filtered unfiltered images

What Lies Behind the Filter

It started with an over-filtered photo on a social media tag.

I was tagged for #stopdropandselfie on Instagram. I saw the notification while I was sitting in the car line, bored to tears. I had my hair pulled back in a ponytail, accentuating my big forehead, but I had taken a shower that morning and did at least have some makeup on. I wasn’t scary so I figured…why not?

I don’t take a lot of selfies. If you check my Instagram feed you’ll certainly find a few but mostly you will find photos of my kids, my dog, books, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I took the photo, posted it and went about my day.  Later, when I put on my glasses and really looked at the photo I looked fuzzy. And plastic. I looked like me, but flawless me. So…not me.

I absolutely do not look like this…well, I do…but not really.

Later that evening I felt compelled to make this right. I took picture after picture and still couldn’t figure out how to edit out the editing. Then, I saw it. The little profile of a woman’s head at the top of the screen. I tapped it and slid my finger left, relinquishing perfection for honesty. I still look a little airbrushed but that’s due to the fact that I was apparently sitting next to a good lamp and still had makeup on. I have freckles that are covered by that makeup but this is me….dark circles, forehead wrinkles, lines around the eyes earned with each day of my 47 years.

No filter
That’s a little more like it.

Two photos. One overly airbrushed nonsense and one real with no smoke and mirrors, just a touch of Dermablend.

Pictures are wonderful snippets of a view into our lives, a highlight reel if you will, and can certainly tell a story. But is it the real story?

We spend time creating an idea that what we are doing, and more importantly how we are doing in the time it takes for the click of the camera and to add a few filters is so much better than it really is.

We mask internal pain by smiling brightly then removing the flaws, the parts that make us real, show us as we truly are. We add a filter, adjust the light, and perfect the contrast as if our measure of happiness lives and dies in that one moment.

On social media, we decide what we want others to see and what we don’t. Photos are filtered and words are edited because we want to look as if we’re living better on the outside in order to hide what is dying on the inside.

I will admit that my life looks better on social media than it does in the real world. I edit photos. I am more apt to share the happier moments. I leave out altogether the less than stellar moments that aren’t easy to make pretty.

I don’t do this because I’m vain. I do this because I was raised to believe you don’t ever show, much less spotlight, the bad side. You stuff your feelings and hide the truth. Always put your best face forward and if you can’t say something nice, say it behind closed doors.

That was much easier to do in the decades before social media. Today, we can get up to the minute status updates and photos with the push of a button and swipe of a finger. Or the push of a few buttons and a few swipes of the finger, a little editing and filtering….it has to look or sound just so.

Everyone has that one Facebook friend. The friend who is always happy. The friend whose kids are headed for epic greatness. The friend who travels the world, eating the best food and swimming in the bluest oceans. That friend whose husband never passes gas and sends flowers weekly. They never, ever have a bad day.

I scroll through Pinterest and see the amazing things people do to their homes, the meals both edible and beautiful, the fun DIY projects, endlessly perfect bodies, nails, hair, makeup….the list goes on….my eyes glaze over, my mouth waters a little, and I wish for a prettier everything.

Instagram is full of more spectacular edited and enhanced moments. I scroll through some days and feel less than…less exciting, less pretty, less happy. Worse, some days I feel envious which, in turn, makes me feel ashamed.

Being a writer, these social media outlets are necessary evil. When I am actually doing this thing I love, I use them every day. Those are the days I can scroll through and I am inspired and genuinely thrilled for the many successes of others.

Other days, I resent them. Like a semi-stalker, I will scroll through and feel the cracks in my self esteem widening. I forget my own accomplishments and the fact that somewhere, someone may feel the same way about my own feed from time to time.

Since I purged my social media of friends and family and use it only for my writing now, I feel a little less inhibited. I don’t have to fear the phone calls and feigned support which is usually just a dig for information. I find the network of people I write with to be more open and I am find it easier to write freely and the more I do, the easier it becomes to show my true self.

Still, the simple truth is that on social media, life is often filtered. We share the pretty parts and sometimes the ugly. Hell, sometimes even the ugly may not be the whole truth, only a concocted fiction, either in whole or in part. People love a good story and morbid curiosity will always be a draw.

