Writing for Girls’ Life: The “Get Inspired” Series

Happy holidays, my Internet friends!

Something I am grateful for this year is that I had the opportunity to create a series of articles for the “Get Inspired” section of Girls’ Life‘s website. I interviewed three girls who were State or National Honorees at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a program that recognizes kids and teens for their outstanding community service. Riley Callen is a high school freshman who holds hike-a-thons to raise money and awareness for benign tumor research. Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer is a seventh grader who developed a kid-sized compression heart pillow that she sends to kids all over the world.  Gable Sloan, who is pictured below, is a seventh grader whose bakery has generated thousands of dollars for charity, in addition to funding an annual scholarship. Girls' Life Gable Sloan (2).pngI have worked with and written for Girls’ Life over the past seven years, and I’ve had some really awesome experiences along the way. In 2010, I began as a Blog Moderator for their website, where I not only approved comments but answered advice questions from readers in real-time. As you may imagine, it was really challenging at times—some of their questions warranted a more thorough conversation than we could have in the comments section!—but I was so grateful to get to listen to them, learn from them, and help out where I could. When I became an Online Contributing Writer the following year, I got to write about everything from how to host a “cupcake war” to bringing up tough topics with your parents. One of my favorite tasks though was interviewing awesome girls, including many who had given back in big ways like Riley, Lorelei, and Gable. (All of my Girls’ Life links are available here!)

I am genuinely grateful to get to help share these girls’ stories, because I think it’s incredibly valuable for them to be heard. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world and wonder what your place in it is. We all have so much power—power to create, power to help others, power to change the world—and sometimes, hearing someone else’s story can inspire us to begin writing our own. In my recent article on BuzzFeed, I mentioned that Deborah Reber’s book In Their Shoes changed my life for the better, and I really meant that. I read that book when I was 16 years old and starting to think about life after high school. After reading the profile on Jess Weiner, who described herself as an “Actionist,” or someone who uses their voice, their career, and their actions to make the world better,  it was like everything clicked into place. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and create things for girls that would help them navigate the wild ride that is growing up and becoming who you want to be. Granted, the road hasn’t always been smooth, but having that guiding goal has helped me make decisions along the way that could have been a lot more difficult. I am so grateful for Jess, and for Deborah, and for the girls who have let me share their stories in hopes that we can send light and inspiration to someone who needs it.

If you haven’t yet checked out the articles about Riley, Lorelei, and Gable, please do so! Also, if there is someone whose story inspired you in some way, please feel free to tell us about it in the comments below. You never know who you could help inspire.

xoxo

Marie

12 Quotes to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey

We all have bodies. Me, you, that person over there reading that other blog. That much is clear-cut. But for at least some of us, that’s about as straightforward as it gets. Having a body, and living life in said body, can be weirdly complicated.

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Photo by Kari Shea

My struggles with having a body have revolved around weight and appearance, or rather, my beliefs about those things. Starting around the time I left elementary school, I became convinced that I needed to be thinner to be popular to be happy. Unsurprisingly, that belief had a negative impact on how I treated and felt about myself, body included.

Thankfully, I now know how very wrong I was, about all of it. But still, living in a world where we’re bombarded with images of women’s bodies and messages about them (often not from the woman herself), it’s hard not to feel, at the very least, a little weird about being in your own living, breathing, changing, 3D body. I am at a place where I want to develop a healthy relationship with mine. Where it no longer feels like a strange, sometimes annoying attachment to my brain, and just . . . . feels good. And like me. At least most of the time.

The best thing I have figured out so far is to simply commit, over and over again, to the exploration of what makes me feel whole, good, and like myself. As part of this process, I decided to seek out (and share with you) wonderful words from wise women on beauty and having a body. Some of these quotes are long and can be referred back to as needed, and some are short, so you can repeat them back to yourself in a moment where you need them. To change the soundtrack, if you will. Hopefully, at least one will resonate with you and help you on your own journey.

