I’m sick of it all.

Social-media-communication

I’m sick of social media.

I’m sick of perfectly curated photographs and carefully constructed personas.

I’m sick of scrolling, and likes, and hearts, and hahas, and wows, and favorites.

I’m sick of elaborate pregnancy announcements, and 800-like engagements, and incredible before-and-afters and endless go-fund-me’s, all while I struggle to figure out what my “plan” should be, or whether it’s worth even having one when life always seems to intervene and destroy it anyway.

I’m sick of everything being a photo shoot, and pictures of perfect yoga poses in idyllic locations, and hot dog legs on beaches and photo editing apps that make human beings look creepily moonlit, like the Veelas from Harry Potter.

I’m sick of the highlight reel of everyone’s lives; the equivalent of a braggy family holiday newsletter, but instead, one that blasts off every goddamn day, causing everybody looking on to feel inadequate.

I’m sick of the depression, the insecurity, and the addiction to positive reinforcement, where I feel like a failure if one of my articles doesn’t perform well.

I’m sick of everybody “doing it for the ‘gram” and ignoring me while I speak because they need to check their feeds…

And of restaurants who put food on artfully collected slabs and in weird containers, so their patrons will share social media pictures.

I’m sick of friggin’ mason jars.

I’m sick of the non-ironic usage of hashtags while I’m interacting person-to-person, and even more sick of the fact that I do it too.

I’m sick of shameless clickbait, and flawlessly-crafted viral videos.

I’m sick of algorithms, and formulating shitty headlines to get more clicks, more engagement, more bullshit.

I’m sick of writing thinkpieces.

I’m sick of thinkpieces, generally. And thinkpieces about thinkpieces. And thinkpieces about thinkpieces about thinkpieces. And the entire circle-jerk of opinions that fire off just for clicks, just for ad revenue; just to agitate us social media addicts for money.

I’m sick of playing into it all with my outrage; my engagement.

I’m sick of every handpicked media story-of-the-moment being beaten to death within a 12-hour cycle — before I’ve even had a chance to process what it all means or to collect my thoughts to write my own goddamn thinkpiece.

I’m sick of everybody feeling like they need to make a public statement after every single noteworthy event happens — it’s like millions of miniature self-run PR departments kicking off into gear every time there is a mass shooting or huge political happening, or a celebrity dies.

I’m sick of feeling like I need to participate in this minute-by-minute word vomit, and of the fear that I will never be a successful writer if I don’t.

I’m sick of performing, and of feeling like I need to become a “personal brand,” and seeing writers and creators I love and respect having to feed the content-creation beast 24/7.

I’m sick of being so drowned in voices that I don’t even recognize my own anymore.

I’m sick of being “on” all the time.

I’m sick of writing “sorry for the delayed response” every time I don’t reply to someone within twenty minutes.

I’m sick of my aching elbow and hand reminding me that I spend my life staring at a screen; for work, for social life, for news, for entertainment.

I’m sick of only feeling fully alive every once in a while, when I am out of cell service range and am finally free of all the expectations and “conveniences” of modern life.

I’m just sick of it all.

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I too am done with being likable

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Photo credit: Flickr user JDHancock

When I was a little girl, I took my cues from the closest person to me — my mother. She was unapologetically large, both in personality and size. She made no qualms about getting what she wanted, whether it was a perfect medium-rare steak (she’d send back a steak as many times as it took to get it right), or a goal she was trying to accomplish. Nobody got in her way. She was fierce, loud, strong-willed and she didn’t take no for an answer. Good luck to anyone who tried to bully her.

She raised me to stick up for myself in the same way. I made myself heard. Loudly. I was a no-holds-barred know-it-all who dominated at sports, read three grades above my age and felt absolutely no qualms about leading in groups. I was bossy. I was precocious. I was strong. I was curious. I was convinced I could do anything: sing, dance, invent, act, practice law, write novels, create art. I wanted to master it all.

Alone in my basement, I created science experiments, breaking into my brother’s big kid chemistry set to pilfer supplies. I checked out books at the library about building tree forts as well as sewing and baking. I aced Tech Ed in school and beat the boys at gym. I was our school band’s second chair flutist and chosen to read my essay at elementary school graduation.

In middle school, the bullying started.  And so, too, did my self-awareness. I began to notice how many people looked at my mother with contempt. I observed their posture, and the looks on their faces when they spoke to her. They hated her. Even when she was being nice (which she mostly was), she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Especially men. It always seemed to me that most men couldn’t stand my mother. After all, she had a triple whammy of “unlikable” traits: she was fat, outspoken and female.

The woman who was once my hero, the woman who I once painstakingly modeled myself after started to seem a lot less aspirational. I didn’t want to be hated. I wanted to be liked — desperately so.

My mother would tell me to ignore the bullies; “They’re just jealous!” she would say, “you can’t hold yourself back to appease others!” But I was hearing a different, much stronger message: I was annoying. I was a show off. I was too much. I needed to tone myself down.

