The Importance of Likability

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There are two types of people: those who experienced their glory days in high school, and those who experienced an endless nightmare. People will say that college is a “fresh start” in terms of establishing your status and persona amongst your peers. You no longer have to worry about the football captain throwing spitballs in your hair, or the “Regina George” of your school making fun of your outfits every single day. Although these people may not be around anymore physically, the experience you go through from age 3 to 18 will essentially affect the rest of your life for better or for worse.

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Ugh, this dress. Forever regretting how badly it washed me out.

I recently finished Mitch Prinstein’s book, Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World. I can’t lie, I was considered “popular” in high school. I was one of the captains of the soccer team, I was a cheerleader in middle school, and I was in the top 6 finalists for Homecoming Queen. On the outside, it appears that I had a dandy high school experience; hanging out with the “cool kids,” dating the most popular boys in the school, and being known by pretty much everyone in my gradating class. I was pretty, smart, and athletic. If you have any of the same characteristics, you were probably considered “popular” in high school, too.

However, when I look back on my high school experience, I can’t say that I was necessarily ‘happy.’ The thing about being part of the popular crowd is that I always had anxiety circulating my mind about what people thought of me. Since most of the school actually knows who you are, you are constantly in the spotlight. Other students look at you walking down the hall, keep up to date with who you are dating, check online profiles for the most recent gossip, etc. Don’t get me Image result for 2000s fashion popularwrong, I am definitely aware that my high school experience was probably ideal compared to many. I was not fiercely bullied or made fun of or laughed at. I had my moments too, though, and would come home crying when people made fun of the way I did my makeup, or call me “the anorexic girl” behind my back. When you are in the spotlight, you are held to a higher standard than everyone else. You are expected to look pretty everyday, have the nicest clothes, and have the most confidence. I, however, struggled heavily in the confidence department, so I tried to make up for it by overcompensating in the other 2 categories. This meant: waking up extremely early every day to do my makeup and straighten my hair (I don’t remember ever going to school without makeup on), and picking out an outfit styled with the latest brands like Juicy Couture, Abercrombie & Fitch, Seven for all Mankind, etc.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh God, what a harddddd life you had. You must have been so exhausting trying to look pretty every day while the other students were bullied Image result for popularity quotesand harassed in the middle of every class.” Trust me, I know I had it better than others. I know that many people would have traded places with me. The point I am trying to make here is that popularity does not end after high school. What you went through in your adolescent years does not disappear after graduation. There is no “clean slate” in college. What you go through in adolescence affects there rest of your life: your career, your relationships, etc. It affects what you choose to seek later on in life – status or happiness.

There are two types of popularity: status, and likability. It’s nice to have both, but one is far superior than the other. Let’s take status for example. Someone of status can be someone like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump. They were both born into wealth, and what we all know, money = power. The more money you have, the more “power” you are assumed to have since you have access to many things that 90% of us do not. You have more financial freedom to do the things you want to do, and do the things that many others could only wish they could do.

However, both Paris Hilton and Donald Trump are not the most “liked” celebrities out there. They are not necessarily two celebrities who you would say #goals to (unless you are a radical, irrational, and close-minded Republican), or celebrities Image result for tom hanks likablethat you would probably want to hang out with if you had the chance. This is where “likability” comes in. Being likable is the most determining factor of happiness. When you are well liked, people want to be around you, and think of you as a positive influence in their life. Well liked people are often understanding, Image result for ellen degeneres likablehumorous, good listeners, and compassionate. Some well-liked celebrities are Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce, Tom Hanks, etc (there was so much on Tom Hanks had to include another hyperlink here on how cute and awesome he is). Compare these 3 celebrities to the Kardashians, and most people will choose to spend time with the first group. This is likability vs. status.

The thing is, many people believe that just because you were popular in high school, means that you will go forward being a successful human later in life. In essence, it’s hard to have a high status and high likability factor. Many people correlate high status with characteristics like: egotistical, selfish, narcissistic, self-centered, petty, etc. Ever see previews of that show Rich Kids of Beverly Hills? Or the Real Housewives? They come off extremely pretentious, exposing their lavish Image result for rich kids of beverly hillslifestyles to the rest of the world, AKA, people who come no where close to their financial status. Many of these people do not have the best approval rating compared to the rest of the world. Therefore, it is a challenge for them to essentially humanize their life – make it seem like they are “just one of us.” They are put on this pedestal that has a negative connotation many times, so they have to try and show their ‘likable’ side if they want to succeed even more in life (which equates with either making more money because all rich people want to become richer – or becoming happier – since of course having a high status does not make you happy).

The likability factor in popularity is key. Many of the popular kids you knew in high school who were just popular due to their financial status (being the rich kid), their looks (best looking of the grade), or their athletic ability (senior captain, fastest player, etc) do not end up the most successful or the happiest people later on in life according to Prinstein. The thing is, having a higher status will not make you happier. Being popular in high school will not guarantee you to become a reality TV star or the most popular person at your new job. So how does this relate to the digital revolution?

Right now, we are living in a society where everything you do or say is displayed on social media. Due to the rise of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social networking sites, we have essentially become obsessed with sharing our lives with Image result for edited selves on social mediathe rest of the world. Social media marketing is one of the most successful forms of advertising in 2017. Brands are learning how to infiltrate your news feeds and timelines, and you will rarely see a company that does not have a Facebook or Twitter link on their Contact Us page. Although social media is supposed to be about connecting with each other, I believe it has become a medium we use to advertise ourselves as who we want to be, not who we really are. We use social media to share our “edited selves” rather than our “authentic selves.” And no matter how much we deny it, all of us just want to be liked by others.

Therefore, the power of likability is extremely relative to how we portray ourselves on social media. We have become a society who gains instant gratification from new followers and likes on the last selfie we posted. We feel more confident in ourselves when someone leaves a comment on our page telling us how skinny we look, or #bodygoals. We are constantly seeking gratification from others – whether it be strangers online or our close friends – it’s become an unhealthy obsession.

It’s normal for us to feel good about ourselves when someone compliments us – why wouldn’t we smile and have a spark of happiness? Yet, we have become so Related imagedependent on relying on other’s for acceptance, that is has completely transformed the way we display ourselves online. We are desperately seeking that likability and status combo – we want to appear like we have an awesome life, but we also want people to tell us how great they think we are. Both popular and unpopular people go through this, as popular people seek to keep up their image, and unpopular people seek to repair theirs. Typically, the more we try to impress people with our amenities and advanced status, the unhappier we become.

I know it’s a sore subject, but how many times have you read about celebrities who have committed suicide or battled with depression? You would think the #LifestylesOfTheRichAndFamous (thanks Good Charlotte) are the ones with the happiest people since they attain everything that us plebes do not have. Do you see the pattern yet? Status does not equal happiness. Status does not equal happiness. Status does not equal happiness. If you were unpopular in high school and thought the “popular” kids had it all, think again.

