“I used to follow so-and-so but her instagrams made her life look so beautiful that I had to stop. I kept feeling so jealous.”
Have you heard that before? Have you felt that way before? Of all the social media platforms, Instagram seems to be the worst culprit for making us feel inadequate. Which is too bad, because I think it can build wonderful community. But I’ve had several friends swear it off entirely because it was warping their perspective.
Beautiful photos of other people’s lives can be a real bummer when we’re trudging through chaos. It’s easy to look at our messy lives and compare our worst moments to someone else’s edited successes.
We want to know that people don’t live in a magazine. That they are real. Authentic. With the same struggles we have. That sometimes their counters are messy and they ran out of time and ordered pizza for dinner and maybe they had a huge meltdown when none of the small people at their house could locate his/her shoes making the whole family late….again (Oops, this is getting a little too autobiographical).
We want to know that beautiful photos of flowers and fresh baked bread don’t mean that the woman behind the camera has a perfect life and never has a dark night of the soul.
Why Online Authenticity Is Complicated
As bloggers and social media users, we have a responsibility to be authentic. But the thing to remember is that sharing life on the internet is…complicated.
The truth is, NO ONE can show a perfectly authentic representation of her life on social media. Because life is too big for that. We can just show pieces and try to share some of the struggles as well as the beautiful.
When I print out my instagrams every few months, I’m amazed as I flip through them. Because I’m reminded how many good moments there are. And how lovely my kids are. Is this really the life I get to live? And those are the memories I want to hold onto. What my son’s eyelashes look like against his cheek as he sleeps. When my toddler kisses her baby sister and then shouts “Sister hug!!!” It’s good and it’s the lens of joy that helps me view the world with gratitude and wonder. And I think there’s gotta be a way to share that joy without being inauthentic.
I make an effort to communicate that life at our home isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. But I can’t show you all the messes and insane moments and tears. Because those are the moments I don’t even know where my phone is to take a photo. And it hardly seems fair to my children to make that sugar crash meltdown a photo op. I strive to share my story authentically, but sometimes telling all of my story means telling someone else’s story, too. And then it’s not a story that belongs to only me, so I can’t give it away.
I might write about that time I freaked out over something really stupid and my husband Daniel knew just what to do to comfort me. I might share about how our marriage isn’t perfect and what we’ve learned and how we’ve struggled. But I won’t tell you about a fight we had yesterday. Or complain about my spouse in a Facebook status. Because, apart from being a toxic thing to say, that story isn’t really mine and nurturing my marriage is more important than baring my soul on the internet.
So where is the balance? How do we stay authentic and vulnerable as we share our lives while still protecting other people’s stories and the secret places of our own hearts?
My Guideline for Online Authenticity
As a blogger, there is really just one guideline I try to remember here. I don’t ever want someone to be surprised by what they see. What I mean by that is if I meet someone face-to-face who only has known Online Haley, will they think, “Yup. That’s about right.” Or will they think, “that’s not AT ALL what she pretends to be like on her blog.” And if one of my real life friends reads one of my posts, I want them to think, “Mmhmm. That sounds like Haley.” Not, “snort! That’s not what she’s like.”
That’s what online authenticity means to me. I have a friend who read my blog before her family moved to my town and we met in real life. She told me that friends back home had asked what I’m like in person and she said, “just what you’d expect from reading her blog.” And I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe I’m doing this right. I am trying.
So that’s my job. To strive to be authentic and vulnerable with my story. It doesn’t mean sharing everything, but it does mean being honest and not presenting something that isn’t real, isn’t me.
The Reader’s Responsibility
But what about when, whether someone is authentic or not, their voice is not what we need to hear?
When I arrived late to a playdate last week only to promptly spill coffee on my white shirt (why do I even OWN a white shirt?!) and amidst the chaos of many small children climbing the walls, I whispered to a friend, “I totally lost it trying to get us here today. No one was listening. Everything took forever. I was just trying to take THEM somewhere FUN to play with friends and they just couldn’t obey. I threw a fit and yelled and it was ugly.” I needed to hear, “I know just how you feel. It’s so hard when no one is listening.” And that’s what she said. And I proceeded to drink my offending coffee with a little more spring in my step. Because I’m not alone.
And sometimes on the internet, I need to know I’m not alone and I don’t need to look at any more photos of flowers and well-kempt children in organic dresses because we just lost the comb under the couch AGAIN and my daughters’ wild hair makes them look like they just escaped from Miss Hannigan’s orphanage and really wish Daddy Warbucks would come and save them.
And that comes down to something else. My responsibility as a reader. I need to know what brings life and joy to me where I am today.
We’re not all the same. Different people get different things from the same voice. Reading beautiful design blogs can be inspiring and motivating to some. To others, they are discouraging and overwhelming and elicit feeling of envy and discontentment. And for me, one day I might feel inspired by the beauty and the next day when I’m feeling discouraged, I should know better than to open up photos I’m bound to compare to my crummy day.
But my comparison is not the design bloggers’ fault. They’re sharing their talent. Design doesn’t have to be my thing (and FYI, it’s not, haha) and it isn’t sent out into the interwebs to make me feel bad. If consuming certain kinds of writing and social media makes me discontent, envious, anxious, and unhappy, I have a responsibility here: stop reading.
When I discover that I feel unattractive, frumpy, and resentful after reading some beautiful blogger’s fashion post, that’s when I know it’s time to step away. Not because of them. Because of me.
If someone’s parenting posts make you feel like a bad mom, just step away. You’re not her and she’s not you. And that’s ok.
Sometimes I read a post that doesn’t sit well with me and think to myself “I would have said that differently.” Of course, I would have! Because I am not that writer. I couldn’t have written that same post if I tried! And I couldn’t write it word-for-word now even after reading it. It’s not my voice. It’s not my thoughts. And I think reading opposing opinions, personalities, and voices is GOOD.
But if every time that blogger’s posts show up in my reader I find myself tearing the ideas apart in my head and making snide remarks about the piece to my husband….it’s time to walk away. I’m not adding to the conversation there. I’m not being inspired. It just rubs me the wrong way and I need to move on.
I should seek out what makes me think, what makes me come alive, and what challenges and inspires me. I don’t have a responsibility to consume everything and when it causes envy or self-pity, I have the responsibility to walk away. Not everything is my cup of tea. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea!
So whether you’re a blogger or just like sharing family photos on Facebook, be you. Be authentic. And sometimes, be vulnerable if it’s your story to share. And as a consumer of words, take responsibility for what you need to read. What will challenge, inspire, and encourage you? And what blogs do you need to break up with? It’s alright. Just look at your screen and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” And get back to your wonderful, messy, beautiful life that no one but you can live.