My Life Looks Better On Instagram

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“My life looks good on Instagram.” That’s probably one of the most insufferable things you could say in this day and age, and really, it doesn’t amount to much, but in some respects, it does. Maybe. I don’t know.

You see, I was talking to a friend today, who reminded me that to every life being lived is someone else peering in on it, imagining what it’s like, what it feels like, what it would be like to live that life instead. Maybe that’s why we’re so fixated on social media, because it’s an easily accessible form of peeking, of voyeurism, of looking in on the people who live their lives on full display. We make brands and careers and lives off of it. We give into it. We feed on it. We perpetuate it.

Were you to tell me even three years ago that I would have the life I do now, I wouldn’t believe you. I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Maybe. Possibly. I was a nanny, taking a job out of desperation because I was newly graduated from college and I, quite simply and selfishly, did not want to move back to my hometown. Were you to tell me that I’d stick it out, and I’d stay, and I’d — impossibly enough — thrive, I’d laugh. I would. But here I am, in my apartment, clicking away on my laptop, my cat skulking around somewhere, surrounded by my furniture and my clothes and my things. I have carved out a little niche of my own in this city, however impermanent, however low budget, however many hours I work. (Because I do work a lot, and I work hard, and I love what I do. You have to if you wind up working 15 hour days. If not, what are you doing it for?)

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I went to the beach recently, after I went to spin, and after my friend and I grabbed lunch by the Brooklyn Bridge. We sat out, and ate the way not-quite-grown-ups do — which is to say, we snacked on chips and called it lunch — and we headed out to the Rockaways and watched the surfers wait their turn in line for the waves, and waded in on the swimmer’s end and lay out and listened to all the conversations around us. Most of the people by us were near our age. Most of them had conversations I could imagine myself having. And then we packed up and went home, and I went out later, my hair still sandy and salty and my skin still radiating heat from the sun, and I had a beer with friends and we had a very late dinner, and we called it a night.

And today I went to brunch, and I walked around, and went shopping a little, and walked some more, and came home and lazed around on my couch in my apartment, watching a TV show and painting my nails. All of it sounds pretty unspectacular. All of it sounds a bit rote. But for a person who cannot help the fact that her impulse is to work, work, work, such banalities are welcome things.

Because when things are not our lives, they are appealing. And sometimes I feel like I am living a life meant for someone else, or that I am living someone else’s life, because my true life is one where I am in a room, facing a computer, working and workshopping and writing and strategizing. I could sugarcoat it and tell you that I think it makes me hardworking, diligent, appealing because I am low-maintenance and driven and made happy by a very simple thing, but in all actuality, working nonstop, all of the time is not much of a life at all. You need a balance. You need to learn how to shut off.

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To write, you have to be able to live. Because if you can’t live, you have nothing to write about.

And so when I Instagram, I often look back and wonder who that girl is, that girl who is having so much fun and doesn’t have a care in the world and doesn’t worry about how ridiculous she looks when she’s styling the food and hovering her phone over her table so she can get the good shot — that girl knows what she wants, and she knows she wants to live a life that looks good.

Which is not to say that that girl is not me. She’s deep down in there, somewhere. She is the part of me who will wake up at 5 am and go to spin class and wear my new dress tomorrow and maybe do her makeup. And there’s nothing that’s wrong with that, but sometimes I have to remember that those pixels and the pretty sheen and the bits of my life that seem so money are not real — or if they are, they only mean something because our society takes very arbitrary things and makes them out to mean something — and that girl only comes out in single frames.

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You see, the real girl — the actual me — is messy and sloppy and would much rather curl up in an office chair and ponder the use of commas, and though there is nothing photogenic about that no matter which angles or filters you use, that girl doesn’t have such a bad life, either.

And it feels like I live two lives sometimes, and if I were to be honest with you (which I promise you, I always will) I like the hard worker more. Not that I’m ungrateful for what I’ve worked for and what I have, and I know I am lucky, but I never want to forget that I am only ever lucky because I decided when I was very little that I would work hard. And I did. And I do.

You can’t buy hard work in a boutique, after all. And sometimes the best things can’t be captured on camera. Hard work rarely ever shows through. After all, ballerinas are told to make all of that time and practice and technique look effortless. As if there’s nothing to it at all. The best dancers always look their best when they’re effortless.

But that’s not the whole story. And not even 1,000 words could begin to cover the basics.

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Ella Ceron is social media editor at New York Magazine’s The Cut. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image via Unsplash

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