In conclusion, it is important to realize that most people who are popular have a hard time achieving both likability and status. There are some, like the celebrities I mentioned earlier, who are definitely well-liked and well-accomplished. However, I think most of us automatically think of status first when thinking about success. When we think about “being successful,” we typically correlate it with material goods like nice cars, big houses, and designer clothes. In reality, most of us just want to live a life where they don’t hate their job, they don’t have to battle through a divorce, and they don’t have to face much confrontation. Whether that means living in an apartment in NYC or on a small ranch in Montana, your desire to be happy will be more dependent on how likable you are, rather than what social status you’ve acquired. In the end, isn’t happiness the greatest form of success?

Concentrate on your positive qualities rather than your impressive quantities. 

 

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Authenticity in Social Media: Influencers, Paid Media, & Relentless Marketing

“Social media is more about sociology and psychology than it is about technology”

Brian Solis

You love it. You hate it. You run away from it. You run back to it. It’s made your life better. It’s made your life worse. Social media is… complicated.

As someone who has: read a handful of books, completed a 40 page senior thesis, conducted a focus group, researched for hours, and obtained a career in this fieldsocial media is a topic that I have been consistently intrigued by. It inspires me, but it also drives me crazy. I think that is how we all feel about social media at the moment. It’s almost impossible to drag ourselves away from logging into Facebook or Instagram every morning – it’s pretty much the first thing we check when we wake up. It has built relationships, but it has also destroyed relationships. It has made some things in our lives easier, but it has also made things more complicated. Social media is more about how people behave and communicate rather than an evolution in technology.

Do you remember when you first created a Facebook profile? Or the first tweet you sent out on Twitter? Or the first picture you posted to Instagram? Social Media has been around for almost half my life. I think I created my Facebook in 2007, about 3 years after it was created by my idol… Mark Zuckerberg. Say what you want about him (The Social Networkmy favorite movie – explains the history and lawsuit he was involved in while Facebook was evolving – very messy), but you have to agree that the 5th richest man in the world has to be an extremely intelligent individual.

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According to recent findings, the top 4 social media sites are: (1) Facebook (2) YouTube (3) Instagram and (4) Twitter. Facebook was the first main social media platform that excelled in user growth astronomically. Most people you know DO have a Facebook profile nowadays, whether or not they use it as much as they once did when it first became popular. Due to to the rise of the other platforms listed above, and other apps like Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, etc., Facebook’s popularity among Millennials and other age groups tended to fade a bit. This is when Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat’s appeal grew. There is one phrase that comes to mind when describing those 4 platforms: “Short, sweet, and to the point.”

A lot of people have drifted away from Facebook due to it’s “messiness” – AKA, the Event Invites, the Game Invites, the Birthday Notifications, the Video posts, Image posts, Status Updates, Advertisements, People You May Know… and the list goes on. This is not necessarily saying Facebook is a “bad” social network or that it is too complex, however… Millennials now tend to gravitate toward the more simpler platforms where a post can be easily explained with visual cues – a photo or video.

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YouTube is a collection of videos. Search the topic you are interested in, and
browse results until you find what you are looking for. Twitter is feed of status updates under 140 characters. It’s basically the headline or summary of any specific event, feeling, occurrence, etc (Twitter is #ShortSweetAndToThePoint, which also makes it the fastest moving platform with a constant conversation flow)Snapchat is a photo and/or video that disappears in 10 seconds or less. You can send these photos/videos directly, or post them on your “story” visible to the public or your friends which disappears 24 hours after it was posted. Instagram is a feed of images or short videos posted by people you choose to follow. Similar to Twitter, you have a # of people who follow you, and you have a # of people you choose to follow. Unlike Facebook, the relationship does not have to be mutual. You can choose to follow people who do not follow you and vice versa.

When I was in my senior year of college (2013), Instagram was the “it” platform. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion – an incredibly smart move (#Biased cause of love Mark Zuckerberg but c’mon, it was a good move). Personally, Related imageI still believe that Instagram is the ‘favorite’ platform to use for Millennials – if not Snapchat. Both of them are dominating the social scene right now. The rise of “social media influencers” and social advertisements on these platforms has increased drastically throughout the years. You can now make thousands of dollars just from posting a sponsored advertisement on Instagram or Snapchat – crazy, right?

That leads me into my next point – social media influencers who are they and what do they do? When I type the word “influencers” out on my keyword, it is underlined in red as not even a real word. Social Media Influencers are the new celebrities of the digital revolution. They are people who have grown their social media audience to add up to millions and millions of followers – mainly from the Image result for social media influencerscontent they post online to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Basically, their rise to fame was not from a reality TV show (more of a 90s/early 2000s trend), or being a professional athlete, singer, actor, etc. They gained popularity primarily through what they share on social media. This can be anything from their singing abilities, makeup tutorials, or their incredible body.

When companies discover these influencers, and see how large their audience is, they say, “Hey, if we can get this person to share our product/service to their millions of followers from just making a Facebook/Instagram post, this will save us a ton of $$$, and it will reach millions of people – how awesome!” This is now what we call social media advertising/marketing.

Many companies and brands are *awesome* at social media marketing. A lot of Image result for best brands on socialcompanies, when they first start out and have a low budget, typically market their product/service on their own pages which usually costs them little to no money. Other companies will send their product to an influencer (or let them use their service) for free in order for them to share it to their audience. Influencers typically disclaim that they were sent the product for free (but they do not have to from what I can recall), but that they “would never share a product or service that they did not genuinely like.” ~Eye roll.~ I know, I know… I seem petty, but maybe it is my guilty conscious, but if a company sent me a crap ton of stuff
Image result for sponsored posts on social mediafor free, I would feel a bit bad for going online and calling it shit. I believe that a lot of influencers feel the same, so they go online and state how much they genuinely love the product/service, which will most likely lead to more free stuff in the future, and a positive networking relationship in the future. In my opinion – networking is A MAJOR KEY in life – one of the most important skills to become an expert in (…as my dad’s voice goes off in my head, “it’s all about who you know“).

However, as influencers gain more thousands and millions of followers, they start to become greedy. They don’t care as much about getting free stuff, they want the money money money. Paid social media is one of the most successful marketing Image result for sponsored posts on social mediatools used today. You have probably noticed that when you scroll through your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds nowadays, you see a lot of posts that say “Sponsored” at the top. This means that that post was specifically planted on your feed (based on your demographic, web browsing history, etc) to garner your attention. A cost is incurred depending on the type of ad planned; for example many ads incur a cost per click. There is so much to say about paid media in terms of these brand-made sponsored post, but the point is: since companies/brands realize that more people are spending MORE time on social media, so they are putting their money where you are. If their target market spends the most time on Instagram out of all social platforms, then they are going to appear on your feed there in a Sponsored post, hoping for you to click (companies also track engagement here – likes, shares, retweets, etc.) on their ad and make them some more, more money.

