely didn’t consider myself popular. And for much of that time, I really, really wanted to be. I thought, misguidedly, that being popular was the key to ultimate happiness.

Looking back on that time in my life gives me a kind of achy feeling. I can’t help but think, Man, with everything I know now, I could do that time so much better. Although I never experienced life on the “popular” side, I can say that over time, that label ceases to matter, but good friendships don’t. Also, the things that help me establish real connections with others—being in the moment, listening, sharing my joy—also make me feel happier, and again, have nothing to do with labels. That all may sound kind of cheesy, but it’s so true, it hurts.

This book definitely ignited that ache, but in a good way. Because—without giving too much away—Maya proves my line of thinking right. She puts the conventional notion of popularity to the test, and in the process, learns what that word really means to her, as well as how she wants to live her life going forward. Which is a lot for any one person to do in a year, let alone someone also navigating the halls of middle school. But Maya does it—and, thankfully, she brings us along on the journey.

So, whether you are a preteen or teen, or you know one, or you just want to vicariously ease your own ache about what might have been, I recommend this book. It’s a pretty quick read—and a powerful one.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. If you have any recommendations for my teen nonfiction reading list, let me know in the comments! Or send me an email at xomarielorene@gmail.com!

5 Quotes to Inspire You to Pursue Your Dreams

Hello internet friends,

For me, having dreams I’m actively pursuing is a very important part of my life—when I’m feeling happy. Really, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. When I’m happy, I have the energy and confidence to work towards my goals. Conversely, seeing my dreams come to life, little by little, makes me happy. Unfortunately, when I’m feeling down, some of the things I most need to do, like setting some goals and making baby steps towards achieving them, feel incredibly difficult.

Unsplash Tulip 1
Photo by Aaron Burden

Take writing, for example. Since I was a teenager, it’s been a dream of mine to build a career and a platform around writing things that are fun and entertainingbut also positive and helpful. A few times since I began pursuing this dream—including last summer—I have gone through a rough patch where writing fell to the wayside. Even though I’ve wanted to get back into it, full-force, actually doing so has been really, really difficult. Because I can come up with a million excuses. I’ll look at writing through the gray haze surrounding everything in life, and think, I don’t even want that dream enough anymore, anyway.  Or I’ll tell myself that other people already are/will be writing similar things, but they’ll probably do them better. Or I’ll think of mistakes I’ve made in the past, and use them as proof that I’m really not the person to be doing this. Or, frankly, what happens more often than not lately is I’m just tired. I get exhausted from feeling down and just getting through the things I feel obligated to do. On top of that, my writing brain feels really out-of-shape, so frankly, the effort it I perceive it would take to get back into a writing routine seems incredibly unappealing.

In spite of all that, I have decided to really, fully begin. Because I’ve finally wedged a teeny, tiny crack in the door of my old self who had dreams she believed in. So I’m busting through. And if you have dreams you’re hesitating to go for, I want you to feel inspired to go all-in as well. But don’t just take my word for it; below, you’ll find 5 fab quotes from 5 ladies to inspire you to pursue your own dreams:

“There is usually one small step we can take in the direction of a dream. When we do, the universe often takes several more.” – Julia Cameron 

“Dreams come a size too big so we can grow into them.” – Josie Bissett

“It’s a good thing to feel like you have something to prove.” – Lauren Conrad

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping
stone to greatness.” – Oprah

“Don’t ever doubt yourselves or waste a second of your life. It’s too short, and you’re too special.” – Ariana Grande

xoxo

Marie

5 Reasons to Check Out Alessia Cara (if You Haven’t Already)

Hey,

One of my goals, when I started this blog, was to not just share Alessia Caramy thoughts and what I’m up to, but also other parts of girl culture—including girls and young women who are creating and doing awesome stuff. With that, I want to highlight a singer I’ve recently become obsessed with: Alessia Cara. You very likely have heard her debut single “Here”—the oh-my-gosh-I-shouldn’t-have-come-to-this-party anthem—on the radio, but if you haven’t listened to the rest of her debut album Know-It-All yet, I implore you to do so. If you need more convincing on why you should get to know this 19-year-old singer-songwriter, here are 5 reasons to check her out:

1.) Her voice is uh-mazingI could try to sell you on it, or you could just here it for yourself. Press play below:

Before writing and performing her own music, Alessia posted acoustic covers on YouTube. They’re still available on her channel and worth a listen!

