We are all familiar with the concept of social media vs reality—bright shiny filters applied to our faces and lives to make them look glossier than they really are. But do we take things a step further?
Do we make our lives look so much better online than they are in real life, that we deny ourselves the compassion and support that we need from those around us? And worse, do we contribute to the trend for digital perfection that makes us feel insecure?
It is a tricky business striking the right balance with what to share publicly. Concerns over security, privacy, and judgement on the one hand, but on the other the desire to connect and to be seen. Sometimes when we are going through something big, whether good or bad, it’s hard to believe that people around us can’t just tell. But that’s the thing; people generally believe what we share about ourselves. Why would we lie? It’s not like people are telepathic.
In a job interview, if we say we are skilled in project management, they believe we are skilled in project management. They take us at our word. If we are at a restaurant and tell the waiter we don’t eat meat, they wouldn’t question it. So why don’t we apply the same logic in general life? If we paint our online selves as shiny, happy, and content, posting only the good stuff and none of the bad, then people will believe we are shiny, happy, and content. Sometimes we are and we are just sharing that joy with the world. But sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we need a kind word or a friendly ear.
There is an etiquette to what is socially acceptable to share online. We seem to be altogether comfortable with airing controversial views about the world, politics, art, culture, and what other people are doing, but less comfortable to share the difficulties in our own lives. Maybe it seems inappropriate. Maybe it feels indulgent. But why? How and when did we decide it is unacceptable to be frank about what we are feeling and what we need?
Glossy online filtering can not only create a false impression, but can also make our lives seem unattainable rather than aspirational. How many celebrities or influencers do we feel inadequate in comparison to, even though deep down we know they are just ordinary people too? How many friends do you scroll past in your feed and think ‘wow they have it all together compared to me’ or ‘their life is going much better than mine’? Painting ourselves as perfect leads to comparison and feelings of inadequacy. But at best, what we post online is only ever edited highlights. And sometimes it skews the truth completely.
Anyone who works in a field like branding, communications, or media will know that authenticity is really important to how we communicate. People can smell BS a mile away. Positive spin is just that – spin. An audience will reject a spun communication and even discredit the brand that posts it. But somehow as individuals, we get away with perpetrating positive spin all the time. Maybe we don’t want to be judged for oversharing or asking for something. But fear of judgement blocks us from owning our truth, and can prevent others from reaching out when we need it most. Sometimes it even lets people think our lives are better than theirs, when really we are all a work in progress.
We all use filters and choose what we post in order to influence how people perceive us. But there is a middle ground whereby we don’t have to indulge whining or oversharing, but could be more open and realistic about ourselves on social media. And it is a real skill learning to stop comparing ourselves to other people, so it would be nice if what we inevitably compared ourselves to was a touch more realistic. Less airbrushed bodies and more pimples. Less shiny beautiful houses and more lived in homes. Less perfect stories, and more real chat.
Life has its own timing, and where someone else is on their journey has no bearing on where you are in yours. It is always good to remember there is a real human person behind the filtered pictures, and context is a wonderful thing. A filter and a good angle can completely change a face. A snapshot of a celeb doesn’t capture the pressure they are under. And the Instagram edited highlights reel has no bearing on the bloopers or the down days.
So share what you want – but remember you are enough as you are; filtered photos are part computer part human; and NO-ONE’s life is perfect!