It's after 11pm, and I'm sitting on an armchair in the kitchen successfully ignoring the mess of dirty dishes on the sink and the heavy eyelids calling out for sleep. I have disappeared once again down the the rabbit hole of social media and while the rain spills down outside on top of the clothes that have been out on the washing line for 4 days now, I'm looking with a mixture of envy and awe at the Instagram feed of an gorgeous Oklahoma mom with her squidgy new baby. Let's say 30% awe, 60% envy 10% insta-rage (how the F*** is she doing this? Why do I even care?)
She post these gorgeous bright white photos of herself and her equally gorgeous brood, while balancing a newborn in the crook of on arm, making home-baked cookies with her three year old and drafting a pithy caption telling us how #blessed she is but also how she has given up trying to be perfect #perfectlyimperfect because she (this time) hasn't filtered out the bags under the eyes. She manages to dress the kids and herself in matching yoga pants and even her #messyhairdontcare looks like me after an hour in the salon (ahem, the bedroom with a hairbrush and some dry shampoo).
We've all been there. Scrolling through the gram in the evening, dishes piled up at the sink. Wondering how she does it. Wishing our lives were more sun-drenched, less filled with suspicious smells and small child whines. We consider bringing our baby backpacking in Thailand- that young Dutch couple make it look so easy but truth be told getting into the car to go grocery shopping requires epic levels of travel prep. We glance around the kitchen and wonder how that momma from the other side of the country managed to remodel her kitchen with a full-time job and two little ones, when it's been a week since anyone here wiped down the top of the cooker.
How DO they do it?
The answer is (I know you know this already... deep down)......
They DON'T (probably)
The heavily filtered, heavily curated life of an Instagram influencer is not a model for your life. Sure, it's beautiful to look at. But you have no idea what's really going on behind the scenes. These are not lives that are represented here, but personal brands. It's a personal brand built up via whiter than white walls matching mom and baby dungarees and inspiring quotes via letter boards.
And if that personal brand has earned you thousands of followers sponsorship and a book deal, then you're not going to mess with it by revealing the messy grey colours of real life.
Hell, your own filtered, curated feed is not even a model for your own life. It's the highlights. Even the low-lights you may have posted about are probably the highlights in their own way. You post about overcoming a challenging day- not the ugly rage you felt in the middle of the challenges. You stick a photo up of your kids as they sleep their beautiful slumber, not the moment in the afternoon the older one roared out in pain after the toddler smacked him in the head with the soup ladle. You're looking pretty great and loved up on a night out with your partner so you stick that up; not a picture of you snapping at each other over breakfast prep and after yet another sleep-deprived night.
More and more the world of Instagram becomes a sort of alternate reality. Influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers have ghost writers help them craft narratives of a life that is not really theirs.
Somewhere at the heart of things, we know this is not real, but we follow them anyway.
Oh yeah, 'Hate following' is a thing too. That person you love to hate and follow even thought they make you crazy?
And social media anxiety is a thing. Especially if you follow more strangers than people you already know.
I'm not anti-Instagram at all though. There are aspects to it I quite enjoy. There a few people I follow who I genuinely wish well when they post an update on their life. I find it's an easier platform to engage with strangers on than Facebook for example. And there are people I've met in real life but who I rarely see now and I love to get this little window into their lives.
A couple of things I try to do to keep my balance between the enjoyment and the envy inherent in the platform...
Scrolling through posts can be a welcome switch off too after a busy day. So I try not to give myself a hard time about it, but I also try to maintain awareness to how the scrolling makes me feel. I try to note who is making me feel good and inspired and who is definitely not. And I unfollow the people who don't make me feel good.
I try to pause before I contribute, to see what I'm trying to achieve with comments on posts.. or my own posts. Sometimes what I actually need is a chat with a friend in real life, or a DM to someone I know to feel a slighter deeper connection...
I also often set a defined period after which I decide I'm going to stop scrolling... (be warned, 10 mins passes by in a flash!)
But I too post photos that show the highlights. I tend to post only the more flattering photos of myself.
Then I also have gaps of weeks where I don't post at all which often signifies that life is weighing heavy on me (or I've broken my phone again..).
I consider deleting my profile sometimes, but then I see an update from avondale retreat, Julie Hyde Yoga , Tegwaan Country Getaway retreat or elliebernstein and I LOVE to have a window into their thoughts, their lives via these squares, even if my view is limited to that window and their lives that continue above and below and to the side of the grid are opaque to me.
I don't follow the Oklahoma mom as a rule. I prefer the accounts more similar to my own (and a few that are wildly different... to keep some sense of a world outside my social media echo chamber). I follow accounts that make me smile, I follow friends who live in far away lands, strangers who have become friends online.. People who connect me from my little rural life to big cities and ideas.
But I can chose (and you can to) whether and who to follow and to unfollow.
And most importantly, we can all chose when to stop scrolling to look up at the bright and shiny life unfolding right in front of us.