Do I believe that everyone that writes a blissful status update or posts smiling photos on social media are wearing masks? Of course not. I read statuses every day that express unhappiness, anger, frustration, and guilt. I’ve even seen these negative emotions in photos, albeit rarely.

The truth is we never really know.

I recently read an article about a young girl whose Instagram and Facebook feeds were filled with candid shots of her seemingly happy life. She was a college freshman at an Ivy League school and the real truth was that she was extremely depressed and having a very difficult time. Her family and friends knew things were different, off somehow,  but she looked so happy in her Instagram photos. She took, and filtered, a beautiful photo of holiday lights in the trees at Rittenhouse Square in Philly an hour before she jumped from a nine story parking garage and ended her life. This young woman filtered out the demon of depression which, as many of us know, hides so very well.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to totally rid myself of some type of filter. I have years of practice hiding my true feelings, putting my best face forward, and burying truths. Just today I shared some personal news with some friends online that I trust wholeheartedly. I typed the status six times – six! – backspaced it out, typed it again and hit enter, deleted it, and then finally typed it, hit enter, and left it.

I felt sick.

I was worried I would look weak, desperate. Ironically, it was in a moment of weakness and despair.

So, the truth is…

I have moments where I fall to pieces. I cry, I rant, I throw things, and I look like shit because I haven’t showered in four days.

Things in my life go wrong and don’t make sense.

My kids aren’t perfect. They are real jerks sometimes.

I get jealous of my peers when they are writing brilliance and I can’t put three words together.

And, the truth is….

I am a strong woman but I am human. I get depressed and angry and tired and fed up and scared, but you will likely never see it.

My kids are brilliant, I love them fiercely, and I am proud of them every day, jerks or not. That you will likely see a lot.

I am proud of my friends for their accomplishments. Writing is a bitch of a thing whether you do it as a hobby, a passion, or to make a living. Getting it noticed is monumental. I applaud you. I will try to let you know that more often.

I made a conscious decision when I started this blog to be honest and to write free. Sharing these words on social media takes that one step further and, aside from the unfortunate Barbie-like selfie, I think I have held true to that promise. I do it in hopes of trying to form real connections, something that isn’t very easy for me.

But I keep trying.

So use your filters wisely. Make your pictures prettier, hide a few superficial flaws. There is nothing wrong with it.  Show the world your best but don’t hide your worst. You don’t have to show it to the world. But show it to someone.

In times of despair, or just the need for human connection, relinquish perfection for honesty.

I will leave you with this short video from my beautiful friend, Hasty. She sums it up so eloquently in just 15 seconds:

50 thoughts on “What Lies Behind the Filter”

  1. So many things I love about this, Sandy. The analogy of our often filtered lives which, in the process, filter out the truth — even to those closest to us at times. I especially liked hearing that I’m not the only one with jerky kids sometimes. But most of all, I appreciated your perspective on how honesty — with its flaws and all — reveals those things which make us who we truly are. Without the flaws, we eventually become a caricature of ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to embrace the flaws in ourselves, or lives and our selfies. Even before I saw your updated selfie poip upon my Instagram page, I already knew — filter or not — your “flaws” were some of your most intriguing qualities 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ned, thank you. You summed up it all up very well. My flaws are part of who I am and I’m a pretty damn good person, so why shouldn’t I embrace them? It’s that pesky perfectionism and need to be seen in a certain light that holds me back, mostly in my ‘real’ life. I’ve come to the conclusion that being so guarded probably makes me come across as unapproachable . That is not what I want at all. Well, not always anyway :).
      And no…you are certainly not the only one with jerky kids. All kids are jerky at times and so are a lot of adults. Whatcha gonna do?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Not as much as I love you. I think this speaks to a lot of people but you couldn’t have told me that when I hit publish. It scared me to do it. I thought maybe I was wrong and I’d be laughed out of the blogging world. I was wrong.


  2. I’m crying tears of connection, and I haven’t watched the video yet. I loved every word. You are a beautiful soul with & without those “filters.” Hope this reaches so many, and they are able to connect beyond the pictures, the statuses, beyond what is portrayed. Sharing now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rachel, thank you so much. This comment made me a little emotional. I have become such a huge fan of your writing as well as your heart and soul so I appreciate this more than you know. I’m so glad we are here to support each other.