Influencers can be part of sponsored posts as well. Let’s look a Kylie Jenner – one of the most talked about celebrities in pop culture – with one of the most insane bodies #curvesgalore (and also labeled as #SlimThick which is the new “look” apparently), with almost 100 million followers just on Instagram (on JUST her personal account – not included her makeup line account, etc). Let’s take a look at Image result for fittea sponsorthis post here. Kylie Jenner takes a selfie with a weird sanitary pad-looking wrap on her stomach. This is apparently a ‘tummy fat loss wrap’ made by the Queen of Social Media Scam Companies – FitTea. FitTea is known for using beautiful, skinny, fit, and trending social media celebrities in their marketing campaigns on Instagram specifically. Why Instagram? Because Instagram is all about the image – it is a platform solely based on a picture and the story it tells. Therefore, FitTea uses the most social stars with the most incredible bodies, and pays them to talk about their product. Do these stars actually USE the product? My belief is no, but I am honestly not sure. I guess if I was getting a product for free and getting paid to advertise it, I would give it a try. But then again, me being someone who researches everythingggggggg – I would also hesitate to use something that is essentially a liquid laxative marketed to “detox” the body, when your body already detoxes itself naturally.

Depending on the amount of followers the influencer has across all major platforms, the brand will offer/negotiate on a price to pay the influencer for posting about their product. Sometimes the price can be $5000, and sometimes it can be $20000 or more. Each brand is different, and sometimes they may ask the influencer to use certain keywords to explain their product, or if on YouTube… talk about their product for a certain amount of time, at a certain point in the video, etc. (2 minutes at the beginning of the video, for example).

At this point, we can go back to the quote that I introduced the article with:

Social media is more about sociology and psychology than it is about technology” 

I believe through all of my extensive research online, public seminars and workshops, interviews, and books read on the topic… social media is the Image result for psychology of social mediaobservance of human actions/behavior, and the portrayal of their mental state. Social media strategists are the psychologists behind these new social media campaigns that are targeting YOU. They are researching how you communicate, what you communicate, where you communicate, when you communicate, etc. They are looking at your organic behavior and your reactive behavior. They are keeping track of trends you follow, who you follow, and how you interact with what you love and hate. This sounds kinda stalkerish and/or creepy, right? Remember when you were shopping for shoes, and then 20 minutes later when you logged onto Facebook you saw an advertisement for the SAME shoes you were just looking at? Your actions are being recorded online ev-ree-where….

Most of this piece talked about how brands/companies use social media to study their consumer and how to successfully market to them on the platforms where they are most, what messaging to use to them, what voice/tone to speak in, etc. However, we can use social media to also analyze people with our own knowledge Image result for psychology of social mediaof psychology and sociology. As someone who has been interested in psychology since my mid teens, it was a no-brainer for me to jump into the social field when it gained huge popularity (and while journalism sadly grew less popular *hint: I was a journalism major) while I was in college. As said before, I studied the way college females use social media to help shape their self-presentation as my senior research thesis.

I read and read and read and read.

I read about the word “selfie” for 4 weeks. I read about how females use social media differently than males. I read about the importance of platform selection and post time when crafting your post. All of these things dig dip into the human Image result for editing ourselves on social mediapsyche, rather than justifying social media as just a way to communicate with people. Social media is also how we communicate ourselves to the world, which is
typically our “ideal” and “edited” self rather than our authentic selves
. We share the best parts of our lives that are exciting, beautiful, memorable, unique, etc. Everything about our social media feeds – the captions we use, the type of photos we post, the language we use – is all an analysis of ourselves and how we want to be portrayed. It’s more than just communicating a friend, it’s about how we want our friend to communicate with us.

With the ability to freely edit everything about ourselves and/or our brand(s) on social media, how are we to believe who or what is authentic anymore? These posts are a compilation of what we want to hear, what we want to see, what we want to read – is any of it genuine anymore? How are we to believe who is real and who is fake? How are we supposed to know which brands are trustworthy anymore?

I can talk about this for hours – so I’ll wrap it up here before this becomes another 40 page research paper. What are your thoughts on influencers and authenticity on social media? 

 

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The 10 Most Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned at 25

