Have you ever observed someone taking a selfie? More specifically, a teenage girl trying to send the perfect snapchat selfie? It’s comical, really. A solid 6% of the time, she’ll send the first one she takes. But for the other 94%, the first one is quickly deleted. She’ll tousle her hair. Shift a little so the lighting hits better. Practice a few different faces. Hold the phone at just the right angle annnnnnnd after 10+ tries, she’ll finally settle on one, ever so courageously, hitting send.
All of that for a picture that disappears from the screen in under 10 seconds. For those selfies that make their debut on Instagram, you can rest assured even more effort went into tousling, adjusting, re-positioning, and editing. We have filters to bring out the tan or hide the blemishes. Apps that let you whiten teeth and add makeup. Even features that “instantly slim” the subjects in the photo. And then we upload these photos as if they’re the real deal.
We present them under the false pretense that these photographs represent our real life. As if, at any given moment, our skin is flawless, tan is even, teeth are white, and hair is perfect. Pretending we didn’t spend the past 10 minutes “creating” the perfect picture, because, after that much effort, this “selfie” is more a work of art than a representation of reality.
But the point of this post isn’t to bash selfies or throw photo editing under the bus. Instead, it’s to draw attention to the simple facts we seem to forget.
When we choose to upload a picture, most of us, choose the most flattering photo we have. We present the best of ourselves to put on display. And I think we’re all keenly aware of that fact. But somehow, we experience a disconnect when it comes time to apply this “secret trick” to others.
We see photos of happy couples with sappy captions and label them “relationship goals.”
We see the girl who never seems to forgo cute clothes and makeup for sweatpants and a tshirt and are baffled by her effort.
We see a family who shows up early and stays late for every church activity and wonder why our family can’t be as perfect.
We see a happy couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and wish we had their marriage.
We see a mom of four who somehow manages being homeroom mom, working full time, and hitting the gym every day. And we stare in awe at how put-together she is.
We see a CEO driving up to his estate in a brand new BMW and wonder what it’s like to have everything you could ever want…
But what if I told you that couple you labeled “relationship goals” spends every night fighting. What if that girl chooses to always look her best because she is entangled in the lie that her appearance is the best she has to offer. What if that “perfect” family is seeking help for their child with an addiction. What if that happy couple is currently in counseling, trying to work through an affair. What if that mom of four feels like she’s drowning in all the things she needs to do, just like you. And what if that CEO is on anti-depressants because he’s felt the harsh reality that money can’t buy happiness?
At the beginning of sophomore year, a mutual acquaintance made a comment to a close friend of mine. After observing her pile of laundry that had yet to be folded, she made the comment, “I bet Anna Margaret never lets her laundry sit unfolded.” When my friend told me, my immediate reaction was to laugh. Like, really hard. I was baffled by the idea that she thought so highly of me to “know” I would never let clean laundry sit in a laundry basket. And I laughed because of how wrong she was.
Honestly, if I fold laundry within 24 hours of washing it, I’m pretty proud of myself. Usually, it takes a couple days before it seems to get moved to the top of my to-do list. But this girl, because of her perception of how “put together” I was, was measuring herself up against a standard that wasn’t valid.
She observed the best of me and painted that as her picture of me. But she had only seen what I chose to show. She didn’t know me well enough to know that some days, my life looks more like a hot mess. And I am far from “put together.”
Some days my brain is scattered and I forget that I have school work due, resulting in a nice big 0. My sheets don’t always get changed every week. I choose naps over studying. My laundry sits clean and unfolded in a basket for several days. My suitcase never gets unpacked the day I get back from a trip. My room could be cleaned more often. I procrastinate every ounce of homework. I try to get by with reading as little of my textbook as possible. Some weeks I can’t even figure out what day it is. And I have shed an actual tear after walking in the caf on a Friday and discovering it wasn’t poppy seed chicken week.
I’m telling you….a hot. mess.
But, usually, only the people closest to me see those parts of my life. Because no one advertises their flaws. We edit our life, shine lights on the positives, and re-position ourselves to hide the ugly.
What we present to the rest of the world is simply our “highlight reel.” All of the “ugly stuff” gets shoved back stage.
So, the next time you see someone who’s “picture perfect”, and you’re wishing you could be just like them, remind yourself not to compare their highlight reel with your behind the scenes.
You may idolize their performance, but you fail to realize how much is going on behind those curtains.