  3. Dammit, woman, you have me actually stopped in my tracks and not knowing how to respond.


    Were I to respond in songs, it would be with John Legend’s ‘All of you’, and ‘Razzle Dazzle’, from Chicago. Those make most sense of this, for me, right now.

    Today I’m not in a bad place, and despite the fact that yes, I constantly edit out my zits and often hate how I look, there’s also a part of me which knows it doesn’t matter, because the people who matter look at me through love-tinted spectacles (things I don’t possess for myself) and it genuinely doesn’t matter how I look to them. They don’t care if I look as though I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, and more fool me for not embracing that attitude.

    Too many days I’ll allow a photo to go out which (admittedly I’ve never found the ‘barbie filter’ – think I’m too dumb for that, and also there’s the voice which says it wouldn’t help anyway) allows me to confirm my worst fears about myself – that I’ll never, ever match up to the beauty I see in some of my friends, and those comparison trap moments can be dark nights of the soul for me, compounded by the fact that deep down I know I’m being ridiculous about it, and it shouldn’t matter anyway, except it does.

    It’s all about acceptance, isn’t it? In the end it’s about connection and the desire to still be deemed a suitable part of the tribe, and what we put out there of ourselves is worthy…

    YOU ARE!

    And you are part of my ‘tribe’, DA, and will remain there for as long as you want to be part of it.

    (and also this was a LOT before 7am…let me reiterate “Dammit, woman!”)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read this comment early this morning and my day has been insane so I’m playing catch up now. I couldn’t wait to come back here and tell you I love, love, love this comment and I adore you.
      We all know, or we should, that outer beauty means nothing if you don’t have the goods to back it up. You know me, you’ve seen me late into the night (early morning) and we’ve spoken face to face (or something close to it) about so many things, it was all unfiltered and we’re both still here. To this day, I believe that is one of the things that solidified our friendship.
      I’m happy we are part of one another’s tribe. I’m fairly sure we will be for quite some time.

      I’m taking ‘Dammit, woman!” and running with it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I definitely think that being able to speak face to face (ish) and in real time has been something magical which has taken our friendship ‘off the page’, so to speak. Words and writing are wonderful, but when it comes to turning that into something which is a bit more…adunno, I guess instinctive, or visceral, in terms of the manner in which we are designed to respond to another human being… then things like VidChat and WhatsApp are WONDERS, and I am constantly thankful for the technology.

        Thankful for you, too, Sandy. Always and ever grateful that you decided that serendipity and kismet meant we should be friends. Thank you.

        You get running 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, thank you, Lisa. I hope you were going back to bed because you had to get up in the middle of the night to read this and not because you are not feeling well again.


  4. ..and THAT …or rather THIS is the truth. We all live those ‘filtered’ life on social media.
    Beautifully put. I think the problem is that we’re all trying too hard to be ‘accepted’ and in that quest, we forget (or rather conveniently forget) to be open and honest and be accepted for what/who we are.
    Sharing this. And following your blog too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After I published this post I did some poking around here and there and what I saw just drove everything home. I stand by every word.
      It is about acceptance, feeling good enough in a world where everything is so shined up and made beautiful before. It’s not always easy.
      Thank you for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate you sharing and am always happy to meet a new follower.


  5. It feels like you snuck into my brain and spoke the truth inside–truths about the way I see myself, the way I compare myself with others and so much more. Thank you. It is time to reassess my filters.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful post, Sandy. It’s very interesting that Hollywood has done this forever, as well as big media in the past, showing people’s perfect lives and looks that cannot be attained because they are not real. And now we are doing it to ourselves, every day on social media. I kid around with my children saying, “when I’m dead, only put pictures up of me looking thin, young, happy.” We mask the pain, suck it up, and live an illusion.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What lies beyond the filters is reality, it is genuine. People that want to see that reality are the ones we want in our lives. They will celebrate with us, and cry with us. Sometimes they won’t be there, that too is reality.
    Reality is sometimes unfair, but it is always real. Better that than thinking you look as good as you do in those pictures, only to see all the imperfections in the right light on the wrong day.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This couldn’t be any more true.
    Filters on our lives. Filters on our pictures. Filters on our emotions. Filters on our anger and hate. Filters, everywhere. 😦
    Take baby steps, forward.
    I think we are more fearful of our own lives unfiltered, than we are of others seing our unfiltered lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I don’t think you could be any more correct when you write that we are more fearful of our own unfiltered lives than showing it to others. I am indeed my own worst critic. Always have been. I’m working on it.

