L E S S | Making Room for More of What Matters

A graveyard of cardboard boxes lay scattered across my bedroom floor, most slumping tiredly, as if they too wondered why it had taken me so long to rid them of their contents. It had been roughly two months since I’d moved to Newton from Providence. I’d lost track of what I’d put where and why a long time ago, but oddly, I hadn’t missed the two ball gowns I bought on a whim last December or all forty-three t-shirts I’d acquired since 2013.

I sunk down to the floor next to a box labeled dresses and sh*t. It was the third time I’d moved in two years- and this didn’t include the two months I’d spent moving in and out of various campsites and hotels in 2016, living out of the boxes piled high in my 2014 Ford Escape. I needed to downsize or risk drowning in all my clothing and knick-knacks.

As I continued shuffling the mess of clothing around my room, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d decided to keep this cute (but uncomfortable) Banana Republic top I’d never worn. Rummaging around further, I found an ill-fitting, leather dress from college. I held it up into the light skeptically. Dust swirled around my room, light filtering in through my dirty window. Bought on a whim and now highly unrealistic to keep, I had no idea why I’d continued to drag this little number along with me as well. What, did I plan on wearing this to work? As if, hunney!

Letting the dress fall to the floor amidst the mounting chaos, I hopped across my room to retrieve a trash bag from the kitchen.

Four hours later, a light sheen of sweat glittered on my forehead (and down my butt-crack, let’s be real, here). I felt much lighter, my mind less cluttered. I’d stacked up my forty-plus t-shirts and picked ten of my favorites to keep. My old gameday dri-fits from college volleyball were placed in a plastic bin along with my half-retired horseback riding gear. The dri-fits were too threadbare to donate, but too special for me to toss quite yet.

By the end of my tirade, I’d decidedly kept four pairs of jeans (I’d only realistically worn two on a weekly basis), a few pairs of trousers, and no more than a half rack-full of nice shirts and tank tops. Though a stunning dress was clearly my vice, I donated or recycled anything impractical that I didn’t feel 99.9% beautiful and confident in. What was the point of keeping a pretty, but clingy dress that amplified my insecurities?

In that moment, I realized I’d rather have less clothing that was worn more if it meant I felt more comfortable in my own body. I wanted to become less uncomfortable, wear less unflattering clothing because that could mean more room for the pieces I genuinely loved myself in.

Sitting on my bed, I gazed across the room at my now airy closet. I’d eradicated any trendy pieces I’d acquired in college from places like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. These items had served their purpose once upon a time (i.e. going out, an athletic banquet in 2012, etc.), but ceased to provide me additional pleasure beyond their initial use. The items that I’d kept were simple, made from quality material, could be worn several ways, and complimented my body. I laughed as I realized most of my favorite pieces were from REI, Columbia, and LL Bean (I would’ve been appalled five years ago). Though my dollar didn’t stretch as far at these places, I had no regrets because of the comfort and confidence they gave me (this isn’t to say that items from Zara etc. can’t bring you the same feeling, by the way).

As I sat on my bed, I squinted at the six (six!) trash bags around me. This was all well and great, but I also wanted to take the next step and implement a more minimalistic mindset in the future as a consumer. Without a doubt, I’d be moving again and didn’t want to continue the buy-wear-give away cycle I’d grown accustomed to. My goal was to purchase less items that I now knew were frivolous and impulse buys, and focus more on reusing, repurposing, and practicing restraint. I could not justify keeping over forty t-shirts.

***

Part of adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle began with disposing of or donating items that no longer encouraged positive self-image. The next part began by taking a more proactive approach to controlling the ads and marketing I was a recipient of on social media. For me, social media use had geared my mind to think a “buy now” and “buy more” attitude was sustainable for my lifestyle and salary. Bloggers and celebrities I followed on Instagram served to perpetuate my desire to buy, buy often, and buy based on fads and trends. In the past, I’ve been known to see a backpack on Pinterest and buy it one click later on Amazon Prime. I already had four useable backpacks at the time, so you tell me whether or not this was a wise decision on my part. This was not an isolated incident and led me to engage in more transactions than was ever necessary.

Furthermore, seeing the perfectly airbrushed bodies of various influencers and bloggers I followed did little to help my self-esteem. By surrounding myself with images of beautiful models and perfect looking women, I grew more insecure. Suddenly I felt the urge to buy whatever it took to make me tanner, more fit, and prettier. I knew I had to change something or I wouldn’t be able to get out of this never-ending, zero sum game of comparing myself to others.

