I have a long history of negative self-talk, and, although I have been less harsh with myself in recent years, I still manage to be my own worst bully. So, when I came across The 40-Day Inner Mean Girl Cleanse one afternoon in late August, a six-week course hosted by co-creators Amy Ahlers and Christine Arylo, I thought it was probably a good idea to join up. My very recent commitment to sobriety, thoughts about positive personal revolution, and a strong desire to be kinder to myself made this seem like the right step to take.
Plus, The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse was free. I like free, and how could the over 7000 women who had already signed up to be a part of The Inner Mean Girl Revolution be wrong? I signed up for the six-week course and waited to see what my e-mail inbox would bring.
In Week One, the goal was to give up gossip for good talk, and the daily practice was to repeat the following affirmation every morning: "Today I speak only from my heart. I leave gossip and toxic words behind. I truly speak only from my heart." I put the daily personal affirmations part aside, because daily affirmations seem to have the opposite effect on me and make me feel terrible, but I did take the message to heart and tried to remain mindful of gossip, both from others around me and myself.
Before I was even able to really get into practicing mindfulness about gossip, though, I hit my first stumbling block when The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse managed to annoy me by August 26th, less than 24 hours into the program. There was a live launch call that was advertised as being accompanied by “FREE gifts!,” which were a free e-course and a teleclass by SARK. The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse had barely begun, and its hopefully worthwhile offering of positive influence against unnecessary internal negativity was already being muffled by its secondary agenda as a vehicle to advertise other programs by its contributors. At least, that’s how it felt with the ALL-CAPS-ed and exclamation-pointed excitement in the e-mail.
I didn’t know it yet, but I had just received the first of what would be many ad fliers.
This apparent bait-and-switch did not help me to cultivate good talk from the outset. I grumbled to myself, but, in the spirit of the first week, I chose to think positively and persevere. The real bully in my life is usually myself, and I wanted to give this course a shot instead of dropping out due to my own knee-jerk response to a sales flier in my inbox. I decided to hope for the best and carry on.
With that in mind, I gave the live launch call with SARK, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, a listen. As much as I tried to take it in with an open mind though, the repeated use of hyperbolic language struck me as precocious, hammy and pedantic in the way that one would speak to a small child. Words like “amazing” and “inspired” and “empowered” were sing-songed repeatedly, which only inspired me to think Really?, and want to hand them a thesaurus. I wanted to learn how to deal with my Inner Mean Girl, not join some 1990s-style cult of female empowerment reliant on dissociating through fictive, archetypal entities with names like “The Critic” and “The Comparison Queen” and “Perfectionist Patty”.
This is where the Inner Mean Girl Cleanse met my Outer Critical Bitch.
I do realize that this whole thing was called The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse. The title pretty much points out straight away that these archetypes were going to be part of the process and I should have expected it, but, still it irked me. Any therapeutic exercise that calls upon people to separate out parts of themselves as entities with particular characteristics strikes me as not only obfuscatory and reductive when it comes to understanding ourselves as complicated wholes, but, at its worst, it is also dissociative. It is a clever tactic to distance ourselves from the fullness of what it is to be human in all its messy negative and positive glory in order to create a tidier, cleaner package for ourselves to look at. You might think you feel better, but this creates more delusion, not less.
Despite my initial impression, though, I did take care to be mindful of gossip over the course of that week, and I found the vast amount of it, both from others and myself, astounding. It turned out that nearly every conversation I had over that seven days involved at least some gossip, and, in some cases, they were only about gossip. It was both an enlightening and a disheartening experience to suddenly see exactly how much negative talk surrounded me. I began to quite naturally gravitate away from gossip as the week went on, and you know what? Being mindful of gossip works. You become a nicer person. Even if you never take part in The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse, a practice of mindfulness when it comes to gossip leads to more compassionate thought and action.
While the contrived language and archetypes made me want to back away very slowly from The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse on only day two of forty, it was a good experience to try to nix gossip from my life and work to change and avoid negative talk. My Outer Critical Bitch can be very opinionated, but she could use some softening, and I was, quite possibly, taking a step in the right direction.
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 0.5, My Outer Critical Bitch - 0.5
In Week Two, the goal was to refrain from comparison and embrace the self-loving habits of appreciation, inspiration, and gratitude. The daily practice was to dissolve comparison by leaning into inspiration, appreciation, and gratitude.
Frankly, at this point, I wanted to tune out. I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the archetypes thing, now referred to as “IMGs”, and I just couldn’t shake my discontent, especially now that they were placed in opposition to my Inner Wisdom. The language was grating, and being asked to give my supposed IMGs the legs to duke it out with my Inner Wisdom was just too much of a stretch. Besides, I felt like this would be an easy week anyway, because I am pretty well adjusted when it comes to appreciating what I have and finding inspiration in the successes of others. I decided to go easy on myself not loving The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse as much as I had hoped to.
For the sake of transparency here, I did seriously consider quitting at this point, and I nearly did, but now I had acquired a new responsibility to see this thing through: I was asked to write an article about it. That’s right. This article that you are reading at this very moment is the reason I didn’t stop right there and walk away.
I just thought you should know that this is all your fault.
