How To Be Yourself On The Internet

If you meet me in real life, I am probably not the same person you know from Instagram. I don't sound the same. I don't talk the same way. I probably don't even look quite the same. I never have, and I guess there's a chance I never will. 

But that's OK with me now.

A few years ago, I wrote about how my real life and Instagram were so very different. Photo-by-photo, I described how my Instagram was carefully produced and staged. How I stood on chairs to get seemingly effortlessly great photos of food. How I posted photos of green juice I actually hated the taste of. How I took 65 selfies before I could post just one. People found it funny because, on some level, everyone else was doing that too. Each individual part of the story was true, but that doesn't mean it was the whole truth. What I conveniently left out of that piece was the darker daily manipulations of my self-image. I left out that I would rarely post photos of my entire body, because of a lot of reasons, but mainly because I simply hated it. I left out the part about how when I did post full-body shots, they were often manipulated with FaceTune. I left that all out because it wasn't funny at all. And I knew it.

In those days I thought that one day I would lose enough weight or gain enough muscle or complete enough runs that I would eventually be able to stop editing myself out of my own world. And until I got there, I was willing to wait. I still believed then that there was a one-day version of me that would be good enough — good enough to post on Instagram, to wear a bikini, to exist in at all. Now I know that when it comes to disliking yourself, there is no ceiling, and there is no floor. When the only thing you believe is acceptable is "smaller," there is only ever further to go. For as long as I had known myself, there had never been a "small enough" or "good enough," there was only ever smaller. There was only ever better. 

And, so, for a long time I edited myself. When that became too shameful, I simply hid myself — behind a filter, or a carefully-lit selfie, or just a literal object. And still, then, I was ashamed. I looked at people who loved themselves and touted body positivity and self-love, and I wanted to feel like that. And I also, desperately, in my core, wanted to be the same thing I had always wanted: to be smaller. So when I weighed myself every morning and saw a tiny gain, I was both horrified at the number and deeply ashamed that I cared at all. But I always ended up telling myself that, despite whatever I told the world, at least privately, I had to care. After all, how was I ever supposed to become thinner if I liked myself as I was? Accepting myself as I was was the same as giving up. Loving myself was giving up. And I couldn't give up. Because the only version of liking myself that felt worth it was one where I was, if not succeeding, at the very least trying to become smaller, better.

And then, my world collapsed. I've wrote about it before, but it is worth re-iterating whenever possible: There is nothing that will re-align your world view, your self-view, your absolutely everything like losing someone close to you. I had no choice but to change, and I made the commitment to myself that it would be for the better.

All at once, I both let go of my grip on myself and tightened my grip on the things that mattered — the things that I wanted to matter, anyway. And I did the work. I didn't want to be someone who was constantly waiting to be something else, constantly in search of a version of self-love that was predicated on weight, ceaselessly waiting for another thinner, happier version of myself to show up and go, "Alright, good work. We can have fun now." As much as it scared the shit out of me to put myself on the internet as I was, and as much as it was forced and uncomfortable (and still, on some level, edited), I did it anyway. And I've kept doing it. And now, I feel better about myself just as I am than I have in years. But is everything I post on Instagram a perfect example of me? No. It feels more like "me" than any edited version of the past, but it doesn't always line up with how I am day-to-day. 

For every caption about self-confidence I post, there are moments that I look at photos of myself and my immediate reaction is to sign up for a half-marathon or write down an eating plan. For every photo of my body I post and don't smooth out or alter, there is a part of me that deeply isn't OK with it. And there is also a very small, ugly part of me that looks at my efforts toward self-acceptance as defeat, as an excuse to not work out harder, eat "better" — a very present voice in my head that often tells me that that's how other people will view me, too. But instead of giving into it, I push it down. I remind myself that I am happier now than I was for the past 10 years of dieting, exercising, punishing, weighing, editing, waiting. That that should be all that matters.

A couple times over the past six months or so friends have told me, "Your Instagram persona is so different than how you are in real life." And they're not wrong — not really. When I entered 2018, I wanted to bring intention into everything. And that included Instagram. So I let Instagram become a reflection of all the things that I knew were in me somewhere – positivity, vulnerability, self-acceptance. While it's not always easy for me to be all of these things in real life (I'm working on it), Instagram allows me the opportunity to dig a little deeper. Writing has always provided me an outlet to say the things that were hard for me to say in real life, and in a lot of ways, Instagram is no different. It is the practice of saying the things deep, deep in my brain that make me scared to say outloud.

Being intentional on Instagram (and the internet as a whole) now forces me to take a moment and remind myself of who I am, and who I want to be — who I'm trying to be. And, for once, who I am trying to be isn't a smaller, more beautiful version of myself. It's an honest, vulnerable, relentlessly self-accepting, unabashedly self-loving version. And yeah, sometimes I have to force myself into a honest, vulnerable, relentlessly self-accepting, unabashedly self-loving place. But that's the work. 

So no, if you meet me in real life, I may not always be the same person I am on Instagram. But I'm working on it. And for once, the work isn't making me feel defeated or not-yet-complete or like I'm waiting for a better version of myself. It's just making me — real me, at-my-core me, big me, small me, in between me, all of me — feel like I'm finally figuring out that I may not be "small enough" or "good enough" but I am enough, all the same.