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  1. ****You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with**** – This has been the most important lesson I have learned over the past few years Image result for vintage black and white photosespecially. I’ve learned that it is OKAY to eliminate people from your life, or take a step back from them if you feel they are not the best influence towards your goals and attitude. In the past, I did everything I could to avoid confrontation (I would just say ‘yes’ to everything). All I wanted was for everyone to like me. After realizing that (1) it is impossible for everyone to like you, and (2) confrontation is a part of life that is never going away, I finally began to distance myself from friends who had a pessimistic attitude, valued materialism and social status, abused drugs or alcohol, etc. I realized that many of these people were interfering with my personal growth and progress, and if I want to be successful, I have to surround myself around other successful people… not losers.
  2. It’s okay to say no. Naturally, females have a difficult time saying “no.” We are the ones who constantly say “sorry” and apologize for such ludicrous things. I was the person who dropped whatever I was doing to hangout with a guy just to please him, or I would agree to go somewhere with my friends when I really just wanted to stay home. I have finally been able to say “no” when I don’t want to do something, or offer other options when I have prior plans already made.
  3. Half your friends are engaged or married, and half your friends are just as lost as you are. Self-explanatory. It’s a pretty even divide at this age of people you Image result for vintage black and white photos quotesknow who are set on their soulmate, and others who are still swiping right or left on Tinder during their commute (I vowed to no longer use Tinder as it’s never been a successful platform for me, however, I LinkedIn request handsome men who work for companies in my building like Cushman & Wakefield. So now you can feel better about yourself for using Tinder or Bumble since I’m way more creepier. Also, so far it’s had a 0% success rate). It’s okay to be single when you’re 25. It’s okay to be single when you’re 30, 35, 40, etc. Single at 25 > Divorced at 30.
  4. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take risks. Sit at a bar by yourself. Go to the movies by yourself. Ask a guy out. Compliment a stranger. Wear something you wouldn’t usually wear. Whatever feels “weird” to you, do it. Nothing is worse than only doing what feels “comfortable” to you your whole life. There are so many things I used to fear when I was younger, like going to a bar by myself, publishing my blog pieces and sharing them on Facebook, uploading a gym selfie to Instagram – LOL, no joke (now it’s like a gym selfie every other day #noshame #ididntalwayshaveabuttsoiamproudofit). I used to worry so much about the possible repercussions or what people thought of me. Which brings me to my next point…
  5. Life is so much better when you stop caring what other people think about you. I wrote a blog piece about this when I used to write for Thought Catalog. I explained that throughout my whole life, all I cared about was what others thought about me. I thrived off of the approval of others. All I wanted was for people to Image result for vintage black and white photoscompliment my outfits or say that I looked skinny. After the 30 seconds of internal gratification, the happiness fades. You can’t live your life for someone else. We are all genetically different creatures, and we all will have different opinions on things. Just because something is “out of season” or labeled as “un-trendy” doesn’t mean you can’t wear it. Just because your friend said she hates when you wear purple eyeshadow, doesn’t mean you can’t wear it. Just because your parents don’t like your boyfriend’s haircut, doesn’t mean you can’t date him. You have to do what makes you happy. I spent a huge portion of my life trying to live for other people – making sure they would approve of me, and you see how that turned out?–I was almost hospitalized and sent to rehab for an eating disorder and have been on anti-anxiety/depression meds for over 12 years. In conclusion: do what you wanna do.
  6. Always stay a student. This is one of the most important takeaways I have absorbed from my latest read, Ego is the Enemy. You’ll come across a lot of people in your life who are those annoying AF “I-know-it-all” people. At work you will come across horrid managers who disregard every one of your suggestions. At Image result for vintage black and white photos bookfamily gatherings you will run into that one relative whose only existence seems to spread their ‘superior‘ political opinion across the buffet table. In order to prevent yourself from turning into a close-minded egotistical asshole, you need to open your mind to obtaining new and foreign knowledge. How do you do this? Read. Read. Keep reading. Travel. Research. Read. Just because you are passionate about your religion, doesn’t mind you can’t learn about another one. No one is asking you to change your beliefs or values. The more you know, the more you grow. Knowledge is power. Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth
  7. You choose your peers, not your parents. Similar to number (1), but emphasizing that your parents are your parents, so whatever stupid things you disagree with with them, get over it. Unfortunately I cannot say this about everyone’s parents, but most parents just want the best for you at the end of the Image result for vintage black and white photos familyday. When we are in the midst of a heated argument and livid with frustration, we don’t realize the reasoning behind what our parents say or do. They gave you food to eat and clothes to wear on your back – they want you to succeed. They want you to live a better life than they did. Accept that you won’t always agree with what they say, and embrace all the little (or big) things that they have done for you that often go unnoticed. If you don’t have the best relationship or support system from  your parents – that’s OK – you can choose your peers, they are not picked for you. Surround yourself with the best support system who will lift you up if your parents cannot.
  8. You’re gonna have a job that sucks, and it’s OK to quit. Do what makes you happy. It is rare that someone walks straight out of college, and lives the next 40-50 years, bounces from job to job and loves each and every one of them. My last job was absolute hell. It was quite similar to The Devil Wears Prada in many ways: it was located in the competitive heart of New York City, I worked with 40+ Image result for vintage black and white photos quotesaggressively opinionated women, I stayed at the office past 10pm most nights, my work phone went off every minute of the day, I worked on weekends, holidays, etc. I was legit miserable. It was the first time I actually threw up from anxiety, and woke up with horrendous panic attacks. I had a condescending manager who would give me back-handed compliments or talk down to me like I was a 16 year old. One day when I had to work on a Sunday, I decided that I’ve finally had enough. I completed the assignment I had to do after 3 hours, cleared my laptop and work phone, and laid them on my desk with my badge before exiting the building. I [happily] quit. Initially I felt like a failure, and labeled myself as a “quitter,” yet my mental, physical, and emotional health was truly being compromised. I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life. My health is my number 1 priority, not some stupid entry-level job that thinks body lotion is just as important as brain surgery. The agency work-life balance has essentially become nonexistent. I took some time off, was picky in offers to accept, and now I am working at a great company with an awesome manager and co-workers. Jobs are jobs, not a death sentence.
  9. Do as best as you can to live in the moment. All my family and friends know how much I battle with anxiety and panic attacks. Anyone who has lived with anxiety knows that: it can happen at any time, there can be no reason why you are Image result for vintage black and white photos quoteshaving anxiety, it can feel like it’s the end of the world, and lastly… it’s temporary. I remember my therapist telling me in college, “The feeling doesn’t last forever. It will go away.” Whenever I have anxiety/panic attacks now, that is what I recite in my head, since sometimes during a panic attack you feel like you’re world is ending one second at a time. I get a lot of anxiety when I think about the future or the past. I think about mistakes I made, or I think about what may or may not happen in the future. This is the perfect thing to do if you want to drive yourself completely insane. I’ve learned that when in comes to your career, your friendships, your dating life [especially], just live in the moment. Stop thinking about whether you and this guy will evolve into a relationship. Stop thinking about whether you will get that promotion within the next 6 months. Live in the now – enjoy the happiness you have with this guy currently, and work your ass off in the role you are in now. I can’t tell you how much this has helped especially in my dating life. If you’re happy now, enjoy it. Don’t stress yourself out by thinking about the what if’s. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
  10. You have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors. One of my biggest weaknesses is comparing myself to others. My whole life I wanted to be the skinniest girl out of my friend group, or the girl who had the best fashion sense. If I noticed someone else who was smarter, prettier, or skinnier than I was, I would immediately start comparing myself to them and pointing out all my flaws. Want to know how to make yourself miserable in less than a few minutes? Compare yourself to others. I have done this for the majority of my life, and I ended up with multiple mental disorders and thoughts about suicide. It is the WORST thing you Image result for don't be so hard on yourselfcan do to yourself. The reality is that there is always going to be someone who is taller, richer, smarter, prettier, or skinnier than you are. Always. The worst part about comparing yourself to others is that we only can notice a fraction of their life. Maybe a girl is skinnier than you, but maybe she’s also throwing up all her meals. Maybe your best friend has nicer clothes than you, but maybe she’s also in $20,000 of debt. You have NO IDEA what is going on behind closed doors. Look at all these famous celebrities — they appear to have it all: the clothes, the cars, the relationship, the money. Then out of the blue, you hear that they are battling with depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, suicidal attempts, etc. As cliché as it is, you can never judge a book by it’s cover. You never know the full story of someone’s life but your own. If you want to be any of the above characteristics, then you can – but you will still always be you. You will never be anyone else, and they can never be you. Once I stopped comparing myself to other people and said to myself, “Who knows what’s going on in their life,” my happiness started to peak through more and more. Comparison is the thief of joy.

50 Shades of Disorders: The Evolution of the #Fitspo Movement

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It’s hard to argue that Instagram isn’t the current powerhouse of social media, AKA, digital #goals. Although Facebook still has the largest number of members, Instagram is arguably the fastest growing and most innovative platform around. Then again, Facebook owns Instagram, so when Instagram wins, Facebook wins, too.

I was in the middle of my college career (2011-2012) when Instagram started to Related imagesurpass other popular platforms like Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest, etc. Snapchat was also on the rise during this era, which has grown to be a top competitor with Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. During this time, I was brainstorming what I wanted to write about for my senior thesis. After very little contemplation [actually], I decided to study the growth of Instagram – more specifically, how young females have used Instagram to help shape their self-presentation. By conducting a focus group and extensive literature review, I observed how Millennial women use this social media platform to manipulate their own image in order to portray themselves in a more attractive/appealing light than their own reality (My full paper is available here on my LinkedIn page).

I conducted a focus group of girls to talk about Instagram for two hours (and fed them pizza), sat in the library for 12+ hours/day reading books and articles on social media, branding, marketing, digital space, etc. Although this may sound daunting, all of this work heightened my interest in the digital world even more. I have grown to be obsessed with the psychology behind social media, and how it has changed the way we communicate and behave. What I have learned about Related imageInstagram through my research & personal observations over the past five years is that deep down, most of us just want to be cool. We want people to think we ‘have it all,’ or admire us in some way. Most of us care way too much about what other people think of us because we lack self-awareness, and we don’t put in the effort to improve it. Instead, we just try to conform our image to what society approves of (that’s easier & less detrimental to our self-esteem, 😉 ).

