It’s hard to look at the internet at the moment without seeing the story of beautiful Essena O’Neil. I found her story immediately grabbed my attention because it’s part of my industry. My business lives on the internet and I share my travels on social media regularly, so it was hard to ignore Essena’s story.
When I first read about Essena’s story, I felt proud that she had found herself in a position where she was sad and decided to make a really big change in her life and speak out about it. It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth, especially when you may feel like your success in life depends on continuing to live a lie. People are suggesting the whole thing may be a marketing ploy. I don’t really know if it is or not and maybe none of us will ever know.
I think the more important thing to come out of this is that it brings a lot of light to social media and the perception of people with ‘perfect lives’. This is something I am constantly thinking about. At the heart of what I do I want people to feel like they can do it too. I am not perfect, I am not privileged. I am just a normal girl who made a decision about what she wanted and went after it. Anybody else can achieve that too.
Running a travel blog, it’s important the images I curate for my social media are really nice. If they weren’t nice, people would look at them and think, “Pffft, I don’t EVER want to go to Hong Kong. It looks bloody miserable. No way.” Which is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to achieve. I want people to see a photo of a destination and, if they connect with it, be inspired to visit. Grainy, crappy photographs of a Hong Kong dumpster aren’t going to achieve that.
I can be selective with the photos of myself I choose to share on social media. This is because I want every single photo to reflect how I feel inside. For me, that means no ‘sexy’ shots and lots of fun, happy photographs. Photos don’t need to be about showing off your physical attributes, they’re a chance to show off your heart and soul too, which are the most beautiful things we each possess.
Reading Essena’s story, she spoke openly about working with brands and being paid for Instagram posts featuring products. I work with brands in a similar way too. They may approach me with a product and ask me if I’m interested in using it, reviewing it and/or sharing it on my social media platforms. In these situations, my readers are the brand’s target audience and they want to work with me to get readers to find out about their product.
In some ways I felt a bit defensive reading Essena’s story, because I worry people will think bloggers just take the money and share whatever they’re given. I can’t speak for everybody in the world, but that isn’t the case for me and I believe we each have total and complete control over what we choose to share on social media. It doesn’t have to be a lie.
When a brand approaches me to work together I don’t immediately say yes. I look at their website, firstly, and decide if I genuinely like what they’re all about. Then I ask them a LOT of questions. I think about whether I would genuinely, honestly use their product or service and, most importantly, if I would recommend it to my closest friends. Which is what I consider my readers to be. Really, really good friends who rely on me for HONEST travel advice, reviews and insight.
I turn down a lot of offers to partner up with brands. This includes a lot of paid work too and, trust me, I could use the money! 🙂 I guess I just want to put it out there that working with brands doesn’t mean you’ve sold your soul or that you’re taking money and not being truthful. I couldn’t work as a travel blogger if I didn’t work with brands and get paid for it, because I wouldn’t have income. The bigger issue is making sure you’re using your intuition and moral compass to align yourself with the right people for the right reasons and do so honestly.
It’s really sad that people feel so much pressure to be perceived as perfect on social media and other aspects of their lives. It’s weird that there are different levels of the socially acceptable standard of ‘perfection’. Really weird. There are so many people on this planet, with so many really cool and unique differences defining us, that’s it’s impossible for us to all live up to these ideas of perfection. And, if we did all suddenly fit this idealistic perfection, the world would be boring as shit.
Sometimes I look at my own social media accounts and compare them to others, thinking, “If my photography were more like that kind of style, maybe I’d attract more followers.” That kind of thinking is what will get you into trouble. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Bad. Bad. Bad. I have to stop and remind myself that I’m not doing this to gain a certain number of followers, I’m doing this to connect with people who connect with what I share honestly and openly.
The last few months I’ve felt like I’ve wanted to share more, to let people know I’m just a real, normal person sharing my travel experiences. That’s why I’ve started vlogging. I really want people to know that what I’m doing is honest and not manufactured or perfect, because photos on Instagram and words on a blog page can be perfect. I feel like actually seeing me share stuff will help people connect with the honesty of it and build our friendship more.
There’s never a time when anybody has to feel pressured to share anything they don’t want to or project an image of socially accepted perfection.
Our happiness should come from within ourselves. The number of likes or shares we get on a photograph does not equal happiness or success. Those things aren’t real. They’re digitally generated numbers on website and they aren’t tangible. They don’t translate into love, respect or happiness. They are fleeting moments of approval from strangers.
Nothing feels better than when it’s real happiness or a sense of achievement from your own heart. The satisfaction of knowing you did a good job. You worked hard. You were a good friend. You saved up for that 8 week Europe trip. You ate healthy and exercised yourself toward your ideal body. You achieved it! When you do something great, something you’ve been working toward for a long time, and you feel really proud of yourself for achieving it…. That’s a great feeling.
For me, I feel like part of the problem is externalising our self worth. Placing importance on the number of followers or likes we have and needing to see those numbers to feel good. It’s kind of like high-school approval gone mad! It’s like we’re teenage girls again, just wanting to be in the popular group, but instead of the approval of our class mates, we’re seeking the approval of the whole dang internet.
I’ve been guilty of this all too many times. It’s a constant battle where I have to actively remind myself to stop thinking like that and just focus on honestly and openly sharing from my heart, then letting it go. I can’t control what happens once I’ve shared something, but I can control how honestly I express myself and just trust what I share will connect with the right people at the precise right moment.
At the end of the day, we are each in total and complete control of our own lives. Yes, there are social pressures to be perfect or conform to certain norms. But these pressures enter our heads by us noticing them. Which means we can switch them off too, which may take a little work to begin with, but can definitely be achieved.
Before you share anything, know who you are inside. Learn to appreciate, respect and love your true self. Then let that person shine. Just be yourself. That’s all you can do and, seriously, is the very best thing you could offer this world. You are perfect as you are. Honestly and openly share your heart and your true self with the world. Some people will definitely think you’re weird, other people will think you’re wonderful. It doesn’t matter either way, as long as you’re living as your true self and doing what makes you happy.
Phoebe Lee is a writer, award-winning blogger and travel lover sharing helpful travel tips, insight and reviews for regular people. Follow her adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.