When I first began my Instagram account five years ago I never imagined the places it would take me. I was fortunate to experience a lot of growth in a relatively short period of time.
My little corner of the internet began as a prep-centered fashion blog and Instagram account. It was full of lots of monograms, bows, and Lilly Pulitzer prints. A lot of it was dumb luck as I began my blog at a time when blogging was beginning to emerge and the classic, preppy style was gaining lots of ground on Pinterest and the like.
I loved my space on the Internet because it was successful. The likes were validating and my growing audience encouraged me to keep posting tons of new content. It made me feel like someone worth following and knowing.
The summer after my freshman year of college I felt a profound shift take place in my life. It wasn’t necessarily overnight, but I had an epiphany that led me to a realization: instead of owning my social media, I was letting my social media own me. I didn’t like the brands I was working with, I didn’t stand behind the story of an exclusive, gentrified America that my clothes told, and I was tired of feeling as if I were playing a part every time I got dressed in the morning or posted a new photo on my blog.
It was exhausting and from there I moved cautiously. I had high hopes that despite a shift in my content loyal subscribers would stand by me. Some did, but many left. I constantly questioned this move to embrace a truer form of myself. If I really was doing the right thing, why did no one seem to want to stick around to see it happen? Maybe this really wasn’t me. Maybe, even if this was me, it was someone I shouldn’t want to be.
I spent my sophomore writing half-hearted blog posts and sarcastic Instagram captions. Even scarier than people disliking the photos I posted was the thought of people rejecting the voice behind the photos – my voice.
While abroad in Sweden last semester, I felt incredibly isolated. Once again I was hit with a wall of disappointment in myself for being unable to sustain what I deemed as any real form of success. More than anything, I convinced myself that maybe I didn’t have a voice worth listening to anymore. A huge part of me was humiliated by this. I knew so many people who had gone abroad and had all of these amazing stories and photos and experiences. While I felt so grateful for the opportunity, the reality being so far away from home paled in comparison to my expectations.
So I wrote. I published deeply personal posts and essays on my blog, I began to write more for Spire & Co, I started to use each Instagram post as an opportunity to pour my heart out.
It took reaching my rock bottom, a profound lack of belief in myself to kickstart my authentic voice.
It became clear to me that the only way I would have a voice worth listening to is if it was truly my voice. My attempts to always be funny and never truly say what was on my mind was some brand I tried to present to the outside world. I don’t know if it was to make me seem more “cool” or “casual” but I know it wasn’t me.
The truth is I’m not all that cool and I’m not all that casual. And the thing is, there are a lot of people just like me. People who live to wear their heart on their sleeve and pour their souls out to everyone they meet. People who want to discover the meaning of life over soggy waffles in a dirty, 2 am diner. People who want to cry just as often as they laugh. People who believe in not only admitting their mistakes but sharing them with the world.
These are my people. This is me. My brand is me. And trust me, it took a whole lot of time to get here. But it doesn’t have to. The only way to find your genuine voice on social media is to take your tangible, scary, funny, sad, beautiful human voice and put it out there. Put it out there for praise, for “aha, me too” moments, for criticism, and for whatever else may come.
You have a voice worth listening to. Tune out the people who tell you that you take things to seriously or you feel too deeply. Embrace the people who love radically and genuinely with open hearts.
Featured image by Gabi Mulder.