As I scrolled through my feed, I began unfollowing accounts that encouraged diet-culture, praised skinniness over healthiness, and placed importance of outwardly appearance over inner character (which can be harder than you’d think to determine). I noticed the accounts that I enjoyed following the most were down-to-earth bloggers or photography accounts that encouraged my creativity and overall desire to live a healthy life. Instagram didn’t have to be a negative place for me if I surrounded myself with more body-positive accounts and beautiful imagery of landscapes. Less of a focus on airbrushed, unrealistic content meant more time for what I cared about most on the platform: finding real people whose passion for their content was contagious and inspired me to accept me for being me (see the list I’ve compiled below).

In the past few months, I noticed my self image became healthier when I wasn’t comparing myself to a small, unrepresentative community of people who are essentially paid to look good. Though I am well aware I can never limit my ability to block out anyone I think has a great body, beautiful skin, or “perfect” on a day-to-day basis in real life, I’ve become very much aware of the idea that just because someone else is beautiful, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be. I wanted to spend less time obsessing over my looks, and more time appreciating the body I’ve been given and what it can do for me.

***

Placing an emphasis on less to make room for more of what is truly important to me has altered the way I think, dress, and serves to continue encouraging me to become a happier, less insecure and worrisome person. As a girl who spent a large amount of time thinking I’d never be happy without losing twenty pounds, getting a nose job, and having the best clothes, I could not have disproved myself more. Instead of spending hours (yes, hours!) stressing out about acne, how awful my hair looks in unflattering light, and how a pair of jeans presses into my love handles,  I’m trying to remember my friends and family love me for me, not because I’m an image of perfection. I know this because I feel the same way about them.

Truth is it took much more than six garbage bags and an exodus of unfollowing on social media sites to reach the conclusion that I could be happier with less of the right things. I’m very prone to latching on to an idea and practicing it for some time before resorting back to my old ways, but I’ve been able to practice restraint while shopping and focus less on my appearance for some time now because celebrating small victories has been sustainable for me. On the same token, I don’t beat myself up too badly if I slip up.

Instead of committing one hundred percent to buying nothing or instantly loving how I look at all times, I take pride in small victories in my shift in behavior. Sort of like intuitive eating, I ask myself how I would feel after a purchase and if I could truly put the item to good use for a large extent of time. Impulse buys feel good in the moment (especially if you’re trying to treat ‘yo self in a moment of sadness/celebration), but how often do they lead to good long term buys? I also ask myself, “what will this item replace if I purchase it?” in an effort to reduce my impulse buying. There’s no “one size fits all” answer. This is up to you and your given circumstances.

So in the quest to find happiness and learn to love myself, I’ve found that less can be more. This isn’t my final answer to this ever evolving challenge. I’m sure my attitude will change many times over in the future, but for now, it is viable solution in my day-to-day life. One thing I am sure about, however, is that happiness and confidence look more beautiful on everyone than any piece of clothing money can buy.

***

My friends and I are into “vibes”. In particular, we love to encourage good vibes. Any time any one of us get tired on a night out, one friend in particular is known to snap her fingers in said tired person’s face while yelling, “VIBES”. It’s become a habit while we’re together- since we don’t see one another often, we like to maximize on the good vibes we have while we’re together.

Like the average human, I like to optimize the good vibes I receive on a daily basis. This not only includes the clothing I wear that makes me feel good or the reduced mess I have in my closet now that I’ve downsized, but also includes what I consume on social media. For some good vibes that are easily accessible by a flick of the thumb on your screen, I highly recommend following the following on Instagram:

Quin – @everchanginghorizon

Quin’s photos are simply amazing. If you love nature and have an appreciation for photo editing, he is a must-follow.

Robyn Nohling – @thereallife_rd

Robyn is a nurse practitioner and non-diet dietician encouraging women to practice intuitive eating and finding peace with food and their bodies.

Stay & Wander – @stayandwander

Again, amazing photos taken from a community of photographers. All nature, all good vibes.

Aspen the Mountain Pup – @aspenthemountainpup

Do you like dogs? Do you like the outdoors? Well, this is both and Aspen is a golden retriever. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Tasty – @buzzfeedtasty

Food, quick video demonstrations, and great content.

Folk Souls – @folksouls

This account inspires me each day to push myself to make my photo editing skills better. I can’t say I always have an “amazing” location to shoot every day, but it challenges me to find beauty in what I now consider the ordinary- Massachusetts.

Accidentally Wes Anderson – @accidentallywesanderson

For anyone who loves this quirky film maker, you’ll love the aesthetics of this account.

Lola Tash and Nicole Argiris – @mytherapistsays

Two words: fire memes.

Happy Not Perfect – @happynotperfect

Mind over matter. This account is great for words of encouragement with a focus on mindfulness.

Fighting to Find Your “Happier”

LOOK AT THIS VERY NON-STAGED HAPPINESS!

A coworker recently described me as “positive” and I nearly spit coffee in his face.

LOL wattt? I stroked my beard thoughtfully.  

