Every once in a while I share my thoughts on the online world and entourage here http://www.stylememaria.com/?cat=247 without expecting anyone to relate but it always surprises me how many of you tell me that speaking my mind offers you a voice through my platforms and for that I am appreciative. Today I am here to do it again after another round of taking a back seat to act as a spectator instead of someone immersed in the field. For it is by distance only that we get a clear vision and grasp an objective understanding of what is happening, and I make sure I never speak out of anger or irritation but take many steps back for many months before writing.
It was a day just like any other in 2013, after the birth of my daughter, where I had this uncontrollable urge to put my foot down against the monstrosity of conformity. I refused to raise my child in a world endorsing individuality but in reality heading towards the exact opposite. I’ve had a fire in me since I was a child, and growing up and even at work I was nicknamed “Che” because I always felt the need to question the status quo, to revolt against the system. The system in this case being social and not political.
When I became a mom I felt that it was my duty to voice my opinion and to relate my experiences to other moms or moms to be, and even young girls who were still in school or university. Social media was on the rise, every person had their own little space online to share their hobbies and connect with one another. Those who preferred to write would start a blog and log in daily or weekly journal entries as a way to vent, in hopes of reaching out to like minded people. This meant that me and you and anyone on this planet could own a little space to voice their concerns and stand up to what traditional media was shoving down our throats.
*I had a lot of hope for a movement, and though I still do, I have a dreadful feeling that words such as “women empowerment” and “be your own kind of beautiful” have become buzzwords to generate validation in the form of likes and comments. Why you may ask? It’s because these same women who plaster these motivational words all over their profiles are the first to talk behind each other’s backs or refuse to help when help can be a mere kind word.*
I started my blog after I had an active Instagram page with a U.S. based following, and I did it as a way to maintain my journal online for my daughter to read when she grew older. I wasn’t about to sit back and witness the demise of everything that should be moving forward, and my main message was and is loud and clear. I am a young working mother, balancing work and family life while finding the time to pursue my passions and take care of myself. I offer(ed) style tips, beauty hacks, food reviews, travel experiences and even the nitty gritty of motherhood. I push myself to share the best content I can, and through that I have slowly but steadily amassed readers from all around the world. I love myself the way I am, flaws and everything and I’m constantly working on bettering myself, the same way I encourage my readers to accept their physical appearance and embrace their uniqueness.
But is that enough? How much can one woman do?
I appreciate genuine women and mothers who feel passionately about putting their lives out there for others to be inspired by, but how about the others who try too hard to show us polished images? Doesn’t that go against what we as a generation of women are trying to portray to our younger counterparts? Blogging and Instagram has made way for real people with real bodies to get a chance to shine, so how come these real individuals with talent and passion are taking a back seat to plastic? If we wanted perfection we’d still be playing with our Barbie dolls, and we’d still be flipping through airbrushed magazine photos of models while feeling horrible about ourselves. Where are the plus sized women of this region? Where are the beautiful imperfect faces? Where are the boss ladies who still manage to take care of their families? The only difference I see is that the images we used to see in print, we are now seeing on our phones. Instead of “regular” women representing clothing brands, there are models, instead of the girl next door shooting a makeup campaign; it’s the perfectly sculpted face, instead of a dedicated influencer styling outfits, it’s a “public figure” whose current pipe dream is being a social media star for the sake of fame.
Do you, said women, have any idea how horribly you’re impacting the young generation? Flaunting staged lifestyles, or maybe real lifestyles, but ones that aren’t attainable to 99% of the population? Instead of showing off your possessions, how about you give your audience tips on how to style their items together? Or do you even know how to style or communicate with them? Or is that the work of a hired stylist that brings the end product to the public? Which brings me to my next question; do you really have the influence you proclaim? This in turn brings me to another issue, when will we in this region get to the point of self acceptance, when will social climbing end, when will the real deal make a breakthrough?
Every time I think, whatever, let it be, then I think again and say: no, I won’t stand for it. Every once in a while I’ll post a series of rants on my Instagram stories or in a caption and find positive responses that make it clear to me that I am making a difference, no matter how small. Imagine if each one of us made this difference, how awesome and empowered would we really be?
Why can’t us women focus on education and work instead of ridiculous amounts of time spent at the hairdresser and makeup artist? I love hair and makeup, and it’s an art, but if all we are seeing on Instagram stories and posts is this, then tell me please, what are all those makeup tutorials for? And tell me another thing; is looking good all we are able to do? Yes ladies, take care of yourselves, this is something important, but for God’s sake, be real! I still cannot fathom why a simple evening or even a day event would require that much time and effort. I cannot believe the hours of each day some women are spending, just do your makeup at home; it’ll take you like 10 minutes. Perhaps this is just the way I think, and it’s my lifestyle, and I’m not attacking the women who choose a more relaxed and pampered kind of routine, but please if you choose to share this with your hundreds of thousands of followers, then also share your normal day to day life. We as a group of influencers are causing these young women to believe that all of life is measured in gifts and events and trips.
If I have said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, education is elementary. That is why I always share what I’m currently reading, what I’m painting, reflections, social criticisms, musicals I watched, old films I find interesting, a bit of sarcasm, gems I find while I travel and so on so forth. Believe me I endured changing cultures, from Lebanon to the U.S.A. and back to Lebanon, adapting, learning new languages, making friends, not fitting in, getting my scientific baccalaureate, and 5 grueling years with summers at the faculty of engineering, followed by 11 years of hard work to get to where I am today, and to be able to live the life I want. Not by nepotism, not by kissing a**, not by being a leech. I work hard as a blogger and ” influencer” is a title I owe to my readers and with it comes great responsibility. I don’t find the need to flaunt my possessions because they don’t define who I am, what means something in our world is kindness, generosity and values. I don’t want to be known as just another fashionista, I wasn’t like this in 2013, and I sure won’t change to fit in 5 years later.
But what I want is from you, working women, students, PRs and influencers is the following.
Dear working women, keep working towards your dreams, life is hard and it isn’t fair, don’t compare your struggle with another person’s online filtered life. We’re all fighting a battle, and no one has it easy, whether you work at an office or are self employed, neither is easy.
