Thoughts On Authenticity, Social Media & Personal Style // Femme De Bloom

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Hello everyone! My name is Melanie & I am the owner of the Etsy shop FemmeDeBloom and its corresponding blog. I am also an (almost licensed!!) clinical psychologist.  This blog post is a combination of the two different worlds I inhabit, as a psychologist/therapist and a crafter/blogger/small business owner, and my two identities that correspond with these worlds.  

Let’s start at the beginning, when I first had the idea to start my shop. I was in the 1st year of my doctorate program, unemployed, and STRESSED. With a huge workload, it was impossible to have a steady job and I was also searching for activities for stress relief. Since childhood, creating and crafting have been important parts of my life thanks to my mom. However, due to my academic pursuits I neglected the creative parts of myself for years, with the exception of hand making Christmas gifts for friends. The previous year, I made my group of friends personalized Minnie Mouse inspired ornaments and they had encouraged me to try selling them on Etsy. As I was brainstorming ways to channel my creative self, I thought back to that encouragement and made the decision to try opening a shop. To my surprise the ornaments sold very well and it was such an amazing experience! After the holidays were over, I couldn’t stop thinking about other things to make for the shop, which is when I started making jewelry inspired by some of my favorite fandoms and upcycling vintage pieces. What I didn’t realize at the time was that starting my shop was not only the rebirth of my creative self, but it also opened up a path of self-discovery, self-acceptance and identifying my authentic personal style.
Let’s rewind again – way back to my childhood (so “therapist” of me, right?).  In elementary school, I struggled with being overweight, which landed me with the title of “fat” kid. After years of being bullied and being called a “whale,” a “cow,” and being blamed for earthquakes (kids SUCK sometimes), I assumed the title of “fat kid” and truly began to believe the label. This impacted the way I dressed, as everything I chose was meant to detract attention from my body. I was a big fan of long t-shirts from the 5 for $10 t-shirt store and usually paired them with matching leggings or biker shorts. While I sometimes look back and laugh and some of the ridiculous shirts I chose (my favorites were my Steve Urkel Tee and one with a huge hammerhead shark on it), I also experience a sense of sadness because I know that my style was chosen based on the fear of judgment and ridicule. Since that time, my personal style was usually based on what either what would help me “fit in” or what would hide the parts of my body I was most ashamed of. While I did have a punk/emo phase for 2-3 years, I realize that phase was even a reflection of what was trendy at the time. And here I was thinking I was being all rebellious and alternative!
Throughout my 20s, I continued to experiment with different styles and often found myself “trying out” my friend’s styles, but nothing seemed to fit. I often felt out of place and didn’t feel like what I was wearing was a reflection of my inner self. I began to disregard style as important because I had tried so hard to find a style that fit me and came up short. THEN….I started FemmeDeBloom. Starting my shop became more than just an opportunity for supplemental income. It opened up my world and introduced me to a world of vintage and vintage-inspired clothing, disneybounding, novelty prints (& bags!) and so much more! For the first time, I didn’t feel anxious about my style and accessorizing. I also found a community that told me it was OK to be a “nerd” and wear Harry Potter t-shirts or dress like Donald Duck on his birthday at Disneyland. I found people who applauded me for dressing like a legit watermelon, even when people at the grocery store looked at me like I was out of my mind. After buying and wearing my first tulle vintage dress, I remember feeling like a beautiful princess (possibly making up for lost childhood time there, haha!). The thing is, finding a style I was excited about didn’t stop me from getting judged. I got criticized for dressing like a child and I often got asked, “do you ever just dress normal?” But for some reason, none of this mattered anymore because I truly felt like my style was authentic to who I am inside. 

