Am I pretty? And other ways we use the internet...

A couple of weeks ago I came across something on the internet that made my heart and my head hurt. It made me hurt for the awkward, unpopular, misunderstood, lost teenage girl that I was oh so many years ago, and it made me hurt for all the awkward, unpopular, misunderstood, and lost teenage girls that are doing this THING today.. The thing I am talking about is a YouTube phenomenon called, " Am I Pretty or Ugly?".  Girls, many of them young teenagers, upload a video of themselves and ask the collective opinion of the brutally honest (read: cruel) YouTube commenters to tell them if they are, you guessed it, pretty or ugly.

I am simultaneously saddened that hundreds of girls are doing this (There are almost 600,000 results when you search for "am I pretty or ugly" on Youtube) and I am curious as to how this phenomenon differs from our culture of sharing/oversharing/liking/+1'ing/RTing and so on that we do everyday on all our various social media sites. If you really think about this, have we actually progressed that far from that insecure teenager looking for some kind of validation?

And if we are also being brutally honest here and the answer is not really, then why is that?

We post multiple different kinds of selfies all over the internet. We post pictures of cakes we have baked and delicious meals we have prepared. We post before and after pictures of our house cleaning. We post pictures of our fancy new nail polish application. We post our #NewDo pics. We post our sweaty faces after a good workout. And then we wait. We wait for the validation of our efforts. We wait for the likes, the <3, the fancy emoticon hearts. We wait for the comments. We wait to be told from friends and strangers alike that, "Yes, yes indeed, you are pretty, talented, organized, creative, sparkly, strong, brilliant, hilarious!" We would all be lying through our teeth if we didn't admit to feeling that validation, that sense of "they like me, they really, really LIKE me" every time there is a new like or comment or favourite or RT on any of the different ways we broadcast ourselves each and every day.

I think we are all guilty of doing a bit of the "am I pretty or ugly" game. We just frame it differently now that we are grown-ups and are, of course, fully confident in ourselves and our lives (ha!). For the most part, we also choose our audience better too (although I suppose this is debatable depending on your followers or friends lists).

Is it any wonder that our children are now using these tools and these sites to seek validation about themselves? Think of the examples we are setting for them all the time. We record all of their special moments and tell ourselves that we are going to go home and make a wonderful video montage of their lives for posterity and what do we do instead? We upload it to Vine or Instagram or Facebook and wait for the "OMG!! So much CUTENESS!!!" comments. We lose the pure thrill of the moment and wait for the thrill of "sharing" that moment with everyone else. We are essentially showing our children that they exist for others entertainment, for mommy and daddy to broadcast to the world and we are telling them that the internet gets a say in their lives. So, it begs the question then, why wouldn't they then take control of this into their own hands once they are able to and seek that validation on their own?

Look, I am not trying to be a hypocrite. I post A LOT of pictures and videos of my kids online. As they get older though, I am becoming more and more aware of how this can and WILL affect them in the future. They will see their photos on the internet and they will see the comments. They will see MY comments and they will read what others have said about them too, the good and the bad.

Something in all of this brings me back to what I learned from Gordon Neufeld last year at his "Raising Kids in a Digital Age" lecture. I went back and had a look at my notes and his slides and found the one I was thinking about.

Neufeld's Roots of Attachment

Dr. Neufeld calls this diagram the "roots of attachment". These roots are the things that all children, all human beings, need to feel like they belong, that they are loved, that they have a strong home base that they are attached to. It's our job as parents to provide all of these things, to ensure that these "roots" have a good strong hold in the ground before the "plant" can grow to its full potential. Yet if you take a closer look at all of these things, most of them can be associated with or superficially fulfilled by one form of Social Media or another. Contact and connection - Friend Request and Follow. Approval and significance - LIKE and RT. Belonging and loyalty - Groups and Lists and Circles. Warmth and Love - comments and <3 and :-) faces!

Listen, you don't have to be a renowned child psychologist to figure out that the internet in all its glorious connectivity, is actually removing us from true human connection and attachment. That in our attempts to give our children all they need to be independent and "successful" in this world, we are actually letting them loose into a world that, for the most part, does not CARE about their best interests, that can and will judge them anonymously for every flaw and every wrinkle in the pattern of their being. Unless we really start to think about how we are raising our children (and how we ourselves are behaving and using Social Media) in this digital age, we are running the risk that our children will see themselves through the distorted and superficial lens of something that, try as they might (through asking questions like "Am I pretty or ugly?) will never fill up their basic human need for connection and attachment and a true sense of self-worth.

I realize that Youtube and social media and the internet are not going anywhere. I just hope that I am setting a good example for my children about how to use it responsibly and also making sure that overall, the roots of their budding trees are getting all the watering and nutrients that they need to thrive in this world, both online and off.


*For more information about the 'Am I pretty or ugly?' phenomenon, check out the website and project that performance artist Louise Orwin has started about it.


To tweet or not to tweet: That is the question.

