Live Through This

What You Like About Me

The internet is the reason I am a (mostly) confident person today.

Illustration by Ana

Illustration by Ana

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You turn on your computer, check Facebook, see some notifications, and suddenly your heart beats faster. That tiny red box makes you feel like you’re about to take the first bite of a piece of molten, cheesy pizza or unwrap a birthday gift from your best friend. Twelve people care about me! you think. They probably liked my hilarious yet understated screencap of Leslie Knope eating a waffle!

But then, the HORROR: Your notifications consist of seven FarmVille requests from your uncle, two updates from an event to which you responded “maybe,” and three comments by people you don’t know on a group photo where only the top of your head is visible. Deflated, you check Twitter to see if anyone favorited your last update about dinner. Maybe someone on Tumblr reblogged that GIF you made of Harry Styles winking. Did anyone on Instagram give a thumbs-up emoji to that picture of you pretending to look apathetic while eating an ice cream cone? You repeat this cycle about four more times before you give up and get back to whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.

You are not alone. In the process of writing these two paragraphs, I checked Facebook about 13 times, because I am obsessed with acquiring likes. The internet is basically a cute boy I’m crushing on, and I desperately want him to like me back. So now you probably think I’m going to tell you how this is totally messing up my perception of self-worth, that I blame the internet for making all of my relationships feel shallow and that I am about to present a few easy steps to detox from it. But honestly, the internet is the reason I am a (mostly) confident person today.

Up until seventh grade, I went to a very small Christian elementary school and spent most of my free time doing whatever is the opposite of developing social skills, like watching the Lifetime Movie Network. When I started public school, I basically felt like Cady Heron in Mean Girls (aka a homeschooled jungle freak). In my head, I had a clear idea of my style and sense of humor. I used to sit in Barnes & Noble for hours and look at art books of vintage clothing and think, This is what I want to look like. I watched archival footage of Gilda Radnor on YouTube and longed to be as funny. But I was incredibly awkward and scared of standing out. For a while, I barely had any friends, because I was so scared of saying the wrong thing that I just didn’t talk.

So, like a lot of 13-year-olds with tons of thoughts and few friends, I took to the internet. I kinda wish I could say my formative interests were a little grittier, like “I went in search of obscure punk music” or “I needed to share my poetry with SOMEONE or else I would EXPLODE.” Instead I joined a message board on the website of the N (the channel now called TeenNick) so I could talk to other teenage girls about episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation and designer capsule collections at Target. But simply having an outlet to talk about the stuff I liked made me feel like my thoughts weren’t insignificant.

After that, I started writing a blog (whose name I am too embarrassed to share with you) where I mostly talked about the stuff I still care about today, like TV and baking and vintage clothes/accessories. And an amazing thing happened: It wasn’t just relatives that my dad awkwardly sent the link to who read it. Other teenage girls began to leave comments, like “Gabby, I love your style!” or “Your writing is hilarious.” It sounds a little cloying when I repeat this now, but at the time, no one besides my mom had ever told me I was cute or hilarious. I made my first internet friends, who turned into some of my best IRL friends (including my fellow Rookie Hazel).

When Twitter came around in eighth grade, I just about died. See, whenever I tried to be funny in middle school, I was mostly met with blank stares and “cool story, bro.” I very vividly remember a joke in which I compared a burrito to a baby both in size and because it was so deserving of my attention, and it landing with a thud. But online, remarks like “I need to stop confusing burritos with love” got retweeted by kindred spirits. People followed me because they wanted live updates of my ~incredibly amusing and important~ thoughts. In real life, I didn’t always have time to think of an appropriate pop-culture reference. I couldn’t link to a YouTube video to make my point. I couldn’t just say what I wanted without having to face anyone’s reaction. I couldn’t just drop the mic and go. Could I?

By the time high school rolled around, it occurred to me that my online persona wasn’t an invention. It (she?) was the person I was in my head and when I was comfortable at home. So I started gathering inspiration from the feedback I’d gotten from my blog and made what might seem like trivial changes, like wearing dresses to school instead of the unofficial uniform of T-shirt and jeans. I risked being funny again, and experienced a very life-affirming moment when I joked in social studies that I wanted to open a milkshake stand called “Better Than Yours” and people laughed. WITH ME.

