“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.
Haley, loved this post! I could have written it myself. I have had people tell me to my face that my life “is perfect because [I] never talk about bad stuff.” Wait, what? I completely identify with this right here: “nurturing my marriage is more important than baring my soul on the internet.” This has been my social media rule since way back when Facebook was still just college kids -) Anyway, great advice here.
Thanks so much! <3
I don’t blog, but I read maybe 20 blogs regularly, and I’m on insta and FB (with friends and family). There have been insta feeds that I’ve followed and then unfollowed in short order because the pretty everything just didn’t speak to me in my toddler-run trench of mess.
On the other hand, one thing that gets me down is groupie-ism and sponsored posts. I have nothing against someone sharing a product they love. There’s one blog in particular that I enjoyed a lot when it was just regular old entertaining posts, but I ended up unfollowing it because the sponsored posts and the fawning/star status got too much for me. Not that people can’t do what they want with their blogs. But for me it lost its voice.
Adrie | A Little Wife's Happy Life says
Yeah, I think that voice is incredibly important. I have to feel like I’m having a conversation with someone, that they’re a real person. For me, blogging and blog reading is about connections- and I can’t make a connection with a robot-commercial!
I hear ya. It’s a hard balance. On the one hand, I’m all for folks making a living from doing what they love (and I would love to be in a place with blogging where we could provide for our family primarily through my writing). And bloggers spend so much time creating free content for people to enjoy and should be paid for their hard work like anyone else. BUT, when the sponsored content means that the voice you loved is gone it is disappointing.
I completely hear you! Many times I’ve said exactly what you said about not telling just my story but other people’s stories too. I don’t mind being open about my own failings, but there are a lot of things I don’t blog about because it wouldn’t be fair to share some things about Mr. FG or our kids.
It’s just not my story to tell.
I so relate to this too! 🙂
Grace Rogers says
This is so wise. Thanks, Haley. I feel like I know you 🙂
This is so, so good. I am trying really hard to have an authentic voice on my blog, but don’t know if I’m succeeding. Partly, it’s because I still feel “new” to the blog and am feeling it out, and partly, it’s because I have people who know me IRL and truly think I “have it all together” but I don’t, and I am struggling to convey that without airing all the dirty laundry, you know?
YES. I’m still finding my voice and I’ve been blogging for awhile.
Thanks for this great post! It is difficult to strike that balance between being “real” and keeping your privacy/protecting your family/marriage. I totally have trouble reading other blogs sometimes–especially fashiony or home decorating blogs–and have to take a break when my spirit can’t handle it.
It’s usually blogs about things that I’m terrible at–like crafting with kids, yikes!–that bum me out. But I have to remember that’s it’s fine that I’m not good at that! And awesome that some people are and are willing to share their great ideas for the crafty-challenged like myself 😉
Beautifully said, Hayley. Thank you for this perspective and making me think! I am on a journey to embrace and OWN my own unique life…my parenting style, house decor, fashion sense, season of life, etc, and this article is so very helpful. It’s so sad when something like the Internet that can be so used to help us be encouraged & uplifted can also serve as a means for self-doubt and comparison. Thank you for pointing out our reader responsibilities…I never thought of it that way! Blessings to you & your family.
This post is what I totally love about reading your blog! It’s very inspiring and motivating to read about another mother who is balancing the whole messy, beautiful life – I haven’t found that anywhere else.
It’s inspired me to start blogging again, but with a new purpose and without being preachy and condescending, which I was doing without really thinking about it.
Thanks so much for this post, and for your blog too! It’s been a real blessing for me.
Marie, that’s so kind! Thank you. <3
This is wonderful, thank you. It’s so true, we have a responsiblity to be authentic online but as as a reader we also need to realize that people can’t show us everything and we don’t need to know everything.
Often times the messy, chaotic parts of our lives are the personal, private parts of our lives. If someone chooses to share those parts of their lives with us then we should be honored but it’s not a right we have. We just need to be wise enough to realize that people’s lives are not just what we see because of course we want to share the good stuff.
Behind every instagram photo, every pinterest pin and every blog post there’s something we can’t see: there’s a messy room, a screaming toddler, a breaking heart, or a hurt relationship. We can’t expect bloggers and instagrammers to always share this with us, so we need to be realistic and understand that even if it looks perfect, it’s not.
