For Millennials like myself, there’s a general feeling that you cannot make real connections online. And while advertisers would profess in creating communities by selling you tons of ads, social media platforms, like coffee shops, are just places, albeit digital places, to meet interesting people. On the plus side, you get to read about what they put out in the world first, before choosing to get to know them.
I came across Ariel’s Instagram and I instantly fell in love! She exudes positivity while tackling a very real subject: mental health. Some of her posts opened a very vulnerable side of myself and so naturally I had to get to know her more. I reached out and unsurprisingly a kind, joyful girl generously opened up to me.
Here are the highlights of my conversation with her, one casual Monday afternoon:
Me : Ariel, I want to just get to know you a little bit more. Tell me, who are you and what led you to Instagram?
A : With a huge smile she humbly says: “It’s so funny, because I’m like, you already know everything. I mean, my name is Ariel, I live in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I still live very very close to my parents.
Being born in the early 90s, I feel like I grew up with the internet. We didn’t get to access the internet until we were a little bit older, and that’s definitely why it drew me to it… Because I had finally access to it! :) And you know I was there at the start of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube… all of these giant platforms. And being a young girl, I wanted to join all these platforms as they came up.
So it started with MySpace, tried Tumblr, and then Flickr, where I did a lot of photography; then Instagram came around. I got into Instagram pretty quickly by following different brands. At that point, I worked at a boutique up in Santa Cruz, California. I moved there for six years and they carried a lot of more sustainable, more ethically-minded brands. So I started following those brands on Instagram, which then led me to find creators. In the early days of influencers, a lot of the creators in sustainability were mostly white, beautiful, tall, thin, and it was definitely people I looked up to. But it was obviously never attainable for me. When I found BIPOC creators, women of color, indigenous, black, brown folks, and creators that looked a little bit more like me, I was like, Okay, this is the space I want to be in.” And with an ecstatic gesture: “This is it, I found it. Oh my gosh, my people!”
Me : Wow! I LOVE that! Seeing the journey of finding your own people and feeling that you belong in this space. This is a recurring topic in your writing, about wellbeing, tell me what does Mental Health mean to you and what motivates you?
A : “My mental health journey has been something I’ve always shared on the internet. I think because of my cultural background. My mom is from Mexico and my dad is from El Salvador. We have a very traditional Latino family structure. Mental health is very hush-hush.. Not something you talk about within the community, but rather keep it behind closed doors. It is as if you don’t let people in because it might show that you’re weak.
Being a child of immigrants, it’s all about being strong. They have the best intentions, but from their experience of always needing to be strong and on top of things, they push that expectation onto their kids. In my family, mental health was never talked about, and so I just went to the internet to talk about it. It came out of necessity. I think I just needed it, all these thoughts and all the struggles needed to go somewhere. I heard some of my friends starting blogs and myself doing a lot of photography, I just found my medium with Instagram. “
Me : I totally relate. Being born in Belgium, my Taiwanese parents were first gen immigrant who did not speak the language and they owned a Chinese restaurant. It was really hard for them to survive and they projected that mindset unto us. One of your post talks about how you held your crying as a child because no one cared. That is such a powerful plea, can you tell me more about the your message here?
A : “I was talking to my sister recently about something and she said something along the lines of: Your amount of empathy is surprising, because when you were younger, you seemingly didn’t have any… And I was like, oh, Thank you! But after a thought, I agreed. I think when I was younger, I very much walled up. I let nothing come out or come in. I was like, I’m not going to deal with that.
But now, older, I’ve gone through more things and I came to embrace my tears, embrace my feelings, embrace all my struggles with mental health. I wrote that post because it’s just gotten to a point where even my body was saying like: this is coming up - you’ve tried to stifle all of this and ‘we’ can’t do that anymore. So now, older, I’m kind of healing my younger self. And it’s okay to cry. It’s very much needed because it’s not only a release, but it’s a moment to check in with yourself.”
Me : I absolutely love it. This leads to your work. You’re articulating those feelings that are not often shared. And for someone like me who is not very vocal about my feelings, scrolling down social media and seeing that someone else is experiencing the same thing is so important. Now shifting gear, everyone has a different way of defining eco friendly, I'd love to hear what is your journey into sustainability?
A : “I think for me, it's just about doing your best with what you have and I think that is literally the most sustainable thing to do. I mean you can’t scrap everything you own and give yourself such rigid rules and lifestyle of “I'm never going to buy plastic”, “I'm never going to eat meat”. By saying I'm never going to shop fast fashion, then that just sets yourself up for failure. It’s more sustainable to do it in bite size, step by step, like using what you already have. And when you do use something up, then that can be a good time to loof for more eco friendly swaps.
For me, it’s all about slow living. I know that's like a big buzzword these days, but slowing down helps you identify what is the intention behind the urge. So, say when you have an urge for retail therapy, taking the time to think where is this coming from? Usually you find that what you are really seeking is happiness or something new to offer you fulfillment. Taking a moment to realize it, you can choose to do a new project instead of shopping to fulfill what you are actually seeking. By slowing down, you get to be more intentional with your choices.”
My conversation with Ariel was definitely a fulfilling moment. Instead of just aimlessly scrolling down the Gram, I took a chance to reach out and have a genuine conversation.
In a post-covid world, where meeting via Zoom or Google Meet has been normalized, why not reach out to the person on the other side of a social media account and get to know them? Connections start with reaching out. And as some people think our digital world create loneliness, I say, the solution is only a DM away.
Interview of Ariel (@helloarielchristine)
Ariel is your neighborhood Mexi/Salvi