Slowly, I worked up the nerve to share my opinions. It was super easy to discuss topics like feminism on anonymous message boards with like-minded girls, but talking about it in public with people who wouldn’t necessarily agree terrified me. One time, in my junior-year English class, we ended up having a debate about gender equality. I remember summoning facts that I’d read on the internet about how some anchorwomen feel forced to retire earlier because of their appearance and how women in general don’t make as much money as men. It wasn’t a profound argument, but people actually listened. And as I became less afraid of talking freely, I made more friends. For the first time, people didn’t just sign my yearbook “HAGS,” but with actual notes of kindness and inside jokes.

The puzzling part of all of this is that now, a few years later, the difference between internet life and real life is becoming more pronounced. Like, I notice an acquaintance who frequently likes my status updates rarely ever talks to me in person, and it makes me wonder if the praise I am seeking isn’t that sincere. I realize these exchanges are sometimes obligatory—I liked you, now you retweet me, and so on—and I’ve definitely stopped romanticizing every single positive interaction I have on the internet. But, like I said, I still get excited by approval and endorsements and emojis. Am I reading too much into gestures that are sometimes nothing more than the touch of a thumb?

I feel like I should say this validation doesn’t even come close to real-life interactions, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I enjoy receiving feedback for pictures of my breakfast—not as much as I enjoy getting an A on a paper or a compliment from a friend, but it’s not so wildly different. Every encouragement, big or small, is a boost. I still struggle with feeling shy or uncomfortable in public, and the internet still reminds me that I should say more things out loud. The world is a giant status update waiting for me press enter. ♦

42 Comments

  • ellestolemyname May 21st, 2013 3:21 PM

    THIS SPEAKS TO ME ON A DEEPLY SPIRITUAL LEVEL

    http://www.ellestolemyname.blogspot.com

  • elliecp May 21st, 2013 3:22 PM

    THIS 100%

    being incredibly awkward and shy in real life, I spent the majority of last year trying to boost my confidence by building an online persona. The people on the Internet seemed to like me more than the people in real life. It wasn’t the best thing for me to do at the time, and I spent a while feeling super distant from my peers, but this year I’ve learnt to have a persona on the Internet AND in real life, and I’m pretty much enjoying getting on with all people now :) so nice to read posts like these and realise other people went through similar things to me x

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Chloe22 May 21st, 2013 3:34 PM

    I have really great friends, but they rarely have my same interests! I totally get this. I think the reason it’s a little easier to find people like you is because with the internet it’s just so HUGE, so anyone can see what you like.

    And, Gabby? This GIF of Harry is much sexier than one of him winking: http://directionercouturelover.tumblr.com/post/50651543814

    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • soretudaaa May 21st, 2013 3:36 PM

    THIS IS SO GREAT <3 I remember my initiation to the world of Internet happened when I joined gURL.com (it was the best website ever, ok) and as a normally shy kid, I found it refreshing to be able to make friends and crack jokes and have people think I'm funny.

    It's like, the Internet, especially nowadays, tends to validate all things witty or weird or quirky (I hate the word but anyway), and now more and more people are considering those things cool, even though they used to be the opposite (I'm the worst with words) before the internet. Which is good, because, for example, it's becoming more and more normal to identify as a feminist, because information about it is so easily accesible, and because websites like Tumblr, for example, sort of support those points of view instead of shunning them like middle school boys would. ANYWAY MY POINT IS, the internet is great :)

    • taste test May 22nd, 2013 12:45 AM

      oh my god, gURL! it seriously was the best. I lurked in the forums sometimes, but I was too shy to post much. their comics were like my life though. so great. especially to generally uncomfortable tweenage me. some of the ones on rookie remind me of them. I wish I could find them again.

  • folklaura May 21st, 2013 3:41 PM

    but nobody follows me back on twitter :(

  • ellamccartney May 21st, 2013 4:07 PM

    wowie this is so me. right here. in an article. thank you so much for this

  • FlowerandtheVine May 21st, 2013 4:13 PM

    I can’t imagine what would have happened if Twitter had existed when I was in high school. Instead, it was all about how many people signed the guestbook on your website. Or who answered your post on the message board.

    http://flowerandthevine.wordpress.com

  • sepiawriter May 21st, 2013 4:25 PM

    Eeepppp I loved this! As a shy person who got into the Internet really early I totally get you. I could joke about things I wouldn’t in real life. At the same time it also made me more confident about being myself, because I was a much more lively person than I appeared to be.

