When I saw in this new decade, with a glass of Prosecco in hand surrounded by friends playing games and huddling around an Indian takeaway, I could never have imagined the madness that is happening right now. What started off as a pretty normal year quickly turned into something rather surreal. These are very uncertain and strange times that we are living in, with the coronavirus pandemic reaching its peak here in the UK and lockdown measures being enforced.  Day by day it can be easy to fall into habits of not getting dressed, sleeping in, being bored all the time and just generally feeling low. I'm certainly struggling to adjust to this new, lonely way of life. It may feel like it's just never going to end. 

Scrolling through social media platforms has the possibility to play on our minds, have us feeling like we should be putting makeup on, working out and being productive. When in fact those posting their seemingly perfect lockdown situations are mostly influencers getting paid to do so. Once upon a time this would have been the same for Mary-Anne Da'Marzo, a 26-year-old central London-based blogger, but has shifted her focus from a picture-perfect feed to a positivity platform that is lifting spirits during the reality of COVID-19. I caught up with her to find out the roots of the #heartynotes campaign and how she keeps everyone going in tough times.

I first came across Mary-Anne, A.K.A The Hearty Artist, last year when I went on a following spree In search of fashion inspiration.  But not much stood out to me about this particular blogger, until one day she posted a picture of a pretty little love heart sticker stuck to a dirty old broadband box just outside of a London Underground entrance. In the sticker read '
SELF DOUBT? Repeat after me....I am a badass, I have got this'. A very simple and empty quote to some spoke to me during a brief moment of anxiety about starting my third and final year of university. After this little boost of confidence, I decided to look into this #heartynotes campaign she had going on. Ever since then I've been obsessed with keeping up to date with the new quotes and locations these little pick-me-ups call home. 

Mary-Anne had an Instagram following of over 13 thousand when I first followed her but deleted her profile to focus on what really mattered to her. What really mattered to her, was not only her own mental health but the overall wellbeing of her loyal followers. "In January 2020 I started to slow down, to really look at some of the things that we're having such a negative impact on my life and one of those was the way I was consuming information on Instagram," she says. "I had got so caught up in watching fashion influencers share new outfits every day,  I started to re-create fashion influencer type content I had started to become a carbon copy of others by sharing new outfit ideas and styling videos". Mary-Anne had a very successful blogging career, working with big fashion brands like River Island and InTheStyle, but admits this is not what she originally set out to do. "I set out to inspire thought, positive change and good vibes, and all I was doing is promoting fast-fashion consumerism, and that felt yuck". 

Social media was also affecting her own mental health, and found that after scrolling down her Instagram feed she would find herself comparing her life with others'. So, with her own and her follower’s mentality at stake, she knew something had to change. "As I started to change the messaging on my account I could see there was a massive disparity between the audience I had built and what I wanted to create – so I started again, and it’s amazing". she says. Even though her follower count is currently much lower at just over 800, her engagement is much higher than her previous account. By switching how she presents her life and helping others along the way, she is really reaping the benefits of pulling away from the tribe of fashion influencers that dominate social platforms. 

"As i started to change the messaging on my account I could see there was a massive disparity between the audience I had built and what I wanted to create- so I started again, and it's amazing" Mary-anne da'marzo

Hearty Notes started in September 2019, they are made in her Soho home and include quotes and mantras written on colourful heart’s that she sticks around central London. The idea first spanned after her time at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Burning Man is a spiritual and art-focused event that happens over the course of a week in the middle of the American desert. “There is so much creative expression in one place, whether that’s outfits, music or the incredible art projects”. You’d probably think of a festival as being either a muddy, messy British one or a glamourous, start-studded U.S.A extravaganza much like Coachella. But Burning Man challenges this, Mary-Anne describes it as so much more than a ‘festival’. Click here to read the Burning Man Festival principles. 