I eagerly sought friendship and approval. After getting straight A’s my entire life, I realized in high school that getting straight A’s doesn’t make you prom queen. It makes you a threat. It makes you full of yourself. It makes you stand out in all the wrong ways. To be a woman who makes herself large, I learned, was a grave mistake.

I didn’t want to be alone at the top of the class. I wanted to make myself easy to digest. And so began my long descent into mediocrity.

I morphed myself into whoever was around. I used to be very bad at playing these roles, which at first made me even more annoying than my overachiever self. But I got much better as I went along.

In high school, I was a basketball playing hip-hop head, who’d fervently trash any other girl to look cool around her guy friends.

In college, I became a rugby playing, toga-wearing, beer funneling, “easy going” party girl.

In my young twenties, I shaped myself into the quintessential cool girl, complete with Jennifer Lawrence-like schtick: “who me?! I just happen to be hot, funny, whip-smart AND self-deprecating enough that I present no threat.” I spent an ungodly amount of energy being approachable and pretending not to care about things.

In law school, I decided to be the comic relief slacker, despite receiving a scholarship for having one of the highest LSAT scores in my year. I skipped class, went out drinking, and blatantly and boldly told my professors I didn’t do the reading when called upon.

People liked me. Of course they liked me. I was giving them exactly what they wanted: a diluted version of myself. I did everything a woman should do to be liked: I apologized profusely for taking up space and trimmed myself back until I was a shell of a human being — an easy pill to swallow.

Since my mother’s death, I’ve become more “myself” than I’ve been in decades. I no longer work so hard to keep up a facade. My priorities have shifted seismically. These days, it feels foolish to waste my energy molding myself to please people who couldn’t care less about me in the long run. I now try to focus on the people who matter; who like me both in spite of and because of my flaws. I know my bold personality is not for everyone. I know I can be polarizing. I always have been, despite bending myself to the point of exhaustion to be liked. About half of the people I grew up with still hate my guts to this day. I’m learning to be ok with that.

Yet as much progress as I make, resisting the pull of being liked is still a struggle. Social media isn’t exactly a bastion of authenticity. We all want those “likes”; that validation that we matter. Even in my writing, I find myself pulling back from certain topics and thinking more about my audience than what I’d really like to write. I am constantly vacillating between making my voice heard and diminishing myself to convenience others.

But I am sick of playing by the rules. I am sick of worrying about what people will think, or say behind my back. I am sick of holding back my opinions and refraining from going after what I want. I am sick of making myself small.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. I know, because my mother was one. Sure, she could be frustratingly obstinate, and she definitely needed to learn to apologize and admit when she was wrong. Yet despite her flaws, I can’t help but admire that she never dumbed herself down or shrunk herself for anyone. Their opinions be damned.

I think my mother had it right. I, too, am done with being likable.

Confessions of a Former Calorie Counter: Why I’ll Never Do it Again

As a child, I was unusually large. Doctors predicted I would be 6’1 based on the size of my hands and feet (er, rather my “paddles” as my mother would jokingly refer to them). I was also quite the athlete, relishing being tall and strong and sturdy. I excelled at basketball and soccer, and my impressive size allowed me to dominate most girls my age. It was not uncommon for my parents to pack my birth certificate with us to tournaments in case of Chelsea Birthers — other parents who just couldn’t believe I qualified for my age group. More than once, a parent or coach demanded to see documentation of my age, as though 11-and-under-soccer was serious enough business to warrant going through the trouble of defrauding the system. In truth, their skepticism at my prowess gave me great amusement and pride.

But somewhere along the line, things changed. I can’t remember the exact moment when it became painfully clear to me that being larger than the other girls was no longer to my advantage, but eventually, cultural messaging, bullies, and my own family urging me to watch my weight kicked in. I learned that a new currency was worth more than athleticism, strength, skill, or even intelligence. The new currency was thinness.

Something I do distinctly remember: being twelve, sitting in my best friend’s room, covering for her while she hung out her window to smoke a cigarette. Her walls were adorned with posters of the Backstreet Boys and silly pictures of our friends. That’s when I noticed something new that I’d never seen before — a note tacked onto the wall, signed by our other best friend. In part, it read “Chelc is annoying, too fat, and needs 2 learn 2 wear makeup.”

With my heart in my throat, I made a quick excuse of why I needed to go home. I spent the rest of the day drowning in tears and self-loathing. If my very best friends were calling me fat, what were the others saying?

That day, I vowed that I would lose weight, no matter the cost.

“Just eat 1,200 calories a day, and exercise,” they told me. “Calories in, calories out — it really is that simple!” I was already exercising a minimum of 15 hours a week with my rigorous basketball training schedule, which at times included two practices a day. So, the only real option was to eat less. Way less.

And so it began.