Dear students, education is THE most important weapon you have, get your degree first, don’t be fooled by “la vie en rose” some are portraying. But be sure that you can be what you want to be, the world is your oyster and you can be inspired by young women entrepreneurs for post graduation. Today we have an application called Instagram, don’t let that be your target. In a few years something else will pop up, you wouldn’t want to invest all your mental energy and time on something that will be gone eventually. Focus on your studies and then on your career.
Dear PRs, please open your eyes to the relevancy of the influencer you are choosing to represent your client’s brand. Do know the difference between an Instagram page and a blog. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the written word will never die and it takes special skills to convey a message so choose wisely. The reason I refuse to work with many of you which has gotten me a reputation of having an attitude is because although I’m one of the nicest persons you will meet, I am also blessed with intuition and intelligence to see right through your intentions. I am also blessed (or perhaps cursed) with a personality that doesn’t go with the flow nor makes small talk, I won’t suck up to get anything; you appreciate my work, I’m here, you don’t, keep running after your socialites and see where it gets you.
Dear influencers, try to be raw, more real. It takes zero effort to be you, let your inner beauty shine, unleash your personal style, show us what makes you you. I’m not saying I’m the perfect blogger, because perfection doesn’t exist, and I’m not preaching just to sound superior. But ladies, how hard is it to talk to our audience with a bare face? It isn’t. If you’re afraid of judgement because you have acne or any condition that makes you feel you’re not enough, you are enough, lead and be an example.
Do I come across as angry, bitter, sad? In reality I am neither. I am numb.
Numb to the fact that some things never change, but I will forever be a fighter for truth, passion, and being a genuine person.
To be very honest, the pain depends on your tolerance, expect the worst and you might be pleasantly surprised. If it’s a large tattoo the body numbs itself, hormones are released to make you relaxed and soon the pain will be pleasurable. But it IS after all, a needle constantly pecking on your skin, so expect some discomfort.
When it comes to your artist, do your research. In our day and age, you can access profiles of tattoo artists on Instagram and Facebook, as well as check their tagged photos by clients. See which profile relates to the style of the tattoo you have in mind, some are great with clean simple tattoos, others with freehand and 3D. Check the history of the artist, connect with some of his clients especially ones that have tattoos over a year to see how well it aged, reach out to him personally and ask him questions such as how long the session will take and how much it costs (they are pricier than you would imagine), keep an eye out for details such as the quality of the ink, and the line work. It is no matter to be taken lightly, but once you have made an informed decision, you will be in safe hands. Another factor that is tough to grasp online is chemistry. Sometimes you can go to the best artist in town but find him intimidating or the lines of communication aren’t flowing, then abort mission. You don’t need to be pressured into anything; you need to be walked through it especially if it’s your first tattoo.
I would also recommend to get your first tattoo somewhere that isn’t visible when you are clothed to figure out if you’re truly comfortable with more flamboyant tattoos. Someone advised me to get my first somewhere even I can’t see it, and I’m glad I followed that tip, every time I glance at the mirror to see it, I fall in love with it all over again.
Another important factor is aftercare. Your tattoo artist will give you instructions on how to wash and help heal your new tattoo. You will need to avoid heat and sun exposure for example, so it is best not to get inked in the summer. You must keep it hydrated with special creams and the list goes on.
For someone who has wanted to get a tattoo since their early teenage years and ended up getting the first at age 32 lays a long process. Many might consider it not a big deal and won’t mind getting inked on a whim, but I wasn’t going to let permanent art on my body be a spur of the moment decision. I thought it through for years. In the back of my mind there was always the what ifs, what if I end up regretting it, what if it turns out bad?
I got over the fear of pain because well, if it’s something one wants, then one must suffer to get it if needed right? The subject matter of my first tattoo was a no brainer, it would be related to my children, their birthdates, their names, or even abstract symbolism namely the Celtic knot of motherhood. But something in the back of my mind kept distracting me, I wouldn’t settle on a design and I felt that it was a sign to rethink things, so I slept on the whole tattoo idea for a while.
Two years ago in January, my grandfather had passed away two weeks prior to my due date with Fares. I went through the most awful period of losing a stoic person that had been in my life since I was born, and as much as I try to describe our bond I could never convey it. That loss meant loss of sleep for months on end, crying day and night, heartbroken that he wouldn’t be able to see my son whom he had waited so impatiently for, shattered at his sudden death when he was strong only a week before, relieved that I got to see him at the hospital a few hours before he ascended to heaven. I was determined to let his memory live on in the way I deemed fit, in the only way I knew him and of his adventures.
My tattoo appointment was on the eve of what would have been his birthday, and that happened by pure fate. I went in for my session with several images of Native American tribal arrows with a touch of Bohemian vibes, and after an hour’s design, the feathery arrow turned into an almost 20 cm geometric one. I had always been in awe of this culture, and having lived in the U.S.A. with my parents and grandparents, it was a part of me. I insisted on the arrow because my grandfather was a hunter, a traveler, a businessman, a jeweler, and a goal oriented man. Until the day he passed, he would always tell us of the adventures he had during his life, the people he met, their habits, science discoveries he would watch on T.V., and even old western movies. The symbol points upward to remind me to always follow my dreams, and like an archer to point that arrow to the direction I want and never give up. A few hours later, the tattoo was complete and I had endured the pain. The geometry reflects my logical side, the architect, always balancing art with function. The tattoo is me, and hidden deeper it is my grandpa.
My second appointment was a year later, I had been at a crossroad in my life and wanted a constant reminder of who I am and where I came from. I had a strong urge to etch on my skin the connection I had with air, water and earth, three of the four elements (the fourth which will be an inspiration for my latest tattoo). I wanted to get three small tattoos done at the same time, to sort of balance them out. In terms of pain they turned out to be worse than the first, I still am not sure if it is because of their location on the body or because they are so quick to be finished that my skin doesn’t have time to numb itself.
