Insta vs Reality: Why filtering ourselves online is a blocker to wellbeing
We are all familiar with the concept of social media vs reality — bright shiny filters applied to our faces and lives to make them look glossier than they really are. But do we take things a step further? Do we make our lives look so much better online than they are in real life, that we deny ourselves the compassion and support that we need from those around us?
It is a tricky business striking the right balance with what to share online. Concerns over security, privacy, and judgement on the one hand, but on the other the desire to connect, to be seen, and to create a personal brand. Sometimes when we are going through something big, whether good or bad, it’s hard to believe that people around us can’t just tell. But that’s the thing; people generally believe what we share about ourselves. Why would we lie? It’s not like people are telepathic.
In a job interview, if we say we are skilled in project management, they believe we are skilled in project management. They take us at our word. If we are at a restaurant and tell the waiter we don’t eat meat, they wouldn’t question it. So why don’t we apply the same logic in general life? If we paint our online selves as shiny, happy, and content, posting only the good stuff and none of the bad, then people will believe we are shiny, happy, and content. Sometimes we are and we are just sharing that joy with the world. But sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we need a kind word or a friendly ear.
There is an etiquette to what is socially acceptable to share online. We seem to be altogether comfortable with airing controversial views about the world, politics, art, culture, and what other people are doing, but less comfortable to share the difficulties in our own lives. Maybe it seems inappropriate. Maybe it feels indulgent. But why? How and when did we decide it is unacceptable to be frank about what we are feeling and what we need?
Glossy online filtering can not only create a false impression, but can also make our lives seem unattainable rather than aspirational. How many celebrities or influencers do we feel inadequate in comparison to, even though deep down we know it isn’t reality? How many friends do you scroll past in your feed and think ‘wow they have it all together compared to me’ or ‘their life is going much better than mine’? Painting ourselves as perfect leads to comparison and feelings of inadequacy. But at best, what we post online is only ever edited highlights. And sometimes it skews the truth completely.
I have worked in communications, and anyone in a similar field will know that authenticity is really important to how we communicate. People can smell BS a mile away. Positive spin is just that — spin. They will reject a spun communication and even discredit the brand that posts it. But somehow as individuals, we get away with perpetrating positive spin all the time. Maybe we don’t want to be judged for oversharing or asking for something. But fear of judgement blocks us from owning our truth, and can prevent others from reaching out when we need it most. Sometimes it even lets people think our lives are better than theirs, when really we are all a work in progress.
I am as bad as anyone else at filtering my online self and spinning things to the positive. This is not with any malintent; I generally try to be a positive person and want to spread positivity. No one wants to feel they are the misery that loves company! But there is a middle ground whereby we don’t have to indulge continual whining or oversharing, but could be more open and realistic about ourselves on social media. It’s important to practise what you preach so, with this in mind, here are a few of my Insta vs reality edited highlights from the last few months:
- Insta: I temporarily moved back to Wales with my family, and it is really really beautiful here
Reality: I moved away from all my friends, and haven’t seen anyone outside my family since mid September
- Insta: I had a super fun day out at an ethical zoo and got to pet the animals.
Reality: My relationship ended and I needed to distract myself.
- Insta: We had a fun and child-like Halloween with a spooky themed banquet and scary movie.
Reality: I had to face the likelihood I may not have children the natural way due to my age and suddenly being single. Again.
- Insta: I miss happy theatre days, I was great at making kids laugh!
Reality: I am going through a career change because I am not where I want to be yet.
- Insta: I completed my diploma with a distinction!
Reality: I am exhausted and have been unwell for the last two months and I’m really, really tired of it.
The point of this little exercise is not to say poor me, please send sympathy. It is to highlight that what we share online is not necessarily reflective of our whole reality and we should never compare ourselves to others. Life has its own timing, and where someone else is on their journey has no bearing on where you are in yours. My life is definitely still a work in progress and I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. In reality, I will probably continue to share edited highlights on social media, but for anyone who looks at any of my accounts, it is always good to remember there is a real human person behind the filtered pictures, and context is a wonderful thing.
While I do not vow to suddenly spill my guts about every single thing online or ditch the filters that make my face a bit brighter, I am working on getting better at asking for help and being kinder to myself. And maybe one day I will get better at not comparing myself to others too. So share what you want — but remember you are enough as you are; filtered photos are part computer part human; and NO-ONE’s life is perfect!