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New Year, New You: The Anatomy Of A Glow-Up

New Year, New You: The Anatomy Of A Glow-Up

As the New Year edges closer and closer, I’m up too late blasting “Do You Know” by Tirzah into the dark of my bedroom. Lemongrass incense burns on my nightstand, I’m alone in my own little world. Cars whiz past outside on the street below, just stretches of light, non-stop even though it’s 1 am. No one is ever asleep in this city. Nights are strange experiences. It’s loud living here, but it’s loud in a way that’s almost calming, at least it is in December when you can look outside as see the trees glowing. 


Tonight, I’m thinking that it’s a good time to look ahead and set intentions for the incoming year. This thought leads me to research the origin of one of the most popular phrases when it comes to new years, birthdays, and pre-pubescent versus adolescent social media picture wars: “Glow-Up.” 


We’ve all heard it before. Glow-up (or, glo up) is a viral hashtag and talking point, an inspiration for countless memes (thanks for not texting me back!). Even WikiHow has shared a 13-step guideline for achieving one yourself. For the past few years, New Years’ and birthday countdowns have set the precedence for self-improvement. The term may seem superficial to some, but it can’t be denied that the phrase itself sets the grounds for a great conversation to be had regarding the journey of healing and physical, emotional, and mental betterment.

A little bit of Google searching brings me to the lovely discovery that the source of this phrase is actually credited to one of my favorite drill artists and rappers, Chief Keef, in his 2013 track “Gotta Glo Up One Day.” He’s mainly talking about making more money. Still. As I often do with subjects that probably don’t require so much thought, I end up in a conversation with myself about the nature of the “Glow-Up”—I approach this mental exploration with the same energy of an exiled philosopher. What is it? I wonder. Who is it for, and which part of ourselves does it originate from? Arguably, the best version of a glow-up would be one that comes from a love for ourselves matched with a desire for ourselves to do better, motivated by the full belief in ourselves that we can. The worst sort of a glow-up would be the one that comes from a place of self-hatred, tension, and restriction. 


In this upcoming 2020, what are we doing to get ourselves closer to our dreams? Aside from getting better looking (and I always did adore that Princess Diaries scene), what are some important things that we can do in an effort to better ourselves this new year? 

Let’s chat about the anatomy of a glow-up. First of all, we start by acknowledging that we require our own protection and attention.

It’s crazy how capable we are of tuning out from our own needs, and how selfish we feel when we do eventually give some attention to them. It’s only after a panic attack in the middle of a dim, 8 am subway ride that I realize fully how fragile I am. My experience of reality is all of a sudden clear to me—the way that my life, and what it attracts, mirrors my own perception and mental attitude. I had always read stuff like this through tweets on spiritual Twitter, a cyber-space full of astrology, mindfulness, and metaphysical theory, but I had never physically experienced this knowledge as something true. Not like I do that morning when I’m on my way to class to hand in a paper that I stayed up until 4 am writing. Somewhere between the start and the end of the ride, it becomes glaringly obvious to me how much my thoughts matter. Not only do they matter, but they construct what is possible and what I’m prepared for. A few things that we can do:

Positive affirmations

Setting intentions and keeping promises

Meditation and physical activity

Having fun on your own too

Fact-checking negative thought patterns


Because we are giving ourselves at least a little bit of sustenance to get by on, we can now interact with people from a more balanced space, rather than from an emptiness inside of us. Experience the weight of wholeness, reject perfection as a healthy standard.

A great book to use as a guide for this glow-up tip is David Richo’s Human Becoming: Practical Steps to Self-Respect and Compassionate Relationships.

Secondly, let’s begin tending to our physical surroundings with love and care.

One day, after it snowed all night and the streets were full of slush, I put on my jacket and took a walk three blocks to the grocery store where I went on a shopping spree for new cleaning products. I smell dish soaps with excitement, imagining the scent riding the warm fog of after-dinner chores. I pick out candles, cinnamon, and lemongrass incense. I buy a bouquet of flowers, but forget to buy a vase, and end up filling the kitchen pot with flowers. I scrub the apartment walls with soap and warm water, thinking to myself: “I live here.” The act of clearing out and cleansing my space is so helpful in grounding me in the present, relieving me slightly of dissociative states. If you are someone who overthinks and often find yourself losing time to spells of inactivity, in 2020 I want you to try to remind yourself of the title of Eckhart Tolle’s work The Power of Now.

Cleaning tunes me into something other than my own mental. It feels so therapeutic. 