The tattoos are an airplane and a sailboat on each of my wrists, and an anchor on my ankle. Although they are pretty straightforward, they hold deeper meaning for me. For someone who lived their childhood abroad, the airplane was the norm. My entire family reaching back to my great grandfathers, both maternal and paternal are travelers and explorers, and our roots are all over the world. Does my feeling of not belonging stem by that? Does it symbolize my return to my home or does it feed my urge to explore? How badly do I want to go back to where my happiest days were lived? These are questions that are unanswered; the only fact being is that I have a calling to be where I’m not, physically and more than ever, mentally. The sailboat to me on the other hand represents peace, isolation, loneliness. Within the past couple of years I had gotten over what I considered a hurdle all my life, which was introversion, and how I mentally and emotionally need time alone with my inner voice, and the little lonely boat away from the shore summarizes my hunger for solitude. The anchor on my ankle keeps me grounded, and reminds me of my connection with the earth and Mother Nature. It is the hippie in me, the free spirit, and the barefoot in the sand child that I am.
My fifth tattoo is inspired by Native American culture, and the more I immersed myself in it, the more I understood that a chief had earned his headdress after years of battle, losses and victories, and that a young member of the tribe had to work a lot to earn a single feather. Each feather symbolizes a stage of battle, whether injury or otherwise, and for me to get one tattooed on my body meant that I had been wounded and had survived many hardships but came out deserving that symbol of bravery. As I was getting inked, my tattoo artist asked me if I liked fire, and when I told him I’m a fire sign, he was happy, and decided to create a fire feather. I asked him to steer clear from feminine designs and gear the tattoo to masculine energy which I feel I have a lot of. The outcome was a very special feather with a flaming tip, thus connecting my ongoing path to my element.
*Photo credit for the above is Hady Beydoun.
I am planning a sixth tattoo very soon, I already know what I want to get, and it’s only a matter of time. I can’t wait to share more of my tattoos as soon as I get them, and I do plan on more, in the end my body will be a timeline of my ambitions, dreams, victories, battles and losses.
So this time as the day approached, I couldn’t help reflecting on my not so random online and offline withdrawal and on the life lessons I learned by what I consider one of the toughest periods I went through on a personal and professional level. I want to share my discoveries with you, no matter how hard they are to divulge.
The major highlight of this year was friendship detox, in retrospect, the toxic people that were surrounding me contributed to a lot of negative emotions and actions, and only when I cut all ties did I start breathing and working towards my goals without any distraction. All my adult life I have been victim of leeches, many say I attract them, and that my positive and cheerful demeanor are like a flame to a moth. My alleged “kind heart” is always mistaken for weakness, thus allowing people to stomp all over me, thinking I don’t know what they are up to, when in fact they don’t realize that I don’t fight back because I don’t want to exploit their weaknesses and hurt them. I’m not a social being to begin with, so when I open up to a friend and end up being hurt it damages me to the core and I stop trusting anyone altogether.
I have purged the opportunists, those who stick around hoping they could climb the social or corporate ladder through me. I used to be so kind to them until I realized I owed them nothing, and had I needed a favor they would have never obliged. These are the people who would claim that certain ideas were theirs, or that they are avant-gardes when in fact they were only following my lead to later brag that they did this and went there. They are also the people who I’d put in a good word for across certain fields to boost their presence, but when a mere mention of my name could do me good, they wouldn’t reciprocate.
Then there are the friends who have nothing to offer but negative vibes, even when I’m down in the dumps and in need of moral support, they always manage to make me feel worse about my situation. These are the people who wouldn’t put themselves in my shoes, who would only dish out advice that would only get me in trouble, acting all tough when the reality required a different angle. They are the ones who would be on the offense all the time to hide their insecurities. I would nag about one of these friends in particular until I realized that the solution was simple, so I stopped being afraid of confrontation and put that person in line and got on with my life.
The most difficult was the ungrateful coworker who was very close to me, we spent every minute together and shared common interests, whose career I tried to save many times, taking blames for them year after year, speaking well of, doing the workload so that they could chill 8 hours a day, ended up stabbing me in the back. I should have listened to the hundreds of voices warning me to be careful, but I was blinded by humanity and sheltering a hated person, that I had no idea what web of deceit was being woven to entrap me. That web and its result shocked me to the core, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. That situation eventually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but lesson learned is, never again.
Then there are the few friends whom I would talk to every day for a decade about everything suddenly forgot to even say hello as soon as I was no longer convenient to them. Friends who I would see on a daily basis at work acted as if I disappeared off the face of the earth as soon as I stopped coming in. I could not fathom how something so deep could one day disappear. I do love them dearly, but I am not willing to force myself on anyone.
Negativity aside, I have also come across beautiful new friendships, ones I hope and believe will last a lifetime.
At one point this year by some greater power, I met someone who entered my heart and mind without even knocking, whose childhood and life leading up to the moment of our meeting paralleled mine and we just clicked. This person is a soul mate of some sort, a mentor, someone I look up to and who hopefully finds solace in sharing hopes and fears with me. This happened at a low point this year and I believe fate has led us together to help each other grow.
There are a few friends I have met online for whom I am grateful, who genuinely care, and our daily lives have been so similar, as moms, as dreamers, as thinkers and introverts, that I believe more than ever that good people still exist.
One ex-colleague who was merely an acquaintance at the start of the year turned out to be the dearest to my heart, whom I speak to daily and share my deepest secrets with, I feel comfortable crying in front of as well as sharing breakthroughs knowing she will be genuinely happy for me.
As I look back, I do believe that the bad experiences happened for a reason, for I learned to trust my instincts even more and to grow a backbone when it comes to confrontation. If it weren’t for those horrible moments, I wouldn’t have been led to meet the extraordinary people I’m in contact with now. I will forever be grateful, but careful.
But what is an influencer, really?
I personally don’t think it takes tens of thousands or even a million social media followers to make you an influencer. An influencer influences, no matter how small his/her reach is, if that person is able to change opinions and shape minds, then this is the category they fall into from tech gadget savants to beauty product experts. Influence isn’t a matter to take lightly, because with reach comes responsibility, but there are also major cons to this digital phenomenon. There is no denying that a great portion of the blogosphere has become a marketing strategy, and while it is never wrong to monetize one’s influence, there is a fine line between hoarding all the collaborations you can get, and being genuine. The majority of the audience are smart enough to differentiate between authenticity and paid content, but there are still fresher minds that are really influenced by a blogger they look up to, and if the latter is merely posting in return for a few bucks, this particular demographic will be falsely deceived in thinking the reviewed product is a must have and therefore will go ahead and buy it without the proper research.