I have been active on Twitter for almost 4 years. I was @naturalurbanmom for most of that, @SAHFeminist for a bit and now you can find me @NatashaChiam. I have sent almost 28,000 tweets in that time, have just over 4000 followers and am following ~1900 folks myself. I use Twitter in a few different ways. It is a way for me to stay up to date with news and world events (I follow a few trusted news agencies), to know what's going on in circles that matter to me (feminism, parenting, #YEG), to share my writing and blog with a larger audience and to stay in contact with friends near and far.

I LIKE Twitter. A LOT. I like that it is a real-time social tool and I like a lot of the people I have "met" via this platform. And on Twitter, I am ME. Yes, it also says Stay@HomeFeminist on my profile, and I live that reality every day, online and off.

But like anything in our highly digital world these days, Twitter has an ugly side. Or rather, Twitter allows for the ugly side of humanity to manifest itself a little bit easier.

We see it time and time again. A beautiful woman of colour wins the Miss America pageant and BOOM! The VERY ugly side of Twitter erupts. A woman wants to talk about Tropes in video games/pop culture and her life is threatened. And you can find countless awful examples of sexism and racism all over social media. These days Twitter is the no-holds-barred medium of the troll, the bully, the poor-priveledged-me's and the NIMBY's of the world and you can actually fit quite a few mean and hateful words into 140 characters.

Twitter seems to also be the place for people to have "personas". There is a whole subculture of Twitter, the so-called 'Weird Twitter', where people have anonymous accounts to which they can post all kinds of wacky, often highly inappropriate for everyday conversation things and they get to be all, well... weird. I am not knocking it, I just really don't get it.

And then there are the people who are "really nice IRL (in real life) or offline, but assholes online." To be perfectly honest, these are the ones that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around and the ones that piss me off the most. These are the subtweeters, the "I am not saying anything directly to you, or about you, but I'll just tweet MY OPINION about this topic and you can't get offended because it is only my opinion and it's not my fault if you don't like it."  These online assholes are the subtle or not so subtle mockers of the internet. The ones that for some reason actually believe that their ONLINE personas do not represent the 'real' them and because of this and to keep up the act, think that it is totally acceptable for them to be assholes online.

The problem as I see it is this. An asshole is an asshole is an asshole. Whether you are online or off, 140 characters or 1200 words or face-to-face. And you can replace asshole with bully, or someone who plays the victim all the time, or any number of folks who insist on maintaining that their online 'personas' are separate from the real them.

This clip from Louis CK on Conan has been making the rounds this week and I am going to post it again. And while he is talking about why cell phones (and by extension what kids are doing on said cell phones) are toxic for our children, I think that too much of anything is toxic for ANYONE and that too much social media puts us all at risk of losing some of our empathy and turning into the "stupid kids".


The validation that people get with a RT or an LMAO or a 'LIKE' is NOT real. The mean words that people write on any social media platform are and can have profound effects on others and for the most part, there are no real world consequences for them. Often these exchanges get chalked up to, "You misinterpreted my TONE' , and/or the apology of the bully, 'I'm sorry you felt bad and misunderstood my words, but that is on you, not me'. Yeah, online or IRL, that shit doesn't fly with me (and for me that kind of behaviour online often results in an unfollow and/or block).

Like she was reading my mind today, Glennon at The Momastery wrote about the dangers of social media (and cereal). She took a 40 day hiatus from social media and learned some life lessons that I definitely needed reminding of today.

"During my internet fast, I learned that Social Media makes me feel bad. I wish I were cooler so it wouldn’t affect me, but it does. I once saw an Olympic swimmer interviewed after winning a race and she said “I swim best when I mentally stay in my own lane.” Me too. Social media just takes me right out of my own lane- every single time. No matter how satisfied I am with my life, career, family, social life – as soon as I log on and peek into others’ lives, I immediately feel that unease caused by comparison. I start to doubt myself. I just feel a little kernel of doubt settle into my gut and it feels really bad. Comparison is the thief of joy, and social media is a breeding ground for comparison."

And I'd go one step further and say that social media is also a breeding ground for those that like to bulldoze over others in the name of "having an opinion" and for people to let their inner asshole out to play with little to no regard for others or the consequences of their 140 characters.

It's enough to make a girl want to go on an internet fast of her own.

Which is what I just might do.


Starting in about 10 days.

You know, after I get back from that, ahem... social media/blogging conference thing.

{I know, I know, I have a problem.}

Signing off

{for today},



make your bed and be on time

Happiness is a funny thing. Sometimes it hits you just as hard as its arch-nemesis, sadness and/or depression.

And then you don't know what to do about it.

You don't want to talk about it, because then you'll *JINX* it. You don't want to celebrate anything too wildly, because you don't want to seem boastful or like you are rubbing it in anyone's face. And because of the nature of our often cruel and spiteful world, you hold your breath, silently enjoying your happy, while at the same time, constantly looking over your shoulder, waiting for that ominous other shoe to drop.

But why should anyone feel ashamed of being happy? That just seems incredibly counter intuitive to the whole concept.

Yet, there it is.