      Thank you for this honest and wise comment. Truly.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The opposite of wearing the mask is kind of unfun, too. It’s derision and complaints, belches and not giving a shit about what you seem like. There must be something in the middle. Maybe a spot where you stand up straight and suck it in, but you don’t airbrush yourself right out of your own life. Kind of a best-foot-forward, yet just-as-I-am approach?

    I’d like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Let me tell you why I love the fact that you present yourself, raw and unfiltered, on your blog. Because when I read your posts I always find something I can relate to – perhaps something I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed of – and it makes me feel less alone and “damaged” because you show me I’m NOT alone…and that you understand. Thanks for that, my friend.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. And just like that I know I’m doing something right. This is exactly what I hoped for when I started it and am never quite sure if I’m getting it done. Thank you, Jana, for letting me know this.
      You are not alone. I promise.


  11. Well, I cannot tell you how many ways I love this!! I was the only one (on my newsfeed, at least) who posted how dismal and disappointing my mother’s day was. I spent the day crying and detesting my children. And I have six. Today I posted that we all have lice. I almost seem to be going out of my way to be (and I hate how overused this word is) authentic because I cannot deal with the plastic people out there any longer. Before computers and internet, there were always those people who when you asked “How are you?” gave such a glowing report that you felt like a big fat loser if you had any other answer less than, “I’m doing Stellar, thank you!!” An argument can be made that these are just “positive, the glass is half full” people and they should be commended for reminding the rest of us to be grateful that we have ten toes and ten fingers. But I’ll take real and raw any day. Thanks for putting it all into such PERFECT words. Yep, perfect – – but not plastic!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the compliment on the post. I really appreciate it. Your comment is a perfect example and part of the reason I wrote this.
      I just have to take this one step further and say I’m sorry about the lice. That is truly awful. I don’t know if I follow you on FB but I will be shortly. I like real.


  12. We are sort of new to the selfie thing, but it definitely can be fun. Last year after an update to my phone we took a selfie of a dinner and wine we were enjoying… I posted it quickly, but when I looked at it online… I said hey we look pretty great, low light and all, and then I realized my phoned had photo shopped us. I am not a fan of photo shop. I find it most disturbing how easily we edit out reality. I could not undo the photo but I commented about the phone photo shopping us and my disapproval. Where does it end? and what does it say about us as a society? I like to take photos and I post a lot of my flower and nature photos to social media… for the record.. I never use filters nor do I edit except sometimes to crop out something at the edge that I don’t want in the photo. You don’t even have to be a good photographer anymore to take good photos… you just have to know what settings to use and how to edit. We shot a wedding a year or two back and the brides happened to be heavy. We got lots of great shots, but they didn’t like hardly any of them. They wanted their fat to be edited out. I was like…um… people were there… they know what you really looked like… you cannot just photo shop 100 pounds away. But the reality is you can. We do not do that sort of photography and I guess that’s one reason why we will not likely ever make a living at it. I am all about catching the real. You can use angels and positioning to draw the focus on what you want to showcase while detracting from what you would like to be less noticeable without altering the reality of the shot, if you know what you are doing. Of course, it’s a lot more work than photo shop. I like your honesty, and I am sure that is why I keep reading you. 🙂


  13. Thought of you today as I drove past Flagler College!! This post was so so so so true! I too was raised to hide the negatives and only show things in a good light. Phoniness in other words! I do try to be positive every day but I do have those days when I feel rotten, have anxiety over something, or just plain want to be by myself. I don’t show that on Social Media. Maybe we should!! Hugs XX


  14. GAH!!!! I adore you. So much. I think it’s hard too, for those of us who are not 30 and blogging the parenting stuff. I sometimes want to shout that I USED TO LOOK GOOD TOO. But then I think about living an authentic life, and authentic me, and well, I’m wrinkled and freckled, and have eye luggage as big as my carryon. I love this and so appreciate reading it. I’m here, always. No matter how adorable you are or are not (and you are, flaws and all).


