Girls and the Hot Mess

Hey, fellow young ladies of a certain ilk. Is it just me, or are we all kind of a mess? Are we all rambling around our lives, spending too much and making bad dating decisions and working at jobs we hate, because we’re honestly struggling to get somewhere? Or are we doing this because we think it’s romantic?

I think I had an epiphany of sorts last year, while squoozing blackheads out of my face in front of a mirror (I know you do it too, don’t even). I was doing this even though I knew for a fact that I would regret doing so, just as I always do. Suddenly, the following thought zoomed through my mind: “Being a mess doesn’t make you cute. It just makes you a mess.” And I looked at myself in the mirror in shock, struck by the realization that I was not only picking at my face against my better judgment, but I had been doing just about everything else against my better judgment too. Every circumstantial excuse I’d built up to explain myself out of responsibility for the last few seemingly unlucky years of my life melted away like they were nothing. There I stood, in my jammies, my face red with irritation, newly aware that my unhappiness and disorder was actually of my own choosing.

Between manic pixie dream girls and slacker dude culture, I think our generation somehow got the idea that it’s charming to be a hot mess. HBO’s Girls seems to be the culmination of this. I’m not knocking the show. I think it’s a well-written, well-acted show, and I’m glad to have it on television (ladies making art represent, what what!). However, I do worry that as the viewer, we’re idealizing this kind of life, rather than looking into it as a mirror and recognizing our parallel mistakes. Are we romanticizing our twenties as being the time when we should all be complete disasters as people? If the Beat Generation had the wandering artist ideal and the Me Generation had the power greed ideal, is our generational ideal to be broke and having terrible sex and hating ourselves?

Mike’s piece about having a great, fulfilling year, while saving too, is the perfect counterbalance to this. Mike isn’t different from us, he’s just aware. Spending smarter and saving is a choice—one every single person can make. Are we not doing it because we are genuinely incapable, or are we not doing it so that we have relatable, charmingly self-deprecating tweets for people to star? I think once I was truly over the hump of being broke and unable to pay rent, I continued to live most of my twenties as if I was in some kind of movie montage. Here’s me drinking too much at a bar with my friends and rolling around in the street at 4 a.m.! Here’s me eating dinner in my underwear on my mattress on the floor of my otherwise empty studio apartment! Here’s me sleeping with a 40-something-year old dude who doesn’t treat me well! Here’s me overdrawing my bank account because I want to go rollerskating! Whee! I’m such an adorable 26-year-old mess!

However, after the zippy montage is edited together, there remains all the real life stuff on the cutting room floor. Here’s me choosing to go out drinking, instead of writing and getting better at what I really want to do. Here’s the part where I have to wake up at 6 a.m. to go to the job I hate, hungover from drinking the night before. Here’s me never wanting to have friends over because my studio apartment doesn’t have any furniture, so I sit in isolation, my neurotic inner monologue eating away at my confidence. Here’s me getting home after unfulfilling sex, wondering why I keep actively participating in something that makes me unhappy. Here’s me without the option to quit my job and pursue my goals, because I have no money saved.

There will undoubtedly be those who read this and just think I’m an asshole. And I probably am. I am an asshole for having known what I should have been doing and embracing the fuck-up instead. But maybe it is relatable. Maybe it is generational. Maybe it was growing up on slacker movies like Clerks, Reality Bites,  or even Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. Maybe it was the dozens of rom-coms with meet-cutes and grand gestures and manic pixie dream girls and sexual mistakes. Or maybe it was something more organic, something within our culture and politics and changing world at large. Perhaps it was watching some of our parents, who thought they had amassed everything they wanted in the ’80s and ’90s, suddenly get to the ’00s and ’10s and feel they’d been robbed of something essential, like the game changed on them. Or perhaps we feel like the game changed on us, and if the goal posts are that much farther back than they were before, we don’t want to play. I don’t know. All I know is I can feel it around me, this sense that we all want to be young and dumb forever. I have a suspicion that we think being a mess equals being young equals being vital.

