I’m from a very small town. When I was young, in the center of town, there was one intersection on Main Street. On one corner was the bank, on another the church, on another the drug store and then of course city hall. All you needed in one stop, there on 100 south and Main. This was “downtown” for me.
When I was 15 I worked in that drug store for a summer. You know the one with the original pounded tin ceiling and red brick. I ran the register. It wasn’t what you would call a high paced job. A rush was two or three elderly people picking up prescriptions and adding their name to the funeral flower list at the same time. I sent a lot of time dusting, watching cars go by on main street and counting the number of times the same song played on the oldies radio station.
A few weeks into the summer I discovered the magazine rack, and then promptly commenced to read them all. I mean ALL. I especially liked the fashion magazines. Right there in the middle of nowhere I was seeing what the who’s who of New York was wearing. Before the internet was even a word, I was learning important things like How-to-Know-When-He’s-Interested and Must-Have-Colors-for-this-Fall. Here I began my still ongoing obsession with Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Magazine. I even read the craft magazines and the news magazines. But mostly in my 15-year-old mind I loved the fashion magazines. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Seventeen (my favorite) and devoured it immediately.
Another new addition to my life that summer were the newly budding seeds of self-doubt. The great curse of adolescence. I was leaving the carefree days of childhood and entering a world of clothes and boys and diets. I felt ugly for the first time in my life. I felt frumpy in my clothes. All my friends started worrying about what they ate and what they looked like. Some had eating disorders. I thought about entering the contests in the magazines for free makeovers. I plotted to spend all my money from my summer job on new clothes and makeup. I felt terrible about myself.
Enter an inspired Young Women’s teacher here. One Sunday we had a lesson on self-esteem. I listened for ways that I could feel better about myself. My young mind thought, “If I were just prettier and had nicer clothes then I would feel pretty good about myself.” That is obviously not what my teacher told us. She told us about the dangers of reading fashion magazines! What!? My fashion magazines where the only things keeping me sane through the everlasting summer of boredom! They were teaching me how to be prettier and better right? I thought she had to be wrong. She told us that turning to the world for self-esteem would only make us feel worse. TV and magazines presented impossible standards to reach. They were filled with models and things I couldn’t afford. They would only make me want more and more.
The next day at work I stared (from a safe distance) at the magazine rack thinking about what she had said. What if she was right? What she was saying had started to make sense. And I did feel pretty bad about myself. I was willing to give it a try.
For the last part on the summer I steered clear of the fashion magazines. Gradually, over time, I started to feel better. I couldn’t believe that such a small thing could make such a big difference. I wasn’t perfect but I was OK. All of the sudden there was a lot to be grateful for instead of a lot to change.
Since then, when I realize I feel pretty crappy about myself, I take a look at my habits and see how I’m looking to the world for self-esteem and try to stop it.
About a year and a half ago I discovered the wonderful world that is Pinterest. I love Pinterest. For a visual person like me, it’s a miracle invention. I spent a lot of time on Pinterest. Oh, and Twitter, and blogs, and Facebook (though I openly admit that I hate Facebook). Earlier this year I felt something unwelcome and unfortunately familiar. My thoughts ran…I’m not good enough…I’m not skinny enough, smart enough…I don’t have the right clothes…I’m not a good enough photographer…I need a better job…I need to blog more, cook more, craft more…I need to redecorate…heck, I need a bigger place…oh, and the elephant in the room…I need a husband and kids…NOW! I need all the things!! NOW!
Whoa, it was time to ask myself the same question I asked myself at 15. How am I looking to the world for self-esteem? Answer. The internet. Someone once asked my favorite photographer, “Don’t you feel like anyone with a camera thinks they are a photographer? Don’t you think there are too many photographers out there over-saturating the market?” I loved her answer, “Not if you get off the internet.” Ha! Truth! Get off the internet.
Pause, let’s not jump off a cliff here…I love the internet. I’m not willing to quit the internet, but I did have to ask myself what I am doing with my time there. Pinterest is the perfect example. I was making an impossible list for myself. A list of impossible things. Every time I go on Pinterest I’m equally amazed at all of the wonderful things that are out there in the world and the lack of the wonderful things in my life. I will never have enough money, time, or talent to do and make and buy all the things on my impossible list.
Did you know there are actually studies that show that spending too much time on Facebook can cause depression? Everyone puts their best foot forward on Facebook, Instagram, and their blogs. It’s really hard not to look at other people’s lives and only see the shiny part and forget that they have rough parts too. Just not on the internet. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” if so, I say social media drives the get-away-car.
So here’s the thing. I wasn’t willing to completely cut myself off of the internet. I’m not even suggesting that. I just cut back. I use Pinterest when I need great ideas and inspiration, and to remember where they live on the internet . I deleted all the blogs I was reading that were just pushing products and curating lists of things. I like blogs with substance, written by real people with things to say. These blogs are a great inspiration to me. I rarely check Facebook. It’s a good way to keep track of people, but it stops there for me. I still use Instagram and love it. I just try to enjoy it and not to compare my life with others.
Now a few months down the road I feel lighter, more involved in my life and grateful. And you know what? There is A LOT of interesting stuff out there not on the internet. This is a marvelous world. Nature, books, walks, festivals, farmers markets, art exhibits, family, friends, concerts, fantastic food, culture, travel. And most of all there is a far better place to turn for self-esteem than the world. Just spend some time here, here, or here and you’ll see what I mean. So it turns out that thanks to an inspired Young Women's leader my 15-year-old-self figured something out that would be useful throughout my life. I said it was a small step, just not an easy one. But it might be worth a shot right?