This article originally appeared in Lollies and Lace.
Little Miss Fearless. A believer in facing fears and that life starts at the end of your comfort zone. Braving the fashion world with my personal style blog.
This was my mantra and social media bio for the first few years of my blogging career.
I started my blog in August 2012, after months of brainstorming and years of taking my own outfit photos with my laptop to speed up the process of getting ready each day. Of course, I had fears about taking my hobby to the masses, so I reached out to some new acquaintances, like Rach Parcell of the blog Pink Peonies, for advice.
She told me to focus on 3 things (taken verbatim from an email):
- Be patient. Gaining followers takes time, don’t give up or get discouraged, and remember it’s not about the numbers.
- It’s a learning experience by trial and error. The more you blog, the more you learn.
- Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers and always keep true to your style and yourself.
It seemed easy enough. And I was up for the challenge because I recognized the courage it took for me to put myself out there in a world where I thought only the prettiest girls succeed.
Fake it til you become it?
I researched and bought a new camera, convinced my sister and husband to take photos for me every weekend, and began posting outfit inspiration three times per week.
It all seemed to be working because I was gaining traffic to my site, growing my social media presence, and top brands and bloggers were thinking of me for their promotions and giveaways.
The fashion blogger poses were becoming easier to master and with each photoshoot I saw myself as a contender in the style blogging space. The only challenge really, was that with each new brand collaboration my peers touted about, the more I began comparing my worth to their success. And that’s when the real struggle began.
I do believe in the power of “fake it til you become it,” but there’s a reason it wasn’t working for me.
Perhaps because “becoming it” wasn’t about establishing myself as a fashion expert, getting invited to Fashion Week or starting my own clothing line. I never really had those dreams. Instead, it meant seeing myself as one of or equal to the other women in this space who appeared to be and do everything perfectly and effortlessly.
I was “hustling for my worthiness,” as Brené Brown would say.
It wasn’t about becoming a better version of myself or reaching a goal. It was about becoming a version of someone else in order to like myself and earn approval from others.
Finding empathy in tragedy.
In May 2015, I was having lunch with some friends while on a work trip for Adobe in San Francisco.
I learned the story of Madison Holleran, the beautiful 19-year-old collegiate athlete who died by suicide when she jumped from a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. Watching and reading her story felt like reading my own… with an alternate ending. I see so much of myself in her.
The tragedy of her death isn’t just about her struggle with perfectionism, it’s about the role and influence of Instagram on her self talk. Something I had been deeply struggling with when I discovered her story.
I shared my most vulnerable blog post at the time, recapping how her story impacted my life and the powerful message it conveyed that “it’s ok to not be ok.” It’s ok to show people you’re not ok, and that you’re struggling and imperfect and need help.
For the first time, I felt understood. Maddy understood my pain. And I felt so much purpose in opening up so that others could feel understood, too.
I wanted Little Miss Fearless to stand for something bigger. But in the midst of my own struggle, I couldn’t see past the fog of my negative self talk long enough to believe that I had any light to offer anyone when I couldn’t glow myself.
Being honest with myself about perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfectly, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.
I didn’t really begin to understand perfectionism and the role it had played in my life (starting long before my blog), until I stumbled upon Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embracing Who You Are. I was on a 6-month maternity leave with my IVF baby, Benjamin, and trying to rebound from the lack of motivation I felt to connect with anyone on social media. (My 2015 IVF and pregnancy journey was it’s own secret battle, but we’ll save that story for another time.)
As I studied Brené’s work, one habit that was brought to light for me about perfectionists, is that when we fail, we don’t say to ourselves, “I’m human. I didn’t make it this time, but that’s okay. I did my best and I’ll try again.” Instead, we say to ourselves, “Next time I’ll be even more perfect.” It’s completely externally driven by the fear of what people think.
We all know perfection doesn’t exist, yet many of us still spend time and energy trying to attain it. The inability for us to ever arrive at perfection becomes a vicious, self-deprecating cycle that leads to never believing we’re enough.
I had to be honest with myself: my way of thinking was no longer working for me. I was exhausted from trying and striving and perfecting and NEVER feeling like I was enough. I could no longer move forward. I wanted to quit my blog on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, but I knew the problem wouldn’t go away with my blog. The problem was in my mind, my perspective.
Owning my story and loving myself is the bravest thing I’ll ever do.
For most of 2017, I poured myself into every book, audiobook, TED talk, Oprah interview, online course and news article I could find from Brené Brown. Her story resonated with me as much as Maddy’s did. She taught me that when perfectionism is driving us, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the backseat driver. I learned how to speak shame (the fear we all have that we’re not worthy of connection) and how to identify where it started for me, the role it plays in my life and how to become shame resilient—how to BELIEVE I’m worthy of connection.
I didn’t stop there. It’s easy to study the work, but not so easy to put it into action. So I began seeing a therapist in September 2017 who is certified in Brené’s work. She helped me identify my core values, which have helped me find my glow. I also participated in a 5-week group therapy class called the Daring Way, based on Brené’s book, Daring Greatly. And realized for the first time that WE ALL experience shame. Everyone in that class had a story to share about the role of shame in their life.
The friendships I made, and the things we learned together, were powerful in helping me on my path to shame resilience. It was the first big step toward accepting my struggles with perfectionism (not trying to dismiss or conceal them) and to truly owning my story.
Writing the ending.
It’s difficult to write a story that hasn’t yet ended. In many ways, if this were the end, I’d feel satisfied that I finally found myself. A happy ending of sorts. That some good came from this lifelong struggle I’ve faced to love, accept and believe in myself.
I’m still in the middle. Taking every fear, every challenge, and every opportunity, one day at a time. I’m practicing self compassion and empathy, the antidote to shame, and sharing the positive perspective I have, now that I’m free. Free to love myself, free to believe I’m enough, and free to help others find their glow.
The story now goes something like this: Little Miss Fearless. The girl who found the courage to be imperfect.