It’s such a weird position to be in: here you are, living a normal, sometimes boring, often not perfect life, yet one glance at any social media site has the power to set off feelings of inadequacy that might have stayed in check if it weren’t for the megaphones of perfection that are Facebook and Instagram. Or is that just me?
I recently wrote about taming the feelings of envy that the internet tends to set off. Today, I am reflecting on this concept of the inaccurate portrayal of perfection on the internet, particularly on social media.
One of the most inspiring sessions I attended during Alt Summit Summer this past week was entitled “Blogging with Bravery: Finding Courage and Your Authentic Voice in the Online World” presented by Tiffany Han. Let’s just say Tiffany Han is my new idol.
Even if you don’t have a blog, you probably have Facebook, or Instagram, or Pinterest, or all three and more. Tiffany’s message about telling your real story is for anyone on the internet, not just bloggers or entrepreneurs. It’s for your kids, too, as I will explain later.
The Perception of Perfection
Tiffany talked a lot about the pictures moms post on the internet of their kids perfectly dressed and looking perfectly happy. Being a mom herself, she can say with certainty that that is so not how it is all the time. Or the pictures women post of their perfectly clean and designed homes (I know I am guilty of this).
As an aspiring person who makes a living from her blog, I have paid way too much attention to what everyone else is doing on the internet, thinking that if they were made successful through their efforts, maybe it could work for me too.
The problem is, that isn’t exactly me. Maybe some of it is. When I post a picture of my pretty peanut butter and banana smoothie on Instagram, I am genuinely excited to share the joy of my favorite healthy treat with the world and making it look beautiful doesn’t take that much effort.
I am so not perfect. I choose to post what appears perfect, or near perfect, thinking that is what people want to see (or what I want people to see). But is it? The more I think about this, the more I am realizing I don’t think so. One of the speakers at Alt said that people don’t want to leave the internet feeling more lonely than before they started scrolling through whatever they started scrolling through. How true is that?
I’m not saying the answer is to air dirty laundry all over the internet. No one wants to hear the ongoing saga drama some people choose to share. I usually hide those feeds after a few depressingly dramatic posts, because I don’t come to the internet to feel depressed either.
People go to the internet to be entertained and for information, and I am sure it is a no-brainer to add that people also go to the internet to feel connected to others, particularly through social media and blogs. But the perception of perfection makes all those imperfect people out there (myself included) feel the opposite of connected. It’s a feeling of oh look how great her life is, my life is so not that great.
It’s the young married women who can’t seem to conceive who are crushed by every baby announcement posted on Facebook, or every cute photo of a perfect baby holding a perfectly crafted sign that today is their 1 month birthday. And it’s the single women who want to kill themselves (figuratively, of course) by the perfect engagement announcements, let alone the baby announcements.
The Haters Hurt Too
Heather B. Armstrong, who apparently is internet famous and apparently I live under a rock because I had no idea who she was, delivered a profound opening keynote address at Alt this past week. She stood on stage while a snarky voice-over filled the room, reading out her most hateful comments for being a lifestyle blogger over the past however many years she has been enduring such abuse, the least of which included “I wish you had cancer”.
After going through various stages of learning how to deal with such attacks, she has come to a place where she can have compassion for her haters. She can see that they are the ones who are hurting. Noticing that, she takes back her power.
One of the most interesting things she described was the fact that her pre-adolescent daughter now wants to get on social media. Knowing that she has a dedicated following of haters, Heather is hesitant to allow her daughter to expose herself to the inevitable negativity that will ensue.
She mentioned that our kids will have to deal with this more than we can ever know. Because kids are on the internet too. Taking it one step further, can you imagine being 14 and having the inadequacy you already felt at that age magnified by all the perfect people on the internet?
Kids Are Observing What Adults Are Posting
Forget the negative attention, as Heather B. Armstrong’s daughter will inevitably receive. What if someone already feels like a nobody. Is that not even worse than receiving negative attention, to not only feel like an imperfect nobody in middle school or high school, but to come home and feel that being blared from every social media platform?
One of the speakers at Alt said we are creating the internet right now. I have never thought of it that way. Yes, there will always be trolls and negative energy seeping in, and there will still be perfect pictures and perfect stories posted. But maybe we can start or continue to post more of a balance of imperfect stories and pictures.
No one wants to put an ugly picture on Instagram, so I don’t really know what the answer is here. But I do know now that honesty and being yourself are for sure the way to go, no matter what. And if we aren’t perfect, perhaps there is a way to reflect that more accurately on social media.
I still have no idea how to do this, but I am thinking about it more seriously than ever before.
Do you have any ideas of how to more accurately reflect imperfection through social media? Do you think the internet needs more imperfection in personal stories? Please don’t be afraid to say what you feel.
P.S. In the vein of imperfection, I must admit that I may not be able to post as my wedding and honeymoon approach in the next few weeks. I hope to get back into a regular posting schedule once that settles down.
P.P.S. If you are single and just read that, know how awesome it is to be able to watch whatever romantic comedy you want on TV, do whatever you want all day and all night, and dream about your dreams to come. So go be awesome and enjoy being single while it lasts!