Powering Your New Year’s Goals with Purpose

Hello, dear internet friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

Marie

Escaping Wonderland (& the Wrong Kind of Popularity)

Hello, dear internet friends,

I’m with Aly & AJ on this one: The greatest time of year is here. Okay, “greatest” may be too broad. This season doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite, but it is mine. While the holidays can certainly be busy and overwhelming, this year I’m ready to embrace each sparkling moment. I hope to be present with the ones I love, slow down to appreciate decked-out front yards, and make plenty of time to watch holiday movies and shows.

I have become a connoisseur of Netflix’s seasonal offerings. Did you know that there are four Vanessa Hudgens characters in the Netflix Christmas Cinematic Universe? It’s true, and I’d love to talk to you about it. Outside of that tinsel-tangled web of doppelgängers and fake European countries, my favorite festive show on the platform is “Dash & Lily,” a one-season series based on a young adult novel. Lily, a Christmas-loving human ray of sunshine, leaves a notebook of clues to decode inside New York City’s famous bookstore, The Strand. Sarcastic and surly Dash picks it up, kicking off a Christmas break of the pair sending each other on dares throughout the city, getting to know each other—and themselves—along the way.

It’s a sweet love story, a traveling tale of Christmas in New York. It’s also about fitting in—or rather, finding where you belong. As we get to know Lily, we see that she struggles to fit in with her peers. While reading a book on the subway, she looks over wistfully at the three girls next to her who are interacting over stuff in their phones. In another scene, Lily is caroling at a park with her adult neighbors when she spots a group of her soccer teammates. One appears to look her way but doesn’t wave or invite her over.

As Lily reveals to Dash in their notebook, life wasn’t always this way for her. Without spoiling the details, an experience of social rejection in middle school changed everything. Before then, she believed that she’d always belong by being herself. “After that,” she writes, “I started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, like school was full of all these rules that didn’t make sense.”

I came to view that scene through a new lens after finishing a book called Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist and the Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association. Taking readers through scientific research on the subject, Prinstein shows how popularity impacts our lives well beyond our middle and high school days. While the book is written for adults, I think anyone of any age can benefit from understanding the two types of popularity as he defines them. The first is status, or what I call capital-P Popular. As Prinstein explains, this type of popularity becomes apparent in adolescence and defines individuals who are well-known and powerful amongst a given group. The second type of popularity, likability, is the one we understand from when we’re very little. Likable people engage in kind, inclusive behaviors with the aim of truly connecting with others.

The disorienting shift that Lily experienced was status overtaking likability in her middle-school world. I can certainly relate. When I was little, I found it easy to get along with other kids. I honestly thought I was best friends with “everyone,” meaning all the girls in my multiage class of first and second graders. For me, the transition to a new social order felt more like a slow fall down the rabbit hole than an abrupt change. I learned that people might spill your secrets, make fun of you to someone else (who would tell you about it), or exclude you for no obvious reason. I found it all so painful and impossible to understand that I latched onto the only solution I could come up with: I needed to change myself—especially how I looked—to fit in. To be Popular. Then I could be fully happy again.

I wish I could go back and teach my younger self about the two types of popularity, but Prinstein’s book helped me understand how the challenges of status and benefits of connection don’t end with graduation. It’s never too late to make changes. The main reason I struggle with social media is that it feels like being in middle school, holding my breath to see who “likes” me. Since last month, I’ve kept up with cutting back on my use. I’ve been surprised by how different life has felt, considering I didn’t think of myself as someone overly plugged in. Without the backdrop of all that social noise, moments of genuine connection have felt more properly highlighted. It’s a little like being six again. I’m just happy to be invited to play.

The difference is, I know now I can’t really be best friends with everyone. What Lily’s story shows is that you don’t need everybody to see you. Finding just one person you can take off your social mask around can be transformative. Meeting them through a hidden notebook at a famous bookstore may be highly unlikely, but you never know what a simple lunchtime “Can I sit with you?” will do. I made a lifelong friend that way.

So, I never achieved capital-P Popularity. And I’ve come to realize that, at least for me, social media can be the same status game by a different name. But you know what? I have friendships that are as simple and sturdy as they felt in the years before I knew Popular. I don’t take them for granted because I know what it’s like to get lost on the wrong side of Wonderland.

xoxo

Marie

“Dash & Lily” is available for streaming on Netflix.

Popular by Mitch Prinstein can be purchased at Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

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.

The Stories That Make Our Lives

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

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

Marie

The Power of Self-Compassion

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Hello my sweet valentines,

I hope this month of love has been kind to you. I hope you’ve been able to spend time with people you care about and enjoy delicious treats (chocolate or not). I also hope you’ve given yourself love and kindness.

We all deserve to give ourselves the same support, care, and understanding that we show others. However, that can be easier said than done. We can so easily fall into the role of our own worst critic. One challenge we have is that we can easily observe our behaviors, which we can then judge through the harsh lens of hindsight. But our self-talk is harder to be aware of—let alone change—because so much of it is automatic.

Last month, I talked about using gratitude as a way to stay anchored in the present. One thing that distracts me from the now is negative self-talk. I can be very hard on myself. The heart of it often seems to be my desire to do right by others. Which is a lovely thing, of course! But values are meant to be guideposts for making choices in the present. They aren’t meant to be punitive. For me, self-doubt creeps in when I get stuck questioning my decisions over and over. Doing so becomes a painful cycle. The voice of self-doubt tells me that I can’t move on from the past and makes me distrust my ability to move forward.

