February 18, 2022
I spent my childhood split between playing American Girl Dolls with my sisters, participating in a different sport every season, and playing a game in my mind called “What if I Were Her?” My mom subscribed to all the fashion magazines the 90’s had to offer: Vogue, Elle, InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar, you name it. Once I flipped through the less glossy pages of my own ‘Highlights’ and ‘Girls’ Life,’ I’d sneak to the kitchen counter to beat her to the stack, which was always ready and waiting to transport me to another world.
I don’t know what it was that stole my attention at such a young age. I was mesmerized by the way light hit silk. The folds of a perfectly draped dress captivated me. Mostly, though, I was dumbfounded by what it must feel like to be the women in those magazines. The thin limbs and sparkling teeth and hair that did what it was told.
After a handful of minutes watching NYFW coverage when I was supposed to be doing homework, I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. Move over, painter. Make way, figure skater—I now wanted to be “in fashion.” I wanted to feel like I imagined those women in the magazines felt.
I figured the best way to make my dream come true was to lean-in to my high, albeit secret, hopes of becoming a model. I was tall so we could check that box in permanent marker. Boom. The problem was, as a midwestern girl with brown skin, muscles rivaling Lou Ferrigno, a cloud of untamable biracial hair and a gap-toothed smile that wasn’t yet welcome, people weren’t exactly knocking down the door. After a gig or two (alright, exactly two: a Science textbook photo spread and a shoot for a Dinosaur exhibit) I decided I’d better hang up my modeling hat before I was truly embarrassed. No stranger to self preservation, I told everyone I just wasn’t interested and never attempted it again. I was painfully aware that I wasn’t the typical choice, and that awareness planted a mindset I still struggle to shake: If there was no one like me where I wanted to be, It was probably because I shouldn’t be there. I scrapped the modeling dream and spent my adolescence and teen years telling anyone who would listen I’d be a fashion designer one day.
Maybe I could still chase what I thought was so alluring about those magazines that my physical body would not let me have.
It took two grueling semesters of majoring in design to be faced with the cold, hard truth that it simply wasn’t for me. I changed my major to Fashion Merchandising, got married my Junior year, graduated with a degree in Fine Art and, like many of my fellow classmates, jumped into life rather than a career and repeated aloud while doing the dishes and folding the laundry: “the past five years were not a waste of time and money… the past five years were not a waste of time and money.”
Even without a fancy fashion career or a reason to get in front of the camera, I was absolutely buzzing with ideas and inspiration, but I had no outlet to pour them into. The only time I felt that creative high I craved was when I sat at my computer every morning savoring my cup of decaf and the morning toggle between the eight blogs bookmarked on my homepage. The starting lineup: Cupcakes and Cashmere, Hey Natalie Jean, Gal Meets Glam, The Everygirl, Damsel in Dior, Pink Peonies, Cup of Jo and Apartment Therapy. I was hooked.
Like the young girl wondering what it would feel like to be in the magazines I loved, I began to wonder instead what it would feel like to create content I loved. As a stylist and artist who had lugged a DSLR around everywhere since high school, I was enthralled with the idea of expressing my style and having a voice on my very own corner of the internet. The thought that people would click over to my blog with even half the excitement and attentiveness with which I approached my favorites genuinely made me chuckle at the thought. I decided to do something that was very unlike me and actually do the scary thing I wanted to do while throwing around phrases like, “it can’t hurt to try!” and “what’s the worst that can happen?” (Note: I have never said those things before or since because it’s my core belief that it can hurt to try and the worst that can happen is the worst. Why yes, I am an Ennegram 6.)
I had been forced to create a blog by my college Marketing professor years before and got into the habit of posting life updates and Polyvore collages here and there for a few years, but I decided to jump in with both feet in 2017. I rebranded, devoted countless hours to studying ‘How to Start Your Blog’ YouTube channels and read every HTML article on the internet. I listened to countless hours of digital marketing podcasts and pretty much memorized Goal Digger podcast episodes start to finish. I had a logo made, asked a friend to pull together a quick website and by August, Gold & Graphite was born.
This was initially meant to be a side-project. A creative hobby. I neglected to account for the fact that I don’t do anything halfway and before I knew it, I was devoting up to ten hours a day every day on this “hobby.” Oshiomogho would find me hunched over my laptop at 2am to get a blog post up that seventy people would read. My goal had morphed somewhere in the back corners of my heart and I had gone from innocently wanting a place to flex my creative muscles to desperately needing to be accepted, respected, and I wanted to be accommodated for it. To work backwards, if I wanted to be respected, I needed to create the best content on the internet. To be accommodated for it, I needed to be consistent and professional. To be accepted, though, was something different.
Despite working my butt off day and night the past four years to create content I’m proud of, welcome partnerships I dreamed of, and foster a community I love, the little girl far too aware of her ‘otherness’ is still a part of me. Most days, my insecurities are dandelions – humble and easily uprooted. Other days, they climb like ivy, taking on a life of their own. If I don’t do any trimming, they still swing from my appearance to my expertise.
The thing is, this new venture of mine wasn’t modeling. It wasn’t fashion design, it wasn’t buying or visual merchandising or any other field I had previously disqualified myself from. It was uncharted territory! The Wild Wild West. I figured it would be impossible to feel left-out or less than– in my own space. But the more I worked on creating content, the more I found myself looking to my left and to my right again. There wasn’t a single person who looked like me labeling themselves “fashion blogger.” I couldn’t find one Black lifestyle blogger being pinned and shared and interviewed in the U.S. at the time. It only took a five minute scroll on Pinterest to recognize you had to be petite, blonde, thin or white to be recognized; bonus points for being all four. It turns out, not even in a career we make for ourselves based on our own lives on our own terms are we free from feeling like we don’t belong.
In this New York Times article, Valerie Young says, “A sense of belonging fosters confidence. The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does, for many people, impact their confidence.” It took me a while to realize my own insecurity stemmed less from feeling unqualified and more from feeling unwelcome.
Deep, uncomfortable digging revealed a relentless, rotten root: I believed from the beginning that my differences disqualified me. I was treading lightly like I would soon be kicked out, found out or drowned out. Tiptoeing in a place I didn’t belong while hearing the stomps of other women with the slender limbs/glossy hair/rolodex I lack.
In the beginning, when I thought Instagram was a photo editing app and proceeded to post the same photo eight different times with eight different filters without realizing my thirteen “followers” could actually see what I was doing, I had absolutely no idea that app would impact the glossy world of blogging. How could it? By the time I started Gold & Graphite, the OG bloggers- you know the ones- had already blown up on Instagram. Most of them had followings in the high hundred-thousands or millions and were beginning to do post the word ‘#Ad’ in some of their photos, letting the world know they had gotten paid to share that post. Not much else changed, though. Everyone stuck to their blog posting schedule and life as we knew it carried on.
That was, until Instagram introduced stories.
The pendulum would slowly shift to people taking more partnerships on Instagram than their blogs, which I noted, but didn’t pay much attention to. Surely this app with its stagnant squares-usually over-edited and too perfect to relate to-couldn’t compete with the heart and passion and hard work of a blog, right? Before I knew it, while I still had my head down worried about SEO and getting three blog posts up a week, the Instagram follower count became the most important thing a blogger needed to call themselves successful.
And so the game began. Read Part Two HERE
This is part one of a two part series surrounding why I’m currently off of social media, why I don’t want to work on social media anymore if I do return and all the difficult questions and fears that arise from making those types of decisions here in 2022.