I recovered quickly, flipped my hair, and continued to sip my iced-venti-sized-soy-wingardium-leviosa-five-points-to-Gryffindor latte. Because I am fabulous and fabulous people do nawt spit cawffee in anyone’s face.

Whatevs.

…but I digress.

Whether it be HIV or attitude, I’ve never been positive. My younger sister, Alli, has always been the ray of sunshine in our family. I’m more likely to win the “I Do Not Believe In Love” award.

It’s a chemical reaction in the brain! I yell at the happily married couple next to me, shaking my fist, haphazardly dumping my Founders Porter on their shoes.

So whether I’m yelling at couples that the object of their affection is a result of evolutionary mechanisms or reading Sartre’s No Exit (“hell is other people”), there’s been a shift in my behavior in the past few months.

Yes, it’s spring and the sun is out longer. Nearly everyone feels happier in these conditions. For anyone with bipolar disorder, it’s possible to cycle into a manic phase because the sun is out longer.

When I recently began controlling my swings more efficiently, I didn’t know if it was because I was happy or just manic (and therefore under the false impression everything was great). After some thought, I decided I was truly happier. I’d been more active in making critical behavioral changes in the span of six months time and saw them finally taking effect.

Yas, kween.

***

It was difficult for me to move out east this past summer. I decided to leave the comfort of home for the unknown while in a mixed state (unmedicated). I moved for a volunteer coaching position with no guarantee of eventually securing a full-time job.

For someone born into a privileged upper-middle class life, I had never put the “yo…lol” in “YOLO” so hard before.

Holy bawls.

Though I knew I was taking a necessary step forward in my life, I struggled to stay positive after the move. My friends were already getting promotions, making ten grand more than me, and were in careers specific to their bachelor’s degrees.

I grew worried I made a stupid mistake by moving out east. I unwillingly dipped back into depression this winter, but it felt somewhat comforting. I knew how to cope with my behavior better than I did while in a mixed or manic state.

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide frequently slid into my head and I found it increasingly hard to keep my mind on the right track. Self-doubt filled my thoughts and I constantly worried I was disappointing my boss, coworkers, and customers. I began obsessing over the smallest things I’d done “wrong” throughout the day and let my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder control my interactions with others. I slowly withdrew from others.

But the biggest difference between my former self and the Kristin who moved to the east coast is simple: I knew I’d do whatever it took to survive here.

It sounds incredibly dramatic, but I knew I’d fight like hell to stay out east. I loved the ocean, the mountains, the history, and I wanted so badly to make my life a success story. This winter was a turning point for me. I decided to do whatever it’d take to feel happier every day.

It’s naive to believe you can be happy all the time. But in choosing to find my “happier” to keep myself afloat and successful, I took concrete steps to begin changing my thought processes. I don’t necessarily aspire to be happy each second of the day, but instead happier. I’m too sarcastic of a person to throw up rainbows and sunshine 24/7.

One of ten paintings I completed this winter.

To combat maladaptive thoughts, I began painting for the first time since high school and started writing more. I also turned to humor to get me through the worst of my thoughts.

For example, I cracked a joke to a coworker who did not reciprocate well. Realizing this, I instantly felt beyond self conscious and thought it was necessary to cut myself for being such an idiot. That was my immediate reaction. A couple seconds later, I forced myself to laugh at my ridiculousness.

Really? I asked myself. You crack one joke someone didn’t get and you decide hurting yourself is the answer? You’re such a bonehead.

Though I had convinced myself I was a complete idiot at the time, I let myself laugh at my immediate reaction. Humor and sarcasm have gotten me through a lot this winter and spring. Being able to laugh at myself has been a godsend and it completely lightens the mood whenever my thoughts take a turn for the worse. I do not brush feelings off, but instead acknowledge them and decide not to give them merit.

Armed with a sense of humor and a few hobbies, I managed to level myself out. I finally found something worked for me and was figuring out how to cope with maladaptive and intrusive thoughts. I walked off into the sunset pumping my fist in the air to the tune of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

That’s all well and good. It wasn’t easy, but I finally wanted to fight back to find true happiness and stability. I used to be under the impression being a pessimistic person with self-destructive tendencies was sexy and mysterious.

Yeah, not so much. It makes no sense from a logical point of view.

I made the decision this winter to put energy into becoming my best self. I wanted to be the girl people want to be around, the one who makes those who hang out with her feel better about themselves. To put it psychedelically, I wanted to give off good vibes as often as I could. I challenged myself to find a way to make those around me feel better off for meeting me.

I’m at my best when I push myself to be positive. Given my disorders, it’s what I need to do to be successful. Happiness to me is caring less about my physical appearance and working on becoming beautiful on the inside- someone who is comfortable in her own skin. I value kindness, humor, being spontaneous and fun, and trying to make those around me feel better off for being around me.

Each day I fight hard to become this girl.

True happiness: popping a bottle of champagne at the Grand Canyon with my best friends. Not pictured, friends.

***

I’ll always have suicidal thoughts, urges to self-harm, obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety. I’ve accepted this but cope by expressing myself through what I love most: art, writing, and humor. I’m chasing what I’m passionate about in life and am trying to live life authentically.

I once believed having mental disorders ruined my life. I equated it to having a chronic sickness with no cure, but I now believe my disorders serve as my best asset. They’ve completely altered the way I look at life because I made the conscious decision to push myself to become happier. I’m grateful for my experiences, though it hasn’t been an easy journey for myself, friends, and family.

***

If you’re struggling and don’t see a way out, just remember you can be incredibly resilient if you want to fight to find your “happier”. It’s a battle. Sometimes I get frustrated by the fact I’m fighting so hard for what many take for granted.

It’s difficult to see how naturally others cope with disappointment when you feel like you’ve worn yourself out for something insignificant. Just remember the fight is worth the hard work. Fight to be happier and you’ll find true happiness along the way.

I wouldn’t take back any of my experiences because it’s led me to where I am today: finally becoming okay with who I’m becoming and who I want to be. 

***

NOTE:

I am periodically asked why I choose to write about my personal experiences with mental health disorders. Why would one so willingly talk about something that makes you appear “weak” or “flawed” to others?

It’s my personal opinion that the dialogue needs to be open when discussing mental disorders. A diagnosis does not make someone less of a human, less of a co-worker, less of a friend, less of anything. Every once and awhile the world needs this gentle reminder.

Countless people have reached out to me thanking me for opening up. I understand it’s comforting to know you’re never solitary in your struggle. Occasionally, it takes brutal honesty to reach out and make necessary connections to help save or improve another’s quality of life.

I’m willing to share because my experiences can be a lifeline to anyone who is under the impression they are hopelessly alone. You’re not alone and your life is worth more than you can ever imagine.

Another painting I completed this spring. My mantra has been “create” so my sister bought me a bracelet as a constant reminder to me to create when I start feeling down.

Guest Post: Beauty & Self-Worth

I’m learning how to love myself, belly rolls and all. My body is a wonderful tool, not something to be scrutinized or ashamed of.

As a human with access to multiple social media platforms and magazines, you’d have to live under a rock to not know our culture places an enormous focus on physical beauty and appearance. We admire certain models, celebrities, fitness coaches, and peers for their hair, body, makeup, clothing. Why not? It feels great to applaud people for their fabulousness and dedication to be ridiculously good looking.

But, like, hell-o? We already knew this from age six when we caved wore scrunchies and Oshkosh B-Gosh overalls to fit in? Duh.

So while I will always be your cheerleader for posting a great bikini pic (you better werk), I will also be your biggest fan no matter what you look like if I truly find you beautiful on the inside. Cellulite and all.

We all struggle with our self confidence when it comes to comparing ourselves with others.  There is always someone with better hair, eyebrows, abs, and legs than us. It’s hard not to fall into a black hole on the Instagram “Explore” page.

Sometimes we’re able to brush off our feelings of self-doubt and love ourselves for what we are. Other times, it’s hard not to feel inadequate while scrolling through airbrushed photos of others frolicking on the beach or posing with coconuts.

It’s okay. I’m not here to bash anyone for what they decide to post or who they admire for their looks. Instead, I hope to give you a little perspective from someone who has over forty years (but doesn’t look a day over thirty) of experience dealing with pressure from culture to look a certain way.

My mom’s journey has not been easy, but she continues to redefine beauty every day. She enjoys eating whole foods and has learned to ease up on her formerly rigorous training regime.

Enter Karen Hovie.

My mom is truly one of the most beautiful souls in the world. I say this not only as her daughter, but as a young woman who looks up to a powerful woman who is fighting to change our perception of “beautiful” and what it means.

I asked her to write a guest post and she agreed to share her perspective. Sometimes we need a reminder that we’re all gorgeous kweens! Being stunningly gorgeous isn’t simply knowing how to do your makeup or what to wear or how to eat or exercise…it’s being comfortable in your own skin and knowing YOU ARE ENOUGH as you are.

So as bikini season approaches (it has arrived, honey), here is a kind reminder that your self-worth should not be determined by how closely you resemble a celebrity or model.

Respect your body, eat whole foods so you have energy to spread good vibes, and learn to appreciate yourself for what you are: a fabulous betch that is unapologetically herself.

Enjoy!

***

Last summer, after reading Jennifer Aniston’s rather scathing essay to the media addressing body shaming, I was inspired to write the following:

I give Jennifer Aniston credit for going public with her frustrations with the media in its portrayal of the female experience. However, I wonder if the message would have been more powerful had she been compelled to address a picture of her that was inarguably beautiful, but inarguably edited, instead of one that cast her in a ‘less than perfect’ light.

Now that would have sent a powerful message.

And that was as far as I got.

Shortly after Aniston’s essay hit the press, I was watching ‘LIVE with Kelly’ (a guilty summertime pleasure). ‘Dancing with the Stars’ judge Carrie Ann Inaba was co-hosting. As she interacted with the audience, I was drawn to her charismatic personality. She radiated joy and self confidence. I was also aware that she looked healthy. Vibrant even. She did not have the rock hard athletic body of Kelly Ripa; she looked real.

And then, she grabbed her stomach roll for all the world to see. I could not have loved her more!

Now, fast forward to last month, when my daughter Kristin asked me to write a guest post for her blog on…body image. (You knew that was coming, right?) I felt it was a sign, because while I never finished writing the post, I didn’t delete it either. This was the push I needed.

Before I go any further, there are a few things you should know about me. First and foremost, I am passionate about health and wellness. I eat a mostly whole food, plant-based diet. I exercise consistently and in moderation most of the time. I typically get 7-8 hours a sleep. On most days I devote time to prayer and meditation. Yet in spite of this all, having a positive body image is something I continually struggle with work on.

(Words bolded, as I don’t want you to get the impression that I am perfect, as I most certainly am not. Nor do I strive for it.)

Truthfully, while the topic of body image is near and dear to my heart, figuring out what to write has been challenging. Very challenging.

What could I write that you didn’t already know? What could I write that would make a difference in your life?

You understand the importance of positive body image.

You know the consequences of possessing a poor body image.

You’re probably aware most women have a negative body image.

And I know you are well aware of social media’s negative impact on body image.

We all know all of this, yet little changes.

Social media continues to be inundated with before and after pictures, sweaty post-workout pictures, edited pictures, bodies positioned in perfect-angle pictures…pictures suggesting there is an ideal.

Reality says (as do numerous surveys), few of us look like the so called ideal.

More importantly, we weren’t meant to.

Yet we keep trying to morph our bodies into something unnatural. We keep trying to be something we weren’t meant to be. We are brainwashed into believing we should be slender with a flat stomach and thigh gap, wear a size 2, have muscle tone, tanned skin, white teeth, and thick hair. And if we don’t meet these qualifications? Well…

And that’s when I think back to Carrie Ann Inaba. She looked healthy. She was comfortable in her own skin. And I think because of this, I admired her. A lot. She was somebody I would love to get to know.

The world needs more Carrie Ann Inabas.

And then I began to wonder, are there more Carrie Ann Inabas out there?

Turns out, there are. In my search for positive role models, I discovered a movement in the world of social media. There are women posting ‘before and after’ pictures taken within minutes of each other in an effort to make a point; looks can be altered in mere seconds. What you see, isn’t necessarily real. Perception is not necessarily reality.

I applaud these real women. We need to see belly rolls. We need to see cellulite. We need to see back fat. We need to see wrinkles and stretch marks and freckles and zits. We need to see authentic women. We need to see how an ideal body can disappear in the blink of an eye, because, until authenticity becomes the norm, positive body image will continue to be a struggle for many of us.

We will continue to strive to attain bodies we can’t healthily maintain, because in our quest to achieve the ideal, we’ve stopped taking care of ourselves. We’ve stopped listening to what our bodies are telling us. We’ve stopped being intuitive.

So what if we started listening? Really listening.

What if the focus shifted from outward appearance to overall health? What if we honored our bodies by eating real food, exercising daily and in moderation, and making time for rest and spiritual rejuvenation?

Could you accept your outward appearance knowing you were taking care of yourself?

And not that it should be a driving force, but just how do you want to be remembered?

By the hours you spent at the gym? The miles you’ve logged? The size of your clothes? The number of the scale? Your hair? Complexion? Muscle tone? Thigh gap?

I hope not. I hope this is not what defines you.

You are so much more than your outward appearance.

What matters, what truly matters, is who you are. What’s going to make a difference, is what you do.

So what if, we simply lived and focused our efforts on doing all we could to make the world a better place?

 

For more, head over to my mom’s blog 2write4health.com. She shares some great recipes, witty puns, and offers health and fitness advice.

Favorite child status?

Can We Attribute Our Unhappiness to Social Media?

This is old news by now, but does the name Essena O’Neill ring a bell? No? In case you missed out on her video that went viral last November, I’ll give you a semi-quick rundown on the seventeen minute video. You can also check out her video here

Amidst tears, O’Neill draws attention to how “fake” she believes the social media world has become and how unaware the average viewer is to what really goes on behind the beautiful, yet highly unrealistic images viewers see on a daily basis. She claims her departure from this impractical world should serve as a wake up call for all her followers.

