Beware the ‘perfect’, coordinated lives on Instagram and social media. They are not real, says
Pregnant with my first baby, I spent hours scrolling through clever ideas posted online that every other mum seemed to already know. Ideas like using Ikea spice racks as bookshelves for your baby-to-be.
Those coloured racks, neatly aligned against a wall painted with a rainbow mural, seemed like a simple, but beautiful, solution. I tried them. I failed miserably.
After I slapped some white paint on them, with the virtuous gusto of a nesting mum-to-be, my bookshelves ended up looking more rough-and-ready than shabby chic. They were less than pristine and not worthy of Pinterest or Instagram.
I admire the beautiful and sometimes flawless lifestyles shared on social media via perfectly poised and filtered photos.
I attempt the clever ideas and shortcuts to make our mad world more winsome, but I find myself looking at my efforts wondering why my life is messier, clumsier, and more out of focus, in comparison to the perfect Pinterest parent.
Social media pressurises us to have a flawless life, as we scroll through the smiles and coordinated outfits. A picture may paint a thousand words, but the words in the captions often tell the truth behind the picture.
Instagram expert and entrepreneur, Sara Tasker, who writes at Me&Orla, teaches online courses for the Instagram novice. She understands that followers can be misguided by the perfect feed, which distracts them from real life.
“Comparing reality to someone else’s highlight reel is painful and misleading, and can trigger feelings of jealousy, unhappiness, or low self-esteem,” she says.
Recently, before our daughters first birthday party, I power-washed the driveway, replanted the hanging baskets, and painted the garden fences. My attempt to make the facade of our home look beautiful was my real-world version of Instagram.
The worn-looking fences, the moss-laden driveway, and dying plants were my standards up until then, which I conveniently tidied away before the guests arrived for a garden party.
As Tasker says, social media has “the same motivation that has us frantically tidying up before having people over. It’s about focusing on the positives and putting your best face out to the world, celebrating the good parts of our daily lives.”
While I may feel a real-life need to shine my boots, I don’t on social media. It’s half laziness to find the right filter and half not understanding the correct way to portray my life on these platforms.
There are times, however, when I compare my real world to those stunning feeds.
One such Instagrammer is parent blogger, Fi Ní Neachtáin, whose feed has a beautiful symmetry and poise. It grabs our attention. A first look at Ní Neachtáin’s world implies a calm and tranquil home life, with perfect moments.
The reality, which she never hides, sits behind those idyllic images, written below on the captions. But these words are often overlooked.
Ní Neachtáin, who writes at Dolly Dowsie, says that she often feels under pressure to keep her Instagram feed within certain parameters. That is what her followers have come to expect, but she feels it’s important to be open about real life.
She does this with a truth and honesty in captions and on her Instastories.
She says: “It’s important to share your genuine self with your followers. Yes, everyone appreciates a beautiful or striking photo, but they also want to get to know the situation and the people behind it, too.” Ní Neachtáin enjoys sharing “the more candid side” of life.
“I guess I’m trying to show, with my Instagram gallery, that you can live a pretty life with boys. It’s all beauty and chaos here and I like to express that through the images I take, but with the words I choose to go with them, too.”
Susan McKenna, Social Care Advocacy and author at Bookhub Publishing, says the social media companies and celebrities are to blame, as the perfect image is often pushed and expected of ordinary users.
As she says: “We all want the more perfect sides of our lives to be in the public realm and media personalities do everything they can to make this happen. Ordinary users follow suit, simply because they now can. Each individual is now in control of how many filters and angles he or she uses, before posting the ‘perfect’ pic.”
McKenna understands that there can be a “distortion of reality for those who excessively use social media platforms and the constant emphasis on ‘filtering’ photos and circumstances.
These can lead to profound issues of self-esteem and to confusion between living in the ‘real’ world and the ‘virtual’ world.” There is a very obvious balance to be had here, but one which is not always adhered to.
As Tasker says: “Read the captions; look at stories for behind-the-scenes reality; unfollow when you recognise that someone’s account is making you feel bad. Good mental health and resilience take work and practice, and we can’t outsource that and expect internet strangers to do the hard work for us.”
And enjoy the beauty of writers and photographers, such as Ní Neachtáin, who share the truth, and avoid the age of “deep fakes”, as Tasker puts it.