Musings + Essays

“Don’t Say That about My Best Friend.”

By: Jen Shoop

This morning, I’m re-publishing an essay from several years ago about a moment from my childhood that changed the way I thought of myself. I was reminded of it last week when Mr. Magpie was out of town, and my seven year old daughter asked whether she could stay up late to watch The Eras tour with me. She’d seen it multiple times, but it was on her mind all week, as Mr. Magpie was out of town on business, and I once let her stay up late to watch TV with me when Mr. Magpie was traveling, and it’s now become a tradition. He leaves, and the begging begins! Anyhow, as I sat watching the concert with her, I was struck by how, all of the sudden, our conversations feel more like…well, conversations. We talked about Taylor’s glittery boots, how it was possible that she’d changed so quickly backstage, whether we liked a particular song or not, how many people were in the audience. I looked over and thought to myself: You feel like a girlfriend. And then I remembered the time I said something negative about myself, and my mother stopped and got down at eye level with me, and said: “Don’t you ever say that about my best friend.” I was shook! I’d not known my mother considered me a friend, and it changed my world. So I looked over at my girl and told her: “I’m having so much fun with you — you’re my best friend.”

She beamed back.

The moment couldn’t have come at a better time, because earlier this week, my daughter was changing into her pajamas, and she looked at herself in the mirror and said: “Mama, I feel fat.” It took the wind out of me. I can barely write those words now. I have spent her entire life consciously, fastidiously avoiding all mentions of body type and shape; we never, ever use the terms “skinny” or “fat”; we don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.” I struggled with disordered eating for half of my teens and I am resolute on these points. I have been so meticulous on this front that I thought perhaps she meant “I feel full,” and asked her as much. She shook her head. “No, I feel fat.” I was, frankly, livid. I knew she’d not learned the concept at home, and wanted to have a few choice words with whoever had introduced it to my daughter. (I later found out, unsurprisingly perhaps, that a girlfriend of hers had called her “fat” — this girl is a sweet child, and I knew immediately that it had been delivered unknowingly, and without malice. Probably something she heard at home and repeated without intent. Still…!) I was anxious to reassure my daughter, and at the same time, did not want to overblow the moment by giving it too much rhetorical emphasis. (I’m thinking specifically of a time my sister called my brother “a perv” when she was six or seven and my brother lost it. For years and years, I considered “perv” one of the worst insults that could be slung. Now I see it for what it is, but the point has always remained — sometimes when we draw too much attention or rally an outsized response, it makes the situation more intense than it needs to be, and draws unneeded arrows. I didn’t want her sitting around thinking words about body type are some kind of diabolical language — they aren’t! I just don’t like them weaponized in any way.)

All of these thoughts skittered through my mind simultaneously as I sat a few feet from her in her gliding armchair. I closed my book and I said, as calmly and firmly as I could, aiming to keep my quiet rage out of my voice: “Emory, you are perfect just the way you are. I don’t like that word, and I don’t like you saying anything about yourself in an unkind way. You’re my friend, and I don’t want anyone saying anything unkind about my friends.” She looked at me with enormous eyes and nodded. I presume she felt similar to how I’d felt when my mother had spoken to me in a similar tone.

It felt good, then, to bend the conversation around in a positive way later in the week, as we watched the Eras tour and I let her know how much I appreciated her friendship. I’ll never forget her beaming response.

My original essay below.


I was seven or eight, standing in the long mirrored hall of closets in the dressing area of my parents’ bedroom. I remember staring angrily at the spectator-detailed cut-outs of my navy blue t-straps.

“I hate myself!” I cried out, my voice strident and demonstrative.

My mother placed her hands on my shoulders and crouched down so that she was at eye level with me.

Don’t you ever say that about my best friend,” she said, with a deliberate slowness that made my stomach drop.

I burst into tears. I was, frankly, more surprised than anything. I had not known prior how serious the words were, nor that my mother considered me “her best friend.” Was it true…? Even at seven, I found myself adept at separating the chaff from the wheat when it came to conversations with adults. It must be, though, I remember reasoning, my eyes as wide as saucers, peering up at my mother’s serious and drawn face.

I wept into my mother’s shirt, her comforting arms.

I have no recollection of what precipitated the outburst, nor any memory of what came after that exchange in her hallway. What I remember, with a kind of piercing clarity, was that it was a vile thing, to talk about myself badly.

So why do so many of us do it? We are so often our own worst critics, and if the wolves don’t come for us, we invent them all the same. I remember a couple of months ago, Nellie Diamond, founder of Hill House Home, talked about combatting criticism, and she commented that: “There’s nothing bad that anyone could say about me that I haven’t already told myself.” I was flabbergasted by her candor, by the sadness of the sentiment. And yet there was a pebble of truth in her words that chafed. I, too, have called myself names, have lambasted myself for mistakes, far more injuriously than anyone else I’ve met in this life.

