An Airbrushed Life: Curating Reality on Social Media

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” 
― Aldous Huxley

It’s no secret that an ever increasing amount of our lives are lived online.  And even though I use social media to share my posts, I kinda hate it.  This age of public posts, pics, and tweets has allowed us to curate our lives in ways never before possible.  We want to ‘share’ our lives, but often that means only the stuff we deem to be particularly exciting, positive or ‘happy’.  I’ve heard versions of this complaint many times: “Who people are on Facebook, is not who they are in life!  Everyone makes their lives look more interesting/calm/happy than they really are.  And then you read all that stuff and it makes you feel like crap about your own life!”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are a more open and honest soul, and you share things that frustrate you, challenge you, or make you sad, you may quickly be labeled a ‘complainer’ or ‘ungrateful’.  People might say ‘why would you post that kind of thing!?’ as though a negative thought or experience should not be shared.  All of this leads to a lot of judgement (both vocal and silent), which I guess is the natural consequence of sharing anything, good or bad, in a public forum.

But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if the public persona we project on social media has begun to effect our perception of reality.  As we formulate the words of our next post or tweet, do we ever stop to reflect on how we actually feel?  As we wait for comments and likes, has our joy become measured by public approval and not by our own experience?  As we seek public validation for our daily activities, do we lose confidence in our ability to make independent decisions?

If perception is reality, and our profile says we’re happy, are we really happy?

Is projecting ‘happiness’ just the trendiest form of perfectionism?

As social media allows us to airbrush our lives, have we become more interested in what our lives look like to others and not what they really are?

These are the question I’ve been asking myself lately.  I’m not naive enough to believe that we should all just air every bit of dirty laundry we have but the trend in social media is to be more vocal, some would say overly vocal, about good things, and more closed off about difficult situations.  It’s somewhat natural to repress the negative but repression leads to so many societal problems, namely abusing food, illegal and legal substances, shopping, gambling… different forms of addiction used as a means of escape.

The tricky part is when I hear people say things like, “I had no idea _(insert any personal struggle)_ was going on!  Everything seemed fine on their profile!”  Have we stopped asking our loved ones how they are because we assume we can judge their reality by their status updates?  I ask these questions because I wonder what will become of authentic relationships in the next 5-10 years, as a generation of people who have not known adulthood without social media continue to grow and raise a new generation.  I think people already yearn for authenticity – as we recognize that while we are ‘connected’ it is almost entirely superficial.  I can only imagine that yearning will be greater a decade from now, if current trends persist.

I contrast this social media way of life with how I grew up in small town America.  It’s hard to hide anything, good or bad, in a small town.  Sometimes that leads to embarrassing situations, but it also leads to people reaching out to one another in times of struggle, without being asked.  As I child growing up there, I kinda resented people knowing your business.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more I recognize it as an overall good thing.  Now, the world thinks they know what’s going on in your life because they ‘follow’ you.  It’s easier to hide, to close yourself off, to project a perfect, happy version of yourself.

I don’t think that’s something to celebrate.  It makes us less aware of the needs of others, less likely to reach out on a small scale.  Subconsciously, I think that’s why I started writing about some of the topics I have here and posting fewer status updates.  I wanted to talk about things I’ve dealt with because I wanted people to know that if they needed to talk about some of the less ‘pretty’ things, I was willing to talk about them.

I bring this up because the holidays are approaching, a difficult time of year for many people.  I’m sure there will be many posts of smiling families, beautiful tables and trees, decorated cookies, presents, etc – but few post about what people are struggling with, who they are missing, if they are lonely or how they burnt the turkey.  But those things happen.  Should we not talk about them, just because they aren’t entirely happy?

So I guess I’m challenging myself (and my readers) to be more aware of what’s going on beyond the status updates.  To take the time to personally reach out to others, strive to make memories and establish traditions, share the good and bad, rather than just ‘like’.

Do you have any thoughts on this subject?  Love or hate social media?  Have any thoughts on how it has effected your relationships?

I can’t say it’s 100% negative for me.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to still have a window into the lives of people I’ve met over the course of years, throughout the different places I lived.  But I suppose I do long for a simpler time, when we spent less time looking at the lives of others, and more time living… less time photoshopping a persona and more time being a person.

So I’ll close with 3 photos:

  1. Below is a no make up/bed-head selfie that I took before I started writing this post.  But even this photo says something about what the era of the selfie has taught me to hide – I hold my mouth slightly closed for pictures because my teeth are slightly crooked.  I’m still trying to look a little less ‘imperfect’.
  2. Sweet potato chips that I burnt.  I don’t usually post photos of my food fails – but they do happen – plenty!
  3. The christmas tree (and fireplace) I made last year, because my apartment is tiny and a real tree isn’t very practical.  I posted this to FB because I was proud of how it turned out and it got lots of likes.  But what I didn’t mention is that this photo also represents one of the less awesome things about being single.  When you live alone,  you decorate for Christmas alone.  And that isn’t very fun.  I always watch Christmas Vacation when I decorate because it makes me feel slightly less alone.

We all have things that we wish were just a little different and it’s okay to admit what they are.  It doesn’t mean you lack gratitude, want pity or have a negative outlook on life.  It’s just reality – which sometimes is actually a far cry from perception.

Sunday afternoon: I’m still in pajamas, my hair is a mess (and badly needs a dye job because I have lots of gray hair) and no makeup. Oh well, that’s reality.


food fail
a paper Christmas tree for my tiny apartment

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