It is not surprising that more than half of Instagram’s users are female. Females are typically more [openly] insecure than males, therefore, they are the ones on Instagram proactively trying to modify their image. As a female who’s had a minimal amount of confidence for most of my life, I can relate to the insecurity that many females feel about their overall image. We are constantly bombarded with images of size 0 models on magazines and billboards, of course we feel “fat” when our stomachs and legs don’t look like those of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, or Blake Lively. Instagram avoids the messiness of Facebook: no event invites, long statuses that no one cares about, game invitations, 172 photos in 1 album to scroll through, etc. Instagram is the #1 photo of your 68 photos you took on Saturday night. It’s the #goals of your camera roll. Instagram highlights the most exciting and most flattering parts of your life, and leaves everything else shoved under the bed.

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When I conducted my focus group in college, the girls in the group mentioned how they would alter the lighting in rooms, move furniture around, and take photos from multiple different angles in order to see which view is the most flattering. In terms of taking “selfies,” they would always turn to their best or “skinniest” angle, and make sure their most attractive assets were show off. The term “natty lighting” came about, where people typically look their best – shadows and light all placed in the perfect places (natural lighting, FYI ;).

“Natty lighting” was most likely coined in the Fitspo Community of Instagram. The Fitspo Movement started in 2013-2015, just when Instagram was getting big. Both men and women (predominantly women) were starting to post fitness content on their Instagram page, creating their own ‘fitness journey.’ Most people started to branch out from their personal Instagram, and created a separate page just for Related imagetheir fitness/health content. Content included images of their meals, selfies from the gym, video stills from their workout, motivational quotes, etc. The people who were posting this type of content were also more muscular, curvier, and vascular than typical fitness images on the covers of magazines. These men and women were showing off their muscles and curves, flexing their biceps and quads, and eating more than a salad and boiled chicken for lunch. Of course, this seemed like an incredibly positive and inspirational movement. The confidence they portrayed with this overall healthy-looking image was something that people gladly jumped on board with.

I was one of the young females who became incredibly intrigued with this moment. To this day, I contribute a part of my recovery from anorexia to the fitspo movement. These females had curves, muscles, and confidence… everything that I was lacking. I was ready to break ties with my eating disorder, and escape a lifetime of starvation and misery.

I started following many of these female lifters and bodybuilders on Instagram. I studied their meals, their workouts, and their attitudes. Slowly but consistently, I put on weight, and started to see muscles form in the mirror. You can read more about this here in my piece about recovering from my eating disorder.

Fast forward from 2013 to 2017, and the fitspo community of Instagram has Related imagedrastically transformed, and not for the better. As social media marketing has become a powerful piece of advertising, the fitspo community has essentially been taken over by these “insta-famous models.” Before, young female fitspos seemed genuine about helping others and sharing their fitness tips with their fans across the globe. Now, the fitspo community has evolved into what seems like a hidden advertisement of eating disorders and mediocre products.

When you browse the fitness community on Instagram now, you are bombarded with posts of half-naked girls holding up a tub of some processed supplement persuading you that it will pretty much change your life. The brand PEScience has grown to be one of the most ANNOYING AF companies on Instagram. Their “athletes” are usually females who have participated in a bodybuilding competition (usually the Bikini division), and have predominantly slim bodies. Just go to their Instagram now — whenever a person is holding one of their products, it’s usually (1) a female (2) a female in a sports bra (3) a female with much cleavage and/or (4) a female with a dark tan and face of makeup. Based on the reviews I have read about their products, they are average. Protein powder is protein powder, and most of it is heavily processed and laced with artificial sweeteners or colors. Those super natural protein powders typically taste pretty bad on their own, hence why ‘Processed Powerhouse’ PEScience has flavors like “snicker doodle cookie” and “chocolate peanut butter cup.”

PEScience is just one company that has completely flooded our fitness feeds. There are hundreds of others such as: Bite Meals, Gymshark, Alphalete, Icon Meals, etc. I have only bought from Gymshark of the brands listed above, and I have the same opinion: it’s decent. I ordered leggings from Gymshark, and they are fine, but nothing to brag about. The shipping took forever, the material is quite itchy for me, and their sizing is inconsistent. I have to admit that they do a phenomenal job of digital marketing, and all of their “athletes” are fitness males and females who gained a large following on Instagram from posting selfies 1-3 times a day.

Going off that last point, the female “athletes” for these brands all look eerily similar: small waist, big butt, small arms, big boobs, and toned quads. As stated above, we all work to post the most flattering pictures of ourselves by standing in the best lighting and contorting our body to look the most #goals worthy. However, it seems as if this new “perfect body” is creating a new distortion for young females.

One of the initial positive contributions from the fitspo evolution was the appeal of a heavier and curvier female body. These girls on Instagram weren’t posting about the desire to have a thigh gap, size 22 waist, and a razor sharp jawline. They were eating caloric meals and even some ‘treats’ rather than following a super strict magazine-style diet of salad, water, and fat free yogurt. However, the fitspo movement essentially just created a new community of disordered members by creating this new unrealistic body image and OCD lifestyle of counting macronutrients in [mostly] processed foods.

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Many websites have started to write about this topic as the movement has become more negative than positive. People started to write about their experience with counting macronutrients, stating that it simply replaced one eating disorder with another.  Some researchers have studied the emotional and mental state of women who have viewed these new fitspo images, and of course, the results were not positive. Women reported to have a worse sense of self image/self esteem after looking at these images of “largely unattainable” body types. Although you may look at some of these images and think, “Largely unattainable? That’s a little dramatic, don’t ya think? They aren’t completely shredded.

You’re right – most of these women are not insanely vascular unless they are in prep for a competition or photoshoot of some sort. However, most of us work 9-5 jobs, get stuck in hours of commuting, have kids, have a spouse, have a life outside of fitness maybe?!?! I’m not making excuses, of course, since I fortunately have the Image result for bikini bodybuilders who take steroidstime to make it to the gym 3-4 times a week (usually). However, these females are typically spending 6-7 days in the gym for 2-3 hours at a time, weighing and measuring every morsel of food they eat (or having their sponsor service mail them meals), and rarely stepping outside their normal routine (I.E. attending work happy hours, birthday parties, weddings, etc). And of course, we cannot forget the fact that most of them are being sent free supplements from their sponsor, or receiving a heavy discount, which includes weight loss pills, appetite suppressants, water pills, caffeine powders, etc. Others may take the other route of just using various steroids extremely popular in the bodybuilding community.

However, I almost don’t even view their actual bodies as unattainable. What I think is more unattainable and especially unrealistic is their overall way of life. These fitspos are advocates of the lifestyle “IIFYM” which stands for “if it fits your macros.” This is interchangeably used with the term “flexible dieting” to advocate eating foods that you want to eat, as long as they fit your macro nutrient goals for the day. This has challenged typical bodybuilding style dieting “clean eating” since it has been criticized of causing binge-eating disorders among competitors post competition. These competitors would essentially live off chicken, rice, and broccoli (or “clean” whole foods) for weeks, and once their competition is over, they would gorge on “dirty” foods like chocolate, candy, and everything else they were deprived of during their prep. I think that BOTH of these dieting methods can work for people, yet I also believe that BOTH of these methods have dangerous effects on one’s mental health.

