By Lesley Graham
The internet is a powerful place. It can be a resource for research, a way to disseminate information and has the ability to connect people from all over the world. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have changed the way people, especially young girls, portray themselves and their lives.
Young girls quite often feel pressure to look a certain way and make their lives seem interesting and perfect online, social media experts say. But that isn’t the whole story, or at least the “real” story.
Emphasizing that theme, a Girls Get Real Rally took place Saturday afternoon at the Ocean City Free Public Library. The free event included panelists for a question and answer session. There were also stations where the girls got professional headshots, advice on how to distinguish their social media presence from others and a glitter bar for fun.
As a local business owner of Bowfish Kids in Ocean City, Caitlin Quirk knows the power of social media. She uses Instagram and Facebook to let her customers know what is going on in her shop, activities she’s organized around town and an inside look into the challenges and successes of owning her own business.
But maybe more importantly for Quirk, who organized Saturday’s rally, she has also used social media and its influences to start a conversation about the perceptions of what is “real.”
Over the past six years, Quirk has watched the little girls who would frequent her shop grow into young teenagers trying to navigate the world of social media.
“Some of the photos I see of these girls pulls on my heartstrings,” Quirk said.
With an overwhelming desire to fit in, it can be difficult for young girls to present realistic, age-appropriate images of themselves, she noted.
“I knew girls were following me, so what kind of presence did I want to portray (online)?” Quirk said.
And that’s how the idea behind the Girls Get Real Rally grew.
The rally focused on four major topics of social media – creating your identity, unrealistic expectations, bullying and exclusion, and using the power of social media to connect with others.
These topics were discussed among a group of online influencers who have used their social media presence to highlight their skills. The panelists included Katie Possage, a fashion designer for Free People, Magi Kernan, a photographer with over 18,000 followers on Instagram, Caity Martinez, a Cystic Fibrosis fighter, and Kristina Young, artist and owner of local studio Peace of Wood.
The event was filled with advice and insight from panelists and audience members alike on how to be genuine and use social media for personal growth and spreading positivity. And it wasn’t just limited to young girls.
Barbara Gilmour, of Ocean City, was one of the older members of the audience.
“I’m a grandmother, and I came here today to learn about social media, to help with my mission on developing social skills and bullying prevention materials for children,” Gilmour said. “And I definitely learned that I can run Instagram myself, rather than pay an intern to do it for me.”
Each panelist discussed their perspective on social media and how they are using it to grow their brand, spread their message and influence those around them.
“It’s so easy to see things on the internet and assume that is real life, but it’s not. So how do we change that perception?” Quirk asked.
Young, of Peace of Wood, spoke to the power of social media’s connectivity.
“The internet is such a vast place, but it has actually made our world smaller, by bringing people together,” Young said during the panel discussion. “Focus on being that person that is good to others and genuine to who you are.”
Kernan, photographer and owner of Magdalena Studios, spoke to the audience about the intention behind posting. When asked what she hoped the participants took from the rally, she stated, “I hope that they are conscious about what they are posting and ingesting: What you are putting out and what you are taking in because you can’t get it back.”
Martinez, who uses her blog to spread awareness of Cystic Fibrosis, reminded everyone about the power of connectivity the internet can provide.
“It’s important to be yourself and just know that there is someone out there. Especially when you are a teenager or preteen, it can seem isolating but it can bring people together – there is positivity and there is love,” Martinez said.
Possage, the fashion designer, reminded girls to be authentic. “It took me awhile to figure out who I wanted to be and it’s easy to get swept up in everything you see but the truer you can be to yourself the happier your life will be,” she said.
Social media is complex and challenging, the panelists said. The Girls Get Real Rally wasn’t to lecture or even find a solution. It was to start a conversation, a necessary conversation that ditched the filters and got real, Quirk explained.
“I am so happy with how it went,” Quirk said. “The amount of girls that stood up, spoke their truths and shared their experiences made the whole thing worth it.”