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.

Stubborn People Are Already Dying

You know the kind of people I appreciate? The ones where you call them out on their not-so-complimentary characteristics and/or behaviors and they actually own up to it. What is that called again? Honesty? Self-awareness? Compliant?

Naturally, we do not want to be wrong; we don’t want someone to challenge our beliefs, to question our actions, or to disagree with something that we feel quite strongly about. Flunking a test you thought you aced, dropping weights you thought you could lift, being rejected for a job you thought you would score — examples of results from events that we could have prepared better for, overestimated less, etc. However, what happens when someone questions our own characteristics? Our persona? Our morals and values?

For the millionth time on this blog, I am quoting Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck:” who you attract [or don’t attract] into your life, and who you Image result for proximity is powerkeep [or who you don’t] in your life boils down to what you value. In essence, if you value intelligence, you will attract [and keep] intelligent people around yourself. If you value sense of humor, you will hang around people who are funny (Proximity is Power! You choose your peers!). Pretty simple, right? However, we often do not realize our own characteristics unless people reinforce it to us. Comedians are comedians because people laugh at what they stay. People reinforce to comedians “you are funny,” [by laughing] therefore, comedians recognize one of their defining characteristics as “humorous.”

This goes for characteristics we are not called out on as well. If no one criticizes or calls us out on the things we do or say, we rarely recognize them on our own. Like I said earlier, we want to believe we are right; and that are morals/values are supported. If I steal money from someone and no one tells me that it was ‘wrong,’ then why would I question my actions? Why would I get down on myself if it’s not something that is criticized?

Unfortunately, even when we are told we are wrong, most of enter the ever-so-popular denial phase. Denial is surrounded by synonyms like defensive, stubborn, uncompromising, etc. Most things in life are subjective, so it’s not like most of the time we are morally wrong when someone says we are. In other words, just because someone disagrees with us, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are wrong and they are right and vice versa.

Yet, there are a plethora of topics that are universally objective (yet still not completely). For example, breaking the law, lying, cheating, drug abuse, etc. These things all have generally negative connotations and have a lower rate of conflicting viewpoints (on the other hand, think of political, religious, and social issues which are all topics with a high rate of conflicting viewpoints). If you cheat on your partner, most people will agree that it was not a ‘good choice’ on your part, however, it depends if these people will actually confront you about your decision (or if you even tell them about it since naturally we want to avoid confrontation/criticism).

When I read Manson’s chapter about self-awareness and personal values, it made me think, “what do I value? what do I deem to be the most credible characteristics? what values do I admire about myself that I want to see in others around me?”

As I mentioned above, we are aware of many of our characteristics by the reinforcement of others. People obviously do not reinforce me with the statement, “You are tall,” because I am obviously short. However, if people started to tell me that I am tall, I may start to believe that I am tall.

The most frequent characteristics that people use to describe me are: blunt, honest, funny, compassionate, hard-working, perfectionist. All of these characteristics I am proud of, and just like anyone else, I have characteristics that I am not proud of: insecure, indecisive, self-conscious, etc. I do feel lucky that I can recognize my faults, as many people obviously have a hard time doing so (cough Donald Trump cough cough cough cough). People who have a high sense of entitlement, cockiness, and pretentiousness usually have a hard time recognizing any flaws in their persona.

I have realized from my many years of dating and the #singlelife encounters I have experienced, the one characteristic that I can’t quite get past is stubbornness. If someone I am dating displays any hint of stubbornness, I almost immediately mentally check out of the date. I wouldn’t say someone who is stubborn is not honest, but rather they are not honest with themselves. I do believe they lack self-awareness and mentally cannot acknowledge their flaws. I know A LOT of stubborn people: I have worked with them, I have befriended them, I have and still am related to them. Both my brothers and my mom are incredibly stubborn about certain topics that arise in life. I honestly don’t recall my mom every saying the word “sorry.” I love my mom, and I we have a very good relationship at the moment. However, we have also had more arguments and vicious screaming battles than I can count.

What is shocking to me is that many people don’t find stubbornness to even be an unattractive characteristic. I think some people pair stubbornness with passion, I.E., those people who are so set in their ways/beliefs/opinions are just incredibly passionate about them. I can see the correlation in this viewpoint, however, stubbornness brings me to another Manson quote, “Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth.” This is very similar to Voltaire’s quote, “Doubt is not a
pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd
.” What does this mean? Yes it feels uncomfortable to have doubts about something and not feel 100% right. However, Image result for doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is absurdit’s worse to think you know it all, all the time, and not question your own self. To question our beliefs and our knowledge is vital. If all we want and choose to believe is only what’s in our head, we are putting a dangerous barrier in front of our growth and success. I mean honestly, what is science? Science is the study of constantly observing and experimenting the physical and natural world. Your hypothesis is your question – what are you trying to prove or disapprove? New information arises from questioning other ideas and behaviors. How would we know so many of the thing we know today without embracing experimentation and questioning? Someone who is stubborn is closed off from embracing new information or questioning their own. For me, someone who is not willing to learn is someone who I cannot date. 

I am currently in the process of reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I think EVERYONE should read this book. It has a lot of similar themes that Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck has. In Part II – Chapter 1 “Always Stay a Student,” Holiday talks about the importance of keeping a humble mind, and never acting as if you know everything. You are never a master in anything. Although you may think you know everything about making a martini, there is a plethora of knowledge you still don’t know, and that is still being questioned. Holiday quotes, “If you are not still learning, you are already dying.” If you decide to stay in your comfort zone of beliefs and knowledge, you are essentially putting yourself in more danger than you think. You are limiting the knowledge you can acquire, and we all know the very popular saying, “Knowledge is Power.”

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One of my favorite quotes is, “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If you really want to succeed, become a CEO, entrepreneur, meet awesome people, you must accept being told you are wrong (accept humility) and understand that people will constantly criticize and/or question your beliefs. Like I said earlier, this is not a situation of who is wrong and who is right. It’s understanding that maybe your way of thinking isn’t the ONLY way of thinking. Opening your mind to new and challenging ideas is the beginning of personal, emotional, spiritual, and mental growth.

Do not be stubborn. Open your mind. Accept your flaws and accept humility. Those who are humble are those who improve.

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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