“I would not have traded the delights of my suffering for anything in the world.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

I can only think of opening this piece one way: with eternal gratitude. Thank you to the lot of you that opened up your hearts to me, confided in me, and understood me in such a way that it feels like we are singing the same song, miles away, in perfect harmony.

I have been so hesitant to personalize the account in any way, should my personifying it make it disingenuous. My goal has always been, and will always be, to combat the stigma in the only way I know how, which is through honesty and the written word. For so long, I have roamed the world, feeling misunderstood, alone, fearful, hesitant; full of anxiety. And with you, now, we walk together, hand in hand, guiding the path to understanding and acceptance.

Today, in particular, I wanted to discuss the acceptance of Instagram as a whole. The culture behind it, the beautiful exterior, and the very fragile interior it rests upon. From the very start, I would only publish images I felt conveyed the person I wanted myself to be; an outgoing, bubbly, somewhat silly girl. Every now and again, I would share the dark confines of my mind, with a poem here, or an excerpt there, but it would be decorated in a humorous caption and filtered light, never betraying my inner self. And many of us, on Instagram, feel that our exterior image, the one we allow people to see, must portray a version of ourselves we are comfortable with. The aspirational us. The us we rely on to protect ourselves from the prying eyes of the harsh, often judgmental world.

I don’t think it’s a rarity to have seen, or been a part of, a group of friends who sit and analyze, and criticize, a photo, or a person, so sharply that there need not be knives involved. We can be cutting and cruel quite callously, and we might not even mean it. I have sat, at times for hours, staring at the same photo of myself, filtered 30 different ways, and found flaw after flaw after flaw, until I’ve successfully discouraged myself from posting it and convinced myself I am, in fact, horrific looking. I would pick at the smallest of infractions my face committed, to the overt hair out of place, or weird elbow, and after all this, I’d put my phone away, and still my mind would remind me of all the awful things I’ve said about myself. And with time, with more photos, and with more filters, I started to believe it. I believed it in the morning before an important meeting, convincing myself that stray hair, sticking up so horrendously and loudly, would convince people that I was unprofessional. How could a person control a room when they can’t control an errant hair? I believed it in my relationships, questioning why somebody would want to spend their time and love on someone who quite clearly had strange elbows? It was both ridiculous and addictive. Another facet of my OCD, I suppose.

Throughout all this, I would only get confirmation in the form of my friends and their criticism of themselves. It became an obsession; aspiring to be the person we portrayed, and destroying the person we were. It was a self-obsessed hatred; a scene you can’t look away from, but is consuming you from within. And I know now, as I knew then, obsession, in any form, is incredibly unhealthy. Even when being self-deprecating, when the only thoughts that monopolize your mind are of appearances, and vanity, and narcissistic virtues, you’ve lost all sense of self.

And this should be the moment in which I say: “Now, I am better than that person. Now, I know true beauty comes from within.” But, that too, would be false. It would be false of a lot of people, because it’s another belief to play into. That you can’tbe a beautiful person on the inside if you still care about something as shallow as your appearance. In my experience, I’ve found people either sway completely to one end of the spectrum or the other; you either subscribe to the philosophy that looks are your worth, or you’re above it and you trivialize those you deem vain.

In my opinion, true equilibrium is finding joy in whatever makes you happy. If applying makeup and creating a version of yourself that fills you with confidence, hope, and bravery, makes you happy, and genuinely so, then that is what you should do. So far as you’re not hurting yourself in the process by being so tedious about it that any small imperfection in your eyes will haunt you. You can be both a person who enjoys her appearance and appreciates her intellect. If spending your days in a t-shirt and jeans, whilst building a company, and conquering new heights, is your ideal world, then that you should pursue. The only chance most of us have at leading the happiest, healthiest, most fulfilled lives, is by living them being entirely ourselves.

Instagram, some have said, has robbed our generation of that. And there is something to be said about consuming something right away, and having too much accessibility which certainly affects our mental health. Often, it’s not only about looks, but about a lifestyle; the life someone else is living for you. And to your fragile brain it is reminding you where you are not: in your appearance, in your location, and in your life.

It seems ridiculous to be so affected by something so seemingly insignificant, to a point where it is stripping us of our confidence and driving us to madness. Mental health as a whole is complicated enough, but exposing it to so many different avenues and opinions makes it all the harder.

I find myself wasting hours, just scrolling, and hardly absorbing any of the information I’m seeing. A lot of it is because I want a distraction from the sadness I feel when my mind has too much time to itself. It’s become a routine that definitely affects my state of mind, whether seeing a photo triggers a positive or a negative response. My mind wanders, scenes playing out, of what it would be like to own that dress, or to be in that city, or to feel that sandy beach between my toes. And all the while, I do nothing of value in my actual life. That is where the danger is.

Allow the pictures to inspire you, to move you, to push you further, but do not allow complacency to settle in. The distraction to keep you from living the best version of your life, and yourself. Personally, as somebody who derived pleasure from something so monotonous as organization, I find clarity in our account @MyStyleSays. In that world, I find myself getting lost in finding new stories for every color we post. New quotes from books I get to explore. New art I get to share. In utilizing Instagram like my personal journal, I find it to be quite therapeutic. My point here is that almost anything can be misconstrued as negative. Negative to you and to your well-being. It’s what we do with it that, I think, is of more importance. How you can positively use something to your advantage, whether to make it therapeutic, or a learning curve, or even as an outlet to express your creativity, is the most important thing. Whatever removes you from the confines of your mind and into new territories for you to explore, however small or large, can’t be all that bad.

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