For example, IIFYM did NOT work for me. I became utterly consumed with counting macronutrients, weighing my food, and carrying measuring spoons everywhere I went. I found this to be a new form of orthorexia, as I would freak out if someone else prepared my food. It was different than my anorexia symptoms because I was actually eating a bunch of different foods and I was ingesting more calories. However, I was obsessed with every gram of carb, protein, and fat I was ingesting. Imagine carrying a food scale to Chiptole? Imagine pulling out a measuring cup at a restaurant? Imagine calculating every carb you ingested every single day? The IIFYM way of life may have helped me increase my caloric intake, but it actually made me more obsessed with measuring, counting, and weighing every single thing I ate. I understand why strict competitors and bodybuilders follow this method, but I have to disagree that this is necessary for the average person trying to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

In addition, a lot of these accounts have learned the importance of hastagging – Image result for fitspo movementI.E. – including relatable “tags” so other people can find your account or join in on the community. One popular one of course is “#strongisthenewskinny” Although I find this quote catchy & memorable, it’s actually quite disordered when you think about it. The body confidence movement (shown in ads from Dove and Aerie especially) emphasizes how all bodies are beautiful, no matter was size, color, shape, etc. So is “strong is the new skinny” saying that naturally skinny girls are not attractive, cool, inspirational? What this quote is doing is just replacing one desired appearance with another.

Another new hashtag is  “#gainingweightiscool.” This one I have less of a problem with, but it is still concerning when you look at the majority of images behind the hashtag. I definitely could see how this phrase is beneficial to girls suffering with eating disorders and afraid to gain weight, like I once was. However, the images associated with this hashtag are mainly girls focusing on showing off the weight gain in their glutes or quads, and still having a relatively small waist. So basically… it’s cool to gain weight, but make sure it goes to your butt and not your stomach, k? -___- The problem with this is that people gain weight in different areas, and it is not possible to spot reduce. This goes back to enforcing the whole unrealistic Barbie image: small waist, big boobs, big butt, long legs. In addition, most of these females have admitted to getting plastic surgery (mostly breast augmentations and/or lip fillers #ThanksKylie) to further dramatize their #ratio #goals. Eye roll.

I do believe that these phrases or hashtags were created to help people and motivate them. However, the problem arises when one obvious look with similar derivatives are associated with these phrases. We are comically living in the era of the butt – the butt is EVERYWHERE on Instagram. Forget boob guys – we want BUTTS. Most of these fitspos have released redundant “Build your Booty” guides – charging naive teenagers plans that you most likely find for free on Bodybuilding.com. I get it that they want to make money, but half of these people do NOT release the fact they are not a certified trainer, nutritionist, or health professional. And no, they are not required to tell us this, but Jesus Christ… what ever happened to just joining Instagram for just some fitness tips and camaraderie? Now, 20 year olds are selling identical plans that you can find online for FREE, and posting a photo of their butt at least once a day to grow their following of helpless brainwashed girls.

I get it, you’re proud of the butt you built and you want to show it off – cool. I also went from pancake butt to a little somethin’ somethin’, but I don’t feel the need to post a picture of my behind every single day since you know what, there is MORE to me than my butt. I rather share a photo of me enjoying a night out with my friends, a good book I just read, an outfit I really liked, etc. These girls complain Image result for hot instagram girlsthey are not taken seriously, but they are setting themselves up for it. Men have NO right to disrespect women – no matter what they wear or how they pose – however, ya think that saying that will make men change? Nope. Assholes aren’t going away anytime soon, and I hate to admit that sexism isn’t either. If you want to limit your chances of being disrespected on the Internet (which we get it, you shouldn’t be) and getting called a THOT, then I suggest limit the pictures you are posting in your thong. You are taking the risk of building a career in the most openly and constantly critical field there is: social media. Therefore, you should be ready for the criticism and know how to handle it. Just admit it, you know that #SexSells and at the end of the day, you’ll take more attention and more money over a few fan-letters from mindless teenagers.

After that last paragraph of going off on an aggressive tangent, I will close this piece here. I’m thankful that I am in a state of recovery where I am not triggered by photos on the internet like I was once before. Of course, I have some days where it is still hard since I genetically do not have a small waist, and I genetically store fat on my arms. This goes against the #goals images of famous “Instagram Models” like Katy Hearn and Nikki Blackketter. These two are known for their petite frames, incredible ratios, and large butts. While these two females are inevitably harmless, their rise to fame clarifies one thing: there has been a particular image created from the evolution of the fitspo movement, which continues to be extremely unrealistic to maintain for the average woman. All we have done is replaced one small and bony body with a small and toned one.

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What’s Eating You?

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For the past three years, I have posted about this topic on my various social media platforms in hopes to spread awareness about a disease that affects millions of people each and every day. I was quiet about my illness from age 13 to 22, so it was quite shocking to many when I first let my secret out. Although some of you may have read or seen some of the other posts where I talked about my eating disorder, I believe this one is the most in depth and informative. I believe I am in the strongest state of my recovery, and can truly reflect on the ups and downs I experienced over the past 13 years.

It’s not that I want to necessarily write about this, but I need to. It’s my responsibility, as someone who has battled with this illness for so long, and who has risen to become stronger than I ever imagined. My goal is to inform, break stigmas, and become an outlet for others to reach out to. I am aware that many people reading this piece will not be able to directly relate to the emotions and behaviors I describe, but they may know someone who does after learning about these common symptoms.

Each year in February, there is a week devoted by NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, to spread awareness about the severity of eating disorders Image result for quotes about eating disordersand the mental illnesses [typically] associated with them. Many people are familiar with the two common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, there are multiple other eating disorders that are rarely talked about in school or in the media including orthorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, night eating syndrome, pica, and more. Although these disorders do not share the exact same symptoms, many of the sufferers witness the same or similar emotions and feelings such as: embarrassment, guilt, shame, fear, depression, exhaustion, sadness, confusion, and hopelessness.

It is 2017, and eating disorders are talked about a bit more than they were in the past, however, there are still many people who are either clueless about the dangerous side effects of these illnesses, or have total misconceptions of what an eating disorder even entails.

Many of you have seen my pictures from the past, or have seen me in person when I was “super skinny.” However, many of you don’t know the severity of the symptoms that I [and others] experienced, and still suffer with today. This is never an attempt to gain sympathy or praise, but written entirely to bring attention to the critical and deadly symptoms attached to these disorders. Each year, I hope to raise awareness and establish myself as an outlet that others [struggling or not] can reach out to. I hope to combat any stigmas and stereotypes about eating disorders, and save someone from taking their own life. (*Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.)