“People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.” – Salma Hayek

“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.” – Sandra Cisneros

“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in.”– Ashley Graham

“You’re a human being—you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn red velvet cupcake.” – Emma Stone

“Everybody has a part of her body that she doesn’t like, but I’ve stopped complaining about mine because I don’t want to critique nature’s handiwork . . . My job is simply to allow the light to shine out of the masterpiece.” – Alfre Woodard

“I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will.” – Amy Schumer

“Someone recently asked if I had any dieting tips for other teenage girls. Try and reverse that. ‘Do you have any dieting tips for other teenage boys?’ . . . I mean, come on. I don’t diet! I’m thirteen! Nobody my age should be dieting or trying to change themselves because society says so. And seriously, I’m thirteen!” – Rowan Blanchard

“Body acceptance means, as much as possible, approving of and loving your body, despite its ‘imperfections,’ real or perceived. That means accepting that your body is fatter than some others, or thinner than some others, that your eyes are a little crooked, that you have a disability that makes walking difficult, that you have health concerns that you have to deal with — but that all of that doesn’t mean that you need to be ashamed of your body or try to change it. Body acceptance allows for the fact that there is a diversity of bodies in the world, and that there’s no wrong way to have one.” – Golda Poretsky

“I’m not going to sacrifice my mental health to have the perfect body.” – Demi Lovato

“. . . my mother again would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us . . . what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.” – Lupita Nyong’o

“If I wasn’t five-foot, I wouldn’t be who I am! My size is a huge part of me. You just have to appreciate those kinds of things. So I wasn’t born with long legs—who cares. You just have to embrace it. Being body positive is really important to your overall happiness.”– Sabrina Carpenter

“It’s important with all of the messages that might tell you otherwise that you have that in yourself to say that ‘I am beautiful. I am smart and I’m amazing.’” – Laverne Cox

If you have any favorite quotes—on body image or anything else!—please feel free to share them in the comments below.

xoxo

Marie

5 Ways You Can Help Your World

What do I expect from myself now? That thought popped into my head in recent months, while reflecting upon what’s been happening politically in our country (and around the world). I have been staying more informed than ever before, and with that has come a desire to do more. To use my knowledge, voice, and time to make a positive impact. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been feeling this way.

In response to my initial question, I decided to put together a list of possible actions I could take—and share them with you. This list is by no means 100% comprehensive, and I would love to hear any additions you have in the comments below. I kept in mind and noted any limitations there may be in regards to age. Another bonus: for some of these, you don’t have to stray far from right where you are: the Internet. With that, let’s jump in!

Stay Informed. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what’s going on. A great starting place is theSkimm, a free daily (Monday through Friday) email newsletter that quickly (and sassily) summarizes the day’s top headlines and provides links for further reading. When you’re starting a new habit, such as regularly reading the news, it makes sense to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Email newsletters—particularly theSkimm—make staying informed really easy, by bringing all of your reading to one place.

Teen Vogue has rightfully been commended for their insightful political and cultural coverage, which is available for free on their website. They also have a—wait for it!—free email newsletter, which includes links to political and social writings as well as fashion inspiration and celebrity updates. A pretty good combo, if you ask me.

Another great resource is The New York Times, particularly if there is a topic you want to explore in depth. The one limitation is that you are only allowed to read 10 articles per month for free on their website. However, if you find you really like their articles and want to read more, they do offer digital subscriptions, including one for students that gives you unlimited access to their web articles for $1/week.

What’s missing from this list is local news. It’s just as important to know what’s going on in your state and city/town. More and more local newspapers are offering online content, and a quick Google search will let you know if they have websites or social media accounts. They might even have an e-newsletter!