My pet peeve, aside from the vomit rendering, in your face paid posts, is the look-at-my-perfect-life fashion influencers who add nothing to society except showing off daddy’s money or what their husbands can afford. Really, like really, who are you targeting, and do the luxury brands who sponsor you expect your thousands of followers to all be customers of said brands? Do you do anything besides pose in front of your homes/cars/whatever you want to flaunt showcasing sunglasses, watches, shoes, bags and dresses that most hard working people need to put away a year’s salary to afford? What exactly are you aiming at, please, do tell. If you want to make your friends jealous, then take it offline like the old generation used to do, bickering and showing off what they bought over coffee, or more recently, espresso. I only have one thing to say to these types of women, we are more than just mannequins, we are strong, educated, and must make a difference in the world.
Then again there are the ladies who preach not wearing makeup in some of their selfies when in fact they are filtered, face tuned, blurred and taken with the beauty shot. Not to mention the Botox, surgeries and lash lifting etc. How about those who can’t type out a correct English word, much less a sentence, and even get hashtags and brand names wrong yet are still scouted to collaborate, are these the type of people whom you want to be representing your business? Then again can those agencies be blamed when others disregard the fact that there are professional engineers, architects, pharmacists and the likes whom they can take advantage of in terms of social media marketing, but choose unrelated people to do the job just because they know someone who knows someone?
I’d like to supply a bucket of water to the PR agencies to pour on themselves, perhaps that’ll help them wake up from their comatose state. Wake up from this ‘I got your back you got mine’ mentality, from this ‘you’re my friend so I’m gonna give you all the deals’, from the ‘she feels threatened by this blogger so I’ll definitely blacklist her from my events although I know she fits the brand’s profile’, and start working on what you spent years studying. Instead of inviting fashionistas to food events, ignoring the older influencers with the right audience to an alcoholic brand event, recruiting the school students to luxury outings, how about you target your demographic? The irrelevancy of the attendees of certain events or the chosen ambassadors for a certain program is laughable. How about you actually research the fact that most bloggers work and can’t attend midweek functions that are so far from the city, it isn’t even funny. How about you NOT split the attendees into two lists, one on weekends and one for the middle of the week? How about you show some courtesy and not split a conference into one during the day and later at night in a fancier setup? How about you start paying what the influencer deserves and on what they are offering in return. How about you ban the ‘why would I work with you since X did it for free’ when we all know X’s reach is a fraction of another’s reach. How about you start recognizing the true influencers, the hard working mothers, those who don’t use their kids in perfect setups to rake in ‘likes’ but the ones like myself who relate their life to the public with as much transparency as possible, the authentic people with true and real audience. How about you get up from the rock you’ve been hiding under and realize that where you choose to save money is ending up costing you more? If only you would realize that not all bloggers are the same, and not everyone wants to associate themselves with your brand or client, that some of us are sweeping in international deals, working behind the scenes, unwilling to be related by near or far to names that we will do more good than they will do us.
Instagram is becoming more and more cringe-worthy, with emerging ‘public figures’ who choose to define themselves as that because they got their 15 seconds of fame, with ‘fashionistas’ who have no sense of fashion and who need a lifetime to understand that wearing the latest trends will never guarantee you have style, with ‘influencers’ who influence nothing but the puppets of their own imaginary world, with ‘bloggers’ who don’t blog and are in it for the freebies and don’t promote brands even on their 24 hour disappearing stories because promoting gifts is so 2015.
You know who I blame? I blame you, me, all of us for helping their egos soar, for creating monsters whom brands are fighting over to get a piece of their fake influence. I blame the brands who are willing to help them monetize their visual content because other more deserving bloggers just don’t qualify for their glossy image. The reason I say visual content is because these ‘influencers’ are unable to create content because they are only there to model their physical appearance without any added value. Why don’t we get back to earth, where people have school, university, jobs, children, homes and reality to deal with. When a Dior dress can pay a kid’s tuition, or Gucci mules can feed a family for 3 months, when young girls everywhere are dreaming of achieving this unattainable lifestyle, when these are the pillars of our online society, then we must realize we have hit a new low.
Next time you want to call yourself an ‘influencer’, I beg you, do your best and influence positively and realistically. I want to see plus sized fashion bloggers, I want to see less judgmental mom bloggers, I want to follow fashion stylists who actually show us how to style our outfits, I want to see first class fashionistas revealing their budget buys as well as their luxury pieces, I want more social bloggers, more criticism, more culture. Is it too much to ask?
As for me, I will continue to be myself, the Maria you have gotten used to, who doesn’t shut up in the face of idiocy, who will always show you what life is like as a working woman and a lifestyle blogger, I promise you to keep it real online when it comes to how I raise my children, most of all I want you all to know how imperfect I really am, and how I embrace my flaws, how I love myself, and how I strive for learning as much as I can.
Newsflash: If it isn’t your body, then kindly refrain from sharing your opinion.
If I had a dollar for every time someone oh so clever on social media decided to comment sarcastically about a food photo I shared, I would have enough money to buy a bakery and eat every darn thing my heart desired. That’ll give them something to talk about.
A while ago I shared a personal entry about my weight loss journey (click here to read), I am still working hard at it, and it’s a long and steady process to attain a healthier me.
I realize that blogging and being in the “public” eye so to speak, makes one vulnerable, because we choose to share our private issues and we choose to connect with our audience and therefore must accept a certain dose of criticism. But there’s that and there’s too much of a good thing. For instance, when I’m at a restaurant opening or any food related event and I share stories on Instagram and Snapchat, people automatically DM me with their comments that I shouldn’t be eating that or literally have the audacity to tell me “stop eating”. Do these people know that A: I planned my day’s meals with my dietitian so I can indulge later at the event, or B: I am taking photos and videos to share the venue’s menu with my followers but eating a measly salad, or C: I feel like treating myself after months of being on a strict health plan? No, no and no. No one knows and it’s no one’s business to comment. So next time you see me snapping my diet chocolate drink, don’t comment that it’s fattening. Or if you see me sharing my tea, don’t assume it came with a side of pie. I’m not here to explain why I make the choices that I make and I’m not waiting for anyone’s approval.