Expressing gratitude

Good deeds

Freshly clean sheets


Not only does our physical space deserve love and care, but so does the space we impact energetically, as we move through the world. Organized surroundings help us clarify our thoughts and intentions for the day. A study published in 2010 within the scientific journal Personal and Psychological Bulletin shows that people who describe their living areas as “cluttered” are more often linked to fatigue and depression. It goes to show that there is a close relationship between so many different aspects of our lives. Sometimes when I’m not feeling my best, it can take me days to successfully invest energy into house-keeping. 


A great book to use as a guide for this glow-up tip is Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.


My next tip for glowing up is trying our best in dedicating time to a hobby that exists outside of recognition.

With this point, I’m mostly addressing those of us who might find ourselves stuck in never-ending cyber feedback loops, addicted to scrolling the glowing grids of Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for stimulation. Depending on the severity of your own social media relationship, this search for stimulation could also encompass the search for meaning or external validation. Once a week, do something interesting and don’t post it on social media. Don’t use it as a way to refine your online identity; keep it for yourself. It’s your world, your chance to explore something without it needing to be good, provocative, or picturesque. I think sometimes we lose touch with our own identities, wishes, and interests when we get stuck in the phase of needing external guidance and confirmation. In 2020, when I’m feeling down or lonely, I’m going to put my energy into something joy-producing in private. French music on the speaker, mushrooms sizzling in garlic and butter on the stove. Penne noodles, arugula, parmesan. I will feed my friends and family, experience joy in spreading love through food and communion. If I burn the food, it’s just a funny story, not a failure.


The need for instant feedback actually short-circuits our creative processes. A healthy, creative inner life is the fuel that keeps us on a track where we are lucid agents of our own fate. As much as possible, the goal should be to shake ourselves up every time that distinct zombie-vibe creeps into your sensory experience. Log off, do something new. Widen your perspective. Some ways that we might try to achieve this more in 2020 are: 

Baking something new



Caring for plants


Take walks in nature

Being kind to others

Having a movie day

Also, something super important is reminding ourselves to act in ways that are reflective of our values to bring us closer to our dreams.

Manifest a reality in which you successfully keep the majority of your promises you make to yourself. I’m a big believer in manifestation as more than positive thinking. When we alter our behavior, we give room for a sense of competence that uplifts our confidence so naturally. However, discipline and forgiveness must coexist. Too much self-discipline without self-love and compassion will crystallize an internal voice for us that is negative, overly-stern, and stubborn. It’s really hard to lead long-term productive and fulfilling lives when we don’t allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn our natural human lessons.


Being clear about what you want
Visualizing your goals; what they feel like, look like
Filling out and keeping up with a day-planner
Regulating your sleep pattern as much as possible
Break down the micro-actions involved in reaching bigger goals


What this step is all about is bringing new experiences into our reality through our actions, feelings, and beliefs. This is the time to try an honest assessment of your own motivations—do you know why you want what you want? Are you still in a place where you feel powerlessness, where you’re fearing success, where you harbor disbelief towards positive outcomes? Octavia Butler’s journal excerpts include some fantastic examples of clarity in manifestation, as seen below.

Lastly, remembering that we don’t have to rush to be perfect by tomorrow.

Or, ever. Giving yourself permission to take your time is the most crucial aspect of any glow-up. I had an actual epiphany recently when I had a day off from class and work, but even my alone time felt rushed and stretched too thin. I was fluttering from place to place, a whole to-do list running through my head, things I’d yet to start on. It felt like I completely lost the ability to relax and recuperate. Finally, in the shower, I said to myself, “Take your time. Nobody is waiting on you.” And the tension in my heart melted like warm chocolate. I reminded myself that (in)completion of tasks cannot be used as a measure of my worth. Whether I get the laundry done tonight or tomorrow, I’m still the same person. A couple of things I’ll try to do more of in 2020 are:

Resting when rest is needed

Celebrating our accomplishments

Having a phone/television/Internet schedule


So. What’s the focus of your glow-up this year? In what ways do you hope to keep the flame going between you and your inner child and creative? As Audre Lorde once wrote, “You need to reach down and touch the thing that’s boiling inside of you and make it somehow useful.” The glow-up happens when we accept ourselves as sporadic, and unsure, and messy. But also, wonderful. Wonderful in all that we are, all of our histories and dreams. We can embrace the fact that not every season of life will look the same. Sometimes we want to clutch onto something forever: we want to keep the habits, people, mindsets, emotions, and surroundings that we believe in some way will console us all the way through the hectic task of being. 

We can try our best to always stay in sync with our personal, bigger picture.

And because a New Year glow-up wouldn’t be complete without at least a splash of superficial chaos, maybe I’ll give myself front bangs over the bathroom sink and then regret it totally tomorrow morning. Just kidding. For now!

By Dominique Mkhonza
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