  15. My dear….still my hero!! Hi Sandy, what a phenomenal post as usual from my fav blogger. You’re imperfections make you wholly beautiful, sweetly vulnerable and a gem. It’s pure souls like yourself that keep others in the light of reality. As Ginger Brooke & I came back on the blogging scene, she began reading blog-posts when I told her: “Sandy’s is mine, thank you very much.” lol 😉 It’s posts like this that keep me coming back for more. Because in a CGI world of airbrushed beauty and narcissistic behavior, we need to hold on to those who tell it like it is and who are willing to spill the deepest part of their mind, heart and soul; the true characteristic of an artist. I completely understand what you mean. My southern grandmother used to say it best. “We don’t air our dirty laundry, Natalie.” Why in the hell not, Grandma?!! I Loved this post Sandy & sharing this gem of wisdom now.


  16. Sandy, I was raised in a home where we were told to put on a happy face. Feeling was not encouraged and people who appeared lovelier, thinner, richer, happier, and more fulfilled were so. It was law.

    I watched my mother die a slow emotional death from self-comparison to her sister-in-law, who, by all outward accounts, had a perfect life. She was beautiful, her children were beautiful, they lived in a huge home, had lots of wealth (the monetary kind only) and traveled with world for sport. As children, we were constantly compared to our illustrious cousins: their looks, manners, good breeding, smarts, etc. I think we (my sister and I) always knew there was no thing as perfection and preferred to be our best selves, whoever those people were and whatever size jeans they wore. But in my family, we were valued for what we portrayed ourselves to be, not who we actually were and THAT hurt. That meant the lie was Greater than the truth. That Truth, our truth, held no value.

    Today I know better and I strive to always do better. There will always be people who are more attractive, more talented, more intelligent, more charming, but none of that negates Who We Are to ourselves and to others.

    Bravo to you for being honest about your filters. I think that most of us, especially those of us who aim to write true, are peering into the dark, dank, ugly places and allowing ourselves and others to know that life happens There too. And there is beauty in that. There truly is.

    With heart,

    Liked by 1 person

  17. There you go again…speaking my heart thoughts!
    I’ve been saving this post for quiet time to read and reflect. You are so spot on! In fact, I wrote two pieces last year that spoke to these very issues (Selfie-Concious and Who Were You Before You Became You)

    I hate selfies of myself, but LOVE them of other people. I loved both of these photos when I saw them on FB. I’m getting to where I hate ANY pictures of myself. It goes beyond the vanity and the lines that 48-ish years brings…it’s that some days I don’t want anyone to even know I’m around.
    I’ve been on a FB vacation. I can’t even explain why other than the true desire to disappear. The social media piece of writing almost terrifies me sometimes and I know it’s because of my friends and family. I may have been born into THE most judgmental family ever – biggest fans and worst critics.
    You drummed up a lot of internal stuff here, Sandy. I’m trying not to blather all over your page. But, I want to say thank you for this. For validating, confirming, and sharing the honest and authentic parts of you. I think all of your sides are absolutely stunning! xoxoxo


  18. This really speaks to the part of me that is completely insecure with my unedited self. I am currently in a place of uncertainty and insecurity with myself as a person and with my physical appearance. I’m trying to force myself to take a different perspective when I look at my reflection, to see that I am beautiful inside and out. I believe it for all of five seconds. When I catch glimpses of what I look like I immediately feel as though I should cover something up, tuck that stray hair into place, or suck in the loose pooch peeking over my waistband. I have struggled with my self image for many years and this piece really made me think. The filters and edits I put over every public photo hide the flaws I am too insecure to share with the world. It’s time I remove the virtual mask and embrace myself for who I am. What lies beyond the filter isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.


  19. This is all so true. We show our best side on social media, because we don’t want to seem vulnerable….or pitied. This is why I prefer to stick to humor, and why it’s so hard for me to write about the serious stuff. More importantly, I think you are beautiful inside and out. You don’t need any filters.


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