Thank you to NEDA Network member Breaking the Chains Foundation for sponsoring this blog post.
For most millennials, social media feels like a lifeline. That one connection you have to the rest of the world, or a chance to be whoever you want to be! While this “connection” is meant to be engaging, a source of communication, and fun, it also has the potential to be tricky, tempting, dark, and even scary. I like to use social media for good, to inspire people, and to create a likeminded community of support. It’s because of social media, and my experiences both positive and negative, that I’ve dedicated my platform to positivity and loving yourself.
For most of my adolescent life, I heard phrases being tossed around like, “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “You’re so young, you haven’t even figured out who you are yet.” And while those phrases may have been true, I also feel like they were a tad misleading. They created this idea that as soon as I was an adult, I’d be living a fantastic life where all my problems sorted themselves out and I knew myself so well that nothing could stand in my way! If you asked me at 15 years old where I wanted to be 10 years later, I would have told you, “Married with a child and another on the way.” I had this fantasy of having the perfect job, a huge wedding, and being that hot young mom who picks up her kids from school in yoga pants that show off my “perfect” butt. But, that’s not reality. Reality is that I’m 27 years old, I’m nowhere near ready for a child, I suffer from anxiety, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of figuring out who I am.
This past year was one of the hardest years I’ve lived through. I lost my grandmother, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I went through a major career shift. All these changes have made me a better, stronger person, and they have proven to me time and time again why my commitment to help change the face of eating disorders is so important.
I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder personally, but my role in the entertainment industry has put me right smack dab in the middle of the twisted idea of body image that society puts on women. When I was 18 years old, I landed my dream job playing Tamara Kaplan on the award-winning MTV comedy, Awkward. At a very vulnerable age, I was suddenly thrown to the sharks! My Instagram following grew to hundreds of thousands and I was getting recognized at the mall. It was all so exciting! Hell, I still get excited when I get recognized. Although, there was a negative side to it all too. In a matter of months, I realized that people didn’t just care about my talent and what I brought to my show… they cared about EVERYTHING about me. Including my body. Suddenly people were commenting on my clothes, my skin, my hair, and my weight as if their opinions were supposed to matter to me. For a long time, I pretended they didn’t. The truth is, every negative comment hurt.
The first time I cried about my body was during a trip to visit my boyfriend’s family in Florida. I posted a picture wearing a bathing suit and got hundreds of comments on my body. I was so upset, so ashamed that someone could think negatively of me, and embarrassed about my body. I’m a pretty confident woman, but these comments tore me down. It didn’t stop there—ten years later people still comment on my body. Weight gain, weight loss, it doesn’t matter. People love to sit behind their computers and insert themselves into a place I haven’t welcomed them. Suddenly, I felt victimized by the impact of social media and society’s viewpoints on what is “beautiful” or “worthy of love.”
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder on my 27th birthday. I spent the previous 7 months wondering why my body was failing me, why I was so sick, and fearing this would be the rest of my life. I started sharing my sickness on social media, and the outpouring of love and help was overwhelming. Something so starkly opposite from the body shaming I was so used to. I’d only experienced that kind of support online one other time, when my grandmother passed. I wrote a blog post called “All the Feels” where I shared the practices I was using to handle my grief. I started realizing that the more I was honest online, the more I felt relief. Relief from the pressure social media put on me, relief from the person I wanted my followers to believe I was, and relief from negative feelings that came with each comment. I started really connecting to people online, and began to understand that celebrities aren’t the only people who fall victim to body shaming and the pressures of social media. It’s everyone. It’s everywhere. And we need to work together to end it.
This type of cyber bullying that’s happening every day only perpetuates body shaming, which can lead to other very serious problems. The power the internet has over us has caused so many of us to feel ashamed, isolated, and unworthy. We try so hard to fit into a mold only to be constantly torn down, and the cycle really never ends. For some of us, this type of online harassment can lead to low self-esteem, eating disorders, disordered eating, anxiety, and depression.