Mary-Anne’s epiphany happened while practicing yoga at the festival. Here, she explains exactly what happened and what followed her experience: 

“The yoga teacher Donovan told us all to stand up, wrap our arms around ourselves and say the words out loud ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you’. I couldn’t do it! With tears streaming down my face, I didn’t know how or why I felt like that. I had no self-love! What I began to understand was that I had spent so many years feeding on the gratification of others that I actually didn’t know how to give that to myself. I had spent so long ‘faking it until I made it’, that I had allowed my self-belief, my self-worth and my self-love to be reliant on what others thought of me rather than what I thought of myself. It was at that moment that I wondered if anyone else had experienced that”. 

Mary-Anne at Burning Man

“In a vastly digital world, it can be challenging to feel a sense of “self-worth or self-love” as there are so many ways we can compare ourselves to others and wish a change in our own lives. As an Instagram lover, I have always spent a lot of time on the platform. What I began to recognize is that in this digital world, we often forget to connect with people in the “real” world. We sit on our sofas browsing the lives of others and wishing things could be different, offering a “like” here and there but without any real human connection. We also forget that some of what we see online is a “highlight” reel of people’s lives, 10% of who they are and what they have been through,”
"I write things down that come into my head, things that have inspired me in the hope that they will inspire others too" MARY-ANNE DA'MARZO
“In shifting my environment to one filled with more positive words, an idea formulated in my head. Out of my attempt to amalgamate the two things I was very passionate about (human connection and self-love), #heartynotes was born. I write down things that come into my head, things that have inspired me in the hope that they will inspire others too. When I have built a little pile of inspirational hearts, I stick them around Central London”

Now you’re probably thinking ‘How is she doing all of this during the coronavirus lockdown?’, well she’s adapted her love spreading process in order to prevent further spread of the dreaded C-word. “I’m still creating, people need love and support more than ever! I have begun to experiment with different media, using paints to create something different. I am sticking the hearts anywhere I find a place in our apartment to photograph them and share on social!” She’s also been hopping on her tandem bike with her partner to get out and about and stick more hearty notes around their city. Many of her notes have also been tailored for the tough times we are facing. Instead of being general messages of inspiration and motivation, they’re now messages of hope and solidarity. Some of these include ‘We will get through this’, ‘health is so important, look after each other’ and ‘NHS thank you so much’. 

If you've personally been struggling with COVID-19 related anxiety or low mood and aren't lucky enough to be in central London or even leave the house, then Mary-Anne has some tips that might lift your spirits...

"This is a little list of things I have stored on my computer for days when I feel low. It’s a simple step by step guide to pulling myself out of those darker days," :



3. GRAB A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER- Write down 40 things you can be grateful for in your life right now.

4. BRAIN DUMP-  Write down all the things worrying you and stressing you out, Highlight all the things you can control and how, Highlight all the things you can control and then scribble them out.

Over her time as The Hearty Artist, Mary-Anne has received countless messages of love and support from members of the public that have stumbled across her notes. “I’m always looking at the #heartynotes on Instagram to see what people have shared. It seems the notes pop into people’s lives when they need to see them most, and that is insane”.  By following the hashtag, you can see whenever someone posts a picture of the art they have seen on their journey out and about in London city centre too. 

You’d be forgiven for wondering what Mary-Anne gets out of all of this. It’s clear how many people she touches with these little acts of kindness, what with over 500 images attached to the hashtag on Instagram. But for this unconventional blogger, quotes and mantras complete her days with a mind filling sense of accomplishment and contentedness. “Imagine spending some of your days researching eastern philosopher’s views on the world, or reading inspiring stories or quotes. It completely and utterly fills me full of positivity”.  She explains. “Our brains are funny things, and you can go to bed feeling on top of the world and wake up feeling horrendous, antagonized by your dreams – how crazy is that! It’s so vital that we have these little ‘tools’ we use to stay happy and positive, and quotes are definitely that for me”. 

Mary has made hundreds of hearty notes since September. Here are a few of her favourite quotes: 
"A person who looks outside dreams, a person who looks inside awakes. I love this one because it reminds me that the only person that has to be happy with your life is you. I spent so long feeding on the gratification I received from others that I forgot to focus on the only opinion that matters, and that's mine" 
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are absolutely right. The brain is so powerful, and we decide if we want something to succeed or not"  
"Nothing is ever worth closing your heart over. This one is from Michael A Singer who writes The Untethered Soul; this book changed my life"