In the midst of her unusual sophomore year of high school and tired of staring at her computer screen, now 16-year-old Lila Meltzer had what she thought might be a "crazy but awesome" idea: to create an Instagram account where she and others could reveal the reality that lays behind their curated social media facades.
Lila, whose father is acclaimed novelist Brad Meltzer, debuted "Her Secret Identity" last winter with the mission to "challenge society's assumptions to help women reveal their true selves." Women and teens submit photos and statements about what people think they know about them ("I juggle everything effortlessly," "School comes easy to me") and their true feelings ("I can often feel overwhelmed," "I study every night").
"I created this because I needed it," said Lila. "I can relate to what people have submitted so much, because as strong and as great as even this project may look, it was so hard even for me to share my own post."
The account has become a small haven of real talk for women young and old to take off their filters and let others know the image they show the world isn't necessarily the whole truth. Sometimes, they share underlying insecurities; other times, they mention hopes and aspirations they haven't talked about publicly before.
While many of those featured are Lila's friends and peers from her South Florida high school, she has also featured submissions from some familiar faces, like business executive Sheryl Sandberg, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult, tennis legend Billie Jean King, singer Gloria Estefan and reality TV star Jazz Jennings.
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The point, Lila said, is to remind everyone that people are complicated and life is multifaceted, and no one is just what they show on their Instagram feed. It is possible, as the "Her Secret Identity" project proves, to be both confident and insecure, ambitious and anxious, or a successful business executive and a mother of five children, like Sandberg.
Although Lila enjoys including posts from famous and successful women, it is when her friends and classmates submit their own "secret identities" that she is most proud of her work on the project.
"It's been amazing when people I'm not super close with submit. That really blows me away, because these are people I've known my whole life. That's when I knew it was beginning to touch people. It's grown into more than just a little side project. It's a true movement."
In May, Lila hosted her first in-person event for "Her Secret Identity," meeting other women who wanted to talk about "this thing that unites us all."
"I always like women empowering women," she said. "I really hope that this project can first give people a sense of empowerment. There's this feeling of 'I'm the only person that feels like that,' and I think that's something I've really learned and grown from doing this. Clearly, I'm not the only one going through this.
"Honestly, I just wanted to let people know that we can be weird, and ordinary, and strong, and anxious all at the same time," she continued. "Clark Kent is Superman and Clark Kent, and that's kind of where this idea of a secret identity comes in. It's like this part of ourselves is hidden, but it seeps in.
"The goal is showing that it's not just you, and this is a way that we can empower each other, through sharing this."