Girls Who Handle It is a project aimed at empowering women in the Cal Poly community by sharing their own stories about personal struggles and hardships, in spite of what they post on social media. Asia Cronson | Photo Courtesy

Social media has created a false reality filled with endless smiles, staged laughter and a sense of perfection that seems impossible to attain. One Cal Poly student has made it her mission to share the harsh realities that are hidden behind this picture-perfect lifestyle.

Communication studies senior Julia Freet, alongside local San Luis Obispo photographer Asia Croson, created the event ‘Girls Who Handle It’ (GWHI), a project aimed at empowering women in the Cal Poly community by giving them a platform to share their own stories about personal hardships, in spite of what they post on social media.

The GWHI idea had been brewing between Freet and Croson for a year before any action took place. Freet decided to take on the GWHI concept when it came time to finalize her senior project.

“The idea for ‘Girls Who Handle It’ happened several months ago when multiple women, including myself, came to Asia with deeply personal stories about struggles they were encountering in their lives and how they were managing them,” Freet said.

Croson, following these girls on their social media, was stumped to hear these heart-wrenching struggles.

“We don’t see [those hardships] on Instagram. I follow Julia and my other clients and would never have known these crazy things were going on in their lives,” Croson said. “It just made us realize that ‘Wow, you’re literally handling so much stuff and not getting credit for it.’ There’s a stigma that’s going on on Instagram and this project is about [these women] being able to share those things and not feeling weird about it or that they’re seeking attention.”

The GWHI exhibit will take place at Pinkies Up salon located in downtown San Luis Obispo. The salon will be transformed into an art exhibit with 45 black and white portraits of each woman who shares her story. Alongside their portrait will be a screenshot of what their Instagram feed showcased during the time of their hardship.

“[The event] is going to be an art exhibit. [It will include] photos of the girls I’ve taken over the last couple of months and a story about what they’ve gone through and how they handled it,” Cronson said.

The founders said the event stresses the message of society neglecting what is going on in people’s lives past surface level interactions. The mission is not only to showcase that social media can be deceiving, but to encourage other women to talk about what is occurring in their daily life.  

Our goal for the event is to allow these women who have endured unimaginable pain to be able to feel empowered by their own experiences, how they’ve grown from them, as well as [to be] surrounded by a community that embraces them for the challenges they’ve overcome,” Freet said.

The two hope to create a comfortable environment, promoting a sense of community that shows women the commonalities between them.  

“We’re really hoping this event is not only a way for these women to kind of display their strengths and what they’ve overcome, but also a way to foster those conversations we don’t get to have on a regular basis,” Freet said. “It’s so hard to share these things especially in the age of social media where you’re supposed to look pretty and perfect all the time with the right filter and caption.”

Throughout the project, Freet and Croson noticed there was a similarity in the way that every girl handled their situation, regardless of how different the struggles were.

“No girl, not one girl that has shared their story, has expressed that they were able to handle the situation by themselves,” Freet said. “Learning that 44 other phenomenal, brave women needed to ask for help whatever their situation was really powerful for me.”

According to communication studies assistant professor and Freet’s senior project advisor David Askay, in this age of social media where most portray a lifestyle of perfection, it is hard to share these specific hardships.

It it so important to challenge the prevailing norms surrounding our social media use, and this event provides a compelling way to do this,” Askay said. “While the project focuses on the experience of women, they are by no means the only gender impacted by this practice.”

The project is designed to lift the veil of positivity that most present on social media and realize that what one posts may not always align with how they actually feel.

“This idea of sharing vulnerable stories on social media and not being able to do it is not revolutionary, but what is new is the platform and the way that we’re doing it,” Freet said. “I want this to be the spark that ignites the flame. I don’t want the conversation to stop when people leave the event.”

The GWHI exhibit will take place Friday, March 2 at Pinkies Up salon at 7 p.m.

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