I say “voice of self-doubt” because I am trying to . . . Well, I am trying to undermine its authority. I am trying to put a little more distance between that voice and me. I do not view or speak to others harshly, and I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated that way, either. That’s why I am working hard to give myself more self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author on the subject. She describes self-compassion as being there for ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding when we are struggling, just as we would be for someone else. Specifically, she breaks down self-compassion into three components:

  • Self-Kindness: Being gentle and understanding with ourselves, as opposed to self-critical and punishing.  
  • Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, as opposed to feeling uniquely inadequate.
  • Mindfulness: Being aware of and open to our thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ignoring them or getting consumed by them.

You can read more about self-compassion on Dr. Neff’s website here.

Lately, whenever I am feeling down, I stop to recognize what is bothering me and name what I’m feeling (sad, frustrated, anxious, etc.). Once I’ve done that, I try to see if there is any self-talk underneath the emotion that’s adding to the pain of it. Often, there is. Maybe I’m imagining an unrealistic negative outcome to a situation, making it feel more and more believable the more time I spend on it. Or maybe I’m making a negative assessment of myself or my abilities based on a challenge I’m facing. Whatever the thought, it typically falls into the category of self-doubt/self-criticism. Recognizing that opens the door for me to meet it with self-compassion.

What that looks like varies a bit on the situation. I can say something kind to myself, acknowledging the impact that a feeling or thought is having on me, even if I can’t change it right away. I can dismantle a judgment I’m making by recognizing that I’m holding myself to a standard I don’t really believe in (and wouldn’t expect anyone else to live up to). The most compassionate response can also be an action. Engaging in self-care, asking for help, or breaking a task down into more manageable chunks (with more reasonable expectations).

I’m not always able to move past a negative thought or feeling in the way I’d like to. Sometimes, I can’t really make sense of what’s going on in my mind.  And I can still be too hard on myself. But even so, finding ways to show myself compassion has felt like discovering a superpower. Being in the cycle of self-doubt feels like listening to a soundtrack that can’t be turned off. Learning how to not only turn it off but transform it into something else entirely has been really, really cool.

I am proud of myself.

Whatever it is you need today, I hope you can give it to yourself. I know you deserve it, and I hope you can see that, too.

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!

Getting Too Hot? Some End-of-Summer Thoughts

Photo by Tincho Franco on Unsplash

Hello my sunset sweethearts,

Doesn’t it feel like summer just disappeared in the blink of an eye? I know it’s not fully fall yet, but still. It feels like just a minute ago that I was with friends on the 4th, and now Halloween decorations are appearing on end caps. I’d say “too soon,” but I’ve already consumed a few mugs of pumpkin spice coffee myself. Anyways. Next month I am going to be sharing the next pick in My Dream Library series, but for this last post of summer I wanted to share a little life strategy that’s been helping me as of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I got stuck. I was starting to obsess over a situation where I wasn’t sure if I “should” have done something differently. (The Shoulds are dangerous woods to wander!) I kept going over and over it, way past the point of helpful reflection. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to talk it over with someone, to get unstuck. But I was embarrassed. I am fully aware that I often notice, think about, and worry over things that aren’t on anyone else’s radar. So I sometimes feel the double-edged sting of being acutely aware of my worries, but also completely cognizant of how overblown they probably are. I know saying them out loud to someone I trust always helps, but sometimes wish I didn’t have to.

As I was gearing up to ask for help, a thought popped into my mind: Your conscientiousness is such a lovely thing about you.

I’ve often thought that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. That’s easy enough to see, embrace, and love in others. Someone who has the biggest of hearts might have trouble protecting the boundaries they deserve. Someone who can get lost in the zone of their passions might also lose track of time when it matters. It’s all just shades on the same beautiful spectrum. Imperfect but radiant.

In that moment, I realized I’d been telling myself that I was an annoyingly, embarrassingly anxious person. But I could also see myself as a careful, thoughtful person. It’s heartbreakingly sweet how much I want to do things right. And that’s lovely. I just need to catch myself before I fall in the deep end of overthinking now and then.

Ever since then, when I feel my brain starting to take off, I imagine a thermometer. (There’s probably a better metaphor/visual out there, but this one’s working for me.) I ask myself, am I getting “too hot”? Am I moving towards the end of the spectrum where I imagine highly unrealistic, bad outcomes or get stuck on something from long ago? Or is this a situation where my attention to detail is a gift? Because it is. My so-called overthinking brain is also reflective, attentive, thoughtful, and creative. Sometimes it just needs to be steered in the right direction.

So, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, maybe ask: Is this thing that’s plaguing me, also what makes me great?

xoxo

Marie

“Every Version of You is on Your Side”: Words of Wisdom from Ashley C. Ford

Happy Sunday, my sweet summer sparklers,

Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:

Ashley C. Ford is a writer who recently published her first book, Somebody’s Daughter, to rave reviews. The memoir is “A story of reckoning with your past to take hold of your future—of finding love for those you have yet to forgive.” Specifically, it delves into Ashley’s experience growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. This quote is from an episode of the podcast Hear to Slay, hosted by Roxane Gay and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, in which Ashley discussed the challenges involved with writing about (and making peace with) her past.

No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.

If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.

xoxo

Marie

“Let’s Just Be Honest” – Hear to Slay

Ashley C. Ford’s website

Ashley C. Ford on Twitter

Ashley C. Ford on Instagram

Somebody’s Daughter on Amazon

Somebody’s Daughter on IndieBound