Essays & Confessions

How Our Need To Seem Perfect Is Making Us Miserable

By | Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.52.54 PMI have some good news that I’ve been sitting on for a while, that I haven’t yet “cashed in on” and shared on social media. (No, I’m not engaged — it has nothing to do with my love life. But that would be my first guess, too.) While it’s not something enormous or life-changing, there is still something about saving news that is feeling better and better to me lately, as though there is this perfect in-between moment between “knowing something good is happening” and “sharing it with the world.” The more I can draw out that moment, and keep the joy to myself (and immediate family and friends), the better. But the desire to keep things private is more than that, it’s also a desire to keep the balance in my life, the balance between “how perfect and happy things appear on social media” and “how accurate and full a representation it is of my life.”

It’s tempting to turn our online lives into highlight reels of the best and most visually pleasing things, to only announce our best news and paint a picture of our lives the way we wish they were in reality. And I admit that in many cases, I do this, too, because people like seeing the happy things, and it feels good to share them. And with Instagram all but turning beautiful snapshots of life into an arms race, not only is having only good news to deliver a pressure we face, packaging it in the most beautiful, well-edited photo is, too. We curate and manage ourselves into the aesthetically-pleasing and near-perfect people we wish we were, because everyone else is doing it, so to let a little bit of ugly, flawed humanity peek through is akin to wincing during a fight.

I have talked before about the profound psychological damage it can do to follow and read people who present a perfect package, and I’ve had to go on several great social media purges to rid myself of the people who simply stressed me out with their ability to be “on” at all times. But it’s more deeply rooted than that — even the people we know in real life, people whose lives we follow online in different forums, present a package of themselves we know to be incomplete. I know the girl with the beautiful figure who is obsessed with diet and food talk, but all you’ll ever see are the bikini photos. I know a girl who goes on beautiful vacations and has traveled much of the world, but who in real life has been dealing with unexpected, prolonged unemployment. I know a guy who announces all of the great news with his moderately-successful band, but in reality has to pull double shifts at restaurants to make ends meet. If you didn’t know these people, you’d never know that their online personas are barely half of the whole story. And it makes you wonder how many people we only know superficially, whom we assume to be happy and fulfilled when they may be struggling.

This fight to seem as successful and happy as possible — while it may help us do things like land jobs, or demand more money — ultimately makes us miserable. Because only we know the truth of our lives, which are likely very human, and therefore filled with both success and defeat, sadness and joy. We know ourselves intimately, and see all of the things that don’t make it online because it’s not “highlight reel-worthy,” and must live with them anyway. We know when we’re feeling like crap, and yet post some happy, uplifting, perfectly-shot image. We know when we strategically stage a photo so that the mess behind it is just out of frame. We know that we don’t photograph our bodies on certain days, or make sure to put ourselves into certain, flattering angles and positions. We see the flaws, and thus feel all the more empty when we subconsciously perceive that someone else doesn’t have them. Everyone is an invisible race to seem the most perfect, when no one can really win.

That’s why I decided to balance out the good news — even the stuff I’m holding onto — with a little more honesty about the full spectrum of life. Normally I’m careful about what I post on Instagram and, like most people, make an effort to put only the happiest and nicest-looking things on my page. But I know that life is easier on everyone (myself included) when we are allowed to be fallible, and human. I long to discuss insecurities and failures with the same open, collaborative spirit we share our triumphs. I want us to be able to congratulate one another not just for our most impressive feats, but for living to fight or to self-improve another day.

So I started #totalhonestytuesday, where I (and hopefully you) will, once a week, share something I’d never normally share on social media, and talk about what’s happening in that part of my life. This week it was my decimated checking account, after paying off a bunch of bills and going on a vacation.

And next week it will be something totally different. And each week, we’ll be gathering up the #totalhonestytuesday posts you all share and putting them here on TFD, so we can take a moment to look at one another’s real lives, not just the ones that look perfect on social media.

I can say with certainty that sharing even one element of my life that I would normally deem “not flattering,” and keep off of my public profile, has felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. Even when I am frank about a lot of my insecurities or failures in articles, I still, like everyone else, feel that draw to keep a happy social media presence. And it only ends up making me more miserable. Hopefully, in being honest with one another about the fact that we aren’t perfect — no matter how well-photographed our lives are — we will feel more free to live better, and to be true to ourselves, because we will understand that there is no one we need to keep up with.

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