    But I still love getting likes for my pictures of my dogs being adorable.

  • Emily Wierenga May 21st, 2013 4:32 PM

    This is so relevant to me! Today is my birthday and I’ve been circulating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for HBD!’s since I woke up this morning. Whyyyyy, should I care if that kid who changed schools in the ninth grade wishes me a good day? Ugh.

  • anoziram May 21st, 2013 4:49 PM

    OMG Gabby, you are great.
    I’m almooooost a sophomore right now, and I’m homeschooled, and basically everything you said thoroughly resonated with me and the little things I experience.
    It’s so thrilling that you discovered an outlet for yourself and your interests, and that others have definitely benefited by them- particularly that you were able to transfer this into your real,off- the-internet, self.
    Off to non-creepily creep you(oxymoron?).

  • Kaetlebugg May 21st, 2013 5:41 PM

    spot-on!!!! This is great and points out the delicate balance between healthy confidence-boosting and validation. Great great great very relatable essay. I love it!!!

    http://embarrassingurl.blogspot.com

  • TinyWarrior May 21st, 2013 5:48 PM

    I LOVE THIS SO STINKING MUCH. When I was 12, my mom signed me up for the website New Moon Girls (Newmoon.com) – a feminist-y and girl-created magazine and online community for girls ages 8-13. It kinda changed my life, tbh. I made so many friends through that website, many of whom (three years later), I still talk to. I’ve been able to meet some of them in real life, and learned so much from them. It’s been such a blessing, and I think it’s helped me come out of my shell in real life, too. Then, after I “graduated” so to speak from NMG, I found Rookie. AND SO THE CYCLE OF AWESOME INTERNET FRIENDS CONTINUES. <3

    • book_kitty May 21st, 2013 6:56 PM

      Asdfghjkll do I know you? Because I was literally about to post this. We’re you on the GEB/ on Buzz?

      • KatGirl May 21st, 2013 7:47 PM

        Former NMG too! :D

        • TinyWarrior May 22nd, 2013 1:45 PM

          AHHHH! THIS IS SO AWESOME! I’m Audrey, 14 on there! Who’re you guys (because I recognize your usernames, I think)?

      • TinyWarrior May 22nd, 2013 1:47 PM

        Oh, and yes – I was/ am Buzzer!

        • book_kitty May 22nd, 2013 6:43 PM

          I am Hanna. :) No longer on NMG website but I was from British COlumbia.

          HI AUDREY.

        • TinyWarrior May 22nd, 2013 10:03 PM

          HANNA I MISS YOU CHAT ME, BABY (wow we’re like taking over the comments :P)

    • lydiamerida May 21st, 2013 8:20 PM

      YAY!!! Me too! I’m so glad to see so many people from that community here. It really made me feel like I had people who understood me and my opinions, and I always recommend it to elementary and middle schoolers :)

    • Ella May 21st, 2013 8:42 PM

      LOVED.THAT. MAGAZINE!
      -Ella
      http://lilliputianliberal.blogspot.com

    • book_kitty May 21st, 2013 11:53 PM

      Ahhhh I love this NMG-turned Rookie girl thing!

  • Sydney Penrose May 21st, 2013 6:14 PM

    The relevance in this post is overwhelming. But the only difference is that I still shy away from sharing about my personal life through social networking and through my blog. I’m working my way out of this little shell. c’:

    sydtheunicorn.blogspot.com

  • Charlotte CallaGirl May 21st, 2013 6:37 PM

    THIS IS ME. THANK YOU SO MUCH, ROOKIE!
    I have to say, this post really describes me, especially in the beginning. However, my parents recently grounded me from the computer and I’m thankfully way over that now. I prefer to go outside, which would have been a shocking idea for me back then!
    Thanks Rookie, for posting this.

    View my blog:

    http://thecallagirl.wordpress.com

  • Domenic May 21st, 2013 7:25 PM

    “The world is a giant status update waiting for me press enter.” baha

  • Tara May 21st, 2013 7:58 PM

    I relate to this so much! The internet gave me back some of the self confidence I possessed as a child. Because of it I found an amazing community of young artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and the like. I relate to feeling good about people ‘liking’ stuff I posted. I felt bad at first for feeling good about it and getting a high off of ‘this is great’ replies to my posts and such but now I’ve realized it is okay to enjoy feeling appreciated! As long as I monitor my self interest it is not vanity.