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When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and OCD. After about two months of restricting food intake (in hopes to lose only a few pounds after the cruise my family and I went on), I lost about 15-20 lbs. I started with Weight Watchers counting points, and then started to count calories too. I treated dieting like a game that I was really fucking good at. If I lost a pound, I felt like I just scored a goal in soccer. People started to compliment my shrinking frame, so I knew that I was doing something right. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep receiving compliments. I felt like I was “winning” at something for once.

I was noticeably thinner, quieter, and sadder that summer. I was exhausted pretty much all day – with no desire to talk with friends or leave the house. I measured or Related imageweighed every single thing I ate from baby carrots to a tablespoon of creamer in my coffee. I was consumed with numbers; the number of calories in a piece of fruit, the number of pounds on the scale, and the number of minutes that needed to pass until I could allow myself to eat again.

My mother eventually took me to a nutritionist who broke the news about all the above diagnoses. At that point, I knew there was something wrong with me – I just didn’t know why it was happening. “I didn’t choose this,” I thought.  I started to see the nutritionist every week along with a psychologist and psychiatrist. I was put on Zoloft to help with the anxiety and depression I had towards my body image, food, and life in general. Everything about me was robotic. I felt stripped of emotions, feelings, and life. I was only 13 years old and seeing 2-3 doctors a week, taking anti-depressants, taking birth control (since I lost my menstrual cycle), and weighing myself at least three times a day.

For some reason, the memory that sticks out the most from that summer was a random morning when I was the only one in the house. My parents were working, and my brothers were at camp. I got out of bed around 9 or 10 a.m., and was walking to the bathroom when my vision started to fade. I remember waking up on my bedroom rug and wondering why I was laying on the floor. Did I trip on something? Did I bang my head? Why am I here? How long have I been here? I pulled my body up slowly and rubbed my eyes a few times. I walked down the stairs and remembered that I planned to eat a small breakfast that day (I wrote down everything I ate and the number of calories the day before) so I can have a snack with my lunch. My breakfast that morning was a peach and a zero-calorie diet ginger ale. After that, I would anxiously watch the clock for three hours until I could eat again. (*Most teenage girls eat anywhere between 1600-1800 calories per day according to the American Heart Association’s Dietary Recommendations. I was eating around 900-1100.)

After about 6 months of nutritional counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy side(full of emotional breakdowns, screaming at my mom and doctors, refusing to eat with my family, barely seeing friends/family members, freezing all the time, wearing only sweats or clothes that exposed little to no skin), I started to finally gain weight. I was put on a meal plan and had to get weighed every week by my nutritionist. Since I was a competitive soccer player, I couldn’t really limit my exercise as that was absolutely out of the question for me or my coach (no matter how small I was getting). Throughout the rest of high school, I was maintaining the healthy weight that I achieved and was finally going out with friends. I started to drink alcohol, I had a boyfriend, and I committed to a Division 1 university to play soccer at. Life was improving. I wasn’t measuring everything I ate anymore, but I knew in the back of my head that my disorder would never completely vanish.

Fast forward to the end of freshman year at college. I was truly enjoying life – made a best friend at college, went out all the time, had a super attractive boyfriend, and was doing well in all my classes. However, toward the end of the school year, I started to develop bad anxiety again. I was off medication at the time since my mother and doctor said I was doing really great at school and I could be weened off over the winter. I went home that summer, and I slowly started to restrict again. When I went back to Philadelphia in September for fall semester of sophomore year, my friends from school all said they noticed I lost a bunch of weight. For me, that was the best compliment of them all. It’s like I would get a high from someone calling me skinny, small, or thin. It’s all I ever wanted. And it was happening, all over again.

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2012

The more compliments I received, the more weight I lost. I thrived off the approval of others. I kept thinking, “Finally, I’m the girl that everyone likes. I’m the girl that people want to look like. I’m the girl that I always wanted to be.” But of course, I was never satisfied. When I reached 105 pounds, I said, “What’s another 2 or 3 pounds? I can make it to 102.” And when I got to 102, I wanted to be 98. When I got to 98, I wanted to be 95. From what I can remember, my lowest weight was 89 pounds. “I’m finally out of the 90s!” I said to myself as I looked at the lowest number I’ve seen yet. The excitement and joy lasted for an astonishing 15 seconds. After that, I was back to planning how much I was allowed to eat that day, and how much I had to workout.

Since most girls who suffer from anorexia are notorious perfectionists, I amazingly achieved all A’s in school even though I was functioning on less than 600 calories a day. I started to see a therapist at college once a week after I had my first real panic attack during class in sophomore year. I went back on anti-anxiety medication, and was put on birth control again to trigger a menstrual cycle since that disappeared for the second time since I was 13. I was living in a Image result for quotes about eating disordersconstant state of denial and fear. I was afraid to eat pretty much anything other than salad, apples, yogurt, and diet drinks/coffee. If I was going to go out drinking one night, I would pretty much starve all day. When I had to get weighed, I would go to 7-11 and fill up one of those extra-large Slurpie cups with Diet Coke and chug it all before I had to hop on the scale at the doctors. I told my mom I was getting my period even though I wasn’t. My jeans were size 0-00 from Hollister, and I even had to roll some of them up to fit my waist. I had the body of a 14 year old boy. I can only speak for myself in this situation, but I never once thought I was “fat” or “chubby.” I think some people have the misconception that girls who suffer with anorexia think they are fat or overweight. I knew I was small. I knew I wasn’t fat. I just thought I was not thin enough. “Why can’t I be good enough.” 

When I was in my third year of school, I started dating someone who was my most serious boyfriend to date. He was passionate about the restaurant scene and always wanted to try out new places to eat in Center City. In order to appear “normal” to him, I would barely eat all day, drink a shit ton of coffee, and do cardio for about two hours so I can have a decent meal with him later on. I knew it wasn’t “attractive” to be the girl who eats a salad on a date, so I ended up ordering a ocnormal protein-based entree and pretending like I wasn’t calculating every calorie on the plate in front of me. Eventually, I opened up to him about my struggles since he started to notice my lack of confidence and constant worry about my image. We fought all the time for multiple different reasons, but he saw the raw parts of me that no other person has seen before. I never opened up to someone about my eating disorder besides my family and my doctors. He even went to therapy with me in order to help with my recovery. In the back of my mind, I knew that he wasn’t “the one” for me though. I knew that I wouldn’t be marrying him in the future, but I stuck with him since I truly believed that no one else would accept the broken and damaged girl that I was inside. I hate typing this out, as I truly feel like I hurt him more than I hurt myself sometimes. I remember one night when we were spooning in bed, and I thought to myself, “You need to hold onto him as long as you can. No one else is going to love a fucked up girl like you. No one is going to want to date the ‘crazy girl’ like you.

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We obviously ended our relationship after trying so many times to make it work. It was toxic and unhealthy, and I was actually getting thinner during our relationship. At the time, we ended on horrible terms – blocking each other on social media and basically telling each other to go die. Fast forward to now, we are friends, and have hung out multiple times since our breakup. We text each other on Christmas and on birthdays. We both know we will most likely never date each other again, but I am forever grateful for his presence in my life. The end of this relationship started to make me question if I really want to live the next 50-60 years of my life alone. Every relationship teaches you something about yourself, something about life.

