Larissa May: Founder of #HalftheStory
When she was eighteen, Larissa May, more commonly known as Larz, started at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee clinging onto her dreams of entering the exciting world of fashion and entertainment. As a freshman, she decided to start a fashion blog, “Livin’ Like Larz,” to take her first steps into her career. The blog quickly took off, and she saw her dreams blossom in front of her—working in L.A. and New York, studying abroad in Paris, and covering various fashion shows. But in her sophomore year at Vanderbilt, social media also became a way for her to hide the less “glamorous” part of her life, which was extremely significant. She experienced a bout of depression and slowly began to understand how social media could be a double-edged sword. In her senior year, May realized that she was not alone. Whether on campus or at a major city’s fashion week, people were being impacted by social media in ways both positive and negative. Whether or not we recognize it ourselves, social media affects our mental health in ways that we’re determined to keep hidden. She wanted to find a way to change that.
Thus began her social media campaign, #HalftheStory. #HalftheStory was created to bring about truly positive connections through social media itself. On social media, we tend to post very limited portrayals of our lives, careers, and hopes. May’s goal in beginning the campaign was to open the dialogue of social media to include the other half, the pieces of our lives that we don’t post due to stigma, insecurity, fear, anxiety, image, or whatever it might be. She wants to show that people are not alone in their experiences and that everyone has more to them than their online profiles might suggest. Even more importantly, #HalftheStory is showcasing that real connections can be made online once we surpass the superficial.
To those who feel trapped by social media, May’s advice is to identify triggers, whether that be certain accounts or a certain time when checking your phone makes the negative weight of social media more apparent. But #HalftheStory can also be a step for those in similar positions to alter the way we think about these platforms in order to change that narrative, both online and off.
Now, #HalftheStory, which is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has become a global campaign, promoting “life unfiltered.” It seeks to celebrate the true human experience of individuals sharing their passions, talents, struggles, identity, and beliefs in order to create deep-seated connection which typical social media often lacks. May hopes to continue sharing her story and the stories of others to show that it is possible to wield social media for the good.
Olivia Jimenez: How can #HalftheStory shatter walls for women or young girls?
Larissa May: One of the biggest things about social media is that it’s kind of a big comparison game and I think, especially for young women who are really developing who they are and coming to terms with that and really figuring out their own identity, I think social media makes it a sort of complicated process because it makes it seem like life is so much easier than it actually is. So, my goal for young women is to really use #HalftheStory as a page and a way to look and connect with people on other things besides the surface-level values. Our community talks a lot about struggles and passions and all these different things that actually make us human which are outside the conventional conversations that usually appear on social media.
One of the things that we realize through this is that, as women, whether in America or Africa or South Korea, is that we’re all facing similar struggles to varying degrees and we’ve realized that through our program and through our stories that we’ve heard from young women in South Korea or Africa who are victims of domestic abuse, or were, and I think creating that awareness so that people know they aren’t alone is a really important part of our community.
Jimenez: So that’s a little bit about how it’s impacted people already. How would you like it to impact people in the future?
May: I think really this is the most exciting piece. When we think about the next step for #HalftheStory, we are working on building a non-for-profit where we can actually conduct research in understanding how technology can work for us rather than against us. So, what that looks like is: how can we use machine learning and A.I. to prevent these negative effects of depression and anxiety or of social media on our mental health? So, I think in the future that, yes, storytelling is the first step in reducing the stigma, but then the following step is really the solution. Again, we can’t really run away from technology. So, let’s work together, let’s research, let’s gather the brightest minds in the room and from across the world to understand what types of systems we can build to help protect us.
Jimenez: #HalftheStory began partly because of your own experience pursuing fashion and entertainment. How has it changed the way people present their career or startup experiences online, because a lot of the time it seems glamorous but it’s actually a lot harder than people put out?
May: I think that’s one of the things we’ve tried highlighting, especially for Entrepreneur Month, was talking about the other side. Actually, I think entrepreneurs, the stat is something like 60% are likely to struggle from a mental health issue. I think, especially seeing the unfortunate news of Kate Spade this week, it’s more important than ever to shed light on the challenges of building a business and the hold that it can really have on a founders’ mental health because we need to. Unfortunately, it takes someone like Kate Spade or Alexander McQueen, or someone large to let us really have conversations about this. But, I mean it’s scary how many creators and entrepreneurs have committed suicide, worldwide ones, in the past year and I think, for us, we definitely want to shed more light on that.
Jimenez: How has #HalftheStory changed you?
May: It’s kind of changed my life in a lot of ways. I think, the first part is that my mission, it’s giving me a lot of purpose in realizing that my story can open the doors and help a lot of people, so I think my approach to social media is very different. I’ve become less concerned with social media. I still love it, and I connect with a lot of young women, but the reason that I’m on it is so much bigger than myself. So, that’s sort of one thing that’s really important to me.
I think another thing, too, is cutting the B.S., pardon the French. But, when I meet people, I don’t do small talk, like I don’t believe in that anymore. I don’t have time for it. I really want to change conversations online so we can ultimately make an impact offline.
Jimenez: So, kind of going off that, in a Ted Talk you said, “Are we searching for friends or followers? Are we searching for likes or love?” I found that really powerful. But, how can social media actually get us closer to finding friends rather than followers or love rather than likes?
May: I think that’s the most amazing part about it. You can, through social media, we can actually meet people and connect with them and then translate that into real life. I think that’s what it’s about. Kids are spending 40% less time with their friends than they did in 2015, which is a significant decrease. I think we use the relationships online and translate them offline. But I also think that social media, especially with #HalftheStory, can be such a supportive tool for someone who is going through a tough time, and really supporting them on their journey, especially when they’re feeling alone, can be such a powerful tool to help support someone or to just stop in to let them know that you’re thinking of them.
In terms of love, I think social media is no longer separate from our real life. Like, social media is a part of our real life. So, I think if we practice compassion and honesty and gratitude in the same way that we do in our real life (not for everyone, but hopefully most people), then I think we can make a profound impact on the ways that people engage around the world.
Jimenez: So, would you say that #HalftheStory has created an empowering community?
May: I think we’ve really built micro-communities in a lot of ways. I think #HalftheStory is like one big community, but I think that we’ve built a lot of communities on our own. It’s just like become the ripple effect. So, I think the power of this is that, yeah, we can build one place but we’re building small communities around the world.
Author: Olivia Jimenez
Olivia Jimenez is twenty years old from Miami, Florida. She is a student at Georgetown University where she is studying English and Psychology with a minor in Film and Media Studies. In her free time, you can find her watching The Office, thinking about house plants, or searching for a chocolate chip cookie. She is excited to join the Make Muse team to develop her feminism and artistic expression while contributing to a necessary and beautiful space.