Beware Behind the Screen: You are what you see.
I knew someone in college who was more than a bit obsessive about her weight. She wasn't overweight or heavy in the slightest; her natural figure mirrored mine, but she didn't see it that way at all. Every once in a while, one of her posts would come up on my Facebook newsfeed and I'd click on her profile to see what she was up to. As I would scroll down her page, I found status update after status update about how "fat" she thought she was and how she was attacking her new weight loss plan in full force. The "inspirational" memes she would share weren't like the other ones that came up in my newsfeed. She followed "health" and fitness pages that I wasn't familiar with (read: I've got a bit of a gym allergy...) and she would share graphics that said things like "nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels" or "it won't happen if you don't get off your ass and WORK for it." Needless to say, these "motivational" messages didn't make me want to reach harder for anything other than another Oreo. I would eventually wander away from her profile feeling pretty sad that she felt the way she did about herself, and pretty grateful that those messages seemed so far away from the universe that I lived in. It wasn't that I was exactly unfamiliar with her perspective - there had been a time in my life when I too thought that all I needed was to "get off my ass and WORK for it" - but over time I'd come across a gentler approach and was grateful these messages were no longer in my periphery.
Flash forward to a few months ago, when I did something a little out of the box and out of my comfort zone. I was looking to share my blog with a wider audience and feeling stuck on social media platforms like Instagram where I didn't feel like I had a big enough following (lesson learned: it's not about how many followers you have, it's about the people who already follow you.) I was adamantly against anything akin to "buying" followers, but while I felt super comfortable with Facebook, I felt like I needed some help navigating the ropes of marketing on Instagram specifically. A few friends of mine had worked with a marketing agency that helped them increase their social media bandwidth so they could get more readers and I decided to give it a try for a month. I was extremely skeptical, but the company assured me they would never post anything on my behalf. All they said they were doing was finding users who were posting with hashtags in my genre of writing and connecting with them. They were doing the kind of work I thought I didn't have time for. After interrogating them for an hour and getting assured that my "authenticity" would remain intact (I'm sure they were more than amused by this) it felt harmless enough. I hired them.
Sometime when I explained my brand and who I am to this company, wires were crossed and they seemed to think I was a fitness blogger (so yeah, wires were seriously crossed.) Within days, suddenly I was following all of these people who were advertising weight loss products, body wraps and intense fitness programs I'd never heard of. My once treasured news feed of friends I loved keeping up with and authors I admire suddenly turned into a barrage of before and after photos. It was #transformationtuesday all day every day, and everyone seemed to be yelling at me to JUST GIVE IT A TRY! I was in unfamiliar territory, I was terrified, and I felt like the little, sweet IG world I created for myself was in shambles. I missed waking up to Oprah, Brene Brown, the jeweler I follow who made me my favorite bracelet from Etsy, and my wedding decorator/personal hero. Suddenly, they were gone, lost in a sea of insanity. I went from grabbing the New York Times every morning to being a daily subscriber to the National Enquirer. My mind was being unwillingly filled with junk. It was affecting me. I kept telling myself everything was fine and then I finally blurted out to my husband why I was feeling like a crazy person. He looked at me with that "and you haven't fired them yet why?" look and two weeks later I cancelled my contract. I haven't looked back since.
So why on earth am I sharing this somewhat embarrassing story about my desperation for more Instagram followers with you? Well, two reasons:
Reason #1 is that I want everyone to learn what I learned without having to go through what I went through in order to figure it out: you are NOT the number of people following you, and true success doesn't come from how MANY people find you inspirational, but the WAY people find you inspirational. Four people who genuinely LOVE what you have to say is SO much more valuable than 10,000 people who aren't really interested. If we are trying to touch people, we don't need to worry about how MANY people we are touching. We need to worry about touching the people who WANT to hear what we have to say and giving them what they need. We need to take care of the people who WANT our care before we focus so hard on "growing" that number of people that we forget what we're doing it all for.
Reason #2 is why I decided to share the story about my college friend with you, and I why wrote this post in the first place. Something crazy happened when I started following all of these people who thought I was a fitness blogger.
I mentioned that I'd dealt with my own body image issues in the past, but that those issues seemed so far behind me. Suddenly, this girl that gets recognized by the staff at her local Dunkin' Donuts AND enjoys green smoothies (no need to trash either: one is silver and the other gold) was researching programs, fitness plans, things she could do to get an overnight six-pack, anything that would get rid of her flabby arms. Each morning I would wake up and check my Instagram feed and read these messages like STOP BEING SO LAZY AND GO TO CROSSFIT NOW AND BE SOMEBODY. I knew better, but being surrounded by this constant messaging made me feel yelled at, scolded, not good enough. Did people really live this way all the time? I wondered. Were people in fear that their own bodies weren't good enough and following people who were supposed to make them feel BETTER about themselves and instead following all of these YELLING people and waking up getting YELLED at every morning?! Then, I realized something:
We ARE what we see. If we feel inadequate for any reason, we're likely to find or, in this age, "follow" people who build on that unworthiness. We THINK we are getting help - or fitness inspiration - but it's quite the opposite. We are getting messages that reinforce whatever beliefs we have about the world and ourselves.
Think about this next time you hop on Facebook or Instagram. The messages we give ourselves each day are the messages we're going to hear back from the outside world. It's almost like an echo. In our greatest moments of desperation, even if the tiniest voice inside of us knows somewhere that we are worthy and valuable than we will find a voice or message that reminds us of this. We must take care of our precious little hearts and souls, because let me tell you one thing I know for absolute certain: the space between feeling unworthy, overweight and unattractive and being happy with oneself is not closed by going to the gym, losing weight and mastering Kim Kardashian's make-up tutorial videos (although I must admit, that woman knows how to contour like Michelangelo knows how to carve marble.) That space is only closed or made smaller by making a decision that you're not any of those things to begin with. There isn't a book or workout routine that will get you to where you think you need to be. All it takes is making a decision that your missing piece isn't going to be found after six body wrap sessions. Because there are no missing pieces. You are already whole.
So I just ask one thing - please, please just remember this when you're deciding who to "follow" and whose messages to subscribe to. You get to decide what you take in as your truth. You get to decide that you're good enough in every moment. If something doesn't make you feel good about yourself, it's not true. It's that simple. Don't read it. All you have to do is take note of what makes you feel like you already have everything you need. Those messages aren't as common, but once you find them, you'll know that they're the good stuff. Keep them. Fold them up in your pocket and find more of them to fill yourself up. Throw out what makes you crazy and make room for your new hobby. Become a collector of good stuff.
Because the more you see it, the more you read it, the more you'll really know it's the truth.