It’s a topic I’ve been avoiding discussing forever and a day. But it’s real. It's a feeling we all seek to escape in our own way. It's a feeling compounded by the age of social media and conflicted by the ambition to become influencers.
As we share carefully-crafted-yet-seemingly-carefree images of ourselves, lend words of inspiration and provide visuals as a public muse, we paint a picture of continual content and happiness. Yet there’s an underlying current that’s not much discussed as we skirt over the full range of human emotions, because brand and image matter.
The reason I first sat down in front of my laptop to record YouTube videos was to get free stuff. I’m cheap and resourceful, so I figured if I could get a few thousand women to watch me talk, I could ultimately get hair products. I was not in the least thinking of becoming something or someone. So now, two years later, when I turn on my camera to talk to an audience of 100,000, it boggles my mind that I still have an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Not that I ever thought that loneliness would dissipate with numbers, but it now makes me feel even more weak. Do I have the right? Does it make sense? Even my close friends talk to me less frequently because, “I just commented on your IG picture yesterday.” When your circle of friends starts to take for granted your accessibility and visibility, you have to look at what’s happening.
It's a paradigm that my generation of millennials are all dealing with as we exploit visibility for success, and are left feeling as though our real-life human connections rely a bit too much on seeing us on social media. When my mother says, “Oh, you haven’t posted on your Facebook page in a few days -- I figured you were busy so I didn’t call,” it’s a quagmire.
I have an almost complete inability to be outwardly vulnerable. The feeling of not presenting an image of a strong woman leaves me tongued-tied and unable to communicate. And as I grow an audience based on championing for the #SmartBrownGirl, I’m definitely not alone in this struggle. A new wave of hip feminism flows over my community of young Black women in between pantomiming hand sweeps declaring one flawless.
In the age of social media where life is often lived through nicely filtered 1:1 pictures and the image of a strong Black woman is shaped for my generation, this feeling of loneliness, a nagging tap of weakness, a piece that exposes my vulnerability, is kept quiet -- pushed down and pushed back into denial.
One would think as you build a brand and a following of supporters that becoming popular would erase the feeling of singularity, but it only exacerbates it. I don’t know how to make the feeling make sense because of my bad habit of stating everything so matter-of-factly and devoid of emotional vulnerability. I cannot expose myself as less than. But that’s exactly what I am talking about. Feeling less than. Feeling alone. Not because you have no friends. Not because no one loves you. It’s a feeling of loss that hangs on the sleeves of loneliness.
Dissatisfaction with areas of life that you’re not sure how to change and no one who quite gets what you’re talking about. Alone because there’s no hand to hold and walk you through the process of being a strong Black woman and redefining things we previously weren’t allowed to be a part of. It’s not having the support while you pursue a dream that no one can see but you.
It’s walking down a path where no one looks like you and everyone is looking at you with the judgmental side-eye. It’s not being able to go back to that day before you realized your parents were human too, when they were still superheroes who accomplished everything and your mother telling you, “It will be OK” filled you with the ultimate belief that it would be just that — “OK.”
For some of us this feeling of loneliness is further compounded by anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I was diagnosed with a panic disorder when I was 12. For religious reasons, my parents declined secular therapy, so I dealt with it by learning to avoid worry. I constantly work to squash any feelings by picking myself up and moving on to the next thing, or by isolating myself while I work through it -- fearing that if I ever allowed myself to linger too long in feelings of weakness I might never get up. And up goes the wall of a being a strong Black woman. Getting to this point of being open enough to talk about it is haaaard.
I don’t have the ultimate solution or answer. I just want to open up a dialogue as I finally work my way through this and let others know that it can be worked through too. It just takes time and discussion and more time for each of us to deal with it in our own way. Hopefully we can move beyond filtered pictures and remember the full depths of being human and the growing pains we all deal with.