    This is beautifully written. I loved it.

  • awkwardblackgirl May 21st, 2013 8:10 PM

    This is just really fucking great. It’s crazy how I can relate to you in so many ways.

  • Eryn May 21st, 2013 8:36 PM

    yesss omg Gabby, this article is wonderful, spot on!!

    http://fashionfledge.blogspot.ca/

  • kathryn-s May 21st, 2013 8:39 PM

    I am SO GLAD you wrote this article. Although, it kind of makes me wish I had spent my little preteen internet years blogging and making blog friends instead of neopets-ing and making neopets friends like a homeschooled jungle freak.
    Cool tip for children: NEOPETS WON’T GET YOU LONG-LASTING FRIENDSHIPS probably

  • limegreensunset May 21st, 2013 8:42 PM

    this is actually me.

    http://limegreensunset.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Ella May 21st, 2013 8:52 PM

    Loved this! It just makes me jump up and down and go, THAT’S SO ME!

    Also, to the rookie technical wizards, would their be a way to put pictures in the comments section? If not that would be a cool feature to add…

    -Ella
    http://lilliputianliberal.blogspot.com/

  • disast3rology May 21st, 2013 10:20 PM

    ME ME ME ME oh my god, thank you, this was very relatable and interesting

  • cornly_ May 21st, 2013 11:41 PM

    YES YES YES wow thank you for making this post I feel great now thank you thank you.

    (The first 3 paragraphs is what I relate to the most. I wish I didn’t care so much about likes and retweets and reblogs, though. I always get affected by these things. Like when i post something I thought was funny on tumblr or twitter or wherever and no one acknowledges it, it gets me down, you know? I don’t know it’s weird but thanks again I’m glad there’s Rookie. )

  • taste test May 22nd, 2013 12:00 AM

    wow, this was great. I related a lot. I started a blog when I was 12 to post weird stuff I found on the internet. when I was ~13, there was a while where I updated regularly and picked up a few commenters. it gave me some assurance that it wasn’t just me who found this bizarre stuff interesting/funny. then high school happened and I let it slip and gave up entirely a couple years ago. this is making me wonder if I should start it up again or start a new blog, because I could use some of that assurance again. I have 2 tumblrs and they’re cool but I still like the format and commenting system on traditional blogs more.

  • Caitlin H. May 22nd, 2013 5:00 AM

    Gabby ya too good.

  • Naomi May 22nd, 2013 11:41 AM

    this rang so true gabby, you the best

  • itsaoifedahling May 22nd, 2013 12:01 PM

    Whaat?! This is sososo me right down to the Christian schooling. I’m still learning that facebook interaction doesn’t necesarily mean real life interaction :/
    And blogging rocks :D
    Aoife xx
    http://passtheteacup.blogspot.ie/?m=1

  • loonylizzy May 22nd, 2013 1:32 PM

    OMG YESSS i love this post!!! every time i get a comment on my blog it makes me so happy i leap for joy, and when i go for days without one it kills my spirit. but i love the kinship i find with other bloggers and internet addicts that makes me feel like i’m not alone. beautiful article, it made my day! :)

    http://www.theflightoftheflamingo.blogspot.com

  • Hannah May 22nd, 2013 4:43 PM

    There was a TeenVogue article on this a year-ish back, but this is so much better. It’s well written and relatable and gets me to understand the message a lot better.

  • spudzine May 23rd, 2013 2:10 AM

    This is actually a really brilliant way to become more confident. My online persona is basically the physical form of all of the thoughts I am too afraid to say, but the physical embodiment of these thoughts should be my body. Me. This is a great exercise to inspire me to feel like I am 100% me in the real world.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Maradoll Mynx May 25th, 2013 2:29 PM

    This was prob the first time I actually heard someone admit that they receive validation from “likes” on the internet and that it does actually improve their real-life confidence. Usually it seems like people deny those things.

  • diniada13 May 27th, 2013 1:28 PM

    Soooo me. –>>> “Sometimes I think the internet is the world’s cheapest, most addictive drug.”