And I’m done with it.

Here’s to working like a boss, saving like a champ, and getting to the next level. I’m gonna Beyonce this shit from now on. Who run the world? Girls. But probably not until we start thinking of ourselves as women.


Lindsay Katai is a writer/performer/debtor living in Los Angeles, CA. She sometimes remembers to use Twitter. Photo: Flickr/bingham_becky


44 Comments / Post A Comment

Bravo! At 27, I also have just realized that it’s not too late for me to clean up the hot mess that I have been. I enjoyed this as much as I related. And I have no plans to watch that damn HBO show. Looks like Bratz in the City to me.

alpacasloth (#108)

Manic pixie dream girl syndrome. I had it once. Then I realized the way I was living my life was pretty stupid (and often times reckless!). I lived at home with my parents for two years after college and didn’t manage to save ANY money. I spent it all! But I realized that leaving the comfort of their house and forcing myself to get a real job and start paying real bills was the only way I was ever going to grow up. So I did. And it took a little bit of time. Also, life turned around and became a much more pleasant experience when I quit drinking. Once I decided that being constantly hungover and getting into relationship and friend drama was not all that glamorous, I changed. Acting like an adult has been a much better experience.

alpacasloth (#108)

@alpacasloth ALSO, living your life like it’s a movie montage… you hit the nail on the head. I BLAME THIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. And also myself, for thinking that any of this was cute and charming. With that said, my life motto is “mistakes aren’t always regrets.”

girlsownlove (#396)

I see what you’re saying and mostly concur, but a weird experience recently has caused me to regress in the opposite direction. A friend of mine passed away who was a true man-about-town, and a dirtbag, and never quite had his shit together. But he taught me how to be in a city, and how to explore it, and what a gift that is. Now that I’ve moved back home to this city and it’s giving me a second chance – I feel conflicted between whether it’s more important to have my shit together or make room in my life to really be in this place – spontaneously and recklessly, or with purpose and poise – either way.

I guess I’m just point out that it’s rarely a shift from “hot mess” to “shit together” – it’s usually a matter of acknowledging the tension between the two.

@girlsownlove I think “tension between the two” is a great way of putting it and probably where we’ll live our entire lives.

girlsownlove (#396)

@Lindsay Katai everyone who writes on here is so lovely.

Lemonnier (#184)

@girlsownlove I too had a dirtbag, man-about-town friend who never quite had his shit together, who passed away. And the city where he lived allowed him to never get his shit together, and allowed him to surround himself with the very dysfunctional or the very young, who couldn’t see how out-of-hand his behavior was, and it ultimately played a role in killing him. But it’s a false dichotomy to think that knowing how to be in and explore a city, and having your shit together, are mutually exclusive. There is room in anyone’s life to both “really be in this place” and have your shit together. Anyone who tells you differently is just romanticizing being a mess, or making excuses for why they are one.

cherrispryte (#19)

I ….. hmmmm. I most certainly identify as a hot mess (and, um several of the things above hit disconcertingly close to home) but a lot of that is a reaction to the first twenty years of my life, which were wasted chasing perfection, making me varying degrees of miserable? And to combat the perfectionist thing, it’s necessary to be a mess sometimes. I’ve curbed the excesses of my early 20’s, to be sure (no more drinking during the week! no more asshole friends!), and there’s definitely a growing “get your shit together and start acting like a fucking adult” feeling that I am trying to embrace, but I need to be a little bit of a mess, just for my own sanity’s sake.
Does that make any sense whatsoever?

I also think for some people, there’s a depression aspect of being a mess. (Not all people! But some. And those some are probably not the intended audience of this piece anyway. And now I’m rambling.)

@cherrispryte Makes sense to me. I’ve always been a got-it-together type of person and I think nudging myself a bit closer to the hot mess side of the spectrum might enrich my life somewhat. Only a bit, though, like staying out until midnight on a weeknight? Like maybe once a month? Or maybe I, too, am glorifying the hot mess, but also realizing that my zippy montage is empty? Ugh, who knows.

