I think by now we all recognize that what gets posted on social media (which I’m using as a catch-all that includes blogging) isn’t representative of an entire story. But in a world where we consume the content of other people’s lives, what is hidden from view may as well not exist.
There’s so much pressure to present perfectly across social media. Everyone needs a personal brand, especially if you are making a habit of sharing your life for clicks and likes. Every photo must be styled within an inch of its life. In some ways I find the pressure to be a useful tool: if I am going to share a photo of, say, my living room, I find myself pausing to tidy up a bit before taking that snapshot. When my home is tidier, I am happier, and so what if it takes an external push to get there?
On the other side of the screen though, there is quite possibly someone internalizing the notion that they aren’t good enough because THEIR home isn’t quite so lovely or tidy or THEIR wardrobe isn’t as seamless and perfect as someone else’s. What gets pushed out of frame (literally, as I push out the pile of bills and unopened mail from the coffee table) is lost to a viewer. If it isn’t in the picture, is it really there?
This notion of polishing our lives to share with strangers is not new of course. Back in the day the rich folk had a parlor that was for reserved for receiving guests formally. It was a room purely for show, not real life. Today’s parlor is the perfectly curated Instagram account. Look no further than the beautiful, sun-drenched lives of a group of influencers profiled in this recent Vanity Fair piece.
All the “murfers” are here—the portmanteau of mum and surfer are Adamo’s clique of pretty, stylish, entrepreneurial, and creative young mothers of multiple children whose laid-back, unstructured lives generate a dizzying combination of FOMO and squad goals.
The article delves deep into the inner-workings of the social media empires these women have built on being relatable yet aspirational, but also touches on some of the criticism they have received over how they share their lives. Many of them run their own businesses, but they also appear to come from places of privilege.
It’s interesting to note that the people profiled are all, I’m gonna guess, 30+ year old women with multiple children. They are of a certain cohort that we are all familiar with. Contrast this with another recent piece in The Atlantic about how younger Instagrammers are increasingly eschewing the ubiquitous polished, curated look for a more “real” aesthetic. I for one welcome the change because it takes off some of that stupid pressure to be perfect (although I’m sure given time, the pendulum will swing back the other way).
Because I’m such a homebody, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want my home to be and then working to get it to that place. From the outside, I know it can look like I live in a beautiful bubble. Well, I WISH my bubble was always as beautiful as a well-cropped photo makes it look. And while of course I want to document and share an immaculate home, I also believe it’s important to share the less aspirational things too.
On that note, here is a recent photo of my home:
When I look a this I see boxes piled up (that have been piled up for weeks), mail on the table, furniture out of place, shoes where they don’t belong. I could go on. But also I see how the western sun shoots through the living room and casts a golden glow on all the clutter. I still love my home, even when it’s cluttered.
In this photo I did clear off the coffee table, but I left the three (three! ) pairs of shoes that were taken off and abandoned underneath. There’s my patio furniture in the background, stored inside while the building was being painted.
Another day, another angle, still a bunch of shit piled on the dining room table, and furniture where it doesn’t belong, but also, look at those cute kitties! They don’t care, and I love them for it.
My point here is that it’s OK to aspire to a clutter-free, Instagram-worthy home, or to aspire to a streamlined, ethical wardrobe. But also it’s OK that it’s not always going to be picture-perfect, that you are at some point going to wear a ratty t-shirt and old sweatpants. There’s a balance to be had between wanting to be better and being content and comfortable with what’s there.
For my final example, I took a photo of our bedroom all messy and lived-in. Then I took a photo after a blitz tidy. I like the room much better after the tidy and of course it looks much better too.
It’s not that one is inferior to the other. BOTH are real. One just took a little more effort.
I don’t want to demonize people who present their lives in an aspirational way, nor do I want to celebrate letting things go, because letting things go makes me anxious. However, I like the trend of social media becoming more open to a less curated vision of life. I hope I can carve out an in-between space where “real” is a word inclusive of all realities, not just the unattainable ones.
The best way I’ve found to subdue the envy monster when I look at other people’s flawless lives (besides reminding myself it’s not as flawless as it looks) is to practice gratitude. Gratitude for the roof over my head and my ability to wear what I like. There’s so much to be thankful for.