Growing Up: Liking It

The Awakening

In 1998, American Girl published the first edition of a book titled The Care and Keeping of You. The premise of the book was to educate frightened fathers and pubescent girls about the developing female body from the perspective of a “trusted, cool aunt”. And boy, did it ever.

Five years later, my mom bought the book and slipped it into my reading collection, hoping to prepare me for the impending doom of sex-ed class. Under the delightfully ignorant impression the book was a supplement to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, I eagerly began reading and quickly became horrified. The book laid out devilish plans that claimed I’d better start preparing for the shag carpet I’d soon grow in my arm pits, the bleeding that would undoubtedly begin occurring for a week every month (and I wouldn’t die?), and these sweater puppies I’d get called breasts that I should hoist up or risk letting droop to the floor. For chrissake, I was a biological ticking time bomb.

So like every well adjusted pre-teen, I vowed to not grow up. I would not, could not, grow up. I would not in a box, not with a fox; I did not like this idea, Sam-I-Am!

I immediately decided the most obvious way to repress the onset of puberty would be to eliminate the possibility of getting boobs, because this was the feature I frequently bullied my 7th grade neighbor, Caity for having. My young, half-witted, developing brain was under the impression that a bra alone could stifle my body’s attempts to grow “outward” as disclosed by that diabolical American Girl book. After all, Kit Kittredge didn’t have a rack and I strongly suspected it was due to the shelf bra in her camisole. So now, the once tossed-aside precautionary Fruit of the Loom training bras suddenly became vital to my very essence of being. I would use them to strap down my non-existent boobs, I thought defiantly. That’ll stop the puberty!

We love an Aeropostale hoodie!

But my male peers had different ideas for my progression into womanhood. (Ask any grown female or weathered fourth grader.) Chances are she had her “come to Jesus, aw shucks I’m a woman!” moment when a male figure verbally abused her in some way. I soon learned it didn’t matter if my boobs came in or not, I was unwillingly and ungracefully thrust into womanhood in fifth grade when a classmate told me he made a Sim character of me and “woohooed” me in his hot tub.

Hallelujah, I was now a woman. I twirled in a circle, angels sang, and size 34B bras and Kotex tampons rained down from the heavens. Though I now realized there was a clear divide in males and females that could not be ignored, my body had not yet betrayed me.

But it would soon in seventh grade.

Pride and Period Juice

I don’t recall getting my first period. Some women conjure up wonderful tales of “becoming women” after delicately ruining a pair of Limited Too underwear at thirteen, but as previously discussed, I had already identified myself as a grown-ass woman since fifth grade, so I’m left to speculate as to what occurred and when. I can’t help but reasonably infer I thought I’d sharted my pants for a week straight until my mom knowingly slipped Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret into my reading collection.

Regardless, I do specifically recall the struggle of wearing a pad when I was in middle school. Terrified and terribly confused as to where a tampon should be inserted, I nearly passed out on the bathroom floor attempting to shove an entire plastic applicator up my a**hole. Much abashed, I now knew my only choice to combat Aunt Flow was to wear a super absorbent pad for three to five business days per month.

This is all fine and dandy while wearing my finest pair of dark-wash, bootcut Kohl’s Glo jeans, but wearing a pad became more difficult with the prospect of wearing spandex for volleyball, a new sport I was unfortunately good at due to the fact I could slam dunk on all my friends’ dads by age thirteen. Carefully unwrapping an Always “Sport” pad from its unbearably loud wrapper, I’d strategically stick the base into one pair of spandex and layer another pair of spandex over the first to hide any odd looking bumps should my teammates check out my ass during practice. I now had myself a bulletproof diaper that crinkled with every step I took. At that moment, I proudly secured my fate as a braces-wearing virgin for the next twenty years.

Not only did re-learning how to effectively wear a diaper for the first time since being a toddler benefit me for volleyball, but I could now feel more safe while at school as well. Layering a pad under two pairs of spandex and jeans allowed me to gain some confidence back after dreading I’d unleash an unholy flood on anything I sat on during the school day. The only thing I feared now was another girl hearing me unwrap a pad while in the bathroom during passing time. (This was something I avoided by unwrapping the pad quickly while the hand dryer was on. I learned this technique from when I’d take dumps during intermittent dryer blasts so no one would hear questionable splashes or plops- a process that could take up to an hour).

Vogue.

With time, a mirror stolen from my mom’s bathroom drawer, and the prospect of being cyberbullied by my older friends, I eventually found out how to use a tampon. I’m not sure how I felt when I graduated from wearing diapers a pad at age two, but I think the second time I graduated from wearing a diaper a pad and no longer required a spandex-diaper was much more iconic. I know this because the entire experience is written out in code in my diary (which was cleverly cracked by my sister using the key on the following page).

Saving Face, Feeling Great

In 2006, icy eyeshadow and glossy lips were all the rage in beauty magazines like Cosmo, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue. I wouldn’t have known this though. I first picked up Seventeen a year later in August 2007 (covergirl was Hilary Duff), confused as to why there were pictures of a latex tube unraveling itself onto a banana with step-by-step instructions on page 34.

While many chic, beautiful women and closeted gays can delightfully recall enchanting moments of their first encounters with makeup, I can’t relate. I never snuck into my mom’s makeup drawer to steal her Chanel Rouge lipstick or apply a quick spritz of an eau de parfum of any kind. I am not one of these fabulous gawdesses.

From what I can remember, my sister and I used to raid my mother’s makeup drawer for one item: blush. Instead of turning ourselves into sun-kissed kweens as advised by Revlon, we thought it hilarious to apply blush heavily all over our faces to feign a bad case of sun poisoning. I can only infer now this has to be the cause of why I continue to suffer from acne- it is simply because I applied blush so heavy handed in seventh grade that the pigment is still trying to free itself from my clogged pores.

Beyond applying blush, my first encounter with makeup was Maybelline’s “Silver Lining” eyeshadow. Pressed into a pan with small applicator, I skillfully smeared metallic pigment all across my sweaty lids. No mascara. No brows either- as far as teenage America was concerned, eyebrows simply did not exist until Anastasia Beverly Hills made us aware they were solely on our faces to draw in, dye, comb, pluck, fluff, gel, stencil, and spend $500 on per month.

As my hormones raged on into eighth grade, beauty magazines encouraged me to beat my face into quite the flawless, handsome-looking pancake. In addition to metallic eyeshadow, I now added foundation to my skin routine. Zits? Gross. No one could even know I had visible pores. I packed on five layers of foundation and concealer so I’d look like Ashley Tisdale in TigerBeat magazine.

Peep the blue metallic lipstick.

Because I did not have the porcelain skin of a china doll, I was at constant war with my face. At night I played a continuous, sweaty game of whack-a-mole in the mirror. With the calm determination of a deranged plastic surgeon on edibles, I tweezed, poked, prodded, and pushed my acne further into my pores. Any time one zit would subside, another rose up in its place. I would pick my face into submission or tweeze trying.

“It was from hitting myself in the face with a shovel”, I’d yell loudly to random passersby in the halls, making a gesture to the gouge I’d made in my forehead from trying to rid myself of a blackhead.

Turns out it’s increasingly hard to convince your peers you’ve been repeatedly hit in the face with a shovel, especially in the warm, summer months. So onward I continued, beating foundation into my skin even harder, making Aunt Jemima proud of her little pancake faced-child.

To Be Continued…

Boys, School Dances, Homosexuals, Social Media in 2007, and Cross-Dressing

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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:

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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.