Anne (#33)

@cuminafterall I’m definitely more of the TCOB type of gal. But, I was always a little jealous of my hot mess of a roommate. She had no money, but every single beauty product ever invented and a closet to kill for. She would bounce out of bed at 2am to go make out with a dude in his car–and subsequently get locked out of the house. She quit her job because they wouldn’t give her time off for SXSW. Looking back, I’m glad that I rubbed off on her more than she rubbed off on me.

Pistachio (#378)

@cherrispryte Yes, I completely agree. I have to force myself to be a little wild because I was a huge, huge perfectionist for so long and it sucked. I wish I had made more mistakes, been more reckless, had more drunken fun in my late teens/early 20s.

But then again, I was afraid to because I wasn’t ready for it. And I might not have ended up where I am now, which is a pretty good place [steady job, stable relationship, paying down student loans pretty quick].


@cherrispryte I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I think its finding the balance of too much control and no control. A good spot is somewhere in the middle. Being the manic pixie dream girl is “fun” but after a while…I had to pull the reins in.

Sarah H. (#408)

@cherrispryte Yessss to depression sometimes being an aspect. This is something I’ve discussed a lot with my therapist – for years and years I embraced a sort of “teehee, I’m just really scatterbrained and can’t really get my shit together, but that’s who I am and it’s charming!” but I’m starting to realize that’s NOT who I am. I was using that identity as an excuse to not face my depression/motivation issues, and it was making me miserable.

To be fair, some of my true self is a little scattered, and I don’t always make the right decisions. But that doesn’t DEFINE me, and I can’t use it as a crutch to keep from actually facing my issues and starting to like and understand myself.

@cherrispryte @Sarah H. Depression has certainly been a factor for me too, as has OCD.

Pistachio (#378)


Uno, is your name from the Bjork song? BECAUSE I LOVE THAT SONG.

Dos, yeah, MPDG can be fun to do, but I often felt I was doing it to please men/boys, rather than because it was a natural expression of my personality. I’m actually pretty uptight, loverboy, don’t let these 3 am porch chats make you think otherwise.


@Pistachio you got it. Bjork seems to have a strong manic pixie dream girls following.

Good article…motivated me early this morning to put my finances on

I’ve recently started to realize just how much I allow the glorification of messiness to absolve my own laziness. I too blame Reality Bites.

VolcanoMouse (#420)

Oh, lady, you got it. The Hot Mess is always pushed on us as being photogenic and cute and somehow loyal to our generation. I’m in my twenties, married, financially responsible, and free of debt. But since I missed out on it, I long for that illusory life where I can drink and spend and slack as much as I want, even though I know that the myth is shit and that the lifestyle would make me miserable.

Then, there’s the Actual Hot Mess (not charming) and the Hot Mess as Acted Out By Actually Together People (cripplingly charming). Many of the blog-ladies on the internet seem to fall into the latter category.

Crank (#394)

@VolcanoMouse Testify. My best friend is a “Hot Mess as Acted Out By An Actually Together Person”. She’s silly, she tells everyone on Facebook about her cute mistakes, she’s adorable! But she and I get together for coffee and talk about retirement accounts and career plans.

orangezest (#317)

@Crank Yes! But I think the danger is that those of us watching it being acted out can’t tell the difference. I had a Logan-y financial situation for two years that I am only now climbing out of. Having friends who could plan trips abroad and talk about dipping into savings once in awhile, despite making the same amount of money that I did, was eye-opening — that you can be cool, and adorable, and also not actually be screwing up on a basic level.

VolcanoMouse (#420)

@Emma Peel That’s exactly it, and because I am a bit slow on the uptake, I’m only realizing now how well this ties in with Mike Dang’s article from the other day. The opposite of Hot Mess doesn’t have to be Square, right?

@Emma Peel Toooooooootally.

neener (#242)

I’m gonna Beyonce this shit from now on.


neener (#242)

@blahstudent why this sentence meant a lot to me: the huge difference in the quality of beyonce’s 2009 output and britney spears’ 2009 output truly opened my eyes to the value and dignity of hard work.