My repeated intention for the past many years has been grace — giving others grace, giving myself grace. I have become more fluent in the practice, but still, I can be hard as nails on myself, especially when it comes to matters of parenting. A few weeks ago, after a parenting misstep, I sat in bed lamenting. Midway through, my mother’s words appeared to me, as though a peace offering.

Don’t say that about my best friend.

I hoisted myself out of the moment. I thought about what I might say to a girlfriend criticizing herself for the same meandering. Reassurance poured forth.

The next time you find yourself mid-self-critique, pause for a second. Imagine a loved one — a mother, a sister, a best friend, an aunt — and how she might react on your behalf if she could hear that inner monologue.

My guess is:

Don’t say that about my best friend.


+A life-changing podcast on apologizing. This really rocked my world. I think about it constantly, use its language all the time.

+How do you handle criticism?

+More on my incredible mother.

+Benedictions. Re-reading this post just now left me weepy. God is good. Introíbo ad altáre Dei (I will go in unto the altar of God) // Ad Deum, qui lætíficat iuventútem meam (To God who giveth joy to my youth.)

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

This isn’t a formal mother’s day gift guide, but each and every item would make a great gift for a mother. I also own and love all of these items. Sort of a roundup of some of my most treasured belongings…

+My heart ID necklace. I’ve had a little influx of questions about it lately. You can engrave on both sides — I have Landon’s initials on the front and our wedding date on the back of the big one (I have the 16.5″ one), and my children’s first initials on the smaller one (I have the 15.5″). The cut off to order in time for Mother’s Day is today! I’m showing a photo of how the two look together below, as a number of you have asked!

+Old Faithful: Lake Pajamas. If you’re stumped, these are a tried and true winner. They recently restocked their popular Relax set in a pretty dusty hydrangea blue — apparently they have trouble keeping these in stock! — but I also think their new weekend bundles in either this format or this one are thoughtful gifts. A friend of mine said these are great for travel when you don’t know whether you’ll run hot or cold, and I also think they extend the longevity of the set. (You can swap in the shorts for warmer weather, and wear the long in colder months.) Last but not least, I’ve more or less been exclusively wearing their kimono sets the last month. The same swingy and ultra-soft material as the relax set, but a shape that’s a bit more flattering. As an aside — I should have added this to my list of life hacks/rules from last week, but as I get older, I’ve learned to just pay the $5 or $10 to have things gift boxed/wrapped by the store. The presentation is so much nicer when you’re having something shipped directly to a recipient! I used to avoid this surcharge like the plague but now I lean into it. Lake’s boxes are particularly nice and sturdy.

+A Julia Amory husband shirt. Have yet to find someone who doesn’t love this piece — can be worn as a cover-up, tucked into jeans, etc. So soft (not starchy at all!) and breathable, and always in such great prints. I just bought myself this version in the unexpected brown with the matching pareo.

+Camilla Moss scripture cards. I keep these at my deskside and often times, my eye drifts over to them at just the right moment.

+ Fellow kettle for a tea or coffee lover. I truly love this brand. We started with their bean grinder and then replaced our old electric kettle with their gooseneck option. We now also have their largest capacity kettle (without a gooseneck, which means it’s more versatile and better for pouring tea IMO).

+Love all of Janessa Leone’s packable hats. So intelligently designed and the best shapes!

+Have gifted both my mom and my MIL the elevated sweatshirts from Alice Walk. They’re the dreamiest, highest-quality material and they come in beautiful colors and even stripes. A great gift for a reluctant adopter of athleisure. (I own a crewneck and two of the half-zips — they are divine!). If she’s a bit sportier (or if you are), you might also consider Spanx’s AirEssentials half-zip. I love that material, too. The style is a bit more cropped and sporty.

+Anything from OSEA. I love this female-founded, clean beauty brand. Everything smells wonderful and works beautifully. I especially love their body butter and salt scrub. Either would be an indulgent, spa-oriented gift for a mama. Something about the brand just feels good — wholistic, natural.

+Gorgeous scalloped acrylic frames. I have one of these on my desk with Tilly in it. Note the the price is for two!

+One of my most prized possessions is this Weezie robe. I wear it literally every morning. Perfect weight (on the thinner side) with a nice length and a long sash. Heidi Carey has a similar style robe but in great botanical patterns.

+The RoundHouse has such gorgeous platters and tabletop finds. I loved this one from my Easter tablescape.