Why am I enraged? It’s because no one knows my struggle, or the struggle of any person with extra weight they are trying to get rid of. Women already have a hard time because of society’s pressure to look perfect, so spare us all your “well intended” comments. Who’s to say what’s perfect anyway? Shall we spend our days thinking of how to achieve the “summer body” and #bodygoals? Shall we allow other people to criticize us as they please? No effing way! Life is too short to worry about what other people think. It took me years to accept that my body is not genetically prone to being skinny, and no amount of hate or bashing on and off social media will make me believe less of myself. I am fabulous and I know it, I am curvy and I like it, I love myself the way I am, and I am working on a better version of me for me, so take your opinion elsewhere.
A disclaimer before I begin, I am in no way attacking any of the offices I have trained/worked for, I have always been and always will be a professional, and I have the utmost respect for the company I worked for for the past 10 years; it is merely a retrospect and revelation of the past 11 years of my life. I want to say to you graduates and working men and women what I wish someone had told me the day I graduated, and what took me years and years to realize and be convinced.
Looking back on my career journey, I had numerous opportunities ranging from being taken under the wings of major international corporations abroad, to upping my freelancing game, pursuing my passions, even enrolling in the Urban Design program at the American University of Beirut. The last I backed out of right after I got the acceptance letter, because it needed a full 2.5 years to be completed, and at the time I was so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, little did I know that that ladder cannot be climbed, because qualifications mean nothing in this part of the world, (and I rather not mention what helps getting promoted) and that had I focused on getting my degree I would have been somewhere else right now. You see, life is made up of a series of decisions. Each choice you make will lead you on a different path, and if once or twice an opportunity knocks at your door and you miss it, there’s no getting it back.
The thing with university majors and careers is that we decide them when we are in high school. At 15 years of age we are supposed to prep for SATs and other standardized tests, flip through dozens of majors to choose one we might like, and by the off chance we do fall in love with our education, we are never prepared to deal with what comes after graduation.
So you love your major but not your job? Get in line.
If you’re in the creative business it gets worse, because you are born a wild soul, an artist, and committing to sitting behind a computer all day and mechanically working with no input of your own is depressing. We all have dreams of starting our own practice, of living an alternative lifestyle but when we are thrust into the workforce the reality hits, and if you don’t get yourself out of it, you will regret it your entire life.
I rather not generalize when I’m speaking of universities so I will draw on my own experience. I studied architecture at the most prestigious university in the Middle East, the American University of Beirut. It was a costly and tiring 5 years including summer semesters and trainings to get to the finish line. Lucky for us at the time, only a handful of highly qualified students ever got into the program much less made it through. We had the opportunity to be exposed to international advisors, jury, workshops and turned out to be thinkers and creatives.
I graduated and was planning on setting up my own office right away when the 2006 war started a week after the commencement ceremony, and I was left with one option, employment. I got through a rough first year at a small office, where it was normal to work past midnight with no compensation, and even more normal to have your boss buzzing on your intercom on Sunday at 6 AM because he needs your help in submitting a project to a client. But when you’re a fresh graduate you pour your heart and soul into your work, right? I was asked to join a renowned firm later that year and in the blink of an eye a decade had passed, and while I lost a bit of myself along the way, my gut was always telling me there is something more outside the office walls.
The thing with routine is, you get used to it. Day in day out, a part of you dies but when you think of changing you are overcome with fear, fear of the unknown, fear of regret, fear of failure. When you are a parent you sacrifice a lot to be able to raise your children, enroll them in top daycares and schools and afford the expenses of life in this overpriced country, so you keep your feelings of wanting to break free of the norm and start over, you struggle daily to manage your kids in the morning while making it on time to work, scheduling everything on weekends, leaving the office not one minute before you are allowed to, to continue your draining routine, and by the time you are done you don’t have a shred of energy to do basic household chores, much less practice your hobbies. I had been struggling with the decision to start a new chapter in my life, dedicate more time to my home and fulfilling my ambitions, until one day it just happened, I left and I did not glance behind me. Not only did I turn the page, I closed the book. It was as if that part of me never existed, as if I had just begun breathing, the world at that moment was so full of possibilities. I do not regret a single moment of those years, the hardships and long days struggling helped me distinguish where to spend my energy, and for that and so much more I am thankful. But I do believe that kind and gentle people have it hard in this world, the more we give the more people expect of us. I had spent days and years wishing to start over, never having the guts to cut the cord. In the pits of my stomach I knew I was sacrificing precious time with my children and dedicating it to work where I was giving more than I was receiving, financially and emotionally. Everything happens for a reason, and the decisions we take or are led to take will lead us to something more meaningful and beautiful.
Do I regret not taking this decision earlier? Perhaps. I’m not sure. Had I done so earlier it would have been easier for me because I would still have been young, maybe single, with plenty of time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. But now at 33, it isn’t so bad, because each experience whether positive or negative, shaped who I am today. Careers, the kind you are passionate about, aren’t likely to start before 40 or 50, after a lifetime of disappointments to learn to put yourself first. Amidst all this, I do consider myself lucky to finally be able to think of myself and my personal goals. I recently had a chance meeting with many of my classmates, each of us has taken a different path. Architecture is a tough major, it gives us a base in engineering and design, in abstract thinking and construction management, but also paves the way to more diverse careers. Some of us are now filmmakers, cartoonists, jewelry designers, furniture designers, teachers, artists and musicians. My feelings of loss and mental turbulence are made calm by the realization that we are all on a journey to self discovery.
It took a lot of soul searching and years of racking my brain to finally figure out that I am not cut for office work. Don’t get me wrong, I am a model employee, always on time, always polite, always get the job done, putting in extra hours with no return, the whole nine yards. But I don’t want to wake up another 11 years from now not realizing any of my personal goals. I am not an impulsive person, had I been so I think I would have ran away immediately, but I exercise patience and perseverance. Now I realized that years of experience on a CV don’t mean anything if you’re an architect or a designer, your portfolio does the talking. So does how well you are read, how well you have traveled, how cultured you are. But that goes for any person, am I right?