Speak Up. Once you’ve begun to make sense of what’s going on, it’s important to make your voice heard. There are a number of ways to do this, from signing an online petition to sharing your thoughts on social media, but perhaps the most important right now is to contact the people who represent you in government. You can do this even if you can’t vote yet! It is especially valuable to do so when those representatives are about to vote on a bill that could become a law. For example, it’s my understanding that one of the reasons the original version of the American Health Care Act was withdrawn was the large number of calls representatives received from people who opposed the bill.

I have always been at least a little shy, so the idea of reaching out to my representatives has always been a little intimidating. For me, planning ahead can help reduce nerves, so I scoured some of my favorite websites for resources and advice. This really helpful article from Teen Vogue“Congresswoman Katherine Clark Explains How You Can Resist the Trump Administration”—introduced me to a cool website called Countable. Countable gives you clear, easy-to-read summaries of bills that our national representatives (members of the Senate and House of Representatives) will vote on. The site also gives you the chance to send your opinion to them, starting with a simple click of “Yea” or “Nay.” If you want to use the site for contacting your representatives, you do need to create an account. You must be 13 or older to do so, and the site does ask for your address (your representatives keep tallies of responses they get from people in their district, and your address confirms that you live in their district). So, it would be best to check in first with a parent/guardian before creating a Countable account, if you are not an adult yet!

If you are feeling so bold, I would recommend giving your reps an actual phone call. From what I’ve read—including the above Teen Vogue article—phone calls are the most effective method. Personally, the whole talking-on-the-phone thing is what really makes me nervous. On that note, this article from Refinery29“Calling Congress is Easier Than You Think—Here’s How to Do It”—is really useful. It includes a sample script that you can change to suit your needs and use when you call. One final tip from a friend of mine for those who are particularly anxious about making a phone call: you can always call after hours (in the evenings or on weekends) and just leave a voicemail.

Countable keeps you updated on national issues and who to contact for those, but doesn’t address local ones. Your best bet is to keep an eye on your local news (see above). If you hear about a state-level issue you want to speak up on, I found that in most cases, typing “[your state] government” in Google will lead to a website with a “find your representatives” tab. A similar approach would likely work for city/town issues, though their websites may be less sophisticated. When in doubt, ask your social studies teacher (or another informed individual)!

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Donate. Another option, if you have money to give and wish to do so, is to donate to an organization that supports a cause you care about. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization that is doing work you admire, be it an animal shelter or a mentoring program, is to donate directly to them. They likely have a website with an easy option for donating, or you can give in person.

If you want to give but don’t yet have an organization in mind, I recommend checking out Charity Navigator. The purpose of the site is to evaluate charities based on how they use their money so people can be informed donors. Browsing the site, I found that smaller, local organizations (including a few in my city that I searched for) were not evaluated because they were simply too small. But if you have no idea where to give, Charity Navigator has Top Ten Lists, including “Charities with Perfect Scores” that are divided up by category, including Animals, Education, and Environment. If there is a cause you want to donate to, you’ll certainly find a worthy organization!

Volunteer. Almost six years ago, I signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I still count it as one of the best decisions I ever made. It is cheesy but oh-so-true that you grow when you give. If you wish to donate your time, there are certainly organizations and causes that could use your skills and compassion.

Doing some research online, I found that, unfortunately, if you are under 18, your options will be more limited. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization you’d like to volunteer for, is to go to their website to see what volunteer opportunities they offer. If they state that they do not offer volunteer opportunities to individuals under 18, I don’t think it would hurt to call and ask about the possibility of volunteering alongside an adult who could accompany you.

While down the Internet rabbit hole, I ended up on DoSomething.org. The site has a variety of “campaigns,” or activities both big and small that support a variety of causes. For example, one on the home page that caught my attention was to create a cute recycling box to remind you to recycle your empty beauty product containers. If you create a DoSomething.org account, complete the campaign, and upload a photo of you doing so, you have the opportunity to win “scholarships and swag.” To create an account, you do need to provide an email address or phone number, and again, to win prizes you do need to upload a photo of yourself, so do check in with a parent/guardian before doing so.

