Interview with Erin Shaw Street of Tell Better Stories
If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time on Instagram. Probably a little too much time. You’re probably used to seeing images that make you look twice and wonder what the heck is up with the world we are living in? Specifically, images where alcohol is excessively glamorized.
We see it in blog posts promoting drinking as a must, in memes which poke fun of how much we need to drink so that we can deal with the stuff of life, or in things like t-shirts with the words “Rose All Day.” These things might seem innocent and perhaps even insignificant. But they add up, and they are a symbol of a more significant problem.
Which is why our guest today is so pivotal.
She’s spent a good chunk of her career as a content creator and editor. Like so many women, she thought that unless you had a drinking problem, alcohol was just a regular part of life.
Erin Shawstreet wants to change the way we talk about drinking. She started a project in January called Tell Better Stories 2018, to encourage anyone who posts anything online to be more mindful of the messaging around alcohol. She joined us on the podcast to talk about what she’s been up to and how you can participate.
On Being a Conscious Creator
I come from a background in media and at the beginning of this year, I was compelled to create a system where we could look at examples in media and how we are telling stories about alcohol. I hold up examples and analyze them through the lens of what is happening in this country today. For example, the fact that we know that more women, in particular, are developing problematic relationships with alcohol. Really what I’m doing is providing a positive framework where we can look at that story and talk about where that story came from and how we can be conscious consumers and creators as far as telling stories around alcohol.
When you look at the sheer numbers of alcohol use dependence problematic drinking, binge drinking, there are staggering numbers, and again they’re going up mainly among women. How can we hold that on the one hand [and on the other] the data that we have and then talk about alcohol like it’s a big joke?
It’s that time of year again: lots of photos of moms holding up signs saying “First day of school: Freedom!” while holding up glasses or bottles of wine. @popsugar ran a roundup, which I link to in a new post [link in profile]. In this post I talk about why these messages are problematic and why brands like @popsugar can do better. ✅To be clear: if you drink and it works for you, ok. The point is; it’s not working for a lot of women, and it’s time that we think through the messages we send. I believe 👉 • The issues that we’re struggling with today as a country, the sheer numbers of women who are struggling with alcohol, makes this topic an “us” issue, not a “them” issue. • That for every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there’s a mom who is questioning why, these days, she is having that extra glass or three. • For every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there’s a mom who is having trouble getting out of bed to take her kids to school because of the way the alcohol has left her exhausted and hurting. • For every photo of a woman holding a letterboard and glass/bottle of wine on the first day of school, there’s a mom desperately trying to change her relationship with alcohol, to do it while holding down one or more jobs, taking are of one or more kids, and doing it in a world that is not built to truly support parents. • • • Please read the full post before commenting. As always, we’re not prohibitionists, but we do believe messages matter. Tonight and always we stand with the woman who is suffering, struggling, and feels alone and othered. There is hope. Keep going. 💛 #tellbetterstories #mom #backtoschool #ig_motherhood #sober #parenthood
On the Opioid Epidemic
When you look at the devastation in our country around opioids and other substances – there has been a lot of news and rightly so about that. But we tend to not look at [drinking], and we tend to protect alcohol. For some reason it’s okay, or at least has been depicted as something that has no consequences. I believe we’re in a time of where people are stepping back and thinking they want to be more conscious about the media they consume and hopefully create.
“I hate to say it, but when I hear it when people are shocked that celebrities suffer that much, I am not shocked because I see it every single day.”
On #tellbetterstories Being More Than a Hashtag
I know it’s about more than alcohol. Some of the humor around alcohol and the mentions of alcohol they’re very repetitive. [We see] a lot around motherhood (“mommy needs wine”) there’s a lot around health and fitness. You know “I’ve done this workout, now I get to drink a margarita.” Sometimes there are runs or pilates classes that have alcohol with them. Balanced is another [word] we see a lot you know, “Greens juice in the morning and my rosé at night, #balanced.” What I want to do is unpack the stories behind the hashtag. This content is created and shared because it’s easy likes and clicks. [However] I think underneath the jokes about how stressed everybody is are real issues that people want to talk about, but it’s easier to share a meme that involves wine. What I’d like for this to be is the start of a real community where people can talk about the real issues underneath these jokes and the seemingly innocent content.
On Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain
I hate to say it, but when I hear it when people are shocked that celebrities suffer that much, I am not shocked because I see it every single day. I see the depths of despair, and I’ve experienced the depths of despair. Just because I didn’t lose everything doesn’t mean that I didn’t have horrible moments during my drinking and severe consequences. But I see that pain and that suffering in the mental health piece of it all the time. I think we’re in this moment culturally where we’re finally starting to realize that success doesn’t mean happiness. And beautiful photos don’t mean happiness either. My friend Laura McKowen calls it pictured/not pictured. And she talks about how some of her drinking lows were some of the times of her highest professional success. We’re reckoning with the idea that we’ve all learned how to perform for the camera.
On How You Can Be Involved
As far as content that makes fun of or jokes about or promotes excessive drinking and celebrates that – do not do that. Don’t create it and do not share it. Alcohol is part of this culture and part of what we have to do is we all have we have to coexist. Think about who is looking at your feed. Because some of your friends may be struggling with alcohol or another substance maybe it’s a mental health issue. What messages are you sending?
If your yoga studio is having “Yoga and Wine” – have a conversation. Hey, guys, I’d like to know a little bit more about why you have yoga and wine. The whole way I go about is not “Oh my gosh; it’s just horrible. And you are you’re pushing this drug that kills many people.” It is a drug and does kill so many people but going in with that approach can sort of immediately closed doors. The method I would [suggest] is asking questions and being considerate that we all are coming from different spaces.
Links and References
Learn more about Tell Better Stories 2018 on the website: tellbetterstoriesmedia.com
Learn more about Erin Shawstreet
Follow along on Instagram (and don’t forget – if you see a post or article that you think needs a call in use #tellbetterstories or share it with Erin via direct message).
Featured Photo Credit: Lindsey Tillman