2.) Her lyrics are unique yet relatable. Alongside her co-writer Sebastian Kole, Alessia began writing her debut album after school, while she was still in high school, and her unique perspective and personality shows through the entire thing. In this awesome interview with Taylor Swift, she explains that the title of the album comes from a line in her song “Seventeen”: “I’m a know-it-all, I don’t know enough.” She explains that the concept—which for me, definitely describes my experience of life—comes up in one way or another in each song on the album. “Four Pink Walls” is one of my favorites, and it describes her experience of growing up and having big dreams, but never really believing they’d come to life outside her mind and bedroom . . . until, one day, they did. “I’m Yours”—one of my favorite songs, period—is the love song of a transforming cynic: “Oh, how rude of you/To ruin my miserable/And tell me I’m beautiful/Cause I wasn’t looking for love, no.”

My favorite thing about writing, in music or print, is when someone can put into words an experience you’ve had (or want to have) in a way that really rings true. Finding songs or books or essays that do that is a really good feeling, and for me, Alessia’s music is one of those finds. I imagine it has been and will be for others, too.

3.) She is confident in her unique self and wants to show that you can be successful by being yourself. 

I love Alessia’s music, and though I haven’t met her, from everything I know I like her as a human, too. In all her performances, Alessia keeps her style laid-back, especially in comparison to other pop singers. When Cosmo asked her if that was important to her, she had this to say:

“All I’m really good at is making music and singing and doing this. I’m not good at fashion, so I don’t see a point in trying to be good at that. It’s important to show that there’s different ways of doing things. Some people like to be glamorous and that’s perfectly fine and that’s amazing. If I were that style, then I would do that. I’d wear heels every day and I’d strut around in a dress, but that’s not me. I’m not saying that anything other than what I do is wrong; I’m just trying to show people that there’s another side of it. It’s not only a one-sided thing. You don’t have to do that to be a star. You can do anything and be a star. You can dress like however you want, and you can do whatever you want. If you wanna wear meat suits like Lady Gaga, good. She’s freaking amazing! She’s doing that and she’s unbelievable. I can wear T-shirts and still be great too. So that’s just what I’m proving to people.” 

I love that, because the concept extends beyond fashion. There’s not one right way to do things; the only “right” is the one you have to live your life, from the clothes you wear to the dreams you pursue, in a way that is comfortable and genuine to you.

4.) She’s funny. 

She wouldn’t have to be—for me to be a fan, I mean—but she is. When Cuddle Buddy, her stuffed animal, “ran away,” she made a Twitter account to help find him. She’s on tour right now, and every week she posts a vlog, each of which includes awesome behind-the-scenes content but also major silliness. Check out her vlog from Week 3 of the tour below to see what I mean:

5.) Her most recent music video stars her and four of her friends. 

And if that isn’t living the dream, I don’t know what is. Watch below:

xoxo

Marie

HelloGiggles: “I spent a week taking the advice I’d give a friend—here’s what I learned”

Great news!

An essay that I have been working on for a very long time (like, since before Halloween) was published on HelloGiggles today. The article, titled “I spent a wMy Weekeek giving myself the advice I’d give a friend—here’s what I learned” (originally “My week giving myself the advice I’d give a friend”), was based on some very good advice from my dad that popped into my head at just the moment I needed it.

The actual “experiment” may have only taken a week, but the process of turning the idea into a finished, shareable article took much longer—and seemingly, longer than it usually does for me to finish an essay for the web. There were days when I would sit down, write for an hour, and realize I had only finished about a sentence. Not that I wasn’t working, or was “working” but also crafting a playlist and updating  my Snapchat story and staring off into space. Rather, I would write a sentence, cross it out, and write it again—potentially, slightly better. That process was more time-consuming and perfectionistic than I was used to, but, for the most part, I didn’t mind it. Because I realized that the same qualities that at times contribute to me feeling bad—e.g., my ability to think too much—were helping me create something potentially great.

So, check out the article, and please, let me know what you think! If you have other strategies for working through bad days, I would love to hear them as well.

xoxo

Marie