She tearfully continues on with her video (sans makeup) arguing “culture creates validation and insecurities” and later begs viewers and social media personalities to create content that isn’t based on “views, likes, or followers”. Furthermore, she launches a tirade against the business behind sponsored or paid social and posts, a current hot topic for those interested in law (and more particularly, fashion law). This topic has recently forced one of our independent federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, to pay more attention to how they can protect consumers on social media in the future*. More on this below, but back to O’Neill’s video for now.

While watching this young Australian’s video, I found it shocking to think someone could blame many of their insecurities on apps that pubescent Silicon Valley geeks dreamt of in their parents’ basements (I’m only half sarcastic, here). Could social media really be blamed for this young woman’s unhappiness?

This brings me to my question for you today: does quitting social media remedy the true nature of our unhappiness?  Is this truly going to help fix negative feelings you have toward yourself?

O’Neill believed this was the answer. Soon after posting her self-declared “last Youtube video”, she proceeded to delete all her social media sites save for one, Instagram, but only after deleting two thousand photos off her account. Keeping a few select pictures, she quickly gave new captions to those that remained with newer, brutally honest captions:

essena4.jpg

She later deleted her Instagram account as well.

After she made these changes, O’Neill said she hoped to start a movement where the average viewer could realize their self worth isn’t determined by their physical attributes or social media influence. Just because O’Neill thought she wasted many years living a lie didn’t mean others should as well.

This being said, there’s many varying opinions on whether social media serves an overall good purpose or not. We see lovers connect, celebrities make millions, and teens cyberbully others all within seconds of a simple flick of the thumb. It’s simultaneously amazing, yet terrifying.

Personally, I admit I’m no stranger to unhappiness which I can partially attribute to social media, and on a deeper level, my deep rooted desire to be perfect. I can definitely admit I’ve felt validated after reaching a new high of “likes” or “views” on social media platforms, while also feeling crushed when a new profile picture doesn’t get as many likes as I would’ve thought. Was I not thin enough? Had I not marketed my post effectively? Should I feel embarrassed to post a selfie? As my Pop Culture professor so wisely said, “I receive likes, therefore I exist”. Any “like” I’ve received has given me validation. Though I know this ultimately to be false, it’s hard to continually remind myself of this over and over again. I’m sure many others would agree.

In saying this, I realize I’m part of the problem I’ve created for myself. I’ve spent HOURS clicking through photos, scrolling down my home feed, and stalking girls I don’t know, obsessing how I’m not as pretty, thin, or worry free and happy as they seem. How can I realistically think another person’s life is trouble free based on photos they are able to manipulate? All my own photos are edited, retouched, and manipulated to catch me in both the best lighting and during the most flattering “picture perfect moments”. How is fair to assume their photos haven’t been as well?

I seem to get the most likes on the most perfect photos of myself and my behavior seems to continue to snowball into what could resemble a highly predictable lab experiment as a result. People like following people who look happy and pretty. It’s inspirational. I accumulate likes, therefore I am. More happy photos, more likes. More likes, more happiness. It’s a vicious negative feedback loop we’ve created for ourselves.

So should I abandon my Facebook, multiple Twitter accounts, Snapchat, and Instagram in search of this ever elusive happiness I’ve been chasing for a large portion of my life? I’ve tried. For a couple months I wasn’t on Facebook, I didn’t enjoy Snapchat until a year after it became popular, and quit using my beloved Twitter because I didn’t think I could handle the responsibility. We’ve all had friends who express their distaste at the world of social media and delete accounts only to reinstate their profiles some odd months or weeks later.

So does unplugging our lives make us happier in the end?

I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure we’ll ever know the answer, or whether there even is a “right” answer (don’t get me started on existentialist theories). Finding happiness may or may not be as simple as deleting your accounts if you’re disconsolate. Quite simply, this is a discussion up for debate and it’s a highly personal and contested matter. I understand deleting accounts out of inactivity, but deleting based on lack of self esteem?

Though there’s no simple solution to this complex problem, I firmly believe we have the power to be part of the solution, not the problem as social media users. I think it’s time to stop viewing social media as an untamable beast, because we have the opportunity to control what we post and what we view to an extent. We have small opportunities to put a positive spin on what we see every day!

Armed with this positivity, I decided to do my own experiment on Instagram a few months ago. I posted a close up photo of my face, one half with makeup and editing, the other without any makeup or retouching. The response I received was more than I could’ve ever asked for. It was my most popular post since joining Instagram five years ago, and still would’ve been considered it my top post even if it had gotten no likes. It’s possible to use social media for good purposes to outweigh the bad. It felt like I was holding up my middle finger to all the negative feelings that haunted me from this picture perfect image of myself that I had wanted to be.

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The photo I took of myself showing both sides of social media. Perception versus reality.

