Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
Beauty Secrets from a TikTok Nun
Plus: Eric Adams Watch and Weird Trash Photo #16!
Welcome to Issue #20 of CAFÉ ANNE!
One of this newsletter’s recurring items has been “Beauty Tips From Nuns,” which launched back in Issue #3 with a look at best-nun-ever Sister Shane and how she lost 65 pounds.
I was delighted, then, when my sister told me of a nun on TikTok who occasionally dispenses beauty tips to her 142,000 followers along with prayer advice and accounts of convent life. I immediately contacted Sister Monica Clare, a former advertising exec, for an interview. She’s a delight! Please see this week’s feature, “Beauty Secrets From a TikTok Nun,” below.
In other news, I’ve got a big volunteer project coming up, so next week will be a bi-week. Issue #21 will land March 27. If you need some great Substack reading to tide you over, check out Michael Estrin’s very funny Situation Normal newsletter. Every Sunday, the L.A. writer chronicles his conversations with Burger King order takers, Uber drivers, fellow flight passengers, etc. It’s not his fault he’s a former New Yorker.
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE
• Weird Trash Photo #16
• Eric Adams Watch
• Beauty Tips From Nuns: Sister Monica Clare
• Items of Interest
Weird Trash Photo #16
What is going on in South Philly?
Reader Ashley B. recently moved there from Virginia and has been photographing her trash finds.
“I know the first one isn’t a pile per se,” she wrote, "but it was so disconcerting I had to document.”
“The doll was on South 5th St in South Philadelphia under a silver sedan,” she says.
She also spotted this fine beauty parlor hair drying machine out on the curb at the corner of 6th and Mifflin, surrounded by televisions:
“Note the ash trays built into the arms,” she wrote.
So great. Thank you Ashley!
Please send your weird trash photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include it in a future issue.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On God, Plant-Based Eating and Daylight Savings Time
I wasn’t thrilled when Eric Adams was elected mayor of NYC last fall. In his previous role as Brooklyn’s Borough President, he sometimes sounded bitter and angry—not the best qualities in a leader. But since taking office in January, he’s won my heart. Mayor Adams, it turns out, is SUPER FUN!
The former cop is biking around the city in snazzy suits, partying at Zero Bond, upsetting reporters with his secret fish-eating habit and romancing dogs. As a recent profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Going forward, I’ll you keep you posted on some of his latest doings. Please enjoy!
February 10: Revealed to a packed audience at the New York Public Library that while he was serving as a State Senator, God told him he’d someday be mayor. God was right!
February 24: Appearing on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” clarified his diet: "I'm a plant-based eater. I want to keep my body tight. I have great abs, I have a nice, firm behind.”
March 13: Noting the advent of daylight savings time, the mayor tweets, “GOOD NEWS: We’re the city that never sleeps, so we were going to lose that hour anyway.”
CAFÉ ANNE is a free newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!
BEAUTY TIPS FROM NUNS
TikTok Nun Sister Monica Clare
After majoring in theater and a 20-year career in advertising, Sister Monica Clare, 56, entered convent life in 2013. She is now the Sister Superior at the Episcopal Community of St. John Baptist in Mendham, NJ where she oversees the community’s foundations, 85-acre grounds, buildings and staff along with the spiritual direction and ministry of eleven fellow sisters.
She’s also a TikTok nun with 142,300 followers! And she has some great ideas to share about cultivating inner and outer beauty.
What inspired you to go on TikTok?
I used to work in advertising, so I was pretty knowledgeable about social media and how it can be used for publicity. One of the things that I pledged to do when I became a sister was to make the religious life more accessible to the public, and help people to understand our life.
I had already been publicizing the convent on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter a little bit. After Covid started, a friend of mine who used to be my assistant when I was a photo editor working in marketing—he's about 12 years younger than me—he called me up and said, “Have you gotten on TikTok?”
I started an account and started looking at the algorithm and adjusting it to where it was showing me things that I'm interested in. It started showing me these TikTok accounts of Roman Catholic sisters. I thought, “Wow, they're really projecting this joyful, positive image of the religious life to the world. And I would like to do that too.”
