A few years ago, I was given the gift of insight into my flawed perceptions. I am a thrift store junky. I can spend hours scouring the racks of Goodwill looking for nuggets of fashion gold. It began out of necessity because we were a single income family with two children in diapers. I had managed to build a closet full of second hand clothing. I went to a meeting wearing some of my latest Goodwill finds. Afterwards, I was chatting with an acquaintance and she complimented my outfit. I thanked her and laughed as I told her the story of my outfit and the mere $7 that I spent on my shoes. She looked at me for a minute without saying anything and then started laughing.
She explained that she had been having a rough financial time and had looked at my outfit longingly during the meeting envious that she couldn’t afford something like it. I was sitting there in second-hand finds and bargain shoes and she was envying me for the cost of my clothing. One of my husband’s nuggets of wisdom is “Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” I was so used to comparing myself to others and feeling inadequate and here she was comparing her insides to my outsides and getting the same result. It was a perfect moment of understanding for both of us.
Not long ago, my husband sent me this Yahoo story of a viral Facebook post about a mom staging a pool photo shoot. The scene was complete with matching mom and me swimsuits, towels, and curls. The mom and daughter posed and snapped a few photos and then, to the daughter’s dismay and without ever entering the pool, they left. My purpose isn’t to shame the mom in the article. In fact, my initial thought was that the photo-shooting-mom was probably there trying to snap a quick picture for an affiliate link for her blog, website, or other social media platform. But what this story made me realize was the profound way that social media is shaping our perception of life.
Most of us have seen far too many commercials but, until the recent past, commercials have been reserved for merchandizing and retail. What the Yahoo article referenced and what we are witnessing now is the commercialization of our actual lives. Social Media is breeding it. From the strategic lighting and camera angles on photos to the endorphin producing likes, shares, and retweets of our profiles and posts, we are perpetually reinforced to curate these scenes.
For me, the most confounding part of it is that it isn’t all bad. Multi-Level Marketers can use it to create a following and boost their sales. Influencers can use it to make profits from affiliate links. Hell, I’m using it to get out this message. But what about the people on the receiving end of the newsfeed? What about the rest of us? How do we manage it? How do we sort through the staged pictures of our kids in matching clothes or hashtagization of our lives?
“Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.”
Sadly, though, in a social media world, we aren’t just comparing our insides to their outsides. We aren’t just comparing our internal struggles to the smile that someone puts on at the supermarket. We are comparing our insides to the matching swimsuits and curated photo shoot at the pool that Susie from the yahoo story is posting on social media. We are comparing our actual bed head to the head of the L’ange girl on Instagram doing her demonstration of a 5 minute “bedhead to beach curl” video. We are comparing our insides to the carefully constructed lives of those that we follow on social media.
We have all seen and read enough to know that the models in the magazines are photoshopped to perfection but because of the casual nature of social media, it is easy to believe that these stories and photos and snapchats are real. (Fyre Festival, anyone?) But let me just tell you, the story that my smile sells in carpool is far from the reality of the fears and struggles that I feel daily. And the photo that I posted above captures a moment of what I love about being a mom BUT it is a far stretch from the more frequent chaos and cusswords that happen regularly in my home.
So let’s do this: let’s stop comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. The sweetest parts of life are made of more than photo filters and retweets. The unforgettable moments happen when we aren’t holding our phones but are living in those moments. I was walking out of target one afternoon when I was about 7 months pregnant with my second child and my oldest child was just 11 months old. An elderly lady stopped me and started telling me how I reminded her of when she had 6 kids under 7. She was smiling as she reminisced. I asked for any wisdom. She just smiled and said never lose your sense of humor. Let’s do that.
Life isn’t perfect and neither are we. Let’s stop dwelling in the blemishes and recognize that they are exactly what they should be. Let’s go back to laughing at the mistakes and misfortunes of reality because real life is full of imperfect decisions and there is no way to capture the fullness of that on Instagram.