Over 14 years ago, Jen Landis found herself in a dark place.
She describes it as “the worst three years of self-doubt I have ever experienced.” She had returned to school to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree and found her inner dialogue to be both troubling and consuming.
“I would look around the room and compare myself to all the other [graduate] students,” she recalls. “They are so much better than me, smarter than me, and this doesn’t feel very good.
“It was an internal dialogue problem that I was having with myself.”
Turning negativity into positivity
As artists do, Landis put her negative dialogue onto paper. She gave it an image and a name; she wrote down the words she was thinking. And that was how the Pincurl Girls were born.
Landis explains that as a girl, her mother would put her to bed with pin curls in her hair. Each time, Landis would dream and hope that in the morning, the curls would be bouncing and beautiful. But each morning she was disappointed and had to endure the rest of the day with her lackluster curls or frizzy hair.
At first, the Pincurl Girl drawings represented all of that negativity, and the wishful thinking that never came to fruition.
But as Landis progressed through graduate school, her mindset suddenly shifted. One particularly stressful day, she reached for the phone to get some much-needed encouragement from her mom. Unable to reach her, she decided to send herself her own encouraging text message.
“Even though I knew that I just wrote it, it warmed my heart,” she says. “It gave me a smile, it made me feel loved. The minute that happened, the second that happened, I knew I had to share this with people.”
And with one text message to herself, the Pincurl Girls not only had a name, but a purpose.
Today, Landis runs the Pincurl Girl website; a smorgasbord of positivity aimed at empowering girls and women. She sells her Pincurl Girls artwork on anything from mugs to throw blankets. She puts out a yearly calendar featuring the iconic Pincurl Girls with all shades of skin tones and features, even one calendar entirely in Spanish.
Landis hosts events and fundraisers. She has a long list of speaking engagements under her belt. And Pincurl Girls even has a scholarship given “every quarter to a driven tween to help achieve her goals.”
Pincurl Girl text messages
But there are also the Pincurl Girl texts, a subscription service based on that one positive text message Landis sent to herself back in graduate school over a decade ago. For $2.99 a month, subscribers can receive a daily text message of inspiration. Landis does not profit from the subscription fee, but instead charges what she needs to cover the software costs for sending the messages. The messages are personalized with the recipient’s name and are freshly composed every day by Landis herself.
“Every day I write them on the spot,” she explains. “Sometimes I base it off of my own emotions, it just comes to me. It’s just inspiration. I sit at the keyboard, and I have nothing on my mind, and all of a sudden I’ve written something. I like to keep them clever and fun.”
Landis relies on serendipity for the timing of her texts. Sometimes they are sent in the morning; other times throughout the day or evening. But based on feedback, it’s working. Every three months, she sends out a survey to her subscribers who validate the service with phrases like these:
“Somehow the texts show up JUST when I need to hear them. It’s honestly the best part of my day sometimes!”
“They lift me and give me a positive smile.”
“I love the positive messages, that they come at different times during the day, and how unique they are.”
“This is the only time I hear positive messages about myself.”
To date, Landis has upward of 300 subscribers to the Pincurl Girls and thousands of positive, encouraging text messages sent. The age of her current subscribers starts at 8, though many are in the 13- to 17-year-old range, and one-fourth of subscribers are middle-aged women. There are also two men signed up for her daily encouragement.
While plans for the brand and message could include expanding to boys and young men, currently Landis focuses on growing positivity within girls, and as she voices on her website:
“I believe, like I imagine you do, that we are surrounded by too many negative, hurtful, defeating voices and images. I started Pincurl Girls to provide an affirming, positive counterbalance to the unrealistic models in magazines and unkind Facebook posts that are a part of our daily lives. All of my Pincurl Girl products have encouraging images and messages specially chosen to support and encourage girls of all ages, like you.”
GirlBrave podcast series
Landis also has podcast series called GirlBrave. She scours the internet looking for inspiring young women with extraordinary stories. Her Google Alert for “empowering girls” leads her to some of her interviewees. She then lets them answer the question, “What is your definition of being brave?” The result is girls telling their own stories; insecurities, bravery and all. Currently over 20 podcasts on GirlBrave are available for download, ranging in topics from cochlear implants to climate change nonprofit organizations to public speaking tips.
Pincurl Girls has proved that females empowering females is both addictive and effective. Landis credits her own mom for her focus on positivity.
“I love talking to my mom,” she says. “She has been my inspiration my whole life. She introduced me to positive thinking, and turning a new situation into a possibility.”
Now, Landis gets to pass that tradition down to her own daughter, Sofia. An 11-year-old Pincurl Girl subscriber, Sofia describes the daily text encouragements:
“They are unexpected, so when you get them, they’re a surprise and you always feel really confident when you read them.”
Sofia recruits her friends to sign up and relishes in seeing them receive the same empowerment that she does.
Based on Sofia’s comments about her mom, the message to build women up with positivity is definitely sinking in.
“It feels good, because when my mom does something great, it makes me feel really proud to have her as my mom,” Sofia explains. “I’m really lucky, too. She’s a very powerful woman, and it makes me feel proud that she’s my mom and I get to have that. She’s a good role model in my life.”
Preparing for a new career
Currently, Jen Landis is preparing to take on the world of graphic design in a new career: as an instructor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It’s a feat she admits would not have been possible without the encouragement of Pincurl Girls.
“I have been afraid to make this career change for awhile,” she admits. “I had to stop myself and say, ‘Jen, this is what you’re promoting. You’re promoting courage and promoting believing in yourself.’”
Landis says she is excited to lead the next generation of graphic designers as an instructor.
“I have to follow my own inspiration,” she explains. “When your whole being says this is the path you need to take now, you have to listen to it.”