I have a sense of humor, as you probably could see from my TikToks. So I couldn't help posting funny stuff, like when that wild turkey was attacking our property. I thought that was such a funny story. I only had maybe four followers at the time. So I was trying to make them laugh. And it really caught on. People caught on to this crazy story about this wild turkey attacking a bunch of nuns in New Jersey.
That was the first video that really took off. And then since I started getting more followers, and I thought, well, I'm going to inform them about the religious life and demystify it—that was my goal.
The majority of my followers, I'd say 90% of them are women. They're Gen X women who are not religious—a great portion of them are atheist. And yet they are interested in what I'm saying.
So to me, that is really gratifying because I think of the religious life—convents and monasteries—as something that is under the radar of organized religion. We have our own niche, as they say in social media. We can offer people a non-traumatic experience of religion and spirituality that doesn't involve some of the symbols from their childhood, some of the abuse they may have suffered at the hands of organized religion. We can just offer them the gifts of prayer and meditation—things that have really helped modern people.
So that's why I did it. I wanted to publicize the wonderful religious life and help people to connect with what they need in this world today.
And you have 142,000 followers!
I cannot believe it. I never thought that many people would be interested in what I was saying.
The other sisters on NunTok—the Roman Catholic sisters—they do the more popular things like dancing and the quick-cut videos. I can't dance, so I'm never gonna do that. I thought, well, I'll never be as popular as they are.
But just me talking and answering questions has drawn a lot of people in. I do try to alternate my informative stuff and my serious stuff with humor, and with our animals, because that's also a very big part of our lives. We don't just sit around talking seriously about religion all the time. We have a lot of funny stuff that goes on here. And I'd like to convey that to the public as well. We're just people, we're not these mysterious weirdos.
What resonates most with your TikTok followers?
Surprisingly, the stuff about prayer. I really never thought that would resonate with non-religious people. And, of course, humor and cats resonate a lot as well, because that always does well on the internet.
But the prayer stuff—people are genuinely curious, genuinely interested, I get a lot of more interaction in the comments when I post about how to pray.
The most gratifying thing is when I post something that I think is really far-niche and that nobody's gonna resonate with, and somebody will inevitably post a comment that says, “You know, I turned away from religion, because I was so traumatized by it, but you're making me rethink that.”
Are you having fun?
I am. You know, a lot of people got lonely during Covid, including us. I'm an extreme introvert, but after about a year of not having any guests at the convent—we usually have a really busy guest ministry, we usually have groups over at the retreat house—it’s been very, very quiet and very lonely up here. We really long for that connection.
And so when I started doing TikToks, it was really nice to see how there's a very supportive and encouraging community, at least among my followers, the Gen X women.
They started giving me such wonderful positive feedback and I really didn't expect that. I just thought people would leave questions or trolls would come on and try to be mean. But they really have been so supportive and positive. They'll just leave a comment that says something like, “I love your hair, it looks great.” I don't get that in real life, I get it on TikTok!
What’s your troll situation?
Well, unfortunately, in religion, there are a lot of very militant people who think that their way is the only way, and if you're doing something different, you're going to hell and you're taking everybody with you.
And that's not what every denomination thinks. There is a branch of religion to which I belong, which is progressive Christianity, which is inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. We have women clergy, we have left-leaning politics. And I think people are not aware of that. They think everything is fundamentalism and evangelicals.
So people like us progressive Christians get very vehemently attacked by fundamentalists. And I'm not saying all fundamentalists are like that, of course. I know a lot of them are wonderful, and think that what I do is great.
But sometimes I'll get these really hateful comments, especially about LGBTQ+ issues, they'll just slam me down and I think, ‘Have you gone to seminary? Have you ever studied the Bible? Do you know anything about scripture? Are you just some armchair biblical scholar telling me about what scripture means?”
So I just block them immediately. I don't engage with them whatsoever. Because I do know from that mindset that they are not open to anyone else's point of view ever. They just want to condemn anybody who has a different point of view. And they are the ones that are driving people away from religion in droves.
Beauty tips! We'll start with outside beauty. What do you think makes someone beautiful on the outside?