This experience of redefining my personal style coupled my training as a clinical psychologist led me to further explore the topic of authenticity because being authentic is very important to me as a therapist and in my personal life. I started researching the topic and I was surprised to find that “being yourself” is really not as simple as I thought it was. We convince ourselves that we know “who we are” by using fixed traits to describe ourselves, which provides us with a sense of safety. Psychologists have even spent decades creating theory after theory of personality in hopes of pinning down a consistent way to measure a person’s characteristics. While many of these theories definitely capture parts of the human experience, no one has been able to identify an infallible theory of fixed personality.  
So then WHAT? Are we not ourselves? WHO ARE WE?
Psychologist Walter Mischel, who is famous for his Marshmellow Test, challenged the idea of a “fixed” personality and argued that personality is highly dependent on situation and context. In short, our “authentic” identity is something that changes depending on our environment and who we are with. In addition, personality changes throughout our lives because we are impacted by our life experiences. Our perception of life always changes! So how could we expect our personality to stay the same? Have you ever been told by someone that you’ve “changed” or perceive a friend as not acting like “themselves?” This is because for the most part our lives are overall pretty consistent and we usually end up spending time with people in similar circumstances/environments, which then leads to a perceived consistency of behavior. The changes we usually detect or others detect in us are more likely due to a change in life circumstances or environment.
To be honest, this is still hard for me to grasp at times because I want to feel like I KNOW myself. However, I realize that the only thing I do know for sure is that I am always changing e.g. I am a woman in bloom (FEMMEDEBLOOM!) and so is the way I express myself through my style and the way I interact with others. Perhaps this authenticity I experienced when I started my shop wasn’t really “finding myself” but more of a new part of myself I didn’t know existed?
We live in a world where social media serves as a powerful tool for connecting people socially and professionally, which is AMAZING. I have met and connected with some of the most wonderful and talented human beings as a result of social media! However, it has also created a space for negativity and judgement. Some portray themselves a certain way on social media while acting in a completely different way in person and vice versa. We have apps like FaceTune (I’ve used it AIN’T GONNA LIE) to conceal their imperfections. I hear people complain that their Instagram post “wasn’t successful” because it didn’t get enough likes, or use the number of likes and comments as a measure of self-worth. This pains me to think about because I know I have been guilty at times of believing the same thing. It is extremely hard to be authentic in a world where everyone shares the highlights of their lives instead of the struggles, where photo editing tools are used in a majority of photo you see, and where people are judged for exposing their imperfections.
Also, despite how much I love the vintage/handmade/Disney community, there is still a great deal of focus on what “brand” you are wearing or what kind of vintage attire it was. For a while, I was very focused on either buying “authentic vintage” or buying from brands that I could tag on Instagram, which resulted in credit card debt and always feeling like I didn’t have enough clothes. In addition, it was frustrating because many of the vintage dresses I found didn’t find my body type and I did not want to wear a corset (I NEED TO BREATHE y’all!), so I had to get them altered. While I love vintage apparel and some of the amazing brands out there, I also recognize that it is a privilege to be able to have the money to spend on clothes like that. I know there is also a push to support small business and avoid support big businesses that manufacture clothing. Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury. People need to eat and survive and I am not going to judge a person who gets their vintage inspired outfit from if they feel cute in it and can afford it! In fact, my Dapper Day dress from November 2017 was from Amazon and when people complimented me on it and asked where it was from and I told them Amazon I got some funny looks.

My outfit
So knowing that personality is not fixed, what does it mean to truly be authentic in this crazy social media obsessed world? Here’s what I think!
1) Authenticity is acceptance of the fact that you are a dynamic, ever changing human being. It is about letting go of the faux security in believing you and others will always be the same. I think this provides you with the freedom to forgive yourself when you do something that you perceive as “out of character” and gives you and others the permission to change and grow.
2) Authenticity is a willingness to be vulnerable and to share both your strengths and struggles with others.  It is being vulnerable while knowing that you risk being judged or hurt, because vulnerability is the precursor for connection and the antidote for shame.
3) As far as style is concerned, I think authenticity is wearing WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT! It is creating a style that you feel comfortable in and one that you can afford. It is not worth it to get into credit card debt just so you can fit in or have the best dress at an event. Having an authentic personal style is also recognizing that your style may change over time and that this is completely ok!
As I near the end of this post, I want to say that being authentic is definitely not easy. We are influenced by what surrounds us and there is a lot of pressure out there to “improve” ourselves whether it is through perfecting our complexion, style, body, hair etc. It takes a deliberate effort of self-compassion, introspection, and self-acceptance to be authentic and you are guaranteed to be criticized no matter how you act. It is hard…but it is 100% worth the effort because it leads to an improved well-being and fulfilling connections with others. 
So I encourage you readers (if you’ve made it to the end of this long post!) to go forth and let your ever changing authentic self be seen! As one of my favorite researchers/authors/speakers Brene Brown says, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

Instagram: @FemmeDeBloom
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