The digitised self. The portraits we showcase in the 640px by 640px frame known as Instagram. Moments (more often manufactured than candid), images that we decide “will carry this message well.” It all becomes twisted when it’s received as a fixed reality, a snapshot representing a life in which blemishes, bad hair days, bloated bellies, imperfection, sadness and darker shades of suffering do not exist.
It’s surprisingly easy to be seduced by pretty pictures. It’s easy to think the “sun shines out of their arse.” It’s easy to think she (or he) is holier than though and belongs in those projections – shimmering and perfectly poised on that pedestal in your mind.
But these projections can only exist as thought-form entertainments or disappointments-in-progress. It’s a stale mate. There is nothing godly about the sartorial superstar, the cyber-crush, the bendy guru or perfectly coiffed beauty queen. They don’t possess special powers. They don’t have a magic bullet, an elixir of unicorn tears, a chalice from which one sip will cure you of your mortal ailments and the struggles of human-ness. They have nice photos, a talent for capturing the silver linings, and an editorial flair.
And let it be known: we are down with the stylised self. Because, as John Muir put it, “everybody needs beauty as well as bread.” Let’s not underestimate the importance of beauty, artistry, and style in this world. It captivates our attention, and when used in service of something meaningful, it inspires, illuminates, uplifts and expands us.
BUT. And this is an all important but. A carefully cultivated digitised self can easily become quicksand for our real-life, analog sense of self-worth. I present to you two friendly reminders on keeping perspective in an increasingly airbrushed world:
1. DON’T READ INTO THE FEED
When scrolling through someone’s profile on Instagram, it can be easy to slip into hero worship and a toxic game of comparison. We tend to read into the feed and take it at face value, accepting the digital representation of the lives of others as an unedited, factual representation. What’s worse is when we take it a step further and unwittingly enter into a game of comparison between our sticky, messy, complicated real life with someone else’s digitised self. As Steve Furtick puts it, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” True that. And besides, as Teddy Roosevelt famously quipped, “comparison is the thief of joy.” So stop comparing apples to oranges. And for the love of Buddha, stop stealing away your own joy.
2. WHO YOU POST TO BE
When considering the ‘gram from the perspective of the poster, be wary that you don’t let your digitised self take the drivers seat and drunk drive your self worth into a ditch. You aren’t supposed to be anyone other than you. So don’t “post to be” someone other than who you really are. Your real life is good enough. The real you is good enough. There is no airbrushed, two-dimensional, counterfeit substitute of yourself that could ever surpass the blazing, vulnerable, animate, authentic you. So please, don’t throw out the pockmarks of your persona, the quirks and idiosyncrasies, the obscure and unique and very human elements that make you, you. The things that make people sigh “phew, she’s human” (and in the same breath) “now we can be friends.” Remember this: Imperfections are how we relate. The extent to which we are willing to share our imperfections determines our capacity for intimacy and belonging. Perfection is, after all, “shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting” as Anne Lamot puts it. I’m not saying you have to lay out all of your demons and heartaches and insecurities, square by square. I’m just saying don’t let the possibility of judgment and not-enough-ness and self-doubt censor the things you feel called to share. Granted, you’re not for everyone, and yeah, some people may Unfollow you based on what you share. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s awesome. Because the more authentically you share, the more likely you are to connect with your true tribe- the people who love your bones, who resonate with you- your kindred spirits and soul brothers and sisters. And the more you share your real self, the more steadfast your bond with your tribe becomes. So just do you. Show up. Know that you’re enough. Just as you are. And while you’re at it, Unfollow those punks Self-Judgement and Comparison. Pronto pronto.
The moral of our cyberspace-cautionary tales? Delight in and dance through the digitised beauty, be inspired, be uplifted. But keep it in perspective- don’t let your perceptions get drunk on delusion. Categorize it as entertainment and stay present to the (maybe-more-modest) but infinitely more legit real-life that is before you. And when you start down the track towards I-am-not-enough, hop off the social media train for a while. Lay down your weapons, declare peace with the present moment (and yourself) and let the alchemy of acceptance embrace you.