I think kindness makes people beautiful. Just an outer glow of kindness.
Do you have any personal outer beauty tips? I imagine you’re not super concerned all day long about how you look.
No, and nobody in my life complimented me on my looks until the Gen X women of TikTok started doing it.
No one said anything except my mom, of course. I mean, everybody's mom thinks, “Oh, you're so beautiful.” But nobody did. I mean, I honestly thought that I look like a cartoon character or something. I didn't have any sense of positive anything about the way I look.
And when I entered a convent, of course, we don't look at ourselves in the mirror very much just because we're so busy and don't have to worry about the way we look.
When I was in my secular life, I was constantly looking in the mirror to make sure I had lipstick on and that my eyebrows are okay and my hair was okay, constantly adjusting my looks. And it was such a relief to enter a convent and never think about that again. It’s just wonderful. I wear a habit all the time, so I don't have to worry about what I'm wearing, if it's out of style, or do I look fat in this, or are people judging me for what I'm wearing. It's a huge amount of stress that's been taken off of me.
And then when I got on TikTok, I was just shocked at all these women saying, “How do you do your hair?” and, “Your skin is so beautiful.” Nobody's ever said that to me my life.
So the thing with my hair is to make two braids and put it over my head. Because my hair is really thin and fine and I can't do anything else with it. I have to keep it long and tied over my head. If I put it in a bun, it just falls out within a couple of hours. If I try to get it cut in any kind of style, it just lays flat like a helmet on my head. I can't do anything with it.
As far as skincare, I never thought about skincare much in my life. When I was a teenager, I had a lot of acne. But we were really poor and I couldn't buy products for it. I just had to grow out of it.
And then as an adult, I think the thing that's kept me from getting wrinkles is that I don't go out in the sun. I just never do, not since the 90s. Every time I'm out, someplace where it's sunny, I have an umbrella or I get under the shade because I get migraines from the sun. Horrible, debilitating migraines. So I've become like a vampire, staying out of the sun. I think that's the main thing that maybe makes me look a little younger than I am is no sun.
How about inner beauty? What makes a person beautiful inside?
I think just a sense of safety with that person. If you feel safe with that person, if they provide a space for you. They're not pushing you around, they're not judging you or dismissing you. The person people want to connect with is somebody who provides a safe space.
That’s pretty rare!
Yes, it’s very rare in this day and age. It sure is.
Well, if that's what makes a beautiful person beautiful inside, what can someone like me do to cultivate that capacity?
You do what I did. I used to be very judgmental of people if they weren't acting like I thought they were supposed to. I was very rigid about that. And the thing that I did was to remember everybody was raised differently. Their parents told them different things are good and different things are bad. And I have to remember that.
I used to get really annoyed if somebody was loud, like if they had a loud voice, or they were talking loud in a restaurant or something. I judged that person. And then I started thinking, maybe they were raised differently than me. I was raised to believe that being very quiet was a virtue. I was praised for it, and I was punished for being loud. So maybe this person was praised for speaking up, for being confident. And they were punished for, you know, being too wimpy.
And also I realized everybody has a different experience. Maybe this person was with somebody who's hard of hearing, so they have to speak loud. So just putting people into their own context, rather than judging them through my own experience, really helps.
Judging others can be fun, but it can also feel super painful. Do you have any more tips for letting go of one's judgments? Some I feel like I just can't control it.
I know! Especially if somebody seems to be doing harm. Or if they have a lot of narcissistic personality traits and things like that. One thing I can do is just say, “I don't know that person's story. I don't know what happened to them that made them like that.” But I can take away my close proximity, I can get out of that person's orbit, and simply pray that they find a better way to be.
Even, you know, when you look at political figures, like what's happening in Ukraine right now. I don't want to sit in judgment of Vladimir Putin because I don't know his story. I don't know why he is the way he is. And I think everybody can be redeemed. What I pray for him is that he sees reason and logic and learns to de-escalate this, because it's harming him.
And you find that the prayer helps you?
Yes. It definitely gives you hope that they can change for the better.
ITEMS OF INTEREST