My biggest question now was this: Could I continue the course and maintain my dignity while rolling my eyes at every mention of IMGs? Only time would tell.
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 0.5, My Outer Critical Bitch - 1.5
In Week Three, the goal was to give up external obligations and live from my soul, acting only from love. The daily practice was to make a list of everything I wanted to do that day, and either shift it from a “have-to” mindset to a “get-to” mindset or take it off the list. I was to be authentic and challenge myself to find the place of love, service, and commitment in my actions.
Although the claimed number of participants was moving up by several hundred in every weekly e-mail, making The Inner Mean Girl Revolution appear to be snowballing in its power and popularity with over 9000 participants at this point, I have reason to believe that that figure was based only on the number of people who had signed up and not the number of people who were actively participating in the course. I had my ear to the Twitter backchatter, and most of the people I knew who had started the course had already dropped out in the second week, claiming the same irritation with its being an advertising vehicle.
They quit just in time, too, because, by the third week, it was disconcertingly obvious that this course doubled as an advertising vehicle for the creators’ other endeavors. The majority of the e-mails from The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse now revolved around the urgency, with time running out, to join The Inner Mean Girl Reform School, and it left me questioning what the real purpose of this course truly was. I was fairly certain that it was just a carrot meant to lead us to the actual money-makers, such as The Inner Mean Girl Reform School.
I felt more insulted than I did inspired.
For an e-course that was purportedly trying to bring me to a happier and more successful place, it sure was beginning to feel rather dishonest and inauthentic. It seemed odd that just when they were apparently trying to help us overcome the toxin of obligation, they were ramping up their e-mail campaign to get urge us to join another course, because we really should, right? Wasn't it obvious by now how much our IMGs were making us unhappy?
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 0.5, My Outer Critical Bitch - 2.5
In Week Four, the goal was to give up overpromising and perfection and to watch how my Inner Mean Girl threw a fit over it. My daily practice was to check in with my Inner Wisdom whenever I was going to overpromise anything and let the things I usually drive to perfect be imperfect.
Whatever. My Inner Mean Girl Cleanse e-mail folder now resembled a spam folder, only with a more focused theme. The e-mails were primarily about buying into The Inner Mean Girl Reform School, which I had no interest in whatsoever. After over three weeks of being advertised and appealed to with apish language as though I were a child being cajoled into an adult’s desired behavior, I gave myself a break, alright. I stopped opening most of their e-mails.
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 0.5, My Outer Critical Bitch - 3.5
In Week Five, the goal was to turn judgment into self-expression, which I did right here in this article. Wouldn’t you say that I’m expressing myself? Oh, I sure am.
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 0.5, My Outer Critical Bitch - 4.5
In Week Six, the goal was to give up negative media the best I could and compliment myself in the mirror every morning.
It is absolutely true that women are bombarded by the media with images of what we should look like, and it makes us feel ugly and less valuable when we invariably do not measure up. Over the week, I avoided media that shilled for things like face spackle and depilatory creams, and made an effort to see the positive in my physical appearance, because, what the hell, why not? And, guess what? I’m feeling kind of awesome.
I also learned that ignoring the majority of the communication from The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse really paid off. I was much less irritable.
The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse - 1, My Outer Critical Bitch - 5
The 40-Day Inner Mean Girl Cleanse, aka The Grand Advertising Vehicle for the Inner Mean Girl Reform School, did not reach me in the way that I had originally hoped upon signing up. By the second day, it was doling out a heavy dose of the saccharine with a notable side of advertising, and although this balance shifted over time, it only shifted to a heavy dose of advertising with a notable side of the saccharine.
There is good to be found in The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse. It is a response to a very real problem that so many of us have -- that we are often our own worst bullies and critics -- and I do believe that the co-creators, Amy Ahlers and Christine Arylo, are honestly trying to revolutionize women’s relationships with themselves and by extension, others and the world. Despite my misgivings, I don’t doubt that they will facilitate great change in some people’s lives -- you can’t help but hit a few targets when you’re shooting at ten thousand of them -- but a few good outcomes does not a success make.
I’ll be honest. Part of my dissatisfaction stemmed from the simple case that my personality did not mesh well with the goals of The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse. Where I sought an education that would make me feel more grounded and realistic about who I am and how to improve upon that, I found a playful game of new archetypes based on rudimentary psychology, and I just couldn’t buy into the story they were selling.
Another part of my dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that I truly believe that the infantilizing language used both to talk to students of The Inner Mean Girl Cleanse’s and to describe its archetypes does us, as women, a disservice. I felt like I was being treated either as a child being read a storybook or as a customer being sold DELICIOUS and AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL cupcakes. I found it unnecessarily cutesy and belittling. I do not accept that kind of treatment in my regular life, and there is no reason why I should find it acceptable from a self-help course, especially when it is claiming to offer me empowerment.
It could be argued that I need to lighten up, that I did not give the program enough effort, that I think I’m too good for self-help exercises. Go ahead and argue all of those points. None of those arguments will change the fact that women are fully formed, intelligent, and mature human beings who should never have to wade through condescension and enticement with the language of sugary entreaty, as though they are children, in order to learn how to be less of a bitch.
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