“Behind every instagram photo, every pinterest pin and every blog post there’s something we can’t see: there’s a messy room, a screaming toddler, a breaking heart, or a hurt relationship.” THIS. <3
About envy, I often think when I find it creeping in, I have to think way out to the outer universe– like maybe that girl is fab, but there is even more fabulous out there and she pales in comparison. If I was as fabulous as she, and I am dissatisfied now, then I know I would be dissatisfied as her because of the other people out there– like Giselle Bunchen or Anna Wintour…and then when they are old or retired, where do they belong?
When I lived in Chelsea London, I thought a lot about this because I was surrounded by fabulousness ALL DAY! Walking out of my house were catwalks everywhere it seemed. I prayed and prayed and prayed for peace, and God told me that it is a lie to think that belonging and “specialness” exist outside of belonging to him. Everyone who is outside of him is in fact an island of loneliness, even if they appear to have a solar system revolving around their fabulousness.
So for me I counter creeping feelings of littleness with thanksgiving that God has made me long for him in that moment, and that he is offering me the only reality that is belonging to him and soaking in his love.
And then I pray especially hard for those people who I envied, that I may give thanks for their beauty/style, and that it in turn praise my Jesus for his great goodness. And if it they are committing a wrong, that I have St. Theres’s love for the sinner and instead of descending to anger, that I have hope and confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform their heart to more perfectly love my Jesus.
It reminds me of something that Bl. John Henry Newman wrote about– it doesn’t really matter if Jesus had become a prince or a pauper because descending from divine to human and fallen was so infinite a change that the difference between prince and pauper was as nothing compared to the difference between infinite and finite. What we sometimes perceive as huge differences are in fact not huge at all, our humanity overwhelms all other things and unites us across all superficial measures of happiness.
Love these insights, Luisa!
priest's wife @byzcathwife says
very wise words! and sometimes…the reader needs to get over herself and keep reading if the content and voice are awesome…I could get jealous of your great red lipstick and cute haircut (I can’t do either look without looking….I don’t know) – but your posts are just what I need
Thank you! <3
Alison's Wonderland Recipes says
When it comes to internet authenticity, do you have any advice for a beginner blogger? I do mostly recipes. I try to make the intros/instructions cheerful and interesting, but I’m concerned about coming across as really girly (especially since my theme is Alice in Wonderland). It wouldn’t be an accurate picture of who I am, and I also don’t want to exclude people who don’t connect with that style. Any thoughts on how to reconcile the two?
I think it takes a long time to find your voice! Try some things out, Experiment and explore and you’ll fall into something that feels like home 😉
Alison's Wonderland Recipes says
Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind while I’m writing my next posts. 🙂
Being inspired by something one day and being discouraged another day is SPOT ON. Sometimes even in the same day!
“Sometimes even in the same day!” Haha, so true.
This is awesome, Haley. You’ve hit it right on target. Authenticity can be hard sometimes. I don’t necessarily mean being honest, but it can be difficult to find your voice and be (somewhat) entertaining at times to draw readers.
I like your reminder to readers too — if it’s not enriching your life, time to cut it out.
Thank you, Laurel! I really struggle with finding my voice…and having “what’s my voice” blogging identity crises every few weeks 😉
“IF” your real life friends read you blog? I think we all do. 😀
Haha, I doubt that, Alyssa!
Kiera K says
Thank you for writing this, you put it together in a way that I really could identify with and needed to hear as well. I definitely have those bouts of feeling inadequate that you are talking about and I need to be better at stepping away. Also with you on the white shirt bit, after buying a new one and wearing it once, it is already ruined with holes from trying to get out a stain. Blergh.
SERIOUSLY. White shirt? With three kids under the age of 6? Did I really expect to wear it more than once? haha! Stained shirt solidarity, sister.
Rachel R. says
Sometimes the “comparison game” is just a matter of our own human tendency to compare our worst with everyone else’s best, too. I’ve had a young mom comment in the past that she figures my house must be super-organized. I don’t think I’ve ever done/said anything to give that impression. In fact, my whole “thing” on my blog is that when I share it’s because I found *something* that actually *worked* – and if it worked for *me* surely someone else can use it, because I am a mess!
But nobody wants to visit my blog to look at ugly pictures all the time! So there’s the occasional “just want to keep it real” post, but mostly I share the stuff that worked, because that’s the part that will be helpful. I don’t expect anyone to think that’s the total picture any more than I would think that someone’s family never has arguments because they showed up to church dressed nicely and smiling. (We all know there’s probably a 50-50 chance they were actually fighting in the car on the way there, right? 😉 )
But if you ever want to feel better about kids with unbrushed hair, just stop by my place. I’m pretty sure my kids’ hair is never brushed in any of my blog photos. lol
So true about the comparison game!
