Remember that moment as a kid when you became ‘self aware’? You probably don’t, but i’m sure your mom does.
My Aunt recently wrote an instagram post about how her sixth grader son took off his heelies and handed them to his younger brother after passing a group of girls from his school at the mall. In one instant, it was as if he suddenly became aware of what other people thought of him, or what was considered ‘cool.’
Kind of adorable, kind of heart breaking right?
I remember being little and my best friend saying to me “Indy. Did you hear? Kylie doesn’t like to play pretend anymore.” My jaw dropped to the ground. Kylie was two years older than us, but we were dumbfounded. “What do you MEAN she doesn’t like to play pretend?!!!!??!?!?!” I cried out, in utter disbelief - as if my favorite barbie had just been thrown away.
But it happens. To all of us. Eventually, pretending to be mermaids just doesn’t feel the same as it did when you were seven.
It took a little bit longer for me, though. It happened eighth grade. One night we were at my friend Haley’s grandmas house and her older brother pushed us both in the pool with all of our clothes on. We were laughing and having a great time, egging him on, trying to get him to throw our other friend in. She was screaming “NO NO NO!!!” which made the chase even more entertaining. We were cheering and chanting “throw her in, throw her in!!’ all the while she screamed and begged him not to. When he finally got her and held her face inches away from the water, we realized she was crying. “Please don’t!!!” she yelled. “i have makeup on!”
Haley and I looked at each other confused. “So what?” We both shrugged. He threw her in anyway and she was upset the rest of the night. But for the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why. Our eighth grade minds couldn’t comprehend why wearing makeup would prevent you from jumping in the pool. She told us later that it was because she didn’t want wet hair and smeared mascara in front of Haley’s brother and all of his cute friends. She was embarrassed.
And suddenly, I was introduced to a new world I didn’t even know existed.
When she told me that, I questioned everything. “Oh, you’re NOT supposed to get in a pool if you have makeup on? Guys DON’T like when your hair is wet?” I felt like a fool! How had I not known this?? It was very simple, but in the way my cousin realized heelies were lame (which. ahem… they’re not.. right??? or should I return mine??) and in the same way as my friend Kylie realizing big kids don’t “play pretend”…I was instantly aware.
From then on I was aware of what people thought of me, or how I looked. What people were saying about me. Never again would I be as innocent and careless as I was that night in that pool with all of my clothes on, laughing without wondering for a single second of what anyone in the room thought of me.
That mentality, of “is this cool?” “do they like me?” “what do they think of me?” stays with us as we get older. Some, more than others, and to be honest I always thought that I was one of the “others.” The ones who didn’t care as much.
But the truth is, we all care a little too much.
Especially with social media.
I can’t even imagine how much earlier that night at the pool would have happened for me if we all had cell phones and snapchat. I would have likely became self aware much much sooner.
For the last couple of years, i’ve had an online presence. It’s no secret that the internet is just an online cafeteria and instagram is the table of mean girls. It’s tough out there. But for the first couple of years I was on instagram, it really didn’t effect me. The “pressures” that is. And I truly mean that! I never, I mean NEVER checked my “likes'“ or even my follower count, and especially not who was unfollowing me. I posted pictures and videos, and it was fun. That was it. My worth, didn’t come from the internet.
And then, kind of in the same way a little kid becomes aware… I became aware all over again. With social media, we’re almost forced into being aware. Being aware that your waist isn’t the size of *insert instagram models name here* or being aware that your house isn’t as big and gorgeous as *insert mommy bloggers name here* or being aware that Justin Bieber chose Hailey Baldwin over you, You know? Who likes your post and who doesn’t, how many likes you get versus one of your friends. Being aware of literally everyone else’s lives, and how yours adds up.
And this is what happened to me. It was like the pool all over again. I questioned everything. But instead of deciding to wear more makeup, and deciding not to get my hair wet, I decided I needed to post better photos, travel to cooler places, write better captions, get a better body, gain more followers.
And listen. I’ve always prided in myself for not caring about my online image as much, so it makes me feel so gross and weird and embarrassed to even talk about this, but it’s necessary. I gotta tell you guys. I gotta come clean to my girls.
I cared so much.
At the beginning of 2018 I was traveling like a maniac. I was busting out content like a white girl at Coachella. I went to the Bahamas, Hawaii, LA, Florida, India, Turkey, I even flew to Arizona to get my hair done. All of this by MARCH! And it really was the time of my life. But so much of it was spent taking photos and editing photos and posting photos, and then checking on photos to see what people thought of the photos, blah blah blah.
