POSTED ON August 08 2017

No Filter: When The 'Real Me' Met The 'Instagram Me'

[Editor's Note: We are thrilled to share the first post in “No Filter” – a new series where our team members will share a moment of growth and what was learned from it. These first-person stories will examine the challenges, obstacles and growing pains we all face as we navigate our careers, strengthen our relationships and get to know ourselves and our inner purpose. Get ready. This is about to get real.]

 

I'm a recovering Instagram junkie.

At the deepest point of my social media spiral, I was self-obligated to post 2+ perfectly composed pieces of content daily. Likes and comments were my currency, hitting that colorful icon (after May of 2016, of course) was my drug. While that might sound like a dramatic exaggeration, it’s far from it. I NEEDED Instagram to survive, and in many ways I thought it needed me, too.

My Instagram obsession began in earnest when I started competing as a bodybuilder. Yes, that sport that requires diets and tans and being, on some level, totally self-absorbed. I’ll say now that my relationship with the sport, given that I pride myself on being a confident and professional woman, is somewhat … tumultuous. Those love/hate feelings are also important to my relationship with Instagram. It was love at first site. I was head over heels as I shared “my journey,” connected with the #fitfam and built a small, but dedicated following.

But, like many relationships that begin with passion, over time the spark fizzled. Instagram became a lot less fun and a lot more like work. Because that’s what I do for work. I am a social media strategist and content producer by profession. Far more than 40 hours a week, I sit at a desk and create and maintain the social presence for a multinational brand. I’m good at what I do, and I brought that to my personal profile. I planned, I composed, I executed. I created pancake stacks with ingredients purchased just for aesthetics. My gym outfits were selected to best highlight my physique. Each post was a deliberate part of the strategy.

Like Kendrick, I'm So Sick + Tired Of The Photoshop

Life became perfected and blurred until the "me" on Instagram wasn’t really the me living in my skin. I had a stock of gym photos ready to share on days I hadn’t actually worked out. While the world thought I was “killing leg day,” more than once I was actually sitting on the couch with my arm deep in a box of Cap’n Crunch. Yes, I lied to people I don’t know on social media for no reason other than self-imposed obligation. You are reading the first public admission of that fact.

It’s not just me, though. Across the internet countless selfies, smoothie bowls and epic landscape shots are planned to perfection. Faces are smoothed with apps, bodies are Photoshopped, food goes cold in the name of idyllic flawlessness. The internet is full of half-truths and misinformation. There is advertising that doesn’t feel like advertising. Sure, that’s probably an obvious statement, but telling what is real and what is fake isn’t always so easy. Even professional marketers sometimes get it wrong. The people who do these things are good at what they do. Influencers, the newest kind of celebrity, take their jobs seriously.

While I didn’t ever alter a photo of myself, I did present things that weren’t real with deftness. And the comments flowed in:

“I wish I looked like that.”

“I’d kill for quads like yours.”

“How do you look so great all the time?”

“#Goals”

Sure, I was somewhat motivating to my little corner of the internet, but I also couldn’t help that I was perpetuating feelings of inadequacy. The same types of feelings that, even as a confident woman, I sometimes felt as I aimlessly scrolled through my feed. That’s the thing about the very public, socially driven world we live in – it can make anyone feel smaller than they actually are. It’s easy to say, ‘not me,’ but harder for it to be the whole truth.

Perfect Filters And Lily Pulitzer

Let’s face it. Women are under pressure, and social media has only served to amplify what has existed for a long time. It’s created the widespread obligation that we must maintain a successful career while being the perfect wife, mother and PTA president. That image isn’t new, but seeing it on countless mommy blogs, Instagram accounts and your Facebook feed, is. The pressure is constant and it’s getting heavier.

“We get so tied to this image of young professional females just killing it that we don't think about those moments that aren't so shiny. It's not all perfect filters and Lily Pulitzer ... ”

Pulled from an email I sent the founder of this very website, that statement couldn’t be truer. The image of the perfect professional, carefully balancing life atop sky-high stilettos with her totally cute and functional day planner is one we’re familiar with. It’s one that, as much as we don’t want to admit it, we’ve all held ourselves accountable to. We just don’t talk about it. Instead, we hold it in, bottle it up and pretend we’re doing just as well as the world thinks we are.

It’s what I did on Instagram. Even when I knew my heart was elsewhere, I felt the pressure to show the world that I was “killing it.” I wanted to share my success because I was faltering. I was struggling with my diet, my fitness, my bodybuilding persona, but I only showed enough of that to make me seem “real.” Oh, the irony.

Coming To Terms

Guess what? You don’t have to perfect. Sure, you know that, but I’m here telling you. Sometimes it just feels good to know that everyone else is just as imperfect as you – especially in a world where real is fake and advertisement is starting to creep out of magazines and into our social circles. It’s ok to have bad days. It’s ok to feel like you have no clue where you’re going. It’s ok to spend an entire day watching Project Runway reruns and eating ice cream for breakfast (like I did on Saturday). It’s ok to go days without an Instagram post.

As a recovering Instagram addict, I’m proud to say that’s exactly what I’m doing. I still love Instagram and its photocentric look at the world, but I don’t need to be there. I’ve unfollowed lots of accounts that did nothing for my soul and filled my feed with things that generally make me smile. There is no keeping up with the Ms. Jones, but I’ve gotten rid of the Ms. Jones. The last photo I posted was of something I wanted to post, when I wanted to post it (which was five days ago). My likes have decreased, my follower number has dropped and I’m ok with both of those things.

Our world has become smaller as we’ve become more connected. In a lot of ways that’s a good thing, but it’s also made us more closed off. We don’t show who we really are and worry, faced with so much online perfection, that we aren’t doing enough. I promise, you are. If you take one thing from reading this, it’s to be easy on yourself. And I don’t mean to just say it to yourself. Spend a little more time appreciating that you’re human and a little less time worrying about what the world might think.

Don’t be afraid to tune it out. I’ve got a box of Cap’n Crunch with your name on it.