You are spot on regarding telling your story, not someone else’s. This gets tricky as your children get older and they are your main source of content! It’s one thing to bewail toddler antics, but even when worded so that the reader sees the hilarity of a situation, there is so much about my older kids that I just can’t write.
Beautifuly insightful post, Haley!
Yes. I’m trying to figure out the right balance!
Yes!! I feel that way about books, too. Sometimes an author’s writing just does not vibe with me. I try to like them, try to hop on the bandwagon, but I just can’t. I have to move on and find an author that moves me and makes me want to come back for more.
That’s true! I have to remind myself of that when someone tells me they don’t like Flannery O’Connor, instead of just gasping in horrified disbelief. It’s not for everybody! And…that’s ok 😉 Great insight, Virginia!
I like your rule of thumb. I try not to represent myself in a way that says, “I’m so blessed, look how awesome I am.” The thing is, I don’t like seeing people post things about how annoyed they are with their husband right now! If I have a problem, I first must respect my husband as a person & respect our relationship by working it out with him. Not embarrassing him in front of the world. I don’t do that IRL, I would never do that online! You can be genuine without gossiping or revealing everyone else’s faults.
Yes! It’s tricky because I don’t want to give the impression that our marriage isn’t difficult sometimes or that we don’t struggle. But, I also feel like marriage needs some degree of privacy in order to respect the other spouse.
This is a wonderful post! I’ve been thinking about starting a blog and I’ve been thinking so much about these issues.
Thanks so much, Steph!
Yes. Thank you for saying that all so well. Very wise- a reminder that I needed.
I really appreciate that, Jessica, thanks!
You said all of this so perfectly! Thank you!
This is excellent. Thank you. I’m tired of the debate being about whether it is right or wrong to share beautiful snippets of our lives online. Yes, we should be real and honest in any area of interaction. But beyond that, we all need to monitor our own souls for envy and discontentment. Thanks for wording this so well.
Thank you, Ellen!
You know, I actually got rid of my facebook for those very reasons. Jealousy (whether I was the one getting jealous of other people’s life or the one making people jealous) reared its ugly head and I was feeling awful for one reason or another EVERYDAY. It spawned a very long conversation between myself and my husband about it and we talked for a long time about how it can be a stumbling block for SOME people. We came to a conclusion together that isn’t not for everyone, but that some people can use it with no problem. (For example, I don’t have FB but my husband does.)
Having the grace to know when to back away from social media is hard to do but even more, I found myself struggling to not have people thinking that I was telling them that they shouldn’t use it too. I ended up not even talking about it for fear I would be taken the wrong way!
Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it.
Good for you for knowing what would be best for your soul to thrive, Hannah!
I so resonate with the heart of this! Been there, done that on the issues you shared here.
I came to the same conclusions. We are all different. We are blessed in different ways. Different seasons affect what blesses us.
We need to embrace our differences and be the encouragement we can be for each other! 🙂
Yes! “We are all different. We are blessed in different ways. Different seasons affect what blesses us.” Love that, Deborah!
Maria Gonzalez says
Haley, lots of wisdom here and a real balanced perspective! Thanks for pointing out that I have a responsibility as a reader, not just as a blogger.
Thanks for such lovely, poignant words that any blogger or blog reader can benefit being reminded of. I especially appreciate the permission to break up with a blog when it’s just not a good fit anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that over time perhaps you’ve both changed a little. I had the privilege of meeting you in person at Allume last year & it was lovely to be able to meet such an authentic blogger. Lovely post!
Oh hi, Jennifer! I LOVED getting to meet you at Allume? Are you going this year? I’m not, but I kinda wish I was!
Conceiving Hope says
Wow, you really hit on the entire reason I *avoided* blogging for so long. Like mallet-on-the-head-of-a-cartoonishly-large-nail…
I could easily have written about the same struggle you expressed here (and have thought about it many times – as is apparent by all of my draft blog posts still sitting on my side of the internet window. It really is a struggle not to look at the PERFECT pictures of other people’s lives and have pangs and irritations.
It’s the reason I stay entirely away from Instagram and a good bit away from Pinterest (and even Etsy if I’m being completely honest!). Somewhere a long time before Al Gore invented the internet, I had the authenticity to be creative, and it didn’t come from a blog post. And I also figured out how to cook amazing, beautiful meals…without a single (blasted) food blog showing me pictures of how to whisk things. Don’t get me wrong – I revel in a chance to whisk. And I even love beautiful pictures of food. I just can’t deal with recipes that highlight how much more together all these other kitchens are than mine.
