A 15-year-old from Florida asks women to post their 'secret identity' that goes beyond public assumption. Now, public figures like Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Sandberg, and Billie Jean King are joining the cause.

By Maressa Brown
May 13, 2021
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Lila Meltzer
Credit: Courtesy of Lila Meltzer

Whether you fear you've been seen as the "hot mess mom" or labeled a "Pinterest perfect parent," we've all had moments we want to scream from the rooftops that perception isn't reality. Now, a 15-year-old from South Florida is helping women share their truth with a new Instagram account called Her Secret Identity. The page, created to help challenge the assumptions that society puts on women, now features submissions from everyday women, girls, and public figures like Sheryl Sandberg, Gloria Estefan, Mika Brzezinski, Jazz Jennings, and Billie Jean King.

It's no wonder Lila Meltzer came up with the successful project. Growing up with a younger and older brother, Meltzer says she's always loved "being a feminist voice."

At the same time, she says she has always had to deal with being judged or feeling like she has to put on a facade. And she says that her closest friends have often felt the same way. "I just really wanted to break that," says the teen. "And I think the best way we can do that is [by coming together as women], empowering and supporting one another. I think that we are our best cheerleaders."

It was during the pandemic that Meltzer found herself motivated to take action that would flip the script on the fact that society always has these "false assumptions, stereotypes, and beliefs about women," all of which is often perpetuated by social media. She thought up the idea of featuring women and girls in Instagram slide posts—one of which would feature a caption that says, "People think I'm X," and the other that would share who they really are.

Since her first post went live on January 23, the project has attracted submissions from girls and women of all ages, including famous faces.

Meltzer says some of her respondents have kept parts of themselves secret, because they don't want people to look at them differently. "We want to hide, because we don't want to be judged," she notes. "This project is about changing our views and changing our mindsets and opening our eyes. We're not just one thing. We are more than that."

That's not to say that being vulnerable isn't daunting. Although Her Secret Identity is something even Meltzer herself says she "needed," the teen says that taking to the platform to share her first, vulnerable post was "terrifying."

"I was the first to do this, and it was scary the next day, walking through my high school hallways, knowing that anyone in my school, in my grade, any one of my teachers could go on Instagram and find this vulnerable part of myself that I kept hidden," she says. "But over time, it has been super empowering to break that."

She realized that sharing a part of yourself that's typically "unseen" is not only "liberating"—it can also lead to gaining support. In fact, Meltzer has begun taking her efforts off of Instagram, bringing people together in-person to explore their secret identities.

The 15-year-old is especially thrilled to note the diversity among respondents. "I love this idea that no matter who we are, where we come from, our age, race, whatever walk of life as a woman, we have this tie that parts of our ourselves that often go unseen or overlooked," she says.

Now, as her project continues to take off, Meltzer hopes to attract submissions from more "fabulous, inspiring" respondents like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Chrissy Teigen.

In the meantime, she's excited to support other young people hoping to transform their own experience and passion into a game-changing project. "If you have an idea, if you have something you want to put into action, do it," says Meltzer. "There's no better time to start than now. You have to follow your dreams, and follow what makes you excited. Start asking, start doing, and you can change the world."