I posted a photograph of my son with two of my friend’s children on Halloween. The kids were all wearing the same adorable t-shirt that said ‘Boo Crew’. The photograph is so cute, my son has his hand on one of the kid’s shoulders, they’re all happily facing a wall and a box of toys and it all looks cozy and very sweet. Here’s the thing, about thirty seconds before that photograph was taken there was quite literally chaos. One of the kids took another one’s dummy, there was eye poking and pretend crying, there were three Mums making funny noises and pointing at a blank wall saying “ooooohhhh look at what’s on the wall!”. An entire bucket of toys was spread across the floor, kids were running around (the ones that were mobile at that point) and it was like something out of a horror movie; chaos, destruction, tears and a whole load of “what the f*** just happened?”.
It got me thinking about this whole digital world and what we perceive other people’s lives to be like. Looking at that photograph I posted no one would have known that I had to pull over on the freeway a matter of hours later to console my absolutely hysterical, overtired son. No one would know that moments before the photograph the three mums were outside squealing and trying to kill a truly ‘enormous’ wolf spider (I’ve been told that’s not what it was but that sounds impressive) on the cubby (I squealed and it wasn’t that big… however at the time I was the only one attempting to kill it =P). This photograph made it look like everything that day went off without a hitch. It looked as though our day was perfect; that we weren’t tag teaming naps or picking up discarded food smooshed into the floor. That’s the thing though the day was perfect, it was so much fun my son went to bed that night absolutely exhausted but stoked. I had a fantastic day with two of my closest friends, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenging moments, it doesn’t mean that my son was an angel the entire day or that my friend’s daughter barely ate that day or that my other friend’s son was mauled by mosquitoes later on.
What we see on social media is only a snippet, it’s a minute moment in a whole sea of moments. It’s that one special second where everything is perfect, it’s the perfect lighting, the perfect smile, the perfect angle; it’s perfect timing. I’ve always tried to have a bit of reality in my social media feeds, not necessarily the photographs because I don’t stop to take a photo of my son crying or a flat tyre on my car or the mess on my floors. I take photographs of the good stuff, but in my writing, I always try to give a bit of reality. I try to talk about the hours I was awake the night before, of the tantrums and the tears, of the exhaustion and the buckets of coffee I need to drink in order to function. I try to make people see that with the good comes the bad, but the bad stuff is so trivial and so small that it barely holds a light to that one perfect moment. The challenging stuff is there, it’s always there but it’s not shown.
I found a post on Facebook the other night saying that there is more teenage suicides and depression now than ever before. It’s because we’re constantly being fed this perfect image. We look at other people on social media and we see them busting their balls in the gym, we see them eating healthy constantly and running and training, we see the babies with the pristine clothes and the perfect playroom. We see pretty photographs of epic scenes, we read stories about “epic days” and “relationship goals” and so we start to get this idea that our wonderful, fantastic lives are somehow mundane and need to be changed in every way. What we don’t see is that guy busting his gut in the gym weighed 200kg ten years ago and still hates the way he can’t see himself as anything other than a “fat kid”. We don’t see those people binge drinking and hiding indoors to scoff down a pizza. We don’t see those kids ten seconds later when they smeared watermelon juice and chocolate all over their perfect white top. We don’t see the mundane moments in amongst all the wonderfully amazing ones.
My husband and I traveled across America on a motorbike a few years ago, anyone looking at my Instagram or Facebook feed would have seen something truly awesome, they would have heard tall tales of Halloween outfits, boat cruises in New Orleans, of music, of history, of walks with wolves. Anyone seeing that wouldn’t know that mere months later I’d have a miscarriage, that I’d lose two people I thought were my closest friends at the time, no one would know that I looked at getting a divorce because I was terrified of not being able to give my husband his own child. No one would have known looking at my Facebook and Instagram feeds that I spent many a sleepless night desperately wanting to change everything about myself, that I left my heart in Austin, Texas and that all I wanted to do was go back to that road trip when everything was perfect lighting and perfect timing.
That’s the thing with social media. Every single photograph we see is a snapshot, it’s a mere moment in a sea of moments. It’s the creme de la creme of the day. We see edited and carefully constructed photographs. We see a window into someone’s “perfect” life and we wish that we had that, we wish that we could be there and look like that and act like that and have that life. We get so caught up in the digital world that we forget we are living this amazing real life every single second. I wake up in the morning and I can see this sprawling suburban wonderland. I wake up every morning and I see my son smiling at me, I see text messages from my friends and family. I wake up and get to drink fresh coffee and feel safe and warm and happy in my own home. In some way, I am living the ‘perfect’ ideal life that someone else could only dream of.
So stop looking at the photos on social media, stop wishing that your life could look more like that. It absolutely can look more like that, with the right lighting and angles and carefully constructed social media posts. Instead focus on the now, focus on the real life perfection going on in front of you. Instead of posting a perfect photo with a perfect caption post a photo that’s a little less than flattering, post a photo with a paragraph about how you scrolled through a hundred different shots of the exact, same, picture, to get the one that you finished on. Be real. Be real so that someone, somewhere can know that there are other people out there that don’t have the perfect body, the perfect family, the perfect car. Be real so that someone else can feel solidarity and sanctuary in a world where everyone is pretending. Be real so that you know at the end of it all what you’re seeing in your ‘newsfeed’ is what you’re seeing in everyday life.
More importantly though, more important than any of this, be present. Stop scrolling through thousands of photographs of the perfect this or the perfect that. Stop staring at your screen wishing that your life looked more like the one on the web than the one around you. Go out there, be present, be inspired, be social, be alive. We only get one chance at life, we get one shot, so stop wasting hours and hours scrolling and wishing your life was different and ‘picture perfect’ like the images on your screen, go live. Go have adventures and make memories and somewhere in amongst it all take photographs and be silly, and when you post those photos be mindful and honest.
As always, to end this rant, have this little vibe:
I always thought, you know, it’s way more important to be funny or be honest than to look a certain way. – Emma Stone