Dear graduates or any one whose soul isn’t satisfied, the world is your oyster. Today is the age of small businesses, startups, momtrepreneurs, online shops, freelancers and girl bosses. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve, don’t expect validation from any of your superiors because you will live for their gratitude which you will never get, know your worth, educate yourself and don’t expect anyone to help, read a lot, be open to new opportunities, don’t be afraid of your managers’ opinions, know that if you do 1000 things right, they will look for something to blame you for, know that some people around you will be paid more than you to get one tenth of the work you get done, know that life is unfair but you don’t have to be the victim.
If someday in the future I do choose to be employed, it will be in a position I damn right deserve, with recognition and a salary that is fair to my qualifications, with flexible time to tend to my family. I have earned every right, I know my worth and won’t settle for anything less.
Stability is important, but sometimes you need to take risks to find yourself, and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to start fresh. I want to create, to work with passion, to spend sleepless nights building, writing, painting. I am finally free and I am finally happy. I am finally no longer breaking down every so often, sobbing and thinking of my life being flushed down the drain. I am finally away from negative energy that drained me, from jealous shallow individuals whose only aim in life is hating and spying instead of living their life. Until a few months ago my validation was laying in the hands of people, I will never make that mistake again. Right now I am able to spend time with my growing children, the single most important thing in this world, no amount of money will ever compensate the time I have lost, and I intend on catching up on that time by giving them my all. Right now I am not worrying about alarm clocks and traffic, about messy laundry and no time to cook meals, about the occasional long lunch break to tend to my children’s school affairs. Right now I am focused on my freelance work, connecting with people, networking with like minded individuals, living outside the box.
If ever you feel that I’m distant, don’t be offended, its just the way I am. I need to be alone most of the time and that’s ok. I never used to think it was ok, it’s very weird being different, but as I grew older and understood myself more, I realized that different is not necessarily bad. It took me a long while to find out what made me tick, and when I did, I didn’t run away from it, I owned it. Introversion isn’t shyness, it is merely the way some brains are wired, and instead of getting energy from other people, introverts search within to recharge their buttons.
Being a sensitive and a lone wolf child was no picnic. Even throughout my teen years and into early adulthood, the struggle was always there. While all my peers were busy making plans and socializing, I preferred to stay home with my random thoughts on the universe, my books, sketch pad, canvas and paint, old black and white movies, diary, classical music or my psychedelic rock.
You see, I never really needed company, I live a thousand lives in my head, I converse with myself, I find the answers in philosophy books. I could close myself in between four walls and watch TV and be involved in the characters’ lives, I could research topics of interest that would go on into the wee hours of the night.
As a kid I wasn’t that different, I would sit alone and write and illustrate novels. I would spend my entire summer reading books way beyond my years. One summer I read 100 books, I still dwell on those authors, their words, the words that shaped me. I still am a 5 year old at heart. I still do look in wonder as I see nature, the sky and stars.
I relish in my alone time, because without it I would go crazy, literally, insane. That being said, I am not a shy person, I speak my mind, I am not quiet, I can talk til eternity. What I do hate is small talk, I would take a long road instead of a shortcut if it means avoiding meaningless chitchat with someone I might bump in to. If we connect I can talk to you for hours and hide nothing. I have a tight circle of friends whom I love with every fiber of my being, who know and understand that when I’m angry I need my space, when I’m sad I cry, and when I’m in a bad mood I retire. Perhaps this is why I fluctuate and the way I am viewed by people who don’t know me as haughty, while in fact I’m not. That doesn’t mean I hate people, I do go out, frankly a lot. You can imagine how challenging attending events is for me, because again, small talk. But in spite of the efforts I make at being sociable, at the end of the day or week, I need my me time.
I am completely content with myself and I am truly at peace. For you see, this is my character, which I will not apologize for. This is my introversion. This is me.
To the general audience, bloggers are the ‘it’ crowd. They receive gifts, get invited to many events, and are pretty much everywhere in the press. While being a blogger definitely has its perks and I’ve enjoyed it so far, there is a downside that rarely anyone mentions. I’m pretty sure once I publish this I’m gonna want to add so much more but I’ll try to limit myself with the rants given below.
Blogging is not my job (in fact most bloggers have full time jobs). Why is that significant? Its because I have a job that takes up all my time during the day, afterwards I have my 2 kids, my husband and a home to care for. With what little time remains, I have my consultancies, my research, my hobbies, and myself to think of. How on earth do I find time to blog? I just do. Its not easy at all. Many times I just want to turn my brain off when I have some free time, but I have responsibilities towards my blog if I want to always be present in the blogosphere. But since blogging cannot be forced, it becomes a dilemma of making the time to write and actually wanting to write. I also suffer from a lack of inspiration. Many times I will have a writing outburst where I feel like pouring all my thoughts onto my blog, other times I go weeks without posting. I also have many drafts and unpublished posts waiting for what exactly? I don’t know. Blogging is writing, and writing is a creative process that cannot be forced.
Its true that bloggers have really cool and inspiring feeds, but that doesn’t come easily either. Social media is not for passing time anymore, a constant presence on all platforms is a must, and so is being up to date with the latest trends, hashtags and events happening. Many days I simply don’t feel like posting, and sometimes that mood turns into weeks. I’ve had that withdrawal before, so now I learned to prepare a few photos in advance to share on those specific days when I’m feeling under the weather. Editing pictures needs some thought, and if you want your profile to have a harmonious feel you must think of the overall effect that an additional photo will have on your feed. Speaking of taking photos and editing, I have come across the most hideous photos posted by some bloggers, it pains me to see them, and I wonder how they found the setup, lighting, angle and filter plausible. Because we live in a very visual era, photos mean a great deal, and yes an artistic eye is innate, but it wouldn’t hurt some of these online personas to brush up on their photography skills.
Choosing the right photo to upload on Instagram is not an easy task. If you are running a personal profile you can post whatever you want, a blog profile however is a whole other issue. People follow an account for a reason, perhaps they draw positivity from it or maybe they can relate to the person behind the screen; whatever the reason is, bloggers have a duty to post relevant content. Personally and since I’m a lifestyle blogger, my profile is a mixture of things I love and places I go to, but it doesn’t mean its an easy task either. If a blogger hasn’t found their niche, it becomes a tricky ordeal and if the topics shared become sporadic, the audience will lose interest.
