For as long as I can remember, I dreamt of popularity.
From glossy magazines to the prettiest girls in my classes, I always felt an overt disconnect from the life I dreamt for myself versus the image I saw of myself when I looked in the mirror. Instead of seeing the beautiful smile I inherited from my mother, I saw puffy cheeks, a fat face, and crooked teeth. Instead of seeing how enchanting it can be that no one else in this world will ever be me: the good, the bad, my wildest of dreams and darkest of fears—I just saw everyone else.
Everyone, else. Everyone who I believed mattered, the ones I decided I was so far removed from. Because I didn’t look like them. I didn’t have the lives they had, or so I assumed. As if the only way to gain self-acceptance is through the acceptance of everyone else but myself.
Perhaps, I just didn’t see myself in the aspirations I wanted so badly. It’s unfortunately so easy to forget everything you are when what you want can read as a list of everything you’re not. I was so convinced of the grass being greener on the other side that I would jump the fence trying to get over there before considering what was already right in front of me.
I used to walk with my head down a lot, hands held, fingers intertwined. My safety net was to never look people in the eye. At the time, I was so sure that’s what portrayed strength. When in actuality, the only reason I felt safer dodging eye contact was because I wasn’t ready for people to truly see me for who I really was.
I remember the pretty girls who always made everyone laugh, the ones I longed to be, and how instead of laughing with them, they were just laughing at me. They would imitate my inferiority in all its glory—the whole formula with their heads down, hands held, and fingers intertwined as they smirked to each other while glancing my way. And you would think their jokes would have pushed me further from ever wanting to be them, but for whatever it may be, they still found a way to shine in my eyes. I suppose it wasn’t even them who I wanted to be but rather, I wanted to see myself worthy enough of standing on the pedestal I so quickly gave to them.
And I’ll admit, it’s quite embarrassing to reveal the way I would self-loathe myself. At the time, I was just so sure that the key to loving myself was the love of everyone else. But we have to admit our truths sometimes. History will only repeat itself unless I finally look it in the eye for everything it is, and not only learn from it, but accept it. Something I needed to do with myself a long time ago.
I remember being 14 and feeling slightly resentful towards my mother. Unknowingly projecting my resentment towards our lack of wealth and money security. I guess I found myself treating her this way because she was a seemingly easy target for me. I mean, shouldn’t she have known how how bad our situation is? She’s my mother. She can’t be blind to everything they have that we don’t. Doesn’t she feel bad?
Regret is an understatement for how I feel towards the relationship I had with my mother. One of the last things she said to me before she passed away was how our lives would look completely different if she had it her way. I didn’t know what that meant at the time and ten years later, all I can say is that that’s a another story for another day.
After losing her, ironically enough the popularity I once sought after took a turn. I became the girl whose mother died—and suddenly that translated into the girl everyone wanted to be seen with. The girls who used to make fun of me were suddenly inviting me over and making plans with me because I guess befriending the charity case seemed like the right thing to do. All of a sudden, everyone in my community knew of me and gave me the attention I was so sure I wanted. And while I didn’t want to be defined by my tragedy, for the first time, I felt seen.
Then, there was social media. A place where I could be the girl I always wanted to be. It was a place where I could showcase why I was more than the girl whose mother died.
Social media, particularly Instagram, became a game changer because it gave me a platform to live stream perfectly curated 3 x 5 moments that I imagined would illustrate a life that shined in the way the prettiest girls in class once did.
Instant updates of heavenly looking meals that belonged in a Williams and Sonoma catalog all while seemingly sporting Vogue-approved street style-esque outfits, all while having the most gorgeous face to match the must-have body. Look at this life I created for myself, and look where I am now. I’m not just the girl whose mom died anymore. This is the reaction I wanted people to have when they looked at my feed, as if looking at my feed could compensate for the eye contact I was too afraid to make.
The thing is, what an aesthetically pleasing feed didn’t reveal was everything my eyes would. The money problems, the family baggage, the not-so post-worthy moments behind the so-called glamorous places that needed to tagged. Followed by the seemingly long-thought out process of editing, photoshopping, and picking at myself until I could deem that maybe there’s a part of me flattering enough to showcase.
Aka, whatever little slither of myself was left. Once analyzed and approved, then I could click the post button. Because you see, the life I created for myself on and offline was suddenly no longer tailored for me, but for everyone else. Suddenly, my feed and social media presence were my way of proving I was worthy of sitting on the pedestal I once imagined popularity and happiness stood on.
But it got to a point where I was comparing myself to people I hardly knew, simply because I had the access and the means to do so. I became bitter over people and things I knew nothing about outside of photos they shared that looked so perfect that they made me question my own. My own photos. My memories. What was mine suddenly wasn’t good enough.
And no, that’s not fair to peg that on what other people choose to share on their Instagram and their social media profiles, but I can’t help but admit that’s just how I felt.
Because for me? Social media was no longer a platform to portray a life I built for myself, but rather my posts collided into a sea of self-validation with the loss of any authenticity I once had. From fashion week to avocado toast and everything in-between, I was too focused on documenting what I wanted my own life to look like that I forgot how to just live in it.
So, I went dark on Instagram.
Only for a month. And does that even count? Well, I can at least say this much.
At first, it was embarrassing how often I found myself checking my phone, aimlessly headed to the folder where Instagram once was saved. The funny thing is how after deleting Instagram, I would aimlessly arrive to my photo app. A reel of 300+ photos with candids, blurry images, memes, saved snapchats. Past memories that were lived and felt, simply for the sake of happening not out of needing to prove a point no one even asked for.
In a short month, I can safely say I learned how to live candidly again. Because no matter how perfectly orchestrated a photo can turn out, it will never illustrate what the moment felt like. A first kiss. A second kiss. Intoxication under city lights. Wine nights with friends-turned-soulmates. Laughing until you're crying. Crying until you're laughing.
I no longer felt consumed by numbers, followers, and self-validation. I could live without the pressure and need of being seen. If I was doing something, somewhere, it’s because I wanted to. It sounds silly, but it should’ve always been that simple.
Now it doesn’t matter if I went out that night, or if the meal I had was “trendy”, and if what I was wearing looked anything less than flawless.
It didn’t matter anymore if anyone else’s day or life looked better mine.
Because I am finally at a place where I’m no longer chasing perfect moments but rather learning how to actually be in those moments, for everything they are. In Instagram’s world of grown-up, live streaming, show and tell— I have reclaimed my moments as only belonging to myself and how they never had to look picturesque in order to be worth having.
I knew I was ready to come back when I remembered what it felt like to do things for me and no one else. I could finally write this article without worrying who will read it, who will care, and if it even matters if people don’t.
So to bad hair days, repeat outfits, and mediocre meals galore—it turns out, my pedestal was in front of me this whole time.