By Mia Sherin, July 15, 2020
I was scrolling through TikTok one fateful quarantine afternoon, and a girl came up on my For You Page who immediately caught my attention. She was funny, original, and unapologetically herself. It was a comedy account, but it was also so much more than that; it was about body positivity, about confidence, and about loving the person you are. After weeks spent trying (and epically failing) to dance like TikTok star Addison Rae or falling over doing fitness phenomenon Chloe Ting’s side plank, this one ounce of positivity, an account that made me feel good, had a remarkable impact. It was then that I called up Gabby DePietro, the owner of the account which now has over 700,000 followers, to find out what habits I can practice to make social media a healthier place for others, and for myself.
Gabby DePietro is a college student whose life has been transformed by TikTok. What started two years ago as making fun, goofy videos with friends has not only brought Gabby fame, but also business and networking opportunities, which she hopes will advance her dreams of going into fashion. That is, right after finishing her studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she will be a Junior this fall.
When I decided I wanted to improve my social media habits, she was undoubtedly the woman for the job. Before getting her concrete tips, I asked Gabby a question that I would guess many women my age struggle with: “How do I learn to be comfortable being myself? How can I be confident like you?” She responded with a story about how she found that change in herself. “I was never always like this,” she explained. “I used to actually really care what people thought about me. But the summer after my Junior year of high school, I went to Africa for a mission trip. At one point, they put on a talent show, and people were going up there and acting, reading poetry, or singing. And I asked someone, ‘How can you do that?’ He told me, “You’re never going to see these people ever again. Just go up there and be yourself.” With this same mentality, Gabby took TikTok by storm.
Feeling so empowered after our conversation, I decided that with Gabby’s advice, I finally had the tools to make changes to my own social media habits. Her first suggestion? Unfollow people who make you feel less than. “I don’t follow Addison Rae, and I don’t follow Charli D’amelio,” Gabby admitted. “I was following them, but when I started watching their videos, it was almost like I could feel jealous. No shade on them, I think what they’re doing is great. But on social media in general, I don’t follow anybody that makes me feel bad.”
I sat on that advice for a moment and realized that I had truly never thought of doing that before. For the next week, not only did I unfollow every account that made me feel less than, I went out of my way to follow new accounts that made me feel good. I’ll admit that I never used to follow body positivity accounts; I appreciated the content, but felt like I was on TikTok for the humor rather than the empowerment. That is where I went wrong. After following these incredible women, including Gabby, who promoted these healthy habits and mindsets, I saw change within the week.
A few nights ago, I was sitting on the couch, watching Hamilton with my family (because who wasn’t doing that?). I had eaten many cookies that night, and felt bloated and heavier. But instead of feeling guilty, or feeling like I needed to workout the next morning, I subconsciously thanked and appreciated my body, something I had never done before. In that moment, it became clear where I had learned these new strategies: TikTok.
For her second piece of advice, Gabby asked me to step outside of TikTok and in front of my bathroom mirror. “I try to go into the mirror everyday and pick out something I love about myself,” she said. So everyday for the next week, I added one extra step to my morning routine: after brushing my teeth, but before washing my face, I became my own hype woman and recited a part of my body or myself that I loved. One day it was my blue eyes, the next it was my stomach that held my famous chocolate chip banana bread, and another it was my regrettable sunburn that would hopefully bless me with a tan. I found beauty in parts of myself where I was never even looking.
For her final social media tip, Gabby and I talked about how we each have the ability to make social media a more positive space for others. Not only is it important to not leave hurtful comments on people’s content, but it is also empowering to others to see you as you are: being silly, being yourself, and encouraging others to do the same. Gabby articulated this point, and explained the importance of seeing each other's imperfections: “I get questions all the time asking, ‘How are you so confident?' I had always complained about my body to my friends, and I hadn’t really been practicing what I had preached on TikTok. So when people say ‘You’re so confident’, I also want them to know that I am also human, and I’m not confident one hundred percent of the time.”
With that, I decided to post all the videos of myself poorly dancing. I shared TikToks in outfits I wasn’t always confident wearing. And I let my loyal followers, all twenty three of them to be exact, to see the real, unedited version of me. Just because you are not an influencer does not mean you do not have influence.
After integrating these three habits into my social media use, I can say that I am never going back. With the help of the inspirational Gabby DePietro, I found the positivity in a space that used to feel toxic. In the wise words of our favorite TikToker, we will leave you with this: “Be yourself because at the end of the day, no opinion matters but your own.”