I’m so tempted to post a candid, really horrid photo of me here, just to prove a point. I almost did, until I saw the scratches on my arm, blemishes on my face, remembered how I over-trimmed my eyebrows and well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was also at my heaviest (not pregnant), my hair was limp and unstyled, and of course I had the worst expression ever: bored, zero energy, definitely anemic–basically, an unthreatening zombie. I could not post it. Not even for that point. I have to say that I look more like that most days before, during and after obsessively scrubbing my shower stall, cooking, exercising, doing the laundry, not cleaning my study–just being myself, and not appearing in selfies.
Yet the few Facebook and Instagram photos of me are almost always decent. I can’t say they are artfully posed and of the quality some of my friends consistently maintain, as I have no gift nor patience for it. But they are decent. And that’s because I have strict rules about posting photos, as I’m sure everyone does. I recently told my sister I have come to call online photos “the curated life”. I know it because I see it and feel the need to do it. D. knows not to post fugly pictures of me. Ever. Even as he’s holding a camera or his phone to take that shot, I’m yelling, “Braso ko ha!”, especially if I’m at the edge of the photo, which widens unforgivably. And of course I always am, if not the one right under the fluorescent bulb. So he takes the shot. If it doesn’t get posted, I’m slightly mortified. My arms must have been humongous. Then the negative self talk begins…well, they wouldn’t ever look humongous if they weren’t actually humongous, and oh, how hard it is to be in your late forties and struggling for the muscle tone that no longer is. Blah, blah, and more inconsequential, so shallow blah. Until I catch myself and forcibly press an inner switch to make it stop. Focus on what matters. Not anything online. That’s what.
That’s my beef about social media and the new culture of selfies, photos, and everyone looking into everyone else’s life. We see carefully curated shots and think that’s what life ought to be, when we’re never ever seeing the full picture. We measure ourselves against the photo that has been carefully planned and prepared for. We don’t see the quarrels, insecurities, blemishes, sadness, regret, lack of symmetry, the extra hour spent perfecting the hair, derma visits, setting up the shot, whatever–the imperfections and realities of everyday life. A cup of coffee isn’t just anymore. There’s a vintage dish towel beside it, a wooden spoon strategically placed, and a sunbeam casting its magic on the scene. My coffee doesn’t ever look so ethereal. And, oh, the perfect hair, make-up, outift, that expression of wistfulness captured just so. How does that happen? The inevitable, gush from friends don’t help, either: “Sooooooo pretty!” I try not to, but I cringe. Let’s not forget the photos that beg the question, “Who took it?” These are the sleeping and intimate ones–disturbingly beautiful sometimes but alas, never candid. And if you pretended to sleep but took it yourself, well, we have bigger problems.
We look at these curated photos and always feel we come up short. I don’t know why but somehow the first instinct is to measure our ordinary lives against their magazine spread ones. Or is it just me? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could celebrate the ordinary? It wouldn’t look that great in pictures, maybe, but living it and appreciating it would be awesome.
We’ve all become voyeurs, peeking into curated lives. This somehow inspires us to do the same. The more we see, the more we want to be seen, but in a specific way, that may or may not have to do with who we really are. And, of course, I’ve written about it before…in our effort to project a certain kind of look and lifestyle, to keep posting photos, how much of life are we truly experiencing? What are we becoming when we are so busy curating?
I’m as guilty of it as anyone else, but perhaps not to the same degree as professional selfiers (is that even a word? Selfie didn’t use to be, so there), just because it’s not so much my thing. But it’s creeping in–the inevitable sense of not being enough. That awareness of cameras everywhere and the need to always look halfway decent, just in case. It’s really quite horrific. Just the other night I asked my son to post pictures of him with his aunt and cousins. He’s in their part of the world now. I’m missing him. Hours later I berated myself. I should have just left him alone to be totally in the moment with them. I want him to live, not take photos of his life.
It is for their generation I mostly worry. This is their world. There is no time “before selfies”. They have Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, all kinds of platforms for narcissism and disengagement. I’d hate for them to measure their lives against the constantly curated photos of others. I am old enough to take myself out of moments of insanity when I actually do that, but do they even have the ability to discern?
A vacation is coming up and already I’m thinking of toning down the posting. Who gets to see it? How much of my life will I show everyone and why? Whom do I let in?
There is much life to be lived–good, solid, unapologetic life– that is harsh, imperfect, comfy, natural, and unpretty. That’s where the good stuff resides. It’s also where my life is and I suspect I’m not alone. Before I allowed photos to be what they are today, I didn’t even differentiate. My life is what is was–one imperfect whole. No one saw my vacations, the things I bought and wore, the milestones of my children–no one who wasn’t actually there, or close enough. I showed photos to friends, not acquaintances. Today, I feel I’m seeing way too much.
I confess the voyeur in me has awakened and I sometimes enjoy seeing what other people do, but the more put on the photo, the more put off I am. I have unfollowed too many outfit of the day posts and selfies of the most disturbing, narcissistic levels. I am getting more comfortable curating what I see, choosing the lives I feel comfortable witnessing, then letting go of the ones I feel I ought to be kept out of. Maybe this is all I need to do for now–curate the curated.
Perhaps it’s enough to remember that the true gifts of life are found in the mess, cracks and the scars. As long as we’re not curating that, maybe we’re still ahead.