It’s no secret that despite anyone’s best efforts, the blog and social media industries create an environment that’s ripe for comparison. If you blog or have an Instagram account, it’s nearly inevitable that at some point, you’ve compared yourself to another person. Sometimes, it can be positive (“This person inspires me to learn more about photography and take better photos” or “That gal always pushes me to integrate new tools/resources that will help my business evolve”), but the reality is, a lot of it can be very negative (“Why don’t I have as many followers as this person?” or “Ugh, my life looks so ugly compared to this blogger’s.”)
I’m always reasonably aware of when the negative feelings are cropping up, but recently, with everything that happened with Lucy, it’s resulted in me reflecting even more deeply about the comparison trap and how I do (or don’t) let it impact me. To be honest, Lucy’s injury came on the heels of what’s been a hellish year, with a lot of difficult things happening in my personal life. I hate to vague blog, but there it is (some of the dramz I can hopefully share with you soon). Anyway, in the days following her surgery, and then her return home, life was crazy chaotic. In that time, as you can imagine, posting on something like Instagram was the least of my worries. Eventually, once we found a new routine and settled in a bit, I returned to the platform to see what had been going on — and it was like I was seeing it with an entirely different lens (ironic, no?).
When I was away from the platform, I was dealing with an animal in pain, poop accidents multiple times a day, work being put on the back burner, and a generally stressful environment. The beauty and perfection that Instagram presented to me upon my re-entry a week later felt almost jarring — and certainly, in a lot of ways, very inauthentic. I won’t lie — at first, it was nearly repellant. It was hard to relate to perfectly staged outfit posts and food styling shots when my life had been on the opposite end of the spectrum.
But the reality is, no one’s life is ever as perfect as they publish. We know this intellectually, but so much of the “perfection” we see online isn’t real — or, it’s just a tiny, tiny sliver of someone’s life, and leaves out the much bigger picture. The perfectly made bed and arranged nightstand doesn’t show the piles of laundry, the sick parent, and the big life decisions on the other side.
So why participate at all? Well, unfortunately, these types of platforms aren’t going away any time soon; in fact, they’re becoming more and more influential. Social media’s reach continues to grow and expand, and people find new (and often genius and innovative) ways to share themselves online. Which is great. But again, they just choose what parts to share.
As I’ve been turning all this over in my head the last few weeks, I did a lot of reflecting and decided I wanted to use my own experience as a way to change how I let places like Instagram influence and inspire me. Perhaps this is a harsh admission, but as a very concrete example, I was following a lot of style bloggers, many of whom I don’t know and have never even read their blogs. My truth? Outfit content doesn’t necessarily do that much for me. For one thing, I work from home and am lucky to make it into jeans and a t shirt each day; for another, following a lot of recent changes in my life, something about the forced styling of the images and knowing “how the sausage is made,” so to speak, meant these images began to feel like ads or spam to me. So recently, I started unfollowing a lot of these types of accounts. In their place, I’ve been looking for more design and photography accounts, which can truly inspire me — or at least, help me compare and learn in a “positive” way.
It’s tough though. I’ve often heard talk about how some people are just “better” at certain social media platforms than others — i.e., certain ones might come easier to a person. Instagram is that difficult platform for me. My biggest struggle with it is figuring out how to ride that line of presenting something that is visually appealing (insert sidebar discussion about online brands and marketing yourself), but also isn’t completely fake and inauthentic to my own life. I sit at a desk all day in my apartment, taking a break at lunch to watch a show off the DVR and probably eat something that just arrived from Seamless. There’s nothing groundbreaking or spectacularly beautiful to Instagram in that, let alone on the daily. And yet, how crazy easy it is to make someone believe otherwise. (Another sidebar: I once had someone tell me I should schedule time to go out each day and take photos of things and places that I could then Instagram later. That’s what this has come to.) I think people know that Instagram posts aren’t necessarily all taken real time, and that people’s lives don’t usually look like that. But how easily we all forget it, and get caught up in the dream (if that’s what you even want to call it).
I wrote a version of this post over on The B Bar’s blog (see below), and Jackie left the best comment: “I love Instagram, but I feel a twinge of jealousy when I see people posting pictures from brunch on like, a random Tuesday while I’m at work. Then I feel like, why can’t I be brunching on a Tuesday instead of at work? Which is such an utterly ridiculous thing to think!” We’ve all been there, methinks.
Obviously this is all very personal to my own experience and what works for me and where I am in life or what I find inspiring. But as we close out the year, I think it’s always worth reflecting how we consume in these places that we spend much of our leisure (and sometimes work) hours, especially if they no longer do anything for us. I know many bloggers (and non-bloggers too!) often feel they “have” to do something because everyone else is doing it, and a platform like Instagram is certainly no exception. I’ve been reflecting on ways that I can still play the game, but with my own rules. I’ll let you know if and when I figure it out!
Ok, this was a brain dump of a post, and one I could go on and on about as there are a lot of different angles and considerations. I’m curious how you guys filter out the noise in the places you spend time online, or how you deal when you find yourself falling into a comparison trap. I also would love to hear from bloggers and folks who don’t blog alike, because honestly, sometimes I feel like this industry is like alternate universe and having third party observers’ input brings everybody back down to planet Earth.
PS – One more admission: I wrote a version of this post yesterday over on The Well, but figured it was the kind of thing that was perfect for a Real Life post too; plus, it’s just been weighing so heavily on my mind that I wanted to share and hear from everyone over here. I’ve edited it a little and expanded based off my original post, which is part of our Word of the Month series (this month’s word is Reflect).