+I almost always have a candle going in the evenings! I love the ones from Linnea — a little more reasonably priced than Diptyque and Trudon, but exceptional, complex scents. Currently loving Fields and Rosewater. On the splurgier end, I love Trudon’s scents. They are rich and multi-faceted but not overpowering.

+The Frank & Eileen Patrick popover — my favorite alternative to a white tee. Easy, relaxed fit but more fitted below the elbow to the wrist for a flattering silhouette. I have in white, but also love the new striped offerings, and all the pretty pastels, too!

+My two favorite face masks are both from Clarins: this one is a must-own (I didn’t even know my face looked puffy sometimes before I used this — it somehow chisels the features and leaves skin so happy and soft), and this is reinvigorating (feels like an ice plunge).

+The best vase. I reach for this every single time. The ruffled lip makes it so easy to arrange a bouquet — they sort of fan out naturally! — and the height/size is perfect for your standard arrangement.

+Byredo’s blanche or lilac scents. Of course, all scents are so personal, but these feel like crowd-pleasers, and they come in a cute little trio of floral-scentric mini sprays here.

+Exquisite cocktail napkins, for the woman who has it all and enjoys entertaining. These come beautifully boxed.

+A great day trip duffel or baby bag. It’s currently 15% off in honor of Mother’s Day. It’s so thoughtfully designed, with lots of zippered compartments and slots, and a little side panel you can use to keep shoes separate! (Would be good for gym/travel for this reason.). I just got this in the limited edition pistachio color.

+OK, this one I don’t own (yet) but a gorgeous cashmere cardigan in a perfect oatmeal hue?! It’s a slam dunk.

+I usually use this State Bags belt bag when I’m on a walk, but I’m thinking of buying both my mother and I this Dagne Dover phone sling. I think it’d be perfect for my mom to take on her walks in the morning. Just the right size for phone, AirPods, and rosary — her stalwart walk companions.

+A couple of smaller buys that could be bundled together (or just a treat yourself moment!): my favorite writing pens; my personal alarm (I carry when running); this amazing ice roller; best $18 depuffing eye cream; Aesop incense sticks; my favorite notebooks; truffle popcorn; really good candy.

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10 thoughts on ““Don’t Say That about My Best Friend.”

  1. I somehow have arrived at a place of complete body neutrality, comfort in my skin and glory in myself (perhaps due to years of managing chronic illness, perhaps because adulthood and charting my own course was my salvation, perhaps because I’m a reader and writer of romance. But I’m sensitive to critiques of my body (or anyone else’s body), particularly my in-laws’ disordered eating and food restriction, and my parents’ negativity and poor self-image. I read once that 60% of preschoolers (across gender lines) hate their bodies, and that petrifies me. I hated my body growing up, not for weight reasons, but because I’m neuroatypical and was masking imperfectly or felt inadequate at performing femininity. I have sung my son this song every night since before he could talk:
    “I love my body from my head to my toes/I love my face, my eyes, my mouth my nose”
    I say body neutrality and not positivity because as someone chronically ill, my body is always worthy but not always “good,” it often limits or discomfits me. I will not comment on someone else’s body unless they have invited me to discuss it specifically, and I stay in my lane. (If a postpartum friend is discussing hair loss, I will not pivot to weight.) I think the newsletter Burnt Toast is fantastic, as well as the author’s book, Fat Talk!

    1. These are great bright line rules – thanks for sharing them. I’d never heard the term “body neutrality” but I completely understand how you’ve conceived of it here, and how much sense it makes. Thanks for sharing that.


  2. What an incredibly sweet and poignant way for your mother to help reframe your feelings! I, too, have the tendency to be very hard on myself and self-critical, so I will keep this in my back pocket.

    Thanks, too, for the Spice House recommendation! We end up buying a lot of spices at a nearby Persian market, and supplement with H-Mart runs for things like Sichuan peppercorns, but there are sometimes gaps we need to fill & I love the idea of shipping spices in flat packs!


    1. You will love Spice House – great for filling in blanks or when you just know you won’t have time to make it to the market.

      Isn’t my mom the best?! I think of this all the time…


  3. Will you update us on the Westman Atelier complexion drops when you get the chance to use them? I hate that their products are so good!

    1. Yes!! Definitely. Going to do a post with honest feedback on a bunch of new beauty products, tentatively late next week.


  4. Oh my goodness! “Don’t say that about my best friend,” stopped me in my tracks. What a thoughtful, loving, caring, and any other adjective I could use! I can’t admire and respect your mother any more than I already do. Lucky you

    1. You and I both – she is just the best. She always had this intuitive way of saying just the right thing at the right time with the right level of seriousness/levity. I think about her all the time when I’m parenting my own kids…if I could ONLY have more of her sagacity, her poise, her timing!


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