“One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is that my feelings are valid. For anyone dealing with divorce, I would like to encourage you to speak up. Speak up to yourself in the mirror when you’re in the middle of a crying fit and remind yourself that what you are feeling is okay. Speak up to your parents when you have questions. Speak up to your siblings to ask for support when you are struggling. Speak up to your significant others to let them know that long-term love is a potential sore subject for you. Speak up to anyone who will listen because your voice matters and deserves to be heard.” On the night of March 2, 2018, hundreds of people read this short story, written under a picture of communication studies senior Julia Freet.
Freet, alongside local photographer and entrepreneur Asia Croson, spearheaded Girls Who Handle It, a project meant to empower women to speak up when they are going through difficult situations in life. Aside from being a co-founder of the project, Freet also participated in it by sharing her own struggles with her parents’ divorce and how to handle social media.
Freet is not alone in feeling pressured to put up a facade on Instagram despite the fact that it does not reflect her life. Using social media as a confidence booster is detrimental to a person’s health, and according to a study by the CDC, this addiction to social media begins in the early teenage years and develops over time. By the time college rolls around, problems with mental health like depression and anxiety begin to be noticed and acknowledged, with suicide rates rising by 65 percent between the years 2010 and 2015 for girls in their teenage years .
But what if there were a way for girls in the community to share these stories and to lift each other up by doing so? Freet and Croson created the perfect opportunity to achieve just that. The idea for the project has been in the works for almost a year, but the project itself began a few months ago, when Croson and Freet had a huge realization.
“I follow all these girls on social media, and I would never know these things about them,” Croson said, after explaining how one client broke down before a photoshoot.
Business administration junior Adriena Le was one of the 45 women who were brave enough to participate in the event.
“The main reason I participated is to help people realize that sometimes social media isn’t an honest depiction of what someone’s life is like. I think we need to work on public vulnerability as a whole to help people realize that it’s okay to not be okay and [that] you’re never alone,” Le said.
The project is dedicated to sharing young women’s hardships, while comparing it to their Instagram feeds at the same time they were struggling with those problems. The event that accompanied their project consisted of an art exhibit that featured the girls’ stories, a photo of their Instagram from the time and a portrait-style photo of them.
Over 400 people from the community were interested in attending, and on the night of the event, the line to view the exhibit wrapped around the corner. The turnout was more than they could have ever dreamed.
“If we didn’t give them this opportunity and this platform, they wouldn’t be sharing it,” Croson said. “Even if nothing beyond this event happens, and if nobody ever wants to be real on Instagram again, I want these 45 girls to be so glad they did that.”
But the event turned out to be just the beginning of an empowering journey. Inspired by the amount of love and support people had for the project, Freet and Croson have plans in the works to develop the project into a nonprofit so that the conversation can continue to grow.
Croson and Freet want to do more than just give girls credit; they want to normalize the conversation by breaking down barriers that hold women back from sharing what they are actually going through. Freet described it as showing the world what is “actually going on beneath the make-up and the social media and the closed doors.” Both Freet and Croson felt that any girl who is handling anything at one of the busiest moments of their life deserves to be heard. No problem, small or large, was disregarded.
“We’re college-aged women and social media is for us,” Freet said. “We are the audience. We’re the demographic for every advertising campaign. We’re the demographic for every update. We’re the people who use it the most and use it the way it’s supposed to be used.” That’s why Girls Who Handle It is such an amazing opportunity for girls to relay their hardships and let the community understand that there is more to a young woman’s social media than the number of likes they have on a photo.
This project has helped many young women come to terms with their own personal struggles, while simultaneously supporting those around them and starting a local conversation on this issue.
“I want to stimulate an environment where girls don’t have to adhere to those norms so rigidly,” Freet said.
In an effort to create widespread knowledge about the project, and in case anyone missed the event, Freet and Croson shared these women’s 45 incredibly moving, human stories on their new website.