Another issue is events. I started receiving invitations to attend events quite early in my blogging journey, specifically during my first month. I didn’t have to wait months or even a year to be summoned like most, and while I heard a lot of “wow you’re lucky” from many bloggers and friends, it really was a social shock for me, being thrust into a circle I wasn’t ready for. Invitations started pouring, and now I am literally booked every single day weeks in advance for multiple events during the same day. Many of these events are really cool, and as a lifestyle blogger I get to experience the best of all worlds. A new restaurant or bar opens or launches a new menu, I’m there. A fashion show or a boutique opening, count me in. A beauty brand introducing itself in the market, you bet. A seminar on parenting and health, front row. A luxury car unveiling its latest model, yes please. Red carpets, invitations, cocktail events, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and businessmen, and being at the forefront of the media to name a few, are some of the many perks. I have tried attending daytime events but that was very tough. Taking long lunch breaks and being stuck in horrible traffic, I ended up resenting the event I’m attending, and most times I felt that these gatherings were unproductive and the meetings useless so I stopped. And really, these agencies should give their day events some thought, because as I previously mentioned, we have jobs (most of the time its the client’s input and not the agency’s fault), so evenings are always better. Attending events is definitely a perk for social butterflies, but for homebodies like me, they are really hard. Countless times after having confirmed my attendance, I would want to cancel last minute because I wasn’t up for socializing, I just wanted to relax and unwind. But because I am a woman of my word, I would soldier on, put my best face forward after taking care of the kids and putting them to bed, and show up. Mind you I end up having fun but still, when I have nightly events to attend, it becomes rather tiring.
Bloggers also do suffer from the sudden emerging of the “Instagrammers”, meaning those who post on Instagram (sometimes very beautiful) photos and are called bloggers but in fact aren’t. To blog is to have an actual blog. Like it or not, this is a fad and an easy way to get exposure and the perks of blogger without taking the time to write a couple of coherent words. As I previously mentioned, writing isn’t all that easy and the inspiration isn’t always present, so taking the shortcut or perhaps lucking out is an issue we face when placed in the same media category as the aforementioned online users. Relevant to my drift of thought is the over dramatization of food. Meat is meat, chicken is chicken, fish is fish. It’s one thing to describe your dining experience using enticing language, but there is no need to go all Shakespeare on us. Many food related events leave me mouth agape while listening to the banter of very young adults debating existential food questions. Be real people, I’m all for stating an opinion, but please, less professional food critic mode and more relatable blogger speak.
Yes, being in a fashion entourage is fascinating, but this scene swallows you and spits you out and is relentless in between. If you don’t have a strong backbone you will get trampled over, or you will eventually change to fit in. But please, don’t change. It might be easy for me to stick to my guns because of my age and experience, but I hope that younger bloggers will be confident enough with themselves so they won’t feel the need to be someone they are not, or imitate another influencer just because they feel that’s the way they should go. Find who you are and what you love and let it be the driving force. I started my blog knowing that my style is effortless and casual, just what the average mom would wear. I have stated many times before about how I do what makes me happy and wear what is most comfortable to me. If I’m attending a fancy event, I go confidently in flats. If I’m invited to a makeup event, I go bare-faced. I truly do not care what this industry thinks of me, they can say what they want behind my back if that makes them feel important, while I carry on with my life. I frequently meet so many young ladies who love my personal style and no makeup philosophy, and I know then that my blog and persona has made an impression. Best of all, that has happened on its own, without me having to change anything about myself.
Many times a brand will reach out to collaborate or will want to promote their products, and more times than not, these brands will refuse to give us compensation for our trouble or for a spot on our blog and Instagram. They somehow twist it to seem that they are bestowing upon us the honor of their name being related to our blog. While in some cases this might be true, the majority just want free spots on our social media platforms instead of shelling out for advertising in a magazine or on a billboard. I have fallen trap to such clients but since then I have become aware of the reach that my blog has, and its up to me to choose if the whole collaboration is worth it for me, and whether or not I require anything in return. Having mentioned that, and while its perfectly fine to make a living out of blogging, too many sponsored posts make the blogger lose credibility in the same way that too many news posts turn a blog into a news feed. I personally prefer to stay true to my initial blog path which is sharing and encouraging women to be themselves.
As bloggers we receive a lot of gifts from new stores or from shops that are launching new collections or products. While that is a major plus, there still lies the struggle of sharing on social media. Many choose not to reveal what they received as gifts. Others claim that these products are their favorites when they compile a blog post. I personally share the gift on my social media platforms and if I feel necessary, I do so on the blog. Sharing the gifts I receive is also work. I have products delivered to me almost daily, and if I want to Instagram them on a daily basis, what would my feed be like? I am not an advertisement platform so I have to carefully balance both aspects of my page, which ends up meaning a lot of delayed posts and thank yous. A little note to PR agencies: bloggers talk. Yes we do, and we know who is receiving what, even if its not being posted on social media. So pay attention to who you are including or excluding in your product distribution, because if you don’t treat a blogger fairly, don’t expect them to attend your event and promote your product. If you are sending out a promotional product relating to a luxury event, also make sure you include all bloggers. I have had many incidents such as these, and at first I thought it would be beneath me to come flat out and face the representatives, but as time passed I started looking them straight in the eye and calling them out on their behavior. Sometimes I even make it clear enough with a few agencies that I don’t want anything to do with them. You think I will suck up to get freebies? Think again. Unfortunately, many bloggers do. In fact some even started their blogs so they can receive gifts, which is the worst motive ever for wanting to blog. Another issue I want to raise is the unprofessional organization of some events. Food events with a single tray of finger food? No. A pub opening without their main advertised alcohol brand? No. Fitness events that turn out to be public, and the relevant personnel not being on location? No. A restaurant opening where the service starts 2 hours after the time mentioned on the invitation and when the food arrives, it is laughably minimal and tasteless? No. An invitation being sent with the absolute wrong timing? No. A makeup event where a beauty blogger is not invited while social bloggers are? No. A fancy hotel dinner and an irrelevant focus group of bloggers? No. Invitations to environmental related events when the same agency previously chose to ignore you as an invitee for a cool event. Not cool, but not a no because I love supporting NGOs. A blogger who happens to be an artist not receiving a certain clothing item to style for an event while many others did. Heck no. I could go on and on, unfortunately those situations happened and are happening because some agencies have under-qualified staff working on these events.
