This 23-Year-Old Wants to Make Social Media Less Harmful to Our Mental Health—And a Lot More Authentic
Through her nonprofit #HalfTheStory, Larissa May is encouraging people to share their lives "unfiltered."
This interview is part of Health’s #RealLifeStrong series, where we are celebrating women who represent strength, resilience, and grace.
During her senior year of college, Larissa “Larz” May started #HalfTheStory, a social media platform where people are invited to post a rawer, unedited version of their experiences. To date, individuals from more than 99 countries have contributed. Here, the 23-year-old opens up about the epiphany that inspired #HalfTheStory, and why telling your whole story can be so liberating.
What moved you to launch #HalfTheStory?
#HalfTheStory encourages you to show a piece of yourself that others wouldn't normally see in your social media story. In two words, it's life unfiltered. I started it when I was at Vanderbilt University, and trying to make a foray into the fashion world. I was writing a blog, and going to New York to cover Fashion Week, as well as for client meetings for my social media consulting business. But I realized that while the world saw me one way, I was feeling a completely different way behind the screen.
Mental health has always been something I've struggled with, specifically anxiety, and depression in college. Social media just made it easier to mask those struggles. And I was starting to lose myself in my social media presence. I was utterly overwhelmed by it. With #HalfTheStory, I hoped to create a safe place for people to connect in a more authentic way.
How did you get the concept off the ground?
The idea was really born out of my college dorm room. I built the idea and worked with a friend to build the logo. Vanderbilt granted me an $800 grant, which allowed me to purchase stickers and other marketing materials. I began by speaking to small groups of students at Vanderbilt to share the platform, and my message.
After opening up about my darkest moments, I felt like this weight had been lifted off me. I no longer had to live up to a standard of perfection. And I started connecting with people on a much deeper level.
How did the Internet respond at first?
I started hearing from friends that I hadn't spoken to since grade school, asking about how they could get involved. Then once we partnered with larger influencers, the stories began to flood in. It's never easy to share a story on #HalfTheStory, but everyone that has shared has felt the same type of liberation and support from our community.
Have there been any stories that took you by surprise?
One of the most moving posts I've read was by a student at Vanderbilt. She approached me back in the early days, and used #HalfTheStory as a platform to reveal her sexual orientation.
Has becoming a mental health advocate affected how you manage your own anxiety and depression?
Just because I'm talking about mental health doesn't mean I've solved all of my own problems. It's more about encouraging people to use social media as a way to enhance their voices, to carry on the conversation about mental health. I think that we have two choices: Are we going to let social media define us, or are we going to define social media? And I really want the next generation to figure out how to make social media work for us. One of our goals at #HalfTheStory is to provide educational resources about the relationship between social media and mental health at schools around the world.
How has your personal relationship with social media changed?
I really only post when I want to. And I recently turned off all notifications. I now start my morning without any notifications, which has significantly reduced my anxiety. When I feel overwhelmed, I put my phone on airplane mode—or there’s an app called Forest that allows you to set a timer for the amount of time you don't want to be on your phone. The app “plants” a mini tree so you grow this virtual garden.
What's your advice to anyone who feels insecure or down when they log onto social media?
We need to change our perspective and approach to social media. You need to remember, "This is only half his story," or her story, or our story, or my story—rather than "I can't live up to this," or "Why is her life so perfect?"
#HalfTheStory is not about wearing makeup or not wearing makeup. It has nothing really to do with what you look like. It's all about who you are, and it's everything that can't be seen. What are your passions? What are your talents? What are the struggles you've overcome? It’s about finding another piece of your story to share that goes beneath the surface.