So even though I’ve dragged you through a lengthy post just to give you no solid answer to the question of whether quitting social media remedies the true nature of our unhappiness, I hope this makes you think. Maybe the question shouldn’t lie in whether social media can make us unhappy or not, but instead on how we can participate in this world with more realistic expectations of ourselves. Yes, bloggers will edit their photos. Many girls will airbrush their skin to perfection, and others will show off expensive meals, new makeup and cars or share lengthy posts of their vacations to Ibiza on Snapchat. This all is inevitable, especially given social is a huuuge, untapped resource for anyone who’d like to market to millennials (at the very least!). I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see many brands add or increase both organic and paid social within the next few years. My only hope is that we all get a little more educated and that the Federal Trade Commission is able to keep up and catch unlawful practices**. However, it’s up to us to get stronger.

Long story short, when Essena O’Neill decided to post her last YouTube video last November, she set off a firestorm of response from her peers and viewers. The question of whether social media serves a positive or negative purpose is too difficult a question to give one finite answer to. For some, quitting social media may help reduce feelings of inadequateness, decrease their maladaptive pleasure seeking impulses, and potential depression. As O’Neill showed, even those who seem at the top on social media platforms can suffer behind closed doors. Their lives and paychecks revolve around likes, views, and shares. But our lives don’t have to.

I’ve felt both positively validated and negatively impacted through what others and myself have posted. The answer we seek may not lie with whether our happiness is a direct result of social media, but instead, whether we’re able to control the intake of information through educating ourselves and constant reminders that this world has the aptitude to seem airbrushed and perfect. I’m going to challenge myself to view the social world as less of an intimidating place, but as a burgeoning market for retailers and promoters. I’m also going to vow to constantly remind myself there’s more to life than a “bikini ready” beach bod or nailing that perfect cat eye. Both are great, yes, but remember that you alone are enough. You breath, you love, you are loved, therefore you are!

xx

Kristin

Please don’t hesitate to comment and reach out, whether you agree or disagree with me. Let’s keep the discussion going!

 

*As many of you know, influencers and bloggers are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to wear, drink, or promote a company’s merchandise, often ignoring the rules the FTC lays down to protect consumers from what they determine to be “unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace” (per their site’s “What We Do” section). For more information on the FTC, I encourage you to visit their site

**One of my favorite fashion law bloggers continues to call out popular bloggers (L’Oreal’s 15 L’Orealista bloggers, the Man Repeller, amongst many other offenders) for not appropriately disclosing paid posts. Putting #sp in the description part of photos is no longer enough. The Fashion Law’s founder and editor-in-chief explains this all much better than I ever could. Find her explorations of calling out bloggers here.

 

The One Big Thing I’ve Learned From The Business School of Hard Knocks

As many of you fine fellows out there know, there’s no way in hell I went to business school. I once flirted with the idea of it while going through a mid-nineteen-year-old-crisis. I rebounded quickly, thinking romantically to myself, “I’ll do what I love, I’ll stick it to the man!”

And on that night, I made love to my Shakespeare textbook. I never once looked back… No one ever regrets majoring what they love, right? RIGHT? Lol! ❤ Triumphantly, here I sit, four years later, sitting and typing this to you at my parents’ house, grossly overusing commas, and valiantly ignoring my mother’s continuous requests to make my bed and brush my teeth.

But anyway, as I trudge along the path of Life with a capital “L”, I’m here to say I’ve swagged hard enough to earn a degree from the School of Hard Knocks in Business. I want to tell you, “you won’t learn this crap in college”, but truth is, you might (with less teenage/Urban Dictionary-like vernacular to say the least). I wouldn’t know otherwise. Either way, I’m giving it to you for free. It just may be one step away from taking online courses through Globe University. Consider yourself on a journey to getting certified in business from Crapbag University. Amazing! (!!!!!!!)

So what makes me qualified to write about this? Nothing, really. I suppose I’ve lived on this planet and worked in a couple business-y sort of environments which make me feel like my opinion matters, but other than that, I have nothing but my experience to show for. My opinions are shaped by my experiences, and this is what gives me this particular, current worldview. As usual, I recommend reading at your own risk, and taking anything I say with a grain of salt. I’m here to tell you what I think, and you’re free to disagree. I won’t fight you. But I will if we’re fighting over the last Quesalupa in the backseat of your car after going through the T-Bell drive thru.

Let me begin by first clarifying my current job. Eh mah gawd, so stahp asking already!

Essentially, I work in a call center. I have a headset on most of the week, ready to protect the brand. The company I work for is a place that other corporations and businesses hire to do the things they don’t want to, or don’t have time to do, like taking calls from people who don’t understand how to work ordinary household items, and taking calls from people who are pissed off a company make “crappy” household items. That’s at least how I think of it.