The first diet I remember being on was Slim Fast, during my Freshman year of high school. I would skip the cafeteria and sneak into my mother’s classroom during lunch to drink my shake in secret, so that nobody knew I was trying to lose weight. That would have been like an admission that I knew I was fat, and my pride would not let me view myself that way, even if others did (example: somebody in my high school created the super complimentary AIM screen name chelcisafatass to harass me). It also helped to hide in my mom’s office so that I wouldn’t cave and order more food because I was SO fucking hungry all the time. How could I not be hungry subsisting on a 200 calorie shake that was supposed to get me through 7 hours of learning and 2 hours of basketball practice?

The rest of high school and college were a blur of low-calorie/low-fat yo-yo dieting. I continued to train hard for basketball, and then rugby, and vacillated between starving myself and eating everything I could get my massive paws on. Throughout it all, there was a constant — the floating number in my head: 1,200 calories.

If I couldn’t live on 1,200 calories a day, I feared I would be fat, unhealthy and unhappy. Nobody would ever love me, and I’d never achieve any of my goals. Why couldn’t I have more self control?!

I did everything that the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry wanted me to do — I subscribed to magazines that shamed me about my body and encouraged me to disappear, rather than to get stronger. I ate horrifying diet foods like egg substitute and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” SPRAY (hilariously, I was afraid that the solid version of this fake butter would be way too many calories). Most disturbingly, I spent far too much of my precious energy and brain power obsessively tracking every morsel of food that entered my mouth and debating things like, is this brand of unsweetened almond milk worth purchasing, with a whopping 40 calories per serving, rather than the brand I normally buy, which they’re out of, that only has 35 calories a serving?! 

I bought the first two Hungry Girl cookbooks, and made myself close barely recognizable approximations of the salty and fatty foods I had grown to love and turn to for comfort. But I never felt satisfied.

I was a hungry girl, all right. I was hungry, depressed, and I was becoming increasingly more sickly and injury-prone. With every crash diet that took 10 or 20 lbs. off my frame, I gained back nearly twice as much.

I was in an endless cycle — practiced insanity — where I honestly thought, and said out loud, “calorie counting is the only thing that works for me.”

I’ve got news for you, Past Chelsea: If calorie counting was working for you, you’d be thin by now. You’d be maintaining your weight, rather than fighting an endless battle to lose it. You would be thriving, rather than breaking your body to reach an unattainable ideal that promises to give you worth. If calorie counting was working for you, Past Chelsea, then you would be able to sustain the habit long-term. Please take my advice — calorie counting isn’t working for you. Oh, and your beloved Hungry Girl? She must call herself that because, honestly, who could ever feel satisfied while barely filling their stomach?! And with imitation food, no less!

Well, Past Chelsea is no more. Today, I’m happy to say that I’ve given up calorie counting once and for all. Through years of food education, I’ve learned to eat (and love!) real, wholesome foods, and to cook healthful meals for myself from scratch, without fake food substitutes. I’ve learned that it’s ok to eat full eggs with yolks and avocados and yes, even butter — that the calories and fat will not in fact kill me. I’ve learned that a half cup of full-fat Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked is a hell of a lot more satisfying than an entire box of Skinny Cow ice cream bars.

Admittedly, I am heavier than I was in my calorie counting days. Part of my weight gain can be credited to the trauma of losing my mother in 2013. Another part can be attributed to a few chronic injuries that keep cropping up as a result of taking poor care of myself throughout my youth. And I think that the rest is probably my body adjusting to getting more food — a result of my steadfast commitment to finding balance after years of yo-yoing between deprivation and binging.

Though I’ve gained weight, I’ve never been healthier or happier with myself. Sure, I would love to lose some inches, but my weight does not define my health or my worth. According to my most recent bloodwork, and the fact that I haven’t been seriously sick in nearly two years (Fun Fact: I used to call myself the Pokemon trainer of flu viruses — had to catch ’em all!), I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, by a long shot. I look younger, my skin is softer, and my hair is longer and healthier-looking than it’s ever been in my entire life. So suck it, health trollers! I’M DOING JUST FINE.

But I’m also a wee bit vain, so I’m currently trying to lose a few inches and build some muscle (I do live at the Jersey Shore now, so I really have no choice in the matter!) for summer, and just generally for health/life/being comfortable in my jeans and whatnot. I even entered a weight loss challenge at my new (hopefully forever!) all-lady gym. Last night, I went for my first training session, and had an absolute blast pushing myself. I explained to my trainer that my goal is to lose the weight the right way (for me): no calorie counting, eating mostly clean, and working out with both consistency and variation.

As I was leaving the gym, a member of the front desk staff stopped me; “you get this book as part of your training package.” She handed me a copy of 1994’s “The 1200-Calorie-a-Day Menu Cookbook,” replete with low-fat recipes, including “ingredients” such as light margarine, reduced fat cheese, fat free mayonnaise, and my old frienemy, butter flavored spray product. I wanted to tell her no thanks, that I would not be partaking in the 1200-Calorie-A-Day lifestyle which almost ruined me, and that the low-fat “health” advice offered in this book is so antiquated that even the U.S. Government has updated their dietary guidelines and evolved beyond using it. But then I thought, better not. And hey, to each their own.

Besides, sometimes, realizing just how far you’ve come really is enough.