Let’s be honest: most of us have a love/hate relationship with social media. There’s no doubt it’s here to stay and there’s no question in my mind that what we see in our various feeds influence us. Over the last few years, the topic of managing social media from how much time we spend on it to how to minimize negative influence of it is a common topic of conversion with clients, colleagues, and friends. My personal favorite channel is Instagram, and while JB and I were on vacation recently, I got a whole new insight into how Instagram Perfect so many people appear to be.

See, we were staying at a beautiful resort in the Caribbean for a few days of unplugging, rest, and play. Most everyone we encountered at the resort had their smart phones in hand, taking selfies and peeking at their email or Facebook feeds.

One morning, after playing in a kayak on the ocean, I noticed a group of gorgeous young ladies take series after series of photos of each other: posing on the Stand-Up Paddle Boards in the ocean, lounging on the various sports equipment, some group shots to show their “squad”, and lots of individual shots of them in their cute bikinis and glamorous cover-ups. By this time, we were in the bar sipping Mudslides and catching our breath and I pointed the group out to JB.

Then the bartender piped in: oh, those aren’t just tourists, they’re a group of “Instagram Girls” here for an event. Some of them have more than half-a-million followers, so they are here at the expense of the resort and the official travel bureau for the island and share some photos of their “vacation”. Oh, and there’s some designer here this week, too, so, they’re here for that as well.

I was fascinated. I knew that I had seen the occasional Instagram Perfect photo in my feed with the tiny “#ad” hashtags occasionally, but I hadn’t really thought much about it.

Another evening, we’d gone down to the seaside restaurant to watch the sunset. We took our phones to capture the sunset from the beach and weren’t alone in our attempts to capture the exquisite view of the sun slipping into the water as the sky shifted colors from blue to brilliant oranges and pinks and finally grey shot with gold. Most of the other folks were doing the same, I mean, who wouldn’t want to remember their vacation in such a way, right?

And there was this one girl….part of the previous group we’d seen, but this time, she was alone. She took a lot of selfies, asked several of the waiters to take shots while she posed and shifted her drink, her bag, and carefully placed her swim cover so it fell seductively across her shoulders. Not once did she look at the beauty around her, so intent on capturing the perfect shot. While we enjoyed Mother Nature’s show and ate our dinner, she continued to take photos…and was still at it when we left to go back to our room.

Now, not only was I fascinated, but I was also horrified. Have we become so obsessed with looking as if our lives were Instagram Perfect that we – society on the whole – have stopped actually living life?

Once we got home, I still couldn’t get the mix of fascination and horror of how the perfection we see on tiny little screens in our hands influences us. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how what we see also affects what we, ourselves, share on social media.

I did some research, finding the hashtag for the event and took a good look at the feeds of the young ladies we had seen at the resort. And yes, some of their feeds were just so beautiful, I followed them. I also did some research on how advertisers and brands worked with “influencers” to show Instagram Perfect use of their stuff by (seemingly) everyday people.

To say it was eye-opening on what it can take to be Instagram Perfect and Popular is an understatement.

When I listed the lessons I learned on my birthday, I shared three lessons (#s 15, 16, and 17) that had come into crystal clear perspective after our time away:

  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
  • Don’t compare yourself or your life to others on the internet.
  • Honor your own life.

This has been weighing on my mind so much I knew I had to write about it here in greater detail.

First of all, let’s talk about some facts about those “Instagram Perfect” social media feeds:

No one’s life is perfect, even those who have beautiful feeds on social media. Perfection is unattainable, and I would tell everyone I love that you have a choice: you can be happy and love your life OR you can try to be perfect. The two are not synonymous.

Many of the photos you see on social media are the result of a big investment in not just time, but money. Many of the folks you see hire professionals to do their hair and make-up, have their clothes chosen by a brand or stylist, and are using a professional photographer. By the time an image makes it to their Instagram Feed or blog, they have been heavily edited.

Even those who don’t hire professional photographers are usually using a high-end digital camera, not their Smart Phone like most of us use. Keep in mind, too, that many of these folks have a photography business of some sort as well.

Most Instagram Perfect feeds are the result of heavy curating. This is across the channels of social media – Instagram, Facebook, and Blogs.

Instagram Perfect touches all areas of our lives. It’s not just about fashion bloggers, I’m also talking about those “lifestyle” bloggers. This isn’t just about how people look, but how their homes look.  You don’t see the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, but the beautiful plate of food. You don’t see the piles of laundry, but the perfectly styled bedroom with flowers on the nightstand. You don’t see how a person looks on the average day, but what they look like on their best days.

So, what does this talk about Instagram Perfection have to do with creating a life you love?