Here’s me choosing to go out drinking, instead of writing and getting better at what I really want to do.
A-effing-MEN. I found this whole post to be incredibly insightful. I am actually not a financial mess whatsoever, but I’m a mess in other ways. Even though I don’t waste money, I waste… my time, I guess? My motivation? Whatever it is, I identify with these issues you’ve brought up. I’m just bopping around and not actually moving my life forward in any meaningful way. And while I’ve had fun, it gets less so with each passing year. Or month, really.

Leslie (#423)

Thanks for writing this! The buzz around “Girls” has been bugging me so much. I kept thinking, “if this is the voice of our generation I don’t want to be a part of it.” Living life like this makes for great Facebook posts and TV shows but thats about it.

I’m so tired of these “What’s Wrong With Todays Twenty-Somethings!?” articles that come out about once every three months. And I’m tired of shows like “Girls” proving them right.

I am by no means old-fashioned. I don’t think that we have to get married and be a housewife, or even settle for a cubicle job. I just think that we should focus on what we really want, and not settle until we get it.

Sidenote: it would be nice to see some articles, TV shows, and blog posts about twenty-somethings who have it together.

Leslie (#423)

@Leslie aaannddd I really want to fix the typos in my previous post, but I can’t figure out how to delete or edit. Settle for my apologies?

Pistachio (#378)

“Being a mess doesn’t make you cute. It just makes you a mess.”

Yes so many times! I had a similar realization, except about my emotional baggage: “Being sad and stuck in your problems doesn’t make you unique or precious, it just kind of makes you a drag. Move on.”

I, too, am more the take-care-of-business type than hot-mess type, but I sometimes embrace the hot mess thing just to give myself a break for messing up and doing stupid things that are part of growing up (getting ripped off by cab drivers, losing things, missing planes, failing an exam, not calling my grandma enough, etc.). And just for the record, to echo some of what’s already been expressed, pretty much all the hot messes I know are actually miserable on the inside. As a very wise person once told me: be careful when comparing your insides (“I’M A FAILURE AND I MESS EVERYTHING UP AND WHY CAN’T I BE PERFECT!”) with someone else’s outsides (“I’M EFFORTLESSLY ADORABLE AND PARTY ALL THE TIME AND HAVE NO RESPONSIBILITIES AND THEREFORE NO PROBLEMS!”).

Thank you for writing this, I really liked it. It gave me a different perspective that I hadn’t even been thinking of, because a lot of the time I’m telling myself “it’s ok, things are ok, your twenties are about screwing up”. Most days, I give myself such a hard time ALL OF THE TIME for not having my shit together, that it feels really, really nice to read or hear that other people have been fucking up too. That doesn’t mean we don’t all have to pick up our game & better-now-rather-than-later, etc: but I’m in the journey & I haven’t yet arrived at that debt-free destination.

Thanks Mike for being so nonjudgmental about people whose lifestyles are totally the opposite of sensible, and THANK YOU LOGAN for your honesty with your finance woes: I laugh, I tense up like a frightened meerkat when I see how similar our thought processes are, (eg when shouting friends dinner on your almost-maxed-credit-card because it just feels so NICE).. And I breathe a sigh. Knowing I’m not alone in WORKING ON FIXING THIS is helpful.

lalaland (#437)

@hi, you@twitter I think your twenties (and heck, probably all of your life) are about screwing up…sometimes. But I think it’s also important to own those mistakes and learn from them, rather than dismissing them with a “ohmygod, I’m SUCH a hot mess” comment. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN*.

*Not you, specifically, obviously. Just we’ve all done that…right?

@hi, you@twitter @lalland Absolutely. I think the trick is distinguishing between the stuff that truly isn’t your fault and IS just about being young and the stuff that you’re secretly in control of. We tell ourselves these stories like, “I’m such a scatterbrain” or “I’m terrible with money” to excuse our behavior, but then we let that story/excuse dictate who we are and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We can change! We can create new stories!

