I was broken up with a few years ago. The email came from a distant friend. It was a loose connection to begin with, but our friendship was officially terminated when she determined that when I posted photos of food and meals on Facebook it was with the intention of making her feel bad. I tried to explain that all of us feel weird sometimes when we view other people’s lives online—I tried to tell her that when I saw photos of her out to dinner with friends and sisters I cried because at that time I was painfully lonely. But that was that, and with a few clicks of the keyboard I was cut off. For good.
While I was confused, she was, apparently, not alone in her sentiment. The internet is booming with blog posts, articles, and conversations telling us to “be more real.” Nothing will garner you more shares and praise than really laying into other woman for sharing a photo of an amazing night out, well dressed children, or a clean, well decorated home.
What is Wrong With This Picture?
Somehow we’ve cultivated this pressure to excuse away the good, talk down our successes, and balance anything we’ve done right with a disaster of equal proportion. As women, we aren’t free to share the bright spots of life because it might just make someone else feel dim.
I’ve spent much of my post-high school life learning to accept a compliment, shine in my strengths, be gracious about my weaknesses, and comfortable in my own skin. Isn’t this what every women’s leadership article has told us to do? So why this strange backlash of having to excuse away the good things in our lives and in ourselves?
Over the last few years I’ve come across countless articles admonishing other women to “take off the mask” or “be real.” These types of articles are wildly popular. One writer felt compelled to “come clean” after she had posted a photo of a loaf of bread she had baked, because she had not divulged that she’d burnt her hand on the oven. The guilt was eating her up for having been so fake. I can’t even.
A few days later I stumbled upon an article from another female writer admitting the error of her ways: she had posted photos of a day at the beach with her children, but hadn’t shared that her kids had bickered over a football for much of the morning. In an effort to make amends she walked us through every negative or embarrassing moment from her day, taking on a brash tone and definitely oversharing (No, I do not think you owe us the details of your menstrual flow in the name of “being real,” thank you.)
While reading each of these accounts I felt frustrated—what kind of pressure are we living under? Kitchen flubs, bickering kids, behind-the-scenes drama and stress and struggle… aren’t these things a part of life? Do we really need to announce them to the world? But these are the articles that get attention. These are the blog posts that go viral—particularly among women.
What We Really Want
If we’re honest though, I don’t think the popularity of this sentiment rests in our desire to be challenged to drop our own “masks of perfection.” The popularity rests in that they validate our desire to rip off the masks we perceive on others.
We’re searching for proof that everyone else out there has just as many mishaps, failures, and struggles as us. We are dying to see each other’s imperfections so we can feel better about our own. If we can just convince ourselves that what we’re seeing is fake, a show, then we’ll feel ok. If we can just believe that this person couldn’t truly be happy, couldn’t honestly get along with their spouse that well, couldn’t really be that successful professionally… well, we’d feel a lot better about ourselves then, wouldn’t we?
The thing is, we’re right in thinking this is only part of the picture. Of course that friend with the gorgeous house and endless wardrobe has problems. Or course your co-worker who is out with friends every weekend struggles in her own way. But why should we demand a public display of their weaknesses just to feel ok with their strengths?
It’s Not You, It’s Me
When we’re sitting up on the throne of judgment we fail to recognize one important thing: our automatic cry of “Fake!” when confronted with a success, something beautiful, something we wish we did, says more about us than about the person we’re judging.
This is the same reason why I can’t bear another article on the evils of Pinterest: if browsing Pinterest makes you feel insecure, inadequate, and discontent, the issue is your heart, not your home.
Kindreds, I am right with you. There are times when browsing social media sends me into a tailspin of jealousy, discontentment, and judgement. The thing i’m learning though, is that the issue is not with that friend who walked into my dream career, or the sister with 0% body fat, the issue is with me. The heart of the problem is my contentment and gratitude with what God has given me. It’s my own body image issues. It’s my gross desire for more and better.
Next time we’re browsing online and feel the bubble of judgment building in our chests, and our vocal chords prepare for a giant cry of “Fake!” take a deep breath and repeat: It’s not you, it’s me.
True friendships thrive not on the others’ weaknesses (and the ability of those weaknesses to make us feel better about our own) but on each other’s strengths and gifts—our ability to bring forth the best in one another and spur one another on to reach new heights.
Transparency and Friendship
Yes, friendships are also open and transparent about struggles, flops, and failures. But let’s be honest, those 700 people from your online profile are not “true friendships” and have no rights to your personal life. Share a funny disaster, an amazing success at work, a crazy photo when a laundry bomb goes off in your house, and that amazing selfie from a girls night out. Share what you enjoy, share what helps you connect—most importantly, only share what you feel comfortable with in a public sphere. Because the internet is not you and your girlfriends out for coffee—don’t be guilted into acting like it is.
Maybe rather than looking for imperfections in others to soothe our egos, let’s look at our hearts. Let’s cheer each other on and be one another’s biggest fans. Don’t all of us needs all the support we can get?
Let’s not give in to the pressure to excuse away the good parts of our day and the good parts of ourselves. Let’s give our friends and ourselves permission to enjoy and celebrate successes, happy moments, and beautiful snippets of life.
xo - Jen