How Dana Giles Created 'I Want The Real" to Fight Real Stereotypes

Dana Giles looks like your typical SMU sorority girl, but she’s definitely not.

 

This senior business major created the website I Want The Real™ to combat the stigma surrounding issues like addiction, mental illness, or grief. The site shares the stories or interviews of people dealing with their deepest personal issues and makes them truly real. Giles then transforms them into bite size pieces perfect for social media and for spreading her message on IWTR's incredibly popular Instagram. It’s designed to start the conversation.

 

Scrolling through might lead you to interviews like “Running Away From My Problems” that’s a telling portrait of dealing with alcoholism, “My College Identity” showing the pressures of SMU Greek life, or talking about coming out of the closet in “Opening the Door.” There’s a lot of different stories here, and Giles is glad to share them.

 

“There was a problem,” Giles says. “I felt there was an issue that no one was talking about. Problems like drugs and alcohol were not in the open; it was very closed off.”

 

The project didn’t start like it is now. A year ago, when she launched it, all of the stories focused on people’s businesses or their adventures. The more stories she did, the less she felt like she connected to it. She started focusing on the struggles her interviewees faced or the advice that they wanted to give, and things started to flow from there. Giles decided to use her platform to bring stigmatized issues into the light, to try and make them less shameful. I Want The Real was born.

"Problems like drugs and alcohol were not in the open; it was very closed off.”

 

The site blew up. With bold headlines and a striking aesthetic, readers started to pour in. Giles designed the IWTR Instagram to grab attention. With such taboo subjects, she knew that she needed to create a brand that was sleek and trendy, something to draw in a larger audience. Her black, white and red color scheme and her provocative article blurbs worked. The eye-catching theme brought in viewers. A larger audience meant a larger platform, with more people hearing these stories than she ever thought possible. And more listeners definitely meant more awareness on an issue she felt SMU students needed to hear.

 

“I feel like at least in the Greek life, we lack a sense of reality, almost,” Giles says. “I feel like we’re in a bubble, and we need to kind of pop that bubble. I wanna normalize the feeling of anxiety, depression, addiction, whatever. I want to make it seem like it’s not this monster in the closet sort of thing.”

“I feel like we’re in a bubble, and we need to kind of pop that bubble."

We all know how SMU is. We all try to look our best and pretend life is perfect. Our Instagrams are perfectly curated so we look like we’re having a good time. We wear our Greek letters and act like nothing is going wrong. We ignore uncomfortable problems like racism, sexism, homophobia or the prevalence of mental illness. SMU is pristine on the surface. But underneath, many of us are silently struggling.

 

“I want people to take away a sense of feeling less lonely about their issues or what they’re going through,” says Giles. “I want people to understand that this digital media, social media life is so not real. We’re posting pictures of our best selves, but really there’s so much underneath.”

 

Giles says that most people end up approaching her. They send her an email, text or even a DM. They write their own stories, or they sit in her bedroom and tell them to her. They get emotional sometimes, and sometimes, so does she. She transforms the stories into articles, publishes them on the site, and creates Instagram graphics to publicize them. She gives them a platform to share their stories, stories she feels desperately need to be heard. Most of her subjects are people who are recovered or in recovery, because she wants to show that healing is attainable. All of this works together to create a genuine, true story that she hopes will spread awareness.

“I want people to understand that this digital media, social media life is so not real. We’re posting pictures of our best selves, but really there’s so much underneath.”

As a business major, Giles has no background in journalism. She started the site not for a class or for her portfolio, but because she felt like it was needed. It was an issue she felt no one was talking about. She watched people struggling in secret with alcoholism or lying about having a drug problem, feeling ashamed for dealing with these really common problems. She saw IWTR as a chance to make seeking help seem more possible.

 

“I like, look on the outside like a normal, average blond sorority girl in the midst of school and everything is all good, but I have struggled with a lot of the topics that people come to me about,” Giles says. “But if you look at me, and you cross paths with me, I guarantee you would probably never think that. I’ve struggled with addiction and anxiety and all of these things like other people do, too. I felt frustrated that no one talked about it, and I felt alone. I didn’t want to feel that way.”

"I felt frustrated that no one talked about it, and I felt alone. I didn’t want to feel that way.”

Part of her inspiration for the project was to give voices to the things she had been struggling with. The site also has a “Resources” page which lists many ways to get help or counseling for these issues. It lists hotlines, a website to help you find a therapist near you, and the link to the Addiction Resource Hub. Giles doesn’t just want to tell these stories; she wants to help readers who might be dealing with similar issues. The site helps to reduce the stigma around these issues by showing that the people telling these stories are just like all of us.

 

“This happens to everyone,” Giles says. “Everyone goes through sh*t or problems. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be this perfect world.”

 

As a senior, Giles is not sure where this project will take her next. She’s spending her last semester figuring out where she wants to take it next. While she’s still here, she’s devoting her time on the site to making people feel less lonely. Every article is a chance to make people feel less alone in their struggles.

 

“We’ll see where it goes,” Giles says. “You never know. Fingers crossed.”

 

All images via Dana Giles and I Want The Real™