I bought every preset I thought would make my photos better. I would post only during times of day that my followers were most active. I would buy outfits for instagram pictures, and never wear them again. I would check every day to see who was unfollowing me. I would compare my engagement on different photos, and I would be disappointed if it was lower than before. Every single one of my photos had to be taken with a DSLR, and it had to be edited to perfection. It. was. exhausting.
And then in April, I went to Bali with some of my best friends from high school.
I hadn’t been home longer than a week in months, but my intense case of FOMO refused to let me miss this trip. And I’m forever thankful that I went.
I usually travel with people who do what I do, create content for a living. And thats because they’re the only ones who can up and leave for two weeks. Most of my close friends have jobs that are hard to get away from, or I would bring them every time. The thing about traveling with content creators however, and something I was used to, was they got it. They too, were aware. We were constantly taking photos of each other, they knew the best angles, or camera settings, we shared edits, it was like one big social-image-creating-machine.
This trip on the other hand…was different.
The friends I was with didn’t care about any of that. They had their snapchat out once in awhile, and asked me to take pictures every now and then, but it was natural. It wasn’t “go find a cool waterfall for a picture” it was “oh this waterfall is sick, can you take my picture?” does that make sense? It reminded me of how I used to travel. I used to never seek content, I would just take cool pictures as they happened. Capturing real moments instead of curating them.
It was towards the end of the week and we had been out in the sun all day. We headed down to this beach to watch the sunset, and everyone ran in the ocean. I felt a lump in my throat. I hadn’t been IN the ocean, like waist deep, hair submerged - the entire week. I have a TON of hair, plus extensions and so getting it wet would mean at least an hour of brushing it out that night plus an hour at least just to wash. It’s a task in and of itself and I avoided it at all costs on trips. Dry shampoo was my best friend. But why? For WHAT? I thought to myself. Was it seriously just so my hair would look good in an instagram picture? I got angry with myself. Seriously. I had flashbacks to eighth grade and my best friend crying over the idea of getting her hair wet. She missed out on such a fun memory, such a carefree moment because she didn’t want her mascara to be running in front of cute older boys. I remember being so annoyed by that, but here I was, 20 years old, missing out of a fun carefree moment because I didn’t want to get my hair wet.
I hopped up immediately and ran as fast as I could into the water, diving headfirst into a wave before I could even talk myself out of it. And you guys.
It was one of the best nights of my entire life. The water was warm, the sky was orange and pink, and I was surrounded by some of my closest friends. The salt stung our eyes, we were getting destroyed by waves, but it was perfect. Seriously, perfect.
Remember when you were a kid and you just swam all. of. the. time?? There was nothing in the world better than going to the local pool and diving for rings I mean come ON!! Marco Polo was my shiiiit!! And then as you got older you would go to the pool and you’d sit in a tube or lay out and tan, or stick your toes in. But when was the last time you just SWAM? for fun? Like you did when you were a kid?
That was this night for me. We just swam. Like we were nine years old again. We were out in the ocean for hours. Way past the sun going down. We never wanted to leave. I remember thinking to myself “I want to stay here forever.” It was like for just a moment, I was that eighth grader swimming with all of my clothes on, with zero thought or care of what anyone thought of me. The awareness was stripped, and I was in my happiest, purest state. Thats how I think we are when we strip down the pressures and expectations we get from social media. I think that is when we are the happiest.
I decided then and there that I never ever ever again wanted to miss out on a moment or a memory because I was worried about what other people thought of me. Being aware is good, but the power comes from being aware and deciding not to care.
My view on social media changed after that night. I obviously still use it, and in fact I really love it. And I think it’s because i’ve removed the pressures and expectations. I have a better relationship with it now. I’ve even accepted Hailey & Justin. It’s all love. Since April, I stopped doing sponsored posts almost all together. I started taking more photos with my phone and in fact I would say 90% of my photos since then are from my phone. I don’t even filter them most of the time. And even if they are beautiful travel photos taken with a professional camera, they’re authentic. I don’t actively seek content anymore. I post a picture if I like my outfit, or if I did something cool that day. I post at 2 am, I post three times a day, I even posted a photo directly out of surgery when I got my nose job. The point is, I post whatever I want, whenever I want.
And you know what? it feels good. Almost as good as getting your hair wet.