I'd like to blame the Internet for this shame (or more specifically, Facebook), but that's not quite right. The Internet, for all that we capitalize the word, it not an identity, not a person or persons that we can "blame" for our happiness, our sadness, or any emotion that we feel. The Internet is a means of communicating, of connecting and of sharing information. How we FEEL about that information is completely up to us. We are in charge of our use of it and of how much or how little of it we filter.

Last week, I read about tech journalist Paul Miller's return to the Internet after 365 days offline. I think most people, including Paul, expected this grand epiphany to occur during his time away from the digital world. He left the internet to find the 'Real Paul', because he thought that being online had somehow 'corrupted' him. What he in fact ended up realizing was not quite what he had in mind.

What I do know is that I can't blame the internet, or any circumstance, for my problems. I have many of the same priorities I had before I left the internet: family, friends, work, learning. And I have no guarantee I'll stick with them when I get back on the internet — I probably won't, to be honest. But at least I'll know that it's not the internet's fault. I'll know who's responsible, and who can fix it.

Right now, at this moment in my life, I am happier than I have been in months.

Life does not feel overwhelming to me right now. Maybe it is because I have slowed down and am paying closer attention to the little things more. Maybe it's because I am paying someone a crap-load of money to let me cry buckets in her office and leave all of the sadness there before our time is up. Maybe it's because I have FINALLY realized that flying by the seat of one's pants is not always the best way to go about one's life, especially when you are the one responsible for other, smaller people's lives as well.

I believe that a strange combination of a lot of little things has added up to me being a happier, more calm, more zen version of me than I have ever been before. Some of these things may seem silly, but here are just a few examples of what makes me feel happy these days.

All the beds are made every morning in our house. I never thought of unmade beds as a big deal before. We were just going to go to sleep in them again in 12-16 hours, so why bother making them? Well, I am here to tell you that it does make a difference. A made bed looks better, it makes you feel ORGANIZED and it gives you a good jumping off point in the mornings. And why spend all that money on a fancy duvet cover only to crumple it up in a ball every day?

make your bed

Being on time. For those of  you who don't know me very well, punctuality is NOT one of my virtues. It's a running joke within my family that I am told to arrive at least 30 minutes before the actual start time for any important events. My clock in my car is set 17 minutes ahead for the same reason. It got to the point that the one time a few months ago when we were early for an appointment and I mentioned this to the kids, my son looked at me and said, "Mom, what does early mean?" I vowed then and there to change that and for the most part, I have. Now he asks me if we are going to be TOO early everywhere we go.

Date nights. My husband and I have always had date nights, but we used to fill them with things to do. We would go to a movie or shop or stroll through Ikea or go for a drive. Date nights now are dinner at a new restaurant we haven't tried before. They are a minimum of three hours long and we eat wonderful food and we TALK. We talk about our life, we talk about others, we discuss plans for the future, we people watch and and *sometimes* we make up funny stories about the folks at the next table. We sit across the table and give each other our undivided attention. It's not just about getting out of the house and away from the kids, it's about growing together and discovering all over again why we love each other so much. And... *ahem*... all that intellectual stimulation makes for great foreplay!

No more Facebook. I know it seems silly and according to Paul, was not what was making him unhappy, but for me, not engaging on Facebook has somehow given me a release from something that was holding me back. I can't quite articulate what that something was just yet, but I do know that it is not there anymore. I admit that I do creep on FB sometimes and have to keep my account active to manage the page for the  Natural Urban Mamas community, but I do not LIKE or COMMENT on anything. It simply doesn't seem genuine to me anymore and although I can see and love all the new baby/new house/new car/fabulous vacations that you are all posting about, I really would rather we went for coffee or I popped over to see you and the baby/house/car/pictures in person.

Losing the fear of just being ME. The other day, my good friend Jen Banks asked me to present an award at The Yeggies, a celebration of all the local and amazing social media folks in my fair city. I was thrilled to do so and immediately said yes. The wonderful Tanis Miller won for Best in Family and Parenting and it was an honour to present the woman who inspired me to blog this well-deserved award. Afterwards someone asked me if I was scared speaking in front of a room full of so many people. I said no, not at all. I may have been nervous right before I hit the stage, but I was not afraid. A few weeks ago, I changed my Twitter handle from @SAHFeminist to @NatashaChiam. And while it is a bit scary to put one's REAL name out there for all the Internet to see, it felt right. Just like being up on a stage with a microphone in front of me does.

It's a strange thing to be fearless. I don't think that it means to fear nothing. That would just be silly, because if a tiger escaped from the zoo and made its way to my back yard, trust me, there would be FEAR (and possibly some soiled underpants as well). I think fearless means to be brave and the dictionary defines brave as "being able to face fear and danger without flinching." *I* say being brave and fearless means being able to face LIFE without flinching.

And in that regard, I believe that fearlessness is a direct line to happiness. If we can face our lives without flinching, if we can own who we are, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, and if we can do so honestly, than one day, without you even seeing it coming, HAPPINESS is going to come right up to you, smack you in the face and say,




Photo Credit: Sparklerawk on Flickr


What about you? How do you define happiness? Or fearlessness?