Online wars is a major con. There are always people who feel that every tweet or Instagram quote is about them. There are people who don’t talk to you because their blogger friend doesn’t like you for no apparent reason. Rise above that and stand alone. On the other hand, online friendships can flourish into real life ones, and the bonds created are real and deep. I had to go through a couple of tough situations and fake people to learn my lesson of distinguishing those who prey on a good heart and those who are true to it. I am lucky to have met ladies and gentlemen online from all walks of life, young and old, and we have each others backs.
Being a blogger is similar to being a public figure, not in terms of the celebrity status, because in no way are we such (although many “influencers” will have you convinced) but in a way that makes you feel exposed. The issue of sharing too much is always a risk. As a mom I do want to share parts of my life with my readers but I am careful not to compromise my children’s privacy. While I share a lot of my daily unfiltered life on Snapchat, I do so because I am showing what motherhood is really like. Instagram fashionista moms have got the community thinking this is the norm. No its not. You never know what’s going on behind closed doors, the perfect “Chanel mom” you see on social media probably has her hair up in a bun and has been awake multiple times per night to tend to her kids, supposing she is indeed a hands on mom, but I digress.
The number of followers you have is an important factor for PR agencies, but it is not everything. A lot of accounts have 50 or 100 thousand followers with no real substance and minimal engagement, while accounts with around 5000 followers have me intrigued for their beautiful and meaningful posts. Unfortunately the accounts with a high number of followers whether real or fake will get more attention and will be signing contracts and ambassadorships whilst the low profile creative accounts will go unnoticed. A lot of brands will hastily have a certain blogger on board without doing a background check to confirm their credibility and even their writing skills, but while they don’t, the audience knows and this lessens the brand’s value.
I hope I didn’t ramble too much, and if you made it to the end of this post, thank you!
I get asked by almost everyone I meet on how I’m able to find time to think of posts, write and attend events, my response is always that if you love something you will make time. Unlike how most describe me, no I am not a superwoman, I am just a woman who likes to keep her hands full while being well organized, a woman who is career oriented but more so family comes first, a woman who has many ambitions and aspirations and will not give up on them because of minor temporary hindrances.
Indeed it has been a busy year, between my pregnancy and the birth of my 2nd baby, I had to decline some invitations to attend openings and ceremonies but made it to many others. I stand by the first impression the blogging world has made on me (read it here), and I am thankful that my blog started as and will always be a hobby for me, thus I do not compete with anyone because I do not belong in the same category as others who have social media and blogging as their full time paying job. I restate that I am doing this out of my love for writing, helping and making sure I voice my opinion on various issues in a world of many conformists.
It is tough to be constantly thrown into social events without it changing you one way or another, unless you have thick skin. I have witnessed many social climbers, a lot of gossip, shallow crowds and ladies changing their style to the extent that they lose their identity. I still am me as I will forever be, unchanged, unfiltered, not even noticing the judgmental people that might cross my path. I am 32 years old, I am a proud mother, a lucky wife, and a hard working architect, so no one’s opinion is ever relevant. I still attend events in my own style, in my denim, in my sneakers, in no or minimal makeup, with my natural wavy hair. I am keen on being proper and will wear my favorite designers in a subdued manner, nothing over the top fancy-shmancy-look-at-me-I’m-gorgeous kind of way, and I won’t waste time glamming up when I could use that time to be with my kids, to research, to practice my hobbies. Mind you, I usually have a 10 minute window after work and taking care of the kids, to shower and get going, so if I look human its fine by me!
I refuse to adapt. Why you ask? Because as I repeatedly state, the world needs less copies and more originals. And those who are ‘in’ right now will eventually be ‘out’ unless they have real substance. As for the direction I’m headed, I will continue to bring you honest reviews in a sea of sponsored posts where each item becomes a ‘favorite’ or a ‘must have’, those for me will be the tried and tested, be it beauty, fashion or dining experiences, and I’d rather stop blogging altogether if it means losing my credibility like many have done. I am happy to have the privilege of being an ‘influencer’ as some label me, especially when it comes to self confidence, to positive parenting, and practical lifestyle choices.
One thing I can safely say is that foodies are the best, and that food related events are often the most fun, least fake, filled with laughter, good mood, and friendliness. Also the new generation of young style bloggers are absolutely beaming with energy, they are genuine, can joke about themselves and are great to be around. Mom bloggers and Instagrammers are also wonderful people and there is an unspoken code of understanding between us all. If I feel forced to blend in a certain crowd, I don’t want to be a part of it.
Another thing I have learned is that when it comes to PR agencies, and especially since I have the luxury of not giving a damn (check the ‘not my job’ part above), I get to be choosy and not let favoritism slide, and if I am not addressed properly, I refuse the engagement altogether. I am not a ‘Dear Editor’, I am not a last minute invite, no I won’t publish your press release, no I won’t blog about something I’m not passionate about or against my convictions, and no I can’t be bought. I won’t be dealt with any less than my peers and if I notice a difference in treatment you can bet I won’t collaborate with you again. If you manage luxury brands I won’t suck up to earn your acceptance, because it is you who should earn mine. You see I have nothing to lose, I think of myself highly, and I treat you the way you treat me. As for all the respectful PRs who work hard at organizing events I am always keen to attend, I apologize if I miss out on some gatherings, my free time is minimal, and I have a lot to juggle.
This photo taken a couple of days ago, is an actual #IWokeUpLikeThis from an hour’s nap because I have been on minimal sleep, so yeah this is me barefaced, messy haired, proudly Maria. For those who are following me on my Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat (user name for all: stylememaria) and Facebook page (Style Me Maria), you have seen me at my best and worst, thank you for relating to me and for your support. Year 2 has come to an end so lets see what this coming year has to offer!