So away I went from those triggers, and happiness was quick to find me again. Now all of that said, the same does not pertain to IF blogs. I will devour them without prejudice and celebrate them happily. It’s funny how a certain sub-genre within a topic that is close to your heart can skew an otherwise touchy issue.
Anyhow, I’m rambling now. This blog was very well written and touched on a topic I’ve been itching to express myself. Well done and thanks for sharing.
Lauren @ Faith and Macaroni says
Not sure if you follow Roo, but this was a particularly awesome post along the same lines:
And yes, I very much agree with what you wrote. I love my friends and appreciate my readers and followers, but some things aren’t mine to tell and others just don’t need to be proclaimed to the world. I try to be real, but I’m okay with not giving a play-by-play.
Erika Marie says
Excellent post! I’ve thought of this many times and even have a disclaimer in my “Welcome” page –
“Please don’t come here to compare your life to what you see on the screen. Comparison is the thief of joy. A blog can only offer a sliver of what our real lives are about and who we are, and usually you’ll only see the better parts displayed aesthetically for your eyes.. In real life, I’m just as crazy as you – probably MORE! You are you and I am me. Be who YOU are. ”
I need to use that same advice for myself when reading other’s blogs as well.
It’s so easy to let envy get the best of us and not only desire what another has (or what we think they are), but to also desire for them to fail and feel miserable like we do. But this isn’t love.
One thing I wonder about you and other well-known Catholic bloggers – how do you deal with the “stardom” and knowing that hundreds or thousands of other people out there know you and your family and hold you up as a Catholic celebrity of sorts? Maybe you’ve written about this already here?
Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. I mean, I don’t think anyone would think of me as some sort of celebrity, but as a blogger, more people know who I am. I don’t think I feel any differently about it than I feel about being a Catholic at the grocery store. We’re always representing our faith to some degree wherever we are, right?
Michele @ A Storybook Life says
Here from Project Underblog’s Friday Favorites…and what a good favorite this is! So much of what you’ve written here speaks to me, especially the idea of needing to take responsibility for your own feelings. If a blog doesn’t work for you, that’s OK! And I really appreciate your thoughtful look at what it means to be authentic — you are so right that it doesn’t have to mean baring your whole life to the world, but it’s important to be yourself. Not everyone will love it, and that’s OK, too.
Lots of great points! For me, because “authenticity” itself is a word strangely associated in my mind with self-conscious presentation (as well as possibly fraught with the danger of sharing more than is prudent), I like to think of it in terms of humility, but we basically have the same idea in mind. I am currently reflecting on Mother Teresa’s words about humility, that if we are truly humble, nothing will affect us, neither praise nor disgrace, because we know what we are. Having trouble connecting the link to the original quotation, but maybe I’ll be able to if I comment on my own comment, lol.
I read (somewhere?) the other day that when we compare ourselves, we are judging ourselves OR the other person. It’s hard to navigate these internet waters.
And I agree, on your criteria for being authentic.
Katie Sciba @ The Catholic Wife says
Oh Haley – this was so so good for me to read. For the longest time I couldn’t read a single blog without feeling defeated. I compared myself to absolutely everyone, only to achieve the inevitable consequence of falling short. So I decided to keep my head down and keep working; and it’s been lately that I’ve explored other blogs a touch more, now slightly more grounded in my identity and God’s unique plan for my voice.
Thank you for articulating this so well!
Suzi Whitford says
Haley, thank you for the post! Twice this week I’ve encountered this, once when I thought of writing a post that would not be true to my spouse. I completely agree with you that “nurturing my marriage is more important than baring my soul on the internet.” No matter how many ‘likes’ I think it will bring on FB, my marriage is worth all of FB’s likes. And secondly, I was discouraged because a certain blog did not like the article I sent them. But after talking about it with my wonderful husband, he reminded me that I did not want to be associated with that site, even though it was big. My writing is not cynical, poking fun at life’s beautiful events, but rather my writing is sappy, and loving, and full of genuine mommy tears and hugs. So I’m learning how to find my authentic voice in this world of blogging. Thank you for the encouragement!
Sara @ T says
OHMYGOODNESS!!!! This is SO perfect!!! I wrote a “Facebook Internet Safety” course to use with teens, and authenticity was one of the big points. This article totally hits the nail on the head!! I’m going to add it to my course as required reading for that topic! Thanks!
Here’s a link to the course, in case anyone is interested:
Kevin Aigid says
What a great article, and good points. I just wrote a book on the same topic..