Start Something. This one is entirely open-ended and up to you, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t include it. If you see an issue in your community or world and you have an idea about how you could be part of the solution, with determination, research, and hard work, the sky is the limit as far as what you can accomplish. I believe this with all of my heart and mind, in part because, when I was an Online Contributing Writer for Girls’ Life, I spent a lot of time doing interviews with girls who were being recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for their outstanding community service projects. There was a 13-year-old who created a program to collect wasted cooking oil to be reconverted and used to heat the homes of those in need. An 18-year-old who had founded a program that helps schools include students with disabilities on their cheerleading squads. And a 16-year-old who had raised over $500,000 to help orphaned children across the world.

Every single step we take forward, whether it’s a phone call or a dollar donated or an hour volunteered, does matter. It does, and I don’t want you to every doubt yourself on that. I also want you to know that if you have a big dream or goal as to what you want to do for your world—our world—you absolutely can make it happen. I have faith in you.

xoxo

Marie

Literally, Darling: “Cheryl Strayed’s Truth Bombs Inspired Me to ‘Write the Thing I Needed to Read’”

Hello, Internet friends!

I’m excited to share that an essay I wrote was published on Literally, Darling, an awesome website designed with millennial women in mind, this week. The essay is titled “Cheryl Strayed’s Truth Bombs Inspired Me to ‘Write the Thing I Needed to Read.’” It’s about the lines in books that resonate like nothing else can, which I like to call “truth bombs,” and the impact my favorite author has had on me. cheryl-strayeds-truth-bombs-home-pageThe inspiration for this piece sprouted from seeing Strayed speak last year at the writing conference AWP (on my half-birthday, no less). But the seed was planted, so to speak, two years ago, when I included Tiny Beautiful Things on this book list for The Huffington Post and first used the term “truth bombs” to describe my experience reading her work.

My essay—which was originally titled “‘Truth Bombs’ an
d the Subjective Magic of Reading,” and then “On Cheryl Strayed, ‘Truth Bombs,’ and the Magic of Reading”—went through a lot of changes to get ready for the web. I ended up cutting what I thought was the final draft almost in half. Doing so was not only helpful in making the piece more succinct, focused, and easy to read, but also a good exercise as a writer. However, there was one part of the original essay that got left on the cutting room floor that I still really wanted to share with you, because I think it shows how powerful books really are—and the whole experience was also just a bit wild.

Sometime during the fall where I was going through a tough time (that I mention in the essay), I had this line pop into my head: “Allow yourself to be gutted.” I didn’t know that I would ever find a place to use it in my writing, but I thought it was good, so I saved it in a note on my phone, just in case. A few months later, I pulled out my copy of Tiny Beautiful Things, and realized that along the right side of the front cover was a line from the book: “Let yourself be gutted.” Oops.tiny-beautiful-things

Then something else happened. I started writing my essay last spring, and I realized I hadn’t read Tiny Beautiful Things since the spring semester of 2013, so I decided to reread it in between working on my draft. One day, I wrote a section where I compared reading a truth bomb to falling in love:

That’s why—and I’m going out on a limb here—I think finding a truth bomb through reading is an experience made out of some of the same stuff as falling in love. Because, just as a person in love can detail all the things they love about their loved one, without the magic glue that holds their reasons together, there’s no way others will be able to observe the same picture.

Later that day, I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things, and in one letter from Sugar/Strayed to three women who are considering leaving their current partners, she compares her second marriage to her first: “My two marriages aren’t so different from each other, though there’s some sort of magic sparkle glue in the second that was missing in the first.” What?! I had written my own “magic glue” reference mere hours before, years after reading that passage for the first time. I was legitimately flabbergasted. I take those two freaky/cool experiences together as proof that the books we care about weave themselves into our minds, perhaps even in ways of which we aren’t aware. Books have changed my life for the better, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

xoxo

Marie