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.
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.
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: