I was going talk about identity and purpose today, and then one of my friends mentioned me in an Instagram comment about honest posting.
So instead I’m talking about social media representation, especially how sometimes Instagram and Twitter can leave us feeling ‘less than’. When you look at several smiling, sun-kissed, carefully curated and filtered images and then look at your own messy life you can wind up feeling disappointed and envious. God knows I have been “Best at Badmind” so many times, thanks to Facebook (this was pre-Instagram) and wedding websites like A Practical Wedding (yes, go and fall down the rabbit hole). Climbing out of that particular quagmire took years of practice and lots of growing up.
These days, even though I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and impostor syndrome, it’s gotten easier to remind myself that what I see on Twitter & Insta isn’t really what goes on when the camera turns off.
A conversation I had with my partner (who has dabbled in photography) when I was trying to learn how to take better, more engaging Instagram pictures:
Me: This website just suggested taking lots of different clothes on a photo shoot in case what you’re wearing doesn’t match the background.
Me: They said that the different clothes and accessories make it look like you took pictures on different days, so that you can spread the posts out over weeks without being repetitive.
Me: That’s insane! Who has time for this?
Him: Um, people who take it seriously? It takes work.
And then I got distracted by something. Probably baking, or the cats. Which is why my social media gets updated maybe once a month. Can’t have you all noticing the pictures are really from the same shoot.
I’m getting off topic.
I’ve come to learn that a lot of social media is crafted and staged. When I browse Pinterest for hours on end trying to find organizational inspiration, it’s so frustrating when the pictures are perfectly aligned just so. How do these rooms look when they’re lived in? All these mommy bloggers with young children cannot possibly keep their houses this spic and span all the time. What does it look like in real life?
One day I searched for real life pictures and the results were refreshing. Limited, but refreshing. There were toys on the floor, blankets thrown everywhere, dishes on the table. But underneath the mess was a certain cohesion, a level of deliberateness that gave a stable foundation to the chaos. It’s so much more inspiring to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting that curated, crafted end result; it’s so much more helpful.
If we’re all out here trying to live our best lives, and proud of it, what’s the harm in sharing the struggle that shapes the success? Congrats, you graduated from grad school but your Insta is all selfies at the beach. What about the late night studying? Awesome, you got promoted. But your feed is all parties and #gymlife. Why not talk about the coffee-fueled work-after-work that got you there? Cool, you post about #selfcare mani-pedis and yoga but what about the harder parts of self care like therapy and introspection?
I know the ‘rough work’ isn’t for everyone. God knows I hated having to do it in Math class. But for those of us social media users who are interested in the face behind the sunglasses or the story behind the popularity, this rough work is endearing and empowering. Showing the struggle reminds us that we’re not alone in it. Sharing the steps makes us feel like we can accomplish great things too.
At the very least, it’ll be helpful to figure out how the hell I can get that style on my bookshelf.
If you’re a nerd like me and love extra reading, this article on JSTOR is an illuminating and lengthy read on the topic of social media envy. Here is the link, and here is a tidbit:
Social media could help us feel less envious about vacations if it also celebrated quiet nights in; it could help us feel less envious of other people’s perfect children if it also celebrated the beauty of the bachelor apartment we just arranged to utter perfection.
We could hold our collective breath and wait for Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to vindicate the diversity our strengths and contentments. Or we could do it ourselves: by demanding honesty and vulnerability from our online friends, and from ourselves.