Trilby (#191)

As an older person (maybe the oldest here!) I commend you for this epiphany. Just want to throw in that, back in the day, young people would sort of prematurely take on the trappings of adulthood and responsibility, ready or not. Now things have swung the other way and adolescence is extended almost indefinitely. You are right that a hot mess is cute to no one. At a certain point, one must get one’s act together and become an adult, or play one until it sticks.

lalaland (#437)

Thanks for writing this. I really have nothing insightful to add, as the article and comments have pretty much covered my every thought on this, but also – wanted to say the Billfold is fantastic. Such great perspectives from both ends of the spectrum – this site has become one of my favorites!

cmcm (#267)

Sometimes I think I try to be more of a hot mess just to distinguish myself from the people I grew up with who all got married and bought houses and had kids soooooo young. I’ve moved from country to country, dated all the worst guys ever, am broke etc etc… and I wonder how much of that is to make sure I’m different from these boring people?

@cmcm That’s an interesting point. I wonder how much seeing other people’s lives on Facebook has driven us to be a contrast.

All right, I’m finally getting around to registering for an account here to first of all mention that I’m REALLY liking the Billfold so far, so much more than I expected, considering that usually when the subject of personal finance comes up I tend to take a little nap. This feels like the first site talking about money that doesn’t assume that the entire readership makes buckets of money and understands how retirement accounts work.

Second of all, this post is a beautiful thing. I’ve managed to be almost semi-responsible throughout my newly concluded 20s in that I’ve always had a salary of some sort and never plunged into credit card debt or became an alcoholic or anything, but there have definitely been a few “hot mess” issues to sort out. Then at some point during my 28th year, AN EPIPHANY STRUCK. There are people out there with real problems: dire poverty, homelessness, fatal disease, etc. And I realized that compared to people who have REAL problems, I’m very fortunate to be young and able-bodied and living in a first-world country with a steady paycheck and health insurance. And so it was time to call off the pity party and GET IT TOGETHER. And do you know how much happier and more sane I’ve felt ever since finally having that belated realization? SO MUCH HAPPIER. SO MUCH SANER.

Anyway, thanks for a great post!

This is amazing timing. I am interviewing for a promotion at work in about two hours. I’ve been kind of terrified, because while it’s mostly all good, it means a bit of growing up. More responsibility, more visibility, better outfits and not being 15 minutes late every day. It’s been scary, probably more scary than it should be. But I’m beginning to be okay with it and this helped!

Most of my friends are living paycheck to paycheck or unemployed. It’s frustrating at this point, our late 20’s/early 30’s, because I want to do big things. I want to go on group vacations or travel abroad together. But my friends can never go because they aren’t making any money and what they do make gets spent on dining out and massages. Sigh.

My friends made fun of me for meeting a nice girl and deciding to be an adult all at once, but what actually happened was I met a 7-year-old who judged me as only a child can on the mess, and I decided all at once I was done. I want kids. Kids are hard. You need to be emotionally together and have money and be trustworthy, because they notice in a way adults just don’t care about.

I also finally got a job that paid Grown Up Money. It took years. There weren’t any jobs I knew how to get, no-one cared how I did at work, there just wasn’t anything out there at all in my field. So I changed my field.

I’m so glad I’m not going to be twentysomething soon, because I was so, so, so bad at Being Young.

I refuse to believe that blackhead removal is a bad idea.

@Andrea Karim@facebook I think it depends on how many you have and whether it becomes an exercise in self-hatred.

NoReally (#45)

Hot towel first.

novembertea (#2,203)

I loved this piece!!

NoReally (#45)

One aspect of hot messness is that they frequently spend a lot of time with other messes, who reinforce every destructive thing they do. And the other voices around them, the ones saying that it’s about time they got their shit together, are less fun to hang out with. The people you choose to call your real friends are always really supportive of your bad choices, and never judgmental. And frequently in worse shape, in one area of life or another. It’s like alcoholics hanging around with alcoholics.

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