Culture of comparison
What social media doesn’t tell you about my life
Last week, my excessively blunt friend commented on one of my recent Facebook posts saying, “You have a talent for making life look perfect.” The post she was referring to as “perfect” was a video I made of my recent Spring Break trip — created with professional software and set to overly sentimental music. Other responses to the video shared the same attitude, and with each new comment I grew less comfortable with what I had posted. One person said the video “should be a commercial for friendship.” Another girl said she literally cried. Real tears.
While I am flattered by the responses, I do feel it incredibly important to add my own addendum, from a different angle, to my fellow columnist Grace Muth’s recent discussion of our culture of comparison.
I will be very honest and say my trip to Iceland was not idyllic. Yes, the scenery was otherworldly and beautiful in a way I struggled to fully capture. Yes, my friends and I grew much closer as we maneuvered through difficulties and enjoyed every adventure Iceland offered us. Yes, there were moments on the trip when I was happier than I had been all year. But that does not mean the trip was — or my life is — perfect.
Though I spent the introduction of the video playing clips which showed the dichotomy in our expectations for Spring Break and the trip’s reality, the minor bumps I displayed were received as humorously deprecating. The footage I returned home with didn’t capture the truly bad moments. The kind of moments that never surface on social networking, regardless of whose profile is being viewed.
For example, my memory card couldn’t store the self-loathing which pervaded my thoughts the morning after I ate an entire pint of ice cream, a burger, milkshake, fries and a full Toblerone bar. I was so frustrated with my lack of self-discipline all I ate for the rest of the day was an apple and Icelandic yogurt. It was a low point, especially because I spent so much time buying into the culture of comparison Grace so eloquently describes in her column. I wasn’t worrying about my health, but rather the impact the excess sugar, carbs and fat would have on my thigh gap.
My Nikon never saw the stress I felt on the edge of the Arctic Circle while fielding emails and planning a conference for one of my extracurricular activities, maneuvering family drama and figuring out how on earth I was going to pay for the $1,400 GreekBill whose due date had snuck up on me — for the record, even after studying the budget sheet, I still have no idea where sorority money goes.
Finally, no one — not even my friends on the trip — saw the blow-up fight I had with my boyfriend. It was so bad we almost broke up in the car somewhere between Rangárþing eystra and Vik.
Instead, people saw an album full of finely-tuned, color-corrected, saturation-boosted images on social media. Ones in which I cropped out my legs to indulge my self-consciousness. Ones which failed to convey just how cold my fingers were snapping them. Ones which only showed smiling faces. Ones in which everything looked perfect.
Maybe these images, and the subsequent video, seem like the perfect “commercial for friendship.” The combination of perceived adventure, excitement and fun coalesce into a bonding experience which can be viewed as nothing short of idealistic.
But I want to plant my stake firmly in the ground right now and say no friendship is perfect. My video is not reflective of what the people present truly mean to me — what conversations we have had, what moments we have shared and what we have experienced together. This cannot be idealized in five minutes. It is something incalculable and inexpressible.
Therefore, the reality of my life can never be represented in the work I share on social media. No matter how many Photoshop edits I layer on those raw images, no image will be able to show the duality of perceived and actual reality — that there is nuance behind every pixel.
As I said before, a memory card doesn’t actually carry memories. It can capture images which evoke certain feelings, but never the whole truth. Photography aids me in my desire to both express myself creatively and see the best in the world. But there are implications in that endeavor. Because I share with others only the best images I collect and am therefore perceived as living — at least on social media — an idealized life, I find it imperative to forcefully shatter any notion my experiences, relationships and trips are in any way “perfect.”
I would like to add my voice to the conversation started in Grace’s courageous column by saying I too struggle with the culture of comparison which has arisen in a digital age of skewed realities — and the very last thing I want to do is to contribute to it.
Lauren’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.