My job description gave a wonderful overview of this so-called “social media specialist” thing, where I’d “manage social media accounts”, and “identify adverse events”. It’s not a lie, it’s what I do, but for the first half of the week I basically take calls from customers who have product quality complaints. The second half of the week, I’m on Facebook. Yep, gotta take the cape off when I get home. I help save so many lives!

I’m also occasionally waitressing  on the side, which can bump my working hours up to 50-60 hours per week. It’s amazing, because even though I’m busy, I still have all this time to complain and remind all my friends about it!!! I wish I could say I’m finding myself in good company, whining on a pile of George Washingtons and all, but truth is I’m not. It’s hard being fabulous when daddy makes you a budget that slashes your disposable income in half. Dude, Reedo cut my disposable income like Reagan and George Double-ya cut taxes. How the hell am I going to carelessly buy satin handkerchiefs now, dad? Ugh~

This leads me to the “curriculum” of this post. This, right here, is the crap I’ll be yelling at my grandkids as I’m sitting rocking back and forth in a rickety, old rocking chair, with my teeth falling out, and saliva dripping down my wrinkled chin (too much tanning). Here’s the one important thing I’ve learned through my jobs. Below, you’ll find information that may not be pretty, but like I said, this is the School of Hard Knocks, brah! Pimpin’ ain’t easy!

Here’s the one thing I’ll be shouting at my grandkids other than “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”:

There are a bunch of different people out there, many with different backgrounds and upbringings than you.

Duh? Point is, I had been used to my little bubble while in college. Surrounded (mostly) by Division 1 athletes, ambitious double majors, cynical kids who didn’t get into Cornell, and people who scored at least 1910 on their SATs, I had myself thinking this was the “real world”. Before I sound like an ass, let me explain myself. I had the privilege of going to a great university where I was pushed because of the intelligence of those around me. This is a huuuuge part of what makes a great school a “great school”.  This bubble of people had me thinking this is how every workplace would be. You’ll find that once you’re out trying to find a job, this is not always true.

While working at my previous and current jobs, I’ve met a plethora of different people with their own backgrounds. A single mother busting her butt trying to complete her undergrad while working forty hours a week, a young guy who didn’t think a four year degree was for him (my dad, FYI), an old man who took the job so he can make ends meet… Not every workplace is full of young, hip, well-educated kids. Not everyone goes to a four year college after high school. When I was in high school, I didn’t think of any other option besides getting a bachelor’s degree. It’s what people did. It just came as a sort of culture shock for me after school, when I realized not everyone had at least a similar upbringing to me. There are many different routes you can take to where you’re going, many, which lead to the same place. Everyone’s just try’na hustle and get paid. #Capitalism, right?

So bottom line, here. The BSoHK (Business School of Hard Knocks, it’s a thing now. Just like saying “fetch”) has taught me that upon graduating, you’re in a bubble no longer. The only bubble you’re in is literally the workforce. It doesn’t matter who’s in your bubble, or where that bubble came from, but that bubble has dissolved once you apply to 75%*** of jobs out there. Keep in mind, people around you are own their own paths to wherever it is they’re going. They’ve had different upbringings, different educations, and different experiences themselves. It doesn’t make anyone intrinsically “better” than anyone else- it only means there will be people who are qualified for different jobs than other people. And that’s the god honest truth.

It took me until now to get off my high horse and fully realize that the workplace can contain many different people. The more I type, the more stupid I realize I sound, but I honestly took my “bubble” to be something that I’d live in the rest of my life.

When I graduated, I thought everything would come easily. I graduated from a great school, was able to juggle athletics with academics, and thought this would be able to carry into getting a job I felt passionate about right off the bat. This is the case for some, but not others. There are too many factors that go into getting a job after college to isolate just one thing that “gets you the job” or not (besides maybe just know someone important and don’t be stupid, or having a company so severely understaffed they still take you despite you telling them you were a cat in 5th grade), but just keep in mind, you’ll be amongst people who have a totally different backgrounds than you for the rest of your life. It’s SO important to remember this, and keep this in mind not only in the workforce, but in life as well.

So before I turn you all into a bunch of hippies and encourage you to hold my hand as we sit in a circle singing kumbaya mah lawd, let me say this:

It’s comfortable to be in a bubble. You’re surrounded by people you can relate to, who have had similar upbringings and lives. However, allowing yourself to get outside this bubble can encourage personal growth. YOU CAN LEARN SO MUCH ABOUT YOURSELF AND OTHERS! Kumbaya, damn it! No one’s bubble is better or worse than yours. They simply just are. It’s kind of cool, when you think about it. Where you are right now may not be your final destination, but challenge your bubble and embrace it. Nothing worth having is easy, and stepping outside your comfort zone can help you figure out your character as a human if you let it. Embrace the change, face the challenge head on, and have no fear, because the only fear you should have in life is if Taco Bell runs out of tortilla shells. God bless.