In order to shine a light on the effects social media has on young people’s mental health, I developed a seminar to encourage people to live their best lives both on and offline. I truly love social media! Sharing my honest life, my ups and my downs, has been a form of therapy for me. I’ve found that the more I tell my truth online, the less negativity I receive.
We’re all so caught up on wanting to appear perfect, we forget that our beauty is in imperfections. I’ve worked really hard to make my social media a positive place, where I can share my stories, my followers can share theirs, and we can grow together! Since doing this—since changing the conversation and being fearless— I’ve helped make social media a better place. It just takes one real post, one honest caption, one imperfect picture to inspire someone. Here are my five favorite ways to “Love Yourselfie!”
When I’m in a mood, I like to do something for me! Self-love comes in all forms…for some it’s paying attention to your bigger needs, like finding a good therapist. For others, it can be getting in a good workout, or taking a warm bath! When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I like to take time out of my schedule and set it aside for ME.
I used to think mantras and affirmations were dumb. I thought there was no way I could actually change my mental state by staring at myself in the mirror and telling myself I’m beautiful. But when I was feeling really down during my sickness, I tried everything to get me out of the state I was in. I started talking to myself more, telling myself positive things. I found myself changing the inner dialogue I was having with myself. I didn’t need to hear I was beautiful, but I did need to hear I was strong. I started noticing little victories, things I accomplished throughout my day that were awesome! And in moments of doubt, I reminded myself of those victories. When I reminding myself I’m strong, able, dedicated, and passionate, I slowly started to cherish and respect myself a little more. Moments of doubt will always happen, remember to be patient and kind to yourself.
I promise you, even as an adult, you can still learn more about yourself! Last year, I learned a lot about how I deal with pain, and I continue to learn about all those little pieces that make up ME. I’ve found that trying new things, finding new hobbies, or even just focusing more on the things I’m good at has helped me adopt a more positive outlook on life. I love trying new workout classes, redecorating a room in my home to coordinate with how I feel that day, or even just taking time to recognize the things I’m good at. By exploring all the things that make you tick, you can start to get a handle on those negative thoughts. They’ll always come and go, but the waves of negativity WILL get smaller.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be unapologetically you! This takes practice, but it’s worth the time. Look at your Instagram page right now. How many pictures actually represent who you are? Let’s increase that number! Look at social media as a tool to practice self-love. Tell a story, share an experience, share a no-makeup selfie or something that gets you out of your comfort zone!
The last tidbit I want to leave you with is that it’s extremely important to realize when you need help. If you’re anything like me, you think you can handle anything. You’re probably a little closed off, and a lot guarded. Your walls are high and you like people to see you as strong. But even the strongest people need to be carried once in a while. After months of putting off my terrible symptoms, I finally went to the doctor. Getting diagnosed with an anxiety disorder helped me to breathe again. Sure, I have to live with this thing forever, but it’s better knowing that than not having answers. Put away your ego and call on someone for help when you need it—a friend, a doctor, a therapist; the tools are available to you if you’re open to them.
I know social media can be tough, but if you can remember to be your authentic self in real life AND online, you’ll be on your way to making the internet a safer place. We all have stories that need to be told, let the world hear yours and don’t forget to LOVE YOURSELFIE!
Jillian Rose Reed is most recognized and beloved as Tamara in MTV’s “Awkward” and Simone on “Weeds.” She has appeared on several TV shows such as “Jessie,” “Hung,” “Lucifer,” “The Middle,” and much more. Presently, Jillian can be heard as the voice of Naomi on Disney’s animated tv series, Elena of Avalor. Jillian is a board member and Celebrity Spokesperson for the non-profit charity, Breaking The Chains Foundation. Now, with an online reach of almost 1 million, an active blog, and an Instagram she uses to promote self-love, Jillian has learned how to take all the negative that comes with social media, and turn it into a positive! Her 45-minute Interactive Seminar “How To Love Yourselfie” talks to young people about self-love, body confidence, shaking off internet trolls, and how to live your best life both on and off the internet! Visit Jillian’s blog here.