Social media is known for many things, but authenticity — at least in the fashion and beauty sphere — is not one of them. Larissa May, a 22-year-old entrepreneur and former fashion blogger, is hoping to change that with Half the Story, a multi-media project encouraging more honest reflections from industry insiders on social media.
The idea first came to her during a particularly grueling fall 2016 fashion week, when she was still an undergraduate student trying to juggle her studies with fashion week show coverage for Lookbook.nu and AOL. “Everyone was like ‘Oh, you’re superwoman! You go to Vanderbilt, you’re a blogger, and you’re at fashion week doing all of this stuff!’” she said of that time. The reality, of course, was less picturesque: “I was exhausted, I had missed [deadlines] for three papers, and I was Skyping into classes between shows.”
The stress came to a head when she face-planted while running to catch Diane von Furstenberg speak at the AOL Build conference directly after a Betsey Johnson show. Bloody and with a broken phone, she realized that the story she was telling online — all perfectly curated and pristine — was far from the truth. “I was only telling half the story, and there wasn’t really a place to share the other side,” she said.
Half the Story founder Larissa May with Norma Kamali
Conversations with industry friends — from the sisters behind Dannijo to the sunglasses designers Coco and Breezy — made it clear she wasn’t alone. “Fashion week is super commercialized and seems glamorous,” she said, “[but], in actuality, everyone who goes is pretty worn out the whole time.”
So, after ruminating on the idea for a few months, she launched Half the Story on Instagram this past November to provide fashion’s polished posse with a platform for telling the unfiltered truth. On the account, women and men working across the industry share candid stories about what their lives are really like, beyond the perfectionist lens of social media — some are asked to take part, while others volunteer.
Other than an $800 grant from her alma mater, which has been put toward merchandise, the project has been entirely self-funded — though she hopes to change that when she and her team of four launch an iFundWomen campaign in May. A rebooted website that will build off their social presence and host expanded Half the Story reflections is also in the works. Promotion, thus far, has been entirely word of mouth — though it helps that May has had a large blogger network to tap into.
“In an industry with such a materialistic focus, it’s critical to [keep] a solid footing in reality while wading through the pandemonium that is social media,” said Barrett Coughlin, a community manager for Rebecca Minkoff, who — like designers like Norma Kamali and Timo Weiland — calls herself a fan. “Half the Story is bringing a sense of intimate realism to a landscape flooded with artificial aspirations.”
@johnaoshodi “I feel like somewhere along the lines I’ve become a Novelty. People care more for how my hair looks rather than how it happened. I’m just more about breaking the standard by any means necessary because I want people to feel comfortable. It wasn’t about modeling for me. I really wanted to do something that was more me and something that I could own. You know, we all wear clothing, yes we own it, but is it “ours”? I wanted to be defined by something I could say is mine. People always say “you look like this person or that person” but I thought I could do something that is so out of the box and left field. I was tired of there being a standard. People would say you know, “you’re not supposed to be like that.”I felt like choosing to be free and be natural with my hair was my only way to break to standard, and thats really my mission.” #halfthestory
In keeping with the trend towards authenticity, the launch of HTS led May to shed her role as fashion blogger, despite lucrative collaborations with the likes of Free People, Coach and Shopbop. “I didn’t want to do it anymore — I felt like I was just trying to force myself into content,” she said. “I love making art and sharing it — there’s nothing wrong with that — but there’s also something to be said for taking a moment to get real with your fans or customers about what it’s really like behind the scenes.”
Many of her colleagues seem to agree and have been eager to participate. The blogger duo behind Mimosas in Manhattan, who have nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram, have used the #halfthestory hashtag to complain about the false friendships this industry can foster. “How do we create and keep true relationships in the influencer world that are honest, unforced and not for the sake of gaining more Instagram likes or followers?” they asked. “Trust [us], if a friend asks you to brunch — not to get to know you, but just to take brunch photos — [that’s] not a good sign.”
Refinery29’s fashion market editor Alyssa Coscarelli supporting Half the Story
Jen Gotch, the founder and chief creative officer of Bando, took to her account to answer the standard, “How are you?” with a much less predictable answer. “I’m fucking terrified and overwhelmed, and 45 and tired, and I think my hormones are fucked up, and my depression is always there waiting for me if I want to tap into it,” she writes. “I have ADD and anxiety and at least 4 cavities — and I’m alone, but not, but yeah I am (the trash doesn’t take itself out).”
The makeup artist Celina Rodriguez reflected on a happy-seeming Snap of herself backstage at fashion week. “The truth is, I felt miserable at that moment,” she writes. “I had been sick and traveling the past week. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and had to walk around the city with a mean cough in 20-degree weather, [and] all my body wanted to do was go to sleep.”
“I think people are just sick of trying to keep up this persona,” said May, of the response. “There was always talk [about being more honest], but there was never any action behind it, so I wanted to actually create a place for people to do that.” Technology’s disruption of the industry as a whole has also forced people to reflect more seriously on the way things have traditionally been done, she adds: “People are getting real, because it’s a really vulnerable time.”
In the future, May hopes to collaborate with other brands and publications on lifting the proverbial veil, revealing some of the behind-the-scenes goings on that are traditionally kept quiet: “It’s about ripping off the facade and bringing back the human element to the industry, which has been difficult to find.”