It causes us to misjudge our own life. I’ve had a many a client mention how boring and un-glamorous their life appears to be and upon discussion, find they are comparing their daily life to the Instagram Perfect photos  they see online. Of course anyone’s life can seem dull, boring, or even sad when you see someone else’s exotic trip or beautifully styled luncheon with equally glamorous friends.

It leads us down the path of believing that if our life were Instagram Perfect, we’d be happy. I’m sorry, but the appearance of perfection doesn’t equal happiness. I’ve known a lot of beautiful and talented folks that are miserable.

It makes us believe that our life isn’t normal. Because, by all appearances, everyone else has really great lives so therefore, ours “must suck”. We look at all the Instagram Perfect feeds with their perfect hair and their spotless homes and their fabulous friends and their exotic travels is so commonplace that our boring life must be in no way the norm for “most folks”.

It leads us down the path of believing that we will never be good enough. That no matter how hard we try, we will never measure up!

A Reality Check

Let’s be clear here: not many people share the messy stuff that life is inevitably made up of on social media. And let’s be doubly clear here: most of the super beautiful feeds you see and blogs you read and produced by someone because it is in their best business interest to present an Instagram Perfect view of their life.

I am not dumping or criticizing this in the least, I just need to remind you that what you see is often part of a person’s BUSINESS not their WHOLE, REAL Life. Yes, they show glimpses of authentic peeks into their life, but probably only 10% of their world.

I do this myself. Most of us do it to an extent, even if it isn’t business related. Because most of us have learned – as did our ancestors – that we put on our best clothes and tidy up the house for company. Making our social media feeds look “company ready” is an extension of this. Because now, guests doesn’t come to our door and sit down over a cup of coffee, they visit with us virtually. We show them a perfect latte with beautiful foam art instead of pouring them a cup of coffee into our best china.

What all this research has done for me is to take a big step back and a hard look at my own habits as well as how I both use and consume social media.

I continue to follow super beautiful, heavily curated folks on Social Media. I love their beautiful clothes, glam lifestyle shots, travel adventures, and inviting homes. I love their delectably styled meals and their quick witted captions.  However, I view them as if I were reading Vogue Magazine or Veranda instead of a 100% realistic view of their life.

I am carefully choosing who I follow.  Remember that what you see and read digitally has as much influence on your mind (and soul) as the books you read, the shows you watch, and the people you hang out with. This is always a key to fueling what we feed our minds with and is a must for social media in the new age.

I am more likely to follow a model-like feed because it’s clear she’s a model.  Those shots of her with the Chanel bag are because Chanel sent her the bag. Those trips to London and the Beach are often at the request of a brand of some sort.

I am less like to follow a fellow life coach that fills her Instagram feed with heavily professionally photographed shots in exotic places. That’s because I see a conflict that feels inauthentic when I look at what the person is showing in their feed versus what the person is teaching (or preaching). The question I’m asking myself before I follow someone – or as I choose to unfollow someone – is that core question: does what the person SAY match what the person SHOWS.

I am reminding myself that many of those Instagram Perfect shots aren’t candid photos, but often an extension of a person’s professional life. That gal ignoring the sunset while she took photo after photo? She wasn’t entirely avoiding living her life, she was WORKING. And sometimes, as professionals, we sacrifice an experience because we need to keep our head down and do what pays the bills.

I am putting the phone and camera down more often so I can actually experience my life. I’m here to tell you that a strong latte with a beautiful heart is a delicious experience, not just something that looks good. I want to enjoy the feel of the sun on my face or the spray of the ocean as a delight for my body and soul, not just to present a faux experience for a follower.

I am taking a harder look at my own social media. I want to be as Instagram Perfect as the next gal, yet I also want to show as much reality as possible.  How can I share my own vulnerability and authenticity without tainting my professional life or sacrificing too much of my personal privacy? Am I showing myself in the best light while still walking my talk? Because my core belief that life is amazing because of the imperfections, am I allowing glimpses into the imperfect moments as well as the perfect-looking ones?

I will be honest that I will continue to worry about how the seemingly Instagram Perfect views in social media affects us. Not because I believe there is anything inherently wrong with beautiful photos, but because I know that too many folks are sitting in judgement of themselves because they aren’t as beautiful, pulled-together, or as exciting as what they see. Please, for the love of yourself and the quality of your ordinary, everyday life, don’t judge yourself for not measuring up to what others present online.

No one’s life is Instagram Perfect, so trying to make your life appear that way is just an unrealistic expectation. Don’t be so hard on yourself, instead, embrace how amazing you are with all your imperfections. And don’t assume your life can’t have be beautiful, because you can choose how to curate your own life so that it feels lush and nourishing.

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