If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to Instagram it, does it make a sound?
We started our Those Girls series as a portal for reality, and it's been a while since we wrote a post--for good reason, of course. The reason being life! We've been working on a book project together; and separately, I've been working on my branding business and am in my nineteenth week of pregnancy, and Emily is busy renovating her house while chasing after two rambunctious toddlers. There are days that go by when we don't even touch social media, and I have to admit that this makes me particularly anxious. Will our friends and customers forget about us if we don't Twitter/Instagram/Blog/Facebook/Pinterest (TIBFP) every portion of our day? The truth: I don't really think so. Our readership numbers remain steady, even on quiet days. In that case, what exactly is the social media race for?
Lately (perhaps I can blame this on pregnancy hormones) I've been noticing that after I spend some time browsing TIBFP, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted by the mirage of perfection. Before these platforms were made available, we were able to get our lifestyle inspiration in small doses: in a magazine, a craft book, on a TV show, in Martha Stewart's trashcan. The images and articles were pitched, styled, photographed and marketed directly to a customer that could consume at their leisure and discard at will. Today, however, these images of lifestyle glory are constant, and in our faces 24/7, mostly by our own allowance. I can't even turn on my phone without mindlessly pressing the "Instagram" app and browsing through photos almost first thing in the morning. A bright and early reminder that many talented people are doing life perfectly: a perfect meal, perfect floral arrangement, perfectly-styled pickling party that I wasn't invited to (but knew just who was, according to the tags), or perfect vacation. What kind of message is this to send oneself several times a day? Even the most secure, hard-working and cheerful person has days when "you're doing it wrong" is the main message being sent by these images. Why don't we feel this way when we look at magazines? Here's why--> because we accept that these magazines are put together by professionals, doing their jobs and being paid for them. Today, it's easy to dismiss an Instagram photo as part of a blogger or creative's perfect everyday life with no preparation or styling whatsoever. That's their life. PERIOD. Definitely not so...we forget what she's trying to sell us. This is her job.
Let's acknowledge the fact that social media isn't going anywhere, and that a person can choose to either acclimate to the current culture or completely reject it. Neither is the right or wrong answer, but I find the former easiest because let's face it:
1. I truly enjoy remaining connected with old friends.
2. Deleting accounts leads to social ostracization merely by default, not by unkindness.
3. It's kind of my job.
So where do we go from there? I find that the culture of popularity, and the inherent need for acceptance is at the root of this problem. We all want to be told that we're doing it right. That's what that trusty "like" button is for. It's almost ironic that these words are being posted via blogger. This is how we communicate, and how we understand each other. Our posts say a lot about how we view ourselves and how we want to view ourselves. Here are two completely possible scenarios:
1. "I made the most perfectly deliciously gorgeous birthday cake with perfect frosting and sprinkle 'scatterage' and I'm going to share it with everyone because it's awesome. I am a great chef and a fabulous hostess. SHARE. like. like. like."
2. "My house looks like The Purge happened there and I am way too lazy to lift a finger, other than to put that Trader Joe's O into my mouth and then back to the box for more. I am a failing at making myself and my family perfect, organic, grassfed meals. This may ruin my personal brand. DO NOT SHARE."
My mother and I have always agreed that women would rule the world if we would just stop trying to one-up one another! I know what you're thinking. "Andie, that's just a picture of an adorable toddler's ice cream social catered by Target with a professional photographer, stylist, and product endorsements--it has nothing to do with shaming other women. Get a grip!" Don't get me wrong, I love a good ice cream social (just kidding, I can't eat ice cream), but the fact that lifestyle bloggers have cornered the market in lifestyle products and books makes me very wary, especially because we still insist on viewing them as "regular people." In reality, most of these very successful career bloggers have a lot of money and sponsors with which to style events, decorate rooms in their home and buy outfit-of-the-days. They are the modern-day celebrity, in a very sweet and "normal" disguise. There are so many campaigns out right now defending young girls and women from comparing themselves to models in magazines. Where are the same standards about comparing ourselves to lifestyle bloggers that are packed with sponsorships? These are lovely women who are making their careers work for them, but emulating their public personas is not the answer to originality or happiness. Not even for themselves! I feel fake when each photo we upload is carefully arranged, slapped onto Instagram, and tagged. There's a time and place for this, but I fear an oversimplification is becoming reality, and cheapening what life really offers.
A lot of the most interesting women in my life are not avid users of social media. They don't know how to use Twitter, or ignore Facebook, calling it "boring." These women support orphanages in the slums of India, or play in orchestras in Scandinavia, or create beautiful works of quilted art, or have wonderfully messy, happy lives right here in Seattle. When we get together we talk about everything: classic literature, science, politics, religion, sappy beach reads, crafts, our families, exercise, food, etc. Our tables are never pretty or photogenic when we're finished, with torn open sugar packets, dirty coffee spoons, and bags of sliced fruit in Ziploc bags that I bring to every meeting so I won't be tempted to eat bagels with cream cheese. We forget to take photos until everything is eaten and drunk, and at that point, our conversation seems too sacred to be shared with the world.
There's nothing wrong with styled photos and beautiful blog posts--in fact, we love them, it's part of what we love the most about our jobs. These pictures of perfection inspire us to make our world more beautiful, and see light in simple joys. These only become wrong when our identity or the identity of others is hinged on public likeability. Let's try to remember to be liked by the people we like, be loved by the people we love, including the whole unphotographable mess that goes along with us.