After the relationship heartbreak (crying all the time, stalking his new fiancé on social media, staying up all night questioning if that’s the last time a guy will ever say “I love you” to me), I started to go back to hanging out with my guy friends from the wrestling and crew teams. For obvious reasons, I did not see them much during my relationship, which caused many many fights between my ex and I. Since I was now single, I started to hangout with them again. I remember clearly my two close guy friends, individually said to me at different times, “Get off the fucking stair master and start lifting.” That, of course, is paraphrased to what I translated their statements to be in my head. For some reason, it finally triggered something in me. I realized that I was destroying my body for 10 years and I still wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t satisfied with my image. So, maybe this whole thing isn’t about my body at all? Maybe this nightmare is about something deeper, and not about a number on a scale or how many ribs I can see when I wake up every morning? Maybe an eating disorder isn’t even about the food I’m eating? Maybe an eating disorder is about what’s really eating you?

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2012 to 2014

During this emotional realization, Instagram was becoming the new and hip social media platform (2011-2013). As more adults (parents) started to flock towards Facebook, teens and Millennials escaped to Instagram. I started to discover the new evolution of female bodybuilders and lifters. Eventually, this got nicknamed to be the “Fitspo Movement.” Instead of girls displaying their size 0 waists and thigh gaps, these women were flexing their biceps, squatting with the #bros, and portraying how “strong is the new skinny.” I was instantly inspired, since all I knew was hours of cardio, low carb dieting, and a 23 inch waist. Slowly but surely, I started to make my way to the intimidating free weight section of my university gym. I never did anything like squat or deadlift, but I started small with dumbbells, barbells, and assisted machines. I was in shock that I could gain weight and people would actually find me attractive, or even more attractive?

This whole process was extremely emotional and difficult. Gaining weight was my biggest fear in the life for years. I remember one day I thought, “I rather die than be fat.” I am deeply ashamed by this statement, but it’s an honest recollection of one of the many painful thoughts I had circling in my head every single day.

After college, I continued lifting and even paid for a personal trainer to help me improve my form and confidence in the gym. In the winter of 2014, my menstrual cycle came back after four years of being without a period. I was a hysterical mess that night, since my mind translated having a cycle with, “I’m not skinny Image may contain: 1 person, closeupanymore.” After going to my therapist and taking some time to write in my journal, I looked at the bigger picture. My close friends and family members all know that I cannot wait to be a mom. I love babies, kids, puppies – I LOVE to take care of everyone. I tell everyone, “If the only thing guaranteed in life is death, and I had to choose a second one for me, it would be that I am destined to be a mom.” So getting my period meant that I will [hopefully] be able to have kids in the future since my reproductive system is functioning normally again. Although this was incredibly hard to accept, I am so happy that I can live with more hope of having my own children in the future.

During 2015-2016, I had a bunch of difficult experiences that caused my eating habits, anxiety, and depression to spike at certain times. After speaking with my therapist and mom in February 2016, we agreed that it was time for me to go back on medication and STAY on medication for a while. In the past, I was always put on medication, and then when life started to become brighter, I would ween myself off it – and then BOOM – life knocked me right back down again. We worked up to a dose that is good for me over that spring and summer. The summer of 2016 was the first time I went out in public wearing a bikini since the summer of 2013.

Since August/September of 2016, I have been the absolute happiest I have ever been in my life. I moved out of my parent’s house and currently live in Astoria, Queens. I took a risky swing and paired up with a random roommate from Craig’s List, and it has been nothing but a home run since we moved in together. I have awesome co-workers, a great boss, and a balanced work-social life. I go to the Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, drink and indoorgym when I can, sometimes only 2-3 times a week (instead of 7 days a week or twice a day), and I don’t cancel plans when I’m feeling “fat” or “ugly.” I’ve ate things that I haven’t ate in years like New York bagels, full slices of pizza, *real* bread, and more. Although I still have moments where I’m feeling super down on myself, and critique every little imperfection on my body, I am strong enough to not let it ruin my day anymore. I thought that guys wouldn’t date me if I wasn’t supermodel-thin, but now I’ve realized that most men appreciate a girl with curves and confidence. I’ve removed the belief from my head that “guys aren’t going to want to date a “crazy” girl who had an eating disorder,” since I’ve experienced more praise and respect from men who listened to my story and appreciate how far I’ve come. I have a stronger relationship with my friends and family members, and most importantly, I have a stronger relationship with myself.

To this day, I am still hesitant to believe that any person recovers fully or 100% from an eating disorder. Since eating disorders are mental illnesses, there is no cure or magic pill to help rid each sufferer from their own unique demons. However, there is help, and there is treatment. I still have days where I want to starve myself, spend hours in the gym, and even look at my stomach over 50 times a day in the mirror. I’ve come to accept that mental battle rather argue that I “need” to change my body weight in order to be accepted. With the help of my therapist, my close circle of friends, my family members, medication, and the time I spend reading and writing, I am able to live my life to the absolute fullest.

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An eating disorder is never about food, it’s about controlling an aspect of life around you since you feel like you cannot control anything else. Since we cannot control what people will say or do, what the economy will be like, or what genetics we have, we learn that at least we are able to control what we ingest and how our body looks on the outside. In the era of rising Instagram models, Victoria Secret Fashion Shows, and continuous magazine tabloids, it’s easy for people [females especially] to correlate these images with happiness. These celebrities on social media, on TV, and on magazines are wealthy, skinny, and smiling – why wouldn’t they be happy? Why wouldn’t we wish to be like them?

Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way, that thinness does not equal happiness. Size zero jeans does not equal zero problems. And a few pounds shouldn’t feel like pain. My mind was miserably consumed with what people thought about me and if they approved of me. I believed that skinniness was the golden key to approval and internal joy. All I wanted was for other people to like me because I didn’t like myself. That’s what was eating me.

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I’ve discovered that people don’t like me because of how much I weigh or what jeans size I wear. People like me because I am funny, generous, compassionate, diligent, honest, and loyal. Those characteristics weren’t able to shine since my mind was only focused on destroying my body.  Although it took me over 10 years to figure this out, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this experience. Recovering from an eating disorder is still the accomplishment I am most proud of, and it has made stronger emotionally, mentally, and physically.

I recently finished the book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson (strongly recommend to anyone BTW). Manson stresses how vital failure and struggle is in shaping our values and what we deem as important (i.e., what to give a fuck about). I honestly don’t believe I would be as happy or successful as I am today if I didn’t struggle with my eating disorder. All of the excruciating feelings I suffered through made me a more passionate and honest person, which is something I value so much in others. Manon includes one of my favorite quotes of all time – from one of the Founding Fathers of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

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***If you know anyone, or you feel as if you may be dealing with some of the emotions/feelings/behaviors described above, please reach out for help now. Please visit NEDA’s website, email info@NationalEatingDisorders.org, or call their Toll-free Information and Referral Helpline: 1-800-931-2237.***